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

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Adder's Tongue Fern

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.

It's coming - Annual Walthamstow Patch Watch 5 (AWPW5)


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

Good birding