Tag Archives: birding

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

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)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pisaura mirabilis – the nursery web spider

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.

What a Great Reed Warbler!

The mixed blessing of going out birding later than I used to, due to family time, is that I get a good sense of whether the Patch is likely to be productive before I set foot outside.

This morning, it did not bode well and so when I heard news that Rich Bonser had found a Great Reed Warbler at Crossness in South London: a full-on UK tick for me, it was a no-brainer. A lot of my patch colleagues shared that they needed it for London, but it was only when there that I learned this was actually the first ever for the LNHS recording area.

I left the house at 09:50 and had to be back at 12 as we were hosting a lunch for our NCT baby and parent group; it was a race against the clock. I planned it out in my head: 35 minutes drive there, 35 minutes drive back, 15 minutes from the car to bird and the same back would give me 30 minute to locate, hear and hopefully see the bird.

The walk across the meadow took me back to my last time there, in February when I went for the Penduline Tit. It is a great site: a pair of Peregrines were circling each other as I arrived, and there were Cetti’s, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, both Whitethroat species, Skylark, and much more all in full song.

I was amazed when I finally got there that I was only the third birder there and the finder, Mr Bonser was luckily still there. I heard it almost immediately – that distinctive deep croaking that sounds like one of those wooden ‘guiro’ musical instruments and then the louder and gruffer version of the Reed Warbler‘s song.

But the bird stayed well hidden behind a large bramble bush in the reeds as we watched through the metal fencing to keep everyone from the ‘protected area’. We were treated to my best views this year of Sedge Warbler while we were waiting for the star bird to show.

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Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus)

Eventually, the thrush-sized Acro popped up on top of the reeds some way from where where we had heard it singing after it chased a smaller bird. There were many better photos taken later that day, but ticking a bird in London that is also the first time anyone else could have ticked that bird was special.

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Great Reed Warbler (Acrocephalus arundinaceus)

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belting out its gruff song

I was in a very good mood, albeit partially dampened when the Satnav told me it was going to take closer to an hour to get home. Slightly late, but, I think, with a pretty good excuse.

As it was car journey solely to twitch a bird, I made a small contribution (as per my new pledge) to a charity to protect some rainforest.

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Duck tales

Last weekend Rob S. found a stunning drake Garganey on Jubilee Pond.

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Garganey (Anas querquedula)

It was a rather incongruous sight on the most urban and densely-visited of our patch-ponds, but the behaviour was all Garganey: highly skittish, and fearful, with no nice overhanging vegetation to hide under and bullied by just about everything else on the pond. It was my first patch tick for the year; my 129th bird locally.

One week later…

Nick C. found a drake Mandarin Duck on Alexandra Lake. I had family visiting so am a little ashamed to say that I jumped in the car to get to the other side of the patch (from my house) and try and bag my 130th bird.

As soon as I approached the lake, I saw it in the distance (“Get in!” – I always think in semi-macho cliches when I see new birds. Maybe also “Back of the net!”) I quickly fired off a record shot in case I was unable to get any closer.

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Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata)

I shouldn’t have worried. ‘Skittish’ and ‘fearful’ are not words I would use to describe this individual. Without moving around the shore, I noticed the duck swimming in my general direction. No, not in my general direction… at me… at speed. And it did not stop.

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“I need your bread, your boots, and your motorcycle”

I didn’t have any bird seed or bread, but this duck is clearly used to being fed, and possibly being fed directly out of hand, as it had zero fear for me or any of my fellow birders. The contrast with the Garganey of last week could not have been more pronounced. But it could fly and feral populations clearly do move around. As we discussed on the shore yesterday, is there really much difference (apart from maybe a few generations) between Mandarin Duck arriving on the Patch and, say, Canada Goose, or Ring-necked Parakeet? It stayed one day, as reports as I type suggest the Mandarin has departed this morning; maybe back to the Far-East, or maybe just back to Connaught Water.

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A nice way to round off 130 birds on the Patch

 

 

March 2019: Review

Patch Summary:

I only made it out on to the patch three times in March, recording 50 species of birds. Five of these species were new for the year, and one was a patch life tick.

Highlights were:

  • The stunning drake Garganey on Jubilee Pond found by Rob S. on 31 March – my first full patch life tick this year.
  • Winning the local Wheatear sweepstake by correctly predicting 17 March as the first arrival. Seeing it perch up nicely after being found by Tony B.
  • Hearing my first Cetti’s Warbler (found by Marco J.) on Wanstead Flats (last bird being on the Roding) also on 17 March.
  • Spring being sealed on 23 March by singing Blackcap and first sighting of Sand Martin.

Lowlights were:

  • Whilst pleased to see some of the early Spring arrivals, I missed a few others that my colleagues picked up, namely a record early House Martin and Swallow.

Highlights from elsewhere were:

  • Adding a new bird to my French Patch list (albeit not the most exciting of additions): Mistle Thrush.
  • Other highlights of a week working my French Patch were: Griffon Vulture, lots of Golden Eagle sightings, courting Ravens, singing Woodlark, Black Redstart, Stonechat closer to the house than I have had before, Crested Tit, singing Cirl Bunting, Rock Bunting, and more Sardinian Warbler than you would know what to do with.

My birding month in five pictures:

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Crested Tit – France

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Black Redstart – France

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Skylark – Wanstead

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Wheatear – Wanstead

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Garganey – Wanstead!

February 2019: Review

Patch Summary:

I only recorded 56 species of birds in four patch visits during February. Of the 56, three were new for the year for me.

Highlights were:

  • Connecting pretty quickly with the Rook Bob found on Alexandra Pond on 17 Feb. Probably the same individual as last year.
  • Having a nice low fly-past from my first patch Common Buzzard of the year also on 17 Feb.
  • SSSI seeming to be a magnet for good numbers of Reed Bunting, Linnet, Pied Wagtail, and very large numbers of Goldfinch.
  • Finding a new colour-ringed Black-headed Gull on Alex on 18 Feb (Yellow TN9T): first sighting since ringed in Poland in June 2018.
  • A very high count of 44 Mute Swan on Jubilee for the WeBS count on 17 Feb.

Lowlights were:

  • Continued to fail to see Fieldfare (probably missed now until the Autumn) or Water Rail.

Highlights from elsewhere were:

  • Seeing 1W Caspian Gull ‘X530’ at Stonebarges in Rainham (but sadly not finding either of the Glaucous Gull that have been around) on 19 Feb.
  • Seeing and hearing my first ever Penduline Tit. In London as well. with added bonus of several Bearded Tit/Reedling present too. All at Crossness in South London on 22 Feb.
  • Flying out to my French Patch (more to be reported for March) and, on first day out and about on last day (28th) of Feb felt like reconnecting with old friends: Sardinian Warbler rattling from bushes in large numbers, Raven courting, Stonechat posing, and Cirl Bunting singing.

My birding month in five pictures:

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Polish ringed ‘TN9T’ on Alex

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Glossy, wet, Mallard

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German Ringed X530 1W Caspian Gull

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Somewhere in that lot is probably a Glaucous – not that I found it/them

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Record shot of a Bearded Tit at Crossness – sadly wasn’t fast enough to capture the Penduline

January 2019: Review

Patch Summary:

I didn’t write a review for December as my birding was limited somewhat by the arrival of my son. In January, the nature of birding has also changed: short trips rather than long patch walks are now modus operandi. I made 10 patch visits during January and recorded a total of 65 species of birds. As it is January, they were all year ticks (obvs!), but no patch life ticks.

Highlights were:

  • Re-finding the female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (the one I first found in november last year) about 200 metres south of where I first found it.
  • Finding an interesting Chiffchaff by the stables on 25 January. My initial instinct was ‘Siberian’ (tristis) but perhaps more likely to be abientus race or even just an ‘interesting’ collybita.
  • Connecting with one of Tony’s first winter Caspian Gull on Alex on 19 Jan.
  • Finding Firecrest and Treecreeper in Bush Wood in two short trips on 2 Jan and 4 Jan respectively.
  • Record numbers (11 for me) of Reed Bunting on the deck in the birches in SSSI on 20 Jan.
  • Having some quality time with Little Owl in one of Copses on 20 Jan until a Grey Squirrel decided to jump almost on top of it.

Lowlights were:

  • Realising the Chiffchaff was probably not a ‘Siberian’ despite some initial excitement.

Highlights from elsewhere were:

  • Having a close encounter with a Sparrowhawk and an unfortunate Feral Pigeon on my next-door-neighbour’s door-step (see photo below).
  • Connecting again, this side of the New Year, with the regular wintering, now 5th calendar year Caspian Gull on the hyper-local, but just off-patch, Eagle Pond in Snaresbrook.
  • Finding Bearded Tit (Reedling), a local scarcity, at Dorney Wetlands near Maidenhead.

My birding month in five pictures:

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One of Tony’s 1st Winter Caspian Gulls on Alex

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Jay in Old Sewage Works

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The ‘interesting’ Chiffchaff

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Red Kite over the Jubilee River

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Sparrowhawk and pigeon right outside my house

That was the year that was: ten birding moments

2018 will forever remain an important year for me. A number of sizeable personal life events occurred; most notably the fact that I have recently become a father.

It was not a massive birding year for me (perhaps due to the reasons above), although I recorded my best patch year total with 110 species and 12 brand new patch birds. There were some notable absences in my patch year list (Garden Warbler probably the most unexpected, and my first year blanking Pied Flycatcher being a disappointment. Missing out on the showy Black-tailed Godwit on Alexandra Lake was also gripping in the extreme). However, the disappointments were undoubtedly outweighed by the  highlights which, as is the want of birding bloggers, I will share here.

Best photo
As I inflict many terrible photos on the readers of this blog, I thought I ought to start with one that is a little better than my average. A bird that I wish I had seen in the UK, but actually saw where it is common; Tokyo, Japan…

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Dusky Thrush (Turdus eunomus)

Top ten birding moments (in chronological order)

1. Goldeneye, Wanstead Park

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Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)

Not a bird likely to be on many of my patch colleague’s ‘top moments’ lists for more than one reason, including the fact that it was only seen by Nick (the finder) and me. I also have a soft-spot for the River Roding as an under-watched part of the Patch, and seeing this Patch-scarce (8th record and Patch tick for me) was a bright moment during dark February.

2.  Brown-eared Bulbul, Tokyo, Japan

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Brown-eared Bulbul (Hypsipetes amaurotis)

Anyone who has been to Japan will have seen a lot of these birds. Oh boy are they everywhere! But opening the shutters of our bedroom window after our first night in Japan to find this enigmatic bird just a few metres away, surrounded by cherry blossom just seemed to be so quintessentially Japanese that the moment has stayed etched in my mind.

3. Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Hakone, Japan

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Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker (Yungipicus kizuki)

Another common bird in Japan, but being totally alone on the fringes of a mountain village in the shadow of Mount Fuji and watching this stunning bird for several minutes feeding on a moss-covered tree was special.

4. Tree Pipit, Wanstead Flats

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Tree Pipit was not one of the 12 new birds for the Patch I saw this year, but the April bird  gave me the best views I have had of this normally fleeting passage migrant; the best views on the Patch… and, actually, probably the best views I have ever had of this bird.

5. Cuckoo, Wanstead Flats

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Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

A bittersweet birding moment in that my joy at watching this bird sail right past me and perch up around 10-15 metres away – a patch tick – was somewhat dampened by the fact that none of my fellow patch workers got to see it. I remember watching a perched cuckoo as a very young child in Northamptonshire having heard its distinctive call. Now, the call is increasingly rare in the UK, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen this bird perch up, so seeing this on the Patch was a bonus.

6. Aquatic Warbler, Biebrza Marshes, Poland

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Aquatic Warbler (Acrocephalus paludicola)

Poland was the only birding-specific overseas trip I undertook in 2018 and I added many ticks to my life-list. Aquatic Warbler was one of the first and most vulnerable of these ‘ticks’. Standing in a sea of reeds and then eventually hearing and seeing one, two, and then three and more of these ‘acros’ climb up a stalk and perform for us was a trip, and year, highlight for me.

7. Three-toed Woodpecker, Bialowieza, Poland

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Eurasian Three-toed Woodpecker (Picoides tridactylus)

We connected with seven species of Woodpecker (and it could have easily been ten if we had stayed another day or so) in Poland. The toughest to find, but most rewarding to watch (for me anyway) was the Three-toed Woodpecker, as our group actually helped to locate a nest-hole for our guide, and we spent several minutes watching a female move between the trees around us. A classic life tick.

8. Red-backed Shrike, Wanstead Flats

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Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)

Had it not been for a certain bunting (see below), RB Shrike would have been the rarest patch bird of the year for me. One of several fantastic finds by Mr N. Croft this year, I was pleased with a brief glimpse on the day it was found, but thrilled the following day when I walked around a bush and froze as it was right in front of me. A bird I also added to my French patch list the year before, even as a juvenile, this bird wins the ‘best-looking bird’ award in this list of ten for me.

9. Rustic Bunting, Wanstead Flats

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Rustic Bunting (Emberiza rustica)

Undoubtedly the rarest bird I have seen in four years of birding my local Patch of Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park. An outstanding find by Nick again. The photo above was taken when there were hundreds of twitchers on our local Patch at the weekend, but my first sighting of the bird had been early one morning in the golden light of autumnal dawn. At first a brief flash of a bunting, and then that moment when ID clicks into place and you know you have connected with a rare bird; what a way to get a full world life tick; right on my doorstep.

10. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Wanstead Park

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Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (Dryobates minor)

The third woodpecker on my list (in fact I added five woodpecker species to my life-list in 2018) but this one; a patch-tick rather than a life tick had to be the most satisfying. A once-resident breeder on the Patch (before my time) that is now only a scarce visitor. Finding this female in the Park was a great moment for me and was filled with the glimmer of hope that this nationally declining bird might come back and breed again locally.

People, places, and things

So, there were some great birds, but it was more than just about the birds. Sometimes I went birding in some rather unglamorous places…

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Beckton Sewage Works

But sometimes also in some beautiful places…

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Bialowieza Forest, Poland

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Hakone, Japan

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Wanstead Flats

Sometimes I had the peace of birding in solitude, but sometimes I had the pleasure of birding in the company of others.

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Biebrza Marshes, Poland

Now I am a father, my birding opportunities in 2019 might not be quite so frequent, but I look forward to clocking up a few new experiences.