Monday 6 February 2012

Winter Waderland

Where do I start? Today has been one of the best days I've had on the patch ever. That includes autumn days with multiple Whinchats, Ring Ouzels and Pied Flycatchers - this is right up there. It has been monumental. As a measure of quite how stunning it has been, if I told you I had had two patch ticks, would you believe me?

The snow was far more impressive this morning that I had imagined that it would be. I didn't get up especially early, but the way the day was going to pan out was made fairly clear during family breakfast, when three Egyptian Geese flew over. Hurrah! Lucky I didn't tick those ones the other day eh?! I left the house with a broad smile on my face. Won't be long, I said, just going to check a few of the ponds for rare sawbills, and then I'll be right back. By the time I crawled sheepishly back in at about half three, I'd had an absolute stunner.

Started off at the Basin - heaving with ducks, though nothing out of the norm. Yesterday's Wigeon, present at dusk, had gone over night, but there were good numbers of Gadwall, Pochard and Tuftie. A greenkeeper was disappointingly present (why?), so the trespassing I had in mind had to be postponed, and instead I hastened to Heronry. There was a still a bit of open water, so I busied myself taking pictures of very cold birds. Whilst doing that a Grey Wag flew in, a Kingfisher flew past, and a Snipe flew over - all good birds. Steve then pitched up having walked the Roding, and so I suggested we head down to the Flats where we might get some wide horizons - Lapwing, I said confidently, could be on the cards.

We had been on the Flats perhaps ten minutes when a flock of 25 Lapwing flew over our heads going west. Win. About two minutes later another 58 went over, followed by another 43. In the space of five minutes my Wanstead Lapwing count had almost trebled. Walking to meet Nick over the other side, another 19 came by, and as we stood chewing the fat, another 13 came over, as well as two Snipe. My wader-lust sated, I headed for home. Two minutes later Nick called - 100+ Lapwings coming your way. Wanstead's biggest flock of Lapwings ever then flew across my bins, too many to count, I got to 120 before they were lost and was only 2/3rds of the way along the line. Trying to pick them up in the grey sky, another group of 40+ hove into view. What on earth was going on? That took my day total to 320 birds!

The bird has a metal ring on its left leg. Is the Ilford bird ringed?
"beep beep" - incoming from Crofty - Think I've got a Med Gull on Alex, not sure, bins rather steamed up. Steve and I turned around, Nick has an exceptionally good Med Gull record. To cut a long story short, it was one, and this piece of good fortune changed the course of the day. Whilst photographing the Med Gull, another Snipe flew in. It skittered over the ice and came to rest under the overhanging branches of the island. I grabbed a shot of it before a beligerent Coot flushed it out again, and it skittered around for a few seconds and then dived back in. I remarked that it looked quite small, and quickly looked at my photograph. Oh my God, Jack Snipe. By this time Tim had turned up on the other side of the water for the Med Gull, and attracted by our frantic waving and pointing, got on the bird as it had another flutter. He could see it clearly and confirmed that it was Wanstead's first Jack Snipe since 1979. We joined him on the other side and enjoyed excellent views as this diminutive mega-wader bounced up and down for all (well, most) comers. A number of other local birders turned up for this stonking bird, and as we were all looking at it, I happened to glance behind us and picked up six Golden Plover almost over our heads - I am reliably informed that my shout was heard in West Ham, and most of my fellow Snipe-watchers jumped out of their skins. I hadn't even considered Jack Snipe as a possibility, but I have been waiting for that Golden Plover moment for about five years. The only slight anti-climax was that they were headed for my house...

To further bore you with numbers, my Lapwing day count ended up at 373 - to think that a week ago it was 46 in six years. Both the Snipe and the Plover were patch ticks, and the Geese were, ahem, a garden tick. Yesterday saw the biggest group of Wigeon I've seen here, and two lifers down in Sussex. A staggering weekend by anyone's standards. What will tomorrow bring?

Oh, and I almost forgot to metion the Great White Egret on Heronry. I know they're getting commoner, but to get one in Wanstead was amazing.

Tall, slim, white, with a yellowish beak. Not sure what else it could be?


  1. Plover? What plover? I've had to read this 8 times to reduce the chances of my looking stupid, but I can still find no detailed mention of the other patch tick.

  2. Ah. Yes, you do have a point, I wrote this after a long evening in the pub with a couple of the others who had also out today. We spent quite a lot of time talking about the Golden Plovers, and then several beers to the good I managed to miss them off my account. However with some slick editing, you do now get to look stupid.

    1. Amina said that the great white egret is actually an indian runner duck. I seem to agree, not that I know a lot about birds.

  3. This is what patch watching is all about and what makes all of those repetitive, soul-sapping visits worthwhile. I feel your joy.

  4. ... and that Mr Haig is why have two pairs of bins, just in case one gets a bit fogged up

  5. The duck (GWE) picture could be worth something. Advert/birthday card/poster.

  6. I'm sure Valentino(nick name for Ilfords Med Gull)has a colour ring as well as the metal one, Great shots.