Sunday, 27 May 2018

Several Things

Several things then, starting with birds.

May 15th, and it's the second day of the now-annual Red Kite convention in the west country. En route to darkest Cornwall the delegates meander wherever the weather dictates, and at least seven of them pass over chez NQS. This is unprecedented, and if I'd been looking skywards more often (or even spent the whole day at home) I'm sure the count would have been twice that, or more. I managed a couple of dire photos, so here's one...


Now that I've managed to photograph (however poorly) a Red Kite or two from the garden, I doubt I'll bother again. I'm satisfied with a record shot. I do understand the desire for the Ultimate Capture but, not having the gear for such an image, there is no point me trying. However, I do struggle to understand what drives photographers to visit Colin the Cuckoo at Thursley Common. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but published pics of the situation there appear to depict a set-up which is basically staged, with 'nice' mossy perches carefully positioned so that Colin is 'pleasingly' lit and has a complimentary background. Ooh, I've just had a thought. Is he tempted in with bait too? Please tell me he's not. Anyway, whatever, the whole scenario stinks. Photos of the gallery of snappers in attendance I find quite depressing. Maybe there's something wrong with me and I am missing the point, but to me wildlife should basically be just that. Wild. Difficult. Challenging. Dare I say that photos taken in such circumstances are slightly fraudulent? That's my opinion of course, and I suppose I ought to acknowledge that other viewpoints are equally valid. Well, maybe not equally...

Please feel free to argue the toss; this blog is not an echo chamber.

So. Back in December or thereabouts, I entered a proper race, the Egdon Easy 10k. This somewhat reckless move was precipitated by my happy discovery last summer that I could still run. The race was not until May 26th, so there would be plenty of time to sharpen up speed and endurance before the fateful day. That was the plan, at least. Then I got a niggling groin injury and my progressive running routine went out the window. In the last couple of weeks I'd begun to get out regularly once again, but approached last night's race under no illusions. The course was billed as flat and fast - a couple of laps of RSPB Lodmoor in fact - and I set myself a target of under 53 minutes, which would equate to 8:30 min/mile or less. My secret desire was to go sub-8:00 min/mile (ie. under 50 minutes) but I thought that highly unlikely, and subdued such inappropriate lusting.

This was the scene about 20 minutes before the start. Runners gathering in little clubby clusters. I was feeling pre-race nerves at this point, a weird sensation that I hadn't experienced for a very long time indeed.
Trying to listen to the completely inaudible 'safety briefing'. I hoped I hadn't missed any good advice, like "mind the bollards right in the middle of the path" and suchlike. Notice I am well away from the front. Wisely...

And then we were off! Deliberately I tried not to get carried away in the excitement and set off too fast. It worked, and after a few minutes I could tell that the breathing was still easy, and settled into a steady rhythm. My Garmin kept telling me that I was trotting along at roughly 8-minute mile pace, and after three or four kilometres I realised that sub-8s might be on the cards after all. Very gradually it got harder and harder to maintain the pace, a feeling I remembered from those many races of years ago. A nice feeling though. Satisfying in fact, knowing that pace-wise I had got it spot-on, and in the final few hundred metres was even able to wind it up a bit for a final sprint to the line. Okay, 'sprint' might be a bit strong, but definitely 'very quick shuffle'...

Totally oblivious of Mrs NQS capturing this historic moment, I hammer past in a speedy blur...

Strava has all the numbers. Look at that epic pacing!

So, 10k in 49:41 or 7:57 min/mile. I can honestly say I was delighted with that. Much better than expected. I felt fine afterwards too, and today there are no aches or pains. Onwards and upwards then...

I came 77th out of 302 finishers, and 10th out of 37 in my age class (m50). Next year I will be a brand new m60, but to win that category I will need to beat some bloke who did 43:20 yesterday! Bit of a tall order I think. Actually it's very sobering to consider how age affects athletic performance. At the peak of my powers, aged 33, I would potentially have finished in, or very close to, the top 10 of this race. So I'm very pleased that my friend Ric told me about something called 'age-graded performance' where your times are seen in the context of your age group. Old people are slower, and that's that. "Live with it" said Mrs NQS, sympathetically...

Friday, 11 May 2018

Skua Fix

When it comes to skuas I am quite easily pleased. It could never be said that Lyme Bay is crawling with them, so the odd one or two here and there generally does the trick for me. Despite an almost 100% birding hiatus so far in 2018 I have been keeping an eye on the weather with a view to getting a seawatch in at some stage this spring. I had an abortive go back in April, but the rain and lack of visibility saw me scuttling home after about twenty minutes. This morning, however, looked very promising I thought...

We've had very little wind with much east in it so far, but the forecast predicted a swing from SW to SSE overnight, and a breezy SSE (more or less) for most of the day. My fairly limited seawatching experience at Burton Bradstock tells me that anything with west in it is a bit of a trial at best, while a raging SW (a potentially excellent wind at Seaton) is basically a straight-onshore nightmare. Anything from S through to E, however... yes, please. The orientation of the coast here seems to encourage almost everything to fly from right to left in such conditions as well, which is extremely helpful.

So, alarm set for 05:15; in position at 05:40...

Almost immediately it felt promising. Auks and Manxies were already passing in little groups, and a few Gannets very close in. The trickle built to a gentle flow, and I can honestly say that the next four and a half hours flew by. No boredom whatsoever. And there were skuas. The first was an immaculate dark-phase Arctic at 06:15, just 2-300 yards out and superbly lit by the low morning sun. Its chocolate-brown loveliness even made me exclaim out loud: "Oh yes, you beauty!" Bit sad, but there you go. Hopefully I will always feel that way upon reacquaintance with nice close skuas after a little break.

Next up was an equally close Bonxie at 08:00, plus another, more distant, some 15 minutes later. Lyme Bay clearly was not packed with skuas, and a couple of tweets from observers further west suggested likewise, with just a few Arctics and Bonxies reported. This helped me feel that at least I was getting my share, but didn't quite prepare me for 08:43...

Panning right I glimpsed a dark shape low among the waves. In the nanosecond before it dipped out of sight I knew it was a Pom, and sure enough, as it heaved upwards, there was a stonking light-phase Pomarine Skua in all its spooned-up glory. Superb! It was a little further out than any of the previous three skuas, and appeared to forge a path straight into the wind and gradually away from the shore. Too soon it was gone.

I packed it in at 10:10. There were no more skuas, but it's not often that I've had three species in one seawatch along the coast here. And there was plenty of variety in the chorus line. Although I didn't bother with much counting, here is a list of the rest of this morning's action...

Great Northern Diver, 4
Manx, 500+ (I actually counted to 200 before remembering how lazy I am, and stopped immediately).
Gannet, lots (200+?), many really close
auk sp, hundreds, many more than Manx.
Kittiwake, 10+
Sandwich Tern, 25+
'commic' Tern, 5
Common Tern, 2
Roseate Tern, 1
Common Scoter, 21
Sanderling, 4
Whimbrel, 5
Bar-tailed Godwit, 11
Grey Plover, 3
Gadwall, 1 female, a seawatch surprise!

Did you notice the Roseate Tern hidden away in that lot? Bit of a Lyme Bay biggie there, and only about my fifth or sixth local bird I think. I picked up a little group of Sandwich Terns coming slowly towards me from the west and quickly noticed that one of them was a bit small and had a ridiculously long tail. It was clearly as white as a Sarnie though... Er... My poor little cogs were struggling a bit, but finally the penny dropped and I eagerly awaited the close fly-past that was imminent. It didn't happen. Instead they all gradually drifted back W again and that was the last I saw of it.

There was also brief excitement when I tried hard to turn a distant single auk into a Puffin, another local rarity. It all looked okay except that I couldn't get any colour at all on the bill, and I thought I should have done at the range involved. So, safer to let it go.

Anyway, I enjoyed it so much that I might even return later. I've done this kind of thing before though, and I know exactly what 'anticlimax' means...

In other hobbies, well, I hooked and lost a single tench on Tuesday, while Rob caught one. I was rather disappointed. The area we've put a bit of effort into doesn't appear to be rewarding us to the expected degree, though Rob is happy enough with a fish or two each time. Me though, I'm greedy, and want more. Still, I certainly can't complain at the lovely surroundings...

The Exeter Canal, late evening on Bank Holiday Monday. Lovely.

Our set-ups are a bit different, and while I am mostly using a combination of fake and real maggots for bait, Rob is only using fake stuff, bits of foam and plastic designed to mimic sweetcorn and red maggots. The upside of his approach is that Rob is not pestered by small fish, which home in on my real maggots like moths to a flame. On the other hand, at least I get a few bites to keep things lively, while Rob gets very, very few! A couple of my maggot-raiders were bootlace eels, which are never welcome, but the rest have been gorgeous little rudd, and I've yet to tire of them...

5lb 12oz of immaculate canal tench

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Tench Through the Ages

I wonder how many anglers read this blog? Few, I suspect. Very few. So fishing posts like this one are a bit self-indulgent really, a kind of online diary that I can browse at some future date, smiling at the ups and downs of this or that venture...

Tench then. Well, the campaign continues. I was too busy with work to get involved last week, but Rob managed to get off the starting blocks with two modest fish of around 4lb apiece. This was well away from where most anglers head for tench, which makes it feel like we're ploughing our own furrow; always a satisfying thing. This week I joined him though, in the same area, and yesterday evening managed a couple myself.

A pristine male fish of 4lb exactly. Just behind my right shoulder you can see the Exe Estuary. Right of shot is the canal. It is hard to imagine a more delightful spot to go fishing. Despite the beautiful evening sunshine it was very cold!
Another male, slightly bigger at 4lb 10oz. It is said that the potential size of the biggest female tench in a water is double that of the biggest male. If that is true, our hope that we might better our tench personal bests of 8lb-odd is a realistic one.

Rob managed a couple of bream yesterday, but no tench. However, this afternoon he WhatsApp'd me a few phone camera self-takes. Here's one...

The bigger of two fish Rob caught this afternoon. At 6lb 2oz this is his best of the campaign thus far.

We're up to nine tench between us now, with two six-pounders. And they've all been super-looking fish. Still early days really though, and we both feel like we've only scratched the surface in terms of getting to know the venue and how to extract its inhabitants.

Yesterday afternoon it was really windy, and many small rafts of floating (and semi-floating) weed were drifting down the canal, constantly wiping out our carefully-positioned rods. In the end we resorted to back-leads [I must include an angling glossary one day...] but before we did that I decided to take a long walk to note interesting spots for future carpy intentions. I can honestly say I covered every inch of the canal from the Double Locks to Turf and back. At least a six-mile walk, it took me four very pleasant hours. En route I photographed an Orange Tip and Comma with my phone, and must have walked (unknowingly) within fairly close proximity of a Black-winged Stilt that was frequenting Exminster Marshes for the day. Ironically I was wearing bins, but the best birds I managed were my first Swifts of the year. The only other fisherman was on the far bank at the Lime Kilns, but was gone by the time I got round there myself. Hammered, the place is not! I didn't see any birders either, but I expect they were all over on the marshes!

Comma, and (above) Orange Tip. Not bad for a phone camera. I can remember one of my work colleagues getting a mobile with a camera in it about 15 years ago. How we laughed at the stupid, primitive thing. That'll never catch on, we thought...

Finally then, the reason for the title of this post. Shuffling through my old photos the other day I realised that tench are a constant feature in angling-related pics. So here is a collage of more than 45 years-worth...


Clockwise, from top left:
  • Probably 1971 or '72. Barn Hill Pond, Wembley. I'm not sure, but this might be my first tench ever.
  • 1974-ish. Hemingford Grey pits, which used to be under LAA control (London Anglers Assoc)
  • 1978. Langham Pond, Runneymede. Now a SSSI with no fishing. Back then, the perfect place for a so-called student to idle away some pleasant hours.
  • 1979 or '80. Springwell Lake, Rickmansworth. Another ex-LAA water.
  • 1988-ish. Bury Lake, Rickmansworth. Returning a nice 6lb+ fish early in the morning. There was no fishing allowed on Bury Lake. I was poaching.
  • Early '90s. A small and incongruous tench from a tiny tributary of the River Kennet known as Fisherman's Brook. This overgrown trickle that you can easily jump across is still on the LAA ticket and very much not the place you might expect to catch a tench!
  • Late '90s. A hefty lump from North Troy gravel pit in the Colne Valley. In the late '70s/early '80s North Troy was controlled by Long Life Angling Club and was one of the best tench waters in the land, arguably second only to Wilstone Res. It was still very good when I fished there in the 1990s, and produced 8lb+ fish for both Rob and me.
  • 6lb 10oz, the Exeter Ship Canal, 2018. Bringing it up to date.
  • In the middle: what happens when both rods go off at the same time. North Troy, late '90s.

And before I go, one for Dyl...

Former British tench record-holder Tony Chester bent into a nice fish. Lester Strudwick waits with the net. This is the car park bank at Wilstone Res, early '80s. Tench Mecca. This is one of the 'hot' areas, hence the proliferation of Brolli-camps, rustic predecessor of the myriad bivvies available today. I hope everyone got on okay, because they are all pretty close to one another!

Friday, 27 April 2018

Old Photos

The weather forecasters got it dead right today. Wet. Knowing about the impending rain inspired me to get a bit ahead with work so that I could relax today. What did I do with the time? Frittered it shamelessly. More specifically, I got out some boxes of old photos and had a good wallow. This is one of the best ways to fritter that I know.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few snaps that I found. Birds first...

Least Sandpiper, Porthscatho, March 1986
This obliging little beauty was poking around a damp gully on a Cornish clifftop. My old mate Ric reminded me of it a couple of posts back, so I was pleased to find this photo. Note the mirror lens 'donuts' in the out-of-focus background. Still the primitive Russian Zenit B and Helios combo, but I was experimenting with slide film and had a few prints made from the best shots. The Least Sand was a supplementary twitch following the mega Gyr Falcon at Berry Head that same morning.


Female Little Crake, Cuckmere Haven, 1985
A ridiculously tame bird, this. I recall it was a midweek twitch and that I went alone because my usual twitch companions were all at work. I also remember driving back through central London straight afterwards as I had to be at work myself that afternoon. And I made a couple of gloaty phonecalls too. Yes, I did that. Bad. Several years ago I posted a very poor colour photo of this bird on BirdForum and quipped about how this Water Rail just would not pose properly. Bit naughty really. It nearly got out of hand...


And back to 1984 now...


The friendly Pectoral Sandpiper, Staines Res, September 1984
Rear view of the cracking Pec that featured a couple of posts back.


Lesser Yellowlegs, Beddington, September 1984
I haven't been to Beddington for 25 years, but I don't miss it one bit. For one thing, Beddington was a nightmare to get to from where I lived in the NW segment of the London area. Yet I have seen some very good birds there. This Lesser Yellowlegs for example, a London tick at the time. Also Tawny Pipit and flight views of Quail. But it's the birds I didn't see that leave the most indelible memories. And not good ones...

It's February 1984 and I'm on night shifts. Just before leaving for work I get a call from John Herbert: Garry Messenbird had found a Killdeer at Beddington that afternoon. A Killdeer!! If I remember right, it had flown around a bit and he'd eventually lost it, but of course there would be plenty of hopefuls there at first light to look for it. I was now in a dilemma. After a night's work I didn't relish the ghastly drive to Beddington on the off-chance. But suppose it was still there and I didn't go? In the end I asked John to call me if it was relocated. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I got home, went to bed, and was woken a short while later by the inevitable phonecall. Half-comatose I crawled through the hideous traffic to Beddington. I was about 30 minutes too late. A flock of White-fronts later that morning were scant compensation.

Fast-forward almost a decade and Beddington is now a very different place. In the early '80s you could stroll down Mile Road, over the railway bridge and walk straight in. By the early '90s it was Fort Knox. Key-holders only. Which was no big deal until a Rustic Bunting turned up and decided to stay for the winter. This was a London tick for everybody, but now available to only a privileged few. I wasn't too bothered really, being on a bit of a birding hiatus at the time. However, one of the key-holders assured me that if I turned up on such-and-such a day, at such-and-such a time, someone would be there to escort me in and help me look for the bird. I duly turned up and was met as agreed. However, I was then informed that due to my 'known' friendship with certain West London birders (with whom some of the Beddington crew were evidently at odds) I was deemed persona non grata, and could therefore go whistle. The key-holder then stepped through the gate, locked it behind him and walked off. I couldn't believe it. Some stupid, petty, immature little feud that I knew nothing about had led to a grown man behaving like this towards a bloke he'd never met. Pathetic. Ironically, arrangements were made shortly afterwards to provide open access to non key-holders for a weekend in order to twitch the Rustic Bunting. I think there was even a Little Bunting present as well! But I didn't go. In fact, I doubt I'll ever go there again.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Too Many Birds and Not an Eel

Have you ever visited the Somerset Levels? No? Very sensible. Keep it that way, because birding the place will mess with your head. Up until Sunday afternoon I still got quite excited about Great White Egrets, Bitterns and the like. Such previous gems are now completely devalued. I probably wouldn't even raise my bins.

"Ooh. Hello. What's this white thing/brown thing?"
"Tsk. Just another stupid Great White Egret/Bittern/Marsh Harrier."
"Pah..."

I blame our friends. Innocently accepting an invitation to go birding with them at the weekend, they drove us to Ham Wall RSPB and dished up an unhealthy surfeit of quality birds. As well as the Marsh Harriers, Bitterns and Big Egrets, they also picked out a distant flock of 8 Cattle Egrets and led us to a pool with 4 Garganey on it.

Pair of Garganey failing to hide

One of my other favourite ducks, Pintail, were represented by two lovely drakes, and Birders I Know were present in the form of Mr and Mrs Sidmouth Clive. There is a reason why I'd never previously visited the Somerset Levels. All-in-all the place is just too much, and I am now utterly spoiled. Apart from the odd seaward glance for skuas I can't imagine I'll bother birding again until autumn at least...

In other news I went fishing last night. The tench campaign continues. Rob had already done Sunday night, though for eels not tench, and mentioned that the area where I caught three tench last week was a bit crowded. So we chose a much quieter section of the canal, a very long walk from anywhere...


The surroundings were magnificent, with the Exe estuary like a choppy sea just behind us and Exminster Marshes across the canal. It was windy, it was fresh and chilly, double-figure flocks of Whimbrel whistled past in the evening (numbering up to 17) and a drake Red-breasted Merganser joined us for a spot of fishing this morning. The stove roared and the kettle boiled. Often. Mix up all that lot and it's pretty hard to beat for atmosphere...

Tench-wise it was dire, our new-location experiment a total failure. I caught one mini-rudd, and Rob nothing at all. Well, nothing on his tench rods anyway. But Rob had a third rod out, for eels again. At 04:45 this morning he woke me up to tell me that his eel rod had scored. Only the culprit was not an eel. It was toothy and stripey and weighed a phenomenal 22lb 8oz!!

22lb 8oz canal pike. A photo simply cannot convey just how impressive are pike of this size in the flesh. 'Awesome' is a dreadfully overused word but entirely appropriate in this case. 'Knackered' is another word, equally appropriate to describe the state of Rob's overtrousers.

In our piking efforts I was the first to score a twenty, also the second, 11 months later. At that point I was feeling a bit sorry for Rob, who had never caught a twenty but witnessed both of mine. This year he's caught FOUR!! Between us we've landed six (four different) twenty-pound pike from the venue in 17 months. The tentative plans we hatched at the back end of 2016 have succeeded beyond any reasonable expectation. And I no longer feel sorry for Rob.

On a different note...

Like some other bloggers I have always adopted the practice of capitalising bird names and highlighting them in the text with bold font. The capitalising thing is simply what I've always done with birds, and the bold font dates from BirdForum days, where I did it to help species names stand out in a post so that anyone speed-reading could instantly home in on the important stuff. With fish I do neither. It just doesn't seem right somehow. I can't explain why not, it just doesn't. So, there we are, a nice little idiosyncrasy to close with...

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Starting a New Campaign

I think it's fair to say that coarse angling today is very different to the hobby I so loved as a boy. There are heaps more fisheries now. Lakes and ponds stuffed with silver fish and small carp are legion, and available to all for the price of a day-ticket; a netful is virtually guaranteed. Many species are far more widespread than they used to be, and grow much, much bigger. The fishing tackle industry has morphed into a monster that will provide you with absolutely any item you could ever imagine needing. And I would never have guessed that there would one day be a similarly vast empire dedicated to the supply of bait. In my youth it was basically maggots, bread, worms, hemp, cheese and luncheon meat; in 2018 the array available is ridiculous.

So, if one's idea of improvement involves various aspects of  'more' and 'bigger', then I would imagine the modern coarse angling scene looks a good deal better when compared to what it was four or five decades ago. For me though, fishing is not solely about 'more' and 'bigger'. Big fish - and more of them - is nice, but at least as important are surroundings, a degree of mystery, a tricky challenge, stuff like that...

Less than 18 months ago I wrote a post entitled A First Love Rekindled, and mentioned my intention to try the Exeter Canal for pike and carp with my son Rob. At the time I'd never caught a twenty-pound pike. Just a few weeks later I landed only my second pike of the campaign; it weighed 24lb 14oz! This winter also, I managed a twenty-plus, and Rob caught two! Unqualified success! The carp have proved much more difficult though. Much! In fact I have yet to catch any, and Rob has only managed the one...

March 2017 - 24lb 8oz

Compared to some of the locals we are very much part-timers, but even they struggle to get among the carp sometimes. One of the regulars managed carp to 32 pounds last year, but had gone eight months without any at all! Anyway, neither of us fancied another spring and summer of frustration, so decided that this year we would target the Exeter Canal tench instead.

Tench-wise, both of us have a similar personal best. Rob's is 8lb 2oz, and although I can't remember exactly what mine is, it's about the same. Now, a canal tench of 8lb+ is pretty huge, but from what we can ascertain, the Exeter Canal does contain such fish. Quite how big they go is still a mystery though. Which is good. I like a bit of mystery.

So, Monday afternoon we headed west...

The forecast was appalling. Lots of rain. I arrived first, and by about 17:30 had picked a swim, found a relatively weed-free area and baited up. I fished two rods, one with maggots, the other with sweetcorn. Rob was about 50 yards up the bank from me, and got his rods out before darkness fell. Then the rain started. It's a nice, cosy feeling, all warm and dry in a bivvy as the raindrops rattle down, but I wouldn't have minded being roused from my slumbers by a noisy bite alarm. It didn't happen though. Not until about 06:30. Beep-beep-beee-e-e-e-e-e-p!!! It was light by this time, and I frantically pulled on my crocs and hurried to the rods...and fell flat on my backside in the mud! The fish was still on though, and after a good scrap I landed a lovely tench of 4lb 10oz. I was chuffed to bits. The first outing of a new campaign and already we were off the mark. Brilliant! I packed up about 19:00 yesterday, adding two more tench in the meantime. Here's the biggest...

6lb 10oz of gorgeous Exeter Canal tench

This is the biggest tench I've caught for probably 20 years or more, and is an absolute beauty. Long and muscular, with very little gut on it, I would imagine this fish has the potential to carry a lot more weight, and I reckon the possibility of Rob and me catching a new personal best from this venue is very real. Unfortunately Rob didn't get among the tench this time, but at least between us we've made a start on the learning curve.

And learning curve it is. We have no idea what is going to be the best area to fish, the best bait, the best time of day, etc, etc. Apart from a few snippets of gen gleaned from the carp anglers and one or two pleasure fisherman, we are fishing blind. We have yet to meet anyone who specifically targets the tench.

Three fish so far then: 4lb 10oz, 6lb 10oz and 4lb 1oz (a current average of around 5lb 2oz) all caught during the daytime, with two falling to maggots and one to corn. It's highly satisfying to actually catch what you're fishing for, and I could not have asked for a better start to this new campaign. I'm quite excited about it!

Friday, 30 March 2018

The Birder vs. Photographer Issue

Back in September 1984 I took this photo of a Pectoral Sandpiper...



The location was Staines Res, on the drained N basin. My photographic kit was primitive in the extreme: a cheap, Russian, fully manual Zenit B coupled with a cheap, Russian, fully manual Helios 500mm mirror lens. That hefty lump of iron was mounted on my regular birding tripod, and getting this shot entailed climbing the reservoir fence, scuttling down the concrete apron, and slowly creeping up on the happily feeding Pec. Then I just waited, hunched and uncomfortable, as it moved towards me. I think I used a whole roll of film, but almost every shot has slightly blurred bits because the bird was either out of focus or moving too rapidly for the slow shutter speed to freeze. It was totally relaxed in my presence, and at times came too close.

If memory serves correctly, the only other person around that day was my old mate Ric, watching from the causeway. Eventually I'd used up my film and quietly withdrew, rejoining him there. I think it was the above photo that was subsequently published in the 1984 London Bird Report.

All good.

The following year, in late May, I found 2 Temminck's Stints at Staines, this time on the drained S basin. There was one other birder present and he let me put the news out via his carphone - a major novelty in 1985! At some point that day I was alone on the causeway, so tried to repeat my Pec Sand success with the stints. Over the fence, down the concrete apron and then a lot of creeping and crouching. It didn't work. The birds simply wouldn't play ball, and were never in a position where I could get ahead of them and so let them approach me. Eventually I gave up and retreated with a whole bunch of 10th-rate exposures. Rubbish.

Arriving back on the causeway I was instantly taken to task by a newly-arrived birder. "There's always some selfish photographer chasing the birds and spoiling it for everyone else!" he complained. My reaction was not good. After all, hadn't I just found these birds and put the news out so that the likes of him could come and see them? The ingratitude! But also, if I'm honest, I felt a large twinge of guilt that I'd been 'caught' in the act of trying to creep up and get very close to the birds and bag myself a frame-filler; I shouldn't really have done it with the likelihood of other birders turning up to twitch those Temminck's Stints. This unhealthy combination of emotions led me to respond in a shamefully immature way, and I gave him a right mouthful that he didn't deserve.

Recently a Snowy Owl in Norfolk has once again raised the birder vs. photographer issue. As you can see from the above, it is not new, and with the advent of internet forums and social media it often gets wide publicity these days. I think it is safe to say that it will never go away...

Actually, calling it something like 'the birder vs. photographer issue' misses the point, because they're not really against one another at all. Such a label is just a simplistic way of describing one of many, many scenarios in life where the differing needs of two or more interested parties bring potential for conflict. I'm sure the birder is perfectly happy for the photographer to get his 'superb image', as long as it doesn't interfere with the birder's 'crippling views'. And vice versa. But this will rarely happen, because in the real world the needs of each party don't allow it. The birder wants to get his views and then chat with his mates, and is happy to stand at scope range to do so. The photographer would be content to wait for the bird to come close while he crouches quietly, waiting, but knows it will never do so with all this racket going on. So he tries creeping up on it, gets yelled at, and later sees his face go viral in a 'name and shame' type post. Bad. The very next week he's sitting quietly in a hide with a few of his buddies, waiting for a bird to show. Three hours he waits. Suddenly, there it is! It's on view for about 30 seconds. He snaps away, tweaking his settings, desperate to get a good shot before it disappears. Success! That night, there he is again, his dodgy fizzog illustrating another cry of outrage. This time it's about photographers hogging the slots in hides. 'Name and shame', it says...

A couple of posts back I mentioned a preference for solitude. Alone, with my modest camera, I can creep up on birds whenever I choose. I can do it slowly, gradually, skilfully. Or I can throw caution to the wind and blunder up as inept as you like. If I flush the bird, who's to know? If I don't, well, great.

Alone.

There's a lot to be said for it.