Sunday, 16 February 2020

The very definition of niche

One of the things I have to do at work is report upwards. I am sure many of you have to do the same in thing in your line of your work. To anyone who has never been burdened with such things, well done - you are not missing out. Telling people more important than you what is going on below their line of sight is a constant in my office, but it is also formalised into a weekly management update. A written update. In a miniscule amount of paper real-estate I have to try and condense the preceding five days into a modest soundbite that on the one hand lets people know that I and other minions are all beavering away as hard as we possibly can and achieving great things etc, and then on the other tells them all the things we messed up but without sounding too alarming. It is a delicate balancing act.

Although my job is almost entirely based around numbers, having a good command of written English is very handy and it is rare that I struggle to bash out the required bullet points. Until recently that is. On Thursday last week I simply could not work out the word I wanted and ended up mangling it. I sat there for what seemed like ages completely unable to dredge it up, and only this morning - at home in bed, looking out at Storm Dennis - did it come to me that the word I had wanted was the adjective 'competing'. Or possibly 'conflicting'. I think I went with the noun 'clash' and therefore had to form my sentence entirely differently. Now this may seem like semantics, all three words are basically the same in the context of priorities and missed deadlines, but I still think that competing would have been far better, it has none of the harshness of 'clash'. 

Yesterday there was another example, I couldn't get my brain to work properly and just sat there flapping. Proper open-mouthed floundering. A day later I can't even remember what that one was, which does at least spares you a paragraph. I take these as clear signs that my brain is disintegrating and that I need to do something about it.

That something is of course this, a little attempt at writing something. I read a lot, but perhaps it is writing that nourishes the brain, or whatever part of the brain controls and stores voekabyoulurry. To be clear this isn't me blogging again. No. I've actually been quite happy doing other things and not given this place too much thought. However here I am, so I may as well fill you in on a few gaps. Those other things, barring of course what led to the above, have mostly been connected with birds and birding. Real, proper, actual no gulls birding. My telescope has not seen as much use for years, I had forgotten quite what a difference it makes to getting stellar views of things. I used it the other day on this gaudy little number.

I know what you are thinking. Yuck. Disgusting, garish, ostentatious filth. I quite agree. Looking at it filling my scope in a canyon in Spain last weekend I felt genuine waves of nausea overcoming me and had to start taking photographs of it instead when it came down the cliff towards me. This was not helped by being completely and utterly alone at the time. No jostling, no crowd surges, no idiots, nobody shouting I was too close as the bird came ever nearer. I simply didn't know what to do.

I am of course being silly. Spending time watching this Wallcreeper was one of the greatest birding experiences of my entire life. What. A. Bird. It's hard to believe that they even exist, they are the very definition of niche. To be fair I was due one, I have dipped them repeatedly all over the place. France, Spain, Switzerland and Bulgaria have all seen me return empty-handed, with two of these trips having been specifically organised to see Wallcreeper. I think I had been trying too hard. This particular bird had not been on the cards at all, all I had done was book a very cheap flight to Madrid at some point last year on the basis that it had to be better than the UK in February (somebody called Ciara ensured that was indeed the case) and had then forgotten all about it. It was only about a few weeks before I left that I was looking up where I might go and what I might see, and chanced upon a site that was hosting a pair of Bonelli's Eagles. Excellent, a Western Palearctic tick no less, and only an hour from Madrid. Firming up my plans with a week to go I noticed that this same site had a wintering Wallcreeper and that it had been seen several times in 2020 already. My track record ensured I didn't get too excited, but with the bird then being seen the day before I left I started to dare to dream.

After two hours of wandering up and down the gorge with no large birds of prey or small creepy grey things to show for it I decided to chalk up another dip and go and do something else. As I turned on my heel and strode back towards the car cursing all things montane, a small shape flew across the canyon and landed on an inverted rock face right in front of me. Twenty seconds later it would have crossed behind me and I would not have seen it. And of course a little later on as I was continuing to watch the Wallcreeper, what should fly over my head? I'll give you clue.

Rhymes with Wellies and Beagle.

Monday, 6 January 2020

A change is good as a rest

This weekend just gone I birded so much my eyes hurt. Patch abandoned, no two hour Saturday morning stroll for me. Instead a marathon weekend of dawn to dusk birding. I have been threatening it of course, and now that I have done it I want to do it again. As a change of scene goes it was fantastic, and really drove home quite how dull birding in London most often is. 

Call me shallow, but 2 Smew, 4 Long-tailed Duck, a Ring-necked Duck, a Scaup, 2 Great Northern Diver, a Black-necked Grebe, 7 Great White Egret, 2 Cattle Egret, 2 Rough-legged Buzzard, a Merlin, 4 Hen Harrier, 11 Marsh Harrier, a Siberian Stonechat, a Grey-bellied Brent and an Eastern Yellow Wagtail have convinced me that there is perhaps more to birding than repeated visits to Wanstead Flats. Add to that a supporting cast of thousands upon thousands of seven other species of geese, and countless waders and ducks in fabulous scenery, and I am sold. Re-sold. 

This of course is something I used to do a lot, but for whatever reason I fell out of love with it. I have no idea why, it was terrific. There was some driving of course, but not the mind-numbing hours and hours that a long-distance twitch incurs, and most of it was done in the dark. And the rewards at the end of the journeys was frankly staggering for someone numbed by the weekly routine of urban birding.

That is not to say that the weekend was perfect in every way. My metaphorical spectacles are not so rose-tinted as to be able to deny some of the more unavoidable aspects of birding the North Norfolk coast in early January - that is to say that I felt rather as if we were in a procession of sorts for most of the day, seeing the same birds as everyone else. A shuffling doddery green-clad procession...  One man I saw four times, and to be fair he could have said the same about us. Were I to spend all of my time up there I expect that it would drive me stark-raving bonkers, however the excitement of a fresh year list will no doubt wane shortly and my next visit, whenever that is, will probably be rather calmer. The birds were good enough that none of this really mattered, and the landscape vast. At any other time of year you could probably find a few spots that get no visitors at all.

Out here were 7 Marsh Harrier, 3 Hen Harrier, 1 Merlin, 1 Peregrine and 1 Sparrowhawk. 

Suffolk and Essex were far less busy, neither are on the birding map in quite the same way, and I suspect that I will head back there first. Abberton, immense, was exceptionally good. Freezing but excellent. Wanstead has had so few ducks of late, Abberton has thousands, and I spent a happy hour or picking through flocks of Teal in the hope of a vertical stripe. A vain hope... Neither could we dredge up the Black-throated Diver.

This of course was before I remembered to buy a Double Decker. This delectable confectionery is often thought of as an autumn staple, but its mythical power can be unleashed at any time of year. As soon as there was one in the car we were unstoppable. Rough-legged Buzzards in the gloom, the Grey-bellied Brent after less than a minute of scanning an immense flock of Pink-feet, the Stonechat on view immediately - everything simply fell into place. The Wagtail showed brilliantly - a UK tick. Although there have been loads recently I have felt no urge to twitch any of them, but as a part of a big day out seeing gazillions of birds I didn't mind in the slightest.

So why was it so good? Because it was refreshing. I have not done any UK birding like this for simply ages and it felt really good, just like birding abroad. My last visits to Norfolk, Suffolk and coastal Essex were all in 2016, and very simply I was ready again.

Here's to 2020.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

So what is the approach in 2020?

2020 did not start as I intended. I had visions of keenly starting the New Year out on the coast seeing tons of glorious birds. This fitted neatly with my resolution of sorts, which was to spend more time birding in this country - terribly neglected of late. Then I discovered that the family car was required for less frivolous purposes and had to scale back my plans. So, Rainham then, I would get dropped off or take the train and spend the whole day birding there, hurrah! It is a semi patch of mine that I used to devote a lot of time to, I would very much like to get back to it, this could be the perfect backup start to 2020! Great, I'll get the stuff ready. What's that? My middle daughter has arranged to go to see a friend which would leave the youngest one home alone...

So I guess I'll stay local then. Pah! It was nice to spend time on Wanstead Flats and in the Park seeking out birds - for a brief moment everything is interesting again - but it felt slightly laboured. Of course it was also pleasant spending time with Rob and Nick and others, the shared joy of finally finding a Greenfinch, the amusement of repeatedly missing flyover Collared Doves and so on, but I question whether it is sustainable. In the sense of will this keep me going all year. 

The answer is a big fat no.

Once upon a time, but no longer. The same goes for blogging. You may know that I very nearly jacked it in on the 10th anniversary. I had a post typed up and ready to go about a month before I intended to publish it. It is still there in draft status, tempting me. For whatever reason I had second thoughts and carried on, and 100 posts later here I am. It has been hard. Very hard. And oddly so, I cannot put my finger on it. I am still the same person I was 11 years ago. I am older of course, slightly more jaded, heavier.... but fundamentally I am still me and if - to steal an acronym from modern lexicon - if you knew me IRL I would hope you think that I have not changed a great deal. I am still very juvenile and delight in small acts of stupidity. I have learned to keep a lid on it in certain situations, namely work, but personality is and should be irrepressible. I also think I lead quite an interesting life, and I am quite happy with my lot. Mrs L of course would say that I could contend for the Dull Men of Great Britain title, but I disagree. Yes of course a lot of is spent behind a desk etc, but that is the case for many people even if it sometimes does not feel like it. In the brief snippets where that is not the case I think I do pretty well. I have lots of hobbies and interests, too many in fact. I read lots of books, I travel to fabulous places, I potter around at home being domestic and I enjoy that too. You would think therefore that I have a wealth of material to write about.

And yet.

It gets harder and I cannot put my finger on why. And it used to be easy, effortlessly easy. Now I am not looking here for all blog readers to jump in with a comment saying don't give up etc. I like a bit of interaction, all bloggers do, but this is a deeper question that maybe only I can answer. I am busier than I have ever been, or at least it feels that way to me - possibly nothing has changed other than I used to be 33 and now I'm 44 - I have a huge amount that I could talk about across many different facets and subjects. Why can't I? Am I worried about what people think suddenly? Worried about being dull and boring? Maybe I am. I thought I wrote for me, because I had to, because I needed to - this belief drove me for a very long time. Now I am not so sure. I find that I can easily not write something for several weeks and it doesn't bother me at all.

And this is not just about writing. It is everything. I can ignore the patch for several weeks and not feel like I am missing it. I can (and in the past have) let the greenhouse rot. Similarly I can go for a month without reading a book even though I really like reading. All the things I like I can discard with little care, at least for a while. And yet I am perfectly happy and content. I am not having a mid life crisis, or at least not that I am aware of. This makes no sense.

I am sure I wrote about this before either last year or the year before but I cannot now find it, it was called "The Spark" or something like that. Whenever that was I think my slant was writing, but actually I now realise it is applicable to much more than that. If it was a spark I have not yet managed to refind it. And that is what 2020 will be about.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Top ten not bird images from 2019

Birds are not the be all and end all, and I continue to enjoy taking photographs of landscapes and other scenery wherever I end up. Landscape photographers are true artists. Unlike birds you do not just bowl up and try your luck, there appears to a tremendous amount of planning involved, as well as immense amounts of skill to blend all the elements together. It is all about the light, the first rays of the sun lighting up a landscape of rugged beauty. Getting into position can take hours, often in the dark, and as for knowing what to do when you get there.....I cannot hope to get anywhere near that level of proficiency. But I do go to some amazing places, and some of these are so photogenic that you can take something that looks great with just your telephone. 

Monument Valley in the American south-west. The USA is overflowing with unsurpassed landscapes like this. The weather was somewhat against Henry and I, and this shot was taken shortly after a snow storm had passed through and temperatures low enough to make us seriously and sanity-questioningly uncomfortable. The light that morning was very peculiar indeed, with the fresh snow combined with orange rocks creating a living sepia effect. We may not have come away with any coffee table stunners, but we will remember this trip for a very long time!

Photos cannot do Antelope Canyon justice, although there are legion attempts far better than this as any google search will show you. Henry and I visited in February and the place was rammed even with a blizzard going on. Most photos show grains of sand falling pleasingly across a sunbeam. I've chosen to go with flakes of snow.

I can't even really remember where this was other than to say it was somewhere between Las Vegas and Zion National Park just before sunset. What we didn't yet know was that the polar vortex would deliver some of the most violent weather either of us had ever seen, which turned the ochre landscapes of Arizona and Utah white. This photos was of one of the preludes to this band of weather, which gave an ethereal quality to the light as the sun went down.

Singapore's Gardens by the Bay, taken from the eastern side during the blue hour. The weather was once again playing tricks, but I successfully dodged the thunder storms that turned the sky black over to the north east. Singapore is a spectacular city, and I really want to go back.

I took this on a walking tour of the city with a colleague, not sure what I balanced the camera on as I didn't have a tripod, but it has come out rather nicely for all that.

This is phone photo, taken whilst driving along the road to Mauna Loa on Hawaii. Shortly after this I heard but could not see my first Omao, the Hawaiian Thrush. Just look at the landscape though, This is not a skilled image, but this transports me back to a red Camaro convertible in glorious weather in a magical place.

Black Sand on Punalu'u Beach, Hawaii. This is actually a colour photograph, I didn't have to tinker with it at all. Birding was my primary purpose of course, but a bit of tourism never goes amiss. Hawaii is a wonderful place, just a bit far away.

The Pacific Ocean, facing west from Hawaii. Over to the right is Maui, but straight out  from Hapuna Beach there is nothing for six thousand miles until you hit Hainan Island near Vietnam. Watching the sun set over the ocean is one of life's great pleasures, were that I lived somewhere where this could be a regular event but alas I am tied to London. 

The only photo from Wanstead in 2019, the incomparable Flats early in the morning. I rarely take my camera out there, so I suspect that this must have been on my phone. The more photos I see from phones the more I wonder why people bother carting massive cameras around the place. Soon I will be too old to carry an enormous camera anyway....

Boston's historic north end early in the morning - I couldn't sleep and got up before the city awoke to a lovely morning. I only had a day, but I ran around like a mad thing and had a thoroughly wonderful time.  On a more serious note, this trip was an absurd indulence and I in all good conscience I should not have gone on it. Fun as it was, it is not on the menu for 2020.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Top ten bird images from 2019

I didn't take as many photos this year as previous years, it appears that I am swinging back to being a birder. That said I have never been just a bird photographer, or at least that is not how I see myself. I am birder who takes photos, and I am equally happy doing that as I am just birding. Sometimes I concentrate on taking pictures, and sometimes I concentrate on seeing how many birds I can see. This year I have simply done more of the latter on my trips away, and less of the former. This makes it a lot easier to filter my output down to just ten, and in fact when I first started typing this post I worried that I might not get there at all!

Oriental Magpie-Robin from the Singapore Botanic Gardens in March. I did not take many good photos in Singapore, it was simply too hot and I was knackered. I fell back to yet another of my hobbies, and instead spent the weekend with my head buried in tropical plants, marveling at the extraordinary verdancy of the island. Of the decent photos I did take, I really like this pose. I was on a raised walkway above a pond, and this bird was with its mate seemingly investigating nesting holes in some dead stumps. I predicted it would land on the top of one of these which it almost immediately did. 

This Olive-backed Sunbird was also in the Singapore Botanic Garden early one morning. I spent over an hour amongst these plantings as a small number of birds came and went, and even though they are lightning fast I managed to get a few shots, of which this is the most pleasing for being, at least in my mind, quite artistic because I've stayed back to try and get the whole flower in the frame.

This Cyprus Wheatear was taken on one of several productive early morning birding sessions on Cyprus over Easter. I was on a family holiday but snuck out every morning for a couple of hours as the sun rose before returning for breakfast and a day of sloth. Of course this wasn't a birding holiday at all, but ironically enough it was by far the most productive for bird photography of the whole year. I suppose this is because I was returning to a location that I have been to several times before and knew exactly what I wanted.

Spectacled Warbler. This is another image from Cyprus taken on Cape Greco in the lovely light about one hour after dawn. The cape was about ten minutes from our hotel and I visited nearly every morning. Spectacled Warblers are extremely common, and whilst normally quite skulky I found a bird that had claimed a bush with a perfect singing perch.

Ruppell's Warbler. Yet another from Cape Greco, and a bird I was seriously pleased to find. It was the only one I saw on the trip, mid-April is quite late for them. It was feeding in a series of low bushes, and would spend a nano-second perched on top of each before diving into it. I missed the bird each and every time on the first few bushes so raced ahead a few bushes and crossed my fingers that the same thing would happen again. It did!

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Texas. Pure luck this one, the bird was perched on a wire fence and I happened to press the shutter at the precise moment that it flew up. Lucky me. It's not the greatest photo ever, almost every element of it could be better, but it's a bit different and if you squint it looks ok. And look, it's a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, so pretty much any photo of it would be a thing of beauty.

Bulgaria is carpeted in Black-headed Buntings, singing from what seems like every bush. I took very few decent photos in Bulgaria this year, the trip in 2018 was a lot better.  It was longer, and the weather was better, and I was just more in tune. Sometime it is like that, and I fail to click. Other times it seems to go well almost from the outset. I've said it before and no doubt I'll say it again, but there seems to be correlation between how much bird photography do and how well it goes. And also whether I improve or not. Right now I am on a plateau and beginning to slip backwards. At least I recognise that though! I do already have a trip booked to Bulgaria for 2020, so let's see how that goes.

Red-backed Shrike, Bulgaria. One of the most common and easily seen birds in the country thanks to a thriving insect population. I remembered them as being easier to take photos of that they in fact are, and opportunities were quite limited. Because I couldn't get especially close I aimed to get a whole plant in, a bit like the Sunbird from Singapore. This is a tactic I should try and employ more. It doesn't have the wow factor of every last feather detail, but it actually takes a bit more thought to achieve.

This is the only photo in this year's selection that was taken in a hide. I don't like hides! However it did provide excellent opportunities to photography song birds at very short range. On the morning I was there Tree Sparrows were amongst the very few species that came into feed and bathe, and I like this over the shoulder pose along with the nice perch, even though it just screams "hide".  

I am still going through the many wader photos that I took in Florida in November of this year. So far I like this one, a Piping Plover, at exactly eye level which meant that I got very muddy and also hurt my neck trying to peer through the view-finder at such a low angle. I like to think it was worth it, and at some point in the next few weeks I hope to go through all the photos I took and put together a few galleries.

Friday, 27 December 2019

2019 - The year in review

Well here we are again, another year gone. I swear they go quicker every time. Next year is 2020 which is a rather scary thought - where on earth has the last decade gone? I have a 16 year old son - when I started this blog he was six.... I've had another fun year in very much the same vein as previous ones, that is to say I've almost totally ignored birding in the UK and spent a lot of time pursuing other hobbies instead. Nonetheless it has not been a total write-off...

Best twitch
I went on precisely one UK twitch in 2019, and for a very dull bird indeed, an Eastern Olivaceous Warbler. However as this is the only time I engaged twitch mode there is nothing else to pick. Seems a little lame really, which it was. Luckily my twitchy instincts are not restricted to the UK, oh no. I also twitch birds abroad. Only as part of already scheduled trips you understand, I don't jet off to see the latest Western Palearctic wonder or anything like that. But if I've got a few days in America I will have a little peek at what is around to see whether I might bump up my puny ABA list by a couple of goodies here are there. So it was that early one Saturday morning in mid November I found myself standing by a golf course mid-way down the Florida Keys, having been shackled at my desk in London the prior day. This was rather a last minute decision. Although the bird, an Antillean Palm Swift, had been hanging around Sombrero Key for a few weeks, when I got on the plane there had been no reports of it for 24 hours. Happily upon landing there was fresh news, and so in the darkness of the Florida evening I pointed my car south. The weather early morning was rather trying, and a small group of dippers from far and wide - as is often the case with ABA rarities - mooched around the eighth tee for a while. I had travelled the furthest, but not by much! Missouri, Connecticut and Michigan were all represented such was the rarity of this species. One of these birders had an ABA list of over 800, but then again this diminutive Swift was only the second for the USA, the first having been in 1972 when this man was just starting his twitching career. Happily when the sun came out late morning so did the bird and it was magnificent. I could scarcely believe that Canary Wharf on Friday afternoon could morph so easily and successfully into the Florida Keys on Saturday morning, but such is modern life I suppose.

Antillean Palm Swift, Marathon, Florida

Best local bird
AS I outlined in the previous post there have not been many local birds to choose from. It would be tempting to simply go with the Greenshank, it was a lovely bird in a nice location and waders in Wanstead are extremely hard to come by. However at the annual Christmas local get together at the Holly Tree pub, we agreed that the spring adult male Garganey had been the best bird of the year (being a tick for almost everyone) and who am I to argue? The location was less lovely - Jubilee Pond - which attracts birds far and wide and yet to human visitors looks like (and is generally treated as...) a toilet. Rob found it early one morning and I rushed out to have a look. The light was a little suspect but later on I returned with a large camera... It was only my second sighting on the patch, the first from years ago of a pair on Heronry which I can barely remember now, and I think you will agree that it was rather a looker.

Best bird photo
I've actually done more birding than bird photography this year in a bit of a reversal. Two trips that were supposed to be photography heavy reverted back to birding trips when Mick had to pull out, and the one trip that we did manage together was made rather difficult by the weather. I did manage some photos in Florida in November once I had got all of the twitching out of my system, but even though this was over a month ago I still have not managed to look through them all. There may be some absolute gems to be discovered! However I remain very pleased with this Olive-backed Sunbird which I took in the Singapore Botanic Gardens in March. Normally I try and get a close in as I can, but for this one I backed off as I wanted the whole flower in the image.

Best trip
As a birding destination Taiwan is fantastic. I went by myself after Mick unfortunately had to drop out and it turned into a four day dawn to dusk search for the endemics. As it happened the photography was really hard work but the birding was amazing, and frequently in stunning scenery. I drove a loop of the northern half of the island, spending most of my time in the central mountains. I missed very little all told, whereas most birding trips to the island need close to two weeks to guarantee all the endemics. In case you missed it, the blog write -up starts here. There is also a full version on Cloudbirders. Very little can touch Taiwan as an exotic yet safe birding destination that is easily done without a guide. Great people, great food, awesome scenery and tons of brilliant birds that are found nowhere else.

Taiwan Scimitar Babbler

Worst trip
Last year I cancelled Iceland as I was busy at work, so that was easy. No such unfortunate happenings this year, although I probably worked harder than ever. Look, does there even have to be one? I've done a nice mix this year. Family holidays in Europe, a few weekend city breaks, a great trip to the landscapes of the American south-west with my son, and then a few long haul birding trips - I've enjoyed every single one of them. The trip to Bulgaria perhaps wasn't as successful as it might have been, but it was still a great weekend. I think I'll just reiterate that in 2020 I plan to go on fewer trips and instead do some more birding in the UK.

Stupidest moment
I spent a whole morning searching for Morrison's Fulvetta in Taiwan without finding one. I did however keep seeing a small flycatcher with an eye-ring that I'd seen on almost all previous days and managed to get a few photos of it. As I was writing up my notes on the plane home I searched the field guide for a match and was staggered to discover that I'd spent several days consistently mis-identifying the Fulvetta and had wasted a morning birding the mountains of Wulai when I could have nipped back down to the coast and seen a whole host of new birds. I guess you can't be good at birding all the time and looking back it is pretty funny. On the plus side I did not hurt myself in 2019, did not break any cameras, and did not sink a car into deep mud or sand. Long may that continue....

Thursday, 26 December 2019

2019 on the patch and in lists

Average. Distinctly average. This describes both my effort and the birds! Remarkably I got two new patch ticks, Greenshank and Marsh Harrier. New birds here get harder every year of course, and I actually thought that I wouldn't get any at all after a bumper year in 2018, so a pleasant surprise. The Greenshank was found by Nick when I was at work. This made for a nervous few hours during which I very nearly cracked and rushed back home, but on that particular day my absence would have been noted and I there was nothing I could do. I managed to rush to the park in the dying light of the day, and of course it was still there. In fact it subsequently stayed for something like ten days, and towards the end of its stay was briefly joined by a second which was just absurd.

The Marsh Harrier was a flyover on the Flats in October, a huge grip back from years ago when I simply couldn't get on another flyover. I knew it would fall eventually but it took seven years. I spied it through a gap in the brooms as I walking alongside Long Wood with a couple of the guys, and basically started yelling. The views were less than stellar, but when we started adding it all up we all arrived at Marsh Harrier. Some crappy record shots later confirmed it once the colours and tones had been dialled right up.

Away from these new birds I had three "seconds" - a Garganey on the Jubilee Pond, a rather too friendly Mandarin on Alex, and a flyover Osprey exactly a week before the Marsh Harrier, but the rest of the year has been slim pickings and my list is one of my lowest ever. The misses probably stand out more than the hits. No Common Sandpiper, no Common Tern. No Shelduck! The latter usually always fly over the patch in early spring, but you have to be on the spot and I simply didn't put the effort in this year.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the patch, but unless I commit to it 100% the misses are going to be the story going forward. And I think we all know by now that I won't. It's a great place to have on my doorstep, but the world of birds is far larger and there is a lot of interest further away, although not that far. I had a great walk around Rainham a couple of weeks ago to remind me what UK birding was like away from Wanstead, and all my eBirding of late has reminded me about many of the fantastic sites in East Anglia. Why shackle myself to a single place where I can only see so much? There is some nobility about it of course, the humble patch-or-die worker elevated to sainthood status, but it would drive me mad in the end. No, I am happy with how I go about it. 

I am less happy about how little UK birding I've done this year. I once saw 300 species two years running. That was nearly ten years ago and I don't want to do that again, but when my UK year list is only 140 species with only 34 outside Wanstead, and just 23 outside of London... well that's not very balanced. I've taken the liberty of describing what has been happening in a simple graph.

It looks like there was a slight reversal of the trend in 2016, but otherwise it has been a steady slide. And one that I don't think will be hard to reverse. In an interesting parallel I once saw 140 in a single day in Suffolk and Norfolk! But of course something will need to give, time is ever limited and if anything becoming scarcer. That something is likely my non-UK birding ambitions. Perhaps this is not a bad thing. 

This year I saw just over 500 birds worldwide, of which 213 were in America. Four brief trips stateside netted far more species than a whole year in Wanstead. Who would have thought it? It was fabulous actually, but if I'm to see more in the UK then that probably means I have to see less in the US and elsewhere. Birding new places sustains me like almost no other pursuit, so I won't, can't, give it up. There are already plans afoot, some just around the corner in fact. But I have done so little birding in the UK for the last five years that my hope is that it will feel new and exciting, and I am prepared to give it a go. 

Perhaps even as early as New Year's Day.