Monday, 31 August 2015

One Good Turn(stone)

        I am embarrassed to say that I visited the reservoirs twice today. I aimed to time a morning visit to try to re-find the possible Pied Fly with a break in the heavy rain. I failed as it started to pour down almost as soon as I got there, forcing me to flee back home. But although I was not there long, I somehow managed to see three species which had eluded me yesterday with a calling Cetti's Warbler near the meccano bridge, a Swift over No 5 and 20 or so Swallows feeding with the hundreds of martins.
      With the rain forecast to stop late afternoon, I tried again but, for some reason, decided to have a quick look at Lockwood first where I met Paul McCook who was making an infrequent visit. As we chatted walking up towards the north end, he casually mentioned that he had a Common and Green Sandpiper from the hide on the island on East Warwick.....and a Turnstone. I didn't take much persuading to turn round and join him to see if it was still there. It was, feeding ferociously on the side facing the hide fortunately so we had some comfortable seats. While Paul knew Turnstone was unusual, he did not know how difficult it is to catch up with on the reservoirs. According to Lol and the Prof, Turnstone is perhaps not even annual which explains why it was my first since 1986. Nice one Paul, and went some way to making up for the reservoirs apparently being a migrant-free zone this weekend. Fortunately Valerie Stapleton came along and took some pics for us.

        There were several more Swifts both over Lockwood and No 5 and Common Sands on both Lockwood and East Warwick.
DB @porthkillier

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Persistence pays off - just...

            With flycatchers, redstarts and wrynecks seemingly in every tree in London, I thought the Bank Holiday weekend must provide some scarcer migrants at the reservoirs. I was not asking for much - just a Whinchat and Spotted Flycatcher for my patch year list. I struck out in a long visit on Friday when the female Scoter and four Swifts,, along with one of a few Willow Warblers in full song, were all that Mike M and I could find despite the two of us looking separately and together in all the places flycatchers and chats usually turn up. Given that the Prof had four Spotted Flycatchers in one tree at the water works, let alone the cornucopia of migrants building up at Wanstead, it was pretty disappointing.
             A short visit yesterday on the north reservoirs yesterday did no better with just the Scoter and a couple of fresh Lesser Whitethroats in the warbler bush. In comparison, after a couple of hours around Lockwood, today's highlight looked likely to be the cock Pheasant making a return appearance after a few months away as neither @haringeybirder nor I could find the Scoter among all the sleeping Tufties and Coot. All Lockwood had of interest was a few lingering Common Terns and half a dozen Common Sandpipers with another five on No 5 later.
             But a slow walk along the path between No 1 and No2/3 finally delivered a Spotted Flycatcher near the central pylon and perhaps it or a second near the hide 10 minutes later. I also thought I might also have had a glimpse of a Pied Flycatcher among the super active feeding party but, despite trying, could not re-find it. The flock did include several very bright Willow Warblers. They had to be bright to see them in the gloom.
            Finally, after more hours than I would like to admit, I found a Whinchat sitting on the reeds on West Warwick with a Wheatear nearby. So I finally saw what I had hoped for back on Friday though, given all that had turned up close by, there should be more. No wonder that some of the fellow patchers defected over the weekend to big-named sites such as Dungeness and Mudchute Park. It takes my reservoirs-only year list to 102. I can only hope the next two additions don't take so much effort. 

DB @porthkillier

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Autumn has finally (red)started! (Cheesey birders title)

apologies for brief post and dark rubbish photos, gotta be somewhere in a sec!

The Waterworks held at least 4 Spotted Flycatchers, feeding in bed 13, where the Garganey continued to show well.

The whole place was covered in Willow warblers!

A visit to the paddocks/ marshes was made worth while as a bright Male Common Redstart flew from the lea nav side towards the lower marsh. Stopping briefly in the line of bushes either side of the main path. A Brief (as always with this species on the patch for me) but cool result as other sites all over London have been swimming in the things for a week or so now... I spent a while trying to re locate the bird with the help of GH but no luck. hopefuly there will be more before long.

Perhaps 200 house martins flew over south at once... and a handful of swifts followed later. Oh als my first Wheatear of the autumn was in the padddocks.



Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Spot the Spotties and Glare at the Garganey

As @porthkillier and @birdingprof  had agreed: there must be one redstart by now. 

Hoping to bag a common redstart (a patch and general lifer for me – not been birding that long  - and quite a hard bird to get on the patch) I went patching this morning.

I think @randombirder and @jarpartridge were the last patch birders to get one on the patch.

So I headed out to the southern part of the patch (as there was another patcher already on the northern side – the reservoirs), the WaterWorks Nature Reserve and the paddocks (still giving the marsh a wide berth – dogs, flashers, ravers, general knob-ends etc).

The WaterWorks was very good value.

4 spotted flycatchers, 1 willow warbler, 1 blackcap, 2 garden warbler, 1 lesser whitethroat, 1 swallow, c12 house martin, 1 reed warbler, 2 chiff-chaff, 3 teal, 11 gadwall, 2 little grebe, 3 green woodpecker (2 juveniles learning how to find food), 1 kestrel, 6 long-tailed tit and 1 collared dove in and amongst the usual fare.

At one point, one of the spotted flycatchers zoomed past me like an x-wing fighter navigating through the innards of the death star (the path leading into the hides – a bit extra granted, but doesn’t sound as good).

now you see me
now you don't
the death star (think star wars)
strategically positioned plant in front of hide window

The paddocks.

Oddly, I spent a bit of time with a teal that really couldn’t care less that I was there.

The paddocks looked very busy as I approached. 12 mistle thrush, 4 egyptian goose, 7 canada goose, 2 lesser-black backed gulls and much of the usual paddock faces.

One bird which did stand out on the paddocks was an adult yellow-legged gull. (rough camera conditions). It soon got as fed up of the rain as I was and ‘effed off sharpish – just as I soon did. 

Steamy windows


I arrived at the Waterworks just before the last shower, a short wait before the clouds broke and the some late warm summer sun eventually forced it's way through on what had been a dismal day.

A little later....

The Waterworks struck Garganey gold today with this skittish individual that appeared across my eyeline as I was watching the Teal. Camera in hand, I snapped a couple of shots before it disappeared into the reeds at the back of Bed 13. One of those moments when I began to question what I had just seen but thankfully the couple of shots confirmed that I hadn't gone completely mad. A bit lucky really.  A single Gadwall and a female Shoveler were also present here.

Heading over to the Marshes, there were three Northern Wheatear on the paddocks, two moulting adult males and a female. There was a bit of disturbance there but were still present on my wander back.

There were two Whinchat in the Cow Field, quite distant and hard to pick up in the breeze. Four Swallow were also in flight, a family group that may have been the local breeders.


Saturday, 22 August 2015

You Snooze, You Win

Another hectic week culminated in a visit, yesterday, to the Birdfair, something every Birder should do, I do it about once every 10 years, it’s enough.
My main reason for going was to try out a range of Bins prior to any major investment, my last ones were bought 21 years ago, and whilst perfectly adequate I decided it was time to treat myself to an upgrade. My purchase duly made I decided to look at some actual Birds.
The first Bird to ‘cross the lens’ as it were, was a Hobby, closely followed by an Osprey closely followed by two more Ospreys. (What’s this got to do with the patch? – ed.)
Fast forward to today; up at the crack of dawn doing various errands and important stuff meant that by about 12:30 I was heading for a short siesta. Suitably refreshed, and Mrs. Prof heading out for some girly gadding, I decided that some paperwork I needed to do could be done by the back window, which by happy coincidence faces towards Walthamstow Marsh and Reservoirs. (better – ed.)
Did I mention the new Bins? Keen to try them out I lifted them and pointed them North, what should I see but….a Gull, but the Gull was having a perfunctory poke at…a Raptor, a large Raptor no less. I have not seen many large Raptors on the patch for quite a while, in fact it’s odd that they should be so conspicuous by their absence! I had heard that a Common Buzzard was seen at Stoke Newington this morning, and it’s jolly warm, so I was not surprised to see this one now, but what was it going to be?
Common Buzzard is the default large Raptor nowadays, though it was not ever so, but we are now in the ‘interesting zone,’ August-September is ‘Honey Buzzard, Osprey and better’ time, so all bets are off unless you get decent views.

The first views were of a darkish bird manoeuvring in a Kite-like twisty-turny way with pretty much flat wings and the occasional deep flap, it continued to circle and get a little closer but also started to gain height, though slowly enough for me to put out a tweet to the group and, as it went over my house and off South-East, another tweet to the Wanstead posse. At its closest I could see the under sides were paler than the brownish upperparts but no other plumage detail sadly, as the light was not right, if I had been able to pick it up going away the light would have been perfect but it was not to be.
Structurally, longer winged, longer tailed and, jizz-wise; flat winged, deep flapping wing beats and tail used in steering means I am happy that it was a Honey Buzzard.
Some stats:
In the last 12 years I have had four Honey Buzzards on the patch and a further six possible/probable Birds, the main problem being you can't make them fly in the direction you need.

15 09 03
                      08 09 06 possible

                     15 09 06 probable
                     14 09 08 possible x 2

14 09 08
                      06 08 11 possible

01 06 14 possible
                      08 06 14

22 08 15
We are definitely in the zone, so keep them peeled.



Monday, 17 August 2015

They do like to be beside the seaside.....

       Having followed the exploits of the last week from the Austrian Alps - where the quantity of birds if not the quality makes the 'Stow seem like Falsterbo in September - I was keen to catch up with some migration. A short visit yesterday saw me get Greenshank on my patch year list when one flew off the top of Lockwood and  seemed to land in the overflow channel where Paul (on his second attempt) and I caught up with it later. But I missed a Whinchat which disappeared almost as soon as Paul discovered it as he walked up the Lockwood.

     So it was back today with the hope of re-finding it. What I saw instead out of the corner of my eye as I was tracking along the Lockwood shore looking for waders was an orangy bill among a flock of Coot. A quick double take and I realised I was not hallucinating but watching a male and two female type Common Scoter - the first for the year on the patch. It was not long before Paul joined me and we wondered whether it was a family party given the different colouring of the females and the way they stayed so closed to each other.

         The Scoter were still in residence when I returned mid-afternoon having failed to find little other sign of migration in a long walk round the reservoirs - disappointing given what had been seen  at Wanstead. In fact, there seemed to be far fewer Whitethroats and Blackcaps around than yesterday which was also the case with Sand and House Martins over No 5. So I was pleased at least to see a single Wheatear on the east bank of Lockwood which had dropped in during the day.

           DB @porthkillier

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Scatological Musings

It is impossible to go bird watching and not take notice of all the other beautiful, weird and wonderful things that nature has to offer.  Since starting birding just over two years ago, I have seen a grass snake catch a frog, watched a dragonfly hatch, been enchanted by wasp spiders (this from an arachnophobe) and developed a niche interest in hoverflies.  The whole art of birding - standing quietly, moving slowly and cautiously - perfectly lends itself to seeing and musing on things to which you would never normally give a second glance.

And so it was yesterday at the Waterworks and this time the subject was, well, poo.  I have, I suspect, a greater than average knowledge of faeces (being a nurse of 35 years standing, I hasten to add; not because I have another much weirder niche interest), but animal faeces is a whole new world of fascination. Initially I came across this:

I have no idea what creature produced it - fox maybe, or dog - but look at those green bottles!  Once you get past the yuk factor of exactly what they are doing - they are stunning.  They were like little green robots, busy and metallic and before we dismiss them as gross, let's not forget that it is their larvae that I have used, with great success, in maggot therapy to clean non-healing wounds.  They are little life savers!

The brambles just along the path from the wildlife garden have been filled with birds in the last couple of weeks and yesterday was no exception - blackcaps, garden warbler, blue and great tits, common & lesser whitethroat were all feeding on the berries

whilst Dunnock and linnets were feeding on the ground.  Also on the ground evidence of rabbits:

Rabbit poo is everywhere now they have recovered from last year's myxie.  So here is my first faeces question - why do the green bottles not tuck into rabbit poo?  In fact, nothing seems to be attracted to it. Why is this?

The final excreta was in the wildlife garden

The interesting thing about this contribution was the ants.  They didn't seem to be doing anything to the faecal matter, rather they appeared to be doing something to the white maggots inside it.  I thought at first they might be eating them but I am really not sure as at one point they appeared to be covering one up.  Can anybody shed any light on this?

No snake today in the boardwalk pond but I did spot this on the fence.

I may be an arachnophobe but  Harvestmen are my total bete noire.  They are like the mutants of the creepy crawly world.  I mean who needs legs that long?? They don't seem to know what to do with them themselves and they appear to go in all directions at once when they run. Gross!

The hides were much more enjoyable with reed and cetti's warblers visible and vocal and a lovely wren who seemed very bold and uncaring of me and my camera.

Three herons were around - 2 in bed 18 & one in the water area beyond the hides.

In the space of a week the Waterworks seems to have gone from Summer to Autumn with berries everywhere

and the wonderful Hornet Mimic Hoverfly was around again looking stunning

and here's the thing.  Birdwatching is so much more than that. It has opened up a whole natural world for me.  Half the time I get the birds wrong, sometimes I have no idea what I am looking at and I must drive other bird watchers mad with my incessant questions (PW, JN & GH - you know who you are!) but no matter what I see, even if it is three types of poo - when I go out and see everything that's around me (Harvestmen aside!) I feel like a child at Christmas. (SH)

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Stock Taking and Crystal Ball Gazing

We are 32 weeks into the year and what have we got to show for it? Cumulatively 124 species recorded from the patch, as can be seen from the list to your right.

The last 5 years have seen us averaging 147 (147.2 to be precise) at years end, so what is left for 2015? By rights another 23 species should put in an appearance.

What are they to be I hear you say? Well the most likely must be those that have turned up in all of the last five years, to wit:

Black Redstart*
Black-necked Grebe
Lesser Redpoll
Little Gull
Rock Pipit
Sandwich Tern
Short-eared Owl

 I would think that most of those will grace us with their presence in the next 20 weeks, though we could struggle with the Turnstone (one at Amwell this week, so never say never).

Those that have turned up in four of the last five years must also be in with a shout, namely:

Barnacle Goose
Golden Plover
Little Owl*
Ruddy Duck
Turtle Dove*

 Of course we have lost our regular Barnacle Goose and almost certainly our last regular wintering Ruddy Duck. Little Owl (a former breeder*, along with Black Redstart and Turtle Dove) is extirpated from the patch but all of these could theoretically still put in an appearance so let’s assume that half of them will.

What does that leave us with? The mystery box! The seven or eight species that are going to motivate us to keep going for the rest of the year. Any suggestions?



Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Taking the Michahellis

As I approached Lockwood, a gentleman named Pete greeted me and asked me if I had seen anything around. I had just arrived so I hadn't, but he had just come down from Lockwood and had a Greenshank and a Black Tern. Both birds being a patch year tick. He stated that the Greenshank had dropped down onto the overflow channel and the Black Tern was fishing over the north end of Lockwood.

Not having either on my patch list and with the Black Tern being a lifer for me, I eagerly made haste onto the reservoir. I immediately picked the Black Tern up on my scope.

Black Tern 
I couldn't locate the Greenshank but I was more than happy with the Black Tern. 

I was later joined by Jonathan whom I explored High Maynard and East Warwick with. On East Warwick we picked up a juvenile Yellow-Legged Gull.

Yellow-legged Gull
Larus Michahellis

GH - @leevalleybirder

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Oh my Godwit

A late morning amble onto the reservoirs and I immediately bumped into @jarpartridge who persuaded me into joining him for a soporific jaunt around Lockwood.

The morning was warm and still, humidity still high which made for a particularly pleasant day to be out and about. Lockwood itself was like a millpond with a few Gulls loafing about on the water and half a dozen Common Tern screeching overhead. A minimum of five Common Sandpiper were flushed from the eastern foreshore and another was later seen on High Maynard. A bright Willow Warbler sang from within the treeline.

Satisfied with our minimal exertions, we decided against walking all the way round the ressie and traipsed slowly back toward the car park. Three birds appeared from the west, and they had a promising look about them so immediately pinned my eyes skyward to confirm three Black-Tailed Godwit flying firstly west, before turning south and off into the distance. They did appear to turn back so was a chance they could have landed on the southern complex but we later drew a blank on these. A patch first for both of us and my first ever 'large' wader for my local.

We then picked up a very smart Jersey Tiger Moth in trees on the bank of Lower Maynard, where a brief Hobby flew through.

After some sustenance at the Ferry Boat, we headed down onto the southside. Trailing onto the track between No.1 and No.2, a large flock of Titmice held a few Chiffchaff, at least two Willow Warbler including one singer, and a minimum of two Lesser Whitehroat (JP had seen at least five earlier) that brought my yearly patch total up to 100.  Two Garden Warbler were present here too seen by JP.

East Warwick had a minimum of nine Shoveler (JP had 12 earlier), a single Common Sandpiper, and an adult Greater Black Backed Gull. Around 40 Linnet were favouring the scrub adjacent to the railway line.

Also extremely noteworthy were the two Whimbrel seen by @jarpartridge during an early morning start, that flew south over the Warwicks, and a flyover Yellow Wagtail which was the first of the autumn, flying north-east over the Waterworks.  A pair of Swallow feeding young in the riding stables suggests a successful breeding record which of course is great news.

We have a great core group of birders now on the patch with interesting sightings regularly being made.  With greater coverage on the patch, who knows what the coming weeks might turn up.

Painted Lady seen down Track 13 - @jarpatridge

Willow Warbler seen down Track 13 - @jarpartridge

Whimbrel seen flying south over the Warwicks - @jarpartridge

@jarpartridge @randombirder

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The Morning After

Cue - lots of patch birds.

That's what I tweeted as I snapped the logo of the Eurostar while boarding the train. And what transpired while I was away - Black-tailed Godwits, Pied Flycatcher and Yellow-legged Gull.


Late to the party (don't like parties anyway) due to holidaying in Paris with wife and friends (not as fancy as it sounds), I thought I'd try and see if any patch ticks had lingered.

Of course - nothing had.

No Black-tailed Godwits (need) or Yellow-legged Gulls (need) or P. Flycatcher (got).

Mrs. Tern says to Mr. Tern "He should have been here yesterday."
 The best part of the morning was watching the Brown Hawkers, Emperors, Red-eyed and blue damselflies and the Ruddy Darters make use of the Coppermill Stream by East Warwick. At one point two Emperors wrestled mid-air and one pushed the other under the water, trying to drown it. The Emperor managed to drag itself to the surface after a few minutes and flew off.

Emperor - "Yeah, yeah. I'm stuck in water. But you weren't here yesterday."
All these birds were here yesterday.
This Common Sandpiper was here yesterday.
I'm not actually bitter about missing patch birds while away, I'm happy for the patch really. It was fun watching the tweets while in Paris and imagining the patchers on the scene. I'm going to Italy later on in August - the picture below summarises what I expect will descend onto the patch while I'm away.

Grey Heron to the others - "Quick, pose for the patchers while that other guy's gone."
@leevalleybirder - GH