Friday, December 30, 2011

Great Expectations

One of the best things about patch birding is the unpredictability, you just never know what maybe around. Of course patch birding can also be very predictable, most birders who have watched and recorded at a patch for a few years will be able to say with some degree of certainty what species will be present before a visit is made. But there is always some hope that in the words of Mr McCawber "that something will turn up". When I visit EIDB I always have some expectation that an unusual bird will be around, but usually it is not forthcoming. Many days at EIDB are utterly predictable and are somewhat mundane and 2011 has been one of those years without many surprises.
Today was mundane and predictable, the usual species in the usual places, I suppose in some respects that is reassuring, because if the usual species were not in their usual places alarm bells would ring. Though variety is the spice of life. Teal numbers were about 180, a decrease, with perhaps some moving north up the Lea to Bromley-By-Bow which has seen an increase in Teal numbers recently. A healthy count of four Common Sandpipers were on Bow Creek with seven Redshanks. No sign of the Pintail or Little Grebes and the only passerines of note were five Linnets. The Thames was still very quiet and produced just a few Gulls. It Looks like 2011 is going to go out with a whimper.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Brown and Mild

After a couple of days when winter threatened to take hold, things have returned back to the mild conditions that have dominated this winter so far. There was a strange brown hue to the area this morning, the rivers Lea and Thames and the dock basin water were all a muddy brown and of course there was the mud itself. The leaves have finally left the trees leaving just brown vegetation, the reeds and most of the birds seen this morning were brown.
There was about 320 teal in the area with 250 on the basin. Redshank numbers have decreased to just 13 in the Bow Creek roost. The Pintail (a brown female) was in its usual area on Bow Creek, but the Little Grebe seems to have vanished. There was very good flock of about 50 Linnets around Orchard Wharf and few other finches.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter at last

We have waited, and at last winter has arrived. The last two days have seen frosts, frozen puddles, bits of sleet and a few avian arrivals. This morning there were six Shelducks in the area, a very shy Little Grebe, a Kingfisher, 10 Redshanks and a female Pintail on Bow Creek. Which puts us about where we should be at this time of year. The weather has not been severe enough to induce any major bird movements and there wasn't anything unusual in the area. Teal numbers were down, but that maybe down to the state of tide, as the birds were spread out all over the place. A high tide brings them together, and makes them easier to count.
Passerines were represented by a few Finches, mainly Chaffinch and three Reed Buntings feeding on Phragmites seed heads in the Dock. The Thames was quiet with just a few Gulls present though wader numbers are building up further downstream. If this weather continues then I do expect to be reporting some good sightings from the this area.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Where is Winter

Alan Hull who was in the band Lindisfarne wrote one of the best songs about winter, called, Winter Song. It was written over 30 years ago when winters were much colder, though Alan did come from Newcastle in the North East where the climate is generally colder than London. The song for me sums up the feeling and the atmosphere of winter, and at this time of year I often listen to this song. But Winter Song now seems to be depict a time long past, winters are rarely like this now, apart from 2010. I used to love birding in winter, less people about, large flocks of birds and always the chance of something unusual turning up. But so far this winter the birding has been totally uninspiring and predictable. At EIDB a number of species (Little Grebe, Shoveler, Shelduck and Common Snipe being examples) have either failed to show or are scarce. Usually in December you cannot spend more than a few minutes on the pier at EIDB that juts out into the Thames, but today you could have had a picnic. One of the great things about winter birding is the cold weather movements and EIDB's position on the tidal Thames is an ideal place to watch these movements, and the composition of species could change every day.
Today's birding was almost predictable apart from a Kingfisher on the basin, a species that has been a bit scarce this year. The long range weather forecast is still predicting mild condition's so when is winter going to come howling in.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Roosting Waders

Today was wader roost count on the Inner Thames. Basically a bunch of birders organised by Dave Morrison placed themselves on various parts of the Thames between EIDB and Grays and counted the number of waders roosting at high tide. Of course most of the roosts are known to local birders, but new roosts are still being found. In the EIDB area the main roost is in a well known area at Bow Creek and contributed 12 Redshanks and 4 Common Sandpipers, but there was also a single Common Sandpiper at a new roost further down the creek, this roost also held about 80 Mallards. Five Common Sandpipers is a very good count possibly the best winter count at the area.
There was very little else in the area, it was very mild and a strong south west wind was blowing . I believe that we need some cold weather to induce a change of species as things have become very predictable.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Fog, Mud, Dickens, Boris and some Birds

Its been over a week since I was last on the patch, the main reasons for my absence being work, football, music and latterly fog. It was still foggy this morning though I could just about see across the Thames. At least it was peaceful, particularly with the lack of planes flying over to London City Airport due to the fog. But that master of buffoonery the London Mayor Boris Johnson wants to build another huge airport in the Thames Estuary, partly he says to ensure that when the fog comes there are more chances that planes will fly. Well I suggest that Boris reads some Charles Dickens. Dickens wrote a series of short stories about a fictional town located more or less where Boris wants to place the new airport, and the name that Dickens gave this town, MUDFOG ! Of course the real loser will be the environment, if this airport is built every birder that watches the Inner Thames (including Rainham Marshes) might as well pack up and go home.
This mornings birding was rather uninspiring, so far November has been largely dominated by southerly winds and has been very mild, winter still feels a long way off. There was 303 Teal on the Basin, the highest count so far this winter, though over a hundred of those fled the Basin when a Peregrine swooped in. A chase ensued as the Peregrine raced after the flock down the Thames, but the flock kept a tight formation and the Peregrine gave up as the flock reached Charlton. One nil to the Teal, though I would not bet against a Peregrine equaliser. The wader roost at Bow Creek held 12 Redshank and 3 Common Sandpipers, and a single Shelduck was in the area. A female Sparrowhawk flew over the Basin which did not evoke a reaction from the Teal. There were very few small birds around.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fungi Forest

Sometimes I wonder why I bird EIDB as a local patch. It has some good days amongst mostly quiet ones. I think the main reason is that it is peaceful and mainly undisturbed. But those doubts are becoming more frequent and this mornings visit only added to them. I arrived early and went to check out the reed-bed area for possible Snipe or Water Rail only to find someone with their kecks down having a dump. With that area disturbed it was off to the woodland where right on cue the outdoor gym was in fall swing. Two areas disturbed, and EIDB is a small reserve and with those areas troubled there is not a lot left. It was incredibly warm for November and with this and southerly winds the Thames was understandably quiet, as was the dock basin. EIDB is a designated nature reserve but it is often not treated as one. During the Wild Space Your Place event in the summer the dock seemed to get back its status, but five months on the old bad habits have returned. Its time again to redefine the area before its too late as wildlife is being pushed out'
Today's sightings were meagre, just over a hundred Teal and three Redshanks on the creek were the only sightings of note. One area of interest was Orchard Wharf, the ground here was carpeted with Fungi of all shapes, sizes and colours. Orchard Wharf has no public access so it was not possible to check what species they were, not that I am any expert on Fungi, but it was an impressive sight and it would be interesting to know what there were.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Third quarter: July to September 2011 summary

Two eclipse drake Common Teals were the first returning birds of the autumn on the very early date of July 7th, three were present on July 10th and six on July 11th, numbers continued to build up throughout August with a monthly maximum of 40 on the 24th, whilst 90 were counted on September 17th, ten short of an unprecedented September hundred. Post-breeding Mallard numbers remained high with a peak count of 169 on September 11th with what was presumably the overwintering female Pintail among them on July 7th and 9th. Tufted Duck numbers by comparison remained low with a peak count of 21 on July 10th, thereafter numbers dropped off drastically with just a single recorded on August 24th and a September peak count of 7 on the 25th; the red-saddled female of Portuguese origin was noted on September 11th & 12th but no breeding was noted this year. Raptor sightings were restricted to the usual three species; single Sparrowhawks were noted on August 8th and September 1st, 13th, 20th & 25th with two on September 11th & 18th; the only Kestrel sighting was of two on September 18th, Peregrines fared a little better with singles on July 17th and September 4th, 17th & 18th with two on July 20th. There was a typical series of late summer Oystercatcher records with two on July 17th and August 5th, four on July 23rd and one on August 14th. Little Ringed Plover records were restricted to July with two on the 3rd, two on the 9th including a juvenile, two on the 10th including a song-flighting male, three on the 17th and the last of the year, a single on the 23rd. A Curlew over the basin and then off east was a good find on September 1st and constitutes the second record for the Lower Lea. The first migrant Common Sandpiper was in the high tide roost on July 1st and was the vanguard of what proved to be a very steady passage with further singles on July 10th and September 17th, five on July 17th, two on August 13th and September 3rd & 18th, four on September 4th & 11th and a peak count of six on September 25th. The first juvenile Black-headed Gull passed through on July 7th but young birds were very scarce this year with just three among a gathering of 450 July 17th. The first Common Gull of the autumn was noted on July 7th, a juvenile Yellow-legged Gull put in an appearance on September 5th and a juvenile Kittiwake was on the Thames off the basin on August 18th. After a disastrous breeding season Common Terns remained scarce during the early part of the period with three logged on July 3rd, two on July 7th, then just singles on three dates until five on July 17th, things then picked up with 13 on July 17th, seven on August 2nd, 16 on September 1st, 13 on September 11th and a peak count of 30 flying west on September 25th; the only Arctic Tern was noted flying west on August 13th. Common Swifts remained unaccountably scarce with just two records, both of three birds, on July 11th & 20th; single Kingfishers were recorded on September 22nd & 27th with single Great Spotted Woodpeckers noted on September 18th, 19th & 26th. At least one of the two pairs of breeding Sand Martins was still feeding young in the nest in July of what was presumably their third brood; five migrants passed through on August 2nd and 23 were noted flying west during a significant hirundine passage over London on September 17th; House Martins were only recorded on two dates, a singleton on July 20th and two on August 2nd. There was a small passage of Meadow Pipits during September with two flying south on the 11th, 1 over on the 17th, three south on the 18th, two west on the 19th and three north-east on the 25th; the only Northern Wheatear of the period was noted on September 25th. An early Redwing passed through on September 27th, but even rarer in a local context was a Mistle Thrush on August 5th. Reed Warblers have had a good breeding season with newly fledged young noted well into August, at least five were logged on September 4th, one on September 18th with the last of the year on September 27th. Blackcaps were present throughout in small numbers with monthly maxima of seven on July 3rd, two on August 13th and three on September 4th, a Lesser Whitethroat was still singing on July 9th with another noted on September 4th, a family party of Common Whitethroats was in the ecology park on July 10th, three were present on September 4th with the last of the year on September 11th. The ornithological equivalent of lightning striking twice happened on September 26th when a Barred Warbler was found in the northern scrub at the basin, exactly five years and in almost exactly the same place as the first record of this very rare visitor to the Capital; it attracted a reasonable crowd of post-work birders but despite inclement weather which really should have kept it in situ, it could not be found the following day, it constitutes the ninth record for the London area. Chiffchaffs remained scarce early on in the period but passage picked up towards the end of August with at least six on the 29th, five on September 4th, six on the 17th, seven on the 18th and four on the 27th, the only Willow Warbler of the period was on September 4th. A Siskin was a good find on September 27th and there were two records of Lesser Redpoll, one flying south-west on September 18th and one on September 27th. On the escape front a Black Swan was at the basin on August 20th with a drake Chestnut Teal there on July 11th & 17th and a large falcon, either a Lanner or Saker flew over on September 27th. Finally the only Painted Lady butterfly of the autumn passed through on September 3rd.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

When the North wind doth blow we will have birds

A nip in the air, a North wind (though with a bit of west in it), it felt like late Autumn. In these conditions EIDB usually comes to life. It started slowly but at 08.40 a flock of 35 Lapwings flew over going west, the first record this year and the largest count at the site. The Thames contributed with a male Gadwall, an uncommon visitor here. Twenty two Redwings flew North and 62 Woodpigeons moved West. A large flock of Starlings (500+) were in the area, also the largest count at the site. By 10.30 it had gone quiet and I checked the roosting birds at high tide, there were 8 Redshanks but surprisingly no Common Sandpipers and Teal numbers were about 125. Unfortunately the North wind is only going to be around for a day or so to be replaced by another South West airflow, and I guess things will be back to normal.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Remember Remember the 5th of November

There was not much to remember about this visit. There wasn't any birding fireworks, in fact it was one of the quietest days of the year. The weather forecast had predicted Northerly winds but the wind was Westerly though I did detect a hint of a slight NW as I was leaving.
The only species of note was 5 Common Sandpipers on Bow Creek a good count at this time of year. Nine Redshanks were at the traditional roost site on Bow Creek and 130 Teal were in the area (125 of them on the basin). Birds are more conspicuous by there absence this year, Little Grebe has not been seen on the basin at all this year, this species is usually a common autumn/winter at the basin. Little Grebe not at the basin is like Gerry without the Pacemakers or Florence without the Machine. Northerly winds are predicted for tomorrow so I'll be back for another go.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Woody's on the move

Arrived at dawn today with the hope of some overhead migration. I noticed that our old friend the West Wind was back again after a short absence, and according to the Met Office is due for quite a long stay. I often wonder what it must be like to be a birder in Devon or Cornwall when the winds are nearly always in your favour. It must be like Christmas has come every day, whereas in this area we adhere to the Narnia syndrome, its always winter but never Christmas.
Anyway this morning the skies were partly cloudy which was encouraging and the wind was light, and there was some movement. It started with a few Redwing and then a couple of Fieldfares and the first 27 of what would turn out to be a large Woodpigeon movement numbering 1400. The largest single flock was about 350 and all birds headed south west. The movement mainly happened between 8.00am and with just a handful afterwards. Redwings totalled 43 and Fieldfare 11 and there was also a few Chaffinches. The 1400 Woodpigeons was easily the largest count at the site. With all these birds about a few birds of prey were seen in flight (not often seen early morning), 2 Sparrowhawks and a Peregrine.
Teal numbers were up on the basin now that the water levels have been raised following the reed-bed management. There was no discernible movement on the Thames.

Friday, October 21, 2011

October ! more like June

This is a strange month, heatwaves, virtually no rain and now summer has returned. The weather forecasters have tried to dupe us by saying a blast of winter was on the way, well in London it has been a nippy in the mornings, but not much else. There was a chill in the air this morning but by 8am the chill had gone. By ten it was warm, and by eleven it was shirtsleeve conditions. A warm front is on its way from Iberia so expect it to get warmer. So what has these conditions meant for October migration usually the time for species from the north and east. Finches have been moving in good numbers (particularly Goldfinch) along the east coast and there have been decent records in London, but Thrushes have been slow with hardly a decent count. Though that could all change over the next few weeks, though I am not sure what effect the predicted southerly winds will have.
There was no overhead migration at EIDB this morning, though its not the best site to observe it, being next to the Thames it is low lying and many birds probably pass over out of sight, particularly in clear skies which have been prevalent recently. Three Little Egrets (my first site record this year, and the highest ever count) did circle the basin a few times before flying off downriver. Teal numbers were down again, only 40 in the area, but there was a sign of winter with a Redshank on Bow Creek. A few common Finches were about and that was about it. As I left the insects were buzzing and I was humming the Isley's Summer Breeze.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Should I stay or should I go

The weather looks good for migration along the eastern part of the country, there have been rarities in Norfolk and a good passage of birds along the Essex coast, what should I do, stay local or hit the coast. The Essex coast has been beckoning me for some time (I used to be a regular at The Naze), but Leyton Orient are playing at home, and we are on a roll, we have won our last two games and wins are rare. I can't do both, not enough time. Also I like to think of myself as a bit of an ornithologist, I like see to rare and unusual birds but patterns, movements and numbers are of more interest to me. Eventually the clear skies made up my mind (perhaps the party maybe be over on the Essex coast). go to the Dock in the morning and football in the afternoon.
Arrived at EIDB early just after dawn and it was evident that trying assign birds flying over to species level was going to be very difficult. There were birds moving but they were tiny dots in the clear blue sky, even Woodpigeons were barely visible and the ambient noise here makes picking up calls tricky. Fortunately there was some movement along the Thames, two Arctic Terns flew west and an adult Common Tern, the latest date for this species at the site. There was a continued movement in one's and two's (and mainly 1st winters) of Common Gulls with at least 45 counted. Two Great Crested Grebes flew over amazingly my first record this year and a Common Buzzard flew west fairly low over the river.
I did see a few small birds in flight, 69 Goldfinch (record count) a few Greenfinches and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. So an interesting visit, a record count, some late records and a first for the year, all I need now is the O's to win, but I wonder what was on the Essex coast.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Back to Black

At last a break from the relentless westerlies. The wind this morning was a light northerly moving to the east. There wasn't any noticeable overhead migration or movement on the Thames, but there was lots of common species about and a couple of good birds. The best record was of a female Black Redstart on Orchard Wharf, my first sighting since January and the first overall record since early June. Hopefully this will herald regular sightings of this special species. Also on Orchard Wharf was a Mistle Thrush a fairly rare bird here. There were many common species on Orchard Wharf mainly feeding on seeds, including Green, Gold and Chaffinch, a dozen Blackbirds a number of Song Thrush, many Starlings and 55 Linnets, one of the highest counts at the site. The dock area was quiet, Teal numbered 40, down on recent counts and apart from a few Mallards these were the only ducks. This morning was also blissfully quiet and peaceful and long may it remain so.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Come on feel the noise

In my last post i mentioned how quiet EIDB could be, well the quiet was shattered today, not by dogs or loads of people on the site but by a rave in a nearby warehouse at Leamouth. Music was blasting across the area and the bass was throbbing. I am not averse to loud music, I am partial to a bit of Sonic Youth or Deerhunter, but as a background to early Sunday morning birding, well I think Clifford T Ward would be more appropriate. While on the subject of music it was sad to hear the passing of Bert Jansch this week. A brilliant guitarist and a great man with an interest in birds. In 1978 he made an instrumental album called Avocet, which was series of compositions inspired by various bird species including Avocet, Kittiwake and Bittern.
The birding today was uninspiring, just 30 Teal, a couple of Meadow Pipits, a Ring-necked Parakeet ( a bit of a rarity here) two Blackcaps, an increase in Blackbirds and Song Thrushes and three Common Sandpipers on Bow Creek. October can be one of the most diverse months for birds but we need to get rid of these sodding westerly winds.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Not Many Birds but loadsamoney nearby

EIDB is a strange place to go birding. When the rest of London's skies can be darkened by the number of birds, or birds are falling from the bushes, this site can devoid of birds and any amount of time looking will produce virtually nothing. But sometimes when the rest of London is quiet it can produce a corker, such as last weeks Barred Warbler. Also EIDB is generally quiet, very few people or dogs (though it does have its mad moments) and one can happily spend hours in perfect isolation. But one thing troubles me, and thats its in close proximity to Canary Wharf. Yes there they are, the Banks, HSBC, Barclays and the rest, looming over the site, always in view. Those dark satanic blocks of steel and glass, those bastions of greed and avarice, and now more quantitative easing, which is basically another bank bail-out of 75Billion. And what will the banks do with it, same as the last lot, spunk it against the wall.
Today the wind moved to the north west and there was a nip in air, but the Thames was still very quiet. There was next to no visible migration apart from one flock of 22 Meadow Pipits which flew south, which in true EIDB style turned out to be our largest count on record. Teal numbers have now reached three figures but there seems to have been a clear out of some species, with no Warblers and Common Sandpipers (upto seven of late) recorded.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

September Reveiw

The month was in general quiet, but dominated by a few very good species. The weather systems were almost all westerly, apart from an easterly on the 1st, and again on 17-18th. The month ended with a heatwave as a huge high pressure took hold across most of mainland Europe. Fed by southerly winds the temperature climbed upto 29 degrees C.
Highlight was the Barred Warbler found by John Archer on the 26th, the second record here. Also making their second ever appearance was a Curlew on the Ist and a Siskin heard flying over on the 27th. Lesser Redpolls were recorded on the 18th and 27th, the 3rd and 4th records.
Wildfowl numbers gradually increased, Teal reached 83 and Mallards 170. Apart from the Curlew and regular Common Sandpipers, max 6, there were no other waders recorded, which was disappointing. Raptors were just the normals (Peregrine, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk) with a presumed escape Saker Falcon seen on the 27th. The only Hirundines recorded were a group of over 20 Sand Martins on the 15th, part of a large movement of Hirundines across London at that time. Thirty Common Terns were recorded on the 25th, the largest count at the site this year. Numbers on Autumn passage usually reach well over 50. There were no unusual Gulls or Terns. The only Wheatear was on the 25th.
Warblers were also scarce with only Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Reed Warbler regular. A few Whitethroats were seen and a single Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Garden Warbler failed to show. A couple of species that have been hard to find this year, Kingfisher and Great Spotted Woodpecker put in some welcome appearance's at EIDB towards the end of the month.
A little bit of visible migration took place with mainly Meadow Pipits and a few Finches, but the skies were mainly empty. So a strange month, at times devoid of birds, very low on migrants, watching the river was like watching paint dry but with some corking birds, very typical of EIDB and the area.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Another Barred Warbler

They say lightning does strike the same place twice, well that does not apply at EIDB, because amazingly another Barred Warbler has turned up. The last one was recorded 25-26th Sept 2006, and I beleive that this one is the only twitchable bird that has appeared in London since.
Coming home from work I received a call from John Archer at 12.30 to say he had a probable Barred Warbler in the NW scrub, a quick rearrangement of the rest of my day meant that I was on site by 13.30. I waited 10 minutes and then the bird appeared in a small elder. A large greyish warbler, Garden Warbler like. It showed a plain face, white underneath, white tips to the wing coverts and greyish legs. It moved in a slow cumbersome way through the folage. I did not see the undertail coverts, but was sure it was a Barred Warbler. If I had seen this bird on the Norfolk coast I would not even thought twice, but this is East India Dock Basin. With two us now having seen the bird, the news was put out, and I did not see the bird again but it was refound later in the afternoon.
The area has been very quiet so far this Autumn, but this bird has certainly ramped up things. Its to be hoped that Nick and David Callahan (other EIDB regulars) manage to see the bird.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Cry of the Curlew

The 1st of September is a special day in the birding calender, it heralds the start of Autumn migrations main event, after the August overture. Apart from a couple of good birds, August was a very quiet time at EIDB. This morning started very slowly just a Chiffchaff and two Reed Warblers. Then I noticed that an easterly wind was blowing up the Thames and strengthening, so time for a river watch. The bright conditions were not condusive to a good passage, but the wind was becoming brisk. A few Common Terns passed through including a juvenile, only the second I have seen this year. After about an hour not much had happened and I was about to leave when I heard the lonesome call of a Curlew, I could not see it at first but it kept on calling, and finally I picked it up flying up the Thames. When it got to the Dome it turned around and flew back downriver. This is a rare species at this site, only one record before today. A total of 16 Common Terns were counted, nothing to write home about, but the 1st of September had worked its magic.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Bird on the Thames

We are now in the period when Gulls, Terns and Waders appear on passage in this part of the Thames. For movement to occur certain conditions usually have to be present, these are,
1. North and/or East winds.
2. Rain/Showers.
3. Cloudy/murky
4. A rising tide.

This morning two of these conditions were present, a NE wind and a blanket of cloud, though visibility was good on the river. It did produce one very good species for this area, a juvenile Kittiwake, which flew upriver turned around at the Dome, stayed in mid-river for a minute (affording good views), and then went back downriver. This is only the third known record of this species at this site, and the first immature record. Unfortunately this star had a poor supporting cast, only 4 Adult Common Terns (I did expect far more with possibly some Arctic Terns)and a few Common Gulls the only notable birds.
The rest of the area was quiet, a Sparrowhawk flew over and Teal numbers have now reached 16 on the Dock. The only other migrant was a single Reed Warbler.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

All quiet on the vest and Y-front

My recent posts are becoming predictable. This morning with NW winds a rising tide and the time of year should have produced some Tern passage, but not a single Tern was seen, unprecedented at this site in the second week of August. Even if there isn't any passage there are usually about 10 hanging about on the Thames. The river was very very quiet with barely any Gulls around, and the only notable sighting was a Common Sandpiper. So what is happening?. Common Terns have possibly had a terrible breeding season, I haven't seen a juvenile this year. Gulls also may have had a bad one, hardly any young Black-headed Gulls are around. This could be down to a lack of food in the river or predation by larger Gulls, but I haven't seen many juvenile large Gulls. This could be a local problem, or it could be regional or national, the first reports of breeding success of Seabirds during 2011 should available from about October. I will report back on this.
Of course it could all change in a few days and loads of passage birds could be in the Thames. It wasn't only the Thames that was quiet, the rest of the area was just as quiet, the only Warblers were a few Reed Warblers still feeding young, three Teal were on the basin and a Peregrine flew over, and that was about it. The copse was dead apart from a pair of old pants that were hanging from a tree, much to the interest of the local flies.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Three Broods. Tuesday 2nd August

This morning was one of heavy showers until about 9am, conditions that have in the past produced a few interesting sightings. Swifts can appear, but true to form at EIDB there were not any Swifts, though two House Martins flew north. Seven Common Terns were on the Thames, though still no juveniles. There were a number of young Reed Warblers still being fed by the adults and a few leaf warblers moving through the scrub.
The highlight today was the emergence from the nest hole of three young Sand Martins at 09.10 just after the rain stopped and the sun came out. This is the third brood from this nest site and presumably the same pair, which is some going. Sand Martins are usually only two brooded. Two Oystercatchers flew over coming from Bow Creek. This species has been much more in evidence this spring and summer and it is possible that a pair is/has nested close by.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Long Stint but no Waders

Overcast skies, a northerly wind and a rising tide, these conditions have produced Terns and Waders on the Thames in previous late July's. So I settled down for a 3-4 hour watch. The first two hours produced just a few Gulls and two lone Common Terns. Eventually two groups of Common Terns (6 and 5) did pass through going west, but that was it after three and a half hours and not a wader in sight.
The rest of the area was also quiet, Wildfowl were down on recent weeks and there were no Waders on Bow Creek at high tide. Two Sand Martins were still at the dock and three Whitethroats were in the Northern Scrub. About 60+ Starlings were moving around the area and a Kestrel was hunting over Orchard Wharf. But a generally disappointing visit.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A July backward step.

I have been away at Southwold, Suffolk, taking in Latitude Festival as part of the break. I saw the Eels (amongst many others), still all beards and flat caps. In my last post I mentioned that July usually sees a build up of birds, well today bucked that trend, it was deadly quiet. Wildfowl were greatly reduced with only Mallard and Tufted Duck present. No Hirundines or Raptors and the only warblers were Reed Warblers. A single Little Ringed Plover was on the dock and four Oystercatchers flew up the Thames. Only three Common Terns were on the Thames continuing the poor run of sightings, does this signify a poor breeding season on the inner Thames. There were records of Terns and waders further down the Thames, but like most of this year they are not making their way this far up. I suppose things will get better but I am not holding my breath.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mainly Wildfowl

During July there are subtle changes to the birdlife of this area. Gulls start to return, some passage of waders and later in the month, Terns. Also wildfowl numbers start to increase. This latter event was obvious today with over 120 ducks on the basin. Over 100 of these were Mallards, including quite a number of near full grown youngsters. Six Teal were also present, this is unusual, birds don't usually start returning until August, in fact I am not sure if they have been recorded in any previous July. Also at large was the escaped Chestnut Teal, Australian in origin. This is quite an aggressive individual who was evicting Mallards from the slipway and taking over the area of the nearby Tern Rafts. Considering his origin, maybe he should be called Rupert.
There was very little else, just one Common Tern on the Thames, a very meagre return. Sand Martins are still breeding, presumably second broods and three Swifts flew north.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Second quarter: April to June 2011 summary

At least two pairs of Shelduck were present throughout and showed signs of breeding but as in previous years no conclusive evidence was found. The last wintering Common Teal lingered into early April with nine on the 10th, a small spring passage was then noted from the end of April with a pair on the 25th and a male on the 29th and two males on May 7th with one still present next day. A Gadwall on May 1st was the only record of the period and a male Pochard was noted at East India Dock Basin on April 24th & 27th and June 13th. Tufted Duck numbers peaked at 63 on April 20th and a male marked with a red saddle of Portuguese origin was present on April 17th and, remarkably, it was joined by a female on May 1st with both birds then seen intermittently until May 9th. Single Sparrowhawks were noted on May 1st & 30th with two on June 1st, Common Buzzards were logged flying south-west on April 27th and north on May 7th, there were only two records of Kestrel, singles on April 30th and June 19th and two of Peregrine, on April 10th and June 1st. The first Oystercatcher of the spring was noted on April 2nd with two seen on many dates from April 17th and a peak count of four on May 6th. Two pairs of Little Ringed Plover were holding territory with song flighting observed on several dates. Common Sandpiper passage commenced with a single on April 5th then two on April 10th, four on April 17th & 24th, three on April 25th and a single flock of six down the Thames on May 1st. A 2nd-summer Mediterranean Gull was found on June 1st with a 1st-summer bird noted on June 3rd & 4th; non-breeding mainly 1st-summer Black-headed Gulls began to build up during June with a peak count of circa 190 on the 19th. The only Arctic Tern of the period was on the Thames on April 17th along with five Common Terns, the first of the year; the peak spring count was just seven on May 7th, whilst two pairs attempted to breed but were both unsuccessful. A pair of Stock Doves was noted on several dates until May 7th and a Collared Dove passed through on April 2nd with a Ring-necked Parakeet on May 30th. Common Swifts were elusive with singles noted on May 14th & 30th and June 4th and then a good local count of 42 heading south during inclement weather on June 12th. The first Sand Martins of the year were two on April 10th, numbers peaked at nine on April 17th and two pairs bred successfully. Swallow passage was very poor with just two west on April 24th, five on April 27th and one north on May 1st. It was a very good period for House Martins with the first of the year on April 17th followed by two on April 24th, one on April 25th, five on April 27th, two on May 1st, four on May 14th, one on May 19th, two on May 30th, four on June 1st, two on June 3rd and two on June 19th, such a continuous series of sightings suggest that breeding has taken place locally. The only Meadow Pipit passed through on April 17th, Northern Wheatears enjoyed a good spring passage with singles on April 2nd, 6th, 20th & 19th and May 1st with a site record count of four on April 5th whilst a Whinchat on May 8th constituted the first spring record of this migrant at the Lower Lea. The first singing Reed Warbler was logged on April 10th and numbers gradually built up to a minimum of 16 singing on May 8th with at least six pairs staying on to breed. A Sedge Warbler was singing in the northern scrub on April 17th followed by single singers nearby on April 25th & 29th. The first probable migrant Blackcap was noted on April 5th with at least six singing by April 10th, one pair definately bred in the copse and at least two other pairs probably bred, the only Garden Warbler of the period was a showy non-singer in the copse on May 12th. The first Common Whitethroats appeared on April 17th with five present by April 24th, Two Lesser Whitethroats appeared on April 23rd and one or two were noted singing until May 8th. The first singing Chiffchaffs were noted on April 2nd and passage continued throughout the month but there was no evidence of breeding; the first singing Willow Warbler was also on April 2nd with singles on April 5th & 6th and two on April 17th the only other records in a poor spring for this species. An elusive Spotted Flycatcher was in the copse from May 12th to 17th, a species usually associated with autumn passage in the Lower Lea and the second site record of Rook involved a singleton flying east at the ecology park on April 17th. After a good showing last year the only record of House Sparrow was a singleton in the ecology park on May 6th. A singing Chaffinch was noted on May 1st but not thereafter and a singing Reed Bunting on April 10th with a pair seen on May 19th. Finally an escaped male Chestnut Teal, an Australian species, was noted intermittently from June 13th and a Common Seal was in the Thames off the basin on May 6th.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Lower Lea Common Sandpipers

Last winter up to three Common Sandpipers overwintered in the Lower Lea and could reliably be found in the high tide roost on the western side of Bow Creek Ecology Park. It has been known for several years that this is one of the best sites in London to see this species during the winter months but a paper in the latest edition of British Birds magazine reveals that as the Lower Lea holds at least 1% of the UK wintering population (which is estimated to be just 73 individuals) it is of important conservation significance. The full paper entitled Overwinter population estimates of British waterbirds can be found in British Birds, volume 104, pages 364 to 397. It is an interesting and sometimes surprising read and highly recommended.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

The Eels Foot

A very quiet visit, with the only noteworthy sighting being five Oystercatchers flying down the Thames. The Common Terns seem to have abandoned their breeding attempts on the basin, this will be the first time that this species has'nt successfully bred at EIDB since the rafts were installed in 1998.
An amusing scenario involved a Cormorant trying catch an Eel in the basin. It managed catch the Eel in shallow water, but let it go. The Eel landed on the mud and started wriggle away with the Cormorant floundering after it. The Eel managed to reach water again and swam off, the Cormorant by this time was completely caked in mud and to make matters worse was crapped on by a Lesser Black-backed Gull which was attracted by the commotion. Thinking of Eels, the band The Eels played Glastonbury and were all beards and flat caps, in fact quite a bit of Glastonbury seemed to be beards and flat caps, so at last after many years I am at the height of fashion, much to the consternation of my teenage children. To have a dad so hip(pie) is somthing of an embarrasment for them. The Eels Foot is a fine pub near Minsmere.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wild Place Your Space: The Final Countdown

Sunday 5th June saw this venture at EIDB draw to a close. Fifty Four bird species were recorded, with the highlights undoubtably the five records of Mediterranean Gull seen on four different days. Before this there had only been seven records of this species in twelve years. All but one of the records having been during late spring and summer. Another species that was seen more than usual was the Oystercatcher. Usually seen in the area upto early May, there were a number of sigthings suggesting that perhaps a breeding attempt is taking place nearby. The area confirmed its reputation for a lack of Swifts, with just five being recorded in 42 hours of watching!. Overall it was a worthwhile project, during a quiet time for bird sightings. Somewhere around 800 people passed through, who will hopefully now know what an excellent place EIDB is for wildlife, and that can only be good for its future.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Wild Place Your Space Update

Three days into the week of the watchpoint and its producing some interesting sightings. Two Mediterranean Gulls (not sure of the ages) on the 31st May, and a 2nd Summer bird on the 1st June. This could well be the bird thats been reported flying upriver from Crayford. A Litte Egret ( 1st record for 2011) and a House Sparrow (very unusual at the dock). Today aslo saw 2 Oystercatchers, 4 House Martins and a Swift, though the Swift was dead and floating in the river. In 18 hours of watching only one Swift has been recorded, cementing EIDB's reputation as a Swift no fly zone. The 1st Summer Black-headed Gulls have now increased to 80, including one ringed indivual, white ring, black lettering 21C3 on the left leg.
The watchpoint and the RSPB stand are also showing the local residents what a fine place EIDB is for birds and other wildlife, and how watching wildlife can be entertaining and informative. So far 50 bird species have been recordrd.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Wild place Your Space

For the next seven days at EIDB, the RSPB are running the above event. It is fairly low key, just a few tents and guided walks and wildlife trails. There is also a watchpoint which will be expertly run by the East London Birders Forum. This watchpoint will be manned from 10.00am to 4pm every day until Sunday. It will be interesting to see if anything unusual is recorded, as this will be the most intensive birding this site has ever received. Also importantly this event should re-establish EIDB as a Nature Reserve, something which seems to have been forgotten in recent years.
Well what of this mornings sightings, for a quiet time of year there was a few things for the notebook. Forty 1st summer Black-headed Gulls were on the Basin and two Common Gulls, unusual at this time of year. A single Swift flew over, always one for the notebook. Two House Martins were collecting mud and a Sparrowhawk drifted over. I even managed to record a first for the year when a Ring-necked Parakeet flew into the copse. So quite a good morning, and the nest six days should hopefully produce something.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spot On

Back to basics after my trip to Cornwall which had loads of birds and a few people. EIDB is usually the other way round. Nick had a couple of good birds (Spotted Flycatcher and Garden Warbler) on Thursday evening in the copse, so I checked here first, though with clear skies I did'nt expect anything. After about 10 minutes of scouring the copse the Spotted Flycatcher flew into view on top of a tall tree, and then it flew into the depth of the copse. The copse at this time of the morning (07.30) was lively. A pair of Chaffinches, Blackcaps, Greenfinches and a male Reed Bunting and a Jay were present, but at about 09.30 it all went quiet. The Spotted Flycatcher could not be relocated. The Thames was again dead even though the tide was flowing. The weather started to change as the wind veered to the NW and cloud replaced clear skies. A Common Swift flew over, the first sighting this year, and I breathed a sigh of relief, this can be a hard bird at EIDB. One worrying sign was that the dock had the lowest ammount of water I have ever seen here, a combination of low tides, a lack of rain and leaky lock-gates were probably to blame, though water began to flow in as I was leaving

Friday, May 06, 2011

Dock Leave

An early morning visit before I head off for Cornwall for a few days, hopefully to see a few good birds and recharge the batteries. Its still very quiet on the river, the Thames in this area has so far failed to produce, though just a few miles down river at Barking and Creekmouth there have been plenty of good birds. Maybe the "Spanish Plume" will bring some stuff in. The most interesting sighting today on the Thames was a Common Seal hauled out on the 02 mudflats. Four Oystercatchers flew down the river and that was about it. A female House Sparrow was at the Ecology Park, a unusual sight here, though May is the best time to see this species here, and a Lesser Whitethroat was singing at Bow Creek. The Common Swift was as usual elusive, this must be one of the few places where Swifts can be absent from a year list (it has happened).

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

From Portugal to Poplar

The two Tufted Duck wearing nasal saddles at East India Dock Basin on May 1st, have been traced to Portugal, around 1375 kilometres from the patch! Both birds were saddled at São Jacinto Dunes Nature Reserve, Portugal; the male on December 16th 2007 and the female on January 14th 2011. Both birds were noted in the São Jacinto area until February 28th this year and were then refound in France at the Reserve de la Graude Noé, Val de Reuil, Normandie, where they remained from March 26th to April 8th. The next sighting, of the male only, was at East India Dock Basin on April 17th and again on April 27th. Unfortunately no details of the saddle could be made out so it was not until the female turned up on May 1st that a positive identification could be made. The above photographs were taken in Portugal and I am grateful to David Rodrigues for giving me permission to reproduce them here. Anyone who may be interested in the work being done in Portugal can find out more here: below are the details for both birds:

Male, saddle: U1 red: ring number: L68769, juvenile male (euring code 3)
marked at São Jacinto Dunes NR, Portugal on 16/12/2007 and seen locally until 3/3/2008
returned on 29/12/2008 and seen locally until 22/2/2009
returned on 5/12/2009 and seen locally until 8/3/2010
returned on 14/1/2011 and seen locally until 28/2/2011

Female, saddle: 1 red: ring number: LV1732, juvenile female (euring code 5)
marked at São Jacinto Dunes NR, Portugal on 14/1/2011 and seen locally until 28/2/2011

both birds were then seen at Reserve de la Graude, Noé, Val de Reuil, Normandie, France from 26/3/2011 to 8/4/2011, about 1232 kilometres from Säo Jacinto before the male turned up at East India Dock Basin on 17/4/2011 followed by the female on 1/5/2011, about 1375 Kilometres from São Jacinto.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Another red-saddled Tufted Duck

I photographed this female Tufted Duck at the basin this morning, the red saddled male was here and I was trying to attract him (unsuccessfully) with some (wholemeal) bread when Gary spotted this one, hopefully the cryptic pattern on the saddle will mean something to somebody There was some passage today including seven Mute Swans east, a group of six Common Sandpiper east, a Swallow north, two House Martins and a male Wheatear on Orchard Wharf. Most of the recent warblers have moved through with just three Reed Warblers, two Common Whitethroats and three Blackcaps present. Other notables included a pair of Greylag Geese, Sparrowhawk, two or three Oystercatchers, the 1st-winter Common Gull still hanging on, seven Common Terns and a singing Chaffinch.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I should have gone to the Wedding

I thought this morning might be quiet with most of the country seemingly occupied with a couple of rich kids in Westminster. How wrong i was, EIDB was full of people early on. The keep fitters were thronging the dock and the woodland, and there was a full scale dog-fight on the meadow. This small nature reserve will not be able tolerate this ammount of disturbance, which is sadly increasing. With most of the area heavily disturbed I decided to concentrate on the Thames, which so far this year has been moribund. The conditions did look a little hopeful, rising tide, cloudy and a northerly wind, though a bit of rain is usually helpful. Thirteen Shelducks flew upriver and a male Gadwall flew into the dock, but thats as good as it got. There was hardly any birdsong apart from Reed Warblers and a couple of Blackcaps, but that could pick up as it warms up, and it was a visit to file under forgetable.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Seventy Up

Its taken some time and it has been a struggle, and I am still well down on my total at this time in 2010, but I have finally reached 70 for the patch this year. Things were very quiet early this morning. The Thames again was very quiet, when is it going to spring into life?. Then about 9 O'clock the site woke up, as often happens at this time of day. A lesser Whitethroat was singing in the Eastern scrub, though was elusive, and was'nt seen. Three Swallows flew north and a male Pochard flew into the Basin, my first record this year. This was followed by a male Teal, this species has usually departed by now. Thirty Tufted Ducks were on the Dock, including red saddle. A stroll along Bow Creek revealed three Common Sandpipers and five House Martins flying low over the water. House Martins can be tricky birds at this site, but last year and again this yaer birds have been present in the Bow Creek area. Two more Swallows flew over and just as I was leaving and putting the bins away, I saw a Crow buzzing another bird overhead. A mad scramble ensued to retrieve the bins and I was rewarded with a fine Common Buzzard which leisurely flew SW. It saw off the Crow and drifted down lower giving excellant views, a good bird for number seventy.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pochard at East India Dock Basin

Common Tern at East India Dock Basin, April 2011

Pochard at East India Dock Basin, April 2011

Apart from attracting Common Terns back to East India Dock Basin, the stable high water level pulled in another species today which almost certainly would not have turned up if the silt had prevailed, the male Pochard in the photograph was found on a final sweep of the basin early this afternoon just as I was about to give up adding anything new to my yearlist. Other interest today included two House Martins feeding with Sand Martins over Bow Creek and two vocal Swallows flying west at the basin; four Common Sandpipers were feeding together at Bow Creek on the falling tide and three Little Ringed Plovers were on the Pura Foods peninsula. At least six Reed Warblers were singing throughout the site along with five Common Whitethroats and at least five Blackcaps, although the actual count of this species is probably much higher as several of the birds were very mobile making an accurate count impossible.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Senses Working Overtime

A clear blue sky, little wind and the heat already beginning to rise, and a mighty haze on the Thames. This was early morning at EIDB. There were half a dozen Common Terns on the Thames and four of these started to prospect the rafts on the Dock, an encouraging sign. Apart from this there was little on the river. Two Oystercatchers were on the Dock, an unusual occurance. EIDB can be a noisy sort of place and you need your ears plugged in and your eyes alert to detect sounds or movements from the scrub, A busy road passes behind the Northern scrub, and the Docklands Light Railway shuffles along above it, and the Dock is on the flightpath of the London City Airport. So hearing birds can be difficult particularly if the song is soft. But I thought I heard a Lesser Whitethroat in the Eastern Scrub, it was rattling very softly and also doing some sub-song. It appeared at the top of a small tree before moving to the Northern Scrub. I later heard another along Bow Creek. I was pleased to get this species (first for the year) as they can be difficult here. By 10.00am the Dock was boiling hot and it was time to leave.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Terns provide a boost

Things have been generally quiet at EIDB this spring, so an early morning visit to check the Thames for Terns was more in hope than judgement On arrival the basin was very quiet as was the Thames. A Willow Warbler and Blackcap were singing in the copse. Then I heard that familar cry, and two Common Terns flew over the dock and then back to the river, to be joined by two others. Another Tern was heading upriver but was a different shape and flying more bouyantly, surely an Arctic, as it flew past me and headed north, this was confirmed. A Common Whitethroat then appeared in the copse. Met up with Nick who had seen a House Martin on the creek (a tricky species here). A watch of the Thames and the sky revealed just one more Common Tern, a Meadow Pipit and a Peregrine. The high tide roost at Bow Creek held four Common Sandpipers, but by 09.30 things had gone very quiet.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Taking the gloss off

Bouyed up by yesterdays Glossy Ibis sighting over Leytonstone, I arrived at EIDB early to coincide with the rising tide. Clear skies and a keen NW wind are not usually conditions that are productive in this area, and that was the case. The Thames was very quiet with just four Oystercatchers moving downriver the only sighting of note on the river. Overhead was quiet as was the copse (1 Willow Warbler) and the northern scrub. There were three Common Sandpipers on Bow Creek and a singing Linnet at Orchard Wharf. A singing Reed Warbler at the Ecology Park gave brief views and a Blackcap was in song. Wildfowl are gradually decreasing in numbers, with 30 Tufted Ducks and seven Teal. The Thames usually comes to life in the 2nd week of April so things should start moving soon.

Friday, April 08, 2011

First quarter: January to March 2011 summary

Mild weather over the Christmas period meant that the new year got off to a quiet start; the female Pintail from last December was present on January 1st and was seen intermittently until the end of the month, a good January count of 13 Shelduck was also made on the 1st along with 258 Common Teal, four Redshank and a Common Sandpiper in the roost, Single Chiffchaff and Reed Bunting and the only Kingfisher of the month; there was also a small movement of Woodpigeon in two flocks of 23 and eight, all birds going north. Two Gadwall were found on the 2nd and were the vanguard of a small influx that included a record count of six on the 10th and two on the 11th and 15th; a very elusive Water Rail was in the copse on the 2nd, and the western reedbed on the 18th and a 1st-winter type Black Redstart was seen on the 2nd, 9th and 29th; three Redwing were noted on the 2nd with the only other sightings for the month a total of 43 moving south in flocks of 30 and 13. Common Teal numbers had risen to around 275 on the 3rd, five Redshank were in the roost, two Peregrines were on the Millennium Dome and the only Little Grebe of the month was trilling from Bow Creek. A Stock Dove was present on the 9th and the following day a very elusive Chiffchaff was in the copse, it had a contact call identical to the eastern form tristis (Siberian Chiffchaff) but no plumage details could be ascertained so it will have to remain a possible. A good local count of 18 Linnet was made on the 10th with the same number noted on the 19th, wildfowl included a high count of 108 Mallard also on the 10th with the only Blackcap of the month, a female, in the copse the following day. The Greenfinch roost behind the Esso garage was only used sporadically with a peak count of circa 50 on the 17th, a monthly high count of Reed Buntings was made on the 17th when six were in the pylon reedbed at dusk. Two male Peregrines were involved in a low level territorial dispute over the ecology park on the 23rd, the wader roost held 12 Redshank and three Common Sandpipers, both monthly peak counts and an adult Yellow-legged Gull was on the Millennium Dome mudflats, the month came to an end with Common Teal numbers peaking at 300 on the 29th.

February was also very mild and as a consequence the only addition to the yearlist was Great Spotted Woodpecker on the 11th, a good local count of 11 Great Black-backed Gulls was also made on the same day. The female Pintail and the elusive Water Rail were both seen on the 20th, the only February sightings of both species, three Common Sandpipers were in the roost on the same date along with a monthly peak count of 16 Redshank. Peak wildfowl counts included 212 Common Teal on the 20th and 62 Tufted Duck on the 22nd, a good local count of 14 Chaffinch was made on the 22nd and two Herring Gulls of the Scandinavian form argentatus were identified at Bow Creek on the same date.

A record count of 17 Pied Wagtails was made on March 5th but this total was bettered next day when at least 19 were recorded, the overwintering Water Rail was in the western reedbed on the 5th and was last noted on the 15th. The first Oystercatcher of the spring appeared on March 6th with two noted on the 10th and 19th, six Greylag Geese, also on the 6th, were new for the year and on the same date the wader roost held ten Redshank and three Common Sandpipers, both monthly peak counts and two argentatus Herring Gulls were identified. The first Kestrel of the year was seen on the 10th along with the overwintering female Pintail and a monthly peak count of 66 Tufted Duck; Common Teal peaked at 107 on the 13th but thereafter numbers fell steadily with only 34 present on the 29th; two Chiffchaffs in the ecology park on the 13th were probably migrants and the first passage Meadow Pipit flew east on the 15th with two on the 26th and 27th. The last Redshank of the winter was noted on the 19th which was also the last date for the overwintering Pintail, also on the 19th singles of Stock Dove and Collared Dove were noted. The two main harbingers of spring in the Lower Lea, Little Ringed Plover and Sand Martin were over a week late this year with singles of both species appearing on the 25th along with only the second sighting of Kingfisher for the year, Little Ringed Plover numbers rose to four on the 28th along with a monthly peak count of eight Shelduck. The last few days of the month were good for passage with two Jackdaws through on the 26th, a Collared Dove on the 27th, a Common Buzzard flying north on the 28th and a Fieldfare on the 29th. Finally, a Common Seal was in the Thames at the basin on the 13th and 19th.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Water the giver of life

Another early pre-work visit. I had quite a shock when I arrived at EIDB, there was loads of water in the basin. High tide was 3 hours ago, it should have flowed out by now. A check at the lock gates held the answer, the sluices have been raised, Hallelujah. The consequences of this was that there were birds all over the basin. 59 Tufted Ducks, with most on the island (yes it is an island again), 10 Teal, Mute Swans, 3 LRP's and loads of Mallards. I hope that this now will be a temporary solution to the silting problem. A male Northern Wheatear was on the Pura site, a Willow Warbler and Blackcap at the Eco Park. The copse at EIDB held a Blackcap and a very quiet singing Willow Warbler, almost a whisper, must be the Bob Harris of Willow Warblers. Two Oystercathers were on the Thames, but the river was otherwise quiet. It should spring into life in next 7-10 days. Nothing new was added to the year list (birding isn't just about the numbers game) but it was encouraging visit

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Wait here

Arrived quite early at EIDB to find that the outdoor gym was already in full swing (i thought that this was supposed to be a Nature Reserve). So decided to head across to view the old Pura Foods site, which seems to have the most scope for interesting birds, probably due to the site's lack of public access. A quick scan revealed at last a Northern Wheatear, standing on top of a pile of stones. It was a female, a bit distant but nonetheless a Wheatear. I have spent many hours searching and waiting for one to crop up, particularly at the Pura site, which looks ideal for this doyen of spring migration. They have been slow this year and other London birders have spent many hours waiting for this species to arrive.
Back at the dock, the gym had quietened down. The copse had a singing Willow Warbler (first of the year) and a Chiffchaff. Four Sand Martins were prospecting the dock walls, and a couple of Oystercatchers flew down the river.There was next to nothing moving overhead and the Thames was quiet. Then the next arrival of keep fitters meant it was time to leave.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Same as it ever was

Another early pre-work visit in a blustery south-west wind which did not look to promising. This turned out to be all to true. No spring migrants were seen or heard, and the handful that have previously arrived, have either moved on or are keeping low.
Teal numbers were below 20 and 4 Shelducks and a Kestrel were the only birds of note. I have been birding for over 30 years and I know the memory can play tricks, but this is the slowest spring migration I can remember for some time. Still it is April tomorrow and things can only get better.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Migrants at last

An early pre-work visit paid off today. Clear skies and surprisingly warm sunshine for the time of day greeted me. A non-singing Chiffchaff was in the copse, but little else was present here. Then the first spring migrant of the year for me appeared, a Sand Martin flying round the dock and around the lock gates, probably one of last years breeding birds. Then in true London Bus fashion a second migrant, a single Little Ringed Plover on the island in the dock. A quick check of Bow Creek, the Ecology Park and Pura Foods site failed to add to the total. Then whilst walking back to EIDB a Kingfiher was found perched on a stick at Bow Creek. not usually seen in Spring, this was a welcome sighting. Kingfishers have been hard to find in the Lower Lea Valley this year and seem to be on the decline. Back at EIDB the LRP was still on the Island and 2 Greylags were wandering about on Orchard Wharf and the gym classes had started in the copse. Keep Fit, keep fat I say.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Give me something for the weekend. Saturday-Sunday 19th-20th

Pintail at Bow Creek, March 20th 2011

In my last post I mentioned that a bit of sun and few migrants would lift the spirits. Well I got the first. Saturday had its moments, there was about an half an hour of bird movement at about 09.30. 12 Grey Herons flew north, a Collared Dove (never easy) flew east, a Stock Dove was around and a Kestrel (hard to find this year) flew north. Three Common Sandpipers were on Bow Creek with a single Redshank and the female Pintail. About 90 Teal were in the area, a Common Seal was on the Thames at Orchard Wharf and 2 Oystercatchers were on the mud in front of the O2. There were very few birds in song considering the spring conditions.
Sunday: The Oystercatchers were back on the mud, but Sunday was generally birdless and is not worth talking about. Perhaps its time to join the masses at Rainham or Wanstead.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Not a Lot

Sometimes, and particularly so far this year, birding at East India Dock Basin resembles a Ingmar Bergman film, not a lot happens and for a long time. A three hour visit this morning in grey cloudy conditions with a chilly north west wind produced very little for the notebook. Not a sniff of a spring migrant, nothing flying over, and apart from a few Gulls very little along the Thames, and virtually no singing, like a Justin Bieber record. So what birds were seen, the Pintail was in the dock until bullied away by a Coot, 3 Redshanks and 1 Common Sandpiper were at the high tide roost at Bow Creek and about 50 Teal were in the area.
The only real sign of spring was a pair of Long-tailed Tits collecting nesting material. But a bit of sun this weekend and few migrants should lift the spirits.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Common Seal

Common Seal off East India Dock Basin, March 2011

I finally caught up with the Water Rail in the western reedbed at the basin today, apart from that and the first singing Chiffchaff of the year not much was happening on the bird front so a Common Seal in the Thames off the basin was a very welcome diversion, it was seen to catch and eat two flatfish, probably Dabs and had Gary and me comparing our Lower Lea mammal lists. Gary had a Stoat at the basin several years ago when there was a lot more habitat available before the construction spate of the last decade and I've had a species of Pipistrelle, probably Common, apart from that we've both seen the following: Red Fox, Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Grey Squirrel and Brown Rat; the 2006 Northern Bottle-nosed Whale seen as far upstream as Battersea would have made it onto the list had somebody been on hand to see it and there must be various shrews, mice and possibly Bank Vole and Hedgehog present and historically Black Rat and Rabbit must have been recorded, the latter is fairly common a mile to the east at the Royal Docks. Lea Valley Regional Park have somewhat optimistically installed an otter holt in the ecology park but the sobering news that the Lower Lea is the most polluted river in Britain means we might have a bit of a wait until it receives its first tenants. Gary also remembers American Mink being seen with some regularity on the Lea around Middlesex Filter Beds a few years ago but that's one mammal tick I can live without.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

East India Rallies. Saturday and Sunday March 5-6th

Saturday: After being in the doldrums for a number of weeks, the area showed signs of life today. Firstly I finally got to see the elusive Water Rail that has been present most of this year. It showed very well for about five minutes in front of the NW reed-bed. EIDB area has a bit of a reputation for early spring migrants, but the weather (cold NE wind) is hardly suitable. Still you never know, so I scanned across the Pura Foods site with a bit more purpose than usual. I picked up a flock of Pied Wagtails, hoping that a White would be with them. Somthing spooked them and they flew towards me, all Pieds, but 17 of them, the largest count for the area. The Pura Foods site is looking very good, and I will be surprised if it does not pull some good birds down this spring. There were some signs of spring, violets were in bloom in the copse, and Wrens were singing heartily.
Sunday 6th: If anything colder than yesterday, the NE wind was stronger. There seems to be a kind of Narnia syndrome going on the moment, always winter but never spring. I arrived on site just as 4 Greylag Geese flew over, then another two followed, the first sightings this year. About 100 Teal and 2 Redshanks were on Bow Creek and 2 argentatus Herring Gulls were present. Back at the Dock there was no sign of the Water Rail and not much sign of anything else. A single Oystercatcher was along the Thames, another first for the year.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

An aerial view

East India Dock Basin: Dave Morrison

Dave Morrison took this photograph from a local tower block. it's an interesting perspective on the patch and shows quite well what a compact site it is; the largest area of woodland to the left is the copse at East India Dock Basin, the smaller area to the right on the other side of the dock is the eastern scrub, the green area above this is the meadow where I found a March 1st Wheatear in 2009. The eastern reedbed can be seen immediately to the right of the copse and just behind this the northern scrub where London's eighth Barred Warbler was found in September 2006. The building in the centre is the mothballed housing development on the Pura Foods peninsula, to the left of this a small section of Bow Creek is just visible; the flyover in the distance is the A13 road which marks the northern boundary of the patch. Many thanks to Dave for allowing me to use his image here.


Not a cloud in sight and bright sunshine, the dock put on a new coat today, unfortunately it was'nt one of many colours. February continued to be mundane as far as birds were concerned. The only species of note were a Stock Dove flying south and a male Reed Bunting flying over the road. A few birds were singing in the copse, including a Chaffinch, and still no sign of the elusive Water Rail.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Redshanks: Slight Return

Another grey day, and another day of few birds. EIDB was very quiet, just 1 Teal and 20 Tufted Ducks. The copse was empty apart from a single flowering Daffodil (hardly Wordsworth). A Grey Wagtail was feeding on a pool on Orchard Wharf. There was 130 Teal on Bow Creek and 15 Redshanks were in the roost with a Common Sandpiper. This is the highest Redshank count this year, but still way below what is usually present at this time of year. Met up with Nick, and we watched the Thames for awhile and talked about Gull identification, though this did not induce any interesting Gulls to pass by.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What a Brown and Grey day

Another gloomy dank morning on the River Thames. Water,mud and sky all merged into one (like a ECM Records cover). Tufted Duck count was 30, but no Teal were present on the Basin, and only about 50 on Bow Creek. The dock area was very quiet, and the Copse had just a few Chaffinch and Blue Tits.
A circuit of Bow Creek and the Ecology Park fared little better, with just 2 Redshank, continuing the very quiet start to 2011. Five Great Black-backed Gulls ( 2 adults, 1 2nd win and 1 1st win) were also on Bow Creek, with six adults on the Thames. Another stroll around the Dock revealed a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the Copse, the first of the year, and number 50 for me in 2011, though its been a hard slog to reach that total. I know you should'nt wish your life away, but I will be glad when March arrives and the expectation increases, with perhaps a little colour to brighten up the place.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

2010, an outstanding year

Just a short post to tie things up for 2010. The site total for the year was 104 species, amazingly Gary managed to see all of them whilst I finished on 88, still my best year ever on the patch. Severe weather at either end of the year and some fine clear days during the spring passage period were undoubtedly contributing factors to the high total, that and lots of hours spent in the field gazing expectantly at (more often than not) raptorless skies. Below is a full list of the species recorded in 2010, those in bold type are first records for the patch:

Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Egyptian Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Scaup, Common Scoter, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Spoonbill, Red Kite, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Osprey, Kestrel, Merlin, Hobby, Peregrine, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Little Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Jack Snipe, Common Snipe, Woodcock, Curlew, Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Mediterranean Gull, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Yellow-legged Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Black Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, (feral) Rock Dove, Stock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Ring-necked Parakeet, Common Swift, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark, Sand Martin, Swallow, House Martin, Meadow Pipit, Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Black Redstart, Northern Wheatear, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Song Thrush, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Blackcap, Garden Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Firecrest, Long-tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Lesser Redpoll, Reed Bunting.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Fireworks and crackers: November and December 2010 summaries

Great Crested Grebe at East India Dock Basin, December 2010

November got off to a good start with a female type Black Redstart at East India Dock Basin on the 4th, but it proved to be very elusive, not being seen again until the 28th; a very good monthly maxima of 230 Common Teal was also made on the 4th along with a good local count of six Pied Wagtails. The 7th was a good day for passage with the following species logged: 570 Woodpigeon south-west, a record count of 325 Starling, 97 Redwing, ten Chaffinch, two each of Ring-necked Parakeet and Skylark and single Lapwing and Mistle Thrush flying south and west respectively; also noted on the 7th were single Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Kingfisher, the latter being unaccountably elusive this year. Four Little Grebe were on the basin on the 14th with the Redshank roost peaking at 13 on the same date; an adult Yellow-legged Gull was noted on the 17th then things became a little slow until the 21st when the first Dunlin of the year was at Bow Creek and a Great Spotted Woodpecker and six Redwing were also noted, the following day saw a peak count of four Common Sandpiper in the roost. Fifteen Lapwing flying north on the 28th was the best count of the year, also noted were a male Blackcap and a Chiffchaff. The month ended on a high when a Golden Plover flew east on the 30th, only the second site record, six Lapwing were also noted along with a monthly maxima of nine Shelduck.

December got off to an excellent start with the first site record of Woodcock, flushed from the copse at East India Dock Basin, an often punted species for the lower Lea and now firmly on the list; 13 Redshank and three Common Snipe were also seen on the 1st along with a good local count of five Meadow Pipit. A very good count of 40+ Common Gull was made on the 2nd, there was clearly an influx of this species into the London Area in early December as several other localities noted an increase in numbers during the same period; other notables on the 2nd included four Common Snipe and a Great Crested Grebe. The female type Black Redstart put in an appearance on the 4th, it was a little more accommodating this month being seen on a total of four dates until the 30th; Common Teal numbers rose to 410 on the 4th, but this count was beaten on the 12th when c430 were noted; Redshank and Common Sandpiper numbers peaked on the 4th at 14 and three respectively and six Lapwing and a Ring-necked Parakeet passed through. A male Merlin flew west on the 5th, only the third site record, then nothing much was noted until the 9th when a Curlew was found at Bow Creek , the first site record, also on the 9th, the first Shoveler of the year, the second Dunlin and a Mistle Thrush which averages about five records annually. A female Pintail at Bow Creek on the 11th was the first record for over four years, it appears to be overwintering and was still present at the end of the year, with two Redwing and a Chiffchaff noted also on the 11th. Three Great Crested Grebe were found on the 12th, the first multiple count of the year, along with two Reed Bunting, scarce this year, two Chiffchaff and a male Blackcap. The 19th saw a record count of 11 Common Snipe and a Jack Snipe at Bow Creek along with six fly-over Lapwing and eight Redshank and a Common Sandpiper in the roost, making it a five wader day; at least two Peregrines were in the area, possibly three, and good counts of five Meadow Pipits and four Reed Buntings were made; finally a monthly maxima of 20 Shelduck was noted on the 22nd.