At what should be one of the peak times of the year Wanstead Flats has been almost entirely devoid of interest for the last few days. The odd Yellow Wagtail passing over, various Stonechats popping up, but nothing out of the ordinary and in truth even the ordinary has been sub par. There was a decent arrival of Chiffchaff on Friday night, and Tony was lucky enough to pull out a non-calling Yellow-browed Warbler as it shot through Long Wood, but generally I would say that it has been below all of our expectations. The best bird I saw was a Spotted Flycatcher in one of my neighbour’s gardens. This was notable for being only the second seen from the house, and also because earlier that morning I had been discussing garden records with James and had mentioned that one of my best garden birds was a Spot Fly. A few hours later whilst eating lunch I was looking at one again. Maybe I should talk up other birds?
Saturday afternoon and I traded birds for Cetaceans. I had mixed feelings about the Thames Beluga whale – that it is there cannot be a good thing. But gosh, talk about a never-to-be-repeated opportunity – possibly the only chance in my life I would have of seeing this species – let’s face it, I’ve gone 43 years without one so far. That said, I expected that seeing it would likely be a slightly underwhelming experience, and half of me felt that if I went it would only be to say that I had, if that makes sense. It is not as if I keep a Thames whale list…. Anyhow, James offered to drive and I accepted a lift quite happily in the end. We elected to try from the Essex side so as to avoid the bridge, and after discovering it was not at East Tilbury, retraced our route to actual Tilbury where we watched from just outside the Fort.
Wreathed in cigarette smoke and admiring a fine Flag of St George and a Bulldog Tattoo I conceded that whilst the whale has duly been added to “things I have seen” in truth this was not the best way to see a Beluga. That would be in the high Arctic, kayaking alongside a pod of 30 animals in their natural environment. This one was swimming around a grey barge with a blue portakabin on it, whilst tugs dragged enormous cargo vessels past and various bits of rubbish came in on the rising tide. Still, it was nice to be out getting an occasional gulp of fresh air and the weather was great – shirt sleeves for a Beluga. I had not been here for ages, in fact the last time I was here I had found a Red-backed Shrike sitting on the fence.
Sunday was a quieter affair devoted mainly to domestic drudgery, but I did fit in a quick tour of Wanstead Flats with my youngest. It was decidedly quiet, worse than Saturday, but did allow for lots of questions and lots of learning. One question I could not answer was if a Yellow Wagtail calls once every three seconds on its entire southbound journey, does it arrive in Africa with a sore throat? It is a genius question if you ask me, but a perfectly logical thing to want to know and I was dumbfounded. Actually I want to know too, so if you could help me with that one I would be most grateful.