Friday, 14 December 2012

Rattus norvegicus

Disappointingly I haven't been inundated with Kingfishers since picking up Regents Canal as a patch, but I have been getting some mammal action.

If you don't want to see a video of a rat climbing a tree, you have come to the wrong blog and should leave now.

I'd also like to add a big "fuck you" to the folks at AVS video editor for only telling me that a watermark would be added after I'd done all the hard work of creating the video, and for placing it right in the fucking middle. I will be deleting your software as soon as this is uploaded.

The rather awesome rag style version of the Star Wars cantina music is by Jackson.F.Smith. The track is licenced under Creative Commons and can be found here.

Yeah, it's been quiet.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Ich bin ein Berliner

Like Kennedy, I do not consider myself personally to be a jam doughnut, but I do feel a certain solidarity with the citizens of that great city. This is because since Wednesday this week I have been mostly walking round Berlin in sub-zero temperatures and making abortive attempts to order bakery products in German, under the sympathetic eyes of shop staff.

There will be some birds, but first a few words about Berlin. It is a fantastic city, and we didn't get round anywhere near all of it. I reckon you could probably manage with no German at all in most places. In particular I'd like plug Insider Famous Walk tour which cost a mere 9 Euros, lasted 5 hours and felt like half that time, even at -2C all the way round. Very interesting, very worthwhile. Go there, be cultural. You won't regret it.

Birdwise Berlin is less spectacular, but since we walked everywhere we were able to find ourselves a regular Grey Heron which fished the bridge opposite the Hauptbanhof and Reichstag. I was also a bit surprised (which shows how much research I did) to find that Hooded Crow was the local corvid alongside the ubiquitous Magpies.

Hooded crow doing 'bigger than you'.

Since I only saw my first one of these up in Scotland earlier this year from the window of a moving car, it was rather cool to get a closer look and not worry about the tick.

Most encouraging were the House Sparrows. They may be dying back in London, but in Berlin they're like Pigeons - dozens of them underfoot at every city square hopping round the tables and mopping up crumbs. The only place I've seen anything like it is Tower Bridge, and if anything these were more tame.

And did I mention the beer? Excellent beer. I mean really excellent beer.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

New patch, Rainham frogs' legs and stupid balloons

Bit of a catchup post - beware the overload of photos.

First up, work have moved me to Islington for the forseeable, so the bad news is that this is no longer my local work patch.

Would you believe after 3 years working here I don't actually have a photo of Tower Bridge? This was nabbed from the Flickr stream of jrawle.

The better news is that this is.

Right next to the eastern entrance of Regents canal. Lots of canal, lots of potential - just staring at that photo I can almost see the Garganey Kingfisher Coots. Beautiful.


Today was booked out for twitching that Wheatear, but since there's been no news I decided on a consolation trip to Rainham, which has been turning up some good winter regulars over the last couple of weeks. It was also the first time I've taken the girlfriend out 'proper' birding with scope and DSLR. She's long been aware of the geekiness, but has only experienced it so far in diluted form. What I needed was for some kind of charismatic bird to put on a show...

First up - Wigeon. Who doesn't love Wigeon? Cuteness overload.

Had a bit more fun scoping up birds I usually ignore, like Lapwing and Grey Heron, and managed to pick up a distant Black Tailed Godwit when the Lapwing flock went up in a panic.

Star of the show today though was... *drum roll*

Lots of Kestrel love at this point, but it got better. The bird went into a stoop and came up with a frog. It then landed on a pylon and proceeded to eat the frog in front of a large crowd of sadistic birdwatchers.

If you look closely at the second photo you can just about see the feet disappearing.

A short wander round the path and another group of birders was staring at a patch of field about 20 yards away. "We think it's a raptor of some kind, but we're not sure what."

For once, rather than asking the questions, I was able to put them straight and let them know that they were looking at another stunningly showy female Kestrel. We watched for at least 5 minutes and it hadn't moved. Very odd behaviour for a Kestrel, but perfect for photography.

Other birds which resisted photography were a Snipe from the Butts hide and a very flighty but perfectly marked pair of Stonechats.

The non-bird sightings were topped by a Marsh Frog sat in the open on the path.

It's been too long since I took the camera out. I hope you appreciate the restraint I've shown in narrowing down to a mere seven from today's trip.

The downer for today? DON'T RELEASE YOUR BALLOONS. This one will be picked up, most of them just end up littering.


I miss blogging. I need to do this more often.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

In which I am reminded how boring twitching can be

I don't twitch as a rule, but when something turns up just down the road I'm willing to make an exception.

And so I found myself at Rainham Marshes today staring intently at this patch of mud, twitching occasional Marsh Frogs:

I think you'll agree it's just as exciting up close.

The Crake was seen for about 2 seconds going left across that spot about 15 minutes after I arrived, and before I'd zeroed in on this patch, so I missed it. In the next hour and a half I saw:

  • Baby Little Grebes
  • Coots
  • Mud
  • An adult Little Grebe making a spirited attempt to drown a juvenile
  • Coots
  • A Marsh Frog
  • Mud
  • A Grass Snake swimming across the stream (which was actually quite cool)
  • Coots
  • Mud
  • Baillon's Crake
It was about a 3 second view as it passed across the scope, but it was clear and well earned so I'm having it.

If the gentleman in the hide somehow spotting everything interesting is reading, you have my genuine thanks for sharing so promptly and quietly. Particularly for the Crake (obviously) and the Grass Snake. No drama, no 'look how good I am', just quiet professionalism. I like that.

My advice - bite the bullet, get out of bed and go first thing in the morning. Stare at that patch of mud long enough and it's guaranteed any time of day, but it sounds like the morning showings have been the best by far.

Monday, 10 September 2012

The 'p4rus honeymoon challenge'

For those that don't know, p4rus flew out to Italy today on honeymoon. The birders at Rainham have already done sterling work by finding a Baillon's Crake the day before his wedding and leaving him unable to twitch it, but I would ask more.

My final duty as p4rus's best man is to implore all of you - go to Rainham, Grays, Tilbury and the surrounding areas, and find as many rarities as you can. With any luck his new wife will have embargoed all bird news until their return (under pain of further, more excruciating pain), so he'll step happily back into the country only to find there was a Greater Yellowlegs or a Sociable Plover or something just down the road while he was gone.

Bonus points if you see it in a location that can be overlooked by the window of his flat.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Shortly to be renamed 'Pretty Insects'

I know it says birds in the title, but they don't come out well on phone cameras.

Not a tick this time, but I'm fairly sure it's the first picture of a Red Admiral on patch at Tower Bridge. Looks like a bit of sunshine is doing some good. Very nice to see.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Homecoming. Sort of.

I'm working back in Aldgate, and that means once again I have the north bank Tower Bridge patch. Once I had time to get over the initial British terror of that big fiery orb in the sky I went and took my first 'proper' walk round since starting the new job.

On the one hand this was a massive success. Visiting somewhere you used to list and starting from scratch is a really motivational way to track your progress as a birdwatcher. When I figure out the pages nonsense I'll start up a separate patch list on the blog, but I picked up more in one wander round St' Katherine's dock than I got in the first month of watching Tower Bridge when I started here three or four years ago.

On the other hand, nothing I saw was new to the patch, so I'll likely hit the ceiling a lot quicker this time round. Back to processing flocks of Black Headed Gulls looking for Meds before too long then.

I say nothing was new. None of the BIRDS were new. This was new:

My dragonfly book hasn't made the journey to the new flat yet so ID is pending, but this is my first Tower Bridge dragonfly. If I tell you that this picture was taken with the macro mode on my phone camera, you'll get an idea of just how obliging he was.

This was also new, if an extremely retro sort of way. I have no idea why it's there, but I like boats without engines and it's rather cool.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Three peaks, two birds, one pint

This weekend myself, p4rus and a few non-birdy types did a stupid thing. We attempted to climb three large mountains in 24 hours. Having done it now, I can confirm the stupidity of this action, and recommend you do not attempt it yourselves unless you are a) sadistic or b) clinically insane. I did it because I was c) ignorant, and you no longer have that excuse.

Still, there are silver linings to every cloud. We flew up on the Thursday evening and stayed in a basic but functional hotel, where there was a stunning view across a large body of water just a few minutes walk away. With p4rus's help I picked up Eider for the year list (which I'm totally not keeping) and Black Guillemot for the life list. And as if that wasn't good enough, here's the sunset.

The minibus ride on the way to Ben Nevis bagged another lifer when I saw a couple of Hooded Crow hopping about on the verges. Irritatingly p4rus managed to see a Golden Eagle and to ID an Osprey that I'd already passed off as a gull, so those two don't count for me. Still, I've now seen an Osprey silhouette and an Osprey eyeball on separate occasions. Soon I'll have all the pieces.

The three peaks part of the trip was tough. My credibility as a rugged mountain explorer type was also damaged by the strict condition imposed by one of my sponsors, to be enacted upon summiting each mountain. Can you guess what it was?

We finished up with Snowdon early Saturday afternoon and headed back to Manchester Picadilly, where there was time for a single celebratory and farewell beer before we all got on the same train to sit in our entirely separate reserved seats.

Looking back on it from the position of one who is aching like a bastard but never has to do it again, it was a worthwhile experience which pushed me to my very limits blah blah blah. Coming down a never-ending Scafell Pike on a pitch dark, wet, windy, freezing Friday night/Saturday morning it was shit and I hated mountains. I can't say either of those feelings is wrong, only that they are relevant to the place in time which they occupy. If I was to go back, I'd take three days and enjoy each one properly.

Still, lots of money raised for a good cause and two life birds. On this occasion at least the ends justify the means.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

222 posts of this drivel, 201 birds seen

Just updated BUBO and noticed that I broke 200 while in the Cairngorms. 201 was Black Grouse (seen on the Sunday), so by my count 200 was Ptarmigan - the last lifer I picked up on  the Saturday.

This makes me happy. So happy in fact that I'm going to steal a photo.

Credits to p4rus for the picture. I was there at the time and I saw this very bird through binoculars, but his lens is better than mine.

Monday, 21 May 2012

The Cairngorms (or 'I am extremely unfit')

Had an amazing long weekend in the Cairngorms, accompanied by p4rus. No less than 9 life birds.

The long and very winding road

In no particular order:

  • Common Redstart
  • Dipper
  • Siskin
  • Ring Ouzel
  • Crested Tit
  • Red Grouse
  • Black Grouse
  • Common Crossbill
  • Ptarmigan
And that's apart from the Raven, Short Eared Owl, Sandpipers (so tiny!) and everything else that presented themselves better than ever before. Don't think I'll ever forget Willow Warbler song now either. A bit of sun would have been appreciated for the forested bits, but I can't find it in me to be disappointed. The Cairngorms in May are awesome.

The supposed reason for the trip was a training walk up the mountains preparing for July's Three Peaks challenge, and so last day was booked out for climbing Lochnagar, which looks like this:


Unfortunately we didn't get to the summit as planned. With the previous two days walking (and some ill advised single malt the night before) exhaustion set in by the time we reached the deep snow, but it's on the cards for another visit. Mountains are hard. You can sponsor me here by the way:

Suppose I should include a picture of at least one bird. Have a cute little Siskin.


Sunday, 29 April 2012

Break and a revamp. And some Mallards.

Woo, new interface. I must have been gone a while. That'll go nicely with the shiny new template.

I'm still getting out and seeing birds, though nowhere near as much as I'd like, but stopped writing about it for a while. The bug has started to infect me again though so I'm giving the old blag a dust off.

Two work patch ticks in a single week may have had something to do with this. The green bit next to Spitalfield has acquired a feeder and a Greenfinch, in that order. Whether it'll hang around once the drought stops pouring down I don't know, but exciting times for me.

Prize for most unexpected tick ever goes to these:

There are 3, 2 males and a female. Not seen them for the last few days, but they hung around for a good week or so. Just goes to show you can never give up hope with the old urban birding. Tufted Puffin could be dropping in any day now.