31 December, 2011

It's All Over Now

I thought about it. Quite a bit. My conclusion was that, while sitting at Hope's Nose from dawn 'til dusk might just provide the flypast Velvet Scoter I needed for the Patch Yearlist, there is going too far and that would be it.

I went to zumerzet instead.

Not been off on a jolly [as opposed to filthy tick-hungry twitching] for far too long, and the Levels in winter are one of my favourite birding places. Outside Devon. :)

I visited Shapwick / Ham Wall, Catcott, and Aller Moor and saw 59 species, which isn't too shabby. I also had quite a lot of fun, especially not long after arriving, when on Meare Heath in short order I met first Bearded Tits, then a ridiculously showy 2w male Marsh Harrier, then not one but 2 Great White Egrets. Egrets were the order of the morning, with all 5 flying about and sticking their snakey necks out of the reeds all over the shop. It were great!

I'm not going to go into great detail, so here's the cliff notes version; no Bitterns, but 8+ Cetti's and 2 Bewick's Swans, plus an adult female Marsh harrier. At Catcott there was no sign of the Whoopers which have been there recently, but there were 4 more Bewick's and a whole heap of Lapwing, plus what was probably the same adult female Marsh Harrier. Finally, my second Wild Crane Chase ended with a big win, as the whole flock were on show, if distant. The unringed bird flew off at one point, but later snuck back. Also, 2 SEOs put in appearances, as did [Famous Devon Birder] - though the owls rather rudely waited until he'd gone, the oiks.

Coming up; The Dreaded Top Ten of 2011...

30 December, 2011

Oil Spill in Torbay

How's that for a dramatic title?

Flows much better than 'Trawler Leaks Diesel All Over Outer Harbour, Haldon Pier, and Coastline Towards London Bridge', which is what has happened. Joy.

But before all that.....

With the year almost up, I bashed the Patch in the vain hope of another Year Tick. I did almost get lucky, as a flock of 12 Scoter flew in from the south and splashed down briefly off Oddicombe [yes, there again...]. Unfortunately very very far off Oddicombe, and too briefly. 5 were definite female Common, the rest were probably males, but could have been Velvet or Surf or frickin' Stejneger's, such was the range, light, and jinking! Drat.

A diver sp. was also in the vicinty, and what could be seen looked quite good for a Black-throat, but again too far out. Double drat. Much more obliging was an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, which looked very nice for intermedius [probably one of the ones that have graced the Backwater]. Aside from another wintering male Blackcap, there were no other notables, though plenty of regulars to enjoy, before I got to Haldon and smelt the spill. It was a pretty colourful thing, but oh I was spitting.... >:( A lone Turnstone was more staggering then scuttling along the pier top, 3 Purple Sands were picking at barnacles as high above the water as they could get.. The sound of urgent repairs resounded from the trawler sitting in the middle of the slick. Now for the icing on the cake; to my shocked amazement, several morons chavs individuals were happily fishing through the hydrocarbons... Mad.

Out in the north end of Tor Bay, a couple of Black-necked Grebes and a half dozen Great Crested were happily upwind of the slick. As its only [only] diesel, I believe it should evaporate/dissipate fairly quickly, though I doubt the rich gits will be happy when they see what's happened to their pretty white yachts...

Cutting back to Thursday...
Wet, very windy, what to do? Time for something a bit random! I went to try a seawatch from Froward Point - specifically the 6" Battery I'd noticed earlier in the year. It was a long and very exposed walk down there, no farmland birds! The Battery itself has two very convenient 'Observation Posts', [which originally held searchlights] which make fair seawatching hides, if a little open to the south... I actually got to sit down, out of the wind and rain, with a roof [a reinforced concrete roof!] over my head and seawatch. Oh, the luxury! There are even two nice big Runnelstone-esque buoys to use as markers, plus big rocks - its like 'gwarra and Pendeen rolled into one. ;) Now if only the birds had been so obliging...

An adult Yellow-legged Gull was very nice, a Bonxie attending a trawler was very distant, a diver sp. on the sea was very slippery in the swell... Otherwise; if I added up Gannets, Razorbills, Guillemots and Kittiwakes in the 3 hours I gave it I'd get a neat 100. Yeah... There were 2 close cetaceans, the second of which looked very much like a Risso's Dolphin, but the first [which was very close to the probable Risso's in time and space] was big, black, with a broad-based falcate fin with a markedly rounded tip. I really am not sure... Oh well.

Ooh! Almost forgot - a Common Gull flew past south too!

29 December, 2011

Short and Sharp

I had been intending to have a bit of a wibble today, but events have intervened. Mice and men and all that.

Had Something to Do in Exeter, namely acquire a new CD player, my old one having died. Blogging without background music has become the norm, perhaps said blog has suffered for it, but it was something I put off, as I knew there would be painful amounts of money spent [I have a pathological aversion to not getting the best I can lay my hands on, its really no good for me. I ought to get therapy.]. But sooner or later bullets have to be bit, nettles grasped, metaphors inflicted..

I've had my midi system for a long time; I was in school. Hell, I saved my pocket money for years. Literal years. So I'm not keen to just chuck it. Plus its a good one [they make food mixers, too], and ok, so the CD player suffered age- [and possibly rain...]-related failure, but the amp and speakers still work. And getting a whole new system would cost a frickin' fortune..

So, after more than a little ado, I have a nice CD player attached to the Aux Input and OMG.... A CD player is a CD player, right? Its all digital, right? Oh so very wrong. So very, very wrong... Thus the digression, thus the late post. I've been sitting here listening to a whole new set of music. Its like the first time you look through alphas*, like when you clean the spray off during a seawatch, like when you've been working on calls and song and then you go into a spring wood and everything just clicks and your ears are eyes.. You would not credit the difference. Anyway, so time is pressing and I'm having trouble concentrating.

[[*I still remember - Zeiss Dialyt 10x40 BGAT*, at a shop in Plymouth when my parents bought me my Rangers. Ah, fond memories..]]

::Hits the Stop, with reluctance::

Birds, yes, there were birds. Owls.

Not the owl I was looking for, though. I stopped off at Exminster to pay my respects to the LEO which was being so considerate, only to find it gone. The story I heard involved an individual with a camera, who couldn't get close enough, it seemed. I do not know if this is true, but it sounds far too plausible. Various comments spring to mind, none of them legal, many probably physically impossible.. There were a huge number of people present for a weekday afternoon, some of them seeming [note that seeming, as from my perspective, I couldn't tell if they were on the footpaths or not] to be wandering around looking for eared owls to annoy. A SEO flew distantly, too distantly to really appreciate. I said 'Sod it' again and took the scenic route home. The Goddess of Birding, who is subtle and unpredictable to say the least, decided I'd been a Good Birder and a Barn Owl flew in front of me, which cheered me up quite a bit. :)

I will get back to what I was going to get to. Sometime.

It wasn't about bloody cormorants, in case you were worrying.

27 December, 2011


Does not always pay off. Its been more than 2 weeks now, with no more than the odd distant 'That might be it..' to show for my efforts. The phrase "Sod it" springs to mind, I must admit...

I went so far as to go off-Patch, up to Watcombe Beach, and then clamber over the rocks out around the bend to look along the coast. Which was quite fun, if a little interesting, with ice-like weed and cheesegrater-like barnacles to vary the grip. Plus surprise rockpools very high up on boulders [Arg]. Said boulders were rather distracting too, with a very interesting selection of clasts [they being Permian conglomerate/breccia/brecciomerate].

As to birds.. Razorbills and Guillemots fishing right in the surf [and teeny surf, too]. A Red-throated Diver well off Oddicombe on the 25th. Biggest gull roost on the 26th with 550+, biggest GC Grebe roost today with 42. Song Thrushes suddenly started singing all over the shop on the 25th and have kept it up since.

Today I had a good yomp to work off some of the crimbo blubber - I walked over to Cockington and right up to Occombe Farm. There being a report of Marsh Tits there, and they would be not just a Patch Yeartick but a full-on Patch Tick. I found not a sniff of them, though a gorgeous female GSW came to the near-empty peanut feeder by the hide and gave me one hell of a view as she tried to work out how to twist round to get to the remaining nuts. This came at the end of the 5 whole minutes in which the hide was still and quiet - ie. when I had the place to myself! I'm not complaining; its Occombe Farm - you're going to get dudes, civilians, kids, more kids.... The Blue and Great Tits were pretty bomb-proof, it has to be said. A male Bullfinch sat and posed for some admiring folks [despite being described as 'orange'. I mean, come on...]

Before I got there I saw 70+ Redwing and 8 Mistle Thrush in one of the fields, which was nice [oddly no Fieldfares]. 2 Nuthatches were messing about in the hedge by the lane like they were Dunnocks or something, unusual but nice views. A Crow gave a Raven some hassle, then another Raven arrived and the Crow had a really bad day.. :D

On my way back down I went through Scadson's Woods, and saw what had been done there. :( I know they 'need' to destroy every Larch in Devon, but they've put a road through that valley. As in cut right into the hillside and fill a surface of builder's rubble. Are they going to undo this when they're done? Repair the slope so it doesn't wash away? Insert cynical comment of your choice, folks.

Returning via the sea front, there were very few large gulls around [and all Herrings and Geebs], but well over 250 BHGs, plus Grey Heron and Little Egret on the exposed rocks. The [very slim, I know] hopes of a non-Mallard duck or even a Mute Swan for the Yearlist were dashed, of course. It would be nice to have a proper chunk of fresh water on the Patch, you know... Oh, well.

23 December, 2011

Distant Cormorants

Spent a lot of time looking at these lately...

Ok, so its that time of year again, when its a good thing to be working in a factory as the Christmas Shutdown lets you do some actual birding. Oh, and all that other stuff as well. Sigh.

Before that, I had a bit of holiday that had to be taken so on Wednesday I decided to get up on the Moor come hell or high winds. It has been far far far too long, and the forecast seemed vaguely promising of, well, sogginess underfoot, but dropping winds and cloud cover, so maybe Fieldcraft vs Fieldfares might be doable?

Before that, though, I dropped into Oddicombe to look for The Bird. A 2w sinensis of the form haigi kept my interest for a while [so that's 2 different ones, as the Sunday one was an adult], and a few Kitts were bombing about, but no sign of the yank. Onward. It seemed quite promising as I headed up through Newton, with even bits of blue sky about, but when I parked up at Holne quarry, I noticed the trees seemed a bit bendier, and there was this stuff zipping along sideways... oh, that'd be rain then...

Sideways precipitation or not, I wasn't about to go back yet - maybe the Mardle would be sheltered, and more importantly maybe this would keep all the bods from disturbing the thrushes! One out of two, as after I got over Holne Ridge [which was interesting, and required a good lean into the wind!] I found the gale howling [seriously, the wind was making the 'howling through the rigging' noise in the trees] down the Mardle. Rats. The reduced visibility made for some interesting birding, as both you and the birds got eyes on each other at the same range, leading to some close if brief encounters. As well as odd small groups of thrushes, I met 2 Snipe, one of which decided towering into the wind was a bad idea and dropped down in the open. It stretched its neck up and looked at me as if to say "You'd better not make me fly into that again..".

Eventually I found a sheltered spot and made myself inconspicuous. Time passed. A smart male Bullfinch was pretty before being blown off. Then a few Fieldfares and Redwing arrived. Bingo.

Viewing winter thrushes at close binocular range may not be the greatest achievement in birding, but it requires enough to make it rewarding when you can do it. Plus they're a lot prettier than distant views credit. This time they spent a fair bit of time on the ground [can't think why], where there was enough cover to be irritating, but there was always at least one lookout to look at. Finally they moved on - right towards me! A score of birds skimming the hillside and passing at head height; one Fieldfare had to alter course to miss me - it gave me a reproachful 'Chuck!' as it passed - wow. The long climb into the wind, getting blown into a big muddy morass.. totally worth it :) Final totals; 20+ Fieldfare and 32+ Redwing, plus a bunch of Blackbirds and something that flew up from behind me, tried to land next to me, realised what I was, went "Erk!" and flew off before I could get good eyes on it. Thrush sp., possibly a 1w Blackbird that was too shocked to make the usual racket.... It made me laugh, anyway. ;)

I headed back via my Mandarin spot - the Dart being full of water and kayakers I figured it was worth a go - but no joy. Then to Oddicombe again, where again no interesting cormorants, but a huge feeding frenzy of at least 1000 gulls and 100 Gannets way out in Lyme Bay. Much closer in, indeed as close as you can get as the tide was right up and the beach has been stripped, a Razorbill was fishing in the surf - right in it! You could see it swimming underwater... Joy, utter joy.

Fast forward to today, and after we finished at work, I went [yes, you guessed it] down to Oddicombe again. This time I bit the bullet and lugged the Big Scope [[I don't want to go whinging on, but I hurt myself again... Frankly, its getting ridiculous. I'm going to complain.]] down, without doing any more damage, so at least proper birding may be on the cards again. Getting back off tangent, there were distant flying Cormorants and Shags. One of the cormorants could have been The Bird. Could. That's it. A good 80 Kittiwake were hanging about out of the wind, and 10 GC Grebes were at least double figures. 2 Razorbills were nice and close, but any displays were curtailed by 2 small children and their dad - or rather by their stones. Not aimed at the birds, I hasten to add! There was still some activity well out, with at least 20 Gannet and a Fulmar, plus assorted gulls - though the huge flock of Wednesday was gone.

And finally... Monday at work - Green Woodpecker! Not bad for staring out the window. Today in the Garden, 6 Greenfinch huddling out of the wind and going after the sunflower seeds. Have I mentioned the Blackcaps? At least 2 - a male arrived and met, or rather was met by the female. [Ouch..] There might be 2 females, but this is so far unconfirmed.

18 December, 2011

A Week Later

I don't put everything I see and do in this. Not a surprising statement, of course. You neither need nor want to know the day to day details of my existence - can you imagine it? Arg. [[I had put in an example, but really, no point in inflicting it on you, is there?]]

This also applies to birds. Raptors and other interesting breeders, for the frustratingly obvious reasons [May their karma be swift and thorough.]. If you were very quick off the mark, last Sunday you may have noticed another one. The same bird I went straight from work the day after to look for - no joy, it was far too dark but I had to try. The same bird I went looking for yesterday and today. The Cormorant with the orangey-yellow bill. Last Sunday, as the rain tipped down, I spent about 10 minutes watching it fishing close in to Oddicombe Beach. I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. Small and slight, with an oddly rounded head and slender bill - though still markedly not a Shag [like the one about 40' thattaway]; sloped forehead, bill far too heavy, big gular patch. Oh yes, that patch - the angle alone ruled out carbo. Nicely orangey yellow, the same tone as the lower mandible. The culmen was dark, looked like the cutting edge was orangey-yellow and the border was uneven and spotty. The bare parts made an orangey-yellow triangle, with the eye in the upper angle. Not a trace of white. The rest of the bird was browny, with noticeably scaly upperparts.

Why say nothing about that? Over and above the whole 'being ignored / ridiculed' routine I usually get, I wanted to see it again - not for ID [all my research tells me the bill is diagnostic - yes, sinensis can show all the rest!*] but so I'd have any kind of confidence that it was still in the area. This morning I saw a too-distant cormorant that had bare parts that looked orangey rather than yellow-white in the sun, and was very brown in flight [a flight mostly flapped, but with the odd short glide]. It went north, quite low and close in to the coast. I suspect it was the auritus, but cannot be certain. I also suspect that if it was, and it is staying in the area, then it's moving up and down the coast between Oddicombe [if not further; I've been checking the Lead Stone] and Teignmouth** - and will be an absolute bastard to find. But its such an important bird I feel I have to say something. Believe me or not, at least check every Cormorant you see. If I do find it hanging around [I'm not stopping looking, though its back to work again] I will get on the phone.

[[*Ok, yes, the 12 retrices are diagnostic too, but unless it gets out and poses like a porn star, you haven't a chance of counting.]]

[[**Why that range? If it had gone further south, say to Preston/Broadsands, then [Famous Devon Birder] would have picked it up. North is Dawlish Warren and more red hot birders. Thus it must be staying in between their areas of coverage.]]

Ok, enough of that. Time presses, so a quick roundup;

Monday - Oddicombe at dusk; 500+ large gulls roosting, with 7+ GC Grebes and 225+ Kittiwake

Saturday - From the Nose to the Harbour as the NW pushed all the birds away from the north coast of the Patch. A drake RB Merganser flew in from the south and landed north of the Ore Stone [At last! :D ] At least one Razorbill off Meadfoot, 8+ Guillemots on the Ore Stone, 9+ Purple Sands and 4+ Turnstone on Haldon Pier.

Sunday - possible sighting of the DC Cormorant off Oddicombe, a much closer and nicer form haigi on a chunk of conglomerate at the same site. Also 62 GBB among two groups of gulls attending two small fishing boats and a Treeecreeeeper with a band of Long-tailed and Coal Tits and Goldcrests mobile in the woods above Blackball. Dusk; 650+ large gulls roosting with 6+ GC Grebe and a very distant lone scoter sp., which may have been Velvet. Nice to watch were two immature Shag fishing right in the low surf and getting a lot of small fish.

And finally.. Today I ran into [Devon Birder] who relayed a report of a 'huge white owl' flushed by a dog walker from the bottom grass at Hope's Nose 'a couple of weeks ago'. I'm sure salt comes to hand, but surely Snowy Owls are bloody hard to misidentify, no matter who you are.


PYL: 84%

11 December, 2011

Fascinating Fact Post

Posts with the word 'post' in the title are revisited more often and for longer than any others. Strange but true! Well, on this blog, anyway. I have no idea why.

Ok, so... Another weekend of being careful about my bloody tendons [[I mean really... Who invented these daft things that don't heal???]] and bashing the Patch. Not that this was a pointless or fruitless endeavour. Well, depending on your definitions of 'pointless' and 'fruitless'...

Today, despite a vaguely interesting-looking frontal system coming in, I decided against lugging the Big Scope down to the Nose, or anywhere else. Not that I didn't look at the sea. But before we get to that, there is Saturday, is there not?

Having had a fair bit of weather through, I decided to take the li'l scope rather than bins, and see what could be seen on the sea. With the calm conditions, I was hoping to sneak a Red-breasted Merganser for the Patch Yearlist - they count on the sea or in the air as long as I'm in the Patch, after all, so one hanging about off Broadsands would be ok. IF I could see it. I figured the extra reach would make the difference, and that taking the scope as well as the bins was too much for Urban Birding [which is a fair point]. [[Have I gone on about Urban Birding? I'm not sure. ::Makes mental note to bore you at some point::]]

With its 20x, the li'l scope is quite useable hand-held in its grippa case, [though I prefer a shoulderpod for proper birding], but it naturally has issues with close-range passerines in bushes and trees, due to narrower FOV, depth of field, and slower focussing than bins. I wasn't expecting anything spectacular on that front though, so shouldn't have been surprised by all the bands of tits and crests I met... [Drat] At least I didn't hear anything calling I couldn't then get on, like a Hume's or a Dusky or something. Small mercies.

Instead of concentrating on the eastern end of the Torquay peninsula, I opted for the southern side, heading down the Ilsham valley, along Meadfoot, and then along the Coast Path to the Harbour. Its a very nice bit of path, that, wandering up and down the cliff until it dumps you out behind the Imperial Hotel. You get in amongst the cliff woods, those oh-so-evil non-native Holm Oaks [which I have no problem with - they hold the slopes together and provide year-round shelter and food for lots of birds.] and are treated to some wonderful views of the bay and of some very nice houses belonging to People With More Money Than You. They don't call it the English Riviera for nothing, you know. On a sunny day when its not blowing a hoolie, its quite something. Though picking birds on the sea when the sun shines is a pain.

I didn't see a Merganser. I didn't see a lot of anything, to be honest. A couple of GC Grebes and 3 Razorbills off Meadfoot was it. Later on, I went to Blackball to look for the evening grebe roost and found nothing. Nada. Not a single one. 310 Herring Gulls, a half-dozen Geebs, no GC Grebes. But that's later. Before that there were at least 7 Purple Sands and a Turnstone [plus Rockits] at the Real Living Coast. They were looking lovely in the sunshine, while in my ears the plaintive cries of the poor captive Choughs* in the Trawler Wreck made me think of bolt cutters...

[[*I can only vainly dream that one day they'll be released somewhere between Bolt Tail and Start Point, as is only fair compensation for giving the cornish Cirl Buntings back]]

Before even that, indeed right at the very start of the day, I had my Star Bird! Big White Thing flying south towards me. "That's no gull..." Its an Egret! Its being mobbed by Woodpigs!?!?? Its not a Great... Its still going over my house! Yes! Garden Tick!!!!! I'd always assumed that the Little Egrets you sometimes see stalking the rockpools of Tor Bay were from the Dart, after all, its only over there ::Point::, but this one was coming in from the north - the Exe? Interesting...

To today.... The rain took its sweet time arriving, and before it did I got out and didn't see much in the wind, so went to Blackball. I counted 11 GC Grebes before the visibility died, and as the front came through, at least 200 Kittiwakes came in to shelter in the lee of the cliffs. Also at least 7 Razorbill, one very close inshore, but no other grebes or any divers that I could make out. One of the 1w Kitts looked quite Sabs-like, but the visibility and my not having the Big Scope to hand meant it could only go down as a Possible. I did find a nice collybita Chiff in the undercliff, [that rhyme being one I've been waiting to use for longer than I'd care to admit..] and got all rain-spotted looking up at it.

06 December, 2011

Small Distant Waders

"These are small. Those are far away..."


Once upon a time I went twitching, like the filthy reprobate I so often am. I joined a fair-sized crowd of like-minded others, stood beside a road on a causeway with a culvert through it that someone with less understanding or perhaps just less space to use called a bridge. We were looking at waders, no small distance away. Chief among these was a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and very nice it was, too. I had the advantage of a straight scope with a zoom that stayed sharp up to 75x, so had no trouble at all getting comfortably identifiable views of said Sandpiper. Likewise of the assorted Snipe, Dunlin, and Lapwing in the near vicinity. There was also a smaller wader, zipping about among them - someone present said [in a fairly local accent] that it was a Little Stint.

This was as I first arrived, when the sun was still sort of out and there were bright colours to be appreciated. On the Sharp-tail and on the small wader. Yes, you read right. It was a juvenile Little Stint, with orangey bits and braces standing out nicely, and I thought, 'Hmm, nice' as I looked at it while the STS was hidden from my view behind a tree stump. Then the Sharp-tail came out, and the sun buggered off. The waders flushed, too. More than once. I spent a lot of time on or re-finding the STS, getting others on it and letting them look through my scope, and I assumed the little grey wader still knocking about was the Little Stint, after all, the STS looked so dark and drab now the light had changed, why wouldn't the Stint? And I didn't look particularly hard at it. In my defence, nobody else did either, "There's a Little Stint, too" was accepted by all in my earshot.

Fast-forward to this last weekend, and to a sharp-eyed [Famous Birder] some pretty good for the time photos show that that little grey wader wasn't a Little Stint but a clear Semi-palmated Sandpiper. "Shit.." said I. Ok, first I went "Yeah, right..." on hearing of this. Then I saw the pics, showing what was definitely the 'Little Stint in overcast weather with reflect-y water buggering the light up' that I had seen on the day. Then I said shit. And a few other things. Stupid stupid stupid... What happens when you don't state your assumptions? You forget them. The waders flushed, the Dunlin numbers changed every time they did, so why wouldn't other birds come and go, too? Dear, oh dear....

To everyone who I told that there was a Little Stint present, I apologise. But only a little, as you shouldn't have assumed I knew what the hell I was talking about.. ;)

And yes, that is a definite and defiant Two Bird Theory. There was a Little Stint present on the 20th, at least for a while. I am sure of it.

Right then, what about that job in Norfolk? Loads of photos, lots of opinions, and all of them contradictory. Oh, what fun. Speaking as someone who hasn't seen it and won't see it [unless it gets bored of them easterners and comes down here, in which case I might {Not like I need either of them. :D }] I can categorically say I'm not sure. The person who said "The camera never lies" was a liar. This is known. Anyway, in some shots it looks very Semi, in most pretty Western. If I'd seen it I'd probably be fairly sure one way or the other, as to me Semi's look like funny little Sanderling, and Westerns like funny little Dunlin. If you put a short-billed Dunlin and a long-billed Sanderling in pretty much identical plumage, you could still tell them apart, [even if you don't look at the toes], right? Exactly.

Changing the subject; gazing listlessly out the window at lunchtime today, 3 Bullfinches flew by. Yay. Then 2 Fieldfares went the other way. Double yay.

Hidden P.S.; I am counting the Semi, btw, and that is my 250th for Britain this year. Woo.

04 December, 2011

Stuff Happens, You Know?

Time passes, careless birders fall on their arses and damage themselves, said bits refuse to heal, and when they seem to change their minds promptly change them back..


Its been a whole week, which is far too long, but in my defence there has been the usual nonsense this time of year sets upon me, plus I'm back on the Dreaded Day Shift... Oh well. That proverb about rain, you know?

Last Sunday; after a rather too long lie-in I decided driving wasn't a good idea [especially driving 2 hours plus to go after a certain little green bird... :( ] and tagged along with the Folks for a wander along the Bovey. This went quite well; though a small group of Redpoll didn't stop, and neither did the LSW [oh yes], a Dipper posed like a porn star for us, very close, and not at all bothered by little black dogs. [[Yes, I know there's only one of her, but sometimes it seems that isn't the case..]] There were a few Fieldfare and Redwing knocking about the treetops, 5 bands of tits and crests, plus Mum got on a small green warbler with a prominent supercilium. I didn't. Drat, double drat and indeed triple drat. She didn't get it well enough to be sure what it was, and it didn't call [that I could hear over the tit band it was with]. Oh well...

Cut to Friday afternoon, as with my wrist still not right I decided not to stay on at work for any longer than I had to - I'd kept catching it as it was - so I had some weekday daylight to use and [with no time to realistically get to Dorset and find the Hume's before it got dark if it was being at all elusive] I hit the Patch. It got a good bash... with not much to talk about. A GSW was nice, and 2 singing Song Thrush were new since last patrol. I also went to the Nose and kicked the rock. [If this makes you go 'WTF?!?' then read prior post. Ok, if you have it still might...] This I succeeded in doing without a) hurting my foot and b) falling on my arse again, so I feel much better. I also had a good look at it and discovered it was not siltstone as I had thought, but slate covered in some weird thin grainy lichen. Well, that explains the slipperiness then...

Yesterday was taken up with Doing Stuff. I think the best bird I saw was a Blue Tit in the Garden. It was very nice, mind. I like Blue Tits.

This morning I again bashed the Patch. The wind kept a lot of the birds down, with the only notables being some grebes and a gull [[Flee! Flee while you can!]]. Off Blackball late morning were at least 8 GC Grebes and a Slavonian [nice]. While I was looking at the Slav, I caught a flash of movement near it and saw an angled splash, not unlike that of a Gannet. 'Ooh, a Gannet?' I thought, and kept on the spot it had hit. It didn't come up. Nor did anything else. It was a long way out, far beyond what even an olympic angler [is there an angling olympics?] could cast, and after 5 minutes I realised nothing was coming up. I looked up, but a thin yet solid cloud layer hid any passing airliners. Something fell into the sea - a lump of plane or a meteorite?

Oh yes, I mentioned a gull.... I saw it out the back - a 1w Herring fighting a Crow for a lump of baguette. Not much of interest, but then the gull pulled the full-on Albatross Display, long call and all, which only Caspians are supposed to do. Huh. I had a longer look at this Herring, which though it never posed side-on, still showed some nice dark tertials with white tips, but not a lot else - no dark coverts, no grey mantle, no white head and blotchy boa. Though the Crow had lost, it was not defeated and soon enough a mate showed up - the 2 corvids saw the gull off and in flight it had a very white tail and rump with a nice black terminal bar. Also long wings with a very Caspian-sized window... But not a very white underwing. An interesting gull, it dropped down a street or so away, prompting me to go after it. I naturally couldn't find it again.

So... Waters; muddier. I'm not saying it was anything other than a Herring. Well, ok I am saying it seemed to have Caspian in it, somewhere in the tangled web of its ancestry. The chief point being that, as with Yellow-legs, there is no Caspian indicator that cannot be shown by Herring. No magic feathers here, either. ;)

This afternoon I went for a wander around Yarner with the Folks. Tilly actually made herself useful and flushed a Woodcock, which we all got on! Well done that pog. She also behaved herself in the hide, at least once we got her in - there are mice underneath it and she tried her very best to suck them out with her nose..! The feeders held most of the activity, 5 flavours of Tit, plus Chaffs, a Nuthatch, and a male GSW! It didn't hang around long, but gave my parents their best ever views. There were winter thrushes on display, with a big group of Redwing in the treetops upstream from the car park and a few Fieldfare at the head of the Yarner valley.

Of interest, quite a few of the young Rowans are showing fresh growth - very odd for December, even in Glorious Devon - I fear they'll regret that soon enough, but it does show how warm its been. The trees are mostly bare now there, though with still a few stubborn leaves that annoy dreadfully when looking for small birds! The autumn snows - my Mum's name for the drifts of leaves that come down in the wind - have fallen for another year. I- am not going to go on about Yarner again!


Instead, I'm going to go on about small waders and why they're little gits...

But not yet.


26 November, 2011

Oh Bugger...

I type this late and slowly, I'm afraid, as I have damaged myself again....

So I was at Hope's Nose, which as I have in the past described as 'not so much slippery when wet as downright dangerous'. It was wet, and yes, I had a little accident. There is a rock. A nice rock [or so I thought]. I have stood on it hundreds of times, looking into the Top Dell. Its siltstone, not limestone, so is nowhere near as ice-like when water is applied to it. Or so I thought.

Anyway, I had been standing on it, looking into the Top Dell for what might have been a late Ouzel [but was probably just that Blackbird again] [[But you never know]][[[*]]]. I decided to move on, shifted my position, tested my footing, it seemed firm, so I picked up my other foot.. My planted right foot just went from under me like I was on a cartoon banana skin. A 90° pivot and fall gave me just enough time to think "This is the kind of fall that breaks your hip" before impact. Did I mention I had my Big Scope over my shoulder?


Once I'd finished turning the air indigo, I checked to see what was broken. My scope and tripod were seemingly intact [What?? a) bones heal, metal and carbon fibre doesn't, and b) I'm a birder; Your optics come first! ], my bins landed on me so they weren't in danger. They build them well in Japan and Italy [the custom padding I've added to my scope against just such an eventuality may have helped]. No bones broken, either, and everything seemed to work. Wow, did I get away with that?!? I walked [very carefully] down to the lower bench to check my scope hadn't had its prisms jarred, and no, they were ok too, it seemed. A pod of Bottlenose Dolphin then came by south [one had a very noticeable notch in the tip of its dorsal - almost like it was split].

I kept looking around the Nose, feeling my right ankle, but that cleared up. Result? I went on to Preston [a Black-necked Grebe and not much else] and then Cockington, and then, up the high fields near Scadson's Wood, as I went to hop over a stile, my right wrist gave under me and I almost went into the mud... damn. It started seizing up worse and worse, so I headed home. No swelling means no sprain, but I've evidently bruised the ligaments where the hand bones meet the arm bones. It's weird; it looks fine, but any pressure or move it the wrong way and ouch! So, a day of not a lot of fun for me. The good news is it should heal in days rather than weeks [its already better than it was - I can now type with both hands, albeit slowly], but the bad is I'm rather limited because of course, its the right one and I'm not a southpaw..

Today I had a lie-in, then got some stuff done. I managed to have a look at the Harbour, where there were no gulls on the pontoon, but 4 Pied Wags. A single GC Grebe was all I could get on the sea - high tide, strong wind and so on..

Before I had my little accident I'd had some good stuff at the Nose - a tristis Chiffchaff, no less! :D It called and everything, nice and close too, though not super-prolonged. Also a couple of Blackcaps and a collybita Chiff. There were at least 125 Guillemots on the Ore Stone, and a dozen Kittiwakes and Gannets were attending a group of trawlers,which seemed to be working together about a mile offshore.
Cockington had a Stock Dove [Patch Yeartick!], three Mistle Thrushes in one tree and a group of very confiding and active [even for them] Goldcrests, including one very shirty male with his crest seemingly permanently raised. Also, on my way back I passed the new 'craft centre thing' - oh dear.

[[[*It was just a Blackbird, too...]]

PYL: 83.5%

24 November, 2011

Urban Birding

Having to get up a little early to get Something Done, I found myself walking the streets in daylight on a work day, for the first time in a fair while. Naturally I had my eyes and ears open - though not just for birds as I had to walk through one of the more, er, interesting neighbourhoods in my Patch. Birding-wise, there's not a huge amount of prospect to it, a [sub]urban area with a few trees and bushes, a bit of rather muddy and over-dogged grass, plenty of tarmac [tatty] and concrete [stained]. Lots of rooftops, though.

The housing in my Patch is very much divided into haves and have-nots. The haves have nice big gardens with trees and bushes full of promise, the have-nots have rooftops and maybe a little bushy garden in place of the far-too-frequent decking. You might get a Blackstart on a roof. Not to say Blackstarts aren't interesting, they're wonderful, but you get the comparison.

What did I see today? Well, there are the ubiquitous Herring Gulls - a nice 1w with a very Iceland-y shape and colour to it [spoiled by the head and bill, it was just a Herring] - plus a few others, mostly messing about in the wind. Magpies, too. Lots of them about, they're doing very well here, have been for a couple of years now. Crows, too, though fewer than Magpies where I was. A Grey Wagtail was a little unexpected [though shouldn't really be any more] and very welcome, Pied Wagtails more expected. This urban Grey Wagtail thing - is it just here or are they in towns a lot? Its a year-round thing; they breed in central Torquay, for goodness' sake... Could it be that as they're 'supposed' to like the rocky sides of rivers and streams, houses with gutters are good enough? Is it a case of ongoing adaptation? Have you seen Grey Wagtails in built-up areas? Answers on a postcard, please.

Anyway.. Feral Pigeons lurking on roof corners and that was it. No other small passerines, not even a Sparrow. Too windy, really. It was just a quick trip out, though, so not too surprising. On a longer trip.. well, if I get over 15 species I'm usually doing well [or getting into the areas the last government seemed to think everyone lives in down here...].

Of course, because nothing in birding is black and white [well, Black and White Warblers aside]; last winter.. this was where the Waxwings were. :D

21 November, 2011

Another Boring Post

About where I went and what I saw.....

One day I will get back to amusingly deranged rants and other interesting things, promise!

Saturday did not see me zooming up to Chew after the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, as I had work going on. Arg. I might have been able to twitch it straight from, but considering the amount of daylight left, I didn't think it really viable. I know, what's the rule?

Instead I stayed on my poor underwatched Patch, and resolved to at the very least bash the Harbour gulls senseless. This turned out to be a problem, as some helpful person had covered their pontoon in fireworks, and there wasn't a single larid present... To make matters worse, someone with a very loud PA who thought he was the reincarnation of Freddy Mercury was rending the air. Oh, my poor ears.......

Even right out on Haldon Pier it was intolerably loud, but there were at least some nice birds on the Real Living Coast to distract me. The Purple Sandpipers are back for the winter - I counted 5 hiding among the 'granite' chunks; there will be more - and an impressive 11 Turnstone, too, plus a couple of Rockits. Scanning the Bay brought a Slavonian Grebe off Livermead, at least 3 Great-crested, and a distant Black-necked. A Grey Wagtail in town was by now expected and did not disappoint, though the call was hard to hear over the cacophany of 'music' going on. I don't know what sort of event it was, I'd heard nothing about it [or I wouldn't have been there..]. I really ought to stop going on about it.

Also on Saturday, our first Blackcap of the winter - a female.

Sunday dawned, well sort of bright and cheerful. I'd decided to go for the Sharp-tail if it was there [trying to be good and so on...] but there would be no burning petrol on spec. Finding news proved problematic. A certain telephone news service recycled all of the previous day's news and didn't even mention the mega-rarity in their area, despite a report being out [which I missed, due to the 3-post rule and Black Redstarts being so noteworthy]. Last time I call them. Eventually, a begging post on a Certain Online Forum About Birds resulted in someone taking pity on me. May they find the next first for Britain.

One Wacky Race later...

Distant but distinctive, I think that's the best way to put it. The Big Scope with its 75x did its duty, indeed several birders near me abandoned theirs to look through mine. [I'm not smug, really I'm not. Satisfied. Pleased. Ok, maybe a little bit too happy. Its just nice to have my choice of a straight-through with a big eyepiece pay off. :) ] The intervening Willow trees and reeds did make things tricky, as did the STS's habit of wandering out of sight. Also, in the first hour or so, the Lapwings were very nervy and kept flushing, taking the small waders with them. The STS could be easily picked in flight - it looked very Ruff-y - which was nice and helped refinding it quickly. On the ground, when the sun shone [albeit briefly] it was as gorgeous as you'd expect a juvenile to be.

Also present were at least 12 Snipe, a smart Little Stint*, and up to 34 Dunlin. Off to one side, 2 Bewick's Swans were nice, and the Spotted Sand over the road showed twice while I was there. I couldn't find the Dowitchers, despite scanning all the mud visible from the length of the bridge. Oh well. Nor did I see any Ring-billed Gulls among the Commons and LBBs ::Shrugs::

As the Sharp had by this point decided to hide for a while, I moved on to make a gradual trip back. First stop being Catcott Lows, where there were 2 more Bewick's! I spent an hour counting ducks [A sample; 57 Pintail, 36 Shoveler, ~500 Wigeon] and Lapwings [~1800] and watching flocks of Starlings assembling. The biggest being ~3500. Alas, the mist/haze prevented any long-range views of any display. I did get a Snipe display, when a passing Buzzard put up 81 of them. A lone Oystercatcher dropped in, and there were groups of winter thrushes knocking about, too. It was very very nice there, with low sunlight catching the birds, and the Lapwing coming very close to the hide. Naturally, I hadn't taken the camera this time...

On then to Greylake, hoping for a SEO or 5. [Why not 'the' place? Big detour needed, and time pressing]] I got there a touch later then I would have liked, with everyone else just leaving and reporting not much activity, raptor-wise, but I pressed on regardless. It was pretty much a bust, there were Snipe and Wigeon, and a Woodcock flew over me, but no sign of any owls or anything else on the reserve. I nipped over the road and scanned that side, and in the distance there was an eared owl which looked to be hunting, but I couldn't get anything on it. Drat. But worth a try.

[[*EDIT: As has been later proved, there was a Semi-palmated Sandpiper present up to the 20th, and I saw it and assumed it was the Little Stint, which, by the way, I remain sure there was. I saw, in the better light when I arrived, a clear juv. LS. I assumed the grey thing later on [after the waders had flushed repeatedly and when the light had become so annoying] was the same bird. It wasn't. Oh well.]]

18 November, 2011

Shameless Twitching

As I said I would yesterday, I went swanning off to the Backwater to have a go for the Temminck's Stint. It was surprisingly quiet when I arrived at Black Hole [being good and not parking at Colyford, oh what a Saint I am...] - only one car. A couple of people were in the Tower, but I didn't detour on my way, via the path [which has neatly kept the squishiest bit gravel and boardwalk free - nice touch.] to Colyford Common. There I found a couple of birders, who hadn't seen the Stint, but weren't giving up just yet. After we gave everything on the scrape a thorough grilling, they decided to try the platform, to get a different angle and to look for the Water Pipit that had been knocking around. Maybe 5 minutes after that, the Lapwing went up, taking with them a few Starlings and a tiny wader with very white rump and tail sides and a delicate bill. It and a group of the Lapwing headed downriver and I lost them when they went behind a partition and I moved to try to get back on them. Yes, the unreliable and unbelieved bloke who says he saw it in flight at 0905 is me. I would have loved for it to reappear on the deck and show off its legs and so on, but you take what you're given.

A lot of other birders started to arrive, and the hide became well-appointed with eyes. Lapwing came and flushed, joined by up to 12 Dunlin, 46 Curlew and at least one Blackwit. A little before 11, [Devon Birder] found a Spotshank, which had gone undetected by all observers since first thing, due to not being on the scrape, but in the maze of channels and wet bits behind it. The Dunlin in particular managed to get in and out [flying, mostly!] without up to 7 pairs of eyes noticing, so a small sneaky Stint would have had no problem, if it wanted to, in coming and going undetected.

I was resolved to stay put, as Better Views were most definitely Desired. The Stint, it seemed, had other ideas. My high count of 517 Lapwing indicates that, as the flock is definitely 700 or more, there were always Lapwing elsewhere. In front of the Tower, in the wet bits behind the scrape, in the fields on the far bank of the river... The sneaking suspicion that it had gone down to near the Tower kept nagging at me, and I decided to head down to have a thorough search after I'd had a bite to eat. [I'd been on the verge of leaving for Black Hole earlier, when the Dunlin's first arrival had stopped me].

However. Things changed suddenly not long after the Spotshank was found, when [Devon Birder] got a call about what had been found at Mansands. He and [Devon Birder] took off at something approaching Mach 3. I'd just taken my first bite of flapjack, with a fresh cup of coffee poured [[Coffee always calls the birds!!]]. I thought hard and yes, very fast. I'd given it nigh on 3 hours, I had seen the bird, it clearly wasn't feeling co-operative. Black-eared Wheatear [as it was then] would be very nice...

Mach 3? More like Warp Speed.....

I surprised myself by finding it without getting lost, despite only having been there via Coast Path and only seeing the road required on a map. Which I didn't have with me. Its a long way down to the coastguard cottages from the car park. A long, slippy, cobbly way. "Its not a Black-eared, its a Desert" and "Its a male" were two useful bits of info I acquired on the descent, from others climbing up. I was undeterred and still happy - 'even' a Desert Wheatear was a Lifer, after all! [[Tart!]] The assembled throng [well, never getting into double figures, but still not bad for a weekday at short notice] included many of Devon's Finest, and the craic was merry indeed.

Especially when I enlightened them on who the 'some bloke said he saw it in flight' was. Oh, the looks on their faces... Worth the yomp back up the hill alone, that :D *

But the Star of The Show could not be denied. Once again a vagrant Wheatear sits up on a roof and catches flies, while wowing all present. Utterly utterly gorgeous bird. Go look at the photos. If its still there when you read this, go look at the bird! I had, for some reason that made sense to someone who'd been up all night, taken my camera and the New Big Lens, so I couldn't resist sticking it on my tripod and trying some shots. When I get the film developed, if any come out, I'll come back and stick one or two on here [[This is likely to be next year, by the way - cost of film and processing means I take shots verrrrry sparingly...]]. My ancient setup attracted quite a bit of interest among the group - mostly disbelief that anyone could be so behind the times, I think! ;) I like using film, it makes things difficult, yes, its cost me greatly in the past, oh so true, it costs a fortune all the time, undoubtedly. But when it comes off, when you get the prints back and something's worked, oh the joy. Its the Patch birding of photography.

[[* It should be pointed out to those who aren't from Devon that I am a Notorious Stringer and Generally Unreliable Observer]]
[[Yes, really. Came as a surprise to me, as well.]]

17 November, 2011


What other title could I use for my 300th post?


So, what news do I have to impart? Well, not much really. No invasions of Starlings even, let alone flyover Cranes [though something set the gulls off strongly enough to wake me from my slumber at about 2-15 this afternoon. I didn't see what, despite giving anyone looking towards my windows a horrible shock....] [[Yeah, you really needed to know that, didn't you?]] There have been a few Greenfinches and Sparrows and Blue Tits in the Garden, plus the usual Herrings, Crows, Jackdaws, Magpies, Wood- and Feral Pigs flying about. The odd [more local] Starling. A few Redwing over calling after dark, 'tis true. Pied Wags. Nothing spectacular. Still no owls on the commute..

Why the post? 'Temminck's Stint on Colyford Common'. Oh, that brings back a painful lesson. The last time this happened, I was working the 4-shift at the merry 'vox, and I uttered the fateful words; "It's clearly hanging around, it'll still be there tomorrow" to myself as I decided not to twitch it straight from work. Ouch. [[So, the lesson; For a filthy twitcher, Hubris equals death dipping.]]

Reading about it and seeing those lovely pictures today - when it was just too late to get there before dark - I must admit I wailed a little. I know they're not the most spectacular of birds, I've dipped far better and hunger for need much prettier [[Bee-eater, anyone?]], but Temminck's Stint is one of the personal ones. Will it stay? I don't usually call my twitches, but you know where I'll be tomorrow...

But wait, there's more! Time for a burble - I keep coming up with great ideas for these while I'm away from my computer. [Inevitably]. At work, driving, limping around Exminster...
Speaking of, and very quickly, I think I've said all that needs to be said on the subject of Red-breasted Geese on here before. But that won't stop me from re-saying it;
Is the Exe bird the one that was at Stanpit? If so, does that mean its actually wild? I say it doesn't make a damn bit of difference. Its a 1w, with no rings or signs of captivity, acting just like a wild Red-breasted Goose would. If its not kosher, then none of them are. Anywhere. End of.

Time for a bit on gulls.
[[Run now, while you can...]]
Thayer's Gull in Scotland? Or not? Ah, the joys of large gulls. Reading the thread on [Famous Online Forum About Birds], I cannot help but wonder at the use of 'typical' and 'pure' and so on... With big gulls there is no such thing. Show me a typical Herring Gull, please! Not just gulls, either, so many 'species' of birds can interbreed, that I do wonder why the term is still in use. I suppose its laziness convenience; the term 'the person on the street' understands.
But that's a digression [[What's stopping you? I hear you cry.. ;) ]]]. Gulls vary. No two are completely identical, so saying "Oh, we can't put Thayer's on the British List until a perfect one shows up to prove they can get here" is, well, insert your favourite invective here, boys and girls. Because once such a bird does appear, with enough photos to make the online snarkers relevent committees happy, magically, not-quite-so-good birds will be suddenly ok. I know, I shouldn't be going on about this, it doesn't make any difference to me personally how they play their little games, but.... well, what are blogs for if not to exercise the odd rant? [[Oh, I've been through that before as well, haven't I?]]

Let me finish on a much more positive, birdy note; aren't Snow Buntings wonderful? I for one don't get sick of seeing them.

14 November, 2011

Fun With the Family

Yesterday morning I had a bit of a go at the Patch, but didn't range far as my tendon isn't any better [suppose all this walking on it isn't really helping, is it?]. No birds of note out and about, with the most interest coming from the Garden, where at least 5 Greenfinch [including at least 3 1w] have started up on the sunflower seeds :). We also had an invasion of Starlings! A good 300-strong flock descended repeatedly [though only about 50 could fit in at a time] - giving the palm seeds a severe hammering. They did seem to spill as many as they ate, though, and made quite a mess, the little gits. Seeing them at point-blank range through the back window made up for it; what birds they are! Not at all how they look in most books, you can understand how they can be mistaken for Nutcrackers when they're in their autumn finery.

After all that nonsense, the rare event of a Family Walk called! With the Sisters having decided they want to be involved in more family wandering, an afternoon had been arranged.

Haldon Forest was grey, misty and windy, but the going was reasonable and though a fair pace was set [a mix of keen dog and cold sisters, I feel] I still managed to find some birds. They were all together! A huge band of well over 30; mixed tits, 'crests and finches, plus others. At least 6 and probably 12 or more Redpoll immediately caught the ear and then [when they cold be got on] the eye. Several Chaffinches were accompanied by at least one Brambling [a female]. No sound of Firecrest or warblers among the tits [mostly Blue and Coal] and Goldcrests, but 2 Nuthatches were very vocal, and there was at least one Treeeecreeeeeeper, too. I was very happy. And very left behind... Philistines.

Finishing the loop, it was decided to go somewhere else, as there was still plenty of light left. Mamhead was surprisingly busy for the dingy weather, and the birds were more elusive, with heard-only Siskin and Bullfinches being the best of them. There were a lot of interesting-looking fungi around; having looked them up I think pretty much all of them are poisonous, which is probably why they were still there! Mum's very keen on mushrooms, and always has her eye out for Chanterelles, but no joy this time.

Haldon Forest's a very pretty little bit of woodland, spoilt only by the incessant traffic noise. Oh, and all the dog mines of course.. Both places were rather atmospheric in the reduced visibility, the wet bringing out the colour in the fallen leaves very well, and softening the often stark lines of the plantations. Tilly had her usual whale of a time, including getting tangled up on two saplings overhanging a water-filled ditch - leaving her dangling. Muggins here had to get her loose [which involved straddling said ditch while keeping hold of soggy doggy, taking her extendo-lead off, freeing it and re-attaching it without letting her escape - lots of fun] [[I really hope Sister didn't video it, I haven't dared check youtube...]], though I did nearly have a laugh when a patch of clay-rich mud almost led to Tilly dragging Other Sister off down the track on her backside...

It was a very pleasant afternoon, though I can't help thinking about Red-breasted Mergansers again.. [[Tut tut.]] Oh well, work beckons!