24 December 2018

2018 navel gazing

And it's that time of year again when I have to come up with some spirited (literally) words to sum up the year that was 2018–it got cold, it got hot, it ignited–a year that looked to be heading for a dark litter filled corner until the whole place burnt down and we ended up with the lowest circle of hell.  Then things turned around and we all lived happily ever after!


Stu's Caspian Gull remained on the Eagle Pond into the new year lingering (or malingering) to at least the 22nd, much to the indifference of the non-lariphiles, while Tim found a Med Gull on the basin on the 3rd.  Great excitement ensued as the first twitchable Great Egret turned up on the Perch pond on the 8th and presumably the same bird on the 16th and 17th.

2017's Hawfinch bonanza became a sole bird kicking around the park from the 21st in the OSW and then again on the 22nd. In Bush Wood everybody had done their mad rush for Firecrest, Treecreeper and Nuthatch and will be back next year, same time!  Meanwhile for the second year running a couple of Stonechats kept their distance, one by Cat & Dog (for the 2nd winter) and a male by the car park on Centre Road.


The first Goldeneye  was spotted on the Roding  in the park on the 3rd by a visiting birder–namely me!  It turned out later that Mike M had seen it the previous week (30th January).

The first singing Skylark on the flats took to the air on the 14th, and the first migrant Stonechat on the 22nd just before the first big movement of Lapwing on the 24th as the Beast from the East rolled in, with a further 91 the next day, 124 on the 26th, 299 on the 27th, and a massive 860 on the 28th–an awe inspiring spectacle tinged with sadness in the knowledge that many would not make it through the cold snap.

Tim picked up the only 2 Golden Plover, surprising this, over the flats that afternoon, while Mike M re-found the Hawfinch in the glade (Tim spotted a small flock going south over Heronry on the 28th). A jack Snipe on the Jubilee on the 22nd, a few Snipe also came in with the beast, while 400 + Fieldfare fled the oncoming armageddon, while the Caspian was reported back on Eagle Pond.


The cold snap lock-down continued for the first week of March: 100 Lapwing struggling through on the 1st while a Dunlin vainly pecked at the banks of a very frozen Perch Pond, along with 5 Common Snipe. The Hawfinch surfaced in the yews behind the ranger's cottages on the 2nd and was seen several times towards the end of the month back in the OSW.

The first Rook, which had a good year, on the 6th as did the year's first Red Kite, and the first Wheatear on the 16th winning Rob S the new Guess When They Are Going To Turn Up prize  Tony had a Med Gull on the 14th, which incidentally was the same number of Buzzard (14 that is) seen on the 16th.  By the end of the month it was becoming clear that Little Owls were becoming increasingly showy, but that did nothing in the way of counting them.  A Marsh Harrier over Jubilee pleased everybody especially Simon R who happened to be standing next to me at the time on the 26th, which was the day the first Sand Martin arrived too.


The second earliest Ring Ouzel on the 3rd, became 3 on the 4th–another good, if not the best, year for the mountain thrush which by the end of the Autumn saw us reach the 100 (at least) mark in 10 years. The 5th saw my first cock-up of the year when a redstart flushed from Long Wood flew into the brooms, I got side-tracked by the bird that followed it–a friggin' Dunnock–and lost the bird.  On a day when just 2 Common Reds were reported UK-wide and over 60 Black's noted, I know which one my piss poor views suggested!  To add to my incompetence a visiting birder claimed a Black Redstart on the enclosure a few days later on the 9th.

Another day another black bird, this time a kite and my first entry into the bin of non-proven for the year on the 6th.  The first Yellow Wagtail on the 10th  and the year's first Brambling on the 11th, which spent a few days pottering around the trees on Alex.  On the 13th a Tree Pipit doing sub-song at the viz-mig point was the first singing bird we'd heard here (Marco had another on the 3rd May).  Both Lesser and Common Whitethroats appeared on the 15th, Swallow on the 3rd and House Martin on the 21st, while a Redstart I could ID popped up on the 17th.

We got our own Caspian Gull on the 17th (thanks to Jamie Partridge for the confirmation) which I suppressed till the evening! Ha! Whatsapp mf

The only Cuckoo of the year was found and lost by James H on the 22nd, while Little Ringed Plover and Common Sandpiper did the decent thing and land in front of Tony B and me sitting by the Alex on the 21st, 2 Whimbrel on the 28th flying west in the rain also by Alex were the first for 2 years.

The first of not that many spring Whinchat by the Alex on the 28th and the first confirmed Hobby on the 30th (there had been a probable bird on the 6th), Swift and Reed Warbler were added on the 22nd giving as a respectable 113 by the end of the month.


Additions this month were Spotted Flycatcher in the OSW on the 11th and  Common Tern on the 14th flying north over the brick pits.  A female Redstart on the 1st, spanking male Whinchat on the 2nd were the migrant highlights along side a trickle of Wheatear.

An early count of Common Whitethroat territories gave a total of 24 across the OSW and flats (it'll be interesting to see how many can find a territory next year on the flats!), and 5 Lesser Whitethroats singing on the flats.

June & July

Cancelled due to apathy


Begrudgingly one has to mention the Black-tailed Godwit (whisper fence-jumper) that Jono picked up on Alex on the 4th, which surprisingly (really not a surprise!) is his bird of the year.

The first Yellow-legged Gull(s) were in and not doing much from the 11th, the first of the only two Sedge Warbler on the 18th, and what would have been the first Garden Warbler on the same until it became apparent a bird from the spring had been suppressed on the (not telling you)Whatsapp group. Then someone arsoned us!

And we thought that's it for the year and probably next year too, So I had to come back and help the fellas out again: Red-backed Shrike on the 28th and Pied Flycatcher on the 29th. Whinchat hit a high of 7 on the 28th while it was poor for Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Tree Pipit (Stu had one on the 15th over Leyton Flats).

Luckily our Little Owls had avoided getting roasted and now boasted 9 birds, spread throughout the copses across the flats.  It appears that keeping it in the family is not an issue for these and other raptors and we now probably have the highest concentration of owls in the capital, what a come back!

On the 12th our earliest returning Wigeon was found on the Roding


While the RB Shrike lingered till the 8th it transpired it might have eluded us all for a week prior it being found in the pub scrub, but with all its admirers it wasn't long before they actually contributed to the year list namely Green Sandpiper on the 3rd and a second Marsh Harrier on the 1st.

Stu had a probable and calling Red-rumped Swallow on the 5th (Leyton Flats) and if ever there was someone who knows about calls it would be Stu, and they are pretty distinctive.  Again visiting birders came up with a Tree Pipit (a really poor year) on the 8th which was the only autumn bird noted.  Hirundine movement gained pace during the month, with 40 House Martin on the 8th–a torrid year for our local birds numbers way down on previous years–and 80 on the 12th.

A Siskin on the 19th was warning that Summer was almost done, and 265 Meadow Pipit on the 22nd was indication that migration was on the hurry up. Tony picked up a Yellow-browed on the 29th, while Jono got a Sedge on the 26th, meanwhile the Yellow-legged Gulls didn't do much till the 22nd at least.


The last Spotted Flycatcher made it till the 1st, while an early returning Ouzel popped up on the 5th (and our 100th on the 27th), on Alex a rather beautiful, but fairly plastic Barnacle Goose started a fairy lengthy stay.  Teal numbers hit a record high of 57 in the park on the 6th and 2 Common Snipe spent a few days on Shoulder of Mutton. A late f Redstart finished of a poor year for the species on the 7th, while an even later Whinchat on the 10th was the latest by a week. This year's Rock Pipit was found feeding with Mipit on the ploughed area to the south of  Long Wood on the 16th and a Water Pipit on Alex on the 21st also feeding with a few mipit was the first to get its picture taken.

I had quite a good day on the 17th, the kind of drizzly day which at this time of year is good while at others is just grim drizzly day to be avoided by staying on the sofa or in bed: the first Short-eared Owl of the year, the second Yellow-browed and then a 3rd for London in the form of a Rustic Bunting.  Cue hapless searching as night fell!  Luckily for my chums and an appreciative crowd the bird was still there in the morning and for the next few days till the 21st.

Now that I have my colleagues attention Tony added the first Barn Owl since the 20th Century and in many ways a better bird than the diminutive bunting.

A second Jack Snipe appeared on Alex on the 23rd and was flushed several times from the pub scrub over the following weeks.  A second Short-eared owl on the 25th, another Great Egret on the 24th–I like October.

Another good viz mig day on the 28th: 104 Lapwing, 836 Fieldfare, 353 Redwing, 550 Chaffinch, Brambling, 7 Linnet, 94 Skylark and 1600 Starling was not too shabby–I like October.


Two Cattle Egret on the 4th mean another grip back against Bob, who had previously got the only record for the greater patch, and a bit of upset for Richard R, who got one Egret sp fly past him minutes later only to not take much notice of it! The same day a Firecrest popped up by Alex and our 2nd Caspian Gull, also by Alex.  I let the boys know about this one the next day as it was still there.

Adrian P had a female Scaup on Eagle Pond on the 11th, which went under the radar,  while I rightly predicted the alternate year rule for Merlin, with the worst views I've had a of a male bird sauntering passed Alex on the 16th, earlier I'd had a Dunlin calling as it flew south over the flats.  The next day and James H finds a patch lifer in the form of a female Lesser-spotted Woodpecker with 2 Treecreeper in a large tit flock by Heronry–the first record for a couple of years and the first female for many more than that (still present till the 24th December at least).

Meanwhile back on Eagle Pond, the Caspian Gull returned all nearly beautiful as an adult from the 22nd.


One sighting of the LSW and the repeat offender Caspian Gull at Eagle Pond were about the highlights, though, and I am getting all anthropomorphic here, last year's single Stonechats have got together and are happily co-cohabiting in the brooms–there is no evidence to back up this romantic tosh that they are the same birds from last year, but end on a high it being the season of good will and all that bollox!

It's also that time of the year when I ask a few random people I met at the pub last Thursday what the highlight/event of 2018 was and their predictions for 2019 would be.  When I finally asked the people I knew as opposed to Weatherspoons regulars it all began to make a bit more sense.  Though reviewing what they've said below perhaps not!

Sean Kerrigan replied:

Best Bird event / sighting in 2018 has got to be cycling home across the Flats and seeing the Rustic Bunting  …. On the ground mainly with a couple of Pied Wagtails !    One of the guys there had spent so much time wandering around the Flats until he found the right spot that he was totally dis-orientated and had no idea if he’d parked his car in Wanstead, Manor Park or Forest Gate  ….  Not sure he ever found his way home !

The bird of the year, indeed of the century so far, has got to be the Rustic Bunting !

Most likely new bird for the Patch will be Cattle Egret I think  … but my prediction for 2019 has got to be Hoopoe !

Good to see Mr Kerrigan checks the website, Cattle Egret there already mate!

James Heal

Best 2018: “I can’t decide between the elation of first seeing Nick’s Rustic Bunting at dawn before work (before we realised it was going to be so damn showy) and finding my patch first Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the Park”

Prediction: “Let’s go for another Bunting: Little Bunting in the Brooms.”
Go with elation fella!

Richard Rae

"Best bird of the year: very tough this year, clearly by any objective measurement it is Rustic Bunting but I am going to go for Black-tailed Godwit because of my sheer disbelief at it still being on Alex when I rocked up about an hour and a half after Jono found it!

Prediction for 2019
Temminck's Stint on Alex"

Tony Brown

He's gone with the Black-tailed Godwit

"Predictions for 2019
May as well continue the Bunting theme we’ve had over the last few years…Little Bunting in the Brooms would be a nice addition, but a large white-winged Gull on the Football pitches is more likely and overdue!"

Rob Sheldon

"Best bird: Rustic just for the rarity factor, and the unlikeliness of this species turning up on the Patch, [though] Red-backed Shrike–a better birding experience than the Rustic Bunting but just pipped to the post due to rarity.

Predictions for 2019: Great Grey Shrike and Dartford Warbler as rares. Mandarin Duck in the Park"

 Simon Raper

"Prediction for next year. Brexit will have no impact on bird migration, but that’s all that will stay the same.

GG Shrike and Smew."

Since he didn't give a best bird I will pick the Caspian Gull which brought up his century for the year! though I guess he could have had Marsh Harrier,  but he's probably forgotten about that!

Marco Johnson

"Best bird of 2018 the Brambling on Alex, and my prediction for 2019 a Bluethroat"

 There you go

And we should perhaps take note as Marco was one who predicted R-b Shrike!

Bob Vaughan

I am guessing he was happy with both the the Barn Owl and the Rustic Bunting, a bit more certain on his prediction for 2019 and he too has gone with a Little Bunting–haven't they sussed that rare bunting are every other year!

Tim Harris

More than happy with his first Hawfinch for the patch, but was pretty made up with the Rustic, but forgot to go for a prediction went with his Great Egret on Perch as best bird, and Alpine Swift for next year's prediction

Jono Lethbridge

oh, he went for his Back-tailed Godwit as best bird!

And what do I draw from this exercise in futility, the hour or two of my life  I'll never get back?  Not a lot, but I predict I won't be doing this again next year.

So a tie for best bird between the predictable Rustic Bunting, 3rd for London and BB rarity and a Black-tailed Godwit, that still breeds up the road in Cambridgeshire and appears in the 100's in an estuary near you.  Now since I've got the casting vote here it would obviously go with the bunt, but no, for me the Barn Owl is my bird of the year, so tie it is!

Strange that for all the predictions of RB Shrike, it hardly got a mention, and as for Cattle Egret–if a few others had got on to it, well who knows.

My prediction for next year Greenish Warbler

Scores on the doors

Who could the winner be?


Lastly as we will be hitting the big ten years for our bird reports I again reached out to my colleagues for their reflections of the last decade of birding brilliance on the flats. In particular to give me their top ten birds over that time even, and I stressed this, they hadn't seen it or weren't birding the patch at the time.  So you can where this going, I mean these are intelligent, articulate people

you'd think


Anyhoo, we'll have the winners coming soon! 

Can't fucking wait


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