Saturday, 30 November 2013

Gah, when will it end!!!?

Sorry not this blog. Did you think I might? I might indeed, but it is still helpful. No, what I mean is that the birds keep on coming. I thought I was safe this weekend. I needed to be safe, I wanted to be at home. And what happens? I'll tell you what happens! A bleedin' Ivory Gull flies past a bit of north-eastern coastline is what happens. Now before you go all "but you don't have to go", you're quite right. I don't. And I would not have done. But the thought of what is out there is irritating. I would much rather that nothing were out there until I am good and ready, which is not this weekend.

So what have I been doing? Well, it has been very exciting. Exciting and annoying. The highlight of the weekend so far, other than the 2004 St Joseph, has been the installation of a new surround sound system in the front room. This will come as a surprise as I'm not a big TV watcher. The last time I knowingly watched TV was probably the 2012 Olympics, but I do enjoy the odd DVD, or whatever the format is these days. As such I have one of those systems where you have speaker behind your left ear, and another behind your right. It died about two years ago, and replacing it has remained very low on my list of priorities since then. However about a month ago I bought a fridge blackboard. Mainly this was for Mrs L's benefit, to act as a constant reminder of all the boring things (i.e. not to do with music in any way) that she had to do, and that had remained close to the bottom of any metaphorical list she might keep. In other words, close to the top of the list that I keep for her. However any time I so much as mentioned anything on it, this had the capacity to start a chain reaction of small explosions culminating in mention of the fact that she had just been on the cusp of doing something, but now that I had mentioned it she was damned if she was doing it. Thus nothing ever gets done.

Enter the Blackboard of Unhappiness. To keep things fair, I also wrote a pile of the things I was least interested in doing on it, and one of these was to replace the speakers. You would think that most blokes would relish a task such as this, the chance to do a pile of research on electronic gadgets, and then do a spot of tinkering - screwdrivers at the ready. However I am not most blokes, and installing a home cinema system holds practically no interest for me whatsoever. As such I've happily lived without the magic of Dolby 5:1 for quite some time. But I had to go and write it on the blackboard didn't I, and there it gnawed at me, until yesterday I finally caved, and ordered some damn thing on Amazon as part of their Black Friday deals. It arrived today.

I didn't hold out much hope of being able to correctly install it, but my mood cheered when I discovered that the brackets on the old speakers had exactly the same thread as the new ones. Despite my native stupidity, the thing actually worked first time - idiot proof I think they call it, nicely referred to as plug and play. Nonetheless taking the old one out (found several spiders, a missing mitten, several nerf gun bullets and a coloured-in tennis ball) and sticking the new one in took the entire morning. The big annoyance, as eluded to above, was discovering right at the very end that the cable for the furthest-away speaker was approximately 45cm too short, and thus rather than the wire being neatly hidden by the picture rail, there is a little bit of corner cutting..... Fuck it, it works, and if I'm looking at the telly I can't see it as it's behind my head. And anyway, I spend next to no time in that room anyway so who cares? Mrs L cares, but she knows how ill-equipped I am for this sort of task and seems fairly relieved that nothing went too drastically wrong as at one point I did have a hammer out.

To end, here are two questions:

1) Can you guess what the first DVD on this afternoon was?
2) I've now rubbed out most of my tasks on the blackboard. Can you guess who hasn't? 

Friday, 29 November 2013

I'm sorry, do you know me?

Do you think you know me? I mean, from reading this do you think you understand who I am, what makes me tick, what I don't like and so on? This is purely exploratory you understand, I am trying to gauge if people who read internet material feel that they have a personal connection with those who have an internet persona that choose to express themselves there. Like me, though the question is more general than that. Do you think you know anyone whose web output you consume? I have a reading list of regular bloggers over on the right hand side. Some of them I do know, some of them I've never ever met. Do I think I know them? Well yes and no.

When someone writes, a certain amount of them finds its way onto the page. It's inevitable, and I challenge anybody to create an internet persona entirely unassociated with their true self. When I say anybody, really I mean birders. Birders tend not to be professional writers who could pull this off, as by definition they base themselves too much in fact. Though interestingly fiction vs non-fiction arguments frequently take up acres of web birding space...

Personally, I write fairly familiarly, lots of "yous", lots of directed sentences, in so far as the written word is ever direct. I also write a lot, more, perhaps, than many people out there who use this medium. So do you know me better than other bloggers? I tend not to shy away from making my feelings known, and I don't suspect anyone would ever call me enigmatic, but still? Can you really say that yeah, that bloke from Wanstead, yeah I reckon I've got the measure of him.

This question came up on various blogs a couple of weeks ago, during Duskygate and coincidentally coinciding with one of my more aggressive periods. I never ended up writing much about the suppression in Devon, I simply didn't know enough about it. Usually this doesn't stop me, in some cases it encourages me, but a little bit of introspection caused me to mostly hold fire on that particular incident, which was probably for the best. But would you have discovered anything else about me? Or about the circumstances surrounding the Thrush?! I'd wager no on both counts.

Do you read this and this and think "bad case of OCD"? If you read this, or read the drivel I slap on Twitter, do you think that is the whole of me? Keyboards do funny things to people for sure, but there is so much on the internet that you just can't be sure about it. Thinking about it another way, those of you that have jobs, would you send an email to a colleague in the same way that you might compose a thread on an internet forum? I wouldn't. I'm a completely different person at work. Not necessarily serious all of the time, but with a certain amount of gravitas and grumpiness that is necessary when managing a team of people in a tough environment. So, do my colleagues know me? Does my boss? Do the people that report to me? The me at work is once again very different from the me on the net, or the me at home, though I have been known to get mixed up and start giving my children deliverables when I get in.

All I am trying to say is that so much communication happens online that it's easy to get confused between the internet and real people. Those who you might think you "know", you probably don't, so judge accordingly. Don't take everything you read on the computer seriously, no matter how difficult that might be. And above all, make sure your life contains real people. If it all gets a bit much, one response to the confusion that often reigns online is to give the whole lot the elbow, even for a short while. That's exactly what one well known blogger has done. Again. Difficult no doubt, but it's only a couple of clicks away. Are you brave enough? Goodbye digital me, goodbye digital others. Tough call, but I'm going to base myself in the real world for a while. And that should remind me, recalibrate me, as to what it's actually all about. Perhaps I should try it?

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Birdwatchers Anonymous

Everyone likes birds, but many people are afraid to admit it. Let's face it, whilst not taboo per se, it doesn't exactly mark one out as being down with the kids, the life and soul of the party etc. If you like birds and make that fact know, you're automatically a little bit odd. The over-used term "twitcher" is laid at your feet, and from there on in you are less of a person. I hesitate to say "saddo", but......

This explains why there are not a huge number of active birders, you know, the ones that you sometimes encounter in your local park or in the countryside, dressed in green and looking extremely nerdy. People like me in other words (although at the moment I am mostly wearing black) that inhabit a strange world of keeping lists, latin binomials, feather names, and sub-species (oh the irony). People with sometimes little appreciation for what others think of them. "I like birds, so what? I don't care what anyone thinks of me. Which is also why I don't wash my hair. Or clothes. Fuck off."

But behind closed doors is a vast army of birdwatchers. RSPB calendars and a set of binoculars on the living room windowsill. "Oh, no, I'm not a birdwatcher. I just like looking at them." Quite simply, they are in denial. Closet birdwatchers. And in the modern vernacular, they need to come out. And why not, the Pope is not interested, and the law is on your side. What we need is birdwatchers anonymous meetings, hosted by someone wearing an anorak and saying that everything is going to be alright. For the sake of this post, I will wear the anorak - though naturally I would not be seen dead in one. Who do you think I am, some kind of geek etc etc.....

Cut to a room with a circle of chairs

Me: Welcome everyone, I hope you've all been wearing your bins in public?!
a chorus of silence and looking at the floor
Me: We have a new member today called Emma (not her real name hem hem). Emma would like to tell you about how she came to realise she was a secret birdwatcher.
Emma*: Hello everyone! [Emma is a very outgoing person]. For many years I tried to hide the fact that I am a secret bird-lover, but unfortunately I have a blog that does not lie.
[weak applause]
Me: Emma that's brilliant, so what birdwatching activities have you been doing?
Emma: Well apart from watching internet webcams that intrude into the lives of Owls for 85 hours a day, I did get pair of binoculars for my 68th birthday.
[more weak applause]
BA member: But you do not look a day over 55!
Emma: Fuck off.
Me: OK, moving on, have you taken your new binoculars outside yet so that people can see that you are no longer in denial?
Emma: [shudders] Ugh. Outside? Why would I want to do that? I can see the birds from indoors, which is as close as I want to get to them, and anyway they are not Owls.
BA member: Owls?
Emma: No. They are small and brown and very far away and even though they are not on a screen I am still sufficiently competent to know that they are not Owls. Though beyond that I have no real clue.
BA member: Why do you like Owls so much?
Emma: Have you seen Owl-in-a-box? It is a life-chang.....
Me: Well unfortunately that's all we have time for. Well done Emma for coming out! We're all here to support you on your birding journey.

* any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental etc etc. On a completely unrelated note, I am [not so] secretly very very amused that a certain owl-loving resident of Belgium has finally come clean (sort of) and is well on the way to buying an anorak.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


I have recovered from the drive to Pembrokeshire. All it took was a nice day at work and I'd forgotten all about it. Easy! I'm getting too old for these massive days out, especially ones with a really early start. Well, let me clarify, I can cope with it if I snooze gently in a passenger seat, which has happened on more than one occasion. This time, however, I was doing the driving and it really takes it out of you if you have to do it all in a day. That's part of why weekends away, or short trips like the one to the Uists are so much better. You can take it at a slower pace and not completely knacker yourself, but it comes at the cost of time away from home. As I said think I said yesterday, and if I didn't, I meant to - if the birds could just stop now please, I would be very grateful as I need some time to do other things. The last time I had two ticks in November was in 2010, by this point in the year I can usually count on being able to chill out. But 2013 appears to be different, breaking all the rules.

Amazingly the Orphean Warbler hasn't been seen at all today, so the boys and I are officially pretty jammy. Whether the bird is just intoxicated and asleep under a bush from eating so many fermenting apples is not yet known, but if it has really gone then that's a massive result that I finally got my arse in gear and went down yesterday. Very lucky, as I don't much like dipping, and due to the timings I had to travel on no news. This is not something I would normally do if I can avoid it, and with Dick stupidly and recklessly suggesting it was wintering only a few hours before we left, I'm amazed it didn't leave there and then, leaving me to write about a big dip! But at the end of the day it's only a bird and if I hadn't gone, or had gone a day later and missed it, would that really matter at all? Not in the slightest, you can't see 'em all, and what's more I don't intend to try.

What I do want to try and do is drag my sorry ass around the patch between now and the end of the year. My commitment this side of June has been pitiful, and although I am caning it in the listing stakes this is hugely unrepresentative of the effort I have put in. However for one last hurrah I reckon I can get myself to a frankly massive 120 species, as I need just two, and I reckon exactly two are on the cards - one a resident, and one an easily annual winter visitor. The only issue is actually physically being on the patch and as I've no more trips away there is no excuse really.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

My mood swings west

I am a strange individual. After scorning two chances last weekend to twitch the Orphean Wabler in far western Wales, this weekend I felt a little differently. I cannot explain it - either I am in the mood or I am not, which is dependent on a number of factors. This weekend for some inexplicable reason I did not mind spending ten hours in the car and driving 600 miles. Last weekend it was close to being the very last thing I wanted to do. There you have it, I have no excuse. If I am able, I do what I want when I want. Pied Wheatear replaced Med GullsMed Gulls took priority over Orphean Warbler. Orphean Warbler triumphs over filing.

This weekend the bird was still there, and so I got up just before 3am, piled the Monkey, Howard and Nick into my car, and off we went. The drive was incredibly easy, and was an exact replica of my trip with Nick to the Isabelline Wheatear, bar the last three miles. Instead of turning right towards Marloes, we instead parked in a field directly in front of the turning. It felt a little odd being back in the same far-flung spot only a couple of months later, but that's the stupidity of twitching. In the car parking field we pulled up next to Dick, Dean and.............wait a minute, where the hell is Vince?!! Oh Vince............

The twitch was incredibly well organised, a credit to the local birding community. No nonsense, no bullshit, no agro, just sensibleness in spades. On arrival at the house, we had to wait in the road while the earlier arriving 40 people had their fill. They had seen the bird at first light, but the views had been tricky in the gloom, and so wanted better and more. Fair dos, the bird wasn't going to go anywhere, so no harm in waiting. In better light the bird returned to the garden, and so gradually 30 or so people returned so that those of us queuing could go and look. You will note that 30 is a different number to 40, and I suspect you will not be surprised when I tell you that not one of the 30 people coming back down the road was carrying a camera.... Yep, you guessed it! When I got into the garden, there they were, the big lens brigade camped out in the prime positions, not moving for anyone. There are times when I am ashamed to be a bird photographer, and this was one of them. The conditions were completely against any kind of decent image, but that didn't matter, the rotation system to allow all to see the bird simply didn't apply to these guys. What a bunch of selfish pricks! You know who you are! When I'd seen the bird well and taken a couple of record shots, I left to let others in. So irritating, but there you go, you expect it at twitches. None of these camo-clad twats will have anything remotely decent, so in addition to preventing queuing birders seeing this mega they were wasting their own time. I left the garden and returned to the back of the line so I could get back in - with, it has to be said, a couple of good guys who also felt as I did and didn't take the piss. And when I did get back in, there they all were still. Well done lads, a real credit to those of us who carry cameras, nice one.

Such a handsome crew....
It made me mildly angry, but it didn't spoil the atmosphere, which was serene. The local birders and residents organising the twitch were not in it for the agro, so there were no words. I could have told these guys to shift, but really, what was the point, why ruin a nice calm event just to make a point? Like I said, they know who they are, and when they sort through their likely poor images I hope they realise what gimps they are. See you at the next one guys! Bottom line is that real bird photography and twitching just don't mix. I took a few, and they're completely hopeless. Bad position versus the light and too far away, both of which I was unable to correct, and the bird in the middle of a tree. Still, a record shot is always good to have.

Once I'd had my second fill of the bird, we decided that some Chough might be on the menu, and so headed off to St Martin's Haven, site of Izzy Wheatear happiness. Four Chough, a few Ravens, and a Buzzard were hanging around, but what made me happiest was a Dunnock. Orphean Warbler eat your heart out, this is what it's all about! Nobody but me, no camotwats, a cooperative bird, decent light and a clean background. Boom! Carting the lens all the way to Wales was the correct decision after all!

The weather was a glorious as it had been when Nick and I came here at the start of October, but we were 300 miles from home and needed to start back. There was also the possibility of Two-barred Crossbill, but we were somewhat ill-prepared in the gen department, and after a bit of monkeying around (if you get my meaning) we gave up and headed for home via Oxford. The Forest of Dean is a confusing place to be fair, but we could have done so much better, especially for Nick who needed the tick. Sorry dude, a comedy of errors, but it did net me a Hawfinch year tick. We did eventually find the correct starting point, but only at gone 3pm, and with the Monkey needing to be home to attend to a recovering Mrs Monkey, we had to head. I nearly fell asleep a couple of times on the way back, but slapping myself round the face on the M25 seemed to work and I got through it. 600 miles - a long way to go, but it's over now and I am back home. The undoubted highlight of the day was whilst driving through Marloes, and me beating Monkey by approximately a millisecond to saying "You could live there" upon driving past this sign-post, followed by both of us cracking up. So so juvenile, but this is an integral part of any twitch, and what makes these occasional long journeys quite a lot of fun despite the many hours in the car.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Holy Crap!

I've just been looking at a certain person's birding website. On it is listed the Cost. Per. Bird. I'm sure you know who I mean!  Think stupid T-shirts, silly hats.... Oh my God!! It is proof, if any were needed, that twitchers and listers are surely the strangest people in the whole wide world. I wondered momentarily if I was, to the outside world, one of these strange people. I realised immediately, and happily, that I could not possibly be remotely like these people in any way, and so quickly flipped over the screen to blogger and started writing this post. Before I left though, I noticed that to get from three hundred to four hundred birds in the UK took Baggers about two and a quarter years.

It took me just over four.

Gah!!!!!!!!!!!! I mean, I'm not one of them, am I? Could I be? Am I really? It can't be. I mean, I have that information, but I don't publish it anywhere. Apart from on Bubo..... Shiiiiiit!

Oh dear, I would appear to be a sad, obsessive, weirdo-freak. The only thing missing is the beard. And actually Baggers doesn't have a beard, in fact not many twitchers or birders I know do have beards, it's a myth. For sure there are a few of the stereotypical anorak brigade, straggly hair, green jackets, personal hygiene issues. But worryingly a lot of them - a lot of us - appear perfectly normal. They blend in, they lead normal lives. Sleepers....until a rare bird is found. Would you know if the person you sat opposite every day was in fact a nutjob? The odd unexplained absence perhaps, a bad back, a heavy but fast-appearing cold, but would you know they keep secret lists of places, of names, of dates? Be afraid, be very afraid.

When I look back at the last few years, I've seen an incredible number of birds that only a few years before that I would never have even imagined I might see in this country. Sharp-tailed Sandpiper one day in Kent when I was bored? Whatever. And look at me now!  Black-and-White Warbler, Yellowthroat, Cream-coloured bloody Courser! And I'm SLOW!! I could list a ton of things I've not bothered with - easy things that required perhaps an hour in the car and an ability read a map - but that when it came to it I was in one of those "meh" kind of moods and moseyed off to do something else. Then of course there are all the birds that turn up in the week that are just impossible - I had a brief run of luck whilst unemployed and living the dream, no doubt irritating the hell out of other birders I knew, but I didn't really capitalise all that much as I still had responsibilities. I refuse to go too far (Shetland is about my limit these days), and of course I have a huge fear of dipping, so only go when a bird is very likely to still be present. I mean I like excitement as much as the next man, but come on, where's the fun in not knowing if something will be there or not?!

I toyed with the idea of the Dusky Thrush being the last one. 400 - the target - finally attained, my place in history secure. Before you know it I've been to see a Roller. A then a Bridled Tern. And they keep on coming! 2013 has seen a huge glut of rarities, and if you were to look at what I've seen this year you would think it's amazing (if you're a sad loser that is), but actually far more impressive is the list of birds I haven't seen! It's been a stunning run - Thick-billed Warbler, Eastern Olly, Frigatebird, Needletail, Pacific Swift, Mourning Dove, Sora, Hermit Thrush, Cape May Warbler, Orphean Warbler. Oh, and a Tropicbird! Looking at that little lot is enough to make me weep, but such is life. But the fact that I didn't immediately drop everything and hoon off to whichever far-flung headland or island they were at does at least confer on me a slight air of normality. As well as relegating me to the eighth division or some such nonsense. Yup, unbelievably it seems I cannot be taken seriously as a birder unless I have seen an arbitrary number of birds. If that's the case I'd rather not be a birder.

Twitching is fun sometimes (I hope it is fun tomorrow!), the camaraderie on the trip, the banter, the beautiful places it takes you to, and yes, even the birds, but there are plenty of times where despite all that I'm simply not up for it in the slightest. I like to think I'm pacing myself -  a marathon, not a sprint. Except it's a marathon that requires a lot sprinting. I've never much liked running now I come to think about it.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Another one down

Another five days down, another two for me. This is what it is all about. Tomorrow holds very little, mucking around with the kids and attempting to stay warm in the house. And Sunday, well let's just say that a big twitch could be on. At this stage I'm not entirely sure, but I feel a lot better than I was expecting to after finishing Wednesday night with 40 hours under my belt. In fact the last two days have been almost a breeze in comparison, and only once did I feel that the world had gone slightly mad, which was when an auditor who was auditing me was deeply unimpressed upon seeing that I used a pencil and a piece of paper to collect a few stats and then do some simple addition and subtraction. I strongly suspect that this frankly heinous crime is going to get written up and that I am going to get made to ceremoniously snap my pencil in half in front of the whole office or something. It probably didn't help when I asked if using a pen would make her feel any happier, and which colour was the most approved. Secretly they must all work for Microsoft. Bah.

That aside, I've generally been happier and more rounded this week. I've been enjoying some top-class birding crap on twitter, including an increasingly acrimonious Lee who appears very bitter that Baggers is leaving Lee's club to form his own, complete with its own list of lists. That Baggers cannot see that this can only end one way only adds to the amusement, but it is slightly sad to see grown men squabble so. Not that I'm one to talk mind you. I've also been enjoying learning about Stonechat taxonomy, which bored the crap out of me, and about Duskygate somewhere in Devon, which also ultimately bored the crap out of me. The story is the usual one of a rare bird being discovered in a certain place, and news being withheld. That the reason for the non-dissemination of news is entirely legitimate is irrelevant, and there has been much grumbling, in no small part due to the post-departure appearance of a number of really rather crippling shots of it. But also because the bird wasn't quite 100% surpressed. In other words what happens every time. Finder calls his mate, who calls his good mate, and very soon half a dozen people have popped round for a cuppa and all hope of an amicable ending has evaporated. I was reading it all thinking "ooh this is interesting!" until I realised that I was simply re-reading a thread I'd read before and that I would learn nothing new at all about human nature.

I have seen no birds. This is not unusual at all for a working week, and I am not bitter. Gnnnnnnnnh. Honestly, what a pain! Impossible, or very nearly so, to get up early enough to make birding worthwhile, and in any event the bed is so very warm and cozy, and then darkness descends when I'm only halfway through my working day (sadly I am not exaggerating). Since snaffling the Treecreeper a couple of weeks ago I've not been on the patch more than a couple of times, but I've gained a bit of breathing space in the unofficial competition due to the Lesserspot being withdrawn in favour of not really sure, following a number of people hunting the Treecreeper down and poking it until it produced the desired noises. All very strange, but ultimately rather sad that Lesserspot appears to have disappeared from Wanstead, long considered a London stronghold. For a while I held out hope of getting it on the garden list, but I think like cooperative birding (and, apparently, a favourite blog) in South Devon, that one's gone for the timebeing.

Oh, and I no longer like cricket.

Monday, 18 November 2013

The stuff dreams are made of

I threatened a while back, on Twitter, to blog about a bizarre dream I had. It was weird enough that I wrote it down in bullet-point form so I wouldn't forget it, but since then I've been a little busy taking photos of Gulls and whatnot. Anyhow, yesterday I had another dream, completely different to the first, and I wrote that down too. I'd be fascinated to know what they can me about my current state of mind. None of the below is made up. None of it is true of course, what I mean by that is that there is no poetic licence, no artistic liberties taken.

The first dream is about Fat Paul Scholes and his calendar. Fat Paul Scholes is not a retired footballer, but actually Mark L, a patch-worker in Aberdeen who is obsessed by Canada Geese and once made me a bacon sarnie whilst not warning me about the naked man in the dunes. That part sadly wasn't a dream, even though it sounds like it might be. And it goes like this.

Mark was in his kitchen or living room filling out his wall calendar for the whole year in one hit. Basically he knew exactly what was on the agenda for the next 365 of his life. Clearly a dream. Anyway, as he was writing what it is was coming up, I could see him writing it on another calendar that was posted to my wall next to my bed. The text literally appeared on my wall, just like that. Magic in other words, some incredible connection. Although they were crystal clear in the dream, the crucial elements of what he was writing on his calendar are now sadly missing. He used a blue pen, but I can't recall what type of calendar it was. It's not important anyway.

I watched the writing appear, not really knowing what was going on. I remember that at one point, in the summer, he wrote the same thing on three consecutive days, but you'd have to ask him what that was. And so I decided to text him to ask why he was doing such and such, and really freaked him out. And then when he wrote the next bit, I texted him again. And again. Until he was a wreck.

And then the Rosefinch hopped onto my hand. Or it might have been a Lesser Antillean Bullfinch. In fact it changed quite a lot because when I stuffed it into the really small wicker cage and took it to the Dentist it was an Australian Magpie. The at-this-stage Rosefinch was poorly and shivering, it had those horrible ticks, and quite a lot of maggots. Somehow I reached outside through the cat-flap (?) and persuaded it to sit on my hand, and it appreciated the warmth and snuggled in. I was mildly appalled by the maggots falling off it, but I realised it needed help, so I shoved into the handy but tiny cage and went off to the vets.

Though the mode of travel is unknown, I arrived instead at the local Dentist Surgery, and there found somebody willing to help the bird, who took it into the operating theatre. Do dentists have operating theatres? I have no idea. I have no idea who was there either, but I don't think it was my dentist. In any event, the bird was cured, and by this time was a small Finch again with immaculate plumage. It flew to the top of a tall white wardrobe in the corner of the room, and in the top of the wardrobe was a hot air vent, like a New York subway, and so its feathers started to all fluff up and it began to sing.

And then I woke up and started my day. So this dream, I assume, came during the early morning when I was kind of awake but not, rather than in the deepest part of the night's sleep. None of this is made up. I need a psychoanalyst. Quickly.

My second dream is actually from this morning. I am in a small village somewhere. I think it is Cornwall, but I cannot be sure. It is at the end of long and really thin peninsula, but that is all I know. Mrs L and I are standing looking into a old but immaculate walled garden, on the side nearest the village. We are birding. Together. This is how I know it is a dream. I hear a lot of birds going a bit mental on the other side, so we walk three sides of the garden until we get to a gate. I can now see the birds. In the corner of the lawn are a number of birds, and one is a Woodchat Shrike. Wow, an amazing find! I climb over the gate, and beckon Mrs L to follow. As I am nearly over, I bash my camera on the gate, and then see a flash of turquoise - a different bird. It walks through a gap in the hedge and disappears onto the road. Oh my God!

At this stage my dreaming self does not know what it is, other than that turquoise birds are nearly always good. Is it a Roller? I climb back over the gate the way I came, and we run up and around onto the road. And lo and behold an Azure-winged Magpie is there. I cannot be sure that this is the same bird I just saw on the lawn, but I don't care. The bird calmly hops up onto a stone wall, and I take its photo. I am lost for words. Mrs L cannot understand what I am talking about. No change there then - reality, dreams, all the same.

Back at the car which is parked next to the small village shop that appears to sell only marbles, the proprietor, an elderly lady, says she can no longer look after our suitcases in the shop and would I please put them in my car. It's not my car though, it's a lot older, and is maroon, but I'm busy leafing through the Collins that would normally be in the door of my real car - all a bit confusing. It's clearly an Azure-winged Magpie, and I assume it is likely massively rare in the UK. As the bird is in the road, I decide to broadcast the news, but first retrieve the suitcases from the increasingly insistent old lady and put them back in the boot, buying a large pale green marble to thank her for her troubles. Mrs L and I agree that our youngest daughter will like this marble.

I decide to type the news out. I don't know if this is on the web or by text, but what happens is that because I am so excited I fluff the predictive text and gobbledegook comes out instead. Talking to a local who appears suddenly out of thin air, I ask where we are. I can't remember this bit, but it might have been Cornwall or perhaps Ireland. There follows something about where to park, but I am already parked there, obviously.

Cut to a whole pile of twitchers turning up on foot, even though I don't know where I am, and therefore none of them could either. I can still see the bird away down the road, so none of them pay me the slightest attention, all going straight past me, Mrs L, and the maroon car with our suitcases in it. Then they all come back having seen it and disappear again. I recognise none of them, though I may have done in the dream. A few stragglers are left, and I show one of them the photo on my camera, and how I, Jonathan Lethbridge, found the bird, and disseminated the news. He nods, and then phones his mate - apparently another rare bird has been found somewhere else and they're all going to see that now. In other words a big 'whatever'. I have no idea, in the dream or reality, if the Magpie is a first for the UK or not, but either way I am staggered by the ambivalence shown. I tell the final guy that there is a Woodchat Shrike in the garden too, but he just walks away, not bothered. I am crushed. The dream ends with a group of people satellite tagging the bird, which now is bright turquoise again and has a beak like a parrot. The satellite tag is on the middle of its back, and is stuck on with black gaffer tape with white edges which means the bird can't fold its wings back in. The bird struts off looking annoyed, and then I woke up.

Any thoughts do let me know. I consumed no alcohol last night whatsoever. Maybe this is the problem.....

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A matter of light, a matter of opinion.

A few more photos, words are overrated. Keen to see if I could do any better than yesterday I went back to Southend, there to meet up with Mick, Richard and a few Med Gulls. Mick, as you will know if you have ever clicked his web page (over to the right somewhere, in the photo-bloggers section), is mildly fanatical about Gulls and photographing them. I can't think of anybody who does it better, and that includes any pro you care to name. I on the other hand have a great deal to learn about this art form, so spending a bit of time with him is always worthwhile, and I hoped to get some killer shots. The light however had different ideas, and I barely pulled the trigger, ahem. In between not taking blindingly amazing shots of Gulls, we nattered about camera settings and how today was a complete waste of time, about forthcoming trips such as Morocco and Iceland, and theorized on why some so-called bird photographers that plaster their 'work' all over the net are able to consistently take such shockingly poor photos. And why lots of other people acclaim them as amazing when in fact they are shit. A mixture of the usual nonsense in other words, highly cathartic, good to get various things off my chest rather than just tweet or blog about it. Oh.

Ah, it is all good fun really, and indeed my new moniker of "Internet Birder" has even provoked some blog posts from a couple of people who are always worth a read, and who tend to make you think. For example the words Pompous and Ass were used, which at points in the last couple of weeks I almost certainly have been (see example above, written for illustrative purposes). This of course isn't unusual, I would not be me without the occasional outburst, venting spleen. Highly correlated to periods of bank-based employment it appears. Unbecoming though, and as Gav points out, in this internet age it will live on without you if people can be bothered to look for it. Interestingly though, the comment the prompted this, the curious insult of Internet Birder (no, I have little idea either - if anything I write less about birding than many birders), has now been deleted by its author and I cannot find it. That tells its own story if you ask me. I am not going to elaborate, and like most things on the internet, it will all just drift away until people will read this post in isolation in a few years and wonder what on earth I am going on about. Very little really. Storms and teacups, the usual shite. I really must learn to keep my big mouth shut is the key take-away here, hard though that is. Tolerance, tolerance, tolerance.

Anyway, the light was awful. Technical specs can be found later on my other, nicer, blog. But suffice to say that flight shots were largely out of the question, and even portraits ended up looking flat. But it was still enjoyable, and trying to coax images out in dire conditions is always good for a laugh. I.e. you look at the back of your camera and just laugh. Oh for white clouds rather than grey, but other than this slight issue today, I can't think of many other things I'd have liked to have done this weekend. Funny how you get a bee in your bonnet about some things - an itch to be in a specific place doing a specific thing. This weekend that was Southend-on-Sea. Next weekend it could be something completely different. Even though I exist on the internet only, I lead a relatively varied birding life. A bit of this, a bit of that. And of course the key thing to remember is that my view of what birding is about trumps anyone else's. And as long as that's clear we'll get along just fine.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Follow Your Arrow

Do what makes you happy, I may have lost sight of that of late. Today, rather than drive to Wales, I did what I had wanted to do last weekend, which was to have a wander down Southend Pier and play around with Med Gulls. To be clear, I could have driven to Wales - I have a car and a map, and I've been there before - but for whatever reason today it didn't feel right, so I didn't. Southend felt right, even for an purely internet-based birder such as myself.

I don't have a great deal to say really, but the aim was to practice flight photography, which I know I'm not very good at. The more you practice at something the better you get at it, so that's why I went. Doesn't always hold true of course, but like I say, do what makes you happy :-) There were about fifteen or so Meds at the end of the pier, but sadly they weren't overly cooperative. This is because Shaun had filled them so full of bread that mostly they couldn't move. And when they did try and fly, Barry chucked yet more at them!

Still, an excellent session, and forgive me in advance for posting far too many photos of Gulls. It is not usually in my nature, and Gulls are a menace. As far as Gulls go, Meds are amongst the best. Perhaps not as good looking as Audouin's, but not too bad at all, and I needed some better images - there is always room for improvement I find. Anyway, prepare for extreme boredom.



A few Common Gulls and Black-headed Gulls as well - I ended up tracking them in even though it was the Meds I was after. Hey-ho, all good practice for the day I need it for a real bird.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Twitching Dilemma

On the one hand it's a tick.
On the other hand it's five hours away.

On the one hand it's almost exactly where the Izzy Wheatear was and I went for that.
On the other hand it's not a Wheatear.

On the one hand it is an Orphean Warbler.
On the other hand nobody knows which race it is.

On the one hand it's incredibly rare whatever race it is.
On the other hand it looks quite like a Lesser Whitethroat.

On the one hand I am free all weekend.
On the other hand so are hundreds of other people.

On the one hand I can't be arsed.
On the other hand, FFS. Can we just move to winter now please?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Pretty Pied for a White Guy

For once the Birding Gods smiled, and a bird was found on a Saturday that remained present on a Sunday. Jupiter aligned with Mars, the weather was fine, I had a car, and Mrs L didn't have a concert on. Rumours that Hell has frozen over are being investigated. Anyway, it all turned out nicely, and after a nice little doze in bed the tweet I was secretly hoping for materialised - "Pied Wheatear still present Notts..." A Wheatear, fantastic, and only two hours away too. I made plans with the Monkey and Shaun, and met up with them near the MaccyDs on the Harlow exit. I haven't seen these guys for ages and ages, so the journey passed really quickly what with all the nattering, piss-taking, birding tales, moaning, laughing and general nonsense.

Shaun tried to string it as soon as we got there, and then I made the mistake of listening to some old dear attempting to give directions to what may or may not have been the bird. I favour the latter, as it's possible she was having trouble distinguishing between Gulls and [white...] Swans. Eventually one chap near me did get on it distantly, and gave some decent directions - Get in! Would have been disappointing had that been the only view, but the bird did the right thing and came a lot closer, at one stage parading along a relatively close shingle ridge. A lovely little bird, not as dark as I expected, I can see why Black-eared got a mention at one stage during the ID process yesterday.

Decent light, so I thought I'd whack on not one but both teleconverters, separated by the small extension tube - approx 1800mm in old money, and at f11 so not ideal but the light was good. Manual focussing, and manual exposure too as the camera only recognises one, but I'm relatively impressed given all the glass involved. It seems that the resulting images lack the usual punch and definition, but it's a potentially useable set-up for sure. Nowhere near as good as the Izzy Wheatear in Wales, but that bird was just a dream!

The drive home was punctuated by a Glossy Ibis and some Monkey-style driving which saw us briefly head towards Nottingham, but we were soon safely back in the big smoke. But what's this small yellow sticker on my windscreen? Oh you bastards. Yep, North Weald Council has decided that a convenient layby near the M11 is in fact a nice little earner, and so although I saved 30 quid in petrol by jumping in with the lads, I'm contributing 25 of that to the local firework display. Took the shine off an otherwise top day out, but I can't grumble. No idea when they changed it, but fair enough, it is signed. There's dick all reason for it to be a "30 minutes max" parking area though. Well, there is one reason.....

St Lucia Birding Trip

We were staying on the west side of the island between the two peaks, just south of the town of Soufriere. Before leaving London I had booked up a birding tour for both Mrs L and myself, not because we couldn't identify the birds, but because the guides always have a vehicle and are always really good at what they do, especially birding by ear, which being unfamiliar with anything other than Bananaquit I was unable to do. We used St. Lucia Birding, and our guide was a dude called Nerious who picked us up from Sugar Beach at 6am - he was surprised to be starting this late, but I guess when I told the organisers where I was staying they rightly guessed I would be in a rather relaxed frame of mind.

Nerious took us in his jeep past Soufriere and up into the central hills, where we spent the morning looking round various sites close to the village of Font St Jacques. First stop was the Edmond Forest Reserve, which lies on one of the old French colonial roads that traversed the island. It's incredibly bumpy, and should only be attempted in a 4WD, and indeed after a few miles the road has been completely washed away by a landslide and you have to continue on foot to an old citrus plantation. As expected it was great birding, though far from easy. Abandoned, the fruit trees are still there, covered in Spanish moss but still attractive to all sorts. It was here that we saw most of the endemics, including the St. Lucia Oriole and the St. Lucia Pewee. The Oriole was tough, but we eventually got the views we needed. The Pewee was a little stunner, and gave great views. I had debated leaving my camera in the car, but at the last minute had slung it over my shoulder and clipped the monopod to my waist. Good move!

St. Lucia Pewee

Lesser Antillean Saltator

This area also had Brown Thrasher, the Rufous-throated Solitaire, and was the only place we saw Purple-throated Carib. Even late morning there was quite a lot of activity, and this was easily the best birding of the entire trip, and in interesting scenery with nutmeg and all sorts of exotic stuff growing wild. A few locals were around, most gathering flowers for the hotels (they don't chop down their own!) and one guy enjoying his eighth spliff of the morning - a big Rastafari area on the island.

After spending most of the morning here, we moved higher still up onto the plateau near Mount Gimie, the highest point on the island. Here people were growing all sorts of crops including corn and tomatoes amongst the more tropical fruits and vegetables, and we stopped and chatted to a couple of Rasta guys who were busy (in the St. Lucian sense) working, i.e. chilling out and occasionally doing a bit of pottering. We were here to look for Parrots, but the weather was against us with a strong breeze building up and some squalls coming through. No matter, I can always go back! Plenty of other birds of interest though, including Grey Kingbirds, several Blackpoll Warblers, and heaps of Grackles. A superb morning, and we were back at the hotel for a late lunch and some celebratory beverages.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Missing St. Lucia

It has only taken a week of real life to push my recent holiday into the seemingly dim and distant past. A week ago today I was still there, still warm. Now repatriated to Wanstead, I'm cold and miserable. It's raining outside. Cold, miserable, dreary and above all pathetic rain. Not real rain. Real rain is tropical, real rain is intense, it properly soaks you. And real rain is warm, and tends to blow over quickly. The crappy excuse we get for rain here just sits on top of us, gently pattering away, for hours and hours until it has killed the entire day. Which is what has happened today. After a late finish yesterday I went straight to bed and slept for as long as I could. This meant I missed the semi-decent okayish weather this morning. A quick twitch for a local Glossy Ibis, and then the skies went grey and the dreariness started. There has been no let up, so now I'm starting to get through some of my St. Lucia stuff.

I don't tend to go in for proper trip reports, but rather string a whole load of blog posts together and hope they stick. So a quick run-down, a few photos and a list of birds is all you're going to get. We booked a package with Virgin Atlantic to Sugar Beach, which is the new name for the Jalousie Plantation, and when you see the photos you will most assuredly be jalous. Situated between the iconic Pitons, it was absurdly luxurious, easily one of the nicest places I have ever stayed. I get plenty of jokes about butlers, but this time I actually had one. We managed to get upgraded without even asking to a nicer room, one with its own roof terrace and plunge pool, and hippo-like this allowed me to spend many happy hours sploshing and lolling with a fabulous view. And as we were up one storey, I could also see into the tops of nearby trees, which tended to be filled with Bananaquits and other nice things. In fact the tree next to our roof terrace was the only place that I saw Grey Trembler the whole week, as it took shelter during a bout of rain and started singing.

It got light every day around six, and dark by half five. As the light fell, so the zeets of Bananaquits were replaced by the chirping of insects and frogs. There were huge toads around the little pools (not the swimming pool), tree frogs and geckos everywhere, and some gigantic moths. This is one of the things I love about the tropics, the noise at night - it's superb. A highlight was watching a small frog climb up one of the windows from the inside. Every day we nothing to do, and quickly developed a routine. Breakfast, after which Mrs L would tinkle on her flute while I went off and took photos. The rest of the day was on the terrace chilling, or on the beach swimming, snorkelling, sleeping and reading, with occasional forays for Hummingbirds. A quick freshen up, rum and beers on the terrace before dinner on the beach. Fantastic, would that I could go every year, but I fear 2014 is so full already that I won't be seeing the Caribbean for a long time.

The resort is set on quite a lot of land, but doesn't have intensive accommodation - rather little pockets of dwellings, so you get a sense of isolation. Apart from when the guy comes to sweep the terrace, another bloke turns up with fresh ice, another to turn the bed down, another other words lots of people being lovely and helpful, but also not leaving you alone, which when all I wanted to do was wallow.

There was a fabulous beach, a great pool, and a few bars and restaurants, all set in lovely gardens. No Hummingbird feeders, but plenty of flowers. There was a really cool but bird-free rainforest walk, and an amazing spa that we couldn't afford to use. All in all it was very conducive to relaxation, and bar a morning out with a bird guide, there was no compelling reason to leave the hotel grounds, and so didn't. I found a slightly less beautiful bit of the grounds that was quite birdy, and so spent a bit of time there, but compared to the Blue Waters Inn on Tobago it was a lot more manicured and thus there were fewer birds around. Given that this wasn't a birding trip, I saw no problem with that. By far the most common bird was the Carib Grackle, followed probably by Lesser Antillean BullfinchBananaquit, Antillean Crested Hummingbird, and Zenaida DoveBrown Booby, Spotted Sandpiper and Little Blue Heron were seen daily down at the beach, and the little pool near our room had a resident but shy Green Heron.

St. Lucia race of Lesser Antillean Bullfinch, sat on St. Lucia race of beer, Piton.

Here's the list - if a bird was only seen on the trip into the centre of the island, it's in italics, otherwise they were all in the hotel gounds. A meagre 38 species, but I assure you I wasn't even trying. I even missed the St. Lucia Parrot and did nothing about it, too happy in my little pool.

Brown Booby
Magnificent Frigatebird
Royal Tern
Little Blue Heron
Yellow-crowned Night-Heron
Green Heron
Cattle Egret
Spotted Sandpiper
American Kestrel
Broad-winged Hawk
Common Ground Dove
Zenaida Dove
Mangrove Cuckoo
Lesser Antillean Swift
Antillean Crested Hummingbird
Purple-throated Carib
Green-throated Carib
Lesser Antillean Flycatcher
Grey Kingbird
Caribbean Elaenia
St. Lucia Pewee
Grey Trembler
Brown Trembler
Tropical Mockingbird
Scaly-breasted Thrasher
Pearly-eyed Thrasher
Rufous-throated Solitaire
Black-whiskered Vireo
Blackpoll Warbler
St. Lucia Warbler
Antillean Euphonia
St. Lucia Oriole
Carib Grackle
Lesser Antillean Saltator
Black-faced Grassquit
St. Lucia Black Finch
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch