Monday, 27 February 2017

Tristis und I Told Ya


Let’s get the undoubted highlight of Sunday’s visit to the Reservoirs out of the way straight away, after 57 days I finally got Pheasant for the patch year list.

In other news; we celebrated the Return of the Native, Jamie P. He had been MIA for most of the last few months, feared lost to an evil gang of Larophiles but, as sure as winter turns to Spring, he suddenly appeared, and to much rejoicing from the old guard (some older than others).

So it was with keen anticipation that JP, myself, Lol B and Dave B set off for walk around the Lockwood. No sooner had I seen my Pheasant (yawns all round) when we heard a singing Chiffchaff, strangely as Jamie had just been asking if any are singing yet!


‘That Chiffchaff looks rather pale’ quoth he, ‘O no he’s at it already!’ thinks I.  Well I’ll be darned, it was pale, and had a subtle wing-bar, feint rusty ear coverts, barely any olive tones, very dark legs and bill. It really looked the part for Siberian Chiffchaff. We played a bit of song and it reacted quite strongly, unlike the 2 Common Chiffchaffs nearby which carried on their business regardless. To say Jamie is sharp is an understatement, and he’s in his 4th decade (technically), think what would get found if we could get a child prodigy on the patch, (The transfer window is still open, Dante, if you’re reading thisJ ) It is less than a year since he found the last one on patch. (still there on 27th and heard calling ‘iiip’, the whole enchilada)

pic Jamie P
So far our staged intervention was working, but a test lay ahead. Continuing on around the bank, we, alright, mostly me, tried stringing a distant Gull into a Caspian, obviously we had high hopes of finding one given the fact that Jamie’s eye must be well and truly IN, having probably seen more individuals this winter than any other British Birder, I kid you not. I should have known better than to try scamming him, though even he said it could have been a hybrid. A born diplomat.

The drake Scaup is hanging in there, on the ever shrinking water of No.4 reservoir, though numbers of its Tufted Duck comrades are shrinking almost daily. I wonder what it thinks each morning when it wakes up? ‘I could have sworn this reservoir was bigger last night!’ Naturally, given that the levels of Nos. 4 & 5 are about 60% lower than normal our hope for Waders was enormous, our realization of Waders was tiny – 1 Common Sandpiper, and that is one less than we’ve had all Winter. Shorebirds, why do you hate us?

The rest of the morning was a mild disappointment, though that really shouldn’t have come as a surprise given that it is the end of February. We all parted ways but I suggested to Jamie that we check the Filter Beds on the way home as Gull numbers often build up as the day goes on, it was not a hard sell.

Oh yes, it's in there

I set up my scope and started to check the close small Gulls for my hoped for Mediterranean, Jamie stared into the distance and then asked to borrow my scope as he had something ‘Interesting’. It was. Very. A cracking 1st Winter Caspian Gull, no less. As always the viewing is difficult here, looking through a double-mesh fence, with half the Gulls distant and/or hiding behind safety barriers, just imagine what we he could find if we had access…


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Reservoir Logs...January round-up

With the reservoirs soon to become a fully fledged nature reserve, it seems right to try to get a better picture of what's actually seen. So here's the first of what I hope will be a monthly bird round up for the reservoirs pulling together the records from the London wiki site and the log book in the permits' hut as well as our own sightings. Hopefully, I might get February's done slightly quicker....

An excellent start to the year on the reservoirs with the first Glaucous Gull for a couple of decades, the first January Swallow for at least a couple of centuries, along with Jack Snipe, Black-necked Grebe, Scaup and Black Redstart. A total of 80 species were recorded in the month with a pretty impressive 68 seen on January 2 when the reservoirs opened for the first time for 2017,
     The drake Scaup was around for most of January on No 4 although it also visited High Maynard and Lockwood and disappeared for a few days when No 4 largely froze over. The highest count of Goldeneye was 13 on the 9th with a peak of six Goosander on the 2nd with No 4 apparently their favoured reservoir this year. Forty four Little Egrets were seen coming into roost on the 2nd with 38 on the East Warwick island the next day. Two Black-necked Grebes were found on Lockwood on the 4th but soon disappeared. As well as the the regular Sparrowhawks and Peregrines and the rather less regular Kestrel, Buzzards were seen on the 10th & 19th and a Red Kite on the 24th.
      Waders have not yet found the excellent habitat on the partially drained No 4 & 5 with just a single Lapwing on the 14th and four on the 19th & 20. But the new reed bed at the north end of No 1 attracted a Jack Snipe on the 13th and hosted regular Water Rail and Snipe in the latter half of the month. The freeze saw a total of 13 Snipe counted around the reservoirs on the 27th with at least eight flying off the bank of East Warwick into the hidden scrape on the island.  The peak count for Green Sandpipers was five on the 10th but numbers were generally low as the overflow channel was largely full while there seem to be up to two Common Sandpipers wintering on No 4 &5.
                                   Common Sandpiper enjoying the new beach on No 5

      The highlight of the month was the 1W Glaucous Gull found on the filter beds on the 28th by Lol Bodini as he was watching the Swallow and Black Redstart. It seems certain to be the same bird seen at Leyton tip and is thought to be the first since 1994. It stayed until the 30th when it was also seen on one of the islands on No 5. Other gulls of interest were adult Mediterranean Gulls flying over on the 17th and on the ice on West Warwick on the 22nd with several records of Yellow-legged Gulls.
     The Swallow - the first in London since 1809 - found by Dan Barrett on the 25th was last seen on the 29th. Five Chiffchaffs were seen together in the horse field on the 2nd while Cetti's Warblers were nowhere near as obvious as in past years with only a couple of records for the month. Flocks of up to 30 or so Fieldfare and Redwing were resident throughout much of the January but the berries don't seem to have attracted any Waxwings. A confiding Black Redstart on No 5 from the 13th to the 15th was almost certainly the same bird found on the filter beds on the 25th which stayed until the end of the month. It has been a poor year for Stonechats on the reservoirs with a maximum of three on the 8th.  A flock of a dozen Meadow Pipits were faithful to the the grass banks of Lockwood with a few also on No 5 in the first half of the month. With a big rocky beach all around No 4 & 5 along with little islands appearing, the next couple of months when migration gets going could be very interesting....

DB @porthkillier


Not just any old poo - Water Vole poo!

tic-tacs anyone?
Water Vole droppings are often found in 'latrines' (piles of droppings).  Usually, they are created as part of a territorial behaviour where a Water Vole will revisit the same area over and over again.

latrine #2
Two latrines were spotted. Both being quite fresh looking. Good to see the present Water Vole marking its territory.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Smash and Grag

A quick smash and grab on the marshes.

Collect the Longworth and Bioecoss small mammal traps left on the marshes overnight, which were frustratingly un-tripped. At least they hadn't been disturbed, split open or taken away completely as is sometimes the case.

The male and female Stonechat were still around.

While no Water Vole was seen, a very probable above water Water Vole burrow entrance was noted.

Unfortunately, an also very probable American Mink or Weasel scat was also spotted very close to the entrance. 

Mink, Weasel or something else? It's not Water Vole.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Walthamstow Mammals

Working minutes away from the marshes means that you can sometimes spend mornings, lunches or afternoons observing and recording the mammals present there.

The tools of the trade: A Longworth Small Mammal Trap (with shrew hole) and other small mammal recording bits and bobs.

Most of the time, upon returning to the trap (having been left overnight), it looks like the above – trap door shut! Meaning something’s tripped it. Occasionally, it’s empty (bar a few tiny poops) – because a shrew has gone in through the tunnel, tripped the trap, munched some bait and departed through the shrew hole.

[if you leave a trap for longer than four hours, your trap must have a shrew hole as their metabolism is so high that if they don’t eat every four hours, they die]

But mainly, the trap has been getting these guys.

The (very common) Wood Mouse

When your trap’s been tripped:

Empty the trap into a deep bag (those fellas can jump).

 Measure some mice bits with a ruler.

Take out the bedding.

Weigh the bag + Wood Mouse, then weigh bag - the mouse and do a bit of math.

Snip a bit of hair off its haunches, so you don’t record it twice should you catch the same one later.

 Record its sex. In this case a male.


Then release the mammal (and note the record on GiGL).

And then reset the trap.

Lots of Wood Mice (an abundant UK mammal) have spent the night in the trap, but not a sniff of Field Vole or Bank Vole yet. Shrews are for another day. And Weasels are too quick for the camera so far.

So, on the marshes there is an unsurprisingly large amount of one of the UK’s most abundant mammals, the Wood Mouse. What is slightly ironic (as nothing in between seems to have materialised yet) is the much more significant presence of THE most endangered mammal species in the UK - the Water Vole.

Nearly 90% have disappeared in the last seven years, mainly due to habitat loss and predation from the American Mink.


But a very small population has been hanging in there on the marshes over the years.


This one’s a big adult. Only one has been sighted this year so far. Most of the time this is all the vole will let you see of it before it plops back under the water. 

This could be a Water Vole’s burrow entrance, but having observed the behaviour of the present vole, it’s more probable that the vole’s burrow entrances are under the bank.

The site is now being recorded in the People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) National Water Vole Monitoring Programme.

If you read this and see Water Voles at any place or time on Walthamstow Marshes, please drop a quick email to

Finally, if you care, please heed the (small) signs. Keep your dogs out of the ditches …

 … and try not to throw your rubbish in the ditch.

 Not good for Water Voles.