Saturday, 12 October 2013

Thick-billed Pork Burgers

Gratuitous use of the oil painting setting on my photo software.

If you don't want to see graphic images of a butchery nature, please close your eyes and scroll down enough to get past the next picture!  (Seriously)

GOARY, but strangely fascinating.
If you're going to eat an animal,
I firmly believe you should be able to look it in the face.

The title of this post reflects the total panic which reigned last Friday.

In fact this post is a strange mixture of butchery, burger-making and birding. A strange mixture which I have chosen to make my life.

For two weekends ago our last piglet went off, leaving us with just Daisy.
Trailer in position, ready for loading


Daisy: The survivor
I was planning on keeping this one till after Christmas, mainly because of shortage of freezer space. But when someone expressed an interest in buying half of her for bacon / gammons / hams, I decided that I could just about manage the other half. She was growing very quickly anyway. Could be something to do with a certain lady upping the pigs' rations without telling me! Anyway, she (the piglet, not my lady!) spent her last month on a diet, topped up with oodles of apple pulp from our cider making activities. At this time of year we get many donations of windfalls for the pigs - all most welcome.

So, back to that total panic on Friday. As usual I had picked up the pig from my butchers on Thursday afternoon. Half had gone off to a happy customer and the rest was for me to sort out. We still had quite a lot of pork joints left in the freezers, which really were bulging with the summer's harvest, so I decided to get the majority of our half pig turned into mince. This gave me the opportunity to ask the butcher to take out the whole tenderloin - something of a luxury.

And so it was that, on Friday morning, I set about the task of turning half a pig into pork burgers. I had an ambitious plan to make at least half a dozen varieties, and an even more ambitious plan to somehow find room in the freezers!

I set about peeling, chopping, cooking, measuring, mixing and shaping. First came Red Pepper, Chili and Tomato burgers, then Curried Potato burgers. All the ingredients (bar some of the spices) came from the garden. Fortunately, I think, I tried one of the chillis before committing them into the mixture. Just the tiniest piece had my tongue tingling for the next hour!
Everything took time, but I carried on through the morning and by lunchtime I had knocked out a batch of Thai style pork burgers too.

Red Pepper, Chilli and Tomato pork burgers

I was doing OK, though I was a bit worried about the tiny amount of space left in the freezers. I would surely need to take an hour out of burger making just to reorganise the freezers and make some space. I started the next batch - Fennel, Apple and Coriander - when suddenly, and most inconveniently, the pager wailed into action.


... on Shetland Mainland!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That was it. My industrious day at home was turned upside down. The phone started ringing and I went into blind panic, running around like a headless chicken. I hastily worked out my options and booked a flight from Aberdeen. My phone was then pretty much non-stop for the next couple of hours - all while I was now desperately attempting to get the last two batches of burgers made. This might have been a little bit easier if it weren't for the fact that I have to go outside to get any form of acceptable signal here.

I don't quite know how I did it, but by the evening the burgers were done, in the freezers and I was getting ready to drive to York, where I would meet up with a fellow birder and head northwards towards Aberdeen airport, via Tebay where we would pick up another two mad souls.

I should say that Sue and I were due to be entertaining on Saturday evening. Fortunately everybody we know has come to expect this type of spontaneous behaviour from me at this time of year.

If all went to plan, while Sue was cooking and entertaining I would be getting on the overnight ferry from Shetland back to Aberdeen, hopefully having seen the bird.

And that last phrase most certainly could not be taken for granted. For, of the four previous Thick-billed Warblers to be found in Britain, none had been twitchable on the second day. Add to that the fact that I'd already made two unsuccessful trips to Ireland during the previous week, and you will see why us twitchers sometimes get a little twitchy!

I had intended this blog post to be exclusively about burger making, but as usual my best laid plans have been interrupted by a bird. So here's my account of the twitch. I'm afraid there are no photos - I wanted to avoid having to check any luggage onto the plane so the camera had to stay at home.

I won't describe the drive up to Aberdeen - it takes a long time but I was at least able to get a bit of sleep. I did my fair share of staying awake to keep the driver going too.
We arrived at the multi-storey car park at the ferry terminal at about 6.30am. The plan was to get a taxi from there to the airport, which we had booked en route, so that we would be able to get straight off the ferry and into the car when we returned. However, £45 for parking just over 24 hours seemed like a rip off so we cancelled the taxi ( for which they seemed to have no record of the booking anyway!) and drove to the airport car park. The one small benefit of booking last minute is that you always have to buy the expensive (but exchangeable) tickets, which gives the perfect opportunity to lower the tone in the executive lounge! I hit the espresso coffee machine and the cakes while Danny Boy started his celebrations a little early!
But this was nothing compared to when the north-eastern twitchers arrived. They did their best to recoup their air fare in cakes, biscuits and miniature drinks cans! It was very good to see so many familiar faces. It's a funny old game is twitching. You meet the same group of people from all over the country, but you never know where or when you will all meet up next. It is usually on a plane or a boat though.
Everybody was excited, though I have to admit I was slightly in fear of a third major dip in a row. So it was with relief that we received a phone call before boarding the plane that the bird was still present.
The night before it had been seen by quite a few birders already on Shetland, but apparently most views had only been of the bird in flight. Although Thick-billed Warbler is large and distinctive as far as little brown jobs go, it's still not ideal to see any lbj only in flight. We also knew that the bird was skulking in an oat crop and that no access to the crop was being allowed. So we most certainly were not counting our chickens... or our TBWs for that matter!

As we landed it was a race to get off the plane, through the airport and into our hire car, before Dan raced the few miles to Geosetter. We left the car parked as sensibly as we could and approached the field where maybe thirty or forty birders were already looking to get views of the bird.
For maybe an hour or so there was nothing. This sure would be a major hit to take if we had made it all the way here and failed to see the bird, especially knowing that it was in the field in front of us. We had been told in no uncertain terms that the farmer would not allow anyone to access the field so, having waited patiently, Plan B was put into action. As soon as the drizzle stopped and the sun almost came out, a recording of Thick-billed Warbler was played and OOOMF!! It wasn't long at all before the bird briefly flew above the oats towards its perceived fellow lost soul. It was fairly obvious what it was - it couldn't really be anything else, but a better view would most certainly be appreciated.

We then stood for a further 90 minutes with nothing to entertain us apart from an occasional flight over the oat crop by a blackcap and a couple of diminutive yellow-browed warblers flitting around. This really was very frustrating indeed.

But then the rather brash, self-appointed organiser of twitches on Shetland appeared having spoken to the farmer. He had permission for two people to walk through the field.
An anticipatory crowd headed up to the far end of the field and waited with bated breath. It wasn't too long before the quarry was flushed out and again made a short flight over the crop.
This happened a few more times, until I had what I refer to as a 'jigsaw tick'. I had seen enough bits of the bird on my various views to piece the whole thing together. The bird did at one stage leave the field, only to dive into the thick willow growth which filled the adjacent burn. Unfortunately the crowd was too twitchy and 'edged' forward too impatiently, which resulted in the bird heading straight back into the field!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, with patience we eventually got extended views of the Thick-billed Warbler in flight and in the binoculars. The stubby, thick bill, the open facial expression and beady eye and the long, graduated tail all combined to make it a most distinctive bird, even with only flight views.
It would have been nice to explore a little more of Shetland and to see some more of its birds, but this bird was a skulker which had led us a merry dance all day and before we knew it we had to head back to the ferry terminal in Lerwick. There was just time to burn my tongue on a hastily consumed fish and chips in the harbour before we boarded the ferry and began washing our meal down with a few celebratory drinks. Some were thirstier than others, Dan!!!

So that was it, from burgers in a fenland farmhouse kitchen to a thick-billed warbler in a far-flung corner of Britain.


  1. "But then the rather brash, self-appointed organiser of twitches on Shetland appeared having spoken to the farmer"

    Typical sooth twitcher... Quick to slate the man, and not to express any thanks to him in your blog, but he at least got you some more views of the bird. Until then you'd had to resort to tape-luring it........ FFS, twitchers. It's all take and no manners with you lot.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog and for leaving a comment.

      Sorry if I found him brash, but I did!

      Looking forward to welcoming you on a twitch here down south. Shame I won't know if it's you as you remain anonymous.
      I assure you, you'll find me very well mannered. I'm not the one who uses abbreviated obscenities on a blog open to all to read, or who is so disparaging towards a group of people, most of whom I suspect you don't know very well, just because you don't agree with something one of them has written.
      Just to be clear, I've always found the true Shetlanders I've met most welcoming, friendly and understanding. I often make a point of thanking them for their hospitality. In fact, where thanks are due I make a point of making them. See my post on my twitch to the Outer Hebs Semipalmated Plover in 2012 if you don't believe me.

      Happy Christmas!
      Must be dark up there at this time of year. Bit depressing I guess.


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