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Nature Club – March & April 2015

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: April 27th, 2015 | 0 Comments

March - Foxes and Frogspawn

We often see foxes in our gardens and roads so we found out a few amazing facts about them & drew some nice pictures. Three fox facts: Did you know that a fox can run at 30 mph? And its hearing is so good it can can hear a watch ticking at 40 metres away? And foxes use 28 different types of calls to communicate with each other? Then we examined some fresh frogspawn. It was very gooey like soft jelly amd had little black spots like eyes.We drew it. Will it look the same when we come back next month? We went to see it in the Cat and Dog Pond and we saw a heron flying away. Maybe it had been eating the frogspawn.. There were lots of dead frogs lying about which maybe were worn out after laying all that frogspawn. We looked at a pretty newt with an orange tummy and made drawings and models of it. Then it went back in its pond in Gill's garden...

April - Flower Bombs and more Frogspawn

In April the flowers in the little wood near Harrow Road are a riot of blue and white comfrey and green alkanet.These are flowers which come out in early spring before the leaves on the trees emerge and make the ground under the trees too dark and shady for flowers. We took apart some tulip flowers to find out what the bees are doing when they visit flowers. We found where the pollen is which the bees collect and we found next year's seeds at the bottom of the flower which the bees pollinate. Then we went a threw some flower bombs! These are clay pots which are full of wildflower seeds. You throw the pot, it breaks and the seeds scatter, and the pot dissolves in the rain later. We did a map of where we threw them so we can go and look in the summer and see if any thing grew. We had another look at the mass of frogspawn wriggling madly in the Cat and Dog Pond. The jelly we saw in March has collapsed and the baby frogs now have bodies , heads, tails and gills to breathe through, but no arms or legs yet. We will look again in May to see what they do next!

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Spring Whinchats in Wanstead

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: April 23rd, 2015 | 0 Comments

Whinchat Whinchat

After seeing this pristine-plumaged Whinchat on an unmown strip between blocks of football pitches on Wanstead Flats on Saturday morning (18 April) – and after Nick Croft’s great photos of the bird (which appear with this article) - I was inspired to look back over our spring records.

To put things in context, this gorgeous bird winters in sub-Saharan Africa and breeds in uncultivated, often damp, areas in north-west, northern and eastern Europe – though sadly no longer in London, where the last confirmed breeding was at Rainham in 1989. Pairs have certainly summered in that area since then, but for Wanstead its status is of a passage migrant in autumn and to a lesser extent in spring. Returning birds are regularly seen in some numbers in late August and September, when Wanstead Flats is one of the best London sites (with a peak count of 13 in 2009). Notably also, autumn birds tend to stick around for a few days.

Spring migration is much more of a rush and passage dates are more tightly concentrated. When trawling back through old bird reports I was surprised to find years when no spring birds had been seen at all, though we are hampered by a very incomplete set of local records. In the years 1976-81, during which there were published records, the only migrant noted in spring was a male on 8 May 1977. The recent picture is healthier, though whether that represents more individuals stopping off here on their way north – or simply much better observer coverage – is impossible to say.

One thing is clear: the male Whinchat found at the western end of the Flats by Dan Hennessey on 16 April is the earliest record we’ve had in the recent sequence of reports, dating back to 2009. Indeed, it could be the earliest record ever. It is also an exception to the rule of thumb that passage locally is pretty much confined to the last week of April and the first week of May. Assuming Dan’s individual and the bird found at the eastern end of the Flats two days later were the same (and they may well not have been), there have been five April birds and eight in May, with the latest being a male near the broom on the Flats on 11 May 2012 and a female in the same area on the same date in 2014. There have been seven males, three females and three unspecified. The best recent springs were 2012 and 2014, with at least three birds each, though there’s still plenty of time for that total to be matched this year! And the best places to look are on and around the broom south of Long Wood, in the SSSI and in the scrubby grassland opposite the Golden Fleece. And here’s to plenty more!

Tim Harris, 22/4/2015

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Spring migration finally gets going

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: April 14th, 2015 | 0 Comments

Common Whitethroat Swallow Grasshopper Warbler

After the early promise of Wheatears in mid-March, followed by a handful of Sand Martins and Swallows, and the establishment of territories by Chiffchaffs and then Blackcaps, not much visible bird migration was witnessed in the first few days of April. All that changed on 5th when two Red Kites and six Common Buzzards passed over our area, two more Wheatears appeared on Wanstead Flats and Meadow Pipits continued to trickle north. The trickle became a flood the following day, when 240+ were counted as they flew north. In fact, during the first week of the month alone, more than 420 Meadow Pipits were logged by the Wanstead Birders crew. The 5th also marked the start of a brief Linnet passage, with at least 45 noted moving north. The first Willow Warbler was singing on that date, to be joined by a sprinkling of others in the following week, but doubtless very few will stick around.

Fog on 9th forced single Golden Plover and Green Sandpiper to ground on the Flats, and the first Ring Ouzel of spring was found the following day. However, it was still pretty quiet until 13th when the spring’s biggest day count of Swallows (at least 10, not actually very many!) and another Wheatear were good, a Sedge Warbler at Alex was better and at least three Ring Ouzels (including two bright males, sharing their time between the SSSI and Long Wood) were the pick of the crop. The ‘mountain blackbirds’ delighted plenty of visitors by staying well into the evening.

The following morning Bob found the season’s first Common Whitethroat in the brooms. A short while later, Barry discovered a Red-legged Partridge in the same vicinity, and while I was doing some breeding bird survey work in the Old Sewage Works I heard the unmistakable sound of a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, the first spring record for our area. Later in the morning, three Tree Pipits were seen there and Dan found a male Common Redstart near Davis Lane School in the afternoon. Add to that list a sprinkling of Swallows and you have the recipe for a very good day. Let’s hope there’s plenty more to come.

Tim Harris, 14/4/2015

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The Wanstead Park consultation process: our response

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: March 10th, 2015 | 0 Comments

Shoulder of Mutton, WP Temple, WP

The Wren Group welcomes the initiative to develop a plan for the Park, and the opportunity to comment on it. While we do not agree with some of the proposals set out in the consultation, there is much to commend others. Our comments on the proposals as they are set out are outlined below, but much will depend on the detail as initiatives are developed. We would wish to be included and consulted as part of the development and execution of details as they arise.

While a vision for the Wanstead Park of the future should seek to draw attention to, enhance and provide interpretation for some of its most important historic features, pushing too far in this direction will damage the unique charm of the Park, as well as its natural history. This is something we have to caution against. On the other hand, some of the proposals actually offer an opportunity to enhance wildlife habitats and improve the aesthetic quality of this well-loved open space.

Priority projects

We will not comment on every proposal, only those where we think important points need to be raised now.

1c. Restore Heronry Pond. Re-line the pond to stop water leaks; restore channels and islands on southern edge; introduce new wetland and marginal habitats along edges of ponds and islands.

We see relining as most important but would like to input into the revision or development of marginal habitats as the detail is crucial to habitat protection and improvement. There are a number of habitat improvements that – while not fitting with the Park’s historical legacy – will improve Heronry and other lakes both for wildlife and for their aesthetic appeal. These include the selective planting of reeds and the creation of one or two tern islands in Heronry Lake.

1d. Create a visitor hub at The Temple.

We agree, subject to detail, but would seek assurances that the tea hut would not be forced to close. This is a local institution!

1e. Conserve the Grotto.

We welcome consolidation of the ruins but feel "access", while promoting visibility with interpretation, should protect the structure from intruders who may cause damage.

1f.Reveal vista along Long Walk (The Glade).

Extension of the long view to the former site of the mansion needs to take into account that nothing of the mansion or its site can be revealed simply by removing vegetation. The mansion would have risen up so high above ground level that it would have formed a focal point. However, none of the mansion above ground remains so its position can no longer be seen. Additionally, the rise in ground levels across the golf club prevents views of even the site from the Park boundary. That said, we do not oppose some limited opening up, subject to retention of significant trees and minimal removal of vegetation to achieve the desired aim. We suggest that some tall marker, for example a pillar, be placed at the mansion site, which could be seen in the long view down the Glade (Long Walk) to enable users to identify the spot from a distance and appreciate the landscape intention. Interpretation boards and special fencing at the see-through point would further indicate the previous vista.

1 g. Open up other views between the Park and the golf course.

The boundary vegetation with the golf course is a very important natural habitat. We do not wish to see this destroyed simply for some possible glances through to the golf course. We do not see the cost benefit creates sufficient benefit and would therefore ask extreme caution be exercised.

1h. Reveal mansion site.

We welcome improved signage and access.

1i.Reveal North Mount and South Mount.

We welcome, subject to minimal reasonable clearance as necessary, work to allow the stabilisation, investigation and interpretation of, and access to, the mounds.

1j. Reveal the Fortifications.

We strongly object to the loss of habitat. We consider benefits to the historic landscape would be minimal. These areas of land and water have developed over many years to be exceedingly important, especially for wintering waterfowl. The Park’s national importance for wintering Gadwall, for example, is in large part a product of this environment.

1k.Improve paths and access within the Park.

We welcome footpath improvements subject to appropriate materials design and drainage. We have no objection to a bridge which may make the Park more generally accessible, subject to detailed design. Access needs to be inclusive and would be significantly expanded by the introduction of natural informal seating throughout the Park to assist those with impaired mobility and encourage contemplation and appreciation of the Park.

1l. Improve all main entrances to the Park.

We welcome improvements to the Park’s entrances and consider that entrances and boundary treatment/features should be specifically designed to "signify" the special historic and natural elements of the Park rather than off-the-peg treatments.

1m, o and p.Improve access to Wanstead Golf Course, improve connections with St Mary’s Church, and improve access and wayfinding from the surrounding area.

We welcome all proposals to improve inter-linkages but would add a request for a permissive path around The Basin, which is an important area for nature, especially winter wildfowl. Views of The Basin from Overton Drive could be improved, and the historical relevance of the lake interpreted.

1q. Improve the integrity and appearance of the water bodies.

Whilst we welcome removal of invasive species, we would like to see more detail regarding what is proposed in the way of selective removal of vegetation. Again, natural habitat is a key feature of the Park and should not be destroyed without very good reason.

1r. Reveal islands in Perch Pond.

We support some dredging and maintenance to the immediate east of the dam where silting has occurred, but oppose the destruction of trees and other vegetation on the islands to reveal a former landscape at this point. Again, this area of wet woodland, small though it is, provides an important wildlife habitat.

1u. Improve links with the River Roding.

We agree to selective creation of access.

1v. Introduce children’s play.

We support appropriately designed and located children's play.

Longer terms priorities

2a. Improve vista along Long Walk.

We welcome the maintenance of the edges to Long Walk (The Glade) so that there is no further encroachment of vegetation onto the grass swathe, but we oppose the replacement of natural vegetation with formal planting. While it is a worthy aim to remove some of the scrub growth alongside the grassland, it should not be the intention to remove it all. The slightly ‘wild’ environment of the Park is one of its charms, not least in this area.

2b. Reveal Great Mount.

We consider this to be a low priority.

2c. Restore views. Clear vegetation in Chalet Wood and Warren Wood to open up lost historic views.

This would destroy habitats with a devastating effect. We would strongly oppose.

2d. Improve paths and access within Park.

Agree, subject to controls on dog behaviour on pathside grass. There is a danger that this will become an unhealthy dog toilet which will not only be unappealing but which will offset the positive effects (wild flowers growing the grass, with associated butterflies etc) through increased nutrient inputs. Again gravel path construction needs to be robust and have good drainage.

2j. Improve access and interpretation in Wanstead Golf Course.

A permissive path to The Basin would be welcome.

2k. Management of The Dell.

We very much welcome raising the water levels a little in The Dell.

2m.Management of Bush Wood: manage vegetation along rides in Bush Wood to open up views along former quincunx avenues.

We disagree, as this would unnecessarily destroy habitat.

Possible aspirations

We do not see the need to increase parking as there is plenty of on-street parking available on all sides of the Park and it would introduce a modern, alien feature into an area where natural habitat and historic character should be promoted. The CoL should also be encouraging the use of public transport and bikes to access the park and include cycle racks at secure locations.

We also wish to emphasise that for it to work any capital project requires a commitment that it will be sustained after the initial works by on-going revenue expenditure and/or voluntary contribution and work. To that end the CoL should have in place a works and maintenance strategy so that work by the CoL and various voluntary groups is coordinated toward agreed ends and on a day-to-day basis.

A Word copy of this response can be downloaded here: WPplan 2014 Response

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Spike in Shoveler numbers

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: March 10th, 2015 | 0 Comments

Shoveller - DGAs expected, the coordinated waterbird counts for the Wanstead Park lakes, Hollow Pond (Whipp's Cross) and Eagle Pond (Snaresbrook) conducted on Sunday 8 March for the British Trust for Ornithology showed that most of our wintering wildfowl have now gone. That said, a count of 56 Gadwall in the Park is still an impressive figure, even though it is less than 15 percent of the maximum at the start of the year. Eleven Pochard still lingered on The Basin, but there was little else of note in the duck department - apart from the Shoveler count. For the second March running, Debbie noted a spike in numbers at Eagle Pond, with 24 birds, and there were 17 in the Park. Even excluding the two birds that Anne-Marie noted at Hollow Pond, that makes a very respectable total of 43, the highest count of winter, suggesting that these birds are assembling prior to leaving for continental Europe. Maybe they are part of a slow eastward passage in anticipation of moving off to breeding grounds? We simply don't know, but it will be interesting to see if they stick around (unlikely) or if the pattern is repeated next year. Otherwise, there are clear signs that Little Grebes will be nesting again at The Basin and Shoulder of Mutton Pond (as well as Alexandra Lake), and both The Basin and Heronry Lake had a brace of Great Crested Grebes. A Kingfisher was briefly glimpsed by Perch Pond and James picked up two Little Egrets on the River Roding. Thanks to All this data provides a valuable resource for the BTO, so thanks to Kathy, David, Bea, James, Andrew, Haydn, Saci, Debbie and Anne-Marie for giving up their time on a Sunday morning. Tim Harris 10 March 2015

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Scrub clearance in the Exchange Lands

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: March 1st, 2015 | 0 Comments

004   A bright, sunny morning with a blustery wind saw a dozen Wren volunteers clearing bramble scrub in the Exchange Lands, between the River Roding and the City of London Cemetery. We do this activity every year to maintain the balance between grassland and scrub in the area. Both habitats are important habitats for insects and birds, but left unmanaged the whole area would become covered with brambles and we would lose the grassland wildflowers, several butterfly and moth species and birds such as Green Woodpecker. This was the last weekend practical work of the winter; birds are now starting to nest and we want to avoid disturbance. Tim Harris, 1 March 2015  

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Bird Surveys

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: February 27th, 2015 | 0 Comments

Breeding bird survey The Wren Group and Wanstead Birders will be conducting a full breeding bird survey of Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park during May. Dates have yet to be decided but if you are interested, please contact Tim Harris (tharris@windmillbooks.co.uk or 07505 482328) House Martin survey We have also signed up for the BTO's House Martin survey, which will cover urban parts of our area. If you would like to report nest-building activity in the boroughs of Newham, Redbridge or Waltham Forest, please get in touch - Tim Harris (tharris@windmillbooks.co.uk or 07505 482328)

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A tale of two waterbirds

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: January 20th, 2015 | 1 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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