30 December 2016

Out with the old

 Wheatears always a winner. Pic: J Lethbridge

That time of year again.  The time of collective naval gazing and polishing our crystal balls served up with a side order of tosh.

First off what the others thought of 2016

First up Mr Brown

"Best Bird: Great Grey Shrike [Didn't see that one coming!]
Best Event: The flyover White-fronted Geese, whilst watching a Yellow-browed Warbler. This marginally pipped receiving a man-hug from Jono after getting him onto the GG Shrike
Prediction: More Shrikes! A spring Woodchat in the Old Sewage Works would do!"

Tony's prediction: Woodchat Shrike in the Old Sewage Works and not, as here, on the Norfolk coast

Next up Mr Heal, who had a successful second year on patch reaching the nirvana of 100 species for the year:

"Best moment has to be first hearing the YBW when I realised it wasn't someone playing a tape. My prediction is that I will find a Dartford Warbler in the Brooms on 29 October, 2017. That will follow the Red-rumped Swallow I shall also find flying low over the Brooms on Saturday 22 April."

For Mr Rae it's been a quiet year on the birding front, on the nappy changing front, however, that's another matter...

Richard went for the first Yellow-browed Warbler/White-fronted Goose combo [... I see a trend forming here–one where Bob and I aren't present!] as his best event, finally getting a Firecrest (Long Wood), because of what he puts down to the effort involved.  He is predicting an Iceland Gull and will not be drawn into making the same mistake as last year by stating where.

Mr Harris has had many other things on his mind this year primarily successfully co-ordinating the Wanstead Pan-Listing Big Year, which smashed the target set of 1000 to currently stand at 1505 species.  Apparently he wants to achieve 2000 species in 2017.

Tim's best find was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but after being reminded that the best bird category didn't need to be one of his went with the Corn Ortolan Bunting, which he missed as he was twitching a moth.  He predicts a Richard's Pipit in the Autumn.

  Bob done this

Mr Johnson goes for the original Yellow-browed Warbler as his best bird/event as he was left to find it on his own and predicts a Nightjar which will probably be flushed by a dog walker–well that's OK as long as someone is at hand to appreciate the work of fido

Mr Vaughan had a pretty good year while just shy of his 2015 tally and broke the 150 barrier and joined the illustrious club of two

His best birds were the Dunlin, Hooded Crow and the Ortolan and the best event the Great Grey Shrike [meh!]. He's gone for Pine Bunting [No problems with confusion species there then!]

  Bob done this

Mr Lethbridge did inform me of his choices at the annual drinks, but because I was probably drunk by that stage all I have is a list of drinks. There was some kind of scribble mentioning a Yellow-browed, which I assume was the event of the year because of the supporting cast of ouzels and wild geese rather than purely about gripping off Bob and I.  Best birds for him were the Great Grey Shrike and magnanimously Bob's Hooded Crow, which didn't coincide with a working from home day or illness.  My prediction for him is that he will magically appear when we find something good... His prediction a Black-necked Grebe.

Which just leaves me. 2016, what a year! Not good for celebrities, democracy and the future of the planet but in local patch birding terms another of great surprises. January kicked off with the best possible start and a record count on the 1st, my Great Snipe on the 3rd (the report is currently languishing in the BBRC's inbox awaiting its non-proven status], Bob's Turtle Dove on the 9th (very likely the Rufous Turtle Dove that appeared in Kent not long after, ha!), his Caspian returned by the end of the month and then it went a bit Isabelline.

It was March before something else decent popped up and did the decent thing of hanging around so that James and I could add Hooded Crow to our year lists. No problems for the London Rarities Committee on this one as we got pictures, though I am fully expecting a NP for last year's bird.

Spring was predictable–good, but not so good as last year–it was May that turned up the good stuff.  Long anticipated May's Cetti's was long over due (Mr L's prediction from last year), actually seeing Greenshank instead of hearing them was wonderful, Bob chipped in a brace of Dunlin and a smart male Red Crested Pochard spent the day on Heronry, a Raven by month's end meant that May was this year's April from last year!

 Pic: J Lethbridge

June and July happened and will keep on doing so until we say "No, enough!" and just skip to August, which itself was pretty average bar a Golden Plover and the year's first Tree Pipit and Pied Flycatcher.  While September held no Wryneck it gave us the Ortolan, which is my fourth life tick on the patch (Dartford Warbler I think, Wryneck, Firecrest being the others) and was good for Redstart if nothing else.

 Bob done this

October is fast becoming one of my favourite months, though some of the good stuff was found while Bob and I were languishing in Shetland (and then all the good stuff was found there while Bob and I were languishing here): near enough 1000 Chaffinch going north, a hundred plus Skylark on passage, and a smattering of Brambling. Then the good stuff: Hawfinch(es), Serin (for Stu), Woodlarks, Jack Snipe, culminating in THE BIRD OF THE CENTURY–Tony's great Great Grey Shrike* (I can be magnanimous too!)–and not forgetting a small matter of the Yellow-brows, White-fronted Geese and ouzels.

What will be the cover of the 2016 report, commissioned by James H from one of his pics of the October YBW and illustrated by Richard Allen

November gave us a Merlin and Goosander, while December the small matter of a Yellow-browed grip back that stayed and stayed and stayed... (in your face Lethbridge children!)

My best event: the Ortolan as it took perseverance over the course of the day to actually nail it, and in the end it was quite fun. A close call with my December sprite, which if it can just hang on a couple of more days...

My prediction: Penduline Tit on the Shoulder of Mutton, and in the real world a Marsh Warbler in the Old Sewage Works.


Not quite, there's the little matter of the Wanstead Birding Championship of 2016

A creditable 5th place for James on 102 and a tie for 3rd place with Jono and Tony on 106, which considering Tony was virtually only able to do weekends is very commendable, while Jono is no longer the butt of "he's gone, now lets find some rare stuff", but no doubt is suffering from the lack of air miles he gets coming to the flats–his best find = the end of his street, ha!

That leaves, a now retired, Bob in a clear second on 113. Well done mate!

Ha ha I win again

It matters little

* Predicted by Mr Fisher in last year's almanac

11 December 2016

The weight of proof

So dear reader, remember I found a Yellow-browed Warbler last week due to its call.  I even took a couple of record shots, poor records shots.  I tweeted them and put them on here and sat back happy with my days travails. That was until Chris Batty of the RBA contacted me regarding said pictures asking if I had considered Hume's: 

"The combination of dull greyish tones to the mantle and crown, seemingly indistinct pale tips to the median coverts, absence of dark base to greater coverts, and dull-coloured feet points to Hume’s for me, and it must be worth trying to record the call"

I could see where he was coming from, the feet especially looked not as I would have expected.  Have I said the pictures were awful? Now Hume's would be fantastic, but that would mean a severe cock-up on my part over the call, which would not be fantastic.  I am pretty good with calls and song, I think, but it doesn't take much to undermine my confidence in my own abilities.  I passed his message on to a few of the guys for their thoughts–their experience of the execrable quality of some of my snaps were unanimous in favour of YBW.  Meanwhile RBA had gone for ?Hume's/YBW? on the news page.  This got me worrying that the Alex might be lined with hopeful visitors in the morning, so I would need to be there first thing to make sure my ears weren't playing tricks on me.  Then again the bird might not be there and self doubt would linger on.

I met up with Mr Lethbridge, who was out to clear this nonsense up once and for all, somewhere near Long Wood in the fog.  As we approached Alex the Yellow-browed did the decent thing and called, audibly and clearly. And clearly Yellow-browed.  We both texted the affirmation out and that would be that.

Oh no, RBA still carried the Hume's YBW option.  We would need a recording to convince them and now more people were getting in on the act.  Come Sunday and I am out by the Alex and our bird is still there and when he feels like it, is going for it.  Eventually it dawns on me to take a video to get a sound recording, which worked quite well...

Of course what we needed was Stu Fisher or Dave-Darryl Lambert to come and do a proper job on it,  Stu obliged and this is what a hand held recorder can do....  ... job done: RBA and Lee Evans happy

Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) · call
Stuart Fisher
Wanstead Flats, London , United Kingdom

Then Mr Harvey turns up and takes some pretty smart shots of the bird.

"YBW? Are you sure?  Looks good for a Hume's from those pics"

7 December 2016

Shrikes are pants, but Yellow-browed Warbler on the other hand...

Counting ducks, very few ducks and wondering why all the crows on the larger island of Alex were making so much noise and I hear squeak. Or "sip".  I know what it is but...  Tape played, now I am not sure the call back is emanating from the willow across the water or the phone from my pocket. Phone off, its coming from the trees.  Fuck yeagh!

... and finally Bob came to get some YBW redemption, which was nice

5 December 2016


Friday night and it was the Wanstead Birders annual get together and so successful was it that no one managed to venture out the next day. Probably the best turn out we've had for one of these events and good to meet up with some of Tim's old Birdwatch chums that Bob and I had met a couple of times on Shetland. How the drinks flowed and how long did it take me to walk home?

Tony's tweet of Golden Plover over the flats meant at least one person had survived the toxic attack and after a bit of work on the 2016 bird report I managed to limp my way down to the flats by midday. It's still a bit icy on the patch, the ground hard and frost still holding out in sheltered spots, but apart from that a beautifully sunny day.

The low sun picked out the colours on a stunning male Sparrowhawk as he avoided detection skimming the brooms, probably the same pictured here a few weeks back.  the light was just right too, when I picked up the single buzzard being harried by a corvid over the SSSI.  On his own the crow wasn't too much of a problem for the larger bird that tiring of their joust headed off west.

With a monthly list to procure it was off to Bush Wood for Firecrest, of which there were none to be found–I found one by the western entrance to Reservoir Wood. A Chiffchaff in the reeds on Shoulder of Mutton and one by Perch was good and means one has been seen every month this year, Blackcap on the other hand are slightly harder too find at this time of year.  Ice, still present on all the lakes, was keeping the dabbling duck numbers down, but a second Buzzard over the ornamentals with an entourage of crows was encouraging. I got to the Old Sewage Works with the sun all but disappeared but I didn't linger for Woodcock, it was getting much colder now.  Back on the flats I thought I'd just check out Centre Copse in the vain hope that a Little Owl might be present. Standing to the east of the copse I checked for its shape against the bright western sky.  One shape looked promising, but in my heart I knew it was just the contortion of an oak branch but decided to check anyway. On my way through the copse another shape moved close to the trunk of a tree.  Now this looked better.  I was beneath the bird before it decided it fly.  The Little Owl lives on!

So what was the predated body found late on in the summer? I never saw it and it with reports of a predated Kestrel in the same area, was it misidentified? Or was it a young bird? We'll never know now, but what is important is that there is still an owl hanging on in there.

1 December 2016

November: The empty quarter is upon us

It's usually downhill from October onwards with only the Wanstead Birders drinks and January the 1st to look forward to. Some heavy rain midway through the month means Angel is beginning to hold water again and the lake edge on Shoulder of Mutton is creeping behind the reeds, which is good for Water Rail. It was a good month for these quirky little birds, with a brace holding out on the Roding, despite rising water levels, another seen on the first, small, island in the Ornamentals, while another was flapping across the west end of Heronry (this could be the bird seen on the Shoulder of Mutton as the month closed). Four birds on one day is pretty good for a site like this, but I suppose there could be more lurking out there.

Regardless of the deluges this month water levels are still below what they should be, though we aren't complaining–they have helped the growth of our Wigeon flocks who, with Teal, had records broken (62 and 37 respectively).  The freezing conditions at the end of the month will see most of these birds move on, though given more benign weather they may be back.  It appeared that Gadwall numbers might break previous records soon, but there is issue with any of our counts as the time taken to get between the lakes means that some lake hopping may take place.  One thing is for certain: they ain't hopping to the Basin–whatever Wanstead Golf Club have done to the lake means that its of no interest to virtually anything.

Continuing freezing conditions may mean that the Roding could be inviting to sawbills, which brings me to Mr Messenger.  Mike has done the park since he was a nipper, never the flats, but once a week he routinely does his circuit and you know if you haven't bumped into him recently he will grip you off over some bird or other, when he gets round to it or remembers it.  He says he now is a mobile phone owner, but has no idea how to use it so leaves it home.  No use to us Mike! On this occasion, and after about 20 minutes, he remembers seeing a Goosander on Heronry, last week, but can't remember actually when.  With help from Irish Mick they narrow it down to a day I had done the park, apparently too late for Goosander-goodness. He also had a Great White Egret coming in low and seemingly looking to land, also on Heronry.  This was back in September.  I didn't bother trying to get him to be a little less vague with a date.  Also a Stonechat which frequented the Old Sewage Works and behind the tea-hut, which I reckon must have been while I was in Shetland.  So good work Mr M, but please learn how to use the mobile!

Our other new bird for the month was a briefly visiting female Merlin, which appeared over Heronry (mistake) before being chased off patch by a singular minded crow.  This is our fourth bird since 2009–3 females and one male and not one of them has stuck around–but this is the one I should have taken a picture of, but initially I had to identify it and then just got engrossed as was chased over Capel Road and then low across Manor Park Cemetery.  Turn the clock back a week or so and my attempts at identifying a raptor flying down the main ride in Bush Wood left me more perplexed than anything.  Without a single wing beat the bird glided above the ride and then stopped dead.  I had presumed Common Buzzard, but the tail suggested a slight fork.  Its overall appearance was dark and the way it expertly used the wind meant not only did it not flap its wings, but didn't extend its primaries.  Way too late for a Black Kite I would have thought, but searching the RBA website I have found almost yearly records for birds in November and December (though most were probables!), including Paul Davies' bird from 2010 on the 20th October. Yay! another FUp.

Moving on: just the one Short-eared owl at the beginning of the month, no Peregrines (weird) and a handful of Buzzards.  More luck with Woodcock (3) and Tony's Jack Snipe became my Jack Snipe, became Sean Kerrigan's Jack Snipe, became a dead Jack Snipe coinciding with its visit to Belgrave Road.

The Stonechat appeared on a couple of occasions and could still be there, still there too is the Treecreeper in Bush Wood (stay until January please!), and of course the Firecrest are getting harder to pin down.

Thanks to Tony for giving me the gen on Common Gull 2ASL, a Pitsea ringed bird making its return to the flats this year–last given any attention last December.

I could say that most of the Little Grebe have disappeared bar the couple on the Roding, but with ponds frozen this is to be expected.  It's now December and the duvet on my sofa is a siren and unless a flock of Lapwing plop passed my window I am with the lotus eaters.


Wanstead Flats: Chaffinch by the looks of things!


Wanstead Flats and Park: It looks like the records have been deleted from the London Bird Club site–I suspect we aren't missing much


Wanstead Flats: 250+ Woodpigeon s, 40+ Fieldfare, Redwing, 17 Chaffinch, 9 Linnet, 3 Reed Bunting, Chiffchaff, 4 Goldcrest, 2 Skylark, 6 Meadow Pipit, 1-2 Snipe, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 9 Teal, 3 Shoveler, 32 Gadwall, 7 Tufted Duck (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 50 Wigeon, 193 Gadwall, 44 Shoveler, 4 Teal, 3 Little Egret, Kingfisher, 10 Little Grebe, 4 Great Crested Grebe, 6 Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Redpoll (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: Short-eared Owl (Bob Vaughan)


Wanstead Park & Flats: Firecrest in Bush Wood, Little Egret on Heronry, c80 Gadwall, c20 Wigeon, c15 Teal, 20 Egyptian Goose on ponds (James Heal); Woodcock from Long Wood (Bob Vaughan); Reed Bunting (Tony Brown)


Wanstead Flats: 34 Gadwall, 11 Shoveler, 13 Teal, 2 Pochard, 6 Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, 6 Pied Wagtail, Reed Bunting, 2 Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 215 Gadwall, 40 Wigeon, 34 Shoveler, 14 Teal, 12 Tufted Duck, Water Rail, 2 Little Egret, 6 Little Grebe, 5 Great Crested Grebe, 170+ Black-headed Gull, 12+ Goldcrest, Redwing, Common Buzzard (Nick Croft)


Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: Woodcock flushed from edge of gorse near Hollow Pond early morning, Treecreeper, 14 Fieldfare over, 300+ Woodpigeon S at dawn, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, 300+ Starling SW at dawn, Skylark over, Little Egret on Hollow Pond (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Flats: 8 Shoveler, 9 Teal, 15 Gadwall, Little Egret (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 2 Redwing, 45 Wigeon, 16 Teal, 30 Shoveler, 320 Gadwall, 2 Pochard, 2 Kingfisher, Little Egret, Grey Wagtail, 4 Goldcrest (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: Jack Snipe, Stonechat, 500+ Common Gull, 19 Shoveler, 24 Gadwall, 16 Teal, 11 Tufted Duck, Pochard, 2 Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, 2 Sparrowhawk, 3 Kestrel, 50+ House Sparrow, 8 Linnet, 2 Reed Bunting, 2 Goldcrest (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 30 Fieldfare (Bob Vaughan)


Leyton Flats/ Hollow Ponds: 3 Goldcrests, Meadow Pipit and Little Egret. (Simon Worsfold)

Wanstead Flats: 1200+ Starling west, 180+ Fieldfare, 54 Redwing, 11 Linnet, 5 Reed Bunting, 46 Gadwall, 9 Shoveler, 11 Teal, 8 Tufted Duck, 2 Meadow Pipit, Skylark (Tony Brown/James Heal/Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 40+ Wigeon, 229 Gadwall, 19 Shoveler, 30+ Teal, 2 Pochard, 15+ Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, 3 Little Egret, 10+ Goldcrest, Chiffchaff (Nick Croft/James Heal)


Wanstead Flats: WeBS 106 Mallard, 38 Gadwall, 15 Shoveler, 11 Teal, 19 Egyptian Goose, 17 Tufted Duck, 1 f Pochard, 410+ Common Gull, 123 Black-headed Gull, Kingfisher, 5 Meadow Pipit, 2 Grey Wagtail, 5 Pied Wagtail, 6+ Skylark, Reed Bunting, 2 Linnet, 2 Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, 3 Goldcrest (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 3 Firecrest, 6 Goldcrest (Bush Wood) raptor gliding east with closed fingers on wing, hung for a few seconds then moved on, dark with no obvious underwing structure, but a slightly forked tail (too late surely for Black Kite!) (Nick Croft); WeBS 299 Gadwall, 49 Wigeon, 37 Teal (new record), 38 Shoveler (Tim Harris/WREN Group)


Wanstead Flats: 36 Gadwall, 14 Shoveler, 11 Teal, 10 Pied Wagtail, 2 Meadow Pipit, 4 Skylark, 400+ Starling, 2 Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Goldcrest (Nick Croft)

Leyton Flats/Snaresbrook: 4 Fieldfare over, Redwing, 15 Siskin W, 14 Gadwall, 2 Pochard, Shoveler, Treecreeper, 10+ Goldcrest (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Flats: Stonechat still, Redpoll, 2 Meadow Pipit, 5 Skylark, dead Jack Snipe found on Belgrave Road (Nick Croft)

Snaresbrook Crown Court: Woodcock (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Park: 61 Wigeon (new record for site), 154 Gadwall, 19 Teal, 16 Shoveler, 30 Tufted Duck, 2 Grey Wagtail (Rob Sheldon)


Wanstead Flats: 34 Gadwall, 17 Shoveler, 10 Teal, 2 Tufted Duck, 2 Meadow Pipit (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 340 Gadwall, 50+ Wigeon, 35 Shoveler, 21 Teal, 31 Tufted Duck, 2 Little Egret, 11 Goldcrest, Chiffchaff, Sparrowhawk, 2 ad Great Crested Grebe (Nick Croft) Goosander (Mike Messenger)


Wanstead Flats: 9 Linnet, Lesser Redpoll, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, 3 Common Pochard, 2 Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 50+ Wigeon, 200+ Gadwall, 37 Shoveler, 16 Teal, Little Egret, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail (Bob Vaughan)


Wanstead Flats: 40 Gadwall, 15 Shoveler, 5 Teal, 6 Tufted Duck, 3 Reed Bunting, 40+ Goldfinch, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 45-60 Wigeon, 268 Gadwall, 29 Shoveler, 30 Teal, Little Egret, Grey Wagtail, 25+ Goldfinch (James Heal/Bob Vaughan)


Wanstead Flats: 16 Gadwall, 8 Shoveler, 8 Teal, 8 Tufted Duck, f Pochard, 2 Great Black-backed Gull, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 280+ Gadwall, 40+ Wigeon, 40 Shoveler, 31 Teal, 11 Tufted Duck, 3 Little Egret, 11+ Goldcrest, Sparrowhawk, 2 Little Grebe, Grey Wagtail (Nick Croft/Mike Messenger)

Snaresbrook Crown Court: Firecrest around front of court first heard in woods east of Annex, Grey Wagtail (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Flats: 6 Reed Bunting, 5 Skylark. 12 Teal (Tony Brown); Stonechat, Great Black-backed Gull (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 2 Nuthatch, Treecreeper, 3 Coal Tit, 12 Goldcrest, 2 Sparrowhawk, 3 Little Egret, 6 Grey Heron, 3 Little Grebe, up to 467 Gadwall, 35 Shoveler, 34 Wigeon, 13 Teal, 18 Tufted Duck, 4 Stock Dove (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: f Merlin mobbed by crow south over Alex towards Manor Park, 2 Kestrel, 2-3 Sparrowhawk, Reed Bunting, 25 Gadwall, 19 Shoveler, 14 Teal, 3 Pochard, 13 Tufted Duck (Nick Croft) Common Buzzard (Jono Lethbridge)

Wanstead Park: 4 Water Rail, 3 Little Egret, 253 Gadwall, 22 Shoveler, 24 Wigeon, 15 Teal, 20 Tufted Duck, 2 Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, 2 Grey Wagtail, Siskin, 7 Goldcrest. 2 Nuthatch, Common Buzzard, Kestrel (Nick Croft/BobVaughan)


Wanstead Flats: several Reed Bunting, Siskin, 6 Linnet, Kestrel, 2 Goldcrest, 10+ Gadwall, 2 Teal, 5+ Shoveler, f Pochard, 3 Tufted Duck (Nick Croft/Bob Vaughan/Sean Kerrigan)

Wanstead Park: 5 Little Egret, Great Crested Grebe, Kingfisher, 6 Goldcrest, Firecrest (Bush Wood), 150+ Gadwall, 16 Wigeon, 10+ Shoveler, 3 Teal (Nick Croft/Bob Vaughan)

Hollow/Eagle Ponds (Leyton Flats): 20 + Gadwall, 3 Shoveler, Teal, m Pochard, 20 + Tufted Duck, 3 Great Crested Grebe, Nuthatch, 5 Goldcrest (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats:
4 Reed Bunting, 2 Meadow Pipit, 20 Shoveler, 10+ Gadwall, 10+ Tufted Duck, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, 2 Goldcrest, Fieldfare, Redwing, singing Mistle Thrush (Nick Croft/Bob Vaughan)

Wanstead Park: 5 Little Egret, 2 Water Rail, Kingfisher, 2 Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, 2 singing Mistle Thrush, 4 Goldcrest, m Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Nuthatch, 90+ Gadwall, 20 Wigeon, 6 Teal, 10 Shoveler, 25 Tufted Duck (Nick Croft)