Thursday, 16 September 2010

What they don't tell you about urban birding

Today's smart juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper at Beddington.


Today could so easily have been another one of those days. I was at Rainham as dawn broke and had completed a lap of the reserve by 7.15 am, hoping for waders over the early high tide but finding instead that the water level on Aveley Pools has now got far too high. Two Green Sandpipers and a heard-only Redshank was a disastrous showing, so I settled in on the foreshore for a two-hour river watch.

Still smarting from being out of town while a Manx Shearwater was on show for three hours yesterday, I was determined to find something. And I did – a juvenile Common Tern. And a Knot and 10 Yellow-legged Gulls. But other than those, six fly-over Yellow Wagtails and a couple of Northern Wheatears along the sea wall, that was no more to it than that.

I was rescued from this dismal outing by a phone call from Jono, who had news of a Wryneck found on Wanstead Flats. Having dipped one just four days before, I headed straight over to join him and others in an effort to relocate it. But after an hour of scouring a large area of prime Wryneck habitat, and fending off a wino’s dog with my camera bag, we were close to admitting defeat.

In a last-ditch attempt to locate the bird I suggested playing a recording of the call, and entered the shady glades of Long Wood to do the honours. For possibly the first time in the history of playback, the call of a female Wryneck resulted in a shabby man with a large smile and his hand on his groin emerging from the undergrowth. As he attempted to invade my personal space, I played back two choice words of my own, and in the interests of self-preservation he decided to move on pretty sharpish. Ah, the joys of urban birding.

A confiding Kestrel and an acorn-gathering Jay at Wanstead.

Feeling that the Wryneck was unlikely to show again, and aware of my 6 pm home-time deadline, I headed south of the river to Beddington to meet up with Johnny Allan, who had texted news of a Pectoral Sandpiper on site - another potential London year-tick. After a fair drive I reached the site and quickly located a couple of Greenshank, three Common Snipe, a Ringed Plover and a Common Sandpiper, but there was no sign of the Pec or Johnny. A quick call revealed why with the dreaded words: “It was last seen 10 minutes ago, we’re trying to relocate it.”

I joined the hunt and, with just a few minutes to spare before I had to leave, the bird flew out from the margin of a sludge bed close to where we were standing. Yes! It perched briefly then flew, towering away into the distance but returning quickly to the same place, allowing me to take a few shots before I had to head for home – an excellent end to an otherwise trying day.

London year-list update:
198. Pectoral Sandpiper.

PS Thanks to Jono, Johnny, Mike, Franko and Mark for the calls and texts today - the London grapevine seems second to none at times, and I hope I can return all favours in due course.


  1. Well done Dom - glad the long drive paid off.

    From my experience, the quality of the grapevine, camaraderie and general 'joined-up-ness' of local birding in London is considerably better than elsewhere. Although e.g. Norfolk clearly gets a lot more good birds, there's not such an obvious network of communicative birders, and it can appear quite clique-y. Cambs struck me as better while I was at uni (perhaps because people had to work harder for their birds), but London takes the prize.

    Long may it stay that way!

  2. Really good pics dominic , glad to hear you got the Arctic Warbler as well.

  3. Thanks for the comments, guys. The Pec was very showy in my brief time there, but all thanks to Johnny for access and help relocating it. The London birding scene gets better and better - I have lived in the city almost all my life and been birding since 1972, and the overall camaraderie (as David says) is excellent. That's partly down to the Yahoo group and various websites and blogs bringing everyone together. Long may it continue!



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