Friday 2 September 2022

On fire

Rather predictably Fife got rather good as soon as I had left. Letham, which I checked almost every day, immediately hosted a Curlew Sandpiper. The Firth filled up with Skuas, including multiple Long-tailed, and counts of Sooty Shearwater sky-rocketed at Fife Ness. Such is life. I don't need any of those for Fife, but I still feel like I have missed out rather. I think I forgot to mention it in the last post, but I managed to get a Pomarine Skua off Burntisland on the Bank Holiday Monday, with at least four Arctic Skuas. It was rather a brute, going after bigger Gulls as well as Terns, whereas as far as I could tell the Arctic Skuas only bullied the Terns. They are astonishly agile, matching the twists and turns of the highly maneuverable Terns at every point, almost synchronised.

This was my last Skua for Fife, and was the only Fife tick I managed in my week up there. As I said I had hoped for more, but there is plenty of time and I don't want to rush it. As far as that list goes, eBird tells me it is 188. I've seen more at Rainham! Pom was also a tick for Scotland, which stands at 272, though I did just discover that Chough is missing. I've seen them on Islay many years ago, 2003 to be precise, so I'll get that sorted

I love a good list, and none more so than my Wanstead list. And that is what the 'Fire' in the title of this post relates to. I left the house early and was birding as the sun came up, the air heavy with promise after overnight and early morning rain. And guess what? Nada. Nothing, Rubbish. I saw very little during those first two hours - a Wheatear and flyover Yellow Wagtail my only reward. I moaned about this to Team Wanstead and trudged home again - tomorrow is another day. 

I had not been home long when WhatsApp beeped into life. A photo from Mary looking rather like a Tree Sparrow, obscured by foliage but nonetheless looking very promising. Jesus H Christ - there has not been a documented Tree Sparrow here since about 1985! As many reading this will know, this is a species that has almost terminally declined in the south of the country, and if anyone were to ask me where they could reliably see one I would be advising Yorkshire! I can count the number of times I've seen birds in London on one hand - Tyttenhanger and Beddington back in the day, and then a random bird at Rainham in 2010, which was the last time. I left the house immediately.

Marco said he'd seen a bird fly into the main Skylark enclosure, but I felt it would come back to the brambles it had been found in. It wasn't long before I located it by ear - I've just come back from Fife where Tree Sparrow outnumbers House Sparrow in my parents' garden - and sure enough there it was back in the same place. A young bird by the looks of it, but undeniably a Tree Sparrow and thus totally and utterly mega. Marco came back for a better look with Mary, and Simon just happened to be passing wouldn't you know. The bird then flew over our heads towards Bob. How appropriate! Bob is (was!) the only local birder to have this species on his list, and had apparently not been keen on another one ever turning up! But one now has and so another age old blocker has fallen. This is species number 164 for my patch list, no great number in the grand scheme of things, but an intensely pleasing one for so many reasons. So many mornings, so many days of seeing not much, but gradually, little by little, the list builds. 18 years and counting. I am sure I have written about this before, but when I moved here and started birding the patch I had not the faintest inkling that so many species could occur here, and certainly not that I would see so many of them.

A short while later Nick turned up and found a Wryneck in the same bush as the Tree Sparrow. Whatever. Regular passage migrant and useful year tick. 


  1. Are there any breeding Tree Sparrows in the LNHS recording area these days? Still clinging on at Whippendell Wood near Watford when I first started, but gone almost 40 years now. Desperately sad really...

    On a more prosaic note, always great to grip one back on the old boys! 👍

    1. Per the most recent LBR, Beddington had 61 pairs in 2012, 9 in 2013, and sinking - a sorry state. At Tyttenhanger, they are still hanging on, just, but declined from 23 nests in 2019 to 8 nests in 2020. I think we can guess where this is headed.

      The bird was still there today, allowing yesterday's straggers to see it. Bob is delighted.