Thursday 31 December 2009

Good luck for the first weekend of 2010!

Whether you're pottering about or doing some serious birding I want to wish all of you the best of luck for the first weekend in January and hope that it bodes well for the whole of 2010.

Best wishes for the year ahead,

Suzanne xxx

Wednesday 30 December 2009

Two Lowepro Camera Bags For Sale

As the title says really… For either of these, the buyer can collect from either NE London or Norfolk, or pay postage to a UK address at cost. Leave a comment if you’re interested!

First is a Lowepro Dryzone 100 (black and grey, not the garish yellow version!). In addition to all the usual Lowe padding to protect your gear, this one is completely waterproof and will even float when fully loaded! It’s suitable for an SLR and 3-5 lenses and is in mint condition, barely been used at all.

Photo illustrates the size with a Canon 50D and 100-400mm lens fitting in comfortably, plus two additional lenses, a compact camera and room to spare.

These are selling new for £170+ (over £200 on Amazon currently) – asking price £90 ono.


Next up something smaller and simpler – a Lowepro Toploader 70 AW. This will just fit the 50D / 100-400 combination snugly, or a smaller combination. This bag has seen a bit more use, showing some minor wear to the shoulder strap, but still in very decent condition.

Selling new for about £50 – asking price £25.


Monday 28 December 2009

Norfolk swansong, and a new London Birder…

Just before I headed back down to London this afternoon, I came across some winter swans between Catfield and Ludham (a regular site for these birds). They weren’t amazingly close, but with the low sun behind them and lots of evocative bugling calls, it was a great way to sign-off in the county for 2009.
bewicksThere were around 120 Bewicks… whoopers
… and a few Whoopers – I counted 13 in a cursory scan.
I was joined in the car by a new birding colleague, somewhat diminutive in stature, and apparently answering to the name of Robin. My Mum and her ever-clicking knitting-needles are to blame. I think he’s more likely to be seen keeping an eye on my garden, rather than joining me on any long-distance twitches… but you never know!

PS... if anyone really likes him, the pattern is here!

Grey Seals in east Norfolk

Spent a bit of time this morning taking a few photos of the Grey Seal colony on the beach at Horsey. There was a staggering number of people there, it seems to have become a commercial venture now with a burger van in the car park, and a ‘seal shuttle’ bus to carry people a few hundred yards to see the animals. If you want to enjoy them in peace and quiet, then a sunny weekend is apparently not the time!

Anyway, rant over – here are some of the photos.

IMG_7618IMG_7663 IMG_7562 IMG_7652IMG_7576 IMG_7586 IMG_7597 IMG_7611IMG_7646

Sunday 27 December 2009

Post-christmas birding: Aythyas and Ansers

I've been spending a very enjoyable and quiet Christmas up in Norfolk with the family... Suzanne found the lure of a four-year-old niece stronger than that of a nearly-year-old husband! With the snow dwindling fast, there's been no problem getting out birding; as is typical for the time of year, geese and ducks predominate.

Yesterday's trip up to the north coast produced excellent views of the Snow Goose again, just off the coast road towards Choseley. For a change, it was the closest bird to the road... but compensating for this helpful positioning, spent 99% of its time asleep! A few photos were grabbed when it briefly stirred, of which this is the best.

Today I've been around Broadland, starting with the drake Ferruginous Duck at Barton Broad. It showed very well from the boardwalk at the southern end, with about 15 Pochard, some Tufties and a few Goldeneye. Generally holding its tail flat to the water, the white undertail was rarely visible, but the characteristic ski-slope head and bill profile, and pearly white iris were pretty obvious.

Next stop was Wroxham Broad, looking for the returning female Ring-necked Duck, and for yesterday's Velvet Scoter. The scoter is probably a rarer bird inland, but had apparently done a bunk, and after 90 minutes searching, it seemed that the Ring-necked may have done the same. However, a welcome phonecall from Tim brought us back to the site to see the bird showing pretty well near two wooden chairs on a small pontoon. Another distinctive Aythya headshape noted (peak very much to the rear of the crown), together with a banded bill, face pattern with eyering, and prominent sticky-out tail. Another spot of dodgy digi-scoping illustrates...

Monday 21 December 2009

Twitching is over-rated: discuss!

Yesterday’s trip was somewhat unsuccessful. That may be an understatement, I suppose. In short, I went looking for the white-phase Gyrfalcon in Glamorgan, on my own, and didn’t see it. Didn’t see much else either. Weather was absolutely perishing, air temperature just above freezing, but wind-chill driving it well below. Cost: about 8 hours in the car, 6 hours freezing my balls off, about £45 in diesel and a fiver on some rather average sausage rolls and motorway service station coffee.

By contrast, Jono was very pleased with a flyover Goosander and a few weather-driven Snipe and Lapwing on his recently rejuvenated London patch, as >this< suggests. He didn’t even take the car out of the drive. One possible conclusion suggested is that “twitching is over-rated”. Although I suspect this is at least partially tongue-in-cheek (coming as it does from someone who’s twitched more than once or twice this year), it got me thinking.

  • After three / four / five hours standing on a freezing cold lane in the middle of nowhere, why didn’t I give up?
  • When I finally got home last night, why wasn’t I completely p*ssed off?
  • If the Gyr returns and starts showing again, why would I seriously consider repeating the whole trip, despite yesterday’s events?
  • Why was I not particularly excited by Goosanders, Lapwing and Snipe in Wanstead? After all, they’re rare birds as well, in a different context.

Simple: because if the falcon had shown up, perhaps taken a Golden Plover out of the sky in front of me, tangled with one of the local Peregrines, or just rocketed straight past, I would’ve left with an amazing memory, never to be forgotten. On that day, I wanted to see that bird more than anything else I could seriously consider seeing or finding closer to home. Conversely, if I’d considered making the trip, but not gone and found out it had been there, then I would’ve been annoyed. A massive, Gyr-shaped opportunity wasted. Maybe wait another five years for another twitchable one.

So, in a happier alternative reality, what if I had seen it? I certainly would’ve phoned the people who turned down a lift, and picked up a strong hint of jealousy, I guess. “I can see Lapwings just about anywhere”. “There will never be a Gyr on my patch”. And maybe those conversations would’ve led me to joyfully blog “Patch-watching is definitely over-rated”?

I hope not, though. Because neither of them is over-rated, nor under-rated. They’re just different… and so it’s no surprise that different people love or hate them to a variable extent.

One of the clear differences is how socially acceptable the two activities are in general birding circles. Lots of people think they know all about twitchers, and their mental image is typically not favourable – the stereotype usually features someone loud and very dim who can’t identify anything and has no regard for anyone else’s property. (And, as the law of averages dictates, I can think of some who fit this pretty well). Conversely, patch watching has a very wholesome image – the dedicated local who checks the same little inland lake and acre of scrub every day, delighted by the odd Whinchat or even a BB rarity… after fifteen years of trying.

(Or maybe they’d actually miss the rarity, not knowing that the innocuous ‘tek’ call sounded like a Dusky Warbler, while a ‘filthy twitcher’ like me might have stopped in his tracks having learned the call given by several birds found by other people.)

I intend to spend much more time checking a couple of promising and under-watched local sites next year… but to be honest, the idea of doing nothing but this, every single weekend, and every summer evening, fills me with horror. Perhaps it’s because I spent my formative birding years in Norfolk, and I’ve been spoilt by lots of great birds on nearby sites. Perhaps it’s because I’d miss the variety of seeing new bits of the country. Perhaps it’s because I’d be very unlikely to see a new bird, and learn a bit more about it. Perhaps it’s because I wouldn’t randomly bump into friends and chat about where they’ve been, and what they’ve seen. (For instance, yesterday’s fellow falcon-dippers, Mick and John – that feeble gag about needing a ‘gyroscope’ is still raising a smile!).

But conversely, I wouldn’t want to repeat yesterday’s marathon dip too often, either! I’d miss the opportunity to wander around aimlessly looking and listening for whatever’s out there, with no expectations or demands; the opportunity to monitor trends in bird numbers at a favourite site; the camaraderie with other local birders down the pub; the amount of cash needlessly converted into diesel and Ginsters pasties.


So, after a rather unstructured and lengthy brain-dump… what’s the point? Well, I guess it’s this: birding is all about variety. It can be many things to many people, according to whatever they enjoy, or they feel like doing on a given day. If you enjoy whatever another birder is doing, well, that’s great. Tell them. If you don’t, whether they’re ringing, garden feeder watching, twitching, world birding, local patching, county listing, cormorant studying, RSPB reserve volunteering, whatever… just let them get on with it. They’re quite happy enjoying their birds just as they are.