Friday 30 September 2011

Birding on Unst

Another day, another island. Unst was one of my favourite places last year, so I was pleased that the team hadn't been before I arrived. After a quick dip of a Booted or Sykes's Warbler on the mainland, we were off up to Toft. Once again Yell didn't get a look in, the Prince Harry of birding islands, and we were straight over onto Unst to search for the Black-headed Bunting just yards from the quay at Belmont.

Tick and run. Well actually just run, as I saw one of these on Skerries last year. Whilst I'm not specifically complaining, if it could have been a different bunting sp that would have been handy. We carries on to Haroldswick where the Desert Lesser Whitethroat proved extremely obliging, and then onto Nordale, where the Bluethroat was a right sod. That said, it did lead us to the pine tree of birding dreams, which contained not only the Bluethroat, but a Yellow-browed Warbler, a Barred Warbler, a Goldcrest and a Willow Warbler. In between all this twitchery, we searched gardens and various little pockets of habitat, once again for little reward.

That's been the problem all week really - despite masses of effort, especially from this iris specialist, we have turned up very little. There hasn't been a hint of east all week, so very few birds are making it over. It has been very pleasant though, and the photographic opportunities have been great - having that extra dimension to this hobby means that even when pickings are slim I tend to have a good time. Amazingly I packed almost exactly the right amount of stuff, after agonising about what to bring for almost two weeks. Next time i won't bother with the waist belt and pouches, which have remained unused due to a plethora of pockets in my jacket being much easier, and ultimately more comfortable. Neither have I used my thermals, the weather here has been incredibly nice, verging on 20 degrees these past two days.

I'm leaving today on the evening boat, one last push for that self-found goody, and that'll be it for another year. Am I coming back? You betcha!

PS Mrs L, please can I come back next year?

Wednesday 28 September 2011

Shetland perking up

I am happy to report a much easier and thus better day today. In common with other parts of the country, it is unseasonally warm, and so I have been birding the Northern Isles in shirt sleeves for most of the day. Although there is a distinct lack of cream tea action, it almost felt like Scilly at times today. Apart from the Northern Waterthrush of course. But we did see some birds, and see them well.

I won't go into an in-depth review of where we went and what we saw, but a Little Bunting on Whalsay was extremely nice, and the Arctic-type Redpoll performed beautifully. Note that I'm calling it "type" - upon consultation with Duivenduiuvijkjdjk there were several features which didn't quite stack up with classic exilipes. Now I'm no expert, but happily one was on hand in the form of Martin Garner. He too (and he didn't need a book!) thought that it wasn't quite a Coue's, but conceded that it was definitely a Redpoll more consistent with what is generally known as "Arctic" than anything else, possibly an Icelandic version. My own personal view is that it was very nice, and frankly, what else matters?

There is nothing wrong with being an ID guru of course. The world needs ID gurus, especially when it comes to Redpolls, it is just that I am not one (a guru or a Redpoll). I just like birds, and this one was brilliant. It got the old grey matter working, which is always nice, but the bottom line is that it was very round, very white, and very fluffy - much like a sheep - and it posed extremely nicely for photographs. Which when you've lugged 4kg of camera round all day is always appreciated.

Moving away from birds and onto Sheep-fanciers, here is a photo of the team. The comedy-pose was unintended - the movement of the Whalsay ferry caused the camera to slip mid-timer, so a quick adjustment was needed to ensure we all got in, and much merriment ensued. Little things.... 

From left to right: Bradders jnr, Bradders snr, moi, and then Howard.

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Desperate Shetland birders start looking at sheep

No, we haven't seen one. In fact, we've seen nothing.
It's been bad, really bad. The wind-speed increased to 6,000mph overnight, and the few birds that were here got blown to Scandinavia. This is a right bugger if the truth be told, as ironically enough we want the birds currently in Scandinavia to be blown to us. To cut a long story short (on this blog?) we have been out all day and seen very little. When I tell you that the highlight was a singing Robin and a monumental 25 Woodpigeons, you will perhaps understand where I am coming from. I don't know if it's the wind that is preventing us from finding birds, or if there are simply no birds to find. After eight straight months of westerlies, I suspect the latter.

So so close, and yet so so far

But we tried, which is the important thing right? We tried western beaches for uber-flocks of Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers and the like, and found the sum total of about eight Turnstone, six Ringed Plover and a Knot. We tried plantation after plantation, driving about 20,000 miles in search of sycamores, and found three Yellow-browed Warblers, a Chiffchaff, and a handful of Willow Warblers. In eight hours of birding. A poor return? Yes, so we started looking at sheep.

A truly lovely sheep
I found a particularly attractive one at Dale of Walls (I'm releasing the location only on the understanding that she's spoken for). An excellent-looking ravine brimming with cover, about a mile east of the Atlantic, caused us to make an emergency stop. Wow, habitat! Amazing habitat! There could be anything in there, we said. There wasn't, there was nothing. Not a single bloody bird. Then I noticed the sheep. I'm not saying I'm in love, but it's close. Let's just say that it was the most exciting thing that happened all day.   

When it's bad up here, it's pretty bloody bad. It got better though as at about 3pm it started raining heavily. As I say, this probably had no impact whatsoever on our ability to find birds, but to ensure that we ended the day on zero we packed it in and went home for a cup of tea. As someone once said, things can only get better, though looking at the forecast the wind seems set to get stronger. That would make Shetland windier than the surface of Jupiter. Having been here for three days now, I contend that to be entirely possible.

PS I swear that there has been absolutely no exaggeration in this post.

Monday 26 September 2011

Hard work in High Winds

Eshaness Lighthouse with attractive passerine migrant
It is always windy in Shetland. As a result the tallest tree measures just 25cm. Fact. This makes it easy to scan the treetops, but also means that you usually have to peg yourself down to prevent yourself being blown away. Today it was so windy that I saw a House Sparrow blown across a tin roof. It did a kind of cartwheel before righting itself and managing to cling on again. Or maybe it was just having fun, let's face it, there's piss all else to do on Shetland, you might as well engage in a bit of amateur gymnastics for the amusement of your fellow passerines.

Lovely Sheep

Today was all about seeing rare birds badly, and common birds really well. Some you win, some you lose. The wind was blowing at about 165mph, which probably didn't help matters. The first bird we got terrible views of was a Coue's Arctic Redpoll. This was a great shame as I have never seen this race before. I got it flying away, could have been a Bullfinch, and then briefly in a bush, could have been a Linnet. These two briefest of glimpses took about an hour each, and to really keep our spirits up we all got a good and thorough soaking in driving rain. Happy days. Making us even happier was a sod of an Acro that we spent more time chasing, which when it finally gave up hiding turned out to be the one species we didn't want it to be.

It got better though. We got about 0.2s of a Barred Warbler, and 0 seconds of a Red-breasted Flycatcher. These prolonged views cost another hour or so, but at least it didn't rain again. The wind did increase to 500mph though. Great for getting rid of dandruff.

All was not in vain though. I found a lovely northwestern-type Redpoll at the very top of Mainland Shetland whilst stalking a particularly nice Wheatear, and Bradders found a silky Wood Warbler at Busta House. Bird of the day award probably goes to the 103 Snow Buntings at Eshaness - a proper Shetland bird in a proper Shetland landscape.

So, a hard day. When the wind has been dominated by westerlies for about a month, finding Sibe passerines is always going to be rather challenging. We didn't even get a Yellow-browed today, that's how difficult it has been. The wind is relentless. When you get back indoors after a day in the field you feel raw. You tingle, and the face that looks back at you in the mirror is bright red. Can you imagine what Howard looks like? 

Sunday 25 September 2011

Arrival on Shetland

Lerwick from Bressay Sound

Well, Simon King was right, there is no better way to arrive on Shetland than by boat. Sailing up Bressay Sound in the early morning light was simply fantastic, especially as I had managed to sleep for a full seven hours. Four beers and a large plate of fish and chips probably contributed to my comatose state, but nonetheless I was surprised at how much sleep I got in only a reclining chair with my fleece over my head. A quick breakfast, a cup of tea, and I got myself up on deck for pretty much first light. By this time we were well past Sumburgh Head, only about forty-five minutes out, and in the lee of the mainland, were on a flat-calm sea. It was extremely pleasant, there is something special about a sunrise from the water.

Right on cue, Bradders was there to meet me at the terminal, and after a quick unpacking of gear, the team of the two of us, Howard, and Bradders Snr, were off and out birding. First stop the tiny hamlet of Brake on South Mainland, where we felt we stood a good chance of seeing possibly the only remaining Pallid Harrier on Shetland. After a few Whinchat and my first Yellow-browed Warbler, the Harrier duly appeared in the valley and sat on a post showing off. Then it was up and away, appearing to hunt low along a burn, and we never saw it again.   

Next stop Quendale for that superb Shetland past-time, iris-bashing. For those of you that don't know, some of the boggier bits of Shetland are carpeted in vast iris beds, typically along small streams. The sueda of the north, it is the stuff of nightmares. Unfortunately, birds love hiding in it, and the only way to find them is to go in after them. The procedure is as follows: Enter iris bed, fall over. Get up, progress a few feet, fall over again. Get up, sink knee deep in particularly boggy bit, fall over again, swear. Repeat. A lot. Occasionally find a bird, which nine times out of ten will flip in a non-identifiable manner fifty metres back into the irises you just walked through. For our troubles, we found a Bluethroat and another Yellow-browed Warbler, so a fairly good return, though as I sit typing this my ankes really do hurt. Wanstead Flats this is not.

A very large iris bed. Let me at it!!

We birded a few more sites nearby, including the famous Channerwick, but largely drew a blank and so caved in and twitched a fantastic adult Lesser Grey Shrike to the north of Lerwick. I can't tell you how far it was as I fell asleep as soon as we set off, and only woke up when we got there. I like to contribute. Anyway, always go and see Shrikes, you will never - ever - be disappointed.


I love it when a plan comes together

Yesterday could not have gone much better really. My mincab driver didn't crash and kill us both, my plane left on time, and similarly experienced no crashing and burning, and the adult Sandhill Crane near Aberdeen decided to stay the night. So in a fit of minor extravagance, I hired a car for six hours, and went to have a look at it. Naturally the dreaded "flew off" message came up when I was about half an hour away, but the way my luck is running I knew that wouldn't be a problem. Indeed it wasn't, and after a very small amount of searching, I found the spot that it had favoured the day before, and was happy to see people ejecting themselves from cars and running up the side of a field. I parked up, put my camera together,and sauntered up the side of the field, no mentions of whippets here please. And there it was, feeding in the next field along.I enjoyed it with perhaps ten other birders before the masses really began to arrive, and then, joy of joys, it got up and flew right over our heads.

Please look away now.

Thank You.

Thursday 22 September 2011


The sunny (sic) skies of Wanstead are being left behind. That bastion of improper behavior, Long Wood, swapped for a few stunted excuses for trees on the outskirts of Lerwick. It's a fair old way, and, on the cheap, will take me 24 hours to get there, but it is a very exciting propostion. Last year the sun shone, and I made hay. It was an unforgettable experience. Hard work, but very satisfying. I came away with six lifers, and a list of rare birds that ran to several volumes.

This year may be different, and I may see nothing, but I am going to give it a go. I'm not there for long, only a few days, but the prospect is rather mouth-watering. A few of the guys are up there already; so far I remain ungripped, though a second Swainson's Thrush would have been nice. Last year that was almost the first bird I saw on the archipelago. My journey starts with a cab, and then a plane. Then a bus, and then a boat before I finally set foot on Shetland. I've read that coming in by boat is the best way to fully appreciate just where you're arriving. Hopefully it'll be magical for me, too.

I'm packed and ready to go. This was a long process, during which I packed and unpacked almost all possible combinations of optical equipment. I've ended up scopeless, but with two cameras and two lenses, which should probably be enough. The second camera is in case the first one breaks, a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless. I am such a dweeb. Also coming is my trusty monopod-cum-icepick, though if I encounter ice up there then there is a serious problem.

My year list, for those of you counting, is 233. I confess this is more than I anticipated, and does not bode well. I've not seen any Swan other than Mute, nor any Diver other than Red-throated. It could all go wrong. That said, before Shetland last year I was on 266, considerably more, so an assault on 300 just isn't going to happen. A Rock Pipit in Penzance last weekend was my first of the year, proof positive I am not a filthy year-lister like Bradders. We'll see what happens, but my conscience is clear. Talking of ticks, there's a Sandhill Crane currently near Aberdeen, and I will have eight hours there with nothing to do........

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Semipalmated Sandpiper, Drift Reservoir

What a super little bird this was, my 378th UK tick. It kept company with a Dunlin throughout, and was extremely tame. The tactic here was to lie on the beach ahead of it, and wait for it to come to you, leaving enough room for the bird to feel comfortable passing you along the water's edge. The light was extremely difficult, with the sun almost directly behind the bird in many instances. In order to retain at least some colour in the plumage I have had to add over two stops of light in some of the photos, and lift them more in post-processing. There is no subsitute for being close to a bird - it doesn't matter what camera and lens you have, you'll take decent photos. In the final two photos you can just about see the partly webbed feet - the semipalmations from which this bird takes its name.

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Sunday in Cornwall

Up with the proverbial lark after a sleep which seemed to pass in less than five minutes, we set our sights on Drift Reservoir again. Having missed the SemiP on Saturday morning, we were determined to get it this time. All the way to the hide, no sign. All the way down the other side, no sign, though great views of the Yellowlegs. Hmmm. I know, stuff it, let's go seawatching. Sea-watching is ace, far better than twitching, and the weather was looking very very tasty for a session at Pendeen.

Tasty it was, and blowing a hoolie. Generally I'm not one for lists of birds, but I think in this case I might make an exception.

40 Arctic Skua
36 Great Skua
4 Pomarine Skua
1 Long-tailed Skua
5 Sooty Shearwater
7 Balearic Shearwater
100's Manx Shearwater
1 Storm Petrel
4 Leach's Storm Petrel
15 Sabine's Gull
12 Grey Phalarope
3 Arctic Tern
2 Black Tern

And all this in just over four hours. I suppose the totals are not enormous, but to put it another way, prior to this sea-watch, in my entire life, I had seen six Grey Phalaropes, six Sabine's Gulls, and three Leach's Petrels. Don't forget that I live in London, and this makes it fairly monster from my perspective. Would that I lived by the sea - I think if I did that I would sea-watch constantly.

With the weather brightening up, although no let-up in the wind, we headed to Polgigga for a crack at the long-staying Black Kites. Easy as you like - as we were driving along I saw a large raptor in the sky, and it was a Black Kite. Simples. We got out, and then there were two Black Kites, and shortly after that, three Black Kites. Together. Astonishing. And to think I drove to Wales for one a couple of years ago. Lunacy. Actually it is more accurate to say I was driven to Wales for one, and I think slept quite a lot of the way, so no great hardship.

Mission SemiP. Irritatingly the Semipalmated Sandpiper was showing again on Drift Reservoir. How we had missed it in the morning I don't know - probably we walked right past it. Seemingly pinned down this time, we decided on a third attempt. People we passed on the dam said it was showing well. I can confirm that this was indeed the case.

I'll put up a few more photos in a separate post, however I have to say that this is how I like to see birds. Really really well. No distant dots, no squinting, no uncertainty. All birds should be like this, and really, that's what made the weekend so good. We saw everything really really well. The Black-and-White Warbler was mere feet away, the Bee-eater was sublimely cooperative. Superb scope view of the Lesser Yellowlegs, and the Black Kites were over our heads. The Sabine's Gulls against the aquamarine water inside Pendeen rocks were stunning, as was the fully-spooned Pom. And the Semipalmated Sandpiper, well, what can you say? We might not have seen all the birds on offer, but what we did see, we got views the likes we may never see again. Cracking is a much overused word, especially in birding circles, but these deserve it.

Monday 19 September 2011

One of my better birding decisions...

I spent most of last week convicing Bradders that Cornwall was the place to be at the weekend. He wasn't sure. It was a long way, he said. He was perhaps up for it, but he had to be absolutely certain that it offered the best possible birding. Eventually I managed to twist his arm and he agreed that maybe, just maybe, it looked OK. I joked that maybe we should do a day-trip to Scilly. Perhaps, he said. I attempted to get Hawky along too, but a Solitary Sandpiper, eight Buff-breasted Sandpipers, a Semipalmated Sandpiper, a Lesser Yellowlegs, four Pectoral Sandpipers, a Long-billed Dowitcher, a Red-eyed Vireo, a Bee-eater, a Citrine Wagtail, and Ortolan Bunting, three Black Kites and a couple of Wrynecks wasn't quite good enough to get the juices flowing so he opted out. I can see why. Nick C needed no convincing, the possibility of about fifteen ticks and no trains swung it for him.

Stood in my kitchen at 8pm on Friday night, news of a probable Northern Waterthrush on St Mary's started to get Bradders excited.... Finally! We picked Nick up and a few [hundred] minutes later we arrived at Hayle, our luxury accomodation for what remained of the night. We did not sleep well. In fact we hardly ever do when we go down to the south-west, so we knew what to expect. We started the morning at Drift, and managed to dip one of our first targets, the Semipalmated Sandpiper. Meanwhile news came out that both the Solitary Sandpiper and the now confirmed Waterthrush were still on the island. Nothing for it, we had to go, so leaving Drift we headed for the quayside at St Mary's.

I have mixed emotions about the Scillonian III. I've been on it only once, but for fourteen hours in a force seven gale. I lost the entire contents of my stomach several time over, and was somewhat miserable. Many is the time I've been sat seawatching at Porthgwarra and seen the Scillonian go past, wallowing, rolling, pitching. Each and everytime I have thanked my lucky stars that I wasn't on it. At Penzance, a stiff breeze was blowing. Force six. Nice.

As it happened, and I have no idea why really, it was fine. In fact of all of us, it was only DB who turned a slight shade of green momentarily, and he was back to normal after a short sit-down. News of a Black-and-White Warbler at Lower Moors, exactly where we were heading, seemed to perk him up a bit for some reason. The pitching of the ship no longer had any effect after that, and the Scillies were soon visible on the horizon. We were late in due to the heavy weather, but a taxi, pre-booked in an act of genius, was waiting for us on the quay. To the Duckpond, we commanded!!

All week long, taxis have been plying the route from Hughtown to Newford Duckpond. Passengers have glanced out of the window at the Solitary Sandpiper, and been driven back to Hughtown. Not us. It wasn't there. Like the SemiP we hadn't seen, it had been parading at point blank range for all-comers, and we arrive and it does a runner. Not good. For those of you that don't know, Newford Duckpond is the size of a large bath. You can survey it in totality in about 0.2 seconds. We spent fifteen whole minutes and failed miserably.

Meanwhile the Black-and-White Warbler was still present. It would have been rude not to, so we headed for Lower Moors. Lower Moors is a tangle of dense and muddy undergrowth, with deep boggy bits for the unwary. Turned out I was unwary.....  We missed it first by about twenty minutes in one bit, by about five minutes in another, and then by a mere two in another. A hour had passed and we were no closer to seeing when a loud shout rang out. "It's here!", followed by loud clapping to direct us to the spot. I can tell you now that not one person objected in any way to this use of fieldcraft, it was absolutely the right thing to do. Bradders had found it, and we all got on it! And not only on it, it fed over our heads, climbed trunks by our ears, and hovered next to my nose. What a bloody brilliant bird, and I mean brilliant. Of all the American Wood Warblers that I would want to see in this country, only Blackburnian really gets a look-in. Other than that, Black-and-White all the way. We enjoyed magnificent views for a few minutes before it moved through into an area we truly couldn't penetrate. On cloud nine ten eleven we struggled to the exit and the light, and headed back to Newford. We could have attempted the Waterthrush, but it had been seen for thirty seconds at first light and not since, so we opted to give the Solitary Sandpiper another crack. As we headed up the road, news came through that it was back on the pond, and also that the Bee-eater had been seen. Ears open, we yomped up there hoping for a "prrrukkk" and at best distant flight views.

As it happened we never did hear it call, a real shame. Possibly it didn't call as it wasn't flying around, but was instead perched on a twig about thirty metres from the road. We rounded a corner, saw a couple of birders staring into a field, and there, by the grace of all that is good and turquoise in this world, there it was. Magnificent! Forget the fact that it isn't really rare, forget the fact that a yank mega was just down the road, with another just up the road. Trumped the lot, and I mean the lot. If I ever look sad, down in the dumps, miserable, just say "Bee-eater" to me. My countenance will change instantly, and a dreamy look will come over my face. Wow.

Reluctantly we walked the short distance to the Duckpond, but once again the Solitary Sandpiper was being, well, solitary, and despite having shown only minutes before, was once again nowhere to be seen. We devoted our remaining time to the pond, hoping it would suddenly emerge, but it didn't happen. The bird responsible in part for the trip down to the southwest, the bird we assumed would be easy, a gimme, and we never saw it. Our cab arrived and we were amongst the last people to get on the boat. I had a short kip, and woke up to find the lads seawatching. Pretty good actually, a handful of Sooties and a Grey Phal kept the interest up. Penzance YHA, and we almost too tired to celebrate our good fortune. A memorable day. Anyone moaning that they missed the Waterthrush needs a good kicking in my opinion. With under four hours on the island for day-trippers (£30 as opposed to £90 PLUS two nights accomodation) there is a limit on what you can do. Shame we didn't see the Solitary, nor have any time for the Buff-breasted Sandpipers, Dotterel, Shrikes and Wrynecks, but you can't see them all. Somebody once told me to spend time thinking about what you did see, rather than what you didn't see. Sage advice, and if you had offered me a Black-and-White Warbler and a Bee-eater on Saturday morning before I got on the boat I would have bitten your hand off in my eagerness to accept. Simply amazing to even have the chance, and I am as chuffed as they come.

Tune in later for what we did on Sunday. It's good. Very good.

Thursday 15 September 2011

Goodbye Freedom

It's official, I have a job. The offer came through today. Of course it's subject to references and various checks to make sure I'm not a heinous criminal, fraudster or drug dealer, or just plain nuts (here's hoping they don't find this blog), but when all of those steps are complete I am once again going to be a financial contributor to the economic welfare of this great island nation. This means that daily, from 9am to about midday, I'm going to be working for you. For us. For all of us, together. I'd like to let you know that I never claimed a penny of support during my long absence from earning money, I didn't want anyone to suffer on my behalf. I just love you all, and I can't wait to start giving again. I particularly want my taxes to go to dole claimants who ticked Greater Yellowlegs in Cornwall this week, or alternatively to help with the Sky Sports subscriptions for those who cannot afford to watch Premiership Football at home and have to go to the pub to see the games. Here, let me get those lagers...

Missed part of the bird, but I still like it.

Have I missed work? Er, no. There are very few people in this world who do. Have I missed having an income stream? Er, yes. A lot. Whilst my time at home with the kiddos has been amazing, and I would not change it for the world, having a steady dribble of cash going the wrong way has been mildly traumatic for someone not used to that. Then again, not earning money has had the immeasurable benefit of teaching me that money isn't as important as maybe I thought it was. We very easily adapted to life without large piles of fifties lying around in every room, and ceasing bathing in Champagne did wonders for my skin. You can't buy happiness someone once said. Bollocks. Give me a couple of mil and I'd have a bloody good go.

I have, though, been very weak. Very. I have courageously and bravely got myself a job at the very same institution that dispensed with my services two and a half years ago. I like a challenge, new experiences, and as such will get my old ID number back, and my old email address too. And my job will be looking at the same kind of stuff I was looking at before, indeed, I am going to carry on with one of the same projects I was doing before. It will be like I never left. Like I had a long holiday. A sabbatical of sorts.

So I need to enjoy these last few days of freedom. I need to bird like I have never birded before. I need to take photographs, and lots of them. Tomorrow Pudding starts school. When I lost my job, she was in nappies, and now she's a proper little girl with smart shoes. It has gone quickly, and I have accomplished very little. But who cares? I've deliberately done next to nothing, A bit of writing, a teensy little bit of twitching, but mainly I have just cleaned the house. Dusted.

I have no idea why I started this blog. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Six weeks later and I was unemployed, though I am (fairly) sure the events are unrelated. In one sense it gave me something to do. A way to continue to be creative, to continue using words with more than one syllable. I have to say I've enjoyed it a lot. This is usually the point when bloggers sign off and say "So long, and thanks for all the fish" or something along those lines, but I reckon I'll keep it going. Domestic woes may get replaced with lists of new and wonderfully meaningful buzzwords I have encountered, or why the tube is just the best place to be on a Monday morning, but otherwise I envisage it remaining essentially the same.

A load of old rubbish.

Monday 12 September 2011

Twenty-20 Cricket: Essex vs Wanstead

This superb event has been in the diary for a while. It's James Foster's benefit year, and as a one-time Wanstead player, the former England wicket-keeper came back to his old club with his current team for an exciting fixture. I booked tickets for me and the kids a while back, and crossed my fingers that we would get a break between hurricanes. Happily we did, though it was pretty windy throughout. Sadly Cook and Bopara were missing, but Owais Shah and, as you would expect, James Foster - would have been poor if he hadn't turned up - were the England Internationals on show, along with an Essex side made up of regular first team players and a few youngsters.

My previous attempts at sports photography are the London Marathon, which I'm not sure qualifies, and my kids' school sports days, which I am certain don't! No idea quite what to expect, I plonked myself on the boundary with a long lens on a monopod, surrounded myself with children, and waited for the action.

Essex batted first and made 161 in their 20 overs. Wanstead made a slower start, but some big hitting in the middle overs made relatively short work of the target, and we romped home with several wickets in hand and ten or so balls to spare.


Owais Shah hits out

Steve Singh, Wanstead's Aussie signing

Owais Shah

A keen spectator