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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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Save our Skylarks!


The Wren Group, in conjunction with the City of London, has produced a new leaflet explaining the key role that dog-walkers can play in conserving our valuable breeding population of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Wanstead Flats has the only significant populations of these ground-nesting birds within a seven-mile radius of the centre of London, but the numbers are becoming alarmingly small. Everyone agrees it is important that we do everything in our power to keep these songsters in our manor. Disturbance during the breeding season, between the beginning of March and August, could reduce the number of young our ground-nesting birds manage to raise. Since the life expectancy of a Skylark is just two years on average, our population could disappear if breeding productivity is low. Dog-walkers are sometimes unaware that when Rover or Scruffy charges through the areas of long grass to the east of Centre Road, or just south of Alexandra Lake, he or she could be inadvertently disturbing a female Skylark on the nest or a brood of Meadow Pipit chicks. For this reason, dog-walkers are being asked to keep their dogs on the leash and on the paths running through the signed long-grass area during the breeding season.

A group of Skylark-friendly dog-walkers are handing out the leaflets to explain the campaign. In addition, on Saturdays 1 March, 15 March and 29 March there will be a walkover of the area where the Skylarks nest to show dog-walkers what they look and sound like. Forest keeper Thibaud Madelin and members of the Wren Group will lead the walks. Meet at the Centre Road car park at 10:00. The walks will last for about an hour.

If you would like some leaflets, please text Tim on 07505 482328

Photos: responsible dog-walker Nayna with her dog Casper (T Harris); Skylark (J Lethbridge)

 

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Posted on:
February 28th, 2014

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Looking Good in Bush Wood


So often ignored, Bush Wood really does deserve more attention. Providing a green link between the north-western extremity of Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park, its mix of sweet chestnuts, oaks, hornbeams and stands of holly combine to form a kind of ‘magic forest’ sandwiched between Bushwood (the road) and Belgrave Road. Recent habitat management work carried out by the BARA practical work team (under the guidance of forest keeper Thibaud Madelin) has – among other things – removed invasive saplings and bramble scrub from the kidney-shaped pond. The pond already looks better, and with the recent persistent rain actually looks quite like a pond! It should certainly launch plenty of amphibians and damselflies into the world this spring.   The first week of the new year witnessed plenty of bird activity in the wood, with a Mistle Thrush, Song Thrushes and Stock Doves particularly vocal. Great Spotted Woodpeckers have been drumming and I saw a pair of Green Woodpeckers displaying to each other. This is a sight worth seeing, with the male and female facing each other and swaying their heads from side to side. A Woodcock was disturbed by runners on New Year’s Day and other woodland birds include a usually elusive Firecrest (maybe there’s more than one?) in the holly, at least two Nuthatches and a couple of Treecreepers. The last two species were once regular breeders in Wanstead Park but sightings have been few and far between in recent years, while breeding has not been confirmed for many years. We’ll be keeping our eyes on these birds, hoping that they re-establish themselves as residents.

  Why not pay the wood a visit? It can easily be accessed on foot from Bush Road, an alleyway from Belgrave Road, Bushwood and the playing field between Harrow Road and Lakehouse Road. One word of warning: wear boots because it is muddy at the moment.

Tim Harris

Nuthatch and Treecreeper by Nick Croft

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February 27th, 2014

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Preparing Chalet Wood


Beneath a canopy of brown, orange and even mauve leaves, the Wren Group practical work team finished the bramble clearance in Chalet Wood, in preparation for next spring’s bluebell display. This annual ritual ensures that visitors can enjoy the best possible show of these ever-popular flowers. While we were at work someone presented organiser Peter Williams with a Hedgehog she had found in an exposed position on a track, and Peter duly found a well-brambled corner of the wood in which to place it. This was the last practical work Sunday of the year, but we will reconvene on Sunday 5 January 2014, probably to clear scrub on the old sewage works site. Also planned for early 2014 is a session to clear invasive pennywort in Perch Pond. Watch out for details! Sharon Payne

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December 8th, 2013

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Wanstead Gadwall enter the record books


On Saturday 7 December a count of all Wanstead Park’s lakes produced a combined total of 307 Gadwall, a new record for the site. This comes just 10 months after the record was last broken, on the February WeBS count when Wren Group counters noted 258. With both Nick Croft and Dan Henessey reporting 200-plus of this subtly beautiful dabbling duck on the Park’s lakes during early December, it seemed right to cover all the lakes. About 150 were on Heronry, with small numbers on Perch, the Ornamental Waters and The Basin. Up to 1,700 pairs of Gadwall breed in the UK, but the winter population (October to March) swells to 25,000 as continental birds migrate to this country to avoid the freeze further north and east. As recently as 2009 the December total in the Park was only 111, so something is happening to encourage more of these ducks to visit us. They seem to have taken a liking to those parts of our lakes with overhanging vegetation, presumably because this offers them added protection. Favoured areas include the south side of Heronry Lake, the west end of Perch Pond, around the islands in the Ornamental Waters and around the fringes of The Basin. Our local wintering birds are quite easily spooked, usually swimming away – though rarely flying – if approached. What is gratifying to know is that we have more than 1 percent of the nation’s wintering Gadwall. This makes Wanstead Park a site of national importance for the species!

Tim Harris

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December 7th, 2013

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