Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day Two - 13th April 2010 - Bingo

So the forecast was far more favourable, and on convening at the foot of the tower at 10 a.m. the skies were blue and the sun was shining. However, the cool north-easterly was evident even in the claustrophobic streets of the city, not exactly the classic conditions for broad-winged wanderers; but you can't always get what you want, and memories of dripping optics and extra layers last week were enough to inspire an outlook as sunny as the skies.

Just four of us from the beginning, the other three being T42 debutantes (joined by a further two at midday), on the roof a few minutes after, with good visibility all around. After setting up 'scopes and getting used to the panorama, large raptor #1 was picked up immediately at great distance, way out to the west beyond Wembley..... and promptly disintegrated into the heat haze.

Ten minutes gone and a target lost - ominous seconds passed and a back-of-the-mind fear that we'd missed our chance with a long five and a half hours beckoning.....

But today, the gods were resolutely on our side. 15 minutes later, below tower height and roughly following the Thames east, a Red Kite glistened in the morning sun before heading out towards the estuary. Barely concealed euphoria followed, tempered by thoughts of perhaps more to come and no time to waste on self-congratulatory back-slapping.

A minimum of three always impressive Peregrines kept us entertained throughout the morning, sweeping low over our heads, plunging for prey and generally performing impeccably. Then, at 1125, a large raptor was picked up being mobbed by gulls, right over Alexandra Palace to the north - a Common Buzzard, which quickly gained height and disappeared into the ether.

The next couple of hours were relatively quiet, although with the sun shining, all of London below us and a spring in our collective step, chins remained comfortably up. Two female Sparrowhawks - one around Canary Wharf, the other over the BT Tower - kept our eyes in and brought the raptor species total to four.

1436, and high to the south-west, another large raptor approached - initially little more than a speck against the light, the bird came closer and closer, heading straight for us and dropping in height to eye-level; Common Buzzard #2, soaring about halfway between us and Centre Point and heading north, before banking north-east and heading straight into the heart of Hackney (clever bird). A beautiful display of a large raptor heading clean through the very centre of the metropolis.

And then came arguably the surprise of the day - as we entered our final hour, a Painted Lady spent about a minute fluttering around our heads; an early - and dizzingly high - illustration of butterfly movements.

So, was today a success? Unequivocally. Just to have nailed our first large birds of prey, with an unfavourable wind and limited pairs of eyes covering a vertigo-inducing panorama stretching from Southend to the North Downs, was a fine achievement, and a personal relief - while we all know large raptors pass over the very centre of London, to see them doing so for the first time was an enormous pleasure.

Mark Pearson

(photos - Peregrines and Common Buzzards, T42, 13th April 2010 - c Mark Pearson)

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