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.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The last Thrasher

One of the birds I was most anticipating in California was the California Thrasher. I've seen Brown Thrasher in New York and Georgia, Long-billed in Texas, Sage in Washtington and Azizona, and Curve-billed, Bendire's, Crissal and Le Conte's in Arizona. This was then the final North American species that I needed, and actually they seemed pretty common if a bit hard to find due to their skulking nature. The first one was at our camp site in the hills above Santa Barbara, but I ended up seeing them on the coast at Big Sur and a couple of other places too. This is the one on the cliffs at Kirk Creek campground, which we reached via the incredible Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, a narrow twisting pass over the Santa Lucia range (home to the Bristlecone Pine), a somewhat hairy drive in a 25 foot RV!! Highway 1 has been closed all year due to last winter's storms, so this road is the only way in unless you have a helipcoter. We didn't. The bird is a bit scruffy, but this was late August and most if not all the birds looked like this!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

California I'm coming home

Just a taster tonight – I have been somewhat over-extended and have yet to go through any photos from what was unanimously declared by my kids to the best holiday ever. We went to California for a fortnight, hired a camper van, and drove up the coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco. We spent the weekend in the city and then returned to LA via Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. The freedom that the van gave us and the scenery it allowed us to be part of was nothing short of sensational. We camped in some amazing places, Los Padres National Forest, the pacific coast at Big Sur, underneath the Half Dome in Yosemite during the solar eclipse, and amongst Giant Redwoods in the Sierra. Nearly every night involved a family meal around a camp fire under the stars, and with the van having a shower, toilet, fridge and freezer you could hardly say we were roughing it. Cold beer and barbecues, a 6.2L V8 engine and 12mpg, we truly lived the American dream for two glorious weeks.

We had been talking about this trip for years, but had never quite managed to simultaneously have the time and money to make it happen. I lived in California as a child, in Santa Barbara, and my love for the State is undimmed by the intervening years and yet despite this I hardly ever go there. Mrs L and I did almost exactly this trip following more or less the same route about 15 years ago before we had kids, but that is the only meaningful visit in decades, and we had always wanted to repeat it once they were old enough to appreciate it. A shame that when we finally went America is in the grips of an extraordinary crisis of identity, but the ethos in California is about as far away from the myopic world vision of the current White House as you can get, and people went out of their way to apologise for the state of their – my – nation. Many people we spoke to described it as “a difficult time”, which indeed it is, but in truth it did not detract from our trip at all. The magnificent American landscape transcends politics thankfully, and whilst Trump and his army of clowns are trying their best to change that, for now the places made famous by John Muir and Ansel Adams remain awe-inspiring.

There was not a lot of birding. Whilst the RV put us in amazing places, it was not as if I could get up early without disturbing the family and scoot off to various hot-spots. I was largely restricted to the campgrounds and wherever we went hiking. This was sufficient to notch up well over 100 species though, including around 10 ‘new’ birds – I say new, I am not entirely sure. Back in 2002 Mrs L and I kept a list of what we saw, but I unfortunately lost that precious bit of paper many years ago and simply could not remember much of it at all. My one recollection was of Dark-eyed Junco, and bird I subsequently saw in Kent! This trip was therefore an opportunity to put that right, and so every day felt like a new experience even if it probably wasn’t. There will be a separate post about the birds but they were a sideshow really. The scenery and the travelling en famille were what it was all about. For anyone thinking of doing a family trip like this, just do it, it was unforgettable.

Thumbs up indeed!