Tuesday, 30 June 2009

2008: King’s Park, Perth – I

On my way over to the Park, I had already picked up one lifer courtesy of tree martins flying over the downtown railway tracks. I had struggled over separating them from fairy martins but been sure enough of their identification. Either way the list had clocked 857 but the floodgates were not about to open.

For instance, my pre-trip research in Birmingham Library had included a copy of John Bransbury’s Where to Find Birds, which had assured me of little wattlebird at the Gardens. This is a honeyeater and is now called western wattlebird, having been split from its eastern cousin; I had seen that back in 2003. To be fair the book is quarter of a century out of date, which did show many times, if not in the disappearance of various sites, then at least of the species expected at them. The wattlebird was one of the latter. Moreover, my week in the species’ territory couldn't even rustle up one individual. My honeyeater sub-quest would get off to a rocky start.

Cheekily scavenging round the Botanical CafĂ©, red wattlebirds were plentiful, along with handsome western magpies, an entirely white-backed race of Australian magpie. The surrounding lawns held strutting magpie-larks. It seemed that any black-and-white bird down under got the “magpie” label. These bold birds became my constant companions throughout the breadth of Australia, excepting Tasmania, which would also distinguish itself in other ways.

Thus far the bird identification had been easy – galahs, grey fantails, silvereyes and ravens included. Maned and black ducks, coots, a kookaburra with a rat-sized rodent in its bill, and a rainbow bee-eater would also be no serious challenge. For a beginning birdwatcher the Botanic Gardens are marvellous, holding a good but not overwhelming selection. However, for the purist, one bird was cryptic.

Birds Vanishing in Plain Sight

I removed a somewhat anti-American paragraph from my post about our endangered swifts because... well, not because it may cause offence. I'm going to cause offence here no matter what I say or how I say it: the easily upset will always listen out for that. No, I actually like Americans, having lived among them for a tenth of my life. And many of them do know what baleful impact they have had, and still are having, not just on their own country but the rest of the world.

And not just them, but us, and Europeans, and the whole damn lot of humanity. If that comes across as misanthropic, then so be it. Anyway, I am thankful to the Denver Field Ornithologists for reprinting this 2007 article about birds' population decline by Verlyn Klinkenborg in the New York Times. It's far more eloquent and persuasive than I could ever be.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Australian Field Guides

I had picked up Ken Simpson and Nicholas Day’s book, in its green-jacketed incarnation, on my 2003 visit to New South Wales. I loved it but, boy, was it bulky and heavy, even as a paperback. It carries sections you don't need in the field. I had used it and Graham Pizzey to research and plan the trip back in the UK and thought that, with Australia’s huge avifauna, no countrywide book could be compact enough.

Field guides also show their age, especially in a place as underwatched as Australia. Birds move around. So, I was looking for parrots in Perth and not finding them until I happened on rainbow lorikeets, whose distribution is east, north and south but definitely not west. They fitted the colour scheme, still swooping across the square in front of me – blue head, green upperparts, red under and blue vent. I couldn't turn these birds into female or juvenile plumages, even, of the expected western parrots.

Michael Morcombe solved the puzzle for me. I found his guide at the Botanic Gardens and it noted that some clown had introduced rainbow lorikeets to Perth. Moreover, the book fitted into my bag, didn't weigh a ton and had neat density maps. These show the likelihood of finding a species, from a faint wash for vagrant records up to a dark splodge covering the highest concentration. This works especially well for Australia, where birds don't migrate so much. Other field guides have to colour code for times of year.

So, the Morcombe became my bible and I was ready to tackle the rest of King’s Park, which surrounds the Botanics.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

A Perth Rant, 2008: Whinging Pom #1

I don't know what thoughts occupy some people’s heads. Precious few in the case of the wankers staying at One World Backpackers at the end of November. Even if they didn't know the place had paper-thin walls and echoed like an underpass, there's little excuse for shouted exchanges until four in the morning. Not even on a Saturday and far less mid-week.

I endured three nights of it. The hostel had a no-money back policy and I'd paid up front. I wasn't about to complain. I've lived long enough to experience that futility. There was little the hostel could do anyway and as for tackling the perpetrators... well, even if drink hadn’t addled their senses, their obvious fuck-you attitude would have guaranteed an escalation of the problem. I had been victim of that on my departure from Edinburgh and had no wish to retry it.

I resolved to avoid hostels and pretty much kept to it. (The breakfast was shite too and they overcharged me.)

I had only lost one night’s sleep and scavenged what I could for one breakfast when I headed for the Botanic Gardens the first morning, so I wasn't feeling too shabby. The parrots of the night before were still in evidence and still naggingly familiar. I got a few field marks – surprisingly difficult for parrots – and launched into my Simpson & Day to nail an identification.

Friday, 26 June 2009

The RSPB: Help us help swifts


Now, losing these birds would be a crime.

You guessed: they are one of my favourites. Nearby, a couple of locations guarantee low-flying sightings of them - one on my way to Tesco. God, is that the second name-check they've had on this site? Anyway, these aerial marvels treated me on my shopping trip this morning and I would hate for that to disappear. So, get logging.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Marsh Warbler, RSPB Otmoor

Marsh warbler

“You timed it well,” said one of the watchers strung along the path.

Alle-bloody-lujah. At last, a twitch where I turned up just as the bird had started showing. It had been silent but now its song was clear and unmistakable. After fifteen years of trying to separate reed and sedge warblers by call, this one was a cinch. I still couldn't see the bird but a shape flitted in the depths of the bushes.

Suddenly, a little brown job flew out and across the path to disappear in the reeds opposite. It looked right for marsh warbler but really it went too fast for positive identification. The same song began again in the reeds. So, unless there were two birds taking turns... no, let's not even go there. I saw it.

I saw it again later on my way back from scoffing lunch further along the path. It made the reverse journey, almost as a curtain-call to the performance whose overture I had seen. My world life list was on the move again after three months of stalling.

HobbyThe visit had started well with whitethroats scritchy-scratching their song from bushes and wires and a hobby powering by overhead. Later, I had four of these magnificent birds of prey in the air at once. I think they're the most elegant of falcons. Both sedge and reed warblers lined my route to my ultimate quarry and on the way back a stonechat perched obligingly.

For the grand finale I had been told that a turtle dove was around the car park. I listened out and caught its soft trill but couldn't nail the source of it. I searched and persistence paid off when I spied the individual, quite plainly out in the open at the top of a tree, but much further away than I had thought.

A cracking day. And I even won another SNG when I got back.

Poker Yo’s

This is a sort of double pun. Compared with my previous woes, I may be tempted to utter, “Yo!” for my current run. And it may be the up half of a yo-yo’s journey (although which yo is up and which down is debatable).

I did buy Collin Moshman’s sit’n’go book, having had just a solitary third place in four of Titan’s $5 SNGs (that's sit’n’go’s; how do you spell the plural of go?) I hit immediate paydirt with a win and then slumped to my habitual losing streak – six games this time – then copped another win. At that stage I could have convinced myself that I had improved – $44 to enter; $50 back. At around six hours of poker, though, it was hardly going to pay the bills.

However, that last result started a sequence of: win; loss; third; second. That's $28 profit in under four hours. Hmmm. Maybe Collin has something for me.

I need to repair my bankroll before I can venture up to the $10 game but this has certainly been a more lucrative enterprise than the long-shot of the multi-table tournaments. I’m trembling on the precipice; but I do a lot of trembling at poker. I may not tremble today though: a marsh warbler has been singing at Otmoor lately and I could go for that.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Would a Blog Novel Work?

Since the excitement of the red-necked phalarope it’s gone quite again in the West Midlands. So, I’m posing this question and, in order not to clutter this blog, setting up a new one to play with it.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Arrival at Perth, 2008

Welcome Swallow


That's the impression of Western Australia from the air, the very ground rusting away, contrasting with the Indian Ocean blue as our plane followed the coast down to Perth. Not a town to be seen for hundreds of kilometres until the grids of civilisation appeared within a boomerang-throw of the capital. Perth almost sneaks up on you in surprise and we were down and out of the terminal faster than Adam Gilchrist gets to a century.

I had booked the shuttle bus downtown, which rather surprised the driver, who was prepared to hang around until the last passenger had squeezed out of the airport. This gave me time to identify welcome swallows, so at least the birds were pleased to see me; and I had finally hit summer after a couple of dismal British washouts.

The bus bounced into the city, over the Swan River, home to silver gulls, and past the WACA, home to cricketers. The kid sitting in front of me clicked his camera phone at everything. He had flown from Britain in one and was hyper from lack of sleep. He snapped the cricket ground. He had no idea what it was – cute.

The remainder of the day only gave me time to eat but it was light enough, while I sought out a restaurant, to register parrots squawking and zipping between trees. They were too fast to identify but the calls were familiar; I just couldn't pin them down. A disappointing nasi goring preceded bed, perchance to sleep. Or not, as it happened.

Red-necked Phalarope, Upton Warren

Red-necked phalarope

Yay! A text from BirdGuides sent Dave and me scurrying over to Upton Warren for this cracking bird. I think it was a female but people in the hide kept referring to it as “he”. No matter, she finally moved my British list up a notch from its stalled position since last October’s shore lark, also at Upton. In fact, my Western Palaearctic score also moved on. I have seen the species eleven times in California and once in Oregon, of which all bar one were in the autumn and hence in non-breeding plumage.

Thanks to my scope mishap, I was restricted to binocular views but the phalarope flitted around and fed close enough to us to make some of those good. We couldn't have crammed another tripod into the hide anyway. The visitor had brought the hordes out from their quiet June.

As a bonus a couple of green sandpipers also showed and nudged my world year list up to 542. Fantastic. Especially after running cold at the poker tables recently. I was beginning to despair (again).

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Year Bird 540

The list has stagnated for three weeks since last month’s yellow wagtail but my visit to Tesco paid dividends today. The route there takes me through the bottom end of Oakenshaw Wood, where I managed to identify the briefest, almost chickadee-like, buzz of a marsh tit’s call. The wonder is that it’s taken me three months of being back from Australia to find the bird: we even get them on the feeders here in the winter.

A quick walk round the local fields later on brought me one stock dove – a species I've not seen in the Walkwood area. I rounded the day off with a pint of Wadworth’s Lily the Pink at the Bramley – most efficacious.

A Honeypot

I frequently wonder what's happened to various folk that have passed through my life. In idle moments I Google some of them, without much success. Recently I have read about the concept of a honeypot, often used by agencies to trap hackers and spammers. Instead of searching for these people, let them find you. It’s a technique that relies on people’s natural curiosity about themselves. Who hasn't typed their own name into a search engine to see what comes up?

In this case the theory is that I list old acquaintances, along with something that would link them back to me (I've known an Andy Williams but he never sang Moon River) and they may find this page. So, that's the generally interesting bit over and if you don't believe you fall into the long-lost of my life, I can save you the trouble of reading any further.

Let me start with someone for whom I must take my mother’s word. When we lived in Southampton back in the late 1950’s I used to play with the daughter of the Hampshire and West Indian cricketer, Roy Marshall. I think they lived near us in Evelyn Crescent, Shirley.

Of a later vintage, after we had moved to Winchester, I have an enigmatic entry in my diary for December 18, 1962: “Ruth died, my friend.” She may have been six or seven at the time. I've long meant to check something like the Hampshire Chronicle records for this one. I assume she went to Weeke Infants (or Primary) School.
I also have a possible memory of being in her house, a large rambling affair on the corner of Andover and Park Roads. A more modern building now occupies the site.

Other entries in this diary mention Richard Ashton but I know where he is now, so I can test this theory and subtly prompt him in this direction. Also from the Weeke schools, 1961 to 1967 including the Junior, are: Rob McDonald (but is that MacDonald?); Gillian Palmer of 39 Bereweeke Avenue; Anthony Gilbert, Vernham Road; Sally Williams from Teg Down; Andy Woodward (OK, I know where he is too); a girl called Michelle, I think, who gave me my only Valentine’s card until I was twenty-five. Boo-hoo, there's a whole sob-story about that. I could find some of these characters without too much effort but, hey, I’m lazy.

I’ll continue the list in Part Two.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

2008: The Leaving of Singapore

After my exertions I was pleased to sit, along with the other small boys, at the driverless front of the wee train gliding above Singapore’s suburbs. I then caught the LRT’s North-South line wrong way round back to Orchard Road and passed the more industrial sector of the city but even that looked clean and tidy. After Yishun the railway crossed the Lower Seletar Reservoir, complete with egrets and diverse waterfowl. I was too knackered to investigate.

The main shopping street was pretty much the same as Barcelona, Cannes, London, even Edinburgh, and I didn't dwell. I rounded off the day with an excellent meal at the local No Signboard Seafood restaurant and then dodged the girls back to my hotel. One grabbed at me. Flattering? I doubt it. Certainly futile anyway.

Twelve hours later I was in the air again, up over the Straight’s crowded shipping lanes, then the first of Indonesia’s countless islands, then Sumatra. Then cloud. All the way to the Indian Ocean. Two jutting peninsulas in the shape of a fuck-off gesture were the next land I would see. I had hit the Monkey Mia region of Australia. I hoped I was actually welcome.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Redditch Birds

Erithacus rubecula

A big blank round the Midlands on the BirdGuides map for the last couple of days (you have to subscribe to see it) and general laziness (and my shoulder) are keeping me at home. But the birdy world is still turning. Yesterday on the way back from Tesco I was treated to a juvenile magpie with stubby tail feathers and not flying too well. The swifts are busy hawking; their stay is all too brief. The odd blackbird, robin or wren occasionally breaks into song, as well as one chiffchaff.

Last Thursday Dave and I recorded seven common terns at Arrow Valley - new birds to Redditch for both of us. One sedge warbler sang in the vastly improved reedbed. In fact the whole park has become an order of magnitude more interesting in the ten years I've been away. Someone's doing something right there.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Landmark Forum

I can't go for long without mentioning this. It is the reason why I’m where I am today instead of stuck in a job that was killing me – a programmer’s job and a programmed life. Everything I did was driven by the past, by what had been drummed into me, by parents, by school, by being British, by being human. I was not living the way that was natural for who I really was.

I needed a holiday from squirming into what I discovered in the end was a self-imposed straightjacket. Oh yes, I had all that input driving me but ultimately I was choosing how to respond. The only pity is that it took me 47 years to find out; the best part is that the holiday is for the rest of my life. Makes kind of sense to start that as soon as possible, huh?

Monday, 15 June 2009

June Birding Doldrums

Migrants migrated and singers mated, things go quiet this month, so a quick day in Brum to seek out Moshman's sit'n'go book. Before I went to Oz, a splendid male wood duck lived at Brindley Wharf and I believe the smaller smudge in this picture is he, but in eclipse plumage. Not a true wild bird of course but only a couple of centuries less so than the Canada geese also in shot.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

2008: Bukit Timah, Singapore

Blue-tailed Bee-eater

Sungei Buloh is Singapore’s nature reserve. True, there are patches of green elsewhere and a whole complex around the central reservoirs but the glory birds hang out far to the north and off the public transport map. I settled for Bukit Timah instead, an apparent short walk through a park from Bukit Batok station.

A blue-tailed bee-eater, hawking insects from one of the city’s immaculate tower blocks – Singapore doesn't do slums the way we do – greeted me at the edge of the park. Lifer number 855.

Then the day nudged downhill. A “Closed” sign barred the only path I could find across the park, which in reality was a bloody great hill. I dithered, looking obviously lost enough that a local informed me a landslip was to blame.

The detour took me at least two miles along the busiest roads on the equator to fetch up at a shopping centre, where I lunched on Nasi Goreng. It could have been Mee. I don't mind: I’m a big fan of the Goreng family. I also sank an indecent quantity of Coke to replace what I had sweated. I had only shucked my jumper off half-way through the previous day and was beginning to regret not also switching into shorts.

Another mile got me to the edge of the reserve, where unexpected monkeys ambled the lawns of neighbouring residences. I had been following an elevated railway for a good half of the way and was relieved that I wouldn’t have to walk the return journey. Now I just had to find the entrance.

In quick succession a couple of birds of prey drifted over. I had no chance with the first bird's identification but the second showed enough field marks for me to make a stab at changeable hawk-eagle.Changeable Hawk-eagle The name, from its variable plumage, supersedes crested hawk-eagle but frankly a great many hawks and eagles must have been in the running for the “changeable” title. The raptors’ ranges of morphs make their identification such a challenge. And don't even get started on where a hawk ends and an eagle begins, let alone a buzzard.

I walked on, expecting to find trails, sign boards, maybe a visitor centre. The latter may have been in a construction site bearing a notice about renovations to be complete by 2009. It looked like another case of bad timing. In my wanderings I managed to pick up red-rumped swallow, oriental pipit and Asian glossy starling for my 856th lifer but the ghost-site failed to deliver my hoped-for bonanza.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Being Unreasonable

My bad-beat rant reminded me of a guiding principle. Sir Winston Churchill, as ever, expressed it perfectly: success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm. I have also heard of how to get a “yes”: go for as many “no”s as possible – the world record if necessary.

Failure is more of a fear than an actuality. You can't point to it; you can't see it. Just like success, it doesn't really exist. It’s what we make of a situation. In my case it’s all grist to the blog mill. What would I write if I didn't fail? Who wants to read yet another success story?

Bring it on! I’m going back to the tables. (And the twitching.)

Friday, 12 June 2009

Downtown Singapore Birds, 2008

House Swift

I awoke, refreshed and at a normal hour, to a view of downtown Singapore’s towers bar-charting against a clear blue sky. Below me, separating the hotel from apartments opposite, an alleyway hosted swifts. I grabbed my Davison, the most compact field guide I had found for the area, and immediately discovered its shortcomings.

It is a photographic guide and, no matter how good the shots, they don't compare with drawings for reliable identification. It wasn't too bad for these birds: their white rumps and throats narrowed them down to a choice between fork-tailed and house swift. The brief text persuaded me that house was the more likely and the world list was off again, up to 851. Even so, I wished I had my Robson guide to the whole of South-East Asia.
Sadly, it was too weighty and bulky to justify its inclusion for a mere two days.

I walked into town via the sports and riverfront complex at Kallang, logging little egret, common sandpiper, spotted dove, collared kingfisher, Pacific swallow and tree sparrow amongst the usual alien city birds. I added yellow-vented bulbul and black-naped oriole to my life list and finally, next to probably the last patch of native jungle downtown, Chinese pond-heron. This area held me before I plunged into the glass and steel of the city. It seemed so fertile, so promising, so mysterious.

Then I spent the rest of the day being the tourist, gawking at the skyscrapers, refusing to fork up $20 for the Flyer, throwing peanut shells on the floor at Raffles (at $17 a beer I felt entitled to dump my household rubbish there) and eating in Little India.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Poker Woes

My God! It just got worse. Now I can't win a hand, let alone a tournament. Here's my latest list of exits:

  • My KK meets AA;
  • JJ knocks out my QQ;
  • A5s overtakes my AJ;
  • A8s knocks out my 22;
  • My AKs fatally meets KK;
  • KQ overtakes my A8;
  • My AT meets TT to knock me out.

It goes on for game after game after game of good hands either meeting monsters or being overtaken by the river. Bad beat stories, all of them of course, and part of the poker player’s lot, so I promise never to bore you with them again.

Yet I’m still within bankroll, to the tune of over $200 if I could ever figure out how to get my money out of Neteller. One of the poker mags recently printed a letter complaining about them, so I wonder if they're quite delivering the goods.

All together, I’m losing a lot of enthusiasm. Maybe this blog will save me financially. Please feel free to press the Donate button. (Just joking.)

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

What We Don't Know We Don't Know

I’m very detached about the state of the planet these days. Oddly, the recent success of the BNP brought this home to me. I commented to a friend that the Greens have had seats in the Euro Parliament for years without making the slightest impact on policy, so why worry about one fascist in the building? Cynical or what?

But I do care about the environment. Not so much for the human race as for all the other species we'll drag down with us and indeed Earth itself – still as far as we know the only place like it in the universe. It’s sickening and frustrating, which is a mere irritation compared with the bother of being abused, persecuted, slaughtered and finally driven to extinction. How would albatrosses, say, feel about this, if they could feel and express it?

One small incident reported by the RSPB, concerning a bird of prey but part of an endemic problem in Malta, is typical. The final episode of Planet Earth provided grim statistics. It goes on and on and it’s up to us to feel the pain.

I guess that's part of the motivation behind this blog. We don't even know the half of what's out there, so how can we feel for it? Surely we could just get present to the fantastic riches that are available right now in the wild world without having to consume them at all. And keep being present to them.

I certainly want to spread the awareness and if I can entertain at the same time, then job done.

The First Singapore Evening, 2008

From Heathrow to Changi; from relative squalor to a 21st-century airport. I exchanged my unspent Barcelona euros to Singapore dollars commission-free, my luggage appeared in time and I could have caught a train downtown. I opted for a taxi instead: I was knackered and certainly didn't fancy struggling my suitcase through rain over the final leg to the hotel.

Not for the last time on the trip, I wondered at the complexity of my driver’s route to my destination. Did he know of one-way restrictions, diversions or bottlenecks that weren't obvious from a map? The tour certainly gave him time to spout off about his Europe experiences and to drive me past the prostitutes.

“Chinese,” he explained.

OK, my hotel was in the red-light district. I seem to have an unfailing instinct for that but he didn't have to go on about it. Geylang was also a fine eating area and I was ravenous, so, studiously avoiding eye-contact with any female, I checked out restaurants, finally to settle on the one closest to the hotel. The odd rain-burst made that seem wise.

Then off to a proper bed for the first time in thirty hours.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

A Successful Twitch, Not

Black terns around the Midlands and two early morning reports from Bittell sent Dave and me there just after breakfast. The first problem was to clear the car’s glove compartment drawer out of his way: the catch has broken, which doesn't matter if I have no passenger. I hurriedly dismantled the whole thing and it now lies on my back seat, probably until I get passengers there, which could be many years.

On arrival we decided to check the lower reservoir first. I had my scope’s tripod at half mast because it’s easier to carry and fits in the car where the fully extended legs don't. But it is not as stable and certainly not stable enough for the slope on which I plonked it. Clunk, thud. I got semi-lucky with the optics themselves crashing into earth but the shock was fatal for the tripod head. It may have been weakening for a while.

Deep joy.

We dipped on the tern, even after trudging up to the top reservoir. Steve Payne -- for he, as we had guessed, had reported the bird -- hailed us on the way off the dam to say that it had showed only briefly.

Black ternWell, here's a picture of a black tern, just to cheer us all up.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Starfish - Edinburgh Evening News

Finally Starfish has hit the Web without any glitches. Go watch! Go watch!

A Dither

The closing date for the Bridport Prize is at the end of this month. I have just unearthed a flyer from my pending folder and realise that I have a ready story, penned but never submitted for the British Science Fiction Association. I need to trim 700+ words and therein lies a problem. No amount of tinkering will do it; I need to lose an entire scene or at the very least several beats.

I may toy with it for a few days. I’m also not sure that the Bridport is the right competition. The piece is SF and may need an SFate audience to get what's going on. Too clever by half, eh? Probably.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Flight to Singapore - 2008

I had plenty of time to get across London and hang around Heathrow, not my favourite of airports but I’m an inveterate people-watcher (well, mainly women), so the hours flew by. I didn't register much until the plane crossed the Black Sea, when city names began to get more exotic. We had been in darkness for ages and only the seat-back map gave any clues to the lights passing below. They thinned the further east we flew, Romania seeming like the last outpost of civilisation.

I was sneaking glimpses under the window shutter, down as usual for the benefit of sleeping passengers. I had grabbed a couple of fitful hours of wine-induced doze but couldn't manage any more.

We may have passed the Crimea and crossed Georgia and Azerbaijan. The names on the map weren't helping much. The Caspian Sea was obvious as we flew to meet the sun, then Turkmenistan, dusty mountains and not much else, which carried on into Afghanistan. Why fight over these arid landscapes? Surely no one could want, or be able, to live there? I could trace the possible courses of rivers but all seemed devoid of the slightest moisture, even any hints of growth along their banks. 35,000 feet may not be the ideal vantage point for such detail.

The country prefigured parts of the coming Australian experience. Its camels and riders opened up the similarly desolate outback and part of the name lives on in the train from Adelaide to Darwin.

Kabul passed, hidden, under our port wing and the bleak, unforgiving terrain continued into Pakistan. Finally, Lahore, with the obvious concentric, spoked arrangement of Model Town, showed signs of life. The mountains slid away to the north, gained snow-capped peaks as the Hindu Kush became the Himalayas, which accompanied us over the plains of northern India. One of the summits must have been Annapurna, another Everest but I knew not which.

Burma came and went without a trace of the fires that had dotted it on my flight west in 2003. Had they finally razed the entire jungle or had economic activity ceased with the suppression of the Saffron Revolution?

Thailand slipped by and we found ourselves over its Gulf and heading into cloud. The captain announced monsoonal rain in Singapore. We juddered down through one layer to come at the airport in a spiral from east to south to west to landing in a zero-visibility downpour. I reflected that it was at least warm rain and certainly beat the snow that was likely back home.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

To Play or not to Play

This morning I broke a 32-game losing streak (punctuated only by three trivial gains).

I had expected downswings to last maybe a dozen games. Indeed the longest stretch with no return at all amounted to thirteen. However, I've been having the sort of sequence that forces a re-evaluation of strategy.

OK, so I was basically playing multi-table tournaments with upwards of a hundred players, sometimes nearly a thousand. The odds of hitting even the final table, let alone the big money positions, were contributing to the persistent failure. This is not good for building a bankroll, which is what I need now. I can gun for the big prizes later.

Despite that, I have identified most of my exits as being down to running out of stack in the face of rising blinds. I’m fine for the first hour and on into the second but, as the bubble approaches, I have to shove with increasingly desperate hands to stay in. And of course I don't survive. This is symptomatic of playing too tightly. According to PokerStove, not even 7% of my hands. Given that, playing randomly, I should win 10%, I clearly wasn't giving myself much chance.

It is a balancing act. Play too much and your stack disappears in false starts; play too little and the blinds catch up with you. There's a happy medium somewhere. I’m still working on finding it.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Curlew Sandpiper at Upton Warren

Curlew Sandpiper

This is an attractive bird in breeding plumage. I've seen individuals pass in the autumn when they don't have the red colouring or the black mottling on the back. This picture of a juvenile only does part justice to the plumage, which was on full display at Upton this afternoon. Also present were redshanks, lapwings, little (ringed) plovers, a (big) ringed plover and avocets, some with offspring.

The powers-that-be have decided that the little ringed plover (LRP) is not to be ringed any more but is still to be little, despite not being appreciably so. It all sounds a bit dubious to me. (Ho-ho! LRP is charadrius dubius.)

Such was the scene at the Flashes, the southern end of the reserve. At the Moors Pool, late sand martins joined the local house martins and swallows. Perhaps the sand martins are breeding nearby, they're so late? I wonder where? And perhaps they always did: I have June and July records from 1998. Anyone any ideas?

Thursday, 4 June 2009

North of Atherton, Queensland - January

Whistling kite

Now, for a couple I met at the raptor watchpoint in the North York Moors, and for all the birds of prey we missed, here comes a discontinuity in the timeline of my Australian trip...

Sunday, the 25th, saw me take my leave of Atherton and head north for Mareeba Wetlands. As ever, my van wasn't supposed to tackle the dirt road and anyway the reserve was closed. I carried on past Lake Mitchell, which also didn't deliver, and stopped for lunch at Mount Molloy in the heat of the day. The pub provided a surprising array of dishes, so I knew I had only to snack it that evening.

The settlement itself – hardly a town – held good birding habitat but I elected to try the Peninsula Development Road to Mount Carbine, for a taste of drier Queensland. I had already scrubbed Cooktown from my itinerary, so I wasn't going all the way down the Road.

Various clouds threatened but no rain materialised, nor did any birds – only yet another lolly from the hamlet’s roadhouse. I headed back for the coast and Cape Tribulation. I was keen to spend the night in the relative coolness of the mountains, so Kingfisher Park, at the edge of the Tablelands, was a logical choice for campsite. Unsure how to find it, I was driving slower than even my customary snail-pace when yet another red-neck vehicle roared up behind me and overtook on a blind bend with horn blaring. A thousand heart attacks to you, scum!

As it happened, the Park was obvious but with only just room for me: it was hosting the annual long weekend get-together of the North Queensland branch of Birds Australia. This was a good thing: at last someone who could tell me what I was looking at! ⇐

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