Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Loadabullfinch Corvid 19 response

Coronavirus is proving to be very popular this season.  Here at Loadabullfinch we take hygiene very seriously, so please take note of our simple guide bellow.

1.)  Self Isolate.

Otherwise known as birdwatching, self isolation is where one keeps away from other human beings in order to look at birds instead.  Unlike humans, birds don't mind if you stare at them though binoculars, write their names in a book or take photos.  Birds are also less likely to carry harmful diseases (such a Covid19) or harmful ideas (such as Conservatism.)

2.)  Wash your hands.

Make sure you wash your hands frequently, especially after every time you handle your binoculars.  If you are birdwatching far away from a sink, and think it will take too long to keep walking backwards and forwards to wash your hands every time you want to reach for your bins, you can make the process quicker and more efficient by walking faster.

3.)  Catch it.  Bin it.  Kill it.  

Always apply the government's recommended actions when out bird watching.  Remember,  "Catch it. Bin it. Kill it."

4.)  Wipe down equipment.

Rinse any birds thoroughly with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds once you have finished looking at them.  Pay special attention to those parts that are easier to overlook such as the underside of a whimbrel's beak and the knees of barn owls.

5.)  Know the symptoms.

If you, or any member of your family, spot a Chough, especially if it is a continuous dry Chough, then you must all self isolate for fourteen days.

6.)  Don't run with scissors.

7.)  Don't stockdove pile.

Finally, be considerate of others.  Resist the temptation to Stockdove Pile.  If everyone takes only what they need there will be more than enough stockdoves to go around.

8.)  Remain at home

It is important that you remain in your home at all times, so only do bird watching within the four walls of your own house.

 * Note:  I will be thoroughly washing my laptop with soap and water after publishing this post, so rest assured this post is 100% virus free.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Leighton Moss RSPB

Having moved to Up North from East London I thought I'd tell you all about it.

It's cold and wet, mostly.  There are more hills per capita, but less Pearly Queens.  Sheep abound, and the air is less likely to kill you.  It also looks nice.

People are much friendlier up here than in London.  Every single person you pass while out for a walk in the countryside says hello or stops for a chat, so there are negatives too.  But, on the whole, its nice up here.

I went over to Leighton Moss RSPB (Royal Secret Society for the Production of Birds) to have a look at what birds they had in stock.  Apart from trying for too long to get nineteen Jackdaws in a single shot (and failing) in order to make a CORVID 19 joke, I had an overall pleasant outing.

There was a good number of people around, and I had to say hello to every one of them.  Apart from one guy, who just grunted at his shoes as he walked past.  It was nice to see a fellow southerner.

I was walking slowly to see if anything might pop out of the reed-beds, and could sense a couple approaching from behind.  I flew into immediate panic, they would pass me at any moment.  Would they attempt a sneaky 'hello' from my blind spot, forcing me to turn around and acknowledge, or maybe they'd try a drive-by greeting as they overtook.  I tensed and prepared for the worst.

The moment came and they sailed past without incident.  But then, all of a sudden, in unison, they both turned their heads and simultaneously went for the aft salutation.  I gave a return volley and they moved on.

Relieved that that ordeal was over I began to relax again and settle back into my stroll, listening to the murmuring whistle of wigeon floating on the the air.  A few blissful minutes passed until I noticed that the couple had stopped a hundred yards ahead.  They were looking into the reeds.

Be calm, act natural, I told myself.  They will probably move on soon.  They'd definitely go by the time you get there.  But they didn't.

As it turns out, they were looking for a Cetti's warbler that had sang as they walked past, so there was no chance they were moving any time soon (as all birdwatchers know, Cetti's warblers are invisible).  My stroll slowed to a dawdle, and then, finally, to pallbearer pace, but there was no sign of them moving on.  I was on a collision course.

"Hello!"  They sang as I walked past.  I repeated the same and sped on.

It wasn't too much further that I spotted some frogspawn just off the path.  I like looking at frogspawn, so I stopped.  There was loads of the stuff.  I got so engrossed in the activity that I didn't notice that they had given up on the Cetti's and were bearing down upon me fast.  It was too late to get up now, it would look too obvious.

"Hi!"  They got me again!

I waited a little longer, strictly speaking a little too long for looking at frogspawn, and eventually went back on my way.  A minute later, they had stopped again.  This time it was a water rail that the couple had stopped to look for.

I looked back the way I had come and there was a crowd of maybe twenty or so people approaching from behind!  Would I have to say hello to them individually, or just one hello for the whole group?  No, I couldn't go back that way.  Neither could I go forward lest I get sucked into a game of greetings leap-frog with the couple in front of me.  I decided my only course of action was to fling myself off the boardwalk and start a new life among the reeds.

Sure, I would miss my wife and child, but it wouldn't be so bad.  I could find myself a glass bottle and entertain myself by blowing over the opening and mimicking the mating boom of the bittern and watching as the couple who started all of this, who like to look for invisible birds, spent their day searching for me.

In fact, I could sneak around to different parts of the reserve with my bottle and make noises in different areas and double, or even quadruple their count of the species, and thus do my bit for conservation by increasing the numbers of this rare bird.

Leighton Moss have two bitterns at present, one of which saw fit to boom while I was wandering about, possibly constituting the highlight of the visit.  Not a lot of people realise this, but you can change the pitch of a bittern's call by changing the amount of water inside them.

I eventually hid in a hide until the couple were long gone.

Water levels were high, and duck levels were low.  Apparently the unusual amount of rain we've had has depleted the duck numbers.  So, take that Grandma!  It's not good weather for ducks!

Next to a couple of male teal I spotted two brown stripey blobs with their heads tucked into their backs.  I presumed they were female teal, but they seemed a little too small so I kept watch until one of them moved their head to reveal itself as a snipe.  Just at this moment one of the other people in the hide said to her friend that she hadn't seen a snipe yet today.

Being the sociable chap that I am I wanted to alleviate her disappointment.  Now, I thought I had said "If you look to the right of those two teal over there you will see two snipe with their heads tucked in," but what I apparently said was, "there are two snipe over there, but first of all, won't you please tell me about your journey here, where you live and what your grandchildren do for a living, and if you still have time, I would enjoy a lengthy discussion about your coronavirus precautionary measures."

Once she settled down to look at the snipe I decided to count a few ducks before leaving, but, before I could do so the gang of twenty people I had spotted earlier burst into the room and filled the hide with jollity and greetings for all.

I was about to evacuate when one of the gang shouted "Look! A merganser!"  The room fell silent and all binoculars shot in the direction in which she was pointing, right at the great-crested grebe she was indicating.

After a few tuts and scowls the noise died back down, until the same woman spoke up again.  "Is that a scaup?" and we all turned to look at the tufted duck she had misidentified.

I'm sure you all know the story of the boy who called wolf, so it will come as no surprise to you what happened on the third time, when she then claimed she saw a bittern!  That's right, we tied her up and fed her to some wolves.

I decided to make my excuses an venture on to another hide.  As I've already mentioned, the place was quite flooded (Leighton Moss also manages Eric Morecambe bay, but it was closed that day due to the flooding). 

There were signs up warning that some of the hides were inaccessible without wellies.  I was a little disappointed as I had left my wellies at home.  Luckily I was wearing the pair of 70s glam rock platform shoes that I always wear bird-watching, so the deeper puddles were no problem.       
In one of the other hides I was surprised to spot a couple of terns perched on a small platform in the water.  On closer inspection I discovered that they were plastic dummies.  I'm often caught out by this kind of thing, like when I spot an owl or peregrine falcon perched on buildings around town, only to discover they're fake ones placed there to scare off pigeons from hanging about on the rooftops.

I can only presume Leighton Moss has a problem with fish hanging about on the islands so use this tactic to scare them off.  Although, a sign did say it was an attempt to encourage terns to come and breed on this sight, I guess in the same way dating apps create lots of fake accounts to try and attract users.

The birds at Leighton Moss are very accommodating...

... possibly picking up on the northern friendliness.  I had great close up views of dunnocks, robins, wrens, chaffinches, green finches, gold finches, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, pheasants, ducks, collard doves and mallards in the gardens, and some good views of wigeon, teal, pochard, shoveller, tufted duck, golden eye, great crested grebe, little grebe, snipe, oyster catcher, lapwings and marsh harriers from the hides.  I even caught a couple of good glimpses of water rail in the reeds.  Add all of these to the sounds of Cetti's, curlew and, of course, bittern then it wasn't too shabby a day after all.

The reserve is very blessed with volunteers.  Everywhere you looked there was someone in a blue jumper going about informing.

For example, did you know, that eels spawn their eggs in the the Bahamas and then let them drift on the tide over to the UK to hatch?  Apparently under the dark waters of Leighton Moss the place is crawling with eels!  And there lies another difference with where I have just moved from, if this were East London the ponds would be full of hungry cockneys with barrels of jelly.

I stopped off at the visitor's centre to get mugged by the cafe (it's all for a good cause) and then headed home.

Fun bonus game:  In the above picture there is actually a dunnock hiding!  Dunnocks are so boring that they are almost impossible to see, making for the perfect camouflage.  Can you spot the dunnock in the picture? 

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Romance isn't dead at Alexandra lake

As I approached Wanstead's Alexandra pond on my first patch outing of the year I saw three figures standing opposite a clump of leafless willows growing out of the island in the centre of the lake.

 It was here that a Yellow-Browed Warbler had been sighted.  Two of the watchers stood silently next to one another, I didn't recognise either.  The third stood a good ten meters to their left, buried in gore tex and so well hidden that I couldn't work out if I knew them or not.  I decided to stand next to the two and make my perfunctory greetings, to which one replied with a grunt and the other made some comment about his toes.

We stood in silence for half an hour before another birdwatcher joined us, another one I didn't recognise.  He too decided to stand with the three of us and the solitary one remained, un-moving, staring at the bushes.  After an hour we were joined by Bob, a face I recognised, and we stared some more, in our little group of five, at the empty willows. Bob and I tried not to talk too much and ruin the atmosphere.  The silent figure, possibly a mannequin, gazed on.

After more silence, and more staring, one of the original two, the one who had mentioned his toes when I arrived, spoke again.  "Well, I better be getting back to the missus!"  With that he turned around and walked a few steps to stand, in silence, next to the solitary character to our left.

Bob and I then went to look at some other birds and eat bacon.        

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Dana dana dana dana BATWALK

As I seem to be working all day every day lately, and not finding the time to go out and look at birds, I decided to participate in the Wren group's bat walk around Wanstead Park in order to get at least some form of nature fix.  I asked whether it would be okay to wear my Batman costume for the event, and permission was granted.  However, when I looked in the wardrobe all I found was a Superman one.  I thought I'd just look stupid if I went in a superman outfit so didn't bother in the end.  Despite it being marketed as a 'bat walk' we didn't see any bats actually walking, but we did come across a number that were flying.

For those that don't know what a bat am...

A bat is a type of mammal that is mostly a bird.  Think upon the bat as a strange demon-rat with wings.  They are to be irrationally feared and persecuted.  Bats are turned to dust by direct sunlight so only come out at night, which is pretty shady.  They are also unable to enter churches or eat garlic. Aesop probably tells us why this is.

Lady bats have boobs, which is the best thing about being a mammal.  Science loves boobs so much that it named the whole order of mammals after it (mamma = boobies in Latin).  What's more, the 'bat-nip' is actually located in the arm-pit, for modesty reasons.  Bats are as blind as a bat, so rely on echolocation and Sat Nav to know where the hell they're going.

On the walk we saw a good number of Pipistrelles, both common and Soprano, and a couple of Daubenton.  Last time, back in July, we had a Noctule as well, but there was no sign of any today.  It was too dark to take pictures, but see below a sketch what I done of the Batwalk...

Saturday, 21 June 2014


Like many other birdwatchers in the summer months, on those long days when there's nothing else to do, I have been thinking about what hats would best suit different species of birds.  Here are just some of my findings...

Jay = Victorian Gent Top-hat
Tufted Duck = Fez

Coot - Backwards Baseball-Cap

Heron - Skullcap

Long-Eared Owl = Viking Helmet

Robin goes without saying

If you have done your own research into this subject why not leave a comment below and the team here at the Loadabullfinch Offices will use the information to lobby Chris Packham to do something about it.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Med Gull Masochist

I hadn't been on the patch for much of February so thought I'd try to pop out this weekend.  Friday came and I had a couple of spare hours hanging about so I thought I'd use them in the field.  But instead of going bird watching I decided to do some masochism instead.  Masochism is where you inflict pain on yourself by going out into blistering, freezing cold winds in not enough clothes and checking every single one of the 1,000 or so gulls for a Mediterranean gull which isn't there any more.  If you are a level two Masochist you will check each gull a second and a third time, just in case.  Initially I was using a pair of binoculars and my camera to try and find the bird that had been reported just that morning, but even when I busted out a pair of rose tinted glasses it was still nowhere to be seen.  I thought that if I stared at black-headed gulls long enough they would eventually morph into a Med.  If you have never experienced this side of birding before, allow me to recreate it here for you...

For the Loadabullfinch Med Gull Masochist Challenge you will need...

- Frozen items from your freezer
- Assorted torture devices
- Binoculars
- Camera
- Scope
- 1,000 gulls (we like to use an 80/20 splt of common and black-heads with a sprinkling of Herring    and Lesser-Black-Back)

1.) Begin by smashing your hope, enjoyment and sense of satisfaction into a fine powder using a pestle and mortar, if you don't have a pestle and mortar you can do this by waking up early, looking out of your window and seeing how miserable and dark the day is, trekking out on to Wanstead Flats in a blizzard and standing around like a numpty.

2.)  Take the frozen items; peas, beans, ice-cream etc and cover your naked feet in them until the numbness is replaced by seething pain.  Then use the torture devices to gently remove pieces of your feet and hands, starting with the finger and toe nails and slowly moving to the base of the digits.  You may also like to try smashing your nose off with a frozen hammer. 

3.) Jab violently at your eyes with sticks, bee stings and needles until tears pour down your face.  Then look at the following images one by one...

  Not a Med Gull
Not a Med Gull
Not a Med Gull
Not a Med Gull
Not a Med Gull
Not a Med Gull
Not a Med Gull
4.)  Now move to the other side of your room and cross your eyes and try looking at the pictures again, but this time really, really want them to be a Med Gull.
Still not a Med Gull
Still not a Med Gull
Still not a Med Gull
Still not a Med Gull
Still not a Med Gull
Still not a Med Gull
Still not a Med Gull
5.)  Now you can weep into your bins and consider taking up train spotting or looking at Eddie Stobart lorries and then figure, hey, I've already sacrificed my limbs, I may as well give it another shot...
Wow!  Its a... wait... no it's not
Hmmm... no change
I hate myself
Is that even a gull anymore?

Yeah, definitely just another black-headed gull
6.) Then go home, you sad, pathetic freak.
I also tried to do the same thing on Saturday morning.  But it was ruined by  a Med gull which was, pretty much, the first bird I saw.