15 October 2017

When a plan comes together?

With dawn creeping through the curtains it seemed like just the right time to get out and find an Ouzel and one of the deluge of Hawfinches that have been plaguing the country. 

The mist was low over the flats as the sun rose and walking through the brooms the unmistakable braying of a Brambling flew over going west. The first for Wanstead this year. A little while later the double notes of a Redpoll. It was looking like an interesting day. 

Time to check the SSSI, just got to the far side when Jono ‘phones to say he has a Short-eared Owl flying down the brooms heading S. Another first for the Wanstead year. Time for a wee jog to Centre road…and there coming back behind Centre copse the distant v shaped glide and flap of an SEO. (Incidental random nonsense - my 8th for the flats and the first to be seen in the same month as any of the others). Heading nonchalantly back towards Jono in the brooms he indicates another or perhaps the same one coming back on a big circle, so a record shot grabbed as it flew by.

Time for some visimiging: 10 redwing, a siskin, then another, a few Chaffinch, 30 Jackdaw south and then another Brambling. A strange pipitish “pseeep” (Incidental random nonsense 2 - rather similar to the Red-throated Pipit I heard in Skaw or maybe…)  but coming apparently from a Skylark as we checked the through the local Meadow Pipit collective. The weather closes in and Nick arrives, counting chaffinch as ever. Things progress and we chase an interesting flock of finches, one of which I’m sure has a white patch on its rump. Not nailed though, and no calls as they dance about.

I get ready to go for the Sunday papers and Jono reckons on staying a while, until news of a Rock Thrush being seen in the Welsh valleys interests the avowed non-twitcher. Apparently the lure of the valleys are too strong, well for those who need it. The football has started so Nick and I stroll to the Esso garage. On the way back past the footballers, “we’re not going to hear anything here” I shouted, followed by the tootle of a Woodlark and it flies 5 metres directly over our heads!! It continues to fly on and then west off towards Jubilee. High five, well, we both had one through in the spring, and then we hear another coming in from the north. This one flies in and lands on the main path with a few pipits! 

The first I’ve seen on the deck in Wanstead and it stayed long enough for some record shots. Yay.

Despite the action I head off for breakfast and Nick goes on to Alex. Here, inevitably, he completes a great patch day with a Rock Pipit, a serious Wanstead rare.

When I get back and go through the photos I find this pipit at the left hand edge of one of the early Woodlark shots. Just a bit odd?

No Ring Ouzel and no Hawfinch (yet) but then why make specific plans, things just happen, sometimes.

1 October 2017

Scarcely September (2017)

Our best month of the year, usually, and the epitome of how dire 2017 has been! Usually we have daily reports–this year I've had to pad things out with Twitter news.  Doesn't help that several records were deleted from the London Wiki.

Even with a lack of reports/reporting it doesn't take a genius to realise that this autumn has followed on from an awful spring to be, well, awful.

3 Common Redstart, 15 days of Whinchat–with a high of 3 (ha!) on two days, 2 Wheatear, the first autumn Stonechat on the 23rd and the only Stonechat so far. 5 Spotted Flycatcher, which is 5 better than Pied Flycatcher.  Utterly disappointing.

4 Tree Pipit, 9 Yellow Wagtail (that previously would have been one good day!).

The first Ring Ouzel arrived on the 26th and a day later Stu had the first Redwing over Leyton Flats. Other autumnal arrivals in the form of 3 Lesser Redpoll signed in on the 29th.  Out went the majority of the warblers leaving just Chiffchaff and Blackcap by the end of the month. Going, but not quite gone were Martins and Swallow (150+ on the 24th).

A second adult Yellow-legged Gull was reported at the end of the month (I only do adults now, they're easier) in a growing gull mass.

The Little Owl(s) were noted throughout the month as was a Tawny in Long Wood (Sean Kerrigan), which was actually on the 30th of August.

2 Snipe was the sum total of things wadery.

On the plus side Tufted Duck managed to have a brood of 2 (all that was left when I caught up with them) on Heronry, which was about the only contribution made by the park for the month, aside from a calling Treecreeper.

As for the month ahead: we must get a Short-eared Owl surely, shortly, thrushes and finches, buntings and plovers–ah yes it's Viz Mig time.  Meanwhile I am going to wake up soon and realise this has all been a bad dream!


Wanstead Flats: 2 Willow Warbler in with good numbers of Chiffchaff in School Scrub (James Heal) Tree Pipit (Bob Vaughan) Spotted Flycatcher reported


Wanstead Flats: Tree Pipit, Whinchat, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 3 Willow Warblers, 40 House Martin, Little Owl, Skylark, 30 Gadwall, 4 Little Grebe, 2 Sparrowhawk, 2 Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Reed Bunting (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Park: 7 Teal, 8 Shoveler, 27 Gadwall, 5 Pochard, 10 Tufted Duck (including 2 young non flying birds, so a success there), Little Grebe, Goldcrest, Grey Wagtail, 2 Whitethroat, 6 Chiffchaff (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: Spotted Flycatcher, Sedge Warbler (Marco Johnson)


Wanstead Flats: 2 Tree Pipit, 20 + Meadow Pipt, 4 Yellow Wagtail, 3 Whinchat, Garden Warbler, Reed Warbler, Willow Warber, 10+ Chiffchaff, 4 Whitethroat, Hobby, 1-2 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 2 Sparrowhawk, 6 Sand Martin, 2 House Martin, Swallow, 10 Gadwall, 2 Teal, f Shoveler, Common Gull, Little Grebe (Wanstead Birders)


Wanstead Flats: 2 Whinchat (Tony Brown)

Wanstead Park: 11 Teal on Ornamentals, 62 Gadwall, 12 House Martin,  (Tim Harris)


Wanstead Flats: 2 Whinchat, 3 Common Whitethroat, fm Kestrel, 3 juv Green Woodpecker, 6 Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail (John & Janet Cadera)


Wanstead Flats: 2 Common Redstart. Whinchat, 2 Little Owl, 12 Meadow Pipit, Yellow Wagtail, 3 Skylark, 30+ Swallow, 3 Sand Martin, Common Snipe, 3 Goldcrest, 3 Teal, 13 Shoveler, 3 Little Grebe, Little Egret (Wanstead Birders)


Wanstead Flats: Wheatear (Simon Raper)

Pic: James Heal


Wanstead Flats: Spotted Flycatcher (James Heal), Hobby (Bob Vaughan), m Stonechat, Little Owl (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: Whinchat, 150+ Swallow S, 14 Chiffchaff, 5 Blackcap, 2 Goldcrest, 3 Skylark, 20+ Meadow Pipit, 2 Common Buzzard, 3 Kestrel, 2 Sparrowhawk, 3 Teal, 3 Gadwall, Shoveler, Little Grebe, 2 Common Gull (Wanstead Birders)

Wanstead Park: 44 Gadwall, 6 Wigeon, 21 Shoveler, 13 Teal, 15 Tufted Duck, f Pochard, 2 Common Buzzard, 3 Sparrowhawk, 5 Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Whitethroat, 5 Goldcrest, Treecreeper, 2 Little Grebe (Nick Croft).


Wanstead Flats: 1w m Redstart, 3 Whinchat, 20 + Chiffchaff, 10 Blackcap, Whitethroat, 3 Goldcrest, 2 Skylark, 2 Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, 10 + Song Thrush, 10 + Blackbird (mostly migrant birds), 10 Teal, 4 Shoveler, 4 Gadwall, 2 Kestrel, 600 + Starling, 4 Common Gull, rise in the number of Wood Pigeon with a lot of 1w birds in their midst (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: f Ring Ouzel briefly, 2 Whinchat, Yellow Wagtail, 13 Teal, 88 Greylag Goose - a new record for the site (J Lethbridge)


Wanstead Flats: 50–60 Swallow, 5 House Martin, 60+ Meadow Pipit (James Heal)

Leyton Flats: Vis Mig: Redwing, 48 Meadow Pipit, 5 Pied Wagtail, 2 Linnet, 6 Swallow. Plus Coal tit, Nuthatch, 40+ Ring-necked Parakeet (now becoming attached to the area), 3 Shoveler, 8 Pochard (Stuart Fisher)


Wanstead Flats: Yellow-legged Gull, 100+ Black-headed Gull, 5 Common Gull, 15 Meadow Pipit, 5 Pied Wagtail, 2 Skylark, 15 Chiffchaff, 8 Blackcap, 2 Goldcrest, 13 Teal, 12 Shoveler, Little Grebe, 2 Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, 3 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Linnet, 5 Chaffinch (Nick Croft/John Whele)

Wanstead Park: 10 Wigeon, 22 Shoveler, 55 Gadwall, 20 Teal, 8 Tufted Duck, f Pochard, 8 Little Grebe, Kingfisher, 5 Chiffchaff, 2 Goldcrest, 35+ House Martin (possibly still our local birds), 6 Swallow north up the Roding, Coal Tit (Nick Croft)


Wanstead Flats: Wheatear, 45 Meadow Pipit, 10 Swallow, 5 House Martin, 14 Chiffchaff, 5 Blackcap, 2 Goldcrest, 15 Shoveler, 5 Teal, 53 Egyptian Goose (new site record), 4 Common Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, 9 Linnet, 2 Skylark (Jono Lethbridge/Nick Croft)

2 September 2017

A study in Chiffchaff

As we all keep an eye out for interesting autumn migrants, I have been spending quite a bit of time watching warblers recently.

"One after another, the ‘phyllosc’ warblers flew from the sallow trees across the path and into the birches North west of ‘Motorcycle Wood’ in the SSSI. Possibly a mix of birds that have bred here, but more likely a majority of autumn migration birds stopping over on their passage South."

"This wasn’t the classic case of passage warblers joining tit-flocks, this was a warbler flock in which a small handful of Great Tit and Blue Tit tagged along."

"As they moved across the gap/path I was able to count ten warblers to begin with, which were later joined, in a drip-drip fashion, by about ten more."*

This is just one of several occasions recently where warblers have filled the trees in front of me.

Chiffchaff calls and the slightly longer and more complex Willow Warbler calls are everywhere at the moment, and then occasionally - despite it being Autumn - Chiffchaff have been singing. Today I counted five singers and last weekend even had a singing Willow Warbler.

Given all this exposure to these birds, I have started thinking about variation. Not between the two species, but within each species.

Looking back over my photos, there are no works of wildlife photographic art, but there are enough features showing to be of some interest, I hope.

Let’s begin with what I consider to be a classic Chiffchaff:

Dull-ish brown upper-parts, dull-ish pale under parts, indistinct supercilium, and very dark legs. For ID purposes, this is the Chiffchaff we all want to see.

Now have a look at another classic Chiffy from a different angle:

The primary feathers clearly only project a short way beyond the tertials and are nice and evenly spread. Again, classic Chiffchaff. Lovely!

Just as a point of comparison, here is a photo of a Willow Warbler I took recently. The primaries clearly project far further and the supercilium just pops out at us, even if the bird is not as bright as we might like.

The bird in the photo below looks classic Chiffchaff again at first sight. In fact I think the warm brown tones make this a good candidate for the northern, Phylloscopus collybita abietinus sub-species, although I doubt even an expert could be sure from a single photo alone, and possibly not without analysis of the bird itself.

But look at the rascal’s legs. They appear orangey red, rather than dark! This is clearly a Chiffchaff, but the leg colouration is confusing nonetheless. I am aware that light and angles can make a huge difference with colouration, but normally in the other direction - pale legs made to look darker.

It should be no surprise that some distinguishing features do not show well in some birds, so we might get a Willow Warbler with dark legs, or an indistinct supercilium, or with very little yellow showing on the underside etc etc. But imagine how confusing it is if this combination comes together in a single bird that neither sings, nor calls, nor flicks its tail.

I wouldn't suggest that the following bird falls quite into that category, but I do think it shares a number of features we would expect to see on both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. The leg colour is inconclusive, the primary tips are not showing well, it is relatively yellowy underneath, and the supercilium is more distinct than we normally get with Chiffchaff. It also seemed brighter in the field than it appears in the photo. I would personally come down on the side of Willow Warbler, but I accept I could be wrong (do let us know if you think I am); perhaps this is just on the bright side of the P.c.collybita end of the spectrum.

I am sharing all of these thoughts not to try and bore or patronise our readers, but more as a celebration of the variation found in our warblers and as a reflection of the kind of thought processes that go through my head when I am out in the field.

Finally, here is a picture of what I believe to be a young Chiffchaff showing downy grey undersides.

At least they keep us on our toes! 

The other benefit of watching warblers closely is that occasionally you find something else. So it was near Motorcycle Wood last weekend when I found the Patch first Pied Flycatcher for the year. ;)

*From my field notes