Author Archives: iago80

Trip Report: The wetlands of Gruissan

Stretching for many kilometres south of Narbonne are a range of plains and wetland habitats that are renowned birding and wildlife hotspots. I have visited several times. I thought a brief trip report might be of some value.

I spent a day there on 30 July 2021. 

Plains of Narbonne (eBird: Pont Gruissan and Roc de Conilhac)

I approached by car before sunrise on the small D32 road to the west of Gruissan. Crossing the Canal de la Robine at Ecluse de Mandirac (where on the way back Black Kites would be circling), I was almost immediately faced with fields full of White Stork and Cattle Egret.

After just a couple of kilometres along the D32, the flat fields open further into the wilder and wetter plains of Narbonne. Watching the sun rise over this vast area is spectacular. It is essentially a huge basin; very flat except for a strange mound (Roc de Conilhac) that rises up incongruously in the middle and to the right of the road I drove along. Roc de Conilhac is a renowned migration-watch hotspot and, when the North Westerlies blow in October huge numbers of raptors and storks etc are regularly counted (I intend to return some time to witness this).

The second canal (de la Reunion) you cross flows into one on the large ‘etangs’ (this translates rather oddly to ‘pond’ as some of these etangs are huge!) Étang de Campignol. A body of brackish marshy flats stretch out in between the Etang and the road. When I scanned with my bins from the Roc de Conilhac I could distantly make out large numbers of: Egrets (Great White, Cattle, and Little), Heron (Grey and no doubt Purple although I was too distant to confirm without a scope). There were also several Pelican there, which made me raise my eyebrows, but I now understand are long distance ‘fence hoppers’ from Sigean Zoo.

These wetland pools would be well worth a closer look through a careful scan with a scope as I am sure there were all kinds of goodies.

View SE from Roc de Conilhac

Zitting Cisticola perform their ‘zitting’ song flights along the edges of the plains and fields by the road. A bit further long, there is another bridge and I found the pool to the left (North) productive to watch from a parked position as there were a couple of Black-winged Stilt, and a handful of Kentish Plover tottering around the edges. It was also from here that I saw my first Flamingo of the day. 

The sun rose over Gruissan castle to the east – t’was pretty!

Looking east to Gruissan

Salt Flats of Gruissan (eBird: Salin de Gruissan) 

When the road reaches the edge of Gruissan, bear right so the road becomes the D232 and head south with the industrial salt flats to your left. If, like me, you like bleak landscapes, these are pretty cool in their own right. You drive past some buildings including a ‘salt’ gift shop on your left. Beyond this you will reach a small car park on your left where a path takes you in between the salt fields. It is a long-ish but nice walk to the beach (I do not recommend doing it in midday heat during the summer as there is zero shade).

These are great for waders, terns, and flamingos. Most notably while I was there: Kentish Plover clearly breed here in good numbers, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Common Redshank, and, most unusually perhaps, a Dunlin.

Avocet
Common Sandpiper – more obliging than most of the waders

Large numbers of Little Tern and Sandwich Tern clearly also breed here and parade up and down the pools noisily. I also recorded Common Tern and Gull-billed Tern.

Little Terns and Sandwich Terns
Gull-billed Tern
Sandwich Tern

The path takes you between the pools to a large salt Etang with large number of Flamingo (I counted a total of 428 across the pools and Etangs at this location alone).

Flamingo

Walking around the Etang, you get to the see the pumps bringing the sea water into the pools to harvest the Salt. You then reach the beach. Along the flood defences and tracts of coastal grasses and spurge, there are Tawny Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, and a couple of Red-backed Shrike on look-out posts.

Red-backed Shrike

I didn’t attempt any sea-watching but there were hundreds or thousands of Yellow-legged Gull on the beach and smaller numbers of Black-headed Gull, Mediterranean Gull, and Slender-billed Gull. 

Gulls and bleak, industrial coastal landscape = heaven

Swallows, Swift, and smaller numbers of House Martin and Sand Martin are constant companions throughout the walk.

Franqui Plage (eBird: Grau de la Franqui)

A few days before my trip to Gruissan, I also went on a family beach trip to Franqui Plage. On a short walk away from the paddling and sun-bathing, towards the Grau de la Franqui and Etang de la Palme, I saw a smaller selection of the same birds listed above. I mention here as I got some great views of reasonable numbers of Slender-billed Gull here.

Slender-billed Gull

Probably… some interesting spiders (Part II)

Before I get going, a cautionary note on getting over excited about interesting looking spiders… In my previous blog post, I shared a picture of an ‘almost’ mature male Araniella sp which was orangey-red coloured and looked like a credible candidate for the scarce Araniella displicata. My friend, and local spider expert, David Carr, found a similar one on Wanstead Flats a couple of weeks before mine, took it home to let it mature/moult and examined it. It turns out it was ‘just’ a reddish Araniella opisthographa (one of the common ‘Cucumber spiders’).

So, with that warning as a caveat… read on (no detailed genital spider identification here so everything below is simply the art of the possible; probable at best).

David also told me about a small colony of the nationally scarce jumping spider, Salticus zebraneus that he had found and confirmed from one of the copses on Wanstead Flats. On my fourth attempt to find one, and when a rare beam of sun lit up a tall tree stump I found a small Salticus moving in and out of the woody crevices. From the size, markings, and habitat, it is likely (but not definite) that this is Salticus zebraneus. Note that their bigger bolder cousins, like Salticus scenicus are commonly found on houses etc (Salticus sp is common in my garden).

Possible Salticus zebraneus – male

In my last post, I shared a strong candidate for Philodromus rufus – a spider we know is present on Wanstead Flats. Well, here is another very strong candidate but this time for the even rarer Philodromus buxi. This was beaten from Oak. The colouration, the markings on the legs, the fact that this species has been found here before all make this is possible, but obviously not confirmable without Get Det, so I have dutifully submitted it on iRecord as Philodromus sp and added the cheeky ‘candidate for P. buxi‘ in the comments.

Philodromus sp (likely P. buxi) – f

Probably… some interesting spiders

I’ve been doing a spot of sweeping and bush-whacking-beating recently on Wanstead Flats. I have been particularly interested in some of the spiders I have found.

Two of the spiders are probably not confirmable by photos, but are also… probably… really interesting and, certainly in one case, nationally rare.

Local-ish spider expert, David Carr told me about an unusual immature ‘Araniella‘ species that he had found on a recent visit. Araniella spiders in the orb weaver family include the commonly found ‘cucumber’ spider with a the green(ish) abdomen (A. cucurbitina and A. opisthographa). But his one ‘looked’ different and more like the nationally rare A. displicata. Anyhow, David is attempting to rear the spider to maturity to double check its identity.

Without David explaining exactly where he came across his find, I innocently tapped a strange looking Araniella sp out of a Hawthorn. I should also pause to explain that in amongst my ‘catch’ was a more typical ‘cucumber’ spider. But, the spider in question looks remarkably similar to photos in the literature and online sources of the rarity, A. displicata. I have iRecorded as Araniella sp., and thoughts from anyone better informed than me are welcome.

Araniella sp (A. displicata?) – male, imm

It turns out that this Hawthorn bush was really rather productive. Aside from some interesting bugs (Hemiptera), and a few other things, another spider came out of it that made me raise my eyebrows. We are very lucky to get a number of the ‘running (crab) spiders’ (Philidromidae) and at least two of the rarities have been found here by David Carr in the past: Philodromus buxi and P. rufus. Well, guess what? One of my Hawthorn catch looks very, very much like P. rufus. Even the experts agree that it is ‘probably’ P. rufus. Unfortunately for me, but rightly, the spider authorities are an exacting bunch and without study of the genitalia, records of P. rufus will not be accepted.

Philodromus sp (P. rufus?)

Whilst looking for a Stonechat

I’m in France – at my patch in the Corbieres in the South.

I realised – despite having been here almost a couple of weeks that I hadn’t seen any Stonechat yet. They breed here and normally just pop up on a bush in front of me. So, I decided one morning to go to a distant part of the patch where they are reliable: a large sometimes-sheep-grazed area of very scrubby garrigue.

As I walked along a dusty track just as the sun was hitting me in the horizontal – soon after dawn, I saw a bird perched up nicely in the distance.

When I raised my bins I could instantly see it was a bird I have hoped to find on the Patch for years; Woodchat Shrike. An adult female. It is honestly one of my favourite birds.

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Female Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator)

As I have never seen one here in 12 years of looking I kind of assumed it was a wandering loner or maybe a passage migrant. But then I saw a juvenile, another, and eventually three juveniles still occasionally being fed by the mother. My favourite bird is breeding on my patch. Delighted doesn’t cover it.

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Juvenile

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Juvenile with mother

I eventually also picked up the adult male on a telegraph pole in the distance.

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Male

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I just stood there for a bit watching them and feeling very happy. While I did so, a distant Hoopoe perched up on a wire as well.

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Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

Tawny Pipits and Woodlark occasionally popped up on bushes or flew around me. And then up-wind of me, a buck Roe Deer wandered right past me, only noticing me when it was very close before running off. Magical!

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Buck Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)

I walked back to the house feeling very happy. And there, right near the house was a family of Stonechat I had gone looking for.

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A young Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)

A first fly for London… nearly

Look at this lovely fly!

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You could almost dive into that swimming pool of aquamarine/turquoise, its colour is so deep and inviting. Long legs, great markings. Just all round stunner!

And, I found it on my garden shed.

As flies go, it wasn’t too tricky to identify. It is a pretty big member of the Dolichopodidae family as a start and I believe the biggest in the UK.

An expert informed me that it can be found inland near “algal dominated leaks”. I’m kind of hoping there are no algal dominated leaks near my house and shed, but hey.

I checked NBN Atlas and there were a lot of records, mostly around the coast, but none in London. I love the idea of finding a London first record on my shed. In reality, it probably isn’t a first for London and iRecord shows that there are a couple of other records, but it clearly isn’t really a common find locally.

Apparently this poor fly species came close to losing its name due to some scientific mix-up. I hope it gets to keep it as I think Liancalus virens is pretty cool and suits it.

A turquoise metallic jewel and another highlight for my lockdown list.

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Liancalus virens

Nature diary of a Nascent Pan-species Lister: 6 June 2020 (Fishers Green)

Got up very early on Saturday morning with a target of Nightingale, but was not successful. This is now multiple years in a row where I have tried, unsuccessfully, to hear Nightingale sing in London.

Highlights were my first calling Cuckoo for the year, views of singing Garden Warbler (one of six warbler species) and seeing the very young Black-headed Gull chicks on the Tern rafts (along with Common Tern also on nests).

Fishers Green is a lovely part of the Lee Valley water and woodland complex. I walked all around the Electricity Sub-station and some of the adjacent water bodies. A general observation was the amount of Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) present; it really was everywhere.

I had a few plant galls of interest including my first ‘Sputnik gall’ for the year on Rose caused by the wasp, Diplolepis nervosa; they really are fantastic galls.

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Sputnik gall (Diplolepis nervosa)

I recorded my first Italian Alder (Alnus cordata) – a non-native tree with noticeably more pointed leaves than our native alder – and the galls on it caused by mites, Acalitus brevitarsus and, seemingly, the angle gall Aceria nalepai (although the underside was a little confusing). This latter find is of real interest as A. nalepai is not recognised as causing galls on this particular host and I may return to collect some specimens for further examination.

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Possibly two different mite galls on Italian Alder (Alnus cordata)

Other finds of note included:

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Psyllopsis fraxini (agg) – an hemipteran causer of galls on Ash

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A caddisfly (Athripsodes cinereus)

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The Vapourer moth being its ridiculously showy self (Orgyia antiqua)

Nature diary of a nascent pan-species lister: 8 May 2020

A hot day in lockdown and my daily exercise took me on a quick circuit of some of Wanstead Flats. I only paused for any length of time around the Brick Pit Copse where I listened to, and eventually saw, a singing Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin) which had been found earlier in the day by N. Croft; our first locally for the year.

On the rest of my walk, I only stopped briefly to photograph a few invertebrates with my phone. The list below is snapshot of the things I took time to observe; species I specifically identified and recorded. I didn’t make too many attempts with flies (although I did iRecord Lucilia sp – a greenbottle) or one or two other invertebrate groupings, and there are no plants recorded here (although I did spend a bit of time checking the leaves of Quercus (oak), Acer (maples), Prunus (blackthorn, cherry etc). So, 81 species identified and recorded – not too shabby for a relatively brisk walk.

Selected birds: 40
I recorded 40 species of bird on my walk. The Garden Warbler was the obvious highlight, followed by an unusually showy Lesser Whitethroat.

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Blurry shot of Garden Warbler

Accipiter nisus (Eurasian Sparrowhawk) – Only raptor seen on walk.

Alauda arvensis (Skylark) – only heard a couple of males singing.

Apus apus (Common Swift) – the breeding birds have been back a few days now.

Sylvia atricapilla (Blackcap) – seemingly everywhere.

Sylvia borin (Garden Warbler) – one singing.

Sylvia communis (Common Whitethroat) – also noticeably abundant this year.

Sylvia curraca (Lesser Whitethroat) – At least one, probably two singing.

Etc – 33 species of other bird commonly recorded locally also seen.

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Lesser Whitethroat

Coleoptera – beetles: 7
I recorded seven species of beetle on my walk, three of which were lifers (remember I am a pan-species newbie) and three more were firsts for the year:

Andrion regensteinense (A broad-nosed weevil) – life first. Found on Broom.

Cantharis rustica (A soldier beetle) – first for year. Saw a couple.

Harpalus rufipes (Strawberry seed beetle) – life first (I’ve never recorded before, anyhow).

Malachius bipustulatus (Malachite beetle) – first for year.

Perapion violeceum (A weevil) – life first and possibly first record locally.

Propylea quattuordecimpunctata (14-spot ladybird) – possibly the most frequently seen ladybird at the moment locally.

Prosternon tessellatum (Chequered click beetle) – first click beetle I have seen this year. A few around.

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Perapion violeceum – a rather tiny weevil

Hemiptera – true bugs: 3
Three species recorded with one new for the year. A bit poorer than I might have hoped for the bugs, to be honest.

Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus – Seemingly common in the local area. A small yellow and black flower bug.

Palomena prasina (common green shieldbug) – first for year for this shield bug.

Trioza remota – a tiny psyllid bug which galls oak leaves – the nymph resides in a depression on the underside of the leaf.

Hymenoptera – bees and wasps etc: 5
Four of the five recorded were identified by galls they cause. Other hymenoperans were on the wing, but few long enough for me to photograph and ID.

Andrena sp (likely ovatula) – very active pollinating in Broom.

Andricus curvator f. sexual – Causes distinctive swellings and twists on oak leaves. Very common locally.

Biorhiza pallida (Oak Apples Gall) – This wasp-caused gall is very common and one of the earliest to be seen in the season.

Neuroterus numismalis f. sexual (Oak blister gall / Silk button gall) – First for the year for me of this subtle gall.

Neuroterus quercusbaccarum f. sexual – seen many currant galls on oak catkins and leaves.

Neuroterus numismalis

Blister gall on oak caused by sexual generation of Neuroterus numismalis wasp

Lepidoptera – moths and butterflies: 11
Three life-first moths for me, with the hemlock moth (Agonopterix alstroemeriana) being a particular highlight.

Aglais io (Peacock) – saw at least three.

Agonopterix alstromeriana (Hemlock moth) – a lifer for me. Found on Blackthorn.

Anthocharis cardamines (Orange Tip) – several seen.

Celastrina argiolus (Holly blue) – very common at the moment.

Erannis defoliaria (Mottled umber) – a caterpillar and second time I have seen this species in larval form in a matter of weeks.

Eupsilia transversa (Satellite moth) – a black caterpillar I’ve not recorded before.

Lycaena phlaeas (Small Copper) – abundant at the moment.

Pararge aegeria (Speckled wood) – several seen.

Pieris rapae (Small White) – several seen.

Polyommatus icarus (Common blue) – First for year for me with a specimen on Wanstead Flats and in my garden.

Syndemis musculana – another new moth for me. This tortrix was on Hawthorn.

Syndemis musculana

Syndemis musculana

Selected Acari – mites: 10
All identified through the galls they cause on plants.

Aceria cerrea – This isn’t recognised on iRecord or much literature on British gall-causing mites as it was only recently refound in the UK. Causes galls on turkey oak.

Aceria macrochela – first for year. Causer of pustule growths along veins of field maple leaves.

Eriophyes prunispinosae/similis – first for year. Causer of pustule galls along leaf margin of blackthorn.

Etc – seven more mite-caused galls were identified, but all were galls I have recorded frequently elsewhere this year.

Aceria cerrea

Erinea patch on underside of Quercus cerris caused by Aceria cerrea

Aranae – spiders: 4
Four species actively recorded.

Mangora acalypha (A cricket bat spider) – First for year for me.

Pardosa sp. (A wolf spider) – Found on bramble.

Pisaura mirabilis (Nursery web spider) – Found on buttercup.

Xysticus sp. (A crab spider) – Found on buttercup.

Pisaura mirabilis

Pisaura mirabilis – the nursery web spider

Aceria ilicis: same, same, but different

Sometimes I am too accepting of things which should be challenged and investigated.

I regularly look at Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) leaves and notice the felt galls caused by the mite, Aceria ilicis. But someone on a social media gall group made me question more deeply what I have noticed before: we use the name Aceria ilicis to cover two quite different types of galls.

Type 1: the pimple gall

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Distinct raised bumps showing on upper side of leaf

The upperside of the leaf shows distinct raised bumps or pimples with corresponding cavities on the underside filled with rusty brown erinea (hairy patches or felt).

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Underside showing the rusty brown patches corresponding to the bumps on the upperside

When put under the microscope, these patches show themselves to be very dense patches of rusty brown, mostly tightly curled ‘hairs’.

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Two patches filling cavities either side of central leaf vein

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Under greater magnification

Type 2: the felty patch gall

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No distinct pimples on upperside

In ‘type 2’, the upperside of the afflicted leaf may show some general bulging, but there are no distinct ‘pimples’ as with ‘type 1’.

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The underside is comprehensively covered by darker brown erinea patches

Unlike in ‘type 1’, ‘type 2’ galls appear to be have darker brown erinea and to be quite extensively covered by felt patches.

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Sometimes extensively filling the sections between veins

When looked at under greater magnification, the erineum itself appears slightly different.

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Under greater magnification

The erineum is not only a different colour, but it appears to be growing less densely than in ‘type 1’ examples and the ‘hairs’ are less likely to be tightly curled.

Conclusions?

Without detailed study of the mites themselves – beyond my powers and powers of my microscope, I doubt a conclusion can be made.

However, I am not convinced by the argument that ‘type 2’ merely displays more mature and extensive galling. Even discounting differences in colour of the erinea patches, the lack of pimples in ‘type 2’ seems odd.

Could ‘type 1’ and ‘type 2’ be caused by different species of mite? Possibly.

One final interesting observation is that all the photos above, of ‘type 1’ and ‘type 2’ galls were taken from two leaves growing on the same tree host.

“The irrepressible joy and lightness of being a*”… pan-species lister

I wrote about my rather low bird lists for 2019 in another post. But in 2019, I also took the first baby steps on a new journey. The journey really has only just begun, but I have so far found it to be rather delighting; becoming a ‘pan-species lister’.

Simply put, pan species listing is recording all species of wild life forms (above bacteria – it generally begins with fungi and slime moulds). You can read more about the rules and practitioners here and an excellent blog by a “big lister” here. There are apparently two people in the UK with lists of over 10,000 species (to get to that kind of level you would effectively need to become a master of all ‘trades’, jack of none, if you get what I mean).

For me, the motivation is roughly three pronged:

  1. It is useful on days/weeks/months (read June/July) when there aren’t many exciting new birds to record
  2. Similar to the point above, it means that there is almost always something to see/identify/record to help build a list (a passion of mine) and help contribute to scientific knowledge by submitting records
  3. To fill some embarrassing gaps in my knowledge about certain groups; herbaceous plants for example (as I have a position of responsibility with a small wildlife charity and occasionally lead walks etc, this has been brought into sharp focus).

One day, I may attempt to go back through old photos and lists and add in things I have seen or identified before, but from the summer of 2019 I simply attempted to record new things that I saw. I got close to 600 species, of which 519 were recorded in the UK. This is not a big number by any means as the scope of things that could be added is vast, but… it was a start, and it was completed in a year when I had a few other… er… distractions.

It has also enabled me to create the mother of all spreadsheets. I am really rather childishly and boastfully proud of it: it has tabs for the different ‘orders’ of life form (e.g., Coleoptera (beetles), Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies), birds etc) and then macros (formulae I have built into the sheets) link through to a totals page that adds everything up automatically by date, location, order etc. I think it is work of art, but not one I am willing to share publicly so I see it as the oiled machinery operating out of public sight and beneath the surface of my records and submissions.

To give a flavour of some of the things I recorded…

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I added European Hare (Lepus europaeus) to my French patch mammal list. And those blurry purple flowers are Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) a species I couldn’t name until this year.

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Black-veined White (Aporia crataegi) was another French patch tick, but also a world life tick for me – and what a stunner – I could watch these all day

Trochosa terricola

This wolf spider (Trochosa terricola) was one of many ‘lifers’ for me this year, found on my local patch on Wanstead Flat by David Carr: an amateur but expert arachnologist

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Imagine if I led a nature walk around my local patch and couldn’t tell people that this was Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

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Potentially one of my most important finds of 2019: I believe these galls on Holm Oak (Quercus ilicis) in Dorset are caused by the fly, Dryomyia lichtensteini. If I am correct, this may be a first formal record for the UK.

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Spotted Longhorn (Rutpela maculata) was a lifer for me and found in my local churchyard in Leytonstone

 

The ‘irrepressible joy and lightness of being… a communist’ was taken from the radical book, Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri. It followed a description of the radical nature of St Francis of Assisi. As the patron saint of animals, this phrase seemed appropriate.

2019 review: crunching some small numbers

2019 was always going to be a lightweight year on the birding front. My son was born just a few weeks before the year started. I get out less often and for less time and rarely travel far beyond the patch as weekends are mainly a time to spend with family.

Nevertheless, I got out on the patch more than once a week on average (60 patch trips in total, albeit sometimes only for an hour or two), and a further 13 non-patch trips in the UK which included some element of birding. Of these 13, ten were within the London recording area. Only five of those London trips could be described as twitches (of which three were successful: Penduline Tit at Crossness in South East London, Great Reed Warbler also at Crossness, and Ring-necked Duck at Fishers Green in the Lea Valley).

Highlights

Overall my UK year list was the lowest in a decade (121 – I am embarrassed to even type it) and my patch year list (103) was third out of the five years I have been birding in the Wanstead area (more on that shortly). But here are the top six highlights of my UK birding:

    The very showy patch-tick drake Garganey on Jubilee on 31 March
    Hearing and seeing a Great Reed Warbler – first for London – at Crossness), only a year after life-ticking this species in Poland
    The long-staying Greenshank on Heronry was probably bird of the year for me (that is the wonderful strangeness of patch birding for you) – seeing it first on 5 September
    Putting a couple of patch bogeys to bed by seeing Green Sandpiper and Sedge Warbler this year (perhaps leaving Golden Plover, Jack Snipe and Woodlark as the three most commonly seen birds still not on my patch list)
    The Pied Flycatcher and Tree Pipit mini-influx this Autumn which included three Pied Fly in one day on 24 August
    Scoring three Canary Wharf ‘megas’ (two self-finds) with Reed Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, and Common Redstart.

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Great Reed Warbler, Crossness, London

I won’t dwell on the lowlights, although failing to get a Yellow Wagtail on the Patch this year has to be up there. Oh, and there was a disastrous dip – twitching what turned out to be a dirty Common Sandpiper (rather than a Spotted Sandpiper) and involved a lengthy journey on public transport twice after leaving my bag in a hide. At least it reminded me why I rarely twitch things.

Patch year comparison
I have now been birding on Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park for a five full years. I have seen 134 species of bird locally in that time with six new species added to my patch list in 2019. 2018 was my best year with 110 species recorded and this year I got 103 (which is just under my mean average, or third best and third worst as I put it to my patch colleagues when we were totting up our totals).

So far, there have been 84 species I have seen every year (a list which includes Firecrest and Common Redstart). There are 10 more birds which I have only missed once in the five years of birding the Patch: this list sadly now includes Yellow Wagtail, Redpoll, and Common Sandpiper after this year’s performance, but also incorporates: Garden Warbler (2018 gap), Pied Flycatcher (2018), Tree Pipit (2016), Yellow-legged Gull (2016), Peregrine (2015), Shelduck (2015), and Treecreeper (2015). So that takes me to total of 94 species which are at least 80% likely nailed-on each year (although doesn’t take into account whether any of these are declining in likelihood of being seen). I could probably add Little Owl to the list of birds I would really expect to see on an annual basis (despite the fact that I missed it in my first two years).

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Firecrest, Bush Wood – a species I have patch ticked every year I have been birding here

So… that takes me to 95 species I would expect to see each year and only needing five more unusual finds each year. It is in this territory where the motivation to keep working the patch exists: the unexpected! So, this year, that golden list included six patch ticks (Garganey, Mandarin, Green Sandpiper, Sedge Warbler, Greenshank, and Marsh Harrier), but also joined by the following birds which I had only seen on one or two other years: Yellowhammer, Caspian Gull, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Rook, and Wood Warbler.

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Mandarin, Wanstead Flats

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Garganey, Wanstead Flats

France
I managed four trips to my second patch in the South of France in 2019 (including right at the end of the year where I am as I finish writing this blog post). My French patch has a smaller list of more exotic birds (patch list is only 81 – it is tougher birding with some dense vegetation and no water bodies), although, interestingly, of the 10 new species I added this year to my list, several are commonly found back in ‘Patch 1’ in London. So, chronologically listed, the French patch newbies were: Mistle Thrush, Montagu’s Harrier, Wagtail sp (as the only wagtail I have ever seen flying over, despite being a distant, silent silhouette, it gets a slot of its own for the time being), Tawny Pipit, House Martin, Dartford Warbler, Red Kite, Tree Pipit, Northern Wheatear, and Garden Warbler.

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Dartford Warbler, Corbieres

The Montagu’s Harrier was an obvious highlight as was the large number of migratory Honey Buzzard I saw (somewhat un-doing my regular complaint that our French House is not on any migratory flight paths). Slowly building a picture of the avian wildlife of this remote valley in the Corbieres has been a joy.

2020

I can’t imagine time will be very much more plentiful for me in 2020, so I will need to think and act smart to make the most out of my birding. My two patches will definitely play a decent part of the whole picture next year, but I am determined that they do not take up quite such a high proportion of the whole as they did in 2019.