Nightingale (Mike Weston)
April is a fabulous time to be stalking Wormwood Scrubs because you never know what you might find. After 18 years, I have built up a very interesting picture of the birdlife that frequents my inner city Fair Isle.
It is during this month that you are most likely to encounter migrant Ring Ouzels, Whinchats, Northern Wheatears, Common Redstarts, Swallows, Cuckoos and Nightingales. The last two species are of particular interest because whilst the previously mentioned migrants are more or less annual, the latter two have been absent from our April score sheet since 2008.
This morning, I arose from my cosy pit at 5.30am and blearily made my way to The Scrubs. For the past couple of visits I have half-heartedly been on the lookout for passage Nightingales. At The Scrubs they have historically turned up between the 20th - 27th April for one morning and were invariably detected by their glorious song. This particular morning I thought that I would give it a bit more of an effort. For nearly 2 hours I scoured the bushes and strained my ears listening for the merest strains of its song.
I arrived in Chats Paddock, a small fenced off area of gorse and brambles that has the distinction of having the best record of all the areas of The Scrubs for scarcities and rarities. Almost every good bird that has appeared on my patch have either flown over or hung out in this small area. At first, the only thing I saw was a Dunnock and a woman that I bumped into who was walking around 10 dogs. As I passed her I heard a heavenly sound. A Nightingale singing quietly literally yards from where I was standing. I was euphoric. I quickly rang my fellow Scrubbers and 15 minutes later three were with me trying to locate the songster. The only problem was it had stopped singing before they came. Typical.
After a few minutes, we heard a strange repeated croaking call coming from the opposite side of the paddock near some sallows. It sounded like a cross between a frog and a crow. Puzzled, I checked my Collins guide and suddenly realised that we were listening to a calling Nightingale. No sooner had that realisation set in the original bird suddenly burst into loud song nearby - an event that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. What a beautiful song and one that sounds so out of place in an urban park in heavily populated west London.
I had to leave it singing to go to a meeting but moments after I left a Scrubber called me to say that I had just missed a female Ring Ouzel - our second of the spring - and a Shelduck - our 4th ever record. You may be thinking what's so special about a Shelduck, well, the last one recorded the The Scrubs was on April 22nd 2008 - the same day that our last Nightingale was recorded here.