Saturday, May 22, 2010

May, the force be with you

Honey-buzzard, Tower 42 (central London, 20th May)

As the summer finally kicks in with a vengeance here in London town, it's a good time to reflect on a highly productive and very enjoyable week's urban birding. May is more often than not a quiet time here in the heart of the city, with the vast majority of migrants having arrived, and suitable conditions for odd flyovers or vague hope of a killer overshoot the only real inspirations to keep hammering away at the local patch(es).

Which happens rarely; but when it does, it's a beautiful thing. Last year's May poster bird here at Stoke Newington Reservoirs was a Red-rumped Swallow, which arrived with a sudden influx of swifts one warm and sunny evening. After another blank session from the Obs platform, and with the moth-trap needing to be set up, in came the swifts and I gave it one last lucky scan.

Having seen countless multitudes of this beautiful little bird in various places outside the U.K., why such a big deal? Because it appeared out of the blue, on my modest-at-best-urban patch, while I happened to looking. Magic and priceless.

A couple of years before, and a similarly blank session around the East Res resulted in a Golden Oriole commuting across the water between the oaks. A Golden Oriole, in a scant row of oaks, in Hackney. Sparkling long-shots in a traditionally quiet month.

But the last week has broken the mold somewhat, in that there's been a steady procession of (locally) quality birds to keep a serious spring in the step. A long sky-watch on the 13th was again quiet, with raptors somewhat predictably having dried up after April's sustained movements - until a last session late in the afternoon produced a ridiculously low, frame-filling Honey-buzzard bulleting north directly over my head from the Obs platform.

Spotted Flycatcher, SNR, 14th May

The endless north-easterly airflow finally changed on the 14th, with southerlies and cloud overnight - which brought in both Spotted Flycatcher and Common Redstart to the Res, both the first of their kind to arrive here in spring. The following day's Oystercatcher Bird Race (see below) in suitably warm conditions was, for someone who doesn't usually do such things, a blast; and then back at the reservoirs on the 17th, the spirit-lifting sight of a Turtle Dove (again, in the oaks around the East Res) was another site first and a much hoped-for addition to the local avifauna.

A couple of days later, and back up Tower 42 for the sixth migration watch of the spring. A full account can be read here, but it's worth mentioning, after all the hype, it was one of those days when having faith in the project and happily committing to each and every every six-hour session up on the roof paid out beautifully.

The following day, yesterday, looked good for sky-watching - and so it came to pass, with the glorious sight of two more Honey-buzzards overhead, giving me four in 48 hours (and my fourth and fifth for the week in the capital); wonderful. Amazingly, a lone gull heading east in the sunshine between the two honey-bees turned out to be none other than an adult Kittiwake. May? it's the new April.

Honey-buzzards, SNR, 21st May

(June? hmm, there's always moths.)