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