Sunday, 30 January 2011

A Flea in the ear (sort of)

The sunshine lured me out for a final January visit to the patch, the water level in the Lea and the overflow channel is definitely on the way down which is good news for seeing more stuff on them. The Lea at the Southern end of the Pitch’n’Putt course held many of the usual suspects, perhaps more Gadwall than usual; they certainly seem to be present in larger numbers than usual. A few Teal and Tufted Ducks were also loafing in the river and a nice white-breasted Cormorant doing its best to look like the Moroccan sub-species.

Talking of sub-species (neat segway eh?) a Chiffchaff was calling from near the Friend’s bridge, it took me a moment or two to realise it did not have the typical disyllabic ‘hoo-et’ call but a rather monosyllabic call. I whipped out the iphone and played ‘collybita’......nada. I googled xeno-canto, played ‘tristis’ and up it popped! Sadly the bird neither looked nor sounded like ‘tristis’ frustratingly whilst I fiddled with the phone looking for ‘abietinus’ the bird moved on, but I suspect that’s what it was. It made me even more piqued not to have laid eyes on the bird I had on the marsh last week.

Another 2 or 3 Chiffchaffs were calling on the Waterworks N.R. also there a snoozing Green Sandpiper on one of the filter beds and a spanking adult Grey Heron collecting sticks, it wants to get a move on as most of its mates are on nests on the reservoirs by now.

Another good sign (!) was a Chironomid Midge flying into my ear, I didn’t necessarily appreciate it at the time as I had just clapped eyes on the Chiff, but I did see quite a few small clusters of them around later. Probably about a billionth of the normal summertime contingent on the marsh, but surely a good thing to keep the wintering Chiffs etc. going for a bit.

One odd thing, surely, is where are all our Snipe? As far as I know no one has seen one on the patch yet this year, given the truly huge numbers we saw in December it is strange that we can’t muster up one. Presumably the cold weather moved them on, perhaps we will have to wait for them to come through in the Spring.

On this day: 30 01 03 Three Mealy Redpolls from the back window didn’t stay long in strong sleety wind.


Wednesday, 26 January 2011

So it's finally come to this!

We have been trying to get a parcel collected from home for the last 10 days, how hard can it be? Well it was my turn to wait in for the van to come; I put the time to good use by intermittently staring out of the window whilst fixing the internet, well actually our internet, not THE internet. This resulted in temporarily curing the problem and seeing two Mute Swans fly past, of course I was hopeful that they would be something better but they didn’t say a word. I have only seen Swans a handful of times from the house, they obviously don’t move around much, well not around here anyway.

No one collected the parcels but the other half arrived which gave me the chance to try the marsh again, I drove over to the bottom of Coppermill Lane and walked to the Horseshoe Thicket, I was just thinking that the water levels looked like they were dropping a bit in the ditches and on the marsh when the water level in the sky rose quite a bit. Nobody forecast that!

I decided that my new strategy, possibly shower induced, was to stand under a tree and wait for the birds to come to me. I am not normally one for standing about so this strategy was soon changed when the shower passed. Best birds around were about 20 Redwings which alternated sitting in the copse with feeding in the exceedingly damp marsh. I walked gingerly on the dryer, I use the term advisedly, bits of the marsh edge in the hopes of flushing a Snipe or such but I got Jack, and I don’t mean Snipe.

There’s nothing for it I thought, I will have to go and look at Gulls on the filter beds. There used to be a good pre-roost gathering here in the afternoons, and no doubt still is, but today the wind got up the light went down and I gave up.
I’m not a Larophile, but certainly not a Larophobe, perhaps just Laro-curious.

I am determined to check the Gull roost out more often this year in the hopes of picking up something decent, I still need Iceland Gull and Kittiwake for the patch and recent Londonbirder chat suggest that early in the New Year is a good time for the latter.

My only London Kiitiwakes were 2 on the Girling and 1 at Staines in October 1987 and 1 at Rainham in September 2008, the first three after the Big Storm and the last up the river. I wonder what it will take to get one on Walthamstow? The Thames does seem to get the Lion’s share but they seem to be able to turn up anywhere and at any time. Pete very kindly sent me a photo of four sitting on the East Warwick from a few years ago, I’m not sure whether to be encouraged or depressed!

So Gulls it is from now on then. Well until some real birds turn up.


Sunday, 23 January 2011

Plugging Away

Having waited over 40 years to get Waxwing on my patch list, and succeeding last year both at the reservoirs and from my house, I would imagine that the chance of getting them on the patch year list is fairly slim, though never say never, the winter is still young. Thus the temptation to drive up to Loughton and see a lingering flock of 90 was strong, a couple of circuits of a housing estate and the mission was accomplished, this then left me time to have another crack at Walthamstow. Sigh!

After Fridays washout I was not really relishing the prospect and was struggling to decide which bit to do. So little to see, so much to cover!

Horseshoe Thicket won out, the lure of clinching the possible Siberian Chiffchaff was the only thing that really appealed. As it was, it turned out to be the right move, but not for that reason. On the way I checked out the Gulls on the filter beds but they were all a little far away, the Eider was still on No.5 along with increasing numbers of Shelduck.

It was not as cold as Friday but it was a good deal greyer, there was a bit more bird activity in the form of the occasional Tit flock but no sound of any Chiffchaffs of any persuasion, let alone Siberian. I worked the small thicket three times but it steadfastly refused to reveal itself.

On the first lap I spotted a large damp patch under some Trees and thought it needed investigation, after all I had flushed a Woodcock from this thicket at the back end of last year (One can live in hope.) Of course there was no Woodcock in there so I turned to walk back to the track only to see, yes you guessed it, a Woodcock flying slowly past, slow enough to get views through the bins. What’s more I saw where it ditched down on the marsh, so switched my cameraphone to video and headed over, I was sure that I would get at least some sort of image. Unfortunately all I got was wet feet from the increasingly boggy marsh, the Woodcock either walked off into some weedy strip or was hunkered down, hey ho! Still not a bird I see much locally so a good one to get on the year list.

What is happening with Woodcock? Up till 2007 I had only seen one (dead) on the patch, this one was the ninth. Are they getting commoner, am I getting my eye in, why was I missing them before?

Buoyed by this success I decided to have another crack at Little Owl. There was a Jackdaw in the Horse paddocks off Lea Bridge Rd, strangely not a common bird on the patch, and a fair few Redwing. No sign of the Owl however, so I thought I would check another angle, still no sign, I decided on the long game as it was near to dusk and rechecked the North side of the Trees, still no sign! I don’t know what made me look back at the Trees after I left but, there was a Little Owl shaped lump where there was no lump before, I looked back again and saw the little lump fly to the next branch where it promptly became invisible. Motto: If at first you don’t see a Little Owl, try, try, try again.

On this date:

23 01 82 Walthamstow; A very good selection of typical and unusual Walthamstow birds, among the first category Little & Great Crested Grebes, Shoveler, Cormorant & Heron and in the second, Goosander, small party of Ruddy Duck and 3 ‘redhead’ Smew, very flighty as on last sighting. Winter and resident Thrushes prominent and Lapwings over.

23 01 10 A Green Sandpiper but just 1 Snipe on the Waterworks N.R. Two Little Owls near the riding stables in separate trees. 5 adult Whooper Swans over South. (Later seen by others at Crossness and Rainham) No sign of the Bittern at Walthamstow but a Water Rail seen and another heard.


Saturday, 22 January 2011

Eider Ho!

As stated in an earlier blog entry, I am not patch listing this year. So there I am finishing a late lunch/early dinner in favour of wasting my time on such a cold, quiet patch (see yesterdays entry) when an email appears from Dave D-L that Pete had just had an Eider on No.5.

Pffhh! I thought, I’m o.k. with that, followed by, why didn’t I do the reservoirs yesterday instead of the marsh, followed by “I’ll have my Coffee in a minute”.....

.....Twenty minutes later I was drinking my Coffee, having scooted down to Coppermill Lane and viewed the female Eider exactly where Pete had left it on, the Western side of No.5. Result. I last saw Eider on the patch just over 13 years ago, so a very welcome reacquainting.

Following the recent series of horrible blurry images I am thankful that Pete gave me one of his images to use:

On this date:

22 01 91 4 Goosander [2 mm ] and 6 Goldeneye [3 mm] on Walthamstow.

22 01 10
No sign, again, of the Bittern at Walthamstow, which duly appeared 20 minutes after my departure.


Friday, 21 January 2011

Site #1 Leyton Fields & Dagenham Brook

At the very bottom of the patch lies Marsh Lane Fields and Seymour Rd Playing Fields. Originally part of Leyton Marshes one can only wonder what it must have been like before the 20th century, marshy meadows full of Corncrakes probably. Nowadays the fields hold loafing Gulls, Common, Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed mostly but once a nice Mediterranean, also a large number, approaching 100, Carrion Crows which some misguided locals feed. I think they keep the rest of the bird population in the vicinity down, the one time Mistle Thrushes built a nest behind my house a Crow disappeared into their Leylandii home and pulled the sitting bird off the nest and promptly killed it. (Not a Crow fan.)

There are a few smaller birds in the hedgerows and especially along the Dagenham Brook. Chiffchaff, Whitethroat, Blackcap, Dunnock, Wren etc. all nest which is amazing to me as my house is less than 200m away and all these species are very scarce.

The Dagenham Brook, which is the Eastern border to the patch has been very good during the last two winters, especially during the snow, no doubt due to the strange smell and oily looking sheen to the water in it never freezes. It has attracted Woodcock, Green Sandpiper and Snipe. Grey Wagtail is often seen and occasionally in the late summer Daubenton’s Bats hunt high above it.

Due to the Olympic Park construction some allotments have been temporarily relocated to the park from Newham, this has led to a small flock of Linnets being seen in the vicinity from time to time, Stock Doves are sometimes found amongst the Feral Rock Doves.

Slim Pickings

Lol was talking a lot about Slim Pickens today, I assumed it was a thespian reference but in retrospect I think he might have been dissing the patch!

To be fair it was quiet......and cold, quiet and cold. We were discussing the blog and he suggested that it would be the usual list of what we didn’t see today, the cheek of it, sure we didn’t see Snipe or Little Owl or Brambling or Yellowhammer or.....hold on he was right!

On a more positive note I managed to add a few patch year ticks, but that should not be too difficult in January. Water levels are very high, both on the marsh and in the Lea overflow channel which is not surprising given the recent snow and rain, conversely bird activity was very low.


It was somewhat muddy on the marsh, and the Cows have churned it up a bit too, still nice to see them doing their bit for conservation.

The most tantalising record this afternoon was a ‘tristis’ sounding Chiffchaff in the Horseshoe Thicket by the marina, sadly despite searching no views were had at all, very frustrating. There was also a typical ‘collybita’ calling nearby which also refused to show. The only other Siberian Chiffchaff I have seen on the marsh (in 2004) was also in the same thicket and did not give itself up easily. I will be back, hopefully so will it.


On this date: 21 01 88 Female Ferruginous Duck and male Ruddy Duck on East Warwick.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Looking, seeing and ticking

It has been quite some time now that I decided that New Year resolutions were a waste of time, for me at least, but this year I have relented and thought it would be a good idea as I build this year’s list to really look at the birds. So, be they common, scarce or mega I have given myself the task of trying to see something new or previously unappreciated (by me) in each species. Or just seeing what it is that makes a bird ‘x’ and not ‘y’.

So with this in mind I set off for a lunchtime walk around the reservoirs, actually the West Warwick to try to find the Scaup, recently found by Pete and then Paul..

As so often happens with Aythya ducks, they’re quite often asleep, seemingly more so than any other genus. Unhelpfully today, the easily identifiable males were the ones on the move and the dowdy females the ones asleep. My target today wasn’t a smart male Scaup but a far more subtle female. On the way around the reservoir, I picked out several female Aythya with lots of white on the face but their head shape and little tuft at the back of the head gave them away as Tufties. I got to the corner where it had been seen and again most of the females were asleep. A quick scan with the bins found me a female with a much more rounded head and no tuft, no matter that her bill was tucked into her body with no white face markings visible, her head shape was the i.d clincher.

There is no doubt that knowing the bird was around made my task easier. Hopefully however, with better observation in the future finding my own one would be less difficult.

My walk back to the car was uneventful, just a female Reed Bunting until I reached the bridge near the toilet block and for the second day running managed to disturb that jewelled sprite the Kingfisher. Beautiful end to my walk, and successfully seeing a Scaup.

Dan B 17 01 2011

Sunday, 16 January 2011


On Friday, en route to Rainham, I got a text from Pete telling me he had seen a Red-breasted Merganser on the High Maynard but it had flown South, this is rapidly becoming a nemesis bird at Walthamstow for me. There was one (the same?) last winter which gave me the run around and then the slip. Later he texted me about a Scaup on the West Warwick but by now I was glowing in post Slaty-backed Gull mode so was fairly chilled, but mentally filed the information for the weekend. Later still Lol texted to say he had seen the ‘Merg’ on No.5 but it had flown West, has this bird no mercy?

Today was my chance...a quick look from Coppermill Lane was sufficient to let me know that the ‘Merg’ was not on No.5, however Egyptian Goose and Barnacle Goose were both patch year ticks. Shelduck are starting to build up with about a dozen on the big island there, also about 60 Gadwall was good.

Afterwards I tried my luck on the West Warwick and bumped into Dan who was looking for the Scaup, unfortunately he didn’t have time to walk the whole reservoir, if he had he would have seen it, in fact them, as there were two. Both immature females, one with more white on the face than the other, no doubt the same that Pete had on 12 12 10 and I on 17 12 10, let me treat you to a dodgy picture.

Also there was a drake Wigeon, but not a whole lot else. Lol got me to try my Water Rail charming trick in a few spots and also on the East Warwick but to no avail. Later we met Valerie who was intent on staking out Kingfisher in the No.3 hide, I hope she got one, we saw one whizz by at the top of No.1.

There were no Mergansers on No.5 but as we walked past No.4 a pink-breasted drake Goosander flew in from the North and landed on No.5. I waited for it to be followed by the ‘Merg’. If it hadn’t been starting to get dark I would probably still be waiting.

As we rounded No.4 there was an impressive display of Catkins on the Willows and many Grey Herons standing on nests, has the Winter finished I wonder?

For the finale of the afternoon I tried the Water Rail trick again, this time by the Northern bridge over the No.1 channel. Though a no show, it did at least return the call, which is more than I can say for a certain Sawbill!


On this date:

16 01 83 Walthamstow 13:00-14:00 Wind NW2 mild, sunny patches; One Short-eared Owl being mobbed by a dozen Black-headed Gulls. One Grey Wagtail on sluice.

16 01 10 No sign, in a fairly thorough search, of the Bittern on Walthamstow reservoirs. Many Fieldfare and Redwing, possibly a few Redpoll but not seen well enough to clinch. A handful of Goldeneye and at least 400 Tufted Duck as well as smaller numbers of Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls on the ice of West Warwick, much of the site still frozen. A Woodcock at dusk, flying from No.2 towards No.1.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

No Joy

Sunday 9th January

Not a great deal to report. Five Redwings SW at 07.55, then 7 more at 08.00, and 3 at 08.15. Water Rail calling from the NE corner of Low Maynard and a female Goosander disturbed from LM too - flew off south. Three Fieldfares in the trees on east side of LM.
Walking round the Lockwood I heard a Skylark move SW calling, but didn't see it.  Threre was a Redshank at the High Maynard and 7 female Goldeneye on Lockwood. On the west bank of the Lockwood were two Egyptian Geese and I heard a Chiffchaff calling from the channel west but didn't see it.
Lots of Tufted Duck at the West Warwick which I checked for anything Lesser Scaup like - no joy. Four more Goldeneye here including 2 males. Redshank at No 5, as well as 6 Ring-necked Parakeets and another pair of Goldeneye. One Green Sandpiper at the east side of No 4.
Wildfowl counts: Shoveler 34, Gadwall 60, Goldeneye 13, Shelduck 1, Teal only 46 - compared to 150 last week.
Pete L

Sunday, 9 January 2011

No pain, no show!

Well predictably the possible Lesser Scaup failed to materialise, despite quite a bunch of birders searching Walthamstow today, (thanks for coming out) on the up side at least nobody found THE bird and said what a fool I was for even thinking it was interesting. You had to give it a go, didn't you?

I won't be claiming it as a Lesser Scaup for the simple reason that I couldn't get the real clinching views necessary for such a subtle bird. I think I will stick to finding big obvious species. White Stork in the spring will do.

Todays coverage also failed to turn up the Smew, though Goldeneye and Goosander numbers were up by a few. The male Pintail has relocated to the High Maynard, nice to get that on my year list, a few other species made it onto the yearlist today too not least a couple of Water Rails, one in the No.1 channel and one at the southern end of No.3. I was pointing out to Dave B where Water Rail often get (I've heard one once there but he's only a visitor to the patch so I thought I'd show off, a quick blast of Water Rail call on the iphone and called back, I could tell he was impressed. I was amazed!)

A handful of Redshank were seen, there could be as many as five on the complex plus probably 5 Green Sandpipers and someone reported Lapwing but no one it seems could find Common Sandpiper, there was at least one after Christmas so should be still around somewhere.


Saturday, 8 January 2011

Lesser Scaup or Little Scamp?

Where to start? I have been in Devon over the last few days and was itching to get the patch list going. Lol and I had arranged to do a thorough work over on the whole patch on Friday, his man flu and constant rain put paid to that.

Plan B was to do the reservoirs this afternoon to try and catch up with amongst other things the somewhat less than annual Pintail etc. First up to the Lockwood to try for any Waders. From the South end I spied a Redshank and decided to drop back down the bank and come up behind it rather than spook it. On walking up the West side of the Low Maynard my eye was taken with a slightly smaller ‘Aythya’ amongst a few Tufted Ducks and Pochards, it swam out from under hanging branches and I became more interested.

Slightly, but noticeably, smaller than nearby Tufted Ducks it was a more gingery brown, in certain lights some feint grey crescents visible on mantle, which together with the head and wings were the darkest parts of the bird. The flanks were paler and it had off white under-tail coverts which were tipped with dark making the stern appear dirty, this was all the more noticeable due to the tail being continually being held up, compared to all the Tufties which held theirs down. Underparts, that is belly and vent, were off white. Two discreet oval patches at the base of the bill did not meet above, these appeared creamy coloured at first but later in strong sunlight at a distance looked whiter. In some views there was a slightly pale ear covert spot but not very noticeable, also there was a slightly paler ‘collar’ around the base of the neck when stretched. The bill was dark grey and looked ever so slightly broader than Tufty and had broader distal flanges and a much more prominent nail, appeared quite hook billed in profile. I struggled to see any black on the bill, perhaps just the nail was black, there was no pale band behind the nail. Legs and feet were dark grey. Head shape was at first a bit shaggy, maybe due to dampness, but later appeared somewhat square, certainly no sign of a tuft. The eye was a mustard colour in direct sunlight but in duller light seemed all dark.

The light was abysmal and although I saw it flap once I was unable to get any detail in the second that the wings were open so decided to come back to it later when the sun was out. I continued round the base of the Lockwood until I was well past the Redshank and then climbed the bank, only to come up to the exact point it had subsequently walked to. As it flew I thought I heard a second bird and later saw another at the North end so maybe as many as three birds, certainly two. A pair and a half of Goldeneye (2 ff 1m) were amongst very few Duck on the reservoir, a redhead Goosander was another.

The overflow channel to the North and East was pretty high, hence no Waders, also hence why I flushed a Green Sandpiper from the edge of the High Maynard. There was the lone R*ddy D*ck still hanging around the island, probably won’t be year ticking these for many more years.

By now the sun was out and I decided to try my luck with the Little Scamp again. I really needed to see the spread wing and despite it preening from time to time it seemed determined to flap at the speed of light, at one stage it stretched a wing but it was the one on the other side to me. I was not amused!

Then it stretched the nearside wing, for a second and, don’t quote me, but I think I saw white secondaries and greyer primaries, both with a dark trailing edge. It was time for a nervous phone call. I had only been looking at the patch list the other day, with an eye on what the next new addition might be, and Lesser Scaup was certainly in the frame, but now it seemed like it could be a real possibility.

If you had to ask me what rarity I would not want to find I think 1st winter female Lesser Scaup would be right up there (perhaps behind Short-toed Treecreeper).

So is it one? Well hopefully tomorrow will tell. If it turns out to be one I told you so, if not the light was too poor at first too bright later, it was distant and didn’t reveal it’s important features. (I think that’s covered all the bases)

As I walked up and down the bank trying to get good views I inadvertently flushed a hiding redhead Smew which flew to the south end of the reservoir before coming back to the north and then hopping over to the High Maynard. One, possibly two Chiffchaffs were by the Ferry Boat Inn near to dusk.


Friday, 7 January 2011

Kicking Off

Sunday 2nd January

Highlight was probably on the East Warwick, where I saw a Redshank (someone else saw two), a male pintail (I guess the one that turned up in December) and two female Goosander. There was also a single female Wigeon on the Lockwood.

Along the No 1 channel I saw two Water Rail, which was a bit of a surprise and on No 5 there were four Shelduck and then 6 Ring-necked Parakeets in the trees by the houses at the south end.

A lot more Goldeneye present, I counted 12 on the Lockwood (just one male and, what I think was a juvenile), then a pair on the West Warwick and a female on No 5, so 15 in all. Counting up the Duck round the waters, I reckoned there were 150 Teal, 84 Gadwall and 45 Shoveler.

Continuing with Wader sightings; there was one Green Sandpiper in the channel NE of Lockwood, but then later two flew around over No 5, calling, so maybe three in total. Flushed one Snipe from the edge of West Warwick, and saw a Lapwing fly N over Low Maynard.

Also saw a Goldcrest in the bushes on the E side of No 1, a Redwing in the trees at Low Maynard, and saw two Skylark fly NW over East Warwick.

Pete L