25 February 2018

Lapwing by numbers

Updated blog post...

As the cold-weather front known as the 'Beast from the East' has finally ended, almost a week after it first started to chill the country, it is worth reflecting on impact on bird movements and behaviours. On the Patch we've had a frozen Dunlin, a pair of Golden Plover, several Snipe and Woodcock showing uncommonly well, and big thrush movements. But most impressive has been the number Lapwing that passed over.

In six days we had just over 1600 individual Lapwing pass over, with a low of 91 birds counted on Tuesday and high which more than doubled the previous Patch record and saw 860 Lapwing fly over on Wednesday. These huge numbers belie the fact that Lapwing are good birds for the Patch.

One of the birds from yesterday (24th February 2018), flying over Police Scrape

'How good?' I hear you ask. Well, I have been doing some rather unscientific number crunching. The source for my data was our collective Twitter feeds: counting up every time Lapwing were reported since Jono started all of this back in the dark age of 2009 (probably before I had even heard of Wanstead Flats to be honest).

What I discovered was that Lapwing were not quite as scarce locally as I had thought. Since the first Twitter record in December 2009, there have been 62 days when Lapwing were recorded on the Patch and a huge total of 3002 individual birds have been seen. Of this large total, the vast majority have been seen on just eight days, over half were seen in the last week, and 29 per cent of the total were seen on Wednesday!

Each of the eight days when Lapwing have been most frequently seen have been, unsurprisingly, unseasonably cold, averaging out at 8 degrees celsius colder than the monthly average (yes, I really did go back and check the local weather reports for each of those days - I'm not just making this up).

If we break the data down a little further, the spread by month of sightings and numbers of individual birds is also interesting (well, it is to me anyway). I have collected these data into a double 'y' axis chart below.

Looking at the red columns corresponding to the right 'y' axis, we can see the total days by month that Lapwing have been seen. October is the month we seem to be most likely to spot a Lapwing with over a quarter of all sightings falling in this month. This is followed closely by February with 12 days. January and December take joint third place. 

If we switch to the blue line and the left 'y' axis, this shows the number of individual birds seen by month. Then February blows every other month out of the water. It stood out before the last week, but now is on a different level: 2080 birds have been seen which is almost 70 per cent of the total and is an average of 173 birds per day that Lapwing were recorded.

I'm not sure I want or need to try and draw many conclusions from this collection of data, but it hopefully gives us a slightly clearer picture of the Lapwing movements from this one geographical location.

6 February 2018

The Brick Pit Bruiser: Great Black-backed Gull

During the winter months, you can find several hundred gulls on the Wanstead Flats. The combination of sizeable mown grassland with 50+ football pitches (ideal for foot paddling for worms), a few lakes with ‘beaches’, and regular feedings of industrial quantities of bread must all serve as attractions to gulls. The relative proximity to several huge watery or waste gull magnet sites cannot hurt either.  

The numbers of Common Gull present are sizeable enough to be an important site for the species, and counts of 500+ are not unusual. 

In second place comes the Black-headed Gull which can also be numbered in the multiple of hundreds.

Herring Gull and Lesser Black-backed Gull are only normally present in small - sometimes single digit - numbers across the Patch.

With the exception of scarce visitors or local rarities (with Yellow-legged Gull and Mediterranean Gull being the most common), the remaining commonly found gull, Great Black-backed Gull, is also effectively a local scarcity. Often only seen a few times in the year as fly-overs.

However, in recent years we have had a regular visiting adult on the Brick Pit field. 

I had only briefly seen it once this year from Bob’s car window after twitching the Great White Egret on Perch Pond. So, on Sunday, when I saw a large gull with dark saddle come down in the distance I instantly headed to the field in hope of a decent photograph. Sadly it is easily flushed and did not let me get anywhere near it, so I only managed record shots. But I did manage to capture it with a first winter bird as well.

I know it’s a poor photo but just look at the bull-necked beast with the 1W GBBG and a nervous looking Herring Gull to the left!

If the size of the 1W bird was not enough of a giveaway, the diffuse and narrow tail band and markings, the pale greater coverts, and the nice bright window on the primaries all just about show in this blurry flight-shot (you can hardly blame me for the blur - I had to shoot all of those red ID arrows after it).

3 February 2018

Goldeneye down the river

It has drizzled with winter rain almost all day. Not the nicest weather to be out on the Patch. But, picking up three Reed Bunting in the Brooms brightened the mood. As did seeing both of our wintering Stonechat. And, I rectified matters by finally seeing at least five of our resident Skylark on the Police Scrape.

That was about all I had to offer on my quick circuit around the Patch and so I duly headed home to dry off and warm up. I thought I had been the only birder out on the Patch in the rain (with Tony off twitching the American Horned Lark, Jono in Spain, Tim at the football, and Bob hard at work studying pavement lichens under the microscope), but I was wrong. Mr Croft - sadly a scarce sight on the Patch these days due to other commitments - had snuck out slyly and was scouring the Roding to try and fill a Kingfisher-shaped gap in his patch year list.

Sadly, Nick didn't connect with Kingfisher today. Instead he connected with something far better: a female Goldeneye.

This is the sixth occasion Goldeneye has been seen on the Patch in the last decade (albeit sometimes more than single birds), and apparently only the eighth record ever (!?). As the last sighting was when I was in Ibiza (innit), I was rather keen to introduce this charming diving ducky to my patch list. So I put my wet and muddy trousers back on and jumped in the motor to drive over to the Old Sewage Works.

By the time I reached Nick by the Roding behind the Ornamentals, I was rather out of breath and promptly spooked the Goldeneye which then immediately let itself float downstream. Luckily we caught up with her later further downstream towards the Old Sewage Works as the light, on an already gloomy day, was fading. Not ideal for photos, but I managed some grainy ones. Hopefully Nick will help out by adding some better quality ones later.

Meet the 78th bird for the Patch in 2018 and my 119th Patch tick: