A BIRDSPOTTER on Wanstead Flats found himself the object of interest when his telescopic sights attracted the attention of armed anti-terrorist officers from City Airport.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police's SO19 division were on a routine patrol past the park, which runs under one of the airport's flight paths, when they spotted the man in his sixties scanning the skies.

At this point Guardian photographer Paul Haigh, out for a stroll in the park, spotted the unfolding drama.

He said: "A police Range Rover pulled up into a car park at Lakehouse Road and I saw three heavily armed police get out of the car and start wandering around. They pointed to a clump of trees and started walking towards it.

"I ran back to get my camera and when I got back I headed over after them. Then I saw them in the distance and pointed my camera at them at which point they appeared to turn their guns toward me, so I put my camera up in the air and yelled press'."

As the officers returned to the car, Paul approached the twitcher: "He was a little shocked, saying they had come over to him, surrounded him, and said they were SO19 from City Airport. They had a polite chat with him finding out who he was and what he was doing. He said it was all fairly low key except that they had big guns.

"I could see why it looked a bit dodgy because his lens looked a bit like a surface-to-air missile. I've seen him there before and he's an avid twitcher so I expect he will be back."

A spokesman for the RSPB said it was the first such incident that it had heard of, adding: "It sounds very alarming for the individual concerned but to our knowledge this is a rare occurrence and we hope he is no worse for the experience.

"We all remember the plane spotters last year who were detained in Greece. This sounds like a similar misunderstanding but with far less serious consequences. The RSPB would be interested to hear of any similar events but urge your readers to be aware of the obvious public concern. The maxim better to be safe than sorry is the order of the day."

A police spokeswoman confirmed that armed officers based at City Airport approached the man as part of their anti-terrorism regime.