Sunday 28 February 2021

Local birding helping me through lockdown

No new birds to report since the Velvet Scoters and Great Egret of the last week but I am thankful for the local green spaces that are helping me get through this long depressing lockdown. I have tried hard to remain local and sticking to the Lee Valley area of Fishers Green and Gunpowder Park a couple of miles from home but I long for a little more freedom with places like Great Amwell, Rainham and Rye Meads just beyond what I'd consider local. I'm geared up for the first lifting of restrictions on 29th March and plan a day at the coast come rain or shine so I can once again enjoy the passing sea birds like Gannet, Diver, Auks and Skuas but for now I continue to maintain my well being with good levels of exercise walking the park and enjoying the start of another breeding season.

Year list still just 111

Male Tufted Duck

Female Tufted Duck

Red Head Smew

Apologies for this one....not a fan of the Owl on a stick pic

Much nicer to see it flying

Kingfisher on the river behind the Bittern hide

Grebes getting ready to pair up and start nest building

Chasing a Coot 


Great White Egret at Gunpowder park

Great White

The new Bittern hide (might be a while before Bitterns return though after the build)

In other news I have my first Covid-19 booked for tomorrow morning!

Monday 22 February 2021

The coast comes to me

21st February and we're still in lockdown with local travel only so my much wanted trip to the coast has to wait but today the local twitter drums started beating to the tune of three Velvet Scoters resting on King George reservoir which is just inside my imposed local birding area so I popped over to take advantage of the London Tick. I quickly found the birds at the far end of the south basin.

The reservoir falls within the Essex and London recording areas but I've previously seen Velvet Scoter in Essex so just a year tick and London tick for this one but it was nice to get clear scope views of them. Lot's of Goldeneye still present and a single Greater Scaup.

Boris is due to announce some lightening of lockdown rules tonight so it may be possible for a little more travel at some point soon. 

Finally after concern for the local Short-eared Owls during the recent strong south westerlies where I did think they may be looking to move I was pleased to see both birds still performing well today too.
I had a remarkable experience with the young bird today whilst watching him he sat up on a bush a good distance from me but was mobbed by a gang of Crows and to my amazement he flew over and sat on the ground a few feet from me to escape them. I don't know if he picked the spot near me or it just happened to be that I was there but it was quite a thrill to have him fly in and land so close.

Just chilling and hiding from the Crows

year list now 111

Thursday 18 February 2021

More movement in the year list

A little stroll around Epping Forest this morning delivered two late year ticks with Coal Tit and Nuthatch. I also found a small flock of fourteen Lesser Redpoll high up the trees but still enjoyed seeing them so local with some sporting bright red chests.

The local Owls continue to keep me entertained with the young bird selecting a roost yesterday so that it was in full view to all who walked the main path sitting just a few feet away from the passing public. It spent the whole day mostly asleep as dog walkers, joggers and cyclists walked by. The dogs would occasionally get a bit close and prompt the bird to open half an eye and some people stopped to take pics with their mobiles some getting a little too close for my liking but the bird sat it out all day. When I returned this morning it had moved to a better roost spot where I'm hoping it gets less attention today. The other bird is better at finding roost spots tucked away and is not usually seen until it comes out to hunt at dusk. I had a single Great White Egret fly over last night followed by a Little Egret but have had no luck locating the Jack Snipe flushed twice by Roy last week.

Short-eared Owl

Skylarks were singing this morning and there's still good numbers of Redwing and Fieldfare present.
The pond is no longer frozen and today had sixteen Teal mostly males, four pairs of Gadwall, two pairs of Shoveler a few Coots and a Heron. 

I have enjoyed watching the park over the winter and through the Tiers to Lockdown and look forward to seeing what spring brings locally whilst remaining hopeful that we will soon be permitted to travel a little further and that further includes the coast.

Year list now 110

Monday 15 February 2021

Great Egrets in the valley

I can't remember ever seeing Great Egrets in the valley before now but today after a tip from Roy I connected with not one but two as they hunted along the reeds of the relief channel. A female Goosander was also present and seven Teal. The Owls remain present along with a male Kestrel and Sparrowhawk but neither seem to have a mate. Redwing and Fieldfare were hard to find today.

The large flock of Goldfinch continue to brighten the days and I'm even starting to appreciate the roosting Parakeets for their splash of colour. 

Goldfinch on giant teasle

Great Egret

Great Egret

Short-eared Owl


Year list now 108

Sunday 14 February 2021

Another local year tick

I haven't posted anything since 8th February but I've been out every day enjoying the fresh air, snow, ice and freezing temperatures. My local walk takes me to the top of a hill where the bitter wind really bites but it's also a place of some decent birds. I have also varied the walk a little which paid reward this week with a couple of Barn Owl although I've since returned twice to the same area and not seen any.

The cold snap has seen local numbers of Fieldfare and Redwing increase and it appears to have brought in some fresh Meadow Pipits with a flock of sixteen noted this morning. The park has a large flock of Goldfinch which feed on the the giant teasle and over the last few days I've flushed both Woodcock and Snipe with another local flushing a Jack Snipe a couple of days back too. The pair of Stonechat also remain on site.

Meadow Pipit


Vole with a Short-eared Owl (messed up the exposure in my excitement)

Short-eared Owl

Snow on the face

Sitting out a snow storm

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

SEO escorting the local Red Kite off the patch

A little territory dispute

Setting boundaries

I've seen  Barn Owl, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Red Kite and Short-eared Owls in the last few days and have enjoyed each one but particularly enjoyed the Owl escorting the Red Kite off the patch.

For the record the virus seems to be on the back foot again following weeks and months of Tiers and Lockdowns. We have family in Oregon that have now tested positive for Covid so our thoughts and prayers are with them as they battle through the infection but closer to home we continue to pray for the numbers to be low enough to allow us to travel again. Among the life ticks I've missed through lockdown now are the Sociable Plover in Cornwall and the Northern Mockingbird in Devon and of course the Kent Sparrow although I'm not sure this was ever twitchable. This week also saw a strange report of an adult Bearded Vulture in Norfolk.

For now I continue to keep my birding as local as I can but would dearly love a trip to the coast as soon as possible.

year list now 107

Monday 8 February 2021

You can't have too much of a good thing

I took a walk around the local park again this morning in the snow with temperatures of minus three when I arrived which had a much colder feel in the easterlies of the tail end of storm Darcy. I put on an extra layer pulled the snood up and the hat down and went for it. Both Short-eared Owls were hunting and both were seen to catch voles. They were again vocal and aggressive when they came close to each other. It has been a real treat to watch these Owls during their stay, I've become more familiar with behaviours over the last three months watching these birds but never tire of observing them. 

Apologies but I did take a few more shots today and share a few more here on the blog.

Light was challenging in the dull overcast skies and continual snow fall but I managed a few shots as the passed by and one even sat on the turf next to me to eat one of the voles it had caught.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

Lockdown has been difficult to say the least missing contact with family and missing travel of course but these two Owls have helped far more than they will ever know. I hope the park becomes a regular wintering spot for them in years to come but equally hope we never have another winter of lockdown like this one.

Year list still 106

In other news I had a Greenfinch and a Juvenile male Sparrowhawk in the garden this afternoon.

The Greenfinch used to be regular but it's been a while now since I saw one on the feeders.

Thursday 4 February 2021

Still two Owls

Having only seen one Owl on my visit yesterday and having not seen either Owl fly for two days I made another trip today in the rain . I didn't expect much activity but thought I might find both Owls sitting out the rain and I'm glad I did make the effort even if it was a bit damp.

On arrival I found one Owl roosting on the main path side of the original roost happily sitting out the rain a few feet from the passing public. Cyclists, dog walkers, joggers me and Paul, it paid none of us any attention. Eventually the bird decided to wake and flew to an old favourite perch to preen before taking flight where it was briefly joined by the second bird  to confirm that both birds are still present although they have had three very quiet days.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl preening 

Four fly over Wigeon the only other thing worth a mention today and I left pleased to have seen both Owls in the air again today.

February over the years

My last post looked at January over the years so it's only fitting that this one looks forward to February and what it may hold for me. 

We continue with a national lockdown during the third spike in cases from the pandemic and sadly today sees two of my Dads old pals funerals one taken early by the virus and one just by his age but both will I'm sure be missed by Dad equally. Both funerals are ironically at the same time and both have extremely limited numbers of guests with close family only attending but Dad has been given the option to call in and watch on line if he feels he needs or wants to. I told him he's paid his respects with his close friendship over the years so shouldn't feel bad about not attending but it's worth again taking a moment to think of all that have lost somebody close in this last year of the pandemic and the extra grief the restrictions place on everybody concerned. The Virus has taken over 100,000 lives and all have family and friends missing them. My thoughts are with everybody affected.

Birdwatching has been in the spotlight a bit again this week with Essex Police saying that it's a recreational activity and shouldn't be seen as "permitted exercise" Walthamstow Wetlands has also published a statement to say whilst the reserve remains open for walkers and cyclists it is closed to birdwatchers. Fishing and Shooting remain as acceptable past times in lockdown but birdwatching is not. I hear anecdotal stories of birders having issues with wardens and police but as yet haven't known anybody personally that's had issue whilst out. I write the above to record in the history of the blog just how strange these times are as I'm sure years into the future these restrictions will seem even more strange. You can sit on a river bank all day and can even drive to the venue without restriction, you can drive to a wetland and set up to shoot wildfowl but you can't drive to a venue and sit and watch the birds you can't even walk to a venue to watch birds within the law/rules/guidelines. 

With regards to my birding in February I have over the years had some nice encounters with the following being the best of the birds seen.

Yellow-rumped Warbler in County Durham which I remember well as the road was covered in snow on my approach. This was a bonus bird as I headed north for a work meeting.

Ross's Gull at Lodmoor was a fabulous find on a day I was already in Dorset

Ross's Gull

Laughing Gull at New Brighton was another bonus bird on a work trip "up north"

Laughing Gull

Lesser Scaup In Cardiff Bay

Pied-billed Grebe at Ham Wall in Somerset

Pallid Harrier at Roydon Common in Norfolk

Hooded Merganser (an accepted record at Corsham CP)

Blue-winged Teal at Man Sands in Devon

others include....

Three Penduline Tits, Two Hoopoes, Two Long-billed Dowitchers

Penduline Tit

Bluethroat, Green-winged Teal, Little Bunting, Richard's Pipit, Bonaparte's Gull, Glossy Ibis, Lesser Yellowlegs and Rose-coloured Starling.


The most common birds I year tick in February are Goshawk and Woodlark followed closely by Firecrest, Spoonbill and Great Northern Diver.


Other February birds include Crossbill, Purple Sandpiper, Red-necked Grebe, Willow Tit, Fudge Duck and Great-grey Shrike but none as regular at the Gos and Woodlark which are almost annually seen in Feb as first for the year. This year may be different unless we see a relaxation from local essential  travel.

Red-necked Grebe

I guess I'm going to struggle to add many more this February within the couple of miles from home I'm currently travelling but I'll keep looking and keep hoping. I'm sure there's a few local still to be found but I really miss days out like those above. 

Thankfully the local Owls are still on site although the last two nights they have chosen not to leave the roost save a couple of drops to the floor for small prey. This is a dramatic change in behaviour as they have been very reliable afternoon hunters since arriving. I and a couple of other local guys have followed these Owls since they arrived back in October, we have encouraged others to watch from a good distance and will keep an eye on the birds behaviour for as long as they are in the area.The local male Kestrel remains active and was joined by a male Sparrowhawk yesterday for a while otherwise little else to report. 

Year list stuck on 106

Life list stuck on 418

Monday 1 February 2021

Lockdown January

Covid case rates continue to drop, hospital admissions continue to drop but people are still catching the virus and sadly people continue to lose their lives to the damn thing. We now have cases of the new "South African" strain to contend with too. The vaccine programme continues at pace with over nine million people now having had the jab including my son who has a lengthy contract inside a hospital so has been vaccinated today. I hope things continue to improve and soon we can start to travel again as this local lockdown is tough and I still long for a trip to the coast.

Reviewing my year list for January it sits at a healthy 106 which is more than I expected having only travelled a few miles from home this year but when compared to previous years it's well short and can be mostly put down to missing those coastal trips.

My ten year average for January is 149 with a worst of 128 (2014) and a best of 167 (2020)                    I mentioned missing the coast and in all of those ten years I've never failed to see the following in January until this crazy year of continued lockdown restrictions.

Oystercatcher, Golden, Grey and Ringed Plover

Knot, Sanderling, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone

Brent Geese, Pink Footed Geese  and Bewick's Swans

Grey Partridge and Tree Sparrow

Common Scoter Red-breasted Merganser, and Long-tailed Duck

Fulmar, Gannet and Kittiwake 

Guillemot, Razorbill and Red Throated Diver

Black-necked Grebe

Corn and Snow Bunting

Hen Harrier, Barn Owl and Merlin

Bearded, Coal and Marsh Tit

Hawfinch, Nuthatch and Twite

Great-white Egret

Then there's the birds I see in January most years but not this year of local lockdown and these include




Whooper Swan


Great Northern Diver

Purple Sandpiper


Green Sandpiper

Slav Grebe and Red-necked Grebe

Red-crested Pochard.

Rough-legged Buzzard

So It's quite evident that I'm missing the coast and the large majority of the above could have been added if travel was permitted but I'm quite excited at the prospect of the time coming later in the year when I can connect with these birds. Let's hope we continue to drop infection rates and the vaccine roll out has the desired results in protecting the most vulnerable. I can see myself standing on the shingle bank of Dungeness watching Gannets, Auks and Divers. I can see the waders on the tideline at Titchwell, I can almost hear the Bitterns calling at Lakenheath and I know there's plenty of good days birding to come the minute we get the green light again.

In the mean time I'm extremely lucky to have the Short-eared Owls showing locally and yesterday I had a Woodcock fly over whilst watching the Owls. Today I had a really large mixed flock of Redwing and Fieldfare numbering a hundred plus. The resident Stonechats are busy and very mobile and the Corvid roost was very vocal tonight and it's great on the dull days to have the park virtually to myself to appreciate the sights and sounds it has to offer. The Roding is flooded and ruled out for walks so the park remains my go to place in these strangest of times. 

Year list now 106

Short-eared Owl

Onwards and upwards, keep safe guys.