Friday, 17 March 2023


I might have explained before - get your tiny violins out - but my job is rather intense. And so it should be frankly and I deserve no sympathy whatsoever. As December ticks over into January, Year End reporting kicks in and lasts for weeks and weeks and weeks. Once upon a time I was only involved in a part of it and I was over and done much quicker.l, but nothing ever stays the same and alongside massive regulatory change my responsibilities have also grown substantially. I only recently surfaced for air to find a sea of neglect stretching to the far horizon.

My greenhouse in is dire straits. For obvious reasons I did not fire up the heaters this year and it has been carnage. I am not sure I have the emotional energy to deal with it, but deal with it I will have to. In summary I need a skip. Then there was the London Bird Report for 2021. Luckily I did a lot of the prep work for this back in 2022, but as seems to be increasingly the case I ended up delivering my work much later than I had hoped to. There were many other boring things too, too dull to list save one. This blog.

It appears to be been about six weeks since I last wrote anything. Six weeks! Mind you it is not as though I have done much birding in Wanstead that I can report on. I can count my patch visits in 2023 on one hand! I did manage some birding in Fife back in Feburary when we went up for a few days during half term, but that is the only non-local UK birding I have managed this year barring a cheeky visit to Staines in January. It's not really very note-worthy, and given I enjoy birding so much I do worry how I can let it slide quite so easily. The trouble is that real life gets in the way. I am aware that other people have real life too and yet still manage to go birding a great deal, so this is perhaps unique to me. Perhaps it has something to do with leaving the local grapevine back in January? You may or may not recall that I crafted a long and moany post about news dissemination on the patch towards the start of the year. To cut a long story short I gave up and quit. Despite attempts to regulate the output, Redwings and Blackbirds continued to be considered noteworthy and I threw my toys out my pram and left. I have still not rejoined and I have no idea what I have missed during the period other than being able to say that my Wanstead year list is lower than at any equivalent mid-March date that I have lived here. Actually that is not true, I do know that I have missed the first of this year's Wheatears on the patch. I was considering venturing out this week to have a look but as luck would have it I contracted Covid again instead and so wasn't able to. I can report that it is nearly but not quite as fun second time around, but that it seems to be quicker and rather than a ten day rollercoaster it is more like five. Still, I suppose it is good to get a new whack of antibodies as there is no sign of another booster coming my way any time soon. Hopefully this has me covered for a little while.

I suppose what I could have blogged about was a little bit of travel, but I never got round to it. There is, as usual, a fair bit to consider. I went to Greece briefly in late January, driving clockwise around the Corinthian Gulf over the course of a weekend, birding some brilliant wetlands in Western Greece and then getting a wholesome dollop of culture by visiting the ancient site of the Oracle at Delphi. Then as mentioned above I had a long weekend in Fife in mid February where I got a good dose of winter birding - Geese, Ducks, Waders and Auks that are all in short supply in the south east are plentiful along the Fife Coast and even though I was only able to go birding for a few hours it was just superb. I even managed a Fife tick in the form of a Black Guillemot off Leven. More recently, in late February, I had a manic few days birding the southern half of the Yucutan peninsula. Mick and I flew to Cancun and then drove as far away from Cancun as we could, using remote Mayan ruins as a way to get into pristine forest. This was unguided birding and extremely hard work, but ultimately incredibly rewarding and great fun. I'll get to it on here in due course. And then this weekend prior to being struck down I went to Lisbon for a city break and walked about 40km in two days, which may not sound enormous but flat Lisbon most definitely is not! This week when all the aches and pains kicked in I initially assumed it was Portugese hills that had done for me before putting two and two together and taking a lateral flow test. Remember those?! 

Anyway life goes on - rapidly - how is it mid March already? I've blogged about this about eight million times before, but I simply have more hobbies and interests than I have time outside of work to pursue. The busier you are the quicker time passes I suppose, and to my mind I just have so much going on that I have to be quite picky about what I do. I am probably just being dramatic. Anyway, suffice to say that blogging fell off the bottom of the list again but that I am still alive and kicking. And coughing.

Is Snuffi 'The One'?

Thursday, 2 February 2023

Lanzarote - Day 3

We were up early packing, put all the stuff in the car, and set off for some final birding. We made a quick stop at another water treatment plant, this one imaginatively called EDAR Arrecife II, which is on the way to the Jable del Medio from the main town. More Cattle Egrets here, tons of Short-toed Larks, and a Grey Wagtail within the compound itself.

The Hoopoes were still attending their nest, and very pleasingly were perching on the rock we had placed on the junction box the evening before. The light was nice and the birds were constantly returning with food. We positioned the car between us and the sun and sat tight. I love it when a plan comes together! 

We could not stay long as we had an early afternoon flight, but we did our best with the Hoopoes and then explored a nearby quarry. This had lots of Trumpeter Finch, seemingly preferring the rocky environment, but we couldn't take the car into it and attempts to close the distance on foot proved tricky. A few grab shots and then we had to go. Gear packed up, changed clothes, checked the car for anything left in it, and headed the relatively short distance to the airport. It had been a fun couple of days, warm, decent food, and good birds.

Trumpeter Finch

Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Lanzarote - Day 2

After the frustrations of the previous day we went south, to the Salinas de Janubio, a large area of salt pans and a lagoon on the coast. This was heaving with birds, and although we wished for a scope we were still able to add many waders to the list. There are a series of shallow intertidal pools between the beach and the salt farm, but rather frustratingly there were signs asking people not to walk to the edge, so we had to view from a bund some distance away. I guess this is to protect a fragile habitat, there were some quite interesting looking plants growing in the black volcanic sand. Anyway, no photos, but we did manage 19 species here, which in Lanzarote terms is a decent list. The Salt Pans themselves held a few Ruddy Shelduck and a decent number of Black-necked Grebe. Viewing the pans is very distant, you really do need a scope.

At Playa Blanca hopes of a sea watch were dashed instantly - zero birds other than a few Sandwich Terns and Yellow-legged Gulls. Plan B was to go look for Egyptian Vulture and lunch on the nearby hillside. On the way we stopped at a small water treatment plant, EDAR de Playa Blanca. Amazingly (or I thought so at least) I picked up a Yellow-browed Warbler on call at the southern end where there is a small recycling centre. These birds travel far beyond Shetland! Also present here were a family of Great Grey Shrikes and a Song Thrush.

As it happened any Egyptian Vultures were hidden in low clouds, so we stopped and had some lunch whilst admiring the view (the post header from a few days back) and contemplating our next move. This was to head back to the plains via Punta Lima (just below the airport) where African Collared Doves were known to hang out. This is not a great tick of course, but it does count, and listing fiend that I am I was keen to try and pick one out from the numerous Collared Doves. The two-note song is the best indicator, as lots of the birds seemed unusually pale, and eventually a couple of birds did the decent thing though I lost them quiet quickly as the birds moved around a lot. 

Hoopoe. Pre rock.

Back at the Jable del Medio we couldn't refind the Houbaras, but we did notice that a Hoopoe was returning to the same spot near a small junction box with food. I guess birds breed all year round in Lanzarote, and sure enough we found a hole whilst the adults were away. Positioning the car for a nice shot we waited here for the rest of day and in the absence of a better plan decided to return the following morning, hoping that there would be some sunshine. Spiders, and quite large ones at that, seemed to the most common meal, but sometimes they came back with an enormous fleshy grub. Before we left we hit upon the great idea of placing an attractive rock on top of the junction box in the hope that the birds would naturally perch on this before entering the hole. I've used this tactic before with good results in the UAE and Cyprus for Wheatears, turning crappy situations into good ones. I expected that a rock, whilst different, wouldn't prove problematic for the birds. A good one was duly sourced from the surrounding habitat and placed on top of the concrete, after which we left for the day.

Tuesday, 31 January 2023

Lanzarote - Day 1

A trip to a small island is unlikely to feature a massive number of birds, and Lanzarote is no different. As such the main focus was on a small number of specialty species for which the wider Canary Islands are known, particularly the inhabitants of the large sandy plains like Cream Coloured Courser and Houbara Bustard. Mick and I started at the Jable de Famara in the north-west of the Island. As you descend towards the plain from its eastern edge it does not look particularly large, but as you head into it the size becomes apparent. A few main tracks that are perfectly easy to drive cross it east to west, and there are then innumerable smaller paths that with care you can also drive along in order to cover a bigger area. I don't know how many Bustards and Coursers inhabit this area, but in two hours that morning we didn't see a single one! In short, hard work. Berthelot's Pipit and Short-toed Lark were very common, and we also encountered a few Raven, a ringtail Hen Harrier and several Great Grey Shrikes

Berthelot's Pipit

Approaching mid-morning we gave up, and after a bite to eat in a nearby village we went to explore La Isleta on the west coast. This was pretty good for waders, and per eBird is one of the better sites on the island. This was simply for a breather really, and we were soon back on the plains for round two. Another hour and a half trying new tracks netted excellent views of a party of Coursers on the western side, but even that was brief, and as for Bustards!

Slightly to the east of the Jable de Famara is the Jable del Medio. This is greener and less dusty, with more agriculture, and amazingly we found a Houbara after a few hours of searching. Getting anywhere near it, even in the car, proved almost impossible, and whilst we gave it a go we lost the light. As dusk approached, the original Bustard joined three others that must have been lurking nearby and we got clear if distant views as they fed unconcernedly in a field.

Houbara Bustard! Five seconds of opportunity after a day of looking!

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

Lanzarote - Logistics and itinerary

Lanzarote, 10th-13th December 2022

I am still playing catch up from last year. Colombia took so long to write up that I only completed it about two months after getting back, but actually only a few weeks after returning I had a few days in Lanzarote with Mick. In some ways it was a bit soon after getting back from South America, but I have a habit of doing this. I book up trips with great enthusiasm many months in advance, thinking that it will all be fine, but when it comes to it I would actually rather be at home than packing my bag and trekking to the airport again to subject myself to the vagiaries of international travel. Until I get there of course, when I revel in being in a new place with new birds. It was not a long trip, just three days, and this was the perfect length actually as Lanzarote is not a big island and there are only a few primary birding areas. Having visited Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura, this was the last major Canary Island on my list. It was warm and there were birds, and it was ridiculously cheap. And we missed the bulk of the freezing conditions back home!

  • A three day trip in mid December departing London on Saturday afternoon and returning on Tuesday afternoon.
  • Flights: from Heathrow to Arecife on British Airways.
  • Covid logistics: None, Spain has totally dispensed with all controls.
  • Car Hire: Avis, a bargain little VW of some sort.
  • Accommodation: A two bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Arecife, extremely cheap out of season. Fully appointed kitchen but we ate out instead as we were  not staying long enough to go shopping.
  • Food: Tapas!
  • Literature: The Collins and eBird.


Day 0: Arrived ACE at 7pm, picked up the car and then a short drive to the flat. Dinner and bed.
Day 1: Spent most of the day driving small tracks in the Jable de Farama area (1), La Santa (2), and the Jable del Medio (near 1) looking for Bustards and Coursers.
Day 2: The south of the Island, starting at the Salinas de Janubio (3), and then the Playa Blanca area (4), returning to Punta Lima (4) in the afternoon to look for African Collared Dove. Final hour at the Jable del Medio where we found a pair of Hoopoe feeding young.
Day 3: A morning session with the Hoopoes and then back to the airport.

Saturday, 21 January 2023

Staines Reservoir is the coldest place on earth

I've not been to Staines Reservoirs since 2017, twitching a Shore Lark for my London list. I used to be quite keen on my London list, but as with many things the ardour is cooling. Or has cooled perhaps. Going to Staines certainly has that effect, the causeway is one of the coldest places on earth. Any time you are there in the winter months it is not long before you start to question why exactly it is that you are there, and whether there might be somewhere else you could go. Somewhere warmer....

Back in the day I used to go to Staines reasonably frequently. Frequently for someone who lives an hour away that is. The beauty of my immaculate record keeping shows that between October 2007 and October 2010 I visited 11 times. This was in my heydey when almost everything was new, and in 2010 I think I was I pursuing a London year list, and as Staines kept on producing juicy rarities I had to keep shlepping over there. Chasing a year list is the ideal medicine for getting year-listing out of your system - never again - and since then I'd been over there just twice. 

This morning I went again, the prize a Lesser Scaup, the first in London (that I am aware of) for many years. It required an early start, but London Transport did not let me down, and two short bus rides saw me arrive in front of Tony's house right on time. It was all his idea - I'd been vaguely aware of this bird from a report earlier in the week, but had been so busty I'd forgotten about it. Had I been required to get myself there I doubt I would have bothered, but twitching is always better with other people, and so when he sent a casual enquiry last night I took him up on the offer immediately. 

We were onsite by 8am, the sun just rising. It was quite beautiful in its own way. Glacial, but beautiful. The flock of Pochard were close to the NW tower on the south side and so the views were actually pretty decent. The bird even woke up for about ten seconds whilst we  were there, not a great ratio but it was enough to get a bit more of a feel for it. By golly it was cold though. Walking through Wanstead at 6am had been fine, but the causeway at Staines is a whole new level, it is scarcely believable that it is even in the same country such is the temperature differential. It starts in the extremities, the tips of your fingers go numb through your gloves. It creeps up your legs from your feet, you feel yourself cooling down, losing sensation. Pretty soon it is unbearable. You stamp your feet, rub your hands together, but it is a losing battle. God knows how the locals manage to bird the place year round. And this was on a day with no wind, the water was completely still. I vividly remember taking my son with me when twitching a Red-throated Diver when he was about ten years old, one of the worst parenting decisions I ever made. He is still with us, but it must have been a close run thing. We stuck it out for an hour or before running for the heated seats of the car. 

Disingenuous photo from Arizona in 2016!

Friday, 20 January 2023

Colombia - Trip List

Here is a day by day trip list from Colombia. On some days we started in one place, had a bit of a drive, and then finished in another so sometimes it does not really work. However this is neatest way to keep it all in one place and is a good summary. For anyone who requires a further level of detail, eBird's new Trip Report functionality is the way to go, and was the starting point for this table. You can see it here. The taxonomy is how it is presented in eBird, with the exception of Tanagers which are a complete mindfield and where I saw fit to create my own sub-families in order for it to a bit more digestible. I should also point out that this is my list and I that I did miss a few team birds, as everyone probably did. Collectively we probably got to about 340. It did not always feel prolific, but it is clear that we saw a massive amount when you sit down and peruse the list and I would describe the accumulation as fairly measured. The 336 I recorded were all seen, I have not added the heard only birds which included a few more Tapaculos, and (memorably, in the worst sense!) another Antpitta. 239 species were new to me which is a pretty good ratio, helped by never having visited neighbouring countries. The crossover for me was mostly the ABA birding area and to a much lesser extent, Costa Rica and Tobago.Wonderful birding, I would go back tomorrow.

Colombian Andes, November 11th-19th 2022