Friday, 28 October 2011

Be Careful What You Wish For

My face feels like someone has been playing Football with it, how do people get addicted to plastic surgery? I think they need their bumps felt, though perhaps that’s what they get out of it. Despite hardly sleeping for the last three nights a bit of viz-migging seemed apt on such a bright clear morning.

It is over 6 years since I added Ring-necked Parakeet to the house list, a heard only Bird. During that time they have gone from strength to strength on the patch but I have never had so much as a glimpse from the house, I knew it would only be a matter of time and today that time came, 4 Ring-necked Parakeets flew low North around 10:00. It will no doubt become a regular sight before long and the novelty will probably wear thin quite quickly but for now...woohoo!

Other highlights were a continuing trickle of Woodpigeons, though not in such numbers as a few days ago, 3 separate Skylarks, a Meadow Pipit, a couple of Mistle Thrushes and a handful of Chaffinches.

It was most pleasant in the sunshine, for the end of October, and I was enjoying the lack of wind and especially the lack of screaming kids from the school over the back until the man with the leaf blower arrived, that was my cue to retreat indoors and play with my new RBA app.

Being an old codger I remember Nancy’s cafe and the constant dialling to get through to someone and then the delicate dance required to get the most up to date news, you couldn’t appear too keen, that wouldn’t be cool and it often took a bit of coaxing to get the ‘gen’ from whoever happened to answer as they too didn’t want to come across as excited by anything and the stock response was ‘nothing about’.

The first automated phone line was a slight improvement as it was available at any time, though it too was often engaged, the main drawback was that it was run by a guy who gave preference to his buddies when it came to the news and you would have to listen to ‘Grey Wagtail, Dipper and Common Sandpiper’ that someone had phoned in from their Welsh holiday before you got to the real rarities.

When the Birdline crew took over it became much more professional but soon became a premium number and hence much more expensive. This was of course before most people had mobile phones and the problem then, if you were on the road as I often was, was trying to find somewhere to park and a working phonebox.

I discussed with Richard Millington the then new technology of pagers, the advantage being that you would get the news as it broke, rather than having to make multiple calls every day, he said it would never catch on as only a few Birders would be paranoid enough to be interested.

About a year later RBA launched their pager service and it slowly became an instant success. I was one of the first twenty or so Birders to get one, in late Autumn 1991. At first if you got 10 messages a day that was good! A few years ago a SMS service was added but it never floated my boat. About a year ago I discussed the possibility of some sort of app, now that pagers are becoming a bit passé, and smart phones a bit smarter. This week the time came and RBA launched ‘Bird Alert Pro’

Last night it took me 5 hours to download the upgrade for the software on my phone to enable me to get the app but now it’s working, (seems fine on 3G too, so hopefully will work in the field OK) and for the first time in 20 years I have switched off the pager (scary!) I wonder what will be the next development.

On this date: 28 10 1989 1 or 2 Wheatears on the Lockwood also 1 Ruff and 4 Lapwings over.


Thursday, 27 October 2011

...Ate a Hearty Breakfast

....and then went outside for some fresh air, but sadly the new nose is not working (yet). If you’ve wondered what happened to Michael Jackson’s old nose, and surely we all have, I think it has just been grafted onto my face, it’s certainly darker and broader than it used to be, added to that it’s filled with lots of stuff you really don’t want to know about!

The fresh air was not the only thing lacking, no migration was taking place this morning, the sky was as grey and miserable as my face so I packed it in and went upstairs to do some paperwork and window gazing, immediately 4 Mistle Thrushes and a couple of Finches flew past.

If you were worried that the lack of a blog entry yesterday meant I had slipped away under the surgeon’s knife on Tuesday, fear not (and thanks for all the cards, calls and chocolates that I assume are still stuck in the post) it was more to do with adding Shore Lark to my London list which took considerably longer than it ought due to not being able to drive and therefore having to get two lifts, two buses, 2 DLR’s and 2 Tube trains and having to return to site after dipping in the morning. Amazingly I felt fine until I got home to Nurse W’s stern ticking off, something about irresponsibility etc. etc. and the three things I now have to stick up my nose (and finger is not one of them).

I was planning an assault on the patch this afternoon but the assault on my face has put paid to that one today, I think I’ll just go and have some Chicken Soup and carry on looking out of the window.


Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Condemned Man...

A bit of vis-migging this morning, hoping for Crossbill, as usual, getting none, as usual. Woodpigeons were moving East in flocks of about 50, strangely, I counted about 400. Redwings were going West in smaller flocks, probably c200 in total. A single Mistle Thrush went South and to complete all the points of the compass a Lapwing went North, quite scarce from the house.

I packed it in around 09:45 and went inside to watch the last episode of Spooks on the iplayer, part of it was filmed where the Tilbury Semi-P was, if you're interested. Shortly after it finished I was gazing out of the window and spied a lone Goose heading North. It was not one of the usual suspects (Canada and Greylag, neither of which are that common any more, I think the Canada's have changed their flight path as they used to be quite predictable in the evenings) nor was it one of the local plastic Geese (Barnacle and Red-breasted).

It was clearly smaller than Canada, had a black tail, white rump and vent and as it turned slightly I got a small area of grey on the leading edge of the wing and a bit of orangey pink around the bill area, the general feel was of a dark Goose. A quick check of the Collin's confirmed my suspicion. White-fronted Goose. New for the house and patch.

I'm off to have surgery now so if their are no more posts you can assume I passed away under the anaesthetic. If not see you tomorrow.


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Coming up Rosy

My track record on Birds of a reddish hue has not been a good one of late (Rufous, Ruby and Scarlet are all ‘color non gratia’ currently) however today all that changed with a Lesser Redpoll perched up in the Waterworks N.R. it’s a small start but perhaps it bodes well for next week’s American Redstart.

A couple of Snipe were snoozing in one of the beds, a couple of Wigeon and Teal swam in another, some Magpies were trying to murder one of their own on the cobble track and a Vole/Shrew ran across my path, one day one of them will be slow enough to identify. The Rat I saw later posed no such problems.

I later walked around the Pitch’n’Putt and eventually strayed across the Friends Bridge and through the Middlesex Filter Beds. I know it’s not on the patch but hey! That’s the reckless sort of Birder that all my recent twitching has made me. Naturally that’s where my best Birds were, or would have been if I could have clinched them, a silhouetted dark Thrush that could have been a Ring Ouzel and a ‘something’ unseen calling ‘choowee’ in with a Tit flock. That’ll learn me to go off patch.

There was nothing much on the half of the marsh that I did, but on the back paddock there were a couple of White Wagtails, 20+ Linnet and c.10 Mistle Thrushes.


Saturday, 15 October 2011

Patchwork Quit

Not quite. Not yet. In fact not really.

I thought I would work out how many times I have visited the patch over the years, it has of course waxed and waned along with my enthusiasm for local Birding, also my earlier records do not necessarily have a note of all visits, unlike my more recent notes, which almost always do.

The results...TaDa!

You’re impressed, I can tell. It has made me reappraise my quitting patch work, I most definitely won’t but I will be more the Dog and not so much the Tail in future, though the blogging is definitely going.  I reckon, making allowances for gaps in the data, that I had it about right in the 90’s. So about one visit a fortnight is a good balance, probably more so in the Winter and Spring, certainly less so in the Summer and let’s just watch the weather and play it by ear in the Autumn.

Whenever people ask; “Wouldn’t you like a job involving Birding?”  I always answer certainly not! Birding is my escape from day to day living, even the nice bits, it is my way of switching off and relaxing. Lately patch work has become less of the escape and more of the ‘day to day’.....solution? Switch it round. Do less enjoy more. (Maybe that’s where ‘less is more’ comes from)

The only problem of course is that it makes it a bit less likely that I will get so many patch ticks (err, how many did I get this year, with all my hard work, oh yes! 1.) I will have to rely on the generosity of others to a) find them and b) let me know.

Today after being stood down from DEFCON 1 (Rufous-tailed Robin in Norfolk...gone) I decided on a second attempt at Red-flanked Bluetail in Kent, having dipped one yesterday, this too was gone, so plan C it was, I should go and have another look for the Wilsonish Snipe on the Waterworks N.R. naturally this typical indecisiveness, led to sitting at the computer and staring out of the window which, as often as not it seems nowadays, led to me seeing a Buzzard slowly wandering South after a couple of encounters with the local Crows and a Sparrowhawk. Yesterday I had 6-7 Swallows go West and a week ago 17 Redpolls likewise.

Patch work is dead, long live the patch.

On this date: 15 10 20000 25+ alba Wagtails in Seymour Park, quite a few of which were White Wagtails, 20+ Meadow Pipits on Walthamstow Marsh and 3+ Stonechats.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

An Exaltation of Skylarks

The collective noun, apparently. It’s probably about right as far as Walthamstow goes. Today I had more Skylarks on the patch than in the last 5 years put together, parties of 2,5,1,1, all moving North.

An Exasperation of Larks doesn’t quite have the same ring.
I have been off the patch quite a bit lately; you can take that whatever way you want. To say my enthusiasm has waned is not far from the truth. I have put in a stack of effort this year and the results have been, well, unstartling. I know the whole of the South-east has not had an especially good year with the weather often being too fine or too poor for delivering migrants but Walthamstow seems to have underperformed by anyone’s standards, let alone mine.

I have just finished tallying up my spreadsheet to send off to the county recorder and realised how bad it has been, my best finds include Dunlin, Whimbrel, Red-crested Pochard and Black Tern, I say include but really that’s it. I’ve also seen Osprey, Marsh Harrier and Short-eared Owl found by others but it’s just not enough, I need more.
I have never done patch yearlisting before and think I now know the reason! It has been educational however, over the last 2-3 years I now know that the patch gets about 130-150 species a year and if I work it hard I will get to see about 120-130 of them. More than 100 of them will be the same old same old that turn up every year, a handful will be species that you will only see on the patch every 5-10 years and a much smaller handful will be scarcities, note not rarities, they really are rare here.

Last week I decided I couldn’t do Cold Turkey any longer and went to Cornwall via Essex and also visited Suffolk. It was fantastic. I saw Birds, lots of Birds, very many of them were scarce, and quite a few were even RARE. In three days I saw more than the whole of the year at Walthamstow. I seawatched, twitched and found my own Birds too, it was pure joy.

Therefore my new year’s resolution (what do you mean it’s only October? I could be Jewish) is ditch the patch and go and see some proper Birds. It will of course mean ditching the blog too, which was only ever intended to be a bit of an experiment and was meant to enthuse the vast cadre of Walthamstow Birders(!) into a mass of blogging and birding team work but has ended up with mostly me whining on about the place. It has become the cruel task master I never wanted it to be, having to come in from a hard slog on the patch and then enthuse about Skylarks for 1000 words....

Anyhoo, what of today? It was actually not bad, after a few days away and not having Birded the patch for a couple of weeks I was sort of looking forward to it (hypocritical? Moi?). A spin around the Waterworks N.R. was productive with a clear arrival of Blackbirds, a few Song Thrushes and a couple of parties of Redwings. Just a single Chiffchaff on the small Passerine front. 3 Wigeon in the first bed were nice. I had only just been thinking how ‘Scilly-like’ the place looked with the small clumps of Sallows, little pools, Reeds etc when I saw a Snipe in one of the other beds, at least you don’t have to worry about Wilson’s Snipe here I thought, at which point the Bird came out from the Reeds and made me stop what I had been thinking, it did look just like a Wilson’s, just then it started preening and I was hoping it would spread its tail, flash it’s underwing, show it’s trailing edge and make me famous, I reached for my cameraphone and it walked into the Reeds. Just imagine if it turns out to be a Wilson’s....I might have to carry on watching the patch, hmm! (It’s an obviously Grey Bird and it’s in the third bed on the left as you enter the hide if you’re interested, I will certainly keep an eye open for it)
Later on the reservoirs I met up with Lol and we walked the Lockwood, 9 Skylark, maybe 20+ Meadow Pipits and 5 Lapwings went North. There were about 30 Teal on the banks and 9 Little Egrets feeding around the edge of the High Maynard along with a group of fishing Cormorants, both a little unusual and possibly due to the murky conditions earlier not being conducive to feeding further afield.

On the Southern section a Common Sandpiper on the East Warwick was the highlight.
On this date: 13 10 01 A 1st winter Grey Phalarope showed well on the Banbury this afternoon, occasionally down to 10m, also Common Sandpiper.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Site #7 Southern Section Walthamstow Reservoirs

To access the reservoirs you need to enter the gates by the Fishermans Lodge, opposite the Ferry Boat Inn, at 2 Forest Road, Tottenham, London N17 9NH and turn immediately left for the spacious car park and small permit office.

Permit information is available here:

Go round the red barrier and walk South onto the reservoirs. The two reservoirs on the Western edge of the site are the West Warwick and the East Warwick. The West Warwick is accessed by going under a very low railway bridge; it has a natural bank and extensive Reeds around the edge, in Summer Reed Warblers breed. A Purple Heron was seen in the Reeds a few years ago. This reservoir does not seem to attract many Fishermen and is quite undisturbed; the Western bank borders the River Lea and is fringed with Alders, it should prove attractive to Winter Finches.

Back under the railway is the East Warwick; this is a concrete edged reservoir and often holds Common Sandpipers, though these are easily flushed. Other Waders are also possible and sometimes these get on the island. Previously Wooded it was occasionally the haunt of a Wintering Ferruginous Duck, another is well overdue. The island now is the site of breeding Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and always has loafing Cormorants, Herons, Gulls, Geese and Swans. It is overlooked by a hide, which is not at all necessary for viewing. It might be useful if it rains. It was usually locked but may now be open.

The Coppermill stream runs through the middle of the site and divides the Warwicks from the numbered reservoirs. Kingfishers are often heard and frequently seen along here. Water Rails winter along the edges but are far more often heard than seen, once a Bittern roosted in the Reedy edge.

No.1 reservoir house the Heronry on its wooded island and Kingfisher sometimes breed on the Southern tip. No.2 houses the majority of the sites breeding Little Egrets on its island, a few pairs are on No.1. It is worth coming along in June to hear the weird bubbling calls coming from the colony. No.3 is connected by a narrow channel and also has an island on which Shelduck breed, like Little Egret this is a fairly new colonizer and is gradually increasing.

The footpath between Nos.2 & 3 is well vegetated with Trees including Sycamore and Poplars and supports Tits and Warblers in season. Reed Warblers and the ever decreasing Reed Bunting breed around this area. Ring-necked Parakeets have moved in recently and may breed. Both Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker are common. There is another hide at the South-western corner of No.3, it is famous for it’s Spiders. You may see a Kingfisher here though being out in the open is a better bet.

No.4 reservoir is another concrete edged basin and is heavily fished; it sometimes has Waders around the edge and always holds large numbers of diving Duck. No.5 is similar but has two islands with nesting Cormorants. Being the largest reservoir on this Southern side it more often attracts the shyer species such as Smew and Goosander.

In reality anything can turn up on any of these reservoirs and their shrubby banks from Great Northern Diver to Woodlark and Firecrest to Great White Egret.