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!

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