Sunday, 19 October 2014


A short post today, as it's basically only photos. Of a Jay, which was my only plan today. Well, apart from going out and seeing whether the Yellow-legged Gull was on the playing fields. It was, and then a Snipe flew over me - both were patch year ticks, I am so shit. The rest of the day has been spent throwing things out. That is all.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Bird of the Day

Just spent the day in Norfolk, and it didn't quite go according to plan, which was to see my own weight in Shrikes. In the event I saw no Shrikes whatsoever, as every single last one had sodded off, including the top prize of Isabelline, which had clearly known that both I and Saturday were approaching. Started off for this bird at Warham Greens, but quickly realised it wasn't there anymore and went off to do some real birding. With real success. Sorry, I mean with no success at all, my mistake. Plenty of common stuff, heaps of Finches, Thrushes and the like, but nothing to really get the mid-October juices flowing, and especially not after the uniform quality of the previous week. The novel thought that the bird might have gone seemed not to have occurred to many present, who after we returned from our not seeing of any rare birds further up the tracks were all still stood around doing nothing. This was to be a reoccurring theme throughout the day

Continued to Cley, where a Grey Phalarope performed well in the Eye Pool before vapourising right in front of us, and then decided that we had far too much money, and that we needed to give lots and lots of it to the Earl of Leicester. One of his other titles is Viscount Coke, which given the amount of money he rakes in from Holkham parking is presumably a real option for him. Six quid bloody fifty, outrageous - I detest paying for parking, it's up there in my top ten hates. So luckily for me Nick paid it, but I have to buy him a coffee tomorrow. Which is fine as I don't mind buying coffee as long as I don't have to pay for parking. I then spent the rest of the afternoon dipping Pallas's Warbler in the pines, happy days. There were some rewards, such as a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Great White Egret, but otherwise it was just one great big dip.

The path at Holkham was classic North Norfolk, an embarrassing number people of stood around hoping somebody else would find the bird for them. One bloke turned up, found a Firecrest, and in seconds had a panicked mob surrounding him. I refrained from joining in this ridiculous herd mentality, well beneath me. But I did join in later on when a cry of "It's here!" emanated from the bushes just as I had completed another circuit of the tracks. After discussing it for a while, everyone dived into the scrub, but this being Norfolk there was an orderly queue. I got stuck behind a few people who all had scope-carriers on - naturally - and all of them subsequently got stuck in branches but couldn't quite work out why they were making no forward progress. One or two of them may have lost Tilley Hats trying to work it out. I ended up having to take a shortcut around their floundering hopelessness in order to properly dip the bird, and ended up ripping a chunk out of my ear on a sharp branch. How often do you go birding in Holkham Pines and emerge like you've done three rounds with Mike Tyson? Anyway, despite this critical injury, I forged onwards only to find out it was our very own Nick Croft who had done the shouting! He couldn't show me the bird as it had immediately done a bunk, so instead I showed him my wounded ear. And that was how the day ended really, with blood, pain, and disappointment. Especially when I found out that Great White Egret was a Norfolk tick and thus moved out even further ahead of Essex.

Bird of the day? 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Mega Twitch, Mega Twitcher

It is somewhat scandalous that I have managed to see a hundred species on the patch this year, but that is precisely what has just happened. Nick, still mentally on Shetland by the looks of things, found a probable Lapland Bunting near Alex this morning, and with Richard soon on the scene, nailed it on the deck. All previous records have been flyovers, hardly satisfactory (especially reading about them!), so to have one pootling around in the long grass all day is simply amazing. Of course I was at work and having to vicariously enjoy a succession of low-listing London glitterati trekking over to the Flats to enjoy stunning views. By three in the afternoon I was more-or-less a broken man, and by about quarter past four I had cracked, made my excuses, and was en route home, typing furiously on my Blackberry. Although I had no bins, the school run car does conceal a pair of cheapies, and with this parked close to the tube it wasn't long until I was in action in the long grass.

Dan and Tony had fortuitously relocated it approximately ten seconds before I arrived, and with its last known spot pinned down, we all enjoyed great views more or less immediately. Well, except Dan who had brought his Fisher Price binoculars by mistake. Tony hadn't even managed that, but with laser-like vision gained from a week on Shetland was still enjoying cracking close-ups. The three of us drank it up for a few minutes before parting ways, Dan to release a few Waders for tomorrow morning, and Tony and I back home. Where, and in case any senior colleagues are reading, I subsequently logged back on, did all the stuff I needed to do, and had a really long conference call on September Month-end capital figures with a couple of the team. Highs are frequently followed by lows I guess. Sorry, I mean one good thing usually leads to another.

So, ton up, belying a spectacular lack of effort this year. My contributions to patch listing have been a solitary bird, crap views of a very likely Hoopoe that I am not even planning to submit, never seen again and that nobody else saw. You get tons of credibility from records like this..... Anything else that was remotely decent I twitched. That said, patch twitching is the best kind of twitching, as it takes up zero time, zero petrol (mostly!), and basically zero effort. You can't put a price on that!

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Not Quite Dungeness

Yesterday Dungeness recorded something like 500 Ring Ouzels. They were literally forming carpets of black and white. Other sites on the south coast experienced dramatic falls in the hundreds too, if not quite eclipsing Dunge. It was one of those days that I wished I hadn't been in work. Actually that's most days now I come to think of it, but can you imagine being there? One day. When I'm retired. Though that could be several years away still....

London meanwhile had a handful of Ouzels, literally a dozen Bonxie, and a Gannet. That's good for London that is! I missed all of them, and in a 15 minute escape from the office recorded precisely zero birds of interest in Canary Wharf. A Grey Wagtail was as good as it got. So today as it wasn't raining I resolved to nip out before work, which turned out to be a stunning success, if not quite Dungeness. Almost the first bird I saw was a female Ring Ouzel, flushed out of a bush near the large clump of gorse on the northern Flats. Continuing down towards the southern brooms, a male dashed over. Two Ouzels in about five minutes, complimented by seeping Redwing and a few Linnet. Pretty good, and so I headed for home and the impending school run. However before I could shepherd the children into the car, a call from Bob alerted me to a lingering Short-eared Owl, so I ran outside again. As in literally ran. From my house to about half way to Long Wood. This is all of about 150m, but following my fun run triumph it was a total breeze, and there, in all its distant glory, was said Owl flopping around over Esso Copse. I ran back home, fitness freak that I am.

Once finally on the school run I made a quick stop at the Basin, where I discovered seven Wigeon bobbing up and down. This is a record count, at least for me, and capped off a very successful morning, with both the Owl and the Ouzel being patch year ticks, taking me gloriously to 99. At one stage this year I thought I might not get to three figures. I suppose it's vaguely possible I still might not, but I do still need Snipe and Lapwing. Better that this though, both were actual year ticks as well, so lack-lustre have I been in 2014. The shame associated with disclosing my pitiful year list total is obviously too much to bear, but suffice it to say that it's comfortably my lowest this decade, and the lowest since 2007, when my two-hundred-and-fifteenth and last bird, appropriately enough, was Short-Eared Owl.

One of these can fly over me anytime it likes. If I'm in Wanstead.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

In response to some recent criticism...

In response to some recent nit-picking, here are some of my favourite photographs of my very favourite of all bird families. The effort and timing, not to mention skill required to capture some, nay all, of these images (not mere photos) I cannot even begin to describe. Each one is a gem, a unique composition, these moments will not come again - it's part of what makes bird photography so special. 

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Always go see Shrikes. Again.

Yes, go again. Again and again. I've said it before, there is no Shrike that is not worth going to see. Today's bird cost me four hours in a car, but I didn't care. The drive was pleasant enough, especially knowing that there was a Shrike at the end of it and that it was "showing well" - Steppe Grey, a pretty damn rare kind of Shrike, tend to "show well" - the only other one I've seen actually perched on my telescope. This one wasn't as friendly as that, and kept a semi-reasonable distance from the crowd (a bigger crowd than I had anticipated actually), but it was pretty good nonetheless.  In fact it was better than pretty good, it was amazing, who am I kidding? And to think I could have been at Dunge sitting in a deckchair covered in popcorn.

Guessing that it might not be quite as accommodating as the Lincs bird, which required a macro lens at times, I armed myself with the longest I had and went for a short walk. Lots of other people had had the same idea, the number of people who have large cameras never ceases to amaze me and the path at Burnham Norton resembled Silverstone. I still found a space in exactly the right spot for the bird's routine, which was to fly in, perch on a post, swoop to the ground for a mealworm and then eat it on a convenient bramble. What a little stunner!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

What was I thinking?

I had a minor fit today, and ended up at Dungeness. I'm going to see a specialist tomorrow, and expect to be declared clinically insane. That said, I can see the attraction, as Dungeness isn't really about Gulls at all. It's about a fat breakfast, and then sitting around in comfy chairs for the rest of the day talking rubbish.

I skipped the breakfast part (my body is a temple), and met the guys at the beach. Parking up, I lifted my camera off the back seat and headed off to the fishing boats. I'd got about half way there when I realised I was on my own, and looked back to find that Mick and Richard were still unloading the car. Oh My God. In my absence, Gull photography has reached a whole new level. It used to be a couple of loaves of bread, but no longer. The ante has been well and truly upped. Armchairs. Buckets of fish. Crates. 8m3 of popcorn, and enough bread to create a floating bridge to France. I watched, bemused - practically speechless in fact - as all of this was loaded onto a massive trolley (itself another new development) which was then hauled across the shingle and down to the shore. At the other end, it was all dutifully unpacked, carefully positioned, and then we all sat down, Mick having been kind enough to bring a third armchair for me. I hadn't realised, but Gull photography at Dungeness merely involves carting a shit-load of crap you don't need down the beach and then doing nothing.

A small proportion of the epic amount of necessary gear

A whole new level. LOWER.

After witnessing the above, a Gull vomits into a sick bucket
It was very pleasant, barring the stench of dead fish, guts, diseased lobsters and the aroma of stale cinema. The Gulls mimicked the photographers by sitting around doing jack all, and so both birds and bird-lovers had a glorious and very relaxing day in the warm sunshine. I did at least give the shutter a bit of a workout, as for quite a lot of the day the light was pretty easy. Highlights were a second year Caspian, which Rich B picked out way ahead of Mick - he really needs to up his game -  and a Dunlin which I missed even though it was there for an hour. I may have been asleep, I can't remember.

Soporific is the best way to describe the day. Nothing happened at all. The most exciting part of the day was when I found a nearly round pebble. Whilst I had thought Mick and Richard were suffering from a bit of a lack of imagination, I now know that in fact that they have been very busy indeed. What used to be a bit of a joke, "Oh, Dunge again!", is now a quasi-military operation. Most amusingly, nobody had told the Gulls, and Mick didn't take a single photo all day - he needs help. I'm going to start a Just Giving page I reckon, see if we can raise enough money to send him to a clinic or something.

Yellow-legged Dull