Thursday 31 January 2013


I have just been told off by Mrs L. Uh-oh. She has read my blog. The gist of the rebuke was that I am am grumpy and unpleasant. She knew this 12 years ago of course, yet somehow went ahead with it. Nonetheless, I should be nicer and quit moaning. But look, it has gained me an acolyte, as I'm back up to 143! Welcome, whoever you are, to this lovely post about Fluffy Bunny Rabbits.

Not really. I am terminally grumpy. Ranting does get a little tiring though, so here is some happy news: I have sold a photograph. No, really. I can scarcely believe it myself. A graphic designer got in contact via my other website, expressing an interest in using an image on a display panel somewhere in Ireland. I nearly fell of my chair. Anyway, I acted entirely professionally, made up a price, sent an invoice, and very shortly afterwards a cheque arrived in the post. I might get it framed, as it might be the only one ever! Pay the mortgage it will not, but I am dead chuffed. All those hours in a darkened room slaving over post-processing, creating the website, watermarking the's not even that good a photo, but it meets this guy's needs so there you go. As Art Morris would say, it passed the pen test. I am under no illusions as to where my future lies though.
Yup, Canary Wharf. If famille L are to remain warm and fed, C-dub is where I must go. I was there today. And most of this week. It is one of the great annoyances of life that one either always suffers from a lack of time, or a lack of money. Some people unfortunately suffer from both, but not many people are unafflicted by either and can do what they will. I wish I was one of them, but I am not. I often wonder what I could do that I enjoy and that would not involve CW, yet would allow us to get by, and have always concluded that it is easiest to continue what I am doing. Maybe I'm not brave enough?

PS If anyone wants training in ranting, very reasonable rates, do drop me a line.

Tuesday 29 January 2013


Awful news. I have just noticed that I'm losing acolytes at a rate of knots! The other day it was a massive 144, a couple of days ago it dropped to 143. Ah well, people do die I thought to myself. Today it's down to 142...another four and a bit months and it'll be none at all!

It's probably because I shouted at that old woman on the Flats at the weekend. Hours of pent up anger all came out in one go when some people flushed some Fieldfares I was stalking. Yes, you understand me correctly, it wasn't even her, and yet she copped the flak, including the use of those filthy words "bloody", "people" and "dogs". To her credit, and beleing her old age, rather than gasp with a prim "well I never" and run away, she said I should move house if I didn't like it. Touché. But how could she have possibly known I lived here? I might just have been visiting.....

It has been bad lately. The number of witless acts I've been on the receiving end of, both at home and further afield, has really been getting to me. Testy at the best of times, downright unfriendly at other times, I've become prone to snapping quite quickly. It will get me stabbed one of these days. Though not, I hope, by old ladies. Actually, maybe I hope that it is by old ladies, as I might just stand a chance. It's just that there are too many people using too small a space, and any aims and ambitions I might have are completely incompatible with urban London. Birders are a grumpy lot for the most part, it is no surprise that many leave London for less well-populated climes. The answer is probably a combination of a stagnant patchlist on the one hand, combined with a certain amount of world-weariness and loathing of their fellow man on the other. Factor in rising house prices and it's no wonder many of them jack it in and move away. A long way away. Lately I've been feeling the same, though I doubt this has come across in my blog. Not that I get much opportunity to get out on the patch of course, but when I do the level of immediate (and idiotic) disturbance I face is perhaps doubly hard to bear. Half the time I don't even feel like going out as I know that somebody is going to ruin it for me within a hundred yards. And that's a fact. It's not a maybe, or a perhaps, it's a cast-iron certainty. Be they dog-walkers, people out for a walk, Polish drunks, model airplane fliers or whoever, none of them understand what birding is about, and less than none of them understand bird photography, which is of course my major gripe. 

Perhaps I am being unrealistic, but would you walk in front of a camera that someone was clearly aiming at something? Would you continue towards the person clearly looking at something through binoculars directly between you and them? Is that a level of understanding too far? Maybe it would depend on your mood? I still remember with great affection the man who slowly and deliberately threw a stick into the water for his dog right into the middle of some close-in Tufties I was photographing on the Heronry Pond, and when I looked round gave me a little wave. Although this was several years ago, I was pleased to find his photo in my extensive files, and so for the first time can share it with you. I had called the image "Tosser" for reasons now lost in the mists of time. Perhaps it will come back to me.

Clearly this was blatant git-ism; most of the time it is of course completely innocent and people just do not realise. It would be nice if they sometimes showed a little grace when the error of their ways was pointed out to them, but hey, this is London, and as I've proved recently, grace goes both ways.

Sunday 27 January 2013

All East London Blogs are the same

At the risk of boring you all, I went to Dartford this morning to see the extremely approachable Slav Grebe. So did everybody else - just look at my links! When I got there Kev J, Mick S and Richard S were already there, Shaun and Monkey had already been, and Redsy, Rich B and Hawky turned up after I did! Bloody photographers..... I've been wanting to see this bird all week, and when I found out that it was on the small lake again yesterday evening, it was too late! I'd have liked several hours with it, but today was not a birding day, and it was either a smash-and-grab raid with the kids this morning or nothing at all. It was a tick for all three of them though, so fairly easily justified. Typically, and I know I'm a moaning old whingebag, there was too much light - black and white birds in full sunlight are a right old pain - always work in manual, as AV will lead you a merry dance in these conditions. I took a couple of test shots as soon as I got there which were nearly on the money (and almost recoverable) - shame then that this was the highlight of the action - the Grebe caught an enormous fish - it might have been a species of fin whale. It then went and had a quiet vomit and some Rennies under the trees at the back before doing another quick circuit of the pond. I caught it on the way back round, but then it was time to go. I took exactly 86 shots, four of which are below, and was there for a total of about 45 minutes, most of which was spent nattering about lenses and an upcoming trip to Morocco. Mick, who smashed it during the week in ideal light, didn't even turn his camera on, admirable restraint. I'm relatively pleased with what I got - as I said when I turned up, all I had to do was take a crappy hand-held shot with the bird right on the other side of the pond and I'd have my best ever photo of Slavonian Grebe right there.


The rest of the day was spent as a cleaner and taxi driver, ferrying children to and fro from parties, and generally being a good father. I managed another quick hour on the Flats during which I saw diddly squat - my patch list is dead in the water and it's only January. The bad thing about this is that I don't actually care. I caned through God knows how many frames this weekend and had an absolute ball doing it. Heaps more to come once I've finished going through them, however another week of work beckons, and I can tell you now that it's going to be a bad one!

Saturday 26 January 2013

A day behind a lens

Been wanting to have a day devoted to simply blasting away at things, and for once a sunny day coincided with a weekend when I wasn't busy. Hurrah! I was up and out immediately after a nice lie in, and my first stop was the "orchard" on the Flats. This contained a solitary Fieldfare which promptly flew off when it saw my red camo hat. The local Blue Tits proved more accommodating, and seemed to think it might be spring. I suspect tomorrow they'll realise they've screwed up.

A quick pass by the Alex was a waste of time, the light being completely against me, but I notched up another fine count of Greylag with 24 birds pottering around the car park, hoping against hope no doubt for some mouldy pitta breads. Moving on to the Park I hoped for better opportunities, but nothing doing either on the Heronry or on Perch. Hmmm, so much for my big day of constant shutter-hammering. I decided to try the Ornamental Waters, and I'm glad I did. Apart from Joe Public, it was absolutely perfect. The ice-free bit was in front of the sun, and the Gadwall and Mallards were enjoying precisely the area that was best from my point of view. I cantered serenely past 400 shots in no time at all, a few of which are shown below. Too many? Probably.

Learning from Mick that my next destination of Fisher's Green was closed, and hopes of Bittern therefore dashed, my backup plan was to head back to Hyde Park for another crack at the Bearded Tits, so I hastened home for a quick bite to eat, an Oystercard, and a bag in which to conceal and transport various bits of camera. Despite saying very sternly to myself that I would stay awake on the tube and thus prevent my valuable possessions from being snaffled from under my very nose, I fell asleep more or less instantly. I have a habit of doing this on public transport, but luck was on my side this time as I woke up at Bond Street only a few stops before I needed to get off, and my bag was still at my feet. Up the lifts at Lancaster Gate and out into glorious sunshine and blue sky. No ISO 1600 for me! Until about ten minutes later when I got to the Bearded Tits of course, when the sky clouded over, the sun disappeared, and once again I found myself cranking it up. A real shame given the effort I'd made, but c'est la vie I suppose.

There are two things I like about Hyde Park. One is that the birds are all very tame. And two is the continuing presence of Bearded Tits. There are however fifty-thousand things I don't like about Hyde Park, and they are all people. There are people everywhere, and if you have a camera on a tripod you are PUBLIC PROPERTY. If I had a pound for every person today who prevented me from taking photos and asked me what I was doing and what I was looking at, I would be able to retire before Monday. Ye Gods, the number of cretins I had to deal with today was unparallelled! When will people learn that if you're pointing a camera at something then the one (three) thing(s) you want is space, peace, and quiet, and not a crowd of jabbering idiots all around you? The low point was when a Japanese tourist physically inserted his head between my head and my viewfinder in order to look down my lens. No asking, no please may I, he just stuck his head there. Unbelievable. I threw him in the Serpentine - didn't ask his permission, just chucked him straight in. You make your bed, you gotta lie in it. In the end, I actually gave up talking. There are only so many times you can say that there are Bearded Tits in a reed bed, what Bearded Tits look like, if Bearded Tits are rare, where Bearded Tits come from, if they are making A FUCKING NEST! Imbeciles.....So to anyone who encountered a grumpy git in a red hat who completely and utterly ignored them, including the Scottish chap who complained to passers by that I wouldn't tell him how many birds there were, or indeed anything at all, please accept the fact that I hate you all and if I ever see you again in my entire life it will be too soon. There, glad I got that off my chest. I complain about various segments of humanity here in Wanstead, but if I had somewhere like Hyde Park as my patch I reckon I would go completely loopy. Or spend quite a lot of time behind bars for assault.

Monday 21 January 2013

Can't beat a Fieldfare

Fieldfare is possibly my favourite thrush, though Siberian is a close call. Unfortunately most of those turn out to be either fictional or recently-purchased. The Fieldfares on Wanstead Flats however are very real and entirely wild. Despite my sterling efforts in reuniting ex-dogs with their sad owners, Nick is still far more compassionate than I am, and when the snow started he went around and plonked a few apples on a couple of Hawthorns near the viz-mig point to help the birds get through it. These were found pretty much instantaneously, and so far these treats (along with coconut and oats) have been enjoyed by not only Fieldfare, but also by Jay, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird and Waxwing). Hawthorns are fairly tangled affairs, so getting a clean perch is verging on the impossible, but I spent a happy half hour there this lunchtime. Mainly this was to get out of the House of Vomit I currently reside in, I figure I can't catch it if I'm stood ankle-deep in snow in the middle of the Flats. All too soon it was time to get back to the day job though, and to once again run the gauntlet of extreme bacterial infection. So far I've not succumbed, thanks largely I feel to large and regular dosages of cask strength Caol Ila. I'm a big believer in preventative medicine...

Sunday 20 January 2013

Snow, snow, snow

A few more Lapwings today didn't really repay the effort I put into the patch this weekend. I jacked it in at lunchtime and came home to play with the kids. The Lego-fest I had had in mind never materialised, as Muffin has now caught whatever Pudding had, and thus felt more like throwing up all over the place than playing. Poor kid, he had to watch his sisters playing in the snow whilst he felt rotten indoors - as a nine year old that's pretty much the last thing you want to have happen. Pudding's troubles lasted three days, so this is just the beginning, and we still have a kid to go. Touch wood neither Mrs L nor I have yet to go down with it, but I have this horrible suspicion that it is only a matter of time, and that is about the last thing I need. Though of course fairly good news from a weight-loss point of view. Anyhow, it's been a while since the kiddos made it to these pages, so here are a few from the snowman-making in the garden this afternoon. He's called Nathan, and I forgot to take a photo of him - perhaps tomorrow if I'm stuck at home talking down the big white telephone...


Saturday 19 January 2013

Never let him out of your sight

I have just one piece of advice for anyone thinking of birding in Wanstead, and it is this: Never let Nick out of your sight. Not for a second, for even if you've spent the whole day with him he will go and find something good the moment you part company. Today he pretended he was off to Hyde Park to twitch the Bearded Tits, but instead went and found Goosander on the patch. I had thought I was pretty safe, and with a prior engagement in town, had headed for home not five minutes earlier. Bosh, another grip off.

In fact today was pretty grippy most of the way through. Bob initially thought he had managed to add himself to one of my favourite lists, namely the "People who have seen Woodlark on the patch who are not me" list, but on reflection cannot be sure, and then contrived to see both a Golden Plover and two Linnet over by Jubilee Pond. To make certain I saw neither of them he sent me off to the Alex to look for them and blamed it on old age - a likely story. Meanwhile Dan scooped a flock of Lapwing over by Alex that I didn't see either... it was all looking fairly bleak. Linnet is regular in autumn, not too worried about them, but Goosander I've seen just twice, and Golden Plover just once - these could be tricky birds to get back. Luckily the day wasn't a complete grip-off as the Lapwing story ended happily when I picked up another flock just a short while later - probably around 40 birds - and then a singleton over the Park. Little Egret on the Roding was another patch year-tick, so I am now sitting pretty on 66. The overall patch list is 76 though, so somehow I am 10 down within three weeks - frankly this is a tad worrying. I guess I shall just have to reconcile myself to seeing the least of anyone. Sniff.

Friday 18 January 2013

Played for and got. And boring.

I've almost certainly used the first part of this blog post title before, and the content of whatever that post was is probably almost identical to what this post will be. But that's patch birding for you. And blogging... To cut a long story short, I went out on the patch to find a specific bird, and duly found it. Wow. Trudging back home through the snow, it occured to me that patch year-listing is basically about finding all the same birds as you did last year, but in a very slightly different order. What fun!

The bird I was after was Woodcock, and so I walked around the area that I felt was most promising for one - namely Motorcycle Wood - and sure enough one flew out. Amazing. Whilst there, I also saw my first Fieldfare for the year - fairly pitiful on the 18th of January, but they have been thin on the ground, and I've not been out much. I've seen Fieldfare on the 1st of January in every single year that I have records for, and so this has injected some spice into my yearlist, with Fieldfare at #63, whereas both last year and the year before it was at #15. This kind of variety is what patch birders live for! As I got even closer to home, I felt some stats brewing......

Because I tend to follow the same route on every New Year's Day, the birds are often seen in a very similar order - Common Gull #10 the last couple of years for example, and Gadwall is always in the mid-40s, which is generally what I'm on when I reach Alexandra Lake. Little Grebe is the low to mid-50s, indicating I've arrived in Wanstead Park..... Slightly depressingly you can actually continue well beyond the 1st of January - for the entire year in fact. The months tend to come in the same order, and so too do the migrants - everyone's (my) favourite, the Wheatear clocking in at #81 in both 2011 and 2012, Whinchat at #95, and Sedge Warbler #106. The big surprise this year was of course Great Crested Grebe on day one - unprecedented, and a real shock result. Two extremely selfish waterbirds have destroyed the careful equilibrium built up over many years, bastards.

In both 2011 and 2012, my patch list was 113 species. Convenient for statistical analysis, and amazing foresight on my part. But here's the rub. Of those 113 species, 104 - 92%, were the same. 2012 saw Osprey, Oystercatcher, Stone Curlew, LRP, Green Sand, Wood Sand, Caspian Gull, Treecreeper and Yellowhammer replaced by Mandarin, Goldeneye, Smew, Goosander, Golden Plover, Jack Snipe, Short-Eared Owl, Wryneck and Nuthatch. Don't get me wrong, these 8% really get the juices going, it's what patch-working is all about and I love it. The trouble is the other 92%.......


Wednesday 16 January 2013

So what will be left? Peanuts.

I don't know where you live, but Leytonstone high street is now wall-to-wall shops selling fruit and vegetables from small plastic bowls, interspersed with chicken-based fast food outlets and places selling phonecards. On the same street, where Woolies once was is now an Argos, and in Wanstead it's now a Tesco Metro. Last week Jessops went under, and this week - so far - HMV and Blockbuster have collapsed. Where is it all going to end? Who is next, and what will our high streets eventually look like? Are all high streets going to look like Leytonstone, where once a variety of small businesses and national chains thrived, but is now a monoculture of fried chicken and grapefruits?

It's all rather depressing. Not that I've bought anything at Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster for many years, and if my shopping habits are repeated across the land then you can easily see what the problem is, but the point is I once shopped there, and thus have an affection for them, even if crucially that affection didn't extend to actually going there and spending money. Jessops I've talked about, but HMV is the same - it was the place to buy music when I was a kid (although of course it's history goes back way further than that). Not that I was a muso particularly, but when, ten years behind everyone else I discovered U2 and whoever, that was where I went. I also bought all my TDK tapes from HMV, they had great huge bins of them - when did you last see a tape? Is that when the decline started? Similarly, when videos were new technology, and when our family finally got one, we joined Blockbusters. I loved going there, with it's crummy blue carpets and yellow shelves, I had a membership card and everything - it was like a library, but fun! And when I went to my Grandma's, she would rent videos to keep us occupied, and they were from Blockbuster too. I've not been there for years, decades in fact, but I'm still sad they're gone. I was amazed that they were still around actually, surely that business model died ages ago? Anyhow, very sad. Lovefilm is pretty good though, I went for the DVD and streaming package.

In other news, the 2012 Peanut Challenge was concluded at a public house on Monday night. Pubs are also disappearing left right and centre across the country, and here at least I am able to contribute to their ongoing survival. Never let it be said that I am a selfish consumer. The pub of choice was The Grapes in Limehouse, and very nice it was too. And to my knowledge, it has yet to kill anyone, which makes it better than some pubs I could mention. I had an emergency packet of peanuts in my pocket, but in the event they were not needed as The Grapes had three extremely large jars of peanuts behind the bar. I ordered one (bowl) of each - standard, roasted, and (I think) sweet chilli. James A is not a huge fan of peanuts, which meant I ended up eating 95% of them, and for which I paid the next day. No matter. Excellent discussions were had about quite how rubbish our work patches were, and we both agreed that although the 2012 competition had been a draw at 42 species each, it was highly likely that Canary Wharf was actually even worse than Tower Bridge. Which means I win, but seeing as I had already purchased the peanuts, this was somewhat of a moot point. I drank far too much beer for a Monday night - or any night - and woke up at 3am with the most incredible thirst, no doubt brought on by excess peanut consuption. It's the last time I do that in a hurry. In fact, we agreed that we might skip the work patch-listing for 2013, mainly on the grounds that suicide might be a likely outcome for one or both of us.

So I'll be sticking to Wanstead, which this year has seen my worst ever start - it is mid month and I have only just reached my Jan 1st total from last year. Teal fell today. I can barely contain my excitement.

Sunday 13 January 2013

Bearded Tits, Hyde Park

Fabulous views of the Bearded Tits in Hyde Park this morning, and nice to see a few familiar faces enjoying them too. An amazing record when you think about it, especially as the "reedbed" they are in is about the size of bus stop, though perhaps not as deep.... Both birds are BTO ringed, so I spent a bit of time aiming at the legs instead of going for the artistic shots. I've manged to piece together one of the codes, and it seems another observer has managed five out of the six digits, so hopes are high that it can be worked out where these two little beauties came from. I took Muffin along too, he is getting quite keen on taking photos, and he also needed Bearded Tit. They showed magnificently, mere feet away - this is the way to see birds for the first time, and he'll always remember it, rather than some blob miles away. There are some more photos here.

In fact we made a bit of a day of it, and once our parking ticket ran out at Hyde Park, by which time we were both frozen anyhow, we carried on across London and out to the west for a long-staying Great White Egret in Herts, and only a couple of miles outside the M25. We found the right place very easily, my instincts telling me that the river was likely at the bottom of the valley and not at the top of the hill, and hadn't even stopped the car when I was forced to raise my bins at lightning speed to confirm that the white bird in the reeds did indeed have a yellow bill. Tick #2 for Muffin. Naturally we got out and went and had a proper look at it, during which time it didn't do much other than just stalk around. Some Little Egrets were good to compare it with - here's one of the Great White flying around trying to scare one of the Littles....

Not done yet, we decided that two Buff-bellied Pipits for our London lists far exceeded one Buff-bellied Pipit, so trundled back round the M25 towards Horton and Wraysbury. The birds seem to be spending more time away from the reservoir, good news for the £2 nestling in my pocket. We found the spot pretty much straight away, and there they were, feeding together around some large puddles. Roy W was also there (in fairly heavy winter plumage, it seems he moved through Movember into Mocember without a backwards glance, and is currently headed for Mofebruary and beyond!) having a pop at them, so we stealthily joined him. Easier than the last time, but the results aren't quite there sadly as this time the bird(s) were much further away. Flushed with this success we carried on to somewhere in Berks where we ticked Bradders and Crofty, but dipped the Pallas's Warbler and got very cold. Still, you can't win 'em all, and we had a very good day and made it back in time to see Africa and a baby Elephant dying on TV. Top family entertainment - my daughter had to leave the room and fetch a cuddly toy.


Saturday 12 January 2013

A Sad Day

Another High Street casualty, and whilst I wasn't too sad to see the back of Clinton Cards and Game, news of Jessops' demise is very sad. When I moved to London in the early nineties, I was a fairly regular visitor to the huge store on New Oxford Street, which had a very well stocked second-hand section. I splashed out for my first real lens from there, the Canon 300mm f4 - this was in the days before image stabilisation had been invented. I also bought one of my two now worthless EOS 1Ns from them - I still have both and they still work perfectly, though my stocks of Velvia ran out years ago.

From what I remember, Jessops was very often staffed by real enthusiasts, and it's these people who are now all out of work, and that's very sad news. There isn't a lot of money in photography, or that at least is my impression, so they may struggle to find work in the same sector, or indeed work anywhere - it's still miserable out there. Too much competition? Online dominance? Probably both, though I think that the day they stopped selling second-hand gear is what started the rot. That's why I went there in my impoverished student days - that 300mm lens came out of my student loan, not quite what it was intended for. It was slightly dented, slightly battered, slightly scraped, but lovely nonetheless. I mean it was white, and that counted for everything! Not that I knew what I was doing with it back then of course, but I used it for years before falling out of love with photography for a period. When I came back to it, that was what I picked up again. I stuck it on a cheap digital body, and it worked just like before, and so away I went on the journey I am still very much on today. I only sold it a few years ago.

On the internet.

Thursday 10 January 2013


I hate having things weighing on my mind. I hate to-do lists of things that I know I am not going to enjoy. Like any normal person, I put them off for as long as possible. Lists of things I have put off recently include writing a section of the London Bird Report (I had the information for months and started marginally after the deadline), writing to some car hire places in Morocco (in french), sorting out Christmas Thank You letters (only three to write, but there are always other things to do....anything.....). Tonight the last of the great evils was to fall - I was going to do my tax return - yes, before the deadline (but only because I didn't want to be fined). Alcohol in my right hand, National Insurance card in my left, I sat down in front of the computer and didn't start typing.

God what a process. Last week I had to phone up for a number, and today it duly arrived - I thought I was good to go. But no. NI number entered, new registration number entered, I eagerly copied down the third number that popped up on screen with its ominous warning that HMRC would never send me this crucial number again. Right, I'm in! Oh no I'm not! No, apparently in seven working days HMRC will send me, by post, a fourth number that I can use to activate my online self assessment. What kind of bloody moron developed an online system where you have to phone up for one number that they can't tell you over the phone and have to post to you, write down a second number on a piece of paper because they won't tell it to you again by any means, ever, and then wait a week for yet a third number to be posted to you? Have they not heard of email? Do they want my money? By the time this final (I am not hopeful) number arrives about two weeks before the deadline the entire system will probably have crashed and I'll be in the clink for tax evasion. Meanwhile a 71 year old gamekeeper who poisoned two Buzzards (and probably loads more birds during his illustrious career) is fined a fraction of my likely tax bill at the end of a trial which cost the taxpayer many times my tax bill. Is it any wonder the country is going down the pan?

So it is still hanging over me, which is very irritating as I envisaged myself sat here typing with the gay abandon of one who has nothing pressing whatsoever to do for the forseeable future. Here, this is a photo of a sculpture near my office. It is entitled "Man logs onto HMRC Website, in Bronze". I lugged my camera to work today to take photos of a Black-headed Gull that was sat invitingly on the railings when I walked past it without my camera on Monday. Guess what?

Tuesday 8 January 2013


I am becoming boring, and it is annoying me. I have four things in my life - my family (important to mention that first, no end of trouble if I leave it until last!), birds, photos (of birds), and work. Nobody wants to hear about the latter, but it dominates my life so comprehensively that it leaves far less time for any of the former. Long-term acolytes may recall that when I started this blog in 2009 I got made redundant almost immediately. Surely a coincidence, but it did mean that all of sudden life became a lot more interesting. Rather than the grim darkness of Canary Wharf and the ongoing world finanical implosion, you were treated hem hem to my new struggles with washing, buying food and attempting to cook it, potty training, and other daily examples of domestic martyrdom. In between you got to know a bit about my three precious charges, and very occasionally some birding featured.

My domestic days are behind me - as was always agreed (under duress), as soon as my youngest started school, I had to go back. No life of leisure for me, so now, and indeed for the past year, I have been back in my ancestral home of E14. The consequence of this is that I now have nothing to write about, or so it seems to me. Except birds. Bo-ring birds. But hang on a minute, isn't that what I started this blog to witter about? Wanstead Birder, not Wanstead Domestic God. Indeed. It was always supposed to be about the birds, not the minutae of my life. I mean who cares about that other than me? Perhaps not even me actually. As it happens though, I found it much easier to write about various household disasters and what silly things the kids have done recently than I did to write about what birds could be found in Wanstead. In short, I felt - and feel - that writing about my ineptitude was much more interesting than writing about birds. Birds aren't funny. Birds aren't humourous. They appeal to many people for sure, but there's only so much you can say about patch Skylarks. On the other hand, my domestic foul-ups were essentially infinite, and kids will surprise you every day of the week.

At the moment I get up, I go to work and crush rocks for several hours, and I return home in a bad mood and drink wine to soothe my shattered nerves. I repeat this for five days a week, albeit with some school runs and refereeing of offspring thrown in. Then for two days, if I can, I go out and blitz our poor feathered friends with a camera. In other words, I have very little to say. In the dare I say it 'good old days', you got to hear about trying to find an oven shelf online, boozing dollies, food shopping for cretins, and Grebe porn. Today you get to hear about what ISO speed I used.

So what can be done? Well, pack it in I suppose, but all bloggers that I have known to pack it in inevitably come to regret the rash "delete all" decision of their intemperate former selves, and come slinking back, and no doubt that would happen to me too. So that's out. Blog less frequently? Perhaps - in one of my first ever posts, I counselled myself to do just that, and have steadfastly ignored this advice for almost exactly four years. I have verbal diahorrea, and there is no known cure. I enjoy it; you suffer it - a tried-and-tested formula. I know, what about seek inspiration, write about stuff I've not written about before? Eh, what? No, I couldn't do that. I need to rant about dog walkers, post Daily Mail tribute articles, moan about work, and eulogise about the patch. And Wheatears. Branch out? Madness!

Not long now.....
So I have no answers, except to think more about maintaining variety, indeed perhaps return to the minutae of life, as it is from there that all variety stems. Not necessarily mine either, which could get dull fast. I'm always hearing little snippets on the radio, noticing absurd behaviour, seeing some scene or other than gets me cogitating. I occasionally think "oh, that would make a good piece", and then do precisely nothing about it and continue dreaming about optics past, present, and - mostly - future. I have somewhat of a one-track mind, I just need to make sure I don't have too much of a one-track blog.

By the way, 1600 is my most-used speed at present.

Sunday 6 January 2013

Always the way

Went out with Bradders and Muffin today and mostly managed to dip everything we were specifically interested in. No matter, it's early January, and so even the birds we weren't specifically interested in were interesting. Started off in Wanstead where we managed to dip both Firecrest and Nuthatch, both easy as you like yesterday - always the way I guess. Onwards to Cliffe in Kent for some Scaup, and despite a few candidates, nothing that passed the Bradders test. Stupendous numbers of birds though, probably 200+ Little Grebe being the most noteworthy, but heaps of Pintail amongst other healthy duck numbers. Not sure how many were yearticks, but I suspect quite a few. Finished up on the Silts and some momentary excitement of a Grey Partridge which turned out not to be one, but two Short-eared Owls were good value. I'd like to moan about the weather at this point - it is ridiculous for early January, and needs to get a lot colder if anything exciting is going to happen. Bird of the day goes to this fine fellow, surveying his patch in Bush Wood this morning. One of my neighbours asked me only yesterday if he was still around, and I said that I thought so but that I hadn't seen or heard anything for a while. Again, always the way. 

Saturday 5 January 2013

Out and About

After a week cooped up some fresh air and shutter abuse seemed a reasonable tonic, so I toddled off to Shoeburyness at first light hoping that the female Long-tailed Duck and Common Scoter might still be present on the lake at Gunner's Park - scene of my OBP triumph (successful twitch) a couple of months ago. Happily they were both still there, and, with patience, sore knees, and a cold, wet bottom, showed extremely well. What was not quite so wonderful was the abysmal light throughout my visit, and a near continual soft mizzle. Oh for a bit of sunshine, but I guess you take what you can get in these situations, and without wishing to bore you overly, it's amazing what can be done with high ISO speeds these days. Interestingly they stuck together the entire time, mostly very closely indeed, which I gather is causing untold problems for the Church of England.

After three hours of happy pappage (more of which can be seen here), I decided I was cold and had had enough, and so toddled back down the A13 to civilisation. Passing Rainham I noticed, illegally, that the Ross's Goose was back. Not that I think it has a snowgoose's chance in hell of getting on the list, but you can never be too careful, and in any event I've never seen one, plastic or otherwise. And very cute and dinky it was too, albeit distantly from the sea wall, and in rather dodgy and highly undesirable company. To be clear, I didn't meet Dick until back near Aveley Bay car park; the goose was with Greylags. Much year-tickage also occurred, with my first 2013 Wigeon, Little Egret and so on - in fact there was a bit of that at Shoeburyness as well now I come to think of it. A Kestrel near the Serin Mound was fairly confiding - I can see myself going back on a sunny day.

Finished up back on the patch, where in a daring mission of high skill and lightning-fast reactions, I found both Firecrest and Nuthatch in Bush Wood, and didn't get mugged.

Wednesday 2 January 2013

Whatever happened to the Peanut Challenge?

It seemed like a good idea at the time, pitting two almost entirely bird-free patches against each other, and seeing which one was truly the worst. Secretly of course, both James and I wanted to be able to say that our patch was the most awful - indeed the perfect competition would have been one where the lowest score triumphed, but that would have meant four versus five or something, and lots of delusional not-seeing of birds that were in fact present. So instead we bit the bullet and went for the highest total wins, and then secretly both tried really hard whilst pretending not to enjoy it, staking an immensely valuable packet of peanuts on the outcome - a prize particularly and pleasingly in synch with the quality of the patches.

And the result? Well rather fittingly it would appear to be a draw, with both Canary Wharf and Tower Bridge pulling in a lofty 42 species. By way of comparison in the same period I notched up 61 species in my garden, which measures about 20 feet by 80. Although this is truly abysmal, it's actually far more than I was expecting to get, with such local gems as Hobby, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Egyptian Goose, none of which I'd seen in over a decade working there. Just goes to show how much I like peanuts I suppose, though during the later stages of the year I barely managed to get out at all.

We thought about having 2013's prize be two packets of peanuts, a peanut rollover if you will, but have instead decided to symbolically share a packet of jointly-purchased peanuts at a conveniently-located pub, possibly also sharing a beer while we're at it. Or we might even push the boat out and have one each.

Tuesday 1 January 2013

Same old, same old

Another year, another slog around the patch for all the usual birds. I don't know why I do it really - after the excesses of last night, a lovely long lie in would have been ideal this morning, and everything I saw today I could easily see tomorrow. But that would be defeatist - all patch birders go out on their patches on New Years Day. Bradders for example went to Kent. So, patch it was, and I was out by half seven. The target, last year's 62. To cut a long story short, we failed miserably (we being me, Nick, Tim, Bob and Paul D). Best of the morning session was a fly-over GBB for a five Gull day, but on the whole today was about the birds we didn't see, as by and large we failed to connect with any of the birds that count as slightly hard. We couldn't find Firecrest and Nuthatch in Bush Wood, nor either of the (so far) two wintering Water Rails. Neither could we rustle up Little Egret, Bullfinch, Grey Wagtail or Kingfisher - all regular birds, if not quite in the omnipresent category. So we missed loads, but in a slight reversal of fortune, Great Crested Grebe was astonishingly present on the Basin - no bird has made it past December 31st for approximately 750 years. Despite this miracle, a disappointing start given the inevitable build-up of excitement. On the plus side it wasn't raining, and it was great to be out.

The best bird of the day was reserved for last knockings, and was inevitably found by Nick once we had made the mistake of letting him out of our sight. We had parted company in the Park some fifteen minutes previously, he heading off towards the Flats and home, and Bob and I off towards where we live. As we were mere seconds away from loving spouses and hot cups of tea, he called with the incredible news of a Little Owl near Long Wood. Nobody has seen one for almost two years, the assumption was that they had been eaten by the Bonelli's Eagles. Needless to say we hastened over there and managed to hear it yelping from the direction of one of the copses. A complete surprise, and almost rescued what has been a difficult day on the patch. I ended up on 57 species, with the nascent patch list on 59 - I missed Egyptian Goose and (somehow) Fieldfare. Still, not completely cleaning up on day one means there are still reasons to go out again before March and the arrival of the first Wheatears....