Wednesday, 30 June 2010


This post is not about eastern-european women that live (and perhaps work) in Wanstead. It is unashamedly about moths. What a departure I hear you say. Yeah, well. Anyway, last night was superb, and I have a new favourite moth:

It was so good that it deserves a full list, at least of the macros. New ones in bold: Buff Arches, 7 Heart and Dart, 5 Heart and Club, 2 Willow Beauty, Large Yellow Underwing, 2 Pale Mottled Willow, The Uncertain, 6 Riband Wave, Small Dusty Wave, Common Wainscot, Sycamore, Marbled Green, Dark Arches, Light Arches, a Minor agg., Common Marbled Carpet, Yellow Shell, and, most significantly of all, Scarce Silver-lines.

Scarce Silver-lines basically encapsualtes all you would want in a moth. It is a nice colour, it has no stupid patterns or dots that make it look like one of several hundred species, it is big, neat, and it is easily identifiable. And if that were not perfection enough, it also has pink antennae. Look!

Whilst this moth is going to take some beating, and in fact may never be surpassed, the Yellow Shell deserves an honourable mention.

Heart and Club

I couldn't believe it when the Scarce Silver-lines dropped onto the top of the trap. I knew it was a good one just from the size (big = good), but it's difficult to assess colour from the flourescent bulb, so I popped a pot over it and brought it inside to examine, whereupon I discovered I had one of my most wanteds. Divine intervention, presumably as a result of my extreme contrition at having laughed at that blind lady. It seemed very still, so I took a load of photos of it last night, and a few more this morning for good measure. Whilst it may be July tomorrow, I expect I will continue the mothing as it is really good fun, and bar the initial purchase of a trap (£74), is very inexpensive. Best of all, the trap is portable, so when I go down to Porthgwarra for my Albatross later in the year, I can use it there too.

I have at least twenty more like this. Be good or you'll get them.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

In which I am ashamed of myself

Today whilst waiting at the traffic lights, I observed a blind person with a white stick walk into a lamppost on the other side of the road. They were doing all of the stick-tapping, side-to-side and so on, but somehow they missed it and walked straight into it, bouncing back in a mildly shocked manner. Can you guess my first reaction? That's right, I laughed out loud.

I've felt guilty ever since, but there you have it, it just came out, there was nothing I could do about it. It was a giggly kind of snigger, cruel and twisted. "Why were you laughing?" came Pudding's voice from the back of the car. What could I say? That I just seen some helpless person smack themselves in the face with a metal pole? I didn't say anything, but as I sat there berating myself for being such an arsehole, I wondered if many people would have had the same involuntary reaction, and whether this could be used as some kind of test of character?

Take the Milliband issue for instance. Two brothers, both professional politicians, both campaigning for the leadership of the Labour Party. One of them, I forget which, has been accused by the supporters of the other one of having no empathy, no ability to connect with the common man. I wondered if on live television the two of them could be shown a clip of a blind person walking helplessly into a lamppost, and seeing which one giggled? Then I wondered what the answer to the test was? If the supposed narcissistic one sniggered, would that prove that he was indeed utterly lacking in human feeling, or that he was in fact perfectly normal? This then led me to think that perhaps I was normal, and not a git, but I still feel vaguely guilty...

Birds? Er, yes actually. Whilst emptying the moth trap with Muffin this morning, a Ring-necked Parakeet flew North-east over the garden, only the third ever record.
Anyway, back to the moths, it was another good night with 69 moths of 36 species, of which I've so far identified 20 and am working on the rest. For those of you interested in which moths inhabit my garden, I've created a page with a list on it. Lists are great. You can have lists of almost anything, and this has the potential to be a really long one, and for me to get multiple ticks per day for ages and ages.

Being out in the garden late at night every night trying to catch moths that come near but don't enter the trap, I've learned some very interesting things. The first is that my small area of Wanstead is home to about 85,000 Foxes, all of whom mate constantly, with all the howling that that entails.

Second is that the bottom of my garden is Toad heaven. Every night when I go out to start trapping, three or four toads trundle away from the trap. They are clearly intelligent animals. I have been moth-trapping going on three weeks now, and they have already learned that the trap is an excellent source of easy protein. They just sit there eating flies, and probably moths too when I'm not looking. When I settle down and keep still, they all start creeping back to the box, hungry for more. I might try and photograph one tomorrow, they seem fairly unafraid if I'm careful.

Not a Toad

I also have Frogs, though I didn't know it. It rained this morning, quite heavily. All of a sudden the garden was full of frogs. We don't have a pond, neither to my knowledge do the near neighbours, so I don't know where exactly they came from, but as soon as it rained, there they were, hopping all over the lawn (lawn being used here in the dried-brown sense of the word). They seemed pretty unafraid too, only hopping into the cover of the flowerbeds (here used in the weed-strewn sense of the word) when you got very close. Pudding got too close, crowded one out, and it hopped head-first into a large flower pot.... I sniggered....

"Mmmm, I love moths too. By the way, what are your feelings on anthropomorphism"

Monday, 28 June 2010

A Little Stunner

I am of course referring to this simply gorgeous Barred Yellow moth. When you saw the title what did you think you were going to get? Some candid playground photography? Come on now, it's still June, so that means there are still no birds in Wanstead. In a couple of days they will all suddenly reappear, of that I am sure.

So, a Barred Yellow then. I've been liking the green ones, and the Cinnabar was pretty cool as well, but this easily takes the prize for most attractive moth to grace my garden so far. Well, to grace my garden and that I have seen. They say that the average garden has about 500 species of moth in it. Having had my trap for about three weeks now, I am up to 108 species identified, with a further 20 or so defying me, all of which are small and boring-looking.

Right, it's Monday, so that means clean clean clean. Marigolds on, pinnafore adjusted, and away I go! Adios!

Friday, 25 June 2010

With apologies to the neighbours

At around 7am this morning, as is my wont, I was emptying the moth trap and photographing the contents. Happily engaged in positioning unidentifiable micros for the camera, I heard a familiar sound. Sure enough, the Turaco was in the neighbourhood.

I dashed inside, swapped macro for telephoto, and stood in the middle of the garden. Then I started whooping, quite loudly it must be said. Apologies to the neighbours. They needed to be up anyway so they could go work and support the economic recovery.

The Turaco came straight in, and I mean straight in. I couldn't help but smile as it perched on my fence, about ten feet away, and chuckled back at me. What a brilliant bird! I stepped back so I could focus, and snapped a couple of shots off. These are uncropped, and handheld at 1/160th. A minor miracle.

So there you go, a blog post with nary a mention of moths. And not gripping either, like yesterday's. Sorry about that.

PS Many thanks to those of you who so selflessly volunteered to assist me on the school run. Your reward is in heaven. Or possibly behind a nondescript front door in Wanstead.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Yes, I am bored

There are no birds to see, and even if there were, the particular type of pollen that my nose and eyes object to is off the scale today. I can barely go outside and I'm dreading the school run. And as for wondering what to put here, as Thing from Fulham says, in the total absence of bird-related material, I'm feeling vaguely guilty about posting yet more photos of moths up. Not guilty enough though...

Here is one I caught a couple of days ago. VERY exciting, it being my first plume moth.

Lets look at that from another angle. Yup, wow. Imagine if it were six foot long!

Anyway, keep admiring the Platyptilia pallidactyla, I have to pick up number one son from school, and who knows what excitement that might bring.


Right, I'm back, and actually there is some interesting news. Well, depends on your point of view I suppose, but it is at least news. It needs some lead-in though, so bear with me.

There is a child at the school - no, really - who is in a different class to Muffin. I don't know which one, and it doesn't matter. The child is from somewhere in Eastern Europe, I don't know where. It is not the child I am going to talk about though, it is its mum. Occasionally I coincide with the mum. She is always on the phone, which is how I know she is from Eastern Europe somewhere. On the way into the school, on the way out of the school, the phone never leaves her ear. I have never heard her even talk to her offspring, she has always been on the phone. She is blonde, very thin, and in bird-speak, has extremely distinctive primary projections. She also wears very interesting outfits. I would not like to speculate on what her career might be, but one of the more popular outfits is a pink velvet crop-top tracksuit with "juicy" written in sparkly gold writing across the backside. A fetching Leopard-skin print leotard is another favourite. Today's outfit was a new one though, some kind of figure-hugging blue mini-dress, but with a difference. On the front, at the top of the front, where many people might have expected dress material to be, was some kind of drawstring contraption. Kind of like shoelaces, but for breasts. Don't forget that I am on the school run here, in the playground. I am not in Soho at 1am on a Friday night. At the moment, the child is probably only about seven, and thus entirely unconcerned that his mother comes to pick him up looking like some kind of cross between an oligarch and a prostitute. I just snigger quietly at the ever-increasing inappropriateness of the outfits, but many of the mums on the school run wear more material round their heads than she wears in a week, and I can imagine that they might find this rather disturbing. Anyway, the interesting news is that today's staggering outfit revealed that her left (and strangely spherical) boob has a tattoo of a heart with four lightning bolts coming from it. Classy.

At this point I expect many of you are crying out for a photo. I am not going to disappoint. Here is a Blotched Emerald. Pretty nice eh?

Monday, 21 June 2010

A Domestic Day

I am about to crack open a bottle of white. I deserve it. Today has seen mopping, dusting, four loads of washing, washing-up, vacuuming, plant-spraying, toilet-cleaning, and general tidying. The reason for this uber-activity? Simple. Muffin's crictical friend was coming to play, and I was damned if I was going to get pulled up on cleanliness by a six year-old again. Though I dismissed the comments last time, deep-down they stung, and I was determined to do better this time. I think I succeeded. There were no refreshingly candid comments about how we live in filth, although equally he didn't say it was lovely and shiny either. I did fail on one item though, which was dinner. He didn't eat the sausages. He didn't eat them last time either, they were either too fat or too thin. Yes, a child that carries calipers in order to judge the edibility of sausages. I couldn't remember which it was, and didn't really care anyway, so plumped for fat.

I guess he likes chipolatas.

"I only eat seeds with a maximum dimension of 3mm by 6mm. Got it?"

Sunday, 20 June 2010

My Day

Another June weekend goes by with not a lot happening. Today being Father's Day, I invoked my prerogative and went out. First stop Barking for the presumably returning Ruddy Shelduck. Paul guided me through the river wastelands to a good vantage point, but didn't mention the assault course that I had to negotiate to actually access the river. Thankfully both I and the camera survived and once over the sea-wall I found myself right on Barking Bay. There were 158 Common Shelduck and the one Ruddy Shelduck feeding on the Mud, viz:

I suspect I won't be able to count it for my London year-list, but you never know, and anyway they're nice birds. I remember dashing to Cliffe for one a few year back when I was really wet behind the ears (in the twitching sense). I finally found it on the Flamingo Pool, about as far from where you leave the car as you can get, and recall feeling dead chuffed I'd scored. Then I came home and did my reading. Ah. These days of course, I do my reading first.

As I made my way back to the car, the resident Oystercatchers flew overhead, circling round and calling constantly. They must have young nearby, as anything that came near got seen off. Naturally I took a few shots. About 150 in fact. Same story as yesterday, too many. Sorry.

Next stop Rainham, which was devoid of birds. I gave it some time but my heart wasn't in it, and I spent a couple of hours near the woodland trying (and failing) to get a Cetti's Warbler in the viewfinder. On the way home Mrs L called with the excellent news that my Mother in Law was coming over and would be staying the night, thus rounding off a superb day.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Patch and a Problem.

The patch is hardly on fire, but I felt that I hadn't been so long it was worth a trip. Mainly to see if it was still there. Frankly they could have razed the Flats to the ground and I would have been none the wiser. It was. Still there I mean.

I have been known to moan about June before, but my walk around Wanstead Park and across Wanstead Flats was very pleasant. OK, so it was quiet on the bird front, but that was to be expected. So rather than discover a first-for-Britain mega-vagrant, I concentrated on photography. This is becoming a bit of a problem as far this blog is concerned. You may have noticed that the number of photographs on here has increased somewhat of late. Almost exponentially in fact. This was never my intention. It was supposed to be a light-hearted take on birding in Wanstead, complete with snippets from my oh-so-exciting life. I've been going for nearly eighteen months now, and naturally it is becoming harder to find stuff to write about. Traditionally this is the moment that bloggers say "I'm done, finished, thank you and good night!"

That would have been a surprise wouldn't it?! Well, I'm not there yet. Sorry. Worry about staying fresh, agonise about becoming a slave to my blog? Hah! Not a chance, I am more than happy to regurgitate, recycle, drone on ad infinitum. But the compulsion to post photo after photo is beginning to annoy even me, so lord knows how you feel about it.

I'm not sure what to do. Take this afternoon by way of example. I was out for about four hours. During that time I took 443 photos. For the mathmos amongst you, that's one every 32.5 seconds. After my first edit, I binned 369, leaving 74. My keeper rate is about 17%. After my second edit, I was left with just 13 that I reckon are good enough to put somewhere. Here, generally. So even with a final keeper rate of just 2.9%, I still have way more photos than I know what to do with. Usually I just bung them up here and hope for the best, but I can see that it must get a little repetitive. Especially as most of them are of ducks.

Where was I? Oh yes. The problem of having too many photos and being at a loss as to what to do with them. Much as I'd like to be a full-time photographer, I'm under no illusions as to my limitations, and quite how good you have to be to stand out, let alone make it pay. Whilst there is no substitute for practice, and god only knows I get quite a lot, there is a huge gulf between what I produce and what the professionals are consistently capable of. One of the projects I've had on the back burner for a while is for a gallery-style website where I can display them all, and thus spare the blog. But I've ranted before now about how everyone is a wildlife photographer these days, trying to flog second-rate photos, so it would seem rather hypocritical for me to do it too. That said, I've never let hypocrisy stand in my way, so I'll do it.

Good, glad that's all sorted. A weight off my mind I can tell you. I'll post a link in due course and I expect the orders for photos of Mallards and Canada Geese to come flooding in.

So, back to my walk around Wanstead. Obviously these days I can't go anywhere without finding a moth, and so it proved again this afternoon. The brambles in Reservoir Wood are currently supporting an immense population of Longhorn moths - specifically the catchily-named Nemophora degeerella. They have the most amazingly long antennae, up to five times their body length. It would be like me having ears twenty-five feet long. There were easily a hundred in one relatively small patch, dancing about in the sunlight together. You know what? Now would seem like the perfect opportunity to display a photo of the aforementioned moth....

After burning through a couple hundred shots of Mallards and so on (all hail the digital revolution!), a sustained shower forced to me to seek shelter under the overhanging roof of the Tea Hut of Happiness. I supped a mug of tea and watched the rain clatter down for few minutes. As I leant against the wall watching a group of House Martins feeding low over Heronry Pond, and eight partially grown Mute Swan Cygnets swimming in a line behind one of their parents, I reflected that June was OK really. But that it would soon be July.

Gratuitous and Unnecessary (Copies available at £4.99 + VAT)

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Nothing to report

Not quite nothing, but as a measure of just how interesting my life is at the moment, let me offer you the following highlights:

1) The Dyson died. Again. I blame the children. I say "again" because Dyson #1 in our life (2001-2009) died last year after a good innings. Dyson #2 (2009-2010) was swapped for two crisp ten pound notes via a popular auction house last year, and lasted 6 months. Dyson #3 (this evening-?) was again swapped for two crisp tenners, and it had bloody well better last longer than the last one. Actually this is a low-light.

2) I did the Wanstead Flats butterfly transect again today. Two Meadow Browns over the whole circuit. Almost unbelievably this is fewer butterflies than the last transect, which netted just three. I see a pattern emerging whereby my next outing will result in one butterfly, and all subsequent trips will get nothing. I see more butterflies sat in a deckchair on my terrace. Thinking about it, this was a low-light too. In the almost total absence of butterflies, I used the Macro lens on the kids with acceptable results given its unsuitability.

3) Yesterday I twitched the Blue-winged Teal at Fen Drayton. Although I have already seen one this year, I went because this one was an adult drake. It showed brilliantly, but then chose to waddle out of the water and display a nice ring on its leg. Low-light. This isn't necessarily a record-killer, but I doubt it will help. Smart bird, but had I known in advance I wouldn't have gone.

4) A Little Egret flew over the car on the way back from the school run this morning. It would not have been visible from the house, but it didn't miss by much and is easily the closest one has got. So near and yet so far. Perfectly rationally, this had me mildly annoyed for the rest of the day. Low-light.

5) My fruit and veg intake today consisted of one dill pickle, 4 slices of cucumber, and a strawberry. I also consumed two packets of crisps, four sausages, and a chicken and bacon slice. And some cheese. If we had had any biscuits I would have eaten them too. I searched, but came up empty-handed.

So there you have it, all that is worthy of mention over the last couple of days. Do I feel better for typing it? No, not really. Do you feel better for having read it?

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Oh good, just what we needed.

Today I ventured further afield, to Valentine's Park in Ilford. I wanted to see the nesting Herons, apparently the first nearby for quite some time. The pond they have chosen is tiny, Heronry Pond in Wanstead Park would be far more suitable. Jealous, moi? The nest was predictably massive, and though I've never been there, very easy to find. The chicks are full-sized now and with five birds I am amazed there is any aquatic life left. Perhaps they could start on the squirrels? These were not backwards in going forwards, often approaching to within about 5cm of us, and thus scaring Pudding. A lot. I don't know what I have done to deserve this but all of my children are scared by almost all living creatures. As an animal lover (excluding Wanstead-based dogs) and amateur naturalist this pains me a great deal. Happily we avoided a Veruca Salt moment...

Anyway, it's rather nice, much more manicured than Wanstead Park. If you have low listing standards you should pay a visit, as it also has Muscovy and Wood Ducks. It also has lots and lots of Coot chicks. Fantastic. Some more docile, calm, friendly and good-natured Coots, how lovely. Agressive to the point of scary? You must have the wrong bird. When I look at Coots playfully chasing each other across lakes and ponds, a feeling of intense calm washes over me. I just wish there were more of them.

"Resistance is futile"

Monday, 14 June 2010

Gah!! There are insects in the fridge!!

"Why is my fridge full of moths? It's the family fridge. It's for food, not insects."

All of a sudden the fridge belongs to Mrs L. Cute. She barely goes near it week in week out, except for milk, but when I happen to put a moth (or thirty) in there, straight away it's a violation of her territory. I don't see the problem. The moths are stored in little pots - tantalisingly and cruelly close to the jam - it's not like I'm trying to create Butterfly World in there is it? But no, it's her fridge, and she's not happy.

Once upon a time, in my wild and younger days, I had my own fridge. It was a beer fridge, and it was exclusively for beer. It was in my play-room, before we had children. I had a room all to myself. It contained a fantastic leather reclining armchair that had belonged to my Grandfather. One of those ones you lean back in and a foot-rest swings out. I had my computer to play stupid games on, a pile of books, a hi-fi, and my beer fridge. Music on, feet up, swig beer. Those were the days! Where did my life go? I'd have been hopping mad if she'd have filled it with moths of course. Or wool.

Then we had our fist child. As if in protest, the beer fridge started to rust and we had to throw it out, despite it's continuing refrigerative prowess. I guess the writing was on the wall for that fridge. Then we moved house, and I lost my play-room too. These days I am confined to a small area in the kitchen, two foot square. That's officially my space. It's conveniently in front of the computer, so I am forced to write blog posts all day long. Shucks.

Anyway, back to the here and now, as it's pretty thrilling. Last night was a landmark night for the moth trap. Over 50 moths, and nearly 30 species. It has taken me most of the day to go through them, admittedly in fits and starts, but I am mostly there and only two still defy identification. Oh, and so do the three that flew away, lulling me into a false sense of security by pretending to be asleep, and then "waking-up" as soon as I took the lids off the pots to photograph them. Needless to say I have many many photographs of moths from today, however I'll spare you as most of them are browny and boring-y. I did take the Macro lens off the camera momentarily when a group of Starlings came in to eat Mahonia berries. It's been two days since this blog had a Starling photo on it, and I'm sure that like me you'll agree that that's far too long.

Let's face it, on the birding front there isn't a great deal going on, you have to take what you can get. Especially on this blog. On the offchance that there are any geeks reading this, the Starling photo was handheld at 1/200th of a second (which sounds nano but isn't), just a casual point and shoot from the terrace, making my heavy-duty carbon fibre tripod look pretty stupid. Also making it look redundant is this photo of a Red Admiral. Again handheld - sometimes it just works I guess. If you're taking notes, also at 1/200th, but with a shorter lens and therefore theoretically easier. It was at f8 if you care. You don't? Oh.

Tell you what, how about a photo of the Tottenham Rosefinch that was my 218th London tick and 184th for the year? Oh no, my mistake, it didn't show for hours and hours and hours, and I lugged my camera about for no good reason whatsoever. Still, a London tick is a London tick, photographed or not, and by all accounts Common Rosefinch is a pretty good one. I was on the phone to Paul W gripping him off letting him know the good news that it was still present when what I'm fairly certain was it flitted through my bins, hopping down into the back of the large bush that we were all looking at. When I'd hung up I mentioned this, and a chorus of "There's a Sedge Warbler in there" came back from the assembled twitchers. A vote of confidence if ever I heard one...

Saturday, 12 June 2010


Les Oiseaux du Jardin

Ce matin j'ai enfin nailé le Noir-beret. Il (pas elle!) est venu manger les berries sur mon bush. Le-voici. Mmmmmm.

Très bien. Next, le Noir-oiseaux, Ou peut être l'Oiseaux-noir. Merle noir? Eh? Quoi-ever. Oiseaux-noir est beaucoup mieux.

Suivi par monsieur Vert-finch:

Et finalement, l'Étoile-ling.

Stupide? Moi?

Friday, 11 June 2010


I'm in Birdwatch Magazine again this month. Just warning people who may know me so as to avoid any unpleasant suprises. At least one person I know got rather a shock first time around. His issue plopped onto the doormat, whereupon he retired to the smallest room in the house for a quick flick through... Anyway, in this issue, I wax lyrical about the patch I haven't visited for over a week now. Can't say any more than that, go and buy it, it's really really good and I guarantee you won't be disappointed. Ahem.

I'm afraid it's true though, I have not been out on the patch all week. In my defence, it is June, but that is still pretty poor. So basically as you're reading about how working a patch is worthy and rewarding, try not to let the thought that the author is a total hypocrite spoil it for you. I'll tell you what, I'll go out now, and spend the whole of the next week there, camping, so that as you read it, you'll know I'm actually out there, finding Blue Tits and Starlings and generally having a birding extravaganza.

But first, let me just empty this moth trap....

This is part of the reason for my lax patch attitude (that, and the fact it's really dull/June at the moment). My early mornings are spent sifting through my new moth trap rather than out on the patch. Honestly, it is incredibly addictive. Every morning is like Christmas Morning, you just don't know what you're going to get. Last night, the weather was rather poor - cold and with a strong breeze. Experienced moth-ers probably don't even bother trapping in these conditions, but my enthusiasm is still burning bright, and I'm glad I did.

I usually stand next to the trap for the first half an hour or so, a habit which will no doubt fade in time, and just as turned to go back to the house, an enormous "thud" caused me to turn excitedly. It was in the trap! I could see a dark shape, and egg-boxes being roundly scattered by this juggernaut:

Wow! Last year,
on the very first night that I set up my "Bonneau du Martray Grand Cru" Trap, I caught one of these, and last night I felt no less of an adrenalin rush.

BTW, I've just read my old post about June being rubbish and that first night moth-trapping, and reassuringly I called myself a hypocrite in it then too. If you get the feeling that I am just constantly rehashing old material, it's just a figment of your imagination....

As I was examining the Poplar Hawk Moth, there was another enormous "thud", this time from the greenhouse wall. I could see something struggling feebly in the long grass I haven't cut. I quickly popped a jar over it and scooped it up. Brought it inside for a look but all I could see was a large twig. "That's a bit funny", I thought, "I could have sworn there was a moth there?" Keen moth-ers will by now have guessed. Non moth-ers may well have navigated to a birding blog....

Aaaanyway, a Buff-tip.

Not quite as enormous as the Hawk Moth, but every bit as interesting. A substantial moth, with incredible camouflage, though to be fair it doesn't really work on an egg box. It seems to have lost half of one antennae, perhaps in the collision with my greenhouse, or perhaps from an earlier mishap. The first I have ever seen, and I hope to get a lot more - I just hope they don't hit me when they come in. Right, that's enough about birding in Wanstead, I'd better get busy with being domestic. I want the house to sparkle for Mrs L tonight. Then I can go out birding tomorrow with no fear of retribution.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Staying Local

Very local, my back garden in fact. Today was quite exciting because I discovered an adult Goldcrest feeding young Goldcrests in the Yew tree right at the bottom of the garden. I am such a great birder that the young are fully fledged and this is the first I knew of it. They could have been nesting in the Yew, or they could just have come in as a group and be using the Yew. Who knows, and it doesn't really matter, though secretly I would be thrilled if they had been nesting. When they've cleared off I'll investigate the Yew for evidence, but for now let's assume that they have, as it makes me feel happy. So, nine Blue Tits in the nest box at the front, and conjecturally, at least two Goldcrest in the back garden. My garden is a paradise.

A messy paradise. When I discovered the Goldcrests I was just having a wander around making a mental list of things that needed doing. Mainly this is hacking things back. It's still very much a mental list, so requires no action, a purely theoretical exercise along the lines of "If I could be bothered to do some gardening, this is what I would do"

Even more locally, about fifty feet closer to the house in fact, the Moth Trap was on fire last night. It pulled in a mighty 31 moths of (up to) 22 species. I managed to identify 11, including two splendid new ones, a Brimstone, and a Clouded Silver. The ones I am stuck on are posted on my Picasa album here and if you are feeling bored helpful I would very much appreciate any pointers you might have as to what they are. It's very important - another list of stuff I've seen.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Heath Fritillaries. Done.

Everyone else has a blog post about Heath Fritillaries, and always a trend-setter, I thought I would too. First of all I started thinking that no, people would be bored by yet more butterflies, but then I thought that the blog had been a bit bird-heavy in the last few days, what with the excitement of Marmora's Warbler and so on, and that it was high time for a bit of a come down. It is June afterall. Butterflies it is then.

I've been meaning to go to Hockley Woods in Essex for a long time. Birds kept getting in the way, for which I apologise. I know you don't come here for that. Pudding and I went for a little walk with a picnic. Sausage sandwiches to be precise. We had a barbeque yesterday and don't feel that we have yet consumed enough protein. She sat and stuffed her face with this nutritious meal, and I got down to business with the Fritillaries. Win win.

Yet again, very obliging, really sat and posed rather nicely. You might think that one photo of a Heath Fritillary would be enough, and you might well be right. On the other hand, you don't know the password and I do. So, four photos then.

Not wishing to bore you to death with Butterflies, I thoughtfully pondered what else you might like. Birds? Nah, boring. Tales of domestic bliss? Interesting, but so last year. Then I found this beetle. Job's a good'un.

Cardinal Beetle

Saturday, 5 June 2010

7 Days, 1500 miles

I feel horrible, unclean. Whereas May was a damp squib as far as rarities go, June has thus far been sensational. The downside is that I appear to have spent most of the month in the car.

So, you know about the (sodding) Little Bittern, and you know about the mad dash up to Norfolk for the Trumpeter Finch. What you may not know is that my car has basically repeated both of those journeys in the last two days. Twitching = madness.

At a loose end on Friday, it was my firm intention to go and find Adonis Blue Butterflies on some hill in Surrey. As I drove around the M25, the pager kept telling me about a Marmora's Warbler showing well in Gwent. Showing Well. The plan had been to go with the boys at the weekend, five up, save money on fuel and have a great day out. But it was showing well. Still showing well. Aarrrgh!

I cracked, drove past the Butterflies, out to the M4, over the Severn Bridge again, and onwards to Gwent, arriving a mere matter of minutes later (about 180). A glorious day on the Brecon Beacons, and the bird did indeed show well, but I couldn't help but wonder why I had just burned all that money on fuel when I could have waited an extra day and still seen it. Turns out there was a good reason.

Today, Saturday, whilst the boys were on the M4, news of four Black-winged Stilts at Titchwell came out. Difficult to twitch from the back seat of a Subaru heading west on the M4, my cunning plan of going to Gwent yesterday had paid off, and I was able to spend another happy four hours driving up and down the same road to Norfolk that I driven up and down earlier in the week. Genius. But Black-winged Stilt was one of my top targets, and having been away for every convenient bird over the last few years, including the one at Rainham in April, I was not going to miss these ones.

I didn't miss them, and in fact four had turned into five by the time I got there. Yet another meaningless UK tick, splendid. I took Muffin, and bar missing a Gull-billed Tern at Titchwell by about half an hour, we had a great day. I was a proud dad today. I let him have the scope, and he found his own Marsh Harrier in a tree, and then two Little Gulls on the scrape. Called them totally confidently, no help required. A standard Titchwell visitor sidled up to me and asked where the Little Gull was, he couldn't bring himself to ask a six year old for help. I wish now that I'd said I didn't know what they looked like either and to ask my son; an opportunity missed.

Back home now after 1500 miles, almost half of them solo. Ouch. Poorer in some ways, but richer in others....

This was in the garden the other day. Tomorrow, I'll be there too. Unless a Roller turns up.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The News in Brief

Moth Hating

My moth trap arrived yesterday morning. I finally cracked and bought a budget one with proper electrics after my home-made trap went a few nights with diddly squat, and at 300W, expensive diddly-squat. I quickly put it together and then spent the rest of the day waiting for it to get dark, which took AGES.

Up at five this morning, I tripped excitedly down the stairs and out into the garden, expecting to be awash with the majority of Wanstead's moth population. Three moths. Not three thousand, not even three hundred. Just three. THREE?!!! Pitiful, and very disappointing indeed. The description and accompanying pictures on the website I bought it from showed a catch-box almost overflowing with lovely pink Elephant Hawkmoths, and I get three beige ones. It's like fast food. Famished, you are enticed in by the photo in the window of a two-foot tall burger, crisp lettuce leaves still with dew on. You pay your money, getting hungrier by the second, oh the anticpation, and finally are passed a plastic bun containing a wafer-thin burger with a smear of ketchup, and a limp blob of decomposing green stuff poking feebly out of the side masquarading as the lettuce. Rubbish.

I'm sitting here thinking what might have gone wrong. Was it too cold last night? Perhaps I didn't place the egg boxes correctly? Was the trap even in the right place? Was it too obscured by foliage? Am I just crap?

The three moths? Well, one flew off before I could even photograph it, no change there but remember this is a full 33% of my catch. One I still can't identify, again, no change there, and the final one I have nailed as a Common Swift, which is great, but is going to play havoc with my photographic filing system.

We shall what tomorrow brings. In the meantime, have some garden wildlife that isn't an unidentified beige moth.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Can you do this?

I've tried, and I can't. Shame, as I could see it being quite useful


Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Oooh, Aaah

A quick dash after work (ahem) for the male Trumpeter Finch was a stunning success yesterday evening. I even took the Dipmonkey and still scored. I'd arrranged with Shaun to hold off during the day and go up together, and then the Monkey decided he would like to come too, despite not needing the bird. Fair enough though, the more the cheaper, er I mean merrier. And to make up the team, Muffin came too, keen to add to his list of rarities.

After waiting for Shaun to make a cup of tea, have a shower and clean his van, we were off! I was slightly worried that by arriving at 7pm the bird might have gone to roost, but I needn't have worried, and there were reassuring pager messages all the way up.

It is fair to say that the Cley Square was having a rather good evening. In addition to the Trumpeter Finch on the shingle at the end of the East Bank, there was a Thrush Nightingale at Walsey Hills, which is basically at the opposite end of the East Bank. Less than a mile east, a Marsh Warbler was singing at Gramborough Hill, and less than half a mile west, an adult male Red-backed Shrike was at Cley Coastguards. Wanstead eat your heart out.

We were obliged to go and see the Trumpeter Finch first, it being the "biggie", and after a brief slog over the shingle we were able to spend some quality time with it. It first showed very well on the fence below the ridge, and then fed right in front of us. For a bird that is pink, its ability to disappear against the shingle is amazing.

The lure of the Red-backed Shrike eventually proved too much, and we had to tear ourselves away. We left Shaun to try for the Thrush Nightingale which he still needs (the rest of us having seen one years ago), and drove the short distance to Cley Coastguards. Wow. Shrikes, you just can't beat them, and there is not much to trump an adult male Red-backed. We drank it in. Much as a Trumpeter Finch is very very rare, and pink, both qualities that appeal to me, the Shrike immediately pushed it off the top spot.

Another tick for Muffin, poor kid. Shaun was having no luck with the Thrush Nightingale, so we went and picked him up and returned to the Shrike so he could enjoy it too. Then we had a choice between standing around hoping the Thrush Nightingale would show (or sing), or standing around hoping that the Marsh Warbler would show (or sing). In the event we did neither, and went and got Fish and Chips. I don't think we missed much, certainly the Thrush Nightingale was neither seen nor heard again, although I think the Warbler did show briefly. Nevermind. Of the four birds on offer, I saw my first two choices. And in fact if I'd have dipped the Finch and just seen the Shrike, I'd have been perfectly happy.

Muffin had a great time - he got to be one of the boys. He's a proper birder, not like the three of us. Whilst we were running down the East Bank, he was stopping and looking at the resident birds. Avocets, Redshanks in flight, BT Godwits, Eygptian Geese. For a six year old, his identification skills are rather good. Satisfyingly good I might add.