Monday, 7 May 2012

Ring Ouzel in Greenwich

Ring Ouzel, Greenwich Peninsula, 7/5/2012

Oystercatcher, Greenwich Peninsula, 7/5/2012

I tend to get a little bit anal about my lower Lea yearlist, especially if, as is usually the case, other people have seen more that me, so every now and then I like to take excursions to see other birds, Across the Thames from the basin and about a mile downstream is Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park, a Trust for Urban Ecology (TRUE) reserve, since April 28th it has hosted a female Ring Ouzel, so I decided to go and have a look at it. It's been a few years since I ventured onto the Greenwich peninsula, plenty of development has been taking place including the soon to be opened cable car across the Thames, a totally pointless project that has restricted access to the Thames path where the cable cars dock, a detour inland around the hangerlike structure of Soccerworld (formerly the David Beckham football academy)  is required; The Jubilee Line from Canning Town to North Greenwich performs the same function, presumably at a fraction of the price. The Millennium Village is now the size of a small town with pretentious street names like Mudlarks Boulevard and expensive coffee shops conveniently sited next to mortgage brokers should you fancy a mug of skinny latte. The one constant in this world of change is the ecology park, Joanne is still the warden and Tony is still the assistant warden; it's a cracking place with breeding Little Grebe and Common Tern and enough variety of habitat to ensure that interesting species turn up with some regularity; I had the place virtually to myself and I found the Ring Ouzel feeding on the northern bank of the reserve within seconds of entering the east hide; it showed well but just out of camera range, so the record shot above is the best I could do. It's been here nine days now, a very long stay for a spring migrant which just goes to show how bad the weather has been to keep it here this long. The reserve was alive with warbler song including a Sedge Warbler, at least three Reed Warblers, a Blackcap and two Common Whitethroats; an Oystercatcher was feeding on the rising tide and a single Swallow flew north.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Hirundines at last

It was absolutely freezing this morning, a nasty northerly cutting right through me as I had optimistically dressed for an early May morning, I should really  have known better, it was a bank holiday weekend after all. As soon as I arrived at the basin I was greeted by a heartily singing Lesser Whitethroat, a very welcome yeartick as it can be a difficult spring species here and is by no means guaranteed in autumn. I decided to give the Thames half an hour and almost immediately picked up four Swallows heading east low over the water, yeartick two, things were looking up despite the weather. I then headed for the ecology park where John had scored a very good local double of Sedge and Garden Warblers yesterday, I could find neither but another Lesser Whitethroat was singing there. Gary turned up with the news that he'd had both Swift and Sand Martin at the basin, while we were comparing notes another Sand Martin flew over north, yeartick three. We both heard a brief snatch of acro song that might or might not have been Sedge Warbler, but it refused to play ball so we had to leave it. Back at the basin Gary picked up another Swift, yeartick four and then I got on to a flock of four, a massive count here, all were heading roughly north. Other notables included three Shelduck, a Kestrel, two Common Sandpiper, a Common Tern, five singing Blackcaps and a singing Common Whitethroat.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Common Whitethroat new for the year

May already and still no Sand Martin at the basin, other people have noticed the non-appearance of this species so something is clearly going on. A few birds were moving around in the copse this morning so I decided to employ a tactic I like to call "wait and see", basically you just wait and see what (if anything) turns up, does what it says on the tin. After about 20 minutes I got on to a warbler feeding high in a Sycamore, a male Common Whitethroat, strangely silent given the sunny weather but a welcome yeartick nonetheless, this species is also a little late and winters in roughly the same area of trans-Saharan Africa as Sand Martin, could there be a connection here? I seem to remember that there was a massive Whitethroat crash a few years back and Sand Martin numbers suffered too, time will tell. Another Common Whitethroat was in the ecology park, singing this time, albeit quietly and furtively, as was the only Reed Warbler I could find but at least five Blackcaps were in good voice throughout the site. Other notables today included a female Northern Wheatear along the promenade at Bow Creek, possibly the photogenic bird from yesterday; four Common Sandpipers in the high tide roost, seven Shelduck and two Common Terns at the basin and a vocal Oystercatcher, heard but not seen at Bow Creek. I spent a couple of hours at Gallions Reach in the afternoon and added Mute Swan, Sandwich Tern and Lesser Whitethroat to my site list other notables were a Lapwing flying east along the Thames, three Common Sandpipers feeding on the foreshore, four Common Terns, six Swallows flying north, two Common Whitethroats and a Skylark.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Another wave of Wheatears

Wheatear at Bow Creek Ecology Park, 30/4/2012

Crayford Marshes, 30/4/2012


It's been a good April for Northern Wheatear at the lower Lea, two on the 4th and three on the 14th, all on the Pura Foods peninsula, were the vanguard for four today, two on Orchard Wharf and two in the Ecology Park, including the female in the photographs above. Initially I thought this bird was an immature male because of the greyness of the mantle, it was so close to me that I was concentating on photographing it rather than critically looking at it, that's my excuse anyway; the other bird was definately a male but he was spooked by a DLR train and flew off to the Pura Foods site; this one was very confiding until a chav couple came along and the gentleman, seeing that I was photographing the bird, deliberately flushed it, returning to his lady uttering the gentle refrain "I scared the bird off hur, hur, hur" to admiring giggles from his mate. I know one should have sympathy for intellectually challenged morons who get an enormous sense of self-importance from annoying other people but I almost suggested that he do something useful with his body, like turn it into fertiliser. As it was a sunny day the site started to fill up with people intent on leaving litter to mark their visit, so I decided to head off to Crayford Marshes for the rest of the day; of all the Thames marshes in the London area this is the only one I have not visited, mainly because it has a bit of a reputation for being in bandit country but I figured that a weekday visit might see the hordes of scramblers and air gunners more usefully occupied, and so it transpired. The photo above shows the northern access to the marsh from Slade Green station, a wonderfully bucolic scene, punctuated every hundred yards or so with some doorless kitchen appliance, just to remind you, in case you should forget, that you are still within the orbit of the Capital.Interestingly a lot of the hedgerows here are Elm so there is a good possibility of White-letter Hairstreak, a mid June visit is in order if it looks like it might be a good year for them. A singing Lesser Whitethroat near the river wall was the highlight of my visit, Swallows were about in good numbers and it looks like a few pairs may breed here, Common Whitethroats and Blackcaps were everywhere, but the only other warbler was a singing Chiffchaff. Skylarks and Meadow Pipits sang from the creekside fields and Ring-necked Parakeets looked slightly incongruous as they screeched over the saltmarsh. The only waders I could find were four Redshank and two Oystercatcher and I had good views of a Common Seal eating a large fish  in the Thames. It's a really pleasant walk from Slade Green to the Darent Flood Barrier but it's a bit of a shock to find a massive scrap yard plonked down next to horse filled paddocks behind the sea wall.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Into each life a little rain must fall...

The uneasy marriage between myself and the lower Lea took an almighty step towards divorce this morning, driving rain on a robust easterly wind was was the order of the day, ideal conditions for pushing terns, Little Gulls and perhaps other seabirds up the Thames; I should have headed directly to Gallions Reach but decided to put my faith in the patch with predictable results. Whilst slurping an overpriced Americano in the Esso garage after a fruitless freezing  hour at the basin, I received a call from Gary telling me he was watching an adult Little Gull at Gallions Reach. Half an hour later I caught up with him only to hear that he'd just had a Red-breasted Merganser fly upstream after a tip off from John that it was heading his way; doubly gripped. Both of these species are on my self-found London list but the pair of Mergs was over 20 years ago and the last Little Gull over a decade ago; ah well, lesson well and truly learned. We spent the next two hours getting very wet as we grilled the river, a Great Skua had been logged passing Rainham but it didn't make it to us; we added a Curlew, a Common Sandpiper and a Swift before the rain let up and Paul joined us. Late afternoon the sun put in an appearance and we were treated to a steady passage of Swallows, over 130 heading roughly north together with a few Sand Martins and around 20 Swifts; I made a comment about all these hirundines moving could produce a Hobby, ten minutes later Paul got on to a raptor moving east; the first Hobby of the year and the fourth raptor of the day after Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Peregrine. Other notables at Gallions included around four Oystercatchers, 30 Common Terns and two Skylarks.  

Saturday, 28 April 2012

A rainy day at Rainham

The unsettled weather continues to play havoc with the spring migration, it has rained heavily and for prolonged periods every day for the last seven days with today being one of the wettest. I decided to do a quick tour of the lower Lea and then head off to Rainham for the day where birding from the hides would afford some protection from the weather. The patch was, not surprisingly, disappointing; ten Shelduck were bickering at the basin where both the Portuguese saddled Tufted Duck were present in a diminished flock of 25 birds; during the week the female had disappeared and it transpires she spent a few days at Hilfield Park Reservoir some 15 miles to the north of the basin.Three Common Sandpipers were in the roost, two Common Terns flew east on the Thames and three Stock Doves were on the Pura Foods peninsula. Passerine activity was predictably low key with just two Reed Warblers and three Blackcaps singing; that was it and so to Rainham. it was immediately apparent that the three Common Swift recorded in the log book this morning had been joined by a few dozen more by the time I arrived, at least 50 were hawking low over the Marshland Discovery Zone and Aveley Pools along with good numbers of all three hirundines with at least 40 each of Swallow and House Martin and maybe 70 Sand Martin present, a wonderful sight after a spring of virtually bird free skies. A distant wader in Aveley Bay turned into a Whimbrel when it flew off and landed on the river wall in front of me, two Ringed Plovers were also in Aveley Bay, a Greenshank was calling but remained invisible and one or two Oystercatchers were moving on the river; I also had scope views of a Grey Plover and two Sanderling on the Kent shore, the latter was a London tick for me and an overdue one at that, I'm now on 270 for the capital. Plenty of Reed and Sedge Warbler were singing along with the odd Cetti's Warbler and  singles of Common Whitethroat and Chiffchaff and at least two Yellow Wagtails were feeding along the north shore of Aveley Pools. Plenty of wildfowl were still around including several Shoveler, Gadwall and Common Teal and at least three Wigeon. All in all a rather good day in some pretty unpromising weather conditions.    

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Great Spotted Woodpecker and Reed Warbler new for the year

Predated Mallard and Moorhen eggs, Bow Creek Ecology Park, April 2012

The unsettled weather continues, putting the kibosh on lots of migrants, chief amongst them Sand Martin which is now so late that it may not turn up at all this spring; Gary has still not had Chiffchaff although Paul and me had a silent bird this morning in the copse it would not perform later when Gary arrived. We headed for the ecology park where beneath the palimpsest of Blackcap song I picked up the first Reed Warbler of the year jagging quietly to itself at the back of the feeder pond reedbed, so another trans-Saharan migrant has made it back to the lower Lea. Back at the basin Paul picked up a male Great Spotted Woodpecker in the copse; an unusual time of the year to get one, but the second bird in three days as the bird in the week seen by Gary and John was a female. We've been seeing quite a lot of predated waterfowl eggs lately, most with a roughly round hole in the side; I don't think the culprit is a Brown Rat or Grey Squirrel, I did in one fanciful moment consider Otter but I have an idea that the villain may be a Mink, but more research is needed. The rest of today's haul included a single Greylag Goose at Bow Creek, six Shelduck with lots of courtship behaviour going on, 42 Tufted Duck but neither of the Portuguese birds, a Kestrel hunting over the ecology park, seven Common Sandpipers in the high tide roost,  four Common Terns, two Stock Doves, at least five Blackcaps including three singing males and two pairs of Linnets.  

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Willow Warbler and Common Tern new for the year

Two necessarily brief vists this weekend, each producing a yeartick, Willow Warbler on Saturday, two at the basin and one in the ecology park, all singing, and Common Tern on Sunday, a singleton flying east down the Thames. In terms of variety Saturday had the edge over Sunday, three Wheatears on the Pura Foods peninsula was a personal best count of this eagerly anticipated species, a pair of Blackcaps and one each of Chiffchaff made up the rest of the migrant interest. Wildfowl included a good April count of ten Shelduck, a single male Common Teal and 30 Tufted duck including the Portuguese red-saddled male. Two Song Thrushes were singing, both out in the open which is unusual for this site, and a third bird in the ecology park was behaving as if it had young nearby. The Sunday visit yielded a flock of six Stock Doves feeding on the peninsula, my best "on the deck" count.Wildfowl included four Shelduck, three Common Teal and 37 Tufted Duck but neither of the Portuguese birds were present today. I could only find a single Common Sandpiper and it seems that the excellent winter counts have come to an end. A single Willow Warbler and three Blackcaps made up the warbler count today and other passerines included a pair of Linnets and a persistent singing Chaffinch in the ecology park.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Godwits galore at Gallions

Black-tailed Godwit at Gallions Reach, 8/4/12
Black-tailed Godwits at Galltons Reach, 8/4/12

High tide today was late afternoon so I decided to spend the morning at Gallions Reach watching waders on a rising tide before heading back to the lower Lea for high water. I met up with Gary who had aready counted 320 Black-tailed Godwits, but the tide was pushing them closer and concentrating them in one area and a recount revealed an astonishing 435 birds, almost all of them in complete summer plumage; we watched them until the tide pushed them off and they flew downstream to roost, an amazing sight. Others waders included at least 85 Redshank, seven Oystercatcher and a Curlew. Just as we were about to leave the gull colony on the pilings started to make an awful racket; the reason was a typically marked Common Buzzard heading south across the river, my first at this site but Gary's third in eight days. Other notables included at least five Common Terns,  two Swallows heading east, a Wheatear and two or three singing Chiffchaffs. Back at the lower Lea there were seven Common Sandpipers together in the roost; two Kestrels were displaying over the Pura Foods peninsula, a Blackcap and Grey Wagtail were singing and the first Mallard brood of the year was at the basin, but it contained only two ducklings.It was a seven metre tide today and all the wildfowl were concentrated on the basin at high water and included two Greylag Geese, 24 Common Teal and 37 Tufted Duck.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Blackcap new for the year

Common Teal at East India Dock Basin, 6/4/2012

It's almost the end of the first week of April and still no Sand Martins, I cannot remember a year when I have not recorded this species in March; it seems to be the situation London-wide with only small numbers recorded so far; last year at least one pair were treble-brooded at the basin, at this rate we are looking at a poor breeding season. A male Blackcap in the ecology park was the only addition to the yearlist, it wasn't singing but foraging busily; a Chiffchaff was singing nearby and these two warblers represented the only passerine migrants noted today. Common Teal numbers were up to 42 with some of these almost certainly passage birds, 32 Tufted Duck were on the basin but there was no sign of the red-saddled Portuguese female; four Shelduck were the only other wildfowl of interest. Common Sandpiper numbers remain high with six together in  the high tide roost. at least four Stock Doves were noted and a pair of Kestrels were displaying over the basin. Apart from the two warblers other passerines included a Jay, a singing Chaffinch and a pair of Linnets.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Collared Dove and Northern Wheatear new for the year

Now that British Summer Time is here and the days are getting longer, post-work visits to the patch are possible. I was hoping the overnight rain might have grounded some migrants and my optimism was rewarded with two cracking male Northern Wheatears on the Pura Foods peninsula; an unexpexted bonus was the Collared Dove whipping through east at bushtop height, it's just about annual these days, nearly all records being in the spring or early summer. The only other migrant was a calling Chiffchaff at the basin. Other highlights today included three Shelduck, 26 Common Teal, 53 Tufted Duck, including the Portuguese female with the red nasal saddle first recorded last year, two Common Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, two singing Chaffich and a singing Linnet.    

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Little Ringed Plover new for the year

I can't remember a year when I have not seen Little Ringed Plover in March, that record was under threat so I had to give it a go this morning. A missed phone call from Gary to tell me that I had missed two Mandarin on the Thames off the basin didn't auger well and when I met up with him he'd also scored a singing Blackcap; needless to say the Mandarins were long gone and the Blackcap had shut up in the freezing  weather, a nasty north-easterly was doing a good impression of mid January. I had a few things to do so I decided to try again later (with another layer of clothing) and as soon as I arrived at the basin I saw an Little Ringed Plover on the island, record maintained. I walked to the vantage point on the road and saw that there were now two birds there, yellow eyerings glowing in the late afternoon sunshine. The rest of the days haul included 51 Tufted Duck, but the red-saddled Portuguese female seen by John a couple of times in the week was not among them,  36 Common Teal, a big departure from last week, three Common Sandpipers, the electric flash of a Kingfisher at Bow Creek and both Grey and Pied Wagtails, the latter singing.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Pochard and Oystercatcher new for the year

There has been some really fine weather over the last few days, but Saturday dawned with a very dense cold fog enveloping the patch, a reminder that we are still in March and gloves are not yet an optional extra. Gary arrived with the news that the fog was restricted to the river and warm sunshine was to be had a scant mile to the north but we both elected to stay on site until the mist had burnt off and we were rewarded with a male Pochard on the Thames, the first that either of us can remember on the river. The rest of the days haul was fairly pedestrian, Common Teal numbers continue to fall with just 70 counted today along with 35 Tufted Duck and two pairs of Shelduck, one of which was displaying. A solitary Common Sandpiper constituted the wader interest, it looks like we've seen our last wintering Redshank and apart from the outside chance of a passage bird, that's it until October. Passerine interest was provided by a singing Song Thrush, three singing Chaffinch and a pair of Linnets. By 11 o'clock the mist had burnt off completely and the basin started to fill up with people armed with football toting brats who had obviously mistaken the nature reserve for a park, time for us to leave. Sunday dawned clear but cold and the first thing that was obvious on arrival at the basin was the that the Long-tailed Tit nest in the copse has been completely wrecked, closer inspection revealed that a lot of the spring growth in the copse has been trampled; Lea Valley Regional Park has taken out so much of the undergrowth here that a mentally challenged chav family could easily mistake it for a football pitch; oh for the halcyon days of the London Docklands Development Corporation, at least they did nothing. My mood lightened a little with the arrival of the first two vocal Oystercatchers of the year on the Millennium Dome mudflats, Common Sandpiper numbers were up to six on Bow Creek but this could have been a conservative count as it was made at low tide, at least some of these birds have to be migrants; Common Teal numbers were also up with 83 counted this morning other wildfowl included two Shelduck and 29 Tufted Duck Other notables included two Stock Doves flying north-west, an impressive gathering of over 40 Carrion Crows on the reedbed pylon, a singing Song Thrush and four Linnets. Just like yesterday the flow of human traffic increased with the rising mercury, so I made the short trip downstream to Gallions Reach where I was confronted with thew astonishing sight of around 280 Black-tailed Godwits, most of them in summer plumage, feeding on a rising tide, at least two Curlew were among them along with some 80 Redshank and over 50 Shelduck. It's been a slow year for migrants so far but within the space of 15 minutes I had my first Swallow heading east before gaining height and disappearing inland over the Roding flood barrier, my first March record and the first time I have ever seen Swallow before Sand Martin, and a superb male Northern Wheatear  picked up sitting shrike-like at the top of a Birch tree. 

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Chiffchaff new for the year

Gadwall at Bow Creek, 17/3/2012
Long-tailed Tit nest at Bow Creek Ecology Park, 17/3/2012
A short burst of onomatopoeic song delivered from an often overlooked area of unpromising scrub by the blue bridge and Chiffchaff is on  the yearlist at last; no overwintering birds could be found this year so it is almost certainly a migrant, the weather was filthy but this affirmation that spring is finally here reduced the rain to a minor inconvenience, things are as they should be and that's all that matters. I found another Long-tailed Tit nest, this time in the ecology park. I tarried long enough to take the picture above and then left the birds in peace, I only hope that Lea Valley Regional Park will do the same; I notice a lot of severe pruning has taken place this month and it is simply the wrong time of the year to be doing it; the other nest at the basin may have been deserted as the bramble where it is located has had a very severe haircut. The wader roost held a single Redshank but there are still three Common Sandpipers in the area, the tide was not high enough to cover all their feeding areas so only one of them was actually in the roost. Common Teal numbers still manage to break the ton with 121 counted today, I couldn't find the female Pintail but I did find an unusually flighty male Gadwall at Bow Creek; other wildfowl included six Shelduck and 31 Tufted Duck. Plenty of passerines are singing now among them a Chaffinch, not a species that has ever been proven to breed at the lower Lea.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Stock Dove new for the year

There was a real spring feel to the patch today, many of the Blackthorns in the northern scrub have a fuzz of blossom and other trees including Alder and Hawthorn are starting to put out leaves; many species are singing including Dunnock, Song Thrush and Greenfinch with at least two males of the latter performing their butterfly-like display flights, and a pair of Long-tailed tits have almost completely finished building their beautiful domed nest in a bramble, I've seen them carrying nesting material in previous years but this is the first time I've seen a nest. Common Teal numbers have dropped with just 103 counted today, other wildfowl included two Shelduck and 28 Tufted Duck, very little water is getting into the basin but there is a good series of  better than 6 metre tides starting tomorrow and staying high until the end of the month so we have a good chance of picking up a Pochard, grebe or something rarer, Garganey is well overdue and Little Egret has become unaccountably scarce in recent years. Redshank numbers are also down with just ten in the high tide roost, as the high tide was so low plenty of feeding areas were still available to Common Sandpipers and I only managed to find three this morning, this would have been a good count most years but I know there are more out there, a big tide is needed to put them all in the roost. Three Stock Doves were feeding on the Pura Foods peninsula and were the only year tick of the day.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

A spring day in February

Oystercatchers at Gallions Reach, 26/2/2012

Black-tailed Godwits at Gallions Reach, 26/2/2012

Black-tailed Godwits at Gallions Reach, 26/2/2012

Comma Butterfly at Gallions Reach, 26/2/2012

Red Fox at Gallions Reach, 26/2/2012

High tide at the lower Lea today was around 4:30 pm, the weather forecast was for a warm spring-like day which always means the basin is jammed with people, so I decided to spend the morning downstream at Gallions Reach returning to the patch at high tide to check the wader roost; Gary had the same idea and we spent over five hours at this wonderful Thameside locale soaking up the atmosphere created by hundreds of ducks and waders, Black-tailed Godwits were everywhere with at least 137 recorded, all of these birds are of the race islandica and will soon be heading north to their breeding grounds in Iceland, many of them already apeared to be paired up but none have yet moulted into breeding plumage. Given the limited viewing conditions , especially downstream, accurate counts are virtually impossible but I think we did quite well today other wader counts included four Oystercatcher (a little early, we don't usually get them on the patch until late March), 40 Lapwing, ten Dunlin (not a lot considering the thousands present just a few miles downstream), three Curlew and 71 Redshank. A good variety of wildfowl was also noted including 61 Shelduck, a pair each of Wigeon and Gadwall, around 220 Common Teal, over 60 Shoveler, three Pochard and 15 Tufted Duck; Little and Great Crested Grebes were both recorded along with singles of Sparrowhawk and kestrel, but surprisingly, given the abundance of food on offer, we have yet to record a Peregrine here. On the passerine front Linnets were very much in evidence, mostly paired up now with lots of singing going on. at least two Skylarks were also singing and four Meadow Pipits and a Reed Bunting were also noted. The Fox in the photograph was dozing on a patch of grass near the Albert Basin and was quite unconcerned by our presence. The Comma Butterfly was enjoying the clement weather, they often come out of hibernation on warm winter days but this is the first one I have seen in February. I arrived back at the patch just after 4 pm and judging from the abundance of litter at the basin it has seen quite a lot of human traffic today; 11 Redshank and a Common Sandpiper were in the main roost with three more Common Sandpipers at two other roosts on the Middlesex shore, the second time this winter I have recorded seven birds.Bow Creek was almost completely devoid of wildfowl but the basin was teeming: with four Greylag Geese, 11 Canada Geese,14 Shelduck, the female Pintail, 165 Common Teal and 30 Tufted Duck counted today.  

Sunday, 12 February 2012

A record count of Wigeon

Lapwing at Bow Creek, 12/2/2012

I was on the patch just after dawn this morning hoping to refind yesterday's Woodcock; a quick circuit of the ecology park drew a blank but I did find a single Meadow Pipit feeding on the embankment, the first one on the deck this year. I met up with Gary and we had another try for the Woodcock with no luck so we headed for the basin scoring a flock of ten Redwing flying west, a year tick for us both; we then put up six Lapwing from the mud on Bow Creek, things were shaping up nicely. On arrival at the basin we found it still frozen so decided to concentrate on the Thames, almost immediately we got onto a flock of seven ducks loafing off the Millennium Dome mudflats, they were Wigeon, three males and four females, the third site record and the only multiple count; three Fieldfare heading west provided another year tick for both of us . We then met up with a party from the London Natural History Society on a planned trip to the basin; we managed to get them onto the Wigeon but then I found another duck with them which turned out to a Shoveler, yet another year tick. A Peregrine was roosting on the Dome and most of the LNHS party managed to see it, always a good bird on a guided walk. The tide was now on the rise but with a couple of hours until high water I headed home for some lunch, returning to find 12 Redshank and three Common Sandpiper in the roost, a Common Teal count produced 374 birds and the female Pintail, which was conspicuously absent this morning, was feeding in the usual place, four Shelduck were on the basin with a flock of 23 together on Bow Creek, the highest count of the year and possibly the highest ever and quite a spectacular sight in the fading light of late afternoon; 13 Tufted Duck on the basin were the seventh duck species for the day. Passerine interest was provided by three more Meadows Pipits flying west, a flock of six Linnets in the ecology park and at least three Reed Buntings at the basin.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Second Woodcock for the lower Lea

A mid-morning visit to the patch at low tide produced nothing of note, this state of the tide can be very unproductive so I decided to return just before high tide. Common Teal numbers seemed to be up so I embarked on a comprehensive count, I was on the eastern side of the ecology park silently  cursing some old lady for letting her mutt off the lead when the beast flushed a Woodcock from some pathside scrub that I had just walked past; it circled out over the creek making it onto my Tower Hamlets list as it flew over the Pura Foods peninsula; it then flew over the DLR line into the western half of the park and seemed to come down in scrub behind the feeder stream. A patch tick for me and only the second record for the lower Lea following on from one flushed from the copse at the basin by Gary on December 1st 2010. Another good record was three Lapwings on the Pura Foods Peninsula, it is usually a fly-over species here and the fourth wader species of the day with eight Redshank and three Common Sandpipers in the roost. I continued with the Common Teal count and ended up with a respectable 442, the female Pintail was also present along with a good count of 18 Shelduck.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

A record count of Common Teal

Pintail at East India Dock Basin, 9/2/2012

Greylag Geese at East India Dock Basin, 9/2/2012

High tide was just before 5 pm today and was over seven metres and for the first time in a week or so it put some water in the basin. I arrived at about 4:30 pm and as soon as I got a view of the basin I thought I had a good chance of breaking the patch record count of Common Teal. I counted around 250 on the basin and quickly headed for Bow Creek where I added another 210, both counts were conservative so the combined total was over 460. The tidal River Lea extends just over a mile to the north of the patch and recently there have been close to 1.000 Common Teal between the Thames at the basin and the Bow backwaters at Three Mills, a spectacular count anywhere, let alone an Inner London borough. Given the good numbers of Gadwall present in the Three Mills area it was not surprising that a pair had drifted south to the patch and made it onto the yearlist.Other wildfowl included two Greylag Geese, seven Canda Geese, 16 Shelduck, the overwintering female Pintail and ten Tufted Duck. On first inspection the regular wader roost was deserted but I found ten Redhank and two Common Sandpipers roosting at the northern end of the Pura Foods peninsula, on the way back I found two Common Sandpipers were now in the regular roost, a short walk back to the new roost revealed that the original two were still in situ, four is a very good winter count but then I found another three roosting on the pontoon on the last meander, so I retraced my steps again and the other four were still present; we have had seven birds before, during autumn migration, but this is the best winter count of this species at the lower Lea. It was very quiet on the passerine front with three Reed Buntings in the pylon reedbed the only record of note.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

A record count of Lapwing

A few images of the patch during the snow, 5/2/2012

I had just finished stocking up the feeding station at the basin when I checked my phone and saw I had a missed call from Gary, he was downriver at Gallions Reach and it looked like it was shaping up to be a good day there on a rising tide; I weighed up the options and decided to join him, intending to return to the patch to coincide with high tide; what followed was one of the most incredible birding sessions I have ever experienced in the capital. I expected a few more birds to be about because of the snow but the number and variety of species exceeded even my glass half full expectations. As I approached the river a flock of 20 Lapwing passed over moving north-east, this was the first of eight flocks totalling nearly 300 birds, all moving inland. Other large plovers were also on the move, a flock of four Golden Plover moved north followed by 45 moving north-west but one of the biggest surprises of the day was the movement of some 60 Grey Plover mostly  moving north-west including flocks of 28 and 20 but at least ten were also roosting in the area, a very good count this far upstream. The undoubted highlight of the day was around a dozen Common Snipe and at least three Jack Snipe indulging in eye-level flypasts as they were pushed off their roosts by the rising tide; both of us agreed we had never seen Jack Snipe this well in flight, often both species together for comparison; other waders included four Dunlin, a single Common Sandpiper and several Redshank. Before I arrived Gary had found a male Pintail, I could not locate it but towards the end of the session I found a female flying upstream; at least 20 Wigeon were noted including flocks of ten and eight and six Gadwall. Shelduck, Common Teal and Tufted Duck along with the ubiquitous Mallard were also present in numbers but no counts were made.On the passerine front three Grey Wagtails were noted along with a single flock of around 60 Redwing and about 50 Linnets  in one group, perched in riverside trees, many of the males singing in their fresh breeding plumage. We missed the high tide roost back at the patch but we added Sparrowhawk and :Lapwing to our yearlists, the latter a flock of about 70 moving downstream at the basin, easily the largest count at the lower Lea, also noted were seven Shelduck, the female Pintail, two Redshank, a Common Sandpiper and a Kingfisher whilst the feeding station had attracted at least ten Chaffinches and three Reed Buntings with at least another six in the same area. With the cold weather set to last for another week at least, next weekend can't come fast enough.         

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Common Snipe new for the year

The freezing weather has finally arrived and not before time; the basin is completely frozen and with the high tides below the requisite 6.5 metres until the middle of the week, no water is getting in and if the cold weather persists it is going to remain iced up. Apart from three Canada Geese and a couple of bemused Coots all of the wildfowl have decanted onto the creek and the Thames; Common Teal numbers are up with 397 counted today, the female Pintail is still in residence and eight Tufted Duck were on the Thames with a single male on the creek. A cold spell usually triggers an increase in Redshank numbers, but not this time, 16 were in the roost, pretty much what it's been all year so far. The tide wasn't high enough to cover all the mud and two Common Sandpipers were taking advantage of the increased opportunity to feed. Thankfully the water pump on the feeder stream in the ecology park was working, keeping the stream and lammas meadow unfrozen attracting a Common Snipe which I managed to flush on my second circuit early in the afternoon. Despite the freezing weather two pairs of Dunnock were displaying, just about the only passerine activity of note; now that the local Grey Squirrels have finally been driven to their dreys by the cold I decided to resume my feeding programme which produced almost instant dividends with five Chaffinch and four Greenfinch feeding in the seeded-up area and two Blue Tits on the fat balls; if these conditions continue I am fairly confident that the seed will attract something a little special with Brambling being at the top of my wants list.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Business as usual

It's not been a classic January, too warm for that, but hopefully the forecast of cold weather for the next week or so will still be able to redeem this dreary winter. High tide today was just after 5 pm, which made for an atmospheric last hour of daylight as wildfowl pushed off the mud by the rising water flighted into the basin at dusk to roost. Today's totals included 14 each of Canada Goose and Shelduck, the wintering female Pintail, 215 Common Teal and 34 Tufted Duck. Back on Bow Creek 18 Redshank and three Common Sandpiper were in the roost with the only passerine of note was a singing Song Thrush in the Ecology Park.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

A brief high tide visit

High tide at Bow Creek today was just before noon, at 6.5 metres it was just about high enough to put some much needed water into the basin; most of the tides for the remainder of the month are above this so the basin should hold onto some water but the first week of February should see the basin completely drained until the tides pick up during the second week of the month. Tufted Duck numbers have dropped off with just 27 on the basin this morning and one at Bow Creek; Shelduck numbers are also down with eight on the basin and none elsewhere, Common Teal were well scattered with 234 counted throughout  the site but there was no sign of the female Pintail. The high tide roost held 16 Redshank and a single Common Sandpiper with two others roosting at two other sites further downstream. It was very quiet on the passerine front but a singing Grey Wagtail was of note and a pair of Linnets were in the ecology park. 

Sunday, 15 January 2012

A trip downriver

Apart from a Great Spotted Woodpecker seen by Gary, today was pretty much a rerun of yesterday, when I arrived Gary had just finished a 90 minute vigil watching the Thames for six Brent Geese seen flying downstream at Battersea power station by Dave Morrison, they didn't pass the basin and as not much else was happening we decided to head downriver to Gallions Reach. Compared to what we usually get at the basin it was a bit of a waderfest; a single Curlew and at least 35 Black-tailed Godwits were the highlights, the latter feeding close in affording us excellent views of a species that has yet to make it onto the lower Lea list; around 120 Lapwings were loafing on the foreshore just upstream of the Albert Basin and 45 Redshank were also present. Shelduck and Common Teal were both present in good numbers but no counts were made; a Sparrowhawk and a pair of Kestrels were also noted along with a nice flock of about 20 Stock Doves. Apart from the obvious attraction of the river there is plenty of good and varied habitat here and on quiet days at the basin I can foresee many more defections downriver to this underwatched locale that has the potential to deliver something really special.      

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Cold at last

The mild weather has meant that the yearlist is building slowly, the only addition this weekend was a flyover Meadow Pipit that was heard only, The good news is that it was very cold this morning, the patch carpeted with frost that promised much but delivered little. On the basin a flock of 11 Canada Geese was the largest gathering for a very long time, they were accompanied by four Greylags, the first multiple count of the year, the whole lot departed east in one flock mid morning, Mute Swans were also on the move, two separate flocks of three moved downriver early on. Shelduck numbers have dropped slightly, 18 were on the basin and two were at Bow Creek, Tufted Duck numbers continue to increase with 44 present today and Common Teal numbers were well up with circa 340 present at high tide, the majority on the basin while the female Pintail continues to add variety at Bow Creek. High tide was at dusk this evening and I just managed to count 18 Redshank and three Common Sandpipers before the light went. Apart from the aforementioned Meadow Pipit passerines were thin on the groung, a Song Thrush was singing in the ecology park at dusk and at least four Reed Buntings were feedibg in the pylon reedbed late morning.  

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Site record Linnet count

My personal best count of circa 40 Linnets mentioned in a previous post has grown to double that number and now constitutes a new site record for the lower Lea, 80 Linnets in flight is a wonderful sight and would be a good count anywhere in London. The only addition to the yearlist was Canada Goose, a pair flew in to the basin around mid morning but did not hang around too long, Mute Swans, which tolerate Greylag Geese, do not like these American interlopers.Shelduck numbers continue to rise, 23 were present on the basin this morning but unlike yesterday they remained in situ until dusk, Tufted Duck numbers were up to 22, the Greylag Goose (which stayed at the basin until just after 08:30 before departing west) flew in to roost late afternoon and the female Pintail was still at Bow Creek. A call from John Archer informing us that a few Kittiwakes were heading up the Thames had us watching the river for around 90 minutes, no Kittiwakes appeared but we did have a 3rd-winter Yellow-legged Gull drifting upstream and a good count of 65 Comnmon Gulls heading in the same direction. The wader roost held 16 Redshank and two Common Sandpipers but with Kittiwakes still on our minds Gary and I took the DLR to Gallions Reach, a few miles downstream, and, importantly beyond the Thames Barrier, which as well as stopping London from flooding also seems to prevent any seabirds moving further upstream, our tactics were spot on, within ten minutes Gary picked up a tight flock of four adult Kittiwakes moving west, a London tick for me which puts me on 269. We also had 180 Redshank moving downstream towards Crossness, 60 Lapwing roosting on jetties on the Kent shore, a Common Sandpiper, around 80 Common Teal and a Green Woodpecker calling from riverside scrub.  

Saturday, 7 January 2012

A pair of Kestrels

Cormorant at East India Dock Basin, 7/1/2012

No Kestrels were recorded at the lower Lea during the last quarter of 2011, in fact there were only four records of five birds for the entire year, the last being two on September 18th, so when Gary picked up a male moving east over Orchard Wharf being mobbed by two Carrion Crows it was added to the year list with some relief, then almost immediately I found a female hunting over the ecology park, we'll probably have to wait until the autumn for the next sighting. Other additions to the year list today were Mute Swan, a pair on the basin and Greylag Goose, one flew in to roost late afternoon. Shelduck numbers are well up with 14 on the basin, two at Bow Creek and three flying south; Common Teal numbers have also risen with 217 recorded throughout the site, the female Pintail continues to grace Bow Creek and 19 Tufted Duck were on the basin with a single male on the creek. High tide was just after midday and the roost contained 15 Redshank and three Common Sandpiper with a fourth just upstream roosting on a bankside ladder. Passerines included a Grey Wagtail, a singing Song Thrush in the ecology park and a Reed Bunting at the basin.  

Monday, 2 January 2012

Personal best Linnet count

Orchard Wharf, a disused gravel processing works lies immediately east of the basin; it was decommissioned in late 1997 and the following spring a pair of Little Ringed Plovers took up territory on a small patch of gravel and made three breeding attempts, all of which failed; the site continued to hold at least one pair for the next five years until weed growth made the habitat unsuitable. Black Redstarts also found this place to their liking and a pair are suspected of breeding most years although 2011 is the worst year I can remember for this species at the lower Lea. As it stands at the moment, partially overgrown with seeding weeds, it has become attractive to a roving Linnet flock numbering some 40 individuals, easily my best count here. These seemingly eco unfriendly pockets of habitat add variety to the mosaic of the patch and can produce some of the best birds to be found here and are not to be ignored. Six more species were added to the fledgling yearlist today: a Kingfisher at the basin, and what was almost certainly a different bird at Bow Creek, heralding an encouraging return to form for a species that was unaccountably AWOL for most of last year; a few Goldfinches in with the aforementioned Linnet flock; two Shelduck at Bow Creek and a third on the basin; a singing Song Thrush in the ecology park; three Reed Buntings feeding on phragmites at the basin and the female Pintail dabbling with Common Teal and Mallard at Bow Creek, the latter requiring a second visit late in the day after refusing to play ball early on. Common Sandpipers continue a strong winter presence, four were counted today, an excellent showing for January, at least 11 Redshank were also counted, all the waders were feeding on an ebbing tide at Bow Creek. There was a small movement of Woodpigeon mid morning, a flock of 29 moving high north-west; the Tufted Duck flock flock was up to 15 birds but it looks like both of December's Little Grebes have cleared out, this could be a tricky one to pull back unless something is done about the silt in the basin and that seems unlikely in the present economic climate. 

Sunday, 1 January 2012

New Years Day

The unseasonably mild weather has continued into the new year making for a fairly uneventful visit to the lower Lea. The most obvious species affected by the balmy conditions was Common Teal, usually at this time numbers regularly exceed 300. today I counted just 132 throughout the site. Tufted Duck numbers have also fallen off slightly with 11 present at the basin this morning. The high tides for the next week or so are going to be during the hours of darkness so getting an accurate count of waders is not possible, I had three Redshank and a Common Sandpiper but it's hard to know what the real numbers are due to the mild weather. An adult Yellow-legged Gull was on the Millennium Dome flats with several Great Black-backed Gulls also there and a Herring Gull of the race argentatus was at Bow Creek along with around 160 Black-headed Gulls. A pair of Linnets in the ecology park was the pick of the passerines with just singles of Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail and Jay the only others of note. All told I recorded 34 species today, one less than last new years day.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Christmas buntings

The Reed Bunting is a bit of an enigma at the Lower Lea, some winters it is very obvious and easy to find, others it takes on a wraithlike quality, slipping away at the edge of your vision making you doubt it was ever there in the first place. I haven't seen one for quite a while so it was good to see three, found by Gary, industriously feeding on phragmites seed heads at the basin. Two Sparrowhawks were seen today the first a female which drifted south over the basin, the second a probable male that came in low over Orchard Wharf flying inches above our heads before entering the eastern clump and dropping quickly to ground level in full hunting mode, easily the closest encounter I've had with this fierce little raptor. Wildfowl numbers were almost the same as yesterday with the female Pintail still showing well on the creek. Wader numbers were a little lower with six Redshank and two Common Sandpipers noted and the Kingfisher was still at the basin. 

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Kingfisher new for the year

Pintail at Bow Creek, 17/12/2011, the female from last year
returning for its second winter.

Long-tailed Tit at Bow Creek, 17/12/2011.

A flash of electric blue low across the water can be only one thing, Kingfisher, at last, with barely a fortnight of the year left I finally connected with this one time sure-fire banker this afternoon, given the appalling state of the Lea, years like this could become the norm rather than the exception. Things have picked up on the wildfowl front since my last visit, most notably the female Pintail has returned to Bow Creek for its second winter, feeding with Mallard and Common Teal beneath the DLR crossing at low tide. Most of the Common Teal were on the creek today and widely scattered with around 230 counted, a somewhat low count by recent standards. Six Shelduck were also seen, two on the creek and four on the basin and Tufted Duck numbers were up to 16, all on the basin except for one male dabbling with the anas on the creek. The Little Grebe mentioned in the last post has been joined by a second bird, both are incredibly wary, keeping close to the reeds. Seven Redshank and three Common Sandpipers were on the creek, numbers of the former are probably higher but there isn't a daylight high tide until later next week when more should be seen in the roost. Passerines included a flock of 15 Linnet on Orchard Wharf, a smattering of Chaffinch, a vocal Chiffchaff in the ecology park and a party of at least seven Long-tailed Tits feeding in the scrub along Bow Creek.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Second Little Grebe of the year

Roosting Redshank with two Common Teal
Bow Creek Ecology Park, 10/12/11.

A Cormorant takes advantage of engineering works
on the Docklands Light Railway, using the bridge
across Bow Creek as a convenient drying post.

The silting up of East India Dock Basin has had a detrimental effect on several species, none more so than the Little Grebe. Most years at least two birds are present from October to March but this is the first record at the basin this year, the only other record being a trilling bird at Bow Creek on January 3rd. Common Teal numbers continue to build with 358 counted throughout the site, my best count this period; seven Tufted Duck were at the basin, another species that has suffered from the silt. The wader roost in the ecology park held 20 Redshank and three Common Sandpiper but there was not much else of note, passerines in particular conspicuous by there absence on what was a clear crisp winter afternoon in east London.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Thames wader count

A late start today to coincide with high tide; Dave Morrison has again organised a co-ordinated count of all the wader roosts within the London Natural History Society area, from Bow Creek downstream to West Thurrock. Our meagre contribution was 12 Redshank and four Common Sandpipers in the usual roost and another Common Sandpiper roosting with Mallards on a large raft on the next meander downstream. Five Common Sandpipers is our best ever winter count although one or two of these birds might be migrants that have hung around because the weather is so mild, only one other locale reported a single Common Sandpiper highlighting the importance of the lower Lea as a wintering area for this species. Given the mild conditions not much else was seen but two Grey Wagtails and a smart male Chaffinch were notable on the passerine front. Below is a summary of the counts from all the known roosts.

Bow Creek
Redshank: 12
Common Sandpiper: 5

Barking Outfall
Dunlin: 2
Black-tailed Godwit: 10
Curlew: 2
Redshank: 87

Barking Bay
Lapwing: 46
Curlew: 6

Lapwing: 103
Dunlin: 940
Black-tailed Godwit: 19
Redshank: 420

Common Sandpiper: 1

Rainham, Stone Barges
Lapwing: 2
Dunlin: 5
Black-tailed Godwit: 4
Redshank: 32

Rainham, RSPB reserve
Golden Plover: 80+
Lapwing: 620
Dunlin: 400
Black-tailed Godwit: 550
Curlew: 1
Redshank: 435

West Thurrock
Oystercatcher: 8
Dunlin: 100
Common Snipe: 4
Curlew: 25
Redshank: 350

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The first kick of winter

East India Dock Basin looking west, 20:11:2011

Common Sandpiper and Common Gull at Bow Creek, 20:11:2011

Greylag Goose at East India Dock Basin, 20:11:2011

Blackbird at Bow Creek Ecology Park, 20:11:2011

The first visit to the patch in over two weeks and the unseasonable weather of recent days has been replaced by an all-enveloping freezing fog which has reduced visibility down to around 20 metres. The Sun almost managed to burn it off around midday, but it is too far south to have had much of an effect and the fog soon returned. River watching was a non-starter, the Millennium Dome, less than 200 metres across the Thames was completely invisible and the few gulls that were around were reduced to ghostly shadows; likewise the basin was completely enshrouded, I managed to count around 130 Common Teal there but the number could have been higher as the reed fringed north shore was not visible, another 30 or so were on Bow Creek and their whistling contact calls were never out of earshot, as if to reassure each other that there were others of their kind nearby even if they could not be seen; the only other wildfowl of note was a single Greylag Goose which sailed out of the gloom at the basin. At least four Redshank were at Bow Creek, they seemed not not like this weather, flushing noisily at the slightest provocation; a single Common Sandpiper was also there but was reluctant to fly giving me the opportunity to take the photograph above. Two vocal Chiffchaffs were in the ecology park, both looked like and sounded like normal collybita to me, two Grey Wagtails were also around the ecology park and a single female chaffinch was in the northern scrub at the basin.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Raptors salvage a quiet day

As has been mentioned on previous posts visible migration can be something of a hit and miss affair at the Lower Lea and today's session definitely leaned towards the latter with the only passerine migrants three Meadow Pipits heading south, but two overhead Grey Wagtails could have been migrants as the species has been a bit hard to find here recently. Common Teal numbered 162 and five Common Sandpipers were roosting, four on the Pura Foods peninsula and one in the traditional roost, but, surprisingly no Redshank were present. Two Sparrowhawks were also logged heading south and this fairly uneventful day was salvaged by three Peregrines indulging in a border dispute over Bow Creek; two of the birds were definitely a pair, the size difference very obvious even when they were way up, and the third bird was a tiercel, all three were adults; the pair eventually drifted off south towards the Thames with the lone tiercel circling off to the north-west.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

First Redwing passage of the autumn

I arrived at the patch shortly after dawn this morning for a planned visible migration session; it started off promisingly enough with three Fieldfares heading north-west and the first Redwings of the autumn, a group of nine moving west-south-west, the vanguard of a good movement which involved around 250 birds including flocks of 70, 60 and 30 west and 55 west-north-west. Finches were also on the move including at least three Chaffinch east, two Lesser Redpoll south, around 50 Goldfinch moving mainly south-west at tree top height and five Linnet south. Other species on the move included five Meadow Pipits and three Grey Wagtails, all in all not a bad session. Common Teal numbered 127 but there was very little else of interest on the wildfowl front, just three Mute Swans over the basin early morning. Finally seven Redshank and four Common Sandpiper were in the secondary roost on the east side of the ecology park at high tide.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

First Fieldfare of the autumn

Fieldfare at Bow Creek Ecology Park, 22/10/2011

Carrion Crows at Bow Creek Ecology Park, 22/10/2011

The sluices on the lock have been lowered and except for a small pool in the north-west corner the basin was completely devoid of water; the next few tides are of moderate height so the opportunity for re-flooding seems pretty remote at the moment; it's hard to believe that less than a decade ago Goldeneye was a regular winter visitor at this site. The reedbeds on the northern shore have been severely pruned with just the central section left intact; this could prove attractive to both Jack and Common Snipe if the weather turns colder, but it may have done for Little Grebe for this winter at least. Carrion Crow is not a species I usually take much notice of here, mainly because the birds are often widely scattered and hard to count but this morning there were about 45 gathered in two trees in the ecology park with birds coming in from all directions; the collective noun a "murder" seemed inappropriate here, it was an unseasonably sunny day, the birds were indulging in some entertaining aerobatics and it seemed as though they were gathering for a purpose so the collective noun for Rooks, a "parliament", seemed more fitting. The high tide roost was disappointingly empty so I made my way to the northern end of the Pura Foods peninsula where Common Sandpipers have been roosting lately, it was also empty but the good ship Renown, which was steaming sedately down the Lea, flushed seven Redshank and two Common Sandpipers from an unviewable part of the peninsula, the former the best count of the autumn so far. Common Teal were widely scattered with just 34 on the basin and 68 strung out on Bow Creek. Two Peregrines, an adult followed by a juvenile drifted east over the ecology park and may have been genuine migrants, they were the only raptors of the day. A grounded Fieldfare was in the ecology park and I managed to fire off the record shot above before it saw me and disappeared, a Song Thrush was also in the ecology park a vocal Jay was in the copse at the basin and three Chiffchaffs were noted throughout the site.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

First Redshank of the autumn

I managed a very brief pre-work visit from dawn this morning and immediately got on to a flock of 60 Woodpigeon moving west closely followed by two flocks of ten and eight heading in the same direction. Thinking I was in for a major movement I quickly made my way to my usual vis-mig point on the road above the northern scrub. Another flock of 41 went south-west followed by three north-east and 16 north, then it dried up completely with nothing moving in the next half hour. A comprehensive Common Teal count produced a total of 126, my first three-figure count of the autumn. A flighty Redshank at Bow Creek was the first of the autumn with two Common Sandpipers also there. Passerine activity was virtually non-existent, no warblers were heard or seen but above average numbers of Blackbirds were noted, around 15, mostly 1st-winter males, which were probably migrants.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Hottest October day on record

I made a brief high-tide visit late during the comparative coolness of late afternoon on what has turned out to be the hottest October day on record with the mercury rising to 29c in London. Seven Common Sandpipers were roosting on the Pura Foods peninsula, my best ever October count with a single Stock Dove also there. Common Teal numbers have dropped with only three at Bow Creek and around 50 on the basin, other wildfowl included four Greylag and five Canada Geese flying in to roost at dusk, but for the first time for as long as I can remember I could find no Tufted Duck. Decent passerines were almost non existent with a single calling Chiffchaff in the ecology park the only thing of note.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Barred Warbler double

Had you visited East India Dock Basin on September 26th 2006 you would have seen twenty or so birders gazing intently in to the northern scrub trying to get a glimpse of a Barred Warbler, only the 8th London record. Roll on exactly five years and the same sight greets you, a few less people maybe but a simply astonishing record. The bird was found by John Archer during his lunch break and the news was related to me by a slightly incredulous John who had just finished a weekend which saw him find a juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper in Kent and two Roseate Terns at his local patch, Crossness, clearly more ornithological stardust than one man deserves but I'm not complaining. I managed to see the bird briefly at around six o'clock before the heavens opened and sent me off home slightly damp but happy.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Common Terns on the move

It's been generally agreed that it has been a poor year for Common Terns, not only at the basin but across the Capital and beyond, so when Gary picked up the largest flock of the autumn, 26 birds followed by another flock of four, all moving west along the Thames, it was a cause for minor celebration. The first Northern Wheatear of the autumn was in the old gravel works and six Common Sandpipers were roosting on the Pura Foods peninsula, the highest count so far, and three Meadow Pipits flew north-east. Three Chiffchaffs, including one singing were the only warblers noted. Three Common Gulls were the first of the autumn, quite late by local standards, we usually have our first returning birds in mid August, other notables included around 85 Common Teal, mostly at Bow Creek, seven Tufted Duck on the basin and a Sparrowhawk, probably a female, flying south.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Great Spotted Woodpecker and Lesser Redpoll new for the year

Common Darter at Bow Creek Ecology Park, 18/9/11

Wildfowl at the basin this morning included a herd of six Mute Swans, all adults, two Canada Geese, 45 Common Teal with another 40 at Bow Creek, and two Tufted Duck. It was a good day for raptors with a Peregrine on the Millennium Dome and two each of Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. An almost surreal ten seconds passed as a Great Spotted Woodpecker, originally found by Gary, flew out of the northern scrub into the eastern hedgerow while simultaneously a Lesser Redpoll went over our heads calling, giving me two year ticks in a few seconds, the first for over a month. Two Common Sandpipers were at Bow Creek along with at least four Great Black-backed Gulls, five Lesser Black-backed Gulls, around a dozen Herring Gulls and about 200 Black-headed Gulls, but again, no Common Gulls were present. Passerines today included a small group of hirundines too far away to positively identify that were probably Sand Martins, three Meadow Pipits flying south, a Song Thrush, single Reed Warbler and Blackcap and at least seven Chiffchaffs, all very vocal. Finally several Migrant Hawkers were noted along with two male Common Darters and three Red Admirals passed through without stopping.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

A passage of Sand Martins

Speckled Wood at East India Dock Basin, 17/9/11

Fruiting Currant and Sloe bushes add some
early autumn colour at Bow Creek Ecology Park

The late brood of seven Mallard ducklings are still on the basin, they are the size of Common Teal now and for a moment I counted them as such as they were silhouetted in the morning sunshine, they seem to have lost their mother as well but appear to be doing fine; Common Teal numbers continue to rise with at least ninety counted this morning but only two Tufted Duck were present, the nasal-saddled Portuguese female was not one of them, she is probably en route to Portugal via northern France. A Peregrine was on the Millennium Dome and was the only raptor encountered today until I got on to a high-flying Sparrowhawk moving north about a quarter of a mile west of the patch. Plenty of gulls were feeding in Bow Creek on the falling tide, including at least 130 Black-headed Gulls, several juvenile Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and a juvenile Great Black-backed Gull, but, surprisingly, no Common Gulls. Migrant interest seemed to be limited to a single Meadow Pipit heard calling as it flew over the basin, until there was a late morning passage of Sand Martins moving west totalling 23 birds including a group of ten. The only warbler species today was Chiffchaff, at least six were present fairly evenly scattered throughout the patch and all very vocal; two Linnets were in the ecology park along with a single Goldfinch and finally, the Speckled Wood in the photograph was in the copse at the basin, the only other butterfly species noted was a single Small White in the ecology park and on the odonata front several Migrant Hawkers were noted throughout the patch.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Portuguese Tufted Duck returns

Tufted Duck numbers at the basin have risen from three to four since my last visit but the new arrival is the female Red-saddled bird from Portugal, last seen with the red-saddled male on June 4th. Common Teal numbers continue to rise with at least 85 noted today along with a very good local count of 169 Mallard; other wildfowl noted today were six Mute Swans, four at Bow Creek and two on the basin, and four Canada Geese flying south-east. A pair of Sparrowhawks were at Bow Creek including a female perched up on a fence on the Pura Foods peninsula, a Stock Dove was also there and four Common Sandpipers were at Bow Creek. There was a small passage of Common Terns on the Thames totalling 11 birds, most moving west, quite encouraging considering the paucity of this species at the Lower Lea this year. Passerine migrants were virtually non-existent with two Meadow Pipits flying south the only definite movers although two Linnets which stopped over briefly at the basin could have been migrants rather than local birds; the only warbler noted today was a calling Chiffchaff in the Ecology Park. Three species of butterfly were on the wing, several Small Whites, mainly in the Ecology Park and singles of Red Admiral and Common Blue, the latter a pristine male which suggests a recent emergence.