Saturday, 7 May 2016

Cetti's at Dawn

It's 5.25am and I'm hurtling down the Aldersbrook Road into a fabulous sunrise. The Flats are empty, and I have the Alex to myself for the first time in as long as I can remember. Needless to say there are no waders, just the usual collection of motley Canadas and Greylags, but it doesn't matter. I don't linger, I have unfinished business at the Roding – that damn Cetti's Warbler. Surely it must still be there? Does it only sing in the morning? Silent Cetti's Warblers do not make for great birding experiences....

Carrying on down Wanstead park Avenue I make a familiar yet strange turn right onto Empress Avenue. Usually I am on foot. Today I zip around, pedals carefully aligned. Down past the stables, I'd never really appreciated the incline before although it's not long enough to get any kind of speed up. Somebody is up, there is a car there and lights are on even though they're not needed. Probably whoever it is got up even earlier than I did. Love of horses does that to a person I suppose, but I'm not a fan.



Into the Old Sewage Works proper and I take the double bend at speed before turning past the big hedge and down towards the river. There are Warblers singing everywhere, it's deafening. Whitethroats and Blackcaps mostly, the odd Chiffchaff struggling to be heard. Song Thrushes too, though perhaps not as many as earlier in the year. As I approach the place where the lower river path starts I slow down and dismount. It's time to listen. Bob had the bird a bit further on, down near what we call the Gates of Mordor that signify the end of the patch, but I reckon it's worth a slow amble from about this point as the habitat is ideal.

At this point the/a Cetti's Warbler bursts into full song right above my head. Tchah! Tchah-de-da-de-daa! Literally above my head. It is somehow in the one bush that I have stopped my bike next to, which is prophetic given my prediction of this patch bird and my two dips earlier this week. It does it again, and comes higher into the foliage. I can actually see it now, the leaves are not yet fully out. I am delighted to even hear it, but to see it is something else entirely – such a plain bird but so in your face in other ways. And now it has vanished again, so I continue down to the Gates. A Little Egret is on the bend, and is joined by another before they go their separate ways – one south, one north. I give it ten minutes but there is no Cetti's down here so I retrace my steps. It sings again, further away from the river this time, heading deeper into the OSW. The habitat here is remote enough that nobody has yet thought to clear it and create grand vistas, and it could hold dozens of them. In due course it may well do if this bird is, as we suspect, merely the vanguard. A few years from now and it could be an expected tick on any visit here, we've been bracketed by Cetti's Warblers for what seems like ages, and it has been slightly odd that we've not had any. A few mild winters in succession now and they're seeking out new areas. It was only a matter of time.

It's in the big hedge now, one last burst. It's not even 6am, I feel like I've been out for ages. Tony joins me and we do a few circuits before I leave to check out the Park. Nothing doing, although it must still be here somewhere, just the cacophany of Whitethroats dulling the senses. They've only been back a couple of weeks but there seem to be more than ever before – a good sign. Really none of us bird this area enough, it's one of the best places on the patch, but a long way from everywhere else, the furthest extremity. I can't get to it in the mornings before work, or at least not without missing out everything that lies in between, and as we all know some of that is pretty damn good too. We rarely get here.


The Park's water bodies are pretty empty now. A few geese, a few grebes, but nothing out of the ordinary. I am checking for Common Sandpiper on the banks of Heronry, a favoured spot, but there's nothing here today. In common with most days really, so I pedal back off to the Alex to chat to Nick about the day ahead, which for me holds swimming and hockey, and for him, nothing but birding. I can't complain though, I've had a great morning, a plan has come good, and I've seen a new bird on the patch that I've been waiting for for a long time. Home, and my meanderings have somehow clocked up six miles. Six miles and a Cetti's Warbler all before breakfast. Life is good.

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