Welcome to June, the month with no birds. In June 2020 I recorded 3 birds. This June however that number is very close to 100 and what is more it includes a patch tick! I've been in Scotland, which helps. It has been half term here, and this was our first opportunity to go up and see my family since August last year. When your parents are in their seventies that feels like a very long time indeed. All is well though, they are still with us, fully vaccinated and Covid-free. I am aware that not everyone has been so fortunate, and am grateful. Other than charging around to see as many birds as possible it was extremely relaxing. Relaxing is of course very boring, so let me tell you about the charging around.
It started well, with a Sedge Warbler in their garden on the first afternoon. It turns out that there are millions of Sedge Warblers in Fife, so even though I'd only seen one from their garden previously I think I may simply not have been paying attention. I also confirmed breeding Tree Sparrow, which makes me smile just thinking about it. Down south you need to make a special effort to see a Tree Sparrow, in Fife you just need to make a coffee and sit down somewhere.
Fife is a great county for birding, it has nearly everything - wetlands, woodlands, some proper hills, rivers, a fabulous coastline and many migrant hotspots. I don't think my parents knew about this when they moved up there all those years ago, but I am very much appreciating it now. As it gets light so early there was plenty of opportunity to squeeze decent amounts of birding in, and I happily birded my way around the county between around 5 and 9am, dodging the early morning haar where I could. All the usual suspects were rounded up, and I also managed to find a few non-obvious county ticks which here in London are very straightforward but in Fife require a bit of work. Spotted Flycatcher for instance is not a common breeder up there, and neither is Yellow Wagtail, but I managed to catch up with both. Ditto Marsh Harrier, Treecreeper and Jay, despite my many visits to Fife I had never seen any of these, but by birding a few likely bits of habitat I was able to eke them all out. I think I increased my Fife list by around ten species, the best of which (by far!) was tragically an Egyptian Goose! In fact this was a new bird for Scotland, serious local rarity value, if rather meh from a Londoner's point of view.
The best birds as far as I was concerned were reeling Grasshopper Warbler, an unexpected find at Cameron Reservoir, and then (and I think I can safely say this as it has now gone) a summer plumaged Red-necked Grebe quite close to where my parents live. I was scanning a shallow pool expecting the next bird to be a sleeping Gadwall and there it was. My initial thought was that it couldn't be, and had me scrambling for the Collins app to make sure I wasn't about to make an almighty cock up, but no, my first instinct had been spot on. I let the county recorder know as I was pretty sure it needed to be kept quiet even though breeding was unlikely, and in that way discovered that it had been present for a day or so and had indeed been kept quiet. Had I not stumbled on it myself I would never have known, so this was very pleasing indeed.
|Grey Partridge, Kilminning|
I am beginning to get much more familiar with the area, and largely I can thank eBird. Before eBird I would not have been able to tell you what my Fife list is nor what I needed - I just went birding. Nothing wrong with that, indeed many may say that this is the only way to approach it. But what it meant was that I went birding to the same places time and again, for instance the excellent Ruddon's Point and Largo Bay. There was (and still is) a huge area of blank canvas that I had never visited and I have found my most recent visits up there much more satisfying, a voyage of discovery in many ways. And many of the new sites I have been to are much closer than the East Neuk, which means more birding and less driving - getting to Fife Ness is a 90 minute round trip for instance, Out Head is over an hour. My birding has felt more natural, more akin to living in an area rather than just being on holiday. I am already planning my next visit, and I am excited.
But back to that patch tick. We came back home on Saturday, an exceedingly long and tiring drive, enlivened only by a short detour for a singing Great Reed Warbler in Northumberland. Would that we had travelled back on Sunday so as to have been able to drop in on the Red-necked Stint, but you can't win them all. Saturday afternoon was spent unpacking and getting the garden back in shape, and on Sunday rather than drive back to Northumberland I headed out onto the patch for the first time in over a week. Fortunately I hadn't missed anything whilst I was away, but I had noted that Common Tern had been being seen fishing regularly on Heronry. It was my first port of call, and sure enough within twenty minutes a Tern had arrived, caught a few fish and departed westward, presumably to Walthamstow. This was a patch year tick, #114, but it was to get rather better. A few hours later, just as the Sunday barbeque was winding down, the last glass of rosé poured, Nick found a singing Quail on Wanstead Flats.
Last year, on the 16th May, my nocmig recorder picked up the distinctive whip-whip of a Quail sailing serenely over my house. I woke up the next morning none the wiser and have been gripped off ever since. But now oh Zoom H2n, now who's laughing eh? I trotted off to the Skylark area, as did many of Wanstead's keenest, and although it took some time Quail is now safely inked in, and as I type this the following day it is still there, safely behind a fence in the long grass. I do wonder whether without the fence this could have been possible, but I suppose we will never know. Anyhow, this kosher non-nocmig heard by my own ears Quail is my 162nd bird for Wanstead, and the 115th for the year, which harking back to a few blog posts ago means I have now equalled my previous by-end-of-September record. Who says June is rubbish?