Bird of the Year 2007

It’s that time again. Last year when I did this, I’d been birding in Spain in the spring and then the Galapagos and Ecuador in the autumn. This year has been less dramatic—no albatrosses or toucans—but I did see some great stuff in Crete in April.

First, though, some local stuff. There have been Little Grebes in the local park this year, I think for the first time, and they successfully raised a chick, so that was good. And also in the park, a Mandarin Duck (an Asian species, but there’s quite a large breeding population in the UK now). Back in February, this Stock Dove was the year’s only new bird for my garden list:

stock dove

And there were also a couple of birds which I haven’t had in the garden for a long time; I heard a Tawny Owl in July, and perhaps the most exciting of the lot, I saw a House Sparrow on the bird feeders in August. Sadly, she was the only one.

On, then, to Crete. Crete was pretty fabulous, bird-wise. Lots of stuff, and some of it special. Apart from anything else, what could be nicer than being in the Mediterranean in the springtime? It’s nice just seeing all the common Mediterranean species like Crested Lark, Serin, and Sardinian Warbler:

Sardinian Warbler

Then there were species I’d seen before, but not for a long time, or not very well, which I had great views of; like the amazing flock of Golden Orioles flying one by one up the valley above Paleohora, or the oh-so-elegantly coloured Blue Rock Thrush nesting in a cliff face I saw from about the same spot, or the Wryneck I eventually saw after about an hour spent wandering around the Lasithi Plateau, trying to track them down by their call. Or this Cirl Bunting, a bird I think I last saw at Mycenae when I was 18.

Cirl Bunting

And Woodchat Shrike, Griffon Vulture, Squacco Heron and Purple Heron, which were all species I also saw last spring in Andalucia, but no less pleasing for all that.

I saw eight lifers in Crete, which I think is pretty good for a holiday in Europe. Any life tick is pleasing, but the least exciting would be Short-toed Lark (small, brown, distant; even the name is boring) and Ferruginous Duck (a good bird, but a very brief, distant sighting). Black-eared Wheatear [below] and Collared Flycatcher are both really attractive birds; Quail are famously skulking and difficult to see in Britain, so when a couple of them suddenly flushed out from almost under my feet it was a bit of a rush.

Black-eared Wheatear

But my best photographic opportunity came at the reservoir at Ayia. A lot of the birds were remarkably approachable, I think because they were simply exhausted by migration. I got close to some commoner species, like Whinchat and Cuckoo, but the really amazing sightings were two species that are, normally, very difficult to see because they spend all their time lurking in deep vegetation. The first was a species I’ve seen before, but never expected to see as well as this: Little Bittern.

Little Bittern

Both times I’ve seen them before, it was just a quick moment as a bird flew from one reedbed to another. I never expected to be able to approach one to about 25 feet, set up a telescope and take a picture. Even better, though, was another species, Little Crake. The bittern eventually, when I got really close, ducked into the reeds and stayed hidden. But the crakes just wandered around feeding at the water’s edge, blithely ignoring any birders nearby as though they were natural exhibitionists. I saw about eight individuals, and the only reason I didn’t get more good photos of them was that the little buggers never stayed still for a moment. Still, I’m particularly pleased with this one:

Little Crake

But even that wasn’t my bird of the year. My bird of the year was a European Roller. It’s big and colourful, I’ve wanted to see one ever since I had my first bird book—so probably for about 25 years now—and, just as icing on the cake, it’s even a rarity for Crete. I didn’t have my telescope with me when I saw it, so I couldn’t take a picture, but since it’s my bird of the year, here’s one taken by someone else:

» ROLIEIRO, posted to Flickr by sparkyfaisca.

Books of the year, 2007

Since I’ve recorded [nearly all] the books I’ve read since March this year on a special book page, and it’s possible to view them ordered according to my rating, I hardly need to to do a books of the year post. Here are some links to some of the longer posts I did about books:

The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner is a fabulous book about a long-term study of Galapagos finches and what it revealed about natural selection.

Large Cactus Ground finch

Imperial Life in the Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran is about life in the Green Zone in Baghdad; what was then the base of the US administration of Iraq and is now the embassy complex.

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst is a very good book about typography.

George III and the Mad-Business by Ida Macalpine and Richard Hunter is about George III’s illness and its broader cultural context.

The Utility of Force, by the eminent British general Rupert Smith, is about modern warfare and how it’s different.

» The Galapagos finch photo is one taken by putneymark which I found on Flickr and am using under a Creative Commons by-sa licence.

Links

Links

Redwings

There’s a berry-covered tree over the road from the house—some kind of cotoneaster?—and at the moment there’s an almost constant stream of redwings going back and forth from it.

redwing with berry

The redwing is a smallish thrush with a marked white eyebrow stripe and a brick-red underwing. I’m always pleased to see them, not least because they’re one of the few true winter visitors we get here. I mainly see the same species in this bit of South London all year round. The only two species that regularly turn up in winter are redwings and siskins, and even the siskins are breeders in other parts of southern England. The redwings, though, have come from Iceland or Finland or somewhere.

redwing with berry

In fact, quite a lot of the birds in the garden in winter have probably come from the Arctic, it’s just that they’re the same species that breed here, so it’s not obvious. Millions of blackbird, blue tits, starlings and other common species come here for the winter while our summer visitors are soaking up the sun in Africa. It feels pretty cold here to me at the moment, but I guess it’s all relative.

» the photos can be found in my Flickr stream where you can see them bigger if you want. I’m not sure I recommend it, though: my digiscoping set-up was struggling with the miserable winter light and they don’t bear close inspection.

Links

New iTunes icon for Leopard: Aphex Twin

Some time ago I made a whole set of icons for iTunes based on old 45s because I think that the Apple one just looks a bit cheap and tacky. I’m now using Leopard, the latest version of Apple’s OS, and Leopard uses super-large icons so that they look good in coverflow mode. So I felt the need to make a new version for myself.

Aphex Twin iTunes icon

This time, instead of old soul and reggae labels, I thought I’d make an homage to one of my favourite albums of all time: Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92. I don’t listen to this kind of bleepy music as much as I used to, but this album is about as good as it gets. It was released as a double LP, and I’ve used side C for the icon because that’s the side with a track called Ageispolis on it. You can get it as an .icns file here.

Links

Ho Ho Ho!

Decapitated Father Christmas

The robust London sense of humour was on display at Borough market last week, courtesy of the bloke selling Christmas trees.

Also of interest at the market, some fine-looking fungi for sale. I have no idea what puffballs are like to eat—mushroomy, probably—but they look impressive.

puffballs for sale at Borough Market

These pictures are hosted on my Flickr account. And it seems like an apt moment to plug my photoblog Clouded Drab again, since the photo on the front page at the moment was also taken at Borough Market.

In The Mood For Love

I watched In The Mood For Love on DVD yesterday. It’s an absolutely gorgeous movie, set in Hong Kong in the 60s. One of the cover blurbs says it’s ‘like Brief Encounter remade by Kubrick and Scorsese’; I’m not sure about the Kubrick/Scorsese thing, but the comparison to Brief Encounter is very apt. It’s a film about two people not quite having an illicit relationship, or at least not quite having a sexual relationship.

Maggie Cheung

Apart from anything else, it just looks great. it has a real period feel—not than I’m in a position to judge the accuracy of the details. It’s full of colour, but mainly a subdued palette, all greens and oranges and browns, off-whites, soft blues. And nearly all the action takes place in confined spaces, in apartment blocks, offices, alleys, noodle shops, and in artificial light. And it looks cramped: looking through it to find some screen grabs, it was striking how often objects intrude in the foreground.

Tony Cheung

Maggie Cheung drifts through the film looking exquisite and fragile in a sequence of beautiful cheongsams, and Tony Leung is is also extremely watchable, if not quite so fabulously attired. It’s moody and atmospheric and generally a pleasure to watch.

Links

  • via things magazine: ‘we aim to produce a comprehensive on-line collection of nineteenth-century New Zealand novels.’ Which is an admirable endeavour even if it doesn’t appeal to me.
  • via Coudal: ‘Over the past few years I have walked thousands of kilometres through the streets of every part of London photographing what I thought might make interesting photographs.’
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