News of wildlife and other issues

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

Little Egrets at Wanstead Park

Following a visit to the Heronry Pond in Wanstead Park of a Little Egret on 9th July 2009 and on subsequent days, a number of people including Jennifer Charter and Kathy Hartnett reported seeing two of these birds on on 20th July.

Little Egret, Heronry PondLittle Egret feeding at Heronry Pond, Wanstead Park

They were apparently making use of the low water-levels in the lake as it was being drained for some concreting work to take place at the eastern end. As water levels dropped, numerous small fish and other creatures would have been easy prey for Egrets. It is amusing to watch them agitate the water with a foot (often a bright yellow foot!) to stir up creatures that they might find tasty. Quite tolerant of man and dog, they are easy to view either perched in a tree or feeding in the water.

These very attractive almost pure-white small herons are birds of the Mediterranean and North African area, who not long ago were rare visitors to Britain. Increasingly over the years they have visited the south coasts, eventually breeding and spreading northwards. Now they are a common sight on the Essex coast, and have occasionally been seen as short-stay visitors to our area.

Either one or two Little Egrets became a common sight over the next week or so, but on 3rd August, seven birds were present, making a quite spectacular sight as the either fed together, perched in trees or particularly when they all took flight at the same time.

A nice addition to our species, they don't seem to have any serious adverse effects on our present wildlife.

Paul Ferris, July 2009


The Slender Groundhopper Tetrix subulata in Wanstead Park

On 24th April 2009 I had a look at one of the very overgrown outcrops of land that form the sculpted south edge of Heronry Pond. On what is left of a track that leads almost un-noticeable off the Northumberland Avenue Strip, an insect flew across my feet and landed nearby - apparently a grasshopper. I couldn't understand why a fully-grown grasshopper was around at this time of year, so determined to take a photograph as a record. It was from the photograph that I later identified it as a ground-hopper, an insect closely related to grasshoppers and crickets.

There are only four species of ground-hopper to be found in Britain, and they are found in a variety of places where there is some grass cover. However, they don' t favour extensive grass cover so tend not to be found in the same type of habitats where we would expect to see grasshoppers.

Slender Groundhopper Tetrix subulataSlender Groundhopper photographed in Wanstead Park

They are active by day, and their activity depends on the temperature. 24th April wasn't a cold day, but it was April and I wouldn't have expected to find grasshoppers so early in the year. However, a major difference in behaviour between grasshoppers and groundhoppers is that the latter survive the Winter as adults and may be active all the year.

In Essex only two species are recorded on the Essex Field Club's database: the Common Groundhopper Tetrix undulata and the Slender Groundhopper Tetrix subulata, so it was likely to be one of these.

Two major differences became apparent: groundhoppers differ from grasshoppers in that their pronotum extends to the tip of the abdomen, whereas in grasshoppers it is much shorter. The Common Groundhopper has relatively short hind wings and is flightless, whereas the Slender Groundhopper wings reach right to the tip of its longer pronotum. That fact was clear from the photographs, and the fact that it flew across my feet helped too! The Common Groundhopper also favours somewhat drier situations, whereas the Slender Groundhopper is often found in damper ones; tangled vegetation next to Heronry Pond meets that criteria. The creature was then a specimen of the Slender Groundhopper Tetrix subulata.

Finally, it is interesting to note that this is the only record of this species in the whole of Epping Forest. I hadn't seen one before, and I haven't seen one since.

Paul Ferris, 25th April 2009

Lost Wanstead Park

No, not the Great House, nor the ornate gardens – just some bits and pieces that I’ve seen disappear – or are disappearing now.

Most obvious, maybe, are the lakes. Yes , I know, the Heronry Pond has been here and gone again for years; right now it’s on one of its going-again phases – courtesy, as I understand, of a failure to renew the extraction license required to pump water from the borehole. Luckily, the adjacent Perch Pond retains a good level of water of its own accord. But, of course, excess water from the Heronry Pond – via the Perch Pond – is supposed to top up the Ornamental Waters, and that is dropping rapidly.

The Ornamental Waters for many years was able to be topped-up at times with water from the Roding, but the pump that did this was taken away when the Heronry/Perch borehole was completed – the same borehole which at present is not in use.

And talking of bore-holes, a new one was drilled a year or two back by the Keeper’s lodges. This was to supply water to part of Redbridge – but it was hoped that a little bit at least could have been used to top up the Ornamental Waters. That borehole is not in use – two reasons I have heard: one is that the City of London didn’t really want the thing on their land, the other is that the water was not quite the quality that was required. So, a new one has been dug on that bit of the exchange land which I thought belonged to London Borough of Redbridge. It seems as though Thames Water has decided it is theirs, so now we’ve lost the field. (OK, It’s not part of Wanstead Park – nor even of the Forest – but it is contiguous with it).

And the ramifications of this are that we’ve lost an enormous part of Wanstead Park, fenced off since before Christmas, while Thames Water is attempting to lay a pipe-line through the Park to the pumping station at Redbridge. What have we lost so far while this is going on (apart from access)? Well, a number of trees have been felled, and a bat roost has been destroyed!

Access to Wanstead Park is a matter that I’m increasingly concerned with. Paths that are marked on old O.S. Maps are no longer accessible – at least easily, if at all. A good example of this is the gravelled path that runs downhill through Warren Wood from near the Warren Road entrance to intersect Florrie’s Hill. It doesn’t take much to loose a path – an extending bramble or a fallen tree can do it easily. It also doesn’t take much to keep a path open – a pair of loppers or a hand saw. But maintenance of the Park away from around the refreshment kiosk and the Temple is pretty sparse. Oh, occasionally trees are trimmed for safety - or felled for the same reason(!), and repairs are made to the more major tracks so that the Corporation's vehicles can get round. They are repaired because they are damaged by the vehicles, and as often as not with an inappropriate-for-walking-on material.

Another example of lack of maintenance of a path is that on the south side of Heronry Pond, between the pond and Bullet Hill and Northumberland Avenue. That was a nice walk by the lakeside until brambles got the better of it. There are a lot of paths in the park that I find difficult to use – if they are useable at all. Even turning right after entering the Park from opposite Wanstead Park Avenue, the path nearly opposite Perry Lodge is now gullied, muddied and brambled. And that was a proposed easy-access path!

On the other hand – of course – we are loosing potential bluebells because there are no clearly defined pathways across/through Chalet Wood. Particularly just before the bluebells flower, they are easily damaged as people - including children going to school - stroll in line abreast across the emerging plants. It shouldn’t be difficult to help define some routes without unduly affecting the character of the wood.

What else have we lost? Well, quite a bit of the accessible Park has fairly recently been lost to the “footprint” of the area around the Keeper’s Lodges – sheds, caravan park, borehole…

Probably the major thing we’ve lost is a continuing management plan – it is always a plan for the future, whereas management needs to take place all the time.

It doesn't seem as if we have people on the ground – or even in an office – who know or really care what is happening in Wanstead Park. Those who maintain they know what is happening don’t really seem to, and those who should care can’t – because of recent policies, I think.

Of course there are many people like myself that care, but unless you’ve got a very loud voice whatever you say seems to be either pooh-poohed or ignored. (and I haven’tgot a very loud voice – I’m just somebody that walks in the Park, keeps a website or two relating to it, and has written numerous letters to a variety of Superintendents).

I need to point out – otherwise I shall get in trouble – that these thoughts are my own. I guess that others might feel similarly (or not); maybe if you do you might like to think about what is likely to be lost next. The Park itself, perhaps? You have been warned! Keep an eye on Weald Park, and Thorndon Park and Essex County Council, over the years to come.



Paul Ferris,  10 March 2008