Monday, 7 May 2012

Hi all, it's the day after the bird race and instead of sleeping I find myself checking what birds within the M25  that we did not spot over the last 2 days are now about!   Here is the story of how the race went.

Friday 4th May (the night before)
I finish work about 7pm and rush to meet my cousin Luke at a pub in north London so we can discuss Saturday's route. I look at my twitter feeds for Friday and it turns out that 15 Dotterel have been sighted at out first stop at Cannons Farm (the first dotterel in Surrey for over 100 years!). I call my friend David who is the patch recorder for the area and he tells me that he has been watching them till daylight faded but then heard them flying as a fox had entered the field they'd landed in. David was going to meet us Saturday morning to take us round the site as there is no-one who knows the area as well as him. Luke and I were incredibly excited as this would be a new bird for our life lists. We wondered if they would still be there in the morning. If they were there, we would surely get them as we were planning to be on site by 5am!


Saturday at Cannons farm (4:45am - 9am)
We arrive on site after a 1.5 hour drive at 4:45am and wait for David to meet us and take us to the field. Birding in the dark was difficult especially as we had to see the birds we counted not just hear them. We managed to make out a silhouette Blackbird and Mallard in the water logged field. (we were on the way). As light opened up we saw Stock Dove, House Sparrow, Whitethroat and Carrion Crow.
David then arrived and took us the the field where he had seen the Dotterel the previous evening. We walked up to the site, hearts in mouths and set up the scopes. No sign! It was a blow to Harry and Luke's big London bird race but we had to remember that this was just 1 tick. in terms of the race it was not very significant but it would have without doubt been the headline bird.
After that we walked the patch looking for our target farm and woodland birds. We sighted the Wood Pigeons, Tits, Thrushes, Nuthatch, Warblers, Yellowhammer amongst many other birds you would expect in this habitat. David then decided to take us to the site of a Lesser Whitethroat. As we walked up the hedges we searched. We then got to the site. THERE, we heard the song and then searched the bushes where the sound came from. (although I think all 3 of us may have been looking at separate bushes).David had it! But in order for it to count I needed to see it myself. Then Luke had it. Then David had it a second time. I know its early in the morning but this was not making me feel that great about my spotting skills. However in the end I was able to locate it.On the way back however I was able to redeem myself by spotting a distant Little Owl so I was now starting to feel a little better.
Next up on the hit list was Garden Warbler. A bird that can be very difficult to find. When we got to the site we heard the bird and waited. And waited. The bird was now singing from further away. We decided to split up and surround the enemy (I mean bird). We were against time and needed to nail this bird while it was here. It took us a good 20 minutes but in the end Luke and I got some great views. Time wise we were behind schedule but we had some good birds that were hard to see under our belts. We walked round the rest of cannons and as we were doing so, I casually pointed out some ducks flying over. David was extremely excited as these were the first record Shell ducks for his local patch. Luke and I looked at each other as these are common birds that we were definitely going to see at our next stop. Oh well, I am pleased to be co-founder of the first record shots for this patch. As I'm not a patch lister this is something I do not yet understand.
On the way out we also managed to get Wheatear. We hoped to see Whinchat and had a quick scan but no sign so we went back to the car. As we were trying to adjust our sat nav David started waving his arms about. (he must have Whinchat). We sprinted towards him and he already had it in his scope. Thanks David!
We left with 46 birds on the list

Johnny who is a key holder at Beddington was very kind in letting us in the the site for the race. Johnny and the other Beddington birders also helped us find almost all of the rarer birds we saw at this site. We were picking them off so quickly as this was the first patch of water we has seen. Dunlin, Common sandpiper, Lapwing, gulls, ducks, common grebes, and various other birds. However there was one bird that we wanted here more than any other. The only issue meant that in order to get it, involved walking up to a high vantage point to look over the rubbish tip. Not the greatest view of nature I have ever experienced I must say but definitely a good spot for gulls.Walking through mounds of wet mud which I noticed was almost up to my knees, we searched for this bird. All the gulls went up in the air and we searched through them all, looking for our target bird. There it was. Amongst the mass of gulls, one stood out as whiter than the others. Iceland Gull! a lifer for Luke and apart from the week before when I visited this site, a lifer for me as well. This really was a great bird.
We also scanned the pools on the way back locating little Ringed Plover with some more Ringed plover. then we returned to the hide where we had started. We were lucky enough to see Reed and Sedge warbler right in front of us. These birds are extremely easy to hear but not so easy to see and we were lucky that both appeared in the same bush right in front of us. This would save us time trying to eye these birds later in the race. however the same was not to be said for Cettis warbler which bursted out in song, what seemed right next to us but did not allow us a good view. We then thanked Johnny and the other Beddington birders for their help and moved on.
We left with 75 birds on the list.

Staines Res
A short stop at Staines was unpleasant due to the wind and rain and walking along a path that simply divided the reservoirs leaving us exposed to all the poor weather on offer. There were a variety of birds reported here but we simply were not sighting them. Luke and I both had possible Arctic terns but nothing concrete. We also dipped the Little Tern, Black Necked Grebe but did get incredible views of Hobby, a distant Little Gull and a Shag. We decided to leave here early, but we would be back.

Barnes Wetland Centre (75 birds)
Barnes wetland centre proved fruitful. Walking to the Tower hide we were able to sight, Bar Tailed Godwit and Spotted Redshank. We also got the Cettis Warbler. We were still lacking sightings of Wren and Greenfinch. How was this possible? I'm sure if we had tried for these we would have spotted them.
We left with 82 birds

An unusual route but I was very keen to avoid going anywhere near Wembley during FA cuo final as we would get stuck in traffic. (it didn't work). sat Nav took us some unusual ways and what should have taken us 45 minutes took at 1.5 hours. I was so disappointed that we had lost so much time. Light was fading and we could have squeezed in another site had we not have got stuck. However we decided to try and spend the rest of the day here. It proved fruitful as we nailed our missing gulls Common and Greater black Backed Gull amongst a few other waders. We also nailed the most exciting Greenfinch and Wrens of our lives. We ended the day on 88 birds. This was the same score that we got in total for last year. It was a good start and we arrived home in North London around 10pm very tired.


Trent Park
Due to the fact we were missing Coal tit, Treecreeper, Pheasant and many others we decided to make a woodland stop. The Park also happens to to be near my house which meant that we did not have to drive far to be on site by first light. THANK GOD as I was so tired. Our lie-in meant that the alarm went off at 4:20am. I'm sure that extra hour in bed from yesterday was needed.
As we approached the site my first London Tawny Owl flew right in front of the car. I have tried a few times for this bird in nearby locations including Trent park but this was my first success. Last year we spend about an hour trying to find it with no luck so this was a very special bird for us. A large part of the reason for it being a speciality was the thought we would not have to drive the woods late at night trying to hoot one out with a torch like last year. Lush - an early night!
We walked in to the woodland area and saw 5 Manderins on the path ahead. Perfect! Now we didn't have to walk to the pond where I was hoping to pick them up. It seems that this morning we are having our birds served up on a plate for us. (or so we thought). We walked further in to a patch of conifers where I always see Coal tit and usually get Treecreeper. Not even a sound from either of them. This was a shock and we were spending valuable time looking for what I would call easy birds! We decided to go and try and search for Red Legged Partridges and then come back no sign of the partridges either. The Wheat fields were very high and they would be very difficult to locate. We then moved back to the conifer patch. after 10 minutes we had Treecreepers but still no Coal tit. This was a bit embarrassing, what kind of birders were we if we couldn't get such a common bird I see in my garden regularly. Oh well, we were not going to waste too much time on any one bird and certainly not on a Coal Tit! We were still lacking pheasant too so went back to the car and scanned the fields for that and the Partridges. We did locate Pheasant in a Garden but even this took time but still no Partridges. Oh well, back to the car and on we go. As we crossed the road, 2 coal Tits flew over head!
We left on 94 birds

Brent Reservoir
Brent proved to be productive. We soon had some good birds here. Highlights were Whimbrel (Pointed out to us by Neville Smith) and our second GreenShank of the trip. This was a fairly short stop. We left the site on 96 birds. We were getting close and off to Rainham next! Arguably one of the most productive bird sites in London. Although we only needed 4 birds I was still nervous. I was convinced last year we were going get 100 birds after spotting 81 on the first day and was totally gutted when we failed. I was not going to take anything for granted this year and was not going to stop until I had the 100!

We also picked out Avocet, Turnstone, Grey plover fairly early on. Then we had bird number 99. Finally a Reed Bunting! How we had not seen this as Barnes Wetland centre I have no idea! This was an exciting moment. Even I knew now we were going to get the big 100 as it was only 11am! We walked up to the first of the Rainham hides. What was going to be the 100th bird? This bird would no doubt be one that we would always remember. The bird that would mark the success of the mission. Suddenly Luke calls my name. 'Harry, I have err miscounted'. Did this mean we had 2 more birds to get. damn it! I was getting exited that any moment now could be the big 100 birds. Luke then asked me to count the list. I counted up. Then recounted. We were on 100 birds and we didn't even know it! As it turns out, it was Reed Bunting that was bird number 100! A bird that we were almost embarrassed to admit we had not picked up already. Oh well, that's birding for you. We had done it. We had made the big 100 birds! This meant that we would treat ourselves to a break at the Rainham coffee shop. We were so tired from yesterday we needed it. We also needed to plan our next stop. bird reports were coming through and we would now try and focus more on speciality birds rather than numbers. We wanted a headline bird. As we walked the rest of the way round Rainham we spotted a Peregrine on his favourite pylon,a bird we missed last year. We got to the coffee shop on 102 birds and enjoyed a nice Pasty and a large cup of coffee. We rested for a whole 30 minutes. Our biggest rest on the whole trip outside of some very short sleeps.

Crayford Marsh
A female Garganey was a bird Luke does not see to often in the Midlands where he is from so we decided to go for it. It had been reported flying down the creek at Crayford Marsh. While I though this was a huge long shot, I did also need it for my M25 year list and we also had hope of a few other specialities at Crayford. We walked down and down the creek. No sign. What were we expecting. While we could not locate the Garganey, we did locate a distant Corn Bunting. A rare bird, particularly in London. this was in a similar place to where we spotted it last year and we wondered if it was the same one. It was a good bird and brought us up to 103. A flyover Grey Wagtail made 104 too.
We then saw that there had been a possible sighting of Dotterel  at Cannons farm yesterday. While this was a suspicious entry and a half way line shot in terms of a long shot, we decided we couldn't miss out, just in case. We also needed Bulfinch, Redstart, Buzzard, Sparrow Hawk and Ring Ouzel which had been sighted yesterday too. Why not?

Cannons Farm 2
No Dotterel, David warned. This was not really a massive blow as we hadn't expected it to be there anyway.We decided to walk round the area but there was not too much about. We spent about 30 minutes trying to locate Luke's possible sighting of Bulfinch. Then David saw it. Then Luke saw it again. But I still hadn't. Again, this was reminding me of the lesser Whitethroat. Eventually I did see it. We had bird 105! we then heard reports that in Staines there were 3 potential birds for our list. Black Necked Grebe, Little and Arctic Terns. However, the light way fading fast. We decided to do one last spot until dark. We moved very swiftly on leaving David to his own devices. We scanned the Ring Ouzel field but no joy. We did however add Red legged Partridge to our list on the way back. 106!

Staines 2
We drove fast! We were very tired and it was getting dark. We got out the car, grabbed the scopes and ran as fast as our very tired and achy legs would carry us. It was dark already. Traffic had not been kind to us.We looked across and had some more possible Arctic Terns but nothing we could confirm from this distance in this poor light. Luke did however pick up 2 Black Necked Grebes. These beautiful birds in full breeding plumage we realised would be the final birds of the day. We were so proud of ourselves.

Harry and Luke holding the winning £200 cheque that will be donated to the RSPB

Despite missing some easy birds such as Buzzard, Sparrow Hawk and Kingfisher, we had a good list. While we missed out on a headline bird (except maybe Iceland Gull or Corn Bunting) I am in a way pleased.  The key reason why I did this race is to prove that wildlife exists on your doorstep, even in a big city like London. All the birds we saw are London regulars and you do not need to rely on mega rarities to see good bird life in London. There are loads of great things to see in the London area if you take the time to look. I hope that is clear from reading this blog. We have also raised a total of £544 for the RSPB if you include the prize money from the bet. So overall I think we did pretty well!

The final list (all seen)
Little grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Black-necked grebe, Cormorant, Shag, Little Egret, Grey Heron, Mute swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Egyptian goose, Shelduck, Mandarin, Gadwall, teal, Mallard, Shoverler, Pochard, Tufted duck, Ruddy duck, Kestrel, Hobby, Peregrine, Red legged Partridge, Pheasant, Moorhen, Coot, Oystercatcher, Avocet, Little ringed plover, riniged plover, grey plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Bar-tailed godwit, Whimbrel, spotted redshank, Redshank, Greenshank, common sandpiper, turnstone, little gull, black-headed gull, common gull, lesser black backed gull, greater black backed gull,Herring gull, Iceland gull,  common tern, Feral Pigeon, Stock dove, Wood pigeon, Collared dove, Ring necked parakeet, Little owl, Tawny owl, Swift, Green woodpecker, Great spotted woodpecker, Skylark, sand martin, Swallow, House martin, Meadow pipit, Yellow wagtail, Grey wagtail, Pied wagtail, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Whinchat, Wheatear, Blackbird, Song thrush, Mistle Thrush, Cettis Warbler, Sedge warbler, Reed warbler, Lesser whitethroat, Whitethroat, Garden warbler, Blackcap, chiffchaff, Willow warbler, Goldcrest, Long-tailed tit, Coal tit, Blue tit, great tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Jay, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, Carrion crow, Starling, House sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, goldfinch, Linnet, bullfinch, Yellowhammer, Reed bunting, Corn bunting

No comments:

Post a Comment