Sunday, 24 June 2012

Specifically Pacific

Nothing too outrageous today, a leisurely saunter up to Cley with Mr L, parked the car, wandered along the shore.  Met some birders, showed us our bird, job done.

We followed it as it flew back to the scrape and it showed well but distantly.  A beautiful job, as all plovers are in summer.  But where was the margin to the black on its body?  Probably holding its wing low was the reply.  OK, everything else appeared to fit.  A cracker! Luckily there were no European jobs hanging around so it was a bit of a cake walk.

A couple of Spoonbills hid amongst the vegetation, hundreds of Avocet milled about, families of shelduck on view, Dunlin, Redshank of the Spotted and Common varieties, some nice red Godwits, a couple of Little Gull juveniles, Sandwich Terns already beginning to moult and a good number of Pied Wags.  The place was heaving, but we couldn't stay.  A quick diversion for a minute to look at the rather smart Sacred Ibis (one day it will be tick worthy, and why not since they're getting stuffed on their home ground, let's have em here), and back to London.


 On the return leg Kestrels (14+ ), coming far too close to the road, but that's what happens after a deluge, things get attracted to roads because they dry so quickly.  I hope there are still 14+ tomorrow.

Crap pictures courtesy of a 2x converter and ineptitude.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Swift visit to Merseyside

Today the mega alert went off on the pager.  Embarrassingly I was at work and couldn't quite work out what the noise was - it's been so long! More embarrassingly my colleagues asked what the small piece of plastic was.  Pagers' are of a different era.

Later Jono texted me about the Little Swift, did I need it.  Hell right!

Now only a complete crazy would consider travelling overnight for a rendevue with a little swift like object first thing in the morning on the banks of the Mersey, only an idiot would consider escorting him.

So we're on the banks of the Mersey and it's still not quite light.  A few other crazies are there, but no-one has started scanning the building for birds. Pretty soon we are and pretty soon we have found something which appears to be a dead Swift.  Not good. Ticking dead birds is not allowed, apparently, so I've had to ditch my Great Auk for the time being - there'll be another!

Looking bad

The bird looks like it's impaled itself on the pigeon deterrent spikes and is face down like all good scousers try to be early on a Saturday morning. It just doesn't look right for a Little Swift, and that gives us hope while we scope it for any signs of life. For all intents and purposes it appears an ex bird.  Then someone finds the real Little Swift crashed out on a window sill further on, appearing in a very much not alive mode too. It has slumped forwards and sideways like a drunk caught between the toilet bowl and the wall.  Something I can empathise with.  Again we scope for any tell-tale signs that we might be wrong and this whole trip hasn't been a complete and utter fuck up from the start.

Looks bad

It lives, it can be seen breathing.  Hyperventilating more like, but a ticks a tick. Now I don't really want to tick something just about to peg it, so I am willing it on - the closest I will ever get to praying. The now fairly large collection of birders are all willing it on like believing in fairies to save Tinkerbell.

Not looking good

Meanwhile all the local Swifts are up and about as too are the local dog walkers.  One on his way to empty is dogs on the sand, a gruff largish chap with three of the most effeminate dogs you can imagine, shouts from his car.  Later he stroll up with a Great-crested Grebe tucked under his arm, which he had picked up on the beach.  Can anybody help? No reply. We all shift uneasily.  I ask if there is anybody local who would know the local animal rescue shelter, Jono repeats the question.  Silence!  We are all either from out of the area or not wanting to take responsibility for this wonderful animal which could muck up our chances of seeing our main prize zip about a bit. I am ashamed.  What the dog owner thought about shitty birders I can only imagine and he would probably be right.

Still not looking good

It's now getting on for 06:00 and the the attention of our selfish gaze is getting more active: yawning, fluttering and moving it's head.  Can't blame it for wanting to stay in bed a bit longer, the weather was a tad on the shitty side and cold.  It would probably be used to an extra few hours of dark in north Africa.

Someone said the last LS to stay the night did a few pre flight checks before soaring off, good a chance to get something more interesting than its back me thinks. At 05:55 it does a back flip and it's away over our heads and joining it's larger rellies.  Only Jono smart enough to catcth it's transformation from quaking ball of fluff to majestic bird of the skies.  The rest of us have to make do with long shots over the Mersey, where I hope it found something more appetising than the Cornish pasty and chocolate I'd managed.

Needn't have bothered, right?

It zipped around in apparent ruddy health. Had us all fooled.  Even the far deader Swift on the other ledge rose like Lazarus and disappeared into the throng.  When you're wrong, you're wrong and that was Merseyside.  By 12:00 we were back in London.

There's a Pacific Golden Plover playing hide and seek at Cley, or the matter of 3 Storks in Sussex....

yes, my camera does take colour pictures

Thursday, 21 June 2012

One of those days

I don't very often leave London. In fact, I don't very often leave Wanstead these days. The natural history of the local area is usually enough to keep me fascinated. But as I was doing a quick walkover of the Skylark zone on the Flats on Wednesday I had a sudden rush of blood to the head.

Perhaps it was the bright, warm sunshine? Maybe it was the weatherman forecasting weeks more wet and windy conditions? Anyway, I headed out of town to Iping Common, an area of sandy heathland in Sussex. True to form, no sooner had I arrived there, however, than the bright, warm sunshine was no more, with the celestial orb hidden by a bank of cloud. This was not good for my search for butterflies. The habitat, however, was good for my quarry: Silver-studded Blue, a species definitely not found in Wanstead and one I had never photographed. Its favoured heather was everywhere but it took a break in the cloud to prompt them into action. And then there was no stopping them. I counted 16 Silver-studded Blues, although - bizarrely - no other butterflies. I'd never been to Iping before but will definitely go back.

Rather than go straight back to London I headed east, eventually arriving at Old Lodge Nature Reserve in Ashdown Forest around seven in the evening. I'm familiar with Old Lodge - another heathland area - but it's usually windy, or wet, or both when I visit. Yesterday I struck lucky. High cloud was moving in from the west, but the forecast rain was still a few hours away. Walking along a ride between two blocks of pines I heard a Common Redstart, then picked it up with the bins. It was a male with a bill full of food, presumably destined for hungry chicks - and it looked very tatty. A little further along the ride there was a female, then five minutes later, another. I don't often get to see three Redstarts in a week, let alone inside 15 minutes. Little did I know that there would be more.

Retracing my footsteps, a calling Nuthatch flew overhead. Why can't they do that in Wanstead? More to the point, why don't they exist in Wanstead? Then I noticed a movement out of the corner of my eye as a finch-sized bird flew up to the top of a stunted pine. Chaffinch? Then why no white in the wings? And why does it have a large bill with crossed mandibles? A stonking pine-cone-red male was perched right out in the open, with a green female a foot or so below. This was getting good. The birds flew down and after a half-hearted, and ultimately futile, attempt to relocate them, I moved on ... to where a Tree Pipit was song-flighting, alighting on an overhead wire to give excellent views.

By this time it was almost 8 p.m. and my thoughts were turning to Nightjars. Too early yet, though, so I scanned the rabbit-grazed turf near the car park. Two feeding Wood Larks soon became four, presumably a family party. Swap the species - Meadow for Tree Pipits and Sky for Wood Lark - and this could be Wanstead Flats. Apart from the fact that Old Loge is hilly, has a covering of heather and unleashed dogs are banned! A pristine male Redstart was nicely perched out in the open. Presumably this one had maintained its spring finery by abdicating its domestic responsibilities. A couple of roding Woodcock and yet another (female) Redstart later, a Nightjar started churring. Within minutes a male and a female were performing over the heathered hillside. The evening was complete.

Back in London in the wee small hours, I checked on the moth trap, which was filling up nicely. I'd have to be up again very early to get the trap in before threatened heavy rain materialised. I almost surprised myself by being up and about at 5 a.m. to open to trap and check on its contents. There were about 20 moths, including this recent colonist, Cypress Carpet.

Some days there just seems to be no end to the surprises that come your way: this was one of them!

Tim Harris

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

East London gems

Got up a bit earlier today, as it was the last of my current holiday, and decided on a little jaunt to take in some of the places I'd heard about about but never quite made. First though a stroll across the flats and an hour watching the Alex.  Safe to say there was more action going on under the water than above it.  I am going to have brush up on my pond life.

Having waited long enough for nothing I wandered up to Manor Park and took a train to Seven Kings.  The aim to visit the parks between Ilford and Barking and end up at Dagenham Chase.  First stop South Park, nothing at all like it is on the telly, the people were slightly more three dimensional.

The park is part playing field with the remainder taken up by a small long lake fed by Loxford Water.  It has a few islands, nicely overgrown, giving refuge and breeding sites for the usual city lake birds. It did have Pochard, which surprised me as all ours have buggered off, and a good number of Tufties and a Little Grebe. The lake looked like someone had poured a huge tin of blue gloss paint in - apparently blue green algae - which kind of spoilt the overall impression.  I met local birder Richard Leyton who kindly gave me some background to the place, and some memories of Wanstead in the 80's and 90's.  Interesting stuff about Glaucous and Iceland Gulls in the mix at Alex in winter.

He neglected to tell me about the fudge Ferruginous which was consorting with the tufties just a few metres away. Personally if I'd found this I would have reported it straight away, and been really pissed when told that it was only a hybrid.  Beautiful duck though.

Onwards towards Barking I got a singing Grey Wagtail on a roof top, and then got a bit lost. So I caught a bus, which by-passed all my planned visits and so I ended up at Dagenham Chase somewhat earlier than planned. Why the council suggest getting off at Dagenham Heath I have no idea, might as well have said get off at Upminster and walk further.  Anyhow the place is a gem.

I'll quote from the blurb here: "The Chase Local Nature Reserve covers 48.5 hectares and offers a diverse mix of habitats. Shallow wetlands, woodland, grassland and the River Rom support an abundance of wildlife.

The Chase borders the Eastbrookend and Beam Valley Country Parks together forming a regionally important area for wildlife.

Birds receive the most attention with over 190 species recorded in the last 50 years.

Kingfishers, skylark, little ringed plover and lapwing all breed here but The Chase is best known for its rare visitors during the migration periods such as pine bunting, great snipe and spotted crake.

Other animals include water voles, great crested newts, slow worms and badgers. 
The Chase has a number of important plants. The easiest of these to spot is the Black Poplar tree. The site  contains 6 of only 600 female trees left in the United Kingdom".

It reminded me of a mix between Two Tree Island (Southend) and the Lea Valley, maybe slightly over grazed by the hundreds of horses, but I can imagine migration time and in winter wandering about could take you all day.  There are so many places to look.  Special mention of the Slack and its little neighbour to the north, Reed Warbler heaven.  I was just a bit surprised to see no raptors and it was quite empty and peaceful considering it's right next to the railway and in a heavily built up part of London.  Great place, I will be back.

Me thinks this may be a female stag beetle