Friday, 4 August 2017

Waltham Forest Licensing Application

Last week, a couple of the local birdwatchers and residents noticed these blue signs had been displayed on Walthamstow Marshes and the surrounding area.

It now turns out that Walthamstow Wetlands are applying for a Premises Licence, which will allow Live/Recorded Music until 10pm at night and the consumption of alcoholic drinks until midnight.

Now, at first glance, this looks like a great idea. After all, what could be better than watching nature with a nice glass of beer or wine in hand?

Unfortunately, the associated noise and lighting at such events would cause extensive disturbance to protected, schedule one species of birds and animals under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
The wetlands are, of course, nationally and internationally recognised as an important wintering ground for rare and vulnerable birds such as Gadwall and Shoveler. They also provide an important pit-stop for birds migrating to and from their breeding grounds, while over seven different species of bats have been recorded on site.

After writing to the licensing team at Waltham Forest, we were informed that 'in order to be considered relevant, representations [objections] made to applications under the the Licensing Act 2003' must relate to the following four licensing objectives:

  • The prevention of crime and disorder
  • Public safety
  • The prevention of public nuisance
  • The protection of children from harm
As such, we have drafted a template letter to ensure that any objections on wildlife grounds meet these four licensing objections, which can be accessed online here.

Please copy and send your representations to the Licensing Team by post by midnight on 14th August.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Reservoir Logs - June/July updates

                                  A very smart and tame adult Dunlin on Lockwood

June is the quietest month on the reservoirs both in terms of birds and visits. There appears, in fact, to have a two-week period when either no one visited at all or, if they did, found nothing worth recording. But the gap between the last of the Spring migrants and the first returning birds is amazingly small. Our first Common Sandpiper was seen on June 23rd just five weeks since the last Spring bird. By the end of July pretty well all our regular occurring waders had already been recorded, despite the restricted access to Lockwood which brings both good and less good news for August.

The breeding season for ducks is lengthy but four species have already managed to raise families this year. As well as Mallard, there have been, according to PL's records so far, around six broods of Tufted Ducks while perhaps eight pairs of Pochard - a scarce enough breeder for records to be collected by the Rare Breeding Birds Panel - had young. Not many survive the predators including the Pochard daft enough to breed on the East Warwick island which was seen trying to shepherd her family through the waiting gulls. The six young Shelduck on Low Maynard pictured at the end of June - apparently the only successful breeding - have been reduced to three a month later. The first returning Teal was on July 30th with two early Shoveler seen on July 7 while a Red-crested Pochard visited East Warwick on July 4.

                                 A soon-to-be-reduced Shelduck family on Low Maynard

What was presumably the widower Peregrine was seen infrequently sitting on the pylons while Hobby, recorded on June 23rd, July 2nd, 17th and two on July 24th,  may be breeding nearby this year. The first waders of 'the autumn' were three Lapwings on June 21st with singles on July 8th and 19th. Oystercatchers continue their good showing this year with a single on June 23rd and two on July 7th when the only Little Ring Plover of the period was also on East Warwick.

 Oystercatcher resting on Lockwood @jarpartridge

Numbers of Common Sandpipers, after the first on June 23rd, built up with high counts usually associated with rain. There were 14 on July 12th when the first Greenshank and Redshank (2) of the autumn were also recorded and 21 on July 23rd including 16 together on Lockwood. July 23rd saw as well a tame summer-plumaged Dunlin with it, or similar birds, also recorded on the 27th and 31st.
A Whimbrel was found resting on the bank of East Warwick on July 21st when the only Green Sandpiper of the Autumn so far was seen on No  5 while a Black-tailed Godwit flew over on July 30th. An evening walk round the Lockwood on the 31st produced as well as the Dunlin and expected Common Sandpipers, the third Turnstone of the year, a Greenshank and another Redshank - a remarkable haul given that the water levels of the soon-to-be-drained (we hope) reservoir were still high.  

                 Redshank usually come in singles so a pair on Lockwood was unusual @birdingprof

Two Yellow-legged Gulls were found on June 21st with singles also on June 26th with another on July 1st. More were no doubt missed by those less enthusiastic and skilled on confusing juvenile gulls.  An adult Mediterranean Gull, part of the post-breeding passage through London, was seen on July 2nd while a young Little Gull found by RT hawking over No 4 on July 22nd shows the value of fly-fishing rather than birding. By the end of July, three Common Terns had fledged from Lockwood with at least two more young still to fly and what may be another pair sitting. The pairs attempting to nest on the raft on East Warwick, unsurprisingly given the nearby gull colony, did not succeed.

While Swifts begin to leave many London sites by the end of July, numbers at Walthamstow can remain high for much of August. Around 1,000 were seen on July 30th with plenty of House and Sand Martins still around. Kingfishers, which seem to have bred outside the reservoirs this year, had returned by July with up to three seen around Low Maynard and others on the Lea and No 3.

               Grey Wagtails have been very obvious this Summer after good breeding success

Grey Wagtails have also had a successful breeding season with family parties on Lockwood, East Warwick and No 5.  A young Skylark fed intermittently on the grass around Lockwood for five days from June 21st, Two Lesser Whitethroats seen on July 25th may well have been local breeders but also coincided with the first passage migrants being seen at other London sites.

Given the waders already recorded when No 4 and 5 were emptied earlier this year, news that Lockwood is to be partially drained, to allow repair work to the bank, has caused excitement. Draw-down is scheduled to begin (water demand permitting) in August which will coincide with peak migration. The downside is that Thames Water are also taking the opportunity to put in a hard track around the top of Lockwood which will inevitably lead to increased disturbance with a fence also restricting access. But after representations that a drained Lockwood is a rare opportunity, Thames Water and the construction firm EightO2 have been very understanding. They intend to allow general access again once the track is laid around the east bank (which may not be long given the progress already made) and certainly by the time water levels begin to fall.

DB @porthkillier

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Apium repens

There is a small perennial plant, Apium repens (creeping marshwort) which is only known to be recently found at two sites in the UK – Port Meadow in Oxford and our very own, Walthamstow Marsh.

In 2002, botanist Brian Wurzell found young plants of Apium repens in the ditches on Walthamstow Marsh.
Young plants of Apium repens found by Brian Wurzell in a new ditch in Walthamstow Marshes, in 2002.
The plants flowered with the characteristic long peduncle and bracts of Apium repens. It was later confirmed that the plants were very similar to the forms on Port Meadow. In 2003 cattle were re-introduced on Walthamstow Marshes to maintain the open conditions the plant requires. In the summer of 2004 A. repens had hundreds of inflorescences.

Fast forward to Walthamstow 2017 and how fares the rarest of UK plants on the marshes?

Answer = to be confirmed.

There are two small patches of an Apium species on Walthamstow Marshes surrounded by marker stones, presumably at the place of the 2002 repens discovery, one bigger than the other.

Larger specimen on the left, smaller on the right.

Photos from May 2017.

There are also many other patches of Apium in the surrounding ditch and Bomb Crater Pond:

Photos from May 2017

Here’s where it gets interesting (frustrating). Apium repens has a close relative, Apium nodiflorum (AKA fools water cress), which it closely resembles and also hybridises with, forming the hybrid, A. x longipedunculatum.

In the above May 2017 photos, the leaflets are a little longer than wide, a feature of Apium nodiflorum. Apium repens has more or less orbicular leaflets, and has up to 6 pairs of leaflets.

All would become clear when it flowers in the summer.

Fast forward to summer… and sadly, it’s Apium nodiflorum all round so far.

For a positive Apium repens id, you are looking for something with leaves about as long as wide, with a flower stalk much longer than the stalks supporting the individual rays, and with bracts at the point where the peduncle divides to form the rays. It also roots at all the nodes.

The biggest stone circle patch has short peduncles and no bracts at the point where the peduncle divides to form the rays. The smaller stone circle Apium is not currently flowering.

Short peduncles and an absence of bracts are equally apparent with the numerous other Apium patches on the marshes:

So what does Apium repens actually look like?

The following annotated photo and sketch are good examples:

LNHS Recorder and Forensic Botanist, Mark Spencer, photographed a patch of Apium repens on the marshes in September 2016. So, hopefully it is still there, somewhere.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Reservoir Logs - May update

            The brightest of the two Turnstone which turned up this month - pic@jarpartridge 

May - in keeping with most London sites - was mediocre rather than marvellous. But along with expected late summer visitors, it did provide the first Osprey of the Spring together with Turnstone and Sanderling to take our wader count for the year to 19 and the year list at the reservoirs to 128. Last year, however, we hardly added any new species to the patch list in the last six months so we have to hope the autumn proves more rewarding in 2017.

 Three tame Barnacle Geese dropped onto No 5 on the 23th  but unlike last year's bird disappeared overnight. A couple of pairs of Gadwall hung around until the month's end while a female Teal and a pair of Shoveler on the 6th were late records. The newly planted reeds seem to have encouraged more Pochard to stay with a mother and two young seen on No 1 on the 29th while Shelduck numbers also seem higher than usual.

    The first Osprey of the year turned up on the 25th just too late to be immortalised on film -  pic@lolbodini

Red Kites were recorded on the 21st and 28th while a record ten Buzzards, in a month in which they were relatively scarce were seen on 14th. It had looked as if Osprey would escape us this Spring until LB had a late bird on the 25th - a fitting reward in taking part in filming for the Wildlife Trust. There was, however, disappointment when the female of the Peregrines which appeared to be breeding was found dead under its nesting pylon early in the month. The first Hobby was seen on the 4th with two other records on the 6th and 11th.

    It's not often Hobbies are seen on the ground but this was rested on the side of No 5 for PW 

It continues to be a good year for waders both in diversity and numbers - at least until the 23rd after which none could be found on the reservoirs at all. Oystercatchers have been much more regular than in the past when they have often proved difficult to get on year lists with singles or a pair seen up to the 23rd.After the large numbers when No 4 & 5 were drained, in contrast there were  only two records of Little Ringed Plover while Lapwing, for some reason, continue to be outright rare with just two on the 4th.

Three Sanderling flying south over Lockwood on the 17th was fitting reward for PW and JP braving the drizzle. They are annual but usually solitary. Dunlin were recorded on the 1st and 11th while a Snipe lingered at the top of No 1 to the first day of the month. A Whimbrel.  unusually,  rested on the bank of Lockwood on the 4th after two had been, rather more typically, been seen flying over east on the 1st. The only record of Redshank was a single on the 5th but the same day saw three Greenshank together.

                     A trio of Greenshanks on the 5th captured by jarpartridge

Common Sandpipers peaked with 10 on the 5th with the last being seen on the 14th, We had not one but two  Turnstone with the first on East Warwick on the 4th and 5th and a different bird confirmed from photographs on Lockwood on the 9th and 10th.

In comparison to waders, we did poorly for gulls and terns with no marsh terns at all and only a 2cy Yellow-legged Gull on the 12th to interest our larophiles. Our resident Common Terns appeared to arrive back on the 1st with 10 around Lockwood and on East Warwick with numbers building to 24 on the 10th.  Passage of Arctic Terns was slim with three seen on the 3rd, a single on the 5th, six on the 8th dwindling to four next day.

The first large arrival of Swifts was also on the 1st after small numbers in April. Yellow Wagtails were recorded on six days with three on the 8th the peak count. The first and  only Whinchat of the Spring on the reservoirs was seen on the 4th with a late male Stonechat next day. Wheatears  continued to be pretty thin on the ground with the last on the 20th

A singing Garden Warbler for at least 10 days from the 8th in the willows at the top of No 1 allowed us all to compare its song with the surrounding Blackcaps. It's the first potential breeder on the reservoirs itself for a couple of years although they are found on the patch to the north and south. Spotted Flycatchers are much more regular in the autumn so singles on the 16th and 28th - both found by JP - were a surprise. A single Jackdaw was seen on the 2nd with two on the 12th.

     We often have to wait until Sept for Spot Flys so two in May was unexpected - pic jarpartridge

On the non-bird front, the reservoirs' carp population has sadly been devastated by disease. The worst affected has been No 1 with more than 600 dead fish found. The outbreak has led to coarse fishing being suspended.

DB @porthkillier

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Welcome Water

The lack of precipitation over Walthamstow Marshes over the last two months has left the ditches around the marshes very dry. This has been very challenging on the Water Vole population. After regularly checking the usual hot spots over the last two months, to my knowledge, sightings and track recordings of Water Vole have been practically zero. Thankfully though, in the last few weeks there have been significant bursts of heavy rain over the marshes. Thus the ditches have begun to fill up again. 

And today a new latrine was found. 

It's poo, I know, but it's quality poo.

Phew! They're still here.

Water Vole poo

Adder's Tongue

Common Tern
Bee Orchid
The Bee Orchids are where Paul found them last year. On the small patch of lawn on the right as you enter the Waterworks Nature Reserve (with the three picnic benches). They're just beginning to flower. So far, there are at least 7 spikes. 

Monday, 29 May 2017

Sweating the Small Stuff

 As spring takes a bow, summer limbers up off stage.

Banded demoisellle (male)

Banded demoisellle (female)

Blue tailed damselfly

Large Red Damselfly
Silver Y

Burnet companion

Straw dot

Common marble
Latticed heath

Common blue

Harlequin ladybird f. succinea

Thick-legged flower beetle

Photographs from Walthamstow Marshes

Monday, 1 May 2017

Reservoir Logs - April update

Whitethroats were back in numbers by the end of the month @jarpartridge

After the excitement of March, April got off to a very slow start and never really started motoring. The cause, ironically, was too good weather with winds generally from the north and west slowing down migration and clear skies allowing those that were travelling to continue on their way. Our mud-flats disappeared as well with No 4 re-filled from the beginning of the month and No 5 from the 14th so fast that it looked as if the tide was coming in. By the end of the month, they were back to normal.

But the last day of mud on No 5 did attract five species of wader while among the other good birds for the month were two very early Little Terns, a Great White Egret, Ruff, and a Pied Flycatcher which added some glitter to a rather drab annual patch day. The count across the whole patch on the 29th was 79 species – well down on last year’s record 88 but a reasonable total compared to most other sites in the capital.

Pochard and Shelduck numbers appeared to remain high throughout the month. A drake Wigeon on East Warwick on the 26th was a surprise while there was still a lingering pair of Shoveler on the 29th. Red-Crested Pochard were recorded throughout the month with seven on the 17th the highest total. The last Goldeneye were on the 5th.

The 13th was lucky for RT when he had a Great White Egret – with an accompanying Little Egret for comparison - on No 4. While getting commoner, it remains missing from most of the regular patch watchers’ lists. A count of Grey Herons at the beginning of the month found just 24 nests, a worrying decline for what was once England’s second largest colony with 100 pairs as recently as the end of the nineties.

Single Red Kites were recorded on at least four dates in the month but the general feeling is numbers were down on the last couple of years. Buzzards were also seen throughout the month with a peak count of eight on the 8th with five in the air together. The Peregrine pair continued to be seen regularly on the pylon closest to the new visitor centre, with a second male seen soaring overhead on one occasion. The first Hobby of the year and the only one so far was on the 26th – exactly the same date as in 2016.

It was another good month for waders despite No 4 & 5 being filled a few weeks too early to catch the peak migration. Oystercatchers were more regular than usual with two on the 11th and perhaps on the 29th, with singles on the 14th & 15th, 17th and 24th. Numbers of Little Ringed Plover, attracted by the drained No 5, were also high. The peak count was 11 in the late afternoon of the 4th with five still around on the 26th. With numbers regularly higher in the evening, it was thought they might be arriving from the surrounding area to feed or roost.
Second Grey Plover of the year enjoying the mud @birdingprof

The second Grey Plover of the year spent the day on No 5 on the 16th to allow those who missed last month’s bird to catch up with it. The same was true of two Black-tailed Godwits on No 5 on the 19th and the Ruff brought down by the rain on East Warwick on the 24th. Lapwings continue to be scarce with the only record again on the 3rd. Other expected waders were Dunlin on the 18th and 30th, Redshank on the 2nd while a Snipe lingered in the new reed bed of No 1 until the end of the month.

Two Islandica Black-tailed Godwits in all their finery @jarpartridge

                                               Whimbrel heading East over No 5 @jarparrtridge

The 16th wader species of the year –and the fifth of the day on No 5 - was a Greenshank on the 18th followed by a Whimbrel next day which flew over east. A second Greenshank stayed for three days on No 5 from the 21st. Common Sandpiper numbers built up during the month with six on 23rd and 28th the highest count while Green Sandpipers continued to be seen until at least the 23rd.
                 By the time the second Greenshank has arrived, the mud flats had disappeared

A first summer Caspian Gull was found roosting on No 5 on the 26th It can’t be good news for goslings or ducklings but young Greater Black-backed Gulls seemed to have taken a liking to the reservoirs in recent years with up to 22 being counted on East Warwick alone during the month, no doubt helped by a good diet of dead trout. Common Gulls usually depart by April not to return until September at the earliest but one tantalised by staying right up until but not on patch day.

Caspian Gull enjoying the fast disappearing island on No 5 found and photographed by @birdingprof

 You could have got good money for a bet that the first tern would be Little Terns but PL and GJ found two on No 4 on the 9th. They only stayed a few minutes just like last year’s bird on May 8th. The first Common Terns were more than a week behind with two on 17th with just a handful until the end of the month while two Arctic Terns passed through on the 29th.

The cold and generally northerly winds of the first half of the month meant passerine passage was very slow. The first Swifts were two on 16th – a day later than last year. A single House Martin was seen on 13th with six on the 16th. Just the odd Swallow was seen in the first half of the month with a more noticeable movement from the 15th. A Skylark found feeding on the banks of Lockwood on the 11th on Lockwood stayed unusually until the 13th.

Meadow Pipits were surprisingly scarce but passage of c50 in small parties on 21st was mirrored at Hampstead Heath. The first Yellow Wagtail was on 13th with another on the 16th and then very small numbers until the end of the month. White Wagtails were also seen in small numbers from the 8th with six on the 13th. After early birds in March, we had to wait until the 9th for the first Wheatear of the month, with another on East Warwick on the 10th & 11th and a Greenland type on the 13th. The maximum count was a paltry five on the 21st including three on the filter beds. Two late Redwing were seen on the 10th.

A Reed Warbler on the 5th was – given where it was found - was likely a passage bird with two singing in the West Warwick reed-bed on the 11th the first returners. The good news is that the freshly planted reed beds are already seeing this species spread out. After the early record in March, a Sedge Warbler was back on territory at the top of East Warwick on the 9th which was the same day the first Whitethroat was seen – four days earlier than last year. Most of the breeding birds, however, did not arrive until the last days of the month. A Lesser Whitethroat was found on the central path on the 15th. Small numbers of Willow Warblers were seen with three singing on the 29th while the Siberian Chiffchaff stayed and occasionally sang as well until at least the 9th.

A Spring Pied Flycatcher is an unusual record on the reservoirs so the female found by SH on the 29th would have been the icing on the cake for those taking part in the patch day if it had not disappeared after five minutes. Corvid passage continued with three Rooks on the 3rd and another on the 19th. With 14 new additions in April, it took the reservoir year list to 121.

DB @porthkillier