Wednesday 30 September 2009

Three days to go

Weather websites have been perused. Pants have been ironed (actually I’ve still got a few more pairs to do). The entrails of a weasel have been consulted. And I’ve come up with the following detailed itinerary for the first few days of this year’s Shetland trip:

Saturday afternoon: drink lots of tea whilst looking out of Rob’s window and hoping that something gets blown across his garden in the force 8 south-easterly/north-westerly, depending on which forecast you believe. Comment frequently on how cold it is up here and how like last year the weather is. Possibly accompany Mark to the Toab shop to check on the pie situation. Early night after tedious day's travelling.

Sunday: eagerly head out into the field with ‘first full day of holiday’ enthusiasm, kidding ourselves that just because it’s blowing a north-westerly gale and snowing, it doesn’t mean there won’t be a good bird to be found somewhere. Repeat the mantra that ‘the biggie travels alone’, even though at that moment any biggie with any sense will be staying in a nice hotel in Norway (in a single room of course) rather than trying to battle its way across the North Sea. Give up fairly quickly, telling ourselves that there’s plenty of time yet. Evening: drink large amounts of whisky. Write bollocks on blog.

Monday (when it looks like the wind may briefly drop below gale force): encouraged by news of rarities on Fair Isle/Foula/Unst/Out Skerries, spend every second of the daylight hours combing every square inch of South Mainland for migrants. Walk miles; see nothing. More whisky. More bollocks on blog.

Tuesday: stay in bed sulking, regardless of the weather. Get up in a hurry when someone else finds something interesting in the Virkie Willows (or Rob’s garden). Stay out till dusk trying in vain to find something else. Whisky. Bollocks to blog.

Wednesday: drink whisky in bed. Delete blog.

Um - I don't think I'd better plan much further ahead than that at this stage.

OK, OK, don't start saying "well why bother going then?" Last year the weather looked really promising and I predicted I'd find a Siberian Accentor and look what happened...

Sunday 27 September 2009

They're getting closer!

With records in the last few days from West Midlands, Derbyshire and now Notts, Leicestershire's first Glossy Ibis must be imminent, but where will it be?

Most likely at Rutland Water, and I think there would be a nice symmetry to it if Matt Berriman were to find it...

...but then I've been awake since about 3 o'clock this morning, so I may just be losing it slightly.

Just some routine enquiries, Sir

Many thanks to [name withheld] for sending me the following photo, and to The Drunkbirder for his caption suggestion:

I'm sorry Sir, but if you're going to take that attitude I'll have to ask you to accompany me to the feeding station...

Saturday 26 September 2009

A Leicestershire Mega

Although twitching on a national scale does nothing at all for me, I am as manic as anyone when it comes to adding to my county list. So the news this morning of a Common Rosefinch trapped and ringed in Andy Smith’s Thornton garden had me displaying all the symptoms. A piece of shit in Shetland or Scilly maybe (although embarassingly it’s still not on my found list), but rosefinches are fucking rare inland. This was a first for Leicestershire, and not one that anyone ever really expected to see, least of all in a back garden in Thornton!

Due to various domestic chores (yet more pants to iron) I couldn’t get out for a couple of hours, but fortunately it was still present and showing on and off when I arrived at about 12:50. Scope views were excellent, but my photos are distinctly in the ‘world’s worst rarity photos’ league:

As expected, the ‘cream’ of Leicestershire’s spotters were there, but this visitor was a most unexpected addition to Andy’s garden list:

El Presidente helpfully points out to everyone that it's the bird on the left

Huge thanks are due to Andy Smith and his family for allowing everyone into their back garden to see this bird, and I hope NO-ONE left without putting a quid or two in the bucket...

Thursday 24 September 2009

Ironing my pants

With just nine days before I go to Shetland I’m in a frenzy of anticipation and preparation. There are pants to be ironed, medications to stock up on (how fucking hard should it be to get a new inhaler out of the fucking NHS? No, we can’t just give you another repeat prescription, you have to come in and waste both your time and the nurse’s going through the motions of having a ‘review’ even though she knows full well that your asthma is very mild and you don’t need an inhaler very often. Cutting costs? I could make some suggestions...) and of course weather websites to be checked every few seconds.

I wanted to put one of those countdown gadgets on the blog, so I could sit staring at the screen 24 hours a day and watch the seconds ticking down, but I couldn’t get it to work properly. A not uncommon problem, apparently. Sort it out, Blogger!

Meanwhile in Shetland Rob appears to be heading for a breakdown, with no end in sight to weeks of continuous westerlies. But there are birds there, even if he can’t find them. Nothing massively rare it’s true, but bits and pieces – Arctic Warblers, Citrine Wagtail, Woodchat Shrike, R-b Fly, Bluethroat, Barred Warbler, Rosefinch etc all in the last week. And all arrived on the aforementioned weeks of westerlies.

Marcus arrives on Saturday – he’ll find something whatever the weather’s doing. And that’s the one and only ‘prediction’ I'm going to make after last year’s monumental failures (see here, here and here). However, the infallible and omnipotent Law of Averages clearly states (subsection 43887, paragraph 4301, clause 7c) that since Marcus had a good trip last year and ours was crap, the tables will be turned this year. That’s not my prediction of course, it’s the Law of Averages. And that’s never wrong. Or is it? Surely the Law of Averages says that the Law of Averages will be wrong about 50% of the time? Bugger.

Thursday 17 September 2009


Somewhat predictably, my resolve not to go to Shetland this year lasted about as long as one of the Drunkbirder's resolutions to give up twitching. A combination of Sophie getting fed up with me being 'a bit grumpy' and the very kind offer of a lift to and from the airport from Mark and Jo was enough for me to crack and book flights last night.

So readers of this blog can look forward after all to another instalment of 'the Shetland Llama' from 3rd - 14th October. And even if it's a crap autumn that's got to be better for everyone than me getting cross about what I'm missing!

I shall have to live on bread and cheese for the rest of the year though, so it had better be good...

Pot of gold or crock of shite? Only time will tell...

Monday 14 September 2009

Give us all your money

Whilst flicking through a wildlife magazine the other day looking for something to take the piss out of (yes, I’m in that sort of mood) I came across a couple of perfect targets. Needless to say, both were adverts...

The first offending piece of marketing bollocks was for a ‘High Powered Telescope’ with 60x magnification. Every time they mentioned the 60x magnification it said ‘6000%’ in brackets. Three times in a full page advert. Who ever measured optical magnification as a percentage? No-one (at least no-one sane). That figure is there simply to impress idiots.

There was also a little inset bit that read ‘Observe wildlife, sports, the night sky, in detail, from a distance.’ Question: how the fuck else are you going to observe the night sky other than ‘from a distance’?

But the advert got better. If you buy this amazing 6000% magnification scope from them (for a mere £79.95, saving £120 on the price it was being sold at three years ago), you also get a FREE SPY SCOPE (worth £9.95)!! This appears to be a pen, but no, wait, it has ‘precision-engineered optical lenses, so powerful you can see up to 7 miles away!’

Only 7 miles? I can see further than that through a fucking toilet roll. I can see about 230,000 miles if I look at the moon through my precision-engineered bog roll. And if I look elsewhere in the night sky (yes, even from a distance) I can see objects up to a couple of million light-years away through my 1x magnification (100%) cardboard tube. And I can wipe my arse on the ‘special paper’ that came with it – bet you can’t do that with your ‘spy scope’!

There was one more item in the magazine which caught my jaundiced eye. I’d better not name it, but it was some sort of clip to stop your bins swinging while you’re walking along with them round your neck. The description said ‘A new “must-have” accessory... a device which is fixed to the binoculars or camera and then clipped to the user’s coat or shirt preventing the inevitable bounce and swing...’

This sounds like exactly the sort of pointless invention that regularly gets laughed out of Dragons’ Den. I can just imagine Duncan Bannatyne (if he was a birder, which as far as I know he isn’t, and if he was allowed to swear on the programme) saying: “The only person who would find this useful would be someone who hardly ever uses their binoculars. I want to be able to get my bins up to my eyes in a fraction of a second; any longer than that and the bird I want to look at might have moved or disappeared. I don’t want to be pissing around undoing a fucking clip before I can lift them, and for that reason, I’m out.”

Thursday 10 September 2009

You’ve Been Papped 2 – World Exclusive Celebrity Pics!!

So there I was in Lapwing hide at Rutland Water this afternoon (overlooking the south arm, for anyone who doesn’t know the reserve), when I noticed what appeared to be a film crew on the far bank. A quick peer through my scope revealed the unmistakable figure of Bill Bailey, presumably filming for that new birdwatching series he’s doing for Sky1 (to be called Bill Bailey’s Big Bird Watch according to my secret showbiz sources).

Bear in mind, by the way, that all these were taken from about 600 yards away, which is a bit far even for my long Llama-lens. But I suppose that just adds to the authentic ‘papped’ feel.

Bill Bailey looking through binoculars

Bill Bailey not looking through binoculars

How exciting, I thought. But then I’m afraid things started to get slightly naughty. First of all the cameraman climbed over the fence and started walking towards the bund, flushing some ducks in the process:

Never mind, they're only Mallards (actually I think there are a couple of Gadwall in there as well)

Then the rest of them followed. Bill does look a bit guilty on this one:

Eventually they all disappeared through a gap in the bushes, heading towards the back of Lagoon 3:

So what happened next?

Er, um, (quickly consults libel lawyers) oh yes, I know – did a Marsh Harrier fly over and flush EVERYTHING off Lagoon 3? (this is only about a fifth of the flock by the way)

Now, I’m a big fan of Bill Bailey, but if he’s going to do the ‘celebrity birder’ thing, he (or to be fair, his birding ‘advisers’, of which there appeared to be two or three with him in addition to the film crew) ought to be aware of a few generally accepted rules, one of which is that you don’t go traipsing around the back of nature reserve lagoons in case you flush everything. And also that, especially somewhere like Rutland Water, the chances are that someone will be watching. And that someone may well have a long lens. And a blog.

Tuesday 8 September 2009


... would be a polite way of putting it. ‘Arse’, ‘bollocks’ or possibly ‘fuck’ would be more appropriate to the usual tone of this blog, but people might complain if I used words like that in the title. I know it appears on a few other blogs with the time it was last updated. It’s probably called a ‘feed’ or something technical like that.

Anyway, why arse, bollocks and fuck? Well, due to a combination of the recession (and therefore being skint), not booking earlier in the year when prices were cheaper, and those bastards at flybe pricing themselves out of the market (not that it actually is a market as such – ‘monopoly’ would be a more accurate term) I can’t afford to go to Shetland this autumn. Which means that it will no doubt be a fantastic October for those who are going. Which as far as I can tell is just Mark ‘Pieman’ Reeder (who sensibly booked his flights in January and got a return from Birmingham for about £150. It’s now over £300 for the dates I wanted to go, plus another £75 for parking).

I shall therefore be having a ‘staycation’, a horrible non-word which should be banned, except that it describes perfectly what I shall be doing, i.e. literally staying at home. In bed, with the duvet pulled over my head, my phone turned off and the computer disconnected so I can’t look at Birdguides and the Shetland latest bird sightings website to see what I’m missing.

Looking on the bright side though (why not, just for once?) I certainly shan’t miss hanging around airports for hours on end, all that pointless checking-in and ‘security’ bollocks (“Did you pack this bag yourself, Sir?” “No, this complete stranger kindly offered to do it for me, what did he say his name was, Al something...”), taking your shoes off, putting everything through the scanner etc, et-fucking-c. And perhaps we’ll get some nice easterlies here instead and I can go to the east coast for the day and see a Yellow-browed Warbler. Or maybe I’ll go out and string a fly-over Richard’s Pipit or Lapland Bunting for my county list. See, it’s not all bad. I won’t miss Shetland at all really.