Sunday, 19 February 2017

Reservoir Logs...January round-up

With the reservoirs soon to become a fully fledged nature reserve, it seems right to try to get a better picture of what's actually seen. So here's the first of what I hope will be a monthly bird round up for the reservoirs pulling together the records from the London wiki site and the log book in the permits' hut as well as our own sightings. Hopefully, I might get February's done slightly quicker....

An excellent start to the year on the reservoirs with the first Glaucous Gull for a couple of decades, the first January Swallow for at least a couple of centuries, along with Jack Snipe, Black-necked Grebe, Scaup and Black Redstart. A total of 80 species were recorded in the month with a pretty impressive 68 seen on January 2 when the reservoirs opened for the first time for 2017,
     The drake Scaup was around for most of January on No 4 although it also visited High Maynard and Lockwood and disappeared for a few days when No 4 largely froze over. The highest count of Goldeneye was 13 on the 9th with a peak of six Goosander on the 2nd with No 4 apparently their favoured reservoir this year. Forty four Little Egrets were seen coming into roost on the 2nd with 38 on the East Warwick island the next day. Two Black-necked Grebes were found on Lockwood on the 4th but soon disappeared. As well as the the regular Sparrowhawks and Peregrines and the rather less regular Kestrel, Buzzards were seen on the 10th & 19th and a Red Kite on the 24th.
      Waders have not yet found the excellent habitat on the partially drained No 4 & 5 with just a single Lapwing on the 14th and four on the 19th & 20. But the new reed bed at the north end of No 1 attracted a Jack Snipe on the 13th and hosted regular Water Rail and Snipe in the latter half of the month. The freeze saw a total of 13 Snipe counted around the reservoirs on the 27th with at least eight flying off the bank of East Warwick into the hidden scrape on the island.  The peak count for Green Sandpipers was five on the 10th but numbers were generally low as the overflow channel was largely full while there seem to be up to two Common Sandpipers wintering on No 4 &5.
                                   Common Sandpiper enjoying the new beach on No 5

      The highlight of the month was the 1W Glaucous Gull found on the filter beds on the 28th by Lol Bodini as he was watching the Swallow and Black Redstart. It seems certain to be the same bird seen at Leyton tip and is thought to be the first since 1994. It stayed until the 30th when it was also seen on one of the islands on No 5. Other gulls of interest were adult Mediterranean Gulls flying over on the 17th and on the ice on West Warwick on the 22nd with several records of Yellow-legged Gulls.
     The Swallow - the first in London since 1809 - found by Dan Barrett on the 25th was last seen on the 29th. Five Chiffchaffs were seen together in the horse field on the 2nd while Cetti's Warblers were nowhere near as obvious as in past years with only a couple of records for the month. Flocks of up to 30 or so Fieldfare and Redwing were resident throughout much of the January but the berries don't seem to have attracted any Waxwings. A confiding Black Redstart on No 5 from the 13th to the 15th was almost certainly the same bird found on the filter beds on the 25th which stayed until the end of the month. It has been a poor year for Stonechats on the reservoirs with a maximum of three on the 8th.  A flock of a dozen Meadow Pipits were faithful to the the grass banks of Lockwood with a few also on No 5 in the first half of the month. With a big rocky beach all around No 4 & 5 along with little islands appearing, the next couple of months when migration gets going could be very interesting....

DB @porthkillier


Not just any old poo - Water Vole poo!

tic-tacs anyone?
Water Vole droppings are often found in 'latrines' (piles of droppings).  Usually, they are created as part of a territorial behaviour where a Water Vole will revisit the same area over and over again.

latrine #2
Two latrines were spotted. Both being quite fresh looking. Good to see the present Water Vole marking its territory.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Smash and Grag

A quick smash and grab on the marshes.

Collect the Longworth and Bioecoss small mammal traps left on the marshes overnight, which were frustratingly un-tripped. At least they hadn't been disturbed, split open or taken away completely as is sometimes the case.

The male and female Stonechat were still around.

While no Water Vole was seen, a very probable above water Water Vole burrow entrance was noted.

Unfortunately, an also very probable American Mink or Weasel scat was also spotted very close to the entrance. 

Mink, Weasel or something else? It's not Water Vole.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Walthamstow Mammals

Working minutes away from the marshes means that you can sometimes spend mornings, lunches or afternoons observing and recording the mammals present there.

The tools of the trade: A Longworth Small Mammal Trap (with shrew hole) and other small mammal recording bits and bobs.

Most of the time, upon returning to the trap (having been left overnight), it looks like the above – trap door shut! Meaning something’s tripped it. Occasionally, it’s empty (bar a few tiny poops) – because a shrew has gone in through the tunnel, tripped the trap, munched some bait and departed through the shrew hole.

[if you leave a trap for longer than four hours, your trap must have a shrew hole as their metabolism is so high that if they don’t eat every four hours, they die]

But mainly, the trap has been getting these guys.

The (very common) Wood Mouse

When your trap’s been tripped:

Empty the trap into a deep bag (those fellas can jump).

 Measure some mice bits with a ruler.

Take out the bedding.

Weigh the bag + Wood Mouse, then weigh bag - the mouse and do a bit of math.

Snip a bit of hair off its haunches, so you don’t record it twice should you catch the same one later.

 Record its sex. In this case a male.


Then release the mammal (and note the record on GiGL).

And then reset the trap.

Lots of Wood Mice (an abundant UK mammal) have spent the night in the trap, but not a sniff of Field Vole or Bank Vole yet. Shrews are for another day. And Weasels are too quick for the camera so far.

So, on the marshes there is an unsurprisingly large amount of one of the UK’s most abundant mammals, the Wood Mouse. What is slightly ironic (as nothing in between seems to have materialised yet) is the much more significant presence of THE most endangered mammal species in the UK - the Water Vole.

Nearly 90% have disappeared in the last seven years, mainly due to habitat loss and predation from the American Mink.


But a very small population has been hanging in there on the marshes over the years.


This one’s a big adult. Only one has been sighted this year so far. Most of the time this is all the vole will let you see of it before it plops back under the water. 

This could be a Water Vole’s burrow entrance, but having observed the behaviour of the present vole, it’s more probable that the vole’s burrow entrances are under the bank.

The site is now being recorded in the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) National Water Vole Monitoring Programme.

If you read this and see Water Voles at any place or time on Walthamstow Marshes, please drop a quick email to

Finally, if you care, please heed the (small) signs. Keep your dogs out of the ditches …

 … and try not to throw your rubbish in the ditch.

 Not good for Water Voles.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Seasons collide

Friday, 27 January 2017

A Hard Swallow....

The last time a Swallow was seen in the capital in January, according to The Birds of London, Napoleon was ruling much of Europe and Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were still a few days from being born. The one and only record for the month for London dates as far back as January 29th,1809. So whatever happens in the rest of 2017, Dan B's discovery of a Swallow over the filter beds on Wednesday will remain one of London's most remarkable sightings of the year. What it was doing turning up in the coldest snap of the winter will remain a mystery but it has had the good grace to survive and hang around so a steady trickle of visitors can enjoy this piece of ornithological history. I saw it from No 5 - through two fences and across Coppermill Lane - hawking low over the eastern two sets of filter beds. It was distant but very obviously a Swallow. The only pic so far is blown up from Dan's phone which may not be the best ever photograph of a Swallow but is a lot better than they would have managed in 1809.

It appears to be only the second sighting of a Swallow anywhere in the UK so far this year with the first in Dorset two weeks ago.When I returned later for another look, I met Davey L who pointed out the Black Redstart which Dan had also found on Wednesday. It was feeding on the north-south path between the two eastern-most sets of beds and was presumably the same one that was on No 5 earlier in the month.

The rest of the day on the reservoirs was much more hum-drum except for a good number of Snipe presumably dislodged from the marsh by the freeze. There were two at the top of No 1, another on West Warwick and at least eight from the bank of East Warwick. almost all of which flew into the secret lagoon on the island. There was a female Goldeneye on West Warwick, three more on Lockwood and a pair on High Maynard. No 4 was largely frozen, as were No 1 and No 5, so the Scaup was doing one of his regular away days. Lockwood still has its wintering party of a dozen Meadow Pipits and there are small numbers of Fieldfare scattered around with two Chiffchaffs in the horse paddock. A Common Sandpiper was seen later on No 5.
DB @porthkillier

Friday, 13 January 2017

A Good Start

In over 30 years of visiting the reservoirs, I have only seen a couple of Black Redstarts and both of those were in the spring. So the female-type that the Prof spotted as we walked round the partially drained No 5 this morning was both a delightful surprise and an excellent start to the year. It showed very well in the south-west corner where, given the wagtails and Meadow Pipits around, there seemed to be no shortage of food. It was still here, GJ reports, in late afternoon.

No 5 also held two female and a drake Goosander which were probably the same birds earlier on No 4. Another drake took the place of the missing Scaup on the NW corner with the Tufted Duck but was considerably less sleepy and soon departed across the road. Walking round East Warwick, we flushed a Snipe which landed down in the hidden lagoon on the island.

The day had not started quite so promisingly when our cunning plan to start later and avoid the snow ended up with us arriving at Lockwood just as a blizzard started. It persuaded us to walk around the bottom rather than brave the wind and snow which might explain why we did not see the Scaup as the last report during the week was up on Lockwood. A 3W Yellow-legged Gull had the same idea of keeping out the wind and loafed on the side of High Maynard until we got our cameras out. High Maynard also held four Goldeneye and, briefly, a Green Sandpiper. A pair of Peregrines were displaying to remind us that spring was only a couple of months away. It just did not feel like it.....

Stop late afternoon, the Scaup was back on No 4 and  GJ had found a Jack Snipe in the new reed bed at the north end of No 1 which means an unexpected visit to the reservoirs again tomorrow.

DB @porthkillier