Early start he said. So here I am, having avoided late party goers wending their way home after last night's festivities, in the dark, in the middle of the broom fields. Dark shapes float and fly above my head. Redwing, a couple of Fieldfare clacking off into the gloom and gulls, hundreds of them. As the light improves four grey geese fly north. Bugger! White Fronts would have been a good start, but all I could make out were grey geese. Texted Jono; he, it appeared, had probably opted for an extra cuppa before venturing out.
The team finally assembled we set about our plan. At this time of year you basically know where you've got a good chance of finding something, so first off it's west of Centre Road, for Reed Bunting, Snipe and the chance of something more interesting in the flushed form of a Woodcock. Got zip on the way to the Jubilee Pond bar a few flyover Skylark, a Meadow Pipit and more Redwing. The "new" Jono (who doesn't year list, who wont be tempted to year list, and will certainly not be twitching, not under any circumstances), counting everything in his new note book (a delightful present from Howard V). Jubilee was still very much ice-bound and a bit dull, Cat and Dog (a small marshy hollow west of Lake House Road) likewise but more so.
We headed back to the SSSI. A Snipe. The plan was coming together. The Buntings took a bit longer, they weren't where they should have been. Meanwhile an interesting duck got my attention as it circled Jub looking as if it wanted to land. When it finally plucked up the courage to ground on the proposed police muster site it became a male Wigeon, a first on the flats for Jono, who then proceeded to scare it off while taking its picture.
Buntings bagged we headed for Alex and on the way crossed paths with 9 Skylark coming to feed on the footie pitches. After a barren few weeks its good to have these iconic birds back, they make it feel like spring. Alex covered we moved on to the park and the promise of a cup of tea, and cake and stuff. What we got were the rejects from Crufts or the first appalling rounds of a doggie X Factor. Ah well, tea is tea and cake is cake and both are good. The Egyptian Geese were still on Heronry, giving us hope that they might decide to breed in the park. They are apparently welcome, at the moment, but if they so much as interfere with our Heinz variety Mallards the men from Defra will be down on them like a ton of bricks.
Next on the plan: Water Rail (tick), but no Siskin; the alders round here are usually alive with them - today none. Linnet in the Old Sewage Works (tick), but no Teal in the Dell or on the river. The Roding was birdless save for a white-water rafting Dabchick getting carried along on the increased flow of the river. No Kingfisher either, the waters being too murky to see anything. We did find a television and considered how it might have got there.
A quick round of the ornamental waters, still very much frozen over and devoid of saw bills, was followed by a minor detour to stare at a line of yew for Firecrest. Fifteen Firecrestless minutes later, we're staring at other varieties of trees which should bear Treecreeper or at least Lesser Spots. Fruitless.
Back at the Dell Tim H finally catches up with us after opting for a few more hours in bed rather than the excitement of the first morning of the new year birding. The Plan now calls for improvisation. We go for another brew and cake - the light now poor - it appears the best option. With the coming night comes the rain, and Jono's target of 60+ birds is fading faster than an ex-twitcher's resolve. A little stream in Reservoir Wood is our last chance for Teal and with the rain increasing no one is suggesting staying out too long on the off chance of an early rising, rain loving Tawny Owl. There is off course nothing. A solitary Redpoll puts us on 55 and encourages us to stand in the middle of the broom fields again. 'Until it gets dark', we say, on the off-chance of a fly over Lapwing, or GBB Gull, or anything. It does get darker, and wetter, and all sensible birds have gone to roost.
Still, 364 days to go and we already a third of the way to the Wanstead target of 150. Doddle! It gets better: I am second in the London Lister's table if only for, oh hang about I am already on the way down... Always tomorrow.