Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Winter delivers

Eurasian Wigeon 'skypointing' as the snow starts at Rainham (above)
and Redwing in the woodland at the same site (below).

 I have never known a winter like this for birds in London. We’ve had hard winters before, sure, but the constant movement of out-of-place hard-weather migrants across the city is unprecedented as far as I can recall (and I’m going back to the late Seventies).

Here’s an example. Every birder dreams of finding Waxwings, and I’m no exception. Since I started birding in 1972 I have always looked out for them, with no joy; this month, I have found the species four times, three of them in London (at my two local patches of Alexandra Park and Rainham Marshes) and once in Buckinghamshire. Picking them up on call in the woodland at Rainham on my last visit with Luke Tiller and latching on to four birds flying away was one of the highlights of the year. Luke later got lucky with a fly-over Snow Bunting - touché!

Another highlight would have been the Thames at Rainham this week – had I been able to get there. My car was iced in for five days on the grit-free skating rink of a hill where I live, during which time both Smew (a would-be Rainham tick) and Gannet (ditto for London) have both appeared on the river. And then there’s the countless parties of White-fronted Geese, not to mention Bean and Pink-feet, that have been flighting over the city in the last couple of days.

Instead, I’ve been enjoying the birds flocking to my garden feeding station – the best part of 30 species have appeared during the past week, including up to 12 Goldfinches, five Chaffinches and a few oddities such as Blackcap, Redwing, Ring-necked Parakeet and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Oddest of all was the Meadow Pipit which I flushed from a front garden a few doors away – a bizarre sight indeed in the suburbs of north London.

Alexandra Park's first Green Sandpiper since 1985.
Two Water Rails shared the same ice-free flood with the Green Sand.
A drake Shoveler tries to get comfy on the boating pond ice.
Aythya hybrids 1 (above) and 2 (below) on the Tunnel Reservoir in
Alexandra Park - perhaps offspring of the same parents?

I also did a circuit of Alexandra Park on Sunday, and lucked into the first Green Sandpiper there for 25 years – another great find by Gaz Richards. With a couple of showy Water Rails, a duo of lookalike Aythya hybrids and Skylark and Meadow Pipit on the move, it was a timely reminder that there is plenty to be seen right on my doorstep.

Rainham patchlist 2010 update:
161. Waxwing.

Alexandra Park patchlist 2010 update:
90. Green Sandpiper.

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