Monthly Archives: October 2014

A Big Birding Year: Part XXIV (Welcome to Wanstead)

We have moved home. I have coincidentally bought a house just a stone’s throw from one of London’s best birding sites: The Wanstead Flats. Wanstead Flats This morning, as with last Sunday (just after we had moved in), I went out on the Flats shortly after dawn to discover what I hope to be my new ‘patch’. I have to admit that I felt a little bit like I was trespassing as the area is well covered by some very dedicated and experienced birders (many of whom I bumped into on my first Sunday walk last weekend) such as Jonathan Lethbridge aka the Wanstead Birder (whose photos simply blow me away) and Nick Croft aka “Wanstead Birding” and a gentleman named Dan who kindly helped me locate and photograph my 96th bird species of the year [warning: distant dawn-light blurry record-only shot coming up]:

Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)

Yellow-legged Gull (Larus michahellis)

If that bird looks like a Herring Gull but with yellow legs, that’s … er… because it is a Herring Gull with yellow legs. It was designated a separate species about 20 years ago. The UK gets around 1000 YLGs visiting us during the winter. As the name would suggest, we get far more Common Gull (Mew Gull if you are reading this from across the pond) than YLG. However, despite their name, they are not actually all that common. In fact I have failed to photograph a Common Gull so far this year. Wanstead quickly allowed me to rectify that as there are more than you could shake a big camera lens at… my 97th species of the year:

Common Gull (Larus canus)

Common Gull (Larus canus)

Wanstead Flats may be the beginning of Epping Forest, but there are not all that many trees, and the Flats are generally typified by long grass and bushes… Flats … perfect territory for Stonechats …

European Stonechat (Saxicola torquata)

European Stonechat (Saxicola torquata)

… and Skylarks. Several months ago I snapped a Skylark doing its thing – singing away as it rose vertically up into the air – and then stupidly accidentally deleted my photos of the dot in the air. Today I did not delete the photos of the dot, but can now share with you all and insist you believe me when I say that it is a Skylark (and therefore my 98th species photographed this year in the UK):

Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis)

The Skylarks were not the only silhouettes in the sky above the grasses. A hunter also hung in the air last Sunday and was in almost the identical place this morning as well…

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Aside from the fauna, and resident birders, I was also quite impressed with the fungi on my new patch…

Shaggy Parasol? (Macrolepiota rhacodes)

Shaggy Parasol? (Macrolepiota rhacodes)

… and I almost squealed with delight like a little girl when I saw Fly Agaric or Fly Amanita

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

… and no, I did not lick it.

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A Big Birding Year: Part XXIII (Crow and the blurry man … an apology for poor photography)

I have taken up many column inches (can you use that term with a blog?) bemoaning how difficult it is to photograph birds (see here and here) as even with expensive glass (long and powerful lenses), you really need to be quite close to birds to get a clear shot.

I have also explained how most poor quality shots can be used for record purposes only and never find themselves languishing in their blurry noisiness on the world wide web.

*storytime* A few days ago, I lay in bed with a severe case of near-fatal man-flu (watch this immediately!). Lying in my sick-bed, feeling very sorry for myself, I peered out of my bedroom window and saw a wonderful thing… A THRUSH! My dire illness was momentarily forgotten and I sprang out of bed like a child on Christmas morning. I quickly assembled my camera and started snapping directly through our rather grimy windows (the outsides at least – whatever happened to traditional window cleaners?) and across the road diagonally at a spotty bird perched on a roof.

A thrush, but which one?

A thrush, but which one?

By the time I had opened the window to get a clearer shot, the bird had flown. My clammy little fingers zoomed in on the view screen and I squinted at the distant fuzzy images with the heavy breath of anticipation. “Have I finally snapped the elusive Song Thrush which has evaded me all year so far?” Despite desperately willing to see Song Thrush traits, even with an image as poor as this, enough signs are there to tell me I had photographed a Mistle Thrush again and so not a new tick for my year. In case you are interested to know what thought processes (speed/eventually work their way through) my mind, here is a visual representation:

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)

Mistle Thrush (Turdus viscivorus)

A clear, close view and image of a Thrush would be easy to identify, but distant and obscured views help hone identification skills which are the vital ingredient in any good birder.

Yesterday, I ambled around the London Wetland Centre seeing a lot of not very much (if you know what I mean). I couldn’t go home without taking any photos so I lazily snapped at some distant gulls. It was only when I was back at home with my finger hovering over the delete button, that I realised that my poor quality shot contained something quite interesting. No, unfortunately not some rare gull, but rather a view that reminded me of a famous classical and renaissance subject of philosophy and art: the Three Ages of Man:

Giorgione,_Three_Ages

You may feel I am attempting to inject culture into a fuzzy image of some birds, but actually … well… anyway… here is what I saw: The “Three Ages of Gull”, or more precisely (and ignoring the Coot in the water) left to right, what I believe to be a juvenile Herring Gull approaching its first winter, a second winter Herring Gull, and a third winter Herring Gull on the right:

European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

The photo quality is crap, but I still feel like I have captured something special (Mummy says I am special).

Even when you get close enough to get a reasonable quality image, things in the background can spoil the picture. But sometimes those eye-sores and boo-boos can add value to the image. And so it was yesterday in a local park with a Carrion Crow and a blurry pedestrian in the background:

Carrion Crow (Corvix corone)

Carrion Crow (Corvix corone)

As the man walked out of shot, the Crow shuddered and ruffled its feathers giving this evil-associated, intelligent scavenger the momentary look of a cute lil fluffy thing:

I am the cute one, he was just a stranger

I am the cute one, he was just a stranger

And so I conclude… wildlife photography and birding aren’t just about razor-sharp images and rare birds (ticks in a book), but also about some of the magic of happenstance (or at least that is what I tell myself).

Post Scriptum I am sure I needn’t really explain that the word ‘apology’ in the title refers to the ancient meaning of defence and justification, rather than saying ‘sorry’.