Thursday, 20 May 2010

Big day out

From top: Woodlarks discovered in potential breeding habitat; and Tree Sparrow and part of the gull gathering at Beddington.

Today it was time to spread my wings. So far this year my birding in London has focused on the north and east - think of the capital's recording area (a 20-mile radius of St Paul's Cathedral) as a clock face, and I have not ventured outside the 11-3 zone. It has done well, but the time had come to strike out.

I was up at 4.30 am and birding at Staines Reservoirs, in the shadow of Heathrow, a couple of hours later. My target was Little Gull, with one having been reported there as recently as last weekend, and eventually I picked up what was surely the same bird (a third-calendar-year) among the most distant group of Black-headed Gulls. Common Terns provided far better photo opportunities, while single Yellow Wagtail and Dunlin were the only other obvious migrants.

After a surprisingly smooth passage around the M25, I picked up Mike Spicer and we headed off into the unknown; well, kind of. Woodlarks have occasionally bred on the fringes of London, so we wanted to know if they could still be found. At a site where the habitat looked slightly less than ideal, and which was heavily disturbed, we eventually hit the jackpot with two birds feeding at close range - bingo! It's good to know that this enigmatic lark is still around the edge of town; how successful any breeding is likely to be at this site is another matter, however.

Next up was Beddington, so we met up with Peter Alfrey outside the 'obs' (as his flat is known) on the edge of this south London hot-spot. A former sewage farm, it has changed dramatically since I was last there, and in place of most of its old sludge beds has a landfill site and lakes teeming with gulls - more than there are at Rainham at this time of year - as well as plenty of its signature bird, Tree Sparrow (one of only two remaining breeding sites in the capital). Little Ringed Plover, Lapwing and Redshank were the only waders today, but a fly-over Common Buzzard was also noteworthy.

I completed the 166-mile, 13.5 hour circular route by returning via Rainham, where for the second time in the last few days a Rainham had put in a brief appearance. I checked the dump early evening, just in case, but to no avail; maybe tomorrow.

London year-list update:
176. Sanderling (four at Rainham on Tuesday 18th May).
177. Little Gull.
178. Woodlark.
179. Tree Sparrow.

PS Thanks to Bob, Rob, Mike, Peter, David, Mark and Howard for information and news today.

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