Thursday, 17 January 2019

Chateau L and the planet: Part I

Our family life is largely centred around meals around the dining table. That’s where we gather, where we share the day, where we discuss the news and tell each other stories. There are no TV dinners in our house, there is no grab and go. Despite our busy schedule we always try and make time for this daily event. It’s something I hope our kids will take forward – how do families spend time together if they don’t do this? Topics of conversation are varied. We talk about Trump, we talk about Brexit, we talk about school, books, things we heard on the radio. We talk about family. We talk about holidays, books, music and food. I try and talk about birds and plants….. There are few taboos, a few nights ago for example we ended up talking about FGM. There is no shying away from things like this, it is best that kids are informed, and actually you would be surprised at how early school’s start sex education and a number of other things under a banner they call “citizenship”. Our kids are exposed to a broad palette.

As I mentioned to in my last post, one topic that we talk a lot about is the environment. Like many of you I have been reading some very very sobering things about the state of the planet. Our family is not a wasteful one, but neither are we saints. Also, I suspect, like many there was a pervading and overriding thought of “What difference can we make, nobody else bothers, why should we?”, and certainly if you have ever visited America it is enough to make you wonder why anybody bothers. In fact it makes you want to weep. But there are five of us, and the upshot is we think that we can do better. It requires some changes, but none of it is hard, and we think that we can make a small difference.  I feel faintly embarrassed and more than a little sanctimonious for even typing this, and I am not holding myself up as a shining beacon of sustainability, but I just felt that if I outlined a few easy things that we have started to do then maybe it would encourage others to do the same. No doubt some will say “Oh we have been doing that for years”, and if you have then that is great and you are ahead of us. Of course this will never be enough for the more radical members of the green movement, but in my opinion it isn’t the full-on eco warriors who will drive the change that is needed. It’s the thousands upon thousands of normal families like ours, living normal working lives, who en masses can help to stem the tide. I already wrote about changing our diet, but what else? Well, what about energy use?
  • Gas. We already changed our energy supplier last year to one that only uses green energy, waving goodbye to the big national supplier that we had used for years but that ultimately is not doing enough. If sufficient people make that conscious choice then things will change. In doing so we lost our smart meter which is a bit of a shame and means we can no longer see our real-time energy use. But we do have one of those supposedly intelligent thermostats, and after Christmas I went onto the app and reduced the temperature at all points in the day by a full 2 degrees. It is noticeably colder in the house, but it is also noticeable that the boiler is not on as much. Obviously this is variable depending on the weather outside, but all things being equal our gas consumption should drop. Also as of last year Chateau L has a new boiler, replacing one that was at least 15 years old. Whilst our motivation for this wasn’t reduced consumption, it is a fact that it is significantly more efficient than the old one.
  • Electricity. I wasn’t sure about this as it seems that ever more things require a power supply these days. Several mobile phones need charging nearly every day for instance, and all those smart-home devices that we simply didn’t have two years ago are in an “always on” state. With our smart meter gone it is a lot harder to see what we’re using, but there are some good stats on the internet on exactly how much this constant stand-by uses. An Amazon Echo Dot for instance, of which we have several, draws a constant 1.7-3W of power. A smart hub used to control lights draws 1.5W. I dutifully added up all of these various devices that are now dotted around Chateau L and discovered that over a year they use 170KwH – about £20 - simply from being plugged in, and it’s actually not much more if they’re actually being used, playing music etc. That’s actually a lot better than I thought but nonetheless it’s an increase versus where we were. Luckily there are all sorts of things that go the other way – if you wanted to make a change the easiest of these is LED light bulbs. I don’t know how many lights the average house has but after the renovation and turret extension Chateau L has 78 (I actually counted!), and nearly every single one of these is now an LED. Previously we had a mix of halogen, CFL, fluorescent tubes and ancient filaments, albeit that we had half as many lights. The big difference is that the new rooms have lots of LED downlights in the ceilings, but despite this increase the overall wattage of bulbs in the house is 20% of what it was. I find that incredible, image how much energy people wasted in the past! I’ve had a go at working out what our real-life usage does to this, a relatively detailed estimate of what we used prior to the building work but with older style bulbs, versus what we use now including the extra rooms but with LED bulbs. I think that annually we have dropped from around 825KwH to 275KwH, saving around £75. That may not sound a lot but it easily eclipses the increase associated with the various smart devices. And the benefit of smart devices is that I can turn off anything that has been accidentally left on with just a tap on my phone no matter where I am - no more lights left on all day. Each house and each family living in it is different, I’ve only looked at lighting and smart devices here, and of course switching out all the old bulbs for new comes at a manufacturing cost. That said LEDs seem to go on forever whereas I was frequently having to change those supposedly long-life bulbs. I propose to not even venture down that road - one thing I have learned over the last few weeks is that working out any kind of totally accurate view of any one person’s overall impact on this earth is practically impossible. There is plenty more to have a look at as well.
  • Petrol. For a long time we had two cars. For the last two years though we have only had one, and that does not get used very often or go very far. For instance I no longer engage in twitching, nor any kind of year-listing other than locally on foot. In fact now that I think about it my UK birding is about as carbon neutral as it could possibly be. Unfortunately we still need a car, or rather it would be inconvenient not to have one immediately available. I am giving thought to getting rid of it though, mainly for economic reasons, and especially as so many other options are coming online all the time. For now we’re keeping it, but fundamentally buses, trains and tubes are the way we all get around on a daily basis. Bicycles would be better, especially for Mrs L and I. She however cycles when the weather is nice, whereas I am just far too lazy always injured in some way that prevents exercise.
So that concludes part one of this essay. Part two is on the way. I ended up writing so much I felt that people might give up before I finished so I've split it into two. After that normal service will resume as I still haven't seen a Fieldfare this year....

Sunday, 13 January 2019

What have I started?

Over Christmas the residents of Chateau L spent a lot of time together. When we are together we chat - the topics are wide and varied, and sometimes I even get to talk about plants and birds. One of the things we talked about was the environment - this is a house where we are all fairly conscious of about the state of the planet, because we follow current affairs and we are interested in nature. As we talked about the dire state of affairs, we realised that the five of us could do a lot better. Not that we were bad particularly, but there is always something that can be improved. 

We are starting with meat. Now our intention is not to become vegan as appears to be all the rage, nor even vegetarian, however having done some basic research on the impacts of certain foods versus others it is clear that red meat is the single most environmentally unfriendly foodstuff around - beef leads the way closely followed by lamb. Unfortunately it’s also really convenient – when you get home from work at 7pm whipping up a chilli con carne or similar is an easy option. We probably did this twice a week, though other types of red meat were very rare. No longer. We’ve invested in a couple of vegetarian cookbooks and as a family gone through them to see what we might like that seems easy and tasty – in short there are loads. What we are not going to do is go with any substitutes – quorn, tofu and their ilk are all out. Pointless to try and pretend, instead we’re going to base dishes on actual vegetables.

Last week we had a carrot biryani, a mushroom risotto using orzo, and a dish based on lentils, which means we haven’t bought or eaten something approaching 1.5kg of beef – that will soon add up. The biryani was excellent and got the thumbs up from all five of us. The risotto however,…… well we’re probably not going to have that as often. However this morning when we were planning the shopping for the week ahead I realised that Mrs L is really getting into this - four out of five meals next week seem to be vegetarian. This is was not what I thought I was getting myself into! I expect I will survive, but just to let prospective veggies out there that it appears to be a slippery slope. 

Reducing meat consumption was actually just one of the things we decided we would do, but I'm already feeling overly sanctimonious for one day, and the last thing I would want people to think is that I am a saint. Nonetheless watch this space - when I've run out of birdy things to write about I might turn to the other seven or so changes. Oh, wait.....

Saturday, 12 January 2019

January Accumulation

In a break from tradition this post is going to be about birds. It is January, and this means local birding is exciting again. Kind of. Like many birders who have local patches, for me the start of the new year heralds the start of new year list - I can happily wander around seeing exactly the same birds that I see every year. The excitement is palpable, the competition has started again! 

It is all pointless. Whether I have seen 50 birds, 60, or even 70 by the end of January is completely irrelevant. These are the birds that I will see no matter what, I would have to be blind to miss them. But somehow this does not stop me seeking out the more obscure bits of the Park to find a Siskin, or to spend inordinate amounts of time in Bush Wood in search of Treecreeper. I am a fool, but a happy one.

Last weekend I had no blogging urges to speak off, so this year's fine start has gone unrecorded in internetland. However towards the top of this page you will see a shiny new link to "Wanstead 2019" which details each and every magnificent completely expected and regular sighting so far. Last weekend Tony and I mopped up most of what was available on the Flats. There were of course notable exceptions - could we find a Skylark or Stonechat? No we could not. We also paid our annual visit to Bush Wood, where we found Nuthatch and Firecrest in short order, but of Treecreeper there was no sign. We then took a quick spin around the Park, adding Teal, Little Egret and Green Woodpecker. Adding to the birds I'd seen out of the window on the New Year's Day, I ended that first proper outing on 54 species which is decidedly average - sometimes I get more than that on the first day. 

I am not as keen as I once was, in fact some may describe me as more than a little jaded - by many things, not just birding. However a week at work tends to help build up the necessary level of enthusiasm to get out there, for fresh air if nothing else. So this morning I was up nice and early and found myself in Bush Wood for the second time this year. It will also be the last time, as happily I found the missing Treecreeper quite quickly near the dried up pond. In fact I found two, which bodes well for their continued presence in our area. Flush with early success I made my way over to Chalet Wood. This proved the perfect comedown, with zero sign of the Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and ten trillion out of control dogs running amok whilst their owners emitted a variety of pathetic and useless cries which were roundly ignored. Also sighted on my tour were Water Rail on Shoulder of Mutton, a pleasing 51 Teal on Heronry plus a fly-by Kingfisher, 8+ Siskin in the Dell, and a Great Crested Grebe on Perch. If you are interested in knowing where all these locations are, the map is here. If you are not that's fine too.

This places me on 61 for the year. I would describe this as 'getting there'. Significant misses so far include Pochard, Kestrel and Fieldfare, as well as the birds mentioned above. The thrill of seeking these out cannot be understat.....

Vista management in the Park. This used to be a nice tangle that birds could rest up in, safe and out of sight. Maybe one day the Corporation of London will plant something rather than just chopping it all down?

Thursday, 10 January 2019

A People's Manifesto for Wildlife in Wanstead

There is a talk at the Wanstead Golf Club on 30th January - all welcome. One of the local birders here, Rob "Treecreeper" Sheldon, will give a presentation and buy everyone drinks*. If you are a lover of green spaces in our area you should make sure you are there. Thanks.


* He won't, but there is a bar.

Friday, 4 January 2019

A short history of me and computer games

Writing a bird blog automatically disqualifies a person from being a geek, everyone knows that. However I can honestly say that over the last few days I have had as much fun as I can remember recalling days of nerdiness – before this blog came along, obviously. I was inspired to write this by watching a film on a plane, and subsequently reading a book I got for Christmas – Ready Player One, a glorious dive into 80s Pop Culture. Music, film and video games. Primarily the latter. If you are about my age I cannot recommend it highly enough, and watching it at home with the family yesterday evening perhaps gave them hints of my childhood and indeed early adulthood.

In 1980 I turned five, so the first half of that decade rather passed me by in terms of pop culture. However by the end of the decade I was a fully fledged teenager, and the subject matter of the film was my era. Now although I was quite a peculiar teenager, particularly when it came to music (think Tallis, Bach and Beethoven…), I did play computer games. Not many back then, as my parents were quite anti-computer and felt my time was better spent studying (bor-ing!), so initially I played at my friends’ houses – formative years with two buddies called Nick and Stuart. However at some point my lot relented, and so in about 1987 I was allowed to buy an Acorn Electron. I would have been around 12 years old. It was second hand, bought out of the local rag, and came with a tape recorder and a bag of cassettes. Looking at it now it is almost comic, but back then, wowsers! I also managed to get hold of a tiny tiny black and white TV. I was set! 


My pride and joy would have looked much like this


Once switched on and plugged into the TV you got two lines of text.

Acorn Electron

Basic

>

Then you had to load a game. That’s where the tape recorder came in. For those of you struggling with the concept of a cassette tape, it was how people once listened to music and predated the CD. Spotify? Hah! A game came on a tape. You loaded it up by typing something after the command prompt symbol and then playing the tape – all sorts of strange noises and hisses would come out, similar to what you hear if you dial a fax number by mistake, and meanwhile hexadecimal numbers would count up on the screen. You could go off for a wander, a bike ride, play a game of football, whatever, and when you came back it would almost certainly have failed. But the point was that it had loaded at least some of it, so you could wind back the tape to approximately where you thought it had fallen over, restart from there, and go on another bike ride. Eventually it would complete, and your game would start.

If you had asked me last week what games I had played on it I would have been able to name just two. Chuckie Egg and Elite. But having spent the last week stuck indoors and having researched the limited number of titles that were then available I have now filled in all the blank spaces that I vaguely recalled. Given this is nearly 30 years ago, I am astonished that mere screenshots of these ancient pixelated relics invoke such strong emotions in me. That castle game I could never ever finish was called “Citadel”, goddamit that was hard! I dread to think how many hours I devoted to that, all in ultimate failure. Chuckie Egg I completed several times, and I still remember the day I finished Commando. What an achievement!




The best game was Elite of course. A space simulator! You flew a ship from star system to star system (all identical, graphically), buying low and selling high, and fighting off space pirates! The graphics were terrible of course, but actually versus the awful 2D blocks that made up all other games I had ever seen, the “3D” wire-frame representation of various space ships was incredible. Along the way you could upgrade your weapons and armour, and gradually you moved away from being cannon fodder…..Harmless, Mostly Harmless, Poor, Average, Above Average, Competent, Dangerous, Deadly, ….Elite!  I can remember that rank progression all these years later. In fact I can still remember individual system names where I spent most time bounty-hunting pirates – Riedquat. The ship, a Cobra Mark III, well I reckon could draw its wire frame today, blindfolded. Fond, fond memories.

In about 1988 Nick or Nick’s Dad, a Cambridge Academic, got a PC. A real computer. You didn’t even plug it into the TV, it came with an enormous monochrome monitor. My dad had a typewriter. I didn’t quite move in with Nick but I spent a huge amount of time there. We alternated between playing an amazing tank game called M1 Tank Platoon, and building a very complex tank out of Lego. As only 15 year olds could we accidentally left it on an opened velux window one day as we went downstairs for some lunch, and then closed the window when we came back upstairs, and well that was rather sad. After that we concentrated just on the game. If I recall we also played Sid Meier’s SimEarth, and a pirate-based game as well. His family found bits of Lego in the garden for years afterwards. 


Hours of fun!


Computers were banned in my house until about 1991 when I finished my GCSEs. I think I had an Amstrad Word Processor that was almost entirely incapable of doing anything fun with and thus got my parents’ seal of approval. Possibly as a result my grades were not actually that bad. I got into the town's best sixth form college, and was allowed to buy a proper computer, a mighty Intel 286 processor home-build with a 256 colour VGA monitor!  Cassette tapes were long gone, and I now had a 5.25 inch floppy disk drive. Better than that, I had a 20 *mega*byte hard disk. This was a double height 5.25 inch format, ie about the size of four house bricks! I could store loads! These days of course you can get thousands of times that amount of storage in something the size of your fingernail for about a tenner, but back then hard disk drives were pretty new technology. It ran Windows 3.1, and had a mouse, an incredible novelty. The world was now my oyster! I learned from a neighbour how the different components of a home computer went together, and as funds allowed gradually replaced and upgraded bits of it. Naturally I went and bought games to play on it in glorious technicolour. The tank game obviously (a stunning palette of about 4 greens), but new titles that my now zippy 386 DX-40 machine could run easily were being released all the time, plus all the older ones I needed to catch up on! SimCity and Space Rogue I remember being excellent, as well as rise of the first person shooters like Castle Wolfenstein and Doom, but the ones that really stuck in my mind were the role-playing adventure ones. You know, wizards, elves and dragons. Eye of the Beholder, Shadow Sorcerer and the Ultima series which by then was on about its fifth installment. Reading about these over the last few days I am amazed at how much I remember of them, especially the character names and maps from the Ultima Games. I must have got really into them as when I saw screenshots of them earlier this week they brought the memories flooding back.




For some reason my A level predictions were not very good, and I was forced to delay my university application by a year. My parents, both in the teaching profession, despaired. I was just a teenager and was bewildered by their angst, but looking back I must have really put them through the wringer. I don’t exactly recall if my computer got confiscated, but whilst I didn’t quite turn a corner it was a least quite a sharp bend and my actually results ended up being much better. Not as good as perhaps I was capable of, but enough to get me to a decent university. Of course this was for the following year, 1994, as all the places for the coming year had been allocated based on predicted grades. I had 15 months of no academic work, which meant…..

Of course, looking back on it all, I wish I had had the foresight to have just gone birding instead, but it is rare that teenagers have this kind of wisdom and I did not buck that trend. I didn’t just sit in a darkened room and play games though. I went to France for nearly a year to work in a Cognac factory. I gave multilingual tours of the cellars and information centre to tourists, and worked on one of the bottling lines with the engineering department. My French, already good, went up several notches, and I didn’t touch a single computer during my entire time there. Once back home however I was reunited with my PC, or at least whilst I wasn't working. I had two jobs, a breakfast shift at a university canteen, a day shift in a central admin office, and then an evening shift back at the canteen. There were always nights however, and now that I had some money I rebuilt it into a 486 DX2-66, which literally flew. I got little sleep, and caught up on all the games I had missed. I remember titles like Myst, Day of the Tentacle, Simcity 2000, and most of all devoting hours to Frontier Elite 2, the much anticipated remake of Elite nearly a decade after the puny BBC Micro and Acornsoft versions. I also remember being devastated that all my hours of efforts led to nothing when the main plot line turned out to be a bug-ridden game-ending flop.

Anyway, university started. And what do students do at university? Yes, they drink and they, er, do other things, but what else? Yes that’s right, they play computer games! Now to be fair there was a lot going on at university, wooing Mrs L for starters, and so during my first year there computers barely got a look in. I am sure there is no correlation, but my first year went very well academically and romantically. During my second year, off campus and in a shitty house (think The Young Ones) in a crappy town in Surrey, computers came back. It was around then that multi-player gaming first started to make an appearance, or at least that we found out about it. To manage it you had to buy a special serial cable and physically place two computers close enough together to attach it, but our student house contained more than one geek, including a computer scientist for whom this stuff came very naturally, and so hours of fun were had playing Doom, Quake etc. And all away from pesky meddling parents! Civilization II, UFO Enemy Unknown,  X-COM, Duke-Nukem….

Second year results were not quite as good as year one, again a total mystery, but at least this had the benefit of concentrating the mind for Finals which counted for a lot more. I don’t recall playing any computer games at all until I had finished my exams. This was probably for the best, as Mrs L and I got identical degrees thus eliminating any “I did better than you” conversations for all time, and I also improbably equalled my father’s grade. This has helped enormously to stem any parental criticism of my academic record. Instead they concentrate on my hobbies. And my weight. However it does put my own children under severe pressure in the coming years Then again, they don’t play computer games at all, we don’t have any consoles and never have, and nor do they watch TV (and despite all my screen time, neither did I and I still don’t), so they’ll probably be fine. Anyhow, then I went of travelling, and then I started work.

In those early days, Mrs L worked as an auditor for a multinational, which meant she was frequently abroad all week. Rather than go out drinking or frequent seedy establishments, I simply looked after my plants and played computer games after work. The biggest revelation was Baldur’s Gate, a Dungeon’s and Dragon’s adventure that was identical to the pen and paper version I had played with my mates many years before. It is difficult to put into words but although I was in my early twenties it was as if my childhood had started again. You are probably imagining a long-haired greasy oik emerging red-eyed from the house every morning, but despite everything I’ve written above I mostly defy the stereotypes that go along with ‘gamer’. I loved playing them – also from that era were SimCity 3000, The Elder Scrolls III and IV, Baldur’s Gate 2, Icewind Dal, Neverwinter Nights and X2 The Threat – and I am sure if I ever played them again I could reasonably clearly remember the plots and hidden twists, secret chambers and so on for most of them, but I was never a true hardcore gamer. I’m sure I’ve wasted hours over the years, hours that could have fruitfully been used elsewhere, but those hours were only ever a distraction rather than defining. As I mentioned above, and indeed several times previously, I wish I’d discovered the pleasures of local birding a lot earlier, but it is all part of growing up and dare I say it, life.

I’ve played two computer games in the last 10 years. Just two. Birding, children, even more chlorophyll-based enthusiasm, travel and photography have all taken over. I very much enjoyed a game called Skyrim for a few months back in about 2012 , and then more recently, and fittingly 30 years after the original Elite was released running on computers with 16kb of memory, an all singing all dancing remake was released called Elite Dangerous. It was indeed dangerous, and for a while I became addicted. Then again I never do anything half-heartedly. However it was just too big, too vast, and every few months they released more and more content to the extent that unless you were prepared to devote your entire life to the game it became pointless remaining involved with it. It was online, what they call a massively multiplayer online game or MMO. These are as I understand it all the rage, and whilst this one was a thing of beauty – both graphically and conceptually  - for me it was too big, and I let it go.


Skyrim, released around 2011, was a visual feast

I don’t think anyone will ever die wishing that they had spent more time playing computer games. As the creator of the online world in Ready Player One says at the end of the film immediately after quoting Groucho Marx, [only] reality is real. They are however very much a part of modern life, and like the premise of the film, to see how they have developed from almost their earliest days (I missed those by a few years) is quite fascinating, and I had forgotten how fascinating until just now. Chunky square monochrome graphics to practically movie-like sequences in the space of a generation. The novel/film of course also reference movies and a great many other genres and eras, and each person who watches it will come away with something different that will trigger a memory, or a series of memories. This is mine. My kids enjoyed it hugely, my youngest wanted to know when the VR technology would be available for her to use – she clearly views her current reality as far too dull!

Anyway, apologies for starting the year with a distinctly non-birdy post. I never quite know what, if anything, I am going to end up typing, but I’ve spent many hours over the last few days completely nerding out and felt I needed to share. By all means let me know if you too enjoyed any of the games I mentioned, or just if you were out birding like a sensible and wholesome child.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

A slow start

I have yet to set foot on the patch this year, the day I look forward to most keenly came and went with me having all the energy of a limp leaf of lettuce. I managed a few birds out of the chateau windows on the 1st, and a few more on the commute the following day, but when I tell you I have not seen a Mallard in 2019 that probably tells you all you need to know.

If I still have any lung function by the time this weekend arrives then hopefully I can put this right and get out on my beloved Wanstead Flats to wish Happy New Year to all its avian residents (and possibly some of the human ones too). In the meantime, with my list on a mere 21 and feeling like death warmed up, I bid the same to you. 

This was #2 on the list this year, still stuffing itself daily with peanuts that cost £3 a kilo. I would happily go back to down to 20 if it would just piss off and never come back.

Monday, 31 December 2018

The Fabulous Full Fat Five

I've had five patch ticks this year. Some of the other local birders have had even more than that! I went past 150 for the patch without pausing, and I thought that this was pretty amazing. Then I checked my historical records and discovered that I've added five birds a year quite a few times. Now obviously it does get a lot harder as time goes by, so despite five being more or less average, that I have been able to keep it up is very pleasing, especially how often I find myself away from the patch. Possibly that helps.

So here are the five - there are probably separate blog posts on all of them so I'll just put a summary here.

Great White Egret
Long overdue, especially how frequently birds seem to wander around London, but nonetheless very exciting. So exciting in fact that when Tim found it I immediately twitched it from Canary Wharf. Naturally I then saw it the next day, and several days after that. And then later on in the year one flew over me on the Flats. Rarely has an Uber fare seemed less worthwhile.




Black-tailed Godwit
This was the start of the autumn of dreams. The Egret had been in January, and it wasn't until August that I got my next patch tick, and one that was the most satisfying of all. I very nearly lost the plot when I found this bird on Alex, to the point of barely being able to type. A standout moment in over a decade of birding here, and fittingly this was my 150th.




Red-backed Shrike
As is frequently the case I was away when this superstar of a bird was found by Nick. I was having a lovely time in the Swiss Alps with some friends, and constant messages from Wanstead Flats unfortunately did nothing for my inner calm. London birder after London birder went to my patch as I was taking a train to Geneva.....It all worked out though, and I got it the next morning once I was home. Long awaited, we all chose this bird every year as the next patch rarity, in fact I am surprised that we had to wait as long as we did. 

Rustic Bunting
I was in Venice for this one, disbelieving of what I was reading. Like the Shrike though I was basically on my way home and was able to snaffle it straight from Gatwick. Tense times, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Incredible, seriously rare on a national level, and up there with Nick's best finds, and as you know there have been more than a few. I should go away more often....




Barn Owl
I don't this was on anyone's radar despite being a common UK bird. Whilst the patch was overrun with Rustic Bunting twitchers, the locals were doing what they usually do, bird and chat. I was with Tony, and as we were chewing the fat movement caught his eye over towards the western end of Long Wood. He proposed a possible "Owl", but of course meant Shortie, so we headed over for a look. It was an extremely misty morning and all of sudden the bird exploded out of the wood pursued by Crows. Getting bins on it briefly it shone bright white! Barn Owl! There were some fraught moments until James and Nick has seen it, but luckily they did too.