I thought I'd start a blog again this year - to document the epic battle (getting carried away as just been watching the Top 50 moments of Harry Potter...) between my two local patches in 2014.
This year will mark the 30th anniversary of my first trip to Brent Reservoir and since I've been doing various patchlist challenges it's always been my main one. Last year I decided I needed to spend more times doing one of the sites along the Lower Thames and I settled on Swanscombe Marsh to be my new patch. It's hardly local as it takes me two hours to get there whereas if I want to bird at Brent I can just look out of my living room window! More on Swanscombe later when I make my first visit there this year.New Year's Day at Brent Reservoir has become a bit of a tradition for me, mainly because I can walk there. I usually meet up with my friend Andrew Verrall and we aim to see 50 species. This year he was unfortunately ill so it was down to me although I did later run into another Brent Birder, Steve Leeke. I planned an early start so I'd get there well before dawn and try to hear a Tawny Owl. Leaving home I could see flashing blue lights and sure enough there was something going on - a Fire Engine, Police car & Ambulance. I hoped to avoid the melee but the emergency services were obviously attending an incident down the path I was taking to the reservoir. Fortunately they hadn't closed the path so I was able to squeeze by as the fireman were tying ropes to ladders to get two people out of the river. No one seemed to know if they fell or jumped but the only way down was over a wall and then a drop of over 5 metres!
The main road was surprisingly busy so the traffic noise didn't subside until I was nearly at the reservoir. I'd forgotten how much of a pre-dawn chorus there is in the middle of winter - Robins singing every few metres, the thunderous chant of a Song Thrush and the soft piping of a Blackbird. Unfortunately I didn't hear a Tawny Owl so I continued wandering around the open spaces at Brent knowing that I only had a couple of hours before the rain was due. I planned to finish in the hides where I could bird without getting wet.
It was a good start, I had 20 species knocked off before dawn at 08.00. Most of them were pretty common but I did get a couple of Jackdaws on the playing fields which aren't common at Brent and can be tricky to get as they only roost at the reservoir. I walked past the houses at the back of the fields hoping to get Starling, House Sparrow and Collared Dove as they're difficult elsewhere at the reservoir. The first two were no problem but every TV aerial I looked at held a Woodpigeon instead of its slimmer cousin.
Eventually it was time tostart looking at the waterbirds although I'd already heard a Coot and some Canada Geese had flown over. The regular dabblers: Gadwall, Teal, Mallard & Shoveler were soon located along with the two regular diving duck: Pochard & Tufted Duck but there were no surprises. I searched all the regular haunts of the Egyptian Geese - we've had three recently - but to no avail. Down at heron Hide in East Marsh I found one of the showy Water Rails and had a bit of luck when a Bullfinch flew over as I'd missed them in the usual spots.
The only waders were a single Lapwing that's been present for over six months and a flock of 24 Snipe. There's been a Jack Snipe as well but it hides up most of the time and it had just started raining and the wind was getting up so I didn't expect to see it. With my list stuck on 48 I went for one last walk hoping for an additional two species. I finished up going round the churchyard looking for Collared Dove and Coal Tit - I did hear a brief squeak that could have been the latter but it didn't call again. With the storm well and truly in it was time to admit defeat and I headed off home for shelter and a well-deserved coffee.