Saturday, 12 December 2009

Dreaming Spires Day

(thanks for the dreaming spires image en:User:Diliff)

To Oxford and a most interesting symposium on "birds, culture and conservation" organised by Paul Jepson and Mark Cocker. There is a blog associated with the event. Paul's home page should soon have a link. The day was filled with a marvellous miscellany of short talks on subjects including birding in ancient Greece, the bleeding pelican emblem, high class ornithological haiku poetry, and the astonishing difference between the testicles of a Bullfinch and an Aquatic Warbler. I gave an account of how technology has helped to shape some aspects of birding over the past 15 years. And for general amusement we disinterred this historic first-ever BirdGuides home page from 1996.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Pomarine Skua and Bittern

In our never-ending quest to film all the birds of the Western Palearctic in HD, some species turn out to be trickier than others. Ring-necked Parakeets and plasticky Egyptian Geese are like falling off a log here in central London, but other species are by their very nature a whole lot harder. This applies to pelagic species in their entirety. The last time we filmed European Storm-petrel there were two black pixels, separated by a white one. Not top-quality footage.

The photo galleries had been filling up all week with some stunning shots of a photogenic Pomarine Skua over in Gloucestershire. Last night a quick check of Gloster Birder confirmed it was still in residence, and a commando Saturday twitch was planned, via a rendezvous with a bird of an entirely different sort. So forgive me whilst I digress for a moment:

For those of you who are trapped within the confines of the M25, let me recommend my favourite source of Interesting Things To Do. Ianvisits is a London institution, and I look forward to his weekly email. It's packed full of entertaining ideas, lots free, for enjoying London to the full. It's often quirky, occassionally ever-so-slightly anoraky, but ALWAYS up-to-date and chock-full of stuff. Ian, we salute you. (Not least because I once starred in one of his blog-posts in my alternative life).

So - this morning's first outing was scheduled. We were to intercept a Bittern as it passed through Slough en route to the Pom Skua. Maps were consulted to find a bridge over the mainline railway from Paddington to Slough, and I eventually found myself in a leafy Slough suburb. The Bittern was duly twitched.
Hooray. A marvellous moment as this miracle of steam passed underneath the bridge. Then onward to Beachley, just over the old Severn crossing.
Here's the small twitch. The Pom was in residence at this point but hiding under a tussock - we waited for about half an hour and then it treated us to a fly-by down to about two feet! It's a ridiculously confiding bird. Here frame-grabs. I'll do some YouTube tomorrow with any luck...Some of you may find the following images revolting disturbing. If you don't like rotting sheep brain then look away now!
What a bird! It's slightly tatty - but top marks for filmability and general loveliness. I did warn you about the sheep. So - thanks to all of the kind and helpful birders we met today, and those who were texting me with updates. It was a really great twitch.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Moths and mushrooms

November mothing is always cold and miserable, but has the merits of 1) trap opening is at a civilised hour in the morning and 2) mushrooming can be productive. This weekend was no exception. We set two Skinners, my Robinson and the heath trap, and whilst meandering around Perivale wood with trailing cables I found a lovely patch of Wood Blewitts (amongst other less edible species). Hooray.

Mottled UmberWinter Moth

Dusking was a story of Winter Moths. They were everywhere to the point that we stopped counting. Trap opening in the morning resulted in Scarce and Mottled Umbers, The Chestnut, an orange Satellite, a December Moth and more Winter Moths. A good haul given the conditions.

So on Saturday night I took my life in my hands and had blewitts on toast (don't worry I didn't consume the unidentified Agaricus). I have to report that they were completely delicious. And more than 36 hours have passed and I'm still here. I'm told their might be Ceps in Kensington Gardens...

I leave you with the astonishingly bright rainbow that appeared over Queensway on Sunday lunchtime. Apologies for the duff iPhone pic.