Monday, 25 March 2019

Birding interlude

Quick update on the birding front – this Saturday was a very enjoyable time to be out on Wanstead Flats. Unfortunately I met up with Tony only after he had had Woodcock, but we then recorded an extremely early House Martin, two Sand Martins, and last but by no means least a Wheatear.  A genuine pleasure as always, even if it did do a vanishing act immediately. With luck there will be many more. We then had a mini-raptor fest at Alex - Buzzard, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk and Red Kite were all seen in a single ten minute period mid-morning. The first Blackcaps were in song, and I had picked up Chiffchaff in the week, so my languishing year list now looks a little more respectable. If I can get up in the mornings and get out there, it could increase by more – but this means getting up at 5.30am, at least this week until the clocks change. And per my previous post, I am not sure I can manage that!

Coming up, Utah....

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Circadian rythyms

In my younger days I could happily stay up until 1am and then bounce out of bed feeling completely normal only a few hours later. Things have changed, and not for the better. I find that I now need at least eight hours a night in order to wake up feeling normal. This has required going to bed at around 10pm. Raging gales aside, this gives me a solid 8-9 hours. The last few weeks have been rather busy, and rather than being all tucked up nice and early I find myself going to bed a little later than I would like. The trouble is that I appear to be pre-programmed to wake up at about 6am no matter what time I actually go to bed, and without that eight hour sleep I am absolutely shattered. I was hoping that I could force myself to cope with less sleep and that after a while I would get used to it. Nope.

Saturday night this week was a case in point. I couldn't sleep as I had an annoying cough. Instead I lay in bed watching Marvel's Agent's of Shield - pathetic but addictive american guff. Probably a mistake but there you go. Once I put that down I had a full hour of still not being able to sleep and the last time I looked at the clock it was about 1am. Excellent. At least it was the weekend. I awoke at 6am with five hours under my belt and feeling dreadul, snuck another hour in to see if that helped (not really) and finally dragged myself up and out onto the patch by about 8am thereby missing finding the year's first Wheatear. Sunday night was more or less a repeat, and so I started the week feeling less than tip top by some margin.

I am assuming it is an age-related thing. As I approach my 45th year on this planet, am I finally slowing down? Or is this a message to slow down? I mean, it's a bit early isn't it? Imagine when I'm 50. Or 60? Or even older! I'll be sleeping 18 hours a day, at which point, well, what's the point?

Anyway, I clearly need to get back to the 10pms, even if this means that I basically get in from work, grab a bite to eat, crack through the to-do list for an hour or so and then retire. There is just so little time, and I really need those extra hours to do all sorts of things that will otherwise not get done. Blogging is one of them - that was traditionally a late evening activity once all the important stuff like watering plants and organising holidays got done. Now that I think about it my increased sleep needs have probably contributed to my dearth of posts. Now if I didn't have to go to work it would be a whole different story, but sadly and in the absence of miracles that appears to be a very long way off!

Friday, 22 March 2019


Very little makes me apoplectic with rage. Our politicians however....

I loathe online petitions. I would nonetheless urge anyone in the UK who does not want Brexit to happen to sign this one.


It is now at over 3.5 million signatories, and without a doubt will be ignored regardless of how many it gets. But when the time comes to throw out our current 'democratic' representatives it can be another charge to level against them. I hope that time comes soon.

On the same topic, if you are the marching kind then there is a demo in London tomorrow. 12pm Park Lane, and from there to Westminster. Just so you know, the last one was enormous and roundly ignored. Apparently the only democratic decisions that carry any weight are ones that are three years old. However I think the winds of change are starting to blow. This lot have had it - from both sides - and the public will not forgive them. This is not the 'will of the people', or what 'by far the majority' wants. There are still many people who, despite the facts, still genuinely want out of Europe for reasons known only to themselves. I think that casual xenophobia and a fear of the future accounts for a large part of that. Thousands upon thousands of people of people will tomorrow reject that small mindedness. 

Thursday, 21 March 2019

The edge

Last Sunday I ended up writing about six future blog posts. None of them are lengthy, for the most part I just wanted some words to accompany some photographs from my recent travels. Working through them, I found that I knew what I wanted to say but that I could barely type and in addition had forgotten how to spell some common words. I struggled with ‘decision’ for instance, and found myself needing to use backspace incredibly frequently. For a moment I wondered if I had some kind of early-onset degenerative disease whose only manifestation at this stage was manual dexterity and a bit of memory loss, but I think the answer is far simpler. And nicer. In short, inactivity. I was rusty. I hadn’t typed anything for ages, and my brain had not been forced to do any kind of non-numerical work for several weeks. I’ve not been reading any books, I’ve not been writing anything, and so whatever part of my brain controls literacy had gone into power-save mode and took a while to come back online. Like anything you don’t engage in for a while, your proficiency declines. By the third post I was finding it much much easier, and as I type this I have now completed around eight small posts which will be winging your way shortly at around two day intervals. It’s always nice to know that what you write is being read and appreciated by others, but this recent experience brings a whole new meaning to the notion that I write this as much for me as for other people. It may be that it’s an important part of keeping my mental edge.

PS if this post was completely incomprehensible.....

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Oriental Magpie Robin

Other than Mynas, Oriental Magpie Robin is possibly the commonest birds encountered in South-east Asia. They are extremely vocal with a lovely song - indeed they are also a very common cage bird and when I visited the bird market in Hong Kong there were loads of them - unfortunately. I found this bird at the Singapore Botanical Garden, which is an oasis in what is already an incredibly green city. Attracted initially by their calls, I found a pair investigating nesting spots alongside one of the ponds on the eastern side of the garden, and from a higher vantage point managed to get a reasonably clean shot which (in the interests of full transparency) I have turned into a totally clean shot with a small amount of wizardry on the left hand side. I had a photo like this in my mind before I left, so I'm pretty pleased that I managed to get this specific pose. The bird's mate was just out of shot on the right, and before too long they had both moved on around the margins.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Hooray it's spring!

The first Wanstead Wheatear was seen yesterday, unfortunately not by me. However there are other ways to tell that the season has changed. In fact, evidence was to be found in my garden...

Voila, spring! The sting as the hail hit my cheeks nearly horizontally was also a clear indicator that this most pleasant of seasons was now upon us, and as the grass turned from green to white and the ricochets off the roof drowned out the singing birds I thought how timely my recent decision to move my arid-loving desert plants onto the terrace had been. It is not often you get the timing spot on like this, I am very fortunate.

Seriously though, the weather has been crazy - every day last week saw near gale-force winds and yesterday's front was merely the icing on the cake. A panel on my greenhouse blew out, and one of my Yuccas blew over. This graph neatly illustrates exactly when the hailstorm hit, and I can tell you that stood watching it it felt exactly as below!

The internet of things has enhanced my geekiness no end, it comes from a sensor in my greenhouse (blue = interior, yellow = exterior) that wirelessly transmits readings every 7 minutes which I can pick up on my phone wherever I am. Pretty neat huh? 

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Chateau L and the planet: Part II

So the last post was about preaching, this one is more preach-y. I didn't blog a lot in January, nor in February, but one of the posts was about a few changes the residents of a small castle in Wanstead are going to make in 2019. Part I can be found here and concerned energy. Shortly before that there was the whole vegetarian thing, which is still going strong into March. Here are some of the other things that occurred to us as we worked out what small changes could be made to our lifestyle.
  • Extend the vegetable patch! We're not going full-on The Good Life, but actually growing veg is a lot of fun, and as you know I am fairly green-fingered. We have a meagre vegetable patch that last year delivered a handful of meals. To be fair we didn’t really do very much, it was more of a kid’s project. This year we plan to treble it in size and actually tend to it diligently. The seeds were bought a month or so ago and and the first plants have germinated in the greenhouse already. This includes lots of tomatoes – per the BBC mass-grown tomatoes are one of the worst vegetables in terms of water usage per kg. I expect this to only make a meagre dent in the amount of food we have to buy, but it does mean we may be able to survive Brexit for a few days longer than our neighbours.
  • Composting. This is something we used to do but gave up on. We have started again and once again realised it takes no effort whatsoever. We have several large compost bins at the end of the garden which for a few years now have only had garden waste and grass clippings. It is amazing how quickly this mass reduces in size, and we can use the results for the enlarged vegetable patch, and to fill the pots for strawberries and tomatoes and so on. As a family of five we rarely even fill a 30L bin bag with non-recyclables each week, and this should now become even less. Versus some of the immense piles of rubbish I see on my street on collection days I feel pretty virtuous. Emptying it and carrying it down to the bottom of the garden is not the nicest of tasks, so this has been decreed to be one of my jobs, just like cleaning the toilets and taking out the rubbish.
  • Water. Our main bathroom with the bath in it is currently out of action until we can raise the money needed to renovate it. It has been like this for over a year actually, but we are coping admirably. It was the the turret work that really killed us but I think we are nearly there now, although it means more work and more mess. This means we all have showers which is much better for water usage than having a bath. Watering the garden and greenhouses is mostly accomplished using stored rain water, and we do a fair amount of actual washing up as opposed to using the dishwasher (which I think we use four times a week – too much I am sure but there are some luxuries I insist on). Where we can do better is with washing – one of my daughters frequently seems to wear three different sets of clothes a day, and with stupid things like not leaving the tap running whilst brushing our teeth. Basic stuff. I think we have a water meter somewhere so we may be able to see if this makes any difference.

So just a few more things that can easily be tweaked, not a lot of effort required. The big elephant in the room is of course my love of travel, particularly air travel. A tough one, and one I am doing really badly on with two long haul trips this year already. However I did just cancel one - I had planned to go to Boston and then had a change of heart and canned it. I checked and the plane took off regardless.... I'll return to this in another post, there is a lot to cover.