Friday, 25 September 2009

So near, and yet so very far

The news is out by now and no one cares any more, but I was there, man. I was THERE. And I missed the goddamn Puffin by about a minute.

I am of course talking about Rainham Marshes on Wednesday, where Parus and I toddled down to in the fairly vain hope that the weekend's Rainham megas might be symptomatic of some kind of run of decent birds. As it turned out, we were painfully correct. The chronicle of events was thus:
  1. We arrived
  2. We decided not to have a cup of tea
  3. We got to about halfway between the bus stop and the cordite store
  4. Parus' radio starting spouting some crazy nonsense about some kind of Auk flying past on the Thames
  5. We legged it back up the path to the visitor's centre
  6. Parus' radio spouted some crazy nonsense about the Auk being some kind of Puffin
  7. We legged it even harder down the sea wall
  8. We were told by the guys seawatching that the Puffin had done its bit and was now a tiny black speck 2 miles away under Dartford bridge.
That black speck was invisible to both my camera and Parus' 25x eyepiece, and pretty soon was lost to sight by everyone else as well - we'd missed it by about a minute. Fortunately the bird was positively ID'd by 3 very reliable birders as a juve regular Puffin and definitely not a Tufted, so we only missed a major Thames rarity and not a Western Palearctic rarity. We stood there for 45 minutes to see if the tide brought it back down the river, but it was a hopeless cause.

You can see, I hope, how not having a cup of tea cost us dearly. With a cup of tea we'd have been sat up in the centre for another 10 minutes, and would only have been 30 seconds down the seawall when the Puffin turned up. We'd have been able to run down the wall with the excellent Howard, who by all accounts got a very good view, and who would most likely have put us straight onto it.

The lesson here is quite plain - never turn down the opportunity for a cup of tea or the gods of tea will be angered and will punish you by stealing your ticks from under your very nose.

We took a wander round the reserve afterwards, but it wasn't the same. A large tit flock full of Long Tailed Tits was entertaining for a short while. A Kestrel in front of the Ken Barret hide made a decent showing. The energy was gone though, and we called it a day before too long. Seeing a Kingfisher heading up and down the border ditch on the way back was scant consolation, but it was a consolation. Great birds.

I'm going to stop thinking about this now before it all gets too depressing. Have some pictures.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Jersey is lovely but largely birdless

Returned from holiday on Tuesday and have been out birding the last 2 days. Much catching up is needed. I have decided to do this in the form of 3 seperate blog posts, sensible as I am to your modern-day television-atrophied attention spans, and the fact that most people skim the text and go straight to the pictures anyway.

Note: The uber-camera didn't make the trip with me this time. a) because it's big and heavy and we were camping and b) because it's still new and expensive enough that I'm treating it with the respect it deserves.

Jersey is utterly charming, particularly the area around St. Aubin in which we were staying. As I've mentioned before, this trip wasn't bird specific and so with the exception of the outward bound ferry trip I wasn't going out of my way to see things. The result is that I didn't see very much, but I managed to add to my Mammal and Reptile lists.

The missus and I spent the first 5 hours of the 9 hour ferry trip sitting out on desk and catching up with the pelagics. I saw dozens of Gannet, both adult and juvenile, and am now expert at identifying these at any distance. One decent self-found view is worth a thousand field guides. Also out over the water were Terns (couldn't specify, I'm still working on it), some shearwatery things and bizarrely, mixed flocks of House and Sand Martins. I also think I got a juve Kittiwake.

On the Island itself, the only birds of note for the weekend were the flocks and flocks of Herring Gulls (more common than Black Headeds by a long way) and a young bird spotted on the sea wall that appears to be a Wheatear.

Best mammal of the trip was a Red Squirrel (this is a lifer for me), and guest reptile were Wall Lizards living on and around Gorey Castle.

Classic Herring Gull

Young wheatear? Certainly sitting up like one. High level zoom also reveals some signs of white on that rump

One of the few times on the trip that I missed the Pentax

See how relevant I kept this?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

To keep you entertained while I'm away

To Parus: Sod the band. Lets go buy Ukuleles.

I love these guys.

Monday, 14 September 2009

All quiet at Rainham

Sunday at Rainham was about as birdless as I've seen it, and with high winds sweeping the marsh it was pretty insectless as well. It's a good thing their bacon sandwiches are so damn tasty.

My day's target was to get a calling Cetti's, which I managed, though it was only singing half it's usual song. Nothing else makes that noise though. Parus got a Snipe, which I missed, but the rest were fairly evenly distributed. Hobbies being interesting and having a go at House Martins in flight (interspersed with a few late Sands). It didn't catch any, but I appreciated the effort. There were quite a few wildfowl about, so I picked up my first Wigeon of the winter, along with some Shovellers, Teal and at least 2 Gadwall (M&F). Also on the islands were 4 Greater Black Backed gulls pushing the Black Headeds around.

The real killer was the fact that there was no water on the usual scrapes, and therefore no waders. Disappointing really, and next time I look out the window of the visitor's centre and see everything dry I'll probably turn around and head to Ingrebourne.

To give you a flavour of how exciting this trip was, Parus and I spent a good 15 minutes trying to ID a Speckled Wood at 50 yards using scopes and an underwing view alone.

Poorly 'mobile-phone-camera-digi-scoped' Gadwall

As above, but not a Gadwall

ON THE OTHER HAND: I go on holiday on Thursday, and will be headed off to Jersey with the missus for the better part of a week, during which time I will fail to see a Puffin. There's a good chance of some continental passerines though, and I'm reading up on my Skuas and Shearwaters for the 9 hour ferry ride over there. I haven't been away since the long weekend in Norfolk during May bank holiday and am in desperate need of a change of scene. The holiday is not specifically a 'birdwatching' holiday, but if any rarities happen to throw themselves into my path I will probably deign to watch them for a while.

There will likely be photos on my return, you lucky people.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Same drivel, different place

As part of my resolution to post only bird-related/nature-related/tenuously relevant things on this blog, I have made a resolution.

For those few who care about such things, I am giving the old technology blogging another go. I am currently trying and failing (repeatedly) to set up a Virtual Machine for the first time and need somewhere to vent. The blog can be found here:

It will feature ranting, computer games, obscure star wars references and other things too nerdy for me to admit to in the normal course of things. The sad fact is I know more about computers than I do about birds, and can sound vaguely informative.

For those who don't care about such things, here are some pictures of a cuddly fox 2 gardens over:

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Noar Hill

The wedding went well, apart from me getting lost and missing the ceremony. Still, got there for the important bit (as 'person the couple knew with the most expensive camera' I was 'unofficial reception photographer'). They were very nice about it all.

But you don't want to hear about that. You want to hear about birds. And I'm not going to tell you about them because, despite getting out to Noar Hill nature reserve on the Sunday, the missus and I didn't really see many birds at all. A couple of flyovers from a flock of 15 or so Goldfinches was the avian highlight. Not quite as impressive as Wikipedia would have you believe, but we weren't out for long.

However I did see some butterflies. Apparently, this site is quite well known for its many and interesting species. And would you believe it, they showed rather well even this late in the year. Several of each species were spotted, so I had my pick of the photographs. Speckled Wood were all over the place, as were some small blue butterflies (Common Blues by the look of the pics, male and female. Interesting to me, because they're the first I've seen, we mainly seem to get Hollies at Rainham). Also several Meadow Browns, though none of them were in the mood for posing.

A faded looking Speckled Wood

Female Common Blue

Note the distinct lack of small silver studs in the dots on the underside of the forewing, stopping this specimen from being the much more interesting Silver Studded Blue

As above but male, and better photographed

I just like bees, OK?

The landscape was the real star of the show though. Wildflowers everywhere, immense views over the fields surrounding the hill and just generally very pleasant to walk through. I'd like to do a winter return to see if the birds show a little better, but I think a spring visit next year is very much on the cards.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009


On Monday I twitched a tallship.

The missus was about and we fancied doing something exotic with the day. By the time we were actually up and about Clacton was off the cards, but Southend was looking promising. Checked the internet to see if it'd got any more crap since I was last there, and saw that the tallship Artemis was docked up at the end of the pier. Sold.

I've always sailed, and when I was seventeen I spent 3 weeks on this thing. Tallships are one of the many things I'm unreasonably geeky about.

Of course, to reach the end of the pier, you must first walk down the pier. Let me introduce you non-locals to THE LONGEST PLEASURE PIER IN THE WORLD, all glorious 1.33 miles of it. Remember folks, only in Essex. As a photographer it's against the law to visit without taking an arty farty perspective shot of the pier, probably with some poncy sepia filter applied. I am nothing if not a law abiding citizen.

Behold the wonder of that which is the longest pleasure pier in the world.

This was Lulu's first trip to Southend, so we did the traditional walk down and train back. On the way down we had the pleasure of watching the RNLI hovercraft out on the flats trying to drag some kids off of one of the stranded boats. Very friendly chaps - we even got a wave.

My favorite charity, even above our beloved RSBP.

This was a meer sideshow however - the real meat of this trip lay at the other end.

A very nice ship, if not quite as authentic as the Soren Larson. For a start it had an engine (cheats) and a proper bar, but it was very nicely kitted out belowdecks, and the rigging on these things is always a marvel.

I did some of this on my trip, and once you get over the terror it's huge fun

The bar area belowdecks

Me grog

Having wandered round the tallship we took a quick look in the RNLI shop where I got to espouse a little bit of interesting local history, AKA the tale of the Richard Montgomery, a World War II warship wrecked about 2 miles off the coast of Southend. If this stockpile ever goes up, Sheerness is in a lot of trouble.

Keeping this vaguely on topic, the train back to the seafront produced 3 Turnstone picking about on the flats near the Pier. The area around the beach was far too heavily disturbed to see anything else (this was a sunny bank holiday monday in Essex's PREMIER seaside resort), but there were also gulls aplenty. I picked up Black Headeds, numerous Herring (you wouldn't believe these things were red listed if you lived by Southend seafront) and a few Lessers, with a couple of suspected Greaters way out away from the crowds. No Meds, but the endless people on every exposed inch of sand made it unlikely at best.

Away for more Wedding action (other peoples') over the weekend so there'll be limited opportunities for birding, but I'll see what I can come up with.