Monday, April 30, 2012

Double Dip at the Dock but a Treble Bonus

There was a strange yellow thing in the sky today, and it radiated heat. After what seems like weeks there was a respite from the rain. Though the sunny conditions also brought loads of people out, the dock was very disturbed. Today's visit  was planned with the hope of getting Chiffchaff and Sand Martin two species that I usually record in March. There was a decent passage of Hirundines yesterday and I was hopeful, but to no avail, another blank. But it was not all doom and gloom two female Wheatears were on Orchard Wharf and these joined two males on the Pura Foods site. Whilst eating my lunch a Common Buzzard drifted over low flying east at 13.18 (1st record in 2012), and two Swallows flew south perhaps deciding to get out of the country while the going is good. So three site year ticks is not bad in a poor year. Other species around were a couple of Common Terns, two singing Blackcaps and a female Kestrel. The weather is set go back rain tomorrow with northerly winds not good birding weather unless you are a Thames watcher. These conditions were in place during the last weekend and a number of goods birds were recorded at various sites along the river. EIDB has over the years  had a few decent birds in these conditions, but its very sparse. I have often wondered why waders, wildfowl and seabirds do not in general get up this far. I thought that perhaps the Thames Barrier acted as a barrier to birds, but I believe I now have an insight to the problem. This year I have regularly watched the Thames a few miles downriver at Gallions Reach and I have seen many good birds from here. On a number of occasions I have seen birds fly past me heading upriver towards Woolwich, they get as far as Woolwich Arsenal then turn  around and fly back downriver. This has happened to Godwits, Dunlin, and Curlews. The river at Woolwich narrows and also the buildings start to rise giving a hemmed in feeling. The river at Gallions Reach and Barking has an open aspect and I believe this may be a reason why the most of the birds turn back. There are always exceptions and some species particularly Terns have a reputation for going upriver. It is something that I will continue to monitor.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

EIDB set to become new Mecca for yank passerines

According to the London Evening Standard a new port for international cruise liners, including those from the US of A, is to be built on the Thames just upstream from the Millennium Dome. The article waffles on about the monetary benefits of such a project to the great unwashed of the impoverished borough of Greenwich, but all I could think about was the prospect of multitudes of stowaway YANKEE PASSERINES jumping ship into the welcoming sylvan arms of the copse at East India Dock Basin. The battered Collins would be replaced in the fieldbag by a pristine copy of Sibley in anticipation of London's first Savannah Sparrow; with no more freezing December visits in the futile hope of adding House Sparrow to the frankly pathetic yearlist.  The Port of London Authority tide tables would be replaced by Cunard Lines timetable for trans Atlantic cruise liners; it's gonna be awesome. There are precedents, a Northern Mockingbird spent a week in May 1988 on the Essex coast and a Northern Oriole overwintered in a Southend-on-Sea garden from December 1991 until March 1992, both were suppressed, but no one can tell me that these birds didn't cross the pond on boats. Interestingly no Nearctic passerines have been found at Tilbury, where the liners dock at the moment, but I recall a very convincing report of an American Robin at Dagenham Chase a few years ago, not a million miles away from the river at Tilbury. So there it is, the article seems to suggest that there is a very good chance of this happening, I just hope the good people of  Lea Valley Regional Park will leave enough habitat for the birds to take advantage of.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Warblers in but where are the Hirundines

Today I embarked on a rare lunchtime visit to EIDB, prompted by a text this morning from John Archer that a Goldcrest was in the area. Goldcrests are a very difficult species to see at EIDB, far rarer than Firecrests. I thought there was a fair chance that the bird would still be around with all the rain about, and I did relocate the bird in the copse, before it moved back into Virginia Quay. This is the first spring record of this species at the site. Also in the copse was a Willow Warbler, a Whitethroat and a pair of Blackcaps, none were in song. Amazingly I still have failed to connect with a Chiffchaff at EIDB this year.
There is still no sign of our Sand Martins and it is beginning to look doubtful that the species will breed this year. I have only seen a handful of Sand Martins this spring and I know of a number of birders who have yet to record one at all. This is looking like there is a serious problem, probably somewhere along their migration route. Other Hirundine species have hardly been common, just one day record of Swallows, no House Martins and it is to early for Swifts. This has so far been a strange spring migration with weather all over the place and many birdless days. We need some settled conditions, but it does look good at the moment.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

At last some Migrants

EIDB has been very slow this spring but this morning there was a respite from a number of blank days. Two Willow Warblers were singing, one in the copse and one in the Eco Park, there was also a singing Blackcap in the copse, though I have yet to record a Chiffchaff this year. Five Common Terns were present on the Thames, I had been expecting to see this species as they have been in the river for a few days. But still no Sand Martins, in fact I have not seen a Sand Martin anywhere this year, something that Jonathan Lethbridge has also mentioned on his blog. I also managed to add Oystercatcher when three noisy individuals flew onto the mud in front of the O2. There does at last seem to be some movement happening at last with Ring Ouzels and Redstarts being recorded at sites quite close to this area, though the weather is set to change again with cold northerly winds forecast.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Dead Weather

Clear skies are back again. The cloudy conditions on Saturday did produce a few birds, but this morning there were no fresh migrants to be found. Its said that with clear skies migrants fly straight through, but you would expect the breeding birds to arrive. In general this has not happened, there is no sign of our breeding Sand Martins. So this points to a problem with birds getting through. There could be a blocking high pressure system in the Channel and North Sea, or maybe problems further south in Europe or Africa. The weather is due for a big change with cloudy cold and damp conditions fuelled by a NE wind. It does not sound to promising but has to better than of late.
I spent some time on the site today and the point of interest was 6 Common Sandpipers at roost on Bow Creek. There have been good numbers overwintering on this site but some these could be migrants. This recent weather has been good for raptor sightings so I spent over an hour watching the sky and produced nothing, though I did record a Sparrowhawk flying low over the dock.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

First quarter: January to March 2012 summary

It was a good period for Shelduck, four were present on January 1st but numbers built up to a maximum of 24 on the 19th, February produced a site record count of 27 on the 12th, thereafter numbers dropped off with 14 the maximum for March on the 1st, 8th &14th,  with at least one  pair prospecting nest sites on the 31st. A pair of Mandarin on the Thames on March 31st was only the second site record whilst a flock of seven Wigeon also on the Thames on February 12th was the third site record and the first multiple count, a Shoveler  was on the Thames on the same date. Common Teal numbers were comparatively low at the beginning of January with 132 on the 1st, cold weather ensured that numbers rose quickly with 257 on the 9th and a monthly maximum of 340 on the 14th, numbers continued to increase during February with a site record count of over 460 on the 9th, the maximum count for March was 170 on the 8th but this had dropped to 36 by the end of the month. The overwintering female Pintail was seen on January 1st and on a total of 22 dates until the last sighting on February 28th; a pair of Gadwall was present on February 9th and 10th with a male on March 17th and two males on March 18th. The silt problem meant that Tufted Duck numbers fluctuated but only really built up when high spring tides in mid January put some water in the basin, monthly maxima were 56 on January 17th, 36 on February 27th and 52 on March 29th; a female fitted with a red nasal saddle on March 28th & 29th was presumably the bird of Portuguese origin noted last year. Single Sparrowhawks were noted on January 6th, February 5th & 6th and March 31st with two on March 8th, two Kestrels were seen on January 7th with singles on February 28th and March 31st the only other sightings; singles Peregrines were recorded on January 1st & 4th and February 12th with two on January 10th. the first Oystercatchers of the spring were two on March 25th, a Little Ringed Plover reported on March 29th was at least a week overdue, the only other record was of two on March 31st. A flock of around 70  Lapwing flying east on February 5th was a record site count, three on the Pura Foods peninsula on February 11th and six flushed from Bow Creek on February 12th were the only other records with singles of Common Snipe on January 4th, Woodcock on February 11th and Curlew on February 27th helping to bost the wader count to an excellent eight species. Redshank numbers remained low throughout with monthly maxima of 19 on January 6th, 17 on February 4th and ten on March 4th, 6th & 7th with the last of the winter noted on March 17th; by comparison Common Sandpipers had their best ever winter with monthly maxima of four on January 2nd & 7th, a site record winter count of seven on February 9th & 26th and six on March 26th. At least three different Yellow-legged Gulls were recorded on seven dates; an adult on January 1st, a 2nd-winter on January 6th, a 3rd-winter on January 8th, an adult on January 18th, a 2nd-winter and an adult on February 14th and a 2nd-winter on February 27th and March 16th; other interesting larid records included a Scandinavian Herring Gull on January 1st and a movement of 65 Common Gulls  flying west on January 8th. The first Stock Doves of the year were a group of four on February 29th, followed by two on March 1st, three on March 4th and two on March 22nd, 25th & 31st; single Kingfishers were noted on 12 dates between January 1st and March 31st with two on January 2nd and possibly three on January 4th; single Great Spotted Woodpeckers put in an appearance on January 9th, 15th & 19th. Passage Meadow Pipits included six north on January 10th, one on January 14th, four west on February 12th, three on March 7th and two north on March 29th. Both Grey Wagtail and Pied Wagtail were noted on numerous dates with a singing Grey on January 24th and a singing Pied on March 31st. A flock of around 50 Fieldfare on February 6th was a site record count, the only other record was of three fling west on February 12th, Redwings fared a little better with at least ten on February 6th, 35 flying west and one in the copse on February 10 and 18 flying mainly west on February 12th. There were no wintering warbler records, the only  Blackcap was singing in the copse on March 31st with singing Chiffchaffs noted on March 18th, 19th, 20th & 22nd. A sizable Linnet flock frequented Orchard Wharf during January, 45 were present on the 1st with around 80 noted on the 8th, a site record count; at least two pairs were holding territories in late March; other finch counts included at least ten Chaffinch on February 15th with up to three singing males present into late March and at least 11 Goldfinch on March 16th; Reed Buntings were noted on several dates with a peak count of nine on February 5th. Finally two pairs of Long-tailed Tits attempted to breed but both nests failed, at least one as a direct result of human disturbance.