Sunday 28 February 2010

Another Gull Conundrum

I went to Rainham today and enjoyed a river-watch. Thousands of Gulls went west past the visitor centre balcony, presumably displaced by the severe storm lashing Britain at the moment. Just out of interest we counted how many Black-headed Gulls went past in five minutes. 200 was the answer, and it was a steady stream, so between 9am and 12:30pm, which is when we counted, we reckon we saw between seven and eight thousand BHGs go past. Whilst on one level this is extremely interesting, on many (all) other levels it is very dull, and we were hoping that something more exciting might accompany them up the river. Like a Bruinnich's Guillemot. We had to make do with a Little Gull at about half-ten. This kept us hanging on for another two hours, but nothing happened. The Black-headeds continued to stream past, with high numbers of most of the other Gulls as well, and at half-twelve, feet frozen, Hawky and I jacked it in and went home.

Predictably I was late, and so "offered" to drive Mrs L to her afternoon engagement. Tangled up in Ilford traffic, I took a back route towards Forest Gate and found myself alongside Wanstead Flats. Drat. And there were a lot of Gulls. Double Drat. The car mysteriously stalled, and at this moment I remembered that my scope was still in the boot from the morning at Rainham. Before I registered what was happening, I had the scope up, and was grilling the Gulls. Wow, my previous estimate of simply "a lot" turned out to be rather understating the numbers. I called Tim, who came out and was also suitably gobsmacked. We know we get a lot of Gulls, and the peak counts this winter have been somewhere in the region of 1000 Common Gulls, with perhaps 600 Black-headeds. Gosh this is developing into an interesting post isn't it? Well, Tim did a quick count and ended up at 2,500, predominantly Black-headed Gulls, all feeding on the new mega-puddle where the playing fields used to be. Could some of these be the same I had seen go past Rainham, now dispersed? We will never know, but they had to go somewhere. I'm a slower counter, but managed a high count of 82 Herring Gulls. This absolutely whoops the previous high-count, which according to my notes at least, was 17 last November. One even had a colour ring, which, when EURING's website sorts its bandwidth out, will be submitted to discover a no doubt scintillating life history.

Whilst sifting through these, I found this rather curious specimen. Not a putative Caspian I am pleased (and relieved) to say. I reckon it's just a Common Gull, but as you know I can't be trusted with gulls. Just look at its head! I've circulated it amongst a few fellow birders, and received some sensible and not-so-sensible theories, but do any of you have any ideas?

Larus canus ssp "mankius" ??

Saturday 27 February 2010

London Waxwing and other bits

Got the Waxwing in Finchley at the second attempt - failed yesterday. Took some time, but when it finally came in it was instantly worth the wait. The bird had no fear, and on one occasion I had to step backwards away from it in order to focus again. Not the best Waxwing photos I have ever taken, the light was distinctly horrible - a very dull day here in the capital - so I've upped the levels and so on to make it appear nicer than it actually was. I take no pleasure in manipulating images, but I do it for you, dear readers. For your viewing pleasure. Rest assured, in the flesh, this was a dull brown bird that you would not have enjoyed. And it was windy, with precipitation never far off. You're much better off looking at a lovely orangey-pink Waxwing from the comfort of your homes whilst I suffer on your behalf. By the way, the final image before the ducks is not a Waxwing. It is Des, livening up proceedings. He had just performed a rude gesture if you can believe it. Click to see for yourself!

Prior to almost dipping the Waxwing again, I spent an hour in Epping Forest, getting wet and attempting to take photographs of ducks. Once again I proved that by sitting in the mud and slowing things down, better photos result. How often do I get to do that though? If the light in Finchley this afternoon was horrible, this morning in Epping Forest it was truly disgusting. Only by virtue of a very fast lense did I stay in the game, just. I could go all technical at this point, but it would be boring. Suffice it to say that last week and up until yesterday I was thinking of selling the lense as I find it too heavy to lug around. This morning I changed my mind, and the offer is withdrawn. The dismal weather in this country for so many months of the year means this lense is extremely useful and I'm going to keep it. And hopefully use it more than I currently do.

So, have some ducks taken with it this morning. Mandarins and Mallards. I may have said it before, but I reckon I could spend the rest of my life taking photos of Mandarins. Brilliant birds, so photogenic. They never really came particularly close today, in fact they consistently flew away from me, but towards dogs. I suspect they were after bread. But when did you last see a dog carrying bread?

Thursday 25 February 2010

A Day Off

No childcare for over 24 hours. What was I going to do with all that time? Embark on a damp-dusting frenzy the likes of which my house has never seen? Almost right. In fact I went birding.

So yesterday, after dropping number one son off at school and the girls off in Cambridge, I went straight to Tyttenhanger and met Paul W in the carpark. Tree Sparrow and Grey Partridge were the targets. The Tree Sparrows were a piece of cake, and we found three birds in the usual hedge along with a few Yellowhammer and about three million Dunnocks. The Grey Partridges however refused to play ball. I had been told this was a good site for them in the LNHS area only a few days ago, but on yesterday's showing I'd have to disagree. As we wandered around in the mud, it became noticeably brighter, and a fiery yellow ball appeared in the sky, which for some reason had turned blue. Fearing that the apocalypse was upon us, we started to head for the car. How that would have helped? As we glanced up fearfully at the sky, Paul picked out two Common Buzzards circling. Ominous, and then I picked up three more. Eeek! We quickened our pace, but it became brighter still. We figured we might as well spend our last few minutes raptor-watching, and so headed for a good spot only a few miles away. This turned out to be great decision, and we were soon rewarded by two cracking Red Kites well inside the London recording area, with another outside it, and at least six more Buzzards. Amazingly, the fiery ball then disappeared and it started to rain, so we lived to bird another day, and I am here to tell you about it. Lucky you.

Today, after the school run, I headed straight for the London Borough of Hackney for a double of Tawny Owl and Brambling. Although it seems silly twitching a Tawny Owl, as some live about 300m from me, I just can't find them this year. I've been out late at night listening for them on several occasions with no joy, and the day-roost I discovered last year has been empty every time I've checked it. I got thoroughly lost in the maze that is Abney Park Cemetery within about three minutes, and had to call Mark for help. Turns out I came in a different entrance to that which I thought I had come in by, and thus had become disoriented. He soon put me right, and the Tawny was once again in its favourite tree, closely watched by several Great Tits. I watched it for several minutes to see if it would catch and eat one, but it steadfastly ignored them and me, so I left it to it and headed off to Clissold Park for the Brambling.

I watched the feeders there for a good hour before I picked it up. A lovely winter male, always surprises me how big and chunky they look. Sadly there is no photo, as I figured Hackney wasn't the best place to stand around in full view with a large lense, so by the time I got it out of my bag it had vanished. Instead have some Deer. No idea what sort they are. Ho ho ho.

Flush with success, and fuelled by a superb bacon and egg bap, I headed the short distance to Walthamstow to see if I could refind the Dusky Warbler. I paid my pound - as you know, I do not condone wanton fence-hopping - and walked up the Lockwood to the site, on the way picking up the long-staying Slavonian Grebe, and a surprising female Goosander. I could never find Goosander when I was after one for a London tick, now I see them all the time. This is why I will likely find a Tawny Owl in Wanstead tomorrow.

To cut a long story short, I gave the Dusky an hour from the spot I had seen it a week or so ago, but not a sniff. One brief Chiffchaff was my total warbler score. I walked back around the Lockwood the other way, thus completing my circuit, but couldn't find the Green Sandpiper that has been reported. Incredibly, or perhaps predictably, I found another five Goosander, two drakes and three females. They are usually pretty flighty, so I went down the bank of the reservoir and walked around hidden from view, before sneaking up over the top right where they were. They weren't impressed....

Last stop Waterworks NR, where Paul W had kindly supplied a back-up Green Sandpiper, nailed down in a reedy marshland zone with a Snipe and a few Teal. Some days it all goes right, and today was one of those days. Maybe all the birds were stuffed? It is unusual that I set off with three target birds in mind and get them all, but there you have it. All three were London 2010 ticks - yes I know, how cool am I? - and so I'm on 141, which I'm entirely satisfied with. There's a Waxwing in Finchley as well. The girls have never been to N3, maybe they need to see what it's like?

Tuesday 23 February 2010

A Gull Observation, and why Pagers are Bad

Tuesday is my weekly early morning out on the patch. I didn't manage to get up at first light - my sodding pager ran out of battery at 5:11am, and started beeping. Even if you have it set on "silent", it beeps when the battery needs changing. Genius. And you can't just turn it off either, first you have to scroll through all the messages you have not yet read. Because it had been on silent, there were quite a few I hadn't noticed from yesterday evening. Enough that half-way through desperately pressing "M" it started beeping again for the low battery. I couldn't see enough to just pull the battery out, so was forced to continue until it was sure that I knew all I needed to know, and could be turned off. The design is, as they say, piss poor. I could have thrown the damn thing out of the window.

I stomped back to bed. Mrs L was very pleased, and awarded me some Brownie Points. We both managed to get back to sleep, but of course I then didn't manage to get up when I was supposed to. An hour of prime birding therefore went begging, lord only knows what I missed. I got another Snipe though, yay!

As it has been raining heavily non-stop for the past two days, the Flats were totally waterlogged. Vast puddles have appeared almost everywhere, the smallest depression or uneven ground and a pool has formed. Unfortunately none of them were heaving with Waders, though presumably an hour earlier I would have been fighting my way through hordes of Redshank and Lapwing. There were stacks of Gulls around though. AAaaaahhhh!!!!

On the way back home I picked up a distant bird flying south-east. As it came nearer, it became a Gull. A large Gull. It seemed very dark on the mantle. Could it be a Great Black-backed (semi-mega in Wanstead, and not seen in 2010 - so far)? I had a look at the bill as it hove vaguely into view, though still some way off - oh yes, chunky! And it also had those small white wingtips, mini-mirrors, much bigger than the tiny white patches adult Lessers have. Tick! I even managed to get a few photos, well, best call them record shots. I followed it though my binoculars all the way across the Flats, and as I did so, realised that it flew in a totally different way to all the other Gulls. It was almost like a Grey Heron, a lazy, languid, floppy flight, with very slow yet even wingbeats. Of course, it may just not have been in much of a hurry this morning, and so this isn't feature at all, but if the massive size, ginormous beak, dark mantle and small mirrored wing-tips all fail to make an impression on me in the future, it could make all the difference.

Monday 22 February 2010

Wheatear minus twenty-one days and counting

I saw my first Wheatear last year on the 15th of March. I don't know how fast they fly, but it's a very very long way, so I reckon my first bird of 2010 must be in the air, heading north. I'm actually getting fairly excited already, in anticipation of that chilly morning out on the Flats when I espy something that might possibly be a bird on a distant clod. I don't carry a scope on the patch, so I will approach closer, and then it will fly, revealing pure white. And I will be happy, because it will have started. I have not been birding very long at all, but I doubt I will ever get tired of migration. I will never become complacent - "Ah yes, first Wheatear of the year. Whatever, and it'll happen next year too, yawn!" It just won't happen - I will always be thrilled to bits. And don't worry, when it happens, you'll know about it.

"Get Ready!"

Saturday 20 February 2010

More London birding

As promised, I went out on Wanstead Flats this morning. The weather was lovely, cold and crisp, with fantastic morning light. It was unfortunately rather quiet on the bird front, so I spent most of the time mucking about with the camera. I had another Gull 'moment' early on, but Paul put me right over the phone. "Don't be so bloody stupid", he said. I moved on. Sodding Gulls. I kind of knew it wasn't quite right for Audouin's, but wasn't expecting it to be a Slender-billed.

OK, so that last bit might not be entirely truthful. It was actually a runty Lesser Black-backed Gull that was hardly bigger than the Common Gulls it was with. I'll leave you to guess what I got confused by.

Near the pond this Gull was on was a much easier proposition, a Crow. It was enjoying a morsel of discarded Friday night take-away, KFC or one of the umpteen look-a-likes around here. Totally unconcerned by my presence, it delicately picked away at the marrow and allowed to me to get some shots I was pleased with. I'm coming to the realisation that the only way to get satisfactory photos is to be incredibly close to the bird, and that it helps if the bird is a large one. All my speculative efforts of small birds in tree-tops and so on turn out rubbish.

Ok, so this one isn't a Crow

Another thing I've noticed which helps the overall quality is when all creative control is taken away from me. Take this example from today. I was walking down a bumpy track with the camera over my shoulder, and the shutter fired as I slipped a bit. It has a certain je ne sais quoi about it, and I think it's my favourite shot of the day.

Broxbourne Woods Path, Upsidedown abstract.

I was walking down the track to see if I could see one of these. I could! This was a London tick, and was fairly hard work. Luckily a fellow would-be Hawfinch twitcher had extremely sharp ears and picked one up just as I was on the point of giving up after several hours, so well done him.

Friday 19 February 2010

Half Term Blues

It is almost over, and it can't come a minute too soon. There are upsides, namely not needing to get up in the morning for the school run, but other than that, Jesus I need a rest. With three of them there is always something to do, always something to fetch, always a dispute to referee. One of them is always thirsty, another, hungry. There is always something needed that is out of reach, and likely to be on a different floor. Above all, there is the incessant chatter, the continuous questions. There is nowhere to hide, nowhere.

The summer holiday last year is but a distant memory, but I got through that, so I'm surprised half term has been so tough. Perhaps it's like real holidays, where one week just isn't enough? You spend that week forgetting about work, getting into a new groove, and then all of a sudden it's over and it's back to the grindstone before you even had time to relax. Like a real holiday, you need two weeks for it to be worthwhile, two weeks before you can start to enjoy it.

Today was typically manic. First up was a game of football cunningly organised at Mansfield Park. Mansfield Park coincidentally overlooks William Girling Reservoir, which currently has a Red-necked Grebe, a Great Northern Diver, 25 Black-necked Grebes and at least one Goosander on it. I know, because I was looking at them whilst leaking goals at a rate of knots. I'm not good at football, and especially not whilst looking through a scope. Then, with suitably muddy children, it was off to Barking to get the courtesy car cleaned before exchanging it for the one that was hit by a post at Rainham several weeks ago. This was exceedingly complex in the middle of a busy car park, but I got there in the end by putting them all in the front passenger seat for five minutes while I transferred the seats across. Next up shopping for the weekend before finally getting home for a late lunch. Men are supposed to be bad at multi-tasking, but if you could have seen me between about one and quarter-past! I tell you, it was something else. I was a blur, a zephyr. I simultaeneously cooked lunch, unstacked the dishwasher, washed a football, unpacked the shopping, got the kids drinks, did the washing up, tidied the front room and somehow also changed a nappy. I probably did a pile more things as well, but I can't remember them and you're almost certainly bored already. Suffice it to say I was amazing and the day was back on track. Women reading this will probably be thinking "Yeah, and?".... Men will be thinking "Wow, amazing! But wash a football?"....

Tomorrow I have some time off, and do you know what, I might go birding. What with one thing or another, mainly rain and too many children, I have neglected the patch this week. I've still been checking the Basin (zip) but I can barely remember where the Flats are. It hasn't been a bad week of course, a lifer in Dusky Warbler, and a few year ticks, all of them in London - Pink-footed Goose, Scaup, and now Red-necked Grebe. But I'm missing the patch, and I'm due a goodie I reckon. London has been fantastic this year, but bar the five Brent Geese that Stuart saw flying over (and that may well have gone over my house, except I wasn't in it to see them), Wanstead hasn't really cashed in. Tomorrow though, all that will change. Oh yes.

Here, have a rather good photo of a Scaup. After various people commented that my phone-scoped shots were on the poor side of abysmal, I've switched to using my little Samsung NV3. The results I think speak for themselves.

Wednesday 17 February 2010


Yesterday, before thoughts of Dusky Warbler even entered my tiny brain, we went on a pilgrimage of sorts. I meant to write about it yesterday, but got a bit distracted by ornithological highlights of the tick variety. In case you were intested, debate still rages about the exact identity of the Rainham geese at the weekend. No? Thought not.

The pilgrimage was to Becktonia, where we used to live. A bit like Belgravia, but with more pylons. I wanted to show Muffin where he was born. Precisely where he was born in fact.

It was here, through the open window in the ivy-covered house. That was our bedroom, and he was born towards the back of the room on the left. He was actually fairly interested, as perhaps you can see. As young, naive, and nervous parents-to-be, we took a tour of the maternity ward at the local hospital. As we stepped over a dried pool of blood to be shown a windowless birthing room with shiny steel bits, we decided that perhaps this wasn't for us. Alternative options were thin on the ground, so we decided to have him (it, at that stage) at home. Many people counselled against this, what if something goes wrong etc, but the hospital was so vile we just couldn't do it. In the event everything was fine, and it was so brilliant in fact that we did it with numbers 2 & 3 where we now live. Six years on, it is rather nice to be able to take him back to where it all started. It's not quite as romantic with the other two, as we just have to walk to the front room, where they were born about six feet apart, near the sofa and piano respectively, but in time I am sure it will be. I was born in a hospital that no longer exists, I think it is posh flats now. Very sad. AND my school has been razed to the ground to make way for sheltered accomodation. Not even a blue plaque....

As you can see, the new owners have an ivy problem. A serious ivy problem. We enjoyed a love-hate relationship with the tivy. With House Sparrows in decline seemingly everywhere, our house in Becktonia was a haven, with a thriving colony living in the ivy, perhaps 50 birds. They were a real feature of our time there, you could hear them constantly, and five years on I remain highly attuned to the sound of Sparrows anywhere. One of the first things I did on moving here was to put one of those Sparrow hotels up on the front of the house, but to date nothing has used it. I miss those Sparrows.

We kept the ivy so that we could keep the Sparrows. The roots burrowed into the mortar, and made the front walls permanently damp. It was incredibly vigourous, and had to be trimmed three times a year before it got out of hand. This was one of the most horrible jobs imaginable. Coughing from four months of accumulated Sparrow "dust", up a very tall ladder, constantly squeezing the secateurs, and prizing ivy from brickwork, your fingers would redden to the point of raw. It took hours, and then you had to clean it all up and go to the dump. And you couldn't leave it, or just do it a bit, as once it goes over the guttering and onto the roof, you've had it. The new owners have officially "had it". It's over half way up the tiles, and all over the chimneys. Past the point of no return. Still, not my problem, I'm just very pleased that the Sparrows are still there and thriving, and Muffin was pretty pleased to see them too. In a way, they're his Sparrows.

Monday 15 February 2010

Wow, what a day!

I mean, wow! A day of many ticks. But first some ritual Gull shame and humiliation. It has been over a week since I stuffed up a Gull, come on! Actually I'm not even going to bother posting a pic, and it isn't quite a stuff up. To cut a long story short, I got very excited by what I thought might be a Caspian Gull on the Basin today - naturally, after recently mentioning I check it daily and it NEVER has anything interesting on it. So excited that I sped home for the scope and camera. Unfortunately through the scope it clearly wasn't one, but it had a few features that had me going for a bit, including really rather long spindly legs. Happily I came to the sorrowful (but correct) conclusion that it was something else, probably a Lesser Black-backed, but there was some heavy breathing involved for a while. Bloody Gulls. Even in Wanstead, where large ones are fairly scarce, they taunt me.

Things went downhill further with a report of a Penduline Tit at Rainham which subsequently flew off before I had even managed to leave the house to twitch it. Lunch improved matters no end, and then came another call that the two grey Geese on Wennington Marsh were Pink-feet and not Bean Geese anymore. Hurrah, the best things come to those who wait! Met Hawky up there and got great scope views which confirmed it. Funny old thing though, as the two Tundra Beans from earlier in the year hadn't been seen for a while, and the two Dartford Pink-footed Geese I couldn't be bothered to go and see had disappeared just before the weekend. On Saturday, on a Peregrine mission for Muffin, we had seen these two Geese out on Wennington, and called them (along with many people far more qualified than myself) as Beans. It's stretching the bounds of possibility that the two Beans could disappear at precisely the same time that two Pink-feet arrive surely, but there you go, and anyway, who cares, as now I've seen both. A London and a Rainham tick.

Look! Pink!

On the way back from Rainham with my long-suffering children, the Walthamstow Dusky Warbler was finally confirmed. I had given it an hour yesterday with no joy, and wasn't anticipating being able to go back with kids who are unable to keep quiet (and why should they, they're six and two!) to listen out for a small warbler going "Tuk". But I went anyway as I felt it would be my best chance with so many people looking. This proved a wise decision, as there was no way I would have found it myself. My parenting skills took yet another step forward with some wall climbing, some fence hopping, and some canal crossing, but I managed to see it. To be clear, the kids didn't do any of that, just their irresponsible father. They stayed put on the path and watched birder after birder engage in heinous acts of trespass. And to cap a fine day where he also got the Pinkies for London, Muffin has now met the legendary LGRE. And even helped him see the bird by passing his scope over the fence to me to carry it across the canal to him. How many six year olds can say that? Not many, and with good reason probably. I've promised him that tomorrow will be dominated by Lego. It also promises to be dominated by sleet and other unpleasant things, and indeed so does the rest of half term, so I'm glad I got the birding in today.

I leave you with yet another reason why Wanstead is such a cool and happening place to live. We don't struggle for newsworthy items round here, there is always something really really important and interesting going on. Today was no exception.

I mean, please.

Saturday 13 February 2010

Local birding

No sign of the Turaco today, so back to boring native birds. Started off at first light on the Flats and came away mildly disappointed after two hours. No Snipe, no Pheasant, no Stonechat, no nothing. Instead I concentrated on trying to get a decent photo of a Fieldfare - more tricky than you might think. The direct approach didn't work at all, nor did trying to approach from cover. The best plan of attack turned out to be one of false insousiance, pretending to not notice them and making as if to walk past, and then suddenly stop, point, and fire. You have about two seconds to take a photo before they scarper. Maybe if I'd have been whistling nonchalantly I'd have had three seconds....

The usual gulls and so on were at Alexandra Lake, as well as an unusually large Brown Rat. These are becoming problematic - too many people insist on chucking food out for the birds, including some special protein items today. Greylag were down to about six following the high-count of thirteen I had in the week. And, needless to say, nothing on the Basin.

Common Gull

Mother's Pride. Kind of.

Many people can't read...

...and this is the result

The rest of the morning was spent mucking about with the family, and cooking brunch. My first pancakes - the american style of my childhood. Turned out to be remarkably easy, though rather painstaking. Did a double recipe which was demolished in no time at all. Then off for some father-son bonding at Rainham. Not my usual selfish behaviour, this was a special request. He wanted to see Peregrine, his favourite bird, and who was I to refuse? We found one pretty much immediately at one of the usual riverside locations, but whilst obviously a Peregrine, it was unsatisfyingly distant. A quick scan of the pylons of the far side of Wennington soon produced the goods though, and he got excellent views of a perched male through the scope whilst I chatted to a couple of mates. Got back home well before I said I would for some excess Brownie Points, which I plan to wantonly burn tomorrow. All day. Saint who?

Friday 12 February 2010

Escape not ruled out!

As I was off out this afternoon, this flew past the house. Needless to say, a patch first for me. Unringed, and only allowed approach to about eight feet, so must be kosher. The vagrancy potential for this species has perhaps been overlooked, but it seemed in good health despite the long journey it has no doubt undertaken. Haven't noticed any strong southerlies, but stranger things have happened. White-cheeked Turaco, native to the Ethiopian highlands, is a relatively common cage bird of course, but until someone can prove otherwise, it's on the list. Innocent until proven guilty? Seems fair to me. Tick!

Outraged, of Wanstead

I had a minor hangover this morning - too much red wine on a school night. Nothing heinous, just a dull ache, but enough to make me mildly tetchy this morning. So when I arrived at Tesco to find all the child and parent places taken up by the self-centred, egotistical, inconsiderate, lazy and selfish I somewhat lost my rag. How about that, no swearing. And it would have been so easy to (Parus is my role model). Anyway, as one bloke got out of his car, I asked him out of the window how many children he had, and was it more than the two I had? He told me to get f...... and walked on into the shop. Nice. Shame I wasn't in the Landrover, then I could have parked on top of his car.

Tesco Customer Services were quite sympathetic about it, but sadly not to the point of banning him from their shop and towing away his car. No, they provide nice wide spaces temptingly close to the shop, but can do nothing to enforce them. Or choose not to enforce them, whichever. Instead they rely on people to do the right thing. They rely on kindred-spirit, on the wholesome goodness of their customers, on human nature. They must be out of their minds! As I have perhaps alluded to in the past, when was the last time you saw anyone go out of their way for anyone else? It basically doesn't happen anymore. No, these days it is every man for himself, and the rest of you can go hang yourselves. If there are a few spaces next to a shop specially marked out for those in need (ie me), there are more than enough people in this country who will not even think twice and just park in them, and the needy be damned. So what can we do about it? Not a lot really. Vigilanteism is not to be encouraged, and in many places you probably risk getting stabbed for your troubles, so you have to let it go. The meek shall inherit the earth? Not likely, not in London anyway. I'd write to my MP, except he's self-centred, egotistical, inconsiderate etc, and been forced to quit over £60,000 of expenses he wasn't entitled to. Bet he parks in the parent and child spaces too.

Before I torched his car, I took a photo of it. Name and shame. Well, don't know his name, could probably find it out, and shame. Or something.

KG03, in case you find the post troublesome.

And here is another, a BMW convertible. Always likely to contain a gaggle of children for the weekly shop. Couldn't see any kiddy seats in it, perhaps it was a baby seat and was now on the trolley, and the suit-jacket spread out on the back seat was just thrown there whilst trying to marshal troublesome children onto the pavement?

Note distressed child on right.

I didn't find the guy in the shop. Perhaps fortunately, as he may have left with an imprint of Leica 10x42s in his forehead. Just kidding. They're 7x42s.

On the way home I checked the Basin. Again. I have been remarkably diligent about checking the Basin on a daily basis. So far, and despite the cold weather of rare duck-influx happiness, I have found precisely nothing. My best find of 2010 has been a Great Crested Grebe. Twice. Well whoopeedoo. If you're wondering why there hasn't been much of Wanstead recently it's because there hasn't been much in Wanstead recently. I've been birding various areas on an almost daily basis, but February is a tough month for patchworkers. Generally in your January enthusiasm you have picked up most of what is likely already, and February is therefore rather lean. The Pheasant was great though, and if I hadn't mentioned it, I managed to see the White-fronted Geese in the Ingrebourne earlier in the week as well. And to complete the goose list, yesterday there were two Pink-footed Geese in Dartford, but I couldn't be bothered to go all the way over there. The mere thought of needing to cross the bridge defeated me. So much for a London list this year.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Dipping, smugly.

I had to go up to Cambridge today to deliver a grandchild to a grandparent, and whilst there I noticed that there was a Waxwing nearby. It was a nice blue-sky day, so I went to see if could get a few shots of it. I couldn't, chiefly because a resident Mistle Thrush was having none of it and kept chasing it away. Luckily, here is one I prepared earlier. Much earlier, and in a different county in fact.

Instead, I decided it would be educational to go and see if I could find the Rough-legged Buzzard less than ten minutes away. Become a better birder - not year-listing you understand. As I arrived at the lay-by, the very same lay-by I had seen a Rough-leg from last year, there was a car already there, and a birder looking through a telescope.

"Have you got it?" Note how "it" is all that is necessary, mentioning the bird by name is entirely superfluous.
"Yes, it's in here!"
"Do you mind if I take a quick look before I set up?"
"Go ahead"

In my brief glance it looked suspiciously like the Common Buzzard I've been seeing a lot at Rainham. Still, set up the scope anyway, take a closer look.... tail first. I was very nice about it, it's not like I'm on the BBRC is it? But it was basically, to my relatively untrained eye at least, a Common Buzzard. The big problem was the the undertail didn't have a broad black band, and wasn't white. He wasn't totally sure, he said, and he valued a second opinion. Fair enough. It then flew revealing a dark uppertail.

I had to go anyway, so headed back towards Cambridge, but only a short distance down the road another car was parked up, with another scope pointing off into the distance. You can probably guess where this is headed, but this is my blog, and as you will all be aware, me getting it right is fairly mega, so I'll continue to drag it out. Bear with me.

"Have you got it?"
"Yes, it's in here!"
"May I?"

"Thanks. Er, I'm not sure that's it actually."

This one was distant, and facing away from us in a tree, but whilst it had a paler upper-tail than the previous bird, and a dark-ish terminal band, there wasn't any trace of pure white at all -overall the appearance was beigey-brown. He tried to talk about how pale the undertail was, and about scapulars. If I'd have know what scapulars were, I would probably have been in a better position, so instead I pressed on with the tail theory, and argued that even at this distance, you should be able to easily pick out the distinctive black and white pattern, especially as it was on an exposed branch in the wind and using its tail to maintain balance. He didn't believe me, fair enough I suppose, I wouldn't believe me. Instead he called a bloke who had actually seen it - the county recorder no less - which seemed quite sensible, to discuss the specifics of this bird's tail. I wasn't party to the conversation, but it would seem he rained on the parade as well, as once the guy had hung up he confirmed that the bird we were looking for had a white tail with a widish terminal band and then just one thinner tail bar. We all then agreed that this bird didn't have that. I drove back to Cambridge feeling smug. A dip, but a good one. I hope they didn't all think I was a tosser.

Actually I don't think they would have done. I was nice about it, and not arrogant at all - difficult to be when you know as little as I do about RL Buzzard features. I've seen three, ever. I would have liked it to have been four, but I have standards, and seeing as I'm not year-listing, I am being much more critical. Would it have got on last year? No, of course not!! As if.....who do you think I am?! The year before? Almost certainly.....

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Well-behaved Pheasant

Your Tuesday morning mission, should you choose to accept it: Drag your lazy arse out of bed at first light and go and look for Tim's Pheasant.

Rational JL: "But the bed is lovely and warm, and it is dark and cold outside. And anyway, Pheasants are boring, non-native, and don't count."

Birder JL: "They do count, it is a site tick, and a patch mega. You don't get many of those. Now get up."

Rational JL: "Do I have to?"

Birder JL: "Yes"

So it was that I found myself near Jubilee Pond at 7am staring at an inpenetrable clump of plant matter that I strongly suspected that the Pheasant would be in, if indeed it was still here at all. It was. It took an hour to see it - I was impressed by my dedication - but finally it broke cover and ran across a stretch of open ground into a smallish patch of broom. Although the Flats is a large area, it is very disturbed and slap bang in the middle of urbanity. To get the number of Snipe that we do, the occasional Woodcock, and now a Pheasant, frankly I'm amazed, but there you go, that's urban birding for you. It has the ability to constantly surprise - when did you last get excited about a Pheasant? Exactly.

Representative non-Wanstead Pheasant

I did a quick round-trip of the Flats and the Park in the time I had left. Highlights were three Egyptian Geese on Jubilee Pond, the female Kingfisher still on Perch Pond, and a year-tick in Grey Wagtail. Although a cold north-easterly was blowing, signs of spring are everywhere - Dunnocks singing from the tops of bushes, the cyclical and repetitive song of Song Thrushes from taller trees, Robins having a go, Ducks getting frisky, and a Magpie carrying twigs. Five weeks to go until Wheatear season - they must be gearing up to leave. Perhaps the early ones already have?

Monday 8 February 2010

Can I go somewhere warm please?

It's snowing again. I'm fed up with it. Pudding and I tried going for a walk this morning out at East Tilbury, where there were Shorelarks and also a playground, but it was too miserable to do anything other than struggle back to the car. We had met up with Paul, Lisa and Jack to look for them, but after twenty minutes of a bitter wind, and extreme push-chair mudplugging, we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and went home. Meanwhile the Shorelarks were back in Kent...

I'm sitting here thinking about Des Murs' Wiretail. Des Murs' Wiretail is a small South-American passerine that is mostly tail. It's like an extreme Long-tailed tit - 8cm of bird, and 16cm of tail. Whilst birding early one morning along the Argentinean border with Chile, I found one squeaking in a bush near the Araucaria stands. I had no idea what it was when I heard it, a fairly good idea what it was once I managed to see it, and a complete idea of what is was once I had leafed through the field guide. It was one of those brilliant birding abroad moments when you find a new bird completely off your own bat, with no starting knowledge at all. You can't beat it, and I love birding abroad. On the road yesterday, we talked a bit about world birding, and some recent trips that John had been on, which is why I'm now reminiscing about Des Murs' Wiretail. I don't even have a photo of it, I was entranced and it slipped away before I even thought about finding the camera. All I know is that I want to go birding abroad again, I don't care where really, I just want to be dropped in the deep end somewhere, with a field guide and some bins, and I'll make my own way. Obviously with three children and no income, trips of this kind are now pure fantasy. However if someone would like to pay for me to go birding abroad and then tell them about it, I'll make the child-care arrangements. Please can it be somewhere warm though?

The Wiretail was down here...

Sunday 7 February 2010

Kite Spectacle in Powys

Another twitch, more patch ticks forsaken. Tim had a Pheasant on the Flats first thing this morning. I raced out, was shown the exact patch of scrub it had walked into, but couldn't find it in the short time I had. Having dipped some White-fronted Geese at the Ingrebourne and a Scaup at Walthamstow yesterday, I was beginning to wonder if going to Wales for the long-staying Black Kite was a good idea. Too late to change my mind, John and Kev arrived and we were off.

Mid-Wales is luckily only a very short distance away from Wanstead, and we were soon winding our way along the River Wye towards Rhayader. A stop at a convenient bridge to try and see Dipper was astonishingly successful with two located approximately 0.2 seconds after exiting the car. Perhaps we might see the Kite after all?

The number of Red Kites at Gigrin Farm near Rhayader is incredible. I took a wide-angle shot of some of the mass swirl in the air just prior to feeding time, and counted 171 in this shot alone, so there were perhaps 400 birds all told. And, I'm happy to report, a single Black Kite. Mission accomplished. It came in relatively soon after feeding time began at 2pm, and fed on the wing before grabbing a larger chunk and disappearing off to feed unmolested. It came back about twenty minutes later for a more prolonged session, before being persistently harried, first by a Crow and then by a Raven, such that it went off for good. This being mid-Wales in early February, the light was somewhat less than ideal, but with the lense wide open and a horrible ISO selected, I managed some OK shots, mostly of the Red Kites as there were far more opportunities to pap them. The Black Kite was a lifer, so I was more interested in just looking at it, but got a few the second time it came in. For anyone considering going, go. It is an amazing spectacle, and the Black Kite is merely a bonus. If you have a long lense and decent technique, and in an ideal world, daylight, you have the chance to get some amazing shots. There are even a couple of photographer-only hides with wider windows, or in the case of the Tower Hide, no windows at all, just a platform. Trouble is they cost an extra £10 and £15 respectively, which I reckon is rather steep. These hides don't get you any closer, and today there were not many visitors, so I took my chances with an ordinary hide and was perfectly happy with the possibilities.

Lean beef only - the last thing we need is a bunch of lazy-ass fatso Kites sitting around watching Trish all day.

Spot the difference

We only stayed just over a couple of hours, so the ratio of time spent looking at birds versus time spent in the car is pretty poor, but those two hours were amazing and made it worthwhile. In addition to the acrobatics of the Kites, you can marvel at the size of Ravens, and enjoy Buzzards getting annoyed with Kites and each other.

My thanks to John for driving over 500 miles in a day to take a low-lister to see a Black Kite. Tomorrow I'm staying local. Hopefully those Geese will still be around and will find their way to Rainham. The Pheasant will have to wait until Tuesday when I can get out early. And if it knows what's good for it, it had better be there...