Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Holiday shocker

In almost exactly 24 hours time I was going to be leaving for Iceland on another photographic marathon. It was going to be non-stop shutter abuse for close to 72 hours. Divers, Skuas, Phalaropes, Eiders.  Get our your tiny tiny violins however, as the pressures of work and in particular a surprise external meeting have forced me to cancel. This has never happened before, holidays are (were) sacrosanct. Maybe I have been lucky up to this point, especially how frequently I travel, but to say I am gutted is an understatement. What a pisser. It will be even worse when young Michael, who is still going, returns with a shed load of top quality images (check out the recent efforts here) whilst I have a blank memory card and a head full of Regulatory Capital articles. 

Still, Romania was extremely productive, and after a roadside sleep at 3am somewhere near the Danube, Mick and I gathered our strength and made it to the Black Sea coast. He had a vague memory of photographing Collared Pratincoles somewhere close to Constanta, and a bit of internet digging gave us two places to try. We struck lucky at the second, although by then the light was slightly against us. Fabulous birds. Imagine a Tern crossed with a Swallow, dressed up in a Red-legged Partridge outfit. They're sensational - I'm not sure how many species there are, but I remember ticking the three UK vagrant ones in the space of about three weeks some years ago. This was much much better. Better than Red-throated Divers - that's what I have to keep telling myself...











Sunday, 10 June 2018

Pottering

Not a lot going on really, a weekend of pottering. One of the things I do best. By largely staying in my garden I managed to avoid people almost entirely, but I did have to contend with these reivers - clearly a very local population given how much time they spent glued to my feeders.

On blogging: the words are not coming at the moment. Pretty pictures are probably the order of the day. Sorry.





Saturday, 9 June 2018

A nugget of purest green

Getting a lot of these at the moment. Rather 'meh' these days but that was not always the case. I've graduated from being ridiculously over the moon to seeing one on the patch, through ecstatically ticking it for the garden, then regular flights over the house in flocks of up to 50 morning and evening, and now they're a permanent fixture on our feeders. Literally nailed on, and the food is disappearing as up to six birds rotate between the nuts and the seed. Very messy, and so I also have a pair of Stock Dove pecking around. The Parakeets are also fearless, and so it was really easy just to walk to the back door and take this.


Thursday, 7 June 2018

Pied Wheatear

Naturally the whole point of the trip was to photograph Pied Wheatear. Cape Kaliakra was the place, I remembered a brief encounter in 2012 that left we with my only photos to date, but as I improved they left me wanting more. Better. As you know I am obsessed with this family of charismatic birds, and I remembered that here, on the Cape, they were quite fearless as there are so many people wandering around.

My memory served me well, the place was packers. Coach parties, tour groups, families. Frequently visitors walked almost up to the bird I was photographing, and then saw me and stopped and wondered what I was doing. Meanwhile the bird flew off of course. It soon came back, it had a very clear series of favoured perches on top of ruined buildings (the Cape is an archaeological as well as a military site) and was quite the poser. I am going to put most the images on a different website, but a taster is here. I am quite satisfied now, my Pied Wheatear gallery is vastly improved. One day I will publish a book just of Wheatears - I just need to pluck up the courage to visit some fairly inhospitable places first.




Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Elevation

You know how you occasionally mess up, don't quite think things through? We had a new turret extension put in, and once it was all complete we discovered that our bed would not go up the stairs. I suggesting winching it up the side of the house and in through the window, which our son thought was a great idea and started to dream up pulley mechanisms. We were vetoed, there was apparently a simpler solution. Buy a new bed? No, not in Chateau L, no extravagances like that. Instead we managed to bend the mattress up the stairs and then just slept on the floor. 

It was very refreshing, zen even. We began to feel quite oriental and minimalist, belying our natural tendencies. I even bought a bamboo drinks mat for the bedside table, which looked ridiculous being two feet higher than the mattress. After five months of sleeping on the floor we could not imagine sleeping on a western-style bed, so when we were finally solvent again (turrets don't come cheap) we bought a new bed. But not just any old bed - a Japanese bed. Low to the floor, not quite a futon but close. We much prefer it, without really being able to say why. Affinity for walnut?

It arrived earlier this week and I, Mr. Useless, managed to put it together. Mrs L came home expecting to launch straight into DIY but was confounded by a ready made bed. It only had eight parts, even I could manage that, and they had numbers stamped into them to make it especially easy. She expected it to fall to bits but so far (three nights and counting) my flat-pack assembly skills have not been called into question.




We don't feel quite as puritan or trance-like as before, but it is easier to get up in the morning. The groans are not quite as loud, there is less haul and ever so slightly more grace. 

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Paddyfield Preview

I visited the reserve of Durankulak Lake in north-eastern Bulgaria back in 2012 as part of a four day trip with a few of the east London birders. We were on a guided trip in a minibus, ably led by a great guy called Dancho. I recall great birding, and a constant struggle for camera positioning in the back of the van, with Dave Mo and Dick repeatedly smacking me round the head with their lenses as they manoeuvred for position. Roll forward six years and I was finally back, this time with Mick S. He and I do not muck about when it comes to bird photography, and so last Saturday we found ourselves in wonderful early morning light facing the fantastic reed bed, lenses at the ready on monopods, slowly converging on a singing male Paddyfield Warbler in a smaller clump slightly in front of the main area. It was a windy day and photographing a small bird  in wildly swaying reeds was frustrating to say the least, but eventually a few clear shots were had.

I'm currently travelling again and don't have access to a proper computer screen with which to do some real fine tuning, but the below images would seem to be the best of the many that I took, and the ones that have needed the least editing. I'm quite pleased with the first one, it is almost what I wanted (in an ideal world I would have had the whole reed!), and I am hopeful of making a gallery composed of just this one bird in different poses as I was a bit trigger-happy. Whatever, it is a definite improvement on six years ago when my visit was a lot shorter, punctuated by an incredible rainstorm when the sky turned black. I'll be doing a trip report in due course, it seems to be the only thing I do at the moment. Never fear though, the next two months don't see me leave London, so expect a degradation in material and a return to total drivel.





Thursday, 31 May 2018

Rose-coloured Starling influx

I am still searching for my 150th species in Wanstead. Trouble is, I think I am searching in the wrong place. Is Poland in Wanstead? What about Romania? Bulgaria? No absurd Brexit comments please. Still, although London patch birding is guaranteed to surprise, and something very very common elsewhere could become my milestone, for instance a wader of some sort of which the UK has thousands, it could equally be a rarity or scarcity. London has a huge list of birds, and whilst Wanstead lacks the habitat that might pull many of these in, the list of what has been seen here over the last few years speaks for itself. Great Grey Shrike, Ortolan Bunting. Blyth's Reed Warbler. Wryneck. Three more Wrynecks. Lapland Bunting. Slavonian Grebe. Most of those would have birders moving pretty quickly no matter where they lived. 





I've just returned from a trip to Bulgaria. Whilst there, the biggest flocks of birds that I saw were not waders or gulls. They were Rose-coloured Starlings. Thousands of them, in flocks hundreds strong. They are not breeding birds there per a local birder we spoke to, but they have just arrived in huge numbers. The story is seemingly encountered across Europe, including in the UK, albeit that the further west you go the flocks diminish in size. I saw a tweet from somewhere celebrating a flock of nine birds as being the biggest wherever it was had ever seen! All I can say is when you have seen 300 birds leave a moderately-sized cherry tree in one synchronised movement then a flock of nine will leave you underwhelmed. I would not twitch one here, but I would definitely be up for finding a flock. In Wanstead a satisfying flock number would be, umm, one. Yes that would do, a lone bird in amongst our regular Starling population would suit me just fine. They have already reached our shores, and local birders are out looking. I intend to join them as soon as I can. It may liven up June. Or it could be the most boring June we have ever had.