Wanstead Patchwork: Part XV (spot the flycatcher)

Despite wiser birding heads telling me it would be the case, I simply found it hard to believe how much more interesting August would be than July on the patch.

I only get out there at weekends, but I sit at my desk during the week and receive texts and twitter updates about all the passage migrants dropping in on the Wanstead Flats. I try not to succumb to envy, but imagine this…

Can you picture my teeth clenched as I congratulated the birders out on the patch while I was at work?

Can you picture my teeth clenched as I congratulated the birders out on the patch while I was at work?

However, just over a week ago I (re)found my first patch and UK pied flycatcher (I have watched them from the house in France). Tony had been rewarded for getting out early on Saturday morning by finding a Pied Fly high in a Lime tree. By the time I, and others, had joined him it was nowhere to be found. After a jaunt around the patch we went back to the limes to try again.

Pied piper calls the wrong tune
This story has been told before, but I wanted to add my spin. We all looked up at the lime tree(s) in the hope it would reappear. Eventually, I got distracted by some movement in the nearby birches and walked over slowly. *rustle, rustle* Blue Tit. But there was more movement and I soon saw a warbler and a Pied Flycatcher move into view at eye level. I called over to Jono and Tony in my loudest whisper: “Spotted Fly and Willow Warbler”. I didn’t realise my hang-over tongue had slipped quite so badly until Tony ‘confirmed’, “Pied Fly and Chiffchaff”. Luckily I had only mis-spoken, and not mis-identified. There was indeed a bright Willow Warbler or two alongside a Chiffchaff and a Pied Flycatcher.

Without wishing to get too ‘Oberon and Titania’ on you all, there really were a few almost magical moments that followed as the birches came alive with warblers and other birds flitting back and forth between the trees in front of us like some avian form of pinball. Perhaps it was the magic, my hangover, or the fact that I was soon surrounded by birders with lenses each as big as my leg, that meant that I didn’t get my camera out to capture the moment.

I must have become one of the first patch birders to tick pied before spotted flycatcher on my patch year list.

Spot the flycatcher!

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

OK, it isn’t exactly ‘Where’s Wally’ level of difficulty in spotting, even with my furry photography.

This photo was taken the following weekend (just a few days ago now) when I became one of the last local birders to catch up with Spotted Fly. I probably saw four on the patch that day (‘probably’ because I cannot be 100% sure that they were all different birds):

Number 1 was when Dan pointed one out to me directly behind me as I had been busily watching a Blue Tit flock in the SSSI.

Number 2 was the bird in the photo above and below. It was at the western end of Long Wood, and was the most obliging of the four. I stood in amongst the brambles and watched it dart to and from a small selection of perches to catch flys (kinda what these guys have evolved to do) for around 20 minutes or so:

Spotted Flycatcher

Numbers 3 and 4 were at the other end of Long Wood in an area aptly named ‘the enclosure’ which has produced some bumper birding results in the last few weeks.

I flushed one from a tree as I turned a corner and watched as it momentarily danced in the air with another before flying off and leaving the one remaining in a hawthorn bush:

The Enclosure

The Enclosure

Raining birds in the Cat and Dog
Saturday was a scorching day – it reached over 30 degrees centigrade probably for the last time this summer. Heat and birding (just like birding while hungover) don’t really go well together. I stood in the sun for some time watching reeds move in the dried out pond known as Cat and Dog. My only glimpses of the bird moving in the reeds would suggest a warbler, but smaller than a Reed Warbler. It will forever remain a mystery like the legendary ‘one that got away’ for anglers (oh boy could I share some stories about these from my fishing days).

At one point I looked down at the brambles next to the pond and saw a plain warbler that, for the split second it was there, was a Garden Warbler. Although I had a relatively clear view of the bird, it was in my binoculars for such a short span that my (over)thinking mind questioned the image my optic nerve had presented when a minute or two later there was a Chiffchaff in the exact same spot.

Wrens, Blackbirds, Blackcaps, and Robins all appeared and disappeared in the very small area. Long-tailed Tits passed through the one or two bushes by the pond like grains of sand slipping through an egg timer and then vanishing. Whitethroat flew in arcs to and from bushes and reeds and even, once, sang a brief song as if they were an echo from Spring. I walked to the other side of the pond and flushed another warbler out of the reeds. The blur of flight was counteracted by my momentary proximity to the bird and, despite the sun glaring unhelpfully into my eyes, the face of the disappearing warbler held the markings of a Sedge Warbler. But a ‘tick’ it was not to be, as I simply do not trust myself enough with such briefly snatched views of a bird in flight.

Better late than never
If I had been several days slower than many of my patch comrades in finding the Spotted Flycatcher, I was several months slower in finally ticking a Nuthatch to take my patch year list to 88. It appeared directly above me, first in a Hornbeam, and then in an oak while a very large mixed tit flock seemed to swirl through the branches and leaves above it:

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

Eurasian Nuthatch (Sitta europaea)

How this common bird has eluded me for so long on the patch, I do not know. But I do know that I was very glad to see it so near my home after so many hours spent fruitlessly looking for it in the woods.


3 thoughts on “Wanstead Patchwork: Part XV (spot the flycatcher)

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