Trip reports

Wanstead Flats walk on 14th Apr 2018

Wanstead Flats walk on 14th Apr 2018
Jeff Gooding

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Thanks to Richard for this write up:-

Always a popular walk this one, lead by local expert Tim Harris and what a lovely Spring morning it was. As we all set off from the car park, Tim suggested a little challenge for the walk to see if we could spot 50 different bird species!

We first checked Jubilee pond which had a mixture of wildfowl on it including a pair of Egyptian Geese which for a few of our group was the first time they had seen this species which appears to becoming more and more widespread across the south of England. Also on the pond was a lone Cormorant with outstretched wings taking advantage of the morning sun, while a lone Great Crested Grebe swam by looking splendid with its fresh head plumes. Nearby a male Blackcap and also a Dunnock sang away reinforcing their territories and in the hope of both attracting a mate.

We then made our way north over the area which has been designated a 'SSSI' and on crossing over Centre Road where we could hear that wonderful 'Summer' sound of a Skylark singing. This species nests in the rough grassland areas and despite heavy public footfall is a regular sight here. Hoping to actually see one, we spotted one bird foraging on the ground but it kept disappearing behind the small grass mounds. Tim suggested we move a little further along as we may get a better view of one and as we all spread out in a long line, there before us, just several feet away was a Skylark standing on a small ant hill singing his heart out. This male bird was certainly making the most of defending his small territory against other males in the area and may well already have had a nest site nearby. Everyone was delighted with this view especially when seen through a scope, you could literally see what it had for breakfast we were that close!

Meadow Pipits were nearby with birds sitting up on various perches using these as lookouts for potential predators. The male of these birds has a lovely display flight where he flies up high and 'parachutes' down singing as he does so. Incidentally as a side note, the Wren Group believe that these Skylark and Meadow Pipit territories are the closest ones to Central London!

We moved on and could hear a Reed Bunting singing close by and after a short while we found the handsome male singing from the top of a bramble while as the weather became warmer, Brimstone butterflies caught our attention as they fluttered past us.
We headed on further where another Spring migrant was spotted, a handsome male Wheatear in full breeding plumage with its black mask and bluish-grey back. Shortly after we saw at least three separate birds including the more plain plumaged female. At one point we had both male and female birds viewed together on the scope at the same time, which gave everyone a nice comparison of their plumages including a passing dog walker who was curious as to what we were all staring at!

Moving on, we approached a small copse in the hope of seeing a Little Owl, which is regularly seen here but no luck (it may well have been there and watching us though!). A couple of Ring-necked Parakeets were present and checking out an old woodpecker hole for a potential nesting site.

A Brambling had been seen in recent days over by Alexandra Lake, so we decided it was worth the detour from our circular route to try and see it. We scanned the trees on the lake's island with no luck but we did hear a Willow Warbler nearby and had good views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker clinging to the side of a tree as it searched for insects.
We also noted some more waterfowl here, including some Gadwall. This quite often overlooked duck actually has rather nice plumage on the male with its fine grey barring and speckled look, especially on a bright day like this. Also dabbling on the verges were pairs of Shoveler and a lone Little Grebe was also feeding close to the edge of the island. One last scan of the island trees and a female Blackcap was spotted high up feeding in the branches.

Returning back to the 'route', several Jackdaws were picking out invertebrates on the fields, their grey heads really showing well in the sun. Up until now we had not seen any raptors which surprised us for such a warm day, so we were pleased when a bird of prey was spotted a way off circling high. Size was difficult to determine at this distance but we noted it turning on tight circles so guessed at Sparrowhawk by its shape which we confirmed when we eventually picked it up on the scope.
Now adding to our short raptor list, a Kestrel sat in a tree, giving some of the group really good close up views as we finished our walk.

And did we hit the target of 50 species? ...well, we thought we were one short until comparing notes for this write up, we discovered in fact we did reach the magic number!

Thanks again to Tim for leading this walk and sharing his knowledge on the local flora and fauna!