Tuesday 2 January 2024

A Positive Start

I've had a great start to the year. My Wanstead list stands at two. Brilliant. Robin before the sun rose on New Year's Day, and then a Magpie. On January 1st I left Wanstead behind as threatened and went to Essex, a great choice. Door to door service from Mick S to Abberton, where we gave the Aythya flock a good grilling. I had meant to go on the 31st but had wimped out in the end, preferring to stay local, where of course I saw nothing. But of course Monday was a brand new year, and why start it off somewhere I will no doubt visit endlessly? Abberton it was. Mick had dipped the Canvasback the previous day, but the weather looked good if a little on the cold and breezy side. Nonetheless I was confident it would be there and that I could find it. It was and I did. I am still amazed that Howard found it without knowing it was there, that is just next level birding. Even knowing that it is there somewhere it is very difficult indeed but somehow I picked it out amongst the hundreds of Pochard and was able to get everyone on it. The all black bill is the key, at which point you realise that it is a shade lighter than the Pochard and maybe a little bigger in all dimensions. Try to use those two distinguishing features when they are all asleep however and it is virtually impossible. We both had quite large cameras lenses and had high hopes of getting some decent photographs but it was not to be; the part of the flock containing the target remained steadfastly distant at all times.

Moving from Layer Breton to Layer-de-la-Haye we added Smew and Goosander to the day list, and then a quick scoot around to the screen below Abberton Church added the long-staying Velvet Scoters as well as a Glaucous Gull that had just been found and that was an  unexpected Essex tick. Back to the small causeway and I was able to pick the Canvasback again east of the road but it was still at the far side, nice scope views but no photographs other than distant record shots. At this point we gave up and decided to join the throngs in Colchester for the Waxwings, a species I confess I have been very keen to see despite really not wanting to be a part of a group of middle-aged men standing around in an industrial estate. I guess sometimes you just have to do these things. Ebird tells me that I last saw a Waxwing in the UK in 2013 so it is not as if I do this very often. They didn't stick around long but I was able to have a bit of a play with my camera which I had not used since October in South Africa. It still works thankfully, though I am far less conversant with it than I was. Once upon a time I could alter the settings without taking my eye off the viewfinder but today it was a bit of a struggle.

Back to Layer Breton to discover the entire flock asleep on the far side. Seemingly mission impossible but we did eventually manage to pin it down on the mantle colour alone - hurrah! So a fun day out in Essex, just over fifty species to kick off the year so nothing monumental but a little bit of quality. I'll probably have a quick check of the patch in the next few days. Amazingly Tony found a Med Gull on Monday - we didn't get one at all in 2023 and then it goes and falls on January 1st. That's patchworking for you I suppose!


  1. Wow, that canvasback is thrilling - and the waxwings aren't bad either!

    1. I'd seen it last year, but I really enjoy the challenge of trying to pick something out. But only if I know it is there!