Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Better late than never

Well, at long long last the wait is over. Almost anticlimactic, but today two Northern Wheatears graced our humble patch. The Wheatear anticipation chart, were it to be represented as a graph, would see the excitement curve building from about mid-February, hitting the top of the chart by about the first week in March. It would hover near the top for about ten days, ten days of very early morning starts, and then as the Wheatearless days continue, gradually begin to decline. I have to admit that personally I was well on the downward slope. I've been smashing the Flats almost every day since the 7th of March, and every day I have come home disappointed.

Not so today. I was actually on the way home, about to turn onto the main track through the Skylark area, when I espied some birds in a distant Hawthorn. They looked to be Mipits, but on the point of lowering my bins one made a brief sally, and a pulse-quickening flash of white seared itself on my retina. Could it be? I didn't really believe that it could, my brain has been well and truly Wheatear-addled for some time now, but on getting closer there was no doubt. I phoned Tim, and as I did so a second bird popped up before dropping down again. Two Wheatears! I phoned Nick, on the other side of the Flats, and then went to talk to the two Wheatears in the manner of a worried but cross parent.

"Where have you been? The other birders and I have been worried sick. You were told to be here no later than March 15th, and it's the 30th now. We've been waiting and waiting, not knowing if anything had happened. We tried phoning you but you're not evolutionarily sophisticated enough. Terrible thoughts go through your head, so you know what sunshine? You're grounded 'til further notice!"

The Wheatears took off and promptly disappeared, the equivalent of a truculent teenager barging their way out past you and slamming the front door. Tim then arrived to no Wheatears, but luckily Nick picked them up a few minutes later near West Copse (which had an entirely predictable male Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in it by the way). We made our way over to see Nick pointing at them flying off, but we couldn't see them and half an hour of searching produced nothing more than Meadow Pipits. At least someone else saw them though, as I didn't have my camera - a deliberate (and successful) strategy designed to tease out Wheatears into performing right in front of me.

Nonetheless, after this long wait it would seem churlish not to have a photo of a Wheatear, so here is one from last year. It doesn't really matter. Wheatears, now,  are like, y' know, so last year. Innit.

Back home, writing this, tapping feverishly at the keyboard in the excitement* of being able to share this with you, my phone rang. Oh, had Nick refound the Wheatears?

"Ring Ouzel!!"

"Gah!" I replied, or something equally eloquent, and hurried to put my shoes back on. Apparently I then ran out the door shouting something about Ouzels and no I didn't want a tea. As you probably gathered, I'm back now, and pleased to say that I got it - a typically smart male, and in the exact area that they always get in. Whether or not it is one of the same birds returning to a favoured stop-off location we will never know, though it is tempting to speculate. Though you would not be able to tell, I took my camera this time, so am able to bring you this masterpiece. This is almost an exact replica of a photo from a previous year. Same football pitch, might even be the same bird.

Patch birding - there is nothing more exciting.


* you had to be here

Monday, 28 March 2011

A short word on not year-listing

Can I just say that I am amazing. A-ma-zing. The self-control being exercised in the environs of Wanstead is frankly sensational. For the benefit of all you non-believers out there I added up my yearlist yesterday and it's 121, the latest bird being a Blackcap. OK, so the Short-toed Treecreeper was fairly gratuitous, but seriously, 121? That's amazing - amazingly frugal.

By way of comparison, last year, when I wasn't year-listing, #121 was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker on January 12th. January 12th!!! The year before that, when I was year-listing, #121 was a Snow Bunting. On January 4th!!!!!! January 4th?! I must have been out. of. my. mind. Were I to add this year's list to Bubo, I would barely be in the top 100. That, ladies and gentlemen, is restraint. Supreme restraint.

I'm doing less well on the twitching. I've cracked on almost every bird, though I have only gone grudgingly, and then only well after news has broken and I am assured of relative calm and tranquility. I left the Lesser White-fronted Goose several months, the Slaty-backed Gull and Oriental Turtle Dove several weeks, and the Short-toed Treecreeper several, er, hours. In my defence, it was at least the next day. I admit to feeling pretty smug as I stood in that bloke's kitchen in Chipping Norton looking at the Dove twenty minutes after I arrived, recalling that I declined a lift the day after news broke, and thus avoided standing for seven hours in a queue of seven hundred identically dressed dippers. But the fact remains that I have seen almost every tick going, the exception being far-flung Gyrs, and a Pacific Diver in Cornwall. Not sure what to say, except that they have all been on my terms, a small victory perhaps.

Following the Birdwatch article about relaxed birding, the standard greeting when I bowl up somwhere is "Oh, I thought you weren't twitching anymore?"  I still feel weak, but I never said I wouldn't twitch, I just said I'd be more selective, and that whatever I did had to be enjoyable. Hence no Pacific Diver, which although it would have been a shoe-in, was simply too far away - too much time in the car to see a speck floating off Marazion that might have a chin-strap. The Treecreeper, whilst admittedly dull as ditchwater, only took an hour to get to, showed well enough to actually spot field marks, and then we got to spend some quality time on the beach in the sunshine. Anyway, didn't your parents or teachers at school tell you never to believe anything you read in the press?

Here, have a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, we've got loads.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Wheatear Angst

Another eight hours on the patch produced no Wheatears. Chiffchaffs are pretty much in, Blackcaps are building, the first dribbles of Sand Martins are passing through, but the one bird that truly heralds the start of spring continues to defy us all. From what I can glean from reading other blogs and chatting to other patch workers, the picture is the same across London and elsewhere. Everything is delayed, nowhere has yet seen a proper arrival. I'm sure it will happen, but I've done more than a few 5am starts of late, and what with the mothing starting in earnest, the candle is being well and truly burnt at both ends. At some point they'll meet, and I'll just vanish or something.

That said, I do love this time of year. The mornings are crisp, the days warming, promise (unfulfilled) hangs heavy in the air. Eyes to the sky, eyes to the ground. Where to look? Today it was all about the sky. It had been a slow morning, with only two Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, and I was on the point of heading back home when Nick picked up a large raptor coming in from the south. Initially the thought was Buzzard, but once bins were raised it was apparent that Wanstead's second Red Kite in a fortnight was cruising slowly north. I quickly alerted Tim, guiding a spring migrant (as if) walk in the Park. Whilst he sought a vantage point with his group, it veered east over the City of London Cemetery, so another call to advise of the change of course, and he picked it up whilst still on the phone. It ended up flying right over the top of them near the Old Sewage Works, so some lucky punters.

Feeding the birds, Wanstead Style. You have no idea how much this annoys me.
Flushed by this success, we went in search of Wheatears that might have dropped in now that the weather had improved. Nada. A quick stop chez moi for refreshments, and then on to the SSSI with thoughts of Buzzard. Amazingly, within about a quarter of an hour I picked up two thermalling very high, drifting gradually west. I love it when a plan comes together, as someone once said. The big sky day was rounded off perfectly with one of the incredibly irritating model aircraft that buzz like incessant aeriel lawnmowers over the Flats at weekends suddenly losing power and plummeting to the ground near Long Wood. A tragedy.
You have no idea how much this pleases me.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Beachwear Illustrated

Another day of glorious sunshine, what better than a trip to the beach with a picnic?  Even with a stiff breeze blowing on the Suffolk coast, it was very pleasant to be outside. We made a sand and pebble castle, ate the picnic, collected some shells, climbed some anti-tank masonry, and generally had a bit of a run around.

Aren't we having a nice time! But wait a minute, what are all those people doing behind you?

Look at them Pudding! They all seem to be wearing muted green and blue clothing. Oh, and that guy is in camo! Have we somehow lucked out on an outdoor fashion parade?

How strange, they all look like they're peering through a fence. I wonder what they're looking at? Shall we go and see?

Look, they've got telescopes and stuff. Oh wait a minute, are these what they call, er, what's the word, oh yes, twitchers? No, no, they can't be, it's just a Treecreeper with a ring on its leg. Wing looks a bit funny, but it's basically a Treecreeper. Oh well, whatever floats your boat I suppose. Come on, let's go!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

My birding day

Yesterday, mid-morning, another abortive attempt at Wheatear safely under the belt, I suddenly felt inspired. I would, I told myself, photograph every species I saw on Wanstead Flats and make a collage of them. With renewed enthusiasm I birded around the Flats specifically looking for everything that might be there. Shame I hadn't thought of it earlier, as several species from my morning jaunt did not reoccur, namely Ring-necked Parakeet, Heron, Cormorant, Gadwall and Lesser Redpoll. And when it came to it, I could not get an identifiable photo of a Song Thrush, and the Chaffinches refused to play ball. I did however find a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, and a Pied Wagtail flew over my head, so all is not lost. Great fun I have to say, and highly recommended if you need something to kick-start you into getting out on the patch. Particularly if you have a camera.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Rules is rules

I issued another dog-walker with an asbo this morning. I've been watching her, or rather her dog, gallop care-free through the Skylark breeding areas for the past few days. She knew this, and would guiltily put her dog on a lead when she saw me looking in their direction. Today I stopped her, asked her if she had seen the signs. She had. But the dog needed its exercise. There are other dogs running in the long grass too. That doesn't make it right, I chided. Honestly, like speaking to a child. She huffed. I persisted. Finally, a reluctant "well I'll try to stay over this side, but it won't be all the time". We'll see. The closest Skylark population to central London, and she'll perhaps try. There are rules you know.

Here is one of them, taken from the whopping great sign in the Park. The disturbance bit is pretty unequivocal, and "effectually restrained from causing annoyance to any person" is presumably ye olde english for don't let your dog bite birders. Good to see that the same problems existed half a century ago.

Whilst byelaw #11 is still as valid now as it ever was, there are some great ones that perhaps need a bit of reworking.

#29 is a good one - no shooting galleries or coconut shies, golly gosh how dreadful that would be. What would it be these days I wonder? A man in a tent offering 1p mobile calls to Lebanon? Equally, no person shall hire out any mule or ass. Or goat. OK then, we won't. Lucky that rule is in place, we might otherwise be overrun. Quad-bikes, no problem. You will note also that photographic equipment is also a no no. Oops.

It gets better though, much better. In these previously enlightened times, gypsies, hawkers, rogues and vagabonds shall all be removed from the Park. Too right! Beggars, brawlers, gamblers and fortune-tellers are all similarly undesired. Away with ye! And no tramps either, which could be highly problematic for the local birders, and god only knows what might have happened at the Wryneck twitch last year had the Epping Forest constables been present. Several might have been carted off!


Superb, no? One can only imagine bucolic scenes of groups of vagabonds sat in the copses betting on dice, gypsy women roaming the broom fields plying for people to cross their palms with silver, rogues cursing at females, and mass brawling. Or you could just wait for the fair to turn up again.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Jokerman dance to the Nightingale tune

Took this tonight, at extreme focal length and on a timer etc. Being techy (as in technologically-minded, dull and boring, as opposed to mildly irritated) for a moment, I used a neat function called Live View, where the mirror assembly flips up and the screen shows the light path. You can zoom in to 10x to aid in manually tweaking the focus, so the screen showed the equivalent of 10,000mm of focal length. At this extreme magnification, the slightest wobble threw it out. More interesting though was that you could see the moon moving, literally tracking across the screen. Or maybe we're moving, not too hot on the whole science thing, but it is amazing nonetheless. The tripod wasn't moving, or at least not independently of Planet Earth anyway, but the Moon was. Maybe. Even more interesting than that, though a hard act to follow, was that every now and again a Passerine could be seen flying across the face of the Moon. If you ever wanted to see nocturnal migration in action, tonight is the night. I had Bluethroat, Red-backed Shrike, Thrush Nightingale, Wheatear (finally), Short-toed Lark......

Bird fly high by the light of the moon

Friday, 18 March 2011

Work or Vomit?

Pudding has been sick, on occasion copiously, five times in the last 24 hours. In bed at 6am yesterday, just I was heading out on my latest Wheatear hunt. Then, highly inconveniently, at about 8:20am yesterday, just as we were gathering ourselves for the school run. That was the BIG one, and of course she was sitting on her freshly-made bed, with the sheets from the previous one still going round in the machine...  At 9.15am, in the car on the way back from a very fraught school run she was sick for the third time. Ok, so fairly used to it now, commando roll out of the car and so on, but the car is brand new. On Tuesday afternoon I had handed back the old one, which incidentally smelled of vomit from a previous splurge, and was enjoying a pristine, new-car-smelling car. It made it to about 36 hours old, with about 25 miles on the clock before it was christened. You could see it coming frankly. This one required the shower to restore the child to a clean condition.

That was it for the rest of the day, but there were several false alarms, and lots of scurrying with towels. And of course a tremendous amount of washing. By the afternoon she seemed herself again, and I tentatively tried a slice of plain toast. This stayed down, and so we progressed to plain rice for dinner. She ate the lot, seemed fairly chirply still, so we put her to bed with high hopes. Hopes that were to be dashed just before midnight. Mrs L dealt with Pudding, I put the sheets on to wash.

The time: 3am. The place: her bed, obviously. Apparently I was unwakeable, so I only learned about this in the morning. But it must be true as I am currently washing yet another sheet. There is something special about needing to unload a washing machine full of child bedding in order to fill it again with the vomit-covered bedding that you had unloaded from that very machine only the previous afternoon....

I am sick of sick. The smell of sick. The sight of sick. I'm sure she is too. Of all the things that children can get - and believe me when I say they can get a lot - stomach bugs rank as my least favourite. I would, I think - but I am still not quite sure - rather be at work. So far today, no more though. We survived the school run, with Pudding wrapped tightly in a towel. A big thank you to Adam's mummy and Sophie's mummy whom we fortunately met outside the school gates and who took the other two in. We are not sure what disease she has, but so far none of the rest of us seem affected. I am spraying anti-bacterial stuff with abandon, and washing my hands about once every three minutes in scenes reminiscent of Macbeth. Meanwhile Pudding is watching Angelina Ballerina for the twenty-seventh time in three days. There are times when I really love that mouse. She seems not to tire of it, and this means she stays put. I can thus create a vomit-zone that should hopefully limit any damage and mean that I don't have to wash the sheets again until tonight.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Woohoo! (It's not what you think!)

You'll have seen the title and be thinking "Oh thank f--- for that, he's finally seen a Wheatear."  I am sorry to disappoint, but no, I have not. That pleasure still awaits, but today I am celebrating a patch tick. As I may have mentioned before, patch ticks are good. In fact, they are great. They are trumped only by garden ticks, which gives an indication of quite how good they are.

So, after another fruitless search of likely areas this morning, I strolled over to Alexandra Lake with Mr C. It was 7am, dog-walkers abounded, and expectations were pretty low on the wader front. To our surprise, a Common Sandpiper flicked away and behind us as we approached. Yay! But of course this isn't a patch tick, it is a mere year tick. Pah! Still nice to see though, and we did not complain. Onwards to the anthills, or Wheatear perches as they are known, but still no sign of the longed-for target. The school run beckoned, so I turned for home, thinking to perhaps get a photo of the Common Sand on the way back. As I reached roughly the right spot, a wader nipped past and dropped in somewhere in front of me. Great, still here then. As it passed though, I could have sworn I saw a collar on the bird, but it was gone in a flash. As a precautionary measure, I called Nick and said that there might be a Little Ringed Plover on Alex as well. He hurried to join me, and together we converged on the spot where the bird appeared to have landed. As we rounded a corner, a Common Sandpiper got up, called, and flew back past us round the corner, landing a short distance away out of sight. At this point I was scratching my head slightly, wondering if I was becoming delusional (more so than usual), but I decided to go back and have a quick look anyway. I went back round the corner, and there, stood on the bank, was a pristine Little Ringed Plover. Eh? But who cares, patch tick, get in!

I waved Nick over, and he agreed that it was indeed an LRP we were looking at. He also agreed that the first bird we had seen had definitely been a Common Sandpiper, as had the bird that had just flown around the corner.

We decided to invoke the two bird theory.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Frosty like Monday Morning

An utterly glorious morning on Wanstead Flats. Out early for the continuing Wheatear hunt, there was a heavy frost, and one of those curious mists that hangs a foot or so off the ground, yet doesn't extend more than a few feet in the air, remaining a narrow band. Clear skies and a great sunrise. Naturally I didn't realise this until I got to the Flats, and then had to return home and get a different lens. I was glad I did.

Although there were no Wheatears to be found, it didn't matter. You only encounter these conditions very occasionally, and as soon as the sun comes up the frost melts and the mist evaporates. I didn't have much time, but tried to capture a little of it.


This stunning start was a portent of things to come. On reaching the West Copse, a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flew in immediately. It spent some time in a tree with two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and whilst watching it, a Green Woodpecker landed in a Hawthorn through the back. Woodpeckers done. Not sure how many places you can see all three species more or less simultaeneously, but I reckon that's pretty special.

The day got better though. Whilst job-hunting on the Flats mid-morning, I got a text from Mark P over at Stoke Newington which told of a Red Kite flying east. Could it? More importantly, could I? It could. I could. About half an hour later, looking in the approximate direction, I was stunned to find a distant raptor with corvids attached heading lazily east. Jizz very good for Kite, though at that range impossible to get any colour on it, nor see a forked tail. I'm ticking it on flight mode and wing length, which I reckon is good enough. If you think it that's bad, I know of people ticking it who didn't even see it, on the basis that if you draw a straight line between Stoke Newington and Wanstead it goes through their patch! I can't mention who of course, that would be totally wrong of me...

I didn't get the anticipated Common Buzzard, but a Peregrine headed towards WALTHAMSTOW was nice, and there were four Sparrowhawk in the air at once at one stage. A rather good day really.

Skylark, 1000mm, ISO 800, f8.0, 1/2000s - rock and roll!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Who would be a female Mallard?

On my latest foray onto Wanstead Flats this morning - no I didn't, since you ask - I witnessed what can only be described as a vicious assault. Poor Miss Mallard didn't stand a chance, as five testosterone-fuelled Mr Mallards subjected her to what must have been a terrifying ordeal. I almost stepped in and put a stop to it, but then realised that they were just ducks doing what ducks do, and although in the human world this wouldn't be tolerated (apart from in certain areas of Epping Forest perhaps), in the duck world it's perfectly normal. So I let them get on with it, or with her, and instead took a few photos (which probably also happens in Epping Forest).

Friday, 11 March 2011

And now for something completely different

You will have no idea what this post is about. There is no way you could possibly even guess. The title, for instance, gives nothing away. As a blogger of over two years now, and some 500 posts, I realise how important it is to keep it fresh, make it a little bit different, keep the readership in suspense. That's why on Wanstead Birder no two posts are ever the same, and all you internet acolytes have no idea what I'm going to be writing about every March. I mean, if I were to keep on spouting on about the same things, day after day, year after year, nobody would read it, right? With this in mind, and knowing how demanding an audience you are, I have today decided to bring you something totally different to what has come before. Out on the Flats this morning, looking for, umm, something, I espied this:

A different barrage hitch, also without, err, something on it

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Oh no, no Oenanthe!

Walthamstow had their first yesterday, and I was out on the Flats at dawn. I met Tim there, so keen he had arrived before dawn. Together we criss-crossed the Flats, looking for that flash of white. It was not to be, and the barrage hitches continued to look like this, which is what they've looked like for the last 174 days (to save any nerds reading this five minutes of valuable time, it was Sept 17th). Try again tomorrow I suppose, my enthusiasm remains undulled. Can't wait in fact.

Assuming that you've had enough (for today) of my obsession with Wheatears, I thought I'd head off on another tangent. Whilst birding in St Mary's Churchyard next to the golf course a couple of weeks ago - looking for Nuthatch, to remain slightly on-topic - I was amazed to find a handful of war graves. Many [many] years ago I did a project on the First World War, and visited some of the battlefield memorials - Vimy Ridge, Thiepval, Notre Dame de Lorette. These are vast - monumental you might say - memorials. The first Canadian, the second British and Commonwealth, and the third French. Thousands upon thousands of names carved into stone, you cannot fail to be moved. However it was the smaller cemeteries that made more of an impression on me.  Tiny, sometimes with fewer than twenty headstones, yet all walled, they dot the landscape, set in corners of famers fields, at crossroads, at the edge of villages.  Each one perfectly maintained, exquisitely cared-for. The lawns were the most impressive. Everyone knows that the french just don't do lawns, however these tiny roadside cemeteries all had lawns the equal of the greens on the Old Course at St Andrews.

In the British cemeteries, the stones are all white, made of Portland stone. Rectangles with curved tops, they stand in neat rows, impervious to the elements even after this long. The stones in St Mary's Churchyard are identical, and have weathered far better than their granite contemporaries. I found three on my initial visit, and four when I returned a couple of days ago. Three from WWI, and one from WW2.

E F Hayter, aged 38, 2nd March 1917
William Harold Shail, aged 19, 19th May 1918

G A Callow, aged 30, 28th February 1919
David Edward Lloyd, aged 22, 17th March 1942

I'm afraid to say that the cemetery at St Mary's is not a patch on those in France and Belgium. It is extremely higgledy-piggledy, with no nice lawn. Not that those in it care much I don't suppose, but it feels wrong somehow, it should be neater. As far as I know, the fallen were not repatriated, which led me to wonder if these four men had died in this country. A quick google search reveals that this is indeed the case for at least two of the four, with G A Callow dying at home after the war had ended, and D E Lloyd, an instructor, killed when his Spitfire collided with another in mid-air over Hayes in Middlesex.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Don't worry, all is not lost

Chateau Lethbridge recently replaced its oven. It arrived today, all lovely and shiny, though this is only temporary. Billed as a "premium oven for the demanding cook", I had no hesitation in ordering it immediately. What could better suit my needs? It promises to "allow you to cook ambitious meals such as large Christmas dinners with ease!" Hurrah!

As soon as it was plugged in, I immediately started preparing turkey with all the trimmings. Basted and ready to go, I went to put it in, and discovered that it only had one shelf. So, fine for the turkey, but getting the roast potatoes and sundries in, well, I was stuffed, so to speak. Perhaps this is what they meant by ambitious? The old oven had already departed, so no chance to raid its innards for a spare, and as the demanding head chef at Chateau Lethbridge does not go in for single-layer cooking, there was nothing for it, a second shelf had to be sourced.

Thanks to the power of the interweb, I found and googled the part number, and was immediately transported to a website in order to buy it and get on with dinner. Except that the part was out of stock. But don't worry, all is not lost, as you can see below.

Though the specific shelf I needed was unavailable, hopefully they had something that fitted the bill. So let's have a look at similar products. Top of the list is a Karcher pressure washer unloader valve kit for the acclaimed K4 series. Snazzy. But likely to prove problematic for suspending roast vegetables. What's next? Ah-hah, a roller-pivot oven door hinge! Getting closer now, that shelf must be just around the corner - onto similar (even more similar perhaps?) products!

First up, the Braque modular corner sofa. The oven shelf that I require measures 43cm x 38cm. The chic Braque modual corner sofa is 3m x 3m, approximately fifty-five times too large (I am nothing if not precise), not to mention the height of 70cm - the slot in the oven is about 1cm. Add to that the fact that I could find no information on whether the Braque was flame retardant - it does after all need to go in an oven - and I had to reject it.

So how about some wallpaper? Supports casserole dishes with ease, says the blurb. Oh no my mistake, it actually says children can be transported to a magical world under the sea. I think the website designer inhabits a magical world...

Moving on, a Panama chaise, discounted by over £500! Wow, what a saving! Perhaps not ideal for an oven, but for that kind of reduction let's take a look anyway. Clicking on the link reveals the following: "Relax in style with this elegant chaise longue reminiscent of the 18th Century - the most comfortable addition to any oven home". Hmmm.

But wait! Enter the Dulwich right hand facing chaise end sofa from BHS. It is availble "only in Teal fabric" Gosh, unique, whole flocks of crecca, slaughtered for my reclining comfort! A must have! I zoomed in on the picture, looking for the vertical stripe that might indicate that a carolinensis had been in the flock, but no joy. Unless there's a rare involved, then I'm not interested. The fact that its a piece of furniture, and not a stainless steel oven shelf, is frankly irrelevant.

The search goes on.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


** Navigate away now if you don't want to read 2011's waiting for Wheatears post **

Soon, this old barrage balloon hitch will perform a useful function once again. No, we are not going to war, or at least not that anyone has told me. No, it will provide a nice perch for a Wheatear to sit on. Guaranteed. And when it does, perhaps a week from now, I will be extremely happy, as I am every year. If a year passes and I cannot muster any enthusiasm for the arrival of spanking summer plumaged Wheatears, well that will be a very dark day indeed, and signal the onset of my birding decline.

But it isn't just about Wheatears. Though it is difficult to even consider them at the moment, there are other birds. Many are only just around the corner. So that you too may delight in the glory ofthe spring migration in Wanstead, perhaps even hold sweepstakes from afar, here are my earliest ever spring arrival dates.

Let's start with Wheatear - it is traditional after all.

Wheatear: March 15th
Chiffchaff: March 27th
Blackcap: March 28th
Willow Warbler: March 28th
Swallow: March 30th
House Martin: April 8th
Sand Martin: April 11th

Ring Ouzel: April 19th
Hobby: April 20th
Lesser Whitethroat: April 20th
Tree Pipit: April 20th
Whinchat: April 20th
Yellow Wagtail: April 22nd

Garganey: April 23rd
Swift: April 25th

Garden Warbler: May 8th
Turtle Dove: May 19th

By the way, I have had both Chiffchaff and Blackcap earlier than the above dates, but with wintering birds it can all get a bit muddled so I've excluded the absolute outliers in March. Science, done. Also, whilst going through my records to pull out these dates, it appears I've never had a spring Redstart here.

Monday, 7 March 2011

A touch of brightness

From yesterday's poncy black and white, how about a dash of garish colour? Few birds in this country can match the Ring-necked Parakeet in that respect. An afternoon spent dipping an Arctic Redpoll in Richmond was rounded off by a spectacularly close and showy parakeet in very nice late afternoon light.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

The Dogs

Romford. Coral. The Dogs. Thirteen races, thirteen opportunities to lose money, taken, I think, on eleven. A good night out, fun, possibly rather strange to take a camera, but it only got doused in Stella once, and seemed none the worse for it. I doubt I was surreptitious, pints of lager don't bring out the ninja in me, but some worthy memories of Hawky's stag do. Forgive the pretentious black and white, colours do strange things under lights, these work better. Stereotypes abounded, and whilst there were flat caps everywhere, I was disappointed not to to find jellied eels for sale anywhere.