Monday 14 November 2011

Listing Angst

Mrs L was doing the school run this morning, so I snuck out on the patch before work. Or rather, she kicked me out onto the patch - it is quite possible I would have just lazed around in bed. I am very glad that she did, or at least I think I am. It was extremely misty on the Flats, not the low mist that hangs between three and six feet in the air, but a consistent bank of mist that restricted any kind of view of the sky. Perhaps best to call it extremely low cloud, as horizontal visibility was fine. I had stopped to photograph a large mushroom when an Oystercatcher called. Wah!! Then it called again, a whole series of "kleeps". I strained to see it, I wanted a glimpse, fleeting would have been sufficient. It seemed to have come from south of my position in the Broom Fields, but try as I might one final, faint kleep and that was it. Dagnabit!

I was immediately overcome with self-doubt and introspective cynicism. When I had heard the call, I had immediately and automatically gone "Oystercatcher!" to myself. It is a highly distinctive call. I had looked up expecting to see an Oystercatcher, but the fog had prevented me seeing it. Ten seconds later and I was trying to talk myself out of it. Why? I should have been doing cartwheels, for Oystercatcher was my number one most-wanted patch tick. And this is the problem. It is too convenient. What is my most-wanted patch tick? An Oystercatcher? Right, that's what I'll go out and hear then. SImple. It's another version of seeing what you expect to see, the little cynical voice inside me said. I hung around for a while, listening out for a particularly talented Starling. I strained to turn Ring-neked Parakeets into distant Oystercatchers but could not. I could only conclude that I had been correct. I didn't really need any more convincing, but I was still plagued with small amounts of self-doubt, and so played it on my phone. Yup, Oystercatcher. My suspicion is that it had been feeding on the playing fields south of South Copse, and had been disturbed and taken flight eastwards, as I had heard nothing from the west. Shame then that I had stopped to photograph a mushroom.

For many years, Osprey was my number one target bird. I dispensed with that this September, when I was lucky enough to coincide with one flying lazily south over Alexandra Lake early in the morning. That out of the way, I needed a new target bird. I ended up choosing Oystercatcher, and, after this morning the reason why seems pretty clear. At the time I hadn't given it much thought, but now that I am bashing out the minutae, it's because it was easy with high probability of success. A common bird on the Thames estuary, large, generally not elusive, with a call that even I can recognise, with the added bonus that I could find no historical records. Brilliant, an ideal choice for a top target. I was kidding no-one but myself.

So, I need a new one, but clearly something a bit more challenging, but at the same time, it has to be at least a possibility. I might start a poll thing, it has been a while. Alternatively, please suggest something juicy in the comments box. You can see my Wanstead list here, and the Wanstead historical sitelist here.


  1. Here's 3 to ponder over Golden Plover, Smew & Hawfinch - All possible this winter!

  2. Short-eared Owl: rare but not impossible, and very desirable.