Friday, 30 April 2010

Surprise!

Things weren't going too well today, the only good thing being a couple of 'What I Saw out the Window at my Course' list ticks - Jackdaw and Grey Wagtail [What was a Grey Wag doing on a dingy flat roof in Torquay? I don't think it knew either!]

Then, after I got back and was nursing a cup of coffee.... a familiar screaming noise caught my ears. Rushing to the window [and wondering where the frickin' Starling was lurking] I was amazed and delighted to see at least 17 Swifts, feeding and screaming low over the rooftops!!! They usually arrive in the first week of May - I've just checked back as far as 2000, and the previous earliest was the 2nd [in 2005], mean date being the 4th. Pretty reliable birds, Swifts, and far too brief in their stay. I love the fact I live in Swift country - a warm summer evening with them screaming past [hoovering up the mozzies :) ] is one of the things I cherish...

Right then, its late and I have things to do tomorrow.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

I was wondering when Summer would get here....

So I got me a shiiiiny new tripod. Ok, not so much shiiiny as sheeny. You might not think that cutting a kilo off your setup would make much difference, but it's surprising how much it really does! Today, after realising that the rain wasn't going to stop, I took the Big Scope on a Patch Patrol and wandered right down to Hope's Nose. Normally I'd only take it for a full-on seawatch [with coffee and everything :) ] and drive over. I know its not that many miles, and only two big hills, but hey - I'm lazy. So, wandering the streets with a big chunk of optics over the shoulder was different. Fun to use too - fast and easy to level, and the head was a joy - I hadn't realised just how much a counterbalance helps. But on with the fun!

It was rainy and gungy and from IMD the Ore Stone was obscured when I got there, and if I'd known it'd be that interesting I'd have been there for a full seawatch! The wind was somewhere around south but too light to do much and I doubt I'd have seen much - an hour got me 30-odd Gannet, 2 Razorbill, 2 Fulmar and 3 Kittiwake - but it would have been fun swearing at the two trawlers coming in far too close to rip out the seabed while they can... >:( One benefit was getting to see the 200-strong gull mob going after the discarded rocks / coral / skate / tentacled stuff as a trawler sorted its haul going past the Lead Stone. One was a 2cy Yellow-legged, another might have been a 3cy, but unhelpfully never showed enough to be sure, and a dozen Gannets of all age groups added to the fun. Having the Big Scope meant that, when the gunge cleared, I could give the colony a count - ~210 Guillemots were present.

The assorted bushes, trees, and 'somewhere in betweens' on the way there and back contained a surprising number of surprisingly active and vocal birds. [[You think I've said 'surprising' enough?]] Chiffs and tits, mobile phone Blackbirds and Dunnocks, Robins and Wrens you'd expect, showy Whitethroats swearing at you you'd hope for [ok, maybe not the being sworn at], another Garden Warbler was very nice [if annoyingly skulky], but the irony of the Lesser Whitethroat [after the nonsense last year, chasing the damn things for my Devon Yearlist and only getting a 'heard'....] What's the cliche? "Th-th-th-th-that's birding, folks..."

It's not something I'd want to do too often - its fine with bins or the Li'l Scope but even with a feathery tripod the Big Scope still weighs a bit - but I admit I feel quite pleased I've done it. Also, HMS Daring was still in the Bay [she arrived yesterday] and she's quite pretty [in a strangely angled way]. Just a pity none of those spoon-tastic Poms that've been bombing around the south coast made an appearance, but hey, you can't have everything. [This year, that seems to apply to Skuas, for some reason]. Nice to see some rain [he says, switching back to topic 1], sur- amazing how quickly the plants respond - almost glowing green. I love the way the rain brings out all the scents [ok, not all the scents] - turns everything up. I'm going to stop babbling now...

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

I'm not paranoid. Really.

Dipped again.





It will be interesting to see if the little bugger shows up this evening. Or tomorrow. I checked every Plover, and they were all definitely Ringed. Sanderling were new, and spangly in their s/pl. Some Terns were about, if distant and hiding in the heat haze, and after much watching, I picked out at least 3 Arctic and 5 Common among the Sarnies. No visible Little or Roseate, though. Whitethroats sang prettily, Canadas were noisy, and then The Mist arrived in less time than it's taken to type this far. I've seen sea mist roll in like a tsunami, but this seemed to rise out of the mud of The Bight like a really expensive special effect...

With no prospect of seeing anything much, I decided to go home via Yarner. Sunshine and another car park full of badly-parked vehicles awaited. Seriously, how hard is it to park straight and even? I'll give you a clue... It isn't.
Ahem.
I just had a quick wander, looking for Wood Warblers, and I wasn't disappointed. I like Wood Warblers. They're pretty and sing sweetly and you can actually see them! Two males had a right old ding-dong - deciding that just singing at each other wasn't enough, they went into a full-on tussle, spiraling to the ground with wings and tails fanned. Fantastic! There followed a singing chase, before the loser retired a half dozen trees away. He then carried on singing like nothing had happened. I felt much better, I have to say. Who needs manky mud-scuttlers when you can watch birds like these?

Pied Flies were also more in evidence, and the leaves on the trees were starting to open... :D

Right, back to job-seeking!

Monday, 26 April 2010

Did I mention I hate Kentish Plovers?

So I dipped the Kentish on Saturday. Ok, to be expected. It was back on Sunday. Having decided not to go wandering, I didn't check until the evening. It was there again today. When I can't get to it.

I'm starting to suspect it's doing it deliberately, that if I'm there first thing tomorrow it won't be. If I stay in bed, or go somewhere else, it'll be parading up and down at 20'....

Paranoia? ::Checks over shoulder:: Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean the Plovers aren't out to get you.

;)

Today I was very good and did a course on Health and Safety in the Workplace. It was all you might expect. No new birds for the '...Course' list.

Yesterday, when I finally crawled out of bed, I gave the patch a good thrash and was rewarded with a couple of singing Garden Warblers, which was very nice. As I think I said recently, they used to be a regular visitor out the back, and while these were certainly not candidates for a Garden Area yearlist, they were within my defined patch area :D [[Personal definition of 'Local Patch'; area you can walk to from your home]]. I didn't lug the Big Scope with me, so no count of Guilles on the Ore Stone, but there appeared to be good numbers present, as well as the usual plethora of breeding Herrings and Geebs, Shags and Corms. Fulmar and Gannet flew past, and an immature R-T Diver was disturbed by morons on jetskis.

Tomorrow?

::Looks over shoulder again::

Not doin' nuffin'.......

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Argh...Oooh...Boom!

A long and interesting day today.

Started with giving young master Ray a lift to Dawlish Warren so we could dip the Kentish Plover. Not that we knew that, though the news that a birder [who shall remain nameless] with "a Brit List around 440" who had Kentish as a bogey bird was coming down from upcountry for it did not bode well. Neither did the fact I was going for it. I have a real talent for missing Kentish Plovers. Yeah, doomed from the start...

As dips go, I've had worse ones, and witnessing various local birders [who shall remain nameless] extracting the mouse from young master Ray is always entertaining.. ;)

I eventually tore myself away to head up to far and distant Chew Valley Lake, there to drool over all the Shiny Things at the annual bird stuff day [or whatever]. There were marquees and everything. And an owl.

I annoyed the Swaro guy by comparing the new ELs to my HDs and seeing that, while the ELs focussed much closer, the FOV was pretty much the same, there was a little edge distortion in the production models [none in the handmade ones I saw in 2008], the balance is still too far forward [makes them droop], and all in all I prefer my Leicas. This pleased me quite a lot. The Zeiss camerascope thing was very impressive [no sign of new Diascopes though]. The new Leica scopes, while gorgeous to look through, had a couple of significant flaws - no pull-out sea spray hood, and a pointless zoom. Why is it pointless? Because with a FOV almost the same at 50x as at 25x, why use 25x at all??? A 2x zoom just doesn't make sense... The EDG scope had a camera attached to it, also a veeeery long foot, so all I can say is it felt good to focus with!

Primary objective was to annoy the Manfrotto rep about tripods. I like my tripod a lot, but it is a pain in the shoulder sometimes. Manfrotto guy was not annoyed at all - he even gave me brochures. He also had a shiny new Gitzo birding head, which will apparently be out 'in the summer'. Those Gitzo tripods are very nice, aren't they?

Bird-wise, there wasn't much happening outside the usual there - lots of sailboats and fishermen burning around helped with that. I missed the morning Garganey, and didn't hear a whisper about the Shorelark [grrr...], so after a very late lunch I decided to toddle home via the Levels.

This turned out to be a Good Idea.

At Shapwick, I managed to arrive as most of the crowds were leaving, and it got very peaceful, very quickly. The usual bevy of warblers sang their collective hearts out, and overhead Swifts, hirundines, and Hobbies swooped. A low-flying Bittern was just the start of the fun, as I got to make a [rather overdue] Life Sound Tick! "Boom!" :D [Yup, I heard a Little Bittern boom {or rather, whuff!} before a Great Bittern..]. The first damselflies were out and about, and given the balmy temperatures, you could almost think it was summer... Two species of harrier were a surprise [ok, the latter was - pulling a 'fly across the path' routine]. I really like it up there of an evening. Despite the mozzies.


Friday, 23 April 2010

Reaching two figures, yeah!!

My 'Out the Window Where I'm Doing my Course' List has reached two whole figures! Woo!

:D

Today's additions were;
Pied Wagtail
Blackbird
Blue Tit

Making a mighty 10 species. I reckon 15 might be do-able, you know!


P.S. One day! One day! [I'm going on about the Whinchats, in case you haven't read Steve Waite's blog and put two & two together...] And a frickin' Kentish on the Bight, on the day I'm off being good and studying diligently.. [[Stop moaning and get on with it!]] Right then, I'll do just that - night folks.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Moorland meandering [Hmmm, sounds like a blog name there]

Once upon a time, the sun shone, the wind blew, and I spent a day wandering around Vitifer / Challacombe / Sousson's.

Having done a lot of jobseeking, it was time to get back to some proper birding - and while a sunny Vitifer is never going to have the sheer solitude of a rainswept high moor [try it next winter - just make sure someone knows where you're going ;) ] its still pretty relaxing. I gave the place a good bash - while it was on the [perhaps very] early side for most of the second wave migrants, you never know, and experience has taught that this is one of those places where almost anything can turn up.

But what did I find? Every patch of willow had it's Warbler, every valley had it's Cuckoo. Redstarts and Tree Pipits were singing, with somewhat louder accompaniment from Nuthatch and Treecreeper [who could think so much noise..?]. Reed Buntings were smartly turned out, Chaffinches were ubiquitous, and Mipits were in groups [migrants?]. It's been a while since I gave a bird an Indefatigable Award - deserving is the Skylark which drove a Cuckoo halfway down the valley, bouncing off its back all the way! Swallows were not so much flying as flowing through the air, but no Martins in the area yet.

Spotted Flies, Whitethroats, Groppers and Whinchats are evidently still en route, but welcome singletons were Garden Warbler, Blackcap, and a Hobby [the latter prompting another 'its a great big Swift...' moment!]. The former was a bit ironic, as I'd not long previously been chatting with another birder, one subject being that it was still a bit early for Gardens and there weren't any about..! The Challacombe ponies were feeling very naughty - sidling up to distracted birders and expressing their desire for fuss and any polos [other holed mints are available?] that might be in the vicinity by means of nose-prodding...

The sky was back to how it was again. Contrails here, there, everywhere... Haze again - thin and high. It didn't bother me anywhere near so much before it went away. What has always faintly irritated me was naturally also back - the almost constant background noise. I don't know if everyone is aware of it, but for me, if its quiet enough that I can hear birdsong, I can hear jets passing overhead... and its a pain.

Oh, and don't worry - no rocks. This time.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Wonderful Things

Written 19/4/10
There are many wonderful things in the world. Choughs are definitely one of them. Skulking Savi's Warblers definitely aren't!

Written 20/4/10
I don't really need to write much more, do I? Went early to Marazion, did not Tick Savi's. Did hear the bloody thing reeling away for 5 whole minutes from [and I took a note] 10:24 to 10:29. So much for 'only active dawn and dusk', its 'only active when you can't see me - ha ha!'. I'm not actually as bitter as that sounds. I could, if I was doing a Yearlist, Yeartick it, as I heard the song. [I think that's somewhat odd - which is why when I did my Devon Yearlist last year it was full sight ID only - and much grief that caused...]. I claim a moral victory over that pesky warbler, and much preferred finally getting around to tarting my way to Lizard Point and seeing those fabulous Choughs. [[And that Carrion Crow ;) ]] Oh they were wonderful. I've seen Choughs at a distance in Spain and in captivity, but not flying up close and personal like they were.

Something that has bugged me for some time, and even more so in the last year or so, is the question of when the RSPB is going to get off its behind and reintroduce them to south Devon? It struck me just how similar the Lizard is to the South Hams; the cliffs are less than half the height but that's pretty much it. [This is to be expected, of course, they being built of the same rocks*] In other words perfect habitat for Choughs. I've heard some stuff about them wanting 'natural re-establishment', but there's a lot of cornwall and indeed Plymouth to get past, and if its so viable, why couldn't Cirls have 'naturally re-established' themselves in cornwall? Ok, I'll leave this [for another time].

Seawatching off the Lizard [much more fun than staring at reeds] produced a couple of nice Balearics, 27 Manxies, a few auks, a single Common Scoter and a scattering of the usuals. Still no skuas... Marazion had 2 noisy Comm Sands, a very smart s/pl Greenshank [also noisy], Sedge, Cetti's, Reed, Willow, and Chiff flavoured warblers all showing well at one point or another. An LRP was present, and I was going over to see it when the Savi's intervened [I suppose that might count as a dip too? ;) ]. And there were adorable ducklings [being eyed by Grey Herons...] too, all together now... "Awwwwww..."

Writing this today, I'm hearing about Bee-eaters and Whiskered Terns down that way, and thinking 'Huh...'. If I was just on holly-day, I reckon I'd have been straight back down there - maybe an afternoon chasing Bee-eater followed by an evening's Savi-stakeout? Sounds like fun. But I'm not on holiday and so I have to be much more careful with the vast amount of money all this petrol's costing me. :(

Speaking of - you noticed how much it is now? £1.23+ a litre? How much is crude oil going for? About $70-80 a barrel. Think about it. Why is petrol more expensive now than when crude was $140 a barrel? Tax has gone up, yes, but by how much? The latest rise was £0.01. Petrol went up from about £1.15 to £1.23. There's only one word for it; profiteering. Who's meant to stop this sort of thing? Why aren't they?

On those oh so happy thoughts, I'm off.

Except for..........

*Rocks! Geology is another interest of mine - its what I went to university to do, what I'd be doing if I weren't so rubbish at taking exams. [[Get over it and get on with it!]] I think rocks are wonderful things - why is the landscape as it is? Look down, billions of years of history are under the feet of every birder.
Anyway - the Lizard, the Eddystone Rock, and Devon south of a line roughly from Hope Cove to Tinsey Head are all part of the same geological unit. And a very interesting unit it is. Sometimes known as the Start-Lizard Complex, it is the remains of a dead ocean. Less dramatically and more properly a section of obducted oceanic crust dating to the PreCambrian [probably, although you can't be certain]. The deepest rocks are exposed on the Lizard - the famous serpentine is metamorphosed igneous rock from the crust proper - with overlying schists [metamorphosed seabed sediments] also on the Lizard and both other outcrops. There's a lot to go on about here, about how the rocks were formed, what happened to them to get them how they are and where they are, and why you can't accurately date them.

Cliff notes version; a long time ago [in the Devonian period] there was an ocean to what is now south of what is now the British Isles [complicated? This is the very simplified version...] - north Devon northwards was land - sandy desert - south of that was warm shallow sea [think the Caribbean off the Sahara with plenty of volcanoes and you're not far wrong]. The ocean was subducted [thus the volcanoes] under the 'British' continent until [in the Carboniferous period] the continent to the ocean's south collided with it, forming a mountain range [think the Himalayas]. Continental collisions are never as clean as the animations you see on documentaries - in this case a chunk of the ocean floor was pushed up and smunched into the 'British' continent [a similar thing formed Cyprus, incidentally]. Being buried in a mountain chain, the rocks were altered by heat and pressure [more the latter, unless they were too close to the granite which intruded into the area at the time - later to be Dartmoor, Bodmin Moor, Land's End, and Scilly etc.] which meant any aging attempt by radioactive decay was rendered inaccurate as it only shows the last time the 'clocks' were reset. Hundreds of millions of years later, they've been exposed, and as they are harder than the surrounding rocks, they last longer and so we have two bits sticking out into the Channel and a reef with a lighthouse.
This is not the only time this sort of thing has happened to what has become the British Isles - draw a line southwest from the coast south of Berwick-on-Tweed, through the Solway firth, passing north of the Isle of Man, to the mouth of the river Shannon. This is the Iapetus Suture; cross a dead ocean with a step. Much 'cleaner' - you can see the effect on a map, though the geology is buried. There are others.

I'm going to stop wittering on about rocks now, you can wake up..... but it might happen again. So be careful, and never read this blog while driving or operating machinery.
;)

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Of Dogs and Redstarts

Yesterday I said I'd be most likely dipping Savi's Warbler over in cornwall today, if not dipping stint sp. at Bowling Green.

Slightly forgot I'd already said I'd go for a wander with the folks [couple of injuries having curtailed activity on both sides for the last couple of weeks]. Figuring that a) the Savi's would probably have scarpered, b) if it hadn't, the traffic would have been truly horrific, c) the stint would definitely prove elusive and d) there's always Monday to do some long-range dipping it was off on't Moor today!

Turned out very well, actually. Blazing sunshine, light winds - it felt like August, and that's not a bad comparison as the sun strength's the same! Tilly the Mad Dog was her usual 'enthusiastic' self - pulling like a train despite a 'canny' thing and considering anything with legs [this includes flying birds] to be fair game. Letting her off the lead would result in a rapidly vanishing [and possibly dopplering] black blur, never to be seen again! Despite her tireless vigilance, there were some nice birds to be seen - in fact the Redstarts of the title [and there were at least 5, including 4 singing males] were very confiding for Redstarts, or most other passerines! I blame the sunshine - it must have sent them funny. Redstarts are twitchy shy birds - you see them briefly then they scarper, or if for longer, only at distant bin range. One of these chaps was flying up and singing close enough to enjoy without optics - another flew within 10' [ok, he might have not noticed us until the last minute]. And they kept on doing it, that's the thing.

We wandered from Kestor Rock to Teignhead Farm, via Fernworthy for lunch and Shovel Down for afternoon coffee break [gotta have an afternoon coffee! ;) ]. Boggy bits were mostly reasonable [though a couple of valley-bottom blankets were still 'interesting'], the grass was still in its winter spaghetti mode [only green at the soggy sections], and all you could hear was birdsong... Magic.

Also Tree Pipits in Fernworthy - including one doing the impressive mimic-laden song [an interesting mix of Chiff, Chaff, Wren, Willow Warbler, Robin and Coal Tit]. Only 4 Wheatears [yes, more Redstarts than Wheatears, how often can you say that??], plus the usual plethora of Mipits and Skylarks and other moorland regulars.

I'm not going to make any predictions or statements of intent.

I am going to congratulate Joe on publishing [part of] his Dip List. Speaking of, I've had to update mine [those frelling Mandarin count].

Night!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Hit and miss

A good-sized high tide at a civilised hour had me over to Bowling Green this morning, in the hope that a) the moulting Spotshank was still about, and b) that it would deign to show itself this time!

I got a shock - no-one in the hide! High tide, weekend, plenty of waders - not a soul... Plenty of... enthusiastic birdwatchers arrived [I tried very hard not to mutter about zombies - see Owen Foley's 'Cork Dude-ing' blog for a very very funny explanation], and a couple of birders later on, but by then most of the waders had been flushed. This was bad, and not just because everything got flushed.

The Commandos were engaged in target practice - which is fine and good - but some [Long chain of Ancient Devonian Swear-Words excised] seemingly took this as an excuse to start up with a shotgun >:( Wildfowlers shoot over the Clyst, but only at first light, not 11-00!!! Then the Flying Squad did their usual 'rules don't apply to us' routine of flying right over far too low...

Hmmm, I seem to have sidetracked myself.

Ok, it was a sunny morning with very little wind, and Bowling Green had a lot of birds on it. Big group of mostly immature Black-heads, and two good sized groups of waders. Couple of Pintail were nice, 4 Wigeon, and 9 Little Egrets looking very snazzy in their s/pl. 4 Common Gull were lying about on the grass, and later on 2 Oystercatchers were a fairly unusual sight this far up-river. The waders were a good 600 Blackwit [including one poor thing with a broken leg...], at least 150 Curlew, plus low-mid tens of Redshank, Barwit, Dunlin and Knot. A single Whimbrel paraded around on the grass and there looked like more with the Curlew, but I didn't get around to checking thoroughly. What looked like a Ruff stuck it's head up from the right side waders once, but again I didn't get to stake it out and confirm it.

The Spotshank was indeed present at the left of the far side group - looking very odd as it moults belly-up! It took an hour, however, for it to come out from behind the Blackwit it was hiding behind and prove it wasn't the 'dark Redshank in strong shade' that also fitted what little of it could be seen! Also on the far side [with the bulk of the waders] was the Big Miss of the day - a stint sp.!!! I got two sub-5 second views at about 10-30, which told me there was a very active wader, markedly smaller than a Dunlin [it ran right past one], on the mud. The backlight was enough that I couldn't even get leg colour... I figured I'd have a good hunt after I pinned the Spotshank down [seeing a summery Spotshank being the point of the exercise, after all]. Having finally gotten the Spottie, I was unable to re-find the stint before everything was put up. A fair few Blackwits and the Whimbrel stayed, but everything else went, and a check of the Clyst showed they'd gone a long way...

Bugger.

I very nearly tried Exminster, but realising that everyone, their dog, their kids, their Aunty Doris, and their visiting relations from Outer Mongolia were out, [meaning full car parks, and very very scarce birds] I decided to head home. Course, turns out there were a couple of Ruff at Exminster, including a s/pl male... Birding, eh?

Still, high tide tomorrow I reckon there's a chance someone might get lucky at Bowling Green. I would quite likely be there myself, but I fear a certain warbler over in cornwall may have prior claim.....

Friday, 16 April 2010

New list....

So, I'm improving my employability by doing a nice shiny course. This gives me the opportunity for another list! I'm not yearlisting, doesn't mean I can't site list! :D

The 'Out the Window Where I'm doing my Course' list is currently a mighty 7 species! "Wow!" I hear you cry...

Herring Gull
Feral Pig
Woodpig
Dunnock
Wren
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow

Considering I have town centre rooftops, a couple of trees, a bit of ivy and about an oktar of sky I don't think that's too bad.

In other news... young master Ray has indeed survived his trip to north africa. Rumours of his meeting 'serious men with AK47s' while chasing an SBC have proved to be entirely fictitious, and he returns triumphant with his WP list over 400. Well done to him. Now let's see him face a real challenge; Joe, the Dip List awaits! Come on - if Karen's got the bottle to do it*, so do you. :D

In other other news - isn't it nice to have clear skies again? Here we're under a transatlantic corridor, and every day the high sky hazes over from all the contrails. Rock on Eyjafjallajokull!

*See the comments to the entry 'Bugger....' earlier this month, for Karen's list.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

It's black and white at Yarner!

Having Been Good yesterday, it was a fairly early start [I 'let' rush hour pass...] and over to Yarner, hoping for Pied Flies and maybe even Redstart and Wood Warbler [they've started arriving]. Found the car park full! Tut and double tut! Assorted building equipment didn't help but 'tis a poor show on a weekday...

Trendlebeare had a nippy breeze blowing early on, but that didn't stop the Willow Warblers from singing their little hearts out :D No sylvia action there, and no Tripit on the heath [later found out there was, I just missed it...]. Into the woods, where the buds are swelling nicely, and the Pied Flies proved very elusive and mobile [oh, those dreaded words]. I heard one quite quickly, but it scarpered before I could locate it. Did find plenty of birders about, [including Mike Pope and his shiny bins] and learned about the Tripit, that a Redstart was supposed to be back already, and that a couple of Mandarin were on the pond. Now, I ought to explain why that last was of interest; I saw my first Mandarin on that pond on my first visit to Yarner, and I've never seen one there since, not in 25 frickin' years..... Naturally I was quite keen to rectify that. Unsurprisingly they were gone when I got there.

Bugger.

Having admired the shiny new cattle grids, and wondered what the hell they're doing at the hide, I then began a meander of the backways of Yarner. I've burbled about this before, so I won't burden your eyes again. Lesser Peckers were noisy but invisible, Treeecreeepers and Nuthatches were noisy and visible, a couple of young Sika Deer were not as quiet as they should have been, assorted tits were everywhere, as were Wrens. Eventually at the edge of some birch, I caught a break - black and white bird onto trunk; female Lesser! Yes! Then whoosh! One or maybe two Pied Flies right through my FOV! Lesser duly vanishes. One of the Pieds then starts performing well, if a bit mobile with it. He sings, he calls, its great! More are lurking a little further on in a Holly bush. I like Pied flies. :)

I keep on, walking the route I've found Redstart on most often, but get not a sniff. Lots of Willowy Warblers about, and one of them has really done good for itself... If you read Steve Waite's blog, you'll know of his Will that does a very good Chiff. One of the Yarner Wills does a bit of Wood Warbler, but thats not his main claim to fame. It sings R-B Fly. Almost all of it, in fact. R-B Fly is one of the few songs I know really well - for some reason its jaunty tune is stuck in my head. To hear it gave me quite a start I'll tell you! To see a Willow Warbler sing it almost all the way through was amazing! Where'd it hear it?!?

On that curiosity, I shall leave you.

P.S. Still haven't seen any of these Red Kites floating about... :(

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Impatience, skill vs persistence, why red is camouflage, and the Jack Snipe of the Skies!

Firstly may I apologise for the delay in posting this. Really ought to have been yesterday, but when I got in I had immediate distractions, then other online distractions, so by the time I thought "Gotta post!" it was a bit late and tiredness won. Today I've had things of an important nature to deal with too, so here I am 24 hours behind. Not that it really matters, as the exciting news would only have been of value if I'd actually had my mobile charged and with me at the key point. And I didn't. Well, I sort of did, but didn't realise, and it wasn't really anyway- and I'll get to that bit! Not that it would have made much odds - all eyes have been on the skies for days, if not weeks now, so one dodgy report wouldn't likely have made a difference...

But first things first!

Yesterday, after many many days of rest, I finally snapped and went out birding. This whole unemployment thing has to have some benefits, and weekday birding is probably number one. The tendon of doom is not fully right yet, but I kept things gentle and travelled light. Kit; bins, ickle scope [now with additional padding and several yards of assorted tape in an attempt to save it if dropped ::knock on wood:: - having been stuck inside I've had the opportunity to carry out a few projects I've had in mind] mounted on the Cullmann, silly hat [but of course!], small rucksack with rations, folding stool, etc, and Leki trekking pole as old man's stick! The idea being to use said pole left-handed to take the weight off my tendon on slopes. This actually worked very well, and today I'm feeling pretty good, which I'm very pleasantly surprised by, as I was expecting to be half-crippled again!

First up I went over to Bowling Green before the tide dropped too much to see if the moulting Spotshank was about. No dice. No hirundines either, which was odd, though I did get to meet Roger the Devon Birder, which was great :). Male Blackcap was singing his heart out [garden pair have not stayed, btw] and a Med Gull came and sat on the mud on the Clyst, but it was pretty quiet. Couple of Buzzard soaring overhead, but no Ospreys. A Comma in the lane was my first of the year.

On to Aylesbeare, where I hoped the wind wouldn't keep the Dartfords down, and I could gently toddle around and see some...? First bird was a Dartford! Woo! It ducked down fast and shut up, though and this was the pattern of the day. The sun shone and the wind wasn't too bad, but a couple of marauding Kestrels didn't help [though they were after lizard!s - amusingly an adult female scored on her first attempt, a 2cy female then took 6 goes to get her lunch!]. I found a nice spot with a good view of both gorse and the skies to the east [suspecting the possibility of a Backwater Red Kite [or even better - I wouldn't be surprised to hear of them getting Black Stork!]. I then found another spot as the ground sprouted Wood Ants as I poured my coffee! Argh! I'm not too bothered by ants - scouts investigating my feet aren't a problem - but when you look over and see 30-odd within arms reach, you think "Hmm..." The Kestrels and local Buzzards provided the action during lunch, and then I headed off to look for more Dartfords. Final total was 4 - none out long enough to even get the ickle scope on - which wasn't bad, and there were a couple of very close if brief views to enjoy. A single Swallow flew past low, and the invariable Mallards did a couple of flypasts. Yes, Mallards on high heath - go there, you'll see them! A Peacock butterfly was very actively on the wing, Chiffs sang from the trees, and lots of lizard!s explained the Kestrels' choice of targets.

Having heard a Tree Pipit fly over but been unable to get on it, and having some time [as I didn't fancy going too far up and down the slopes] I decided to come back via Ideford Common. I like Ideford, though it is prone to dog-walkers and cyclists [the latter being a bit surprising as its quite cut-off], its a place of gentle strolls and impressive panoramas. Tripit was a little more obliging, though I had to wait to get more than a distant 'pipit landing in tree therefore Tripit' view! Still, the sun was shining, the Coal Tits were singing, and while the panorama was suffering an attack of haze closer to there were Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock butterflies, plus a plethora of hoverflies and bees.

Sitting on one of the funky curvy benches, I decided to play 'count the Buzzards' over the wide if hazy expanse to the south. I focussed my ickle scope on the trees of Little Haldon, and absently lifted my view to the clouds. Something cut through my view - I got on it and went "oooh....what are you?" [[Yes, I talk to birds even when they're far away. Its not talking to myself, so I'm definitely not mad...right?]] This bird was dark, with long back-swept pointed wings, and it was very much like a great big swift... The rapid stiff wingbeats, the gliding banks, wings just slightly drooped but not bent. It was high and far and it was hawking insects in a circling pattern, getting higher and further. Answering my question, my first thought was Hobby - they're like big swifts and would appear all dark at this range, especially with the haze. But something wasn't quite right about it - I've seen a fair few Hobbies and the shape was off, but more importantly, it wasn't changing its wing shape and posture. Hobbies straighten their wings to soar, and bend them at the carpal to fly actively, they also like to grab even quite small insects with their feet. This bird wasn't. Then it banked far enough for the sun to flash on the huge pale belly. I am ashamed to say the invective that followed, though I kept the volume down, would have shocked Mr Brown... Then it vanished into the haze - whether it went southeast for Teignmouth, or southwest towards Newton Abbot I couldn't tell, the change from circling to gone was so quick. I'd had it in view for 4 minutes and if I hadn't been using my scope I doubt I would have picked it up at all. Funny thing, birding.

Now, I immediately thought I ought to call it in. Ok, I immediately thought "No way, no [DELETED] way..." but while the bird was very distant, it was unmistakeable. After I got over my self-doubt, I reached for my mobile... and it wasn't there. I thought it might have fallen out of my pocket in the car, and was packing up to go back when I found it in my rucksack. Turning it on I saw the battery was enough for a text, but a long call was well out. Mobiles... Well, I thought, a) it could be anywhere by now, b) nobody would believe me anyway, and c) it just can't have been. [[Yeah, real self-doubt issues going on here; its a long story]]. It wasn't until I got home, fired up BWPi [including 'stand across the room and squint for haze effect'] and saw that yes, they do look like that [especially end-on gliding profile] that I've gotten over it.

To the title, in case you were wondering; Impatience of a Backward Birder to get out and do something, Skill of the adult vs Persistence of the 2cy in lizard!* pouncing Kestrels, Red is Camouflage - well, two parts, firstly is all the Red Kites that evaded me! 2 at Powderham would have been a reach if I'd been looking that way hard, the Bowling Green bird with the Buzzards that Stoney got evidently arrived just after I left, and Steve Waite's one flew high to his west [which was conceivably seeable] 10 minutes after I'd finished my lunch and started back the other way! Second part - WW1 and the Red Baron, his red triplane actually blended surprisingly well with the ground - there's a reason why red and green are used for colour-blindness tests - so his chivalry wasn't quite what it was cracked up to be. Finally - Jack Snipe of the Skies! It is a firmly-held belief of mine that you can only see Jack Snipe when you aren't looking for them. Many hours in freezing bogs back me up on this. Evidently this also applies to Alpine Swifts. Won't stop me dipping the next one; I wanna see one up close even more now - wow that thing could fly!! :D

Today I have been mostly jobseeking and preparing for tomorrow's Inquisition. Joy. Being now in a join of Blackbird territories means lots of beakicuffs [[I know it should be billicuffs, but that's far too goat-y!]] - there were two females at it today, one trying to fly off with the other attached to her rump! Ouch. Collared Doves were around a bit, and lastly I think I've already said but if not - new Mr. Sparrow in the nest box, which is a relief.

[[*It occurs I haven't explained why I always write lizard! with an !... The reason is both simple and silly - every time you meet one when out it's presence is announced by a sudden surprised scuttle and you naturally go "Lizard!" ;) ]]

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Blog Post

Well, I'm still laid up with this sodding tendon.....

I've tried some gentle exercise, and while I can walk on it without limping like I've a caltrop in my shoe now, it still gets noticeably unhappy at any kind of slope [bending my foot with weight on it, in other words]. To say this is frustrating would be no small understatement, in fact this whole week has been one to forget for several reasons.. :(

Keeping it bird-related, at some point on Wednesday the male House Sparrow from the nest box managed to get in through the bathroom window and not find his way out - he instead ended up in the spare room, where he was found dead in the waste paper bin [which is by the window where he'd evidently tried to get out] on Thursday morning. Never heard a thing.. Must have dehydrated - he seemed in good condition [not that I'm an expert on such things, but no protruding breastbone or anything, feathers were ok etc] - anyway he got a decent burial. I just hope his mate hadn't laid yet. :(

Sparrows next door seem to be going well, and the Blackbirds are singing to our west and north-east - territorial boundary shifting explains their absence at last! Likewise Blue and Great Tits, Greenfinches, Dunnocks, Robins, Jackdaws, Woodpigs, Herrings, Magpies, Feral Pigs and Crows are getting on with things.

Mr Blackcap left on Tuesday night [I waited to say anything as he's sometimes not been seen for a day or two] - the wind had turned and I was pretty much expecting it. In breaking news, however - just before I sat myself down a pair, yes a pair of Blackcaps were out investigating the bushes! Passing migrants or maybe more?? We've not had any breeding here for a couple of years [which I blame primarily on loss of trees and bushes to the stupid fashion for fences] - I'm listening out for some song with just a wee bit of hope.

In a gentle toddle up the hill yesterday afternoon, I did manage to see something of interest - another odd gull! Oh yes, here we go again!
This thing was a very different proposition from the probable C-word, however. Close and very still, unfortunately mostly sitting down! It managed to avoid showing me a few bits I'd have liked to have seen, especially the underwing, and its going in the 'funny Herring' bin [along with several hundred others by now..]. Let me tell you how it went......

My first thought was "ooh, that's a funny big pale 1w gull there.." It was stood next to and casually pestering an adult Herring - it was definitely taller though not a lot bulkier if at all. What stood out was the overall whiteness and the long straight bill off a sloping forehead, with a small dark eye. My first wondering of maybe an off-colour Glaucous was dashed by it turning to show off very dark primaries and tertials - though the latter had pale thumbnails and an odd patterning to the sides - I can only call it vermiculation. Those tertials really caught my attention - they were ringing a bell in my head, but which one? They weren't worn scalloped edges that a well-bleached Herring would have but fine wavy barring along the side. I know I've seen that somewhere before but I can't remember where! The primaries did not have the extensive pale wearing you'd expect from a Herring this pale - instead just barely enough to pick the individual feathers out. The long thin straight bill was pinky with a dark tip - the upper mandible with a distinct yellow tinge, and what appeared to be a trace of red at the back edge of the lower mandible's dark tip. Legs were pink and while long, I wouldn't call them stilts - though it stood markedly higher than that Herring. It didn't have much streaking - the strongest area being a blotchy boa, though it did have some light streaking on the crown [yes, it showed the top of its head more than its back -darned thing]. It did not have dark coverts - very much a two-tone bird; brown-marked whitish and dark. No visible grey mantle feathers [though it didn't show it off that well - I didn't manage to get above it at all - looking from level or slightly below]. Mantle pattern appeared to be anchors and bars, though the feathers were well-worn. When stood it never posed nicely, but the centre of mass appeared to be at the back - it didn't have a clear bulge in front of the legs, that I am sure of. It had a window, but I couldn't tell if it was half or full size!

All in all, I think it is what is known as an 'educational bird', or to put it another way a 'right little git'. I've had a good look through my trusty 'Gulls of Europe, Asia, and North America' and nothing fits. Of course. My vast [::coffcoff::] experience tells me this means its yet another variety of immature Herring Gull, and I can be grateful I was alone when I found it! Hmm, I wonder how many Herring forms that is now? 300? 400? ;) I am probably wrong in blaming its intransigence for not being able to clinch an ID - but it managed to hide belly and underwing and window and wing shape/length in flight, and only posed when sat down [not stood]. They say a poor worker blames his tools - does a poor birder blame the bird? Yeah yeah I know its not as simple as that [which is a good thing, I think. Maybe]

Of course, this is yet another reason why the Backwater is THE place to bird - you've got actual proper gull experts [ones who know what they're talking about and can take proper pictures too] mere minutes away - one phone call and before you can say 'Larus' you've been told exactly why that's a Herring Gull! ;)

I think I ought to stop now....

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Bugger....

Definitely no more of...that phrase again. No more of much birding at all, unfortunately, as I have [in a manner so full of irony its practically magnetic] done my right posterior tibial tendon a disservice. It has demonstrated its disapproval, and I am now having trouble even walking. Joy. Several more days of recovery are in the cards, and my birding is currently being done out the window...

Things are a little quieter in the garden; the Sparrows are being scarce, though the Woodpigs are providing some action with a few skirmishes [seeing Woodpigs engage in beakicuffs is quite amusing]. Great Tits and the odd Blue Tit are always welcome making flying visits to the feeders, with Greenfinches oscillating between 8-odd one day and maybe 2 the next. Mr. Blackcap shows no sign of leaving, though he's not singing either, maybe he's waiting for fate to decide for him? A nice NW wind and he's off to Germany, a nice lady Blackcap and he's setting up shop? The Blackbirds have decided to nest elsewhere [which is a pity] but still make visits for apple, sultanas, and mealworms [are they spoiled, do you think?] There were three Dunnocks sat in a line on the trellis this afternoon - insert dodgy Dunnock mating-habits joke here, folks - waiting for the garden to empty. The Chiffchaff works his way down the hill now and again, a pair of Robins are regularly about [they are in at the same time without attempting murder, thus a pair], there's still the odd Chaffinch, and the local Crows, Herrings and [mostly overflying] Jackdaws are still doing what they do.

No takers for the Dip List yet? For shame... ;)

Friday, 2 April 2010

'ardcore birding III

May I first of all solemnly promise that that was the last time I'll use the phrase "'ardcore birding." Honest. No, really. I'm almost as sick of it as you are.

What have I been up to? Well, as the title implies, something, er, dedicated. Yes, that's it - dedicated.

I've been trying not to mention the forecast all week for fear of jinxing it and that beautiful front coming through overnight like all the rest have this year. It almost pulled off a last-second swerve, but not quickly enough!

Yes, it was up at aaaargh o'clock [well, aaaargh thirty] this morning and down to Berry Head for the first full-on seawatch of the year! I was very surprised to find myself alone - I know young master Ray is swanning about in Morocco, but I was expecting someone to be there..?!? Anyway, the weather was behaving well - nice strong southerly, twitching SSE and playing with my brolly, and good pulsing rain. The front came through after an hour and a half or so - its passage was marked by the wind switching to a very strange WSW-kinda direction which left me almost entirely becalmed! Straight-down rain is very unusual in a seawatch, it had me quite unnerved - I was expecting a diabolical gust at any second, but it never materialised. The rain died off, I was thinking about taking off my waterproof trousers, and then a big fat squall with a hail-filled leading edge hit just after ten. Excellent. :D Then the sun came out. Bugger! The sun stayed out, and after a total watch of 4 1/2 hours I called it a day - as I got to my car, of course another squall arrived...

Right, time for the birds. It was very good - well worth the get-up!
Ahem;
5 Puffin [in the first hour]
3 Balearic [in the first half-hour]
136 Manxie [mostly in first hour and a half, including three sizable parties, then a few singles until half eleven or so]
1 imm. Black-throated Diver [on the sea, then flew south]
4 Red-throated Diver [2 ad. in s/pl]
1 G N Diver [imm.]
1 diver sp. [imm., probably Red-throated]
[[Divers through after the front passed]]
1 Sarnie north in the sunshine
2 very tough Swallow in/off
There was a fair passage of Kittiwakes south, including about 1/3 2cy, and the usual good numbers of Fulmar and Guillemot [plus a dozen Razorbill]. Only 47 Gannet moved past, and a small group lingered most of the morning - attending on the Harbour Porpoises, ~5 of which were showing pretty well. The usual non-seabird residents were all about, one of the Rockits treating me to some close-range singing. On a less-pleasant note, one of the 2cy Kitts, and a couple of the Guilles were oiled on the belly.. :(

All in all, though, a very good trip! 5 Puffins - I think that's the most I've seen in spring, though not a personal record due to the mighty 7 last July [slightly overshadowed by hearing about the albatross off Salcombe...]. Would have been nice to see a skua, but its still early for them, and Manxies, Fulmars, and fishing Gannets in the sunshine were a treat :D Also good to get practice in before things really heat up - the first two Balearics came through with Manxies, which was very considerate of them as it provided a very neat reminder of what to look for - and distant Fulmars with non-standard plumage in odd light and wind conditions are always a problem when August comes around...

Oooh, I can't wait! :D


Thursday, 1 April 2010

...and then it snowed.

Having business in Paignton, I decided to continue my 'ardcore birding [::coffcoffyeahright::] by walking over and doing some gullbashing on the way. The possibility of grebes and divers was also wandering about in my head - Paignton/Preston seafront is pretty good for them in the winter, and the weather certainly still thinks its winter!

The weather was indeed a bit schizophrenic - hot sunshine one second, lashing rain [with added hail and sleet for fun] the next, then both together. And that was before it started snowballing! Oh, I was so excited - I love snow, it brings out the little kid in me.. Ahem.

Less about the weather, more about the birds!

Lots of gulls were loafing on the exposed rocks from Torre Abbey around to Preston, and on the broad swathe of fresh sand at Paignton. I had a merry old time going through them - with a handful of Geebs and a single 1w LBB all to be found among the Herrings. It never ceases to amaze, the variety of 1w Herrings [2ws not far behind], and the rapidly changing light helped to show off their oddness. Pale ones, dark ones, long-legged ones [ok, one], funny-shaped ones, little ones, big ones - ah you get the idea! More amusing was watching two of them chasing each other desperately over an empty cardboard pot. Now, a crab, or a bit of dead fish I could understand, and both were available at the time [if they could get them off other gulls], but they were ignored. I suppose they could have been messing around [do gulls mess around?], but I can't help wonder if this partly explains the high levels of first year mortality in Herrings?

A pleasant surprise was a party of 8 Sarnies, burning around the bay at high speed - possibly due to them realising just how many large gulls there are here! The sun was out and they were a very scenic sight indeed - my first of the year - from the benches above Preston's newly re-installed huts. Wandering on, I came to my final site - Paignton Pier. After checking the beach gulls, I went down to the end, where I reckoned I had the best chance for grebes, divers, and so on. The weather was feeling frisky again as I started scanning from next to the talky telescope someone's fitted there, but with the wind behind me, my fingers going rigid just helped my bins stay steady. [Yup, 'ardcore!]. A careful examination of the impressive panorama revealed the ubiquitous Shags dotted around the Bay, together with an utter lack of visible divers and grebes. A couple of Gannets looked very bright in the occasional sun, and chief interest was provided by a fairly sizable raft of Scoters, pretty much straight out. Long distance for bins, but patience [ok, bloody-minded stubbornness] on my part was rewarded as they drifted a bit closer, and the sunshine helped pick them out. 'Circa 30' due to waves and persistent diving, 2/3 female [very clear in the sun], and a glorious flash of white revealed one to be a Velvet. :D

A rising tide and increased numbers of dog walkers had put most of the gulls well offshore by the time I went back, but the wonderful fun of Springtime Snow awaited. I admit it, I whistled 'Let it snow'. I know, no hope at all....