Monday, 13 July 2020

Nocmig party

With renewed wader passage I decided I would put out the sound recorder last night for the first time since late May. Fellow nocmiggers are beginning to record goodies again, and locally there have been Oystercatcher, Curlew and Green Sandpiper. After nipping out early in order not to see any waders flying over the patch, I returned to review my backup plan and eagerly fired up the software. Oooooh! Lots of squiggles on the sonogram from the get go, this could be one of those great nights!

And as it turns out a great night is exactly what it sounded like. "Yay!" "Whoooo-ooo!" "Oi Oi Oi!!" "Yeeeeeah!". Welcome to Wanstead. There are seemingly no limits to the ways in which the population of London will seek to ruin my birding experiences. This time somebody was holding a loud party. Difficult to say where exactly as the microphone is not particularly directional, but whilst it was not close enough to prevent me sleeping like a baby, it was plenty close enough for the recorder to pick up each and every whoop and holler. For three hours, or the entirety of my first mp3 file and the start of the next. The revelers appeared to pack it in at around 1am, at which point the sirens and car horns were able to be clearly picked out. Amidst the general racket of city life a few Coots parped around, and the distant honks of Canada Geese filtered through. Excellent, just what I was hoping for...

The best part of the recording was once again the dawn chorus, by which time most people seem to have finally gone to bed. I have some crystal clear Blackbird songs that are simply beautiful, but sadly the two Common Terns that at 5.09am on Wanstead Flats attracted my attention by calling as they flew over me and towards my house had either shut up or deviated before they got there. 

I'll try again tonight. Hopefully Monday night is a long way from being "the new Friday", and last night was just the result of pent up social-distancing easing demand as it were. Or this may now be a nightly occurrence as many of the schools have now finished but nobody is going on holiday. Let's see.

Friday, 10 July 2020

Small fluff balls

Yesterday I had a work meeting which I conducted entirely from an armchair which faces out of the window. From it I can see my entire garden, as well as many neighbouring gardens. I've been rather busy of late and the early lockdown days of window gazing are largely a thing of the past, particularly as the list of possible sightings has shrunk dramatically. But there is still interest to be had as the season progresses, and yesterday was my first realisation that I should be more alert to what is happening. Like a proper birder.

The trees were alive with young birds foraging. Movement everywhere - I did not know where to look. Blue Tits, Great Tits, Blackcaps, Goldfinches and most happily of all, House Sparrows. They seem to be making a real comeback in my area. When I lived in Becktonia we had ivy on the front of our house in which nested close to triple figures of House Sparrows. When we moved to Wanstead the silence was deafening, but gradually the chirp of the House Sparrow is becoming part of my personal background soundscape again. At one point two fluffy Blue Tits and a downy House Sparrow flew up to my window boxes. The Blue Tits hung acrobatically off the smallest stems picking seeds delicately from the flower heads, whereas the chunkier Sparrow simply landed on the balcony rail for a look before deciding it was all too much like hard work and returning to the tree. In short it was lovely - it has been a long time, too long, since I simply sat and watched a mixed flock doing what they do, and this unique vantage point I have looking down at the top of a tree means I get great views. I am hopeful that when autumn truly gets going I might get things like Willow Warbler through. Let's see.

Talking of autumn, for waders and sea birds it is already underway. Enviable tales of Shearwaters, rare Terns, Waders and even an Albatross have found their way into my conscious. Sitting here in Wanstead, a million miles from all of it, I find I am missing the sea. Our family holiday to Croatia in August has just this past week gone the way of all my other trips, and so now with no plans in August whatsoever I wonder whether a little sea-watching might be on the menu? Take a tent perhaps, or sleep in the car as in days of yore...

Bridges of Ross a long time ago.

Thursday, 9 July 2020

One good Tern

I wonder if that title had readers wondering if I had been on a jaunt? Fear not....I am talking about a local lockdown Common Tern. Common Tern is a tricky bird in Wanstead, timing is everything. They breed at Walthamstow and in the Lea Valley, making occasional forays over our way, but unless you camp out by one of the lakes in the Park the likelihood is that you will never see one. I have had many a blank year, including 2019, so this year I was determined to get one. But from the house. A common and garden Tern if you will.

I have one single record of a garden Common Tern from 2007. I remember the day well as it was so odd. A Common Tern flew down the length of the gardens, equidistant between my house and the houses that we back onto, and then flew back again about a minute later. It was looking down the whole way, in the manner that Terns often do. I wondered if it had dropped a fish on a patio? I've kept half an eye out ever since, but history has never repeated itself. The 2020 lockdown was surely the time.And thanks to a network of dedicated spotters on the ground, it has delivered.

And not so dedicated spotters of course....last week I noticed that Nick had tweeted out a Common Tern from the closest pond to me not 30 seconds previously. Great! Not visible over the treeline, but when it flew off it would surely gain height and I could be vectored in. I quickly got in touch, asked about the nearby availability of bricks, and asked that he keep me posted when it flew. Sure sure, no problem. Scanning, scanning, scanning - nothing. Is it still there I asked? No it's gone. Gah!! Which way? Dunno, I got talking to someone and didn't see it go. Pfff. 

This weekend I got another chance. This time my dedicated spotter was Simon R, and although he did not know about Nick's faux pas as I had not yet written this blog post, he made no mistake. Eyes firmly on the prize. Flying towards the Basin!  Scanning, scanning, scann..... YES! Distant, but the rakish form of a Common Tern was just visible over the trees as it made its way north across the golf course to the next fishing opportunity. James H, aware of it's presence and rushing out of Bush Wood towards the Basin for a year tick also picked it up as it headed back west towards wherever home was. 

To say I was delighted was an understatement, and Simon R has earned himself a nice pint of beer as and when we all feel able to get together. Nick will be having a glass of water. Poured over him. I jest of course! I am immensely grateful that I get bird news so frequently from those able (and willing) to get out more, and that I have seen so many birds from home over these last few months is partly due to them. I'm on 99 for the year now, 69 of them from home. And now that autumn appears to be underway I would hope to get a few more.

This Common Tern was photographed in New York.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Happy shepherds

The sunset last night in London was epic. I wasn't anywhere with an eye-catching foreground or point of interest, Tower Bridge, The Shard, the London Eye etc, the view from the new turret at Chateau L is merely the rooftops of suburbia, so for the most part I just pointed the lens at the palette unfolding in front of me. Hues of red, orange, pink, yellow, grey and blue layered up to the west and it was quite lovely. A camera can never really do these scenes justice and so for the most part I just gazed. It didn't last long, but up on my balcony (longing for a drink but it was only Wednesday...) it was a fabulous sight and made me rather chuffed to be here on planet Earth. There are a lot of unhappy things occurring all over the place, which perhaps makes the majesty of a known constant like this even more important as something to cling to and soak up.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Well that was June

So that's June over for another year. How was it for you? I went birding, oh let's see now, just counting it up, two secs.....err zero times. Yes, exactly zero times. Per eBird I looked out of the window twice and saw a Red Kite twice, and that sums up my birding last month. To be fair I have an enviable track record in June, and once again I have found it effortlessly easy to maintain. Did I miss anything? Well, I still haven't managed to connect with a patch Common Tern, which is probably most likely in June, and my list also appears to be missing Desert Warbler and Cayenne Tern for some reason, not sure why as it appears both were eminently gettable if you were prepared to leave common sense and your morals behind. But enough has been said about long-distance twitching during this pandemic already, probably far more eloquently than I could do (or would consider doing), so I think I'll just stop there. I am sure you know what I think.

So yes, I missed a few birds. Did I miss birding though? Nope. I am feeble, I realise this. But it is also extremely helpful to be able to dip in and dip out of hobbies. Probably a poor choice of verb when that hobby is birding, but you know what I mean. When I do dip in, I do so wholeheartedly. And when I take a break, I really take a break! And I enjoyed my June break very much indeed. All my spare time has been concentrated in the garden. I have given some out of control shrubs including the enormous Laurel severe haircuts (no nests, worry ye not). I have planted a new shady bed up with hostas and ferns and declared a mostly non-fatal war on intransigent molluscs. I have installed automatic watering in the form of soaker hoses. I have cleared out all sorts of rubbish that was hiding unseen behind greenhouses and so on, and in a rare outing taken the whole lot to the tip. I have been tending assiduously to all my Palms, Cycads, Agaves, Aloes and the like, and many plants which have had years of neglect have been repotted or top-dressed. Plants that I had almost forgotten I had and that despite any attention whatsoever had somehow developed into quite impressive and in some cases statuesque specimens have been tidied up and now take pride of place - I could do a whole post on Trachycarpus..... The tomatoes are swelling by the day and the beans are flowering profusely. Less edible but my bamboos have also had daily watering and lots of fertiliser, and as as result have exploded into years of pent-up growth - a Phyllostachys that had produced one cane a year ever since I had it is growing no fewer than 20 and they are double the height of the previous ones. A nocmig panda feels pretty much nailed on at this point. In short everything is spic and span and looking fantastic and I am very pleased at how a locked-down June has panned out.

It looks like July and August will see more of the same. Things are opening up of course, but only if you want to partake and I'm still quite happy at the moment not to. Our family holiday to Croatia just got cancelled, not a great surprise but actually we were not that keen on going as we felt it likely to have been more stress than it was worth and some way from the relaxing break had booked. We'll take the refund and just chill out at home. Or rather, chill out at home some more. But by the time September comes around I think I will be done with sitting around, comfortable though it undoubtedly is. The growing season will be slowing down, there will be less to do and my thoughts will be turning to somehow getting ready for the return of colder nights. Right now I am just fine but it is brewing, I can feel it. There is restlessness just around the corner, and this will need to be dealt with. I will need to go out. Possibly even out birding.

Spring was largely a write off. None of my original plans nor indeed their replacement plans amounted to anything. My dreams of weekend days out on the coast in May shriveled to the odd foray onto Wanstead Flats before the hordes descended. My foreign birding ambitions in Japan (then Argentina), Bulgaria and America progressively vanished as the world shut down. Family trips to Italy, Scotland and Finland were all similarly cancelled. Being at home in my greenhouse is all well and good, great succour in fact, but there will come a time when I get itchy feet and no amount of potted Aloes will sort me out. My worry of course is that it is too early to plan, too soon to know what will happen in the autumn. But I can't help myself, I am a planner and I have to have plans. In the back of my mind I am prepared for COVID-related disappointment, but putting that to one side there has to be something to look forward to, something good that gets ever nearer. The question is what will it be?

I don't know. But I intend to invest some time finding out..

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Still here....just

Yes I am still here, although barely. I've seen zero Blyth's Reed Warblers, zero Asian Desert Warblers, in fact since I last posted probably zero Warblers full stop. But of course many congratulations to those who have managed to successfully drive 500 miles and walk to a set of coordinates. I knew June would be like this and I don't care. In fact I am embracing it, and with new-found enthusiasm I am getting all sorts of important jobs done in the garden and the greenhouse which I will not bore you with. Things I have been putting off in some cases for years. Very satisfying. Possibly even more satisfying than the A1. 

I have still not managed to take a day off and I confess it is rather getting to me. Perhaps you can tell? In fact yesterday marked 150 days since I last took a holiday. Anyone who knows me will be aware that this will have shattered any previous record that may have existed. I lived for holidays. Oh, and my wife and children. But anyway, yes, holidays. Travel. Places that are not London. Places with cool birds, great plants, and no people. On the plus side, and this is assuming I don't get made redundant again (that thing known as the world economy does have rather a large bearing on my employment prospects and last I read it was heading south rather quickly), come 2021 I will have a monumental number of days off to take. And of course if I do lose my job I will have even more days than that, so win win really. It does rather depend on not going mad between now and then mind you. Fingers crossed.

Random photo from NY, the last place I visited that was not my house.

Sunday, 7 June 2020


For many years I have maintained as an online source for my photos - a vanity project par excellence. I have not touched it for upwards of a year, and only an email warning of its imminent expiry prompted me to go and look at it. The last entry was late May or early June 2019, that's how much I care about it. Once again it is all about blowing hot and cold. Mostly cold of late.

As I had almost entirely forgotten about the website's existence I googled it as I couldn't remember how to get to it, and whilst the first hits did bring up my photos they were all on other people's websites or their social media streams like pinterest! I suppose this is rife, but if this were my living I would pretty upset about it. I haven't the energy to go and chase all these people down - so for now nice that they like my pictures enough to nab them - think positive!

This of course prompted a rush of blood to the head. I renewed my credit card and busily set about processing and uploading all my recent pictures, or rather those that I thought made the grade. That included some of my recent Skylarks and so on, as well as my November trip to Florida. I am about to go through Taiwan and California and see if any images can be salvaged from either of those two trips, although as the primary focus was birding it would seem unlikely - I might carry a camera everywhere but it really is quite black and white when it comes to quality.

I must have spent hours on it in the past - the photos are arranged by region and then taxonomic grouping - the UK and Europe, and then the Americas etc. The link is and the most recent additions are here. And most importantly Wheatears are HERE!