Sunday 29 July 2012

Norfolk for Horseflies

There are some flies with serious anger management issues present on the Norfolk coast. I first noticed a funny-looking fly on my forearm as I walked down the track at Titchwell after I actually felt it bite me. This is not a mossie, where you don't notice until it's too late. This thing actually cuts into you. Saws. You feel it but it's too late by then.

Carrying a sensible amount of kit

My horsefly bites number four, and are an angry shade of pink, hot to the touch. One managed to bite me through my T-shirt just above my right nipple. If this thought appals you, spare a thought for me - it is bright pink and swollen. My chest is proud enough at the best of times, this is the icing on the cake. Last night it wasn't so bad, but this morning it had doubled in size. When you press the flesh it feels hard to the touch, very strange, like the whole thing is about to explode disgustingly. It is a long way from my former comforting podge, and for a fly only a centimetre long, it's pretty impressive. I've also got a bite on my right shoulder, my left elbow, and my right wrist - this one is pretty good, as my entire forearm is slightly pink and tingly, and it hurts to type. I thought about illustrating this blog post - lavishly - but after looking at my first attempt with my phone and the bathroom mirror I nearly fainted, and you would stand no chance. No, you will just have to imagine it for yourselves. The first bites are beginning to weep a clear yellow substance if that helps. Lovely.

I've felt quite unable to go out today, a combination of wanting to scratch myself like a chimpanzee every two seconds, and a series of aches and pains brought on by attempting to carry a crazy amount of camera gear yesterday. I won't be doing that again in a hurry. I added it up for this blog post - 19.3kg. Big mistake. There is no getting away from the weight of a large telephoto lens, but did I really need three other lenses and another camera? No, as I didn't use them once. I also didn't use the large heavy coat that was going to protect me from the mud and sand. What with also carrying a tripod and scope, it was all rather stupid, and I am paying the price today.


The photos were worth it though, even if all I got were Sanderling. I blame Hawky for dressing up as as huge bumblebee -see above. Basically the minute he set foot on the beach - buzzing loudly - all the waders got up and fled, en masse, for the safety of Lincolnshire. Turnstones, Knot, Barwits, Curlews, Oystercatchers and Dunlin all legged it, leaving only a handful of bemused Sanderling hoping to remain unnoticed by the enormous bee of death.

Knowing I had a huge amount of crap with me, the boys decided the only thing was to walk to the far end of Thornham point in search of the vanished waders, and then to try Snettisham when that failed. Even though I took less on that walk, the damage was done. I've said it before and I'll say it again, you can't be a birder and a photographer at the same time. It's one or the other, not both. Camera or scope basically, a tough choice.

Although the wader photography didn't work out quite as planned, there were plenty of birds about. Eider on the sea, Spoonbills and a moulting Curlew Sand on the reserve. Garganey put in an appearance, as did a juv Cuckoo and a handful of Yellow Wagtails. Lovely to be out in the sunshine at long last, but a real shame that I got eaten alive as it's put a real dampner on the rest of the weekend. On the plus side I have a number of "keepers", as they say, which can be found in the waders section of

Given that lugged the camera all the way out to Snettisham pits and back, I had to use it.

Saturday 28 July 2012

Sanderlings at Titchwell

I promised waders, so here are waders. Sanderlings were the only ones I could get close to in the event, which was a shame as I was hoping for lots of bright colours. Not to worry, as you know I don't care what it is I take photos of, as long as the photos are good I'm happy. I think these are good. However I am very tired, am covered in Horsefly bites, and so for now I'm only popping one up and going to bed. Oh ok, two then.

Friday 27 July 2012

Poster Boy

I've been meaning to share this for a while, it was a poster that was in our holiday cottage on Mull. Can you spot the odd one out? The one we didn't see? I'll give you a clue, it wasn't a Puffin....

Thursday 26 July 2012

Moaning for Britain

My job, as many will know from the Peanut Challenge, is at Canary Wharf, aka the Avian Desert. I live in Wanstead, and if you didn't know that then frankly there is no hope. Between these two cultural Meccas is a place called Stratford, and recently some funny white buildings have been popping up.

Yes, Britain is proud to be hosting the Olympic Games. We have spent years planning it, and it is almost upon us. We have chosen the most utterly pathetic mascots the world has ever seen, we have attempted to insult as many nations as possible before the games actually begin, we have more MacDonald's personnel than security, and the public transport system is crumbling around us. Yup, we're about as ready as we can be.

London 2012. A showcase for what makes Britain great.
Seeing as how I work in Canary Wharf and live in Wanstead, I have to go through Stratford to earn my crust. My normal commute is a shade over 40 minutes. So by Thursday evening I would have expected to have spent a very pleasurable five hours and 20 minutes on public transport. So far this week that number is closer to ten hours, including walking home from Stratford one evening as the problems were beyond resolution. And the Olympics haven't even started yet. People wonder why I've been moaning quite so much. There's one reason right there. No, I didn't get tickets.

Any other gripes? Well yes, thanks for asking, there are quite a few as it happens. The first is an enormous Police Base on Wanstead Flats that has eliminated a good proportion of the patch and cut my morning birding in half. It's been present for a month, and is planned to be present for about another two months. I can only imagine the state of the area once it's all gone. Then there are the missiles on the Fred Wigg Tower. The only reason I can't see them from my house is that a tree is in the way. I don't like missiles very much at the best of times, and having them that close in case some nutter decides he is going to make a statement to the the world makes me quite uncomfortable. I feel like I'm in the line of fire. Two more reasons why I'm not embracing the Olympics.

Anything else? Yes. Helicopters. There are helicopters everywhere. All day and all night there are helicopters buzzing around. Try to work, helipcopter. Try to sleep, helicopter. In my dreams all I can hear are helicopters. And sirens. And people. There are people everywhere. I know. It's London and there are always people everywhere. This is true, but there are more people everywhere. In my current frazzled state it doesn't take much.

Thankfully I have the perfect remedy. I'm going to Norfolk at the weekend to photograph waders. I think Titchwell will be perfect.

Monday 23 July 2012

Sweet Nothings

Nada to report dear internet friends. I have been slaving away (as usual) and have done no birding. Wanstead resembles the surface of Mars, but with fewer birds. I abandoned it completely at the weekend and went to Kent to look at lovely waders that I have less than no chance of seeing at home. They were very nice, and for once the sun shone and I am a fetching shade of pink.

In other news my commute this morning took over an hour and a half, and I had to stand (eventually) on a bus full of happy French people who were delighted to be in London for the Olympics and were contemplating "du shopping". My commute home took a similar amount of time because the tube was down again (or maybe it never recovered), so instead I walked home from Stratford, which took me past the very subtle Police Base and the Surface-to-Air missiles. On the plus side I saw a Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk, and seeing as the walk took almost 50 minutes, slightly allayed my fears that my neighbourhood is going to turn into an Olympic carpark, being just outside the controlled zone. Whilst the Olympics is no doubt a very exciting event, even for those bitter people who did not get tickets even though they live nearby, I cannot help feeling that the whole thing is going to be a complete and utter disaster from start to finish. Or indeed from slightly before the start.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

All about birds*

Today was very exciting. Apart from the work bit. But before that started in earnest, I went out to check the moth trap. Generally speaking, this year has been extraordinarily poor for mothing. It rains buckets, the wind howls, all the moths are either dead or hiding. My moth notebook has a few entries for March, and then it says "then it rained for a month". There are a few entries for the end of May, and then nothing until about a week ago. Partly this is six weeks of solid rain, but mainly it's because my middle daughter - Pie, in case you had forgotten - cycled into the moth trap, and then dropped the bike on it. The handlebars went straight through the bulb and continued on straight through the plastic lid. I wasn't impressed, and there were many tears. Pie cried too.

I thought about sourcing a new bulb, which wouldn't have been too difficult, but then discovered that the trap type had been discontinued and I wouldn't have been able to get a new lid and funnel. I vacillitated for a month, thought a lot about gaffer tape, and then splurged on a super-duper Robinson-type trap. And let me tell you, boy is it super duper! Yesterday evening was warm, humid, cloudy and calm, and in the morning, there was this!

This falls into the "most-wanted" category. And the "nearly spill my tea all over the moth trap" category. It's an Elephant Hawk-moth, and it is amazing. Last year we caught a Small Elephant Hawk-moth, which is rarer, but not quite as cool. Mainly it's because this one is bigger, and in the world of mothing it's a very simple equation. Whacking great enormous = amazing, tiny small nondescript = shit. I've been hoping for one of these for some time, but 2012 didn't seem to be the likely year. How wrong I was. Although the weather last night was pretty much ideal, I hadn't thought that there would be much about other than drowned caterpillars as the preceding weeks have been abysmal. Maybe that doesn't matter to moth caterpillars, perhaps they can swim? I've not seen many butterflies this year, maybe their caterpillars can't?

I emptied the trap after the children had gone to school, so unfortunately there was no double for Muffin. I did however keep it in the fridge for them to play with when they got back, and so all three of them got to hold it and stroke it. If this doesn't teach the kids an appreciation for the magic of wildlife, I'm not sure what will. They were utterly enthralled though, so I have high hopes.

* maybe next time

Monday 16 July 2012

Where my liver went

If you were hoping that this might be about birds, hope again. I am afraid that once more I have virtually nothing to say. This has never stopped me before, and won't stop me in the future. If you want proper entertainment, I suggest you visit here, which is altogether a lot more fun. If you look very carefully at the very end, I actually feature, which was somewhat of a surprise, but there you go. If you put yourself out there to a certain extent, this is what can happen. Be warned kids. And grip, don't dip, obviously.

Er, where was I? Ah yes, no birding. So, in lieu of actually leaving the house, I did a spot of tidying. The object of my affections this time around was the big cupboard under the stairs, which over time has degenerated into a repository for stuff we no longer wish to see around the house. I pulled the whole lot out, recyled masses of it, went to the dump with a pile more, and shoved what was left back in. In doing so, I found these.

This is almost every single wine cork that I have pulled in the last, gosh I don't know, five years. Why have I kept them you might ask? Because I'm really really cool and well-adjusted. I don't actually have a good answer, or indeed any answer. I think I once harboured designs of doing something artistic with them, but that never happened and it's now getting to the stage where a Tern raft isn't totally out of the question. As a displacement activity, rummaging through a mountain of corks proved pretty good. Much better than cleaning at any rate. I didn't count them, out of deference to my doctor. And anyway, Mrs L is equally culpable. Or maybe a third culpable - that's the usual consumption ratio round here. Looking at this enormous pile, it's hard not to feel very very unhealthy indeed. No, I didn't go for a run today, it was raining.

Whilst poking through them it occured to me that this was very much June July material, especially the wettest and most bird-free July since 1682. By far the majority of the corks say "Mis en bouteille a la propriete", which is posh-speak for saying that the wine was bottled at the same place the grapes were grown, rather than shipped in a tanker to a massive factory in Antwerp and bottled alongside Pepsi, before hitting the shelves of Happy Shopper at £2.99 a bottle.

But digging a little deeper I unearthed a few that were recogniseable. A pleasing half-hour therefore passed, during which no tidying occured, and it turns out that there were quite a few more interesting* ones in there. I feel obliged to feature a small selection, clockwise from top left, and ending in the middle, as I have nothing else to say**.

1. Chateau Batailley, a Chateau L staple. Left bank claret, decently priced. I drink of a lot it. Not that you could tell.
2. Chateau de la Variere. In the Loire somewhere, we visited whilst on holiday. I would never be able to find it again, but I remember it being quite nice and doing dessert, which this is. Was.
3. Domaine Olivier Leflaive. White Burgundy - as popular as water round here, possibly drunk more frequently.
4. Wirra Wirra, an Aussie departure.
5. Bonneau du Martray. Oh yes.
6. Domaine Bruno Clair, Chambolle Musigny - Red Burgundy and Ribena substitute.
7. Cote de Nuits of some description. Likely delicious.
8. Domaine du Vieux Telegraph; wonderful Red Rhone that I can't afford any more because Kim Yong-Un has bought it all.
9. Indeterminate and forgotten celebration.

So where are they now? Recycled? At the dump? Errrr, almost. They're now in the loft. And guess what I found up there? Yup, the previous five years. I am nothing if not consistently sad.

* lies
** true

Sunday 15 July 2012

A break in the weather

I thought I'd never say it, but July is turning out worse than June. Today was the first day I can remember in some time when the sky wasn't the colour of a wet carpark, and the heavens weren't dumping on us every half hour. So far there hasn't been a drop of rain today, it all feels a bit weird actually. No doubt it will kick in again soon.

I've been pretty busy at work, birding opportunities have been limited. I did manage to scope, gloriously, a third year Yellow-legged Gull at Canary Wharf, which was another one towards my pack of peanuts, but Parus hit back almost instantly with both House Martin and Sand Martin. I expect that, like me, he hasn't really been trying, but when he got wind of my Gull and realised I was just one behind, he nipped out in double time  - and sadly coincided with a hirundine double act. As for the patch, I can't remember what it looks like.

To rectify this I popped out this morning to see if it was still there. It was, just about, but somebody has taken all the birds, which I normally equate with June. Quiet doesn't even come close. For starters, most of the patch is underwater. Rather than the waderfest you might think this would herald, all it means is that you tramp around getting wet feet. I had no more chance of seeing a wader this morning than I did of seeing an anti-aircraft battery. Oh, wait.....

Health and Safety is everywhere - the soldiers have to wear blue safety-harnesses. I bet they didn't join the army for that!
Yes, look, this has moved in. The residents of the Fred Wigg tower lost their legal appeal earlier this week against the MoD placing high-velocity missiles on top of their tower. Their argument that this diminished the value of their own arsenal was sadly not persuasive enough for Mr Justice Olympics Rubber-stamp, and so last week - unless they were lowered by helicopter - some poor squaddies had to lug what looks like a very heavy piece of kit up to the roof. I was of course very careful taking this, and made sure that the soldiers were looking the other way. The middle one looks to have bins, but I had taken my shot and retreated behind the broom before he turned round. Not that it mattered though, as they were visible from pretty much all points on the Flats, and every time I looked he was still looking the other way. Maybe they have a large mirror or something, but anyone hell-bent on sneaking past them would likely be fine if they approached from the east....

Bird-wise, nothing doing. Some juvenile Chiffchaffs, a juvenile Green Woodpecker. I got photos of neither. I knew it was hopeless before I even left. Instead I was seeing if I could take photos with a 2x extender. I can, just about, but they're not great. If you're so inclined, you can read about it here. If you're not, you can instead admire this beauty. Yes, that is vomit you can taste at the back of your throat.

A vision of loveliness

Wednesday 11 July 2012

A sad, sad day

A victory for sensible, a triumph for rational, but nonetheless a sad, sad day. The good ship ECO 1 has departed for shores unknown (well, Surrey actually). Back in about 2006 I convinced myself I wanted a Landrover. Needed a Landrover. Not just any Landrover, it had to be a Defender, and it had to be a long wheelbase. I spent a fair old while looking for the perfect car, and finally took the plunge. Broadly speaking, it then sat outside my house for about six years. It became a local landmark, taxis and delivery men would know where to stop, tradesmen where to knock. In a street with its fair share of parking problems, it was an immovable object, a guardian of my bit of road.

In the six years that I had it, I did just over 16,000 miles. A few Scottish trips, a few times to Norfolk and Kent, over to France once, but mostly just pootling around London. The cost per mile was probably just under a pound all told. Not very good. This year the battery gave out in about March, and I'd not driven it since. With the MOT and tax coming up, I decided to bite the bullet and sell up. I'm very sad, but at twenty years old and approximately fifty percent rust, the time had come. The depreciation was very large indeed, eye-watering in fact, but faced with the choice of more servicing bills, more tax, more insurance and fuel economy that would make a Saturn rocket look efficient, I decided to take the hit. A truck came today at around lunchtime, winched it up, and that was that.

Here's the Landy in happier times, on Mull, with Mrs L cooking a nice healthy breakfast in the back.

There are happy memories of course. I slept overnight in it many a time whilst birding. At a Black Grouse lek in the Highlands, for a Thrush Nightingale in Suffolk. I stood on the roof of it in order to scope a Purple Heron at Crossness until security turned up. My favourite times were of it as a family car, the five of us squeezed into its narrow seats, bikes on the top, a ton of crap in the back, and some decent countryside ahead. It was never really a London car, even though that's where it spent most time, but it was still a lot of fun. Arm out the window, diesel roaring, other drivers deciding that yes, they would give way just this once. Aircon, you're kidding right? Anyhow, an interesting if wasteful period of my life has ended, and whilst not a broken man, I am hurting. I briefly thought about getting another one, a newer one, a few months ago, but saw sense and realised that, mostly, the same shortcomings of my 1992 model were present even in current cars. I've never been much of a car person, never had fast car urges, a desire to go and plonk down silly money for something really flash. My Landy was a proper vehicle, one that showed I didn't care about that kind of thing, that I didn't bow to peer pressure. And that I wasn't going to race you off the lights, and not just because I couldn't.

So what to get next? Something that is actually capable of moving for starters, novel though that sensation would be. I'm thinking small, and I'm thinking highly economical. Dull, basically. Boring. All it needs is a boot just large enough for a tripod, scope and camera, and that'll do me I reckon. Oh, and it has to be a Ford.....

Sunday 8 July 2012

And it rained and it rained and it rained

And Lo God didst decide that the staff of Barclays (who are based in London) did needst to be punished, and so He sendethst so much rain to wash the filth off these grey streets as has not been seen in all of Christendom. But the greedy bastard derivative traders had buggered off to their villas in the Alpes Maritimes for the weekend and were thus spared. And so it came to pass instead that a birder's garden in Wanstead turned into a lake, and the Wimbledon men's final was played with the roof on.

In other news, and yet another indication of this country going to Hell in a handcart, yesterday I led a guided bird-watching walk in Tower Hamlets. A frankly massive crowd of five people turned up, and we saw many exciting things such as Coots and Mallards. Later on I helped at the school's summer fete, which managed to sneak in slightly before God's apocalyptic wrath was laid bare upon us, and then twitched a Spoonbill at Rainham from a layby on the A13 - looking just over the heap of scrap cars, and just under the Eurostar overpass, a special setting.

Today I was woken up by rain hammering on the windows, and having consulted God's Apoloyptic Radar, have concluded that today is looking very much like an indoor day. If the Spoonbill and Little Egrets get flooded off Rainham, they would be quite happy on the scrape which has just developed in the garden.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Well, June is over, I can get my bins out again

So, what did I see on the patch in June? A quick look at my records....and just sneaking in on the 1st of June is a Tawny Owl. Practically May really, not sure I should really count it. So nothing new, just a gradual diminishment of activity. Common Terns continued to visit Heronry, the Great Crested Grebe chicks are growing up, and I've seen Hobby a couple of times from the garden, but basically it has been typically dead and unworthwhile.

Instead, I have atypically been visiting other parts of the country in search of birding fixes, and belying the month of the year, it has been exceptionally good. First up was a Marsh Warbler at Rainham, a London and Essex tick - it doesn't come much better than that. I never saw it, but  the song is the best bit anyway, and there was plenty of that. June also delivered the Little Bittern at Stocker's Lake, a mere 45 minutes away, which was rather special, but the most amazing part was having a two tick weekend with the Little Swift on the Wirral, and the very next day an adult PGP in Norfolk. Somewhat of a stressful and car-heavy weekend without a doubt, but that's all forgotten now. Last year I got no ticks whatsoever in June, so 2012 has punched well above its weight. Does it trump the Oriental Pratincole at Dungness in 2010? Probably.

Now July, my thoughts are beginning to turn to the sea. The first Wilson's Petrels have been reported from Scilly, though they involve getting on boats. I've still not seen one, but I'm going to give it one last try from land before succumbing to being bounced around on the open ocean. Me and boats don't agree, especially small ones. I have though conquered my fear of the Scillonian III, two almost exemplary twitches last year convinced me I could do it. If another long-stayer appears, I'd almost certainly go over again. By helicopter. My primary interest is sea-watching though, far more excitement to be gained there than by crashing through Lower Moors looking for stripy lost waifs. I wish I lived by the sea, the six hour drive to Cornwall, with the prospect of dense fog that you didn't and couldn't know about when you left, is somewhat fraught. I've never actually dipped the sea, though came very close in August 2009 when the fog closed in by lunchtime. Happily the view out to the Runnelstone buoy was still clear at around half eleven; you all know what happened next!

Monday 2 July 2012

Internet Tomfoolery

In the absence of birds, I had a lot of fun this weekend mucking about with internet. I am a dunce when it comes to internet, but happily internet realises this and has made doing things on it spectacularly easy. Nonetheless I feel a sense of achievement that what I wanted to get done I appear to have managed. Mostly this has to do with vanity. I wondered briefly if this is one of the seven deadly sins, but it appears not to be. Pride comes close, but is slightly different, so my only feelings now are those of virtue and humility.

So, the first thing is that for the princely sum of precisely three pounds and fifty-nine pence I have purchased the much sought-after domain name of A stroke of divine luck that it was still available....  It was remarkably easy, as was making Blogger understand about it. Like I said, the internet was designed with dumbasses like me in mind. The upshot of this is that the new URL for this blog is, and not the one ending that it used to be, though I understand that it will still work and bring you here. There. Whatever. Anyhow, if you are the linking sort, please refresh your links to the new address, as it will not make a blind bit of difference. Compelling, no?

Internet didn't let me have it all my own way though, and so as soon as I changed the URL Blogger dropped all my links, including all the photo ones that I have only recently painstakingly added. I have added as many as I can remember back on, and a few more besides, but if there is a glaring gap where once there was a link to your blogging efforts, please get in touch and remind me. Chancers welcome, you never know....

In yet another act of gratuitous pomposity, I have totally revamped, including migrating the whole shebang to a new hosting service called Zenfolio. I think it looks a lot better than the old one, and has the benefit of added functionality and a much lower cost. Win win, as they say. It also includes blog functionality, so all the geeky camera shit that I mostly manage to repress on here I can dribble out on there, safe in the knowledge that only fellow photography buffs will be browsing. In addition to the slide show on the homepage, each and every photo - and there are over 500 - now shows EXIF data. You can see what focal length I used, what aperture, ISO and shutter speed. See why I spare you all this normally? I've also branched out, so the Just Bird Photos name is now well and truly non-sensical, as you will now also find butterflies, landscapes, and even one of a frog. Just Frog Photos. Creating the site was childsplay, even if I do say so myself. The difficult bit had to do with repointing DNS somethings. I'm not sure what it means of course, but I had to go onto internet, and make sure that the domain name pointed to a series of numbers that looked like 123.45.678.910 instead of a series of numbers that looked like 098.765.43.21. Amazingly I managed it, and once the overnight hampster shift ended and new hampsters took over, the next time I typed in the address it took me to the new page and not the old one. And if it works for me, I expect it will work for you too. If it doesn't, please complain to Sir Tim Berners-Lee.