Champions of the Flyway!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Tower 42, City of London - 6th November 2009

One of those unique avian-related experiences that it's hard to turn down, and hard to beat... I had the golden opportunity to spend pre-dawn til late morning on the very top of Tower 42, aka the former NatWest Tower, and the tallest building in the city.

We were test-driving visible migration-watching from this most teetering and exposed of rooftops, in the name of a mini-documentary for the good people of Birdguides.

Setting off from Mother Hackney shortly after 5 a.m., I met up with the rest of the team, up we ascended. Two very brief, sci-fi-esque elevator rides later and we were close to the summit; but the final push was more colourful than expected - through tiny window-less storerooms, up narrow spiral staircases, through floors of growling generators, fiery furnaces and snakes of cables and pipes, and finally up two precarious vertical ladders.

We made up on the roof well before dawn, and Lord, what a sight to behold. Avoiding satellite dishes, huge ventilation shafts, aerials and various other trip hazards, we were looking down at the Gherkin to our immediate east, and further to Canary Wharf and Dartford; to the west, the BT Tower; to the south-west, the London Eye; to the north-west, Alexandra Palce and Hampstead Heath; to the north, Abney Park Cemetery and Stoke Newington Reservoirs; and to the north-east, Walthamstow Reservoirs and Epping forest.

Pre-dawn and London looked dramatic; post-dawnstill dramatic, but the thick, grey Dickensian cloud partially enveloped much of the panorama. Bad timing for our experiment, especially with clear, sunny mornings (and good visible migration) before and after.... still, we picked up a few parties of Woodpigeons (totalling 250), a Little Egret flying over Walthamstow Reservoirs (!), a Peregrine over the Barbican, and two Great Black-backed Gulls over Hackney Marshes (a borough first for the autumn).

Of real interest was the perspective provided from such a great height, bang in the middle of the city - from a migrant's point of view, the 'green island' attraction of various London sites was obvious. And the lasting impression from the session was one of enormous potential - given the right conditions, sky-watching here (particularly for raptors in the spring) could well make for an exciting study.

East, with Canary Wharf on the skyline

South-east, with Tower Bridge and the river

South-west and West, with the London Eye (both photos) and the BT Tower to the right, above)

North, with Emirates stadium glowing left of centre, the A10 illuminated right of centre, and Liverpool St station in the bottom right-hand corner




with the 60x zoom focused on Banbury Reservoir, well up the Lea Valley