Saturday 29 September 2012


Well, I'm here. Only just, and despite the best efforts of Flybe to ensure I went no further than Gatwick... I am never flying with them again (apart from the trip home next week obviously). We left over 2 hours late and they had to hold the Sumburgh flight for us. We made it - just.

And started birding straight away. We commenced by dipping Olive-backed Pipit and Izzy Shrike in increasingly windy conditions. Gave that a couple of hours and then slunk in defeat to check the quarries. These held two Blackbirds, but happily I managed to pick up the Little Bunting at Sumburgh Farm which showed very well between squalls.

We are now ensconced in our accommodation blighted by indecision. The problem is that there are too many of us, we're past the critical mass of people required to make a decision. At the moment Unst, Bressay and mainland are all on the table and we have absolutely no idea what we're going to do. The weather will likely dictate where we go - the wind is going to be gusting to 40+ mph. Not sure I fancy any ferries....

Friday 28 September 2012

Last Sleep

Not sure if I'll manage any sleep, very excited. Maybe the tactic is to stay awake all night so that I sleep on the way up there and don't have to listen to the boys' inane chatter. How many ticks are we going to get? What's your most hoped-for bird? What are we going to find? Bo-oring! Who am I kidding?!! This is essential birder conversation, to be savoured, repeated, quoted, repeated again.

So what are my most hoped-for birds? I confess I'd not given it much thought until a few moments ago. Clearly something exceedingly rare, and given the mix of east and westerly winds, it could come from either side, so I am going to pick one of each. From the east, I would like to see an Olive-backed Pipit. Perhaps not so rare, but a real looker. Pechora's pretty nice too, but if I had to choose outrageous, it would of course be a Siberian Rubythroat, but only a nice bright adult. And from the west, any Dendroica, especially Canada, but I think overall a Veery would be the one for me. For starters, I'd probably recognise it.

So, an early start tomorrow, most of the day in transit, but a opportunity, should the weather allow, to twitch something immediately, so to everyone who is already on there, please find a biggy. The first time I ever went, I had two new birds by the end of the first afternoon, both megas. The same again would be the perfect start. I'll try and post regular updates, both gripping and depressing, but I'm not taking a laptop so no chance to go through the photos up there. Any particularly gripping birds and I'll take them straight off the screen. Laters.

Wednesday 26 September 2012


I've a ton of things to get done before I go, I'm almost not sure where to start. The two most critical are to have a haircut, which is fairly straighforward, and to pack, which is the complete opposite. A nightmare in fact. Many birders going on a trip will simply pack bins, job done. Not me. Look.

This is my hand luggage, the bare minimum that I need on Shetland. Bins not shown, and neither is the backup camera I took it with. You can probably see the problem - it's that big green thing in the middle. The lens and camera is basically my entire hand luggage allowance in one fell swoop, and even then it's slightly over the max weight. The rest - smaller lenses, converters, gloves, phone, radios, spare battery, memory cards, really cool snood, strap, phone, wallet - has to somehow fit in my pockets. It's just about doable I think, but I am going to look rather peculiar. More peculiar. I've been agonising over this for well over a fortnight now. Ridiculous, I don't know why I am bothering. As far as I can see, the weather forecast precludes any birding whatsoever, and we would all be best off in the pub, in which case the only thing I would really need is my wallet. And the snood, as Col wants to see it I think.

Shetland is going to be carpeted next week with London birders, Kent birders, Scottish and Irish birders. All sat indoors looking at a howling westerly and drinking Simmer Dim. Sounds good to me, but not quite what I'm bringing all the gear along for. Nevermind though, it's going to be good. Hopefully veery good.

Sunday 23 September 2012

Negative Ghostrider, the pattern is full

It feels rare. It smells rare. It IS rare. Anything could happen. Gannets inland, a Sabine's on the Thames, the east coast awash with Cory's and Leach's. Locally Stu had a Barwit over Leyton. Could I get out? No. A kid's party and a family lunch - the enemies of birders everywhere. All kids birthday parties should be banned in September and October, it's just not on. And social events where people invite themselves to my house should also be banned. I mean fercrissakes, it's mega out there! And if it's mega out there I don't want to be in here!

As it happens I dodged one today, with Suffolk underperforming given the weather, and what promised to be a river watch of epic proportions at Rainham turning out to be just a river showing well but little else. But that's not point. To anybody I know, I don't want to see any of you at the weekends until at least November. It's a myth that birders are antisocial awkward misfits.

I live to bird. Kind of. At the very least it's massively important to me. I had an epiphany the other day, and worked out what I wanted out of the next 40 years, should I be so lucky. It boiled down to just three things. One, I want my family to be happy and to have a great time. Two, I want to see lots of birds, everywhere. And three, I want to take photos of them. Good ones. There is of course an obvious problem, which is that when you add two and three together the answer is not very often one. Simple maths really. And so it was that I managed just an hour birding today on a very murky Wanstead Flats, before being recalled to Chateau L to grit my teeth and smile, followed by having my eardrums forcibly extracted at "Tumble in the Jungle", a dungeon of soft-play hell in Walthamstow. During that hour I saw two Stonechats and a Wheatear. Seeing as how many readers are probably sick and tired of Wheatears now, here is one of the Stonechats. You had better hope they don't stay.

Naaarfaak for migrants

Norfolk actually worked. This is the first time ever. Normally what happens is that I look at a forecast, decide that Norfolk looks really promising, and then go there and see nothing. Today, on a forecast with east in it, there were lots of migrants, decent ones, and though I didn't see them all, I got my fair share - Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, and Barred Warbler. All good training for Shetland, autumn has started.

Bradders and I left London yesterday afternoon so as to be in place for an early morning seawatch. It was only so-so, with some decent views of Great and Arctic Skuas, and a good Sooty Shear, but otherwise quieter than the forecast had suggested. For a moment it seemed like it was going to be a typical Norfolk day of unfulfilled promise, but when the first bird found down towards Kelling Watermeadows was a Yellow-browed Warbler, I began to change my mind. Soon afterwards news broke of a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Warham Greens, annoyingly our next destination, but we couldn't pass it up. Following in the slipstream (more like jetstream!) of Sir John of Furze were nearly first on site, and had some great views of this brilliant little bird as it flitted along the track. Somehow this is my sixth one in the UK, it wasn't that long ago that this would have been a monster rarity in my book!


We poked around Warham for a couple more hours, plenty of birds but nothing from the east, and again with Shetland training in mind headed to Holme to hone our Barred Warbler identification skills. As we arrived we could see a few people peering into an elder. The bush swayed from side to side, its trunk straining under the weight of the gigantic warbler as it crashed around, half the time I expected a Woodpigeon to clatter out, but it was just the Barred daintily picking off berries as it skipped lightly from branch to branch. Eventually it came most of the way out, and we all backed away in fear. I'd even go so far as to say it was quite showy, and it's not often you can say that about a Barred Warbler.

This is not normal
Finished up the day at Twitchwell dipping a Pec Sand. Lovely light, but most birds just a little distant. Plenty of waders, including a Little Stint, and plenty of typical visitors. My favourite ID today was a lady who found a juvenile Shelduck and wondered if it was a Smew. Then again, I was able to look at a Knot wading around without working out it was a Knot, so I was pleased to get Smew in September, and thanked her very much.

A top day out in warm sunshine, good company, plenty of good birds for once, and plenty of junk food, always a key ingredient in a full day's birding. Hopefully a taste of things to come - on all fronts.

Friday 21 September 2012

Shetland - third time lucky?

My upcoming trip to Shetland will be my third visit; I thought it might be interesting (on the offchance any geeky birders read this) to go through what I saw on the first two visits. So a pretty nerdy post then. I had to think long and hard to remember what it was I saw; I definitely didn't just go to a really really cool spreadsheet and lift out all the relevant records....

Bluethroat, Noss of Spiggie, 2010

My first visit was in 2010, and was amazing. I landed at around midday, and by close of play that day had two new ticks. Here's a list of birds:

Sykes's Warbler 02/10/2010
Channerwick, Shetland
Barred Warbler 02/10/2010
Channerwick, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 02/10/2010
Channerwick, Shetland
Swainson's Thrush 02/10/2010
Levenwick, Shetland
Radde's Warbler 03/10/2010
Sumburgh, Shetland
Citrine Wagtail 03/10/2010
Out Skerries, Shetland
Black-headed Bunting 03/10/2010
Out Skerries, Shetland
Short-toed Lark 03/10/2010
Out Skerries, Shetland
Buff-bellied Pipit 04/10/2010
Eshaness, Shetland
Buff-breasted Sandpiper 2 04/10/2010
Eshaness, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 04/10/2010
Sullom, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 05/10/2010
Quendale, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 06/10/2010
Northdale, Unst, Shetland
Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll 06/10/2010
Norwick, Unst, Shetland
Little Bunting 06/10/2010
Norwick, Unst, Shetland
Lanceolated Warbler 07/10/2010
Skaw, Unst, Shetland
Red-flanked Bluetail 08/10/2010
Geosetter, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 2 08/10/2010
Geosetter, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 08/10/2010
Channerwick, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 08/10/2010
Sumburgh, Shetland
Pallas's Warbler 09/10/2010
Sumburgh, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 09/10/2010
Sumburgh, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 09/10/2010
Fladdibister, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 09/10/2010
Noss of Spiggie, Shetland
Bluethroat 09/10/2010
Noss of Spiggie, Shetland
Pallas's Warbler 09/10/2010
Geosetter, Shetland
Red-breasted Flycatcher 09/10/2010
Channerwick, Shetland

Quite impressive for a week isn't it. Six lifers, including a simply brilliant Hornemann's Arctic Redpoll. I had high hopes therefore for 2011, but it turned out to be the difficult second album. Here's another list of birds - admit it, the inner nerd within you is coming out.

Yellow-browed Warbler 25/09/2011
Brake, Mainland, Shetland
Pallid Harrier 25/09/2011
Brake, Mainland, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 25/09/2011
Quendale, Shetland
Bluethroat 25/09/2011
Quendale, Shetland
Lesser Grey Shrike 25/09/2011
Laxo, Mainland, Shetland
Icelandic Arctic Redpoll 26/09/2011
Voe, Mainland, Shetland
Barred Warbler 26/09/2011
Voe, Mainland, Shetland
Red-breasted Flycatcher 26/09/2011
Eswick, Mainland, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 27/09/2011
Kergord, Mainland, Shetland
Little Bunting 28/09/2011
Whalsay, Shetland
Common Rosefinch 28/09/2011
Whalsay, Shetland
Surf Scoter 28/09/2011
Ronas Voe, Mainland, Shetland
Black-headed Bunting 29/09/2011
Belmont, Unst, Shetland
Desert Lesser Whitethroat 29/09/2011
Uyeasound, Unst, Shetland
Bluethroat 29/09/2011
Northdale, Unst, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 29/09/2011
Northdale, Unst, Shetland
Barred Warbler 29/09/2011
Northdale, Unst, Shetland
Barred Warbler 30/09/2011
Busta House, Mainland, Shetland
Yellow-browed Warbler 30/09/2011
Kergord, Mainland, Shetland

No ticks. Disaster. Even the Sandhill Crane that I snaffled on the way up there had the nerve to remain all week and then "conveniently" relocate to Suffolk where the world and his wife saw it. It's still an impressive list of birds, just not quite as impressive as 2010. Anywhere else in the country with the exception of Scilly your hands would have fallen off due to the amount of high-fiving. As I type this, the first easterly breeze of the autumn has delivered Lancy, Pechora Pipit, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Citrine Wag and a smattering of other bits to the islands. Two of those would be new, and I still have seven days to wait - wish I was off tomorrow! Still, it's promising, very promising indeed. Is the big one out there? Third time lucky?


In common with recent posts where really I have nothing to say at all, I am just going to point you in the direction of more photos. It's not my fault, my life at present is wake up, go to work, come home, go to sleep, wake up, go to work etc. I think it's called being a grown up. Boring, but there you go, it's a miracle I do any birding at all. But I manage to squeeze some in, very very occasionally. This morning was one of those rare occasions, and I slipped out of the sleeping house well before 7am. Definitely a chill in the air, I admit to putting gloves on. The juvenile Stonechat was still around, as were three Whinchats and a Wheatear. Only the Wheatear was prepared to stick around......more here.....

Wednesday 19 September 2012


A quick link to my other blog (you can never have too many) where I've posted up a few photos of a fairly obliging Whinchat this morning. We seem to be doing exceptionally well for this species this year, and I know exactly why. Down the pub with Russ about a month ago we were discussing the best places to photograph them, as I've never had much luck close to home. He suggested that some place near Canvey Island was absolutely brilliant for them, so we made vague plans to give it a go one morning. Ever since then Wanstead has been carpeted with them. Next time I go to the pub, remind me to have a chat about Yellow-browed Warblers...

Tuesday 18 September 2012

A Wanstead first

Anything about? Immortal words, but no, there has been practically nothing. Well, does four Whinchat yesterday and two this morning count as nothing? On Wanstead Flats, pretty much it does, especially when they won't let me take photos of them. Easy to become complacent around here. No matter, as soon I will be abandoning the patch completely and heading up to Shetland, there to drown in BBRC rarities. Words cannot describe how much I am looking forward to it. For starters it means no Canary Wharf, always a plus, but to be up on those islands again, the smell of damp iris in the air, oooh it's gonna be great. If I can defeat the hand baggage police that is.....

It's a total nightmare. On the one hand, yes I do like to take too much stuff. But on the other, I might need all of it. How will I know 'til I get there? This is worse than twitching, much worse. I have it all written down. Weights, dimensions, combinations, the saddest and most tragic spreadsheet you could possibly imagine. I'm currently on about iteration 18 of what is coming with me. I've been absolutely certain about 17 times..... The biggest issue by far is that the itty-bitty plane to Shetland stipulates the maximum length of hand luggage at 40cm. My lens is 46cm long. This is a big problem. Epic in fact. And then there's the weight......Do you actually want to hear about this? No, thought not. But it consumes my every waking hour, and Mrs L is bored now, and I have to tell somebody. Work? Forget it, this is much more important. I've just about worked it out, but it involves taking the lens in a plastic bag, stuffing the camera down my pants, and crossing my fingers. Wish me luck.

Anyhow, first-world problems aside, Wanstead has been cooling off, though we are approaching Ring Ouzel season, so it could all kick off again. And as migrant numbers have falled, so dog numbers have risen exponentially. This morning was incredible, everywhere you looked, ranging in size from rat to pony. No utterly crass behaviour, but perhaps I'm hardened to it now? However on the poor behaviour front I did get one opportunity to vent forth, and remonstrated with a guy for chucking his drink can in the Alex scrub. I was amazed to find that the two friends he was with agreed with me and said it was out of order and that he should pick it up (we couldn't find it....), and that they were all three of them very sorry, that it was a big mistake and that it wouldn't happen again. Eh? You what? I could barely believe it, but I'm telling you - it happened. It was profuse, and it was genuine. No abuse, no swearing, just an apology. A Wanstead first, and I was taken aback. The state of the nation is such that I always expect to be rounded on, shouted at, sworn at. I always gamely carry on regardless, somebody has to stick up for the place or it will turn into a total shithole. So to actually get an apology from somebody who knows that they have stuffed up (i.e. a grown man chucking litter around like a schoolboy) is totally mind-blowing. It'll probably never happen again.

Just a Crow. No reason.

Monday 17 September 2012

Love the Log

There is a log on Wanstead Flats. In fact there are several. I love the logs, and I love one in particular. No, not the kind of dog-related logs that I rant about very occasionally, real logs. Wooden ones. The log I love is near Centre Road carpark, and is also loved by Air Traffic Control Man. Air Traffic Control Man is one of the regular nutters that roam Wanstead Flats. He appears around 6am, and sits on the log with a scanner and a pair of bins listening to pilot chat. You know, vector one-niner, cleared to approach kind of crap. Tragic. He should get a real hobby, a cool one. Like, err, birding. He's already got bins, and he's already at the log, it would be an easy transition. Plus he wouldn't have to lug the scanner around. Anyway, the log. The wonderful log. I'm getting there. Slowly.

This log, you see, is much favoured by Wheatears. And thus much favoured by me. If there are Wheatears on the Flats, as is very often the case, they will almost inevitably seek out this log and sit on it. Spring, autumn, adults, juveniles, they all go for this log. There are other logs, but they are second choice logs.Sub-standard logs. This log, the highest one, is the preferred log by far. A premier log. All the various Hawthorns and shrubs are higher, but they're not logs, and logs is what discerning Wheatears want. And what Wheatear afficionados want. I'm a Wheatear afficionado. No, really.

It's about three feet off the ground at its highest point, and is kind of hump-backed shaped. It's a photographer's dream, except that there's no cover at all and it's tough to get close to; you just have to hope that the Wheatear is a friendly one. You can get a completely diffuse background, green if you place broom behind, beige if you go for dried grasses. This morning there was a relatively friendly one, and I went for beige. I had been attempting to stalk Whinchats, but they were far smarter than I was, so I ventured over to the log after Nick said there was a Wheatear on it. Maybe that should be The Log. Anyway, sure enough, a Wheatear was still on it. Being on my way to work, I didn't have the lens I really wanted, but a quick addition of a converter and I had a reasonable focal length to work with.

Love the log! I've managed to use the word log 23 times in this post, which I think is a first. I've also managed nine Wheatears, despite there only being one present. This probably isn't a first.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Viz-migging Season

Regular readers will know how much I dislike twitching. The thought of needing to go for a bird is not one I enjoy, but being completely feeble-willed I continue to put myself through it. In spring and autumn entire weekends can disappear as I hoon it round the country. So it was with no small amount of joy that this Saturday morning, in the height of the "silly season", I realised there was nothing I needed to travel anywhere for, and that I could sit on my ample backside in the garden and stare at the sky. The two current megas, one in Dorset, the other at Rainham, have already been ticked-off my little bird-spotting list; bar trying to get some better photos of the Crake I need not worry about them at all.

Shades on, bins at the ready, I dragged a deckchair into the garden and plopped into it. Wonderful. Viz-migging is difficult to describe, much like seawatching; certainly it does not translate particularly well into razor-sharp prose. How to describe straining to see a Yellow Wagtail that has called four times, at first ahead of you, then behind you, and to snatch the briefest glimpse of the final bouce that takes it over the bordering trees and over the limited horizon? Or the delight I feel as a couple of Meadow Pipits squeak over; always a rare garden bird here. The totals for my 'efforts' are not impressive, and it's possible I may also have fallen asleep a couple of times. In fact I've already mentioned the highlights, the only other birds of note were a single Swallow zipping south, and s handful of stratospherically high House Martins. Admittedly the after-lunch period of a very warm day is not the best time to be viz-migging, but the feeling of knowing you have absolutely nothing to do is one of the best feelings in the world. No to-do list of domestic tasks left by the galivanting Mrs L, no new computers to install, no dishwashers to unstack, no megas to twitch. No cleaning, no filing, no cooking, no shopping. Nothing. My time was my own.

As the mornings get darker, my window of opportunity to get out on the patch gets smaller and smaller, and viz-migging in the pre-dawn from the garden with a nice cup of tea is one of the best ways to rack up birds. In the past it has netted me Siskin, Waxwing and Crossbill, each one greeted with whoops of delight. And just like seawatching, you never know what might happen. Although yesterday I had a fairly good idea.....

Friday 14 September 2012

Calming down

After a frenetic August, Wanstead Flats is finally calming down. It has been as good as I have ever known it, and is surely one of the premier migrant stop-offs in London. I'm very lucky to have it on my doorstep. I've been out quite a bit recently, but don't really have anything to report. Our Meadow Pipits seem to have returned from their brief sojourn in the tall trees at the southern boundary of the Flats, and are now squeaking around the broom fields again. Perhaps there was a glut of some food source in those trees, a particularly succulent caterpillar hatch for example, because for a couple of weeks it was as if there had never been a Mipit on the Flats ever. I usually don't get down to the trees I'm talking about, and it was only when I was chasing a Pied Fly over there that I realised that's where all our Mipits were. I mean, I didn't count them all or anything, but I'm confident they're our ones. So, back to normal, albeit with a dearth of migrant activity in comparison to the last few weeks. I managed a Wheatear and a Whinchat in the week, but that was it. Bo-ring!

I'm going to Shetland soon, that's the big news around here. A week on the wonderful islands, hopefully with ticks galore, but with almost constant westerlies I'm wondering what they're going to be. Yanks I guess, as there's nothing from the east getting through. I can handle Yanks (unless they live in Regent's Park), but most of my wants are actually the Sibes. White's Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, these are the sorts of birds that I'd really like to have drop in. We'll see, let's hope it isn't as hard work as last year, when hours of thrashing produced almost nothing. If the rare hunting fails though, at least I'll have a camera to take photos of sheep and rocks. 

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Baillon's again

Rainham RSPB has once again been fantastic with such a big bird, opening early and closing late so that as many people have the chance to see it as possible. Thanks to Howard, Andy T and others I was able to get in early on Saturday and see it first thing, which allowed me to then nip down to Dorset. As you do. So tonight was my turn to contribute, and after work I headed off to the reserve to help out in the hide until dusk, make sure nobody got lost, lock everything up, that kind of thing. And spot the Crake as it happens. It showed twice while I was there, the first time really well, including swimming fully in the open across a gap. Apparently lots of people have been putting in crazy hours and still not managed to see it, whereas I've been on site for about six hours and had about 25 minutes worth of quality viewing. I must just be really amazing at seeing Baillon's Crakes I guess. Everyone in the hide at last knockings today left happy I think, but apologies to anyone who made the rookie error of leaving before I arrived, as I now have some slightly better photos of it to grip you off with.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Goose Melange

It's felt pretty autumnul the last couple of days. Sunday started warm and sunny, but gradually a breeze took over, and the week so far has probably been ten degrees cooler than recently. It's brought about a change in the birds as well, most of the migrants have disappeared, and there have been few new arrivals. Having been so amazing lately, it's seemed completely dead the last couple of mornings. Perhaps though it's the start of a change, and we'll soon get the big hirdundine days, the big Woodpigeon days, and Meadow Pipits piling through.

I wandered around for an hour and a half this morning and saw very little. Of note were 28 species of goose on the Flats, which was fairly impressive, though 25 of these were contained within just two birds....

My journey to work was brought to a halt by news of a person under a train somewhere - so selfish -  and so I retraced my steps to the bus and onwards to the concrete jungle, where Canada Geese would have been pretty exciting. The best I could manage was a Black-headed Gull that posed for the camera and so allowed for some boring testing of teleconverters with the 300mm lens I recently reclaimed. I'll spare you the detail here (it's here), suffice it to say that I think it's definitely a viable combination, and that I think that this is going to be the go for Shetland.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Faces in the crowd

A few shots from the Olympic Park on the final day of the 2012 Paralympic Games. We were there for the Seven-a-side Football final, good fun, but which after the boiling cauldron of the Olympic Stadium for the athletics a week ago, proved something of an anti-climax. The bronze medal went to Iran who drubbed Brazil 5-0, and the gold to Russia in a turgid affair versus the Ukraine that ended 1-0. We were unfortunately placed at the north of the arena, straight into the midday sun, effectively ending my hopes of capturing any sporting action. Instead I picked out faces in the crowd with my new favourite lens, a 300 f2.8 gem that I bought about three years ago and which I've barely used as it has been away paying for itself. While I've been sat in Wanstead, and latterly Canary Wharf, the lens has travelled the globe. Safaris, sporting events, airshows, birding trips, you name it it has probably been there and done it - I'm very jealous of where it has been, but it's back now, and will learn to love Wanstead Flats. It's a joy to use, and you can't really argue with 'free' either!



Dowitcher at the Crake of Dawn

Not a lesser-known Pink Floyd album, but rather a description of a long, tiring and excellent day. A relatively crazy day if the truth be told, but the sort that I am partial too now and again. In a stunning show of fortitude and immense will-power, as you know I did not twitch the Short-billed Dowitcher in Dorset on Thursday when I could easily have gone. Dowitchers, I reasoned, stayed a long time, and even if did the Friday night bunk, really that was win-win as then I wouldn't have to go. I have an admittedly somewhat strange approach to UK listing. So, on Friday evening plans were hatched in the event it was still there, and at the monthly birders drinks in Hornchurch the usual accusations of filth were levelled.

Midway through about pint two, Hawky's phone rang, and threw all the plans out the window. There was a Baillon's Crake at Rainham Marshes. A visitor to the reserve had photographed it from the new Butts Hide (and thus has now justified every penny of its immense cost), and knowing it was something unusual but not quite sure what, had taken her camera into the visitor centre. I'm amazed that Howard is still alive. H was opening up at 6 the next morning. Plans were hastily changed - Tim would now drive Nick and I to Rainham, and we would return in convoy with Rich and John back to Wanstead when Mrs L had finished with the car, and proceed to Dorset. Easy. I carried on boozing.

That might have been a mistake, I surmised when I woke up in a dry-mouthed fug at 4:18am the next day. Somehow I got my shit together and made it to Tim's - all of about fifty yards - and then immediately fell asleep again in the back of his car. I woke up again about 20 seconds later at Rainham, Tim is a very fast driver, and staggered to the hide. A few people were already there, but I think I ignored them all and went and found a seat, there to lay my head on some woodwork. Suddenly Dom was on it! How, I have no idea, it was still dark, but sure enough as the light improved a bit, there it was pottering about just in front of the hide. It paraded around for about twenty minutes from 6am, and then disappeared off to the right. Two very brief flight views (I missed both) at 7am, and that was it for the day; thereafter those in the hide were known as 'dippers'. Crake safely under the belt - including for Prof W, his 300th bird in London - and with the Dowitcher still preset, we were now good to proceed with part two of the plan, though unfortunately Rich had schoolboyed and arrived just that little bit late. Given that he's seen about 800 species in the UK, including Baillon's, he is thus fairly chilled about these minor inconveniences, which was a good thing as it was the right call to leave. Hawky and the Dipmonkey stayed for a further ten hours and saw nothing.

ISO 10000!!

The journey down to Dorset was pretty painful, but that's what you get for leaving mid-morning. It's not as bad as Cornwall though, and Rich and John's stories of mammoth drives for various birds made the trip seem almost local. We got down there for early afternoon and happily the juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher was showing well on arrival. Two tick day - not often I get to say that! It didn't do much, and then went to sleep, and showing no signs of waking up we thought the best option would be to twitch the Monarch butterfly at Portland. I'm glad we did, it was spectacular! I don't yet keep a butterfly list, but if I did this would definitely be on it. A bit ragged, but think where it's come from! I'd be in terrible shape if I'd just been blown across the Atlantic, so this was miraculous.

Butterfly duly papped, we returned for another crack at the Dowitcher but this time there was no sign of it, we had been pretty lucky earlier by the looks of it. SB Dowitcher is a mega mega - only the second ever in the UK, although there have been a few more in Ireland. They migrate before the Atlantic storms really kick in, and so very rarely get blown off course. Long-billed Dowitchers leave a few weeks later, and so are much more susceptible to encounter various hurricane systems. They look very very similar, but those in the know can do them - Rich in fact was one of the first people to suggest that people keep a close eye on this bird having seen just a blurry photo online, which probably explains why he was so keen to see it in the flesh. It was too far away for the puny lens I decided to take with me to be of any use, but there are some photos on Josh's blog here which show what you need to see.

Some celebratory fish and chips, and thankfully a better drive home, during which I only nearly crashed twice, in contrast to some wonderful stories from the big league boys in the back seat about really crashing, totalling cars, and coming close to becoming ex-twitchers. Note to self: if planning immense twitching days, stay in rather than going to the pub, and go to sleep early rather than in the small hours. It never really happens like that though, does it? A great day, a two tick mega day, an exhausting day, but a day now in the past. Silly season has well and truly started, what more will it bring?