Thursday 31 December 2009

Wanstead 2010

Jan 1st
1 Robin
2 Mute Swan
3 Gadwall
4 Coot
5 Pochard
6 Canada Goose
Jan 2nd
7 Feral Pigeon
8 Great Tit
9 Woodpigeon
10 Crow
11 Redwing
12 Magpie
13 Common Gull
14 Black-headed Gull
15 Blackbird
16 Jackdaw
17 Wren
18 Starling
19 Stonechat
20 Meadow Pipit
21 Green Woodpecker
22 Blue Tit
23 Greenfinch
24 Mistle Thrush
Jan 4th
25 Pied Wagtail
26 Lesser Black-backed Gull
27 Little Grebe
28 Mallard
29 Moorhen
30 Goldcrest
31 Fieldfare
32 Collared Dove

Jan 5th
33 Dunnock
34 Reed Bunting
35 Skylark
36 Jay
37 Cormorant
38 Goldfinch
39 Great Spotted Woodpecker
40 Song Thrush
41 Long-tailed Tit
Jan 6th
42 Tufted Duck
43 Ring-necked Parakeet
44 Grey Heron
45 Shoveler
46 Lesser Redpoll
47 Chaffinch
48 Snipe
Jan 7th
49 Herring Gull
Jan 9th
50 House Sparrow
51 Water Rail
Jan 12th
52 Stock Dove
53 Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Jan 16th
54 Teal
Jan 17th
55 Greylag Goose
56 Egyptian Goose
57 Sparrowhawk
Jan 19th
58 Chiffchaff
59 Coal Tit
60 Firecrest
61 Great Crested Grebe
Jan 21st
62 Kingfisher
Jan 22nd
63 Kestrel
Jan 26th
64 Bullfinch
Jan 28th
65 Siskin
Feb 5th
66 Blackcap
Feb 9th
67 Pheasant
68 Grey Wagtail
Feb 20th
69 Linnet
Feb 23rd
70 Great Black-backed Gull
Mar 20th
71 Wheatear
Mar 24th
72 Little Owl
Mar 26th
73 Red Kite
Mar 28th
74 Willow Warbler
Mar 30th
75 Swallow
Apr 11th
76 Whitethroat
77 House Martin
78 Sand Martin
Apr 13th
79 Buzzard
Apr 19th
80 Peregrine
Apr 20th
81 Tree Pipit
82 Lesser Whitethroat
83 Whinchat
84 Hobby
Apr 21st
85 Dunlin
Apr 22nd
86 Yellow Wagtail
Apr 23rd
87 Shelduck
Apr 25th
88 Swift
Apr 26th
89 Garden Warbler
Apr 27th
90 Little Egret
May 14th
91 Common Sandpiper
May 17th
92 Reed Warbler
May 18th
93 Lapwing
May 19th
94 Turtle Dove
July 6th
95 Mediterranean Gull
July 10th
96 Common Tern
July 15th
97 Tawny Owl
July 18th
98 Sedge Warbler
Aug 17th
99 Yellow-legged Gull
Aug 22nd
100 Spotted Flycatcher
101 Common Redstart
Sep 17th
102 Wryneck
Sep 25th
103 Wigeon
Sep 28th
104 Ring Ouzel
Oct 26th
105 Waxwing
106 Brambling
Nov 6th
107 Yellowhammer
Nov 29th
108 Treecreeper

Last chance this year!

Right, I have been putting this off for as long as possible, and now it's crunch time.

2010 Goals

Professional Goals
- Potty train Pudding before spring migration
- Improve my cleaning skills in an undefinable way
- Find a new career that does not involve banks

Personal Goals (geeks may wish to skip this section)
- 2 new birds a month for a BOU list of 362 by 2011
- 150 for Rainham in 2010
- 100 in Wanstead again
- 220 for London & 235 for Essex
- Get a haircut
- Become a better birder...

Right, that's that sorted. Next up the year in review.

Best birding moment
Finding a male Ring Ouzel on Wanstead Flats in April. I left the house with the firm intention of finding a Ring Ouzel, and went straight to that bit just east of Long Wood where I had seen one the previous autumn. I walked around a hawthorn and was absolutely staggered to see one in front of me. I'll never forget it.

Worst birding moment
Mrs L has a number of suggestions, but this is mine (though it's on her list too). Going for the Black-winged Pratincole on the evening of it's first day. I just abandoned the family as soon as we got back in from seeing friends, was ratty throughout our long-planned day out, and I should not have gone. Drove all the way to Reculver in Kent and dipped.

Best bird
Any number of candidates for best bird, but I think my overall favourite was the Pallid Harrier in Cambridgeshire. Magnificent! The Pratincoles were great, especially the Collared which flew around quite a lot, the Fea's and the Bee-eater are the stuff grips are made of, the Collared Flycatcher was a lovely bird, but four hours in the car meant I experienced relief rather than elation, and the Crested Lark was simply boring. No, the Harrier takes the prize - a ghostly vision across a bleak landscape.

Worst Bird
A toss up between Ferruginous Duck and Wryneck, but the duck edges it. I drove all the way round to Staines to see one, and then scrubbed it from the list when it became known to be a long-staying escape having a sojourn. One then turned up at Trimley in Suffolk, and I went for it not realising that the walk from where the road ended to where Trimley Marshes began took about six weeks. When I finally got there I couldn't find the correct lake and spent another three weeks looking for it. When I eventually found it, it was behind a locked gate. And when I had finally negotiated that, the duck was right at the far end of the lake and gave crap views before swimming round a corner. Then I had to get round the gate again and start the walk back. Rubbish.

I dipped four Wrynecks, driving something like 500 miles in the process, and then got one less than an hour after arriving on Scilly. But when you see one you forget all the torture as they're really cool.

Best UK Trip
Hardly any competition for this one seeing as I have barely left Wanstead all year, but the trip to see half the Snowy Owl in Cornwall in mid-January was the most fun. Great company, a nice Owl's head, and an excellent supporting cast of winter birds. A solo one-day trip round the Scottish highlands cleaning up on everything expect eagles was a lot of fun too, but lacked the humour and camaraderie of Cornwall.

Worst UK Trip
Exeter to London via South Shields in a day. I was kidnapped by a birding associate who shall remain nameless. Bradders then forced me to sit in his car for 671 miles and thirteen hours, which made for a killer day. But the Eastern Crowned Warbler was still there, and we got it. I am retrospectively glad that I went but at the time I just wasn't in the mood. On the plus side, it put me off twitching for most of the rest of the year, and I got back into the patch big time.

Best Foreign Trip
A rather pointless category. I have left the country twice, once for a funeral in Australia, and once for a wedding in India. India it is then. It was a three-day trip, with a wedding and various parties slap bang in the middle which inconvenienced my birding hugely, but I still managed to see a host of new things all on my own, I didn't get a bad tummy, and I have learnt that Hoopoes are rubbish.

Best Domestic moment
Too many to mention. But finding the brush was memorable, and I still smile when I see it, and I doubt there are many cleaning implements you can say that about.

Worst Domestic moment
Quite recent actually - making a turkey curry that bit more exciting by adding some 6-7 year old Branston Pickle to the mix. Midway through the meal I asked Mrs L if she could detect the slight fruity edge?

"I told you to throw that away! That came with us from Beckton!"
"Did it?"
"Yes, and it was old then, and when the fridge died I said to ditch it then as well! I can't believe you're so stupid etc" [carries on for five minutes]
"It smelled OK..."

JL trots off to kitchen to check jar. Best before Dec 2006. Once open refrigerate and consume within 2 weeks. Ah.

Needless to say we were all fine. It was pickled after all, it probably has a half life.

Most amusing photograph
Taken just for Paul, this had me sniggering for hours, first at the thought of taking it, then actually taking it, and then driving home thinking about sending it to him. I am irrepressibly juvenile, and I don't intend to change!

Least amusing photograph
Technically taken in 2008, but I only received the good news in 2009....

So there you go, that was 2009. There are plenty of other highs and lows, but it's time to start afresh, and I have a lot of critical work to do to prepare for 2010. I will start a fresh page in the notebook, and all my spreadsheets need adapting. I need to work out tomorrow's targets, and a few January excursions. I am literally giddy with excitement!


Wednesday 30 December 2009


If at first you don't succeed, become annoyed and then cross your fingers and hope it stays for one more day. Well, I did, it did, and I saw it. Arrived at Rainham with Hawkeye just after first light, and spent the next five hours on a fairly quiet river watch with the regular crew. Things perked up briefly after an hour or so with a flock of fifteen adult Little Gulls heading up-river, but that was the only bright moment, and I feared some dipping was imminent. It took until after lunch for somebody to report the Great Skua up towards Aveley Bay, so following up on this sighting I went along the old seawall to see if I could locate it, getting cold and wet in the process. Didn't take long before I picked out a dark shape in the mist, sitting high, but I couldn't be totally sure due to the distance and murky conditions. I grappled with the Rainham CB and got a garbled message of the probable out, and then it took off and flew in a big loop around the river, showing that it indeed was the Bonxie. All the gulls went nuts and took off as well, it had a go at few, and then headed on up the river and was lost to view. Shivering, I headed back to discover that the entire gang had seen it fly its loop the relative comfort of the balcony, and indeed that Brenda had seen it from the warm and dry visitor centre. Splendid! Soon after this it actually drifted downstream and right past the visitor centre, thus allowing any interested and warm punters to scope it easily and comfortably, tea in hand. Still, I got it, and that is what counts. For those of you counting (I'm not) that is #209 for London, and really rather unexpected at the end of December.

All that needs to happen now is for it to stay for two more days so I can tick it again on the first of January. Ditto the Serin and the Bearded Tits. These three would get one of my entries in the 2010 London patchlist competition off to a great start. I've also entered Wanstead of course, and then as a left-field entry, Norfolk, with which I hope to wipe the board.

Fieldfare - taken in the dark, I've boosted this shot by about 2 stops. Thank goodness for RAW.

Tuesday 29 December 2009

76-6. Bugger.

I was glued to the radio today. Wild horses could not have dragged me away. With very few exceptions - for instance a couple of the final days in the 2005 Ashes tests, and Nathan Astle's awesome double-hundred in Christchurch in 2002 - I cannot remember a more exciting passage of play in a test match. Geoffrey was almost uncontrollable - four wickets fell in his spell! Amazing stuff.

However where wild horses would not have succeeded, a Bonxie in London would most certainly have done. There is a radio in the car after all. What a shame then that I was so captivated that I neglected to look at my pager all day.

Yep, a Great Skua sat on the river at Rainham today for the better part of four hours, and for all of those four hours I too sat on something. My arse. Arse. By the time I got a text from SHS regarding his success at connecting it was almost dark, and a brave yet foolish dash to Rainham saw me dip and get very wet. Bugger. Now I've seen hundreds of Great Skuas, including a very close encounter on Mull earlier this year, so you may ask why I am so particularly annoyed? Alternatively some of you may be able to guess why....

Yes, obsessive geek that I am, I have never seen a Great Skua....... in London. Nope, never seen one within an entirely arbitrary and pointless twenty mile circle centred on St Paul's Cathedral. And I want to. Hence I am annoyed. I haven't missed much this year, Great Skua is somewhat of a London mega, and on day I was doing diddly squat I didn't bother looking at a pager that I pay good money for to tell me these things. And it isn't like I was doing anything virtuous like volunteering at a OAP centre or damp dusting. I was sat listening to TMS and playing with lego. Bugger.

I'm crossing my fingers that it is still around tomorrow. The weather this afternoon was on the horrible side of miserable, visibility incredibly poor, so perhaps it won't bother trying to find its way out and will stay close to the thousands of poor defenceless gulls. I live in hope, and will be trying to find it tomorrow. And the Kittiwake..... BUGGER!!!!

What, you want a photo? Oh OK then, you've twisted my arm. Bird related? Not necessarily? Gratuitous? Not on this blog! As if! Something topical you say? How about this?

Where I should have been today but wasn't and am irrationally annoyed about.

Monday 28 December 2009

Surfacing for air

Escaped the house today and went to Rainham. At first all the birds were really far away, but once I figured out which end of the bins to look through they all became a lot closer. Excellent!

The reserve was pretty quiet, and loaded with about 11kg of optical equipment and a full battery it was somewhat inevitable that the Bearded Tits had departed to reeds unknown, but it didn't really matter and I had a lovely walk in the sunshine with no relatives and no children, which lovely as they all are, is what I needed. I did the full circuit for maximum calorie-burnage, and took any photographic opportunities as they came. Which largely they didn't as most things remained steadfastly distant.

It was clear and cold, with nice light for photography, but my ineptitude and the reluctance of the birds to perch obligingly 2.5m from me meant I didn't get much. I had to resort to using the 2x converter, something I rarely do. As I was set up on the tripod having a pop at a Reed Bunting, a photographer pitched up and asked if he could set up next to me. It's a free country, so I said no problem. He proceeded to set up a monster tripod with a gigantic lens on it, converter, the works. If there is such a thing as lens envy I may have had it, especially when I worked out that he had an extra 350mm of effective focal length yet was carrying 3kg less stuff. This is my problem, one that remains unresolved since Scilly: I can't be a birder and a photographer, as there is too much stuff to carry. On the plus side just as the other guy was almost ready the up-until-then-relatively-obliging Reed Bunting chose to quadruple its distance from the path, so in this particular contest, David (that's me) got a shot and Goliath (him) got diddly squat and had to pack it all up again. I limped off, feeling much better. Even if I took the minimum amount of kit for proper birding and photography, I'm still looking at over 7kg. The additional 4kg today was just a heavier lens, a wide-angle for good measure (didn't use it....) and a few more bits and bobs (like a spare battery that I didn't need...). This is why I like birding in Wanstead. I never take a scope and rarely take a camera - walking round just with bins is hugely liberating.

Well that was pretty boring wasn't it? I know, how about some of the actual photos? Likely to be more interesting than a discussion on how heavy the lens that took them was. Marginally.

the aforementioned Reed Bunting


This Kestrel looked like a Peregrine for a minute

Collared Dove - if you have a mammoth lense, you can get some good shots of these from the path near the visitor centre's feeding station. If you don't, you can get a less good, heavily cropped shot like this.

Sunday 27 December 2009

Cabin Fever and Gluttony

I need to get out! I have been stuck indoors now for about three days. Every time I so much as glance at my bins Mrs L finds a new job for me, or I notice some new part of the house that is chaotic and needs putting right. I know, I should just roll with it - five children can mess up this place far more quickly than I can tidy it up - but somehow I can't just leave it. Must be my Domestic Goddess training kicking in.

It is still largely chaotic, but I am scoring minor, if brief, victories. For a short while the middle room actually looked quite nice, but then I turned my back and went off to do the recycling or something. When I came back from taking out yet more of the enormous quantity of bottles we are getting through, it looked like Beirut again.

There have been twelve of us staying in Chateau Lethbridge, which is less palatial than the name suggests. Today there are going to be eighteen of us. To put it mildly it is a tight squeeze, compounded by the fact that we now have a good proportion of China's economic output from the last year stacked up in bright and shiny piles everywhere you look. We were pretty good at not spoiling our kids this year, and remained rational and sensible in the amount of tat purchased, but various friends and relations went to town (Shanghai by the looks of things), and the cousins that are staying were absolutely innundated as well. There are piles of bedding in corners and on sofas, airbeds leaning up against walls, twenty-five thousand pairs of shoes in the hall, and people EVERYWHERE! I am tempted to go and hide in the greenhouse, which has running water, lights, heaters, a chair with a cushion, and a bottle of scotch, but I would get found out fairly quickly, and anyway, I dare not leave the house untended for fear of the apocalypse that would occur if I stopped tidying stuff away.

We have also all put on about 3 stone, and now have to pass each other sideways in the hall and doorways, which again makes the house feel that much smaller. The amount of food and alcohol consumed is bordering on the sickening. The fridge door keeps threatening to pop off, and amazingly after three days of people constantly shovelling food down their throats the in-laws are out shopping for more. I can't remember what the kitchen counters actually look like; for days now they have been covered in a layer of food - mainly protein items - about two feet thick, and people come in and graze when they feel that their esophagus's have cleared sufficiently from the last helping. As soon as all the visitors depart tomorrow, Mrs L & I are eating nothing but salad until about March.

I can barely remember what a bird looks like, and somebody will need to show me which end of my binoculars to look through. Hopefully I can get out tomorrow, though I expect that the various Smew, Wigeon and other rare wildfowl that have been happily enjoying the Heronry Pond whilst I have been gazing longingly out of the window will all depart tonight leaving just Coot and Mallard. However, if I do find anything you'll be the first to know.

Right, must dash, my bloodstream alcohol levels are dangerously low and I have not eaten for over twenty minutes.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Bearded Tits. Not Wanstead.

A bit of a departure today, in that I didn't go out on the patch. Oh wait, I did, but didn't get any ticks, so frankly it is not worthy of mention. Wanstead? No idea.

It was a big disappointment actually, as all of the lakes and ponds are frozen over with only miniscule patches of open water remaining. These are populated by the ever-agressive Coots; presumably they have chased off all other species bar Mute Swan, which they probably leave alone, though I wouldn't put it past them. Maybe if they ganged up? The best I got were three flocks of Redwing totalling perhaps 110 birds - not bad for round here I suppose.

I only spent an hour or so on the patch before coming home, and after dumping the family in Wanstead village, headed off to Rainham, whose elegant and picturesque landscape I had not seen for a few weeks. People describe it as bleak, and when you pass the "Welcome to Thurrock, we shoot to kill" sign, it can appear a little forboding, but the reserve is a big slice of stunning habitat in an area that might otherwise go overlooked by birders concerned for their continued wellbeing. Once I'm through the three sets of gates and into the carpark, and then through another set of gates, over the two drawbridges and onto the reserve I tend to feel quite safe. Today, in the snow, the place looked better than ever, and the crunch underfoot on the boardwalks was most satisfying. Even more satisfying than that however was a pair of Bearded Tits showing extremely well just off the southern boardwalk. I've seen this species here before, but never as well as this, and it was very irritating when my camera battery packed in after only a hundred and fifty shots. Still, before that sad moment I got a few which I'm fairly pleased with, but if they continue to be as obliging as this then I'll be back in the near future. Having said that, once the camera became 2.8kg of useless metal and glass, it was a pleasure to just stand and enjoy the birds feeding away without needing to worry about shutter speed and the merits of landscape over portrait composition.

I realise that I have not written much lately about my ongoing domestic adventures. For all those readers who visit to glean top cleaning tips and the latest recipes, and who must be fretting that we're not only starving, but also up to our armpits in accumulated food debris and dust, worry not, everything is fine. Mrs L has finished work for the year, and is now in charge. Well, she was always in charge, as I'm sure you all know, but now she really is in charge. Hands-on in charge. Yup, I am on holiday, as from yesterday evening. So Mrs L will now be practising what she [so often] preaches, and by this time next week dust in Chateau Lethbridge will be a thing of the past. Hem hem.

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Dedicated local patch-worker reaches milestone

From our Community Correspondent

Dedicated local birder Jonathan Lethbridge today reached 100 species for 2009 in Wanstead, notching up a Woodcock, a type of wading bird that in fact lives in woodland. When asked about his achievement, he was typically modest. "I deserve it. I've been flogging this patch day in day out for months now, declining offers from friends to twitch rare birds on an almost daily basis. My marriage has suffered, my children have suffered, my BOU list has suffered, but it's all been worth it. I didn't think I was going to make 100, I really didn't, but that Woodcock this morning was magic! I couldn't believe it, I'd been out on the Flats for an hour in the snow, not really seeing much at all, when suddenly it flew right in front of me and pitched down in Long Wood somewhere. I immediately called Mrs L - that's my wife - to tell her the good news and she was ecstatic too!" Mr Lethbridge then called some local birders whom he thought might be interested as well. One of them joined him, and together the two men entered Long Wood to see if they could find the Woodcock - not often you can safely say that - but unfortunately it didn't reappear. This is the 105th species that Mr Lethbridge has found in Wanstead, and he is evidently rather pleased. "I've never been much of a twitcher, I mainly just stay local. I'm not interested in the rarer stuff like Pterodroma petrels (a type of rare seabird), funny Bee-eaters and the like. Those twitcher-folk can keep them! Nothing makes me happier than getting a new bird on my local patch, and this is just reward for the many hours spent tramping around it this year instead of zooming around the country like a nutter in pursuit of a meaningless year list."

Sunday 20 December 2009

Goosander for London? Don't mind if I do.

Past and Present

I am knackered. I have just done 7 1/2 hours on the patch, and walked about 25 million miles on two clementines and a bowl of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. In particular my hip hurts where I slipped on the ice and fell on top of my camera. The camera, unsurprisingly, is fine; it would survive the apocalypse. Good thing I changed it recently as the old one would probably now be in about five distinct pieces following my solid frame crushing it. This was one of the motivations for changing it in fact. As it was my hip took the brunt and the camera continues to function perfectly, albeit minus a small shard of plastic from the battery. Still, it was all worthwhile as the title of this post perhaps alludes to.

Common Gull with two Black-headed Gulls

Common Crow

Goosander on the patch! Well, over the patch actually. I had started with Tim just after first light, and had been treated to about 30 Skylark, a couple of Stonechat, and another 5 fly-over Lapwing, and we were on our way to the Coronation Plantation when I got on an unfamiliar duck flying NW. I initially suggested Shelduck based on colouration and wing pattern, but Tim correctly decided it was a Sawbill based on the very rapid flight action (and the fact that it looked nothing like a Shelduck....) A drake, but which one? Once again the part of my brain that controls my arms and index finger experienced a slight hiccup, but to be fair I was concentrating solely on the bird in the bins as it flew fairly rapidly away to the north-west. I have close to zero experience of Goosander and RB Merg in flight, so had no idea which it was, but got comprehensive views of the upper-wing pattern and clean whitish underside. Later, with the comforting support of a field guide it was clear that it was a Goosander, always the more likely of the two in London anyway. We entertained a vague hope that it might have spotted the Basin and ditched in just in time for the WEBS survey we were about to undertake, but it wasn't to be. It probably carried on up to Walthamstow and perhaps beyond to the KGV Reservoir. Annoying not to know it instantly, but no matter, this was a London tick (#208), and one that had eluded me on several occasions at various locations. In other words, intensely satisfying to nail one (almost) on the patch. Goosander didn't feature in my recent dream, but I feel that the Birding Gods definitely had a hand in this one. The only slight bummer is that Goosander is #99 for my Wanstead year list, and I have a sense that another tick in the next 11 days could be a tough ask. Something to keep me at it in 2010.

We had met Stuart briefly and seen five Lapwings, but the sixth was the best, just after we had met up with Paul. It flew from the side of Alex and landed on the playing fields. Yes, landed! A scarce bird landed near me, another patch first. Not being a patch-tick (got Lapwing, like, ages ago) my brain functioned perfectly and I was able to rattle off a series of flight shots as it went past fairly close.


Why post just one photo when I have three?

We continued on to the Park and met a pile of duck-counters from the WREN Group - a local wildlife society. Ducks were duly counted. Nothing spectacular, though the female Goldeneye was still around. The highlights were non-duck: a roosting Tawny Owl that some Jays put us on to, a Snipe flushed from the banks of the Roding, a Kingfisher on Perch, and a Nuthatch in St Mary's Churchyard.

So, another superb day on the patch. I am in danger of becoming known as a dedicated patch worker. Twitching is over-rated, as perhaps Bradders may blog about later.

Apologies for the number of photos, the weather was simply glorious today - cold and crisp. The ice also meant that many birds were closer than I might normally get. And after the clattering my hip took, you need to suffer for my art like I did.

Common Gulls

Saturday 19 December 2009

Played for and got!

Back in reality today, and a double-tick day involving the same species. The day started crisp and cold so I went out on my daily mission to the Wanstead Park to see if I could find any displaced ducks. I couldn't, but as I was looking up at some Goldfinches feeding near the Perch Pond, a Lapwing flew over, followed by three more. Tick! As usual when faced with an excess of excitement, my brain ceased functioning and by the time it started again the Lapwings were dots in the viewfinder. Nonetheless, the euphoria was palpable. No dreaming this time, this was a real bird, and one of my top targets for Wanstead. Messages were duly sent out, and even a phone call from Bradders saying he had seen a Rough-legged Buzzard and thus overtaken me in the year-listing stakes failed to dampen my mood. Patch ticks are that good.

I started stalking a Green Woodpecker on the Plain, and in doing so flushed a Snipe, my first for the Park. Shortly after that another eight Lapwings flew over, heading north-north-west just like the last ones. This time I did manage to swing the camera upwards, and whilst not a prize-winning effort, it does at least show a Lapwing. Six Lapwings actually. The thought then ocurred to the suppressed lister within me that perhaps this cold weather movement that was obviously taking place could see me get Lapwing from the garden as well, so sensible and rational person that I am, I hurried home. It took an hour, but sure enough, I got a single bird flying south-south-east. I believe I raised my arms in a skyward salute and went "Yes!" quite loudly. So, played for and got, and #60 for the garden.

Other winter stuff today included sixteen Fieldfare NW from the Park, and about 25 Redwings west over the garden, but stuff that, it is all about the Lapwings. Oh yes, and I discovered a species new to science, Arboreal Rail, thus rounding off a great day.

Friday 18 December 2009

JL's 115th Dream

Strange visions last night....

Wanstead was all iced up in the morning, and as usual I was checking the various ponds for rare waterfowl. I checked the Basin, which mirroring reality had nothing much on it. Heronry was a little better though, with a couple of female Pintail. Awesome, and a patch tick. I wandered out onto the little peninsula at the end of Perch Pond, and found a load of women playing football on the water. Yes, on the water, I have no idea how. They were just normal women, dressed normally, nothing kinky going on. The ball came over my way, so I kicked it back to them. The next time I looked they had all metamorphosised into ducks. I found a way to cross a part of the pond that is normally water - dreams are great aren't they - saving five minutes walking back around the pond, and starting scanning through them. The football had finished and the pond was now covered in birds, really densely packed. In no time at all I picked up a male Pintail in the melee, and also a couple of Wigeon (year tick). Then I found a Golden Plover, another patch tick. It was just swimming around, y'know, like they do, but the ID was beyond doubt. Then over the far side I managed to pick out a redhead Smew, another patch tick. By this time I was seeing stuff very clearly. Three other birders then turned up with scopes, clearly realising that something good was happening. I don't know who they are, and they don't match any of the local birders, but I have a feeling I have seen them before, but this could just be that weird sense of deja-vu that sometimes occurs in dreamland, or maybe when you wake up and remember the dream you get a bit confused. Anyway, I tried to get them on the Smew, but had trouble relocating it, but that didn't matter for I then found a cracking summer-plumaged Red-throated Diver! Another patch tick, and a London tick. Even in my dreams I know what type of tick a neurally created vision of a bird is - do I need professional help? At this point I took a break to be able to broadcast the news, and I remember being totally flumoxed as to what I should do first. I had seen so much that a text would take ages to type out, it was really cold don't forget, and I would have had to take my gloves off, plus I remember thinking that predictive text would have really struggled with Smew. So I decided to call them but just at that moment Hawky called me, so I told him what a superb morning I had had and that my Wanstead year list was now 102 from 97 in the space of about 20 minutes. Before I could work out what my new Wanstead and London list totals were I woke up. Probably a good thing, God knows what I would have found next.

All of this is true, I have written it as I remembered it this morning after I woke up. So where does it come from? I've never really thought one of my dreams through before, but there's blogging for you. It's pretty interesting actually how you can link specific elements of a dream to events in real life.

Things I can work out.

- It is really cold and icy here, so that seems pretty obvious.
- I have been checking all the ponds for rare ducks, though not with as stunning results.
- I have really been hoping to find a Wigeon or Smew, and Golden Plover is another hoped for, though as a flyover.
- There is currently a day-glo yellow football lodged in some submerged branches at the end of Perch pond. I had a close look at it the other day with a view to seeing if it was worth retrieving, but a strip of leather has come off so I didn't bother.
- Yesterday on the bus I made a "group" on my phone of all the local birders so I can more easily disseminate news. Up until now I was adding each one on every text I sent.
- I was out with Hawky last night.

Things that I can't work out.

- The football match. I have no interest in football.
- A load of women turning into ducks. There is perhaps something Freudian occuring here but I think it is best not to delve any further.
- Their ability, and mine, to walk on water.
- Pintail and Red-throated Diver. Not even on my list of potentials, totally left field.
- The three other birders. I could describe each one, but I cannot place any of them in reality. Yet in the dream they were familiar to me, not by name, but I had seen them looking at the Perch pond before.

So there you have it, the inner workings of my subconscious laid bare. Just in case the Birding Gods might have been trying to tell me something, as per my Shoveler experience a few weeks ago, on the way back from school I checked the Basin, Heronry and Perch ponds to see if there was anything truly fantastical going on. There wasn't. A perhaps simpler explanation for the wacky goings-on is that I was out at the pub last night with a load of birders and drank a lot of beer.

Thursday 17 December 2009

Technological wizardry

In another amazing development I can now twitter, or tweet, or whatever the latest ridiculous verb to enter the lexicon is. No doubt this is like, soooo last year, but I am over thirty and come to most parties beyond fashionably late.

So for all those little pointless snippets which don't in themselves justify an entire post, now I can just send a text, hurrah! I can bore you about the Flats, from the Flats. As a blog I follow puts it: tedium as it happens, when it happens. If it ever gets too exciting to cope with, just let me know, and I will tone it down. It should appear over to the right somewhere. Bear in mind it costs me money to send a text, so the more of you read it the cheaper it becomes. That doesn't work does it? No.

In other exciting developments:

- The Goldeneye was refound by Nick a mere 100 yards from where it was. Boy, I checked thoroughly. Anyway, happy days, it is still here, awaiting my arrival on January 1st.
- The Christmas Tree has lights, but is still shedding faster than an Afghan.
- The flock of Lesser Redpolls is still bouncing around, and I was able to text Tim, at work, that they were quite close to his garden, which no doubt pleased him.

Now you see, all the above points would have been perfect Twitter material. Things that nobody other than me cares about or needs to know about. Next time. I just wanted to formally announce that the boredom factor has taken a technological step forward.


Wednesday 16 December 2009

The aroma of fresh pine

The aroma of fresh pine is permeating the house. Not toilet cleaner, a Christmas Tree. According to the label, it is apparently a classic Nordmann. It is now in the front room, classically dropping pine needles all over the floor. By the time I had put the vacuum cleaner back in the cupboard and gone back to admire my tree erection handiwork, there was a fresh scattering. Non-drop? Let's just hope it is merely adjusting to its recent change in circumstances and will pull itself together and remember why it cost forty quid.

Fittingly, it has also begun to snow, and this wintry scene has been complemented by the arrival of a small flock of Lesser Redpolls, which is really what I wanted to write about. There are somewhere between fifteen and eighteen birds, and a couple of Goldfinch with them. They are mostly feeding in a tree with dangly bits (my botany is not all that) three doors down, but every now and then they fly around in a big circle and land in the tree at the bottom of my garden, which I think is a sycamore. This morning, as I was having breakfast, three of the flock diverted and sat up in the Mahonia right next to the terrace. They were beautiful, I didn't have my camera, and naturally they have not returned. I did manage to grab a shot over the fence as they fed, but it's not really what I had in mind.

If only I lived in SW London, as these would then be Mealy Redpoll.

This is only the second time we have had Redpolls in the garden. The first were three fleeting birds about two years ago that I never got good views of, so in some ways this feels like tick. I filled up the feeders yesterday, just in time for the truly cold weather, and this morning there have been a succession of visitors. Greenfinches, Sparrows and loads of Blue Tits and Great Tits, but also a few Chaffinches and Robins. There has been a Jay, until four Blackbirds converged and saw it off, the resident Jackdaws have been about, and a Wren has been singing from down the end somewhere. All in all rather a pleasant morning. All I need now is a Nuthatch to complete the scene.

Suburban idyll

I have dutifully checked the Basin, Heronry and Perch Ponds, and found nothing of interest. Perch and Heronry have partially frozen, including the bit where the Goldeneye likes to hang out, and there was no sign of it this morning. It is a bird that is supposed to arrive in cold weather, not be driven away by it dammit. I'll check again tomorrow but I have a horrible feeling it has gone.

I have to go. Pudding is telling me she has Christmas Trees in her socks. Bloody rip-off Nordmann.

EDIT: The sock Christmas Trees were Brio ones, and they were indeed in her socks, which were on her feet. If I knew, I would tell you.

Monday 14 December 2009

In which Christmas Spirit is lacking

Chateau Lethbridge doesn't have a single Christmas decoration in it. Mrs L has been covertly playing carols, and the kids have an advent calendar, but other than that you would not realise that the season of joy and goodwill is upon us. Honestly, supermarkets look more Christmassy than this place.

I don't know about you, but for me Christmas ceased to be exciting many years ago. Don't get me wrong, I am excited for the kids, but I can't summon up any enthusiasm for it at all. Back in the days of gainful employment, even having a few days off generally failed to get the festive juices flowing, and in fact many years I worked it because it was easy and there was nothing to do except play the latest flash game and stir on Bird Forum. This year I can't even say that.

I need to unleash the home-maker within. This could be my year! Daddy's year! The most fabulous Christmas ever! A home-made wreath on the front door (complete with Firecrest if I choose the right bush), the smell of freshly-baked mini sausage rolls wafting through the house, a glorious tree decorated to perfection in the front bay window, the envy of the neighbourhood, the Christmas cards (all five of them) suspended from loops of sparkling ribbon in the hallway, a fire in the hearth and carols playing, and the kids dressed in green and red tartan arranging the presents under the tree just so.

Could it happen? Well, it could - let's face it, it's not like I don't have the time, but it all seems such a pain in the arse and a massive waste of effort. Wrapping paper illustrates this perfectly - expensive and pointless. I am hopeless at wrapping presents, so you can instantly tell which present is from me. My aunt uses an iron and a ruler (and seemingly only buys gifts with right angles) and the wrapping is a work of art. But it all goes the same way, which is that it gets ripped to shreds and ends up as a scrunched up ball cast to one side. The only difference is that her sealing is such that it takes fifteen minutes to open whereas with mine you just need to shake gently and the present falls out. I find that for children this is much more satisfactory anyway.

And if I thought wrapping presents was difficult, buying them is impossible, and inspiration almost always fails me. I resort to doing deals with other family members - "I won't get you anything if you don't get me anything, OK?". Perfect for spreading the joy that is Christmas. Ugh.

Phone-scoping. Brilliant.

Today, in the first step in transforming this place into the Magic Kingdom, I was supposed to be buying a tree, but I went and twitched a Bewick's Swan at Amwell instead. London tick, rock on! Nordmann Spruce? Whatever. However, on the way back we went to the mega Tescos near Cheshunt and found the greatest shopping trolley known to mankind. Too good not to show you, frankly a work of genius. But only if you have just one child....

We are now back home, tree-less still, and killing time until the school run. I already checked the Basin and the Heronry Pond for hot sawbill action - nothing. We've read a few stories, had lunch, and now, as I wander aimlessly around the house, the lack of Christmassy stuff is beginning to grate. Either side of us, the neighbours have gone to town. To our left they have a candle thing in the front window and lights in the outside bushes. Bah! To our right, a selection of fake wreaths with assorted holly accoutrements in the porch. Tchah! The tragedy is that our front door actually has a nail in it already, positively crying out for a Christmas Wreath. Or a sign saying "Bah Humbug".

I am somewhat excited about New Year's Day though, no idea why....

Saturday 12 December 2009

What shall I write about today?

Given that it has been a couple of days since the last post I was just pondering what I might write about. Earlier this week I amazed myself and churned out post after post, but since then have been suffering from Blog burn-out. Kind of like talking nineteen-to-the-dozen without pausing at any point for breath and just going on and on and on and on in a stream of pure consciousness that you could not recount if you even tried and then when you do finally start to pass out and desparately gulp in some air you suddenly forget what it was you were talking about and just do a goldfish impression.
I did get a vague sense that I might be putting a few people off with the absurd quantity, but went ahead and pressed "publish" anyway. Live the dream! Turns out many readers quite like Dire Straits (a few misguided souls aside - you know who you are.) but that nobody other than me experienced any massively scarring injustices as a kid. Which is absurd, as one of the phrases heard most frequently in this house at least is a strangled cry of

"But it's not FAIR, xyz other child did xyz other thing and I want to too!!"
"No, you're not doing / having it / them / whatever, now leave me alone, I'm writing my blog."

Clearly you all remain so deeply traumatised that you still can't talk about it and not even the Wanstead Birder 'sofa' can induce you to open up. Freud would have you believe that this repression is unconscious, involuntary - nonsense, it's because you have to have a Google account to leave a comment and that requires yet another bloody password.

Sniff, sniff. "Ahhh, kebab! My favourite!"

Anyway, it is the time of year when filler posts start creeping in with worrying frequency, and my last effort had nothing at all to do with birding. I do need to do my 2010 goals at some point, but in an odd twist on life imitating art, I can't be bothered at the moment.

Last night I went out to London Birders' Christmas Bevvy, and great fun it was too. A bit of a natter, some salacious gossip, no prizes for guessing what about, and a large selection of seasonal ales. All followed by a gratuitous kebab on Leytonstone High Road. My head hurt quite a lot this morning, but what better to clear the fug than to get out on the patch and see the same common birds that I see all the time?

Appropriately enough after my kebab roll, I basically followed the Fatso route, but in a fit of proper birding also went and checked the Old Sewage Works. Bar a decent flock of about 20 Chaffinch, there was nothing to keep up the interest so I went directly back to the Tea Hut for a deserved rest. Whilst there I had a pop at the Black-headed Gulls, some of which came out pretty well, proving that having the shakes is no bar to sharpness. No tripod either, perhaps I have discovered a unique new form of image stabilisation - excess beverage-induced shakes cancelling out normal movement for a rock-steady shooting style? I shall call it the Wetherspoon method. On the way back there were a couple of showy Ring-necked Parakeets, surveying their new manor, and the Goldeneye was still on Heronry. Oh, and I attracted a Rat.

Wednesday 9 December 2009

Childhood injustices

Muffin went to bed last night weeping copiously. He had been falsely accused at school of taking another kid's football sticker, and had been told by the teacher to bring another one in to school to give to this kid. Despite the injustice, we told him he had to give the other lad a sticker because the teacher had said so. Cue another flood of tears.

I was immediately reminded of a similar injustice that I faced about twenty-five years ago. I don't recall exactly how old I was, but it was junior school, so I reckon I was 9 or 10. We were playing indoor rounders in the school hall, and whilst fielding, I permormed an amazing sliding stop which took me right into the corner of the hall where it met the main corridor. The school has been razed to the ground and replaced by sheltered housing, but I could draw you the floor plan based on this one skid. As I came to a stop, spreadeagled on the floor, I noticed the grey legs of the Headmaster a few feet away. A terrifying man Mr Ellis. 6ft 6 if he was an inch, always in a grey suit, with grey hair, he was a human crag. He had this way of beckoning you - never a good thing. His fingers, as with the rest of him, were incredibly long and spindly, and he would use all of them, starting with all four extended, pointing towards you, palm up, and sequentially folding them into a fist, starting with the index finger, such that there was this kind of rolling curve of fingers as he stared down at you. I'm sitting here practising the "Ellis beckon" right now, but my fingers aren't really long or bony enough to pull it off. As I looked up, he beckoned to me, and I got this sinking feeling. I had to go and stand outside his office for half an hour. I wasn't told why, and to this day I still don't know. It was a moment of sporting excellence, worthy of praise, not punishment, and the memory of the shame I endured is with me still. It could have been yesterday. Later, at secondary school, I took up latin to avoid PE.

I am sure most of us can recount similar stories. Mrs L has one that to her is also crystal clear, despite the years that have elapsed. I wonder if yesterday's incident will be indelibly carved into my son's memory, and he'll end up telling his kids about it? Or the blogosphere and its descendants? If you feel like telling yours, feel free to use the cathartic medium of the comments box.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

2009 Self Appraisal

One of the things I no longer have to do is to go through an annual appraisal cycle. This involved writing something called a Personal Development Plan, where you set out your personal and professional goals for the year, and then measure yourself against it at the end of the year. The deadline for having this all laid out was usually March, and was habitually left to the last minute. It was very much a case of going through the motions though, and after ten years there, I was pretty good at rolling out stock phrases like "I will seek to influence others' decision-making and thereby reduce risk" and "I will leverage my internal networks and understanding of derivative products in order to help traders make pots of money", and could generally bash out something that read well but in fact meant that I just needed to do my job. Very happily I got the axe before I needed to go through all this again for 2009, so "Ensure that the trading desk is ready for the roll-out of Basle II" (professional goal) and "Try not to die of boredom before bonus day" (personal goal) were replaced by "Become a Domestic Goddess" and "Go birding a lot".

GOAL: Become a Domestic Goddess
*note that this is a self-appraisal and that my manager's opinion may vary.

Shopping: Once a mystery to me, I can now competently go shopping. My first shopping trip way back when resulted in 10kg of rice and some shampoo. This was deemed a failure by Mrs L for some reason. Nowadays I come back with complete meals, and generally keep us well stocked. I still can't plan more than about two days in advance, so I have to go shopping a lot, but the key points are that we're all still alive and we have never run out of toilet paper.

Cooking. I do all the cooking, well, all the cooking in the week. My meals are mostly basic, but I am slowly raising the complexity stakes. For example we have recently dined on Coq au Vin, on Boeuf Bourguignon, and on a jumbo Cornish Pasty. I am also capable of Roast Chicken, and I baked a cake. I know how to make white sauce, thus opening up the world of pasta bakes and casseroles, and I no longer buy frozen chips - no, I actually peel and chop up potatoes. Fishfingers do feature quite a lot, but the children like them, and they are always on special. There I was thinking fish stocks were declining, but clearly the vast North Atlantic shoals of small rectangular fish are still doing well. There have been zero incidents of food-poisoning, nor of me forgetting that we all need to eat. Dinner is generally on the table as Mrs L gets home from work. I know my place.

Cleaning. Erm, well, the house looks quite clean. Just don't look behind or under anything. I admit it, I am not very good at cleaning. I have short bursts of zooming around, usually when Mrs L works from home and I can be seen doing it, interspersed with long periods of inactivity. I am good at the sinks and shower, as I have that lovely pink brush. I am also pretty good at the toilets - with three children I need to be. I am not very good at cleaning the bath for some reason - one for 2010 perhaps. I am also ace at vacuuming. Most other things I am less good at. Dusting is one of them, particularly DAMP dusting (which if you believe everything you are told is the ONLY type of dusting that is effective). I am also no good at cleaning the cooker, or wiping down cupboards. Or mopping. Or cleaning the windows. In fact the list could go on for a very long time. But again, if you were to come and visit, unless you are Shaun, you're not going to gag when you come in the front door. It looks ok, it smells ok, and by and large is ok. A small amount of dirt is good for children anyway.

Washing. A mixed result. I have not ruined too many knitted items, thus my marriage remains safe, but the complexity can sometimes be overwhelming. I tend to concentrate on blue loads as there are fewer pitfalls. I am also able to wash towels and sheets of any colour, provided they have been removed from the beds first. I am able to erect the airer, and hang clean wet washing up on it. Some days I am so productive at washing that I have also learned to drape it over all the doors and radiators, which has resulted in several white sheets getting long straight stains on them. My responsibility for washing ends once it is clean and dry - I take it upstairs and dump it on the landing. A fairy then irons it and puts it away.

General Presentation: Personally I wear whatever is on the top of the pile. My scruffiness knows no bounds. The older children dress themselves, and I get the little one dressed. We get full marks for originality, if not for coordination. I don't know how to brush hair. Lined up at the front door, waiting to greet Mrs L as she comes home from work, it is hardly a scene from Mary Poppins. I am sure that the £77 haircut Mums at school must talk about how dishevelled and absurd we all look, but this is trivial in the grand scheme of things and I care not. We are going birding, and the scruffier, the better.

GOAL: Go Birding a lot
*definitely a self-appraisal...

Become a Better Birder: I don't think it's possible to go out birding and regress. You're constantly learning. Especially in my case. "Ooh look, a Kingfisher!" "Er no, it's a Robin" - this conversation actually happened. So, getting there. A long way to go, but getting there. This for me is one of the principal attractions of birding - constant learning. A couple of highlights this year were finding my own Caspian Gull, and picking up a Yellow-browed Warbler on call. The only thing is that it all falls to pieces when I'm out with other people. Am I the only one to experience this? Either I'm not confident enough to call things (correctly as it happens) and thus miss out opportunities to prove to the world that I'm getting better, or I do call something, but it's a howler. On my own I am INFALLIBLE! Hmmm, what could it be? Joking aside, I am getting better and it really is rather pleasing, but I know my limitations. There is no substitute for hours in the field, be it patch birding or twitching something further afield. One argument is that you need to go on the odd far-flung mission so that you get to know vagrants and rarer passage migrants better. For instance, I've seen three Hoopoes this year, and I reckon that if one now turned up in Wanstead, I'd probably recognise it straight away.

Patch Birding: I did not spend as much time on the patch as I said I would. This is due mainly to year-listing, but also a genuine lazy streak on my part. Throughout most of this year I found it desperately hard to get off my arse and go on the patch. Despite this, I saw thirteen new species in Wanstead, and blew my 2008 total of 83 out of the water, which was one target. The other was to get to 100 species on the patch, which was achieved with a Coal Tit in Reservoir Wood in November. Whilst Stuart found all the really good stuff, I was responsible for finding a Ring-Ouzel, a couple of Redstarts, the Red-crested Pochards, a Wood Sandpiper, and the first Treecreeper for like, ages. Despite this, I must try harder in 2010.

Life List: I actually set myself a goal of three new birds a month during 2009, which meant my target was 330. I stayed ahead of the curve all year, and am currently on 338. Worthy of mention (yes, again!) are Fea's Petrel, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, and Eastern Crowned Warbler. All three Pratincoles in just over three weeks was pretty special too. Mega rarities included Crested Lark, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Collared Flycatcher, Fan-tailed Warbler and Brown Shrike, and honourable mentions must go to the Snowy Owl and Pallid Harrier. Also memorable was a magical eighteen minutes at Dunge where I ticked first Melodious, and then Icterine.

Year List: Well, it was OK I suppose, didn't go too badly..... I had one goal, a ridiculous and futile goal - to see 300 species. The key to a decent year list is to start early and see as much as possible as soon as possible, especially rarities. One look at how poor, relatively speaking, this autumn was shows the merits of this strategy. I started off in Scotland, and ended January 1st on 87 species including Surf Scoter and King Eider. By the end of January I had reached 152, and I hit 200 on April 10th. 250 was notched up by the end of May, and 300 on the 11th October. Objective met.

Various other Lists: I keep a couple of lists, not very many. I like hitting nice round numbers, numbers divisble by 50, though as that becomes harder, I may move to 25, then 10. Besides the above, a number of targets presented themselves this year, and I comfortably made them all.

Essex 198 → 220
London 181 → 206
Rainham 141 → 156

They say objectives need to be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and have a set time period for achievement. Listing goals are perfect in this respect. Sad and anoraky? Not a bit, SMART. Though "Become a Better Birder" is pretty wishy-washy. And anoraky. "Hello, my goal this year is to become a better birder. Would you like to come back to my place and look at my BWP?"

So there you have it, my 2009 self-appraisal. I still need to become a better birder, and I am some way from being a fully fledged Domestic Goddess. In particular, certain elements of my cleaning repertoire leave a lot to be desired. However, given the monumental shift in direction that occured in February, I don't think I am doing too badly. Where I used to work, goals were always like this - you're not supposed to meet them all. You can always do better, always improve, always aim for 110% - and thus never get there. Of course it's all a load of nonsense, as so much of what I did was. See points 1 & 2 here. Nonetheless, next up, my 2010 Goals. Mrs L has declared an interest in helping to set them. Uh-oh.