Saturday, 30 January 2010

Chichester Cathedral

Had a wander round Chichester but didn't get down to the harbour (might have set a record for time spent in Lakeland thought, "Oh it's got 3 floors? How nice..."). Loads of very noisy Herring gulls flying around the town and we managed to tempt out a wary but hungry Robin with shortbread crumbs in Cloisters. He can only have been a foot or two away, on the wall next to the table. He'd scoop up the small crumbs with one eye on me and the missus, and then grab a big bit and dash off into the bush next to us.

No pictures of birds, but I did have the old Kodak with me so did the touristy thing and snapped a couple of the cathedral. Forgot how easy it is to overexpose stuff on the old point and shoot things, but GIMP to the rescue:

Nothing quite like monochrome for eking out a bit more contrast.

Anyone actually manage to do the garden birdwatch today?

The wonder of Linux Mint - non birdy

Finally got my new ebay-bought laptop up and running after a multitude of problems, and I'd like to say a few words to my fellow nerdy sorts, and any of those who dabble in other operating systems.

|-|3110 G|_|Y5!!!

This post is a little ode to Linux Mint, a popular fork of Ubuntu. I'd just like to add my voice to the growing number of testimonials. It rocks. It rocks so hard. I've tried a few linux distros in the past (hopped between them near-constantly in fact) and always ended up coming back to PCLinuxOS because, for the most part, everything just worked, but Mint is even better. For the first time ever I've got working graphics drivers on a Linux installation! Neither Ubuntu or PCLinuxOS have ever achieved this, and I tried them both on this laptop before Mint turned up.

So thank you Mint for getting me mobile. I've always wondered what the point of having a laptop was if you already had a desktop, but sitting here in the girlfriend's flat in Hampshire typing away on my laptop, with all my email set up and all my bookmarks already there on Firefox, I can definitely see the appeal.

To Mint. Long may it last.

And it's pretty.

And just so the post isn't completely irrelevant, I won't be taking part in the big garden birdwatch today because the girlfriend doesn't have a garden, but the plan is to head over to Chichester and maybe take a wander down to the harbour, so I'll be keeping my eyes open. Here's hoping for lots of lovely gulls to sift through.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Mystery Raptor - guesses please

Turned up at Tower Bridge today to be greeted by this rather worrying sight:

Fortunately some investigation turned up just a bit of harmless pollarding, but since that large mature tree was cut down at the riverside I've been edgy.


No exciting birds on the river today, we're back to just Black Headed gulls and Starlings for the moment, with the odd Common or LBB thrown in as sweetener, but on my way back to the underpass some unusual calling drew my eyes to a treetop. The calling bird turned out to be just a Blue Tit (never thought I'd be saying just a Blue Tit, how this patch has moved on since this time last year...), but as I was looking upwards I caught sight of an unusual silhouette high in the sky. Got the compacts out and lo and behold, there was some kind of raptor being mobbed by a Crow.

Now, excuses in advance. I'm not good on raptors and have precious little raptor experience to draw on, but this doesn't look particularly falco to me. Wide wings and short body, and big flat wingtips. Also, it's much further up than I'd expect to see a Kestrel and is soaring in a very Buzzard-like fashion. The video was taken by holding the phone up to the compacts, which are little 8x jobs, so that should give you some idea of just how high this was. It also explains the camera shake and the general poorness of the quality.

So. Since the bird is being mobbed by this Carrion Crow we know they're at roughly the same altitude and have a useful reference point for size. As far as I'm concerned we have 3 birds which might appear over central London, barring escapes from zoos and collections, that fit the size profile in the below:
  • Kestrel
  • Peregrine
  • Sparrowhawk
I'm ruling out the first two based on apparent wing shape and feel and will be calling this as a Sparrowhawk, but am more than happy to be argued with because, as I mentioned previously, I am useless with raptors and regularly confuse Sparrowhawks and Kestrels. I also know for a fact that we have a semi-regular Kestrel at the Tower of London who in fact nested there last year.

Apologies for all the waffle, but I just have a sneaking suspicion I might be about to make a fool of myself AGAIN with a raptor on this patch (if not quite as dramatically as last time). Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you... THE VIDEO:

And this will be going on Birdforum without the lengthy exposition.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Pre-rehearsal birding

Had a band rehearsal during the best part of the day today, so I had a quick walk round Harrow Lodge seeing as I neglected it for Rainham yesterday. Good thing too, managed a few patch ticks picking out Common and Herring gulls from the big playing field out front. Still no Grey Wags down by the river this year, but a rather special appearance from our friendly Kingfisher

I saw the usual flash of blue, and was pleasantly surprised when it pulled up, spread its wings and settled on a bush not 20 yards away from me on the riverbank. This was my first ever 'perching' view of Kingfisher and it's long overdue. The little stunner just sat there while I gawped, and even stayed still long enough for an attempt at digi-binning, a delicate operation at the best of times. And a year tick into the bargain. Awesome.

Definitely a record shot. I don't care though, the view was stunning

And as a little added bonus, I pulled up at the rehearsal studio at half one and was joined just minutes later by fellow band members who pointed me at a hole in the hedge to a field in which they'd seen a Yellow-Legged Gull on the way up. It was helpfully standing next to a Black Headed, so the difference in size and colouring was nice and obvious.

And the rehearsal wasn't shite. So there.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

In which I go to Rainham for the first time in 2010 and get very cold

Let us begin with a piece of advice. If you are going birdwatching in winter and carrying a tripod around, bring gloves. Gloves are wonderful. I don't know what possessed me to leave home without them today but I regretted it. First thing I did on getting back to the Rainham visitor's centre was to buy a cup of tea so's I could wrap my hands around it.

Today was the opener for the Rainham 2010 list, and I'm a little disappointed with a day total of a meagre 39. Well, I say day; 2 hour total would be more accurate. I was planning on finishing up with a wander down the sea wall, but once I'd worked some life and warmth back into my fingers the idea wasn't very appealing. I also deliberately left the camera at home today, as I wanted to go out as a birdwatcher, not a photographer. This is why there are few photos, but lots of video.

So a quick summary. Things I didn't see:

  • Brent Geese
  • Pink Footed Geese
  • Bean Geese
This is a shame, because I spent the whole time between ordering and finishing my Bacon & Brie panini + cup of tea trying to memorise a useful difference between Pinkfoot/Bean and Greylag. Credit where it's due though, there were a couple of hundred Greylag to sift through scattered around the reserve.

Since I've not been to Rainham for AAAAGES, I was pleasantly surprised to find that you can actually see things from the Ken Barrett hide now. The old earth bank has been taken down and distributed liberally around the top pools. I prefer it, and judging by the billion odd Lapwing covering the place today the birds don't seem to mind at all. And sifting through the Lapwing I was rewarded with 4 smart looking Golden Plover, great birds.

View from the gate next to the Ken Barrett hide - much clearer.

Other top birds from the walkaround:

  • 8 Snipe huddled on one of the mud banks, again hiding among the endless Lapwings.
  • Noisy Cetti's from the boardwalk just past the 'woodland' area.
  • All the usual gulls out on and around the target pools (BH, Common, LBB, GBB, Herring).
Some moving pictures below, courtesy of Nokia and Nikon:

There are Snipe there really, honest. About 8 of them. Somewhere.

Going on size, shape, bill and the fact it dives completely under the water I'm calling this as a Pochard. Any objections? There were other very obvious Pochards about so it's not the end of the world if I'm wrong.

Back in the centre at the end of the walk, we had what you'd probably call a Comic Moment. There was a call from Phil at the Stone Barges saying '5 Whooper Swan flying up river'. Cue a mad rush for the window as everyone lines up scopes and bins and starts misidentifying large gulls as Swans. After 5 minutes we're all turning to eachother and saying 'but where have they got to' when someone with WORKING EYES pointed out the front window at the big pool in front of the visitor's centre and said 'there they are'. 5 large swans clear as day swimming about right under our noses. Great views as well. Have some more poor quality video:

Whooper Swans doing camouflage

Worth a trip to get me off the mark, and I'm still missing loads of 'easy' birds, including all the Tits and that pesky Kingfisher. Maybe bring some warmer clothing next time though...

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Bye bye habitat

Wandered over to the Tower of London yesterday lunchtime to find my patch closed, and this rather worrying sight sitting just inside the gates:

O noes!

We don't have much habitat round by Tower Bridge to attract the more nervous passerines, and the big trees make up most of what we do have, so it was with great anxiety that I walked through the gates today. I let out a sigh of relief when I saw most of the trees still up, but one was not so fortunate. Cut down in his prime. Mourn him, we shall not see his like again.

This will be some kind of quaint hand carved bench by the end of the month, mark my words.

So what Monday lacked in passer, it made up for in Larus. 5 Common gulls skulking around on the west side of the Riverboat pier, along with the obligatory Black-headeds. Today was back to normal, with confirmed sightings of a Blue Tit, a Great Tit and 2 Goldfinches, though my gut tells me there were half a dozen or so of those flitting about and hiding behind branches and the like. Gull action was supplemented by a sleeping LBB on the covered walkway.

Regular Tit/Finch sightings by the Tower? I have a horrible germ of hope beginning to grow re: the Tower Bridge patch this year. It is evil and must be crushed - that way madness lies.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Nerd Humour

This has had me chuckling most of the weekend.

What with being in the closing chapters playing through Knights of the Old Republic 2 and watching "A New Hope" with the missus on Saturday, I'm currently living more in the Star Wars universe than my own.

No birds at all this weekend. Peeing down with rain all through Saturday in Hampshire, and no chance of getting the girlfriend out with me in that even if I'd been inclined to go myself. Looks like another week of scraping the barrel at Tower Bridge before I can reward myself with some proper birding. A Rainham visit is long overdue.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Tower Bridge in awesome shocker

Great start to the year at Tower Bridge. I've already seen almost all the paesserines I picked up last year, and we seem to have a regular small flock of Goldfinches frequenting the same tree by the Tower of London. Fantastic.

Bird of the year so far? Patch tick:

It's a youngun but it's very much a Great Crested Grebe. Could even see the stripes fading from its head and neck. Expertly digibinned using a mobile phone and a pair of Minox compacts. Only the best for my readers. The year list for the site currently stands as follows:

  1. Mallard
  2. Great Crested Grebe
  3. Cormorant
  4. Coot
  5. Black-headed Gull
  6. Common Gull
  7. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  8. Herring Gull
  9. Rock Dove
  10. Woodpigeon
  11. Pied Wagtail
  12. Blackbird
  13. Blue Tit
  14. Great Tit
  15. Carrion Crow
  16. Starling
  17. House Sparrow
  18. Goldfinch
What other wonders might this patch hold before the year is out?

Monday, 11 January 2010

The patch list begins

But not very well. A couple of birdwatching circuits round Harrow Lodge on Saturday turned into a huge dog walk through the park and right over the back of Dagenham chase. It was a good walk, but dogs arn't too conducive to birds. However, I managed to add almost all the usual lake wildfowl to the list, including a few Pochard which are a bit more unusual, which is a pretty good start. Next time I'm over there it'll be for a proper sift through the gulls. That was going to be Sunday's job but I got... distracted. How can they make the plot so good and the actual code so bad? Curse Lucasarts and their insistence on rushing the job to coincide with the films.

So the Harrow Lodge list is now on 16, which is a pathetic total and should be doubled without too much effort. The only vaguely interesting thing I saw was a Jay next to the main lake. If these turn up in the park they're usually tucked away in the trees over the river, and usually I see them over Rainham Road in Dagenham chase. Anyway, the wildfowl were all packed down the unfrozen end of the lake.

We have a LOT of Swans, all of them Mute.

Harrow Lodge was followed by Dagenham Chase, where not much else happened. Very quiet over there, though I did get to add Fieldfare to the list (like pretty much everyone else on the blogosphere over last weekend). I even got a photo but it's appalling. The camera was out for pictures of the dogs rather the birds so I was using the wide angle lens, and even if I'd thought the bird would sit still long enough for a lens change, it was snowing pretty hard.

So instead of birds over Dagenham chase, have some dogs. They're cuter anyway.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Extended Christmas

I have received a late present from the missus. I always like late presents.

It is full of dried Meal Worms, though the water section froze pretty soon after this was taken. Of course the dream would always be for some kind of Bento of my own, but at the moment I'd just be satisfied with a bird. Any bird. It's only been 3 days so far, and I know it can take a while. Maybe the cold weather will work in my favour here.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Catchup and lists

Yesterday was spent variously at a funeral and in some pubs, and I was in no fit state to type when I got back, let alone trust myself to write things on the internet. For the week before that I was housesitting with the missus somewhere remote outside Basingstoke, and didn't have computer access. To top it all off, PG Tips has gone up to 65p a cardboard cup in the work canteen. Sheer folly. All this means that time for both blogging and birding has been limited, so I'm taking the chance to do some catching up. This post will be disjointed. At least, more so than usual.

First of all, I am doing it properly this year and keeping my lists on BUBO. I'm up to a stunning 33 on the year list. Considering I've not actually been out birdwatching yet this year, that's not bad. Being forced to count things up has given me a couple of other surprise statistics - my Tower Bridge list is up to 30 which is higher than I thought, and my life list is at 147. My life list and my 2009 year list are essentially the same thing, since I only took up the hobby about a year ago (think the only difference is Shag, which I didn't see last year but have seen in the Isle of Wight). Targets for this year will therefore be as follows:

Tower Bridge: 30
My work patch, well trodden and well watched though I'll be taking the north bank (no hedgerows and grassland, but several mature trees) while most London Birders seem to be working the south bank. The target is low because I'm restricted at Tower Bridge by what decides to turn up. I haven't counted the Peregrine, which I feel a bit bad about since it was in Bankside when I saw it (though I was by Tower Bridge), but last year's list does include things like Wren, Robin and Grey Wagtail which I've only seen there once and will be lucky to see again (especially the Grey Wag). On the other hand, I didn't see a Tern, and one day there will be a Med Gull among the millions of Black Headeds that frequent the area. Maintaining 30 is a reasonable goal.

Harrow Lodge Park: 70
I'd like to try my hand at an actual local patch, and Harrow Lodge Park is by far the closest and largest body of green to my house. It's 5 minutes walk away, and having a target might push me to get over there a bit more regularly. Also, no one else seems to watch this area so I will be doing VALUABLE SCIENCE by getting out over there. I believe there was a Ferruginous Duck on the lake in 2007 - fingers crossed for exciting wildfowl in 2010. If 70 starts looking too easy I'll rethink it, but I've got no previous figures for this site to compare with.

Year List: 180
This will necessarily involve increasing my life list. However, there are loads of Geese I haven't seen, plenty of Gulls, some scarce waders and things like Penduline Tit which I missed last year but are fairly regular in the area. Shouldn't be hard, especially not if I get another couple of Norfolk trips in this year, and some decent Seawatching with someone who knows their stuff.

Moving on, I got a very quick dusk walk on New Year's day and decided to take the camera out with me. Saw a number of good birds - a mixed flock of Long Tailed and Coal Tits, with one particular Coal Tit hanging off a lower branch and generally displaying fantastically. There was also a skittish Treecreeper which I recognised on Jizz, but didn't get a decent look at. My girlfriend did and her ID concurred with mine so it's on the list, but I still haven't had a satisfying view of this bird. One to watch. There was also a large Chaffinch flock, and a dozen or so Yellowhammers hanging around in the treetops. The setting sun completely washed out any colours other than yellow - fortunately this wasn't an issue. Pictures attached.

Yellowhammer doing very yellow

Cameras and dusk light were made for each other. Winter trees make stunning silhouettes. One for the desktop.

I think that's it for now. Next chance to get out will likely be Saturday, so I'll either be over Rainham or making a start on the Harrow Lodge list. Now I've seen one Redwing in the garden the buggers have turned up everywhere, so I'm blindly hoping one might get lost and fly into Tower Bridge, where it will lie stunned long enough for me to get there and see it. We can all dream. Having said that, looking at the weather report I very much doubt I'll bother trying to get into work tomorrow. Time to break out the laptop and enjoy an open window and tea for free.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

New year means new luck

Off to a storming start in 2010 with 2 lifers over the last 3 days. Had a Red Kite on New Year's day just outside Basingstoke where it actually landed in a tree in the girlfriend's sister's garden! But it was properly wary and disappeared soon afterwards, so not an escape. Probably one of the introduced birds, but they breed here so I'm having it.

Then today, a Bullfinch in the Girlfriend's folks' driveway seen from the living room window. First glance was at a distance through some branches so I noted it down as a Robin based on the bright red breast, but something kept nagging me about it. A minute later it turned around to reveal a big white patch on its rump. ID was confirmed, and realising it had been clocked and hiding was now pointless, it moved a bit closer and sat on the fringes of a bush giving superb views.

And I hadn't even been out birding properly yet. My year list so far is 20. That means 10% of all bird species seen this year are life ticks. Not a statistic I'll hold onto for long, but a happy one to start the year.

Some photos from a brief walk on New Year's day will appear shortly.