I recently bought myself a new Macro lens: a Sigma 150mm f/2.8, and a monopod to help stabilise it. So far I’ve tested it on the Banded Demoiselles around the close, and also on invertebrates at Fairlop Waters (Gatekeeper, Ruddy Darter, Brown Argus, Speckled Bush Cricket). I also took it along to Kensington Gardens, where one of the resident Little Owls was sunning himself out in the open. I also finally saw my first Nuthatch of the year here – a bird I’d normally get onto my yearlist in January.
It was around this time that we also had a quick wander around the reservoirs next door to see three Common Scoters that had been on the Lockwood for several days. We were extremely pushed for time, so I only managed very distant shots before needing to leave.
Next came a very productive Saturday with a few hours spent on Wanstead Flats. A number of early-autumn migrants had been reported in the preceding days, so we decided to have a look around for ourselves. The first bird of significance was a distant – and very brief – Common Redstart. In fact there was a pair of them, but we only saw them for a moment before they disappeared into some bushes. Next we found a Spotted Flycatcher on top of a tree, which flew out to grab passing insects a few times before relocating. We moved around the areas of long grass and spaced bushes and found two more firsts for the year: Whinchats perching on the thistles, and at least two Lesser Whitethroats in a bush. A Common Buzzard soared overhead as we made our way back to where we’d originally seen the Redstarts, and with a bit of persistence we relocated the male. Not easy getting a good look at him, but I did manage a partially-obscured photo.
The following weekend were back in Oxted for a Christening. I showed Jem around the town as she’d not really seen much of it before, and we saw a few bits and pieces flying around, but not much of note, although we did hear a Buzzard calling near to Mohammed al-Fayed’s mansion. Rabbits and squirrels made up most of animal sightings, but there was a Great Spotted Woodpecker high up on a tree by the railway line.
A week later it was back to some proper birding, and a full-on weekend of it. I’d bought some new Merrell boots as my old Mountain Warehouse ones weren’t really cutting anymore, and we decided to give Staines Moor a visit for the first time since the spring – spurred on by the news of the Barred Warbler that had been showing very nicely for more than a week. We arrived from the southern end as we normally do and had a very nice time watching a family of Hobbies hawking around. We eventually made our way up to the Barred Warbler’s location and were rewarded with great views, and we didn’t even have to wait long (#451 on the lifelist). Whitethroats and Redstarts were also seen amongst the same bushes, and we also had Chiffchaffs, Kestrels, Little Egrets and more. Towards the end of the afternoon we went through Stanwell Moor to look for the Little Owls that seem to be a regular sight, but unfortunately there were people tending to the horses in the paddock and the owls were nowhere to be seen. As we walked back through Staines Moor towards Staines for our train home we went slightly off the main path amongst the tall grasses. Two birds were flushed, the first a brown, long-billed wader that took off with a loud ‘gronk’ sound and flew in a twisting way into the sky, and then a similar wader, slightly smaller but otherwise almost identical, but with a more direct flight. A lot of mental note-taking was made and the results were Woodcock and Snipe. The Snipe was actually very easy to identify, but the Woodcock was flying directly away from us and so took a bit more effort. Once we were on the train home I went on Twitter to find out that the Barred Warbler had gone in to roost and the birders who had arrived late didn’t see it, but instead they had a Wryneck in the same bushes! Oh well.
The following day was spent as part of a group shown around Wormwood Scrubs by David Lindo. A Sparrowhawk and Kestrels were seen early on, and we enjoyed the Roesel’s Bush Crickets – a species I first saw in our back garden when I was a teenager – and there plenty of Swallows and House Martins flying through. A Whitethroat, several Whinchats and at least one female Redstart were also seen. Green Woodpeckers called as they flew from tree to tree. No Wrynecks, although David did show us where one had been seen several years back.
Since then Jem has been to the USA to visit her newborn niece, and last Saturday was my birthday which saw me go to see Sheffield Wednesday’s last-minute victory at Brentford, and then on Sunday we went for a family meal down near Lingfield. Little in the way of birding has been done on those two weekends, but the first Sunday saw me attempt to look for recently-reported Black Redstarts on the north bank of the Thames at Blackwall Basin. It was a failure, but I’ve recently started learning how to do timelapses and I managed to get a couple of those done in the Docklands area and posted here: https://vimeo.com/user44063137. Interestingly, on the Saturday afternoon I tried the first one from the end of our wharf and while I was in the middle of it a Kingfisher came up and perched on a nearby branch. There will be a separate post regarding my recent photographic exploits anyway.
Dad gave us a lift back to Croydon after the birthday meal last Sunday so we could get an easier train back to London, and on the way we took a little detour down some lanes. A gentleman named Jack Barnes has been reporting back from his local patch in the Warlingham/Woldingham area in the last couple of years, and he has taken a lot of outstanding photos. Growing up in Oxted, we have a reasonable knowledge of the area and I’ve worked out where he’s had great sightings of Short-eared Owls during the autumn and winter. Dad knows that particular area well and took us through on our way to Croydon, so any visits to the family over the coming months may have to coincide with a quick detour to see if the owls are around.
And so to this weekend. Jem and I had a bit of a lie-in yesterday, but managed to haul ourselves out of bed in order to get a few hours down at Rainham Marshes. A Sparrowhawk was the first bird of note as we waited at Barking Station for our train to Purfleet. The conditions were like none I’d ever had at Rainham before – almost no breeze at all, bright, warm sunshine, but a foggy haze that stayed almost throughout the day. We arrived in time to grab a late lunch – noticing the Harbour Seals on the opposite bank – from the visitor centre and then made our way into the reserve. Straight away we had more than a dozen Redshank on the pools in the south-east corner, and from the first hide we had several Snipe too. There was a surprising number of late dragonflies hawking on the boardwalk as we wandered westwards, and a pair of Stonechats – our first of the season – were flitting between bushes. A Kingfisher flew around us in a wide arc, and a Kestrel swooped directly overhead. there were at least a couple of Little Egrets, and a good flock of Greylag Geese around the northern edges. We had no luck with Bearded Tits this time, but we did instead get distant views of a Wheatear feeding on a low grassy bank. Another birder called out “harrier!” as a raptor passed us in silhouette against the late afternoon sun, I got a few shots of it in silhouette and thought little about it until later when I looked back at the photos and realised it was actually a Buzzard. We did get a distant female Marsh Harrier a short time later as we left the reserve and strolled along the riverside bank, and we also saw a distant flock of Golden Plover – our first of the year – and so it’s becoming clear that autumn is well and truly here…