After a frustrating few years of looking for it, the enigmatic Adder's Tongue Fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum) has finally revealed itself! Having always looked for it on the less populated parts of the Marshes over the years, it's dumbfounding how it has recently been found so close to where many people drop their trash, scar the earth it grows on with bbqs, 'professionally' walk their army of dogs and almost definitely and routinely trample over it. Uncommon and an indicator of ancient meadows; its discovery on Walthamstow Marshes contributed to helping save the Marshes from redevelopment in the 70s and also forms part of the basis for the Marshes' SSSI status. It’s tiny and delicate - the size of your thumbnail. Currently, there are quite a number of them.
Saturday, 15 April 2017
This year we will be holding the 5th annual patch watch on the fairly traditional date of April 29th, it seems this is about the right time of year to coincide with maximum migration, though of course it all comes down to the weather leading up to, and on, the day.
In 2012 I helped a team of London Bird Racers to a glorious victory by finding a handful of species at Walthamstow that they had so far missed by the end of their very long day chasing around the capital. In scouting for them I personally saw 75 species on the patch that day. This got me thinking what we might be able to acheive if there were a team of us on the patch all day. Thus was born AWPW1 the following year.
In the last four years we have seen 98 species all told, with annual totals varying between 74 and 88. Below is a handy free souvenir for you to cut out and keep, the green highlighted species are pretty much a given if you put the leg work in, the amber highlighted species are ones that you need to be aware of looking for, those highlighted in red are the cream on the cake and cannot be relied upon every year.
Feel free to join in, you can find the extent of the patch on the Patch tab Please share your sightings, especially of the red highlighted species or anything even better. Send tweets to @birdingprof and I will relay the news, alternatively post sightings (as they happen please, so we can chase them) on the London Birders Wiki Site
Its been fairly slow going, with my pre-work walks turning up the odd migrant or two. Handfuls of Willow Warbler, a few each of White Throat, Sedge and Reed Warbler and in the last couple of days the rattle of Lesser White throat has been noted. Sand Martins are on breeding grounds at the bottom of Lockwood and though I’m yet to see a House Martin I’ve probably seen close to 50 swallows go North over the week.
My first Yellow Wagtail of the year was on the East Warwick also a few White Wagtails have been noted including a small flock of 6 on the Lockwood on the 14th these are a particular favourite of mine and come through in small numbers most noticeably in spring.
The grassy banks of the aforementioned Reservoir held this Skylark for a few days, only the second I’ve ever seen grounded at this site. It was nice to take it in,
A Wheatear on East Warwick on the 13th came close enough to reveal several features of Leucorhoa or Greenland Wheatear, a likely much under counted sub species in Britain.
Leucorhoa Wheatears migrate alot further and are longer winged showing 7/8 primary tips in the closed wing (Our native birds showing 5/6). 7 were counted on the East Warwick bird as well as warm buff tones reaching right down to the vent, brown marks in the Ear coverts and mask as well as a ‘dun brown’ in the mid mantle apparently fitting of a Greenland Male in spring. Traditionally Greenland Wheatears were thought to come through later in the season but ringing records have proved this not always to be the case. I tried to note size, structure and stance and although it was alone it did seem quite a thick set bird and when first picked up seemed very upright in posture, I think my presence was noted and whilst photographing it stayed in a fairly similar ground hugging pose.
Our Local Peregrines have been active and are seen most visits as well as flyover Red Kites and Common Buzzards.
Rain over night on the 14th meant I was down on the Waterworks first thing this morning and brief but close views of a Male Redstart were the reward. no pics unfortunately but Its a good feeling to get the Redstart find out of the way and set hopes a little higher before the end of spring.
This Weasel was compensation for missing out on Redstart shots.
Thursday, 6 April 2017
Obliging Black-tailed Godwit found and photographed @paulwatts
March more than lived up to its billing as one of the best months on the reservoirs. Many summer migrants were earlier than usual and the mud-flats on the drained No 4 & 5 helped attract no less than 13 species of wader as well as plenty of visits from birders. Among the waders recorded were all-too brief Ruff – the first since 2013 - and Avocets, as well as (slightly) more accommodating Grey Plover and Black-tailed Godwit.
The month also saw the first Kittiwakes since 2012, drake Garganey, Little Gulls and Rock Pipit. The result of almost daily coverage was 21 species added to the reservoirs’ year list during the month. It took the total up to 107 with Lesser Redpoll the only species seen on the overall patch in 2017 but not on the reservoirs so far.
A drake Mandarin was first spotted on the filter beds on March 22nd before moving onto the reservoirs to kick off what was to be a red-letter day. Two Wigeon were on Lockwood next day while a stunning drake Garganey spent the 29th on the Warwicks before disappearing overnight. Up to four Red-Crested Pochard made irregular appearances from March 13 – guided largely it seems by whether or not the Prof was on site.
Smart as always drake Garganey @lolbodini
The Scaup, having seen all the water drained out of its winter home, moved to Low Maynard before finally departing on the 11th. If past experience is any guide, it should be back on its favourite corner of No 4 in early December for at least its fourth winter. The maximum count of Goldeneye was ten on 12th with four remaining on East Warwick till the month’s end. A pair of Goosander, which visited Lockwood regularly, were last seen on the late date of the 25th. Shelduck numbers, helped by the drained reservoirs, built up throughout the month with a peak count of 50 on the 26th.
A Red-legged Partridge which crept out of the warbler bushes on March 24th was the first for two years. March is a good month for raptors with single Red Kites recorded on March 13th, 15th, 17th and 18th – perhaps the same bird – and two on the 29th while two Buzzards were seen on March 16th with singles on the 18th, 24th and 26th. Peregrines looked as if they might be attempting to breed on one of the pylons within the reservoirs while a pair of Kestrel also seem to be pretty well resident. The only disappointment was that there have been no records of Ospreys so far compared to two this time last year.
Red Kite over Lockwood @lolbodini
With the drained No 4 and 5 looking like the Wash at low tide, we were hoping for waders but 13 species surpassed expectations even if number of birds rather than species was not so high. Not all, however, preferred the extensive mud to the concrete edges. The first passage bird was an Oystercatcher on No 5 on the 3rd with two on East Warwick on the 23rd and another flying over on the 30th.
Oystercatcher proving for the first time that there was food in the mud @birdingprof
Five Avocet were discovered by SF at the top end of Lockwood on the 11th and landed briefly on the water before departing. The first Little Ringed Plover on Lockwood on the 22nd was one of the few migrants to arrive later - two days - than last year. It was followed by four on No 5 on the 27th with at least three remaining and seeming settled until the end of the month. A Ringed Plover flew round calling but did not land on the 12th. A Grey Plover was discovered by chief-wader finder AW on No 4 late on 28th and departed soon after dawn next day. It would have caused more excitement but for the long-staying bird last autumn.
Grey Plover just about to fly off north
Only one Lapwing, surprisingly, was seen – on the 3rd - but Dunlin were more regular with records on the 8th,, 11th and 23rd. A heavy shower brought down a Ruff briefly (as well as two Kittiwakes) onto No 4 on the 22nd for one lucky observer. The Black-tailed Godwit found on No 5 on the 27th by PW was much more obliging and remained largely faithful to a tiny patch of gravel and mud until it departed two days later. They are annual but usually fly straight through. This was thought – because of the long bill and paucity of chestnut – to be one of the continental race which is less common than the Icelandic form in the UK.
The first Redshank of the year were two on 16th with another on the 26th. Wintering waders included up to three Green Sandpipers and at least one Common Sandpiper throughout the month. Snipe seem to like the new reed bed at the top of No 1 with as many as seven seen with three still on the 31st. The record number of wader species in recent years is 22 in 2013. With February’s Curlew and Jack Snipe, we are already at 15 though the last few – like the final pounds of a diet – will the hardest.
Third calendar year Caspian Gull @jarpartridge
Our (near) resident gull expert JP spotted a fly-over 3cy Caspian Gull on the 2nd while Yellow-legged Gulls were seen on the 3rd, 8th with two on the 14th. Rather easier to identify for the rest of us but not hanging around to be seen by anyone but a wet DL were two first winter Kittiwakes on the 22nd on No 4. The same was true of a party of three adult Little Gulls which dropped down briefly - so briefly that I missed them despite being at the top of the reservoir - onto Lockwood on the 11th gave SF his second good find in a hour.
In general, passerine migrants arrived earlier than usual. Blackcaps were in song from the 11th which is a couple of weeks ahead of last year. The first Sand Martins were seen on the 6th – a full fortnight before last year’s earliest record and eight days before 2015’s - with the second on the 12th. Presumed breeding birds were back in the usual haunt at the SW edge of Lockwood by the 17th while the first Swallow – at least since January – was on the 29th. The earliest Wheatear was also on the 12th – again 16 days earlier than last year and 10 days ahead of 2015. It was on Lockwood, as usual, with another on No 4 on the 14th and then a fortnight gap until three were seen on the 29th.
Spring has really arrived when the first Wheatear touches down @jarpartridge
The Cetti’s Warblers which had been silent suddenly exploded into song with at least eight birds on territory. They were joined by an early Sedge Warbler, a species which has become a very scarce breeder on the reservoirs in the last couple of years, on West Warwick on the 30th.. The Siberian Chiffchaff - which was seen intermittently throughout the month at the NE end of Lockwood - was heard in song as were plenty of its ordinary cousins by the end of the month. The first Willow Warblers were heard on the 29th – again earlier than last year if only by a day.
Stonechats continued their poor showing with just one on the 2nd although their favourite haunt of West Warwick is not always visited. There was a Skylark overhead on the 8th and a Rock Pipit found by LB on the 12th on Lockwood again brought down by a heavy afternoon shower.
March is a good month for corvids with small numbers of Jackdaws from the 7th usually going over high east with the same first day also producing the real prize – a Rook – of which there are only a handful of records a year. Winter thrushes continued to be seen with 100 Redwing north on the 13th – a day of significant passage in London - while two lingering Fieldfare were still at the filter beds on the 28th.
As No 5 is still drained even if No 4 is filling up as I write, hopes are very high for April which is both traditionally the best month at the reservoirs and also when the annual Walthamstow Patch Watch Day – this year on Saturday 29th – sees a determined and collective effort. Last year an extraordinary 88 species were recorded which is going to take some beating. All are welcome.
Wednesday, 29 March 2017
On Monday night, I was seriously gripped off. While the rest of the locals buzzed tweets back and forth congratulating each other on managing to see the Black-tailed Godwit that Paul Watts had found earlier in the day (a patch tick for me), I was working late into the night, with no chance of visiting the patch on the horizon.
Anyway, in a moment of madness, I decided to throw my bins and camera into my work bag. Then, miraculously, a late meeting was cancelled. So, for the first time in about three weeks, I managed to head to the drained south reservoirs to see what all the fuss was about...
Now, I may not find much on the patch but I've got a decent record when it comes to waders, especially after finding Bar-Tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and Redshank last year. Obviously, there's not really any skill involved in this, just my sado-masochistic willingness to get soaked to the bone in southerlies or easterlies.
|A Suitably Drained No. 5|
With the weather positively gloomy, I was at least hoping that the Black-Tailed Godwit would stick in time for me to catch up with it.
As I walked along the western edge of No. 4, I soon managed to do even better. First of all, a Sand Martin flew overhead. Then, out in the middle, I immediately found a winter plumage Grey Plover, only my second record for the patch. The bird stayed fairly distant throughout, although I did manage to fire off some recent shots.
|Grey Plover on No. 4|
After a few moments of initial panic as I moved on to No. 5, I then managed to relocate the Black-Tailed Godwit. Two quality waders in the space of ten minutes!
|Black-Tailed Godwit on No. 5|
With the Godwit in the bag, I spent the next hour taking a leisurely stroll around the rest of No. 5 finding a single Common Sandpiper and two vocal Little Ringed Plovers in the gloom.
|Little Ringed Plover on No. 5|
So, all told, I'd managed four year-ticks in the space of an hour and a half after work.
Intriguingly, one of the more wizened local birders (sorry Prof) suggested that the waders seem to be arriving quite late in the day, presumably after flying for a couple of hours from the coast.
Whether this is true or not, at the minute it seems it's not just the early bird who catches the worm...
Friday, 24 March 2017
To say that this week was frustrating was an understatement, sweating over spreadsheets when the patch was buzzing with new birds was not my idea of fun. Kittiwake would have been a new patch bird for me, I’ve only seen Ruff once and that not for many a year, Red-crested Pochard, Redshank etc., etc., blah, blah!
Today was my big chance. Anticipation was high, expectation was moderate, and hope was low…
On the basis that a lot of the recent action centred on the East Warwick Island, I started there. Unfortunately there were quite a few Fisherman lining the reservoir banks, and an equal and opposite number of Waders on the island. No.5 had nothing to add and all that No.4 could offer was the Wintering Common Sandpiper. I should probably mention singing Chiffchaffs, Cetti’s Warblers and sitting Little Egrets but they didn’t seem to offer much compensation. Still there was the Lockwood…
There were so many possibilities and all of them didn’t fail to disappoint. As I walked down the track at the Southern end of the Lockwood I was mentally preparing a desultory tweet, when what should stroll casually out of the Warbler bushes by the defunct toilet block but a Red-legged Partridge. I froze, hoping to get a photograph, but it strolled back into cover. I made a quick call to Lol, who was the only local likely to be able to make it to the site quickly and set myself up to get a shot if it re-appeared. Patience won out and it moved out of cover and fed quite calmly allowing me the luxury of composed pictures.
Lol arrived and got to see it too. It was still in the area in the evening. What’s the big deal, I hear you say. Well, this is Urban Birding baby! Red-legged Partridge is not a particularly urban bird, though they breed about 10 km up the valley their wanderings are a bit random and casual. They do seem to appear about every two years and early Spring is probably your best bet but they are seldom twitchable on the patch. The last patch record was in 2015 between No.1 and the East Warwick for about 2 minutes, before that one hung around in the Waterworks NR for a few days in 2011 (I actually ran for that one! To be fair not far, but actual running. Obviously I am well past that now).
Buoyed up by my Gamebird success, I decided to have another round of the Southern section, with, other than a lingering Buzzard found by Lol, predictably little result. I had thought I would go through the middle of Nos. 1, 2 & 3 but didn’t have the time. Davey L (nice to meet you at last, and sorry to lose you to the KGV shortly) did have the time and saw the Red-crested Pochards! There is always tomorrow.
Sunday, 12 March 2017
It is not since East Warwick was drained over 30 years ago that the reservoirs have put out such a welcome mat for waders. As this event resulted in the Prof seeing 11 species of waders while the reservoir was down, hopes are high now that both No 4 and 5 are showing extensive mud-flats. - the more so as the latest information is that this might continue well into the Spring. But while the habitat looks fantastic, no one had yet told the shorebirds.....
It is not as if we did not have waders over the weekend. It is just that No 4 and 5 were very much no-go areas for them. The highlight was a party of five Avocets which SF found on the north end of Lockwood on Saturday which clearly must have flown over our new wader scrape first. Even when they flew off the bank, they preferred to settle on the water for a couple of minutes - which is where I was lucky enough to see them - before disappearing. They are the first Avocets on the reservoirs since 2013 and my first here. A Dunlin which dropped in a little later also preferred the small rocky edge on Lockwood rather than the mudflats on the other side of the road before it, too, departed.
We thought our luck had changed today when we heard and glimpsed a Ring Plover flying around No 4 and 5 which appeared to land on No 4. But when we got round there, it was nowhere to be seen and we later learnt had almost certainly headed north past Pete L on the Lockwood. The only other waders were the wintering Common Sandpipers which were on No 4 and 5 even when there was no mud and three Green Sandpipers today on the overflow channel.
But the mud, potential and the beginning of migration did prompt a very good turn-out from birders over the weekend. And the many hours spent collectively did result in some other good birds. SF also saw a party of three or four adult Little Gulls on Saturday which dropped in briefly onto Lockwood while Lol B found a Rock Pipit early afternoon there today - both of which I managed to miss. Pete L also discovered the first Wheatear of the year, a spanking male, at the top end of Lockwood which stayed around until the afternoon while three Sand Martins headed north in the drizzle. With or without the mud. the next two months are the best time of the year on the reservoirs......
Today's 'litoralis' Rock Pipit in the drizzle (Lol B)