As Richard neatly put it, this was our Bempton moment.
I was unpacking from Shetland, and had just rather satisfyingly ticked off a long-standing job on my to-do list. Cleaning the bathroom cupboard if you must know, and throwing out baby shampoo and other bottles of stuff that dated from about 2006. A tweet from James H informed me of Ring Ouzels in Motorcycle Wood. I had been expecting them, the time of year is spot on, and I'd also had an email from Gary H to say he had had a probable yesterday evening. Wishing I'd got up earlier to find these for myself, I trotted out.
It felt excellent, and just off Shetland I felt on form. Along the SSSI scrub, left at the limes, then right towards the birches. "Tsooo-wee-eeet!". EH? From the birches there was a Yellow-browed Warbler calling. Calling repeatedly. Surely it must be a recording? I called James, no answer. Dashing through the narrow path and around the corner I expected to find a birder with a tape, but no, there was just James with a massive grin on his face, and from the trees above a magic call that I am intimately familiar with and attuned to like no other. The bird was calling it's head off, literally non-stop. We stood there disbelieving. Although I've just seen 67 in a week, I am under no illusions that Shetland is unique. This however was Wanstead Flats, in the heart of London. Zone 2. And yet here was another of these little sprites that has travelled oh so far. Location location location, that's what its all about. I must have imported a little northern magic. Then three Ring Ouzels got up out of the wood and flew in a big circle before dropping in again. Ah, Wanstead. Home.
Tony and Richard turned up having seen the messages I'd sent out, and we set about refinding it. Happily it did the decent thing and started calling again. As it did so some honking in the sky prompted me to look up. A skein of geese looking like they wanted to land. They didn't sound right. Were they Pinkies? "Get on these Geese!!" I shouted. Quite big, are they just Greylags? "There's barring!" came the cry from Tony. "They're Whitefronts! Count them!" They circled a few more times before deciding the better of it and heading off east. 15 White-fronted Geese! Utterly sensational, our post-pyhllosc Albatrosses. Grey Geese are not at all common in London, and more often a winter species at sites like Rainham. To have them here is fabulous.
I've had a White-fronted Goose before, in 2007, and a brief Yellow-browed Warbler last year that nobody else saw, but James, Tony and Richard had all just had two patch ticks in under five minutes, and that is the magic of local birding and more proof, if it were needed, that Wanstead Flats is a stunning place to see birds in a London context. Despite not new for me, I was nonetheless on a massive high. This was karma, this was more than payback for leaving Shetland before the big one. Brilliant stuff. There were up to another three Ring Ouzels elsewhere on the patch, and a single Wheatear and Stonechat to complete an epic morning.