Sunday 19 April 2020

The Unwanted Birdrace - Lockdown Birding

Opportunities for birding during Lockdown...

There's staring through the flat window at weekends, and at the end of the working day, not forgetting listening to a dawn chorus, the strength of which seems highly weather dependent. Whilst not having a garden I'm lucky to have a south facing and reasonable view at a decent height for a skywatch of suburban south Hertfordshire (within the London recording area.) Otherwise a daily exercise walk offers birding opportunities through several dry-land habitats.

I've never kept a from the window list or local list for this area, but still concentrate upon adding to my World (IOC), British (BOURC) and then locally Yorkshire, Barnsley and Wath Area birding lists. But Lockdown it is and in keeping in touch with everyone back home and here down south it is interesting to see and hear, sometimes in real time, what folk are recording whilst birding at their homes.

Red Kite has been added to the (flyover) garden list back home during the period and several of us noted Raven(s) overhead on the same day in Herts and Essex. If only yesterday's Osprey over Hornchurch had turned west! Spring migration is well underway and this restricted birding, which I perhaps cruelly call, 'The Unwanted Birdrace' is a way of enduring the lack of freedom of movement. However, birding plays second fiddle to the welfare of all, everyone stay safe and well.

So, the prologue over with, what else has been spotted?

The south Hertfordshire vista sees daily sightings of Red Kite and Buzzards, both of which are showy on warm days. The Kites interested in looking for scraps from the gardens whereas the Buzzards are in display. Sparrowhawk and Kestrel sightings are regular and over two days during last week a male Peregrine flew by. Yesterday (18 April) saw a Raven fly north and met with equal excitement experienced when the first Lockdown list Greenfinch, Canada Goose and Jay flew by earlier in the period. Two high flying (away) Little Egrets were statistical if not enjoyable Lockdown ticks, the list is currently at 39 having added a 'yaffling' Green Woodpecker and flyby Swallows this morning (19 April). The noisy Ring-necked Parakeets have filled the niche left by the seemingly long gone Monk Parakeets and are now ever present, but I await a fly by House Sparrow and Pied Wagtail with the same anticipation of seeing an October rarity on the East coast! Surely the brambles along the in view railway line must hold Warblers other than Blackcap? Chiffchaff are everywhere roundabouts but here!

Skywatch Saturday 12-2pm has been hit and miss, more local raptors than passage here but it's been good to compare sightings with birding friends in the South East, back up north and overseas when time allows.

The wider list and a nice variety of habitat, be it a walk through fields with rarity inviting scrubland bordering one such area, small pieces of woodland and a golf course. The latter screams out Wheatear and Ring Ouzel on the deserted greens, but as time progresses offers diminishing returns as staging grounds for these summer visitors. I have settled so far for cracking views of Green Woodpecker and singing Mistle Thrush. An area of scrub has yielded the two Whitethroat species, a lone and probably passage Willow Warbler, with the air dominated by the sounds of singing Chiffchaff and Blackcaps. Not always a focus on summer visitors, the start of the period saw a morning of snow showers with Redwing passing by the flat window and Fieldfare noted for the wider area Lockdown list.  A late Fieldfare today (19 April) was perhaps unexpected on the daily exercise walk. The woodland areas gave up Nuthatch territories, one bird in dispute with Ring-necked Parakeets, and an evening walk produced calling Tawny Owl in such woodland.

Butterflies have also been on show, with early season examples of Orange Tip, Green-veined White, Peacock, Brimstone and Comma noted. A Holly Blue was a first of the year for me today (19 April). Foxes seen on a couple of evenings as Bats skirt the treetops, and a Muntjac deer moved through undergrowth one evening, it's small size almost making it undetectable along the edge of a grassy field. I might be stretching the limit of mammal listing with the photo shown below, could I argue this one is a first for Hertfordshire?

I'm grateful for the limited birding opportunities open to me, others are not so lucky be it due to their lockdown location or current health. Whilst Lockdown birding is like a birdrace over X days/weeks/months, the question is, what's the prize at the end of this birdrace?

Not a big trophy as the World Series of Birding our team were very happy to win in 2018. This time the prize will simply be to return to some form of normality, for me to travel to see and spend time with mum and dad, and friends back home and more local across the London and south east, plus when at Rainham Marshes RSPB to have the freedom to wander around and have a good moan about missing rarities on site!

We did like to have a good moan about missing rare/scarce birds, those days are sorely missed.