Friday 31 July 2020

Nocmig tribulations

In summary it has been a trying time. Let me briefly outline the last week:

Night 1: External microphone not plugged in properly
Night 2: External microphone plugged in but not switched on
Night 3: Heavy rain
Night 4: External microphone operating, however wrong settings on recorder, too faint
Night 5: Everything switched on (I think!), settings perfect, however no birds at all
Night 6: Party!!
Night 7: Read on.....

You would be forgiven for thinking that I am hopeless so-and-so, but honestly..... I could not have predicted the local party could I? It went on until about 2am and I recorded all of it. Happy young voices. Shrieks and laughter, and clear evidence of karaoke - Abba and the Jackson Five were perhaps the most memorable. As far as nocmig goes a complete write off, I couldn't even hear the A12, but as long as they had fun eh? To be fair it is relatively rare that something like happens, it is only the second time in July...

I poked my head out of the window last night before I went to bed. Nothing. Complete silence. Well, let me qualify that. No shrill voices and no thumping bass. Helicopters, traffic, sirens, foxes and cats - all present and correct and doing their level best to ensure that any and all passing birds were drowned out. But they could not disguise the Little Owl that called at one minute past midnight.

I was actually awake, tossing and turning in the heat. It was one of those moments that I hope to repeat out on Wanstead Flats this coming autumn with a single uncertain call recorded and nailed for posterity. Oooh, was that an Owl? Then a motorbike with a lawnmower for an engine kicked off and that was that, but that did at least allow me to quickly find the right spot on the recording in the morning. I've recorded Little Owl before whilst sound asleep, so this inks it in so to speak.

As I type it is above 30 degrees at 7pm so I suspect that tonight may be another hard one. I still need Tawny Owl....

Thursday 30 July 2020

Garden fireworks

Welcome to my gardening blog. Back in 2018 I went to Madeira for a short winter break. The purpose of my visit was largely to ogle plants - both in botanic gardens but also those growing wild on the levadas and hillsides, and I came away very satisfied. I also came away with slightly heavier luggage, as I brought back various things with me. Included were several Agapanthus rhizomes, some of which I bought in the covered market in Funchal, and some of which came from an enterprising villager along a levada in Ribeira Frio. When I got home I carefully planted them in pots, and it wasn't long before small amounts of green began to poke out. I chose two at random to plant outside later that summer, and when they sailed through the winter unscathed I planted five more out in 2019 and from then on left all the remaining pots outside. I'm hedging my bets. For those of you wondering what on earth Agapanthus are, you may know them as Lily of the Nile. Or even if you don't know either name you may recognise these.

They abound in Madeira, they are literally everywhere. As you can see they come in two flavours - white and a purpley blue. I had no idea what mine were. Fast forward to summer 2020. Of the ten plants that I have, three remain in pots and seven are in the ground. All of the plants in pots are now flowering, and by some bizarre coincidence they are all blue. Of the ones in the ground, six are flowering and they are all white bar one. This is not to do with soil acidity as with some species, it is just a stunning coincidence. Anyway I am very pleased - it has been a multi-year wait - Agapanthus without flowers are pretty pointless, but now that they are out they look superb.

They look like garden fireworks, bursting up through the foliage of other plants to explode in a huge ball of colour. My hope is that they will now flower every year - the bees here seem to like them and they lend a touch of the exotic to the flower beds. Now that I mostly know what I have I may move them around a bit so that I can have a mixed explosion of colour just like that Madeiran hillside in the first photo. 

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Social distancing

If you have been being well behaved, for the last few months you will also have been being quite antisocial. Many jokes were made back in March about how anyone would tell the difference when it came to birders. For a fairly long time even trips outside were limited, and whilst I saw the odd local birder and had the occasional chat, for the most part I have been nowhere and seen no-one. Summer birding on Wanstead Flats sometimes centered on local pubs after a hard day of seeing nothing, but no such possibility existed in 2020. Last week I found myself home alone, and in a rare moment extroversion decided I was fed up of seeing nobody for days at a time and decided to host a small party. A socially-distanced party. 

Good grief social distancing is a pain. For starters we all had to be outside, that's rule number one. The advice is still to maintain a healthy distance even if outside, so I dutifully got out my tape measure and worked it all out. I set up a table with clean glasses that I handled only with gloves, but put all the drinks inside and only I did the pouring, also with gloves. There was no food sadly, that was too hard. The sink and toilet were thoroughly disinfected before people arrived, and there was a one way route to it guarded by Polar Bears. Really. Everyone got their own towel to dry their hands with which they had to take with them, and there was Dettol at each end if they felt the need.

Here's the garden all set up. Socially distanced chairs and wine crates repurposed as tables

So last Friday evening four of the Wanstead posse turned up and for a few hours things felt largely normal again - seeing real people with real drinks in their hands was extremely refreshing. Largely it all worked very smoothly even though it was a little awkward, and as far as I know we all still feel fine. Or at least I do anyway, and the WhatsApp chat group is not showing any coughing or ambulance emojis. It probably won't be long before this type of thing is banned again, so it was nice to get it in and see people before we're all locked down again. I'm a glass half empty kind of person.

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Mobile sound recording

Have you ever been out birding in the autumn, perhaps in a group, and heard an interesting call? I am sure you have. Let me set the scene.

birdy chatter, chewing of fat, moaning about a lack of birds etc


"...and I was like.....Oooh, did you hear that?!"

the chatter stops, silence descends, the call however is not repeated

"Cor, what was that?"
"Sounded a bit like a Finch I thought, quite a distinct cheezp".
"No, maybe a Bunting, more like a zit"?
"I didn't really hear it, what was it like?"
"I dunno, can't quite place it. Could have been a funny Meadow Pipit I suppose?"
"Nah, wrong pitch, wasn't it too high and buzzy?"
"I thought it was lower."
"Well they can make odd sounds sometimes, remember that one last year?"
"What about, err..."

By now all hope of any accurate identification is gone. Bells may ring later, but by then you will not be 100% sure of what it was that you heard. This is a scenario that no doubt plays out up and down the land. If only it had called again, you might have nailed it, but like so many flyovers it called only wance, and you were not listening very carefully. If only you had a recording of it that you could play back....

I remember that some years ago a small device to allow exactly this was marketed called a RemBird. Glossy adverts in birding mags showed a small grey thing fastening underneath the barrels of your bins where it constantly recorded on a short loop. All you had to do upon hearing a mysterious call was to quickly press a button and the last five seconds of recording would be preserved. I have no idea whether RemBird still exists or if it was a short-lived fad, but many modern portable MP3 recorders also have exactly this function and are presumably rather higher quality. And of course many birders, or at least more birders than before, now own such devices. Including me, and also including Gavin H down in Dorset, from whom I have shamelessly copied this idea, or at least knocked up a variant of the same thing. The same recorder that you stick out of your window for nocmig can also come out with you the following morning. You could also just poke it out of a pocket, but without the perfect sized pocket then it might fall out, or alternatively fall in. Far better I would suggest is just dangle it off part of yourself or your bag if you carry one. You just need a few bits and pieces. 

Hunting around my desk I found some of what I needed, and the internet provided the rest at a relatively minimal cost - a lanyard and a 1/4 inch D-ring. Whatever you go for you will also need a windshield, as buckets (of any colour) are simply not practical in the field. 

Here's my new set-up. I am either going to hang it from my belt, or if this swings about too much and just records itself thumping against my leg, from some part of my coat using a carabiner instead. The lanyard is a backup safety mechanism in case the absurdly cheap D-ring falls to pieces - the MP3 player does belong to Mrs L after all...

My/her MP3 recorder, a Zoom H2n, has a number of recording modes, but the one that pre-records only gives you two seconds to capture it. My brain does not send signals that quickly, so I think I am going to have to switch it on when I arrive on the patch and have it constantly record. This requires an element of being alert to when things happen, as as Gavin notes this isn't going to be like nocmig where you have long periods of silence punctuated by the occasional call. It is going to be one long symphony of rustles, whumps and thumps, so I'll need to note what time any interesting sounds occurred to be able to quickly find them once back home. There is another mode that starts recording when a certain input level is reached, but that's really designed for silent environments followed by an orchestra starting to play and I doubt that it will be of any use on Wanstead Flats.

I forsee this being most useful during vizmig sessions this coming autumn. It is possible though that the built-in microphone may not have enough oomph to overcome the birder-generated ground-level noises (that it largely does not have to cope with during nocmig), so it could be that I also need to take out my new shotgun microphone which is far more directional and somehow point it permanently upwards. I already have the skeleton of a plan to allow this, although I will look like a complete berk. Well, more of a berk than I do normally. I will just need to remember to turn it on. 

Monday 27 July 2020

The dummy's guide to using an external microphone with the Zoom H2n....

Almost unbelievably I have just recorded another night of me sleeping. This is the third attempt in a row that I have failed miserably to make use of my swish new microphone. My first thought of course was whether my new microphone was perhaps not as swish as I had hoped. But of course there was another reason.


Whether the microphone it was plugged in or not, switched on or not, the MP3 recorder (although saying it recognised it) was simply not using it. A poor workman, of which I am definitely one, always blames his tools. Was the microphone perhaps broken? I plugged it into the computer for a quick test and it was working just fine, although curiously worked without needing to be switched on. Clutching at straws but was the MP3 player itself broken? There is no setting within the menu to use the external microphone rather than the internal ones, but a quick read of the venerable Zoom H2n's instructions (duh...) has revealed the inevitable answer; I am a dolt.

Possibly I should have availed myself of the instructions earlier in this painful process, but that would have been too sensible. Anyhow the recorder has various recording modes and I have been exclusively using the two channel 360 degree mode for my balcony nocmig. This setting apparently disables any external microphone. Who knew? Once I turned the dial to the XY mode with the external mic plugged in, this instead disabled the internal ones and I was good to go. A quick test speaking directly into the machine followed by speaking directly into the top of the microphone proves this out, and the "telescopic" setting on the microphone really does up the level. So all my earlier "tests" were not as such tests in any useful sense of the word, and the reason the hiss had all but disappeared was merely because I was inside. As was the lack of wind noise...

So another 8 hours of snoring has been deleted and this time, finally, I am ready.

Fourth time lucky as the old saying goes.

Saturday 25 July 2020

I mean how difficult can it be?

Eearlier this week I made a major purchase, an external microphone for my MP3 recorder. This catalyst for this was a Whimbrel. A couple of days previously I had been lying in bed, about to turn in for the night, when I very clearly heard the bubbling call through the open windows. As always I wished that I could hear it again, and this time I could as about 20 minutes earlier I had put my recorder out on the balcony. Excellent! I went to bed in keen anticipation of firing up Audacity the next morning and reliving one of only a small number of patch records.

The following morning I was up with the lark and eagerly fast-forwarding to the relevant time stamp. And there it was, but gosh it was faint. Much louder were the snores of one of my neighbours sleeping in their garden (these consigned most of the night's recording to the bin...), a warm night so perhaps understandable. My Whimbrel was barely audible with the typical London overlay, and no matter how I tinkered with the file I could not improve it. Extremely dissatisfying. Lying there the previous evening it had appeared crystal clear and I was sure I would have had something sensational. It was time for a big spend.

£23.99 and a day later this arrived.

Wow. Microphones come at many different price points, several hundred pounds buys you a thing of beauty and they go up from there. But I intended to leave this outside to get rained on and attacked by vicious aerial predators, and what if in reality it was no better than the built in microphone on the MP3 recorder? Under 25 quid would seem to fit the experimental category quite nicely, and a single AA battery provides the, err, electret. It also came with a whole suite of other stuff - two cables, two mounts and a couple of windshields, so even if it is crap it is a complete bargain. A short amount of bodging and one sacrificial wine box later I had this.

The bucket is probably not really necessary in this set-up, but for old times sake and because I have yet to work out a couple of hooks for the wooden backing plate it was pressed into service. Eventually the plan is to mount it high enough that the microphone pokes out above my roof and picks up birds from a wider corridor, but the longer cable has the wrong size jack and I need an adapter. They're £2.29. I'm saving up.

Using the shorter cable I performed a few tests with the different settings and the quality was immediately promising, far less hiss than the MP3 player by itself. Excellent, here we go then. I carefully placed the bucket on the balcony with the microphone angled up into the sky, and then ran the cable inside to the recorder. This is of course one of the main benefits of an external microphone - the expensive MP3 player can remain inside, and the sacrificial £23.99 microphone can take all the weather on its behalf.I switched the recorder on and went to bed, and as it was a windier night this time I closed the windows.

The following morning found me firing up Audacity once again. Pleasingly there was virtually no wind noise at all - the fluffy windshield was rather loose and fearing for its safety I had also added the foam cover underneath. Incredibly effective. Maybe too effective as I could detect almost no sounds at all for the first 40 minutes. A few grunts and various indeterminate noises, but nothing else at all which was a bit odd. And then the snoring started. Bloody hell, why can't my neighbours sleep indoors like normal people? 

This continued all night, every five to six seconds, with the occasional sensational snort. What a warthog! I wonder which side it is?! And then right at the end of the recording *my* alarm went off and I heard myself groan and get up to turn it off! Insert facepalm emoji here. I had failed to fully plug the microphone jack into the recorder and simply recorded my night's sleep. Incidentally I've now solved the unfathomable mystery from the previous night... 

Fine. Lesson learned and let's hope I didn't miss anything good, it is prime time for waders. This takes us to last night, and this time I made no mistake. Connection fully secure. I put the bucket on the balcony, closed the door, and fell into another deep and very refreshing sleep. 

This morning I reviewed another six hours of snoring. I had forgotten to turn the microphone on.

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Lockdown interlude

I am in one of those moods where if I don't feel like blogging I don't. Simple really and pressure off. This has taken me years to understand and I am not wholly convinced I have it completely licked: if I have something to tap out I do, if I don't, well... As lockdown kicked in something changed and all of a sudden it was easy again. I don't try and understand it any longer, I just roll with it. Then along came June and in common with other things it became hard again and so off to one side it went. I did other things. Boring things that I enjoy and take pride in, and that were this a different blog with a different readership would probably feature more. One thing I do know is that if you are interested in something it becomes incredibly easy to write about whatever it is. When the interest wanes, even if temporarily, why bother?

Anyway, birding has started again and that is the news that I wanted to share with you today. I've had a couple of wanders around Wanstead Park today and added three year ticks. In July! But the impetus for this actually came last week when I absconded from Wanstead for the first time since March. Since March! Unheard of! With the easing of various restrictions and sensible preparation on both sides the residents of Chateau L went up to Scotland to see my family. We drove so as to preserve the bubble, and did not stop. 6am to 1pm in one hit, gosh, I could have twitched a Vulture....

It was lovely to see everyone, but what I am going to write about is the birding. As I had a car I went out every day. Not far, just various sites mostly within Fife. I had no preconceptions particularly, and so for the most part I just went to places I equated with decent birding. Leven Shore. Fife Ness. East Weymss. Loch Leven. One day a family excursion took me a little further, a picnic and a walk in the Highlands, and so I saw Red Grouse and breeding Wheatear, but the highlight was Fife Ness. I didn't kill myself getting there at first light, I had a nice breakfast and mosied on over for about 9am and pointed my scope out to sea, more or less due east. It was bright sunshine and blue skies, not the conditions one associates with good sea-watching, but I have not been sea-watching for many a season and so who cares frankly. And it was of course wonderful. Puffins by the hundred, Gannets galore, and the challenge of separating Guillemot from Razorbill which is actually extremely hard at distance. Three species of Tern to work out, and some red Red Knot. Superb stuff, and so as a special treat in addition to a photograph of my magnificent view I am also going to post a rare photograph of me. Why? Because I thought I looked happy and I was, and rarely do I think that I look happy even if I am.

Looking south from Fife Ness towards the Isle of May.

Yes, this is happy. Shut up.

It was over all too soon, the siren call of work brought me back to the big smoke on Monday. The family were staying longer and so to come back I had to take a plane, not something I had counted on doing any time soon. I was not thrilled by the idea, but I got on with it, and indeed on it, and so far I am not feeling any ill effects. I was extremely careful, and although this is no guarantee of safety I think that I was hugely helped by the almost complete lack of other people. Anyone familiar with airports will perhaps recollect that they are very busy places. Crowds, queues, fellow man, and stress. Well here's Edinburgh Airport on Monday evening.

I think most of us could cope with airports like this, and certainly I found it a breeze. Actually I find busy airports a breeze so I don't quite know how to describe this one. What's easier than a breeze? A lot easier. Unfortunately at the other end I found that my Uber Account has disappeared and so I was forced to take London public transport. This was equally empty as it happens, but disappointingly about half the people that were on it had no PPE whatsoever which made me quite angry in my gloves and mask and unable to pick my nose. Anyhow I made it home without being coughed on and without touching a single surface with my hands, and I am reasonably confident that I remain virus free. Fingers crossed. 

In conclusion this was a break that I really needed. Loved ones, comfortable surroundings, birds and no work! I took my camera but as is often the case (in fact this time it/I was worse) I found myself almost completely unable to use it competently for the first four days of my trip and only on the final morning did things finally click. That's for another post though - every photo in this one was taken with my phone whilst I carted around a big lump of expensive dead weight. I am used to it though, and so when the stars do finally align and I manage to take a bird photograph that I think is OK it makes it all the sweeter. Imagine if every time you lifted the viewfinder to your eye you took a stupendous masterpiece!


In other news I have started Noc-migging again. So far my 'results' include a party, various emergencies and an extremely angry cat. The only way is up.

Monday 13 July 2020

Nocmig party

With renewed wader passage I decided I would put out the sound recorder last night for the first time since late May. Fellow nocmiggers are beginning to record goodies again, and locally there have been Oystercatcher, Curlew and Green Sandpiper. After nipping out early in order not to see any waders flying over the patch, I returned to review my backup plan and eagerly fired up the software. Oooooh! Lots of squiggles on the sonogram from the get go, this could be one of those great nights!

And as it turns out a great night is exactly what it sounded like. "Yay!" "Whoooo-ooo!" "Oi Oi Oi!!" "Yeeeeeah!". Welcome to Wanstead. There are seemingly no limits to the ways in which the population of London will seek to ruin my birding experiences. This time somebody was holding a loud party. Difficult to say where exactly as the microphone is not particularly directional, but whilst it was not close enough to prevent me sleeping like a baby, it was plenty close enough for the recorder to pick up each and every whoop and holler. For three hours, or the entirety of my first mp3 file and the start of the next. The revelers appeared to pack it in at around 1am, at which point the sirens and car horns were able to be clearly picked out. Amidst the general racket of city life a few Coots parped around, and the distant honks of Canada Geese filtered through. Excellent, just what I was hoping for...

The best part of the recording was once again the dawn chorus, by which time most people seem to have finally gone to bed. I have some crystal clear Blackbird songs that are simply beautiful, but sadly the two Common Terns that at 5.09am on Wanstead Flats attracted my attention by calling as they flew over me and towards my house had either shut up or deviated before they got there. 

I'll try again tonight. Hopefully Monday night is a long way from being "the new Friday", and last night was just the result of pent up social-distancing easing demand as it were. Or this may now be a nightly occurrence as many of the schools have now finished but nobody is going on holiday. Let's see.

Friday 10 July 2020

Small fluff balls

Yesterday I had a work meeting which I conducted entirely from an armchair which faces out of the window. From it I can see my entire garden, as well as many neighbouring gardens. I've been rather busy of late and the early lockdown days of window gazing are largely a thing of the past, particularly as the list of possible sightings has shrunk dramatically. But there is still interest to be had as the season progresses, and yesterday was my first realisation that I should be more alert to what is happening. Like a proper birder.

The trees were alive with young birds foraging. Movement everywhere - I did not know where to look. Blue Tits, Great Tits, Blackcaps, Goldfinches and most happily of all, House Sparrows. They seem to be making a real comeback in my area. When I lived in Becktonia we had ivy on the front of our house in which nested close to triple figures of House Sparrows. When we moved to Wanstead the silence was deafening, but gradually the chirp of the House Sparrow is becoming part of my personal background soundscape again. At one point two fluffy Blue Tits and a downy House Sparrow flew up to my window boxes. The Blue Tits hung acrobatically off the smallest stems picking seeds delicately from the flower heads, whereas the chunkier Sparrow simply landed on the balcony rail for a look before deciding it was all too much like hard work and returning to the tree. In short it was lovely - it has been a long time, too long, since I simply sat and watched a mixed flock doing what they do, and this unique vantage point I have looking down at the top of a tree means I get great views. I am hopeful that when autumn truly gets going I might get things like Willow Warbler through. Let's see.

Talking of autumn, for waders and sea birds it is already underway. Enviable tales of Shearwaters, rare Terns, Waders and even an Albatross have found their way into my conscious. Sitting here in Wanstead, a million miles from all of it, I find I am missing the sea. Our family holiday to Croatia in August has just this past week gone the way of all my other trips, and so now with no plans in August whatsoever I wonder whether a little sea-watching might be on the menu? Take a tent perhaps, or sleep in the car as in days of yore...

Bridges of Ross a long time ago.

Thursday 9 July 2020

One good Tern

I wonder if that title had readers wondering if I had been on a jaunt? Fear not....I am talking about a local lockdown Common Tern. Common Tern is a tricky bird in Wanstead, timing is everything. They breed at Walthamstow and in the Lea Valley, making occasional forays over our way, but unless you camp out by one of the lakes in the Park the likelihood is that you will never see one. I have had many a blank year, including 2019, so this year I was determined to get one. But from the house. A common and garden Tern if you will.

I have one single record of a garden Common Tern from 2007. I remember the day well as it was so odd. A Common Tern flew down the length of the gardens, equidistant between my house and the houses that we back onto, and then flew back again about a minute later. It was looking down the whole way, in the manner that Terns often do. I wondered if it had dropped a fish on a patio? I've kept half an eye out ever since, but history has never repeated itself. The 2020 lockdown was surely the time.And thanks to a network of dedicated spotters on the ground, it has delivered.

And not so dedicated spotters of course....last week I noticed that Nick had tweeted out a Common Tern from the closest pond to me not 30 seconds previously. Great! Not visible over the treeline, but when it flew off it would surely gain height and I could be vectored in. I quickly got in touch, asked about the nearby availability of bricks, and asked that he keep me posted when it flew. Sure sure, no problem. Scanning, scanning, scanning - nothing. Is it still there I asked? No it's gone. Gah!! Which way? Dunno, I got talking to someone and didn't see it go. Pfff. 

This weekend I got another chance. This time my dedicated spotter was Simon R, and although he did not know about Nick's faux pas as I had not yet written this blog post, he made no mistake. Eyes firmly on the prize. Flying towards the Basin!  Scanning, scanning, scann..... YES! Distant, but the rakish form of a Common Tern was just visible over the trees as it made its way north across the golf course to the next fishing opportunity. James H, aware of it's presence and rushing out of Bush Wood towards the Basin for a year tick also picked it up as it headed back west towards wherever home was. 

To say I was delighted was an understatement, and Simon R has earned himself a nice pint of beer as and when we all feel able to get together. Nick will be having a glass of water. Poured over him. I jest of course! I am immensely grateful that I get bird news so frequently from those able (and willing) to get out more, and that I have seen so many birds from home over these last few months is partly due to them. I'm on 99 for the year now, 69 of them from home. And now that autumn appears to be underway I would hope to get a few more.

This Common Tern was photographed in New York.

Thursday 2 July 2020

Happy shepherds

The sunset last night in London was epic. I wasn't anywhere with an eye-catching foreground or point of interest, Tower Bridge, The Shard, the London Eye etc, the view from the new turret at Chateau L is merely the rooftops of suburbia, so for the most part I just pointed the lens at the palette unfolding in front of me. Hues of red, orange, pink, yellow, grey and blue layered up to the west and it was quite lovely. A camera can never really do these scenes justice and so for the most part I just gazed. It didn't last long, but up on my balcony (longing for a drink but it was only Wednesday...) it was a fabulous sight and made me rather chuffed to be here on planet Earth. There are a lot of unhappy things occurring all over the place, which perhaps makes the majesty of a known constant like this even more important as something to cling to and soak up.

Wednesday 1 July 2020

Well that was June

So that's June over for another year. How was it for you? I went birding, oh let's see now, just counting it up, two secs.....err zero times. Yes, exactly zero times. Per eBird I looked out of the window twice and saw a Red Kite twice, and that sums up my birding last month. To be fair I have an enviable track record in June, and once again I have found it effortlessly easy to maintain. Did I miss anything? Well, I still haven't managed to connect with a patch Common Tern, which is probably most likely in June, and my list also appears to be missing Desert Warbler and Cayenne Tern for some reason, not sure why as it appears both were eminently gettable if you were prepared to leave common sense and your morals behind. But enough has been said about long-distance twitching during this pandemic already, probably far more eloquently than I could do (or would consider doing), so I think I'll just stop there. I am sure you know what I think.

So yes, I missed a few birds. Did I miss birding though? Nope. I am feeble, I realise this. But it is also extremely helpful to be able to dip in and dip out of hobbies. Probably a poor choice of verb when that hobby is birding, but you know what I mean. When I do dip in, I do so wholeheartedly. And when I take a break, I really take a break! And I enjoyed my June break very much indeed. All my spare time has been concentrated in the garden. I have given some out of control shrubs including the enormous Laurel severe haircuts (no nests, worry ye not). I have planted a new shady bed up with hostas and ferns and declared a mostly non-fatal war on intransigent molluscs. I have installed automatic watering in the form of soaker hoses. I have cleared out all sorts of rubbish that was hiding unseen behind greenhouses and so on, and in a rare outing taken the whole lot to the tip. I have been tending assiduously to all my Palms, Cycads, Agaves, Aloes and the like, and many plants which have had years of neglect have been repotted or top-dressed. Plants that I had almost forgotten I had and that despite any attention whatsoever had somehow developed into quite impressive and in some cases statuesque specimens have been tidied up and now take pride of place - I could do a whole post on Trachycarpus..... The tomatoes are swelling by the day and the beans are flowering profusely. Less edible but my bamboos have also had daily watering and lots of fertiliser, and as as result have exploded into years of pent-up growth - a Phyllostachys that had produced one cane a year ever since I had it is growing no fewer than 20 and they are double the height of the previous ones. A nocmig panda feels pretty much nailed on at this point. In short everything is spic and span and looking fantastic and I am very pleased at how a locked-down June has panned out.

It looks like July and August will see more of the same. Things are opening up of course, but only if you want to partake and I'm still quite happy at the moment not to. Our family holiday to Croatia just got cancelled, not a great surprise but actually we were not that keen on going as we felt it likely to have been more stress than it was worth and some way from the relaxing break had booked. We'll take the refund and just chill out at home. Or rather, chill out at home some more. But by the time September comes around I think I will be done with sitting around, comfortable though it undoubtedly is. The growing season will be slowing down, there will be less to do and my thoughts will be turning to somehow getting ready for the return of colder nights. Right now I am just fine but it is brewing, I can feel it. There is restlessness just around the corner, and this will need to be dealt with. I will need to go out. Possibly even out birding.

Spring was largely a write off. None of my original plans nor indeed their replacement plans amounted to anything. My dreams of weekend days out on the coast in May shriveled to the odd foray onto Wanstead Flats before the hordes descended. My foreign birding ambitions in Japan (then Argentina), Bulgaria and America progressively vanished as the world shut down. Family trips to Italy, Scotland and Finland were all similarly cancelled. Being at home in my greenhouse is all well and good, great succour in fact, but there will come a time when I get itchy feet and no amount of potted Aloes will sort me out. My worry of course is that it is too early to plan, too soon to know what will happen in the autumn. But I can't help myself, I am a planner and I have to have plans. In the back of my mind I am prepared for COVID-related disappointment, but putting that to one side there has to be something to look forward to, something good that gets ever nearer. The question is what will it be?

I don't know. But I intend to invest some time finding out..