Saturday 15 October 2011


I thought of a really good* joke whilst walking round Wanstead Flats this morning. It came to me suddenly, at around 9am, after seeing some "no sign" messages on my phone. For the benefit of those of you fortunate enough not to get my inane tweets on your phone, here it is.

Q: Are Dippers rare in Norfolk?
A: Not this morning.

Ho, ho, ho. I can only imagine the scenes this morning, with five-hundred hopefuls looking fearfully at the clear dawn skies. Oh dear. Still, I had a great morning on Wanstead Flats, and that's what really matters right?

I had forgotton what a special place it can be on chilly autumn mornings. As is normal in these conditions, a heavy mist lay on the ground, rising to about six feet, and the grass was all frosty. Finches flew over south-west in small groups - Redpoll, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, a handful of Siskin. Gradually the sun came up, piercing the mist. The thin layer of ice on the grasses melted quickly, and suddenly everything was golden. I had the place to myself, more or less. I had seen a guy early on with some kind of parabolic reflector - nutter, I thought, as he disappeared back into the mist. Turns out it was Stuart, experimenting with an umbrella and a microphone. I met him a little later on when I could actually see, and noticed the umbrella sticking out of his rucksack. I didn't tell him my earlier thoughts about nutcases, it would have been rude. Far better to just write about it on my blog I felt.

As the mist cleared two Geese flew west. One was enormous, or the other was very small. The Canada was obvious, but the other.....ah a patch of sunlight and a perfect little Barnacle Goose was revealed. I set off to look for it, Jubilee the likely destination, and there it was, eyeing me warily from an island, and seeking the protection of bigger, tougher Geese. Looking back through my notes there is no mention of Barnacle Goose, though I would swear I have seen one on the patch before. No matter, here it was now, looking extremely lovely in the soft morning light. Wild? About as wild as the Red-breasted Goose I expect, possibly a shade wilder - there are a few at large in the Lea Valley.

Alexandra Lake had three drake Teal and a few returning Shoveler, and everywhere I went there were Song Thrushes. By now the footballers were invading, so I left the Flats and headed for the Old Sewage Works. It didn't hold the Great Grey Shrike I was hoping for, but yet more Siskin flew overhead and the big hedge was alive with small birds. Willow and Chiff, Dunnock and Robin, Song Thrush and Blackbird. At the Tea Hut of Happiness crufts was in full swing, and sitting by the water I could hear Wanstead's loudest man in the Dell - about three hundred yards away. This is how I always refer to him, it would be very wrong of me to say his name is Bernie. He could talk for Britain, or perhaps shout for Britain. A small child chased away the Egyptian Goose even before a dog could, and the ever increasing multitude of humanity caused me to seek calmer shores. This is the trouble when the sun shines. People come out to enjoy themselves. Far better that it be cold and miserable. Not long now I expect.

* really lame

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