Monthly Archives: April 2012

After the rain… with Hipstamatic

It may not quite be 40 days and 40 nights of rain, but it really does feel like it has been raining for ages.

When it eventually stopped, I thought Hipstamatic might be a good way to capture what it left behind…


All taken within a cricket ball throw of my flat.

London  +  rain  +  Hipstamatic  =  Magic!

Wildlife challenge: photo blog

Yesterday, somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000 people completed the London Marathon. I took part in a slightly gentler and more solitary challenge. I determined to photograph as many species of wild bird as I could in a two hour period.

I chose the London Wetland Centre (and surrounds) to give myself the best chance. I obviously only photographed free, wild birds on the reserve (not the clipped collection, as that would be cheating).

Some of the photos are blurry or fuzzy (it isn’t easy taking pictures of small shy things that can fly!), so this isn’t a gallery of great photography, but it is a snapshot of 30 species of bird seen in London in a couple of hours of walking in April…

1 Blackcap

2 Blackbird

3 Blue Tit

4 Canada Goose

5 Carrion Crow

6 Chaffinch

7 Common Tern (I was pleased with this shot, so you get a bigger view)

8 Coot (remember this guy?)

9 Cormorant (that isn’t a big pile of poo behind the Cormorant, it is a sleeping female Tufted Duck)

10 Feral Pigeon (It may be a mongrel and slightly pale imitation of its true-blood cousin, the Rock Dove, but it counts as a wild bird for this list)

11 Gadwall (the first ‘duck’ in my alphabetised list)

12 Great Tit

13 Greenfinch (I know it looks like it’s a captive bird in a cage, but this is just a squirrel-proof fence on the reserve that the small birds fly in and out of)

14 Grey Heron

15 Lapwing (I was at maximum zoom with this couple hence the blurry shot)

16 Little Grebe (probably the best technical shot I got all day, hence the big view)

17 Little Ringed Plover (This is probably the bird I was most pleased to see from a birdwatching perspective)

18 Magpie

19 Mallard

20 Moorhen

21 Mute Swan

22 Pochard

23 Redshank (another full view for this beautiful wader – v. pleased with this one)

24 Ring-necked Parakeet

25 Robin

26 Sand Martin (just approaching its nest)

27 Starling

28 Tufted Duck

29 Wood Pigeon

30 Wren

So, in the time it took for a good runner to complete the marathon, I managed to capture (in pixels) 30 species of bird. There were, however, a few “that got away”:

  • Song Thrush
  • Long-tailed Tit
  • Jackdaw
  • Reed Warbler (heard)
  • Cetti’s Warbler (heard) – If I had got a photo of this noisy, shy and rare-ish bird, I would have been ecstatic!
  • Reed Bunting

And then…. errr…. there were the gulls! Gulls can be difficult to differentiate at the best of times, but I have a major problem with juvenile gulls. If I could only say whether this gull was a juvenile Herring Gull or Great Black-backed Gull, I would have had 31 (answers on a postcard please):

And then, here are one or two other interesting things I saw but which would be a bit cheeky to pretend are birds:



Common Frog

And finally… (well done if you have made it this far!)… some unidentified fungi

Overall, I was pretty pleased.

Dubo, Dubon, Dubonnet

Who remembers the advert “Du pain, du vin, du Boursin”?

What I didn’t know until relatively recently is that it is a take on a classic French advertising slogan from 1932 for a different product: “Dubo, Dubon, Dubonnet”.

Dubonnet is a sweet vermouth which goes amazingly well with gin (apparently HM The Queen Mother was partial to the cocktail).

Stir one part gin (20-25mls) over ice with two parts Dubonnet (40-50mls) and then strain when chilled into a cocktail glass and add some orange zest and you have the classic Dubonnet cocktail. I also recently had this in a restaurant in a rocks glass with saffron gin which was equally lovely.


Photo taken on my iPhone with Hipstamatic

What’s wrong with ducks and seagulls?

How would you like it if someone called you an ape? We are technically Great Apes along with Chimpanzees, Orangutans, and Gorillas, but we prefer to be called Humans.

Q: What’s this…?

A: A duck competing in the Avian Olympics?

Not only are your jokes rubbish, but you are insulting the bird world. That is a Pochard. [I took that photo in Hackney btw]

There are many, many different species of ‘duck’ and they are all fabulous and different. In fact they are sometimes very different.

Look at the next two pictures (I took both photos in London so they aren’t rare tropical ducks) and guess which one is called a Tufted Duck, and which one is called a Shoveler?

You see, it ain’t that difficult! (If you are still struggling, no. 1 has a shovel for a beak, and no. 2 has a tuft at the back of its head)

I would make a reasonable guess that there is a bigger genetic difference between those two ‘ducks’ than between a human and a chimpanzee.

Similarly, there is no such thing as a species of bird called a ‘seagull’. I will accept that they tend to be a bit more samey than different species of duck, but in all likelihood, what you call a ‘seagull’ is likely to be one of following:

  • Black Headed Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Common Gull
  • Great Black-backed Gull
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull

So, I will end this mini-rant with a picture of a Great Black-backed Gull that I took in Hackney as well – so much for a seagull!

Bald as a Coot

I took this photo today at the Hackney Waterworks.

The Coot is the Mike Tyson of the, normally secretive and dainty, Rail family. It is not a bird to take prisoners: it likes nothing better than stealing and eating other birds’ eggs or ‘dreadnoughting‘ around a lake beating up any other water bird it can find.

Bald as a Coot refers to the white ‘shield’ on the front of its head. It is actually a 700 year old play on words. The Coot is not bald, but an old meaning of bald(e) is ‘streaked white’.

“You lookin’ at me? I KILL YOU!”

Why on earth have I started blogging?

“Why have you started a blog?”

Because I like commenting on everything. This is my way of capturing some of that and experimenting to see whether it is of any interest for anyone else.

I have many geeky traits and this will be a cathartic way to express them publicly. But no, dear reader, I do not intend to turn you into my therapist. This is about unashamedly flaunting geekery and trivia as if it really matters (which, by the way, I think it does!)

“Shut up! You’re not a real geek! “

Err… yes I am. Here is the proof:

  • I am a birdwatcher. I may not be a great ‘birder’, I am not quite dedicated enough to be a ‘twitcher’, and I am most certainly not qualified enough to be called an ornithologist [I recommend Simon Barnes’ brilliantly witty book explaining the difference between the four], but I do regularly go out on my own with a pair of bins (yes I do call binoculars, ‘bins’) and/or a camera and gaze for hours at trees or water trying to ‘capture’ new birds for my lists (see below on lists).
  • Exhibit ‘A’ m’lud: (That’s a Serin for those of you who care).
  • I am an amateur photographerWhilst sometimes a noble and rather cool hobby, my style is to walk on my own for hours (do you notice a theme developing?) taking pictures of run-down parts of London.
  • Exhibit ‘B’:
  • I am slightly obsessive about making lists and cataloguing things. I have spreadsheets on my laptop that include: a beer knock-out competition; a preference matrix of all of the Coen Brothers’ films; and a list of every species of bird I have seen since I started counting a few years ago.
  • Exhibit ‘C’: I think this list is evidence enough y’honour.
  • I collect books. Preferably older than 50 years old, preferably by great English, European, or South American authors, preferably first edition, and preferably books that have that lovely bookie smell.
  • Exhibit ‘D’:
  • I have seen every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In order. I am not ashamed to say that Captain Jean-Luc Picard is my hero. However, I cannot speak Klingon (other than the odd word like: ‘Gagh‘ – Klingon delicacy of live worms of course) and I don’t attend Trekker conferences as I think that tips over the geek boundary into the land of ‘Nerd-dom’.
  • Exhibit ‘E’: Defendant has been heard quoting things like: “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra“.
  • I have been known to undertake research into the capital strength of foreign banks FOR FUN! However, this does start to overlap with my professional life, which is out of bounds for this blog, so I shan’t say any more.
  • Exhibit ‘D’: Exhibit removed at defendant’s own request. “It’s my blasted blog dag nammit, and I’ll cry if I want to!”

“OK. Point taken. You’re a geek. Is anyone going to want to read the wafflings of a geek?”

Quite possibly not, but I will mostly try and keep my posts short and punchy (realise I am failing here, but this is my first post so give me a break!) and I think everyone appreciates a little bit of geekery and trivia now and again. I may flag new posts on Facebook to try and lure people in and I reckon my mother and partner will have a read (or I will have a proper woogie!)

“How do we know that you aren’t going to write four posts and then leave a gap of about two months, write one more post explaining how busy you are, and then give up?”

You don’t, that could very probably happen!

“At least you are honest. OK. Entertain me!”

I’ll try.