Who am I?

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An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to the see the natural world as a place for competition. I catch fish, watch birds, derive immense pleasure from simply looking at butterflies, moths, bumble-bees, etc - without the need for rules! I am Dylan and this is my blog - if my opinions offend? Don't bother logging on again - simple!

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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Full circle?

Looking at my "Blogger" dashboard, I am slightly bemused, and very humbled, by the audience stats. It would seem that Americans are far more interested in what I've been up to - going way back into 2012; than those closer to home. A check of my most visited posts reveal that my thoughts on Kilchurn Bay pike angling have become the big news and that nonsense surrounding a Yellow-browed Warbler has all but disappeared.
So, in line with my previous offering, I will attempt to offer an insight into the journey that I have experienced in pursuit of the Northern Pike (Esox lucius) and how I have re-discovered an enjoyment that had been lost. (See Steve Gale's comment on yesterday's post - I am not alone)
I would have been in my mid-teens when I caught my first pike, a small jack, on a live roach fished under a "Fishing Gazette" bung - complete with a shop bought snap tackle. The venue was Pixie's Mere, Bourne End, Herts - now right behind my brother Tim's house, except today it's full of carp and the tench and pike are but a memory to us old uns. It wasn't the size of the fish that mattered, it was the hunting instinct within, the quarry, with their unblinking eyes and razor sharp teeth, it was man against beast at the very base level.There would have been little thought, and great deal less skill, involved in that initial capture - chuck and chance being the best description of my methods. Pike are creatures of instinct and opportunism; sadly "they don't get clever, they get dead" (a quote from Jim Gibbinson) - once a population of fish are subjected to heavy angling pressure the results fall away in direct correlation to the number of fish caught. Quite simply - pike are unable to recover from repeat capture within a short period.
A very modest pike from the Grand Union Canal, Boxmoor.
From Pixie's, and my initial success, I headed off to other venues. The Grand Union Canal runs right through Hemel Hempstead and was scene to many a pike fishing session. I never did get a "double" from the canal, but saw a couple caught by other anglers - 11lbs being the best.
November 1981 - 20 lbs 3oz 
Working for Kodak Ltd, it was simple to get access to their Water End fishery and become the first angler to take a 20lbs + pike from this venue - no one else went pike fishing there! It was my first twenty and, in 1981, the spark which lit the flame.
A superb pike of 23 lbs 5 oz - Wilstone Res. 22.12.1986
From the intimacy of these surroundings, it was a giant leap of faith - fired on by the successful tench fishing exploits - that I made the transition to the mighty Tring Reservoir complex. I would love to be able to say that I took the venue apart, but it is not true. I struggled to get to grips with the scale and intricacies of the problems posed. My successes were hard earned although, with hind sight, a lot of my issues were of my own making. I was in awe of the place, particularly Wilstone, and didn't approach the task with any level of confidence. Walking around Wilstone recently, I couldn't believe how small it was? How could I have been so perplexed by the challenge?
My only 20lbs pike from a river. (08.01.1987 ) The River Thames - Mapledurham, Berks.
I didn't stop there; the River Thames and River Avon (the Hampshire one) and the Fenland Drains were all subjected to my angling exploits, with varying levels of success. Pike were caught with some sort of regularity; many lessons were learnt and adventures had.
Every thing in the garden was rosy until 1993! We had a Wrathall family holiday in Florida - Disney and the Keys (Barracuda), which I followed up (five days later) with a fortnight in Madeira fishing for Atlantic Blue Marlin (very successfully) I came back to the UK completely head-f*cked. How could I possibly get enjoyment from a pike, a roach or a tench after what I'd just experienced? Thus, eighteen years on a birding sabbatical! There were many other factors involved, none more so than moving from Hertfordshire to Kent with my job. Birds had always been a part of my angling, long before wine, women and work came into my consciousness , however, once I got to Kent birding became my primary pastime to such an extent that, looking back, I had become obsessed by it.
Something had to give! What a surprise - my first marriage became a casualty of this crazy obsession and, although the damage had been done, provided a much needed wake up call for me to get some balance back into my life. I met Bev and things slowly started to take shape - what I'd thought important became less so; my interest Kent listing and everything associated with it dwindled. I still birded hard, the Isle of Thanet (where Bev and I had started our new life) was to see the bulk of my efforts. I have many great memories of days spent around the North Foreland/Foreness coastline or stomping across the Minster Marshes - some very nice birds found for my efforts.
Bev and I had discovered the joys of holidaying in the Eastern Mediterranean and my birding became more diluted as a consequence. My fortnights in the sun provided me with enough challenges and avian excitement to ensure that Thanet quickly became very "samey" - I was in a very similar situation as when I'd arrived home from Madeira back in 1993. Benno to the rescue! Angling has always been my first love, those of my generation still think of ourselves as countrymen, akin to the shooters and fieldsport enthusiasts of yesteryear, many of whom were also superb naturalists!
A "double" from that first trip back to Loch Awe - May 2011
That "one off" trip back to Loch Awe has an awful lot to answer for, it re-ignited the passion for angling that had lain dormant for all those years. Being a lot older and a little wiser, I know that this time around I will not allow it to become the obsession that it had previously been. A life in balance - that's what I need and with a little luck and the realisation that there are other, far more important things in the world I might achieve my aims. I still seek the thrills of a rod bent into a hard fighting fish, the sight and sound of wild geese dropping onto the Kent Marshes, the discovery of a wintering Dartford Warbler in a patch of coastal scrub or a migrant Hawk-moth on the egg boxes within my moth trap - no I don't think I could, or would, change if I had a choice. What goes around, comes around - my life in full circle!
Benno with a RMC pike of 16 lbs 9 oz
The pike fishing is now far more relaxed, I derive as much pleasure from Ben landing a decent fish as I do when I'm successful. I can't wait until Bryn and Emily are able to tag along - the chance to pass on the thrill of angling to my grandchildren will be matched only by their reaction when they first experience the electric sensation of the pull a fish on their line. To be able to share the joy of being outdoors, the natural wonders that are to be witnessed, yes indeed - I have very much to look forward to and when the time comes for them to hook their first Esox the circle will be complete.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Hobbies only need rules if they're competitive?


At the risk of re-opening old wounds I feel that it is appropriate for me to restate my present views on lists, listing and league tables (within a natural history context). I certainly don't expect everyone to agree with my opinions but, at least be prepared to accept that there are possibly others which differ from your own; something I discovered, and now accept, since the first time I posted a blog entry!
Competitive listing is probably what first attracted me to birding. The excitement of a new species, seen in the company of equally enthusiastic; yet relatively inexperienced/novice, birders. Twitching - the compilation of a list - nothing more and certainly in no way does that particular facet of birdwatching aid science, conservation or further understanding of behaviour or feather tracts. One thing which cannot be denied, however, is that it is a very enjoyable way of spending time outdoors in like-minded company.

Summer plumage American Golden Plover
Pegwell Bay - found and identified by Francis Solly
County listing and patch watching are just as capable of triggering that competitive spirit and, as such, the desire to demonstrate your prowess by means of league tables - just look at the runaway success of the "Patch Watch Challenge"; there is obviously a demand. The key to the whole birding/twitching debate must surely come down to personal opinions and values, and does that individual enjoy it?

Black Redstart on our bungalow roof.
If you are unable to get pleasure from this - why do you look?
The recent upsurge in the Pan-listing phenomenon, attempting to id as many species as your time, ability and interests, allow, is no different. I have absolutely no problems with any individual who wishes to push their search for knowledge to the very limit. I also have no issues with the guys who take it to the next level by joining in with Pan-listing League.
However, from where I am sitting, I find it increasingly difficult to buy in to this "I must be better than you, cos I'm higher up the league" crap. Leagues are about egos and results, is this where our natural history studies are heading. Are the next generation to inherit a system that is based upon an Excel spreadsheet?
I sincerely hope not. For all the functions that sport is able to satisfy, our enjoyment of the world in which we live is not able to be measured by baseline statistics.

Silver-washed Fritillary - Corfu 
If the only purpose of our natural heritage is to supply individuals with a "tick in a box" then we have lost sight of why we started looking, in the first place? As a wide-eyed child (58 year old!) - a dragonfly dashing around the reedy margins of a village pond, a Buzzard soaring on a thermal, a ladybird allowed to "fly away home" - it is these things that fire the imagination, ignite the flame within. These days, being handed a pot containing a moth- usually a rather scarce visitor to Thanet, putting the net under a fish for my son, showing Emily a grasshopper, stumbling across a Great Grey Shrike on my way home from work - moments that have no measure away from a personal perspective, yet remain priceless.

Male Common Darter - Turkey 2012

For many of us, it is the simple pleasure of looking at (not identifying) our fellow inhabitants that creates the enjoyment of being outdoors. If there can ever be a scale for enjoyment - my name might be very close to the top! So what I am really trying to say, I think?. is that everyone can derive the benefits of being in the company of the natural world, just there are many differing ways that we seek to enrich our own lives - enjoyment must surely be the defining measure? If you're not enjoying yourself, and it's not your job; why did you choose it as a hobby? The bottom line is that no-one has to justify why they find any pastime to be of personal interest - "if it lights your candle?" then that's fine by me.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

I take so much for granted

I had originally started this post with the title "We take so ...etc..", but then thought it rather pretentious; how could I possibly know how other folk view their worlds? There have been a couple of things, of late, that have impacted massively on my life, and my faith in the system of which am part.
Firstly, Bev and I purchased a Ford C Max from the Perry's dealership in Canterbury. A lovely clean motor which fitted all our requirements i.e. - spacious, easy access for getting our elderly parents in and out plus ease of moving grandchildren and the assorted kit which comes as standard when young kids are involved, 14 weeks after we'd taken delivery (delayed by two days as the salesman was away on a "Customer Service Course" in Basingstoke! You will see the ironic side of this if you continue reading?) the car suffered a complete gearbox failure; the diagnosis being a replacement at a cost of £3,500 (Invicta Ford at Westwood Cross).
Now whilst I am no mechanic, this seemed a little too major to be just "a thing that motorists put up with" and, despite being two weeks out of warranty, Bev contacted Perry's to be given a load of cobblers about warranties and such-like. The good thing for us, although not immediately apparent, was the fact that we'd a finance agreement with Black Horse and, as such, technically the car belonged to them! Citizens Advice put us in contact with the Financial Services Ombudsman who, giving the complaint a unique reference number, then told Bev to speak to Black Horse and quoting the 1973 "Sale of goods Act" in which it states that items must be fit for purpose. Black Horse were first class and immediately set about getting Perry's to repair the car - the law stating that they had eight weeks in which to complete the task. We were also provided with funds to hire a replacement vehicle whilst this saga unfolded - we got five weeks at £183, so over £900!To cut a very sorry saga short; Perry's (at Canterbury) were woeful, their side-stepping and excuses being a pathetic attempt at avoiding their legal obligation as an agent of Black Horse. We were invited back to Perry's to collect our repaired C Max 7 weeks and six days after the intervention of the Ombudsman. Bev had been in conversation with our case manager, at Black Horse, who had advised that she keep the hire car until an independent assessor had checked the gear-box, Due to work commitments, I wasn't able to drive Bev to pick the car up until the following morning. What a farce, the Finance Company insisted on us getting a six month warranty on the repaired gear-box, in writing. Well, for their customers, sitting around in the plus new car showroom, it might have been a bit of a surprise to see Bev, almost in tears, when the car was unable to be collected; the gear-box not having been replaced but, instead, a new torque converter had been fitted? The car still had no gear-box function! Bev confronted the Service Manager (a guy called Nick) and, after expressing her total dissatisfaction with the whole Perry's experience, handed the phone to him, as on the other end was a rather irked Black Horse case manager (a guy called Kevin).
A pathetic display of grovelling apologies, but still no grasp of the legal side of this whole charade, Bev and I left Canterbury knowing that Perry's Head Office would now be getting dragged into the fray.
Black Horse have written the car off, we received our deposit back and all payments made during the period, that we were without the car, plus a couple of hundred quid as compensation for the phone calls and inconvenience of the experience; Kevin explaining that Black Horse would get the money back from Perry's along with an admin fee and other corporate expenses - surely it would have been easier and cheaper to comply with the law and fix the gear-box? I certainly couldn't recommend Perry's (at Canterbury) to anyone!
We take delivery of a Mazda 5 on Wednesday, purchased from Chapel Car Sales, at Ospringe. who were recommended to me by a couple of guys at work. Whatever the mechanical performance of the new car, I feel confident that the after sales service will be a much better quality than we got from that branch of Perry's.
So while I'm rambling on - my other major life change has been the temporary custody of our grandchildren, Emily and Harry, whilst my Step-daughter receives some, much needed, medical help to combat clinical depression. Two kids running amok in our little bungalow is a challenge for Bev and I, both on a physical and logistical level, but our only option? It was a no brainer as we would never allow them to be taken into care. It is times like now when you discover who your real friends are; we have been inundated with offers of help and will surely be calling on a few favours as the weeks go by. Fishing might well get relegated to the subs bench all the while this situation remains. My only other news is that I saw my first butterfly of 2014, when I flushed a Small Tortoiseshell from the footpath (where the Great Grey Shrike was) on my way home from work on Friday afternoon and there was a Buff-tailed Bumblebee exploring the garden borders, later in the day.


Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Can I tick it? Yes I can - but I don't have to!

Birds, birding, twitching and associated stuff - "Blogland" is awash with thoughts surrounding these subjects,at present. I have joined in the melee and  made my own thoughts known, via recent posts, yet still, inspite of my cynicism, find topics with which I'm able to feel empathy.
Bad behaviour at twitches? Nothing has changed since I started serious listing in the late 80's (post 1987, at a guess).- I didn't really get the bug until moving to Kent, in August 1993. I cringe at the antics I got involved with; but only with the benefit of hindsight. When I was there, and part of the mob, it was a sensational period of my existence and, as such, I wouldn't change a thing. Two Greater Yellowlegs (Welshe's Dam,Cambs and Elmley RSPB,Kent), a Snowy Owl Wainsfleet, Lincs, Bridled Tern Hanningfield Res. Essex, and so many, many more. An Ivory Gull in Suffolk, December 1999, might be the last time I travelled beyond the Kent borders to "twitch" but they were happy and exciting times. How things have moved on? Like reformed smokers - us, stopped twitching, birders are the most vocal in our critique of the present generation and, I think, slightly envious of the Peter Pan-like enthusiasm of a certain LGRE. How does anyone remain so fanatical?
A Harris Hawk on the Ash Levels.
At no time did it enter my head to think that this could be a genuine vagrant.
It was still a very enjoyable encounter.
I have arrived at this point in my life, via a mind-boggling, roller coaster ride, which has provided ecstatic highs and excruciating lows, but not in equal measure - the highs are way in front at a ratio of 100 - 1. I've had times when my head wasn't capable of rational thought; birds being more important than a 20 year marriage and my family! Crazy times, fantastic times - spent in the company of some of the most talented birders anyone could ever hope to meet. Still it's "spilt milk" and things have moved on - Bev and I have now been together for 14 years and my life has meandered across the floodplain of mid-life with many happy intrusions along the  way. My daughter's wedding, four grand-children, the rediscovery of the enjoyment of "speccy hunting" and, as part of the deal, my son - this is the total focus for the rest of my days. Every thing that I failed to be, at my first attempt, I am committed (and many say I should be!) to be better at this time round.
It was not possible to get excited by this sighting. An adult Harris Hawk over
Long Shaw Farm fishery - complete with attendant Carrion Crows
It  didn't  detract from my pleasure of watching the spectacle and the interaction of the
birds involved.
I know that I can catch fish, I know that I am able to id (the majority of) birds, butterflies, dragonflies, moths and the odd assorted invertebrate that I encounter - so my goal must be to pass this gift/desire, to look at our natural world, on to my successors. If that is all I achieve - I will have been a success, in my opinion.
I live by my own set of rules and these govern my entire outlook. I work hard and I play hard; I am a loyal friend and a c**t of an enemy; the natural world is my playground, my hobby, and my distraction from the trials of everyday living.
A Saker-like Falcon - over Stodmarsh NNR, Carrion Crows in attendance again.
No sign of jesses, yet given the timing, I have never been tempted to pursue the record further.

Of my lists?; my feeling being that if I've seen enough to get a confident id, then it's included. However, if I'm being truthful to myself (and I have to be!) and the likely-hood of escape far outweighs genuine vagrancy, I will go with my gut feeling and not with a consensus, driven by adrenaline and desire. Hooded Merganser at Chilham - a fence hopper by statistically balanced analysis. If I've fucked up? Who dies, who loses out? I still saw it, just I've chosen not to include it on a list which pertains to my own personal standards - no big deal.
This bird was accepted  as a Black Brant!
In my opinion (the only one that matters to me) it is nothing better than an intergrade
Dark-bellied Brent X Black Brant (of unknown combination)
The real deal - a Black Brant.
It didn't require a great deal of skill to spot that this, black and white, individual possessed the
full set of  criteria required for confident id.
Pale-bellied Brent Goose - a very scarce visitor to the Kent shoreline
I refuse to allow others to make decisions, of such pettiness, on my behalf. If I am happy with the id, and credentials, then it is on my list (whatever form that takes) - I don't require the comfort of agreement, by others, in order to conform with a system which is alien to my own.
A first year male (?) goshawk: over our Dumpton garden (APRIL 2012)
The id has been questioned by a complete fuck-wit!
He wasn't there and knows nothing about raptor id, away from Sheppey, yet
claims to be an expert. What he thinks, and that twat "Splodge" for that matter, matters
nothing to me. The tear drop markings on the breast, day-glo white undertail coverts, rounded tail shape and thick-set pelvic region, plus the fact it was the size of a buzzard, a Goshawk for me - every time!
I've got it wrong? Then I will have to learn, for myself, why?

Friday, 14 February 2014

Absurdly pointless yet undeniably enjoyable

I think the title for this post is almost a perfect description of my life! Kids and grand-children apart, they are so very important and ultimately my legacy, thus in no way can they be described as pointless, the rest of my life has been a blast. I played football, I watched football (QPR in the 1970's/80's)I  went fishing and watched birds (yes, I was a "twitcher" at some point in my past!) and now I go fishing again - each and every one of these phases being etched in my memory as a pleasurable period.
A first-winter male Desert Wheatear at Reculver
Great memories of good times and a smart little bird to enjoy!
What contribution to the greater good of mankind any of these activities has made, is very debatable, yet it is those same experiences that have gotten me to where I am today. Sitting in our tea room, yesterday, with my work-mates we got into a discussion about our various hobbies. One is a keen cyclist, so £2,000 for a push-bike is a justifiable expense, a couple of the others are into "classic motorcycles" and are equally willing to pour funds into their projects. When it was my turn, I had to admit that I'd paid good money for optics and fishing gear - and have no qualms about buying the best I can afford, in order to enjoy my chosen hobbies.
No-one admitted to stamp collecting or plane spotting, yet if they had I'm confident that their commitment and enjoyment would be no less worthy. "Whatever floats your boat!"
Junco at Dungeness - looking at this image is akin to listening to a Jimi Hendrix track.
There was so much more going on than simply "twitching" a Kent tick!
I have to admit that birding has lost its' draw for me. Being a cynical old git (something I find increasingly easy with the passing of time) I poke fun at those who are still actively engaged in this fantastic hobby. At some stage, in the future, I might rediscover the thrills of birding - just as I have with angling. Until then, however, I will continue to offer an opinion on this completely unimportant pursuit, knowing that there are many individuals deriving immense pleasure from this particular form of pointlessness! (It really helps the blog stats!)
Does it matter that I no longer find birding a draw?
I do not foresee a day when I am unable to look at our natural world without gaining immense pleasure.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Writing for (me) fun


I've posted this essay previously (The Non-conformist Blog) but have just rediscovered it, in a long forgotten file, on my external hard-drive. It was written whilst Bev and I were on our first holiday together in the Mediterranean. We were staying on Menorca, with my family, and it was my first visit to the region. Nigel Jarman (one of the Bockhill crew) had told me that the Med was capable of "blowing me away". This piece is testament to that prophecy!
I've added a few photos, that weren't taken at the time, just for effect - I hope you like it?

Binissaida - Dylan Wrathall (May 2001)

Waking early - the view, from the bedroom window, was not all I had hoped. Heavy grey clouds rolled in from the sea and there was a hint of rain in the air. The first morning in new surroundings and I looked forward to exploring the area around the villa. I was on Menorca, staying at Villa St. Joan, Binnisaida, for my first ever holiday in "The Med". Friends warned the experience had the potential to impact on my mind in spectacular fashion. I dressed quickly, excitedly anticipating what awaited me beyond the garden walls?
The ravages of the Foot and Mouth epidemic had played havoc in the Kent countryside, but I was now free to roam unhindered. I unlocked the door and ventured forth into the unknown. Immediately I was struck by a bewildering display of wild flowers, their scent heavy and creating an atmosphere unlike any previously encountered. Obviously well adapted to their dry environment, many plants were thorny and brittle to the touch, yet supported flowers of breath taking colour. Sadly my botanical knowledge is minimal and I could but guess at the species involved.

It was not plants, however, that had created the inner expectancy, but birds, those known only from the pages of field guides and magazines, yet now within my reach. I was here to enjoy every encounter to the full. Becoming aware of a distant Nightingale singing, the constant "poop, poop, poop" of Hoopoes emanated from several directions as rival males competed for territorial dominance. I walked slowly, ears straining for clarity at each snippet of unfamiliar song borne on the muggy wind. I watched a male Sardinian Warbler atop a stone wall. Beak filled with insects, it paused momentarily to offer a scolding chatter in my direction, before diving into the cover that hid a nest full of young. Nearby several other males were singing their scratchy mix of squeaks and whistles that became so much a part of the ambiance.
My list grew as other, more familiar, species were encountered along the lane that led towards the coast at Es Castell. Stonechats were common, resplendent in jet black and white livery, and so very different from the coastal migrants encountered at home during the autumn. I peered across a parched field causing two Stone Curlews to flush from the ground. As they went, uttering their wailing "curl-ee" calls, flashing white wing-bars contrasting starkly with the cryptic mix of brown and black. A heavy-bodied lark landed upon a stone wall away to my right and proceeded to sing a wonderful mixture of simple notes. Lifting my binoculars, the culprit was revealed as a Thekla. The weak sun, struggling to break through the grey skies, provided perfect viewing conditions to study plumage detail and that ludicrous crest!
I continued onward, my binoculars being constantly raised to gaze upon a heady array of species. I got fantastic views of an adult Tawny Pipit foraging amongst some cattle in similar fashion to our Yellow Wagtails. Approaching the coastal footpath, I became aware of a singing Blue Rock Thrush, the melancholy lament drifting on the breeze. A quick scan through my "bins" showed the songster perched high on a ruined building accompanied by a Kestrel. As I watched, the Thrush launched itself into the air, then, still in full song, parachuted down on open wings before gliding to rest on a rocky outcrop. Quite a magnificent display!

Nearer the sea, the sun seemed to be winning the battle. My jeans and shoes were saturated from traversing wet vegetation yet, somehow, it didn't matter. I could hear the distant rattle of an outboard as a small, open topped, fishing boat headed off into the morning. Stopping for a while, I watched, with some amusement, the antics of a young Mediterranean Shag attempting to catch fish just off the coastal rocks. Gulls loafing on the rooftops were identified as Western Yellow-legged. Amazed to find that I had been out for nearly two hours my thoughts turned to breakfast; time for one last scan?
Two interesting looking gulls were slightly apart from the main flock. Using my binoculars their identity was confirmed. Their backs glowing silver, like newly buffed pewter. Long grey/green legs and yellow-tipped, crimson bills, combining with sleekness Lamborghini could only dream of, produced a vision of avian perfection. Two, summer plumaged, adult Audouin's Gulls all of my own.
I recall standing that morning, staring in awe, transfixed by an image, of stunning intensity. Memories of childhood overwhelmed my senses. The impact of those beautiful birds recaptured an excitement, just as when first I gazed, wide-eyed, upon the fabulous creatures depicted within the pages of "Petterson's" classic field guide. On my first "Mediterranean morning", for one magical instant, I was, as predicted, completely blown away!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

I fear that it will end in tears?

There has been a "Squacco-like" heron in the West Hythe to Saltwood area for several weeks. Ian Roberts and his Folkestone website have received odd snippets from residents around the area; with supporting images. The initial Squacco id was quickly questioned and the alternative Indian, or even better a Chinese, Pond Heron thrown into the mix. Now this is where things might get interesting - an Indian Pond Heron isn't likely to be cause for little more than amusement. A Chinese Pond Heron has vagrancy potential - therefore a "tick" for those rabid individuals who seek such feathered things; "just for insurance purposes, you understand - didn't really think it was genuine!"
A Squacco Heron - Greece 2009
All the while this feathered waif remained an enigma, you seek it here - you seek it there, it wasn't a problem to those folk of Hythe and Saltwood. Now the lid's off, Martin Casemore has posted directions to a site where he has photographed the bird. Some fantastic images that aid the id of Chinese Pond Heron (as announced by Birdguides - without any doubts) so tomorrow should see the invasion of the desperate.
Birding Frontiers have fanned the flames. Good luck to Mr Garner, I wish I'd spotted that niche in the market, but please - don't feed me all that limp-wristed drivel. Birding Frontiers are all man made - birds have no concept of such things.
Another Squacco Heron, again from Greece.
The lack of orange tones on the lower mandible are a useful aid.
Back to Hythe and Saltwood - what have Ian Roberts and Co got to look forward to? Riotous behavior by a mob whose soul purpose will be to see (tick) a Chinese Pond Heron, at whatever cost. No chance of respecting the privacy of the residents, or sticking to the UK400 club code of practice - it will be a free for all as the long lens brigade charge around seeking to get ever closer.
Let's hope that my cynical swipe is way off the mark and that those who do make the journey, to see this bird, are able to enjoy the experience without impacting on the local community? I feel sure that the good folk of the area will l enjoy the experience of the school run being even more chaotic, than usual, as inconsiderate "twitchers" park in stupid places, to avoid walking. Flood water, the rush hour, a closed motor way and now this; I look forward to reading all about it and, no, I won't be going!
Scrum down - twitch on!
This was for a Fan-tailed Warbler ,at Pegwell Bay, in September 2009

Monday, 10 February 2014

"Smile and wave boys!" - musing on

One of the great benefits of being a grand parent is that you can watch cartoons without a need for excuses. The series of Madagascar dvd's is a regular source of amusement, when Emily and Harry are in our custody - I'm sure you know the score? I simply have to watch them in order to keep the kids happy. The penguins, for me, are the real stars of the show and their "Smile and Wave" quote is particularly relevant to my own experiences whilst in the process of commissioning our new "Marco" packing machine. Those of us, who were charged with the successful pioneering of this new technology were frequently under the scrutiny of any number of management groups - "Smile and wave boys - smile and wave" was our collective response whenever we felt that we were in the spotlight; good times.
This blogging lark seems to produce similar situations only, this time of my own making, instead of one produced by the industry in which I work. Having a thick skin is the basic requirement within a factory - it is a brutally honest environment where mercy is very rarely found. Blogland, also, is a rather unpleasant world where total strangers can make personal insults, safe in the knowledge that they are able to remain anonymous. Spineless wankers, who'd last less than a shift in a factory - there's no hiding places in there. It matters not; it's simply a symptom of technological advancement (progress?). The world is a much smaller place today than when I was a child - sadly I see very little progress as a by-product of the massive advances in information technology. Stupid bickering - it is the route cause of religious, racial, homo-phobic and political intolerance; this new technology means that it can be perpetuated at a speed that was previously unthinkable.
I don't use Facebook or Twitter - a techno-phobic dullard being the best description of my understanding of social networking. (My dad is on Facebook!) I have no "crystal ball" or insider information, yet I fear for where this ease of communication will take humanity. Radicals are able to spread their poison (single-subject fanatics are the very core of all that is going wrong with our world) without regard to the rules of civilisation, as defined by the United Nations. What point, two world wars, if humanity has not the collective intelligence to learn from that insane waste of life? For once I don't think that "Smile and wave" will help this situation?

Sunday, 9 February 2014

We struggled!

Benno, Luke and myself were back for another session after the "day ticket" perch - but why? The wind was a boisterous (poetic license?); ridiculous 45 mph+, SW gale which made float fishing a nightmare and accurate casting little more than a lottery!
As it happens, I took all the plaudits (and fish) with my catch of five fish - shame that they were all Bream! The best one would have been a fantastic perch, yet was just another "snotter!"
A Redpoll (Lesser?) - a most complex group of species (not!)
There are many racial variations of this basic design - much like Crossbills and Homo sapiens!
It would take a politician, of some radical party, to suggest that humanity was
a mixed species population - so why are avian taxonomists so happy to
announce, yet another, new species based upon some dubious criteria?
Luke took the only perch, losing a second, on the float, whilst Benno took over my mantle - he blanked!
The highlights were provided by the avian visitors to the venue. I recorded Kingfisher, Green Sandpiper, Little Egret, before I'd got the rods cast out. A mixed flock of Greenfinches, Goldfinches and Redpolls provided the bulk of my entertainment - the Redpolls being my focus; could I find anything interesting amidst their ranks. Obviously my thinking was along the lines of a Mealy (Common) or better. Best I could muster was a, BTO-type, metal ringed male, possibly a bird ringed by SBBOT?

I'm becoming boring, I know, but why bother with metal rings in 2014?

Friday, 7 February 2014

Unexpected encounter

With this, seemingly endless, wind and rain it should really be no surprise to encounter odd species in places where you'd least expect; they being displaced by the freakish conditions? So it was today, as I made my way home from work, I stumbled upon a Common Frog. It was rather lethargic and, as it was in the middle of Vine Close, I decided to pick it up and place it in the relative safety of our back garden. Frogs are certainly seen on an annual basis in/around our garden but this individual does seem a little early? We have no pond and, as far as I am aware, neither do my surrounding neighbours. It does, however, seem that Thanet supports a healthy population of these amphibians - long may it continue.

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) in the back garden 
The surrounding low lying marshes of the Ash Levels, Chislet, Marshside and Reculver are populated by the introduced Marsh Frog. Not a major problem, but they do seem to be the dominant species all along the Stour Valley - a very good food source for Grey Herons, Bitterns and Marsh Harriers - so their presence isn't without some benefit. I don't spend nearly enough time with this group of our native animals, so it was a very pleasant encounter and, as it was so unexpected, a nice change from complaining about the weather!

Marsh Frog (Rana ridibunda) on the Ash Levels - April 2009

I'm not sure what this is (Yes I know it's a frog, but what species?)
Possibly a Marsh Frog  - the photo was taken in Turkey - May 2010

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Where did that year go?

Mum cutting her 80th birthday cake (01.01.2011) with her brother "Uncle Doodie Pete" looking on.
True to form, a glass of "holy water" helping balance the knife.
Unbelievably it was a year ago, today, that mum died. Bev and I joined Dad, his mate Brian, my daughter Sarah-Jayne and her daughter, Evelyn (named after my mother) for a gathering of the clan. We made a visit to St. Nicholas church, in Ash, so that dad could leave some flowers in mums' memory before we adjourned to the "Frog & Orange" for a bite to eat. Four generations of Wrathalls under the one roof. Dad seems to be coping remarkably well, the day however, was always going to be difficult - I've spoken to my brother Simon, this evening, who said he had a "moment". I didn't need to ask - I know exactly what he experienced.
As always, my work colleagues were supportive and the supervision team prepared to allow me to leave early in order to be with my family - top stuff.
The weather has, once again, made "blogland" headlines; with many a blogger bemoaning the present run of ridiculous gales/rain and seeking to offer some kind of antidote by way of posting pretty images of happier times. Sunshine and flowers, you know the sort of thing.
Corfu - looking down to Agios Gordios (from the high ground to the north)
Of course my memories are happy ones - but the weather has nothing to do with it
It seemed rude not to join in, although sunshine and flowers aren't the first thing that spring to mind when looking for an improvement in the conditions. My archive of photos is capable of providing me with many happy memories, but looking forward is also a very good way of combating the prevailing weather. As the Monty Python team sang, in "The Life of Brian" - always look on the bright side of life!
May 2011 - Benno cradles the first Scottish "twenty" I'd ever seen
Benno, Simon and myself are already embarked on the planning schedule for this year's Scottish sojourn. We might be joined by Luke - we might not? Davie Robertson is hoping to join us, at some point, and (if Ron Thomas is reading this nonsense - do you fancy one more go?) we have high hopes for another enjoyable trip.
If you want to remove the "doom and gloom" of our current weather?
There's not much that can beat a Bee-eater for "WOW" factor

Scotland owes me a twenty; of that I am in no doubt. I have now seen three fish in excess of that magical number - surely my turn will come?
It won't matter what the weather does. Another trip up to the Scottish lochs is going to be a blast!
Benno, Simon and myself are already excited by the prospect. Bring it on!

A year is an awful long time if you spend it watching a clock. I don't and have absolutely no idea where the last one went. I have so much that is positive in my life, that the odd negative (I couldn't catch a perch!) is of no significance. Getting old, enjoying my time with Bev, my grand-children, children, brothers and extended family seems a good enough plan - getting involved with petty squabbles about bird id? If you see a weasel - piss in its' ear!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

A result, at last!

Benno and I were back at our "day ticket" venue for another session after the perch. We gave it the best part of an hour at the "Specimen Lake" before deciding that the carp lads had the best swims tied up and we were wasting our efforts. We quickly made plans and moved to one of the smaller pools - where we had the place to ourselves.
Benno continued to use his successful method of float fished lob-worm, over a carpet of freebies, topped up by regular introductions of maggots. I chose to keep both of my rods set up with running rigs, incorporating a cage/open ended feeder and baited with prawn and worm. My homemade ground bait was simple breadcrumb which was flavoured, coloured and supplemented with a generous helping of dendrabena worms - of which I have an inexhaustible supply in the compost heap besides my aviary. My hook baits were lob-worms which I had collected from the garden; a rather satisfying pastime for an angler.
The weather forecast was for bright sunshine but, it didn't prove to be too accurate and we enjoyed frequent periods of heavy cloud cover and intermittent rainfall - almost text book perfect?
A very welcome fish - in superb condition.
Ben continued to give me a masterclass in the finer points of perch fishing; he ended the morning with five fish to 1lbs 9oz, all on the float (with a centre-pin). My fortunes were a little different - I missed the first bite. A classic slow lift on the swing arm and had to admit that I was, at least, demonstrating my consistency. At 10.10hrs, however, one of my Optonics signalled another bite and, at last, found myself attached to a rather lively fish. Benno suggested it might be a small carp, but I felt sure that it wasn't, although unable to believe I might be playing a perch. After a very spirited battle, Benno slid the net under a fine perch which, on inspection, weighed in at 2lbs 6oz. My fourth over 2lbs and from a new venue - I was made up. We fished on until just after mid-day with no more action. I couldn't care less, I have achieved my first target - now for a 3lb+ specimen. Neither of us has any evidence, apart from hearsay, that a fish of this stamp actually exists within the complex - we are, however, very happy to keep looking as the fishery is a lovely place to spend time whilst we await the RMC to return to something close to normality.