Saturday, 28 March 2015

Einstein was no patch birder

          Einstein said the definition of insanity was doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. It was a remark that crossed my mind as I made my way to the reservoirs for the second day in succession. Despite the sunshine and a gentle breeze yesterday, I recorded not a single migrant except for a singing Blackcap in the rail bushes between the Warwicks. No Wheatears, no Sand Martins, not even a Meadow Pipit though Jamie had plenty on the marsh (along with a low flying Buzzard). The best birds I had were a Lapwing and Jackdaw going east over Lockwood and the long-staying pair of Scaup. Even the two new birds had scarpered.
         So given today was windy and damp (the very reason I had taken yesterday off so I could visit in good weather), it really did not make much sense to return. As I suspected, there were still no migrants but as I tried to sneak up on the pair of Scaup to see if I could get slightly less crap photographs with my new pocket camera, I looked up and saw a Red Kite flying low to the west. By the time I got my camera out, switched on and found the Kite, it was somewhere over Amersham but to my astonishment, you can can actually (with a good imagination) make out its tail. Not quite up to Jonathan's standard but it is exactly why I bought it and with practice I might be a bit quicker getting it set up.

                                          It's a Kite ...honest

It also meant, with yesterday's Jackdaw, that I have filled in two days the remaining two embarrassing gaps in my reservoirs' life list - and added four species in March. As I am now close to 140 for the reservoirs alone, I can't imagine that will ever happen again. As Graham who was at the far end of Lockwood - the Kite must have flown between us - turned back and returned the way he had come, I continued along the west side where I thought I had a female Goosander, then doubted my own eyes only to find I had been right in the first place.

            I could only see two Goldeneye where there were six yesterday among the 13 I counted on all the reservoirs. Another Blackcap was singing in the top field but like yesterday's bird kept out of sight and off my year list (no new fangled ABA rules for me). I had a quick look on the Warwick banks (where progress continues on the by-pass with a new ramp being built to the top of East Warwick) to make sure there were no Wheatears - and there weren't - and then decided to cut the visit short. Einstein was too smart to ignore completely.
                                         A ramp to nowhere....

                                         Slightly less crappy photograph
DB @porthkillier

Patch Purgatory

On the Marshes:

Our confused little egret continues its personality crisis and tried to hang out with a mute swan on the flood relief channel this morning. The swan wasn't impressed.

Mute Swan trying to outstare a Little Egret
On the reservoirs:

Sensing a dull patch experience on the cards, I tried to make the most of it and got down level with an egyptian goose to flex my camera skills. It didn't quite know what to make of me, but was adamant that I wasn't going to be an obstacle along its feeding path and almost shooed me out of the way.

Egyptian Goose
"Excuse me. You're standing on my breakfast!"

Feeling in the groove with the getting down eye level with the birds thing, I snapped a Pied Wagtail  which are all looking spiffing in their crisp sum plum.

Pied Wagtail
I made it to Lockwood and feeling a bit unenthused by the apparent lack of new birds, I thought I might just scope the banks then head back, rather than plod on to the top. But I plodded on. And... nowt. 

But - when heading back - I saw a raptor quite low in the sky negotiating the wind westerly over the center of Lockwood. Bins up - a Red Kite. My first this year. 

GH - @leevalleybirder

Monday, 23 March 2015

A Few photos from Sunday


I tried and failed to photo the Barn Owl which showed beautifully just after six o clock just north of the Lockwood.
But will try again this week.




Having missed out on all the fun yesterday out on the reservoirs, I cut a solitary figure as I slowly ambled my way round the Lockwood. The morning looked promising, it was bright with a few clouds, but that wind still had a bite to it.

For once, I was in no rush - so I took my time to look. What was evident were the number of Meadow Pipit flying through. There was a steady trickle of birds all morning that must have cumulatively numbered over a hundred, small groups - threes or fours, but the occasional group of 10+ heading in a northerly direction. Visible migration over East London.

The first quality bird were three Scaup, a drake and two female birds still present, but no sign of the fourth seen yesterday. Continuing toward the north end, a bright shape appeared distantly into view along the eastern bank. A smart male Northern Wheatear fed actively along the grass path - such a stunning bird. I spent a few minutes observing its syncopated movements, hopping down onto the margins before it flew toward the north end where I failed to relocate it.

The sun was still shining, but the warmth was being tempered by the cool breeze. A pair of Kestrel flew across the reservoir, while two Shelduck swam lazily close to the south end.

Heading toward the southern complex, I picked up a Common Buzzard flying reasonably low beyond the Maynards on the east side.

The raptor count hit three with a displaying pair of Sparrowhawk. The male was fascinating to watch, circling while courting slow deliberate wingbeats.

Heading onto East Warwick, development was underway on the north-west corner - perhaps where the carousel will be located. A couple of works vehicles drove round the bank but I persevered and chose to park my posterior on the far bank and pin my eyes to the sky.

There were a lot of high flying gulls, scanning through them, I surprisingly picked up a Red Kite that soared high and in a southerly direction. I lay back and pointed the camera skyward.

With this sighting, it was conceivable that more raptors may cruise by. Subsequently there were perhaps two more Common Buzzard, the latter of these was particularly high so may have involved different individuals considering the one seen earlier.

Raptor number five was a boisterous female Peregrine that flew low across East Warwick before gaining height toward the west.

JN @randombirder

Droning on

Stories forwarded by Paul Bee:

Drone footage of the patch

Back garden to 300,000!

Courtesy of the Guardian (not the actual Grauniad, the local one) newspaper

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Wheatear Draws the Crowds

      An excellent day with the first Wheatear of the year for the patch and a new and unexpected species for my reservoir list. The day started in a rather familiar fashion when I joined Peter L on Lockwood to find him looking at Scaup. They were, amazingly, different birds than yesterday: a female with a lighter head and another which had a strange eclipse style plumage which led to some thought it might have a a bit of mixed breed in it. But after discussion during the day and a good look at the bill and shape, it was thought to be an old adult female. We also saw the usual drake and female on our walk round, along with five Goldeneye. This takes to a remarkable six the different Scaup we have had on the reservoirs this winter. Even more remarkably - and rather worryingly - every one of them has been found by Pete.

#5 Presumed adult female

#6 Presumed immature female

      But the day got even a lot better when, at the top end, we had in quick succession a Woodcock flying  slowly east - presumably flushed off Tottenham Marsh and the first I have seen at the reservoirs - and a spanking male Wheatear. At one point, the Wheatear flew up and landed on the top pylon wires which looked liked that would be the last we would see of it before dropping down again on the reservoir bank. It eventually relocated to the east side where it showed well for the rest of the day.

Pete went off to do his usual round of the southern reservoirs and I waited on Lockwood for GH and the Prof to join me before being tempted into another circuit of Lockwood. When we got to the top, we found that the 2 Green Sandpipers had dropped onto the normal roosting spot on the over-flow channel ramp. 

We also had a female Pheasant and a Reed Bunting on the west bank. By now, we had been joined by SF, JP, AW and others so that at one time there were no less than nine birders on Lockwood. As the sun came out briefly and it warmed up, we looked skywards with the Prof spotting two Sparrowhawks and then a very high Buzzard gliding north east while six Sand Martins - the first of the day - fed over High Maynard. Makes up for all those hours of not seeing much.

       DB @porthkillier and a cast of thousands....

(Scaup & Green Sandpiper photos PW @birdingprof)

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Not much sign of Spring today...

The three Sand Martins which battled the NE wind this morning to fly through Lockwood must have wondered why they had bothered leaving Africa. I felt the same about leaving home, it was so cold and dark at 8-30 am . The pair of Scaup were still in residence on the west side of Lockwood with four Goldeneye while a Peregrine made a half-hearted attempt at chasing the gulls. Not much of a reward for a couple of hours but compared with the southern half, it was a veritable bird bonanza. A walk round the Warwicks produced just a single Meadow Pipit while No 1 held another pair of Goldeneye. I could not, I'm afraid, even raise the enthusiasm to go round No 5 and went home instead.

DB @porthkillier

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Counting Crows

It warmed up quite nicely this afternoon but pushed for time, I headed down to Walthamstow Marshes to see what was occurring there. Deciding to have a decent look round, I picked up a nice fresh White Wagtail in with a flock of 40+ Pied Wagtail on the rear paddocks.

Apart from that it was reasonably quiet but for a male Kestrel, a count of 81 Carrion Crow, and three singing Chiffchaff.

Heading back past the paddocks, there was a decent flock of finches containing around 25 Linnet, at least ten Chaffinch and a Goldfinch.

Five Fieldfare and two Redwing were also present.

JN @randombirder

Sunday, 15 March 2015

A Spring in my Step

They are not rare. I certainly didn't find them. They were not even the first for the year at the reservoirs. But the half an hour I spent sitting on the bank of East Warwick this afternoon watching two Sand Martins hawking over the water was, without doubt, the highlight of 2015 so far. It is amazing how the first migrants of the season lifts spirits even when it is cold and drizzling.
       By the time I got to East Warwick, the Sand Martins had already been seen by AW, SF and PL although I did not know that until I crossed the road and looked at the book. I had, as usual, first spent a couple of hours slowing walking round Lockwood. The drake Scaup was still in residence along with five Goldeneye but the female had apparently done a runner overnight. A Chiffchaff sang from the top field but the personal highlight for me was my first two Green Sandpipers of the year on the overflow channel.
         Earlier two Goosander had been seen (AW I think) going north and a Common Sandpiper was on High Maynard despite work on the Lockwood by-pass continuing even on a Sunday. Another Common Sandpiper or perhaps the same one was also in Scaup corner of No 4 and I also had two female Goldeneye on East Warwick. The Cetti's Warbler was heard - but no by me - around the first bridge and Water Rail and Reed Bunting were also recorded.

DB @porthkillier

Saturday, 14 March 2015

The Early Bird catches.....SFA

It was lucky I still had a warm glow from Thursday's adventure because it was perishing cold on Lockwood at 7-30 am - and pretty much for the rest of the day. Still it started well with the sun shining, the pair of Scaup showing on the west side, five Goldeneye and a Peregrine on what remains of the gasometer. But it then began to cloud over,the cold NE wind picked up and the birds - and optimism - sort of petered out. West Warwick,which has now also been manicured, held a female Goldeneye as did East Warwick. A Common Sandpiper was on No 4 along with another pair of Goldeneye while I managed to close an embarrassing Redwing-size hole in my reservoirs year list with a single bird feeding on the ground near the second bridge.

But for the second visit on the run, I failed to reach 50 species despite spending over seven hours on site. Ducks were definitely down in numbers with only a few Teal, no Shovelers nor any Gadwall I can remember seeing. As the sun came out again and it warmed up finally, I headed back for a brief look up at the sky from Lockwood before returning home for a family engagement. As I left, I spotted SF striding round the reservoir in the other direction. By the time, I had got back to Highbury, he had recorded the first two Sand Martins of the year. I should have listened to the Prof when he said it was a waste of time getting to Walthamstow early.

DB @porthkillier

Friday, 13 March 2015

After the Lord Mayor's Show

I guess it is no surprise that today was a bit of an anti-climax after yesterdays exploits but as I am going to have little, if any, time for birding in the next couple of weeks I thought I should make an effort.

The ‘road to perdition’ continues to be built alongside the top of the High Maynard, thus ensuring that no Common Sandpiper ever calls that particular corner home again. Although water levels are a bit higher on the Lockwood, wader numbers remain unchanged at zero.

Two Peregrines are now hanging out on the pylons to the North, they seem to be fairly reliable lately, despite not seeing either of them in flight they did disappear from time to time, a good trick.

The pair of Scaup were on the West side of the Lockwood, often in company with a pair of Goldeneye, they stick together these Northerners.

It was a bit of a let-down on the South of the site too. There did seem to be a few more Pochard around and Shelduck numbers were up a bit with about 20 birds on the big island of No.5. At that point news broke of a Short-eared Owl over Wanstead but, try as I might, I couldn’t ‘borrow’ it. What’s happened to them over there, time was they used to share their birds with Walthamstow?

A fine cock Pheasant had discovered the re-seeded area by the Beam house, along with a whole bunch of Feral Pigeons, I didn’t realise until I walked away that there was a female tucked in with them too. 1 out of 10 for observation! I did spot a single Redwing hiding in the bushes opposite the Meccano bridge, hence the 1.

I spied Pete coming back from the Banbury but apart from a couple of Gadwall he too had drawn a blank. I guess it’s up to the weekend boys to grab all the prizes.


Late edit: I've just had a sneak preview of the 2013 LBR and there is some late news for the patch. Black-tailed Godwit was recorded, nice but not mega, but also Grey Partridge was seen down on Walthamstow marsh, pretty mega indeed, last ones were probably the breeders 40(?) years ago to the North-east of the Lockwood, where the (not so) new houses are now. The 5 year cumulative patchlist has been updated accordingly.


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Five Go on an Adventure

Enid Blyton couldn't have written a more exciting adventure if she’d tried! Late last night an anonymous tipster, who we will call Pete L, alerted me to news of a local Barn Owl. It had apparently been around for a while too. Some time was spent poring over satellite maps and the conclusion reached was: it could very well be visible FROM the patch.

A frantic spell of Texting, Emailing and What’sApping (is that even a word?) ensued and a plan emerged. Five intrepid patchworkers arranged to rendezvous tonight at various points along the route and finally converged on the locale.

@randombirder, @leevalleybirder (for whom this was an actual full fat tick), @porthkillier and I were on one side of the River Lea, we could see @stuartfisher16 (there’s a lot of them!) on the other side. To say we were all a Twitter would be an understatement.

Dave B caught the first glimpse of something white floating around the marsh and, after the synapses had connected blurted out ‘There it is’. Fortunately, a couple of minutes later, it reappeared and drifted around for a minute or so, enabling all of us to see it and send me racing for the bridge back across the Lea. Another minute or so and I saw it from the right (Essex) side of the bridge, it was on my patch list. #199 Jonathan N was fractionally behind me and Dave quickly followed but the bird had drifted off South over the bushes and out of sight. It finally did the decent thing and came back into view even allowing Graham H (who is far more laid back, and possibly stunned by his first Barn Owl, to add it to his patch list too.)

We were all basking in the post-tick reverie when Jonathan shouted ‘It’s coming back, it’s flying across the river,’ indeed it did and ended up sitting in a small tree on the East marsh, squarely ON the patch. The light was going a bit by then and my ‘Live Tweeted Photo’ drew the usual, and probably deserved, opprobrium. Hopefully the videographers in the party will be able to post something decent a mere few inches below this:

There have been one or two recent-ish claims of Barn Owl in the area but none have ever been substantiated and you would have to go back probably over 30 years before the last record, seen by a friend of mine, who has recently and sadly deceased. I’m not sure if I ever realistically expected to 'get this one back', but if I had, this is probably the scenario I would have envisaged. I expect I will be envisaging it again tonight, tucked up under a nice duvet and with a big smile on my face:-)

As we walked back to the car it was quite amazing how elated we all felt, a terrific ending to a long day for all of us (even if that was spent in bed by one of the party), such a simple thing but one that will live long in the memory. Given me a hankering for lashings of Ginger Beer for some reason?


Barn Owl - GH

Barn Owl - Video - GH
GH - @leevalleybirder 
(the youngest and most inexperienced member of the famous five)

Barn Owl - Video - JN
JN - @randombirder
(the sleepiest member of the famous five)

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

In addition....

Still no summer migrants but plenty of helicopters. Breezy this afternoon on Lockwood where a Meadow Pipit had me second guessing it could have been something else. There were three Goldeneye and the continuing pair of Scaup roosted on the westside. A Chiffchaff called from the woodland on the north end, and a Goldcrest sang from the fir trees adjacent to the Lea.

East Warwick was much more exciting as the Mediterranean Gull reported earlier was still present on the southside. Scoped from the opposite bank, I then watched it fly toward the filter beds which I'm sure it has been all winter!

Also present there were a Common Snipe flushed from the now sparsely vegetated bank, three Goldeneye and three Shoveler.


Gone in 60 Seconds

Starting from the car park in Forest Rd this morning, my peregrinations around the patch bore more than a passing semblance to a walk around a building site. This was all the more ironic as on reaching home the local authority ‘free’ newspaper (paid for from my rates) told me, on its short journey from mat to bin, that work on the new Walthamstow Wetlands starts next week. It’s hard to imagine what more they can do to disrupt the site but I’m sure we will find out.

One of my highlights of the Spring is seeing the flowering Violets under the Copper Beech by the Meccano bridge near the Beam House (see, not really a grumpy old man). Good News: the workers have cleared off from that area, Bad News: the whole area between the Beam House and the weedy area to the North of the East Warwick has been cleared and is pristine raked earth, Good News: they’ve left the grassy bit under the Copper Beech, Bad News: the Violets weren’t out (yet?)

Ptarmigan habitat coming along nicely. Build it and they will come I say

There was not a lot on the East Warwick. A small party of Wagtails gave hope but all proved to be Pied. There were workmen at the Southern end and I nearly didn’t go any further but thought ‘What would Pete do?’ ‘He’d check every last bird right down to the end’. So I did. The first bird my scope rested on was a near full Summer-plumaged Mediterranean Gull. So that’s how he does it!

Now you see it

Naturally I have been extremely sceptical about every patcher and his Dog seeing Med Gull on Walthamstow this year, some of them multiple times, some of them not long after I left the site, but, maybe I have been slightly too hasty and in the spirit of now I’ve seen one magnanimity I think the records can stand.

Now you don't

I thought I had better try and get a photo, even at long range, thankfully I managed to get my act together and grab a shot, in fact two but that was the last I saw of it. (though I hear it returned and is now twitchable, typical!) In avoiding the multiplicity of workmen and diggers by the diagonal bridge I serendipitously stumbled across a patch of Violets under the large trees by the West side of No.5. Nice.

Roses are Red my love, Violets are...well Violet

Sounding a bit like a dental check-up the rest of the Southern section was: No.5 nothing, No.3 nothing, No.4 nothing, No.2 nothing. Duck numbers were definitely down, just a couple of Shoveler and hardly any Shelduck. A chatty fisherman tried to engage me ‘I bet you would have liked to have taken that picture of the Stoat on the Woodpecker? We get plenty of Stoats over here’ I didn’t bother correcting him on either count. He then went on to describe the all black large Stoat and the four smaller ones trailing behind it that he had seen. Oh dear! I knew we had Mink but they are clearly breeding now. If I was a Woodpecker I would be very worried. Another fisherman sensing that his mate had trapped a birder now chipped in with ‘Have you seen the Rhea? I’ve seen it in the Reeds.’ When pressed, the description of a pointy brown Moorhen with blue sides helped me realise that I should not bother looking for an enormous flightless Ratite poking about on the edge of the reservoir. Presumably he thought the L was silent in Rail?

I pressed on up to the Lockwood where my notebook remained fairly untroubled. A Peregrine near last year’s nest site and 5 Goldeneye  were the highlights, but it could have been so much better, I scoped a perky beige Passerine along the concrete edge on the top of the bank, it was almost at the far end so I set off to claim what could surely be only one thing at this time of the year, unfortunately it could be two things, and the one it was was flushed. Repeatedly. A couple of walkers pushed it further and further but then got off the bank and dissapeared, I continued my pursuit only to see a workman clad from head-to-toe in day-glow fluorescent overalls walk along the bank exactly where my quarry had been. Had, being the operative word.

I felt certain that today would have produced a Summer migrant and it felt good for a Red Kite too (on checking, my first last year was on the 14th March) still it can only be a matter of time.


Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Bleary Eyes

Slightly later than yesterday but was on the ressies by 7am. Another lovely morning as the early morning sun shone through high cloud as it lingered just above the horizon.

Nothing really inspiring early on, Onto No.4 first flushing a Common Sandpiper from the banks, and then watching a Kingfisher near to its traditional breeding site on No.5. Two Meadow Pipit flew over East Warwick, where a pair of Goldeneye were present.

Onto Lockwood a 1st year Greater Black Backed Gull sat preening on tern raft. I may have missed the pair of Scaup seen later on in the day but I preserved toward the top end. Sitting on the far bank was a lovely drake Goosander that once alerted to my presence took to the water.

On the overflow beyond Lockwood, a decent count of 35 Teal, 11 Gadwall, two Shelduck, and two Little Egret made for a day saving congregation.


Monday, 9 March 2015

The Hour of Silence

So an early start today and I was on the reservoirs by 6.30am in the hope for some early migrants.

Well the early migrants didn't appear as hoped but what I did have were six Goldeneye, three on East Warwick, a drake on No.1,and a pair on Lockwood. A lone Jackdaw was a nice surprise flying low over the Lockwood.

A Common Sandpiper was seen flicking its wings low over High Maynard, a Cetti's Warbler called from near to the gatehouse, two Kingfisher were present and active near to the sluice at the Lockwood entrance.

A male Sparrowhawk flew low along the stream adjacent to the Lea, and a Reed Bunting flew into reeds on West Warwick.


Sunday, 8 March 2015

Off to Church

A leisurely stroll down to the Valley bumping into a couple of regular fellow patchers - was great just to hang out and chat about life both human and wild. This was Sunday. This was my church.

The Waterworks had a singing Chiffchaff, a nice starter on a lovely still sunny morning. A Small Tortoiseshell then emerged and settled in close proximity.

Out on the beds, a Cetti's Warbler called and made a brief appearance as it shot passed the hide. An earlier sighting of Common Snipe produced a single bird that roosted at the edge of the reedbed from Bed 15. A pair of Shoveler and a dozen Teal were present here, and six Tufted Duck flew onto the main pond.


Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Started with a Skylark

I begin todays walk at the waterworks. As I crossed the bridge I heard a skylark, looked up and watched it fly north. Patch year tick for me and the patch i think. There were 17 stock doves feeding in the fenced off area. A singing Linnet in "nature garden" and a mixie rabbit along with many baby rabbits. A water rail called from bed 17 but no cettis.

The front paddocks held five species of thrush and the Little Egret was basically feeding on by the road side!

The Marshes were quiet. I hopped over the fence and checked Res' (Hoping for Medgull) There is so much work going on. No scaup, no wigeon that I could see.  However both the Warricks and the Lockwood had low water levels!  Worth checking for waders. No such luck today, but pied and grey wags were enjoying the exposed mud.

A pair of Golden eye were on the Lockwood.

Oh and this strangely plumaged Reed Bunting, had me going for abit, Seemed pale, funny mask, wouldn't call and refused to show it self nicely at first,

JP @jarpartridge