Monday 25 February 2013

Weekend Photography Update

Having devoted the Scotland trip to out and out birding, wrapped around the furthest twitch I have ever been on, the weekend was devoted to photography. Rather than bore you senseless with a million photos, here are just two, with links to more below. On Saturday the very showy Bonaparte's Gull in East Sussex was the star bird, whilst on Sunday the primary target had done a bunk so a kindly Fieldfare stepped in. You may prefer to read about Scotland....

Bonaparte's Gull

Back to Reality

Amazingly we didn't twitch the Harlequin Duck as well. News broke just as we were watching a pair of Golden Eagles drift across the Cairngorms. Naturally I was all for it, but it wasn't to be. When Bradders said we were heading back to London, and after I picked myself up off the floor having fainted, we pointed the car towards Fife and the ancestral home. I'm not scottish as far as I know, but my parents moved to Fife about ten years ago having quite correctly decided the south of england didn't represent value for money. Semi-moved I suppose, as there's a lot of time spent in Cambridge still. Happily for birders everywhere, or at least ones in the same car as me, there is now a nice pad to crash at en route to twitching-related activities in the far north. Having spent a night in a Travelodge, and then two nights in a miniscule cabin on the ferry, the prospect of a real bed and some home comforts was very welcome indeed. It's safe to say that never before has so much Chinese takeaway been eaten in my mum and dad's kitchen.....

After an evening spent consuming the whisky stash I had patiently accumulated up there, we woke up 'refreshed' and hit Largo Bay. This is a great spot for winter birding, and amongst all the sea duck a lone Surf Scoter was hiding somewhere. This took ages to pin down, mainly on account of it being practically off Leven, but luckily it's an adult drake so even at range the white blob on the back of the head enabled us to pick it out. I reckon I've ticked the same bird four or five times now! Great views of Velvets here as well, and of course Long-tailed Ducks and Mergs. All too soon though it was time to get back in the car and head for home. Our last birding act of a pretty fabulous four days was to score Black Grouse in the Pennines, first time I've seen them in England. We drove a shade under 1500 miles all told, saw just over 100 species, ticked Megafinch, and had a great time. Well done Team Grozzer! And thanks to Bradders Birding Tours for providing the twitchmobile and driving it.

Just so that those also driving the A1 southbound knew we were really really cool
Nick scanning for Coots
Meanwhile in Wanstead, the place I notionally live in and go birding at, the action has been pretty non-stop. Adrian's had Waxwing twice, and the day I got back Dan found four Goldeneye on Perch which is amazing. He is developing somewhat of a track record having found two last year - back then he enquired if this was normal, and so was surprised to cause a mass local twitch. Maybe he was right after all. Naturally I twitched them, and very nice they were too - three drakes and a female, as usual very skittish and they only stayed for the day. Despite Dan thinking they're actually common as muck, they're still a prized bird round here, and my list is very grateful. No time to take any decent photos, not that I would have stood much of a chance as I can only photography really tame and stupid stuff, but here is one for the record books.

Sunday 24 February 2013


So far, so good. Other than missing out on the long-staying Desert Wheatear (photographer overruled....) the plan was going precisely according to plan. Accordingly, therefore, Monday was a tour of Speyside and the Cairngorms in order to year-tick various birds. Not that Bradders is doing a year-list you understand (i.e. he's only third on Bubo at the moment), but it's important to see everything every year even if you're not. Keeps your eye in. Or something.

"Git oot ma garden!"
Taking one for the team
So, first stop Lecht ski-station, there to dip Ptarmigan again. Apart from inadvertantly straying into the tractor driver's garden (I had thought his house was a shed) and getting shouted at, and not seeing Ptarmigan, this was a great success, so we carried on to Boat of Garten where a feeding station drew in Crested Tit for the year trip list. Grabbed a couple of shots in semi-darkness before we carried on.

Onwards to the nearby Black Grouse site, only to discover that not only has the viewing screen been ripped up, but the public road it was on has been marked as "Private", and deliberately flooded so as to be inaccessible to vehicles. Now I can understand that it's a sensitive species, but come on! It was one of the best places to observe Black Grouse that I knew of, indeed I've slept in the car here on more than one occasion, including with Muffin, and awoken to their bubbling, but it now seems that the Great British Public isn't welcome anymore. I assume that the reason is photographers. I hate them.

We finally scored Ptarmigan at the third time of asking, on Cairngorm. We estimated the distance to be approximately three kilometers, so supreme views. John was scanning a distant slope from the the bottom on the mountain railway, and a bird was good enough to fly through his scope. He tracked it until it landed, but in fact the best way to see the birds was just to scope the approximate bit of mountain and wait for another one to fly. I reckon we saw about six birds, though it could equally have been three, or indeed nine. Who cares. Tick and run. The ski area was completely rammed - millions (possibly trillions) of people all out enjoying the fabulous weather. As you can see from the snap above, it really was amazing. In fact, thinking about it, we didn't see any rain the whole trip. We drove through a bit, and Glenshee was in a cloud, but apart from that it was fabulous.

So, see that roundish rock with snow on the lower right hand side? Well, go left from there about three scope widths (20x) and then look up in a snowy gap, a bit to the left. Whaddaya mean you can't see anything?!

Saturday 23 February 2013

Shetland Gullage

There isn't a huge amount of variety up on Shetland in winter, but what is there is good, and if you're weird enough to like Gulls, you're in for a good time. Gulls dominated the rest of the day, post Grosbeak. We had a scout around Nesting Bay for Divers, of which there were many, and gained a heard-only Shetland tick when a Red Grouse bec-becced from behind us somewhere, but really we all wanted to go and chuck bread at a juvenile Ring-billed Gull at Scalloway. When we got there the Gull was sat on the other side of the water looking ill. Bloated, some might say. Every crew of Grosbeak twitchers had already been to see it already, and to say the Gull was loafing would be very accurate indeed. It was 90% loaf.....

This didn't stop it attempting to top up when we chucked out yet more, but you could see its heart wasn't in it, and so we left it quietly vomiting in a field. Next stop Lerwick Catch for a white-winger session, and it didn't disappoint, with three blazing-white first year Glaucs and an Iceland. They didn't do much it has to be said, but the light was pretty nice and there were Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks and so on. A good end to the day's birding - we had been on Shetland for less than twelve hours, but mission accomplished.

And then it was time to get on board the ferry and celebrate John's 921st UK tick with a round of beers. Several rounds of beers. If the boat was rocking, we didn't notice.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Confessions of a Grosbeak Twitcher

As I've said many times before, I'm a pretty crap twitcher. I moan about it, I stress about it, I even occasionally deny it...... But sometimes you just go, and that's what I did. However I mostly go on my own terms. No calling in sick and chartering planes, no dropping everything and leaving immediately. I pick and choose what I go for, in the sure knowledge that this will cost me birds and I'll never get to the magical 500 (though the once-magical 400 is just a stone's throw away).

There was a time when a long-distance twitch was somewhere like Norfolk. Then one weekend it became Yorkshire. Madness. Then it was Cornwall. Then it went back to Norfolk, but via Devon..... In 2011 I twitched Scilly not once but twice. In other words the bar gradually got set higher and higher. 2012 was relatively calm, two trips to Wales being the furthest I went, although I did go sea-watching off Pendeen. Shetland however was out of bounds. Too far, too expensive. As you know, all that changed this weekend. When news of the Pine Grosbeak broke in January, it was interesting, but not something I was ever going to do. Nice bird, the first for over 20 years, but it was in Shetland and therefore sheer lunacy, and anyway I'd seen birds in Finland only last year. Two weeks later and I was rocking gently on the MV Hrossey. Young Bradders, twitcher extraordinaire (that's french for filthy), suggested a trip up for it based around a few days year-listing birding in the Highlands. Was I up for it? No, of course I wasn't.

L-R: Bradders, Nick & John dipping something near Glenshee
I couldn't leave Nick on the patch to find a pile of grippers, so he had to come to, and the fourth space was taken by John A, one of the filthiest there is - up there with the Prof, 500 but a distant memory. We left on Friday after school, and made Carlisle by late evening. A nano-second of sleep later we continued on towards Scotland, dipping everything in our path until we hit Aberdeen in the late afternoon and settled down in our diesel-freshened cabin for a bounce across the North Sea. As it happened we got lucky with the weather, and the crossing was essentially a non-event. The following morning, a mere 38 hours after leaving home, we came off the ferry and drove the thirty or so miles to North Collafirth, nearly at the top of mainland Shetland. We were the first on site.

Gradually the other birders who had been on the ferry all arrived, and we surrounded the garden at Forsa. Two Blackbirds. Justin L and a few others headed off to Greenbrae, Steph M to Saltoo. Soon after the radio crackled into life; the birds was at Greenbrae. Some minor wacky races (Bradders won) and we hopped out to learn that the bird has dived from a small group of trees by the road into the bulk of the plantation and had been lost to view, and that worse, Nick had seen it having sneaked off when we weren't looking! No drama though, we all walked around the other side of the plantation and with a very calm "here it is" for his 845th UK tick, John A announced its continued presence to the masses. All fifteen of us. After a journey of almost two days, we had scored just over an hour after arriving on Shetland. Tick and run, as they say.

The bird never really left the tops of the trees whilst we were there, so photo opps were rare, but I've a few I'm relatively pleased with. Clearly it wasn't quite like Finland, but to be there, next to that plantation in fine weather, with almost no other people and otters playing on the shore below was a great experience. Plus getting a mega-tick of course. With the tick under the belt so early on, and having watched the bird for about two hours we decided that we would carry on birding elsewhere on the island. The plan was going very much according to plan.

Snuffi scores

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Wednesday 13 February 2013

La Gloire de mon père

As I remarked to the French Ambassador yesterday evening, name-dropping rarely gets you anywhere, and anyway, where was he hiding the Ferrero Rocher? All in perfect French of course. He had the good grace not to throw me out, but the pyramids of flunky-borne chocolates never materialised, a searing disappointment on what was otherwise an exemplary and very enjoyable evening in West London. There were some fab chocolatey mini desserts, and whilst it was tempting to utter the odd under-my-breath "echellente" [sic], their non-pyramidal presentation was a real block to what would have been a hilarious joke. Hilarious only for me obviously. You can probably tell I don't get invited to Ambassadors' parties very often..... Or any parties in fact.

You may or may not know that I am a huge francophile. I lived there as a child, I worked there as a teenager, I "studied" there as a young adult (believe me, the inverted commas are sooooo necessary), and now as a middle-aged adult with kids I go to Disneyland there, which is essentially the pinnacle of french culture. I also like to stuff myself with cheese that is made there, and 95% of the wine I drink is made there. As, of course, is 100% of the Champagne that I bathe in. So it was a pleasure to receive an invitation from Son Excellence l'Ambassadeur de France au Royaume Uni de Grande Bretagne et d'Irlande du Nord (Bernard to his mates) to an investiture ceremony for services to the expansion of French culture. Despite the amount of wine I drink, that only contributes to the expansion of my waist, thus I was not the one getting invested.

Non. It was in fact mon Père, to whom (and Maman) I owe my love of France. He was being promoted from a rank and file Chevalier de l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques to a full Commandeur. With a medal and everything. Children rarely know what Daddy does. When I leave the house in the morning, for many years now I have always said I'm going out to earn money for toys (lenses count as toys....). and this mantra is now chanted at me as I leave every day. But of course they have no idea what I actually do, though they do see camera lenses littered around the house and presumably put two and two together. Yes, that's right, I am a fluorite machinist for Canon. Anyhow, like many children I confess to actually knowing very little about what my father does. I mean, I know where he works at the moment, and I could probably tell you most places he has worked in the past. But what he has actually done? Aucune idée. Well, as of yesterday, all that changed. Monsieur l'Ambassadeur, perhaps as an alternative to really spoiling us, gave a run down of my dad's career from about 1968 onwards. It was like something out of This is Your Life, except at the end he got a purple medal rather than a red book. I have to admit I was impressed, filial pride welled up inside me. I thought he just waffled on about French Art and Literature (which to be fair, he probably does), but it seems he has done a great deal more. I discovered this morning that just like Lady Gaga he even has a Wikipedia entry. Who knew? Although after last night it is now out of date. Chevalier, pah!

The actual moment of investiture. Note the Gendarme behind, employed for his expert cushion-holding and knot-tying. Note also the air of gravitas and decorum that my mother is lending to the whole affair. To be fair, you had to have been there in the five seconds preceding this photograph. I have no idea if she is now Madame Commandeur - we can only hope, and I may call her that anyway!
I doubt very much whether I will ever have a Wikipedia entry. A recurring theme last night, faced with various Cambridge people who hadn't seen me for years, including one who could only remember me in a pushchair in 1975, was what did I do? Stacked up against what my father has done, I have very little to say. I guess it is rare that the children of academics follow in their parents' footsteps - my sister is in finance too. So I told people I worked in a bank, including the Ambassador. Being rather well-connected, he happened to know two of my "colleagues". One was the Vice-chairman, the other the global head of Investment Banking. I guess we mix in different circles, his somewhat loftier than mine, although he has promised come birding in Wanstead, followed by attending the next birders drinks at the pub in Hornchuch that poisons people.

Not really.

I guess it's lucky this event coincided with my return to full-time employment; although in my mind perfectly valid, had I replied that I was a house husband and domestic Goddess it may have caused even the highly-polished Ambassador to stumble, if only momentarily. As it was, amongst all these high-fliers, leaders in their fields, I was able to talk eloquently about my role in the wonderful and mercenary world of international finance. A CBE though, or whatever the equivalent is, is going to be a long time coming.

The Résidence de France is in that posh cordoned-off street that runs between Kensington and Notting Hill, and is rather fabulous. It most closely ressembles stepping into a museum, but without all the velvet ropes surrounding the furniture, and with impeccably smart French people everywhere. My first act upon entering this high-class establishment was to spill my dad's cousin's tomato juice all over the floor whilst he attempted to kiss Mrs L and I attempted to kiss his wife. This gave the highly-decorated and shiny Gendarme who was stood in the corner something to do, which was fetch a flunky with a sponge who made light work of it. Very slick. After that, it remained only to accept any and all Champagne that was offered, make polite conversation, and listen to my father's life history and his acceptance speech, both in French naturally, and containing references that caused vague recollections of books studied in yesteryear to mysteriously surface. Groupe de Médan anyone?

We left clutching a book about the French Residence in London, showcasing the various rooms and all the priceless artwork in them, discovering on the tube that we had been in the Salon Jaune, a very lovely room as you can see in the photo above. This has led to the immediate renaming of the "Middle Room" in Chateau L to the "Salon Orange avec dirty handprints". It is an excellent book, and I have already found two gems within it. The first is a photo of the library, where on the desk is a framed photo of the Résidence burning to the ground in 1990. A splendid touch! The second is found in a description of the Dining Room, which is "dominated by a large full-length, three-quarter portrait of Louis XIV displaying a nicely-turned calf". It is indeed pure perfection, and all I can say is that the art of turning one's shapely calf has gone well and truly downhill since the 1700s.

So, that was my evening. Compared to sitting around correcting whites in photoshop and then blogging about it, it made a very pleasant change. And free Champagne is always to be welcomed. I must do it more often.

Monday 11 February 2013

Waxwing Statistics

A post title which I think both immediately attracts, and immediately disgusts. If you've just read that sentence though, clearly the lure of Waxwings is greater than the potential boredom of bird-related stats. As you know, I'm a big fan of patch stats, anything vaguely listy, and you can count me in. So, the 19 Waxwings that I bumped into at the end of my street this morning, less than a minute after leaving my house, represent my seventh patch sighting of Waxwing. Of those seven sightings, two have actually been from the house, and the birds this morning did the decent thing by flying back down my street and over my house to get themselves on the house list for a third time. So in addition to three house list sightings, one of the sightings was on an adjacent street as I was on the school run, so almost counts for the house list. A further sighting was actually at the school as I left one morning, and the sixth and seventh were two twitches in quick succession to a berried-up housing estate near Wanstead Park in 2011. In total, I've seen 94 Waxwings in Wanstead, so the 19 this morning represent a fairly significant percentage at exactly one fifth. Stop me when I'm boring you....

So there I was, trudging towards the bus stop. Er, I mean striding briskly towards the bus stop, eagerly looking forward to my day at the mines. Mug of tea in hand - this is not normal, I was running slightly later than planned - I had nearly reached the bus stop when my razor senses picked up trilling. Sure enough, a flock of Waxwings circled overhead and chose to alight in the tree opposite me. Quick as a flash I gently placed my mug of tea on a convenient wall, took my bag off my back and extracted my camera (I am beginning to carry my camera everywhere - blame a certain Black-headed Gull in Canary Wharf.....). Lens cap off, ISO up, exposure comp up a bit and bingo, they were mine for all eternity. I even managed to get a signpost saying Wanstead in the frame. Then they flew off. I had just enough time to confirm that they had gone over the ever-expanding cone of house airspace, and then the bus came and I had grab my tea and leg it. Suprisingly the day went downhill from exactly this point.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Massive Patch Neglect

I have not set foot on the patch since the 20th of January. Remember that I live about fifty yards from the patch - well, technically I live on the patch, as anything I see from home goes straight on the patchlist - so this is just ridiculous. But sadly it's true. I jammed that Owl about a week ago, but for over a week before that, and over a week since that, the patch has remained Jono-free. Consequently I'm a distant last in the patchlist stakes, am about ten species shy of where I was this time last year, and have yet to see an Egyptian Goose.

Today, with the whole day free, I went to the London Aquarium. The astute amongst you will immediately have realised that Wanstead doesn't have an aquarium....Yes, yet again I have forsaken the patch to go and do something else. At least it wasn't to take loads of photos of birds.....

The London aquarium is very very cool. I've been bleating on all week about what a massive rip-off it was, how on earth could a family ticket set me back in excess of £70, blah blah blah. Let me tell you that it was worth every penny. Well, they could perhaps have thrown a Clownfish in, and let me cuddle a Penguin, but nonetheless it was very very good. The kids loved it, proper family entertainment of the sort we don't do enough of. I don't really know where to begin, but it is very impressive indeed for the basement of a large grey building next to the Thames. Fabulous and huge tanks, brimming with Sharks, Rays, and all manner of other large fish that looked delicious, they even had a couple of massive turtles. The whole thing was wonderful, and somewhere up towards the end they had a real ice wall and a number of penguins with colour coded wing-bands. I just love Penguins. I'd prefer to see them somewhere where Penguins live, and I'll get there one day, but you can't knock a Penguin anywhere, especially when conveniently located on the Jubilee Line. So, a really good morning. Might try the Zoo one of these days, I've not been to that for years and years. I wonder if they've got Meerkats?

Wednesday 6 February 2013

In your thoughts?

Accepting the remote possibility that birders read this blog, I wonder if this has any of them wondering about where to go next weekend?

That's right. Finland.

PS Also available in Red.

Sunday 3 February 2013

And another thing

In my Dipper excitement, I forgot to mention that I saw a Shrike yesterday. Unbelievable. Not the Shrike, that was perfectly real and about two thousand yards away as Shrikes often are, but unbelievable that I didn't even say a single word about it. Views were somewhat wanting, but it was still a Shrike - a Great Grey Shrike in fact. Lovely, but would have been much lovlier about one thousand, nine hundred and ninety-five yards closer. Having said that, it was a feat to even see it at all, as the area, Therfield Heath in Hertfordshire, is immense. Nice to get it on the yearlist I'm not keeping, which has yet to reach 100 so I'm actually telling the truth. I'm on 99 - a Rock Pipit this afternoon - my conscience could hardly be cleaner.

As you probably know, I spent the entire evening yesterday deleting Dipper shots, and then woke up today and did it all over again. First stop today was Dartford again where I had another pop at the long-staying Slavonian Grebe in the company of Kev J, Mick S and Richard S. I may not have seen many birds this year, but I've seen some exceptionally well - really they should count for more points. Then we went to Ramsgate to try for a Great Norther Diver known to be frequenting the harbour. It was, but wasn't really what we had in mind. I mean yes, it was a Diver and all that, but what we really wanted to do was pap it to death, and we didn't get that chance and so it's still there, alive and well, and still in the inner harbour. Not sure it was too well, but it was catching food when we left, so perhaps it was just a bit sleepy this morning?

Any guesses as to how much time I spent on the patch this weekend? I'll give you a clue. It's a nice round number and I didn't have any trouble with dogs.

Saturday 2 February 2013

Black-bellied Dipper

Apologies for the catchy title, but I didn't want to leave anything to the imagination. This particular bird has been gnawing away at me for several weeks, but there has always been something else to do. Finally I plucked up the courage to go and made Bradders drive me there. He wanted to see Owls or something. Whatever. But do you know what? I wanted to leave before he did! With several gigabytes in reserve, I decided that I'd had enough. Not being able to feel my feet was the primary reason, but after three hours with this superb little bird, I had actually had my fill. I've just finished the most monumental editing session I can remember in a long time, and after deleting most of what I took, funnily enough I have a few Black-bellied Dipper photos to share. Just a you know I am extremely restrained when it comes to posting photos on my blog. If you are the "in for a penny, in for a pound" type however, you can see lots more here. And I mean lots, more than lots normally means. I have no self control, that's my biggest problem. Happily my shutter is rated for 300,000 clicks....

Moving away from the absurd quantity of photos, and instead talking about the bird, there aren't enough superlatives. If somebody had told me several weeks ago quite how brilliant this bird was, I would have gone immediately rather than leave it this long. To think it could have done a runner without me ever having seen it, gah! It performed to all comers for the entire morning, and likely the entire afternoon as well, mere feet away. I might go back tomorrow, it was that good! I estimate it was never further away than about 40 feet, and sometimes half that. Completely unconcerned about all the attention it was getting, it was fishing constantly, finding a seemingly inexhaustible supply of succulent morsels on the bed of the stream. Every now and again it started singing, which in the manner of many streamside dwellers, carried surprisingly clearly above the sound of the rushing and burbling water. Magic.

Friday 1 February 2013

An Unexpected Surprise

Stupid title really, as if a surprise were expected it wouldn't be a surprise, but I have some happy news. Now that is a surprise. Having some news I mean, not the happiness bit - I am always sweetness and light. What I mean is that usually I have nothing at all to say, and so write very little. Today however is different. Beavering away at home today I happened to glance out of the upstairs window. At this point I'd like to make it clear to any employers reading, current or future, that I very rarely look out of the window during the working day, but that I sometimes have a need to pace. I think better on my feet, and so on a call with colleagues in New York this afternoon, pontificating, I felt the need to walk around whilst delivering my thoughts on Life, the Universe and Securities Lending to an appreciative audience. Anyhow, on my second circuit round the bedroom I noticed two Crows hassling something as it flew low over the rooftops of the houses opposite. Short-eared Owl! Gah! I retained my composure completely, although I may have stopped droning momentarily, and watched it disappear out of sight down the road. Then my brain kicked in, and I ran to the study where I knew I had a camera. I didn't miss a beat, although the quantity of "Errrs" and "Ummms" may have briefly increased. Flipping the phone neatly to speaker, I retrieved the camera from the bag, and in one fluid motion pulled off the lens cap, switched it on and dialled in the exposure compensation I knew I would need - all the while still talking about IT Solutions and Critical Dependencies and running into the back bedroom. Who says men cannot multi-task? Scanning from the back window, the Owl had swooped over the street with it's attendant pursuers and was gaining height. At this point those listening in NY may have heard what sounded suspiciously like a camera shutter firing at high speed. Sorry about that, but this was a garden tick and thus is far more important than most other things in the entirety of creation. And anyway, we were about done, weren't we?

As it happens we were basically done at this point, and so once I'd hung up I quickly checked the back of the camera to make sure it wasn't a Long-eared Owl. It wasn't, but without bins I couldn't tell - the balance of probability was always the commoner bird. After running hell for leather out of the house and across the Flats last year to get on a bird that Nick had called me about, it was good to get a decent view, as well as getting the species on the all important house list. Then I called the Prof in Walthamstow as it could conceivably have been heading towards him - it didn't get there unfortunately (but it's OK as he already has it on his house list), but if anyone further up the valley gets a SEO with a really ragged tail, that's my bird. Unfortunately the only camera to hand was full frame and only had a 200mm lens on it, and coupled with shooting through a grimy window the shots fall very firmly into the record category bucket, but that's fine. You take what you can get when it comes to house ticks, and I am entirely delighted to have got anything that shows what it was. I've not had a house tick since April 2012, so it's been a long time coming.

The fact that this was the first time I had looked out of the window all day, indeed for several days, and that this should coincide with the exact moment that an extremely rare bird in Wanstead (only my second ever) should fly past has not escaped my attention. It is highly highly jammy. I can only assume that the recent new acolyte is a Birding God, and whilst reading over the last few days' posts decided that I was in need of perking up. All I can say is thanks, I have. It was bloody brilliant!