Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Migrant overload

It all got so intense last week that I had to leave the country. I may blog about the nature of leaving the country later, though I'm not sure that this readership is quite ready. Of course during the nanosecond I was away the Wryneck turned up. Note that this was always a question of when, rather than of if. The whiff of inevitability with Wrynecks bracketing us like a salvo from a Dreadnought made it 100% certain that one would land. So of course the moment I skipped the border one slunk in under the radar, but was luckily picked up by a visiting birder attracted to the area by the gazillions of amazing migrants that have been encamped on Wanstead Flats. 

Despite being in Madrid, I wasn't worried. Wanstead Wrynecks always stay a week, it's the rules. Local knowledge like this is one of the joys of working a patch - you know what turns up when, and you know where on the patch it will likely be. This in-depth know-how takes years to accumulate, but eventually, like me, you can say: Spotted Flycatcher, around Long Wood. Pied Flycatcher, around Long Wood. Ring Ouzel, around Long Wood. Tree Pipit, around Long Wood. And also you know how long something will stick, so I was not at all surprised to see a Wryneck streak across the brooms around Long Wood at half six this morning. Eventually it perched up, but by then the area was crawling with twitchers and my photo effort was so ridiculously embarrassing that I cannot possibly post it here. The photo however means nothing, it's all about the seeing and the ticking. So suffice to say that I saw it, which was critically important as it allows me to keep a Wanstead Wryneck clean sheet. 100%. Four birds in six years. What the hell happened in 2011 and 2014 is what I want to know. We thought at one stage that they might have been following the alternate year rule, but the 2013 bird blew that one out of the water. GSCE maths definitely has a part to play, but I'm too dense to work it out.

In the absence of anything other than a blurry mess, here's a Spotted Flycatcher. One of possibly 13 birds this morning. Around Long Wood. Did someone say best migrant patch in London?

Sunday, 30 August 2015

More Migrants

Too much of a good thing? I don't think so, and neither did the hordes of visiting birders this morning, all hoping for a glimpse of one of our Redstarts or other goodies. They were all still present and correct, the lack of movement is astounding. There had however been another small fall overnight, so yesterday's five Whinchats became eight, and we had a Wood Warbler a few times around Long Wood. Seen badly admittedly, and although thoughts of Bonelli's crossed my mind I think that ultimately it was too yellowy for that, but a lovely clean white underneath nonetheless. Nick, Bob and I all saw it independently and without consultation, so we put the news out as the balance of probability was pretty high. Obviously if anyone finds a Western Bonelli's we're all having it....Other highlights included up to six Spotted Flycatchers, a Tree Pipit, a Reed Warbler, several Yellow Wagtails and a Wheatear. Here's a few photos from the morning - I'm pretty pleased with the Redstart, even if it was the less spanking one.

EDIT: afternoon update, trotted out to Alex on news of a Pied Flycatcher and was pleased to find Nick still watching it. Two Spotted Flycatchers with it and yet another male Redstart on the way home. One of the best migrant days I can remember.

I can't believe Common Redstarts are even real

The Tree Pipit is still hanging around

A lovely and spikey Reed Warbler
Spotted Flycatcher

this afternoon's Pied Flycatcher

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Another local haul

Its actually all the same birds, seemingly reluctant to move on, but then again the place is so good why would you? I was out again very early, but without the bind that is work calling me towards a train station I had a camera and was hoping for a friendly Redstart or two. However as the week has progressed the birds have become a little more difficult, perhaps because they knew I had a camera.....

The usual cast were all present, 3-4 Redstarts, 6 Whinchat, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Tree Pipits, and 5 Yellow Wagtail over. Could I get near them? Barely, and it was only the Whinchats that vaguely played ball but were so flighty only the 800mm + converter kept me in the game. I have no complaints, I am just pleased they are there. They also seem to be drawing ever more birders, with probably half a dozen unfamiliar faces on the patch, including a big ugly one from Barking stringing Yellowhammers every five minutes ;-). By 10am it was all over, with the sun well up and hazy conditions the birds seemed to melt away. I've said it before and I'l no doubt say it again, I love living near this place.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Getting better

Two (count 'em!) male Redstarts sat on a twig approx 25cm from each other this morning, utterly lovely to behold. And then a Tree Pipit came and sat on one of their heads, a special moment. Three Whinchat performed a dance in the brooms, and a Pied Fly (or so I am told) dashed over my head. It's pretty damn good out there, and I know exactly where I'll be tomorrow. No, not abroad, not Porthgwarra.....

Just finished updating the list, for what it is worth, as I have been a bit behind. To my consternation it added up on one page to 97, and another to 99. The joy of spreadsheets but I have it sorted now. Tree Pipit, Little Owl and Swift records were missing from key dates and had buggered the counting up. All locations now display a nice neat 100 - here's an extract for the proof, and some annual stats. It is a work of pure genius I have to say, and a huge pain in the backside. But it does enable the counting of Wheatears extremely quickly and thus is a top resource. And if you look very carefully, you will note that I have Spotted Flycatcher on my garden list.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

O Glorious Patch

Managed to get out this morning after an absence of a few days due to working abroad. Does Scotland count as abroad? Some people would like it to be it appears. Anyhow, naturally knowing I was away the lads had a fine time, racking up double figures of Wheatears, another Pied Flycatcher, heaps of Redstarts and other good stuff. I enjoyed these vicariously of course, but was somewhat itching to get out there as soon as possible. That was this morning, and happily it was still on fire. My short 45 minute amble produced up to six Whinchat, a couple of Spotted Flycatchers and Garden Warblers, as well as the real target of Redstart, with somewhere between one and four seen. Two were seen well, the other two I have no idea, they might have been Robins for all I know. But seeing as the patch is so ludicrously good at present I expect they were indeed Redstarts, However just one was enough to break into the magic three figures, the stuff of patch year-listing dreams, and is now the seventh year on the trot that I have managed it. Given how little I am sometimes able to bird the place, it makes the patch seem even better than it actually is. I really am very fortunate to have it on my doorstep. 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

What was that all about?

The post about Wanstead I mean. Highly unusual, apologies, I know you don't come here for that. Watch out, as assuming work doesn't completely hammer me into the ground I might be going out on the patch a bit more. June is over, so is July, and the first migrants are about to appear. I left out a stat yesterday, that of Whinchat. It's good, very good. In the ten years I've lived here I've seen 109 of the things! 109! There are two more out there today, I could get to the Nelson. But then I'd have to hop back and they're at the furthest reaches of the patch so I'm going to give it a miss.

In far more interesting news I was recently in Norway. Only briefly, as I forgot to pack a large suitcase of money and was thus utterly destitute one cup of coffee after arrival and had to come home again. I was in Bergen, which is a lovely little town on the coast, with a small number of charming Hanseatic League buildings on the dockside and some very steep hills. I did a lot of walking, and a lot of looking longingly at seafood that I could not afford. I also saw the pelts and mounted heads of pretty much any arctic animal or bird you could care to mention. If, say, you were a dentist with a penchant for shooting beautiful animals with a bow and arrow, Norway is a place you should definitely visit. After your life-changing experience in a Zimbabwean jail of course.

So, I took a funicular up a very steep hill, walked down a very steep hill, visited some wooden buildings, wept when I saw the price of a shrimp, and went to the aquarium. The birds were somewhat secondary, but there were lots and lots of gulls, many with Norwegian rings on, and some freeze-dried in packets if you were short on time. Basically I walked and walked as an alternative to spending money on anything, and a very nice time I had too before my ankles gave in. Here are a few pictures.

Special Moose Effects - Olaf Prot

Freshly-ground Common Gull

Instant Common Gull

Strong version, highly caffeinated, faint aromas of landfill

Yes that is a stuffed Gannet

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Pied Hangover

Today started off extremely badly with a stinking hangover. Most other Wanstead birders were feeling similarly terrible after a night down the pub saying farewell to Dan, and saying hello to a lot of beer. Apart from Tony. Amazingly TB managed to be on the patch by about 7am, whilst the rest of us who actually live here were all lying at home groaning. By half seven, and with the fug clearing (slightly!) he picked out a Pied Flycatcher in the limes on the SSSI. Cue a text message that had us equally cursing, equally excited. Was it a wind up perhaps, and Tony was in fact enjoying an early morning cup of tea in South Woodford? 

I cracked, but it took me at least half an hour to get out of the house, and staggering towards the lime trees I wondered if I hadn't made a big mistake. With gaseous explosions propelling me ever more quickly there, I soon found Tony staking out a tree. I went a stood under it for a few moments to relieve the pressure but no small black and white birds fell out. Bob and James pitched up too, Bob keen for a second bite of the cherry, but we couldn't find it again and so wandered off to Long Wood. Remarkably quiet, and my hangover began to return.

With the day warming up we felt that perhaps the Flycatcher might have started feeding, so returned over the other side for a second crack. This time James picks it up pretty quickly, low in the birches with various Phylloscs, and we get some brief views. Smart bird, amazingly my sixth in Wanstead. Admittedly this is in over ten years so they're hardly what you might call common, but I still think that's a pretty good strike rate for London. But then again this is Wanstead, one of the greatest urban patches on earth. You don't believe me? How does three Wrynecks, two Stone-Curlew, 57 Spotted Flycatchers, 27 Ring Ouzels and 24 Redstarts sound? Not to mention 203 Wheatears

Didn't get a photo, left that to the nouveau paparazzi, however here's a Wanstead bird from 2012