Tag Archives: Canada Goose

Carry on Lapwing

Winter is coming… back. Today was the first of a week full of forecast freezing weather and snow. It was a stunning, sunny, but cold day.

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East Copse on Wanstead Flats

Despite the cold, Spring seemed to be in the air for the Canada Goose flock on Jubilee…

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Mating pair of Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

As always with mating anatidae, it was a typically scrappy affair.

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But other birds were responding more… err… suitably to the cold weather. WhatsApp told me that Tony had 19 Lapwing over the SSSI. Unfortunately, I was all the way over by Alexandra lake but started heading in the right direction, trying to multi-task by frantically scanning the sky whilst speed walking towards SSSI.

What ensued was some comedy ‘grippage’ as Tony and I exchanged phone calls and more Lapwing seemed to appear and disappear all without me seeing them: “ten more James”, “oh, they’re coming back”, “now they’re on the deck”, and “they’ve gone mate”. By the time I reached the SSSI, I could see the distant figures of Tony and Bob, but I had missed all their Lapwing. That was until I found my own flock! By the time I reached the guys we counted the flock of 27 birds as they disappeared into the western distance.

[If you would like to read more about Lapwing sightings on the patch, I have crunched some numbers and written a blog post here]

The comedy antics didn’t stop once I had year-ticked the Lapwing. As I stood by Jubilee, some more Lapwing passed over and this time I tried to get photos of the distant birds. Anyone who has tried to focus on distant dots in the sky will know that just finding and focusing on the bird is a challenge. Whenever I got a bird in focus I snapped away quickly… at one point getting several photos of a passing Wood Pigeon instead of the intended quarry.

A little later still I took some photos of a confiding Jackdaw on the Police Scrape. [My wife saw this photo and said it looks like a “little oily penguin”.]

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Western Jackdaw (Coloeus monedula)

Whilst taking pictures of the diminutive penguin corvid, I became aware of a kerfuffle a little way off. It was another Lapwing being chased off the scrape by a crow. I had been so engrossed in the little oily Jackdaw, I completely missed the fact that the Patch-scarce wader had been on the ground in front of me. By the time I got any usable shots, the Lapwing was already quite high over my head. It felt a bit like ‘Mr Bean goes birding’.

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Northern Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus)

In total today, we counted at least 108 Lapwing flying over, the largest numbers seen on the Patch for five years (I believe).

I also picked up two more year ticks today: Common Snipe and – embarrassingly – my first Mistle Thrush for the year.

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Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)

Meanwhile, back on Jubilee a strange and terrible winged beast had appeared. Was this the end of days? Was grimy old Jubilee about to become the lake of sulphur and fire that the Book of Revelation foretells? Or was it just a poor one legged Herring Gull having a mid-air shake?

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European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

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Starting the year with alchemy, not lists

The year on the Patch often begins a little later for me than my fellow patch-workers as I tend to start the year in France. This regularly leads to me bumping into them and saying things like, “Blue Tit, tick!” whilst they are bemoaning the fact that they haven’t seen a Water Rail or Peregrine yet for the year. But that doesn’t matter as I’m not patch year-listing in 2018. No! Really, I’m not!

So, today was my first day (actually only a couple of hours) out on the Patch when I was absolutely not ticking off Blue Tit, Magpie, Greenfinch, … .

I had already started the year on my French patch – highlights, amongst a lot of strong wind, were daily Hawfinches, Hen Harrier, Crested Tits, lots of walking and flushing of Red-legged Partridges and Woodlark.

Gold to fire..crest

But I also noticed something strange… for the first time in the decade I have been watching birds on the French Patch, I saw almost as many Goldcrest as I did Firecrest. I think Firecrest is probably the most common bird on the French patch, and I have only seen a handful of Goldcrest in all my time there so this was a big departure.

Alchemy was the art of attempting to turn lead into gold, normally using lots of fire. How about turning gold into fire and vice versa? Well the French oddity seemed to be reflected back at me this morning in Wanstead when I saw a Firecrest in Bush Wood before seeing Goldcrest (Firecrest is a tricky winter tick compared with resident Goldcrests) – I still haven’t added Goldcrest to the list that I am not keeping.

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Firecrest (Regulus ignicapilla) in Bush Wood

The golden light

I met Jono this morning as we tried to see a Little Owl that I wanted to see (not for any listing purposes you understand) – and, whilst he had early views, I missed it. The promise of a bright day seemed a lie first thing as there was a lot of cloud, but, as we stood by Jubilee pond, the rays broke through and bathed everything in golden light that just makes photography a joy.

I know male Tufted Duck are recognised as the good looking one of the pair with their iridescent head and contrasting pied colouration, but in the morning light, the subtle variation of the mahogany colours of the female stood out to me.

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Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula)

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Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

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Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

Jono was out with his heavy camera and so I left him doing what he does best. The results on his blog are well worth seeing.

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Jonathan Lethbridge (Homo cameralensii)

‘Among the fields of gold’

I wrapped up 2017 writing about how a Stonechat by Cat & Dog pond ‘bookmarked’ the year for me. It might well do that again in 2018 (if I were year-listing that is) as I found the long-staying (since 18 November) bird there.

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Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola)

If I had been counting, which I wasn’t, I might say that I have seen 46 species of bird so far on the UK Patch this year. As I was only out for an hour or so, I didn’t visit Wanstead Park, but, even so, am missing some incredibly common birds like Dunnock, Chaffinch, Collared Dove, and Redwing. Still, I have a whole year to add those birds to my… erm… list.

New York City: the birds of Central Park

One does not necessarily associate New York City with wildlife. There is so much to see and do in this amazing city that birding is probably quite far down most people’s NYC bucket list. However, for an “Englishman in New York” (to borrow Sting’s lyrics), spending a few hours with the wildlife of Central Park was deeply rewarding in my recent week in the Big Apple.

Central Park is like a great slab of green in the heart of Manhattan (or brown when we were there last week, as New York was just emerging from Winter, slightly behind the UK) – seen below from the top of the Empire State building partially obscured by skyscrapers…

Central Park from Empire State

Central Park from Empire State

Despite its uber-urban location, an astonishing 230 species of bird (about a quarter of all birds known to exist in the US) have been spotted in Central Park. Whilst I obviously didn’t get close to that number in just a couple of hours in early April, I was pleased with my visit.

I started at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir (the largest body of water in the park):

Reservoir views

Reservoir walkway

There were some familiar waterbirds, such as:

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)

… and…

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata)

… But also less familiar for a European, such as:

Ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

Ruddy duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)

… and what I later discovered was a relatively rare sight for New York City…

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)

Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena)

Although not as numerous as in the nearby Turtle Pond, the Reservoir is also home to introduced (probably released pets) Terrapins (I am uncertain of the species below, but it is probably the common, Red-eared Slider):

Terrapin

Near the Reservoir, I was alerted by the call of a raptor circling over the trees in what seemed like a victory dance as it carried the carcass of its prey (an unidentified bird) in its talons:

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

Elsewhere around the park, I saw a couple of further familiar species, such as:

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

House Sparrow (Passer domesticus)

… and…

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

… and the almost globally ubiquitous…

Feral Pigeon (Columba livia)

Feral Pigeon (Columba livia)

But I was there to see North American species. Central Park did not disappoint:

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula)

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia)

I was thrilled to see a North American favourite, the aptly named Cardinal…

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)

Three obscured shots below of, what I believe (thanks to some help from the online birding community – how cool am I?) is an Eastern Phoebe – one of the first migratory birds to return heralding the start of Spring:

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe)

Visiting other countries is great for a birder, because you get to be all excited by common birds that a local birder wouldn’t look twice at, such as:

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

…and the highly common but confusingly named (it is called a robin because of its red breast, but is actually a Thrush)…

American Robin (Turdus migratorius)

American robin (Turdus migratorius)

Another Thrush that I snapped was the Hermit Thrush:

Hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus)

Hermit thrush (Catharus guttatus)

There are a number of other lakes in the park beyond the Reservoir:

Central Park lake

It was on these lakes that I saw the New World relative of our Great Cormorant:

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) next to Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) next to Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) and numerous terrapins

As well as getting a very distant shot of the wonderfully named, Bufflehead:

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)

And seeing lots more terrapins/turtles basking…

At least two species, but mainly the Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

At least two species, but mainly the Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta elegans)

The highlight of my birding afternoon in Central Park was probably the fact that I spotted three species of woodpecker:

Including these two merged perspectives…

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus)

…and the smallest woodpecker in the US…

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens)

… and finally a blurry and obscured shot of…

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)

Outside of Central Park, I got a bit excited seeing a brown squirrel, until I realised it was a melanistic sub-group of the familiar Grey Squirrel and not a new species:

Eastern Grey/Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Eastern Grey/Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

I also photographed a couple of gulls outside of Central Park: one which appeared to be familiar and one not…

The familiar bird is a Herring Gull, but is recognised now by most authorities as a separate species from the European Herring Gull, photographed from the Staten Island ferry…

American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus)

American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus)

The less familiar gull was photographed (twice – two shots merged below) near Brooklyn Bridge:

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)

This gull took my total number of species photographed during a week in New York City (an only about 2 hours of birding) to 24, 17 of which were new birds for my photographic list.

Amazing Grace: down by the riverside

I have blogged about the river Great Ouse before. It is one of the two important rivers of my childhood (along with the Nene). These are rivers I have fished and walked along many, many times.

The Great Ouse flows through the small town where my family now live: Olney in Buckinghamshire…

Great Ouse

The town stretches up a hill which overlooks the flood plain of the river…

Valley

… which is effectively an island surrounded by the branches of the river…

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It contains beautiful meadows…

Meadow

… and land used as pasture…

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Cow

But the riverside is also home to many wild animals:

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) keeping a sharp eye out for fish or amphibians…

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Another creature that I found out hunting for amphibians is the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)…

Grass snake

I also surprised a semi-feral Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus) wandering in the grass..

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But deeper in the grasses, it was the insects that told me we were at the height of Spring. I found mating Crane Fly (species unidentified)…

Crane Fly

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)…

Banded Demoiselle

And most wonderful, for me, were the Mayfly: one of the many species of the aptly named genus, Ephemeroptera; the Mayfly is surely the embodiment of ephemeral nature. Mayfly will only live in their adult form for a few hours – maybe a day – to mate and lay their eggs before they die (often sending trout and other fish into a feeding frenzy)…

Mayfly

On the lakes of Emberton, I saw the common Canada Goose (Branta Canadensis)…

Canada Goose

and the much rarer feral breeding population (amongst only around 1000 in the UK) of Barnacle Goose (Branta leucopsis)…

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose 2

The river runs right past the impressive church of St Peter and St Paul…

Olney Church

In this churchyard is the grave of John Newton (1725-1807)…

John Newton

John Newton started life as a sailor. He was involved in the slave trade and was even enslaved himself for a short period. On his grave stone it says he was originally “an infidel and a libertine”. He had a damascene conversion to Christianity whilst on a ship in a storm.

Eventually, he joined the clergy, renounced his former wicked ways and became a prominent campaigner against slavery. He was pastor of the church and wrote some famous poems and hymns whilst reflecting on his former life and looking out at the countryside of the Great Ouse. By far his most famous hymn is ‘Amazing Grace’ which is believed to be played/sung around 10 million times a year!

A Sunday Cycle: Lee Valley Park

Those of you who know me, know what I do, and know who I do it for, may be aware that the last couple of weeks have a been a little busy for me. In fact they were the craziest two weeks of my professional career so far. Last weekend was a complete write-off and so I wasn’t able to post any updates.

As I worked late into the night (after night), I would occasionally think back to the weekend before my world seemed to tip upside down and to a day cycling in the Lea Valley.

The river Lea (or Lee), ‘London’s second river’ apparently springs up in the midst of what is now the heavily concreted suburbia of Luton. I always imagine the source of rivers to be in some hilly meadow somewhere. But this inauspicious and urbanised birthplace is perhaps apt. The Lea has been carefully shaped and guided by man with much of its course straightened and navigable all the way down to its tidal end where it spills through the beautiful but largely decaying industrial desert of London’s east end at Bow Creek and into the Thames. I took the photo below on a winter walk where I didn’t come across another human being for over two miles despite being close to the Thames.

But this industrial winter view was far removed from the summer scenes nearly twenty miles north just outside the M25. The Lee Valley (just get used to my contrary spelling of ‘Lea’) punctures London like a green and blue spear. Have a look at a map at the string of reservoirs, canals and tributaries that act as wild refuge – almost like a path – down through the concrete jungle and towards the Thames.

Once you get outside of London, the Lee Valley opens up even more into a blissful mix of  of arrow-straight canals surrounded by pools, ponds, lakes, and streams.

You can see my partner, below, waiting almost patiently while I faffed around stopping every other minute taking photos and delaying our journey towards a Sunday pub lunch in a beer garden by the river.

Lunch was further delayed by some rather amusingly cute calves…

Further distractions came from the wild flowers growing along the waterside, such as this wild iris, Yellow Flag…

and Common Mallow…

and wild Chamomile…

and Common Poppy…

As last weekend was spent stuck in a largely empty office tower working in the stuffy heat with no air conditioning, I would occasionally cast my mind back to the weekend before of pure country air trundling past meadows and waterways…

I should have perhaps paid more heed to the grey clouds’ warning of an almighty oncoming storm and the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times!”