Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Reservoir Logs - November & December round-up

           The first Firecrests for over a decade appear to be wintering pic @OwlTurbot

   A drab and wet final two months of the year was enlivened by the discovery of Firecrests - regular  winter visitors nearby but so rare on the reservoirs that it seems the last record may have been eleven years ago.  November also added Mandarin to the year list and saw the early return of the drake Scaup for its sixth winter.

   Even with the two late additions, the annual total for the reservoirs' this year was a modest 133. It was never likely that the Wetlands could see a repeat of 2018's once-in-a-generation run of rare birds which saw 143 species recorded but the total was also down on 2017's 141. Among the omissions was Turnstone which had been annual since 2010 but has now not been seen for the last two years.

      Distant record shot of the four Mandarin who dropped onto the overflow pic @sjnewton

    The first Shelduck of the autumn were seen on Nov 8th - 13 days earlier than last year. SN got reward for going out in a downpour on Nov 2nd with two pairs of Mandarin briefly on the overflow channel at the top of High Maynard. They were the first record for the year of a species which remains puzzling scarce at the Wetlands.

   Shoveler numbers have failed to recover from the work on East Warwick with no more than three around the reservoirs compared to around 50 in 2018. Let's hope they return now the disturbance is over. Single Wigeon were seen on Nov 15th & Dec 28th with three next day on Lockwood.

   Our drake Scaup returned for its sixth winter on Nov 21st, well ahead of schedule. All its previous arrival dates have been between Dec 1st and 11th. But as if to make up, it seems to have departed with a large number of Tufted Ducks which left overnight of Dec 8/9th. It has only been seen again on Dec 18th which suggests it may not be too far away. The first Goosander of the year was seen on Nov 19th  - a month later than last year - with one or two birds seen irregularly until the end of the year. With the weather so mild, Goldeneye numbers have yet to reach double figures with seven the highest count.

   Water Rails have been seen and heard in the reed beds on No 1 & 3 throughout the period. It was not a great two months for waders except for Snipe which took an immediate liking to the 'new' island on East Warwick although they remain almost impossible to see from the shore. But those working on the island disturbed them regularly with a peak count of 20 on Dec 4th. Lapwing were seen on five days with singles on Nov 7th & Dec 27th, two on Nov 21st, three on Dec 28th and seven on Nov 24th.

              Wintering Common Sandpiper on a rare sunny day pic @HarringayBirder   

  Just hours after the last round-up confidently forecast an absence of wintering Common Sandpipers for the second successive year, one was found on Nov 1st and has remained until at least Dec 24th. Green Sandpipers continue to be seen with a very high count of five together on Dec 30th when flood waters in the overflow channel forced them onto the ramp.

  After the remarkable movement of Jackdaws in October, numbers were very much back to normal with just two on Nov 14th. There was only one record of Skylark as well on Nov 17th. There seem to be more wintering Chiffchaffs with daily counts of up to five and Blackcaps were still, unusually, being seen in early December along the stream by the main car park.

  The reason for such interest in an area often overlooked is because it became the regular haunt of what seems to be the first Firecrests on the reservoirs since April 2008 - and the first wintering birds since 1991/92. The first was found by LB on Nov 25th with two being seen next day. But there were only regular sightings of single birds throughout the rest of November and December until two were again seen together on Dec 27th, 28th & 31st. The favourite area remains the trees along the stream next to the car-park and the gorse at the front of the cafĂ© outdoor seating area. The likely Goldcrest/Firecrest hybrid rung earlier in the autumn also seems to be still around to add to the excitement.

        Photo confirmation of two wintering Firecrests along the car-park stream pic @sjnewton

   Only very small numbers of Redwing were seen in November and December with 30 the peak count of Fieldfare on Dec 4th. Meadow Pipit numbers have also been low with seven on Nov 30th the  highest number recorded in a day. Two Stonechats were seen regularly, October's Brambling stayed until Nov 1st and another Siskin was seen on Nov 17th. Bullfinch joined the list of species which were seen within yards of the reservoirs' list with one being agonisingly close in the trees across the Lockwood fence on the East Marsh on Dec 7th with others recorded not too far away on Walthamstow Marsh. Perhaps one for 2020?

   DB @porthkillier

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Reservoir Logs - Autumn round-up

          The first Little Stint for 21 years appeared on East Warwick @EugeneDH_Bass      

   The bird of the autumn - and probably of the year so far - was the Little Stint which dropped all too briefly onto the banks of East Warwick in September. It was the first since November 1998 in an autumn which was overall poor for waders. September also saw the first Great Egrets and Siskins while October delivered the expected Rock Pipit and the more unexpected Barn Owl. The second Common Redstart, a flock of nine Curlew and an unprecedented movement of Jackdaws were among the other highlights. The five additions take the annual total for the reservoirs to a modest 131, eight behind last year's total at this stage. 

   Barnacle Geese are usually seen in singles on the reservoirs so the flock of 13 seen flying over by EDH was very unexpected. It seems likely that the same two young Garganey which had been seen irregularly on Lockwood in August took up residence on the south side in September. They were first seen on No 1 and East Warwick before staying close to the island on No 2 from the 3rd to the 15th. Shoveler numbers built up to 110 by mid-October until the work on East Warwick island scattered and reduced the flock. Eight Wigeon were found on East Warwick on Oct 5th and three on Lockwood on the 21st. Red-crested Pochard have been, for some reason, scarce this year with just one on Oct 3rd. 

 Red-crested Pochard have, for some reason, shunned the Wetlands this year pic Ivor Hewstone 

   Returning Goldeneye have shown a remarkable consistency with the first bird of the autumn on Oct 29th, the same date as in 2017 and just one day later than last year. Goosander, however, are late with no records so far when last year the first bird was seen by mid-October. 

  Two Great Egrets were seen by PL going north high on Sept 22nd. The pair, in company with a Little Egret, had first been seen over Wandsworth before being tracked over Woodberry and later KGV.  A count of 29 Little Egrets using the No 2 roost was made at the end of October. The warm weather in September proved attractive for soaring raptors with six Common Buzzards together on the 13th and two on the 17th with singles on four other dates as well as two days in October. Red Kites were recorded on Sept 8th and 17th as well as Oct 16th. There were only three sightings of Hobby with birds on Sept 4th and 15th and a late bird on Oct 8th. 

   Given that Little Stint had not been seen at the reservoirs this century, it was very unfortunate that it choose to arrive late on a sunny Sunday morning on the most crowded part of the site. It was found by DH,  on one of his first visits to the Wetlands, right next to the hide on East Warwick. It was seen only by two other lucky birders before inevitably being flushed to the disappointment of all those rushing to get there from elsewhere on site.  

            Avocets are on the way to becoming regular visitors at the Wetlands pic @porthkillier 

   The other wader highlights were a flock of nine calling Curlew low over No 5 on Sept 9 in the drizzly conditions which are best for shorebirds at the reservoirs and an Avocet resting briefly on Lockwood on Oct 29th. Once a real rarity, this was the third Avocet of the year and the second successive autumn they have been recorded. But, otherwise, waders were very scarce with no records of Dunlin, Redshank or Oystercatcher and only one of Lapwing in September although October was better with two on Oct 7th. a single on the 23rd and three on the 24th, 29th & 30th. 

  Green Sandpipers were also down with just one record in each month while up to three were seen regularly in the last two years in the autumn. It also looks as if for the second year running no Common Sandpipers will be wintering with the last record on Sept 28th. Hopes are high that the promised scrape on the East Warwick island might prove popular with waders next year. 

     Common Tern providing a meal for a resident Peregrine pic @EugeneDH_Bass

   The first returning Common Gull was on Sept 10th while a young Yellow-legged Gull was seen on several days in mid-October. The miserable year for Common Terns - with no pairs breeding - continued with the last bird of the year being seen eaten by a Peregrine on the pylon next to No 2. 

  Barn Owls are becoming more regular in the lower part of the Lea Valley with two daytime records last year at the reservoirs. So it is not surprising that the Wetlands security team have seen birds hunting in the early hours around Lockwood twice in October. It has been a good year for Short-eared Owls with the fourth seen flying north over East Warwick by EDH on October 14th.

            The first Short-eared Owl of autumn but fourth of year pic @EugeneDH_Bass  

   Overall, visible migration so far this autumn was modest apart from unprecedented numbers of Jackdaws - part of a widespread movement across the capital. The usual small numbers were seen in early October before a remarkable count of 350-plus by DC on the 17th which was eclipsed three days later when 830 were seen going SW - largely by PL. Numbers then fell but 130 were still counted passing over on 22nd & 23rd. To give some context, PL has only had movements of over 100 Jackdaws four times - always in Oct -  since 2005 with the highest count of 200 last year while one flock alone had 170 birds on the 20th.  

   Coal Tit has, for some reason, been a rare bird at the Wetlands with less than annual records but it seems that this might be changing. The second of the year was on Sept 2nd and was followed by a run of sightings in October. There was a single on the 1st, one caught and rung on the 5th with two seen on the 15th. Skylarks were seen or heard passing over the reservoirs in small numbers in October with up to six recorded in a day.  

   Swallows can pass over in hundreds, even thousands, in some autumns but numbers remained worryingly low this year. The highest count was 38 on Sept 14th with the last bird on Oct 19th. In contrast, there were good numbers of Sand Martins through most of September while over 80 House Martins remained into October with the last on the 14th. The Wetlands obviously provides good late feeding for Swifts with numbers still high here when they have disappeared from most other London sites. There was still a gathering of 60 on Sept 3rd with numbers dropping gradually until the last bird was seen on the 14th.  

      This probable Firecrest/ Goldcrest hybrid is, if confirmed, a real rarity pic@whiteleggdan

   It is never as easy keeping track of the last dates for summer migrants as it is for the first but it seems as if the final Garden Warbler was seen on Sept 4th, Common Whitethroat on the 10th, Sedge Warbler on the 16th and Reed Warbler on the 25th. The last Willow Warbler was a bird in song on Oct 17th after small numbers through September. A late Lesser Whitethroat, along with eight Blackcaps and 32 Chiffchaffs, were caught in the ringing display on Oct 5th among a fantastic catch of 209 new birds. The most unusual was what seems likely to be a very rare Firecrest/Goldcrest hybrid. High numbers of ordinary Goldcrests were around the gorse and bushes of the central path in October. 

   The first Fieldfare of the autumn was on Oct 17, with 270 over including a flock of 75, on the 29th. Redwings were  recorded from Oct 4th with a highest count of 80 on the 17th. September saw a big post-breeding flock of Mistle Thrushes at the reservoirs with 24 on the 26th the highest count. Spotted Flycatchers continued to be seen with up to two on nine days in September and a pair remaining until Oct 2nd. Spring's Common Redstart was hard to see and almost impossible to see well but there were no complaints about the stunning male found by LB on Sept 13. It displayed brilliantly for all who could get down to see it.    
          A super-smart and obliging male Common Redstart graced September pic @OwlTurbot
   A Whinchat was a consolation prize for those who came down to find the Redstart had disappeared on Sept 14th It stayed for three days with a late bird on Oct 2nd. The first Stonechat of the autumn was also found on the 14th - the same date as the first returnee at nearby Wanstead - with up to four being seen in October. Wheatear numbers appear to be on a downward path at the reservoirs with a maximum day count of three on Sept 13th. The last sightings were two on Oct 15 which was also the date of the final bird last year. 

       Wheatears seem to be getting scarcer at the reservoirs pic @sjnewton

   Yellow Wagtails continued their good year with records on nine days in September including seven on the 10th with the last two on Oct 3rd. Up to 15 Meadow Pipits were seen daily on the ground or overhead from early Sept while the only Rock Pipit of the year so far was found by LB on Oct 12th. 
An early Brambling was in the big trees around the Engine House on Oct 5th and a remarkably tame individual feeding right next to the main path on the north side on the 30th & 31st. PL heard the first Siskin of the year going over on Sept 29th and saw three more on Oct 13th.  
             Unusual at the Wetlands to have such a confiding Brambling pic@HarringayBirder

DB @porthkillier  

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Reservoir Logs - August round-up

                       An obliging Pied Flycatcher found and photographed by @sjnewton

   The highlight of what was, in truth, a pretty lacklustre August for birds at the Wetlands was a two-day Pied Flycatcher, the first for a couple of years and the only recent bird to stay around to be appreciated. Tree Pipit, another bird which is surprisingly rare at Walthamstow, was also added to the year list. More expected additions were Spotted Flycatcher and Greenshank to take the total at the reservoirs to 126.

   But the month - and year - would have been much better if the Wryneck found by LB on the public footpath on the east of Lockwood on the 28th had been the other side of the overflow channel or made the short flight to feed on the grassy bank of the reservoir. Sadly it disappeared instead into the brambles and could not be re-found despite a thorough search. It remains perhaps the most obvious gap in the reservoirs' list. 

                     Two juvenile Garganey fed irregularly on Lockwood pic @jarpartridge

 A count of 2246 Tufted Ducks by SH on the 5th was up on last year's total of 1979. Garganey seem to be trying to make up for the unusual blank year in 2018. The two - probably juveniles - found late on the 14th by RE on Lockwood are the fourth and fifth records so far. They continued to show irregularly until at least the 20th. Both Teal and Shoveler returned in small numbers by the end of the month. 

Redshank have been scarce this year pic @EugeneDH_Bass

   It was a very poor month for waders with the wide beach around Lockwood proving particularly unattractive.  We seem to have had no records at all of Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Little Ringed Plover or Lapwing and just one Redshank on East Warwick on the 1st. The only Greenshank so far this year was found by CF on the Lockwood channel on 21st It remained until early the next morning. The same patches of mud also attracted the first Green Sandpiper of the autumn on 29th. 

              The Greenshank on the overflow channel was first of year pic @Chris_Farthing

   Common Sandpipers were seen throughout the month with the main passage in the first few days with a peak count of 22 on the 2nd in heavy rain. Numbers had fallen to low single figures by the end of August. The first returning Snipe were five surprisingly on the edge of Lockwood on the 24th with two there on 26th. Common Terns remained around the Wetlands until at least the 21st with an adult and juvenile fishing on No 3. 

   The second Osprey of the year soared over No 5 on the 19th before flying south east. Details on the much lower bird in April show it was rung in the nest at Beauly, Highland in 2010 so it was nearly nine years old.  A Buzzard was seen on the 23rd and, frustratingly. another distant raptor on the 21st could only be put down as a probable Marsh Harrier. Hobby were seen on 5th, 15th, 21st and 29th. 

  The reservoirs are a big draw for migrating Swifts and often attract good numbers after the local nesting birds disappear towards the end of July. Up to 60 continued to be seen feeding - often over the filter beds - right until the month's end. There were also hundreds-strong flocks of House and Sand Martins but Swallows were very scarce with singles on the 8th and 22nd and two on 27th. 

   Willow Warblers were seen, and often heard singing, throughout August with 10 on both 13th and 20th. One or two Garden Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats were seen regularly.  Seven Cetti's Warblers were caught in a short ringing session on the 20th to show just how many there are at the Wetlands.

  The first Spotted Flycatcher of the autumn, and year, was found by JW on the 11th. It was eight days earlier than last year's first record. But the real prize was the Pied Flycatcher which SN found in trees along the Lockwood on the right side of the channel on the 25th and which stayed next day. It was part of a large influx of Pied Flycatchers into London.  Although regular at nearby sites in the autumn, they are so elusive at the Wetlands that it was the first seen by one of the locals in over 50 years watching at the reservoirs. 

        Spotted Flycatcher like Pied were seen in good numbers in London pic @porthkillier

  Whinchat is another species far more regular on the marsh where there up to four this month but the only record from the Wetlands was one on the 28th. A Wheatear was seen on the 8th but the main passage started on the 22nd - just as last year - with birds recorded on six more dates with a peak of four on the 29th. Only two Yellow Wagtails were seen on 22nd and 24th. The Wetlands is something of a no-fly zone for Tree Pipit . The bird found on the side of Lockwood by RE on the 20th was the first for at least two years and was even more unsual for being flushed off the ground.  

DB @porthkillier

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Reservoir Logs - Summer update

               @sjnewton's award-winning photograph of breeding Sand Martins             

   Summer this year may not have produced anything as unusual in London terms as 2018's pair of Long-tailed Ducks but it did add a solid six species to the annual list including a genuine mega-rarity for the reservoirs in a Treecreeper.  It seems, astonishingly, that the last known occurrence may be nearly 30 years ago. The other additions were the first Curlew and Mediterranean Gull since 2017, Wood Sandpiper - the first species to join the annual list from sound recordings - along with Coal Tit and Barnacle Goose.  They take the total at the end of July to 122.

   It is breeding birds, of course, which dominate the summer and, leaving aside the sad confirmation that Common Terns failed to nest, it seems to have been a productive season. It looks as if around 10 pairs of Pochard hatched young to continue the increase noted last year while broods of Tufted Ducks, which are late breeders, had already reached a similar total by mid-July. Four pairs of Shelduck also bred with 11 young surviving along with one pair of Gadwall. Sand Martins - for the first time in a few years - bred successfully in a drainage pipe near the Coppermill Tower. 

          A typically wild Barnacle Goose made a typically brief stop in June pic @sjnewton

     Canada, Greylag and Egyptian Geese also seem to have had very good breeding seasons with family parties right across the site. A count in preparation for the ringing round-up of 503 Canada and 130 Greylag was made on June 17th. A Barnacle Goose - whose visits to Walthamstow are usually one-day affairs - stayed barely long enough on East Warwick to be photographed by SN on June 7.

      A female Wigeon was an unexpected and elusive visitor to No 1 in June pic @porthkillier

  The summer brought unseasonal ducks with a female Wigeon on No 1 from June 4th to the 19th and a drake Scaup - a different bird to the regular wintering individual - on East Warwick  on June 3rd and 4th which had probably been present since the beginning of the month. The first returning Teal was seen on July 7th and the last Shelduck seven days later. Tufted Ducks are finding the reservoirs even more attractive than usual with 2105 counted on July 30 - nearly 400 more than the highest total last year.

         Kestrel, Peregrine and Common Buzzard at the Wetlands in June pic by @sjnewton

        Common Buzzards were seen on the 11th and 17th of June. Four Peregrines hatched from a site overlooking the reservoirs, three seem to have fledged and at least two noisy youngsters could be seen and heard on the pylons within the wetlands throughout July. Hobby were recorded on four days with singles on June 13th, July 2nd, 16th and 21st.

Long-distance pic by @lolbodini of first Curlew since 2017 - an addition to his house list

  Curlew and Wood Sandpiper were the two star waders of the summer with nine species in all being seen and heard over the two months - one more than last year.. The Curlew, found on June 25th by LB on Lockwood from his loft window, was only the third record since 2014. It may well have spent the next day on the more secluded surroundings of Banbury as one was seen next evening by LB again from his house going south.

   The Wood Sandpiper, one of a large influx into the country at the time, wasn't seen by anyone but was heard calling on the recordings DDL was making on July 28th for his presentation on nocturnal migration for the Wildlife Festival. It is the second year on the run the species has occurred at the reservoirs with a flock of five seen last year flying over No 5. Among other waders calls captured on the recording were four from Oystercatchers, one from Lapwing and no less than nine from Little Ringed Plover.

   June and July also produced a nice smattering of waders on East Warwick including a remarkable gathering of five Lapwing, a Redshank and a juvenile Little Ringed Plover together on June 27th. The young LRP, along with the recordings and regular sighting over adults over the summer, is evidence that the species may have bred close-by.

   A summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwit continued the species' good run pic@porthkillier

  Single Lapwing were also seen on June 13th, two Redshank on June 30th with individuals on July 11th and 20th. Oystercatchers were seen on June 1st and July 26th. The good run of Black-tailed Godwits continued with one south on June 30th and a tame summer-plumaged bird on East Warwick on July 17th. The only Dunlin of the summer was on July 21st while the first returning Common Sandpipers were seen on June 30th - eight days later than last year - with a maximum count of 18 in heavy rain on July 27th.

   Mediterranean Gulls are always scarce on the reservoirs but they were annual until last year's unexpected absence. RE's discovery of a juvenile on No 4 on July 24th means normal service has resumed. An adult Sandwich Tern first picked up by SL going north on July 28th was a surprise record. Although no Common Terns bred,  a couple of pairs - presumably from further up the valley - moved their fledged young to feed up on the reservoirs in July.

  Swifts could be seen feeding in large flocks over the reservoirs but numbers fell sharply towards the end of July, presumably as local birds left. Bad weather can still see migrants arrive at the Wetlands as 220 did on July 31st. A Swallow was seen with the martin flock on June 8 and the first early migrants were five flying south on July 17. Two Jackdaws, surprisingly scarce  at the reservoirs given how many are nearby, went east on June 9th. The same is even truer of Coal Tit with the individual singing near the Engine House on June 30th only the second PL has seen here in decades of birding at the reservoirs.

  A Skylark was seen on June 11th on the side of Lockwood while a Meadow Pipit was among the calls recorded overnight on July 28th.  The first young Willow Warbler of the autumn was on July 5th and the first returning Wheatear turned up on the last day of July.

   If Coal Tit is uncommon, the Treecreeper seen by KM near the new hide on July 28th is, by a long way, the rarest bird at the reservoirs this year. Despite how widespread they are in London - and with the certainty others have been missed - the last known record at the Wetlands appears to be December 1990. Even on the wider patch, there is only one record in 2015 in the last decade. Unfortunately, it immediately disappeared but there are suggestions it may have been around for a couple of weeks so there is hope it will be re-found.

DB @porthkillier    



Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Reservoir Logs - May round-up

         Heavy rain saw two stunning Black Terns on East Warwick pic@EugeneDH_Bass

   May saw breeding well under way at the Wetlands but in terms of migration it was lacklustre, confirming again that Spring passage is pretty well over by the end of April. But the month did add Black Tern to the year list as well as the more expected Garden Warbler and Hobby. It also saw a steady passage of waders although without Sanderling or Turnstone which would have taken the total for the year beyond the current 116 - a figure well behind 2018's 131 and 2017's 128.

    Three Shoveler unusually stayed until at least the 4th on East Warwick where a drake Garganey, perhaps the bird which visited the reservoirs twice in April, turned up on the 14th. Two very late Goldeneye were on West Warwick on the 7th, more than three weeks after the last wintering birds had departed. Water Rails continued to be heard in the No 1 reedbed in the early days of the month.

                    Ringed Plover on a very wet East Warwick pic @EugeneDH_Bass

   The second Ringed Plover of the year was found by EDH and PG on East Warwick on the 8th, part of their reward for not being put off by torrential rain. It is unfortunate that the best chance of seeing an unusual wader at the Wetlands seems to be when the place fully lives up to its name. Little Ringed Plovers continued to be seen intermittently on East Warwick throughout the month. The last Common Sandpipers were on the 17th when five were seen while a Redshank was recorded on the 14th. Dunlin, which had been scarce this year, were seen on 8th, 10th and 12th.

                              Dunlin coming into summer plumage pic @sjnewton
   The ethical dilemma of whether five Black Terns distantly seen by PL and LB feeding over Banbury from Lockwood on the 7th could be counted on the reservoirs' year list was fortunately solved when two superb full summer birds were found by our soaked heroes EDH and PG next day. They departed as soon as the rain stopped. Arctic Terns continued to pass through with one on the 4th and two next day.

   Common Tern numbers dwindled throughout the month and sadly it seems as if this year may be the first for many when they don't breed on the reservoirs. As recently as 2010, Walthamstow had 40 pairs, the largest colony in London. But as rafts have floated to the shore, become overgrown or been taken over by large gulls, numbers have declined so drastically that only one pair bred last year. The good news is the London Wildlife Trust and Thames Water have plans to build new rafts and re-float existing ones in plenty of time for next breeding season.

                     Peregrine with an unfortunate Ring-necked Parakeet   pic@sjnewton
   Red Kites were seen on the 21st and 27th. Peregrines continued to be seen around the reservoirs with hopes high of breeding again nearby. That does not seem to be case with Hobby, as it can be in some years, with the only record being one on the 9th.  Jackdaws were seen on the 2nd with three on the 29th.

     The first Garden Warbler was on the 7th with one singing in the same area on the 23rd, again giving hope that they might be nesting. There was plenty of breeding activity from Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Reed Warblers while Common & Lesser Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers were singing on site.

   The final Wheatear of the Spring was seen on the 11th while Yellow Wagtails continued their good year with five on the 4th and singles on the 2nd, 8th and 11th with the last on the 19th.  After several years when Greenfinches have been scarce, numbers seem to have bounced back - as they have with Song Thrushes - with family parties seen regularly in the bushes around the Engine House as well as elsewhere on the reservoirs.

DB @porthkillier

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Reservoir Logs - April round-up

    The rarest - and perhaps smartest - April bird was this Blue-headed Wagtail pic @jrmjones

   After a slow start to the year, the Wetlands bounced back to form in April. It may not have been the rarity-fest of 2018, but there was plenty of variety to see and enjoy. In one superb 15 minute period, a Blue-headed Wagtail, Osprey and 25 Little Gulls were seen within a couple of hundred metres of each other.

       A stunning pair of full summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebes graced No 4 for a day

   The month saw the first Black-necked Grebes and Garganey for two years which both performed well to their admirers and a male Common Redstart which was the definition of elusive. Among other highlights were no less than three Short-eared Owls, a party of three Sandwich Terns, another Avocet as well as Cuckoo and Bar-tailed Godwit.

   In all, 24 new species were added to the year list - four more than the same month in 2018 - although the 113 total still lags well behind last year's incredible 126 at this stage. The only let down was that April did not produce an out-and-out rarity although it seems very likely that the big bird for the month - in all senses - passed over unseen.

   While April as a whole lived up to its traditional reputation as the best month for birding at the reservoirs, annual patch day on the 27th was a big disappointment. Gale-force winds stopped migration dead in its tracks and made finding any birds which had arrived very difficult. The result was that only 68 species were recorded across the greater patch, the lowest total in the seven years the counting has taken place and easily beating the previous worst performance of 74 in 2014.

      A drake Garganey liked No 4 so much it made two visits this month pic @jarpartridge 

   The drake Garganey which turned up on No 4 was the first for two years as 2018 was a rare blank year for this species. It was found on the 16th, went missing on the 17th, but commuted between No 4 and No 3 on the next two days. It clearly took a liking to the Wetlands because it turned up again in the same corner of No 4 on the 30th.

         Garganey flushed from No 4 by a jogger just as @sjnewton was about to photograph it 

   The cold winds which held up summer migrants may also have held back wintering birds from departing. The last Shoveler normally leaves just before patch day but this year six remained until the 28th with two until the end of the month. The wintering drake Scaup stayed almost as long with the last sighting on the 23rd - almost a month longer than its previous latest departure day. Let's hope it has a good summer wherever it goes and returns as usual in early December for its sixth winter. The last Goldeneye left on 16th, again three days later than last year.

    Like Garganey, Black-necked Grebes are pretty much annual so their absence last year was a surprise. It made a confiding pair in full-summer plumage on No 4 on the 24th all the more appreciated. For the second month on the run, however, it seems likely that a good bird was missed despite being looked for.  This time it was a White Stork seen over Wanstead on the 16th and then half an hour later over Alexandra Palace which means it must have been visible from the reservoirs if not actually above them.

                            A very low and clearly rung Osprey over East Warwick pic @jrmjones      

   Little Egrets, however, can't be missed and there was very good news about breeding with a visit to the islands discovering 37 nests on No 1 & 2. Grey Heron pairs  are holding steady with 44 nests - with 30 pairs on No 1 - but it seems only a matter of time that they are overtaken by Egrets. April is the best month to hope to see a passing Osprey with one so low over East Warwick on the 8th that photographs showed not only that it was rung but enough of the ring to suggest it was likely to be a Scottish-born bird. Two Buzzards were seen on the 3rd with singles on the 10th, 17th, 20th, 25th & 30th with Red Kites also on the 3rd, 10th and 16th.

                A rather tatty if still graceful Red Kite over Lockwood pic @Chris_Farthing

      A second Avocet for the year turned up on No 4 on the 9th. A day earlier, the same murky conditions saw two Ringed Plover fly north low over Lockwood in the company of two Dunlin, both the first records for the year.

           The second Avocet of the year spent the day on No 4 pic @EugeneDH_Bass

   Little Ringed Plover were seen so regularly on East Warwick during the month that it is suspected they must be holding territory nearby, perhaps on the filter beds. The first Whimbrel of the year were two which dropped onto East Warwick island on the 23rd, with another on the 25th and two more on 28th.

                       The two Whimbrel departing East Warwick calling pic Ivor Hewstone

  The third Black-tailed Godwit of the year - another confiding bird - was found on East Warwick on the 6th. Much less common at the reservoirs are Bar-tailed Godwits so the one picked up high over No 4 on the 30th by JP could easily be the only record of the year.

               A close Black-tailed and a very distant Bar-tailed Godwit pics @jarpartridge

   The only Redshank of the month was a single on the 1st, the sole Oystercatcher was on the 22nd while late Snipe were recorded on East Warwick on the 16th & 18th. Good money could have been won on a bet that Common Sandpiper was going to be the last of the common waders to be seen in 2019. But with no wintering birds this year, the first was not seen until the 15th - a week later than what was thought to be the first migrant last year. The maximum count was eight on the 24th with none being recorded on the last few days of the month. A passage Green Sandpiper was on East Warwick on the 25th.
     Common Sandpipers got more attention than normal this month pic @Chris_Farthing

   The persistent north easterly wind and cloudy conditions saw remarkable numbers of Little Gulls pass through London this Spring. Walthamstow got its share with a single on the 6th, then at least 27 including a flock of 25 on the 8th, 11 more on Lockwood next day and a final individual on the 25th. For context, the large flock is about five times as many Little Gulls as I have seen in total in 30 years of watching the reservoirs.

            Two of the unprecedented passage of Little Gulls this month pic @jarpartridge

   Three Sandwich Terns, having missed CF when they flew over his daily haunt of Woodberry Wetlands on the 5th, kindly carried on to find him on Lockwood 10 minutes later.  The first Common Terns of the year were on the 8th with passage birds throughout the month. Among the peak count of 27 seen in gloomy conditions on Lockwood on the 27th were our breeding birds which arrived back noisily five days earlier. Three Arctic Terns went through Lockwood on the 29th with one lingering next day.

          Record shot of one of the three Sandwich Terns over Lockwood pic Chris_Farthing

                            Arctic Tern feeding over Lockwood pic @jarpartridge

      After the welcome return of a calling male Cuckoo for a couple of days in early May last year, DC had a silent bird fly over East Warwick on the 20th. The reservoirs might expect two Short-eared Owls a year so three in a month was unexpected. One flew around the south side on the 3rd with  records also on the 15th and the 23rd. Two days later than last year, the first Swifts were seen on the 25th with a big arrival on the last day of the month. Migrant Jays were clearly passing through the reservoirs mid-month with one party of 11 recorded.

       The first Swallows and House Martins were seen on the 2nd, slightly ahead of last year. Singing Willow Warblers continued to be heard in small numbers with five on the 10th the maximum but they had pretty much dried up by the final days of the month. The first Sedge Warblers arrived on the 9th  - five days earlier than last year - with three singing birds while the first Reed Warbler was on the 14th, exactly the same date as 2018. Lesser Whitethroat was a week later with the first not until the 23rd (although they were back earlier on the marsh) and Common Whitethroat was also behind schedule with the first on the 18th compared to the 14th again last year.

   Small numbers of Fieldfare remained at the reservoirs until the 17th while migrant Redwing, which had been missing for most of the winter, arrived mid-month with 10 on the 10th and the last bird seen flying north on the 24th. A cracking male Common Redstart, a species which is scarcely annual at the Wetlands, was a good find by PG on the 12th. It stayed around for a couple of days but required persistence and luck to see.

            The Redstart giving one of its characteristic glimpses during its stay pic @jrmjones

  The first Whinchats of the year were two birds on the 24th, four days later than the only one of the Spring last year. Wheatears continued to be seen in small numbers with records on 11 days with a maximum count of five, which all dropped into East Warwick in the afternoon, on the 18th.

 Whinchat was another of the stunning birds at the Wetlands this month pic @Chris_Farthing  
   House Sparrows have not featured in this round-up before. For the last few years, they have been restricted to the extreme north and south of the complex but this month for the first time they could be seen collecting nesting material in several new places on the Wetlands including around the Engine House. 

             Yellow Wagtails were recorded on ten days in unusually high numbers this year

   Yellow Wagtails had a very good showing this month. The first two were seen on the 7th, exactly the same initial date as in 2018, with records on nine other days. These included a remarkably high count of  20, presumably brought down low by the gloomy weather and strong NE wind, on the 8th which contained groups of up to seven landing and then flying on. A party of three that fed briefly on the side of East Warwick included the super-smart Blue-headed form, a very unusual visitor to the reservoirs.

   Meadow Pipits were also seen throughout the month with 40 counted in one flock on the 2nd. For the second successive year, Brambling turned up on the reservoirs on their return migration. The maximum day count was three but it is certain more birds were involved with the last being seen on the 17th.
      One of at least three male Bramblings which fed at the bottom of No 3, pic @OwlTurbot

More bird photographs and news from the Wetlands and further afield on:
   DB @porthkillier 

Monday, 15 April 2019

Reservoir Logs - March round-up

Superb male Brambling behind the Anglers' hut pic © Magnus Andersson @magnusphotog           
   March was never likely to match the Wetlands' extraordinary month in 2018 - particularly as we had no 'Beast from the East' - but the arrival of the first summer migrants always makes it a good time to be birding. The highlights were the first of what we now know was going to be a remarkable passage of Little Gulls.  More expected additions to the year list were Buzzard, Rook, Sand Martin, Red Kite, Redshank, Wheatear, Blackcap, Little Ringed Plover, Brambling, Red-crested Pochard and Wigeon which takes the total of species seen at the reservoirs by the end of March to 89. This compares with 107 in the previous two years which gives an indication of how lacklustre the winter has been.

        Red-crested Pochard resting after their journey from Victoria Park pic Ivor Hewstone

    The first Wigeon of the year was a one-day female on No 5 on the 27th and the first Red-crested Pochard were four on the 26th with three drakes seen intermittently to the end of the month. The drake Scaup is clearly developing a liking for the Wetlands as it is staying later each winter. It remained throughout the month, beating its previous latest departure date of March 26 last year. Up to four Goosander could be found on Lockwood - usually early in the morning - with the last one seen on the 27th. The highest count of Goldeneye was nine on the 18th with six remaining until the 31st.

         Buzzard welcomed by local Peregrines pic © Magnus Andersson @magnusphotog

   One that got away was a Cattle Egret seen by SF going north over Banbury Reservoir early on the 8th which may well have roosted with the other egrets on the Wetlands. It was looked for on subsequent days with no luck. Bang on schedule, the first Buzzards of the year were two on the 4th followed by records on the 8th, 19th, 27th & 28th. The first Red Kite, again as expected, was on the 14th. Both Peregrine and Sparrowhawk were regularly seen displaying and hunting over the Wetlands with Kestrels seen more infrequently.

                                   Overdue but obliging Redshank on No 4 pic Ivor Hewstone

   Waders have been particularly scarce so far this year on the reservoirs. The first Redshank was only seen on the 17th with the second found five days late while there were only single records of Oystercatcher on the 8th and Lapwing on the 28th.

  Despite a good edge to Lockwood, Little Ringed Plover favoured East Warwick pic @lolbodini

    The first Little Ringed Plover was on the 18th, three days later than in 2018, but unlike last year when there was only one in March, they were also recorded next day with two on the 23rd & 29th. For the second time this year, East Warwick hosted a Black-tailed Godwit, a species which is usually only seen flying over.  Snipe and Green Sandpipers continued to be recorded irregularly but there was still no sign of any Common Sandpipers.

    An adult Yellow-legged Gull was on the filter beds on the 21st but the best record of the month were four Little Gulls on the 31st. Not only are Little Gulls just about annual but these were found from the Coppermill Tower by visiting birder MB feeding over West Warwick - the first known record from the viewpoint.
   March is the best month for Rook, which is scarce at the Wetlands despite being common just a few kms north. There was only one record this year with two flying east over Lockwood on 4th, nine days earlier than first last year when birds were also seen on two other dates. Passage Jackdaws were also seen in small numbers.

   The extraordinary warm spell of late February saw the first Sand Martins making it to London exceptionally early but the Wetlands had to wait until the 9th for the first record which was still four days ahead of 2018. The next three were on the 20th with a big arrival on the 31st when 35 were seen.

   The first singing Blackcap was heard on the 22nd, a day earlier than last year with good numbers in full song by the end of the month. No migrant brings more joy than the first Wheatear of the Spring. As usual, the first to arrive was a male on the 18th, two days later than in 2018 and six days later than in 2017. The cold northerly meant it stayed on Lockwood for four days, being joined by a female on the 20th, with another male arriving on the 30th.

     A cracking male Wheatear on Lockwood showing that winter was finally coming to an end 

   Meadow Pipits were seen and heard moving north throughout the month with over a dozen recorded on the 18th.  Good numbers of Fieldfare remained on the Wetlands with high counts of 50 on the 1st and 25 on the 19th. It now seems clear the reservoirs host a small numbers of Brambling as they make their way north in the Spring. The first - a superb male - was found by JD on the 21st with two on the 22nd & 23rd with perhaps the same male on the 26th & 27th.

  April is traditionally the best month for birding at the Wetlands which is why it is when the annual patch day takes place. This year - the seventh dawn to dusk recording blitz - is being held on Saturday April 27. Everyone is invited to take part to see if the 88 species seen on the reservoirs and wider patch in 2017 can be beaten. See the next post for more details.....

  DB @ porthkillier