It doesn't quite end there though, and a break in the weather around lunchtime meant that a quick sortie was on the cards. And what a sortie it was! The Flats were alive with migrants. Nine Wheatear together, one of which was a cast-iron Greenland with wingtips practically dragging on the ground. There was a female Whinchat with them, and there were Swallows overhead for most of the short time I was out. With them were a couple of Swifts, and finally, over a month later than expected, a solitary Sand Martin. As I took in this aeriel feast I could hear Lesser Whitethroat singing, and Common Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were knocking around too. All in all a pretty fantastic fifteen minutes. And then I looked over the road and saw Fred Wigg Tower.....
The Fred Wigg Tower, and its neighbour the John Walsh Tower, are seventeen storey 1960s monstrosities that stare out across the western side of Wanstead Flats - the side I live on. They're a stark reminder that there are nice places to live in London, and not so nice places to live, and that the two are often to be found side by side. There was a huge fire on the 13th floor of the Fred Wigg Tower at the end of last year, and the burnt out windows and resultant damage can be seen from any point on Wanstead Flats. My assailants back in 2009, who so cruelly relieved me of my phone, bins and Tesco shopping, disappeared off in the direction of the Fred Wigg Tower, and I can only imagine that it's pretty rough - I have of course never been there.
|John Walsh (L), and Fred Wigg (R)|
Why am I mentioning this? Well, as I have often mentioned, the wildlife (and birders) of Wanstead Flats suffer from huge amounts of disturbance. Birds (and the rest of creation) are at the mercy of legions of dog walkers and their charges, and of model aircraft enthusiasts and their irritating flying lawnmowers. Joggers, alcoholics and footballers discard drinks bottles and cans with abandon, and late night revellers leave more of the same, but with added chicken. And the cruising community leave, er, other things which I need not go into here, though special mention must go to a full length bathroom mirror in one of the broom clumps. The funfairs and circuses come and churn up the Western Flats every bank holiday and leave yet more mess, there are firework displays in the same place, and we're soon to get an immense Police muster station over there for three months. Thames water spent months drilling a huge pipeline across it a few years ago, the path of which is still easily visible, and every summer holiday various parts of the grassland get set alight. It's a wonder we have any birds at all. What new forms of disturbance could we dream up I wonder? How about Surface-to-Air missiles on top of the Fred Wigg Tower?
If you were to go through the Fred Wigg Tower with the proverbial fine tooth comb, I reckon you would be fairly certain to accumulate a fairly extensive arsenal of weapons. Knives, bats, iron bars, knuckle dusters, a few swords and probably even some guns. But Surface-to-Air missiles is an embarrassing gap on an otherwise likely comprehensive list. Happily the army is going to put that right, and Fred Wigg Tower has been selected as one of six sites in London to host missiles to shoot down terrorist threats in the air during the Olympics. Personally I can't wait, it's what my birding has been missing. Come July when I am out looking for returning waders, dodging rabid dogs and model planes, negiotiating the razor-wire perimeter of the police base while tripping over drunks, stumbling over beer cans and evian bottles, slipping on used prophylactics, and trying not to get mugged, bitten or solicited, the sight and sound of missiles streaking through the air will lend a frisson of excitement to an otherwise dull experience. Bring it on I say.