Saturday, 30 April 2016

The Lord Mayor’s Show

Partially thanks to @AM_Winstanley efforts yesterday and his sightings of the Short-eared Owl, a few of us decided that we should start early and grab a goodly haul of species before the reservoirs opened, this plan sort of got out of hand, but proved to be a winning strategy, as we finally got to the reservoirs about 11:00! In the past the emphasis has been to focus on the reservoirs and then fill in the gaps elsewhere, perhaps doing it this way round is better, though I suspect it will depend on the circumstance of the individual year.

Stuart's Very Technical Sound Recording Equipment - @leevalleybirder

As we arrived on Wildmarsh East shortly after 05:00 we saw a furtive figure with an inverted child’s umbrella standing near to where the Grasshopper Warbler was singing, we decided to give him a wide berth, not scared just respectful, it was @genghisattenborough doing his sound recording bit.

Grasshopper Warbler Vid - @leevalleybirder

We had a good wander around but drew a blank on the Short-eared Owl though Pheasant gave itself up easily though as did the Gropper.

Grasshopper Warbler - @leevalleybirder

Next up was Walthamstow Marsh. A Goldcrest was heard by the Filter Beds in Coppermill Lane and a few species were snatched from the reservoirs by peering through the fence onto No.5 but we were to see all of them again once inside.

On the Marsh proper @jarpartridge scored an early Hobby moving East which myself and @leevalleybirder glimpsed moving away. Cetti’s Warblers were abundant on the Marsh, five birds singing, mostly along the line of the railway.

Graham’s efforts at cross-dressing (he’d crammed his feet into his wife’s Wellington Boots) paid dividends when a Snipe was flushed from the reed bed, even better was a calling Water Rail. A singing Willow Warbler was a surprise (another couple were recorded during the day behind the Ferry Boat Inn and between nos.2 &3 reservoirs).

Walthamstow Marsh - @leevalleybirder

Walthamstow Marsh - @leevalleybirder

Three Duck flew towards us going South along the line of the Lea, ‘wouldn’t it be nice if they were Red-crested Pochard’ I said. They were, and it was.

Graham, suitably shod, was delegated to walk through the Bomb Crater field but drew a blank, until reaching the South-east corner where a very probable Whinchat flew off, I caught the back end of it but couldn’t add anything to the identification, very nearly the one that got away but Gavin W had it/one on the paddocks later, so we'll have it. Behind the line of Black Poplars, one that definitely didn’t get away was a female Redstart, though it was only on view for a matter of a minute.

As we were on a roll we decided to extend our walk to the Waterworks, postponing our visit to the reservoirs, a flyover Rook on the Pitch’n’Putt, spotted by Jamie, made the diversion worthwhile. A Snipe in one of the beds made Grahams Wellingtons a bit unnecessary but we weren’t to know that at the time. On balance the Waterworks was a bit of a waste of time as we dipped most of our targets, though @suzehu more than made up for that later.

The front paddocks delivered Mistle Thrush to Graham but sadly I was blindsided by a Tree and never did catch up with that tasty morsel all day. There is always some easy bird that you don’t get on a big day, I find it strange in my case that it is often Mistle Thrush!

The back paddocks were a bit quiet but a male Wheatear looked spiffy. By now we needed to put on a bit of pace as we were hoping to rendezvous with Pete L as he opened the gate to the Banbury, a forbidden place for most of us (strictly speaking). He did warn us that we wouldn’t see anything, he was right, apart from another Wheatear and a couple of Common Sandpipers nada. Still nothing ventured nothing gained, so thanks Pete. He had not seen the Short-eared Owl either so we decided that it wasn’t worth giving that anymore time.

Walthamstow Birders - @leevalleybirder

Lockwood from Banbury - @leevalleybirder

Walthamstow Birders - @leevalleybirder

Northern Wheatear - @leevalleybirder

By now I think we were probably on around 70 species and it was time to get onto the reservoirs. As the weather was so fine we thought that there would be no Waders and so decided to do the Southern section first, contra the usual format. On the West Warwick a party of 4 Terns proved to be Arctic but swiftly moved through. Mike M had another single later.

A single Buzzard South and shortly afterwards two North gave promise of Raptors to come but sadly apart from one more from the pub that was it. During the course of the day a couple of Yellow Wagtails and Meadow Pipits were all the flyover migrants we could muster. Swifts and Hirundines put in a reasonable effort and were seen in small numbers throughout the day.

Five Common Sandpipers were scattered around the Southern section with a further eight on the High Maynard and three on the Lockwood, the only other Wader of the day was a Green Sandpiper seen by Sue and Mark on the High Maynard early doors.

After a strategy planning meeting (sit down and a pint) at the Ferry Boat Inn, where we listened in vain for a Kingfisher we tackled the Northern section. Pickings were slim. A message from Sue helped us formulate a plan to go back to the Waterworks as she had seen most of our, still wanted, targets, plus a Redpoll. The latter had been seen and heard singing in there last week and is surprisingly late for us.

The traffic was a bit of a pain but we got down there about 16:00 and grabbed the, up until now, missing Kingfisher and saw the previously reported Great Spotted Woodpecker. We were unable to track down the Green Woodpecker, Teal or Redpoll, but you can’t see them all.

Buoyed up by our new additions and mindful that the previous patch watch record was in reach we headed for the glories of Leyton Tip. @JW_Davies had drawn a blank there this morning, pretty much like we had done at the Waterworks in the morning, so nothing ventured, nothing gained we thought we’d have a look anyway. Result. Straight off two silent (makes a change for them) Jackdaw were seen feeding in a skip, nice. Then Jamie identifies a 2nd winter Yellow-legged Gull. We thought we had broken the record; that is until we heard about Alastair D’s two Sandwich Terns over Walthamstow Marsh this afternoon and Mike M’s Little Gull on No.4, not broken, smashed!

Jackdaw - @leevalleybirder

Last year’s record breaking total of 83 species has to give way to this year’s 88. My personal best of 78 was also topped and now stands at 81. @porthkillier has now arrived back from sunning himself and is set to catch up with what we’ve all had, I hope his returns are not the typical showing after the Lord Mayors Show.


Before the Lord Mayor's Show

Saturday's annual patch watch may have been just around the corner but there was a distinct lack of bunting and pagentary as I left the house at 4.30am on Friday.... Where were the pipes and timbrels? Where was the wild ecstasy? And, where, for crying out loud, was the golden coach?

Unfortunately, I had to make do with the 158 bus....

As I trudged off towards the Banbury in the dark, I began to question my sanity. What on earth was I doing? Why bird the patch from dawn to dusk, knowing full well that no-one else would be around to share any news of their finds. That I would have to cover the ground from Tottenham Marsh to Leyton on my own, then turn around and work it all again.

Then, as I turned into Sandpiper Lane, I heard a buzzing sound. Someone once said that 'Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / are sweeter.' Poor old Johnny Keats might have known a thing or two about birding but with a patch tick up for grabs, the Grasshopper Warbler calling over 1/4 mile away was sweet enough for me.

The bird rose up out of the brambles and performed really well (these photos were taken slightly later on in better light).... Ye trilly pipes, play on....

Just as the light began to rise, I decided to walk around Wild Marsh East in search of a Whinchat, when Lol B's Short Eared Owl from yesterday evening reappeared. It spent about 5 minutes hunting over the marsh between 5am-5.10am, then disappeared (presumably over the trees towards the Lockwood) as I was setting up my camera.

I met up with Jamie, Paul and David C. but aside from a few Common Sandpipers and a Yellow Wagtail on the Lockwood, there was very little else on the Northern side of the Reservoirs.

The Southern side was a bit better with yesterday's Garden Warbler lingering under the Pylons between Nos. 1 and 2. Even better, I found a mixed flock of about 20 Arctic and Common Terns on the West Warwick, with at least 14 Arctics in amongst them.

To be honest, the rest of the day was a real slog. There was a single Wheatear on the paddocks but it took me until 2pm to find a Goldfinch and 3pm to find a House Sparrow.

After giving up all hope of finding anything new, I went back to photograph the Gropper. On a brief, unsuccessful detour for a Collared Dove on the allotments, I found a female Redstart that took me to 70 species for the day. Not too bad, but probably par for the course.

The Gropper was now pretty elusive but miraculously the Short Eared Owl reappeared at 4.30pm, when it was mobbed by crows over the Lockwood. I managed to reel off a few flight shots.

It briefly settled on Tottenham Marsh but was soon flushed onto the Banbury by an unwitting dog walker. I think there's a good chance that it's the same bird that Paul and Jamie saw around two weeks ago, especially if it has been roosting on the Banbury.

Hopefully it sticks around for tomorrow.


Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Podium Finish

A bit of a bumper round-up tonight, let’s start with yesterday…

Bronze medal

An early morning text from Pete L brought news of a singing Grasshopper Warbler on the Wildmarsh East. Sadly I was heading to Surrey for work but others headed to site only to dip out. Finishing work earlier than I expected (what do you know!) I was tempted to give it a try, @jarpartridge was up for it too.

Photos Jamie P

It didn’t take too long to re-find it about 100m south of where it was originally. It sang brief snatches of song and did a funny call that I have not heard before. Always keeping low in Brambles or short scrub it was tricky to capture on film but showed well and closely in the bins/scope.

Video courtesy of @HarringayBirder

Funnily enough the last one on the patch was also on Wildmarsh East, though at the Southern end, that was in 2011, a year that brought three, possibly four to the patch; one by the Lea south of the pitch’n’putt, another on the South end of Walthamstow marsh by the boardwalk and a possible by the side paddocks. Quite why they are so scarce here is anybody’s guess as we seem to have plenty of suitable habitat. It is still there today apparently.

Silver medal

I started early on the reservoirs this morning hoping to catch up with the Oystercatcher and/or Little Ringed Plover that have been seen recently. I might have guessed that both of them are playing the one in three rule, it’s a little bit like Russian Roulette but with less splatter. The Birds randomly occur at random intervals, but only once in any three day period. Obviously this is arranged to avoid the days that I randomly occur on the patch.

Photos by Jamie P

Whilst checking the East Warwick I noted that the ‘intermedius’ Lesser Black-backed Gull that Jamie had seen a while back was back on the island, allowing me a few shots before flying North. The two Barnacle Geese (Bill & Ben) were also on the island before flying strongly South, though they appeared on No.5 later.

A tight party of nine Terns flew in, and around, and then over, to the West Warwick. I thought they warranted a check but didn’t really have the time to walk round there so decided to scope them up from the Southern end of the East Warwick, as I passed the Coppermill building I heard a strange call and made a mental note to check it out on my return. The Terns were Common. As I walked back I thought I heard a sibilant trill. I listened and heard it again but could see nothing but Chaffinches, Wrens, Great Tits and Blackcaps. I racked my brains as to what it was but the only thing I could come up with was Wood Warbler. Preposterous!

I tried to figure out if the Chaffinches were making the noise, the Wrens were certainly trilling but this was different, more liquid, and prettier. I heard it a number of times and still kept coming back to Wood Warbler. If it was Wood Warbler it wasn’t doing the full song, the introductory Peoo, Peoo, Peoo was lacking but I didn’t think that that was a bar to it being one, the only bar was that this is Walthamstow and it couldn’t be a Wood Warbler. Whatever it was, was the other side of a stream, a road and two fences and was up in the leafy canopy giving no views whatsoever.

Having not heard Wood Warbler for five years I was slightly wary of putting the news out without having seen it but I was also wary of giving up on what could be a monster bird for us. I decided to cast around for opinion on what else could possibly be confused with Wood Warbler and so duly sent out a couple of Tweets. No sooner had I done so than it flew across the Coppermill stream and plunked itself in front of me in a leafless Tree. There it was in all its yellow-breasted, white-bellied, green-backed, long-winged loveliness…Wood Warbler. I had palpitations (is that a good thing?).

A rare Bird for London, only five Spring records in 2013, and even rarer Bird for Walthamstow, with, as far as I know, only Pete L having seen one, well two actually, both in 1996; one on Aug 8th, in trees by the channel south of East Warwick (same place as today!) and amazingly another, on Sept 5th, in trees at South end of No 3. So 20 years on we have a third. People arrived after about 20 minutes of the news going out and after about an hour it showed well, singing and calling to all comers and apparently stayed till this evening. At this time I would have called it Bird of the year, certainly the rarest Bird we have had and possibly are going to have in 2016…

Photographs courtesy of @birdbrainuk

Wood Warbler pics and vid - @leevalleybirder

Gold medal

…that was until we heard of Davey Leach’s Raven! I’ll take his account from the London Wiki:

Tottenham Marshes: 7.30am - Grasshopper Warbler reeling but very elusive in same area as yesterday. 12.30 - 13.30 - Same area - Raven by Chalk Bridge around channel (Monster next to mobbing Magpies!), M Sparrowhawk low over grass, 3+ singing Lesser Whitethroats in area, Pr Kingfisher & Little Egret on River Lea, 4 Swallows, 8 Sand Martins & 12 House Martins by Banbury Reservoir. (Davey Leach) 'Hi Davey, where exactly was the Raven? Which side of the Lea was it, or did you see it from or over the WME?' (Walthamstow Birders) 'It was around the Channel E of the River Lea Canal where they join by the shallow water. It was mobbing the Grey Heron there and after perching for 2 minutes, it flew over the Bank to Banbury Reservoir chased by 2 Magpies'. 'Thanks, long awaited first (#248) for the patch, well done'. [1]

The well done was of course meant sincerely, though uttered through gritted teeth, as most of us were desperate to add this little (big) gem to the patch list. We will just have to set our sights on the next prize.


Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Passage Wagtails

So far this year, there's been a decent passage of Wagtails, with nearly double figures of Whites, and many more Yellows going through daily

I noticed the below female type yesterday on the rear paddocks, It wasnt till a friend pointed out it was similar to other possible female Blue Headed (Flava) Wagtails being discussed on Twitter that evening that i looked into it.  Poor shots due to distance and cropping etc

It Shows; blue-grey hues in the head,  pale centered ear coverts (only just) and extensive pale throat. The prominent eye stripe isn't as bold in front of the eye however but is certainly showing traits of Blue Headed Wag... You can thank me now for not titling this blog post "Whats your Flava?" or something similar.

Here are some White Wagtails from the past couple of weeks;

2 Males together

Adult Male White Wagtail

First Summer Female White Wagtail

Different individual males, variable grey 'wash' in the flanks.


Monday, 18 April 2016

Hirundines (and Wagtails)

In 2013, a year after discovering the regular Sand Martin's  breeding site (by Leyton Marsh), I took these photos.

I'm pleased to say that for the last four years of my watching the site, they're back in strength. 

I spent a pleasant 30 minutes observing them dash around at their usual spot.

There were two Yellow Wagtail on the rear paddocks.

Then I was treated to an aerial display of all three British hirundines - House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows. They were feeding over the flood relief channel. The House Martins were also swooping over the rear paddocks, picking up mud to reinforce their established nests in the nearby Coppermill Treatment Works.