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.