Thursday 24 August 2023

Golden Eagle Wanstead Flats

In many ways Twitter, or "X" as my phone now shows it, would have been the perfect place for this little gem but I've really gone off it. Not that it was ever that fabulous, but it has definitely gone downhill "under new management". This is a term often associated with pubs that were shit and remain shit, desperate for foot fall, and I have no problem using it to descibe Twitter and what it has become. Anyway.

A rarity south of the border, Golden Eagle records are likely to be instantly dismissed by county recorders, as such I made sure to get photographic evidence in order to support my submission. I have no problem sharing it here first though, feast your eyes on this!

Wednesday 23 August 2023

All still go

Autumn just has to be the best season here, it is all still go in Wanstead and early morning birding sessions are really paying dividends. Yesterday before work I encountered one of the best mixed flocks I can ever remember along the eastern edge of Long Wood, warmed by the rising sun. It was one of those birding moments where there are so many birds moving around that you just do not know where to look, the local equivalent of a neotropical feeding party. In addition to loads of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs I was treated to a brief view of a Wood Warbler that popped up in front of me, a seriously rare bird here and only my third in all the years I have been birding in Wanstead. Unfortunately it did not play ball, and the only further sighting was of the likely bird perched briefly and distantly on the side of a Hawthorn. The story does have a happy ending though as the bird remained until today, when James got a brief by unequivocal view in almost exactly the same place. It is always a relief when a scarcity is confirmed by another birder, even in a place as congenial as Wanstead.

As well as this treat there were multiple Spotted Flycatchers, a Pied Flycatcher, a RedstartBlackcaps, bazillions of Common Whitethroat and probably three Lesser Whitethoat. Add in uncountable numbers of Blue Tit, a few Great Tit, Dunnocks and Robins, well it was just sensational. There are a few Whinchat and Wheatear hanging around, and we continue to get a few Yellow Wagtail over. I really do like this time of year, especially as it seems that birds linger and you can spend a bit of time with them - Long Wood has great feeding, a multitude of insects and berries. The berries in particular seem to be very ripe this year, perhaps even starting to ferment on the bushes and on the ground underneath, and there is a heady mix of aromas as you make your way around, breathe too deeply and you could stumble. The birds are loving it. Just this morning I saw a Whitethroat delicately and sensuously consuming a huge blackberry from the stem, a joy to watch. They will have to move on at some point of course, but right now why would they, it must be like heaven.

My list has gone up in leaps and bounds in the space of a week -
Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher, Crossbill, Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher. And so like many autumns I am considering what I have seen and wondering if this really happened? I live in London, a concrete behemoth, noisy, dirty, never sleeping, never still. There are millions of people and a huge amount of pressure on the few open spaces we have, and yet year after year really good birds pass through Wanstead Flats and are picked up by a small number of keen observers. I wonder what we don't find, what passes through without being seen by anyone? It's tantalising to speculate, keeps us going. 

Monday 21 August 2023

Tis the season

August is upon us, indeed you could say that it is nearly done. Migration is in full swing, and things are getting interesting again. What this also means is that the patch is crawling with birders every minute of every day, I simply cannot keep up. I can compete though, and via a few early morning forays this weekend and an opportune evening session I have managed to boost my year list and see a few good birds to boot.

Last week looked like this: On Monday I was in Scotland, so unable to go birding in Wanstead. Entirely reasonable. I did have an amazing viz-mig session at North Queensferry on Monday morning though during which Graham (whose watchpoint it is) and I recorded 334 Tree Pipit heading south west over the Firth of Forth. 334! This is a UK day record and it was very exciting to be part of. For a long while we didn't think we would make it, but gradually we overhauled the third best day count of 275 (also at this location), and then a late flurry of birds blitzed through 312 and 319 to claim top spot. They were still going over when we had to leave to start work.

Mrs L and I drove back to London overnight on Monday, arriving home at 3.30am. This precluded any early morning birding and so the first opportunity I had was instead Wednesday. To my chagrin I did not take it and slept in instead. On Wednesday evening I went to a wine-tasting which meant that Thursday morning was a write off thanks to many excellent Tuscan and Piedmontese reds. Really I should have tried to power through it as James basically completed autumn in one session with Pied and Spotted FlycatchersTree PipitRedstartWhinchat and Wheatear. I made a half-hearted attempt a little later but everything had already disappeared. Where these birds go I have no idea, they just melt away. 

Friday however and I was back on form, hitting the patch first thing and scoring Tree Pipit almost instantly, my ear being very much "in" after Fife. That evening after work I came home via Wanstead Flats and mopped up a few Spotted Flycatchers. Autumn had started!

Saturday and I was pumped, especially after evening reports from Spurn of millions of migrants. Wanstead wasn't quite like that but we collectively managed over 50 species including some dispersing Crossbill which were a tick for almost everyone present. Again I had my ear in after Scotland, and when I spotted six chunky finches heading our way and heard a call I instantly pronounced that these were likely Crossbill. And so they were. I was so astonished that this had actually happened that I didn't even think to pick up my camera which was enjoying its first patch outing for many months. They're somewhat less than annual, although nearly always at this time of year, and it was interesting to see that several other London patches recorded the species on the same day.

I did manage to get my photographic act together the following morning, Sunday, when some Yellow Wagtails made the unusual step of landing on the patch. Probably just a mistake as mostly of course they just fly straight over, generally invisibly. So to have three pottering around on the short grass was really quite unusual and not to be missed. I took about fifty frames, of which fewer than five are remotely in focus. Clearly I need to get my eye in again, pretty pathetic. They didn't stay long, two more birds passing overhead attracted them back to the skies again and all continued south. I've got a few more days on the patch before another period of protracted travel, so the next few days need to be good as I'm probably going to miss most of whatever happens in the next couple of weeks.

Saturday 12 August 2023

Lust for Life II

I had a funny feeling of déja vu just as I started to write this. Had I written this exact post before? On balance I considered it likely, so I've snuck a "ii" onto the end of the title. 

I'm not well, and my grand plans for this weekend collapsed into nothing as I've spent the last two days in bed with aches, a killer sore throat, a headache, and if that were not enough, what I assume is the same disease is griding my intestines to bits. Woe is me. Is it Covid again? I have no idea, we have a load of those kits left but the liquid in those little vials has all but evaporated and I simply cannot be bothered to open half a dozen of them to get the one or two drops I need. Is that selfish? Maybe, but I see that the Government has abandoned Covid and Flu jabs for the under 65s, so it's not like they care either. I'll just carry on, but it is a right sod coming at what is a good time for birding.

Whilst not lying down and gently moaning I've been thinking about this blog (here is the déja vu part), thinking about how long it has been since I last felt enthused about it, and how it has changed beyond all recognition from the heady days of 2010. I've been mildly anxious about it lapsing, annoyed that even getting to fifty posts this year seems like a stretch (2010 = 267, natch), and frankly thinking that is all a big waste of time in 2023 when reading more than a sentence is viewed as a herculean effort. If I were an author, relying on writing long things for a living, I think I would be beside myself at how vacuous humankind has become. Everything is short, everything is bite-sized, seemingly anything more than 10 seconds and you will lose the vast majority of people as they swipe to the next tidbit of innocuity. 

Am I going to switch to Vlogging, head out and buy a drone and some peachy editing software, join the YouTube and Tiktok generation? Er no, that too seems to be inconsequential in the extreme. I think it speaks to an underlying malaise with life, and that deep down these shiny happy people that assail your phone every minute of every day are all very unhappy. Apart from the ones who have become millionaires obviously, they're probably feeling quite good about it. Why do people insist on sharing their life, pets, house, toys, you name it, several times a day? Everything I see urges me to like it, to leave a comment below, to subscribe to the channel, it is an assault. If you were to fall for it you would do nothing but lie on your bed all day, scrolling. Oh.