Sunday, 27 December 2009



*deep breaths*

Fortunately the attack of brain freezing excitement wore off before it flew away. Here are some surprisingly stable pictures.

Jay doing entirely the wrong place (but it feels so right)

Looking a bit washed out through the glass, but I don't care at all. This is probably one of the least expected garden ticks ever. Just, awesome.

On the first day of Christmas my Garden gave to meeee,
Some Redwings in my neighbour's tree.
On the second day of Christmas my Garden gave to meeee,
One awesome Jay
And some Redwings in my neighbour's tree.

Fingers crossed tomorrow I'll get to add another verse...

Saturday, 26 December 2009


Flock of Redwings landed in the trees surrounding my garden about 2 minutes ago. Garden tick! Brilliant. One of them hung on for ages.

Other notables for the garden this morning: A Blue Tit, a few Blackbirds, some House Sparrows on the feeders and a large flock of Strarlings alternating between feeding on the grass and fighting over the fat cake.

Also, just picked up the bins and saw a Robin attacking and chasing off a female house Sparrow from next door's apple tree while a male House Sparrow sat there and watched uninterestedly. You can tell they're local.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Sketchy things

Inspired by the recent spate of bird drawings being published by the likes of Messrs Lethbridge and Simpson, I dug my pencils out from the bottom of the drawer for the first time in years and decided to have a go. I've never had the patience for the kind of precision needed to do pencil drawings such as you might find in the aforementioned blogs, but I used to enjoy knocking together a quick sketch.

There's a sound argument that drawing a bird helps with identification as it makes you look more closely at the features and proportions. I can't say I've ever had ID problems with the below, but I can see how it would work with the many LBJs, where you're looking at primary projections and similar.

And so, armed only with scrap paper, some pencils and Google image search, I have sketched the following:

For a first attempt in years I'm quite happy with it. Proportions are good, pose is alright, and I wasn't allowed to use a rubber as otherwise I'd never have finished it so stray pencil lines can be safely ignored. I always used to try and draw an outline first and then fill it in. Having read a couple of books I realise now that this is stupid, so I used the proper 'draw two ovals and join them up' technique. Much better.

The plan is to get to a stage where I can start playing with watercolouring them. There should be some more appearing at some point.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Mystery Gull contest

I was just having a look through the weekend's photos from when I happened across this little fellow captured on the slack over Dagenham Chase:

Originally I took the photo because I wanted a closer look at the Gull on the left. That reddish breast isn't an artifact of the photograph, it was obvious through binculars and more than passing strange. Hoever, notwithstanding the possibility of some kind of weird drug fuelled fling resulting in a Black Headed Gull x Robin hybrid, I'm forced to conclude that it's probably just been sitting in a puddle of red stuff - probably on a tip somewhere.

However the gull to his right is much more interesting, because he doesn't look Black Headed at all. My money's on Common, any takers? A patch tick hangs in the balance.

The photo has already been cropped down to a fraction of its size and then blown up to about 200% in GIMP so it doesn't get any better than this I'm afraid.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

When you're on a roll...

Decided to see what I could drum up locally today, since driving to Rainham would have wasted valuable daylight hours and I hadn't been out around Harrow Lodge for a while. Also took the good digital camera on the assumption that the park would be too cold for the usual yobs hanging round the main lake. I was hoping my luck would still be in following the intervention of the Birding gods at Tower Bridge (turned out I was right; 2 patch ticks - score!).

First up was a regular for the patch, but always a pleasure. Grey Wagtails frequent the river that runs down the left hand side of the main field, but I've never managed to get a picture in the past, so having one posing about 8 feet away was too good an opportunity to miss:

Walking a bit further down added some Grey Squirrels, a couple of Robins, a noisy flock of Long Tailed Tits (maybe a dozen that I saw) with at least one Blue and one Great in amongst the crowd and a suspected Wren, which disappeared almost the instant I laid eyes on it. Since this is typical Wren behaviour I'm happy to keep it on record as a 'probable', if not a definite. A little further round the river, as I turned a bend I picked up patch tick no. 1 - a streak of electric blue flying away from me a high speed. Only saw it for a second but it didn't matter, it could only be a Kingfisher. Sent an excited text to Parus, who has done the circuit with me before and has long predicted that Kingfisher would turn up on that river, and kept walking only to see the same streak heading back towards me about a minute later. Fumbled with the camera and managed to capture the following stunning photographs as it disappeared from sight round the bend behind me.

Seriously, it's a good thing this blog is anonymous or Pentax would be knocking on my door demanding that I give their camera back

Just the usual wildfowl on the main lake along with some Black Headed gulls, though it gave me a chance to play with some close-ups of Swans and Cygnets and to see what I could make of the half dozen gulls sitting in a neat row on the railing over the bridge.

Rounding the far end of the lake I sent up a few gulls sitting on the grass and picked up some large windows on the wingtips of one of them. Wasn't big enough for a Herring so patch tick no. 2, Common Gull it is. There are probably loads over there, but I don't get a lot of experience with them so I'm still working on picking them out of a crowd.

After Harrow Lodge I crossed the road into the chase and took an extended walk round. Saw a finch flock of about a dozen Chaffinches, but couldn't pick anything else out from the brief views I was getting. Looking out over the slack didn't turn up any waders or any unexpected wildfowl (saw a m/f pair of Teal and a few Wigeon), though the Herons were out in force (I counted at least 6). What I mostly did over the chase was run around after a particular Kestrel trying (and failing) to get decent photos. It was about half three by this point and a giant raincloud was looming so light levels were appalling. It wasn't all bad for photography though.

Long lens, narrow aperture, low light. Wasn't anywhere near this dark over there at the time. All I've done it crop it and tidy the levels, the light and colour are identical to the original.

All in all then, and excellent day's birding and a good time playing with the Pentax. Really feel like I'm starting to see improvements in my photography, which is good because it justifies the silly money I paid for my camera. Still got a half formed plan to take it to the Tower during one lunchtime and try it on the tame Starlings. Imagine there'll be plenty of time for that in the week before christmas.

General deviance

I have finally started doing something with the Deviantart account I started up oh so long ago.

My recent Robin pictures seem to be particularly popular. I have to recommend this site for people looking to store their photos online for other people to see. It's well laid out, easily navigated and there's always the vague hope that someone might buy something.

I am now searching for some kind of widget that will let me connect my Deviantart account to this blog. Be on the lookout for strange and exciting new boxes on the right hand side.

Now I need to sleep. Going to try and get out for a nice long walk tomorrow, either over the Chase or over Rainham. Will see what the weather's like and what time I get up.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

The magic that is "Keyword Analysis"

Not much exciting birdwise at the Tower today, though for some reason someone seems to have added some lights to the Crossbill habitat. Perhaps so you can see the birds in the dark? Anyway, quiet days on the bird front means un-bird related posts. You can probably stop reading now.

One of my favourite things about the stat tracking software on my blog is the "Keyword Analysis". Most of the time this is mainly useful to see who's hit your blog while searching for porn but occasionally other amusing combinations of words turn up. It certainly gives you some insight into the mentality of these people. I've circled my favourite:

I'm not Lee Evans biggest fan - I can safely say I disapprove of his apparent birdwatching philosophy - and at times in the past his name has cropped up in a post, but I don't believe I've ever called him an idiot on these pages.

I also particularly like 'london bees riverboat'.

If you keep a blog (or any website) and you haven't yet discovered this feature, I thoroughly recommend it. Particularly if you occasionally like to slip potential porn keywords into posts to catch unwary trawlers (only for the most hardcore (and I mean seriously anal) bloggers) red handed. Go find the statcounter link somewhere at the bottom of the right hand menu and give it a click. It's a whole new world.

And as a cool little added bonus, you also get one of these.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Pulborough Brooks

On Saturday the woman and I took a trip to Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve. She'd been there before but years ago and I never had, and since it's less than an hour from her flat we planned to give it ago. Saturday morning was miserable but not yet wet, so we took the plunge.

The first thing we saw on getting out of the car was the friendliest little Robin I've ever come across. The trip was worth it for him alone, and I'm now sorted for Christmas cards for the next 3 years. This was one of those rare occasions when the bird turned up while the camera was in its case and WAS STILL THERE when I finally had it ready and pointed it at the branch where the bird was perched. It turned out this Robin was a right little poser.

There are far more where these came from, he was too good to resist, but they are among the sharpest.

On the feeder outside the centre were dozens of Blue and Great tits, along with Chaffinches, a couple of Coal Tits and the woman picked out a Nuthatch, though I missed it. Doesn't surprise me particularly (the fact there was a Nuthatch or the fact that I missed it), the feeders were an utter madhouse. No pictures here because we went inside to get some food, the plan being to 'take some photos later'. Best laid schemes of Mice and Men and all that. More of this later.

So we sat in the canteen and picked up cups of tea and a very tasty Pork and Apple casserole. This was seriously good winter warmer food and much needed, but by the time we got out onto the reserve the best that could be said for the weather was 'moist', and it went downhill from there.

I didn't get a picture (too much rain to change lenses) but normally looking out from the Visitor's centre at Pulborough Brooks you're treated to a view much like the one from Rainham Visitor's centre when all is working properly. The view on Saturday had more of a North Sea feel to it. The whole valley was flooded. The downside of this was that there were NO birds out there. Wetlands were completely covered, so all that was left were ducks and Wildfowl, and even among those I didn't pick up any unusual winter ducks (my kingdom for an Eider...) and all the Swans were Mute. The one plus was that the high water had driven all the Fallow Deer up to the grass just in front of the centre.

The camera was put away fairly soon after starting the walk due to excessive rain, but not before I'd got a couple of record shots of Redwing and Jay (first 'seen' Redwing of the winter, but not the year). All my optics are feeling particularly ill-treated and are now due some TLC.

My favourite Thrush - not sure why. Maybe because I didn't realise they existed before I became a 'Birdwatcher'. A bit of the magic of 'suddenly seeing nature afresh' still hangs around it.

I did get some not-completely-crap Pintail video from the Nettley hide, which can be seen below:

Note how I finally get the thing in focus just as the buggers swim off. Very inconsiderate.

And that, really, was that. Pulborough Brooks looks like it would be a great little reserve in fairer weather (i.e. when 2 of the hides weren't flooded and the valley not full of water), and while I may not have seen the best of the birds, I got a pretty good feel for the layout of the place. Would definitely like to go again, maybe in January/Feburary time while there's still a chance of some cool winter ducks for the 2010 list. They also have resident Bullfinches, which are getting to be a bit of a Bogey for me, so all the more incentive to do a decent day's birding down there. The 'tea-room' at least is a model of what the canteen on every reserve should be like. It didn't have the varied and much appreciated selection of homemade cake provided by, say, Rainham Marshes, but the hot meals more than made up for it.

It was wet, and in places it was cold, but as I sit here with a glass of single malt (Bowmans if you're interested, Islay malt, deliciously peaty), I reflect that wet and cold is temporary while awesome Robin photos will hopefully last a lifetime.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Birding gods are mighty

Following my plea to the Birding gods, and not wishing to anger them by asking for something and then not bothering to look, I took a stroll down to Tower Bridge today not really expecting anything much.

And surprisingly, the Birding gods delivered. Nothing truly spectacular perhaps, but there were undeniably birds at the Tower, and some of them were undeniably not on the list of commons I was ranting about before.

Got off to a good start when I arrived at the riverside just in time to see and hear a Pied Wagtail heading full pelt in the other direction, and a quick scan of the usual flock of Black Headeds on the riverboat walkway showed up a Lesser Black Back settled down for a snooze. Feeling heartened, and deciding that the Birding gods are no respecters of weakness and are most likely to help those who help themselves, I took a wander round a long neglected part of my patch - St Katherine's docks.

Crossing the lock gate I heard a machine gun chattering in one of the trees and quickly hunted down the noisy Magpie. Believe it or not, that is a Patch Tick for Tower Bridge, taking me to a grand total of 28. Plea to Birding gods = well and truly answered. I will sacrifice Lee Evans to them in thanks if ever the opportunity presents itself.

On the docks themselves were a very pleasing pair of adult Tufted Ducks (m/f), 2 male Mallards and a Cormorant going fishing. The fine art gallery had also acquired a couple more nudie paintings that I could pretend not to be looking at as I walked past.

The highlight, however, was sitting in front of the Tower itself. The ways of the Birding gods are truly ineffable.

These industrious workers have clearly been tasked with creating some kind of Crossbill habitat right on my very patch! No other explanation could possibly make sense.

I can hardly wait!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Quiet times in the City

You don't hear much about it these days, but I'm still working the Tower Bridge patch of the Thames as often as I can at lunchtimes. Despite stupidly high water levels over the last couple of days, nothing of interest has turned up. Nothing. Not a bloody sausage. The regular host of several hundred Black Headed Gulls haven't harboured any Meds (or even Commons), and rarely even a Lesser Black Back these days just to break up the sea of pale grey.

As for Passerines... well, maybe a demonstration is the best way of getting this across:

It's a shame, because earlier this month things were looking up. Last week a Male House Sparrow showed up and stood on a bush singing for almost 15 minutes - very loud, very healthy looking. He was the first for over a month and no sign of him since. He was accompanied by a very smart Male Blackbird creeping about next to the hedgerows scavenging for crumbs. In fact, the week before that a small flock of 8 or so Goldfinches turned up and started hanging about at the very top of one of the mature trees. That's a first at the Tower for me, and quite a good inner London bird to boot. Again, vanished without a trace into the ether.

I'm still fighting through the miserable weather to get there, but am getting close to a "don't know why I bother" phase. I know, youngsters these days, no commitment. I'm working from home tomorrow, but I'd like to put in a small plea to the birding gods - if you could see your way clear to throwing something interesting at the Tower between 12-14:00 hours on Thursday it would be much appreciated. I'm not fussy, it doesn't need to be Firecrests. Maybe a Wren. Or a Robin. I've seen them both before, I know it can happen. Just please, anything but Pigeons, Starlings, Coots, Carrion Crows and bloody Black Headed Gulls!

Weather permitting, the plan is a trip out from the girlfriend's to Pulborough Brooks this Saturday. That should keep me going for a few more weeks.