Who reading this finds Woodpigeons exciting? Nobody. Stupid, fat, slow birds that are forever getting in the way. And getting killed by things for all of those reasons. Most of us ignore Woodpigeons as inconsequential. Sure, I look at them pottering around in the garden but not with any great affection.
Once a year that changes though. Woodpigeon migration. It seems to happen like clockwork, always at the end of October or the beginning of November. You need a nice clear morning, one that might be a bit chilly but has blue skies and light winds. Shortly after first light you will witness one of the great spectacles in British wildlife. Or I think so anyway.
Thousands of Woodpigeon will fly over you in a south-westerly direction, or perhaps west along the coast if you're down that way. Somehow these daft and vaguely comical birds find enough brain cells to gather in huge numbers and set off together for pastures new in which to over-winter. This year it happened on November 6th, basically bang on time. I was minding my own business at home, pottering around my bedroom in much the same way as a Woodpigeon potters around my garden. Fewer seeds, more coffee. I vaguely became aware of a movement of birds across the sky, and peering out discerned many many specks. I found my bins and resolved these into Woodpigeon, and not just a few. A thousand! I guess it would have been about five past seven in the morning.
It was over almost as soon as it began. Twenty-five minutes of mayhem, the sky filled with just incredible and uncountable flocks stretching in huge lines. A thousand, fifteen hundred? Where and how do they gather? In the space of a few minutes I estimated around 7000 birds had passed over, and I suspect the true number will have been much bigger as I can only look out of one side of the house at a time. There was no way to do a proper count, so I just estimated what small bit of sky contained about a hundred and extrapolated from there. Most birders probably do the same. Exhilarating, so so exciting. When was the last time you said that about a Woodpigeon?
Yesterday the same thing happened, but in an even more concentrated burst. At first light there was nothing. But at about quarter past seven the floodgates opened and I counted another 6000 in the space of about fifteen minutes, and then just like that it stopped. I estimated the biggest flock to be over 2000. And of course these birds don't just fly over Wanstead. Other sites in East London recorded the same phenomenon, and doubtless elsewhere too. A broad front, a massive push. Imagine the numbers, hundreds of thousands. My oh my.
And then today there were none, but it was a murky and drizzly day and I wouldn't have fancied it. Truly great birding, and something to look forward to all over again next year.