Tag Archives: hirundines

Ten reasons to be cheerful

Patch birding can be tough going.

I’m sure many of us get almost existential jitters: “why on earth am I walking around semi-urban scrub regularly to tick off birds on a list?” amongst other thoughts. The general consensus is that things on the Patch are a bit rubbish at the moment (many of my fellow local tribe would probably use stronger language than that to describe things). It is true that hirundines seem later and scarcer, and some of the other migrants seem few and far between, not to mention the fact that we have watched much of the habitat trashed recently, but… I have to say I refuse to be cowed and give in to the birding funk.

Recent positives (for me at least) include:

1. Patch first Little Ringed Plover (times 3!)

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Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)

… and just to prove that there were three of them…

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2. More Willow Warbler than I have seen before on patch (I ticked seven singers the other day)

3. Actual views of Yellow Wagtail on visible migration (rather than usual faint squashy call in the ether)

4. Finding a Treecreeper in Bush Wood (these guys are scarce and tricky locally)

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Eurasian Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris)

5. Finding a Cetti’s Warbler – only second ever on Patch (probably a returning bird)

6. Seeing a pair of Raven just off patch – highly scarce locally

7. Getting some photos of a White Wagtail – although not a new patch species tick, the continental race and cousin to our ‘pied’ variety is still always of interest when found on our island

White Wagtail

White Wagtail (Motacilla alba alba)

8. Getting a photo (however bad) of a Snipe on patch

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Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

9. We have had some glorious weather (one early April day even went over 25 degrees C)

10. Getting close enough to a Wheatear to have a photo that is better than my usual rubbish

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Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

So things could undoubtedly be better, but I still get pleasure from just being on the Patch in Spring. And, as we have seen time and again, the Patch always has the ability to surprise us with a magical moment.

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Wanstead Patchwork: Part XVIII (The teeming hordes)

“The teeming hordes are sweeping, swirling round” The Teeming Hordes – Mallory Patrick

There is a sense of ‘movement’ amongst many of the migrant birds on the patch as we enter the Autumn passage time.

Some of our Summer visitors are leaving, and others are bunching up in bigger numbers as those on passage from further North stop off to refuel.

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

The rather poor shot of a Chiffchaff above was taken in the low light of early morning. Yesterday I came across a flock of Chiffchaff at least 10-20 strong with a few Blue Tits and Great Tits tagging along for the ride (rather than the usual other way around). Chiffchaff breed across the patch, but the current numbers have swelled considerably.

Nowhere near as numerous, but also increased from very low number(s) during the breeding season, are Willow Warbler. The photo below has been puzzling me somewhat – the general colour and brightness point to it being a Willow Warbler and the legs look pale, but … the supercilium is annoyingly narrow and nondescript and as I didn’t hear it call or sing, I can be relatively confident, but not 100% certain, that it is not an aberrantly bright chiffy:

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) - I think!

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) – I think!

Spotted Flycatchers have been an excellent feature bird on the patch for the last few weeks and numbers seem to fluctuate as they pass through. Yesterday I watched as three tussled and fought with each other, zipping from tree-to-tree in the highly productive area called ‘The Enclosure’. I even filmed one for a bit, calling and then flying off (excuse my shaky camera work): click here.

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatchers have been seen at numerous locations across the patch although the majority have been found around Long Wood and the Enclosure, reflected in this map of my personal sighting locations (each dot represents a rough location of sightings, not individual birds seen):

Thanks to City of London for the map

Thanks to City of London for the map

South of Long Wood are the brooms and grassland famous for our breeding Skylarks, but more recently the brooms have been alive with Whinchat. Six or seven have been recorded on particular days and have been popular with the local and visiting birders:

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) and some of the Wanstead birders blurry in the background

Whinchat

Whinchat

Four Whinchat in a bush

Four Whinchat in a bush

Even more popular than the Whinchat are the slightly less common Wheatear:

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

With a blurry crow for size comparison

With a blurry crow for size comparison

In the last few days I have rectified my lack of Yellow Wagtail on my patch list and have now seen a few pass high over. Meadow Pipits and several types of finches can also frequently be heard high above. But the numbers of all of these pale beside the hirundines; the sky has become increasingly busy with waves of Swallow, Sand Martin and House Martin:

House Martin (Delichon urbicum)

House Martin (Delichon urbicum)

Today the Wanstead Birders counted up to 1000 Swallows pass over the flats.

Just as the summer migrants are leaving or preparing to leave, some of the familiar winter avians are starting to return from northerly climes or their coastal breeding sites, such as this Common Gull:

Common gull (Larus canus)

Common gull (Larus canus)

Migrants come and go, but much of the wildlife remains on the patch…

Juvenile Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Juvenile Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis)

Female Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Female Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

With the onset of Autumn, the local fungi has been blooming all over the place:

Parasol mushroom (Macro Lepiota procera)

Parasol mushroom (Macro Lepiota procera)

Unidentified fungus

Unidentified fungus

A different type of late bloomer is this naturalised Cyclamen found in Bushwood:

Ivy-leaved Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium)

Ivy-leaved Cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium)

August and Early September has been great on the patch, but I am particularly looking forward to the return passage of the Ring Ouzels which I missed in the Spring.

Three scenes of Southern France

We returned from our last visit to France almost a month ago, but it has taken me this long to review some of the photos I took. I have recorded before some of our trips to the Aude region in the extreme south of the country here, here, and here.

I want to reflect back on, and share, three landscapes that are now very familiar to me, but may not be well known by others:

Scene One: The Medieval French Village
Lagrasse is a stunning village built around the famous Abbey which dates from the reign of Charlemagne in the 8th Century (and no, I haven’t forgotten a digit there) and can be seen rising above the trees in the background:
Lagrasse

Hirundines whip around the sky above the narrow and ancient streets such as these nesting House Martins:

House Martin (Delichon urbicum)

House Martin (Delichon urbicum)

And in the surrounding gardens a large number of birds can be found such as this Spotted Flycatcher:

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

[It’s digression time] Despite this not being a great photo, flycatchers are probably one of my favourite types of bird to photograph. Why?… (I hear you wearily but politely ask) Well, because birding and bird photograph is bloody difficult. Birds are generally small, shy (read as ‘far-away’) things that spend their time flying around quickly or hidden in bushes and trees. When walking around with a camera, a birder is often first aware of a nearby bird when it flies off startled by your presence (they invariably see or hear you before you see or hear them). A bird in flight is generally not a bird you are going to be able to photograph and it will not settle down for quite a distance. A flycatcher, however, is different. The birder is alerted to its presence by it flying, but then it settles on a perch. It takes off again – “damn! I missed it!” but never fear, because it is likely to settle back on the same perch it launched off from, as that is how it hunts.[here endith lengthy digression]

Scene Two: The Mediterranean Valley
I have mentioned before that my wife’s family have a home in a valley near Lagrasse. In case you want to consider staying there, have a look at their website, here. Here is a view from the top of the hill next to her home down into the steeper neighbouring valley:

Valley view

To give a sense of the topography of the area, I used the excellent website topographic-map.com which is powered by Google. Below you can see where my wife’s home is marked by a big red X and where I was standing and pointing to take the photograph above marked by an arrow. You can also see the precise elevation of the hill (I intend to use that website lots):

valley map

It was in this valley that I got my photo of a Bee Eater in France. Even though the photo is crap, you get a sense of the amazing colours of this bird – if anyone can think of a more exotic looking bird found in Europe, let me know:

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)

I was also pleased to get my first definitive photo of an Eagle from my wife’s house – reassuring the residents after my previous dismissive comments that soaring raptors were buzzards. I hopefully made up for my previous cynicism by confirming that it was the wonderfully named Short-toed Snake Eagle:

Short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus)

Short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus)

Scene Three: The Pyrenees
My wife’s home is only about an hour’s drive from the Pyrenees, and so my final scene is from the picturesque Gorges de la Frau. Lily can be seen walking up in front of me:

Pyrenees

With my new-found favourite map website, you can see where I took the photo (X, as always, marks the spot) and the altitude sign is on top of the mountain – Sarrat de Rouquieres – seen in the photo to the left – higher, we should observe, than any point in Britain:

Gorges de la Frau

It was craning my neck back to stare up at the mountain that I saw a corvid with what appeared to be blazing wing-tips. The photo is distant and poor of the wonderful Alpine Chough, but I cannot really explain the reason why the light at this angle makes its all-black wing-tips look like they are on fire. If there is magic anywhere in the world, surely it is with the wildlife that lives high in the mountains:

Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)

Alpine Chough (Pyrrhocorax graculus)