Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Red-letter day

Female Ring Ouzel with Starling and (below) Rook (© Dominic Mitchell)

The third quarter of April is often the key period for spring migration in Alexandra Park, but today's tally probably exceeded that of any other day in recent memory.

Bob Watts set the ball rolling in style with a flightly female Ring Ouzel on the cricket pitches first thing, and that was followed shortly afterwards by John Murray logging the year's first Lesser Whitethroat and Common Redstart, the latter being a cracking but brief male which didn't reappear in the cricket scrub area. While JM, Andrew Gardener and I were trying to find the Ring Ouzel, AG picked up a Rook on the move among the local Carrion Crows - always a good bird in urban London.

After a fly-over Linnet and a Jackdaw, two more noteworthy birds, we moved up to near the 'Obs' on the pitch n' putt course, where JM relocated the female Ring Ouzel, and good looks and photos were had by four of us, now including Alan Gibson. Seven Swallows and one more each of Linnet and Lesser Whitethroat later, I finally left for the office - only to get a call within the hour from AG and Gareth Richards, who were watching a Common Buzzard drifting over. Happily, Ian Lycett picked it up from the Birdwatch office window high against the sky, and we got distant but confirmatory views as it moved off south-west over the park.

Then, at 12 noon and coming towards us from the latter direction, I picked up two distant corvids. As I idly watched them I realised that one was clearly larger than the other, appearing
buzzard-sized. As they came closer it became obvious that the smaller one, which was harrying the other bird, was a Carrion Crow. The larger corvid then had a go at the crow, during which its clearly bigger length and bulk, longer wings with well-fingered primaries and big, wedge-shaped tail were obvious as they sparred in the air - Raven! We saw the tail well several times, and the size and shape were striking, especially in direct comparison with the crow. The Raven also appeared a third longer, its substantial neck probably adding to this effect. IL and I watched the two birds annoy each other for perhaps two minutes in total, until the Raven lost interest and height and dropped down, the crow still in pursuit. It may have landed somewhere along the southern edge of the park, but was not seen again.

By comparison the rest of the day was quiet, but Mike the groundsman had a fly-over Red Kite at 1.55pm. Finally, in early evening, Bob Watts closed proceedings with another excellent local raptor, a Peregrine carrying prey, near the transmitter.

With a line-up including Raven, Red Kite, Peregrine, Common Buzzard and Common Redstart, the day's finds read more like a list from the Welsh valleys than the environs of Wood Green. It will take a lot of good fortune to better that haul in the park this year.