Wednesday, 29 September 2010
Still, with somewhere between four and six birds in just one small area of the Flats, the patch is officially on fire. But is it? Ring Ouzel, dare I say it, is in danger of becoming thought of as regular. It appears to be pretty much nailed on in the last week of September and first week of October. When I had to let a probable go in the Spring, I wasn't too worried; I knew I'd get one in the Autumn.
I've seen seven Ring Ouzels on the patch in the last three years, all of which made the pager. By contrast, I've seen one Treecreeper, which didn't. Which would you say is the rarer bird? Location location location.
I've just been reading Johnny A's Surrey Year-listing blog. The latest post is entitled Twenty Nine Years Later, which is how long he has been birding at Beddington. It is also how long it has taken him to get Treecreeper on his site list. His big bogey bird finally fell on Monday. I remember him telling me about the relative rarity of species at Beddington when I was there to see the Pec Sand a couple of weeks ago. It was something like his fifth Pec Sand at Beddington, yet he hadn't seen a Treecreeper in nearly thirty years of trying. Which got me wondering, what is the equivalent bird in Wanstead? The bird that you would think would be a shoe-in, yet is conspicuous by it's absence? Every site has one, perhaps more, depending on location and habitat.
I don't have twenty-nine years of experience here, it's a fifth of that, but perusing my somewhat paltry list for obvious omissions, there are a few which jump out. These include Cuckoo, Wood Warbler and Yellowhammer, but those have all been seen this year, just not by me. They're all passage birds, and eventually I'll get lucky. No, the bird that strikes me as missing, and for which I am not aware of any historical record, is Pintail.
According to the RSPB, around 30,000 Pintail winter in the UK. That's approximately double the numbers of both wintering Gadwall and Shoveler, yet we get loads of those here. Habitat not suitable? Well, we are always guaranteed Teal, yet I wouldn't say the habitat is any good for them either. Wintering UK Teal outnumber Pintail six to one, yet I've seen twenty-one here, versus zero Pintail. The habitat is no good for Wigeon either, yet I've seen five here. Rainham always get double-figures of Pintail in the winter, and it's only a few miles away. Why don't we get any here?
So is that my official bogey bird? I can't think of any better candidates, though Mandarin, relatively abundant in the northern reaches of Epping Forest, to my knowledge has never made it here either. So, this winter, Pintail is the bird I'll be hunting for. That and Snowy Owl.
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
You would think that at this point, with the animal still seemingly intent on departing with a piece of me, that the owner might rush up with the leash, proferring apologies. Not on Wanstead Flats. No, unfortunately my slip of the tongue instead caused her to go off on one. There was a lot of swearing which I did not enjoy. I decided that the moment needed to be captured for posterity, so photographed the tirade. I am aware that this perhaps does not show the lady in the best possible light.
Eventually hunger drew me away, but it was an excellent way to spend a morning. Hope I didn't miss anything on Wanstead Flats, which is where I am headed right now. I fancy a Ring Ouzel or a Yellow-Browed Warbler, but I expect my chances of either this late in the day are fairly minimal. I can but try though.
Monday, 27 September 2010
There are regulars points of interest to keep you focussed, to keep you from falling on your knees in the shingle, curling up and dying. You can always see the next landmark. The first is known as Half-way house, for obvious reasons. I personally think it isn't even half-way, but the glass is always half-empty I suppose. Then there is the Hood, a kind of spit pointing south into Blakeney Channel. Rare birds do turn up here, but the best ones are always further on. A little further on, but still across another few-thousand miles of shingle, you get some substantial dunes, and the Point widens. Here you can take a firmer track to a small stand of stunted trees, perhaps half the size of a tennis court, known as the Plantation. Another mile or so beyond that is an area known as Far Point. I've never been that far, so I can't tell you about it. As far as I'm concerned, it is uncharted territory. I think there might be a Dragon colony.
I've walked down Blakeney Point a few times, but only ever on spec. You'll have heard me whinge about Norfolk letting me down more than a few times, when promising conditions deliver no birds. There is nothing worse than walking Blakeney Point and finding no birds, and then having to walk back again. It's three miles to the Plantation, but about fifty back. Your boots each seem to weigh a ton, every step becomes increasingly difficult. You get to the Hood fairly rapidly, and in the distance you can see Half-way house. Another four hours and you're there, but then comes the worst bit. For a long time you can't see anything. There are no landmarks, just never-ending shingle. After about twenty miles, you think you can see the roof of Cley Coastguards, a brick structure in the beach car-park. By this point you could easily be hallucinating though. You look again and see nothing. Another ten miles or so and it begins to resolve itself. Yes! There is a building! The next day, or perhaps the day after, you finally stagger to your car, vowing never, ever again will you "walk the Point".
The best bird I've seen on the Point is a Redstart. On Saturday, Britain's first ever Yellow-bellied Flycatcher turned up on the Point. Or perhaps Britain's first Least Flycatcher. Or maybe a Willow Flycatcher, also a first. Then again, it could be a boring old Alder Flycatcher, just a second for Britain. Nobody cared, they were all going to see it anyway. The point is that the little sod decided to drop into the Plantation.
At six in the morning on Sunday, five of us were in Cley beach carpark in the dark. We were not alone. Off into the distance, illuminated by the luminescence of the froth on the sea, a line of birders stretched along the Point, all trudging in one direction. West, to the Plantation. The wind was howling, spume flew through the air like snow, and salt-spray covered us as soon as we got out of the car. I very nearly had second thoughts. A massive gamble, would the bird still be there, or would I be walking the Point yet again for no reward?
Friday, 24 September 2010
However, it is coming up to Ring Ouzel time, or at least I hope it is. I missed them all in the spring, bar a probable that I had to let go, and they are amongst my favourite birds, so I hope I can find one. I'm basically down to weekend mornings only at this point; there is not enough time in the morning prior to Mrs L leaving for work.
Still, I have it pretty good, what with not being stuck in an office or anything like that. I was reminded of work just today, when I received a pay-slip from my ex-employer. Like a child on Christmas morning, I excitedly ripped it open! Was this the big one, the one that would irreversibly change life in the Lethbridge household? El Gordo!
Guess not then. Stock dividends from shares I still have in some executive incentive plan or other, and that I still can't sell. Well, whoopee. Do I sound incentivised? That life seems so far away now, though if I don't pull my finger out I could be headed back to it. I had to wear a suit the other day for the first time in ages, and felt almost professional again. I won't say I strutted down the street, but I felt like a different person. Funny what clothes can do. You would think they were meaningless, and I am of course not remotely embarrassed by my customary bedraggled birder appearance, but in a suit I felt more confident, more assertive, with a positive spring in my step. The funeral went fine.
My youngest has been a bit poorly this week, a nasty chesty cough, so we've tended to stay in, hence no birding of any note - a trip to Oare to twitch a White-rumped Sandpiper aside. Instead I've been concentrating on the watching the sky from the terrace, with some success as it happens. The lack of Ospreys and Honey Buzzards has been disappointing, but almost as exciting has been not one, but two garden ticks. TWO!! I mean, wow.
The first of these was Meadow Pipit. At this time of the year the breeding population on the Flats is augmented by passage birds, and the numbers are building steadily, so I was fairly confident. How in the five years or so I've lived here I've not managed to get a Mipit from the garden I'll leave up to you, but it took an hour on Sunday morning, viz-migging from dawn, before two typically bouncy and squeaky birds went over. Played for and got, and a pathetic gap plugged.
Prior to this stunning success I hadn't had a garden tick since May, so I was fully expecting that to be my lot for the forseeable future. So it came as a pleasant surprise on Wednesday when a Great Black-backed Gull flew over the garden. This species is rare on the Flats, I'd expect to see perhaps two or three annually, and whilst I knew that I'd get one over the garden eventually, I'd put it to the back of my mind. I'd just been watching a pair of Lessers when a comparatively enormous gull flapped lazily over with slow wingbeats and a whopping great bill. I'm afraid I don't have even a poor quality picture to aid constructive discussion, so you'll have to take my word for it. I am well known for being highly competent at Gulls, so I'd image automatic acceptance is likely.
Thursday, 23 September 2010
I'm a member of one of these august online communities. I won't say which one, suffice it to say that it's a forum about birds. Capiche? Often I wonder why I don't just delete my account, as sometimes even I type something idiotic based on no knowledge whatsoever, but somehow I cannot. It's not that I'm addicted to it or anything, or that it's my guilty little pleasure; I hardly ever post anything on there. But very (very) occasionally I find it useful. Very occasionally I actually learn something, but the amount of rubbish I have to troll through for that one nugget borders on the ridiculous.
The rare bird threads are the worst ones. The idiocy factor often spirals out of control, and it will not surprise you to learn that there is a clear correlation between those who post negative and divisive comments and those who are several hundred miles away from the bird in question and have not seen it. So is this just human nature? Sour grapes and jealousy leading to venting frustrations online? I didn't see it/can't get there to see it, so I'll do my best to utterly discredit the record, the observers, the site and anyone who tries to defend it.
In my experience the majority of rarity threads head south fairly quickly, and can normally be placed into the following categories:
- Moaning about behaviour of birders on site; too close, too loud, too selfish. Unlike the keyboard commentators who invariably have many years of faultless fieldcraft under their belts and have never EVER got too close to a bird and have always behaved impeccably at twitches.
- Moaning about behaviour of photographers on site; flushers the lot of them, with no fieldcraft ability whatsoever. Unlike the online commentators who are true birders, pure and honed through many years of looking through water-logged brass telescopes balanced between their knees, and only ever take distant record shots on kodak brownies, and by the way it never used to be like this and the digital age has a lot to answer for.
- Moaning about the speed the news came out; over a minute between the first sighting and news breaking counts as surpression.
- Moaning actual about surpression; Some internet commentators have a divine right to see every rare bird found in the UK, whether or not they would actually bother going to see it or not. Other internet commentators would never tell anyone about a rare bird that they found, although as they're all sat in front of computers slagging each other off all day long, this is somewhat of a moot point.
- Some kind of spurious debate about geographical and political boundaries. If you've not read fifty threads about Ireland, Britain, and the United Kingdom, frankly you haven't lived.
There are probably some categories I have missed, but they'll all involve moaning and whining, because the internet turns people into juvenile imbeciles. In almost no cases will be there be any informed or mature comment about the bird in question. The first few posters might attempt something along these lines, but they'll be relegated to the periphery as soon as the regulars find the thread and start trotting out the same old rubbish. And don't even get me started on attempting to inject humour into these discussions.
Although irritating, ultimately people can do whatever they want. The internet is a platform for free speech. If people want to promulgate twaddle on internet birding forums, they have every right to do so, it is just a shame that they obscure so much that could actually be good.
My advice to those who want to peddle nonsense on the internet?
Start a blog.
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
Why am I doing this? None of them will ever turn up in Wanstead. I'm doing it because I'm going to Shetland for a week. Soon. Can't wait. The last two days have seen River Warbler, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, Buff-bellied Pipit, Brown Flycatcher and Citrine Wagtail. Admittedly some of those have been on the sadly inaccessible Fair Isle, but nonetheless it is an impressive haul. And those are just the really good birds. There have also been a fair number of Arctic Redpolls, Rosefinches, Yellow-browed Warblers and a Bluethroat.
Yup, it's rarity season. You'll perhaps remember that I went to Scilly last year, there to consume an impressive amount of cake, but not unfortunately to see many rare birds. It just didn't happen, some kind of weather conspiracy. The same could happen on Shetland this year, it truly is just luck of the draw. North-westerlies and you get nothing at all. North-easterlies and you get Siberian Rubythroats hopping round your cereal bowl in the morning. Pure luck, and nothing you can do about it. Probably we'll get nothing, but I'll tell you what, the anticipation is immense. The thought of what might be. The thought of bagging my own rarity, picked up on call, through sheer diligence alone. And luck.
Hume's Leaf Warbler, Beachy Head, January 2008
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
The news was unfortunately negative, so I spent a bit of time dipping two Glossy Ibises, attempted some Red Kite photography near Stokenchurch, and finally ended up in Wanstead looking for the Wryneck again.
As I headed towards the Alexandra scrub I could see a few people milling around. Turned out they were all Wryneck dippers, and looking fairly miserable. Hadn't been seen for over an hour and a half. Oh dear. I cheered them up by finding it in approximately five minutes, and they all got good and prolonged views, and were most grateful. I felt rather smug, possibly looked it too if you can believe it, but then again I do spend a large amount of time on Wanstead Flats and know it rather well. On previous Wryneck searches in the larger area of scrub that it disappears into, I had noticed an excellent-looking feeding spot consisting of a couple of anthills in a hollow area of bramble. This was the first place I went to look, and there it was. I'm not sure who was more surprised, me or it? It flew up and sat inside an Elder bush, and I went and found the dippers, all of whom were still wandering disconsolately around the burnt patch of Broom where it had been in the morning.
And then it was time to pick up the kids, and my birding day was over. So, in summary, I woke up in the middle of the night and drove about 300 miles to see a Wryneck in Wanstead. An act of genius if ever I saw one.
Sunday, 19 September 2010
I'm reasonably well plugged-in to the London grapevine, but no-one can know everything, so I would very much appreciate any news you may have on any of the below. Obviously some are less likely than others, but if you have one (or more) on your patch, or in your garden, I would like to know about it!
Great White Egret
Great Grey Shrike
Willow TitCommon redpoll
Great Crested Grebe
Great Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Great Northern Diver
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker
Little Ringed Plover
White-winged Black Tern
William Girling Res
William Girling Res
William Girling Res
Wanstead Park (Heronry)
Wanstead Park (Res Wood)
Wanstead Park (Res Wood)
Northhaw Great Wood
Northhaw Great Wood
Northhaw Great Wood
North Met Pit, Cheshunt
Rainham (Stone Barges)
Wanstead Park (OSW)
Amwell, Great Hartmead Lake
Rainham, south side of river
William Girling Res
Abney Park Cemetery
William Girling Res
Wanstead, my garden
Hayes Hall Farm, Holyfield
Roding Valley Park
Headley Common, Surrey
Broxbourne Woods, Herts
Greensted Church, Essex
Albion Pools, Rainham
Stoke Newington LWT Garden
Anyway, finally I could go out on the patch, which is what I had wanted to do from the start. One more piece of toast and I was on my way, though not for long. The pager kicked into life just as I had completed the SSSI and Broom Fields with news of Guillemot flying west past Crossness. Gah! Another awesome seabird flying up the river on strong westerlies. What goes up must come down, so off to Rainham I went and plonked myself on the balcony, there to watch the river. Which was dead. I picked up a Sanderling on the Crayford foreshore, but it was otherwise very quiet.
On the Serin Mound, Paul wasn't having much luck either. That was until the Raven flew past him. Knowing I was on the balcony looking for auks on the river, he quickly called me, and I ran through the visitor centre to scan over the A13 where it had been flying.
I'll save you the agony, I didn't get it. I think needing to squeeze through the door sideways may have slowed me down. Also, I think it had been dropping steadily, and perhaps I wasn't looking in quite the right direction. Still on the phone he told me it had dropped just as I got onto where it had likely been flying. Another one that got away, and an exellent London bird. Bummer, as they say, and a bit of a downer. I was almost unable to believe that I had been so close to seeing it and had missed it, but there you go, that's birding. I missed an Arctic Skua by approximately the same margin earlier in the year and managed to claw it back. This is the second time in recent days that a Raven has been seen in the area, so I'm hopeful of picking one up soon if I spend enough time on the reserve.
Still on the ramp, my phone rings again, this time it's Johnny A from Beddington with the good news that the Pectoral Sandpiper has been relocated. Up, Down, Up, Down. I wasn't quite sure which this was. On the one hand it was a bird I had never seen in the London area, and one more towards 200. On the other hand there was a Raven nearby and the possibility of a Guillemot drifting down on the ebbing tide, and, as I have mentioned, Beddington is a right old trek.
Obviously I went to Beddington as that was the most hypocritical option available. It didn't take nearly as long as I remembered, perhaps because I took the motorway instead of trying to navigate across South London. Once there I followed Johnny's directions and found the lagoon. It didn't have a Pec Sand on it. Arse. I scanned the three lagoons for over an hour before Johnny joined me. He concurred that I wasn't just being useless and that it genuinely wasn't present, so suggested we look at the pools at the top end of the farm that it had been favouring a couple of days ago.
We went cross-country - no way would I ever have found the correct route, the site is enormous - and eventually arrived at the pools. Nothing doing. Hmmm. For some reason I decided I'd have a quick look at an unlikely looking pool with no muddy fringes, and there it was, feeding on a small island. Result! The cap was extremely rufous, I can see why Johnny had considered Sharp-tailed for a moment initially.
Such a smart bird, and easily the best view I have had of one. I approached to the edge of the pool, as close as I could get to it, and took a few record shots. With all the nonsense over the London year-list record attempt last year, I'm trying to document as many of the birds that I see as I can, either with a photo, or by seeing them with someone else present. And anyway, I like taking photographs, as you probably know by now. When I get a moment, I'm going to create a London 2010 page on this blog so that people can check up on me. For now though, here is the proof.
Pec Sand is a new bird for the London area for me, and also happens to be #199 for the year. My thanks to Johnny, who generously let me in and showed me round, and who probably wanted to go and have some lunch rather than trek across Beddington again. So, one more required, and then I can relax. I wonder what it'll be? Lapland Bunting perhaps - I have learnt the call in readiness. If I get there, I suspect I'll still go for things, but without all the angst. Well, without some of it perhaps. Bar the guy who holds the record, I'm not sure anyone has ever done 200 within the LNHS recording area in a year before. Yes, I know, I have no idea how I will cope with all the kudos and adulation.
Saturday, 18 September 2010
Friday, 17 September 2010
True to my word, this morning I was out on the Flats at dawn, all of yesterday's nonsense forgotten. I was birding, I had found a Wheatear, and I was having fun. Wryneck score zero, but nevermind. I found a very interesting dumpy and large-looking warbler in an elder which promptly disappeared, but this did not deter me in any way from thinking what a nice morning it was. I noted Nick wandering up the path, and noted Betsy charging through the protected Skylark habitat. All was well with the world. We (that's Nick & I, rather than Betsy & I) chewed the fat for a bit, mulled over yesterday's extraordinary events, and then all too soon it was time for me to go.
Around 9ish, as I was on the school run, my phone went. An involuntary "Nooooooooooooh!" escaped my lips - and this is before I had even answered it. As expected, Nick had refound the Wryneck, this time down near Alex. Sensing a repeat of yesterday's trials, I asked him to stay with it and beat any dogs and dog-walkers to death with his tripod if they looked like coming close.
Thankfully this wasn't required, or not that he mentioned anyway, and after completing a rather fraught dumping of children, Pudding and I made our way to the Flats. As I approached I could see Nick, Paul F and Tim peering intently at a Hawthorn. Could it be true?!
It was! I pitched up, and there it was in a scope. Sensational! I've dipped more Wrynecks than I have seen, so to get a second bite at the cherry this morning and to actually succeed was very unexpected. As I said yesterday, a dream bird for the patch, and an amazing relief. We watched it for about two hours, and all of yesterdays dippers returned and managed to see it as well, including Paul W, and also Dom, who managed to see it within about ten seconds of arriving and thus had time to pop over to Long Wood. I think that's what he said, although possibly it was more along the lines of he was never going near Long Wood again. Can't remember. Anyway, we all enjoyed excellent views as it fed on and around the numerous ant-hills that dot this area of the Flats. I returned home to get my camera, and the bird promptly disappeared. Luckily Paul F was more prepared, and has sent me this.
What will tomorrow bring I wonder? It almost doesn't bear thinking about - I should probably start popping the pills now!
Thursday, 16 September 2010
Tuesday night doldrums.
Wednesday is a new day however, and news of a Manx Shearwater had me scurrying to Rainham where I got simply excellent views of this London mega. Better views than I ever get Sea-watching. Awesome.
Wednesday night elation.
Thursday morning, ie a couple of hours ago, and I've decided to go to Rainham again, on the basis that of all the sites in London it has the most potential for more year-ticks. Wrong. A call from Wanstead stalwart Nick just as I'm approaching the Purfleet turn-off. "I've got a Wryneck"
I don't swear often on this blog, there is no need. Today however, there is a need. I mean, bloody hell! I turned straight around and was back on the patch within about twenty minutes, but by then it had flown and several searching birders could not relocate it. Gave it three hours but not a sign, but then again there is just so much cover, and Wrynecks are not birds renowned for perching up and giving great views. My fellow London year-lister Dom tried for it as well, even braving the interior of Long Wood searching for it. Taking one for the team. He was only in there for a few minutes, but needless to say he was propositioned. He didn't fancy 'taking one for the team', so told his would-be new friend to take a hike, and thankfully emerged unscathed. Even if there were a Semi-collared Flycatcher in Long Wood, I doubt I would go in for it.
Dodgy man emerging from Long Wood. Oh, hang on a minute....
So what are my feelings at the moment, other than the above in bold? Well, it would be churlish not to congratulate Nick on a great find for Wanstead. A superb bird, and the hours he has been putting in on the patch entitles him to goodies like this. I don't - can't - do the patch with the same dedication first thing. Occasionally I get something good, but with my early morning birding dwindling to thirty minutes or less (soon it'll be too dark to even go before Mrs L leaves for work), the chances are diminishing fast. This leaves birding mid-morning or afternoon, more often than not with children - unconducive to finding birds as I'm sure most parents will agree, plus it's not much fun for them. One of the reasons I'm not out there right now still looking for the Wryneck is that Pudding had had enough after three hours. So we're back home. I'm grinding my teeth and typing this, she's cooking her dolly. Who says birding is bad for kids?
Had I not been on the A13 nearly at Rainham, and instead at home, I might have got it. It probably flew ten minutes or so after being found, so I might have made it. Such is life. Or rather, such is London listing - I wasn't where I should have been, which was at home cleaning the bits of the house that Manx Shearwater twitching put paid to yesterday.
I also missed a Short-eared Owl on the Flats the other day, also found by Nick. Nick is dedicated and persevering. I am lazy and, well, lazy. I should have been out there, instead I was only just getting dressed having hit snooze several times. My mentality of late has been that seeing as I only have half an hour, why bother? I could have an extra hour in bed instead. That is not the attitude of a patch worker, I must do better.
A Wryneck is a dream of a patch bird for a London site like Wanstead. It turned up about 150m from where I have been predicting Wryneck, and where I have been looking for one in the mornings. So am I just annoyed I didn't find it? Well, a bit, yes. It would be odd if I were not. I also predicted the Dartford Warbler, was again out by roughly the same distance, and didn't find that either! Am I going to sink into a deep depression as a result? Only today, and typing this has made me feel much better. Tomorrow is another day, and I'll be out there. For at least twenty-five minutes!
Kestrel digesting Wryneck
Also depressing me slightly is news of a Pectoral Sandpiper. But surely this is good news?! Well yes, but the depressing part is that it's at Beddington. Beddington pulls in good bird after good bird, but takes so long to get to that I can never be bothered to schlep round there. Today is no different. Although I need it for London - ever, not just this year - I simply can't be bothered. At least I'm consistent though. They had a Lapland Bunting for several days earlier in the year, also a London tick, and I couldn't be bothered then either. This has gnawed at me ever since, and no doubt the Pec Sand will too.
What can I do such that birding will become stress free? I mean, all this angst is not why I go birding, it's ridiculous. Birding is meant to be fun. I enjoy it, and that's why I do it. But at the moment it seems a chore, and that's why I'm saying that next year I'm not doing any kind of listing. Mrs L apparently wants that in writing....
LATE EDIT: This afternoon while I was on the school run, Stuart phoned me from Wanstead Flats. Whilst looking for the Wryneck a Honey Buzzard had flown over his head. I give up. Any thoughts on a new hobby?
Wednesday, 15 September 2010
But yet again he wasn't winding me up, it was true! Puffin(us) Hell! In my desperation to get to 200, frankly you could tell me anything and I'd probably believe it eventually. I'm not sure which I drove faster to, the Plover, or today's Manx. It doesn't really matter, both were highly naughty. Allegedly.
On the old Sea-wall a small huddle of people were stood. Andy T, the finder, who had happened to glance at the river at a very opportune moment, got his scope lined up, my head slotted into position, and there it was, having a rather nasty time of it on the river. If you are a small sea-bird, a bay next to a rubbish tip with a large assortment of loafing larids is a very bad place to be. I genuinely feared for its life for about twenty minutes, before the gulls gave up and let it drift down the river. A Rainham, London and Essex tick, and a pretty astonishing one at that. I willed it to fly away! Er, I mean, I willed it to stick around - and not get eaten.
I thought it would be a 'tick and run' bird, but it was still there three hours after turning up. Shearing up the river, then drifting back down, and no doubt causing some nervousness amongst employed London Listers. Sunset is at 7:15pm, in case anyone is wondering.
Monday, 13 September 2010
Text from Kev at 06:40 saying something like "Did any of you see the Raven over Rainham just now?" Bugger.
Awake after getting Kev's text, and getting dressed, a phone call from Nick regarding a SEO flushed from long grass on the Flats. I legged it out of the house, but it had departed north. Doh. I have no-one to blame but myself, I should have been out there. Trouble is, with the mornings getting darker and Mrs "security-conscious" L still leaving for work at the same time, the time available for birding in the morning is becoming so short as to be unworthwhile. Why wake up at the crack of dawn for 20 minutes of birding? Well, how about for a Short-eared Owl on the patch? Quite.
I missed an Osprey by five minutes at Amwell yesterday. Surely lightning won't strike twice I thought, and went to Rainham instead. Yup.......
Wheatears are much nicer than Ravens, Short-eared Owls and Ospreys
Sunday, 12 September 2010
The notable incidents today had to do with security rather than birds. Dom had kindly dropped me off at a tube station in London after our abortive Osprey-watch, and I had managed to make it as far as Whipp's Cross Hospital. Whilst waiting for Mrs L and the kids to [lovingly] pick me up, I noticed a Magpie perching up quite nicely. I had the camera, and being at a loose end, got it out and started my approach. I had got half way when security appeared. Did I have permission to use a camera in the hospital? Well no, I didn't, but seeing as I was photographing a Magpie, I saw no need. But the buildings were in the background! I acknowledged the undeniable truth of this statement, and started taking photographs.
I was asked to stop, which I didn't. Honestly. Instead I asked Security whether they had anything better to do as I was taking photographs of a bird, not of patients, not of doctors, not of anything remotely sensitive. A phone conversation with a supervisor then ensued, which was a welcome relief and allowed me to correct for the +1 2/3 exposure compensation I had unwittingly dialled in from a Hobby in the sky at Amwell. I continued snapping, and then Mrs L arrived, wondering why there were men in day-glo jackets converging on me. Why do security people always take things far too seriously? Why can't they concentrate on actual security issues rather than trivia? Frankly I'll take photographs of birds wherever I damn well please, including in NHS hosital grounds that my taxes [used to] pay for. I got in the car, and we went home, where I discovered that perhaps security people had a use after all.
Keys in hand, I approached our front door to find it wide open. Eh? I walked in, expecting burglars stuffing lenses in their pockets. Nothing. Camera bag on the sofa where I had left it, TV still in place. What the...?
"Mrs L?", I enquired, "did you perhaps just walk out of the door, get into the car, and drive to Whipp's Cross?"
"Errr..." came the admission of guilt from Mrs L.
Unbelievable. So dear readers, if any of you fancy a new camera, some bird guides, or a multitude of un-opened cleaning supplies, just come round and help yourselves. My door is always open..... However you will need to get round the Whipp's Cross security personnel, who, on the basis that they perform no useful function at Whipp's, are now patrolling outside my house instead so that Mrs L need not be distracted with the complications of keys and shutting doors.
Saturday, 11 September 2010
First target was a Wilson's Phalarope at Grove Ferry in Kent, a place I have
Next stop Gosport in Hampshire, for the first Isabelline Shrike that I can remember in my short yet glorious twitching career. A mere two and a half hours later, Stuart (another local birder - one day I must do a post about the people that feature on here) and I arrived at the site and made our way to the small but growing crowd. Typically the bird had disappeared from view, but we soon had very good views of it feeding in a Hawthorn. I love Shrikes, have I mentioned that before? As the crowd jostled to get into the one position where you could see through a hole in the Hawthorn to see the bird in its entirety, the local youth turned up, for the bird was basically in the middle of a housing estate. Uncharacteristically, they started making fun of us. This made a middle-aged woman next to me very cross. "What a bunch of idiots", she said. I felt moved to point out that from a certain point of view, a lot of people dressed in green madly running around with telescopes were perhaps the ones that looked like a bunch of idiots. This made her even crosser, but it did at least shut her up, which was great as personally I prefer a bit of mild chanting to disapproving huffing and tutting.
I failed to get any decent pictures of either bird today, but I did manage one of the Gosport youf element which clearly demonstrates that they were not a bunch of idiots, as 'outraged of wherever' had claimed, but instead highly cultured young men with a considerable degree of finesse.
Thursday, 9 September 2010
Needless to say, the short window between delivery and pick-up has not afforded me any significant birding opportunities. There was a north London Wryneck earlier in the week that would have been gettable, but the finder declined to tell people where it was, so many thanks for that. Not that I'd have twitched it, obviously, as I simply don't twitch Wrynecks. Ever.
Despite the inevitable slant towards all matters domestic, for loads of washing, and bouts of dusting and vacuuming lend themselves well to short gaps between taxi trips, it has been a very enjoyable week. Topping the happiness charts by a clear margin this week has been the sheer exuberance of Pie, my big school girl. She has been waiting for this moment for months. Perhaps even an entire year. She's finally there (albeit for five minutes a day) and she is on cloud nine. You can see her blossoming daily, she is dressed in her school uniform and ready to go before I'm even up.
Next week we start properly, and I get to take and deliver children at the same time. What with Pudding in nursery for two days a week, by my calculation that's, errr, two days a week without children. The possibilities are frankly endless. For instance, I could go birding. Now there's a thought. And it's autumn, very dangerous. Back in the spring, I successfully twitched the Lesser Kestrel on the Suffolk coast. This is about the limit, distance wise, and builds in no time for traffic issues, nor any time for actually looking for the bird. It's basically got to be there as I arrive, sitting up in a bush cooperatively and showing salient features, and then I have to leave again.
But what it does mean is that a day spent bashing Wanstead Flats is eminently do-able. Ditto Rainham, and most places in Essex and London are in range with some time for actual birding.
40 Dunlin, 2 Knot - Rainham
Tuesday, 7 September 2010
Along the sea-wall, looking for Wrynecks that weren't there, I pondered what had gone wrong. with my awesome plan to mop up migrants after the storm. I had another quick look at the river. Two Black Terns were feeding in Aveley Bay. Fine, very nice, but I wanted something else. The Black Terns disappeared and were replaced by nothing.
The Woodland was alive with small birds. Blackcaps, Whitethroats, Lesser Whitethoats, and finally, after months of looking, a Garden Warbler, my 146th species on the reserve this year. I was very pleased about this, far more pleased than a Garden Warbler should make a person, but I couldn't help feeling that Barred Warblers, Icterine Warblers and Common Rosefinches were all notable by their absence.
The country is carpeted with scarce passage migrants. In the north-east, you can't move without treading on an Icterine Warbler. Ringers trap Barred Warblers whilst they're still unfurling their nets, and Spurn has a Wryneck on every other post. Cornwall has flocks of Ortolan Buntings, and as of this morning, Devon now has a self-sustaining colony of Glossy Ibis. Rainham has a Garden Warbler.
Still, Rainham has not done at all badly this year, with over 190 species, and I'm sure that eventually we'll get a trickle from the large recent arrival. I recorded sixty-six species this morning, and for all the lack of scarce stuff, it was a glorious morning in which to practice identifying birds on my own private stretch of the Thames, for I was utterly alone. I think I forgot to mention it in the last post, but there is only one way to get better at birding, and that's to be out there giving it a try. Get to know the common birds and (if they're there...big IF.....) the uncommon ones should hopefully stand out.
Monday, 6 September 2010
The failures are funnier, so let's start with them. On Porthgwarra recently, I spotted an auk flying by. It was pretty distant, as everything is, and squinting down my eyepiece, I called it a Guillemot. It didn't look totally black and white, I thought. Brett Richards had a quick look through his bins, or he may not even have been using them, and pointed out that it was a Razorbill. Not five minutes later, another auk came past, also spotted by yours truly. I felt it looked basically the same as the last one, so called it a Razorbill.
It was a Guillemot.
Based on this one incident alone, I am if anything getting worse. But sea-watching is hardly a fair test. I go sea-watching for perhaps three days a year, things are miles away, and I just don't see enough of them on a regular basis to make informed judgements. So what about normal birding? Have I made any monumental foul-ups recently of the Kingfisher/Robin variety? By the way, Curlew/Whimbrel doesn't count....
My friends and associates will perhaps be queuing up to provide examples, but I can't actually think of any off the top of my head. In the context of local patch birding, where you get most stuff on call, I'm doing OK. I had a slight Wood Warbler/Chaffinch issue in the spring, but made the correct call after persevering. I have not excitedly called out all the local birders to view a Common Sandpiper when in fact it was a funny Starling or anything, and so remain in relatively good standing.
But what about becoming sharper? Well, on my own I'm brilliant. Amazing. Good, ev-en. I am my harshest critic....With other birders - and generally I go birding with people with years of experience - I'm always the last to hear something, always last to pick up on something. I suppose this is to be expected, but it can be a bit annoying. They're just quicker. Better. I could, I suppose, find some beginner birders to go out with, and then I'd look really good, but what's the point in that? Happily, I have almost no birding ego to lug around. I'd far rather go out with people who know what they're talking about, and learn from them. If I lag constantly, so be it. One day I'm going to surprise them all.
By getting something right before they do!
Could you get this right?
Sunday, 5 September 2010
- Potty train Pudding before spring migration - DONE (15th April, but better late than never)
- Improve my cleaning skills in an undefinable way - YES, DEFINITELY.
- Find a new career that does not involve banks -.... NOT DONE. NOT EVEN REMOTELY...
Personal Goals (geeks may wish to skip this section)
- 2 new birds a month for a BOU list of 362 by 2011 - ADDED 15, 1 UNDER PAR
- 150 for Rainham in 2010 - 145, ON TRACK
- 100 in Wanstead again - 101, DONE
- 220 for London & 235 for Essex - 223 LONDON, DONE. 231 ESSEX, GETTING THERE.
- Get a haircut - DONE. TWICE. CLEAR OVER-PERFORMANCE.
- Become a better birder... - OOOOH, LOTS TO SAY!
So, Potty Training you know about. Easy. If you're new here, the glorious detail is recounted here and here.
The house looks nice, mostly, but is actually a tip. I have three children, without paid staff it is impossible to keep clean. I want a different goal.
My head is well and truly in the sand on the job front, but there have been two possible pointers. One is that I now have a column in Birdwatch magazine, thanks to this blog having been an advertising service for my ritten egnlish. This is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to do, but unfortunately cannot really be called a career. What I need to do is work out how I can expand this. Who else could I write for? Newspapers perhaps? Perhaps write a book? Truly I have no idea.
The second is that I finally got around to setting up that gallery website to showcase the best photos I have taken. In truth this took only a day, and I find myself wondering why I did it and what purpose it serves? Yes, I can take a half-decent photo of a bird if I can get close to it. And? Wildlife Photographers have portfolios consisting of thousands of images. I have about 150. How does one get thousands of images with three children in tow exactly?
What I would ideally like is a career where I can write lots and lots, which I find easy, go birding lots and lots, which I am finding easier, and take lots of nice photos, which I'm also finding easier. Oh, and get paid enough to live on for doing so. Answers on a postcard. I am honestly no closer to working out how to achieve this nirvana than I was six months ago, and am headed back to finance at this rate.
On the tick front, I've added 15 this year, including a memorable three tick day which got me back in the game. I'm currently one under par, but it's a curve rather than a flat line, so I'd expect to over-achieve in the autumn. It is mainly all down to luck.
Wanstead is on 101, so I'm done on that one and won't be going on the patch again this year. Rainham on the other hand is on 145, 146 if I include a Barnacle Goose, and in fact if I include the Cockatiel and the Zebra Finch, a mighty 148. Rainham is also probably the best place in which to get the remaining four birds I need to get 200 in London this year. Consequently I went there both days this weekend, and added one, a Curlew Sandpiper flying down-river. Although the possibilities for those four additional London birds are slim, there are still heaps I need for my Rainham year list. I'm confident of hitting 150 quite soon.
Because I've been going for more or less everything in London this year, this first goal turned out to be quite easy. The additions have been Marsh Tit, Slavonian Grebe, Pink-footed Goose, Dusky Warbler, Hawfinch, Hoopoe, Sandwich Tern, Wood Warbler, Quail, Common Rosefinch, White-tailed Plover, Arctic Skua, Kittiwake, and most recetly, Ortolan Bunting. Many of these would be quality birds anywhere, but in London, well it's nothing short of amazing. Of the fourteen, seven of them have been at Rainham. Without Rainham, my London list would be 176, although possibly I may have chased stuff elsewhere for a few more. It's a special place.
In Essex, I've added eleven. Both Wanstead and Rainham are in Essex, but they only account for three. However most of them were in London, and can be attributed to my foolish quest to see 200 birds there this year. Adding another four just in Essex should be easy. I have no idea why I set this goal. In fact I have no idea why I set any of the bird-listing goals, they are all pointless.
Haircuts, two. The latest was a mere four days ago, so I am now gloriously neat and trim, and no longer look like Susan Boyle. Winner.
And so we come to me becoming a better birder....