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 November 2012

Skulking stars! (18th November 2012).

After a meal with family, I made the most of what remained of a sunny afternoon by spending a couple of hours in the River Lee Country Park.

A search of likely areas in the hope that I might find a late Common Darter or Migrant Hawker dragonfly still flying was unsuccessful, but I did have good views of a Chiffchaff and several Goldcrests. Both of these species manage to get through the winter by finding insects and other invertebrates that are still active - or are trying to 'hibernate'. Goldcrests, the smallest of UK bird species, are more common and widespread in many areas during the winter, with thousands crossing the North Sea to over-winter here, despite weighing little more than five grams.

Most of my time was spent in the 'Bittern Information Point' hide on Seventy Acres Lake, and it turned out to be very successful. The more obvious bird species included Cormorants, Great Crested Grebes, Gadwall, Grey Herons, and a variety of other water birds, as well as a Great Spotted Woodpecker visiting the feeders in front of the hide.

Perhaps of more interest though were the species that are usually present in the area during the winter, but which can easily go unnoticed. Common Snipe can usually be found hiding in the vegetation on the islands, and this was the first of the more secretive species that I managed to pick out. I had very little time to get others in the hide onto the two snipe feeding, quite openly for a change, at the edge of one of the islands, before I was distracted by the explosive "pik" calls of a Cetti's Warbler at the nearest edge of the reedbed. This showed really well for a surprisingly long while as it moved along the edge of the reedbed, before moving back into the reeds - out of sight but still calling frequently. Later on it also gave a couple of brief bursts of the better known song.
A Little Grebe came out from the edge of the reedbed to feed in open water in front of the hide, and as the afternoon progressed Water Rails became more vocal, with their pig like squealing calls, before one showed very well right at the edge of the reeds. Finally, to end the afternoon, a Bittern showed very well at the edge of a line of reeds further round the edge of the gravel pit - stretching up to its full height as if alarmed by something. It was a little distant, but with a telescope views were very good.

The country park is a good area to see all of these species, but you don't often get to see all of them so well within such a short period of time.

Chingford Reservoirs (17th November 2012).

The monthly Wetland Bird Survey count at the reservoirs found last months drake Long-tailed Duck still present, along with 23 Black-necked Grebes, and a noticeable increase in Goldeneye numbers. In addition, two Common Scoters (usually found offshore like the Long-tailed Duck), which had arrived during the previous week, were on the King George V Reservoir. Seabirds like these are most at home on open water so naturally head for reservoirs or the largest gravel pits when they find themselves inland.

Night-time Migrants (13th November 2012).

Many passerines (perching birds) migrate by night, and this means that they pass overhead unnoticed. Sometimes though they can be heard calling as they pass overhead.
I have regularly been hearing Redwings over the last few weeks, and tonight I heard the distinctive chattering calls of Fieldfares as well as the thinner "Tsseeep" calls of the Redwings.

Reservoir Ducks (14th October 2012).

WeBS count day again (Wetland Bird Survey), so Dave and I found ourselves at the Chingford Reservoirs.
A Rock Pipit was a scarce migrant, but far from unexpected on the reservoirs at this time of year, and the first of the wintering Goosander, a few Goldeneye, and a handful of Wigeon were also right on time. Far more unexpected was a superb drake Long-tailed Duck, a species that is more typically found on the sea than inland, and which is generally scarce around the coast in the south-east. Long-tailed Ducks are also unusual in that unlike the majority of duck species they have clearly different winter and summer plumages - this drake was largely in its winter plumage.

Beachy Head (9th October 2012).

A visit to Eastbourne provided a good reason to spend some time on Beachy Head to search  for migrants. I chose to try the area near the Belle Tout lighthouse, where a small patch of mainly Sycamore woodland was a likely location for Firecrests, and perhaps even a Yellow-browed Warbler.
The Belle Tout lighthouse - no longer a working lighthouse, but still a land mark.

On arrival a Peregrine gave a close fly past soon after we got out of the car, and a Common Whitethroat gave a brief burst of song from nearby scrub - I have no idea why it chose to sing at this time of year on a rather overcast and breezy day, but migrant birds do occasionally sing during the autumn!

House Martins had gathered to feed in the more sheltered area around the woodland, with more House Martins, large numbers of Swallows, and much smaller numbers of Sand Martins also heading east along the coast. We later found out, after walking towards the cliff edge, that they were also passing by out to sea, again heading east. Meadow Pipits, "alba" wagtails (Pied and/or White Wagtails which could not be identified to subspecies), and Skylarks were also visibly on the move, again mostly heading east, and smaller numbers of Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, and Chaffinch also passed over.
A view towards the newer Beachy Head lighthouse (the black specks towards the right hand side of the photo are Swallows heading east along the cliff edge).

Goldcrests were very easily found in Belle Tout Wood, and it wasn't long at all before we found the first Firecrest among them - a much brighter, stripy headed gem than the accompanying Goldcrests. In total we probably saw about eight different Firecrests and several dozen Goldcrests in, and around, the wood, all feeding actively, hovering to pick at the underside of leaves.

Good numbers of Chiffchaffs, a Willow Warbler and a couple of Blackcaps were also present in the woodland and nearby scrub, as well as large numbers of Robins and Dunnocks

Countryside Live (29-30th September 2012).

This has been an annual event in the Lee Valley for a the last few years, with a mix of family entertainment and groups representing countryside activities. This year the event was held at the Waterworks Nature Reserve, and the East London Birders Forum were there again to take people on short walks to see some of the birds present, as well as pointing out birds of interest at other times. Dave was on site on both days, I was there all day on the Sunday.

In total we recorded 51 species (49 on Sunday), which isn't bad for a small nature reserve in a built up area of East London - especially as the event was held in a grass field so we were only in the best habitats when we took people on walks. The complete list of species can be seen on the hastily put together 'sightings board' seen below:
It can be surprising how many species can be seen in a relatively small area!

The highlights included the first Redwings and Fieldfares of the autumn, a Hobby, and a constant stream of hirundines (Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins) which were heading south and south-west in small flocks.

A sunny autumn day (29th September 2012).

Twelve people joined me for this walk round the RSPB and Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust Reserve at Rye Meads. It was a nice sunny day so insects were very active, with Red Admiral Butterflies, and Southern & Migrant Hawker, and Common Darter dragonflies seen right from the start of the walk. One of the Southern Hawkers showed very well perching up and allowing the identifying features to be described and pointed out while it was in view.
Male Southern Hawker - note the broad stripes on top of the thorax, green sides to the thorax, and blue spots joined into 'bars' at the end of the abdomen.

The Water Bison and Konik Ponies used to graze the water meadows for management purposes provided a brief distraction, before we continued to explore the reserve.

Chiffchaffs were fly-catching for insects in sunny spots, and one was even tempted to sing for a while. A Cetti's Warbler also gave a couple of brief bursts of song but remained hidden. From the first hide we were able to find Shoveler, Common Teal, Gadwall, and other more common duck species, although most were still largely in their duller eclipse plumage. A male Sparrowhawk also showed very well perched for a while on a tall stick protruding from the reedbed.
Walking round the reserve we saw quite a few more Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers, as well as a couple of Brown Hawkers and a handful of additional butterfly species including Large White and Peacock. One of the Migrant Hawkers posed well to give a good comparison with the earlier Southern Hawker.
Male Migrant Hawker - the stripes on top of the thorax are very short (almost absent), and the spots at the end of the abdomen are separate. The sides of the thorax can't be seen in this photo, but are yellow with a black dividing stripe (see the Rainham visit toward the start of September).

The lagoon hides gave good views of a few Common Snipe, and distant views of Green Sandpipers, as well as Wigeon and a sleeping Garganey, among other species, unfortunately the Garganey barely raised its head while we were in the hide.
Kingfishers breed on the reserve, but had already fledged their final brood this year, so it was a bit hit and miss as to whether we would find one. We were in luck though, and a female Kingfisher showed well 'plunge bathing' by frequently diving into the water, between bouts of preening, when we visited the Kingfisher Hide. A Common Buzzard also showed from here, with a couple more seen later when we took the back route out of the reserve.
A couple of Comma Butterflies were sunning themselves near the turnstile leading out of the reserve, and to finish the day off we had good views of a Water Vole feeding in front of the Water Vole Hide (accessed from outside of the reserve).
A Comma butterfly, displaying the typical 'ragged' rear edge to the wings, and the white 'comma' mark on the underside of the hindwing which gives it it's English name.

On the move (19th September 2012).

Dave and I visited the Chingford Reservoirs (King George V and William Girling) today for the monthly Wetland Bird Survey count. Considering the time of year it wasn't surprising to find passage migrants moving through as summer migrants headed south for their wintering areas in Africa, as well as the first winter visitors.
A Northern Wheatear was on the banks of the KGV Reservoir, along with at least half a dozen Yellow Wagtails. More Yellow Wagtails were feeding around the edges of the William Girling Reservoir, as well as quite large numbers of Pied Wagtails, and a few Grey Wagtails - it is likely that some of these two species were also passage migrants, even though both species breed at the reservoirs.
Yellow Wagtails on the banks of the reservoir - the amount of yellow on the underparts can be especially variable at this time of year.

Swallows, and House Martins were also moving through in small numbers.

The wetland species that we had come to survey included 25 Black-necked Grebes and the first two Goldeneye of the winter on the William Girling Reservoir, as well as increasing numbers of Common Teal, and a few Green Sandpipers and Little Egrets.

Waterworks Nature Reserve (15th September 2012).

"Wild Place, Your Space" - a joint project created by the RSPB and Lee Valley Regional Park were having an event to mark the 'official' opening of the community wildlife garden at the Waterworks Nature Reserve, and I had agreed to attend the event to help to show people  some of the wildlife present on the reserve.

The event was well attended by members of the public, including members of the local community who had helped with the work involved in creating the garden - and a good selection of local wildlife attended as well!
A turf dragonfly created as one of the features in the wildlife garden. The plastic mesh making up the wings consists of plant pots intended to be planted with flowering plants that will attract bees and other insects.

The reserve is based around the old Essex Filter Beds, which are no longer used for their original purpose and are now managed for the benefit of wildlife. Introduced Edible Frogs are usually to be found in the filterbed's well-head and today was no exception, with at least three lurking amongst the floating duckweed. The wetter filter beds attract a variety of waterbirds, with Little Grebes among the most obvious of these today. At least two pairs have bred on the site this year, and both pairs still have chicks from late broods. Coot, and Moorhens, with young chicks were another favourite with some of the children who showed interest. Other birds included a Little Egret, Hobby, Sparrowhawk, and at least 12 noisy Ring-necked Parakeets - the later have been spreading into the area from their strongholds in south and west London in the last couple of years, and are now resident locally. 

Birding luck (8th & 9th September 2012).

During the afternoon of 7th September, a visitor hoping to connect with a Southern Migrant Hawker (or Blue-eyed Hawker), one of which had been photographed at Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve two days previously had seen, and photographed, a Baillon's Crake - a very rare bird in the UK, but possibly overlooked to some degree because of their very secretive nature. News was released late on Friday evening after arrangements had been made for volunteers and staff to open the reserve at dawn.

I arrived at the reserve at about 7 am on the Saturday (8th), but unfortunately reached the hide from which the bird had been seen too late after it had shown well first thing. Despite the fact that the hide remained full of hopeful birders all day, the crake was not seen at all after the early morning sighting.
It was a sunny day though, and even though the crake didn't show, there were plenty of other birds, and other wildlife, to see.
From the Shooting Butts Hide (built on the site shooting butts from the sites previous use as a Ministry of Defence firing range), which was where the crake had been seen, Little Grebes were feeding a late brood of chicks. The chicks did try and dive occasionally, but mainly waited for the attending adults to come up with small fish or aquatic invertebrates and then hurried over to beg to be fed!

Hobbys appeared early on, and as the day began to warm up slightly were soon snatching dragonflies from the air as the latter started to become active. Some came very close to the hide in pursuit of their prey, paying no attention to those gathered inside.

The majority of the dragonflies present were Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters, although there were also a few Brown Hawkers, Southern Hawkers, and Ruddy Darters around, as well as a few Common Blue Damselflies, Blue-tailed Damselflies, and Emerald Damselflies. The highlight among the dragonflies though was a male Southern Migrant Hawker which was briefly over the rushes at the edge of the water in front of the hide.

A handful of Sedge Warblers and a couple of Reed Warblers were seen in front of the Shooting Butts Hide, as well as a Water Rail, while elsewhere on the reserve Marsh Frogs posed for photographs at the dragonfly pools, waders including Black-tailed Godwits were on the pools, and Water Voles showed very well at the Marshland Discovery Zone (although they wouldn't come out of the reeds to allow a decent photo!).

I returned before first light the next day, and after picking up a volunteers radio to help keep staff and volunteers elsewhere on the reserve informed about what was happening in the hide, I made my way to the Shooting Butts Hide hopeful that I would have better luck this morning. A fair number of birders were already there, and I joined them to watch the sun rise, and scan the edges of the stands of rushes for signs of our quarry. Before it was properly light I picked up the shape of a crake creeping along the edge of the rushes. This has to be the Baillon's Crake, but unfortunately the light wasn't really good enough to confirm this, and all that I could really say was that I had seen a species of crake. Most of the other observers who managed to get onto the bird at this time said the same thing, although one or two were convinced. Fortunately though, the crake showed several more times during the day today, although usually only briefly, or obscured by vegetation
Hobbys were again hawking dragonflies in front of the hide, and Sedge Warblers were flitting about in the emergent vegetation, including one quite pale juvenile. Water Rails were more in evidence than yesterday with at least three seen, including a fully grown juvenile, and a Marsh Harrier and a couple of Yellow Wagtails also put in an appearance.

Elsewhere a Cetti's Warbler showed briefly and one of the resident Peregrines put in an appearance.
The Baillon's Crake continued to show on and off for about two weeks - but it was always pot luck as to whether it would show at any particular time.