Welcome to the Buteo Wildlife blog, a record of some of the wildlife that we have been seeing and occasional identification articles that will hopefully be useful for those trying to learn about wildlife.

If you enjoy reading this blog, join us on one of our tours - days and weekends looking for wildlife. Visit our website for details: www.buteowildlife.co.uk
Note that tours with clients may not always feature prominently on this blog because we are unlikely to have time for photography when out with clients - and walls of text don't tend to make the most interesting posts. If there is time for a few snatched photos they may not always be of the highest quality - but we'll use them anyway!

To try and keep posts in chronological order they may sometimes be given earlier dates/times than when they are actually posted. Apologies, for this - it's not meant to mislead anyone (and we will try to avoid this happening too often).

30 March 2012

House hunting! (29th March 2012).

A short walk in the Strawberry Hill Ponds area of Epping Forest, found a lot of "house hunting" activity among the birds, with quite a few Blue Tits, Great Tits, and Nuthatches actively investigating potential nest holes. Bird song was also very much in evidence with males of many species advertising their claim for a particular territory and/or showing their availability to potential mates.
Grey Squirrels were also, unsurprisingly, very obvious, as was a Brimstone Butterfly which was out in the warm sunshine.

Reservoir reflections (24th March 2012).

In previous years I have lead pretty much all of the monthly bird walks arranged for the East London Birders Forum, but this year other people have agreed to lead the walks. This doesn't necessarily mean that I won't attend the walks and help out, but it does mean that I can take my camera along and there is no problem with me hanging back behind the group to try and get some photos!

This months walk was at Walthamstow Reservoirs, a complex of mainly small reservoirs that were constructed in Victorian times or soon afterwards. After those who needed to had bought their day permits we set off around the reservoirs on the south side of the road in bright sunshine. It was soon obvious to me that the bright sunlight, was producing some good reflections in sheltered areas, which looked like a good photographic opportunity:

Mallards: 'wild type' male, 'wild type' female, and one of the many different "manky mallard" variants - domestic Mallards that have been allowed to enter the wild population, resulting in ducks of all sorts of different shapes, sizes, and colours depending on the characters of the specific breeds in their ancestry. The one shown below is a female because it lacks the up-curled central tail feathers that all male Mallards have (and because it was paired with a male Mallard!).

Pochard: There weren't many Pochards around, although a few pairs tend to breed at the reservoirs each year, and only a single female came close enough for decent shots (most of the males were sleeping on the islands).

Egyptian Goose: There now seem to be pairs of these resident at many of the gravel pits and park lakes in the east London area, with Walthamstow being no exception. Some people like the way they look, others don't. I haven't yet come across anyone who like the raucous honking sound they tend to make in flight though!

Coot: One or two of these were also in areas with good reflections, and seemed to be finding that the glass like water surface made it easy to spot small insects which had managed to get themselves stuck in the surface meniscus. I watched one heading straight for even very tiny insects and delicately plucked them from the surface - I doubt that most of them were very filling!

All around the reservoir there were signs that the breeding season was well underway. Grey Herons and Cormorants, which both start nesting very early, already had well grown young in their nests.

Little Egrets were also occupying nests on one of the islands in the heronry, and were displaying and calling (a curious almost 'gargling' sound), they showed that they were in breeding condition with the long plumes on their backs, and because the skin on the lores (just in front of the eye) had turned to a pinkish-red colour.

Other birds were actively building nests, including Moorhens (with one pair seemingly building a nest near the top of a tree - which I'll try and check on at a later date), and this Long-tailed Tit, which was constructing its well camouflaged nest out of lichen and spiders webs in a dense bramble near where I took the photograph.

Other birds, like these Tufted Ducks, and a pair of Mute Swans, were doing what comes naturally!

When you add in the many different bird species in song (which included a couple of Common Chiffchaffs, and a briefly heard Blackcap, which could have been newly arrived migrants), and the abundance of insects, including Small White & Red Admiral Butterflies, and a few species of bumblebee, as well as the glorious warm weather, it seemed quite appropriate that British summertime was officially due to begin with the clocks moved forward an hour during the coming night!
The most unusual bird for the area was missed by most of the group, being seen by just a few of us who later had a look at the reservoirs on the other side of the road (still part of the Walthamstow Reservoir complex). A male Scaup  (or Greater Scaup to use the more international name) had been around for a while, moving between the different reservoirs, and we managed to find it on the Lower Maynard, associating with a few Tufted Ducks. The slightly larger size, and rounded head shape were obvious in direct comparison, and it was close enough to note other details such as the restricted black 'nail' on the bill, which is an important feature to check for to eliminate the possibility of hybrids.

22 March 2012

A stunning Yank, and the Forest of Dean (20th March 2012).

Another long staying rarity enticed Dave and I on a trip away from the London area, this time a New World Warbler, which should have been spending the winter in central America or the West Indies.
A 1st winter male Common Yellowthroat had been found near Rhiwderin, Gwent in mid February, presumably after crossing the Atlantic last autumn and successfully surviving the winter in south Wales.
Having seen photographs of the bird we were both interested in trying to see it, but had held off because it seemed to be elusive, and often very difficult to see (some birders reported having to visit the site several times, and/or only getting a few seconds worth of viewing).
In the end we decided that we would give it a try, and on arrival at the site at about 08.30 am, we found that a small group were already watching the bird creeping about in low brambles. We spent the next two hour or so with it in view for the majority of the time, usually creeping about on the ground under the brambles like a bright yellow-green Wren, and sometimes coming to about five metres of where we were standing. When it was lost from view it generally wasn't long before it advertised its presence with a quite distinctive, almost 'buzzing', metallic "tjip" call. The only downside was that it was an overcast morning, and its chosen patch was brambles underneath a stand of trees - so lighting was not great for photography.
We did manage to get some shots though!

The reason why it sometimes approached us so closely (too closely for me to focus on a couple of occasions) was that someone had put down a few mealworms. These seemed quite popular with the Yellowthroat, as well as with numerous Robins, Dunnocks, and Wrens.

Eventually we tore ourselves away from this stunning, and showy, vagrant, and headed for some sites in the Forest of Dean.
The birding highlight in the Forest of Dean was watching Goshawks from a well known viewpoint. Views were good and there was rarely long without at least one Goshawk in the air, but they were a bit distant. Most of the time there were also several Common Buzzards in the air as well, and there were Lesser Redpolls, Common Crossbills, Siskins, and other finches flying around, or in nearby trees. Elsewhere, in other parts of the forest, we found Nuthatches and Goldcrests to be numerous, and despite not having a great deal of time also managed to glimpse a Firecrest, and had a Hawfinch fly overhead.

In addition to birds we also found quite a lot of other wildlife. Not surprisingly, Grey Squirrels were common and widespread - and also seemed happy to pose for photos!

Other mammals seen included Fallow Deer, and of more interest to us, a couple of Wild Boar - not the best of views, but not something that either of us can say that we see regularly either!

The sun came out during the afternoon and this brought out two Red Admiral Butterflies, as well as a Common Lizard and a couple of Adders, the later basking on a south facing slope next to the path.

In the summer the Forest of Dean is a great place to see birds like Pied Flycatchers, Common Redstarts, and Wood Warblers- plus some of the wildlife that we saw on this visit.
Check out the tour calendar on the Buteo Wildlife website.

Cheshunt Gravel Pits (17th March 2012).

I was due to lead a walk around part of the River Lee Country Park for the London Natural History Society and, despite overcast conditions and showery rain, seven people turned up at the meeting point to join me. Mid March can be a bit of an 'in between' time, with many winter visitors already beginning to depart for their breeding grounds, and the bulk of the summer migrants yet to arrive
We did manage to find a mix of winter and summer birds, with Common Chiffchaffs singing almost everywhere we went, and a few winter migrants like Goldeneye, and Redwing giving good views. Most of the chiffchaffs will have been newly arrived migrants as few have been present in the area this winter.
Resident species added to the birds seen during the day, and included two Cetti's Warblers, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Egyptian Geese and Water Rails, the later giving some very good views to most of the attendees. Other wildlife included Muntjac Deer (Reeve's Muntjac), and various species of bumblebee, as well as some of the early spring flowers such as Lesser Celandine.

No camera with me today, so here's one I took earlier!
This Water Rail could potentially even have been one of the ones that we did see, 
as it was photographed from the same hide!

Mainly Gulls (19th March 2012).

Yet another Iceland Gull had been seen at Rainham on Friday and Saturday (16th & 17th), but this one was a bit different, and was something that I was keen to try and see - a Kumlien's Gull. Kumlien's Gulls are usually treated as a race of Iceland Gull, breeding slightly further west in north-eastern parts of North America than the nominate race (or 'typical' Iceland Gulls) which breed in Greenland, but are now often considered to be hybrids between Iceland Gulls and Thayer's Gulls.
Whatever they are, it didn't really matter because the bird didn't show at all today! There had also been no sign on Sunday, but I hadn't really expected there to have been, and didn't visit then, because the refuse tip isn't operational on Sundays so there are fewer gulls visiting.

There were still interesting birds to see, with at least two 2nd winter Iceland Gulls present, and seen frequently over the tip, bathing in the River Thames, or just loafing about with the hundreds of Herring Gulls, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, Common Gulls, and Black-headed Gulls.

Careful checking through the gulls here usually produces Yellow-legged Gulls, of which possibly about a dozen were present (all immatures)...

...and with a little bit of time and/or luck it is also usually possible to find Caspian Gulls - I saw at least two 1st winters, and one 2nd winter. Caspian Gulls (and Yellow-legged Gulls) can be easy to overlook, but once you know what you are looking for some Caspian Gulls at least can be picked out quite easily by their shape and stance. One of the 1st winter Caspian Gulls is on the right in the photos below.

Large gatherings of gulls are also worth checking for individuals that have been colour ringed. These rings are designed to be possible to read in the field with a telescope (or binoculars if you are close enough) and by reporting the code and ring colour via the BTO you can help to further the study of gull movements (the same is true for other types of bird). A Lesser Black-backed Gull that I saw while on holiday in the Gambia a month ago turned out to have been ringed on the Suffolk coast!
I managed to read the rings on four gulls, including the one below. There is a good chance that they were all ringed by the London Gull Group on Rainham tip and haven't moved anywhere though:

When I pulled my attention away from the gulls, other birds along the Thames foreshore included a pair of Oystercatchers, a Scandinavian Rock Pipit, and two Water Pipits. One of the Water Pipits was a very smart individual in full breeding plumage, with a pink breast and pale grey head. That one didn't allow itself to be photographed though, and I had to make do with a poor shot of this moulting individual:

Mike finds a local Iceland Gull (14th March 2012).

On one of his regular volunteering days at Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve, Mike was fortunate to come across a near adult Iceland Gull. There have been unusually high numbers of Iceland Gulls in the UK during the early part of 2012, coinciding with a influx into other parts of north west Europe and the Faroe Islands. Rainham Marshes has already attracted some of these attractive gulls this year, when they join other gulls scavenging on the nearby rubbish tip, but this one was a new one, as none of the same age (4th year) had so far been recorded at the site.
Other birds also present on the reserve during the day included, Cetti's Warbler, Pintail, Water Rail, and a Short-eared Owl which Mike saw while he was locking up the hides at the end of the day.

The New Forest and south coast (10th & 11th March 2012).

The New Forest is always an interesting place to visit because the mix of heathland and woodland habitats is good for a variety of species which are generally scarce elsewhere. An additional attraction was the presence of a few vagrant species, so Dave and I decided to take a trip...
After setting off late on Friday morning, we arrived at Calshot, a village near the entrance to Southampton Water, early in the afternoon, and it wasn't long before we found the bird that we were looking for - a male Spanish Sparrow. Although common in parts of southern Europe less than 10 of these have been found in the British Isles, although when they have turned up they have sometimes stayed for long periods. Considering the location of this one, it is very likely that it had somehow ended up on board a ship, and had then hoped off as the ship approached Southampton.

Superficially similar in appearance to a male House Sparrow, the Spanish Sparrow could be picked out fairly readily by the lack of any grey on the crown, extensive black markings on the underparts, and more obvious pale lines on the mantle. We did also see a hybrid male, showing intermediate characteristics, and were told by a local birdwatcher that there were a few hybrids around - suggesting that this male has been present for some time and has probably bred with one of the female House Sparrows.

Another shot of the Spanish Sparrow, with a photo of a typical male House Sparrow underneath for comparison (unfortunately we didn't get any shots of the hybrid male).

In the late afternoon/evening we visited a nearby site in the New Forest where a Dark-eyed Junco, from North America, had been present for some time. We had good views of this, as well as Raven, and Common Crossbills, but the light was too poor for photography.

After staying in the area overnight, we started a full days birdwatching in the village of Hordle, where a 1st year male Rose-coloured Starling had recently been found. It wasn't long before we had very good views of it on the roof of one of the houses, followed by even closer views when it dropped down to feed on the front lawn. It wasn't in the best plumage it could have been, but it was starting to change into its first breeding plumage, and it was also singing at times, giving a song that was very reminiscent of Common Starling song.

After the starling flew off we decided that we would try the Dark-eyed Junco again, and this paid off when it gave two other birders/photographers and ourselves a good chance to take some close up photos. We had already seen it quite frequently, and most of the dozen or so other birdwatchers that had been present had already left, satisfied with the views that they had been able to get.

There had been plenty of other birds to watch in the immediate area as well, with Common Crossbills in the trees, and also coming to the ground (presumably mainly for grit, although I did see one picking up fallen pine seeds) being one of my favourites. Other species included Peregrine, Raven, a very brief Goshawk, and Common Buzzards.

Nearby, in other parts of the New Forest we managed to find Dartford  Warblers, which showed very well but wouldn't come into camera range, Woodlark, and Eurasian Stonechat.

We decided that we would leave the new forest in the mid afternoon, and head along the south coast to Pagham Harbour in West Sussex, where there had been another rare bird present for a few weeks - a Paddyfield Warbler, which should have been spending the winter in India, or somewhere nearby.
This bird was a bit of a skulker, and again it wasn't until most other birdwatchers had left that it finally showed well, feeding at the edge of the reed filled ditch it was inhabiting. No photos unfortunately, because it just wouldn't stay still!
The different habitats, marshland and coast, naturally held very different bird species from the New Forest, and while waiting for the Paddyfield Warbler to show we were able to find a good variety of waders and other wetland birds, including Black-tailed Godwit, Knot, Grey Plovers, Little Egrets, Pintail and Brent Geese (Dark-bellied), as well as a small flock of Mediterranean Gulls, and a Short-eared Owl  - which passed almost overhead soon after we arrived.

We finished the day with a look over the nearby sea, where we found three Scaup and an adult Little Gull. All in all, a very good day and a half!