Friday 1 May 2020

A month of lockdown at Chateau L

We recently passed a month since official lockdown began in the UK, and I thought it might be interesting to work out exactly what I had seen from the house during that time. I knew what new birds I'd seen, and which garden seconds and so on, but did I have a feel for the most common bird, or the most expected bird that I'd seen least of and so on. The results were in places quite illuminating. Through the magic of eBird I was able to download all my garden lists between March 23rd and April 22nd and have a look. Whoever says birding is a hobby for geeks needs to have a long hard look at themselves.

So, out of a possible 31 days of birding, I recorded something on 26 of them. That's pretty dedicated on the whole. No doubt I also saw birds on the other five days too, but I likely couldn't be bothered to enter them. Effort varies from day to day, on weekdays it dips substantially, especially now that Zoom video-conferencing is being used more widely and I can no longer skywatch and participate in meetings at the same time. In total I birded for 80 hours. Or rather, the time elapsed between when I started lists and submitted them amounts to 80 hours. There was one day where my list went on for 16 hours - that was my record-breaking day, but I'm almost certain that I didn't watch the sky or listen out for that long. 

I recorded 64 species, of which two come from nocmig - Whimbrel and Common Scoter. I have not actually recorded the time I spent listening to the night sky, so the 80 hours is in fact more than that, but I am definitely counting these records as I heard them. The sooner that nocmig is widely recognised as as valid a recording method as any other the better. I actually recorded both of these species twice, but was only awake for one of them. I also recorded a further three species whilst I was asleep - Tawny Owl, Little Owl and Oystercatcher, two of which would have been garden ticks. So close...

Happily I can add the Scoter and Whimbrel as full fat garden ticks, and I also get to add Moorhen from a "live" nocmig session, as well as a Raven during a skywatch. Four garden ticks in the space of two weeks is pretty amazing, especially after having lived here for so long, but it is not rocket science and I've covered it elsewhere. Basically I'm at home far far more than normally. Where I would normally be birding on Wanstead Flats, I'm at home. Where I would be on holiday somewhere, I'm at home. Where I would be at Canary Wharf, guess what, I'm at home.

For similar reasons I recorded 30 species or more on eight occasions, having previously managed that only once in 16 years! I would not have thought that possible at the start of this year, but two things have changed. One, I'm not going out on Wanstead Flats, and two, I have a much better view of the sky than I used to have thanks to a loft extension.

So what were the most common birds? In terms of individuals recorded:

155  Ring-necked Parakeet
129 Starling
99 Crow
89 Goldfinch
87 Feral Pigeon

In terms of days recorded it looks like this:

Woodpigeon 19
Goldfinch 18
Wren 18
Jackdaw 18
Feral Pigeon 17

I find this quite interesting. Only Goldfinch and Feral Pigeon are on both lists. Pigeons are bloody everywhere. Almost every distant dot I zoom in on is a Pigeon. I likely also under-record them through sheer apathy. Goldfinches are also everywhere but are much more pleasant, a constant swittering in the air that I enjoy a great deal.

At the top of the leader board in sheer numbers is Ring-necked Parakeets. Love them or hate them they are here to stay. I remember being tremendously excited when I first saw one in Wanstead (April 2008),and it was a red letter day when I finally got one on the garden list (December 2009). How times have changed. I've not had the large flocks over east at the beginning of the day and then back again at dusk - perhaps that is more of a winter phenomenon, but they still easily took top spot. 

Days recorded is mainly a reflection of the residents of my neighbourhood. I have Woodpigeons nesting in my leylandii, the Wren lives here too - 18 days with a count of 18 - the same bird each day, and there are a couple of pairs of Jackdaw nesting in nearby chimney pots.

At the other end of the scale, what are the rarest birds from a month of lockdown? 

1 Common Gull
1 Raven
1 Peregrine
1 Short-eared Owl
1 Whimbrel (nocmig)
2 Meadow Pipit
2 Linnet
2 Moorhen (nocmig)
2 Whitethroat
2 Little Egret

The Common Gull, Meadow Pipit and Whitethroat are simply a function of timing. Common Gulls had mostly all gone by the 23rd March, I was lucky to get one at all. Mipit movements had also all but dried up by then. Other birds that only just scraped in included one record of three Fieldfare and five records of Redwing involving 50 birds.  At the other end of the month, it was only quite recently that a Whitethroat set up territory somewhere that I could hear it. I've now worked out exactly where it is, and with a bit of effort I can see it from the house when it goes right to the top of a particular tree. I'm now recording it every day, just because I can!

The truly rare birds here are Raven which was a patch tick, and Short-eared Owl which is pretty much annual and you have to get lucky. It was only my second from the house (and eighth for the patch). Peregrine breed all around us, at least three pairs that I know of, and I actually expected to see them a lot more frequently than I did. One sighting of one bird in a month. And as for the Whimbrel, well, they still feel rare at the moment, but maybe this is going to change? During this period I actually had three records - one on live nocmig, one on asleep nocmig, and then another of two birds flying over early one morning out on Wanstead Flats. Well and truly unblocked! Linnet has always been a tough bird for the garden, only 10 records ever, so two single flyovers in a month was quite good, the Moorhen were new for the garden thanks to live Nocmig, but actually they seem to be on every single overnight recording along with Coot at the moment - another new discovery. And finally the two Little Egrets were my second and third garden record. Just missing out on the low counts were Mistle Thrush, seen twice but in pairs, and Jay which was only seen three times.

Other notable birds from a numbers perspective were a total of seven Rooks, versus only one before this. There were eight Red Kites over the month, which when measured against the existing eight birds from the entire time I've here is pretty impressive. Ditto 19 Buzzards across seven days versus 45 previously. Jay was only seen three times, and Mistle Thrush only twice.

Clearly being stuck at home is not ideal, but it's a good time of year and I am pretty lucky in where I live and the views that I have. I have learnt a massive amount about what flies over the garden I have lived in for years and years, and my first serious forays into recording nocturnal migrants have been illuminating and frustrating in equal measure. It is also clear that I am going to be at home for some time yet, possibly including the month of June. That may be the point at which somebody needs to lock the doors to the balcony and hide the key...


  1. Nocmig will be majik in June tho - there'll be all sorts goin over....