Sunday 19 December 2010

The Big Picture on the Inner Thames

In cold weather, London birders seem to gravitate towards the river. It is usually even colder by the river, but there is a chance of good birds and that is why we do it. I had five layers on today at West Thurrock, which was just about sufficient. I don't know how cold it was, but my right little finger was the worst affected. I think I need to fatten it up.

As the snow was pretty extreme (by wussy London standards) I took the good ship Eco One, though in the event I reckon even a Honda Jazz could have made it - the problems may come later when a partial daytime thaw then gets frozen again overnight. Still, it was pretty fun to slip into low ratio and power down Coldharbour Lane at 20mph in fifth.

I picked up Nick from outside my house, which was extremely convenient, and then a short hop north for Bradders and we were on our way - destination the picturesque riverside at West Thurrock where we were taking part in a coordinated Inner Thames high tide wader count - basically checking all the known roosts to see "the big picture". I don't have the full results yet, but it seems that everyone got out despite the weather, so we will indeed know "the big picture". I have no idea if "the big picture" has any scientific merit, but it has been well over a year since I have been able to say "the big picture" quite so often in such a short space of time, and as I may be heading down that route again I thought I should start practising.

Highlights at West Thurrock were two female Scaup, and a flock of 59 Avocets that may or may not represent a record count for London. I'm reasonably interested to know if it is, but not so fascinated that I am going to wade (da-dah!) through a century of LBRs. They were all bunched up on the river and surprisingly difficult to count, and our multiple attempts ranged from 56 through to 62. We arrived at 59 three times when they were a little bit more strung out, so are calling it that. Bird recording is all about accuracy.

After getting properly cold we returned to the car, and this being West Thurrock, were pleased to see it still had all four wheels and a complete set of windows. A quick stop for heated comestibles was much needed, and we roared into Rainham at around 2ish hoping to connect with the three Smew that Kev had first seen from Crayford early morning, and that had then been seen from various locations on the north side. There was no sign, in fact the river was pretty dead, gulls notwithstanding. After about thirty minutes we were just about to pack it in when Nick exclaimed "There they are!", and sure enough, there they were. Three redhead Smew, drifting down on the falling tide. I managed one predictably awesome phone-scoped shot, and then they flew east down the river, appearing to drop down near the RSPB Visitor Centre, though it was rather murky and we could not relocate them. A superb Rainham ever tick, and my 163rd for the year, they were on view for all of about a minute. Jam jam jam.

I'm back home now after six and a half hours outdoors on the coldest day of the year. I've had two cups of tea and some noodle soup stuff (cheap oriental cuppasoup equivalent, six for a quid), and am feeling much better. The temperature is predicted to drop to minus eight tonight, and remain below freezing all of tomorrow. I think the children and I will stay home, play games, and watch DVDs.  Unless someone turns up a monster seabird, in which case I will drag them kicking and screaming to see it.

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