Monday, 27 April 2009

Office birding

Bit of an abortive attempt at the Tower today. It was drizzling a bit when I decided to take lunch, but being a grizzled birdwatching type I ignored that. About 50 yards into the walk the rain got heavier but I ignored that too, reasoning that the rain had started light and would get light again soon.

5 minutes later I was turning tail and walking humbly back to the office as the sky fell on my head. Lesson learned - I will sacrifice one of my sandwiches to Tlaloc before leaving the office tomorrow or unpleasantness will happen.

So I spent some of my afternoon gazing wistfully out of my sixth floor window - not as productive as you might imagine as any bird with half a brain was over by the river. Fortunately Lesser Black Backed Gulls don't fall into this category - they are by far the most common bird I see from the office window and today I clocked up 3.

Occasionally I see a Greater, or a Carrion Crow. When the season's right there are generally a few Black Headed Gulls and of course that means there's always the possibility, however unlikely, that I might spy a Med. More chance of seeing one at the Tower though. No raptors and no overflight of Wildfowl as yet, but I live in hope. It takes the edge off a dull day at any rate.

IN OTHER NEWS: I leave for the Norfolk coast in T minus 3 days with a Fair Maiden, an Aardvark and a Tit. It will be rather good. Yeah Baby.

Saturday, 25 April 2009


Something is very wrong.

I just installed 2 gig of RAM, taking my computer up to a total of 3 gigabytes. I could be putting it through its paces with Half Life 2. Or Splinter Cell. Or Dawn of War.

Instead, I am firing up Dwarf Fortress.

Something is very wrong.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Competition answer

Well the answer to the Evening Birding Competition was, in fact, ROBIN.

2 things made this tricky.
  1. There's no real sense of scale in the picture. Parus suggested that the bird had a waxwing-like profile, and I can see what he means, but in real life the bird is much smaller.

  2. The wind caught the head in a way that makes it look like it has a bit of a crest. Just trust me that it doesn't.

No blog comments, but I received a couple real-life guesses and thought I'd better lay it to rest publicly before everyone forgets about it completely.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Ingrebourne Valley

Mr. Parus has already done all the hard work with this post, so I'm free to ramble about the things I liked. This trip was an object lesson in birding by sound - most of the stuff on my list for the day was heard before it was seen, if it was seen at all.

Saw my first ever Whitethroats (being new to birding is great - everything's a tick!). They are cool, but very loud. The song snippet on the RSPB website doesn't do them justice at all. Generally quite easy to see though. Tick.

Saw my first Willow Warbler. The song is quieter than the Whitethroat but very distinctive in its own way, with the descending scale of repeated notes. The RSPB do a much better job with this one. Tick.

The Cuckoo was easily the best example of a bird heard before it was seen. They're just a bit unmistakable. We were wandering round trying to get a second view of the Willow Warbler at the time, an activity which was quickly abandoned when the Cuckoo song came drifting across the trees. We had an unbelievable in-flight view, and just in case there was any doubt, it started calling in flight as it went about our heads. Tick.

Skylarks were extremely vocal and the only things close to matching the Whitethroats for volume and persistence. Good flight views again. And 4 displaying Lapwing were making their strange computer-like calls as they rolled and tumbled through the air, divebombing an unfortunate Crow who got too close.

This was my first trip to that side of Ingrebourne, and with the promise of Yellow Wagtails, Yellowhammer and Wheatear on that patch I'll definitely be trying to get back over there sometime soon.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Evening birding

Lately I've been getting out a lot in the evenings rather than during the day. Partly this is practical - if I go for a walk after work than by the time I'm home, changed and tea'd up it's likely that the sun will be setting by the time I get back. Partly it's because the park will still be there at half six whereas shops and similar will be closed, so the things that close take priority. And partly, it's because the birdsong is always at its best and loudest in the mornings and evenings, and I've always made a better night owl than I have early riser.

So I went out for a bit of a dusk walk, and I took the camera along hoping to snap some interesting things before the light disappeared. First thing I heard is what I'm almost certain was a Greenfinch in the car park, but I'll never know for certain. In true bird fashion it flew off just as I'd got the camera out and switched it on, and was too high for a positive ID. Plenty of singing from the local Thrushes, though again no sighting as they'd buried themselves deep in the local trees. I did catch a fleeting glimpse of a Wren darting between trees - you could hear them alright - and there were a few Robins showing well although again, hiding behind too many branches for my poor autofocus.

The lake was its usual dross filled but easily photographed self.

Mute swans being interesting, if strange, and eating the overhanging Willow tree with every sign of enjoyment

Yes that's its leg. I thought it was horribly injured until I noticed others doing it. Never seen that before.

For once the bird strikes the pose while I actually have the camera pointed at it


Canada and Greylag

Coming out the far end of the park onto Upper Rainham Road I once again heard the Chiffchaff, but once again no sighting. This would probably be the downside of evening birding, but it's good for me as a birder. My current plan for self-improvement is to learn some birdsong, an extremely useful tool in any birders arsenal and one that, having just started birdwatching, I'm quite behind on.

Flypast Heron was a bit of fun. Big slow wingbeats and steady speed = the opportunity to take flypast photos that look a bit less like a smear on the lens, and a bit more like a bird. Can't do anything about the colour in low light though.

Tempted to claim this as a Purple Heron. Think real birders might kill me.

The highlight of this evening though was the opportunity to take some sky shots at sunset. These skies are a photographers dream - very little work is required to get them looking good - in fact I'd go as far as to say it's harder to screw them up than to take a good photo.

My new Wallpaper

Let's end the post with something a bit different. Yes, it's COMPETITION TIME! The game today is NAME THAT SILHOUETTE.

Not particularly hard, not particularly exciting, but it keeps the comments coming in.

Snatch Wars?

Utter. Fucking. Genius.

Now go put the kettle on.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Juve gulls are silly

I've said it before and I'll say it again - the buggers are all identical. Had one adult Herring Gull, one Lesser Black Backed, one second year Herring just starting to come into adult plumage and two indeterminate brown speckled things on the riverbed outside the Tower of London today. Going by size and the company they were keeping I'd mark them as Herrings, but plumage-wise it's an impossible task. Still, it's nice to see any adult gulls around at the moment, and it means the Passeriformes (read:House Sparrows) actually get a chance to scavenge. 2 Pied Wagtails rounded off the lunchtime nicely - I don't know why, but they always cheer me up.

Of course, my day was ruined when, on the way back, I happened across 2 Tower Pigeons shagging away on a low wall in the middle of a busy walkway. You probably have to have seen Tower Bridge Pigeons to get some idea of how stomach-turning this really is.

Example Tower Bridge Pigeons - henceforth to be known as TB Pigeons because the initialism is just so apt

I have spent the afternoon erasing the image from my mind, and fully intend finishing the job tonight with the help of beer.

Eugh *shudders*

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Harrow Lodge Park (mostly)

Harrow Lodge Park isn't exactly renowned locally for its abundant bird life, but it has a lake and its 5 minutes walk away so with the evenings getting lighter it makes for a nice hour and a half's stroll with the chance of a couple of Pochard, and the certainty of a whole load of Tufties. Also, it's the quickest route on foot to the Chase, so I do quite a lot of my local birding there by both accident and design. It's the most local of my patches. In fact I quite enjoy it and for the same reason I enjoy the tower: when something unusual does turn up you really appreciate it. Following the drive yesterday, a bit of time away from cars and roads was exactly what I needed.

This post would have been written yesterday, but I fell asleep soon after getting in and eating. So much for the band rehearsal.

It was also a pleasant trip out for my camera, which has been gathering dust lately. It all started with the unmistakably Essex cry of "Oi mate, fotograf this" *drops trousers* Ah, I see the chavs are out.

First up was a Thrush, looks to me like a Mistle. No song from this one, but a couple of hundred yards away I came across another and it sounded like a Blackbird with an imagination, so I'm sticking with my initial impression.

I spent a good 5 minutes chasing this thrush around the entrance, and this is still the best I could get

Then it was on to the main attraction, which in Harrow Lodge Park is its lake. A decent selection of Wildfowl to be found, including a couple of Great Crested Grebes and our now-apparently-resident Black Swan. Far better picture of him this time round.

And just for the lovely Maiden_Lulu (A.K.A 'the missus'), some Mallards, because I know she likes them.

*quack* *quack*

Also by the lake and happily sitting in a tree, singing its heart out was a very photogenic little Robin. This may just be the best Robin picture I've ever managed to take.

If only all birds were so obliging

The star of the show yesterday though was a Little Brown Job, obligingly confirmed by the nice folks at Birdforum as a Chiffchaff. First ever for me at this site, though I don't know of anyone else who birds Harrow Lodge so it might just be me. I reckon its a pretty good record though.

And this one's for Parus:

Evil Passeriformes - a common feature of Essex birding

A wander down the River Rom in Dagenham Chase produced a disappointing lack of anything, but specifically Kingfishers - it seems breaking the seal hasn't lead to the hoped-for flood of them. Still, I'm not greedy. And I got my first Great Spot of the year, trying very hard to hide in the branches at the very top of a very distant tree. Distant enough that based on my initial eyeballing, and before I actually zoomed in on the picture, I thought it was a collared dove. Very conveniently, he managed to leave all his identifying features sticking out, and a few seconds later the sound of drumming filled the air anyway.

Peek-a-boo! I see you...

I'm going to try and head back over this week and see if there are any other interesting little Warblers hidden in the woodland area where I found the Chiffchaff. It would certainly liven the patch up a bit. For now though, I'm still knackered and am off to bed.

Oh go on, have a Blue Tit.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Sleep or walk? Cake or death?

Just got back from my second ever solo motorway drive (the first being the outward leg of the same trip) and am exhausted. Supposed to have a band rehearsal tonight. Tea hasn't worked its usual magic, so I'm wondering whether sleep or a nice long bird-filled walk over the Chase is my best bet for getting some energy back...

I'm inclined towards the latter. Sitting still in a car and concentrating for 2 hours still feels unnatural.

Sod it, where are those bins?

Sunday, 12 April 2009

The curse is broken!

Finally, after months of walking along rivers staring intently at overhanging branches, of standing motionless on bridges for MINUTES on end staring at the water, I have seen my bogey bird the Kingfisher He was a worthy adversary, but couldn't hide forever.

The view was a flypast rather than perching, but we got 2 attempts. The first was overland on the other bank of the river. I saw a blue dart with a flash of orange, girlfriend saw an orange dart with a hint of blue, so between us we could make a fairly educated guess at the species. I persuaded her (and to be fair, it didn't take much. She's definitely been showing signs of catching the bug lately...) to go back and see if we could see where it had landed. Which of course we didn't, but as we were standing on the road bridge the Kingfisher burst from underneath and straight into the sunshine, giving us an incredible view of its electric blue back as it flew fast and low along the water's surface. Fair to say it made both our days.

Of course, Karma this good can't happen without some kind of balance. I saw the bird with the missus while visiting her grandmother in Somerset, a good 2 hour drive from Liss where we'd normally be when I visit. While I was there, I recieved a text message from Parus. I'll read it to you shall I?

From teh net: British mega-White throated sparrow, old winchester hill, scrub by carpark. About 7 miles sw of liss, details on bird map and birdforum. Just in case youre interested and are looking for something to do :-P i know where id be!

Cheers mate :-P

Other cool birds this weekend: Pheasant in the fields as we drove down and (bizarrely) at Clacket Lane services on the M25 (year tick) and a Grey Wagtail and a Dunnock in Somerset. This area has Jackdaws like we have Carrion Crows.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Good birds. Bad photographs

This weekend is going to be busy, so to make up for it I have spent the morning so far looking out of my Garden window. It's been quite fun.

The feeders are keeping a plentiful supply of 'the usual' flowing through the garden.

The bird-cake is a big favorite of the Starlings

And in addition, a couple of the 'fairly usual but not quite so usual as Starlings'.

The Robin in particular interests me, and to this end I've hung one of our old watering cans (just a small one) from one of the unused hanging basket hooks on our shed. I'd imagine it's too close to the feeders for a nest, but you never know. It won't be disturbed by Humans - I had to climb up and along a section of wall to put it up there - but the other birds will probably put them off.

The best Garden visitor of all so far though has been a fine specimen of Troglodytes troglodytes , which appears to be making a nest in next door's Hydrangea. I do hope it doesn't actually end up nesting there or it'll be crushed by footballs within the week, but I'm somewhat reassured by this post over on Tony Morris's blog. Hopefully, in this instance, the female will display a bit more common sense than the male. Anyway, he's been singing his heart out for the last week, and it's been both fun AND educational to listen to. If you look closely, you might just make out the brown blob in the below.

I know they're common as muck, but they're great little birds and full of character.

Also in the garden but neatly evading the camera, we've had a Great Tit and a pair of Blue Tits bathing in the big puddle of water on the shed roof.

I'm feeling a bit more cheerful already :-)

Wednesday, 8 April 2009


Life is busy at the moment, so I'm not getting as much time as I'd like to go out birding. Rainham, as has already been so eloquently described here, was a bit of a flop on Sunday. Very pleasant walk, not much to show for it. Nice to run the new scope out for the first time though. It was easily the high point of the day.

The garden collection is still coming along nicely, but I don't even get much time for looking at that now that the sun has taken up its annual 'shine through the window and blind the bastard' position in the sky at about the time I get home from work.

Harrow Lodge produced more of the same - I note the Coots now favour Coca Cola among their nesting materials - and the hunt for Kingfishers is as unproductive as ever. Even lunchtime walks along the Thames, Gull-less as it is, have been put on a back burner for the moment. It's all a bit depressing.

BUT. In three weeks time I head for Titchwell with the girlfriend and these people. No one can remain birdless at Titchwell.

I can't wait.

In other news, the Linux blog has a new lease of life. Credit/Blame Texstar. His fault.

I think that's enough hyperlinks for one post.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Garden excitement

We had a Wren! This is a big deal, because until fairly recently our garden was a bit of a birdless wasteland.

We've now got some feeders up for the first time in over a year, and the birds have started to come back :-) A while ago next door had a visitation from rattus rattus who was living under the shed and asked us to leave off the foods until the rodents disappeared. All has been clear for a while now, so up went the bird fuds. Mostly Sparrows and Starlings at the moment, but the Wren is a promising sign of things to come.

What with the recent flyover of some Mute Swans, that brings the garden list up to a fairly pathetic 15. However, the good times have just started to roll.