A tale of two waterbirds

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: January 20th, 2015 | 0 Comments

Gadwall Moorhen Counters   Counting waterbirds on a monthly basis can be a bit of a slog at times. For a start, it takes several hours to get around all the lakes in Wanstead Park, let alone those on Wanstead Flats. The weather may be cold and wet, the paths muddy and sometimes not very much has changed since the previous month. Counting gulls on Wanstead Flats is particularly frustrating, regularly producing the classic situation where – close to the end of logging a large loafing roost of Common Gulls, 583, 584, 585 … a dog charges through the middle and disperses the lot. Right, where was I? 1, 2, 3, 4 … Despite this, the numbers produced provide useful information for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), helping them to evaluate which species are faring well and which are in trouble. Locally, we have a team of tireless counters, so during the winter months not only Wanstead Park and Wanstead Flats but Eagle Pond (Snaresbrook) and Hollow Pond (Whipps Cross) are covered. We also now have an almost complete record for the months of autumn, winter and early spring stretching back to January 2009. That makes it possible to look at trends and, maybe, draw some conclusions. Combined counts for Wanstead Park, Wanstead Flats and Eagle Pond can be compared now over seven WeBS counts. Systematic counting has only recently restarted at Hollow Pond, so a comparison cannot be made including that site. Browsing through the figures, trends for two birds jumped out at me: those for Gadwall and for Moorhen. Figures for the recent WeBS count produced record January numbers for both species.

The ‘Gadwall army’

The main concentration of Gadwall in our area is on Alexandra Lake and the lakes of Wanstead Park, all waters where there is plentiful weed for these ducks to eat. Numbers at Eagle Pond rarely exceed single figures. The rate of increase was slow and irregular in the first years of the sequence: 40 in January 2009, 24 in January 2010, 101 in January 2011 and 88 in January 2012. During these years, the peak counts were respectively 111, 86, 137 – and this is where things really start to lift off – 200+ in December 2012. Since then, the rise of the ‘Gadwall army’ (as former Wren newsletter editor Steve Swaby has dubbed it) has been seemingly inexorable, with 363 in December 2013 and 459 in December 2014. The 422 counted in January 2015 was the highest-ever January count, and the biggest count on a WeBS day. Gadwall was a pretty rare bird in London not that long ago. According to Andrew Self (The Birds of London, 2014), the average wintering population in London was only about 100 in 1970. Wanstead Bird Reports from the late 70s and early 80s mark it out as a local rarity. However, by the end of the century the London winter population was around 2,500, and Self describes an average of 600 in the Lea Valley in recent years. The peak count (at the time of publication of his book) he lists was 453 at Cheshunt GP in December 1989. A larger share of London’s birds is now wintering in Wanstead, but there is no obvious reason why. Clearly there is a plentiful supply of weed on which the birds can feed, and maybe the growth of weed in our lakes has made it easier for these attractive dabbling ducks to feed by upending. Whether other factors are involved – such as an increase in the continental populations from where most of our birds originate, or problems with the food supply at locations where they previously wintered – is not clear. One thing is certain, we should enjoy the phenomenon while it lasts because like pretty much everything in nature, numbers go down as well as up. Cutting of the weed in The Basin later this year may well impact on the numbers that lake can support next winter.

Moorhen success

Another success story, though much less dramatic, concerns Moorhens. Again, January WeBS figures for the years 2009-2015 show a consistent increase: 20, 21, 35, 44, 2013 figure lost by a careless recorder!, 66 and 80. And maximum counts for those years were as follows: 47, 56, 35, 65, figure unavailable, and 78 in 2014. Judging by the number of juvenile Moorhens seen on our lakes in recent autumns, I believe this increase can be put down to local breeding success. The species nests in emergent vegetation, where they are better protected than Coots’ nests, which are exposed stick islands, easy pickings for Lesser Black-backed Gulls. With the highest-ever January WeBS count for the species this year, I reckon we could be in for another bumper breeding season. Tim Harris 19/1/2015

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Rainham Marshes visit 11 January 2015

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: January 11th, 2015 | 0 Comments

WREN Awayday Rainham Marshes One of the most evocative sights of a chilly winter’s day is that of hundreds of Lapwings climbing into a bright blue sky, their underwings glinting brightly in the sun as they turn. This was something we witnessed several times on the Wren Group awayday to Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve on Sunday 11 January. The morning began with a beautiful Redwing perched up nicely near the visitor centre and the afternoon ended watching a roost of 25 Redshank on one of the stone barges near the Tilda Rice Factory (a lyric from a Morrissey song?). I love the juxtaposition of industrial and green landscapes, and this stretch of the Thames, with the former grazing marshes of Rainham and Aveley on one bank and the smoking stacks of Belvedere and Erith on the south shore have this mix in bucketloads. It was a day for watching ducks in their most brilliant plumages: Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Shoveler and Mallard. A day for walking the boardwalks with the occasional rather subdued burst of Cetti’s Warbler song as accompaniment. And a day for looking in vain for Bearded Tit and Water Rail ... Respite from the bitter wind came in the large new hide at the west end of the reserve, where two Stonechats performed well for the group. Before some of the group broke ranks and walked along the Thames path in search of pipits, a female Marsh Harrier rose to quarter the marsh to the west and a Kestrel passed overhead. The Thameside walk produced scant rewards – very poor views of one Rock Pipit - but it was a pleasant-enough diversion. Then it was back to the visitor centre for hot drinks before a final stop at the stone barges. The combined ‘day-list’ was 56 species, but it’s not about numbers; it’s about sharing time with like-minded people and enjoying nature in the heart of an industrial landscape. Thanks to Dave, David, Don, Eleanor, Gill, Hannah, Kathy, Linda, Nayna, Peter, Rosie for making the day so enjoyable. Tim Harris 11/1/2015 Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Gadwall, Common Teal, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pheasant, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Marsh Harrier, Kestrel, Moorhen, Coot, European Golden Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Common Snipe, Redshank, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Feral Rock Dove, Woodpigeon, Collared Dove, Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Robin, European Stonechat, Blackbird, Fieldfare, Redwing, Mistle Thrush, Cetti's Warbler, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Starling, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Linnet, Reed Bunting.

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Rare grebe drops in

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: January 7th, 2015 | 0 Comments

Slavonian Grebe - KHOn Saturday 3rd January Nick Croft found a winter-plumaged Slavonian Grebe on Heronry Lake, in Wanstead Park. The bird – which is intermediate in size between Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe – is still present at the time of writing. It has been diving almost constantly for small fish with, it has to be said, a great deal of success. This bird represents the first record for the ‘local patch’ of Wanstead Park and Wanstead Flats and has helped local patch-listers get the year off to a great start. In a national and European context, Slavonian Grebe is a scarce species. The British Trust for Ornithology puts its UK population at around 30 breeding pairs, while the estimate for Europe is between 4,800 and 8,000 breeding pairs. In the period 2004/5 to 2008/9 the population wintering around British coasts averaged just 1,100. A few birds are known to spend the winter months off the coasts of Essex and Kent and it is likely that this bird was displaced from coastal waters by the stormy conditions between Christmas and New Year. Will it stay? Probably not, but if it does we’re in for a real treat because the breeding plumage is spectacular and gives the birds its North American name, Horned Grebe. Other interesting sightings in the first few days of the year include a probable Woodlark with the Skylark flock on the western part of Wanstead Flats and a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in St Mary’s churchyard, Overton Drive. Tim Harris, 7/1/2015 Slavonian Grebe pic: Kathy Hartnett

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Top Gadwall site in London

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: December 17th, 2014 | 0 Comments

MoorhenGadwall Forgive me if I keep going on about Gadwall in the Wanstead area, but if you have something good why not shout about it? After numbers steadily climbed during the autumn I did wonder whether last year’s record total would be bested. Well, it has been. The fine efforts of Dan and Nick on Saturday 13th December saw to that. Dan counted 368 in Wanstead Park and Nick added 43 at Alexandra Lake, on Wanstead Flats, producing a magnificent total of 411. If you were to cheekily add Ann-Marie’s 21 on Hollow Pond – a little outside our core area, but not much – we have 432 of these fine dabbling ducks. Even without, the Wanstead ‘patch’ is presently the pre-eminent site in London for the species. Not that Gadwall represent the only waterbird interest. In the past week there have been nine Wigeon and 11 Common Teal in Wanstead Park, with good numbers of the other regular ducks and geese. Two Water Rails have been seen by Shoulder of Mutton pond. And, of course, there are Kingfishers, at least four different stripes of gulls, Moorhens (pictured), Cormorants, Grey Herons, Little and Great Crested Grebes, and Grey Wagtails. Take a look around Wanstead Park: it really is beautiful! Tim Harris (16/12/14)  

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New butterfly and moth report out

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: December 1st, 2014 | 0 Comments

Streak Moth Butterflies and Moths Report 2014 This year has been a memorable year for butterflies locally. Recent colonists Green Hairstreak and Ringlet consolidated and extended their range during 2014, and in addition to our regular species, Brown Argus was seen and photographed on Wanstead Flats (does it breed there annually?), as was Clouded Yellow. Though 2014 produced neither the moth species diversity nor the number of individuals noted in 2013, there were still around 200 species including many highlights. Numerous species were recorded in the area for the first time, including the continental form of Crescent Dart, possibly only the second record for Essex, on 12 September. Our local specialities - notably some of the oak and broom feeders - did not disappoint, and the moth season was extended late into the autumn by the mild weather. Rose Stephens managed to find several Streak moths (photo) on Wanstead Flats in November. Tim Harris    

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Gadwall numbers leap again 9 November 2014

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: November 9th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Common Teal Drake The November WeBS count for the British Trust for Ornithology is usually an interesting one, with wildfowl numbers building up as the UK benefits from influxes of dabbling and diving ducks from continental Europe. It was hard to believe the date was 9 November as we walked around Wanstead Park's lakes and ponds in glorious sunshine and with a temperature rising to at least 13 degrees. So warm was it, in fact, that a Red Admiral and ovipositing dragonflies were noted. Following our tried and tested route, around the Shoulder of Mutton pond and Heronry Lake, we noted increased Coot numbers since the October count, and a total of 17 Pochard and 16 Mute Swans on Heronry. There were a few Shoveler, Gadwall and Tufted Duck on Perch, and 87 Gadwall and nine Common Teal were counted on the Ornamental Waters. Some of the biggest surprises were on The Basin, where a count of 12 Egyptian Geese represents the biggest number ever noted on a local WeBS count. However, Tom the water bailiff estimated that there had been up to 30 in the previous week. Where has this influx come from? There were another 46 Gadwall on The Basin, along with four Wigeon. The third of the day's Kingfishers was at the Overton Drive end of the lake. Overall, in addition to the noteworthy counts of Gadwall and Egyptian Geese, the totals for Coot and Moorhen were also high. Thanks to Nick Croft, David Giddings, Kathy Hartnett, Jackie Morrison, Haydn Powell, and Andrew Spencer Combined with figures for Alexandra Lake (NC, in parenthesis), today's totals were as follows:
  • Mute Swan: 27
  • Greylag Goose: 14 (10)
  • Canada Goose: 165 (124)
  • Egyptian Goose: 12
  • Eurasian Wigeon: 4
  • Gadwall: 221 (28)
  • Common Teal: 10 (1)
  • Mallard: 118 (26)
  • Shoveler: 16 (5)
  • Pochard: 22 (5)
  • Tufted Duck: 51 (11)
  • Little Grebe: 13 (4)
  • Great Crested Grebe: 4
  • Cormorant: 2
  • Grey Heron: 6
  • Moorhen: 74 (34)
  • Coot: 278 (102)
  • Black-headed Gull: 74
  • Common Gull: 1
  • Kingfisher: 3
Tim Harris

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Fungus Foray in Bush Wood – 25 October 2014

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: October 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

019 058 095 On a lovely autumn morning, 30 people, a small baby and a dog gathered in Bush Wood for a fungus walk led by Tricia Moxey. Although Tricia warned that there was a possibility that there would be few fungi, she need not have worried. In fact, there was a group of Grey Fairy Bonnets right by where we had gathered! After that the group threw itself into fungi-finding with great gusto. With Tricia's advice and identification tips we were treated to a wide range of species - more than 20 in all. These included Red-cracking Boletus, more Grey and White Fairy Bonnets growing on the ground, and Turkey Tail brackets and clusters of orange Hairy Curtain Crust on rotting wood. Delicate Fan fungi were found on smaller twigs. We also saw such beauties as Amethyst Deceiver, Verdigris Agaric and Stalked Puffball. The walk ended at the northern end of Wanstead Flats with the magical sight of a group of Fly Agarics. Thanks to Tricia's informative talk, I think we all came away with a much better understanding of the importance of fungi for the natural environment. This value to the whole ecosystem highlights the dangers of the industrial-scale harvesting of wild fungi that is now taking place in parts of Epping Forest - and which must be stopped. Sharon Payne, 25/10/2014

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Nature Club October 2014

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: October 25th, 2014 | 0 Comments

IMG_2001 IMG_1997     Jordan Thomas who is an Epping forest Keeper brought along his collection of deer antlers and skulls to show us. We were surprised how heavy they were! There were antlers from British deer such as red deer, roe deer and fallow deer , though the only kind of deer we might see near here in Bush Wood is the little Muntjac, which is the size of a dog. Then we went out to look for tracks and signs nearby and we followed some interesting trails in the long grass, until we found a fox den and a mouse’s nest, and some very smelly mystery poos which we thought might be mink

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Bio-blitzing Perch Pond – 5 October 2014

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: October 23rd, 2014 | 0 Comments

BioBlitz_Oct14_002     As of 22nd October, the species list for the 5th October bio-blitz in Wanstead Park stands at 148, excluding plants and lichens. Probably the most popular activity on the day was the pond-dipping, organised by Derek McEwan. Derek almost had to be dragged away from the east end of Perch Pond, where he set up base, such was his enthusiasm for discovering what was in the waters of that lake. Derek's species summary makes fascinating reading. Summarising, he found:
  • 3 species of freshwater leech (subclass Hirudinea).
  • 1 species of horsehair worm (phylum Nematomorpha).
  • 12 species of molluscs, including a variety of freshwater snails and mussels.
  • 2 species of crustaceans, the most dramatic of which was a large American Signal Crayfish.
  • 1 species of true fly (order Diptera).
  • 9 species of water bugs, the most common being Greater Water-Boatman, and with four species of Lesser Water-Boatman.
  • 6 species of water beetle, including the fascinating Screech Beetle (Hygrobia hermanni), which let out an audible squeak when touched.
  • 6 dragonfly and damselfly species, including the larvae of Common Blue Damselfly and Red-eyed Damselfly; there was also a very late flying Black-tailed Skimmer.
  • 2 fish species, Perch and Roach.
Derek commented: "It’s always dangerous to make assumptions based on just one set of data, but there are some interesting general  trends. There seems to be a very good variety of freshwater molluscs in the Perch Pond, especially water snails and bivalves. Crustaceans, including shrimps, water slaters and Signal Crayfish, are also plentiful. On the other hand there were no caddis, alder or may-fly larvae, and very few Odonata larvae - even in the littoral zone at the margins of the pond. This is despite the pond-dipping always being attended by several flying adults e.g. Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters. There were also very few predatory water beetles with just one specimen of Acilius sulcatus and no Dysticus or Agabus species. I’m not sure if it’s because of the late time of year, or if the numbers of predatory fish are having an impact and the larger, more conspicuous beetles are not having the chance to reach maturity. It’s also possible that the algal blooms may be having an impact, but there’s enough clear surface water that I think it’s a little unlikely. The scarcity of Lesser Water-Boatmen (Family Corixidae) was also surprising, with just a few individuals found during the day. Although well-represented, there were also fewer Greater Water-Boatmen (Notonecta glauca) than I had expected and just a single Hesperocorixid and Water Scorpion (Nepa cineria). Again, I would have expected to find more in a lake of this size/water depth. Further studies should help – it would be especially interesting to compare the Perch Pond with the other lakes in the Park like the Shoulder of Mutton Pond, to see how water quality/invertebrate life varies across the site." The Wren Group is preparing plans to do more bio-blitzes in 2015. Watch this space!

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Waterbird numbers start to climb

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: October 13th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Tufted Duck Grey Heron   Every autumn it happens. But it's still exciting when it does – the gradual filling out of Wanstead Park's lakes with wintering wildfowl. Last year the clear winners were Gadwall, whose numbers peaked at more than 300 around the turn of the year, in the process establishing Wanstead Park as one of the key sites in London for the species. This year this unobtrusive dabbling duck seems to be at it again, with numbers logged on the WeBS waterbird count on Sunday 12th October reaching 101. It will be interesting to see how many more arrive in the next two months. Even more unobtrusive are Common Teal, which often tuck themselves away under overhanging vegetation in quieter parts of the Ornamental Water. WeBS counters found seven birds on Sunday but this species - another dabbling duck - is notoriously difficult to count accurately in Wanstead Park and I would not be surprised if there were already more there. A pleasant surprise was the presence of five Wigeon, two on the Basin and three on Heronry. This is a scarce duck away from the coast or the Thames. Odd birds sometimes  turn up in very cold weather, so to have such a number in mild conditions is something of an event. Many of our Pochard seem to have moved on, and my suspicious is that the September peak (74 birds) involved local breeders rather than an influx from continental Europe. Numbers of Mallard and Tufted Duck haven't yet started to increase noticeably. Other birds of interest included five Great Crested Grebes on the Basin, single Kingfishers seen on Heronry and near the Cedar of Lebanon, a good count of six Grey Herons, two Grey Wagtails and a Little Egret. The figures: Wanstead Park: 15 Mute Swan, 31 Canada Goose, 2 Greylag Goose, 78 Mallard, 5 Wigeon, 7 Common Teal, 10 Shoveler, 33 Tufted Duck, 21 Pochard, 4 Cormorant, 6 Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret, 136 Coot, 40 Moorhen, 5 Great Crested Grebe, 1 Little Grebe, 64 Black-headed Gull, 1 Herring Gull Hollow Pond: 7 Mute Swan, 94 Canada Goose, 2 Greylag Goose, 2 Egyptian Goose, 30 Mallard, 3 Shoveler, 17 Pochard, 16 Tufted Duck, 1 Grey Heron, 2 Great Crested Grebe, 48 Coot, 10 Moorhen, 68 Black-headed Gull, 2 Herring Gull. Thanks to David Giddings and Andrew Spencer for their able assistance to do the count, and to Nick Croft and Ralph Potter for additional records. We now have a regular counter at Hollow Pond, Whipps Cross: welcome to the team, Anne-Marie White! Tim Harris 13/10/2014

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