Saturday 25 April 2009

My burgeoning amphibian list

Marsh Frogs fart in ever such a funny way

Thursday 23 April 2009

Common or Garden Buzzard

It has been simply glorious weather and the kids and I have spent the last two days in the garden. Once back from the school run I throw open the back door, we all pile out, and that is where we stay until it is time to do the pick-up. Many tasks have been achieved. What passes for my lawn has been mown, edges have been done, dandelions, brambles and sycamore seedlings removed, and if I don't say so myself, it is all looking rather neat and tidy. Mrs L has has guided tours each evening, and I fancy I may have earned a few BPs (not that I am in positive territory of course, that would just be wrong...)

The gardening has been interspersed with looking at the sky. A lot. And with some success too. Yesterday I scored a garden tick with a Peregrine gliding over, and today two more with a Greylag low over, and then a Buzzard after lunch. I was of course looking for Osprey and Red Kite, but beggars can't be choosers, and there is always tomorrow, where much of the same is planned. The expression "Common or garden" is particularly apt here - this one is a Garden, I am sure of it.

Buteo gardenus

Another first today was that I twitched my own patch. Howard, based in Kent, phoned at about 8pm to tell me that another birder had seen a pair of Garganey on the Heronry Pond during the afternoon. The same Heronry Pond that I had checked for Garganey this morning... There was nothing for it, I had to go, so wheeled out the trusty pushbike and fortunately they were still there. #94 for my Wanstead list. Funny how news travels isn't it?

Sunday 19 April 2009

Just reward for bashing the patch

There is something special about working a patch. Partly it is getting to know an area really well, going out with specific targets in mind at certain times of year, sometimes scoring, sometimes not - but there is an aura of excitement on every trip, else you would stop going. Partly it is that you have it to yourself. In your eyes, it is your patch. Yours. Nobody else's. Everything there for you to discover for yourself. And partly of course it is just luck.

I left the house before 6am this morning, and the luck kicked in. Given I had risen at stupid o' clock with the firm intention of finding a Ring Ouzel, this was somewhat of a welcome surprise...

...and meant I could do this, a rare occurence. As expected it was well twitched, with at least 29,000 3 other birders turning up.

Saturday 18 April 2009

Oh for goodness' sake

Went to Dunge today looking for Ring Ouzel and other migrants. Guess what turned up? Typical...

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Hip Hip Hoopoe!

Bit of Sun headline there, sorry. Anyhow, as the children and I were breakfasting this moring, I had a text from Bradders that said "Hoopoe at Landguard now...." I generally have my pager on silent, as it annoys somebody, so I had not seen this message yet. Interesting... could it be done?

Four Lethbridge's were on site by 10am, three of them coerced, and we all had a good look at the bird as it fed on the ground on the shingle. Tick. I am now a member of the BOU 300 Club, hurrah! Brilliant birds Hoopoes, really rather special - you feel privileged to be watching one. I lifted the children up to the scope one by one. Tick tick tick. I must get round to doing the kids' lists one of these days, before I forget what they have seen. In the years to come they will surely thank me.

Oh the quality...

Bird out of the way, I let the brood loose on the sunny beach, and much fun was had with pebbles, sand and lumps of wartime concrete. The mist then came in and it got a bit cold, so we headed for home and played Lego all afternoon - fair is fair.

Monday 13 April 2009

Just one more to go

...and then I can stop twitching. Yeah right. Got the White-throated Sparrow today, after a day and a half of worry and panic. As twitches go, this was OK, better than the last Zonotrichia anyway. Heaving of course, but not unpleasantly so. As usual 90% of the people were standing round having a chat. More worryingly, I recognised some of them. No kids today, so I elected to have a poke around, can't stand just sitting there like a lemon. Inevitably the bird popped up behind me somewhere just as I was wandering around peering into bushes, and I got a very brief and untickable view in flight. Bugger. Lesson learned, next time I'll just have a bit of a chat. Eventually got decent views of it as it fed on the ground in a bush. Had a choice between looking at the bird, and taking a picture of it, and chose the former. You couldn't see it unless you were crouched down peering into the bush, at which point getting a shot was pretty much out of the question. Or you could stand back and hoped it popped up, which the proper photographers did, but they never got to see the bird properly. Eventually it did pop up very briefly, and when it did so I found a new setting on the camera called "Impressionist" mode. Great.

#299, The Hawthorn

Sunday 12 April 2009

Twitching with children

Twitching with children is not easy. In fact it is quite hard. It isn't the kids. Some kids would complain, moan, whine, scream and so on. Mine are fine, they love being outdoors, especially the little one. Today they spent 5 hours playing with moss, sticks, pine cones, rabbit droppings, and a worm, and enjoyed every minute of it. It is hard because of the planning (food, water, clean nappies, timing of these things). It can be physically hard, carrying a toddler in a rucksack, or pushing a buggy up hills and over uneven ground. It is hard on the brain, you have to constantly watch out for them - is that a barbed wire fence they are running towards? What about that dog? Is there any water they can fall into? Are they still here or have they been snatched? But the hardest thing of all is trying not to piss other people off. And by that I mean other birders. Lets face it, twitching is not the preserve of men with kids. I am not tarring everyone with the same brush - reactions of course vary. You get smiles, you get encouragement or even praise - one old guy today saw the kids playing on the grass and said it was "wonderful, what a great way to grow up" - but that kind of reaction is relatively unusual. Outright hostility is also unusual, birders are on the whole a nice bunch, but on a twitch it is a little different - they have a purpose, a single-minded purpose. So mostly I get glances, but glances say a thousand words. The glances say "you shouldn't be here". Or at least that is what I interpret them to mean, I could of course be dreaming this all up. I don't think having the kids in tow should prevent me from seeing rare birds, but I am often caught in two minds. On the one hand I don't want the kids to somehow spoil it for people who may have travelled some distance, the most obvious concern being that they scare the bird away by being boisterous or noisy and cause people to dip. On the other hand, I want to see the bird too, and I will overcome all the difficulties that kids present in order to do so, and the grumpy twitchers can all get stuffed. The nice part of me says that this second thought is selfish though. Then the selfish side of me says "what kind of wuss are you?" to the nice part. See what I mean about being in two minds?

The answer as always is the middle road. I deliberately avoided the White-throated Sparrow twitch today as I felt that there was potential for a very large crowd of serious twitchers, and we would have got in the way, plus the bird was elusive. I remember all too clearly the White-crowned Sparrow at Cley - the kids would actually have been in mortal danger in that kind of stampede. Instead I went for a Little Bunting in Sussex that was supposedly showing well, and was near the car-park.
Indeed it wasn't that popular, perhaps twenty people max. The terrain was tough on the buggy, but we made it down there, and I don't think we pissed too many people off, bar one guy, but that was entirely my fault, nothing to do with the kids. Showing well my arse. Spent five hours there with one 10 second view. Unfortunately for this one guy, to whom I unreservedly apologise again, when it did show, I inadvertedly stood in front of the scope he was trying to get up, and he missed the bird perched up. I don't know if he had seen it in flight the previous time it had shown, but he was less than impressed. These things happen I suppose - in fact it happened to me at Cley, I had barely set eyes on the Sparrow when I got unceremoniously bundled to one side and my scope got knocked over - but I still feel bad that he missed a decent view because I got one, there is etiquette after all, or at least there should be. I think I feel like an idiot mainly because if it had happened to me I would be well annoyed, and yet I have gone and done it to someone else. Anyway, guilt-trip over, time to move on. Nice bird, first tick for ages. Would have liked a longer look, but it flew. My brief view suggested small juv-type Reed Bunting, which when I later looked it up in Collins is basically exactly what it is. I did not have time to clearly note any features, nor did I notice a call, although that Bradders bloke who seems to be following me everywhere got some clear "zicks". He arrived about an hour after I did, and actually recognised my car due to how dirty it was. My phone rang: "Are you in Sussex by any chance, I've just seen a really filthy car..."

Saturday 11 April 2009

Placement and timing

After a great day out yesterday, today was a family day with no birding, and we were off to Oxford to see some good friends. So naturally a mega turned up in a different part of the country...

I tried not to panic, but I think it showed. To my credit I didn't try and change our plans, I just wept as we drove round the M25. Clutching the steering wheel, I was also heard to mutter "Come on Farmoor, you gotta deliver", and astonishingly it did! Mrs L couldn't believe it! We were enjoying a restful pint in a country pub, recovering from a traumatic child-shepherding experience in which my eldest, wearing sandles, toppled his bike into a ditch full of nettles, when the pager went off with a Bonaparte's at Farmoor. I leapt up (with permission), and whilst Burgs generously finished my pint, got there within about 15 minutes, and was straight on to an almost fully moulted adult bird. How the finder found it I will never know, as it was with about 10 zillion Black-headed Gulls. I guess you have to go through every single one. Rather him that me I thought, and headed back to the car.

A very patient man looked at a lot of these

Back in Oxford, more trauma. Burger and I have six kids between us, he is my oldest friend. At school, we were probably the two least likely boys in the class to ever procreate, yet somehow we have ended up with six under five, leaving those you might have put money on in the dust. The reduced adult to child ratio due to a convenient Bonaparte's Gull had resulted in my middle one toppling her bike into the same ditch of nettles. Mrs L and Mrs Burger had simultaeneously raced to assist, and whilst they ran ahead, the pushchair Mrs B had been pushing rolled off the path and into...the ditch full of nettles. It's fair to say that the path has an extreme camber. Anyway, youngest Burger toppled into the nettles as well, face first. So a quick trip to the pub has resulted in fifty percent of offspring injured, superb parenting. Everyone was pleased to see me when I got back.

Friday 10 April 2009

A superb day out

Excellent day out in Suffolk today, year-ticking like a nutter. Think I got eight in the end, to take me to 201, but that was not the main point of the day. Actually what was the main point of the day? I think it was loosely based around the desire, some might say need, to see the Purple Heron at Shingle Street, but it turned into more than that.

Bradders and I set out at 5.30am for Suffolk, and saw the Heron very well in a field, in flight, and in a bush, almost immediately we arrived. It promptly disappeared again, seemed quite a wary bird. We wandered about a bit looking for migrants but it was extremely quiet bar a couple of Wheatears and Sedgie, so like the troopers we are we gave up and went to Minsmere before the rest of the world did.

This proved a smart option, as there were very few cars there when we arrived, and it was stuffed when we left around lunchtime. After a nutritious Double Decker breakfast, we did a clockwise circuit, spending quite a lot of time attempting Godwit photography from the hide near the beach. I gained a couple more year ticks from here with Common Tern and blantantly supressed Barnacle Goose, and we helped a man just starting on this mad journey identify as many waders as we could find, before going on our way, enjoying the sunshine. Reed Warbler on the Reserve was another year tick and by this point in the day I had gained six to put me on the brink at 199. Round about this point we realised that we were having quite a productive day, and whilst Bradders sourced some lunch, I wrote down the day list, which came to 81. Party-animals that we are, we decided that we should attempt 100, which I have never done before, and so started planning what we might see where. This involved David working out likely birds and sites, and me fretting that we were never going to make it.

DB's planning involved going back via Essex, which seemed a like great idea, until I realised that there was a Spoonbill cunningly built into on his agenda, which he needed for '09 and I didn't! "Lets just go straight home and not go birding anymore" I said, but we went for it anyway AND I found it AND generously got him onto it. Having said that, he would have found it in another 30 seconds, and also he had inadvertently got me onto Whimbrel on the way to the Spoonbill, which he already had and I didn't, so I was already on 200 and feeling magnanimous.

A couple of waders later and we had cleared the ton. So 100 in a day and 200 for the year. Boy am I cool. I am not sure what bird was #100, it was all just too exciting. Actually I had cocked it up by missing Cormorant off the original list made at lunchtime. It might have been the Spoonbill, but I think we celebrated a Grey Plover. We found an elusive Whitethroat near Abberton Res late in the day which was David's landmark 200 for 2009, so a good day for both of us.

I got back several hours after my original estimate, but amazingly didn't get into too much trouble - I think Mrs L was expecting it. And needless to say, she shared my excitement at getting to 200 and seeing 105 species in a day. She said something that sounded a bit like "hmmmm, whatever" but I knew she really meant "Wow, thats amazing, well done!"

Thursday 9 April 2009

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Jaunt Part 1, Singapore

I hate flying, so what better than to spend 12 hours on a brand new untried and untested plane, flown by people who can therefore have scant experience of flying it. Actually the new A380 superjumbo was very nice - if you like planes (which I don't) - and it did its job very well, which in this particular instance was getting me to Singapore in one piece. Bob and I landed at 7.30am Singapore time, which was approx 11pm London time. We had an entire day (or night...) in Singapore before the next leg to Brisbane, and thought a spot of sight-seeing might be in order. Neither of us are shopping people, so we decided to miss out the highlights of downtown Singapore, and instead headed for the largely uninhabited island of Pulau Ubin, which sits just north of the main island. Reached by charmingly-named Bumboat from Changi Village, it is a relic of what Singapore used to be like, unpaved roads, and the occasional Kampong. It is also, purely coincidentally, one of the best places in Singapore for birds, so good thing that Bob liked my suggestion that we go there, hire bikes, and explore the island.

Scaly-breasted Munia

When we got there, geniuses both, we realised we were woefully unprepared. We had perhaps half a litre of water, no sunscreen, it was about 32 degrees, and it was 1.30 in the morning. At least the £3-per-day bikes were really really high quality, which would make cycling round the rough paths serenely easy oh yes. Bob, veteran marathon-runner and iron-man trainee, fared rather better than I did, as the following post-cycling photos demonstrate.

Fit scottish guy

Unfit english guy

Anyway birds, yes, there were some. Not as many as I expected, but I was in such a state I probably missed loads. Also, and despite the massive gulf in comparative fitness, Bob was carrying just a map, roughly 1 sheet of A3, whereas I had bins, field guide, camera and stupid lense, more lenses, batteries, chargers, the water, and about 30lbs of excess fat. Not a great deal I can do about the flab in the next two weeks, but I may revise what I was planning on taking to Delhi...

In addition to all the birds I haven't mentioned at all yet, there were also highly impressive, huge, scary, expletive-provoking spiders, stacks of lizards of varying sizes, the biggest well over a meter, and some Long-tailed Macaques at the eastern end of the island, a wetland area called Chek Jawa.

Sweet baby moses - just enlarge the picture

"mwwwwm, mwwaaaa, mwmmmm mmwamm"

Birds, yes. The daylist is below, but the highlight was as we were drinking beers after having finished our gruelling tour. Never has beer tasted so good by the way - utterly wiped-out after 30 hours on the go, jet-lagged, physically exhausted, sun-burned, saddle-sore and dehydrated - Tiger Beer hit the spot.

Bob: "Jono, there's your bird! That bird thing you were looking for! The, err, whatever the fuck it was called, the one with the big beak!"

Jono: "HORNBILL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

For a man on the verge of death, I moved very quickly

Avian Berocca

Absolutely stunning, and with an amazing call. Bob spotted this one at Pulau Ubin village, and it spent some time in a tree right next to the jetty. I never for one minute thought we would see one, this would be the bird of the trip no matter what else I saw. There was another bird at Changi Village near the hawking centre, so perhaps they are more common than you might think.

Anyway, our slow cycle round the various pathes netted 39 different species, with a handful of unidentifieds, the most annoying of which was bright red and black, and looked very cool as it disappeared into a bush never to be seen again. The most productive area was Ketam Mountain Bike Park, west of the jetty. It was here we got the White-bellied Sea Eagle, Brown Shrike, the Coucal, the Oriole and the Munia.

Trip list, day 1. In order seen.

1. Javan Myna
2. Himalayan Swiftlet
3. Pacific Swallow
4. Black-nest Swiftlet
5. Brahminy Kite
6. Great White Egret
7. Little Egret
8. Grey Heron
9. Common Kingfisher
10. Collared Kingfisher
11. Spotted Dove
12. Brown Shrike
13. White-crested Laughing-thrush
14. White-bellied Sea Eagle
15. Oriental Magpie-robin
16. Black-naped Oriole
17. Greater Coucal
18. Scaly-breasted Munia
19. Red-breasted Parakeet
20. Yellow-vented Bulbul
21. Asian Glossy Starling
22. Tree Sparrow
23. Olive-winged Bulbul
24. Striated Heron
25. Grey Plover
26. Whimbrel
27. Unidentified small wader, still working on it...*
28. Changeable Hawk-eagle
29. House Crow
30. Ashy Bulbul
31. Peaceful Dove
32. Black Magpie
33. Ashy Tailorbird
34. Red Junglefowl (excellent with satay)
35. Common Myna
36. Black-naped Tern
37. Oriental Pied-hornbill
38. Blue-rumped Parrot
39. Cattle Egret

So we saw some good stuff, and it was very calm and quiet if that is what you were after. The island has fewer than 100 residents, and not many visitors in the week, though by the looks of the number of hire-bikes available, weekends could be a very different story. Definitely recommended if you have about 6 hours spare in Singapore, and don't mind a bit of pain in the name of birding. Alternatively, what you could do is skip the mountain bike part, which is what did it for me, and just start on the Tiger Beers as soon as you arrive. You would see fewer species (the Cafe count was 14, including such gems as the Hornbill and W-B Sea Eagle), but it would feel much more like a holiday.

Ashy Tailorbird, Chek Jawa

White-bellied Sea Eagle, Ketam

* It actually looks like a Common Sand in the photo, but that wouldn't be a tick, so I am going to turn it into something better.

Monday 6 April 2009

Spring is here!

It's official, Spring is here. How do I know this? You may think that it's because today I saw a Willow Warbler, a Yellow Wag, 2 Little Gulls, some Sand Martins and a pair of Garganey, and because there are 19 million Chiffchaffs singing in Bush Wood, but you would be wrong.

Here, neatly summed up in a single image, is why:

Punxsutawney Toe

I am still going through all the photos from Australia, it will likely take the rest of my life. Digital is great, but encourages profligacy. In the meantime, here is why I didn't get quite as much birding done as I had hoped...

Coffs Harbour last week. It's fair to say it rained a bit.

Sunday 5 April 2009

A Jaunt - Teaser

Back home after a pretty intense nine days. A ridiculous amount of rain and flooding, and not much birding, but at least I was able to add Amazing Bright-yellow Bird to my world list. More to follow when I work out what day it is....