Monday, 27 February 2012

Was that summer?

Two weeks ago arctic gear, thermal pants etc. This weekend, shirt sleeves and NO COAT. At all. Absolutely fabulous here in the smoke this weekend, blue skies, sunshine and warmth. I took the children out on Saturday to experience what will likely be summer 2012 (as I type it is cold and wet again), and their joyful shouts of freedom as they ran around Wanstead Flats were simply wonderful to behold. Bicycles were ridden, scooters were scooted, and flopping into the long grass - adults and children alike - was a must. This early in the year there is no pollen to ruin my enjoyment of long grass, and so whilst the kids expended pent-up energy, I relaxed and trained my eyes skywards.

It may have helped to have kept my eyes open, as the procession of large raptors across the inside of my eyelids was a tad disappointing. I remedied this on Sunday by managing to stay awake long enough to record two Common Buzzards going over, one north, the other, a darker bird, east. Neither had a hint of Rough-leggedness about them, but I live in hope, and one apparently went over Upminster - though I want to see a photo to prove it as I'm really really cynical.

The Buzzards, despite their commonness, were most pleasing, as almost exactly two hours earlier I had texted birding associates to say that it felt like a raptor day. The first one that came over was essentially in outer space. Any higher and it would have run out of oxygen, and dropped in a frozen lump to land somewhere near Long Wood. I had been watching kettling Common Gulls, themselves miles up, when a darker shape drifted through. Not a patch year tick, as I had one out of the window on a similarly lovely day back in January, but always a good bird here. The second one came through much lower only a short while later, and as such caught the attention of a selection of gulls who proceeded to give it a hard time as it made its way east. Still a little early for Red Kite, but a few more days as nice as this weekend in the last two weeks of March will see me do nothing but skywatch. Oh, and scan the ground for Wheatears. Choices, choices....

Earlier that morning, before I had flopped wearily into the long grass, I had actually been doing a bit of birding. Specifically I had been looking for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in the usual copses, having been encouraged by one flying over my head on Saturday towards Esso Copse - which avoided the onslaught. So knowing that they are at least on the Flats again, and knowing that this is a good time of year to locate this local cracker, I was trying East and West Copses - the ones that did get health and safety'd. Sorry to say that in two hours I didn't get a sniff, though both other Woodpeckers were noisily present. This is hardly scientific though, I'll need to conduct a few more surveys before I can say either way whether the birds are interested in these places any more, or whether the extensive removal of dead wood has seen them off. Despite the absence of very small woodpeckers this time, the copses were brimming with bird-life. Not all of it good though....

When I moved here Ring-necked Parakeet constituted a rare local record. More recently they began living in the Park, particularly round the Ornamental Waters, but other than that were recorded only as flyovers on Wanstead Flats at the beginning (north) and end of the day (south again). I went several years before getting one on the garden list, but now get several every month. About a month ago I counted 67 or so in a single flock going south, and now it appears that they are living in the copses full-time, as I hear the screeches at all times of day. Yesterday I found this in West Copse. Note the hole in the top left corner.....

The science on whether Ring-necked Parakeets out-compete native birds for nest cavities is still underway, but it suggests that Nuthatch in particular is a species that declines when Parakeets move in. Wanstead has very few if any Nuthatches, but I'd argue this has been the case for longer than the Parakeets have been present, and that other factors are probably at play - but you would probably have to say that the increased number of Parakeets can't be doing the chances of a recolonisation many favours. Starling is another cavity nesting species, but these were present in the copses - for now - and the doe-eyed Stock Doves were also still present. Again, we'll need to watch what happens quite carefully now the Parakeets are in, and of course the recent tree-felling and associated loss of holes will no dount exacerbate whatever happens next. Fewer holes and ever more Parakeets is presumably a one-way street, but we shall see.

Green Hoopoe with uber-crest


  1. Love the green hoopoe! Maybe i should look for one of them rather than the normal pink & white ones? Irish first anyone?

  2. I saw the lesser spotted in that copse right in the middle a few days ago, where the man who feeds dogs sits when he's not in the other copse with the parakeets in the hole - for I saw them too. Am feeling almost able to tell a sparrow from a duck. Oh yes what are those grey and black ducks in WP?