Friday, January 23, 2009

Lea Valley, Essex / Greater London - 14th January 2009

A day's birding with Tony (Butler) further up our beloved valley, to the cluster of wetland sites in the Fisher's Green / Seventy Acres Lake area. A short session at the Bittern watchpoint produced a single Bittern, conveniently wandering across a channel just as we entered, and several Water Rails pottering around just beneath the hide.

Good numbers of Lesser Redpolls and Siskins were feeding nearby as we walked around the area, a Muntjac ran across the path in front of us en route to Holyfield Lake, where we got lucky with sawbills - three Goosander hung around just long enough, and a fine drake Smew came in from the north before proceeding to swim to and fro just metres from the hide.

Drake Smew, Holyfield Lake

Back to the watchpoint for the last half hour of light, and no less than three Bitterns were present, at one point side by side, in the reedbed. But after a couple of minutes watching one of the birds, partially obscured by reeds at the back of the central channel, I realised all was not well.

The bird was struggling to right itself, with its wings and lower body in the (ice-cold) water, flapping weakly as if its legs were trapped beneath the surface. Despite another seven or eight people in the hide having watched the bird in this predicament for more than 20 minutes, nobody thought to act (perhaps thinking the bird was feeding in a strange way, or perhaps not registering the gravity of the situation, or both); after three mobile calls to the LVRPA switchboard - the last and most 'firm' of which finally getting put through to the rangers - the situation was eventually taken seriously, and with the light almost gone, action was thankfully swift.

With the bird now barely moving, partially submerged and with its head drooping in the water behind the reeds, it was a matter of minutes at most before it drowned or perished through hypothermia; thankfully, with rangers decked out in dry-suits and the bird retrieved in torchlight, the possibilities of it being tangled in fishing line, having hit a power line, or having a broken wing were ruled out.

Retrieved from the water....

It was however very weak, waterlogged, and extremely emaciated; a victim of the sustained freezing conditions of late. After a quick examination it was dispatched to the local animal rescue centre, where it gradually made a full recovery over the course of a week - and was happily released successfully in the same area this morning.

....and back in the game, having gained a lot of weight

Thanks to Simon and Cath for acting so swiftly and organising rehab!