I seem to have increased my 2015 patch list by one almost by accident. I was in the graveyard of St Mary the Virgin (the only Grade I listed building in Redbridge don’t y’know?) and watching a Collared Dove when I realised it wasn’t on my list for the year yet. I am not entirely clear if it really was the first CD I have seen on the patch this year, or whether I just overlooked it before. Either way, that is 56 seen on the patch this year now:
Later that morning I stood on a cold and wet playing field looking at a flock (or if I were to be accurate with my collective nouns, a ‘colony’) of around 280 Common Gulls. Actually, I wasn’t looking at the Common Gulls at all, I was staring at a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls willing them to be a bit bigger, blacker, and have pink legs so I could add Great Black-backed Gull to my patch year list…
… I was shaken out of my wistful staring by Nick Croft who joined me to look at the gulls. As Nick already has GBBG for his list, and because he isn’t as silly as me, he was not trying to morph one species into another. But he was studying the colony in case a rarity such as Caspian Gull (only seen once on the Flats) should be concealed amongst the Commons.
We chatted for a while – Nick is a local expert who generously shares his knowledge and tips about where and when I might see what. I had barely turned my back and walked a few hundred yards when Nick informed me via Twitter that he had seen two more species missing from my year-list: Redwing and Fieldfare. By then however, I had gone a bit too far in the rain to turn back, and I must confess another bird was occupying my mind. Before we had parted, Nick told me how a Scaup had been seen in Kensington Gardens. Slap bang in Central London!
I had recently dipped seeing a Scaup in Nottinghamshire, and it was still a lifer (I’ve never seen one before) for me, so I left the Flats and jumped on the Tube to the West End. The weather was miserable, but I arrived at Round Pond – created by George II in 1730 and in view of Kensington Palace – and immediately started scanning the water.
Typically, this rare inland visitor (apparently the first in Hyde Park/Kensington Gardens for three years and only the second in over a decade), was patrolling around in the middle of the lake, about as far from view as he possibly could be … (yes that dot is the Scaup)
Nick had warned me that the bird was ‘scruffy’, and he wasn’t wrong. I think this young male is moulting and just starting to show patches of grey and white that will soon cover it more extensively and smartly (WARNING! – Distant record shot coming up!)
I left the Scaup and almost immediately bumped into another patch birding expert, Ralph Hancock, who pointed me in the direction of a couple of owl holes. A local Tawny Owl was certainly not showing, and whilst I thought I saw something move in a hole Ralph told me housed a Little Owl, I couldn’t really tick something which could have just as easily been a squirrel.
So, I walked down to the Serpentine – surely the most well-known man-made lake in the UK – and snapped some of the commoner cousins of the Scaup, Tufted Duck and Pochard:
I would complain that ‘why couldn’t the Scaup have come that close?’, but Buddhist wisdom teaches that, “complaining erases good fortune”, so I shall hold my tongue and just be grateful that I saw a bird I have never seen before in one of the busiest parks in the heart of London.
Post Scriptum: Sunday 1 February
I nipped out this morning just after dawn for a quick walk around Bush Wood. I glanced at the Common Gulls on playing fields through the trees and saw something big and black & white in the distance. Looking through my bins confirmed that this time I did not have to imagine the size, the blackness, or the pink legs – they were all there. I whipped out my camera and got a shot before walking to get a much closer shot. The gull must have smelt my eagerness on the wind and took off flying incredibly close to a tower block and then behind it in the strong wind. Anyone waking up and looking out of their window and seeing that giant gull a few meters from their face would probably get a bit of a shock. Whilst I was disappointed not to get a closer picture, I did get a fuzzy super-distant shot of my 57th bird on the patch for 2015: