Thursday, 29 January 2009

Belkin Wireless Woe

I have made the not-very-difficult decision to close the Linux blog, since I've hardly posted on it. Instead, the odd Linux article may crop up here every now and then. Like the below. The idea of that blog originally was to share solutions problems I'd solved, and also have them handy in case I did something stupid like reformat my hard drive without copying my instructions for getting the wireless internet working. Which I did.

From now on, all content will appear on Pretty Birdies, you lucky people.

The following instructions relate to the Broadcom Corporation BCM4318 [AirForce One 54g], but should work for a wide variety of chips. It is also Kubuntu specific, but I'll try and point out the bits that need modification for other distros:

The theory is that instead of trying to cut your own firmware with fwcutter, they've already done the hard work for you. All that's needed is to extract the tar to the /lib/firmware directory.
What they don't tell you is that the /lib/firmware directory will be write protected.

If you know your way around the command line here then you're laughing. If not, we're going to use the graphical version of 'sudo', which is the command that gives you superuser powers.

1. Download the tar.gz. file from the above website. You'll need a computer with internet access and a removable storage device (e.g. USB stick) to transfer it to your computer.

2. Copy the file to your desktop

3. Hit Alt+F2

4. Type 'sudo ark'. This will open Kubuntu's default archiving program (Ark) with superuser permissions. This will need to be changed to match your distro's normal archiver.

5. Click 'Open' and find the .tar.gz file

6. Click 'Extract to' and browse to the '/lib/firmware' directory. Extract the files.

You won't get much in the way of confirmation, but a quick browse to /lib/firmware in your file manager of choice should confirm that the 'b43' and 'b43legacy' folders are now present. Restart your session, and see if your card now detects your wireless network.

Pleased to say that mine now works like a charm. I hope I have managed to do some good and save someone else's sanity and supporting walls from serious dentage.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009


Site tick today - one I've been waiting for since I started this listing business.

I saw a large gull and thought 'that looks suspiciously black backed'. Then it very conveniently landed a couple of butresses down from a Lesser Black Backed and I thought 'Oh. Can't argue with that then.' Yes! despite the drizzle, I braved Tower Bridge today and was rewarded with a close up of a Greater Black Backed gull. Having seen one close up, and having now seen it next to a Lesser, I don't think I'll ever confuse the two again.

Sometimes birding in this area can be like pulling teeth. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Also bought an Ibanez guitar off ebay and saw West Ham beat Hull. It's been a good day.

Site list - An awesome 18

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


Well as promised the camera went to Liss, and via Liss to Petersfield - Home of the world's most inbred Mallards:

We wandered round the park trying to feed the already overfed ducks, and I failed to take action shots of gulls (see below for the only good one). Nonetheless it was a very pleasant walk and we had, as previously mentioned, a rather good chinese. However it's thrown up a bit of a puzzler. What the hell is this?:

At the time I was thinking maybe a juvenile goose, but the bill's all wrong, and it's way too big to be a duck. Here's another to give you a sense of scale, but take my word for it, it was much bigger than mallard size:

Answers on a postcard.

Anyway, a nice day and we got through a whole loaf of bread. Hoping to maybe have a go at Cranham Marshes this weekend. And my new tripod just arrived, yay!

Monday, 26 January 2009


Bill Bailey. Legend. A children's song about Owls. Notice: No mention of getting soaked.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

I am odd

Given the last couple of posts, it's probably worth me pointing out that as far as birding around the tower goes, I'm a bit of an exception. Most people birding round Tower Bridge way do so from the South Bank of the Thames. I bird from the north bank. I didn't realise this was unusual until I started trawling a couple of birding forums, but it's no great mystery. My office is on the north bank. It's about 10 minutes walk to Tower Bridge. Crossing the bridge would eat an unacceptable amount of my lunch hour.
This is the reason I can wander with impunity round the St. Katherine Docks and watch Tufted Ducks.

There's a big lawn on the South Bank which may make it worth my while come summertime, but for now I'm happy with the north and my Cormorant platforms. Some day I'll see a Shag on there. Just you wait and see.

Currently in Liss, and making plans to go feed the ducks. Have also sneakily offered to buy the girlfriend a nice pub lunch. I reckon the odds of getting a pub with the West Ham game on are pretty good, I should at least catch the second half...

Edit 25/01: It turns out pubs in Petersfield are rubbish. No West Ham, not even any TV screens. HOWEVER, there is a very nice Chinese that does a very good lunchtime deal...

Also bought some 'Dorset Real Ale Chutney' from the marketplace. It is rather nice.

Bird related: The usual suspects on the park pond - Mute Swans, Canada Geese, One Greylag, many Coots, endless Mallards (quite a lot of discolouration, must be a bit inbred round these parts (well, I am west of London)) and a couple of Moorhens. The walk to the station along a stretch of river gave us Robins, Tits and Wood Pigeons, but precious little else. Will have to do a big explore along the riverside when the days get a bit longer.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Wrong, wrong, wrong

Yeah, they were tufties. And I'm an idiot. So what was with the green head? Either I saw some kind of Scaup/Tufted duck cross (not impossible) or, more likely, I saw a Tufted duck in the right light to get a green sheen off its head. Either way - there was just the usual, bog standard, style of Tufted duck about today.

Am I disappointed? Hell no. I happen to think Tufted Ducks are awesome, and they're still a good site tick. Very photogenic.

In other news, I got the best picture of a winter plumage Lesser Black Backed gull currently in existence. Not bad for a hand-held at full 12x zoom.

Almost makes up for the complete lack of Greaters so far.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

St. Katherine docks

"Give the fecking camera a rest", I say. "Wont need it 'cos I'm in Liss this weekend", I say. The birds are reading my fecking blog I swear.

Ventured past Tower Bridge for the first time in a while today, and down to the St. Katherine docks. It was there I saw the bird. It was small, it had a white wing, and it looked like a tuftie with a green head and without a tuft. And there were at least 3 of them looking like this, + females. The closest I can find is Scaup. They were also diving completely under the surface, which I wouldn't expect of tufties.

Looks like I'm taking pictures tomorrow after all.

Edit 25/01: Having actually done some reading, it turns out that 'diving completely under the surface' is exactly what I should expect of tufties. There's nothing quite like a blog for making your ignorance glaring and public.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Foiled again

A pretty good day at the office today - nothing especially new or exciting, but the old favourites were queuing up to be photographed.

First off, let's get the 'I told you so' out the way. The loch ness monster lookalike from yesterday wasn't a Shag after all, just a juvenile Cormorant. See the sordid evidence below:

It won't stop me dreaming.

Got a site tick for Mallard, which was nice. I know they're regulars, but before today I hadn't seen one. Now I've seen five. Had a couple of Pied Wagtails beachcombing (I love low tide), joined by the usual flocks of Black Headed Gulls, 3 Lesser Black Backeds, a couple of Carrion Crows and a couple of errant Coots.

Then as I was leaving the site, over by the path at the bottom of the big steps, I came across a noisy little Great Tit hiding in a bush. For a wonder, he actually waited until the camera was out and I'd taken a picture before flying off.

A pleasant day all round. Though I'm sure I'll regret it, I'll probably give the camera a break for the rest of the week. I've got a trip to Liss this weekend to see the other half, so it'll be making its debut on the Liss Riverside Railway Walk.

Last but not least I leave you with a house Sparrow especially for Parus, who seems to express near constant amazement that we get them in the city centre. There's a bit of bush alongside the main walkway into the tower that holds quite a few:

Site list - 16

Monday, 19 January 2009

More gull troubles

Saw something very large, brown and immature looking on the river today. My first thought was Herring Gull, but having checked the books it is as I suspected - Young Lesser Black Backeds look practically identical. Of course. Got a pretty good flypast view, but not enough to fix the minute detail in my brain. The camera comes back out tomorrow, but which time it will probably be on the south bank crapping on the many tourists.

Also thought I saw a Shag. Again. And of course I only had the phone camera on me. Here's a brief taster of how that worked out:

What utter shite, looks more like Nessie. Anyway, it looked small and slim, but that could have been the distance.

Moral of the story: IF YOU HAVE A CAMERA FOR GOD'S SAKE TAKE IT WITH YOU. From now on it lives in my bag.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Rainham Marshes

Today I have been out doing normal and manly things, like drinking beer and watching West Ham beat Fulham 3-1 - possibly in an effort to offset my rather geeky and, ultimately, ill-fated early morning expedition to see Barn Owls yesterday with this person. Actually any owls would have been nice, I'm not fussy. Instead, what I got was rudely awoken at 05:15 ON A SATURDAY MORNING and, in the grand tradition of British birding, soaked to the skin. All I can say is that the owls are clearly smarter than us, because they didn't get up, and I don't imagine they got wet. Still, my new thermos performed admirably.

From there, we headed straight on over to Rainham Marshes - my first visit this year - and a welcome cup of tea. All talk in the office seemed to be of Pendulines and the suckers who were still hoping to see them. My personal goal was to double my year list and a quick glance out the window got me my first - Wigeon on the near lake. Cool. Also present was a rather spiffy Pintail, which is a lifer as well as a year tick. Don't waste time looking for him in the below, he's not there.

A quick wander round to the hide produced a decent picture of some Teal, a few distant Shelduck and a break from the wind, as it was cold and we were still drying out. Then to the boardwalk where nothing much was happening at all, so we headed back for more tea and I took the chance to snap some Skylark out the window.

The finches were out in force, and I got Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Chaffinch all from the same flock. I officialy like Goldfinch, very pretty birds. Also further down the path we heard a shy Meadow Pipit, which I wouldn't have recognised but am having anyway. Must learn bird calls.

Bought some food back at base and spent most of the rest of the day on the northern boardwalk. During this time Parus's better half arrived, which meant the year list war was renewed. Got 3 raptors - Peregrine, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk - which impressed me greatly. Saw some Reed Buntings, and heard a Cetti's warbler and a Water Rail. Argued with Parus about the sex of the Kestrel. See what you think. You may have to take my word for it that the grey blob is a Falcon.

No sign of the Pendulines, surprise surprise. Rarest spot was probably the 2 Chiffchaffs, one of which was a Siberian sub-breed (I'm not up on the latin). Surprisingly even I was able to see the difference between them. Only the tristis (OK, a little latin) in the pictures below. Apologies for the general crappiness of the pictures, this thing was spending about half a second on each perch and every time I took my eye off it it disappeared. Ended up just pointing the camera in its general direction and hoping I had enough for a decent cropping. I like the first one best, because it actually looks like a bird. I'm informed by those who know that the second is better for identification.

There was plenty more - Dunnock, Little Egret, millions of Lapwing (who liked the Falcon not one whit), a solitary Ruff, some well hidden Snipe and a last minute flyover from a couple of Black-Tailed Godwit who'd been flocking with the Lapwing all day. Far too many to name them all individually.
In conclusion: A good day, despite the owlessness of the morning, which by my definition means one in which I actually achieved what I set out to achieve, and in which I got to eat a Rainham Marshes bacon sandwich.

Site list - 54
Year list - 63

Thursday, 15 January 2009


Fuck yes, Grey Wagtail at the Tower, picking about in the sand under the pier where the riverboats dock. Unmistakable.

Site list - 15

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Posers and puzzlers

Sometimes, it's like the bird is posing for you. "Here are all my identifying features! Quick take a picture". Sometimes it's still not enough. Look at these examples:

Proof once and for all, if any was needed, that this is not a Shag.

Compare it to this:

Is it greater or is it lesser? I just cant tell. I'd incline towards lesser, but I'm buggered if I know why.

Still, that's what blogs are for. Put me out of my misery.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Tower

I've been 'properly' birding at the Tower for just over a week now and only just seen my first Raven. Whether that says more about my eyesight or the prevalence of Ravens loose around the Tower is debatable. Anyway, here is a bad picture taken on a phone camera, because I didn't have a real one:

Also the usual flotilla of Black-Headed Gulls, Wood Pigeons and Starlings (more than I can shake a stick at), our regular Pied Wagtail, who I'm growing quite fond of, 2 Black-Backed Gulls (probably Lesser) doing laps of the castle and one briefly glimpsed Great Tit darting about in the tree by the big black gates. Camera comes back out with me soon.

Year List - 30
Site List - 12

London birding

I work in central London, and I love it. Take away the commute, and there's nowhere better. Landmarks everywhere, a busy high street, buzzing marketplaces, tramps peeing into bins, it's awesome. In fact, the only thing missing is birds. Yes there are parks and some of them are quite nice, but we seem to only have the scummy kind in in my neck of the woods. This is why most of my weekday birding is currently done 10 minutes walk away on the Thames.

As fellow Tower of London birders will know, there is not the widest variety of birds on the river, but to make up for this the area seems to breed the tamest birds in the universe.

As a West Ham fan and Linux user, it appeals to my masochistic streak. And it makes the odd lesser black-backed gull all the more special. It's always fun to swing by the wooden platforms where the cormorants hang out and delude myself into thinking I've seen a shag.

And last Friday I even got a year tick - caught what I believe to be a yellow-legged gull. Unfortunately its legs arn't actually showing, but it looks stockier than a Herring gull.

So if you're desperatley looking for that elusive black-headed gull, come on down! We have them by the boatload. If you want anything else, go to Rainham. Or Liss. Or anywhere really.

Monday, 12 January 2009


Only a quick update because I don't want to scare it away. There is a bird sitting on a pillar opposite HMS Belfast. It's been there for two lunchtimes now, on the pole nearest the north-bank walkway, and I don't know what it is. Not that this is an unusual situation.

But I can't find anything like it in my bird book either. I've already disappointed myself this week with a Black-Headed Gull in its first year (Look! It's got brown on its wings, and a black bit on the end of its tail, what could it be!!1!??1?!!) so I'm not going to make too big a deal out of it yet.

It looks a bit cormorantish.

The camera is going with me tomorrow. The bastard better still be there.

Edit: Well, perhaps predictably, it wasn't. Got some nice pictures of other birds though, a couple of which will appear once my camera has been recharged. Also, Liss Riverside Railway walk is teh pwnz0r. Long-tailed tit and Grey wagtail among others now on the year/life lists.


Happy New Year! Yeah I took my time about it, but the girlfriend has been over and such things are not conducive to blogging.

Inspired by the ever entertaining Parus I have reclaimed an old hobby and bought myself a book on birds. It gets me out of the house, and I'm quite tempted to keep a year list this year and see how well I do. However, in the spirit of the blog, a quick book review is probably in order.

The book is photograph led instead of sketch led, which is a matter of preference, but personally I prefer it. It's more realistic, the colours more accurate and just try drawing a starling with accurate colouring. Good information, nice little maps and everything arranged into easy sections so finding what you thought you saw is actually fairly painless, which has not always been the case with the guides I've owned in the past. Went for a walk round the local park yesterday to test it and tried to find all the birds I'd seen when I got back - no issues at all, and one Greylag goose now correctly ID'd. I'd recommend Amazon over Smiths as I paid the full RRP of £16.99 in the shop whereas online is considerably cheaper, but what the hell. I own it now. I went for the full version, though you can get a pocket guide which is much the same but with less blurb about each bird. I'll be carrying it around in a bag if I carry it at all, so size wasn't really an issue, and the extra info makes it worthwhile for me.

Overall, a good buy. And it should last a few years at least. Particularly if I do start taking the hobby a bit more seriously, which means keeping lists and things.

Gotta catch 'em all.


So basically, I got a bit more into birding than I planned and had to start another blog. The old one is still there, but is now relevant++ [no it's not]. The next few posts will be copies of the bird related ones from the gadget blog, because I am lazy as hell. So sue me.