Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Target Practice

After quite a decent night’s sleep the day dawned bright and tempted me into one of those rare early morning sorties that I should do more often, though we all know nothing good is ever seen early at Walthamstow.

Being a Birder, and not a Birdwatcher, I had a few targets in mind; Marsh Warbler, Common Rosefinch, Spotted Flycatcher, Crossbill, Quail, Corncrake and Golden Oriole. Why so? I hear you say, well Birding without targets is a bit like a game of Football without the goalposts, you might not score but it makes the 90 minutes much more exciting if you’ve got something to aim for.

Why those particular targets? Well, it’s all down to the date, the habitat, what’s turning up around the country and what I still need for the patch or year. None of them were totally outlandish prospects, though admittedly most of them were fairly long shots, and, as it turned out all of them were somewhat off target.

On Marsh Lane Fields the two Bunnies of a few weeks ago had mysteriously become 15, wow those things really do breed like Rabbits. The Lesser Whitethroat was still singing, likewise a couple of Chiffchaffs, in fact Warblers were very much in evidence across the Southern part of the patch today.

I’ve always wondered why the Golf Course doesn’t seem to attract flocks of Geese, well today a couple of Canada’s discovered it, that should please the Golfers. I tried, again, for the invisible Mandarin in the Lea by the outflow of the overflow channel, nada. I hoped for the Grasshopper Warbler to still be singing and contemplated getting closer by walking through the Giant Hogweed patch but something prompted me to give it a miss, probably my Left hand which I still can’t close into a fist. A Reed Warbler was going for Gold in the very small clump of Reeds there, I don’t remember hearing one here before.

After this I had to run the gamut of Dogs and their walkers, the latter deciding how much fun it would be to let their mutts run right up to me! I don’t make my Birds fly up to them, come to think of it I don’t even get them flying up to me.

Expediency forced me to cut across the Friends Bridge and through the Middlesex N.R., I obviously kept my eyes down and hummed, lest I should spy anything in Hackney, which would never do! Breathing a sigh of relief I crossed the Lea Bridge Road (the under pass by the Princess of Wales is being Olympified and will re-open soon in all its glory) and re-entered the patch. Sand Martins are still hanging around the holes in the banks of the Lea just behind the Skating Rink, presumably breeding by now, and there were lots of Swifts over the Lea too, I guess there is good nesting to be had in the large houses of Clapton.

The footpath along the side of the Lea running up to the Marina has also been upgraded, a nice job too, very smooth and sandy compared to the rutted dirt track of yesteryear, let’s hope it wears and weathers well. The dust certainly doesn’t get kicked up by passing cars as it used to on the old track. It even got the Heron seal of approval.

My nose does not work very well (how do I smell? Ask my wife!) but, as I walked back down the East side of the marsh my olfactory senses were whacked by the heady scent of Honeysuckle. Thanks to pioneering technology you can experience this for yourself [just scratch the picture below and sniff] this may work best if you do it actually on the marsh.

Young Birds were a feature of the morning, Greenfinches and especially Starlings, which seem earlier than normal, also quite a few young Robins, some already losing their spots and getting an Orange flush to their breasts. On the back paddock a young Linnet was confirmation of breeding. Almost as surreptious as their disappearance is the re-appearance of the House Sparrow which can be seen at any number of places around the patch nowadays, can’t see Tree Sparrows doing the same as the nearest ones to here must be at least 10-15 miles away.

Around this point I started walking a little faster as I remembered, another essential target for the morning but then realised that the Waterworks cafe would not be open for another hour, so slowed down again.

The Little Owl Trees are nearly totally leafed up now, though there is just one narrow gap that they could be seen in but not today. A party of young Foxes in the undergrowth near the stables were amusing and as a bonus they didn’t run up to me. (It's a little like finding Waldo, but there is a Fox in there)

At the Waterworks N.R. a Little Egret flew over. On the little floating island on the first flooded bed a drake Pochard was preening and revealed that it was rung, I got my scope out to try and read it, though it’s doubtful what I would have got at that range, but at that point it slipped into the water. Interestingly further down the Lea at East India Dock N.R. they have just had two ‘nose saddled’ Pochard which, I believe, turned out to be Portuguese in origin.

Just when it seemed like none of my targets were going to be hit I arrived at the Waterworks cafe and lo!


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