Who am I?

An individual, of no great importance, who is unable to 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!


Thursday 28 February 2013

Lost (enthusiasm ?) Paraguayos

It was some time around 1972 that Rod Stewart penned the lyrics for Lost Paraguayos. The opening verse is a classic (in my opinion!)

Darlin' I hate to tell you,
 but I think I'm catching a cold.
Put another chair on the fire,
Bring the bottle over here,
I feel I'm gettin' old!
These words about summarise my whole outlook, at present. No; I am not homeless and needing to burn furniture in order to remain warm, neither have I descended into the depths of alcoholic oblivion to remove the stresses of everyday life - but I am getting old. It's the energy of this track that brings back memories of my youth and the expectations that I must have had. Two kids, two marriages (only one divorce!) and three (almost four) grand-children later, I find myself wondering where has the time gone and what did I do with it?
When I actually think about it, I've done a great deal. I didn't allow David Attenborough to show me the glories of our natural world - I went out and discovered many of them for myself. I caught huge fish,  have seen whales and dolphins doing their thing, watched migration over the Pyrenees and generally kept myself amused discovering various aspects of natural history that flicked the switch at that particular moment.
I have never been on a "Birding/Wildlife" organised holiday(trip) because I don't want someone else showing me stuff that I'm perfectly capable of finding myself. LGRE and "Truck van Rental" (private joke) may provide their clients with bespoke tours in order to maximise tick potential - what about the learning curve and lessons to be had? Left in the gutter in the haste to get to the next "target" species.
My sojourns into new places is at a far more leisurely pace - I make time to smell the flowers and sample the ambiance (local brew?) in order to savour the occasion and be able to look back with pleasure; not feeling that I'd missed something because I still had a box without a tick! Obviously it must be horses for courses - if you enjoy organised holidays, who am I to cast doubts on their value?
I have accompanied this post with some photos from my escapades out in Turkey. I only know the id of one of the dragonflies (Indigo Drop-wing which is the last of three photos) and have absolutely no idea as to the wasp. If ever I find myself wondering why I bother; it is easy for me to look back through 1,000's of files on my external hard-drive. I then know why I am, who I am, and realise that when the sun returns, so will my desire to get outside and have a look for myself.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Simply getting old

By way of keeping sane, I've been perusing the regular blogs that make up my daily routine, finding myself slightly out of step with current trends. This is nothing to cause me anguish - I've never been considered a trend-setter. A malcontent, an anarchist or simply befuddled - a non-conformist; that'll do for me.
Is it possible to "stop" being a birder? I certainly don't think so. The sad tale of the melt-down of the Beddington "Badgeman" is testament to the self-inflicted pressure that any obsession is capable of exerting. My question would be, "Has Johnny stopped looking at birds?" - to my way of thinking it is impossible for anyone, with such passion, to just switch off. It's all about intensity - what seemed important then - has no relevance now! Birds are everywhere, even in London, so impossible to ignore if you have the slightest interest. It's about balance; a concept that can only come with experience (read age), although it takes longer for some, especially hippies!  I came home from Madeira, in August 1993, and decided that I could see no future in my coarse angling - once I'd landed an Atlantic Blue Marlin where was the fun in fishing for roach?
It has taken twenty years for me to re-discover the joys of fishing, yet this time without the lunacy! Has the reduction in expectation reduced my pleasure? No way; having Benno back in my life ensures that my exploits are as enjoyable as any I can recall. That I lack the intensity is neither here nor there, enjoyment does not require a scale. Birding will remain with me all the time I'm able to draw breath - nothing like as important as I thought during those manic years of Kent year-listing, but something that I will continue to enjoy, although my expectations might be slightly reduced.
When I worked for Unilever, at their Ashford factory, one of my major contributions to the "factory strategy group" was the introduction of "Realistic and Achievable" as measure of our goals. Yes, of course I'd like a Rolls Royce - realistic and achievable? I think not - but there's nothing wrong with dreaming.
So there you have my slant on things - such as they are. Birding, twitching, angling or pan-listing, does it really matter so long as you enjoy yourself. If it becomes too intense then put the handbrake on it, it's a hobby not your job!
Oh yeah; just one more thing - If a Wheatear turns up around Newland's Farm; bet your life that there will be a photo to accompany my post - the day I stop looking is the day they shut the lid!

Tuesday 26 February 2013

It's always been about location

I went to bed, last night, reading the Martin Gay chapter on Pike in the 1979 Earnest Benn "The Big Fish Scene". No; it didn't send me to sleep, quite the opposite in fact! Benno had told me of a thread on an angling forum where someone had asked for advice on where best to pike fish a certain venue. I haven't seen it but got the idea that a reply was posted which was along the lines of "Are you having a laugh? - I've worked hard finding these areas; get off your arse and do the same instead of poncing on the graft of others" It is a sentiment with which I whole-heatedly agree.

The late Les "Cuddly" Duddley with a Middle Level pike of 25lbs+
Even in the early 1980's we knew that if our photos showed too much background
we'd find some other angler fishing the swim when we returned.
Looking through my rather ageing library of angling books, all of the authors place significance on choosing the right areas before worrying about tackle, bait and methods. Rickards & Webb, Fred Buller, Jimmy Gibbinson, John Watson, Neville Fickling, Eddie Turner, et al. - each and every one of these guys stressing the role that locating fish-holding areas plays in any successful pike anglers thinking. It's not that they don't give advice - there is masses of information about features that these guys look for in any given situation. By using their advice as a guidline, plus the benefit of our joint experience, it has been possible for Benno, Tom and myself to divide the Royal Military Canal (all 27 miles of it) into sections and, in our own minds, select sections which have the features we associate with pike. We certainly haven't "emptied" the venue - in fact we have struggled for the most part.
However, on the odd occasion, Benno in particular has hit the jackpot and enjoyed some fabulous sport. I have made mention in an earlier post about the choice of background when photographing fish. I think that we have succeeded with those that I've used to accompany the various posts - if anyone can recognise the swims from the backgrounds then they know the RMC far better than we do, thus deserve to be able to benefit from the fruits of our labours.

Such obvious features, as reed-beds, have to be a starting point when we visit a new venue. This one produced an
18lbs 14oz for Benno at the tail end of the 2011/12 season. Small waters are fairly easy to read, yet difficult to
conquer if fieldcraft is lacking.

I have some fantastic memories of our time spent on the East Kent drain, it reminding me so much of the Cambridgeshire Fens. (where Cuddly, the Mitchalek brothers and myself spent so many happy hours/days/months!)

If I'd posted this image whilst we were still fishing the drain then I feel sure that other local pike anglers
(I use this term very loosely - Eastern European fish thiefs being a bigger problem apparently - ask the
guys at Cottington Fisheries if you want further info) would have descended on the venue and made it
very difficult to fish the swims we had found where regular sport was expected.
Over the past two winters, Benno and I have spent many hours in pursuit of pike. Our joint efforts have produced some very nice fish, along with a sharing of ideas. Nothing revolutionary, just simple tweaking of established techniques which might help in a given situation. Rods, reels, line and hook manufacture, and reliability, has come on in leaps and bounds - pike as a species remain as "simple" as they've always been. Present a bait in the correct area, you're over 70% to success - choose the right method, bait combination and a bite is certain - only then do you need to know that your tackle is up to the challenge! Location, location, location - that's a title for a T/V show; me thinks!

I know that I said tackle had come on in "leaps and bounds" - I just can't help myself.
Nostalgia - that reel was at least 35 years old before I was born!
Luckily the pike don't know that and by the time they find out they are already in my landing net!

Sunday 24 February 2013

Life's soundtrack

I received a nice comment from Richard Naylor - about my top 20 album post; but unable to relate to the Level 42 choice. Benno had told me, on Saturday, that he wouldn't have chosen one of those albums in his his top 20 - and I brought him up listening to the best music available anywhere in our house!
How can this be? It's very simple if you can accept that music is able to conjure memories that are irrevocably linked to times, people, places or events, that have shaped the way our lives have turned out. It doesn't need to be "the best" to be capable of such a trigger. I am under no illusion that Retroglide is the best album that Level 42 have made - it just fitted the bill at that particular stage in my life! Therefore, those twenty albums were not meant to be the best albums of the period, just those that had the power to recall the most significant events during my life! As we were at the RMC, Benno and I had a conversation about how difficult it would be to pick your top 10 tracks (not singles) that would represent the journey from school to adulthood - if there is such a thing?
I don't think that it is possible, but will make a stab at it (with reasons) in the knowledge that it will be unique - as was my journey to where I am today. So, if you don't agree with my choices, don't get mad - just see if you are able to summarise the journey with 10 tracks? (They are not in chronological order)

1. In a Broken Dream - Python Lee Jackson (featuring Rod Stewart) Back in my "skin-head" days, of time spent at Gadebridge Youth Club, this track is one that is able to recapture the essence of that period of my youth.

2. Ride a White Swan - T. Rex : It contains the lyric "Wear your hair long and you can't go wrong" I've stuck by this ever since - much to my cost! To my credit - I've never sold out and am so much happier for it.

3. Tracks of my Tears - Smokey Robinson: More memories from my youth club years (Where I met my first wife!)

4. Fascination - The Human League: The signature tune for the craziest period of my entire life. Big fish, massive bouts of lunacy as reason was swept aside in a bid to become the best! Mad times and mad memories!

5. Seven Seas of Rye - Queen: I've probably drunk them! I am fortunate enough to have seen Queen perform on many occasions - Freddie Mercury was the greatest showman of his era, Robert Plant a close second!

6. Whatever Happens in Your Heart - Gerry Rafferty: This track sums up everything I feel about being an individual. (Gerry was a troubled soul and died a lonely and bitter man - such a pity for a wonderful lyricist and musician)

7. I Believe - Joe Satriani: Everything I need to say is encapsulated in this track - not the best that Joe has produced; he is a better guitarist than song-writer - this just fits the bill!

8. For the Love of God - Steve Vai: A musical treat without equal - if you appreciate genius?

9. Errin Shore - The Corr's: Music that is the foundation of Bev and my relationship - it is a lasting memory of our early time together - magic stuff.

10. Avalon - Roxy Music: In my opinion the finest  "pop" song ever produced - Bev and I signed the wedding register to this.

So the question is "Is it possible to summarise your life with 10 tracks?" These are in no way the best examples of the song-writers art that I could recall, just music that fits the situation as my life moved on. If you want a bit of controversy? The finest example of the singer/song-writer's art whilst I have been on this planet - try "A Different Corner" by George Micheal (he was just 17 years old when he wrote this)

Saturday 23 February 2013

Getting a hiding - it's now 16 - 3

Benno and I rendezvoused, at our chosen car park, and headed off into the dawn along the latest section of the RMC we have ear-marked as an area worthy of effort. Four baits were in the water before 06.15hrs - Benno in action within an hour. He uses very much heavier gear than I do, Shimano Hyper-loops and braided line - even still; this fish gave him a right test but it ended happily when he drew a fabulous pike of 19lbs (exactly!) to the landing net.
I had to use the flash to get this image. Our habit of photographing both flanks of any doubles we catch has
allowed us to spot, immediately, that it was a different fish. We could use the back of the camera to compare
it with photos on Ben's I-phone.
Feeling sure that this would be the same individual as he had taken last Sunday - we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was a new fish. It shows that our hunch has paid off, as we seek out areas of the canal where we have a reasonable chance to capture some of the bigger fish. We had to wait a further six hours before Benno had another bite - we had leap-frogged our rods some 400m along the canal by this time.
The obvious "yellow" mark on the lower shoulder could possibly be a, well healed, Cormorant "stab mark"
The damaged dorsal fin (not easily visible in this image) puts the id of this individual beyond doubt.
The markings on a pike are as individual as human finger prints.
Again he found himself attached to a, very spirited, pike which tested his tackle to the limits. As he drew it towards the waiting net, I spotted the tell-tale yellow blemish on the fish's right flank and the split dorsal fin that we'd picked up on earlier in the day, when we compared photos. This time it was the same fish - an ounce lighter at 18lbs 15oz; what a fantastic brace; taken under very trying circumstances and weather conditions.
Benno has given me a right lesson at this venue, I now trail far behind his fantastic total of 16 doubles (which includes a 15, 2 x 16's and 2 x 19lbs - three occassions) but I do have the magic "twenty" in the bag. It should mean that our March Pike Anglers Club meeting will be a lively affair.

Friday 22 February 2013

He's done something - this time!

Steve Gale has gone and done it now! He's posted a list of his 50 favourite albums - nothing to do with The North Downs, but exactly why bloggers exist - to blog! I won't even try to list a top 50, but I will share my top 20. Mostly they will reflect the fact that I was fortunate enough to have lived through the 60's & 70's when the influence of UK music was at its' peak. Some will be "as expected" others not (I hope)

1 - Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars - David Bowie - a timeless classic
2 - An Old Raincoat will Never Let You Down - Rod Stewart - Gasoline Alley is a top track
3 - Songs in the Key of Life - Stevie Wonder - utter genius (Nearly got John Peel the sack when he played the entire double album on his radio show!)
4 - Sargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
5 - Tommy - The Who
6 - Queen II - Queen (Dead Fred was the greatest showman I have ever seen!)
7 - Too Hot to Trot - The Commadores (Three times a lady - Lionel Ritchie's finest hour!)
8 - Axis; Bold as Love - Jimi Hendrix
9 - Surfing with the Alien - Joe Satriani
10 - Ultra Zone - Steve Vai
11 - Jagged Little Pill - Alanis Morissette (An album full of venom and attitude)
12 - Tubular Bells - Mike Oldfield (Nuff sed!)
13 - Rumours - Fleetwood Mac
14 - Dark Side of the Moon - Pink Floyd
15 - Led Zeppelin IV - Led Zeppelin
16 - Retroglide - Level 42
17 - Letters to Velonia - The Mercury Men (Never heard of them; neither had I until Bev & I saw them support Level 42 at The Lees, Folkestone)
18 - Flying in a Blue Dream - Joe Satriani
19 - Hunky Dory - David Bowie
20 - Warriors - Thin Lizzy

So there you have it - if I was asked the question tomorrow then I'm sure there would be a different list. However, at the present these are what I would take from my collection if I had to make a restricted choice.

Thursday 21 February 2013

(So many) Reasons to be cheerful - part three!

Reasons to be cheerful - Mum & Dad
Mum's funeral was a surreal roller-coaster ride; the "God Squad" certainly know how to put on a show! I thank all those who attended for making it such a special occassion and a true testament to the impact she had on all those who knew her. It would take a very tallented "trick cyclist" (psychiatrist to those non cockney types) to get into my mind, at present. Things have happened, bridges built and burned, and so many other emotional away-days - I have to admit that I'm completely head-f*cked! I am forever grateful that I work for a company who are willing to accommodate the sick, the lame and the lazy, in such times - Gary, Steve,Chris, Ian, Claire and Phil Bow-wow; I thank you all for the understanding of my predicament.

Reasons to be cheerful - Simon doing battle with a Loch Awe pike; Benno - can in one hand, net in the other,
poised to leap into action -NOT!
Ian Dury wrote and performed the song, Reasons to be Cheerful - part three, with his band - the Block-heads. I only managed to see this act once, but better than missing out completely! Like Madness, Ian Dury basically produced nursery-rhymes - nothing thought provoking or worthy of student dissection - simply music for fun!

River Stour Chub of 3lbs 12oz - my Match Aeriel centrepin for comparison - Reason to be cheerful
I have been listening to this stuff whilst going back through long lost files on my hard-drive - Gerry Rafferty (If you get it wrong; you'll get it right next time) is giving it large at the moment! My cousin Jacqui asked me why I laid myself bare on my blog - "Why don't you restrict readership?" What's the point of writing if you don't want anyone to read it? Reading the nonsense I post is neither mandatory or tablets of stone - just one guys point of view in a global population of scrillions - exactly why the Internet was invented, for ordinary folk to share information and experiences. If this leaves me vulnerable, as an individual, I'll take the hit - writing the blog is my way of sharing my thoughts on the rights and wrongs of my world, however unworthy.

Reasons to be cheerful - simply looking at the creatures that share my world
My family are the bedrock of my existance, as a unit we can face any challenge, individually weak, we are able to draw on resources that many lack. Love and unity getting us through - religion has helped mum, us boys are less convinced; but see that there is comfort in belief.
Before she went mum told Simon that there was a chair set at the table for her - I really hope that this is for real - I'm not a member of the "God Squad" but find myself looking for a deeper insight into what it's all about? (This is not an open invite for the Jehovah's to come knocking - I'll find my own answers, in my own time)
The last two weeks has been the wierdest period of my entire life - I find myself at a cross-roads. As I quoted a few days ago "If you don't know where you're going - any road can lead you there!"

Bev - my beautiful wife, best friend and soul-mate. Reason to be eternally cheerful!

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Dronefly in the garden

Dronefly - Eristalis tenax
A very brief session in our back garden, after I'd finished my shift, produced a sighting of a Dronefly (Eristalis tenax) which was sunbathing on a wall-mounted, glazed, flower pot. My second species of hover fly for 2013; my extension tubes being pressed into service. Nothing particularly notable about the sighting, although it will be the earliest I've ever recorded one. It just provided a distraction from the funeral (14.00hrs tomorrow, St. Nicholas Church at Ash) and my associated anxiety.
I spent the rest of the afternoon with my grand-daughter, Emily, just the best leveller anyone could ask for when they are under stress - she is simply the most loving child and a delight to be in the company of. We walked our usual route from Debbie's place (home) down to the harbour and back, via the Co-op, where I was allowed to purchase some Milky Way Stars and some Stella - medicinal purposes only; I need to sleep!
Thursday will arrive - by which time a line will have been drawn and closure secured. I would like to thank the many individuals who have taken the time to offer support during this difficult personal period. I am truly grateful - stunned might be be a better description? Once we are born, there can only be one common denominator that every human will have to accept - we are going to die! What happens between these two dates is unknown, but allows for the variety of experience that humans have recorded since we, as a species, were able to write! Mum was a devout Christian, and leaves behind a legacy of massive influence on those that she met. As a school teacher, she came into contact with many thousands of pupils/parents, her role within the Church of England allowing her influence to be further recognised. Tomorrow, we celebrate her life and lament her passing - the final chapter, at Barham Crematorium will be the closure that my family require; I don't expect it to be easy but I am confident that the celebration, afterwards, will see more laughter than tears as we remember our times with a remarkable woman - Thelma Evelyn Wrathall.

Monday 18 February 2013

"What's next?"

Back at work for 06.00hrs, this morning, I was still buzzing from the events of yesterday (or was it the Champagne?) - two pike of that size, from a canal, hasn't featured regularly in any of my angling exploits. Of course I can recall some fabulous fish, taken by friends, my brother (Simon) and myself, yet none of the memories are as intense as the events of yesterday. I'm probably looking for something that isn't there, but I'll take my chances with that one - it's rather spiritual.
So there I am, back on the packing line, Durst inks being dispensed into some rather new, technologically advanced, packaging when Stuart, my colleague, having heard my news asked "what are you going to do now?"
I have an idea, in the back of my mind, to chase another river twenty
This fish is from the R. Thames and checked in at 20lbs 1oz
Sadly the Kentish Stour is not a venue where I have any realistic chance, at present.
I couldn't give him an answer at the time but, with the ticking of the clock, I have spent some period mulling over the question. Quite simply, I hadn't given it much thought - until that moment. I have no plans to stop fishing for the pike of the RMC until the 14th March 2013. The venue has, in my opinion, all the ingredients to produce a pike in the 25lbs class; a thirty is a dream too far, I feel. Where do I go after this? Well, as I haven't got Tring Reservoirs on my doorstep, I'm going to have to search elsewhere for my angling challenges.

A bank caught pike of 18lbs+ - from an Oxfordshire still-water.
I would love to return to this type of angling if I didn't have to
compete with other anglers. There are such venues, but do I want to travel?
I would love to discover another small drain, out on the marshes, where I could undertake a campaign against an unknown population of pike. Failing that, I quite fancy a crack at Westbere Lake, a Mid-Kent Fishery, which has the potential to turn up pike in the 25lbs+ bracket. The only problem with the last option is that I will competing with other anglers, for swims, as well as with the pike - not a situation a particularly relish. I still have a Scottish twenty on my "bucket list" which will, hopefully, be removed during our annual pilgrimage this coming May. A PB carp is always an obvious project, given that I live within virtual casting distance of several fisheries which have fish to smash 23lbs 14oz! I haven't given up on my search for a R. Stour barbel and I've seen two chub, in the river, that would knock my 5lbs 2oz PB into a cocked hat! And what about perch? - a 3lbs+ fish is very much on the cards, without leaving the county.
A magnificent pike of 22lbs 3oz - taken from a day ticket venue in Hertfordshire (Jan 1990). I feel sure that many of today's
carp puddles have populations of pike that have never been fished for. It would only take one
adventurous angler to try his luck - who knows what might get caught!

What about tench? - my favourite species; I haven't a clue - I do know that cat biscuits and "zig bugs" will feature at some time during the summer; centre pin carp fishing is just the best fun you can have locally. So, yes Stuart, I do have the basis of a plan, but can't see it being anything more than a wish list - I will go where the flow takes me! (To quote the late George Harrison - "If you don't know where you're going - any road will take you there!")
Absolutely no way would I return to the crazy days of bivvies and extended sessions. There are, however, enough
good tench waters within the Thanet area, to make morning sessions a worth while project, providing some pre-baiting
were undertaken.

Sunday 17 February 2013

Un-cork the champers - my quest is over!

I had spent the entire 2011/12 winter period in a quest for a 20lbs+ pike; my chosen venue had been a very intimate east Kent drain out on the Worth Marshes. I failed in this mission, ending the season with a best of 19lbs 5oz. Having been present, landing net in hand, when Benno and Tom took their first 20lbs+ pike, I felt sure that my turn would come. The Royal Military Canal has been the focus for our campaign this winter, Benno absolutely hammering me with his results. We worked out that he'd had 13 doubles to my 2 from the RMC, so far this season.

Over twenty years ago I took my last 20lbs Pike
At 20lbs 9oz - this fish is a milestone that I'd targeted in October 2011
A phone conversation, yesterday, had put in place some rather loose plans; Benno, Tom & Luke were out on the lash in Folkestone Saturday night, but the plan was to meet up at 07.00 Sunday morning - it was never gonna happen! I arrived, early, at the designated car park - a text from Benno announcing that they would be late. I made my way, over one and a half miles along the canal, to an area that Benno and Tom had taken a few decent fish, earlier in the season. I'd been to Tesco's yesterday, obtaining a kilo of Sardines and three Herrings for the princely sum of £8-03. Getting them back home, they were subjected to the usual colour & flavouring routine. Sardines = sweet green, Herrings = red/Cathedral baits Mixed Fish Oil. I was rather worried that I had been unable to obtain any Mackerel, but shouldn't have been.

Showing some spawning scars (the red mark to the left and some reddening of the lower flanks) this fish might have weighed a few pounds heavier if I'd have caught it three weeks ago. It's certainly a lump!

I was at my swim just before 07.05hrs - baits out before 07.15hrs; a 9lbs 8oz fish in the landing net before 07.30hrs! Crazy stuff, my bite alarm failed to register the take so it was fortuitous that I was beside the rod when the bite occurred; sweet green Sardine being the bait. I returned the fish and recast to the same spot. I thought about ringing Benno but didn't bother, instead I took a walk along the canal, some 50 yards, to look at another swim. My back-biter screamed into action, denoting another bite, 1/2 Herring (flavoured and dyed red) - the quivering rod tip showing that line was being taken from the open spool. I picked up the rod and allowed the line to tighten before setting the hooks and finding myself attached to a fish which wasn't particularly happy with the situation. It surged away, taking line, as I back-wound; the rod arched over in full fighting mode. It was an interesting battle, the netting was particularly testing, however, it wasn't until I had it securely in the folds of the landing net that I realised that it was something a bit special. At 20lbs 9oz, it is the first pike over 20lbs I've taken since 16th January 1990; some wait?

Benno with his pike - 19lbs exactly!
Benno was quickly contacted - "get your arse out of bed, I've got a twenty!" Fair play - Luke and Benno rolled up about an hour later - the pike being retained in an ET Pike Tube. They got their baits out, further along the canal, before we set about getting some photos. As you can see, the photos were taken and I was returning the fish to the water when Benno's back-biter sounded. The twenty was already back in its' watery domain before Benno's fish was on the bank. At 19lbs (on the button) it represents his best English pike, by 2oz!

In keeping with our current practise - this is the other side of Benno's pike.
Knowing how these fish are affected by angling pressure - we have decided to get
photos of both flanks of any "doubles" we catch. This might help solve a few mysteries - we hope!
The fishing was effectively over, we didn't get another bite despite remaining at the venue until 12.30hrs. There were quite a few birders around, I was able to put a face to Brian Harper (and his Dad) when they turned up to scan the marshland behind our swims. It was a fantastic day, these two fish providing more than a little comfort ahead of the impending funeral; if mum was looking down, I'm sure that she was smiling!

Saturday 16 February 2013

Treading on "The Harbour Master's" toes?

I'm expected to scrub up for mum's funeral, thus I found myself headed towards the delights of De Bradliegh Warf - Dover. I needed a decent white, long sleeved, shirt - Bev looking for anything that might befit the occasion. Let's get this right - she doesn't need to work at it - I have a mountain to climb! I wander around the globe, never troubled by "Big Issue" sellers, "Looky - looky" men or pedlar's of "time-share" schemes. It's a very simple ploy - I look poor! (a problem for the observers, not the subject)

My day had begun with the guys from Oliver's Carpets (Newington, Ramsgate) fitting a new carpet & underlay in our living room. In and out within 40 minutes - a superb job; therefore, highly recommended. The purchase of a white shirt was never going to be much of a problem - Bev's conundrum was obviously far more complicated. I left her to it and took a stroll along the Prince of Wale's Pier - camera and bins in place. It was a very pleasant couple of hours. I spotted a Rock Pipit on the roof of Cullin's Bar as I left the car park. There was a nice flock of mixed auks, predominantly Razorbills, in the main cruiser dock, to the west along with the largest concentration of Shags that I've ever seen in Kent. There were 19 birds already in the basin before I reached the end of the pier. In the hour and 20 minutes I remained, a further 13 birds flew in to join them - so at least 32 Shags in the harbour complex.

Kittiwakes were omnipresent and parading up and down the pier looking for scraps from the fishermen. I had to use the camera at ISO 400 - 1/500th sec (1/400th when I fitted the 1.4x converter) due to the grey skies. Not too disappointed by the results. Four Common Seal, 7 Turnstone and a Grey Wagtail about sums up the rest of my sightings - whatever the list, it beats the arse off of shopping!

Friday 15 February 2013

Little, but large

I have been playing around with my camera gear for some time, the acquisition of extension tubes meaning that I am able to use my 170 - 500mm as some form of macro lens;  so my standard 18 - 55mm Canon lens has become redundant - almost! It was whilst I was out in Turkey, last October, that I began to realise how much more there was to enjoy, when looking at insects. The use of macro photography allowing me to pick up on detail that is invisible to the naked eye (or binoculars!). I am by no means close to the skill level of Marc Heath or Steve Ashton, yet some of my efforts aren't so bad. The two guys I've mentioned have made massive efforts to learn about their equipment and the techniques required to make the best use of it. Me? I just point and press - so always unlikely to compete with the best (even if I invested in the top of the range equipment). My joy comes from the encounter, not my photos - although I do concede that a decent image is always helpful in adding value to the sighting.

I am hoping that 2013 will seem me broaden my horizons and start to look at more of the creatures that share my space. The extension tubes should allow me to get images that I would have previously struggled to obtain. I still have no great desire to name everything that I see; but the voyage of discovery will be an adventure none the less.

There are things that my head doesn't allow me to understand, but I am rapidly getting the feeling that life is too short to learn everything. Surely it is better to learn a few things well than to spread your knowledge so thinly that you become a "Jack of all trades - Master of none"?

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Simple pleasures

I can think of no better way to portray my present attitude towards birds and birding than this simple image. A Blue Tit on our sun-flower heart feeder; taken through the glass of our kitchen door.

As an angler I can go fishing and catch nothing - thus a blank day. As a birder; it is impossible to visit any open space and not record something (within a UK context) My desire to combine these two hobbies hasn't diluted the enjoyment - it simply allows me to see things from a different perspective.
A Blue Tit is such a familiar garden bird that the vast majority of the UK population could make a confident id - just how many could correctly colour in a black and white line drawing of this species?
Looking at the common species, who choose to inhabit my world, is what makes my life so complete - simple pleasures for a very simple soul.

Tuesday 12 February 2013

"Why?" - cyber soul searching!

I've never met Steve Gale (North Downs & Beyond blogger) but am sure that, if we ever did, we'd have an awful lot in common despite my opinion of "Pan-Listing League Tables". Shame that the demise of my "Non-conformist" blog was almost entirely due to the reaction from one of his posts - shit happens and we move on! He has made a superb post - basically asking "why" we go birding. Neil Randon had triggered this with a nice posting; Stewart - The Boulmer Birder - has put the "cherry on the cake" with a brilliantly worded response. If only I had the nous to directly link to their sites.

I have been toying with this post since I first read Steve's original posting - delaying the effort because I feel inadequate in both intellect and eloquence, I start off with the best of intent, yet get distracted by my emotions and thoroughly miss the point, thus it was Stewart who was catalyst to my reaction.

Why? A brilliant and very simple question. My initial reaction was "why not?" but when I thought about it - this couldn't be my response if it had been religious, racial or sexual intolerance/abuse - I had to give it more thought. I don't think I have the ability to give a simple answer, because I don't see myself as a "birder". My formative years were spent in the countryside that was Hemel Hempstead. I was 8 years old during the winter of 1963, I'd received my first "real" bird book (Collins Field Guide - Peterson. Mountfort & Hollom) and had been able to see my first Great Crested Grebe when a neighbour had rescued one from the snow out on the Warner's End playing fields. My childhood was spent in blissful ignorance of rarity - we watched the local natural history with all the innocence of childhood. I found a Snowy Owl in Scotland before I was 11 years old - it meant absolutely nothing (still doesn't) My mum, dad and brothers all witness to this event. I knew it was a Snowy Owl, I could id it from the only bird book I owned.
I progressed to secondary school and came into contact with other kids, the majority of whom were "eggers" - yet some also had airguns. My first introduction into "country sports" - fishing rods quickly followed, as my circle of friends grew. In the 1960's and early 70's it was possible for a young boy to wander freely across vast tracts of Hertfordshire without my parents being unduly worried about the prospects of a "nutter" dragging us off into some underworld of sexual depravity.

We fished the Grand Union Canal, collected birds eggs (Blackbird, Song Thrush, Starling & House Sparrow being my limit), shot Water Rats (Voles)  and Grey Squirrels, yet were always aware of the  birds that came into our consciousness. We knew Kestrel and Tawny Owl, we could id Tree Sparrow on call - they really were that common. The countryside was our playground, the wildlife that shared it was why we went out. Quite a few of my school mates took up shooting as their way into the countryside - no less able as naturalists/observers because of this choice.  I chose angling, but birds were never far away, as my avenue into the enjoyment of our natural world. I find myself wondering if it's not the guys who went straight into birding that have missed a trick? Pan-listing? Isn't that what I've always been doing, just without the banner? I really don't want to open up old wounds -  yet I don't care what it's called as long as I enjoyed my time looking at it.

I've progressed through several stages of intensity - birding becoming as important as life itself - in 1999 I set new record figures for the Kent Year List - it cost me my 20 year old marriage! I have had plenty of time to re-assess this and find myself coming to terms with the fact that there are many facets to this hobby - it just takes time to accept that it is possible to be different yet still get the same amount of pleasure.

I thank Steve Gale for posing the question and Stewart for his robust response - so very welcomed in this period of "nothingness" whilst I await my mum's funeral.

Sunday 10 February 2013

Plymouth - ho!

Bev and I have just got back from a superb week-end away. With so much serious stuff going on, we needed a break from the situation and decided to stick to plan that we'd arranged before the death of my mum. Knowing that dad would have plenty of visitors and support, close to hand, we travelled down to Bath to visit Bev's son, Darryl. A superb evening was enjoyed, eating out at The Firehouse Rotisserie (2, John Street, Bath BA1 2JL) - well recommended and very reasonably priced for such a venue.
The view from our hotel room - what a magnificent facade; they've even got a version of the London Eye!
This is the view looking inland, to the east?
Satisfied that her son was not living in squalor - his home is immaculate! We said our good-byes and travelled to Plymouth where we had arranged to meet our dear friends Robert and Jackie Chaffe (Gay Bob and his missus - the ones who live in Turkey; except they don't at the moment) It was just what the doctor ordered. We had a fantastic time, staying at The Quality Hotel in Plymouth Hoe. It has seen better times, but is perfectly adequate for a couple of ordinary souls from Thanet. Robert and Jackie pulled out all the stops and we had a wonderful time eating, drinking, chatting and generally enjoying each others company; the perfect antidote to the sombre reality of the impending funeral.

Birding was hard work, well it always is when you spend the majority of your time inside bars and bistros! I managed to record a few Common Buzzards, 1 Redshank, 1 Oystercatcher, Herring, Greater & Lesser Black-backed and Black - headed Gull, Wren, Magpie and Woodpigeon - some list. I wouldn't swap it for anything - Mr & Mrs Chaffe:- we thank you so very much.

The view, from the same window, yet slightly to the south? The Barbican and Plymouth Sound (Where the Pilgrim Fathers
made their departure for the Americas) are all part of a very special ambiance of this historic town

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Staring out to sea

I called in to see my Dad, just to make sure he was OK - he is coping exceptionally well under the circumstances; friends and family close by. I dropped him off at church, for the "coffee club" then drove across to Deal to spend a bit of time on my own. I walked the seawall from Deal Rowing Club to the pier, where I spent around half an hour surveying the sea. A few auks were moving south, with others dotted around the surface - all those I could confidently id were Guillemots. 4 Great Crested Grebes were just to the north and the wintering Scoter flock was present, some 100m+ off the end of the pier - just too far away to pick out anything unusual amidst their ranks using my binoculars. From what I could make out the vast majority were female/imm Common Scoters. 

The majority of the flock seemed to consist of female/immature type Common Scoters
I wandered back towards the car, locating a NTGG C-R Herring Gull, amidst a loafing group of birds on the beach. Any chance of a photo quickly dashed when a dog-walker flushed the entire flock. Fortunately I was able to follow the bird in my bins and relocate it on an adjacent roof-top. A few record images allowed me to obtain the code, thus send the sighting to Paul Roper - the project leader.

A North Thames Gull Group C-R Herring Gull - ring code A1BT

I would like to finish by saying a massive thank-you to all the people who have contacted my Dad, my brothers, my kids - Benno and Sarah and myself with messages of condolence. The support is so very welcome and completely overwhelming - we are all truly humbled by these gestures. Cheers!

Paul Roper (NTGG) has forwarded the info/map for this bird.
Ringed as a 3rd CY on 25.02.2012 at Pitsea Landfill Site, Essex
Reported from Deal 15.04.2012 & Sandwich Bay (Restharrow Scrape) 17.04.2012
My sighting is the only other record; so far!

Tuesday 5 February 2013

Numb; but relieved it's over

Thelma Evelyn Wrathall - my mum
At 03.00hrs my Mum passed away, peacefully in her sleep - at home, in her own bed. The superb support of the Social Services and Medical folk ensured that her family were at her side as she neared the end of this part of her journey. A formidable woman, in her prime, dementia had taken away the one we knew, and loved, leaving behind a very pale shadow of the person she was. Although there were tears, relief is the over-riding emotion now that it's over. Sleep well Mum.
Please don't worry about the Wrathalls; we're are a tight family and will come through this together, of that I'm confident.

In order to keep my mind occupied, I have been perusing the various blogs - as per usual, and saw the post on Marc Heath's excellent Reculver Birder site. Now, whilst I am unable to join the debate on a level that Marcus Lawson and Martin Garner are at - I do have a few points about the id of "out of range" Chiffchaffs. In January 2004, Bev and I were on honeymoon in Gran Canaria. I only had my very primitive digi-scoping gear, yet remember thinking that the resident population (prior to them being split) of Chiffchaff would be a real tester if it were not for the fact that they behaved and sounded so different from the regular P.c.collybita that are so familiar to us in the UK.
When watching these wonderful little birds it is obvious that they are different from the UK Chiffchaffs -  but how would
you do if this was the only photo of a "strange" Chiff that had been seen at a Berkshire sewage farm?
A Canary Island Chiffchaff - January 2004 (Gran Canaria)


A Chiffchaff, on the cliff-top at Foreness Point - so very clearly an example of the nominate race P.c.collybita
Take special note of the pale lower mandible and the leg colouration (March 2010)
Looking back at these images reinforces my view that one of these birds, in the UK, would very easily be overlooked. The second bird is one that was present at Stodmarsh NNR at the same time as a wintering Yellow-browed Warbler (March 2004). John Hollyer, Pete Lasslet and others (myself included) made several trips to view this bird, which was feeding around some rotten apples behind Undertrees Farm. It was reported, by several sources, as a Siberian Chiffchaff - thus ticked as such by many visitors. John and I had doubts about this individual; confirmed when we heard it calling. It was using the typical "huw -eet" disylabic call of the nominate P.c.collybita , therefore not a Siberian Chiffchaff, despite appearances. My images are from 2nd March 2004 and clearly show the pale lower mandible and plum-coloured legs, so very not Siberian Chiff. If, however, the only images were less detailed, it is quite likely that this individual would be accepted as a "tristis" and not an "abietinus" which is the true id (in my opinion) As Marc requests in his post - "What do you think?"

Sunday 3 February 2013

Tom nails a beauty

I endured a gruelling five hours on a freezing Royal Military Canal for one very lively "jack" of around 5lbs - which took a liking to my 1/2 mackerel. I had a very nice chat with a dog-walker who lived locally and did a "bit of fishing" now and again. He told me of a couple of other spots which might be worth exploring; all useful information as I'm struggling for bites at the moment.
Benno and Tom headed off to an "un-disclosed Southern still-water" where Tom landed his second pike over 20lbs. At 20lbs 14oz, it is absolutely immaculate - how I wish I'd been there to see it for myself. He said that he thought he'd hooked a catfish when it started taking line against a 3 1/2 lbs T.C. rod and a clamped down clutch.
A beautiful pike - shame about the ugly twat holding it! I thought it was Chris Packham.
Well done old mate - a bloody cracker.
Benno is having a bit of a crisis - he has lost confidence in the Partridge hooks that he is using - he dropped another two fish today. My own theory is that they are small fish and the action of striking actually turns the fish with no resistance to set the hooks. A shake of the head and the bait (complete with attached hooks) is thrown clear. I am happy to report that I don't have any such issues with my Drennan doubles - they stay in when I've tightened down; using my very soft rods might also play a part in this?

Saturday 2 February 2013

Why I'm still here?

Knowing what a failure I was as a Dad (husband - 1st time round) I have discovered a niche which suits me. A Grand-dad, the most outrageous lunatic that kids could wish for? I wind them up, show them stuff that Mum & Dad have no idea about - then bugger off! Brilliant - the kids love me and their parents have to accept this because I'm old!
"Touch Me Perce!" - Bryn - the defender of his princess (his mum & my daughter; Sarah-Jayne)
My daughter, Sarah-Jayne, gave Bev and I our first - Bryn, an incredibly focused boy who finds interest in Fred Dibner and engineering, yet still not at school. He sees the world from a very strange perspective (says who?) and asks questions that are way beyond his tender age.

Emily - one stroppy two year old!
Emily is two, today, time flies by at such a rate when you get older. She is the complete antidote to all that is wrong with modern life and the pressure that it incurs. I have to admit that she has me doing things that I wouldn't have done with my own children - age and experience playing a major part?

Bev and I are committed to the future and our role as Nan & Grand-dad; Harry is already here, Sarah-Jayne expects our 4th grandchildren's club member in June - hopefully membership will be closed after this?

Friday 1 February 2013

Back with a camera

Terry (Snail) had promised sunshine by 13.00hrs - he'd consulted the BBC 5-day forecast and was confident that he would be peddling home in the dry; what folly! We ended our shift to be greeted by a leaden sky and heavy rainfall. I made it home, rather damp, feeding the birds and gathering my camera gear; ever hopeful that Terry (the BBC) would get it right, if somewhat delayed. I have a feeling that he might have gotten rather wet as he made his way back to Margate aboard his trusty tread-iron.

I gave it until about 13.40hrs before deciding that there was a chance that the weather would abate and I'd stand half a chance at getting some images of the Ramsgate Harbour Great Northern Diver, that Emily and I had seen yesterday. My walk was rather un-eventful, although a C-R Herring Gull was on a lamp-post at the junction of Hereson Road/West Dumpton Lane (it has been present for over 12 months and the NTGG are aware of this) Some Fulmars were swirling around, below their nest ledges on the chalk cliffs of King George VI Park and a couple of Rock Pipits flitted along the seawall as I made my way towards the harbour.

I scanned through the few gulls that were assembled on the net stowage ramp - nothing of note, before walking across to the sluice and the outer harbour. Bingo - there it was, in the same place as the 2003 bird, enjoying the shelter of the outer harbour to the west of the Lifeboat Station. The low angle of the sun (when it appeared from behind the clouds) mean't that the shadow of the harbour wall was a major factor. I played around with settings and ISO's taking 168 images in the process. The best I've managed are attached - I hope you enjoy them as much as I did when I pressed the shutter! A remarkable bird, an adult, which is awaiting the efforts of Kent's finest - cameras at the ready! I'm sure that there will be some absolutely stunning images to come but, until then, my efforts will have to suffice.