Friday, 23 July 2010

Kiss of death for W-t Lapwing?

After one of the rarest birds of the year spent weeks touring Lancashire, London, Gloucestershire and Kent (and even The Netherlands), some of the BirdGuides office finally managed to catch up with the recent White-tailed Lapwing at Dungeness (somewhere in the pic below).

Talk about leaving it to the last minute, a spur of the moment decision saw us abandoning the office to head to Dungeness a couple of days ago. Good job we did, as the day after we were there was the last day the bird was seen! And just to embarrass Stephen Menzie, check out his wonderful iPhone-digiscoped photo below... Rather more impressive photos of the bird are on the BirdGuides website.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Southern (Red) Wood Ant nest

As promised, here's the video from yesterday:

Click on the video to view it in glorious full-screen YouTube HD.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Ants In Their Pants

Yes it's the two Stephens (Rutt and Menzie). They have been released from their logging hutch for the day to accompany BirdGuides senior cameraman Max Whitby on an exciting filming trip to photograph Small Red Damselfly. Unfortunately the great master (ie Max): 1) forgot to bring the CF cards; 2) the tripod; 3) and failed to find out in advance that the private reserve that was the mission's objective requires advance permission and was closed anyway.

But we did find a splendid Wood Ant nest. Here you can see the boys up close and personal with several tens of thousands of the little beasts about to crawl up their trousers. Rumour has it a video will shortly be available on YouTube.

All your eggs in two baskets?

It was with some surprise that Phil Littler, a BTO ringer in Norfolk, had a call from a local gamekeeper telling him of a "close nesting" pair of Spotted Flycatchers. What he found were two nests right next to each other, both of which had been occupied.

The left-hand nest had been built and eggs laid, with the adjoining nest built soon after, later occupied by a second female. By the time Phil had got to the nests, chicks from the first had already fledged, but the second nest was occupied by large young. Unfortunately the keeper hadn't realised how interesting this was and noted whether both nests were being serviced by the male at the same time.

What is presumably the first female is now sat on a another nest just a few feet away, and this does beg the question as to whether Spot Flys can be polygamous.

Thanks to Phil for letting us know about this and for the photo.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Summer Migration

Moving a big website to new servers has to be up there with moving house, changing school, or buying pricey new binoculars, on the scale of high-stress, high-adrenaline, never-to-be-forgotten life events. While all you wonderful fans were enjoying the tennis or watching the World Cup with a cold beer and a vuvuzela, there was I busily carting all your precious photos and sightings by the barrow-load from our creaky old servers to the shiny new ones.

Just gorgeous!

Yes, they're bigger, they're faster, they've got multiple cores, they're 64-bit and they come with enough technical specs to warm the heart of the geekiest geek. But any affection that I might have had for these technological marvels at the start of the week has long since worn off and I really don't care if I never see their pretty desktops or sweet little system consoles ever again.

Most of us only have one birthday a year: well, on Tuesday mine was spent in a marathon operation, all scrubbed up, with the old and new servers suitably anaesthetised and laid out side-by-side, chests clamped open. Rooting around on my tray of instruments, I came across the SQL Server Database Migration Wizard. It sounded like it might do just what it said on the tin, so I set it to work and left it churning happily while I went off to watch Spain v. Portugal. But by half-time it had choked on all those dubious rarities in the Sightings table and fallen over, with the helpful message: 'Execution Failed'. It was back to the tedious, but effective, Detach and Attach technique beloved of surgeons the world over, complete with that eventual overwhelming feeling of relief as the patient's vitals kick in again following the Attach phase. Around 4am, with application pools all set up, blood vessels tied off and virtual directories configured, I closed up and stepped out of theatre to bring the good news to the BirdGuides next of kin, waiting anxiously outside.

By late Wednesday the servers were starting to come around, enjoying a light meal and sipping green tea. The drips were removed and the DNS records were switched bringing the new servers live to all you patient devotees. The tough decision was made to withdraw life support from the old servers: after one final gasp they breathed out their last HTML. May they Rest in Pieces.

Complications are inevitable, and so it was to be. Some of you were deeply offended that we had suddenly, and without notice, imposed a meagre 200k limit on your photo uploads. The Internet Information Services Manager is a thing of wonder, within whose impenetrable screens I have squandered many hours of my life. It was in here that I set out on a quest for the setting that must control the maximum upload size. An hour and much frantic googling later, I found it: Maximum Requesting Entity Body Limit - how could I have missed it?

In case you ever need to know...