Thursday, 30 December 2010

It's a wrap

That’s it 2010 is over and a new year is about to get started. How did we do? Well in common with most London patches Walthamstow got a good working this year. With petrol prices soon to soar and the traffic getting no better I predict local patching is the new twitching.

Having been spoiled (?) by years of travelling for work, which meant easy access to lots of good birds, I am now working and birding much more locally. I think I am getting used to it, (well the birding not the work) it’s just a case of narrowing ones horizons to where the less exciting becomes exciting due to the local context. If that sounds patronising, sorry, it’s not meant too. Far easier to never twitch than to have to scale it down, probably like Heroin.

I digress, not unusual I hear you say, Walthamstow has had a pretty good year, there are certainly more birders using the place nowadays, and more birds are getting found. This is no doubt a good thing given the development pressure that all urban sites are under.

Walthamstow is one of the larger patches in a London context, nearly as big as Rainham, and, given that it is not on the Thames I think it punches above its weight, definitely Premier Division, to mix my metaphors, albeit at the bottom. We will never be able to compete with the coverage that, for example, Rainham and Beddington get nor the geographical advantage of Crossness or Crayford but I think we do pretty well nonetheless. I don’t think any of the local birders are very interested in competing, from a listing point of view, with other London patches, which is probably the best stance given the odds are not in our favour.

The Dusky Warbler was the only new bird for the patch in 2010, and as it happens also a new bird for London. The patch total, of 149 species* for the year, is probably a record too as, to my knowledge, no one has ever bothered to count the cumulative year list before. Bob Watts said about a year ago that Walthamstow ought to be able to get 150 species in a year, I thought he was wildly optimistic, sorry Bob! Not even mildly optimistic as it turns out.

So for 2011 I think we should set that as our target; 150 species on the patch in a year, oh and another patch list addition too would be good. One last target that I think would be fun is to try and get the first 100 before the end of March (it took till 2nd April 2010).

You may have noticed the blog has had a facelift for 2011 and another feature coming soon will be a micro-site guide. Not quite bush by bush but certainly area by area across the patch, hopefully it will give newer visitors an idea of where to find stuff and me an excuse to post photographs that are not blurry dots of some feathery blob half a mile away.

* 1.Mute Swan, 2.Whooper Swan, 3.Greylag Goose, 4.Canada Goose, 5.Barnacle Goose, 6.Brent Goose, 7.Egyptian Goose, 8.Shelduck, 9.Wigeon, 10.Gadwall, 11.Teal, 12.Mallard, 13.Pintail, 14.Shoveler, 15.Pochard, 16.Tufted Duck, 17.Scaup, 18.Goldeneye, 19.Smew, 20.Red-breasted Merganser, 21.Goosander, 22.Ruddy Duck, 23.Pheasant, 24.Cormorant, 25.Bittern, 26.Little Egret, 27.Grey Heron, 28.Little Grebe, 29.Great Crested Grebe, 30.Slavonian Grebe, 31.Black-necked Grebe, 32.Goshawk, 33.Buzzard, 34.Kestrel, 35.Peregrine, 36.Water Rail, 37.Moorhen, 38.Coot, 39.Oystercatcher, 40.Lapwing, 41.Snipe, 42.Woodcock, 43.Common Sandpiper, 44.Green Sandpiper, 45.Black-headed Gull, 46.Common Gull, 47.Lesser Black-backed Gull, 48.Herring Gull, 49.Yellow-legged Gull, 50.Great Black-backed Gull, 51.Rock Dove, 52.Stock Dove, 53.Woodpigeon, 54.Collared Dove, 55.Ring-necked Parakeet, 56.Little Owl, 57.Kingfisher, 58.Green Woodpecker, 59.Great Spotted Woodpecker, 60.Magpie, 61.Jay, 62.Jackdaw, 63.Carrion Crow, 64.Goldcrest, 65.Blue Tit, 66.Great Tit, 67.Sand Martin, 68.Cetti's Warbler, 69.Long-tailed Tit, 70.Dusky Warbler, 71.Chiffchaff, 72.Wren, 73.Starling, 74.Blackbird, 75.Fieldfare, 76.Song Thrush, 77.Redwing, 78.Mistle Thrush, 79.Robin, 80.Black Redstart, 81.Wheatear, 82.Dunnock, 83.House Sparrow, 84.Grey Wagtail, 85.Pied Wagtail, 86.Meadow Pipit, 87.Chaffinch, 88.Brambling, 89.Greenfinch, 90.Goldfinch, 91.Linnet, 92.Lesser Redpoll, 93.Bullfinch, 94.Yellowhammer, 95.Reed Bunting, 96.Red-legged Partridge, 99.Willow Warbler, 100.Blackcap, 101.Common Scoter, 102.Swallow, 103.Osprey, 104.Sedge Warbler, 105.House Martin, 106.Hooded Crow, 107.Lesser Whitethroat, 108.Whitethroat, 109.Common Tern, 110.Yellow Wagtail, 111.Red Kite, 112.Swift, 113.Tree Pipit, 114.Reed Warbler, 115.Arctic Tern, 116.Skylark, 117.Little Gull, 118.Marsh Harrier, 119.Sandwich Tern, 120.Dunlin, 121.Whinchat, 122.Hobby, 123.Garden Warbler, 124.Little Ringed Plover, 125.Greenshank, 126.Turtle Dove, 127.Ringed Plover, 128.Turnstone, 129.Cuckoo, 130.Redshank, 131.Curlew, 132.Whimbrel, 133.Black Tern, 134.Redstart, 135.Merlin, 136.Spotted Flycatcher, 137.Ring Ouzel, 138.Rock Pipit, 139.Firecrest, 140.Siskin, 141.Short-eared Owl, 142.Mandarin, 143.Stonechat, 144.Water Pipit, 145.Golden Plover, 146.Waxwing, 147. Mediterranean Gull, 148.Shag, 149.White-fronted Goose, (149a. White Wagtail ssp.) (149b. Blue-headed Wagtail ssp.)


Monday, 27 December 2010

Charity begins at home

It is said that virtue is its own reward, however I certainly felt rewarded this afternoon, in a wholly special way. We had planned on visiting a number of sick and elderly friends, variously house- and hospital-bound. My wife was a few minutes behind me in being ready so I thought ‘why not wait by the car’ rather than moan in the living room.

I had spent a bit of time this morning gazing out of the window, between paperwork you understand, in the hopes of something flying by, with little to show for it, both in productivity and fly bys.

So there I was standing by the car thinking how quiet it was but how nice it would be if a group of Waxwings were to fly over, when I picked up a small flock of birds low to the South-west coming my way, they just looked slightly different to Starlings and so I stepped off the front step, the better to see them, when all of a sudden ‘sirrrr’ hit my ears. Result, 7 Waxwings on the house list (#104) and only 24 days since I added them to my patch list.

Now if only I can get some on the deck.


Sunday, 26 December 2010

What could it mean?

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret, never to be told
Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten for a bird you must not miss

Four of the 11 Magpies sat in a tree outside my window

(On this date: 26 12 06 52 species across the Marsh today, best birds included Water Rail calling from the dry Reedbed, Stonechat, 2 Chiffchaffs, and a couple of Jackdaws by the Golf Course.)


Friday, 24 December 2010

Take Five

I took my wife to work this morning which took 5 minutes (compared to the normal 30), as she bade me farewell she asked if I was going over the reservoirs later, I said probably not, which is subtly not the same as no. Strangely my bins seemed to be with me in the car and 5 minutes later I found myself arriving in Walthamstow!

I really didn’t have a lot of time for birding so my best option was to drive down Coppermill Lane and check out No.5 reservoir and the Filter Beds for 5 minutes.

The straw I was hoping to clutch was labelled ‘White-fronted Goose’. I could see some, in my mind’s eye, tagging on to a group of Greylags or one mixed in with some Canada’s, remnants of the scores that were milling around London over the last few days. Sadly my mind’s eyes were not connecting very well with my actual eyes, so no Christmas Goose for me.

There is just a week of patch birding left before the New Year, and, whilst the fat lady is certainly limbering up in the wings, the show is definitely not over yet. We are just about starting the thaw after the big freeze and Duck seemed to have moved back with a vengeance, albeit a bank hugging vengeance.

Around the edge of No.5 must have been 1,000 Tufted Ducks with a smattering of Pochard, I heard Wigeon and soon enough found a few mixed in with some Gadwall, some Shoveler and Teal were also noted and, sleeping on the largest island, a/the drake Pintail. 2 separate ‘redhead’ Goosanders completed the wildfowl line up. A dozen Fieldfares flew West and a Common Sandpiper was working the North bank. There were 8 Lapwings standing on the frozen Filter Beds.

As I drove further down the lane to turn the car around I noticed the Southern gate to the reservoirs was open, it almost never is, I could hear birds calling me in but I manfully resisted, my 5 minutes were up.

I was toying with titling this entry ‘Take 5’ when propitiously that was what came on the radio as I sat typing. Shame there is not a song about White-fronted Geese.


Friday, 17 December 2010

One's Bittern, 'twas shy

After seeing the last Sundays Pintail I have not been able to get onto the patch for work related reasons, (work; the curse of the birding classes) this was quite a blow as there has been Bittern, Shag, Red-breasted Merganser and possible Scaup this week, all patch year ticks, an amzing number of potentials this close to the end of the year.

So today was my big chance, I started at the Waterworks in hopes of an ice-skating Bittern, One has been seen at Stoke Newington and recently the Middlesex Filter Beds so I thought I might be in with a chance, I was, it was a fat chance. The N.R. was pretty devoid of any N. Best, was a perched in the open Sparrowhawk, that my numb fingers and fiddly camera phone did not do any justice, and that is saying something given the standard of photographs I post on here!

I thought it would be worth checking for Shag on the East Warwick despite no sightings for a couple of days.....still no sightings, I was now too cold to muster any enthusiasm for walking round to the West Warwick in the hopes of confirming Pete’s sleeping possible Scaup from Sunday, which was just as well because in amongst the Aythya’s on No.1 were the very birds. 2 female Scaup very much heads up and alert showing all the requisite features; larger than Tufted Duck, broader in the beam, round headed with a white facial blaze and paler ‘ear’ spot, bill tipped black – my first on the patch for 19 years.

It is interesting, to me at least, that so many of the good birds I have seen on the patch this year are the first for around about 20 years, I think this reflects my on/off relationship with the patch rather than their true rarity in most cases.

I contemplated a photo but they were swimming steadily and, I suspect would have proved impossible to phonescope. My decision was really made though, when a snow flake suddenly landed on my face followed by about a gazillion more. In a matter of moments it was almost a white out. The walk back to the car was most unpleasant. I don’t recall if I have ever seen snow settling on Ducks before, a very strange sight.

Apparently just after the snow a Bittern flew in to Stoke Newington from the South, I knew it was still around, the little blighter.

After a quick lunch I had a look on the Banbury but the only Sawbill was a female Goosander rather than my hoped for Merganser. This year just keeps getting better, I wonder if there are any surprises left....more snow coming.

On other matters, the cumulative Walthamstow list has also grown recently, Roy W kindly lent me the last 70 years worth of London Bird Reports and trawling through them revealed the fact that Snow Bunting and Yellow-browed Warbler have both been seen on patch, so total now stands at 241.

(On this day: 17 12 96 The Dartford Warbler soon seen on Walthamstow Marsh in loose association with 3 Stonechats, also 2 Chiffchaffs nearby.)


Monday, 13 December 2010

Mid-winter magic

Another couple of good days on the patch, starting with yesterday (Sunday 12th) when I met up with Lea Valley birder/dragonfly expert/all-round-good-bloke Roy Woodward, who was leading a walk around the reses on behalf of the East London Birders Forum (ELBF).
A nice sunny mid winter's morning (there has been a thaw of late after the first 'big freeze' of the winter...up to a balmy 6*C today), and a decent turnout of 10 or so people - the last time I saw so many birders here at one time was when a certain rare warbler turned up last February.
On the West bank of the East Warwick had a call from Hackney birder Jamie Partridge letting me know that he'd just been watching a Bittern ice-skating over at the nearby Waterworks NR, and that it'd just taken off & was circling overhead. Roy & I pointed our scopes in that direction (due South), and lo & behold we picked the bird up! It circled once before coming down again, and sure enough, another call to Jamie confirmed that the bird had indeed dropped back down in the same area...result! In fairness I doubt neither Roy or myself would have IDd the bird as a Bittern from such distant views had we not had the heads up (thanks Jamie)...still, only my 2nd Bittern on the patch, and both this year.
Noteworthy birds on the West Warwick were Water Rail (seen briefly in flight), a female Stonechat (my first of 2010) and a rather early, and optimistic, singing Mistle Thrush.
A drake Pintail had been found earlier by Pete Lambert on the #1 res, and sure enough was still there when we got to the other side of E Warwick, happily napping under an overhanging tree on the island (this was another long overdue patch first for me!). Also of interest on the island here was a Ring-necked Parakeet seen by Roy & the others to go into a tree hole...potential breeders next year I would imagine. Also of note here were a drake Goldeneye & f Goosander. (Paul W later raced over to 'twitch' the Pintail for his year list & provided the record shot above).

Not content with this enjoyable 4 hours, decided to have a look on spec at the Banbury where I was immediately rewarded with a fine female Red-breasted Merganser sitting on the bank in the SW corner of the res - another 1st for the year and only my 2nd for the patch.
Just North of the patch at the London Waste incinerator plant in Edmonton, I capped an excellent day by observing (for the first time since the summer) BOTH Peregrines on the chimney top there. Although I missed the actual hunt, I soon after saw one of the birds bring prey back to the chimney (a very pale bird, possibly a Gull). Fingers crossed that they choose to nest up there come the spring, which would mean we get to see a lot more of these magnificent birds.

Today (13th) popped over to the S end of Lockwood, then East Warwick a half hour before dark on another still, clear evening to try to relocate a juvenile Shag which Pete had found there yesterday at dusk. On the Lockwood were 2 f Goldeneye, 12 Lapwings over and a solitary Common Snipe. At the E Warwick my luck was in when I almost immediately found the Shag sitting quietly on the tern raft (showing it's distinctive peaked forehead, slender bill & white chin), before slipping into the water to feed around the island. A pretty scarce species in the London area this, and another patch first for me so thanks once again to Pete for his sharp eyes on this one (also thanks to Dominic Mitchell & Dave Callahan for this photo of the juv Shag on the East Warwick tern raft).

**PLS NOTE: Little Stint has been taken off the cumulative year list as we've learned recently that this is highly likely to have been an erroneous report.

Lol Bodini

Friday, 10 December 2010

Birding Technique

Pete had seen a Firecrest on the Wild Marsh East yesterday, so with Lol I set off to refind it. The plan was find a roving Tit flock and it would surely be in with them.

The first difficulty was finding a roving Tit flock, in fact finding anything was proving a bit difficult.

We eventually did stumble across a few birds and we started pishing, almost instantly a 'crest popped up, however it proved to be more Gold than Fire, still a nice bird. Nearby a male Blackcap also appeared.

Lol pishing in some bushes (I think that's what he said)

A couple of Snipe, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Redshank and a pair of Goosander were the best of the rest. The latter seem to like the canal/overflow channels more than the reservoirs for some reason and also seem to spend a lot of time commuting, the same birds being seen anywhere from No.5, occasionally, but more often around the top of the Lockwood on the Banbury but also on the Chingford reservoirs.

A few more Passerines noted today now the snow has gone, Greenfinches and Song Thrushes much more obvious than of late.

(On this date: 10 12 90 The Mediterranean Gull still present on the filter beds at Walthamstow also a 2nd winter drake Smew on the High Maynard and a Common Sandpiper on the Lockwood.)


Sunday, 5 December 2010

One on, one off

They're back! A pair of Stonechats keeping close company opposite the rowing club on the marsh. It seems like such a long time, two winters in fact. Last Autumn none arrived and I was beginning to fear that we would not see them this winter either. They must have been shifted from some other site due to the snowy weather. Whatever the cause it brings me a great deal of pleasure to see them on a cold traipse around the marsh of a Winters day. Duly added to my patch year list (128 if you are counting)

A few Snipe were flying around the marsh too and I inadvertently flushed a Woodcock out of the Horseshoe Thicket. There were 6 Linnet on the Horse field and a small party of Chaffinch under the Little Owl Tree, probably a risky spot especially as there was a Little Owl up there. They are 'easy' to see now that the leaves have all gone. I wonder if the Finches will lure something more exotic in...Yellowhammer, or better, would be nice. Finally a single Fieldfare was around the paddocks, perhaps a precursor of more to come now the thaw is here.

Had a very reasonable brunch in the Waterworks N.R. Cafe and also checked their (hopelessly out of date) 'what's about' board.....oh dear the Nuthatch of a couple of weeks ago was apparently on foreign territory, the Middlesex Filter Beds, which though only 50 yards over the Walthamstow patch border might as well be on the Moon, so off the list it goes, still it can stay on the radar as we might get one, one day.


Saturday, 4 December 2010

Big Freeze (part 2)

I had been itching to get out all week but had been stuck in work, there was clearly lots of stuff on the move, what must be going on on the patch? Lol texted me about his sightings of yestreday which just made things worse! I had a pretty full day but with a bit of judicous planning I managed to clear some time for birding.

A climb into to the Lockwood was required due to the gate to the Northern reservoirs being closed because of the snow. The rewards were a Curlew, 1 Redshank, 2 Lapwings and a Snipe all on the North bank, the first named bird surprisingly rare on Walthamstow, I can’t find any mention in my notes since one I saw in July 1984 when the East Warwick was drained. There were quite a few Teal and some Gadwall also a female Goldeneye and redhead Goosander but sadly no sign of yesterday’s Scaup (5) or Wigeon (37) seen by Lol.

The Curlew flew South but it or another was seen later on the Banbury. The Redshank flew North but, again, it or another was seen in the overflow channel to the South of the Lockwood. Also on the Banbury there was another Lapwing and a small party of Meadow Pipits in some weedy grass and a (Scandinavian) Rock Pipit was flushed from the water’s edge and flew away to the West, nearby there were 2 Green Sandpipers in the overflow channel. 2 sets of two male Goosanders flew South.

On the Southern reservoirs there was a handful more Lapwings and many Snipe including at least 22 on the West Warwick alone, most feeding on the west bank probing in the snow. A party of 12 Egyptian Geese was an unusually large gathering for here. Passerines were thin on the ground, in fact hardly any of them were actually on the ground, a couple of Reed Buntings, a Skylark and a Chiffchaff were the best. The most common Passerine was Goldfinch with a few medium sized flocks seen, and checked, in case they held a Siskin or Redpoll, which they didn’t.

We received a text from a certain Stoke Newington birder spying on Walthamstow, probably enviously, from his tower block Crow’s nest, excited about the decades fourth Goldeneye for the site, it’s actually not that uncommon on Walthamstow, though not as common as it once was. We offered to swap our current singleton for one of his Red-crested Pochards. It is strange how regular they are at Stoke Newington but rarely stray barely a mile to Walthamstow. Equally odd is the dearth of such birds as Nuthatch, Redpoll, Coal Tit and Treecreeper. All apparently on the up as close as Leyton Flats. Location, location, location as they say.

Late on a flock of 18 Golden Plover flew low to the West, making it a six Wader day at Walthamstow which is a very rare event. I reckoned Duck numbers were down, moved out ahead of the cold, Passerines very sparsely represented so it was a surprise to tot up 62 species for the afternoon and that was without really trying, I think with a couple more hours and a bit more effort we could have easily cracked the 70 mark, impressive for mid-winter in London.

The best and at the same time most frustrating sighting came as we were about to leave, I picked up 5 birds flying toward us which I thought looked like chunky Finches, I raised my bins and quickly realised they were not Finches, neither were they Thrushes or Starlings, by this time they were high overhead and the penny dropped, I said to Lol I think these are Waxwings but sadly he had not seen them and couldn’t get on to them as they flew away to the East. I hoped they would call, land, turn around anything - but they just kept straight on. A welcome patch tick, but a disappointing one. So a patch tick and four patch year ticks not bad for a big freeze.


Friday, 3 December 2010

Big Freeze (part 1)

Managed to drag myself reluctantly out into the freezing cold this morning (Dec 2nd) for a circuit of the Lockwood. The past week has seen practically the whole country swathed in snow & ice and sub-zero temperatures. Unsurprisingly there's been a lot of cold weather bird movement of late so this felt like a great opportunity to get out on the patch & see what showed up.
I was greeted by a Redshank in the relief channel almost immediately (not common in these parts). On the res - in the biting N-Easterlies and with a nose starting to resemble a leaking tap - I quickly picked out a group of about 15 Wigeon, mostly resting on the snowy N bank, amongst them a few Gadwall and 50+ Teal.
Making my way slowly around the Eastern bank I soon became aware of an interesting group of Aythya ducks out in the middle of the water...a group of 5 Scaup no less, including 2 adult drakes...not the first this year, but superb! Made a pathetic attempt to take a record shot with my far-from-adequate mobile phone - very tricky through an angled 'scope at the best of times - and failed dismally.
Another group of 19 Wigeon came in from the South, and I later counted a total of 37, by far my highest count here (as were the Scaup).
Other notables were 3 female Goldeneye, a couple of Lapwing, 3 Green Sandpipers, 5 Common Snipe, a low Skylark (which landed briefly), and 3 Meadow Pipits plus another pipit sp. which I reckon was probably a Rock/Water, but flew of before I could get onto it (not for the first time)...all in all a satisfying (albeit bone-numbing) excursion.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Owl Zat!

09:07; Roy W phoned from the Reservoirs, he was meeting up for a RSPB walk apparently.

“There’s a Short-eared Owl circling high over the Fishing Lodge car park, looks to be going South or South-east”

“Whaah!...That’s MY direction!...Thanks I’ll have a look from the back window”

09:10 a small flock of Starlings and 2 Carrion Crows found it before I did, but I shan’t complain #103 for the house and a patch year tick to boot (in fact the first on patch for 21 years, I must get out more)

I arranged to meet Lol later for a walk around the marsh, we were after Brambling, Firecrest, Redpoll, Jack Snipe, anything really that would be a patch year tick for either of us. There is just 7 weeks of the year left and both of us are on the best year list we have ever recorded on patch, not difficult for me as the first year list I kept was last year (115 in 2009 against 123 this year so far), I really have little intention of making this a regular thing so it would be nice to get as big a year list as I can before I give it up. Don’t quote this if I end up doing one in 2011.

The marsh was pretty uneventful really; we picked up a few Goldcrests but not the hoped for Firecrest. Only a few Chaffinches and no Bramblings, though Roy had one earlier on the Reservoirs, just Goldfinches in the Alders and no Redpolls, but if you don’t buy the ticket you will never win the lottery.

We didn’t check the centre of the marsh for Stonechat, which as far as we can tell no one has seen on the patch for over 18 months, on the basis that if they do reappear this winter they will be around for months and we will have plenty of time to catch up with them.

We did check the filter beds which I must admit I don’t do as often as I should. It is quite a good spot in late afternoon, for pre-roost Gulls en route to the Chingford reservoirs. We had a nice adult Yellow-legged and half a dozen Great Black-backed Gulls amongst the mostly Herring, Lesser Black-backed and Black-headed Gulls. In its day it has produced Mediterranean, Glaucous and Caspian Gulls. There was a big flock of Pied Wagtails with 1 Meadow Pipit and a few Linnets nearby too. Everything took flight a couple of times but it took us a while to find the culprit, a Sparrowhawk.

A Common Sandpiper was on the South edge of No.5 and the (now too long-staying for comfort) Barnacle Goose.

After that we braved the horrendous Saturday traffic and scooted round to the riding stables and Waterworks N.R. I was wondering if enough leaves had dropped to be in with a chance of seeing Little Owl, the answer was yes, just. You really had to stand in the right spot, after finding one well camouflaged bird I moved a few feet to let Lol have the right spot and saw, another previously invisible individual, just feet from the first one. It will get easier over the next few weeks.

There was nothing on the Horse field as a Mushroom picker had just picked his way across it so we moved on to the Waterworks where there was nothing due to a bunch of screaming children having just marauded through. I thought ‘where are their parents?’ at which point they hove into view, I said I would glare at them but Lol decided education was the best policy and remonstrated with them, quite politely, hopefully they will get the message. Disturbance and noise is a real pain on the marsh. There is the constant drone from traffic, planes, helicopters, factories and other users of the park; it really does make observing wildlife difficult especially given the small scale of the habitat available. Curmudgeonly me?

At the Waterworks we bumped into the new warden of some of the lower Lea Valley sites, Andrew, he seemed like a nice guy and keen to learn of the birdlife of the area. He casually mentioned that someone had seen Nuthatch recently on the reserve, Lol did a double-take and I nearly fell off my bench.....the ‘Holy Grail’ on our patch. I explained the rarity of Nuthatch on the patch (you probably have to kick them off your boots a mile and a half away in the forest) I informed him I had never seen one here in 40 years, he said I didn’t look old enough....I told you he seemed a nice guy. Now we have a new target to put on the radar.

On this day: 13 11 90 1 Common Sandpiper, a pair of Goldeneye and a few Long-tailed Tits at Walthamstow.


Saturday, 30 October 2010

All things Green (with envy?)

A brief vizmigging session this morning resulted in the first 2 Jackdaws from the house this autumn, a few Mistle Thrushes, although they could be local wintering birds, some Redwings and quite a few Finches, mostly Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch but others too high or distant to specify also about 100 Woodpigeons in two flocks. Most of this stuff was going between North- and South-west.

The building site behind the house looks seriously close to finishing up, it is a mystery to me how much sawing of concrete with a circular saw is necessary in modern building techniques! They will no doubt be gone just as migration finishes for the year.

Not since Icarus sat by the letter box have Waxwings been so eagerly anticipated but looks like I will have to wait a bit longer for that particular house tick. Every 5-10 years we have a Waxwing influx and every 5-10 years I think this is my big chance. My wife came in at lunchtime and said that she had flushed some birds out of the Cotoneaster at the front of the house as she came in, I quizzed her but she reckoned they were Pigeons, It’s probably the only bird she can identify so I relaxed, friends are bemused as to how little knowledge she has picked up being married to a birder for 33 years, she merely replies that I do not know how to work the washing machine....touché!

A walk around the Lockwood later involved some serious shower dodging, I had just seen 5 Green Sandpipers in the overflow channel to the North-west when the heavens opened, for some reason they decided that would be a good time to have a fly around. As the 5 flew back to the channel I thought I heard another to the West. I fiddled around trying to get a photo once they had settled and was reasonably happy with the results (around 400m away with a camera phone) when the sixth bird dropped in....humph.

A female Goldeneye and a perched up Ring-necked Parakeet was probably the highlight on the South side of the complex.

Someone had written ‘Little Stint’ in the logbook at the Fishing Lodge so it will go down on the cumulative year list. I am not saying they were mistaken but I have not seen Little Stint on Walthamstow in over 40 years.......bitter/envious? moi?

A mystery has been solved involving some very weird calls emanating from the island on Number 2 reservoir this summer. I have a new bird calls ‘app’ which reveals that the ‘Donald Duck on Speed’ calls we were hearing are in fact the sound of a Little Egret breeding colony. Probably not a huge surprise really.

On this date: 30 10 82 Walthamstow 16:00-17:00 Dull, overcast; This late afternoon visit in fading light produced c200 Shoveler and other regulars, also 1 Grey Heron being mobbed by Black-headed Gulls in flight and tumbling considerable distances to escape. Also seen 3 separate Short-eared Owls, disturbed whilst resting on bank, seen at close range, dark carpal patch, sandy primary coverts and strongly barred tail. These also mobbed before settling.

30 10 90 At Walthamstow 1 female Pintail and the same male Sparrowhawk as seen a couple of weeks ago, also quite a few Meadow Pipits.


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

(B) ramblings

There are Waxwings around, some were in Chigwell on Monday, Jono called me yesterday, as I arrived at work, to say some had just flown over his house, Mark texted me to say some had flown over Stoke Newington this afternoon.

It was not that I wasn't looking, today I spent a fair bit of time checking out every Starling that passed within range of the house. The only thing of note was a very brief White Wagtail which landed on the nearby factory roof. Anyway Mark's text (thanks) sent me back up to the back of the house for another look. He had said that they were going South-east but a quick check of the map meant that they would surely miss my house....bit of a long shot anyway, but I digress. As I scanned the horizon a distant flock of 16 Finches bounded past. They were not Chaff/Green/Gold Finches so they were something good, if I had to put money on them I would have said Brambling.

I had intended to go over to Walthamstow this morning/afternoon but it was after 15:30 before I got out. As I walked down Coppermill Lane and looked over No.5 reservoir I clapped eyes on a flock of a dozen or so Finches on the large island that looked 'interesting' the scope was deployed and lo, they were Brambling. I wonder if they were the same ones? A patch year tick after missing one/some on the Horse field last winter.

A flyover Redpoll sp. on the marsh was also good. A few Tit flocks refused to give up any 'scarce' let alone 'rare.'

I have seen or heard Ring-necked Parakeets in a few places on the patch this year but assumed they were just a few wandering birds but today I had Ring-necked Parakeet near No.5 reservoir, by the Ice Rink and on the Pitch'n'Putt course. I think they are here in strength now. (still yet to see one from the house, heard only tick).


Saturday, 23 October 2010

Out, for a Duck

I was supposed to meet up with Lol for a walk around Walthamstow but he whimped out, Man Flu or some such excuse! I wasn't exactly feeling tip top either with a bit of a cold but decided to drag myself out rather than spend all afternoon in front of the T.V. or computer.

The brisk wind seemed to be keeping most Passerines well down, either that or there weren't any.

A Peregrine was working low over Leyton Marsh, I don't see them down this end so much so it was a happy sighting. On the Waterworks N.R. there were 14 Teal, probably more hidden in cover, so it seems that Ducks are building up. At first there was no sign of the recent Wigeon but, after a quick bit of fence hopping, I saw them but now there are five. No Snipe visible but they will be tucked in somewhere.

The fresh air was welcome, given my blocked tubes, but it was a lot of effort for one more Duck.


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

You can't always get what you want.....

.....but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need, so sang that wise old birder Mick Jagger.

I wanted a lifer, it will be a year on Saturday since my last and this is the longest I have ever been between ticks. Thanks for the sympathy, I know you feel my pain. Walthamstow was probably not going to deliver what I wanted but maybe I would get something out of a visit.

The Waterworks N.R. had a small Tit flock working bushes near the entrance which I watched for a while and out popped a female Blackcap and, more likely coincidentally, a Fieldfare, my first of the Autumn. A couple of Goldfinches flew over and then as quick as Jumpin Jack Flash (Enough with the Rolling Stones already!) a Siskin flew over calling. It was just what I needed a patch year tick.

The 4 Wigeon are still present on one of the beds also 2 Snipe, lets hope they continue to build in numbers and bring a Jack with them.

Another Tit flock contained a couple of Goldcrests, its nice to see them back after a very thin Autumn and Winter last year. There were a couple more on the marsh and also 3 Redwings. Six Linnets were on the Horse field.

I was nearing the end of a very pleasant walk when I recieved a text from Mark at Stoke Newington, in which direction I had been looking five minutes earlier. "Likely Honey Buzzard North 15 minutes ago" Can I get no satisfaction?


Tuesday, 19 October 2010


Visible Migration at its best this morning (Sunday 17th). I had not long read a pager message telling of 11 Little Egrets seen flying North-west over Hillfield Park Reservoir at 08:41 when I picked up, what was surely, the same flock of Little Egrets, viewed from the house, flying North-north-east over Walthamstow at 09:15. As it later transpired they actually flew South-east over Hillfield and must have done the 10 miles or so in 24 minutes. Even more amazingly it seems they had been seen East of Wilstone Reservoir at about 08:00 so must have covered the first 15 miles in about 40 minutes. Large flocks of Little Egrets are not exactly common inland and the coincidence of such a random number makes me believe they were all the same. Perhaps they were headed for the Thames estuary for the winter. I wonder where they came from.

As well as three observers being in the right place at the right time to witness this one was even more fortunate to have his camera ready too.

Thanks to Tony Blake for the photograph of them passing Hillfield.


Friday, 15 October 2010

There be Monsters!

Back on the patch again after a visit to Scilly and full of expectation, well hope really, a lot of migration has been going on over the last week or so and Walthamstow should be sharing in the bounty. Rock Pipit (no doubt Scandinavian), Firecrest, Siskin, Brambling, Jackdaw and the like have all been seen in recent days.

The first sighting on the North side of the complex was somewhat alarming! A poster warning of an invasive species.

Whatever next Vampire Trout, Were Rabbits, Zombie Geese?

The next sighting was quite impressive a dead Tree liberally coated with enormous Bracket Fungi (Monster Mushrooms?) My wife tells me that there is a plague of Fungi about at the moment, there certainly seems to be more about and of many different species that’s for sure.

The Lockwood delivered around 20 Meadow Pipits and 4 Egyptian Geese also around 40 Teal, now building up in numbers and the first Goldeneye of the Winter (Winter!) Also 1 Wheatear which promptly flew off and landed in a Tree on the Low Maynard, do they do that? The best of the rest were 3-4 Green Sandpipers and a Snipe in the overflow channel.

On this date: 15 10 00 25+ ‘alba’ wagtails in Seymour Park, quite a few of which White Wagtails, 20+ Meadow Pipits on Walthamstow Marsh and 3+ Stonechats.


Saturday, 2 October 2010

Saving the best to last

The early morning watch from the garden was slightly better today, a few Meadow Pipits, Mistle Thrush, a couple of Finches and then, a quiet ‘tlooeet’, I searched the sky and found four, quickly disappearing birds, at least a couple of which looked a bit short-tailed and undulating in flight. If I had had another call or seen them a few seconds earlier I think they would have gone down as Woodlark...the highs and lows of viz-migging!

The bird of the day though must be Chiffchaff (compared to last week when bird of the day was Squirrel, millions of them) they seemed to be everywhere this afternoon as I walked across the Lammas fields and over to the Waterworks N.R. The male Cetti’s was heard to sing briefly, and there were Teal new in and, even better, 4 Wigeon which are scarce on the patch. The best was left to last however a fine male Ring Ouzel that just popped up in some bare branches and then dropped into some Brambles, I had been consciously looking for one, amongst other things, for a week or more, so it felt very good to finally connect. My 120th species for the patch this year (Patch as a whole on 137), which is what I set as a personal target, I feel like I have earned my break on the Scillies and some real birding (sorry Walthamstowphiles;-))

On this date: 02 10 89 At Walthamstow 3 Stonechats, 1 Whinchat and a Wheatear on the Lockwood, also there a Slavonian Grebe and a ‘scandinavian’ Rock Pipit.


Saturday, 18 September 2010

Viz Mipping

Had another go at viz migging this morning. What a difference a day makes, much quieter this time and actually a few birds, well 9 Meadow Pipits to be precise and possibly a couple of migrant Chaffinches. It's always difficult to decide what's local and what's a migrant with Chaffinches. Meadow Pipits, well they are easy, they don't live here so they are migrants and the first over the house this autumn so doubly welcome. Grey Wagtails and Great Spotted Woodpecker are pretty local, the former much commoner in winter than summer but both were quite obvious this morning too.

(When will Tree Pipit do the decent thing and give itself up over the house? Just how many Mippits = 1 Trippit? Talking of Lapland Buntings, which we weren't, I glimpsed a group of about 15 chunky Finch/Bunting things flying away from the house yesterday, oh if only I was outside and heard one of them call!)

Meadow Pipits were passing over on a broad front all day it would seem, judging from the number reported from different London sites and the fact that I heard them everywhere I went locally this morning. Every street seemed to have Chiffchaffs in the roadside Trees too, I wonder what else passes through suburbia unnoticed?

Later this afternoon I had a stroll over Walthamstow Marshes and saw the first Lesser Whitethroat for a while, in with an itinerant Tit flock. Sadly nothing much else gave itself up. I did see a pale Warbler disappear into some dense vegetation but it did not reappear. I flushed up 6 Reed Buntings from some other dense vegetation but unfortunately left with about 2000 seeds attached to my fleece for the trouble!

Another 15 Meadow Pipits flew over in one flock and some singles and the male Peregrine was seen flying over the Marsh and then sitting on it's favourite pylon. I was struck by how similar the call was to Ring-necked Parakeet, one or two of which were calling from nearby. Lol totally disagrees but what does he know he's only a musician:-)

On this date:

18 09 89
Lockwood Reservoir; A 1st winter Grey Phalarope was bobbing around in the waves at the North end, also still a female Common Scoter. An immature/female Ruddy Duck on the East Warwick. A large Sparrowhawk seen later over St’ James’s St. (that's when they were noteworthy!)

18 09 99
An Osprey flew South-south-west over the house this afternoon.


Saturday, 11 September 2010

Spotted...flycatcher! & bye-bye to the Terns

Had an afternoon stroll around the reses with Paul today (10th) & practically the first thing we clapped eyes on was a Spotted Flycatcher in the trees opposite the Ferry Boat pub near the entrance to the North reservoirs. This was our first flycatcher of the year, and I'm a little baffled as to why it's taken this long to connect with one considering they've been popping up all over London in good numbers of late (might have something to do with not putting in the necessary hours on the patch methinks).

Apart from that, not many other migrants to speak of except for ubiquitous Chiffchaffs (mostly juveniles with their distinctive squeaky calls), a few Meadow Pipits overhead, a dozen Teal (first 'large' group of the autumn), a single Wheatear & half a dozen Common Sandpipers - by far our commonest wader - on the Lockwood.

The highlights on the Southern sector were a couple of Kingfishers, and a magnificent Peregrine (we think, on size, a male), surveying the scene from it's favourite pylon.

Notable by their absence were the Common Terns which appear to've all departed in the last couple of days & will be missed until their return next spring.

Congrats also due to Dan Barrett for his lucky recent sighting of a male Merlin dashing through the Coppermill filter beds.


Saturday, 4 September 2010

In-Viz Mig!

'Tis the season to start viz migging. Viz, as in visible and Mig, as in migration. I am sure someone will correct me but I think the whole thing started during WWII. Pre-Radar people started watching the skies to report incoming Nazi planes and no doubt found (at the appropriate season) that they were seeing quite a bit of avian migration, the growing Bird Observatory movement in the 50's continued on the practice and it carried on from there with occasional lulls and revivals, it seems to have gained a bit of momentum in London in recent autumns.

Generally the first you know of an approaching Viz. Mig. is when you hear it, so Aud.(ible) Mig. would probably be more appropriate. I have a factory and a school/building site behind the house which are surprisingly noisy but I thought that a Saturday morning might not be too bad, think again! There was definitely no Migging, nothing was Viz and certainly there was no Aud.

Surely Sunday will be quieter.

Lol and I checked, very thoroughly, Walthamstow Marsh this afternoon for all the drift migrants (is that Drif. Mig?) that are streaming into the country at the moment. A Redstart had been reported from the patch recently so surely there was at least another one of those or a Flycatcher to be found. Well to say the least Passerines were thin on the ground.

I mentioned that we would be unlucky not to get a large Raptor today and within 5 minutes all the Gulls went up from the Filter Beds, it certainly felt like something had spooked them and shortly afterwards Lol picked up a Buzzard sp. We did our very best to make it something better than the Common that it was, but it just didn't scream Honey. Later an adult Hobby made it a 4 Raptor day. Later still we called it a day.


Saturday, 28 August 2010

Dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner.....Dinner, dinner, dinner, dinner....

Bats, man!

For years I have been promising myself that I would do a Bat walk one of these days, Friday was that day. I duly arrived with spouse, friend and friend's nine year old son at the Waterworks N.R. and was greeted by the very friendly Lea Valley staff. The ranger started off her talk by apologising that she was not a Bat expert (my heart sank a little). There was a quite interesting talk about the Lea Valley Park (heart sank a little lower), then we got around to the Bats (heart rising) apparently we would possibly only see 2 species (falling) these were Pipistrelle, species unknown! and Daubenton's (heart definitely rising again).

We waited until dusk, were issued with Bat detectors, (immediately claimed by 9 year old), and off we went into the dark.

The Bat detectors were picking up various calls, ours stated 'Bat' on the readout which unfortunately meant low battery rather than an actual Bat. I got the Pip, in fact everyone got the Pip, we heard them flying, we heard them feeding, we even caught glimpses of them.

Later we tried for the Daubs over the Lea but they didn't want to play ball.

Was it fun? Yes, everyone seemed to enjoy it, even your curmudgeonly blogger! Would I do it again? Nah! Should you do it? Probably. It is quite nice being out with an enthusiastic crowd venturing into the night without fear of mugging, and seeing people, who had possibly never seen a Bat before, enthuse about wildlife.

Now I think I need to promise myself to do a Bat walk with someone who knows whats what and where we might actually see some Bats.

As for the thorny question of 'do Bats get tangled in your hair?' I checked out the other half and the answer is, reassuringly, not.


On this day: 27 08 83 Walthamstow Wind NW1 calm and hot: 1 juvenile Little Grebe on High Maynard also 1 Kingfisher seen twice. 1 juvenile Cuckoo on Lockwood, moulting into adult plumage. (?) 1 Greenshank heard flying South over Lockwood. 1 Snipe on No.3 Many Yellow Wagtails and a few Common Sandpipers.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Get here while you can!

I rang Pete on Sunday (this is the lay-zee-birda method of working the patch) to find out what he had been seeing lately, as Lol may have mentioned he and I have been working silly hours recently and therefore neglecting Walthamstow. It turned out that Pete had also not been doing his regular tours of the place but was actually on the Lockwood as I spoke to him. I asked if he had seen any decent Waders, it turned out he hadn’t even seen any indecent Waders, I then asked if he had seen any Whinchats on his travels, he replied that the Lockwood was not the best bit of habitat on the patch for them and anyway they were more frequently seen in September. I thanked him and wished him well.

Ten minutes later I received Pete’s text telling me he had got a Whinchat on the Lockwood, I thanked him profusely and went back to sleep, it had been a long week! Forty minutes later I was entering the reservoirs, me and the rest of the population of East London. I have never seen so many people on the complex and this is before it is made a Country Park and opened up to every Dog walker in the Greater London area!

There were great parties of walkers, photographers, fisherman and a number of Birders too. I have never been in favour of restricted access sites, especially those restricted to me, so I cannot really complain but if it carries on at this rate there will be precious few birds to see much after dawn I would think.

I bumped in to Lol up on the bank and we wandered North until we eventually spotted the Whinchat, unfortunately it spotted us seconds before and flew up into a Willow on the High Maynard before disappearing whilst I fiddled with my cameraphone. The other Birders who arrived within moments sadly missed it.

It really was a case of get it while you can. I suspect this might be the way of things to come, either that or some very early morning rises.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Goodness gracious three...

A trio of migrant goodies over this weekend starting on Sat pm when a succession of afternoon squally showers brought down a number of passage gulls, terns & waders at different sites across the capital. Noticing a fair bit of activity over Lockwood, a scan from the comfort - and shelter - of my loft was rewarded this time with a beautifully marked juvenile Little Gull (my first this year); It didn't linger for long though, and I assume it went South.
Amongst the adult & juvenile Common Terns and a steady stream of Sand Martins (migrants or locals I wonder?) was a paler, more slender-looking youngster with a clearly shorter, all dark bill - an Arctic Tern which hung around for half an hour or so then appeared to go North towards the Banbury.
Sunday was a much sunnier, drier affair with a promising North-Easterly breeze. Around 11.30 I was alerted by PW down on the Lockwood, to the presence of a juv Black Tern, our first on the patch this year. Good views were obtained again from the loft ('armchair birding' at it's best!). Paul later had another BT but I failed to get onto that one...A rather nice little assortment then, but with both PW & I away working a lot at the moment, one can only imagine the stuff that's passing through unnoticed...
Other recent sightings include a juv Black-necked Grebe on the Lockwood & Garden Warbler by the allotments on 7th(me), and adult & juv Dunlin on the Lockwood Friday 13th (Gavin Coultrip).
Lol Bodini

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Glorious Mud!

I have been wallowing on 114 for the patch year list for a while now, just 1 below my eventual total for the whole of 2009, with the water levels low on most of the reservoirs my expectations of a new Wader being the equalizer for the year were quite high. The Lockwood had a nice muddy edge and numbers of Common Sandpipers were impressive, perhaps 15 on this one reservoir alone, so it was a little bit of a surprise when a juvenile Skylark flew onto the grassy bank of the Lockwood, looked at me and flew off, I didn’t get one last year at all and this was my first for 2010, given that they were a common breeder not so very long ago it is a bit sad that it is such a headline bird now. I usually just get them as flyovers in the Autumn or perhaps the odd bird in the Winter. So 115 Mudlark.

Less of a surprise was year bird 116 a young Little Ringed Plover on the North bank of the Lockwood. My hoped for target of 120 for the year must be quite realistic, probably less so the target of 150 for the site as a whole but we will see.

Another 5 Common Sandpipers and a Green Sandpiper on the Southern part of the complex were the only other Waders. Surely a more exciting Wader will drop in soon.....A Sparrowhawk pursuing and then catching a hapless Starling was quite exciting, certainly for me and the Sparrowhawk, perhaps less so for the Starling.


Friday, 23 July 2010

The last of the summer whine

Normally I wait for inspiration whilst on the patch for my blog title but today I cheated. A) I knew I wouldn’t see anything, hence the whine, and B) I won’t be patching for a couple of weeks (unless some kind soul finds some goody that sticks till evening or a convenient time on the weekend) hence the last of the summer, as the next time I get over to Walthamstow it will surely have an autumnal feel to it.

Birders seem to say nowadays how rubbish June is, that has now spread to saying how June-like July is. I don't remember this lull before, maybe we all just make more effort on our patches early on in the year and see everything there is to see by June. When you look at peoples patch lists it does seem like most have virtually seen as much as last year in the first seven months of 2010. Perhaps we should all relax a bit more and save some year ticks for the summer, perhaps it doesn't really matter, perhaps I am just padding the blog out :-)

Just to prove I didn’t see anything here is a list: Mute Swan, Gadwall, Mallard, Pochard, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Little Grebe, Sparrowhawk, Moorhen, Coot, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Dove, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Common , Swift, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Sand Martin, House Martin, Cetti's Warbler, Long-tailed Tit, , Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Reed Warbler, Starling, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Robin, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch. See nothing!

Actually not that bad really, nice to hear the Cetti’s again, I think they must have bred and perhaps having a second brood (if they do that), Blackcaps also singing and quite a lot of roving Tits and Warblers.

The best of the rest was a single Common Darter, my first of the year, which true to its name darted off as soon as I caught sight of it. Plenty of Butterflies including my f.o.s. Gatekeepers and surprisingly large numbers of Rabbits, they normally disappear during the day, but I think the bunnies haven’t learnt that yet.
I was lucky to catch the rarest sighting on film, not normally a summer visitor in these parts and usually only seen in a narrow window around the end of December.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Tales of the Riverbank

I thought it would be a good idea to get an early start on the patch and avoid the sweltering heat, so, up to the Lockwood and re-find the White-tailed Plover, well up to the Lockwood anyway. I thought I might have heard a Common Sandpiper but didn’t see one (one on No.4 later was the only Wader of the day). There were stacks of Little Egrets feeding and flying over and great flocks of moulting Tufted Ducks and some Pochard, presumably the flocks of Coot were also moulting but it’s a bit harder to tell with them.

The most interesting bird of the day was Common Tern fishing from a perch. Are they supposed to do that? I have never seen it before. An adult bird was sat on a rail above a disturbed area of water, watching intensely for any movement, bobbing its head like a Kingfisher, I assumed it was fishing but waited to see what it would do, sure enough after a few minutes it plunged into the water, though unsuccessful, and then sat back on the rail and repeated the exercise.

More Little Egrets were on the South side of the reservoirs also plenty of Warblers, including one or two Lesser Whitethroats. A Ring-necked Parakeet was still lingering around one of the islands; I guess we have got them for good now. (When does the cull start?)

Best of the rest was a 5 Spotted Burnet Moth, not sure which one but I suspect narrow bordered.

Also a large Carp in the River which defied photography, a Silver Y Moth landing in the River for some inexplicable reason, and a possible Jacana, though Moorhen has not been ruled out at this stage.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Keep the faith

After declaring, in the last post, that the June lull is officially over, I can now officially declare the July lull to have started! Fear ye not though, as July will surely bring a good bird. Not today though.

I had a good look around the Waterworks this morning but apart from a few Dragonflies, Damselflies and Butterflies there was not much else aflight. There was little on the deck either come to that, a Mouse/Shrew/Vole scampered into some scrub before I could get a look at it, as did something bigger (Rat?) and despite it being fairly warm there was no sign of any of the 300 Common Lizards supposedly rescued from another site and released here, how can you miss 300 Lizards? Perhaps all the Grass Snakes have eaten them, come to think of it where were they?

Always worth the effort at this time of the year as you never know.......


(On this date: 04 07 98 An adult Peregrine carrying prey over the house this afternoon.)

Monday, 21 June 2010

Aint no time for those summer time blues

A judiciously timed email from Lol had alerted me to the presence, all day, of a couple of Redshank in the North-west corner of the Lockwood. So after dinner I trundled up there for a look and there they were, a welcome year tick for the patch. Someone had written Curlew (a strangely scarce bird in the Lea Valley, Whimbrel is probably the commoner species) in the book over the weekend at the fishing Lodge so that’s it, the Waders are returning!

It’s the first day of summer but for the birder it’s the beginning of Autumn, non-breeding, post-breeding or failed-breeding Waders are on their way South. The June lull is officially over. Actually the June lull is fairly brief as the laggards are still moving North at the start of the month, it just feels quiet I guess as most of the rest our migrants have been in for a while. (I may regret this official declaration if I don’t get another patch year tick until the end of August).

The rest of the evening saw a lot of Little Egret activity, tooing and froing from their breeding islands and also a brood of Shelduck on No.3, very sweet, fluffy grey and white. The low evening sunshine picked out a large loafing group of Pochard and Tufted Duck, mostly males, beautiful colours. It certainly chased those blues away.


Friday, 18 June 2010

Nothing to see here

After Wednesday's audacious attempt at border raiding (trying to hear the Tottenham Common Rosefinch from within the Walthamstow patch boundaries) was foiled, mainly by the abscence of the bird itself, enthusiasm was mustered, by myself and Lol to go out over the marsh and find Walthamstow's very own rare migrant.....

.....there were none (in fact nothing) on the Horse field, yes there were plenty of Swifts over the filter beds but none of them remotely Pacific, a half a dozen Chiffchaffs, now getting ready for a second brood, sang across the marsh but none had an Iberian accent, a Heron fished in the Lea amongst the large Carp, but it was not the least bit Purple. Ahh well we tried. Something beckoned us to head for a more tranquil spot and see what we could turn up there.

The Dove of peace lied! (well Woodpigeon with twig) The Waterworks N.R. was not a haven of respite and rarities, it was full of year 7 pupils on a 'nature walk'. Apparently they had been told specifically not to stand on the benches and slam the hide flaps. How did we know? Because we heard them being reminded after they had done it of course! The/a Cetti's Warbler was still there, the usual suspects were probably breeding, Reed Warblers, Pochard, Little Grebe etc but nothing scarce to get the juices flowing.

Surprisingly few Insects around too, the only Butterflies were a couple of Red Admirals and Small Whites and no Dragonflies at all. The best show really was the plant life, Honeysuckle was absolutely abundant and fragrant too, I don't remember it ever being so plentiful on the marsh. In fact all the plants looked very lush indeed and fittingly so for nearly high summer. Bee Orchids have been discovered on the Waterworks, which is nice, or will be in a month. Whoever discovered them needs a medal as the only sign at present is about 1mm of green leaf, I think that pretty well sums up this blogs title.

Rosy shenanigans

Mention should be made here in honour of another exceptional local find this past week 'just across the water' (the river Lea that is) on Tottenham Marshes of a singing 1st summer male Common Rosefinch. It was found last Sunday morning (13th) by members of the Tottenham Marshes survey group. During it's 3-day stay (and it may have been there longer of course), the bird - the first (twitchable) in London since 1986! - proved extremely elusive, spending most of it's time singing from thick vegetation near the picnic area on Clendish Marsh by the Stonebridge Lock. I myself only managed 3 all-too-brief flight views in close to 6 hours of watching; a few others were lucky enough to see it perched, for a mere few seconds.
Alas the Rosefinch, (or more aptly named by PW 'Brownfinch') - who's rather plaintive 5-whistle song recalled the words: 'pleased to, pleased to meet you' - never ventured across the great divide that is the Lea navigation, and consequently never made it onto the Walthamstow reservoirs patch list (although it is on my personal one as I've always included Tottenham marshes as part of my patch, he said smugly ;o)...
Like this year's earlier Dusky Warbler, heaven knows when or if another member of the species will ever grace our humble patch, and I'm just glad I saw it at all.

(Record shot 'phonescoped' at 300m by Neville Smith)

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Bandits at ten o'clock

I was browsing through my new copy of Collins Bird Guide yesterday and came across the illustration of juvenile Long-tailed Tit, quite a distinct looking plumage, I didn’t remember seeing it depicted ever before, and if I’m honest I don’t recall seeing it in the field, it’s one of those birds that I often look through I am sorry to say. I actually quite like Long-tailed Tits and can still remember the excitement of seeing my first in Epping Forest; probably 40 years ago, however I digress. Today a small party of Long-tailed Tits was working its way along the Lea on the West side of the Lockwood and wouldn’t you know it some of them were juvenile and had a really cute bandit masked look, just as it showed in the book. I tried for a photo with no joy but later another party came through and I got a halfway decent shot (I am talking by my standards). When I got home I had a look in my other field guide, HBI, which I have had for some years and guess what, it was depicted in there too. Just shows that you should look at common birds, and field guides, more closely I suppose.

There were plenty of singing Reed Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps too today but not really much else to write home about, though I did see a few newly fledged Little Egrets (‘Egrets.....I’ve had a few’ was going to be the alternative title to this post but I spared you.) and lots of young Grey Herons.

Just to stay in keeping with the blog theme of Wildlife at Walthamstow I will share a picture of a gorgeous Banded Demoiselle, surely the best of Walthamstow's Odanata.


Friday, 28 May 2010


It was fairly quiet over the reservoirs today, possibly to be expected at the end of May. But with yesterday’s crop of Red-footed Falcons, Bee-eaters, White-winged Black Terns, not to mention White-tailed Plover arriving in the U.K. there was a certain lightness in our steps as Lol and I sauntered around the Lockwood. The usual Peregrine was in the usual place but sadly nothing unusual was in any place.

A Sedge Warbler was doing a passable Common Tern impersonation, the Common Terns were doing....well, Common Tern. I spoke to Mark at Stoke Newington, telling him we were up at the Reservoirs and could he please let us know what was flying our way, only to find he was in South London! This was serious, there was nothing for it....we would have to find our own birds!

There was some fluffy young Lesser Black-backed Gull chicks being eyed protectively by their parents on the island on the East Warwick, either that or they were fluffy young Herring Gull chicks being eyed hungrily by the Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Reed Bunting, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Song Thrush sang, Kingfishers called and flashed by, I paid little heed and stoically watched the sky for the inevitable big bird that was going to cruise through.

As I momentarily stopped my near constant sky vigil, Lol found an Osprey. I was pleased and not amused all at once. It should have been mine. However Lol had seen one earlier this Spring and so it was a nice patch grip back for me. It circled the filter beds for a bit but soon gained the attention of some Gulls and Crows and left, exit stage West, where it was picked up over Clapton by another birder shortly after. Lol informed me that I now owed him a Turtle Dove, a quid pro quo thing I was assured, I offered a Red Kite as I was not confident of ever seeing a Turtle Dove on Walthamstow again, well not for a long time anyway.

Forty minutes later I was able to discharge my debt as a Red Kite, with attached Crow, came in from the South and moved steadily off West. Birders are never satisfied and always want one last good bird so we searched (in vain as it turned out) for a Hobby and a Buzzard to try and make it a seven Raptor day at Walthamstow but none of the Sparrowhawks and Kestrels could be transformed and so we left it at that.


Saturday, 22 May 2010

Tell them about the Honey, mummy!

With 9 sightings of Honey Buzzard in the last 4 days in London I thought a vigil at the Southern end of the Lockwood was in order. One had no doubt flown over an hour before I arrived, as one had flew East over Ally Pally.

Did I see one......what do you think?

Jono texted me to say he had had 2 Common Buzzards over Wanstead, apparently a Common Buzzard had also flown over the Waterworks N.R a couple of hours earlier, I was getting hotter and still no Honey Buzzards, then I remembered I didn’t actually need it for the patch, other than for a year tick, but I did still need Marsh Harrier, so decided I would look for one of those instead.

Did I see one.....what do you think?


Saturday, 15 May 2010

3 Oystercatchers

No not the elusive birds but a team ( The London Wildlife Trust All-Stars) racing in TfL's Oystercatcher Bird Race 2010. The competition, organised by Natural England and Transport for London (TfL), has teams travel to different wildlife sites and green spaces within the Capital using only public transport, while spotting as many bird species as possible. Last years winning team scored heavily at Walthamstow, this year teams were permitted to travel further afield as Oystercards are now valid for overground trains. Obviously the lure of Rainham was great but it was nice to see that the team comprising John Archer, David Callahan and Mark Pearson chose to finish up with Walthamstow as their last site. We didn't disappoint them and came up with 8 additional ticks to bring their total to 90 for the day. (Peregrine, Lesser Whitethroat, Shoveler, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Kingfisher, Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail and Sparrowhawk,as you ask.)

Update: They won by four over the nearest rivals, Dave Lindo and the Beddington boys.....Walthamstow rocks. :-) Congratulations lads!

Full winners and losers accounts here:


Friday, 14 May 2010

Up to the highest height!

A lot of sky was watched today, and I am not talking satellite, there were plenty of big puffy clouds and it was a tad warmer than of late so I thought there could be Raptors on the cards, especially given some local sightings in recent days.

A quick check of the island on the East Warwick revealed no Raptors, probably to be expected, and no Waders, probably also to be expected really, but you never know. So up to the Lockwood and scan.... There were a few Little Egrets commuting backwards and forwards to the Heronry islands on the Southern section, scads of Cormorants doing the same. Swifts were down in numbers, perhaps just London breeding birds now.

Then out of nowhere a large, no doubt female, Peregrine glided (glid?) steadily South, I watched it for quite a while as I haven’t seen one on patch for a bit, I know Lol has been seeing one or two recently and yesterday he visited a suspected breeding site. There was evidence of Peregrine activity but no actual breeding; I think some arrangements might be made for the site to be made more attractive for 2011, unless, of course, the Peregrines sort their housing problems out on their own. I watched as the Peregrine circled round up high and then made her way back North till nearly directly overhead then, Hello!...A Red Kite was drifting West much higher up and in a very bright patch of cloud, if I had not been watching the Peregrine I would never have seen it. It was in wing moult with a few inner primaries or outer secondaries missing on both wings, it didn’t do much other than keep on going towards Alexandra Palace.

A welcome patch year tick, now expected annually, I am surprised it has taken me this long to get one. Later a Hobby and a Sparrowhawk were both seen over Walthamstow but I couldn’t get a Buzzard despite wishing one out of the distant Forest, nor did I see a Kestrel, perhaps they were even higher up?

I did try to get a photo through the bins but only managed sky, so you will have to look at this displaying Common Tern instead.


(On this date: 14 05 09 A ‘hepatic’ Cuckoo seen on the Waterworks N.R. this morning. On the Lockwood a summer plumaged Dunlin and a Ringed Plover, making 9 species of Wader on Walthamstow in two days. Also there a roosting m Garganey. Two Arctic Terns North and later 4 Sandwich Terns dropped in to the East Warwick bathed and then moved on. A Hobby over No. 5. On the Waterworks in the afternoon the Cetti’s Warbler singing quite extensively. 75 species on Walthamstow today.)

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

...and another

Decided to pop in to the Lockwood res this evening on a hunch that the recent showers interspersed with sunny periods - and a backdrop of dramatic cloud formations & continued chilly Northerly breeze - might have tempted in another interesting avian visitor, and very glad I did.
Walking along the East bank, which appears to be favoured of late, there were a couple of Common Sands scurrying along at the water's edge, then further up with a few Starlings I noticed a small wader with bright orange-yellow legs which I thought might be another Ringed plover (it was distant at this point and facing away). Soon after heard a strangely familiar wader-like call and picked up on a splendid summer-plumaged TURNSTONE which took off from the bank, flew right past me and (fortunately) landed again a short distance away & continued to feed.
Cant remember the last record here for this species, but I doubt whether they're even seen annually. I let a few locals know, but it was only Paul that got down to join me, sacrificing his dinner in the process (that's dedication for you), and taking the accompanying record shot. This was a patch first for both of us, another welcome addition to the year list and my 110th species - only 8 below last year's tally...keep 'em coming!
Lol Bodini

Monday, 10 May 2010

Another wader pays a visit

Following on from Paul's last post, it was just a tad disappointing to have missed yesterday's Turtle Dove - which would've been a patch first for me and must at best be a once-a-year type species here (if that) - particularly as I had gotten up especially early yesterday morning to do some loft-watching over the res and had spent 2 hours up there, the only notable bird being a low flying Hobby directly over my house.
So a lunchtime text today from Dan Barrett (cheers Dan) about a Ringed Plover on the East bank of the Lockwood would be a welcome consolation prize - if I could get there before it departed.
Took me a couple of hours to get onto the res on my way to the tube station at Tottenham Hale, so only time for a brief visit. Still quite a chill in the air with a NE breeze, but fortunately the bird was still skulking in the SE corner, perfectly camouflaged & almost invisible without a 'scope against the bleached concrete of the exposed bank. No pics on this occasion (must get in the habit of taking the camera as often as poss, to at least get some record shots as PW has been doing).
Ringed Plover is also a very scarce annual visitor to the site, and only my 2nd here if memory serves...& still no LRPs on the Lockwood compared with the half dozen or more we had at this time last year! There's still time mind...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Double flush

This morning’s foray for Wadery goodness was met with drizzle and therefore a modicum of optimism, this soon dissolved however as a walk around the Lockwood revealed that Common Sandpipers were down from three to two, Greenshanks were totally absent and the only other Waders present were the on/off pair of Oystercatchers. Sometimes they are here, sometimes on the East Warwick, occasionally on No.5 but usually nowhere to be seen. Where else do they go? Will they ever breed?

All was not lost however as I inadvertently flushed a Turtle Dove from the grass bank at the North end of the Lockwood. I didn’t see it until it until it flew and when it did it just kept going in the direction of Higham’s Park till lost to view. Lol, who needs it for the patch, had been loft watching until just before this but decided to have some breakfast as I found out when I called to tell him of my good fortune. The only other birds of note were a couple of single flyover Yellow Wagtails.

I spotted Pete at the South end of the Lockwood as I was preparing to leave, we had a quick phone conversation and as he said it looked good for a Turnstone on the East Warwick I decided to give that a go rather than give up. Though if I am honest I don’t think I really expected to find one. One thing is for sure, if I didn’t look I certainly wouldn’t find one.

Needless to say there was no stone being turned when I traipsed round, but I inadvertently (is this becoming a habit?) flushed a group of 9 Yellow Wagtails out of the Reeds on the Western edge of the reservoir, they flew around for a bit and came down further up the bank, unusually most of them disappeared into the flowers and denser vegetated bit around the edge rather than parade around in front of me on the path. When I did get a decent look though, at least 4 of them were Blue-headed (or hybrid). The best picture is of the worst looking of them, probably a washed out female but a couple were quite smart males, though with perhaps a bit more white on the throat than they should have for pure flava. Can’t say I really know how much white is too much. They certainly didn’t have the pale Lavender head colouring of Channel Wagtail, so perhaps they were within acceptable limits of variation for pure Blue-headed.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

It's more than just a Hobby.....

It’s a Greenshank too!

I forced myself out in the less than Spring-like weather this afternoon in the hopes of a Wader or two on the reservoirs, there had been numerous Whimbrels and the like all over London this morning so expectations were slightly higher than the normal setting...low.

A Common Sandpiper on the Fish cage on No.5 was not totally unexpected and neither were another 3 on the Lockwood, the Greenshank further up the East bank was a welcome patch year tick as was the Hobby sitting on the West bank, brought down by a sharp shower. But that was it, no more Waders, expectations were stood back down to low.

A Yellow Wagtail bathing along the edge of the Lockwood was nice, the first seen on the deck this year. Sand Martins and Swifts were giving good views too in the inclement weather, in fact the sky was heaving with Swifts, it made me happy, and I don’t suppose the Hobby was complaining either.


Friday, 7 May 2010

A Murder of Crows

I was hoping for a patch year tick today so set off around the Pitch’n’Putt course, Walthamstow marsh and the Waterworks N.R looking for a Hobby, Turtle Dove, Whinchat, anything really, but it was not to be.

I started to consider what would be the headline bird for the blog title, would it be the Whitethroat singing 200m from my house (only house record is an autumn juvenile over 10 years ago), the small flock of Stock Doves in the same park, again a very difficult bird to get identifiable views from the house, or would it be the even bigger flock of Stock Doves, 56 in fact, feeding on the Horse field behind the riding stables in Lea Bridge Rd. This build up of numbers seems to be a Spring feature here. The photo is one I took a few days ago on the Reservoirs.

But then I had a what I thought was a singing Willow Warbler at the Waterworks which suddenly finished its song by going chiff-chaff, I listened again to make sure it wasn’t two birds but it did it quite a few times, then it started off with chiff-chaff and finished with Willow Warbler song. I have never, knowingly, heard one of these mixed singers before and assumed it must be a Willow Warbler, as the Willow bit was more convincing than the Chiffchaff bit (I never actually saw the bird in the dense Willow copse) but when I got home and listened to recordings on Xeno-Canto it would appear that it was probably a Chiffchaff with a divergent song. You live and you learn.

However a ferocious squawking drew my attention to a couple of Crows being attacked by a group of Magpies, on closer inspection I could see that the Crows had actually got a Magpie pinned down and were stabbing it to death. I had my headline. Bit like London gang warfare really, perhaps the Magpie had strayed into the wrong postcode, still as long as no one innocent suffers let them get on with it I say.


Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Easy as 123

A fairly early start this morning soon revealed that the weather was better and the birds worse. The only thing of note was this lone, displaying Blue-bill, it seems to have a damaged wing, maybe DEFRA can offer an explanation! On the Lockwood, not a single Wader today but an invisible Yellow Wagtail flew over calling, heading East.

I had a couple of interesting looking Terns fly North onto the Banbury, I scoped the reservoir and was able to identify obvious Common Terns at that range but felt I had better hold off from positively claiming the other two as Arctic.

Having met Lol over on the Lockwood we decided to go and have a look on Walthamstow marsh for the 3 Whinchats claimed there yesterday, after we had had a quick look on the East Warwick. It didn’t take long to see there was nothing doing on there so we jumped in the car and headed South, simultaneously our phones went off, it was Pete texting to say he had some Arctic Terns on the Banbury if we were interested. We were.

Three minutes later we were watching 4, possibly 6, Arctic Terns hawking around with a few of their commoner cousins. Very smart they were too. Kudos to Pete for picking them up and confirming them without a scope and for letting us know. Whilst up there he told us of his morning and that he had had a few singing Garden Warblers on Tottenham marsh, my ears pricked up when he said one of them was on the Wild marsh East, this is on the (my) patch, Tottenham marsh isn’t. We scooted over there and after a bit of a search turned one up, we also had a Pheasant call, the most reliable area on the patch for them.

Later in the afternoon I checked Walthamstow marsh for the Whinchats but didn’t find any. A Ring-necked Parakeet flew over the Ice-rink, they are slowly spreading across the Lea from Hackney, perhaps they don’t like crossing water, it seems to have held them back for years. I still enjoy seeing them, but I am sure I will feel differently about them in a few years time when we are beating them off with sticks. I have thrown in a photo of an Egyptian Goose I took the other day for no other reason than it is fairly good, by my standards, and it completes the set of introduced birds on the patch today.

Thinking about it I forgot Little Owl, Greylag Goose, Mute Swan, Canada there anything natural on Walthamstow! Oh yes, the Arctic Terns and Garden Warbler.

It felt like a quiet morning but you can’t really complain about two patch year ticks.

After Pete's Hobbies on Monday, Garden Warbler is patch bird no.123 for the year (and 107 for me).


(On this date: 05 05 06 A Red Kite, in wing moult, flew in from the East and thermalled for a while, seen from the house at about 15:45. My first for the house and the patch, now annual)