31 August, 2010

A Quick Question

Has anyone seen hide or hair of Joe "Grounded For Life" Ray?

I do hope his latest nickname isn't prophetic.....

30 August, 2010

Catch up time

What is it about sunny Bank Holiday Weekends?

On the rare occasions that one comes along, I am almost invariably struck by apathy - "Ah, why bother?" I think "There'll be hordes everywhere..."
This is, of course, true [unless you're able to get on-site at 6-30am...] and so I tend to do what I've been doing this weekend - catch up on my beauty sleep [Oh, do I need that! No comments please, its not a matter of debate, after all.. ;) ] and do a bit of pottering around later on.

Saturday afternoon had me doon toon, where there were 11 moulting Turnstone and a couple of Rockits on the Real Living Coast [next to the fake one] - still a bit early for the Purple Sands. 5 juv. LBBs, 7 BHGs and a Geeb were with 70-odd mostly juv. and 1s Herrings - getting fed by grockles [the signs having been pinched / thrown in the harbour again]. A Cormorant was off Torre Abbey [as were a lot more big gulls, but too far out for a sort-through], but nowt else of interest.

Sunday afternoon saw a wander around Mamhead Bottom and environs, where at least 2 immature Southern Hawkers and what was probably a Common Hawker were a very pleasant surprise, as was a nice mixed band of tits, Chiffs, small finches, Goldcrests, and at least one Treeeecreeeper. This was the sheltered sunny side, unlike the top of the ridge, where the wind kept everything down. Then it decided to rain - not the full sideways, but 45 degrees - and as it wasn't just a passing shower it was enough to make home and coffee appeal...

Monday had at least a little more activity - up on Holne Moor and the upper Mardle. A Peregrine soaring close to a Buzzard was an interesting sight, but no wanderers, despite decent conditions for them. Lower down, a juvenile Green Woodpecker made an expedition up the Mardle, showing well on the ground and attracting the attention of a large band of Mipits. A single Wheatear and a Yellowhammer were the other birds of note, [I know Yellowhammers aren't that noteworthy, but I like them] with a nice Common Hawker and a frustratingly elusive female / immature darter sp. the odonata of the day. The Mardle valley itself was looking very pretty, with the bracken on the turn and the gorse and heather out on the flanks.

25 August, 2010

With more a fizzle than a bang

Were birders' hopes of a seafest deflated today...

I zipped [well, I tried to zip, anyway] over to Berry Head straight from work. Expecting, I admit, to be hideously gripped off by tales of Fea's Petrels and so forth... Instead I found some of the greats of Devon birding [oh yeah, and Joe "Sleeping Beauty" Ray, too! ;) ] feeling rather soggy and dejected, having spent the whole day there for 3 Stormies and single figures of shears.... Ouch.

I hung on with the hard core until half six, and while it wasn't spectacular [especially considering the conditions - oh deary me] there were still some nice sightings; a Stormie doing its best to break the sound barrier, at least 3 Bonxies [including one being fought off by a particularly hard Geeb] and 3 Arctic Skuas, 4 whole Manxies and one Balearic [so at least the all-dayers got into double figures], a swirl of maybe 35 Common Terns, and an even-more-dejected-than-the-brave-watchers Wheatear. Star performance came from a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins - at least 10 and they came past close and shallow :D

In other news, my Work List is now a mighty 30! Latest bird being a singing Chiffchaff before the rain really kicked off this morning.

23 August, 2010

A Quiet Afternoon Stroll

Around Yarner with the folks yesterday after all the fun of Saturday. It's late August; a lot of the migrants will be going/gone already, and the full leaf cover will hide the rest, so if you see more than a Blue Tit you'll be doing well, right?

Just have a nice wander among the green stuff, see if the deer have eaten all the Bilberries yet, and generally enjoy the quiet.

Thus indeed it went for the first hour or so. A large hawking dragonfly at the car park - it had some yellow, but that's all I got - was the chief excitement. Birds were primarily a couple of tit bands that were more heard than seen. Above all it was quiet! For a Sunday in August [ok, with dodgy weather by the coast, but we stayed dry] it was amazingly quiet - we heard one group, but that was it! Just the wind in the trees, the rustle of ants, and Tilly trying to go after all the deer and squirrels and ponies and things she could smell.....

Things changed as we dropped into the Hide valley. First it was Bullfinches, calling and being elusive [much to my Mum's frustration - she likes them a lot, but got no more than flight views..]. Then a very brief juvenile Pied Fly. A Treeeeecreeeeper showed well for me as I dropped back, trying to pinpoint a calling Marsh Tit. Then, as I was catching back up, a family party of Spot Flies collided with the large tit band the Treeeecreeeper was with as the Bullfinches flew over again. [Just like buses...] The trees above and around us were filled with activity - after all that quiet there was calling and movement everywhere, it was as if someone had turned Spring on!

Now came the icing - "Pipipipipi!" - Lesser Pecker! Over my head and into an oak - got it! A very nice female. :D Its always a joy to get more than the call and a silhouette from one of these little Houdinis, especially with the trees in full leaf! Unfortunately my parents were still a way ahead of me, and couldn't see her from where they were [by the time they got back to me she had naturally moved :( though they did get flight views], but the Spot Flies performed well - and when we got to the hide they did very well indeed - at least 4 messing about in the canopy, with an adult being chased by a very persistent juvenile and a couple of juvenile phyllosc.'s [probably Willows] about too.

Much better than expected - I'd idly considered having another go at the sea, oh I'm glad I didn't!

21 August, 2010

Oh I Do Love To Be Beside The Seaside

As a once-more weekend birder, I was unable to get to the sea yesterday [and thus dip Great Shear, no doubt]. So, it will doubtless surprise nobody that I dragged my arse out of bed at an unfeasible hour this morning and dared the trip to Prawle.

I could go on about sustained south westerlies hopefully encouraging birds to move into and linger in Lyme bay, increased likelihood of reduced visibility, far fewer chavs throwing stones at you, and so on, but really it just seemed like a good idea at the time.

I watched for a bit over 8 hours, and while there certainly wasn't a big passage [most numerous bird being Gannets, at about a bird a minute] it was still a worthwhile exercise.

A Devon birder who shall remain nameless [though I do remember it! ;) ] was already there and assured me I hadn't missed any big shears. As you can guess, this state of affairs didn't change. There was a steady trickle of ordinary sized shears, though, with a high proportion of Balearics - my final totals were 14 Balearics and an amazing 19 Manxies. Yes, you read right, 19 in more than 8 hours...... I saw more yachts. :/

Prawle, however, is often wont to throw up some interesting birds, especially if you're prepared to wait [and-no, I'm not doing that joke again]. 6 Bonxies were nice, especially the one that made a sharp 180 to scare the pants off an adult Geeb, and the 2 chasing 11 Gannets [one of which flew straight into the water to escape]. Much better, though, was the adult light morph Pomarine Skua with the big spoons that had me cackling with joy as it cruised past in near sunshine..... :D Spooned Poms are rare [at least for me], autumn ones are priceless.

A juvenile tern sp. [probably Arctic, but the little bugger kept shifting course and speed when behind waves so I couldn't pin him down!] was frustrating, but the biggest surprise [spoony Poms you at least hope for, even at a site where skuas are scarcer] was a frickin' Garganey flying past west.... Did not see that coming [Ahem]. Also of note; not a single auk and only 3 Kittiwakes.

The nameless birder had seen Common Dolphins and a probable Pilot Whale [I was very jealous, I've never seen a Pilot Whale!] before I arrived and so despite the swell I kept checking the area they'd been in, just in case. Eventually I did see some cetaceans, but the 3+ animals came up once, moving towards me - dark backed, medium-sized dorsal fins, definitely not Harbour Porps - didn't give me enough to be sure what they were. Before that, a very naughty Shag twice made me look like a muppet by doing excellent contortions to impersonate surfacing sealife [sometimes I really don't like those birds...]

There were the usual Prawle residents, with lots of cute juveniles in evidence, but [again unsurprisingly] no interesting vagrants that I could find. [Not that I've ever found any interesting vagrants at Prawle, especially during an autumn sou'westerly....].

To finish, I'd like to appeal to all those holidaymakers using our wonderful, twisting, and above all narrow lanes...
If you don't know your width and can't reverse, please stay the hell out of them!
Thankyou. :)

18 August, 2010

Why Birds Can Seriously Damage Your Health

Birding really ought to carry a health warning, you know...

So, I was driving back from work this afternoon;

"Hmm, what's that?"
"Probably a Buzzard"
"A funny-looking Buzzard....its always a Buzzard"
"It's not a Buzzard - holy shit its a Red Kite and its really low!!"
[At this point, with an mpv right behind me, a minivan coming on fast the other way, and not a hope of being able to stop, I decided it might be a good idea to watch the road..]

Wasn't that exciting? A lot better than 'I saw a Red Kite on my way home from work today, it was nice and low and watchable, but unfortunately there was no way that I could stop safely.'

In other news, my Work List has reached a mighty 26 - unfortunately, the Kite was way outside the designated area [lunchbreak stroll range], as was a juv. male Sprawk last Friday.. Maybe a Commuting List too? No, no, that would be silly.

EDIT: 19/8 ;
Additional news - Robin's starting singing! Reported as such yesterday, and heard it myself this morning. My Work List is now 27, thanks to a nice Stock Dove, and I'm hopeful I'll be able to add an interesting gull, just as soon as one gets close enough for my work bins! [My old old Ranger 8x30s!]
Also, finally noticed that the Mighty Gavin Haig* has re-started NQS!

In honour of this joyous news, I'm going to mention something non-birdy that we share - malt whisky and the enjoyment thereof! Malt is my tipple of choice [As I do not drink... wine ;) ] and I usually have a couple of bottles on the go [never have much, mind, just a wee dram to savour of an evening..] Currently these are Glen Elgin [very nice Speyside] and Ardmore [quite smoky for a Highland].

So, as I had recently gotten myself a lovely new job, I decided to be very very very naughty and celebrate with a bottle I'd been eyeing ever since I first noticed those wonderful people up at Dart's Farm had acquired some really decent drink [in addition to their excellent range of proper beer]... Two words to raise the neck hairs of the Islay Aficionado... Octomore Orpheus.
I've not opened it yet. I'm trying to show some restraint {you know, other than spending how much!?! on a bottle of whisky...}, and so its waiting its turn. Sitting there, full of quiet promise.

*[[His legendary blog was the main inspiration for my starting this thing up... Oh dear.]]

15 August, 2010

Out for a ramble

Having abandoned the folks to go out on't Moor by themselves last weekend, [while I was swanning around with all the dragons] it was only right to join in the usual 'half decent weather on a Sunday' routine today. On the menu; a gentle 10 mile stroll out to Redlake [old china clay workings, and home of The Heap], across to the Avon, and back down past the reservoir. This part of t' Moor has big rounded grassy hills, without big fancy tors on top [though it does have The Submarine, and a few other notable spots, they are well spaced out]. The views tend to be the same for long periods, then change rapidly when unseen critical points are reached. Reach a crest, turn a corner [or rather, get far enough around a corner] and snap, there's something new.

The wind was brisker than the forecast implied [surprise surprise], so, while the sun shone for most of the day, the only odonata were seen at the sheltered bits of Redlake - Golden-ringed, Common Hawker, and Black Darter Dragons, plus Azure, Common Blue, and Emerald Damsels. While looking for dragons at redlake, I accidentally flushed the bird of the day - a Green Sand [what it thought it was doing on the High Moor I don't know..]. Plenty of the usual moorlands species also, including Wheatears. Non-bird moorland species also much in evidence were the dreaded Flying Red Ants of Doom, who were out in their billions [arg].

I also finally saw the mythical clapper bridge over the Avon. Ok, I suppose I would have to say the actual clapper bridge over the Avon, now. The mythical bit stems from an incident many years ago, when it was looked for but not found [a story much more interesting than it sounds] [Really]. The folks claimed to have not only seen it but crossed it several years ago, but personally I had my doubts that a 'great big proper clapper bridge' could just be sitting around on the high moor in the middle of nowhere. I was wrong. Its there and its a good one.

There's also some very good looking habitat up the Avon [and at Redlake] - a trip earlier in the year on a day of slightly less wind and cloud would seem promising for interesting damselfly species..

14 August, 2010

Sustained violence achieves results

Briefly considered getting up, going to Prawle or maybe even Pentire, and doing a seawatch, but the lack of wind and amount of sun between the impressively potent showers deterred me. Plus there's that sleep thing, you know....

Instead took care of an errand in Paignton and walked over and back. This being due to a) needing the exercise and b) getting the chance to bash the poor larids of Torbay again. As you may have guessed from the title, this paid off, with a nice juvenile Yellow-legged Gull at Torre Abbey on the way out [plus a really weirdly retarded 2cy Herring Gull - I'm starting to wonder if the gulls have noticed my interest and are wheeling out all their freakiest offspring..??]. When I was heading back, with the tide much further out, the Yellow-leg was kind enough to fly in to Livermead as I was checking it, and then for bonus points it took a stroll down the beach and stood next to a juvenile Med Gull. Result! :D

Less fun was accidentally wandering onto the set of the remake of 'The Birds' - aka Victoria Park pond. Despite the very large red signs about not feeding the birds, anyone who stands there [say innocently checking the funny-looking Herrings and Lesser Black-backeds] is surrounded by winged rats, who hover all around you and even try landing on your optics... I am, of course, a good and responsible birder, who would never bash feral pigs, no matter how irritating they were. But oh ye gods and little fishes, I was tempted......

In other news, I see Joe "What's a razor?" Ray is back from his alpine soiree - spawny git got Black Woodpecker and Nutcracker, so he'd better a) write up a nice long trip report with lots of pretty pictures, b) be suitably grateful we didn't grip him off horribly while he was away, and c) not even think about moaning about dipping Pygmy Owl due to forgetting to take a torch.. ;) Welcome back!

12 August, 2010


Something I forgot to mention before - Swifts leaving date!

They went on the 6th, which is more like their usual time after last year's very late 13th. To compare, the previous two years they went on the 4th.

My new Work List now stands at 21, with Rook being the latest addition. [[Wow, I hear you cry.. ;) ]]

08 August, 2010

Black Stork!

No Joe, I didn't see it, but I'm enjoying the look on your face.... ;)


With newly re-limited time, and thus no guarantee of another day of hot sunny weather when I can use it, an attempt to add Black Darter to my Dragonfly Yearlist was in order. I've been saving the china clay workings on the south west edge of t' Moor for a good day trip and that was the way I went [again following the footsteps - literally at times - of Those Who Know Where To Go]. Of the various old china clay workings-come ponds, the most renowned are those at Smallhanger Waste - they're even in my dragonfly book's site list. They're also the most threatened - partly by idiots on trail bikes [there were a fair few roaring about] and 4x4s, but mostly from being re-quarried by the next door Headon Works [new techniques mean they can get kaolin out of old waste].

It was a very good day, odonata wise; even when it clouded over and I went for a wander up Crownhill Tor to admire the view, I still managed to meet a White-legged Damselfly. Before that, with the sun shining and sheltered from the wind [not that there was much of it] I had a right old time! The site has a real mix of pools; some high and open, some sheltered, some deep, some shallow, with and without vegetation, and with a watercourse running down to the south - giving a huge potential range of species. It's a real maze, too - a shallow valley full of hollows large and small - there are tracks made by both vehicles and sheep, but to get to some pools you have to go around circuitously [unless you want to jump down cliffs or wade through bogs or push through undergrowth... or sometimes all three!]. My map wasn't much use - I just had to follow the tracks and keep a sense of the landscape to make sure I didn't miss any bits out.

It took several pools before I found one the Black Darters liked, but then I couldn't stop finding them :D I took probably too many shots of some very obliging males before finding a spot that looked good for Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly [a patrolling male was a bit of a giveaway, I think.. ;) ] and settling down to have my lunch while waiting for one to sit still close enough to photograph... [Oh dear, I fear I'm getting too into this photo malarky - still, I suppose I shouldn't worry; it's only for the summer..?]. I spent a bit more than an hour there and got precisely one shot. It might not be that good either. Pesky little buggers. Still, I did get good bin [and scope!] views of 2 males and a female, so not at all bad!

I'm trying not to be all "I saw this and this and this and..." with my blog, so here are some more highlights;
Watching a male Common Hawker, after tirelessly patrolling his little pool for several minutes, grabbing a female, tousling her to the ground, then flying off in tandem with her [possibly the same female seen later ovipositing].
Southern Hawker vs Emperor - repeatedly and noisily clashing when meeting on overlapping ends of their respective patrols.
The way male Black Darters tend to repeatedly twist their heads 45 degrees like they've got a nervous tick.
A surprise flypast by a female Broad-bodied Chaser while I was having my lunch - not a species I expected to see..
One last lone 4-spotted Chaser, still defending his bay against all-comers - up to and including passing Emperors!
A butterfly chasing off an Emperor [seen more then once - very funny! :D ]

After jammily getting 14 species in one day at Stover, I reckoned I'd be hard-pushed to match it, but to my amazement and delight at Smallhanger I saw 16! Woo!
There were also many many butterflies, possibly rare and interesting ones, other insects, and young frogs, toads and lizard!s too. There were several hundred hirundines [at least 90% Swallows] in view from the higher part of the ridge, but no remarkable birds about [I was, unsurprisingly, keeping an eye out for low- and indeed very high-flying storks. Just in case...]. It was a very good day [though the increase in clouds was a bit of a pain, they did eventually break up] - hopefully not my last dragon day of the year.

[[[Don't worry, by the way; there won't be any more photos. Well, not unless I find another Mystery Moff. Trust me, you're not missing anything - most of mine are awful....]]]

Very post-script Edit:
17 species. I didn't mention [due to not having 100% ID, as I shall explain] that there was also a very blue fairly small hawker spp. - I got good side-views of it and then couldn't find a side view or even a mention of what the thorax sides should be like in the literature [that I had, anyway]. Let me give a quick description; it was patrolling the rushy edge of a pool [which for obvious reasons won't be specified]at a consistent low level, front to back it had a pale blue frons, very blue eyes [gorgeously blue] a dark thorax with turquoise markings on the side and many blue marks on the abdomen, but no yellow markings at all. It had to be what it sounds like, but I didn't have enough confirmation to go public.
Finally, now in 2011 [yes, a very big time gap] I've finally found what I needed [namely a good side-on flight shot of one - which shows the broad turquoise thorax markings] to be certain that it was indeed a male SMH. I'm more than a little chuffed. Which is why I'm doing this - if you want to look back, you'll find this and go "Ah, you bastard.." And if you don't care, you're not here.
32 for the year, then. Not bad at all.... :D

Even more post-script EDIT:
16 species. That photo I found 5 years ago was duff. SMH has an entirely blue thorax side [with very thin black lines, like an Emperor], whereas some [odd] male MHs can have big blue thorax side markings, such as this one. I was not the only one fooled - which makes me feel slightly better - but still. 16 species, 31 for the year!

07 August, 2010

Right then...

Firstly, a little experiment....

Can I, Backward that I am, work out how to put a picture of the Mystery Moff [TM] on my blog, so all you moth fans can tell me what the frick it was? [In case I forgot to mention it, I successfully released it, btw]


:D I am so pleased that that worked.... :D
The moff in question is about 3cm wide, and liked to sit on ceilings - in this case above some stairs, requiring some precarious work with the camera mounted on my tripod to get a shot....

Today, in the course of getting things done, I just happened to be at Bowling Green for the high tide. Unfortunately, the coobeasties were there too, cropping the vegetation at the back down so we can see all the lovely vagrants that might just grace us with their presence this Autumn...
This meant the waders were either a) flying to Goosemoor, b) flying somewhere else, or c) hard to see on the lee side of the slope. There were 2 Garganey and 2 Green Sand, an amazing 19 Greenshank [though only 10 stayed] and 28 Little Egret [most only visible from the road] and a now w/pl Spotshank to look at, along with the usual waders and wildfowl, so it was by no means a wasted trip. The Black-headed Gulls had no discernible Meds with them - a pesky Crow and 2 Buzzards kindly putting them up to make it easier to check - and the 30-odd Dunlin that dropped in were all just that.

To end, and not, you understand, in any way shape or form to show off at all, here's another picture....

Who said film was dead?

06 August, 2010

Quick Update and Yet Another List.....

Not much to report - two days into the lovely new job in a lovely new place and my lovely new 'At Work' List is a mighty 16 strong! :)
Working weekdays is a bit of a pain, bird-wise, but I don't finish too late, so late afternoon / early evening dashes might be possible.. Hmm, I remember the first bird I twitched straight from work - Long-billed Murrelet [and that was after a 12 hour night shift - I not only got the bird but also then got home in one piece - I'm still not sure how...]
In the mean time, its back to being a weekend birder [lunch break aside]. Ooh look, its a weekend!


04 August, 2010

Shock Update

Firstly, patch news....

A Willow Warbler was a pleasant visitor out the back this morning - they used to breed up the Hill, way back - this was a nice yellowy one, evidently stopping off on its way back south. Also, a count of no less than 9 juvenile House Sparrows, lined up along next-door's washing line being waited on by their Mum [she of the white right GC2 who's been breeding here for three years now]. :)

Yesterday saw more gull-bashing, with various dodgy-looking Herrings, 3 moulting Black 'eads, and a brief adult Geeb the result. I suppose I ought to make a collection of dodgy Herrings, and if I had a digital camera and about 10,000 years I might be tempted.... ;)

Right then...

Today has proved very shocking... You don't expect a phone call a week after a polite rejection letter, asking you to come over for a chat the same day, still less that you'd end up with a "Can you start tomorrow?" Brilliant!

::Grins:: Just watch those fronts come piling in on the weekdays now........
[[Yup, always look on the bright side!]]

02 August, 2010

Where's that Pallas'???

C'mon! Gull or Sandgrouse, I don't mind, but Joe's away and that means its mega-grip time!

::Looks up expectantly::


Ok, updates...
Weekend saw a couple of strolls - Pullabrook Wood and a first wander around Mutter's Moor. Pullabrook had juvenile Willow Warblers and a smart Blackcap, a posing Beautiful Demoiselle [didn't have the camera, of course..] and a nice Common Hawker that I actually got to watch for more than 5 seconds :). Mutter's Moor suffered from dodgier weather and hordes of bods - a single flypast Common Hawker, though there were tons of butterflies - but did have lots of singing [well, sub-singing, really] Yellowhammers and a glorious view. Also, on an 'amusing to everyone else' note, while we were having lunch a jasper took a liking to my silly hat and set up camp on it, eventually having to be forcibly evicted when we moved on...

Today I had yet another go at Stover; with more sunshine I had better odonata results, though less fun with the birds. Attempted photos of Common Darter and Keeled Skimmer, and had a wonderful meeting with a male Southern Hawker, who seemed very interested in my shoes... There's now been a clear shift in the population, with only a single Large Red Damselfly, and two 4-spotted Chasers that I could find [though still a fair few Black-tailed Skimmers about], and lots of Emerald Damselfly and Common Darter Dragonfly everywhere. I had a near-miss with what looked very much like a Black Darter [on the species list there, but I don't know if its actually likely, or {as with Ruddy Darter} one was seen there. Once.] but wherever it was perched was well out of view, and in three views it was too distant and quick to get enough to ID for sure [and that's saying something, as male Black Darters are very distinctive!].

No repeat of the Bullfinch and GSW fest of last week, though still nice Marsh Tits at the feeder [and nice to see it being kept stocked]. Two other notable sightings were of a low-flying Chinook, and an even-lower-flying Hornet. 11 definite and 2 probables on the odonata species list [I'm starting to really realise how jammy I was back in June, though it has to be said the weather was perfect and I put in more field time, so maybe only very jammy...]. I think I'm going to have to spend a day up on't Moor soon...

Evening add-on; There was a yellow-y moth that came in my window last night, I found it this evening and tried a photo. If it comes out [and I work out how to post photos on this thing....] I'll give all you moth-fanciers an ID challenge! Heh heh heh.....