Friday, 31 August 2012


These should.... redress....

....the balance.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

How to lose friends and alienate people

It’s all my fault. This morning I was walking along centre path admiring five Whinchats and a Wheatear when I spied an enormous animal lumbering along. That Essex lion perhaps, or had cattle been reintroduced to the Flats overnight?  I raised my bins to check it out and was amazed to see that it was a huge dog, and I mean massive. My dog-ID is fairly rudimentary, I tend to split them out into three groups: “bitey yappy”, ”big”, and “fuckwit”. This dog needed a new category, henceforce known as “bloody enormous”. It was probably a Great Dane or something, they’re pretty big aren’t they? It most closely resembled a horse in both size and structure. I looked around for a lost jockey, and was instead amazed to see a birder. My mood of late has been on the antagonistic side of grumpy, so I’m going to cut right to the chase. If you’re going to come birding on MY patch, don’t even think about bringing a dog with you. I don’t care what kind of dog it is, how well-behaved it is/you think it is, just don’t bring it. Go somewhere else, find your own patch. This patch is overrun with dogs, they make birding here very difficult. They run amok through the breeding habitat of endangered ground-nesting birds, they crap all over the place, and they flush almost everything, including most waders that we are lucky enough to get. There are signs requesting that dog-owners keep their animals on leads; barely one in a hundred does so. Every single owner without exception thinks that their dog is perfect and no trouble at all. I’ve done a fair amount over the last few years to put Wanstead on the birding map. Gradually the word has spread, and I’m very happy that the number of dedicated patch-workers is now into double figures. The rewards are there for all to see; the increased coverage is turning up absolutely loads. But if you’ve got a dog, and you want to bring it with you........

Anyone who has read this blog for more than about two minutes will know my feelings on dogs, and how they directly impact my birding and my photography. In addition to their detrimental impact to birds and to the bottom of my shoes, I’ve been chased by dogs, and bitten by dogs. I’ve also been threatened with their urine (no, really). It does not matter how nicely you ask, how politely you conduct yourself. Every single dog owner I have spoken to about either the poor behaviour of their pet, or about the importance of Skylark habitat, has been instantly bristly, instantly aggressive, sometimes to the point of completely unwarranted verbal abuse. Young or old, man or woman, it makes no odds. You just get told where to go. I’ve had it. I’ve been polite, I’ve been reasonable, and it doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference. So I don’t care if you’re a birder, if you think you can bring a dog out with you you can piss right off as far as I’m concerned. Not that I can do anything about it when the thing makes Shergar look like My Little Pony....

I had another memorable encounter this morning near Long Wood. I rounded a hedge and a medium-sized "bitey yappy" dog saw me and immediately started going ballistic. The owner, whilst trying to restrain his other “big” dog that he was close enough to to grab, shouted over to me that he wouldn’t bite and that he was only playing. Uh-huh. Great. Bared teeth - fangs - retracted lips – bristling fur and mad barking. Did the owner make any effort to put it on a lead? I’ll leave you in suspense on that one. "Stand still! Don’t move, you’ll only make it worse!" So this isn't unusual then? The best was yet to come though. After he had eventually shepherded the animal away and I had retreated a safe distance, I asked him if he thought that having it on a lead might be more appropriate. Why, he countered? “I said he wouldn’t bite, all he is doing is playing”. If I had a pound, etc. Nonetheless, I carried on, some people might find it pretty scary. “Well you’re the first person that’s ever said that”, he said. Right....You should really put it on a lead, I said, as I did not find it a pleasant experience. “Well you came from round that corner and surprised him, what do you expect?” Unbelieveable. Oh I see, so it’s all my fault, I said. “No, I’m not saying tha....” I cut him off. You just did, that’s exactly what you just implied. He walked off – “You have a nice day mate”, he said. You know, I’m not sure he meant it.

This is today’s example. I have many, many more, and they all go to explaining why my threshold for tolerating dogs is so terribly low. The day I meet a dog owner who apologises, puts their animal on a lead, then berates it and offers to have the pawprints on my trousers dry-cleaned will be the day I go and buy my own dog. It’s never their fault. It’s never the dog’s fault. He’s just being friendly. He only wants to play. He needs to be exercised. I didn’t see any signs. He can run where he likes. It’s a free country. He’s scared of your camera. You surprised him. It's your fault. Yeah? Well fuck off.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Invasion of the Chats

I've been saying for a while now that I wanted some decent shots of Whinchats, and indeed part of the reason for abandoning the Wryneck (which is still present, by the way, for it's fifth day, meaning that we have now have an entire fortnight of patch Wryneck) at the weekend was because I wanted to run around after Chats. That and all the twitchers. Anyhow, the single Whinchat present was in no mood for photography, and so I ended up chasing Wheatears around instead, and this was no bad thing.

The broom fields make for excellent Chat chasing, with paths running all over the place, and God only knows quite how many times I diligently followed them round and round in a large circle. I probably covered miles. Unfortunately Wheatears can fly much faster than I can walk. They can also walk/hop much faster than I can fly..... which means that I am always playing catch-up. More often than not my attempts to get close to them were ruined by the good old general public, memorably on one occasion when I was flat on my stomach, inching towards a bird with my camera in front of me, a man actually stepped over me without so much as uttering a word. I was too amazed to even say anything, and the Wheatear naturally flew off. It was one of those rare moments where I retrospectively wished I'd had a speargun..... Anyway, eventually a bird let me get reasonably close to it as it perched on a log, the results of which you saw yesterday.

Oh, OK then.....

So, today it was the turn of Whinchats, and with up to six on the Flats it was as good a time as any. Well, apart from when there are zero, as that would be rubbish for Whinchat photography. Four of the birds were together near the viz-mig watchpoint, and unless they somehow flanked me, possibly another two nearer to South Copse. It was very difficult to get close to them, as usual. But with my stupidly long lens and a converter, and some cropping, I reckon I've just about done OK. They won't win any prizes, but they're the best photos - so far - of Whinchats I've ever taken. I had been contemplating going out to Essex where Russ says there are some good opportunities, but if these birds stick around I'll keep trying closer to home. A Wheatear was with the Whinchats - hard as it was, I studiously ignored it...

These three Whinchats were in the broom fields in a small sticky up plant just to the left of centre path, about 8/17ths of the way along, moving SSE to NNW. The bush is precisely 95.3cm tall, and the birds were found in the upper 15-20cm of the bush. One was on the fourth vertical stem from the left, with another three stems in from the right on the stem that leans in at about 80 degrees. The final bird was almost at the very top, one branch to the left of the tallest stem. Hopefully this will be sufficient to enable you to find them. Oh hang on a minute, they have wings.... Shit.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Sea-watching Jinx

Oh my God. Where. To. Start? Chronological would be traditional, but I just can't do it like that, as I must first gush over-enthusiastically about the patch. Wanstead Flats is AMAZING. AMAZING. Patch stats once again, are you ready? In the last two weeks the migrant tally is approximately: 6 Garden Warbler, 1 Reed Warbler, 2 Sedge Warbler, 8 Common Redstart, 8 Whinchat, 15 Wheatear, 16 Spotted Flycatcher, 4-5 Pied Flycatcher, and 1 Wryneck. Let's just say that last one again shall we? Wry. Neck. Gah!! Wryneck!!! The second Wryneck in three years, and this is London, somewhere between tube zones 2 and 3. Just look at the quality? How lucky am I to live here?

The Wryneck was found a stone's throw from my house, on Saturday. On Saturday I was not in my house, nor was I on the patch......

Scene 1: Pendeen, Cornwall. A group of miserable birders are sat looking at a flat sea.

Birder: Manx Shearwater!!
Other birders (chorus): Where, please God where?!!
Birder: Coming left over right-hand rock
Other birders: Yeeeee-ssssssssssssss!!

To say it was quiet was an understatement. Intense studying of the wind patterns had led me and many others to believe that with a force 6-7 WNW airflow combined with bands of rain, the only place in the entire country worth being at was Pendeen with one eye bolted to a telescope. Various phone calls had managed to more-or-less fill up a car with like-minded (i.e. stupid) people, and so the trip was on. At this point it is important to note that amongst those offered places on this trip-of-a-lifetime were Stu, Tim and Tony, all three noble and ardent Wanstead patch-workers. All three sorrowfully declined, all three with wife-related "no we are entertaining, had you forgotten?, Cornwall? you must be mad." issues. 

It's a tough trip, only for the properly foolhardy. Leaving London at 11pm, you drive through the night and arrive at Pendeen (or Porthgwarra if the winds are from the south-west). Stepping from the car in the dark, you note several other cars with steamed-up windows. Other seawatchers. Waiting. Despite being half-dead, the thought of what might be means you feel like a nine year old on Christmas Eve.

Prologue: Pendeen, Cornwall. 5am. Darkness

Me: Err, which way is west?
Others: Err, that way. No, that way. Hang on, this way.
(smart-phones and maps are consulted....)
Nick: That way is west. The wind is not coming from that way, it is coming from this way. South-west.
William: When I looked at wind-finder last night I'm sure it said south-west.
Mark: Shall we go to Porthgwarra?
Me: Yes, Porthgwarra has a toilet.
(more cars arrive)

To cut a long story short, the concenus of huddled birders is that the winds will definitely shift round to the west, and that Pendeen is the place to be after all.....

Scene 2: Pendeen, Cornwall. 10am. Wind vector - southerly.

Me: Boy am I glad I drove through the night. One Manx Shearwater. One bloody Manx Shearwater. I am never trusting Magicseaweed again.
Nick: Oh I dunno, could be worse.


Me: Hello?
Tony: Oh hi Jon, err, you're not going to like this.
Me: (heart sinking, palpitations beginning) Oh?
Tony: We've got a Wryneck in the SSSI. It's perched up in a hawthorn and me, Stu and Tim are looking at it now.
Me: (to Nick) It's worse. (to Tony) NooooooOO!!!! Er, I mean well done, fantastic news, brilliant, bloody brilliant.

Talk about a bad decision. I mean seriously, I'm 350 miles away from a Wryneck 100m from my house, on the worst sea-watch I can ever remember. I was tired, cold, hungry, and now gripped.

Nick is pleased for Tony

Apparently I lost the will to live.
Then a small breath of wind caught my cheek. Eh? And a splodge of rain... Hang on a minute..... Oh yes. Over the next two hours the wind shifted round to the west, visibility reduced, and the squalls started to come in with increasing regularity. By midday the rain was more or less constant, and then the first big Shearwaters started coming through. What a sea-watch! I knew I could read a forecast! Pendeen was the place to be, and I had never wavered from that belief. Revisionist? Moi?

Six bottom-numbing hours later all four Skua species had gone through, including a spanking juvenile Long-tail over the rocks at bottom of the slope, and a fully-spooned Pom. Cory's Shearwaters numbered 11, Greats 8, and I had missed a few more. Sooty Shearwaters, Balearic and Manxies, a handful of Storm Petrels and bucketfuls of joy. I love sea-watching. Nick and I were all chirpy. The Wryneck would love Wanstead Flats so much, just as the last one did, that it would stay for days and we would probably be sick of it by the middle of next week. Nothing to worry about at all. We would rock up tomorrow and see it, if we made it home without falling asleep at the wheel and crashing that is. I made it as far as Exeter before deciding that in the interests of survival that somebody else had better drive. William did a grand job, and what seemed like five minutes later we were at South Mimms. Engaged once more, when I started muttering about other drivers' shortcomings Nick knew I was OK and that we would make it. Make it we did, and by half one in the morning I was in my own bed. Never has a bed felt so good.

My firm plans to hit the patch early for the Wryneck never happened, and the first time I opened my eyes it was already eight and I still felt like death warmed up. But it had to be done, and striding purposefully towards the magic area, I was feeling pretty positive about my chances. I joined Tim, and this being my patch, I left the path and started having a good old poke around the favoured hawthorns.


I turned, and found myself facing a line of Wryneck twitchers! Slightly awkward, but these things happen. I wouldn't charge around somebody else's patch of course, but chez moi..... In short I didn't find it, but the story has a happy ending as about an hour later it popped up in the same hawthorns and I found myself with two Wrynecks on my Wanstead list, rather than the paltry one that had been there before. Proof that you can have your cake, and eat it. Never has the patch been so busy, what seemed like hundreds of people turned up. Rather gratifying was that more than a few of them had my map printed off. Area 17 is the one you want if you still haven't been over - Lake House Road Migrant Scrub, and boy is it migrant-y.

Yes, that is a Redstart in there too. Yes, Wanstead does rock.
Still, there is only so much chatting I can take, and I soon abandoned the hordes of newfound Wanstead-admirers and headed off to the relative calm of the broom fields and started chasing Wheatears around. Wrynecks are great, but you can't beat a good Wheatear now, can you?

It's all about timing

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Wanstead Rares

Never one to pass up an opportunity to talk patch stats, I thought my lucky readership might be hugely interested in what birds I have not seen many of in Wanstead. Kind of the bottom ten. The great thing about this is that each patch is more or less unique, and what is common in one place would be mega in another. I will never forget birding Girdle Ness with Mark L when three Canadas flew past. Whilst I carried on picking my nose, Mark was jumping up and down and fist-pumping, shouting "Patch Gold!" at the top of his voice. I just love that expression. Anyhow, here, in decreasing order, like "Pick of the Pops", are my personal Wanstead Patch Golds.

Some basic information. I've lived and birded here for eight years. I don't go out every day, but I do go out a lot. All the below relate to individuals, as opposed to occurences. I thought about doing it in terms of 'times seen', but it would have been a bit more difficult. Natch.

10. Firecrest
Exclusively wintering birds in Bush Wood or Reservoir Wood, with up to four seen in a day. Fantastic, we are lucky to have them.

9. Common Tern, Peregrine Falcon
Common Tern are a summer visitor, and one has the distinction of being on the garden list. Peregrine live nearby year round, but are infrequently seen.

8. Tree Pipit
Autumn buzz-overs, and one spring bird. I'm still waiting for one this year. Any day now I expect.

7. Bullfinch
Resident, but shy and retiring, and on the bit of the patch that is furthest from my house.....

6. Golden Plover / Goosander
The Golden Plover were in a single flock this winter, and were visible for approximately ten seconds. Mega. Five of the Goosander were from the same cold snap, with four in one go. Never easy, they don't linger.

5. Red Kite
Five single birds, always flyovers, and always in the latter half of March. The first time I saw one was thanks to Prof W going shopping, and I nearly fell off the roof trying to see it. Definitely on the increase.

4. Shelduck, Pied Flycatcher, Brambling
Shelduck are always flyovers, as are Bramblings. Pied Flycatchers are a difficult passage migrant, but last year I saw two.

3. Woodcock, Med Gull, Sedge Warbler, Nuthatch, Treecreeper
Seen three of each of all of these. Woodcock is a winter visitor and a question of pure luck. Med Gull is very scarce, but they tend to be eminently twitchable, and Nick is responsible for all three. Sedge Warbler is remarkably difficult, and why Nuthatch and Treecreeper should be so mega is anyone's guess - the habitat in the park is ideal.

2. Red-crested Pochard, Mandarin, Garganey, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Yellow-legged Gull, Little Owl, Yellowhammer.
The wildfowl constitute a pair of each, the former being long-stayers and the Garganey being available for one day. I've seen two of each wader, and two Y-L Gulls, all on the Flats. Little Owl was a previous resident, only two indivduals that I know of, and I've had Yellowhammer twice.

1. The creme de la creme, and unsurprisingly the longest list. It's worth going through them one by one, as they're so special.

Osprey - my greatest moment, at 6am one September morning I wondered why every single Woodpigeon in Wanstead was going ballistic.....

Oystercatcher - heard only one foggy morning. A long overdue tick.
Stone Curlew - a gem of find by Nick that somehow stayed for two days
Little Ringed Plover - found this by the Alex, after sticking around to investigate a two-bird theory.
Jack Snipe - One of those "Oh my God" moments as this flew in and skittled around the ice. "Is it?", I asked myself. You know what, I think it is. "JACK SNIPE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Dunlin - Amazing, and stayed all day.
Caspian Gull - a short-staying bird on the Flats one day; dog-related departure. May or may not get accepted, this is me we're talking about after all.
Turtle Dove - in Long Wood, purring away merrily. My daughter chose this exact moment to wet herself and so I never saw it.
Dartford Warbler - Stu found a male about 100 yards from where I predicted one would turn up. Well done him!
Rook - a summer garden flyover, never again.
White-fronted Goose - I looked through this bird several times before realising there was something funny about it. Provenance unknown, but it did nothing wrong so I'm having it.
Wryneck - who can forget this one. Stayed a whole week, and was even twitched by Lee. What more could a bird want?
Goldeneye - a long-staying female on Heronry
Smew - another cold-snap gem.
Pheasant - a long-staying male in the SSSI. Disappeared when the fair turned up, I could not possibly comment.

So there you have it, my top ten, or my top 38, depending on how you see it. With fifteen birds appearing only once in eight years, a true top ten would have been slightly difficult to produce, but thanks for reading this far. You'll note that Ring Ouzel, Redstart, Whinchat etc don't feature - far too common you see, we're falling over ourselves most years. Note how nationally common most of the single-record birds are. One Rook and one Pheasant in eight years? Patch Gold.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Common Sandpiper

Finally nailed the Common Sandpiper that has been hanging around Jubilee Pond, and it was as friendly today as it was yesterday when I didn't have a camera. There is a God afterall. Jubilee Pond is pretty mucky really, and the area in which the Canadas have been moulting is now about two inches deep in a heady mix of feathers and poo, not the greatest for when you want to get down low, but when a bird comes this close it doesn't really matter and you just have to go for it and hope you don't succumb to HN51 further down the line.

I like close birds. I like close and still birds even better, but this little fellow was constantly on the move. At 6am this morning I was getting shutter speeds of about 1/60th of a second. Oops, bo-ooring! Anyhow I returned over my lunch break in much better light and had a much more successful time.

In other news, Nick and Steve found a streaky Acro in Cat and Dog Pond. I had to leave after about an hour and a half, but four hours later and it still hadn't given itself up. Whilst the sum of our collective snippets is adding up to Sedge Warbler, the time of year and an Aquatic Warbler on the Wirral is making us all a little nervous, especially as tape of Sedge Warbler illicited precisely nothing whereas a tape of Aquatic Warbler had it zipping out of (and straight back in to even denser) cover to see what was going on. Steve saw its head in profile briefly, I saw part of its head obscured by reeds, and then all of it in flight briefly with Tim and Dan that left us none the wiser, and Nick saw it through a bush. Later on I heard some quiet Acro chuckling which sounded most like Sedge to me, and the flight call when it did move was a very hard "tik". Aquatic Warbler in Wanstead? I'm sure crazier things have happened but I am struggling to think of them. The massively overwhelming likelihood is a Sedge Warbler, which we have had at this time of year before, and that's what it most looks and sounds like based on what we have so far. All previous Sedge Warblers on the patch have given themselves up really easily, but this one is managing to hide in a bramble and reed patch about twenty feet by twenty feet, and is easily the toughest bird I have attempted to see this year. With the exception perhaps of Roller.....

Monday, 20 August 2012

Jubilee Sunset

You could be forgiven for thinking Ray Davies was about to turn up, but it is less prosaic than that. This morning I happened upon a Common Sandpiper on Jubilee after a message from Steve. Funny wader he said, and indeed it was. I got within about 30cm of it, but guess what? Yup. I returned this evening with a camera, and no surprises it wasn't around. Bugger. There were about twenty trillion people though, including a drunk who wanted to have a play with the camera.

"Lemme look through it!"
"Sorry mate, no."
"Why not?"
"Nobody's allowed to touch it apart from me"
"Shukafuckawucka" (or somesuch)

Call me cruel, but people the wrong side of a few cans of Diamond White do make ideal telephoto lens handlers. Or at least I don't think so. I suppose there's a possibility that he could have nailed an amazing photo of something nearby, but I suspect that some spittle and grease would have been more likely, with an outside chance of terminal damage. To the lens, and subsequently to him. On balance it was better to decline.

So, no Sandpiper, but the Barnacle Goose that visits occasionally was back, as were a pair of Egyptian Geese and a pretty fearless Heron. Until the attention became too much, I had a decent fifteen minutes in some pretty nice light.

A new Duckzilla?
I didn't yet mention last night, it was very exciting. With less than ideal timing, a boozed-up Hawky decided to chance his arm last knockings at Barking Bay. First bird he stumbled across (probably literally) was a Tawny Pipit. Hell's Bells! I was out of the house in approximately 30 seconds, leaving Mrs L to turn off the cooking dinner... Ooops. Bigger ooops for not thinking to phone any like-minded local filthy twitchers until I was practically on site. A salutory lesson, and I feel bad. Next time. Anyhow, Mo beat me to it, but it was still there, and we had a couple of flight views, with Prof W cashing in on the final one just before it got dark. A gem of a London tick, and one for Essex too. Amazingly not a yeartick, as I got the one at Landguard in the spring. Hopefully this means they're getting common again. Hawky has posted a few photos here. Legend.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Wanstead on Fire

It is remarkably hot, and even slim young people like me have been suffering. God knows what it must be like to be old in this weather, or overweight. Yuk. By about half nine in the morning the patch has been sweltering, and I have to confess to abandoning it for the relative comfort of home and a cold shower. Yesterday Nick found a Pied Flycatcher at about two in the afternoon. Soporific, I could not move, despite the quality. I reasoned that there might be another at a cooler time of day....

Wanstead is in London. We are truly lucky to consistently get Whinchats, Wheatears, Ring Ouzels, Redstarts, Spotted Flycatchers and Pied Flycatchers on an annual basis.
I love it when a plan comes together. I had finally managed to get my act in gear and head out this morning when a message from Dan informed me of, guess what, a Pied Flycatcher in Long Wood. I hastened over there to find a twitch in full swing - Nick, Steve, Stu, Tony and Dan (though Dan, who found it, cannot really be said to have been part of the twitch). The Flycatcher had done a bunk, but this is typical - all Pied Flycatchers I have seen tend to do circuits of a feeding area, and sure enough, though it took some time, I relocated it in the low middle of Long Wood after about an hour. Harry and Barry turned up a short while later, as they tend to do when we get something good, and it showed pretty well for them too. Another guy then turned up to twitch it as well, and said he'd had Tree Pipits in one of the copses. Yes, plural Tree Pipits. No, not allowed. You can't just turn up on somebody else's patch for the first time and claim a species that none of the patchworkers have yet seen, and so even though I have precisely no idea as to his Anthus experience, they unfortunately have to go down as Meadow Pipits. Harsh, but rules are rules. As soon as one of us sees, or more ideally hears a Tree Pipit, then we may count them retrospectively, but for now, whoever you are, I'm really sorry. Martin Garner could have turned up and I wouldn't have counted them either if that helps soften the blow. Do come back though, the more the merrier, and we are a welcoming bunch.

L-R Dan, Nick, Stu, Steve
We all oohed and aahed at the Pied Flycatcher, they are brilliant birds. It was a different bird to yesterday's one, and this is now my fourth in eight years, so a proper scarcity. The timing is spot on as well - last year's bird was on August 21st, with another (or possibly the same) on August 24th. A couple of Spotted Flycatchers were knocking around as well, again right on time - we're getting towards double figures for this autumn now. If any statisticians are reading, that's bird 115 for the collective yearlist, and 105 for me. There's still a lot of the autumn to come, though I'm struggling to think what else we might get. Maybe a Tree Pipit....

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Seeking Marbles

This week I am more convinced than ever that I am suffering from some kind of brain-wasting disease. My short term memory is becoming increasingly dodgy, specifically when it comes to putting things down and then not being able to find them again. This used to happen every now and again, but the frequency of late is becoming a worry. I’ve lost count of the number of things that I have put down somewhere and then been unable to find. Yesterday it was some new keys. I had them in my hand, put them somewhere, and then got distracted. A while later I remembered I had been holding some keys. Could I find them? Well yes, I could, but it took five minutes of exasperated searching, and cursing my stupidity that I managed to lose some keys that I’d only had for about three hours.

Yesterday it was my bins. Put them down somewhere, then needed them and had absolutely no recollection of where they were. None at all. I eventually traced them to the bedroom, but that involved checking each room in the house at least three times first, and going up and down the stairs several times, all the while wondering what on earth was wrong with me.

Some things just disappear completely. My phone charger that I picked up as I was going to take it to work. Popped it down somewhere between the study and my coat pocket, and it’s never been seen again. Physical objects do not just evaporate, although I do have three children....Similarly my spare phone battery – gone. To be fair that one may have dropped out of my pocket on the tube, but nonetheless it’s a bad sign. I never lose things. Ever. I’ve now got my phone and wallet attached to my belt via chains, ostensibly so as not to get pick-pocketed during the Olympics, but I think the more deep-seated reason is that I don’t trust myself to be able to hang on to them for much longer. I’ve always been one of those people that has distinct places for things, and if they’re not in that specific place then they count as lost. The classic example is of pockets – keys in the right, phone on the left. Always. If for some reason my keys end up in my left pocket I simply can’t find them, and go nuts looking for them round the house until I absent-mindedly pat my pockets...

I thought my recent memory issues were restricted to the placement of things, of stuff, as I can still just about remember most passwords and PINs, particularly those that I’ve had for a long time. A new password is typically forgotten by the following day, unless it’s just a repeat of an oft-used one. But that’s fine, there isn’t a human being alive that could possibly remember all the passwords needed these days, and so I view it as normal. But even some long-term bits of information appear to be going.  On the phone to the bank on Tuesday I managed my sort code, and then drew a complete blank on the account number and had to fish out my card to find it. Today I tried to call my parents from a landline, a number I have dialled for years and years, even if my mother does think I never call her. I managed the area code, and then was struck by self doubt as to the order of the remaining numbers. I had to look it up on my mobile. What on earth is happening?

I used to laugh it off, but I think I’m beginning to understand the frustration that my Grandma used to show at not being able to remember what she went upstairs for by the time she got there. And it’s definitely getting worse. I’ve misplaced so many things recently that today I even went as far as taking an online test for Early Onset Alzheimers, a series of routines that attempt to work out your cognitive powers. I passed it well above the supposed level for someone of my age, which is almost well under 40. This is good news, albeit via a fifteen minute computer test rather than an expert medical professional. So instead I’m wondering if it’s an alcohol problem?

I’ve not touched a drop all week, not even a sniff. This is highly unusual, but is explained by Mrs L being away, and I’ve not yet reached the stage where I drink by myself – that’s one short step away from living under a bridge. So maybe tonight I need to crack open a decent bottle of red and see if I can’t find that bloody phone charger.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Canon 500mm for Sale

This post is an advert, or rather a link to an advert. I am selling my frankly awesome 500mm f4 lens. Most photos on this blog have been taken with it, and it's really rather good. Here's a few examples of what it can do. Click on it to make it bigger. Details and photos of the lens are on my photography website here. Normal service will be resumed shortly.


Suffolk for Rare Migrants

Of the blog title, only one part is accurate. Suffolk. The cunning plan, with a nice easterly breeze, was to hit Landguard early morning and drown in wave after wave of downed migrants. Ringers from within the Obs would desperately call out through the fence for help in processing the oodles of rare birds caught up in the mist nets. We would have a cracking morning. In the event we saw three Wheatears and a rabbit. And they all flew off. Apart from the rabbit. That ran off.

We didn't stay long, and headed instead for Minsmere. Now Minsmere is a great reserve, but I have never seen it so barren. The scrapes that should have been teeming with Avocets, other waders and gulls were instead teeming with a Mallard. Yes, Mallard singular. A long-staying Fudge Duck, always distant, was inadequate recompense, but five minutes watching the sea produced a Sooty Shearwater, a Pom, and an Arctic Skua, after which I fell asleep in the dunes. Meanwhile at Landguard somebody found a Barred Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher. We didn't go back.

You would be looking a long time...

Monday, 13 August 2012

Oare again

For every one wader at Rainham, Oare Marshes has about 250, possibly more. It's a great spot, with a healthy scrape just next to the estuary, a convenient place to come and sit out the high tide. If you time your visits right, you'll get waders flying in (or out) pretty much constantly, and some relatively close feeding action - the single lane road runs right alongside, so you can get pretty good views, and unlike Minsmere, which was utterly dead on Sunday, there will always be something of interest on the pools. Demonstrating this very neatly, the first Wader I saw was a Wood Sandpiper, before I'd even stopped the car. Black-tailed Godwits everywhere, Ringed Plover, and lots of Redshank too - a raucous affair. No biggie though - easily the best wader I've here was a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper about four or five years ago, it has the distinction of being the first bird I ever twitched. I had no idea which one it was of course, but plenty of people (and I mean plenty) were on hand to point my telescope in the right direction. Oh the retrospective embarrassment..... I also tried to twitch a Tufted Puffin here, the though the less said about that the better - a large and chaotic DIP, though I would at least have been able to identify it myself this time. Unless a regular Puffin had been there.....

Rainham, not been in ages.

Well, the Olympic closing ceremony is almost upon us, what on earth am I going to do with myself? Go birding? An excellent idea if I don't say so myself. In anticipation of what this might be like, I went on a couple of practice runs this weekend. It was quite pleasant actually, strolling around with only bins and a 7kg camera....

It's been quiet, there have not been many birds to point a camera at despite lugging it around, but I managed a trip to Rainham, a trip to Oare, and a trip to Minsmere. Of these, Rainham was the most fun, and there were actually birds, including a gazillion Little Egrets and a really close Marsh Harrier. Still not close enough to get a decent photo, but you can't win them all. It started off over Wennington Marsh (of Slaty-backed Gull fame), and gradually came closer and closer, flushing everything in its path - Green Sandpipers, Greenshank, a couple of Golden Plover and loads of Snipe. It was good to be back, and to see a few bits and pieces, but I still feel it's a winter reserve for the most part.

A juvenile Little Grebe posed nicely at the western end of the boardwalk, so close in fact that I could not focus close enough and had to whip out my trusty extension tube, and near the visitor centre a Water Vole seemed pretty happy chewing on a reed stem. I was pretty happy too, until I found out the visitor centre had run out of Bakewell Tart. Disaster.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Jersey Tiger!

Another early start, another lie-in spurned. But seeing as this blog has been far too bird-heavy of late, before I left for Wanstead Flats I thought I'd check the moth trap.....whoa!! Three Jersey Tigers! I've caught a Jersey Tiger before, but it was dead underneath the trap and half of it was missing, so it was somewhat anticlimactic. These three however were very much alive, and simply gorgeous, in so far as an insect with wiggly antennae and creepy legs can be gorgeous. I eargerly scooped them up and popped them in the fridge to photograph later.

Here they are, none the worse for wear. Now I know one Jersey Tiger looks much like another, and one photograph would probably suffice in place of three, but....

Out on the Flats all three Garden Warblers were still present, though I only saw one. Later Nick saw another in the Park, so they're coming through thick and fast. That was the best of it though, so I just wandered about looking for things to point a camera at. The only thing that really came close enough was a Whitethroat, part of a family group of five birds all in the same tiny hawthorn. A few Swallows were heading south, but once again there were no waders. What will the weekend bring I wonder? Tree Pipit has to be on the cards in the next couple of weeks; looking back at my records suggests that August 24th & 25th are the best dates, but Hawky had one over Dagenham Chase this week, so a few are already on their way.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Garden Warblers

I spent ages trying to dream up a nice play on words involving the word garden. Garden of Eden, In the Night Garden, stuff like that. I couldn't get there, so this post is fairly unambiguously called "Garden Warblers". Note the s. Plural. More than one. Three. Lots, in other words. Garden Warbler was a big miss this spring. I'm reasonably sure they have bred in the fairly recent past in Wanstead, in the Old Sewage Works, but this year none could be found. This changed yesterday, when there were two - one in the scrub east of Alexandra Lake, and one in Long Wood. It being Wednesday, I chose to look for the one near Alex, and scored pretty quickly.

Today I again started at Alexandra Lake - such is the power of the Olympics that the shoreline was awash with joggers before 6am. Truly birders have it tough here. Despite this, three Curlew, one Oystercatcher and seven Sanderling were feeding happily in the shallows. Not. After giving the lake a [very] quick once over, I proceeded to the scrubby bit, which was alive with birds. A Garden Warbler, likely the same bird as yesterday, quickly gave itself up whilst flycatching, along with a Willow Warbler, and tons of Blackcap and Chiffchaff. Here it is:

The low-lying mist had largely burned off, and I headed back across the Flats to Long Wood. Early mornings it is best to check the north and east sides first, and my tactic of just standing looking at the edge paid off pretty quickly with another Garden Warbler crashing around the elders and hawthorn. Presumably this, too, was yesterday's bird, but when it disappeared off round the corner I followed it, and was pleased not only to refind it but also find another one close by. I never managed a shot of them together, in fact I barely managed shots of them singly, but here nonethless are the pitiful results.

For lovers of stats, and frankly who doesn't like a good old patch stat, I've seen eight Garden Warblers in eight years here, including the bird yesterday. They're much more tricky than you might think, and even they are present they seem much more difficult than other Warblers to actually pin down and ID, with an ability to pop up, make you say "Oh, was that a Garden Warbler?" and then melt away never to be seen again. If I had counted every single one of these occurences as Garden Warblers I'd probably be on many more, but I am of course far too conscientious for that (hah! - Ed.) and so my total remains, as of today, on a lowly ten.