Monday, 10 June 2019

Jacket pockets

I am 44 years old and I have just discovered the incredible utility of a jacket. Pockets. I am converted. Having never worn a jacket in anger before (the back of my chair wears my suit jackets and has done for years) I decided I was grown up enough to wear a casual jacket and took the plunge last weekend. I believe it is called sartorial elegance. Or being a big fuddy duddy. Anyway, a side benefit to looking debonair was all of sudden finding I had loads of pockets with nothing in them. Wow! Up until now I just stuffed everything into my trouser pockets - keys, coins, pen, phone, cards etc. Far too much, sometimes uncomfortably so. This is far better, it is much easier to find stuff, no digging around, and my trouser pockets can just have my hands in as I stroll jauntily along. Muscle memory keeps returning my phone to my left trouser pocket, but in time will that pass.

It is going to take some getting used to but I will keep trying. It suppose it will concentrate the mind when I leave the house without it and suddenly discover I have none of the stuff I need any more. Especially if that includes keys. The trial run was in Helsinki on Saturday, and very good it was too. Or at least for a couple of hours until I spilled a grilled shrimp down it which mostly ruined the effect. Might invest in a bib next.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

It's just a phase

I last went birding locally in about mid-May. I realise that this is poor, but I have felt absolutely no compunction to go out. I am not sure I have missed a great deal in listing terms, but I have definitely missed out on the inner calm that birding brings, that feeling of connection with a local patch, that it is "yours" and you know it so intimately. I am not worried, the desire to reacquaint myself with its highways and byways will surely come again and I will find, as I always do, that I have not forgotten it at all and that pleasingly nothing has changed. This is typical of a long-term relationship with an area, be it green or urban. I get it when I revisit my childhood haunts; various parts of Cambridge, the village and countryside where my grandparents lived in Sussex, other places with which I have a long association. Years can pass but when I am at one of these places it is as if it were only yesterday. I have been here before and I will be here again, mentally and physically.

But as you know I have other pursuits, other ways of maintaining my inner calm, an art long mastered. That is not to say that there has been zero birding. I have enjoyed all that I have seen from the garden for instance, screaming Swifts are daily, and last weekend whilst watching the girls play cricket a Hobby cut curves out of the sky. That same day I even managed to twitch a Ring-necked Duck in the Lea Valley and saw my first Common Terns of the year.  

Anyway, to all those of you who sometimes worry that you are phasing and that this is terrible, it isn't. It is perfectly normal and nothing to be concerned about at all. Everything you once thought you loved, birding included, will return. It is there, dormant, waiting to bubble up once more.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Upper Texas Coast - Day 1

After a quick breakfast at the 24h Waffle House over the road from our hotel in Winnie we made the 20 minute drive south to High Island. First stop was the much-lauded Smith Oaks Sanctuary. This is actually quite a large reserve, with a big heronry as well as woodland and drips. Despite the southerly winds it was not exactly heaving with birds, but we had excellent views of Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cedar Waxwing and a smart male Scarlet Tanager before we had even left the car park. We paid the small entrance fee which covered us for all of the Audubon reserves for the day, and eagerly headed out into the woods. It was surprisingly quiet under the tree cover, but I picked out my first Blackpoll Warbler quite quickly. Catbirds were everywhere, easily the dominant bird – very pleased I did not schlep to Cornwall last year to see the vagrant!

Blackpoll Warbler

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

We spent a pleasant morning here walking around, including looking at the heronry which was heaving with Snowy and Great White Egrets, Ibises and Roseate Spoonbill. A Green Heron flew across the lake, but the photography opportunities were slim due to the orientation of the raised bund. It would be better in the late afternoon but it also appeared that the golden hour wouldn’t happen here due to the height of the trees alongside the water. We continued to rack up bird species everywhere we looked – Cardinal, Baltimore Oriole, various hirudines and warblers, and then Indigo Buntings out in the field near the car park. Mostly however it was a massive warblerfest.


Black-throated Green Warbler

Wanting to see what other options existed, we relocated the short distance to Boy Scout Woods mid morning. This was a lot busier with people, but also had a lot more birds. Here we racked up Black and White Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Northern ParulaBlack-throated Green Warbler, American Redstart, Yellow WarblerTennessee Warbler, Northern WaterthrushSwainson’s Thrush and Blue Grosbeak. We ended up spending the rest of the day here. As we left I was lucky enough to see a Mississippi Kite flying north. It had been a shattering day, and very hard work behind the camera, but we had really sussed out the location and knew better how to approach it in the following days. High ISO basically!!

Magnolia Warbler

Northern Waterthrush

American Redstart

Swainson's Thrush drunk on Mulberries