Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Quiet on the Marshes but a fine pair of Northern Wheatear were present on the South Marsh by the railway line.  A male Whinchat on the east marsh was a nice surprise.  A Lesser Whitethroat rattled from a central area while a Cetti's Warbler was still present.  A flock of House Martin flew north.

Monday, April 27, 2015

North Wales

This is set to be my annual pilgrimage and there is no finer place than the heart of Snowdonia.  The place of many childhood holidays and now the resting place of my dad who passed away last year.  The trip was to celebrate his birthday - to remember and pass by all those places we spent together as a family.  Family.  Never perfect but there is something here that has purged the imperfections, the valleys have been overruled by the mountains just like the darkness fails to comprehend the light.

The trip was a celebration of life, of challenge, and of aching limbs.  Our challenge to climb the highest peaks of England,Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland started with Mount Snowdon.

Awaking to clear blue skies, we were both excited about the prospect.  Three minutes into the climb - we were knackered but soon hit our stride.  Two and a half hours later, we hit the top.  The views were breathtaking and a social visit from the Mountain Rescue team by helicopter was an extraordinary sight for all the onlookers as it pitched forward and powered down into the valley.

 Having got back to base camp by mid-afternoon there was still time to explore some of the surrounding areas and a short drive up to Conwy to a small nature reserve at Nant-y-Coed with a fast flowing stream and typical mixed pine and deciduous woodland.  Here I was able to connect with the most wonderful of birds, the Dipper seen at close quarters but was extremely active, settling briefly on the rocks before dashing downstream.

The next day, we could barely walk but after visiting the beach, we headed over to Aber Falls.  Another simply stunning area with a 45 minute walk up to the waterfall.

Along the path, I was listening out for birdsong.  It wasn't long before I connected with a couple of gorgeous male Pied Flycatcher, shrilling from the treetops.  Three male Common Redstart were seen here along the path, such a beautiful bird in such beautiful surroundings.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Quick Patch dash

A busy day at home and a small window to head out on the bike on a warm humid afternoon.  Dashing around is not really an ideal but I wanted a quick peak round the Marshes and the Ressies.

A lone female Northern Wheatear was present on the far pen of the rear paddocks,  There were numerous Common Whitethroat in display mode.

Moving up towards the reservoirs, it was evident that there was a significant increase in hirundines particularly Sand Martin that must have numbered over a hundred.  My first Swift of the year wheeled over the Warwicks with around thirty seen.  A Red Kite was a surprise, drifting low and away as I was locking my bike up against the railings.

A Cetti's Warbler called from somewhere between No.2 and No.3, and at least two Reed Warbler were in song.

Heading round East Warwick, a pair of twitchy Northern Wheatear included a fine male.  I followed them along the path before they flew onto West Warwick.

Another female Northern Wheatear flew onto the East bank of Lockwood.

Monday, April 20, 2015

In Beds with Lady A

How crestfallen would William Amhurst (Governer General of India 1823-1828) be if he had any notion that a bunch of tardy birders would be peering into a random area of private woodland in search of an exotic/introduced/plastic/feral/whatamidoinghere bird named endearingly after his wife.  William Amhurst?  Who?  I do admit to having large gaps in my knowledge of history, but even those that are Historically learned may struggle to recall the life and times of the Governer.

I believe the story goes something like this.  So the good Lady wife subservient to the Governer's position often took walks through the Burmese forest edges to escape the tedium of day-to-day political meetings and plans to establish the British Empire through military force.  During these tranquil moments, she began to notice the delights of the forest floor, the sounds, the trees, the birds - and a pheasant that particularly drew her attention.  With the help of the waiting staff at the incumbents residence, a few of these exotic pheasants were collected and brought back to England where they were released as exotic pets into the Bedfordshire countryside.  Well something like that anyway.

From there, they established a small self-sustaining population deep within the deciduous woodland.  A clandestine creature that despite its gaudy appearance, skulks deep in the undergrowth away from the prying eyes of mankind.  They called it the Lady Amhurst's Pheasant.  How romantic.

That is until it came to light that this species is supposedly on it's way out and so over the course of the last few weeks, a small army of twitchy birders (like me that had overlooked this species) congregated along a steep footpath adjacent to the village of Lidlington.  Peering through a wire fence, the incongruity of the situation was not lost on me.  A short ride where it supposedly appears for a matter of seconds, the sounds of screeching types from the nearby Vauxhall test track quelled any sense of its indigenous environs.  Finally hearing it call distantly through the dense woodland, it began to creep closer and closer, calling every five minutes or so, until..... we gave up and headed off after a three hour vigil.

I felt a little guilty.  Lady Amhurst would not have been pleased with my pathetic attempts of trying to see this bird.  It did of course migrate thousands of miles from south-east Asia (albeit in the first-class cabin of a luxury ocean liner) to be here.

To be honest, hearing it was enough for me, for if I had seen it, I would have struggled to have added this to my British list.  All the same, I'm happy to have been in Beds with Lady A.

Lord and Lady A

The Prof and I bemused with our morning's work headed back to the patch where on meeting Lol and JP, were rewarded with a rare sighting of a Rook that on getting site of Lockwood, dashed madly out of the area.  A lucky escape, but only my third for the patch.  Two Little Ringed Plover had settled on exposed margins, and a couple of Common Sandpiper on High Maynard doubled the wader count.  A flock of House Martin flew through.

We all headed over to East Warwick where a lone Lapwing stood resolutely against the bank and a couple of Greater Black Backed Gulls gluttonously scrapped over some dubious fishy offerings.

The day began and ended with another introduced species - a bemused Red-Legged Partridge was found scampering anxiously along the vehicle track alongside East Warwick.  A mega bird for the patch - it's a funny game this.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Rainham Marshes

Consecutive Saturday visits to Rainham Marshes and why not?  I like it here.  Today I was a meeting a good friend of mine for a stroll round the reserve to hopefully connect with some fresh migrants, and to introduce some new species to an enthusiastic ecologist.

There was a freshness in the air, a keen breeze blowing from the northeast subdued the temperatures but did nothing to temper the steady flow of spring migrants.

A tally of 12 Common Tern including a group of eight battled stoically against the wind suggested that there may be some interest along the river which didn't really materialise during the course of the day.

The week had seen a distinct change in numbers of wildfowl with only a pair of Wigeon seen, a few Shoveler, and a reduction in the number of Teal but still decent numbers present.  A few Lapwing were incubating with a pair already overseeing their first fledglings out on the reserve.  Such a relief that the wardens had eradicated the threat of the Red Fox that had been causing havoc over recent seasons.  Redshank too were seen displaying.

There were plenty of Cetti's Warbler calling from the reedbeds, with my first Reed Warbler of the year and a total of three seen.  Three Sedge Warbler were also present, as were the same number of Common Whitethroat in full display mode.

A brazen Bearded Tit flew across the path by Aveley Pools but soon disappeared into cover.  This was not a day for showy babblers.

Raptors were thin on the ground but for three distant Marsh Harriers marshalling the area at the back of Wennington.

There was a bit of interest for waders today.  A total of four summer plumaged Black-Tailed Godwit first seen feeding on the foreshore close to the visitor centre flew across and settled on Wennington before relocating later back onto the exposed mud at Aveley Bay.  A Greenshank that was first seen roosting near Aveley Flash flew west, and two Whimbrel circled before flying north.  A total of four Little Ringed Plover were present around the reserve.

Hirundine sightings remained sporadic with nothing but around eight individual Swallow that flew through.

We drove into the pits for brief respite before another stroll along the riverwall toward Serin bound and up to the top of the old landfill.  There were a pair of Northern Wheatear here with a smart male.  The champagne moment however went to a cracking male Whinchat that after an agonising search, appeared out of the grassy tussocks and settled along wires along the gravel track.  Very smart indeed.  Another female Northern Wheatear flitted restlessly opposite the bay.

At the far end of the reserve,  a surprise of a Grey Plover still in winter-wear was seen feeding actively in Aveley Bay with the Godwits and a few Lapwing.  A lone Common Gull was on the water.

Butterflies were thin on the ground, but the wind was very strong - just a few Peacock and Small White.

A notable sighting were of two Water Vole by the Dragonfly ponds seen chasing each other through the reeds - presumably a pre-coital pursuit.  It is spring after all.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Missed the Hoopoe that was supposedly still present when I arrived on site at 9am but was nowhere to be seen.  An amazing find by Jamie Partridge and one of those birding moments we all hope for.

A male Northern Wheatear was present on the rear Paddocks at Walthamstow Marshes.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ring Ouzel

I found this little poem about the Ring Ouzel penned by a blogging poet called 'thecheeswolf' and it is rather delightful. Follow the link for some of his other works.

A lunar crescent, skyward horned.
A tail which traces scree and ling.

A plaintive tone, a mournful tune.
A solitary black and bib.

Alone in rocks above the scars,
Where streams from bogs first scratch their beds

With steady tick like lowland merle,
A lost and wayward song of moors.

The moon is pitched in afterglow
And scattered with the trace of stars.

The melancholy call of space

A flick of night pitched wing and gone.
And left as one with what was once,

The sadness of a memory’s song.

There are cons to early starts on the patch, but today was very much about the prose. A male Ring Ouzel found feeding on the grassy path adjacent to the river on the old Pitch and Putt at the Waterworks was a real treat. Maybe the same bird seen yesterday, it fed purposefully on the damp surface, unearthing morsels while being harrassed by obstinate Blackbirds, it's bold white gorget piercing through the dingy morning light.

Today there was a real fall of these montane thrushes in the south, so it was nice to share on the feast of Ouzels that were passing through, some localities seeing numbers upward of 40 individuals. I observed it for around ten minutes before it flew into trees at the eastern end before being lost to view.

Nearby, a Kingfisher could be heard calling, 15 Teal and three Gadwall were observed on the channel, and a minimum of five singing Willow Warbler were recorded. Three Sedge Warbler on the northside of Walthamstow Marshes were doing a bit of this 'zrüzrü-trett zrüzrüzrü-trett zrüzrüzrü psit trutrutru-pürrrrrrrrrrurrrrrr vi-vi-vi lülülü zetre zetre...', a decent but brief look at a vocally explosive Cetti's Warbler in thickets next to the boardwalk, and a Common Whitethroat scratched away opposite the paddocks. Five Sand Martin flew up river.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

High hopes

So the forecast today was altogether changeable with the threat of rain for this morning.  Hopes then flooded my tiny brain of throngs of Terns and Waders being forced down onto the edges of the reservoirs by the rain, flooding images of frenzied attempts to pick off dozens of new patch ticks.

Instead all I got was a good old fashioned soaking and not much avian swag to take home with me.

Best were a flock of 30 Sand Martin over West Warwick.

Walthamstow Marshes hardly fared better with 5 Sand Martin here, a singing Cetti's Warbler and two Willow Warbler.  A Common Snipe flew high over the north side.

Think I'll stay at home next time.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Walthamstow Marshes

A warm morning with plenty of birdsong and much promise with a glut of Ring Ouzels moving through southern counties. Surely we could bag one ourselves.  Predictably it wasn't to be but there were plenty of odds and ends.

A Peregrine flew south over, and a Sand Martin was seen in its now resident location downriver. A single Meadow Pipit flew round the paddocks and at least three male Reed Bunting were located around the Marsh.  A lone Lapwing flew low over north marsh, where a Willow Warbler sang from the east side.  A Cetti's Warbler called from around the railway underpass.  A Swallow then flew through on the northside, and a single House Martin was seen flying north high over the railway bridge.

Two Shelduck dabbled along the relief channel.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Rainham Marshes

When the fog eventually lifted, it turned out to be a stunning day with clear skies.  Despite the promises of the forecasted 20C temperatures today, I could feel an attenuated nip to the wind.  It did feel agreeably pleasant in the sun.

So starting at the visitor centre, a reminder that winter was still visible in the rear view with twenty or so Wigeon, and eight Pintail in various areas of the reserve.  Three Common Snipe roosted on Purfleet, and the Common Redshank and Lapwing were energetically protecting their territories.

Cetti's Warbler appeared to be calling from every thicket and reedbed, but the first real quality was a drake Garganey feeding at the northern end of Purfleet scrape.  It was close into the edge of the reed making it difficult to get really good views but such a smart duck nevertheless.

There were plenty of Reed Bunting, and the distant 'mewing' call were of three high flying Common Buzzard drifting north-west.  A distant Peregrine was seen perched on one of the pylons.  A Sedge Warbler trilled from the reeds but refused to emerge from the depths.

Making tracks further round the reserve where the juvenile Spoonbill roosted on the Target Pools occasionally preening, but content with a snooze in the now warming temperatures.  This my first for London.

On the opposite side of the Shooting Butts hide, two Little Ringed Plover fed along the muddy islands.  A pair of Marsh Harrier quartered Wennington, the male bird looking fantastic.  Another bird flew high over.

Stopping by the Dragonfly pools, a female Bearded Tit appeared, 'pinging' as it flew across the main path before disappearing into the reeds.  It did call again but was not subsequently seen.

The rest was pretty routine, no hirundines or migrant waders, but there is still plenty of time for that.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

More Migrants

Another fine warm day, but a little bit hazier than yesterday.  Smog maybe?  Headed over to the Filter Beds first which was predictably quiet with a few Teal in the channel and singing Chiffchaff.

A cycle round to the Pitch and Putt where there were around 45 Teal feeding on the rapids viewed from the black railings.

I headed to the Waterworks where a Little Egret was probing around Bed 16, with four Teal present there. A drake Shoveler was roosting on the west pond.

At least two Cetti's Warbler were calling from around the reserve, with a singing Blackcap there too.  Two Grey Wagtail flew around the hides.  Then at last, my first Swallow of the year flew low over before heading speedily toward the south.  A single Sand Martin also shot through with haste.

A tip-off had me cycling up to the Marshes where a singing Willow Warbler was seen at close range in Horseshoe thicket before being rudely chased off by a Robin.

I decided to head back to the Waterworks again and was glad I did.  A Common Buzzard thermalled high to the north, and another Swallow flew over heading west.  I sat on the benches by the entrance for a while.  Unsure of whether I'd heard a familiar 'song' I walked onto the entrance bridge only to hear the zipping, tumultuous vocals of a Sedge Warbler deep in the thickets.  I never saw it, but it was present for at least 20 minutes before moving on.

Butterflies seen today were Brimstone, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Peacock, and Speckled Wood.

Painted Lady

What a beaut of a day.  With clear skies and light winds, the sun felt warm and it was great to be out and about.  The same routine as yesterday heading over to the Marshes first that was generally quiet with three Sand Martin overhead, a couple of singing Blackcap, the Cetti's Warbler this time calling from the scrub near the boardwalk, and a couple of Shelduck on the relief channel.

Heading onto Lockwood, I met up with Graham and Adam, the three of us primed to pick up a decent migrant.  The weather however was just too good - clear skies, light winds, and no visible sign of migration apart from a dozen Meadow Pipit flying through.

On the northside of Lockwood, a lone female Northern Wheatear sat in the long grass before flying onto the west bank.  The Scaup pairing remained and showed really well reasonably close in to the east side.  A single Common Buzzard drifted west and a surprise female Goldeneye flew toward the north end.

Heading onto High Maynard, the highlight of my day was a pristine Painted Lady that paused on the grassy bank allowing great views of this stunning migrant butterfly.  I was again a little surprised to see this so early in Spring.

Also there were 15 Teal tucked into the island, a high Common Buzzard cruised toward the west, and a Common Sandpiper was present along the margins.

We all then made our way to East Warwick where three Common Snipe were picked up feeding on the shallow pool within the main island.  Eight Shoveler was a nice find on the water, and a single Sand Martin flew through.  A 2nd year Greater Black Backed Gull flew in and settled on one of the jetties.

Heading back, there was a count of at least 15 Gadwall and 18 Shelduck on No.2.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Not much to rave about

So at last, freedom was my portion after a gruelling couple of weeks of corporate incarceration.  And right on cue, the weather had changed and today was gloriously sunny with a light breeze which felt good for some good old fashioned migration.

Jumping on the bike for the first time this year, I headed first to the Marshes where four flighty Redwing lingered along the avenue at the entrance to the riding stables.  A Peregrine flapped purposefully to the east as I headed towards the rear paddocks.  The paddocks were generally quiet, but for two Shelduck on the adjacent overflow, a single drake Teal and a couple of Grey Wagtail.

Heading northwards, the increase of Chiffchaff was notable with at least ten birds in full song, and my first Blackcap of the spring were too in song with a couple in bushes on the north-east side.

Most disturbing was the sight and sound of an almighty party on the northside where a group had erected a marquee in the grassy area along Track 13.  The bass could be heard from the other side of the bridge.  Serious partying that the local authorities had evidently turned a deaf ear to.

Incongruously, a Cetti's Warbler called from the thickets between the rave and the railway bridge.

Heading onto Lockwood via the River Lea, Meadow Pipit migration was once again evidenced with at least 25 noted moving through generally in twos and threes.  A Peregrine was seen here too circling to the west.  A lone Jackdaw flew east.

There were at least two Northern Wheatear present, both skittish males as they moved around from one bank to another.  The Scaup remained where I was convinced I had an additional female to the resident pair, seen associating with a small raft of Tufted Duck.

A Kingfisher flew up the channel on the west side.  Butterflies were out enjoying the warm conditions, where Brimstone, Peacock, Green-veined White, and Small Tortoiseshell were all on the wing.