Monday, 23 February 2009

And another thing...

Ooh, while I'm at it, a particularly high tide today saw at least 3 Greater Black Backed Gulls over by the Cormorant platforms on the river, chasing the Lesser Black Backeds round one of the barges and fighting off a couple of suicidal crows. Also a large and pale looking gull which was probably a perfectly innocuous 1st year of some kind. It could have been an Iceland Gull (but probably wasn't), I did mention it was rather large, but as it was over on the platform and I had neither camera nor bins I'll never know. Nonetheless, the camera will come out tomorrow, on the off chance that it's still there.

Also also saw something that appeared to have no black ear patch and very little black on the wingtips mixed up with the Black Headeds. It was about the same size, so probably not a Kittiwake, but I'd have loved a closer look.

I think the only reasonable solution is going to be some compact bins that I can carry round at all times in my jacket pocket. Who says there's a credit crunch on?


Celebrated the new driving license in style with a trip to Rainham with a tit yesterday. The sound of Little Grebe filled the reserve - always sounds like badly dubbed dolphin to me. Nothing hugely exciting out - Goldfinches, about 7 Snipe performing arial acrobatics, more Lapwing than I could shake a stick at, 1 distant Little Stint + Golden Plover + a Dunlin which kept going up for no good reason that I could see. No sign of the Peregrines, though there was a rather cool looking escaped Harris Hawk gracing a fence.

Highlight on the reserve that day was probably a Reed Bunting making a sudden and very Penduline-like appearance and sending all birders within a hundred yards into palpatations for a good 3 seconds. Also a Mute Swan doing something interesting for once and eating some reeds. Photos will follow as and when I can be bothered to connect up the camera and do the necessary cropping/resizing. It's late and I'm tired.

View from the new 'bunkers'

This is clearly cheating

Mute Swan eating reeds with every sign of enjoyment

Coot doing torpedo impressions

Why I hate auto-focus. It really is a Reed Bunting.

Goldfinches on the feeders

The trip home was enlivened when Parus saw a Common Crane in a field, and we tried to enter Tesco via the 'deliveries only' entrance in our excitement. We got parked up properly shortly afterwards but to no avail, the bird had flown. Unfortunately, I had my eyes on the road like the good driver I am, so I can neither confirm nor deny the story, and nor can I tick it even if it gets seen elsewhere locally.

Saturday, 21 February 2009


w00t! I can drive!

Now I can bird wherever I like! :-)

Thursday, 19 February 2009


Young gulls are annoying.

The Black-Headeds are fine, but the 1st/2nd year 'larger gulls' - Herring, Yellow Leg, Lesser Black-Backed - all seem to look identical in my bird books. Got some good views of what I'm pretty sure was a second year Herring yesterday lunchtime, You could see the back was starting to lose its brown feathering and pale grey was showing through underneath. The Gull was very obliging and, while I was watching, helpfully stood next to some Black Headed Gulls so I could compare greys (which were very similar) and a Lesser Black Backed so I could compare size (practically identical). It was also behaving in an interesting way and trying to eat some of the crap that litters the bed of the Thames (including one thing that looked like an inner tube), so plenty to see.

I do like Gulls. Even if you see them everywhere, they do interesting things and are fun to watch, and tend to have a bit more character than other birds. I just wish they'd come more clearly labelled.

I think next month's paycheck may have to be invested in some kind of specialist Laridae book...

Monday, 16 February 2009

My room is full of crap

I'm having a big clear-out with a bin liner and a box for the charity shop at the moment, and the former is a lot fuller than the latter. HOWEVER, I have just found some old top-trumps style Bird in the Hand cards that date way back to my time in the YOC. They are so old I can't even find mention of them on the internet.

They are mint condition, very cool, and are coming to Rainham with me next time I go.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

London birding update

Time for an update on Tower Bridge I feel.

Last Friday was a bit of a waste of time, since there were a bunch of guys on the Walkway by the Tower firing Howitzers. Even after they left and the public were allowed back in, every songbird for miles was still quivering under various bushes. Unsurprisingly, the seagulls didn't appear too fussed.

Since I last posted on here, I've had a Herring gull on the beach showing off all his identifying features, a Robin singing loudly and proudly round St Katherine Docks and some flypast Canada Geese, taking the site list total up to a whopping 21. That's more than I thought I'd squeeze out of this site in a year, so any further birds I see are into bonus territory (and the best of the migration is still to come!). Here, in honour of the Tower of London, is the list so far:

1. Black-Headed Gull
2. Blackbird
3. Blue Tit
4. Canada Goose
5. Carrion Crow
6. Coot
7. Cormorant
8. Feral Pigeon (Rock Dove)
9. Great Tit
10. Greater Black-Backed Gull
11. Grey Wagtail
12. Herring Gull
13. House Sparrow
14. Lesser Black-Backed Gull
15. Mallard
16. Pied Wagtail
17. Robin
18. Starling
19. Tufted Duck
20. Wood Pigeon
21. Yellow-Legged Gull

Odds are I've seen a Common Gull at least and not recognised it, so there's scope for a couple more seabirds in the near future as I get better, and I haven't seen a Collared Dove yet (and they're EVERYWHERE) but I think I may be reaching the ceiling for this patch - or at least the Winter ceiling. Might grab a few more if I start crossing the bridge in the summer.

Tempted to start a 'London's Mangiest Pigeon' competition on Birdforum. If there's one thing Tower Bridge is good for it's mangy pigeons.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

What the...?

That was surreal.

Bins have been lying next to the window all day - didn't bother putting them back following a bit of garden birding this morning. I glanced out of the window and saw something silhouetted on the roof opposite. "Looks a bit pigeon shaped" I thought, but something at the back of my mind was saying "the hell it is", so I picked up the bins for a quick look and at that very moment, the bird started moving. Managed to get a fix on it just as it spread its wings and started to fly off.

It was not a pigeon.

In fact, it looked quite female-Kestrel like. This would be consistent with my initial impression of size.

If I consider my Garden, as a site, to be anything I can see from my back window (and I do), that's a rather spiffy garden tick.

Never underestimate the power of the subconscious.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Snow pictures (at last!)

Apologies for the appalling lack of activity this week. This has largely been caused by the BT Hub falling over every other night (new one has arrived and will be installed tomorrow) and the recent acquisition of this and this. I will be spending little for the next few months but omg it's worth it.

I almost wish I'd gone to Rainham today, but I will miss the start of the six nations for nothing short of actual destruction of the Earth. Terrible game, undeserved scoreline. We'd better improve before we play Wales or they will knock great big holes through us.

Anyway, a good time had by all on Monday if the hundreds of snowball fights were anything to go by. I skipped the big fight in the street outside my house and ate a bacon sandwich instead, score! Then I braved the snow and ice with this person to see what we could see.

We cut through Harrow Lodge Park to get to The Chase - which is where the REAL action is - and stopped by the lake to get our fill of Wildfowl. The normal pond ducks turned up (go tufties!), along with some Pochard (all male) and 3 Little Grebe (year tick, w00t!). We were inundated with fairly tame Robins, and on the way out we came across a flock of Goldfinch which Parus estimates at about c.30. Seeing as he is better at this than me, I'll bow to his judgement.

Then to the Chase proper. Walking up the road we saw a brown streak with a blue bit fly past ("Jay!") and at the entrance a Little Egret passed overhead, so it was all looking good for birds until we actually got into the Chase. Very quiet over there - once again, the birds outwitted us by staying warm and dry while we got cold and wet. It wasn't all birdless; we almost walked into a Stock Dove coming out of the trees (tick) and got a good view/earful of a flypast Meadow Pipit. There was a large flock of Lapwing on one of the lakes and 6 Redwing on a distant flypast. Saw what was probably a Greenfinch across some large frozen puddles and spotted some more Little Egret, making this a patch I'll try to visit much more regularly. Usually when I'm out over The Chase I'm dogwalking - getting out there without dogs was well worth the effort. Also stumbled across some Reedmace tucked away behind some fences which I didn't know was there, so next time the Pendulines get sick of Rainham I know where I'll be heading.

Finished off with a walk down the river Rom where I got my first good view of a Redwing and heard 2 Kingfishers, which I'm having for my list. Kingfishers are a bogey bird for me. They invariably fly past when I'm looking elsewhere, or daydreaming, or, occasionally, blinking. The river's local for me, so I'm confident I'll see them some day. Nothing else turned up, but Parus got excited about some trees.

Edit: Damnit, I forgot the Goldcrests! How can you forget GOLDCRESTS, they're brilliant. Anyway, we also saw some Goldcrests by the river. YearList++, theChase++. Added below.

Site lists:
  • Harrow Lodge Park - 21
  • The Chase - 17 (early days yet for this site)
Year list - 70

Monday, 2 February 2009

Snow day!

Because let's face it, I would be crazy to go into work in this. Here's a picture taken just after my alarm went off:

And a similar view half an hour later, + a picture taken from the front door:

This needs a serious photography trip over the Chase I feel. Birds should be nice and visible against the white, and they'll be feeding like mad things in this cold. Just have to find a food source and wait really.

Another job for super-thermos!

Sunday, 1 February 2009


All week I've been planning a quick jaunt round Upminster/Cranham way to see if I could find Cranham Marshes, so naturally when the time came it was cold and it snowed. Undeterred, I went anyway. First stop off the bus was to get some fingerless gloves from Aldi. I am now very glad I did this.

Turns out I couldn't find Cranham Marshes (not too surprising given the poor standard of Essex Wildlife Trust's directions; as it goes, even after getting home and rechecking google maps, I'm still not sure which bit is the reserve), however I found a nice bit of scrubland with trees, long grass and a promising looking reed bed next to The Jobbers Rest pub and accidentally bumped into the Thames Chase Community Forest behind the golf course. Nothing much about in either of those in terms of wildlife, but given the cold weather, the lateness of the day and the very strong winds I was expecting that. This was more about exploring than birding.

Managed to scare off something small and pinkish breasted rounding the first corner in the scrubland (eyes in the trees and not on the ground, damnit) which may have been a Chaffinch or a Bullfinch. One's a tick and one isn't, so that was a bit annoying. Notable among the birds I did ID (i.e. anything not Crows, Magpies and Wood Pigeons) were 3 Goldfinches chasing each other around the trees and a host of Blue Tits among the berry trees. Gulls aplenty on the wing, but with the prevalence of first years I couldn't get a positive ID. Will have to do one of these Gull workshops at Rainham. On the way out of the Forest I heard something that sounded somewhat like a Dunnock, but visual inspection just produced an LBJ well hidden in a bush. Suppose it could have been a female house sparrow, but I'm having Dunnock.

Just as I was heading back, I walked past Coopers school and saw some medium sized brown things on the field. I debated unpacking the bins again and was glad I did, as it turned out to be a flock of about 30 Fieldfares. Site, Year and Life tick all in one :-) Awesome. As little as a couple of months ago I'd probably have seen them from a distance and just dismissed them as blackbirds/starlings without paying any attention - it's amazing what you manage to miss if you're not making the effort to look.

Got a few pictures of the sites, will probably put them up next post. For now, I'm braving the cold again. The pub is calling.