16 February 2013

My back pages – the patch in the 80’s.

North edge of an empty Heronry Pond in the winter of 1982, probably.

Lindsay and I moved to a house in the Lakehouse estate in March 1981, so Wanstead became my local patch. Herds of bison-like creatures roamed the Flats and grazed in gardens, and Jadis Thatcher ruled the land. Small wonder then that I resorted to twitching, spending much time in East Anglia and with the onset of autumn a migration to the now unfashionable Isles of Scilly. But you don’t want to hear about the Scarlet Tanager on St Mary’s and that pretty US Redstart at Gibralter Point in 1982 - what about the patch? OK, OK, but other excuses for poor patch coverage include offspring, chronic laziness and an odd reluctance to venture out on to the exposed and bleak Flats, haunt of strange folk even then.

My New Year bird count from the Park in 1983 totalled 40 with Tree Sparrow, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Bullfinch and Water Rail notable. What were the main differences from today? Well Tree Sparrow - quite common and no doubt breeding - I vividly remember a male singing from high up in a tree opposite the grotto on the edge of the Ornamentals late spring. They were regular up to 1987, but not many since. Redpoll, Bullfinch, Nuthatch and Treecreeper in decreasing order of frequency were relatively easy and surely breeding. Cuckoos were recorded nearly every year in late April and early May. Kestrels were about but I didn’t see Sparrowhawk until 1990, and other raptors like Buzzard, Peregrine etc started visiting much later. Perhaps the oddest missing bird was Jackdaw, which I only saw on the patch in 2000! Willow Warblers were far more common than now with spring/summer counts well into double figures through the park, particularly the bluebell wood , while Chiffchaff were in similar numbers to today with perhaps half that number in the same area.

My “rarities” were sparse and most were on Shoulder-of-Mutton as this was the closest pond. A smart Black-necked Grebe spent a week or so there in late April 1981, forced down perhaps by a cold snap further north. A Common Greenshank was on the pond 16.08.1986, it might have been there the day before according to a park keeper. A Greater White-fronted Goose 26.04.1987 and a nice male Goldeneye in November 1988 both stayed a while. A Wood Warbler sang in the mature trees between the Dell and the Ornamental pond on the twelfth of May 1985. My highest count of Turtle Dove was two on the 4th of June 1986, and the only ones in the 80s. Now for the real sob story, I drove to work after a storm in 1981, and so missed the Gannet on S-of-M. Epic blocker - dipped.

Interesting counts included 15 Brambling on the Flats 02.12.1984, disturbed from East Copse I think, and a flock of eight Yellowhammers on the Flats 13.01.1986.  A Blackcap over wintered in our garden in 1984. As far as I can tell Gt Crested Grebe tended to stay on patch in most of the eighties winters.

Apparently the 1980s were a time of much deviant avian sexual behaviour, a hybrid resembling a Red-crested Pochard stayed around S-of-M from 12.04.1985 and a Scaup-type Aythya hybrid hung-out there from 12.04.1987 with a Khaki Cambell! There were a few flashy tarts too, a Budgie flew over 08.05.1983, a Blossom-headed Parakeet (garden tick 29.11.1987) and an Orange-cheeked Waxbill on the edge of Perch Pond in June 1983. The green squawking Ring-necks were yet to arrive though. 
Endless excitement, if only I’d been more diligent on patch, what did I miss? 

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