Tag Archives: Mistle Thrush

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.


East Copse on Wanstead Flats

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


Mating pair of Canada Goose (Branta canadensis)

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



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”.]


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’.


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.


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?


European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)


Good Friday for warblers

Last year Willow Warbler seemed like a scarce find on the Patch. One male stayed and sang a lot in a copse we call Motorcycle Wood in the SSSI. In fact it spent much of its time mimicking Chiffchaff with its song slurring from one to the other … “chiff chaff chiff chaff-chew-chew-cheew”, somewhat resembling the famous lyrics from the Beatles’ I am the Walrus: ‘Goo goo g’joob’. And that seemed to be it. Maybe one or two other passage WWs passed through, but it seemed to be a one bird show from that part of the phyllosc family spectrum.


Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

This year is different. On Good Friday, I counted seven singing male Willow Warbler (video here) on my walk around the Patch – which smashed my previous Patch record – and the following day, two were heard in an area I didn’t even visit. I was particularly pleased to pick up one singing in the hyper-local Bush Wood – a first for me. There is every possibility that they number in double figures.

There were, of course, lots more Chiffchaff.


Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

But even the singing Chiffchaff were significantly outnumbered by singing Blackcap – they must have exceeded peak saturation point now, and I imagine some will soon be moving on to find territories elsewhere.

I was out on the Patch to find the early arrivals of one of the Blackcap’s Sylvian cousins: Whitethroat. But none of their scratchy songs could be heard in the prime real estate locations of the scrubby SSSI. However, I did pick up a short arching refrain from Lesser Whitethroat deep within Hawthorn whilst watching a much showier Willow Warbler perform.

Bob had relayed news of a singing Whitethroat by the Roding, so I trekked across the Patch to listen out. Still no sound, but I did hear the explosive burst of something even even more welcome; Cetti’s Warbler. Two fast bursts of song and then nothing. No sight, and no further sound. But none was needed – Cetti’s was back. Last year we had our first ever record on the Patch! As this species spreads across territories and its population increases, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but I was still delighted to find it. As I write, most of my patch colleagues have now caught up with it.

Talking of impressive bird song, I had stopped in the area known as the Old Sewage Works to listen to a singing Mistle Thrush and was amazed to hear what I believe is car alarm mimicry – audible towards the end of this short video clip.

Aside from Lesser Whitethroat, and Cetti’s, I increased my Patch year list with a third tick in the form of a flushed Snipe in the Brooms following an earlier tip-off:


Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

Bob, Richard and I also watched a crow chase and harry a Sparrowhawk way up above the Broom fields.


Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) and Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)

Wanstead Patchwork: Part IV (Deeper into the Flats?)

Last weekend I added two birds to my patch year list: Greenfinch (go figure why it took me that long to find this normally common bird) and Mistle Thrush taking me to the (not so) grand total of 55 for the year so far.

I also took a few snaps as I walked celebrating how lucky I feel that this beautiful landscape not only exists in the urban sprawl of East London, but because it is literally two minutes walk from my new doorstep.

Broom Fields

Broom Fields: Point A on map

Point B on map

Point B on map

Point C on a map

Odd one out? Point C on a map

Bush Wood: Point D on map

Bush Wood: Point D on map

I spent time searching here in vain for a Water Rail: Point E on map

I spent time searching here in vain for a Water Rail: Point E on map

Female Kestrel: Point F on the map

Female Kestrel: Point F on the map

Thanks to Google Maps

Thanks to Google Maps

A Big Birding Year: Part XXIII (Crow and the blurry man … an apology for poor photography)

I have taken up many column inches (can you use that term with a blog?) bemoaning how difficult it is to photograph birds (see here and here) as even with expensive glass (long and powerful lenses), you really need to be quite close to birds to get a clear shot.

I have also explained how most poor quality shots can be used for record purposes only and never find themselves languishing in their blurry noisiness on the world wide web.

*storytime* A few days ago, I lay in bed with a severe case of near-fatal man-flu (watch this immediately!). Lying in my sick-bed, feeling very sorry for myself, I peered out of my bedroom window and saw a wonderful thing… A THRUSH! My dire illness was momentarily forgotten and I sprang out of bed like a child on Christmas morning. I quickly assembled my camera and started snapping directly through our rather grimy windows (the outsides at least – whatever happened to traditional window cleaners?) and across the road diagonally at a spotty bird perched on a roof.

A thrush, but which one?

A thrush, but which one?

By the time I had opened the window to get a clearer shot, the bird had flown. My clammy little fingers zoomed in on the view screen and I squinted at the distant fuzzy images with the heavy breath of anticipation. “Have I finally snapped the elusive Song Thrush which has evaded me all year so far?” Despite desperately willing to see Song Thrush traits, even with an image as poor as this, enough signs are there to tell me I had photographed a Mistle Thrush again and so not a new tick for my year. In case you are interested to know what thought processes (speed/eventually work their way through) my mind, here is a visual representation:

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)

A clear, close view and image of a Thrush would be easy to identify, but distant and obscured views help hone identification skills which are the vital ingredient in any good birder.

Yesterday, I ambled around the London Wetland Centre seeing a lot of not very much (if you know what I mean). I couldn’t go home without taking any photos so I lazily snapped at some distant gulls. It was only when I was back at home with my finger hovering over the delete button, that I realised that my poor quality shot contained something quite interesting. No, unfortunately not some rare gull, but rather a view that reminded me of a famous classical and renaissance subject of philosophy and art: the Three Ages of Man:


You may feel I am attempting to inject culture into a fuzzy image of some birds, but actually … well… anyway… here is what I saw: The “Three Ages of Gull”, or more precisely (and ignoring the Coot in the water) left to right, what I believe to be a juvenile Herring Gull approaching its first winter, a second winter Herring Gull, and a third winter Herring Gull on the right:

European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

The photo quality is crap, but I still feel like I have captured something special (Mummy says I am special).

Even when you get close enough to get a reasonable quality image, things in the background can spoil the picture. But sometimes those eye-sores and boo-boos can add value to the image. And so it was yesterday in a local park with a Carrion Crow and a blurry pedestrian in the background:

Carrion Crow (Corvix corone)

Carrion Crow (Corvix corone)

As the man walked out of shot, the Crow shuddered and ruffled its feathers giving this evil-associated, intelligent scavenger the momentary look of a cute lil fluffy thing:

I am the cute one, he was just a stranger

I am the cute one, he was just a stranger

And so I conclude… wildlife photography and birding aren’t just about razor-sharp images and rare birds (ticks in a book), but also about some of the magic of happenstance (or at least that is what I tell myself).

Post Scriptum I am sure I needn’t really explain that the word ‘apology’ in the title refers to the ancient meaning of defence and justification, rather than saying ‘sorry’.

A Big Birding Year: Part XV (Blurry shots of Parklife)

The busy and well-kept parks of central London can easily be overlooked when it comes wildlife, but they often contain hidden natural treasures.

An astonishing 196 species of bird have been recorded in Hyde Park and the adjoining Kensington Gardens since 1889. The birds have become used to throngs of human visitors and many have become almost reliant on the deliberate or discarded food that we leave. This is especially the case with the gulls..

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

… and the waterfowl, such as this nesting coot and its vulnerable and colourful young…

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)

Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra)

A further stronger sign of the influence of humans on the birdlife in parks is the presence of exotic non-native bird such as this beautiful Red-crested Pochard (don’t worry, I’m not adding this to my year list as that would be cheating):

Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina)

Red-crested Pochard (Netta rufina)

“I feed the pigeons I sometimes feed the sparrows too, it gives me a sense of enormous well being (parklife)” – Blur, 1994 (is anyone else freaked out by the fact that Parklife was released over 20 years ago!?)

In my quest to photograph as many species of birds in the UK in a single year, you won’t be surprised to know that I didn’t visit Kensington Gardens on Sunday to photograph introduced birds. I came to find a Little Owl and some baby Tawny Owls that I learned were in the park.

I followed the directions to a specific tree from a prolific bird blogger who visits the park every day [I seem unable to link to a rival blog platform site, but just Google “Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park birds”]

But the Little Owl that had been every day for ten days was not showing. Then I saw the blogger himself, also looking for the Little Owl (the species itself initially introduced to the UK) and then feeding the birds from his hand (another sign of how tame park birds are):

Great Tit (Parus major)

Great Tit (Parus major)

Through speaking with this birder and two others, I was directed to another tree nearby where the Tawny Owls had been seen. Sure enough, high up in a Sweet Chestnut tree, as the wind blew, there was an obscured view of some brown fluffy feathers. I walked all around the tree for a better view and eventually I saw some movement and a bundle of fluff joined its sibling on a higher branch. At the right moment one of the chicks raised its head and I managed to photograph my 85th species of bird through a tiny gap in the dense leaves and branches:

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)

The owls were not the only fluffy things of the day. I also snapped a young Jay that nervously pondered whether to feed from the local birder’s hand:

Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

Despite currently not being able to think about much other than moving house, I hope to take a break soon and return to photograph the Little Owl (that I understand was back today after his day off on Sunday … grrr!)

Post scriptum

Later that day I visited friends in Ealing. As we walked to their house I was reminded of a glaring omission in my year list so far. I have been blessed in photographing some scarce and even rare birds, but I am still missing one of our most common: the Song Thrush. I have seen a couple when my camera wasn’t handy and heard many, but still not photographed any.

As I walked with my wife by a construction fence next to a cordoned-off park, I saw the flash of a spotty bird in flight. It landed far away and I whipped out my camera. It wasn’t a Song Thrush, but it was its close cousin, and also a species I have not yet recorded for the year. Despite the poor quality and blurry shot, the Mistle Thrush became my 86th species of 2014:

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)