Friday 24 July 2009

Another one snaffled

In my last post I mentioned I was unemployed and that this is good for twitching rare birds, especially megas that are found on weekdays and very sadly only stick around for a few hours. The last part is very true, as proved once again today. The first part however is not true. No, I am not unemployed. That has perjorative connotations, and makes me out to be some kind of wastrel good-for-nothing flip-flop-wearing lay-about. Many parents throughout the land choose to stay at home in flip-flops without an income in order to look after children, and that is what I am doing. I am officially a stay-at-home-except-when-a-rare-bird-turns-up Dad. Nothing wrong with that.

One of these is not a Black-headed Gull

It is said that fortune favours the bold. When the Great Spotted Cuckoo was found in Norfolk yesterday afternoon, I could have gone for it there and then. I would have got it as well, except I would have arrived after my youngest's bedtime and she wouldn't have had any dinner. Model parent that I am, after much consideration this was ruled out as not being fair, and anyway the ratio of time spent driving to time spent birding was highly unfavourable. No, I resisted stealing a march, and decided to go today instead. I hatched a plan with the Monkey whereby I would take a gross risk and drive up early doors on no news, spend my redundancy payout on diesel yet again, and phone him with an pre-pager update as soon as I arrived. So whilst the Monkey slept soundly, no doubt dribbling gently into his pillow and dreaming of the next tick, I stumbled round my house half-asleep at 4.30am, woke up and fed a surprised toddler, made another picnic, packed the car and drove 120 risky miles. It paid off, the bird was still there, and showed superbly - Get in! 7:28am and the JL Bird Alert service swings into action a full 20 minutes before the pagers kick off. Other London birders start finalising plans, and Monkey gets in his car.

Very unfortunately the bird chose to bugger off at about 11am, and was not seen again all day. Monkey arrived at about 11:00:30. Oh dear. This is a genuine "oh dear", not, I assure you, to be read with a smirk unless you are cruel and heartless, which I am not. Seeing a rare bird is a thrilling experience, you want your friends to be able to enjoy them too. Dipping is horrible, really crummy. I dipped a Fan-tailed Warbler last year, which is really really rare, by 30 seconds. I would have preferred to miss it by several hours. But at least Monkey's children got 5 quality hours in the car with Dad and were able to experience birding at its best. I wonder what they talked about on the way home?

This is a Tick-Monkey. Can you imagine what a Dip-Monkey looks like?

Later on in the day I dipped a relatively long-staying American Golden Plover. Whatever. I saw a Great Spotted Cuckoo! This bird also means that I am once again ahead of Bradders again in the year-listing game, although probably not for long as very happily the Cuckoo has been refound again this evening approx 1 mile from where it went missing, so the guys can have another crack at it tomorrow. Let's hope it dies in the night, er I mean stays all night.

Thursday 23 July 2009

By the skin of my teeth

As a number of my mates read this blog, it would be rude not to write about the second mainland twitchable Blue-cheeked Bee-eater since 1950 that I saw yesterday. OMFL, as they say. Anyhow, a pleasant morning was shattered at roughly 10:30 when my pager and phone went beserk simultaeneously. At the time I was in a supermarket carpark, just about to unload the kids. As I have been in charge of the shopping and the shopping list this week, it will come as a surprise that we even made it as far as Wednesday, but we were totally out. I had dry cereal for breakfast - the life of a parent is one long sacrifice. Hawky was one of the first to call: roughly "Go Go GO!!!!!!!!!!!!" Somehow we continued into the supermarket - I had promised the kids little tiny trollies and to abandon this could have been disastrous. The shopping list was transformed into a picnic list, a quick stop off home to put it all together and gather optics, nappy changing equipment, raincoats, beakers, spare clothes, the buggy, soft toys and all the other crap you need in order to survive with children away from home, and we were off.

By this point it was rather disappointingly midday, and I was wondering if I hadn't made a serious mistake in not leaving the children with the Manager of Waitrose in South Woodford. Even more so when the Dartford crossing was all bunged up, and I almost cried when the pager came up with a "flew out to sea" message at about 1pm whilst still half an hour away. But crucially I continued rather than abort, and a quick call to Bradders established that it had come back and was sitting in a bush. I arrived on-site, found a space, and loaded up the buggy, a process which takes five minutes in itself - you can't just commando-roll out of the car with kids. A returning twitcher pointed the way, and off we set as fast as I could push. Halfway down the hill I noticed the guy 20 yards in front of me stop suddenly, and then heard a funny "Prrrrt" call. As one we turned and raised bins, and a funny-looking greeny-blue bird with a long tail projection flew past us and up the hill. Yay! Any further down the hill and we would have missed it. Indeed this is what happened to another twitcher who had arrived on-site at the same time as me, and had been running, and so was below the bird when it flew up. In this instance being burdened with a buggy and children turned out to have been rather fortunate. My views lasted all of about 20 seconds, and were poor against a bright sky, but it was enough. Euphoric, I cursed myself for being so slow to leave. On first news I would have spent an hour looking at it sat up in a Hawthorn, taken a few photos, and have been in a much better position to grip people off, but hey, sometimes you take what you can get, and this is one of those times.

We continued on down to the twitch in the hope it would return to the bush, but no joy. Back at the top of the hill an hour or so later, with my phone in total meltdown from East London-based birders wanting news, stacks of eager twitchers were arriving to find the bird gone. I may have been one of the last people to see it as it didn't get refound all day. So I am officially a jammy git. Three cheers to being unemployed! Here's hoping it flew off to the continent and will never grace these sunny shores again that it gets refound so all my mates can see it too ;-)

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Undeniably birding

The last few days have been tough. Mrs L is away camping with the eldest, and I am left with the two girls. No problem, I am an expert at parenting now, and anyway, middle kid (need to think of some pseudonyms) goes to nursery on Monday and Tuesdays, how hard can it be? Hard. Unfortunately a small light reddish area underneath middle kid's (still thinking...) eye on Friday night had developed into a horrible bright red and scabby sore by Monday morning. By some miracle I managed to get a doctor's appointment ahead of the squealing masses, and impetigo was confirmed. Highly infectious, so nursery was out. Bugger. Took a tricky decision out of my hands though, as earlier in the morning the nursery had called to say that two kids in her room had contracted swine flu, and it was up to me whether I brought her in or not...

The weather has been pretty naff, and staying indoors has been the easy option. I have read more Thomas the Tank Engine stories than I care to recount, picked up every toy in the house at least five times, and watched more DVDs than is healthy. By yesterday we were all a bit cabin-feverish, and despite the intermittent rain I dragged us all out birding. I love birding, I really do. I don't know why I find it so difficult to get my butt out of the house; as soon as I am actually out there it is fantastic. So off we went. Not in Wanstead obviously, one step at a time, but it was definitely birding. Rainham was the destination, an easy sell as it has a playground, a cafe, and a shop.

I think she is trying to tell me something

As it happened, the birds were pretty thin on the ground. I saw some Whimbrel sat on some posts before I had even left the visitor centre, and a Green Sand was the only other bird of note. There is no water on site, which is going to make for a rubbish autumn unless we get a bucket load of rain sometime soon. But it was a pleasant amble round, we looked at frogs, daisies, the odd butterfly, and a few birds. I surprised myself with the Green Sand, ID-ing it in flight before it had even landed, and thus appeared mightily talented to two old dears nearby, but I guess you get lucky sometimes. As soon as it landed I decided it was a Redshank, and was forced to scope it, whereupon it resolved itself into a Green Sand again. Hopeless. Still, it was nice to see a few familiar faces, have a chat with H, and crucially it ate up three hours and got us all a good dose of fresh air. I am not entirely convinced of the benefits of the latter though. All the days we have stayed at home the girls have been good as gold. Yesterday evening ended with the two of them screaming their heads off, wanting Mummy, Linguini con fave fresche uneaten in front of them.

Blogging can be a distraction when making toast

Also, whilst yesterday's post was about the need to take this less seriously, I immediately caved into adding something called the Fat Birder Top 1000 Bird Websites application to the bottom of this page. I came in at an ego-busting 992 so might be taking it off again - a lesson if ever there was one!

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Must write something, must write something, must write someth....

Yesterday evening I looked at this page for the first time in about a week, and discovered that all the blogs I follow (that growing list on the right) had blogged very recently, and in some cases had blogged several times. I realised I had not informed the world wide web what had been happening in the Lethbridge household for quite a few days, and hastily (could you guess?) put together a post that neatly summed up the intervening period. Phew, well thats done for another few days. Then this morning another quick check and a few of them have been at it again, and all of a sudden the pressure is on again!

Now hang on a minute. I am not a slave to the web, as this post at 8.52am on a Tuesday clearly demonstrates. I don't feel the need to bung something up just to satisfy the masses (ha ha). And I am not obsessed by statcounter. No no. Talking of which, after I linked to that Belgian Waffle blog (probably the most productive of the ones I read, the volume of output is insane, somebody should take her computer away) I immediately got a massive increase in hits from all around the globe. Now as you know, Wanstead (remember Wanstead? This is a blog about Wanstead), is a pretty fab and exciting place, especially on the birding front, but global appeal? Hmmm. A bit of digging and I discover that about 90% of visitors are coming from the Waffle-blog. Huh? I am amazed to find out that it has taken a mere 24 hours for the author of said Waffle-blog to discover I have linked to her site, twittered (TM) about it, and hey presto I have a stream of web-savvy housewives visiting Wanstead Birder. Sadly none of them got in contact, and being confronted with a post about insects rather than birds most of them have never visited again. Hence the pink brush photo; it is all part of my strategy of global appeal and weboland domination.

Er I appear to have been side-tracked. I was going to talk about the urge to blog. I told myself this would never happen. As Sir Humphrey said, if you have nothing to say, say nothing. Sound advice. I'd be interested to know if this has happened to other people? I was very clear at the outset; it was just a bit of fun, a place to bung up the odd photo, a way to take the piss out of my mates, and latterly, being unemployed, a way in which to keep the grey matter active and raise my intellectual level away from In the Night Garden. Six months in, I'm still working on the last point, but my personal experience is that this blog has become slightly more than what it was supposed to be. I mean, I walk round the house looking for things to take pictures of. Like socks. When I'm out and about, I have half an eye on what might make an interesting photo. I have driven past Cock Lane near Broxbourne Woods three times now without stopping - my powers of resistance are immense! Thank God the birding is about to pick up, I might not have been able to hold off much longer. So why might this be? About five of my mates read it. Mrs L reads it, just to check. I think members of my family may surreptitiously read it, but are too polite to say anything. Some other London birders who I don't know read it. And briefly, about 350 bored women from around the world read it. How on earth should this change my outlook on how I go about this blog? Were the paps outside yesterday when I took the recycling out? No they were not. So I just need to relax and remember that it is all just a spot of fun for my own amusement.

I also need to remember that it was supposed to be about birding in Wanstead. To be fair there is quite a lot about Wanstead, albeit it a certain house in Wanstead. Frankly though, it could be anywhere. I mean, does anyone who reads this actually think they now know more about Wanstead than they did before? I very much doubt it. Do they know more about birding? Exactly. I need to get back on track, or else change the title of this blog to Not Birding in Wanstead (although I am terrified of what that might do to statcounter.) Maybe a post with some interesting facts about the borough first....

Oh and contrary to the last post, I have been out. I twitched a Red-backed Shrike in Sussex. Although I told myself it was because it was a male (and absolutely stunning it was too), secretly it was so that I could go one ahead of Bradders in the year-listing stakes. This must rankle him as he sits at his desk during the week, and sure enough this weekend he went ahead again, and phoned me approximately 0.2 nanoseconds after he had nailed the Great White Egret at Southwold to tell me so. There you go, bird content.

Interestingly Bradders hasn't posted anything on his blog for two weeks. Sensible chap. I wonder how he is feeling though?


Monday 20 July 2009

La vie en rose

I found this at Tesco; my life is complete. I have not been birding lately, but the shower is very clean.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Sock issues and a "doggy"

Problem - I have too many socks. Now that I am a bum, I wear flip-flops all day long. Consequently there are no longer any socks working their way through the system; they are all clean and my sock drawer is overflowing to the point where it is almost impossible to close. And when I do need to go in there, for instance for a pair of walking socks, the action of pulling them out disturbs the delicate tessellation. You would think that removing a pair of socks would make the drawer that little bit easier to close but you would be wrong. You have to start over, and another precious two minutes when you could be damp-dusting is gone forever. So what should I do? Throw some socks away? Create a second sock stash somewhere? This is the kind of weighty issue that now consumes my every waking moment, and has been annoying me since about April. There is a similar issue with the shirt cupboard, but that is less of a problem as I go in there less frequently, and the overspill of shirts seems quite happy on the back of a chair where it has been since March. In fact the whole house is a bit of a tip. Look at this pile of filing that I have to do!

Note the caution employed before publishing this to the world wide web. Despite a readership numbering in the, oh, tens, you can never be too careful.

It is always the same. You do no filing for six months, and then do the whole lot in one day, and it takes hours. When it is finally over, you get that unique feeling of satisfaction as you bask in the extra 3 ft sq of floor space you have created. As you crack open the celebratory bubbly, you tell yourself very firmly that this WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN and that you will do the filing religiously every week at an allotted time. You are very serious about this commitment. After all, it is June and there are no birds to see anyway. The first week passes, and you suddenly find you have not even opened the post, let alone thought about filing it. So you don't bother, and slowly but surely a huge mound of paper builds up. You start off by putting it in neat piles on the kitchen counter. When the row of little piles reaches 6ft long and you can no longer make a cup of tea, the piles get moved upstairs, and the kitchen is a vision of loveliness once more. Out of sight, out of mind. Six months pass, and then one day you discover you live in a shit-hole. "Fuck it" you say, and go off and look at butterflies instead. But THE PILE IS STILL THERE, rankling, growing. You tell yourself you will definitely sort it out. Soon. Living the domestic dream. Anyway why can't people just stop sending me stuff?

Eating breakfast en famille this morning, we were surprised when our youngest spotted a "doggy" in the garden. It had buried some food in a large plant pot, and was craftily retrieving it piece by piece and slinking off to eat it behind the greenhouse. I was able to sneak out and position myself for when it came back for more - "click" - fair to say it was quite surprised. To show its appreciation for the friendly householder it left a smeary shit on the lawn after I had gone back inside. Nice doggy.

"Why is there a man in pants crouching near my toilet?"

One more piece of news - another addition to the reading list on the right. Deserves a link on the basis of this post alone. As a recent employee of a large multi-national, and all the utter bollocks that goes with it, this left a big grin on my face. I look forward to using it when I start to look for work again.

Saturday 11 July 2009

Warning, may contain Wanstead

Those of a nervous disposition should navigate away now, this post could well be too exciting for you to cope with. Yes, I went birding in Wanstead. More accurately I went twitching in Wanstead. A text from Paul at 12:09 said "Little Egret west end of Heronry Pond". Believe me, this is about as exciting as it gets in Wanstead. I proceeded to run around like a lunatic, gathering bins, pushchair and children, and stormed out of the house. Pathetic does not come close. We got to the pond an amazing 11 minutes later at 12:20, I took an underwhelming photo on my phone at 12:21, reproduced below, and at 12:22 some Crows chased the Egret off. Splendid. Was I ecstatic and over the moon? Yes (in a non-geeky way of course). As the Egret flew off west, on a path that would take it directly over my garden, did absurd depression set in? Ish.

This is site tick #96 for Wanstead. Calm down now.

Anything else been happening? Nada. But then how could anything match that? I had to lie down for the rest of the week to recover, and tomorrow I am off to Norfolk with the boys which should be the ideal tonic and allow me to get Wanstead out of my system. We're going in Shaun's white van, so we can swear copiously at other road users. Paul and Monkey may join us. If they do, we need to find a way to keep Paul awake, as last weekend at Howard's BBQ he kept on falling asleep.

A BOU list of over 400 belies his youthful appearance

Wednesday 8 July 2009


Just finished playing Hide and Seek with my two daughters. They were hiding behind the armchair upstairs, which is exactly where they hid last time, and also the time before that. This makes the game only marginally challenging, but they both enjoy it enormously. It will be a momentous occasion the day I go upstairs and find the spot behind the chair empty. Still, whilst I am dutifully counting to twenty downstairs, and they are finding yet another really really good hiding place upstairs, I can continue with my never-ending domestic adventure.

This has been cleaned since the last photo and was beautiful and gleaming. Mrs L cooked potatoes on the top right burner about 5 minutes after I cleaned it. I lost the will to live.

This week I have been stung by some harsh criticism. Both girls have coughs. This is not some minor bug though, like Swine Flu for instance. No. It is caused by dust. This was the pronouncement of Mrs L as I dragged my broken body into bed last Sunday at about 11pm after taking the bin out, sorting out the recycling, hanging up the washing, doing the washing up, and stacking the dishwasher. Apparently I have not vacuumed enough upstairs, nor have I done enough DAMP dusting. This is different to normal dusting, MUCH more effective. I remember fondly Mrs L doing some damp-dusting in about 1999, so I'm glad she still remembers just how effective it is. Anyway, not wanting to be thought of as a shirker of domestic responsibility, I spent the whole of Monday morning after my lie-in cleaning the upstairs. I even vacuumed the picture rails, I think for the first time since we moved here in 2004. "You should damp-dust" said Mrs L as I drifted past with the vacuum. Mrs L works from home on a Monday, which is handy for cups of tea, but less handy for up-to-the-minute commentary on the state of the house. This of course means that I do all the cleaning on Mondays, and then just loll about for the rest of the week. So the burning question - did the upstairs need vacuuming? Possibly.

Today the watchful eye is at work, so I have been swanning about at home. I vacuumed downstairs and did two loads of washing before the Ashes started, but since then it has all been a bit slack, bar the odd lengthy hunt for hidden children. Very happily Blowers is back, so there are plummy tones coming from the radio talking about Amber Liquid. We're not doing very well though. I already have two emails from Shippo. The first one can be summarised as follows: "You Pommy bastards are a load of shite". The second is similar to the first. Good old Shippo, long may this correspondence continue. I can only hope that we do better than in 2007, or opening my emails could become an increasingly traumatic experience.

Order. Peace. Tranquility. Pre-chaos.

The girls and I took lunch at midday precisely, Beans on Mat again, a firm favourite. They are now having a nap, and in between doing boring tasks like working out how the fluorescent lights work, I am writing this. Two out of the three lights don't work anymore, and I can't possibly cook in poor lighting conditions. Bad light stops Stir Fry. The good news is that I have got the tubes out, and even rather expertly switched the little starter things around with the one that still works, to make sure it is actually the bulbs that need replacing.

Right, that's it. I'm off to hoover up dried baked beans from the conservatory floor. Top tip of the day: In summer, leave all food spillages for at least 2 hours. They dry out very quickly and are much easier to clean up. Also, rice is by far the most satisfying food spillage. In a freshly-emptied Dyson the grains make a fab noise rattling round the container bit.

Visible here are two baked beans that escaped from a toddler at lunch, plus a very small piece of toast (right). The yellow bit (below) is either a fragment of cornflake from breakfast, or sweetcorn from dinner yesterday. I neither know nor care.

Oh, and token bird content from the weekend.

Traffic-cone-billed Tern.

EDIT at 4.10pm. We have light! Dinner is assured.

Thursday 2 July 2009

Autumn, Lepidoptery and random waffle

Happy Autumn everyone! Summer is over; the great depression that was June has lifted, and we are now well into July. As such, birds have started to appear again. Wader passage has started, and an Osprey has been seen heading south in Sussex. A Goosander flew over Holland Haven in Essex, so it might even be winter there. But none of these events have happened in Wanstead, which is still stuck firmly in mid-June. Rubbish. The highlight has been the addition of Tawny Owl to the garden list, which is now up to #50. I suppose that this is momentous and I should feel euphoric, but in fact I had Tawny down as #49, and then when I saw a House Martin go over realised I had forgotton to add Swallow from 2006 - the mind works in odd ways sometimes. So everything moved up a place, somewhat taking the shine off the landmark. It has taken 4 years, 6 months, and 1 week. I like to be precise, especially when making lists of things I've seen. Paul, just down the road in Leyton, is on 100, which has taken him 25 years, so I have something to aim at. I suppose I should make a list of targets - perhaps when I have some spare time.

Can a butterfly be said to be cute?

This week has largely been about pottering in the garden on the lookout for insects. I am ashamed to say that butterflies featured heavily - the conservatory seems to be a magnet for them. My fledgling butterfly list zoomed up by 5 species yesterday, all of them caught indoors. At this rate I will be done by next week. They are actually pretty easy to identify if you have a good look at a stationary one, unlike moths. Another confession: I also have a butterfly book, have had for years. Never really looked at it, but it is proving very useful now. It is a weighty tome called the Millenium Atlas of Butterflies in the UK and Ireland; basically the results of years of tetrad surveys, but helpfully has species accounts as well. Also tells you where to find stuff, though the garden seems to be ideal and also does not require huge expenditure on diesel. Might struggle for Glanville Fritillary, but I'll worry about that one later. I have also discovered that a 12mm extension tube added to my wide-angle zoom lense gives it a rather useful macro feature, reducing the minimum focus distance from 23cm to about 2cm. This means a stealthy approach is needed, but the results are amazing, and again, no spend. Let's just set that out so that we are all clear. The moth trap cost nothing, as it was cobbled together from junk that I had lying round the house. The "Macro" lens cost nothing. Well, that is not quite true of course, the lens sadly wasn't free. But I had both it and the extension tube already, and putting them together obviated the need to spend money on a dedicated Macro lens. And I have spent no money on diesel in this pursuit. This is all to convince Mrs L, who has been known to read this claptrap to check I am not being rude about her, that butterflies, moths and other insects are in fact a good thing.

My trained Small Heath. Or Meadow Brown. Pffff.

Talking of which, the moth trap has been going great guns. I peaked too early with the Hawkmoth; everything else has been drab and boring, but I am still amazed at the variety of things in the garden. It has been on every night and collected 39 species of moths, most of which defy identification - the current tally is 11 known vs 28 unknown. Very very difficult. Interestingly there are species called Uncertain, Confused and Suspected, which sum up my attempts at identification perfectly. I pull in about 5 or 6 moths a night on average. This is more than enough to keep me happy, any more and I would be overwhelmed. As it is it takes me an hour going through the book every morning, and generally I only manage to ID about one in three, so I think an expensive mercury vapour light would be overkill.

This morning this was in the trap.

Twice through the book and no joy. I thought the upper-wing pattern looked quite like a waffle, and not putting it past the scientists who can name a moth Confused, I typed "Waffle Moth" into google to see if this would yield any results. It didn't, but the top hit was for a blog called Belgian Waffle, and a post catchily entitled "Welcome to my beautiful home where moths flit gaily through the dirty socks". Curious, I read on, and became more or less instantly hooked - I think it must be the domestic drudgery and childcare aspects that I can readily relate to. It appears to be written by a Brit living in exciting Belgium doing an EU-related job that she hates whilst her home life descends into chaos. Keywords would include despair, death, and biscuits. Anyway, yet again I am stunned by the quality of writing you can find randomly on the web - this stuff is articulate, witty, and entertaining. It is not even about birds, but I enjoyed it so much that I am going to link to it. And continuing the time-honoured tradition of nicking ideas from other peoples' blogs, my next posting may be about domestic bliss. God knows there's a lot of it. The last time I tackled this subject I turned to poetry, so there is scope for more of that perhaps. In the meantime a teaser.

Some cleaning may be required soon