Saturday, 9 September 2017

A Spot of Patching

On Lockwood reservoir:
Little Egrets and a Grey Heron
The western ‘shore’ of Lockwood
Two snoozing juvenile Spotted Redshanks
Two awake juvenile Spotted Redshanks
Looking south from the northern end of Lockwood
Two Common Sandpipers and a Dunlin
A mini murder of crows
A log
A Devil’s Coach Horse under a log
An adult male Kestrel on Walthamstow Marshes paddock
A first winter Whinchat on the bomb crater field of Walthamstow Marshes

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Reservoir Logs - August

One of the two Spotted Redshanks which graced Lockwood for the last week pic @owlturbot

The long-awaited draining of Lockwood finally started towards the end of August and almost immediately drew in the first 'gettable' Spotted Redshanks on the reservoirs for 30 years. But the continuing construction of the track around Lockwood also restricted access throughout the month to evening and weekends which meant the best vantage point for daytime migration was largely out-of-bounds. Every cloud has a silver lining and the increased focus on the southern reservoirs helped turn up Common Redstart as well as at least a few of London's Spotted Flycatchers.

Walthamstow holds a nationally important count of post-breeding Tufted Ducks and PL recorded 2,400 on the 13th. Gadwall and Shoveler numbers began to build up slowly with nine Gadwall and eight Shoveler by the 16th, largely on East Warwick. The three young Shelduck hung around for much of the month. As Lockwood drained, it became a magnet for Little Egrets with 36 counted on the 27th.

Sparrowhawks were again increasingly obvious after breeding with birds frequently seen hunting or soaring overhead. PL saw one young Kestrel at the traditional usual nest hole which may explain why this species, too, was more often recorded. There was more good news with a pair of Peregrines re-appearing at the reservoirs mid-month which could often be seen and heard on the central pylon. Three Buzzards were seen on the 24th and singles on the 25th and 28th while hunting Hobby were seen on 5th, 27th & 28th.
     Ringed Plover - a new addition to @LolBodini's house list. He left the house to take the picture

Little Ringed Plover were only seen on the 13th and 15th and were unusually matched by Common Ringed Plover records this month. The first was spotted by LB on the side of Lockwood from his loft on the 18th  while a second was flushed by a Sparrowhawk and departed high and in a hurry on the 30th. Lapwing continue to be relatively scarce with just a single on East Warwick on the 5th.  Dunlin records were also fewer than usual probably again because of lack of visits and disturbance on Lockwood. Singles were recorded on the 1st and 31st with three on the 5th while Green Sandpipers, commoner in winter than the autumn, were seen on the 21st and 26th. The highest count of Common Sandpipers was 15 on the 29th. 

                 The Spot Reds became increasingly flighty during their stay pic @jarpartridge

The highlight of the month - and not just because I found the first - were a pair of Spotted Redshank  on Lockwood from the 26th which stayed, despite all the disturbance, until the end of the month. Four were recorded in 2013 but they only stayed for 20 minutes which explains why they were either new for the patch regulars or the first - in the Prof's case - since East Warwick was drained in 1984. Amazingly, they weren't together initially with the second found by GJ who though he was watching the original bird - only to be told it was actually further up on the other side of the reservoir. While tame and obliging at the start, they became increasingly wary which may have been due to all the flashing lights and machinery they saw. Intriguingly they were apparently joined briefly by a third shank on the 28th. Single Common Redshank were seen on the 1st and 17th with two on the 10th while the only Greenshank recorded were a pair on the 15th.

              A bonus for those coming to see the Spotted Redshanks was the Med Gull @owlturbot

The juvenile Mediterranean Gull which had taken up residence up the valley at KGV kindly made an appearance on Lockwood on 26th for those coming to see the Spotted Redshank. The only Little Gull of the month was seen by MM also on Lockwood on the 12th while the first returning Common Gull was seen next day. Two more Common Terns had fledged from the raft on Lockwood by the 5th with the sixth and last on the 13th. But all the adults and young had disappeared by the 23rd - perhaps encouraged not too hang about as long as usual by the construction work. The only other terns seen were a distant party of seven on the 26th which may have been Arctic.

Right until the 31st, small numbers of Swifts could still be seen with the House Martin flock over No 5 and the filter beds early in the day while the insects were low. In contrast, the resident Sand Martins seem to have moved out by the 13th but small parties could be seen migrating south along with the odd Swallow. Larger numbers - and sometimes very large numbers - of migrant hirundines should be seen in September. Kingfishers, like Grey Wagtails, seem to have had a good breeding season and as many as five birds could be glimpsed on a visit to the reservoirs. With Lockwood out of bounds, few Yellow Wagtails were recorded with a single on the 21st and three on the 27th.

                      My first Common Redstart since 1989 - thanks to @birdingprof who took the pic

Common Redstart is barely annual at the reservoirs and is usually only seen by the finders. It was the same again with the juv/female on the path between No 2 and 3 on the 11th.  The only Whinchats seen were singles on the 10th and 25th while Wheatear numbers were low because of lack of visits to their favourite haunt of Lockwood. The first of the autumn was seen on the 15th with two on 20th and 24th,a single on the 29th and three on 31st.

Willow Warblers could be heard in song throughout the month on return passage

Cetti's Warblers, which had been silent and unrecorded over the summer, began to sing again by mid-month. Regular sightings of three young Sedge Warblers together in the West Warwick reed bed suggested they may have bred locally. The small numbers of Lesser Whitethroats and Garden Warblers seen  may also be local breeders which had moved in to feed on the rich berry crop. Willow Warblers were also recorded throughout the month, often with birds in song, with 20 recorded on the 31st the highest number seen. It seems to have been a good year for passage Spotted Flycatchers in London but it took a lot of hard work to find any on the reservoirs. The first was seen on the 16th, with two on the 20th, singles on the 24th and 30th & 31st.

         One of a handful of Spotted Flycatchers seen and the only showy one pic @jarpartridge

August is usually just a taster for the main autumn migration month of September at the reservoirs. With the track almost finished around Lockwood which should allow access at least to the east side and another two metres of water to be drained out of the reservoir, the next month could be very promising.

DB @porthkillier

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