Saturday, 31 August 2013

Back on the patch

The jokes were all predictable. Bob introducing himself, Tony asking what plane I'd taken to get to the Flats.... Ok, so it's been a while since I showed my face. Work is mostly to blame, as well my seemingly insatiable appetite for travel. Unbeknownst to them though, I'd actually been out on the patch twice during the week, and possibly even a couple times the previous week. I've just been keeping quiet about it is all. Ahem. This time of year is so good you can't keep me away, and it's been typically productive.

I've seen a Pied Flycatcher, briefly and badly, quite a few Spotted Flycatchers, a Tree Pipit (this morning), and several Wheatears. There seem to be more Garden Warblers and Lesser Whitethroats, but for me the real draw has been the Whinchats, and we've had a maximum of five on the Flats, most of them hanging around the broom fields. They're always tricky to get close to, but I managed a couple that came out reasonably well - for those that think this might be excessively modest, you can always do better.

It wasn't long though before it became too busy. A semi-nude man pretending to sunbathe in the long grass, dog walkers everywhere, football, a music festival of some kind. I thought back to Loop Head in County Clare, and realised how lucky they have it there. Occasionally London is OK, and you get a bit of peace and quiet, but the vast majority of the time there are just too many people here to make birding the pleasant experience that it ought to be. Hey ho, I'll stick it out for now, and while there are Wheatears....

Friday, 30 August 2013

Nimmo's Pier

I wasn't really think straight when I arrived in Dublin last Friday. Was I going straight to the Bridges of Ross, was I going to Galway, or should I just jack the whole thing in and go down to Tacumshin in Co. Wexford, there to feast upon Caspian Tern and the like? Struck by indecision, I probably changed my satnav destination about eight times on the journey, but based on an up-to-date wind forecast of the 'pretty pants' variety, I ended up in Galway. And Galway, let me tell you, is buzzing on a Friday night. Amazing. I forewent the opportunity to get straight onto the pints and instead headed for the near mythical Nimmo's Pier, site of monster counts of White-wingers in winters past, plus various yank Gulls and Terns. I suppose you could call my trip to Ireland a fact-finding mission in many ways. Although August is far from ideal for Nimmo's I just wanted to check it out, and the extra two hours in the car didn't really bother me.

I soon found Nimmo's Pier, and rather than the industrial wasteland I had imagined it to be, with piles of disused lobster pots and abandoned trailers, it was in fact a popular place to go for a walk, slap bang in the middle of Galway City and about three minutes from about a thousand pubs and five million Friday night revellers! The Gulls like to loaf around near the city end of it, sharing a small lagoon with a bunch of Mute Swans that never leave (they're visible on the Google Satellite view), and sure enough there was an Iceland Gull in with the Herrings. With the light fading there was little I could do beyond a few grab shots, so I decided to try the next morning and head towards the noise and the fun.

Galway is a party town! Ram-packed with people enjoying themselves. I'm not one for drinking alone, so a quiet pint of de Black Stuff in a quiet pub was all I opted for, before nabbing a fish supper and heading back to Nimmo's. Tired but happy, I set off for somewhere quiet to sleep in the car, the last thing I wanted was to be sent on my way in the middle of the night. The Galway coast is pretty busy, but eventually the promenades faded and I found my spot - though its inhabitants didn't realise, I slept in the village of Barna outside a very large house. Gone before daybreak, I refreshed myself in Salthill and hit the pier again at around first light. Had a nice chat with Frank who was picking up Friday-night beer cans, and had another pop at the Iceland, which is looking extremely settled. On the whole though I was itching to get sea-watching, so it wasn't long before I pointed the car towards Co. Clare, and headed for the fabled Bridges of Ross. And as I've already talked about that, I have nothing else to say until I find a Wryneck on the patch tomorrow. As for Nimmo's Pier, it will see me again for sure.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Not sea-watching....

This is the sight of people not sea-watching. A bit of chatting, a bit of sleeping, a bit of impromptu sporting action, with balancing contests, stone-lifting, some running, and maybe even some jumping off the arch and into the sea - I'm not sure if this ever happened as not being the being the sporty type, I excused myself and went off and to spend some quality time with Fulmars. When sea-watching is slow, it is very slow indeed, and rarely in my experience does it pick up and go from zero to hero, or whatever the appropriate saying might be. If the winds are no good, the winds are no good. Of course people will say that the big one can go by in any conditions, flat calm even, and I'm sure that's true. But for your maximum chance of the monster, or at the very least, the big counts of quality birds, you need the weather to be on your side. Am I moaning again? Maybe. Luck of the draw, a lottery. You win some, you lose some. Funnily enough until about ten days ago I would have said I was a winner. Now I reckon I'm a massive loser! Of course many people have been saying that for years......

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Sea-watching in Ireland

I have to admit that I'm going off sea-watching a little bit. First of all there was the minor problem of missing a Tropicbird by about fifty metres last weekend, and now my monster weekend on the Bridges of Ross turned into a bit of a flop as the winds were essentially non-ideal. Or pants as it's often known.

I've always wanted to go to the Bridges, with its mouth-watering record of amazing birds and amazing counts, and with a free weekend (kids away chez grandparentals, Mrs L off being musical somewhere) I decided to go and book it. The risk was always that the winds and I didn't coincide, and so sadly it proved. In that respect it's very much like going to Shetland, you can either time it absolutely perfectly and drown in rares, or you can spend a week being blown to shreds by northerly winds and seeing a few Chaffinches in the brief moments when you can raise your bins to your face. If you live in Ireland you can just look at the forecast and go when it suits, whereas the needing to book flights bit is what did for me. I'm not a last minute person when it comes to that kind of thing, and so booked a fair while ahead. And so while the east coast of the UK has been plastered with Wrynecks and hippolais Warblers, I've been staring forlornly out to sea on the west coast of Ireland not seeing a great deal.

Well, it depends on what your definition of "a great deal" is. If for you that means a handful of Great Shearwaters and a good passage of Sooties, then you would have been happy. If however you understand seeing a great deal to mean a couple of Fea's Petrels, a Little Shearwater, daily counts of large Shearwaters numbering in the hundreds, then, like me, you would have come away slightly underwhelmed by the whole experience. In many ways my experience of sea-watching, with Fea's bagged on my second Cornish trip, has set me up for almost constant future disappointment. I guess it comes down the fact that by far the majority of sea-watching days are quiet ones where not a lot happens, you know, the odd Tropicbird, but not a lot else. The massive days are the rare events, but these are the ones that stick in the mind, and that you kid yourself are the norm at places like the Bridges of Ross. To be fair, I did see more Sooty Shearwaters than I have ever seen before, and piles more birds besides, but I didn't experience a 'classic'. There is always next year though, and, like Shetland, at some point the winds and I will meet, and it will be good.

Nonetheless I very much enjoyed the trip. The west coast of Ireland is beautiful, the people very friendly, and there was a lot more than just sea-watching. The small band of die-hard observers were a good bunch - fun times in the Lighthouse at Kilbaha on the evening I managed to stay awake - and it was excellent to be able to explore the Loop Head area, and gain some familiarity with place names that normally you just see on a pager associated with outrageous megas. And of course if the sea was slow, plan B was always to break out the camera.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Heroic Tropicbird Failures

All this Tropicbird nonsense has been utterly fantastic for my blog stats. 2500 hits today, nearly 1000 yesterday. That's over a week's worth in a couple of days, and proves what we all knew all along, which is that birders love a tale of a dip, especially a big controversial one, far far more than news of another one bagged. It's a bit like an ID faux-pas, we would all prefer to revel in the discomfort of a crass cock-up than congratulate somebody on a hard call well made. This is easily one of the best bits about birding, the enjoyment that can be gained from the misfortune of others makes it far easier to console oneself in similar moments. I'd hesitate to say I dipped at Pendeen, but I've been involved in perhaps one of the best ever tales of woe. You will note, I hope, that despite a long and arduous return journey from the South-west full of expressions of what-might-have-been accompanied by much sighing, I was still able to have a bit of fun at the end of it. And what would birding be without the fun, really?

Yes it was a UK Tropicbird, and it would have looked pretty good on my list for sure, but it was only a bird, and I'm not defined by my list. And besides, less than a year ago I was on Little Tobago with hundreds of them. And this is of course where I lifted my gag additions to my Cornwall photos from. Now I wasn't expecting a pile of comments, but well done to those who read my post for what it was. Anyone who has lingered on this site will know that I am very rarely serious, and indeed most often completely frivolous, bordering on plain stupid. It amazes me though that occasionally people still fail to judge where it is that I am coming from. All I can say is that when I read it, I know exactly what I mean....

Most of the time all that happens is various people get irate, call me a variety of colourful names, and presumably drift off to other less offensive websites, like the Guardian homepage. But sometimes those that grasp the wrong end of the stick surprise and delight me. And we are talking about a heroic failure here - I cannot think of a single time when I have been more delighted than this morning when picking up the phone to a birder I know. I was in the office, naturally, earning money for optics through which to miss rare seabirds, and on answering a small voice came down the line. Serious. Sincere. Curiously excited, as though she were happy for me and about to let me in on a big secret. She had been at Pendeen too, and the conversation went something like this.

"You do know what you've seen don't you?"
"Have you looked at your photo?"
"" (I was beginning to possibly understand at this point....)
"The photo on your blog. The Gannet photo. Have you seen it?! On the edge!!!!"

She made my day, plain and simple, and I cannot thank her enough, other than of course to relay this conversation on my blog for everyone else to read. If you know who I am talking about, you will know that this is typically wonderful. Brilliant even, and I could not have hoped for better. I had dared to dream, but assumed that most people would realise I'm an inveterate joker. But there is perhaps something going in Herts, a sarcasm filter of some description, for a little while later I saw a post on BirdForum that read:

"Well it certainly isn't a hoax anyway. Take a look at Jono's website at the photo of a Gannet taken on Sunday at Pendeen - the extreme right hand side of the photo. So there is one thing worse than being there and not seeing it at all!"

followed by another post from somebody else saying:

"My God! Does he know?!!!"

I've refrained from naming the individuals concerned for fear that I might embarrass them - I'm nice like that - but to all of them, I can't thank you enough, it makes missing the bird eminently easier to take, and I'm still giggling.

Red-billed Tropicbird at Pendeen

So what really happened at Pendeen on Sunday? Unlike most people commenting on the events, I was actually there. Don't read the predictable Birdforum thread and think you know the score. The histrionics on there are absurd, as you would expect, and so far roughly 20 posts out of 160-odd are from people who were actually there.

It was slow in the early morning. Sitting up at the watchpoint, with my back to the lighthouse wall, I decided that I'd rather be at the bottom of the slope with my camera photographing Gannets, just as two photographers I could see were doing. Quite frequently I could see Gannets and Fulmars passing very close inshore, so at 8.40ish I left Matt M, Mark P, Dan P and the guys I had travelled with and picked my way down the grass. Midway down the rocks I stopped to photograph a Wheatear, I mean how could I not? My exif on these three images says 8.46am. I noticed a guy with a lens sat up a bit higher than I was at this point, still on the grass. The lens looked quite short, he looked quite some distance from the sea, I felt I could get nearer. I think I recall him getting up from his position, but thought nothing of it. If he subsequently waved or shouted, I didn't notice a thing, and I gingerly picked my way down the slippery rocks to join the two aforementioned photographers. There I remained for a good half hour, indeed a bit longer, as my last image suggests 9.21am. During this time I was fully engaged on photography, with somewhat underwhelming results. Hey-ho, all good practice.

Lovely, but costly?
At some point William came down the slope and shouted. I didn't hear, but the other two did and alerted me. What's up? "A Red-billed Tropicbird has flown past and everybody has left!" William shouted. I stopped in my tracks. Did he really just say that? Surely that's not possible? Is it? I clambered back up the slope in a state of disbelief and shock, to find that at least 70% of those present had indeed left. People asked if I had seen it? Had I photographed it? Eh? No, of course I hadn't. Bits of the story came out. The photographer I had seen slightly higher than me - and not visible from the main seating area underneath the lighthouse - had been the one to see it. It had passed between the coast and the rocks, and had lingered, allowing some photographs. Per the internet, i.e. make your own mind up, it had been on view for over five minutes. The guy in question had come back up the slope some time after the sighting, perhaps as long as 25 minutes, shown a photo of the Tropicbird to a couple of people on the most northern wall of the lighthouse, and then all hell had broken loose. He had then left the site, and so when I returned up the slope with my camera, there was an assumption he was me.

I wish.

All of the following is also second hand. The select few to whom this guy had shown the photo had run around the corner, alerted others, who had in turn dashed around the corner. The photographer refused to show them the photos, and left the site. This, I surmise, resulted in another delay, as people were unsure whether to act. Eventually a lot of people decided it was gen and scattered, some to Sennen Cove, some to Cape Cornwall, some elsewhere. We did the same, stopping first at Sennen Cove where I learned that per the most recent information on the internet, I was actually the finder, and subsequently to Cape Cornwall, where we enjoyed a couple of pale morph Arctic Skuas and a huge pod of Common Dophins, but no Tropicbirds.

To summarise, the greatest prize in UK seawatching had just flown, unobserved, past between 40 and 76 observers, and had been seen by just one person.

The web is alive with opinion. Fair play to the guy involved, a stunning find. Right place, right time. Everyone else had been scanning too far out. Their bad, me included, and we will in time have a place in the Pantheon of the damned. We might already be there. But what do I think? I came so close, yet remain so far. Being down on the rocks at that point, I have a dubious claim to fame as being one of the closest dippers of a UK Tropicbird. Shit happens.

I can completely understand sour grapes, but put yourselves in the shoes of those there. Forget the usual crap about suppression and people who only twitch birds and give nothing back. 40 people (76 if you're feeling generous) were there. Many had travelled far, many had committed a lot in the hope of a decent sea-watch, in the hope, dare I say it, of a dream bird like a Fea's. They were there, they were working it. How would you feel if somebody came up the slope once all hope of seeing the bird had gone and told them about it. I wasn't there up at the lighthouse, but per what I have heard, it was a relatively casual "I assume you all saw the Tropicbird?" Don't get me wrong, that's not a bad assumption. 40 people scanning out to sea, some of them seasoned observers. You would expect that one of them would see a bird that was on view for a prolonged period of time. Except in this instance you would be wrong. I'm going to stick my neck out here, and say that no matter what an observer expects, when it concerns a Red-billed Tropicbird that is lingering close inshore to a manned sea-watch point, all bets are off. All bets are off, and what you expect becomes irrelevant. First and foremost you document the record, after all you know what the British birding scene is like. And when you have quickly done that, you jump up, and you run as fast as your little legs can carry you to the nearest people you can see (that would be me, as it happens), and you shout your head off, you wave your arms, you scream, you go completely and utterly mental. You exhaust yourself, you peg it up the slope, down the slope, you do not rest until you are sure that other people are on the bird, because sea-watching is the most collegiate of all birding activities. And then you soak up the adulation and the glory and the praise. That's what I would have done. That's what most people I know would have done.

Call me jaded, call it sour grapes, but to wait perhaps 20-25 minutes before coming up to the main crowd, when all hope of picking up the bird from the watchpoint has passed, that is unforgivable. Unforgivable. Clearly I am biased, but that is ridiculous. There are claims that he shouted, perhaps even towards me and the two photographers I was with. Maybe he did? But if this elicited no reaction, then what? Shrug the shoulders and sit back down? That appears to be what happened. No other person there, of which there were many, was any the wiser for what is in sea-watching terms an age. And that is the source of the sour grapes and dejection. Forget about whether the observer wants some kind of magazine scoop and associated piss-ant payment (even though that is scarcely believable). If the timings are correct every single person at Pendeen on Sunday ought to have been able to get on that bird. And not one did.

You can talk all you like about finding your own birds, about nobody having a right to see a rare bird, about dickhead twitchers. Maybe I am being naive, but surely birding is bigger than this. The finder by all accounts knew exactly what it is was he was watching. But he seems does not know much about birding etiquette, or at least not what I understand birding to be about. Am I being unkind? Maybe, maybe not. Again, anyone who wasn't there feel free to have a go in the time-honoured fashion, call me an idiot, a tosser, say what you want. Say I should have picked it up, say look properly next time, say I'm just bitter etc. Maybe I should have and yes I am, but get real. A monster, a complete once-in-a-lifetime bird was on show for an age in sea-watching terms and based on what I know the finder could have done so much more. So much more. Assumptions out the window, it's a Tropicbird, and so you go fucking nuts, end of. You don't shout a bit, and then sit back down. You just don't. That's not right, it's not to my mind what sea-watching is about. You're in it together. Again, I sound like a pre-pubescent teenager probably, an idealist, someone wet behind the ears who hasn't the faintest clue about real life. I like to think I'm normal. What kind of person doesn't do their utmost to alert other observers they know to be present? People on the net are talking about giving the finder credit where credit is due. I agree with that, but only to a point. I know that my greatest pleasure would be to get other people onto the bird, as I know how much it means. I can hardly claim to be a huge rarity finder, but when a number of other people got onto my Stone-curlew on Wanstead Flats earlier this year, I was utterly delighted. And I was gutted that some did not. I was on the phone ten seconds after seeing that bird for the first time, I had phoned two people I knew to be close within a minute or two, and was getting the news out as fast as I could even before I had confirmed the record. I ran. Once I knew what I had I sacrificed getting better views in order to give other people a chance of connecting, and that was just a good bird in a local context. A Red-billed Tropicbird is in a completely different league altogether.

This is of course my reaction, and people are different. I don't know the person in question, what drives him, what makes him tick. I react based on my reaction. The guy was not obliged to alert people, each to his own. I'm just saying I would have reacted differently, and so would many other people. So to be on the receiving end of what I perceive to be a striking lack of generosity, well that is very galling indeed. But that's birding for you, and I'll live. And as you saw yesterday (if you were alert!) I can laugh about it too, and that's also birding. And if you didn't think sea-watching was exciting, think again!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Sea-watching in the South-west

Just got back from Cornwall after a rather cool sea-watch. As always I'd been watching the forecast closely, and decided on Friday that it would definitely be worth it. The standard overnight drive down to Porthgwarra seemed to be quicker than usual, and so Steve, William, Nick and I were up on the cliffs for dawn, as were loads of other people, some of whom had also travelled a long way. Rather worryingly we could see Scilly with bins, but it soon clouded over, and indeed gave us a good soaking. Several soakings, to the point where I was actually soaked through, waterproofs having been completely overwhelmed. Double figures of Great Shearwater, I estimate I personally saw somewhere between 12 and 15, five or so Cory's, and a good supporting cast of Stormies, Sooties and various other birds I rarely get to see. Maybe my sea-watching expectations are high these days, but I felt a bit like we had been slightly robbed, that there hadn't been a big one. Nevermind, there was always the next day, and with the winds shifting, Pendeen was the spot.

We arrived at Pendeen slightly late, having slept longer than intended. No sleep on Friday night and a few pints at the Tinner's Arms in Zennor probably had something to do with it. The sea-watching was pretty slow, so I went down to the rocks to photograph Gannets for a bit. Quite a few came between me and the rocks which was pretty good, and so after a bit of fun with the camera I returned up to the watchpoint to discover most people had left! Very odd, but there you go, I guess when there are no monster seabirds going past, people do get a bit jaded. We stuck around for a bit and then tried our luck at Cape Cornwall. Nothing doing there really, so a long drive back to London beckoned. A knackering weekend, but always good value. One of these days we'll really score I expect, but although we saw some great birds this trip, we felt that there was something slightly lacking as despite the weather charts looking very tasty, we didn't really come close to the biggie.

Friday, 16 August 2013


Have you got a Twitter account? I do. It's called @Wansteadbirder and I use it when I have nothing to say. 99.99% of Twitter users have nothing to say, and so 99.99% of tweets (the output of Twitter) are mindless irrelevances. You can see why I like it. I was not an early adopter, and I can't remember when I finally took the plunge, but to date I've somehow uttered nearly 5,500 snippets of 140 characters of tedium. I can scarcely believe it. I intended it to be a kind of micro-blogging site where I would churn out little missives that weren't really suitable or expandable enough for a full-blown blog post. Thoughts as they occurred to me, thoughts that the wider world couldn't possible live without knowing, witty observations, that kind of thing. This I did for a while, and then I realised it could be used to transmit boring bird news, news that very few people actually cared about. Perfect, an ideal use of Twitter, and so I started up @Wansteadbirding and started sending out messages about local bits and pieces that were of interest to ten people. Win. I even shared the password, and so now Nick and a few others also send out bird messages. Don't go thinking it's me out there on the patch! Tchah, as if! So far so good, lots more web pollution, and loads of bytes wasted forever.

This happy state of affairs continued for perhaps a couple of years, during which I amassed almost millions of followers, each keener than the next for the latest piece of drivel. Then I discovered Twitpic and other derivatives - hurrah! In addition to being to post snippets of useless text, silly photos can now go up, vans that look a bit like the A-Team van but not really, hot-off-the-press twitching scores, kids, cakes, frivolous nonsense. My life was complete, here was the perfect medium for tedium.

But now Twitter is getting a bit serious. It's used by conservationists to promote petitions against the Badger Cull, to highlight the plight of Hen Harriers, to show the slaughter of birds in north Africa and elsewhere. Keen birders have discovered that politicians and various organisations also have Twitter accounts, and it becomes merciless. Now I don't for one second believe that our beloved Environment Minister reads his Twitter account, why would he, but if you read what people send him it's quite easy to gauge what people think. And above all it's fast. It mobilises support instantly, no swelling of meetings in village halls gradually leading to national marches, it's just bang, and you have a campaign there and then. Links are shared to e-petitions that the government can ignore. Email addresses of certain ne'er-do-wells are shared. The concept of hashtags, essentially allowing grouping of messages under one topic heading, makes it incredibly easy. Look for the #HenHarrier tag and you'll see what I mean. And it's very effective, or at least it would be if we were living in a democracy.

Happily it isn't all serious. In fact mostly none of it is serious - this is good, Twitter is one of the last places you want to be depressed, and I need some trivia in my life. A very happy half hour was spent last week trying to invent birding-related TV shows following spotting a tweet from someone I follow over on the right, BaldMonkeySeenABird. It was kind of like I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue, which itself got changed to I'm Sorry I haven't a Curlew. My favourite was I'm Alan Pheasant, but I fear Monty Pygargus Flying Circus fell on deaf ears, however much it amused me.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Post Holiday Blues

They have struck. Are striking. Will continue to strike. Jeez I love holidays. Other than birding the patch, ahem, they're the best thing ever. However yesterday's eleven hour day in the mines banished all thoughts, all memories, all recollections of what was a fabulous time away. It is amazing how quickly it fades. My boss described me today as being in post-holiday shock, and which looking at my three page to-do list (none of it involving relaxing or having a good time) I can well believe. Apparently I have been very quiet, a sure sign, she says, of stress. She is probably right, the last couple of days have been intense. The happy news is that as of that eleven hour day on Monday, I was once again a permanent employee. Pensions, holiday rights, healthcare, and an opt out from the 48 hour European Working Time Directive. Oh yes, I am back. This is no mean feat I will have you know. My chosen sector is not an easy one to get into, especially after time away. So despite my grumblings, I am quietly pleased to have managed to get back in. I am a conservative and sensible person, a full-time job is a must have, and I always felt slightly uncomfortable being a contractor.

I am of course back at the same institution that dispensed with me some four years ago. I had just started this blog, which I hope was unrelated. A short while later, the news came and I was one of those people you read about in the papers, stood outside a shiny building with a cardboard box in my arms. I faced the future with aplomb, of course, and threw myself into the job of becoming a full-time domestic goddess. I became amazing at this, by my reckoning. By Mrs L's reckoning, I just about scraped average some weeks. It did make for better blogging than when working of course, and in the two years I had away from a career I put in the groundwork to become a better photographer. So in 2009 you got a load of crap, which at the time I felt was stunning, whereas now you get this, which in a couple of years I may well also dismiss as total crap, but which currently, and humbly, I think is pretty good.

Such a beautiful gull

You also got domestic poetry. How long has is been since I was this creative? And of course, blue sky thinking, with clarity of thought that remains as true today as it was then. Re-reading some of these posts with yesterday's news in mind, it is clear that I am very weak and, at the time, somewhat unrealistic. Never go on the central line again? Ever?! Pah - I am a total idiot! And how much gardening did I do? Precisely none, and the garden only got sorted out when I returned to work and hired a gardener. Many of the things about birding were true though. So, there you have it, I am back.

Of course, I've been back for a long time. Back on the central line almost two years ago in fact. Nothing actually changed yesterday, it is purely symbolic. But it's still interesting to go back and read my incredibly naive posts from a time when my life was moving in exactly the opposite direction, and see what I felt about it then. Was it a peak, or a trough?! How will I ever know? Hah! I think I know well enough, and the fact remains that the two years I spent not working are right up there as amongst the two best years of my life. I probably didn't make the most of them, certainly not in terms of changing direction, but then I am very very lazy deep down. But I did have a fab time with my kids who at the time were small and appreciative of daddy being at home. Look how big they are now!!

Life moves on, and my holiday is over.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Audouin's Gull

Ah, home sweet home. A slightly torturous journey with the call to the meet-and-greet airport car parking resulting not in "We'll have the car there for you in ten minutes" but instead "Sir, there's a problem, we can't start your car...."  The jury is out in terms of what happened, though my money is firmly on somebody who was looking after our car leaving some lights on.... The AA came very quickly and sorted us out in about an hour, but it wasn't the nice and smooth trip we were expecting unfortunately. Still, we're back now, and all is mostly well. I've had almost no chance to sort out anything other than prepare for work tomorrow morning, but I have made some time for a very special Gull. Despite my lethargy, I did manage to get out and find a few of the resident Audouin's Gulls. The window was very slim - you get about half an hour of light before the beach becomes too busy with joggers etc and the birds bugger off back out to sea - but I managed a few pleasing ones. I actually tried twice, but by the time I arrived the second time the birds were sat out on the rocks and the bread I threw at them was eaten by fish without a modicum of interest from the targets. Hey ho. So, lots of sunbathing and the like, but amazingly three WP ticks - Eleonora's Falcon, Moustached Warbler, and Red-knobbed Coot. The latter may well be an introduction if my BWP is to be believed, but hey, so is White-tailed Eagle and Crane, so who cares.

If you want to see any more photos from Mallorca, click here, as I'll gradually be adding a few. Not many though, as I was extremely and vastly lazy.

Thursday, 8 August 2013


I never knew I was so good at doing nothing. There have been hints, rumours, periods of mild inactivity, but never to the extent that is now occurring. Or not occurring. Very unusually I'm on holiday, but this is a different kind of holiday. A doing nothing holiday. A sitting round the pool holiday. A frittering, sploshing, splashing, flopping kind of holiday. I didn't think I could cope with so little, but it turns out I have hidden talent.  Normally my holidays involve harsh weather, vaguely inhospitable places, being reasonably far from the beaten track, and typically quite far from other people. As I type this from the poolside in Majorca, there are about 300 other happy people in very close proximity. Many of them are very small, and are making more noise than you can possibly imagine. Three of them belong to me, for this is that rare event, a family package holiday. Almost Costa del, but not quite, despite the beer being on free vend. The hotel is fantastic, and not just because of the beer, or the two mythical words "kids" and "club" - it's pretty much a perfect set-up for families, from the size and shape of the pool, to the rooms, to the variety of food on offer, and of course the activities. I am aware that this makes me sound like a boring 38 year old trip-adviser user. Oh.....

We've been here since Sunday afternoon, and our list of achievements is as short as it is glorious. This is patently the way it should be. I normally come back from holidays more tired than when I left, generally flying straight in to my desk. My children have a huge love of water, in fact I'm quite at home in it as well. Did I hear someone say Minke? Family holidays have up until this point mostly involved Scotland, and thus warm water is out of the question. Here however we can stay in all day, and largely this is exactly what we have done. Everything we need is here (except birds), and so there is very little need to go anywhere else. Mrs L developed mild cabin fever on day three, so we took a little drive out to Cap Formentor - a lighthouse with stonking views at the end of a rocky and extremely steep peninsula. The road terrified her so much that she is now quite content to sit around the pool for the duration. Pilates and aquaerobics are definitely on the agenda, I just have to work out what to tell the hire company about the gouge marks in the sides of the passenger seat. OK, so it was a bit windy, and she was on the outer edge for half of it, but with me at the wheel what could possibly go wrong, and with the promise of Cory's Shearwater and Eleanora's Falcon at the end you would have thought that she might have coped better.

Both species were present, but at some range. Perfectly identifiable though, including decent-enough views of the underwings to confirm that these were indeed the Scopoli's race of Cory's Shearwater. Interesting to watch them both from above - the lighthouse is perched a couple of hundred metres above sea-level - sheer cliffs on one side enable you to see birds cruising past below you. Other than this one outing, I've left the hotel once. We're staying quite near to Albufera National Park, a rather special wetland area. I nipped out one evening for a quick wander - Stone Curlews, Night Herons, loads of traditional waders, and Spotted Flycatchers everywhere. I've been meaning to go back but lethargy has taken over. I did bring bins and a modest amount of photographic equipment, but I'm finding that I'd much rather be sat with my toes in the water with a cold beer in my hand, than schlepping the 500mm round in searing heat. After all I do an awful lot of the latter, and very little of the former. At home there is always something that needs doing, and rarely will you find me sat on my ample backside doing nothing. Here there is nothing to do, and for the first time in a long while I do not have a to-do list. Before I came I harboured vague ambitions of photographing Audouin's Gulls on the beach, but every time I start thinking about it I'm finding it to be sounding far too much like hard work, and so I'm still sat at the hotel and it's now Thursday, time nearly up. I may yet get round to it, but don't count on it. Anyway, this holiday is about the kids. Sure, I need a holiday, but I'd choose birding somewhere (as I frequently do). This is about them - a family-friendly hotel in a popular destination. Pool, sun, chips and pizza. Lots of ice cream. Lots of other kids, gangs, friendships. No romances yet, they're all still too little, but give them a few years. You can see it already - there are plenty of families here with slightly older kids; massively self-conscious teenagers, gruff fathers. That'll be me in a few years. My youngest, and chief consumer of pizza and chips in the face of heaps of fresh seafood and salads, has been admiring the many and varied tattoos on offer. Another challenge I expect to have to face down the line. Maybe I'll get one too...

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Dungeness in the haze

An enjoyable jaunt to Dunge today in the company of Mick and Richard. Tremendous heat haze meant we sat and nattered on the beach for most of the day, and I have burnt my face by possibly falling asleep in full sunshine. Possibly. With the two esteemed gentlemen mentioned above, photography was of course the primary mission, and largely we failed. We were not too bothered however, and a selection of Little Gulls and a Black Tern kept the interest up, along with some dead fish and the claw from a two-hundred year old lobster that would have snapped the Cutty Sark in two had it been attached to its original owner. A quick session on the mud late afternoon netted a few GBBs and the like, but mostly a good excuse to waste time in some genuinely nice weather without abusing the shutter too much as there was little point. After my troubles with my lens a couple of weeks ago, it was relieving to confirm that there isn't anything wrong with it and that I still can't do birds in flight with it with any great success.....

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Here comes August!

I am back in the mix! It's autumn again! Waders coming thick and fast, monster seabirds off distant headlands, it's all hotting up, including in London where today it was 34 degrees today! Not that I got to enjoy any of it of course, things are 100% back to normal where I work, and the days pass without a sniff of the outdoors! Fact of life, get over it and get on with it! And that's what I do - however the weekend is just around the corner, and I am very much looking forward to it, especially as it will be the first weekend since discovering I knew very little about my lens that I will be able to pick it up again and potentially do some damage with it. Hooray! This is what it is all about - work hard play hard. Of course I envy those who just get to play, and they're not all children!

Two exciting things have just happened. Firstly is that I am busting to go seawatching, and so have booked up a flight over to Ireland for the Bridges of Ross - always been wanting to do that. Secondly is that Mrs L has agreed, in principle, to come to Morocco with me. When I was there earlier this year Marrakech didn't get a look in - we were in the 4x4 and over the mountains before you could say Jemaa-el-Fnaa. Hopefully with a repeat trip based solely around the visiting the city, the birds will stay distant enough for me to actually have a look around, haggle for some tourist tat, and drink mint tea.

There is of course more excitement, closer excitement, and that is in the form of birds, especially birds I've not seen on patch this year. For starters Gulls are beginning to appear, and whilst I hesitate to say that they're truly exciting (large dollops of Gull rarely are), the thought of picking through them in numbers and extracting a Yellow-legger or a Med or something equally sought after is relatively appealing after not having looked at Gulls for several months. Spotted Flycatchers could make an appearance too, but really it's all about Waders. August is the month for the biggies. Common Sand fell just a couple of days ago, hardly a biggie but a start, and I am eager for more. Wood Sand is on the cards (seen two over the years), but the ones I really want are Godwits or Whimbrel. And I have a plan to get them, which is very cunning and essentially involves following Dan wherever he goes. Can't fail.