Wednesday 28 January 2009
2) During that time, don't do any birding, and specifically don't see or hear any Great Tits
3) Once the 10 years are up, go birding and find a Great Tit
4) Do a little jig
"I was expecting some kind of smutty witicism"
Saturday 24 January 2009
I digress. A quick jaunt to East India Dock on Friday picked up a wintering Black Redstart – one of the best sites in London, if not the country, for reliable sightings - and there was a Common Sandpiper in Bow Creek with the Redshank at the high-tide roost, which was a year tick. All in all a very profitable lunch hour. It needed to be, as today was almost bird-free, bar an aquamarine dart across the Heronry Pond this morning. I was out looking for the 5 Egyptian Geese that would have been a site tick for me, seen by Paul F yesterday. They were gone, but there isn't much that beats an early-morning Kingfisher really. Bee-eater perhaps? I was under strict orders from Management to be out for no longer than 20 minutes, but returned after 15 for extra brownie points. Fair enough given I buggered off to Cornwall last weekend. The life of a birder is one long balancing act.
Friday 23 January 2009
On the way home I walked back through Bush Wood without a care in the world, and with dinner in my bag for me & Mrs L. What happened next is a bit of a blur, but in the passage between the wood and Belgrave Road, a bloke ran up behind me, pinned my arms behind my back and then a second guy punched me in the face and I was wrestled to the ground. A further two, in conjunction with the second guy, continued to punch my head shouting "What you got, what you got, where's your phone you pussy, where's your phone?", or something along those lines, until I indicated which pocket my phone was in. Somewhat amazingly, that was the only pocket they went through, so they missed out on an ipod filled with 60's classics, a blackberry, and my wallet. Losers. However, as an afterthought whilst making off, one took my bag, which had my treasured bins in it. I tried to pull it back - who was I kidding - cue another totally unnecessary punch in the face - and another one then took a huge running kick at my upper thigh, and then they all ran off into the wood. So 90 seconds and I was down 1 phone, 1 pair of 8x42 Ultravids, and 2 steaks - having said that, my appetite had diminished slightly. Scum - 100 yards from my front door, and on MY PATCH. I am still outraged a year later. The police came very quickly, but there was nothing to be done. My description of the assailants matched 95% of East London's youth, so nothing ever came of it, and I never got anything back. On the plus side, Leica had just introduced the HDs, so with the insurance payout I was able to get a replacement pair of the non HDs at a large discount and chose the 7x instead, which are phenomenally good.
This unfortunate encounter has had a number of repercussions beyond the passing physical ones.
1) For a while I was very jumpy. About 3 weeks later a jogger frightened the living daylights out of me on my own street just by running past me. I am never quite at ease whilst out birding solo now.
2) I don't bird Bush Wood very much any more, preferring the security offered by the wide-open spaces of the Flats.
3) I feel compelled to use secondary bins for all my local birding, and I don't ever take my scope. The viewing pleasure is diminished, and I have missed some distant birds.
4) I had to pay the insurance excess and my premium went up, whilst the muggers probably sold my phone for a fiver and tossed my bins into a bush.
I am officially a victim of crime. HR at work even offered me counseling, said I should take as much time off as I needed, "Thanks, see you in June" I replied. I didn't really. I did allow myself one day though, and went to Rainham, so I could look through lots of different peoples' bins.
Anyway a year has now passed, and I have never had a problem since. However if any potential muggers are reading this, they should be aware that my replacement phone is also obsolete rubbish, and that my bins have a large scratch on the left objective. And that I shoot to kill.
Here it is, the snicket where the evil deed was done.
Wednesday 21 January 2009
Monday 19 January 2009
At one point a large cow, absent-mindedly grazing along the wall-line where the owl was sheltering, got to within about 4 feet. Cue an ears-up, “what the f*ck” bovine-moment. Despite the small line of birders intensely willing this cow onwards (and of course fully intending to flame it on bird-forum the next day) the owl won the stare-down contest and the cow(ard) retreated.
Three hours in the freezing cold has done nothing to diminish Paul’s razor-sharp eye; at Sennen he has been out of the car for roughly 0.5 seconds before he has called a GND in the bay; a speck on the horizon is a Purple Sand which duly lands on the harbour wall; a Med Gull is found bobbing with a group of BH Gulls, and barely have I got onto this when an Iceland Gull flies across his scope. Whatever he has been eating (or more likely drinking) we need to find more of it to sustain this performance. I contribute a Rock Pipit.
It is clear that the weather is deteriorating, so after a male Hen Harrier courtesy of Bradders jr. (Paul must have been poking Shaun or something), and a pastie stop, we head to Marazion for a spot of sand-blasting. Retreating to Penzance harbour, we meet the same birder we had met on the moor, and learn he has twitched the Owl from Luton ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT. Train to Penzance, and then a local bus to the foot of Trendrine Hill. Amazing. There are another 2 GNDs here, not remotely bothered by the vile conditions, supremely adapted to shit weather. Unlike us - we are more adapted to the pub, which is where we were now headed.
Paul: “Should I put on waterproofs?”
David: “No, its hardly raining at all”
Three inches of rain then fell in about ten minutes. Roads became rivers, drainpipes became waterfalls, steps became rapids. Unbelievable. Members of the team who had not bothered to put on waterproofs, or who had been badly advised re the need for waterproofs, got completely soaked. You could only laugh really, especially if like me you were wearing waterproofs. Luckily, the Turk’s Head has good beer, good food, and a FIRE for drying out wet people. A short but lively evening then ensued, but the general consensus was that we were all tired, and indeed despite my usual impervion to disease, I was feeling slightly under the weather, so it was not the raucous night that it might have been. Back at the B&B Shaun and I were unsure whether our room had windows or not. There appeared to be some sort of glass structure where you would expect windows to be, but the curtains flapping about horizontally raised serious doubts as to their physical reality.
The following day is breezy, but nothing like the previous night. We are drooling in anticipation of the rafts of Grey Phals we will see littering the Cornish beaches. In the event there is only one thing littering Cornwall, more on that later.
We spend the morning gently birding the sea between Newlyn and Marazion, and find stacks of GNDs, a BT Diver, a BN Grebe, and another Iceland Gull. 2 seconds out of the car at Long Rock, Paul calls a Black Redstart; none of us believe him. The Sanderlings keep me occupied for a bit, and another Med Gull flies past. A juv Cornish bird gets out of a neighbouring car with seemingly the sole intention of showing these rugged binocular-toting lads her very short skirt-cum-belt, but we give her short thrift so she gets back in and drives off; had she been able to point out a Phal we would have been all ears. Apparently only a couple of us actually noticed her at all, and are accused of blatant suppression by the others. On next to Helston for the long-staying Ring-billed Gull. As we leave, a Black Redstart pops up onto the sea wall….
The Ringer is not at Helston, but Shaun sniffs out a small sewage farm, and we are soon delighted by approximately 4000 wintering Chiffchaffs, a couple of which are outrageously pale. Discussions involving complicated and unknown words like “tristis” and “abietinus” then follow. I am just impressed that there should be this many Chiffies here in mid-Jan at all. My role is limited to the taking of photographs, some good, some bad (very bad). A Raven goes over with a BH Gull, allowing an excellent size comparison.
Candidate Sibe #1
A couple of common-as-muck Cattle Egrets are about 5 minutes down the road, in the company of 3 Little Egrets and a flock of fancy sheep. Again, for comparative purposes - and believe it or not they do get confused, in fact a pager message this very weekend read “Reported Cattle Egret at blah blah blah is a Little Egret” - Cattle Egret has a shortish yellow bill and pale legs, Little Egret has long black bill and dark legs. There are things that Little Egret can be confused with, but Cattle Egret is not one of them. This time there is a photo for your elucidation.
So, a top weekend in the South-west, and some brilliant birds, including a Snowy Owl’s head. I never thought I would ever see any part of a Snowy Owl, and that it was one of these mythical birds that appeared on Benbecula every now and again, and that took 2 days and several ferries and light aircraft to get to, so I am very pleased. I am genuinely ill now, so took the day off and wrote this.
A footnote: A plea to the dog-owners of Cornwall.
Fucking well clean up after your dogs. It is disgusting.
In English, this says "You may be fined if you don't clean up after your dog"
You are privileged to live in an amazingly beautiful part of the world, why spoil it? 60% of our party stepped in something, and we think less of Cornwall for it.
Friday 16 January 2009
Possible scandiaca, undisclosed location, Wanstead, Jan 2009.
Monday 12 January 2009
Sunday 11 January 2009
Saturday 10 January 2009
"2 PENDULINE TITS Rainham Marshes RSPB......"
Resolutions went out the window, and about 45 minutes later, I found myself on the boardwalk, looking at some recently vacated reeds, and being gripped off by a bunch of birders who had had:
"just in front of where you are now"
"no, about two minutes before you arrived"
"yes, they just flew off high NW"
"really high, doesn't look like they'll be back for a while"
"when they did this last time they weren't seen for about two days"
Back at home, Kids Corner was looming, but oh look, a Great Grey Shrike, within the LNHS area, about 8 miles away, and showing well. You can see where this is leading so I'll cut to the chase - dropped wife and kids off at this party, went off to Potter's Bar where I met Vince, dipped the Shrike, got very cold, drove back, picked up kids, wife and balloons, went home, sulked.
Oh, and about an hour in to the Shrike dip, phone goes off, and it's Blowmonkey, who has apparently been enjoying excellent views of the Snowy Owl in Cornwall. Superb he tells me, really really good. I'm looking forward to the photos.
Vince dipping a Shrike in London
Friday 9 January 2009
Despite the ludicrous January quality up and down the land, this is weekend has limited twitching opportunities. Saturday is the kids swimming lesson, followed by one of my son's friends' birthday parties at the hell-hole that is "Kid's Corner" in Epping Forest. The plan is that I drop Maman, son & middle daughter off there, and then take the youngest off somewhere whilst the party rages. If I have long enough (and if the Phragmites at Aveley have been limed according to my instructions) I may go for the Pendulines, which will be a new bird for both of us. If the party is only an hour, then I'll just go round Connaught Water for the Mandarins, and maybe a Smew.
Sunday is the real killer though. Hitler Woman's Birthday. At our house. And I am expected to be present. And pleasant. And to cough up some vintage Burgundy. And all this whilst the East London Massive are in Cornwall ticking Snowy Owl. It is not going to be easy.
Oh, and a site tick this morning in Wanstead Park, with a pair of Red-crested Pochard on the Heronry Pond. Provenance unknown but I am ticking them anyway. #90. Sorry, make that #90. Was counting throught the regular Pochards (43 in case you were wondering) and there they were, a male and female. An uncouth word may have passed my lips. Obviously there are large feral populations, but these were hanging about at the far side of the pond (because I had a camera), and the hard weather is clearly causing movements of wildfowl. Smew next please. Or a RN Grebe. Also, following a tip-off from a visiting birder from Fairlop, heard Nuthatch in a Churchyard just north of Wanstead Park. Unfortunately outside my patch boundaries, might have to annex it.....
Thursday 8 January 2009
- Dog walker. Annoying and useful in equal measure. If no dog obviously present, such as hidden by long grass, check person for lead or small plastic bag. This is the most likely early-morning encounter. Threat Level: GREEN
- Joggers. Threat Level: GREEN (especially if they look like they are hating it)
- Kids in School Uniform. Threat Level: GREEN. Also, don't linger with the bins.
- Amorous Asian couples avoiding friends and family. Threat Level: GREEN
- People with bibs playing footie. Threat Level: GREEN
- People flying model aeroplanes. Sodding annoying, they should get a hobby that is fun and cool. Like birding. Threat Level: GREEN
- Loitering youths in hoodies. Threat Level: AMBER. Circumvent, or retreat.
- Significant Relative out looking for you, perhaps also with bins. Threat Level: RED. Go home immediately and unstack the dishwasher.
This morning was GREEN, and I spent 30 happy minutes meandering to the bus and got 6 Skylark, 2 Mipit, a Pied Wagtail, whilst a Grey Heron flew over Centre Road. The bush of Reed Bunting potential had a Crow in it, and I couldn't find any Stonechats, maybe tomorrow. Patch year list now 41.
Wednesday 7 January 2009
Patch rules: Either I or the bird have to be in or over the patch for it to count. If either one of these is true, on it goes. If both I and the bird are outside the boundary, to count it I would have to leg it over the nearest boundart and hope I could still see it. Clearly I would never do that, no way.
This rule came in handy today at Canary Wharf. I was on the way to East India Dock NR to try and get Black Redstart for the yearlist, and whilst waiting on the platform at Poplar DLR station I picked up a raptor over the east of the estate. Quick-draw on the trusty bins and I confirm it as Peregrine. Sparrowhawk and Kestrel are both possibilities here but there is no mistaking this profile, even with my meagre abilities. I'm outside the patch, but the bird is over it, so on it goes at #18. 3rd Peregrine of 2009 actually, after 2 at Rainham on the 2nd whilst dipping the Pendulines. I didn't get the Black Redstart by the way, but I did get a drake Shoveler, which was a patch tick. Not doing East India this year, too far to go, spend more time travelling than birding.
It is January the 6th and it is my second day at work, so today I once again birded the avian desert that is Canary Wharf. Moved the total up to 13 with a Herring Gull on the DLR supports before I had even take 2 strides out of the station, and then to a stunning 17 with an afternoon walk that netted GBB Gull at Billingsgate, a Moorhen and GC Grebe in Blackwall Basin, and a fly-over Woodpigeon. This puts me 27th (out of 30) in the 2009 London League table. Kudos.
Interesting Fact: Wanstead Park is one of the best sites in East London for wintering Gadwall. If you had visited today you would have gone home thinking it was rubbish though. That is what this blog is for. Scooted up to the station picking up a few more bits, and whilst sat on the Central Line tot the list up which comes to 32. Rock on. Bit of a photo-essay on the park later. Today you'll just have to imagine what it looks like.
I work at Canary Wharf. The photos below show the bird-filled dock just outside my office. Take careful note of all the greenery, and all those habitat hotspots. For some dumb reason, hatred of the international financial markets probably, I have decided to do a 2009 CW list. Between the Jubilee line and the Office I kick it off with a fine adult Pigeon. It even has two complete feet. Superb.
And here is the view from my desk if I look to my right and ignore Simon, Matt & Chris. I have nailed Peregrine from here without even getting up. Today however I got a LBB, 27 Cormorants, 2 Crow & a Common Gull.
Over lunch I give two fingers to dedicated patch-working, and get on the DLR to tick the wintering Ring-billed Gull on the Isle of Dogs. One other birder today, who says he has seen it. Maybe he has, maybe he hasn't. A few people I have met here ticked 2w Common Gull and went away happy. I didn't do that, and dipped it for days on end as a result. Today though it is actually here and I pick it up very quickly. Once you see it you can't possibly be confused, though I'll admit that this bird is the same size as a Common, so prob a female. I am not much of a Gull-watcher, but the dark band is thicker, darker, and more clear-cut, the the bill itself thicker and chunkier, more like a Med Gull, and if it comes close enough, which it does today, the yellow iris is very easy to pick out. It also looks more dangerous, if that can be described as an ID feature. Year tick #122.
A quick afternoon walk round the estate brings the total up to 12 with 3 Mallard, 11 Greenfinch, 2 Blackbird, a Magpie and a site mega. Robin (a patch-tick, I am stunned). My record-keeping must be dreadful. I have worked here for 10 years and never seen a Robin? How can that be? I am deeply grateful for this gem of a site tick, and head back to my desk with a spring in my step to rush the news out and earn some more money. A Robin, well I never. Maybe this patch has promise after all.
Bush Wood is the southern tip of Epping Forest. Mainly Oak and Hornbeam, understory primarily dense Holly. Criss-crossed by a network of paths - not a big area but has produced 36 species over the couple of years I have been watching it. Used to a go a lot, not so much these days - the Flats has somewhat taken over - more on that later. As well as the Tawny Owls, Sparrowhawk is resident, and Hobby is a summer visitor. Other than that, just the usual array of woodland species with particular emphasis on Blue, Great and Long-tailed tits, and no emphasis whatsover on Treecreeper or Nuthatch, which is a big omission. There is a dried up pond in the middle which used to have a few birds on it, but there has been no appreciable water now for at least 18 months. I once saw a Mallard in an oak tree here.
Anyway, off to Abberton, to disapproving looks, where I get 3 Smew, 4 Red-crested Pochards, a Cattle Egret, a Slav, and about a gazillion ducks. And also a very showy Bittern, which is my 200th species for Essex, and is extremely satisfying, way beyond what seeing a Bittern should do for you. This whole blog is just a cry for help.
Tuesday 6 January 2009
The sea was impossibly calm, I could not have hoped for better conditions (other than perhaps high tide) and there were stacks of divers and grebes at Ruddon's Point. The regular drake Surf Scoter got himself on the list as well. Tried to turn a flock of Linnets into Twite, and a Snipe into a Jack Snipe, but had to admit defeat. What is it with Twite? The habo was perfectemundo. I only ever see Linnet in excellent Twite habitat, pisses me off. Next up Anstruther for a fine juvvy Iceland Gull, totally unafraid of people. Just sat there posing. Managed a smug "oh I am such a serious and experienced birder" moment as well, doesn't happen often so best mention it. Got out of the car and a elderly-ish couple saw the bins and the serious "I am here, bird where are you!" look and asked if I was here for the Gull - note how the word Iceland is utterly superflous here - I confirmed that I was and that I expected it to be on the west harbour wall (where it had been when I saw it a few days earlier, but they don't know that, and think this is just innate birding knowledge, Iceland Gulls never EVER sit on the east side of a harbour) and that the west harbour wall was over there. Anyway, off I stomped whilst they lit up some of those horrible thin brown cigars things - you know the sort - there is something dreadfully unappealing about women lighting up those things, kind of makes you shudder. I digress. I went off, found the bird in about 2 seconds right at the end of the wall, about 2 feet away from where it has been all week, and stomped back. I meet this couple again at the start of the harbour wall, scanning all the gulls on the beach. Eagerly they ask if I have seen the gull. "Yes its that one on the harbour wall in line with the Bass Rock", and point at it, 50 yards away, and walk off. Bloody novices. I scoff at them as I drive off, as I was never like that.
Ticked off Dipper at a previously scouted site a few miles away, and then Red Grouse on the West Lomond, a recent discovery. Grouse, being really really stupid, fly into the air towards you if you imitate their call. Even a really crap "GOBACKBackbackbackbkbkbkbkbkbk" seems to do the trick. No wonder they are a favoured game bird. A lot of people were out walking though, so I had to wait a bit so as not to appear a weirdo. Managed it though, and then ran off down the hill for the next tick, scope bouncing over my shoulder and camera flapping against my thigh, and hat folded-up exposing my ears.
Sailed past a brilliant field full of Fieldfare and Redwing, luckily the tick-radar kicked in and I stopped and had a look. Both new species for Fife and neither had formed part of my Jan 1st plans. Result. Onwards to Loch Leven for PF Goose, Goosander and a guaranteed Coal Tit on the feeders, all of which obliged, and then wasted a precious hour of daylight driving to Hogganfield Loch in daylight for the Lesser Scaup, which had selfishly buggered off. At the approximate time I arrived in Glasgow a visiting London birder found a Little Bunting (lifer for me) at Ceres back in Fife, about 15 minutes away from my Dipper site. Why wasn't he on his London patch rather than gripping me off. And due to the equation mentioned above we were leaving tomorrow rather than staying an extra day. And can you guess if it was seen on Jan 2nd? Can you?!
So, where to start? About moi seems to be customary. Well, I'm still youngish, but a boring old git nonetheless. I have a job that very much restricts birding, and that makes my head hurt. I am not interested in it much, but it pays for optics, diesel and double-deckers. I have to keep doing it so I can keep living in Wanstead. If any reader would like to pay off my mortgage and set up a slush-fund so I can just go birding all the time, please get in contact via the link that is undoubtedly somewhere on this page, but I can't see it in edit mode. As I child I very much liked birds. As a teenager I very much didn't do any birding at all and just sat about a lot, which I now regret immensely. Fool. I got back into it about 10 years ago, but only as a holiday activity, not realising the potential on my doorstep. More recently it has become addictive, perhaps a previous hobby waned or something, and birding became, initially, another outlet for the mild obsessive compulsive disorder many men seem to have. I began to collect birds, in the tick sense. Feverishly I searched out all the various lists on postcards, scraps of paper etc that I might have kept, and it has got worse from there really. I still can't find the California list from 2002 which is real shame as my World list is 699 and I reckon I am in reality well over 700. Did I mention obsessive? Fairly bad actually. But working my patch is helping to overcome to needless urge to tick. Yearlisting is slightly addictive as well, Hopefully I'll do really badly this year and be able to give it up.
The header photo is of a Stonechat on a chilly morning on Wanstead Flats. I was seriously delighted when I found Stonechats on Wanstead Flats, I think the bird you now see before you is the one that kicked off my patch-working. I was just on the way to the bus, and bingo, el stoney. Within but a short time I had found Reed Bunting and Snipe as well. Holy cow, what a place! Then I discovered a whole network of London birders finding ridiculous quality birds in unlikely places, and realised 1) how pitiful my finds were in comparison, and 2) what "dedicated patch-worker" really means.
Some stats. In case any birders with obsessive geeky tendecies are reading this. In 2007 when I first started getting out on the patch properly, I found 70 species. In 2008 found 83. This is a combination of getting out more, getting better at ID, and becoming more savvy about what turns up where when. My patch list is 89. Reaching 100 will be a seriously large event likely marked by large font, capital letters, and stuff like that. In fact, reaching 90 will be pretty damn pleasing, and could see some bolding.
So, on to Wanstead 2009.