Friday 24 July 2015

Twitching and Seething

So what's been going on? Obviously there is never a dull moment at Chateau L, but there's not a lot to tell. This week however has been punctuated by two momentous twitches. Well, one momentous, one semi-pleasing. The first was a Green Sandpiper on the deck. Although it was my 5th Green Sand of the year (following the mega-flock this spring), this one counts for way more as it was in the Park, which was a first for me, and on the deck, which was also a first for me here. Discovered by Dan Dan the Wader Man on Tuesday morning, it stayed all day and allowed for a last minute twitch. On the way there I met Bob returning from twitching it, and rather than pass like ships in the night he came along for seconds, during which I learned that its peerless finder is leaving us for pastures new! Please tell us it is not so?! And if it is, please make sure to release some extra-special waders (or ducks) from your magic satchel before you go! The bird was pottering away on some pretty tasty looking mud on the side of Shoulder of Mutton pond - our best pond - and showed very well indeed. It's number something for the Park. There, I'm that chilled these days.

On the way back from this special event, we learned of a Little Owl on Wanstead Flats, and so our date for the following evening was fixed. Never, on a Wednesday night in summer, go to Wanstead Flats on your own. Despite being two, we gave Long Wood a wide berth and plonked ourselves down next to Centre Copse, where Crofty had heard a call the previous night. A dog-walker immediately walked under the tree. Then a couple of guys with rucksacks. Then another dog-walker. It was unbelievable quite how many people were wandering around out there! Gradually it quietened down, but of the Owl there was no sign or sound, so we upped sticks and headed off for a circuit of the other copses. Halfway towards East Copse the Owl called four or five times from where we had just been. The hooty version of "yeah, piss off and good riddance". Still, on the list, despite the abusive tone. Amazingly that puts me at 95 for the year, with millions of birds still to see. I should manage 100 with no trouble at all, especially as I have practically no foreign trips planned for the rest of the year.

The seething? Well mainly that's because the Government are basically trying to kill everything that they can see and a probably a few things they can't. Bees, foxes, birds of prey (by virtue of gross inaction), badgers, you name it it's in their sights. I've signed a few petitions and written to my MP, but we've got close to five more years of this and the terrible thing is that I just knew it would be like this. I'm not saying Labour or anyone else would have been a night and day difference, but the Conservatives are truly appalling. I had planned a long rant, but as I'm sitting here thinking about it I'm just too depressed to type. Bastards.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

My life now vs my life then

22nd July 2015


"If an institution has been in involved in more than two margin call disputes on a particular netting set over the immediately preceding two quarters that have lasted longer than the applicable margin period of risk under paragraphs 2 and 3, the institution shall use a margin period of risk that is at least double the period specified in paragraphs 2 and 3 for that netting set for the subsequent two quarters."

22nd July 2009

On balance I prefer then.

Saturday 18 July 2015

Ahhh, Venice

So, this was about three months ago, but I am getting there. It is just that I have been otherwise engaged on a lot of things. The bottom line is that until somebody comes up with a way to fit 36 hours into a 24 hour day, then this kind of thing is going to keep on happening. And what of course is certain is that any birding I do in Wanstead, unless it's very special indeed isn't likely to get a mention. Oh, I just saw my first Black-headed Gulls on Wanstead Flats since early spring. See? Dull and not worth a blog post. A visit to one of Europe's premier cities, even if in May? Yes, that's sufficiently interesting (to me at least) to be worth a quick summary. 

So in early May l I went to Venice with my smallest child. She thought Venice was in Spain, but nevermind. Pasta and Pizza are favourite foods, and this made up for the minor inconvenience of being in the wrong country where she couldn't practice the language she has been learning. We got up very early indeed to be at Gatwick for the crack of, but this meant that we were in the city by mid-morning. I would have liked to have arrived directly by water-taxi, but they have unfortunately seen people like me coming and wanted more than the airfare for this particular trip, so we took the less glamourous bus option to the island. No matter, however you arrive Venice is a wonderful place, and we immediately started wandering down random canals, Tinks marvelling at the shiny gondolas (who have also priced themselves out of the market, or a least my market) and water taxis (ditto, bastards). What was within our means however was a day-pass on the Venetian equivalent of a bus, the ferries, and we more or less travelled on these all day long, which is a great wayto see the sights. We did the length of the Grand Canal, sailed fully around the islands, visited some of the smaller places to the south, and also went to Murano, the glass-blowing island, where we bought a very sweet, very delicate and very overpriced glass elephant.

This was the last aggressively-priced thing we could find, there were some extremely large things that cost the same as a car. Some of the stuff is very lovely it has do be said, but I wonder whether it would look as good at home. Regrettably I could not refind a shop window we had seen in the morning which had had some fantastic glass bird sculptures, including a beautiful Golden Plover that might well have come home with me. But it was good to have a nose around though being a weekend none of the furnaces seemed to be working which would have been a good experience for Madamoiselle.

We also did culture, visiting a glass and sculpture exhibition, the main draw of which was air-conditioning. It was a hot day, fine on the boats, but sapping elsewhere. Gradually the heat built and built, and then some immense thunderstorms developed which washed the city clean again. Lunch was pizza, complete with mozzarella aversion therapy which didn't work. Mozarella in its raw form is not "pizza cheese" and is completely disgusting to the point of gagging. Who knew? Ice-cream was promised and delivered, and we had a lovely day of simple sight-seeing. This seemed however to be quite wearing on the small troupe of animals that accompanied us, and on the flight back it all kicked off, with a Lemur fighting a Fox and a Koala for its fair ration of Gin. Not something you see everyday.

Sunday 5 July 2015

A quick trip to southern Poland

  • A two day trip with Andrew M in mid June to the Carpathian mountains on the Slovakian border, hopefully to photograph Nutcracker.
  • Exceedingly cheap flight from Heathrow to Krakow on Friday afternoon, returning very late on Sunday night.
  • Avis supplied a fantastically economical VW Golf for a shade under a hundred quid.
  • A twin room at a hotel in Zakopane was about £100 for two nights.
  • Food and drink fractions of the cost back home. Solid if unspectacular.
  • Extremely hot, with temperatures in the high twenties by mid-morning, and consequent photographic dead zone.
Morskie Oko lake


Friday: Flight arrived mid afternoon, and we were on the road very quickly, exploring wonderful agricultural landscapes in the soft evening light. 
Saturday: Early start (though not early enough) at Morskie Oko, arriving at the top at around 9am. Spent until lunchtime here before giving up on Nutcracker photography and heading back down. Explored various nearby areas until the evening, including penetrating briefly into Slovakia for a country tick.
Sunday: Even earlier start at Dolina Koscieliska, another valley west of Morskie Oko. Afternoon return towards Krakow stopping at Zator fishponds in an attempt to top up the trip list. Evening flight back to Heathrow, unfortunately landing after the last tube....

Friday  Afternoon
We found some wonderful meadow habitat whilst still north of Zakopane. Camera remained in the boot while we simply took it all in. Corncrakes sang invisibly from the grassy fields, Corn Buntings and Serins belted it out whilst Whinchats bobbed around on lookouts. Birds everywhere basically, including hundreds of Fieldfare clearly loving the small-scale hand-harvesting of fodder - crucially in rotation. Compared to an English field with empty margins, harevsted by machine in one afternoon, it's not difficult to see why our countryside is so poor and lacking in diversity. Poland has it right.  Found the hotel on the outskirts of Zakopane easily enough, checking into a baking room with no air conditioning! We had a quick dinner of monumental proportions in a nearby restaurant before retiring to the sweat box. 

Fieldfares were the default bird

Woken up before 4am by a unbelievable dawn chorus of the sort you think you wouldn't think possible, including an Icterine Warbler next to the car. We had heard that Morskie Oko was incredibly popular at weekends, so we made what we thought was an early start only to find scores of cars already in the large carpark and loads of people heading up the track at 6am! Nothing for it but to join them, so up we went. Although it was busier that we had hoped for it wasn't too bad, and a mere trickle compared to what we would see on the return journey with thousands of people heading up.

Icterine Warbler

Thick-billed Nutcracker
Great zonal habitats, with a clear band in which Wood Warblers and Firecrest thrive, and when we reached higher elevations various noises we couldn't immediately place alerted us to a group of three Nutcracker making their way through some pines. It was a long walk and a steady climb, but not one that required any particular exertion, and after a perhaps two and a half hours we reached the cafe at the top for a well-deserved breakfast. Naturally a Nutcracker appeared while I was inside ordering this, but luckily a bird came in a few more times during the morning, although not giving the opportunities I had hoped for. Instead we simply took in the astounding scenery - Morskie Oko is popular for a reason - spending a lot of time admiring the skills of climbers ascending vertical cliff faces. Around lunchtime, and with the slathering hordes arriving, we made our way back down, fighting against a current of hundreds upon hundreds of walkers. Not nature as I like it, and so unlike the journey up we didn't tarry. The rest of the day was spend trying to eke out photo opportunities in the beautiful countryside, but basically it was just too warm for anything to happen and Andrew and I were both pretty knackered from our hike.

Snuffi gets another country tick

Another day another absurdly popular valley - this time Koscieliska. We struck lucky more or less immediately with a female alpestris Ring Ouzel feeding three fully grown chicks, but this must have been around the time that my camera karked it, as the majority of images from here on in are ruined by horizontal lines - a sign of a shutter not operating correctly. I actually think the signs were there before Washington as testing my flash before I left I was only getting partial pictures. I put it down to the hot-shoe damage at the time and so left my flash behind, but every single image from that trip was absolutely fine. Clearly every click of the shutter was one closer to outright failure though, and this valley was where it started to go downhill quickly. Happily a few frames escaped, including several of the Ouzel in a nice pose when I had managed to get very close indeed. Further photo opportunities abounded, with multiple Grey Wagtails and Dippers on the fast-flowing stream. We thought about trying to find a cliff with Wallcreeper, but after a strenuous wrong turn led instead to a cave we gave up on the idea and returned to the car, once more against a steady stream of hikers out enjoying the Carpathians.

Grey Wagtail

juvenile Dipper

I'd never seen the alpine form of Ring Ouzel before and it was stunning

hungry baby Ring Ouzel

It was another hot one, and photography over we resumed birding. Bullfinch, Cuckoo and singing Rosefinch were all added here, and returning towards Krakow we headed west to the network of fishponds near Zator. Great Reed Warbler, Marsh Harrier and fishing Whiskered Terns were a highlight here, as well an assortment of waterfowl and the flutey notes of Golden Oriole. With time running out it was back to the airport, which undergoing renovation is something of a distaster zone. Also security insisted that all photographic equipment had to be removed from bags, which for Andrew and myself was particularly irritating. And to cap it all the plane was late departing and arrived after the last tube, which meant my journey home from Heathrow came in at £72 rather than about a fiver.

Whinchats were plentiful




A brief summary of the last month would be:

- a quick trip to Poland to find Nutcracker
- geting camera fixed after trip to Poland.....
desperate processing of USA photos
- doing not a lot at home
- working like a dog (a sad constant)
- in connection with the above, being uncomfortably hot on the tube
- birding

I did the trip to Poland about a month ago now, but I've since been extremely busy doing not much at all - a life dominated by work, cricket, and chilling out at home. Also my camera finally died out in Poland, and whilst I've got a couple of backups, neither of them sing to me quite like my beloved (and extremely knackered) main body. So I found myself simply not taking any photos which is rather silly. Then again it has mostly been June, and as any fule kno, June is always spectacularly rubbish on the bird front. There has been a lot going on with insects, mainly organised by Tim as part of Wanstead's BioBlitz, which has rekindled my interest in all things moths. Plants also featured, but there the limit of what my brain will absorb was reached, and I am not able to tell you anything about that unfortunately. There are plants in Wanstead, quite a few it transpires. I could have told you that from the satellite map, so not sure what we have gained there.

The birding has been dull of course, and whilst I did manage to sneak out for the long-staying Hudsonian Whimbrel, I timed my visit rather poorly and missed yet another Terek Sandpiper that obligingly turned up the following day for Whimbrel twitchers including filthy Shaun. Hopefully, with various waders beginning to trickle past, things are picking up and there will be some local interest soon. I am ready.

Poland was an eye-opener, and a quick write-up is on the way. Wonderfully beautiful habitat stuffed full of Corncrakes and other good things, an inexplicable lack of raptors, residential buildings going up at the rate of one every fifteen seconds, thousands of people out for a stroll, and some of the most dreadful food I have ever had the misfortune to have grace my plate. The Nutcrackers were present and correct, but not as obliging as I had hoped and possibly not worth a 20km hike up a mountain from a photographic perspective. Especially not with a broken camera - hindsight is a wonderful thing.... Despite its age the economics pointed to a fix, and the fab folk at Fixation in London had the estimate to me under two hours after dropping it off, and had it back to me in under 24 hours. Slightly eye-watering, but averaged across the years it's bearable, and I've got what from some angles looks like a brand new camera. Crucially it now has a new shutter which was the source of most of the ruined images, operator stupidity of course being responsible for the rest. They wouldn't tell me how many I had put through the original but said it was comfortably over 200k. And because a fair portion of the outside of it has also been replaced, all the dents, scratches, bare metal and the weirdly crushed and depressed flash hot-shoe are now all gone. All I can say in my defence is that cameras are for using in the field come what may, and cotton wool doesn't come into it. I'm looking forward to many more trips with my rejuvenated trusty brick.

I've also finally finished my Washington write-up. Even if you don't like birds or America, please go and read it as so far the stats don't reflect quite the effort that has gone into it. Day 6 has a mere 38 clicks yet includes a shadow of Snuffi. It could be that people have been flummoxed, as I have, by the disappearance of the URL following me being too slack to renew the domain name and instead being directed to a page where they could buy from underneath my very nose. Would that I had sorted it out before it expired as whilst there hasn't exactly been a rush to blackmail me into buying back my own url, getting it all working again properly has been a form of modern day torture. No idea how long it has been dead for, but possibly since the last week of June. The good news is that my feeble brain finally worked out what needed to happen and the site is back up. I can hear the collective sigh of relief from here......