I spent a couple of hours on Wanstead Flats this morning before heading to the Salt Mines, and very pleasant it was too. The highlight was probably hearing, then seeing, Lesser Spot in South Copse - one of the copses that bore the brunt of some recent ire. I should probably apologise now for possibly being wrong, though it's still early days. The need to apologise increased when one Lesser Spot became two, and although there was no visible interaction, one was a male, and the other a female. This was around 7am I suppose, so filthy year-listers still requiring small Woodpeckers would be advised to get here early to stand the best chance of connecting.
As I continued my rounds, I bumped into Nick, and commented that it was all going rather splendidly this year, with many fine birds during the cold period, and now some encouraging signs of spring. His reply was shocking. We're doing really badly! Eh? Well, Nick, as I am, is a fan of patch stats. Who isn't really? Hours of fun.... Wheatear, he said, was species number 95 last year, and we're only on 81 at the moment. Gadzooks!
The Wheatears were very late last year, the first not being seen until March 30th, but nonetheless another 13 birds between now and then seems a tall order. We wondered aloud what we might be missing, especially after our run of rare waders and sawbills, but couldn't get anywhere near to 95, and thus descended into glum slience, and only really perked up when we found over 20 dead frogs in various states of both dessication and bloatedness near Cat and Dog pond. I had a little think at work, and even with the benefit of a post-it note and a pen couldn't work out where we were falling short. Happily, patch stats once again have the answer. On the other less-ranty blog, we recorded our collective 2011 year list, and cleverly put dates against migrants. Wheatear was indeed number 95, but where do we place now, and what was inbetween? I've never seen Tree Sparrow here, and didn't bag Stonechat until the autumn, but the Caspian Gull (#82 and still with the LNHS Stonkingly-rare Patch Birds Committee) was mine, and occurred very briefly on February 26th, until flushed not by a right-wing dog as you might think, but by a couple of footballers. The Red Kite was on March 14th, a full two weeks away, so with 2012's year list on 81, I'd say we were basically level.
But something is niggling. The cold snap produced seven amazing species, only one of which had been seen by this time last year, and indeed most were not seen at all. So even with these bonuses, we're still one behind. Oh dear, I see what Nick means. Last year those cold snap birds were replaced, numerically at least, with Tawny Owl, Rock Pipit, Waxwing, Treecreeper, Yellowhammer, Little Owl, and Yellow-legged Gull. To come between them and Wheatear were the pending Caspo, Tree Sparrow, Stonechat, Red Kite, LRP, Common Sand, Water Pipit, Pheasant, Goshawk, Lapwing, Shelduck, Buzzard and Sand Martin. We've already used up Lapwing and Buzzard this year, and a lot of the species I've mentioned are extremely scarce, so scarce in fact that I've not seen quite a few of them (Goshawk and both Pipits in case you were wondering, plus the aforementioned Sparrow). It looks like it really will be a tall order to compete with 2011, and we may not even come close. That'll teach me to feel chirpy and positive about the patch. It's actually rubbish!