Tuesday 2 May 2023

A big weekend on the patch

Well, that was Greece, only a few months late. This is how much enthusiasm I have had for the dying art of writing sentences longer than seven words. I did not go see a bird. Much as I would have liked to have been in Fife for a weekend of Scoter mayhem, this was a family weekend at home. Birding locally is of course allowed during family weekends, especially as some members of the family are unlikely to have even managed to get out of bed by the time I get back.

I started this year in a "don't care" frame of mind. Winter birding barely took place, and all sorts of things that I really ought to have seen by now have passed me by - Woodcock, Snipe, Treecreeper and so on. The advent of Spring, slow though it has undoubtedly been, has seen a gradual return of my local birding mojo, to the extenf that my total for the year is now above average, whereas about a month it was about as poor for that point as it had ever been. After adding nine species last weekend, I surprised myself by adding another nine this weekend just gone and now find myself in the low 90s, possibly leapfrogging a few of my fellow patch birders along the way who may have thought I was down and out.

An early start on Saturday had me strolling across the football pitches well before 6am, early enough to coincide with a couple of Mistle Thrushes - these have been in very short supply on the patch this year, as evidenced by these being my first of the year. A timely message from Tony saw me quicken my pace, a female Goosander on Alex. What on earth is that doing there at the very end of April? This is a bird I have only ever seen here in December, January or February, and always coinciding with cold weather. As I clapped eyes on it it clapped eyes on me, and immediately took flight, circling the pond once in the low mist before disappearing. Timing. After some sustenance at Greggs my first Swift flew over, and whilst checking Jubilee Pond Tony took a photo of a ringed bird that we blithely put down as Herring Gull on the day only for the ringing recovery to come back from France as Yellow-legged. Weak but I'll take it.

James messaged to say he had a Sedge Warbler in the Park, and once there we managed to turn it into two Sedge Warblers, one of those bizarre birding moments that actually happen quite frequently, where two people thinking they are listening to or looking at the same bird are actually hearing or seeing different ones. A lovely Willow Warbler sang in the corner near the Tea Hut, and as we walked around the south side of Heronry Pond a Common Sandpiper dropped in. The water levels are currently so high that we could not locate it viewing south from the north side, but the unmistakeable call came twice from the other side. This is a little odd as in my experience they tend only to call whilst in flight, but perhaps there were clear areas of bank behind the overhanging vegetation that we could not see and the bird was moving between them. No doubt there will be more. Back on the Flats Tony picked out a female Redstart in the large Skylark pen, but the bird of the morning award went to a stonking - and I mean that in the stonkiest sense of the word - male Whinchat. Good grief it was sensational beyond belief, such as shame that it remained so distant but perhaps for the best as I might never have recovered had it come any closer.

The magic tree

That more or less concluded the Saturday but I was out again on Sunday checking the Park for any recent arrivals. I was a day too early for the Reed Warbler's arrival back on Shoulder of Mutton Pond, but in an odd twist whilst checking the exact clump that the Sedge Warblers had been in the previous day, what should pop out but a Garden Warbler. It is a just a small nondescript tree overhanging the water surrounded by a clump of gorse but clearly it holds some kind of irresistible lure for migrants. I've been stopping at any slightly odd Blackcap but so far they have all been just Blackcaps but this was subtly different, more of a prolonged burbling quality. It is always nice when you are provde right, and when I did finally get a view of it I gave myself a little pat on the back. This bird was singing quite quietly, perhaps just getting started after a long trip, and it stayed long enough for Richard and Marco to hear and see it, but by the time a few others arrived perhaps 30 minutes later it had disappeared (or shut up). Richard and I then wandered over to the Old Sewage Works which was stuffed full of singing birds - two different Cetti's were singing 300 yards apart, surely breeding is on the cards this year? Back on the Flats for a final stint I put in a bit of time near Vizmig, with nearly double figures of Swifts, a handful of Swallows, and finally a Sand Martin - a bird I feared might have passed me by this Spring. 

So that was my weekend. 71 species in walking distance from home. It might not have the cachet of, say, Grey-headed Lapwing, but I am pretty pleased with that. In total the collective managed 82 species across the Park and the Flats. Sure, you could go to Rainham and see that in a morning probably, but we take what we can get. I didn't do a great deal on the Bank Holiday Monday, I had had my fill. I did briefly consider Northumberland, but really? No, better to get into the garden and do a bit of work there. It will pay dividends later.

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