From top: Siskin at Danemead; a brief but welcome Lesser Spotted Woodpecker; how not to digiscope a Velvet Scoter; Northern Pintail pair at Rainham; and Yellowhammer at Stifford Clays.
After a full 12 hours passing April's Birdwatch for press yesterday, it was good to get back out in the field this morning and clear my head - at least until I hit roadworks on the A10 (another 45 minutes of my life I won't get back). So I arrived later than planned at Broxbourne Woods, where the aim was to try and refind the Hawfinches that had last been seen during February's cold spell. Thanks to pinpoint directions from Jono Lethbridge and Jan Hein van Steenis I found the spot easily, but the only finches on view when I got there were two dapper male Siskins in full song. I gave it a good hour, at which point a male Brambling was a welcome bonus, and then wandered into the Danemead Reserve to see if the birds were deeper in the woods.
As I crossed the sheep pasture a small bird sitting atop the highest point of a nearby tree caught my eye. Of all things it proved to be a female Lesser Spotted Woodpecker! I moved a bit closer, whereupon it dropped in among the branches and started feeding. It wasn't easy to get even a record shot, so apologies for the poor result here - no time to adjust the metering before it flew. This declining species can be very hard to find in the London Area these days, so it is good to know they are still present in this area. Also at Danemead were a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Nuthatch and several more Siskins, but being unable to find any Hawfinches I headed back to the car.
As soon as I was within range of a mobile signal again, my phone started bleeping with texts - the hot news was a Velvet Scoter on William Girling Reservoir, further south in the Lea Valley. Within 20 minutes or so I was in Mansfield Park to the east of the Girling, scoping the scoter distantly as it swam with a pair of Shoveler, occasionally wing-flapping to reveal its diagnostic white secondaries. Bingo - a second London tick in three days! Jono was there with his daughter and we exchanged news and gossip, while also notching up the long-staying Great Northern Diver rather distantly. A while later John Colemans and a friend appeared, and while scanning the reservoir to relocate the scoter we had a female Red-breasted Merganser with a pair of Goosander and a couple of Black-necked Grebes.
The afternoon was inevitably lower key, but Rainham produced two year-ticks in the form of Great Spotted Woodpecker and Mistle Thrush (now 104 species for the site this year), plus 12 Pintail, still many Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal and Northern Shoveler, two Cetti's Warbers and a Green Woodpecker. I headed home via Grays, finding two Oystercatchers, a Eurasian Curlew and a Dunlin on the foreshore, and 10 Yellowhammers and 70 Fieldfares near Stifford Clays to the north. All in all, a very good day out.