No childcare for over 24 hours. What was I going to do with all that time? Embark on a damp-dusting frenzy the likes of which my house has never seen? Almost right. In fact I went birding.
So yesterday, after dropping number one son off at school and the girls off in Cambridge, I went straight to Tyttenhanger and met Paul W in the carpark. Tree Sparrow and Grey Partridge were the targets. The Tree Sparrows were a piece of cake, and we found three birds in the usual hedge along with a few Yellowhammer and about three million Dunnocks. The Grey Partridges however refused to play ball. I had been told this was a good site for them in the LNHS area only a few days ago, but on yesterday's showing I'd have to disagree. As we wandered around in the mud, it became noticeably brighter, and a fiery yellow ball appeared in the sky, which for some reason had turned blue. Fearing that the apocalypse was upon us, we started to head for the car. How that would have helped? As we glanced up fearfully at the sky, Paul picked out two Common Buzzards circling. Ominous, and then I picked up three more. Eeek! We quickened our pace, but it became brighter still. We figured we might as well spend our last few minutes raptor-watching, and so headed for a good spot only a few miles away. This turned out to be great decision, and we were soon rewarded by two cracking Red Kites well inside the London recording area, with another outside it, and at least six more Buzzards. Amazingly, the fiery ball then disappeared and it started to rain, so we lived to bird another day, and I am here to tell you about it. Lucky you.
Today, after the school run, I headed straight for the London Borough of Hackney for a double of Tawny Owl and Brambling. Although it seems silly twitching a Tawny Owl, as some live about 300m from me, I just can't find them this year. I've been out late at night listening for them on several occasions with no joy, and the day-roost I discovered last year has been empty every time I've checked it. I got thoroughly lost in the maze that is Abney Park Cemetery within about three minutes, and had to call Mark for help. Turns out I came in a different entrance to that which I thought I had come in by, and thus had become disoriented. He soon put me right, and the Tawny was once again in its favourite tree, closely watched by several Great Tits. I watched it for several minutes to see if it would catch and eat one, but it steadfastly ignored them and me, so I left it to it and headed off to Clissold Park for the Brambling.
I watched the feeders there for a good hour before I picked it up. A lovely winter male, always surprises me how big and chunky they look. Sadly there is no photo, as I figured Hackney wasn't the best place to stand around in full view with a large lense, so by the time I got it out of my bag it had vanished. Instead have some Deer. No idea what sort they are. Ho ho ho.
Flush with success, and fuelled by a superb bacon and egg bap, I headed the short distance to Walthamstow to see if I could refind the Dusky Warbler. I paid my pound - as you know, I do not condone wanton fence-hopping - and walked up the Lockwood to the site, on the way picking up the long-staying Slavonian Grebe, and a surprising female Goosander. I could never find Goosander when I was after one for a London tick, now I see them all the time. This is why I will likely find a Tawny Owl in Wanstead tomorrow.
To cut a long story short, I gave the Dusky an hour from the spot I had seen it a week or so ago, but not a sniff. One brief Chiffchaff was my total warbler score. I walked back around the Lockwood the other way, thus completing my circuit, but couldn't find the Green Sandpiper that has been reported. Incredibly, or perhaps predictably, I found another five Goosander, two drakes and three females. They are usually pretty flighty, so I went down the bank of the reservoir and walked around hidden from view, before sneaking up over the top right where they were. They weren't impressed....
Last stop Waterworks NR, where Paul W had kindly supplied a back-up Green Sandpiper, nailed down in a reedy marshland zone with a Snipe and a few Teal. Some days it all goes right, and today was one of those days. Maybe all the birds were stuffed? It is unusual that I set off with three target birds in mind and get them all, but there you have it. All three were London 2010 ticks - yes I know, how cool am I? - and so I'm on 141, which I'm entirely satisfied with. There's a Waxwing in Finchley as well. The girls have never been to N3, maybe they need to see what it's like?