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).

28 February 2013

Birds in snow (21st January 2013).

A cold spell that had brought snow and freezing conditions was not good for the birds, but it did provide some good opportunities for photography.

One of the Bitterns at Seventy Acres Lake in the Lee Valley Country Park, came right out into the open while searching for open water in which to fish, and nearby Redwings and Fieldfares showed little concern for my presence, near to where they were feeding on exposed leaf litter near the car park (the snow had barely managed to cover the ground under the trees here).

*photos to follow* 

21 January 2013

Lee Valley Country Park (17th January 2013).

I just had time for a couple of hours birding and, as the Pager had told me that there were three Bewick's Swans on Seventy-acres Lake I went to see if I could find them. Unfortunately they had moved on so I walked up to see if they had moved to Holyfield Lake.

As I started walking past the first field beyond the overflow car park a stunning male Sparrowhawk flew low across in front of me. Further along the road towards the Sailing Club I saw a photographer obviously trying to get shots of something over towards Holyfield Hall Farm. I caught up with him and he pointed out what I took to be a Common Buzzard flying above the hill. From that angle it was in silhouette and I thought it had gone down behind the hill but we then found it perched in a small tree. I got the 'scope onto it and immediately saw the dark shield on the lower breast and belly and the pale inner undertail with a broad, black sub-terminal bar which identified it as an adult Rough-legged Buzzard. The bird then took off and floated across the field, gradually gaining height and continued flying south.

I continued to the Grand Weir hide and scanned the lake but there was no sign of the Bewick's Swans but a drake and two redhead Goosander were swimming in one of the unfrozen patches of water. On the way back to the car a Red Fox saw me just as I saw it and we stayed looking at each other at a couple of hundred metres before it turned and trotted away up the field.

Rainham again (16th January 2013).

At 9 o'clock when I arrived at RSPB Rainham Marshes the fog and frost were thick. I couldn't see the south side of the Thames and could barely make out Mute Swans and Lapwings on the Purfleet scrape from the visitor centre. Undeterred, I set off along the River wall checking for pipits and the Corn Buntings which had been reported recently.

A male European Stonechat showed at close quarters in the bushes just along from the centre and there were a few Skylarks feeding down on the saltings. Aveley Bay produced a handful of Redshank, a single Eurasian Curlew and some Shelduck. A flock of 60 plus Linnets were very active along the top of the River wall and Common Snipe were flying around trying to find unfrozen areas in which they could feed. On the way back to the centre for lunch I finally found a Rock Pipit feeding in the usual patch of detritus on the saltings. I was just removing the top layers of clothing when a call over the radio from Howard Vaughan alerted to the fact that the Corn Buntings were back so I hastily pulled my coat back on, grabbed bins and scope and made my way back along the wall. Within five minutes I saw Howard leading his group of birders towards me and he pointed out the three target birds which had landed in a bush quite close to me. I was able to get excellent views before they flew further out onto the saltings. Despite there being a small number of this present in recent winters this was the first time I had managed to catch up with them so returned for lunch a very happy birder.

In the afternoon the fog slowly lifted and the sun finally came out. On the walk through the woodland a single Lesser Redpoll flew over calling. Scanning the main Aveley pool I counted fourteen Northern Pintail. The usual pair of European Stonechats was by the Ken Barratt hide and a Cetti's Warbler called from in the reedbed. A single Little Egret was on the    western end of Aveley pool. As I came along the southern side of the reserve a helicopter flew quite low right across the reserve flushing everything as it went. A flock of about 160 Dunlin flew out towards the Thames, 27 Eurasian Curlew and about 40 European Golden Plover circled the area a couple of times before settling back down.

A small group of Ring-necked Parakeets flew over the car park as I was preparing to leave.

20 January 2013

Winter at Rainham (13th January 2013).

The monthly WeBS count at RSPB Rainham Marshes produced the highest wildfowl counts of the winter so far. Pintail numbered thirty, many of which were extremely smart drakes in full plumage. During the early part of the count the tide was quite low and so a lot of the ducks were on the River Thames. I did, however, manage to count over 750 Wigeon making the overall count for that species in excess of a thousand.

There was a pair of Stonechats by the Ken Barratt hide and other passerines of interest included a dozen Skylarks and three Rock Pipits along the foreshore

By the afternoon the tide was lapping the Victorian seawall and waders had come onto the reserve to escape the high water. Purfleet Scrape, in front of the visitor centre, had 19 Curlew, 15 Ringed Plover, 160 Dunlin and two Black-tailed Godwits. An adult Caspian Gull was identified on this area and there were approximately 2,200 Lapwing and a dozen Common Snipe on the reserve.

A female Marsh Harrier was hunting over Wennington Marsh and a Peregrine Falcon was perched on one of the pylons alongside the A13. The last birds of interest were about thirty Ring-necked Parakeets flying over the car park as I was about to leave.

Amwell Quarry Nature Reserve, Hertfordshire (12th January 2013).

Having completed my WeBS count in the Broxbourne area of the Lee Valley in the morning I headed north to Amwell Quarry NR which is managed by the Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust. Before I even left the car I had a Red Kite circling over Amwell Lane which seemed to bode well for an interesting afternoon's birding.

I first walked up to Tumbling Bay lake at the north end of the area where I quickly picked out the 1st winter drake Scaup which has been present for several weeks. Two Common Buzzards drifted over and then a red-head Smew appeared out of one of the bays and swam out into the middle of the lake, affording excellent views. 

A brief visit to the James hide was somewhat disappointing as the Wildlife Trust have removed the feeding station outside the hide which sometimes attracted Marsh Tits. An explanatory notice gave the reason for the cessation of feeding as a build up in the number of Brown Rats using the site which is a very sensible move in my view.

Back at the main viewing point I picked out a Bittern moving through one of the areas of cut reeds on the far side of the lake and this was followed shortly after by a Water Rail. A Sparrowhawk flew in front of the assembled birders and the only other unusual bird was a single Egyptian Goose swimming towards the southern end of the lake.

A quick call at Fishers Green as the light was fading produced views of a Bittern going to roost and a Water Rail from the Bittern hide.

16 January 2013

River Lee Country Park (12th January 2013).

At 10am I met 11 people at Cheshunt railway station, for a visit to the gravel pit complex that makes up the River Lee CP.
Winter birdwatching can sometimes seem fairly quiet, with very few small birds around, until you find a flock of tits, finches, or other birds, when there is suddenly lots of activity, and often a variety of species to see. Today we had found our first flock of birds, a flock of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tits, and Great Tits, and were checking to see if there were any other species with the flock (such as Goldcrests or Treecreepers), when an unexpected Common Buzzard suddenly passed low overhead.

Wetland areas tend to be easier to observe birds on, and the nearby Friday Lake, Hall Marsh Scrape, and Hooks Marsh Gravel Pit, produced very good views of species such as Smew, Eurasian Wigeon, and Common Snipe, as well as a variety of others. A Cetti's Warbler in Hooks Marsh Ditch called just once, and didn't show, but while we waited for it a Goldcrest gave good views in nearby scrub. A Goldeneye at the northern end of Hooks Marsh (almost certainly the one I saw in the same area just over a week ago) was an interesting discussion point, because it was identified by the person who first saw it as "a female Goldeneye", but was actually a 1st year male. Most duck have plumage that is very similar to adult females in their first winter, but at this time of year start to moult into their adult plumage - this one had started to show the white feathering on the breast and underparts typical of adult males, but otherwise did look like a female. A male Sparrowhawk was seen well in the same area by most of those present.

We stopped at the Bittern Information Point hide for lunch, and while we were there had good views of a Bittern just inside the reedbed - it looked like it was watching us as much as we were watching it! Water Rail, and Jay also showed well in front of the hide, and a small flock of Siskins visited the alder tree out the back.

A short visit to the Longlands hide at the Lee Valley Park Farms, added a few more birds to the days list, including KestrelEgyptian GeeseFieldfaresRedwings, and Pheasant (including a few of the attractive melanistic type Pheasants that are resident in the area), and also gave us the opportunity to watch a Common Buzzard being mobbed by Carrion Crows and Magpies.

Heading back to the station we came across at least three Treecreepers, which we spent some time watching, and had brief views of a pair of Goosanders which flew overhead.

Muntjac (9th January 2013).

A brief visit to the River Lee Country Park in the late afternoon sun produced views of Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler, as well as very good views of a pair of Reeve's Muntjac. This introduced deer species, the smallest deer in the UK, has successfully established itself in many areas, and although they can cause major problems from a conservation point of view by preventing the regeneration of woodland by grazing new growth, they can sometimes be nice to see!

10 January 2013

Rainham Marshes (9th January 2013).

A rare dry and mainly sunny day for my regular visit to the RSPB reserve. When I visited the previous Wednesday I hadn't been able to do a complete circuit as part of the path was flooded to a depth of 7 to 8 inches and I din't have wellies with me. Today was much better with only puddles left where the floods had been.

There is plenty of water on site at the moment and ducks and geese are spread all over the reserve. Despite the tide being high in the afternoon there were few waders present apart from Lapwing which currently number in excess of 2,000. Wigeon were everywhere with good numbers of Teal, Gadwall and Shoveler. 

As I walked through the woodland area there were very few birds present apart from a few Blue and Great Tits, Robins  and Blackbirds. As I approached the Woodland Discovery Zone a soft call alerted me to the possible presence of a bird which had been getting some of the regulars quite excited and I soon got a good view of it. With a flash of a white rump it flew ahead of me and perched in a bush showing off the deep pink breast, black crown and grey back of a male Bullfinch. This is an unusual birds for the Reserve and I was soon joined by one of the other volunteers who was trying to get a photo of it. Unfortunately by the time she joined me the birds had moved out of sight in the thick vegetation.

I continued my circuit as far as the first viewing platform overlooking the main Aveley Pool from where I soon picked out the Ross's Goose which has been visiting the Reserve recently. As usual it was in company with some of the local Greylag Geese. From the Ken Barrett hide I managed to pick out a male Marsh Harrier hunting over Wennington marshes and a pair of European Stonechats  were flitting around just in front of the hide.

As I went further round the circuit a Cetti's Warbler sang from the reedbed and there was a single European Golden Plover in front of the Shooting Butts Hide from where I also managed to count six Pintail. I counted nine Common Snipe at various locations around the Reserve and when nearly back to the Centre a flock of about 25 Ring-necked Parakeets flew over the car park.

Thrushes and splodge (5th January 2013).

All three Buteo leaders joined forces to take part in the national BTO thrush survey covering the square which had been allocated to Dave. The area includes Sewardstone Marsh, part of the housing estate over the relief channel and part of Gunpowder Park. From mid-morning we walked around the square but unfortunately found very few thrushes which probably won't surprise many people as most birders seem to be commenting on the scarcity of passerines in the area this winter. We did record several Blackbirds, there were four or five Song Thrushes singing and we heard both Redwing and Mistle Thrushes flight calls. In the Knights Pits area we found two Chiffchaffs and heard a Water Rail.

Having completed the thrush survey we donned wellies to tramp (or splodge) across Patty's Pool Mead in an effort to assess the use being made of the area by wading birds such as Common and Jack Snipe. This was on behalf of the Lee Valley Regional Park biodiversity team. In the event we failed to find any Snipe but one Woodcock flew from close under Dave's foot. We will be keeping an eye on this area but feel that it probably needs to dry out a bit before being of interest to many waders. As we were making our way back to the cars a single Lesser Redpoll called and showed itself briefly in a bush alongside the path.

'Brewer's Duck' (4th January 2013).

On visit to Connaught Waters, in Epping Forest, I was able to get some better shots of the hybrid duck that Dave had seen more distantly back in November. It was close to the bank with a throng of Mallards, Tufted Duck, Coot, Mute Swans, and Black-headed Gulls which were 'fighting' for bread thrown by people who had come to feed the ducks.
It is certainly an interesting bird, with the plumage on the body and wings very similar to what would be expected on a typical male Gadwall, with perhaps a slight hint of some maroon colouration among the coarse vermiculations on the breast, and apparently no chestnut in the wing coverts. The head was vaguely reminiscent of a male Teal, largely chestnut in colour (fading to a more buff colour in places), and with a broad green blaze above and back from the eye. This may not seem consistent with an identification as a Gadwall x Mallard hybrid, but male hybrids between these two species often do seem to have similar head plumage - but often with large buff patches on the cheeks. A partial white ring around the neck hinted at Mallard parentage, while the all black bill was typical of a pure male Gadwall (the orange legs are shown by both species).

This hybrid is potentially the result of a pairing in the wild, especially as there has been a male Gadwall closely paired with a female Mallard at the lake in the last couple of years, but it could equally have come from a wildfowl collection. My latest addition to the growing number of obviously escaped species recorded at the site was a female Maned Goose (also known as Australian Wood Duck), which was on the lake today.

7 January 2013

Snowflakes and skeins of geese (3rd January 2013).

A trip to the north Norfolk coast with a friend was bound to produce some good birds, even though we didn't intend to travel around much and at most expected to visit a couple of sites during the day. A flock of about 20 Waxwings was seen flying over the road on the way, but as they didn't stop there was no point in us stopping either.
Our first stop was Cley, where we started with some seawatching.Red-throated Divers were moving about in reasonable numbers off shore, with a few much closer in, almost in the surf, and there were also a few small flocks of Common Scoter and a couple of Guillemots. Otherwise, apart from various of the commoner gull species and small flocks of geese moving along the coast, the sea was fairly quiet. A Grey Seal gave very good views close to the shore, almost in the surf, and provided some distraction from the birds though.
Adult Red-throated Divers tend to be very white on the face and the sides of the neck.

Juvenile Red-throated Diver - much greyer on the head and neck.

Grey Seal (a photo with the nostrils closed to prevent water entering can be seen here)

The weedy areas above the beach provide enough seed for small flocks of various small birds to survive the winter along a fairly exposed shingle coast, with Goldfinches, a flock of about 40 Linnets, and a few Skylarks grubbing about at various points. Best of all though was a flock of at least 22 Snow Buntings (once also called 'Snowflakes'). In flight the white patches in their wings really stood out, but once they had landed they could almost disappear, blending well into the shingle and dead plant stems until they moved.

European Stonechats could also be found just in from the beach, although they would have been feeding mainly on insects and other invertebrates rather than seeds, spotting their prey from the taller plants and fences they chose as vantage points. One male had been colour ringed, and from speaking to a local birdwatcher it seems likely that it was one from a breeding population on nearby Kelling Heath.

The pools and grassy areas in the central part of the reserve and to the east of the East Bank, held a good variety of wading birds and waterfowl. Most of the waders were only present in small numbers, but included 13 different species. Lapwings and Golden Plover were present in very large numbers though, with at least a couple of thousand of each. Two Marsh Harriers were hunting over the reserve and repeatedly caused these to flush, after which they would spend some time circling the reserve, sometimes reaching quite a height, before returning. The Golden Plovers were particularly flighty, taking far longer than the Lapwings, gulls, and wildfowl before they would settle again.

The most numerous ducks and geese were WIgeon, EurasianTeal, and Brent Geese, but with small numbers of other species also present, including a handful of Pintail, and several small flocks of Pink-footed Geese passed overhead.
One of the Brent Geese was unusual because it was slightly leucistic - paler and greyer than normal (the centre bird in this photo).

After a late lunch we decided to head to Holkham for the latter part of the afternoon, and the evening, where I thought we had a good chance of seeing some owls, and where we would be unlucky not to find large flocks of geese.
The geese would have been hard to miss, with probably well in excess of 10,000 Pink-footed Geese in the fields, along with a couple of  hundred Brent Geese and much smaller numbers of Greylag Geese and Egyptian Geese. Large numbers of Wigeon were grazing in the same fields.

We also managed some good, but distant, views of a Barn Owl hunting along a hedgerow, and over reedy ditches, and also saw several diurnal raptor species; Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, and Sparrowhawk. To finish the day off, at least four Tawny Owls were calling around the village at dusk, and one did a fly past close to the car.

White Nun (2nd January 2013).

Smew are a relatively scarce winter visitor to Britain, with most seen in the south-east. They also tend to be the latest of winter migrants to arrive, and one of the first to leave, only rarely being seen outside of the period between December and February. In most years 'redheads', the females and 1st winter birds, are more common than the adult males, which are sometimes referred to as 'white nuns' (the plumage is white with black trim - the opposite of the white trimmed black habit worn by many orders of nun!).
The Lee Valley Regional Park is one of the areas that regularly attracts a few wintering Smew, with this winter being no exception. Sometimes they can be difficult to locate, but I had no trouble finding a smart drake today on Friday Lake in the River Lee Country Park.

Nearby a Cetti's Warbler showed very well, albeit only for a few seconds at a time, apart from when it popped up only about three feet from me (well within the minimum focus distance of my camera lens - I think it might have been playing with me!), and a male Goosander flew overhead. Small flocks of Siskin, and a few Lesser Redpolls were also moving around, and a 1st winter male Goldeneye was actively feeding, at the south end of Seventy Acres Lake.

Several Water Rails, and at least two, possibly three, Bitterns showed very well at Seventy Acres lake, although the dull, overcast conditions, which later turned to quite heavy rain, made photography very difficult due to slow shutter speeds.
A Kingfisher stopped briefly, and may have stayed for longer if the reed it chose to try to land on had been a bit more sturdy, and Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker were among the more colourful visitors to the bird feeders in front of the hide. A male Smew, perhaps the same one I'd seen on Friday Lake earlier in the day, dropped in to be seen by those in the hide in mid afternoon.

A new year, a new year list (1st January 2013).

Keeping lists of what you have seen is a common thing with birdwatchers, with some far more interested in listing than others. In reality all birdwatchers can be said to keep lists, even if they have no idea of what the total number of bird species they seen is, they still know when they see a species that they have never seen before - so there is a mental list of birds they have seen in their memory somewhere!
Along with 'life lists', 'country lists', 'county lists', and 'patch lists', a very common thing is to keep year lists - the species seen within a defined area during each calendar year. Some UK based birders make a real effort to see as many species as possible within Britain and Ireland each year, but it has been some time since I've made any real effort to achieve a high year list total.
This year I thought that I would try something a bit different, and I will be keeping a 'photographic year list'. Each bird species only needs to be identifiable from the photographs for it to count - the photos don't need to be a particularly good (although I intend to finish the year with good photographs of as many of the species on the year list as possible). I will be posting photos of all species on a new personal blog (Birds, Dragonflies, and other wildlife), but will also post monthly updates on this blog.
I started the year with a trip to the Southend area in south-east Essex, passing a small flock of Waxwings in roadside bushes on the way - part of an influx into the UK this winter. First stop was Gunners Park where a Long-tailed Duck and a Common Scoter had taken up residence on the park lake. They were easily located almost immediately upon arrival, and I spent some time watching and photographing the pair (both females) which had chosen the relatively sheltered lake instead of the sea less than a hundred meters away, which is the habitat where both species more typical spend the winter.
Both were diving frequently, and also spent some time bathing and preening. They were obviously wary, and stayed more or less in the middle of the lake, but were close enough for some fairly decent shots. At one point the scoter showed a strong objection to one of the many Black-headed Gulls on the lake - with good reason because the gull was trying its luck, and hoping to snatch any food that the scoter had surfaced with after diving!
Many of the Black-headed Gulls were having quite a lot of success with diving for their own food, plunge diving from the air, and coming up with what looked like worms of some sort.
Other Black-headed Gulls, along with Herring Gulls and a few Common Gulls made the most of the opportunity to steal bread people were throwing for the Mute Swans and Mallards on the lake.

After I was satisfied that I had some reasonable photos of the Long-tailed Duck and Common Scoter, and taking a look at the waders on the foreshore (which included Oystercatchers and Sanderling) I headed for Southend Pier to see what the rising tide might bring in.
The pier extends 1.3 miles out into the mouth of the Thames estuary, and as a result can be a good vantage point from which to observe birds that normally stay out at sea. In addition Mediterranean Gulls frequent the end of the pier in quite large numbers, and Turnstones, joined by an occasional Purple Sandpiper, come to the pier to roost at high tide. I had no luck with Purple Sandpipers today, with just a single Dunlin joining the roosting Turnstones, but an estimated 40 or so Mediterranean Gulls,of various ages, were around.
Adult Mediterranean Gull

2nd Winter Mediterranean Gull

Both Grey Seal, and Common Seal surfaced close to the pier, and single a Great Northern Diver, and a Red-throated Diver were seen distantly, as well as a Great Crested Grebe. Guillemots showed much better, with some very close to the end of the pier, and perhaps a dozen or more seen in total.

6 January 2013

Under the Heathrow flightpath (17th December 2012).

Just before the weekend, a rare transatlantic vagrant – a Buff-bellied Pipit – had been found feeding around the banks of the Queen Mother Reservoir in Berkshire/west London, under the flightpath of the many planes coming and going from Heathrow Airport (including those crossing the Atlantic!).

This species, which has previously been treated as conspecific with Rock and Water Pipit before the three were ‘split’ and each considered full species in their own right some years ago, was one I had never seen before, so with one so close (and arrangements in place to allow access to the permit only site it had chosen) I couldn’t resist the temptation.
We were watching the pipit almost immediately upon arrival, as it fed completely unconcerned almost at the feet of the appreciative birdwatchers gathered to see it.
It was remarkably tame and as long as there were no sudden movements would walk right past the small crowd, well within the minimum focus distance of most peoples cameras and binoculars – there was definitely no need for a telescope.
At first the pipit was in the sun on almost bare concrete at the edge of the reservoir...

In appearance Buff-bellied Pipit is somewhat intermediate between Rock Pipit and Meadow Pipit, with the dark legs and longish bill of Rock (and Water) Pipits, but with the bill having the finer, more pointed appearance more typical of Meadow Pipit. Some aspects of the plumage, in particular the well defined dark streaking on the buff toned underparts , are also reminiscent of Meadow Pipit – while the head and upperpart patterns are more like those of Rock & Water Pipits!
...but most of the time it was feeding on mossy ground in the shelter of the walled banks around the top of the reservoir - which unfortunately meant it was in shadow.

Apart from Pied Wagtails and Grey Wagtails sharing the banks, and a few Great Crested Grebes on the water, very few other birds were seen, although this was largely due to the fact that we were concentrating on the pipit! My brother did manage to pick out the Red-necked Grebe that had been present – although distantly. A Long-tailed Duck has also been present, but we didn’t manage to find that with a brief scan.

Lee Valley (16th December 2012).

The middle part of the day was spent at the ‘Chingford Reservoirs’ (the monthly WeBS cout day had come around again!), where the drake Long-tailed Duck was still present. Unfortunately the Long-tailed Duck stayed right out in the middle of the widest part of the reservoir, which is where it has tended to prefer to be, because today I had actually taken my camera along with me.

Black-necked Grebes, although present in lower numbers than we have become used to at this time of year, are usually closer in, tending to prefer to stay near to the reservoir banks, and I did manage to get a couple of shots of them. 
Black-necked Grebe (top) and it's larger cousin the Great Crested Grebe - both in winter plumage and photographed on the William Girling Reservoir

 In winter plumage Black-necked Grebes are similar to Slavonian Grebe in appearance, but differ structurally with a higher forehead, and an upturned appearance to the bill. The cheeks are also darker, with the black cap extending down below the eye.

 As is expected by December, the numbers of wintering duck species like Goldeneye and Goosander had now increased to typical numbers. Generally neither species is especially numerous here, but up to 50 Goldeneye and 10-20 Goosander are fairly typical mid winter counts – today we saw a total of 40 Goldeneye and 17 Goosander, with most of the latter feeding in the channels at the sides of the reservoirs. Numbers of other waterbirds had built up considerable, especially on the KGV Reservoir, where there were 544 Coots, and 436 Tufted Duck, along with a good selection of other species, including Shoveler and Gadwall (which winter in the Lee Valley in internationally important numbers), and a few Wigeon

On the reservoir banks were the usual Pied & Grey Wagtails and Meadow Pipits which can be expected at this time of year. 
Grey Wagtail - quite colourful, although the name doesn't suggest this!

After several hours at the reservoirs Dave and I spent a while at the end of the day in the Bittern Information Point hide in the River Lee Country Park further up the Lee Valley – which is often a good place to spend the evening. A Bittern was on show, skulking at the back of the small reedbed immediately in front of the hide, and giving good views to everyone present - once they ‘got their eye in’ and were able to pick it out from the brown reeds! The best feature to look for tends to be the black markings on the head, the cap and moustachial stripes, although it can be difficult to pick out the bird at all until you see movement. True to form, Water Rails also showed well as the evening began to draw in, and Reed Buntings dropped into the reedbed a few at a time to roost, announching their arrival with thin “Tse-eeeep” calls.

Water Rail