Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Big Birding Year: Part XIII (“Look Mum, no feet!”)

Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats

Wanstead Flats is the most southerly tip (albeit disconnected from the rest) of Epping Forest. It is totally surrounded by East London’s urban sprawl. I visited for the first time this weekend (and for less than an hour as I got rained on quite heavily).

If you want to see how a really slick birder blogs about this place, check out the Wanstead Birder (I seem to be blocked from linking to him on this site)

I did not take any good photos, but whilst I was ferreting around in some bushes trying to photograph a Green Woodpecker (honestly Officer!), I looked up through a gap in the branches and saw the unmistakeable shape of my 83rd species of bird for the year: my first swift of the season (rather later than normal). I yanked my camera lens towards the sky and just managed to catch a blurry shape as it whizzed by…

Common Swift (Apus apus)

Common Swift (Apus apus)

The Latin name for the Swift means ‘no feet’. This is not strictly true, but it is true that this unsurpassed natural flying machine does have very small feet indeed. As I like to regale to people in an attempt to impart some wonder as an explanation for my geeky hobby, a young Swift will wobble to the edge of its nest and when it eventually fledges / takes off (if it survives) it will not touch land again for around 3 years until it is old enough to breed (just to re-cap in case anyone hasn’t got what I mean, the bird will be permanently airborne – sleeping and eating and everything – for years!)

I intend to return to Wanstead Flats to explore the birdlife more another time.

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A Big Birding Year: Part XII (summer migrants)

Having been out of the birding loop for a few weeks (including being out of the country for a couple), I returned to find that the steady march of Spring and Summer continues at pace.

My quest to see as many species of bird in a year benefitted from the fact that many Summer arrivals are now in our skies, trees, hedgerows, and reeds.

At the London Wetland Centre on Saturday, I added eight new birds to my year list, five of which were summer migrants…

Such as the noisy but secretive Reed Warbler:

Eurasian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

Eurasian Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)

… and the notoriously nondescript Garden Warbler (also notoriously badly named, as it is rarely found in gardens):

Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin)

Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin)

More difficult to photograph than even these shy warblers, were some of the speed demons of our summer skies, such as:

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

Common Tern (Sterna hirundo)

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)

… and one of the few birds able to predate on such small and swift acrobats…

Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo)

Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo)

… although, while I watched it whip about effortlessly in the sky, it was simply feeding on insects and avoiding persistent mobbing from gulls (the photo below illustrating quite clearly how small the hobby is):

Hobby and gull

Also out patrolling the skies was a permanent UK resident:

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Far out in the wetland, I noticed something scuttle past a roosting goose. You may need to look hard just to find it. Whilst the photo is poor, it clearly shows just how tiny Little Ringed Plovers are in comparison to the Canada Goose (and in response to your inevitably raised eyebrow, I don’t know why such a bulky bird finds it comfortable to sleep on one leg either!):

Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) to the right of the roosting Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) to the right of the roosting Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

…and finally, another blurry shot of the last of the common UK pigeons to be added to my year list:

Stock Dove (Columba oenas)

Stock Dove (Columba oenas)

This set of birds took my tally of species up to 82 for the year so far. Here are a few more Spring snaps I took in Barnes:

Mallard ducklings (Anas platyrhinchos)

Mallard ducklings (Anas platyrhinchos)

Eurasian Coot with chick (Fulica atra)

Eurasian Coot with chick (Fulica atra)

And finally, letting everyone know that some birds are here all year round and that not everything changes…

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

European Robin (Erithacus rubecula)