Sunday, 17 December 2017


One of the big photographic targets for the trip was the Cape Sugarbird – Mick and I had seen many images of these fantastic birds on equally fabulous flower heads and were very keen to try and get something similar. Whilst I don’t think I managed anything quite as wonderful as the very best images that you find when doing an internet search, I came away quite pleased.  

We had two opportunities – the first at Kirstenbosch under unfortunately overcast skies, and the second at Harold Porter botanical garden which is quite near the Stony Point penguin colony. This was a lot better as we had the benefit of early morning sunshine hitting the protea-carpeted slopes. One thing I would say is that whilst you are guaranteed birds at these two locations neither of them open early enough for the very best light. For that I think you would need to be out in wild Fynbos habitat, but I do not know how accessible that is. The layout of paths and so on at botanic gardens did make it relatively easy to find a decent shooting position.

So here are a few of the images that I returned with. It was surprisingly difficult to get a shot containing the entire tail! Even though there is very little Sugarbird on view, I think my favourite image is the first one with just the head poking out of a cluster of Proteas.



Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Wheatear update

Back in 2014 I wrote this post about World Wheatearing – you can read it here. At that point I was at 50%, or 11 out of 22 species. I resolved to see more and so it is with great pleasure that three years later I can report that has been a significant change. My dedication to the cause now means that I have seen the following, a grand total of 17 species.

Black Wheatear - Morocco and Spain
Black-eared Wheatear - Spain, Southern France and Cyprus
Capped Wheatear - South Africa.
Cyprus Wheatear – Cyprus, duh.
Desert Wheatear – Morocco, UAE and various UK vagrants.

Familiar Chat – South Africa.
Finsch's Wheatear - Cyprus.
Hooded Wheatear - Cyprus and UAE

Hume's Wheatear – UAE
Isabelline Wheatear – UK vagrant, UAE, Bulgaria and Cyprus.
Mourning Wheatear - Morocco
Northern Wheatear - Wanstead!!
Pied Wheatear – UK vagrant and Bulgaria
Red-rumped Wheatear – Morocco

Red-tailed Wheatear – UAE
Variable Wheatear - UAE
White-crowned Black Wheatear – Morocco. I didn’t bother with Scunthorpe.

Excellent, only another five to go then! Oops.

Arabian Wheatear - Arabian peninsula.
Heuglin's Wheatear - transitional area in sub-Saharan Africa, from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east.
Kurdish Wheatear - Turkey, Middle East, winters in Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Sudan etc.
Mountain Wheatear - Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.
Red-breasted Wheatear - Eritrea and Ethiopia, western Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Somali Wheatear - Ethiopia and Somalia.

Unfortunately it is not that simple (as you can probably tell as there are in fact six above, not five), as since I wrote my post the boffins have since reclassified six birds into the Oenanthe clan. Five of these were formely known as Cercomela, and one was a Myrmecochicla. So in addition to the original missing Oenanthe species above, I now need the following five species as well.

White-fronted Black Chat – Central Africa
Blackstart – North Africa, Middle East and Arabian Peninsula
Brown Rock Chat - India
Brown-tailed Rock Chat – East Africa
Sombre Rock Chat – Ethiopia and Somalia

Note that this is only five birds, whereas six were moved. As it happens I saw one last week, the Familiar Chat in South Africa - above. As I was photographing it on stony ground at a place called Rooi-Els, I commented that it looked and behaved quite like a Wheatear. Turns out I could apply for the post of boffin as this is exactly what the powers that be have decided as well. So I am already making progress against the revised list, albeit that despite having seen a further six species I still require 11 to complete the set. At least the perecentage has gone up though – 17 out of 28 = 61%. However as we all know, the only important statistic regarding Wheatear ticks is the absolute number of those ticks, as well as getting passable photos of them. I am pleased to report that with the exception of Variable Wheatear, I have photos of everything and that many of them are pretty decent. You can browse many of them here, and order your Wheatear calendar when I get round to making it.

So, what of the missing 11 then? Well, Arabian Wheatear and Kurdish Wheatear are potentially on the cards in Oman next year, and I have designs on Blackstart as part of a possible trip to Israel. I’m somewhat stumped on the others though – the danger in some of those places is possibly higher than it was three years ago. East Africa looks promising, and somewhere like Ethiopia might not be that dangerous, or at least not in the same league as Somalia or Mauritania. Anyway, good to force myself to work out the update and start a bit of planning. Mmmm, travel!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Pick up a....

Just gonna leave this out there for a bit.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Yesterday is so passé

Yesterday is old hat. Dipping? I don't do dipping, I just do relentless ticking. Today I added Shore Lark to my London list, apparently a yank one to boot. I should have gone yesterday, but I was having such a great time dipping the Leach's Petrel that I didn't want to spoil it. Also I had an errand to run over in Richmond, so I staked the farm on the bird staying and went this morning instead. Happily it did so, and so just gone eight I joined a sizeable crowd on the Staines Reservoir causeway. For those of you that don't know the area, the causeway regularly vies with Antarctica as the coldest spot on earth. My son still remembers the Red-throated Diver twitch from 2013 and shivers involuntarily.

Today however it was quite pleasant, and the bird was almost in the south-west corner of the north basin and did not require the endless trek across to the other side. Very striking, with quite rufous upper flanks and the eyebrow noticely bright white contrasting with the small yellow bib. I remember being very surprised to find a Shore Lark in Washington a couple of years ago in arid habitat, and looking it up to find that it was essentially the same bird, but I never thought one would turn up here. I'll let the boffins decide - I am just pleased to be able to add this to my London list after a dip a few years ago out near Tilbury.

Here's a photo (of sorts) of it. I am not very good at phone scoping as you can see, but the white is pretty clear nonetheless. One to tuck away for a few years perhaps? I watched it for perhaps an hour and then drove to pick up a couple of plants in Richmond - always good to be able to combine visits out west with something else that you actually need to do. That said I left early enough that there was no traffic at all, and was home before lunch before it really built up - I've seen worse!

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The perfect dip

In so far as a dip can be good, today was excellent. It involved not seeing a Leach's Petrel on William Girling Reservoir. Whilst Leach's would be a London tick, at the end of the day it isn't a monster bird and I'm sure I'll see one in London one day. William Girling is also not the patch, nor anywhere I keep a specific list for, so this this isn't a huge grip off or anything like that. It is also only 15 minutes away, so I've have not had to devote hours to driving anywhere. In fact Bob drove, which meant I had to devote no time at all to driving, even easier. So overall a minimal outlay of time and effort, home within an hour or so, pretty chuffed at how it all went really. I mean I suppose it could have been better, for instance if I'd have seen it, but I cannot in truth say I am gutted, depressed, hugely disappointed or whatever. Local dipping knocks long distance dipping into a cocked hat, and I got to see a few London birders I've not seen for a bit, including Andy T and Harry L - who found the bird from his house overlooking the reservoir. All in all a decent morning and I look forward to the next local dip and just hope it is as good as this one. 

Some more happy dippers. Note how Harry, third from the left, looks miserable whereas everyone else looks pretty chipper. There's a lesson there.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Internet of things

Chateau L is undergoing a small amount of renovation at the moment. Thanks goodness for the Heritage Lottery Fund eh? Whilst we are getting ourselves a little extra space, we are at the same time entering the modern world. It's not that we're luddites, it is just that we are perpetually behind, so now is the opportunity to make up a little lost ground. Enter the internet of things, or IOT. I swear that there is nothing at the moment that isn't able to be connected to the internet. Maybe fruit. Everything else you are seemingly able to plug it in.

For instance we now have a central heating system that can be controlled from our phones, can detect when we are out and turn it down or off, and supposedly learns our habits and adjusts accordingly. Much of this is guff of course, but when we were away in Spain last weekend it did actually come in useful, as we were able to flip on the hot water and heating from somewhere around Hammersmith and thus entered a lovely warm house. Sorry, I mean castle. 

Similarly, the smoke detectors are wired in too, so we can now be alerted to the house burning down. This is probably less useful in the real world, but I suppose that if I am off galivanting somewhere and my phone tells me the house is on fire, I can at least try to call Mrs L and tell her to leave by the nearest exit. The fact that she never picks up her telephone is not relevant to the Internet of Things, or at least I hope not.

We shall shortly also be able to control the lights, music, and gawd knows what else as we gradually wire everything else in. How on earth we lived with mere physical switches before I just cannot fathom. Presumably this also opens up the possibility of criminal masterminds taking over our lights and refusing to turn them off until we pay them a vast fee, but I think I will take the risk. I am sure this is just the beginning - I have to say I was staggered when I began to uncover quite how slick quite a lot of this can be. I had no idea at all that most of this was even possible. I draw the line at a smart doorbell which will allow you to remotely assess the visitor and then unlock the door from afar, ie putting actual physical security in the hands of a bit of cruddy chinese Wi-Fi, but for a few simple things I think it could be a lot of fun. None of this beats having kids though - when the computer can make me a G&T and put on a CD, let's talk.

Monday, 20 November 2017


Family trip to Madrid at the weekend a great success. More later.