Friday 29 August 2014

Hundreds and Thousands

I spent the Bank Holiday weekend at Falsterbo in Sweden. The local birders would have said it was quiet. I say it was epic - quantity, quality, outstanding views. Bradders and I racked up over 130 species in three and half days, and birded the Skane area about as hard as we could. A full and detailed trip will follow when I can find the time to make the effort that a decent document requires, however for now here is a quick run down of some of the more frequently encountered birds.

There were thousands of these. Everywhere, all day long.

There were also thousands of these. I see/hear roughly two or three a year in Wanstead.

There were hundreds of these. Not all showed as well as this, but to have flocks of 20+ was not unusual in the slightest.

I saw more of these in a day than I would normally see in a year.

Easily hundreds of these

The slight downside was that it was very windy throughout my stay, which made hearing migrants difficult, and meant that stuff tended to keep low.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Kingbird Highway to Rome via Wanstead

I birded Wanstead on Saturday, although that mightn't be hugely apparent from the title. Autumn has started. I know this as Nick told me, so I came out and had a look. It was great, so good I've been out twice this week. Whinchat, Wheatear, Reed Warbler, Med Gull, Garden Warbler - it has definitely started, and I hope to enjoy more of it. I'm inspired to go birding again, and there is lots planned - and I mean lots. 

Sunday was another early start. 4.15am to be exact. Hard, in other words. Hard to get up, hard to believe I was doing it again. I enjoy it, I tell myself. And I do, but sometimes I enjoy my bed too, and after a wedding reception the prior evening, another three hours would have been spot on. But no, and anyway, I could snooze on the plane, could I not? Well, as it happened, no I couldn't. The reason? Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufmann. Now an established author and highly respected birder in the US, this book details his birding coming of age as he hitched back and forth across the US in the mid seventies, and it's wonderful. I'd read it before of course, but as I cosied up in the lounge with a coffee and several mini pain au chocolats, it was immediately obvious that the sleep wasn't going to happen. Oh well, another shattering weekend.

We landed right on time, but Rome airport was a fiasco. This was no problem, as it gave me more time to read my book, and I closed on about page 150, probably about a third of the way through his "Big Year", leaving him at the Dry Tortugas. Had I been at home it's entirely possible I would have been caught up in the moment and booked a ticket to Arizona there and then, so perhaps it was for the best that I was on the Leonardo Express into Termini, Rome's central railway station. Whilst my french is good, my german passable, and my spanish so-so, my italian is non existent. I'll just wave my hands around, I figured, and mostly it worked. 

I exited onto wide streets, a huge church almost immediately in front of me. And do you know what? I went in it. Yes I, JL, set foot in a church. I actually also briefly set foot in a London church a few weeks ago, but that was just to pick Mrs L up. This church I walked into of my own volition, and I was quite transfixed, for churches in Rome are different somehow. They are grander, more opulent, seeped in age and history. I read not a single information board, it's not my style. I merely wandered, looked and listened. And was largely amazed.

Il Papa had very rudely gone to Korea. Snuffi disappointed.

Shortly after I took this, this guy jumped through a hoop and planted a custard pie in the face of a Carabinieri

The renowned Renaissance sculptor Panasonic
It's a real walking city, and I walked my little legs off. A meandering route via a leisurely lunch, the Pantheon to take photos of people taking photos, various churches, the Castello Sant'Angelo, St Peter's Square, the Gieuseppe Garibali monument, the Tiber, some palace or other, the Forum, the Colosseum.....the list is basically endless and I saw barely a fraction of it. A real walking city, stunning in every respect, I loved every second of my visit and need to go back as soon as possible. Binoculars? Not a chance. 



How could I resist?
Back in the US, the protagonist had moved on to High Island in Texas. I need to follow him there is essentially my thinking at this point. It's such a good book. Kerouac meets Dylan meets Mark Cocker. It makes you want to travel, it makes you want to go birding, it lights in you the flame of discovery and of adventure. He ate catfood, and spent less than $1000 in the entire year to rack up what was at that time the second highest ABA yearlist ever, possibly even the highest depending on whether Baja is counted or not. I finished it on the return flight and almost want to read it again straight away. But I have plenty of other things on my kindle that I ought to get through. The advantage of so much time commuting and travelling is that I get time to read, one of life's genuine pleasures.

The eternal city

Monday 18 August 2014


It has been a long time since I wrote anything here, possibly the longest barren period ever as I am not known for being quiet. But events have simply overtaken me – I like to be busy as I am sure you know, but recently it has been a new level of busy and something had to give. This time it appears to have been blogging, but as I suspected, the world did not end.  It’s all a bit of fun, I am under no illusions that it is remotely important. But I am certain that you are all dying to know what has been happening. Well, sorry, I’m going to tell you anyway, but I am going to do it rapidly so that I can get back to the here and now that is birding in Wanstead – remarkably I have actually done some and it was rather good. I also rather enjoyed it and need/want to do more of it. Back to basics really.

Anyhow, since Finland it has been completely frenetic. Manic. Mainly, and entirely normally, it has been non-Wanstead based, and involved four distinct blocks of time in four distinct places. The first of these was Berlin, where I and, shock horror, Mrs L, managed a weekend break together in the German capital. Jawohl! I have never been, and whilst it isn’t Paris or Venice, it was certainly extremely interesting, and contained much beer. Not that we drank much of it, we were too tired, and what we really needed was a weekend doing nothing much in Wanstead. Really ought to try that someday....

The sinking of the Bismarck

We did lots of cool things like eating lunch at the Reichstag, visiting bits of Wall, seeing Checkpoint Charlie, and then going straight on and around the corner to the station whilst repeatedly asking each other if we had any pets, which both us of know we do not. I should mention at this point that we were, and continue to be, childless - the children are summering in higher latitudes. Well, were at that point. They are now summering on the English riviera, also without us. So a very pleasant little break a deux, which rarely happens.

We have also all been to the Outer Hebrides, although I managed to squeeze a Black-winged Pratincole in before we left. Pratincoles, in case you did not know, are ace. Sensational in fact. Part Bee-eater, part Tern, a dash of Wader and sprinkling of Sandgrouse all add up to a pretty fabulous bird. Black-winged, Collared, Oriental, it matters not. If you get the opportunity to go and see one, leave immediately. This was my fourth, and second of this species. The first was back in the formative and higher quality days of this blog, and took two attempts. When I did see it, I am pretty sure it was just sat on the ground doing nothing. This is not how Pratincoles should be seen. They should be seen hawking serenely and majestically for insects, which is what the bird in Cambridgeshire did, and made all the better for the fact that I was viewing it all of twenty yards from my parked car as it flew above the heads of about 20 oblivious birders, all of whom had walked at least two miles to not see it do this, and had another two miles to get back. I think they all got on it eventually, but not before it had completed an epic 15 minute sally.

Quality post ruined by Stonechat, one of the only post photos I took
So, the Hebrides. Once again harking back to the past, I had vowed on first setting foot on North Uist and Berneray that I would come back with the family. I had been there to see the Harlequin Duck, and the overall quality of the twitch was so ridiculously high that I felt they had to see it too. The island, not the duck. With the kiddos already in Scotland, it was the work of moments to swing by from London and pick them up, and so the Saturday before last we very nearly instantaneously found ourselves at the port of Uig on Skye waiting for the ferry across to Lochmaddy on North Uist. The journey was very smooth, with added Manxies, and pretty soon we were staring out at the Atlantic from one of the very best beaches on the planet. We did very little during the five days we were there. Walks, more walks, looking at seals, some moderate birding, and when it rained, lots of Loom Bands. It was desperately hard work if the truth be told, and we all enjoyed it hugely, including the stunning drive back across Skye and the Highlands to Fife. From there I commuted to Glasgow for a couple of days, and then drove back to London directly from the office there, the family having picked me up. 


So home again, finally. To have a big rest you might think.....No. Some feverish repacking, and the kids and Mrs L are off to the Isle of Wight, presumably to twitch the Bee-eaters. Meanwhile I went to a wedding, and then, as I have not done much travelling recently, Rome. I've never been to Rome before, and I need to go again as soon as possible as it was amazing. I am not typically one for culture and fine art, but I found myself wandering in awe around immense and brooding churches, looking at old bits of buildings, examining frescos..... Who are you and what have you done with Jono you might ask. Well you might, it's incredible. More in the next post....

Sunday 3 August 2014

Running round Helsinki in the middle of the night

I am not entirely sure where this idea came from, but last weekend I found myself tramping round Helsinki in the middle of the night. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but at 2am in the centre of a misty reedbed somewhere north of town, beating highly irritating mozzies away, I began to question my sanity. I attempted sleep on a viewing platform, but the insects and cold mist put paid to that fairly rapidly. Instead I carried on along the boardwalk to the island of Lammassaari. Here there were even more mosquitos, so I went back to the reedbed after stumbling along a narrow circular path between millions of Finnish summer houses. I amused myself by singing that Monty Python song over and over again.

Backtrack a bit, why was I in a reedbed? Well it was so as to a) be in prime position as the sun came up and b) to save money and not pay for a hotel. Reedbed free, hotel €100. Easy, reedbed every time, even though the standard of comfort wasn't quite as good. I'd arrived very late anyway, the airport bus hadn't dropped me off until about 1am, and I figured that dawn came early. And also, reedbeds in the middle of the night are pretty cool, all sorts of wonderful noises. Post bus, somehow I had managed to find my way to the shore of Old Town Bay, otherwise known as Vanhankaupunginlahti. I stuck to Old Town Bay.....

Dawn was simply incredible. I had found my way to a hide that faced out onto a pool. If I have experienced a cooler sunrise, I cannot remember it at the moment. As the sun grew in the sky, so the mist seemed to increase. Various birds floated past and there was an ethereal quality about the whole place. Sedge Warblers, Bearded Tits, Water Rail and Reed Buntings provided the soundtrack to a simply glorious scene. It merits photographs, even though photographs do not, cannot, do it justice. You had to have been there. But it was just me and the birds.

Finland, Finland, Finland

The country where I want to be

Pony trekking or camping

Or just watching Caspian Terns

The final bird is of course very special. Can you recognise it? Of course you can, it's a monstrous Caspian Tern, the biggest of the genus, and all mine that morning as it went for an early morning fish. I really lucked out on this shot. Then again, it was kind of what I was aiming for, and despite zero sleep it all worked out. The sun rose steadily and by 5.30am it was broad daylight, albeit with some warmth still to the quality of the light. The small birds were by now out in force, and I was surprised to see Fieldfare moving through.

You're so near to Russia

So far from Japan

Quite a long way from Cairo

After exhausting the possibilities of the hide I decided I would walk around Vanhankaupunginlahti - there is a path that takes in several Lintutorni (bird observation towers), an Arboretum, and lots of interesting habitat along the way. What I had failed to consider was that it was miles and miles, I was knackered, and that Finland has been experiencing a heatwave of epic proportions. By 9am it was probably approaching 30 degrees, and my pace became slower and slower. I had water, but it made little difference, and by 11am or so, and approaching town again, I caved and limped to a tube station for the by then short hop into the centre. My hotel for Saturday night took one look at me and decided I would be much better off in my room than as "advertising" in the lobby for the next three hours, and thus an early check-in was mine. A short swim in the rooftop pool followed by a fantastic siesta sorted me right out, and by late afternoon I was ready to hit Helsinki. And let me tell you that Helsinki on a warm Saturday evening is absolutely buzzing. 

This tram isn't particularly buzzing admittedly, but you don't need photos of lovely Finnish women who are several sheets to the wind.
Despite the obscene cost of alcohol, the Finns drink like I have never seen (Shetland evenings not included...). There was a craft beer festival in the main square, and it seemed people had probably been there all day. I found a nice place to have dinner, Arctic Char being the dish of choice, and then continued my wander around town watching people get increasingly drunk. I must be some kind of old fuddy duddy, as I had no interest in this whatsoever, and so returned unblemished to my hotel and had the kind of sleep I can only dream of. 

The next morning as I walked into town to catch the airport bus the full extent of the carnage of the night before became apparent. The central square that surrounds the train station was a war zone, and needed likely several weeks for a clean up operation. In some corners, drinking still continued. Unbelievable. Perhaps London is no different, but come on! Bodies everywhere. On verges, under bushes, on steps. What these people need is a good reedbed for the night. 

Lots of miles from Vietnam

Altogether now, Finland forever!