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Sat 7th December 2013

Posted on December 4, 2013 at 3:30 PM

The last month really has flown by. Time is getting faster and faster. It feels like I am waiting on a platform watching the weeks flash by and they never stop to let me get on. Of course, it is a widely known phenomenom that the older you get, the faster time seems to pass. Why is this so? Nowadays, a week is a much smaller proportion of my life than it was when I was younger, but basic maths surely can't explain this odd temporal perception that we all feel. So why is this the case?


I suspect that it is do with variety versus routine. A week in the life of the young Lawlor would have involved all sorts of activities - different places on different days, doing this, that and the other (well not very much of the other). Seeing new things, new experiences, new towns, new people, sleeping in, getting up late, awake til the early hours, or not. Compare that with now, when each day has the same routine - up on the alarm, kids, work, kids, work, bed, with a little time in between to do other things of course, but not much. There's no resentment at all - family life is what it is, and I love it and them (and the young Lawlor was a bit of a twassock) - but the similarity of each day means they merge and time contracts accordingly. I'm sure there are numerous theses on such things, but it must be something like that going on in our heads.


This is also mirrored in my birding. In the five years from 1990 to 1995 I was BUBO maniac, birding incessantly and in my memory this five year period seems to stretch out for decades. Whereas the years from 1998 to 2013 whilst I have been in Guernsey seem to have taken no time at all. For all the above-mentioned reasons, my mind has made 5 years-birding seem a much, much longer time period than 15 years-birding.


Enough of this blathering, since returning from the UK, there has not been a lot of wildlife sightings from me (hence this post's aforementioned blathering). In the dying embers of October, on the 31st, I popped to Icart late one afternoon after a St. Martins school visit and bumped into a brief Yellow-browed Warbler in the sycamores alongside the hotel. It was so windy though it soon disappeared.


The only other main birding I managed in the month was a seawatch from Jaonneuse on 10th. The wind was pretty strongly NWerly and the auks and Kittiwakes passed by in three figures. A count of 22 Balearic Shearwaters was pretty good being so late, and we also had a few Great Skuas and one not-seen-especially-well Pom Skua.  My Pulias patch-watching brought a couple of new species for the year - Common Gull on 15th and Red-breasted Merganser on 25th. The personal highlight has been the Black Redstart which has entertained me in the garden for the last three weekends - I hope that it stays for the whole winter.


Black Redstart - garden, 24 Nov 13


Black Redstart - garden, 1 Dec 13


The best bird on the island was during November was a male Desert Wheatear at L'Ancresse, which is our 6th record and the 3rd in three years. Quite remarkable. Unfortunately it was only available on one day and I was working from dark til dark so was unable to see it.



The Desert Wheatear records in Guernsey - the three northern birds have been seen in less than 1km of coastline, quite a cluster of records.


The first week of December has continued in the same quiet way, but on 2nd, four Teal appeared on the pond at Pulias (a site tick I think) and a group of 7 Snipe flew NE overhead. Maybe the harbingers of some hard-weather movement.


Finished a little bit of fun artwork yesterday:




Well, I say 'fun' but the serious point is the decline of the Turtle Dove in the UK, which I have mentioned before (Click here to visit the "DOVESTEP" charity walk website). I have added the design to the collection of shirts in my T-shirt shop (click box right) - where £2 from each shirt sold goes to a conservation charity. I shall soon be sending £30 from recent T-shirt sales to Dovestep to help with their Turtle Dove awareness efforts.

Thu 24th October 2013

Posted on November 19, 2013 at 5:45 PM

TRIP TO THE UK - Part 4


So it was now very dark as I headed down the M3 towards Southampton. I had booked a Travelodge at Ringwood, so not too far a drive ahead for me. Just as I was approaching Winchester however, massive fork lightning appeared above the road ahead, flashing the sky white and interrupting Radio 4. A few more flashes and I thought I'd better pull in to the services. Just as I stopped in the car park it totally hammered down with such a force, that my 10 yards dash inside soaked me through. I know I have mentioned heavy rain more or less every day, but this was the worst of the lot. I later learnt that, just down the road, the evening's Pompey footie match was abandoned because of it. Apocalyptical stuff! So I was pretty late to Ringwood in the end and had a good rest.


With again nothing decent to go for in the local area the next day (Wed 23rd Oct), I didn't rush off. At least it was going to be a dry day, so I headed towards Portland Bill, stopping at Weymouth Morisons for a nice cheap cooked breakfast on the way. I tried to buy a couple of items in the store but the woman at the checkout refused to accept my Guernsey 20p coin. Borderline racism! Driving up to Portland brought back good memories. I spent an autumn working in Dorset and went to Portland most weekends, seeing some classy birds in the area. At the Bill, I got out of the car and cursed again that the wind hadn't died down and was coming in west off the sea, pretty cold and pretty strong. So I drove back North a bit and tried birding some of the eastern cliffs which were quite sheltered.



Portland Bill Obs


It was quite a nice walk but birds were few and far between - one or two Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Goldcrests. There was some movement overhead and pipits and wagtails streamed south, and a Merlin skimmed past. In one of the valleys, a Hummingbird Hawk-moth and 2 Clouded Yellows were flying in the sun, one of the latter being a white one. Driving back to the Bill I went for another walk round, the wind dying down a little. There was little extra to see - a Swallow and decent flocks of Skylarks. I did have a very brief bunting which I thought looked decidedly interesting (Little maybe?) but it flew flew flew. The highlight was the excellent Little Owl hiding in its usual spot in the quarry.


I stopped at Ferrybridge hoping to 'scope for Black Brant and maybe other birds on the Fleet, but a heavy rainstorm put paid to this idea. Driving into Weymouth, I stopped at Radipole and there were a few Med Gulls amongst the gulls in the car park. I was hoping to see the famous Hooded Merganser but couldn't find it - heck, I was even dipping on plastic ducks!






first-winter and adult Med Gulls - Radipole, 23 Oct 13


Back to the hotel late afternoon to make myself presentable for my return tomorrow, or I maybe wouldn't have been allowed back in the house for hobo-ish tendencies. Scrubbed up I strutted into town to paint Weymouth red. Well, I bought some nosh at Tesco and ate it whilst watching "Rush" at the local cinema.


Next morning I had to be sharp as breakfast started at 7 am and last check-in for the ferry was at 7:30. I'm sure the guests and staff at the Best Western were aghast at this uncouth ruffian hoovering up the breakfast buffet, but I definitely got my fill. The weather leaving Weymouth was quite sunny and I planned to seawatch from the deck, especially as an albatross had been observed from the Condor a few days ago. Soon into the voyage it started to rain and, apart from numerous Gannets and a few auks, the only notable seabird was a Bonxie about half-way across. What was more interesting was the little flocks of Meadow Pipits that I kept spotting skimming over the waves on their way south.



Guillemot and Razorbills - English Channel, 24 Oct 13


To summarise, the trip was rather disappointing bird-wise. I seemed to hit the quietest few days of the whole autumn and even then, I was always a day too early for the rarities. Two different Pallid Swifts were found the day after I was near the places, the Two-barred Crossbill was seen again the day I left the Brecks, plus one or two other things like that. Luckily I got the semi-p to make sure I got my tick. Also, the rain was awful and reduced my time in the field, and the wind was probably in the worst direction it could have been. However, it was nice to do what I wanted, when I wanted, for a few days. And I was very pleased how the logistics went. Just making it up as I go was a great idea and something I shall do again. 




Tue 22nd October 2013

Posted on November 16, 2013 at 3:40 AM

TRIP TO THE UK - Part 3


Monday morning (21st Oct) I drove north and headed for the North Norfolk coast. Ideally I was going to go see something exciting but the news from the previous day was poor, with nothing new for me in the whole of East Anglia, or even anything interesting that I'd seen before. There had been a sighting of a Parrot Crossbill in Wells Woods though, so I headed there first as I may be able to locate some more of them and it is as good a place as anywhere to find my own things.


As I arrived in the town though, the rain started again, with a real vengeance. The wind was still annoyingly southerly and quite annoyingly strong. I had no enthusiasm for trudging around in these conditions. I waited it out in the car, listening to the radio and reading the paper. It wouldn't stop. The rain eventually subsided a little and I headed out for a walk through the woods. There was a few Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests in the first section called "The Dell" I think, but no sibes could be found. I did enjoy getting great views of Jay and Coal Tit though. I then went off for a massive trek through the pines and saw very little else at all although I had an ace Stoat and a close Muntjac, plus a variety of interesting fungi, plants and mosses to look at.


After this I headed East stopping at a few places like Cley and Salthouse, but the weather continued to be awful and I headed back to Andy's after probably the worst day's birding in Norfolk I had ever had!


The next day (22nd Oct), Andy showed me two moth-ticks caught in his trap - Barred Sallow and November Moth , which was a bonus. But I was unsure what to do bird-wise as there was still nothing obvious to go see in the whole region. There was a probable Northern Harrier in the Fens (meh) or I could try and re-find the Two-barred Crossbill in the Brecks, but that hadn't been seen since Friday, so it might be a wild goose chase. In the end, I didn't want another depressing day like yesterday, so I decided to sod the birding, head into London and hit the Natural History Museum! At least I could guarantee some rare sightings there.


So I drove round the M25 and parked up at the train station in Langley and headed into London on the train. I had not been to London for about 18 years, so I was obviously very concerned about being the victim of crime. But I am pleased to report that I was not stabbed at all - not even once! But I was very worried all day about all my stuff being nicked from my car. The journey into the city was interesting and when I arrived in Paddington I had not a clue what to do. When I asked an employee "So how do I get out?" he looked at me incredulously, and as I tried to get through the wrong 'turnstile' thing, he just shook his head and opened it for me. I managed to make it into the open air and negotiate the streets and the throng of people and headed into Hyde Park where I saw a species I'd only seen twice before in the UK, and it sounds like this....



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calls of Ring-necked Parakeet, Hyde Park, 22 Oct 13 - note the authentic London sounds of the sirens in the background, clearly the police on the way to break up a gang fight or a drive-by shooting.



Ring-necked Parakeet - Hyde Park, London, 22 Oct 13


The Natural History Museum was, of course, full of fantastic sights. I had been once before, when I was a young teenager, but I barely remember. I didn't realise that the museum was free to get in, which meant that there were masses and masses of people inside even though it was midweek and not a school holiday. Far too busy. This heaving throng was very claustrophobic. I think that a lot of the displays were catering for kids, or for adults with very little knowledge, especially the newer bits which seem to have prioritised style above substance. Or perhaps I am being a pompous ass....




The picture below was the large mammal room. Very spectacular and excellent models showing the true sizes of these animals, but I couldn't work out which things were real and which were models.




The best room though was, of course, the dinosaurs, and I especially liked that they have built a walkway so that you can see some of them at head height (although I don't understand why is was so bloney dark in there!). Below is a picture of Albertosaurus.




Every now and again I came to an exhibit which really took my breath away. Not because they were massive and spectacular, but because they were of things so rare, so famous, so magical, that I could barely believe I was seeing them with my own eyes. Such a privilage. For example, below is a picture of a chunk of Mars. Yes, a piece of another planet right in front of me!! The tiny dot in the sky, millions of miles away, that I sometimes see above my house - and there is lump of it a foot away from my nose. Blow the mind.




This meteorite was actually seen falling to Earth in Egypt in 1911 and was formed when a comet smacked into Mars 11 million years ago, and eventually this piece got caught in our gravity and fell down. And then just next to this case was this piece of awesome awesomeness...




It doesn't look much, but the dust at the bottom of this vial is the oldest thing I will ever see. THE OLDEST THING I WILL EVER SEE!!! These are tiny space-diamonds formed in the dust around dying stars billions of years ago, before our solar system was even formed. I AM LOOKING AT SOMETHING OLDER THAN THE SOLAR SYSTEM!!!!! And then there is the famous stuff like what was attached to this label....





The Great Auk used to be a British bird less than 200 years ago. Just imagine if these were still around. This was part of the "Treasures" display with a lot of the most famous things together in one place - Dodo skeleton, originals of "Origin of Species" and "Birds of America", insects collected on Wallace's expedition, Archaeopteryx, etc. Superb.


I stayed there until closing time when it became a little quieter, and made my way back to Paddington Station. Rush hour was on and I was struggling to get my bearings amongst these human-ants milling around the place. But I managed to get on the correct train and reach Langley Station again. Much to my relief, my car was intact, and I jumped in and headed south.


Mon 21st October 2013

Posted on November 5, 2013 at 3:50 PM

TRIP TO THE UK - Part 2


So East Anglia it was, and I skirted London on the M25 with little trouble. I was not in a rush as there was nothing in particular to twitch and I was enjoying the drive. I get very little opportunity for long-distance motoring so it was a bit of a novelty for me to be in the car for so long. Watching the countryside flashing by, listening to the radio, being regularly overtaken by juggernaughts as I was still travelling on Guernsey speed - very pleasant. The afternoon was drifting away as I passed through Essex, and noticed on the map that Abberton Reservoir was nearby, a place I'd never been, so I detoured for a look around.


I only got there half an hour or so before the reserve centre closed and so didn't stay very long. I was very impressed by the place. It was a really massive area of water, with seemingly plenty of birds present - looked great to have as a local patch.....except, everything was so bloody far away! Even from the hides, the birds are still little dots in the distance. I wouldn't be able to enjoy this, it would frustrate me. I noticed some wee dots on the island which I presumed were small waders, and even with maximum zoom on the 'scope, I got them as Ringed Plover with 3 probable Little Stints. Perhaps the locals have a few places that they can see things closer up. I hope so.



Abberton Reservoir - see those tiny dots on the island? no? neither could I.....


I saw lots of species around the lake that I had not seen for ages - like Canada Geese, Common Gulls and Gadwalls. There were about 10 Pintail swimming around as well as a female Goldeneye. An adult Peregrine came in to buzz the other birds and a Marsh Harrier hunted in the distance. There was a small black and white grebe also but it was too distant for an ID.


I thought that trying to find more viewing spots would be a bit difficult so I headed back towards the main road and headed NE into East Anglia. As it was now almost dusk, I thought I'd try a few places around Ipswich for some accommodation but every single hotel I tried was full. I don't know what was so popular in Ipswich - perhaps there was a tractor convention on? I tried a few out-of-town motels nearby but the weather had now deteriorated and I was getting rather fed up driving round in the dark. So I stopped at a Pizza Hut to treat myself to some nosh. I ordered one thing - just the one - and they got it wrong. I then ordered a cuppa and they gave me a dirty cup. Quality service as usual in the UK.


In the end I decided to ditch the fruitless hotel-hunt and find somewhere that I could kip down in the car. I used to do this quite a bit in my younger birding days but not for quite a while. Finding a suitable spot is not that easy, especially if you're by yourself, as you don't want somewhere too far from civilisation where you could wake up to find the cast of "Deliverence" tapping on your window. But not somewhere too busy, where drunken yobbos or the Old Bill will want to know why you're there. Also somewhere with some street lighting and easy-access to a private pee-ing area. I found a great spot, in a quiet car park, just off Aldeburgh high street, right on the beach.


My room for the night.


I had brought a blanket with me and had earlier bought a pillow from Tescos for £2 - how on earth can they sell a pillow for that cheap!? The Moon was full and the midnight light was beautiful as I stood by the breaking waves with my wash bag, brushing my teeth. So peaceful. Then the realisation hit me that my shower gel had leaked during the journey and I was currently brushing my teeth with Co-ops finest body wash! Much cleansing out of the mouth followed and I fell asleep easily in the car after a busy day.


Sun 20th - I woke up rather refreshed after a surprising 6 hours solid sleep, ate some malt loaf and drove off. Just north of the town was North Warren RSPB reserve and I had a hour's walk around this area to wake me up. The wind was quite unpleasantly fresh and still from the South which was noy going to bring in anything new. Migrants were not around at all with just a few Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests seen and a single Crossbill going over. But as before it was great seeing unfamiliar species like Jay, Reed Buntings, Great Spot and Green Woodpeckers. The reserve is mainly for winter geese and there were 3 White-fronts in the fields already in.


Just as I jumped back in the car the rain started with fury. Again. I drove up to Minsmere and had some breakfast at the cafe and stole some of their electricity for my phone. The rain was now heavy and persistent and I was stuck inside until it finally stopped mid-morning and the sun came out. The wind was keeping any small birds down low and there was little of interest on the scrapes, but at least there was not thousands of photographers in the hides like last time I was here.



A Minsmere scrape.



Water Rail - Minsmere, 20 Oct 13


After not seeing very much at all, I headed round to the Island Mere Hide where things greatly improved. As I walked down the boardwalk a Great White Egret flew right past the hide windows. If I'd have been a little sooner, I would have been able to get some great shots maybe. It landed at the back of the pond and showed well but distantly. Great White Egrets may be a bit blasé to british birders nowadays but this was only my second sighting in Britain.



Great White Egret - Minsmere, 20 Oct 13


Whilst looking at the GWE, there was a little splashing in the water in front, and everyone in the hide watched an Otter swimming around the lake. I have been looking through my records and I cannot find any sign that I have seen the species in the UK before. I thought I had done, but it seems not. Also I saw two different Bitterns flying over the reeds from this hide. Walking back through the woods an unfamiliar call caught my attention and had great views of a Marsh Tit.



Common Puffball - Minsmere, 20 Oct 13


Leaving the reserve, I struggled to find any internet connection to get any local birds news, but Andy M was going to text me if anything important turned up so I wasn't worried much. I carried on North, checking a few coastal spots as I dodged the rain showers, but little was seen. I managed a walk along the cliffs at Covehithe - just 2 Chiffchaffs and 5 Med Gulls - but had to again rush back to the car as the sky had turned a foreboding, indigo-black.


The rain again looked set in and I decided to head inland to Andy's house where I was going to spend the night. There followed a horrendous half hour where the driving was ridiculous - I cannot remember a time ever driving in worse rain. As I was travelling down smallish roads with a line of cars behind me it was somewhat stressful! I eventually made it to Andy's village and calmed down with a cuppa and a top curry. It was great to have a mini-BUBO reunion and we enjoyed a couple of pints down the pub.


Sat 19th October 2013

Posted on November 3, 2013 at 5:00 AM

TRIP TO THE UK - Part 1


I didn't go anywhere last autumn, but most recent October half-terms I have headed for some rarity-hunting in the UK, mainly on Scilly, or sometimes Cornwall or Yorkshire. The main reason for these trips has always been seeing some rare birds, i.e. twitching. Of course, I try to find my own birds too, but I am always happy for this one week, to simply go around seeing birds other people have found. Recently however, this has not been very fruitful: Yorkshire 2011 - dead, no new birds; Scilly 2010 - quiet but did get Green Heron; Cornwall 2008 - excruciatingly quiet! So one new British tick in the last three trips is not really satisfactory.


So I thought I'd change tack this year. Instead of first deciding where to go, then flying over and staying in a pre-booked hotel, I would drive over in the car and not book any accommodation. This would leave me freedom to travel anywhere and "chase the rares". My minimum target on these forays has always been to see at least one new British tick and if I could go anywhere, then I thought this would be certain. 


So I booked the ferry for Friday evening, returning Thursday morning - 5 full days of birding. By Wednesday, I was planning to head for Suffolk as there was both Radde's and Bluetail there, both of which I needed. But then on Thursday evening news came out of a Semipalmated Plover in Hampshire - less than an hour away from where I would land. Not really the kind of exciting species one yearns for, but nonetheless, bloomin' rare! It was seen again at Friday lunchtime so, with nothing else new turning up, I went online and booked a hotel nearby, ready to twitch the bird on Saturday.


boarding the Condor just as it was getting dark


The weather forecast for the week ahead looked pretty awful though, with winds seemingly stuck in a southerly direction, and massive clumps of rain hurtling across the country in waves. This was not conducive for new rare migrants to come in and I was pessimistic about the twitching ahead. As I left Poole and headed NE up the main road through the New Forest, the heavens didn't open, they exploded into tiny pieces, and I could barely see anything in front of me. I was astonished at the speeds the other drivers were going in these conditions, with seemingly no regard for their own safety. It eased off as I arrived at Eastleigh Travelodge around midnight and checked in. I wandered round for a bit looking for a cashpoint and some food - Eastleigh town centre at throwing-out-time on a Friday night is not a pretty sight. After passing a drunk woman hurling abuse down her phone in the corridor outside my room, I locked myself in and fell asleep.


Waking up the next day (19th Oct), I was pleased to see that the rain had stopped and I checked out. The drive to Hayling Island was quite short and I wasn't in a rush because I knew that it was not high tide until early afternoon. During the previous two days, the plover had not been seen until the tide had pushed the feeding waders closer to land. So I was quite casual, although upon arrival on the island I couldn't find where I was supposed to go. So I bought some grub from a newsagent and sat by the side of the road and waited until a car-load or twitchers passed me by. Quite soon I spotted one, followed it, and parked up in the correct place - no news yet apparently but this was not surprising. Luckily the weather was great - no rain at all, and quite warm for the time of year. I soon found the line of birders by the shore waiting for the wader flocks to fly in.



Part of the "twitch". I thought that there may have been more birders attending the twitch as the bird was so rare. I estimated a maximum of 200 people present altogether. As you can see from the photo, the twitching community clearly represents the large diversity of people we have in this country. As we waited, everyone really appreciated the bloke who gave us a running commentary of each and every bird he looked at....


There were a few Ringed Plovers out on the sand but none of the birds seemed to possess all the features we were looking for. Every now and again another small flock arrived and we checked each of them out as they rested on the shoreline. Everyone was very patient, presumably because it was only about half-ten and it wasn't really expected to be there yet. In fact the whole twitch was very well-mannered, with none of this poor behaviour that I have been reading about on the internet. All the twitchers there were doffing their caps, saying please, thank you and "after you", and putting their jackets over the puddles, etc. Obviously this bad behaviour is all just media hype.



The waders were resting on the sand straight out ahead. It looks very far away on this photo but it was close enough with the 'scope to pick out detailed features on the birds present.


At about quarter to eleven, a group of Sanderling flew into the area, and just as they did, a darn sharp birder shouted that he'd just heard it call. I hadn't heard anything unsurprisingly, as I was probably daydreaming, or messing with the camera, or notebook, or phone, or more likely, shoving food into my gob. So everyone dived onto their 'scopes and we soon picked up the Semipalmated Plover standing on a bit of seaweed on the sand. It was far too far for my camera to be useful, but here is a clip I found on Youtube, which was clearly filmed at the same time that I was watching the bird.


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As can be seen, it is not very different than a juvenile Ringed Plover, but it was clearly on the small side, most noticeably around the head and bill, which was very didi compared to the Ringed Plovers nearby. Plumage wise it was perhaps a touch paler, but the key feature of the white throat extending slightly onto the loral area above the gape line could be seen well. So not spectacular, but a new bird for my British List. I have seen a few before, but these were in Florida when I was a teenager, many (many) years ago. This is only the third British record, and I had dipped on the last one, at Dawlish Warren in '97. I took a slight diversion there on our way to catch the Guernsey Ferry - Rosie disagreed strongly that it was 'on the way'.


Here I am post-tick, taking an embarassing selfie at the twitch. Apparently this is very important nowadays because unless you have evidence that you were there at the date and time you said you were, some people can claim that you haven't seen the bird! Shocking, I know. Just to be on the safe side, I took a few witness statements, carved my signature into the fencepost and left a DNA sample behind some bushes. And in case you're wondering, that is not a massive beer belly you can see. My pockets were stuffed with Coke and Eccles Cakes in case I was in for a long wait.


The enjoyment of the bird did not last very long as a group of windsurfers floated very close to the shoreline and all the waders took flight and disappeared over to the other side of the headland. I waited a while but I didn't think that they would come back with all the "leisure" activity going on. If I had come a long way just to see this bird I would have tried to look for it again on the other side (where it did appear again half an hour later apparently). But I wanted to make progress and so I headed North towards the M25. I was hoping that the Two-barred Crossbill in Kent had been seen this morning and going for that was my initial plan.


As I approached Petersfield, the rain started up again and it was even worse than last night. Eventually, I decided that I was unable to drive in it and I got off the A3 to wait in the services until it improved. I started off again and then got stuck in an accident queue near Guildford. How dare all these people want to drive when I am on the road. Eventually, I reached the M25 where the driving was much better. I stopped at Clacket Lane Services to get info and make a decision. Luckily Maccy D's have a nice free wifi service and as I sipped my Strawberry milk shake (I wouldn't even think about eating anything there), I logged onto Birdguides. There was no report of the TBC and there was nothing else at all. Nothing that I hadn't seen before anyway. But I had to make a decision where to go, so I headed into East Anglia, as there was bound to be something turn up there in the next couple of days that I could go see....