Scaup at Walthamstow
This year I will be mainly doing a little diary. This year I will be mostly not doing Wanstead–except the good months, as there are few better places. This year I will be mainly doing London, with a few dinks outside the recording area for a bit of fun. This year I will not be working if it can be avoided.
So another pointless London Year List then? OK, you got me
This year to keep the suspense I will not let on about the scores until the end. So no spoilers. So don't ask.
From my totting up I make it about 150 species seen in London during the month, with the bird of the month being the Black-throated Thrush seen briefly in Finchley–the first for London, unfortunately it hasn't been tracked down as its associating with Redwing. The Fudge Duck at Staines could have done the decent thing and stuck around–could this be the same bird that has been wintering in and around London for the last few years? Then there were the Great White Egret that managed to hang on at Tyttenhanger through the freeze until, of course, the day I finally decided to visit. They hoofed it that morning, though Twitter suggested they were there just as I was getting off the train some 4 miles away. Of the three birds highlighted here they are the most likely to pop up somewhere during the year, most likely Rainham.
Black Redstart (site undisclosed)
My highlights were a singing Marsh Tit (not sure I've heard one sing before and a beautiful song) at Amwell just inside the LRA; having a Tawny Owl watch me for a few minutes before flying low over my head in Bush Wood, nearer to home; a ring-tailed Hen Harrier perched up on a fence post at dusk; the Great Grey Shrike after four attempts and many hours standing in the cold at Ingrebourne–probably the Wanstead bird as it turned up way back in last October; the Glauc, the Med, the Caspians and the grebes at Staines and the William Girling.
Didn't happen due to a large intake of gin and vodka the night before
Spent too long waiting for the Yellow-browed to show,which it did fleetingly on a couple of occasions, then played catch-up chasing down Firecrest, Treecreeper and Nuthatch in Bush Wood, a showy Water Rail by the Roding with the bonus of a soaring Buzzard over the Alex whilst waiting for the little sibe. Could have got most of these elsewhere but patch loyalty got in the way.
6th Rainham RSPB
Those in the know say to get a good London list stay at Rainham and then pop away when something good turns up elsewhere. I don't think my metal health is up to that, Rainham is a bit of a required taste. Winter, however is the best time to visit, however not this winter, yet!
Around 20 Avocet have taken a liking to the bay having been since there since Christmas, took me a couple of months to bag these last time. A Short-eared Owl showed beautifully as it glided over the salt marsh in front of me, Jack Snipe and Water Pipit east of the concrete barges, but no Rock Pipit. Always something you miss at Rainham meaning a return visit is required–Ringed Plover being the culprit for most of my visits.
7th Lea Valley: Cheshunt Lakes
The Lea Valley gravel pits are a shoe in for the wintering diving ducks usually, and per chance a Bittern. While Goldeneye and Goosander were notched up pretty quickly on Bowers, the red-headed Smew seen the day before was not so obliging, and by the time I got to the right place for the Brambling it was getting too dark to see anything except the large numbers of Chaffinch and Linnet they had been associating with. I waited by 70 Acres lake as dusk fell on the off chance a Bittern would flop in, but it was so misty it would have had to be pretty close to see it. Numerous sharming Water Rail in the reeds added to the chilling atmosphere of the place.
8th Stratford, Queen Elizabeth Park to Walthamstow reservoir/Wanstead
A long walk through the newly created park calling in on the Middlesex Filter beds and then to the Walthamstow Reservoir complex targeting Black Redstart (nope) and Peregrine at Westfield (distantly on a tower block and then another on a pylon by Coppermill Lane), Green and Common Sandpiper and the wintering Scaup snoozing the short days on No. 4. Actually my first visit to the new park and actually better than I thought it would be. More impressive were the amount of Little Grebe between Stratford and Tottenham Hale, around 50 birds on the river. The filter beds were poor, but the Scaup was easy, and asleep, but Stu's Black-necked Grebe had disappeared from High Maynard. The sandpiper were present and correct in the flood relief channel at the north end of Lockwood with a good few Chiffies flycatching from the hawthorns.
With most of my targets done and the trains not too fucked up I high-tailed it back to Wanstead and my place on the Roding just as it was getting dark for Woodcock (tick) and then a quick tour of the park where I finally catch up with a calling and showing Tawny Owl in Bush Wood. May have used a tape lure, but sometimes you have to give a bit of active encouragement and it always thrilling to see owls especially the really nocturnal ones. By then it was too late for the Little Owl on the flats, but I gave it a go.
9th Rainham RSPB
Already getting a bit bored with Rainham, but needs must. Rock Pipit and a few Black-tailed Godwit feeding on the shore line was a plus.
10th Harold Wood/Ingrebourne Valley
Today I will go get Waxwing, I could wait till they arrive in Wanstead, but they might not come, so a short train trip and a brief walk to where they have been showing regularly. Luckily they decide to fly into a tree by the Big Yellow storage facility on the way there, and then fly off, which is my cue to go somewhere more interesting.
And that place is the Ingrebourne.
Luckily the connection between Romford and Upminster is running so I walk down the valley from Upminster Bridge. Luckily I bump into stalwart of the valley, Dave McGough who kindly offers to show me around and in particular where the Great Grey Shrike has been seen, and the best place for Yellowhammer and RL Partridge. He finds me Bullfinch (a bird that normally be accounted for in Wanstead, but not anymore) and shows me around Bonnets Wood. They have countryside here, farm land and probably the largest reed bed in Essex, stretching all the way from just below the new visitor centre to Rainham. It reminds me a lot of Radipole in Weymouth.
Strike one for the Shrike
11th Rainham RSPB
Someone has reported the Cattle Egret is back on Wennington, someone later says that the guy who saw probably found a Little Egret. A lone Golden Plover on the tip path was the only highlight–they have been remarkably scarce here this winter. Oh and an adult Yellow-legged Gull in a small roost on Wennington (another at Barking Bay later).
12th Amwell, Great Hardmead Lake
Smews you lose!
Arrived with great expectations as 3 ducks had been seen frequenting the Great Hardmead for the previous few days. Armed only with bins the prognosis was not good when I arrived, the couple by the watch point had seen nothing. I got them on to a duck way at the back of the pit shortly afterwards and then had the three birds do a fly by at the hide to the east.
I was here for Marsh Tit, a bird I had not seen here before but one supposed to come to the feeders by the reed bed hide. The feeders were empty as were the reeds from the hide. Luckily a tit started singing as I was about to leave and for that family a particularly beautiful song. It followed my back down the path and further into the LRA (I did do a check with a little bit of maths and the
Calculate distance and bearing between two OS National Grid Reference points site just to be sure).
By now I was wet and colder so went home.
14th Staines Reservoir/London Wetland Centre
Usually good for a wintering diver or two, but with none reported anywhere in London my hopes lay in one being miraculously found by one of the locals on the day or news of one being suppressed. As there was only one other guy with bins when I arrived miracles weren't forthcoming. I too had decided to travel light on the assumption that a kindly local would lend me a scope view if necessary, This assumption was also naive, my experience with locals here has never been warm and inclusive, a point confirmed when I left and met one just arriving. He gave me a grunt as I passed. Put it down to spending long hours unprotected from the elements looking at grey horizons to the backdrop of Heathrow airport. Plenty of Goldeneye, but the Black-necked Grebes were putting up more of a fight. After about 2 hours I picked them up on the southern basin steaming determinedly towards me only to disappear without trace half way.
The other problem with Staines is that you are in the world of Southern Railways who pretend to have a train service, one did finally turn up as I was just about to give up and die–and it was packed with football fans. I jumped ship at Putney and wandered round to the Wetland Centre for a look at the numerous Bittern they've had this winter, how hard would that be?
I would make it hard. By choosing the Peacock Tower hide rather than the ones on the lagoon I managed to avoid any brown herons. I tried the wild side and the channels I've had some luck with before. As chucking out time approached I tried the last hide near the collection and after about 20 minutes picked up a brown smudge in the reeds. A guy behind me had a scope so I asked him if he could confirm it for me. It was Paul Hackett digiscoping King of Kowa, who'd had some good views of Bittern in all the hides I hadn't gone to.
Arse so to speak!
15th WeBS count Wanstead Flats
Determinedly nothing of interest
16th Lyle Park/Victoria Park/Walthamstow Reservoirs
At some point you have to confront gulls and in particular the Herring Gull complex. While I am no lariphobe I am a long way short of being larophile, which means I am pretty shit when it comes to first/second/third winter gulls of this particular niche. Luckily some up and coming geniuses in the form of Dante Shepherd and Jaimie Partridge had done all the hard work and discovered some rather obvious looking Caspians at Lyle Park, a place I was not familiar with. Handily it's near a DLR station and handily there were 3 of them on the low tide mud, handily I didn't need to linger.
They apparently come to bread but they weren't going to share my jam and peanut butter sandwiches so I had to make do with record shots.
Flushed with success I went for a bit of legitimate plastic at Victoria Park
Flushed with success I went for the Black Redstart inhabiting the far bank of reservoir No.5–where my flush got busted. I bet its on the filter beds I said to a fellow dipper!
18th Tyttenhanger GPs
Having just about cleaned up locally I need to spread the net further and the Great White Egret at Tyttenhanger had proved stubbornly immune to the freeze gripping the south east, having never been there but having heard so much about the place I made my carefully planned move.
I would have to walk from Welham Green, the nearest station but the map showed footpaths and bridle paths for an interesting and fairly direct route. My chosen metaled track became an ice sheet, then a stream, then a muddy stream before disappearing into undergrowth which showed no signs of going over or under the A1(M). I would have to retrace my steps, especially as my map had fallen out somewhere along the path. Somewhere along the path turned out to be at the top of the slope where I had stopped to get my camera out to snap a close perched up Buzzard, which was in another county before I'd got the camera out.
The retrieved map showed another route across an arable field, with ice gripping the ground how bad could that be? Six inches higher and a couple of stone heavier I reached a bridge over the motorway and another metaled track. From there on in it was easy reaching my destination just an half hour later than planned, which according to Twitter was around the time the egret(s) were last seen. Joy.
I found the farm with London's one of two Tree Sparrow colonies but could not see feeders likely to attract said bird. I'll come back to that. Crossing the causeway on the main lake I met up with a birder, who I assume was Steve Blake, who gave me the gen on the sparrow feeders and the news that the egrets had absconded. I went back for the sparrows.
Sparrows done I thought while I am here I would have a look around, and possibly pick up a Red Kite or two. Kerching!
With two additions and everywhere looking ice gripped I decided to head home and see if I could snaffle the Wanstead Little Owl as a bonus. My walk back took along the Colne where a few Siskin were buzzing and feeding in the alders, another Red Kite shied away south and all in all it was quite pleasant in the sunshine.
I aimed to go back by a different route avoiding the muddy field but the chosen footpath appeared to be someones garage, so muddy field it was.
Didn't get the owl.
19th Practical works with the WREN Group Wanstead Park
Took control of the Wren volunteers today to help me extend the reed bed on Shoulder of Mutton by thinning out the trees in the SE corner. A good time to discover your wellies are now leaking.
While a work in progress we have probably helped to double the size of the reed bed in this corner, though I may have to try and persuade them back as my colleagues are less than enthusiastic about hard work. They'll appreciate it when the beardies and Penduline Tits start nesting!
Hung around till dusk trailing a sodden right boot. Didn't get the owl.
21st Rainham Marshes RSPB
Here again and nothing new, but a chance to get close to a rather friendly Waxwing
22nd Grays Riverside/Bulphan Fen
Grays riverside has one advantage over Rainham–it's the right side of the Dartford Crossing, which must put off a lot of birds. I've seen Grey Phalarope here before but today I was looking for a bit of Ruff, Ringos and Knot. I made do with godwit, Grey Plover and Turnstone.
My main aim today was a quick exploration of Bulphan Fen, recommended to me by a couple of guys during the week. Again a new site to me and close to Ockendon station, a good thing. A ten minute walk got me out into open fields, and better still, on a good farm road. A flock of Golden Plover and Lapwing flew around a ploughed field–see proper countryside!
Beyond the farm the road dipped down between old landfill sites and things got a load more promising–with usual associated features of landfill–drainage ditches, collection ponds and reed beds– a world of potential there. Beyond the old landfills it became more like the southern fens of Cambridgeshire but with a sandy loam soil rather than peat. A covey of 4 Grey Partridge were flushed from a field by Fen Farm, which also held dozens of Fieldfare, Skylark, Chaffinch and a few Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer, but no sign of any Corn Bunting. I did a loop just before reaching Bulphan crossing horse paddocks and a field of determined looking sheep, who moved en masse towards me.
Back to Ockendon along the Mardyke as the sun set. No time to look around Orsett, that would have to be another day.
A quick look at the flats before boarding a bus by the Alex to Gallions Reach, where I had a a quick nose around before heading towards Barking outfall. The weather was really manky, cold and a bit windy, but surprisingly a good number of chiffies were still feeding in the outfall channel. A large number of gulls on the adjacent roofs were stubbornly not the Glaucous seen by Hawky at the weekend. The best news of the day was that I could get a bus back to Forest Gate from the cinema complex. Sweet.
24th Barking Outfall/Rainham RSPB/Wanstead Flats
So with my new found knowledge of how to get from A to B and the weather being more clement I am back at Barking for a bit of gull mooching. Aaagh why do I bother, after about five minutes my brain closes down and I am in my happy place not seeing gulls.
The outflow channel was heaving with flycatching Chiffchaff and even the Sibe put in an appearance as did a Rock Pipit, which pleased Marco (who has a Newham list and for that deserves respect!) when I told him later–he still needs it.
The outflow itself looks the mirror image of Crossness but is less smelly, which is good: what price a Bonaparte's Gull later...
Back at Rainham, again. Finally I catch up with Ringed Plover, had a quick look at the Waxwing and headed off for another go at the Little owl.
Got the owl.
A plan that went well.
25th Swanscombe Marsh
Another new site for me and another miserable day. Couldn't even see the first Raven I heard but later saw over the large reed bed that's here. Swanscombe is a site ear-marked for development by Universal to create a theme park, it would be a great shame if that were to happen, it is fantastic. Obviously not at its best on a day like today, but as its only a 15 minute walk from Ebbsfleet International its actually quicker to get here than it is to Rainham.
I spent most of the time down on the shoreline as it appears I've done for the most of the cold snap. My reward: probably London's first Oystercatcher of the year and later a fly by adult Mediterranean Gull, which was sweet. My other targets of Bearded Tit and Dartford Warbler didn't materialise in the gloom, but I did find the biggest flock of Reed Bunting I've ever seen, at least 27 birds by a small flood.
26th Milton Creek, Sittingbourne
A day outside London today, ostensibly to see an old friend in a hospice in Gillingham. Gillingham is near enough Sittingbourne and near enough to where a Pine Bunting has been found. A plan, one which neglected the need for a scope or an up to date map and tried to forget the horror of the walk from Milton Creek to Sittingbourne station. Luckily someone showed me the bird through the scope and another kind gent gave me a lift back to the station.
Year ticks of Greenshank and Knot on the mud flats.
27th Crayford Marsh
Another site tick and another at threat open space. Hardly saw anybody out on the river wall and I didn't get shot so all good. Picked up 4 Bearded Tit by the Earith Yacht Club in the reed bed which is way more extensive than it looks from the Essex side. No sign of the Spotted Redshank reported earlier in the month, and no sign of any Corn Bunting either–but the I was apparently in the wrong place. The only downer of the day was watching the death throws of a Cormorant that had somehow had got his head wedged between a forked post in the river and hung itself.
28th Connaught Water/Epping Forest
I can put it off no longer its Mandarin time.
Having quickly added the said duck I thought to walk up to High Beech and see if I could find some Brambling and perhaps a Lesser Spot nearer Connaught Water. OK didn't get either but, bar the bikes, the loud dog walkers, and the louder kids, it was a very pleasant stroll.
29th Ingrebourne Valley LNR
Fourth time lucky for the invisible shrike, but only after another four hours traipsing around virtually the whole of the Valley ending up in the "bomb pit" for the second time of the day. And I nearly missed it then.
Buoyed up by my success I went to Rainham to bring me back to earth.
30th Walthamstow Filterbeds/William Girling
Four appears to be a lucky number for me. Fourth time lucky with the shrike and now my fourth attempt for a Glauc. I wasn't quite feeling so lucky as I stood looking at the filter beds from the train track side. After-all it had been a weekend sighting, when tips are shut and gulls have to look elsewhere for food and to hang out. Luckily it showed bathing in one of the tanks and even better from Coppermill Lane when it got out to preen.
No sign of the Black Redstart which is now being seen in the filter beds rather than the reservoir like what I predicted.
Late news on the London Wiki from the night before told of a Slavonian Grebe on the William Girling, but beggars can't be choosers.
Now to see into the William Girling, which has no access, Thames Water have arranged for a hill to be created at Mansfield Park where you can get some uninterrupted views of the reservoir. All I can say they could have made it closer and less interrupted. Black-necked Grebe, going around in pairs, were easily found with two close in to the east bank. All of them were on the south end of the water, the north end apparently empty bar tufties. Two hours in, sandwiches finished, getting cold and desperate I check the north end one last time. A small grebe, which was not a Dabchick was paddling towards me. Now the trouble with the oversight of creating a hill so far away from the action is that you are continually having to zoom in and out as the birds dive in order to find them again. Luckily the determined little grebe was not diving yet so zooming in confirmed it as a Slav, which made me happy.
Yeagh that was boring!
Now if I can muster some enthusiasm for February...