30 July, 2010

Devon Dude-ing

And what can be dude-ier than wandering around Stover?

Having some time in the middle of the day today, I tried Stover in the hope the sun would pull a repeat of yesterday's surprise swelterer.

No such luck.

I got rained on.

Ok, drizzled on, but still...

6 flavours of odonata, with one brave pair of Azures ovipositing, single Emperor and Common Hawker patrolling, and everything else cowering....

I did see some very nice birds though! At least 5 Bullfinches were using the feeder, plus Marsh Tits and a male GSW - he even showed off to a family [with an unusually quiet kid, 'tis true]. Plus hordes of Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed in all ages. There was also a very pretty Treeeecreeeper [not on the feeder, though!]

29 July, 2010

I'm not sure what to say....

Since my last post, some stuff's happened that has left me feeling.. well, I can't even put a proper word to it. I've not blogged since, as every time I've started running through a new post in my head, it goes wandering off to places unpostable...

Before I get onto that, I'd better update my doings; Not a lot! I've been pursuing jobs diligently, and bashing the patch and interrogating the local Herrings until they say 'Uncle!'. I got singed by the sun yesterday. Er.... Oh yeah, the rubber rainhood on my li'l scope's expired [it was a fancier one, and lasted almost a whole year... Grr] so I've found a metal one - its a bit short but after I added my custom armouring* it should do the job. Got it second hand from the wonderful Mifsuds [they deserve a plug] for 1/9 the retail [as new condition]. Next time you're in Brixham, pop in and have a browse - check out all the proper cameras they have...

*Li'l scopes, being made of plastic, and quite thin plastic at that, may split in two if dropped [though apparently if you stick them back together they still work fine - the prisms are held securely]. Being paranoid I've applied homemade armouring to the prism housing - layers of packing foam, duct tape and black electrical tape - though due to wanting to keep using the Grippa Case, I've not been able to cover all of it, so when on the shoulderpod it looks really weird...

Right then.

So, there was this gull. When I saw it on Saturday, everyone was happy with it. I suffered a touch of paranoia about the gonys, but on getting home I checked the bill morphology and saw that, yes, it was fine. Job's a good 'un, right?

Only people [who will remain nameless] had taken photos, and on looking at them saw something different to what was seen at the time. Could this be in fact a Yellow-legged? Photos were posted online, and people who hadn't seen the actual bird, and only had said photos to go on, said indeed it definitely was. By this time the bird had done a bunk, and I was left cursing not having taken more notes than I did - but back then the ID was secure and I had a teen-lister who wanted feeding [deary me..]

A very kind [and very nameless] gull expert of the proper scientific kind has sent me a paper on Caspians, which is very long and detailed and if I remember rightly says that you can only 100% ID them [ie. juvenile Caspians] by call and threat display. This is unfortunately of no use when the gull is resting, bathing and preening in a quarry and thus staying silent and not threatening anybody... From what I learn, it seems every other juvenile Caspian feature can be shown by Yellow-legged. Yes, even the white in the underwing. Possibly the blotchy boa too, though they were a bit vague about that one. I find this very inconvenient, and would like to know to whom I can complain! ;)

What I didn't learn is if any Yellow-legged can show ALL of the potentially shared features....

[[After all, Herrings can show all of the Yellow-legged Gull features, {I've seen three this week alone with more than one each} but never all of them at once]]

I am thus requesting that all of you who are reading this, ESPECIALLY if you saw the gull, to please comment and tell me why exactly this is a Yellow-legged and not a Caspian.
I am genuinely very curious about this - you cannot seriously ID a bird by jizz alone, there have to be criteria - thus there has to be something I'm missing.

26 July, 2010

It's Monday

Traditionally, I'm with Garfield when it comes to the subject of Mondays. They are evil, devious, and their effects can infiltrate the entire week - you may think it's Thursday, but Monday's power can reach out to vex you. Whatever field of enterprise you may be engaged in, be it work, relaxation, or dipping Kentish Plovers, Monday is gonna getcha...

And so it is, that I - sitting here now, ready after yet another failure on the job-seeking front - have been struck again. On Friday I had a long burble about dragonflies lined up in my mind, but not the time to unleash it upon your poor suffering retinas. Now I have the time but not the inspiration. I have tried, but the words didn't flow, and even I'm not that sadistic as to expect you to read that...

I do have a few other things to go on about, so maybe the dragons will return?

Dare you look down and see how long this post is?

I wouldn't - spoils all the fun.

Sunday was spent walking with the folks up on't Moor. Following my blog criteria for breeding raptors, the exact location has to remain unspecified, as the bird stars were a juvenile Buzzard playing with a juvenile Raven! Really. I've seen juveniles playing with their own species, or with birds they'd normally associate with, but never across the divide like this. They looked like they were having a lot of fun - soaring and chasing and tumbling around - at least until they were attacked by a Carrion Crow [which had flown from the next valley over to have a go, the git].

It was a warm, sunny day with a fresh breeze that stopped it being too uncomfortable to walk. In a high moor river valley there were multiple Golden-ringed Dragonflies - including a female munching on a beetle sp. with orangey-brown wing casings - several Beautiful Demoiselle and Large Red Damselflies, and a male Keeled Skimmer [which had a quick go at a male Golden-ringed before zooming off]. Still no Scarce Blue-taileds on the actual proper Moor, though... Lots of amphibians about - most notably two adult frogs and a toad. Not so many lizard!s, and as usual, no snakes of any kind..

There were a lot of sheep around, and Tilly was her usual.. er, 'enthusiastic' self, though she is slowly getting better. Very slowly. The sight of her being dog-marched past a bemused flock [Dartmoor sheep are mostly pretty laid back when they see your dog is on a lead] is both amusing and leading to the desire to smack her first owner upside tha heid...

All the usual moorland birds were present, with a couple of baby bands of mixed Wheatears, Mipits and Stonechats [though not Skylarks] giving the best views. It was an enjoyable walk - the longest one with Her Ladyship so far - the Moor as ever being glorious [though it being a sunny Sunday, not exactly quiet..]. It was drier than I expected, with all the rain over the last couple of weeks, which made for good going, though a few boggy bits were sneakily wet.

In other news, a dramatic moment as a juvenile Dunnock got itself trapped in the conservatory! The Sparrows wander in now and again, but [apart from the tragic male who got into the house itself earlier this year] always get out quite quickly. The Dunnock was acting more like the insects it was probably after and after several minutes, it was clear it needed some help. This proved stressful and complicated for all concerned, but eventually the young bird was freed, and after a few moments sat on the ground it flew off strongly. I hope its alright.

The first of the local Herring Gulls fledged on Thursday - watching it trying to work out how to flap its wings simultaneously, with the resulting zig-zag flight, had me in stitches... The small local House Martin colony is at least 4 pairs strong, I now know after finding a new vantage point [their nests are in an 'interesting' neighbourhood, where wandering around looking at peoples' eves in inadvisable...] and while I've been typing this another successful breeder gave us a noisy flyover. I like Swifts. :D I've started noting every evening that they're still here, to be sure I don't miss the exact departure date [like I did last year..]

Right then, dragonflies. Chasing a dragonfly yearlist [which, ok, I'm technically still doing] has led me to some very enjoyable moments between the prickles and the Horsefly attacks. Pike watching at Exminster, the dragonfly royal rumble at Stover, playing 'in plain sight hide and seek' with immature Black-tailed Skimmers at Aylesbeare, all the hawkers on the Levels, and pretty much every Golden-ringed full stop.... It wasn't what I expected when I started, not least that its been so quick. I suppose dragonflies are quick. The Hairys are gone already, with more to follow, and in two months they'll all be gone for another year.
Normally July is all about praying for strong winds and rain, but now I'm hoping for the opposite too - how weird is that? [[If you've met me, you'll get the joke in this ;) If not; lets just say I'm not a sunshine person..]]. Certainly I've found a new summer hobby - sitting beside some water, watching the odonata perform their multilevel ballet.

Yeah, that's it. My long long burble seems permanently excised from my mind, that above is all that remains. Kinda gets the point over, but I wish I could remember all the rhapsodising, I'm sure it was good.....

24 July, 2010

Vengeance is Mine!! Maybe.

EDIT: I'm leaving the original text as written, more edit-y stuff at the end.

Thanks to a dedicated gull-basher [you know who you are, and so does everyone else - WELL DONE!] I have finally seen an unequivocal, absolute, definite Caspian Gull!



You who have been reading this blog have seen only the tail end of a long, frustrating, and sometimes humiliating quest of mine - which isn't quite over, as I still want to find one myself [[masochist!!]] - the near-mythical Devon Caspian. I know its only a gull, and while its smarter than any Herring or Yellow-leg, its still a white-headed gull sp. that isn't an Audouin's... But there's something about Caspians, I think, a quality that makes them more special than the others - not so much the rarity, either - some balance of a plumage that's actually pretty, and proportions that seem right, you know? They make small beady eyes work.

Ok, stopping the larophilia....

It was another mid day phone call from Joe "What's a forward defensive shot???" Ray that started things, and as he'd cracked a metatarsal [or something] and was hobbling around on crutches, I gave him a door-to-door lift [being a Saint and so on... ;) ] over to Blackhill Quarry near Exmouth. We went more out of good form than expectation - gulls like flying off, after all - but lo and behold it stayed very put, and what a bird!
The Caspian was with a good sized mob of assorted Herring, LBB, and BHG of all ages and had the attention of a small group of Devon's Finest when we got there [no names, naturally]. We spent an hour admiring it, with bouts of Joe canvassing for gen on the Alps [maybe he should write a book - 'Birding on Crutches' - this is his fourth set, after all!] and everyone else taking the piss... :) Juveniles are a bit trickier than 1w [at least, when they sit still and pose nicely....] but still very distinctive once you got on it, and once you had easy to pick out again. The tertial thumbnails in particular stood out very much - between the dark tertial centres and very black primaries - letting you find the bird without optics [though I doubt this'll help in the future, you never know...]

I said no more larophilia, didn't I? I'll spare you my dragonfly burble, too [how nice is that?].

Caspian Gull. Brilliant!

EDIT: 2/8/10 So, it's been a week since the online photo issue started up - though it seems a lot longer... After doing a LOT of research, including the famous BB paper, I have given it a lot of thought and I cannot see how this bird was a "clear / obvious Yellow-legged Gull". People who know a lot more than me about Caspians in particular don't think it is one {a Caspian, that is}, but none of them [that I am aware of, please feel free to correct me] actually saw it. Still, I feel I can't say 'whatever..' to assorted Betters without firmer ground to stand on, so I'm downgrading it to a ? on my personal List.

23 July, 2010


After all the fun of scarpering off up to zumerzet, this week has mostly been about diligent jobseeking to very little reward. I have had the time to give the patch a bash, with no results to speak of [other than the normal standard what you'd expect stuff, of course!].

This afternoon, I decided, on the back of what seemed like reasonable conditions, to pay a long overdue visit to 'the second best dragonfly site in Devon' [its what it says on its website, so it must be true! ;) ] - Little Bradley Ponds. I figured as it was over 20 degrees, but with sunshine and clouds, there'd be a fair chance of finding resting dragons between the sunny bits that might let me get a photo [I'm not becoming a photographer, btw, I'm just getting near the end of a film and enjoying playing with my paparazzi setup...] [[It needs to be kept in mind that there's a greater than 50% chance nothing will come out recognisable, also]]. Same website said there were Keeled Skimmers and Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies - pretty blue ones to photo, and S B-Ts for number 30. Maybe. I was I admit a little skeptical that bogland damsels would be around old china clay pits come ponds, but it was worth a look.

Access is 'interesting' - an easily missed side road with parking a gateway that will fit two small cars. Just. This does mean its likely to be quiet, it also means the lack of foot traffic has helped to it get a bit wild in there... It wasn't impassable, but I have had the fun of pulling a 1.5cm gorse thorn out of my shin [ok, it was only 3/4 in, but still - ouch], and the brambles got their licks in too. It also looks like it gets pretty muddy. Ok, bad bits done - good bits! There were loads of insects, not just odonata, but lots of butterflies [and flies and grasshoppers and other things] too. The two ponds are very pretty, with each having a perimeter path and a little jetty so you can walk out and look down into the water for all the subsurface action [though I'd be careful with my weight - they look like they've been there a while]. If it wasn't for the busy road right there, it'd be idyllic.

The weather wasn't kind to me - early sunny patches were replaced by rain... Before the rain [and 4 degree temperature drop] I was able to see some dragons though; mostly damselflies, with the usual Common Blue and Azure [one unlucky male Azure got nobbled by one of those spiders that looks like a gorse flower] joined by Blue-tailed and lots of Emeralds. I didn't see a single Keeled Skimmer, and all the dragonflies were also singles - 4-Spotted Chaser, Emperor, and a male hawker sp. that was either Common or Migrant [I only got a side view and it didn't settle]. I found a male Beautiful Demoiselle sheltering from the rain [presumably flew over from the Bovey], and earlier, to my delight, was treated to the sight of a Blue-tailed and a Scarce Blue-tailed sitting on neighbouring rushes! The reason for the Scarce's presence was revealed to be the very boggy and open edge of the west pool [apparently it was designed for dragonflies when restored after china clay extraction ended] - there are similar boggy sides to the east pool, too, but it's older and more vegetated.

Needless to say, the little gits didn't sit for a photo - they let me get set up, then buzzed off... A couple of Emeralds were more obliging - including a nice pair - so we shall have to see. Emeralds were definitely the star performers - while I was standing under a beech, waiting to see if the rain was just a quick shower, one sheltered on a tall sword in front of me, and I was able to study its claspers with my bins - yep, definitely not a Scarce [let alone Southern! ;) ]. Birds were mostly pretty quiet - a few hirundines overhead - though a family of Treeecreeepers did their best to drown the traffic out! So cute.......

So, a little prickled and scratched, I have achieved the target I set myself, and done so before the end of July. Now what... Do I stop? Hell no! I've got the gotta catch 'em all phase out of my system, now its time to see them better! It's getting a bit late for more dragonfly blathering now, so I'll impose that on you next time and just end with a 'this ain't over' [[Cue: Threatening music "Dun Dun DUN...."]]

19 July, 2010

Sometimes things go right

Not often, mind, but sometimes. Today, as threatened, I was naughty and swanned off up to zumerzet looking for dragons - despite it looking a bit threatening first thing. Mission was to find Variable Damselfly, and hopefully also a 'red' Darter dragonfly sp. too, plus to get a look at female Little Bittern, and whatever else was about.

It did eventually rain, but it waited 'til gone half six, so no worries! Before that it almost hit 30 on the blazing hot Levels, and the dragons were everywhere! Having missed Variable Damselfly on my brief detour earlier this month, I was amazed that the first blue damsel I managed to get bins on proved to be one! Yes! :D This coming after I'd met an immature male Migrant Hawker, that stayed so put I was able to not only get my book out to make sure of the ID [I have no shame, and take my copy of Brooks & Lewington out with me....], but also to assemble my paparazzi setup [took it in the bag, deary me...] and get a shot from as close as my big lens will focus. He was more bothered by passing Brown Hawkers than by me - or the guy who came stomping past, then stomping back!

Also new for the year was Ruddy Darter - much more red and black than B & L indicate, a real stunner! - so I'm a Scarce Blue-tail away from my target. It's enough to make me a little giddy, I tell you!

I made three stops and got in eight and a half hours of field time, seeing 15 species of odonata and 50 species of birds [I think]. Star performers were definitely the Marsh Harriers - at least 5 individuals, the best being a 3cy male that put on a wonderfully prolonged display of hunting into the wind, with a pair of playing juveniles [one of which then tried landing in a small tree top and only just pulled it off..] coming a close second. Bitterns restricted themselves to two brief flight views - a Big one in exactly the same spot as one last Friday week, and the female Little one flying away from the site. A Great White Egret sighting was even briefer, and a Hobby didn't stick around either.

Did I mention how good the dragons were? On my way back from the Little Bittern, I got buzzed and examined by a Southern Hawker - face to face with an insect that's definitely looking back was an interesting experience! I was face to face with a Horsefly that settled on the rear hatch of my car as I opened it at Woodbury, but all I got then, as it turned to look at me, was 'target acquired'.. A Brown Hawker near Noah's Hide was much less interested - it seemed to think I was just moving scenery - while no Emperor has ever deigned to recognise I even exist! ;) A male Black-tailed Skimmer kept very neat pace beside me along a drove - I tried speeding up and slowing down to check - until I reached the edge of his territory. Interesting, that; a very odd co-incidence, it being disturbed by me [but the others I'd bothered just looped around behind me], or maybe behaviour adapted to moving animals disturbing prey? I have no idea, but I'd guess the latter. I also got to use the Big Scope [which I'd lugged along - thus the camera stuff in the bag] to ID damsels way out in the ponds - not very efficient [much better for watching birds] as the ones I got on were all Red-eyeds, Common Blues, and Azures!

Present all day, and perhaps causing the reduced Little Bittern sightings, were a LOT of helicopters. I think it must have been everything the Army hasn't already got in Afghanistan, and included Apaches! I've not seen them in person before, and it was jokingly mentioned that they were going to be on anti-egger duty next year - spot 'em on the thermal imaging and waste the scum with the chain gun... >;)
I was just getting back to my car when the first spit-spots of rain started [after waiting more than an hour for another Little Bittern flight] and the 5 degree drop in temperature as the front passed was most welcome on the drive home. Day's a good 'un.

18 July, 2010

Just the one

Believing the forecast and the way it was all sunny and stuff here, I went up on't Moor this afternoon looking for Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies [again]. Needless to say, it wasn't quite so clement up there - strongish wind, lots of cloud and occasional drizzle made things seem pretty bleak [from a dragonfly perspective, anyway]. It did eventually sun up a bit, but the single odonata I saw was a male Beautiful Demoiselle.

S B-t 2 : Me 0

There were Wheatears, though they made themselves fairly scarce [no pun intended], and slightly-less-showy-than-yesterday Yellowhammers, and an absence of Horseflies [::Gives thanks::] so I can't complain too much.

Right, to bed. I have a feeling I might try something silly tomorrow - like a futile quest* up to zumerzet to look for Variable Damselfly amid the vast expanse of the Levels... [more Little Bitterns would be a purely accidental side-effect ;) ]

[[*Why futile? They look very much like Common Blue and Azure Damselflies - the two commonest ones! Not so much needle in haystack, as needle in needlestack.....]]

17 July, 2010

Saturday Afternoon

Was spent strolling about Ideford Common with the folks. The day warmed up more than expected, and with the panoramic views you get there, it was [aside from a brief attack of Horseflies - I think this may be the worst year for them I've known...] very pleasant indeed.

All the birds you'd expect were there, though mostly fairly subdued - excepting a very exuberant Yellowhammer - and though I wasn't expecting much with the cooler windier weather, we had a couple of nice dragonflies and lots of butterflies. A male Golden-ringed came to say hello as he patrolled a section of bridleway, and a very welcome Common Hawker was less showy [as you'd expect] along a wooded ride. Butterflies were mostly the ordinary 'brown' and 'white' ones shown on the signs, but as the Common Hawker went up to the tree tops, a very smart Silver-washed Fritillary came and posed for us - wish I'd taken the camera instead of the li'l scope! [[Though the last time I was there in daylight, having the scope got me that Alpine... Decisions, decisions!]]

Right, I think that'll do..

15 July, 2010

St. Swithin's Day Massacre

If the old wives' tale about St. Swithin's Day is true, then you can put the sunblock back in the cupboard......

Dragging my behind out of bed a good 2 hours later than I really ought to if I was serious, I tooled up and went my way to Berry Head. There I found no less than 5 brave birders, [with 2 more to arrive later] including Notable Names from the Devon birding scene. And Joe "Just call me Joe Ray, please?" Ray. Apparently there'd been "sod all" about, but within 30 seconds of my arrival a juv. Yellow-legged Gull put in an appearance, followed swiftly by a Balearic Shear. This evidence of perfect timing on my behalf seemed like a good omen.

Though not at first, as indeed it was quieter than I'd hoped. Manxies and the odd Balearic were moving, the usual suspects were, too, but not in any real numbers . Then things changed. A birder who shall be known as Paul used his gift of prescience to turn around and look behind him, his words; "I've got a big swift...." had everyone else turning too. It was a big swift, a very big swift, with a big white belly...... We few, we happy few, we band of jammy buggers!

The Alpine Swift evaded a not-very-close call with a Peregrine and then evaded us too - Joe went storming down with his camera, but it went zooming off north over the Bay...... Further and further and further I followed it in my scope, because as soon as it passed the Pier it became a mighty Patch Tick!! YES!*

Then, while we were still grinning like idiots over the swift, a Balearic came and treated us to a point blank feeding display - tripping like a Stormie and performing very shallow low-angle dives while the water rolled off it's back like mercury. Wow.

Unfortunately, the weather decided to be unhelpful - turning the wind to the west and the clouds to sunshine. A few terns [ a Sarnie south and 3 Common north] and a Whimbrel [there's always a Whimbrel!], plus a fast-moving dark morph skua sp. [probably Arctic, definitely going north] were the other early highlights, before passage dropped by an order of magnitude. While the calmer conditions did enable better views of the local Harbour Porpoises - which eventually got quite close - they weren't what most of us had come for. In ones and twos the watchers departed, and by 1415 I was the only one left [casting dark looks skyward and muttering about the forked tongues of weather forecasters], but I resolved to stick it out and wait for the promised front...

And wait.

An- ok, enough of that! I was not without reward for my stubbornness - a Big Boss Bonxie at Ten past Three [think 'Mean Green Momma' from Little Shop of Horrors] was indeed Bad. A nice pale adult [the dark cap just made it look 'arder, if that were possible] it came down looking for a fight and when nothing had the guts to oblige, it sat on the sea for a bit looking menacing, before carrying on south. Another, this time an immature, followed later. A different juv. Yellow-leg, which had buzzed past earlier, returned to keep an eye on a boat full of anglers and showed well, if a little far 'round to the left. Finally, the rain arrived, the wind kicked to south, and then towards south east, and the rain got squally. Joy!

Balearics started appearing - some with groups of leap-frogging Manxies [they didn't want to stop and raft, but weren't up for flying fully either] - and a couple passing so close you lost them behind the rocks in front of the watch point! My final total [in 10 hours] was 17 - not counting lingerers {especially one which was following a Manxie around}. 255 Manxies, 166 Gannet, 63 Kittiwake, and 49 Guillemot [plus 1 Razorbill] show how much was passing. It is mid July, of course. Still, I would have liked a Sooty...

I cut it off at 10 hours because the wind had shifted so far to the east that it was coming around the corner and doing a fair job of blowing me away... Very hard to watch when you need both hands to hold on to your bumbleshoot - a bit frustrating, as I'm sure there were more birds out there between the rain bands. Still, 10 hours watched and some lovely birds seen - those Balearics were gorgeous, the Bonxies were badass, and a surprise Alpine! Result. :D

[[*Rules are Rules; once it's in the Defined Patch Area, it counts!]]

14 July, 2010


Can it really be 100 posts already? Computer says yes, so I guess it must be...

I've been busy diligently jobseeking, also being good and not burning up petrol going to Berry Head every day [despite the temptation]. This means I've missed various Bonxies, Joe [on Tuesday] and a Pom [today]. Sorry, that should be ' various skuas and Joe "When are you going to stop going on about my puberty goatee on your blog?" Ray' ;)

I really ought to blog before I start on the whisky....


After completing an interesting online application form, I found time to give some of the patch a bashing this afternoon. In a blustery southerly wind and a mix of sun and showers, there were more Swallows and House Martins than I'd expected to find - whether they've moved in from elsewhere or just had been previously elusive I can't say. A few Manxies were visible off the Nose, plus the odd Gannet, Fulmar, Guille etc. All in all, nothing spectacular.
Tomorrow is S Day - I'm still undecided about starting early and going for a possible 12 hour plus job, or getting up at a more civilised hour and concentrating on that delicious-looking front that's coming in... I think it'll depend on how I feel when [and indeed when 'when' is!] I wake up..

Course, all this weather has put the kaibosh on my dragonfly yearlist for now, but swings and roundabouts, right? :D

11 July, 2010

If You Go Up on't Moor Today...

After a Saturday spent doing what I was going to be doing on Friday [after I eventually woke up, that is..] today was a wander up on't Moor with the folks. We toddled around the tors on the north side of Tavy Cleave [too hot to venture into the depths...]. It's very pretty round that way, and there were Wheatears.

Star surprise was the amazing sight of two male Golden-ringed Dragonflies resting on a path - ok, the sun had gone in and the wind was blowing a bit, not so amazing? But.. They just sat there, on the ground, we [ok, not me, but two parents and a dog] walked right over them, its amazing they weren't squished! [or eaten, for that matter] One got walked over three times, as my parents went over it, came back to look at the first one, then went on again! I thought the first one was dead, as it just didn't move - even when I touched it [very gently, mind]. Then, when my Mum tried picking it up, it twitched, so we backed off a bit. Seeing they were feeling so relaxed [or just very very tired, I suppose? It wasn't by any means cold] I got my camera out, but as I suspected, I only got one shot off before the sun came out and whooosh! Off they went. One was a full adult, but the second had brownish eyes, so I assume it was still immature.

I was almost able to add a Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly sighting, but unfortunately, what looked very much like a male managed to escape before I could get a good enough look at it. [Yes, a low, slow-flying damselfly pulled a Houdini on me. I'm duly embarrassed....] With the cloud increasing over the day, and our mostly staying clear of the boggy bits, that was it for odonata. Ratses. A group of 6 Ravens - presumably a family group - put in a couple of appearances, including harassing a poor Buzzard; parents showing the kids how it's done, I think!

09 July, 2010

A day spent Being Good

Was suddenly cut short by a phone call from Joe "It is a full and manly beard, isn't it?" Ray, at the same time as my computer screen decided all by itself to show the news;

White-tailed Plover at Slimbridge!!!!!

Before you could say "Holy shi-" the wheels were turning, and after surviving traffic jams, tractors, and blazing heat [serious in a car with no aircon, believe you me....] we were walking very calmly and sedately through the fancy new rubber duckie enclosures at WWT Slimbridge [they're very nice - worth a look as an educational aid should you ever meet a wild version]. The Zeiss Hide was naturally rather busy, but we got very good if a little distant views of this most beautiful of birds [just 'very good' through the Big Scope :D ], and also views of various Famous Faces [who shall remain nameless]. I'd watched the various stops this bird has made - all well out of range - with philosophical dejection, and I never thought it would come to where I could see it... What a wonderful thing it is! Yeeeeeeeeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


We then wandered down [eventually - oh the joys of the Brizzle rush hour...] to the Levels, where we got flight views and heard whuffing from the Little Bittern [still adorable!] and I got some good views of Banded Demoiselle and even better Brown Hawker Dragonfly - very brown, and lots of them about! That's 25 for the year now. :) We had a close encounter with a young Mink - right by our feet close! Evidently lost, it was wandering the railway line, investigating passers-by, and we were included. So cute. So evil. [Mink bad - even the cute ickle fluffy ones...]. Also multiple Marsh Harriers and a low-flying Great Big Bittern, plus some blue damsels that didn't come close enough for me to ID...

Joe, having horribly dipped the Norfolk River Warbler on Monday, then [via much phone negotiation] brought about another chance for himself, and I, being the Saint I am, took the scenic route home to drop him off on.. er, 'at' Bun's place. As I type they'll be heading east for the morning chance. Good luck!

I'm going to collapse now....

08 July, 2010

Ol' Red Eyes is Back....

Well, the neck's not gotten any better, but due to going slightly stir-crazy [I have been out, just not for fun..] I decided to do something anyway and see what happened. Having been woken up at 5-30am by the Herrings dive-bombing an adult Geeb [it was utterly unimpressed by their efforts] may have had something to do with my decision... Wasn't intending anything major, though, just a damselfly hunt.

Having heard report of a proper dragonfly hunter seeking Small Red-eyed Damselflies in the vicinity of the Old Sludge Beds [back in June, and with no luck], I figured it was worth a shot as they were now out at the Axe [see Steve Waite's blog for details and pretty pictures]. I had been thinking about heading over there, but as I'm trying to be good and burn less petrol, going half the distance seemed worth a shot.

Arriving to find more wind than I'd hoped for, I set off down the canal in more sunshine than I'd feared I'd get [especially having been ambushed by sea mist on the coast road!]. As ever, the wind was blowing the delicate aroma of the sewage works my way [[I think its some kind of Inevitable Law, that whichever way you approach, you always get the smell blown at you....]] but despite the wind, there were plenty of damsels knocking about on the patches of floaty weed, plus the usual patrolling Emperors. Common Blue and Azure Damselflies were unsurprisingly present, and there were good numbers of regular flavour Red-eyed Damselflies sitting on the weed [or maybe that should be 'hanging on to-', the breeze was pretty brisk]. Still in the mouth-breathing zone I found what I was looking for - not just a Small Red-eyed, but a paired couple! They were sat by a small gap in the weed, but didn't appear to be ovipositing. Then a male Red-eyed landed by them and showed what a Big Boss Damselfly he was in comparison - at this point I went for a photo [with my Paparazzi Setup* all ready, I was hopeful] and of course the little gits moved... This turned out to be something of a theme - and as they never got that close to any of my viewpoints, I didn't get a single Small Red-eyed shot [not that I'm too broken up over it, but it would have been nice, you know?].

Moving to the Sludge Beds themselves, I had a nice time trying to tune out everything and imagine it was 3000 years earlier.. Why? Well, they've got some neat little walkways there through the reeds - two planks wide, with the reeds right there, and if you can tune out the M5, the planes, the sewage works, and the pylons [I never said it was easy! ;) ] you could almost be back with the ancestors..

Ok, I'm a romantic idiot sometimes.

Amid much singing from the Chiffchaffs, there were the expected Reed and Cetti's Warblers, plus a surprised Water Rail and a flypast of 5 Little Egrets in formation. Whilst trying to photo a particularly vexing Comma, a gorgeous form violacea Blue-tailed Damselfly flew past me and struck a pose. Much better! :D I got a shot of the Comma, despite its best 'fly at the last second or just hold your wings shut' routine - it probably won't come out....

What must have been one of the last Hairy Dragonflies buzzed past me on one of the paths, and back by the canal, singles of Black-tailed Skimmer, 4-spotted Chaser, and I think a Keeled Skimmer added to the species count. I thought the chaser was going to pose for me, but as soon as I opened the first section of my monopod, off he went! Git. I had a couple more sightings of Small Red-eyed among the big ones [ratio of maybe 8 big to every Small - possibly more, as I never saw more than 3 Small at once] but there were a lot of might have beens, as much of the reeds were too tall to easily see over and the damsels were clustering behind the little fake islands to shelter from the wind rather than coming close to the banks.. Not just 'might have been' Small Red-eyeds, either, as a hawker sp. zipped past twice, too close and fast for me to be sure which one it was ["Too much black for an Emperor and too big, wrong flight and not enough black for a Hairy" was all I could say. {Ok, that's quite a bit, but not enough to say what it was}].

Wanting to avoid the rush hour, and melting in the heat, I headed back up towards the car park, pausing only on the causeway, to watch a funny-looking female Emperor ovipositing. I think she must have been a hot [I know they change abdomen colour depending on temperature, but I didn't think they were 2-colour?] over-mature one. I nearly tried a photo, but traffic and time made me think better of it. [[It's amazing how many vehicles go back and forward on that road - tankers you expect, but all the vans and cars??]]

*Paparazzi Setup; my ME Super with my Big Lens [a whole 75-300mm zoom - entirely manual, of course!] with very OTT shade, mounted on an Opticron monopod I got free when I bought my li'l scope [and haven't used since, of course...]. I'm hoping this will give me some stability, and thus maybe even something recognisable [::knocks on assorted pieces of wood::]. You never know....

I'm still thinking about tarting over to Brucklands - the dragons there seem to be shameless posers..... ;)

04 July, 2010


Well, here I am, writing an afternoon post. I should be out seawatching, maybe even seeing a skua of some sort - I've got to come across one sooner or later this year... haven't I? - but instead I'm twiddling the thumbs. Yep, here comes yet another Tale of Woe [I'd just skip to the next paragraph, if I were you] What happened? I just turned my head sharply, 'Ping!' went one of the tendons in my neck, I went "Ow" but thought no more of it. But said ping didn't go away, despite painkillers, massage etc [no, not like that you dirty-minded pervert.. ;) ] - it instead got worse. I suffer with my neck a bit [legacy of being a Deranged Metalhead] but normally plentiful ibuprofen and a night's sleep works. These things happen, I know, but why do they have to happen when at last the weather's starting to behave? Hopefully [[he says, knocking on assorted wooden-type things]] it'll gradually sort itself out and I will be able to wear bins and carry scopes without suffering spasms of pain in time for the next front...?

Yesterday I went for the first amble for a while with the folks. Tilly [having met a dog behaviourist] is now much better with other dogs - we wandered about the Mamhead area of Haldon and she didn't so much as whine, let alone launch into her previous bark frenzy. Still pulls like a train, and had lots of fun with her extendo-lead and assorted trees and gorse bushes [I got to have fun pulling gorse prickles out of my knuckles after disentangling her, so everybody had a good day... ]. It was much pleasanter than that made it sound, though. Temperature was just nice, the sweet smell of summer conifers filled the air, and there were Siskins. I like Siskins.

Right then, time for a rant!

I don't really consider it to be a rant, maybe a preach, or maybe just an explanation of how I see things, but 'rant' is the accepted term, and it implies that this is opinion, not statement of fact. Which is accurate.

All this nonsense with the Yellow-fronted Houdini Finch [which is, I suppose, to be expected; this is birding Silly Season, after all] has me thinking of one of the topics I've always meant to inflict upon the world "If I do a blog"...

What do YOU count?
Birders keep Lists. Its what we do [other than the obvious, of course] but what goes on those lists? The accepted basic principle is wild birds, but what is wild? 'Living freely and by its own abilities' is one definition - but that would include anything that just got out of an aviary and hasn't starved / frozen / been catted yet, too... This also isn't taking account of the array of ferals - many of whom are doing quite well, thankyou, despite being on the far side of the world from where they evolved. Nor the issue of wild birds in captivity - a Yellow-nosed Albatross in or even just released from care, or an american flycatcher sp. you can only ID with a ruler - can you count them? They're in captivity, even if only temporarily...
The issue is further mixed by the competitive nature of many birders. I want to be clear that I'm not in any way saying there's anything wrong with competitive listing - though it adds to the stress it also adds to the fun - and if you're into that sort of thing, go for it. A competition needs rules, of course, and the BOU are the natural providers of impartial arbitration. [Other List Makers are available {No, no jokes here}] But what if you're not a competitive lister? Or, if you are, but want another - non-competitive - list. After all, even the briefest glance at any of the many online forums of a birding nature will show that a lot of people disagree with the Official Line.
What I'm saying here, is "If it's your list - use your rules. If it's everybody's list - do as the BOU / Mr Evans say and put up with it!"
That was definitely a rant...
Having re-said what many others have said far more eloquently before, I shall now go on to the interesting bit [well, maybe] namely what do I put on my list?

I'm not a competitive lister. If asked what my British List is, I say "300-ish". If pressed as to what that means, you get "More than 300, less than 350". That is going by the BOU's definition of what is a tickable bird, which I don't agree with, but to give other birders something fair to compare with I've totted it up anyway. ["...put up with it!" ]. Personally, on my private 'Record of What I've Seen for my Own Reference and as an Aid to Memory', I go by a less scientific, more holistic approach. I go by Bird Forms - if it's identifiably different in the field, then it counts. You might need a call or a really good view, but if you can tell it as being x, you can count it as x. Splitting by DNA doesn't count - at least until a handheld line-of-sight DNA scanning device comes on the market [I'm waiting for the app. ;) ]. This side is less relevant to my overall theme, but I've put in in for completeness.
The relevant part concerns 'what is a wild bird?' What is the line between an escape, which you can't count as a proper wild bird, and a feral bird, which you can? [Depending on your list criteria, of course - you might feel only category A will do, and fair enough] The simplest answer, I suppose, would be an 'anything that moves' list - ie the "Living Freely and By its Own Abilities' from the start of this rant. [Oh how long ago that was...] This can be justified; humans have affected the entire planet, and a wild bird may live only seconds, so what does wild really mean, but living outside a cage?
Personally, I think there should be a line. To me, I think an escape becomes a feral, and countable, if it proves it can live successfully in the wild - be a part of its new ecosystem. It does that by doing the one thing you have to do to be part of an ecosystem - breed successfully. There's also the issue of re-introductions to deal with - I think they're kosher; a former part of the ecosystem being put back counts, official or not. [[By that I mean Eagle Owls - which were [no matter what some uninformed people think] part of the ecosystem and, as they've proved in Lancashire, are viable even if you consider them escapes.]]

I don't keep a tick-by-tick tally of my personal list - its not a competition to me - so no asking for one [Joe, I'm talking to you, mate :) ]. It's an aid to help me see more kinds of birds - for example, I think that picking out the continental form of Coal Tit in a wintering band is worthwhile, interesting, and a good thing. I also keep sub-lists - most notably plumage lists; I have taken the time to find and see all the differing plumages of Long-tailed Duck, for example, because they're all pretty in their own ways, and because a bird that changes so much in a year is worthy of extra attention, I think. I keep a very informal Buzzard-a-like list - of all the birds whose plumage I've seen a Buzzard imitate - partly for amusement, and partly as a self-warning to be extra-vigilant in case I ever see what might be an original [Black Kite, Short-toed Eagle, Tawny Eagle [Atlas Mountains form], Golden Eagle, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Rough-legged Buzzard etc. {{Interestingly, I've not seen a good 'Booted Eagle' Buzzard yet..}} While some aren't even vaguely likely to crop up for real, some have...]

Back to the Finch - yes, its been living wild for a while now, and so it shouldn't be a surprise it's doing ok, and can dodge a Sprawk [most times they miss, remember?]. Why am I so sure it's an escape? From a photo, of all things! The wild ones moult in the early autumn, but the flight feathers on this bird are nowhere near worn enough for a bird that has had that amount of time in the wild, including battling the winds that blew it offshore and living on a ship for a week or so [if you believe the wild theory]... Those feathers were clean and fresh, still with their pale fringes on. I very much believe in the balance of evidence - if there's no clear evidence a bird is an escape it should be treated as wild. But to me, those feathers are just that.

Having given the matter some thought, I've decided it ought to go on a list [as there are so many people convinced it should be on theirs!] so I'm going to end this [["At last!" I hear you cry]] with a little list of mine [to go with the continuing Dip List]. This is just what I can remember, as I haven't listed escapes and can't be bothered to dig through all my records for the bracketed ones [[I put escapes, and other things of interest - like notable ships on a seawatch - in big square brackets in my notebook, to keep them separate]]. It includes birds that also occur as non-escapes [one way or another] but those here were all judged plastic when seen. I will come back to this, as with the Dip List, though.

Houdini List.

Black Swan
Hawaiian Goose
Bar-headed Goose
Snow Goose
Ruddy Shelduck
Cape Shelduck
Wood Duck
Harris Hawk
Saker/Peregrine cross
Peregrine/Gyr cross
Reeves' Pheasant
African Grey Parrot
parrot sp.
Atlantic Canary
Azure-winged Magpie
House Finch

Some of those are very old - 20 years and more!
Having now formalised them by putting this together, I realise I ought to now make an effort to see the Chiloe Wigeon that hangs around Dawlish Warren most winters... But not very much of one - its still an escape list! ;)

02 July, 2010

News Report

In an apology to Joe "It's a full and manly goatee" Ray, the Exe Gull-billed Tern blamed fatigue at the end of a long season for its failure to evade the Backward Birder. "Look, I did my best, ok?" The Tern said to our reporter, "I was up and down and all over the place - let me tell you it's no easy feat flying past Abbotsbury, Slimbridge and Slapton on half a dozen flies and a worm..." Sources in the birding community agreed that the Gull-billed had indeed done an excellent job of gripping the Backward Birder off - showing well only when he was out of reach, and being careful to fly off with at least an hour to spare before his earliest arrival time. Though the [in]famous blogger had previously threatened to come out in the evening, even saying he'd "Stay until dark to get that [DELETED] thing!", this was widely dismissed as "About as likely as that albatross...". So far, no official comment has been forthcoming from Joe "Will you stop calling me that!" Ray, though he is doubtless disappointed that his latest grip lasted less than a day.

I'd like to apologise for the above, and blame too much Reservoir Catz.....

Yes, after finally completing my course [yay!] [[subject to having passed the Exam of Doom, that is....]] I got home to find the frickin' Gull-billed had popped up at Bowling Green again, and Joe had seen it. I am, of course, very pleased for him - few things are more satisfying than getting a dipped bird. I resolved to go up in the evening and ambush the bugger as it came in to roost on the rising tide. Yup, dirty tactics. :)

Sat in the hide with only mozzies and half a dozen intrepid fellow birders for company, we had as our entertainment a Roe Deer, the Coobeasties, a cloud of hirundines [mostly Sandies], and now 10 Lapwing [plus a few other odds and sods]. Then the silence was shattered by the call "Gull-billed Tern off the Platform!". We wandered down [[No, we didn't run; we were calm, sedate, and walking....briskly.... ;) ]] and sure enough there it was! Woo! Got some lovely views under the increasingly spectacular sunset, with one of the Spotshanks a bonus, and then to cap it all the sight of the Sand Martin roost in the reeds.... It was like the Starlings on the Levels [only with prettier calls and more agility] - hundreds and hundreds of them skydancing and calling.. I say 'Wow!' a lot, you know, but, well.... WOW!

I did manage to make an idiot of myself, having absorbed the 'dark primary wedge equals 2cy' but not the 'head markings as adult winter' part of all my literature... Oh well, being thought a fool is not something I'm too bothered about - I wear that hat of my own free will, after all. ;) Coming back up the lane another surprise - dozens and dozens of froglings!! Very tricky walking around them all in the gathering dark, they were everywhere!

01 July, 2010

The Deep South [of Devon]

The forecasts were clear - at last a frontal system, and one through in the middle of the day. The appearance of the Gull-billed Terns at Slapton was a handy co-incidence, as I could dip them on the way to a proper weather seawatch at Prawle [as opposed to the 'its a sunny {not even always windy} day and I want to go out birding but can't think of anything better to do at this time of year' seawatch.

So, first up was dipping Gull-billed Tern - easy. While looking about at Slapton I met a visiting birder and, as I was telling him what was about, mentioned the Yellow-fronted Houdini Bird - I remember my words "I may be going that way, but I won't stop to look at it. I mean, it's plastic - the moult's out of sequence! I wouldn't even tick it if it flew over my car. The only list it'd go on would be an Escapology List..."

So, when driving through Prawle village I'd stopped to let a couple of grockles who didn't know their width go by and guess what happened? Yup, the streaky yellow bu-ird flew by... Not even a yeartick. I mean, you yeartick that, you're yearticking Bar-head and Black Swan, too.

Ok, enough of that nonsense...

Got myself down to the Point and after fighting my way past the Killer Rasta Sheep, [[They've got dreads, they're not afraid, and they Want Your Blood.... Ok, maybe not the third one.. ;) ]] I found my spot amidst the pretty green rocks - now to wait for that front.

And wait.

And- yeah you get the idea. I watched for 6 hours of mixed sunshine, high cloud, fading winds and two brief spit-spots of rain... I feel like it's every post that I'm moaning about the inaccuracy of our supercomputer-powered weather forecasts, saying things along the lines of 'you'd do better asking a chimp to push a button to generate random forecasts' and 'why won't they show us the synoptic charts, are they scared we'll see how their expensive computers [that we paid for] are utterly wrong all the time?'. It has now started to rain, a bit, but it's not a proper front, and certainly not severe weather warning-worthy heavy rain!

I tell you what, Mr. Osbourne, cut the frickin' Met Office! We can just look out the window - damn sight more accurate.....


It wasn't dead out there - 517 Manxies west, and 6 singles east; 4 Balearics in with them; a Puffin west, with a few Razorbill and Guillemot both ways; a group of 10 Common Scoter east; and an interesting bunch of westerly singles - Whimbrel, Little Egret, and Shelduck! Kittiwake just made two figures, Fulmar just failed to, and a few score of Gannets milled about with no real movement until late on, when maybe 30 adults went west.

Much more rewarding watching came from under, rather than over the waves. The sea state wasn't ideal for this by any means, though it did calm as the day went on, but when a pod of at least 9 Risso's Dolphin moved past west, taking more than 20 minutes to do so, with spy-hopping, tail-slapping, and breaching - plus a detour to investigate a passing Dutch yacht - you can't really miss them!


Two were markedly smaller and kept close to adults - presumably calves - and one of the adults had a very clear harpoon-shaped white scar halfway up the leading edge of its dorsal fin. A lot of the tail-slapping followed a partial breach - leaping out as far as the pectoral flippers, then falling forward, the tail coming up on landing and then being slapped down for a double splash effect. All in all it was a wonderful sight - though keeping track of them once they turned full west was not at all easy [they'd come in from the south east and so counting them more or less head on was fairly simple] as they were far enough out for the scope to be very helpful and were not sitting still!

Time was almost up when I got another surprise - while scanning for Manxies a wave trough revealed the big dark brown triangular fin of a Basking Shark! I got precisely one look and completely failed to see it again.. One day I'll get prolonged views of one of these wonderful animals.

Heading back, I stopped off at Slapton again in case the Terns tried pulling a fast one, but no joy. I wasn't surprised. This evening one popped up back at Bowling Green - too late to get to it before dark - I wasn't surprised by that either....

::Shrugs philosophically::