Monday 19 June 2023


I have been reading lots of reports of a general dearth of birds. Low breeding numbers, low passage numbers, a precipitous decline in inverts. I exepect the story to be similar here, the numbers telling a familiar tale. I'll leave that to others - our local eBird statistican James can run a variety of fancy stats based on our collective records, and the breeding bird survey organised by Tim is nearing completion. My sense is that on both fronts we have been struggling though, and although migration seemed to be delayed the dog days of summer seemed to arrive early. A squeeze on all sides. 

What I can reveal at this particular juncture is that my local patch yearlist is bang on average at 98. That is data going back to 2009 - by the end of June my average list is 98. Last year I reached 99, and although there are still a couple of weeks left I'd need a dozen more birds to shift that average. So business as usual really and 2021, the second year of COVID, was truly an exception. 

It is a familiar tale. Since my last update, nearly five weeks ago (remember, blogging is dead), I've added just five new birds. Oystercatcher was a jammy midnight bird heard as I staggered home from an evening out. I was fully planning on leaving it off until the following day Bob told us all he'd recorded it overnight. Despite my wayward staggering I had managed to submit an eBird checklist for Tawny Owl that I had heard quite clearly, and shortly before or after that I fancied I'd heard an Oyc - the time on that was a few minutes past midnight. When, pray tell, had Bob's microphone picked it up? A few minutes past midnight, in fact within two minutes of what my phone had said it was. Too good to be true? Some local competitors may very well think so. Me? I added it immediately!

This level of jam has continued in a muted kind of way. An uninspiring early morning vizmig session on the Flats the following morning produced almost no migrants but a Shelduck flew over as we were seeing nothing. This is at best an annual bird for most of us, and many years I don't get one at all. The best was yet to come though - two weekends ago Nick found a Corn Bunting at the Vizmig point which I very nearly missed. I had been pruning a tree that had been excessivly shading my greenhouse and had left my phone at ground level and missed all his messages. Exhausted after many hours of toil I had just collapsed into a chair with a beverage when a final one came through from Tony that the Corn Bunting was still present? CORN BUNTING?!!! Whaaaaaaat? I dashed over to get it flying around and briefly perched before it took off once again and this time disappeared into the distance. I missed a Corn Bunting by very fine margins a few years ago, so what a relief this was to claw back. But good grief it was a close run thing. Imagine how gutted I would have been! I might have gone home and felled the entire tree... Common Tern, an increasingly reliable summer visitor, got added the following weekend and then the weekend just gone I finally managed to bag a Kingfisher - a resident bird that somehow I had not really put the effort into up until now. 

And then finally I have added a supressed bird from March to get to 98. Some readers will perhaps remember that a couple of years ago a Black-necked Grebe arrived to general astonishment on Wanstead Flats. The first since the early 1980s, it stunned us all by staying for months. The following year it came back again, also for months, and then on the 29th March this year it came back yet again, only this time it brought a friend. Wanstead Flats is of course manifestly unsuited to breeding Black-necked Grebes, but we thought we had best give them the best possible chance and so a news blackout ensued. Sorry about that. For a while they both seemed happy enough, feeding together, the odd bit of display, and we wondered whether against the odds something might occur? Sadly it was not to be as one day Mrs Grebe disappeared. We heard frequent plaintive noises coming from the carr, roughly translated from Grebish as "Why hast thou forsaken me?", and then one day in about mid-May the male disappeared too, perhaps to Walthamstow as a bird appeared there at roughly the same time. It returned after a while but this was short-lived. At the end of the month Jim found it on the bank looking beaten up, and although a rescue was performed the bird died at the shelter overnight. I think we can safely say that a fourth year isn't on the cards.

A sad ending

Anyway that's my local upate for the last few weeks, and I doubt that you'll be hearing much more from me on it for at least another month now. That will take us to mid July, which is when return wader passage kicks off. That is always fun, especially if you try and stay awake all night and hear nothing, and then the following night you don't bother and your nocmig gear hits it out of the park. So instead of local news I have grand plans to catch up on a few trips I've been on. Whether I actually put pen to paper remains to be seen, but at least I'm considering it.


  1. Put pen to paper, y'say? Hmmm, I wonder how many (few) folks actually do that nowadays. I have my trusty notebook, of course. But that aside I barely write anything at all.

    Ramblings aside, it's good to hear that Wanstead's finest is still alive and well. Have you considered buying/building a moth trap yet? We've all seen the famous pic of a bemused looking Puffin sat amongst eggboxes in one lucky fella's trap, could be a massive grip off for the rest of the Wanstead gang....

    1. I couldn't write more than a page these days. Really feel for my kids doing exams at the moment, one of them actually has a "pen lump", kind of like a hard growth, on one of their fingers.

      And I do have a moth trap, but would have to get up so early to empty it I never put it out!