News of wildlife and other issues

Migrant Bird Watch on 23 May

On Sunday 23rd of May was the last migrant bird watch. It was also my first migrant bird watch as before I couldn’t wake up early enough. Once we set off I finally saw the creatures which were waking me up so early in the morning!

But the six hour walk was well worth it. The grass of Wanstead flats was fresh with dew when I spotted lots of spider webs glistening in the morning sun. They were beautiful and each had a small hole in them where the spiders would hide. I was even fortunate enough to spot one in the hole of its web. These spider webs were amazingly detailed and just sat on the grass like a silk carpet.

We also saw a few whitethroats. One kept coming back to the same tree and in flight was singing a very uplifting tune. He kept flying from a nearby bush to the very top of a tree.

There was a very confident skylark on a log posing for us in the middle of Wanstead flats it was as if we weren’t there! Nearby I got the chance to photograph a male skylark displaying to a female! It was a very good day for skylarks.


On top of that a small copper butterfly was hanging on a piece of grass as if it was waiting for us. Many of Wanstead’s wildlife seemed to be wanting the spotlight that morning! In the afternoon we were walking round Wanstead Park. We then saw another small copper which looked tiny compared to the one before.

We were lucky to see the great crested grebes doing a bit of their dance and it seemed like they were making their nest. I guess time will tell if we were right.

Sofia Benajeh

Stoats in Wanstead Park

I received an e-mail from Kathy Hartnett of the Wren Group passing on some information that she had received from a new member of that Group:

Date: Friday, 28 May, 2010, 15:45

Hi Kathy

Wasn't sure who to send wildlife sighting to only I saw a stoat in Wanstead Park this lunchtime.  North of Heronry pond on the path by the golf course. Bounded down the path in front of me for about 5 metres, stood looking around for a bit and then disappeared into the brambles. I was so dumbstruck I just stood there, then moved off and waited but it didn't come back.

I've seen stoats at Rainham but never ever this local.

Barbara M.

Stoats are present in Wanstead Park and are seen and reported from time to time. We should be aware, though, that Weasels are also present, and it can be difficult to tell them apart unless a good sighting is obtained. Stoats are generally bigger than Weasels, with a body length for the former of between 230-290 mm and the latter between 210-230 mm. Quite distinctive - if a good view is had - is that Stoats have black tips to their tails, and also relatively longer tails than Weasels.

It would be interesting to find out more about the status of mammals such as Stoats and Weasels in the Park and elsewhere around here, but to do so we would have to do some proper mammal trapping (live trapping - that is!), rather than rely on - albeit valuable - reports such as this.

There is a charming photograph of a Stoat in Wanstead Park here.

Paul Ferris, 29 May 2010

A nursery by Alexandra Lake

Twenty-one Goslings


There were twenty-one goslings altogether by Alexandra Lake on Wanstead Flats on 18th May - with one pair of Canada Geese; now that's impressive! It must be a creche, although there were no other interested possible parents nearby.

Incidentally, the Lesser Black-backed Gulls patrolling Alexandra Lake and the Shoulder of Mutton Pond quite frequently, and with a lot of attacks particularly on cootlets. Looking at the small numbers of surviving goslings attached to some pairs of geese on Alexandra Lake, I suspect that these too are falling prey to predators. There are and for long have been foxes around, of course, but in my perception the Lesser Black-backs are a new addition.

In previous years, the Conservators of Epping Forest have culled the geese, but did not do so this year. Perhaps we are now seeing a more natural culling taking place. Let us hope that species such as Little Grebe fare better than the geese, Coots and, doubtless, Mallard.

Paul Ferris 19th May 2010

Another cycle-way disturbs the natural aspect

A warning that work was taking place on the track that continues from the car-park at the end of Warren Road, Wanstead, prompted me to take a look.

wp_warren_lane_100505_08165th May 2010 - Warren Track is closed for upgrading to a cycle-road

The Heronry Pond end of the track which runs between Wanstead Golf Course and Chalet Wood in the Park was blocked off, and already a substantial amount of what was evidently to be a surfaced track was being built up the hill towards Warren Road. Two metres wide, a substantial sub-surface, evidently laid out in the style of the London Cycle Network routes, much the same as that which has ruined the meadow by the Alders Brook and threatens to invade into the wilderness area of the Exchange Lands. (see here)

A few metres up on the left hand edge, the piece of land that harboured the only Broad-leaved Helleborine known in this area has gone, and so has a perfectly serviceable country-like track, which seemed to reasonably comfortably accommodate both pedestrians and cyclists - albeit there were at times of course, on such a surface, the odd muddy spot. As a person who does suffer from a measure of difficulty when it comes to to walking an uneven surface, I can say that I never ever found this route difficult under any circumstances. As an ex-cyclist, I consider that I would have had no trouble using such a surface even on my sports-style bike, let alone the wide-tyred models that are the norm these days. Is it necessary to again suffer the requirements of the let's-go-faster, let's go-smoother cyclist lobby at the expense of reality and wildlife?

We shall all - pedestrians and cyclists, wheelchair users, pram-pushers and dog-walkers - share the "road"; that is what it is there for. And I know that as I walk down that ex-lane one day (probably on more than one day) a go-faster cyclist will come along from behind, I shall hear a swish, and will try instinctively to move to one side. At the expense of my balance, and at the cost of pain.

wp_warren_lane_100505_0821The original surface in the foreground

When I visited, there was a great pile of gravelled earth in the car-park, and I know that there is a problem of disposing of it. It has been suggested that it be used to resurface some of the Park's paths, but this would be foolhardy. Certainly, there are enough paths and tracks in the Park that desperately need work done on them, but really careful consideration need be made as to using an appropriate material, not just waste material that needs a home. Witness the cock-up around the Ornamental Waters where the material used after re-establishing the path there turned into a nice porridge mix when it rained.

It is an interesting thing, but I actually listened to the London Borough of Redbridge Engineer on the Warren-track project say that the track was a bit of no-man's land; neither part of the Park nor the golf course. Must be under Redbridge's administration, though, for why else would they resurface it when it wasn't needed? Mind you, saying that the road was built under Redbridge's auspice begs the question as to why it has been allowed to continue westwards at the bottom along the edge of the Heronry Pond. A good and fairly recent surfaced path already exists here, and this is Epping Forest! Why did Epping Forest give permission for this to happen?

wp_warren_lane_100505_0827At what cost; to the natural aspect and to the ratepayer?So what next? I fear that what is next is another part of Epping Forest - the Exchange Land site - for as I have indicated before, the present Roding Valley Way route has been aimed straight at that land. Two or three metres of what is esentially a road through there? We shall see.

One positive outcome of the Warren Road road is that now a super-fast cycle-highway has been built, there will be no need for cycles to go through the Park from Wanstead Park Avenue to Warren Road. It'll be so much easier to use the good surface which will doubtless be built from Park Road that connects via the north edge of Heronry Pond to Warren Road ex-track, won't it?


Paul Ferris, 5th May 2010

Dunlin visit and migrant birds on Wanstead Flats

Walking from home across the Flats  to enjoy a coffee in the sun in the cemetery (!), my 'phone rang... "There's a Dunlin on the Jubilee Pond" said Jonathan Lethbridge, so instead of a short walk and sit in the sun, I had a long walk and an excellent view of a Dunlin.

There is a report of a Dunlin at the same site on 6th February 1979, when the pond was then concrete-lined and called the Model Yacht Pond, and the following year I observed a Dunlin that was present by Alexandra Lake from 31st August to 3rd September.

The situation yesterday was similar to that of the 1980 one; the bird was feeding almost persistently along the edge of the pond, just a few feet away from the pond-edge path and passing people, and seemed quite oblivious to any possible danger. I am no expert on Dunlin behaviour, but when I see them more typically, for example, in estuarine habitats, they are always in flocks, and if a possible danger - usually from overhead - goes past the whole lot go up as if one. There are certainly possible dangers on Wanstead Flats - Sparrowhawks being one - and enough going on to startle me at times, but these individual Dunlin seem to be mostly unaware and unfazed. Is it because they are so out of their normal environment and usual company that they are simply just not picking up the usual signals from their peers?

Whatever, the opportunity was there to sit on a bench and observe the feeding just a few feet from the bird.

Yesterday's photographs (digital cameras not being around in 1980) captured the Dunlin almost always with its head in the water. It was still there at 3pm, but not seen just after 5pm.

Wanstead Flats has in the last few years seen an explosion of bird-watchers; it has at last been recognised as an excellent birdwatching site. Back in 1980 I wrote an article for the Wren Group Newsletter entitled "Wanstead Flats - not bad for birds" (read here), but there was only about two of us to my knowledge that covered the Flats. Now - with some excellent bird-spotters about - my long-term thoughts about its possibilities are proving true. However, recently some of us are becoming aware that Wanstead Flats is actually loosing habitats - or is in danger of doing so. An example of these that relates to waders in particular is an area  of marsh quite near the Jubilee Pond. This is probably the area where most of the present-day Snipe hang out overnight. But it is drying out. This can be seen by the lack of mosses and liverworts that used to be found here, and the invasion of birches and other dry vegetation. Similarly - on Alexandra Lake I used to fairly often see Common Sandpipers first thing in the morning on the banks of the two islands there. Now these islands are surrounded by willow vegetation, and indeed it has  become almost impossible to realise that there are two islands and not just one as the willows tangle together!

The arrival of seven Little Egrets in Wanstead Park last July when the level of water in the Heronry Pond was so low showed how quickly these birds had found a habitat that they found useful for their feeding. What we are lacking in the whole Wanstead area, I believe, are scrapes for wading birds. Perhaps an ideal place to think of creating these might be by the Roding - which must be a migration route for such birds - and a potential area exists. This is the site of the old allotments on the Redbridge bank to the north of Whiskers Island. There are a number of proposals for making use of this un-used and presently bramble-tangled land. These certainly includes a pedestrian/ cycle (and - hopefully - horse) route to complete a missing link of the Roding Valley Way, but also the possibility of moving the present river bund away from the river towards the A406 link road. This is so as to provide a water-relief flood plain in case of high water levels in the Roding.

Notwithstanding that the allotment area probably at present provides a good nesting habitat for a variety of our more common birds, the idea of a flood plain could give rise to the idea of a series of scrapes for wading birds - a much more-needed habitat, I suggest?

Perhaps we could see more Dunlin - and other things - visiting the Wanstead Park area, as careful management could see an increasing number of the wide variety of migrants and residents that we already know visit Wanstead Flats.

Paul Ferris, 22 April 2010

dunlin_wf_jub_100421_0556articleDunlin wading...

dunlin_wf_jub_100421_0574article...Dunlin feeding