Sunday 17 March 2024

Playing catch up

For a variety of the usual reasons I'd not spent any time on the patch for the last few weeks. My mood was buoyed on Friday by my first Chiffchaff of the year as a I took a slightly different route to work, but I felt strongly that Saturday would be the day that I would properly catch up with all that I had been missing. So it proved.

I bounced out of bed at 6.05am, annoyed with myself for oversleeping a bit. My eBird list went live at 6.24am as I stepped out of the front door. Game on. I had a little chat with Eve on Centre Path whilst not seeing very much - still too early for many things, a small flock of lingering Redwing, some excited Woodpeckers. The temperature began to rise just after 7am when Tony found a Yellowhammer - a strange combination of a skulker that could simply vanish, but also a belting bright yellow male that even began to sing from bushes. It was my tenth Yellowhammer on the patch, so a rare bird here, and the timing was pretty spot on. Of those ten records, seven of them have been in March or April. An ice-cool Richard managed to get across in time to tick it, but unfortunately couldn't stick around for the celebratory breakfast.

Of course the real prize this morning was a certain Chat. We were at exactly the half-way point in the annual Wheatear Sweepstake, mid month a prime date, and for Tony whose day it was all to play for. As we contemplated breakfast an odd Duck flew over us towards Jubilee. In almost all cases a Duck across Wanstead Flats is a Mallard, but this was completely wrong. A very small head, and a diminutive bill, pale underneath - alarm bells started to ring. This was surely a female Mandarin wasn't it? We scooted across to Jub where it had appeared to land, discussing the various things we had seen, and concluded it could only have been this. Wood Duck anyone? Frustratingly there was no sign on Jubilee, but I'd searched for Mandarin on here before knowing full well it was there and come away empty handed, so either it only thought about landing and then carried on, or it simply melted into the thick vegetation on the islands.

Breakfast from Greggs was superb and we sent Richard the bill - these are basically the rules for full fat patch tickage. As we strolled back towards VizMig a large Peregrine circled the Skylark enclosure - now enclosed again, although more on that later. Another year tick! Then, just as I was finishing my coffee, a Rook flew over. Not as rare as Yellowhammer, my 20th sighting, but really quite tricky as they are almost always flyovers and who can be bothered to check out each and every Crow as it goes over? The timing is a little early, at least for my records, with 15 out of those 20 in April, but it's a good time for things moving around and indeed Wanstead was not the only London patch to record its first Rook of 2024 yesterday.

Leaning against the fence I picked up my first Buzzard of the year, one of ten that morning once the sun had come out. Perfect, the day was proceeding exactly as planned in many ways, but with some massively unexpected bonuses. Tony and I had joined Sgt. Bob (on patrol) to check out a pale Stonechat when the moment happened. WHEATEAR! A smart male on the fence right next to us! Tony called it first, Louis still forming the letter 'W' as Tony claimed the prize and both trophies, finder and date - a new member of the exclusive 'double' club. My sixth new bird for the year, what a morning this was turning out to be!

I wasn't over yet though. Thanks to a dog walker we were alerted to a Little Owl in Centre Copse, and as the day warmed up and the raptors began to soar I felt certain I'd manage to pick out a Red Kite. This took until about 11.15, some five hours after leaving my house, but a bird flew relatively low over VizMig as I continued my vigil. My laggard performance of 74 on Friday had become 82. I basically skipped home.

The presence of a entirely reasonable sign is just so utterly offensive that it simply has to be kicked down and snapped in half.

So what about that Skylark fence? Well in 2024 it has been decided that whilst there will be a fence again it won't be as intrusive as last year, so rather than the full plastic barrier we just have the rope. It looks a lot better of course, and is far more sustainable, but also far less effective as dogs can just run straight under it. I suppose that the mere presence of a barrier of any kind will stop the majority of people, dog owners or otherwise, from crossing the area, but it feels rather weak.

Of course for some people, or perhaps just one person, even a thin blue rope is an outrage. The culture war is in full swing, and the fence that has now been up for a little over two weeks has been repeatedly vandalised. And I mean repeatedly. Day after day someone has methodically worked their way along whole sections of it cutting it between each post. It is maddening that someone can be so incensed by the thought that wildlife might be more important than they are, but this is where we are in 2024. Bob, Tim and the Corporation have just as methodically repaired each and every section, but it keeps happening and unless we can catch the perpertrator in the act I don't see that this will stop. Lines have been drawn.

You just wonder how petty, small-minded and pathetic someone has to be to come out day after day and defiantly engage in this absurd vandalism, sabotaging a well meaning-effort to safeguard what is now a mere handful of ground-nesting birds. It is just shameful, but as I said, it's a culture war. We know there are a few dog walkers who vehemently disagree with our efforts to protect the Skylarks. It is their right to walk wherever they want to, it's public land, blah blah blah. There is no educating these people because this is not about birds, or Wanstead, or even their dog. That is all a pretext. It's about their diminishing influence in the world and I see it as identical to the themes that handed us Brexit. Poisoned by the media, a certain segment of the population has come to hate liberalism, and ironically also authority. They can't tell me what to do, who do they think they are? This is my country, I can do what I want here, your woke rules don't apply. Great Britain. The fence is just a symbol, one of many things that provokes irrational rage in a particular type of person. Unisex toilets and pronouns, asylum seekers, women in power, pride flags, the mere concept of wellness, our blue fence is just another thing in a long list of things that are wrong with this country. Our scissor-wielding friend is fully on board with hating all of this, and chopping our fence is the one small act of defiance that he, for it almost certainly a he, can carry out. It probably gives him a daily sense of satisfaction that he is fighting back against the system that in his head has marginalised him. That's what this is about, a feeling of declining power and a deep concern that the era when he and people like him ruled the roost is over. Well I have news for this guy. It is over and cutting our fence every day isn't magically going to bring back the 1950s. All that's going to happen is that we're going to repair it, and the cruel system that is responsible for so many imagined woes and slights is going to move forward unabated because the world moves on whether you like it or not. Get with the program. And hope that we don't catch you.


  1. Nicely put. Really one should feel sorry for the fence cutter...he must have a miserable life. Of course it's (maybe a girl even?) probably a disaffected teenager but hey-ho...

  2. I'm fairly certain that if you rearrange the letters in "fence cutter" you get "offensive cun..." oh no, we've still got an extra T to lose. Darnit, close but no cigar.

    1. Fantastic! You should be a crossword compiler!