31 March, 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....

30 March, 2010

'ardcore birding. Sort of.

After all that wimping out and dipping, it was definitely time to do some proper birding!

Rain? Wind? Giant potholes? Seas of mud? Sideways hail? Pah! A true birder fears not these things.

Dipping, on the other hand... But more on that later.

First up was Exminster - refreshingly not under several feet of water this time. The potholes on the causeway have reached a truly impressive scale, it was like driving through a skate park...! ;) To my delight, the Spoonbill actually moved for me - stalking around and briefly preening before going back to sleep - but was careful to stand so I couldn't read its ring [they have a real knack for that]. Swallows and Sandies swooped over the empty lagoon, plenty of Shelduck, Shovelor, and Wigeon were on and around the assorted smaller pools, but the Merlin that's been hanging around was probably sheltering from the rain in some corner. The RSPB's shiny platform [with very-short-kiddy-height bin-slits] was better than standing on the towpath, but not the proper tower hide the place needs! I mean, I've seen the plans for the Backwater - wipes the floor with the RSPB and their vastly superior budget. But anyway, on with the fun! A single singing Cetti's Warbler briefly paused its routine of hide-and-sing-very-loudly to pop up and twitch its tail at me [I wasn't complaining], a couple of Greylags were hanging with the Mutes, and a Cormorant was for some reason standing in a big very un-flooded patch of grass.

To Bowling Green while the tide was still up. Lane was alive with passerines - at least 8 Dunnock between the railway and platform, for example. No singing Willow Warblers, though there was one lurking near the hide which very kindly showed off its primary projection for me. Still a fair few waders present in the roost, and a haze of hirundines were hawking over the pool - about 60/40 Sandies/Swallows, but with at least two House Martins thrown in. Have you ever tried to keep a House Martin in your scope among a hundred or two other hirundines, while trying to direct someone else on to it? Interesting challenge.

As the weather was being a lot more reasonable on the 'other side' of Haldon, I decided to press on to the Otter and see if the Garganey were feeling showy. About 5 minutes after I got there, someone turned on the wind! Then it was squally showers with bright sunshine in between - lovely. Wally the Whimbrel was hanging with the Curlew, more Swallows and Sarnies were making the place feel summery, but an hour and a half failed to produce any ducks other than Mallards and a Teal. The rush hour was looming, so that was that. Ah well. Got home to find I've sheared a second pin on my quick-release plate, so spent a merry while looking for a replacement [not plastic this time] and eventually finding a bit of copper insulation wire that was the right size. Hopefully this one will last a while longer...?

In other news.. yes, you know already. BUT! What you don't know is the shocking sight that befell this morning - juvenile Woodpig! Already! [Yes, I know they breed year-round, the dirty little buggers, but doing the maths means those were some 'ardcore parents...]

Hmm, Friday's looking interesting, isn't it? Maybe this whole unemployed thing won't be entirely bad....

29 March, 2010

I hate Mondays.... AKA The Dip List

Firstly, I'd like to bid a fond farewell to one of the Shining Examples who prompted me to start blogging - Gav Haig has declared he is stopping his [justly] famous Not Quite Scilly blog. Personally I think its a tragedy, and we're the poorer for our loss, but you never know, he might just be back. [Here's hoping!]

Having been good and spent most of today looking for gainful employment [no such luck - unless you're a chef, a cleaner, a store manager, or are willing to commute 30 miles for minimum wage] my thoughts have turned to dipping.

Ok, so the Alpine Swift debacle and the fact its Monday haven't helped.

Anyway, I've been thinking about something young master Ray came up with a while back - the Dip List. Never mind what you've seen, what have you missed? More flexible than a List list, as you can only Tick a bird once, but you can dip it forever [especially if its a *%£@*§%%* Alpine Swift]. Not just Life Dips, but Brit Dips, Devon Dips [though that last one specially sounds like it should involve raspberry jam... Mmmmh, raspberry jam................] Ahem. I'm back.

I have a not-very-long but I think noble history of dipping - indeed my very first proper twitch ended in a particularly nasty dip.

As a comparative newcomer to the twitching scene, my first twitch and first dip was the Broad-billed Sand at Dawlish Warren. I've just looked it up and it was summer 2004 - not quite 6 years. Seems longer somehow. People there before me saw it, people there after me saw it. I didn't. What can I say? I was trying to pick it out and there wasn't anybody there already on it to help. I like to think I'd get it if the situation recurred. Certainly an early lesson in 'No such thing as too much help' - I was probably looking in the wrong place.. ;) Back then I was a very infrequent, local twitcher. Things have changed a bit since then - swanning off to london after Shrikes and things... Tut tut. [Ok, that was a special occasion, and its not like I'm always off to east anglia..::coff::]

Ladies, Gentlemen, and Joe. For your entertainment and mockery, may I present a list of what I've dipped and how many times I've dipped them.

Bewick's Swan x1
Whooper Swan x1
Greenland White-fronted Goose x1
Eurasian White-fronted Goose x1
Mandarin x3
American Wigeon x4
Garganey x5
Green-winged Teal x1
Falcated Duck x1
Ring-necked Duck x3
Smew x2
Hooded Merganser x1
Cattle Egret x3 [2013 and it carries on!]
Purple Heron x2
White Stork x2
Glossy Ibis x3
Osprey x5 [I'd forgotten about Ospreys - worse than even Ring-necks and Waxwings in their day for the 5 minute rule]
Red-footed Falcon x1 [Yes, its June and I'm still updating this!]
Gyr x1 [Not technically a dip, but I count my parents refusing to take me to see the Berry Head bird on account of how much it still hurts.]
Great Bustard x1
Little Crake x1
Black-winged Stilt x2
Stone-curlew x2 [Ok, not technically dips, but here on hurt value, like the Gyr]
Little Ringed Plover x1
Kentish Plover x9 [They don't exist, I'm sure of it!]
Broad-billed Sandpiper x1
Temminck's Stint x1
Buff-breasted Sandpiper x2
Pectoral Sandpiper x2
American Herring Gull x1
Audouin's Gull x1
Kumlien's Gull x2 [Updates continue into 2012...]
Glaucous Gull x1
Little Tern x3
Gull-billed Tern x3
Long-eared Owl x1
Short-eared Owl x3
Bee-eater x1 [Technically a drop not a dip, as heard but not seen, but for hurt value this is number one..]
Alpine Swift x4
Hoopoe x1
Richard's Pipit x1
Pechora Pipit x1
Citrine Wagtail x2
Waxwing x4
Siberian Stonechat x1
Black-throated Thrush x1
Barred Warbler x1
Lesser Whitethroat x2
Sardinian Warbler x1
Subalpine Warbler x1
Savi's Warbler x1 [Though heard and thus yeartickable {if I was yearlisting} - how wrong is that?!?]
Melodious Warbler x1
Hume's Warbler x2 [Mutter mutter.. Also heard, but not yearticked as I'm too annoyed with it]
Radde's Warbler x1
Dusky Warbler x1
Yellow-browed Warbler x3
Pallas' Warbler x3
Bearded Tit x2
Red-backed Shrike x1
Great Grey Shrike x2
Chough x1
Hawfinch x2
White-throated Sparrow x1

This includes only when I was specifically twitching a bird, not searching a known area [thus the lack of Lesser Pecker]. Some I got on later attempts, some were sub-lists, a fair few I still haven't seen. I'm sure I've forgotten a few [or blanked the memories as too painful..].
Finally, the tally of those Dipped Birds I've still never seen is currently;  11

Right then, now that I've amused you, two more things;

Firstly, Mr. Blackcap is still about [I'm now waiting for him to start singing!]

Secondly, I hereby dare you, dear reader, if you have a blog, to do as I've done and publish your Dip List! I know two of you at least have no excuses... ;D Go on, you know you wanna!

P.S. I am continuing to come back to this post to update my Dip List as appropriate - far too often for my liking! :(

PPS. Its November 2011 and still the updates come.. Drat. I hate Pallas' Warblers....
PPPS   2013 and on we go....
PPPPS  I've just looked at this in 2024 and I have to admit I still need 6 of these. I haven't added every new dip to the list as there aren't enough pixels on your screen...

28 March, 2010

Would you believe it?

Carrying on from yesterday's post....

So, after the [Name of company censored for legal reasons] ex-employees do last night [including not that much of what turned out to be some rather dodgy beer] I eventually managed to drag myself upright this morning. I know one of the benefits of the smoking ban was supposed to be that it made pubs a nicer place for everyone else, but my throat today still now feels like I've smoked a good pack and a half. Its worse than it used to be after a shift at Hills.. :s I know I could be accused of being an old git for saying this, but clubs are supposed to be the places with loud music, pubs are for talking.

Ahem. So, I headed over to the Backwater [Radipole, though tempting with Hoopoes and Bufflehead nearby was a bit far, considering the hour, the forecasted rain, and the state I was in]. A familiar scenario played out. Very familiar, as this is now the fourth time. Yes, fourth. Did I mention I hate Alpine Swifts? They're now worse than Ring-necked Ducks used to be in the 'vanish when I go to look for them' stakes.

Worse, not a frickin' hirundine of any flavour to be found in the whole Axe valley, it seemed. Certainly no frolicking Otters to be had. [Not that I expected them] A couple of Green Sands at Black Hole were nice, a trio of soaring Buzzards and a showy Chiff at Bruckland were the best on offer there. The Whooper Swan [with the Mutes at Stedcombe] was a pleasant surprise, I have to say. Winner of Bird of the Day. I actually grinned. :D Like that. [Only not sideways]

Then it started to rain properly, so I buggered off. Definitely not on good form today, as I didn't have the energy to go to BS for Garganey/Bittern or Exminster for Spoonbill/hirundines. By the time I got that far back it was pissing down anyway, and while rain doesn't normally deter me [I'm a fracking seawatcher - it usually encourages me!] today I just wanted to come home.

Dammit, I didn't think I'd be so bothered by the whole 'unemployed cadging off the state' thing...... Anybody got a job going?

There's no need to laugh that much...

27 March, 2010

At l-arse!

Well, plans to wander off looking for vagrants were slightly scuppered by the whole "I'm out of a job - lets get drunk!" thing... So, get up late, and give the patch a good bash, before swanning off for more festivities this evening [thus the early post-age].

Patch did pretty well - saw an old friend, and down at Haldon no less than 15 Turnstone [new high count] and 12 Sandpipers Purple. :D For once there were a fair few gulls lurking on the pontoon in the inner harbour - careful checking produced nothing even remotely non-Herring. About 40 Feral Pigs were doing aerobatics, and the Sea Scouts [aided greatly by several idiots on jet skis] made sure there was nothing on the sea. Not even a Shag!

Heading Ilsham way, the first on-patch singing Chiffs and Blackbirds [at last!] were the highlights. Green Woodpecker still yaffling away where he was last time, and again no lurking migrants anywhere. Twas a nice sunny day, with a cool breeze - very nice.

Then I get home and... Bugger. Did I mention I hate Alpine Swifts?
Right then, first I'm going to go out and have some fun, and then I'm going to get up early and dip that bloody Swift!

Yeah, definitely a masochist...

25 March, 2010

Drip Drip Drip

Looks like all that rain we haven't been having was saved up for us!

Quick garden update: Mr Blackcap is still with us today - we've moved a small conifer to block a gap and he's taken to lurking in it, as it is handily close to the [much reduced and now suspiciously dark] remains of the fat block. Much Wren singing at all hours is very welcome - last winter killed 'our' Wren, and with this one being far worse, we were worried there'd be none this year. No Chiffchaffing up the hill yet, and no passing hirundines [not that you could tell in the rain and murk!], and the Blackbirds, though present, haven't been singing at all that I've heard [still!].

Ho-hum... Alpine Swifts, Red-rumped Swallows, Hoopoe-birds... I may have to get on down to cornwall again. [Masochist? Yeah, even thinking about trying to twitch fast-flying jobs is pretty daft... ] [Hoopoes though.. :D ]

22 March, 2010


So the sun did shine, and seeking Swallows and hoping for other migrants it was down to Prawle yesterday. Surprisingly quiet there - I mean, there were families and dogs and families with dogs [and kids with sticks performing quite skilled duels] - but not as much as you'd expect on a warm sunny Sunday. Ok, I suppose it being March still may have had something to do with it!

Wandering from Prawle towards Start, the inevitable Cirls showed in spectacular fashion - not only very good numbers but also very confiding, one male stayed put and let us watch him at 10' or so [we'd seen him earlier, walked on expecting him to nip around behind us, and were amazed he didn't!]. My first Wheatears of the year also dun good - a party of 6 in a tight group also stayed put and let us get to about 20' [which is very good for a Wheatear when you're walking towards it]. They also later came to have a look at us while we were having lunch. I like Wheatears. :D

Getting on towards Kate's House, a couple of Chiffchaffs were starting to sing - another year's first - though all the tempting habbo around there proved barren of anything fancier. Also the first singing Blackbird [I think] [[that's 'I think its the first Blackbird song of the year', not 'I think it was a Blackbird singing'!]]. The weather was warm, sunny, and everything was getting the proper Spring glow - though not fresh green and leafy in the tree department yet.

Now, I know on Saturday, after I'd finished ranting about TCCT's incompetence, I said I was hoping to see a Swallow. You can guess, can't you? Yep, not a sniff nor a Sandie, nor a Sarnie on the sea, and certainly not a frelling Alpine Swift!

Ah, Alpine Swifts..... I think I am the only birder in Devon [if not the country] who didn't see the Seaton Swifts, you see. I tried more than once, oh yes, but unfortunately I could only be there in the middle of the day, not the mornings and evenings when they could be had guaranteed behind their drainpipe. Finding flying Swifts is far far more easily said than done, and I dipped most horribly. So they are a sore point.

Still, sunshine, flowers, some of my favourite birds, and the spray from a frisky swell - it was a nice way to spend a day.

20 March, 2010


Today is the Vernal Equinox, the turning point between the darker Winter and lighter Summer halves of the wheel of the year. As befits a day of balance, today has seen some ups and some downs. It being windy and raining, there were but two choices [ok, there was also the nearly equally valid 'stay in and do bugger all'] Ahem. It being wet and windy there were but three choices, and as the tide was out in the middle of the day and I was determined to get out that left the sea. It being the weekend and me being not up at the crack of dawn [to put it mildly..], Hope's Nose seemed the less likely of the local choices, and Prawle was too far off. Berry Head then!

When I got there the wind was blowing, the rain was coming in sideways, and only three cars were in the car park. Yay! The sea wasn't rough and the wind wasn't really strong enough, but you never know. A couple of fishermen got past the barrier [I think it is broken again] and were setting up as I wandered down to the seawatching point. Nobody else. No migrants sheltering in the quarry either. Oh well. Halfway down I saw the Gannets circling close in, and before I got there I knew I'd not wasted my time - very close in indeed they were! The Harbour Porpoises were putting on a show - close as you like, looked like 7 including a mother and calf, and they were frequently staying shallow enough to track under the surface :D 13 Gannets kept over them, sometimes diving, with a few Herring, Geebs, and Fulmar along for the fun.

I watched for an hour and a half, and the Porps were still there when I left - brilliant! Birds were otherwise fairly quiet - a light southwards passage of Kittiwakes, including 1 smart 1s, a scattering of Guilles, couple of b/p Cormorants... Now for the down side [part one]. That gull was about again! It would not sit still, not even fly nicely for me, so I have no idea if the bill tip has gone pale or not, though it is mostly dark. I have nothing to add that I didn't get last time, despite it being closer and in better light! Its definitely different from the 1w and 2w Herrings [one of the latter was very obliging indeed], I can see nothing that says 'No', but still I hesitate. Why?

Extra frustration came from just missing what looked horribly like a Balearic - I'd been Porpoise-spotting, noticed something heading south and was just getting on it as it went round the corner. Arg! This of course is the chief downside of solo seawatching - one set of eyes misses a lot. Oh well, not like I'm monthlisting...! ;)

Now to more negativity. Yeah, sorry, but what can you do - this has to be said.

After three, the weather perked up, the visibility 'improved', and I decided to wander back and have a look at the shiny new visitor centre - newly opened this week! It was shut. Half three on a weekend. The hide? Locked. Round the back of the visitor centre, [by all the new mud] is the new cafe. This was open. It has a menu up by the door, like its a posh restaurant. It has prices in fractions, like we don't have a decimal currency. It wanted a fiver for a ham sandwich [6 for a baguette]. It had a sign telling you to take your muddy shoes off [evidently to protect its stone tiled flooring]. It also had a humourous request that only guide dogs and children with well-behaved parents were welcome [though it does have {distant} outside tables and water bowls]. There are supposed to be loos there - but the only interior door in the cafe was marked 'Crew Only' [Yes, that's right, it has a crew, not staff] - so they must be in the visitor centre. Which was still locked.


"Smoked Salmon and stuff Sandwich 7 3/4" [I paraphrase, but the price is about right]. Maybe on Sandbanks you could get away with pretentious bullshit like that, but not here.

The people in charge are Torbay Coast and Countryside Trust. They are the ones currently screwing up Cockington by spending all their money on turning the Hall into an arts and crafts centre, while the gardens go to hell - brambles are growing through everything, the beds not being brambled are a mess, the ponds are silted up, and any tree that twitches is felled [ok, that's now standard in Torbay]. Clearly they are trying to repeat the act at Berry Head, despite some valiant efforts by staff there to do the right thing. I could go on about the problems of TCCT in general, and Berry Head in particular, but I'll spare you - I'm sure you already get the idea, and if not one visit will enlighten you.

My, this one's gone downhill, hasn't it? Worry not, brave reader; hopefully tomorrow I'll see my first Swallow of the year, and it'll all be smiles again!

P.S. Mr. Blackcap is still with us, but the Blackbirds still aren't singing.

19 March, 2010

Drat and Double Drat!

Alpine Swift at Exeter!

Gyr at the Taw/Torridge!!

Me here in the rain.....


14 March, 2010


Today being Mothering Sunday, it was off on the traditional Family Picnic. Sisters do the food, I do the drink, Dad does the driving - find somewhere nice on the Moor and enjoy. This year we also had my Mum's new dogling along; Tilly by name, a Labrador crossed with 'something' [officially some sort of terrier, but it is suspected there's Whippet if not Greyhound, and possibly other things too]. She's from AID and Mum took one look and fell in love.. She has a commendable attitude to cats, and a turn of acceleration to put them in serious jeopardy, so the birds would be her friends if she didn't like chasing them too! Perhaps as a side effect of 5 homes in less than 3 years, she doesn't get on with other dogs if they're off the lead, and any animal on the ground is fair game, but my Mum hopes to get her as well behaved outdoors as she is indoors [where she is impeccable] - I reckon it'll be an interesting challenge...

Enough of Mum's new dog. This time we went to Bellever, found a nice spot on the Tor with a good view, plenty of sun, and little wind. A long picnic was accompanied by canine antics, watching various 10Tors teams passing by [There's a rant in that, but for another time], and enjoying the very pleasant company of the Great Grey Shrike - which struck poses for us. To say the Sisters are not Birding fans would be something of an understatement [not least due to me liking it - it is their sisterly duty to disapprove after all], but they now know what a GGS looks like [[you got it for the year yet, Joe? ;) ]]. Watching the Shrike from the Tor, eating lunch, I was struck by deja-vu; even more so when a single female Crossbill flew past at treetop level. This is just what happened 51 weeks ago [on my 5th attempt of the year for Crossbill, having heard only every time previously] [[Yes, I know normal year-listing counts hearing only, but I was being strict]] only on the south west side of the Tor, not the south east. Didn't get a crippling Firecrest or very early Willow Warbler though - not really expecting it, with 'enthusiastic' dog and sisters along, but you never know, right?

There was a little migration going on - a party of 13 Mipits flew north past us as we were heading back, and judging by the calls we heard at the Tor, they weren't the only ones. A Chiffchaff was near the Cherrybrook car park, and it might have been a migrant also - there weren't any about there earlier in the year as far as I know.

While the wind was brisk, the sun was warm, and a good time was had by all. Especially Tilly, as it was we think her first time on the Moor - the nose was in overdrive!

13 March, 2010

Wheatear? Not 'ere!

Apologies for that...

A good Patch Patrol today produced a marked lack of migrants. Only three Guilles were visible on the Ore Stone [though that was bins only, there are likely to be more about], and as the title said, not a sniff of Wheatear. Rockits were about [all our kind], and a gull-fight over a dead wrasse was briefly entertaining - in a slightly-disturbing-now-that-I-think-about-it kinda way...

In more positive news, the quantity and variety of birdsong is markedly increasing, though the Blackbirds [we have three around the garden now] are notable by their absence. Off bird topic, the beloved council are continuing their tree genocide - among the victims are a line that have been stabilising a section of slope below Ilsham Marine Drive. Having now had a chance to see the newly exposed geology, I give it no more than 5 years before the road is in the sea. Its already subsided a bit, and when the roots decay and the soil and loose rock they hold goes...... It really makes me spit, the sheer idiocy of it! "Oh, a tree might possibly have a branch that might fall down and could hurt someone - we must fell them all!" "Oh, that tree is in the way of a little bit of the view from my house - think of how much more it would be worth if that tree could be cut down, never mind that its helping keep the cliff stable!" "Oh, that tree is overhanging the road/pavement a bit, don't just prune it back, lets cut it down!" "Oh, I'm a fat cat developer/builder who has the council in my pocket, I want to build some rabbit hutches that are 6" apart [so I can call them detached and sell them for more] and while I could use all manner of brownfield sites, I'd much rather cut down that wood, and rip up those hedges and bury those fields under tarmac and concrete instead!"


Oh what the frack - What about all those morons who destroy their gardens under gravel, paving slabs, tarmac, or worst of all decking.... Even worse is the stupid fashion to destroy hedges and put in rickety wooden fences - I mean why?!?!?!?!?????

Ahem again.

I don't know how this turned into a rant. It should have been a fairly uneventful Patch Patrol [as they usually are] with a nice twist at the end, and instead we have this rant about the idiocy of people [well, a little bit of it - if I went into all of it we'd never end...] which you doubtless are fully aware of.

Flowers are good and pretty and calming and generally a very pleasant thing. Yes. Flowers. There are lots of lovely ones in the Ilsham Valley right now, including Silla [I think] which are clusters of gorgeous blue six-petalled six-stamened flowers on little stalks. I like them a lot. Not seen them before either. There were Siskin further down, which while not a patch tick, is unusual here. Indeed I've recorded fewer Siskin on patch than the nice twist bird - including in the garden! Said bird was on a small patch of lawn in a private garden, appearing to be in a face off with a Robin. It did the expected vanishing act, while the Robin came back at once to stare at me and go "What you lookin' at, matey?" [Robins are well 'ard]. Bird in question? Nice immature Blackstart. :D

In the Garden, a Collared Dove put in an appearance, and Mr Blackcap is still here.

10 March, 2010

Very quick one


Well - that's a very quick one! Not seen any Swifts, or any other migrants yet, [March Swift?!?!? That'd be a surprise...] but writing the title inspired me.

Sorry about that...

Garden update - female Blackcap put in a swift appearance yesterday afternoon, so she's still about. I'm expecting the Blackcaps to go soon, but who knows with things running a little cold this year..? Its lovely to see the Daffydowndillies coming out [Crocuses, Snowdrops - so many this year! I wonder why...?, and of course Primroses are already out], I'm waiting for the trees to start. Yarner with the first fresh leaves is a joy... :D

07 March, 2010

Ticking goeth before a fall....

Many and varied are the birders who go a' twitching. While it was too cold and windy for me to sport my silliest hat, others had made more of an effort; with long green coats, shiny jewelry, impressive facial hair, unimpressive facial hair [seriously, Joe, razor! ;) ]. Yup, it was off to sunny dorset today to go after the Bufflehead!

Being of a kind, forgiving, almost you might say saintly disposition, I gave Young Man In Need Of A Shaver [that's his Native American name, btw] a lift. Defying negative news and the advice of our elders to stay in bed, we set off, soon rejoicing as the news of its refind broke. After a couple of minor navigational issues, we found ourselves trooping down the long lane [pager said '250yds', map says about 1.8km] from the Pythonically named Langton Herring and passing various famous birders coming back up. [No names - due to twitch situation, Birder Listing is not possible]. [[Joe did get to fulfill his life's ambition and speak to The Legend though. ;) ]]

The Bufflehead was even more glorious than I'd hoped, and with the aid of the Big Scope showed pretty well. Lovely little thing - very Goldeneye-like [unsurprisingly] - being around Pintail, R-B Mergansers, and even the Wigeon it came across as extremely petite and compact. It had the habit of sometimes sticking its wings back between dives - so that the tips protruded beyond its rump, and at others of lifting its [surprisingly long and actually very similar to the Hooded Merg's] tail like a Ruddy Duck, which was interesting. The light wasn't as bad as I'd feared, and the bird helpfully stayed pretty much put - at least until it started diving, anyway! Then it was up and down with almost Little Grebe frequency... I drew some sketches. They are rubbish. Nothing new there, then! Faced with the choice between walking around the bay to get a better look, or going to Radipole to get food and maybe some Bearded Tits, we decided half an hour's admiration was enough. This turned out to be a good idea.

Radipole also contained a Bun and a Karen Woolley [fresh from scoring great views of said Buffledhead - see Karen's blog for fancy pictures]. The four of us had a good wander around the reserve, but the li'l buggers were feeling elusive - chief entertainment was the chat, back-chat, and general mouse-extraction between Joe and Bun - I spent more time laughing than I did looking through my bins... :D Time caught up with our companions, and after I'd finished feeding my face [always keep an emergency flapjack in your car, folks - it might save your life! ;) ] we too headed back towards the car park. 50 yards or so down the Budliea Loop, it occurred that the 'missing' section of main path might be where the Beardies were hiding. We turned around and had barely taken a dozen steps, when two birds landed on the path in front of us. They were very flat to the ground - Sparrow-like pose. Joe got his bins up first, and those 'long-tailed for sparrows' birds were of course a pair of Bearded Tits, which proceeded to give us crippling views, first feeding on wind-blown bulrush seeds on the path, then attacking the bulrushes themselves - down to about 10' at eye level through the scopes......... Wow. They were totally unbothered by us, the people passing, the other birders who came up - incredible. Another called behind us, then flew over, but we barely noticed it or anything else for the ten minutes or so they performed.

On the way back, we stopped off at the Otter estuary for Joe to pick up LRP for his British Yearlist [he having given up on a Devon Yearlist due to missing vertebrae]. Here came the fall that took the gloss off an otherwise excellent day, and the no-claims bonus off my insurance. Bugger. The LRP was beautiful, very close, nicely active and also unbothered - this time by the legions of dog-walkers, slightly shocked-looking rich people, families with small children, and assorted 'others' wandering past at high volume. Nice bird.

And finally...... I'm not doing a yearlist, not chasing yearticks at all, so this is only because Joe asked: 139

06 March, 2010

Second-rank birding

In his Devon Yearlisting 2010 blog, Ash Powell told of how he recorded 5 raptors in a day earlier this week. Being of the second rank of birders, I managed 4 and an owl... Oh, and a Devon Tick! :D

It being sunny and fairly calm of wind, and this being that time of year, I went to a place I'd better not name, to look for birds I'm definitely not going to name! The wind picked up a bit, and it clouded over, but there was some activity - and this is really frustrating! I hate censorship. I met a few birders, including young master Ray, who is currently sporting a full and manly beard. ::ROFLMAO:: [That serves you right for the mud - how old are you?? ;) ]. He got himself a Devon Tick too, which pleased him no end. Will Salmon and Steve Young also were present - the former finding Joe's birds for him, the latter sporting some very shiiiny optics. I'm not jealous. Honest.

Ahem, enough mouse-extraction.

With the weather clouded over, and no sign of a certain Ring-necked Duck at Roadford, I drove to Yarner in the hope that the LSW had reappeared. They hadn't. Then a call from Joe told me [up the top in the wildy bits where the civilians fear to tread] that not only was the Ring-neck in front of the hide at Roadford, but a Yankee Herring was on the Teign! One brief burst of Ancient Devonian later, the amusing sight of a Backward Birder legging it back to the car park with his big scope over his shoulder greeted the sniggering Coal Tits... But where to go? I'm not yearlisting and I saw the Smithsoniatus on the Otter, but I dipped the Ring-neck at Stover and have only seen the one at Cheddar last year [also a smart drake - they are very pretty!]. Thus Devon Tick trumps year-tick-that-I'm-not-doing,-am-I?

An hour after the call, I was pulling up at Roadford. An hour and twenty minutes after that, Mike Pope thought to check the bit right round the corner to the left of the hide, and the Ring-neck - with a male Pochard it seemed very attached to - came out of the reeds and showed very well. Just in time for a certain young man in need of a razor to jam onto! Not too long after that, I found myself alone in the hide. The Ring-neck was swanning around, the light was slowly fading [and too dark, of course, to try a photo - unsurprising as I'd actually got my camera with me]. Very tranquil. Then the Roadford Barn Owl decided to fly across the reservoir. Yaaaay! Then a Carrion Crow noticed it and did its best to peck it in half in mid-air... Sometimes I really hate crows.

Late news.. Holy @£%*(^%@@£%%&$%@£$£%%$^!!!!!!! Bufflehead!

Twitch twitch twitch twitch...........

[Yes, I am too recent on the twitching scene to have seen the 98 Roadford bird...]

03 March, 2010

About that asterisk...

A post or five back I included an asterisk, which was shamelessly left unexplained. I'd been musing about the frustrations of twitching, one of which being the untickable view, and had mentioned in very brief passing what I thought that was. An asterisk implied expansion later on, but for reasons I can't remember [probably some nonsense about the 'flow of the post'] I didn't do so.

Aaaanyway. When on the topic of what to tick and what not to tick, I have to refer you to the prior musing of Gavin Haig, [Not Quite Scilly], he being of vastly greater experience and competence than my humble self in both birding and blogging. He has pictures too. And Caspian Gulls that stay put and show off their legs [the floozies]. ;) If you trawl back through his archives for last year, you will find his To Tick Or Not To Tick, with examples given, and the public's opinion invited. Go on, its both witty and educational.

This is my personal take on the issue; to Tick a bird, you have to have enough to ID it yourself. Short and to the point, right? Well... sort of. Its the 'ID it yourself' bit that's the sticker - this doesn't mean 'if you were on your own and didn't know it was there, could you successfully get it accepted by the relevant committee?'. It means, 'did you see and / or hear enough to ID it, not necessarily to your current knowledge, but allowing for taking notes and looking it up when you get home, or being helped by someone else.' Which is quite a mouthful.

An example - you hear the very distinctive sound of a Gropper reeling in a bush. Its on the right side. You can't see it. It stops reeling. You do see a bird of approximately the right size and shape move through the bush to the left side. The Gropper starts reeling from the left side. You still can't see it. Tick or not? I would say yes - you've ID'd by song [assuming it is a Gropper's reel, of course] and you've seen what has to be the bird. Its not very satisfying, though - better views definitely desired.

Another example - you're out birding when you chance across a twitch. You carefully walk up to the assembled throng and try to work out how to ask what they're looking at without seeming an utter twit. Fortunately, a couple coming the other way get there just before you and ask themselves. You've never seen a Pallas's Reed Bunting, and haven't checked the 1w plumage and how to differentiate from a Reed. 'There it is!" someone says, and you train your scope on the bird in question, which yes, does look a lot like a female / 1w Reed Bunting. Having a notebook you use it and sketch / note everything you can before the bird tires of posing and disappears again. On arriving home and picking up your literature, you are immediately struck by the plate "That's it all right!", though you've not noted all the key features [rump, crown and underside were hidden]. Tick? Yes. Though you might have dismissed it at a glance were you alone [though unlikely, in this instance] you've seen it well enough to have ID'd it yourself - being put on it was just luck. [And what luck to jam onto a PRB like that!]

Final example [shamelessly nicked from Mr Haig and worse; altered to suit] - you're twitching a Hudsonian Whimbrel, but having been delayed you're not at the site as early as you'd hoped. Arriving breathlessly at the hide, you don't even get as far as gasping "Is it showing?" as one of the birders present [in a move worthy of instant sainthood] turns to you and says "Its flying off, quick- in my scope!" You leap to him and jam your eye to the eyepiece. A large wader is flying away rapidly - you can just see it hasn't got any white on its rump/back before it reaches the sun, is silhouetted and then rapidly gone. Tick? You've only seen one key feature, but the present birders are sure it was the Hudsonian. As it was pretty much the key feature, yes. [[In Gav's original, where it was already too far off to see any features other than being probably a Whimbrel, then no. Plus much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth]]

So, after three examples [one borrowed and altered, one made up, and one genuine experience] on to the reason I remembered to come back to this. That fracking gull. It also occurs to me that I need another example, for another circumstance, which said gull fits pretty well. This being the 'experience of' view. Where you get enough to ID if you are familiar with the bird, but not enough to be sure if you've only got books, photos, film etc. 'Past experience with the species' is on the rarities form for a reason - there really is no substitute for getting eyes on a bird. Paintings are idealized and generalized - they sum up the image of a bird very well, but are invariably a compromise. Photographs show one bird perfectly - at one angle in one light against one background [in one plumage at one moult stage in one condition of health...]. Film shows a style of movement, but unless the camera was operated by a master of the craft it helps little more than a photo, with all the aforementioned problems. You see a bird for yourself, you know all the light issues [to be brief], you get the jizz - everything. You can then adapt for other lights and angles. [This is assuming you can watch it for a while, of course!]

I have no doubt that if someone who knows Caspian had been beside me, they would have been able to say yea or nay very quickly. I also have little doubt then when I do finally get Caspian experience, I will be able to look back and go "Of course it was[n't], how could I have not known?!?" I'm reminded of my first Bonxie - but that's another story.

Ok, quite enough navel-gazing here. Time to get back to the present and the important stuff. Like 250+ Woodpigs stuffing their faces in a pea field near Ipplepen, and the Commando Woodpig who's learned to jump down sideways to get at the covered tray in the garden! After watching the flying hoover persist in this, even after being flushed into a bush, a carefully placed pointy thing has been employed. I'll get back to you on its effectiveness. Mr Blackcap is still about, and all the garden regulars are getting into spring mode, but no migrants here yet. I'm expecting Wheatears on the Nose any day now... :D

01 March, 2010

Garden Update

Couple of bits of garden news - Blackbird started singing today! Greenfinches started on Friday. Song Thrush, Blue Tits and House Sparrows [well, as much as they can - determined chirping!] still going. Mr. Blackcap seems to be acquiring a taste for sunflower hearts [?] in addition to his beloved fat block. The other two Blackcaps seem to have moved off - perhaps due to the easing of the cold? [I hope it isn't due to the cats that have re-started their marauding with the end of the freeze - curse them!]

With the breeding season getting underway, I think it is a good point to state a policy of mine; I will not mention what I consider to be rare, scarce, or threatened breeding birds - this includes all raptors - unless they are very publicly known and guarded. And even then I probably won't. This is probably futile, as the assorted persecutors [eggers, chick thieves, pigeon fanciers, gamekeepers etc] seem to know very well where to go, but at least it'll make me feel better.