Sunday, 27 September 2020

"Marco, I've got the Cranes"

The title of this post is a phrase I never thought I would utter, and even now a few hours later it still seems utterly inconceivable, yet there it is. Roll back to 10am this morning, I was out on Wanstead Flats at the spot we call the VizMig Point. It's nowhere special or particularly remarkable, it is just a spot on the main path that happens to have clear lines of sight in almost every direction. It is fairly central and a place that birders tend to congregate once they have done a round of the patch. A place for a chat, close to Gregg's for a coffee. 

I arrived on the patch just after 7am and headed over to Alex where I bumped into Richard and Bob. A wader-free zone. Nothing doing so and together we wandered back along the Ditch of Despair and soon found ourselves at the VizMig Point where we met Sean, James, Mary and Marco. We were entertained by the aforementioned glut of Stonechat and a couple of Snipe but in reality it was very quiet. It was, we agreed, a day for flyovers. Ferocious weather in the North Sea over the past few days has displaced quite a few seabirds and many of us had visions of lost Skuas and Gannets. I for one was reasonably hopeful of something glorious with white wing flashes. 

By 10am the early promise had fizzled to nothing and Marco and I were the only ones left. It would only take one bird though.... I noted that two Common Crane had been seen flying south from Tyttenhanger at 9.40am and was interested enough to look at the map to remind myself exactly where that was. We quickly dismissed any such fanciful thoughts. It is a long way west and anything flying directly south would go over Richmond Park, nowhere near Wanstead. Just like the Skuas and Gannets being seen on the Thames were not deigning to come anywhere near us either. It was all rather boring and we agreed that we could safely leave as there was nobody was left to grip us off.

We had walked perhaps halfway towards where Marco had left his bike when I stopped to have one of my regular scans of the horizon. This is something I try and do often, it is amazing what a difference panning with binoculars makes, you pick up all sorts of birds that you simply can't see with the naked eye. Scanning NW towards Walthamstow I picked up two very distant large birds flying strongly east. Swans surely, maybe Geese. Squinting a bit I resolved them a little better. Long necks, and an almost equal protrusion at the rear end... two toned couldn't be, could it? But it was.

"Marco, I've got the Cranes."

He couldn't believe it. I didn't blame him as neither could I, but there they were. I guided him in over the top of Long Wood and all of a sudden he was converted. Flabbergasted is perhaps a better description. The next few minutes were all a bit of a blur but Marco stayed on them as I put out the first message. There is currently a bit of an issue on the patch with multiple different modes of communication resulting in needing to do everything in triplicate. In the normal course of things this is more or less OK, but with two monstrous rarities absolutely motoring through it all becomes rather stressful. I chose the one with the most people on it, but equally the one which is less likely to trigger the really keen people to leap up and start urgently scanning the sky. I was typing the next message when James phoned in a state of high panic. Unbeknownst to us he was actually still on the patch to our east and "Where?!!!!!" was understandably the gist of his call. I'm not sure I even had time to tell him to look towards the church before he was on to them. Next message out and I moved to the third. The birds were out of view before I realised I'd forgotten crucial directional information. Gah! I quickly added "flying east" before my phone rang again, this time Hawky over in Ardleigh Green wanting to know what direction...... I killed the call (sorry Paul!) and carried on trying to get news out, this time phoning Rob in Ilford who was perhaps in the zone. No answer! I suspect I barely looked at the birds beyond the initial sighting in my desperation to let people know, and frankly it is an impossible situation with birds on the move. What a palava! James later worked out their speed from St Albans on a direct SE trajectory as about 34mph. At that speed they would have been visible over Wanstead for about two and a half minutes, three max. Unless you were on the patch you didn't stand a chance. Thirteen minutes later they were over Rainham where Shaun picked them up, like me incredulous that he had somehow pulled it off.

I didn't have my camera and thus Wanstead's first ever Cranes have passed unrecorded, at least digitally. James tried, but taking a photo whilst having a nervous breakdown is never straightforward and some exposure issues meant his photos looked like a plastic bag blowing in the breeze! It's fine, I know what we saw and so does he and it was epic. I almost don't believe it happened, but in a way that is the magic of a local patch, especially an urban one like Wanstead. This sort of thing is not supposed to happen and yet it has. That a few of us were miraculously present to witness it makes it even more surreal.

Saturday, 26 September 2020

Stonechat set

The number of Stonechats has been building quite quickly on Wanstead Flats. The first returning bird arrived on the 12th September and the following day there may have been two. By September 22nd there were four, and just two days later Nick and I counted nine in a single group in the Brooms, six males and three females. This morning I pushed five west down the Ditch of Despair, and when at the very end they doubled back east. Proceeding to the VizMig point I almost immediately counted a further five birds, so surely different to the other ones. And now, tucked up at home out of the biting wind and editing photos, I am hearing that Nick has finally managed to drag his ass out of bed to count 13. A remarkable total. No doubt they are in transit to better wintering habitat, but we can be hopeful that perhaps one or two will choose to stay - last winter one stuck it out until early March.

Aside from the Stonechat glut it was fairly quiet on the migrant and prospective winterers front. A Reed Bunting looks to be back in and I had the Snipe again over on Fairground Flats, whilst overhead I only recorded three Siskin, a couple of Redpoll and a Grey Wagtail. Four Buzzards were seen, one of which picked up an escort of about 60 Crows for its troubles, and bird of the morning was a Short-eared Owl picked up distantly over the Brickpits which proceeded to give beautiful views to the assembled company on the main path as it flew south directly overhead. I had my camera with me for a change, ready for the storm-blown Arctic Skua that didn't in the event arrive, so here are a few photos.

Thursday, 24 September 2020

Shrike interlude

Probably not what you were expecting given the recent Brown Shrike in Norfolk, and the very showy Red-backed Shrikes in East Norfolk, but actually this a Loggerhead Shrike taken in Southern California back when travel was a thing. I have no idea when I might see this species again, but they are pretty common over there when you find yourself in a remote place. As they hunt prey that is mostly on the ground, they tend to like to perch up and survey the surrounding area for movement before swooping down. This fantastic stunted tree was being used by both a Loggerhead Shrike and a Say's Phoebe, the only trouble was that there were about four such perches and the birds liked whichever one was furthest away from me. Understandable really, I get it everywhere I go, but I managed to fire off a couple of shots from the car window in that instant between the car coming to a stop and the bird then flying off to a different perch. I won't claim it is a record shot or anything, but I did wish for a somewhat longer lens, or my 2x converter, but I was travelling light and that is the price I pay. I am finding that I am swinging back towards birding and away from photography, and so recently you will likely not have seen me carrying a camera but instead lugging my scope. What I really enjoy however is the freedom of birding with bins only, and for most of the birding I do the habitat and birds don't actually require anything else.

Monday, 21 September 2020

In praise of continual sound recording

Regular readers will know that in addition to being a bit of a nocmig convert I have also started to try and record whilst I am out birding. I want to nail that bird that frustratingly calls only once and not again - last week BirdGuides put out an excellent article written by Ed Stubbs discussing exactly this. Most of my attempts to date have been dismal failures - too much noise from me. I have tried having the mp3 player in my chest pocket. Hopeless. In my trouser pocket. Hopeless. Hanging from my belt. Especially hopeless. Then I tried taking my shotgun mic out with me, poking out of a trouser cargo pocket, but in addition to looking very stupid it too simply recorded my footsteps, my legs, the rustle of my clothing, my breathing.... Hopeless.

Separation appears to be the name of the game. I've seen a couple of set-ups that involve a microphone attached to the rear of a backpack at about head level, and whilst I am sure that is probably pretty good I have an active dislike of bags, particularly backpacks. And of looking like Boba Fett whilst out birding. No, not for me. But I did cave in on a small man bag on a recent trip to Norfolk. The bag was slung across my chest and sat on one side of my waist. I simply stuffed the mp3 recorder complete with a "deadcat" muffle thing into a webbed pocket on the outside and hoped for the best. It did pick up tons of surround sound and all the usual noise I create, but it also did the business with a certain popular far eastern vagrant.... No not the Shrike....

Yellow-browed Warbler! Here I was stood around having a bit of a natter, but the recorder does not miss a trick. This bird was later seen, but about an hour earlier I had stopped in my tracks with an exclamatory "oh, was that...?" and of course that was it. However I noted the time and once home listened to the segment in detail. Bingo! A bird that would have been thrown away due to uncertainly is now nestling cosily in my virtual notebook (eBird).

I've circled the relevant part. It is a bit vague as the bird was a little distant, but right in the middle you can see a deep V, like a long hairpin, down then up. Tsoo-ee-weet! Nailed. Now on both recordings I was standing still, and that would seem to be the key. Not constantly chatting would probably also help but on both occasions the birds only called once, and on both occasions the recorder clearly picked them up. I don't know how to operate playback on the mp3 recorder in the field, but I might learn as if it were a properly rare bird I would probably want to listed to it immediately. Anyway, success! Success that unfortunately involves a bag but success nonetheless. It was a small bag though, just large enough to be able to conveniently hold my sandwich and the prerequisite autumn Double Decker in the other mesh pocket, so I may be able to live with it until I come up with something even better. 

Back to that article. In addition to field recording of the sort I've just described it also talks about stationary recording, for example if you were viz-migging. I don't get much opportunity for that, but on days where I can work with the doors and windows open I am now also recording from the balcony, just as I would overnight. There may not be many of these nice warm days left, but this morning I chalked up another little success when some Redpolls (denomination unknown, see here) flew over. I knew that Redpolls were on their way, indeed I'd had a few on the coast on Saturday, but I most enjoy Redpolls in Wanstead. At about 10am this morning, beavering away on some spreadsheet or other, I heard the familiar chipping from outside. In my excitement I ran out to the balcony thus completely obliterating the recording, but a little later once I had calmed down there was a repeat performance and this time I didn't move a muscle!

I give you... Redpoll. Likely the Redpoll Formerly Known as Lesser, C cabaret, but whatever. It is #82 for my lockdown list which I think is pretty good going, and barring Brambling whose tired wheeze I also hope to hear and record a little later this year, completes what I would call the expected birds for my garden (although Redpoll isn't actually annual). Anything else will be a bonus, but with the aid of sound there may yet be a few surprises in store. And I for one remain quite excited by the prospect.

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

2020: 100%

I suppose this is not a huge surprise but the Scottish Government has recently reduced the limit on people from separate households meeting indoors and out from eight people from three households to six people from two households. I had been due to spend a week on Shetland with two birding friends. No longer, so this spells the end of my final holiday plans for 2020, and brings to 100% the percentage of trips I've had to cancel since March. What a year this has been. Or hasn't been. 

I would not say I am the type to suffer from depression (although this is apparently an affliction of men my age) but I have to say I am feeling pretty low after this latest blow. This was literally the last one, the one I was clinging to. Just a week, booked up when it looked likely that everything else would disappear - as indeed proved the case. I have no issue with the decision, I am not going to waste my breath trying to justify why my visit to Shetland would be minimal risk, it is what it is. More pertinent was judging the mood - would Shetland Islanders be pleased to see birders from England right now? Almost certainly not. I know quite a few birders who live up there and relations with them, as well as their relationships with the rest of their communities are way more important than a week of birding. We've penciled in 2021 instead, but I am gutted.

One day, one day...

Somehow I still have to take something like 15 days of holiday between now and the end of the year, including a mandatory 10 day block. Use them or lose them. The prospect of another three weeks sat at home with the only difference being the exact place I sit does not fill me with joy. In fact it fills me with despair. I thrive on a diversity of interests, I always have. Take one away and for a while I won't even notice, but after a time there is an invisible tug, a calling. I've had a lovely spring and summer at home, my relationship with my plants and garden has deepened and broadened, and I've got seriously into patch birding again, particularly from the house, but my sense is that this is on the wane. Don't tell me how I know, I just do, it is an intensely familiar pattern. In the past I would have been able to delay such a drag by engaging in a constant mix of activities, a weekend away here, a day trip there. Possibly this in itself would have led to a partial switch of focus, but without that variety I sense the decline will be far more precipitous. I feel shackled and I need to get away. Shetland was the release valve.

I don't think it is going to be possible. It only takes a cursory look at the FCO website to see that the concept of "travel corridors" is mostly useless. Half the places on the approved list won't accept UK travellers at all. The other half will, but only if they have taken a COVID test prior to arrival, tests that at the moment are barely even available for people who actually need them. So far I found Italy to be about the only place I could travel, but as we know things can change and often at very short notice. America would have to let me in, and despite the tomfoolery over there still has places I am keen to visit, such as Sax-Zim.  But the USA is not on the FCO approved list so once I return I would at present need to self-isolate, a burden which would also be transferred to the family and which would not be fair. Talking about staycations and holidays in England is all very well and good, but it is not what I want to do, not at all. But it may be my only option. 

Friday, 11 September 2020

The limits of low carbon birding in the UK

My Twitter timeline has seen a lot more activity under the banner of "low carbon birding" recently. I have debated getting involved, a few tweets here and there but so far nothing substantial. It is very hard to know what to say, what to do. Before I expand please know that I have the utmost respect for all those who are trying their best to spread the message of low carbon birding. The science is undeniable and the message is critical. Forget Brexit, forget COVID, forget the rise of fraudulent right wing sheisters who seem to have taken over the asylum, the state of the planet trumps all of this. This is not a personal attack on any low carbon birders, especially those few who have been courageous enough to stand up to be counted, so please forgive me in advance if it comes across like that. I have tried my best but inevitably it will appear to reflect on them. Neither do I want to be castigated or dismissed as an unbeliever. I have simply been doing a lot of cogitating and feel compelled to point out what I think are a few home truths that I think have not yet seen sufficient light of day and that deserve more consideration when thinking about how to embrace low carbon birding. Largely this is about practicality and a diminished experience. My main point is that for a large majority of the population low carbon birding means expensive, inconvenient and unaffordable birding. It means birding that is incompatible with regular employment and annual leave. Or it means limited birding, never see a wader birding, boring birding. And in some circumstances it has the potential to mean no birding at all.

There is a lot to talk about. Before we even get to the spectre of international birding travel I want to start with the UK. In this country lots of people live in cities. Generally my belief is that for many city dwellers there will be at least some green space within walking distance, and certainly within cycling distance. The quality of that green space will vary wildly, and with it the type and quality of birding that you can legitimately say is on your doorstep. Low carbon birding influencers would do well to remember that. You may get very good at Starlings and Corvids and little else, or you may luck out with habitat that is more interesting and thus get a decent selection of migrants during spring and autumn, but wherever your urban patch sits on the scale of good to bad large elements of the UK birding experience simply don't happen in cities. Spectacles of mass wildfowl and waders, large flocks of things like Linnet and Snow Bunting, or farmland birds like Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer. If you live in London like I do there are two obvious places where you will be able to expand the range of birds and habitats that your regular urban patch does not have - Rainham Marshes RSPB on the east side and the WWT Wetland Centre at Barnes on the west. They're good, a most welcome change if your regular option is a local park where a Wigeon is a rarity. If I want to go to Rainham it's a 27 minute journey by car. If I take public transport it is 1hr 10m which is not too bad, and if I want to risk my life cycling the A13 it will also be 1hr 10m. But as good as these places are in a local context they're not what I would call representative of the finest of UK birding. Don't misunderstand me - birding can be very rewarding close to home, even in cities. Common birds take on new meaning, and if you have the mentality and stamina for it then you may be perfectly content to wander the urban patch for day after day. That feeling of elation when the one and only Kittiwake I've seen where I live flew over was pretty intense. I know this and I enjoy it, I have reached a stage in my birding journey where the local patch is a special place and where I am pretty content. But it is not for everyone and I also know, having sampled it, that I am missing out on a much larger and richer birding experience. Thousands of Kittiwakes. And indeed some proponents of low carbon birding insist that I should miss out. Bad luck, stay local. But if you find the constant reports of fabulous birding from the coast too much to bear and you feel that you want a slice of the action even if briefly, then you are going to need to go to the birds as they are not coming to you. How can you do so whilst still following the ethos of low carbon birding? Here are two examples.


Note that in order for this blog post to be even vaguely readable I have put the supporting information into appendices which need not be read if time is not on your side. So Example 1 matches with Appendix 1 etc. Same with the post I have planned on birding abroad.

Example 1 - London to Norfolk day trip

The north Norfolk coast is not the easiest place to get to, but I think it is a realistic example as many quality birding sites are a bit out of the way. A sample low carbon journey for me to get to and from sites on the north Norfolk coast will take me 11 hours on 4 tubes, 6 trains and 4 buses, cost £69.10 before I have bought a sandwich, and I won't get there until mid morning or arrive home before midnight. I don't find that an attractive proposition, but if it was a choice of that or slogging round my local park seeing nothing again then maybe I would. I can't see that it would ever be much quicker so the inconvenience tag is here to stay, but the cost is bordering on prohibitive and that needs to change. That is the purview of Governments and this blog post is not about that. It is about the here and now of changing how you go birding, and the bottom line is that if I want a classic UK birding day out then there is no getting around it being an expensive slog.

Example 2 - A weekend at Spurn

What about a weekend of rarity hunting? Or pre-emptive twitching if you want to call it that. Where better than Spurn and that amazing section of the Yorkshire coast? I want to experience the potential magic and excitement of a classic fall weekend on the east coast, the weather charts look incredible, why should I be denied and just have to read about it vicariously online? I'll go I think, I deserve it. The low carbon way to get to Spurn using trains and buses costs £162.80 and requires time spent in transit of 29 hours. If time was more important to me than money I could reduce this to about 11 hours at a cost of £272.80. The carbon footprint is the same. Again, should public transport be this expensive? Of course not, but it is. If a city dweller wants a weekend at a brilliant migration hotspot for as little carbon as possible then this is an example of the cost today. It's not one I am prepared to pay so I'll stay home and see nothing on my inland patch again.

My point here is not that cars are cheap and convenient and that trains and buses are expensive and less convenient. Everyone already knows that, even if they don't know the actual numbers. I hardly ever drive anywhere these days, our car sits on the driveway for the vast majority of the time. My point is more that if you don't live somewhere inherently birdy, no matter how much local exploration you undertake and how many wonderful wildlife discoveries you make close to your home, you are going to be missing out on a richness of birding and habitats that will blow your blinkered urban mind. And it seems to me that a lot of the low carbon birding articles I have been reading lately don't focus on that enough. In a sense that is right - don't focus on what you can't have, or at least not without a massive hassle. Focus instead on what you can have, on easy sustainable alternatives. But so many of these pieces are written by people who have for many years experienced the sublime magic of these places, or indeed now live within striking distance of them, that in a way I find it quite selfish to hear that people who may not ever have done so, or whose local birding experience is so vastly different should be told to look elsewhere for their wildlife thrills. An advocacy of self-denial from those who have not in the past denied themselves and more importantly don't need to now. Living in a city and reading a coastal birder extolling the virtues of local birding is a bit of a kick in the teeth. So many people can't ever have that. Empathy in the context of a lecture is not an easy thing to do, and whilst some of what I have read is very balanced and extremely self aware, some of it feels downright hypocritical. I will freely admit I couldn't pull it off. 

There are no easy answers here. I think we all know that if we all continue tearing around the country every weekend to go birding then we are contributing to the decline of the birds we profess to love. Twitching in particular comes in for a lot of stick, with a focus on the pointless nature of competitive listing - unfortunately I think it is so engrained within the UK birding culture (of old) that I don't see it stopping any time soon. So does year-listing which is just a different version of the same thing, with repeated journeys just to see that annual Redstart or Wryneck or whatever. I have in the past done both of course. But what about people for whom there is almost no chance of quality birding where they live, and who enjoy the thrill of rare birds or of migration more generally? Are they to be denied this pleasure? And moreover to be told how awful they are by somebody who lives on the east coast and has a wealth of opportunity five minutes from their doorstep? It could be that I am missing the point. In fact I think I might be. The message is don't try and replicate what has been done in the past, that era is over, what's done is done and PS sorry you missed it. The message is that if you truly love wildlife then you have no choice in the matter, you need to forget about any historic birding life you may or may not have had and instead embrace a new way of birding that does not involve frivolous journeys on carbon intensive modes of transport. And here are some of those alternatives that actually are not that bad after all from a few of us that have tried them. Yes, maybe it is as simple as that.

I have made many changes to my lifestyle that I have already written about, all of them intended to reduce consumption, including the type of birding that I do. None of it was very hard, albeit that 2020 has made at least some of it a lot easier for me than it might otherwise have been. Almost all of my birding is local and on foot, and has been for a while now. But I have a high amount of travel under my belt over the last four years, and I was quite taken with UK listing for about eight years before that. So either I am exactly the right person to advocate change, or I am precisely the wrong person. The reason I am undecided is that the low carbon birding movement has a tendency to rub me up the wrong way and my concern is that despite broadly agreeing with the message no matter how hard I tried I would basically do exactly the same thing. 

Anyway, the above musings largely cover my current feelings on the UK birding low carbon birding debate. It needs to be talked about. It needs to be acted upon. For my own part I am more-or-less able to cope with the limits that a low UK carbon footprint necessarily imposes on me, but the only reasons I can are because my patch just about sustains me in what I need from birding, and also it's not like I have never drunk from the blessed cups of places like the north Norfolk coast and Spurn (and a lot more besides). My gripes are that there are large sections of the UK population who are going to be miles away from even my relatively slim-pickings geographical location or who have never experienced the glory of the birding meccas, or perhaps both, and that their birding well-being and horizons are not being adequately considered. And when this is frequently coupled with a low carbon birding lectern occupied by converts for whom the sacrifice of giving up travelling to see birds does not appear to mean remotely the same thing as it does for many other people, I think that this dilutes and weakens the message that so badly needs to get through. You could just say I'm jealous.

Up next - and I have to say is dependent on the reaction to this post, if I just get a load of 'denier' abuse then forget it - will be my feelings on birding abroad in a low carbon manner, which in many cases and based on some basic research I have done will mean not birding abroad at all, which then takes me right back here.


Appendix 1: London to Norfolk

In a car it will take a couple of hours and the fuel will cost around £30 - pretty cheap, especially if you can find a few like-minded people to share the cost (masks on!), and whilst it is not the most carbon efficient way to get there it is probably not that bad. However it is generally accepted that trains have the lowest carbon emissions of all the traditional forms of public transport, so let's look at that as it is likely perfectly possible albeit will take longer and will probably be more expensive. How much longer and how much more expensive I didn't actually know, so in the spirit of wanting to be factual I have found out. I'll need to leave the house at around 0445, so probably not dissimilar to when I would leave by car. It is the weekend so night tubes are running (or they would be without COVID), and I need to take two to get to the station at a cost of £2.80. Leaving from Kings Cross at 0542 I get to Ely at 0700. I leave Ely at 0707 and arrive at Norwich at 0813. At 0821 I get the train to Sheringham which arrives at 0922, and from there I get the Coasthopper bus which will take me right past Cley arriving at 1004. The total journey time is 4h 23m, so roughly double the car journey. What about cost? Well, an off-peak return is £59.50 (standard tickets are £58.50 each way on the day, although I did find a much cheaper return leg that was only £17), and the Coasthopper costs £2 each way. Assuming I book that off-peak return then the cost of a day on the coast is just under £70. That's over double the cost of driving, even driving by yourself (car ownership costs not withstanding), but it is not as prohibitively expensive as I thought it would be. Equally I struggle to call it cheap, but as a carbon friendly option the premium over and above the cost of driving is not awful. As a special treat and to get in some birding that a city dweller simply can't get locally it might be worth it. You have to accept that you won't be there for first light, but it is still possible to have a day on the coast and fill your boots with waders and so on. 11 hours on public transport and you get back home at 12.30am, but possible. BTW, a young person with a railcard for whom public transport is the only option might find this perfectly OK and for them the cost is 'only' £49.

Appendix 2: London to Spurn

London to Spurn takes about 4 hours in a car. Double the time and nearly double the cost of a trip to Norfolk, at £55. The closest you can get to it by train is Hull, followed by two local buses. Making a weekend of it by train realistically means leaving on Friday night rather than Saturday morning, but for city dweller for whom this is the only option let's assume I'm fine with that - another night in the B&B adds to the cost but what is £30? An anytime return is absurd at £248, but luckily there are cheaper options with single tickets. The cheapest Kings Cross train leaves at 1933 on Friday evening and gets me to Hull at 2213 for £31. There are no buses at this time of day, so I'll have to hole up in Hull for the night and get the first bus the following morning which leaves at 0646, has one change, and gets me to Easington at 0855, a 2hr 8m journey. This costs £19.20 return, and I need to be back on it at 1805 on Sunday to make the train. This is prohibitively expensive at £124, but gets me home on Sunday evening - I leave Hull at 2029, and travel via Goole and Doncaster arriving at Kings Cross at 0014. If that is too expensive there is an option for me to leave on Monday morning at 0530 which arrives back in London at 0830 for £47, plus a second £30 overnight stay. I would have to go straight to work but it is doable. So the cheapest and most low carbon option will have set me back £102.80 plus two nights extra accommodation for £60. This includes the two tube tickets I also need to buy, and the time spent on public transport is about 11 and a half hours, so not actually that dissimilar to the trip to Norfolk. However the actual travel time is more like 29 hours due to the two overnight stays required. Note this is the cost directly associated with travel, the Saturday night stay that either method requires is not included. Fancy it? Didn't think so.

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Lockdown advances

I did eventually get my Siskin yesterday, with several calling birds over at various points during the day. They are clearly on the move as I had another three this morning, and they are being reported in ever more frequently and in larger numbers locally. I am glad to have joined the club, it was beginning to bother me. But the best bird of the day came at dusk as the family and I were sitting down for dinner. The main course had been and gone, and we were gluttonously tucking into some cheese when I noticed a small bird fly out from a tree a few doors down and immediately fly back to the same branch. Then it did it again, a lovely curved sally followed by a return to exactly the same twig. Chaource forgotten I leapt up! I had a good idea of what this was going to be and it would be a garden mega - the garden's third ever Spotted Flycatcher.

Picking it up on behaviour alone was if I don't say so myself extremely pleasing, and my nerd factor in my family's eyes has increased to new heights. They all got to see it too as the bird stayed for 20 minutes and we put the scope up, and Tim who lives close by was also able to pick it up from his house for a garden tick. There have only been two previous Chateau L occurrences of Spotted Flycatcher, in September 2018 and then as long ago as 2011. I had forgotten about the 2018 record for some reason, and initially though this was the second one until I checked and so for a while I thought that this might be another de-italicising. Sadly not, but there are now only two birds remaining on my garden list that I have seen only once prior to lockdown - Lesser Whitethroat and Wheatear (!). All the others - Little Egret, Short-eared Owl, Common Tern and Willow Warbler have now had multiple further sightings. 

Also notable is that my lockdown list (since March 23rd) is now at 79. Before lockdown my garden list stood at 83, a figure that had taken 15 years to achieve. In under six months that has now advanced to 92. Nocmig has been a revelation of course, but it is really the hours spent on my balcony staring at the sky, ears straining, that I have enjoyed the most. And I just love that a migrant bird that we see lots of on Wanstead Flats can also get into nearby gardens. It makes me very hopeful that I might get something else tasty in the coming weeks.