Friday, 25 September 2015

Stop me if you think you've heard this one before

So I understand that the Coal Tit is a rare bird on the patch, and therefore I understand the pressure of reporting one. I also recall the phrase about buses, something like you wait for one and then... anyway... I saw another Coal Tit today. This time, the delightful @suzehu was with me. We stood predictably against the wooden fenceline waxing lyrical about the imminent deluge of autumn vagrants in the south and east.

I binned a bird that emerged from the thickets by the hides.  It wasn't a Great Tit, neither was it a Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Sombre Tit, Azure Tit..... it looked like a Coal Tit. Then it landed and it called, twice, and it sounded like a Coal Tit, an unflourished uncomplicated 'pees-pees' it said, which I thought was rather rude. Maybe the same bird frequenting our local environs, whatever, I just want this craziness to stop.

Such a lovely day and in good company, the sun shone brightly, and out of the breeze it was discernibly balmy. Good weather generally means a dearth of birds, but it turned out to be a pretty decent day.

Aside from the Coal Tit, a Redpoll called as it flew north . A Spotted Flycatcher then appeared which was to be joined by a second bird later in trees by the wooden canoe. It was a joy watching their feeding sorties in the bright sunshine. In the same area, a Goldcrest called and then flew over.

A wander over to the hide, where a Kingfisher was actively feeding, circulating round the beds and at times settling allowing great views. A Peregrine flew low over and away to the north, and two Reed Warbler flitted low on the reeds at the back of Bed 15. Three Shoveler were on Bed 13, two eclipse male and a female, and a Cetti's Warbler exploded into song somewhere close by.

Later, another Redpoll again flew north calling, and a Common Buzzard appeared high from the south before heading east. It was warm by now but the hope for more large raptors didn't materialise.

Three Little Egret flew up the relief channel.

Also of note were the number of Migrant Hawker on the wing, at least six enjoying the warm and Hobby-less conditions. A couple of Common Darter were also present.


Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Oscillate Wildly

A stark contrast to the persistent rain of yesterday, the morning was bathed in warm autumnal sunshine tempered slightly by a cool moderate breeze, but it was a most agreeable day to be out.

So another late morning arrival down at the Waterworks and another couple of hours spent staring up at the sky hoping for a flyover something, something that might ignite a bit of something into a September that has been a little ordinary.

In recent days the first bird I have noted has been Siskin, usually alerted by it's mournful call. Today there were a total of six flyovers, and three Meadow Pipit heading north.

Standing in my usual spot, propped up against the wooden fenceline along the main path, I heard a familiar call. Familiar in general terms but definitely not a familiar call for the Waterworks. I scanned the top of a Poplar to see a Coal Tit that had settled there briefly before flying over my head and into the woodland on the southside,

I am aware that this is something of a local rarity, some might say mega, but it does validate the basis of contextual birding in making the usual unusual.

Also of note, a flyover Jackdaw, another bird distinguished by its relative scarcity. A Kingfisher posed briefly on Bed 13, a Shoveler flew over the hides, and a total of 12 Gadwall were present on Bed 15. A small group of House Martin passed overhead, around half a dozen Chiffchaff were active along the treeline, two Sparrowhawk were on the hunt, and a Cetti's Warbler was again vocal from the reedbed.


Sunday, 20 September 2015

Someone turned the tap off

           After two days of counting hirundines in the hundreds and even thousands, the migration simply stopped dead today over the reservoirs. It took me over two hours before I saw a pair of Swallows over the Lockwood - the only two I saw all day. They may be a potential split for bad time-keeping. House Martin migration was even less with the sole birds seen a couple of likely breeders over the filter beds. .
      I did manage to hear and see three Meadow Pipits going south and re-find the two Spotted Flycatchers on the Lea channel by the side of Lockwood which this time had the decency to hang around for Lol to walk round to see them. We couldn't find anything else on a short walk in the sunshine around East Warwick and up the central path - not a Common Tern nor single Common Sandpiper all day. Still it was an Indian Summer-style day and we may not have many more to enjoy.


Saturday, 19 September 2015

Split Infinity

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted something about splits and armchair ticks, this caused immediate, and understandable confusion amongst the myriad of tyro birders on the patch. By way of an apology I thought I would offer this quick guide to bird species and the listing thereof. 
Charles Darwin
Archbishop Ussher
According to the Genesis account Birds appeared during the fifth great epoch (n.b. not 24 hour day, which, thanks to being misled by the clergy of his day, led Darwin to his first wrong assumption and to write the dullest book in the world, I know I’ve read it) of creation, they were produced according to their kind (n.b. not species. The second spanner that the clergy of old threw into Darwin’s works) the writer offered no definition of a ‘kind’ but it would seem it was somewhere between what we now call an Order and a Genus (see Taxonomic Rank.)

All was well and everyone knew what everything was but two things happened to throw the whole thing into a state of confusion. Micro Evolution: Birds didn’t stay the same; within their kinds they bred, spread abroad, became isolated and started to look a bit different. Paradise Lost: Man had a few problems and Birdwatching took a bit of a back seat. Listers (yes there have always been Listers) had to content themselves with just 4 ticks. Big Bird, Little Bird, Pretty Bird and Nice Sounding Bird. Note that identification was occasionally Aural but mostly Visual.

A couple of thousand years on and a new development occurred. Birds as food: This led to a doubling of the number of species. Now in addition to the original 4 another 4 were available to the keen Lister. Tastes Lovely, Tastes Alright, Tastes Funny (some authorities added Smelt Funny but not everyone got that) and Tastes Disgusting. Sharp-eyed readers will note this new advance in identification was partially Olfactory but mostly Gustatory, little used techniques amongst the Lister of the 21st century.

'Tastes Lovely'
As part of their continuing slide into stupidity mankind developed more effective ways of catching and killing Birds, but this had an upside to the Lister. Now he (female Listers were not out of the closet at this stage) was seeing Birds close up and in the hand all sorts of variation was noticed and his list grew. Exponentially! As a corollary to this new development a new element to the hobby of listing was born: The List Police. Not everyone thought it was ethical to list dead Birds and this led to much wrangling within the burgeoning Birding community. Tactile identification was controversial.

The List Police
By the 18th century things were swinging back to the Visual/Aural techniques of old, especially with the development of rudimentary visual enhancement devices. It was Gilbert White, who with his brand new pair of ‘Zeiff 5x25 binocularff’ became the father of the modern day Splitter. He noticed that the Bird previously known as the ‘Little Green Bird’ didn’t all make the same noise, some went ‘piu, piu, ptt, ptt, ptt, trrrrrrr’ others went ‘swi, swi, swi, wewewewee’ and others went ‘chiff-chaff, chiff-chaff’. He split the 1 Bird into 3, Listers went wild everywhere! The first he called Wood Warbler as it warbled in the Woods, the second he named Willow Warbler as it often chose to warble in a Willow, he wasn’t really sure what to call the third.
Gilbert White
Around the same time a Swedish Zoologist named Linnaeus decided to codify all this stuff and so invented Taxonomy (a sort of cross between stuffing animals and star-gazing). He decided that the smallest divisible element of Birds would be the species and there were quite a lot of them by now what with all the looking, shooting, touching, sniffing and cooking that had been going on over the centuries. The world list was somewhere around 1,000.

Carl Linnaeus
The 18th century was of course a time of imperialist expansionism, this led to more travel, exposure to more birds, and also, a sort of pre-cursor to the cold war arms race but with Birds as the weapon of choice. By the time of the first World War there were 20,000 species of Bird as each empire had to have more than the other, Listers were ecstatic but things had clearly got out of hand, the Listing Police (in association with the League of Nations) stepped in and scaled the whole thing back down to 8,600.

League of Nations
Listers were not to be outdone, they (a few women had joined the men, now they had been emancipated. In fact it was often thought, mistakenly, that Emily Davison had thrown herself in protest under the Kings Horse when in fact she had spotted a rarity on the other side of Epsom racecourse that she needed for her London List) worked surreptitiously on new technologies and new techniques that would ensure future growth to their pared down Lists.

Emily Davison
One surprisingly obvious ‘new’ development was to actually go and look for Birds, Birdwatching evolved into Birding, Birders went to stay at Bird Observatories, all the better to observe Birds. Lists grew, but more was needed! New areas were pioneered, Scilly, Shetland, Boats, the Zoo (don’t worry the Listing Police were all over that, if you can’t tick dead stuff you certainly can’t tick stuff behind bars, stuff recently escaped from behind bars still causes problems) but List growth was stalling.

Two things happened almost simultaneously, 1) Birders commandeered Astronomical Telescopes, e.g. Questars and, 2) Guru’s were invented. Legendary Birders such as Peter Grant, Killian Mullarney and, more recently, the famed Ma-tan Ga’ana started to notice, with these superior optics, that there were whole tracts of feathers that nobody previously had realised existed. Many of these tracts were actually ever so (ever so) slightly different from those of Birds that had formerly been considered the same species, the Split was well and truly here to stay.

  Ma-tan Ga'ana
Similar progress has been made in the Aural department with the likes of the Sound Approach gang leading the way in espousing that, ‘stuff that sounds different probably is different.’  Split, Split, Split. But. ‘Of course’, I hear you say, ‘this is all the same old same old, If it looks different, sounds different (okay, not much has been done with the whole sniff & scratch approach lately but I’m sure it’s due a resurgence) blah, blah, blah’. But wait!

The Sound Approach
Up until now most of this Splitting lark (not Splitting Lark) has relied on tangible perceptions of what Birds are but modern technology has stepped in with the likes of Prof. Martin Collinson and his ilk who made the Watsonian, or should that be Crickian(?) discovery that if you chop Birds in two it reveals a barcode (such is my understanding) that rather like Blackpool Rock tells you what the Bird actually is, and guess what, yes, loads of identical stuff is in reality totally different. Splitters were euphoric and apoplectic in equal measure, the goal of 20,000 ticks seemed as if it were within reach again but, by a cruel twist of fate, no one would be able to reach it without the assistance of a crazed scientist.

Dr. Strangelove
Prof. Martin Collinson
Wither to now, you ask? I suspect that a large leap forward in technology is our only hope, someone needs to invent a Birdscanning device capable of detecting minute differences between hither to undifferentiated species. 40,000 species awaits, will you rise to the challenge?


Oh, and as for Armchair Ticks, you can get fumigation products to sort them out #rentokill

and still they keep coming...

        By the time I got to Lockwood at 7-30 am, SF had already done a half-circuit and had picked up three Yellow Wagtails, 15 Meadow Pipits and a few Siskins going over at dawn. There were also plenty of hirundines with House Martins feeding largely up high and a steady beat of Swallows moving north-west again low over the reservoir. We had several hundred of both before Stuart departed - and certainly more Sand Martins (c30) than were around yesterday. But around 9 am the migration pretty well stopped completely except for the odd party of Swallows during the rest of the day which were just as likely to be going south as north. Whether this was the time or because the sun came out, the day warmed up and the insects and presumably the birds went even higher, I don't know.
       But the sunshine certainly led to more activity along the Lea on the west side of Lockwood with a few Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, a surprise Sedge Warbler (my first for months), a Lesser Whitethroat and two Spotted Flycatchers which fed from the willows about midway. I was quite pleased with the pictures from my pocket camera until I saw Jonathan's from yesterday.....
         They had typically disappeared by the time Lol joined me but he found another by the meccano bridge as we started down the path between No 1 and No 2. A walk round East Warwick produced little except for a couple more Meadow Pipits to add to the four I had on the bank at Lockwood earlier. With six more heading north later, it took to a healthy 25-plus recorded today. I also had my first Goldcrest of the autumn and perhaps my last Willow Warbler as well. No sign of any terns so autumn is moving on.

Friday, 18 September 2015

Hirundine Heaven

It was nice to see the reservoirs at the centre of migration today even if it was restricted to hirundines. But the numbers of Swallows and House Martins passing through were truly spectacular. As @birdingprof and I walked towards Lockwood, it was clear there were hundreds around feeding high with small parties of largely Swallows moving south-east. But around 9-30 this migration reversed as it did at other London sites and the numbers built up. At their peak for half an hour after 10 am, we were counting well over 100 a minute flying steadily north west low over Lockwood and higher up over Maynard.  It is impossible to give an accurate estimate but, with flocks feeding all around up above us, there must have been thousands rather than hundreds. Most appeared to be Swallows with perhaps 40 per cent House Martin and a few Sand Martins as well.
      In contrast, the rest of the day was disappointing, given that the weather was good and it was mid-September. We had only a solitary Meadow Pipit overhead while the southern complex had a Willow Warbler in sub-song and a Lesser Whitethroat still around the magic (semi) circle on the central path along with a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps. On his way home, Paul had a Siskin over the Ferry Boat Inn while I had a late Reed Warbler on West Warwick and an early male Stonechat on East Warwick. Otherwise it was one of those days where Kingfishers were showy with half a dozen different sightings, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel both recorded and perhaps three different Cetti's singing. There were also still at least two lingering Common Terns.


An afternoon visit to the Waterworks yielded four Spotted Flycatcher, five Willow Warbler, a Lesser Whitethroat, and a juvenile Peregrine that flew onto one of the pylons.  A Goldcrest was seen calling from bushes alongside the path.


Thursday, 17 September 2015

Fancy a Chat

A window of opportunity both in weather and health and a self-prescribed visit to the Waterworks that provides potential of something interesting without the need for physical exertion - which currently - I am unable to extract from this ailing body. Yet there is hope, and today the sun was out, a light cool breeze, and life once again felt real.

There was evidence of visible migration with at least 25 Swallow powering over, moving through in small pulses with around 30 House Martin and roughly the same number of Sand Martin.

I had bumped into @leevalleybirder, and we wandered through the reserve. Evidence of grounded migrants weren't obvious, but a single Common Whitethroat was welcome as we attached ourselves to the wooden fence staring expectantly into the sky. First up, a chat flew across the treeline and settled on top of one of the Poplars - a Whinchat, joined then by a second what looked like an adult and a juvenile.

A Cetti's Warbler called from somewhere deep within the reeds, and a Chiffchaff flitted within one of the bushes where a family party of Greenfinch were vocal and flighty.

A Willow Warbler then flew across onto the top of a tree now bereft of leaves. The Whinchat settled in the same tree having moved from where it was first located. Peculiarly, these were then replaced by a Spotted Flycatcher that briefly sallied for insects before disappearing altogether.

Two vocal Meadow Pipit flew north. A Kingfisher was heard flying somewhere within the Waterworks but out of view and a distant Sparrowhawk was being mobbed my corvids.

Having then been beset by a school party and Lee Valley staff carrying out more works, we headed out to the Pitch and Putt. It was generally quiet here, but for the first Stonechat of the autumn that finally settled long enough for a quick pose.

A lethargic wander round was completed with a single flyover Siskin.

This stunning Migrant Hawker was captured sunnying itself on a Bramble.


Monday, 14 September 2015

Room 101

I wanted to check out Bed 16 on the WaterWorks this morning as it had been newly flooded and a Common Snipe and a Kingfisher had made an appearance recently.

In and around the entrance and the paths to the hides there were lots of:

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Green Woodpecker

Classic Goldfinch
 While I was watching the Goldfinches devour the teasel, I heard an unusual call pass over my head. I walked round to the bank of bed 15 where I saw and heard what I thought to be a Tree Pipit. I snapped a few pics, got a second opinion - fine flank streaking, breast streaking discreet, not coalescing into a central blob, eye stripe, spot on ear coverts, yellow breast and short hind claw, low teeess call and in a tree – and was later satisfied to tick my first life and patch Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit

Tree Pipit 8:54am  (lifer #186 and patch year #100)

There were also:

Cettis Warbler
Jay (lots of them all over stocking up on acorns)
Willow Warbler

And Bed 17 was getting some water. So hopefully Bed 16 and 17 will be good over Winter.

Later, me and the Prof took a whirl around the Reservoirs. No major wader action, but a scarce patch bird in the shape of a Skylark - #101 for the patch year for me.

Yellow Wagtail 
Skylark (patch year #101)
Yellow Wagtail (6)
Common Sandpiper
Spotted Flycatcher
Lesser Whitethroat
Garden Warbler
Blackcap (m)
Common Tern
House Martin

Tree doing a muppet impression.
GH - @leevalleybirder

Friday, 11 September 2015

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

A lovely day saw a huge turnout of birders and, very nearly, birds, on the patch today. @jarpartridge and I had an early start, so early that I missed my normal cup of Java, and, to compound matters and to muss with my OCD he decided to do the Lockwood clockwise (Aargh!) I probably should do this more often as it sometimes pays off, today was one of those days. Halfway up we met @thewolfhounds on his way to work, via a very circuitous route I must say, a quick chat informed us that he had seen a female Wheatear and 7 Common Sandpipers but not too much else. 

Opposite where we chose to talk there was quite a bit of bird activity, most of it was made up of Dunnocks, Chaffinches, Blue Tits etc. but there were also some Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers so we lingered....just long enough for Dave to get out of range when Mr. Partridge said Aha! Or something similar. The exclamation was due to a spanking male Redstart which had appeared in front of us! Only my 4th on the patch in 'ahem' years. I did my usual trick of fiddling around trying to set up my iPhone/adaptor/scope/reading glasses combo and managed to miss it disappearing off down stream. We scooted down to the next good looking gap to intercept it and get some photos but it seemingly zipped off towards Tottenham Marsh. Hardly satisfying and you'll have to take our word for its gorgeousness but they all count, especially for me as Jamie had already seen one for the year. #redstartmagnet

A Cetti's Warbler sang half heartedly, as they all seem to be doing at the moment, from near the allotments. I say all, as we are currently blessed with a goodly number of the critters, we had perhaps 5 singers on the reservoirs today, add to that a couple on the marsh and 1/2 on the Waterworks and it is amounting to the best showing (if invisible singers can be said to show) ever on the patch.

An occasional trickle of Swallows all day perhaps added up to 70+ and gave the impression that things were on the move. This was further emphasised by a flyover Whinchat, called by yours truly, followed by a flyover Spotted Flycatcher which had the good grace to land and become two within a few minutes. Two Yellow Wagtails and a Meadow Pipit joined the party, a Hobby flew over and a Green Sandpiper in the North Channel all lulled us into thinking that the floodgates were about to open, unfortunately this pretty much was the last hurrah and the rest of the day was downhill all the way.

As any one (well me) knows, 11:45 is Raptor O'Clock on the patch, and @porthkillier who had actually blown a trip to Minsmere on the strength of the promise of an Osprey, suggested we grabbed a Coffee in readiness of this delight to come, a discussion ensued of how much we need a Cafe on the patch and when that might happen, either way Coffee was eschewed in favour of a quick blast around the Southern section. 

West Warwick delivered nowt, East Warwick was much the same, No. 5 was no better but there was a last gasp of excitement after @lolbodini left us and we walked the track between 1,2& 3, another Spotted Flycatcher and three Lesser Whitethroats were in with some Willow Warblers and performed admirably in the last of the summer sunshine. 

Around lunchtime we bumped into Steve S who filled us in on the development plans for the new Wetlands project, most of us locals have a feeling of foreboding with what might happen but the good news in this context was that the Coffee shop will be opening 22nd February 2017, you heard it here first, sadly that was not quite quick enough for me and I retreated to chez mois for a cup of Joe. 

All in All I saw 67 species today, plus a couple missed, Siskin being the worst miss as I had high hopes of this today, though it seems this year will be a Siskin year so I'll not loose too much sleep over that. Somehow, however, it felt like we had been a little short-changed, especially in the Osprey department (2 were seen to the South and East of us), but I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles.


Saturday, 5 September 2015

First of the autumn

I might not have thought it possible but I managed to find even fewer migrants at the reservoirs - but plenty of rain again - today. A late Swift fed over Lockwood where there were 15 or so Swallows among the House and Sand Martins low over the water. A Green Sandpiper was in the overflow channel and two Common Sandpipers on the reservoir itself. A sign that September has arrived was my first Meadow Pipit of the autumn - a species which simply no longer turns up in the numbers of the past. It did, however, kindly join a very tame Wheatear in frame. Two more Swifts were over No 5 and three Common Sandpipers were on East Warwick with a few more Swallows too. I found the tit flock on the central path a couple of times but there seemed less variety with only one Willow Warbler and four Blackcaps.  I should have gone to Staines.....

DB @ porthkillier

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Don't tell the PM...

With swarms of migrants (where've we heard that before?) still turning up all over the place, across the capital and beyond, it felt like an auspicious day to get out on the patch after yesterday's deluge.
I was encouraged to learn over breakfast that Genghis (aka Stuart - dont ask me) had already been rewarded at the Waterworks NR with not one but TWO Redstarts and a Pied Fly! In this case, the early birder definitely caught the, erm, worm (not sure about that one - Ed).
Started off with a quick circuit of 'Wild Marsh East' - the somewhat romantic name given to the smallish patch of land just N of the Lockwood which is part of Tottenham Marshes and flanked by houses on the East side, a stream to the West, and Banbury reservoir to the North. WME although limited in size, does have it's share of good habitat, and recent sightings have included Nightingale and Grasshopper Warbler. There are 2 bridges crossing the stream, Sandpiper bridge to the North, and the 'green bridge' to the South. The green bridge in particular is a great place to see Kingfishers whizzing past, and it was along this stream that I had the 3 Spotted Flycatchers a few days earlier.
Back in September 2009 I found my only ever Wryneck on the patch* just over on the other side of the Lea on a rainy September afternoon...sadly I was the only observer on that occasion, as the bird could not be relocated after a heavy downpour had sent me scurrying back home. Many of us are hoping we can unearth one of these little beauties this autumn.
Nothing much doing on WME, so made my way up to the Lockwood where I soon bumped into Graham H who'd just found another Dunlin (been an exceptional year for them). We also had a female Wheatear,

but no sign of the recent female Scoter so we have to assume she's gone (stayed about a week in total which was great, and just long enough to get the species on my house list!).
From here we sauntered down towards the S side and the East Warwick res where a Turnstone had been found the day before (see previous post). Fortunately it was still there going about it's business on the island amongst the local gulls, ducks and Cormorants. A scarce visitor indeed, and only my 2nd ever on the patch.

I parted company with GH and Dan B a short time after, fancying my luck up the path between reses 1 and 3, which has recently proved a great place to find roving mixed flocks of small birds. Sure enough, some 100 metres down, I started to see and hear all sorts of stuff; Robins, tits, several Willow Warblers, Chiffies and Chaffinches, Garden Warbler, Blackcaps, both Whitethroats, then a delightful Spotted Flycatcher - still a scarce bird on the patch - and then...BINGO!, that elusive flash of red/orange denoting my target bird of the day...a (not so Common) REDSTART!! (Perhaps you should make that a small 'bingo!' in case something even better shows up? Nah, leave it as it is - Ed). This was an immature (1st winter?) male bird, and a little beauty at that, with the bright orange tail and flanks contrasting nicely with the grey upperparts, and a faint black throat patch, loverly! One of these days I'll buy a proper camera, until then you'll have to take my word for it.
Like the Turnstone, this was only my 2nd ever C Redstart on the patch so I was made up ;o) Next target species for me is that elusive Pied Flycatcher which I've yet to set eyes on around here. Heard that Jamie P refound the bird on the WWorks this evening, and there was also a Black-necked Grebe on the EW earlier which we missed (or turned up later), found by Mr Messenger, so all in all another TOP DAY on the patch, and I can only sympathise with you poor so-n-so's that were stuck in work all day. There's always tomorrow...
*What constitutes the patch boundary is a very subjective thing, and varies a bit between all of us regulars. I for example DONT include the Waterworks NR, as this is just a little too far South for my liking (and the patch is big enough already). However I DO include Tottenham Marshes as it's really close to me, and in my mind is just a continuation of the same habitat you get on THIS side of the river Lea! (I know Prof W does not agree, but hey-ho, it's a subjective thing as I said).
Lol B @LolBodini