5 December 2019

Autumn Bird Report: Summary and some phenology

Summary and highlights
Autumn 2019 on our Patch will not exactly go down as being a great vintage in the way that 2018 did (anyone remember Rustic Bunting, Red-backed Shrike and Barn Owl? You may not, however, remember the 'untwitchables' of: Gannet, Yellow-browed Warbler, Cattle Egret, and Merlin).

Despite being pretty pale in comparison with 2018, autumn 2019 has had some solid bird records which were patch ticks for several of us. Highlights included:
  • Tony's Osprey over the Brooms on 28 September (a bird I sadly missed), followed just a week later by...
  • A Marsh Harrier on 5 October, also flying east over the Brooms (spotted jointly by Jono and Tony).
  • Also on 5 October Tony flushed our first Jack Snipe of the year by Heronry.
  • A few mostly-annual birds (if you are part of a very small and elite sub-section of our most committed workers) fell in quick succession this autumn with Yellowhammer on 7 October, Rock Pipit and Woodlark (both latter birds I have yet to etch on to my patch list and were found by Bob), and Lapwing on 24 October, found by Nick.
  • A Short-eared Owl was seen on both 22nd and 23rd October.
  • It was a good autumn for Yellow-legged Gull, with at least two different individuals being seen on 8, 9 16, 19, 22, 24 and 29 September as well as 1, 6, and 10 October.
  • Nick also had Goldeneye over the Park on 10 November, only the sixth occasion this species has been recorded on the patch in the last decade.
  • The bird of the autumn for almost all of us, certainly in terms of how well viewed it was, must be the long-staying Greenshank on Heronry. First seen on 5 September (found by Simon Raper, although misidentified at first as he was in a rush taking his children to school) and staying 12 days (!) until 17th. This was the first time this species had been seen on this lake since it was drained over 20 years ago. Ludicrously, it wasn't even a patch year tick for Nick, but still his first on the deck.
Greenshank - James Heal
Jack Snipe - Tony Brown

The last of the summer breeding birds
Most of our breeding Swift had departed by early August, but the last passage bird was seen by Nick on 1 September (apparently, the last one seen in London this year was on 14 September).

Garden Warbler hasn't been a breeding species on Wanstead Flats since 2014, but I include it in this section more out of hope than expectation. Autumn birds appeared from 1 August with the last one being seen for the year on 14 September.

Willow Warbler also did not establish any breeding territories, sadly, and was also last seen for the year on 14 September. Aside from the departure of Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler, the 14th was also the last day we had Common Redstart and Yellow Wagtail on the Patch and saw the autumn arrivals of Stonechat and Reed Bunting, so a real point of transition. The weather was very fine over 14 and 15 September with top temperatures of 25 degrees, clear evenings and low winds so perhaps a good time for migration.

Hobby had a successful breeding year locally and they left us in swelled numbers for warmer climes on 23 September. According to London Bird Wiki, the last London sighting of Hobby occurred just up the road in Walthamstow on 8 October.

Hobby - Nick Croft

Our last Common Whitethroat seemed to depart on 30 September, only a day before the last London record of this species for 2019. Lesser Whitethroat followed shortly after, with our last bird being seen on 2 October and the London-last three days later on the 5th.

Nick also had the last Reed Warbler of the year on 2 October. This was a patch record latest and was also the London latest for the year. Reed Warbler seemed to have a good year on the Patch with territories on Shoulder of Mutton and on the Roding by the Old Sewage Works although no nests were seen.

Reed Warbler - Nick Croft

I stopped seeing our dwindling population of House Martin after 19 September, although the last record of a passage bird was on 8 October. This was three days later than the mean average and 9 days earlier than our record latest ever.

Swallow are no longer breeding birds, but they are also being included in this section. Our last sighting was on 16 October, pretty much spot-on as the average last day that we see them (although I am aware that the last London record for this species in 2019 was 3 November).

We occasionally have one or two over-wintering birds, although the last Blackcap we recorded this autumn was on 22 October.

The passage migrants
In the summer summary (here), I ran through the seven key species of regular passage migrants that began with a Wheatear on 8 August. We now have a full picture of the autumn migration window: it was exactly two months long ending on 8 October with the last Whinchat for the year.

The table below attempts to give a picture of what our patch autumn migration looked like with first and last dates for each of the key species (I left out Ring Ouzel as they are just a bit too scarce and Willow Warbler was missed off as it was a recent breeding bird on the patch). The number of 'bird days' refers to the number of days each species was recorded on the patch, not the length of 'window' between first and last. And, 'high count' is hopefully obvious as the peak number of individual birds seen of each species on any particular day.

Northern Wheatear - James Heal

To pick out a few key observations (otherwise I shall let the data table speak for itself):
  • To borrow Nick's lingo, the autumn was a bit 'meh!' for Wheatear. The 28 bird days were, interestingly, split exactly between August and September with the mean average number of birds seen slightly weighted in favour of September.
  • Whinchat not only had the widest migration window (53 days) but also the highest number of bird days (40). In September Whinchat was seen on 19 days in total.
  • Common Redstart numbers reached their peak at the end of August and beginning of September with an average of five birds a day between 29 August and 2 September.
  • It wasn't exactly a bumper year for Spotted Flycatcher, although a total of 33 bird days through the autumn and 15 days in September is not bad. There were rarely high number of them, and so 12 birds on 13 September was a bit of an anomaly as the second highest count was 6 birds (and that was the day before).
  • Pied Flycatcher had the lowest number of bird days of the group, but this was still a record breaking autumn for this species on the Patch, although only three of the 13 bird days were in September.
  • As I mentioned in the last summary, it was a very poor autumn for passage Yellow Wagtails although the high count of 11 birds was recorded on the first day of September.
Spotted Flycatcher - Nick Croft

Autumn arrival
Autumn depart
Bird days
High count
N Wheatear
8 August
22 September
16 August
8 October
C Redstart
12 August
14 September
Spotted Flycatcher
11 August
2 October
Pied Flycatcher
11 August
21 September
Tree Pipit
11 August
17 September
Yellow Wagtail
13 August
14 September

Ring Ouzel was an October bird this autumn with a total of four sightings in the fortnight between 7th and 21st October.

Autumn/Winter arrivals
The first Linnet of the autumn appeared on 10 September and since then we have had our usual flock often congregating around Jubilee Pond, Police Scrape and in the Broom Fields. On 18 November, Tony counted 39 of them (although apparently there used to be c50 in our Linnet flock(s).

The first autumn Stonechat was recorded on 14 September (actually three birds) and they have been almost a constant feature since then in both the Brooms and SSSI with up to five birds being seen on any given day.

Stonechat - Tony Brown

The first Redpoll of the autumn was seen on 15 October, but there have been very few records since. Rather more frequently recorded on the Flats this autumn has been Woodcock. Bob scored the first of the season on 31 October and there have been regular sightings of up to two birds since, although still evading yours truly for my list despite one flying over my head whilst I was carrying morning coffees back to my patch workers. I'm not bitter.

Of winter thrushes, the less said the better. The first Redwing of the autumn flew over on 2 October, but numbers haven't exactly been epic since then; reflecting what has felt like pretty poor visible migration to me more generally. Fieldfare was first recorded on the patch on 7 October this year. I didn't think I could top the embarrassment of blanking Yellow Wagtail on the Patch this year, but it is now looking increasingly likely that I will go the whole year without ticking off Fieldfare (I saw literally hundreds last year).

Whilst on the topic of visible migration, there have been good numbers of locally gathering Greenfinch (tens), Goldfinch (high tens), and Parakeet (700+), with some impressive counts of flyover Jackdaw (hundreds), Woodpigeon (many hundreds), and even the odd murmuration of Starling (1000+), although Chaffinch, Brambling, and other finch numbers seem to be down on average, and you can forget about Hawfinch.

Here are some more pics:

Sparrowhawk - Nick Croft

Lapwing - Nick Croft

Kingfisher - Nick Croft

Teal - Nick Croft


  1. 39 Linnets - the Autumns highlight!

  2. Excellent round-up. Makes some of my patches look positively moribund...

  3. Great summary James, is that the excitement over 'til Spring?