Tuesday, 30 January 2018

What Am I??

In a comment on the previous post Steve Gale of North Downs & Beyond fame suggested that I am morphing back into a birder again. Looking at very recent NQS output (like the last four posts, say) you'd maybe think so. But am I?

Earlier this evening I went for a 5 mile run. Included in that run were 4x 4-minute efforts at roughly 7 min/mile pace (which feels quite rapid at the moment) with a 3-minute recovery jog between each. This is called interval training. Cool runners might call it 'reps', which is short for 'repetitions'. It is designed to make you faster. And - if you get it wrong - to puke. I've been toying with these structured sessions for a few weeks now. Rather than just 'popping out for a run' I am genuinely trying to make some constructive progress in both speed and endurance.

So I would definitely say that I'm a runner right now. I probably have been for 30-odd years but just didn't know I could still do it.

On Sunday afternoon I went on a fairly leisurely 25-mile bike ride with a mate. Apart from the wet and muddy lanes, and the quarter-mile of thorny hedge trimmings we had to negotiate (don't get me onto farmers' antics, please) it was great, and I cannot wait for spring to herald some sunshine and warmth so I can really enjoy my cycling again.

So, although my poor, neglected winter bike is in dire need of a deep clean I would say that I am very much a cyclist still.

A runner and a cyclist.

The recent proliferation of white-wingers inspired me to take a proper look at the Axe Estuary gulls whenever I was over Seaton way. The upshot of that little endeavour has now taken up four posts...and I still haven't found a Glauc or Iceland Gull! I really like gulls. Probably I always will.

For some reason I've not been quite so inspired by the Hawfinch thing, but even so I would say that I am still a birder...

A runner and a cyclist and a birder.

And how chuffed I was when Rob sent me photos of his first 20lb pike yesterday morning. It genuinely made my day. And then this morning he sent me this...

Rob's message read: "Guess how big!"

Big landing nets always seem to make a fish look smaller than it is, so my reply was initially: "Surely not another 20?" And then "No. Must be 15 though".

Eventually this arrived...

Rob is famous for his sartorial indifference anyway, but I would imagine he cares even less when the real star of the photo weighs 23lb 1oz!

Yes, the jammy so-and-so has just caught two 20lb pike in 24 hours. He also had a smaller one just under 9lb, all of them falling to tactics that are far from mainstream when it comes to piking. Three bites. Three landed fish. I think his persistence in developing a different approach over the last two winters has been both vindicated and well-rewarded!

When I get enough spare time I will once again be after the pike, and if the rivers fine down from their somewhat swollen state before the end of February I shall be after the grayling too. So yes, I am also still an angler.

A runner and a cyclist and a birder and an angler.

So, to pick up Steve's original point, personally I feel I will always be a birder, and hopefully all the other things too. But I find it impossible to pursue all my interests, at the fairly high level of application that I find necessary, all of the time. Each will wax and wane in due season. I am comfortable with this reality. In fact I like things this way. Long may that be true...

Ooh, I almost forgot. Guess what I did when Rob sent me his latest pike photos. Yes, that's right, I made a collage...

Left: 28 Nov 2017 - 23lb 8oz   Right: 30 Jan 2018 - 23lb 1oz
And yes, they are the same fish!
It was a tiny disappointment to discover that Rob's second twenty wasn't a new one for us, but on the other hand it was nice to have shared it, so to speak. Still, it had travelled quite a long way from where I caught it.

So yes, I am a runner, cyclist, birder, angler...and detective. But probably not all at once.

Monday, 29 January 2018

This is Getting Silly...

Once again lunchtime found me beside the Axe Estuary at Coronation Corner. I'll confess, this wasn't my first time beside the river today, but an earlier scoot along had been fruitless. Good numbers of big gulls, but mostly a little too distant for comfortable viewing with bins through a windscreen. Out we get then, scope up, scan. Zip. Back inside, sarnies out, World at One, munch...

Gulls were trickling in constantly, which definitely warranted another scoping before I headed off. And yes, in keeping with current stupid amounts of jam, right there in the middle of the flock was a Caspian Gull.

Straight away I recognised it as Tim's bird, and just as straight away it did the off, flying upriver to land bang in front of the Tower Hide. It took me about ten minutes to get round to the hide, and there it still was, really close. Annoyingly, the moment I got the camera out the bird flew back across the river, but at least I managed a few very distant shots of it...

I'll admit, it doesn't exactly stand out like a sore thumb at this angle in the gloomy light

By this time I'd alerted Steve, who once again kindly put the news out, and in the distance I could see a birder climbing out of his car at Coronation Corner. So, back I went...

It was Mark Bailey from Torbay, who'd been conveniently near at hand visiting the Glossy Ibis at Seaton Marshes. It's always a pleasure to share good birds, and Mark and myself and another birder who'd just turned up had great views as it stood alone on the nearby mud. A couple of shots...

Conditions were still very gloomy. I know a 1st-winter Casp is hardly a kaleidoscope of colour, but without sunshine it's hard even to see what's grey and what's brown.

At that moment the gathering clouds emptied a lot of water onto us and we retreated. I hung around though, and following the rain came a gap in the weather. The sun even emerged. The Casp was still present, and now quite active amongst the good-sized flock of gulls at the water's edge. I got some more photos...

Compare the Casp with those 1st-winter Herring Gulls all around it. What a difference a bit of sunshine makes. Especially when the water is reflecting a nice dark rain cloud for a bit of contrast. Despite how obvious it looks in this series of shots, I'm pretty sure its mantle and scaps are the darkest, most heavily marked I've yet seen on a Casp, with less contrast between them and the coverts than I'm used to. So not a textbook individual, I would say. But still a Casp I think, and still beautiful!

Just after 15:00 it upped and went, heading away S over the town. About ten minutes before that, Julian Thomas turned up. Perfect timing. So this visit was approximately an hour and 45 mins. By Axe standards that is a long stay!

Finally, Mr Collage presents his latest offering. Tim's on the left, today's on the right...

No question, it's the same bird

So then, a good day. A good day for bumping into scarce gulls. A good day for bumping into birders I haven't seen in a while. And a good day for piking...

This morning, before all the gull stuff, Rob got in touch. A bit later he sent me some photos. Here's one...

Rob's first twenty! Bit of a 'scraper' at 20lb 2oz, but what a lump! I was nearly as chuffed as Rob!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Detective Work

So there have been several recent Caspian Gull happenings on the Axe. Once for Steve on 9 January, twice for me last week, and now also for Tim White on 17 January. Amazing. The question is though, how many birds have been involved? One? Two? More?

I love comparing photos to work out stuff like this, and have done so several times. One year on the Axe we had a steady procession of Iceland Gulls. Photos proved that what we thought was one very white one was actually two birds. On another occasion, careful image analysis demonstrated that just one Red-breasted Goose was involved in records from Christchurch Harbour, Ferrybridge and Exminster Marshes. My sleuthing urges have been applied to Caspian Gull pics also. Learning that our Dec 2011 bird was previously on Portland in October was a particularly satisfying one, and that Steve's 2nd-winter bird from a couple of winters ago had been at Torbay a few days prior.

Anyway, I present below my latest efforts in this department...

Left: Jan 17 (Tim White)    Right: Jan 22
In the past I have used little circles, arrows and annotation to highlight similarities. In this case I think it would all get too messy, but suffice to say there are numerous common features. Certainly enough to satisfy me anyway.

Just for the fun of it I thought I would compare open wing shots. However, in the following collage I've added a couple of previous Axe Casps to the mix. The purpose of this set of images is not so much to show that my bird and Tim's are one and the same, but to illustrate both the variability in 1st-winter Caspian Gull upperwing pattern, and the similarities - those features that help confirm identification...

Always those darker-based, paler-tipped greater coverts giving a distinctive pale wing-bar that contrasts with almost blackish secondaries. The median coverts exhibit a similar pattern, also producing a definite (if fainter) wing-bar.

I briefy considered another collage comparing my bird from last Thursday (25th) to Steve's from 9 Jan, but Steve's photos are so lacking in detail that it wouldn't be very convincing (sorry Steve!). Nevertheless I feel there's enough there to persuade me that they are most probably the same bird.

Right, let's draw some conclusions then...
  • Tim's bird from 17 Jan is my bird from 22 Jan
  • Steve's bird from 9 Jan is [probably] my bird from 25 Jan
  • I have definitely seen TWO different Axe Caspian Gulls in four days!
  • But technically I didn't find either of them...
  • The ringed Dawlish bird from 17 Jan means at least 3 Casps may still be knocking about in E Devon!
  • There may never have been a better time to 'find' a Devon Casp
Point number four highlights one reason why I have never bothered with a self-found list. Even so, learning that both my birds had previously been discovered by someone else did not for one moment detract from the massive buzz I enjoyed both times!

It's funny, although I've done so little birding in recent times, whenever I do make the effort for a while I seem to get really jammy. Now that I don't mind...

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Birding Interlude of the Satisfying Kind!

So it's lunchtime and, as I often do if working near Seaton, I'm parked alongside the estuary. Normally on such occasions I periodically raise my bins and peer rather half-heartedly at whatever is on view. Today though, I was much more alert. I was in gull mode. After yesterday's foul weather I was seriously hoping that a Glaucous or Iceland Gull might appear. Plus of course, Monday's distant and frustrating Casp had fired me up a bit. But, realistically, what were the chances of a Caspian Gull popping up in front of such a part-time birder twice in one week...?

A trickle of big gulls were dropping in to the river at Coronation Corner, having a little wash and then flying over to the far bank to preen. Approximately halfway through my sarnie a quick scan of the latest few arrivals revealed a dazzling white head and breast on what was clearly a 1st-winter bird. What!?!! A Caspian Gull!! Grabbing scope and camera I was out of the van like a shot. It spent hardly any time on the water and my photos were apalling...

It might seem odd to say this, but to my eye there's more than enough information in this unflattering 'capture' of a scraggy bunch of feathers to know unequivocally that it's a Caspian Gull.

Ditto with this one...

Like the other big gulls, it flew to the opposite bank and began to preen. In the horribly harsh sunlight I couldn't get anything remotely decent out of the Lumix, so dug out my 10+ year-old Fuji FinePix F30 for a bit of digiscope action. Just like the old days, when I used to look at birds and that...

I didn't do a great deal better with the Fuji, but did get this one...

It's actually mid-preen, which is why the wing is a little droopy. Absolutely no doubt here - that is a 1st-winter Casp in all its glory.

Within 5 minutes of first clapping eyes on the bird I had phoned Steve, who kindly put out a text to the locals on my behalf. Unfortunately it stayed no longer than 15 minutes in total before flying away high towards the sea. Poor old Tim White turned up about 5 minutes after that. Axe Casps are rarely obliging in that regard.

Though I haven't done a critical analysis of the photos yet, I can see nothing to suggest this isn't Monday's individual. It was unringed, so definitely not last week's Dawlish Warren bird.

To be honest, this fortuitous episode has got me wondering about something I do find a bit strange...

I think this is my ninth Axe Casp. I am no expert with masses of experience - those nine are the only Caspian Gulls I've ever seen, but seven of them I found myself, all 1st-winters. This one and (if my memory is correct) two others, I 'found' multiple times; in other words they turned up more than once and I happened to be on the spot to 'find' them more than once. The remainder of the [probably] 13 Axe Caspian Gulls were (as far as I am aware) all found by Steve. Just two observers. I'm not too sure who exactly have found the several other Devon birds, but I know that very few observers are involved, and that at least two of them also have multiple finds to their name. And yet when it comes to other scarce gulls - white-wingers, say - loads of different observers turn them up. I know Casps are subtle, but they're not impossible. Far from it. Is it simply that birders repeatedly overlook them because thay don't have the species on their radar??

I would love to be able to do something to rectify that. So, please allow me to offer my Number One Top Tip for finding 1st-winter Caspian Gulls in a flock of winter dross. Here it is...

Look for the big gull with the gleaming white head and body. Make sure it's a 1st-winter, and you're well on your way. Unless my dodgy memory is playing tricks I think I can say that every single Casp I have found (and each time I found it) the bird caught my eye because of its dazzling white head and body. Honestly, It really is an absolutely 24-carat, stop-you-in-your-tracks feature.

If just one birder were to remember that tip, try it for him/herself and then go and find their very own Casp as a result, I would be absolutely delighted. Look, this is how obvious they can be...

Scene from the Tower Hide one day in Feb 2012:
Foreground left, staring into the water: 1st-winter Herring Gull.
On the lump of tree: another 1st-winter Herring Gull.
Between the two: Agh! Where are my sunglasses!?!!

Isn't it ironic. Umpteen posts about cycling, fishing, running and so on, and then when he does finally get round to actual birds we get two posts of nothing but gull. Yes, how to try your readership.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Birding Interlude of the Frustrating Kind

I may well have let a pretty good bird get away this morning. Well, if you accept that gulls can be 'good' birds, that is...

It all started with Steve's Hawfinch Hysteria post the other day. I realised it was high time I got my finger out and made the effort to go and see one. I was working near Musbury this morning, so popped into the village and had a look near the church. I got okay views of two birds within about five minutes, but hung around a bit longer hoping for a better performance. When none was forthcoming I headed off to Seaton. Via the estuary...

At the moment Scilly is enjoying a little rush of Iceland Gulls, and what with all the unsettled weather we're having I am pretty sure one or two will be appearing on the Axe before long. I could see a bunch of big gulls on the grassy islands opposite Axmouth so pulled into the layby to have a quick look. From this vantage point the birds are some 400yards away but quite doable with bins for a white-winger. Anyway, no white-wingers, but...what's that rather white-headed 1st-wintery-looking thing right there? I was about to reach for my scope when I remembered I'd taken it out for the van's MOT last Friday and hadn't put it back. Agh! Bins alone weren't powerful enough and I just couldn't do anything with it. I considered phoning Steve, but didn't really want to have him out for what might be just a Herring Gull. So, as a last resort I unsheathed the old Lumix, wound it up to maximum zooms of every kind and fired away...

It's the one with open wings

Now it's the blurry one left of centre. Best I got of the head shape. It's leggy too.

Primaries very dark; tertial pattern looks good; pale wing-bars on the coverts

Look at that lovely black tail band! Wing pattern looks pretty good too...

I expect you've guessed by now. Yes, I cannot help thinking that I've let a Caspian Gull slip through my fumbly fingers. Personally I reckon these supremely dire photos actually present a reasonable case, but definitely not a watertight one!

Still, I'm open to persuasion...?

Saturday, 20 January 2018

One Man's Race. Part 2: The Phoenix

The final two sentences of the last post, plus the corny title of this one, leave little doubt where this offering is headed...

My running career ended in late 1992. That really was it. Over. And, though I never had it professionally looked at, I was convinced that I'd done irreparable damage to my knee. In later years I occasionally ventured onto a five-a-side pitch and once or twice a gym treadmill (very gingerly) but didn't really test it. Regular readers may recall a foolish dabble with road running on Scilly a couple of years ago. Although I pulled a calf muscle I was pleasantly surprised to get no niggles at all from the dicky knee. So, when we joined a gym last summer I made a point of getting on the treadmill quite regularly, and slowly built up to around 30 minutes or so. Hmm, promising...

The gym is history now, but those pain-free forays onto the treadmill led to an inevitable next step. The road. On August 30th I waited until darkness had fallen and sallied forth. Wa-a-a-ay too fast, I might add. Anyway, I ran 1.4 undulating miles in 12 minutes. And it did hurt. But...the knee was fine, and I suddenly realised that a 25-year curse might possibly be broken. In September I focused on the bike, but got in another five runs, up to 3.6 miles. There were some calf twinges, but still not a peep from the knee. October ended with 11 runs in the bank, up to 6.3 miles. I could hardly believe it.

Bringing things up to date, in the 11 full weeks from the beginning of November until now I have managed 3 runs a week in all except one. This afternoon I covered 10.4 miles (my second run of 10+ miles) in a bit over an hour and a half. I am delighted. The body's ability to heal itself, and to adapt to an incrementally increased training load, is really quite amazing. In less than five short months I've gone from knackered used-to-be-a-runner to actual runner again.

Mind you, I am no longer in my early 30s! The days of 6:33 pace half-marathons are long gone I think. That said, if I keep at it there's a slim chance I may be mildly competitive for my age-group in 16 months time when I'm 60! And there's been another significant change in the last 25 years.

Data.

In 1987 I bought a very early Timex Ironman sports watch. Basically a stopwatch with lap-timing facility. To keep a record of times and distances you needed to measure your routes on a map, or drive them, and write down the magic figures displayed on the Ironman's tiny screen. It all went into a 'Running Log'. Analysis was done with a biro and slide-rule. Or did we have calculators by then...? Anyway...

In 2017 I bought a Garmin Forerunner 35. Well. What it doesn't tell you is not worth knowing. Where you've been and at what speed. Exactly how rapidly your poor heart was pumping on that hill and the precise gradient of the slope responsible. Even your cadence (steps per minute). It links to Strava and to your smartphone. Here is one of the several million screens of data...

As you can see, since beginning this enterprise I have run a cool 220.6 miles, and I could add that it's taken me 52 outings to amass that tally

So, where is this all going to lead? I don't know really, and am happy to just ride the wave for now. However, it's always nice to have a target, so I've entered a pukka race. It's the Egdon Easy 10k, a flat, 10km route around Lodmoor and Radipole over at Weymouth. I have until Saturday 26th May to prepare myself. I never enjoyed 10k races - always a bit too quick for comfort - but I have to say I am looking forward to this one. I have even put together a loose (and infinitely adjustable) training plan to get me there. I am genuinely curious to see just what my (by then) 59-year old body will be capable of.

In the meantime I shall plod around the local streets and footpaths and endeavour to clock up some useful miles. It's not a hardship...

Dropping into West Bay...definitely not the most picturesque seaside spot in the southwest, but the coast is the coast. Fantastic!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

One Man's Race. Part I: The Rise and Fall of an Average Athlete.

I'm happy to say that I pointed my bins at a bird today. I was just up the road when a Twitter message alerted me to the presence of a White-fronted Goose on the Axe Estuary. Although it was too distant for me to worry about a sub-specific label, I could see it was an adult. Nice. And thanks for the gen, Martin/Stevie.

While I was at it I had a scan through the gulls for anything big and obvious (white-wingers, Cranes, etc) but drew a blank. So I'm delighted to hear that Steve has just had a brief 1st-winter Caspian Gull at Coronation Corner this afternoon, and he kindly sent a lust-worthy BOC* shot for me to squint at. Very nice. Even though I'm phasing.

So anyway, on to what I intended this post to be about. I have a feeling that I've written about some of this before, but I can't find it in this incarnation of NQS. So...

Right, let's get this out of the way: I am 58 years old, and will be 59 in May. I mention this for the sake of context, as you will see.

At school I enjoyed athletics. I was quite a sporty kid I suppose, but not particularly gifted at anything. In athletics though, I discovered I was slightly better than average in umpteen disciplines, both track and field. Running, jumping, throwing, the lot. The exception was distance running, which I detested. Mainly because it hurt. So anything over 400m was out. I looked forward to summer term sports with relish, and have pleasant memories of balmy afternoons at Harrow School's running track, to which my school had privileged access.

This is the Harrow School track today. It really looks the business! In the early/mid-70s it was a cinder track, but still an excellent facility. Acquiring this screenshot reminded me: in the summer before university I would cycle the 4 or 5 miles from my home to the track, and then walk up to that lake at the bottom left. There I would sit gazing at the quiet water with my back against a tree, smoking a contemplative roll-up, and wonder exactly where my life was heading. Makes me smile now. Such a callow youth...

Post-school there was very little sport for years, and by the early '80s I was pretty unfit. The jogging boom was in full swing, and at work one night the conversation turned to this very topic. Lamenting the dire state of our flabby carcasses, my colleagues and I resolved to do something about it. I got home that morning, donned shorts, t-shirt and trainers, and headed out the door. We lived on a busy road at the time, so I hared along to the nearest side turning, aiming for quieter, less public streets. Within a few short minutes I was utterly spent. Gasping and retching I ducked down a little alley and doubled over, wheezing pitifully. My chest was on fire. And my legs. Everything.

I slunk home as unobtrusively as possible. Never again.

A couple of years later I spotted a gaggle of runners jogging past our house, chatting and laughing. I recognised one of them, a friend I hadn't seen in a while, and got in touch. And so, slowly and gently, I was introduced to jogging/running, via the Serpentine Running Club. And yes, when you first start it is hard, but eventually, with patience, you find one day that you too can run along and chat. And laugh.

I'm guessing this was about 1984 or '85, and over the next few years running and I had the sort of on/off relationship which I now recognise as characteristic of all my recreational activities. I swapped the Serpentine RC for one based more locally, the Metros, and over time gradually ran a bit further, got a bit faster. I entered several races, from 10k to half-marathon, and took pleasure in my mediocre placings...

It was very cold that day, and yet look, just shorts and vest! It looks like we're shifting a bit, so I reckon this photo must have been taken in the home straight. I would have been 30, which is younger than either of my sons. This is always sobering.

The absolute peak of my athletic prowess was marked in October 1992 by a stellar run in the Oxford Half Marathon. I had been preparing for my first full marathon, which was coming up in a month's time, and this was a final tester after a good, steady period of training over several months. I was quicker than I had ever been, and aiming for a sub-90min time. I set off conservatively, and spent the first couple of miles being overtaken by everyone, it seemed. Gradually this stopped, and I remember a long, uphill slog on some ugly, bypass-type road where I began to overhaul a few runners. The tide was turning, and from then on I steadily gained places. At about 11 miles I overtook the leading female runner - a first for me - and finished in just under an hour and 26 minutes. 13.1 miles at a pace of around 6'33" per mile was the pinnacle of my achievements as a mediocre athlete. I took it as a very good omen for my upcoming marathon debut.

Error.

In November I got a bit of a sniffle, and toed the Harrow Marathon start line feeling very under par. Caught up in the excitement I started too fast, and at half way began to fade a tiny bit. At 16 miles a steadily increasing pain in my right knee made me slow to a jog. I should have read the signs and stopped completely, but I didn't. My target of 3 hours was slipping away fast, but I pressed on. The pain in my knee moved relentlessy through 'bad' to 'horrible' and then 'agony'. For the first time I was forced to walk. Basically I limped/jogged the final 8 or 9 miles of the 26.2 mile course and finished in something like 3 hours and forty-odd minutes. I was gutted. And in serious pain. Disaster.

Over the next few months I tried several times to start running again and on each occasion I would manage a mile or two before the knee pain became unbearable. Eventually I got the message and stopped trying and came to the conclusion that my running days were over.

And for 25 years they were...


*Back Of Camera

Monday, 8 January 2018

Not Quite About Running

Birding-wise I am doing nothing right now. In just the last week or so I've driven up the Axe Estuary a couple of times and noted with approval that it was crawling with gulls, yet not been the slightest bit inclined to stop and have a little scan. Such is phasing...

Doesn't mean I haven't been keeping my ear to the ground though. For example, I know about the Colyford Common Water Pipits. It's nice to know they're on the up again. On this very day 13 years ago I counted 20 in the damp field of maize stubble next to the Colyton Water Treatment Works, and while this was an exceptional gathering, for several years 10+ was not an unusual count. Recently though, for some reason they've been much scarcer on the Axe, and hearing that they seem to be back in numbers is very good news.

Of course, I haven't been to visit them. That's the nature of phasing. You just can't be bothered.

It's similar with Hawfinches. Yes, I know they're available at Shute churchyard. And yes, I know that Shute churchyard is something like half a mile from Kilmington, another place I work most weeks. Er, yes, I do even drive past it occasionally. And yet...

Still, I did go for a nice walk on Cogden Beach in Sunday's sunshine, and was delighted to be able to stake a claim* for Steve Gale's 'First Wheatear Photo of the Year' award...

And, my word, isn't that thrift out early too!

When I got home from work today I rushed indoors and changed into a Helly Hansen top, a pair of Ron Hill Tracksters, Adidas trainers, day-glo yellow gilet and red, red hat, and then charged straight out again for a run. I'd like to say a lot more, but this is a birding/cycling/fishing blog...

Ah, speaking of red hats. I just put together a little collage of the recent hefty pike I've jammed from the Exeter Canal, together with my previous biggest, which I caught by soaking a dead fish in a Colne Valley gravel pit for many hours in about 1999 or 2000 I think. I am pleased to note that once you have good taste, you don't tend to lose it...

L to R: 23lb 8oz, Nov 2017; 24lb 14oz, Dec 2016; 16lb 8oz, yonks ago


*Please see previous post, final piece of 'advice'

Saturday, 6 January 2018

So You Want To Be a Blogger?

This morning I was delighted to learn that I have just won a Rambler, that coveted prize also known as the birding Oscar. Each year Neil Randon awards a Rambler to the 'Birding Blogger of the Year' and the 'Birding Blog Post of the Year'. I am especially honoured that a piece of NQS has won the latter category, because so little of it these days has much to do with birding. Jono Lethbridge of Wanstead Birder fame is a worthy winner of the overall award. Jono writes an actual birding blog...

According to some statistics that I didn't actually make up, since 2004 the blogosphere has doubled in size every 5-7 months, and right now almost 2 new blogs are created per second. So, despite what you might think, the blogging boom is far from over. There are currently more than 53 million blogs out there. So if you are wrestling with a strong urge to start a blog, please don't be concerned. Just give in to it and join us. There is nothing to be ashamed of.

Birding blogs are legion. In the last decade or more I guess many thousands of birders have sat at their computers, two index fingers poised uncertainly, wondering quite how to start their new blog. So, in my capacity as an award-winning blogger, allow me to offer some advice...

Post regularly
You want a definition of 'regularly'? Much more often than me.

Include photos
Good photos transform a post. If the photos are good enough it basically doesn't matter whether you can string three words together. The photos will do it on their own. If you can't write, get a camera. A really good one.

Don't post late at night after lots of alcohol
It's always annoying to have to delete stuff.

Always include amusing stories of monumental dips, accidental injury to your person, etc.
Schadenfreude rules. Blog readers absolutely love it. Don't ask me why. I have no idea. Personally my little heart almost bursts with sympathy whenever I read stuff like that...

Stick to your theme
If it's a birding blog, stick to birding. If it's a cycling blog, stick to cycling. If it's a fishing blog, stick to fishing. Nobody minds the occasional digression, but don't try your tiny readership's patience by jumping about all over the place. And no, don't even think about bringing running into it too. No, really. They won't stand for it.

Be old
Yes, being old is a fine goal to have. The older, the better really. Having decades of reminiscence on tap is brilliant for when nothing much is happening.

Make stuff up
This is a last resort, but of course perfectly in order when you haven't got any real stuff. But be careful. I remember one blogger publishing a thrilling tale of a rare bird tracked down and photographed. Unfortunately he published 'his' photos too. One was mine and the other was the wrong plumage. Unless you want to have to delete your blog and start a whole new one under another name don't do this.

Blogging is a curious enterprise. What exactly motivates a person to make those first, hesitant keystrokes is likely something even the individual would find hard to pin down, but there is undoubtedly something dreadfully compelling about it...

Monday, 1 January 2018

Here We Go Then...

I was up at 05:00 this morning and on the road not long after. The dawn pike raid is on. Right now it's almost 9 o'clock and I'm sheltered under a brolly in the pouring rain. No pike yet, which is par for the course lately. Here's the view...


On the drive down I had Radio 4 on. Farming Today featured the 92-year-old Lord Henry Plumb of Coleshill, who spent some time lamenting what he saw as the folly of Brexit. Having been at the heart of agricultural politics for the last half-century he was heavily involved in the several years of tortuous negotiations which saw the country enter the EEC in the early 70s. And now, of course, there lies ahead a similar process, except in reverse. I sensed deep frustration!

Brexit.

Aside from as an observer I've never had any real interest in politics, and Brexit neatly illustrates one reason why not. Apparently 'Leave' got 51.89% of the votes and 'Remain' 48.11%. If you were to take two clean sheets of paper, draw 5,189 dots on one and 4,811 dots on the other, then show them to some random passerby and ask which sheet represented 'the will of the people', I wonder what answer you'd get. Plus, of course, you'd need to just mention that more than a quarter of the registered electorate didn't vote...

I am not surprised that political discussions get so heated, so quickly. As I say, I am not a political animal, but those who are must feel like they're the subject of some infernal, never-ending wind-up.

Anyway, it's now almost 10 o'clock and I am still biteless. Time for a coffee, a sarnie and some quiet chilling...