Just like Nick Hornby’s character in High Fidelity, Rob Fleming, I too love to list. It’s just a way to pass the time albeit, only for an hour on this journey. I decided to just list every species of bird or mammal I saw on that train ride as reading a paper or even thinking about what work I had to do, was too much for my addled brain.
A few tips for birding from a train; find a seat facing the right way (not always that easy on a busy commuter train). make sure it has a graffiti-free window (virtually impossible as most seem to have been etched with some indecipherable tag. Make sure it gives the maximum visibility ahead as these trains, when moving, can really move and all you get from a 'look straight out' viewpoint is blur.
With my only target bird being the Red Kite, I took things easy out of Paddington. Woodpigeon and Carrion Crow were quickly followed by Magpie and Starling. These exercises are rarely about the quality of what you see and more about the quantity in terms of species numbers. I fully expected to get around 30 different species which, might surprise those who haven’t tried this.
|Ring-necked parakeet. Ranthambore, India.|
As the train departed Hanwell, my first unexpected but not unusual was a ring-necked parakeet or rather, two parakeets. These birds have exploded in the west of London in recent years and have become the centre for debate as they cause a nuisance and some would argue, they steal? the nest-holes of other birds such as woodpeckers. However, when your head hurts and your eyes are bloodshot, they provide a great tonic and galvanise one’s spirit very quickly.
Once the train had got as far as Slough, my list had grown slightly to include pheasant, black-headed gull, lesser black-backed gull, rook and collared dove. With no in flight movie available, I scanned the fields and chalk escarpments for more species to add. There were plenty of unidentifiables but it wasn't until we were nearing Reading that things picked up.
Along the river Thames which the train now traced, I saw plenty of wildfowl. Mute swans, Canada geese, coot and mallard were all present on the water. A grey heron in flight and a common buzzard perched in a tree joined the list just before we trundled into Reading.
While waiting a few minutes at Reading, a single pied wagtail danced about on the station roof. Overhead, a pair of herring gulls circled above probably looking for a few crumbs of a Ginsters meat pasty dropped by a hasty commuter. The train slowly pulled out of the station and headed for it’s final destination, Oxford. This was going to be the best place to find a kite. Mt attention became more upward as I looked for these grand birds as they rock and swivel on the sky. Eventually, just after Didcot, a single red kite did show although a bit distantly but well enough to be identified. This was the only kite of the day and I guess the railway could be considered a fair distance from the M40 so I think I was lucky.
The train slowed and stopped outside Oxford and gave me a chance to tick off blue tit, blackbird, greenfinch and chaffinch to complete my journey’s list. It was only 9am now but I felt so much better and I totalled 23 species.