Monday 31 May 2010

In which the South West is not kind to me

The South-west has once again done the dirty on me. I don't dip a lot really, I tend to carefully weigh up what to go for and what not to bother with, but my record in Somerset and Gloucestershire is becoming a fairly one-sided affair. The birds are winning hands down. Bradders and I arrived at Ham Wall on the Somerset levels at around dusk, and were greeted with the news that the Little Bittern hadn't been seen all day. Nevermind, I'm sure that having travelled from London, it'll show immediately. It didn't, so we went to the pub for some refreshment before retiring for the night. 1-0. Up a 4am for another crack, we spent a further three hours looking at a large reedbed. Multiple and glorious views of it's larger cousin were rather good, but not really what we came for, so we went and did something else. 2-0.

Something else involved Butterflies and I soon had a tick in the form of a rather fetching Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. There were also quite a few very cool Beetles, and the camera did see some action. Unfortunately for you, the reader, I could get quite easily get hooked on Macro photography, and, seeing as it's June tomorrow, the next six weeks may become rather tiring as a procession of small bugs walk across the screen. For this I apologise now - please don't leave, it will only be temporary, and then we can get back to the glories of patch-birding in Wanstead.

Next stop Chew Valley Lake to dip a Ferruginous Duck which was hiding until we had left, but I did get an unexpected tick in the form of Australian Shoveler. Mega. More butterflies at the coast included Glanville Fritillary and Brown Argus, and then on to the real point of the trip. No, not back to the Little Bittern site. What do you take me for? Some kind of filthy twitcher?

Glanville Fritillary

The Forest of Dean, and Nagshead RSPB in particular, is one of the best places in the country to see Pied Flycatchers on territory. Singing and everything, and this is of course why I drove several hundred miles. It had nothing at all to do with the Little Bittern, which is a V** bird in the Collins.

The Pied Flycatchers did not disappoint, and we ended up seeing five males. If you do go, don't bother trying to get gen on which nest boxes are occupied. The RSPB will happily tell you the numbers, but just you try finding them! When the sequence of boxes goes approximately "4, 87, 43, 344, 197, 20", and these are interspersed with plenty of non-numbered ones, or ones that might once have had numbers on, you will soon get frustrated. We gave up pretty quickly and instead used our ears to find them. Great views, but tough to get on film. So, a wrong righted.

As we were leaving, news of a brief Little Bittern sighting in Somerset during the morning was about the last thing I wanted to hear. Did we go back for another go? Don't be silly. Of course we did.


Friday 28 May 2010

I don't Twitch, therefore I'm not.

I'm not going. Mega it may be. The sixth record ever it may be. But eight hours in a car on a bank holiday, for a hazy blob 300 yards away through a fifteen foot tall iron fence? Not for me. As you know, I have very high standards for bird-ticking, and in all good conscience I could not possibly tick it. So I'm not going, as frankly it sounds crap. Instead I am developing plan B, which will be pleasant, life-enriching, and involve Pied Flycatchers.

I've never seen a male Pied Flycatcher, silly as that sounds. I've only ever seen juvs/female types on passage. I've seen a male Collared Flycatcher, on a stupid day back in May last year, but never its commoner relative, which is basically wrong. So I'm going to put that right, and it will feel good. No filthy twitchering (apart from the Little Bittern which is on the way), instead a virtuous and worthy day out.

Pied Crustacean-catcher

Thursday 27 May 2010

Kingfishers make me happy

There is something about Kingfishers, can't quite put my finger on it. Is it the electric aquamarine, or is it that they can shoot, whilst perched, a stream of excrement well over 4 feet behind them? Whilst this is amazing, after careful thought I think it's the colouration which is probably the more appealing. Simply stunning. Seeing as I had no children today, I went to Rye Meads RSPB to see them, and they didn't disappoint. I spent about three hours watching them and came away extremely happy. If you're feeling down (I wasn't, I just like Kingfishers) then doing this will give you a huge lift. They're feeding young at the moment, so are seen very frequently. They are about to fledge, and the nest hole must by now be filthy, as each time they come out after delivering a fish they spend a long time washing, and this is when the best views are to be had. Rye Meads, Hoddesdon. Go. Go now. Well, wait until it's light outside again and the reserve is open, and then go. You won't regret it.

There are also some friendly Tufted Ducks

In other news, I have a new washing up brush. In keeping with my shower brush, it is also pink, and equally lovely. I am a modern man, and like to keep in touch with my feminine side. It won't mean I suddenly enjoy washing up, but it may make it slightly more bearable. All in all, I'd rather be birding. We have a three day weekend coming up, and Mrs L has said that I can have one day of it to go wherever I want, sans enfants. A White-tailed Lapwing has just pitched up on Merseyside, so I might be going there. On the other hand, you can only see it occasionally through a large fence (with small gaps) at a distance of roughly 300m, it will mean eight hours in the car, and the fuel to get there and back will be in the region of seventy quid. Then again, it's the something like the sixth record for Britain. Twitching is a mug's game. I only went to see the Blue-winged Teal at Paxton tonight because I had to be in Cambridge anyway....

Most unenjoyable.

Wednesday 26 May 2010


Couldn't resist going to see one of these at Wilstone Reservoir today, despite my firm commitment to not year-listing. I've only ever seen two before now, and neither was an adult male. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. It showed pretty well, although not well enough for me to get a decent picture of it. I walked half-way around the Reservoir to no avail; it resolutely favoured the middle. Typically, after I left it came and perched in a tree mere yards from the car-park. Still, a very smart bird, and I got to tick Lee Evans again. Not entirely surprising as he lives nearby, but I had to surpress a snigger when I learned that he had just arrived at Lakenheath when the news came up. Most people would have stayed at Lakenheath, especially people who have likely seen several hundred Red-footed Falcons, but not Lee.

If you want some proper photos of these stunning birds, take a look here. I'm not jealous. Not at all.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

More Cuteness and another Reed Warbler

Barely a week after dropping everything and dashing out of the house for a Reed Warbler, which at the time was a patch tick, I found another one this morning. This always happens. You wait ages, and then there is a flurry. I was on the way back home after a fairly unexciting early morning jaunt. In interesting bird terms, the kind of morning jaunt where you wonder why you bothered. In other words, patch birding at its finest. Kicking stones by Shoulder of Mutton Pond, I noticed that the reedbed had grown quite a lot. Let's be clear, it's not going to have a Purple Heron in it any time soon, but as I walked past and noticed the reeds, I wondered why we never got any Reed Warblers in it. As if on cue, a faint "Gurr gurr gurr" came from within it. Amazing! It never really got going, and I never saw it, but at least a long-standing prophecy has been fulfilled. I wonder how these birds find it? I mean, this patch of reeds is probably about ten metres long by about a metre wide, it's hardly Minsmere. As they're flying over, do they suddenly detect the presence of reeds far below, or are they down there, sniffing around, so to speak? I carried on home, and tested my new magic powers. "Hmmm, that hawthorn bush looks perfect for an Isabelline Shrike." Didn't work.

The main objective of the morning (other than find a Wanstead mega, which is standing orders) was to see if the Mute Swan Cygnets were ready. They were!! As a blogger who has very, very occasionally been known to display photos of cute baby birds on the interweb, this was welcome news. It may come as less welcome news to perusers of the interweb, particularly as there is more than one. Many more than one. Sorry, my blog, my rules. Don't worry, it'll be June soon.

Sunday 23 May 2010

Not Birds

Orchid sp.

Butterfly sp.

Nose sp.

Saturday 22 May 2010

Common (as muck) Buzzards

Bit of a Buzzard-fest today from the Raptor Watchpoint in Wanstead. I did almost nothing today. I cooked stuff on a barbeque, I inflated a paddling pool, I quaffed wine, and I looked at the sky. I also fell asleep in the sun, and parts of me have gone pink. Looking at the sky was the best bit. No fewer than four Common Buzzards went over the garden. I wasn't even actively scanning for them. I was lying on my back, head pointing up. Any birds flying to the left or to the right were missed, and I still saw four. The first three were really high, the final one, at half five, low and north-east. Four in a day is amazing, considering that before today I'd had five ever. Let me know if you want any more stats.

Other exciting news? Er......

There is something to be said for spending a day doing absolutely sweet FA. After grinding myself to the bone all week, slaving away over pots and pans, wrestling with dusters and so on, to have a day off was rather pleasant. Might do it again very soon.

Nearly June....

I got up at 5:15 this morning and drove to Rainham. I spent about three minutes on site, and then drove home. Thick fog. Cold fog. Wet fog. I had been hoping for soft morning light, excellent visibility, and a gently warming sun. What an utter waste of time.

So, it's nearly June, and I havn't had a tick all month. I'm talking about a life tick, obviously I have had a blinder on the patch, but for most of May to go by without seeing a new bird is pretty unusual. And it's not like next month is going to be any better. You can see where this is leading, right? Yup, June.

June. That universally acknowledged rubbish month where all birders despair, and start getting interested in lepidoptery. I'm not even waiting for June to start. Unless this weekend turns out to be phenomenal, which on the form of the last two hours is looking unlikely, June starts now.

Thursday 20 May 2010

Corncrake Caper

It's no secret that Corncrakes have been introduced back into the Washes. Interestingly (if you're a birder, although perhaps not even then) they are now recovering unringed birds there, so either these are returning offspring, or the reintroduced birds are attracting regular birds. Either way, there are Corncrake there, and so a crack team was assembled to seek them out. Or a team at any rate.

We purchased fish and chips en route - the last thing we all needed - with five somewhat un-willowy birders squished in, the car was sluggish to say the least. We drew up at a chosen spot, and piled out. Birds the last thing on our mind, we set upon the food. The paper bags made a funny ripping sound....

"Crex Crex"

Hang on a minute?! A Corncrake was singing about 50 yards in front of us. Or perhaps 100 yards. Unless you are pratically standing on one, distance is incredibly difficult to judge. A perfect backdrop to the drumming Snipe, and the calls of breeding Black-tailed Godwit. Another Corncrake called behind us, much more distantly. Amazing - I hadn't though we were going to hear anything. Needless to say, much scanning from convenient vantage points produced nothing.

We walked along the track listening and looking. As dusk approached more and more began rasping, and I think we had seven in the end. This made Paul W very happy, as it allowed him to reduce a list that he keeps. Reduce? Eh? Not content with adding birds to lists - of which he has no more than forty - he also has a list of personal rarities, things he hasn't seen many of. When he's seen ten of something, it comes off that list. Prior to our visit, there were three Corncrakes on that list, and now there are none - magic! He also has a list of lists that he keeps. Forty-one.

At one point it seemed like one was right next to us. We spread out along the path in order to try and triangulate exactly where it was coming from. "CREX CREX!" We all agreed that it was in the grass directly in front of us, but even with the Black & Decker strimmer we had brought with us, we could not persuade it to show. The sound was incredible though. And they're so small as well - you wouldn't have thought they could hold a comb and a credit card, let alone manipulate them. And where do they store them? A remarkable bird.

In this day and age, I must naturally add some small print. The photographs above were all staged for comedy value. Obviously no Corncrakes were harmed in the making of this blog post. So did we see one? What do you think? Do you see a photo of a Corncrake?!

Wednesday 19 May 2010

OMG, Patch Sensational

More dedication = more ticks. If the patch was on fire a few days ago, it is now a raging inferno. Another tick! If I carry on at this rate - approximately one every 2 days - I'll have run out of birds by Christmas and will need to move.

The girls and I were doing a butterfly transect. This is the first time I have done it, so we were quite slow, consulting the map frequently and so on. What we weren't doing was identifying butterflies. Not because of my consumate lack of skill in this area, but due to the consumate lack of butterflys in the whole area. In an hour and a half, we saw three butterflies. The first one was white, and we couldn't identify it because it flew over the Skylark nesting area where we couldn't follow. Ditto the second, except it was reddy-orange. What a great hobby! The third was a Peacock, and was sitting out on the path. As I approached it stealthily with my camera, it flew off. Rubbish. I see more butterflies in my garden when looking up at the sky. I'm not exactly sure how I should report my "findings", perhaps I'll just do it again later and hope I see more. The girls were not enthused - I had been talking it up, cajoling them to do it with me. It was crap, and they were bored.

However, as I alluded to earlier, it was most definitely not in vain. On the penultimate leg of our transect, I heard a Turtle Dove purring from the copse just to the west of Long Wood. Not a full-on hey look at me purr, but a short and to the point purr. We stopped looking for butterflies - not hard really - and concentrated on the Dove. Couldn't find it. Then it purred again, a bit more sustained this time. I parked the girls in a sunny patch and started looking properly. More purring. Where was it? I was distracted by a tug on the back of my shorts. Given my proximity to Long Wood, this could have been a very serious problem, but luckily it was just Pudding. I say luckily, she had done a wee in her trousers. On balance, still the better outcome, but it meant we had to go home, and so I never did see the Turtle Dove and it will have to go down as "heard only". But it still goes down! #113!!

This Mallard has nothing at all to do with this post . As might be expected from a "heard only" record, I didn't get any photos of the Turtle Dove.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

The Patch is on Fire!

Just a quick post to say that the patch rocks. I don't know if I have made much of this lately, but I am living the patch dream. Out and about early again this morning, I was surprised to hear what I thought was a Lapwing. Given that it is mid-May - and Wanstead - I dismissed the thought as lunacy and started looking at the regular birds to see what might have confused me. Let's face it, it has been known to happen. Coots, Crows, Mallards and a Mute Swan looked back at me. I was about to pin it on a Coot when two Lapwings flew over my head and east over the Flats. Wow!

I'm no expert in Lapwing movements, but traditionally they have been seen here in hard weather. There should be snow on the ground to get a Lapwing. Luckily I got a photo as it does seem rather odd. This should hopefully allow me to claim all sorts of weird and wonderful things without photos later on should the need arise.

The Lapwings were easily the most exciting part of my birding morning, but it does put me on 93 here for the year, so my goal of getting 100 again may still be on. Still need Tawny Owl, and hopefully I'll get Redstart and Ring Ouzel in the autumn. And If I get stuck on 99, I'll just retrospectively claim the probable Ouzel from the spring. Easy.

Monday 17 May 2010

Stopping Hopping

Wanstead is sensational! But you knew that already. I am on a roll, I have just had another patch tick. If you're counting, and I most definitely am, that is two in four days. TWO. Unbelievable. I spent the day at Rainham today - in fact let me start there, as today is a two-tick day. I had been at the raptor watch point until the children became bored (took longer than you might think, the power of gravel), whereupon we went to the playground. Luckily I had kept hold of my radio, as no sooner had we got there when the guys got onto a Red Kite over Wennington. I had just enough time to dash up to the sea wall, get directions from Howard and get it in the scope, before it dipped below the tip. My 166th tick for Rainham, and 137th for the year. Yes, I am counting.... But why did I mention I Rainham?

Well, on the short walk to the hide before the girls determined that was as far as we were going, I probably heard about ten Reed Warblers. Yesterday, on the dawn chorus walk, I probably heard upwards of 40. I spent an hour taking photographs of one of them. So you would think that when I got a text from Tim tonight, saying that he had found a Reed Warbler in the Old Sewage Works, that I might I have shrugged dismissively, and carried on eating dinner?

Hah! I was on my bike within two minutes, and attained the heady heights of 22mph through suburban Wanstead. This is no mean feat, and perhaps this blog does not convey this very well, but I am horribly unfit. How many photos of me do you see up here? Precisely. Although I have had a haircut recently. Anyway, I arrived in one piece, glowing slightly, and met up with Tim. Predictably, where before there had been a steady "gurr gurr gurr", there was instead nothing at all. The Roding burbled, the A406 hummed. And then suddenly, there it was on the edge of some dead foliage. It stayed in view for perhaps twenty seconds, and then disappeared into cover and started singing. Get in!!

It looked very much like this, the bird from Rainham yesterday. I need no encouragement whatsoever to litter the internet with Reed Warbler photographs. This being Wanstead however, the bird was bigger and shinier. And rose-tinted.

Sunday 16 May 2010

Dawn Chorus at Rainham

At the risk of becoming boring, today's post is going to consist largely of photographs I took this morning. As you may or may not know, a new toy arrived in the Lethbridge household a few weeks ago, and it is making me very happy. And you, by extension...

Before I could get cracking though, I needed to help out with the Rainham Dawn Chorus Walk, starting at 4am. Billed as "A guided walk with experts", I could have been in serious trouble, but it passed off without incident. I didn't put a foot wrong, and the gentle warbling of Caspian Gulls from some low Hawthorns was an undoubted highlight. Who knew?

Back in the visitor centre, with the best of light long gone, I decided to do another circuit to see what I could find. Before I'd even really got off the ramp, a Cuckoo went past, and then something I'd never seen before. A Grey Heron reached over a bank to where an adult male Greenfinch was drinking, and grabbed it an extremely enterprising snatch. It then took the unfortunate and still flapping bird to a pool, drowned it, and swallowed it whole. I've seen them eat waterfowl chicks, but a flightly passerine, astonishing. I felt very sorry for the Greenfinch though, it could have been the one I had just been photographing. Nature in the raw.

Whilst going round the first time I had noted a few particularly showy birds, and was hoping that they were still there, so I set off on the trails.My first ear-marked Sedge Warbler didn't play ball at all, and a strong wind got up. Hmmmm. On the plus side the increasing cloud cover made for much better light, so I persisted. Rather than blather on (I know, as if...) I'll just switch to captioned photographs. Heavily captioned photographs....

Jurr Jurr, Gerr Gerr, Jurr Jurr Jurr, Gerr Gerr Gerr, Jurr Jurr.....

Reed Bunting. Nice. Short caption too.

This Sedge Warbler was much better behaved than the first one, and was intrigued my attempts to imitate it. God knows how many of these are present at Rainham - why can't one make the short trip over to Wanstead? Lack of reedbeds you say? Don't bother me with minor details.

Jurr Jurr Jurr, Gerr Gerr, La-de-daa-de-daaa, zip zip zip, Gerrrrrrrr....

I cannot get enough of Wheatears, they are stunning. This one, to use a ubiquitous Wheatear adjective, was stonking. There were two by the new hide (opening next week, just waiting for HRH the H to return from holiday I think). I took 102 shots of them, of which you get just two, so be thankful. This is obviously no guarantee that on a slow day next week you won't get more, but for now, just the two.

A stonking Wheatear. The same stonking Wheatear in fact, but facing right, which easily justifies the additional photo.

This Little Grebe was resting in one of the major ditches. The challenge was to shoot from the boardwalk through the reeds as the wind buffeted them about. The vast majority of my shots had a beige blur right across the bird. This one didn't.

Saturday 15 May 2010

Renewed Patch Enthusiasm

It probably won't last, it never has done in the past, but after the success of the Sandpiper yesterday I was back out almost at first light. I say almost, what I really mean is a couple of hours after, but at this time of year it is impossible to be out at first light. I simply have too much to do in the evenings - critical things like blogging - to go to bed early enough to be able to get up early enough.

But no matter, it still felt pretty early, and Muffin & I were the only people in the Park. Nope, no dog-walkers, and no dogs. If only it were always so. Things started off pretty well with only my second Hobby ever in the Park. Muffin called it (as a Swift, so not too bad) and we watched it zoom over the Shoulder of Mutton pond and disappear over Reservoir Wood. Shoulder of Mutton Pond was extremely busy. There were the usual Coot Wars, but adding to the sense of calm and tranquility was a male Mute Swan who was most displeased with two Canada Geese that had made the mistake of dropping in. Quite what threat Canada Geese pose to a pair of Mute Swans and their unborn cygnets I have yet to work out, but he hounded them mercilessly for over a quarter of an hour until they finally took off and didn't come back.

Mute Swan, "Attack" posture.

We carried on to Heronry, but there was to be no repeat of the Sandpiper. We made do with ickle ducklings.....

As we approached the Old Sewage Works, I told Muffin that if he was really lucky, we might find a Little Egret feeding on the Roding. As if on cue, a very smart Little Egret got up, flew past us, turned, came back again, and landed a little way downstream. Further birds I would like to envisage doing the same thing include Great White Egret and Green Heron.

Friday 14 May 2010

Oh Yeah!

If you heard me moaning about the patch recently, I take it all back. The patch rocks. Truly, it rules. Despite a somewhat barren patch, I was up again at 5am, bashing it. You can likely guess what is coming, my tone may have given it away. And the tweet thingy this morning. Yup - patch tick. Wader. Common Sandpiper.


I was out looking for cute things to photograph. No, really. Although at this time of year I usually stick to the Flats, I decided to try the Park, as I had seen some ducklings there during an evening walk earlier in the week.

After spending some quality time with Mr & Mrs Mallard and family, I was walking back home alongside Heronry when a small wader flicked along the bank and disappeared from view. I knew what it was, I'm quite brilliant at this bird-spotting lark.... I tried to get closer in order to identify it, whereupon it popped up. COMMON SANDPIPER!!!! As all dedicated patch-workers do, I started calling the others. As I was on the phone to Tim, the inevitable happened - two Black Labradors came around the corner and straight along the bank. Helpless, I watched them make a beeline for the exact spot where the Sandpiper was feeding. Naturally, it flew away, right past me, flicky flicky flick, and around the eastern island. The time was six-thirty am. I may enter politics purely to pass a bill that forbids dog-walkers from going out in Wanstead until at least two hours after daybreak, just to give birders a chance. Frankly it is amazing we find anything, the level of dog-ownership in Wanstead is staggering, the percentage of insomniac owners unbelievable. They annoy the hell out of me, in case you hadn't worked it out.

I ran around the pond, the dogs hot on my heels. The Sandpiper came from behind me, flew past me, and landed on the far bank near the Tea Hut of Happiness. As if on cue, a different dog then appeared from Northumberland Avenue. Noooooooooooo!!!! My view at this point became obscured by bushes, and when I emerged the other side it was gone, replaced by a tan and white mutt. Arse. I assumed it had nipped over onto the Perch Pond but I had no time to look, I was due back home. I relayed the last sighting to the others, and started to walk dejectedly home. You always want fellow patchers to see the birds you find, and that was especially the case this morning, as I hadn't found anything for ages. I had one blurry photo of a Sandpiper's head, enough to prove that there had been one and I wasn't delusional, but hardly satisfactory.

As I approached where I had first seen it, roundly cursing all dogs, all dog owners, and anyone who even knows anyone who has a dog, I saw the bird flying near the far side. Yes!! No idea how it had managed to disappear and reappear behind me, but who cares, it was still here. Tim was by now three minutes away. When he was about a minute away, it flipped over to the hidden side of the eastern island and out of view. Gah!!!

Luckily it flew back around the island and into view a couple of minutes later. Phew, reputation salvaged. It fed in great light pretty much in front of us. Mega. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, there is nothing to compare with a patch tick. Oh, perhaps a garden tick actually, but I'm splitting hairs. Superb! By now I was extremely late, so hurried back, worrying all the way that a Common Sandpiper, rare that it undoubtedly is here, might not cut it with Mrs L.....

Halfway home, Tim texted to say that while he had been watching the bird flying across the pond, he had then seen another near where the first one had been. Mystery solved. What's better than a Common Sandpiper? That's right, TWO Common Sandpipers!

This brings my patch total ever to 111. I'm going out tomorrow morning. Hopping.

Thursday 13 May 2010


Pandering to certain sections of my readership? Never!

Wednesday 12 May 2010

It's not just Gulls

I have just been comprehensively bamboozled by a Chaffinch. I thought it was mainly Gulls that had the power to reduce me to tears, but no, one of the commonest garden birds can do it too.

On the patch tonight, I was wandering along when I thought I detected a Lesser Whitethroat. I stopped and listened. Yes, it was a Lesser Whitethroat! Or was it? No. Too long, didn't start or finish right, but had the same staccato. Hmm. Hang on! No, it couldn't be, could it? I got my phone out and played Wood Warbler. Wow! That had to be it! I listened some more, it did it again, but then I thought I detected a Chaffinchy flourish at the end, when a Wood Warbler would have finished. If it was a Chaffinch, I have not heard one do this before - and there was what I would call a standard Chaffinch somewhere off to the left. I couldn't find it in the trees, and after about five minutes it stopped. I decided to use this pause to call for reinforcements, for second and third opinions. Luckily they were both busy, as a few minutes later I managed to find it, and guess what, it was a Chaffinch. Little sod.

Now it could be that all Chaffinches have the capacity to produce this particular song variant, and that I am just useless. I'd prefer however to think that this is a unique Chaffinch. I called Hawky, and described what I had been hearing. "Yeah, I've got one that does that in Barking" Ah, useless it is then.

Given that I can't find any good birds, that even common resident birds confuse me, and that it's nearly June (which is, as everyone knows, rubbish), I'm sure you'll forgive me for posting a photo of a moth. I found it this morning on the sage outside the back door, and two passes through the moth guide has failed to establish its identity. If anyone out there knows of any branch of natural history where I stand a chance of actually identifying stuff, please let me know and I'll switch hobbies immediately.

Is this a Squirrel?