Pochard numbers hit new heights

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: September 7th, 2014 | 0 Comments

[caption id="attachment_1172" align="aligncenter" width="558"]Pochard Pochard[/caption]

Last winter, Wanstead Park attracted record numbers of Gadwall. This year it seems to have hit the jackpot with Pochard. In recent years, this duck has adopted a habit of arriving in early September - before the build-up of other winter wildfowl, with numbers then thinning as the autumn progresses. This year they started arriving in late August and have, this week, hit record numbers, with more than 60 on Heronry. Joining them this week have been single Red-crested Pochard and Wigeon.

Tim Harris

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Migrants in good numbers on Wanstead Flats

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

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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Surveying small mammals

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: August 30th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Wood Mouse Pellet Analysis On Saturday 30 August, Darren Tansley, Water for Wildlife Officer for the Essex Wildlife Trust, demonstrated survey methodology for small mammals in the Old Sewage Works. Darren gave 10 Wren Group members some fascinating insights into the behaviour of voles, mice and shrews, and explained best practice the setting of traps so that animals are not harmed. Darren and Tim Harris has set 30 traps the previous evening and 11 of these had been used during the night. We found four Wood Mice (2 males, 1 female and 1 that escaped before being sexed!) and a single Field Vole. Six other traps had been entered, though there was no animal within; this is suggestive of shrew activity, with both Common and Pygmy likely to be on-site. Each trap has an escape hole for shrews at the back, because these tiny insectivores need to feed regularly or they will die. Darren later demonstrated how checking the pellets of owls and other raptors can indicate what species of prey are on-site. Examination of dental patterns and skull shape indicates whether the bones in a pellet are those of a shrew, mouse or vole. Thanks are due to Darren for sharing his knowledge with us, and thanks also to the Riding Stables for letting us use of their gazebo for the pellet analysis.

Tim Harris

Pics: Wood Mouse and pellet analysis, Tim Harris

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A Walk in the Cemetery

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: August 18th, 2014 | 0 Comments

Last Sunday saw a very well-attended walk in the City of London Cemetery in Aldersbrook Road. Run by Wren committee member Gill James the walk looked at some of the more unusual trees in the area with a little bit of history thrown in.

The cemetery was designed to be the ‘Cemetery in a Garden’ with a pleasant open aspect a world away from the doom and gloom of other conifer-ridden cemeteries. It was planted up with a majority of deciduous trees in order to give it a tranquil park-like aspect. Many people do not realise what a pleasant and expansive place this Cemetery is, with a wide variety of unusual and beautiful trees mainly planted in the nineteenth century, a large memorial garden full of roses, and some very fine Victorian buildings, all beautifully maintained and financed by the City of London.

The original design for the cemetery was the brainchild of William Haywood, who was active in the redevelopment of modern London. He was also the architect of the Holborn Viaduct scheme. There was a great need for more cemeteries to serve London at this time as the population had expanded rapidly since the beginning of the nineteenth century and the churchyards of the City were literally overflowing. It was not uncommon to find human remains scattered and bones gnawed by dogs. So Haywood was given the job of finding a suitable site for a new cemetery and he chose and purchased 200 acres of what was at that time Aldersbrook Farm. The purchase of this land, with its attendant grazing rights had an important knock-on effect for us, for it enabled the City of London at a later date to acquire Forest land, including Wanstead Park & Wanstead Flats, which would otherwise have been developed for housing.

A walk in the Cemetery is interesting in many different ways, not least to observe the variety and change of fashion in funeral monuments. Many people come to search out the graves of notable persons, such as Bobby Moore, Robert Hooke, and more recently Bob Crowe. But this really is a People's Cemetery, meant to accommodate everyone including paupers and murderers. Some of the most impressive graves are the Churchyard Removal monuments, necessitated by the clearance of some of the ancient churchyards in the City and the reinterment of the remains of thousands of our forebears.

Many trees which were once rare and special and were collected from far-off spots such as India, China and America, are now familiar to us because they are commonly planted in our streets, parks and gardens. An example is the Purple-Leafed Plum, well-known to us for its pink blossom cheering our streets in spring, but which originated apparently by accident in the garden of the Shah of Persia before 1880. How are the mighty fallen!

The Cemetery is a good place to look for wildlife: the mature trees attract a variety of birds and many urban foxes find a home here. Some areas are left unmown to encourage wildflowers, and we saw many harebells, but there is always pressure to find more space for burials.

Why don't you take a look ?

Gill James

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Dragons on the Wing

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: August 12th, 2014 | 0 Comments

[caption id="attachment_1105" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Ruddy Darter Ruddy Darter - Kathy Hartnett[/caption] 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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Butterfly hunting at the Olympic Park

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: August 4th, 2014 | 0 Comments

[caption id="attachment_1073" align="aligncenter" width="640"]Clouded Yellow Clouded Yellow - Kathy Hartnett[/caption]

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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Bat Night on Perch Pond

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: July 31st, 2014 | 0 Comments

[caption id="attachment_1097" align="aligncenter" width="508"]Pipistrelle in flight Pipistrelle[/caption]

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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An explosion of spring

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: April 14th, 2014 | 0 Comments

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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Battle of the falcons

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


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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Skylark and dogs can mix!

Posted by:wrengroup | Posted on: March 15th, 2014 | 0 Comments


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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