4:45am and I'm driving along the track to Bob's Bridge - destination Halfway House to watch the sun come up. I don't usually manage to get down until after 7am on an early start and so this is a real patch treat!
I imagine that there'll be all sorts going on. Birds feeding up after a long night of fasting. Birds on the move as they look for that next stop-over. Birds leaving roosts. Birds moving through. Then again of course, things could be far less frenetic. The day may begin with a gentle stretch and yawn. Or, to put it another way, I might be treated to a light Continental breakfast rather than the full English! The point is, I have no idea what to expect and I have been looking forward to this since the other half announced she was going on a 'road trip' with one of my daughters just over a week ago. So here I am. Back where I was 6 hours ago (see Patch Persistence, Day 4 - Part II), parked up, togged up (it's cooler this morning) and ready to go!
I wonder what my first bird will be. Well, I can kinda guess tbh, but lets at least wait and see, I tell myself. Yep. Sure enough... 04:54... Robin. Singing across the canal by the warehouses. Propping its little eyelids open against its floodlit dawn maybe. Then again, maybe he's just the first one up. He must have slept at some point and certainly wasn't singing last night when I walked this way. The proper sunrise is 'officially' just after 6.00am today but even now the first hint of morning sky is peeking through to the east. It's the only colour on this morning's palette so far. All else is night grey. Another Robin is singing and a third is 'tipping' nearby. I thought I might catch the silhouette of a Tufty or Great Crested Grebe, or even the palest grey of a Mute Swan on the canal, but there's nothing out there on the water that I can see.
05:10 and I'm at the river. I wondered if I'd find my stashed green fezzie chair in the dark, but it's OK - my night eyes are working. Quiet. Can't even hear a Robin now as I set up my kit, not that I'll be able to use it just yet - too dark. Ears tell me though that things are waking up out in the gloom... Lapwing, Grey Heron, Gadwall. Can't see to write in my notebook so use my phone as a proxy torch. It'll do. Mallard 'laughing'.
05:18 give my bins a go and SEE the first recognisable silhouette of the day; Grey Heron and it looks like its started looking for food already. Nearby are a variety of dark rounded blobs - gulls and/or ducks no doubt, but I can't tell you which or what even though I can now just about read what I've written without the need for my phone. Carrion Crow reversing, Song Thrush singing and... Grey Partridge? Well I didn't expect that! Looks like a fox has been out and about on the mud... footprints everywhere
05:26 and I can see enough to tell that there's not a lot out there on the mud and that the blobs are Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 4 Gadwall. I thought, judging from the number of gulls heading to roost last night that the place would be packed with them at first light. Not so. Guess they must have moved further downriver. I suppose there must be a bit of a risk of being flushed by the incoming tide in the middle of the night if you stay out on the mud. I can now see that I'm wearing green camo trousers. Of course I knew this, but I can actually see some colours now... at least close in. Common Sandpiper calling, Wren singing, 7 BHGulls low east above the water. Gadwall and Mallard calling. Lesser Black-backed too as 20 more BHGulls head right followed by a single Herring Gull. Nothing yet has broken the skyline. Everything is hugging the river. I can see the now almost continuous threads of BHGulls following the bend in the river as they fly past from downstream in groups of 10...20...30. Always just above the water. Redshank calling.
05:38 I can see colours across the river and there's enough light to use the scope despite sunrise not being for another 20 minutes! Apart from a sprinkling of gulls there are 96 Curlew out on the mud. I had no idea so many had dropped in last night, especially as there'd only been 1 or 2 knocking about during the day. Lapwing numbers are quite the reverse. Hundreds yesterday, just 10 this morning. Kestrel gets the award for first raptor of the morning as gulls finally begin to circle overhead. Sharp 'tacking' from the reeds in front of my directs me to a cracking little Sedge Warbler. Ah, so they ARE still about then. Single Great Crested Grebe is out on the water again, 2 Sand Martin over and I've got the munchies. Breakfast methinks. Cheese and Crisp Sarnies. Splendid.
06:00 SUN ARISE! Cue geese! 52 Canada Geese over starts a steady stream during the next hour in which, all told, 430 fly over together with a fistfull of Greylags. Three minutes after sun up and I get another surprise. Swift! I thought they'd long gone. It's flitting around low over the river with 4 Swallows... I mean 12... no hang on... 20... 46... 95... 120 (!). ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY SWALLOWS have just decended en masse and are feeding over the water, twittering away. Long time since I've heard such a noisy bunch. And that's how it is for the next 10 minutes... the air full of Swallows... and then, as quickly as they came, they have gone. South. Bloody marvellous sight!
06:30 Pied Wagtail over. Chiffchaff and Wood Pigeon singing. Willow Warbler and Pheasant calling. Flock of 15 or so Goldfinch left. A quick scan of the mud yields just 15 BHGulls (hundreds had flown past earlier - guess they must have kept going to Richmond Bank maybe), 20 LBBGs, 1 Herring Gull, 1 Grey Heron, 32 Lapwing (where did the other 22 come from?), 2 Redshank and 5 Crows. During the next 30 minutes I add 2 Little Egret, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Magpie, Jackdaw, Whitethroat, Magpie, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Blackcap and Raven to the morning's tally, but have not had the flurry of wader activity that I did yesterday.
07:00 -What did I just say about flurry of wader activity? Well, the next hour saw things change! Here's how
07:04 - Common Sandpiper (same one as previously I guess)
07:16 - Jay, 2 Swift, 3 House Martin, Tufted Duck
07:23 - 322 Lapwing, 3 Redshank, 1 Common Sandpiper (same again...), 22 Shelduck, Bullfinch
07:41 - 6 Ringed Plover, 1 Greenshank (juvenile and sounding kinda hoarse when it called)
08:15 - 825 Lapwing, 1 Common Sandpiper (again)
08:22 - 5 Ringed Plover, 1 Dunlin (juv)
08:53 - 5 Black-tailed Godwit
Then as I left an hour or so later; 2 Common Sandpiper together, 1 Ringed Plover and there were still 3 of the original 5 Black-tailed Godwits hanging about. Not a bad morning at all. Oh, and to cap it all there were 2 Green Sandpipers on Black Fields again. That's NINE wader species today. Super cool. No sign of the Garaganey on Pumphouse though, but then again, when I was there late pm there was no sign of any Teal either... go figure ;)
Sun arise, she bring in the morning.
Sun arise, bring in the morning, fluttering her skirts all around.
Sun arise, she come with the dawning.
Sun arise, come with the dawning, spreading all the light all around.