Welcome to my birdwatching blog. This blog will contain stories about my bird watching trips, interesting bird news and other tales that may or may not be bird related. I want to make it useful to the avid birder as well as those who may only have a passing interest in bird watching. I enjoy photographing bird life, common and rare through a spotting scope, not that they always sit still long enough for me. Being on the outskirts of North East London, my reports will not only cover my local patch of Redbridge/Waltham Forest, but also dip into deepest Essex, Suffolk, Kent and Norfolk.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Oh well, not exactly to BBC standards

Okay so this was probably a waste of my time and yours if you watched it but it will serve as one of those timeline moments when people will say "He’s come a long way since that early Bittern debacle, hasn’t he?"

Don’t hold your breath. I have a lot to learn here. Mainly, don’t let any over-enthusiastic birder trip over your tripod when the shout goes up. Also, make sure God moves the sun around so that you film something that can actually be seen. Finally, get a decent camera.

What’s amazing though is that the 3 or so seconds of the Bittern was in fact all anyone got that day. I really need the Bittern to receive his equity card and put on a real performance.

What this space. (Anything is better than watching this film.)

Music: Chord Left by Agnes Obel.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

A thing for Redheads

Some people think I’m married to the Lee Valley Park and they’re probably right. What they don’t know is that I have a mistress called Connaught Water. It’s the quiet one; the one no one would think of. Clever really. I get my hit of Mandarin Ducks here as well as the occasional Goosander and Red-crested Pochard. The forest edges tempt me with Nuthatches, Treecreepers and Marsh Tits. Heaven.

Sunday was cool, calm and crisp – real glove weather. I wanted an hour here as a female Smew had been seen for a couple of weeks on the lake and although a Smew was already on my 2014 list, I figured I could get a pic of this elusive sawbill.

My first circuit of the lake produced a smart drake Pintail (unexpected) and the usual Tufted Ducks, Shoveler, Teal and about 17 Manadrin Ducks, most of which were hiding in the fringes of the islands that sit on the lake making life difficult for birdwatchers. I stopped to chat to a City of London Ranger who had the task of making safe the hundreds of trees that had suffered in the recent storms. He had seen the Smew on Friday but no that morning. Brilliant. I pointed out the Pintail and left. I decided I had time for one more circuit (takes about 30 minutes if you watch stuff to get round).

Glad I did as the little minx was there: happily swimming among the Black-headed Gulls. I told the ranger but when we looked to the gulls, she had gone. After scanning the island fringes, I found her again and this time kept a beady eye on her. She was a beauty. The drake is an amazing bird and generally I think the redhead is dismissed a bit. Everyone wants to see the porcelain-looking drake but the redhead has a grace and beauty of her own and that does for me.
Redhead Smew

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Turning over a new leaf.

Most birders love Jan 1st. It’s the day we all turn over that page and start our new list for the year. We all have resolutions to increase that list: better it from the previous year: plan those trips with more determination to succeed.

I couldn’t chose my trip. It was decided the minute I volunteered to man the information point at the Lee Valley. I love it. I prefer it when the sun shines and unfortunately, the sun was nursing a huge hangover from the previous nights celebrations. In its place we had driving rain, blustery winds and a chill that went straight to the depths of your damp bones.

A rather soggy goose field
Through rain-splattered glasses I saw Redwings and Fieldfares sharing a ploughed field with about 20 Blackbirds and a pair of Song Thrushes. Jays and Magpies squabbled over winter food and huge Great Black-backed Gulls joined Lesser Black-backs and black-headed Gulls wheeling under the charcoal sky.

Most of the park’s species of duck were in attendance. Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall and Tufted Ducks were by the weir and frankly, enjoying the weather paddling in the flooded pools across the goose fields.

What is with rain or most specifically, with rain and wind. When they combine, they nearly always contrive to make their unwelcome way through the pillar box windows of the bittern hide. This makes it uncomfortable to sit for any period of time looking for Water Rail or Bittern. Optics get wet and unmanned windows are shut, blocking that extra light and visibility.

There was a nice drake Smew but distant and a couple of Water Rail teased everyone by dashing across the water channels giving only the briefest of glimpses. It was all new for the year but was actually just the same birds we saw the last time we were here. Didn’t feel very fresh or new.

Then, just as we started to think about giving up and closing the joint, the Bittern appeared slowly from the reed bed. And this time, instead of moving across quickly and disappearing for the day, this bird stopped and put on a simple display and gave us a chance to get a few shots of it as it watched the sky from the back of the reeds.

The rain and the wind and the cold were instantly forgotten. It’s funny what a bird can do. It causes birders endless hours of waiting, no shows and embarrassing mis-identifications with clumps of reeds but still, when it shows, we forgive it all that. Clever bird the Bittern.