Dirty filthy twitching volume 2

Friday, January 29, 2010

After the incredible photos on the previous post were taken, Mrs Thing and I began to make our way to the exit of Surlingham Church Marsh.  When we arrived, there was a couple there that were obviously birders.  And they had a fair bit of gear with them.  Actually they had all the gear with them.  Top notch scopes, bins, tripods and everything - they must have had about eight grands worth of optics between them.  We roll up with a knackered pair of twenty year old germans between us and a bag containing a drawscope in a leather case.  The beauty of a patch like Surlingham is that most days you don't need a scope.  With half decent skills and a pair of clean binoculars you can comfortably ID everything.  And if you need the scope, there are plenty of posts about and a hide.  This means that you can travel light, and enjoy the visit without walking around in some crazy lopsided way, loaded down with large chunks of metal and glass.  So we asked them if they were looking at anything interesting in the church yard.  There are often Brambling in there they said but none today.  He looked at my optics, and I think that they may have confused him but he asked the secret birders code question -  'anything about?'.  My answer obviously identified me as a birder (of sorts) because I used a turn of phrase that made him realise that I was the real deal, or something close to it. 

"Oh there isn't much about, the lagoons are still frozen, there are some ducks in the dykes but there are a fair few confiding Fieldfare near the hides"

Confiding Fieldfare.  That's what nailed it.  You may not see anything rare, but there is a good looking bird that you can get close to - proper birding

Because of this he gave us a tip off - there was a Great Northern Diver on a stretch of water not far away (which we had already toyed with going to on the way home) and I think that if I hadn't described the Fieldfare as confiding he may not have bothered.

Stay with me dear reader, there is more.  At the Diver site, which I suppose technically may be described as a Tw*tch (Lord have mercy on my soul for I have sinned against the Holy Patch) there were birders and there was a Diver and a Smew and some other ducks and stuff.  Very, very nice indeed.  Just to the right of the throng (or whatever the collective noun for twitchers is - a page?) some bloke blurted out a sentence with a great deal of excitement.  This being Norfolk, you will now put your best Norfolk accent on for maximum effect....

"Eye gort a Kengfeshur en moy scoooop!"

Pretty much everyone stopped looking at the Diver, the Smew and the other birds and got on to the Kingfisher.  Because everyone likes a Kingfisher, and as I have said before, any day you see a Kingfisher is a good day.

Have a picture of that bird.

A Kingfisher doing en a scooop.

Surlingham Church Marsh in winter

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Before all shots of wintery conditions become passé  and irrelevant to a contemporary and up to the minute blog that lives on the very edge of the zeitgeist , here are some wintery shots.  Specifically images of Surlingham Church Marsh in the winter.  If you don't know or remember the relevance of Surlingham Church Marsh to this here blogger, click on the label under the post and all willl become clear.  Just look at all this habitat! 


Surlingham Church Marsh doing winter.

New Apple reader - see pictures here first!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Although it was just an innocent reference to something non-birding that had happened on the patch (to try and keep the interest going and put the place in some kind of context, yeah?), the statcounter showed that a fair few people wanted to see pictures of the accident on Wandsworth Bridge yesterday, and unfortunately for them they landed on this here blog.  It amused me somewhat that they had arrived looking for pictures of carnage and blood soaked bodies being dragged out of a mashed up sports car and all they got was a rubbish picture of a Cormorant.  Actually it really made me laugh. It amused me also that the number of hits on the blog went up because of this.  It amused me that someone put the wrong bloody date in the search engine and still ended up here. 

Cynically, I could now tell you that the young lad that biked round a park in Fulham for miles to raise money for the victims of the Haiti earthquake, was actually in the patch too.  It's in a park that it really is called 'South Park'. I could cynically also mention Simon Cowell (because he conveniently jumped on the bandwagon to get his fizgog onto the front of the papers with the young lad - probably spoiling his day good and proper) and then I could cynically tag on some kind of sexual reference like 'Simon Cowell boob job pictures' or even claim to have secret recordings of Osama Bin Laden, but that would only result in the CIA or MK Ultra snooping around my ass.  But that would be silly, and little more than occupatio.  But it may amuse me some more to see the stats at the end of the day.

I've digressed quite a bit.  I reckon that all the people that don't want to know about the 29th best patch in London have already sworn at me across the etherweb and have left.  But then again, so might everyone else.  Nonetheless, let's get right up to date with the patch.  Stock Dove on the foreshore at lunchtime, Sparrowhawk (small male) being hassled by a crow at lunchtime too (nice).  Two more patch year ticks.  Still got a half dozen drake Teal knocking about, same for Gadwall but no Pintail at the moment.  Gullage interesting, but nothing special amongst them all.  No Yellow-legged Gull for ages.

The year list stands at 49.

A Cormorant on some nautical traffic lights.  With guano.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

There was a nasty accident on Wandsworth Bridge this morning (my self-imposed patch boundary) and it was very closed, so I went for a bit of rubbernecking – like you do. Fire engines, police, wrecked cars etc etc. Carnage and chaos all round.

As I was walking away from the bridge, there was a Peregrine on the other side of the river having a look at the Starlings coming out of the roost.  Cold, cloudy and early.  Hardly typical raptor weather at all - but nonetheless it was out hunting.  See one in two years and then two in a month.  But I'm not complaining.

A cormorant doing landing

Starling roost 2010

Monday, January 25, 2010

I'm typing a little slower than normally as my hands are cold.  Not that that is particularly evident to you as you cannot see how quickly I normally type or how slowly I am typing now.  But anyway, just been out counting the Starlings under Wandsworth Bridge for the first time this year, and the count was approximately 4500 birds with the first 4000 leaving in a 25 minute period.  It wasn't ideal for counting them as when they first started leaving the roost it was a bit murky and they couldn't quite be picked out against the rather drab dawn.  There could be more under the bridge overnight, but not many - so the peak count I reckon will be about 5000, but I hope to get another count done in the next week or so on a clearer morning.   Compare this with a count before christmas and the total is pretty constant.

Turnstones doing nothing at all to do with a Starling roost.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

A belated entry to the London 2009 Patch List competition has meant that I have been moved down the league table!

This patch is no longer the 28th best patch in London.  It is now the 29th best patch in London.

Prime number - has a better ring to it...


Friday, January 22, 2010

I say it again. Dunnockless. I’ve yet to see a Dunnock on the patch this year. I reckon that I could find up to four singing males normally, but so far – nada. Maybe they suffered in the bad weather and succumbed, but conversely the Robins didn’t. I’ve always thought that they are hardly little things so maybe they migrated out? Either way, I hope some turn up as they are good little birds and I for one quite like their scratchy little song.

Yesterday did bring an Egyptian Goose, and my slapdash year list for the patch hadn’t been updated to reflect Great Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker or Kestrel so I have now suddenly leapt to the dizzy heights of 47.

Gadwall doing synchronised preening.

I is 1

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ok, that's enough of all this thinking for now, let's catch up on what little has been going on in the patch. 

Birds of note as follows.

Monday.  1 Teal, 10 Gadwall.
Tuesday.  4 Teal (Male), 7 Gadwall, 1 Pintail (Male), Grey Wagtail (patch year tick 43), 12 Chaffinch
Wednesday.  Zilch.

I seemed to have overlooked the staggering event that was the anniversary of the birth of this blog (two weeks ago now).  Yep, this has been going on for a year now, so happy birthday blog.  A teething and needy one year old  problem child with an occasional attitude problem.  But I still kinda like it.

Gulls doing accidentally blurry, but nicely.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Imagine if one of the greatest scientists the world has ever known was a blogger. It would make interesting reading, no? Imagine if this scientist was the scientific officer on a massive world trip in a boat named after a species of dog and every now and then he blogged for your interest, and just for good measure the captain of the boat did too. Sounds good doesn’t it? Imagine if that captain was called FitzRoy and that the scientist was Charles Darwin. Sounds really good now doesn’t it? You may well be scoffing at the idea – Darwin is long dead and they didn’t have the interweb in 1835 and nor do we have time machines now.

This is all true, but through the magic of pens, paper, time and somebody else’s computer you now can follow the travels of Darwin in real time – Charles Darwin’s Beagle Diary. What a bloody brilliant idea!

Lets have an anectode.

From ‘The Beak of The Finch’ by Jonathan Weiner

When Darwin met Captain FitzRoy for his job interview, the Captain took an instant dislike to Darwin’s nose. The Captain was an amateur phrenologist and physiognomist, and prided himself on his ability to judge the character of his men by their skull bumps. FitzRoy felt sure that he was looking at the nose of a lazy man. He almost sent Darwin home.”

[Edit:  Thanks to Harry for holding the link]

A Med Gull doing what it does.

Darwin's Finches

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Whilst I was on my sick bed I did a bit of reading. Day time television leaves me quite empty; in fact I would rather scrape my eyes out with tiny little rusty pins than watch most of what is on offer. So I spent the time in between bouts of mucus expulsion finishing off half a dozen of the books that I had meant to finish some time ago. I then managed to make a start on The Beak Of The Finch by Jonathan Weiner, which is quite simply stunning.

Many UK birders will have heard of Peter Grant, the bloke that knew a fair bit about gulls but died too soon, but is still rightly credited on the new Collins guide. The very observant will have noticed that he is referred to as Peter J Grant. That is because there is another Peter Grant working in the field of ornithology, and he is arguably the more important. He, and his wife Rosemary, are the main human subject of the book Darwin’s Finches (you can probably guess which birds take up a lot of the space). Without going into too much detail, they carefully picked an island in the Galapagos, and studied all the finches on it. For nearly twenty years. They didn’t just study them by walking about and watching, after a few years they had almost every bird on the island ringed, weighed and measured and by continuing this they produced a staggering amount of data across many generations, which showed how evolutionary factors were working in real time and this is the most important part of the book in my opinion.

Evolution deniers are stupid. Note that I am not referring to creationists - that’s a whole different rabid beast of mentalists. No - evolution deniers. You may come across them, and there are arguments that will be presented around misinformed rubbish like ‘you can’t see evolution happening’ and ‘evolution theory cannot be proven’ and you may wish that you had the counter argument. This book, essentially the work by the Grants, is the proof in real time.  It shows the vicissitudes of the forces that impact on the lives of these birds in a very restricted arena (a metaphorical Petri dish if you like) and the reaction of the species, the interaction of similarly related species and how they respond in the short term to environmental forces that in the study period swayed from prolonged drought to an exceptional El Nino occurrence. In short, it proves evolution. It makes you realise that evolution is going on all the time, everywhere – but we cannot see it. The Grants, because of the beautiful and savage isolation and containment of the finches on Daphne Major, could see it.

If you have any interest in evolution, get this book and read it. It is very good indeed and I cannot recommend it enough.  It didn't win a Pullitzer prize for nothing.

A Pied Wagtail doing evolution.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Abso-bloody-lutely typical.

You may recall that for the first time in ages (perhaps ever) the patch is producing some excellent birding.  What should have been a post last Monday about the Peregrine over the Thames on the previous Friday afternoon (honest - and a belter it was too) didn't materialise.  The week of happy trudging around the patch in sub-arctic conditions picking out patch megas didn't materialise.  However, flu did materialise.

Abso-bloody-lutely typical.  Now the harsh weather is gone, the decent birds will all have gone back to whence they came, leaving me counting coots again.  Brilliant.

I shall not regale you with the finer details of my untimely illness, the volume of snot that came from the mucus factory that was my sinuses or the number of toilet rolls I got through in one afternoon (two and a box of tissues for the record).  No, I shall persevere and get back out on the patch today and leave you with a simple fact.

The patch year list now stands at a stunning 42.

A Redwing doing perching.

Patch mega - day 3

Friday, January 08, 2010

Patch birding can be monotonous. Blogging about patch birding can be monotonous (regulars to this blog will be acutely aware of this). However, almost all of the good birds remain in the patch.  Teal, Pintail, Gadwall etc etc.  Effectively the quality birding is getting repetitive, but in a nice way.  Yesterday did produce a flock of 20 or so unidentified finches (don't worry - they will only be Chaffinches) that will give me something to chase after today.  I was resigned to the fact that I wasn't going to get any more Lapwing activity yesterday, but just as I was leaving the patch 8 of the blighters flew down river.  Eight.  I swore out loud yet again.

This is astonishing.  This is the patch equivalent of  birding on the norfolk coast and having 8 White-rumped Sandpipers or something at once.  Mega.

Teal doing not much near some mud.

Patch mega - day 2

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Yes dear reader day two.  I doubt very much if this mega will hang around like the Brown Shrike in Surrey did, but nonetheless the mega for this patch was there again yesterday.

Check.  It.  Out!

A Lapwing doing double mega on the deck.

And I had saw a Redwing (tricky year tick in the bag), and the Teal were still there, as were the Pintail.  There is going to be at least another week of this weather with loads of strong easterlies.  Bring it on!

Patch mega, Patch tick, patch niceness.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Patch birding can be monotonous.  Blogging about patch birding can be monotonous (regulars to this blog will be acutely aware of this).  Once in a while, patch birding is not monotonous, in fact it can be verging on the orgasmic.  The species that I am about to detail are not unusual in their own right.  Indeed, I have already seen them all more than once this year before the star appearance in the patch - but that is not the point.  This is a mainly urban patch in London, hence the excitement.

I got to the Wandle yesterday lunchtime, thinking that I might have increased duck numbers and might want to watch the Pintail for a bit as they are nice.  As I looked over the little delta area I did see a male Pintail.  And then I saw a male Teal.  Bloody hell I thought, that's a male Teal.  I hadn't seen a Teal here in 2009 so this single bird made the trip worthwhile.  This Teal then swam past another male Teal.  And then I noticed another two male Teal.  Four male Teal in one little area.  I said the word 'nice' out loud.  I carried on with a metaphorical spring in my step.

As I wondered down the new path bit I was looking into a tree where a Chaffinch was pinking and a bloody Lapwing flew past, and then another.  Lapwing.  In Fulham.  I swore out loud.  I have seen Lapwing here once before, about three years ago, when there was thick pea-souper and it was flying upriver just after dawn.  This is a patch mega - no doubt about it. About twenty minutes later, one of them flew in the opposite direction and drifted over Wandsworth.  I swore out loud again.

But that is not all dear reader, the title of the post details a patch tick.  That's right - just after I had decided to leave the area (having barked all this excitment down the phone to Mrs Thing when she innocently phoned me about the weather) two smaller birds flew low over my head, and one of them made a quite destinctive call.  I swore out loud.  Again.  Skylarks.  Sorry, that should have read SKYLARKS!!   I could hardly believe it.  Patch tick 75.  This cold weather is ace.

So I am now three ticks up on last year, and have only been in the patch for two days.  This is very, very good.

A Gull doing not related to the post in any way other than being cold.

Don't watch that...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010 the Wetland Centre - they've got 6 Bitterns.  That's right kids - six Bitterns.  Billy has done photos and stuff earlier on.  They were on the Radio 4 Today programme this morning (the Wetland Centre, not the Bitterns per se)  and now they (the staff) are talking about irruptions too!  Waxwings and the like.  Which will be nice.  Nice for us, obviously it's a bit stressful for the birds, having to fly across the North Sea for a bit of food and all that. 

With another week of harsh weather predicted this could be the time when the patch turns up trumps so I'll be heading out everyday to see if I can pull in a Smew or something even more exotic.  Yesterday I went out for the obligatory first day to see what was about and there was actually quite a bit of bird life.  At least 50 Tufties, 3 Pintail, a couple of Gadwall, at least a hundred gulls of various species.  I managed to get 3 types of crow but the best find (considering it was the first day in the patch) was a Kingfisher kicking about by the house boats.  But isn't a Kingfisher always good?

A Kingfisher doing good.

New year, same old blog...

Monday, January 04, 2010

You are all obviously clicking furiously onto this blog today to find out who won the stunning and addictive  caption competition.  Thank you all for your contributions, and let me hold you in suspense no longer.

Based entirely on how loud the comments made me laugh...

3rd - Thou shalt not pass! - Fst0pped

2nd - Honest mate... it was THIS big!!  - Ray - a blogger in an area not unfamiliar to me...

Drum roll........

1st - Shark! Shark! Oh my god! Everyone out of the water! -  Rob. 

I did chuckle.

My patch year list currently stands at 4.  (Four).

I aim to improve this over the next few hours, days, weeks and months and intend to let you all know in staggeringly repetitive detail.  Welcome back.

A patch doing winter - more of this later...

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