For the first time this week I managed to drag my feeble arse out of bed and get out on the patch. Boy am I glad I did. I wasn't super early, perhaps 7.15am, and it was already perfectly light with the sun low in the sky. A beautifully crisp autumnal morning, a thin layer of frost on the broom and short grass, and a perfect blue sky. I don't know why I didn't take a photo, too busy scanning the sky I expect, but here is one from a similar morning about a month ago.
There was action from the get-go. Woodpigeons. They might be a common bird that we all routinely ignore, but there is something very special about large flocks migrating south-west at this time of year. I was out for an hour and three-quarters, and counted in excess of 700. That is small fry compared to many counts I've been seeing, some lucky birders have been getting 20,000, but I was pleased enough with ours.
Woodpigeons might have been the most numerous, but the action was constant. Over 500 Starling flew west, the biggest flock was a line of 95. Having not seen a Fieldfare for months, I was treated to 219 - mostly they flew silently west in single flocks, however one group co-mingled with Starling were quite noisy, and the most impressive movement was a mixed flock with Redwing which contained perhaps 60-70 of each species. In between these larger flocks of birds were the occasional smaller treat - a handful of Siskin and Redpoll, and a single Brambling that defied the masses and wheezed east, perhaps it is hanging around?
Bird of the morning went to a Ring Ouzel, a male bird that flew west, alone, at about double tree height and in a straight line. My normal experience of this species is of a chacking bird annoyed at having been discovered, flying in huge circles around the patch before dropping back into cover. As far as I can remember this is my first knowingly vizmig bird, it carried on in a straight line until I lost it over the SSSI. It is also extremely late in a local context, the second latest ever and only our second November bird. I have seen late October birds before, indeed there was one at Rainham last week (where I've also seen a bird in late December) but this is definitely unusual as a more normal date is mid-October.
Completing the party were a surprise 25 Lapwing flopping west. They always fly west, the surprise was that they were there at all. Somewhere east of us there must be some colder weather, and a few other London sites also saw a few go through. Like the Ouzel, they were my first November records on the patch ever.
There has clearly been a change in the weather. You would have to say that up until the middle of this week it has been unseasonably mild, and as a result the birding has been pretty quiet - during my enforced hibernation I didn't really miss a thing. A couple of nights ago there was a shift though, and it became distinctly colder. I know this as the falling mercury finally spurred me to do the final plant moves from the terrace to the greenhouses, and our central heating came on for the first time since last winter. It has also had an effect on the birds, the minute the change happened it was if someone has flicked a switch. It is so predictable but I just love it. Hopefully the upcoming weekend is just as good!