Thursday 18 June 2020

Still here....just

Yes I am still here, although barely. I've seen zero Blyth's Reed Warblers, zero Asian Desert Warblers, in fact since I last posted probably zero Warblers full stop. But of course many congratulations to those who have managed to successfully drive 500 miles and walk to a set of coordinates. I knew June would be like this and I don't care. In fact I am embracing it, and with new-found enthusiasm I am getting all sorts of important jobs done in the garden and the greenhouse which I will not bore you with. Things I have been putting off in some cases for years. Very satisfying. Possibly even more satisfying than the A1. 

I have still not managed to take a day off and I confess it is rather getting to me. Perhaps you can tell? In fact yesterday marked 150 days since I last took a holiday. Anyone who knows me will be aware that this will have shattered any previous record that may have existed. I lived for holidays. Oh, and my wife and children. But anyway, yes, holidays. Travel. Places that are not London. Places with cool birds, great plants, and no people. On the plus side, and this is assuming I don't get made redundant again (that thing known as the world economy does have rather a large bearing on my employment prospects and last I read it was heading south rather quickly), come 2021 I will have a monumental number of days off to take. And of course if I do lose my job I will have even more days than that, so win win really. It does rather depend on not going mad between now and then mind you. Fingers crossed.

Random photo from NY, the last place I visited that was not my house.

Sunday 7 June 2020


For many years I have maintained as an online source for my photos - a vanity project par excellence. I have not touched it for upwards of a year, and only an email warning of its imminent expiry prompted me to go and look at it. The last entry was late May or early June 2019, that's how much I care about it. Once again it is all about blowing hot and cold. Mostly cold of late.

As I had almost entirely forgotten about the website's existence I googled it as I couldn't remember how to get to it, and whilst the first hits did bring up my photos they were all on other people's websites or their social media streams like pinterest! I suppose this is rife, but if this were my living I would pretty upset about it. I haven't the energy to go and chase all these people down - so for now nice that they like my pictures enough to nab them - think positive!

This of course prompted a rush of blood to the head. I renewed my credit card and busily set about processing and uploading all my recent pictures, or rather those that I thought made the grade. That included some of my recent Skylarks and so on, as well as my November trip to Florida. I am about to go through Taiwan and California and see if any images can be salvaged from either of those two trips, although as the primary focus was birding it would seem unlikely - I might carry a camera everywhere but it really is quite black and white when it comes to quality.

I must have spent hours on it in the past - the photos are arranged by region and then taxonomic grouping - the UK and Europe, and then the Americas etc. The link is and the most recent additions are here. And most importantly Wheatears are HERE!

Saturday 6 June 2020

Green and breezy

A stiff breeze this morning did not feel very June-like and I wished for more clothes. So did the kids. Remarkably I managed to get them all out of bed at 4.30am, roughly seven hours earlier than normal, and together we hit Wanstead Flats. Disaster struck early, with a critical piece of kite lost on the way, so that was mostly a flop, so to speak. Eldest engaged in a spot of photography whilst kite flying was attempted, but they soon realised what I think they knew already - that their father is a nutcase - and went home where I found them all fast asleep again a couple of hours later.

Look how teenager-y they are!

I stuck it out in the hope of a repeat of the other day. It was too cold and windy for Owls, but the Green Woodpecker put on a brief show - I was nearly ready, oh to have been three feet to my left. Marginal gains. As it is the cropping required is too severe, but it is better than nothing, and given that in fifteen years of trying I have never managed to get anything decent on this species I think I am OK with it. It is an excellent spot though, and I think it will come good in time. For now though here is one taken with the 800mm and a 1.4x converter - the lens hood acted rather like a sail this morning but the key to using to the monopod is to have soft hands and not to fight it.

The Skylark spent a bit of time on the nearby post and so I tried out the extreme focal length on that too. It selfishly had a feather out of place this morning and due to a [hated] Windows 10 incident I don't have Photoshop at the moment and so cannot easily sort it out. Or cheat, as it is known. 

In other news I have spent the last three days shredding and filing. This is what lockdown does to you. I tidied my desk and a bedroom cupboard, during which I found every bank statement and utility bill I'd received since April 2014. After sorting them out I started to file them only to discover that files were stuffed full of things going back in some cases to 1999. There are limits to how retentive (ha ha) I am prepared to be, so barring some key documents I got rid of the lot and replaced it with the more recent stuff I had just found. This left me with a pile of paper roughly a foot and half high, and you cannot be too careful these days. I managed to find the shredder in the cupboard under the stairs and despite not having seen the light of day for at least six years it still worked. Barely. It simply refused to do anything more than two sheets at a time, frequently clogged up, and repeatedly overheated and stopped about every fifteen minutes, at which point it required a lengthy break.  As did I. This is the last filing I am going to do. I mostly went paperless in about 2018 from what I can gather (alternatively there is another stash of post still hiding somewhere...), and so I have one further bout of shredding to do in about five years and then that will be that and I can chuck everything to do with paper away and never have to think about it ever again.

Thursday 4 June 2020

The architecture of succulents

It's June so I can now legitimately talk about plants. Birds? Eh? No, sorry, no idea. Are they like Pigeons and Crows and stuff? I'm not interested in those really. No,I like plants. Generally all plants, but there are some groups that for whatever reason really capture my imagination. Cycads, Araucaria, Aloe, Agave, Yuccas, Haworthia, Echeveria, Aeonium, Aroids, Ferns....many more probably but those are just the groups that pop into my head immediately. Thinking about it a little more most of them have a very beautiful symmetry, a very structured way of growing - predictable and perfect. Here are a few casual snaps from my phone as I pottered around the succulent bed - I am wondering if my macro lens on my real camera might be usefully employed to do something rather better. Another project for the list - there is an almost endless variety of interesting forms, shapes and colours - I have a lot of plants. Some people in my house think I have too many, and every autumn and spring there is a huge amount of work to do to get everything in position for just a few short months.

Agave parryi 'truncata'

Aeonium schwarzkopf

Echeveria lola

Aloe plicatilis

Echeveria pulidonis

Agave 'Blue Glow'

Wednesday 3 June 2020

Up with the lark

I've been going out a little more, reacquainting myself with my camera. Taking photographs is one of those skills that never really leaves you, yet it all seems so hard and unfamiliar if you let it slip. You suddenly remember all sorts of little things just a little too late. Yesterday I went out again, but this time with the benefit of a couple of failed sessions behind me. And this time things clicked. As in things came together, rather than just the noise a camera shutter makes. I remembered isolation again, I changed my posture to get different backgrounds, I automatically dialled down the aperture when I was very close, I had the right sun angle rather than being too eager to compromise. In short I am beginning to remember again.

I found a Skylark singing from a post and it was mostly unafraid. Just after sunrise and by altering my position I could get a rich orange background that totally belies the geography and geology of Wanstead Flats. I managed to sneak up on a Green Woodpecker, which hardly ever happens, and I sufficiently anticipated the next moves of a Little Owl to be quite close when it swooped down on some hapless insect. There are surely blank days ahead of me, but I on this particular morning I felt creative and I felt happy. The hulking lens that was taunting me to the point that I very nearly sold it for a song at the start of the year was once again a joy to have at my disposal, and the next day that has some spectacular light forecast will see me and it out there again. I was out for four hours all told, nearly half a day, but yet once home had a full day in front of me. I just wish I had rekindled this particular flame about a month ago!

Tuesday 2 June 2020

Nudge nudge, wink wink

The Flats were all mine this morning. Well, apart from the first dog walker at 4.55am, the insomniac one with the very yappy Yorkshire Terrier that gives the impression of being desperate to sink its tiny yet razor-sharp teeth into my ankle were it not on a retractable lead. Naturally it/they flushed the Little Owl off the ground instantly. The first jogger came through at 5am on the dot, and the second dog-walker arrived at 5.15am. Needless to say they both made a beeline for where I was taking photos, but after them there was a period of peace and quiet during which I was able to get on with it uninterrupted. Lots of pretty photos later I returned home and still had over an hour before work started which allowed for the below silliness (nb you really need to be viewing on a real computer I'm afraid)...

Monday 1 June 2020

Hello June!

Little Owl. Unimpressed by June.