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