Well well. My last post essentially had me moaning about how the patch has been less than spectacular of late and how I was thinking about birding elsewhere. This morning - on the patch, like the decisive person I am - Tony and I were having much the same conversation. His fiftieth visit this year apparently, he'd seen very little and found nothing. What was the point, it's rubbish, next year he too was going to do something different as well, oh look clear skies again. Etc.
It was true, a promising morning had delivered nothing. We had walked about four miles and the best bird had been a Stonechat. So much for the slightly colder weather, but at least it wasn't raining and it did feel a bit more like November. We went to get breakfast from Gregg's, usually the highlight of any morning round here and took it back to the VizMig Point? Where shall we stand to see nothing? How about here, it's as crap as anywhere else. Right.
Restored, we had one last wander down Centre Path where we met Mary and continued moaning. Then a message popped up on Tony's phone from some kind of London Rare Bird Whatsapp group that I'm not part of. Whooper Swans flying north west over Woolwich. I casually looked at the map.... Hmmm, that's interesting. Depending on where in Woolwich that would potentially have them flying somewhere towards Canary Wharf and perhaps over Stratford. Could they follow the Lea Valley? How high might they be? High enough or not? We can only see the top third of the tower, I thought about dashing home to my balcony but it was too far. We started scanning towards the south west.
Birds have a funny habit of not always flying in straight lines and it was with this in mind I also scanned to the east from time to time. Remarkably on one of these scans I picked up five Swans over Alex, quite high and flying with some purpose in a north-north westerly direction. Too far to conclusively identify through binoculars but surely two plus two equals four in situations like this? Or rather five. Where was my damn camera?! Oh, at home gathering dust as usual. Excellent. Quick, Tony, take photos I implored! It doesn't matter how far they are, get something and maybe we'll be able to eliminate Mute Swan on head shape! This he proceeded to do until the Swans had disappeared over the horizon, seemingly continuing on their NNW heading.
The back of the camera images magnified through inverted binoculars looked decent, nice long triangular heads and long slender necks, but I remained worried that once seen on a computer I'd need to post an embarrassing retraction on the London news group. Even more so when some time later five Whooper Swans were reported at Rainham, i.e. in the opposite direction.... Oh dear. I nearly threw Tony off the patch! Go home! What are you waiting for?!
|Whooper Swan over Wanstead, courtesy of Tony Brown.
Thankfully once home (painfully slowly I might add!) Tony's photos confirm our initial confidence. These are actually the first Whooper Swans for the patch that we know about. There are a handful of records of Bewick's Swan, two from the dawn of time and then a sighting from Nick about six years ago during cold weather, but no Whooper. We seem to have pulled off an amazing coup despite all our pessimism! We were expecting the next sighting to be in the Lea Valley somewhere, perhaps KGV, but presumably the birds flew in a gigantic circle and ended up back on the Thames at Rainham where they were seen about 45 minutes later. This takes my all-time patch total to 167, and this year to a slightly-above-average-for-November 112. Can't wait to get back out tomorrow!