puff puff on a chiffchaff

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Those with a penchant for a certain space-rock ensemble will be in awe at that post title.  The rest of you?  Don't worry about it.  Seriously.

Anyway - yesterday - patch - birds...

Kingfisher kicking about the Wandle delta
4 Gadwall (two pairs)
Half dozen Tufties
Grey Wagtail pair
8 Coots (one pair nesting, natch)
Moorhen sitting on nest (probably too low, as it was last year)
Egyptian, Canada and Greylag Geese
Gulls - but not many

Finally - a singing Chiffchaff.  That is a rare patch event!  Most of the Chiffchaffs round here are winter visitors (although 2009/10 was poor), and a singing bird is special.  And a patch year tick.

Chiffchaff - 56 for the year, second warbler in two days - well worth sparking the pipe up methinks...

A man doing "whatto!".

Loo list summer bonus!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

That's right kids!  It's the return of the list for those species only seen from the little room!  It's been quiet because there are only so many species that you can see from a suburban toilet in west London, but it still exists!  It doesn't go away just because I haven't spoken about it!  It's been sitting in the book of lists, no entry since September.  Sitting, waiting.

As I've said (ad nauseum) winter has been too long and boring.  Spring has taken it's time, and the whole can-we-have-some-nice-weather subject is getting tedious.  More so that the clocks went forward and the bloody weather turned horrible again.  So getting up in the morning now happens in the dark, and in the bloody rain.  This is not good.  I want more, I want better and I want it now.

I've had little snippets, but they haven't been enough.  Goldcrests singing, Chiffchaffs singing (not good enough, might have overwintered), nest building here there and everywhere but none of that is good enough.  I want to see or hear something that has recently returned from Africa and then I want to see or hear something else that has come from Africa!   And then something else and then something else - it's not too much to ask is it?

So back to the subject.  I smiled this morning.  I rarely smile in the morning.  I can do mornings and have done for years, and I have been known to smile too.  Rarely at the same time.  Until I opened the window this morning and heard some bird song.  Wren, Robin, Blue Tit, Starling, Willow Warbler, Great Tit *inserts sound of needle scratching a record* what?  Willow Warbler?  It did it again!  A bloody Willow Warbler!  Singing in the garden!  Fresh from Africa.  Result.  Morning and smiling happen together.   As one of my  Millwall supporting minions would say - GET IN!

Mallards doing nothing to do with this post, and loafing.

It's what you come here for...

Monday, March 29, 2010

Isn't it?

The clocks may have gone forward, it might be officially summer time but the weather is still very springy in its wet windy and snowy way.  The moveable feast that is Easter is not quite upon us, but the Coots pay no head to all this anthrocentric clock watching nonsense.  No siree - they've got nests to build - that's right.

Friday 26th - nest two up and running.  Too low, too soon. Doomed.

In the words of Pete Tong -  "We continue..."

A Coot doing a nest that will be "all Pete Tong" in good time.

Who is Tony Trude?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Why do I ask?  Let me explain dear reader....

There are a fair few blue plaques around this city, and I understand that they cannot be just put up willy-nilly and there are restrictions and conditions on how and why.  Being really very dead indeed is one of them I think.  Famous helps too.  There are imitators.  One such imitation is part of the Wandle Trail.  I would put my picture of it here, but cannot find it.  It looks a lot like this and this link also shows the amount of interest across the web for this plaque, i.e. not much.

It states that a chap called Tony Trude lived in a boat in the Wandle and watched wildlife until the boat sunk in 2001.  Now we are lead to believe that you can find out everything on the interweb, yes?  So I did a little search to try and find out what this Trude dude did, because it might be interesting.  How long did he live in a boat?  What wildlife did he watch?  What could it tell me about the history of the patch?  Did he also find Coots frustrating and fascinating in equal measure?  Is the hull in the Wandle his boat?  Did he think that his patch was rubbish?  Could he spell properly? 

Couldn't find a thing about him other than a picture of the plaque, a picture of the boat (assumed to be his) and a question to the local council asking them the same question - Who is Tony Trude and what did he do?  Nothing.  Nada. Nowt.  There are occasional mentions of the boat that he lived in, the Land of Cockaign but that only deepens the mystery.  The land of Cockaign is evidently a fictional medieval utopia (but utopias are always fictional, right kids?), so perhaps the boat was fictional, perhaps Tony Trude is fictional?  Who knows?

So there you have it - Who is, or was, Tony Trude?  Answers on a postcard to...

A boat doing sunk

Same as it ever was

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Yesterday, same as the day before and the day before.

Staking out areas that migrants can be seen from, whether they are passing through or expected to stay.  No joy.  Not a sausage.  The birds in the sky are gulls.  Or Cormorants.  Or both. But not raptors. The birds on the ground are pigeons.  Or Moorhensn.  Or both.  But not waders.

My only consolation yesterday was a pair of Stock Doves on the foreshore. Delicate little things.  Nervy.  Not like the bolshy pigeons.  Nice, subtle birds.

Not migrants though.

It is at this point, as this is the second year of incarnation, I think that the patch blog must become repetitive.  The seasons change, and pretty much the same things happen time and time again, year after year.  For all I know I could be writing exactly the same shit this year as I did last year with perhaps very minor differences in dates and numbers, but I'm not checking.  As far as I'm concerned, if it was good enough for Gilbert White...

A Stock Dove doing subtle so well that it isn't even one of the birds I saw yesterday.

They're here!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Migrants that is.  Well I say here, but they are not here.  Not in the patch.  At all.  The Wetland Centre has reported Swallows and Sand Martins there are Osprey's moving through the area and it seems that there are a fair few Alpine Swifts around.  The only way to see any of these on the patch (excepting the Swift of course, lets keep it real here) is to go out into the patch rather than sit by a screen yacking on about why I haven't seen any birds in the patch.

So I did.

What a waste of time that was. 

I like birds, but there is only so long I can watch three Mallards for until I get bored.

A Mallard doing not much

Contextual post

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Let's put this nest site in some context. 

Most, if not all of the views that have been supplied have been from the closest spot that the nest can be viewed from, so the images have been fairly consistent.  This however, is the view from the nearby bridge, the nest is to the left of the picture just above the pipe that is encrusted with years of Pigeon output.  If you look at the river you can see that if the shopping trolley was not there, the Coots would have absolutely nowhere else to nest - hence their persistence at this one doomed site. 
You might also notice that there is no marginal habitat, and that the river wall is quite high, so there is very little access for anything that cannot swim or fly.  The river flows from left to right, and shortly enters a system of dams and weirs which would be quite fatal to any human that happened to float through.  The river can be quite fast flowing on occasions, is reasonably deep and very silty.

It is for the reasons above, and many more I am sure, that the trolley has been where it has for so long, and why (I am told) it will be there for a while yet.  It's bloody dangerous to go wading about in.  So I can be certain that the Coots have all summer to make as many nests as they please.

The picture also gives you an example of how industrialised, and therefore rubbish, parts of my patch are. 

The river Wandle doing rubbish, quite literally.

I have a confession to make

Monday, March 22, 2010

Some time ago, there was a theory that I may have been Bill Oddie.  I didn't say either way if I was Bill Oddie or not.  It was fun for a while.  However, I must now confess, that I am not, have never been, or indeed shall ever be Bill Oddie.  I am not him. No siree, not me.  He does not write (or likely even read) this blog.

Why have I confessed this after all this time?  Because my cover has been blown!  That's why.  I am no longer just an anonymous bloke that witters on from an obscure corner of London about some rather ordinary ornithological occurences all the time.  Someone knows what I look like, the anonymity is over. 

I went to see these birds right, and there was a bloke there and I guessed who he was cos he told someone his name, and we spoke and he guessed who I was and he was right and now he knows what I look like and I know what he looks like and he knows that I'm not an old grumpy short bloke with a beard.  So he knows who I am and I know that he knows who I am and he knows who I'm not but I knew that all along and he knows that this is me doing this and that all this 'cracks him up' and I know that he knows that this is not someone else.  He knows my real name too because Thing isn't my real name nor is it Bill and I know his name but none of that was a secret anyway not really but it was anonymous until now and I was totally undercover but now I'm not because someone knows my face and nobody did before.  Right?  So there you have it, my confession.  I say it again, I'm not Bill Oddie.  I'm glad I'm not living that lie anymore.

A Treecreeper doing undercover, sort of.

Well that didn't last long

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Best to get the first one out of the way quickly I guess. 

Yes folks, it's mid-march and it's Wandle 1 - Coots 0. 

As is to be expected, they are still there and still collecting nest material.  Looking at the material that is in the nest at the moment, there is a fair bit of more substantial material in it,so the base isn't so bad to start with.  Bearing in mind that it has to be this big to stand any chance of survival they still have a fair way to go.  But they need to get a couple of rubbish ones out of the way first.

Next week I will put this nest site in some sort of context for y'all with pictures and words and stuff.

One that got away...

Friday, March 19, 2010

...and one that has stayed for a while.

Remember this chap?

Yup - the partially albino/leucistic Blackbird is now in his fourth year and looking quite perky.  Well he looks perky in real life - in this picture he just looks like a fuzzy blob.

The ones that got away?  4 ducks flew over yesterday in the direction of Barnes, but the light wasn't good.  My best guess was Shoveler.  Unfortunately I couldn't be positive on the ID.  Strangely one of the birds had legs trailing prominently behind the tail - which I don't know of being an ID feature of any of our ducks but in the brief time I had I was rather fixated on this point.  So it may have been a Shoveler with a short tail.  Either way.  No tick.

Not a patch tick

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I had a dream last night.  The basic synopsis is this.  I'd been to see Avatar, but it was rubbish.  In reality I haven't been to see Avatar, so I cannot say if it is rubbish or not.   What I seemed to be watching wasn't the proper Avatar, but a rubbish version will all the CGI complexity of a ZX Spectrum.  So far, so dream.  I left the (not really a) cinema and headed onto the patch.  Of course I did.  Anyway, I was looking over the railings into the Thames and there was a female Blackbird on the foreshore.  My dream head had this down as a Skylark even though it was manifestly a Blackbird.  I then looked to my right and there was a dead Razorbill!  Whoa!  Patch gold!  And it was lying on a dead Cormorant.  That had a serrated bill.  Okaaaaay.  I took some pictures, as obviously this sort of thing is blog magic and I'd want to take the counsel of my peers to know how often Razorbills end up in ...the alarm went off.

So there you go, I cannot tick the Razorbill that I saw in the patch.

Because it was dead.

Gulls doing dreamscape and Avataresque. But not, if you get me.

A brand new post regarding Coots.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I've yacked on about Thames21 and their valiant work in trying to keep the Thames clean by having regular collections of litter and detritus from the foreshore.  There are a similar bunch of people who do this on the river Wandle, The Wandle Trust, who are not just litter collectors but do so regularly. 

Having subscribed to an e-mail doodah, over the course of the winter I would be kept up to date with the news regarding the river and also when they were having clear ups at the weekend.  All very worthy, but for me worrying.  When the alerts come through, they would detail the date and time of the get together, and the location  - the stretch of the river that they would be clearing up.  Opening these mails would always cause me some consternation as it is only a matter of time before they clean up my stretch.  And then what?  It's dissapointing that a shopping trolley has been left in the river so many years (not the fault of the Wandle Trust obviously), so I shouldn't cavil at this, and the Coots cannot realistically succeed in their breeding attempts but I couldn't help but object anyway.  But for no good reason.

To answer my question, I've contacted them.  There might be something that can be done.  There might not. 

If you don't ask...

A Coot doing oblivious to machinations

A little visitor

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Didn't expect much yesterday.  The tide was up, the winds strong.  There were a few gulls doing their best shearwater impressions over the Thames, but not much else going on.  Got to the Wandle, and went for a look at the coots, and found a Dabchick!  55 for the year!  Last week I was pondering on the fact that I hadn't seen one this winter, and that I normally do see one or two so it was a pleasant surprise.  The final fling for winter I suspect. 

The Coots still nest, the tide still rises, Swans have a nest site, Grebes are aggressive, Moorhens are prospecting and Greenfinches wheeze.  It's spring.  Just.

A Coot doing collecting and overexposure.

I need a tele-scaup

Monday, March 15, 2010

Because my telescope doesn't seem to be able do Scaup.  There is a female Scaup that has been at Brent Res for quite some time now.  But I haven't seen it, and it's not for want of trying.  It keeps popping up on the Londonbirders wiki, I keep seeing it in the log book in the hide.  I've even seen it on another blog. I just haven't been able to see it in the flesh, on the water, doing what Scaup do. 

It's getting a bit frustrating.  I think that today, I might go and look at some Coots instead as I know that I'll find them.  Meanwhile, have a picture from the hide at Brent Res, without a Scaup. 

Brent Res doing clouds and stuff, but no Scaup.

Coots. Unsuprisingly.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

So the Coots are at it again. The first year that I watched them I didn’t see the whole season, and didn’t really get the whole picture. The second year (last summer) it was interesting, as I could count the number of nests, see them building, watch the tides and the high water levels. Basically being more observant and casually scientific about it. This year is different. They instinctively have to nest – they cannot have a year off – they know nothing else. I, however, have to watch this drama play out again over the course of the summer, knowing their fate while watching their futile attempts to breed like some malevolent voyeur who cannot help – it is all a little depressing.

I do my very best not to anthropomorphise natural history. I find some of the more popular wildlife programmes infantile, and cannot watch them. Meerkat Manor? Balls. Nature is nasty, and putting human emotions in the heads of animals or birds is at best naive, at worst it is stupidity. However, when the nest with the most potential last year failed (their fourth and best attempt), and the Coots left the site for a short while, I found it difficult not to think that they looked despondent and saddened by the whole thing. I know that I was pretty pissed off for them anyway.

This year will be a mix of all of the above I think. As much as they have to construct nests and lay eggs, I feel compelled to visit and document the whole sorry affair (for your delectation dear reader). And someone else is after them too. There is a good chance that these Coots are going to become famous. I shit you not dear reader. A film company that are putting a big documentary about wildlife in London have been in contact, mostly about the coots, and they intend to include them in a feature on Coots nesting with or in manmade materials. Which is a bit mad. Not nearly as mad as a shopping trolley and a ski being left in a river for over three years, but I’ll save that argument for another day.

A Coot doing ready for it's close up Mr Demille

Groundcoot day

Friday, March 12, 2010

Last year on the 12th of March I wandered up the Wandle and found that some Coots were nesting on a shopping trolley in the river.  For the second year in a row.

This year on the 11th of March I wandered up the Wandle and found that some Coots were nesting on a shopping trolley in the river. For the third year in a row.

Year three, nest one. Here we bloody go again.

A Coot doing what it did last year.  And the year before.  And the year before that too.

Primary school

Thursday, March 11, 2010

If you are not interested in the finer details of large gull identification, you may as well quit this post now.  Come back tomorrow, there is nothing for you here...

I arrived at the Wandle yesterday, and there were two Lesser Black-backed Gulls (LBB) on a post.  As you may know, the LBB doesn't have a black back unless it is a fuscus fuscus so the more accurate name for it should be Lesser in-the-top-half-of-the-Kodak-gray-scale-chart-backed Gull.  Anyway, it is not uncommon to find slightly different shades on the back of these gulls in this area, and I usually (and sensibly) dismiss them as individual differences, but there was a third bird yesterday that I thought was dark enough to warrant further investigation.  You never know, I might find a continental intermedius on the patch.  So I peered at it for a bit, took some photos, came to no conclusion at all and left. 

Later that day, I pulled out the big scary gull book to see if I had a graellsii or an intermedius.  It was all quite inconclusive as the shades of gray differ and there is a certain amount of interbreeding between the two subspecies.  That was until I stumbled on the killer bit of ID factness.

And there it is, plain to see.

Once you know, you know.  And I now know that the small mirror on P9 makes it an absolute certain graellsii.  Excellent, it's just a common bird.  Just like all the others on the patch.

See, I told you that you there was nothing else but gulls today.

In the kitchen, nearly

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Sometimes, all the synapses in the brain don't seem to have joined up first thing in the morning.  It might have something to do with wine.  It might not.  For a split second this morning, my brain had absolutely no understanding of what a squirrel was. None at all.  It was as if I had never, ever, seen a mammal with a big fluffy tail in my garden. It was climbing up a tree and oh so briefly I was thinking along the lines of 'what? - what the...' and then just as quickly dismissed it.  Bloody things.  If it wasn't for them I'd be able to have feeders for birds out in the winter.  They eat everything.  It left. 

Then, on the windowsill there was a Robin.  I peered at it.  It peered back.  I moved closer to it and peered at it some more through the gap where the window was open.  It peered back.  I turned my head to one side and moved closer.  It peered some more.  I peered back.  It flew off.  Now, if I was of a more artistic bent I might wax lyrical about the interconnection between man and nature in the new dawn, shared time in a precious moment, and maybe throw in fancy words like gossamer, perhaps even fecundity or maybe dank.  At a stretch. 

I'm not. 

The Robin looked a lot like this...

A Robin doing peering.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Monday, March 08, 2010

Or 'More Dirty Filthy Twitching'.

But, right, I was going to Brent Res anyway right, and Finchley is really only 5 minutes up the North Circular so it's not like it was a big twitch or anything - just a teeny-weeny one.  So it doesn't really count, does it?

Now, if you are going to stand by a traffic jam in north London staring into a tree with tripods, germans and cameras and stuff, the local residents are going to ask you what you are doing, often loudly.  Many of them from cars.  Because they are bored. 

A twitcherer doing public information

Some people get a look through the germans (especially young humans - even though I can't bear them most of the time - it's important innit?) and others don't.  Most folks thank you and some make jokes.  I don't always spot them though.  When a man says 'that's the best looking bird I've seen round here' (TWICE) - I was thinking that it probably was as he wasn't a birder and Finchely isn't a renowned hot spot for birds, good looking or not.  Mrs Thing tells me that he was being funny, but I'm a bit to literal in these situations to have understood in any way.

Many readers already know what I went to see, for those that don't - here it is.

A Waxwing doing bohemian

Wokka Wokka Wokka

Saturday, March 06, 2010

What do you get if you cross a flock of loafing Gulls with two overflying Chinooks?

Dread.  Technically.

I've mentioned the prescence of helicopters in the area before (Battersea Heliport is nearby).  Every so often, a Chinook will use the Thames as a navigation aid as it moves further into the city.  Every so often, there are two together and I have seen three fly over.  And what a bloody racket they make.  Friday lunchtime, two flew over and all the Gulls just freaked right out.  The Herring Gulls seemed to take particular offence to the noise and countered the big noisy flying things by flying around and being noisy for 10 minutes or so.  None of the other birds seemed to mind that much.

Gulls doing freaked right out.

More spring sprunging

Friday, March 05, 2010

In places it may look like spring, but standing by the Thames for half an hour over the last couple of days it has felt like winter, good and proper.  The wind has been strong and bitter.

However, this spring thing continues to show regardless.  Greenfinches singing, maybe three Dunnocks singing, Magpies carrying sticks around and some plumage changes.  The amount of Black-headed Gulls that are now with hood seem to be increasing daily, Common Gulls are starting to look a lot smarter and the resident Grebes have got their summer plumage back.  They are sticking together a lot more too, and I expect that soon they will be doing all that head flicking stuff.

There was only one Teal on the Wandle yesterday, and that will be gone soon, along with the Gadwall and most of the Gulls.  Come to think of it, most of what I've got at the moment will be gone and I don't get many summer visitors which means I look at what exactly in the summer?

Oh yeah, Coots.  On a shopping trolley.  Don't worry dear reader, I'm sure that they will soon dominate this blog again...

Great Crested Grebes doing swimming away from me when I'm trying to take a photo.

The compulsory post

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Is it a truism that all natural history bloggers have to have a 'spring is here post'?  Either way, I'm going to get mine out of the way early.

Look!  It's spring!  It has sprung!  Hurrah!

it might be a  Pussy Willow.  But I expect to be corrected.

Didn't see the low tides (work) and haven't seen many birds lately either.  Ho hum.

Where eagles don't dare...

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

At last there is a sensible response to the very daft idea of introducing White-tailed Sea Eagles to East Anglia.  At a recent meeting of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NW Norfolk branch) in Hunstanton a vote was taken and the members overwhelmingly rejected the plan.  Good on them.  One member is quoted as saying...

“You've done a wonderful Max Clifford job on the eagle, my fear is in some ways, the RSPB is punting them like Katie Price, like Jordan - the big birds are what brings the punters in, the tourists.”
A little peurile perhaps, but pretty bang on I think.

Unfortunately it still might go ahead, even though not many people think it is a good idea.  A representative of the Country Land and Business Association said... 

“We are dismayed of the continued stance of both the RSPB and Natural England that the introduction will go ahead, with dates for licences and releases being stated when they are still supposedly in consultation with farmers and landowners.”
Insert dismayed swearing here........................................

Have a picture.

 Hunstanton doing all cretaceous and pretty and stuff

Gull ID problems just got worse/better

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I have misidentified gulls.  I think most (if not all) birders have misidentified gulls.  Now if you do happen to have a manky Black-headed on your patch that you have told everyone is a Bonaparte's (just for example) then you can blame your misidentification on radioactive waste.  No really.

Europe's most contaminated industrial site is in Cumbria.  It is called Sellafield. You may know this.   Being near the coast, there are a fair few seabirds around, and being a nuclear installation they produce waste.  Unfortunately these two things combine.  The waste goes into open pools of water for storage, and the gulls go and sit in the pools (because it's what they do) and then they die.  The people at Sellafield then have to store the carcasses as nuclear waste - they are described as 'putrescent', which I like.  They currently have about 350 animal carcasses in a special freezer on site (which I assume is a long way from the catering facilities) which will eventually be put into landfill on site.  What I don't understand about all this is that they haven't covered the pools with some chicken wire or something.  I've done science and stuff and I know that the wire over the pool is not going to glow or dissolve or anything like that, so why not replace the very expensive pest control company with some preventitive measure?

Stick with it dear reader, I'm getting somewhere.   Now I can only assume that not every gull that lands in said pools dies instantly (radiation doesn't work like that) which means that it may have been able to leave the pool, fly off, and if it escapes the hands of the pest controllers it can enter the wider population.  It is here that exposure to radiation can take effect if it breeds as it's progeny might then produce strangeness due to corruption of mytochondria or sperm or ova or whatever else.  What could the effects be?  Primaries without the expected P5 tongue?  Beady eyes? Abnormal carpal bars?  Beaks that are straighter than you might expect? An absence of a prominent gonys?  Yellowy legs?  Super long tibia? 

You get the picture.  Remember this the next time you tell someone that you have found a cracking Larid and are told that it is not a cracking Larid at all and that you are very silly indeed.  It's probably a radioactive bird you can say - you'll be able to get away with anything.  You heard it here first.

Before I stop for today, the the Thing household was in a state of Ren & Stimpy like joy last night as Mrs Thing got some degree results yesterday, and was awarded 80% in her scientific dissertation.  Eighty bloody per cent.  That's officially outstanding.  Good on you kiddo.

A Common Gull doing flying when the sky was that blue colour that it used to do ages ago.

T-T-T-TIDE! How low can you go?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Following that incredible post title I'm tempted to go into a themed rap by using the lyrics to Bring The Noise by Public Enemy, but then thought better of it.  For the best I think.

This week there will be the lowest day time tides on the Thames for 5 years (so I am reliably informed) you can see the times and all that by clicking in this area.  This gives the very worthy people at Thames21 a chance to do a 'deep clean' on Tuesday and Wednesday and gives a patch birder the chance to moan that there are no birds around because loads of people are wandering around the foreshore.  I aim to take a few snaps and stuff anyway because it's interesting..

So rather than show you a picture of any of the above.  Have a picture of the bird that I dragged Mrs Thing along to see this weekend.  No shit!  It's a Mandarin!

A Mandarin doing everything.

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