Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Happy Days

A late morning bike ride around Tottenham Marshes - in continued warm, sunny conditions with a Southerly breeze - paid dividends today, when a female/imm Marsh Harrier soared fairly low over Wild Marsh East/the N end of Lockwood at 11.45, mobbed by first a Gull then a Crow. Always a buzz to see a patch first, especially when it's a raptor...I know what the next bird of prey on the wish list is, but being mildly superstitious, I shall refrain from naming it here for fear of 'jinxing' the possibility (as if my thoughts have such powers!). Anyways, I have no qualms about predicting - with several seen further up the valley and at SNR in the past few days - that Hobby must be due any time now.
Also on the marshes were 7 species of warbler in fine voice - including a Cetti's again in the same spot I heard one recently (in vegetation by the concrete water channel running along the W side of the wooded area N of Pickets Lock) - but no sign of a Willow or Garden warbler.
Another highlight was my 2nd sighting here of a Weasel which bounded across the entrance to the 'Green' bridge - astonishing to think that these tiny little terrors can dispatch a fully grown rabbit!
There were also quite a few butterflies on the wing - had 5 species including orange tips and my first brimstones of the year.
A short spell of evening 'loft-watching' produced 2 Lapwings S and 1 - probably 3 more - Arctic Terns powering high to the N at 18.40. Had a 'very probable' 7 (1+3+3) Arctics yesterday evening too at about this time; it was during the last week of April last year (and 2008 when I had my humble little loft conversion done) that I first noticed these birds in small groups migrating high to the North up the Lee valley...truly a miracle of the natural world when you think of the vast distances these birds cover each year...happy days.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Great White (some) Hope!

In response to a text from Pete (thanks) I nipped up to see an adult summer-plumaged Little Gull on the East Warwick it was a welcome sight even after seeing 60+ just to the North on the KGV yesterday. Also welcome was the sight of many Common Terns and Swifts now all arrived. A white Egret flying North, at about 12:45, was intriguing, seemed big in flight (a birder standing next to me got on it a bit after I did and asked if it might be a Swan, but the side on views that I had just before showed it clearly to be an Egret) and had an easier flight action than the rapid downward strokes of a Little Egret, it also flew a good bit higher than the Little Egrets usually do but sadly there was nothing with which to compare its size. It just flew steadily away up the East side of the complex. Without anything to compare the size I think any hope of claiming it is futile, I made a couple of calls to birders further up the valley but it could just as easily gone over towards the Roding or even just been a Little Egret.

A pair of Oystercatchers are still hanging on in there on the island on East Warwick with about a million Gulls, I wonder how long they will last? The only other thing of note was an adult Great Black-backed Gull on the Fish cage on No.5.

(On this date: 25 04 09 An early walk over to the Pitch and Putt and Hackney Marshes was rewarded when the Purple Heron flew over the Middlesex Filter Beds heading South-east, having been flushed from Walthamstow a few minutes earlier apparently. A few singing Lesser Whitethroats were the only other birds of note.)


Wednesday, 21 April 2010

What's your Flava?

Looked out of the back window at just the right time this morning, to see a Yellow Wagtail bounding North, fairly low, towards Walthamstow Reservoirs. I am glad it wasn't a house, patch or year tick as the views were not the best. Having said that it was only my second from the house, the first was a calling, Southbound autumn migrant at least fifteen, possibly as much as twenty five, years ago. They were possibly still breeding on Walthamstow Marsh back in those days along with Snipe and Skylark, the latter bird I did not even record on the patch in 2009...we now have Little Egrets, Egyptian Geese and Ring-necked Parakeets, plus ca change!

I wonder what subspecies the Yellow Wag was? Given the possible Spanish Wagtail on the KG V yesterday it could have been anything, probably best not to claim anything outlandish on a rapidly dissappearing rear end view:-) Flavissima it is then.

PW (with apologies to Craig David)

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Swifts are back!

Another beautiful day in town - with still not a jet plane in sight (fifth day now!) - a gentle Southerly breeze promising some good migrants...
Going back to yesterday evening, went for a leisurely stroll around the Lockwood res from 17.30-19.00. Caught up with firstly a lone female, then 2 male Wheatears (first spotted earlier from my loft), one of which was a more robust, brightly marked bird which I believe was of the Greenland race 'leucorhoa'. With them appeared my first Yellow Wagtail of the year - a lovely bright male which then continued it's journey North. There were also a pair of Grey Wagtails (dare I say nest site prospecting), a few Pied Wags, a lone Common Sandpiper and a smattering of Sand Martins & Swallows. At around 6pm there was a text from Mark 'Buteo' Pearson, who had just seen yet another Red Kite going East over Springfield park towards the Southern sector of the reservoirs (already his 6th for Stokey this year...how he does it I really don't know ...could it be something to do with the deodorant he's using?!). Alas I couldn't get on it at that kind of distance with only binoculars to hand - hopefully there'll be another chance to catch up with one of these majestic, and increasingly regular birds of prey soon.
As I made my way home, spotted a pair of Peregrines circling high over Tottenham Marshes - always a thrill to see these awesome falcons.

Back to today (19th), decided to dust off the push bike and make my way down to the S sector of the res through Tottenham marshes. Although I've tacitly agreed to Paul's new patch boundaries (for the purposes of the patch list competition at least), Tottenham marshes is a great bit of habitat close to my home (and my heart), and for that reason remains part of my personal patch (in the same way that Paul W's new boundary stretches conveniently up to his home in Leyton ;o)!
Heard a Cetti's Warbler briefly for the first time on this side of the river Lea (in the wooded area NW of Picket's Lock) and there were at least a dozen singing Blackcaps and 6 singing Whitethroats.
By the allotments came across my first Swifts of the year (probably my earliest ever) - a small group of 6-8 birds (including 2 'screamers') heading NE over Lockwood with a few Sand Martins. Once at Ferry Lane, entered for the first time the Community Open Space (?) - an area of low trees & scrub opposite the Ferry Boat Inn which I always thought had a lot of potential for passage migrants, but didn't know we could access until today, so let's see if anything interesting turns up in the coming weeks.
The S reservoirs were dissappointingly quiet (granted that the middle of the day probably isn't the best time to see stuff), the only things of note were my first Reed Warbler of the year singing rather timidly from the reeds on the West Warwick; also single Willow & Sedge Warblers and a pair of Sparrowhawks.
No sign of a hoped for Ring Ouzel following reports from a large number of London sites today. Also missed another potential patch first - a Tree Pipit found on the Lockwood this evening...there had been a minor distraction in the form of a Hoopoe discovered a few miles up the road by KGV res...
Lol Bodini

Sunday, 18 April 2010


Met Pete over at Walthamstow this lunchtime, apparently I had missed the first patch Common Tern which flew over the Lockwood earlier that morning, I think I may catch that one up before long. The Tern rafts are all refurbished and in place so bring them on....

We had a walk around numbers 1, 2 and 3 Reservoirs and counted the Little Egrets that could be on nests, possibly 10 pairs! Given the productivity here last year we could be knee deep in the creatures by late summer. 50+ birds! We will see.

Whilst checking this out we both cried 'Redstart' at the same time, as one suddenly appeared in front of us, tail-a-quivering. We obviously thought that a flycatching, Tree-hugging Redstart would be Common, but I got a better view than Pete and realised it was a Black Redstart, probably an immature male. Sadly it moved steadily through the Trees and disappeared, despite searching we could not refind it. You wait twenty one years for another Black redstart and they all come together.(Pete went back later and refound it at 18:00. It is between Nos. 2 & 3 on the West side if you are interested.)

A Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler, both singing at the North end of the East Warwick were obviously new in. A couple of Kingfishers were hanging, suspiciously, around the island on No.1 (we know what you're up to.) Pete decided to have his lunch and I decided to find a patch year tick Red Kite, sadly Pete won that contest but we did both have a flyover Yellow Wagtail which got me to a hundred for the year, on patch.

Mark Pearson also won as he had, what should have been my Kite, fly over the Reservoirs at 18:07, maybe I will catch that one up soon too! He also had a pair of Goldeneye going South-east, which would have been a nice addition to the house list if I had been looking and not cooking my dinner. All in all not a bad day, but slightly sad as I only got about 116 species for Walthamstow all last year and now I am on 100 already....it's nearly all over :-(

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Cryptic Species

Had an early morning stroll in the park at the end of the lane and was interested to find: Song Thrush, nest-building Chiffchaffs, Dunnock, Wren and singing Blackcap, all territorial, probably all breeding and all within 200m of my house.

Not the most exciting blog entry I hear you yawn, but considering that I have seen each of those species probably less than 10 times actually from my house, I find that quite an interesting and strange fact. Cryptic for sure.

Had about 20 Teal, on the Lea just to the South of the Pitch and Putt course, all paired up and no doubt raring to go. Plenty of singing Warblers and Finches enjoying the early morning sunshine, as indeed was I.

Noticeable by their absence were all the trains that are normally parked up in the sidings at Temple Mills, I expect they are all doing extra trips to ferry the, currently earth-bound, traveller. As I looked over the sidings in the Temple Mills area it got me thinking what it would have been like to have stumbled across the Cream-coloured Courser that was shot just a few hundred meters South of the patch boundary on Temple Mills marsh on 19th October 1858, it’s the sort of thing that keeps the local patchworker going.

As for yesterdays preposterous thought that there are two singing Cetti’s on the Waterworks, perhaps it is not so unlikely, as somebody had two later in the afternoon.

(On this date: 17 04 82 Walthamstow; m Scaup on High Maynard with Gadwall and more usual Shoveler, Pochard & Tufted Duck. Fieldfares, Lapwing and Snipe still present but more summer arrivals including, Willow Warbler, Sand Martin, Yellow Wagtail & Tree Pipits.) Hmm, I do wonder about those Pipits!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Spring has sprung, the Grass has riz, I wonder where the birdies is?

The fairly brisk North-easterly, that has been a feature of the last few days, seems to be slowing down the arrivals of migrants a bit, however that didn't stop Lol from picking up the first patch Lesser Whitethroat on the Waterworks this morning. It gave us the run around for a while before giving itself up to scrutiny. The Cetti's is still singing away and moving around too, either that or there are two of them (unlikely). Song Thrushes have been steadily re-colonising the marsh in the last couple of years, after being absent for an age, and quite a few singers were obvious. Many Blackcaps also singing but not a single Willow Warbler heard, strange!

We arrived at Tower 4' 2" (the little mound backing on to the Walthamstow Filter Beds) and speculated on the possibility of a Marsh Harrier, a patch tick for the both of us, but all that we could muster was a Buzzard. It almost seems to be a regular feature nowadays. Are they all migrants or are they relatively local birds wandering?

Four Linnets were the best the Horse Field could offer, but a singing Whitethroat just behind it was also a patch year first. With nothing much doing around the bottom of the patch we thought we would try the Lockwood. On arrival we found another birder had just walked around and our interrogation revealed that all we would get was colder so a judicious bit of static scanning was done before calling a retreat. Best birds were a pair of Grey Wagtails and a distant perched Peregrine.

The strangest non-sight of the morning was surely the lack of jet trails and commercial planes, though we did have a handful of light aircraft and a couple of helicopters, are they immune to dust? My car is not. I am sure there is a light film of Icelandic ash covering it, I can tell because it has just had its annual clean, it was a bit more difficult to tell with Lol's car but I am sure one of the layers of dust was of volcanic origin.

54 species this morning, but we probably could have squeezed out a few more if we had done the Southern Reservoirs as well. Tomorrow is another day but I suspect the weather will not be.


Thursday, 8 April 2010

Urban Hoodie!

Just as I was writing up my notes etc. from a decent days birding a Hooded Crow lands outside my window! For me a 1st for the House, Patch and London.. Details as below:

A pair of Carrion Crows are building a nest in a Leylandii behind my house and I am seeing them go backwards and forwards with twigs etc. At about 15:40 I noticed a Crow had just landed on the top, c12m high, of the nearest of three Conifers, slightly facing away (67.29m away according to Google Earth). It was a bright sunny afternoon and as I glanced at the bird I thought ‘that Crow looks just like a Hooded Crow the sun is making it’s back appear silvery’ It then flapped to gain balance and I realised that it’s back really did look silvery, I raised my bins and saw that the mantle was a soft grey and that this was not a lighting effect (the sun was obliquely to the left and behind me and the bird, so the birds colouration was not being adversely affected by the light) I started to think this was a Hooded Crow and just as I thought ‘I need to check its underparts’ it flapped again to retain balance, thus revealing the same pale grey underparts. It then flew off to the East. I checked the local park at the end of the lane, which has a large Carrion Crow (c.80) population but there was no sign.
The bird was, to all intense and purpose, Carrion Crow size and shape but with a pale grey mantle, lower nape, rump and uppertail coverts with similar coloured underparts, from lower breast to undertail coverts including leading edge of inner wing. Black wings, tail and head, the latter going down onto the throat and upper breast and ending fairly neatly not ‘bleeding’ onto the lower breast like some hybrids I have seen but also not as sharply delineated as House Crow.

I have attached a terrible drawing to show you indicatively the pattern of Grey and Black.
I hope it reappears somewhere........

Blue sky thinking

Met up with Lol early(ish) this morning to give the Southern end of the patch a good workover. Wandered around the back of the Ice Skating Rink, then off patch through the Middlesex F. B. but nothing much was doing, past the Pitch'n'Putt Course and more of the same, though it was warming up and the odd Butterfly appeared (Comma). Onto the Waterworks and a few bits started to show, a half dozen Sand Martins prospecting the unused concrete coloumn, perhaps someone should tell them its for their use! An unseen Cetti's was very vocal, a Green Sandpiper fed in one of the better beds. Back across Lea Bridge Rd. and onto the marsh proper Blackcaps made themselves noticed with probably double figures throughout the morning, possibly the same with Chiffchaff and just a few less Willow Warblers. The Little Owls refused to give themselves up and the Horse paddock, unusually, had no Wagtails of any flavour, let alone flava.

I had often thought about a big-sit type skywatch on a raised bank backing onto the Eastern edge of the Walthamstow F.B. about 600m North of the riding stables and today, with it's gorgeous clear blue sky felt like a 'big bird' day, so we sat and watched. We had just had the first Sparrowhawk and Kestrel of the morning so Raptors were obviously awakening and as I followed a large Gull across the sky a Buzzard suddenly appeared in my bins, you will understand it was quite high if I say that my directions to Lol were 'just up and Right of the Moon'. It was very difficult to get in the scope due to the beatiful, but featureless, blue sky. As we watched it circle getting higher another came in from the East, behind us but soon dissappeared. Lol repaid me by finding a slightly lower House Martin, my first for the year.

We looped back down the Eastern side of a fairly empty marsh finding 3 female Wheatears and a Mistle Thrush had dropped into the Horse Paddock whilst we were away. The Owls still did not want to come out to play though, and on such a lovely day, shame.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Backtracking a little...

Dusky Warbler at Walthamstow reservoirs, Feb 2010 (Photo by Pricille Preston)

Hello all,
My fist entry - long overdue - on here, and I'd like to thank firstly Mark Pearson (of Stoke Newington reservoirs/London Wildlife Trust fame) for setting up this blog over a year ago, and secondly Paul Whiteman for breathing life back into it recently. I agree that the task of keeping this going will be a lot more fun and less arduous if many of us Walthamstow regulars contribute, rather than leaving it to one individual to do so. So I would encourage readers/contributors to spread the word, thus making this a fun (and informative) forum for local birders.
Now please allow me a little self indulgence...On 14th February this year, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon what is likely to be one of the 'birds of the decade' in the form of a Dusky Warbler - a patch and county first (if accepted).
Below is the account I was invited to write for the current (April) edition of Birdwatch magazine.
Good birding all,
Lol Bodini

Dusky Warbler at Walthamstow reservoirs NE London

On the 14th February 2010 - a bright but cold morning - I’d decided to go for a mid-morning stroll around my local ‘patch’, the Lockwood reservoir (part of the Walthamstow reservoir complex in NE London) and proceeded on my usual route along the public footpath which runs parallel to the reservoir on it’s Eastern side. There were a number of small birds feeding in the bramble covered grassy slope leading up to some allotments (adjacent to my back garden); the usual tits, Dunnocks, Robins & my first singing Goldcrests of the year. My attention though, was drawn to an unfamiliar call; a soft, often repeated ‘tchuck’ or ‘tchup’ reminiscent to my ears of a Blackcap only quieter (though I’m well aware that trying to describe & spell-out bird calls is very subjective). I soon located the bird responsible which was clearly a Phylloscopus warbler superficially resembling a Chiffchaff in size & appearance. My notes from the day state: ‘medium brown upperparts with a slight olive tinge, no apparent wing markings, underparts paler with a buffish wash & no obvious white patches to the belly or undertail coverts; a long pale supercilium which appeared paler in front of the eye than behind; pale brownish-yellow legs with strikingly yellow feet; bill thin & pointed’.
Plumage apart, the warbler’s ‘jizz’ just didn’t feel quite right for a Chiffchaff; it was darting restlessly from one patch of undergrowth to another – something I don’t associate with local Chiffies which in my experience have a more leisurely feeding behavior, picking their way systematically through the leaves, hovering regularly and so on. I watched the bird on and off for around 15 minutes as it made it’s way along the perimeter fence, before losing it somewhere in the allotments which are not accessible to the public. At this point I had a strong suspicion that I was onto something pretty unusual and narrowed it down in my mind to a ‘probable’ Dusky Warbler – no other Phyllosc warblers matched what I’d seen so what else could it have been? Problem was that I’d never seen or heard one before so decided to call another local patch watcher Paul Whiteman, whom I knew had seen Duskies before & described what I’d seen & heard to him. His reply was encouraging: ‘sounds good for a Dusky’…
Paul drove straight over to meet me on the reservoir where we had a look at a gorgeous Slavonian (fresh in the previous day) & Black-necked Grebe, before having another look for the warbler in the same area I’d been watching it, but with no joy. Unfortunately I’d run out of time for the day and had to get home to go out, but was anxious to put out the news of what I’d seen on the London Birders’ Yahoo group as a ‘strange Phyllosc warbler’ in the area; so as to give others a chance to have a look for it that afternoon. On returning home that evening, I was able to do some more research with photos & sound recordings of both Dusky & Radde’s warblers (the other most likely candidate). As soon as I heard recordings of Dusky’s call I knew that this was what I’d heard (and seen) earlier, and I was able to put out the news with absolute certainty (almost!).
I was working the following morning but fortunately the bird was refound in the same area around 12.30pm by birder/photographer Roy Woodward, (who also deserves credit for getting the first decent pics of the bird) and to my delight, my initial ID suspicions were confirmed. I got there soon after and the bird performed well for a small but rapidly growing gathering of birders and stayed in the area for a further eight days allowing many to catch up with it (and making a significant contribution to the Thames Water day permit coffers!). If accepted, this will be a first for the London area, and therefore would have to be described as the patch-watching equivalent of winning the lottery. For me personally this was a World, UK, county & patch first…all I need now is for it to reappear in the garden, then I’ll have the full house!

No Goshawk but....

Didn't really go out looking for Goshawk today, just using this as a reference back to the 'no Black Red' post of two weeks ago. Had a walk up the East side of the High Maynard and finally saw the female Black Redstart on the fence alongside the overflow channel. At first I could just see the back of a head which promptly dropped down out of sight and then a Robin reappeared in the same spot, however this was joined by the Black Red and my confusion was dispelled. Amazingly my first patch Black Redstart for exactly 21 years. (2 at the South end of the East Warwick 07 04 1989)

I have started taking my wife's camera out with me just in case I actually find anything noteworthy, so I thought I would try for a shot.....note to self make sure the battery is charged!

Had a few sightings of Little Egret flying up and down the overflow channel, Shelduck numbers are back up, at least a dozen birds on the North side of the Reservoirs, possibly twice as many, as they were very mobile it was difficult to be sure. A pair of displaying Oystercatchers on the Lockwood were new for me for the year. Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were very vocal and there was a steady trickle of Sand Martins moving North, possibly close to 80 birds over a 45 minute period. 3 male Wheatears suddenly appeared from nowhere along the West bank of the Lockwood together with a Meadow Pipit, a group of 4 of the latter flew over and then a further single.

Teal still around in reasonable numbers, perhaps over 30 birds, with the largest group in the overflow channel North of the Lockwood, also there 3 Green Sandpipers together.


Sunday, 4 April 2010

The one that didn't get away

Yesterday we got a text from Mark Pearson about an Osprey flying North over Stoke Newington Res. It would almost certainly have been visible if someone had have been on Walthamstow Reservoirs but sadly it seemed we were all elsewhere. Lol was looking at the Ring Ouzel at Sewardstone as the Osprey headed toward Holyfield Marsh further up the Lea Valley. I should have been there but was delayed and so I missed it too.
Today however we had a second chance and Pete found an Osprey heading North over the High Maynard at about 16:55. Lol managed to get it from his house after a call. (As an aside I had probably the same bird heading South-west at 15:00, as I drove along the M25 toward the Chafford Hundred Alpine Swift, it came from Thorndon Park and flew toward Tyler's Common, if it continued it would have gone over Wanstead and then hit the valley around Leyton Marsh, just behind my house. I was looking when I got home but it got past me!) Well done Pete and Lol, anyone else get it?

Friday, 2 April 2010

Ton up

A timely text from Pete, requesting a Telescope to confirm half a dozen suspected Common Scoter on the Banbury, soon had me, after some quick negotiations, up on the bank and scoping the aforementioned sextet. Pete was of course correct in his suspicions three fine adult males and three females. Also hanging out with them was a Brent Goose. Both species I have not seen on the patch for many a year. 5 Swallows a Sand Martin and a Green Sandpiper over completed this flying visit. As far as I know the Scoter were the 100th species for the patch this year but I believe there may be some other undisclosed records so watch this space. PW