Friday 30 July 2010

Holding Pattern

Well, Mrs L has gone, and I am on my lonesome. Me, my two girls, and my purple toe. Muffin returns on Sunday, and I am genuinely looking forward to seeing him. It has been a week, and I have missed him. Although he is going to be bitterly disappointed that Daddy won't be able to play football with him, there are plenty of other things we can do, and he is so self-sufficient these days that he is going to be incredibly helpful with me incapacitated.

I must apologise again for all the photos of my foot. Not nice I know, and in retrospect I suspect that they must have put you off posting messages of sympathy and concern. I promise I won't post any more. Unless it gets infected.

So what has been happening? Well, unsurprisingly, hardly anything. Bar being driven to the hospital, I have not left the house. I have barely seen a bird. I just heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker whilst brushing my teeth, but so far today that is the sum total of my avian adventures, and the rest of the day, indeed week, holds precisely nothing in store. Mrs L did a big shop last night that should see us through until she returns, and I suspect that we're just going to hunker down.

I will endeavour to continue publishing exciting posts, and in the absence of any birding, I am afraid that you must expect a few more insects, starting with this Grasshopper. TTFN.

Thursday 29 July 2010

The Toe of Unhappiness

After sleeping on it, in the vain hope that it would be miraculously cured overnight, I decided that there was nothing for it but to head to A & E to get it looked at. It has gone a whole lot more purple since I took yesterday's photo. Whipps Cross was surprisingly and pleasingly efficient, and within two hours it was confirmed that that I have indeed broken it. I wasn't really paying attention, so I can't remember if it is the first metatarsal or one of the next bones along, but whichever, I have cracked it and thus now have a new subject upon which to rant. For the next six to eight weeks. My advice to you is to log-off now, delete the bookmark, and come back in mid-September.

I am so annoyed, I cannot begin to tell you. And it is all my own stupid fault as well. It's not as if Mrs L had left the ironing board out, or one of the kids had left a car on the floor. No, it was just me misjudging a running-leap from the garden. Arse. And the timing really sucks. Tomorrow Mrs L leaves for a weeks choir tour to Cornwall, and I am on my own with three kids. The doctor's advice was to ensure my foot was up as much as possible. Somehow I can't see that happening. I mean FFS, this could not have happened at a worse time. I'm not sure I can even drive. Walking around the patch is going to be challenging to say the least. I predict a lot of garden-watching. And swearing.

Next week I have to attend the fracture clinic. Presumably this is when they issue me with a large boot thing to wear for a month. Whoopee. Just what I wanted as autumn kicks off. Why couldn't I have bust my left thumb or something, or got a hang-nail? We are very very far from being amused.

So, what now? Well, less dusting for a start....

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Are you eating?

Hope not, but if you are, look away now. Let's face it, only the feet of small children are nice. Teenagers, adults, old people, all essentially disgusting, and I think that my feet are pretty unattractive. However, this is not going to prevent me sharing them with the world.

If you read that twitter thing on the right, you will perhaps be aware that I stubbed my toe today. Whilst the dishwasher repair guy (Trevor) was here, he requested an old towel. I knew I had one in the garden that I use as a white backdrop for moth-catching, so I went and got that. As I skipped gaily back indoors, I misjudged the patio step, caught my left big toe, and crumpled to a heap on the floor. But Trevor needed that towel, so I got up, carried on, and gave it to him, at the same time noticing blood leaking from underneath my toenail.

In the event he didn't use the towel. Nor did he fix the dishwasher. His recommendation was to just buy a new one. Many Thanks Trev. Should I also get a new toe?


Ouch. I clobbered it good and proper and it hurts a lot more that the photo would suggest. It has turned purple, and I can barely bend it. I think I am going to need to go to Whipps Cross A&E tomorrow morning as I can't walk. You wouldn't have thought that a big toe is particularly important, but in fact I have discovered that I need it to work properly. My parents say that if it is broken I will need to wearing some kind of cast boot thing. Let's hope that it is just bruising, as I have no desire to wear a stupid heavy boot through the summer holidays. I mean what if I need to twitch something? Also please note that the white areas on my feet that look suspiciously like where flip-flops go are in fact due to a Michael Jackson-esque skin-whitening disease, and not at all indicative of the life of a perpetual bum.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Back on Track

The magic has been lost. I went out on Wanstead Flats for three hours this morning and didn't see a single Southern Migrant Hawker. Gutted. Plenty of birds though, but it was hard work. I reached the dizzy heights of 45 species, which is pretty average, including some non-guaranteed ones such as Hobby, Little Owl, and Lesser Whitethroat, but as is always the way, failed to find some that should have been nailed on. For instance I couldn't find a Blackcap or a Goldfinch. Chaffinch, Stock Dove and Heron all eluded me. I would generally expect to see most of these within about ten minutes of leaving the house, but such is life. Part of the reason is that I may have started too late. I set the alarm for five, but didn't manage to leave the house until half six, by which time many of the smaller birds become difficult, and Heron is usually a first half-hour after dawn job. Of course none of this matters. I had a nice time, and that was the sole purpose of my visit. Well, that and find a Wanstead mega, but this happens only infrequently, whereas I always have a good time. Except when I get mugged, which so far has only happened once, and long may it stay that way.

Highlight this morning was probably the Little Owl. I rarely see them perched up in the day at this time of year, there is too much foliage, but today it chose a bare tree. I was having a brief scan, more in hope than expectation, and there it was. I tried to walk around and get it from the front, but whilst doing that it was flushed by a Jay. Thanks Jay. I see the Owl perhaps one time in ten, and then fifteen seconds after I see it, you do too and chase it off. And could I then get a photo of you? Not a chance.

So that took me to half nine or so, and the rest of the day has been spent either playing with Pie, or arguing on the phone with a bank, who think that charging £25 for going £25 over my overdraft limit is perfectly ok. It gets better actually, as they charged me twice. Basically an annual direct debit I had forgotten about took me over by the £25, so they kicked it back and charged me £25. Did they call me to let me know? Go on, have a guess?! Then three weeks later the same company tried to claim the direct debit again, and with me still none the wiser, this then obviously took me £50 over my overdraft limit. Not wishing to be outdone, the bank kicked it back again, and decided that another charge of £25 was in order. I enquired to the lady on the phone whether this might continue indefinitely, with me getting charged £25 every three weeks until I owed them my house? I think the call centre staff are forbidden from recognising sarcasm, as she said that that wouldn't be possible. So far I have recouped one of the £25 "fees", and I am damned if I am going to pay the other one. Apparently it is in my terms and conditions. I informed the lady that I couldn't care less if they came and wrote it in large letters on my front door, and that I would not be paying it. I furthermore informed her that Vince Cable felt the same way about their banking practices as I did, but I'm not sure that his is a household name in India. I am currently awaiting a response from a supervisor as to whether a 100% rate of interest for a zero day overdraft breach strikes them as fair and reasonable, as the direct debit, the direct debit kickback and the fee all get processed on the same day. I have also asked whether a phone call informing me of the problem and giving me the opportunity to add funds to the account might not in fact have been more reasonable. So far I have not been called back, however I feel I have the moral high-ground on this one and expect to report victory soon. Honestly, what a bloody nerve. On the plus side, all I have with this particular bank is this overdraft, so they can keep on adding £25 to it for as long as they want and see if I ever pay it. Bastards.

One of four Kestrels today.

Sunday 25 July 2010

Once Upon a Time in a Ditch in Kent

"Birds?", I hear you ask hopefully. "Some kind of rare ditch-dwelling warbler?" Almost right. Another Dragonfly.

I apologise, I thought long and hard about what to do, and then went out on the patch early this morning. This post is already sounding suspiciously similar to yesterday's, so it will come as no surprise that I found nothing. No waders on Alex, and no ducks (I'm hoping for Garganey) on the ponds in the park. Depressed, I headed home to get ready for insects, part of a prearranged plan with Bradders and Roy. Yesterday had been so successful that we had decided that an attempt on the Southern Emerald Damselflys in Kent was in order. These have been twitchable exactly twice - proper rare.

Near the prescribed ditch at Cliffe were some real Dragonfly people, searching for the same thing. One of them had a net and everything. As a birder, I think I can safely say that they are a funny bunch. For a start they only talk in Latin.

"Nos es reprehendo is hic fossum pro Lestes barbarus"
(We are checking this here ditch for Southern Emerald Damselfly)

"Nos non instituo unus etiamnunc. Gero questus punctum"
(We have not found one yet, and are getting pissed off)

Roy understood everything they were saying. He can probably speak latin too, but for the sake of Bradders and I stuck to English. It was hard work, but eventually Roy found one, and shouted out "Quid est illa in fossa!" before remembering who he was with and instead pointing at the ditch. Of couse it was one, a female, and we all saw it well before it vanished. A short while later I relocated it in the same fossa, and pointed out to the ten or so other insect-hunters where it was flying. I was surprised to then see everyone running away from it, heading instead down the side of the ditch. Eh? I thought this was what everyone was here for? But no, grown men and women were running, running and pointing.

"Inviso ut! Aeshna Affinis est!"
(Look, it's a Southern Migrant Hawker!)

Unbelievably, I was now present at the first sighting of Southern Migrant Hawker in Kent for half a century, and I am possibly one of only three people in the country (the other two being Roy and Bradders) to have seen the species in two counties. Fortunatus sum. The Dragonfly people netted the pair briefly, for there were two, in order to confirm the ID. In the hand there was no doubt. Certum est, as they say.

All thoughts of Southern Emerald we forgotten, this was truly exiciting stuff. My Kent Dragonfly list is going great guns! We decided that we had better leave before it all became too much, so bade our farewells - Vale! Eheu fugaces labuntur anni etc. We picked up a Spoonbill on the way out, and then tried a stretch of Downland for some birds more insects. Butterflies mainly, but we also found a couple of day-flying moths that failed to pique Bradders' interest. He'll cave one day, I'm certain of it.

Lector benevole, latine loqui coactus sum

Saturday 24 July 2010

In which I start twitching insects....

Sorry, more insects. I have a weekend without wife or children, and in a cruel twist of fate, it is also without birds. My plan was to go on some kind of photography expedition, or perhaps a mega-twitch, but I never formulated a concrete plan for the former, and the biggie failed to materialise. Hmmm, what to do? The patch, naturally.

So, up at 5am and out. The first bird seen was the White-cheeked Turaco, which I think makes it four days out of the last five, Thursday being the only no-show. As usual it was chuckling to itself, and jumping about the same tree recently vacated by the cat. I've said it before and I'll say it again, great bird! The cat is fine by the way. Once we got it down, I took it with my neighbour to the vets, where both were given a relatively clean bill of health, apart from the neighbour had worms so the vet had to give him a pill. I think I have that the right way round. Here she is by the way, in case you have lost a cat. A lady up the street is currently looking after it, but will only give it back if you can confidently answer a lot of questions about it.

Anyway, bar the Turaco, not a lot doing in Wanstead. Kingfisher on Alexandra Lake early doors, and a Common Tern fishing on the Basin were the only birds of note, so another brilliant use of sleep-time. I had to spend the rest of the morning going to Farnham and back to pick up a new camera bag, but once back I still had no bright ideas. Paul had called last night and said he might be twitching a Dragonfly today, would I like to come? Twitch a Dragonfly, you must be out of your mind?! What a crazy notion, no chance, have fun though.

I joined the others at Rainham, where we all got into Bradders' Subaru and headed off to the secret site. It isn't much of a secret any more... The target was a Southern Migrant Hawker, of which just six had been recorded in the UK before. In the world of Dragonflies, I am led to believe that this about as mega as it gets. The twitch was an outstanding success, and we added numbers seven through about fourteen to the British list, thus over doubling it. In the world of birding, this is the equivalent of finding a small flock of White-tailed Plovers in a field, including some fledged chicks. Now I'm not much into Dragonflies, so it did feel a bit odd to be seeing a species that almost all of those who are into them had never seen, but they'll get their chance. They're probably making plans for tomorrow even as I type.

Unfortunately I forgot my camera, so you don't get to see what one looks like.

Not really.

Pretty smart huh? As insects go, fairly impressive, but still just a Dragonfly though, so I'm not getting too excited. My feet remain firmly on the ground. Although I don't keep a list of Dragonflies I've seen, it was a tick for me, as it was for Paul. My list, if I kept one, would be 17, whereas his is 45. That's if he kept one of course, but he hates lists so it's unlikely.

At the same time as the Southern Migrant Hawkers, I also saw Small Red-eyed Damselfly, and Scarce Emerald Damselfly, both of which were new for me. Roy was with us too, and pointed all these out, as I didn't have a clue. I did not realise that he is a Dragonfly fanatic, but I can now testify that he really is. Here, have a photo of the Emerald. And a yellow one, a female Ruddy Darter I think. Might be a Common Darter of course, no doubt people will put me right.

So, I can now say I have twitched an insect. Well, I suppose I twitched Shaun's Lime Hawk Moth, so I have now twitched two insects. I also saw a Blair's Mocha Moth at Longstone's Cafe on Scilly, but I was there to twitch the cake. It showed well. Briefly.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Judicious Whooping

I have nothing much to say, but some judicious garden whooping this morning in just my underpants produced this. My neighbours are I hope used to the sight of a slender and athletic-looking topless man cavorting around the garden with a large camera. No police showed up at any rate. A man's garden is his own private kingdom, no? "Whoop whoop!"

I don't think I will ever tire of seeing this bird, dressed or not. It is quite simply superb.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

I did three things today

The dishwasher has broken. I can't begin to tell you how annoying this is. It is only about three years old. I remember ranting on this blog about a similarly recently constructed, and also now deceased, fridge. Why don't people make things better? Just make a good one, rather than a cheap piece of shit. It has been on the way out for a while, but had been clinging on. Now it won't even pump any water in. My options are get it fixed, up to £130, or buy a new one, £200. Irritatingly close. Given our circumstances I think I am going to get it fixed, but I will not be surprised if another part dies in the next six months and I'm ranting on here again, just more vehemently.

I did three loads of washing up today, all taken out of the dishwasher. Very depressing. Some of it was a couple of days old. and so Rice Krispies had morphed into pebble-dash, and Weetabix was full blown concrete. I'll be shouting at the children tomorrow to finish every last morsel, or not allowing them milk perhaps.

But all that is a bit dull. Much more interesting are three things I did today. First of all I went out on Wanstead Flats and saw nothing. Much the same as usual really. Always with an eye for a photograph though, I have touchingly captured an image of a Moorhen and a couple of discarded Tango cans for your enjoyment. Lovely.

Secondly, I attended Muffin's sports day. Put off from last week when rain stopped play, today was glorious and so we were on. Great to see all the kids having such fun. I don't get to see him interact with his peers, so this was like a brief window into his world. His team didn't win, but boy can he run!

As soon as his year group had finished, and well before I could be rounded up and made to run in the dad's race, I snuck out of the playground and went to Broxbourne to look for Purple Emperor butterflies and Crossbills. You'll be pleased to hear I didn't find the butterflies, but I did score a Crossbill. After giving up on the main ride through the wood, I took a side path through some pines and found a small pool with a bench. There I sat, silently, for well over an hour, during which many things happened. First of all I watched a succession of small birds come down to the pool to drink, including Coal Tits, Blackcaps and Wrens. A Treecreeper fed on a trunk close by, and most amazing of all, a Muntjac Deer came in to drink, appearing not to see me. I inched my camera up to my eye, cursing the fact I only had a Macro lens. At the click of the shutter it startled, saw me, and bolted. And last but by no means least, a Crossbill, possibly more than one, flew over SE giving its diagnostic call. Played for and got, and very pleased after drawing a blank last week.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Kestrels on Wanstead Flats, and advice on cracking jokes on the internet

Spent almost five hours on Wanstead Flats this morning, enjoyed every minute of it. Better than working, much better. I am in the fortunate position this week of having one child with Grandparents, one at school, and one settling in to nursery. If you're good at maths, and have been following this blog for some time, you'll realise that leaves zero children at home. And when there are zero children at home, daddy goes birding.

I missed out the best period of the day due to a mammoth moth catch, over 100 moths of 40+ species, including an amazing fifteen Tree-lichen Beauties. Four definite new species, best of which was a Chocolate Tip, and probably another six new ones still to identify. Last night was perfect - still, sticky, cloudy and warm. Looks like it will be the same tonight, which is excellent news but means I can't get out at first light, which is always best for birding. In those five hours today I failed somehow to register a single Blackcap or Dunnock. But I did see a record number of Kestrels, which means I will be posting a record number of Kestrel photos. There were four, one over near Long Wood and then three together near Alexandra Lake. Are you ready? OK, then let's begin.

Two Kestrels

The same two Kestrels, playing or fighting, not sure which.

Shaking hands perhaps? They went and sat in separate trees after this.

But not before I took a few more photos.

Like this one of a Kestrel.

And also this one. I had more, but I didn't want to bore you. I think I've been fairly restrained, all things considered.

And now some advice on cracking jokes on bird-related forums, populated by birders who are not out birding. Unless you are prepared to litter your post with about two million smiley face things to indicate to the humourless masses it is A JOKE, then just don't bother. If you think that using two billion smiley faces to advertise the fact that you are possibly not being serious is a waste of time and people should just be able to understand subtle, then on your own head be it, especially if you are making mildly distasteful jokes about that most unscrupulous of activities, suppression egging. If you also feel that by deliberately leaving out the two trillion smiley face things you could possibly cause some internet angst, then you would be dead right! Be prepared to explain yourself to the righteous and the humourless, and then, if possible, make another caustic comment and definitely don't use any smiley face things. If you get any come-back on that one, then all hope is lost, and you should unplug your internet connection forthwith and never log-on again. Clear? Good.

Monday 19 July 2010

Another inglorious ID

Another early start on the Flats procured precisely nothing, but you can't score every day, and in any case it is lovely out there at 5am. It is cool, empty and stunning, as these Canada Geese and scenic backdrop prove.

After finding no waders on the Jubilee or Alex, I went down to the Old Sewage Works again to see if I could get some more shots of the Sedge Warbler, particularly any juveniles. Yesterday, having seen some scruffy birds associating with the Sedge, I confidently suggested they had bred, but wondered how they could have bred without us noticing, and that as local patch birders go, we were a bit rubbish. It turns out they probably didn't, as a photo of what I thought could be a be a juvenile is in fact a Phyllosc of some description, likely a very very worn Willow according to H. Quite what it was doing clambering about in reeds and rushes with a Sedge Warbler is anyone's guess. So we're not crap after all. Or rather, we are, just in a different way.

The OSW was buzzing yet again, with Finches and Warblers all over the place. But no Sedge Warbler. It has moved on, with its Leaf Warbler friend. I watched a Garden Warbler for a while, and a family of Whitethroats, but never a sniff of an Acro. And no Egrets either. In fact, versus yesterday it was a bit of an anticlimax. Still, there is always tomorrow, and that is what keeps me and all other patch-workers going.

Garden Warbler, I'm certain of it...

Sunday 18 July 2010

Wanstead strikes again

It has been a frenetic weekend. A 4:30am start in Wanstead on Saturday paid dividends with another Common Sandpiper and a male Kingfisher, both ticks for the Flats. Rather unfortunately I do actually keep sub-lists for the various areas here. I try my best not to share this level of detail, but occasionally I slip up. Sorry. Then a butterfly extravaganza in Hatfield Forest, followed by a superb piece of twitchery for the Franklin's Gull in Staffordshire. Back home and straight to bed for a 4am start and a trip to Dungeness.

The sea produced a single Bonxie heading west, a few Little and Med Gulls, and very little else. Worth a try, but the real substantive basis for the trip were land-based birds. First up the White-tailed Plover on the ARC pit. It has been ten days since I last saw one, and frankly I was getting withdrawal symptoms. It showed very well, just as it had at Rainham, and was an excellent tick for the Kent list that I don't keep.

Next stop Denge Marsh where Nick and I had the Purple Heron in flight almost immediately, and then the same or another stood in the reeds. An hour or so of nothing followed, and then all of sudden all the birds started having a bit of a fly-about, including the Great White Egret that we had been waiting for. Unfortunately my camera chose exactly this moment to have a wobble, and the auto-focus contrived to ensure a series of blurred shots that had appeared fine through the viewfinder. Not impressed. Well they're OK I suppose, but they should have been much better. Nonetheless, mission accomplished, so we headed back home for the real target of the day.

Earlier on Stuart had texted with news of a Sedge Warbler. Staring out at Denge Marsh, eighty miles away, this was less than ideal. Neither Nick nor I have ever had one in Wanstead, and indeed it was Stuart's first too. The patch trumps all else, and brings out the very best in me, so as soon as the Great White Egret was in the bag, we scooted home.

Needless to say we got it, and quite a lot of other things to boot. The patch has had a great weekend. Two Common Sandpipers and a Yellow Wagtail yesterday, and today, via a Common Tern fishing on the Basin, Nick and I had not only the Sedge Warbler, but five Little Egrets and two Garden Warblers. And, wait for it, juvenile Sedge Warblers! We are all crap, a Sedgie, a Wanstead rarity, has managed to breed, undetected, under our very noses. And where under normal circumstances one photo would be enough, with common birds that turn up in Wanstead that is of course no longer the case, so have two more.

I am now on 98 for the year, the ton is in my sights. As such I'll be out there early doors tomorrow. Can't wait. Can you?

Saturday 17 July 2010

Tick and Run

Quick trip to Hatfield Forest earlier today - had to drop middle child off at Cambridge and it was on the way back. Target - Silver-washed Fritillary. A kind of bird butterfly. The run part is that the Franklin's Gull has turned up in Staffordshire again so I am gathering my stuff together and heading out ASAP. Oh, and I found a Common Sandpiper on Alex this morning. Mega status declining rapidly....

Late edit: Franklin's Gull, tick and run.

Friday 16 July 2010

Respect, innit?

An abortive attempt at Crossbill within the London Area today at Broxbourne Woods. The thinking had been to go for a double-whammy and see the Purple Emperor butterflies as well. In the event we saw neither, but we did have a rather nice walk in the sunshine. And, periodically, the rain. This did not deter us, we were all rain-coated up, and when it became persistent we left the open rides and forged deeper into the actual forest. Quite by accident we found a path which had sculptures set at certain points along the way, including a really rather clever one of a deer, which was in three separate pieces. So from the side as you approached you saw what looked like three pieces of metal sticking out of the ground, probably 10 feet separating each one. The left-hand one was clearly a stag's head, but the other two were rather lumpy and abstract. However when you got to the the intended viewpoint on a small green bridge, hey presto they were all in a line, correctly in perspective, and you had a whole deer.

The rest of the sculptures were wood carvings of one sort or another. Art is generally not my thing, I prefer birds - go figure - however, as a family walk of discovery I could not have asked for more. The thought of what the next one might be moved the girls along the path quicker than I ever could, and their favourite by far was of a Wild Boar and two piglets, just the right size for sitting on, which all the best bits of art are of course.

So a very enjoyable walk, London listing not withstanding. I've actually become rather bored of it if the truth be told. It was a lot of fun earlier in the year (when it was easier!), but as we have moved into summer it has become too difficult to be fun. I'm currently marooned on 186 species, the last one being Woodlark whilst dipping Nightjar. I'm still missing a few waders, Redstart, Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, and a few rarer Raptors. And Crossbill. I would still hope, at this stage, to hit 200, but any more than that will be a miracle. The odd Kazakhstani Plover helps of course.

But nevermind all that, why is the title of this post called Respect, innit? It is because this country is going to the dogs. Shepherding the kids back to the car after school, I was amazed to see a youth finish a pack of crisps and then just chuck it on the floor. I told him to come back and pick it up, and thus started a small discussion about littering. Apparently I am free to come round where he lives and chuck some stuff on the ground because he does it too and he doesn't care. This kid was probably fifteen, totally without respect for adults. And the pavement obviously. On the plus side he wasn't armed, but he had no intention of picking it up and unfortunately there was no way I could make him. I suppose I could have picked it up for him and then rammed it down his throat in the absence of a litter bin, but in this day and age, and with three stunned kids looking on, it would not have been wise. I said he should be ashamed of himself. That told him, no doubt about it. He is probably now bragging to his mates about how he told a man to get stuffed this afternoon, the little shit. Oh to be Mr T in situations like that.

The same thing happened a few months ago, but with even younger kids. As I turned into Tescos, living the dream, one of a group of three kids threw a stone at the car. It made a rather large noise on the window, but luckily didn't crack it. I stopped the car there and then, to the annoyance of those behind me, and ran across the street to take them to task. They were fairly surprised to see me, but probably only twelve or thirteen, they basically laughed in my face.

My children have a great respect for adults, and they do as they are told. They are only two, four and six, but I would like to think that in ten years time, they will still do as they're told and have respect for adults. And not drop litter or stone passing vehicles. But how can you tell? I don't mean to sound old and crotchety, but there is no doubt that our social fabric is disintegrating. If this is how twelve year olds behave, what hope is there when they're eighteen or twenty-five? Will they pay their taxes and insure their cars?

So, on that positive note, have a final photograph of a butterfly from Broxbourne Woods. It is nice, colourful, a bit furry, and I did not observe it drop any litter the whole time I was there. But then again it's probably only a week old.

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Democracy in action

Well, the meeting wasn't as bad as I had feared. Yes there were a couple of women knitting at the front, yes there were a couple of loud-mouthed bigots, and yes there was some unaritcutale epxreshun. However on the whole it was pretty good, with frankly an enormous turn-out, probably over 200 people.

There was unsurprisingly no representation from anybody involved in the actual proposal. Nobody from the Corporation of London (who by the sound of it have a lot to answer for already), nobody from the Met, nobody from any local councils, no MPs, and nobody from the Olympic Development Authority. Getting these people out to answer questions will be key. The fact that it has been very difficult to get any information out of any of them is worrying. It suggests underhand non-public dealings. It suggests a lack of appetite for consultation.

And I can see why that might be. For starters, the Police wish to use 8 acres. That is vast! In addition to building a massive briefing centre and a command centre, they also want a large car-park, and also stabling for 80 horses. 80!! Jesus H Christ, we could get Yellow Wagtails back! Where do I sign?! And last but not least they want to build an unspecified number of holding cells for irate local birders who get too close to the compound. Oh and they also want to rename the whole area Guantanamo Flats.

Several people had several good ideas as to how we might go about fighting this, and there is going to be a steering committee. I offered my services between bouts of dusting, we shall see if they take me up on it. There seemed to be a core of people who already knew each other, so it may stay with them, and I'm sure they're capable enough.

And talk about the modern age, a lady had already set up a Facebook Page for the campaign, rather melodramatically called "Protect Wanstead Flats and Epping Forest". Although I barely use Facebook, and whilst I would normally sneer at such things, I joined immediately. Sometimes these things take on a life of their own, and a public groundswell of opinion is expressed in the form of how many thousands of people joined an internet group, and it's just possible that the people that count may take note. Or not, who knows. You, the long-suffering readers of this blog, can join it too, and so can your friends. It doesn't matter if you've never been to Wanstead Flats in your life, you have read this blog and you know about it, and that is enough. Think to yourself if you would like to see Jonathan turfed off his local patch? Think how unhappy he would be, and how miserable, depressing and moth-oriented his blog might become. If you can't bear the thought of that happening, sign up here. It takes five seconds and then you need never look at it again. You will be a number, that's all.

So all in all not too bad. A fund-raising bucket was passed around, and pleasingly, as we left the hall, there was a man distributing Socialist Worker magazine. Thanks but no thanks, Comrade! On the way back home I went birding on Fairground Flats and saw nothing. Er I mean I saw loads of endangered birds and vast herds of Great Crested Newts grazing on the lush brown grass.

Wanstead Politics

Roll on 2012, roll on the Olympics. Roll off Wanstead Flats. In a act of genius, the Metropolitan Police have realised that they need an operational base whilst the games are on. Evidently they forgot about this when the Olympic Park at Stratford was being planned, and in a venture that smacks of desperation, are proposing to construct a temporary base on Wanstead Flats. Can you tell that I am perhaps not a neutral?

They're proposing to use the area known as Fairground Flats (area 15 on my map). This is sandwiched between Jubilee Pond and the SSSI. It's where I took the photo of Skylarks feeding in the snow, and apart from when there is a funfair, is where many birds like to hang out. The structure will only be temporary of course. And only for three months. How long are the Games? Two weeks you say? That's odd. Oh well, maths was never my strong point. It will be used as a briefing centre. That means buildings and stuff. And car-parking. And presumably the police don't want people just walking up to it leaving bombs and such like, so there will also need to be a fence. A high, sharp fence. What about security lights and cameras? Almost certainly. An exclusion zone around the base perhaps? Probably.

How long will it take to build? A few months perhaps. What about taking it down and restoring the land. Another few months. I don't know any of the details, but I don't expect that anybody will be challenging themselves to get it up and down again in record time. So we're talking a probably nine months of some sort of disturbance to the Flats, and the real kick in the teeth is that my bloody council taxes went up to help pay it!

Wanstead Flats, and indeed the whole of Epping Forest, are protected by an act of Parliament - The Epping Forest Act 1878. Not a problem, the Home Office have been contacted, and the law will be changed. Yes, that's right, the 650 MPs in the House of Commons will need to vote to change the Act. How does that work exactly? Probably 645 of them have never been closer to Wanstead Flats than the Houses of Parliament, and yet they get to vote on what happens to my patch. Absurd, but factual.

But we can rely on the Corporation of London to just say no, right? Nope, 'fraid not. It's special, it's the Olympics. They're going to agree to it. Just like that. What about the Friends of Epping Forest, are they going to mount a campaign to fight it? Er, no, they're not. They're opposed to any development of the forest, but understand that the games are "one-off" event. Special. Any anyway, it's just the southern end of the forest, the scummy bit near Forest Gate. As long as the nice pretty wooded bits are left alone, they're not fussed. So that leaves me then.

Well, not quite. There is a local residents meeting tonight. Even the thought of a residents meeting has me vaguely shivering, but for the sake of the Skylarks that like to feed on Fairground Flats, I am going to go. Dreading it. Estimate of average age, 79. Estimate of ability to articulately express an opinion, dhje fwnlirriwg dwkwerfoo. It's tonight, at 6:30. I'm not even sure if the plans are in the public domain, but I expect that local residents will be able to blather on even if there is nothing to discuss. I'm going because I want to understand more about what is actually being proposed, rather than rely on scraps from the local newspaper.

I don't want to sound defeatist, but it's going to happen. If you mention the magic "O" word, everything becomes OK. It will get steamrollered through, I'm certain of it. The land stewards, the Corporation, are in the bag already, the biggest local interest group have effectively rolled over, and MPs from all over the country are just going to vote for it as it doesn't impact their constituencies in any way, and the five whose it does will probably vote for it too. It's the Olympics. It's special you know. So, retaining some pragmatism in the knowledge that it will happen whether I like it or not, it is probably best to approach the situation with a view to getting the best possible deal for the Flats. Fight for the shortest possible timeframe, for some kind of "over and above" restitution (like a totally awesome wader-scrape with a plush hide and one key-holder), and for whatever changes are made to the 1878 Act to be temporary or very very specific.

I'll let you know.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

A Bug's Life

I am burning the candle at both ends. Brightly. The trouble is that there are not enough hours in the day. Ideally I would stay up until 2am mothing every night, have a tranquil eight hours sleep, and then awaken at 4:30am to close the moth trap and then go out birding on Wanstead Flats until 7am. You see the problem? Precisely. How can I fit eight hours into two; when exactly am I supposed to sleep?

Well yes, I could sleep during the day, being a bum and all that, but what about the children? I've tried, and it doesn't work. And anyway, my life of leisure domestic slavery may soon be at an end. I am thinking about getting a job. Not sure what yet, but I have started browsing various vacancy sites and have even gone as far as looking at some application forms. I have not put pen to paper of course, that would be a step too far, but I am thinking about it which is half the battle. I have to say that I am disappointed at how pitifully paid most jobs are. Much as I loathed banking, the money was fantastic. I have been looking at jobs in the environmental sector, of which I have zero experience, but even if somebody ignored that glaring omission and actually hired me, the pay is beyond dire. I am perhaps willing to sacrifice cash for quality of life, but if I do go back to work full time, whatever I earn will need to cover various forms of childcare, for few jobs fit into the school day. Apart from teaching, obviously. Childcare is not cheap, and I have lots of children. Much to think about....

Whilst generally avoiding thinking about it, I have been observing bug life on Wanstead Flats. Mrs L threw me out the other evening so that she could do music practice, and so I had a wander around the SSSI part. It is teeming with life at the micro level. Small and Essex Skippers patrol the grasslands, scattering as you brush past. The caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth (of which I have caught only one thus far) are feeding on just about any Common Ragwort you can find, and there has been an explosion of Common Red Soldier Beetles. I could become seriously interested in small things. If I had my time again, I reckon I might have done something along those lines. I am finding however that a degree in French, even a very good one, has no place on ecological application forms. Bummer, as they say.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Local Birding, unfortunately.

My original plan was to go to Dungeness early doors to see the Purple Herons and the Great White Egret. I was going to start at Denge Marsh for the herons, then have a bit of a sea-watch, have a quick look on the ARC pit for waders, and then come home. In the event my patch instincts got the better of me and I went out on the Flats. I got one Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) for my troubles. I am afraid that this is a tale of what might have been. Guess what turned up Dunge? A Lapwing, but not vanellus..... Need a clue? What if I told you that it has a white tail? Un-bloody-believable. Merseyside, then Holland. Then a small gap, followed by Rainham, then Slimbridge, and now Dungeness. I wonder where it will go next? I know where I'd like it to go next....

Still, not finding megas aside, Wanstead Flats was rather pleasant. Rather than bore you with a series of photographs of a White-tailed Lapwing, here instead are some photos of Thrushes and Crows from this mornning. I don't have time to write any more, I'm off to dig a wader-scrape in my back garden.

Song Thrush

Mistle Thrush


Carrion Crow


Saturday 10 July 2010

At Last!

It has been three years since I saw a Common Tern in Wanstead, and I had almost given up hope. They seem not to be doing as well on nest sites in the Lea Valley, and fewer birds there equates to fewer fly-throughs here. My one and only sighting has been from an upstairs window when I was, ahem, working from home one day. Since then, zip.

That all changed this morning when I was out on the Flats with Muffin. Still early, it had been somewhat uneventful, until approaching Alex a call made me look up. Two Common Terns! They circled higher and higher, and eventually departed vaguely north-west. I was too busy eliminating Arctic dumbstruck to get a photo unfortunately, but a Black-headed Gull is the next best thing surely?

This takes me to 96 for the year, a mere 4 away from 100 and last year's total. I'm happy to help you with basic maths. I may end up getting there, which would be very exciting for many people me.

We sat by the side of Alex for a while with Nick, but no rare waders were forthcoming. Or any waders in fact. I have a vague idea as to why this might be but can't quite pin it down.

Meanwhile Muffin got bored.

"Can we go now?"

"In a minute"

"Is it a minute yet?"

I played him for as long as I could, but eventually I had to drag myself upwards and onwards.

And that's it really. The rest of the day has been spent quietly melting and avoiding the great fiery ball in the sky. It was so hot last night that I was unable to sleep and had to come downstairs at 3am where it was ever-so-slightly cooler. I had a wander outside which was very pleasant, and casually potted up a moth that was on the side of the trap. I identified it this afternoon - The Flame. Quite...