Friday, 31 August 2012

Just a little bit more footage!

It's about time birdwatching ditched its old stuffy image and picking up a pair of bins became cool, trendy and appealed to a new younger generation - well I've found someone with a newer, fresher look and feel to watching birds!

Rob Coyle and his 'Birds I've Seen' podcasts inject new life into an old hobby! The stereo typical birdwatcher and his geography teacher look (woolly hat, wax jacket, brown cords and jumper with elbow patches) is out the window and in come skinny jeans, trendy t-shirt and a pair of white framed sunglasses, all of which doesn't feel out of place in Brick Lane or Hoxton Square - although it does look as if beards are still cool! Of course I might be completely wrong and Rob actually is a geography teacher!!

Anyway, enough of my ramblings...check out this video link!

You can see how I've been swayed by Rob's video content (Wanstead Flats and the Wryneck I found!) Still, I enjoyed his presenting style, bird graphics and choice of music.

I wish Rob the best of luck with this project and any future podcasts.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Wryneck - still showing at a patch near me!

I thought I would start with a cracking picture of London's current favourite bird - courtesy of Mr Lethbridge. It certainly makes a nice change to have a photo of a bird on this blog and not bushes and pies!

It would make a lovely Christmas card

Five days have passed since I found the Wryneck and the bird is still knocking around the SSSI area (although aloof a times) but still keeping loyal to the original Hawthorn tree I found it in. I’ve since returned to the area on a couple of occasions but have failed to see the bird again – showing how difficult these majestic little birds can be.

I bumped in to Lee G Evans on Sunday afternoon who had already dipped six Wrynecks this year and was already writing this bird off as number seven! I later found out he finally caught up with it after I’d left, adding to his ever growing year list. He made an interesting comment when I was chatting to him “You don’t find Wrynecks, they find you!” True in many cases but wrong in this case! Many Wrynecks are flushed or accidentally spooked from the ground but this bird was just perched up in a tree – remarkable! The bloke who found this must be a top, top birder – wrong! Lady luck was on my side that morning and any one of the Wanstead regulars could have found this bird - Stuart was standing next to me at the time I found it! Tim and Jono live just across the road, Nick does the patch most days and there are others, all more than worthy birders who could have laid claim to the bird - it just happened to be my day.
The most pleasing thing for me was the bird stuck, and everyone I know has seen it - plus a lot of people I don’t.
Many years ago as a spotty, skinny teenager (how things have changed) I found a spring Wryneck on my then local patch Wat Tyler Country Park at Pitsea and the big difference between then and now is despite much searching, nobody else saw that bird - leaving several of the local birders slightly miffed! There were even murmurings that I might have just seen a juvenile Starling!! Isn’t it amazing what some birders say and think if they don’t see or find a particular bird especially when it comes to local patches? I’m pleased to say that I’ve received nothing but handshakes and pats on the back from the regular Wanstead patch workers (Jono’s even offered to buy me a pint – I’ll wait to see if that ever comes to fruition) showing what a great team of birders we have in the area.
Guys, here’s to the next good bird….Bluethroat anyone??

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Wryneck and hungover!

I had to turn down an opportunity to go seawatching in Cornwall with Jono and Nick this weekend and with the weather conditions looking good in the South West, I was starting to hope it wasn't a decision I would come to regret. However, I stuck to my original plan of hitting Wanstead Flats early and dragged myself out of bed on Saturday morning (which was more difficult than usual due to a sore head from the prior evenings alcohol consumption!) to see what might turn up in the wet and miserable weather. 

I like to think of myself as one of the Wanstead birding regulars, but unlike some of the guys who religiously watch the area throughout the year I'm a bit like the Wheatears, I generally only show up in the spring and autumn.

Arriving at the Flats my first stop was Alexandra Lake and the adjacent scrub, trying to avoid the rain by sheltering under the tree canopy, things were looking quiet and the only birds of note were a single Lesser Whitethroat and a calling Common Sandpiper. I quickly walked across the football pitches and towards Long Wood - the location of the previous weeks Pied Flycatcher - nothing! Had I made the wrong decision? I passed another birder who also commented on the lack of birds and was already making tracks and moving on, when I spotted Stuart Fisher who said he had earlier seen a Common Redstart in the area known as the SSSI - a glimmer of hope I thought, so together we decided to go and have a look. 

The SSSI is an area I don't typically cover on my walks around the Flats, mainly due to time constraints but how glad I am that I made that extra bit of effort! Stuart and I were standing in the area where he had seen the Common Redstart - not having much luck, when I noticed a bird in one of the more prominent Hawthorn trees, it was slightly obscured by the branches with only its head showing but that was enough to clinch the bird - WRYNECK!! I quickly tried to direct Stuart on to the bird and after some rather frantic efforts Stuart confirmed I wasn't still drunk from the previous night and we were both looking at a Wryneck. Still partially obscured the bird looked to the skies, turning its head from one side to the other before our all too brief a view was over and it dropped from its branch and out of sight. A quick phone message or two later and the next hours birding with two more Wanstead regulars - Tim and Steve was right out of any coastal autumn hot spots text book; Pied Flycatcher, 2 Common Redstarts, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and several Blackcaps and Whitethroats all seen in the same small group of Hawthorn trees as the Wryneck - was this Blakeney Point and not Wanstead!?

Blakeney Point??

Although elusive but still remaining faithful to the original two or three Hawthorn trees the bird continued to give itself up to the small trickle of patient birders who arrived throughout the morning and early afternoon, by this point and after personally failing to see the bird again I was feeling increasingly dehydrated and in need of some sustenance and what better hangover cure than an East End pie, mash and liquor to help soak up the alcohol and commemorate finding a London Wryneck!

Hangover heaven!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Birdfair 2012

Having just returned from a family holiday in Cornwall during which most of the time was spent on one of the many wonderful beaches relaxing but with also one eye on the bird news hoping something of interest might show up; sadly Cornwall failed to deliver this time - the sea was quiet (southerly winds - not good) and the land was equally as quiet with Aquatic Warbler and Spotted Crake at Marizon marsh the best of the birds - both of which I dipped! The returning car journey home took a mind numbing 8hrs and so the thought of jumping in the car again the following day for another couple hours on the road to attend the Birdfair at Rutland didn't initially fill me with excitement - but I'm glad I made the effort!

There were two particular products I was keen to have a look at; firstly Swarovski's new ATX/STX module scopes with interchangeable eyepieces and objective lens, I was particularly interested in the 30-70x95 model. My first impressions were all very good and I was hugely impressed when zooming up to x70 with very little degradation in quality which usually happens when zooming up to a high magnification (probably helped by the whopping 95mm objective lens). These new scopes don't come cheap with little change from £3k at the top end! But I can see many a birder upgrading from the current ATS/STS range in the future, as these will surely become one of 2013 must have items - continuing to keep Swarovski as the current market leader for birding optics!

Dear father christmas!

The other product I was interested in having a look at was MeoPix iPhone adapter - this has been available in the U.S for a while now but it's the first time I've seen this in the UK. As you can see from the picture below it's simply an adaptor for your scope to enable anyone with an iPhone to take great images quick, simply and with no fuss, by just pushing the adapter over the scopes lens (iScoping is the new term). This too didn't disappoint with images worthy of any blog and with a retail price of around £60 much more affordable for most people. I'm told this product should be available from a UK distributor this autumn, another popular Christmas present this year I think!

Who needs giant Canon lens!

I couldn't not stop by the Leica stand and although there was nothing new in the optics range on show, one of the Leica technicians was more than happy to give my bins a much needed clean and polish - you always receive a first class service from our German friends.

A bit of spit and polish sir!

Obviously the Birdfair conjures up the usual bird/wildlife TV personalities keen to promote their latest book or their sponsor's product and this year didn't disappoint and I managed to tick the following peeps on the day.

Simon King
Bill Oddie
David Lindo
Nick Baker
Mike Dilger
Jonathan Scott

Mr King selling the virtues of Zeiss bins

Bill Oddie not selling but buying

The 'One Shows' Mr Dilger autograph signing

Mr Scott - this man wears a 'tasche' well

And finally no visit to the Birdfair would be complete without a visit to the catering marquee (beer tent) to sample a fine ale or two from the Langton brewery - especially as temperatures on the day were hitting the mid-eighties, making the Birdfair Bitter go down very well!

My favourite stand on the day

A Birdfair favourite
As another hugely successful Birdfair draws to a close and with the increasing popularity of Bird and Wildlife watching, this annual event goes from strength to strength with now over 350 stands and exhibitors on show. Next years 25th anniversary (16-18 August) is surely going to be a big event, which is a milestone worth celebrating with another beer or two - see you all next year!

Monday, 6 August 2012

London 2012 Olympics - a triumph!

I've waited 7 years to post these images! Since I first found out that London would host the Olympic games for the 3rd time in the modern era. As a supporter of the games from the start it hasn't always been easy convincing some people that this would be money well spent, especially as the costs seem to increase on a monthly basis. Then there were concerns over the ageing tube and rail network, airport overcrowding and long queues, road closures, venues, logos, mascots etc, etc... but now the games are here and in full swing with medals coming in GB's direction from many different disciplines, the support from the country has begun to swell in favour of the games, which for me on a personal level is great to see - I always felt and believed that this would happen.  

Anybody who lived or worked in London around the time of the original announcement cannot forget how the initial excitement and elation of winning the bid quickly turned to sadness when during the morning rush hour of July 7th news broke of the deaths of 52 people at the hands of terrorism - the days and weeks that followed I felt a numbness as I continued my daily commute in and out of London, it felt as if the energy had been sapped from the City. Although we can't forget the lives that were lost that day, you can't keep a great city and its people down for too long and having now experienced the London Olympics first hand on what has been dubbed 'Super Saturday' thanks to the performances of Ennis, Rutherford and Farah. I can safely say that it will go down as one of the most memorable days of my life and a measure of how our capital and its people have responded in the face of that adversity 7 years ago - the venues were stunning, the atmosphere was electric, the park beautiful and the colourful supporters from every nation truly gave me an unforgettable Olympic experience. 

One of the many highlights on the day was meeting Gemma Gibbons - Silver medallist in the Judo, who was a delight and ever so obliging, you couldn't failed to be moved by watching her inspirational performance in beating the current world champion from France on the way to reaching the final. Although we didn't have tickets for the Olympic stadium the noise levels generated by the crowd from within the stadium will always stay with me as the cheers could be heard as you walked around the park. The regeneration of the waterways which cut through the park is already encouraging the wildlife to return with Sand Martins, Grey HeronCommon Tern and a family of Pied Wagtails all using the river on the day, and the swathes of wildflowers and trees planted on the banks of the river Lea assisting our beleaguered butterflies and bees was a masterpiece - deserving of a gold medal alone!

I feel so lucky to have experienced all of this alongside my family and I'm not ashamed to say that I was proud of my capital city and Great Britain for putting on the such an amazing show - I hope the legacy of the games bears fruit for many generations to come and they ultimately do 'Inspire a Generation'.

Cornflowers - one of the many wildflower planting schemes around the park

The regenerated waterways running through the park

Wildflowers - along the river Lea

More amazing planting with 'Orbit' as the backdrop
Wildflowers - a theme running through the park

The 'Orbit' gives amazing views of the park and London

View from the top of the 'Orbit' into the Olympic stadium

View from the top of the 'Orbit' across the park

Another great venue - the cycling Velodrome

Live music - just chilling in the park!

Whatever your Olympic experience - embrace it and enjoy it while it lasts as sadly the games will be over far too quickly!