Monday, December 20, 2010

Five Waders,from a Jack to a Lapwing. Sunday 19th December

This visit was timed to coincide with the co-ordinated wader counts on the Inner Thames. The Basin was 80% frozen and only held a few Teal and some Gulls. The copse was empty but a 1st winter Black Redstart was foraging around the lock gates. Had a spell watching the Thames, but this too was quiet. Time to check the Creek for waders and wildfowl. Plenty of Teal were present spread out along the river, on checking the reed-bed I leaned over the railings, and was confronted by a Jack Snipe on the edge of the mud, 5 Common Snipe were also here and 3 more were across the river. Five Meadow Pipits were feeding on the wet grass at Bow Eco Park, this area remains unfrozen due to the water being fed by a pump. The snow was quite deep in this area. Snow can change the look of an area, make quite ugly places seem inviting, like a new coat of paint, but in the East India dock area its just bleak.
On the way back to the Basin a female Pintail was feeding on the mud. The tide was flowing into Basin when I returned and 2 Common Snipe were feeding out in the open on the mud. Met up with Nick and it was time to check the wader roost at Bow Creek as the tide was almost full. A Common Sandpiper was roosting on the river wall, and
8 Redshanks were in the roost with a number of Teal and a Common Snipe. The Redshank are considerably down in number, at this time of year the roost usually holds as many as 50 individuals. It is likely that the severe weather has moved the birds on to other areas, probably to the south west or perhaps the Emerald Isle. Some years ago I did a survey of bird corpses in coastal Essex, after a week of sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow. Redhanks were by far the most commonest casualty.
A small number Lapwings flew over, making it 5 wader species for the day. Another check of the Thames and the Basin revealed her majesty the Pintail on the Basin, after flying in from up the Thames. This is a wary and flighty bird, but Nick did manage to get some pictures, which may appear on this blog. Nick then went off to work and I made my way home, for thawing out bowl of soup and some crumpets.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Spoon-fed mega fits the bill: October 2010 summary

Little Grebe at East India Dock Basin, October 2010

Two juvenile Common Terns on October 3rd were the last of the year, the only Yellow-legged Gull of the month was also on the 3rd and two Swallows passed through. Two Little Grebes were at the usual wintering spot in the north-west corner of the basin on the 8th, two Lapwings and a Common Snipe were also noted on the 8th along with two Chiffchaffs and 20 Goldfinches. A very good October count of circa 240 Common Teal was made at high tide on the 10th which was an excellent day for passage migrants; a Wheatear was in the gravel works, after a good spring passage this one turned out to be the only autumn record, seven Stock Doves flew south and two Collared Dove passed through, a flock of seven Skylarks flew east, a record number for the basin and 148 Redwings flew south; two Redshank in Bow Creek were the first of the autumn along with two Common Sandpipers; five Swallows a Lapwing and a Sparrowhawk also passed through and single Great Spotted Woodpecker and Chiffchaff were on the reserve. The last Common Whitethroat of the year was noted on the 13th along with ten Long-tailed Tit. A small passage of Meadow Pipits was noted on the 17th with eight flying west and four north, the only other migrant that day was a Skylark flying west, two Linnets were on the reserve with three Redshank and two Common Sandpipers in the high tide roost. A Common Buzzard flew north on the 18th and a Collared Dove passed through, a Green Woodpecker was on the meadow at the basin and a Peregrine, 12 Chaffinches and a Chiffchaff were also noted. The 24th seemed like a very unpromising day with just 13 Chaffinches the only birds of note, that is until we received a text message from John Archer downstream at Crossness informing us that a Spoonbill was heading our way; after half an hour it was located on the Millennium mudflats before flying off west only to return a few minutes later giving us excellent views of this totally unexpected vagrant, needless to say the first record for the Lower Lea and easily the best bird of the year (so far). The month ended quietly with four Little Grebes on the 31st, a single Chiffchaff and a very good local count of 20+ Long-tailed Tits.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Return passage: September 2010 summary

September got off to a good start with a Red Kite flying north-east and a Common Buzzard flying east at East India Dock Basin, both on the 4th, with single House Martin, Sedge Warbler and Common Whitethroat also noted, the Teal flock numbered 42 on the 4th but had risen to 130 by the end of the month. A Black Tern was on the river on the 5th with 25 Common Terns, two Sparrowhawks were also seen, the only record this month along with a single Peregrine, the only other sighting of this species being on the 19th. The only wader species recorded was Common Sandpiper with a single on the 7th, two on the 9th and four on the 19th. Single Kingfisher and Willow Warbler were seen on the 9th, the only sightings of both species this month. A Rook flying east on the 12th was the first record for the Lower Lea, it was also a good day for warblers with single Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Common Whitethroat and four Chiffchaffs along with the first two Meadow Pipits of the autumn. A male Black Redstart was seen on the 19th along with seven Swallows, four Meadow Pipits and three Chiffchaffs whilst on the river a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull flew west, 15 Common Terns passed through and a Great Crested Grebe was noted. The 26th saw an unprecedented passage of House Martins when at least 197 passed through including a flock of around 140 along with 12 Sand Martins and a Swallow all the hirundines were flying north-west; five Skylarks flew north-west and single Chiffchaff and Great Spotted Woodpecker, the only record this month, were noted. The month finished on a high when the fourth Green Woodpecker for the Lower lea was on the meadow at East India Dock Basin on the 30th.

Tern, Tern, Tern: August 2010 summary

Black-headed Gull at East India Dock Basin, August 2010.

River watching from the pier at East India Dock Basin during August was rewarded with a good tern passage, broken down as follows; Sandwich Tern, three flew east on the 15th. Common Tern, two on the 10th, 85 on the 15th. 20 on the 22nd and 12 on the 23rd. Arctic Tern, two flew north on the 7th and seven flew north on the 23rd. On the 3rd an adult Mediterranean Gull flew west, a Peregrine was over the basin a Garden Warbler was in the copse and the first two Teal of the autumn were noted, this number had risen to 30 by the 29th. Three Peregrines and a Sparrowhawk were seen on the 7th along with a Great Spotted Woodpecker and two Sand Martins. A single Common Sandpiper was seen on the 8th, the vanguard of a good August passage which peaked at seven birds on the 15th with two on the 23rd and singles on the 22nd and 29th. A Sedge Warbler was found on the 10th along with single Garden Warbler, Chiffchaff and Sand Martin. A Sparrowhawk, two Stock Doves and three House Martins were noted on the15th, it was a good month for the latter species with five through on the 22nd and two on the 28th. Two Egyptian Geese were seen on the 22nd, only the second site record along with a peak count of around 80 Starlings on the pylon by the entrance to the eco park and a Jay. The first returning Little Grebe was at the basin on the 28th along with a Kingfisher, unaccountably elusive this year, a Swallow, two Garden Warblers and a Willow Warbler. A comprehensive Mallard count on the 29th produced a site record total of 166 birds, also noted was a single Sparrowhawk. The month ended with single Peregrine and Reed Warbler on the 30th.

Conkers end?

Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner Cameraria ohridella
on infested Horse Chestnut leaf, October 2010

It would seem that the health and safety wallahs are getting a helping hand in their crusade to ban conkers from the nation's playgrounds in the form of a tiny moth with a big name, the Horse Chestnut Leaf-miner. This moth was unknown in Britain prior to 2002 when the first examples were found in Wimbledon, since then it has expanded alarmingly and is now found commonly all over south-east England. It lays its eggs on Horse Chestnut trees and the larvae burrow into the leaves, hence the name, and eat them from within. The damaged leaves cannot photosynthesise the photons from sunlight which they need to grow and if a particular tree is heavily infected, as several of the 30 or so Horse Chestnuts in the Lower Lea are, then it will ultimately die. At the moment the moths have no known predators to keep them in check , obviously opportunistic birds will pick them off but a single large tree could probably produce several thousand moths, so this problem could prove very difficult to resolve unless nature comes up with its own solution, perhaps in the form of a parasite to keep the numbers down. The worse case scenario is that the Horse Chestnut could go the same way as the English Elm, decimated by two species of 0phiostoma fungi spread by the Elm Bark Beetle. A mature Horse Chestnut in full flower is a wonderful sight and a quintessential part of the English spring it would be such a tragedy to lose it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Rook and Roll

Firstly it took me two hours to get here from Leytonstone, owing to a shambolic Jubilee Line. Went to view the copse which has suffered severe habitat management, a considerable part of the understorey has been cut away, needless to say it was birdless. Teal numbers have now reached 95, but little else was on the basin. Seven Common Terns flew west along the Thames which was otherwise quiet. I decided to give the Ecology Park a go and whilst ambling over I noticed a 'crow' flying oddly, a quick look through the bins confirmed my suspicions of a Rook, a first for the site. It headed off east at 11.05. Buoyed by this sighting, there was a spring in my step as I entered the Ecology Park, to be greeted by more severe habitat management. The park was devoid of birds, and in fact my mornings tally was only 18 species, the lowest I have ever recorded here in the 12 years I have been watching the area, but strangely the 18 included a first for he site. I noticed later from the wiki site that David C had had some migrants, but i guess he wasn't thwarted by bungling Boris. Certainly a very strange visit, and now I am getting into my flying teapot and listen to some Gong, to complete today's weirdness.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

High Summer: June and July 2010 summaries

Gadwall at East India Dock Basin, June 2010

June and July are usually fairly quiet months in the birdwatching calendar with many observers switching off until the autumn, but a few surprises can be had for those optimistic enough to venture into the field. The undoubted highlight of June was the first Red Kite for the Lower Lea which flew south-west over East India Dock Basin on the 12th; the rest of the month was fairly uneventful with a Hobby just east of the basin on the 6th the only other notable sighting. Two pairs of Little Ringed Plovers were hanging on but apart from a few song flights and the odd territorial dispute it seems unlikely that breeding was successful; the only other wader noted in June was an Oystercatcher flying up the Lea on the 6th. Two pairs of Common Terns were nesting on the basin rafts, it seems that the combination of silt and oversummering Black-headed Gulls is making East India Dock Basin an unattractive prospect for this species. Three pairs of Sand Martins were nesting in the basin with another pair seen regularly at the ecology park, at least nine were seen on the 6th and two House Martins were noted on the 12th. An eclipse drake Gadwall was at East India Dock Basin on the 20th along with 39 Tufted Duck, a good count for June; two Sparrowhawks were in the eco park on the 23rd and a Mistle Thrush, just about annual at the Lower Lea, was seen on the 30th.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker was noted on July 9th along with ten Common Terns and a Common Swift. The first Yellow-legged Gull of the "autumn" was seen on the 14th, with two Peregrines, probably the resident pair from the Isle of Dogs, and two Common Swifts. Five House Martins passed through on the 18th when two Common Swifts, two Peregrines and an Oystercatcher were also seen. Eight Great Black-backed Gulls were noted on the 23rd with two Little Ringed Plovers, and single Sparrowhawk and Peregrine. A Little Egret on the 29th was the highlight of the month with the first passage Common Sandpiper also noted on this date along with two Peregrines an Oystercatcher and a local high count of ten Goldfinches.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Peregrine Pandemonium

Early August at EIDB is usually quiet, but can throw up a few good birds. Today was just like that. The first circuit of the site produced just a few Common Terns (only one young was raised this year at EIDB) and a number of juvenile Reed Warblers. A watch of the Thames at high tide also produced very litte, until an adult Mediterranean flew past going west. Late July/early August is good for this species at the dock. The copse contained just a Blackbird. A Garden Warbler was feeding in the NW scrub, the first migrant Warbler of the Autumn. Over 10 juvenile Reed Warblers were in this area, mainly in the reeds, but two birds flew sorties into the scrub to buzz 2 Greenfinches. This went on for a couple of minutes until the Greenfinches had had enough and moved off. Searching through the loafing Mallards on the island produced 2 Teal, the first since April. It was at this point that a female Peregrine swooped over the island, probably after the young Mallards. The Peregrine tried another twice to grab some prey, but failed. Pandemonium broke out amongst the birds present on the dock, Coots and Moorhens made for the reeds, Gulls and Terns on mass attacked the Peregrine, ducks hid in vegetation on the island, and Crows and Magpies just made a lot noise. The Peregrine circled over the dock for about 5 minutes finally flying away west towards Canary Wharf. Life settled down again and all was quiet in the August sunshine.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A bit of a curate's egg: May 2010 summary

Shelduck at East India Dock Basin, May 2010.

May 2010 was a curious month, many migrants struggled to get through and the birders searching for them really struggled to find them, but there were one or two highlights, chief amongst them the first Osprey for the Lower Lea which drifted slowly north-east on the 6th. The month got off to a good start with a singing Garden Warbler in the copse at East India Dock Basin, also on the 1st four Little Ringed Plovers were at the basin, three Oystercatchers passed through on the Thames and a single Swallow was noted. There was a small movement of Common Terns on the 2nd involving 18 birds and two Arctic Terns flew east along the river, five Pochard arrived on the basin and a female Black Redstart was typically elusive around Virginia Quay. A Common Buzzard passed through on the 4th along with two Swallows but then nothing else of interest until the aforementioned Osprey on the 6th with a Common Swift and two Common Sandpipers passing through on the same date. On the 9th, three Arctic Terns flew west, three Common Sandpipers dropped in on the Thames, three Common Swifts passed over the basin and a briefly singing Lesser Whitethroat was in the Ecology Park. A singing House Sparrow by the Blue Bridge on the 11th was the vanguard of a mini invasion which also saw two females on the 23rd and two males and two females on the 30th; also on the 11th five Swallows flew north west. Another local rarity, House Martin, put in an appearance on the 23rd when two were hawking insects over the Ecology Park with two Sand Martins, (at least five more were visiting three nest holes at the basin making it the best year ever for this recent colonist). Also on the 23rd two Ring-necked Parakeets flew west, a single Stock Dove flew north and at least seven Reed Warblers were singing throughout the site with a singing Reed Bunting still hanging on in the Ecology Park. Finally two pairs of Shelduck continue to behave as if they are breeding, but, as in previous years no ducklings have yet been seen.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Comings and goings: April 2010 summary

Tufted Duck at East India Dock Basin, April 2010

April was rather unsettled with north-easterly winds making it difficult for migrants to push through, in spite of this it was an excellent month for local scarcities at the lower Lea. A drake Common Scoter was on the Thames off East India Dock Basin on the 4th and the first Swallow of the year flew north-west on the 6th; single Common Buzzards flew south on the 9th and 11th and four Peregrines were in the air together on the latter date. Single Little Egrets flew north on the 10th and 11th and Single Collared Doves were noted on the 14th and 22nd with three flying west on the 25th. A Firecrest was a good find on the 20th along with a Lesser Whitethroat, two Common Whitethroats, two Common Terns and a Common Sandpiper, making it a good day for migrants. The first Reed Warbler turned up on the 24th along with an elusive Sedge Warbler; an Arctic Tern was on the Thames on the 25th when a Green Woodpecker flew south across the river, also on 25th the fifth Northern Wheatear of the spring was on the Pura Foods peninsula; the month ended on a high when a Hobby flew north on the 27th. On the wildfowl front a pair of Common Teal lingered until the 22nd and the Tufted Duck flock reached a year high count of 52 on the 28th, a small herd of Mute Swan peaked at nine on the 27th, 11 Canada Goose including a breeding pair were noted on the 4th and Greylag Geese peaked at seven on the 25th. One or two pairs of Shelduck remained throughout, but as in previous years no solid evidence of breeding was observed; finally four Pochard, three drakes and a duck turned up on the 27th and were noted intermittently until the end of the month.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Pochard pornography

I Took this series of photos at East India Dock Basin on Monday afternoon; a flock of five Common Pochard, four drakes and a duck, have been frequenting the basin for a few days. All four drakes were courting the duck but she showed no interest, diving frequently to avoid their unwelcome attention. After about ten minutes the drakes had reached a state of high excitement; two of them relentlessly pursued the duck but the third chased the fourth, caught it and copulated with it, forcing it completely under water for at least a minute on one occasion. I feared the fourth drake would be drowned so I shouted and clapped my hands but drake three was completely oblivious; eventually drake four dived with drake three still hanging on and both birds disappeared beneath the water for over a minute before surfacing independently and going about their business as if nothing had happened. I have seen Mallards behave in this way but I have never seen Pochard (or any other aythya for that matter) do anything like this, it made for an interesting intermission in what was otherwise a fairly uneventful afternoon.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On the Crest of a wave

With a slight change in the weather and a few things turning up elsewhere, and I had a few hours to spare. I decided to give EIDB a visit. The last few visits has been fairly mundane with barely a migrant to be seen, so when I arrived to clear skies and a brisk NW wind, it did not look promising. But almost immediately I heard the welcome call of Common Terns, as two birds flew around the dock for about 10 minutes, before moving off. I then watched the Thames for awhile, but it was quiet. The Ecology Park was also quiet with just a Blackcap. Back at the Basin I noticed some bird movement in the NW scrub, the first two birds were Long-tailed Tits, the third a Blackcap, and the fourth a Whitethroat. I then checked the NE scrub, where i found another Whitethroat, neither were singing. A Lesser Whitethroat sang briefly in the NE corner, and was difficult to see. I heard a Willow Warbler singing in the copse, and searching the copse saw a small bird feeding activly in the middle of the woodland. A Firecrest, the first recorded since June 2008. Excellant views were had, and I also had great views of a very bright Willow Warbler. Another circuit of the Basin and a count of 40 Tufted ducks ended the visit. On the way out I checked the copse again, the Firecrest was in the same area at 12.20pm.
Gary A James

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rave on, birding off

Conditions were overcast with an easterly wind blowing this morning so I headed to East India Dock Basin with a view to a spot of river watching hoping that the conditions would produce some tern passage. By the time I arrived at the DLR station it was obvious that something odd was going on, lots of people were milling around and a throbbing headache-inducing bass beat was coming from the direction of the Lea. I suspected that something was happening on the Pura foods peninsula so I headed for the north end of Bow Creek Eco Park to get an elevated vantage point. The southern end of the peninsula was a mass of people breaking up wooden fences to fuel the several fires that had been started, the three storey glass building was full of people and practically every pane of glass was covered in grafitti. Fortunately most of the people were staying close to the building and not venturing onto the flat gravel area where the Little Ringed Plovers are suspected of breeding. I immediately phoned the Lea Valley Regional Park emergency number and advised them to lock the gates on both reserves as the people attending this event clearly had no respect for property and no consideration for the local residents. The most worrying aspect of this affair is that whoever organised this event clearly broke into the site ignoring the notices of "rapid response security protection" posted on the gate, once news gets out that this is an easily accessable site I'm afraid that "travellers" will get wind of it and set up camp there with the attendent problems of fly-tipping, vandalism and anti-social behavior they will inevitably bring; watch this space.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Spring arrives: March 2010 summary

Blackthorn in blossom and Hawthorn in leaf,
East India Dock Basin March 2010.

March got off to a bit of a slow start as blocking north-westerly winds prevented any migrants pushing through until quite late in the month; the adult male Black Redstart was seen on the 2nd along with 24 Great Black-backed Gulls, a local high count; 20 Shelduck on EIDB at dusk and another two on Bow Creek constituted the highest ever count for the lower Lea on the 4th, also on the 4th, 18 Redshank were in the high tide roost and 31 Tufted Duck were on EIDB, both monthly peak counts; Common Teal peaked at 155 and five Greylag Geese flew west on the 14th; two Little Ringed Plovers arrived on the 17th followed by two Sand Martins on the 18th and an Oystercatcher and Yellow-legged Gull on the 20th; a flock of nine Lesser Redpolls was feeding in birches in the Eco Park on the 21st, which turned into something of a red letter day with three Northern Wheatear and a different Black Redstart on the Pura Foods peninsula and a flock of four Jackdaws flying north at EIDB; the 21st also saw 72+ Greenfinch in the Esso garage roost and three Chiffchaffs in the Eco Park, both monthly peak counts; the first Blackcap was in the copse at EIDB on the 24th. with the first Willow Warbler in the Eco Park on the 27th when another Northern Wheatear was on the Pura Foods peninsula; an unexpected bonus came on the 28th when an Egyptian Goose was seen briefly at EIDB, the first record for the lower Lea; and finally, also on the 28th, a site record count of four Peregrines in the air together over EIDB were probably two pairs involved in territorial display.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Easter Sunday birding

a nagging north-westerly wind was blowing today sending scudding clouds that threatened rain across an otherwise clear and sunny sky,absolutely useless for migration but still I ventured out, as did Gary whom I met at EIDB. We strolled down to the river comparing notes (or lack thereof) and chatted about our favourite topic, why quality raptors avoid the lower Lea like the plague, on arriving at the water Gary instantly called out a dark duck drifting downriver about halfway out, a fine drake Common Scoter, a new bird for me and Gary's second record for the area; a passing Thames Clipper flushed it and it flew away towards central London landing a couple of times before we lost it around a bend in the river, a superb record and solid proof why it's so important to get out in seemingly unpromising conditions. The rest of the haul was rather pedestrian; four Shelduck, 30 Teal, Common Sandpiper, Kestrel, three Sand Martin and a singing Chiffchaff the highlights.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

An unexpected bonus

I met up with Gary at EIDB this morning with no great expectation of adding anything new to my year list let alone getting a lower Lea lifer, in the event I got two; the first a flock of nine Lesser Redpolls (also a patch tick for Gary) including a stunning male feeding in birches in the Eco Park along with at least ten Goldfinch, itself a local high count, and the second a group of four Jackdaws heading north at EIDB. On top of this Gary found two Wheatears on the Pura foods peninsula which soon turned into three along with a Black Redstart, thought to be a migrant and not the semi-resident adult male. Other highlights included a soaring Peregrine over the basin, at least one adult Yellow-legged Gull, a confiding pair of Reed Buntings, two Sand Martins busily feeding on a hatch of midges over Bow Creek and three Chiffchaffs including one singing bird. I made a second visit later in the day to coincide with high tide in order to check the wader roost, it held two each of Redshank and Common Sandpiper and the bulk of the 75 Common Teal still present in the area. As the light began to fade Greenfinches started to arrive at the roost in trees behind the Esso garage and I made a new high count of 72+ birds, several of the males were singing and display flying before settling down for the night; all in all a very satisfying day which initially seemed a little unpromising.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Early birds

Another post work visit this evening and another migrant in the shape of two Sand Martins found by Marco Johnson, which is as far as I can ascertain, the earliest date for this species in the lower Lea; these birds are almost certainly one of the breeding pairs from last year or their offspring, as at least one of them went to roost in the breeding pipe in the lock wall (LVRP has provided a multi-storey purpose-built des-res Sand Martin wall at Bow Creek but these idiotic creatures prefer to raise their children in an overflow pipe how ungrateful is that?). The two Little Ringed Plovers were still on the basin, six Shelduck were scattered throughout the site with single Redshank and Common Sandpiper at Bow Creek; Teal numbers seem to have dropped dramatically overnight with an extensive search producing just 27 birds.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St Patrick's Day plovers

An ad hoc visit after work today paid a dividend in the form of two Little Ringed Plovers on the island at EIBD, the first migrants of the year for the lower Lea; also noted were nine Shelduck including four pairs display flighting over the basin, 72 Common Teal and 22 Tufted Duck. On the passerine front a pair of Long-tailed Tits were carrying nesting material in the copse at EIDB and a Song Thrush was singing in the Eco Park.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Business as usual: February 2010 summary

The north shore at EIDB looking east, February 2010.

Apart from a short-lived cold snap early in the month February was generally mild with lots of rain; it was a fairly quiet month with just two new species recorded for the year; an elusive Kingfisher at EIDB on the 17th and a skein of four Greylag Geese flying east on the 27th, otherwise it was pretty much business as usual, the male Black Redstart was in the copse at EIDB on the 6th but generally seemed to prefer to spend his time 200 metres west of the basin in the Virginia Quay area, Common Teal peaked at c190 on the 6th but had dwindled to 65 by the 28th, the only Redwing was also on the 6th along with a good count of four Grey Wagtails and a Peregrine; a Chiffchaff was in the copse on the 14th but was only seen on one other date, the 21st; an adult Yellow-legged Gull was on the Thames on the 17th; Shelduck numbers built up during the month and reached a record site count of 18 birds on the 21st including 16 together at EIDB along with 41 Tufted Duck and 86 Mallard; the high tide roost held 18 Redshank and a Common Sandpiper on the 21st, with a Lapwing flying north-west on the same date the only other wader recorded; perhaps the biggest surprise of the month was the discovery of a Greenfinch roost in trees behind the Esso garage, where at least 42 birds flew in to roost at dusk on the 28th; finally a Sea Slater was found on the 17th, only the second time this marine invertebrate has been recorded at the lower Lea.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Muddy Waters

Arrived at low tide, and it was extremely low. I cannot remember so much exposed mud on the Thames for a number of years. No Viking longboats though. The River Lea at Bow Creek was in places, just a muddy trickle of water a few feet wide. Would these conditions lead to a change in the birdlife present. well not really. Gulls were more numerous, with a movement of Black- headeds up the Lea Valley, and it was crowded on the Dome mud. I counted 24 Great Black- Backs, which I think is a site record. Wildfowl and waders were usual in number for the time of year and a few birds were singing in the sunshine. A pair Of Reed Buntings chased each other in the north-east reedbed on the Dock, and a Black Redstart was at Virginia Quay. But on the whole it was quiet. An unwelcome sighting was the diggers on the old works at Orchard Wharf. They were clearing rubble and vegetation from the rear of the site. Lets hope the work is minor, and does not lead to a wholesale clearence of the site.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Black and Blue

A mid-week jaunt in almost spring like weather, was in great contrast to the rain of near biblical ammounts, the prevoius day. Just the usual wildfowl were on the Basin, but I was alerted by a flash of electric blue, a Kingfisher, the first record this year. It landed very conveniently on a tree at the back of the reeds, where excellent views were had. There were many Finches present, Greenfinch and Goldfinch in song, 3 Linnets, and a few Chaffinch in the copse. A single adult Yellow-legged Gull roamed the mud in front of the Dome. The Thames was quiet, so had a stroll along Bow Creek, just one Redshank and about 50 Teal were present. On the way back to the Dock I encountered a male Black Redstart flitting among the buildings at Orchard Place, it was also calling. Back at the Dock the Tufted Duck had increased to 30. There was one very interesting sighting of an Isopod, a Sea Slater, only the second record here of this mainly marine invertebrate.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

High Tide and Teal

A short morning visit to check the high tide roosts, on Bow Creek and EIDB. The wind was blowing from the NE wih snow flurries, and it was raw. Very few birds were around the dock, though seven Shelduck were on the islands. At high tide on Bow Creek only 4 Redshank were present with a Common Sandpiper. The Teal were strung out all over the area, making counting difficult, until a boat appeared, chugging along Bow Creek towards the Thames. This had the happenstance to flush all the Teal along the Creek into EIDB. A few minutes later and I was counting 310 Teal on the site, a very good count for February. Another circuit of the site only yielded a single Jay.

Gary A James

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Black gold: February 7th birding

Unless it's really cold, February can be one of the most unrewarding months in the patchwatchers calender; nothing is on the move, you've already seen all you're likely to see and the first spring migrants seem an age away on the other side of the Ides of March, for the shortest month of the year February can seem to go on forever, so it was more with hope than expectation that I headed out this morning. I arrived at the Lower Lea on an ebbing tide which meant the wader roost was empty and no Redshank were feeding on the mud, I did a quick circuit of EIDB but the only birds of interest were six Shelduck and 19 Tufted Duck so I decided to do a Teal count of the entire site which produced c190 birds, mostly strung out on the Lea with the majority of them paired up, numbers will start to drop of rapidly as the month progresses with maybe one or two pairs hanging on into early April. Two Grey Wagtail were feeding by the Blue Bridge along with a pair of Linnet and a flighty Redwing was in the Eco Park. I headed back to EIDB meeting Gary on the way, we hung around the pier hoping for something to come upriver but the only thing of interest was a Peregrine that flew in and landed on the Millennium Dome, we were lamenting the loss of our Black Redstart when I noticed a bird fly out of the old gravel works and land in a hawthorn in the copse, I got my bins on it and it was a Black Redstart, a cracking adult male and almost certainly the bird Gary found last year, we watched it for a few minutes before it flew down into the dock mouth to feed, along with another Grey Wagtail, the 4th of the day as Gary had earlier had one flying downriver. Gary found a Great-crested Grebe on Bow Creek and we added single Redshank, Jay and Song Thrush to the day list which added up to a rather average 36 species.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Off to a good start: January 2010 summary

Common Teal at EIDB (Mark James Pearson)

January was an excellent month both in terms of quality and quantity, News Years Day was fairly quiet with a flock of 28 Fieldfares the highlight. On the 2nd a male Great Spotted Woodpecker was in the copse at EIDB, a Stock Dove flew north and an adult Yellow-legged Gull was on the Millennium Dome mudflats. The elusive adult male Black Redstart put in his only appearance of the month on the 3rd along with 31 Redwings (a distant flock of c130 thrushes was almost certainly this species but was too far away for a positive identification), a drake Gadwall at EIDB, and Chiffchaff at the Eco Park while six Song Thrushes flying north-east were almost certainly migrants, also on the 3rd a Common Sandpiper was in the wader roost along with a monthly maxima of 45 Redshank. The first Peregrine of the year put in an appearance on the 5th, six Reed Buntings were in the north-western reedbed at Bow Creek and 24 Fieldfares flew south-west. Overnight snow delivered two drake Pochards to EIDB on the 6th with the freezing weather prevailing until the weekend when it really paid dividends; four Common Snipe were flushed from the feeder stream in the Eco Park on the 9th and a Lapwing was roosting on the island at EIDB; the 10th was even better, along with three Common Snipe, two Jack Snipe (first site record), were flushed from the Eco Park, a Lapwing was in the wader roost, a Great Crested Grebe and a female Wigeon (second site record) were on the Thames off EIDB and a site record count of six Scaup flew upriver, the thaw set in on the 11th and predictably all the good stuff disappeared. A very good count of 402 Common Teal was made on the 12th along with an excellent local count of 26 Linnets, things then became very quiet until the 31st when a Collared Dove flew north, another Great Crested Grebe was on the Thames off EIDB and a monthly maxima of 13 Shelduck flew in to roost at dusk ; all in all an excellent start to the year with 59 species recorded. Finally, on a botanical note, the first Snowdrops of the year were beginning to flower in the copse at EIDB on the 31st.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just a quickie

After all the excitement of the Big Freeze I managed an afternoon visit today in almost balmy conditions as the thaw set in; the tide was well in and 32 Redshank were in the roost and a Common Sandpiper flew up the Lea and landed on a riverside ladder by the Blue Bridge, an extensive search of the Eco Park produced no Snipe with the highlights there being six fairly tame Redwing and two Reed Bunting; at least 350 Teal were at EIDB with another 30 or so on the Lea and Thames, 26 Tufted Duck were on the basin along with nine Shelduck with another on the Lea; passerines included a Meadow Pipit on the meadow (natch), a flighty Fieldfare in the old gravel works and singing Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Linnet.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Hard weather = good birding

A dawn start at Bow Creek Ecology Park in the hope of adding a patch "shame bird" to my list came up triple trumps with three Common Snipe flushed (along with four Meadow Pipits), and best of all, a Jack Snipe down to about three metres in the feeder stream. It sat hunkered down and very still, until I tried to take a photo with my phone, when it crouched even lower and then flushed to the marshy area. Jacks always seem darker than in the books to me, accentuating their gold braces; perhaps the books all illustrate faded museum specimens rather than the richly dark real deal.

The Redshank roost held 19 birds (with another two on the Lea on the other side of BCEP), but produced the third surprise of the morning in the form of a Lapwing asleep at the southern end of the roost, where I usually find a Common Sandpiper or two.

I met GAJ at the central jewel of this tower block Shangri-La we call our patch (just after a second Lapwing headed north), and he had spotted the Jack Snipe in the same area of BCEP shortly afterwards. My first Redwings of the day went north, then a few more appeared overhead, along with six Fieldfare heading west. Another surprise appeared in the form of an almost spring plumaged Great Crested Grebe, a site rarity in itself, and then a female Wigeon also swam out from the jetty in front of the copse.

A tight flock of six Tufted Duck appeared upriver coming towards us, four drakes and two female/immature-types, and when looked at more closely with bins they had larger rounder heads and bulkier bodies; they swung around following the course of the River Thames, and at least two of the drakes showed pale grey backs - shit: Scaup! Debate ensued between us about whether the entire flock, which passed quite quickly, had been Scaup, but all the birds had exactly the same build and jizz; the browner two lacked obvious white bill bases so may have been first-winters, but we were happy about the ID.

An adult Yellow-legged Gull circled overhead and then went off north-west, and then another (or perhaps the same) appeared again about fifteen minutes later, drifting and circling in the same direction.

It's great when one predicts a good day at a patch and everything falls into place, and I ended up with five (count 'em) patch ticks, which never happens after a consistent two years at a site!

Patch ticks: Common Snipe, Jack Snipe, Lapwing, Eurasian Wigeon, Greater Scaup.

Other counts: 276 Teal, 12 Shelduck, 119 Mallard, 14 Cormorant, 2 Pied Wagtails, 2 Grey Wagtails, 414+ Black-headed Gulls, 3 Great Black-backed Gulls, 23+ Herring Gulls, 30+ LBB Gulls, 33+ Common Gulls, 5 Chaffinches, 6 Long-tailed Tits.
David Callahan

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Snow patrol- slight return

I saw Gary's post on the wiki and dashed down to EIDB where I immediately connected with the two drake Pochards, albeit in a blizzard at around 3pm, the above record shot of this local mega is entirely the fault of the appalling conditions and is in no way a reflection on the skill of the photographer, also present were 11 Canada Geese and a Little Grebe

Snow Patrol- 6th January 2010

Arrived at about 9am to a carpet of untrodden snow. Checked the Basin for Wildfowl, but just a few Teal and 15 Tufted Duck were present. I had come in hope of unusual wildfowl and waders. Scanned the reedbeds and shoreline, but apart from Moorhens all was quiet. Next to the copse, where a single Redwing was feeding on the ground with Blackbirds, also present were Long-tailed Tits and a few Chaffinch. Snow was falling again as I viewed the Thames, the river looked as black as coal against the white background. I did a circuit of Bow Creek counting 2 Redshank, and about 160 Teal, scattered along the shoreline. Three Reed Buntings were in the Reedbed near to the blue bridge. On arriving back to the Dock I had the welcome sighting of 2 drake Pochards with the Tufties. I did not record this species during 2009, and there was only one record all told, seen by Nick on Bow Creek . So my venture in the snow had been rewarded. Checked the copse again, 6 Redwings were feeding and many common species were searching through the leaf litter, but still no Dunnock !.
Gary A James