Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Where did they come from?

What the hell happened on Monday?

That's about the first time in 3 days that I HADN'T posted anything. Maybe I should not post more often. Maybe people are trying to send some hints.

Well while I'm here, a very brief patch update.

Tower Bridge Today - about 20 minutes watching from the spot right in front of the Tower

Black Headed Gulls - About 30
Cormorants - 2
Lesser Black Backeds - I saw 5, I'm sure there were others
Starlings - Dozens. Hundreds. If I'd been shaking a stick I'd not have been able to make it round them all.
House Sparrows - 5 or 6 that I saw, others likely hiding.

And a flock of about 30 House Sparrows in the car park of Roneo Corner Tesco as I walked past, flitting between the trees and the abandoned shopping trolleys. This is actually quite exciting.

Edit - 19:47

While we're on the subject of internets, I guess it had to happen at some point and it has today, first record of porn related search terms turning up my blog: "pretty snatch" turned up my Snatch Wars post. What''s particularly fun is that this gives me his (or her) IP address :-) I'm not quite cruel enough to post it, but you know who you are. Let this be a lesson to all of you.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Blogroll expands further

New member has been added to the blogroll, and deserves a little advertising. Not strictly bird related but, lets face it, nor are most of the bird blogs on there (mine included). Go say a quick hello to Mary Mcandrew and her Nature Sketching and Painting blog. She's from across the pond, and had a good eye and a nice touch with a paintbrush.

No RSS feed unfortunately despite a Wordpress label at the bottom, so it'll need to be checked the non-lazy way. This is the only downside as far as I can see.


Saturday, 18 July 2009

Fstopped 2, bogey birds 0

Following the defeat of the worthy Kingfisher a couple of months ago, the Med Gull has been added to the lists of the fallen.

Just got back from a long and exhausting day's birding. Started at about twenty to seven, an ungodly hour for a Saturday morning, to pick up this person and catch the high tide (08:17ish) down at Two Tree Island near Leigh-on-Sea. Why did I do this? Right now I'm asking myself the same question, but it may have been something to do with the promise of a sausage sandwich (duly delivered and consumed).

My first visit to Two Tree, which is a huge mudflat near the Thames estuary. Catching it at high tide means, in theory at least, that all the birds that would usually be on the mudflat are sitting on the scrape right in front of the hide. Which, considering we stepped out of the car into winds gusting offshore at about force 7, was pretty much what happened. The scope made the trip with me in place of the camera today, so here are some extremely dodgy pictures taken by holding phone camera in front of scope eyepiece:

Black Tailed Godwits everywhere

Avocets in close proximity and NOT fighting.

Ringed Plover, one of about 3 on the scrape, circled for your viewing convenience.

My estimates are for about 300 Blackwits, 60ish Greenshank, c150 Redshank, c100 avocets, c30 common Terns, 3 Ringed Plover and a solitary Shelduck. Also saw a Linnet and heard a Skylark on the way back to the carpark. May not tally exactly with the esteemed Mr Parus, but as they say, close enough for Jazz.

Since we'd done the hard bit of the A13 getting through the Canvey Island magic roundabout, we headed on down to Southend sea front to see if we could pick up some Med Gull. We must have pulled over 3 or 4 times with no result, but on the very last "if we don't see one this time fuck it let's go to Rainham" stop, we came across a large flock of Black Headeds standing just off the main road. Walked over and bugger me if right there in front of us there wasn't a Med gull standing there in a little space of its own.

That really is the best you're getting from me. Better pictures will likely appear elsewhere.

And just off to the right of the picture was a much better example of Larus Melanocephalus, but since you're taking my word for it that this white blob is even a seagull let alone a Med, I don't suppose it matters.


Really, the rest of the day after this passed in a kind of euphoric blur. We headed back to Rainham via Wat Tyler country park where we picked up ANOTHER Med from the car park (easy! easy!) along with some Oystercatchers and a 'Not Very' Common Gull.

Rainham sucked quite hard, as expected. We got partway round and were rescued by the arrival of Parus' missus, which meant making a bee line for the visitor centre for food and tea. Having seen a big fat nothing in our half hour previous, we all headed over to the carpark round the back of the reserve where excitement was provided by incredibly tame Red Admirals, Millions of Gatekeepers, a very late and very faded Painted Lady and a Hobby giving fantastic views as it perched on a post in the middle of a field before soaring up to hunt.

Did I regret leaving the camera at home? Hell yes, particularly when we saw that first Med Gull not 10 yards away. I'm going to have to figure out a way of taking both camera and scope along. The birding wasn't outstanding, but much better than it would have been closer to home. And I got to see the sea - having spent 3 years at a coastal university before moving back inland I miss the peeg vater.

You, plenty good fellas!

Applications for the position of Fst0pped's new bogey bird will be opening shortly.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Hainault Forest and the Woodland Trust

This has also been Birdforum'd, so I'm looking for opinions.

Came across this while dossing about working hard today, which was slightly disturbing reading. Hainault Forest isn't exactly on the doorstep but it counts as local and probably contains one of the few bits of nearby heathland we have in Essex. By the sounds of it, there has been a pretty sharp decline in species in the last few years, and the article lays the blame squarely on poor land management. I'm not an expert but I find his case convincing, though I am bearing in mind that he focuses enturely on the negative aspects of the Woodland Trust's management - there may be positives of which I'm not aware.

The current Woodlad Trust management plan is so out of date as to be completely useless, but I'll run through a few highlights:

We start with, "don't blame us, it was like that when we got here".

It appears that traditionally trees were repollarded at Hainault every 18-25 years. Except for pollarding trials by the previous managers there has been little or no woodcutting or grazing since the turn of the century. The Forest is now in a dark and overgrown state, and the plains have mostly been colonised with trees or taken over as amenity ground.

But generally, what's in the introduction of the plan is similar to the article. The forest is in bad shape following quite a lot of neglect and needs a lot of work to put it right. Despite this, there's still a fair bit of bird activity.

158 bird species have been recorded at HFCP. Many of these are associated with the lake and grassland with 63 species associated with the ancient woodland. The Forest is regionally important for the following breeding birds - marsh tit, bullfinch, tree sparrow, nightingale, firecrest, linnet and turtle dove. Notably it is one of the key sites in the London area for hawfinch. It is of county importance for wood warbler, spotted flycatcher, tree pipit, redpoll, woodcock, and three species of woodpecker.

So plenty of reason, as far as I'm concerned at least, to keep it in good nick. I may be biased.

It's the long term intentions where things start to get contradictory.

Hainault Forest Country Park will be managed to enhance biodiversity and perpetuate old growth characteristics whilst ensuring recreational and amenity use is encouraged.

Buzzwords, buzzwords, buzzwords.

Old Growth
1. Retention of existing pollarded/veteran trees to as old an age as is practically possible.
2. Increase in the number of pollarded trees, especially in areas with few existing pollards.
3. Sustained monitoring programme of pollarded trees to assess effectiveness and response to the work.

So how exactly does cutting down 150 year old Oaks and Mature Ash trees come under "Retention of existing pollarded/veteran trees"? I've no problem with a pollarding programme if it's done properly, but it doesn't seem to be happening.

1. Diversification in amenity grassland structure to improve the ecological benefits whilst balancing the needs for recreation and amenity.
2. Creation and management of glades and restoration of the wood pasture system of management across as much of the woodland as is reasonably practical.
3. Restoration of the heathland community on the west of the site.

From what I read in this article, "diversification of the amenity grassland structure" seems to involve letting anything you like grow on it at the expense of traditional species, and far from "improving the ecological benefits", it seems to be driving away species e.g. butterflies that fed and relied on those wildflower meadows. I don't see that a field full of thistles "[balances] the needs for recreation and amenity". And I don't see that cutting a bloody great strip through the heathland and building a fence in it plays any part in "[Restoring] the heathland community" either (square brackets all mine).

It's a pretty poor show, and I'm hoping it's an aberration, because the Woodland Trust are a big name in ecological circles and it would be a huge breach of trust if this is the kind of standard they set for all their works.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Arty Bloggans

Every now and then, I am compelled to get all wanky over my photography and do arty farty things to it in GIMP. I do hate myself for it but it turns up some gems, and so I continue. For rare examples of the average turned awesome, see below:

This one is actually framed and on my wall

This one isn't yet but probably will be

Unfortunately, this fascination with embettering my images digitally (usually through poncey monochrome, if you hadn't noticed) goes hand in hand with a belief that at the heart of every arty photographer is a failed artist - someone with the flair and imagination to draw and paint things but, unfortunately, none of the actual talent. This is probably a huge slur on those photographers who can draw and paint. There will obviously be a few. Feel free to rant in the comments if I'm wrong.

So I've bought some of these:

And one of these:

The idea being that I will better myself on several levels by learning some simple watercolour, and maybe learn a bit about art in the process. Certainly can't hurt my photography.

And when the birds don't turn up, you can paint trees. My plan is full of WIN.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Harrow Lodge again

Somewhat shocking. I can't believe I've actually managed to set foot in my local patch twice in two weeks. Saw a lot more this time out as well.

Despite the usual pessimism from my esteemed companion yesterday, who has beaten me to it with his post, the patch actually produced a decent number of species. The lake was full of the usual Swans, Mallards, Tufties, Greylag/Canada geese and a lone Great Crested Grebe, with a young looking Grey Heron standing in a disgruntled fashion on the central island. The rest of the park produced Green AND Great Spot woodpeckers, singing Chiffchaff and Robins, no less than THREE Song Thrushes, an overhead flight from a couple of Greenfinch and a pair of my favorite Grey Wagtails by the river, the first I've ever seen in the park though I'll be frequenting that area in my rounds from now on.

Mr Parus talked at length about getting a Green Sandpiper stopping by early in the morning. I suggested that his expectations might be unrealistic. He didn't feel he could, in good conscience, disagree with that assessment. We reached an accord. I'm still a bit tempted to get up at six one morning for a quick half hour round the park to see what does turn up before the chavs and dogwalkers scare it all over to the Chase. We'll see what the weather does.

In other news, I have a pair of Dunnocks in my garden. Not bad for a wet evening in Hornchurch.

Friday, 10 July 2009

Quick garden update

Garden watching isn't the most productive round these parts, but occasionally something interesting still happens.

The sound of the Long Tailed Tit has been filling the street lately, with birds turning up everywhere except my garden. This has now been duly rectified.


Away visiting this weekend, and with the greatest wedding band in the world's big day coming up in a couple of weeks, I'm not expecting much in the way of free time at weekends. Fortunately, my blogroll has grown exponentially in the last few months so my site continues to be productive even when I am not. Go read them, some are quite good.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Harrow Lodge

Having sat through a proper roaring thunderstorm for most of the evening, I took the chance for a quick dash round Harrow Lodge park between rainstorms hoping to catch a few birds that might have been enticed out by the aftermath of the heavy rain before it got dark. I figured there would be plenty of insects and earthworms brought to the surface by rain like that, and after the last week it's just nice to get out without your shirt sticking to your back.

As it turned out, I ended up spending 10 minutes hiding under a tree as I waited for a shower to pass, but even that was quite pleasant. Standing in a small stand of trees, listening to the rain on the leaves and watching the offending cloud passing overhead through the canopy. Simple pleasures.

My theory was nicely justified anyway. Saw plenty of blackbirds stomping round on the grass picking up worms, a pied wag insect catching low to the ground and 5 swifts overhead catching insects on the wing. Thought I head some Long Tailed Tits in a tree along the path, we've had a couple of local families lately, but they were quite well buried in the foliage and I couldn't get a sighting. Also heard an unfamiliar call which sounded like something a Chaffinch might do, but I'll likely never know. I won't lose sleep over it. Slightly disappointed that the regular Chiffchaff wasn't singing from his usual spot - I suppose he might be too busy feeding a family by now.

Stars of the show were a pair of Great Crested Grebes with a young'un on the far side of the main lake. All the way to Lakenheath to see my first young Great Crested, and there's one on my doorstep. Typical. It was hassling its parents for the fish they were catching, and making some pathetic attempts at diving when they refused to give it any. Could have watched them for longer, but it was there that the rain started.

Also saw a great big huddle of Canada Geese under an overhanging tree. Usually they're all over the lake, or they're chaperoning the goslings grazing on the grass. It's unusual for the area, though not for Geese in general. Could be the storms. Only had the phone camera handy, so the brown blobs are Canada Geese.

It's been a while since I did my local patch - too long really. This evening's walk was quite pleasant. Must go more often.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Lepidoptera, and the photography thereof

My screenname is fst0pped, and I am addicted to photographing butterflies.

It started as one or two between birds. I was in control. I thought I could handle it, and besides, it made me feel good. But soon the butterflies started appearing everywhere, and I couldn't help myself. One or two became five, or six, and pretty soon I was forgetting to photograph birds at all until, back home, with a full memory card and a copy of GIMP open on the computer, I'd realise I'd gone the whole day without one. Not a single one.


'Stained Glass' shot of a Red Admiral

Large Skipper

Comma, under the Macro setting

How did that get there?

OK, maybe a single one...

Still, Butterflies + Telephoto/Macro lens is a dangerously addictive combination. All photos taken on and around the Liss Riverside Railway Walk, and very nice it was too. Bagged my first ever Comma, and a huge number of Meadow Brown and Ringlets.

Seen elsewhere in Liss but without the camera to hand was my first ever Marbled White, a real beauty of a butterfly. I miss the birds, I do, but for a support act the old insects arn't half bad...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Nightjars, and their inherent coolness

Apologies, but having gotten you all accustomed to better things, in this post you will notice a slight slip in the quality of photography. This cannot be helped, it was dark and shutter speeds were low.

Myself and my usual intrepid band of adventurers went to Ludshott Common in Hampshire in search of some elusive birdies. The walk was guided, so starting at 8pm we were treated to a history of the area, facts about the local wildlife (with a strong focus on the birds) and a guide who really did know his stuff. I saw 3 flying Woodcocks, which is more than I've seen in the previous 8 months of birding, and most importantly we were treated to a stunning display from the walk's target bird as a Nightjar flew around, about, and then straight overhead chasing moths and insects. Once the sun was decently down, you could hear them from almost every point we covered in the Common. Rather good. Here is some stuff which is less good.

Poor, but identifiable as a Woodcock at least

Just plain poor. Take my word for it. Nightjars.

Better views were had through the binoculars. This bird is well worth seeing. I'm planning the return visit already.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Bile Card

I've got mine.

Have you got yours?