When Little Owl recently succumbed to my patch list, Bullfinch (perhaps alongside Woodcock) became my patch ‘bogey bird’: a relatively commonly seen bird missing from my list.
But let’s put ‘relatively common’ in context here. The British Trust for Ornithology ‘Breeding Bird Survey’ shows that Bullfinch numbers have declined by around 39 per cent since 1967, and the decline is steepest in the South East. With the exception of some sightings on our neighbouring ‘Leyton Flats’, I believe the recent Autumn birds are the first Bullfinches seen on the patch for two years: since October 2015.
Yesterday, Tony saw four birds in Long Wood on the Wanstead Flats. This follows several recent sightings in the same area.
I was not long at Long Wood this morning before I heard the distinctive melancholic phe-ouw call which I like to describe as a child blowing weakly into a de-tuned harmonica. And through the branches, twigs, and remaining leaves I briefly saw a female Bullfinch. A bogey bird no more; my 116th bird for the Patch and my 105th for the year.
I then stayed another hour or so waiting in vain to get a photo. But with the exception of a brief call, I didn’t see another flicker. However, had I not waited, I would not have caught the flash of airborne movement that revealed a Short-eared Owl being mobbed by crows over the wood. This is only the second SEO seen by anyone on the Patch this year and only my second ever on Patch:
After counting everything on Alexandra Pond for the BTO Wetland Bird Survey (very few winter ducks on the Flats at the moment, but rather more in the Park) I walked back via Long Wood for a second attempt to try and photograph the Bullfinch. I am unclear why I felt such a strong desire to get a photo, but it was definitely niggling me.
I was rewarded with views of at least three birds; two female and one male. I didn’t get any good photos, but securing the record shot flooded me with a sense of relief.
I find the fact that I saw Hawfinch from the Patch before Bullfinch quite extraordinary, but that is just one of the many wondrous uncertainties about Patch birding.