Monday, 22 March 2010

Chats in, gulls out

Gulls departing the dump at Rainham: numbers have fallen sharply just as the first summer migrants arrive.

At last, my first true spring migrant appeared this morning. A cracking male Northern Wheatear on the saltings at Aveley Bay came six days later than last year's first bird, but was within quarter of a mile of the same spot. While trying to relocate it what looked suspiciously like a White Wagtail disappeared over the sea wall, never to be seen again. Easy come, easy go.

Shortly afterwards, news broke of an Alpine Swift at Leyton Flats. I always think March seems early for this Mediterranean overshoot, but a wave of birds has arrived in southern England over the last few days; all it seems to take is a following wind and some sunshine. With hindsight I should have gone then for this major London rarity, but I assumed it was most likely a fly-through, like so many others have been.

On the second report late morning I was sorely tempted to act, but was up on the tip photographing gulls and couldn't have got out quickly. Gull numbers are well down now, into the hundreds from the thousands present last month, and the only notables were first-winter and second-summer Yellow-legged Gulls in the thick of the action. Among the loafing gulls on nearby Wennington Marsh were a couple of ringed birds, but they were too distant to read the codes and I gave up trying. As I watched birds leaving the tip at Rainham, I got the distinct feeling that the gulling season is over for another year.

Calling in at the RSPB reserve centre for an early lunch, my phone began to ring persistently: it was most likely either the Birdwatch office, or our new east London columnist, Jonathan Lethbridge, on the trail of another good London bird. And so it proved: Jono had indeed connected with the swift and sounded chuffed. I capitulated immediately and headed over to Whipps Cross, as did some of the others at Rainham, but of course the bird didn't return. Lesson of the day: make your mind up more quickly next time.

List update: Rainham 2010 - 105 species. London 2010 - 136 species.

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