Wednesday, 7 April 2010
Backtracking a little...
Dusky Warbler at Walthamstow reservoirs, Feb 2010 (Photo by Pricille Preston)
My fist entry - long overdue - on here, and I'd like to thank firstly Mark Pearson (of Stoke Newington reservoirs/London Wildlife Trust fame) for setting up this blog over a year ago, and secondly Paul Whiteman for breathing life back into it recently. I agree that the task of keeping this going will be a lot more fun and less arduous if many of us Walthamstow regulars contribute, rather than leaving it to one individual to do so. So I would encourage readers/contributors to spread the word, thus making this a fun (and informative) forum for local birders.
Now please allow me a little self indulgence...On 14th February this year, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon what is likely to be one of the 'birds of the decade' in the form of a Dusky Warbler - a patch and county first (if accepted).
Below is the account I was invited to write for the current (April) edition of Birdwatch magazine.
Good birding all,
Dusky Warbler at Walthamstow reservoirs NE London
On the 14th February 2010 - a bright but cold morning - I’d decided to go for a mid-morning stroll around my local ‘patch’, the Lockwood reservoir (part of the Walthamstow reservoir complex in NE London) and proceeded on my usual route along the public footpath which runs parallel to the reservoir on it’s Eastern side. There were a number of small birds feeding in the bramble covered grassy slope leading up to some allotments (adjacent to my back garden); the usual tits, Dunnocks, Robins & my first singing Goldcrests of the year. My attention though, was drawn to an unfamiliar call; a soft, often repeated ‘tchuck’ or ‘tchup’ reminiscent to my ears of a Blackcap only quieter (though I’m well aware that trying to describe & spell-out bird calls is very subjective). I soon located the bird responsible which was clearly a Phylloscopus warbler superficially resembling a Chiffchaff in size & appearance. My notes from the day state: ‘medium brown upperparts with a slight olive tinge, no apparent wing markings, underparts paler with a buffish wash & no obvious white patches to the belly or undertail coverts; a long pale supercilium which appeared paler in front of the eye than behind; pale brownish-yellow legs with strikingly yellow feet; bill thin & pointed’.
Plumage apart, the warbler’s ‘jizz’ just didn’t feel quite right for a Chiffchaff; it was darting restlessly from one patch of undergrowth to another – something I don’t associate with local Chiffies which in my experience have a more leisurely feeding behavior, picking their way systematically through the leaves, hovering regularly and so on. I watched the bird on and off for around 15 minutes as it made it’s way along the perimeter fence, before losing it somewhere in the allotments which are not accessible to the public. At this point I had a strong suspicion that I was onto something pretty unusual and narrowed it down in my mind to a ‘probable’ Dusky Warbler – no other Phyllosc warblers matched what I’d seen so what else could it have been? Problem was that I’d never seen or heard one before so decided to call another local patch watcher Paul Whiteman, whom I knew had seen Duskies before & described what I’d seen & heard to him. His reply was encouraging: ‘sounds good for a Dusky’…
Paul drove straight over to meet me on the reservoir where we had a look at a gorgeous Slavonian (fresh in the previous day) & Black-necked Grebe, before having another look for the warbler in the same area I’d been watching it, but with no joy. Unfortunately I’d run out of time for the day and had to get home to go out, but was anxious to put out the news of what I’d seen on the London Birders’ Yahoo group as a ‘strange Phyllosc warbler’ in the area; so as to give others a chance to have a look for it that afternoon. On returning home that evening, I was able to do some more research with photos & sound recordings of both Dusky & Radde’s warblers (the other most likely candidate). As soon as I heard recordings of Dusky’s call I knew that this was what I’d heard (and seen) earlier, and I was able to put out the news with absolute certainty (almost!).
I was working the following morning but fortunately the bird was refound in the same area around 12.30pm by birder/photographer Roy Woodward, (who also deserves credit for getting the first decent pics of the bird) and to my delight, my initial ID suspicions were confirmed. I got there soon after and the bird performed well for a small but rapidly growing gathering of birders and stayed in the area for a further eight days allowing many to catch up with it (and making a significant contribution to the Thames Water day permit coffers!). If accepted, this will be a first for the London area, and therefore would have to be described as the patch-watching equivalent of winning the lottery. For me personally this was a World, UK, county & patch first…all I need now is for it to reappear in the garden, then I’ll have the full house!