Monday, 6 February 2012

Wanstead: Land of the Wader

I am still on a massive high from Sunday’s waderfest. As you may have gathered from the comments section, I went out for a few celebratory beers on Sunday night. When I got home I decided to write up the day, and inexplicably missed out the six Golden Plover that I had just spent several hours toasting, and also neglected to post a photo of the Jack Snipe. Funny old stuff, beer.  Anyway, as has been pointed out, days like Sunday are indeed the stuff that humble patch-workers live for, and that justify the very many days when they see nothing at all. When I first arrived in the bird mecca that is Wanstead, it quickly became apparent that waders were mythical. This was probably exacerbated by my also birding Rainham Marshes regularly, which, back when they had water, was wader central. Gradually though, my list of patch waders is increasing.

Better late than never

I know many readers enjoy nerdy bird stats, and though I detest them myself, for the sake of demonstrating how Wanstead is in fact excellent for Waders, I totted up how many different waders I’ve seen here. The answer? Twelve! That’s basically most of them though isn’t it? The most numerous in terms of sheer numbers is Lapwing – even before yesterday. In terms of numbers of sightings, it’s Snipe, who winter regularly. Then comes Common Sand, which is the most numerous of the passage waders, and is a banker every year. After that though, you’re talking about ones and twos at best - apart from Golden Plover, which now number six (woohoo!!). Two Wood Sandpipers, two Green Sandpipers, two Woodcocks, one Oystercatcher, one Dunlin, one Little Ringed Plover, one Jack Snipe, one Stone Curlew (wow), and that’s the sum of my wader sightings in six years here. Meagre, but improving. Since I’ve lived here, there have also been some Black-tailed Godwits, a few flyover Whimbrels, and a flyover Ringed Plover, none of which I’ve seen, but I tell myself that 12 out of 15 ain’t at all bad, and anyway, it builds expectation, which is crucial to patch birding.

Wanstead is in London’s zone 3; most of Wanstead Flats probably classifies as zone 2. We’re under two miles from the Olympic stadium, seven and half miles from Trafalgar Square, and four miles from the Thames at its closest point. That we get any waders at all is probably a miracle, especially such quality as Wood Sand and Stone Curlew. Then again, waders seem to move along defined flight paths that we do not understand, and it could be that Wanstead is on one. For instance, why did Wanstead Flats get all those Lapwings yesterday, whereas Wanstead Park got practically none? The two are less than half a mile apart. And why have I seen 450 Lapwings in the six years that I have lived here, whereas Paul H has seen only four at Mayesbrook Park, a mere three miles away as the Lapwing flies, and only a mile from the river, in twenty years? Perhaps he’s just rubbish?!

Waders are definitely the most challenging group of birds to see here. Apart from Divers. Oh, and Bee-eaters... OK, so amongst the most challenging to see here. Anyway, it makes them objects of intense desire. A Dunlin anywhere else holds no interest for me unless I can take its picture at point blank range; in Wanstead, I’d be running. Part of the challenge is getting to the ponds before our four-legged friends do, which given that people walk their dogs in the dark here, is often very difficult. Nonetheless I have high hopes this year of adding a couple more waders to my tally. Top of the list is probably Whimbrel, but Curlew and Grey Plover could happen. Or maybe I’m just a little giddy with excitement and need to go and have a lie down.

Wood Sandpiper, April 2011

Dunlin, April 2010

LRP, March 2011

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