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Welcome to my blog. If you live in Surrey and birding is your obsession (to get out of bed at some ridiculously early time of the morning, no matter what the weather, to go and look at birds isn't normal behaviour, believe me) and you're still a bit of a novice (like me) then, hopefully, this blog is for you.



Saturday, 19 May 2012

UNCHAINED MELODY

A tenuous headline, but what the heck. While all was relatively quiet on the Surrey birding front after an enjoyable Sunday session, all the local activity focused on the arrival of a Melodious Warbler at Leyton in East London.

It first appeared Wednesday morning, when local birder Stewart Fisher picked it up. There have been few sightings of this Warbler in the London area – this was only the eighth record – the last one being 12 years ago. There was, naturally, a lot of excitement about it.

Normally an interesting East London sighting doesn't venture on my radar but all that has changed since returning to freelance work at Racing Post.

The Post is based at Canary Wharf at 1 Canada Square and because I don't start work there until 12.30pm anything worth twitching is just about possible to get to in the morning.

When I discovered the Melodious Warbler was not that far away from the Leyton tube station - just 20 minutes away - my interest was confirmed. It was, however, another of those frustrating afternoons when I checked on Twitter and found that numerous birders, including Dominic Mitchell, Adrian Luscombe, David Campbell and even Lee Evans had all made the trip to go and see it. Adrian was in a similar position to me in that he was working in Central London when the news broke and didn't have any birding kit with him and would have to rely on the generosity of other birders for him to see it through their bins or scope.

If I had any intentions of going to see the Warbler it would have to be after work. The problem was I don't finish until 8pm most days, so if I travelled to Leyton via the Jubilee and Central lines I wouldn't get there until about 8.30pm. The sun sets about 15 minutes later so an evening visit was a long shot.

As the day progressed various tweets mentioned how well the bird was showing and Adrian described how it had been worth going for a look, even without visual aids.

So in the end, I decided to go for it and hoped the light would hold, other birders would be there and would kindly let me look through a scope, and the bird would show. I got there bang on 8.30pm.

The spot where the Melodious Warbler was found was unusual in as much it was a small area of scrubland backing on to a row of houses, next to a fairly busy road and opposite an artificial turf playing field. Just down the road is Leyton Orient football ground. It is very much an urban environment.

The light did hold, other birders (two) were there, but the bird didn't show - or sing.

Very annoying. I'd arrived at Lyttelton Road just too late. If I had got there 30 minutes earlier I may have been lucky.

I didn't get home until gone 10.00pm so it wasn't a great end to a long day. I kept a close eye on various websites the next morning to see if it had stuck, and luckily it had. I left earlier for the Post on Thursday morning with a pair of bins and a camera. I didn't leave much room for manoeuvre as I worked out I only had a 30-minute window to see the bird, and that was if I made all the connections in good time and there were no delays.

Fortunately the journey went like clockwork and I got to Lyttelton Road by 11.45am. Thirty minutes isn't long but it proved to be long enough.

Birders, Oliver Road, Leyton
Ideal scrub for a Melodious Warbler in East London
There were six other birders peering at the vegetation and as soon as I arrived I could hear the Melodious Warbler singing. A good start, but it didn't want to come out of the hawthorn to reveal itself. All that could be seen was some movement in the undergrowth.

video

Then after about 15 minutes it appeared, perched on a hawthorn branch. The Melodious Warbler was a strong-looking, handsome bird with yellow underparts. Contact. It was also mobile and within 20 seconds flew over to a favoured holly tree by the side of Oliver Road, where it started singing again.

It's in there somewhere!
There it stayed for a few minutes, scuttling around high up searching for insects. It came out of the dense foliage for a few seconds before flying lower down and out of sight.

And that was it. My time was up. I had to leave and go to work. At least I got to see it and to also hear it sing, which was a bonus.

It stayed for the rest of the day and was seen briefly very early yesterday morning but there was no sign of it after that.

It is remarkable where rare birds turn up. It just goes to show there must be numerous places around the country that are unwatched and have jewels in amongst the bushes.

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