Migration Excitement on Wanstead Flats
Anyone visiting the Flats on the last Saturday of August 2009 could have been forgiven for thinking they had been transported to one of the UK's coastal bird migration hot-spots. As I was walking towards Jubilee Pond just after 8 a.m. I received a text message from Jonathan Lethbridge - at the other end of the Flats - telling me he'd just seen a Spotted Flycatcher, a Redstart and three Whinchats. Minutes later I was watching four Whinchats in one tree, while a group of distant pipits flitted between trees. Unfortunately, I couldn't get close enough to make up my mind whether they were the Tree or Meadow variety, and I didn't hear them call. However, my suspicion is that they were the former species and - like the Whinchats - on the move from breeding sites unknown. Evidence of a good breeding season, and the great importance of this tract of the Flats, I saw at least 12 Common Whitethroats in the area just south of Lake House Road.
The combination of the time of year, with many of our summer visitors beginning their long migrations south, and a spell of overnight rain which had probably encouraged many to pitch down in the nearest suitable habitat, had clearly produced something very exciting.
When I reached the broomy area south of Long Wood I couldn't believe my eyes. Wheatears and Whinchats seemed to be everywhere I looked! I counted four Northern Wheatears in one hawthorn, while another three hopped around on the dusty track. In the broom itself there were at least five more Whinchats - but it was difficult to be sure of the number because of their constant flitting from plant to plant.
I joined Paul Ferris near Alexander Lake, where we searched in vain for the Redstart and the Spotted Flycatcher. Just after I left Paul I found another Wheatear on the edge of a football pitch.
It is notoriously difficult trying to accurately assess numbers of small migrating songbirds, but piecing together the evidence from my own observations and those of Stuart Fisher, Jonathan Lethbridge and Paul Ferris, the migrant 'fall' involved at least three Yellow Wagtails, three Redstarts (two of these being males), eleven or twelve Whinchats, eight Wheatears, one Lesser Whitethroat, a dozen or more Common Whitethroats, several Chiffchaffs, three Willow Warblers, a Spotted Flycatcher and up to eight Tree Pipits.
Expecting the migrants to have departed overnight, imagine my surprise when the following morning there were still five five Whinchats (a mixture of adults and young birds) south of Long Wood. And on the bank holiday Monday a 'new' female Redstart was near Jubilee Pond, with seven Whinchats nearby and another four of the latter species to the east of Centre Road.
It's weekends like this that local patch-watchers live for. Eat your heart out, Cley!
Tim Harris, 1st September 2009