Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Moral Maze

I have a massive dilemma, what you might call a proper first world problem. It concerns my garden list, and a potential first for it. As everyone knows, the rules, such as they are, are that either you or the bird must be within the property boundary. As such this means that provided you’re at home, birds that never came anywhere near your garden, and never will, can easily be ticked. Owners of perfectly ordinary suburban gardens, a bit of grass and a few shrubs, can therefore safely claim all Gulls, a variety of waders and wildfowl, and any raptor that happens to drift by. I’ve got Tufted Duck on my garden list, and have no intention of taking it off. The fact that it flew over Wanstead Flats from one pond to another is completely irrelevant.

I left the house quite early this morning, and was wandering through the SSSI towards the bus stop when I caught sight of three largish birds heading towards me. At this point they were roughly over the Jubilee pond  - clearly wildfowl, but bigger than Mallards. For a moment I wondered about Shelduck, but then they banked and became Egyptian Geese. Oh shit, they had banked left. And left takes them over where I live. Can you guess whether Egyptian Goose is on my garden list or not? I turned for home and started running, but I knew I wouldn’t make it. I just made it to the end of my road to see the three birds disappear over the rooftop, and judging how far down the road they had crossed over is near on impossible. What to do? I would have had a glorious view of them from my upstairs back window, I could have tracked them all the way in.

Naturally I’ve pored over maps. The birds were almost certainly headed for the Basin, which is where I always see them on the way back from the school run. If you draw a line from the point I think they turned left to the Basin, it bisects my chimney pots. You’ll have to trust me on this – I was going to make a nice map, but I’ve decided that even with the Lions, the Crocodile pits and so on, I can’t publish where I live online. Anyone who watches the news will know how difficult it is to remove a protest camp once it’s set up....

An Egyptian Goose prepares to fly 'over' my house

I’ve long been saying that Egyptian Goose was a likely candidate for my next garden tick, and it goes and happens when I’m not at home. Had I left home one minute later I would have made it back to plonk a foot on the front drive and claim them for all eternity. Woe is me, what to do? Happily, help is at hand. When it comes to avian listing dilemmas, there is only one man to whom you should turn. Professor Whiteman of Walthamstow - I feverishly composed a text message there and then, describing what happened. I felt sure I’d get the answer I was looking for.

The answer quickly came back, but was not what I was looking for. Far from it in fact. Almost unbelievably, the Professor has been placed on gardening leave, something about some dodgy research involving Red Kites. While this is being investigated by the scientific community, he is unable to comment on individual cases of bird vectorisation. However he promised to forward the query to the resident Agony Uncle at Dudeing World magazine. He was a good as his word, and earlier this morning I received the following email from Uncle Paul.

Dear Jono,

A dilemma indeed, and one we have all struggled with. I think it all boils down to your listing ethics, which, as is now well established, get looser in direct proportion to the size of ones patch. British Life List = lots of competition and therefore scrutiny = very strict rules. House list = you're on your own, nobody much cares = looser rules.

I think the basic: seen in, from or over rule is a given but a little known ruling from the International House Listing Governing Body (IHLGB) states in Ch2 Sec8 SubSec 1 Par3.2 "if one is approaching the property but not actually on site, yet the Bird is clearly seen over the patch it is countable." Remember too that House list air space is the shape of an upturned pyramid so a bird even some distance away can be 'over' the house.

There was a local attempt to stretch this rule but it was (probably fortunately) thwarted by the Wheatears, on a nearby field, refusing to line up with the Birders scope and wife, who was hanging out of the bedroom window. I suspect even the IHLGB may have struggled with a ruling on that one, though of course a bung never hurts.

On the other hand Egyptian Geese are not getting any scarcer, perhaps something to do with the Arab Spring, so you might not have to wait to long for a kosher (maybe halal?) tick.

On the other matter you wrote about, it happens to all boys and you will probably grow out of it.

Uncle Paul

Personally I find the concept of house airspace being an inverted pyramid extremely comforting, and had no idea that this was official. Of course, it makes a huge amount of sense. If I were watching from my house, the countable airspace would indeed resemble such a pyramid, so it follows very naturally that even a short distance from the house, that pyramid would still apply. And it’s not as if Mrs L called me up and said she saw an Egyptian Goose fly over the house while I was at work – I actually saw it – them – fly over, if not directly over the top, well within the standard Louvre-like pyramidal shape that is centred on my house. It might not have quite the cachet of a garden tick from the actual property, but there’s no doubt whatsoever that the birds were present. Egyptian Goose represents the 77th IHLGB-approved tick for my garden, and although long-anticipated, is very welcome nonetheless. I’m sure that there are many listers out there who have faced this same dilemma over the years, not least those partaking in the patch-list challenge. Although the rules from the IHLGB are clear, I’d be interested to hear where you stand, and look forward to your comments.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Cold wind a comin'

The moment many local patch workers have been waiting for is nearly upon us. The big freeze. Ok, so it isn't big, and it isn't going to be particularly freezing - at least not in Wanstead - but it's the first properly cold snap of this year, and, crucially, the continent is going to be properly cold. I'm told that's the key really, and that the weather in Wanstead is irrelevant. Wanstead has no interesting birds, thus places that do have interesting birds need to become inhospitable in order for any of them to travel here. Suits me.

I've devoted quite some time these last few days to thinking about what I'd lke to find, and where I'd like to find it. This has been slightly problematic, as because I'm working from home quite a lot, I'd really like to find things in my garden. Trouble is, the birds I'd like to find are things like Smew, and unless the weather does something truly remarkable, I have a nagging feeling my garden is going to miss out. I'd rather it does actually, as any feelings of extreme meganess are likely to be tempered by feelings of extreme worry that my house is now in the middle of a lake, with the Thames flood plain a, well, flood plain. Hawk Owl in the big tree at the end? Yeah, that'll do.

It's basically all about movement of wildfowl and waders. Lapwing area good shout, and if I'm spectacularly lucky, a Golden PloverWild Geese and Swans usually put a good showing in in the London area, but again, you have to be lucky, and realistically, on the river. Ducks are by far my best chance. Wigeon may move, we could get a Goosander or two, but the real prize would be a Merg, or the aforementioned Smew.  

This weekend I was mostly going round in circles 

As I may have mentioned already, I didn't see many birds this weekend. Mainly I was busy enjoying real life, but when I did get out to Wanstead Flats briefly on Sunday afternoon, there wasn't a whole lot to see. This is the trouble with the end of January - well, most of January really. By the end of the first week you've seen pretty much every bird you're going to see until the end of March - that's why this upcoming continental cold snap is so exciting, it could bring variety, something DIFFERENT. On my brief foray out into the broom fields I noted two singing Song Thrushes, a Fieldfare sat in the top of a tree, and three Meadow Pipits. The excitement stakes were briefly raised when several straggly lines of birds appeared from the south, but rather than the Bean Geese I was hoping for they materialised into Cormorants. 31 Cormorants is pretty impressive for here, especially in one flock, but there's something undeniably crappy about them. Like they're just shit basically. Further excitement came with an uberflock of Ring-necked Parakeets heading in the opposite direction - I had just had a couple singles heading towards Forest Gate, and then a group of six, when a cacophony came down the breeze. The biggest flock of Parakeets I've seen this side of Sidcup cruised over the Coronation Plantation and onwards to who knows where to wreak destruction and chaos. I managed to whip out the trusty smartphone for a snap, and later counted 67 dots. That's loads, but again, not really something I can greet with any particular enthusiasm. A fly-over Bewick's Swan? Now that would be greeted with considerable enthusiam!

Sunday, 29 January 2012


Some people are just talented. Many people, probably. Most, I expect, we don't get to hear about. They are busy being talented in a worthwhile way somewhere else. Others we gain just a snippet of, now and again, when excess talent spills out from whatever it should have been doing and onto the interweb. You could spend hours on the interweb and find many many delightful things. Here are just a few that I consistently go back to.

First up this one. I have no idea who this person is, or what she does, but in blog form she does it very well. A fellow Londoner it seems, though perhaps not wholly pleased about it. So from the west comes Whoopee, with tales of family life, bicycles, moustaches and special DIY skills. The posting has been sporadic of late, but this great little cartoon reminds me why I bookmarked it in the first place.

Next is Gyr Crakes, from the Channel Islands I think. Not that it matters. I loved Reservoir Cats, shame that went, but this is nearly as good. It must take the guy ages to do the drawings, which means they're relatively few and far between, but they are absolutely spot on in relation to the abyss that is the British birding scene. Long may he find time between marking text books or whatever it is that he does, to continue providing us with these hand-drawn gems. The music videos are similarly sharp, but it's the drawings I like.

Returning after an introspective break, blaming work by the sounds of it, is Emma Waffle from Uccle (a major city in Belgium). If you have the time - and you will need A LOT - then it is well worth a read. I'm still not quite sure why I like it, but I do. Going back a few years it got all emotional and rather soul-baring, but that has now passed, at least in blog form, and she is back to doing what she does best, which is whining about the state of her house, dog, children and adopted nation, and fantasizing about shiny things, owls, and baby animals. A lot of other people seemingly feel the same way, as about five minutes after any post there are usually about a million comments. Just like my blog.

Last but not least, and quite possibly the funniest person that writes about birds on the internet, is Tom McKinney. Apparently mild-mannered in real life, his internet persona is very slightly different, and the easily-offended should look away now. It is said that everyone has a book in them. In Tom's case, it should perhaps have stayed in him, but it has now made it's way onto the interweb, and can be viewed here. Make sure you set aside a full day, and have pen and paper handy to keep notes as otherwise you won't understanding a fucking thing. See, look, I'm swearing - he does this to you, it's like watching Billy Connolly. Serialised adventures aside, there are some terrific posts that I cannot help but laugh out loud at. Sometimes I even read them twice. To give you a flavour try here, here, and here, and then tell me if you think British birding is going to Hell in a something handcart.

No, not much birding this weekend...

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Filthy Yearlisting and Twitching

But not by me!! Hah! Everyone I know seems to be twitching or year-listing. Take the Mo, as fervent an anti-twitcher as you would ever meet - he didn't even get his arse down to Dungeness for the Oriental Pratincole. But where was he last week? Tear-arsing round Essex in search of filthy ticks, that's where. Yep, Glossy Ibis and Red-breasted Goose ticking. Every time I see him he goes off on one about how all his mates are wrong in the head, chasing round the country for birds, and what does he go and do? He's just blogged about Black-tailed Godwits in London, but don't let that fool you, he's hardly ever in London - most of his Peregrine shots are taken in Wales probably. Filth.

Moving on, who should we find nutty year-listing? Me? I don't think so! I would never be so silly. Nope, it's Hawky, that's who. The two years that I saw over 300, at this exact date I was on 147 & 148. Filthy Hawkins? 152. Yes, you read that right. 152. Unbelievable. Again, another person who professes sensibleness and the virtues of local patching. He came over today to year-tick the Wanstead Firecrests. Next stop the Girling for Black-necked Grebe, and then to Connaught Water where I helped him pick out some male Mandarins - tricky little blighters. Not content with all these ticks it was back to Wanstead for Ring-necked Parakeet and a shot at Lesser Spot. We failed on that, but the Parakeets were a walk in the park. Literally. Filth.

Normally (or perhaps not), Nick would be found walking in the Park. But not today. As dedicated a patch-worker as you will find, there was no sign of him, no gripping messages about Lapwings, no counts of Redwing. Instead a series of garbled messages about trains, small Geese and Norfolk. Two weeks ago Hampshire. Last weekend, Dorset. This weekend, Norfolk, in search of the Lesser White-front before it buggers off back to Pensthorpe. He's reached 150 with a Purple Sandpiper in Lowestoft! Filth.

In addition to a Lesser White-fronted Goose, Bradders could also have been found at Buckenham. In contrast to the three miscreants above, this is perfectly normal. Finding him outside of Norfolk is probably more unusual. He professes to be visiting family, and pretends (every year) that he isn't year-listing. Desperate. Hot news from Norfolk is that he's on 149, a real laggard. If he reads this tonight I expect it will motivate him to be out at dawn tomorrow. At Helston probably.

As far as I can tell, the only person I know who has stayed true is Shaun, who birds the Ingrebourne Valley, as his title picture hopefully makes clear. He's been dipping the pair of White-fronted Geese that have been there. And me. Where was I? Wanstead of course, seeking patch ticks to get that Golden Mallard winging its way to the big smoke. It didn't happen, but I did jam another Kingfisher briefly, and whilst I had my camera pointing vaguely in the right direction as well, always pleasing. Highlights were that, and a high count of Pochard on Heronry, a staggering 54 birds. Oh, and an honourable mention to the carrot cake from the tea shop of happiness, which showed well, if extremely briefly.

My year-list? 136. Comfortably lower than anyone else I know.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Dreams come true!!

But not for me..... There I was, sitting in my little grey cubicle in big grey Canary Wharf when my phone bonged. It was from Nick. This is rarely good news. He had the good grace to start with an apology, but there was no getting away from the fact that a Lapwing had just flown over his head. Unlike my dream, this one was going east, but they all count.

Meanwhile I took a stroll round Canary Wharf. Though 13 Great Crested Grebes was a new high, I could not help but feel slightly short-changed. If I walked around Wanstead for an equivalent amount of time, I'd easily rack up 30 species, possibly more, and I wouldn't just be seeing one of things, I'd be seeing loads. In 45 minutes today, during which I circumnavigated the whole patch, I saw eleven species. The highlight, other than the Grebes, was a Blue Tit. There is poor, and then there is downright impoverished. And then there is Canary Wharf. At one stage, at the far eastern end of my defined boundary, I thought I heard a Pied Wagtail. I quickly folded my hat up over my ears for that ultra-cool look that I pass off so well, but whatever it was it didn't call again, and with a whole packet of peanuts at stake I can't go claiming dodgy ones. 

It will be interesting* to see what happens this spring. I am working it harder than ever before in the limited time I spend there, so perhaps it will shine**. The happy*** news is that my contract has been extended, so I get to spend more time there. Woohoo!**** But it does mean crusts on the table (and wine in the cellar) and in these uncertain times I am thankful; there are plenty of people who are not employed, and plenty of people for whom the future is doubtful. I would still like to petition for continued child benefit though, it's the only reason I had children, and it's the only monetary benefit I have ever claimed. If it goes I will be forced to injure myself more in order to extract a quasi tax rebate out of the NHS. I assure you it will be quite easy- in fact I stubbed my toe (THE toe) just the other day and for a brief moment of extreme pain I thought it had all gone wrong again. It certainly hasn't healed quite correctly, I wonder if I ought to have had some kind of cast after all? Mind you, the doctor I had probably would have put it on the wrong foot....

* not
** almost certainly not
*** errr...
****Never has a woo and a hoo been quite so muted

Monday, 23 January 2012


The other night I had a dream. It's possible that I dream every night, I have no idea how it works, but it's not every morning you wake up and wonder whether it was all a dream, so to speak. This particular dream was about the patch, and I was on it. The snide will comment that it must have been a dream, and indeed, sometimes it does appear to be like that, especially so at the moment, where I get perhaps one opportunity a week to not see Woodpeckers. This dream was not about Woodpeckers though, it was about Lapwings.

Lapwings are what a local bird report might call a scarce visitor. When I first moved here, Lapwing was pretty much a dream bird. I suppose, given recent events, that it still is. Anyway, I had lived here nearly five years before I saw my first Lapwing - in a cold spell one December, 12 flew over me in the Park. I could barely believe it. I dashed home to report the good news to my fascinated family, and in a calculated move of which I am still immensely proud, went and stood in the garden for the rest of the day. Lo and behold, and to a chorus of pure joy, a single Lapwing flying south went and got itself onto the house list. Since that momentous day, I've seen Lapwings a further nine times, totalling 33 birds, though I guess you have to be a fan of urban patch stats to truly appreciate this. One more stat - most of these have been from the garden - unemployment has its benefits.

In my dream I was on the Flats, not in the garden. I was in the SSSI, heading home after a fruitless trip - all the best dreams are grounded in reality. Approaching the ditch that runs approximately east to west, two Lapwings flew over. In case you were having the same dream, they went west. Anyway, they were perfect. The rounded rings, narrower at the base, were impeccably floppy, the flight impressively Lapwingy. In my dream I punched the air, over the moon at a tough patch year tick bagged. Then I woke up. Well, not immediately I don't suppose, but upon waking the dream was still fresh, still vivid, in my mind's eye I could picture them still.

One of the very first ones
Is this post a confession? Not really, you all know I'm a sad case already. I am giving absolutely nothing away when I admit that I dream of birds, but what I feel is particularly noteworthy is that I don't dream about finding Sibe Rubythroats on Unst, or jamming in on Calandra Larks on Scilly. No, I dream about bog standard common waders on my own patch. Unconscious dedication.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Once Upon a Time we had Woodpeckers

For the last two years on the trot we have had Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers breeding on Wanstead Flats. Wanstead Flats is mostly grassland and football pitches, with a few mature copses. The lack of cover meant you could easily see the Woodpeckers for the trees, so to speak. Lesser Spotted Woodpecker is a good bird anywhere, let alone London, and as they were so reliable, people came from far and wide to get a glimpse of them. Most came away happy, and we, the patch-workers, were also happy. Wanstead is good for Woodpeckers.

Then came health and safety. The Corporation of London, who in all the time I have lived here I have yet to see perform a single worthwhile act that benefits wildlife, decided that the trees in the copses were dangerous. Being so attractive to Woodpeckers, and so, well, dead, there was a risk that they might fall on someone, and that that someone might sue. So breeding Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers be damned, all those trees are now gone. You cannot argue with health and safety. It's like trying to argue with the Olympics, utterly pointless.

The copses are used by breeding Starling, breeding Stock Dove, and Woodpeckers. Blue and Great Tits feed in them, as do winter thrushesSquirrels and Noctule Bats call them home, and when we had Little Owls, they lived there too. Human activity is confined to the drinking of lager, the lighting of barbeques, the dropping of litter, and casual sex. All of those activities could do with a large lump of wood interrupting them in my opinion. But no, the Corporation does not want to be sued by a bunch of half-drunk eastern european migrants or aged doggers, so the trees have all been reduced to bare trunks. The sensible thing to do would have been to fence off the copses, and leave nature to run its course, which would result in lots of nice dead wood for invertebrates, and the continued presence of breeding Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. But no, a branch might crush a drunk, so it's far safer just to get rid of the trees altogether. At least the beetles and grubs will have some nice logs to get going on though. Er, no. They constitute a fire hazard, and so have been removed in case the local youf or aforementioned drunks decide to burn them.

I spent a good two hours looking for Lesser Spots on Wanstead Flats today. Guess what?

I took this in 2010
Now the tree looks like this.

A big two fingers up to wildlife

Friday, 20 January 2012

Deep pockets

As I go about the tricky business that is sorting out how to get to fantastic birding destinations other than Wanstead Flats, I find myself once again feeling a very deep hatred for budget airlines. In a civilised society, budget airlines would be banned. Instead they are free to con, swindle and rip us off at every opportunity. The booking process is of course the worst bit - somehow, every time and without fail, a £29.99 flight advertised in flashing lights ends up costing about £200. First there are the taxes, not a lot you can do about that apart from vote for the other lot next time around. But then, incrementally, the airlines find more ways to hike it up. So you find insurance pre-selected, including snow and ice cover for your spring break in Egypt, and you find that you are about to hire a car for your trip to Venice. You find that the flight price didn't include a seat on the plane - perhaps you are expected to stand? So booking one - pre-selected for your convenience - sets you back another few quid. If, like I was, you're taking several flights, you find that this applies to each leg, so multiple lots of a few quid. Pre-boarding before the other poor sods on your flight? More money please. What, you want to take some stuff on holiday? Well, you'll need a suitcase then, so another charge - but half price if you book it now rather than at the airport! OK, we're almost done. Do you want to check-in at the airport? If so it'll cost ya! Online it is then. So, your total is now £180. Ah, hang on, we haven't yet added enough spurious extra charges, so we need to add a booking fee. In fact, a booking fee per leg. That's better. Right, £200 then. How would you like to pay? Got a credit card like any normal person? Excellent, that'll be an additional £10. Bit steep? OK, how about a debit card - this only costs us 20p to process, so we can generously drop the handling fee to £8. What, you find that absolutely outrageous? OK, what about a Visa Electron or a pre-paid Mastercard, we don't charge for them. Know why? Because nobody has one and they don't actually exist.

In the end, the flight is probably cheaper than a real airline, but how much there is in it I have no idea. The problem is that budget airline customers end up loathing their carrier before they have even left for the airport - how can that be any kind of successful business model? For me though, the villainly of the booking process is eclipsed by the hand luggage restrictions. The policy on some budget airlines is near enough identical to a normal, decent and morally superior airline, which means that by and large you can get one of those small rolling suitcases on. Some however are just plain evil, and they slash these dimensions to a plainly ridiculous degree, typically about 1cm less than any known bag. You're allowed to bring the case your bins came in, and that's it. Unfortunately birders are not known for travelling light. In addition to bins we need scopes. We need tripods, and we possibly need cameras. All nice and bulky.  Packing for birding trip is agony, it takes hours. You pack and repack, you stand on the bathroom scales to see how much your bag weighs. You unpack it all and start again. Three weeks later, you're ready.

At the airport you stand in a long line. Though you checked-in online, this in fact means nothing, you still have to queue. There is one person at the desk, and she is dealing with an irate fat scouser. Finally you get to the front, pretending that your bag isn't really really hurting your back. Nobody asks to see it, nobody weighs it, nobody tries to squish it into one of those little cages. Phew, I've done it, I've made it! The plane is only four hours late, but hey, they didn't check my hand luggage! Result!!

You wait in yet another queue for the plane. They announce boarding - you're off!! All of a sudden there are budget airline staff everywhere! They are checking bags, and they have one of those little cages. In sight of the plane, too late to do anything about it, and now, finally, they are getting draconian on bags. The choice is a stark one. Leave your bag containing thousands of pounds worth of optics behind, forfeit your flight, or.....pay £60 to have a man take your bag to a different door on the airplane approximately twenty feet from the door you're about to go through. Weeping, passengers reach for their credit cards, presumably to be told that if that's how they want to pay, the price has risen to £100. The whole process is sickening. I read recently about a great airline scam - the sizing containers at the check-in desk of one budget airline were larger than the ones at the departure gate! Passengers bags passed the initial checks with flying colours, and then failed the later one. A nice little earner, as they say. I would not be at all surprised if check-in staff work on a commission basis.

The only way to successfully travel on a budget airline is to wear all your clothes, including a coat with masses of pockets. I habitually use a fishing jacket - the rear pocket, designed for trout, can hold a 300mm lens with no problems at all. I can get full size bins in one of the front pockets, a DLSR in the other. A wide-angle lens, macro, and both converters go in the top pockets, my tripod head in another, and I can smugly present them with a very small carry-on bag. My weight has doubled, but so what? I bet I still weigh less than that scouser. I actually think airlines should charge fat people more. Where's the equity in charging me for a bag weighing 1kg more than the defined limit, when the guy behind me weighs the same as my entire family? But I suppose that would be fattist, or whatever the word is, and anyway, I'm at risk of getting charged.......

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Bills bills and more bills

I have not had any nice post for ages. You know, people sending gifts of chocolates, free optical samples, that kind of thing. The only things that have landed on the mat have been in brown envelopes. Brown envelopes always signal doom. The accepted method of dealing with brown envelopes is to leave them on the kitchen counter unopened and hope they go away. They don't, they just stack up. I've let ours stack up for a couple of weeks now. The crunch came yesterday when a child presented me with an envelope fresh from their school bag. Guess what colour it was? Gah! My own children giving me bills! What have I done?! What have I forgotten to do?!

It was a bill for cello lessons. I've only just paid for three lots of school dinners for this half term, even the school is bankrupting me. I decided to get it over with, and opened the envelopes on the counter. They came to a four figure sum, and are all due now. And it's not like that's it either. The good ship Eco One needs taxing again next month, which also means it needs insuring again. That's another whopper right there I expect. Bills, bills, bills. Basically everything becomes due in either January or February, which is straight after Christmas, not a period known for frugality. But it doesn't stop there. The start of the year is also when you start planning stuff, so today I also booked a flight to Shetland, paid a deposit on a self-catering cottage on Mull, and booked a CalMac ferry ticket.  If you're going to be left with beans, you might as well do it properly.

I was just recovering from that by soothingly working out how many decades I had left on my mortgage when an email arrived. It was from the electricity company. Please read your meter, it said, as we would like to send you an enormous bill. If you don't, it went on to say, we will estimate your usage and send you an enormous bill anyway. Win.

Now before you all start sending me cheques, or small wads of used fifties, I am able to pay these bills. I would have been very foolish to have signed up to all the various things that the bills relate to if I could not, though note that this has not stopped many many people from spending wantonly and sucking this country into a large hole, along with the good financial people who encouraged their borrowing. No, it is all OK, just about, and though it pains me, we are not on the street just yet. It's just when it comes up in one lump that you actually notice quite how much normal living actually costs. We are not extravagant people (except for Mrs L's obsession with buying obscene quantities of optical equipment almost constantly), we live well within our means. My car is twenty years old, and we have not heard of flat screen TVs. Most of our kitchen cupboard doors hang on one hinge, and we have instructed our butler to only feed the tropical fish twice a week. My point is that even if you only stick to the basics, which by and large we do, the cost of living is simply ridiculous. Take my council tax for example. Monumental - over two thousand pounds!! Imagine the holiday we could go on?! Imagine the left-hand barrel of a pair of Swarovski SVs! Included within that (since about 2006, and until about 2018)is of course my personal contribution to the 2012 Olympics. The same Olympics that are two miles away and that I got no tickets for. The same Olympics that are going to build a fuck-off police megabase on Wanstead Flats mere yards from my house and prevent me birding Jubilee pond. The same Olympics that are between me and work, and where the transport bosses think that a wait of half an hour to get onto the tube at Stratford is "reasonable". Talking of which, getting to work costs me almost six quid - it's about five miles away. Eating lunch is another four or five, and don't get me started on coffee. At the Spanish Sparrow twitch a bacon roll and a cup of coffee cost me £1.50. In Canary Wharf, where my best bird this year has been a measly Blackbird, I'd be looking at a fiver. London is sickening, and I'm led to believe that there are plenty of other places that are equally as outrageous.

You know what, I am all whined out. Typing this has been very helpful, and I now know what to do. Pour myself a drink. I'll try not to think about 60% of every sip being tax.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Olé Olé, Olé Olé

Many many sensible people arriving in the dark for a bird that will be present all year.

Although I very rarely twitch, as any regular reader of these pages will know, there were a couple of cars heading down to the New Forest yesterday. Would I like to be in one of them? Well, not really, but if you insist on having my wit and repartee in order to make the drive that much shorter, how can I refuse? Right, pick you up at 5am says Bradders. 5am? Holy S. Five in the morning, ie waking up at four something, to see a bird that looks remarkably similar to a Sparrow, and that has been there a year and will likely be there a further year. A bird so comfortable in its surroundings that like many a sailor in a foreign port, it has knocked up one of the local lasses, and is even now eyeing up some more. Never have european relations been stronger than in Calshot, Hampshire. But would the bird still be there for the weekend masses?

Housing Estate-watching

An emphatic yes, though I was surprised how few people were there. I had been anxiously expecting a good five-hundred, and had been preparing myself for the shame of being seen amongst so many green-clad middle-aged men. In the event it was fine, perhaps a hundred tops, and many of them in blue, though there is no getting away from the age. I am uncomfortably part of a very particular demographic. But hey, twitching is fun! Ticking birds is fun. Yes, even Sparrows. The locals were doing a roaring trade in bacon butties and teas, and I thought the whole thing passed off really well, with no stupidity from anyone, not even me. Not that it would have been possible to scare the bird off, the thing was seemingly impervious to humans. Anyway, as soon as we were done with ticking it, we were heading off birding in the wilds of the New Forest, where we doubted we would see another birder all day.

¿Qué estás mirando, mal vestido idiota?

Unfortunately the New Forest is teeming with goodies, and we could not avoid driving round in what was essentially an enormous convoy of birders all visiting the same locations. So first the Dark-eyed Junco somewhere near Bewlee (although the signposts all said Beaulieu for some reason), then Blashford for a semi-Ferruginous Duck, and then somewhere else for a regular Hawfinch roost. I swear I saw the exact same people at every place. They probably wondered what I was doing there too.

But of course...

The birds were good. My second Junco, a bird I had not expected to see another of, performed beautifully with 11,000 Reed Buntings and 250,000 Chaffinches. Crossbills were an almost constant feature, all three Swans (naturally, as I had failed to see Bewick's last year), and the Hawfinches showed superbly by their standards. A grand day out, and my year-list is going extremely well.

Managed to take this out of one of the few windows at Blashford HWT that actually opened and that wasn't blue. Worst hides I have ever been in by some distance, they need to sort it out.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


I apologise in advance for what is a highly predicatable post, but one that is wholly consistent with what birding means to me. It’s about Wheatears, and their almost imminent arrival. Over the last three years, Wheatears have arrived on Wanstead Flats on March 14th, March 20th, and March 29th. Doing the maths, if you take the median, it’s the 20th; if you take the average, it’s the 21st. I wonder what the median for this post is? Anyway, this year is a leap year, obviously none of the last three were, and even though the Wheatears are likely oblivious, the earlier date is perhaps the more accurate to use. Actually it’s probably not accurate at all, the birds will come when they come, but either way it could be excitingly soon. 69 days - that's less than ten weeks.

By then the light will be birdable by about 5.20am. That’s not the best time for passerines, they tend to rise later, but it gives me a chance to get out and have a poke around before needing to be back for the school run. You cannot possibly conceive of how tragically excited I already am. In terms of excitement levels, it’s a toss up between January 1st and Wheatear arrival. Or perhaps I’m just a tosser? No matter. Non-birders, non patch-workers, may sneer at the pathetic dribble that is my life, but there is practically nothing that I look forward to more in March, not even my birthday. Which as it happens is also in March, so there is the possibility that the first Wheatear will arrive on THE day, and that I will find it. Hasn’t happened yet, but you would hear the whoops from anywhere within the M25 I reckon.


So, just what is it about Wheatears? There are very few other regular birds that provoke these feelings. Firecrests, for example, are pretty damn smart, and I never tire of seeing them, but they’re not in the same league as Wheatears, or at least not for me. Perhaps it’s that Wheatears are the first trans-Saharan migrants to make it back each year. For us, having just gone though a miserable and dark four or five months, they probably herald the start of warmth and daylight. It’s true that I don’t look forward to the first returning autumn birds in the same way, but then again, a 1W Wheatear isn’t quite the same as a spring male. Spring male Wheatears are the birds that words like “cracking” and “stonking” were designed for. You can say that about Red-flanked Bluetails and Red-breasted Flycatchers, but deep down you know you should be reserving the accolade for talking about Wheatears. The sparkling silvery-grey mantle and head, the white forehead contrasting beautifully with the broad black eye-stripe, the warm throat and slightly buffy flanks. And the rump! The flash of white that catches your eye, that draws you in. That’s what you have drilled into your subconscious in March – visions of bounding white.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

That funny Common Gull

Now there's a title guaranteed to pull in the readers! And even ones who like Gulls - both of you - may be put off by the horror of a couple of scabby Common Gulls. On Jan 1st I found a Common Gull with an extremely streaked head - if you lined all the Gulls up in order of head-streakiness, with pure white on the left, this gull would be on the far right hand side. Wouldn't it would be nice if you could command gulls to do that, make it far easier. Anyhow, I wondered whether it was the same bird that I had seen in November, another one with a strikingly dark head.

I managed to take a photograph of each one, though unfortunately from opposite sides. I've studied then for well over five minutes now and can't make up my mind, so over to you. For what it's worth I think the streaking on the head seems very similar towards the front, more or less similar around the eyes - though I am wondering, with the bird's posture similar in each shot - whether the dark streak behind the eye isn't at a different angle on each bird. Hey ho. Moving on, a lot less similar at the back, on the nape, where the January bird (facing right) seems far darker. That said, there is a faint yet obvious whitish divide/collar between the really dark streaking on the rear of the neck and the side of the face on both birds, though it appears more distinct on the November bird (facing left). Bill colour is an obvious difference, but I can't positively say that January bird hasn't just got a bit muddy.

I'm not going to go into Ps, as frankly I have no idea what they are, but if you look at the tip of P27, you'll see a little bit of white. Is that right? Almost impossible to compare as we're looking at a different side of each bird, and they're not necessarily a mirror image. I reckon they're pretty much the same, though I can't see that darker feather on the upper back of the November bird as being present on the January bird, or at least not on the side I can see.



The other problem is that the light was dreadful on January 1st - conditions so dire that the bird looks purple - just look at the BH Gull next to it, they look almost the same shade of purple. Making any comparisons of the mantle colour is fraught with danger. So, the two bird theory? I'm almost convinced, but not quite. We do have a lot of Common Gulls on the Flats, and I'm sure that the population has a fair bit of turnover as I don't, for instance, see the scabby white-winged one every time, nor this/these darker-headed bird/birds. Could there really be two birds with ridiculous streaking like this 40 days apart. Well, very likely there could. A horrible thought indeed. Much better is this one. Spot on I'd say.

Sunday, 8 January 2012


A mixed day today. Highlights were discovering two Kingfishers and a Grey Wagtail on the Roding with Steve. Low point was discovering that I hadn't, as I had thought, got away with dropping my camera on Southend Pier yesterday. I had only just started birding, and had found a Coal Tit in Reservoir Wood. As a patch year-tick, it needed recording, so I raised the camera upwards.... God-dammit, why isn't it focussing. And hang on a minute, why is the viewfinder all blurry? Return the camera to horizontal and all fine again. Eh? Give it a shake - ah. I'm not sure it should be rattling like that... It's been coming for a while to be honest, I tend to be fairly unforgiving. The cameras I use are built like tanks, and more often than not they just bounce and continue working just fine. I've got away with it more than a few times, but this time I've been caught out and am likely going to end up several hundred pounds poorer. Mind you, the Purple Sand was definitely worth it. Grrrrrr.

I returned home and got another camera - I am lucky enough/forward-thinking enough to have a spare in case the worst happens. This meant I could take this, so we can easily see that having a DSLR gathering dust in a cupboard has been an entirely worthwhile use of funds.

Can you see the bird? The habitat is a clue...

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Southend Purple Sandpiper

I have been meaning to get myself down Southend Pier for about a month. The opportunities have been few and far between, as you need decent weather, daylight, and the high tide to all coincide so that you can see an ickle Purple Sandpiper roosting with Turnstones. These all aligned today, so I went for it. Disgusting parking charges at Southend for a cold January weekend, they only let you off on Christmas Day and Good Friday - who do they think they are, Westminster? I harrumphed, paid, and hastened to the Pier, there to miss a train by the minute I spent being all upset about parking charges. That'll learn me. Instead I went and ate some chips and saw a few Med Gulls, of which there are loads in Southend. The Med Gulls also ate some chips, but I couldn't be bothered to unpack the camera.

An Essex tick no less

Plenty of Med Gulls as well, all desperate to be photographed for this blog. How could I refuse?

And of course, lots and lots of these, running all around me and making cute noises.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A Challenging Year ahead

2012 is turning out to be the year of the challenge. I like a challenge, especially if is to do with birds. I have a separate weight-loss challenge going on, but that’s another story – in January, birds are far more interesting, and it’s much easier to seek out a Great Crested Grebe than it is to not eat a cake. So I’ve already mentioned Anas fantabulosa, the Patch List Challenge, and after the fine start on January 1st I’m currently topping the leaderboard. The rest of the contestants assure me it’s only temporary, and I’m sure they’re right. Most of the birds on a Wanstead year-list are resident. I’ve lived here long enough to know where exactly it is they are resident, and so January 1st is simply an exercise in walking round to those places and ticking them off if they’re there. This time around, most of them were. I reckon I have about eight more that are here somewhere, and then anything else for the whole rest of the year is either a regular summer breeding visitor, or a passage migrant. There are about ten regular summer breeders, about ten regular passage migrants, and the rest, perhaps 15-20 birds, is pot luck. And it’s the pot luck birds that make all of us patch-workers jump up and down, and are the birds that will determine where the Golden Mallard goes this year. I’m not dusting off my mantelpiece just yet.

Then there is the Peanut Challenge. Yesterday was my first day back in the Office. By about lunchtime my work year-list stood on one, a Pigeon. I mean literally one – a solitary Pigeon. Canary Wharf is not conducive to birds. James A, a man with a similarly bird-free work patch at Tower Bridge,  commented that he was on the grand total of three for the year. I immediately went and stood by the window until I had seen three more birds, which were two Mallards, a Coot, and a Crow. Hah, four, take that Mr A! Then James went for a walk at lunch and added nine more. Gah! This meant I too had to go for a walk, which netted me a further six, including a Blue Tit! Blue Tits are mega, but I was still behind. Thus was born the 2012 Peanut Challenge. Which of these two awful patches was truly the worst? Which one can consistently produce nothing but dross? Now you can’t have a competition based on who can see the least, as it would end up a no-score draw, so it has to be the other way around. It has to be who sees the most, and anyway, this way, even when one of us “wins”, the other can still feel proud that his work patch is truly the shittest. Everyone’s, as they say, a winner.

The stakes are high. As the name of the challenge hints at, the loser has to buy the winner a packet of peanuts. I worked here for over ten years and my patch list stands at 35. That’s truly terrible. Involve a small snack item however, and all of a sudden I’m birding it like I’ve never birded it before! Today I spent twenty-five minutes strategically placed at the far south-eastern corner of the patch (see map), and stared steadfastly east. Well there’s no point looking back into the patch, is there? I’ve already told you, there aren’t any birds there. No, the peanut-winning tactic is face outwards and strain to see birds on the far horizon that never even come near the patch. This resulted in no fewer than two Magpies, three (yes, 3!) Woodpigeons, and a flock of about 60 Starlings whizzing about over near the Dome somewhere. Closer in were a pair of Tufted Duck, a bird I didn’t think I’d get as I’ve actually reduced the patch boundaries from the previous ten years to exclude the basin they usually get on, a Moorhen, and 11 Great Crested Grebes. Wow, all of a sudden I’m on 16, and have yet to see a Great Black-backed Gull. Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Peregrine and Pied Wagtail should all be relatively easy, but after them there are no expected birds left. My work patch is so awful that it tops out at 22, after which it becomes pot luck, just like Wanstead.

It is basically entirely concrete, and incredibly densely populated by humans. There is a lot of water, but again, it’s almost entirely concrete-sided. So far I have found one floating structure that you might call habitat, but a lot of florescent yellow people are currently demolishing a building right next to it, and one presumes that once they’re finished doing that, a bunch of similarly-coloured people are going to arrive and start erecting a new one. My hopes are not high for anything using this habitat in the near future. There are three green spaces. One is in the middle of a roundabout above an underground carpark. It’s a small circular patch of exquisitely-manicured grass surrounded by a circle of London planes. It was in one of these planes that I was staggered to find the Blue Tit yesterday. The second green space is a rectangular patch of grass between Canary Wharf Tower and Waitrose. It currently has an Ice Rink on top of it, but has not been enhanced by Penguins. Later on in the year it will be covered by cars and stuff, and then by various marquees, stages and bandstands. During the short time that it might actually be grass, there is a slim possibility of a thrush visiting it – I live in hope. The third and final green space is south of here, built on top of the Jubilee line station. It is some kind of exhibition garden complete with some water sculptures. Again, it is manicured to within an inch of its life, and being right next to the station and having a path on it to the new shopping centre, is incredibly busy. I did once see a Grey Wagtail on the water sculpture, boy what a day that was - I can still visualise it now. Needless to say it remains the only Grey Wag I’ve seen here, and likely will be forever.

Given that I don’ t work here every day, it’s difficult to say what I might get to. I had initially thought that 20-25 might be a par performance, but the additional enthusiasm generated by the thought of a free packet of peanuts means that I’m going to raise my target to 35. Yup, I’m going to see as many birds in a year as I did in the previous ten, and from within a smaller area. 2012 truly is the year of the challenge.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Seeing lots of birds in Norfolk

It has more or less become traditional to bird the patch on January the first, and then have a big day out somewhere on January 2nd. Last year we went to Norfolk for the day, the year before that, Essex. Looking at a map of “where good birds are at” made it an easy choice yesterday, especially as one of our number needed the Western Sandpiper that is still hanging around at Cley.

I was out waiting on the pavement at 6am sharp, and the boys (Bradders, Monkey, and Hawky) arrived a short while later. En route, the ever sharp-eyed Hawky bagged Barn Owl and Woodcock to ensure the day-list (and the year list) got off to a flying start. Our first stop Fakenham for the interestingly-pale Great Grey Shrike. None of us were quite ready for the intense cold in North Norfolk, especially after the mildest start to January since 1821 which saw me severely over-dressed for my big day in Wanstead. I severely under-compensated and was thus almost immediately freezing, and the Shrike was not an early-riser. Whilst waiting, a load of year ticks made themselves known, including two coveys of Grey Partridge, a species I had failed to see last year. Eventually the Shrike deigned to wake up and gave excellent and prolonged views until we could stand the cold no longer and retreated to the warmth of the car, which with Paul, Monkey and especially me in it, was extremely cosy.

Definitely a very pale bird, not as washed-out as in Steppe, but you can see why people wondered about Homeyeri. I know nothing about such things, but I understand the wing formula, in particular the configuration of the white panel, is wrong for this sub-species. I thought I heard it mutter “doh!” a couple of times, but I don’t know enough about the vocalisations to know if this is diagnostic. None of this matters one jot of course, it is a Shrike, and can be enjoyed regardless. A local who had seen the bird a few times told us it had a larder in the middle of the hedge, but you couldn’t tell where it was; had we known we could have scoped it for evidence of doughnuts....

So, with two birds under the belt that I hadn’t seen in 2011, we carried on to Cley for the Western Sand, which showed immediately, though much further away than last month, which was a shame as it meant I couldn’t get any colour on it all. It still reminded me of a small Dunlin though, in the same way that Semi-Ps don’t. Next stop Salthouse, the target being coffee from the man with the miniature coffee van who can regularly be found at the beach carpark and makes excellent and extremely reasonably-priced coffee – Starbucks take note – a superb coffee in fantastic surroundings for £1.25. As I waited for the brewing process to complete, and looked longingly at the box of biscuits, a shout came from the beach  - “Glauc!” Hawky, as is seemingly normal, had done it again. Coffee in hand, he had wandered up the shingle bank and the first bird he had clapped eyes on was a first winter Glaucous Gull flying past. We all scrambled up the slope to make sure we got on this “beauty” before it disappeared out of sight, but happily it landed on the sea, caught a seal, and then came and sat on the beach to eat it. Other punters weren’t so lucky – we had phoned the news out straight away, and this being North Norfolk in early January, birders began to arrive thick and fast, but not fast enough. The gull polished off the seal in under five minutes and then continued its journey east, I think we were the only people to see it, which was a shame.
Pleased with this, as well as a bonus Snow Bunting we had kicked up on the shingle whilst trying to get closer to the gull, we turned back west towards Wells. A quick scan of the Brent flock on the pitch and putt course bagged one of the Black Brants as well as a Pale-bellied, and following up news of a Rough-legged Buzzard in the Holkham area, we were not surprised to pick it up from the car. A convenient layby appeared and we all rapidly bailed out (to the extent really fat people can get out of vehicles quickly). It was a partically leucistic bird, with extremely pale upperparts, and for a while I remained unconvinced that it wasn’t a funny Common Buzzard, but luckily the tail pattern was seen. Rough-leg was another species I hadn’t seen in 2011, annoyingly racked-up only a few days after it’s all over. Shows quite how bizarre year-listing is, or more accurately, how bizarre not year-listing is. Had I been year-listing, presumably I would have made sure to be in Norfolk a few days earlier...

The real target of the day, for me at least, was the Coue’s Arctic Redpoll at Titchwell. I had never seen this sub-species, or maybe that’s “variation on the Redpoll scale”. The initial signs were not good, cars parked all the way along the entrance track, and barely any room in the carpark. It was clearly going to be one of those afternoons. The usual comedy of watching a tricky bird with masses of other people at Titchwell ensued, but I got superb scope views of the bird as it fed with both Mealy (or what I’d call a Mealy at any rate), and a bunch of standard Lessers. The bird on Shetland in 2011 had initially been called as a Coue’s, and on first impression, I’d say that that bird looked whiter, but Redpolls are a lesson in the need for close (very close!) observation and attention to detail - as multiple previous failings have taught me - and gradually I built up a picture of the bird at Titchwell which I am pretty happy with. It might not be a tick, and indeed Redpolls could go the other way and lose me a tick or two, but it was a great bird. Needless to say, I hadn’t seen Arctic Redpoll in 2011.....

Buoyed by this success, I decided to leave the masses and walk down to the beach. There was, however, no avoiding the masses – I have never seen the place so busy. The need for year-tickage dominated though, so we stuck it out ‘til the bitter end, ‘til we had scooped up all available new birds, including two Scaup, yet another 2011 miss. What on earth was happening – that was the fifth bird I hadn’t seen in 2011, scooped up with no hassle whatsoever. The sea held two Whooper Swans, clearly also fed up with the number of people, not including us, on the reserve, a single Velvet Scoter, and perhaps a thousand Common Scoter about a mile out to sea all flying round in a huge circle, literally a ring. Any ideas why, as I have never seen anything like it. Maybe they're all feeling a bit fat from just bobbing about on the sea, and so this is their version of the January exercise regime.

We finished up at Flitcham, where I am happy to report that I dipped Little Owl. That really would have taken the biscuit, but the trees were empty. Instead we jammed a ringtail Hen Harrier, before heading back to London on 90 species. I’m not year-listing – I never do – but my records tell me that this is my best start ever. Not to worry though, I have high hopes of fading fast.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A good list and a good soaking

I didn't even make it to midnight last night. At about 10pm, yawning my head off, I looked at Mrs L and asked why exactly we were planning on staying up for another pointless two hours? Let's face it, we're not young any more, so we went to bed. I vaguely recall some fireworks (not those kind of fireworks....) that probably indicated midnight, but I didn't even open my eyes to check.

This nice long sleep meant I actually managed to get out of bed at 7am, some three hours earlier than I seem to have managed for about a week. By 7.30 I was on the patch, and I birded it 'til dusk, which I have not done for a very very long time. And you know what? It was great, absolutely brilliant - until it started to rain, which it did, very heavily, until dusk. I actually deserve some kind of patch-birding medal, as at the point it started raining I was about five minutes from home, and I could very easily have gone back, especially as I had just scored Firecrest and had equalled my January 1st daylist from last year. In the event, I pulled on my waterproofs and went round the patch again.

So how did I do? Well, I wanted 60, which I thought was more than doable, and I ended up blowing it out of the water by a huge margin. My sixty-second and final species was a Collared Dove in a housing estate on the edge of the park, which had somehow eluded me all day. But back to the beginning, might as well draw it out....

I met Nick near Jubilee just after first light, and Tim joined us quite soon afterwards. By then we were on about 20 species. Jubilee added around eight or nine entirely expected birds, and then came something rather special. Tim and I picked up a raptor overheard going west, the shape seemed familiar....Peregrine! Presumably one of the Stratford birds, but even though that's only just around the corner, for some reason we hardly ever see them - this sighting was only my ninth in six years - well, seven now. A great start, and then almost the very next bird was a good one too, a Great Black-backed Gull heading in the same direction.

"homage a Dave Mo"

We continued over the road, adding Kestrel, Skylark and a few others, and then whilst Nick went off for coffee (and excelled himself by also sourcing bacon butties), Tim and I grilled the enormous number of Gulls sitting on the playing fields. First up was either the same Common Gull with very dark streaking on the head that I saw about a month ago, or if not, a very similar one. I'll look at the photos side by side another time, right now I'm a bit gulled-out. We counted at least 30 Lesser Black-backed, about 15 Herring Gulls, and had been looking through them for at least five minutes when I suddenly noticed that slap bang in the middle of them was this:

How on earth you miss a Great Black-backed I have no idea, they're not exactly inconspicuous, but somehow we had looked through it. We eagerly scanned through them again, in case we had also missed Med, Yellow-legged, Ring-billed, Franklin's or Pallas's... but we hadn't, and so continued, refuelled, to the Alex, there to add Greylag, Tuftie and a bonus Teal. A quick search of scrub netting a Greenfinch, and then we headed off to the Park. Reed Bunting, a miss on the Flats, was notched up in the Old Sewage Works, as was Sparrowhawk, but our hopes of a clean sweep were dashed when we couldn't find Snipe, Bullfinch or Little Egret - the OSW is about the only place for them.

Tim (l), Nick (r)

By now about lunchtime, it was off to the Tea Hut for refreshments. As expected, Crufts was in full swing, and there were so many people I had to queue to get the teas in, which allowed Nick to scoop a Kingfisher behind my back, a feat he later repeated on the Roding. Firecrest in Bush Wood was next on the list, via a flock of Redpolls (24 Mealy, 1 Arctic), and on the way we bumped into Paul D, who had just dipped them. He came back with us, and whilst we all saw one, he dipped them again. At this point it began to rain, perhaps to coincide with Paul's mood. Tim, who lives near me, cut his losses and went home for some lunch, and Paul wandered back to the park. A crossroads loomed. Back home for lunch, like Tim, or waterproofs on, and over the Ornamental Waters via the Basin. Thoroughly soaked, and having just missed Kingfisher #2, I wondered if I had made the wrong decision. Arriving at the OSW again, I turned for home. Nick decided he would take one more quick spin around the area. Knowing what would happen, I turned back and came with him. And what a decision that turned out to be! We had gone less than two-hundred yards when five Bullfinches flew out of a Hawthorn, and the Little Egret was hunched up on the Roding! Leaving the site, a Chiffie called a couple of times, and the walk back home produced the Collared Doves. 62 species! Stonking. Of course that's me done until the first Wheatear turns up, but nonetheless an intensely satisfying day, and well worth a good soaking.