Saturday, 20 October 2018

Rustic Bunting, Wanstead Flats

As ever I was poorly placed for the latest amazing bird to hit Wanstead Flats - Venice. Strolling around Accademia at dusk on Wednesday I was amazed to see a message from back home telling me that Nick had found a Rustic Bunting on the patch. Wow, just wow! He just gets better and better, I do have to be abroad though.... Happily for me it had the good grace to stick around until I could get to it, and indeed as I type is still here - about 20 minutes ago I watched it go to roost in the enclosure. It is a remarkably tolerant bird, but trying to get a photo of it during the twitch (I estimate several hundred have been to see it over the four days it has so far been here) has been a hiding to nothing. I've never really experienced a big twitch on the patch before and I think I can now understand why people on whose patches this occurs frequently might get a little jaded. What this means is that early mornings and late evenings work a lot better, when I can creep up on it without people assuming I am too close, and without the whole 'wacky races' thing going on.

It is only my second Rustic Bunting ever after a bird two years ago on Shetland, and the views have been amazing. It took me up to 152 birds for the patch, but now I am on 153......this morning before I'd even found the Bunting again Tony though he had a very slight glimpse of a possible SEO being pursued low through Long Wood. He, James and I set off towards Centre Road to have a look at what the Crows were so upset about, and we were stunned all over again when instead a Barn Owl flew out of the wood. Barn Owl! I mean wow, just wow! I've had two patch ticks in three days and neither of them were birds I thought remotely likely. I could have listed 20 birds and these would not have been on the list. Waders, ducks, egrets, but not these. It's the first Barn Owl on the patch for a quarter of a century, and Bob, James and Nick all saw it too - for Nick this is truly karma. He was poorly placed this morning when we called him - not Venice mind you - and we thought it had gone but he managed to jam it as soon as he arrive right at the south end. This also enabled James to finally connect - somehow he had missed it in the mist when Tony and I shouted out, and I was feeling a bit bad that he hadn't seen it when he had been so close.

No pics, but Bob has managed some great ones here. Instead here are some pics of the Rustic Bunting, a bird I've seen as many of as Barn Owls on the patch...

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Samsung Sunrise

I have to say I am increasingly impressed with what phones are capable of - it does lead me to wonder why I lug a large SLR around the place, at least for landscapes and people. Clearly no good for birds but equally some of the walkabout cameras are capable of OK results. I don't think the gap has yet been bridged, haha, but the distance is definitely narrowing. It pleases me that when I am old and infirm I will still be able to carry a camera. So, I took these yesterday actually, whilst I was seeing no Redwings but before the Egret came over and meant my blog material had to change for the day. Had I not given the game away would you have known these were casual phone shots (and not even from a phone that remotely qualifies as 'latest')?

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Not quite a tale of two Thrushes

If yesterday was exhilarating, today was sensational, but not for the reasons you might think. My morning total was one Fieldfare and one Redwing. Yes, just one of each. A few Linnet and Goldfinch kept me company, as did up to seven Skylark, one of which was in full song, albeit from the ground. At 8.01am precisely, just as I was leaving the VizMig Point and heading off east towards Manor Park station, I noticed a large heron shape in the sky just behind me and to my right. I expect I had been looking at my phone or something. Anyway, raising my bins I was astonished to see that it was pure white. I never even bothered to consider Little Egret, the views were superb in the early morning light – enormous bird with deep wingbeats and the characteristic bulge of the neck below, long entirely dark trailing legs. I fumbled with my phone to try and get some kind of record shot but it let me down and would not focus on the rapidly disappearing bird – somewhat gutted about that but I suppose photos are not everything. Interestingly Shaun had reported a Great White Egret flying west from the Ingrebourne Valley earlier that morning, but I had never imagined for a minute that it would fly over here. However when I checked a map at work and drew a line from the Valley over where I was standing, you end up at the southern end of the lower Walthamstow Reservoirs around Coppermill Lane.

This of course makes my uber ride to see the Wanstead Park bird earlier this year look increasingly bad value for money, but I am nonetheless delighted to add this species to my VizMig list, and indeed to my sub-patch of Wanstead Flats. Of course with increasing numbers in the country and counts of 20+ pretty regular this may become an annual bird, but right now it still has the hint of the exotic and rare about it. I checked Jubilee Pond on the offchance that it may have stopped off there but not surprisingly it had not. Still, I reckon we’ll see it again, and it certainly livened up what was in truth rather a poor morning compared to Monday.  BTW, if anyone wants to know how fast a Great White Egret flies, the answer is approximately 22mph.

As per yesterday I’m going to illustrate this post from my rather extensive back catalogue. To be clear this is not the actual bird, but everyone likes a picture. So had I been looking the right way I would have seen this….

Florida sadly

Monday, 8 October 2018

Vizmig season begins

I had a nice little jaunt out to Rainham Marshes on Sunday with one of the kids, picking my fifth London (and third Rainham) Cattle Egret, as well as jamming a Great Skua going up the river and over the tip almost as soon as I arrived, but the real interest at the moment is in the sky. Visible (or in some cases audible) migration is starting. Of all of the things that occur on the patch, the spectacle of visible migration is perhaps the most exciting. Yes we find Redstarts and Ring Ouzels in bushes, but for sheer thrill there is not a lot to top the mass movement of birds overhead. 

It is starting now. I cannot say that either this weekend or this morning counted as a mass movement, but Saturday was notable for the first Redwing and Fieldfare of the autumn. This morning there were even more, I counted around 140 Redwing before I had to go to work, of which 80 were in a single flock headed west. They are amongst the most evocative of the passage birds due to their soft seeep as they pass over. The first few times you hear it after an absence of perhaps six months you can't quite place it - or at least I can't. And then you remember, and the memories come flooding back. And from that point on you're "on it" and every passing bird is noted. There are Finches too, and Buntings - indeed this morning a Yellowhammer went over, first north, and the a few minutes later back south again. This is an annual bird, like Woodlark, but we do not get very many here despite them breeding only a few miles away. That habitat is open fields and hedgerows though, something Wanstead just cannot offer.

I suspect the next few days will mainly be about Thrushes though, perhaps with Fieldfare numbers picking up. My experience in Wanstead this morning mirrored that elsewhere, with Redwings outnumbering their larger cousins by many multiples. The balance will swing at some point I expect - my past records indicate that towards the end of October we can perhaps expect a complete reversal. Fieldfare too make their presence known overhead - a husky chacking. Soon that too will be engrained in my head as I strain to pick up moving birds in the half light of the early morning.

Redwing, Iceland

Fieldfare, Essex

Sunday, 7 October 2018

24 hours in Tokyo

It would have been far too simple to go straight home from Kuala Lumpur so instead we went via Tokyo. We flew overnight and after getting rid of our luggage were exploring the city mid-morning. Now obviously you need more that 24 hours in a city to do it any kind of justice, and that's probably even more true for Tokyo where you could happily spend a week, but a day was all we had and as a taster it was terrific. It is fair to say we managed to do quite a lot in the time available - a nice wander around Meiji Shrine, the ordered chaos of the Shibuya crossing, the dim alleys around Yurakucho, a look at the Seimon stone bridge at the Imperial Palace, a stroll around the Sensoji Shrine and the surrounding shopping streets, a quick swim at the hotel with Mt. Fuji in the distance as the sun set, then a sensational traditional Japanese meal involving a dozen miniature courses that were works of art, and finally concluding with drinks on the 52nd floor with a live jazz band and the twinkling lights of the city spread out around us.

So what follows is a mini photo-essay as we dashed rather manically around the city. At 7am the following morning we were at Haneda and on our way home. Exhausting but exhilarating, and it's a country that I will no doubt go back to. There is just something about far-east Asia, and Japan is uniquely different and incredibly interesting. Tokyo was but an introduction and we're already wondering how we can get back there.


Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Florida calling

I recently saw an advert for a bird photography course in Florida lasting 3.5 days and costing $1749. I saw another, also 3.5 days, which involved boat trips to photograph Roseate Spoonbill for $2499. A fool and his money are easily parted. Fair enough, the leader is a pre-eminent bird photographer, however that is just crazy crazy money. I am taking Mick S there next month and I am not charging him anything like that! Seriously though, I should become a bird photography tutor, if I could get five punters to pay something along those lines, or even half of that, that would be me sorted out. Who wants to sign up? I know the places, I know the theory, and every now and again I've been known to take a decent bird image. Winner, surely? Here's a Wilson's Plover. I can help you take photos like this for a modest fee. I'm going again next month purely to research the best spots for you and you alone. I'm happy to take two people back next year. More than that and I would not spend enough time with each person. Winter months are best. I am free in December. Expressions of interest in the comments box please. £500 each for 3 days of photography + flights and accommodation which I will organise and bill you for. Participants must be able-bodied and like sand as there will be a shit load of crawling on our stomachs....

PS I also have experience of the UAE, Morocco, Iceland, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania and several other places. Take your pick, I'm there.

Monday, 1 October 2018

A weekend in London

At what should be one of the peak times of the year Wanstead Flats has been almost entirely devoid of interest for the last few days. The odd Yellow Wagtail passing over, various Stonechats popping up, but nothing out of the ordinary and in truth even the ordinary has been sub par. There was a decent arrival of Chiffchaff on Friday night, and Tony was lucky enough to pull out a non-calling Yellow-browed Warbler as it shot through Long Wood, but generally I would say that it has been below all of our expectations. The best bird I saw was a Spotted Flycatcher in one of my neighbour’s gardens. This was notable for being only the second seen from the house, and also because earlier that morning I had been discussing garden records with James and had mentioned that one of my best garden birds was a Spot Fly. A few hours later whilst eating lunch I was looking at one again. Maybe I should talk up  other birds?

Saturday afternoon and I traded birds for Cetaceans. I had mixed feelings about the Thames Beluga whale – that it is there cannot be a good thing. But gosh, talk about a never-to-be-repeated opportunity – possibly the only chance in my life I would have of seeing this species – let’s face it, I’ve gone 43 years without one so far. That said, I expected that seeing it  would likely be a slightly underwhelming experience, and half of me felt that if I went it would only be to say that I had, if that makes sense. It is not as if I keep a Thames whale list…. Anyhow, James offered to drive and I accepted a lift quite happily in the end. We elected to try from the Essex side so as to avoid the bridge, and after discovering it was not at East Tilbury, retraced our route to actual Tilbury where we watched from just outside the Fort.

Wreathed in cigarette smoke and admiring a fine Flag of St George and a Bulldog Tattoo I conceded that whilst the whale has duly been added to “things I have seen” in truth this was not the best way to see a Beluga. That would be in the high Arctic, kayaking alongside a pod of 30 animals in their natural environment. This one was swimming around a grey barge with a blue portakabin on it, whilst tugs dragged enormous cargo vessels past and various bits of rubbish came in on the rising tide. Still, it was nice to be out getting an occasional gulp of fresh air and the weather was great – shirt sleeves for a Beluga. I had not been here for ages, in fact the last time I was here I had found a Red-backed Shrike sitting on the fence.

Sunday was a quieter affair devoted mainly to domestic drudgery, but I did fit in a quick tour of Wanstead Flats with my youngest. It was decidedly quiet, worse than Saturday, but did allow for lots of questions and lots of learning. One question I could not answer was if a Yellow Wagtail calls once every three seconds on its entire southbound journey, does it arrive in Africa with a sore throat? It is a genius question if you ask me, but a perfectly logical thing to want to know and I was dumbfounded. Actually I want to know too, so if you could help me with that one I would be most grateful.