Post # 200. Eric Ennion.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I have recently acquired another copy of the Shell Bird Book by James Fisher from a second hand book emporium, and very good it is too. Youngsters that may happen upon this blog may not have heard of it but you will find that many 'old codgers' will speak fondly of it. I may be wrong but I think that there was more than one version produced, the version that I am referring to is not a field guide, but a book about birds or perhaps more accurately a book about everything about british birds.

Flicking through it and also reading chunks of it has been great but the thing that stood out most to me was the artwork by Eric Ennion. In the field guides we have now, such as the Collins and the big Helm Gull book etc the artwork, although excellent and accurate, is often cold and clinical. We need this.  Indeed we all pretty much asked for it but this isn’t a grumble about what we have now, just an observation.  If you look at the field guides from the fifties onwards (once the Thorburn images in the Observer books were quietly put to one side), there seemed to be more life in the artwork but this all changed with the Peterson model as birders were desperate for more definitive illustrations.  Gone now are the dodgy impressions of birds not seen in life by the artists and Stone Curlews looking backwards in flight.  

The Ennion plates in the Shell book, and from what I have seen of his field guide, give more of the impression, the movement and I suppose for the want of a better word – jizz of a species and are nothing but pleasurable to view.

Have a look at the example below of a Pied Wagtail which I have 'borrowed' from the Eric Ennion estate

Top stuff eh?

The website on has much more of his stuff, the phalarope picture on the home page is great and the long-tailed tits on this page are a delight.  Rummage around the site and you'll see that his landscapes are pretty good too.

So there you have it.  200 posts.   

I'll probably be back to swearing about gulls tomorrow. 

A post regarding Med Gulls

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I was in the hide, and the chaps in the corner were talking about stuff.  Birds.  Telescopes.  Ruffs.  The chaps in the corner are patch birders par excellence - none of this namby pamby 'been watching this site for a fair few years now', no.  Decades.  Cap doffed.

Anyhow, they were talking and they said the magic word. 


Upon the utterance of this word Mrs Thing may well have had thought along the lines of 'what did they have to say that for?'.  I may be wrong.  The problem is that I have a pavlovian reflex when they are mentioned or seen.  Instant excitement on a childlike level, and I can't wholly explain it. As I've stated before, I think that Common Gulls are good looking gulls -  but Med Gulls are good looking birds.  So when the chaps in the hide said the Med word, I was instantly animated and just blurted out 'What, here?' in a rather uncollected manner.  That's because 'here' is the Brent Res and as is common with this species, it turns up regularly each winter and sits in full veiw of the hide.  Rock and Roll!

I think that it is inevitable that one will turn up on my Fulham patch, and when it does I will probably post something on this here blog.  But that will more than likely be littered with vast amounts of excited expletives.

Here is a picture of a Med.  The larophiles amongst you will be pleased to note the black edge to P10 which although visible in this stunning photograph is not visible when this (adult winter) bird is in flight, and on many birds not at all.


A Med doing Med.

Choices, choices.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The choice at the weekend was simple.  Drive like an eejit to tyneside to see a small greeny bird that was proper rare.  Or pop off to Staines to see a small brown bird that is proper rare, but I had seen already.  Or go to a patch.  Guess what won?

The patch of course!  What exactly did you expect?  Wasn't the longest visit, but it was worth it as there was a very showy Jack Snipe at Brent Res.  I say very showy but this is by Jack Snipe standards.  I explained to Mrs Thing that the normal view of a Jack Snipe is of one flying away from you.  This one however was so comfortable that it was even sleeping in the open.  Cracking little bird.  London tick.  There were also lots of ducks (Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard), a fair few Little Grebes and loads of Coots.  Bloody hundreds of the things.  Was hoping to hear a Cetti's Warbler that had been there earlier in the week but if it was there it kept very quiet, or more accurately - silent.

You would of course like a picture the Jack Snipe wouldn't you.  I didn't take one.  It would have so blurry and small as to make it pointless.  With hindsight that wouldn't have made much difference to the quality of the blog would it?

Canada Goose doing rinsing.

A repeat measures experiment into the lardering inclinations of the Carrion Crow, Corvus corone

Friday, October 23, 2009

Or as you will perhaps see dear reader, how not to produce scientific data.

A modus operandi of Ornithological failure perhaps...

Go to a different part of the river.
Throw apple core towards random Crow. 
Watch Crow peck at apple.
Get stale bread from pocket.
Throw crumbs towards gulls.
See gulls peck at crumbs.
See Crow abandon apple.
See Crow follow crumbs.
And the gulls with crumbs.
See Common Gull pick up apple core.
See Common Gull drop apple core in river.
Utter word 'bugger' under ones breath.
See Crow leave.
Have no apple left.
Utter word 'arse' under ones breath.
Continue to feed gulls.

I reckon I'll do it in a slightly more controlled way today.

A Black Headed Gull doing something.  I'm not entirely sure what to be perfectly honest, but it is doing nonetheless

Interesting Crow Behaviour

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I have wittered on about which birds like to eat apple cores in the past. Gulls no, Coots yes. Crows also like to have nibble on a core. In the summer the normal procedure would be to eat a bit and feed some to a vocal youngster.  As per this pic from the Counting Coots library of stunning photography.

Carrion Crow doing parenting

However, the times have moved on. The manky brown plumage has been replaced with a shiny black set of feathers and the youngsters are less likely to be begging for food. So yesterday I ate an apple and chucked the core onto the foreshore.  This time however, the Crow (probably not the same one as before) ate a little of the apple core, golden delicious, and then picked it up and hopped over to a large rock where it pushed it right under the open side. (It may be worth noting that it picked the area of the rock on my blind side.)   It then turned to a stone nearby, picked it up and wedged it up against the apple core.  Securing it in a future larder type situation.  This took no more than two minutes, and the Crow at no point seemed to be considering what it was doing, it looked more like this is something it is used to doing.  How long it thought that it might keep the food for I don't know as the location of the rock is below the high tide mark.  Might give another go today.  In the interests of Science and all that...

A rock doing larder

Borough hopping?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Yesterday in the patch, there was a couple of Jackdaws which is uncommon round here and a Sparrowhawk which was being mobbed by a Carrion Crow.  Peristently.  Interestingly there is an almost identical entry on the London Birders wiki which was much the same for the Westfield Centre.  (For those don't know what the Westfield Centre is you'll love it or hate it.  A shrine to the temple of greed and shopping.  Like a ruddy great Arndale centre pumped Ben Johnson like full of steroids). Unfortunately the time of the W12 sighting has not been entered, but I think that it is entirely feasible that the same birds could have been borough hopping during the course of the day.  If a Crow has got enough food inside it for the rest of the day, I can quite imagine it following a Sparrowhawk for hours, just because it can.

Other than that, it is mainly gulls at the moment.  Suprised aren't you?  Elsewhere, near the attentuation pond it looks like a path is being made.  Whether or not this is going to open for public use yet I don't know but if it does it will make following the river much much easier.

Black Headed Gulls doing intentional lack of depth of field photo

When Starlings Go Bad

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

After the excitement of the Brown Shrike on Sunday, yesterday brought me back to the patch, and inevitably not much happened.  However, a salutory lesson in the extreme danger that we can put ourselves in manifested late in the day.  The Starling roost (or as they were not roosting, the Starling murmuration perhaps) was readying itself to go under Wandsworth Bridge.  Flying around.  Nearly landing on stuff.  Getting together.  All that stuff. 

They were nice and low and I could here the little calls that they made to each other and the sound of the air in their wings as several hundred flew over at a time.  Excellent stuff all round thought I.   It is at this point that two of the little darlings defecated on me.  Charming.  As it was my work clothes I wasn't entirely bothered, and as the deposits were almost entirely black the stain that is left resembles a small oil stain, so I can blame it on being in the workshop or something.  Sorted. 

So the lesson is, to avoid extreme wildlife danger don't view Starling flocks/murmurations from underneath.  No - don't thank me - I'm only too happy to spread this kind of information...

Black Headed Gulls doing in profile

"More exciting than patch birding"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Yes dear reader, those words were uttered to me this weekend by Mrs Thing.  More exciting than patch birding.  But what on earth could have occured this weekend to provoke such a quote - what can possibly be more exciting than visiting a trusty patch, again?

Jensen Button becoming world champion?
Villa beating Chelsea?
The mad dad of Balloon Boy getting collared by the fuzz?

No, 'twas none of those.

It was twitching.

Dirty, filthy twitching.

Specifically twitching a Brown Shrike on Sunday afternoon, and it would seem that Mrs Thing much preferred the excitement of seeing this bird to sitting in a dirty hide in Barnet for a few hours staring at Coots.

A Brown Shrike doing showing.

This amazing image of this super rare bird is available to be purchased via Counting Coots Inc.  Just chuck us a tenner and I'll get someone with a colour printer to whack a couple off.  Many other images of rare birds are not available.  Buy two, get one free.  Makes sense, don't it?

Two thousand Starlings

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Went for an early morning wander this morning. Lovely sky and all that, and hoped for a bit of vis-mig. Knowing this patch I shouldn’t have bothered hoping for that really. However, there is a Starling roost under Wandsworth Bridge which was emptying when I was there so I dutifully counted the little blighters. Over about 40 minutes there were in excess of 2300 birds. That’s right dear reader, two thousand three hundred plus. Considering that the peak is not expected until the depths of winter, there could be considerably more birds roosting there than I had thought. Nice spot for a Peregrine to get a little vulgaris shaped snack one would think...

Also of interest, 150+ Black Headed Gulls moving down river, a 3rd winter type Yellow Legged Gull, a couple of Grey Wagtails, an Egyptian Goose flying upriver and a couple of Tufties bombing about.

Very pleasant indeed.

Wandsworth doing dawn.

A thousand Coots

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Sunday, the ever vigilant Brent Birders recorded a record 1019 Coots.  Thats right kids one thousand and nineteen Coots.  Thats loads.  Coots, being argumentative little birds, are prone to the odd scuffle.  By the law of averages (well, the average that I am applying for the sake of this argument), with 1019 Coots in one place, there must be Coots having a scuffle with each other all the time.  So Brent Res has turned into a great big continual Coot fight!  Superb.

Not that many London birders care much for that kind of statistic when there is a Brown Shrike at Staines.  Get scared little bird.  Fly away.  Come to Fulham.  It's not far.  You'll like it here...

A partially focused Coot doing charging.

Alba seeing you

Monday, October 12, 2009

Many years ago, I was in a hide.  I say many years ago it was more than that - it was at the tail end of the 80's so I am able to state, without exaggeration, that it was a couple of decades ago I was in a hide.  I was in this hide (which I think was at Cley) and I was with Mark.  Remember him dear reader?  He said he had seen a lesser Kestrel, but hadn't.  Anyway, we were sitting in said hide and a wagtail was near the hide to the right, and it looked kinda pale.  In our youthful enthusiasm we thought that it could be a White Wagtail and we voiced this.

But then, from out of the darkness, a bearded birder leaned over to us, his face wizened by the salt spray of a thousand a sea watches.  His right eye bulged out slightly more than his left from years of peering through german optics at distant gannets.  He spoke - "You're a braver man than me to call that a White".  That's what he said.  "Really?" we said.  "Yes" said the bearded birder bloke.   He then kindly explained a little of the difference between alba and motacilla, and we dutifully scribbled in our notebook (remember them?) 'Juvenile Pied.  1". 

I went to a local park yesterday, and there were loads of Pied Wagtails.  Cracking little birds they are - all going mental in a big field.  There were many differing shades of mantle and chest amongst them, but finer plumage details were not visible to call them anything other than Pied (you're a braver man than me - it haunts me still).  But now, it seems that techniques in wagtail identification have come a long way.  Indeed, there have been local reports of White Wagtails being identified when flying over.

Braver than me...

A Pied Wagtail doing Jacobs Ladder

Inglorious mud

Friday, October 09, 2009

Have you ever walked in Thames mud?  It is gopping.  Horrible stuff.  I'm not making a claim along the lines of Thames mud is the best/worst mud, but it is the river mud that I see the most of.  Why do I ask dear reader?  Am I going off on another random tangent?

Yesterday lunchtime the tide was low and the mad but worthy folks from Thames21 were out in the mud clearing up the rubbish again!  Because of this, there were no birds when I had been hoping for an hour of serious gullage.  Normally I would be grumbling and moaning about the humans disturbing my reverie, but I would have to be a completely heartless bastard to moan about these folks, so I won't.

Mud doing euurghh yuk.

Plot spoiler.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Having put the world straight on a couple of issues, I thought that I would actually put a post up regarding the patch, and the birds that are in said patch.  Groundbreaking eh?

My skills as an ornithological seer have served me well.  I predicted that I would meet with Linnets this year, and yesterday two Linnets were seen.  These skills are obviously as well developed as my stunning field craft skills, and are serving me well.  The Linnets landed in a bush, but I couldn’t find them again...

Other than that, there are quite a lot of birds at various points of the day but they just happen to be the same birds.  All the time.  Still got a Yellow Legged Gull hanging about, the odd Grey Wagtail and 5 of the cygnets that are about took to the wing earlier.  But not for long.  The Mallards are about done with eclipse plumage and the males are starting to look quite smart.  They are in larger groups now, and are doing all that piping and head bobbing stuff at the lady Mallards.  Despite all the Gannets in appearing in the Thames estuary, none have ended up down here.  The Cormorants are trying very hard to do their best cigar shaped impressions, but they don’t fool me!

Also this lunchtime, Charlie ‘bloke off the telly’ Boorman was trying out a stupid looking tall at the front sort of bicycle in the patch.  Probably something to do with his next series of travel based tomfoolery I reckon.  Not that I watch it mind you.  Far too frivolous and jolly.  Technically this paragraph is hypocritical, no?

Oh well, while I’m at it, in the new Dan Brown ‘book’ the Langdon character drowns and dies and all that.  It may be important to some people.  Just after chapter 100 if you want to idle five minutes away in WH Smith or something.  (Other book retailers are available).  I read it over some woman’s shoulder on a coach the other day.  Proper drivel it was too.

A Crow not doing a harbinger of doom at all, no Siree not me.

Celebrity madness

Monday, October 05, 2009

Is this symptomatic of a deeper malaise?

Kate Humble is the new president of the RSPB.

Yes, you did read that correctly – Kate “eeuuaarrghloogatthemBillthey’rezooo sweeeeeeeettt ” Humble is the new president of the RSPB.

The RSPB membership as a whole may not be the most scientifically leaning bunch, and they may be more often inclined to what is often termed ‘Robin Stroking’ and there is room for, and need for all of us across the ornithological spectrum but this appointment hardly lends the organisation any gravitas does it? The RSPB does good work. It has and does campaign on some weighty issues and generally for bloody good reason and at governmental level. At that kind of level you bring in the big guns right?  Julian Pettifer for example. A Jonathon Porrit type of person.  Not a celebrity telly presenter.

The entire world has gone utterly celebrity mad, and it seems that you have to be seen regularly on the bloody telly before you can gain any kind of standing in the rest of society. Dumbing down is becoming the norm in every aspect of our life. It’s only a five year post, so maybe they’ll clever up next time?

A Turnstone doing creeping and stuff.

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