I hit Wanstead Flats again first thing this morning, with the aim of addressing the Hawfinch-shaped gap on my patch list. I was only away for a matter of days, but predictably one of those was the one when some Hawfinches flew over. I console myself with the fact that had I been in the country I would have just been sitting down at my desk in Canary Wharf as Bob and Nick were high-fiving each other near Long Wood. I think that would have been a lot worse. Anyway to cut a long story short, once again I didn't see any. Fine, I'm used to this being the result of a morning on the patch. However, what the patch lacked in Hawfinches it more than made up for in Woodpigeons. I realise that a Woodpigeon and a Hawfinch are in no way equivalent in quality. But how many Woodpigeons are there to a Hawfinch? What's the exchange rate? 100? No. 500? Nope. What about 1000? Personally I think the pendulum is swinging at this point. 5000? I think we're there.
In short it was spectacular, and no words or photos (of which there are none) can adequately convey quite how magnificent a sight the sky was this morning. I've waxed lyrical about the magic of mass bird movement before, notably about Lapwings and Hirundines, and this morning was another one of those that is right up there. I gave up counting, I had to, but there were thousands upon thousands. When I lifted up my bins upwards to attempt to count a near flock, the sky behind them was also filled with multiple more distant flocks. And I'm not talking the odd 10 or 20, I'm talking about hundreds. They were coming over 200 at a time, 250. I counted in blocks where I could but I was not equal to the task. I am conservatively recording 5000-6000 birds in the space of little over an hour. It was probably a lot more than that but I like to remain cautious, even with dirt birds.
At first - just after dawn - the birds were low, most likely just having come out of roost locally. Half an hour later the first high flocks started coming through and then they just didn't stop. Every time I looked up I could see tightly packed groups of birds, stretching to the far horizon. In front of me, behind me, a broad front passing over London. Howard, watching at Rainham, reported the same. Tony, in a traffic jam on the way to work could also not help but look at the sky. The craziest count I saw came from Darryl Spittle in Wales who estimated over 200,000 birds in nearly 6 hours of watching. Mostly I don't give Woodpigeons a second glance, but when there is a mass movement (of anything really) you cannot help but be wowed and amazed by the spectacle. How did they form up? Why is today the day? Where did they come from, and where are they going? So many questions, but best not spend too long dwelling on what you will never know and instead just gratefully witness a marvel of nature. I was deeply pleased that despite some mild jet lag I had got up and out, it was one of those mornings which I will remember for a long time. This is what patch-working is all about.