Sunday, 26 September 2010

Grey days

One of five Common Buzzards on the latest London outing.
My London year list has been gently stagnating on 199 species for some time, so a lot of hope was riding on a couple of opportunities to get into the field to produce the long-awaited 200th. Yet as sometimes happens in birding, things didn't quite work out.

First, though, was not a year-tick but one that got away - a probable Pectoral Sandpiper, seen and heard distantly as it flew high over the Thames with a Ringed Plover at Rainham. Both birds landed on the mud among a larger flock of small waders on the far Kent shore; when four of us scanned from the balcony of the visitor centre, each time we picked up a larger, darker-looking calidrid - surely a Pec. But then, as the tide came up, it vanished before it could be confirmed, never to be seen again. A late Hobby was scant consolation.

Next up was yet another hunt for Grey Partridge at a tip-off site; it drew yet another blank. I'm now calling off the search for this species for at least a month, when I will have one last roll of the dice in the Essex sector. Instead I did have a few raptors, including this Common Buzzard (pictured above) and a female Sparrowhawk at one site and then Red Kite, four Common Buzzards and a male Sparrowhawk at a second site. But where have all the partridges gone?

What could have been a more spectacular 200th species also eluded me, despite occurring in numbers over London this weekend. Gannets have been forced up the Thames Estuary by strong winds and poor weather further out, and with news of birds on the river I raced to Grays - twice - to try my luck. On the second occasion, just as I was about to take up position, I learned the Rainham regulars had had a juvenile fly past the visitor centre. I had almost gone there instead, but opted for Grays further downstream because many seabirds turn back when they reach the Dartford Crossing, in between the two sites. In fact, I saw four Brent Geese do exactly that, and also had a juvenile Little Gull and a Grey Plover fly upriver - in normal circumstances a good London 'seawatch', but not when you don't connect with a prize like Gannet.

So 199 it is, at least for the moment. That's it for London this week - tomorrow I'm off to the Azores for a short-notice trip ahead of next month's main visit.

Bonus raptor: a distant Red Kite in the London Area.

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