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 Redstart, Blackcaps, 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.