Tuesday 23 March 2021

Yellowhammer finally makes the 2021 list

In my last post on Saturday I wrote that I hadn't seen the Owls since Tuesday and hadn't yet managed to find a Yellowhammer at Holyfield farm but on Sunday morning I found the Owls still present and again on Monday and I hear they put on a decent show Monday evening too. Today I visited the park and again failed to find the Owls so yet again I'm left wondering if that's them had a good feed before the big leave. Time will tell.

I walk the valley every day and the last couple of days has been no different, a quick check on Gunpowder for the Owls and anything else that may have come or gone then onto Hall marsh, Fishers Green and the surrounding area. Sunday I found a small flock of Redpoll and I've seen Raven, Water rail, Cattle Egret and Great White Egret in the last couple of days too. There's still lots of wintering ducks in the valley most numerous are the Shoveler with Wigeon still also present in good numbers. Goosanders are still on site and although I haven't seen them for a while I'm told both Smew and the female Ring-necked Duck are still around. I've also seen the three White-fronted Geese in the last few days too. Redwing linger but I'm not seeing Fieldfare now.

Today I took a different route after failing to see the Owls at Gunpowder park I walked down to Holyfield Farm where I found a beautiful pair of Yellowhammer singing to each other with another male heard in the distance. A Snipe was odd walking about in the Goose field and a couple of Shelducks were also present. Four pairs of Skylarks took flight whilst I watched the Snipe and a small flock of Linnets were busy around the fringes of the field. A Raven sat on the pylon calling.

Yellowhammer at Holyfield farm

Cattle Egret

Carrion Crow


The Herons are busy making little Herons

I see the Kingfisher almost daily but always at distance or just a flash as it passes

The gripping stories of birds I've missed due to the travel restrictions continue with news of an Eyebrowed Thrush that recently spent 49 days feeding in a front garden in Kent and on a more local but equally restrictive note I've missed Iceland Gulls at Amwell, Rainham and WANSTEAD this last few days which is obviously nowhere near as rare but the Wanstead bird is only six miles from home so could see me on a local twitch for it. No fewer than six Sea Eagles are drifting around the south and east coast and I'd very much like to be in the right place at the right time for one of these encounters and lastly there's the American Herring Gull at Newlyn in Cornwall that although a few hours from home would as a life tick probably stir the twitch impulse within me under more normal circumstance.

I continue to year list and I'm sure in years to come this account will be of interest to me at least as I recall the impact of the virus on our everyday freedoms. The 2021 year list is now 114.


Saturday 20 March 2021

Still walking still waiting

I'm still walking the valley each morning and I'm still waiting for that first spring migrant to arrive.

Yesterday I found a few winter birds lingering on the patch, Wigeon, White-fronted Geese and Redwings to name a few. On Hall marsh I saw nine Snipe but guess there were many more hidden in the reeds. I counted 35 Shoveler at Hall marsh and also saw them on many of the smaller pools around the park. The Cattle Egret and Great White Egret are still around and I had two pairs of Raven yesterday one early over Hall marsh calling as they moved towards Cornmill meadow followed by another pair (or the same pair) by the power station not far from Holyfield lake. Six Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk circled over the distant hills and the dung heap continued to attract Wagtails, Linnets, Pipits and Chiffchaff. A Kingfisher was seen as I walked the river towards Grebe Hide and a couple of Treecreepers entertained me for a while before my attention was drawn to a couple of Wrens having a right old sing off from across the river. I managed a few nice images of the bird on my side as it continued to sing to its rival.

The Wren (the UK's third smallest bird)










Still no Yellowhammer and still nothing new in except a pair of Oystercatchers on the small island on Holyfield lake.

Oystercatchers not seen before today

Year list now 113 
Just over a week now until the second phase of release from this winter of lockdown which should allow for some travel to different places and get the year list going again.
My ten year average is 274 and I'd be delighted to rescue anything like that in this crazy year.

I should also note that I haven't seen the Owls since Tuesday although I didn't look today. Have they finally gone after almost five months in the park?

Wednesday 17 March 2021

The coastal visit can't come soon enough

I'm still walking the valley most days, it's now over two weeks since I had my vaccine with just the one bad day following it and Monday will bring the three weeks threshold meaning I'd expect to have a fairly strong immune response should I be exposed to the virus. The government is set to announce the next step out of lockdown to commence on 29th March. The other home nations have already set out their next steps and most allow more freedom of movement and I can't wait for a little more freedom and hopefully enough to visit the coast. We started the year in tier four and that allowed for local movement so enabled me to visit Beckton and Rainham but since 5th January when we moved into a national lockdown I've just birded the Lee valley just a couple of miles from home with the exception of my outdoors social meet up at Cely Wood last week which is also within the guidelines.

The Long-tailed Skua in Sheffield would in normal times have attracted my attention as it's been showing well for the toggers over a few days. I'd also have liked to have visited the Rustic Bunting at Thursley that's been showing really well in recent weeks. Then there's the life ticks that I'd have chased in normal times which include the Mockingbird in Devon and the Social Plover in Cornwall. I'm about a hundred year ticks down on usual end of March numbers missing far too many to list but the one big local one is Yellowhammer. The farm I walk a few times a week has Yellowhammers and they are there I just can't find one and haven't even heard one singing yet.

For now I continue to stay local and celebrate the fact we've had some good birds on the patch this winter namely a couple of Short-eared Owls, a female Ring-necked Duck, Cattle and Great White Egrets and a pair of Smew.

The year list remains at just 112 ready to kick on as the spring migrants arrive locally or we get the freedom of movement we desperately need.

Cattle Egret eating a frog at Hall marsh scrape

A young Cormorant drying off at Holyfield Lake

The Hall marsh banded demoiselle sculpture

Dunnock on the fence at Fishers Green

Great White Egret at Cornmill meadow

Great White

The Heron that cleaned out my pond this week

Muntjac at Fishers Green

Red Kite at Holyfield farm

The Short-eared Owls still on site yesterday but no sign today

Squirrell at Gunpowder park

Water rail Hall marsh scrape

Wigeon on Cornmill meadow

Friday 12 March 2021

Lockdown blues

The Lockdown is really starting to test me now. I haven't posted on the blog since 28th February and that's pretty much because I have nothing new to say. I've been walking the Lee Valley still and seeing the same birds. The male Grebe seems to have decided on keeping just one woman now and they are currently building another nest after the first failed attempt. Kingfishers continue to flash by but remain distant. Herons are busy feeding and offer a small distraction to the boredom of seeing the same things each day. I found a small mixed flock of Redpoll and Siskin in the park which added a little excitment.

The Short-eared Owls seem to have departed unless they are again just hiding from this awful weather we're experiencing with strong North westerlies and rain dominating.

A few winter birds are hanging on, the red-head Smew remains on seventy acre lake and a few Red-wing are still present in the park with some now singing. The pair of Stonechat have not been seen for a while so could have moved on but the Reed Buntings are now in full song as are a few Skylark. I walked all the way to the reservoirs the other day and found a pair of Goosander on the navigation channel and a Raven towards the back end by the pumping station but haven't added a year tick for what seems weeks now so following a tip off  (thanks Shaun) of a fairly local Lesser Spotted Woodpecker which seems to be on territory in a small wood close to my sons house I arranged to have our socially distanced walk there this week and it was quite rewarding. Lots of Redwing feeding in the leaf litter and singing on occasion. Green Woodpecker calling, Great-spotted Woodpecker drumming, Nuthatch and Treecreeper also present and then as I watched a male Great-spot I chanced on the female Lesser-spot in the same tree. She later flew to a dead tree and started drumming and I could hear some calling too so it seems a pair are present.

So that's it for the last two weeks that is my highlight which moved to year list on by one to 112.

I'm seeing all sorts of good migrant birds returning and a few rarer vagrants too but all far too far away to be considered local and with each one my commitment to the stay home message is tested a little further. The schools returned on 8th March and the next release of measure comes on 29th March and for that I can't wait.

Cormorant reflecting on life

Heron (I waited an hour and it didn't catch anything)

Seeing a few Kingfishers but all quite distant

I've not taken a picture of the Owls since 27th February and haven't seen them since 5th March. hopefully they have moved on and have a good journey north. 

I have a commitment to keep too this year and thats to help my brother Jim through the 400 life tick barrier and he needs five birds for that so roll on the freedom to travel and watch this space.

The red-head on Seventy acres