Sunday, 27 December 2009



*deep breaths*

Fortunately the attack of brain freezing excitement wore off before it flew away. Here are some surprisingly stable pictures.

Jay doing entirely the wrong place (but it feels so right)

Looking a bit washed out through the glass, but I don't care at all. This is probably one of the least expected garden ticks ever. Just, awesome.

On the first day of Christmas my Garden gave to meeee,
Some Redwings in my neighbour's tree.
On the second day of Christmas my Garden gave to meeee,
One awesome Jay
And some Redwings in my neighbour's tree.

Fingers crossed tomorrow I'll get to add another verse...

Saturday, 26 December 2009


Flock of Redwings landed in the trees surrounding my garden about 2 minutes ago. Garden tick! Brilliant. One of them hung on for ages.

Other notables for the garden this morning: A Blue Tit, a few Blackbirds, some House Sparrows on the feeders and a large flock of Strarlings alternating between feeding on the grass and fighting over the fat cake.

Also, just picked up the bins and saw a Robin attacking and chasing off a female house Sparrow from next door's apple tree while a male House Sparrow sat there and watched uninterestedly. You can tell they're local.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Sketchy things

Inspired by the recent spate of bird drawings being published by the likes of Messrs Lethbridge and Simpson, I dug my pencils out from the bottom of the drawer for the first time in years and decided to have a go. I've never had the patience for the kind of precision needed to do pencil drawings such as you might find in the aforementioned blogs, but I used to enjoy knocking together a quick sketch.

There's a sound argument that drawing a bird helps with identification as it makes you look more closely at the features and proportions. I can't say I've ever had ID problems with the below, but I can see how it would work with the many LBJs, where you're looking at primary projections and similar.

And so, armed only with scrap paper, some pencils and Google image search, I have sketched the following:

For a first attempt in years I'm quite happy with it. Proportions are good, pose is alright, and I wasn't allowed to use a rubber as otherwise I'd never have finished it so stray pencil lines can be safely ignored. I always used to try and draw an outline first and then fill it in. Having read a couple of books I realise now that this is stupid, so I used the proper 'draw two ovals and join them up' technique. Much better.

The plan is to get to a stage where I can start playing with watercolouring them. There should be some more appearing at some point.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Mystery Gull contest

I was just having a look through the weekend's photos from when I happened across this little fellow captured on the slack over Dagenham Chase:

Originally I took the photo because I wanted a closer look at the Gull on the left. That reddish breast isn't an artifact of the photograph, it was obvious through binculars and more than passing strange. Hoever, notwithstanding the possibility of some kind of weird drug fuelled fling resulting in a Black Headed Gull x Robin hybrid, I'm forced to conclude that it's probably just been sitting in a puddle of red stuff - probably on a tip somewhere.

However the gull to his right is much more interesting, because he doesn't look Black Headed at all. My money's on Common, any takers? A patch tick hangs in the balance.

The photo has already been cropped down to a fraction of its size and then blown up to about 200% in GIMP so it doesn't get any better than this I'm afraid.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

When you're on a roll...

Decided to see what I could drum up locally today, since driving to Rainham would have wasted valuable daylight hours and I hadn't been out around Harrow Lodge for a while. Also took the good digital camera on the assumption that the park would be too cold for the usual yobs hanging round the main lake. I was hoping my luck would still be in following the intervention of the Birding gods at Tower Bridge (turned out I was right; 2 patch ticks - score!).

First up was a regular for the patch, but always a pleasure. Grey Wagtails frequent the river that runs down the left hand side of the main field, but I've never managed to get a picture in the past, so having one posing about 8 feet away was too good an opportunity to miss:

Walking a bit further down added some Grey Squirrels, a couple of Robins, a noisy flock of Long Tailed Tits (maybe a dozen that I saw) with at least one Blue and one Great in amongst the crowd and a suspected Wren, which disappeared almost the instant I laid eyes on it. Since this is typical Wren behaviour I'm happy to keep it on record as a 'probable', if not a definite. A little further round the river, as I turned a bend I picked up patch tick no. 1 - a streak of electric blue flying away from me a high speed. Only saw it for a second but it didn't matter, it could only be a Kingfisher. Sent an excited text to Parus, who has done the circuit with me before and has long predicted that Kingfisher would turn up on that river, and kept walking only to see the same streak heading back towards me about a minute later. Fumbled with the camera and managed to capture the following stunning photographs as it disappeared from sight round the bend behind me.

Seriously, it's a good thing this blog is anonymous or Pentax would be knocking on my door demanding that I give their camera back

Just the usual wildfowl on the main lake along with some Black Headed gulls, though it gave me a chance to play with some close-ups of Swans and Cygnets and to see what I could make of the half dozen gulls sitting in a neat row on the railing over the bridge.

Rounding the far end of the lake I sent up a few gulls sitting on the grass and picked up some large windows on the wingtips of one of them. Wasn't big enough for a Herring so patch tick no. 2, Common Gull it is. There are probably loads over there, but I don't get a lot of experience with them so I'm still working on picking them out of a crowd.

After Harrow Lodge I crossed the road into the chase and took an extended walk round. Saw a finch flock of about a dozen Chaffinches, but couldn't pick anything else out from the brief views I was getting. Looking out over the slack didn't turn up any waders or any unexpected wildfowl (saw a m/f pair of Teal and a few Wigeon), though the Herons were out in force (I counted at least 6). What I mostly did over the chase was run around after a particular Kestrel trying (and failing) to get decent photos. It was about half three by this point and a giant raincloud was looming so light levels were appalling. It wasn't all bad for photography though.

Long lens, narrow aperture, low light. Wasn't anywhere near this dark over there at the time. All I've done it crop it and tidy the levels, the light and colour are identical to the original.

All in all then, and excellent day's birding and a good time playing with the Pentax. Really feel like I'm starting to see improvements in my photography, which is good because it justifies the silly money I paid for my camera. Still got a half formed plan to take it to the Tower during one lunchtime and try it on the tame Starlings. Imagine there'll be plenty of time for that in the week before christmas.

General deviance

I have finally started doing something with the Deviantart account I started up oh so long ago.

My recent Robin pictures seem to be particularly popular. I have to recommend this site for people looking to store their photos online for other people to see. It's well laid out, easily navigated and there's always the vague hope that someone might buy something.

I am now searching for some kind of widget that will let me connect my Deviantart account to this blog. Be on the lookout for strange and exciting new boxes on the right hand side.

Now I need to sleep. Going to try and get out for a nice long walk tomorrow, either over the Chase or over Rainham. Will see what the weather's like and what time I get up.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The magic that is "Keyword Analysis"

Not much exciting birdwise at the Tower today, though for some reason someone seems to have added some lights to the Crossbill habitat. Perhaps so you can see the birds in the dark? Anyway, quiet days on the bird front means un-bird related posts. You can probably stop reading now.

One of my favourite things about the stat tracking software on my blog is the "Keyword Analysis". Most of the time this is mainly useful to see who's hit your blog while searching for porn but occasionally other amusing combinations of words turn up. It certainly gives you some insight into the mentality of these people. I've circled my favourite:

I'm not Lee Evans biggest fan - I can safely say I disapprove of his apparent birdwatching philosophy - and at times in the past his name has cropped up in a post, but I don't believe I've ever called him an idiot on these pages.

I also particularly like 'london bees riverboat'.

If you keep a blog (or any website) and you haven't yet discovered this feature, I thoroughly recommend it. Particularly if you occasionally like to slip potential porn keywords into posts to catch unwary trawlers (only for the most hardcore (and I mean seriously anal) bloggers) red handed. Go find the statcounter link somewhere at the bottom of the right hand menu and give it a click. It's a whole new world.

And as a cool little added bonus, you also get one of these.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Pulborough Brooks

On Saturday the woman and I took a trip to Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve. She'd been there before but years ago and I never had, and since it's less than an hour from her flat we planned to give it ago. Saturday morning was miserable but not yet wet, so we took the plunge.

The first thing we saw on getting out of the car was the friendliest little Robin I've ever come across. The trip was worth it for him alone, and I'm now sorted for Christmas cards for the next 3 years. This was one of those rare occasions when the bird turned up while the camera was in its case and WAS STILL THERE when I finally had it ready and pointed it at the branch where the bird was perched. It turned out this Robin was a right little poser.

There are far more where these came from, he was too good to resist, but they are among the sharpest.

On the feeder outside the centre were dozens of Blue and Great tits, along with Chaffinches, a couple of Coal Tits and the woman picked out a Nuthatch, though I missed it. Doesn't surprise me particularly (the fact there was a Nuthatch or the fact that I missed it), the feeders were an utter madhouse. No pictures here because we went inside to get some food, the plan being to 'take some photos later'. Best laid schemes of Mice and Men and all that. More of this later.

So we sat in the canteen and picked up cups of tea and a very tasty Pork and Apple casserole. This was seriously good winter warmer food and much needed, but by the time we got out onto the reserve the best that could be said for the weather was 'moist', and it went downhill from there.

I didn't get a picture (too much rain to change lenses) but normally looking out from the Visitor's centre at Pulborough Brooks you're treated to a view much like the one from Rainham Visitor's centre when all is working properly. The view on Saturday had more of a North Sea feel to it. The whole valley was flooded. The downside of this was that there were NO birds out there. Wetlands were completely covered, so all that was left were ducks and Wildfowl, and even among those I didn't pick up any unusual winter ducks (my kingdom for an Eider...) and all the Swans were Mute. The one plus was that the high water had driven all the Fallow Deer up to the grass just in front of the centre.

The camera was put away fairly soon after starting the walk due to excessive rain, but not before I'd got a couple of record shots of Redwing and Jay (first 'seen' Redwing of the winter, but not the year). All my optics are feeling particularly ill-treated and are now due some TLC.

My favourite Thrush - not sure why. Maybe because I didn't realise they existed before I became a 'Birdwatcher'. A bit of the magic of 'suddenly seeing nature afresh' still hangs around it.

I did get some not-completely-crap Pintail video from the Nettley hide, which can be seen below:

Note how I finally get the thing in focus just as the buggers swim off. Very inconsiderate.

And that, really, was that. Pulborough Brooks looks like it would be a great little reserve in fairer weather (i.e. when 2 of the hides weren't flooded and the valley not full of water), and while I may not have seen the best of the birds, I got a pretty good feel for the layout of the place. Would definitely like to go again, maybe in January/Feburary time while there's still a chance of some cool winter ducks for the 2010 list. They also have resident Bullfinches, which are getting to be a bit of a Bogey for me, so all the more incentive to do a decent day's birding down there. The 'tea-room' at least is a model of what the canteen on every reserve should be like. It didn't have the varied and much appreciated selection of homemade cake provided by, say, Rainham Marshes, but the hot meals more than made up for it.

It was wet, and in places it was cold, but as I sit here with a glass of single malt (Bowmans if you're interested, Islay malt, deliciously peaty), I reflect that wet and cold is temporary while awesome Robin photos will hopefully last a lifetime.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Birding gods are mighty

Following my plea to the Birding gods, and not wishing to anger them by asking for something and then not bothering to look, I took a stroll down to Tower Bridge today not really expecting anything much.

And surprisingly, the Birding gods delivered. Nothing truly spectacular perhaps, but there were undeniably birds at the Tower, and some of them were undeniably not on the list of commons I was ranting about before.

Got off to a good start when I arrived at the riverside just in time to see and hear a Pied Wagtail heading full pelt in the other direction, and a quick scan of the usual flock of Black Headeds on the riverboat walkway showed up a Lesser Black Back settled down for a snooze. Feeling heartened, and deciding that the Birding gods are no respecters of weakness and are most likely to help those who help themselves, I took a wander round a long neglected part of my patch - St Katherine's docks.

Crossing the lock gate I heard a machine gun chattering in one of the trees and quickly hunted down the noisy Magpie. Believe it or not, that is a Patch Tick for Tower Bridge, taking me to a grand total of 28. Plea to Birding gods = well and truly answered. I will sacrifice Lee Evans to them in thanks if ever the opportunity presents itself.

On the docks themselves were a very pleasing pair of adult Tufted Ducks (m/f), 2 male Mallards and a Cormorant going fishing. The fine art gallery had also acquired a couple more nudie paintings that I could pretend not to be looking at as I walked past.

The highlight, however, was sitting in front of the Tower itself. The ways of the Birding gods are truly ineffable.

These industrious workers have clearly been tasked with creating some kind of Crossbill habitat right on my very patch! No other explanation could possibly make sense.

I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Quiet times in the City

You don't hear much about it these days, but I'm still working the Tower Bridge patch of the Thames as often as I can at lunchtimes. Despite stupidly high water levels over the last couple of days, nothing of interest has turned up. Nothing. Not a bloody sausage. The regular host of several hundred Black Headed Gulls haven't harboured any Meds (or even Commons), and rarely even a Lesser Black Back these days just to break up the sea of pale grey.

As for Passerines... well, maybe a demonstration is the best way of getting this across:

It's a shame, because earlier this month things were looking up. Last week a Male House Sparrow showed up and stood on a bush singing for almost 15 minutes - very loud, very healthy looking. He was the first for over a month and no sign of him since. He was accompanied by a very smart Male Blackbird creeping about next to the hedgerows scavenging for crumbs. In fact, the week before that a small flock of 8 or so Goldfinches turned up and started hanging about at the very top of one of the mature trees. That's a first at the Tower for me, and quite a good inner London bird to boot. Again, vanished without a trace into the ether.

I'm still fighting through the miserable weather to get there, but am getting close to a "don't know why I bother" phase. I know, youngsters these days, no commitment. I'm working from home tomorrow, but I'd like to put in a small plea to the birding gods - if you could see your way clear to throwing something interesting at the Tower between 12-14:00 hours on Thursday it would be much appreciated. I'm not fussy, it doesn't need to be Firecrests. Maybe a Wren. Or a Robin. I've seen them both before, I know it can happen. Just please, anything but Pigeons, Starlings, Coots, Carrion Crows and bloody Black Headed Gulls!

Weather permitting, the plan is a trip out from the girlfriend's to Pulborough Brooks this Saturday. That should keep me going for a few more weeks.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Norfolk, November 2009 - Day 3

Expectation is the enemy. If you know what you're expecting to see, you're already halfway toward a duff ID. From what I hear, most birders learn this lesson constantly throughout their careers, and that's why I don't feel quite so bad as I might.

But this story has a happy ending.

It all started on Monday morning. This was leaving Norfolk day, so we walked into Sheringham town centre to get food for the trip home. Naturally enough I didn't take my camera because food shopping rarely presents good photo opportunities, and this inevitably meant that when we walked along the 20 yards of coastline available to us on the way in it was covered in Turnstones. Because I have a remarkably tolerant girlfriend (who incidentally reads this blog) I ran back to the B&B for my camera. She held fort on the sea wall and, upon my return, reported with some small amount of smugness that while I'd been gone a couple of the birds had decided to chase eachother round the path and ended up about 2 feet from her. Mildly irritating, but since I'd spent the entire run back picturing silhouetted Turnstones disappearing over the horizon I couldn't find it in me to be too disppointed.

So ensued a bit of a mammoth Turnstone photography session - they're just so photogenic and so well behaved. One of my favorite coastal birds for all that they're common as dirt:

Broke my normal blog-rule about not doing any post-production (other than cropping) on this one. Just tweaking the levels a bit makes it look so much sharper.

The trouble with Turnstones though is that they do like to poke around in drain outlets and other such accumulations of crap and litter, and it does rather spoil the ambiance when the bird is sitting next to a dead coke bottle. Fortunately, sharp eyed girlfriend came to the rescue. "Oh look, there's one on the rocks over there, do you want to try and get some pictures of that?"

FIRST CLUE IGNORED. It was sitting all on its own on a bloody great rock and not poking about in sewage with the others as Turnstones are wont to do.

"Oh cool" I replied, "Yeah definitely". And it was very well behaved and I was very pleased, and got some very nice pictures including a rather cool flight shot, and which I didn't really look at very closely. SECOND CLUE IGNORED. We finished up the food shopping and drove home, picking up a Buzzard over the car on the way.

Once back, I called a friend and expressed a desire for beer - a desire with the full weight of 7 hours in the car behind it - so we went to the pub and dissected our respective weekend's birding. On the way back he stopped by the house and I gave him the camera to peruse.

"Are you sure that's a Turnstone?" he said. Well I was until I was asked. "It looks more like a Purple Sandpiper" he said. "Look, the bill's clearly longer than a Turnstone's and there's white edging round all those feathers on its back". So down came the bird books, and a Purple Sandpiper it was. Lesson Learned - look at the damn bird in future. Prime example of why going out with a camera should never be confused with going out birdwatching.

So I feel a bit stupid because the bill alone was a huge giveaway, but I doubt it'll be the worst ID I ever make. And the photos are good. And I had fun with the Turnstones. And I had beer in a pub. A successful day all round.

It wouldn't be right though if I finished the trip report without mentioning the B&B where we stayed. It was a little place in Sheringham called the Alverstone, and it was extremely nice. Perhaps not one for the more dedicated birdwatchers out to catch all the rarities they can - breakfast was served at 09:00 each morning which is well after first light even at this time of year - but comfy and welcoming. Full cooked breakfast on request, though I stuck with scrambled eggs on toast after the first morning, and only just off the A149 so easy access all the way up and down the coast. Took about 15 minutes to get to Cley, and half an hour to Blakeney. If you're looking for a holiday, I recommend.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Norfolk, November 2009 - Day 2 of 3

This was the day when the missus and I used up our allocated share of 'weather-luck' for the rest of the year. The forecast was, frankly, horrible, and a quick chat with the lady in the Beans Boats ticket office (i.e. cottage front room) revealed that they'd actually stopped taking bookings and advised people not to turn up as they didn't think they'd be able to run the trip - it was all touch and go until Sunday morning. As it happened, the day was bright and sunny until about 2 minutes after we stepped off the boat. Now THAT's timing.

"Every year the Seals travelled from miles around to Blakeney Point and gathered on the beaches to witness the human spectacle as, for some inexplicable reason, the humans all packed themselves tightly onto floating trees and sailed round in little circles."

The Seal trip was considerably shorter this time round - there was no stopover on the point itself and the seals were gathered on a beach much closer to Morston than they were when we were here in May time. However, they did have one thing going for them that they didn't have in the spring. SEAL PUPS. I think I can let the pictures speak for themselves...

Not a pup





We saw some birds as well, but who cares, right? Redshank and Brent Geese can't compare with this.

And besides, the most exciting bird of the trip was yet to come...

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Norfolk, November 2009 - Day 1 of 3

This trip report will be delivered in 3 parts. The first (this one) and the third will contain all the things that will likely be of interest to the birdwatching community who are the mainstay of this blog. The second will contain little except sickeningly cute photos of sickeningly cute Seal pups.

The birdwatching portion of this trip is a tale of both mirth and woe, full of false IDs and birding ineptitude. This is because the Missus and I were going it alone on this visit and lacked the knowledgable second opinions of our previous trip last May.

Note: This was not a 'birdwatching holiday' as such, just a relaxing weekend away where we incidentally did some birdwatching. This trip was nowhere near as big or as manic as the May one.

We started the Saturday at Cley, where I just about managed to hand over the £4 entry fee without wincing. Checked the board quickly - nothing in the book for the day thus far - and ventured onto the reserve. I've lost my map, but we headed out to what I believe are the middle hides and spent some time looking out across the scrape. If you like Wigeon, Teal and Shelduck this is the place to be.

They covered the lake and surroundings, and are just generally very photogenic.

However, man cannot live on wildfowl alone, and before long we had another visitor turn up.

And wonder of wonders, it actually sat down in front of us long enough for a decent scoping and some poor quality video.

Also out on the marshes were a small selection of Waders - 8 or 9 Bar-Tailed Godwits and a few Redshank dotted about - one which we're fairly certain was a Spotted Redshank. The boardwalk on the way back produced the first of the woeful IDs. We went for Whinchat, based on the pictures in the poor quality excuses-for-field-guides that are my main source of information (I want my Collins goddammit). After consultation with Parus (i.e. him saying 'no it's not'), I've revised my opinion and now consider it to be very much a Stonechat. A quick search on Google images confirms this -the supercilium is nowhere near as prominent as you see in the Whinchat pictures scattered about. I'll know for next time. Still, we showed the picture to the lady in the visitor's centre and told her it was a Whinchat and she didn't hesitate to write it on the board as one. That'll annoy the locals. See what you think anyway:

Regular Redshank

Not a Whinchat

We ate some soup in the visitor's centre and I picked up a Bird Song CD, which I've been meaning to do for ages. In the meantime someone had written "60 Snow Bunting (Shore)" in the visitor's book, so we made a dash to the front to see what we could see. No Snow Buntings, but a Flock of about 1500 Golden Plover made the effort worthwhile, and scoping back over the marshes bagged us about 400 Lapwing and a Pintail on the scrapes.

Looking the other way, out onto the sea, was about as fruitless as seawatching gets. We saw a single Greater Black Backed gull, a couple of Cormorants and a Common Seal. No Gannets, no Fulmar, nada. We did chase a pipit type thing into some long grass, but I'm not hot enough on those particular kind of LBJs to ID them from the brief glimpses we got. To be honest, long glimpses would give me almost as much trouble. It will be forever unknown.

In the afternoon we headed over to Holkham bay to try and find some of those Shore Larks, and possibly a Snow Bunting or two. We were disappointed on both counts, though some friendly Seawatchers put us onto 4 Gannet doing their plummeting thing, along with a flock of c60 Common Scoter fishing in the same area. Walking down the beach to the area where the Shore Larks were reported to be, we happened across a few LBJs among the sea of tiny Heather stalks which, with the help of the esteemed Parus, have been narrowed down to Twite. I've checked the call since our conversation and it matches what we heard on the day. Here's an appalling picture. Notice how I got lost among the sea of brown and focused on a piece of string, instead of the actual bird in the bottom left.

And so ended day with a couple of pints and some food in the Robin Hood, Sheringham (highly recommended, lovely pub and Old Speckled Hen as a regular ale).

That's enough for now I think - tune in tomorrow (maybe) for part 2 on Blakeney point, in which there may be some seals.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Abberton on Sunday

I've had two trips to Abberton now, and both of them have been brilliant.

Spoonbill doing Spoonbilling

I got ticks, I saw good birds that weren't ticks, and I got chauffered to a very nice pub in Maldon called the Blue Boar. Good birds, good food/drink and good company, what more can you ask from a day out?

Of course, tick birds for me are as scum underfoot to others - one of the few advantages of being new to the hobby are that life ticks are easy to come by, and every trip holds genuine hope. Take the above; first Spoonbill ever. Awesome. Other ticks for this trip included Goosander, Goldeneye and Spotted Redshank.

This was alongside the 120ish Golden Plover, 300ish Black Tailed Godwit, c40 Teal, 2 Pintail, 60ish Gadwall and single Ruff. Lots of other, more ordinary, stuff seen, but we did miss the Bewicks Swans and Smew seen the previous day. Smew is a winter target of mine, so I'll be following that particular story closely.

On the way back we stopped in Heybridge basin, which was good for 3 things: Tea, Golden Plovers and House Sparrow photos. Didn't get a picture of the Tea, but you're in luck with the rest.


The Plover were particularly impressive. There must have bee a flock of at least 3-4000 - photos just don't do it justice. Really got to see the golden colour in the twilight though, which was very very cool. A genuinely good day out even without the birdwatching, and one I'll be looking to repeat when I can.

Off to Norfolk with the missus this weekend, so there will be some birdwatching done but it won't be a crazy runaround like last May, just a relaxing long weekend during which I might happen across a reserve or two. I'll save the pressure birding for next year.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Corvid on the feeders?

Those of you hanging around London right now will know that it's pissing down here - high wind, torrential rain etc. Not conducive to birdwatching. But I've got my curtain open on the offchance as my room looks down onto the feeders, and if there's one thing that might drag birds out into the horrible weather it's food.

That's why I saw the Magpie perched on my fence flying over to a fat cake, which hangs in a cage, desperately hovering in midair while it tried to tear off a beakful, and then flying back to the fence to sit and stare at the feeder before trying again. Rinse and repeat 4 or 5 times before it finally gave up and flew away. With winds like this I am amazed that it even got close.

First time I've seen a Corvid trying for any of the feeders which are far too small for them to perch and feed. I can only assume it was getting desperate.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Fame. Ish.

Anyone here buy Bird Watching magazine? Have a look on page 13 will you...

Monday, 9 November 2009


Busy busy, got about 15 minutes to write this before I spend another 48 hours away from the computer.

First off, Coal Tit in girlfriend's dad's garden on Saturday - awesome. Not the best view, but easily the best I've had so far. Didn't get to see the white patch on the back of the neck, which I'd like to get a decent look at in case the suspected Coal Tit ever comes back to my garden, but easily enough to identify it. Also had a second opinion in the form of the missus who was out there with me, and she has seen them before. Only about the second I've ever seen and I also got to catch an earful of song, so very happy with that.

Secondly, I took a LONG walk this lunchtime, went a considerable way down Cable Street and ended up in Shadwell area. There's a small allotment here, the front of which is full of trees, bushes, dead leaves and bird boxes. And Grey Squirrels. Saw at least 3 of those, along with 3 Blackbirds and a Blue Tit feeding off of berries in a tree overhanging the pavement. The best bit though was hearing a familiar high pitched nattering sound, and catching sight of a Goldfinch through the branches. Inner London tick right there - think I'll start keeping a generalised patchlist for the Tower Hamlets area. I've seen a couple of birds out and about now that arn;t close enough to count as Tower ticks, and it's definitely worth keeping a record.

Still struggling with phone video. I have purchased a USB cable and transferred the stuff across, but finding something that will let me play/edit it is another matter. It will be sorted, but have had a distinct lack of time on the computer this weekend.

Last but not least, I forked out some money for some bird listing software, because updating my HTML lists was too time consuming and I'd essentially stopped doing it. I also know now, after working with them for the last year and a bit, that relational databases are where it's at. Wasn't at all impressed at first, and I still think Jeff's Birding Database seems on a par in terms of functionality, but JBD doesn't let me add new locations properly. Having played with Tick List Pro I'm getting used to it now. It's not great, but so far it's better than the alternatives. Will post a better review when I've managed to get a decent number of records into it. Still time consuming to add them, but at least I'm just updating in one place, and I can include some extra detail.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

The importance of not being an idiot - part deux

So you lose your charger. You find your charger. You charge the batteries of your very expensive camera. You go to Rainham Marshes 2 days later and take the camera with you, hoping for some hot .jpg action. What have you forgotten?

To put the fucking battery back in the camera of course, you silly sod.

Not impressed.

Trip report to follow once I work out how to get some poor quality Snipe video off my phone and onto my computer.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The importance of not being an idiot

Until about 5 minutes ago I thought I'd lost the charger for my Pentax battery, thus rendering a very expensive camera very useless. I have been persistent in this belief for about the last 2 weeks, and most peeved. The worst of it is that it has in fact been right under my nose the whole time, but every time I've looked at it my eyes have slid right off it, as though distracted by some kind of SEP field, and I've thought 'right that's the Kodak charger, where's the Pentax?'.

I just checked a drawer on the OTHER side of the room that I've looked through at least half a dozen times and found the Kodak charger in there. And apparently for 2 weeks I've not noticed that mysteriously there seems to be two of it.

So I can take pictures again, yay! And I was very kindly bought an ND filter for my birthday - pointless for bird photography, but should be fun to play with on the landscapes.

To celebrate, here are a couple from the archives, taken with the old Kodak on Ludshott Common in Hampshire in April 2007.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Houseplant update

No real bird related news. In the last week or two the only out-of-the-ordinary (i.e. not a Corvid, Black Headed/Lesser or Greater black backed gull, Pigeon or Starling) birds I've seen are a Wren and a couple of Robins. Winter both giveths and takeths away - if you can get out on a weekend the birds are fantastic, but there are no more birding walks before/after work because it's all gone dark.

So here are some pictures of my 2 houseplants, just to make my girlfriend jealous. You may remember that I was entrusted with a spider plant as an anniversary present some months back. That plant now, quite satisfyingly, outstrips the original by a long way and is a source of near inexhaustible bragging rights.

Spider Plant doing HUGE

It was joined shortly afterward by a friend, but the Umbrella tree experiment was a bit of a failure. It desperately needed repotting within a couple of weeks and got far too big for my desk, so it's been taken into protective custody downstairs with all the other monsters.

I still wanted a little desk plant, nothing too showy, so I took the missus along to B&Q to see what we could see. A quick look along the sale plants and we found a fairly unhappy looking Begonia. I took her word for it that it would recover perfectly given a bit of TLC and here is the result:

As you can see, my surfaces are covered in the clutter of the hopeless gadget-o-holic. And my desk faces South.

Apologies for the appalling image quality - the light bulb in my room is vastly underpowered.

I'm feeling quite green fingered these days. Will I get out next weekend and actually see some birds? I bloody well hope so.

I'll leave you with a question: Can juvenile Black Headed gulls have yellow bills/legs? Saw 2 gulls at the Tower of London today which were Black Headed in size and shape - they also had the browny juvenile plumage and the black dot behind the eye. The bill and legs though were bright yellow. As far as I'm aware Common Gulls don't have the black eye spot, and if there'd just been one of them I'd have shrugged it off as a probable BH mutation, but two of them standing next to eachother? I leave it to the wisdom of others.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Dungeness - 24/09/2009

Very late write-up, but better late than never.

My first day at Dungeness, and in fact my first day's birding on the South Coast proper. And I'll confess my sins and say straight out that twitching a couple of Glossy Ibises played no small part in my agreeing to drive Parus down there at 05:30 on a Thursday morning. Fortunately, they turned up.

First birds on leaving the car were a power line full of Linnets and a bush full of Meadow Pipits. Neither are rare exactly round these parts - you can pick them up over Rainham quite reliably each year - but I very rarely see flocks of either, and particularly not close enough to get a proper photograph (regular readers may have noticed the new banner). 10 minutes of Seawatching also got me a self-found Gannet, which was quite satisfying. My first 'proper' self found bird on a Seawatch and mainly due to my getting sick of the sight of them on the ferry to Jersey a few weekends ago. Black Redstart however seemed reluctant to put in an appearance. Along with Tree Sparrows, these were the big no-shows of the day.

We got plenty of Raptors - Marsh Harrier, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Hobby, Buzzard from the car - and plenty of Willow Warblers - the bird obs was crawling with them. Parus netted himself a Black Tern for his self found list, which I leached off of him. We also had fun watching Woodpeckers (Green and Great Spot) from the car park opposite the reserve. Credit/blame for the pictures is split fairly evenly between myself and Parus - 2 photographers and one camera.

Highlights of my day were the never ending stream of Clouded Yellow butterflies (unfortunately none of them sat still long enough for a photo), my first ever Small Copper, an incredible 10/15 second view of a Kingfisher hovering in front of our hide on the reserve (shitshitshitgetthecamera, bugger) and of course my 2 life ticks, Whinchat and Glossy Ibis. Definitely a worthwhile trip for me, though I won't be going back until this rain stops.

A fantastic Small Copper

Another Chat down. Still some way to go though

A disappointing first view, but identifiable

Lots of photos for this one to make up for the general lack lately. Life takes over in occasional waves. Should be getting back to normal soon.