Thursday, 23 December 2010

67 White Fronted Geese!!!1!11 Had I been looking.

Bird news is almost always a good thing, but as with anything (apart from a Mobius strip...) it's got another side. The "oh-look-how-shit-at-patchwatching-you-missed-62-White-fronted-Geese-that-almost-definitely-flew-right-through-your-patch" side, as I have affectionately come to know it.

Because yes, indeed, yesterday I missed 62 White fronted Geese which flew upriver from the Barnes Wetlands Centre at 2.30. There are 3 main reasons this grates at me and makes me want to eat my own intestines in a slightly odd form of peaceful protest at all the Geese missing me by.

  1. I was on patch at 2.00.
  2. I was at home, 2 minutes sprint away from the river at 2.30. 
  3. Alternatively I have a roof which is a 1 Minute ascent and then typically a 25 minute awkward for the watching neighbours descent.

Unfortunately I don't have a pager nor know enough of the Barnes Crew to have got a heads up on the geese, although the Wetlands and Chiswick Eyot are so close it would have to be near instantaneous for me to stand a chance of getting on them. And these were birds that probably actually existed as well, as opposed to the Barnes triangle of 'Dodos' and 'Hoopoes' in the visitor books.

Anyway it's all irrelevant as I've moved on, went down the river today and found a mother fudgingly awesome bird. A Stock Dove looking very cold on the muddy foreshore. A single Snipe was visible although the tide meant they were probably feeding somewhere not so visible and a group of 5 Gadwall flew past this lone male.

Unintentionally arty shot of a Gadwall

Wannabe artsy shot of three crows.

Two groups totalling 12 Redwing flew East calling and nothing much else was going on. I convinced myself out of going to the Wetlands Centre in the afternoon based on the fact that it was really cold and I'd probably not see yesterday's 62 White fronts so instead I went and did some very last minute Crimbo shopping and a little bit of revision.

Happy days!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The one that really never was.

It turns out (surprise surprise) that my sub adult Gull that I thought may be a Caspo was nothing of the sort. I saw the bird much better a couple of days ago and whilst I can see how I ended up with the impression of a bird that really stuck out it's clearly not a Caspian. And clearly is a proper good example of a Herring Gull. Because I'm a big man who'll admit to his mistakes I've posted some photos to show just how much of a whopper this one was. I swear, it looked nothing like this when I saw it...

Actually if I'm being honest it looked pretty much just like that, albeit with a little less head streaking. I think the first photo shows what might have got me all excited and the rest show why I'm a dunce.

Snow and Birds!

With the recent cold weather the local birding's started to look up. It's interesting to see how weather extremes affect birds and the cold weather's certainly been pushing some interesting birds through, which even with the knowledge these movements are a desperate attempt to stay alive you can't help but be fascinated by it.

A Meadow Pipit on the foreshore by Chiswick Eyot and another 3 that flew over in the past two days are some of my favourite birds with their stuttering flight and olivey tones. They're also one of my favourite things about Wormwood Scrubs. Watching their "this way, that way, no this way" sort of flight above the grasslands their is a sheer delight and proof that beauty in nature can be found no matter where you are.

A snowy dog walk.

Yesterday also saw 5 Skylark go South over Chiswick House Grounds during a walk through the very beautiful snowy park. The pond was nearly totally frozen over and I can see why there have been so many Moorhen on the river of late. Other birds in the park included a couple of Redwing, a Grey heron in a tree and seemingly loads of Woodpigeons. There must easily have been 50 in a semi-associated cluster of small groups that all seemed quite agitated and would take flight at very little.

I discovered the error of my laziness when checking the londonbirders wiki page to find Neil Anderson had reported 3 Snipe on the Eyot as part of a WeBs survey. I usually don't bother to check the length of the Eyot as it means I have to double back on myself and I'm a lazy get. Sure enough though the next day I checked the whole of the island, peering through people's front gardens etc to get a good view and there plonked in front of me were 3 Snipe. One promptly flew right over my head in the general direction of my garden and the other 2 sat there begging to be photographed by someone with a 7D and 500mm lens. Instead they got a good helping of pretend shutter noise from my trusty Panasonic FZ 45. I also saw what I presume was one of the birds fly upriver a little later on.

 A Snowy and Icey Chiswick Eyot.

Two Snipe! Grazie Neil.

A very confiding Grey Wagtail was also strutting up and down a semi submerged log. With their extravagant gait and beauty in a somewhat subdued way Grey Wagtails are a favourite bird of mine. So I took a gratuitous amount of shots of this what I believe may be a 1st Winter.

A Mute Swan flying downriver provided an opportunity for some more flight shot practice and I think a couple of the shots turned out alright.
Through the Mist

And into the blue Sky.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The one that kind of got away

I actually found what I think might possibly be a rare bird on the patch today. What appeared to be a decent looking candidate for a sub-adult Caspian Gull was on the foreshore just past the pier in front of the ship 'Victory'. Aptly named! It was by itself and stood out initially because of it's quite long and straight looking bill and just looked a bit weird. Once I got my bins on it it showed dark eyes, a long parallel-sided pale yellow bill with a black sub-terminal band and some streaking on the neck heading up to the rear of the head. It's legs looked pink (although partially submerged) but didn't give a bubblegum pink or spindly look like they're supposed to. It still had a little brown on the primary coverts but I never saw it in flight so couldn't assess exactly how much.

I legged it home and came back with my camera thinking that a gull that wasn't even stretching would still be there but the gull was nowhere to be seen! I've seen one bird pointed out to me that I was happy was a Caspian Gull before but this gull did seem to stick out quite a bit (although I didn't get great views of it) and from coming home and doing a little bit of research it looks as though it might well have been one.

The ringed Herring Gull HR9T was still present by the Eyot as was a single big-bully Great Black-Backed Gull. A flyover Sparrowhawk being mobbed by 12 Goldfinch was an interesting sight. A Kestrel was also hunting over Duke's Meadows and there seems to have been a noticeable increase in the number of Moorhen on the river over the past couple of weeks, probably as a result of the freeze up on most other water bodies.

A ringed Canada Gull with code UUZ was among other non-ringed compatriots at the Eyot as well. I can't find a ringing scheme with this sort of code on cr-birding so I'm not sure quite where this bird's come from.

Very noisy image of the ringed Canada Gull. 

Not the Gull I wanted to Photograph.

Oh and thanks to 28 MPs of the Yellow Half of the Tory party my future in Education now lies in doubt and the hands of market forces. Not to mention the EMA that I rely upon to purchase books, cover travel costs to sixth-form and to allow me to take advantage of opportunities like volunteering schemes. I've been kettled before and I'll be kettled again until this coalition realises that the British people will not stand for these regressive moves. And because according to the BBC this political movement is one to the sound of dubstep, I'll do my bit. Have some dubstep :)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The downer to normality

For those not wishing to depress themselves any further than the papers, TV, Internet and other media outlets already do so stop reading now, for I am about to begin a tale of distinctly in-Iberian weather, un-Iberian birds and neo-liberal fiscal policy:

HAHA lost the less-dedicated buggers! Other than the fact that yes, I'm unlikely to receive EMA next year; that yes, if I go to University I'll be facing record levels of debt to pay for the enormous cuts the coallition are making to HE funding and that yes, my MP has failed to respond to any correspondence on the issue, other than that, it's been a fairly OK past couple of weeks.

On a Stravaig around Chiswick house today there were a small cluster of Yew Trees that brought in a thrush bonanza, Millions of Song Thrushes (8+), Billions of Redwings (around 10) and a whole Mistle Thrush (1) along with a couple of Blackbirds. All gorging themselves on the delicious berries, which having tasted myself I can confirm do taste like snot of a high liquid content with a hint of raspberry. I papped a couple of the birds:

Straight out of Compton Scandinavia

Woohoo! A migrant bird!

Maybe when I go somewhere where Blackbird is a rarity, I'll really start to appreciate how beautiful they are. It's a bit sad that.

I've also realised that my birding has become almost totally restricted to Chiswick, only when I'm also walking the dog and only when I've got time (see: usually only sunday mornings) I've made a pledge to myself to try and get to some more interesting places and make more time for birding so hopefully in the next couple of weeks this blog should be filled with posts from exciting and exotic places like Barnes, Rainham or maybe somewhere outside the M25. Maybe.

Have a dunnock for farewell

Bloody Artistic.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Extremadura 25th-30th October part 2

Just to get all this Extremadura business over (I've got some great photos of black headed Gulls and Teal to get on here...) I'll finish posting a couple of photos and describing the highlights.

On the road to Campo Lugar driving slowly along on the second morning a Marsh Harrier went low over a field to the right, sending 3 big birds up right at the back of the field, Little Bustard! They flew right over the car and landed in a field to the left a long way off which once I got my bins on showed a big flock of c80 birds. The whole group went up twice and I managed to get a couple of OK shots when they landed a little closer.

Most of the flock (possibly all of it) in flight. MEGA!
 In flight with 2 Raven below.

I'll admit, I'm really milking these bustard now but its not every day you see a flock of 80 Little Bustard!

I am forever indebted to this Red Kite (with Buzzard in the Background) Red Kites were absolutely everywhere.

The rest of that day didn't produce too much exciting bird wise other than lots of commoner birds like Hoopoes, Thekla Larks, Millions of Black Redstarts and all that dross. This trip was also the first time I've ever seen such numbers of Corn Buntings, so difficult to see in much of the UK now but there were big groups of them all over the place.

 For birds which were everywhere and usually showed very well, this was the best photo I got of a Hoopoe.

 Quasi-Artsy shot of the Corn Bunts.

Black Redstart at Merida Roman Ruins.

Over the next few days saw lots more good birds, including good views of a Black Kite at Sierra Brava Reservoir, thousands of Cranes everywhere and a couple of Great Bustard. I had, however, managed to go a full three days looking in the right habitat, looking pretty darn hard and not seeing any Sandgrouse other than a flock of unIDable, very distant birds from a busy road on which stopping would have meant almost certain death! Martin was very helpful in suggesting where to go and on the morning of our last day the absolute legend that is Peter Walton who was also staying at the Casa was able to give us directions to where he'd seen a flock of c100 Pin-Tailed Sandgrouse towards Santa Marta De Magasca. We went up there that morning and sure enough they were all there! If you ever get to read this I owe you one Peter!

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse coming in to Land.

Pin-tailed Sandgrouse Showing off.

Later that day I also managed to get flight views of Black-Bellied Sandgrouse, I was so pleased to have seen both species of Sandgrouse, they're pretty unique looking birds that I was desperate to see.

We also visited the Paddyfields around Madrigalejo which provided good views of loads of Marsh Harriers, 1000s Common Cranes and some Snipe and also Common Kingfisher.

All in all a very good trip and I'm sure there's loads I've failed to mention but this has taken way too long as it is.

 One of many Chiffies seen on the trip.

One of many very confiding deer.

A slightly jaunty typical Extremaduran view.

 Part of the cave Drawings at Monfrague, well worth a visit.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Extremadura 25th-30th October Part 1

A very successful couple of days spent in Extremadura was one of the best half term holidays I think I've ever had. Saw some amazing birds and had a lovely relaxing time enjoying the warmth, the sunshine and just generally not being in London and not having work to do. Bliss.

We stayed at Casa Rural El Recuerdo which is run by two birders, Claudia and Martin Kelsey and I can highly recommend it, they were very helpful and were happy to give very detailed advice and even print off some maps for where to see some of the species I was really keen to see. The house itself was lovely as well and it was nice to be staying with other birders to get up to date gen!

Managed to semi-avert a major disaster by recovering most of the photos from my corrupted memory card and so thankfully I have some photos to bless my otherwise boring blog. However, a load of them have massive black bars across them or were downsized or otherwise lost so if they all look rubbish that's why:

Griffon Vulture

After a fairly early start we spent our first day at Monfrague National Park, stopping at the castle first to watch the Griffon and Black Vultures take off in the early morning sunlight. Loads were perched on the rocks around the castle and it was a great time to watch them drop off their ledges, flying low overhead so the wind could be heard rustling through their feathers and then fly down the hill top in search of thermals. Also at the castle were a flock of around 30 Red-Billed Chough, bombing about and 'caww caww'-ing across the cliff top, stunning birds that I was so happy watching that once I remembered I had a camera they were mostly specks on the distant hillside. I can see I definitely don't have the makings of a world class photographer!

 Poor shot of one of many Black Vultures

Vultures Soaring beside Pena Falcon Rock.

The walk up to and back down from the castle through a lightly wooded area also gave me my first ever (I'm a birding noob!) views of about 4 Hawfinch, wicked looking birds, like like little fat orangey front heavy men bounding overhead in flight. A couple of Crag Martins, parties of Larks passing and not much else at the top of the castle made us decide to carry on to Pena Falcon and it was on the walk back down to the car that a BOP on the horizon caught my attention, a Bonelli's Eagle well off in the distance! A harrier sp drifted overhead a bit closer but I was too busy watching the eagle to take any notice of it!

A bird that actually is that colour, how cool is that?

A very showy Blue Rock Thrush and Rock Bunting at Pena Falcon were the main other birds of note that day and I had one of the biggest scares of my life when after reports of a wallcreeper a week before I saw a little bird hopping creeper-style on the rock face at Pena Falcon!

A creeper, on a wall. Once I got my bins on it it turned out to be a Short-toed Treecreeper, maybe having an Identity crisis but still not quite a Wallcreeper. A good 2 hours was spent in the afternoon at Portillo Del Tietar didn't yield much apart from some very high flying Black-headed Gulls and good views Azure Winged Magpies which are absolutely everywhere.

Dude, go find a tree.

Saturday, 23 October 2010


In two days time I'm going to (all going well, inshallah etc.) be enjoying a couple of slightly warmer days with significantly more birds in Extremadura! As a very last minute thing my absolute wonder-woman of a mother booked us a flight to Extremadura for the half term. Grazie mille or whatever else it is they say in Italian with a lisp. Photo of a Green Woodpecker today from a quick dog walk around Chiswick house, from an otherwise very unbirdy day:

Taken at full zoom with awkward light, Okay?

Maybe my next post will contain a photo of a bustard? I'm not going to jynx it so I'll only say OH PLEASE LET ME SEE SOME BUSTARD PLEASE I HOPE SO.

If I don't see any at all I'm blaming it on this blog.

Friday, 22 October 2010


Haven't really seen much over the past couple of days but letting the blog go quiet so early on seems wrong. Have some photos of the bits and bobs I've been seeing. 4 Common Gulls have been present along my stretch of the river and on one day this week at least 6 were at my school along with the hundreds of Black-headed Gulls feeding on the general detritus of humanity (aka crisp packets), which is definitely more than I saw at any one time last year.

As well as photogenic common gulls today there was also a pigeon behaving very oddly, dive-bombing the black headed gulls and also happily plonking itself down on the river pretending to be a little auk, this was the only reasonable photo I managed to get but it was very odd behaviour indeed.

Aquatic pigeon, evolution in progress?

I also went to London Zoo on thursday in order to do research for a piece of coursework for my Biology AS. I got a couple of nice shots but don't feel they've got any place on a bird blog. One that does, however, is this shot of the local House Sparrows taking advantage of some meat left out in the Ruppell's Griffon Vulture area. A pretty weird sight.

 House Sparrow with fresh Kill.

Had a really interesting talk from a Cetacean researcher about mass beachings and spent the rest of the day wandering around the zoo with my camera like a numpty. Overall the trip reminded me how little of a fan of zoo's I am :( I understand the value they hold for captive breeding programs and behaviour research and the like but to see these enormous vultures in a cage where their lives extended to flying from one end to the other and waiting to be fed, as much as it may be a crass anthropomorphism of the birds, made me sad to see them so confined. I guess zoos just aren't my kind of thing.

Have a shot of a Lesser Black Backed Gull dreaming of space travel to end things on a lighter note.

 One day...

Monday, 18 October 2010

18th October, A dull day for disputes.

 Had the day off school today owing to an INSET day so I decided to spend it trawling the streets of Chiswick looking for a good bird. Alas, nothing more exciting than a two woodpecker day with good views (but no photos!) of both the common species around here Green and Great-spotted Woodpecker. A walk around Chiswick House Grounds with the dog provided ample time to attempt to photograph a tit flock of around 60 Birds, mostly Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits as well as a somewhat associated group of 3 Nuthatch and 9 Blackbirds including one with an almost-excitingly pale breast band and greyish wings, sadly not a Ring Ouzel though. Unfortunately almost every single one of my 'shots' could also accurately be described by changing the one vowel in that word. Have some anyway:

Noisy shot of a wren.

Almost a Rouzel.

If I ever get bored or fed up of Robins, shoot me.

View from Chiswick Pier towards the Eyot.

 Highlight of the day was probably seeing 'Nick' the old guy who apparently lived/lives on the Eyot, which the BBC ran a story on, cycling his bright orangey red bike down the tow-path. I've seen him a couple of times although never actually on the island, I'd be surprised (and chilled to the bone at the thought) if he's still living there in this weather.

 Other highlights down the river were a juvey Great Black backed Gull, Mistle Thrush flyover and feeling like I somehow knew Nick even though I don't.

Just to prove I can take flight shots.

Also had a big bust up with my girlfriend today (hence the title) which thankfully was happily resolved, for that reason you get a happy photo of two deer taken yesterday in Richmond park. Where, incidentally, I saw absolutely nothing else.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

16th October, A nice day for photo-ing

Well today (the 16th, I'm backdating the blog already...) was my first day properly out with the camera, I bought a Panasonic FZ45 with *long list of boring marketing talk features* and a big zoom that gives me the ability to take photos of Birds fairly far away. Took the camera down the river and to Chiswick House grounds where I managed to get a couple of decent photos of the few birds I saw. Highlights being nothing/a very obliging Mistle Thrush. Which I will attach to this post in smug pride. Cue photos:

Sexy Mistle Thrush
Sexy Mistle Thrush 2

Also managed to get a picoftheweek-worthy shot of a Goldcrest trying its best to hide and screw up my camera's best attempts at auto focus. I can see getting record shots of the Hume's Yellow-Browed I found in Gunnersbury Triangle today is going to be difficult...

Don't look, I'm not here.
Not to mention the Highlight of the day this morning whilst sat in the garden eating toast for breakfast which was a flock of Fieldfare heading North seen from the house. This was the first of what I'm sure will be many 'Birds in the distance!' moments without my bins to hand but which I managed to get the camera onto, also my first Fieldfares for the year. I'd rather ID them whilst looking at them rather than staring at photos after but I guess that's just what makes me an infinitely more respected pro-birder type guy instead of one of those foul 'tographers.

Real Genuine migrants!
Thoughtful Gull is thoughtful.

Now I promise not all of my blog posts shall be so long and inane... Actually that's a lie, welcome to the realities of patch birding in West London.