29 September, 2010

Right Then...

I think I've used this title before..

[[Ooh, that's a good one!]]

To avoid this blog becoming entirely 'Where I went, what I saw, and what I didn't saw (sic)', I think it's time for, no not a rant, but another airing of thoughts..

[Oh Gods, here he goes again...]

On NQS, Gavin "Far too respectable to be given a silly middle name" Haig recently [Well, I think it was in August..] mentioned posting what he thinks of self-found listing, the inference being that its pants [Feel free to correct] [Though not via solicitor, please] [Allegedly]. Feeling free and irresponsible, I figured to do the opposite.

Self-found Lists - why they're a valid expression of birding.

It can be argued that there are two kinds of bird. It can be argued to greater length which two kinds there are, and which birds fall into which category.
Let's pick, for sake of argument, two categories; 'Rare' and 'Common'. Common birds are those you can see pretty much every day, at the right place or time of year. Rare birds are the ones you can't. It is comparatively easy to see Common birds [thus the label], finding them takes ability and dedication, yes, but not to a great degree. Rare birds are trickier by far - you must put in a large investment of time and / or luck, you must know your Common birds, so as to distinguish a Rare bird from them when presented with real-world views. Seeing one is special. Finding one, when you don't know exactly where to look and what to look for, is also special.
That patch of scrub over there... that one that looks like all the others... for maybe 2 minutes of every 20 for, say 3 days in every 5 years there's something Rare there. Have you put in the time to be there at the time? Which species out of dozens, scores, which subspecies, race, age and sex? Do you know enough to pick it out as something different? To know [or be able to find out] that it's Rare?
That's why Self-finding has value. It's a mark of effort. And, it has to be said, luck. Lots and lots of the stuff. If you work out how much time the hypothetical rarity is on view compared to not, and then compare how much time in the same period you're looking at a particular bush on your patch.... Yeah, exactly.

Having Sung the Praises, it's time to Back the Tracks a little. Yes, finding birds yourself is, I think, a Good Thing. It is not the be-all and end-all of birding, though is it? Birding is about seeing birds, hearing birds, and generally having lots of fun doing so. [Well, it is to me, anyway]. So, you're watching a bird someone else has found... Is it any less wonderful, for the fact you've driven half the night to be pointed 'Over there!'?? Don't think so!

There's also stress to consider... Twitching a bird, you stress about dipping. Big time. By definition, you can't dip a self-found; you just never knew it was there. :) You may wonder what you missed, but that's nothing like as bad as driving to norfolk and not getting on it..
But when you find a bird, then, well, you've got to tell someone*. Will it stay long enough to be seen? Will it turn out to be something else? Will someone see a photo and say it was something else loud enough that everyone believes them? For that matter, will anyone believe you enough to even come?
Stress with a capital Aargh.... [[Thus it was I was a little relieved to see too dark primaries and white behind the eye on Sunday]]

*There is always suppression, of course. Maybe its necessary - welfare of the bird, damage to the environment, possibility of access issues, irate landowners with shotguns, the thing's buggered off already and you can't re-find it...

I think I've wandered off on a tangent or two again.. [Well, you were warned -^] To the point; I think there's nothing wrong with keeping a Self-found List, they are just like any other List.

Having said all that [Stating the obvious in ten times too many words, I know..] it's time for a quick update.
No Work List ticks, but a Darvic-ringed adult BHG is still about - I assume its the Danish Boy, but it's never been close enough to read and confirm. Both adult and immature sinensis Cormorants have been about this week; fishing on the falling tide - the adult yesterday and the immature today. An adult carbo accompanied by an unascribable immature also flew upriver early this morning. After the front passed, there was a brief passage of Martins upriver - at least 120 in a long loose group - but no Swallows with them that I could see or hear. There have also been Grey Wags in evidence all week - birds moving through or early [?] winterers?

26 September, 2010

Mirror Mirror on t'Moor...

In a reflection of last week, I was again up on t' Moor today, shunning both the vast distance to Norfolk and the not-so-vast distance to Treeve....

Ok, if there had been anything like positive news in the morning I would have gone there anyway [["Such a tart, he needs Greenish Warbler..." I hear you cry ;) ]] but I figured it was very elusive before and a clearish night meant odds were bad. Likewise the Great Disappearing Warbler at Slapton.

So, what did I do? I went for a wander around East Bovey Head and environs - linking up and covering another little bit of t'Moor I hadn't actually walked over. I saw no rare birds. I did see a lot of Wheatears, including one which looked a lot like an Issie, but unfortunately not enough like an Issie [I thought it was just large gulls that were like this - ok, and small gulls - but it seems the passerines are getting in on the overlapping features nonsense too... I think we ought to complain.]. In a way I'm glad it wasn't, as calling it in would have been interesting; "Hello, Generic Rare Bird Reporting, what have you got and where have you got it?..........What?!? You don't get those in September, especially not in Devon! Are you sure it's not a Northern?....Are you really sure? Those juveniles have big buff fringes, you know......Have you got a photo you can-.....What do you mean 'I don't have a digital camera'?? What kind of birder are you??? CLICK-BURRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR"

;) Ahem.

There were lots of Mipits on the move, a couple of the Wheatears moving with them it seemed, and several times I came across 20+ flocks sheltering in hollows. A single Swallow - a juvenile - looped repeatedly over a couple of sheep before heading off north. I tried telling it "Africa's thattaway!" but it wasn't interested. A foursome of Ravens beat last week, but they just flew over instead of showing off. A smart 1w female Reed Bunting was unusual that high up on the moor [they'll follow sizable rivers up a fair way, but the East Bovey was a trickle through a bog at that point], possibly trying to head south and wondering what went wrong...

[[EDIT]] There was a very long and highly impassioned rant, verging on occasion into legibility, about the vast numbers of grockles and their utter inability to drive, which I wrote last night [This being now Monday, I having wisely given up and gone to bed before finishing it]. I have removed it, deciding that while it was a very right and true thing, and that I felt ought to be read by anyone entering Devon, there are limits to which I can push you.

Going back to the title - I was sat in the shelter [Curious? Go look for it, its north of a Tor! ;) ] admiring the view, and my gaze reached Fox Tor - dark under clouds' shadow. I was sat there last week, looking the other way, with nooobody about and the sky full of clouds. Here I was, with people everywhere [I made a couple jump - all I did was say "Afternoon"... :D] and the sky full of sunshine. Last week, a Merlin, this week, a Peregrine. Last week not a sniff of Buzzard let alone Kestrel, this week, they were all over the shop.
Me doing the same thing - filling in the gaps, getting some exercise, not seeing anything rare, but enjoying myself immensely.

So there I sat in the sun, with the other side of the mirror looking back at me. Funny thing, how it works sometimes...

25 September, 2010

Thump thump thump

The sound of me bashing the Patch today....

While Great Reed Warblers were being molested in the Deep South, and desperate twitchers were making the Long March to Blakeney, I was out looking for whatever I could find. No casual affair this, either - I started early and kept at it well into the afternoon, with only hunger and dehydration eventually sending me home... ;)

Early on it was delectably crisp and clear - the air had the wonderful zing in it you only get on the dark side of the equinoxes, and the sky was a cloudless blue... A few Hirundines were on the move - House Martins south and Swallows north [go figure...] - and a few migrants were tarrying on the coast - Chiff and Whitethroat performing the best. Jays were much in evidence; I got eyes on 11, and there could easily have been twice as many. Continental migrants, or just locals after the acorns and lots of youngsters still about? Option 2 methinks.

I admit I was hoping to find a nice Wryneck - everybody else seems to be this year! - but despite checking known previous sites [and 'this should be good for...' sites] I drew a blank. Drat. I did get some ridiculously good views of Jays, and an early garden Goldcrest [not in my garden though.. :( ] which also got me some looks, as said garden was of the 'I earn more in a week than you do in a year, peasant' variety... Also getting me funny looks was trying to keep track of the Peregrine that was staying in the sun over The Downs - what you get for being between it and the Woodpigs, I suppose! At least I didn't get chavs shouting moronic things about me staring at my hand [this time..]

Anyway... It is a good and righteous thing to bash your patch, even when you don't find an Alder Flycatcher, it makes you feel better about yourself. Of course, seeing an Alder Flycatcher's pretty frickin' good too [even if it is an obvious escape - I mean, its on the wrong side of the country to have come from america! ;p ], but this is a more wholesome high [[There was an analogy here, but it was removed for legal reasons]].

Oh yes, speaking of Peregrines; one of them and then a Raven makes my Work List a mighty 45! Woo!

And no, I didn't see the Seal......

23 September, 2010

Not So Small Forgotten Detail

It's not something to easily slip the mind, I admit, but it happened all the same, and as I was going to put up a minor update anyway I thought I may as well add to it;

Not a bird on the work list, but a mammal - there's a Grey Seal which swims up the Dart on the highest tides to munch the poor unsuspecting fishies, and we sometimes see it drifting back down, first thing in the morning. Not so far this week, though, but the last two sets of spring tides have given some very close views :)

[[Now I've mentioned it, it will of course never be seen again....]]

News of a birding nature involves a different sinensis Cormorant, seen today and yesterday on the falling tide - probably Tuesday too, but I didn't have my bins handy when it was close, so can't be sure. This one's not quite so super-obvious as the one two weeks ago; with a gular angle of about 85 degrees and a slightly heftier bill [the other one had me think 'Is that a Shag??' when I first saw it. {At distance, without bins, I hasten to add!}]. Also, I slightly miscounted, and my Work List is in fact 43. Yeah, I know, it's a shockingly high total.... ;)

19 September, 2010

A' Yomping We Will Go

Well... A' yomping I did go.

As threatened, I did something different today and ignored a Devon tick in favour of spending the day wandering t' Moor. The weather was threatening, with a brisk wind and big black clouds flying around, but no rain did fall upon me, and the solitude was glorious!

I've walked over almost all of t'Moor, but Ter Hill is one of the little exceptions - I've been around it but not on it. So this was changed, and I also played cross-tag and picked up 6 of them, just for fun. Lunch was had at Fox Tor, one of those interesting little places that sit off the main routes, but let you see a lot of what passes by. Its not a huge impressive outcrop by any means, and its claims to fame - naming the Mire below and having the first of the Four to be completely stolen - aren't really to do with it at all. That being said, somewhere to sit out of the wind and with a view is a valuable thing up there, and what it lacks in scale it more than makes up for in atmosphere. This is a winter tor, somewhere to give a little respite from the elements [though only a little], not somewhere you go on a warm summer's evening for a picnic. Here you hear only the wind through the grass and while you can see roads, you're set apart from them. I like it.

Between Fox Tor and Ter Hill lie the upper reaches of the Swincombe and a lot of tin workings - there's some very good-looking habitat for odonata here, and its definitely one to remember for next year. Nothing today though - far too cold and windy [though saying that, it wasn't really cold - no less than 18 degrees on the thermometer]. I annotate my map of Dartmoor [and indeed all my maps], and among several paths and other sites of interest, I've confirmed to myself that contrary to my OS, Foxtor Mire does extend up the Swincombe valley as far as the 360m contour [if not more]. Some of the wetter bits have very deep holes and channels lurking innocently under the greenery, so I'd advise crossing higher up if you're ever going that way [[I know how this sounds, but I can't help it; the Moor is dangerous if you're not careful, etc etc...]].

Aaanyway... I had a fun day. I also saw a few birds of interest - 3 Wheatear still around, 3 Raven messing around on the crosses on Ter Hill, and the star bird a dashing [is there any other kind?] male Merlin. A few Swallows were moving south - the ones close enough to age were all adults.

18 September, 2010

Deja-vu All Over Again

For the second Saturday in a row, I found myself by the Otter today - this time out for a gentle stroll with the folks and Tillbury Dog. The possibility of a Glossy Ibis or two was raised, but they'd evidently decided to move downstream again [or just hide behind the rushes very cleverly] as we didn't see them. The folks didn't mind too much - not being deranged birders, the whole Lifer thing is more vague interest than burning urgent hunger - and we did see something we all enjoyed;

As we rolled up, we saw lots of ducks in the air, and corvids, and pigeons, and gulls.. What dunnit? Osprey!!

With the close attention of assorted corvids and Herring Gulls, it fairly quickly buggered off east [most likely back to the Backwater], evidently deciding the grief it was getting outweighed the great big Mullet swanning around in the shallow river...

It was bright and still pretty hot in the sun, with Migrant and Southern Hawkers well in evidence, but no super exciting sightings followed on the bird front. [Not that I'm complaining - Ospreys always rock! ;) ] After a rather tiring week for all of us, one way or another, it was a nice relaxing day. Well, when not hauling the dog out of the Otter [she really likes water - more even than barking at coobeasties!]
Tomorrow may be slightly different....

17 September, 2010

Gull News

Received a reply from the Danish organiser of the BHG study today.

My gull is a male, which was ringed as a 3yo+ in Copenhagen in April 1996. This means he's older than Joe "Juvenile Plumage" Ray! ;D

He's spent most of the intervening time in Denmark, but made a trip to Gloucestershire in early 2004, and was seen at Goodrington in January of 2009. I'm really pleased!

Also, my 42nd bird on my Work List - a lovely pair of Grey Wagtails this morning. :)

15 September, 2010

Sorry About the Delay..

It's been one of those weeks...

Right then, updates on news!

Sunday saw a long lie-in followed by as close to a leisurely stroll around Trenchford and Tottiford Reservoirs as Tilly would allow... [[Rant about thoughtless dog-owners deleted]]

Anyway, it wasn't a bad afternoon [most of the time..], with tit and 'crest bands around and some very nice odonata - first a kissing gate with no less than 8 Common Darter perched on it [2 ad. males, and 3 of each immature] who allowed very close approach - if I'd had my camera with me, even I'd have gotten some crippling shots... ah well. Then a very late and unsurprisingly over-mature female Black-tailed Skimmer by Tottiford [which was almost empty, it seemed]

In other news, today at work there was a Darvic-ringed BHG. It came to look at the ducks getting their early morning feed, allowing me to read 5Y8 [black on white] on it's right leg, and get a partial on the metal ring on its left '...2029..'. Having looked it up, I think its part of a Danish study - I've emailed the organiser, and we shall see.....

Oh, and Work List is now 40, thanks to birds that include such stars as Great Tit! ;)

11 September, 2010

I Didn't Mean to Go to Gosport...

It was all Joe "If you're going to give me a stupid middle name, call me '333 BOU', ok?" Ray's fault....

Really, it was.

The day started fairly innocuously, with me failing to get out of bed early enough to try a seawatch, and instead staggering over to Bowling Green [arriving within an hour of the Great Big High Tide. Yes, that's after it.... Ahem.]. Plenty of birders present, and even more birds, though I was vexed to hear I'd missed a Marsh Harrier putting the fear of big scary talons into the masses...

Beyond the inevitable Canada Horde, a sizable wader roost included an impressive 63 Greenshank, a Spotshank [eventually!] and at least 6 Curlew Sands - though no Little Stints that I could find. A Peregrine, flying over, amazingly didn't even prompt a second glance from the waders, and a Kingfisher showed well on a post [that's 3 in 4 days for me now - hadn't seen a single one before all year!**]. No Osprey on show, but I didn't hang around that long, as I had other fish to fry that morning..

So, on to the Otter - the chance to see a Great Big Humungous Flock of Glossy Ibis was not one to pass up - they so generously hanging about for me. :) The Ibis were present and showed very well, even stretching their wings and flying about a bit :D A vocal Cetti's providing a nice accompaniment.

I also bumped into Joe "Pretty Fly For A White Guy" Ray, who shamelessly ditched poor [Name Withheld For Legal Reasons] after I very very kindly agreed that, yes as I wasn't planning anything else today I would drive him to frickin' Gosport to see the Daurian / Isabelline / definitely-not-a-Red-backed-we-hoped Shrike. [It being a Lifer for me {regardless of any splitting} had, of course, no effect at all on my charitable decision... ;) ]

One very long and only slightly frustrated-by-grockles drive later, we were again struck by 'navigational issues' and ended up in a place other than intended.. Fortunately, with the aid of a Birder Who Shall Remain Nameless and a Friendly Local With a Huge Mastiff/Bulldog Cross, we found the twitch, and the Shrike! She was sitting in a Hawthorn, not doing much, while being abused by assorted passerines - including a smart male Blackcap. We got a good look at her, and she definitely fit the Daurian criteria - quite a pretty bird, in a subtle way. We stayed there for an hour, getting nigh on 30 mins of prolonged view, then a couple more glimpses as she became more active and elusive. The waterside location also gave views of a wreck covered in roosting Redshank, and many of Her Majesty's finest vessels.

It was a long day, and I'm pretty knackered now I have to say, but a very nice bird is on the list - and I saw HMS Victory again! :) [Ok, only her mast tops, but still!]*

*If you ever have the chance, go and see Victory [and the Mary Rose, and Warrior] - such a piece of living history, the air aboard her hums with it.

**EDIT: I've just noticed that. What a fool I am - not my first of the year, as not that long previously I'd seen one at work [albeit distantly flying across the river..]. Perhaps 'my first decent view of the year' would be better..

07 September, 2010

A Day of Surprises

In reverse chronological order....

Looking at a Nameless Internet Bird Related Forum; "Western Bonelli's in Devon... !!!!!!! Wait a minute... Yeah, bladdy Lundy. Little git flies all the way over Devon again..."

[Ok, maybe that's not much of a surprise]

Looking at the Devon Bird News blog; "I am not going to Budleigh, I am not going to Budleigh, I am not going to Budleigh...."
[[Chorus: "'Cos you're not Yearlisting!"]]


Finally, the proper newsworthy bit....

An adult sinensis Cormorant fishing on the Dart at Totnes today. Now that's what I call a nice lunch break bird! :D
I know according to BOU it doesn't count, but its so great to not only see one, but one so unequivocal as this one was and showing so well. It was fishing it's way upstream on the rising tide and the river was so calm I could follow its bubbles! Result.

Late news from yesterday; a Ruff was feeding on the riverside mud downstream of Totnes, [west bank], before I started work. [[Only took a month of checking before I got something..!]] Work List total now 34.

05 September, 2010

Proper Birding

Saturday saw me doing some proper birding!

I didn't even look to see if anything was about, I tooled up and went over to Dawlish Warren for a day of looking for my own birds [ahem..].
The sea was, er, quiet. There were a couple of Gannets.
I bashed all the bushes and trees, hoping for some migrants - not something I've done a huge amount of in the past [until last winter I had bins whose 'close' focus was not much under 20', so close encounters with things that go 'tac' didn't end well...]. There were a couple of Blackcaps, some Willow Warblers, a few Chiffs, lots of ickle baby Blue Tits [awww...] but nothing spectacular. I did see a nice odonate - a male Migrant hawker, no less - so definitely a successful exercise! :)

Another look at the sea gave some distant tern spp in the murk...

The estuary was another matter. It seems these low high tides [while rubbish for Bowling Green] are pretty good at the Warren [if you have a Big Scope, at least]. The big roosts of Oiks and Geebs were nearly matched by Dunlin and Ringos in their hundreds [[see the DW website for official scores]] with a fair few Sanderling mixed in, plus Curlew, Red and Greenshanks, at least 4 Whimbrel, and a dozen godwits [mostly Bar]. Star turn came from a Little Stint, which showed extremely well, out in the open being Stint-y [instead of scurrying behind everything at Bowling Green] and beating up Sanderlings!
There were also no less than 7 Curlew Sands [and another Little Stint], but these were only visible if you left the hide and wandered back to the Bight Edge [[this is not due to an utter lack of ability, I'll have you know, as a Certain Devon Birder Who Shall Remain Nameless also suffered the same phenomenon... ;) ]].
A Wryneck Hunt was undertaken by 4 brave souls, and while no Wryneck was forthcoming it was a lot of fun!

My total of 56 species is not very impressive, but I had a very enjoyable day.

Sunday saw me up and out in the rain, giving Joe "The name's Hungover, Oh Shite I'm Hungover" Ray a lift down to darkest cornwall. A lot of birds had turned up - Ortolan Buntings, Citrine Wagtail, Wrynecks, Barred Warbler, Icterine Warbler and so on... between us that was a lot of Life / Year ticks.

I don't know what you saw on the weather, but ye gods it rained - all the way there, all the time there, and a lot of the way back. Sometimes hard, some times light, but ever present. Despite this, after finding somewhere to put the car we found the site of the group of Ortolans and the Citrine Wag. Expecting hours of staring at a big field, waiting for a bird to land on a wire, we were very happy to behold Ortolans which hadn't read the script. There were lots of them and they kept sitting on the roof of some rich git's holiday home! Those sub-moustachial stripes really showed up when the birds were head-on, especially on the more strongly streaked juveniles, as did the edging to the tertials from behind. Gorgeous!
A bit of patience and persistence then led to cripplingly close views of the 1w Citrine at the nearby ex-farm - well worth the soggification we underwent. I have previously said that I'd be happy never to see another of those little gits, after the run-around I got last year, but I think I've changed my mind now.
Also Wheatears, Tripits, a Whitethroat, and White, Yellow and Pied Wags present, plus the interesting sight of an Ortolan, a White Wag, and a Chiff side by side on a roof. There's one I didn't see coming...

With the weather clearly set for the day down there, plans for Icterine, Wryneck, possible Barred and the [as it turns out totally] elusive Short-toed Lark were scrapped, [as the birds were likely cowering under the biggest bushes they could find] in favour of a long burn all the way to the Axe so that Joe "School Tomorrow, so no Brown Fly for me... :'(" Ray could try to de-tart his list and actually see a Dotterel! Would only be a yeartick [[Chorus: "Not that you're yearlisting!"]] for me, but they're lovely birds and it's always nice to go to the Backwater.
After some very poor directions [exacerbated by scrambled pager messages] led to yomping all the way up past the golf club to Axe Cliff and back down again [feel free to try it with full kit some time - if you get to the top your heart is very healthy indeed!] we eventually [thanks to Bun and his Super Scooter] found the bird, and had all of 5 minutes enjoying it getting ever closer and closer, before it was flushed by a dog walker......

A detour to The Black Hole on the way home gave 2 Little Stint, a Curlew Sand, a Common Sand, a Greenshank, and a few Dunlin and Ringos. Construction of the Mighty Hide of Seeing All Round [we hope] continues apace - I look forward to it's completion!

So, after a long but successful day, we both had very nice Lifers, Joe had lots of yearticks, and I'd made peace with Citrine Wags [we'd fallen out over the despicable behaviour of the Marazion bird - tarting for all and sundry, then making me dip twice before only giving me a fly-over, the little bounder! ;) ].

03 September, 2010

Brief Brief

'Scuse the pun....

A new site record of 7 Buzzards over work today - all together and all definitely Common. A couple of Crows had a look, but decided that no, maybe they weren't really in the mood after all.... :)

Work List is now 33 and.. er.... well..... that's it, really!

In non-birding news, tonight's the night - it's Orpheus time.....


Oh, and I fully intend to do some Proper Birding tomorrow.

If I can get up.