Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Smews bulletin

Total. Utter. Mega. Yesterday's red-head Smew at Alexandra Park, north London - the first site record for 27 years.
Work has often kept me away from my local patches this winter. Too often. I am reminded of one of them every day, the offices of Birdwatch looking out west across the skyline of Alexandra Park in north London. I also live near the park, and happened to be working at home late yesterday afternoon while our central heating was being repaired. Just as well - with about 20 minutes of daylight left, my mobile rang with news from budding young birder, all-round-naturalist and photographer Henry Wyn-Jones of a Smew on the park's boating lake. If you knew the lake, and you knew Smew, then this is about as improbable as Environment Secretary Owen Patterson MP receiving a standing ovation in Somerset (or indeed anywhere). But I also know Henry, a sharp observer, so within two minutes was in the car with my camera and binoculars aiming to get there before while there was still light.

An anxious few moments followed when I arrived to see no bird or birder, but within a couple of minutes Henry and his mum Sarah appeared and pointed out the bird, which had just sailed into view at the west end of the lake. Stunning! A red-head, it showed perfectly at the back of the flock of wildfowl assembling as Sarah scattered some food, but kept a healthy distance and dived occasionally in search of more appropriate morsels. In more than 40 years I have never seen a Smew this well, nor ever on this patch - the last record in Alexandra Park was as long ago as 9th February 1987, making it rarer locally in recent years than the likes of Great Egret, Alpine Swift, Wryneck and Yellow-browed Warbler, the last of which have appeared more than once.

The light was fading fast so I only had time to take a handful of images at high ISO and slow shutter speeds, plus some short video clips. It was twitched after dark by park stalwarts Bob Watt, presumably by street lighting! Big thanks to Henry, who despite his youth has already demonstrated a natural talent for birdfinding and nature photography - see some of his excellent images here.

Congratulations to local youngster Henry Wyn-Jones for locating this rarity and putting out the news so quickly.

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