Sunday, 25 April 2010

Why running and birding cannot be combined

I, like many of you I suspect, made a New Year's resolution to be a bit more healthy, which I duly kept for all of 2 weeks. Lately I have been having a relapse and have tried to get out and run wheeze heavily a couple of times a week.

Weeknights this is fine. I head over to Hylands park which is a big open space with a big 0.4 mile loop of tarmac and virtually no birds of note. I can stumble round the loop with impunity.

Today, perhaps inspired by the marathon, I thought I'd try something a bit more scenic and do a REALLY LONG circuit through Harrow Lodge park, round some bits of Dagenham Chase and then back through the park again. The trouble is, Dagenham Chase has lots of birds, and I am incapable of just running past a bush if there's an interesting song coming from it. As a result I did a lot more walking than planned. Still, it was 6 miles or so under the belt and the distance covered is more important than the speed.

Birds added to the year list included Willow Warbler, Whitethroat and House Martin. Had what I THINK was a Reed Warbler. It was the other side of a thick bush, so I couldn't see a thing. My warbler ear, not strong to start with, has atophied over the winter so I stand no chance of splitting it from Sedge on song alone.

Aside from the ticks, I heard more Chiffchaffs over Harrow Lodge park than I could shake a heavy stick at and had a Carrion Crow confuse me greatly by flying past with something large and orange in its bill. This made it look like either a Chough or the worlds most monstrous Blackbird. Neither of those two is very likely round these parts, but I had to hunt it down just to make sure. A Crow it remained. I also scared up a Green Woodpecker every hundred paces round Eastbrookend Country park. Some of the best views I've ever had of them though - will have to take the camera over there and try for flight shots.

So some good, if unintentional, birding and a warm fuzzy feeling inside from exercising which will surely resolve into agonising cramps by tomorrow morning as I drag myself into work. Good stuff.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Target broken. New target needed

It's been looming for a while now, but a lone Robin today put me at 31 for the year at Tower Bridge, grinding into the dust of insignificance the paltry end-of-year total of 30 from 2009. And I haven't even seen Mute Swan/Canada Goose yet. The only birds I saw last year that I'm not confident of picking up this year are Yellow-Legged Gull and Stock Dove.

Yellow Legged Gull I got a photo of and then ID'd once back at home with my field guides. I mainly called it as Yellow Legged because I was brand new to the hobby and wasn't aware of how difficult they actually were. Turned out I was lucky on that one, and the photo has stood up to Birdforuming.

As to Stock Dove, I'm fairly sure with hindsight that through ignorance and inexperience that was actually a Feral Pigeon with bluer than normal undersides to its primaries.

And we don't mention the Bankside Peregrine, reluctantly removed from the list for the final count-up. That really would be cheating.

So from here on it's all unexplored territory. Sadly, this is very exciting stuff.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Sheer bloody altruism

Not that I want to make it even harder to win (and not that I'll be reaching the knockout stages anyway) but I was made aware of something today through the marvellous medium of Twitter about which I feel compelled to spread the word.

That thing is the International Garden Photographer Competition run by Kew gardens. I know that, like me, there are some great photographers owners of overly expensive cameras who read this blog who tend to hang around in places where there are flowers and might be interested in producing some plant porn for the nice botonists at Kew to get excited by. I'm almost certainly going to have a go, because it would be beyond cool to come in the final 100 and you never know until you try and it will help justify in my brain the silly money I paid for my DSLR if I try to win some cash with it.

So being the philanthropist I am, I have put the news out. Consider this fair notice. The competition runs until November, so plenty of time.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Exciting is a relative term

Hung around the 'Blackcap Bush' (as it shall henceforth be known) for about 15 minutes today but no joy. Not even a Blackbird. Can't say I was expecting migrant warblers to throw themselves out in front of me, but a Wren might have been nice. Anyway, it wasn't to be.

HOWEVER, excitement also takes other forms. I saw a female Mallard with 5 ducklings trailing after her in St. Katherine Docks, and you need a heart of stone to watch ducklings without at least thinking 'Awwwwwww'. I may have vocalised it a bit. And as I was doing that, I heard some Dunnock song. Last time I heard Dunnock song on patch I didn't know what it was, and had to hunt the bird through half a dozen bushes to get an IDable view. This time not only could I identify it on call, I went to look for it and it was sitting out in the open on a tree about 3 feet away. I had to work hard for that patch tick last time, the little sods have stopped trying now. Ah well.

The best bit of my day though was walking back past the Tower of London and finding a flock of just over a dozen House Sparrows doing the equivalent of drinking, fighting and being generally rowdy round the bushes by the main entrance. It's a long time since I had that many on patch. Strangely they all seemed to be male. I'm pathetically hopeful that this might mean that the bushes are full of nesting females who arn't showing themselves, but we'll see about that over the next week or two. It's unlikely.

You would have had a Dunnock but it flew away with unbelievable prescience just as my finger hovered over the capture button, so instead, here's a Navy Cadets tallship that was moored up outside the dock. I like tallships.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Relevance ++

There is new linkage on the nav bar to the right. I have started a Tumblr to try and take away some of the more extreme irrelevance from this ostensibly birdwatching blog.

You do not have to read it. That is, in fact, the beauty of it.
"Too irrelevant for Pretty Birdies. Too long for Twitter."

Must admit, if I'd found Tumblr before Blogger I might well have done the whole thing on there. Once you get your head round it, it's much quicker to get things online.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Mystery Warbler - Tower Bridge patch

If you don't want to read pointless ramblings and just want to help me identify a bird, please skip straight to the video at the bottom thank you so very much. Otherwise, read on.

I started my patch-watch round Tower Bridge today with 5 House Sparrows on the lawn next to the drawbridge. This delighted me, and would have kept me cheerful for the rest of the day.

However, better things were in store.

I was heading back to the office and about to pass under the subway that leads to Tower Hill tube station when I registered some birdsong from the big bush to the left that my conscious had been passing off as 'probably a Goldfinch or something'. It's an odd feeling that 'registering', I'm sure you've all had it - a bit like your hindbrain is prodding you in an irritating way and going 'no, listen, listen to me, you're not listening, listen...' It was quite right though, this was interesting song! Warbler song!

I've only done one spring as a birdwatcher so far. While my birdsong ID is generally moving forward, severe lack of exposure means I'm still poor at the various warblers. That's why I initially wondered if this was last year's Sedge come back. Then I actually listened to some Sedge song on my phone. No. Just No.

A bit of playing round with the warblers on my playlist and some guidance via text message from a more experienced birder narrowed it down to a possible 2 species for me. I was 75% Garden Warbler and 24% Whitethroat (the remaining 1% was taken up by self doubt insisting I'd just found a Goldfinch in an unusual place). The bird then proceeded to confuse the issue by making the briefest of brief darting flights from one bit of impenetrable bush to another and flying through shadows in such a way that it looked like it might be greyish with a black cap on its head, or might just have caught the light in a funny way. The little bastard was proving to be tricky. I'd ruled out Blackcap as the tone didn't seem right, not 'flutey' and Blackbirdy enough, but given my abject lack of experience, the song is similar enough that I was prepared to be wrong.

Fortunately I have a super whizzy touch screen phone (which, incidentally, is not made by a company with a stupid fruit-based name) and managed to get a half decent recording.

And so to the point. Opinions welcomed and encouraged. This is school time for Andrew.

Edit at 23:54: Having had 4 or 5 replies spread between londonbirders, twitter and youtube all agreeing 'Blackcap', it goes in the book as Blackcap. Excellent patch bird. Good stuff.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Kew Gardens and Rock and Roll

Spent a(n extra) long weekend with the girlfriend over easter, half at hers half at mine. This meant we got out to Waggoners Wells in Hampshire on Friday afternoon and I got superb views of 2 Nuthatch which were duly added to the year list. Those tricky devils had a go at confusing me by skittering up tree trunks instead of legging it down them headfirst, but it wasn't enough. When will birds sort it out and learn to act according to their identifying jizz? I could have called them as Treecreepers and then where would we be!? One year tick less that's where.

Yesterday afternoon I was acting as Tour Guide in London, so we toddled over to Kew Gardens which the missus has always wanted to have a look round. I am honestly trying to learn a bit about trees and wildflowers as part of becoming a more rounded naturalist rather than a bird identification machine, but the sheer number of greenish things just made my brain melt and I ended up year-ticking some (admittedly rather green) Ring Necked Parakeets instead.

We finished up by heading across London to Shepherds Bush to twitch endemic Scottish bird Amy Macdonald. As you'd expect, she was very confiding with a stunning singing voice. Awesome gig by one of my favourite currently-touring artists. She is cute and talented and successful and, irritatingly, still much younger than me.

Actually the Empire itself is a great little venue, and if you fancy getting there early and proleing it up you can stand right up close to the stage with no trouble at all. Back there next month to see Metric (don't judge me) and there's plenty of other good stuff that I'm extremely tempted by. We complain occasionally, but I do love having London on the doorstep.

Go watch her, she is amazing