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.
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 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.