Monday, 31 August 2009

Pterodroma grippa

As I approached Porthgwarra in the early hours of Sunday morning, I couldn't help feeling pretty stupid. Why was I doing this again, a mere eight days after the last time? This time I was with the Blowmonkey, and fellow Wanstead Birder Stuart. He probably wondered what he was doing as well - only a few hours previously he had been happily birding the [kick-ass] Flats with no thoughts of Cornwall or Sea-watching in his mind. As I casually mentioned it while we were kicking bushes for what turned out to be a Dunnock, you could see him begin to weigh it up. Hmm, sea-watching, Cornwall, would I like to do that? Turned out he would, so at 1:20am the three of us were stood in Porthgwarra carpark, facing away from the "No overnight camping" sign, and having a deserved beer. After a long and comfortable sleep, we hit the cliff. Almost immediately I got onto a large Shearwater circling near the Runnel Stone marker. We tracked it south-east, and once we had talked to some experts who arrived later, decided it could only have been a Great Shearwater. The next few hours were fairly quiet, with about 30 each of Sooty Shearwater and European Storm Petrel going through, but not a lot else. Visibility gradually reduced in drizzly conditions, and I wondered if I hadn't made a serious error in coming again.

Happily negative thoughts of this nature were dispelled at 11:26am. All three of us had scopes trained on the Runnel Stone as this was the line being taken by Storm Petrels as they headed west. All of a sudden the quiet birder next to us spoke up. You'll have to excuse the language, but the air turned blue. What follows is a rough transcript of the next thirty seconds: "Great Shearwater coming right, almost at the Runnel Stone" Given our fortunate positioning, we were on it immediately. "Fuck, it's not a Great Shearwater! Fuck me! Dark underwings! Fucking Hell, it's a Fea's. It's a fucking Fea's!!! FEA'S PETREL! FEA'S PETREL going right!!!!!!!!!!!!" We watched this pelagic gem shear slowly west until it disappeared into the mist, and then the celebrations began. News was phoned out. The finder was quite calm once the bird had gone past actually, turned out he had seen a few and was a very experienced sea-watcher. Monkey and I showed no such class, and were going ballistic, disbelieving of what we had just seen. At this point Bradders, recently arrived back in the UK from Canada, and knowing I was in Cornwall, unwittingly texted me. The exchange merits reproduction here.

Bradders: So how's Cornwall? Falling over flocks of Little Shears and Albatrosses?
JL: No Little Shear or Albatross, but we just had a Fea's. Is that good?!
Bradders: Please tell me you're winding me up...Who's with you?

Needless to say, a gripping conversation followed within minutes, repeated shortly after with Vince, who also called in shock. Meanwhile Monkey had roughly the same conversation with Hawky, and sent a few gripping texts of his own. Played for and got I say. Well that isn't quite true I suppose, there was a very very large slice of luck involved. But I had been tracking the winds for about a fortnight, had pored over the short-range forecast for the weekend, read the results of various mid-week sessions at Pendeen and Porthgwarra with interest, and conversed with a few experienced people from the SW. As a result of what was actually many hours of mucking about on the net, more than were eventually spent sea-watching by some margin, I decided it was worth the trip, but never in my wildest dreams had I considered Fea's. My big hope was Cory's, and one that remains unfulfilled. About an hour after the Fea's went past, the fog rolled in and didn't lift for the remainder of the day. Feeling it was probably all over, we left Porthgwarra at about 1pm, and twitched the nearby Citrine Wagtail at Marazion. We returned to the cliff at 4ish to check conditions, but if anything it was worse so we headed back to London. Monkey spent most of the trip back mentally composing his blog for maximum grippage. How childish. There are no thoughts of glee as I sit here typing. None at all, no. And no thoughts of posting unnecessary and repetitive photographs of pager messages, no way.

I won't be going that far again this year, though remarkably the Fea's went past Porthgwarra again today. But I am already ear-marking a few weekends for next year for something similar. I suspect the Monkey might be quite interested, and less arm-twisting might be needed to get him to come. Hope his snoring issues have been sorted out by then.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Migrant Photo Essay

I have just come back from the best morning I can remember on Wanstead Flats. The patch rules. This morning's haul is another Redstart, a Yellow Wagtail, 2 Spotted Flycatchers, 2 Tree Pipit, 10 Whinchat, 4 Wheatear, and a multitude of common Warblers including Lesser Whitethroat. I am in a state of semi-shock. There is no point trying to make the blog interesting this morning, to add a tale of domesticity, or to give my thoughts on something irrelevant. This morning's fare will be a traditional birding blog - a list of birds that I saw. I said I would never do this, but this morning I can't think of anything to say other than "I saw all these birds and they were great". I could sign-off at this point, but I had a camera...

"I am a Willow Warbler, I think. I could be a Chiffchaff. I am confused about my identity"

"I am a Whitethroat. I am certain of it"

Tree Pipit, one of two this morning. Helpfully they called.

Another Redstart, found by Stuart, another birder

There are four Whinchats in this photo, and there were as many as twelve overall across the Flats. Yes, wow.

There were seven of these together, although I only saw five. I was happy with five.

The morning will be remembered for these though.

Friday, 28 August 2009


One of things I said I would do when I got the axe was gardening. Well actually I said the garden would get sorted. Clearly I did not think this through, as in order for that to happen it would need to be done either by me or by a gardener. We can't afford a gardener, and my attitude has been somewhat laissez-faire. VERY laissez-faire. With three kids, you can't possibly have a nice garden anyway, that is what I tell myself. Mrs L cites this as yet one more example of my bone-idleness when it comes to all things domestic. I had an initial spurt of gardening and other domestic chores, but when I tell you that my youngest daughter's curtain-pole fell down in January and that it and the curtains are still leaning up against the corner of her wall you will realise what she is up against. Not that she is any better at getting house stuff done, but she does at least go off to work for five days every week, an excuse that I don't have. And no, I haven't sorted out that monumental pile of filing - in fact it has grown by about fifty percent, and the additional part has been living in the middle room. Maybe today I will take it upstairs, that would be a good thing to get under my belt.

Realising that the garden was looking dreadful, this Tuesday I wielded the secateurs in anger for the first time in months. The victim was a Yew bush down the bottom that was encroaching on access to the shed. It looks a lot better now, apart from the ring of dead brown grass that has been exposed. This is just one minor triumph though. Everywhere you look there is something that needs pruning or trimming, and there is some serious tree-surgery needed on the Lime and the Maple which even if I had the inclination I could not do. To add to my woes, it is now Autumn, and I need to go birding....

The carefully manicured lawn. I take my inspiration from The Oval.

I am off again at the weekend. Back to the SW. I am Esso's official sponsor. This time the forecast looks truly stunning. All of Sunday is a huge gale blowing directly from the south-west, bringing a succession of large Procellariiformes straight past my deck-chair on Gwennap Head. My stock-pile of Brownie Points, whilst not at an all-time low, is not ready for Autumn 2009. In retrospect, I have played the summer very badly indeed. Show-home Shaun has been amazing in this respect, I think he knocked down his entire house and built it again from the ground up, with new coving and everything, so he is sorted for BPs for a long time. I have today and tomorrow to do a huge number of BP-earning tasks, and I am going to start with some gardening. I am even going to get THE SHREDDER out. You know it is serious when the shredder comes out - to even get it out from behind the mountain of bikes and garden play-things takes about half an hour, so that motivates you to chop loads of stuff down. Gardening is not a bad thing, for one thing I can keep half an eye on the sky and listen out for overhead migrants. I have been doing a lot of this, but unproductively from a deck-chair, with the garden growing out of control beneath my feet.

This is not from my garden, but I would like it to be.

My house list is very dear to me. I get unreasonably excited when I get a house tick. Birds I would usually not give a second glace become MEGA if they go in or over my airspace. A prime example of this is a Blue Tit. On the patch, out birding anywhere at all, and they get ignored. In the garden, brilliant. Actually that isn't true, I pretty much ignore these in the garden as well, but if you stop and think about it, a Blue Tit is probably one of our most amazing-looking birds. Most of our birds are brown and unremarkable. This one has a bright blue cap and tail, it has a pure white face with cool black markings, and the belly is bright yellow. Stunning n'est-ce-pas?. If you were on holiday abroad and saw something that bright and shiny flitting through a bush, I am willing to bet you would get pretty worked up and say "Wow, what was that?!" a lot. But as we see them day in day out we just ignore them which is ludicrous. My new life has seen me take a renewed interest in the house list, and indeed the extra time spent in the garden since February has added ten ticks. I can't wait for the next one, which I hope will be an Osprey on my new squirrel-proof trout-dispenser.

Most birders keep garden or house lists, and there are some pretty amazing ones out there. Last year I twitched a Dark-eyed Junco at Dungeness that was in some bloke's garden, and he said it was his second! This year I went back to that very same garden for an Icterine Warbler. It is at times like this that I wish I wasn't in zone 3, but you can't have it all I guess. My house list stands at fifty, which I think is pretty good for suburbia, and I get to see cool blue and yellow birds every day. When you next see one in your garden and turn away in utter apathy, spare a thought for those poor guys up in Shetland whose gardens are so barren they hardly ever get them and have to make do with dross like Bluethroats and White-tailed Eagles.

All finished. Lovely.

Thursday, 27 August 2009


I have continued to bash the patch every day from 5:30am until about 7am. This is because I am dedicated, strong-willed, and a real patch birder. With the exception of the Redstart earlier in the week, it has been very very boring. This morning's highlights were two Mistle Thrush and a Sparrowhawk. Excited? I wasn't. Getting up at 5am for a Mistle Thrush is sub-optimal. Getting up at 5am for a Redstart is tolerable. Getting up at 5am for a Wryneck would be just fine, oh Birding Gods, and I have identifed a nice spot for this to occur, just east of Centre Road on the sandy slope near the large gorse patch. Tomorrow?

But boring is unfortunately the norm, as are my frequent supplications. The thought of what MIGHT be in the next Hawthorn is always likely to be more exciting than what actually IS in the next Hawthorn, and this is what keeps me and countless other inland patch-workers going.

Yesterday, after another dreary morning on the patch where I found a rare Willow Warbler, I headed off for a spot of year-listing. I know, it sickens me too. However - and do you sense a flimsy excuse heading your way? - I was over the west side of London anyway dropping the two eldest off at their Grandparentals for a couple of days when I realised that Hampshire wasn't too far away, I mean a mere 70 miles or something. 70 miles is nothing for a diesel-fiend like me, so off we went to Keyhaven Lagoon where there was a very nice Red-necked Phalarope spinning around like a nutter only a few feet from the path. This is only the third one I have seen, and these were the best views ever, plus Pudding got a tick as well. Three excellent justifications for going. And there was a Cattle Egret too, which was another tick for her. Four justifications. Amongst the justifications were...hang on, I'll come in again. Anyway, many good reasons for going, and we had a nice walk in a very brisk wind and generally had a lot of fun looking at boats, talking about boats, and talking about how it was "quite windy" as we struggled to stay on our feet.

"Why are you now bolding all the bird names?"

This is all preamble. As I was happily scoping the Phalarope, a young guy who I have seen before at a couple of south coast twitches turned up. Obviously the first time you see someone, you say nothing. The second time, there is perhaps a nod of recognition, but no actual dialogue - still too early. The third time however, to say nothing would be a bit odd, so I proffered a tentative "Hello mate, how you doing?" Ah the intricacies of social arkwardness in Britain, how fantastic. Anyway, I got him onto the Phalarope, and we got chatting. Turns out he is also doing a bit of a year list, and he tragically recognised my name from Bubo when I called the bird into RBA. His patch is Splash Point and Seaford Head in East Sussex. This week he found an Iccy. Last May he found a River Warbler. Imagine that, a mega on your own patch. I know, what on earth was he therefore doing in Hampshire, why wasn't he bashing bushes for rare migrants back in East Sussex? Well, that's year-listing for you. My point is that for him, going out on his patch in spring and autumn must be unimaginably exciting. I'm not sure I could cope. The highlight of my birding year is still the self-found Ring Ouzel in April. This is despite the Collared Flycatcher, the Crested Lark, all three Pratincoles and a certain Bee-eater that I am loathe to mention. As you saw, I get excited by Redstarts. This guy could literally get anything. I think the emotion I am trying to describe is jealousy. Extreme jealousy. Can't wait to get out on the patch tomorrow morning, I wonder what I'll get? Trumpeter Finch?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


It is 6:40am on Wanstead Flats. I am returning home in deep misery after yet another early start has produced no migrants. As I cross Centre Road, only about four minutes from home and a day of drudgery likely to involve a pink brush, I notice a bird in a tree. I decide it is a Robin, but start walking towards the tree anyway in the hope of it turning into a Tree Pipit. As I am about halfway there, the bird flies, across the Flats and towards my house. I idly track it with the bins, more convinced than ever that it is just a Robin. As it comes in to land in a distant Hawthorn, I detect a red flash, but NOT ON THE BREAST. Oooooh goody! At this point I am undecided between Nightingale and Redstart, but I know it is good. Just as I get to the Hawthorn, it flies again, and this time perches out in the open in the morning sun. Common Redstart, and a lovely male at that. My camera is helpfully lying on the sofa at home. After unsuccessfully attempting digi-binning it with my phone, I run home to get it, hacking all the way as I have some kind of throat lurgy. Luckily it is still there and I can now present some record shots* of it to demonstrate I am a proper patch birder and not some filthy year-listing twitcher who buggers off at the slightest opportunity.

*Record Shot obtained in this instance by being out of breath, wheezing heavily, and shaking, coupled with poor application of exposure theory. Nice.

Monday, 24 August 2009

A tale of two Montys

You can probably all guess what I am talking about. If you can't, that is probably a good thing. Well, the first Monty is Monty Panesar, who won The Ashes for us. A true #11, he survived 11 overs to ensure a drawn test match in Cardiff about two months ago. Roll forward to the match at Headingly where we were beyond pathetic, and Australia would have retained The Ashes with an unassailable 2-1 lead, whatever the outcome at The Oval. As it was, we went in 1-1, and a stunning session with the up-until-that-point-feeble-with-the-ball Broad, and it was basically job done. Not that we as a country can ever feel like we are winning of course, we all believed Australia would pull off a miracle. Apart from Geoffrey of course, who said we would win. Sound man Geoffrey, I just wish he would say what he actually thinks more often. Unfortunately my Aussie friend's email server must be down, as I have not had any reply to my rather magnanimous email.

I listened to every ball, a benefit of no longer being sat in an office where serious stuff gets done. Where I worked we once had a guy who wanted to go watch the World Cup. He asked for unpaid leave for the entire tournament and was scoffed at, so he quit, and went to watch the World Cup. Top man, if rather arrogant, but there was a lot of that. Presumably he didn't have three children and a mortgage. Er, I am getting sidetracked, I meant to talk about Monties, which are interesting, not banking, which isn't.

Anyway, the second Monty was a belter of a Montagu's Harrier discovered by Andy, Phil, Dave et al at Rainham today. Only the third record for the site, I almost missed it. All three kiddos had eye appointments this afternoon, and we had just emerged from the NHS place on Wanstead High Street at about 4pm when Vince called. "Have you seen the news from Rainham?" "Er no, what is it?" Despite only having about 10ml of milk in the house, shopping plans were abandoned, and we raced over to discover a small gaggle of people on the sea wall with scopes pointing in. I don't usually take optics to medical appointments - something which I may need to reconsider - so hadn't bothered going home for bins or anything. No bother though, as Andy very kindly handed over his bins and let me have a look through his scope. Tick, as they say (NB for those of you counting, that is #195 for the arbitrary London circle). A full adult male, it was distant but unmistakable as it hunted along the edge of the reeds. Full marks to the gang for slogging it out day after interminable day at Rainham with scant reward, this is a London biggie. The kids played happily with grit and pebbles on the path whilst I had a bit of a natter. All of a sudden it was 5pm, we still had no milk, no food, and no cling-film (Mrs L put it on the list, I was ignorant of the state of our cling-film supply), and we were eight miles from home through rush-hour traffic. "Daddy, we're thirsty!" was heard shorty thereafter. Were there any beakers in the car? Not a good domestic performance.

So what else? Was back on the patch this morning, and decent birds were in short supply. Raptors were the highlight, with a Hobby, 3 Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk, and migratory interest was kept alive with a group of about 25 Swallows heading south, and 4 House Martins. This prompted an excellent discussion on the wheres and why-fors of spring and autumn avian pan-global movements, and for a brief moment I became omniscient super-dad. Then Muffin pointed out a butterfly on the ground that stumped me, and I became normal again. "Er, dunno, let's take a photo and look it up". Which we did - Small Copper. Also of interest were some kind of Hoverfly and a Common Field Grasshopper. Come on Autumn!

Final hot news is that the Waffle Moth has fallen. I went to a website called UK Moths which has photos of almost 2000 UK Moths. Honestly, some people are so dull. I went through them one by one. Click. Nope. Click. Nope. Skip a few.....Click...Number 1036 goes by the rather catchy name of Acleris forsskaleana. "This yellowish species has a distinctive reticulated pattern on the forewing, and a variably sized greyish suffusion across the centre". Quite. I emailed the lady in Belgium. - she was very pleased. "UGH" is flemish for "WOW" I think.

Sunday, 23 August 2009


Well, another great weekend of patch birding. This weekend my patch was Porthgwarra Flats, Cornwall. I was torn as to where to go this weekend. On the one hand there were some ticks up north like Semi-p and Wilson's Phal, on the other hand the forecast from the south-west was looking pretty decent. Where to go? I decided I didn't want to do a weekend of mad twitching, and what I really wanted was a decent sea-watch.

I arrived at Porthgwarra carpark at 1am, and parked next to the "No overnight parking or camping" sign. I don't know why they bother with signs like that in these remote locations, most people couldn't even find it, is it really in danger of turning into the next Woodstock? Anyway had a great and uninterrupted sleep in chateau Galaxy, and was up on Gwennap Head at 6am in a plastic garden chair with a cup of tea. It was a great sea-watch, if you like that kind of thing. I never thought I would like sea-watching, but gradually I am getting hooked. I barely moved for 12 hours. It rained, it blew, it became sunny, it rained again. I didn't move. Superb. Lacking in the one bird I really wanted, Cory's Shearwater, but nevermind, it was a great day. Final count was 7 Sooty Shearwater, 10 Balearic Shearwater, ~850 Manx Shearwater, 6 Bonxie, 1 Pom, 1 Med Gull, 1 Puffin, 5 Whimbrel, 3 Common Scoter and a Wigeon. I packed it in at about 6pm, shell-shocked from staring into an eyepiece for so long, and suffering from acute junk food intake. I ate 4 Bakewell tarts, 4 packets of crisps (all cheese and onion...), a steak pie, a New York Deli sandwich, and a Double Decker. Vitamins were provided by approximately 20 grapes, and I had chinese for dinner in Plymouth, via some KFC spicy wings on the outskirts of Penzance. Husbands the world over no doubt tell their wives what a great hobby birding is as it gets them out in the fresh air and they walk miles. What they maybe don't mention is that they consume stupid quantities of petrol station food all day long, only a fraction of which is burnt off by fresh air and walking.

"Is that a bakewell tart you have there? Surely you're not going to eat them all?"

I slept illegally in another carpark last night, Prawle Point in Devon, and ticked off Cirl Bunting in the morning. #274 for the year. Another 26 to go, I am never doing this again. Breakfast was cold takeaway, another Bakewell Tart, and a banana. I had salad for lunch when I got back home, and got the shakes.

So a good weekend, perhaps a poor haul for 700 miles driven, but there you go, I enjoyed it. Typically they got 3 Great Shears and Chough at Porthgwarra this morning when I was on the way home, but that is that way it goes. Sea-watching is a lottery, and I will have to go back, Mrs L willing.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

A curious thing

A curious thing has occurred in my garden overnight. A small cetacean appears to have died on the lawn, and its body carried off by local carrion feeders. If confirmed, this will be the first ocean-going mammal species recorded in suburban Wanstead. If anybody has any pointers as to the ID, please let me know - this is an important development in the annals of Wanstead wildlife watching, and needs to be taken seriously.

Delphinidae sp

Talking of ID challenges, I have been building up a nice portfolio of poor photos of small brown moths. Again, take a look and see if you can do any better than me. I am most interested in the Waffle Moth obviously.

It has been very quiet on the patch. I have continued to get up at 5am and bash it for an hour or so, but no joy. The most interesting bird was a Teal, briefly, on the bank of Alex, before a local birder flushed it and it was never seen again. I'm still holding on for a Flycatcher sp. Semi-collared ideally, but I'd take a Spotted at this point. Oh, and if anyone wants a lift to Cornwall on Friday night for a seawatch off Porthgwarra early Saturday morning, there may be space in the car so let me know. B-b Albatross and Fea's Petrel guaranteed or your petrol money back*. No nutters please.

* In the unlikely event Albatrosses and rare Petrels are not seen, petrol money will be refunded at the rate of 0.0000000000001p per mile.

Tilley Tirade

Yesterday I took the kids to Norfolk. On a whim really, but it was a nice day and I wanted some wide-open space and BIG SKY. Montana was too far away, so we went to the North Norfolk coast. Initially I had thought Hunstanton, but it was rammed so we carried on to Titchwell, which I knew had a buggyable path down to the usually empty beach.

On the way down we stopped off at the new Island Hide, and had a quick peek at the waders - it would have been rude not to. There were quite a few people in there, but we found a space and I started grilling the waders to see if there was anything to show the kids. Not long into this and I found a Curlew Sandpiper - not unexpected in August really. The kids start to have a look through the scope at it, appreciating the finer points of ferruginea, when I become aware of a small crowd of people forming around us, setting up scopes in the same direction as mine. Eh? They were all over 60, they all had nice scopes, they were all wearing beige and green clothing, and to a man (and woman) they were wearing Tilley Hats. Brand spanking new perfectly formed Tilley Hats. Ah yes, Titchwell, I love it. But the hats irk me. Why?

Well, I have a Tilley Hat, and have had for years, but I don't often wear it, as it seems equivalent to wearing a sign saying "numpty" round my neck. I know, I should ignore all of this nonsense, and wear it anyway, but birding seems not to be like that. Anyway, this is a great shame, as I love my hat. I bought it in 1998 before my Australia trip, and wore it night and day for about four months. I went swimming in it, I fanned barbeques with it, I collected plant seeds in it. It still comes with me on every foreign trip, especially to hot places, where it excels. But I can't bring myself to wear it birding in this country. It differs from all the hats I saw at Titchwell in that it is knackered and looks well-used. The hole things even have a nice layer of blue-green oxidisation, much the same colour as that Blue-cheeked Bee-Eater I saw. The ones at Titchwell however are all pristine, and the brass gleams. I don't know they manage it. The hats must live in boxes, come out briefly for half an hour to marvel at Curlew Sands that other people have found, and then go back in a box. The brims are always perfect. There is no part of the brim of my hat that continues in the same direction for more than about ten centimeters. Though it pains me to say it, I have never seen anyone other than a total numpty wearing a Tilley Hat. Once, when I was at Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull in 1999, a man on a bicycle with a [naturally] immaculate Tilley Hat on came up to me and said "Congratulations!" Blank stare. "I see you are wearing a Tilley Hat, congratulations, let me shake you by the hand!". Tragically, this is not a lie, it actually happened. I mean, who in their right mind would go up to a complete stranger on the basis of the hat they are wearing, and strike up a conversation specifically about that hat? Why would you assume that somebody wearing the same hat as you therefore has the same values as you and would be pleasant to talk to, and what is more would be delighted that you had come over for a chat? I don't remember what I said. I was less bitter and twisted then, so I probably nodded and smiled. I remember that at the time it upset me that somebody wearing the same hat as me could be such a total ass, and that I blathered on about it for a lot of the holiday. Nowadays I would probably just tell him to piss off.

Thankfully no more incidents of this nature occured in the intervening period and I had largely stopped thinking about Tilley Hat associations. Until I started birding that is. All novice birders end up in Norfolk pretty soon, and that seems to be the spiritual home of the Tilley Hat. So no doubt a few years ago some other blogger would probably have been writing about what a total numpty dude-ass they had encountered at Titchwell wearing a stupid hat, but that was then, and now is now. I have moved on to a beige cap. This is what real birders wear. By wearing it, people must look at me and think "There goes a proper birder", but then, "Oh wait, he can't ID anything, why isn't he wearing one of those funny hats?" It is a great cap if I don't say so myself. Made by Orvis, a fishing company, it is made of some kind of special material that allows water to bead rather than soak in, but is not obviously gortex or anything like that. But it has its shortcomings, namely that it does not protect the back of my neck from the sun. The Tilley hat is very good at that, but as it proclaims me to likely be a tit, I don't wear it birding. There are exceptions - boat trips for example, where a good hat is essential. If it gets windy the hat has two handy straps, one that goes under the chin, the other that goes under the back of the head. Trust me, you look really cool. For God's sake, isn't this pathetic, why do I even care?

I wore my hat at the weekend, fishing. It was great. But we were the only people at the lake, and my Brother-in-Law already knows I'm a tit...

Monday, 17 August 2009

THE Island

Dear Readers, I have once again abandoned my patch, literally moments after getting a patch tick. In the interests of all-consuming-hobby-life-balance and continued family harmony, we have been on a short break to the Isle of Wight, land of the dotto train, the plastic windmill, and the stick of rock. And very lovely it was too, vast heaps of tackiness included. First and foremost, the kids loved it. And sat there in my plastic deckchair, in front of a peeling shed underneath a crumbling cliff, watching my offspring throw sand at each other and paddle in 6 inches of tepid water, I couldn't help feeling pretty happy with life.

Mrs L comes from the Isle of Wight, forthwith known as THE ISLAND, as there are no others. Her sister still lives there with her husband, kids and dog. We are started producing at the same time (and, by and large, frequency), so the cousins are the same age. Mayhem, but they all enjoyed it and that was the whole point.

On Friday I had a day off from family life, so birded Farlington Marshes in Hampshire. Superb place - many more waders than Wanstead. No Spotted Crakes, so very much like Wanstead. I can particularly recommend a bench on the eastern sea wall where I fell asleep for over an hour in the sunshine. Fortunately all my gear was still there when I woke up, including the tripod and scope which were on the path and pointing out at the mudflats. Perhaps heaps of people walked past it honestly, or perhaps nobody walked past it at all, no idea. A couple of Wheatears near The Deeps were the my first of the autumn, and I stuffed my face with blackberries. As I left, I was able to take a mean photo of a fearless Kestrel sat on a bin in the carpark, just recompense for lugging the camera all the way around the seawall twice and taking no photos at all.

Saturday we took the boys fishing. This was Muffin's first fishing trip and I was somewhat nostalgic, recalling my first fishing outing many many years ago. I don't know how old I was, but my memories are very clear. It was in the Lake District, and we fished a tarn from a rowboat for Perch with one of my parent's friends. I still have the little 5ft rod from that day somewhere, but couldn't locate it for this trip which was a shame. Remarkably we caught some, we may even have eaten them. It was one of the highlights of my growing up - all small boys like fishing, sans exception. So it was with some gaeity in my step that Muffin, his cousin (an old hand), my b-in-l and I headed out of the house in the morning. The destination was a small carp lake only a few miles away and we had the place to ourselves. Two Green Sands took off as we approached the lake, and Raven cronked overhead. Difficult to compress 8 hours into a couple of sentences but here goes: We all caught some fish, including Muffin who was beyond ecstatic, if there is a word for that. My fish were really huge, my brother in law only caught tiddlers, how embarrassing. This is probably best conveyed by photographs.

"Look, my First Fish!"

One of many (three) behemoths I caught

Brother-in-law's best fish. Whitebait.

Sunday morning I went sea-watching from St Cath's Point. Beyond rubbish. Very few things in birding truly depress me, but getting up at 5am to see a Gannet is up there. After an hour I jacked it in - 112 Gannets, 3 Fulmar, and a GBB Gull. I am amazed I stuck it out that long, I knew within about 15 minutes that it was going to be terrible. Instead I checked Bonchurch Down for migrants, and scored big-time with an atypical showy Grasshopper Warbler. I figure this must be pretty good if one of the Island's most committed birders hasn't seen one this year, but sadly I only discovered this today once we were back home. I was trying to work out who I could send my Gannet sightings to, and found his website. Naturally I told him it showed really well.

Later that day we went to the beach, an excellent idea as it allowed me to have another sleep in the sun to recover from getting up at 5am again. The kids adore the beach. All five of them played with minimal parental involvement for about six hours. Fun on the cheap. I messed about taking photos of Black-headed Gulls, and, like them, generally loafed.

The Jackson Five. Sort of.

Tomorrow morning, if I can summon the will-power, I am off on the Flats again. Targets include Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Whinchat, and Green Sandpiper. If I find any one these, you'll hear it here first.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Bring on the rarities!!

I can't help thinking that it would be very amusing if the next two weeks were to produce an unprecedented stream of rarities from continental North America. This is because tick-machine Bradders is away - in North America - and he has his phone with him. This will continue to receive all the Mega alerts, and I have no doubt that he would find it quite funny, nay hilarious, to be looking at, say, a Black-and-White Warbler, in Canada, at the same time as we all were looking at one in Cornwall. How he would chuckle! Siberian rarities (especially a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper) would also be acceptable, but would be lacking the delicious irony that only a North American bird could bring.

Of course I am just joking. Mostly. He flew out today. I did not plan this (or petition the Birding Gods), but as I type, at about 5pm, the first Mega since he took off has come up, which is pretty stunning timing as there hasn't been one for ages, not since the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater in fact (which, if I hadn't mentioned it already, I saw). It is not as gripping as it could be though, as it concerns an Audouin's Gull on Scilly, which neither he nor any of us would go for anyway. Birding Gods, mainland next please, ideally London, even more ideally north-east London. If you need a post-code, just ask.

Audouin's Gull. Sort of.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Ye Gods!!

Moseying past Alexandra Lake on Wanstead Flats this morning at 5:50am, on the way to the scrubby area to find a Pied Flycatcher, a small wader flew past me low against the water. "Fuck me, that's a wader!" I thought, reflectively. Then I saw the white rump, and thought "Bloody Hell, Green Sand!" Then I noted it was paler than I expected it to be, especially the underwings and thought "Well what the hell is that then?" By this stage the wader was just passing out of my field of view, and I was running. The south side of Alex is basically a miniature South Downs Way. A path goes up and down fairly steep hummocks, from where you can see down onto the muddy fringes. The wader had come from behind me, had flown past me, and had now disappeared past one of the hummocks, which I now legged it up to scan further round the fringes of the pond. Nothing. Despite half an hour of methodically going round the whole pond I could not refind it, and I didn't know what it was. Bugger. I had a sneaking suspicion it wasn't a Green Sandpiper as I have seen lots of them and they appear very dark in flight, which this bird wasn't, and they almost always call, which this bird didn't, but beyond that I didn't know. I came back to the house to look up Common Sandpiper, ruled that out immediately, and then realised I had seen a Wood Sandpiper - nothing else it could really be (with the exception of Lesser Yellowlegs, but it was more compact than that, and anyway, that would truly be rare so it couldn't possibly occur in Wanstead). Obviously I didn't get a photo, it was all too quick. I could probably rustle up a Puffin if anyone is interested. Funnily enough I saw Wood Sand at Dagenham Chase two years ago on August 12th, so the timing is pretty good for it. Vince found that bird, a juv, and I twitched it for a tick. His bird stayed for several days, whereas this one stayed for about 20 seconds. Still, I am not complaining.

So, to the subject of the Birding Gods. Once again I had set the alarm for something starting with 4, and I was out at 5:23am. This requires effort. I think they are beginning to realise I am getting serious about the patch again and this is perhaps encouragement. If so, it is some kick ass encouragement; they could have thrown me a Common Sandpiper, or, if they were feeling especially generous, a Green Sandpiper. I am pretty stunned really. I did predict a Tringa only a few days ago, but that was on a different pond which now has water in again, so that doesn't count, and anyway I had given up on that idea entirely. So it must be fate, there is no other explanation.Tonight I am going to sacrifice something in the back garden. East London birders should therefore be on the lookout for Terek Sandpipers on their local ponds, starting from tomorrow.

Monday, 10 August 2009

On the fickle nature of the Birding Gods

You can probably guess how many Flycatchers I saw this morning. Correct, it was zero. Full marks for effort though, I was out at 5:15am, and bashed the Flats for 3 hours, but you can't tick effort.

Sometimes the Birding Gods do smile on me. On several occasions now I have stated that I am off to find a certain bird, and then actually found one. Examples include Ring Ouzel (twice), Spotted Flycatcher (third bush I looked in), Wheatear, and Whinchat. Only the Wheatear gave me any trouble, hiding away in just about the last place I looked. The others were all very straightforward. I woke up, walked to a likely spot on the Flats, and there they were waiting for me. You could argue that this is all about knowing what turns up where when, and what the weather is doing, but that would be too scientific, and indicative of becoming a better birder, so that can't be it. No, it is the Birding Gods.

The time they smiled the most was a magic morning in September 2008. The rain had been so heavy that it had woken me up in the night (this was the Birding Gods telling me it was going to be good). I couldn't really get back to sleep, so hit the Flats at first light. The rain had passed and the sky was perfectly clear. The sunrise was glorious, and I hurried to one of my favourite migrant hotspots on the Flats, an area of small dells strewn with Hawthorn, Elder and Brambles, just to the east of Alexandra Lake. The place was alive with small birds actively feeding though the foliage. One bird though just sat stock still on a branch. Small, brown and white, pale wing-bars; I couldn't quite believe I was looking at a Pied Flycatcher. At the time I was not at all familiar with the species, this was the second I had ever seen, and I had to wait until I got to work to confirm the ID. Needless to say this was a Wanstead tick. The next bird I looked at was a Lesser Whitethroat, always a good bird. Then out of the corner of my eye I was aware of movement in a Hawthorn some distance away from the main area. Red and Black movement. Two Red and Black movements. Male Redstarts, feeding, and being chased around by a Robin. Twenty minutes in and patch tick number two for the day. Next up was a fairly dumpy plain-looking bird in some elder. Took a while to reveal itself, but I was soon sure I was looking at a Garden Warbler. Patch Tick #3 for the morning. The rest of the birds were a mixture of the commoner stuff, but it was a rare treat to stand in the middle of the scrub and be surrounded by Warblers and Thrushes as they fed. I stood, rooted to the spot, for at least an hour. There was no need to move, and when I did it was because I had to go to work.

A Lesser Whitethroat, looking for Pied Fly

This morning was very similar, except for the Pied Flycatcher, Redstarts and Garden Warbler. Once again the scrub was alive with warblers, but the best of the bunch were three Lesser Whitethroats. Mixed in were some very yellowy Chiffchaff, a pair of Blackcap, and several Whitethroats. Less eagerly received was a hoodie throwing stones at the waterfowl on Alex. Rather than get stabbed, here is a long-range photo you can all boo at. Tosser. Boooooo!

So, excellent to get out there and do it properly for a change, and sans enfants as well. Just a shame the Gods weren't smiling. I probably just didn't deserve a good bird, not having worked the patch for so long. If I can stick at it, perhaps I can make them smile. Just look at what happened to the Counting Coots guy in Fulham - he declared that last week was National Patch Birding Week and got a patch tick on day three. What were the chances?

A queue forms for the pedicurist

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Wader season is over

Not Wanstead

As suddenly as it started, Wader Season is over. Total count of wader species over the season, zero. Today Heronry Pond water levels were back to normal, in the space of two days. I am not sure I understand the management plan. Anyhow, it sure was exciting while it lasted, seat of your pants stuff. I hope I managed to convey the enormous sense of thrill and discovery adequately.

So where is the next patch year-tick if it is not a Tringa? Well, tomorrow morning the plan is to find a Pied or Spotted Flycatcher. There seem to be have quite a few coming through lately, and I have found them before, so I reckon a few choice areas are worth a look early doors. The most likely outcome is that I will get home at 8am with diddly squat to show for my dawn start, but that would be defeatist in the extreme. Thus I will be finding a flycatcher tomorrow morning, probably in the scrub just east of Alexandra Lake. Birding Gods, take note.

Well, that is quite enough about the patch for one posting. I was recently accused of having changed, of no longer being a patch-birder, but of being a filthy twitcher. Now until very very recently it is true that I had largely abandoned the patch, as noted in a number of posts. I realise the error of my ways and will be making much more of an effort from now on. I blame June, and an acute lack of will-power. My accusers were the usual suspects: "Show-home" Harvey, "Iceland Gull" Hawkins, and "Patch-birding is my middle name" Blowmonkey. Notwithstanding that the among their number were a bunch of Great-spotted Cuckoo Twitchers, and, let it be noted, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Dippers, I am guilty as charged, but the most recent escapade was one of planning, daring, and considerable effort, and thus almost doesn't count as twitching.

The location was Canvey Island, cultural capital of the South-east, where a juv Kentish Plover had been found in the high-tide roost off the point. The point is cut off at the height of the tide, and given that had been at about 1pm, pitching up at 7:20pm was perhaps somewhat optimistic. Low-lister Patch-birder that I am, this was a lifer for me. It is important to note here that KP is not a tick for Shaunboy or Monkey, who had twitched one, filthily, at Tilbury several years ago whilst I was presumably methodically working the patch, hoping beyond hope for any wader, let alone a scarcity. Anyhow, Bradders and I (who would have thought it?) duly pitched up and were confronted with about 20,000 square miles of tidal mudflats. If we had been lacking in confidence on the A13, we were now truly without hope, but we gave it a go anyway. The mudflats are genuinely huge, and there were no large congregations of birds. We therefore had to scan (filthily) several thousand birds scattered over miles of mudflats in the hope of picking up a small pale wader. In the course of doing this we had stacks of other stuff as well - Barwit, Grey Plover, Golden Plover, Curlew, Whimbrel, Turnstone, Redshank, Greenshank, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Little Egret, various Terns and Gulls. In fact the whole place was phenomenal, a great location at that time in the evening - perfect light as well. I had spent time in the afternoon reading up on the species so knew roughly what we were looking for, but we were both on the point of acknowledging what we had suspected all along and giving up when I finally found a likely and very distant candidate. We watched it feed for a while - frenetic galloping, Sanderling-like, and then a brief tippy feeding action - at this range behaviour played as much a part as physical appearance - and DB confirmed the ID, having seen the species before. Against the odds we had succeeded and it felt like proper birding - almost, although obviously it was a twitch. A filthy one.

I didn't stand a chance of getting any photos of the bird, so here instead are some butterflies taken with my excellent and versatile 300mm macro lense. Always come equipped with the right tools for the job, that's what I say.

This is a Silver-spotted Skipper. It is a butterfly, not a bird.

This is a Painted Lady. There are apparently 999,999,998 more of them around the place

And this is a Peacock. Any of these names would have caused uncontrollable giggling last night.

Last night was Monkey's BBQ. A raucous affair it must be said, and where the aforementioned accusations occured. Excellent night, really good, and H brought his moth trap, or what was left of his moth trap, namely a lighthouse bulb bolted to a plank. Nothing fancy about this, you just plonk it down on a white sheet and away you go. The results were stunning. I catch about 2 piddly little brown micros a night and cannot ID them. Howard catches light aircraft and can ID every one of them. We had Cessna, several Learjets, and at one stage, a Gulfstream V. It was great fun as these things bounced off us, and we tried to grab them or stick collection pots on top of them to allow closer study. Tonight I am abandoning my Bonneau du Martray contraption, and just using the bulb and a sheet. We shall see.

The party continued into the small hours and several people called Paul and Monkey became very very drunk. Several litres of red wine were distributed into the grass, and there was a lot of uncontrollable giggling. I am told that this is a taster for Scilly later this autumn and that I should stay well away from them if at all possible! I for one would not be able to go out birding with the kind of hangovers they are likely to have had today. From the sound of it, it may end up being a two-dayer. Luckily I was driving, so am feeling fresh for the patch tomorrow morning. Bring on the Ficedulas.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Wanstead - dedication and failure

Well, I did it. Up at 4.45am, out of the house by 5.

Heronry Pond - the Stats:

Tringa sp - 0
Little Egrets - 1
Grey Herons - 3
Coots - 6
Mallards - 10
Moorhens - 13
Biting Insects - 23,483,751,974

Was it worth it? No, not even remotely, although a Buddhist Monk wearing an Ipod was a patch tick to add to the Nun last year some time. My legs in particular have been well and truly ravaged, and one very evil bug got me just above my eye which is intensely irritating. On balance, staying in bed would have been much more satisfactory.

Putting this dismal failure aside, I eagerly came home to examine the contents of the moth trap.

Moths - 0

Wanstead wildlife - setting the world on fire.

News of a Redstart at Rainham (potential patch tick!) got us out of the house by about 10, and we had a pleasant amble round. It was so hot though that we didn't get much past the woodland feeders, and we headed back to the centre before too long, Redstartless. I am not officially keeping a Rainham 2009 list, but Long-tailed Tit was #112 if anyone else is counting - a nice flock in the cordite along with gazillions of juv Chiffchaffs. Very very quiet indeed, until we got home that is! Small blue butterfly seen briefly from the back door, and a veritable frenzy kicked off. Camera!! Where did it go!? There, on the sage! Phew got it. Common Blue. Woo-hoo! Garden Tick! Good, now I needn't get stupidly excited about that one again. Other bloggers I read are experiencing the same thing this summer - common butterflies seen in the garden triggering mass celebrations, high-fives, fireworks and generous dollops of well-being. Enjoy it while it lasts, soon they'll be boring again. "Ah, Common Blue. Hmmm, whatever, ho-hum. Hey, what's that Hoverfly over there??!!!! Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!"


The rest of the day was the usual domestic bliss. Two loads of washing done, a huge shop at Sainsbury's, and then just following the children around the house picking things up. My lego skills are coming on a treat - new career?

Anyone for a Puffin photo? Oh, OK then, if you really really insist.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Birds are rubbish, insects are where it is at

I have just been sat in the garden having a cup of tea and watching the sky. Heavy cloud cover today and a fair few swifts hawking around. Interestingly some Black-headed Gulls were in with the swifts and, like them, were fly-catching. Seemed to be doing quite well at it, and at some height too, perhaps 150ft up, with lots of semi-hovering. I have seen this behaviour before, but not in zone 3, and not from a deck-chair. Tough life, I know.

My eye was drawn from this spectacle by a smaller, closer battle. A smallish spider has woven a web on my bird-feeder pole, and had managed to catch a really fat and juicy flying ant, which are pretty abundant at the moment. It tentatively subdued it, and then set about repairing the web. Not long after, possibly within two minutes, a wasp came to investigate, and landed on the ant. Wow, I thought, the spider is sorted for a week! But no, the wasp set about removing the strands of web that suspended the ant, and before the spider could approach, separated it from the web and flew off with it. Now I'm not a big watcher of insects, so this could just be default wasp, but this is amazing stuff! I was transfixed, and watched the whole thing unfold through my 10x for a stunning view. Birds, who needs 'em?!

Actually I do. Now after yesterday's Little Egret debacle, I resolved there and then to get out on the patch. This morning I followed through with this ambitious statement, and decided for whatever reason to give Heronry a go. Since I last visited Heronry Pond, in about 1864, it has changed somewhat. It has lost about 2ft of water, and is largely a stinking, putrid mess. Some of it is just mud in fact, and it is indeed living up to its name. It was devoid of Mute Swans, but did have 2 Little Egrets and a Grey Heron. This trebles the number Little Egrets I have seen on the patch, and explains why I was sat looking at the sky a moment ago - it would be an awesome garden tick. Not a lot else going on in the Park, but I did have three kiddos which precludes serious birding. Corvids were abundant, Jays in particular seem to have had a good year, but generally pretty quiet. Despite the stench, the pond looks amazing. Heronry is concrete sided, so usually unattractive to waders - I think it once hosted a couple of Common Sandpipers after a storm and that is about it. Right now though it looks like it could happily support vast flocks of Tringa, and indeed this is what I am going to go out and find early tomorrow morning. Or a Spoonbill, I'm not fussy.

Heronry Pond is not very deep. We also appear to have beavers.

Honestly, I am an idiot. Almost every time I go out on the patch I come back raving about it. If there is a lazier person out there, I would like to meet them. And the strange thing is that I have seen more birds (in terms of number of species -recorded on that little doodad on the right) on the patch this year than in any other, and yet it seems like I have barely been out. I think it all went wrong in June. At the time I joked that I would get back out there in July, or maybe August, and it is all too sadly coming to fruition.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009


Just checked the ELBF Forum and discovered that somebody has seen no fewer than seven Little Egrets on Heronry. FFS. Serves me right I suppose, but I have to say I am totally gutted. This was yesterday, whilst I was blowing good money on diesel on a tick-less trip to Norfolk. FFS.

So, resolutions.

- go out on the patch at least twice a week from now on. FFS.
- take the kids to Rainham at least once a week as it is a nice place.

- string Mute Swans into Little Egrets like other people round here seem to do.

I'm so pissed off I am not even going to enliven this post with an unnecessary Puffin photo. I mean, FFS.

7 Loooong weeks

Gratuitous LBB photo. Plenty more of these to come.

Hurrah, t'is the summer holidays! Seven weeks of providing non-stop entertainment and food, and refereeing endless squabbles between siblings. This is my first go at the summer holidays, and I am pleased to report that so far so good. We are two weeks in and all three offspring are still alive and uninjured, the house is still standing, and I am actually feeling pretty perky. Can't help feeling that the last two weeks have been the easy ones though. Mrs L had one of them for the first week, and then we spent the second week being looked after by my parentals in Fife. The real fun starts now I expect. Tomorrow morning a friend is coming to play, which means that by about midday the house should look like the the Gaza Strip. When the friend leaves, there will be a fit of immense proportions as the realization dawns on Muffin (trial pseudonym) that he now has to clear it all up. It has happened before; I could have a million conversations with him trying to pre-empt what will happen but it is futile, and we both know it. On the plus side, there will be an away leg later on, and I will be down to two for an afternoon. I don't yet know when, but I'll be sure to book a BBRC rarity.

Some time ago I wrote that I should start lists for the kids as they'll surely be interested in the years to come. This I have now done, and they are pretty good too. This past week or so, the youngest, here-on-in known as Pudding, has managed to tick Great Spotted Cuckoo, Ferruginous Duck and Ring-necked Duck. Muffin got both the ducks but not the Cuckoo, but unfortunately middle kid, Pie, wasn't present for any of them, and was looking the other way when the Bee-eater flew past (note how the "Blue-cheeked" is utterly superfluous here - we all know what species I am talking about). Need to sort this out as she is lagging, as can be seen here:

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
American Golden Plover
King Eider
Ferruginous Duck
Ring-necked Duck

Iceland Gull
Black-winged Pratincole
Great Spotted Cuckoo
Ferruginous Duck
Ring-necked Duck

Cattle Egret

Am I a good father or what? Unique parenting skills. This is merely the list of notable birds they have seen. I figure that if they can ID Oystercatcher in flight aged 5 there is no real need to record any dross (other than Hoopoes).

In a bid to enhance their fledgling lists, and in a desperate effort to eke out another day before terminal boredom sets in, we went to Breydon yesterday to try for what is now a Pacific Golden Plover. Didn't see it, but I did learn that Muffin can do Oystercatchers. Poor kid. Rather charmingly he is also now pointing out birds and butterflies to the other two. Despite dipping it was really a rather pleasant day out in the sunshine, waders galore, and including a bargain lunch at ASDA in Great Yarmouth.

Other hot news is that the Dip-monkey has started a blog, and is very worryingly notching up posts at a rate of knots. Like me he is a committed father, family-man, and dedicated patch-worker....

Giant Kittiwake, right. A new species.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

A trip

This could well be a very long and drawn-out post. I have been away for a week, and am suffering from Blog deprivation. I have also seen several boat-loads of birds, and taken a couple of photos, which I will of course subject you to throughout this post.

So where has famille Lethbridge been I hear you ask? I would imagine that the top photo is a bit of a giveaway, and in any event, as previously discussed, most readers of this know me anyway and I have been texting them all week... I'll give you a clue - it wasn't Wanstead. Regular readers will not have needed that clue, as of course I am never actually in Wanstead. Still no idea? OK, for the benefit of the random (and unfortunate) visitor, I can reveal that we have been to Scotland, and jolly nice it was too.

We go to Scotland pretty frequently, but this trip was particularly complex. Mrs L and my eldest cycled there (from Newcastle, but still an impressive achievement). Middle Kid flew there with her Grandparents a few days later. I stayed put for another few days, twitched a Cuckoo, and eventually drove up with the youngest and all our crap. Cue a happy reunion in Fife when we eventually made it.

My parents came up with the genius suggestion that Mrs L and I spend some time together, and that they would look after the kids to facilitate this. "But I wanted to go birding!" "Excellent idea", I said, we shall go to Mull, childless, just like we did ten years ago, and camp in that same spot, more of which later. Calmac tickets were duly purchased and off we went. The drive was superb, by which I mean stunning scenery through the Trossachs was complemented by no less than 4 Ospreys and a Peregrine. At Oban harbour they had a peculiar species of pigeon, much more attractive than the ones that live around Jubilee pond here on the Flats. The pigeons are slightly odd in that they have a semi-aquatic habit, but just like regular pigeons they were very tame, so I spent some time taking a few photos as they strutted along the harbour wall cooing gently.

Pigeon sp

A sea-watch from the ferry did not produce the hoped-for Fea's Petrel, but no matter, as soon as we docked we headed straight for Loch Frisa which is where the RSPB is all set up to show punters Sea Eagles. Two punters came away happy with a nice adult Sea Eagle (though we had to give it back later as apparently they are quite rare). We also saw 2 Golden Eagles and a male Hen Harrier. The other visitors didn't see these, as, to a man, they were all muppets.


"Let's go to Caliach Point and stare at the sea!" What a turn on, and frankly how could she refuse? I promised her that we might see some Great Skuas, which would be a tick for her. I imagined getting her onto a distant dark blob and saying "Look, isn't it fantastic?!" In the event the views were ever so slightly better than I was expecting. A nice way to get a tick (although she would like me to point out that it can't be a tick because she doesn't have a list. Right.)

I also got quite excited when I saw a Black-browed Albatross fly past. Mrs L thought I might fall off the cliff I became so animated. Sadly all my photos of this magnificent seabird show a juvenile Gannet, so the less said about it the better. I know, how on earth could I have photographed the wrong bird? Rookie error if ever I made one. Dammit.

Despite the intervening years, we found the camping spot with no trouble at all. At some point in the last decade some unhelpful person or persons had blocked the convenient parking space with a row of rocks, but these were easily shifted. Put simply, it is the best place to camp in the Northern hemisphere. In idyllic scenery, you look out for a stone bridge after a bend in the road. Just upstream of the bridge is a waterfall and a pool. Once you have shifted any offending geography out of the way of your vehicle, proceed with camping gear over the road and downstream, past another waterfall, and set up at a grassy dell next to another pool. Have a nice meal cooked for you, and then proceed downstream to the cliff edge where the stream falls 50ft into the sea, and enjoy the sun setting over Loch Tuath and the distant Treshnish Isles. Drink Whisky. It is simply wonderful.

The next morning the wonderfulness was shattered by an SW3 type jogger who objected to our presence. I was loudly informed that I was not supposed to have parked there (which I already knew, but what harm was I doing exactly?) and that there was parking for "you lot" down the road. I didn't let her finish. "Us lot?" "Yes, you know, tourists, campers and so on". What she actually meant was "SCUM" but such was her breeding she couldn't quite bring herself to say it, so "you lot" was the next best thing. Obviously local herself, she took a photo of the car, and haughtily said she would call the police and the council if the rocks were not put back exactly as they were, so I threw her off the cliff, so I promised her it would all be fine and continued cooking breakfast. So keen was she that she took another photo of the car on her way back for good measure, so somewhere up on Mull my car is famous and no doubt the the whole of Argyll constabulary are on the lookout for it for the grave offence of moving a rock. As she jogged on I told her to to come back in half an hour and take another one, but I don't think she heard me. I hadn't shaved for a week, and employment is in the dim and distant past - if I see a rock that is in the way of my holiday, I am going to move it, and if some aristocratic old bat starts having a go she can piss off back to Chelsea where she belongs, and where there are parking meters instead of rocks. Mrs L got cross and said I shouldn't antagonise her, but honestly. Clearly too much time on her hands if she is worried about rock-placement. She needs a good hobby, like birding.

Heinous crime and breakfast

Funnily enough neither the police nor the council turned up, so after a hearty breakfast we continued past yet more fabulous scenery to Fhionnport to catch the boat to Iona. It is only a ten minute crossing (£2.05 pp each way, ker-ching). Mission Corncrake. I had done my research, and apparently a rasping male had been heard in the field next to the fire station. Most places in Iona are about two minutes from the ferry, so shortly after docking I was indeed listening to crex CREX crex CREX coming from somewhere close to the middle of the field. Can I tick it? Mixed opinions from London birders - hmmm, probably need to see it - not easy. Happily in the two hours I spent just looking at the field, I got two brief glimpses. The first was about 3 seconds in flight - rubbish dangly flight, would have been better off walking. The second view was of a Corncrake bum as it disappeared into a clump of grass. Mrs L was with me at this point, having elected not to bother with forking out a fiver to look at a boring old abbey, but didn't see it. But she did hear them - at least three in the field, so that is a semi-tick for her (if she had a list of course)

The brief trip produced 8 Osprey, 1 Peregrine, 2 Golden Eagle, 1 Sea Eagle, 2 Hen Harrier, 1 Merlin, 5 Kestrel and 1,767,434 Buzzard. Add in 2 Raven, 2 Bonxie, Hoodies, Siskins, Linnets, Eider, seals, a Basking Shark, and some friendly pigeons and you have an excellent trip. And it meets with wifal approval as well. Just make sure you park in the right place.

Not a lot else to tell really. The Isle of May was superb as ever, and an excellent day out with some of the family. I could take photos of puffins just about for ever I think. Loch Gelly came up trumps with a Ferruginous Duck and a Ring-necked Duck on the same day, which the kids enjoyed as the quality ticks they were. And I got up at stupid o'clock for a Fife Ness seawatch on the penultimate day which netted 61 Manxie, 2 pale morph adult Arctic Skua, 3 Great Skua, and thousands of Albatrosses...