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Rainham Marshes visit 11 January 2015


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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January 11th, 2015

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Rare grebe drops in


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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January 7th, 2015

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Migrants in good numbers on Wanstead Flats


Common Whitethroat

BlackcapWillow Warbler

Wanstead Flats was at its very best for early autumn migrant birds on Sunday morning, 31st August, with a lovely selection of chats, warblers and flycatchers, and a few Swallows passing through. The good thing about the Flats is that the area holds birds … there is plenty of food and cover for them. Minimum counts this morning from the Wanstead Birders team included 10 Swallows flying through, a Tree Pipit, 10 Northern Wheatears, 11 Whinchats, 7 Common Redstarts and 14 Spotted Flycatchers. Plus plenty of Common Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers.  All in glorious sunshine!

Tim Harris

Pics: Tim Harris

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September 1st, 2014

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Dragons on the Wing


Ruddy Darter

Ruddy Darter – Kathy Hartnett

Whilst walking along the east end of Perch Pond on 7th August, I stopped to investigate both the plants along the pond’s bank, and to watch the various dragonflies and damselflies flying along there. There were several of the various ‘blue’ damselflies, a Brown Hawker, a female Emperor Dragonfly (egg-laying), but the only one I managed to photograph was a red darter.  Closer examination showed it to be a Ruddy Darter, which is less abundant than the similar looking Common Darter.  The most obvious distinctions are that the Ruddy Darter’s waisted abdomen is more of a blood-red colour, whilst the Common Darter’s is a slightly paler orange-red, and is not a waisted shape, ie it is more straight.  Also the RD’s head is red, whilst the CD’s is brown; and the RD’s legs are black, whilst the CD’s are brown.  There are a few more ID distinctions, but to see them you would either have to look more closely at the creature – perhaps via binoculars – to observe its different markings, or study any photographs which you have taken later, and check them with a field-guide.

Two days later I found another Ruddy Darter, this time on Shoulder of Mutton Pond. A Black-tailed Skimmer and an Emperor were both ‘patrolling’ there, and there were several of the ‘blue’ damselflies.  Some of the blue damselflies looked decidedly shorter – and they turned out to be Small Red-eyed Damselflies, a fairly recent colonist in the UK.

Kathy Hartnett

 

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August 12th, 2014

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Butterfly hunting at the Olympic Park


Clouded Yellow

Clouded Yellow – Kathy Hartnett

Over the last couple of years, I have focused more on looking at butterflies, so today I visited the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, to see what I could find there of these beautiful creatures.  Conditions were butterfly-friendly, ie very sunny and hot, with lots of wildflowers still in bloom for them to visit for their fill of nectar.  During my afternoon at the park, I noted 5 Meadow Browns, 20 Gatekeepers, 2 Peacocks, 1 Red Admiral, 14 unspecified ‘Whites’, and 200+ Common Blues – definitely the most frequent butterfly-ers of the day!

However, my ‘star butterfly spot of the day’ was a Clouded Yellow – my first time seeing this particular butterfly, and by the end of my visit, I had seen 11 in total.  The only other yellow butterfly I had ever seen before was the Brimstone, but the Clouded Yellow is quite different – a deeper, ‘buttery’ gold kind of colour.  The Brimstone is a much paler yellow.  According to one of my butterfly guide books : “The Clouded Yellow is a well-known but unpredictable migrant to Britain, and occasionally arrives in huge numbers.  However, most years only a few arrive from the Continent.”  So, although not rare, it seems it is fairly uncommon to see.  It certainly made my day to see it, or should I say, them!

Kathy Hartnett

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August 4th, 2014

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Bat Night on Perch Pond


Pipistrelle in flight

Pipistrelle

On 31 July 2014, a Thursday evening, the group met at the Tea Hut at 20:30 for a Bat Walk in Wanstead Park. This was a little early, even damselflies were still about and the birds going to roost, but it was felt best to meet while it was still light rather than have people stumbling about in the dark. At about 21:00, there being no activity on Heronry Pond, the group of 29, aged between <1 and 70+, walked over to the dam at Perch Pond, bat detectors at the ready. A few minutes later a signal was received in the 20-25Khz range and shortly thereafter a Noctule was sighted about 50m up over the trees bordering Perch Pond, flying in front of the clouds that were lit by the waxing crescent moon. At about 21:30 things really began with the arrival of at least two Daubenton’s skimming the surface of Perch Pond in the moonlight, followed by the arrival of at least four Soprano Pipistrelles. At around 22:00 the Common Pipistrelles arrived and the group settled down on the dam to watch and listen to the show until at 22:30 when it was decided to call it a night and the group returned to the Tea Hut and hence home.

A really interesting and enjoyable way to spend an evening. Not only because of the bats but also just being quiet in Wanstead Park as it grew dark, with the clouds reddened by the moon after the sun had set gradually fading into the gloom. Hard to believe that Canary Warf is less than five miles away.

David Giddings

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July 31st, 2014

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An explosion of spring


Nature always finds new ways to surprise. On Sunday 14th April winter finally relinquished is icy grasp and it was great to be walking around without a thick coat for the first time in months. A group of Wren group members gathered in warm sunshine in Wanstead Park to conduct the last waterbird count of the 2012/13 winter season. Our first impression, looking out over Heronry lake, was how empty it was. Yes, there were lots of Coots on their stick-island nests. And yes, there were small groups of Tufted Ducks, the males resplendent in their black-and-white plumage, and loafing Mallards. But gone was winter’s flock of Pochard. And gone, too, were the record-breaking numbers of Gadwall that we’d grown so used to seeing. It did not promise to be a particularly dramatic count! But first impressions can be wrong. David had already seen two Brimstone butterflies by the time he joined us, and as we were walking around the old sewage works an Orange Tip flew past. We weren’t able to get good views of this early-season species but were luckier with several Commas in the area cleared by the practical work team during the icy months. Andrew had had the foresight to bring a camera and managed to get some nice shots of one of this species nectaring on some brilliant yellow Coltsfoot. As we worked our way up the eastern side of the Ornamental Waters we saw several more Commas and the day’s butterfly variety was added to later with a Peacock near Shoulder of Mutton. &amp;amp;amp;amp;nbsp; At the southern end of the Ornamentals a large mass of frog spawn got us all peering into the water. Sure enough there were several Common Frogs, some in amplexus, and at least two Common Toads. Then I heard a call of “Bat!” as Linda, Andrew and David saw what was probably a variety of pipistrelle flying through the trees. After an all-too-long winter in hibernation, bats are now desperately hungry and will emerge during the day to feast on any flying invertebrates. Not to be outdone, Pam saw a medium-sized fish, which she later identified as a young Perch. &amp;amp;amp;amp;nbsp; By this time we had successfully worked our way through all the classes of vertebrate animals. (Earlier, two sunbathing Red-eared Terrapins were spied on a log at the western end of Perch pond. OK, they’re not native to the UK but they’ve been here a long time and I think they’re still of interest.) &amp;amp;amp;amp;nbsp; Despite all these distractions our focus on waterbirds remained. Although we made no dramatic finds, we discovered that 16 Gadwall and seven Shoveler remained on the park’s ponds and lakes and that Little Grebes were paired up at both ends of Heronry and on Shoulder of Mutton. Also, that the Great Crested Grebes remained on the former lake. There was other bird interest, too. Three Swallows flew over during the course of the morning; we were able to watch a pair of Sparrowhawks displaying over Warren Wood; and a Common Buzzard, closely attended by Carrion Crows, drifted south over the Glade. &amp;amp;amp;amp;nbsp; All in all, a great morning to be out and about. It’s amazing what a splash of warm sunshine can do. &amp;amp;amp;amp;nbsp; Tim Harris Picture: Comma on Coltsfoot by Andrew Spencer STOP PRESS: 15 April: 27 Wheatear, 5 Common Redstart, 3 Whinchat, Ring Ouzel on Wanstead Flats.

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April 14th, 2014

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Battle of the falcons


merlin_peregrine

Any sighting of a Merlin is a cause for celebration but little did we expect the aerial show we witnessed on Sunday 23 March at Bradwell, on the Essex coast. As the Wren party walked south along the seawall, to the accompaniment of Corn Buntings, Meadow Pipits and Skylarks, Bob, one of the regulars at the bird observatory, picked up a female Merlin as it began a pursuit of a Skylark. The lark twisted and turned in front of us for more than a minute, the falcon attempting to follow each and every move. As Debbie pointed out, the falcon had a more cumbersome turning circle, but more rapid acceleration, so it was far from inevitable what the final outcome would be. Eventually the Skylark pitched down on the beach – and the Merlin dropped on it, grasping its victim in its talons and taking to the air again. Game over, I thought, but how wrong I was. No sooner had the Merlin claimed its prize than a Carrion Crow and a male Peregrine appeared as if from nowhere and gave chase. The crow quickly gave up, but the larger falcon was not prepared to let this free lunch go. For a couple of minutes the two falcons tried to outmanoeuvre each other. Nick Croft did very well to get a photo of this high-speed action. The Peregrine eventually bullied the smaller falcon into dropping its catch – and then dived to catch it in mid-air. We then watched as the Peregrine ate the unfortunate lark on the beach.

corn_buntingThere were other highlights, too. We saw six species of raptors, including male and female Marsh Harriers. At least 10 Corn Buntings included several singing birds. Impressive numbers of waders took to the air from time to time as they relocated before the incoming tide. These included a twisting, wheeling flock of over 1,000 Knot, their bodies sparkling white as the sun caught them. At one stage we watched Dunlin, Grey Plover, Knot and a Sanderling lined up side-by-side on an abandoned barge.

Even the skies were dramatic, with a series of hail squalls passing to the north and south of us – well, apart from the one that came right overhead and deposited hailstones in our tea! Thanks are due to Bob Pease from the observatory and Steven Swaby – former Wren newsletter editor – for their local knowledge. And to the Group members whose company made the day so enjoyable.

Tim Harris

Merlin and Peregrine aerial tussle, and Corn Buntings by Nick Croft

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April 1st, 2014

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Skylark and dogs can mix!


P1240009

On Saturday 15 March 19 people – and several dogs – took a closer look at the area of Wanstead Flats where Skylarks and Meadow Pipits build their nests and raise their young every year. Epping Forest keeper Thibaud Madelin and the Wren Group’s Tim Harris walked slowly along the main paths that dissect the area between Centre Road and the football pitches to the east. We stopped frequently to watch song-flighting larks and displaying pipits. Various aspects of the birds’ life-histories were discussed and, thankfully, when the sun came out they put on a good show. Early indications are that there could be at least as many territories as last summer but any number of things – not least poor weather and disturbance – could still spoil things.

The main message that Tim and Thibaud got across was that responsible dog care, which means sticking to the main paths and keeping dogs on the leash in the area of long grass east of Centre Road, can make a difference when it comes to these ground-nesting birds successfully raising young. If we lose the Skylarks and Meadow Pipits from the Flats we’ll all be the poorer. The City of London Corporation has assisted this effort with the provision of posts around the site – and in the next week there will be information signs as well.

Photo: Kathy Hartnett

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March 15th, 2014

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The Jolly Waders


(Kathy) P1230981

On Sunday 2 March members of the Wren Group practical work team donned waders and life-jackets to clear areas of Floating Pennywort (Hydrocotyle ranunculoides) from the western end of Perch Pond. This aquatic plant, which grows on the surface of the water, is actually quite attractive, so why bother? Well, it is not a native species but adapts very well to conditions in the UK. It is capable of growing up  to 15 metres from the side of a lake in a single growing season(that’s an astonishing 20cm per day) and up to 50cm thick. Smothering  the surface of a water body, that inevitably means the ecology of the lake, pond or ditch is dramatically altered. Other plants will be  crowded out, surface-feeding birds are denied a water surface to dabble in, and invertebrates in the water beneath are denied light.

(Kathy) P1230990The plant is a native of North America but, being popular with the aquatic nursery industry, has colonised many other parts of the world, including South America and much of southern Europe. Although warnings about the risk of colonisation were aparently voiced as long ago as 1936, it first really began to spread in the UK after being sold for garden ponds in the 1980s.

Floating Pennywort is not an easy plant to remove. Its fine roots grow from nodes and unless these are picked from the water they will simply re-grow. This is an  example of good old-fashioned hand-removal being more effective, certainly in small areas of infestation, than mechanical methods, which can simply spread the plant to other areas.

Contractors brought in by the City of London Corporation had cleared some large areas of the plant in late January, but we were able to tackle some of the smaller clumps in the area near the tea hut. We will now be on the lookout to see where it re-establishes itself,  since complete eradication is well nigh impossible. Having said that, work carried out to remove it from Heronry Lake a few years ago does appear to have been a complete success.

Tim Harris

Pics: Kathy Hartnett

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Posted on:
March 2nd, 2014

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