Friday, 4 October 2019

My Happy Bird

It's January 1986, and I'm out birding on the western outskirts of the London recording area. To be honest, I'm feeling jaded. 1985 had been a bit full-on, with a serious attempt at a big London year list. I'd managed 193 species. Pleasing enough, but well short of competitor (and, thankfully, friend) Rupert Hastings' new London record of 200. True, there had been some great moments, but also quite a few not-so-great. Plus - being young still - I'd learned some sobering home truths, which is rarely a fun thing. First off, I had really struggled with motivation at times. Very disappointing. Worse still, I had finally realised what a totally selfish divot I was. Married, with a toddler, and a baby newly arrived that July, what on earth was I doing attempting a London year list in 1985?! Completely irresponsible. Mind you, I did forgo a Scilly holiday that October. And of course with hindsight that turned out to be a pretty immense sacrifice! So anyway, as I trudge around Queen Mother Reservoir, my wooly hat pulled low against the freezing wind, my wellies ploughing through fresh snow, I am not really feeling it. Winter on the London reservoirs can be quite exciting on occasion, but today I can barely be bothered to raise my bins. There is a blizzard hammering across the water, and the snow is getting deeper now that I'm on the south bank, where drifts have built in the lee of the concrete wall. Here and there, right next to the wall, tufts of grassy vegetation poke through. Suddenly, out of one of them flies a small bird. It gives a little rattly call, a soft 'chew', and dives back into the next bit of cover. I am shaken out of my gloomy state by a welcome charge of adrenaline. I think I know exactly what is about to happen. Sure enough, a careful approach rewards me with a cracking little Lapland Bunting, gleaning seeds from this small, weedy pocket in the snow...

I spent ages with that Lapland Bunting. I no longer have the notebook, but yes, I made proper notes, a ropey sketch. The bird was still present the following day, and at least one ex-London birder whom I follow on Twitter was among the successful twitchers. As you might imagine, Lapland Bunting was a very rare bird in London, especially in the west.

Over the years I have always had a soft spot for Lapland Bunting, and I very much suspect this has something to do with my happy encounter with one on that bitter winter's day more than 30 years ago, when I was feeling a bit low. That bird cheered me up then, and its descendants can still do so today. So I didn't need much prompting when one turned up at Cogden Beach a couple of weeks back. Mrs long-suffering-NQS and I walked over from Burton Bradstock and were rewarded with a total absence of other birders, and a typically confiding Lap...

In addition, there were quite a few Wheatears, including this strikingly grey-naped individual...

I know this blog has been very quiet in recent times (recent years?) but I'm glad that I still get the urge now and then. To be honest, today's post might easily have been about something very else indeed, and if you are aware of yesterday's Mugimaki Flycatcher scare you will get my drift. But in all honesty I found the whole sorry saga just desperately sad, and in many ways feel it's better left alone to fizzle out like the shrivelled balloon that it is...


  1. That takes me back Gav. I didn't see that bird but you did show me Snow Buntings.

    It's been a while since we walked the banks of the QM. I believe access is restricted to one place on the banks these days.

    1. I have a lot of happy memories of QM Res, Ric. The first time I visited there were GN and BT Divers, Velvet Scoter and I think RN and Slav Grebes. I hadn't been birding long and thought I'd stumbled upon Mecca! I remember you and me finding a Glauc there one New Year's Day, but probably the rarest bird I found there (in a local context) was Guillemot in '83.

      The access was brilliant back then, wasn't it? You could drive in, park at the top of the Res and then walk the whole thing. There was even a pier you could go out on (part-way down the E bank I think?); it was always littered with the bones and bits of plastic that gulls had regurgitated after a day on the landfills.

      I suspect I would find it quite sad to go back now.