Wednesday 31 August 2022

In Fife again

I've been in Fife again, a combination of family, work and birding. Naturally birding comes first. Sorry, I mean family comes first, followed by work, with birding a distant third. Despite this I have managed to get out and about in the county and seen a few things, though nowhere near what I thought I might - basically a lack of time to go sea-watching at Fife Ness has rather caught me out, and instead I have stayed pretty local.

My first birding this time was actually in the garden here, and in under two hours I added five new birds. This included a Garden Warbler, a decent bird in Fife, as well a flyover Grey Heron and Cormorant, neither of which I'd seen here before. I think this is just an indication that I have in reality spent little time birding from the garden, and thus any prolonged spell is likely to add at least something. The Garden Warbler was excellent, in a patch of undeveloped land that I can see from the over the wall. I'd seen at least four Whitethroats in there, and when this popped up briefly I was wary of the potential pitfall, but I held the area in the bins and managed to see it again to eliminate any doubt. A Tree Pipit buzzed over too, something that I'd earmarked as high potential, so for it to actually happen was a punch the air moment.

Predictably I spent most time at Letham Pools - four visits in five days. It continues to be a wonderful site, and whilst the turnover of birds was not high, I saw all sorts of species I'd not encountered there before, including such gems as Grey Partridge, Jay, and Meadow Pipit! I am still at that happy stage where there are so many possibilities - my final visit this morning was only my 22nd; by way of comparison I have 1,147 lists from Wanstead. I will miss it when I go back home.

In addition to visiting Letham I also went to Lindores, a nearby loch that is stunningly pretty. There is a house on the far side that I think I would die to live in. In fact I keep seeing houses I would like to move to. I mean Chateau L is of course lovely, but a house looking down the Firth of Forth with two mature monkey puzzle trees in the garden and Skuas flying overhead in autumn? I think I could cope with that.

Lindores Loch

As ever eBird was my constant companion. It keeps track of my various site lists, shows me what others have seen and where, and generally spurs me on to really focus hard on Blue Tits and Dunnocks. This is no bad thing. At Lindores I doubled my site list just by going birding properly, by exploring the margins rather than just pointing my scope at the water. And by going birding in August whilst the summer visitors are still here. It is these small things that keep me happy, at least up here, and I am not yet at the stage where I need a biggie in order to achieve satisfaction. Long may that continue.

The most remarkable thing of all is that one of my kids came birding with me. Three times no less! Once to the beach at St Andrews on a family walk, once along the Braes Loan trail close to the house, and, most amazingly of all, to Letham at six in the morning! My children have not really been birding with me properly for years, it was wonderful. We had the scope and I was able to line up various things for her and then describe what she were seeing as she looked. We found nesting Swallows and House Martins and were able to have extended views as they came and went - I don't think she'll ever get those wrong now. Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Rook and others were also all studied closely, and some of them may sink in too. It is a slow process, as I know only too well, but you have to start somewhere.

Dalgety Bay

Sunday 28 August 2022

Madeira May 2022 - Day 4 & Trip List

Last day! Mick decided to have another go at seabirds and so went out on another Dolphin excursion. I wasn't up for it and instead went to Machico to try for photographs of the Grey Wagtail subspecies, Schmitzi. In summary we both did terribly. Mick saw almost no seabirds, and I botched the single two second opportunity I got by getting a pile of reeds in the way. At this point we gave up birding.

There are hundreds of these. I don't understand why people don't eat them.

Our flight back was early evening, and after a spot of lunch the afternoon was spent having a wander around the Funchal Botanic Garden, where my attention turned to Agaves, Cycads,  Palms, Cacti and Aloes. Wonderful - what a climate, oh that I could do something similar here. Well, partly I can I suppose, and plant cuttings that I brought back from Madeira several years ago are now established in my garden - the Agapanthus flower in profusion every year. 

Aloe plicatilis (now Kumara) in the background, with Agave attenuata in the foreground

No trip to Madeira is going to see you come back with a large list of birds. Even if you do the pelagics you'll only add a few. It is a case of quality over quantity. You can see the trip list with locations and checklists on eBird, or if that is a bit too dorky, here is a quick reference table.

Saturday 27 August 2022

Madeira May 2022 - Day 3

We started the day back out at the Ponta Sao Lourenco, the rocky peninsula that you frequently fly over on the final approach. When we had first visited it was crawling with people hiking out the end, but early morning it was more or less deserted. We holed-out with what we had thought was a nailed on Spectacled Warbler photo shoot, with the bird no longer present, but instead found an area on the far side of the peninsula which seemed very birdy. This was where we found the Rock Sparrows as well the ubiqutious Berthelot's Pipit , and a a group of Atlantic Canaries with young. A brief Peregrine Falcon was probably quite a good bird for Madeira. That said it could have been a Barbary Falcon I suppose, given the location. Here's the photo in case any of you want to make a call either way.

Rock Sparrow

We spent a fair amount of time here, occasionally glancing up at the mountains to judge the weather, before deciding that the clouds were probably thin enough that we would be OK. So, onwards to Santo Antonio da Serra via the Ribeira de Machico. Here we walked around the local park, finding quite a few Madeira Firecrest and our first Greenfinches of the trip. Looking at the map we also found a reservoir that I had no idea was even here. Although it only had a few Grey Herons this time, it could be a good stop at the right time of year. It is best viewed from the east side, along a road that leads to a couple of houses.

In the evening we watched the nightly spectacle of the Shearwaters moving slowly along the coast from the Ponta da Cruz, although without a scope we were somewhat limited in what we could pick out. Although some of the Cory's were quite close, the vast majority of birds were further out, and so Barolo Shearwater went begging I expect. When I next visit I am definitely doing two things. One - going on a proper birding pelagic, and two, bringing a scope in order to seawatch!

Friday 26 August 2022

Growing up

Last week my son got his A Level results. This week, my middle daughter got her GCSEs, and my youngest a single GCSE, French, that like a chip off the old block she took early. If you need concrete proof that you are a has been this is one of those life moments that serves as a stark reminder. When I started this blog the kids were five, three and one. The one year old now has a GCSE! How old must it mean I am?! Er, nevermind... Anyway, if you go all the way back you will find photos of them as babies and toddlers. Now they have phones and bank accounts. And now, qualifications. Time is moving swiftly, swifter each year it seems. Blogs of yesteryear, or whatever preceded them, would at this point be saying about how they would soon leave the nest. Fledge. Move out. Not in 2022, nor for the forseeable future. The crisis is almost existential, and young people have never had it harder.

So they are with us for a while yet, and the exam results seem to have heralded an urgent need to move on. After this summer holiday our front hall is piled with bags and boxes of things the children no longer want, but that all those years ago were their world. Nowadays that sense of nostalgia seems to have transferred to the old folks - i.e. me. As you get older you become more sentimental, and so I find myself going through it all retrieving items laden with meaning that cannot possibly be thrown out or given away. Some are mine as it happens, my childhood books that my parents kept for me and that I then passed on to my own children. The entire Swallows and Amazons series for example - I found these in the hallway piles too - so callous!

Most of course is theirs. Cuddly toys, clothes, their own books, and drawings that for me at least have huge significance. I think they will regret these rash decisions, and so I am quietly (and not so quietly) keeping back a few things. Times move on of course, and we are not really hoarders, so I suspect that in one or two journeys to charity shops the vast majority of this will be swept away and forgotten about, and that that will be that. In the years ahead they may come to wish they had kept a few things, and maybe at that point I will be able to surprise them with a long lost toy or keepsake that they thought was gone forever.

Some things, books especially, can be refound. When the kids were small and I realised that my beloved Richard Scary books were gone, I found them all second hand and was able to relive my childhood through their eyes. Some things I did manage to keep hold of though, and a tweet on my timeline reminded me to go and look for it. My first bird book, or the first I can remember at any rate.

The inscription plate on the inside cover tells me that it was from my Uncle John and Aunt Colette, and is dated 1985. I was ten years old, and it was Christmas. I expect that I was in Sussex when I unwrapped it, in the small village of Litlington where my paternal Grandparents lived. The Collin's Guide may have now taken its place, but I adored this book, and it is one of the things I am glad I kept. On my bed today is my first teddy, from an aged relative called Auntie Mary who lived in Bexhill, as many old people do. There are a lot more of course, to my family's disgust, and I do worry that if I pop my clogs suddenly this callous streak they seem to have may come out and consign them to an unseemly end. I hope not. I may leave some instructions, a condition of their inheritance....

Passing things on is the best thing to do. You know and hope that the new owner will show the same love, care and appreciation that you did for all those years, but your responsibility ceases and you can stop worrying. Of course as soon as you are out of sight they may toss whatever it is in the bin, but as long as you don't know that you are in the clear, and with a warm glow. We recently passed on an orange and yellow dog that we bought in Paris for one of the kids. I found it unceremoniously dumped in one of the plastic bags, and wiping away the tears saved it, too lovely to discard. After a wash it travelled to Reading as a gift to a new baby who straight away started chewing its ear, just as ours used to do. This is the way.

So a new stage of our lives feels like it is starting. There are many positives, but I also think it might be quite tough in some ways. No doubt we will get through it, and it is not as if the last two years have been exactly smooth sailing but we have largely got through them. Not totally unscathed, but we are out the other side and there are many things to look forward to. Winter 2022/23 is not likely to be one of them however.

Thursday 25 August 2022


The Thames Water hosepipe ban started yesterday. Like a good citizen I went out into the garden and tidied away the hoses and the sprinkler I've been using on the vegetables and pots lest they lead into temptation. The water butts are full, the watering cans are out, and I am ready.

It was inevitable therefore that last night the heavens opened. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled, and as I typed this early this morning it continues to bucket down (29mm recorded by 1pm) What passes for my lawn already looks greener. This is but a temporary respite, we need much, much more to replenish stocks of water in the south-east. Not that anyone really needs a hosepipe for their garden much beyond September, but I expect that the ban will last for much longer. I've read a few interesting stats about water recently. They are all from the internet, so caveat emptor and so on, but:

- Since the water industry was privatised by Mrs Thatcher over 30 years ago not a single new reservoir has been built in England. Some, like Abberton, have been enlarged, but nothing new has been constructed.

- The water companies have paid around £60bn in dividends to shareholders since then.

- At the current rate of investment and repair each water pipe needs to last for 2000 years. The lifespan of the newest PVC pipes is 100 years. Somebody else's problem I guess.

- I could run a hose for 73 years and use less water than Thames Water loses in a single day to leaks. 

No doubt this is not the full story, but it seems a bit rich (which incidentally is what water companies and their CEOs are) to impose restrictions when these companies have singularly failed to plan for the future and instead just pocketed huge sums of money. Mind you did anyone expect any different? Of course not. What can I do about it? Nothing. The modicum of good news is that whilst reading up about hosepipe bans I discovered that dripper hoses on a timer are exempt. I use a couple of these to efficiently water a bed of ferns and a bed of semi-tropical plants - palms, bamboos and agapanthus - so that is one less thing to worry about. But I have huge numbers of plants in pots, two greenhouses, and a vegetable patch that I am now going to have to water by hand whilst continuing to pay Thames Water a pile of cash. Excellent.

Today's saturation should mean I get a few days off, but various plants in the greenhouses will still need doing and somehow I am going to have to find more time to get round them all. In normal weather it is fine. When it is in the high 20s my greenhouse gets to well over 40 degrees and whilst my plants in pots love this it means they dry out very quickly indeed. Many are drought-tolerant, but it is easier on them if they have water. On the plus side the heavy rain has highlighted a few leaks in the conservatory, so there is less watering to do in there.... 

Tuesday 23 August 2022

Twitch on!

A couple of weeks ago I went on another twitch. This is the third this year, and they have all had one thing in common. Well, two things in common. One, they have all been successful and not dips. And two, they have all been ridiculously straightforward and essentially stress-free. This one was the easiest yet, although as the bird in question was a Gull it was of course totally rubbish. Yes indeed, the Grafham Water Kelp/Cape Gull, a first for the UK. I'm pretty sure I haven't seen many firsts - Eastern Crowned Warbler in South Shields sticks in the memory, but that might be the only one. Oh, hang on a minute - Acadian Flycatcher at Dungeness is probably another. Regardless, it does not happen often, and generally I dislike the air of desperation/madness/grown men losing their shit that accompanies such things and so avoid them. This however was just too easy to pass up.


I would not have known about it all had Tony not put out a message on our patch chat group. Whilst I do have BirdGuides I don't know why I do as I hardly ever look at it. All the mega noises it has been making recently have been to do with the Shrike and the Albatross and so I came to ignore it. However the Wanstead messages make a different "bong" and I was on to that straight away - it might have been a Redstart!. But it wasn't.

"Cape Gull anyone?"

You what?! I've seen this species in South Africa, and the nominate Kelp Gull in Argentina, but never in Cambridgeshire..... Anyhow, as we all know this was not a wind-up, and a decision was made within about two minutes. Sunday morning, no plans, Grafham Water under an hour a half away, no traffic issues and a hulking great scabby Gull that was unlikely to move. We could be back mid-afternoon and continue our lazy day as if nothing had happened. And that is exactly what panned out. There is no point stringing it out or trying to build suspense. We drove there, saw it immediately, and came home again. I think I was drinking a Daquiri in the garden before 4pm.

Fulfilling? Well, ish. I mean it is clearly a very rare bird (here) and I do not see very rare birds very often. It was just pleasing to have it all go our way with no drama whatsoever, to snaffle it so quickly and be home almost before we were missed. The bird showed extremely well, and because we were quick off the mark there were no issues with wacky races or with parking, nor a particularly enormous crowd (it was nice to see a few familiar faces from Shetland, including a birder from the SW who got there only marginally after we did!). We were in and out within an hour, within the first parking fee band in fact which was great as I loathe paying for parking. The other day I got picked up at Edinburgh airport and the fee for the short stay was £9!! Highway bloody robbery I tell you. Anyway, so simple, and when the Gull decided to fly further up the reservoir to a reeking trout corpse we decided not to follow it and instead go home for celebratory drinks.

First for the UK = Two drinks. Like I need an excuse.

Saturday 20 August 2022

Four Redstarts

Unusually there were no Redstarts found on the patch this spring. All to play for then. Last week the first arrived on Wanstead Flats. I went to look for it and dipped, and it is alleged that other birders ticked a Chiffchaff! Today solved the issue for everyone, with four birds, possibly five, spread across the Flats. Rob found the first in the SSSI - handy as I was birding in the Brickpits about two minutes away. By the time I arrived he had found another, with both birds shimmering in the same bush, tails a-quivering. Nice. 

Meanwhile L & G had found another along Centre Path, a smart male. Could this be a three Redstart day? No, or at least, not yet. Although the bird had momentarily vanished, another had been seen up at the Enclosure. This too had disappeared by the time I got there, but had been replaced by a Pied Flycatcher, presumably the same bird that has been giving me the runaround the last few days, and I finally got some decent and prolonged views. I fancied there was some more activity beyond this bird though, back out towards the brooms, and skirting round the side and out again the first thing I set eyes on was the male Redstart. They are just superb in this plumage, even if they are not quite as glossy as they would have been earlier in the year.

The others gradually assembled, and when the male flew out of the Hawthorn a female/juv type followed it. Surely different to the birds across the road, I'd been on the patch less than an hour and seen four Redstarts! Late on Nick came across another male near Alex, which is likely a fifth bird. Wanstead Flats is simply sensational at this time of year, and I can't wait to get out again tomorrow and see what else is there!

Friday 19 August 2022

Signs of autumn

The patch has looked like autumn for many weeks - dead brown leaves, fallen before their time, carpet most of the copses as the dessicated trees are unable to maintain them. The bird life has of course remained decidedly summer, i.e. dead, and as is customary I completely avoided the patch in June. And for all but the last week of July actually, which I can't recall doing before. I was just busy, and by the sounds of it I did not miss a great deal.

Naturally it started getting interesting as soon as went to Fife, with the first Tree Pipits, Redstarts and Flycatchers arriving. I am back now, of course just as Fife starts getting interesting! The Eden estuary has had a Spoonbill, the East Neuk has seen multiple Pomarine Skuas, and there was a two Great Shearwater day at Fife Ness which is basically unprecedented. C'est la vie I suppose, but I have been venturing out here in Wanstead instead and it is beginning to feel good.

Before work the other day I scooped up three Whinchat and three Wheatear together by the model airfield, and a Yellow Wagtail went over south which was my first of the autumn. It's not quite the flock of 40 that Abberton got, but I am still of the opinion that Wanstead Flats consistently punches well above its weight during migration season, particularly autumn. There was also a briefly exciting moment when a "Plover" was mooted on Alexandra Lake, reported by a non-birder and possibly talked into it! I was working from home and was able to take the time to hop on my bike and rapidly pedal down there. As I arrived I heard a Common Sandpiper call. Still, all waders are good round here - my 39th Common Sand on the patch in coming up to 20 years birding here, which gives an idea of their scarcity.

A bird from long ago....maybe this weekend I will take my camera out with me?

On the day that the Thames Water hosepipe ban was announced we had a deluge locally, and this has lent the area a new lease of life. It is still a myriad of shades of tan and brown, but the air feels humid, there are clouds overhead, and birds are appearing and finding food. After work yesterday I came back across the Flats, encouraged by earlier news of Flycatchers. I did not take long. I struck out at the birches, a favourite haunt that had hosted a bird in the morning, but at Esso Copse a familiar dash of muted brown resolved into a handsome Spotted Flycatcher. Quite mobile, a short while later it flitted towards Long Wood and as it did so a second bird followed it, I fancied greyer than the first. I followed both! In the part of Long Wood we know as the Enclosure I had the briefest view of a Pied Flycatcher before it disappeared, and pretty soon I could once again see a bird perched up prominently on the outer edge of Esso Copse again. Joined by Nick (long time no see), this turned out to be the Spottie again, but the Pied had vanished. Meanwhile James found both species together at Alexandra Lake, so we are a little confused as to how many birds there actually were. Definitely two Spotted Flycatchers, but potentially just one very mobile Pied. Equally there could have been three, so I think we are going to settle on two. Science in action.

So the next few weeks are the good ones, and generally they make up for all the crap ones. We need to make the most of it!

Another from the extensive back catalogue. This is really easy!

Thursday 18 August 2022

Meanwhile in Fife

I went up to Fife again at the end of last week to check on the old folks. They are doing fine of course, so I just went birding. Mostly I visited Letham Pools, and this time I remembered to take a photograph, aware that my last attempt at Letham bloggage rather stupidly forgot this key item. So here it is at about 6am one morning, during a thunder storm. I actually went every day - wader season is upon us and the mud is looking rather fantastic. During my time away in London, or rather, whilst I have been leading my normal life at home in London, I missed White-rumped Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper at Letham, but I have now added a consolation Greenshank. I am back there again soon, so fingers crossed.

Usually I bird on foot from the road, but here I am sheltering in the back of the car

I visited every morning I was there, I just really like it. The Snipe numbers were particularly impressive, with 30 there most days, as well as up to nine Water Rail all out in the open feeding. Black-tailed Godwits were in the shallows, Common Sandpipers skittered around the place, and on one day no fewer than five Greenshank were present, a site tick for me. On the day I had also been to North Queensferry for Tree Pipit vizmig, when I dropped in at Letham for a few minutes before starting work three Tree Pipits also buzzed over the pools - a multi-dimensional site!

Three of the five Greenshank, with a Snipe

Sunrise from Ferry Hills watchpoint

Fife remains a superb place to go birding, though while I was there is was quieter than I had been hoping. I did manage to quickly nip to the Eden Estuary for a late evening Pectoral Sandpiper, though we all know I would have preferred to see it at Letham... 

However the most exciting birding moment was after lunch on Saturday on my parents' terrace. I had just taken the final sip of rosé when I heard a familiar cronk and heading towards the house were two large black dots. I dashed inside for my bins, discarding sunglasses and hat in a mad rush, and returned in time to see two Ravens fly majestically north past the house. I only saw Raven for the first time in Fife last year, but they are on the increase in the Kingdom as I also had a pair at Largo Bay at the start of this year. Given I also jammed Jay from the garden in January, that completes my expected patch Corvids. Unless a Hooded Crow would like to relocate.... more chance of that than a Chough I suppose.

Wednesday 17 August 2022


The Black-browed Albatross currently/recently residing at Bempton Cliffs remains on of the best birds I have ever seen. I had the opportunity to see it again a few weeks ago. Notionally the prize was the Turkestan Shrike that had appeared in basically the same place, though not with Gannets. That was all fine, always go see Shrikes, even if someone fleeces you for £10 to stand next to a pile of rusting old boilers and assorted junk. Guardians of the countryside, pah. It showed pretty well, though not as well for us as it did for some, and we went away poorer but nonetheless happy with the result of seeing it and not dipping after a four hour drive.

I had woken up at 3.15am and had taken Bob as far as Stansted. From there Bradders Birding Tours picked us up along with co-guide Howard, and we made our way north. As is customary I slept for most of the rest of the way, waking up briefly for coffee and breakfast, but essentially contributing only a regular and I would like to think calming soundtrack. Shrike present and corrrect, yes yes, but actually we all just wanted to go and see the Albatross again, or in the case of Bob and Howard, an Albatross for the first time in decades. I suppose it is possible that this is the Hermaness bird from all those years ago, they are very long lived as everyone knows, but somehow I doubt it.

It was there (it is not always) and it was glorious. Initially asleep on the cliff it got booted off by an unimpressed and angry Gannet and flew quite a way out. That might have been it, but after an ego-restoring period on the water it got up and flew lazily back to the cliff before flying figures of eight right in front of us for what seemed like ages. What. A. Bird. Mesmerising.

The return journey also saw a fair amount of sleeping, and the guys were good enough to wake me up for a quick stop at the Idle Valley where a convenient Caspian Tern had been hanging out. Ol' carrotnose was still doing precisely that, and we enjoyed it flying around for a bit whilst adding to the day list. I don't do a great deal of twitching these days, but days out like this with (had I been awake) good company and wonderful locations are sometimes just the ticket.

Monday 15 August 2022

Madeira May 2022 - Day 2

 After a spot of birding at our hotel, followed by admiring the cycads and dodgy Mute Swan in the Parque de Santa Catarina, we made our way to Funchal Harbour for our wildlife watching tour on a RIB. It had not been possible to book a true pelagic (note to self, book pelagics then book flights). Plan B was a generalist two hour trip which should actually have been described as dolphin watching. Not that this was not very cool, it was, but we were there for birds and they basically play second fiddle to racing after pods of dolphins that have been spotted from land. 

Despite being first in the original queue, we ended up last in the final getting on the boat queue. This was a blessing in disguise as the rearmost seats meant we could stand up without getting in anyone else's way, and could also brace ourselves against the wheelhouse. Despite all the annoying dolphins (we saw
Common Dolphin, Striped Dolphin, and Atlantic Spotted Dolphin) we got excellent views of Cory's Shearwater, and I mean really really excellent. We also saw a few Manx Shearwater, and, ever alert, I managed to pick up a single Bulwer's Shearwater although the views only lasted for about 20 seconds as it hightailed it behind us. The message is clear, if you want to get the Madeiran sea birds on those all-important lists go on a proper birding trip. That said, this was only about €40, rather than the hundreds the pelagics cost, so if all you want to do is pap a few Cory's then this could be for you.

After a quick lunch on the corniche we headed up to the Palheiro Jardim, high above Funchal. I had not known about this spot as a place for Trocaz Pigeon, and was put onto it by eBird reports - not only do you not need to go way up into the mist-laden laurel forests, but you also get far better views of this tiny population that have chosen to live here. And the gardens themselves are rather nice for a pleasant stroll too, especially if you like plants. And frogs. For those of us that like plants and pigeons AND frogs....

All from South Africa - Protea and Strelitzia

The site was true to its fame, amazing views. Patience was needed, but eventually we managed to get close to a bird feeding on the ground and could get the kind of photographs that we wanted. Versus the grey blobs I had taken before this was incredible frankly. The gardens also had Madeira Firecrest, Madeira Chaffinch, gazillions of Blackbirds (also a sub-race) and was one of the most birdy places we went. Recommended.

We then headed higher, into the Ribeiro Frio. Here we saw more Trocaz Pigeons, and many more Firecrest, but the photographic opportunities were nowhere near as good. At the Balcoes viewpoint we witnessed the very finest of British tourists, an elderly couple that hated each other, and were generally amused by the very tame Chaffinch flock as well as the spectacular view. I also took a video call from my mother who had no idea I was even there, and was able to share it.

We spent the final part of the day at the Pico do Arieiro, the highest spot on Madeira that you can get to, to watch the sun set in the west over the peaks. We were not the only people with this plan.... but there is a big car park and plenty of space, and it was rather fun. We also found some
Red-legged Partridge and an extremely friendly Berthelot's Pipit to help while away the time spent waiting. In the end the sunset was rather a muted affair, ruined by pesky clouds. At least there weren't any dolphins.