Sunday, 29 January 2017

Seasons collide

Friday, 27 January 2017

A Hard Swallow....

The last time a Swallow was seen in the capital in January, according to The Birds of London, Napoleon was ruling much of Europe and Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were still a few days from being born. The one and only record for the month for London dates as far back as January 29th,1809. So whatever happens in the rest of 2017, Dan B's discovery of a Swallow over the filter beds on Wednesday will remain one of London's most remarkable sightings of the year. What it was doing turning up in the coldest snap of the winter will remain a mystery but it has had the good grace to survive and hang around so a steady trickle of visitors can enjoy this piece of ornithological history. I saw it from No 5 - through two fences and across Coppermill Lane - hawking low over the eastern two sets of filter beds. It was distant but very obviously a Swallow. The only pic so far is blown up from Dan's phone which may not be the best ever photograph of a Swallow but is a lot better than they would have managed in 1809.

It appears to be only the second sighting of a Swallow anywhere in the UK so far this year with the first in Dorset two weeks ago.When I returned later for another look, I met Davey L who pointed out the Black Redstart which Dan had also found on Wednesday. It was feeding on the north-south path between the two eastern-most sets of beds and was presumably the same one that was on No 5 earlier in the month.

The rest of the day on the reservoirs was much more hum-drum except for a good number of Snipe presumably dislodged from the marsh by the freeze. There were two at the top of No 1, another on West Warwick and at least eight from the bank of East Warwick. almost all of which flew into the secret lagoon on the island. There was a female Goldeneye on West Warwick, three more on Lockwood and a pair on High Maynard. No 4 was largely frozen, as were No 1 and No 5, so the Scaup was doing one of his regular away days. Lockwood still has its wintering party of a dozen Meadow Pipits and there are small numbers of Fieldfare scattered around with two Chiffchaffs in the horse paddock. A Common Sandpiper was seen later on No 5.
DB @porthkillier

Friday, 13 January 2017

A Good Start

In over 30 years of visiting the reservoirs, I have only seen a couple of Black Redstarts and both of those were in the spring. So the female-type that the Prof spotted as we walked round the partially drained No 5 this morning was both a delightful surprise and an excellent start to the year. It showed very well in the south-west corner where, given the wagtails and Meadow Pipits around, there seemed to be no shortage of food. It was still here, GJ reports, in late afternoon.

No 5 also held two female and a drake Goosander which were probably the same birds earlier on No 4. Another drake took the place of the missing Scaup on the NW corner with the Tufted Duck but was considerably less sleepy and soon departed across the road. Walking round East Warwick, we flushed a Snipe which landed down in the hidden lagoon on the island.

The day had not started quite so promisingly when our cunning plan to start later and avoid the snow ended up with us arriving at Lockwood just as a blizzard started. It persuaded us to walk around the bottom rather than brave the wind and snow which might explain why we did not see the Scaup as the last report during the week was up on Lockwood. A 3W Yellow-legged Gull had the same idea of keeping out the wind and loafed on the side of High Maynard until we got our cameras out. High Maynard also held four Goldeneye and, briefly, a Green Sandpiper. A pair of Peregrines were displaying to remind us that spring was only a couple of months away. It just did not feel like it.....

Stop late afternoon, the Scaup was back on No 4 and  GJ had found a Jack Snipe in the new reed bed at the north end of No 1 which means an unexpected visit to the reservoirs again tomorrow.

DB @porthkillier

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Publish and be Damned

With 2017 moving on a pace and 2016 a fast fading memory, I thought I would put up a bit of a personal review of last year. Having written this nearly a month ago I think there has been a bit of a hiccup in the otherwise smooth operating of the Walthamstow Birders Blogspot editorial team (eds. We have one?) so, without wishing to offend any or indeed all contributors I thought I would do as the title says...

Birding Walthamstow is hard work, it feels that, with a few notable exceptions, you have to find most of your own birds. Of course it also means that there is a lot of expectation whenever you go out and even the occasional satisfaction when you do stumble across a patch goodie.

The satisfaction started early in 2016 when I stumbled across (simultaneously with Garry J as it turned out) an adult winter Little Gull on January 6th, which then spent the afternoon cruising around No.4.

My new found status as ‘Guller’ was established further on the 10th when I found a 1st winter Caspian Gull on the Lockwood. Caspian Gull was on my patch list from the ‘90’s but truth be told I don’t think many people (me included, possibly even me especially!) knew what they were looking at in those days, so it was nice to have an unequivocal bird, and one that stayed long enough for the real Gullers to get to see it.

February 9th brought a German ringed Common Gull to the East Warwick, always nice to see a traceable foreign bird. Away from Gulls a flushed Jack Snipe on Walthamstow marsh was a nice find but, in turn exciting and frustrating, as it was only seen again the next day by Mike M and friend, although you can bet it was somewhere in the large reedbed.  The Brambling that had originally been seen early in January on the reservoirs led me a merry dance but eventually gave itself up on the back paddocks at Leyton marsh and then of course stayed for an age.

Another Caspian Gull find confirmed that I was not really a Guller but these things were just getting more common. This 2nd winter was on the Lockwood on March 14th. It was a good winter for Stonechat, Goldcrest, Siskin, Redpoll and Water Rail, plenty of sightings of all these but March started hotting up with a few flyover Jackdaw and Rook sightings and a Rock Pipit or two.

Osprey, can't you tell?
Jamie P’s singing Siberian Chiffchaff on the Waterworks would probably have stolen the show for the month if it hadn’t have been for two (two!) flyover Ospreys on the Lockwood on the 25th, my earliest ever sighting anywhere. This was an exceptional day with 70 species seen including 2 Red Kites, 4 Buzzards and 2 Dunlin. Sand Martin and Swallow were both seen before the month’s end.

April saw the arrival of the expected migrants but the first surprise of the month was the, not quite annual,  Mandarin on the East Warwick. Other April highlights included a Redstart on 9th at the Waterworks. On the 13th a Short-eared Owl from the car whilst we sat in traffic on Ferry Lane, also seen from the car were 3 Barnacle Geese (crazy eh?), on the actual reservoirs were Coal Tit, Rook, Red Kite and 5 Sandwich Terns that dropped in to the West Warwick for two minutes before heading off South, blink and you missed them. 76 species seen that day without any planning, but quite a few eyes.

A male Whinchat on 22nd was one of the more colourful offerings amongst the Spring migrants and a singing Redpoll on the 20th was quite unusual. High billing must go to the Grasshopper Warbler that summered and may have even bred on the Wild marsh East.

Top billing of the Spring was a personal highlight, finding a new bird for my patch list on 27th of May. Initially hearing briefly just an unsusual, but strangely familiar half song, I gave it 40 minutes without seeing the bird, persuading myself not to throw away what I was becoming more and more convinced was a Wood Warbler. Eventually the bird flew out and perched up in full view – wow! It had the good grace to stick at the end of Coppermill Lane for the rest of the day, allowing a number to catch up with it and Dave D-L to get this shot.

The 4th Annual Walthamstow Patch Watch Day was a triumph with cumalatively a record 88 species being seen and a personal best for me of 81.

May produced a number of good sightings, amongst which were two pairs of Black-necked Grebes, a Black Tern, only my 2nd ever patch Sanderling, on the Lockwood, along with a number of other passage Waders during the month. A drake Garganey was present on the West Warwick one balmy evening. Of unknown origin, but possibly of European feral stock, a Bar-headed Goose was also a turn up for the books, but it din’t linger.

Great Black-backed Gulls bred for the first time, not just a rare event for us but possibly the first succesful breeding for London too.

I don’t know if I’ve been missing them, but in June I spotted Bee Orchids in the Waterwoks NR for the first time in 10+ years, lovely.

Even more lovely was Jamie P’s magnificent singing male Common Rosefinch that graced Walthamstow marsh for a week or two in July, a first for the patch no less, with it proving to be by far the biggest draw for visiting birders of 2016. Peregrines bred just off patch with a family party being seen during the month.
Another strangely good find for me was only my second ever seen, as opposed to heard, Ringed Plover, a cracking adult on August 6th.  A Bat walk on the 8th produced three species seen and heard; Common & Soprano Pipistrelles and Noctule. The end of the month saw a fabulously confiding Turnstone, also only my second on the patch.

September saw a fly through Knot over the Lockwood, another Wader I have only seen once before on the reservoirs, but pride of place goes to only my second, and first self-found patch Spoonbills, late on the afternoon of 18th.  A gloomy day suddenly gave way to blue skies and, scouring around, more in hope than anticipation for Raptors, led to spotting three immatures circling lazily over the West Warwick/Walthamstow marsh for over 10 minutes, sadly all my efforts to get others on to them and indeed get any sort of shot of them proved fruitless, still exciting though.

Sticking with Waders, October came up trumps with an immature Grey Plover on the 1st, just the third patch record for me. Over the course of the year I saw 16 species of Wader, by far and away my best year ever. With most of my birding this month off-patch it is not surprising I didn’t see much else, though another Short-eared Owl over the Lockwood was good.

With new birds for the year, and enthusiasm for the patch drying up it was hardly a shock that the best bird, almost the only bird for me in November was an adult ‘argentatus’ Herring Gull flying around over the Jubilee Park on the 18th.  I remembered I was a Guller again.

As I write this in mid-December I have yet to visit the patch, but hopefully will get over there before year’s end. As years go it was a good one, fairly mild weather meant we kept a reasonable number of wintering birds at the beginning of the year, though on the other hand we missed a lot of potential hard weather movement and therefore the year list has a few holes in it. Bizarrely, though the cumalative patch list was lacklustre with 143 species (our average is 146.1), most of the locals had their best year ever, including me, beating my previous best year by one with 131 species. Testimony to quality over quantity and hard work, persevering when the going got tough.

When all is said and done you have to keep going as those birds are not going to find themselves, and most of them don’t seem to want to hang around and be seen by others later. You really do have to find most of it yourself, though that is much easier when you have a few eyes with you, so a big thank you to those I’ve birded with during the year and to those who I haven’t but who have kept the news flowing.

With two new birds added to the overall patch list this year, Raven and Common Rosefinch, it puts us on 249. 2017 should surely see us reach the big 250, what is it going to be and who will find it…



Friday, 6 January 2017

Jackie. Oh!

Preferring to take my chances on the marsh, rather than chance my arm on the reservoirs I went on a bit of a Snipe hunt today, it was the only bird that we know is definitely on the patch but has yet to be clocked for the year. My theory was that I wouldn’t need to get too wet in finding them, the marsh is a boggy old place but when the temperature is around freezing it is a bit firmer under foot.

Parking at the riding stables in Lea Bridge Road I thought I would check the paddocks for a few year ticks too. The overflow channel was very low, so a quick check from the bridge across to Argall Way was in order – nothing. Well almost nothing, there was a brown blob against the edge, it wasn’t moving but could be a bird, could be a Snipe even, probably be a clod of earth but best check it with the scope, I am here looking for Snipe after all.

Well I never! It is a Snipe, looks short-billed, but it’s stock still, better zoom up…It’s a Jack Snipe! At which point it gave a cursory double bob as if to say ‘fair cop, you got me’

(It stayed all day and was well twitched by a number of locals running literally into single figures)

At the North end of Walthamstow marsh in the Oxbow by the Marina, I saw 2-3 Water Rails and heard 2-3 others all within 50m. Two Snipe were easily seen flying out, and later back into, the ‘Dry’ Reed bed, Reed Bunting(s) were heard, a male Stonechat was at the end of the boardwalk, a massive flock of 2 Linnets were on the back paddocks, another pair of Stonechats on the Fairground field and to cap off the morning a Kestrel hugged one of the pylons.


Can I find a Pheasant? Can I heck. There is always one bird that gives me the run around, though perhaps on the 6th of January that is a bit of an overreaction, anyway that bogie may be laid to rest tomorrow afternoon as I will hopefully get one on the Wild Marsh East when I go on my Barn Owl hunt.


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Monday, 2 January 2017

Papa's Got a Brand New Blog

2016 was a bit of an Mixed Bag on the patch, overall the patch list was somewhat lacklustre, with the possible exception of a few standout birds, however most of us managed to set personal bests, at least in terms of a yearlist and most got a number of patch finds and patch ticks, hopefully 2017 will be more of an Jamboree Bag.

There will be some sort of year-end review on the blog, though who knows when that might appear, at least it won’t be as late as the opening of Walthamstow Wetlands which appears to be slipping back further and further (Feb 2017, became Autumn 2017 and now it sounds like 2018, though you won’t hear me complaining), anyway enough of the past and the future, what of the present?


With the reservoirs being shut on the 1st of January, today, by default, became the first day of the patch year. I have personally looked forward to this day since about the end of October 2016 as that is when I ran out of steam/enthusiasm/patch ticks. As all patchers know; everything is bright and shiny and new on the first day of the year, even Coots get looked at for a minute.

The gates open at 08:00 at this time of year which, unfortunately, was not early enough to see the Barn Owl which was seen at 04:00(!) yesterday on Tottenham South marsh and would easily have been seen from the Lockwood. This snippet of news came from @StuartFisher16 Now that’s what I call dedication to yearlisting. My personal view is that this is one and the same Barn Owl that has been seen very, very, occasionally since 2015. If so it covers a fair old area and will take some catching up with, if anyone from the Wetlands project reads this, a Barn Owl box would be a really good idea, though please take advice on where to put it.


 Connecting with the Owl was always going to be a long shot but the other reason for an early look at the Lockwood was to see Goosanders before they get flushed, 5 drakes, chasing one un/lucky duck were at the North end before we flushed them. A few Greenfinch were near the allotments on the South-west side, a Green Sandpiper played hide and seek in the drainage channel and a cooperative Kingfisher was fishing the west bank. Meadow Pipits just got into double figures.

On the south side @harringaybirder had counted 37 Little Egrets roosting on the island on East Warwick, so we went to have a look. We saw 1. Though after walking around the island we saw some more, and some more and some more. There were birds flying off towards West Warwick, where 23 were in the South-west corner and others were dotted all-round the other reservoirs, we have never had so many during the day in mid-winter. There was a peak evening roost count of 54 a couple of winters ago but there were easily more than that in total today, I wonder how many more may have flown in during the evening?

Other lesser lights included a feeding flock of 5 Chiffchaffs in the grass of the old Horse field alongside nos. 4/5, a 2nd winter Yellow-legged Gull on No. 4, two Common Sandpipers on No.4 and No.5, and a showy water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler by the diagonal bridge.

The Black-necked Grebe seems to have done a bunk, as does the Wigeon but most other target birds duly appeared and we finished the day on 66 species. Highlight was of course Pete the Scaup, from now on all patch scarcities are to be named and as Pete finds all the Scaups they shall all be henceforth known as Pete.

'Pete' an action shot!
Alastair D had Kestrel and Linnet down on Walthamstow marsh, so by my calculation the only birds currently on the patch yet to be seen, Barn Owl notwithstanding, are Pheasant, Reed Bunting and Snipe, though of course some wunderkind will no doubt pull a Caspian Gull out of the New Bag.


Photos mine, Dave's and Harringaybirders