Thursday, 21 March 2019

The edge

Last Sunday I ended up writing about six future blog posts. None of them are lengthy, for the most part I just wanted some words to accompany some photographs from my recent travels. Working through them, I found that I knew what I wanted to say but that I could barely type and in addition had forgotten how to spell some common words. I struggled with ‘decision’ for instance, and found myself needing to use backspace incredibly frequently. For a moment I wondered if I had some kind of early-onset degenerative disease whose only manifestation at this stage was manual dexterity and a bit of memory loss, but I think the answer is far simpler. And nicer. In short, inactivity. I was rusty. I hadn’t typed anything for ages, and my brain had not been forced to do any kind of non-numerical work for several weeks. I’ve not been reading any books, I’ve not been writing anything, and so whatever part of my brain controls literacy had gone into power-save mode and took a while to come back online. Like anything you don’t engage in for a while, your proficiency declines. By the third post I was finding it much much easier, and as I type this I have now completed around eight small posts which will be winging your way shortly at around two day intervals. It’s always nice to know that what you write is being read and appreciated by others, but this recent experience brings a whole new meaning to the notion that I write this as much for me as for other people. It may be that it’s an important part of keeping my mental edge.

PS if this post was completely incomprehensible.....

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Oriental Magpie Robin

Other than Mynas, Oriental Magpie Robin is possibly the commonest birds encountered in South-east Asia. They are extremely vocal with a lovely song - indeed they are also a very common cage bird and when I visited the bird market in Hong Kong there were loads of them - unfortunately. I found this bird at the Singapore Botanical Garden, which is an oasis in what is already an incredibly green city. Attracted initially by their calls, I found a pair investigating nesting spots alongside one of the ponds on the eastern side of the garden, and from a higher vantage point managed to get a reasonably clean shot which (in the interests of full transparency) I have turned into a totally clean shot with a small amount of wizardry on the left hand side. I had a photo like this in my mind before I left, so I'm pretty pleased that I managed to get this specific pose. The bird's mate was just out of shot on the right, and before too long they had both moved on around the margins.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Hooray it's spring!

The first Wanstead Wheatear was seen yesterday, unfortunately not by me. However there are other ways to tell that the season has changed. In fact, evidence was to be found in my garden...

Voila, spring! The sting as the hail hit my cheeks nearly horizontally was also a clear indicator that this most pleasant of seasons was now upon us, and as the grass turned from green to white and the ricochets off the roof drowned out the singing birds I thought how timely my recent decision to move my arid-loving desert plants onto the terrace had been. It is not often you get the timing spot on like this, I am very fortunate.

Seriously though, the weather has been crazy - every day last week saw near gale-force winds and yesterday's front was merely the icing on the cake. A panel on my greenhouse blew out, and one of my Yuccas blew over. This graph neatly illustrates exactly when the hailstorm hit, and I can tell you that stood watching it it felt exactly as below!

The internet of things has enhanced my geekiness no end, it comes from a sensor in my greenhouse (blue = interior, yellow = exterior) that wirelessly transmits readings every 7 minutes which I can pick up on my phone wherever I am. Pretty neat huh? 

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Chateau L and the planet: Part II

So the last post was about preaching, this one is more preach-y. I didn't blog a lot in January, nor in February, but one of the posts was about a few changes the residents of a small castle in Wanstead are going to make in 2019. Part I can be found here and concerned energy. Shortly before that there was the whole vegetarian thing, which is still going strong into March. Here are some of the other things that occurred to us as we worked out what small changes could be made to our lifestyle.
  • Extend the vegetable patch! We're not going full-on The Good Life, but actually growing veg is a lot of fun, and as you know I am fairly green-fingered. We have a meagre vegetable patch that last year delivered a handful of meals. To be fair we didn’t really do very much, it was more of a kid’s project. This year we plan to treble it in size and actually tend to it diligently. The seeds were bought a month or so ago and and the first plants have germinated in the greenhouse already. This includes lots of tomatoes – per the BBC mass-grown tomatoes are one of the worst vegetables in terms of water usage per kg. I expect this to only make a meagre dent in the amount of food we have to buy, but it does mean we may be able to survive Brexit for a few days longer than our neighbours.
  • Composting. This is something we used to do but gave up on. We have started again and once again realised it takes no effort whatsoever. We have several large compost bins at the end of the garden which for a few years now have only had garden waste and grass clippings. It is amazing how quickly this mass reduces in size, and we can use the results for the enlarged vegetable patch, and to fill the pots for strawberries and tomatoes and so on. As a family of five we rarely even fill a 30L bin bag with non-recyclables each week, and this should now become even less. Versus some of the immense piles of rubbish I see on my street on collection days I feel pretty virtuous. Emptying it and carrying it down to the bottom of the garden is not the nicest of tasks, so this has been decreed to be one of my jobs, just like cleaning the toilets and taking out the rubbish.
  • Water. Our main bathroom with the bath in it is currently out of action until we can raise the money needed to renovate it. It has been like this for over a year actually, but we are coping admirably. It was the the turret work that really killed us but I think we are nearly there now, although it means more work and more mess. This means we all have showers which is much better for water usage than having a bath. Watering the garden and greenhouses is mostly accomplished using stored rain water, and we do a fair amount of actual washing up as opposed to using the dishwasher (which I think we use four times a week – too much I am sure but there are some luxuries I insist on). Where we can do better is with washing – one of my daughters frequently seems to wear three different sets of clothes a day, and with stupid things like not leaving the tap running whilst brushing our teeth. Basic stuff. I think we have a water meter somewhere so we may be able to see if this makes any difference.

So just a few more things that can easily be tweaked, not a lot of effort required. The big elephant in the room is of course my love of travel, particularly air travel. A tough one, and one I am doing really badly on with two long haul trips this year already. However I did just cancel one - I had planned to go to Boston and then had a change of heart and canned it. I checked and the plane took off regardless.... I'll return to this in another post, there is a lot to cover.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Singapore taster

I've heard people say that it is boring, too sanitary to really be considered Asia, and certainly there are more authentic places you can go. However if you're into birds and into plants, as I am, you could do worse than spend time in Singapore. It is like an open-air greenhouse, resplendently planted and with colourful inhabitants. Here is one of them, an Olive-backed Sunbird.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

How to improve your commute

I think I have hit upon the answer to commuting. This morning James and I happened to coincide on the Central Line. As usual there were delays, something about track problems further in towards the city, and as we waited the platform started to overflowl with people. Oh joy. Barely any week goes by where there is not some kind of issue, and indeed some weeks there are more problematic days than smooth days. Even on a day with no problems it is an absolute crush at peak time, so this morning I looked forward even by Central Line standards to a particularly cramped journey. 

A train duly arrived and James and I somehow managed to squeeze on, but in the scrum we ended up with a lady between us. It was awful, no room to move, I couldn’t even wriggle to take my coat off and of course the train then didn’t move. Ugh. Still, this was no reason not to continue our conversation, which naturally was about birds. “Have you seen Wallcreeper?” James asked. “No, dipped it twice in Les Baux. Is it at your place in France?” I replied. “No, but close by.” We continued to be held in the platform, and so dialogue continued back and forth, whether it was year round or just in winter, what a great bird it was and so on, when suddenly the lady bolted for the doors leaving behind a much-needed gap that we could all take advantage of. But what had prompted this? Surely she had needed to get to work too? The answer is simple. Middle-aged men talking about birds is simply intolerably boring and normal people cannot cope with more than about 30 seconds.. James and I are so mind-numbingly dull that the lady had no choice but to get out before she died. 

What a fantastic discovery! Being a birder makes it possible to be so tediously uninteresting that fellow commuters are forced to change carriages.  And as I remarked to James, even if we rarely meet on the commute this strategy ought to be even more effective when travelling alone. Especially for James as he has a beard to mumble into. We just have to remember not to talk to any TfL staff, and particularly not the driver.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Wanstead Bird Report 2017

The Wanstead Bird Report 2017 is out, and you can read it here. I confess that I played very little part in its production this time around - what time I have for this type of thing goes towards the London Bird Report instead. But I am pleased to say that Nick and Bob have put in a ton of effort and got this excellent read prepared - it is amazingly professionally produced for a what is just a local bird report. 

As I am sure I have bleated on about on here more than a few times, the landowner and the general public's view and use of the area continues to be absolutely shameful, and is at least part of the reason that I personally bird the area far less than I used to. A swan was killed by a dog just a few days ago for example. Others may feel the same way, and unfortunately with the more committed people off-patch for various unavoidable reasons the coverage and thus records dropped. What we should have done was bird it even more furiously than before to prove that the poor habitat management combined with the selfish behaviour of a small minority makes the place a far poorer place for birds than it has ever been, both for breeders and migrants. Regardless, we have been branded as activists for a number of reasons - objecting to things mostly. Objecting to the proposed use of the Flats as a festival-style concert venue in the breeding season. Objecting to the continued clearance of scrub in the name of absurd Victorianisation designed to satisfy a small band of old-timers, scrub that is vital breeding habit for passerines and a food source for insects. Objecting to pretty much anything that sets nature back, anything that is a means to make money and birds be damned. Unfortunately our activism also means there a lack of willingness to engage with us. We are troublesome; we are ignored, a story repeated across the country. Please have a read, it is admittedly a little fierier than prior years, but there were nonetheless some decent birds in 2017.