Monday 31 December 2018

The Fabulous Full Fat Five

I've had five patch ticks this year. Some of the other local birders have had even more than that! I went past 150 for the patch without pausing, and I thought that this was pretty amazing. Then I checked my historical records and discovered that I've added five birds a year quite a few times. Now obviously it does get a lot harder as time goes by, so despite five being more or less average, that I have been able to keep it up is very pleasing, especially how often I find myself away from the patch. Possibly that helps.

So here are the five - there are probably separate blog posts on all of them so I'll just put a summary here.

Great White Egret
Long overdue, especially how frequently birds seem to wander around London, but nonetheless very exciting. So exciting in fact that when Tim found it I immediately twitched it from Canary Wharf. Naturally I then saw it the next day, and several days after that. And then later on in the year one flew over me on the Flats. Rarely has an Uber fare seemed less worthwhile.

Black-tailed Godwit
This was the start of the autumn of dreams. The Egret had been in January, and it wasn't until August that I got my next patch tick, and one that was the most satisfying of all. I very nearly lost the plot when I found this bird on Alex, to the point of barely being able to type. A standout moment in over a decade of birding here, and fittingly this was my 150th.

Red-backed Shrike
As is frequently the case I was away when this superstar of a bird was found by Nick. I was having a lovely time in the Swiss Alps with some friends, and constant messages from Wanstead Flats unfortunately did nothing for my inner calm. London birder after London birder went to my patch as I was taking a train to Geneva.....It all worked out though, and I got it the next morning once I was home. Long awaited, we all chose this bird every year as the next patch rarity, in fact I am surprised that we had to wait as long as we did. 

Rustic Bunting
I was in Venice for this one, disbelieving of what I was reading. Like the Shrike though I was basically on my way home and was able to snaffle it straight from Gatwick. Tense times, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Incredible, seriously rare on a national level, and up there with Nick's best finds, and as you know there have been more than a few. I should go away more often....

Barn Owl
I don't this was on anyone's radar despite being a common UK bird. Whilst the patch was overrun with Rustic Bunting twitchers, the locals were doing what they usually do, bird and chat. I was with Tony, and as we were chewing the fat movement caught his eye over towards the western end of Long Wood. He proposed a possible "Owl", but of course meant Shortie, so we headed over for a look. It was an extremely misty morning and all of sudden the bird exploded out of the wood pursued by Crows. Getting bins on it briefly it shone bright white! Barn Owl! There were some fraught moments until James and Nick has seen it, but luckily they did too. 

Sunday 30 December 2018

Man flu and the reasons behind it

Every now and again I go and do something that I know is bad for me. Excessive drinking, a large breakfast, climbing a hill, that kind of thing.  I have raised the bar this time however, and am suffering from a monumental bout of man flu. Mrs L has had it too, and is a few days ahead of me. I was extremely sympathetic as you can imagine. Do you think any of that sympathy has been returned? Do you?

I was doing well at avoiding it, and then my son persuaded me to wade in a river. In late December. In Scotland. The Highlands of Scotland. The idea was simple, place the camera directly in front of the waterfall, take a lovely photo. Fine. But I had no waders, or better still, a wet suit. In the event I stripped off to my boxers and waded in. By god it was cold. By the time I got out I could honestly not feel my feet. I could have walked over broken glass and not flinched. After that it was only a matter of time before I succumbed, and as I type this from back home in London I can truly say I have not felt this bad for ages. I am supposed to be going to work tomorrow, but I doubt that will happen. 

Rarely do I get ill, but this is a proper nasty one. Serve me right though. Was it worth it? Probably not. The light was dreadful and even catchy positioning cannot rectify that. My son jumped in after me. He remains fit as a fiddle. There is no justice.

Friday 28 December 2018

Top ten not bird images from 2018

I am still finding that it is not always about birds. I take a camera almost everywhere I go, despite the weight and effort, and the fact that my phone actually does a pretty decent job for internet-only images. I like the variety, and the skills required are very different. Harder! I consider myself far better at taking photographs of birds, but that is not to say that there is no satisfaction to be had from a nice landscape photo, or a candid street shot. Again, these may not be the best ten photos I've taken this year, nor do I think they're as good as those I took i 2017, but they're the ones that tell the story of the year, and remind me what a lovely time I have had. I am very lucky, long may that continue.

I took this photo in Barbados in April, and the small dot right in the middle is my youngest daughter. It was a magical few days – like me she is a natural aficionado of the Caribbean, instantly attuning to the slow rhythm and relaxed vibe of this part of the world. I gain so much from travel, and I want my kids to understand that the world is an incredible place that extends far beyond their regular boundaries. As such I try and take each of them away for some one-on-one time in a stunning location as often as time and funds allow. We based our short holiday around the beach at Payne’s Bay, and Charlotte spent many happy hours playing with some local kids who were also enjoying the golden sand and warm water.

 Mrs L and I had a mere 24 hours in Tokyo, part of a complicated return journey from Malaysia. Despite the short stay we packed in an incredible amount. In pure landscape terms I think my favourite one is this one of Mount Fuji, taken from our room at the Park Hyatt hotel just before we went for a swim to recover from a frenetic day, an incredible Japanese meal, and then post-dinner drinks and jazz on the very top floor.

This next photo is also from Tokyo. I took a number of photos on the day, and subsequently decided that they worked a lot better in black and white. I have a number of favourites, but this one of the roofs and signs along one of the traditional shopping streets near the Sensoji Shrine is the one that to me brings back the memories of a great day out.

This year marked 20 years since I graduated from university. Makes me feel old. To celebrate and commiserate some of my best friends from back then spent a few days in the ski resort of Zermatt in Switzerland. It was high summer, and each day was spent hiking in totally magnificent scenery. I saw my first Lammergeier, a punch the air moment, but everything was dominated by *the* mountain. The Matterhorn. Epic in scale and grandeur. If ever you want to feel small, this is somewhere you could go.

In October I surprised my Mum on her 70th birthday in Venice (it is not just my generation that travels in my extended family). Her reaction when I appeared was to burst into tears, but after that initial shock we had a lovely day walking around this most photogenic of cities. I finished the day on the bridge at Academica trying to take a photo of one of Venice’s most famous views. I had none of gear but a not much of an idea, but a bit of trial and error later and I managed this in the blue hour.

Taken from my hotel on Funchal, the capital of Madeira, I find the sky mesmerising. This Atlantic jewel of an island is a favourite destination for a bit of winter sun and a profusion of sub-tropical plants. You can see an Araucaria in this photo, a tree I simply adore for its structure and form, but it is the sky I keep coming back to.
This is the Ghubrah bowl in Oman, a vast plain fully encircled by the Al Hajar mountains. Remote viillages dot the edges and it is reached through a narrow canyon on the northern side. The intent was to take photographs of birds but it took so long getting there that  the day had almost run out when we arrived. We took a few hasty photos of the empty solitude of it and then retraced our steps back to the coast.

I travel a lot, but I also spend a lot of time out on Wanstead Flats. It is one of my favourite places in the world. There are many things wrong with how it is managed and how it is used, but at the end of the day it remains a special place. Although the land owner decimated a lot of breeding habitat, and then a large grass fire finished the job, it still has the capacity to enchant and to have it on my doorstep is a huge bonus.

I took this looking towards Mam Tor in the Peak District. I was on a raptor-shooting trip to the Peak district, sorry I meant a family walking holiday in the Peak District, and this is one of my children being awed by the landscape

A late addition to my selection this year, this was taken only a few days ago at Glencoe. The steep hill behind this cottage is the famous Buachaille Etive Mor, one of the standout munros in Scotland. I was there for a two day photographic adventure with my son, and whilst the weather was very much against us nearly all the time, we still had a fun time, including wading out into the rivers to try and get images of rapids with the mountain in the background. This cottage just along the road to the foot of the ski centre I think shows the moody nature of the glen.

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Top ten bird images from 2018

I managed to whittle a long list of 36 down to just ten, and of course now I am anxious that I have not picked the best ten. As if I don't have important things to worry about... On the plus side I have kept more images this year than last, 390 vs 320, so that is a move in the right direction. If you recall this time last year I bemoaned the fact that I had taken fewer decent photos than the previous year. The year prior to that I did exactly the same! Pleasingly I have somehow in 2018 managed to stop the rot, though I am not sure how as I felt I was far less productive. From the top ten there are four from Bulgaria and Romania, three from Costa Rica, and one each from Oman, Florida and Wanstead, which pretty neatly describes my photographic year. Let's start close to home.

I undertook almost no photography in Wanstead this year. In fact that probably goes for the whole of the UK. To those that consistently manage to take decent bird photographs in this country, hats off to you. Living in London does not help, but I have driven enough miles now only to arrive at scenes from hell that you won’t find me contributing to any UK weekly roundups. I want no part of it, bird photography in the south-east of England is a sadly lost cause to me. Maybe if I lived in Scotland things would be different, but here there are simply too many people with cameras converging on the same places and the same birds. I photograph birds for pleasure, not to get into a bun fight or to become embroiled in an internet flame war. This is why the remaining nine of these ten images were taken abroad where peace, quiet and solitude are all still achievable. This Stonechat is the rare exception, and I am still intensely grateful to the local birder who saw me attempting to close the distance and didn’t come over to see what was going on or have a chat. For me it is a facing-away head turn that makes this image, it is one of my favourite poses of all.

This White-collared Manakin was a complete grab shot whilst heading across La Selva OTS in Costa Rica to bird one of their forest trails. Somehow I fluked both the backlighting and the exposure, and it  turned out to be one of my most pleasing images from the trip for its simplicity. It looks like a complete set-up, a nice branch, a dark background, directional lighting etc, but it is nothing of the kind. At the time I was just pleased to have seen it as Bob had seen one earlier!

I don’t think I really knew why Lesser Violetear was so named. Then I took this. Like the photo above there are more than a few elements of fluke about it, sometimes notable images can be just that, but I was delighted as I did not even know this was a thing. Amazing, and on such a tiny bird too. The sharpness of this image also shows what the equipment is capable of resolving – you ask yourself why ALL your images don’t exhibit this level of detail! I knew even nine months ago that this image was going to feature in my year end review.

Costa Rica was a birding trip. I took my camera but did not expect to create the sort of situations that I know contribute to decent photos. Although the birding was full-on there were brief opportunities for photography, most often after lunch when the birding would have been slower. Of course I was slower too, and the light was pretty dreadful, but nonetheless I found some decent situations around the feeders that were generally a feature of all the places we stayed. Most of the time the perches were sub-optimal, but by concentrating on some of the nearby plants you could get a more natural looking image. Of these, this Talamanca Hummingbird stands out.

Mick and I split up and headed across the Omani desert scrub in search of birds. The sun had just risen over Al Hadd and the light was stunning. As ever the question was whether we could find subjects in the short time available in order to make the most of it. Mick did, and discovered that this Desert Wheatear was so photogenic that he had to drive up the road and get me so that I could enjoy it too. Even though I have tons of images of this species I simply cannot resist them. It perched on a rusty bit of dead machinery, the window of an abandoned car, and then this pleasing twig, but never stayed still for long preferring to be on the ground feeding.

The plains of Balgarevo are founded on a rich red soil. This supports many grasses and flowers, so for the most part the available backgrounds are green. However the steppe here is criss-crossed by tracks, and if you can somehow get in a position where you are looking straight down one of these you can ensure the background to your photo captures that deep ochre. Whilst photographing a Tawny Pipit on the ground I sensed the opportunity and shifted myself and my camera a few feet to my right so as to be able to look straight down a tyre rut. Luckily the bird remained there. I have the same photo in green, but much prefer this one.
I had a Collared Pratincole image in my mind before I travelled. If I am honest this is not quite it but I worked very hard for this and came away pleased. I would like the background to be more blown, and the bird to be sharper, but overall I can't complain too much. On the day my fieldcraft was lousy and the birds were not very cooperative. And the mosquitoes were unbelievable! 

Like the last two images this was also taken on my trip to Romania and Bulgaria with Mick, and was shot from the car window opposite a Syrian Woodpecker nest hole we had been given information on. The tree was on one side of a driveway, and the grey background is the wall of the house. We positioned the car on the other side of the road and staked it out. Sure enough the bird came in, albeit that it was very very nervous, eventually coming to the hole with a huge grub. It had been described to us as an abandoned house, so we were very surprised when shortly afterwards somebody rolled up and reversed their car into the drive! The bird scarpered, and so that one brief moment with the grub turned out to be the only one. Looking at the images on the back of the camera we knew we had done well!

Back in 2012 I spent four days on a whirlwind tour of eastern Bulgaria with a few friends. It was not a photography trip and whilst I managed a few record shots time was not on my side. For this repeat visit six years later photography was the sole reason for travelling. Sites previously visited were earmarked for more time, and one of those was Lake Durankulak which is just south of the Romanian border. This is a well-known site for Paddyfield Warbler and so on the first available morning we went there for first light. It was golden, absolutely perfect, but also blowing a stiff breeze. This caused the monopod-mounted lens – particularly the large hood - to act like a sail and swing wildly back and forth on the single point of pivot. Add to that the reeds going in all directions, and the general reluctance of the birds to ascend and sing in these conditions, as well as all the usual problems of trying to get close enough to a small bird and you can see why I have included this in my top ten!

 I had wasted the morning light on day one of my recent Florida trip, and was not expecting a midday grab shot of this Tricoloured Heron to have any promise whatsoever. However when tightly cropped to get rid of distracting elements it’s actually rather nice. A feature of almost all the birds in Florida is that they are incredibly tame and with today’s megapixels even the very centre of a frame can generate an image that is easily good enough for the web.

Tuesday 25 December 2018

Merry Christmas!

Wishing all my friends, followers, acolytes and birders everywhere a very Merry Christmas.  Enjoy the next few days, may they be full of excess, gluttony and [roast] birds. If you're vegetarian, enjoy the nut casserole or whatever. Here is what was once a lovely photo of a Pied Wheatear until I got my hands on it a few moments ago, I'd imagine the original photographer might be a bit put out. Hopefully I'll he'll never find out...

Saturday 22 December 2018

2018 - The year in review

There is still over a week to go, but I have very few birding plans before the New Year, indeed very few plans at all, and so with that in mind I am setting down my review of 2018 now without any worry that it might be considered premature. Plus everybody else is doing it, blogging does have a slight herd mentality to it at times. Anyway, I have had another fun year of birds, travel, gardening, taking photos, and errr, work. Lots of work. Best not dwell on that, I should just be thankful I have a job that allows me to do lots of the former. In fact, that I have job at all. This time next year after the country has jumped off the Brexit cliff who knows where I'll be. 

So, to the usual...

Best twitch
Well this is particularly easy this year as I didn’t twitch anything! My UK list has thus increased by precisely zero, which is somewhat of a watershed moment for me being the first year that this has happened since I developed a taste for rare birds. There were plenty of rarities I could have gone for but I didn’t, and I don’t regret it despite the definite buzz associated with this. This also means that I have avoided all of those tense crowd situations, and all the angst and crappy behaviour that comes along with that. I didn’t avoid that entirely of course, as although I didn’t twitch anything for my UK list I did make a couple of attempts to see a local Bittern. Technically these count as dips of course, and I do not intend to write about that experience again here as there has been quite enough furore. If somehow you missed it, here is the link. So what will 2019 bring? I am going to stick my neck out and say nothing whatsoever as I did not miss the UK twitching scene one little bit.

Best bird
There are a couple candidates for this coveted prize, sadly neither of them are the subject of a gloriously artistic photograph. The first was Crab Plover, which I finally caught up with on my third visit to the Middle East. The birds were miles away on mudflats in north-eastern Oman, and the whole experience was slightly tempered by getting yet another hire car stuck in the mud, but on balance these were just superb and scratched a long-standing itch. I regret not having a scope but this was an unashamedly photographic trip. Having finally seen them, now I want to really see them. For my other candidate there were no such worried – I got amazing views of Blue Nuthatch in Malaysia, so fantastic in fact that I had a bit of a wobble and failed to get any kind of image. This is the way it should be. What a bird, simply incredible. I’ve seen many brightly-coloured birds this year, including Resplendent Quetzal, however this one was breathtaking and also completely random. Mrs L and I were in the Cameron Highlands on a short break a deux, and were walking one of the many trails that cross the area when we stumbled on a bird wave. Mrs L actually saw the bird first and assigned it to the Nuthatch family, whereas I merely proposed the name “Blue”. I still remember it as if it were yesterday, where the bird was, the branch it was on, what it was doing. Truly memorable and despite the thrill of Crab Plovers the prize belongs to Sitta azurea.

Here is piss-poor shot that does it no justice at all!

Best local bird
Local birding has been confined almost exclusively to Wanstead and it has been a fantastic year here. I’ve had five patch ticks versus only one in 2017. Given how long I have been birding here this is nothing short of remarkable. They were Great White Egret, Black-tailed Godwit, Barn Owl, Red-backed Shrike and Rustic Bunting. Of these, the Rustic Bunting, particularly in a London context, is nothing short of astonishing, but given it caused hundreds of people to trample all over the patch for a week, including one gentleman who returned several times and simply could not be convinced not to walk directly at the bird, I cannot in good conscience recommend it as the best bird. The Red-backed Shrike was long overdue, as was the Egret, but my favourite local birding experience for the sheer excitement of it was actually the commonest, Black-tailed Godwit. I chanced upon it early one morning on the side of one of the local ponds and it is without shame that I tell you my legs turned to jelly and I could barely type out the news to the other patch birders. As a bonus it remained on the Alex for several hours allowing quite a few of us to connect, and is recounted here.

Best bird photo
I’ll devote a separate thread to a top ten or something similar, however my absolute favourite photo this year is the following of a Paddyfield Warbler in Bulgaria. I was revisiting a spot I had been to many years ago, but with the benefit of better equipment, more skill, and crucially, more time. I had an image in my head and for once I got it - beautiful light but immensely hard work in high winds. For the usual reasons I was not able to get as much bird photography as I wanted done in 2018, and I am gradually wondering if this is to be a permanent situation if I wish to maintain everything that I do. Work really gets in the way, but actually so does living in the south east of England. You cannot go anywhere or do anything without the crowds, especially for popular birds or well-known locations. Abroad is where it is at for me these days.

Paddyfield Warbler, Durankulak

Best trip
Although my trip with Mrs L to Malaysia and Japan was incredible, especially Japan, any year in which I go to Costa Rica on a birding trip means that any other locations are going to struggle. There is simply no contest. Bob V and I spent a week in this magnificent country back in March and in a mere six days saw nearly 400 birds, mostly exceptionally well. I’d never been on a bespoke birding trip with a guide before and it was incredible. The odd day here and there as part of a wider holiday, but a trip devoted exclusively to birds… well I have seen the light. Bob and I had a private tour with a sensationally talented guide – no minibus full of geriatrics, no late starts and early finishes, we caned it each and every day. Exhausting but exhilarating, and I want to do it again. The trip report can be viewed on the following pages: Itinerary1 2/2 3/3 4 5 6 7 8

Worst trip
Let me first start by saying that no trips are ever truly bad, I enjoy them all, and because I plan quite carefully they rarely if ever go spectacularly wrong (although had our Omani 4x4 disappeared under the incoming tide whilst bogged down on the Al Hadd mudflats I might be typing something different!). So all my 2018 trips were a lot of fun and all went rather well. Instead I have to look at a trip that I planned but did not manage to go on – Iceland in June. Everything was booked, everything was paid for, I knew where I was going and what I was targeting. And then work went and got in the way. A very important external client, in fact THE most important external party in my line of work, booked a four hour meeting for the day I was due to return. All of the prep work for this meeting was then subsequently booked for the time I was away and I could not miss it. Sometimes that is just what happens, and I guess I have just been lucky to date. With a heavy heart I cancelled my flight, took the hit, and returned to my powerpoint presentation. Mick carried on, and his blog post when he got back was very hard to go through, knowing that I was supposed to have been there too.

Stupidest moment
2018 has been a remarkably sensible year actually. No injuries, no hospital visits, onlytwo camera repairs.... which means that the stupidest moment does actually have to go to pointing the 4x4 towards the shoreline in Oman and assuming we would get there in one piece. A fail of almost of epic proportions. We bogged it well and truly, and it took an hour to get out using bits of old carpet, plants, sticks, whatever we could find. And then once we had it out I very nearly sank it again. All this with the tide rising and threatening to submerge the car, or so I thought anyway - it's good to panic. I've got cars stuck everywhere - Norway, Lithuania, Dubai, Morocco, and now Oman can be added to the list. To add insult to injury I also didn't realise that there was a mileage cap on the rental, and so added a few hundred quid to my bill. Very sadly there is no photo of this particular moment, so instead let's talk about a worthy second place. This goes to Bob, who woke up on the first morning of our Costa Rica trip having already lost his binoculars. The birding trip of a lifetime and within a few hours of arrival the most critical piece of equipment needed has done a runner. Happily they were traced to the restaurant from the previous evening (I can only assume he wanted a really good look at his food) and luckily were still there. Over the course of the week he lost quite a few things, including his plug adapter and cable (the following day), and after I lent him mine, that too. Luckily he still has his marbles....

So that's it for another year. Amazing really, they go so fast these days. I cannot believe that it is 2019 in only a few days. Once again, thanks for reading. Next up, a post sinking under the weight of bird photographs....eagle-eyed readers may notice they have seen them all before....

Tuesday 18 December 2018

4p an hour

Regular readers may know that I have a serious plant addiction. I spend hours in my greenhouse in both winter and summer. Whole evenings are spent watering, potting up, reorganising, insect-eradicating. To fund this wholesome hobby from time to time I sell excess seedlings, cuttings from larger plants and so on. What I raise from this I plough (ha!) back into it. If I can buy ten seeds and sell a few of the resultant seedlings such that the remaining plants are "free", well it doesn't get much better than that. Many plants grow from stem cuttings - simply cut off a few bits and root them in water or soil. A few quid here, a few quid there, and I might then be able to buy something different that in my tiny tiny mind hasn't cost anything. I never turn a profit of course, that would be ridiculous and mean I haven't bought nearly enough plants and seeds, however this year I have managed to recoup close to 50% of what I've spent which has been a big help. 

The hidden cost is of course time. Plants are not easy things to send, they are easily crushed, if shaken about stems can snap, cold weather might be a problem, as indeed is hot weather. Preparing plants for posting takes ages. This morning was a case in point - overnight somebody bought four small cuttings, so before I went to work I dutifully took the fresh cuttings and spent about ten minutes carefully wrapping them up, sealing the parcel up and sorting out the address label. Later on I went to the Post Office which by some miracle wasn't actually that busy. Nonetheless it took five minutes of queuing until I reached the counter. And it was here that I encountered the problem - my parcel was a little bit too thick to get through that slot thing they use. "Nooooo don't force it!" I pleaded with the teller who was doing his best to squeeze it through. I forked out £2.95 instead of £1.26 and idly wondered what I'd charged the buyer for postage.

£1.40. Oh dear.

Mostly I sell plants on Ebay. These particular cuttings had sold for £2.25, a bargain if I don't say so myself, and I had even thrown in an extra one. You can probably see where this is headed. I'd been paid £3.65 and £2.95 of that had gone straight to the Post Office leaving me with 70p. Hardly worth the effort really. But..... Ebay is a business and charges you 10% of everything you sell, including on the postage. My 70p had just become 33p. Great, really glad I bothered. Hang on, Paypal want a cut too. What do they charge I mused? Back at my desk I found out. A flat fee of 20p plus 3.4%. The flat fee left me with 13p, that was easy, but what is 3.4% of £3.65. Any guesses? The clue is in my blog title.




Yes, that's right. For my fifteen minutes of packaging and queuing I had made a profit of just 1p. An hourly rate of 4p. So much for the gig economy. I did all the work and got 1p, Ebay (which owns Paypal) did nothing tangible and got 69p. And that of course is assuming that the plant cuttings cost me nothing, which in fairness is probably accurate as this particular species grows like a weed. I did recycle an Amazon package, and I refuse to work out what 20cm of parcel tape cost me, but still, 4p an hour.  

I've heard there's this program called The Apprentice......

Saturday 15 December 2018

Twitch on!

A couple of weeks ago I found myself in New York. No accident of course, I was twitching a Mandarin Duck, or should that be the Mandarin Duck in Central Park. Or that's what I said on Twitter at any rate. And strike! Reeled LGRE straight in. Apparently I am very lucky, and people are coming from all over the world to see it! 

Well if they are then frankly they are very stupid indeed. Obviously I did not travel across the Atlantic to see a duck. I mean yes, I did see it, but only as an afterthought as Charlotte and I were having a wander around Central Park. It was at the Gapstow Bridge, which she instantly recognised from the Fantastic Beasts film. It was still drawing quite a crowd, so we had a little look and moved on. Tick and run as they say. 

Central Park stupidity

It was a great weekend actually, just the two of us, exploring NYC for a taste of the Big Apple. Masses of people, lights, cabs, sirens, manholes emitting steam, subways shaking the pavement, the NYPD and amazing fire engines. We went to see a Broadway show, went to the 911 Memorial, the Flatiron building, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, The Rockefeller Centre, The Empire State Building, 34th Street, Battery Park and much much more, as much as we could fit in a few short hours. I also paid homage to the Walter Kerr Theatre but unfortunately could not source tickets....

Monday 10 December 2018


Did I tell you about that time I saw a Beluga? And unlike most people I got a shot of it fully breaching out of the water. 

Sunday 9 December 2018

Florida III - Day 4

We spent the final morning back at Corkscrew Swamp as we felt we had unfinished business there, and that if we returned to Bunche that we would simply repeat what we already had. We arrived a little late but nonetheless full of optimism that it would be as excellent as the previous afternoon. It was nothing like it, large parts of the boardwalk trail were completely devoid of birds. We both managed to get a few new shots of different species, improving on the day before, but with the benefit of hindsight we should have gone back to the beach. The images would have been very similar to the previous day, but the countless and continuous opportunities could have resulted in the occasional special shot. Next time that's where we start.

All too soon it was time to head back east to Miami, but we thought we would check out a site on eBird that appeared to have loads of birds as it was on the way. Unfortunately the map I had did not mention that the road we were taking was non-metalled….. It started off OK, but soon reverted to quite deep sand, and a Chevy Camaro has very little off-road capability. I have got a car stuck in mud or sand on almost every single trip I have been on with Mick, generally losing us up to an hour of digging etc, and for a few moments it looked like this would be another one. But there was no turning back, to stop and try and turn would mean getting stuck for sure. I kept the revs up and by some miracle steered a path through the morass without getting stuck, but there were a few points where despite 5000 revs we slowed almost to a stop before thankfully picking up a bit of traction. Meanwhile the car slid all over the place and it was all I could do to stay on the road. Finally the end was in sight, one more deep bit and we were through! And sure enough there was a huge field of birds with precisely zero photo opportunities. More Glossy Ibis together than I have ever seen in one place, and heaps of egrets and peeps feeding in a partially flooded field. We had a brief look, examined the car for signs of damage, and then drove out to the I75.

And that was it! We stopped off for gas and to pack up the gear, returned the car and hit Miami airport. A few hours later I was back at work! It was an excellent trip that could have been a little better – regret not staking out the Owls properly, that’s three trips now where I have not been at Cape Coral at the correct time of day. The trouble is that there is only one dawn and only one late afternoon, and with just three and a half days you don’t want to spend one of those sessions on just one bird. On balance though short trips still work a lot better for me.

Trip List

Thursday 6 December 2018

Florida III - Day 3

Whilst on Fort Myers beach I talked to a couple of birders who were looking at the assembled waders. They recommended Bunche beach, halfway towards Sanibel, as having a wider selection of waders and being less disturbed. So that’s where we went on the morning of our third full day, making sure to arrive early as we had also been told that parking was limited. In the dark the insects began to bite – it was Sanibel all over again! This time we were a little better prepared and so plastered ourselves with repellent, but unfortunately the mere act of getting out of the car allowed the bugs a further opportunity to riddle us with holes. Making our way to the beach we were delighted to find a massive beach with zero people on it and tons of birds as far as the eye could see. Perfect.

Waiting for the light

I hope you will forgive the photo-heavy post but there are some days where it just seems to work. The birds depicted are Grey Plover, Short-billed Dowitcher (which was an ABA tick for me - I saw it in the UK first!), Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper, Dunlin, Roseate Spoonbill and Little Blue Heron.

The next two hours were phenomenal. The tide was receding and a wide variety of waders and egrets were feeding. Needless to say almost all photography occurred at ground level using skimmer pods which proved fantastic in these conditions, and we got extremely wet, sandy, and muddy. All worth it though, or at least I think so. By about 9am the beach was a little more crowded but overall there was very little disturbance barring one photographer dressed in bright orange who really did not understand some basic rules of the road. We returned to the car filthy but happy, and after a wash in the sea and a change of clothes, headed off for another few thousand calories at Denny’s.

Getting low. And wet.

In the afternoon we headed over to Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, an Audubon Society reserve on the edge of a Cypress swamp and possessed of a fantastic boardwalk. I had read a lot about it but nothing prepared me for how brilliant it was. Birds everywhere, particularly warblers and woodpeckers. We slowly picked our way around the trail stopping frequently as bird waves passed through. Photography was hard work but very rewarding, and it was good to have a different mix of birds to target after several days of the same fare. We spent the rest of the day here, and on finding that our entrance ticket allowed entry the following day, decided to come back the following day as well for our final morning before needing to return to Miami and fly home.

Prairie Warbler

Pine Warbler

Carolina Wren

Black-and-White Warbler

White-eyed Vireo

Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher
Red-shouldered Hawk