Thursday, 27 August 2009

Mothing a la National Express

I feel a bit geeky even posting this.

When coming back, on the last train and a few pints the worse, from a night out drinking with old school friends, all the cool kids spend their train journey throwing up/falling asleep. They don't even notice the Moth on the seat next to them. They certainly don't take pictures of it on the phone camera, attempt to look it up using their new phone-based internet connection and then, upon failing, get the moth book out when they arrive home at half midnight and refuse to sleep until they've identified it.

It won't surprise you to learn that I have never been one of the cool kids.

That is why I have a picture of a Setaceuos Hebrew Character on my blog. Actually let's face it, it's probably why I have a blog.

Half dead and spilling entrails over Parus's finger (he is as geeky as me, if not more so), but a Setaceuos Hebrew Character nonetheless

Monday, 24 August 2009


We don't get many bees in inner London as a rule. A severe lack of meadows and an overloading of concrete are not conducive to them. HOWEVER, round by my patch (on the opposite side of the square to the Tower) there's a large building which is essentially derilict and seems to have been since I started working in the area. In the frontage of this building is an area full of wild Buddleia, and every time I've walked past it I've thought 'what a fantastic place this would be for bees and butterflies if it was anywhere else'.

Today I walked past and it was swarming. Bees of all shapes and sizes everywhere, plus a Small White and a Painted Lady. I stood there for a good 10 minutes watching, and I'm going to have to take the camera along and get some pictures if they're still there at the end of the week. So if you're round the Tower of London and want to see some bees, Tower side of the river across the square, just past the Riverboat Pier.

Now if only the House Sparrows would come back...

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Rainham is good again!

Just got back from a jaunt round Rainham with erstwhile companion Parus, where much good birdage was had.

I'll admit it didn't look good when we got there. Looking out from the visitor's centre showed very little indeed, except a weegret and some Canada Geese. 15 fruitless minutes Chiffchaff chasing in the Cordite store didn't help.

But good things were just around the corner. We got out of the Cordite store and crossed the bridge, and just as we were being told by one of the volunteers that there were 6 Common Lizards a bit further down the path, a brownish thing flitted onto a branch above our heads. Strike one young looking Spotted Flycatcher - I believe the expression is 'w00t!. We chased it down the boardwalk and found another at the top of a tree. The camera was out, but I only got silhouettes and none of them any good for ID purposes.

After that, good birds were plentiful. Green Sandpiper in front of the Ken Barret hide again, along with my first Teal of winter. 7 Greenshank and about 10 Blackwits were good wader records for Rainham, surrounded by the obligatory Lapwing. Nothing whatsoever on the target pools, but walking round the South end of the reserve got us 4 Yellow Wagtail which were scared up with a flock of Starlings poking round the cows. Awesome.

To top the day off, a Falco spotted as we were approaching the visitor's centre turned out to be a Hobby and as we were packing up inside the centre, a fox trotted out into the open and started worrying a flock of Starlings, some Canada Geese and a Grey Heron in that order.

Stopped by Wennington on the way back and again saw nothing whatsoever on the marsh, but I picked up a Whitethroat eating berries on the walk over there, and there were two or three Yellow Legs in the flock of Black Headeds/Lessers on the riverbanks.

Water levels were very low all over Rainham - slightly worrying - so I'm hoping this promised rain arrives sometime soon.

Flycatcher. You were warned - they're bad

Including attempts to eke out a bit more detail using GIMP

Now stop me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Teal specula are green. Will be Birdforuming this one.

There were about 3 dozen of these tiny frogs just off the boardwalk.

Migrant Hawker. First ever Dragonfly flight shot worth posting. Hopefully a bit more practice will produce better.

Edit: 23:15
Birdforum confirm that this is in fact bog standard Teal, and that it's the angle that's causing the colour to look different. First time I've seen it, and it's very strange.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Dwarf Fortress Woe

ffs. Five minutes in.

And he took the only fecking Wood Axe with him. Not impressed.


In a good news type turn of events, sitting in the garden of my local yesterday produced at least 30/40 House Sparrows lining up along the back wall and flitting about in the trees poking over the top. The area behind the pub is supermarket carpark, well known throughout the land as prime birding territories, and has a fairly regular flock of Sparrahs who sit by the pavement and perch on abandoned trolley handles.

They even elicited some comment from the regular patrons, not known for their birdwatching tendencies. Things like 'Seems like ages since I saw a Sparrow', and 'It's getting a bit Hitchcock out here'. Contrast this with the 'Stop that you bastard you're getting water on me. Yes you.' aimed at the Starlings bathing in puddles on the pub roof.

Cause for celebration I think. It's one patch I won't mind checking fairly regularly.

Monday, 17 August 2009

The Good and The Bad

This post contains no traces of ugly. Clich├ęs will resume as normal in a later post.

THE GOOD: Following my earlier plan to have the entire garden filled with Lavender, but in an entirely unconnected turn of events, the mother creature has spent the day out there digging it over and it is now looking far more wildlife friendly. The wild Buddleia near the house has had most of the stuff in front of it removed and has already gained a following of Bumblebees (it's also sprouting from a hanging basket at the end of the garden - buggered if I know how it got there). Some small amount of Lavender has been planted in the borders which should grow out to become butterfly central by this time next year, and the Ladybird house has been moved further down the garden to put some further distance between it and the bird feeders and has apparently had a rescue housed inside it (apparently some ants were dragging it into their nest - not very ant-like behaviour as far as I'm aware, but what do I know?).

THE BAD: A news story I picked up from Gwent Birding, where some nice oil barons tell us all how people LIKE climate change and don't want any of that nasty green power.

Direct quote from the article:
member organisations should encourage employees to attend to command the attention of senators. "In the 11 states with an industry core, our member company local leadership – including your facility manager's commitment to provide significant attendance – is essential"
Want to bet this becomes "attend or else" once it filters through a few layers of arse-kissing middle management? And want to see how quickly Fox "News" picks up on the protests without ever mentioning the highly contrived background? Grrr.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Birding Failure

No RSPB stand, no small dodgy looking gull. I'll never know for certain, but my gut tells me it was probably a runty Black Headed.

Spent lunchtime today watching the Starlings mobbing eachother for leftover bread and being mobbed in turn by Black Headed gulls. Also putting in an appearance were Lesser Black Backeds and a Herring Gull swooping about over the centre of the river. At some point I should really make the effort to learn something about juvenile large gulls - IDs are currently based on size and the company they keep, and both are useless.

Thought I saw a Sparrow once. Exciting times.

Yet all of this was preferable to writing SQL views today, my head just wasn't in it, so now I'm venting steam by running through every version I can find of 'The Devil Went Down to Georgia' on Spofity. Steve Ouimette's (of Guitar Hero fame) is very impressive and wanky, but Levellers are currently on top with a classy rendition somewhere between the rock version and the original.

Driving to Hampshire next once the rush hour dies down a bit. Cup of tea required.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

I hate gulls

Took a wander over to my lunchtime patch today, where I found a decent selection of gulls all laid out in neat groups on the riverbank. There were Greater Black Backed Gulls, Lessers, Black Headeds and a bunch of juveniles which were probably young Greaters judging by size and the fact one of them was trying to eat a plank of wood. And then there was this fellow, throwing everything into disarray:

Third from the left

And again

Juvenile winter plumage, brown on the wings, but about two thirds the size of the surrounding Black Headeds. My phone camera doesn't really show up the difference too well (I'm surprised it shows ANYTHING at this range), but it was very noticable. So obviously, this immediately got me thinking 'Little Gull', but I didn't have any optics and I wasn't too up on the features (I am now, of course). This needs further investigation tomorrow.

Hopefully that RSPB stand will be back for the third week running and I can have a loan of their Swarovski, but of course the gull will be gone.

I hate gulls.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

For Thing...

...who's been suffering Columbidae woe over in Fulham:


Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Addition to the Abberton trip

All this talk about birds, and I forgot to mention the moth we saw. The one that I mistakenly ID'd as a Marbled White butterfly at first glance. Having done a bit of ID work over on Nathalie's blog it's brought it back to mind.

So really, there's only one option in my moth book. The only thing vaguely resembling a Marbled White is an Argent & Sable, and that's odd, because my book also says the one and only generation of Argent & Sable flies in June. Of course, it has been a very odd summer.

My book also lists it as Nationally Scarce B, so it's probably a pretty good spot.

I wasn't going to list moths, but then again I wasn't going to list birds so I'm kind of resigned ot it now. No moth traps though! It takes something special to get me up that early for birds, and I surely won't do it for stupid insects.

Monday, 10 August 2009


Yes, it's the start of the Premiership season. Yes I'm a West Ham fan, so I need to spread my interests as wide as possible this so there's at least a chance I'll be celebrating something each week.

So I have created the Birdersliga (1146087-222925) on the Fantasy Premier League site. If you like birding and football, it's a way to waste 10 minutes of your time each week. If you don't then presumably you won't sign up.

It's all free, and there's a vague-to-near-impossible chance that you'll win something. You can see why it appeals to West Ham fans I'm sure.

I'm going to stick this on BirdForum, it's been a while since I was flamed horribly. But come join in the fun!

The best and worst of the EWT

Having a cultured evening in tonight. It was going to be spent in the Royal Albert Hall but my company for the evening had to cancel. After a day of work I wasn't really feeling up to dragging myself alone across London and getting home at half eleven, so I'm listening to Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto on the radio instead. One of my top 3 pieces of classical music, would love to see it live at some point. It also means I can skip the Stravinsky and play Monkey Island until the Tchaikovsky comes on. Just about to start. Exciting stuff. If the post seems somewhat more lyrical than usual today it's because I'm feeling inspired.

*volume UP*

Had my first ever trip to the Essex Wildlife Trust reserve at Abberton Reservoir on Sunday morning, guided by an old hand. It was a bit good. We started on the Causeways outside the enclosure and saw much wildfowl on the scrapes accompanied by several waders, some of which were life ticks. Saw some more Green Sandpipers to add to the one I saw at Rainham last week, several Ruff, a flyover Blackwit, Common Sandpipers, one Wood Sand (lifer) and a Greenshank. Also picked up a couple of Yellow Wagtails (lifer) hiding among the Pieds, which was ultra-cool.

Pictures below. The old camera made the trip rather than the new one, because having tried handling both a scope and a 300mm lens, I never want to try it again. Actually, I'd forgotten how much fun it can be just to point and shoot.

Abberton from the Causeway

Some poor quality phone/scope action. Yes that is a Red Breasted Goose. Yes it's also untickable. Very cool looking bird though.

From here we moved onto the reserve proper, scoping out from the visitor's centre and wandering round to the first hide for a closer view of the scrape. Very impressed with the centre - good selection of books and optics, a minimal amount of expensive tat and, like all good visitor's centres, some feeders set up right outside. The optics are where the RSBP usually falls down for me. They're so focused (hah) on selling their own brand stuff that they often neglect to stock decent 3rd party equipment. A couple of Opticron scopes (other than the fairly unique Might Midget which turns up everywhere) wouldn't hurt. Also, Abberton sell out-of-date crisps for 30p a bag. Bargain.

Not a whole lot turned up on the Reserve itself, and not for lack of effort. Very specifically, no Black Terns showed themselves. Only 2 life ticks for me this weekend, what a pity.

Abberton's Tern Island, complete with young Common Tern

View from the centre

So how does Abberton Rate? Excellent really. Lots to see, good facilities, only con for me is that it's a bit out of the way.

How does Abbots Hall Farm rate? It doesn't, because it was closed. Mid afternoon on a sunny Sunday in the middle of the school holidays, and it was closed. Apparently It's closed every weekend. Now Parus assures me that it's one of the EWT's best, so it seems crazy that they'd shut it on what could possibly be their busiest days, but there you go. This is the worst of the EWT - you'd think they didn't like money. Still, by that time Abberton had already made the drive worthwhile so it was difficult to stay annoyed.

We finished the day with a trip to Mersea Island, since we were out that way anyway. Apart from having the biggest mixed flock of Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins I've ever seen, there was nothing there but people. Maybe it'll be more bird-friendly in Winter.

That's it for the birding. I'm just left to report that the Violin Concerto was amazing and Julian Rachlin is clearly a young violinist to look out for in future. His encore was a stunning Bach Partita for solo violin, beautifully played. The Tchaikovsky gets a regular airing so I've no doubt I'll get my chance again in the next couple of years. Well worth listening to.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Repotting success

A quick trip round B&Q for some pots and a short tutorial on how to pot things has resulted in a successful trans-plant. Ho ho ho. This almost certainly calls for a celebration, and I shall drink to its continued good health later tonight.

And while I was there, I purchsed the spider plant a friend.

Unfortunately it didn't have a label so I have no idea what it is. Any botanists out there wish to enlighten me?

My room is now greener and more spider mite free than it was this morning. I have achieved something with my day.

Friday, 7 August 2009

The darker side of insects

Following my previous posts espousing my love of insectkind, I would like to rant briefly on the same subject. Some background is required.

My girlfriend, being the kind, loving, and above all penniless woman that she is, grew me a spider plant as a '3 years together' present. I was very pleased with this as I'd been meaning to get a plant for my room. The rosette was taken from one of the plants in her flat and potted by her own fair hand and, following a short delay while I got my room sorted, has since been very happily sitting on my chest of drawers. Here's a picture:

Beware of the Leopard

My mother, most impressed with this plant, has mentioned that she would like one for her work (in a school) so I let it sprout some rosettes of its own which will be cut and potted in their own time. They have now started to flower. Arn't they pretty?

So all was fine until this morning when I lifted the pot, and what did I see? Many tiny white things running around. I know enough to know that tiny white things in the basin of your potted plant can be a sign of trouble, so this evening I called in some expert advice.

Expert advice on this one was erring on the side of Woodlouse larvae, which doesn't sound unreasonable. The plant's quite healthy, I'm not overly worried about these things. A simple bit of repotting should take care of that.


Then I saw this.

Red on red, right on the limit of what my faux-macro lens could do. Little fuckers were impossible to photograph

Does that look like red spider mite to you? It looks a bit like red spider mite to me (note - red spider mite are not, in fact, spiders; so don't go counting legs). Would any horticulturalists out there like to make a guess of their own?

Either way, I think this will get thoroughly washed and repotted this weekend. The roots are coming out the bottom of the pot, and I've got the free time.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Insects Insects Insects

Everyone loves Insects. Just today I was thinking about how to attract a few more Bumblebees into the Garden when I saw this. Good old BBC.

Now I'm not particularly keen on having a full blown hive and, besides, next door have small children, so I wouldn't want to attract anything dangerous that they might try and put in their mouths in a peak of childish stupid, but a few tube bundles scattered about for the Mason bees wouldn't hurt anyone.

Of course wanting a few more bees leads to thoughts like 'well if I'm bring in some highly-pollonating flowers, I may as well include some more for the butterflies', and 'what would be really cool is a little ladybird tower to keep the aphids off' (we have one of these; as far as I'm aware no ladybird has ever set foot in it) and before you know it, you've redesigned the entire Garden to be some kind of insect haven.

I have had to work very hard to keep a sense of proportion. This wasn't helped by flicking through the little catalogue that came with this month's RSBP Birds magazine. 'Ooh a butterfly feeder, how cool would that be'. We only have one damn tree and it's already overloaded with bird feeders. We do not need a butterfly feeder.

So I'm scaling back a bit and thinking maybe a couple of bundles of dry twigs at the backs of the borders to act as insect hotels. Maybe try and talk the mother into putting in a couple of lavender bushes next time she digs over the garden (went to a wedding reception 2 weeks ago in the gardens of a stately home, and saw a line of lavender bushes coated in Bumblebees and Painted Ladies - it made an impression).

Apologies to Mr Lethbridge for the bandwagonnage. I've been composing this post in my head all afternoon, and didn't mean to steal his title. In fact, I'm off right now to read his post.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Birds at Rainham? Goodbye summer, it's official

In the last 3 Rainham trips I haven't managed to get past the North Boardwalk. This Monday's was no exception. HOWEVER, for the first time in 3 trips this has been due to an excess of birds, not a lack. The uber-camera also made its Rainham debut since Mr Parus had thoughtfully knocked over his tripod 2 days previous, thoroughly breaking the head. The tripod then finished the job on Monday morning in the reserve's cafe by shearing off something inside one of the legs. He was therefore using mine. Our party was happily completed by the Missus.

The walk started, like all the best Rainham walks, with a Bacon Sandwich and a cup of tea. Allow me to also recommend 'Claire's home made blueberry cake'. Yum.

Interesting birds included a well behaved Whimbrel from the bus stop and a stunning Green Sandpiper posing shamelessly in front of the Ken Barrett hide. I got a short tutorial in how to tell them from Common Sandpipers, and some lovely views. Birds that interested me and no one else included a bold little Wren flitting around the boardwalk near the Cordite store and a Reed Warbler who stayed still for more than 2 seconds on the Northern boardwalk (this is exceptional for Reed Warblers, who seem to have some 6th sense for feeling the camera lens on them just at the point before it's fully focused). Birds doing interesting things included a Weegret slapping a fish about a bit before finally swallowing it and more Chiffchaffs that I've ever seen in one place, all pretending to be Willow Warblers.

Extra proud of this one, because I spotted and ID'd it myself with no assistance. Norfolk has done wonders for my 1337 w4d3r sk1llz

Parus's spot. Nice one.

Tricksy little Wren

Invertrbrates were also well represented - Saw what I believe to be Male and Female Ruddy Darters, and loads of Small White butterflies. Also some kind of Pale Blue butterfly which we decided has to be a Holly Blue because it's not going to be a Chalkhill Blue, and the Common Blue has brown underwings while this one was definitely pale blue underneath. Didn't settle long enough for a picture unfortunately (they hardly settled at all!), despite repeated attempts. Also got my first decent picture of a Gatekeeper with wings open. They're elusive little things, almost skipper sized.

The male I'm pretty certain of

The female, not so much. The tail shape doesn't seem quite right, though the markings are. I'm 80% on this one.

Definitely a case of 'familiarity breeds contempt' with this one. I hardly even notice them usually, but they're great

Hopefully this is a precursor of better things to come in the next few weeks. Autumn seems to have started early this year.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Tick ethics

Friday lunchtime was much more interesting than expected. I wandered down to the riverside outside the Tower of London and espied a small RSBP stall trying to catch the passing trade. Had a chat with one of the guys on there about lcoal birds, and he explained that since the Peregrine Watchpoint at Waterloo had been a success they were experimenting by branching out a bit down the river. Makes perfect sense to me, and I know there's a small community of office workers who bird the Tower at lunchtimes (of which I consider myself one of the less active members) so there's clearly a market.

The ticking dilemma is as follows. The nice RSBP people had a VERY nice Swarovski scope set up pointing at the old power station (now the Tate Modern) where the Peregrines tend to roost, and they asked if I'd like a look. Which of course I did. So can a Peregrine count as a Tower tick if it was actually sitting a mile and a half away down the river? My usual rule is that if I can see a bird FROM a site, it counts. And for sites like Rainham (which I couldn't see across even with a scope, it's huge) and my Garden (which has no line of sight beyond the houses over the back) that's fine. It just feels a bit unnatural to have the following conversation:

Me: "I got a Peregrine patch tick at the Tower of London today!"
Other: "Fantastic, where was it perched?"
Me: "Bankside"

I'll probably take it, because I know they HAVE been seen by the Tower. And it brings my Tower patch list up to a whopping 27 (roll on the Common Terns).

And after missing the Little Egrets AND the Black Tailed Godwit, both seen over the last couple of weeks, I need some cheering up.