Monday, 30 May 2011

Damp Squib (or Parade not Rained on)

Not to be confused with a damp squid, which is generally their preferred state. Is it possible for a drought to make something damp? In this case, I think yes. The lack of rain in these parts has doused all expectations of migrant excitement in this most exciting of migrant months; May. Our parade of vagrants has been well and truly rained on or, in this case, not. I think I am glad it’s nearly over. It means we can get started on June, which of course is expected to be poor and therefore by the rule of Murphy will spill forth all sorts of Birdy goodness.

I went out this morning for my last hurrah of the Spring, as it turned out it wasn’t so bad. First up was a flock of 6 Jackdaws flying East over the North end of the Lockwood. I stared at the Southern edge of Epping Forest (Chingford) willing a Buzzard out of the woods, as I usually do at the top end of the Lockwood, only for some strange reason this time it worked!

When looking for Raptors it is often good to let the other Birds find them for you, a couple of Crows and a Lesser Black-backed Gull did the honours for me and drew attention to, what I assume was a Southbound migrant. It took an age to get overhead in the brisk Southerly wind and finally move off towards Leyton.

There were plenty of young birds about this morning, some of them about to be fed to other young birds it would seem. A Sparrowhawk with prey headed toward Tottenham Marsh, followed later by a Kestrel also with prey. I saw what I initially took to be a Peregrine seemingly about to stoop on a Lesser Black-backed Gull but as the attacker drew close I realised that the protagonist was a Kestrel, it puzzled me for a moment before I realised it was not hunting but seeing off a nest raid. At the South end of the Lockwood another party of 3 Jackdaws flew East.

On the Southern Reservoirs a family party of Shelducks looked really cute. Really cute and apparently tasty as a few minutes later I saw a Peregrine circling above with what to all intents and purposes looked like a baby Shelduck, it attracted the attentions of an irate territorial Common Tern but eventually soared high enough to lose it. I was quite interested to see what direction it headed off in as we don’t really know which Peregrines hunt over Walthamstow. It chose South-west towards the City. All of a sudden it lost its grip and dropped the poor unfortunate creature and I thought I was going to see a spectacular stoop as it retrieved its lunch, unfortunately a Lesser Black-backed Gull beat it to it and the Peregrine drifted off South. It’s the second hunting failure I have witnessed in the last couple of weeks so perhaps this is not so much a breeding Bird but a non-breeding immature. It seems to be able to catch food, let’s hope it gets a bit better at holding onto it.

I checked the Shelducks and counted 9 young, shame I didn’t count them before the incident to see whether it really was one of their Ducklings (Shel-Ducklings?) that was nabbed. The whole family were keeping quite close together on No.3, the adults shadowing the young as they swam up and down at the North end, feeding. What I found intriguing was that the young were constantly diving! To my knowledge this is never used as a feeding technique by adults, when do they stop doing this and start grazing/dabbling like their parents?

The island on No.2 held at least 20 Little Egrets and, continuing the White theme a family of Mute Swans walked the edge of No.4 looking for a way up onto the bank.


On this date: 30 05 83 Walthamstow 16:15-18:45 Sunny intervals, warm; A female Pochard with Ducklings also 3 pairs of Common Tern on eggs on small island of gravel. Also with chicks, Canada & Greylag Geese, Coot and Reed Bunting. Many Reed and Sedge Warblers, 2 Cuckoos on West Warwick and Walthamstow Marsh. A drake Wood Duck on the reservoirs.

p.s. As I write this it is pouring down and I know Waders are dropping into the Reservoirs!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Heroes Wanted

You will know doubt remember (!) that last year’s 129th species for the Walthamstow Patch Year List was.....Cuckoo. And this year’s 129th species is.....Cuckoo. Perhaps not an earth-shattering coincidence as most of the year list is fairly predictable and arrives with fairly predictable timing but worthy of mention nonetheless.

Number 130 last year was Redshank, of which we have seen a hatful already this year, and we had to wait about a month for it (21 06 2010). What is worrying is that this year we have seen quite a few of the birds that had yet to turn up in 2010. It makes me wonder; what will the second half of the year bring?

Seen already by now in 2010, but not thus far in 2011: Yellowhammer, Whooper Swan, Brent Goose, Bittern, Slavonian Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Dusky Warbler, Black Redstart, Brambling, Hooded Crow, Tree Pipit, Little Gull, Sandwich Tern, Turtle Dove, (Blue-headed Wagtail).

Seen during the second half of the year in 2010, but not yet in 2011: Redstart, Merlin, Spotted Flycatcher, Ring Ouzel, Firecrest, Water Pipit, Golden Plover, Shag, White-fronted Goose.

So if you feel like making a name for yourself you could do worse than going out in the Summer doldrums and finding one of the above, or better still something new.


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Target Practice

After quite a decent night’s sleep the day dawned bright and tempted me into one of those rare early morning sorties that I should do more often, though we all know nothing good is ever seen early at Walthamstow.

Being a Birder, and not a Birdwatcher, I had a few targets in mind; Marsh Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Spotted Flycatcher, Crossbill, Quail, Corncrake and Golden Oriole. Why so? I hear you say, well Birding without targets is a bit like a game of Football without the goalposts, you might not score but it makes the 90 minutes much more exciting if you’ve got something to aim for.

Why those particular targets? Well, it’s all down to the date, the habitat, what’s turning up around the country and what I still need for the patch or year. None of them were totally outlandish prospects, though admittedly most of them were fairly long shots, and, as it turned out all of them were somewhat off target.

On Marsh Lane Fields the two Bunnies of a few weeks ago had mysteriously become 15, wow those things really do breed like Rabbits. The Lesser Whitethroat was still singing, likewise a couple of Chiffchaffs, in fact Warblers were very much in evidence across the Southern part of the patch today.

I’ve always wondered why the Golf Course doesn’t seem to attract flocks of Geese, well today a couple of Canada’s discovered it, that should please the Golfers. I tried, again, for the invisible Mandarin in the Lea by the outflow of the overflow channel, nada. I hoped for the Grasshopper Warbler to still be singing and contemplated getting closer by walking through the Giant Hogweed patch but something prompted me to give it a miss, probably my Left hand which I still can’t close into a fist. A Reed Warbler was going for Gold in the very small clump of Reeds there, I don’t remember hearing one here before.

After this I had to run the gamut of Dogs and their walkers, the latter deciding how much fun it would be to let their mutts run right up to me! I don’t make my Birds fly up to them, come to think of it I don’t even get them flying up to me.

Expediency forced me to cut across the Friends Bridge and through the Middlesex N.R., I obviously kept my eyes down and hummed, lest I should spy anything in Hackney, which would never do! Breathing a sigh of relief I crossed the Lea Bridge Road (the under pass by the Princess of Wales is being Olympified and will re-open soon in all its glory) and re-entered the patch. Sand Martins are still hanging around the holes in the banks of the Lea just behind the Skating Rink, presumably breeding by now, and there were lots of Swifts over the Lea too, I guess there is good nesting to be had in the large houses of Clapton.

The footpath along the side of the Lea running up to the Marina has also been upgraded, a nice job too, very smooth and sandy compared to the rutted dirt track of yesteryear, let’s hope it wears and weathers well. The dust certainly doesn’t get kicked up by passing cars as it used to on the old track. It even got the Heron seal of approval.

My nose does not work very well (how do I smell? Ask my wife!) but, as I walked back down the East side of the marsh my olfactory senses were whacked by the heady scent of Honeysuckle. Thanks to pioneering technology you can experience this for yourself [just scratch the picture below and sniff] this may work best if you do it actually on the marsh.

Young Birds were a feature of the morning, Greenfinches and especially Starlings, which seem earlier than normal, also quite a few young Robins, some already losing their spots and getting an Orange flush to their breasts. On the back paddock a young Linnet was confirmation of breeding. Almost as surreptious as their disappearance is the re-appearance of the House Sparrow which can be seen at any number of places around the patch nowadays, can’t see Tree Sparrows doing the same as the nearest ones to here must be at least 10-15 miles away.

Around this point I started walking a little faster as I remembered, another essential target for the morning but then realised that the Waterworks cafe would not be open for another hour, so slowed down again.

The Little Owl Trees are nearly totally leafed up now, though there is just one narrow gap that they could be seen in but not today. A party of young Foxes in the undergrowth near the stables were amusing and as a bonus they didn’t run up to me. (It's a little like finding Waldo, but there is a Fox in there)

At the Waterworks N.R. a Little Egret flew over. On the little floating island on the first flooded bed a drake Pochard was preening and revealed that it was rung, I got my scope out to try and read it, though it’s doubtful what I would have got at that range, but at that point it slipped into the water. Interestingly further down the Lea at East India Dock N.R. they have just had two ‘nose saddled’ Pochard which, I believe, turned out to be Portuguese in origin.

Just when it seemed like none of my targets were going to be hit I arrived at the Waterworks cafe and lo!


Sunday, 22 May 2011

It Ain't Over Till It's Over

Apparently May is the new June; everyone is saying it and everyone can’t be wrong, surely. Notwithstanding I decided a visit to the reservoirs was in order just in case a Wader had dropped in after last night’s rain.

I met up with Pete at the bottom of No.5 and he filled me in with what he had seen thus far...not so much, though he had been watching the Kingfishers coming and going at the nest hole on the island of No.5. There were lots of Cormorants around, many young have recently fledged. Herons too were in good numbers.

We found a Swan Goose on the South side of the reservoir, the Red-breasted Goose in a paddock to the East of the Reservoir and the Barnacle Goose was sat on No.4. Later a Water Bailiff told us there had been a Bar-headed Goose knocking around too, sounds like the place is not far off from becoming a wildfowl collection.

On the island of No.2 young Little Egrets were plentiful, Pete counted them but I forget how many he made it (something like 6 nests with about 18-20 young) there are probably a few other nest that are not visible and maybe some non-breeding adults too, so a local population currently of around 50. If the weather holds they will almost certainly go for a second brood.

We received news of 2 Little Ringed Plovers and 2 Yellow Wagtails on the Lockwood, which is where we were heading. Swift numbers have built up over the last few days; though still strike me as on the low side, unusually a Sparrowhawk, masquerading as a Hobby, was hunting through a large group over the High Maynard.

We walked up the side of the Lockwood and as Pete checked out some potentially nesting Egyptian Geese I thought my pager was going off, he thought it was something calling from the island on the High Maynard, what it actually was, was a nervous Little Ringed Plover that we had inadvertently stood next to. If it had not called we would have walked straight past.

Further up the bank a smart summer-plumaged Dunlin was working the edge, reluctant to fly, no doubt due to the strong wind.

The only other sighting of any consequence was the weird leucistic Starling, which is now nesting next to the Lockwood; it will be interesting to see what the young come out like.

As ever Pete was a mine of information and as a result we can add a couple of species to the patch year list, an ancient Oystercatcher seen back in the Winter and a Cuckoo which he saw very briefly last week. If only Walthamstow was watched more comprehensively, there must be so many things which slip through unnoticed. Perhaps we shouldn’t write May off just yet.....


Saturday, 21 May 2011

Tern Again

Just received this picture of one of the Black Terns from the 4th May, thanks to John Murray.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Sunday, 15 May 2011

That's What Friends Are For

I received a text this morning that Pete L had found a Grasshopper Warbler on the Wild Marsh East, during the survey of Tottenham Marsh by The Friends of Tottenham Marshes. WME is of course well and truly part of the patch (plus it’s in E17 and not Tottenham, being the scrubby bit between the Lockwood and Banbury) but we are not ones to quibble here, after all a patch is a personal thing and you can count what you want. I do!

Lol and I had already planned to do the Banbury and maybe the Lockwood but we were easily persuaded to give the Gropper a bash, metaphorically speaking. We bumped into George on the marsh and he was able to narrow down the search area. Apparently the bird had not been singing much since it was found and hadn’t shown at all. A judicious bit of playback soon saw it fly out of cover and drop in near to us, it didn’t sing at all nor did it show again. We decided not to harass the bird so moved on to the Banbury, though Lol said he might pop over there later this evening.

As far as anyone knows this year seems to be fairly unprecedented for local Grasshopper Warblers, with possibly 4 on (or just off but audible from) the patch, though there could be some duplication I suppose, I hope it is a sign of things to come and hope too that some of them managed to attract a mate.

There were no Waders at all on the Banbury, which is currently quite low, but expectations in that area are not always fulfilled. The large group of Terns that were present on Friday had grown and were now numbering at least 60, there were some very Arcticy looking individuals amongst them but they were mostly staying over the far side. Often they bunched up as a tight group and we suspected a Raptor of being the cause, it wasn’t long before Lol spotted a Peregrine which had a prolonged hunting sortie over the reservoir, eventually it caught a large immature Gull but we both missed the catch. All the other Gulls, Terns and Crows didn’t miss it though and gave the Peregrine such a hard time that it dropped the unfortunate creature and after another 10 minutes gave up all together.

As a result some of the Terns moved a bit closer and we were able to confirm 2-3 as Arctic, though there could have been a few more.

On this date: 15 05 94 On Walthamstow Marsh a singing male (Western) Sub-alpine Warbler seen a few times as it clambered around in Hawthorns near the level crossing.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Not Again

History repeated itself yesterday, whilst on the way home, when Lol texted me about a Ringed Plover on the Banbury. It probably has to do with the time that Lol gets out on the patch that coincides with me heading home from a hard day at the office, anyhoo, shortly thereafter, I dropped in to the Banbury en route to meeting a friend for drinks. History repeated itself again when there was no sign of it, just like last years Ringed Plover on the Lockwood. (note to Lol: nail the next one down! Note to me: get there quicker or find your own!)

All was not lost as it was a very pleasant evening to be spending a half hour scanning the Banbury after being cooped up all day and, amongst the 30+ Terns zipping about at least one was an Arctic.

Today I felt like trying my luck with the Golf Course Mandarin again, typically the feeling was less than mutual. On my way I walked around the Lammas Fields and was pleasantly surprised to hear a singing Lesser Whitethroat and moments later, even better, a singing Garden Warbler. 370m from my house...I wonder....if the wind went round to the South-west would they be audible? Garden Warbler would be a new bird for the house list but I suspect this one will not be the bird that gets it on the list. If I wake up at dawn, which seems to be happening more often lately, I may well pop my head out of the window, you never know.

There was nothing exceptional on the Waterworks later in the afternoon but this Little Grebe was quite confiding.


Saturday, 7 May 2011

Burn Baby Burn!

I had a crack at the Hackney Grasshopper Warbler yesterday; it involved walking through the vegetation by the outflow of the Lea overflow channel by the Southern end of the Golf course. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Do not do this!

There is an invasive introduced plant that grows quite commonly by the Lea; Giant Hogweed. It has a phytophotodermatatic poison. That is, the sap when exposed to sunlight burns like hell. And no, I didn’t see the Grasshopper Warbler, or the on/off Mandarin which frequents the same area on occasion but I did get sapped.

On the Lockwood later in the afternoon I got a good dose of sunlight on the sapped areas.....ouch! Birdwise there was a large female Peregrine scaring the living daylights out of the 40ish Common Terns, 3 Common Sandpipers and a Wheatear. A very uncomfortable night followed.

Today we had rain, Spring + Rain=Waders right? Well after a fashion. I walked the length of the Lockwood and met Lol at the North end, we had the 3 Common Sandpipers and on the way back down a Redshank appeared from nowhere, (nowhere is a place well worth checking out given how many birds seem to appear from there!) it had a predilection for landing on water when disturbed, odd when there was plenty of edge to land on.

On the Southern complex the Garden Warbler was still singing North of the East Warwick, there were 4 more Common Sandpipers on the reservoir itself and at least 3 Hobbies drifted over. A Black Tern was over the West Warwick and a further 2 Common Sandpipers were on No.5.


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Dan's the Man

Afetr his exceptional May Waxwings yesterday at the filter beds, Dan B scored again with the first Black Terns of the year. A duo over the Low Maynard. I got a text whilst on the Bus home (thanks Lol) but was soon scoping them, albeit at vast range, from the bottom of Coppermill Lane, having been tipped off that they were on No.4/5. They had returned to the Low Maynard but were emminently doable. Pretty much annual, but never lingering for long, this is one species I didn't want to miss.


Tuesday, 3 May 2011

An Ill Wind

A nocturnal bout of indigestion had me standing by the bedroom window for some air whilst a ‘Rennie’ kicked in. It was a fortuitous bit of timing as I was able to hear the strange and confusing call of a wandering Coot. It is by no means the first time I have heard it from the house, but the first time it took some research to figure out what was making the noise.

The nearest Coots to me are a good 800m away and can’t be seen from the house. Just as well I count ‘heards only’ for the house list. The calls can be checked out here:

Monday, 2 May 2011

Oiseaux du Jour (Godwits are off but try the Gropper)

I was itching to get on the patch after a weekend away, hoping for a Bar-tailed Godwit, the bird-du-jour. There is a, probably unprecedented, passage of these taking place up channel at the moment and many are cutting the corner and coming through London.

However I was also offered a space on a trip to Dungeness this morning which was almost as tempting (Mmm....Spring Pom) the starting time was 04:00; so Walthamstow it was then!

First up was the Lockwood, sans Godwits, I’m afraid. Best were 2 Common Sandpipers and a fly through Little Ringed Plover, battling in todays, very annoying, wind. Swifts had increased tremendously and there was well into three figures floating around. On the Low Maynard a hybrid Tufted x Pochard (probably visiting from Stoke Newington or Alexandra Palace) was chasing a female Pochard with about six other male Pochard. Such uncouth behaviour!

I bumped into Mike M later and he greeted me with those dreaded words.....’I know what I wanted to tell you!’ Actually he is a mine of information and always has something new to reveal of what has been seen on the lower patch. My ears were well and truly pricked.

‘That Mandarin has been seen quite a few times from the Golf Course (Grr.) The Little Owl has been seen a few times by the Lea too (Grrr.) Oh, and I had a male Whinchat on the marsh last week (Grrrr.) And (there was an and!) I had a Grassshopper Warbler on the marsh since I last saw you’.

Oh! When was that? ‘Tuesday 26th’ Hmm, interesting, Dave M had one on the 22nd. It can’t be the same bird can it? Perhaps we can check it out later. We popped over to the Southern reservoirs first and tried for Pete L’s Garden Warbler, he’s been seeing/hearing one for about 10 days now just North of the East Warwick in a Willow, I’m glad to say it’s still there (he had it later this afternoon too). There was not too much to report from the rest of the site so, after a Coffee stop we headed for the marsh. Zip on the riding stables Little Owl but 2 Yellow Wagtails flew over the back paddock, one landing and showing well. A Wheatear was still present, could it really be the same one or do we have a constant turnover of Wheatears in the paddock? There were quite a few singing Lesser Whitethroats too, one of which gave me a chance for photography.

Then onto the boardwalk, Eastern end if you are interested, nothing much stirred so I suggested we walk about twenty metres towards the railway line where Mike had seen the Gropper last week. I played my iphone briefly and a Grasshopper Warbler flew up and dropped into the Reedy edge, not prolonged views but enough to see it’s yellowy underside, darkish Olive back and rounded tail as it landed. A few moments later it appeared at the edge of the Reeds and sang for a few seconds, remaining on view just long enough to tempt me to try for a photograph, needless to say not long enough for me to succeed. This was definitely bird of the day, my only patch records were of singing birds in June/July 1982 and on a couple of dates in August 1991, so at this rate the next is due about 2026......unless this is an extremely cryptic visitor, after all they really prefer to sing at dusk, which is not my favourite time for visiting the marsh.

The Mandarin had chosen to swim back down to Hackney, the Little Owl by the Lea was a no show, though at least I now know the Tree and the Waterworks gave us precious few additions to the day list, though Green Sandpiper and Snipe are still persisting. All in I had 69 species for the day, which is fairly respectable but I could have done with a few more Waders and Terns. The guys got the spring Poms by the way, am I bovvered though?


Sunday, 1 May 2011

Most Stones Left Unturned

I have been away for the weekend, in a mostly bird free Shropshire, obviously worrying about the flocks of Bar-tailed Godwits that must surely have been plying their way over Walthamstow. When I got back this afternoon I checked with Pete L on what's been happening. I guessed that he had been responsible for the '5 Turnstones North over the Lockwood' pager message this morning, as indeed he had, but he also told me that there had been another reported on the Fish cage on No. 5.

Well it wasn't there when I peered through the fence at the bottom of Coppermill Lane later. However a Common Sandpiper was picking it's way around the edge and I was grateful for that having conspired to miss the species so far this year. Apparently they are all over the complex today so I will probably see hordes of them tomorrow when I get over there properly.

Another well overdue patch year tick and year tick in general was in the shape of a Swift, well 30 of them to be more precise, high over the Warwicks.

On this date: 01 05 90 Walthamstow produced ten species of summer migrant today including; 5-6 Common Terns, Swifts, Willow Warbler, Yellow Wagtail, all three Hirundines and Little Ringed Plover.