Wednesday 29 March 2023


Things are beginning to awaken in Wanstead, including me. The main headline BREAKING NEWS is that I have seen a Wheatear. Five in fact, with the first on March 18th, and then a few more this past weekend. They are lovely, exceedingly so. They were also hugely distant - not that I bother taking a camera around Wanstead these days - as they were inside the newly repaired Skylark fence. At some point recently some ne'er-do-well went on a slashing spree and ruined large portions of it, meaning the whole lot had to be replaced, rather than just filling in the gaps that had been opened up over the autumn and winter. I have mixed feelings about the fence, as I would dearly like to bird in there, but I suppose it is for the best. Also the stupid Skylarks spend as much time outside the area as in it. There is however no doubt in my mind that being able to step out of the house and within mere minutes hear the glorious sweet song of Skylarks is a rare privilege indeed, so anything that helps that endure ultimately gets my vote. 

Wheatear is of course not the only bird I've seen. Spending time on the patch tends to mean you see more birds, who knew? Last weekend I spent the whole morning out there as I just knew that a Red Kite was going to come through. It took something like five hours for this to become a reality, but with it came a certain amount of satisfaction. In the same half hour a Hobby came through, our earliest by several days and possibly my first March bird. It was sufficiently notable for eBird to want to me to expand on the sighting, which I duly did. I am still some way behind previous years, and trailing the pack of super-keen local birders by quite a distance, but time is on my side.

The other news I wish to share is that on Sunday I did two things. The first was that I twitched an Alpine Swift at Walthamstow, having dipped an Alpine Swift on Saturday at Dagenham. As is typically the case with influxes, the fear of missing out gradually builds until you have to do something about it. Saturday was a disaster. Dagenham is only a few miles away but it took me 45 minutes to get there at a crawl, by which time a sharp shower had sent the bird elsewhere. I stuck it out for as long as I could and then headed home, which took another 45 minutes. Naturally the bird reappeared in the early evening but I couldn't face it. So on Sunday morning when someone found another bird over the Coppermill Filter Beds I was there within 20 minutes and this time my luck was in.with the bird soaring high above me. So far they have evaded Wanstead. I've seen three Alpine Swift in the UK now, and interestingly all have been in London with two of them really not far from home at all.

The garden does NOT looks like any more!

The scond and final piece of news is that I have entered the greenhouse. It was like staring death in the face, deadm sagging and browning leaves everwhere, rotten succulents, a strong smell of decay and unhappiness. It was slow going, but over the course of about six hours I gradually sorted it out, the as yet fallow vegetable patch outside the entrance acting as a staging ground for the deceased. It was very sad, I have a large collection of labels that I need to go through and erase on the inventory (well of course I have a spreadsheet!). I have not done that yet, I can't face it at the moment. But I did painstakingly chop up all the leaves, empty dead pots into larger containers, and then mid-afternoon I filled the car to the brim and went to the local tip. That was quite catharctic actually, to be rid of it, and feel as if I can now start again. There is more do of course, a ton of fungus and grime that needs to be cleansed away before it will start to feel more positive. I'll get to that over Easter when I have a bit more time, but the really hard part is now done. There were a few positive outcomes, Agapanthus that I thought were toast in the flowerbeds seem to springing to life from the base, and the Tetrapanax has a new growth point. Mainly the story is of mush though, with plants that I had through bomb-proof all succumbing. South African Aloes that were enournous and had gone through snow and big freezes are all dead, gutted. The big palms are fine, palms that in many cases I raised from small seedlings and that have lived and grown happily in Wanstead for close to 20 years now. Some of them are taller than me! But the newer crop, smaller plants that I started perhaps five years ago, are mostly all goners - a fatality rate of approaching 80% which I find extraordinary. Often the same species as the bigger brethren sat just a few feet away, they just couldn't cope. It was the combination of the cold and damp - it has been a very wet winter here. Cold by itself tends to be fine, but when you add in the incessant rain that's when it gets ugly. I don't think I'll replace them. Anyway, the trajectory is now upwards, and time is a great healer, both of me and of plants that currently have no leaves!

Friday 17 March 2023


I might have explained before - get your tiny violins out - but my job is rather intense. And so it should be frankly and I deserve no sympathy whatsoever. As December ticks over into January, Year End reporting kicks in and lasts for weeks and weeks and weeks. Once upon a time I was only involved in a part of it and I was over and done much quicker.l, but nothing ever stays the same and alongside massive regulatory change my responsibilities have also grown substantially. I only recently surfaced for air to find a sea of neglect stretching to the far horizon.

My greenhouse in is dire straits. For obvious reasons I did not fire up the heaters this year and it has been carnage. I am not sure I have the emotional energy to deal with it, but deal with it I will have to. In summary I need a skip. Then there was the London Bird Report for 2021. Luckily I did a lot of the prep work for this back in 2022, but as seems to be increasingly the case I ended up delivering my work much later than I had hoped to. There were many other boring things too, too dull to list save one. This blog.

It appears to be been about six weeks since I last wrote anything. Six weeks! Mind you it is not as though I have done much birding in Wanstead that I can report on. I can count my patch visits in 2023 on one hand! I did manage some birding in Fife back in Feburary when we went up for a few days during half term, but that is the only non-local UK birding I have managed this year barring a cheeky visit to Staines in January. It's not really very note-worthy, and given I enjoy birding so much I do worry how I can let it slide quite so easily. The trouble is that real life gets in the way. I am aware that other people have real life too and yet still manage to go birding a great deal, so this is perhaps unique to me. Perhaps it has something to do with leaving the local grapevine back in January? You may or may not recall that I crafted a long and moany post about news dissemination on the patch towards the start of the year. To cut a long story short I gave up and quit. Despite attempts to regulate the output, Redwings and Blackbirds continued to be considered noteworthy and I threw my toys out my pram and left. I have still not rejoined and I have no idea what I have missed during the period other than being able to say that my Wanstead year list is lower than at any equivalent mid-March date that I have lived here. Actually that is not true, I do know that I have missed the first of this year's Wheatears on the patch. I was considering venturing out this week to have a look but as luck would have it I contracted Covid again instead and so wasn't able to. I can report that it is nearly but not quite as fun second time around, but that it seems to be quicker and rather than a ten day rollercoaster it is more like five. Still, I suppose it is good to get a new whack of antibodies as there is no sign of another booster coming my way any time soon. Hopefully this has me covered for a little while.

I suppose what I could have blogged about was a little bit of travel, but I never got round to it. There is, as usual, a fair bit to consider. I went to Greece briefly in late January, driving clockwise around the Corinthian Gulf over the course of a weekend, birding some brilliant wetlands in Western Greece and then getting a wholesome dollop of culture by visiting the ancient site of the Oracle at Delphi. Then as mentioned above I had a long weekend in Fife in mid February where I got a good dose of winter birding - Geese, Ducks, Waders and Auks that are all in short supply in the south east are plentiful along the Fife Coast and even though I was only able to go birding for a few hours it was just superb. I even managed a Fife tick in the form of a Black Guillemot off Leven. More recently, in late February, I had a manic few days birding the southern half of the Yucutan peninsula. Mick and I flew to Cancun and then drove as far away from Cancun as we could, using remote Mayan ruins as a way to get into pristine forest. This was unguided birding and extremely hard work, but ultimately incredibly rewarding and great fun. I'll get to it on here in due course. And then this weekend prior to being struck down I went to Lisbon for a city break and walked about 40km in two days, which may not sound enormous but flat Lisbon most definitely is not! This week when all the aches and pains kicked in I initially assumed it was Portugese hills that had done for me before putting two and two together and taking a lateral flow test. Remember those?! 

Anyway life goes on - rapidly - how is it mid March already? I've blogged about this about eight million times before, but I simply have more hobbies and interests than I have time outside of work to pursue. The busier you are the quicker time passes I suppose, and to my mind I just have so much going on that I have to be quite picky about what I do. I am probably just being dramatic. Anyway, suffice to say that blogging fell off the bottom of the list again but that I am still alive and kicking. And coughing.

Is Snuffi 'The One'?