Sunday, 5 April 2020

Winter Round-up & Back Home!

Given that I'm stuck at home now I thought that I'd catch up on some of my blogging. Not that there's been a great deal to write about. As regular readers will know, up until recently I've been working in London during the week and so have had no time for any bird excursions. Still there have been a couple of occasions where I've been able to fit in a bit of birding around some other activities so I thought I'd do a round-up of what I've been up to so far this year.

The first trip was a rather sad affair: my former business partner, with whom I worked for over 10 years as part of a very successful partnership, sadly became very ill last year with a strange neurological condition which they couldn't diagnose. At the end of last year I heard the sad news that he had passed away so in the first few days of January I headed north to Macclesfield for the funeral. The ceremony itself was a very raw and emotional affair but they organised a wake afterwards which was by complete contrast a lovely, warm and friendly opportunity to reminisce about our mutual friend. I did happen to check whether there might be anything of birdy interest in the vicinity and found to my delight that the over-wintering Maurus Western Siberian Stonechat was no more than 20 minutes away from the wake location. So I left the party with just enough winter daylight left for me get over there and have a look for it. Fortunately there were a few locals about who put me on the right location and after about twenty minutes or so I had some rather distant but satisfactory views. I had been hoping that it was going to turn out to be a Stejneger's Siberian Stonechat (which was the one I needed) but sadly the DNA dice did not fall in my favour this time. Since my visit people have managed to get some quite decent photos of the bird so rather than embarrass myself with my puny efforts I've borrowed one below from RBA.

The Western Siberian Stonechat, taken by Mark Woodhead (c). See his blog here

The next visit was also sadly related to the passing away of someone close: this time involving the house clearing of my late mother-in-law's house. She had died last autumn but January was the first time that my VLW's family had got together to try to sort through all her possessions. There wasn't a great deal for me to do there so whilst the siblings worked their way around the house I decided to nip over to nearby Staines reservoir where I managed to see the flock of 10 over-wintering Black-necked Grebes. There's something appealingly bleak about this location and in the stiff wind it didn't disappoint in that respect. I enjoyed seeing the Grebes, which all kept close together in a tight flock. In fact my first ever Black-necked Grebe back when I started birding some twelve years ago now was from this site. Where as all the time gone?

Apart from those two trips I've been keeping my head down and working in London. It's no sort of life really: getting up at 6 am and returning towards 7pm, too tired to do anything. To ease the commuting burden I've been staying at my parents' house in Epsom during the week which does knock half an hour off the commuting time but then means that I'm away from my family. However, one thing which has made it more bearable has been Regent's Park. I've already mentioned that I'd started birding there and this year I soon got into a routine of heading out there most lunchtimes to see what I could see. I got to know the local Conservation Officer TD (see his Twitter account here) who knows all there is to know about the local bird life. He told me where the local Little Owls roosted over the winter and so each day I would check out their favourite tree on the off-chance that one might be showing. It took several weeks before I finally had the luck to see one sunning itself and over the next few days I managed to see it quite regularly, even telling TD about it so he could get some video.

A still taken from Regent's Park Birds Twitter feed. See the original video here
Thanks to his help I also added Stock Dove to my Park list and as the first migrants started to reach the country it was with a frisson of excitement that each lunchtime I'd go out to do the rounds to see what I could find. It usually wasn't much but it's amazing how quickly one recalibrates one's expectations and how relatively common birds became much more highly prized.

I would have liked to have birded the Park properly throughout the spring but as we all know the dreaded virus has turned all our lives upside down. For my part it meant that I got to work from home again which is pretty much my ideal outcome and what I would do given the choice anyway. The lockdown has also meant that there has been no conflict in deciding whether to skip work to go and twitch something so it's been a pretty relaxed state of affairs. Living so close to Port Meadow has naturally meant that my daily exercise is taken there and so I've been able to bird my patch pretty much as I would anyway. 

So here I am back to working from home and birding Port Meadow as always - it was all just a dream! Actually I consider myself profoundly lucky that:
a) I have a job and am able to work in the present circumstances. I know that millions aren't so lucky and I thank my stars that I've been fortunate enough to land on my feet in this respect
b) I live within walking distance of my patch anyway so am able to bird as usual. Again many birders are reduced to garden listing and noc migging to try and get their daily nature fix.

I say "bird as usual" but I have changed my habits slightly. I now just take my bins and superzoom camera as it's easier to justify my excursion as exercise if I'm not lugging my scope about with me. I also now bird after I finish work at 5pm where I walk on the western side of the floods (between the floods and the river) where the sun is in my favour and there aren't any people. It's quite hard to keep 2m apart at certain pinch points on Port Meadow, especially where I would normally scope from next to Burgess Field gate so walking along the river side of the floods with my bins works pretty well for me. So far there's not been anything especially exciting but I've enjoyed the heart-warming pleasure of the first Little Ringed Plovers and Sand Martins of spring. It's good to be back at my birding spiritual home.