Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Publish and be Damned

With 2017 moving on a pace and 2016 a fast fading memory, I thought I would put up a bit of a personal review of last year. Having written this nearly a month ago I think there has been a bit of a hiccup in the otherwise smooth operating of the Walthamstow Birders Blogspot editorial team (eds. We have one?) so, without wishing to offend any or indeed all contributors I thought I would do as the title says...

Birding Walthamstow is hard work, it feels that, with a few notable exceptions, you have to find most of your own birds. Of course it also means that there is a lot of expectation whenever you go out and even the occasional satisfaction when you do stumble across a patch goodie.

The satisfaction started early in 2016 when I stumbled across (simultaneously with Garry J as it turned out) an adult winter Little Gull on January 6th, which then spent the afternoon cruising around No.4.

My new found status as ‘Guller’ was established further on the 10th when I found a 1st winter Caspian Gull on the Lockwood. Caspian Gull was on my patch list from the ‘90’s but truth be told I don’t think many people (me included, possibly even me especially!) knew what they were looking at in those days, so it was nice to have an unequivocal bird, and one that stayed long enough for the real Gullers to get to see it.

February 9th brought a German ringed Common Gull to the East Warwick, always nice to see a traceable foreign bird. Away from Gulls a flushed Jack Snipe on Walthamstow marsh was a nice find but, in turn exciting and frustrating, as it was only seen again the next day by Mike M and friend, although you can bet it was somewhere in the large reedbed.  The Brambling that had originally been seen early in January on the reservoirs led me a merry dance but eventually gave itself up on the back paddocks at Leyton marsh and then of course stayed for an age.

Another Caspian Gull find confirmed that I was not really a Guller but these things were just getting more common. This 2nd winter was on the Lockwood on March 14th. It was a good winter for Stonechat, Goldcrest, Siskin, Redpoll and Water Rail, plenty of sightings of all these but March started hotting up with a few flyover Jackdaw and Rook sightings and a Rock Pipit or two.

Osprey, can't you tell?
Jamie P’s singing Siberian Chiffchaff on the Waterworks would probably have stolen the show for the month if it hadn’t have been for two (two!) flyover Ospreys on the Lockwood on the 25th, my earliest ever sighting anywhere. This was an exceptional day with 70 species seen including 2 Red Kites, 4 Buzzards and 2 Dunlin. Sand Martin and Swallow were both seen before the month’s end.

April saw the arrival of the expected migrants but the first surprise of the month was the, not quite annual,  Mandarin on the East Warwick. Other April highlights included a Redstart on 9th at the Waterworks. On the 13th a Short-eared Owl from the car whilst we sat in traffic on Ferry Lane, also seen from the car were 3 Barnacle Geese (crazy eh?), on the actual reservoirs were Coal Tit, Rook, Red Kite and 5 Sandwich Terns that dropped in to the West Warwick for two minutes before heading off South, blink and you missed them. 76 species seen that day without any planning, but quite a few eyes.

A male Whinchat on 22nd was one of the more colourful offerings amongst the Spring migrants and a singing Redpoll on the 20th was quite unusual. High billing must go to the Grasshopper Warbler that summered and may have even bred on the Wild marsh East.

Top billing of the Spring was a personal highlight, finding a new bird for my patch list on 27th of May. Initially hearing briefly just an unsusual, but strangely familiar half song, I gave it 40 minutes without seeing the bird, persuading myself not to throw away what I was becoming more and more convinced was a Wood Warbler. Eventually the bird flew out and perched up in full view – wow! It had the good grace to stick at the end of Coppermill Lane for the rest of the day, allowing a number to catch up with it and Dave D-L to get this shot.

The 4th Annual Walthamstow Patch Watch Day was a triumph with cumalatively a record 88 species being seen and a personal best for me of 81.

May produced a number of good sightings, amongst which were two pairs of Black-necked Grebes, a Black Tern, only my 2nd ever patch Sanderling, on the Lockwood, along with a number of other passage Waders during the month. A drake Garganey was present on the West Warwick one balmy evening. Of unknown origin, but possibly of European feral stock, a Bar-headed Goose was also a turn up for the books, but it din’t linger.

Great Black-backed Gulls bred for the first time, not just a rare event for us but possibly the first succesful breeding for London too.

I don’t know if I’ve been missing them, but in June I spotted Bee Orchids in the Waterwoks NR for the first time in 10+ years, lovely.

Even more lovely was Jamie P’s magnificent singing male Common Rosefinch that graced Walthamstow marsh for a week or two in July, a first for the patch no less, with it proving to be by far the biggest draw for visiting birders of 2016. Peregrines bred just off patch with a family party being seen during the month.
Another strangely good find for me was only my second ever seen, as opposed to heard, Ringed Plover, a cracking adult on August 6th.  A Bat walk on the 8th produced three species seen and heard; Common & Soprano Pipistrelles and Noctule. The end of the month saw a fabulously confiding Turnstone, also only my second on the patch.

September saw a fly through Knot over the Lockwood, another Wader I have only seen once before on the reservoirs, but pride of place goes to only my second, and first self-found patch Spoonbills, late on the afternoon of 18th.  A gloomy day suddenly gave way to blue skies and, scouring around, more in hope than anticipation for Raptors, led to spotting three immatures circling lazily over the West Warwick/Walthamstow marsh for over 10 minutes, sadly all my efforts to get others on to them and indeed get any sort of shot of them proved fruitless, still exciting though.

Sticking with Waders, October came up trumps with an immature Grey Plover on the 1st, just the third patch record for me. Over the course of the year I saw 16 species of Wader, by far and away my best year ever. With most of my birding this month off-patch it is not surprising I didn’t see much else, though another Short-eared Owl over the Lockwood was good.

With new birds for the year, and enthusiasm for the patch drying up it was hardly a shock that the best bird, almost the only bird for me in November was an adult ‘argentatus’ Herring Gull flying around over the Jubilee Park on the 18th.  I remembered I was a Guller again.

As I write this in mid-December I have yet to visit the patch, but hopefully will get over there before year’s end. As years go it was a good one, fairly mild weather meant we kept a reasonable number of wintering birds at the beginning of the year, though on the other hand we missed a lot of potential hard weather movement and therefore the year list has a few holes in it. Bizarrely, though the cumalative patch list was lacklustre with 143 species (our average is 146.1), most of the locals had their best year ever, including me, beating my previous best year by one with 131 species. Testimony to quality over quantity and hard work, persevering when the going got tough.

When all is said and done you have to keep going as those birds are not going to find themselves, and most of them don’t seem to want to hang around and be seen by others later. You really do have to find most of it yourself, though that is much easier when you have a few eyes with you, so a big thank you to those I’ve birded with during the year and to those who I haven’t but who have kept the news flowing.

With two new birds added to the overall patch list this year, Raven and Common Rosefinch, it puts us on 249. 2017 should surely see us reach the big 250, what is it going to be and who will find it…



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