Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Weedon's World, February 2007

Here is an extract from my monthly column, Weedon's World, from Bird Watching Magazine, February 2007

Knot and Grey Plover (bathing on right), Maxey Pits, Cambs, 23.2.06.
I am obsessed with 12 10km squares arranged in a cross centred on the Cambridgeshire city of Peterborough. The recording area of the Peterborough Bird Club (the PBC area) is where I do nearly all my birding, keep my most important life list and have religiously carried out a year list since 2002. The area contains enough diversity of habitats and birds to get me out of bed in the morning and to stop me from wandering.

Every year there are a few great birds, and just occasionally there are really great days. One such day was December 23, 2006.

My PBC year list had virtually ground to a halt and I’d only just reached my lowest previous total of 174 species with White-fronted Geese on December 21 in the midst of a pre-Christmas fogathon. The next day I picked up my only Bittern of the year and was starting to be moderately pleased with myself.

Two mornings before Christmas, I had settled for 175, and was just checking up on a few species to see if they were still there with potential to linger for 2007. The local Scaup had gone, but I had just refound a couple of drake Smew, when I got a call from another local year list obsessive, Josh Jones. He had a Long-tailed Duck and it was less than ten minutes from where I was.

Less then ten minutes later I was watching bird number 176 for 2006, but it was time for home. The way back took me nearly past Maxey pits, so I thought I’d have a quick look in. In among the usual hundreds of Golden Plovers and Lapwings were three sleeping Bar-tailed Godwits, very scarce in winter in these parts. I called Josh to let him know, and as I spoke I casually scoped. Just right of the sleepy plovers were some birds busy feeding – Knot, and 12 of them. I’d only ever seen two locally before, so this was starting to look good.

I drove round to a different viewpoint, a bit closer. As I approached, the Knot flew about 15m, and I realised as they landed that there was a Grey Plover with them (177 for my PBC year!). I called the news to local birders, but soon the three godwits departed high. Minutes later, the Knot flew, but soon settled again, this time 26 of them! The Grey Plover started calling and I scanned with bins, only to see two Grey Plovers flying around. I scanned a bit more and saw an Oystercatcher had dropped in (also very scarce here between July and February). Two Curlew flew over calling, but decided the muddy pit was too crowded. This was a serious bit of midwinter wader activity.

Things seemed to be settling down, and I was thinking it was probably best to rejoin my family, when Josh called again to tell me that there was a Common Scoter a few miles south. So, (with permission of course) I took the long way home via Ferry Meadows and duly ticked species 178.

None of the waders and ducks I’d seen were really rare, just rare locally, excitingly displaced from the coast by the cloudy, foggy conditions. Thanks to my generous, kind, loving wife, I had had one of my best local birding days in years.

Two hours later, I was picking my family up from a Nativity play rehearsal when Josh called to say he had been to Maxey and found a Sanderling. They don’t usually come to muddy gravel pits with me, but I think my children and wife secretly enjoyed seeing that small, pale wader: 179 for 2006...

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