Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Nuthatch photography

I've always wanted to photography Nuthatch, but rarely had the opportunity. Usually the best opportunities are at feeding stations, and it's difficult to get a natural-looking perch - I certainly don't want a photo of a bird on a peanut feeder! And typically it's quite dark as well, set low down under a thick canopy. Add that to the fact that you often have to shoot through glass, and it all adds up to why I've rarely bothered even pressing the shutter. Today though I finally got the opportunity I had been craving, and locally too! I found a bird completely out in the open that seemed to have little if any fear of people. I took hundreds of images, but have only time to show three.

The first is the classic perched shot, of the bird horizontal on a tree trunk. This view is rarely seen, usually it's of a 'classic' bird vertically against a trunk, so this was nice to capture.

The second shot is of course the afore-mentioned 'classic'. Bird creeping vertically down a trunk, with the front half of its body peeling away from the tree. There are some that say there is no point trying to take the same photo that hundreds of other people have taken, but I reckon this particular pose is one that you can never tire of. Believe it or not the bird rarely adopted this posture, but evetually I saw my moment and took it.

The final shot is of the bird in flight. You don't see many of these at all for some reason, so I was really pleased to nail it. Very tricky indeed - timing was everything, and it was only on about my tenth attempt that I managed to lift the camera to my eye quickly enough. Nuthatches move incredibly quickly - thank God for autofocus!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Clickety click click click

Finally the day I've been itching to have for what seems like months. Not many rarities around, and in any event I hardly need to twitch anything these days what with having nearly the largest life list in Britain. So, forsaking any potential ticks, Mick S and I headed to a few sites in Kent with the aim of taking as many photos as possible, or that's what Mick said anyway - he has a tendency to be extremely trigger-happy. He'll learn I guess.

First stop Dungeness which was freezing and bird-free. And I mean totally bird free. We found two or three Whitethroats and that was it. Retiring for a cup of tea we got news of two Temminck's Stints showing well at Rye Harbour, so we toddled off there. A fence sytmied our dreamed of commando approach, and so we had to shoot from high up and through the fence. Mick took about three hundred, while I only took two. Here's one of them:

Semi-satisfied, we headed off to try our luck with other Hobby at Dunge, and a few other species, which ended with a memorable encounter with a very friendly Meadow Pipit in lovely evening sunlight. Even I took quite a few here, many of which I'll post up on my other website when I have a moment. And that was it really, a pleasant day in the sunshine with no worries whatsoever. Passed a gently smoking and vaguely familiar white van on the hard shoulder of the M20 on the way back, but otherwise an uneventful trip.

Today is all about photo editing and lazing around in the garden, so don't expect too much more from me this weekend. Unless another mega breaks of course, in which case I'm going to zoom off for it immediately.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

I'm on a Roll(er)!

Not content with the Dusky Thrush last weekend, notching up as it did the big 4-00, today I have started down the path towards that next major milestone. Yep, 410 is well and truly in my sights.I was doing a spot of sky-watching from the terrace this morning when my phone alerted me to a Roller in Hampshire. A quick check of the map to determine which bit of Hampshire, and I was in the car and rolling in under five minutes. And this with two children, snacks and diversionary items. Yup, I've still got it!

Roller and I have a somewhat sad history - it remains one of the few birds I've ever dipped, a tediously long diversion on the way back from Scotland for the long-staying Yorkshire bird which chose that particular day, well, afternoon actually, to hide, reappearing in exactly the same spot the following day. The previous Suffolk bird, which all my twitching compatriots scored, saw me with a puncture and little available time. But with two gettable birds in two years, I felt my chances were good. Not that I was expecting it this weekend you understand, but I'll take it.

My ridiculoulsy relaxed state of mind when it comes to all things birding still persists from last weekend. A wader or a gull and I doubt I would have moved. Roller however, being large and blue, and generally awesome, and the twitchometer went off the scale. The journey was long and painful, taking at least an hour longer than it ought to have done, but by 3pm the girls and I were gazing at a lump of glorious turquoise. Great scope views as it flew around, but too distant for anything other than record shots.

News of a Terek Sand on the way home, albeit a large detour, had me thinking briefly of a two tick day, but the girls had spent long enough in the car so we went straight home. If it's there tomorrow I might go for it, but it scores very few points in the large and bright blue section. Instead I'm going to have a day behind the camera. I've barely touched it recently, and I'm getting a very itchy trigger finger. Unable to go out this morning, I spent some time in the garden lining up the local Collared Doves. They came out OK, but not quite what I had in mind. Hopefully I'll get a bit closer to some more interesting birds tomorrow. Then again, maybe news of yet another mega will break and I'll be forced to go and twitch it. I seem to be on a bit of a roll, so why not ride the wave while it lasts?

Thursday, 23 May 2013

This Land isn't your Land

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

Many of you will recognise these words, penned by American songwriter Woody Guthrie, king of the political protest singers, inspiration to Bob Dylan and countless others. Although written about the US, the sentiment can be applied to just about anywhere. I think it is very apt today.

I am about as unpoliticised as they come. Mention politics and I switch off more or less immediately. It holds no interest for me, and I've yet to come across a politician or a political party where I've sat back and thought "Yes, you know what? I agree with you". Perhaps I never get that far? I'm one of the silent majority, the uncomplaining masses who get up every morning, go to work and pay their taxes, and let it all wash over them. My interest lies in birds. I have other interests of course - eating, drinking, cricket, popular music, even photography, but my life is so full I don't have enough time to pursue all of them to the obsessive extent of which I am fully capable, so birds is generally where it's at. Politics doesn't get a look in, and I don't have time to be an environmentalist.

I am not about to come out with a grand statement along the lines of "Well, all that changed today", but I have to admit that the level of fuckwittery I've learned of this morning has moved even me. Sufficiently so to not only send a few tweets, but also to pen a blog post - this is unfortunately the modern way, the equivalent of what used to be "Dear Sir, I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms....". Yes, I'm so annoyed I tweeted about it and wrote my blog that six people read. Way to go!

I am not known for moaning; typically my posts are upbeat, light-hearted and positive. Not today. Our leaders are a bunch of vacuous and incompetent self-serving elite who are not fit for office. Like I said, I'm not political. So why the fuss? Well, quite simply, this land isn't your land. It's somebody else's, and you and I are not invited. I read today that something like 80% of this country is owned by 0.5% of the population. Naturally I don't wish to generalise, but those half a percent of people typically have different ideas on countryside management to the other 99.5%. To them, the countryside is a place to have a jolly good time, and a jolly good time means shooting things. I just don't understand blood sports. I suspect I never will, but to a few people it's one of the finer things in life. Fair enough, whatever floats your boat. I mean I like country music for Christ's sake, who am I to comment on what is acceptable and what isn't?

Without wishing to be judgemental, shooting living creatures isn't the most lovely of hobbies, but I appreciate that we're only here for a short time, and that time should ideally be spent enjoying yourself. OK, so you shoot a few birds, so what? It's not like you're Maltese is it? And the birds you shoot are essentially placed there in order for you to shoot them, not wild birds. Raised in cages, they get fattened up on food people put there for them, and when the time is right, normally a glorious day in August, they get let out, whereupon a small number of people massacre as many of them as they can as quickly as possible. What a great hobby, and truly sporting. I will never, ever, go on a shoot.

But here's the rub. Pheasants, being large, dumb, and tasty, are not just of interest to the Purdey brigade. Given the chance, a few of our wild birds and mammals will also show an interest. Who would have thought it? The commissioned "science" is ropey at best, but yes, Buzzards might take a few Pheasants. Not many, and certainly not with the veracity that White-tailed Eagles take lambs and children, but enough that it makes the tiniest of dents in the pockets of the already obscenely rich landowners. And that, clearly, cannot be tolerated; the Buzzards must die. Lucky then that they're a protected species.


Not content with ridiculously flimsy legislation and a pathetic sentencing regime which allows codgery old gamekeepers to act with almost total disregard for the law, it now transpires that shooting-estates can successfully apply to Natural England (the governmental guardians of the countryside, whose mission statement includes "Securing a healthy natural environment for people to enjoy, where wildlife is protected") in order to get a licence to remove the Buzzards eggs and nests. Remove as in permanently remove. How can this be possible you might ask? Surely any agency worth it's salt would simply deny the aforementioned request, seeing as Buzzards are recovering from historical persecution and are legally protected? Just like our recovering population of Hen Harriers. Oh, wait...

What you have failed to grasp is that we don't live in a democracy. A sweeping statement I acknowledge, but any political system where the Minister for the Environment and Rural Affairs is a millionaire landowner with Pheasant-shooting estates and miles of fenced-off riverbank cannot possibly be democratic. I know, I can't quite believe it either, but you can see how convenient it is for the 0.5% of the population to have somebody like this in charge. Buzzards protected? Don't worry about it, if it costs you even the tiniest amount of money, we'll sort it out. And it is all about money. A proper blogger would have gone and got all the facts. How much revenue shooting estates generate. How many families they support (about 17). How much tax is paid, that kind of thing. I don't fancy doing that, so you'll just have to take my word for it. Shooting stuff is expensive. The landowners themselves probably don't shoot much, but they can raise a fabulous amount of money by letting other people do so, and there are plenty of people, it seems, willing to fork out. If a local Buzzard nobbles a few Pheasants, or even if it didn't and it was something else (perish the thought), that's one less bottle of port for a guy called Ronald with five middle names. Many more and he could be down a Range Rover. Yep, it's that serious.

So you can see why it makes complete sense to kill Buzzards, to eradicate Eagles, Kites and Hen Harriers, to cull Badgers, Gulls, and anything else that was here first in order to preserve that income stream. And what's more, you don't have to risk getting slapped on the wrist and being fined fifty quid because now you can get a licence from your lobbied-up pals at Defra and Natural England and do whatever the fuck you like with complete impunity. Everyone's a winner!

Except you, and me, and the indigenous wildlife, whose land this isn't.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Garden Tickery

In addition to my brilliance at driving to Margate and seeing yet another bird that somebody else found, I've also been putting in the hard yards in the garden. Drinking tea early morning is pretty tough going, and as for sitting around in the sunshine listening to TMS, well, frankly I'm a modern-day hero. My dedication has paid off however, with two garden/house ticks in three days, one each side of the completely genetically pure Duskyish Thrush.

Friday morning was #80. I had been going great guns since about 6ish, and with thoughts of breaking my personal garden best (not that I would ever be so sad as to record that*) I noticed two ducks coming in from the north. Bins up and they looked pretty white, but disappeared behind some trees before I could nail them. In nervous excitement I swung to the other side of the trees where I predicted they would reappear, which they duly did and were Shelducks. Superb, long-awaited, and if I'm honest fairly likely. Whilst watching Shelduck from Wanstead Flats, on numerous occasions I've been struck (and annoyed by) the line they appeared to be taking. Today that promise came good, albeit in the other direction.

I don't think I took a single photo of anything on Sunday, so here is another of the Cuckoo at Reculver
So, come Sunday, and having spent the entire previous day triumphantly wandering around Kent, I felt that the best place to be was at home en famille. The test match was on, and heading towards a rather thrilling conclusion. The sun was out, a less serious version of cricket was taking place in the garden, and it was all rather pleasant. Had a rarity been reported anywhere beyond about five minutes away, I doubt I'd have moved. As it turned out I didn't need to. On Friday morning I'd thought I'd heard the final phrase of Lesser Whitethroat, you know, the rattley bit, as opposed to the starting scratchy bit. It was very distant, from the direction of Bush Wood, and I couldn't in all good conscience rule out a phrase of Chaffinch. I was still highly suspicious though, even more so when on Sunday morning Nick reported Lesser Whitethroat from Bush Wood. Anyway, at some point during the day I heard it again, but closer, and this time I was even more convinced. Typically though it was only once so I carried on bowling, and may have succumbed to the temptation of chilled Rosé. I finally nailed it about an hour later when I heard the entire song coming from about four gardens away. #81. I let Tim know, as he lives pretty close, and it later transpired that Bob got it from his house as well - so three happy local birders. It continued to sing in brief bursts for the whole rest of the day, and I'm pleased to report that the entire family, man, woman and child(ren) got to hear it. Not that they keep garden lists of course. And naturally I don't keep garden lists for them....

*32. I didn't top this - the lunch break I had been hoping for never materialised, and I remained on 27 with several notable and easy omissions.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Saving it up for the BIG ONE!

It could have been several birds. It may yet be several birds, but for now, and as far as I know now, today's Dusky Thrush is my 400th UK tick. And that, as I'm sure you'll agree, is a pretty big one to get there with. Before you all rush to congratulate me on this magnificent achievement, my only "skill" is being able to drive and read a map. Twitching is all about the thrill of the chase; some people take it a step further and turn it into a competition, but that's not for me, although obviously anyone who has only seen three hundred and something is a complete loser. If I look back at all the birds I've seen between 200 and 400, just two have been found by me at the point they were lifers for me (by found I mean actually found, a genuine surprise, rather than rocking up to Cairngorm and 'finding' a Ptarmigan). So, there are many many people out there, from selfless patch-workers to full-on rarity finders, who have contributed to this monumental total, and to each and every one of you, Thank You.

Of course this takes nothing away from my stellar performance. I now enter the lower-mid echelons of the birding elite, and I can tell you I am feeling pretty smug. The last three weekends have been very tough, poised at 399 but with no driving necessary at all. Today however it all changed. A chance late-evening look at Twitter and a twinge of excitement at noticing a mega message. Dusky Thrush? Hmm, not seen one of those. I wonder if Bradders has seen one? Nope, he hasn't. In fact, I later learned that nobody had, or at least not in recent memory. Plans were hatched that accomodated people that had been boozing all night, and the alarm was set for silly o'clock. Margate Cemetery for 5am, and we were the first people there!

Not really, several hundred were keener than we are - not a huge surprise for what is effectively a first for Britain as far as those funny people called twitchers are concerned. As usual the standing around held no interest for me, and so I started poking around elsewhere. And then, of course, you notice people running back past you. A quick look at my phone (on silent, don't want all those twitchers year-ticking Corncrake!) and two missed calls! Gah! Retracing my steps in a calm yet efficient manner, a mass of people are where the original line was. Some indecorous running around from a great many middle-aged men, and then the bird did the decent thing and perched right up in the top of a tree where everyone could see it. A collective and audible sigh went up, and I believe several people actually fainted.

From then on in it was plain sailing. I became the most relaxed person on the face of planet Earth. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could possibly have phased me. The rest of the day was spent wandering around north Kent in a semi-soporific state. A ringtail Monties and a male Red-backed Shrike at Reculver were excellent, with a nice supporting cast of summer visitors, but I could have seen anything and barely noticed. In a daze, pleased to be outside, totally knackered after a long week at work and no sleep, but running on a turdus-induced high. I managed to get it together for a Cuckoo, and the Shrike was of course magnificent, as they always are. 

As I type, I am still in a daze. It has been a long old road. On the 11th August 2007, with nothing better to do I drove to Oare Marshes and saw a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper and several hundred people all going a bit nutty. Roll forward to 15th April 2009 and I was at Landguard with all three kids seeing my 300th bird, a Hoopoe. The next fifty took just over year, with number 350 being a Gull-billed Tern in Devon, a crazy day that also involved numbers 349 and 351 at opposite ends of the country. Since then progress has been slower, mainly due to my lack of appetite for dipping....

Then 2013 came around and the madness took over: Shetland, North Uist, my armchair, and finally Lincolnshire just under a month ago. 399, and the next one really counts! I mused over the top ten likeliest candidates, and got it spectacularly wrong. I'm pretty sure nobody would ever have tossed Dusky Thrush into the ring, but there you go. There have been plenty of surprises along the way, and no doubt there will be many more. Except that I might retire....

Friday, 17 May 2013

Getting it wrong

I recently decided that I would like to listen to the Zac Brown Band. I'd heard them on the wireless, they sounded pretty tight, it was my kind of music (i.e. had a banjo in it), job's a good 'un. The recommended album was called The Foundation, so I nipped onto Amazon and there it was. Click. Fairly expensive at £7.49 (most of my music is so deeply unpopular that I end up buying the CDs for a few pence) but hey, I was feeling flush, and I did really want this album. A few days later it turned up, so I eagerly unwrapped it, popped the disc into the player, and pressed play. What the?

Turning over the back of the CD case, the first track was called "Solid Rock". Not so bad surely? Second track, "Come Thou Font". Eh? The Zac Brown Band are bunch of good ol' boys from Georgia that sing about Fried Chicken and other mature themes, or so I thought. I skipped down the track listing. "What a friend we have in Jesus". "Holy Holy Holy". "O Come O Come Emmanuel".


Here, encapsulated in one simple photo, lies the very real danger of online shopping.

In a way it's rather unfair, it's just too easy a mistake to make. Zac Brown Band, The Foundation vs The Brown Band, Foundations. Even the reviews of the ever-so-slightly religious one are in fact meant for the other one, and thus it gets five stars and glowing comments. Sucked me in I can tell you. As you can tell from the photo I now own both, and the one I actually wanted is excellent, properly good. So good that despite the fact they're a support act for Springsteen later this summer at a gig I've got a ticket for, I'm also going to see them the following evening at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. I booked it online, so let's just hope I don't turn up and find it's the God Squad...

Thursday, 16 May 2013


I'm currently looking at a large black lump that says 'Canon' on it. Poor spelling, and it doesn't even look like a cannon - I thought they were more pointy. It has lots of buttons on it as well, and a bit you appear to look though, although at the moment it's all dark. I thought cannons had a big hole in one end, and a bit you lit at the other, and that was it? I'm guessing it must have a use, though I'm buggered if I know what it is. No doubt it will all become clear in time.

Once upon a time I used to be an amateur bird photographer. Almost every morning I'd wake up early, pick up a camera, attach something called a lens to it, and go out on Wanstead Flats looking for birds to take pictures of. I can't tell you the last time I did that, I'm too busy to do anything but base functions. Sleep. Eat. And sometimes I don't even do that.... When I'm not sleeping or eating, I find myself staring at a couple of computer screens in Canary Wharf for like, ages. For this I get money, though this is no use to me as I have no time to spend it. I remember that I used to enjoy taking pictures, but I'm not sure I even have the cameras anymore. There is a suspicious-looking black lump in the corner of the room, but even if that did turn out to be a camera I doubt I'd remember how to use it. A real shame, as after many years of fruitless toil there came a point I felt I was actually getting somewhere. Nevermind, perhaps one day I'll be able to take it up again.

Mrs L told me I took this picture of a bird. I don't recall taking it, or even what the bird was called, but the photo does have my name in the top corner so I guess it must be true.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


Good old-fashioned exercise is not for me. I'm bad at it, and I don't have time. My poor dusty trainers. It's not as if I'm a complete slob though. I average out at roughly an hour per week on the sofa I think, and about a minute of television, if that. I walk a lot, typically carrying heavy and thus I assume calorie burning loads. Or maybe that's just back-breaking. Anyway, I walk far further per day than the average person walks in a week, and a gazillion times further than the pathetic government guidelines. Nonetheless, I would be the first to admit that a certain amount of excess baggage is lumped around my person. Mostly in the middle.....

Enter the new wonder diet that is the five-two diet. Five days off, two (non-consecutive) days on. I've tried the watching what you eat diets, they don't work. I assiduously watch what I eat, and then decide I would like some more of it, and so watch my myself eating that too. I just get fatter. I've no idea if this new brainwave will work for me either, but psychologically it's a lot easier. How hard can it be to get through a single day on minimal calories, knowing that a bagel is just around the corner? And then have several days off not even needing to think about it? Easy - and so it is proving. As I already said, the first five days of my new regime were incredibly easy as they were off days. Monday was my first on day, and it was a bit of a struggle. No breakfast, though mainly this was due to wall-to-wall meetings. A light lunch of pasta topped out at 260 calories, a miniature tuna sandwich can't have been anything at all, and I had plain roast beef for dinner which I estimated at around another 300 calories. The only slightly worrying fact pattern is that with a couple of coffees thrown in (can't give up the sugar, eeeugh) that left no room for anything green to pass my lips. Anyhow, I made it - and this on a work day when I had to have my thinking cap on, which I told burns the cals like nobody's business. Was I grumpy when I got home? Ever so slightly, but not so as you'd notice..... But this meant that yesterday was a complete joy! Poached eggs and hash browns for breakfast. Chicken, chips and salad for lunch. Smoked salmon, champagne (a minor celebration, more on this another time), a miniscule steak and a crème brûlée for dinner. I barely noticed I was dieting!

Today was my second on day, and it has been awful. I blew it big time at 9am with 250 calories of buttered bagel, and since then have had to suffer in silence. I've just eaten the world's smallest home-made (especially for me) turkey burger, a single cherry tomato, and a thimble of couscous. 120 calories? 150? I am starving, but this is OK as it would appear that I have at least 200 calories to go before I hit the magic 600. Fantastic, so what'll it be? Well, rather than waste this veritable bounty of as-yet unconsumed pleasure on food, I have just looked up what's in a glass bottle of wine. 550 for white, 510 for Red. I propose to push the boat out and open the white.

Happier times.....

Monday, 13 May 2013

Start of the week

Bar the Cuckoo, a slightly disappointing weekend for mid-May. Nevermind eh, always next weekend...... there are only so many weekends I can say about surely? The only tick in UK existence for me were the resident White-billed Divers up in the Moray Firth. They could have been a shoe-in, and were I more dedicated I might perhaps have gone, but a 20 hour round trip would have destroyed me. I've also grown bored of tweeting how amazing I am at birding, and so really have very little to say.

Today I was at Canary Wharf, and the major news, bar my massive dedication and another nearly 11 hour day, is that I have purchased some new sunglasses which I hope will revolutionise my birding. They differ in two critical ways from my old sunglasses. Firstly they are pretty much flat and so are extremely easy to use with bins. The old ones were the curvy ones which proved extremely problematic with bins, to the point where I gave up and just squinted. God knows how many Marsh Harriers I missed. Secondly, I know exactly where the new sunglasses are, which is something I cannot say about the old ones, and which precipated their purchase this afternoon. According to the sales assistant, I was the first customer to spend time down one end of the shop trying on sunglasses and then looking through binoculars to the other end of the shop. She took it very well to be fair, as did all the other punters. In fact not a word was spoken, nary a glance stolen. I guess this being Canary Wharf, people are far too self-absorbed to notice a nondescript yet dashingly handsome young man pissing about with optics in the corner of a shop. I am now much poorer, with a highly uncool pair of sunnies made, I don't actually remember and they are downstairs and I am upstairs. Paul somebody I think. Anyhow, they look like toy sunglasses, but during an extensive test were the ones which proved easiest to get a clear view though using my bins (with the eyecups retracted). Here's to many hours of successful and soothing skywatching.

Note I say successful skywatching. This is critical part. Unsuccessful skywatching is really dull, and I partook in something like seven hours of it on Sunday. The first three were on Hackney Marshes whilst watching my son play in a cricket match. The cricket was obviously highly absorbing (Wide. Wide. Wide. No ball. Wide.) but nonetheless I found time to gaze at a birdless sky. I continued doing this when I got home, scoring almost as many good birds. Not a single raptor in seven hours. I would descibe my performance as zeroic, a new word I have just invented. Perhaps it was due to my lack of sunnies. Wanstead CC won the match, with Muffin bowling the penultimate over when the game was in the balance. One wicket maiden later and it was all over. Bamboozled the poor kid for five deliveries, with the sixth neatly knocking off the off stump bail. Attaboy!

In other news, I've started a diet. It's called the 5-2 diet, I'm sure you've heard of it. The idea is that you eat like a pig and drink like a fish for five days out of seven, and consume practically nothing for the other two. I started last week, and the first five days were remarkably easy. A breeze, the most enjoyable diet I've ever been on. Today was more difficult....

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Patch Tick!

Today I got a patch tick, as in an ever tick. These are always brilliant, no matter what the bird, and today it was the turn of the Cuckoo. Everyone has seen Cuckoo the patch apart from me, and I was secretly a little worried that I might never get one, especially as they are a bird in decline. But I've scored now, and nobody can ever take it away...

I'd actually left the house this morning with Cuckoo firmly in mind, but after a few hours of aimless wandering, and having seen very little apart from a real Garden Warbler, I was resigned to failing yet again. Until I rounded the very last corner on the very last path, and a familiar shape launched itself out of a roadside tree and scooted off across some brooms. Gah! I texted out the happy news to a few locals quickly, and then headed the way it had flown to see if I could relocate it. And if I'm honest, confirm the ID - for a moment I was worried I'd been a little hasty in my excitement, but first impressions are very often correct (cf Garden Warbler) and so when I relocated it perched on the side of some vegetation I knew it was in the bag. A quick couple of record shots from a huge distance, and then it flew through and out and was never seen again.

Not the best, but very much good enough!
So, patch tick number 136, and lifts my year list to the heady heights of 103. Now many people have been moaning about how dire this year has been bar a few concentrated bursts, but I was amazed to see that 103 is a number that in recent years I've not reached until August, and in 2010 not until September, and there are still quite a few obvious ones left to bag, such as Bullfinch, Spotted Flycatcher, Common Tern and Wryneck. At this rate it might even be a record-breaking year - 113 is the number to beat, my total in both of the last two years. Early days of course, and it could all dry up very quickly, but it's certainly lifting my enthusiasm for patch birding. Which is a good thing as my 400th UK tick remains distinctly out of reach.

While I'm here, I should also say that the Whitethroat I had specifically got up to target wasn't there, so here is a photo of a Wren instead. Roll on tomorrow!

Friday, 10 May 2013

Lowering the tone somewhat

When I was wondering what I might write about today, I considered a few things. For instance I thought that I might break the mould and write about birding. Then I remembered that I hadn't picked up binoculars all week, and despite being an incredibly amazing birder, had consequently seen almost nothing. Then I thought about photography, which actually I think about almost constantly. Then I remembered that I hadn't picked up my camera all week either, and so have taken no photos since the ones of the kids playing cricket on Bank Holiday Monday. Hmm, no good blog material there then. I wondered briefly about rolling out a post on how lovely spring Black-eared Wheatears are, but that would have been about four words (Black-eared, Wheatears, lovely & are, in case you were wondering) and about a million photos, and thus would have made rather dull reading. Col over at Galley Head has spent the day birding Heathrow Airport, and suggested I write that up for him as he won't have time. I liked the idea, kind of like a guest post but in reverse, and was just about to start when I remembered that I had been called a C*** face (with a capital C no less!) on Twitter at 5.30am this morning. Now that's pretty special isn't it?

DB: Oh leave it, he's not werf it Jono.

Soothing Panda
This is very true. Just like James A the other day, my first reaction was to laugh, and in fact I've been sniggering for most of the day. Except, that is, for when I've been in meetings, which was most of the day. You see I have to work for a living, just like most people do. My chosen career may not be especially in favour or particularly worthy in the charitable sense of the word, but it's a job, and for a variety of reasons I get up every morning and I do it. Meanwhile my sweary admirer spends his day sleeping on the side of a reservoir being the best birder on the face of planet Earth. But he objects (vociferously, as above) to being labelled a lazy bastard. And quite right too, how I ever got that impression I have no idea.

So, I am now all set for one of my customary right-wing rants, but do you know what, I'm going to pass it up. Bradders has suggested, quite correctly, that I should think happy weekend thoughts (i.e. the BIG one!!) and not waste my keyboard. Probably for the best. All I will say is this. People may think of me as some kind of Toryboy (do I recall a comment suggesting I was the lovechild of George Osborne?) but actually that couldn't be much further from the truth. I am about as apolitical as they come and I view all of them with equal disdain. I disagree with many (perhaps even most) things that the current Government is doing and has done, but also what the bunch before them did. I'm not pretending I'm Mother Theresa either, but she and I agreed on one thing, which is that we both hate scroungers. People who take advantage of the system and who spend their days enjoying themselves doing what I would like to be doing (i.e. birding) really, and I mean really rile me. In other words it's pure jealousy, and twattish (and by the looks of it, deleted) comments on Twitter are neither here nor there.

Oh, what could it be?
So, with that largely off my chest, what will the weekend bring? A couple of weeks ago I said that the two weekends preceding this one, including the three-dayer, would guarantee me my 400th tick. Slavering, I would move heaven and earth to get there, and revel in the glory of seeing a bird that somebody else found. Needless to say it didn't happen. A brief Rock Thrush could have been a contender, but as I was working (note I'm not asking for a medal, plenty of people in my position) I couldn't get there and it did the time-honoured Friday night bunk. As I type this, two different Collared Flycatchers have turned up, as well as a smattering of Red-backed Shrikes and other European scarcities. It bodes fairly well, and the weekend is largely free according to my diary. Bring it on. First thing on the agenda is a Common Whitethroat on Wanstead Flats though, where I reckon I can get pretty close to its singing perch. Not to photograph it you understand, but to go through the suite of ID features....

Monday, 6 May 2013

Is Wanstead actually the Brecks, and what happened to the big one?

Think about it for a minute. We get oodles of Redstart, regular Tree Pipits, bi-annual Stone-Curlew, and millions of Goshawks - Wanstead must be part of the Brecks. Bradders Birding Tours was running it's annual Breckland tour in search of year ticks, er sorry, I mean birds that the tour leader doesn't see very many of. That's because he doesn't live in Wanstead, where such birds are nothing out of the ordinary. Tree Pipit? Had a couple already. Stone-curlew? Whatever. Redstarts? Only about six. So far. I got a couple of year ticks admittedly, as did Nick, for instance a smart Red-footed Falcon and Very Short-billed Duck, but essentially it was same old same old, but in a different context. Such is the life of a dedicated patchworker in urban London; there are no surprises anymore. It's one of the reasons I love Scotland, as I rarely see Pine Grosbeaks and Harlequins in Wanstead.

After stitching Nick up with a heard-only Golden Pheasant lifer, we stopped off at Thetford for the Otters, one of which showed amazingly, but not quite in the desired location. Instead I spent some time with a new species of Duck I'd not come across before, namely the aforementioned Very Short-billed Duck. If you're eating, or have small children on your lap, I suggest you look away now, as despite being a mega rarity it's not what you might call a looker. Otters are pretty cute and cuddly though aren't they?

Dabbling is going to be problematic. The sooner the Otter finishes the job the better.

A quick diversion to Lakenheath for a Red-footed Falcon was very pleasant in a shirt sleeves kind of way, and before long we were into proper Wanstead, sorry, Breckland birding. A singing Tree Pipit, a few Stone-curlews, a handful of Redstarts and the odd Woodlark. If you don't have time to put in the hours in Wanstead, it has to be said that a quick spin round the Brecks can be nearly as good at the right time of year, and we were able to show Bradders all of our specialities in pretty short order whilst wandering around in the sunshine in a calm and relaxed manner.

On the whole though, it was far quieter than I was hoping it was going to be. The "big one" was notable for it's absence. A scattering of Purple Herons, a few Red-foots, a Black-winged Stilt. Nice spring overshoots for sure, but not the monster that a Bank Holiday weekend could have been capable of. Should have been capable of. So I've done what all dedicated listers do, and sat around in the sunshine either in the garden at home. This gained me, in total, six Buzzards, two Kestrels, three Sparrowhawks, upwards of twenty Swifts, and my first two Wanstead Hobbies.

Basically the weekend has been all about Wanstead, in many ways just as it should be. I finished the weekend at Wanstead Cricket Club, having a beer in the sunshine. My eldest has been keen on cricket for some time now, but for the first time my daughters went along as well. It's early days, but they play so much in the garden (forced into it I suspect) that they seemed quite keen to go and do it for real. I'm well aware that it has been some time since I mentioned the kids on this blog, and that it's all become worrying one dimensional, i.e. moaning about stuff plus the odd photo, so it's good to get back to basics. Almost unbelievably they're now nine, seven and five. Where did it go? Anyway, I am still a doting (if strict, grumpy and shouty) father, and today I spent a happy few hours in the sunshine watching the kids run about and have fun. I could have pissed off to Maldon to get Black-winged Stilt on my Essex list, but sometimes, just sometimes, other things take precedence. The fact that I was well over the limit is neither here nor there. Anyhow, here's a few fresh off the memory card to show that I still have them.

Pudding, five

Pie, seven

Muffin, nine

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Ospreys, Kingfishers and Elephants

This morning was a bit of a write-off after some beers last night. The tipple of choice was "Osprey", and I am afraid to say that I over-indulged. Paying for it this morning, I wondered what I could do that would add meaning to my day. Ah-hah, I had it! I would go to a local wildlife reserve and photograph Kingfishers from a hide. What could possibly go wrong?

A Hawk and some Ospreys
Just about everything it transpires.I almost don't know where to start it was so painful. For ten though, to the woman in hob-nailed boots who came into the hide possibly eight times in three minutes, walked a circuit and then left again, if I ever see you again it will be too soon. To the fat, lumpy, green-clad dudes incapable of being quiet, and whose mission if life it was to excitedly and loudly point out the Kingfisher every time it flew in, I am in awe of your crassness. To the man with the velcro jacket who opened it and closed it again upwards of ten times in an hour, you nearly died. To all those with cameras who inexplicably rattled off a thousand frames when the bird was about half a mile away, I hope you enjoy your fuzzy blue dots and that they win prizes. To the ineffectual volunteer who any time anyone brushed the screen netting said not to touch the netting as it would scare the birds away, and yet failed to mention that shouting, pointing, stomping, slamming, waving and running might also have the same effect, I have no idea what to say. You are selflessly giving your time, and for that I salute you, but you are also completely wasting your time.

Stomp stomp stomp THERE IT IS!!! Slam Stomp stomp slam click click clickclickclick click stomp IT'S COMING CLOSER!!! please don't stomp click touch the stomp click click netting you'll IS THAT THE MALE? OH LOOK IT'S GONE INTO scare the birds THE HOLE click stomp stomp slam stomp away stomp ! LOOK AT THAT!!! stomp click stomp click OOOHHH!!!! IT'S HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!! WAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!! Oh, it appears to have flown off........


I tested my exposure about eight times while I was there, and took one photo of the bird before realising I was wasting my time and leaving. There was no way it was going to come anywhere near the hide, the entire length of the window has been covered with scrim netting with just a few blank spots (with good reason, but it is highly irritating), the distortion through the glass was nearly impossible to deal with, and the place was chock full of absolute cretins.

I hate hides. I hate the occupants of hides. If it were just me in a hide, I could probably just about stand it, but even then I reckon I'd probably end up hating myself after a few hours. We just don't get on. OK, so the saturday of a bank holiday weekend was never likely to be the best hide experience I was ever going to have, but the lack of any common sense whatsoever was mind-blowing. If you're in a hide to watch birds, especially sensitive schedule 1 birds like Kingfishers, but really any hide, surely you must realise that sitting still and being quiet are of paramount importance? And if you don't, why don't you? And more importantly, how are you going to learn?

I suppose the mission of the RSPB is to raise awareness of birds, and to have people enjoy birds as if they enjoy them then they will help look after them. Fair play to them for keeping the hide open to allow that to take place, had it been me I would simply have locked it up for the duration. But if you're going to go to all that effort, why not make it absolutely clear as to how you behave in a hide? Silence, and no fidgeting.  No clogs, and no running. No shouting, no waving, and no screaming. Or you're thrown out. Easy.

I wandered around for a little bit, but my heart wasn't really in it, and the arrival of rain was in many ways a blessing and I went home to have a good old moan. I'm a big fan of my local wildlife reserve - I'm a voluteer there in fact - and I know I shouldn't be rude about it (and fellow volunteers), but there are some times when you go there and it just seems to typify everything that is wrong with watching wildlife in this country, which I suppose is largely that the people who watch it are mostly idiots out for a nice walk. Well meaning I don't doubt, and it's great so many people are at least a bit interested, but for the love of God please please please just SIT STILL and above all, SHUT UP!!!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Birder Economics

Forget about life after death. Forget about whether we are alone in the universe. Forget about Elvis. The key question is this: How can birders get both money and time? I cannot think of a question even remotely as challenging as this. At various points in my life I've had lots of time in which to go birding, but no money with which to help expand that birding beyond a 1km radius from my house. At other points in my life I've had money in which to extend that 1km radius into several thousand kilometres, but then find myself with no time in which to really do it justice, for instance by spending six weeks in Costa Rica with a 500mm lens and an infinite supply of memory cards.

There are some straightforward answers of course. Marry an heiress is a fairly obvious one, but in my case presents various complications, for instance not knowing any. And already being married. Get a job that pays you to go birding, and pays really well? Nice if you can get it, but few people can. Being a scientist would perhaps help, then you can go and live in Brazil and look at birds and perhaps even get paid for it too, but I'd imagine that also attempting to also live in London would be pushing it. Oh, and I have no scientific qualifications. In fact, I have almost no qualifications of any kind. Winning the lottery would be massively helpful. Unfortunately I view the lottery as a tax on stupid people, and so do not play it, which means I am very unlikely to win it.

Would that I could do this for a living!
In other words, with the time and money simultaneously option essentially ruled out, it becomes very much a choice. Which is more important? The easy answer is time, because people have a finite amount of it, and you could be run over by a bus at any moment. Then again, if like me you have a family fairly deeply embedded in London and not wanting to go and live in a caravan at Spurn, then you can't really turn your nose up at money. It is necessary to have it here and most anywhere, and having it makes life ever so much easier than not having it. I have a mate than maintains I am the luckiest person on the planet. Whilst I agree that there could be an element of luck involved, primarily my circumstances are down to hard graft and sacrifice. And working hard means having no time. The reason I'm writing this is that the last few weeks have been hugely painful, and this week in particular is shaping up to be what is known as a "classic". As far as I can tell, it's been blue sky and sunshine almost wall to wall, and yet I have not been able to enjoy any of it, and after another 11 hour day I'm feeling pretty deflated. Beer waiting in the fridge will help.

On the plus side, at least I don't have a massive tick on my face. Or have to eat worms.
I'm well aware that a "woe is me" blog post is unlikely to win me many admirers from the mainly left-wing birding community, I am after all a city worker etc etc. But two things in particular grate. One is that my birding opportunities are limited to the early morning and recently I have been too tired to get up and take advantage of the lovely light. And secondly that there seem to be plenty of people out there who are able to bird all day every day without the inconvenience of work. I guess that for the most part this is simply the alternative choice to mine though. How many of them are able to just swan about in the sunshine I dare not guess, I just hope I'm not helping them do so if you see what I mean. Not that I would dare write about that of course. Once bitten.....For now, I guess I just have to look forward to the next holiday. In that sense I suppose I am lucky - there are plenty of people out there who I am sure work a whole lot harder than I do, but who have nothing to look forward to. Then again, for some there is possibly an element of choice there too.