Sunday 23 April 2017

A Patch of Yore

I've probably done more birding in the last week than the rest of the year put together. How come? Who knows. It is spring though, so perhaps my sap is rising? There is also the constant drip-drip of birdy gen trickling through Twitter and the like, keeping me abreast of migrant action all along the nearby coast. This is inspiration in itself. Anyway, whatever the cause, I have had the optics out.

It's all been a bit lightweight though. I mostly can't be bothered to drag a scope around. Or a camera. It's been more 'walking, with bins' really...

On Tuesday afternoon I had to drive to Heathrow Terminal 5. I didn't need to rush home so, tempted by the evening sunshine, I dropped in at an old haunt...

This is at the E end of the causeway. Back in the day my visits always began at the other end. And I never, ever remember being welcomed!

The view W along the causeway. A much younger bloke spent most of the 1980s gazing hopefully from this vantage point. He probably looked just as earnest as this.

I don't recall noticing in years past but the place is far from salubrious. That's probably because I was distracted by the consistently amazing birding. Well, that's how I remember it anyway! My tenure coincided with a couple of lengthy drainings. Here's a sample of the quality that I enjoyed back then: Collared Pratincole, several Pec Sands, Lesser Yellowlegs, Baird's Sand, all the phalaropes (including a female Red-necked in full nuptial attire), 2 Kentish Plovers, 3 Temminck's Stints, Long-tailed and Pom Skuas, Ring-billed Gull, 2 Ferruginous Ducks, and even one or two decent passerines like Ring Ouzel, a few Snow Buntings, and (though technically it was on King George VI Res) Tawny Pipit. I've even watched a Guillemot fly over that causeway!

It wasn't bad on Tuesday either. Upon arrival I was blasted by a cold NE wind, which in former times at this juncture would have raised the possibility of Arctic Terns. Sure enough, there were at least a dozen or so doing feeding runs on the S basin, which was quite frankly crawling with birds. Loads of BHGs, and a smattering of Common Terns too. A Great Northern Diver on the N basin was a speck, as in fact were a myriad other floating things. I only had bins. Thirty-something years ago I used to think that birders who turned up at Staines sans scope were manifestly complete noddies, which is probably why I received a fairly terse response from the proper serious-looking birder hunched over his enormous scope at the W end of the causeway...

"Hello. You haven't counted the Arctics have you, by any chance?"
"No, I haven't." [Barely a glance in my direction, though no doubt he'd noticed me approaching, conspicuously scopeless]
"Any Black Terns at all?"
"Not that I've seen." [subtext: "Please just move along now..."]
He was probably a regular. [Eye to scope, eye to scope...he'll soon get the hint]
I remembered I too was a regular once. Also with a lamentably low noddy threshold.

I looked quite hard for Black Terns. And Little Gulls. No joy with either, but I did flush a Little Ringed Plover from the water's edge of the N basin as I sauntered by. It did the decent thing and landed further along, allowing me nice views. Nice bins views.

And then, blow me down if there wasn't a stonking Staines tick waiting by the S basin water tower...


Saturday 1 April 2017

All-purpose Update

First, birds. Although I saw four Sand Martins on the relatively early date of March 10th, I haven't managed much else in the way of summer migrants. To do so would involve birding effort, of which there has been none. Jolly poor show really. Just this morning my little heart was swelling appreciatively at the sight of so much green in the sunny hedgerows, with their thick froth of blackthorn bloom, a sight I always associate with the arrival of Willow Warblers. Soon their sweetly plaintive song will be everywhere. Lovely. And yet, there was no accompanying urge to hurry home, grab the optics and head off birding somewhere.

In a way it's a shame that I just cannot seem to get the birdy juices flowing right now, but I take consolation from the fact that it has happened before; the interest has merely diminished, not died. And anyway, I still pull up next to the Axe Estuary for a quick look whenever I am working nearby. One day I might even find something...

Before we leave birds... Finally (after I don't know how many attempts) I cycled past Rowden Farm, near Long Bredy, and spotted cattle in the field across the lane, along with, yes, Cattle Egrets too. At least six. I say 'at least' because I forgot my little monocular, and so they were all just white things. Six were definite Cattle White Things, but there were a few other White Thing sp. present also. Here are the 'at least' six, and one indeterminate...

Photo taken with my phone at max zoom. It didn't help.

Last summer I bought a rather nice bike frame on eBay. My intention was to build it into a Sunday-best machine over the cold and dreary winter months. Unfortunately I was rather unwell for most of the winter and failed to summon the necessary enthusiasm for such a project. The onset of spring did the trick though, and in just one week I turned a pile of bits into this:

One Canyon AL SLX with Shimano Ultegra groupset. Drives superb.

As you can see, it has already seen a bit of action down the primrose-studded Dorset lanes. There was minor disappointment when I discovered that it failed to convert a winter of sloth into magical uphill personal bests, but I nevertheless hauled it up Eggardon Hill (the least steep way!) for some pretentious phone camera-work...

Birding from the bike is much harder than I anticipated. There are so many things working against you. The wind, for example. Riding into a headwind renders you deaf to birdsong as the air rushes noisily past your ears. In fact any speed of more than about 12mph generally has the same effect. So the only way I am going to add heard-only birds to my list is when I'm grovelling uphill. Oh, but then there's all the gasping and groaning, which drowns out anything less strident than a Cetti's Warbler. Also, there's not much scanning of the fields, sky and horizon, because you mostly have to look where you're going. Mind you, that does have its compensations, like when a pair of Grey Partridges scuttled across the road in front of me several weeks ago. I'm pretty sure they're nearly as rare around here as they were in the Seaton area.

I shall just have to cycle very slowly on occasion.

Angling-wise, well, spring is here, so the pike tackle has now been stashed until late autumn at least. It is time to think about the Exeter Canal carp. Rob and I have been planning our campaign for some time, and stocking up with bait. Though I haven't managed any fishing time yet, Rob has been down twice. His first trip produced a 5lb tench. As far as we can tell there have only been about half a dozen carp caught since the beginning of the year, despite a lot of effort from the regulars. So we were both mightily chuffed when this happened on Wednesday night...

Rob with a 24lb 8oz Exeter Canal mirror

Apparently this is also the biggest out so far this year. An encouraging start. And, so I am told, not jammy at all.

Although I have caught a few hefty carp in a previous life, it was a long time ago. So I've been trying to get up-to-date with modern rigs and tactics by watching some of the frankly first-rate videos available on YouTube etc. It makes me feel positively antique. The popularity (and ubiquity) of carp fishing has produced a massive and flourishing industry, intent on selling you a vast collection of horribly expensive bits. Years ago we used to joke that if you were a carp angler you could go into a tackle shop, part with a hundred quid, and need nothing more than a small paper bag to carry your purchases home. It's even worse now. I am trying hard to glean as much useful information as possible in order to maximise my chances at minimum cost. This has been huge fun, and I can now tie all sorts of interesting, modern, effective-looking rigs, with zippy names that I had never even heard of a few months ago. I look forward to chucking some of them into the canal soon.

A few things haven't changed though. What anglers call 'watercraft' is one. Like 'fieldcraft' in birding, watercraft cannot be bought, and its shrewd employment can give you a massive edge. Hopefully I still have some. Future blogs will reveal whether that is the case!

Incidentally, the photo above doesn't really do justice to the size of Rob's carp. Apart from the fact that this was his first attempt at a self-take with my camera (hence top of head missing) and that it was pouring with rain, Rob is quite a large chap. Here's a shot of it on the unhooking mat...

Fat as the proverbial...

I never thought I'd ever again get excited at the prospect of catching one of these gorgeous lumps, but this one has got me all fired up...