26 February 2017

The Chaos after the Storm

It's February so all is slow and dull. Waking-up on Saturday there is a tweet from early-bird Tony - "Mediterranean Gull on Alex. Flew to football pitches". Impetus to wash and dress (it is still winter) and get out there, our regular Med. gull "Valentino" has gone AWOL so a good shout. OK, I take the car to be quick, and within about 30 minutes I'm going through the nearest large gull flock to Alex. Plenty of Black-headed in there but....so on to the rest of the scattered flocks on the pitch. Back to Alex. One thousand exciting Common Gulls and a few hundred good looking Black-heads later I phone Tony. It had flown west and settled. I widened my search circle and even did the Brick-pit and southern area! Nada. Tony comes back and Jono appears and we discuss the state of the known universe for a while.

I confessed to having used the car and offered Jono a lift back, however he eschewed this kindness and set-off on his prime mission to get some bread from Wild Goose in Leytonstone.  Inevitably he found the Mediterranean gull miles away on the Western flats football pitches and I missed his phone call. About 30 minutes later I was out there, quite close to where I live, giving the assorted gulls a somewhat over zealous grilling. It had gone, I checked every single gull diligently, it was great fun. Anyway 10,000 steps done.

The very next day I decided to revisit the Western flats football pitches, and there at the back was indeed the gull strutting it's stuff in a cocky sort of way

it then flew as a tractor approached

but settled again to allow a reasonable approach

Sorted finally, so off to get the Sunday paper, relax and put my feet up. Sadly the Observer was full of Robert Mercer, a very right-wing plutocrat who has effectively engineered the Brexit and Trump disasters through media manipulation. Apologies, but you need to be aware of this, the environment is more important than money generation for the few.

Meanwhile Jono had been out and discovered a toy female Red-Crested Pochard on the highly artificial Jubilee pond! I had promised, and did, take my family to see the top twenty local wildlife photographs exhibited in the Temple in Wanstead Park. It was organised by the WREN group and was excellent. On getting back I had thirty minutes of freedom. I walked! This gave me five minutes to walk around the pond avoiding the bread chuckers. No RCP visible. It had clearly taken one look at the porridge that is Jubilee and as any self-respecting wild bird would, had set-off for um pastures greener. Or not. Tony found it when he visited.

At just after 16-00 I maneged to escape, took the car and lo, this time even I couldn't miss it.

It continued on it's way parading for the three groups of bread-chuckers about the pond at 16-20 on a Sunday in February.

It is not yet Spring and we had a bit of a storm and I was chasing all over the place. Loads of steps accumulated, but I need to get into training for what is to come, or perhaps get the bird first time?

8 February 2017

Missing: Any news in January and a large part of Wanstead Flats

So with no news being posted on London Bird Club site by my colleagues, this looks like it will be the last time I have to do a monthly round up–just follow Twitter.  Luckily I am not doing the Bird Report next year.

And talking of Twitter after many a heated message, The CoLC come up with their explanation of the destruction wrought on our favourite part of the flats (published as a consequence of the debate on the 8th Feb) .  It was all a cunning plan...

 Above: formerly known as the brick pit copse (or Dell apparently]

Formerly the best spot for migrant birds in London, the enclosure.  Now not so enclosed or good,  Thanks CoLC


Wanstead Flats scrub management

At Wanstead Flats, scrub is an important component of the habitat and has great conservation value, especially for insects and birds. Historically, most of the bigger scrub has developed around the edges of the grassland because the Flats were grazed by commoners' cattle.


Annual management of scrub

This regular work, which has been carried out for many years, is aimed at conserving the small section of the Epping Forest Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) at Wanstead, keeping pathways open and maintaining firebreaks. Natural England have approved a ten year plan for scrub and grassland management at Wanstead Flats of which this is a part.

We have divided the Flats into 8 key areas for scrub management and these are shown in Map 1 shows the main scrub areas (8 of them numbered) of two main categories, thorny scrub and broom scrub, on Wanstead Flats. These are either managed for conservation annually or cyclically. The SSSI scrub is included within Area 1. In some areas amenity and safety issues are also particularly important. [Why?]

 Uh oh looks like the remaining part of the SSSI is going to get the shit kicked out of it at some point

As well as this annual management of scrub, we also carry out longer-term cyclical scrub management. For this longer-term management, there are two main categories of scrub which are targeted. First is the older, more thorny and brambly scrub with mature trees on the edges of the Flats. The second target for work is the more recent development and expansion of broom scrub within the acid grassland habitat itself.

Thorny scrub

For the first category of scrub, such as at The Dell [I presume what we call Brick Pits copse], we carry out long-term cyclical scrub management in order to maintain a variety of ages and a varied structure within the habitat. The central parts of this scrub area are relatively recent in their development as can be seen in the aerial photographs below, which show how scrub has developed along the western side of the Dell (see top left of each aerial photo). This area has been cut in sections several times over the last twenty years to maintain young, thick but low scrub. We are undertaking work currently as part of that cycle of cutting to encourage younger scrub to develop. [Why?]

Broom scrub

The broom thickets, the second category of scrub, have been colonising the areas of grassland gradually over the last twenty years. Although scrub has probably been present at Wanstead Flats at low densities for hundreds of years, in the last 20 years this habitat has significantly [no it hasn't since the major fire in 1976] increased to form dense thickets. This reduces the area for the scarce acid grassland flora and for specialist grassland breeding birds like skylarks. The increase in this type of scrub can be seen in middle sections of the aerial photograph images of the Flats from 1992, 2003 and 2013 which have been composited in Map 2 [Kept the dogging areas though didn't you?]

I'll have 2013 please.  In 1976 a massive fire took out most of the scrub south of Long Wood, so this illustration is an alternative truth that suits the reasoning behind this management.  By 1992 not much had regrown

For these areas of broom scrub the work is aimed at removing shrubs to prevent the loss of acid grassland habitat whilst retaining smaller patches with an increased length of younger scrub-edge. This scrub-edge is the really valuable habitat for insects as it catches more sunlight and can maintain the warmth they rely on to survive. Insects using these broom thickets now include some scarce butterflies, moths and solitary bees.

Planning habitat conservation work

Therefore, in developing the plans for both the annual and longer-term cyclical work, the aim is to balance the needs of the specialist species of each of the component habitats; bearing in mind that the most threatened areas are the large areas of open acid grassland that are now very scarce and still declining in south-east England.

Our scrub management is selective, based on detailed mapping, and has been planned with decisions made on the basis of survey assessments and conservation and landscape values. We also are very grateful for the excellent information on wildlife that we receive from the local community and have adapted our work as new species finds have been made in recent years.

The annual clearance of areas of broom and gorse is undertaken by both our staff and by local volunteers whose enthusiasm and efforts are much appreciated. Recently, visitors might have noticed the piles of cut scrub which have arisen from work by community volunteers. These piles are pending final clearance by our staff. Although the worked areas may look damaged once cleared, they regrow quickly and ensure that a range of ages and classes of scrub are maintained ensuring a more diverse habitat.

So that's OK then!  Yes and no.

Acid grassland is important as so little of it remains, it is so important that little tweaking is going to mean bugger all.  If it is so important then get rid of the plantations that someone from the CoLC allowed in the first place, get rid of the football pitches, the car parks, the model airfield, the fairground.

So not that important then

Skylark.  Somehow knew this would appear somewhere–the fact that some of the very rare and special acid grassland was taken to make more football pitches–give that back and connect the two areas of acid grassland where Skylarks are found.  Get serious about the disturbance caused by users of the flats (yes dog walkers!).

OK not that important then

Landscape values: heard this before to justify some of the pig-headed destruction in the park.  This should have no part in management of such an important area. It is clear what most people feel about Landscape values in not what they take away from their visit more through what they leave behind.

Shit then

The good news is that it probably wont effect the migrants that like to think we are famous for, if we get any.  Good news for the breeding birds that would have used the area to raise young–it'll grow back in a few years time.  You'll probably not appreciate this as you'll be dead, losers!

Losers: Should have read the management plan, or spoken up during the consultation

Here's the other news what little there is of it


Wanstead Flats:
Yellow-browed Warbler still on Alex, Stonechat (Jonathan Lethbridge)

Wanstead Park: Firecrest
, 3 Water Rail, 5 Little Egret (Jonathan Lethbridge/Tim Harris)


Wanstead Flats: 
No confirmed sighting of Yellow-browed Warbler by evening, Chiffchaff, 3 Goldcrest, Stonechat, Skylark, Grey Wagtail, 6 Pochard, 3 Tufted Duck, 7 Shoveler, 6 Teal, 4 Gadwall, Common Buzzard, Kestrel, Linnet (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Park: Treecreeper, 2 Nuthatch, 2 Coal Tit, Sparrowhawk (Bob Vaughan/Tony Brown)


Wanstead Flats: Stonechat, Fieldfare, 4 Redwing, 7 Meadow Pipit, Goldcrest, 20 Shoveler, 3 Gadwall, 2 Teal, 4 Pochard, 4 Tufted Duck, 12 Linnet, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: Firecrest, 10 Goldcrest, Treecreeper, 2 Nuthatch, Coal Tit, 2 Siskin, 5 Redwing, 15 Fieldfare, 2 Teal, 33 Gadwall, 7 Shoveler, 3 Pochard, 12 Tufted Duck, 6 Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: Yellow-browed Warbler briefly with Long-tailed Tits at 08:30 (Rob Sheldon); Y-bW again briefly at 14:30, 3 Goldcrest, 4 Skylark, 12 Linnet, Reed Bunting, c20 Shoveler, 2 Teal, 2 Gadwall, 10+ Tufted Duck, 4 Pochard, 3 Redwing, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: Firecrest, Nuthatch, Coal Tit in Bush Wood (Bob Vaughan); 3 singing Coal Tit, 5 Goldcrest, 13 Fieldfare, 3 Redwing, 3 Mistle Thrush, Kingfisher, 5 Little Egret, 5 Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, 4 Shoveler, 3 Teal, 32 Gadwall, Pochard, 15 Tufted Duck (Nick Croft/Mike Messenger)


Wanstead Flats:
6 Skylark (Bob Vaughan); 6 Shoveler, 3 Teal, 2 Goldcrest, 30 Fieldfare, 8 Redwing, 2 Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: Water Rail, 2 Little Egret, 35 Gadwall, 6 Shoveler, 3 Pochard, 8 Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Chiffchaff, 2 Redwing, 3 Goldcrest (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats:
6 Meadow Pipit, flock of Linnet, Great Black-backed Gull (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Park: Water Rail, Little Egret, pr of Teal (Wanstead Birders); 2 Woodcock, Tawny Owl, 3 Little Grebe (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats:
7 Meadow Pipit, 13 Shoveler, 2 Teal, Goldcrest (Bob Vaughan/Nick Croft) 


Wanstead Flats:
16 Shoveler, 7 Teal, 2 Pochard (Nick Croft, Simon Worsfold)

Wanstead Park: Water Rail, 60 Gadwall, 12 Shoveler, 19 Teal, Wigeon, 2 Pochard, 2 Little Egret, 2 Goldcrest, 2 Redwing, 2 Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker (Nick Croft, Simon Worsfold)


Wanstead Flats:
11 Fieldfare, 2 Goldcrest, Skylark, singing Song Thrush, 2 singing Mistle Thrush (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: 33 Gadwall, 3 Pochard, 7 Tufted Duck, Great Crested Grebe, 3 Little Egret, singing Stock Dove (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats:
6 Teal, 16 Shoveler, Pied Wagtail (Simon Worsfold); 4 Meadow Pipit, 11 Redwing (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: Wigeon, 39 Gadwall, 11 Shoveler, 6 Teal, Little Grebe, Meadow Pipit, 3 Redwing, Great Spotted Woodpecker (Simon Worsfold)


Wanstead Flats: Woodcock, Little Owl
(Bob Vaughan); 12 Linnet (Tony Brown) 


Wanstead Flats:
WeBS 3 Teal, 4 Gadwall, 18 Shoveler, 117 Mallard, 6 Pochard, 13 Tufted Duck, 269 Canada Goose, 57 Greylag Goose, 13 Mute Swan, 686 Common Gull, 112 Black-headed Gull, 8 Herring Gull, 3 Lesser Black-backed Gull; others including Meadow Pipit, 12 Linnet, Reed Bunting, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk (Nick Croft) 


Wanstead Flats:
6 Redwing, 2 Goldcrest, 6 Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting, 10 Shoveler, 3 Teal (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Park: Chiffchaff, Nuthatch, Goldcrest, Grey Wagtail, Water Rail, Siskin, 12 Redwing, 4 Little Grebe, 15 Shoveler, 19 Gadwall, Wigeon, 5 Tufted Duck (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: 18 Lapwing,
Stonechat, Redwing, Fieldfare, 6 Meadow Pipit, 5 Reed Bunting (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Park: Kingfisher, 5 Teal, Little Grebe, Redwing, Nuthatch (James Heal)


Wanstead Flats:
700+ Common Gulls including 5 colour-ringed (one North Thames, 4 Norwegian) and metal-ringed Finnish bird 


Wanstead Flats: Little Owl
(Nick Croft) 


Wanstead Flats:
28 Shoveler, 8 Gadwall, 5 Teal, 3 Pochard, 23 Tufted Duck, 15 Linnet, Kestrel (Nick Croft)

Wanstead Park: Little Egret, Kingfisher, Goldcrest, Coal Tit, 2 singing Stock Dove, 44 Shoveler, 13 Gadwall, 19 Teal, 19 Tufted Duck, 2 Little Grebe, Kestrel (Nick Croft)