Saturday, January 31, 2015

Serin - From the Marshes to the Park

Today was about the kids.  Not my kids, I haven't yet taken ownership of those yet.  These kids were the ones that shrugged off the winter blues and joined us at Rainham Marshes for the session on 'Bonkers for Birds'.  They were indeed bonkers as were the leaders, because birds are amazing creatures and it is a palpable joy having the privilege of being a part of such events.  From Mute Swan collages to sinking elbow deep in Trex in our valient attempts in forming circular fat balls for bird feeders.  It was a messy business.

There were plenty of birds out on the reserve too which we were happy to point out.  Golden Plover and Dunlin were numerous on the Purfleet Scrape where two drake Pintail sat with the Wigeon.  A Marsh Harrier was seen distantly quartering the area around Wennington, two Common Snipe flew past the hide at Purfleet Scrape, and Gadwall and Shoveler were present.

There were Lapwing in good numbers, a Skylark flew over the seawall as did a Reed Bunting and two Meadow Pipit.  A male Blackcap was seen in bushes from the visitor centre and a smart male Greenfinch sat by the feeders.  But I was working and not really birding.

There was interest further afield.  Gunners Park in Shoeburyness which was accessible by train I discovered.  Spontaneity created by train connections.  Even better though was the offer of a lift.

It was cold, brass monkies cold, and it was raining, sleeting, snowing, and anything else that the elements could throw at us.  There were also two SERIN in the area.  Absent on arrival, but present five minutes later having flown in before the weather got the better of us - horizontal sleet turned into a flurry of snow, albeit for a couple of minutes.  A bright male and a fem/1st winter bird, their luminous yellow rumps flashed through the gloom as they settled within the bushes.  Seemed incongruous considering the conditions, a welcome tick though as Serin can be notoriously difficult to pin down.

A great birding day - for so many reasons.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Caspian Gull - Amwell

Trips to Amwell are always great.  The skies were clear, but the cold brisk breeze kept you honest.

Amazing light, and so many birds with the chance of a new addition to my BOU life list.  So this is what I saw.

CASPIAN GULL - 1st winter seen extremely well at dusk loafing about with numerous Great Black Backed Gull.  A really neat bird, fresh white head and neck with a dark black eye, and that bill, thick dark and slightly curved at the tip, a gonys I believe it's called.  Another feature observed was the greyish scapulars suggesting second-generational feathering on what the texts would regard as a transition from 1st calender year to 1st winter.  The bird was slightly smaller than the Greater's and appeared far more elegant, and dare I say, a much more interesting bird than the full adult.

During the day, a drake Smew finally appeared toward the London end of Great Hardmead and although distant, was seen well fishing along the edge of the reedbed.  A Kingfisher dashed across the lake and was seen several times thereafter.

Two Raven had earlier flown across the lake in a tustle, and a Water Rail nervously flew across in front of the Gladwin Hide.  At least three drake and five female Goldeneye were on the water as were well over a hundred Shoveler, 80+ Wigeon, and at dusk, an impressive cloud of Lapwing.  Such stunning birds seen against the final rays of golden sunlight.

A minimum of four Common Buzzard fought the breeze

Additional year ticks were Siskin, Jackdaw, Rook, and Reed Bunting.

I missed a Bittern, and later Peregrine, Barn Owl, and Woodcock, but it's what you see rather than what you don't.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Today's Sightings

Cold, very still with broken cloud and a lovely morning to be out after the grim conditions yesterday.

Middlesex Filter Beds:

1 Chiffchaff
1 Kingfisher
1 Goldcrest
17 Tufted Duck
15 Teal
3 Gadwall
2 Pochard
1 Grey Wagtail
1 Green Woodpecker

Waterworks: (water mostly frozen)

20+ Meadow Pipit (Pitch 'n' Putt)
2 Fieldfare
1 Cetti's Warbler (singing)
2 Shoveler

Walthamstow Marsh (Paddocks):

1 Little Egret
25+ Chaffinch

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


Cold with a brisk wind, but the skies were relatively clear as dawn broke.  A Kingfisher was seen enjoying an early catch, and the drake Scaup was showing extremely well along the bank associating with Tufted Duck near the southern end.  Six Gadwall were also present.

A pair of Goosander were riding the choppy waters, and a female Goldeneye was ducking and diving.

A Common Sandpiper was active along the edge of High Maynard.

Pheasant Plucker

I'm a pensioner waiting to happen.  What no buses?  Outrage!  Well the strikers were 'unite'd and the streets were clear of red sardine cans which all resulted in a pleasant door-to-door wander round the patch.

The skies at around lunchtime had turned grey and the rain began to fall steadily as I headed out of the flat.  By the time I hit Hackney Downs Park, the strength of the wind and rain had increased but I was anticipating gaps in the showers that broke as I arrived at the Middlesex Filter Beds.

The skies cleared, and the sound of a 'crest' had me scampering toward the relief channel, the bird was seen flying into the holly bush and disappeared altogether.  A probable Firecrest, but one that got away.  There were at least six Chiffchaff here and a few nervous Little Grebe close in to the opposite bank.

Around a dozen Meadow Pipit took flight as I made my way through the old Pitch and Putt, a Chiffchaff called from bushes alongside the overflow, and two pairs of Gadwall were dabbling by the bridge.

At the Waterworks, six Stock Dove fed in the cowless cow field.  Teal were abundant on the water with at least 54 counted, four Shoveler and nine Tufted Duck.

Nothing new for the patch yearlist so far, so it was onto the Walthamstow Marsh for Linnet maybe, and maybe a lucky stab at a Kingfisher.  The front paddocks held four Fieldfare and a dozen Redwing with the lonesome and evidently confused Little Egret plodding around in some kind of sombre post-Christmas malaise.

No Linnet, no Kingfisher, nothing on the rear paddocks.  This was getting desperate.

Until wading shin-deep in the flooded marsh, a female Pheasant bolted out of the brush and ran head down and rather comically into the reeds.  Shortly after - and a rather stoic and foolish detour along the edge of the reedbed was rewarded with four Common Snipe that shot out from the damp margins.

A couple of Meadow Pipit rounded things off.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Hello 2015

So here we go again. My first chance to get a score on the board for an opening round of local patch birding. With the Prof, we were both in pursuit of an agreeable total of species to set us up with what we hope will be a bumper patch year to compete with the bigger clubs in the league such as Wanstead FC. There seems to have been a few new signings as well as the regular match fit stalwarts still in peak form hoping for a decent run of results.

I don’t get the patch. Maybe I’ve been spoilt over the years in having had the pleasure of enjoying some great sites, Stockers Lake in Rickmansworth, and Tring Reservoirs. Walthamstow however with an impressive complex of water bodies, scrub, open grassland, streams, islands, deciduous woodland, and large areas of reed has rather disappointingly failed to impress in quality.

Starting at the Maynards, a Chiffchaff called from the scrub along Low Maynard, and three Egyptian Goose stood with nonchalance on the south bank of High Maynard –a bird I failed to see on my last visit. In the hope of Green Sandpiper, Prof connected with two birds sitting low down on the ramp along the relief channel that were typically flighty as we approached their roosting site. A little further up, a Common Sandpiper was flushed from the shoreline that on later photographic inspection did look questionably similar to a rare American cousin. Only the boldest would have turned it into one.

Appearing up over the bank of Lockwood, a pair of Goosander cruised elegantly mid-distance, the male looking radiant in dull conditions. Such a smart bird. They were nervous though and it wasn’t look before they took flight north towards the Banbury. The adult drake Scaup that has been present now for a couple of weeks was associating with Tufted Duck along the eastern shore. Three Goldeneye were also present here including a drake and two female.

These were the main highlights of the northern complex. The southern section started off with a couple of Fieldfare and half a dozen Redwing along No.4 where on No.5, another Common Sandpiper was flushed along the southern shore, a pair of Goldeneye were present, a Peregrine was seen distantly sat up on the spire of St. Saviours Church, and three Goldcrest were active in trees along Coppermill Lane.

East Warwick held seven Shoveler including four drakes, and a Water Rail called and was seen briefly in reeds where a pair of showy Stonechat were neatly balanced on top of the protruding foliage with another female further along the bank. From here, we were able to scope out to West Warwick where the two 1st winter male Scaup were in a state of rest close the southern bank with two female Goldeneye further along the water.

Heading away, the next stop was the site towards Leyton that held the Reed Warbler during December. Now I hadn’t been to the site before and was thus visibly bemused by the scene when I arrived. The location is totally absurd – surrounded by busy streets with the reverberations of traffic noise, this is essentially a roundabout with a stagnant ditch where brown rats abound, and where the detritus of London’s arse end festers. It is also where the wintering Reed Warbler and Common Whitethroat were seen regularly though December as well as Water Rail and Stonechat, the latter of which was seen today, a male that I was imploring to leave for somewhere far more pleasant. A Grey Wagtail sat incongruously alongside some discarded plastic, but no warblers and rightly so.

Hastily retreating to the Waterworks where other modest daylist additions were made, notably at least thirty Meadow Pipit flushed from the tussocks of the old pitch and putt. The paddocks produced very little and thus we had exhausted both ourselves and the possibilities for further species.

And that was pretty much it, some decent birds, and a tiring slog round the patch that yielded 64 species in total. A respectable start to the season.