Click on photos to enlarge, please do not copy photos without permission

Saturday 26 January 2013

Local Birds

The Green Woodpecker below is becoming a regular in the garden, the light was none too clever but managed to get a few shots of it before it departed.

On my way back from Parliament I popped into the Reservoir and got a few shots of the Ross's Goose, whether it is wild or not you cannot get anywhere near it.Fully feathered, unringed who knows?

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Barking Outfall

Monday January 21st

Beckton Sewage works has over the years supported a good number of wintering Chiffchaff, as stated in previous entries, I always seem to see or hear 2 or 3 birds.
This morning’s visit took me through the Tanks, these are large vertical structures which offer some protection from the snow in between and consequently some of the vegetation at the base was snow free.

I came across no less than 5 Chiffchaff all feeding together contact calling as they moved between tanks, this made me think, how many on site, the Sewage Works are massive. It is unusual to see them grouped like this in winter unless an autumn gathering is it just down to the weather? Moving on from here I parked up and came across another 2 together, 7 for the morning, I suspect the site holds many many more. 

With all local water bodies frozen over, the Outfall becomes a massive source of food for waders and wildfowl, with this you get a cold weather movement of birds you are not likely to see all year this far up the Thames.
I was looking for Scaup amongst the hordes of wildfowl, none present so I checked the mudflats.

Just a small section of  the Wildfowl

Grey Plover, Dunlin, Black Tailed Godwit and Ringed Plover all added to the year list, good birds that I don’t normally see at the Outfall other than the Godwit, this winter they are way down in numbers. 
Tufted Duck, Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler numbers have gone through the roof, around 150 of each with Teal the exception, easily 500+.

With the cold weather set to continue all week I will check again later, I suspect even more Wildfowl will arrive. 

Saturday 19 January 2013

Both sides of the Lake

As part of on-going surveys I visited my Essex recording area on Friday and then visited the Kent side on the Saturday, this is out on the Hoo Peninsula. In Kent we had an easterly biting wind making it feel like -8 on Saturday, with the temperature stuck at 1 above let me tell you it was cold. Standing in one position for 2 hours solid recording wader and wildfowl numbers is not the best way to generate heat and stay warm, my feet fell off.
However the results, especially on Saturday on the Kent side were worth it with wader and wildfowl numbers in my section far higher, if the numbers help stop Boris’s Airport all the better, the bloke is an idiot being advised by even more idiots to even consider it.

Essex side - Friday 

With the threat of snow in the air and sub-zero temperatures, all the dyke's and fleets were ice bound on my Transect; consequently the whole survey did not provide one Duck. It did provide many Snipe moving around and on the deck; it was in one such group that I flushed a Jack Snipe, always good to see.
The whole of the site seemed to be covered in Fieldfare and Redwing foraging, it is easy to forget at times like this how hard it is for birds, the weather is a killer.

Best sights of the day go to 2 Owls, both Barn and Short Eared were out hunting at mid-day, probably testament to the weather, both gave good views whilst quartering the fields.. 
The hard weather has also killed a few Sheep, likely old or sick animals and the local Foxes have taken advantage of this before they can be removed, I have never seen so many Foxes in one area, my count for the morning was 8.

Kent side – Saturday 

Surprisingly as Kent usually gets the worst of the weather compared to Essex, we found it ok to survey although like Essex most of the dyke's and fleets were iced up.

As we parked up at the end of the track, I spied behind Paul a herd of Swans, 12 in number coming from the west distantly, I went for the camera and Paul confirmed through Bin’s they were Bewick’s. The light and distance was absolutely dreadful but the record shots showed 8 adults and 4 immatures, we watched them for a good while and they were last seen flying strongly over Egypt Bay, a great start to the morning.

8 adults and 4 immatures going strongly east, even the Greylag flock didn't pull them in

Starting my transect showed that Golden Plover numbers inland were very high and when I eventually arrived at the sea wall after a 2 hour walk, it was obvious that wader and wildfowl numbers had increased on the foreshore. 
After 3 counts of Dunlin numbers I eventually arrived at a figure of 4700 birds stretching out as far as the eye could see, also unusually mirroring the Inner Thames, there were no Black Tailed Godwit, this winter they do seem light on the ground?
The Wigeon flock was the largest I have seen since recording the area, one vast flock and 2 smaller flocks eventually gave me a figure of 3200, a spectacular sight.

Just part of the Wigeon flock

A small section of the Dunlin flock

Again no Hen Harrier, last winter we had a Ringtail but not one sighting this winter sadly. 

Thursday 17 January 2013

The Outfall and a Valley Smew

On January 13th I headed for Barking Outfall, the temperature had dropped and this was reflected in the wildfowl present, the Outfall alone held over a 100 Gadwall, similar numbers of Shoveler, 63 Shelduck and around 450 Teal. With the colder weather forecast for the weekend I expect the numbers to climb even higher with Tufted Duck and Pochard piling in.

This was also my first visit to the site of 2013 so I was starting the patch list again, top bird for the morning went to a Green Sandpiper seen over on the Sewage works, very possibly the same bird that was seen on December 30th.Of the Black Redstart, again seen on December 30th there was no sign, I suspect it is wintering here, it is a big sewage works so easily missed.

I again saw 3 Chiffchaff, they are reliably always present every winter and a good addition which I did not get last year was Water Rail, a calling bird heard down the Creek. 

I finished the morning on 43, a good start, nothing really hard to get other than the Green Sandpiper and Water Rail but with the weekend I am hopeful of something on the river, Scaup springs to mind, if you talk it up they will come!

Drake Smew 

I got a phone call from Pete Breeze the Fishery Manager at the Valley late afternoon on the 14th saying he had a whitish Duck, after consulting his book he thought it was a Drake Smew. Arriving on site after grabbing the camera and bins quickly indeed showed a cracking Drake on arrival, to my mind the only better looking Drake would be a Long Tailed or Harlequin.

Unfortunately due to the late hour and absolute crap skies photos are only record shots, lucky enough a few of the regulars got to see it as it was gone the following morning.

As far as I am aware, it is the Valley’s first Drake, hopefully it won’t be the last. With this weather front pressing in we are also way overdue a Scaup, the Reservoir has got to be favourite, again like the Outfall I will check it over the weekend.

Well done to Pete for knowing he had something different, brings the patch year list nicely up to 65. 

Saturday 12 January 2013

Isle of Grain

January 12th 

As is becoming our habit, myself and Paul, if time permits before our Survey are dropping into Cliffe en route to see what’s in the area.
This morning we decided to go straight to the Alpha Pools at dawn which we last visited, I hope I have this correct, last winter to see a Red Necked Grebe.
Parking by the Church we walked out firstly checking the nearest lake, good numbers of Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck but nothing out of the ordinary on it, or so we thought. We then decided
to walk up the side of the lake, on the way we firstly had a Marsh Harrier which was then followed by a male Merlin sitting on the wall. Brief views were had, they never seem to stay still for long, we also heard a couple of Cetti’s Warblers.

Cresting the banks we found a massive Pool looking towards the River, this came up trumps with 7
Scaup, 2 adult drakes, 2 1st winters and 3 females. We also met a local birder who pointed out another drake, this was visibly smaller than the Pochard and Tufted it was next to, it did not look bad for a Lesser Scaup at distance. It has been seen well and close by other birders and its credentials unfortunately point towards a hybrid. It a pity we did not have the time to gain closer views, it would have been good to have had a good look at it.This chap( a big thank you) then put us onto 2 Little Stints on the 1st pool, always good to see even if the views were a little distant.

Female Scaup 

An excellent start to the morning so we headed for the survey site, it was now very cold with the wind more or less easterly coming round to north easterly, good river conditions hopefully. 
After covering our respective transects we both watched the river for 2 hours, the 1st 2 hours spent covering the site.

No less than 8 Marsh Harriers were seen; unfortunately no Hen Harrier but we did get Peregrine, a female Merlin and a Common Buzzard. The Greylag flock has now grown but still contains no ‘wild geese’, last winter it held both White Fronted and Barnacle, none so far this winter though.

My river watch highlights were 10 Red Throated Divers, an unidentified Diver sp (too far to id but a larger sp, 4 Kittiwakes, 6 Dark Bellied Brent’s and a Great Skua going out at 1.55pm.A well-marked bird with good wing flashes that had the Wigeon in a right old panic.

A lot of Wigeon

Bonxie going out

Male Marsh Harrier 'in off' Essex to Kent

A good day only marred by another low flying prat flushing one and all, even to the extent of panicking the Cows in all directions. 

Thursday 10 January 2013

The Valley Site List

Late last year both myself and Sam Shippey undertook a still on-going task of compiling a species list for the new Ingrebourne Valley website, see

Sam has every Essex Bird Reports starting from 1951 and my reports start from 1990 to date, this is when I really got into the birding scene. My years before 1990 were taken up by Moto X and motorcycling, I still follow this pretty closely although I don’t own or ride a motorcycle anymore.

Some of the records that have turned up for the Valley have been really good, it makes you realise just how different our countryside must have been for the quality and quantity of birds present in the past.
To date the List stands at 191, there are a number of star birds but a top contender could well be a male White Spotted Bluethroat seen at Berwick Ponds on August 30th 1970, seen by no less than 4 observers, a cracking record in anyone’s book. Additionally Les’s Pectoral Sandpiper and Shaun’s Penduline Tit are up there as contenders along with the 2 Temmincks and the Great Grey Shrike.

Red Backed Shrike is a real eye opener, in 1955 there were 4 pairs breeding in Hornchurch with 20 pairs breeding in Essex in 1960, the same year there was a flock of 200+Tree Sparrows on January 31st at Berwick Ponds. Very hard to comprehend but understandable given how much our countryside has changed with intensive farming and diminishing rural areas over the years. Having recently been to Bulgaria and its wide open unspoilt countryside and wall to wall Red Backed Shrikes, I have no doubt that this is as close as you can get to England of old.

Some species spend years avoiding you, my bogey bird for the Valley is Bearded Tit with Short Eared Owl not far behind, so far there has been no less than 8 records of Bearded Tit, some of groups and Sam still has 15 odd years to go so very likely more. The Valley has extensive reed beds, I suspect that they winter annually but are just not picked up.

The latest addition to the Valley list could possibly be the one day Ross’s Goose(Rainham bird) of unknown origin, it is assumed that it has to be an escape, the bird is unringed and you can’t get anywhere near it let alone feed it bread. Not one for the purists but definitely going down on my List. 

Ross's - got to be wild

Thursday 3 January 2013

Ingrebourne Valley

January 3rd 

I decided to give the Valley a go this morning feeling none too clever suffering with a bout of man flu, the best remedy is birding so out in the dark at 6.30a.m.My idea was to get the list up and running by listening for Tawny Owl and perhaps even a Woodcock over the marsh as it got light.
None of these materialized but I did have a number of Snipe lifting off the Marsh along with Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler calling.

The surprise of the morning however took place at 7.18a.m when a Bittern flew straight over my head going towards Berwick Ponds, in the dawn light I at first thought it was an Owl but then noted the dagger like beak and squat shape.

A very good start considering I never saw one last year; this was then followed up by a Shelduck and a female Wigeon on and over the viewing area. The Shelduck in particular usually don’t arrive until March/April so this was quite early; it’s got to be the mild weather.

Absolute crap light all morning - record shot of Shelduck

Berwick Glades was next with the list building nicely, here I added both Lesser Redpoll and Siskin and Jackdaw going over. 

At least 6 Goldcrest were seen and heard and another goodie was nailed in the shape of a Kingfisher, by now I thought I was probably around 54, this was the same as last year on my 1st day, so I headed for the Farm Trail.

Why can't Bitterns pose like this - always difficult in the Valley

Here I added Meadow Pipit and Skylark but rather oddly no Lapwing, I kept scanning as I walked down the trail and again got lucky with a Common Buzzard over in the Woods and 2 Yellowhammer going over.58 still doing well but I was on the last leg as I walked past St. Georges Hospital so was not expecting much more. 

As I approached the car House Sparrows were calling in the Bramble and 2 Collared Doves flew from the houses, 60 for the day a very good start.
No Kestrel or Sparrowhawk, it’s a sign of the times that you see a Buzzard first, very welcome.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

New Year's Day Barking Bay

Happy New Year!

Well were up and running for the new year, Christ it was good to see some sunshine for a change, it made all the difference considering what New Year’s Eve was like.
I met Paul at 7.30a.m and we decided to watch the mudflats and the river for a while to get the list up and running, all the regular birds showed like Teal, Redshank, Curlew and Dunlin but surprisingly Black Tailed Godwit was missing. Considering past winters when there are around 500 birds in the Inner Thames, as it stands at the moment there are only around 250, the mild weather is playing a part.

After getting the ball rolling we then worked most of the site, no rarities but a site tick in the shape of 3 Egyptian Geese going over, there are no lakes on our patch so these are hard to come by.

Record shots of the Egyptian Geese

Other good birds seen or heard included Cetti’s Warbler, Water Rail and another rarity for the site Little Egret, I didn’t get this at all last year. Despite flushing around 40 to 50 Snipe on our travels, we did not connect with a Jack Snipe despite a promising bird seen briefly going to ground.

This was once a road, like a lot of the site now flooded

We finished the day on 52 so not a bad start, just nice to be out birding in some sunshine.