Sunday 31 May 2020



Early start today, the weather seemed extremely promising, so I was out at a time beginning with a four! Ouch, but it was very pleasant indeed. Almost unbelievably where I had been planning to take sunrise, fox and owl photos from was occupied by three young hooded gentlemen. At 4.30am! Oh to live somewhere remote with NO PEOPLE. I went somewhere else and took some photos of grass - my current nasal nemesis.

Were it not for my nose and eyes, I could get to quite like grass I think. So many forms, so many angles, shades, textures. Quite beautiful really. 

Eventually the hoodies moved off, presumably to bed, but by then the sun was quite high in the sky. Instead I amused myself with the large congregations of juvenile Starlings feeding in the long grass and making a huge racket. There must have been several hundred of them in a tight flock, and it was the sound of their calls that was most striking - the plaintive whirring of so many juveniles. It seems that they have had a good year, and I look forward to the flocks of pale brown and spangly purple ones being joined by a nice pink one in due course.

Another day now beckons in the lockdown garden, you will not catch me heading off to some beauty spot. I quite like my garden, and certainly my plants have never had it so good - a regime of constant and tender care. Lots of trimming, feeding, repotting and so. My current conundrum is that all my labels have faded due to exposure, and so a number of potted palm trees that all look quite similar are now unidentified. Anyone know how to separate Trachycarpus takil from Trachycarpus nainital? No, didn't think so. I don't either.

Friday 29 May 2020

London Bird Report 2018

Look at this Cetti's Warbler! They just don't do this for normal people, but for Russ.... A photo like this on the front promises riches within.

Earlier this morning there was a satisfying plop on my front door mat. The 2018 LBR had metaphorically and physically landed. 250 pages of high quality bird-related goodness - lists,  write-ups, papers, photographs..... The effort that goes into this publication is immense, and all provided pro bono by a small band of dedicated London birders with relevant skillsets, in particular our Commander in Chief Pete L who puts in hours and hours not only to marshal the rest of us into action but to ensure consistency and accuracy across the whole publication. The 2018 report will be Pete's last LBR; we are in desperate need of a replacement Editor but finding one is proving extremely difficult and if we do not its future is in serious doubt. There is no doubt the level of commitment is very off-putting, especially as those qualified for the job would prefer to be out birding, but there it is - the report does not write itself. Ask yourself if you would miss it, and then ask yourself if you could give any time, in any capacity, to see it continue. Details on how to get involved are here

If you are a member of the London Natural History Society you may have heard a similar plop this morning as paid-up members get a copy by default. You can buy back issues but the best way to get one is to join up. I got a sneak preview online a few weeks ago, mainly to try and check for colour issues as the circumstances this year don't allow us to meet to look over a proof. I look forward to some quality time this weekend having a proper look at the real thing. 

Thursday 28 May 2020

Losing my marbles

Actually marbles is about the only thing I have not lost. Does anyone else go through periods like this, where you temporarily misplace items and despite looking everywhere simply cannot find them again? One minute there, the next minute gone. What makes this doubly frustrating of course is that I have not gone anywhere. The item in question is currently my sunglasses, and they must be in the house somewhere. But where?! I used to have two pairs, the first pair -  the nice ones - I lost in a bar in Tallinn last year. No bother, I've simply been wearing the old ones, but now they're gone too. I had been using them more with the advent of nice weather, in particular for skywatching. I had even put the eyecups of my bins down so I could more effectively use them with glasses on. Glad I bothered.

I have no idea (obviously) where they could be, and I have checked EVERYWHERE. Well, everywhere except where they are. It has almost got to the point where I am going to order some new ones, but we all know what will happen then don't we? On the plus side, I would be back to having two pairs again....

I have also lost my moth book. Like the glasses I saw it just the other day as I was tidying up a bookshelf. I had not looked at it for ages, but now that I have started mothing again I of course need it, and despite an extensive search it has not reappeared. You would think that there is an even smaller list of places where it could be hiding than my sunglasses, I mean I could have put those anywhere, but a book? Instead I am using various websites to identify things, but nothing beats being able to thumb through colour plates

An evening mothing. A mercury vapour bulb suspended over a white sheet, and then an actinic Robinson Trap. 

There is no substitute for sunglasses though. Every now and again I jump up with a shout and run off to where they must surely be, only to slink back to the dining table empty-handed. The family have been very supportive, all four of them constantly donning their shades in the garden, around the table when I come back from my latest abortive search...

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Food, glorious food

I think I mentioned towards the beginning of lockdown that food and mealtimes seemed to have taken on a new importance. Many people we talked to felt the same way, and also confessed that their alcohol intake appeared to have increased.... But what about two months down the line, surely things will have calmed down a bit? Not in Chateau L! At lunchtime we continue to query the chef as to what will be served for dinner. It has become something of a running joke. Similarly there are animated discussions on the weekly menu, and a continued keen interest in online shopping from all five of us.

Yes, we are greedy so-and-sos.

Happily online grocery shopping seems to have sorted itself now, and whilst certain things continue to be very hard to get (we find flour and mozarella to be the least likely things to actually arrive in the weekly delivery) for the most part things are going well. Our vegetarian diet lapsed a bit during the early period as we were grateful to get any food at all, but as things have got back to more or less normal and more vegetables start coming into season the variety of dishes that we can make is going up and up. This is great news.

Recipe books are pored over, ingredients checked and debated. Usually there is at least one objection to something, but democracy always prevails and whatever child it is generally manages to eat it despite their initial reservation. Whilst complaining loudly of course, it would not be a family mealtime without someone moaning. Our new obsession with food also means that I end up photographing some of it, not necessarily with blogging in mind, but of course there is an ever-increasing need for 'fillers'. And that is exactly what these are.

This is Pistachio Pasta from "Simple" by Yotam Ottolenghi, and is mange-touts, pistachios, anchovies (source of most objections), trofie pasta and parmesan

This is Green Bean and Courgette Salad with Tahini Dressing from the "River Cottage Veg Everyday" by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Tahini seems to be the most hated part of this, but courgette runs it a close second.

This is Pasta with greens, garlic and chilli from the same River Cottage book. The principal objection is the amount of chilli, One child would prefer none at all, another lots. 

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Early mornings

I am still finding for the most part that early mornings are best for visits to Wanstead Flats - for many different reasons, although the birdy reasons are diminishing rapidly. A few Whitethroats and Chiffs are still gamely singing, but it is mostly the feeding season now and whilst I am sure there are lots of birds around, hearing them and finding them is another matter entirely. It feels quiet, and I expect that my visits there will peter out very shortly. 

As well as the lack of birdy activity and passage being more or less over, there is another obvious reason for abandoning early morning visits. Sleep. First light these days is at a pretty horrendous time of day. I need to get up before 4.30am in order to be sure of seeing the sunrise, and that is not easy. In fact it is very hard, and comes with the significant risk of waking up other residents of Chateau L. And when one of those residents breathes fire....

Another reason is that I've started putting the moth trap out again, and that needs to be looked at first thing before it warms up. Not at the crack of dawn, but the sun is quite high in the sky even by 7am so I mustn't leave it too long. By the time I have done that I find that I'm a bit peckish and require coffee and so on, and once I've dealt with those basic needs the best period has passed and I might as well get on with my day at home. Plants are best watered in the cool of the morning, vents and windows can be opened to let some fresh air in, and I find I can easily dispense with a couple of hours simply pottering around doing various jobs. So long Wanstead Flats...

But on the off chance that I do manage it, the following sort of scene may await me, and it can be absolutely breathtaking if the conditions are right. And looking at the forecast there are quite a few days coming up which could be like this. It would be a shame to pass these up don't you think?

Sunday 24 May 2020

Annoyed of Wanstead

Thank you for bearing with me over California and Florida. I had not been planning to write them up at all, but with everything subsequent to them cancelled or rapidly heading that way I needed a bit of a lift, and I have to say that going through all of those waders brought a smile to my face. I am itching to go back and do it all again. However.....

This weekend I should have been in Northumberland celebrating my parents' golden wedding anniversary. My sister and I had rented a house large enough to accommodate all 12 of us, and the long weekend was going to be spent in the great outdoors and then sprawled around a comfortable and rather grand sitting room. On Monday evening I was coming back to London with my Mum and one of my nieces, and on Tuesday together with them and my youngest daughter, was flying to Pittsburgh and from there driving to Ohio. There we would have met up with my aunt, uncle, cousin and [later] sister for a few days, and together we were to visit my Grandmother, now aged 94, in her care home. At 94 I cannot help but wonder how many more chances we will have. Meanwhile my eldest daughter was accompanying my Dad back to Scotland to help look after him and my sister's other two children, and Mrs L would be in London supervising the final burst of GCSE revision for my eldest.

Well now.

No anniversary celebrations. No family get-together in America. No visiting of ancient relatives. No cousins spending time together. No GSCEs and no end-of-an-era school leavers jollity. We've seen no-one and been nowhere. Meanwhile I read of Government advisors quietly skipping off to see families and lovers, I see reports of fun days out birding here there and everywhere, of long-distance twitching, and of photos of crowded beaches and clogged roads all over the country. 

You can imagine how that makes me feel. No doubt there are solid reasons for some of this activity, and I am sure that many people have found ways of justifying it to themselves, but quite a lot of it makes me seethe. Imagine what nurses and doctors seeing this first hand must think. The selfishness of so many people is quite extraordinary. My 'favourite' was a news report of some people who had driven an hour and a half to go to a beach and were without any sense of irony annoyed that lots of other people had done the same thing. I've also read stories of people who never got to see their aged parents again because they died before they could visit, and I'll be honest here - I cannot reconcile those two things. People who are irritated that other people also felt like a nice day out, and people who won't get to see a family member again ever.

Right, deep breath.

Here in Wanstead it has been feeling quite like June for quite a while already. Other than the majesty of local Swifts birding has been scant, and unfortunately I have now turned to insects. On Thursday night we put out the moth trap for the first time this year. Immediate success with Buff-tip, Small Elephant Hawk Moth and Angle Shades - three mega-cool species to find in my back garden. Seek and ye shall find.

We've also had regular visits from a Broad-bodied Chaser that likes to rest up on a particular Yucca leaf, returning to it time and again much like a Flycatcher, and there have been a variety of other interesting insects that I have discovered whilst gardening and on whose identity I am currently clueless. Help is at hand in the form of various established pan-listers, including local birder gall-afficionado James, who was able to tell me that the really smart little bug I photographed was the catchily-named Rhabdomiris striatellus. Given I am not going to be going very far for the rest of the summer and quite possibly the autumn as well, developing an interest and gaining some knowledge in things other than birds may be one of the best ways to get through this.

Stay safe. And don't be selfish.

Friday 22 May 2020

Florida IV - Day 4 and Trip List

Day 4

Final Day! The beers had not too bad an effect, so once again I found myself at Bunche Beach at sunrise. Same deal as the prior day, however the tide was different by an hour and it simply was not as good as the ideal conditions simply did not last as long before the sun became too harsh. Nonetheless I got a few more images - given how many I posted from the prior day I'll mostly skip over these. Suffice to say that I had another fun couple of hours.

After a repeat of the breakfast and packing routine from the previous day I headed back across the Florida Panhandle, taking a different route through the upper Everglades - taking instead the road south, Route 29,that bisects the two main east-west crossings. I am glad that I did, it was a very quiet drive through the Fakahatchee Preserve and I was able to stop in numerous places for roadside birding which added Crested Caracara to the trip list. With time running out I made a short diversion to the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. This was quite quiet in the middle of the day, but several Barred Owls were calling, and there was a large Alligator in the pond at the very end as well as a Pileated Woodpecker.

I had one final look at the Snail Kites at the small bend near Cooperstown and mid-afternoon handed in my rental car at Miami International for the early evening overnight flight back to London and my lovely desk at Canary Wharf. It had been another great trip with a good balance between birding and photography.

Trip List

Thursday 21 May 2020

Florida IV - Day 3, Naples Botanical Garden

Day 3 - Afternoon

After returning to my hotel and getting cleaned up, I spent the rest of the morning having a leisurely breakfast at the local Denny's and packing up. The early afternoon was then spent shopping for my kids at the Miramar Outlet Mall before once again I could concentrate on birding. I drove down to Naples and found my way to the Botanic Garden - tropical plants are another hobby of mine and I had missed out on Fairchild/Montgomery yet again. In short it was lovely if you like that kind of thing, and as ever I combined the two hobbies and essentially birded my way around the gardens. I managed a solid 25 species, including quite a few that were new for the trip list including Ring-necked Duck, Downy Woodpecker, Common Yellowthroat by the lake and Common Ground Dove feeding on the paths. If you have an afternoon it is very pleasant place to while away a couple of hours. Other species seen can be seen on the eBird checklist here.

Tri-colored Heron

A section of Philodendron. I think this one could be "Burle Marx", named after a famous Brazilian plantsman, with the one above being "gloriosum"

After this I went shopping for two essentials. 1) Beer and 2) something to BBQ. I am mostly vegetarian these days, but when in America.... With my evening sorted I drove back to Estero Boulevard and checked into my new hotel, and with the sun setting I plonked myself in a deckchair on the beach and happily watched the sun set over the Gulf whilst swigging a cold beer. The beachfront BBQ was then fired up and I finished the day exactly as I had intended - sat on warm sand listening to the waves and having some nice food and more beer. It's a wrap!

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Florida IV - Day 3, Part 3 - Smaller waders

Day 3, smaller waders

What, you're still here? And you want more?? Well, if you insist I suppose. Ha! I know you don't and I'm afraid that cuts no ice at all. Here are a selection of the smaller waders on Bunche Beach...

Semipalmated Plover

Wilson's Plover. A much beefier bird than the others.

Least Sandpiper

Western Sandpiper

Piping Plover