However, before I even set foot out the front door I had two overdue garden ticks and one mega. A flock of a dozen or so Goldfinches paid a visit to the trees over the back, and a Green Woodpecker flew past over the roofs of the houses behind mine.
Then, tick of ticks, a long billed wadery type was flushed by my dad wandering out into the garden. It whirred away with a zig-zag flight path, but since I was watching through a window I couldn't hear if it was calling or not. Obviously my first reaction was to text "FUCKING WOODCOCK" to Parus because that's what you get in your garden when it snows, right? But on reflection I'm starting to doubt that ID. Zig zag flight? OK, that's a possible, but my general impression was of whiteness underneath and brown on top, and it did seem smaller than I'd expect of Woodcock. I'm wondering whether it wasn't a Snipe. Either way it's a garden mega, and it was definitely gaining height as it passed over the pond (ornamental Koi, inherited with the house, useless as habitat so I won't even suggest that as an enabler for Snipe) so presumably it started on the deck. I don't currently have a garden list so it's not crucial, but this will be on my mind for weeks...
All that excitement set me up well for a walk round the patch, so it was a disappointing first couple of hours. Harrow Lodge Park is a dog-walker haven, and usually the only bit worth spending 5 minutes on is the main lake just in case any interesting wildfowl had arrived. They hadn't. But I do like Pochards, so it's never time wasted.
There were scattered Redwings all over Dagenham Chase, and I cleaned up on the winter Turdus by nailing a Fieldfare. Overall though, the Chase was empty of anything your average jaded patch-watcher would consider 'of interest'. That is until I reached the Slack. This is the bit of swampy grassland dedicated to birds, and to be honest I don't know why it's always the last stop on my circuit. Probably because if I did it first I'd just turn around and go home again. As always, the best bits were found round this area. I shall recite them in reverse order of excitement:
- I saw some Lapwings. If you spend any kind of time at Rainham Marshes Lapwings are common and boring.
- I had the pleasant experience of standing under a bush while a Long-tailed Tit flock passed through.
- I saw an actual definite Snipe, in flight and on the ground. Incidentally it was at about this time that I started having serious doubts about my garden wader.
- And last and most exciting of all, I self-found my first Firecrest. It's only the second I've seen, so this was very special. Naturally it was too fidgety and buried too deep in a bush for any attempt at a photo.