Monthly Archives: April 2015

Wanstead Patchwork: Part XIV (Day of the warblers)

In John Wyndham’s classic sci-fi novel, Day of the Triffids, some pretty advanced plants take over the world as the vast majority of humans are blinded by a comet shower.

It felt a little bit like warblers were taking over the patch this weekend. The summer migrants are everywhere. Aside from Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, and Blackcap, this weekend I added Whitethroat (I had heard one last weekend but didn’t add it to my patch year list because of the risk of Blackcap mimicry), Lesser Whitethroat (my first ever in London), Garden Warbler, Reed Warbler (heard only), and Wood Warbler (world life first for me).

The Wood Warbler sighting was a special event for London, let alone the patch (with it being a patch life tick for most of the local birders). Whilst I didn’t get any photos of this stunningly bright warbler, several others did and I fully recommend checking out their photos here, here, and here.

Along with a Common Sandpiper on one of the parkland lakes, that little haul took me to 80 bird species on the patch so far this year (Nick has already broken 100!)

In other local news…
The Wren conservation Group arranged one of their excellent skylark walks to help educate dog-walkers why keeping their canine pals on leads around the breeding site is so important. They were in the distance when a Whinchat posed briefly near them…

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

If it isn’t the day of the warblers, then it must be the day of the bees (although my glib comment is perhaps stupid given how under threat bees are in the UK). Bees now active on the patch include:

Female Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes) visiting White Nettle Lamium album)

Female Hairy-footed Flower Bee (Anthophora plumipes) visiting White Nettle Lamium album)

Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)

Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)*

Western Honey bee (Apis mellifera)

Western Honey bee (Apis mellifera)

And, my now regular image of Spring…

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

*Note: Tree Bumblebees were first recorded in the UK only 14 years ago!

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Wanstead Patchwork: Part XIII (Grip* Gropper)

Wanstead Flats has come alive in April. Collectively, the local birders have now seen 106 species of bird this year so far, with some of the most dedicated guys approaching 100 in their personal patch year lists – I am on 74, which is only just about respectable as I only make it out on to the patch about once a week.

New migrants are appearing regularly, with the highlight being the extraordinary-voiced Grasshopper Warbler (affectionately known as a ‘Gropper’). I spent a couple of hours on the evening of the day it was seen, hoping to hear it sing as darkness came, but with no luck.

I did, however, get to see another rare visitor – A Red-legged Partridge has spent a few days on the patch which is the first time in several years:

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)

Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa)

RLP

A more frequently visiting migrant has also delighted the birders with its first appearance this year so far:

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

The recent spate of summery weather, coupled with the arrival of so many migrants really has lifted spirits amongst the birders. My own bird surveying work, as well as that of some of my colleagues, has shown that Chiffchaff and Blackcap numbers are going through the roof…

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

And we also now have a few singing Willow Warblers arriving:

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

Here are a few more Spring-sights from the patch:

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)

A parakeet almost too fat for its front door (parakeets do not make their own holes and this one has squeezed into a woodpecker hole):

Ring-necked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)

Ring-necked Parakeet (Psittacula krameri)

Butterflies are now out in force:

European Peacock (Aglais io)

European Peacock (Aglais io)

Comma (Polygonia c-album)

Comma (Polygonia c-album)

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

*To grip (off): To see a bird which another birder missed and to tell them you’ve seen it.

The land and water of King Lot

We spent Easter in Edinburgh with family.

The city of Arthur’s Seat:

Arthur's Seat

Arthur’s Seat

Along with the mound on which Edinburgh Castle is built, Arthur’s Seat has to be one of the most famous extinct volcanoes in the world. Presumably, although not definitely, it is named after our greatest legendary king (I am a big fan of Arthurian legends). Edinburgh’s connections with Arthur don’t stop at the famous hill. The whole area – Lothian – is presumed to be named after an ancient king, sometimes called Lot: the father of Sir Gawain of the Round Table.

Some (hi)stories suggest that the ‘noble’ pagan king, Lot, committed an act of Talibanesque logic and brutality by throwing his Christian daughter off a cliff for having the temerity to be raped by a Welsh pillager Lord called Owain. The pregnant victim, later known as Saint Teneu, miraculously survived her fall and gave birth to Saint Mungo or Kentigern, the Patron Saint of Glasgow.

Flowing through the kingdom of Lot is Edinburgh’s main river, the Water of Leith:

Water of Leith

Water of Leith

This river rises in the Pentland Hills amongst the ferns, birch, heather, and moss:

Bavelaw Marsh

Bavelaw Marsh

… where I watched Meadow Pipits rise and fall in their dancing song-flights.

The many streams that help form the Water of Leith are damned to form the Threipmuir and Harlaw reservoirs which provide much of the drinking water for Edinburgh.

Threipmuir Resevoir

Threipmuir Resevoir

Threipmuir Resevoir

Threipmuir Resevoir

Harlaw Reservoir

Harlaw Reservoir

From these hills, the water tumbles down into the city and flows into the mighty Firth of Forth estuary.

A mile or two up the beach from where Water of Leith enters the sea, is Cramond Beach:

Camond Beach and Cramond Island in the distance

Camond Beach and Cramond Island in the distance

At low tide Cramond Island, way out in the Estuary, is linked to the mainland by a causeway:

Cramond Causeway

Cramond Causeway

Either side of the causeway is a sandy, muddy magnet for wading birds. Unfortunately, I had neither a camera (all the photos in this post were taken with my iPhone), nor a spotting scope, but throughout the day – whether in the hills or at the beach – I took a few photos of birds I saw through the ‘make-do’ method of holding my phone up to my binocular lens…

Left side, top to bottom: Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) in Balerno; Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata) one of very many at Cramond Beach; one of my favourite birds, the White-throated Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) at Harlow Reservoir.

Right side, top to bottom: Common Redshank (Tringa totanus); Eurasian Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus); Goosander (Mergus merganser) swimming up the River Almond Estuary from Cramond Beach; and, Common Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna) also on Cramond Beach:

Birds… honestly!

Birds… honestly!