28 June, 2011

Southern Sunshine

Tuesday again, not a single post over the weekend to tell you what I've been up to, oh dear oh dear oh dear....

Mostly I have been working.


Indeed, it was only on Sunday when stuff of a non-work nature was done.

::Double gasp::

'Gungy mist around the coast, blazing sunshine inland, light SE winds' said the forecast. Well, right except for one particular word...

I talked the parents into going looking for damselflies - specifically Southern, Scarce Blue-tailed and Small Red - as it was going to be too hot for a proper walk and Tilly wouldn't put up with sitting around somewhere with shade and a view [when she could be barking at anything that moved or that she thought might move if she barked at it enough.... She's a sweet little dog, but she bores easily when out. At home she'll lie in the sun for hours. Yes, a sweet little dog and nuttier than a tree full of fruitbats.].

We'd been to Prewley Moor once before, seeking an alternative way up towards Great Links Tor, though this was in winter [ish] when the impressive bogs with their deep little runnels were at their gribbliest. Also we missed the big obvious path [its a family tradition]. This time, though still interestingly boggy, it wasn't quite such interesting going. Prewley is on the BDS website for the three damsels above, and the habitat there is certainly very good-looking for them. Unfortunately, at this point we get to the one word the weather gits got very very wrong. Can you guess what it was?

'Light'. 6mph was shown on the map, I remember quite clearly. Force 6 was closer to the reality. Hats were being blown off, and as for damselflies, well, apart from a bit near the road where there was some shelter, they were all cowering out of sight... That bit was a pretty good bit though, with Southern Damselflies present in numbers, showing well enough to get me to try a photo or two and to try to sound all knowledgeable as I explained the difference between male Southern and Azure [we found a single Azure to be a comparison]. Fortunately, a couple posed really nicely. Mum and Dad got on a male Small Red, but I was too slow getting over to them and it went with the wind. More obliging was an immature male Golden-ringed Dragonfly, which gave us two very close examinations as we sat having lunch, at one point hovering a foot behind Dad's head! [Later, I saw a House Sparrow trying to catch what was probably the same Golden-ringed - the dragon evading the sparrow with contemptuous ease]

Large Red Damselflies were also around, with a few Black-tailed Skimmers and what might have been a Keeled [too quick, though]. It was family groups of birds that stood out - Wheatears, [of course!] with three juveniles in a row on a rock looking adorable, a party of Mistle Thrushes flying over and a whole heap of juvenile Pied Wagtails by the waterworks. Tilbury had a whole heap of fun as there were sheep everywhere. Oh dear. She also did her best to help find damselflies by jumping into all the muddiest bits she could, ending up a little black and brown dog. She was happy anyway.

Wandering up onto Sourton Tor, we admired the view ranging from Brent Tor to Exmoor - no kites, let alone storks hove into view, needless to say - with the usual superlatives coming to mind. The wind coming off the Moor meant that for once there was no drone of traffic [though the wind tried its best] to intrude upon the moment. Sourton is one of the 'other' Tors, not granite but marine volcanic and sedimentary rocks [albeit thermally metamorphosed by the adjacent batholith], giving it a unique character. Spikier outcrops in two huge steps rise out of the bracken, clad in lush grasses and flowers not gorse and heather. Its a little out of the way, despite being on the very edge of the Moor and whichever way you approach, there's always more of it than you expect - its a roomy place.

Finally, yesterday I got a surprise when I arrived home from work and sat down here - a Small Tortoiseshell had found its way in and was resting on the wall just over there. ::Points:: When the rain stopped I let it out, though it was a little unwilling 'What? Go out? It might rain again!'

PS I don't know about 'everyone' talking about it - I had no idea until I heard it on the local news - but we had a tsunami yesterday here in the south west! Only about 8" high, it seems, but I'm most vexed to have missed it and I may have more to say on the subject. May. You have been warned.. ;)

21 June, 2011

Green Yellow and Red

The texture of the sea changed first. A moment later the grey cloud obscuring the pine-clad ridge east of Sidmouth went white. It was several minutes later that a gap, a crack in the clouds, revealed the blazing carmine disc of the Sun for brief seconds. By the time true sunshine arrived, the Sun was over Golden Cap.

A more usual Solstice Sunrise at Hope's Nose this morning, it makes last year's blessing all the more special, I think. After sunrise, I gave the sea an hour's watching before dragging myself off to work, with an impressive 602 Manxies heading past south - many very close in - with 83 north. Star bird was a Patch Tick in the form of an early Greenshank past before sunrise, with honours to a nice Puffin at 0524. They were accompanied by a mere 14 Kitts and 56S / 9N Gannets as the rest of the recorded passage [Fulmars and auks weren't counted, as I hadn't taken my clickers and had my hands full with the Manxies!].

Father's Day meant the Traditional Family Picnic, this time taking place at a hillfort. I'm going to be very rude and selfish and not say which one, because it was lovely and quiet and Tilly-friendly and I'd like it to stay that way. Plus there were Yellowhammers nesting in a slightly unwise place, so the less disturbance the better.

I know, I'm a git.

We didn't see any spectacular birds, just had a nice relaxing time [ticks aside..]. Sister had made a mocha/clotted cream/raspberry cake, which was quite obscenely good and the sun even came out for us. While the others snoozed, I kept scanning for Red Kites and Black Storks [well, you never know...] but saw only the odd Buzzard as the Skylarks serenaded us...

PYL: 126

18 June, 2011

A Very Familiar Feeling

Dipping Ring-necked Duck, that is. But before we get to that...

Today I went up to zumerzet [ok, technically it's several different things now, but do I look bovvered?] to have a go at the Blue-winged Teal which has so kindly shown up close enough for me to get at it. A brisk wind working on a general theme of westerly drove through the kind of viciously squally thunder showers that made a seawatcher like me think hard about abandoning this twitching nonsense and heading for the nearest peninsula...

But I maintained my aim and, despite getting thoroughly rained on a couple of times, I got a very nice view of our little yankee friend, plus the 3 drake Garganey she was tarting about with. While there I met [Former Backwater Birder], which was great. We had sort of met before at various birds, but had never had a proper conversation. With the Teal asleep and thunder in the air, I retired to the BK hide to have a bite to eat and see if any terns would appear. They didn't, but the Swifts put on a fair show in their place.

Being in that part of the world, it would have been rude not to stop by the Levels, where I ran into [Famous Somerset Birder] and we were treated to a cracking show from a Bittern that must have hit it's head. It clearly thought it was invisible as it sat out in the open by a channel and caught teeny fish for a good 10 minutes.... :D Earlier, a male Marsh Harrier gave a short but sweet flypast and later, the frelling R-N Duck gave everyone the slip.. Prior to scoring at Cheddar and Roadford, I'd dipped Ring-necks far too often - I'd forgotten how much I dislike those damn duckth....

Even so, it was a good day.

17 June, 2011

Another Go

One of the perks of the new job is the early finish on Fridays. This can lead to either easy overtime, or scarpering for a quick bit of birding. Can you guess which it was today?

Yup, with the 'forecasting the wind'-type websites promising something interesting coming through between 3 and 4 or so, I nipped home for a quick bite then hot-footed it down to Hope's Nose, where I have to say I was a little surprised to see only a scattering of fishermen. One of them was still there when I left! [He was catching stuff, too]

Starting watching at 1415, I gave it 2 and a half hours - it was going to be 2, but a cracking Dark morph Arctic Skua came cruising by close in, so I stayed on a bit longer in case there were any more. Real sinister bird, this one, super black, with only a hint of flashes. Cracker! Oops, distracted by skua... Yes, so the front came through with a noticeable kick to the wind and a big hit of rain a little before 3-00. Most of the passage occurred before then [except Gannets and Kittiwakes, which almost entirely came through after] including all the goodies except said skua.

In many ways it was a rerun of Sunday, only with more rain and a steadier wind - letting me use the bumbleshoot, much to my relief! Star bird was almost an exact rerun of what was nearly the star of Sunday; only a frickin' Sabine's Gull!


Early on Sunday I had picked up a very interesting gull going past, nice flight action and lovely white triangles, but it was out in the murk and already going away so that I couldn't get either the head view or silhouette I needed to clinch it. Frustration! Today almost a repeat of that - this bird was a bit closer, though and I could clearly see no black in the tail [ :) ], but still.... Then it shifted course just a little and there was the hood. Ding-ding-ding-jackpot! Whether it was the full hood of an adult or the partial of a 1s I couldn't say, but a Sabine's is a Sabine's.

At the same time as the Sabs was going by, so were the middle two of no less than 4 adult Med Gulls which passed south. All nice and close, one hung around for a bit - gorgeous! Also on the gull theme, a lone adult BHG, right as I was leaving. A single Stormy came motoring through quite close in but it didn't even look like pausing. For shears I had 2 Balearic and 169 Manx south, with 20 Manxies heading north. Gannets and Kittiwakes picked up after the front passed, but never reached serious numbers.

PYL: 125

16 June, 2011

Midweek Anecdote.

The fun on Scilly reminded me of an incident on Sunday, which I neglected to include in my post [well, not exactly short as it is...]. Its now Thursday and I've finally got around to posting it...

So, there we are, [Famous Devon Birder] and I, sitting at the Nose, when I pick up something big, dark and Gannety. Its a Gannet. A very dark one. Flying south, a little differently from the others, more resolutely going its own way and ignoring the weather - no shearing or messing about here, it's even a little above the horizon! Wow indeed, I hear you think. Only this Gannet is dark. All dark. Like a frickin' juvenile.

'WTF' thinks I. "I've got a very dark Gannet here, it looks like a juvenile, but it can't be; it's far too early" says I. Now, I'm sure some of you are thinking things at this point, and wondering when the 'B' word is going to appear, but I can honestly say the thought barely registered - it had that young Gannet's Booby-like face thing going, but I did not for a second think it was anything other than a Gannet. After a brief discussion, we agreed that it must be a very retarded 1s Gannet*. I remembered something I blogged last year and made a mental note to repeat it...

Gannets; Buzzards of the sea!

[*A 1s Gannet should, of course, look just like a ginormous Great Shearwater...]

Finally, I think its worth saying that there was a noticeable shift in the age distribution of Gannets since the last time I seawatched [was it Beesands?]. Earlier this year the Gannets were almost entirely adult, on Sunday there were many more immature birds; a few 1s with lots of 2s and 3s.

[[[Ok, yes, I must confess that, since the Scilly Affair came to my attention, I have had a look at 1s Brown Booby and gone "Oh, that's interesting..". It was still a Gannet, though.]]]

12 June, 2011

Trippin' In The Rain

Oh boy oh boy oh boy, what a day!


Tried to get up early this morning and almost succeeded, starting my seawatch at the Nose at a vaguely respectable 0640 [What does the 0 stand for? Oh, I wish I'd been here an hour ago....]. Straight up without even looking through the scope, first good bird was a Bonxie in with the gulls at the end of the Nose - looked like a young one, 1s maybe. Cracking start, though the blustery wind [in a particularly evil mood today, with gusts from 2 directions other than the way it was blowing] put paid to my attempts to use my bumbleshoot, leaving me in day-long rain. I now know I definitely need to re-proof my jacket and get new boots..

I may have been cold and soggy, but I lasted until 3-00 and though the birds dried up now and again [oddly out of synch with the few easings in the rainfall] there was plenty to keep me happy! Not just me, either, as [Famous Devon Birder] and [Famous Devon Birder, plus dog] joined me for 4 and 1 1/2 hours respectively. One hardy fisherman was present when I arrived [looking like he'd camped, the naughty boy] and quite a few more joined him over the course of the day, some even lasting more than an hour as the seas mounted with the wind and the rising tide..

The sea itself was a real spectacle, with white water breaking 30' into the air [before being smashed down by the fiercely gusting wind that sent sheets of spray whipping across the bare rocks in front of me - wow it was good] - which was high enough to block my view completely! The rain and the spray whizzing past made the visibility pretty iffy at times, despite the Ore Stone always being this side of the murk line and combined with the impressive swell it made for some tricky times finding and then staying on birds - only one Stormy was seen by both present, for example. [[Ok, this may have something to do with me and my near-legendary inability to get onto birds, no matter how good the directions are... {Ahem.} ]]

What was that? 'Get on with it and tell us what you saw!'?

Star bird was definitely the light morph Pom Skua, which got in with the gulls off the end of the Nose and showed quite cripplingly as it went by. It had immaculate spoons, but not on very long handles, and the hint of paleness under the wing, set against its overall duskiness made me think 4s. But this is perhaps overanalysing a glorious bird. Said Skua was not alone in its quality, though. 2 more Bonxies and 4 Arctic Skuas passed south, a couple of the Arctics also giving very close flypasts, all appearing to be either adult or close to it. A Sooty Shearwater zipped through at 0809 - well out and making irritating use of troughs and other birds to give [Famous Devon Birder] no more than the briefest of glimpses. Manxies ebbed and flowed all day, with several groups stopping to feed to the north of the Nose, building up some big numbers [largest single flock was 97 birds] before they moved on en masse - a final total of 1170. 3 Balearics also came by, picking their times well so that only I saw them - the last one tarted by inside the lead Stone minutes before [famous Devon Birder] arrived. [Dratted bird.] [It was gorgeous, though..]

Storm Petrels started slowly, before suddenly kicking up after 1400; with 6 in the last hour that I was there compared with 7 others [of which I got on 4] in the more than 7 hours before then. Perhaps more a reflection of their coming closer to the slick from the outfall than a change in passage? Certainly none had been seen to come onto the main part of the slick before then. 7 Common Terns, 14 Common Scoter [in two groups], a 2s Med Gull [lingering in the outfall] and 2 Puffins [which flew in from the north and settled quite close inshore] were the best of the rest. I counted 310 Gannets south, with auks [mostly Guilles, but a few Razorbills mixed in] and Kittiwakes* uncounted but in the hundreds and at least 2 adult LBBs in the area [though there may have been a light passage instead - I'd occasionally find one or two around the Ore Stone among the Herrings and Geebs, so there might have been an unseen turnover].

[* The first Kittiwake didn't come by for some time, and by then I'd committed my second clicker to Manxies {Good thing too!} - it was far too wet to tally count them, and they eventually came too fast for it to have been accurate if I'd tried..]
[[As it was, my notebook got very soggy and looks like it'll take a fair while to dry out. I need to find a small professional survey notebook for the next one.]]

Its a treat to get such a juicy complex low coming in on the right track on a weekend, now I'm back in work. All those variables that need to coincide, 'tis a veritable wonder.

PYL: 124

11 June, 2011

Lazy Hypocritical Birding

But before I get on to that, I have very good news from the Patch! As I was doing stuff instead of going on a Wild Thrush Hunt, I had the chance to have a good check around the Patch and have found to my delight that there are at least 7 pairs of House Martins present this year! It may be small fry in the greater scheme of things, but compared to the usual 4 ±1 we get in our little colony, I'm chuffed. This is also a minimum figure, so you never know. It does have to be said that all this dry weather has had an effect on nest-building, with their efforts mostly looking more like those of Swallows [though they have found some well sheltered spots, so maybe it's going to be ok, and it is wetter now].

Ok, to the title bit;
I didn't go off to the west side of t'Moor looking to see if the BRT was there or not. Why did I cop out? Well, though I have had Real Life Stuff to do, I would have gone anyway except for two inconvenient facts; the Army are firing on Willsworthy today - which is right next to the site in question and over a nice damselfly site by it - and the weather's a bit iffy for said damsels. If it had been only one, I'd have gone 'Ah, to hell with the Army' or 'Ah, to hell with the weather'. Yes, if it had been seen this Thursday rather than Thursday week, that would have helped too. And petrol costs a fortune.

I will be heading up that way [maybe not tomorrow, mind...] some time this month, weather allowing, and I'll be keeping a careful eye out, to be sure. Who knows?

End on a happy note;
Oh, those House Martins are wonderful! So neat and dapper when perched, such a cheerful call, and that flight action that falls nicely between Swift and Swallow. It's good to see them, fair lifts the step, it does.

08 June, 2011

Overdue Nonsense.

How time flies when you're not paying attention...

Ok, first up - had a mooch around Fernworthy on Sunday. Always a pleasure and there's the chance of a Kite, right? Or not. But a female Redstart was uncharacteristically showy [though that is 'for a Redstart'] and a Tripit and a couple of Willow Warblers really took the cake for coming right up to you.. :) Nothing spectacular, it was nice [apart from finding that those nice people at SWLT have decided to put a @%&§&@£$%^§* parking meter in the car park], and quieter than I expected - always a bonus on a weekend.

[[*Ancient Devonian Swear-words, which I am not allowed to translate.]]

[[But why, why make people pay to park in the car park; it doesn't work on the Moor, there are too many other places to park. Even the NPA aren't stupid enough to try it. And don't get me started on their excuse of 'paying for upkeep of the facilities', when they are some very manky loos that are shut for most of the year because they haven't lagged the pipes!]]


Right, on to the other thing. Yup, time to be naughty...

'Report of male Blue Rock Thrush on Dartmoor' perhaps needs the addendum of '.. receives no interest at all, it seems.' Its a real pity this didn't come out on, say, the 2nd, as I would have been able to go and have a look. [And you'd better believe I would.] Work being in the way, I can only twiddle the thumbs and wonder.

So here goes.
One, someone sees a funny-looking bird while out walking. Thinks "What's that?". Looks it up, thinks "Oooh, I should tell someone about this." Does so.
Two, someone sees a funny-looking bird while out walking, which due to various factors looks like something else. Bird is looked up and identified as said something else, then reported as such.
Three, someone thinks "Hmm, that Rock Bunting nonsense caused a lot of fuss. I have an unspecified reason to think up a suitably interesting bird and report it right after the weekend"
There's also Four, very rare bird is misidentified as another due to being in a not generally described plumage. [This courtesy of a clever poster on [Online Forum Of A Bird-related Nature]]

Being the person I am, I tend to take people at their word unless I have reason to do otherwise. This may be hopelessly naive, or just old-fashioned of me, but hey. So, perhaps the best way to put it is that I choose to believe that whoever saw this Blue Rock Thrush is genuine in their belief. A male BRT is not an easy bird to mistake, though a slender bluish grey thrush with a black tail [That description from memory] might be something else if seen briefly in strong sunlight without the aid of the expensive optics those of us daft enough to whack out for them can take a little for granted. A Blackbird, or a White-throated Robin [ ;) ], or, for that matter, what about a Blackstart? [ ;) !!]

Joking aside, there seems to me to be an unduly large amount of cynicism going around. Yes, people hoax birds for various reasons and everyone makes mistakes [I'm very good at it, just ask anyone unlucky enough to have sat next to me at a seawatch....], but the truth is that anyone can find anything. All that is required is to look the right way at the right time. Be you experienced birders seawatching in Kent, or a regular normal person looking at his birdtable in Shropshire, or a naturalist on his local patch in Yorkshire... Look. See. Wonder; "What the funk is that??!??"

Did anyone check?

Answers, as always, on a postcard.

Jackdaw at work today. Result. :)

04 June, 2011

No Fair!

Red Kites everywhere it seems, except here! 46 and a Black in Cornwall, over Brixham, over Dartmoor, over the Exe [with a Red-rumped...] but not on my Patch, despite all my looking today....

I'm going to lodge a formal complaint.

Ok, whinge over...

Patch had the expected breeding residents plus a few Gannets tootling about offshore, another nest box in the Garden appears to be being prepped for use by yet another pair of Sparrows - this should be fun. The Swifts have been hunting fairly low today, though now it's dark instead of their screams we have the sound of the chavs on their scooters instead.

Finally, the burning question... Will it rain?

03 June, 2011

Red Army

Looks like someone was paying attention to all my moaning about the weather! :) Two days of blazing sunshine have seen me off odonata-chasing, with.. well, mixed results. Yesterday I went on a double-header after Scarce Chaser and Southern Damselfly and today I was up on't Moor looking for Small Red, Scarce Blue-tailed, Southern* or whatever I could find!

[[*Yes, I know, but if you don't look...]]

Exminster was very toasty - at least when the sun wasn't behind a cloud - but despite the heat and light wind, the dragons seemed not to be up to much. I did find a Scarce Chaser right away, as an immature passed by, but then things dried up. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as I discovered that the lovely pair of ditches where I'd scored last year have been blocked [I assume as part of the ongoing program to make the marsh better for breeding waders] and are now mud. Nice job, there. [[Yes, I know it's important and all that, but Scarce Chasers are not exactly common, and while there are more ditches, they aren't where the public can get at them!]] [[Not that I'm annoyed or anything.]]. Things were not all doom and gloom, however, as the birds - especially a couple of super-showy Sedge Warblers - performed very well indeed. Lots of Azure and Large Red Damselflies, with the usual Red-eyeds on the canal and a few Common Blue and Blue-taileds with a single Emperor and a couple of Hairy Hawkers were pretty much as expected. Late on, I got a surprise on the odonata front, when I was amazed to see a male Scarce Chaser by the canal. Not really the supposed habitat, but maybe he didn't have a choice.

Heading on the the East Devon Commons for the hottest part of the day, I had fair hopes of some good views of Southern Damselflies. That should have been the warning, right there. Yup, not a sniff. It started gloriously, with a stonking Golden-ringed Dragonfly right in the car park [My, er, exuberant reaction may have unnerved an elderly couple having a cuppa in their car... Oops.] Tons of Azures and Large Reds, with a few Common Blues and Blue-taileds, but no Southerns that I could see. This may be due to me being useless, of course, or [more likely] that, like the Scarce Blue-taileds, they're just not about yet. Lovely views of Broad-bodied Chasers, though, and my first Black-tailed Skimmer of the year. On the bird front, adorable baby Stonechats and a Cuckoo, but not a hint of a Dartford.. :( It was quite nice - certainly [dipping Southern aside] better than I expected, with the wog dalkers staying close to the roads I only had a few of Her Majesty's Finest for company. Even better, I only got attacked by Horseflies twice, and fended both off without getting bitten :D. I'll give it a week or three and, when [if....] the weather allows I'll try again. [[Yeah, that's right you little blue gits - I'll be back!]]

Today I went and had a mooch around the boggy bits of Vitifer, where, as the title suggests, there were many things Red. Mostly these were Large Red Damselflies, which were everywhere and looking very smart in the sunshine, I have to say. I also got a nice teneral female Small Red Damselfly and a surprise Red Grouse while following a sheep track to a boggy bit that shall remain in an unspecified area. As ever with grouse, it was debatable who was more surprised, though at least this time I didn't turn a corner in a peat pass and flush a pair from right next to my head [[That makes you jump..]]. Whinchats were plentiful and showy, and a total of 3 singing Cuckoos was pretty good for one valley. [[Those Cuckoos were sneaky, only 2 ever sang at once, and if I wasn't staring right at one while the other two were dueting, I'd have been fooled.]]

Twas not all joy and Redness; a blue damselfly spp. [yes, one single one - only one all day] managed to evade me and despite a fair bit of good-looking habitat, there was nothing else scarce. More Broad-bodied Chasers and a few quite confiding Keeled Skimmers did make me regret trading the paparazzi setup for the li'l scope - but of course if I had, then a Kite or a frickin' Pallid Swift would have gone over. You rolls the dice and so on...

01 June, 2011

Ah, There You Are!

It just gets worse and worse, doesn't it? I don't know, he gets himself a job and the blog goes out the window, never mind his poor devoted readers...

In my defence, I managed to damage myself [[::Cue the violins..::]] and, while it hasn't stopped me working [I'm from the school of 'If You Can Walk, You Can Work'] it has put a bit of a crimp in the birding / dragonfly bothering. Plus there's the New Job Syndrome. And it's summer. And the weather's been annoying.

Ok, bleating over, time for some fun! New job means new working practices, one of which is Compulsory Holiday. The Powers That Be, realising that at certain times of the year all parents want time off, decided the easiest way to keep things running smoothly and prevent strife is to just make everyone take time off together. [[This is the French Model, by the way]] So, this week I'm off work. Woo. Its half term, there are kids everywhere, the weather's a bit grotty for odonata but not grotty enough for seawatching. Joy.

I said enough moaning, didn't I?

Today I've had some proper fun, though it did take a fair bit of standing around glaring at the clouds. Little Bradley Ponds was my destination, looking for Downy Emerald Dragonflies. I'd not seen any there last year, but [Famous Devon Birder and Dragonfly Finder] had success recently, so I shamelessly followed his coat-tails. This was also where I found Scarce Blue-tailed Damselflies last year, and while its early for them, this year's been early for everything, so it was worth a look.

Despite it looking more like rain than sun, I took the camera and even succeeded in photographing something with a reasonable chance of it coming out. Ok, this was an orchid of some sort [Hey, it sat still with no intervening vegetation], but it might come out. If it does I'll inflict it on you, and Karen can tell us all what it is. :) I also tried for a teneral damselfly which looked interesting, but that probably won't come out [light was horrific, and the wind started blowing...]. other than that I kept to the bins.

Tangent time. I don't know if you've ever frequented the optics areas of Certain Famous Online Forums of a Birding Nature, but if you have you'll most likely have come across someone reviewing binoculars and moaning about the focussing being too fast. [By 'fast', I mean that it takes very few turns to go from close to far.] [[By making that so clear, I've demonstrated that I spend far too much time reading those posts..]]. Because I'm Good [[Ish]] I have always refrained from giving the response that again came to my mind today, as I watched a couple of 4-spotted Chasers and an Emperor have a minor disagreement about who owned that bit of sky. "Try watching dragonflies, mate!" No such thing as focus that changes too quickly. A busy pond is the ultimate test of your bins - today I was surprised to find the only thing I'd change about mine an issue, as a Downy Emerald got inside the close focus distance and hovered, about 1.5m from my delighted eyes!

Downy Emeralds can be a bit of a pain. Not only are they scarce, with a few small sites scattered around, but they are pretty hard to see even when you find a site. They tend to pay only flying visits [Ho Ho], spending most of their time in the trees, where small green dragonflies are hard to see.. When they do arrive they zip around low down, all hustle and bustle, none of this stately cruising or finding a handily prominent perch to sit on, oh no. If you do get a good look, though.... Metallic dark green with a bronze sheen, an elegant waspish shape - enhanced by the tendency to hold their abdomen up in the hover - and the most brilliantly bright emerald eyes. Before, all my Downys were "Ooh, it's a Downy - damn its gone!" type affairs. I got ridonkulously good views today. I mean WOW good. [[You knew it was coming..]] They took a lot of waiting around, though. Admittedly the very first dragon I saw was a Downy, but it was the usual zip-through and then a whole heap of nowt. With increasing sun came more activity - plenty of the standards - but no Scarce Blue-tails. A couple of teneral Blue-tails got me going - being very small and hesitant they looked promising until I got optics on them [which can be a fun game all by itself].

More odonata-dipping happened yesterday, when I stopped off at The Old Sludge Beds on the way back from Exeter. The book says that Small Red-eyed emerge 2-3 weeks after Red-eyed, and as the Red-eyes are back [[sorry]] early courtesy of the warm weather I figured what the hell. A couple of promising tenerals may even have been SRE, but as the book has no teneral images [drat] and I didn't get enough of a look to rule out female coenagrions anyway... There's plenty of time for them yet, though. There were some nice Red-eyeds, and a very confiding Hairy Hawker which buzzed around my feet, but the action was confined to wherever there was shelter from the brisk wind.

Another wander around Yarner has also been had, with even more Pied Flys than the time before! Also more than one Redstart, which was a shock, plus Wood Warblers, Tripits and a Garden Warbler. It is so very green there, and was amazingly quiet for a weekend. The sun even came out as I meandered the back ways with a mellow smile on my face.

Very belated and utterly late news from the Garden - the Sparrows in both the old nestbox and the neighbours' eaves fledged their first broods while I was at Beesands. Yes, that long ago. Because I was out, and as there's so much cover for them to hide in, I can't say how many successfully fledged, but there's a fair few juveniles knocking around, so I'd guess at least half a dozen each. Interestingly, this is exactly the same day as the first brood got off last year - though then it was only in the eaves, with the pair then switching to the old box for number two [Increase in population or fewer sites to choose from? Answers on a postcard.] [[I say this with certainty because the female [whose first mate had the unfortunate encounter with an open window] has a white feather in her right median coverts, which stands out and so I can say that she's breeding in the eaves again this year]].

And finally.... Got Chaffinch on my Work List! ;)