Wanstead Patchwork: Part III (a rail cheat)

This weekend I spent several hours walking around my local patch (Wanstead Flats and Wanstead Park) trying to build up my patch list of birds. Wanstead Flats With several common birds missing from my list so far this year, I have got up to a barely-acceptable 53. Additions from this weekend were:

  • Linnet
  • Jackdaw
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Egyptian Goose
  • Kingfisher
  • Goldcrest
  • Coal Tit
  • Little Grebe
  • Siskin

Ticks on a list never, of course, tell the full story. Take the Siskin as an example: Several local birders told me where Siskins had been seen on Saturday. I went to the wooded area and stared up high into the tall trees, but with no luck. I returned on Sunday morning determined to find them. I knew Siskins travelled closely with charms of Goldfinches. This morning I spent more than 20 minutes scanning the tops of trees and peering at every distant Goldfinch and Blue Tit closely. When I eventually saw a pair, I felt like I had earned that tick, but more importantly, it heightened my enjoyment of watching these beautiful little birds knowing the effort I had taken to find them.

I have also heard that a Water Rail has been seen on the Wanstead Park lakes, but I could not find him. However, rather like a Bloodhound, when the scent of a species of bird is with me, I can be pretty stubborn about finding it. Even if that means cheating a little. I whizzed down to Rainham, where I knew I might see one, and for a general change of scenery…

Rainham Marshes

Indeed the change of scenery came with a change of birds and I added a few to my other list for 2015: my UK year list…

  • Golden Plover (too distant for photos I’m afraid)
  • Snipe
  • Barn Owl (seen through a scope in a man-made tree box)
  • Water Rail

With several of the new Wanstead birds counting twice, this took me to 73 species for the year in the UK thus far.

Water Rail are not uncommon, although only about 1000 pairs breed in the UK (supplemented by Winter migrants), but they are exceptionally difficult to see. They skulk around deep in reeds, rarely showing themselves, but occasionally giving themselves away with their distinctive calls which have been described as ranging from ‘squealing piglets’ to the ‘purring of contented squirrels’. I would normally be very pleased with a photo like this:

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)

But recently at Rainham, the rails have been showing-off: Water Rail I love lists, and I love new ticks on my bird lists, but the joy of getting so close to such an elusive creature transcends any satisfaction of ‘collecting’ or ‘ticking’.


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