'I'm sorry Sir, we're fresh out of Wigeon. Would this small Woodpecker be suitable?'
At the end of last year there were record-breaking numbers of Wigeon on the patch. At the start of this year there were just two. Two declined to zero soon after Bob lobbed a brick at them in the fading light, and Nick and I dipped shortly afterwards. However whilst looking for them we found the first Lesser Spotted Woodpecker for ages and ages. Nick was so delighted that he hugged me. A touching moment, but that's how good these birds are. Wanstead used to be a dead cert for them, people came from miles around for a year tick. And then suddenly, about two or three years ago, they vanished. The regular birds on the Flats melted away, the reliable birds in the Park near the Temple disappeared. If my amazing (ahem) spreadsheet is to be believed, my last records are from February and March 2012. So yesterday's male bird feeding in some trees alongside the Basin following, er, an exploratory foray onto the Golf Course was an incredibly welcome sight. None of us bird the Golf Course as it's private property, the closest we get is scanning the Basin from the road. When I've previously got inexplicably lost and ended up on there, it hasn't taken long for a brightly-clothed person to send me on my way. Perhaps the Woodpeckers have been here all along? Anyway, Wigeon smigeon, I'll take Lesserspot any day of the week.
Yesterday was a good day. I didn't quite break my Jan 1st record of 62 species, but I came very close indeed. The reason I fell short is that I am falling to pieces. Despite carrying nothing more than a modest set of 8x32s, by midday I was limping badly, by 2pm I could barely walk, and when I returned home at dusk I had to crawl up the stairs. Bob estimates we did about 12 miles yesterday, In the context of the patch that's pretty extreme coverage. In the context of what a spry youthful person like me ought to be able to manage in a completely flat landscape it is absolutely pitiful. I ache in places I did not know one could ache. This morning getting downstairs was a major achievement that took close to two minutes, and was accompanied by many anguished noises, and as for putting on my shoes....
I ended the day on 61, with highlights being the aforementioned Woodpecker, an errant Short-eared Owl, two Peregrines, Firecrest, and an unseasonal Shelduck. No New Year's Day would be complete without some embarrassing misses, and so it was that I hobbled home without Linnet, Reed Bunting, Sparrowhawk, Nuthatch or Skylark. The latter is the most disappointing. For many years Skylark has been an unfailing feature of Wanstead Flats, with parts of the breeding colony over-wintering. Tony found the three birds that we know to be here this morning, but the point is that you never even needed to try, they were just there. In 2011 I counted 19 on the first; I fear we're now not far away from the end.
In happier news I can still just about walk on level ground, and a two hour slog at approx half a mile an hour this morning produced two Nuthatches in Bush Wood, and then two Great Black-backed Gulls on the Brick Pits. I couldn't find Coal Tit, and the Linnet continue to elude me. Nick says that we need 78 species for a record January, and with a collective 71 already I reckon we have a decent chance. I will definitely be giving it 110%, assuming my legs don't fall off.