Saturday 9 January 2010

In which I don't find a Himalayan Snowcock on the patch, and am genuinely surprised about it

Jesus it's cold. I can't remember it ever being this cold. Post-birding, I've been warming my hands up by holding them in the fridge. Today Muffin had a friend's birthday party at the hell-hole called Kids Corner in Epping. "You can stay if you like?!" said the mum brightly. I excused myself, said I'd rather chew my own arm off or something, and headed off to scope the northern Lea Valley Reservoirs. On an exposed hillside, holding an all-metal tripod head, two-pairs of gloves might as well have been a sheet of tissue paper. Four or five Black-necked Grebes and four Goldeneye were scant reward for losing all feeling in my fingers. Chastened I went off to Connaught Water in Epping Forest, home over the years to many unringed and wary wildfowl exotica, and a healthy population of Mandarin Ducks.

On arrival, I stepped on a Robin. Then on another. And then another. I've never seen anything like it, they were everywhere. If you stopped, suddenly there would be about 15 on the path all around you, with more in the bushes, and yet more hopping about on the iced-up lake. Some kind-hearted souls are seeding the area, and every Robin in the south-east of England has got to hear of it.

Back in Wanstead, I headed out into the gathering storm. Target - Sparrow. The wind cut through me as I crossed the Flats to the likely spot. Hurrah! Funnily enough House Sparrow was #50 in 2009 as well - shows just how badly they are doing.
Next stop Reservoir Wood for a crack at the Tit flock and the Firecrests, but it was virtually silent. I read today that this freeze is supposed to continue until the first week in February. By then, Wanstead may be a bird-free zone. I hope not, as I rather like it with birds in it. Anyway, I continued on to the Dell, where I hoped to find Woodcock and Water Rail. None of the former, though I bet they're in there, but I was rewarded with an extremely showy Water Rail down near the little bridge. I can claim no credit for finding it though, another local birder, Nick, put me on to it. Still, it's nice to know that we have one again. The Dell is looking really good at the moment, as it is one of the only places in the Park which has flowing water, and this was being enjoyed by not only the Water Rail, but also by a pair of Moorhen, a funny Wren with a seemingly black belly, and a Weasel - a site mammal tick. Would that it would also be enjoyed by a Woodcock, a Jack Snipe, or some Teal. I'll keep checking it, sooner or later it will come good.

By now the snow had really kicked in, and much as I was enjoying the Rail, it was time to head back to the family. I set a brisk pace and by the time I got back was actually fairly warm. Nonetheless, it is bleak out there, and set to continue. Although I am joking about the Himalayan Snowcock, literally anything could turn up.

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