Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Big day patch record

Two Grey Plovers drop in to Aveley Bay on their way north to the tundra.
For many years the first weekend in May was known as bird-racing weekend. For bird race, newcomers to birding (and North American birders) should read ‘big day’. I did a London bird race for many years as part of a team of four, but since 2006 when we succeeded in setting a new record of 113 species, the pressure has been off to continue the tradition.

Bar-tailed Godwits have been a constant feature at Rainham recently. These birds were part of a 36-strong flock.
The Thames foreshore also attracted this mixed flock of Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Dunlin.
That total was achieved between midnight and midnight on 7 May that year (see London Bird Report 71: 174-180). Maybe it had something to do with the date, but yesterday was 7th and I went for another bird race of sorts – a personal best on my local patch at Rainham Marshes on the eastern edge of London.

One less Brown Rat on the saltings as this male Eurasian Kestrel enjoys a meal.
I’d actually begun to attempt the exercise three days previously, last Friday 3 May, but aborted early in the afternoon at 70 species after news broke of the first Dotterel in London for 18 years (see previous posts). So come Bank Holiday Monday, I was ready to go. In 2006 our first species was a calling Tawny Owl at 02:57; yesterday it was a singing Sedge Warbler at 08:00, my more civilised personal start time, though the sixth species to fall a few moments later was also an owl, this time Short-eared.

The western end of the site produced this nice Common Cuckoo and ...
... a female Bearded Tit well away from its usual haunts in the area.

Thereafter, everything just seemed to click. I birded the West Marsh then the stone barges, before heading on to Aveley Bay. Only then, at about 11:00, did I reach the car park for the RSPB reserve, by which time I’d already reached 60 species. Birding the woodland, scrub and northern boardwalk past Aveley Pools also proved very productive, and after some bonus birds from the Butts Hide I hit the seawall.

Good numbers of Northern Wheatears, including some Greenland birds, have been moving through.
Eurasian Whimbrel are best seen over high tide, when they feed on the reserve's grazing marsh.
The birds? After that Short-eared Owl, the main noteworthy species were (in systematic rather than chronological order) Egyptian Goose (local rarity), some late wintering wildfowl including two Eurasian Teal, five Eurasian Wigeon, 17 Northern Shoveler and a brief Aythya hybrid resembling a drake Ring-necked Duck, a Common Buzzard which flew high north mid-afternoon, four Hobbies and a Peregrine, Water Rail, 12 shorebird species including two Avocet, two Ringed Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Common Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, 11 Bar-tailed Godwits, 12+ Eurasian Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew and a superb summer-plumaged Spotted Redshank, first-summer Common Gull, Common Cuckoo, two Yellow Wagtails, three male Whinchats, 15+ Northern Wheatears, a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, five singing Cetti’s Warblers, a female Bearded Tit and, finally, Corn Bunting.

A final - and welcome - surprise on the big day was this Corn Bunting at Wennington.
All bar three of the 91 species were self found, which is always a more rewarding mode of birding – for Bearded Tit and Lesser Whitethroat I owe thanks to David Callahan, while a reserve volunteer in the Butts Hide was first onto the teal. Once I felt it was in sight I was determined to get to the target of 90 species, and thought I’d done so with that Corn Bunting (a good breeding season record for the London Area, in which only one pair was documented in the last bird report, for 2008). However, on recounting back at home, I twice confirmed the total as 91 species. It’ll be an effort to beat that in future.

The big day's mammal list also included Brown Hare (above), Water Vole and Fox.
NB Some of the images shown here were taken on Friday’s visit, not during the big day.


  1. Someone once said on seeing a Mr Universe contest "these guys are as dumb as a lump of wood". Or something similar. When I questioned why, I was told that no one could have a body as beautiful as that and have the time to read as well!
    I am much the same in as much as, I spent my whole childhood (from 12 anyway) practicing my musical instrument, 8 hours a day and only slightly less during school days. Music was everything, eventually on leaving school and a brief spell as an apprentice I left my native Wales to go to the big city -London - to become a REAL musician! This was in 1960, so I had all the best years of the 60's music revolution and lived and loved every minute.
    Although I took an interest in photography shortly after this time, my interest wasn't in wildlife, nature or birding. So now at the ripe old age of 70 I find my self struggling to identify every single bird I see, it is so frustrating. So when I read that you Dominic started at age 7, I have a complete understanding of where your knowledge of our feathered friends is at. And, I thank you for sharing it with me.
    BTW, I love your pics, and the magazine.

  2. Thanks for the kind comments on the pics and mags. It's never too late to get into birding (or bird photography), and mistakes are all part of the learning process - so don't get frustrated with identification, just take your time, practise whenever you can and it will come in time.



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