Sunday, 31 May 2009

Shopping woe

I thought the whole point of taking pre-orders what that you could make sure you get in enough stock to cover.

I want my god damn Collins.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Kestrel is back!

Yes, the Kestrel has been seen again at the Tower of London, and in its old spot. Which is fortunate, because there's bugger all else about. A few Cormorants and a Mute Swan snoozing on the riverbank today made up the rest of the birds.

No chance to get the camera over there today, but I hope to soon. And am hoping to get over to Rainham this weekend - as far as birds go it's very much a winter reserve, but there should be some damn good butterflies out there, and I need a dragon/damselfly book.

So tired... sleep will be welcome...

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Not dead

Enforced absence over the last few days as my room has been carefully dismantled, shaken upside down over the bin and reassembled plus some flat pack furniture minus some horrible falling apart furniture.

And unfortunately for you, the impending football match will be delaying a 'proper' blog entry, featuring lots of filthy cheating as I took my new camera round London Zoo and Regents Park. I'll photograph some real wildlife when I've figured out what some more of the buttons do.

However, here's a sneak preview.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

More Garden

Nice little garden tick for a Saturday Morning as a small, distinctive anchor shape went flitting past the bedroom window.

I've got some fairly strong memories from when I was growing up in Dagenham of sitting out in the garden after a summer barbeque with the rest of the family, the evening slowly darkening but still balmy and warm, and watching the Swifts and Martins catching insects on the wing. Then as the light disappeared completely, the birds became bats.

There's a lot to be said for being exposed to nature as a youngster. The sight of Swifts still takes me back to that evening around the barbeque.

Garden list - 17

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Norfolk - Part 3

Late? Yes. Never? No. Apparently it's better this way.

Day 4 - 03/05

Today was Titchwell day. Titchwell is good. Very good. It's nice when the first thing you see pecking around the main entrance is one of these:

Most places just get House Sparrows

Lets start with the bad points, since they are few.
1) The stupid foam cups for tea (we're spoiled with proper mugs at Rainham).
2) There is no two.

First round was made with just me and the woman, since Parus and HIS woman were off having an adventure. On the way out of the canteen we almost trod on a Chaffinch - the birds here just have no fear. Between us we managed to find and ID a reed warbler (this took about 15 minutes of comparing pictures in bird guides) AND a Blackcap (life tick, awesome :-)). Oh, and some plants. The missus likes plants.

Most common garden bird in Britain apparently, but you'll never see one in Romford. Apparently Chaffinches have taste.

No idea.

Ooh, I know this one! Orchid of some kind.

Blackcap. Somewhere.

A complete list of stuff I saw would be stupid, so highlights on the reserve proper:

  • Bearded Tits flitting between reeds and generally being cool and elusive. Spent quite a while watching these.

  • A Greenshank and a Bar Tailed Godwit on the marshes

  • A flock of about 40 Knot passing low over our heads. Impressive from a bird generally considered to be the world's most boring wader.

  • 4 Grey Plover moulting into summer plumage. Handsome birds.

  • A Ruddy Duck. My first ever.

Titchwell isn't just about the marshes though. We also tried our hand at a bit of seawatching (I've still got the sand in my tripod to prove it):

  • Sanderlings and Turnstones wandering about on the shoreline.

  • Terns with fish. All kinds

  • A solitary Fulmar. I don't know why, I just find them cool.

  • Some distant white specks which got ID'd as Gannet

'Distant White Speck' is a common turnup in Seawatching. These ones are Sanderlings.

Also worthy of mention are a couple of Orange tips that stopped still long enough for some horribly overexposed photos to be taken.

Note the distinctive underwing camouflage, as if the bright orange wing tips weren't enough of a giveaway.

Great reserve. Would recommend to anyone. I'm definitely going back at some point.

Other interesting sights that day (outside Titchwell): Best and reddest Marsh Harrier view I've ever had. Kestrel. Barn Owl. Day of the raptors.

Day 5 - 04/05

On the last day we cast aside the heady thrill of Norfolk birding and piled into our respective vehicles to catch some Suffolk birds at Lakenheath on the way home. The tea and coffee buying facilities were even more appalling here than at Titchwell, and consisted of a machine that was broken. I know, 'turn back now'. Still, we soldiered out onto the reserve on the hunt for Golden Orioles. Parus briefed us well on what to look and listen for. Direct quote:

It's like an awesome Blackbird.

Which is actually a pretty good description.

For your reading pleasure, here is a list of birds on site we utterly failed to see:

  • Golden Orioles

  • Purple Heron

  • Gargany

  • Common Crane (though Parus heard one)

Birds that DID put in an appearance included Cuckoos (loads of them), Hobbys (loads of them), GREY Heron (one of them) and some noisy Sedge Warblers. Star of the show? A Bittern. That's right, a fucking bittern. I would have finished the holiday happy with just hearing it boom, which it did, but this Bittern was a showman - it knew how to work its audience. We got a good 30 second view of him flying low above the reeds, and I was in awe. It was much bigger than I expected and quite Heron-like in flight. Frankly, it made my day.

With the birdwatching finished, all that was left was to go for lunch in what turned out to be a pub with a Dagenham-born landlord who started playing white supremacist reggae while we were halfway through our sandwiches. We got out of there a bit sharpish after that. Fair play though, the sandwiches were good. A quick jaunt back down the M11/M25 and we were back in Essex. And so ended the holiday.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

'That Silly Dwarf Game'

No your eyes do not decieve you. Yes this really is Dwarf Fortress running on Linux through Wine.

Linux just got more awesome.

Of my regular readers only 3 will have a clue what I'm talking about, and only one of those will care. Therefore this post is dedicated to Parus.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Picture viewer win

And I take back what I said about Linux not having a decent picture viewer. Just found Digikam. Problem solved.

Norfolk - Part 2

Eagerly anticipated I'm sure, part 2 has arrived. Don't read it all at once.

Day 3 - 02/05

Day 3 got off to a kind of a false start. A 3am kind of a false start. A screaming toddler at 3am in the tent behind ours at 3am kind of a false start in fact. All four weary adventurers agreed the stars were very pretty, but not as pretty as sleep. Plans to leave at 7am the next morning duly got ignored. But I did hear a Tawny Owl.

Even when the sun reawoke me at half five the birds were determined to get their share of the noise in. A single Cuckoo call heard at the moment of waking from inside the tent was the cue for 15 minutes of intent but fruitless listening to Collared Doves and a fair bit of self doubt (later resolved by Parus who also heard it). Ended up getting up at 7am, which still wasn't bad going in the circumstances.

So plans were reshuffled slightly and we toddled off to Moreston harbour for a date with some seals at Blakeney Point. This started with a quick wander round Moreston, which produced the ubiquitous Brent Geese (c.150), Oystercatchers and Gulls, several shy Skylarks and a perching Meadow Pipit.

Less Black Backed trying to eat inedible crap. They don't change.

Our mysterious and conveniently anonymised partners in crime for the trip.

The trusty vessels.

The boat trip to the seals was full of waders (flypast Curlew) and Terns - I learned a lot about Terns on this particular morning - though at the time I didn't know what kind. Probably all of them. We then saw some seals. What is about to follow feels almost like cheating. Is it even possible to take a bad picture of a seal? Who cares, behold their awesomeness:

Mostly Common seals, but there was a Grey among them distinguishable by his roman nose. I like seals.

A stop on Blakeney Point itself gave up its best sighting right at the off as a female long-tailed duck flew overheard and landed a few hundred yards out on the water. Usually this is prime scoping territory, but of course the scopes were in the car boot back on the mainland. My photos were quite pathetic, so you'll have to take my word for it. Also on the island were Linnets (3 that I saw), Chiffchaff, a single Ringed Plover and, of course, Terns everywhere. I was duly educated as we stood on the beach and watched them fly past - we picked up 4 species, Common, Arctic, Little and Sandwich. On the trip back I utterly failed to see a Med Gull - I think I've found my new bogey bird.

We headed back via the Holkham estate, and I fear my girlfriend's expectations have now been set rather high. "I could definitely do something with that" she said.

If her plans involve anything more than photographing it I fear she will be disappointed.

Still, even I'll admit that the grounds were rather nice. Got my first photos of Egyptian Geese, saw an untickable Ruddy Shelduck (but still very much a lifer) and heard a Marsh Tit. Also picked up my first ever Treecreeper though I missed the best views, and on the way out we were treated to an also untickable herd of Fallow Deer.

Weird looking things.

Untickable or not, it's cool to have seen one.

My knowledge of deer consists largely of what I picked up watching Bambi, so I'm happy to accept the word of others on the identification.

I have a 'Misc' section for each day in my notes. It's stuff that's worth writing down, but that didn't turn up at a conveniently labelled site. Today's is particularly good and worthy of mention. Barn Owl (seen hunting over a field - awesome), Buzzard (a distant speck against the sky, but still a neat tick) and bizzarely, Stoat.

Sod it, if I do Titchwell AND Lakenheath here it'll be huge.

Keep your eyes peeled for part 3...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Impossible

w00t! Andrew 1, HMRC 0.

Looks like that camera is on the cards :-)

Sunday, 10 May 2009


Didn't get time to do the long awaited Norfolk part 2 today, so you'll just have to keep hanging on the edges of your seats.

I want a Pentax K20D. Who's with me?

Here follows a chance for all of us to get geeky about cameras. Kind of a 'thinking aloud' post.

A camera that seems to punch above its price range while being roundly complimented for its ergonomics in every review I've read, and with a phenomenal 14.2mp CMOS sensor there should be plenty of space for judicious cropping of images. However, I'm new to all this 'camera bodies with seperate lenses' stuff so there are options to consider. All prices and packages gathered from

For bird photography I will certainly need a long lens, but I'm quite a keen photographer generally so I anticipate that I'll also need a regular lens for normal shooting.

First off, the package that looks like best value for money on the face of things, a camera + 2 lenses (18-55mm and 50-200mm) - £699.99
200mm sounds like a reasonable focal length for long distance photography on the face of things, but I hear 300 and 400mm bandied around the forums, and wonder how long it would take me to reach the limits of its usefulness.

Of course, the alternative would be to buy the camera body + a standard lens - £598.99
And then go for the long lens seperately.

Long lenses that fall within my price range for the whole kit (and this includes the extremes of my price range that I'd prefer not to go to) and have Pentax AF mounts are as follows:

Tamron 70-300mm f4-5.6 AF Di LD Macro Lens - £123.99

Sigma 70-300mm f4-5.6 APO Macro Super DG Lens - 178.99

Making the total cost:

£722.98 for the Camera + standard + Tamron
£777.98 for the Camera + standard + Sigma

The Sigma has the lower minimum focal length by just over half a metre, but I'm buying the lens primarily for distance work so this isn't a sticking point for me. The Tamron goes up to Aperture f/32 while the Sigma is only a paltry f/22. Weight is not an issue. Other than this, I suppose it's all down to the build quality you'd expect from the respective manufacturers.

The lens has 'Macro' in the name but as far as I'm aware, while this lens has macro capability, it is not exclusively a macro lens. Reviews on WHE seem to back up this assumption.

My thoughts:
I can definitely see the value in forking out an extra £20 for an extra 100mm of focal distance, particularly if I anticipate a lot of long distance photography. However, on paper I can't see any reason to spend an extra £50 on the Sigma over the Tamron unless the build/lens quality is a significant improvement, which I doubt. The high pixel resolution of the camera's sensor demands a decent lens - no point being capable of recording all that detail if you can't see the detail - and the specs on both are pretty much identical.

This isn't something I'm going to go buy tomorrow - this will likely be months of saving (barring lottery wins, tax rebates and other impossible events (I don't actually play the lottery)) so new equipment may appear, existing equipment may come down in price etc. At the moment though, my inclination is for a body/18-55 kit and a seperate Tamron long lens. If someone with experience of different makes of lens has anything to add, please do. I'm very much an amateur here.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Norfolk - Part 1

Right, not sure how I'm going to do this but I'll work it out as I go along.

Day 1 - 30/04

The first things I noticed on arrival at the campsite were Swallows. Everywhere. They'd quite happily fly between two people standing talking, and it was easily the best view I've ever had of a hunting Swallow. Good sign of things to come. We also had some very tame and friendly Pied Wagtails who were pecking about all over the site.

Unsurprisingly, Swallows in flight proved to be impossible with my camera. This is sadly the best of them.

If anyone can identify this moth caterpillar please do

Last but certainly not least, I picked up my first life tick of the trip with a couple of Red Legged Partridge in the next field. It's nice being fairly new to the hobby - everything non-local is a life tick.

And I would wholeheartedly recommend the White Horse pub in Deepdale Village to any that are staying in the area.
  • There is nice local real ale.

  • The food is excellent in the restaurant (if a little expensive, but it is proper cuisine).

  • They have an awesome terrace out the back where you can see many birds out on the marshland by the coast from the comfort of the pub, with a pint in hand.

  • Their local Song Thrush should be on TV. What an impressionist.

We spent a very pleasant early evening celebrating the start of the holiday in style and trying to guess what the Thrush was impersonating. We picked out mostly Waders, with the occasional Seagull thrown in, but he is brilliant. Go see him. Also out on the sands were Brent Geese (dark bellied), 2 Weegret, Oystercatchers (these things turned up everywhere), Avocet and a flypast by about 25 Black Tailed Godwit. Sitting in the pub picking up ticks is definitely the way to bird.

Day 2 - 01/05

A trip down the coast to Cley, where many ticks were collected. Highlights were the perching Sedge Warbler putting on a fantastic show for the masses and hearing a booming Bittern for the first time. No sign of the Green-Winged Teal who was apprently in the area, but I won't be losing any sleep over it. He was probably out there somewhere hiding in the heat haze. I personally managed to add a very distant Pochard to the site's 'birds seen today' board, which pleased me inordinately.

Sedge Warbler putting on a fantastic show

Marsh Harriers are exciting for the first day

Cley from one of the many hides

Life ticks here included a very distant LRP and some Egyptian Geese, while the mammal count was bolstered by a Hare (a lifer in itself).

I've never yet been to a reserve quite like Cley. I imagine it's a good fall-back for when the weather's poor as it has a large number of hides, but I prefer to be out and about.

We tried our hands at some sea watching on the beach. A couple of flypast Sanderling and a Whimbrel were quite cool and I also saw out my first Terns when a couple of Sandwiches flew past. Seawatching is an acquired taste. I enjoyed it, but need more practice.

The afternoon was spent on and around one of these:

Which made the missus happy, because she seems to like them. Give me a tallship any day. It was fun though. A wander down to the seafront at Sheringham afterwards got us some Turnstones and my first ever Fulmar, which was exciting as it was one of my target birds on the trip. Tubenoses fascinate me, and this one didn't disappoint.

A walk from the campsite to the pub produced the goods again with a Curlew (tick) and the chance for some poncy artistic photos of abandoned boats on the mud.

Which all covers the first two days. Three more to go. However, this has taken about 2 hours to write so far and I'd like to get out and see some actual birds today, so you'll have to wait until tomorrow (probably) for the next installment. Stay tuned.

Friday, 8 May 2009

It's coming, honest

The hardest part of the aftermath of a trip like the recent Norfolk excursion has to be getting home and trying to sort all the notes and photos into some kind of sensible order. Finding the motivation to transfer stuff from the paper list to the electronic one, sifting through the photos for decent shots and then editing them down to blog-sized chunks - this is especially true when you have no free time of an evening, as has been the case this week.

And even more especially true when Linux doesn't have a single picture browser that's as intuitive and easy to use as the Windows picture viewer. This is unusual, as generally there's at least half a dozen programs for any given function and at least one of them is excellent. Maybe it's such obvious bit of functionality people have overlooked it. Maybe it's just the PCLinuxOS repositories.

Anyway enough excuses, there will be a reckoning this weekend. Saturday morning hopefully. And my Fatbirder ranking will stop acting as a microcosm for the world economy. And interesting content will appear once again. Please be patient.

In the meantime, I am having something of a conundrum. I saw a bird in the St Katherine Docks the other day that looked very juvenile and very plainly spotted on its pale chest. Only got to hear its contact call, which didn't help much. Now here's my issue. My first thought was Song Thrush - the chest was very pale, the spots stood out quite well, but there was an adult Blackbird flitting around the immediate area which could have been the target of the contact call. One's a very pleasing site tick, the other is very pretty dross. What is the moral and upstanding course of action? And how do I get round it?

Monday, 4 May 2009


Just back from Norfolk today.

It was a bit good.

More to follow. Though the trip is described in a wholly accurate yet utterly inadequate way at Parus' bird blog.

Basically, Norfolk is awesome and needs to be done again. Repeatedly. God I hate London now. Need to sieve the pictures/notes for good stuff and organise them before a coherent blogpost can appear.
More to follow.