Category Archives: Uncategorized

A tale of two winters

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Bush Wood under snow

The weather
The deliberate mangling of Shakespeare and Dickens for my latest blog post title is the best way I can sum up what is going on with the weather. Last weekend was snowy and cold, a couple of days later the patch recorded the lowest temperature for three years (-5.7 degrees centigrade … I know there might be a raised eyebrow if anyone is reading this from the blizzard-struck eastern US at the moment, but London is a mild-weather city). This weekend, we have probably just broken another record, but in the other direction. It hit 15.3 degrees today which may be the warmest recorded 24 January in London’s history! (I am indebted to Wanstead_meteo whose hyper-local weather reports on Twitter I find invaluable and fascinating).

I assisted the local conservation group (WREN) with the winter wetland bird survey (WeBS) and all numbers were very low as most of the park’s lakes were frozen over. I did, however, get a question answered (about how they survive winter) as I watched a kingfisher perform an apparent kamikaze dive towards the ice only to pull up at the last second and deftly scoop some food item (a frozen insect?) off the surface of the ice.

Even with the much warmer temperatures this weekend, some of the ice has melted stubbornly slowly. I listened to the creaking, squeaking, and splintering of thin ice under the weight of gulls:

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‘British’ Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus graellsii)

(Increasingly un)common birds

We are incredibly lucky on the patch to get a range of interesting, and sometimes rare, avian visitors, but when I think of the patch, I think of Skylark and Meadow Pipit. These year-round residents breed in the long grass of the ‘Flats’ – one of the closest points to central London where you can reliably find these birds. Last year, I remember seeing seven skylark regularly moving from one part of the Flats to another. This year I don’t believe that anyone has seen more than three at any one time.

And so it was, that I finally ticked off Skylark for my patch list for the year (last year I did it within an hour of being on the patch) by watching three flushed from the long grass by a dog land on a football pitch literally a few metres away from runners and footballs:

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Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

Shortly before this I watched seven Meadow Pipit (I am not sure a bigger number has been seen on the patch this year either, despite frequently gathering in larger and more numerous groups last year) also flushed by a dog, fly up to the relative safety of a tree:

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Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis)

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Same bird, different neck: poised for flight

Another bird I ticked off my year list was Linnet – I found six feeding on the short and gravelly grass known as the ‘Police Scrape’. Like Skylark and Meadow Pipit, their numbers have been falling drastically in the last 30-40 years (Linnet and Skylark are both ‘Red’ conservation status and Meadow Pipit is ‘Amber’):

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Linnet (Carduelis cannabina)

This brings me to the topic of ‘conservation’. Whilst I am no ecologist, Meadow Pipits, Linnet and, more particularly, Skylarks  seem to be clinging on in London. If anything tips them over the edge, one of the most important sites for nature in the capital could lose its iconic birds forever and that could be a step towards a reasonable chance that these three birds will simply cease breeding in London. A solution seems relatively straightforward to me and some of the local birders:

  1. Reduce the number of football pitches – I am not just being a killjoy. There are currently 60 and rarely  close to half are even in use at one time. I believe this is a loss-making activity for the City of London and so they could let some of the pitches grow wild again in strategic places to give greater space for many species of invertebrates, mammals and the breeding birds to have a chance. The CoL would save money, footballers wouldn’t lose out at all, and wildlife would have a rare minor victory.
  1. Protect the breeding areas from dogs – It won’t be long before breeding season again, and a handful of pairs of Skylark and a few more Meadow Pipits will attempt to breed and raise young in the long grass. If a person treads on a single nest, or a dog eats or breaks the eggs, that is significant proportion of the population of Skylarks destroyed. (To put this into context, there are 2 million people in East London, around 250,000 dogs, and probably only ten or twenty breeding skylark – that is 10-20, not 10,000-20,000!) So maybe the CoL could use some of the money saved from reduced pitch maintenance and from fining the pitch users who leave the ground looking like a plastic landfill site (credit to Nick Croft for the idea) to erect proper fencing or cordons to protect these delicately balanced sites – the signs put up last year were frequently vandalised by people who, one can only imagine, were angry at being told they couldn’t take their dog “wherever the f*** I like”.

OK, I have climbed back off my soap box now

Switching from birds we would expect to see, but increasingly aren’t, to a bird we wouldn’t normally see on the patch at this time of year… I was pleased to catch up with a single Stonechat which has been seen for a few weeks now just a stone’s throw (I couldn’t resist that) from my house:

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Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus)

…To a bird we really shouldn’t see in East London

Picture the scene: me in my local Bush Wood armed, as always, with binoculars and camera… Smiling at the sound of early-season song from Song Thrush, Robin, Wren, and Great Tit… furrowing my brow at the signs of invasive (only first discovered in the UK less than 20 years ago) Holm Oak leaf mining moth:

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Leaf mines from Ectoedemia heringella moth

…Furrowing my brow even more at the sight of almost industrial quantities of beer cans discarded (I would have posted a picture as there were hundreds but there was someone relieving himself nearby – don’t ask! – which made me reluctant to point my camera in that direction)… raising my eyes back up at the sight and sound of some disturbed Magpies… pondering on what might have disturbed them and then seeing the Turaco:

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White-cheeked Turaco (Tauraco leucotis)

The light was fading due to the onset of dusk, but my eyes did not deceive me. This was my first time coming face to face (Literally. The Turaco perched directly above me and peered at me expectantly, but I did not have any fruit on me) with this now-famous Wanstead resident (Jono and others have seen this escapee on and off for around six years now).

I scurried off home quickly to chop up some fruit and returned. I briefly watched the spectacular tropical bird open its red wings and glide deeper into the woodland. As I left, I placed some strategically skewered fruit on a tree or two – but I did not see it again. Instead I was left with a small, but unmistakeable, gnawing of sadness. Perhaps I was anthropomorphising, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this bird feels lonely as it glides from garden to woodland and back again in a country where it has no chance of ever meeting another member of its own species for year after year (just imagine being stranded somewhere on your own for the rest of your life where the closest relative to humans present was a squirrel monkey). But I realise many feel this is an acceptable price to pay to enable people the ‘right’ to own exotic pets. Oops! I just climbed back on to my soap box. I had better get off it now at last and go to bed, and will leave you with a photo of an observer Tim and I had whilst counting water birds for our survey:

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Winter birds of gorges and valleys

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So far this year, I have spent about six hours on the patch (Wanstead) and have got off to an acceptable start with my year-list (currently 58 from two Saturday morning walks).

French patch update

I have already spent far longer on my second patch, my wife’s land in a remote valley in the foothills of the Pyrenees as we went there shortly after Christmas and spent New Year there. My trip patch-list is very short – just 20 – but interesting.

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I just love how I can watch a Wren in a bush, cast my eyes up and the next bird I tick off is Golden Eagle.

I have watched large dark shapes in the extreme distance before, knowing them likely to be Golden Eagles (although Griffon and even Black Vultures could also turn up here), but this trip I was close enough to confirm it from size and wing shape (but not close enough to photograph).

I watched it soaring over the far side of our neighbouring valley above and beyond the Limestone rock features to the left of the photo below. The trees to the right, only about 500m above sea level, but almost 200m (c600ft) above the valley floor below, are ancient Holm Oak specimens.

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I also confirmed my suspicion that we have Goshawks hunting the land – seeing a huge (probable) female that I almost mistook for a Honey buzzard at first sight. With the summer Eagles in Africa, the only raptor I photographed was a Common Buzzard:

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Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

The Blackbirds were the stand-out common bird at this time of year; their numbers likely swelled by northern wintering migrants. The family of Ravens of the land were almost omnipresent as well, flying back and forth from one ridge to another cronking away as they went.

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Common Raven (Corvus corax)

But I also had two great additions to my patch list:

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Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)

The second bird, I heard long before I saw it. The call was enormous and varied. At first I thought a child was screaming in the wood, but then it stopped and was followed by a thunderous drumming. It could only be one thing, and when it showed itself, with wing-beats that could be easily heard some distance away I was delighted to welcome the largest Eurasian Woodpecker (standing over half a metre head to tail), and second largest in the world, to my patch:

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Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus martius)

I spent a lot of time in the wooded parts of the patch, with Firecrests, Goldcrests, and some very vocal Short-toed Treecreeper:

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Short-toed Treecreeper (Certhia brachydactyla)

At this time of year, the woody garrigue often acts like velcro as the clouds sweep low up and down the valley. I watched cloud peeling off the hills like skin or appearing as if the forest was on fire:

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Gorge watching

I only took one trip off the patch to watch birds – although I also saw probably the largest starling flock I have ever seen while on a shopping trip (the mega flock -not quite dense enough to be a murmuration in my view – took some minutes to drive past and must have had c100,000 individual birds in it).

I drove to the spectacular village of Minerve:

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Minerve

The place exudes history. The ruined tower to the left dates back to the siege when our very own Simon de Montfort (who springs up in a lot of historical places I know) laid siege to a garrison here just over 800 years ago. This is, of course, the land of the Cathars. They eventually surrendered after the well was destroyed but 140 of the 200-strong garrison refused to give up their faith and were burned at the stake as heretics.

But I was here for the gorge, or more specifically, the inhabitants of the gorge (and not the ghosts of Cathar martyrs). The gorge of the river Cesse is a long and impressive canyon that is not hugely wide but very deep; the land beneath your feet just seems to fall away with a dizzying drop to an unseen (because much of it is underground making the gorge even deeper) river.

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Cesse Gorge

I stood on one side of the gorge and watched the opposing rock-face carefully. I was hunting for a very specific quarry.

A distant flicker of movement and I trained my binoculars on the cliff face. It was not what I was looking for, but nice anyway (albeit too distant to get anything other than a fuzzy record shot):

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Blue rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius)

I stayed still and watched for around twenty minutes before another slight movement gave away a tiny camouflaged bird. Notoriously difficult to spot, I was still not fully prepared for how hard it was to see. The photo below was taken at maximum zoom with the cut-out heavily cropped:

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Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria)

I watched it … err.. creep quite quickly (I would almost use the word scurry if it was on a horizontal surface) up and down and side to side feeding on the wall. It was only when it occasionally opened its wings that I saw how stunning this rarely seen bird was (excuse another heavily zoomed and crop record shot and Google “Wallcreeper” to look at better photos of this amazing bird):

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Wallcreeper with open wings

I had driven for a couple of hours (mainly because I got lost without SatNav) but it was worth it for an amazing life-tick on the very last day of 2015. May 2016 bring me, and you all, wild adventures of a similar nature.

 

The last three weeks: a not-so-brief summary

It has been a busy few weeks. Work has been busy, life has been busy, and the birding – at weekends – has been pretty frenetic. I am behind in what I could post, so have decided to share a sort of medley of my birding experiences over the last few weeks.

The twitches
A couple of weeks ago I, along with every other birder in the country it seems, descended upon Wells and Holkham on the North Norfolk coast after a basket of eastern rarities had dropped in with the Easterly wind.

I stood in a rather strange circle of green and glass in the middle of ‘the dell’ and we all tried to get good views of a Red-flanked Bluetail as it flit back and forth down amongst the saplings:

Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus)

Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus)

Red-flanked Bluetail

Also at Wells I joined a group of birders looking at bushes. This behaviour is normally rewarding. And it was, I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call. Excellent! Except, it wasn’t a YBW, it was the very closely related, but even rarer, Hume’s Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus humei). Despite me mistaking the call, better birders than me actually use the call as a distinguishing characteristic between the two incredibly similar birds – it makes a ‘dsu-weet’ rather than a ‘tsoeest’. Obvs! I watched the tiny thing move through the bushes – never quite still or unobscured enough to photograph – along with Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests.

Goldcrests. I have noticed significantly larger numbers of Goldcrests on the patch during the Autumn migration period compared to normality, but nothing prepared me for Wells. The woodland just on the other side of the beach dunes was absolutely full of them – blown across the North Sea alongside some of the rarities as they made their journeys South.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

I missed the Pallas’ Leaf Warbler that was also there. It wasn’t so much a dip as disorganisation on my part that led to that. As it was my first time at this birding Mecca, and there seem to be very few good site maps, I wandered a bit confused and dazed (by all the anoraks – I am allowed to insult birders as I am one – and rare birds) in odd directions.

I also missed the Blyth’s Reed Warbler, but it would have been almost criminal to have missed the ‘Izzy’ Shrike. As is the habit of shrikes, it perched incredibly obligingly on exposed branches. Occasionally taking flight to grab an insect and then back and looking stunning…

Isabelline Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)

Isabelline Shrike (Lanius isabellinus)

So, Norfolk was super, if a little weird (nothing inherently weird about Norfolk of course, just what birds and birders can do to a place when they fall upon it in such large numbers).

Essex was fun too. Yesterday I twitched a Rough-legged Buzzard at a place called Holland – the Scandinavian visitor is one of several on the East Coast at the moment. Some have seen it up close and very personal, whereas I watched the raptor from a fair distance – perched on a mound of grass on a golf course seemingly unperturbed by golfers walking and thrashing around almost right in front of it.

Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus)

Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus)

The excitement was intensified by the fact that a Short-eared Owl (also over in large numbers at the moment – I missed one on the patch today unfortunately as I was busy watching a Water Rail in the opposite direction to its flight-path) flew a few feet right over the Buzzard – I won’t show you my attempt at a photograph of this event as it is beyond atrocious.

I dipped a Great Grey-Shrike at Heybridge Basin on the way back from the Buzzard that had been showing well yesterday morning, but still enjoyed my time there (see below).

The scenery
After scanning for the Shrike for some time, I turned around from the quarry/lagoon/basin thing and just soaked in the huge Blackwater Estuary at low tide. It is super rich in both wildlife and history and I shall definitely return for a better look another day:

Blackwater Estuary

Blackwater Estuary

I have spent a lot of time on Essex coastline and Estuaries in the past few weeks, including at East Tilbury, by the ruins of the old defences of Coalhouse Fort:

Second World War radar tower near Coalhouse Fort

Second World War radar tower near Coalhouse Fort

East Tilbury

Waders and Waterbirds
It was at East Tilbury where I ticked off Grey Plover for my 2015 list:

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

And my second Bar-tailed Godwit of the year…

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)

Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)

…alongside much larger numbers of Black-tailed Godwits.

I liked East Tilbury so much that I have visited twice in the past few weeks, although slightly mis-timed the tides on my second visit so it wasn’t quite as fruitful, although I could still make out a flock of hundreds and hundreds (my reckoning was 800) of Avocet just over the reeds:

Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

Pied Avocet (Recurvirostra avosetta)

On the subject of large flocks of waders, here is a distant shot of a flock of almost exactly 1000 Golden Plover (yes, I did actually count them) on the Blackwater Estuary – definitely a record for me:

European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria)

European Golden Plover (Pluvialis apricaria)

I have spent a lot of time watching waders over the past few weekends. Nothing rare, but…

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)

Eurasian Curlew (Numenius arquata)

Although I did spend some time working out whether I had seen the two main Dunlin subspecies together in Norfolk:

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) alpina subspecies on left (and above in box) and schinzii on right (and below)

Dunlin (Calidris alpina) alpina subspecies on left (and above in box) and schinzii on right (and below)

Other waders watched have included:
Lapwing
Turnstone
Ringed Plover
Little Ringed Plover
Greenshank
Redshank
Spotted Redshank
Snipe
Ruff

As well as my first Brent Geese for the year as they fly in up the fluvial motorways in large numbers:

Brent Goose (Branta bernicula)

Brent Goose (Branta bernicula)

And finally, the patch
I have driven a lot of miles and visited six different sites in three weekends, but I haven’t completely neglected the Patch.

I have picked up three new species for my patch year list.

Getting my first Ring Ouzel (embarassingly a life tick for me) was fantastic alongside Bob and Tony. I looked up at what I suspected was a silhouetted Fieldfare flying over, but as it got closer the pale crescent on the dark body became clearer and as my mind clicked on Ring Ouzel, Bob’s voice behind me confirmed it. Shortly followed by a distant shout from Tony who had heard it call over him. It perched briefly on a tree, not long enough for me to get a good photo, but long enough for me to feel a lot of gratitude.

I also finally allowed myself to tick off Lesser Redpoll as one flew over low enough and calling clearly enough for me to be sure of myself. I clearly need more visible migration call practice.

And today, I caught up with the return of an annual patch regular, a ringed Mediterranean Gull named Valentino (see here and here for more on this specific bird) after being led on a merry dance. Nick told me he had been seen on the football pitches with all the Black-headed and Common gulls, so I dutifully scanned every single bird before walking on to Alexandra lake where I saw the pristine bird almost immediately. Almost as immediately, Valentino took off. He flew around the island and despite me walking around the lake twice, I couldn’t re-find him. Later, Nick found him back on Alex so I traipsed back from the park where I had been watching a Water Rail and Kingfishers. And so finally, I photographed him:

Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus)

Mediterranean Gull (Larus melanocephalus)

Valentino takes me up to 97 patch species for the year; tantalisingly close to my goal of seeing 100 species there in my first year birding it. But even without the new ticks, the patch still entertains:

Little Egret and Grey Heron

Little Egret and Grey Heron

Common Gull - one of many returning after the Summer away

Common Gull – one of many returning after the Summer away

Pied Wagtail

Pied Wagtail

Wanstead Patchwork: Part XVII (Wryneck)

In my blog post earlier today, I mentioned that we were waiting and hoping for a Wryneck on the patch. Soon after I posted, I got the message through that Bob and Nick had found one in the brooms on the Wanstead Flats.

Soon after I arrived, there were four, then five, then six, then eight birders looking for the Wryneck.

Wryneck hunting

Wryneck hunting

It was there in the brooms and kept us all guessing as it flew between bushes. I was lucky in getting some great, but short, views, but failed to get any photos of it.

That was until right at the end, when most of the guys had left and I just lingered a bit longer (bear in mind, for everyone else this was a patch year tick, for me it was a UK and patch tick). I walked one more time around the broom bushes where we had last seen it and I flushed it up into the hawthorn where Bob had first seen it. A few minutes later I got a couple of quick snaps of it in the small oak right next to the aforementioned hawthorn. The light was fading and the quality was poor, but I believe this is the first photo taken of a Wryneck on the patch in 2015 (the fourth in six years) and possibly the second individual found this year in London. I am very happy.

Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)

Eurasian Wryneck (Jynx torquilla)

Wanstead Patchwork: Part XVI (Those magnificent birds and a flying machine)

The Autumn migration has got off to an excellent start on the Wanstead Flats. There have been several Spotted Flycatchers seen at multiple sites across the patch, a few appearances from Pied Flycatchers, a few Common Redstart, Wheatear, Whinchat, daily passings of Yellow Wagtail (the only member of this list I am currently missing as a patch year tick), Tree Pipit, Garden Warbler, many Willow Warbler (compared to only one or two that remained through the breeding season), and Reed Warbler.

The Wanstead Birders have, accordingly, been out in force and taking some great photos including from Jonathan, Tony, and Nick.

My photographs are not … er… ‘quite’ up to some of these standards, but I have been prompted into snapping a few whilst stood in the ‘enclosure’ on the patch as it has been alive with migrants.

Yesterday, there was a point where I watched at least three Spotted Flycatchers perform aerial acrobatics, a couple of Redstart perched and flew around, a Tree Pipit was flushed from the ground up to, where it belongs in, a tree. This was my 90th patch bird of the year. I also had several warblers including my first ‘seen’ Reed Warbler on the patch, which skulked around underneath the flycatchers.

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

Common Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

Everyone is hoping for a Wryneck – which is apparently almost an annual visitor on the patch – or something else interesting.

Another airborne rarity that I ticked off yesterday was a bonus fly-past from the “Sally-B” B17 Flying Fortress which starred in the film, The Memphis Belle:

B17 Flying Fortress

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.

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!