Monday 15 April 2013

After the Flood

Today has been one of those glorious days that inland patch-workers live for. One of those days when it all comes together - birds, weather, birders and luck. It doesn't happen often, I can recall perhaps two other days as good in eight years, but when it is good it is very good. I'm not talking patch megas, or even rare London birds, simply a good variety - and crucially, quantity, of common migrants. It's all about quantity. London-wide, local patches have had an astonishing day - 260 Wheatears and 44 Common Redstarts. You could perhaps get that at Spurn on a good day, but in London it is exceptional. That said, it was always on the cards. Spring has been delayed for so long that in my mind it was always a question of when, and not if. As soon as the weather changed, I felt the flood gates would open, and all the birds that had been held up would come through en masse. Today was that day. I hope tomorrow is also that day!

Wanstead had its fair share. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that we kicked ass. When I tell you that we broke our day count of Wheatears you'll perhaps see where I'm going with this. The day totals read as follows: 27 Wheatear, 5 Common Redstart, 3 Whinchat, Ring Ouzel, Sand Martin, Swallows, 3 Common Whitethroat, 5+ Willow Warbler and more Chiffchaff than you can shake a stick at. And crucially, I saw at least one of each....

It started well for me - out on the Flats at around 6.15am, the first birds I encountered were four Wheatear on one of the cut areas. I spied Dan up ahead, bins raised. He had more Wheatears, about a dozen. As I walked over to him a highly suspicious-looking dark thrush curved around me and dived into the broom. It had Ring Ouzel written all over it frankly, but it had been too quick for me. Dan had seen it too, and reached the same conclusion, but inconclusively. I put it out as a probable and carried on looking for Wheatears - the last Ouzel that had dived into the broom had taken about two hours to come out again, two hours that I didn't have. By the time the Wheatears were relocated near the small football pitch they had become 21, soon scaled back to a miserly 20 when one in fact turned out to be a Whinchat. Result!

Never one to miss out on the action, Nick turned up a short while later, and I commented to him that if someone later found a Ring Ouzel in the brooms, I was having it. We wandered over to the Alex to try and find a Redstart. A flick in the brambles near the water turned into the patch's first Whitethroat of the year, and sure enough, a female Common Redstart was in one of the Hawthorns in the pub scrub, with another Whitethroat for company. As we watched it the first Sand Martin buzzed overhead. By this point my time was up, but I didn't want to leave - it felt like a dangerous morning to go to work!

And indeed it was. The guys had an amazing morning, including Tony who pitched up a little later, and, surprise surprise, found a female Ring Ouzel in the brooms. Ker-ching, and thank you very much - a five year-tick day in the space of roughly two hours. It didn't end there for me though. As I headed out of the office briefly to buy cakes for the team (to 'celebrate' my recent holiday, a bizarre office tradition) I got a call from John A. Amazingly, and from my perspective, fortuitously, he had stumbled upon a singing Nightingale just outside Canary Wharf at Poplar Dock - about a ten minute walk. How could I not? So I did, and not only was it in fine voice at two in the afternoon, but I also saw it as it flitted from one bit of cover to another. Loads of Phylloscs and a Whitethroat in the a same scrub, and achingly close to CW - I checked all likely areas on the way back to the office, and they were of course bird free, exactly as they ought to be.

Apols for the crappy photos, today was all about the birding and no time to fart around being artistic. I'm not even going to bother with my pretetious watermark, and tomorrow I'm going one step further and am not even going to take a camera with me, which all but guarantees a Cuckoo or something.

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