Tuesday 30 July 2013

Local Mega!

Today something mega happened on Wanstead Flats. A rare wader on the newly refurbished Jubilee Pond? A stonkingly majestic raptor soaring over Long Wood? Nope, neither of these things, nor anything else bird-related. It was me. Moi. I. For the first time since perhaps May I went out birding on the Flats. The event passed unnoticed, without fanfare, the only reaction from a local drunk on Fairground Flats who may have grunted and then passed out.

My immediate thoughts were how overgrown it was, how my once well-trodden pathways and circuits were virtually lost in places. I know the place like the back of my hand - better perhaps - so I passed through despite the green profusion. Shows how long I have been absent though. Jub was my first destination, and came as no surprise that the new wooden pier thing has already been set fire to - a nice burnt patch replete with empty cans. What did they expect to happen? It remains bird free, sterile, with barely any vegetation. I don't hold out much hope for waders, there is nothing to eat. Longer term I am sure it will equalise, and attract life once again, but for now it's barren and its prospects bleak - this should ensure Dan finds something good on it by the weekend.

Instead I made my way over to the Alex, which by contrast is a sea of green - the hot weather and pitta bread migration has once again caused a fabulous algal growth that all but covers the entire surface. There were birds though, plenty, including my first Common Sand of the year that peeped it's way around the corner and out of sight. It hadn't gone far, only towards the large grate bit, but was almost immediately put up by a small black dog, towering round and round over the pond, higher and higher, before heading off north, perhaps towards the calmer south shores of Heronry. With little else doing I called it a day by half six, and so entered the mines rather earlier than normal.

My last three visits to the patch have netted three patch year ticks. And one of them doesn't even count as a visit really, I was merely walking down the road when two Crossbills flew over about a fortnight ago. There seem to be a few Wood Sands about, and Whimbrel too, so all we need is for some unsettled weather of the sort we had last week and I could be quids in. My patch year record is 113, and I'm currently on 106. I'm missing three resident birds, a couple of annual Gulls, as well as Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, and Tree Pipit, the former of which is easily annual, and the latter two reasonably likely.

The hunt is on again!

One of these wouldn't go amiss.

Monday 29 July 2013

What became of Charlie's singing teacher

When I was about 22 I went to live in the South of France for a year. Ostensibly this was to study, but in reality it involved a lot of beach and a lot of drinking. There I met many wonderful people, including James from Australia who is sadly no longer with us. There were others though - Anna, Lena, Michaela, Michel, Erik, Leo - most of them foreign students blessed like me with an abundance of nice weather and a dearth of anything meaningful with which to occupy our time. I lived with a guy called Charlie and a girl called Sarah, and we had a hoot. A night out in Montpellier would always commence with some mild guitar playing. This would build as the level in the bottle of red fell, until a crescendo of singing would break out. Bruce. Crowded House. INXS. Possibly my mate Bryan. Mostly falsetto. Cats in our neighbourhood were unknown. Hell, neighbours were unknown! This got Charlie in the mood for a great night out, and if we, his flatmates, somehow got through it too, then we knew the night could only get better.

This past weekend Charlie finally took the plunge and tied the knot. I had known for some time that Charlie would be one of the last, and I think so had he. Finally though he has been pinned down - by his former singing teacher. This is great news in many, many ways. For Charlie all these years later is in a band, and was until recently the singer. His former singing teacher - and now wife - occupies that slot today, and Charlie has been relegated to guitar. Suzie is a wonderful singing teacher, realism is a rare talent, and we are all eternally grateful.

Michaela, Lena & Anna, the "Arnhem Three"

Michel and Erik

Suzie on a mission, another bloody photo I suspect

The wedding was in Hampshire on Saturday, and a fabulous event. Almost the entire crowd from that wonderful year made it over, and the reunion was long and lovely. Many now married and kiddo'ed up, the years melted away, and though there was no sand and no sea, it was just like the old times. Including the music!! Much as it pains me to say it (just kidding Charlie, we love ya!) they're really pretty good these days. Old Uni buddies JT on the drums, and Ben on the bass. And now with Suzie at the helm, great stuff! That they stayed sober enough to play was impressive. That I stayed sober enough to shoot the whole night in manual mode and with manual flash, perhaps even more impressive!


Party Carlos himself!


The rest of the night and next morning were a bit of a blur. I remember taking a somewhat less than stable Mrs L back to our hotel, and then hitting the post-Gig party at a different hotel in town. The following morning breakfast was a massive struggle, and so I returned to bed, later to be reminded by staff close to midday that check out had been at eleven - the very definition of Rock and Roll for somebody my age. Mrs L had to drive back to London, whereupon I went straight to bed, and if the truth be told, I still felt pretty lousy this morning.

Friday 26 July 2013

All the gear, no idea

I like this phrase, and use it frequently. Usually about other people - rarely however do I apply it to myself. I mean who would? As you may have read, I recently passed up on an opportunity to moan about how my 500mm lens had "broken" - you can probably see where this might be leading....

Rolling back to last Friday evening, I was just getting ready for the Bridled Tern twitch, and so was packing up the camera bag. As I was lifting the lens into the bag something just didn't feel right. Sure enough, a deadly rattle, and glass clearly moving about inside. Unbelievable for what is an almost brand new and stupidly costly piece of kit. I gingerly placed it back not wishing to exacerbate any damage, and picked up something else. I am fortunate to have choices, or fortunate that I have worked my fingers to the bone to give myself choices. Anyhow, despite the gut-wrenching blow, I swelled with pride knowing that to discover that the lens was broken in Wanstead was infinitely better than discovering this fact on Inner Farne with forty thousand photogenic and fearless seabirds in front of me, and that I was so in tune with my kit that I just instinctively knew there was a problem. What is that expression? Oh yes....

Pride comes before a fall.

It's been a busy week yet again, and so yesterday morning was the first opportunity to get it dealt with. I had spoken to one of the pro-shops in London, and had arranged an 8am appointment to get it looked at and booked in for repair. Behind a non-descript front door of an industrial unit in south London I stepped into an Aladdin's Cave of photographic goodness. My kind of place, staggering quantities of top class gear for the working photographer. I strutted up to the desk and passed my lens over - I won't say I tossed it to the guy, but nearly. He had a look, had a little shake. Yup, rattle present and correct. At this point he glanced over to his colleague, and they exchanged a look. Was it? Could it be?

To be fair, they were very nice about it. Unbeknownst to me (and the lens manual, not that I ever read it), this lens and a handful of others have a quirk of the image stabilisation system whereby if you disengage it from the camera whilst the stabiliser is still active, it does not lock down, and so the gyro-controlled element was free to move around. And this was the issue, and like all problems of a technical nature, the answer was obvious. Turn it off, wait for a second or two, and then turn it on again. This the guy proceeded to do, attaching a camera, one of three billion they had lying around, turning it on, and then turning it off again. Hey presto, the rattle had gone, and the lens which was never broken in the first place was of course performing perfectly.

To say I felt like an idiot is the understatement of the year. Surrounded by all this gear, and feeling like I belonged, it suddenly dawned upon me that in fact I knew very little. The people that worked here, and those that shopped here and take photos for a living, they're the ones who actually know what they're talking about. The rest of us, especially me, are just dreaming. The irony of having felt so smug about realising there was a problem before leaving the house, whereas had I simply shoved it in my bag and switched it on when I got to the Farnes, was not lost on me - a wry smile when I realised this. On the plus side, I left the shop with a lens that has a quirk that I now know how to avoid, rather than without a lens that had a serious problem.

Now of course this is a pretty boring story. You could argue in fact that it is exceptionally dull. I offer it merely as illustration that no matter how good you think you are, it is wise to re-evaluate once in a while and ideally come to the conclusion that there is always something and likely many things that you don't know, but also that you don't know what you don't know.

Much to learn I still have.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Blog spark lacking

Perusing my stats the other day, I was shocked too see a massive drop off in numbers. 50% down on the previous month. Then I looked at what I had written, and it all made perfect sense. In addition to having composed a mere nine blog posts in July so far - well, eight at that point - I reread them and was disappointed. Not crushed, just disappointed. So what have we got?

Breaking the posts down in categories:

Rock and Roll - 2
Moaning - 1
Blatant photo-only padder - 3
Random guff - 1
Birding - 1

Hmmm, not good. Nearly half the posts were mere excuses to whack up a photo, a quarter were about music, and in reality, another excuse to whack up a photo. There was one moan about twitching (followed a week later by a massive twitch), some crap about a toothbrush, and a solitary post about actual birding.

Completely stats-neutral photo from Hyde Park the other day

Let's take a quick look at July 2010, the same time of year, but the critical difference being that I wasn't working for a living, or at least, not working in the sense that I am now. 24 posts. I appreciate that this July isn't over yet, but this is still over double the output. Quality not quantity you might argue, but I think this argument falls over pretty damn quickly.

My toe - 3
Moaning - 6
Insects - 5
Random guff - 3
Patch birding - 5
Twitching - 2

It's a little difficult to talk about stats as the blog appears to be much more visited now than then, but overall the key differences are my broken toe, insects, a lot more moaning, and actual patch birding - notably absent from July 2013. The toe is an easy one - despite the gruesome photos, there is little better than reading about the misfortune of others, especially if it involves stupidity and subsequent pain. It evokes feelings of warmth and smugness, and is thus very popular indeed. The insects are a little harder to fathom. It is true that many birders become insect nutcases during the summer months, but still. My assumption is that my post titles were cryptic/non-descriptive enough to leave a ray of hope open that they might in fact have been about my toe or some other horrific injury I might have sustained. Hook, line & sinker. It still think it's a shame that blog visits cannot be measured in units of time. If they could be, re-reading how I bust my toe three times would measure up extremely well against two seconds of realising the post was about a butterfly and leaving again.

And so to moaning. I love moaning, I mean it, I really do. Back in 2009, with nothing really on my mind, clearly my thoughts turned to moaning a lot more than they do today. This is rather odd, as I have just as much to moan about now as I did then, perhaps more. Why I don't moan all the time is an interesting question. Am I too busy to moan? If so, this is awful news. I'm certainly too busy to go birding locally, so you would think I would moan about that but apparently not. Things I could have moaned about this week would include my lovely new 500mm lens that sounds like it has a golf ball rolling around inside it and is now about as useful for taking photos with as a golf ball, working in Canary Wharf, broken glass, and Royal Baby "journalism". Somehow I have avoided all four topics. Have I grown up? I hope not.

So what about patch birding then? Five posts in July 2010, none in July 2013. Not that birding locally in July is any good you understand, it's complete shite, but I still went out and tried, and thus had something (kind of) to say. I've completely given up three years down the line, and thus have nothing to say. The fact of the matter is that in addition to having lost the inclination, I just don't have the time. Work is monstrous, getting up early impossible, especially when you know that in all likelihood there will be nothing to see. Will trudging round the patch seeing diddly squat really spice up the blog? I very much doubt it.

I'm not saying I've lost my mojo, whatever that is, but there is definitely something missing. I need a spark. Any ideas, or shall I have a few more glasses of wine, and then for your amusement trip up on a cushion and break my nose, wrist, and a few ribs?

Monday 22 July 2013

Almost the biggest dip EVER

So, the other day, here, I was talking about twitching and how I wasn't up for it in the slightest. Well. Err. I lied. A bit. Well, not lied so much as changed my mind, as I am wont to do. The last few weekends have been very nice. They have involved barbeques, chilled wine, cricket, dozing, and general relaxation. In other words I developed cabin fever. After a somewhat trying week I had made up my mind by Friday morning that a change of scene was in order, mandatory in fact, and so plans were hatched during the day that involved Northumberland.


In the post I linked to above, Bridled Tern was mentioned. A monumentally rare bird, it had done the decent thing and disappeared. I like birds that do this, that take the pressure off entirely of their own volition. Many a twitcher has no doubt felt the same way - the need to make the killer decision of whether to go or not, whether to commit the time, money and brownie points, is taken away. Twitchy or not, you breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe you only need to be slightly twitchy, like I am. Oh thank God for that, meanwhile the die-hards would probably be apoplectic with rage at the disappearance of a possible tick. Not me, I much prefer it when they bugger off never to be seen again.

Except this one came back. And then developed a routine. Fishing in the morning, sat on Inner Farne during the afternoon. A week of this, and frankly how could we fail? You will have guessed who the "we" is. Yes, you are entirely correct - my good twitching buddy, the incorrigible Bradders. Bradders who in fact had already spent a weekend wantonly burning precious BPs up in Northumberland dipping it by a quarter of an hour here, a quarter of an hour there. He is nothing but tenacious though, and was up for it again. Fool. Not that I needed a whole lot of convincing, and so Saturday morning early doors we found ourselves on the A1 heading north.

A miniscule amount of time later we arrived at Seahouses, gateway to the Farnes. The Tern was showing well, and had been all morning. It never showed in the morning ever. Ever. Not to worry though, our afternoon boat had been pre-booked by DB - Serenity Tours, and the proprieter was apparently a bit of a birder, and the Tern always followed his boat in. Right. So we stood patiently on the quayside whilst birder after birder got on the other boat, the one that left fifteen minutes earlier, with the skipper promising to take them straight to the bird on Inner Farne jetty. No problem, our boat is run by a birder, thus we cannot fail. The boat filled with birders departed, and we stood on the quay. A short ten minutes later we got on a boat filled with old grannies and Tilley-clad numpties. I remained calm, this was the boat to be on, not a problem. And we were off! About 20 metres into the inner harbour, there to circle slowly whilst some more grannies and numpties faffed on the quayside having missed the boat, so to speak. Not problem, the bird is still there. Finally, 20 minutes later, and five more grockles to the good we set off to Inner Farne the island furthest away from Inner Farne.

During our tour, we learned that:

- Gannets are quite big
- Puffins are smaller and called Sea Parrots by idiots
- A lighthouse was built
- Despite this, some ships sank
- Staple Sound is a mile wide and only takes a few minutes to cross.

Delightful. Whilst learning that some bird called Great Starling (now extinct) had saved some sailors about a hundred years ago, the boatload of birders were in the present day enjoying unrivalled views of the Bridled Tern on Inner Farne. As we crossed Staple Sound, about a mile wide, the Tern upped and left.


We arrived on the jetty to the boatload of birders high-fiving each other and gathering excitedly around camera screens. You can guess what happened next can't you?

Nothing. Nothing at all. The Tern did not come back. Our boat however did, and we enjoyed a glum ride back to Seahouses with our chipper skipper thanking us very much for our  custom and hoping we had enjoyed the cruise. Almost. We had missed it by ten minutes whilst having some irrelevant local history rammed down our throats. Missed it by ten minutes whilst some incompetent sheisters has been pissing about parking their car. Missed it by ten minutes whilst stood next to a boat whose passengers hadn't missed it. To say we felt let down was an understatement. And to make it even worse, I hadn't even been able to enjoy the spectacle of the Farnes as I'd been glued to the jetty waiting for the bird, whilst 40,000 extremely photogenic Puffins strutted their stuff a hundred meters way.

Happily there was beer. Accomodation was hard to find at such short notice, but thankfully a cancellation at a bunkhouse in Rothbury saved the day. And to make it even better, a traditional music festival was in full swing. Excitedly we pointed the car south and together with Justin L and Andy W, always good company and compatriots from the Shetland Grozzer twitch earlier in the year, off we went. The festival was somewhat unstructured. Glastonbury it wasn't. Essentially it involved old blokes with magnificent facial hair playing fiddles if they could be arsed, which mainly they couldn't, as drinking beer was much easier. So we had a night out in a pub whilst occasionally somebody strummed on a guitar before passing out with boredom. Whereas on the MV Hrossey we had been toasting our fabulous fortune and the presence of a massive finch on our lists, in Rothbury it was all a little flat, with various phone calls home to fan the flames the only form of real entertainment.

The following morning we were stood on the quayside at Inner Farne with all the dippers from the previous day. The skipper, generously but somewhat sheepishly had offered us all a free morning trip. Steely, head warden of the Farnes, top bloke, and spookily enough another member of the MV Hrossey Grozzer massive, had kindly agreed to make the jetty available in the morning, which was not usually the case. Perhaps the bird had settled into a new routine, one which involved parading to all comers in the morning, i.e. us, and then buggering off pelagically in the afternoon.

It hadn't. We stood there for three hours, it wasn't there and didn't come in. It was around this time that I concluded (again) that twitching was shit. We sailed back to Seahouses in a miserable mood. At a low ebb, and with the bird having now been gone for 24 hours, we half-heartedly booked to go on again in the afternoon, this time with the other operator, Billy Shiels. You know, the one whose boat sailed (on time) straight to the Tern, rather than via a million boring facts 20 minutes late.

I think it's the darker one.....

And we scored!!! An hour passed during which I spent 59 minutes photographing Arctic Terns and one minute scanning for the bird. And then somebody said they had it! Wooooo!!!! And then it flew immediately and was lost to view over the island, with none of us having seen it! Oooooo! Happily it came back, and the relief was palpable. I spent all of five minutes looking at it, and then legged it over to the Puffins, which is what I had been itching to do since Saturday morning. Thank Christ. I am not a good dipper. As I have no doubt mentioned many times, my non-dipping record is amazingly good, and this would have been a massive blow to my stats and my ego. But all is well, and I now have twitching out of my system again for the next few weeks days.

The Puffins were great, the Farnes are a brilliant place. Without the nonsense that is twitching, I would go back every year. So, another successful trip, victory snatched from the jaws of defeat as someone once nearly said. Slightly stressful but ultimately deeply satisfyingly, and a proper mega under the belt for another meaningless statistic. The messages of congratulation are of course flowing in. Such courage, such perseverance etc etc. Yeah yeah. Easy.

Kind of.

Friday 19 July 2013

There is life

I know that I have been very quiet lately, I figured you all deserved a rest. I am still alive, but in truth I can't remember the last time I raised my binoculars, nor picked up a camera. So with nothing to say, I have said nothing. Hopefully that will change this weekend, but nonetheless I have some recent news. My life has mostly revolved around work, and the week has been very tough, which makes my birding luck even more amazing. For during a rare foray into the fresh air a couple of Crossbills flew over my head as I walked down my road, i.e. well within patch. Naturally I doubted myself, but gradually it emerged that there have been small numbers in London, and Stu had some as close as Snaresbrook on the same day, so I wasn't just dreaming it.

This takes my patch total to 105 for the year, pretty good all things considered - I didn't even get on the patch during June, and I've spent all of 30 minutes out there in July. Partly this is a desire to spend time at home, partly the fact that I've been so busy, but mainly that it has been so incredibly hot I've not wanted to be out. Indoors, in the dark, has been much more pleasant. Indoors is also where the wine is.

Saturday 13 July 2013

Mid-week freebies

Like all good listers, I like a nice tick now and again, all the more so if it is local. If it can be squeezed in during the working week, so much the better, and it always feels like a victory against the odds. Which I suppose it is. And even more amazing is that I have snaffled two this week, a full-on London tick, as well as a long-awaited Rainham tick. So despite another 50 hour week at the Wharf for Queen and Country, er I mean for mortgage and Waitrose bill, it goes down as very profitable.

Before this week I had had two London ticks this year - Red-throated Diver and Green-winged Teal. This compares to eight last year, and seven the year before that, so perhaps about average, but it still feels a little slow. You can't keep on getting that many each year I suppose. Back in 2010 when I was chasing a London year-list, I went over to the Surrey heaths to try for Nightjar. I failed, needless to say, and I thought my chances were gone for good, until Nick and Stu went over last weekend and scored in exactly the same place. With the high pressure continuing, Bradders and I made plans to repeat the exercise mid-week. No point leaving too early, and so we waited for most of the rush hour to die away before heading round. We were still too early, so spent some time in a local hostellery whose clientele all seemed to have rats as pets. I commented on this at the bar, only to discover that one of these ratty little dogs actually belonged to the barman. Oops. No chance he was going to spit in my chips then. Or worse. Whatever did go into my food, I have survived it, and I'm happy to report that we also located a churring Nightjar, which then flew around our heads like some kind of weird puppet on a string. Fab views, and a great London bird to finally connect with, and possibly one that I might not have had too many future chances at. Once upon a time they were in Epping Forest, I suppose it's possible that with some habitat management (as is going on in Surrey) they could do again.

Also back in 2010 I travelled all the way over to Beddington for a Pectoral Sandpiper. Always a tricky location to get to from over here, and one that generally induces groans. Why couldn't it have been at Rainham I wondered at the time, like most of my good birds that year. Well Thursday and yesterday it was, and although I don't pursue it fanatically, I always like getting a new bird on this site list, which for me now sits at 188, which for a single site in London is pretty good - compare this to Wanstead where I'm sat at around 130. A brief dash yesterday saw me connect fairly easily, although I have to say it was a bit hazy to get a nice zoomed-up view.

And so to this weekend, with both the above bagged in the week, I found myself completely free. So free in fact that I headed out onto Wanstead Flats this morning, something I have not done since about May. Not a lot going on, as you would expect for the time of year, but I was out so early that there was only me and it was very nice indeed.


Friday 12 July 2013

Electric Mayhem

I have been seduced by advertising. I blame work, or at least the need to travel to work. I sit on the tube for I don't know how many hours per week. Sometimes I get a seat, sometimes I don't - I need one of those "baby on board" badges; were it not for my obvious masculinity I could probably get away with it, but I digress. Inevitably I glance up at the adverts above the seats. Normally I am immune to advertising, as in completely immovable. But something about the Phillips Sonicare toothbrush caught my eye.....

Like many birders, dental hygiene has never been a strong suit. I mean I don't have orange teeth like a rabid hamster or anything, but let's just say that genetics have not been kind to me. I blame my father, as my mother is from California and thus has beautiful teeth of the kind that are used to advertise electric toothbrushes..... To cut a long story short, I found the thing on Amazon for much less than I thought I would, and was unable to resist pressing "buy it now" or whatever the particular button is. It promised* lovely white teeth. Teeth that there is no real need for me to have at my stage in life, but what the hell, I am a metrosexual man, just a bit slobby of late.

It duly arrived looking duly space age. Impressive. Two brush bits (much like my vacuum cleaner in that respect) and a crappy travel case. Naturally it is gleaming white - can you imagine an off-yellow version? I gave it a quick press, confirmed it buzzes superlatively and expensively, and put it to one side in eager anticipation of the coming evening's brushing ritual. The moment soon came.

A quick wet of the brush head, a quick dollop of Colgate, and away we go.

Bzzzzzzz. Splat.

The toothpaste is gone. As in completely vanished, nowhere to be seen. But wait, what is this red, white and blue streak on the wall? Modern art? Has Mrs L bought a Matisse? I tried again with the same result. Bzzzzzz, and gone. Eh? This time it hit the mirror, and with spectacular results. Ah. I am a quick learner though, and so third time lucky, I did not press go until the brush was in my mouth with my lips firmly closed.


Sweet Baby Moses!!!! This thing is like a bucking bronco! Less Phillips, more Black and Decker. It should be illegal it's so powerful! My poor gums had nowhere to hide. The default mode of this thing is that it buzzes for 30 seconds, a slight pause, and then another 30 seconds, the theory being that you concentrate on one quarter of your mouth until the pause, and then move on the other side. But here's the rub. If you left it in one spot in your mouth for the entire 30 seconds it would in fact go straight through your gum and into your brain. So effectively you have to spin it round in circles so that it spends only a nanosecond in any one place, else risk death, or at the very least severe cranial injury. The worst bit is yet to come though. After four periods it moves on to "shine" mode, and you have to use it on the front of your teeth. The bit you smile with, or in my case, grimace with. Except that it now has the force of a hurricane, and will file your teeth back to the bare nerves in about three seconds.. White yes, but very very thin..............I may just have to accept that my 'smile' is best described as "enigmatic" and, er "yellow-ish".......

* I can't believe I am so stupid

Sunday 7 July 2013

Hooray, we all love Tennis!

I can't even begin to think how OTT the press are going to go on this one. I suspect it will be almost unbearable. Not that I want to diminish this great English victory of course, but you can just see it can't you? Wall to wall coverage of our greatest son, etc etc. Yawn. I mean, yes, excellent, well done, well done, but it's going to be our finest hour, a historic moment, the greatest achievement in the universe and so on. I guarantee at least one newspaper leads with Magnificent Murray, and another with Murray Rewrites History. I made it home for the final game, which to be fair I did watch, but when Sue Barker became utterly unbearable (i.e. after about three seconds) I switched it off. The best moment (apart from Andy rewriting history) was the grace of Novak Djokovic in defeat; he can come again.

I have been making history today as well. By seeing (with great skill) London's third Bonaparte's Gull. Actually more likely to be London's first or second Bonaparte's Gull, but for the second time, but this is semantics. Somehow I managed to stick it out for about five hours in baking heat, watching as this dainty gull picked little pieces of crap from a big slick of, well, crap. Mmmmm. Very smart indeed, the sixth I've seen in the UK, but the first adult summer bird, which is the whole reason I went, rather than just to get it on my Kent list, ahem. Photographically a big fat zero; with the bird close you were pointing right down at it, further away and it was, well, too far away. Go figure. Still, good to catch up with a few people, meet Steve A from Kent, and generally have a good old natter. Also saw Crofty for the first time in ages, after all it's not like I bird Wanstead any more is it? Gave him a lift back home, enjoying a brief Woolwich pelagic en route, before we settled briefly in the Park so that I could year tick Common Tern. I've been meaning to get to the Park to snaffle the Tern for approximately six weeks, but somehow have been completely unable to get my shit together. In the event it was sitting on its favoured branch as soon as I turned up, and was all a bit anticlimactic. 104 for the year, with a few easy ones remaining, but only if I can pull my finger out and actually go birding locally before work which is proving nigh on impossible at the moment. So, here a few photos of today's Gull. To be honest it was nice to stand around and have nothing to do for a while, my hectic schedule is beginning to catch up with me.

Clearly showing the size difference

I like this nice clean background, just what I was after

Approaching OK

Can't get quite as much satisfaction

This blogging lark is easy. Take a few photos of bird, stick 'em up. Go to a gig and write about it, stick that up too. Alternate until you get fed up. So.....

Recognise these boys?
My latest soiree was at Hyde Park, courtesy of a free (yes, free) ticket from my mate's fiancée. The band? Just the bloody Rolling Stones!! Almost 70 to a man, but they still have it. Amazing that riffs penned half a century ago still sound good today, and that a new generation like them just as much as the older ones did. To be fair they're not in their pomp, but if I can still run around like a nutter when I'm 70 I'll be very pleased. All the hits you would expect, and a great finish with "Satisfaction". Not as good as Springsteen live, but then they're different - definitely not the same level of crowd interaction. And also I was a lot further away having arrived a great deal later, so perhaps that made a difference too? Still, a great way to spend an evening, and a free ticket to the Stones is not to be sniffed at. Would I go see them again? Depends where Bruce was playing!

This guy looks familiar? Bryan Adams?
After yet another late night I am pretty knackered, and so failed miserably to get up and see the adult Bonaparte's Gull at Crossness, presumably a returning bird from last year. It was always on the cards. I'm off there now, so will see if I can get anything. Hopefully the roads will be quiet as everyone in the country now lists tennis as their favourite sport, and Andy Murray is actually English, this whole Scottish thing is a complete myth.

Saturday 6 July 2013

From Rockers to Rollers

Still in awe of Springsteen's ability to put on a show, and not only that, a show that lasts for three hours with barely a break. But the concert provides a welcome play on words at least to get blogging about another great bird that I had the opportunity to observe and photograph in Hungary. Roller.

Interestingly* Roller was my last UK tick. It may yet be my last UK tick ever; not wanting to be over dramatic about it, but the recent run of absurd birds has in a strange way completely snuffed out my desire to go and see any of them. The Roller in Hampshire was, for most of the time, a fuzzy blob. Tick and run for sure, but really? Roller in Hungary was a completely different animal - awesome. Such wonderful birds, brimming with personality. I think it's the eyes. Or the beak. Or the turquoise. Actually, I don't know, but whatever it is they're stunning and I love them. And up close they're even better, and bigger than you might think as well. If they lived in the UK they would of course be very boring, but abroad, no problem.

PS The Roller with the beard is Zac Brown. Kind of like Brian Blessed, but with a guitar.


Friday 5 July 2013

A message from a one-time twitcher

There is pandemonium in UK twitching circles. Dusky Thrush, Pacific Swift, White-throated Needletail, Bridled Tern and now an Ascension Frigatebird. I cannot tell you how pleased I am that I reached my personal milestone at the beginning of the summer, and with a British list now well over 400, I remain extremely relaxed.

The trouble is, and as this summer is demonstrating, there is always the next one. The die-hard twitcher can never give up. How many people told their wives that the Dusky Thrush was the only bird that they would be going for this year? After the Pacific Swift, how many marriages ended? The Needletail? Gah! And then almost immediately a pressing need to go to Northumberland. And now Islay. I am truly thankful for my rational side, as I am not sure I would have lasted the pace. I suppose that makes me a failed twitcher - I can live with that. How I ever came by a reputation for filthiness I have no idea, but there is no way that a normal human being with a normal life could ever balance that little lot. I suppose "normal" is the key word....this is a topic I plan to return to in the coming weeks....

Personally I've just put two bottles of Rosé in the fridge, and my interest in twitching is possibly at an all-time low. It's a funny old game, especially given how single-minded I was at the beginning of the year. I think the key is knowing when to stop. The trouble is that if you stop, is all the prior effort wasted? Maybe, or maybe not. It depends on your point of view. If you view it as a competition, yes - you've done the hard yards but failed to stay the course. If it's just a bit of fun, then no, and different twitchers are motivated by different things, and this weekend I'm motivated by the following:

- the aforementioned bottles of chilled Rosé
- a school friend's house-warming party
- the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park (!)

On this latter point I have somehow jammed a free ticket. This is entirely due to karma, having given my mate a ticket to the Counting Crows earlier this year. It would of course be nice if some of these monster birds were a little closer. Having now twitched Scilly, Shetland and the Western Isles the sensible bit of me realises that this is pretty silly. For one bird? Very silly. Luckily the big ones I've been on are so far away that they tend to turn into nice little trips rather than smash and grabs, but nonetheless.

I have no idea how many people are currently en route to Glasgow and the western isles, there to throw money at charter pilots or whatever. Good luck to them I say, though please don't congratulate anybody on being able to drive a car, read a map, have a pile of ready cash and depart from real life at a moment's notice. I'm currently content to sit and watch how this one develops. The sky outside is blue, the fridge is humming nicely (any minute now I reckon) and there are few places I would rather be than right here. Though that Bee-eater hide in the Hortobágy .....

Monday 1 July 2013

Rocking it up at the Olympic Park, or Another Rock Star Encounter

I spent yesterday afternoon at the Olympic Park in Stratford. The Zac Brown Band, Alabama Shakes and The Black Crowes were essentially all warm-up acts for one man. The Boss. Bruce Springsteen. Or more precisely, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. His music is the soundtrack to my entire time on this planet, and I've been a fan for nearly twenty years. I'm not sure what happened this year, but I finally realised I could go to concerts, including to see Springsteen. Within the three hour set were more legendary songs than you can shake a stick at, including the whole of the "Born in the USA" album, in order. Complete groupie that I am, I managed to get very close to the front of the massive crowd. Oh, and I smuggled a smallish camera in.....