31 July, 2011

A Weekend of Ups and Downs

This being more literal than figurative...

In a radical break with tradition, I've been spending most of this month not going out and about with the Folks - we've only been out twice, and one of those was me talking them into twitching a Cattle Egret then ditching them to go after Big Ugly Gulls [[tut tut]]. So yesterday and today I've been wandering bits of coast path with them. Yesterday we did a chunk between Brixham and Kingswear - nice in the breeze but rather stifling out of it - and today we went off to Golden Cap. Yes, quite a bit of up and down...

The section between Froward Point Battery and Kingswear Castle doesn't look that bad on the map, but there's all manner of tight climbs and a whole heap of big steps. Mum was not amused, I have to say, though I wasn't enjoying the humidity much, either. Its been a long while since we last went that way [something about Pete Goss, if I recall...] and none of us remembered all those steps. On the plus side, it was quite pretty, there are some lovely rich peoples' homes to look at, and I'd forgotten how interesting Froward is. The Inner Point has a well-preserved WWII coastal defence battery [less the 6" guns, alas.. ;) ], if you're into that kind of thing, and gives a very nice view across Start Bay. Its a little out of the way, and tucked back a touch more than I'd like, but the seawatching potential seems to be there - with the choice from the Coastguard Lookout down to the various emplacements giving potential for plenty of different views and heights. For someone looking for somewhere a little different, it might be worth a go.

Stonebarrow to Golden Cap is a traditional walk of ours, now enlivened with Tilly-pwered antics, including tangling the lead around stiles and footbridges*, barking at chickens [Tilly likes chickens...], coobeasties, and distant frolicking spaniels, and eating crab apples [though only 2, as she didn't really like them...]. Having lunch on the Cap, the haze limited the view to Beer Head and the wind was perversely weaker than it was halfway up the slope [mutter mutter]. We did have some liveliness, though as a party of about 30 Swifts came wizzing past east at head height! No, I don't know why they didn't just fly around the side either, we were right near the edge [not that near, but within 15'], but past they came, angling to avoid us. Wow.

[[*Footbridge with gate at one end; she dodges gate and squeezes through fence, down into water, around tree, under bridge and in through other side, then around my Dad's leg. Not bad, huh?]]

Birds on both days were otherwise pretty standard, though Bullfinches flying past today pleased Mum and a showy Green Wood on the Golden Cap undercliff pleased me [he just sat there going "la la la you can't see me!"], as did a Jersey Tiger sat out in the open [?] - albeit again on undercliff, but you'd think a bird might notice?? A hawker spp. gave us a zip-past but evaded my optics and so went unspecified - it was probably a Migrant, based on darkness and location, but I can't be sure.

I feel like I did some climbing today [my legs are threatening legal action], and while I wasn't patrolling my patch [Swift Watch™ is still going, though] or failing to photo Small Red damselflies, I still feel they were two good days.

29 July, 2011

Friday Fun in the (Not Quite) Sun

Today I tried getting a little shuteye before trying the weekday birding fun. Probably not wise, as a little turned into quite a lot and it was gone 12 before I got going...

With a hot day and light winds I decided to give the Small Red-eyed Damselflies another go, so off to the sewage works! [[Mad, mad I tell you...]] Definitely one for proper 'ardcore observers, with enough breeze of a variable nature to ensure all directions got the heady aroma of Exeter's produce on a hot day. Dedicated, that's me.

It was also a bit overcast, indeed more than I would have liked for odonata-watching, but as it was well above 20° [more like 27°!] I figured there'd still be activity. Which there was, though not as much as I expected. Still 6 species wasn't bad, and as Small Red-eyed Damselfly was among them, pretty good. Photos were attempted, though if they'll come out as even recognizably 'damselfly' is another matter.

As I made my way down the causeway, I kept an eye on the muddy bank of the Exe, wondering about wandering waders. A Dunlin-shaped stone seemed to be the best on offer, though the sight of a couple of Black Swans cruising upriver was some consolation. I like Black Swans. [[I'm sure DEFRA will shortly announce a cull to protect spanish swans from being turned grey... Was that too pointed? I don't have a problem with removing invasive species, but think Canadas or Himalayan Balsam would be a better place to start. Just because it isn't easy doesn't mean its not right.]] [[Ok, back to usual nonsense]]

I looped around the farm and on to the Old Sludge Beds, which were annoyingly odonate free [except for one Emperor]. Lots of choking chickweed and other plants, though. Reed Warbler and Water rail were vocal, but not a huge heap was happening as I munched an apple then headed for the canal. The floating stuff [its green and slimy...] had 5 species of damselfly battling for dominance, and eventually I found a few Small Red-eyeds, which stood out nicely once I had my eye in. Large Red-eyeds made up the bulk of the numbers, with a few Blue-taileds, the odd Common Blue and a single Azure the rest. Trying to photograph the Small Red-eyeds was not easy, as they, of course, kept out and kept moving, but I gave it a few shots. You never know, right? Then, with the rush hour looming I headed back, giving the Exe another scan as I got back to the causewa-

What's that? Tringa - probably a Green Sand. Carefully get as close as a river's width will allow and have a good look. Ooh, no it isn't a Green Sand, its a frickin' Wood! Happily pootling about the mud on the far bank, looking all purdy with the light behind me.. ::Determined-looking lightbulb appears overhead:: Right. I tried a couple of shots, despite my vowing never to photo a bird that wasn't completely still and at point blank range. Then, as I moved on a group of cyclists came by and it flew, landing on a large chunk of ex-tree. A Wood Sand on a bit of wood? Oh I had to. Even longer range, but worth the punt.

I was going to go on about how effort versus the heat and the smell was rewarded by some nice views of Small Red-eyeds, but the jammy Wood Sand, rewarding purely looking the right way at the right time, kinda deflates that. So instead I'll end with musing on how things sometimes work out neatly - oversleeping is not always bad, and blah blah blah. Oh, but here's the counter-thought; What on earth do we miss by those happy chances not stacking up just right? Plain Swifts, for one. ;)

Happy chances.... Mud. Wood Sand. Mud. Sky. Common Swift. White-throated Needletail. Sky. Woodpig. Sky. Plane.

Eyes up, folks.

28 July, 2011

No Sooner Had I Posted...

Than there's some news to report. But of course, and with needing to go to work, its left until now to report it.

Nothing spectacular [well, fairly spectacular to watch, I think, but hardly twitch-inducing] - we have fledged Swifts! I've started the Swift Watch™ - checking for screaming Swifts every evening to be sure when they leave - and yesterday I realised there were a lot of Swifts up there.. Getting accurate counts of Swifts in an urban environment is not the easiest of processes, and with the need to go to work I was only able to give a few sweeps, but each came up with a figure in excess of 100 [none the same, of course] so 100+ it has gone down as.

This is pretty good for here! :) Of those which came close enough to check [The majority were feeding in a fairly tight kettle, above the horizon but over there ::Points:: a way - after flying ants, maybe], a good 50% were juveniles and there were lots of little family parties [[ie. kids chasing parents, going "Feed me! Feed me!" ;) ]]. 100+ is a pretty good count for here; usually when the young fledge you get a jump from 40-50 to 70-80 - though this does depend on feeding conditions. They were pretty close and high up yesterday, as opposed to the more usual 'spread out in several height bands including down to the rooftops' [and thus easier to miss a lot], so perhaps its just a truer representation of numbers? Either way, 'tis nice to see they've had some success. :D

27 July, 2011

To Expand On The Previous Subject

It wasn't very much, really, was it? A single paragraph in what is for me a short post. Having the inclination to post but a lack of news to post about, I thought I'd go into a bit more detail and generally bore the socks off you.. ;)

Twitching, why do we do it? I've had a few conversations about the subject recently, and more adept bloggers have aired their thoughts too - indeed I've prattled on about it on here in the past. What possessed me to drop everything and go haring off across the country [well, a bit of it], spending far too much money on petrol and so forth, to see a bird? I'm not a competitive lister [except on my Patch, and as I'm only competing against myself I can only lose ;) ] and the whole 'genetic hunting instincts' thing cannot, imho, explain this behaviour fully. If it was just the hunt, the Tick, then as soon as I'd seen it, I'd lose interest, wouldn't I? I certainly wouldn't stand around in the thistles and nettles for an hour and a half enjoying watching the thing. CaveBirder would say "Made kill, now go home before sabre-tooth gets you!".

Certainly the adventure is a part of it - the risk, the payoff - but for me the biggest bit is the discovery, the learning - seeing something new, something I've never seen before, something special. In this case a very prettily-marked bird which should be on the other side of the Atlantic, not poking around in a very-nice-if-very-hard-to-view scrape in dorset.

Ok, enough of that nonsense, time for more details on the day itself! I'd had the "Holy shit, a Stilt Sand in reach!" moment in the morning, followed by the deflation of finding out it had flown off and not been relocated. Adult Stilt Sand was fairly high on my list of desired waders [ie. right behind the 'It's Personal' section] and for one to be close enough to go for on a day I could go for it... At least the Hayle PGP was on a workday when I didn't have to stress about it so much. There was a time, of course, when the cost of living was lower and I was earning more when I would have gone "Ah, it might be hiding and if not I can always watch the baby Marsh Harriers!" and have gone up anyway, but I have to be more fiscally responsible, so its tart-twitching only.

Then the sudden reversal, the bird has been seen again; it's on-site, just being elusive. Whole different kettle of fish. In scenes very similar to the last trip I made to dorset [ah, and that brings a happy smile to my face...] I was off with optics, notebook, a bottle of water and my trusty flapjack! The drive to dorset is a reasonably scenic one, and with a clear run is enjoyable to drive and be driven, with lots to see out of the window and some nice roads. Spectacular panoramas, archaeology, and the real chance of Corn Bunting are on offer, sometimes in more detail than you'd like, as I've never met a main road more prone to long-distance tractors! I don't get it, really I don't - you move your tractor around your farm, you need to use roads, fair enough, but going on for miles and miles and miles.... The journey out was made interesting by meeting a 50-car queue led by a tractor with a huge trailer - about the length of a coach all together - followed by.. another tractor with an even bigger trailer. Ye gods and little fishes. The two together meant only an F1 car could overtake these 30mph monsters on anything but dual carriageway. Fun. Way back had a pair that had been cutting hay going at 20mph, but they were nice enough to pull over and let the waiting hordes past.

Arriving in weymouth is a lot more interesting these days, too. There used to be a lovely bit of road [when coming in from dorchester] - fast ridge then a drop into a serious hairpin. I don't know if the spectacular accidents you could envisage ever actually happened, but a LOT of money has been spent to remove the issue. Hills have been carved, bridges built, and they're still not done. It does make getting to Lodmoor a little simpler, just don't go looking for signs to it as there aren't any. :)

Lodmoor is very like Exminster - much excellent habitat, some of which you can view very well and a lot you really can't. Plus no hides [though it does at least have something to sort of keep the rain off - RSPB are you listening?]. The local chavscum are of course responsible for the lack of hides, having burned the old ones - they were well in evidence on Sunday, yelling unintelligible and doubtless unintelligent abuse from their passing novas and saxos [probably, though with all the plastic they stick on, I doubt even they know for sure..].

Anyway, a very good looking scape was mostly hidden by reeds, but popping in and out of view was the [very well-camouflaged] Stilt Sandpiper. Sandy-cheeked [ear coverts is a daft term, they're cheeks!] and rufous-crowned [also referring to anything but red as 'rufous', though orange just about does, with the historical connection, I suppose], streaked of neck and barred of belly, this elegant bird was a real cracker, oh yes. [[Another thing - why does the Black Book show them all fluffed up? Doesn't convey the elongate, tapering nature of the bird when active, tut tut.]] With motions varying between Ruff and Godwit, it looked a lot bigger than it actually was, as the odd passing Green Sand [which were bigger] showed. Stilts have been described as 'Curlew Sands with extra leg', and in flight this is very apt - the rump/tail is indeed as close as you'd expect, as is the shape and size, and you'd really need a side-by-side to be sure about the wingbars, I think - though there was no sustained flight to really be sure.

Being there for an afternoon rather than a day, I gave it an hour and a half then stopped off to admire the Common Tern colony. Watching the comings and goings, the to-ings and fro-ings, as the adults brought sand eels back to their yarking juveniles. :D Radipole for the Marshies would have been nice [even more if the Beardies had put in an appearance] but time was wandering on, so back I toddled.

There, wasn't that fun?

24 July, 2011

Wacky Races..

The big news today was of an adult Stilt Sandpiper being found this morning at Lodmoor in Dorset, then promptly lost again.

"Drat and double drat" said I, as I went from all fired-up for a twitch after one of the more desirable vagrant waders to sudden deflation - it looked like it had pulled a PGP.

Ok, on with my morning pootling about the place, not seeing anything spectacular. I'm just about to get some lunch when I think 'Ah, I'll just have a quick looksee online..' - "WTF!!"

One journey that was conducted in an entirely safe and legal manner later*, I was yomping along the seaward side of Lodmoor, then climbing up the [very thistley] bank and setting up the Big Scope to drool over this gorgeous yank. Oh yes, definitely gorgeous, also distant, prone to hide behind stuff and very well camouflaged compared to the three Green Sands also present. I spent a merry hour and a half watching it, munching what I'd grabbed for lunch [You know the mantra; "A flapjack is a birder's friend!"] and trying to do something approaching a field sketch [You'd think I'd get better at it, wouldn't you? Nope.]. I stopped off to coo over the Common Tern colony before heading back, a happy birder with another Tick. :D

[[*But that did include a nice Corn Bunting and a couple of Stock Doves, stereotypically by an actual corn field - being stuck behind sunday drivers has the odd plus side..]]

23 July, 2011

It's A Big White Gull With Brown Bits

He said, thus winning the 'Best Description of a 2s Glonk' award for 2011.

Yes, I found myself at the Otter today. I say the Otter, rather than Budleigh Salterton beach, because, contrary to ALL reports, it was not there. I know, for I yomped all the way down and all the way back in't blazing sun with the Big Scope over my shoulder and the stares of slack-jawed emmets on my back... Ahem.

Right, so the Glaucous Gull was loafing with the big group of assorted ne'er do wells at the bottom of the estuary, looking big and white and Glonky. Before and after that, the Cattle Egret had performed very well indeed, considerately traipsing up and down in front of the west hide and even pausing to pose next to a Little Egret. What a lovely bird. Unsurprisingly, there was not a sniff of Rose-coloured Starling [or any ordinary ones, either], but never mind, worth a look.

The Folks had come along, for a nice stroll along the Otter is one of our favourite walks, and while they enjoyed looking at the Egret [they'd even come to twitch the last one - back when they were rare - which is another story], dragging Tilly along the prom and keeping her from going bonkers at the gull did not appeal. So they took Tilbury off upriver to tangle her extendo-lead in the bushes and swim in the river [fortunately not at the same time]. She had fun - one day she'll learn what Grey Mullet are, and then her sorties into the Otter will get really interesting.. ;)

To be fair, the gull didn't really appeal to them either [very sane, really] - interesting to look at, but not worth traipsing up and down the shingle for. Perhaps my description, though Award Winning, didn't help, though I suppose Glonks aren't exactly oil paintings. Impressive, yes, and a good well-worn one in flight is certainly a sight, but loitering in a gull flock at scope range? Yeah, I understand where they're coming from. I still enjoyed it though. I have a bit of history with Glonks - only seen one before and dipped every one I'd twitched, so there was no small amount of satisfaction, oh yes.

This morning I had a pleasant surprise out the window - at least 3 Willow Warblers were working the trees and bushes out the back. Having had a Reed Warbler doing the same thing last year, I can confidently call them migrants taking a quick food stop before Channel-hopping. Its been a long time since Willows bred on the hill... :(

22 July, 2011


A couple of flying surprises today, as the new Night Thing meant I got to go birding on a weekday! :) [[Albeit at the cost of sleep - please excuse any, er side effects in the quality of this posting...]]

After umming and ahhing about trying Budleigh I plumped for Dawlish Warren, as I haven't been for a while, the tide was at a nicely accessible time, and there might be Roseate Terns. I ran into [Famous Devon Birder], we wandered about the place together and a great time was had by all. First up being 4 Blackwit flying over upriver, followed by finding a very juvenile Redstart on the Back Path - this spotty little darling still had a touch of yellow to the gape, it was so young. The baking heat of mid morning failed to produce any Sand Lizard!s, but several hours in the hide over the tide gave a very nice Roseate Tern, which eventually showed well when the heat haze dropped off. [Famous Devon Birder] then had the second surprise of the day, when he got on what looked like an LRP flying with some Swallows; it eluded me and seemed to zip off south. Or so we thought, as it had sneakily dropped in and after 15 minutes or so was suddenly with the small group of Ringos lurking near the spartina. A gorgeous juvenile, it eventually came very close to the hide and gave great views. :D

Four s/pl Knot were looking very pretty [though never close], as were many of the 95+ Sanderling that scurried and scampered across the beach - coming much closer, but never staying still long enough to really enjoy! Two of these had colour rings, which have been recorded and sent off - details will hopefully be forthcoming. There were more than 50 Dunlin, a single Barwit, a couple of Redshank, the Whimbrel and [over by the railway where the haze made a count impossible] a group of Curlew. Out to sea, a couple of Common Scoter flocks passed south - one of 10 and one of about 18 - as did a couple of Gannets. At least 3 Common Tern were with the 200 or so Sarnies, but no Little or Arctic that we could pick out. A juvenile Med Gull dropped in, though settled too distantly on the river for a proper look.

I'd only meant to spend an hour or two there, before either calling it a morning or heading on to dip the Glonk [I'm quite good at dipping them - I've only ever seen one!], but I had so much fun that the time just went. A cherry was that the lovely Council have taken away the horrible speed hills [which destroy your suspension and damage nearby houses] and resurfaced the road. Joy! :D

Finally, a very unexpected surprise came this evening at 2012 exactly. I was startled to hear the call of a Curlew flying overhead! Garden Tick! Patch Tick! What was even more startling was why it was flying north calling while it was still light. Unfortunately, due to reporting restrictions, I can't be specific - suffice to say that the poor wader was bricking it, though probably not in any actual danger.

PYL: 130!

17 July, 2011

Patience, Persistence, and A Huge Scope II

So I don't have to drag up at "Aaaauuurrrgh...." O'clock tomorrow morning, as I am now on the Night Shift. It's been 4 long years of having to get up far too early in the morning*, then trying to not only act like a civilised person but also do a responsible job of work [[stop sniggering!]]. Not easy. But its back to the old routine. Well, sort of. Anyway, changes are a' comin' and I may even get to do some weekday birding again! [Maybe] [If I'm not asleep]

[[*Ie. actually in the morning.]]

Aaaanyway, as I'm having to get back into the night shift routine, I decided it probably wasn't a good idea to get up at 3am to be down at Pendeen for a respectable hour. It matters there, you see - every time I've seawatched there I've found a group of serious seawatchers already ensconced [well, except for the first time, but that was December ;) ] - so rolling in at 8:30 would just be embarrassing... Right, so the forecast looked very tasty for north cornwall, and I thought about Pentire, but the same thing applied - with the hike out to Rumps it takes almost as long to get from bed to starting watching as Pendeen does, though the crowd tends to be thinner on the ground [most I've met there is 2!].

Then I remembered the time I went to Prawle when it was blowing NW and scored what is still my highest ever total of Pom Skuas [yes, skuas at Prawle, you do see them there sometimes...]. 'Hmm...' thinks I. I looked at the wind charts and saw that there was reason to my thinking; birds pushed into the Channel by the sustained winds would be trying to get out and may use the shelter of the land to do so, also if the wind was more W than NW then it would push birds into the west coast of Devon, and they may well pass eastwards to escape [rather than battle the length of the peninsula into the wind], the big squally showers promised could drag or divert anything out there close to land - and mask the land as happened so fortuitously the day before. Finally, Prawle is one of those places where you can get birds in any weather - I still remember when [Very Famous Devon Birder] got a Stormie there on a day of blazing sunshine and almost flat calm seas. [[I still couldn't get on it...]]

So, Prawle Point in a howling WNW [pushing near W in the squalls], sunshine and some fast-moving and very fierce squally showers... It was interesting!

Tucking myself down in a gully I felt like I'd turned a switch - November to August! The sun was hot, the flowers were pretty, the butterflies were trying to kill each other... The sea was really something - breaking crests, full-on tumblers, some of them - with the light quality giving excellent views of the Manxies that passed in the sunshine. The big waves were a bit of a pain, even from my high vantage point, but they made for spectacle, and meant only the 'ardest yachties were out. No jetskis today - woohoo! Ahem. I watched for 6 1/2 hours - the 1/2 to wait for one last squall - and got some interesting stuff, missed something potentially very interesting, but got a super-spawny slice of jam to compensate and then a cherry too, so I'm fairly happy overall.

Most movement was around the squalls, but even when the sun shone, birds were passing, though rarely in any numbers - biggest flock size was 34, and mostly the Manx came in small groups. Westerly Manxie passage started strongly, with 198 in the first hour, but died off rapidly, only to be almost entirely replaced by easterly passage. I don't think they were just flying in circles, but I can't prove it. 332W and 357E were the final scores. Gannets came out at a disappointing 118/68 with only 3 Kittiwakes, 4 Fulmars, 4 Razorbills and 3 Guillemots.

There were no fewer than 6 Balearics past west - all in an hour and a half and one a very pale individual. The fact that no Balearics came east in the latter part of the day suggests to me that maybe there were two distinct groups of Manx [to and from the nearest colony, maybe?]. Singles of Stormie, Sooty Shear, the seemingly inevitable juvenile Yellow-legged Gull and Whimbrel also went west, while an odd shearwater spp. went east - medium-large size, mid-brown, shaped like a cross between Great and Cory's and had a very odd flight action - I lost it before I could get a decent look; it went behind a wave and Houdini'd me.. Frustrating ain't the word, folks. ::Mutter mutter:: As to what it was....I can't even speculate. That's seawatching - you really can't get 'em all.

Never mind what might have been - on to the jam. There I was, scanning around, when in a trough I see a very curved black back with a little hooked fin - cetacean! Not just cetacean, but a frickin' Minke Whale! :D Yes, you read right, this jammy git not only got himself a whale, but did it in nigh on gale force winds...

Finally the cherry. I stopped off on the way home at Slapton, to see if the hirundine cloud contained any interesting swifts [[he's just not giving up on this nonsense, is he?]]. It had very few Swifts, and all of those Common - though it did have lots of Sand Martins - but as I cast my gaze to the other end of the Ley, what should I see but Her Ladyship! She then hung around while I burned up to the Bridge and gave me a display of hunting the seaward side reed strip! Yes! After the very few fleeting glimpses I've had in the past, it was wonderful to finally get a good look at her.

And finally - at Prawle, as I sat watching, what should land on the next rock over, look at me, then fly off? Juvenile Wheatear! :)

16 July, 2011

Patience, Persistence, and A Huge Scope

I go on a bit [ok, a lot] about the value of Patience, Persistence, and Fieldcraft in birding. I suppose you could stretch 'Fieldcraft' to include 'Taking the Right Kit'. Certainly having lugged the aforementioned Big Scope along helped no end today, oh yes indeed...

Having survived my last 'Have to get up at "Aaaarrrgghh...." o'clock' yesterday, this morning I dragged up even earlier because I wanted to. Oh yes, that mad mad passion for staring at the sea while it rains sideways strikes again!

It wasn't as early as I'd have liked, but I got settled at a vaguely respectable 0640, with murky conditions - no Berry Head in view - but a wind westerly enough for me to sit on the Steps [the wind stayed between SW and WSW the whole time I was there], which was not super-promising. No other birders present or arrived that I knew of [but as the Steps are around the corner from the Traditional Seawatching Spot, someone might have arrived after me] in my 5 hours of fun. Yes, that's right, it got 5 hours.

Why so long? Well, yes I was waiting to run out of coffee, but also there were these showers that kept rolling through, and around them there was the odd really good bird, plus just enough of a trickle of standards to keep me looking. The time went pretty easily, I have to say - I'm glad it did, as I had been meaning to stop after 4 hours, and only my not noticing the time kept me from missing - ah, but that's the good bit, so I'll save it. :)

Mostly, it was quiet, 154 Gannets south and 39 north quiet. 37/0 Kittiwakes, 30/20 Manx.... BUT, a very nice count of 86 Common Scoter past south, including groups of 24, 29, and 17 kept me on my toes - the 17 came through very close and I only just got a good count on them. At least one and probably two juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls went by south after lingering to annoy the Herrings - one posed nicely next to 2 juvenile Herrings, which was considerate of it. A single [yes, I only saw one!] Balearic Shear went by at 0903, though it was nice and close. A single Arctic Skua at 0816 and a Bonxie at 0802, plus another by a huge deep sea-type trawler at 1127 were the skuas, a single LBB and 3 BHG made up the rest of the gulls. One single solitary tern flew past north. Wouldn't be much except it was a Little - Patch Tick! :D Also of note, on the Lead Stone among the carbos was a Cormorant of the form haigi. :)

Ok, time for the main event. 1043 and it was raining. The last one had missed north but this shower was a fairly dense one and had hit nicely. Far out, something broke the horizon, towered briefly, then dropped. It was brown. It was way out. I got on it and tried my best to stay on it, zoom in, twitch the focus, and not lose it as it was faster than it looked. It was skirting the shower and re-oriented to miss Berry as I kept getting and losing it and it was heading out and south all the time. What I saw was a bird shearing without ever once flapping [unlike Manx, Balearic, Fulmar etc, which all put in a flap or seven on the way up at least], mid brown above and white below, with wings pressed at the carpal even when banked over at the top of a tower, not held stiff. Not a Fulmar, not a Balearic, not a gull, not a Gannet [anything else?]. A big shear, a Cory's Shear, oh hell yeah!

And finally.. the "Awww" and the ;)..
"Awww..." - at least 4 juvenile Guillemots on the sea still.
;) - a 2cy Gannet with dead-on Great Shear plumage. [[There's always one, isn't there...]]

Now then, what to do tomorrow...?

PYL: 129

12 July, 2011

Something From the Weekend

Apologies for the delay.. er, again. And the lack of a reasonable excuse.. again. What will you do?

Soooo.... Saturday I gave the Patch an almighty Bash, such as it has not had for far too long, considering that I am still supposed to be trying a Patch Yearlist and everything. I ignored the temptation to dash off down to 'Gwarra and thus missed the chance at a few Cory's [::Mutter mutter...::] and what did I get for my efforts? [Other than hot, that is] Well, I very nearly got what would have been a really good Patch Tick, but the little git that was almost certainly a Spot Fly flew back into a tree and evidently right on through it and out the other side, not to return... Drat.

I managed a mighty ::Coff coff:: 34 species, including an attempt at a seawatch [well, it rained on me, so I figured it was worth a go!] that gave precisely 2 Manxies past. North. Undoubted bird highlights were the juvenile Whitethroats, which were both cute and confiding :D Less good was seeing that the bladdy council have removed the gulls' pontoon from Torquay inner harbour [to fit in an extra row of grockles 'yachts'] - so finding a nice juvenile Caspian Gull* is going to be a) harder and b) less rewarding with the views. But such is life...

[[*What, you didn't think I'd given up on my deranged mission to find a Caspo on my Patch, did you?]]

On Sunday, after yet more Swift-watching, I headed up to Bowling Green for the tide, as I hadn't been there in an age. What was that? Tarting after Bearded Tits? Me? As if! The fact that I may have kept an eye on the reeds at the back and had two very brief views of 2+ juveniles of said species is entirely co-incidental. I was looking at the Reed Warbler feeding its own juvenile. And a Sedge Warbler. They weren't the welcome accidents while trying to re-find the Beardies. Honest.

I also put a lot of time into going through the 450-odd BHGs, but was rewarded with precisely 0 Meds and 0 Bonaparte's Gulls. The famous leucistic one was there, and it looked quite pretty. For a Black-'ead. A Wood Sandpiper was also present, as I heard it calling while walking towards the hide, but not a glimpse of it did I get. There were 2 Green Sands - moulting 1s birds, which looked quite odd - especially as one had a marked supercilium behind the eye [[Very naughty little sandpiper, that...]] - and a single Common Sand, which lurked out of sight of the hide. Other waders included 9 Lapwing [all adults - presumably failed breeders from nearby..], 11 Greenshank, at least 220 Blackwit, mostly in s/pl [all icelandica, naturally] and 2 Whimbrel. An adult and two juvenile Little Grebe were a pleasant sight, but aside from a few Teal, the only ducks were moulting Mallards. On the Clyst and looking very pretty were 2 Black Swans - no cygnets in view this year - and continuing the feral theme a few Canadas kept what was for them a very low profile. Further down the estuary, an adult kept an eye on a lone Shelduckling.

Little Egret count came to 19, Grey Heron count to 2 [one of which caught an eel, which put up the customary fight - at one point biting the Heron!]. It was a very nice way to spend an afternoon, with a surprise dragonfly sighting to boot - a female Scarce Chaser, no less, ovipositing at a location I probably shouldn't publicise. Speaking of dragons, yesterday at work an even bigger surprise; there I was, idly [ok, intently] looking out the window at lunch time, when a red darter sp. hove into view, caught something right outside the window and flew on! Not the Common Darter you'd expect, either - the lack of yellow on the thorax and deepness of red on the abdomen made it a Ruddy Darter - but a migrant from the continent or from a small local colony, though? Hell of a jammy way to see one, either way! :)

07 July, 2011

Substandard Blogging Continues

'Sick as a parrot'? Bah! 'Sick as a birder who didn't go seawatching when he conceivably could have and very likely would have been rewarded with Cory's Shearwaters' more like...

Yes, not only the joys of glorious weather coming through while I'm working, but staying around all day and me looking at it and thinking "Oh, it looks good, those squalls are wonderful, BUT I'll never be able to park when I get back, and I have to work tomorrow, don't I? SO that'll mean getting up extra early and walking however many streets it'll be after I'm extra tired and later to bed...." There'd been no reports of Cory's east of the Lizard by then, so I figured it wasn't worth it and I'd behave myself.

[[I think we're well past octuple drat at this stage, don't you?]]

I know, going over all the could haves and might haves and if onlys - if only the parking here wasn't so extra-horrific right now, if only I was on nights, if only there'd been even one report to encourage me to go "Oh what the hell!". I've been trying to cheer myself up by reasoning that big shears never come close to the Nose, even in beautiful squalls when they show at point-blank range at Berry Head, [Off the top of my head, I've seen about a half dozen large shears from the Nose, all but one being recorded as something like 'Large Shearwarer sp., probably Great' because they were just too far out and never showed well enough to be certain.] but it's not doing much good.

Whinging to you poor souls isn't helping much either.

On a brighter note [he says, reaching desperately] a new canteen location at work gave me a nice bit of sky to look at, with Herring Gulls, Swifts, Sparrows, and a couple of Bullfinches flying about [Work Tick! Yay!]. In the Garden the Sparrows have fledged another brood [third pair - the new nestbox ones - not a second brood yet], with 'lots' of assorted juveniles now facing the gauntlet of cats, Magpies [they're not very good at catching juvenile Sparrows, but they don't give up trying] and more cats. I'm still keeping an extra eye on the Swifts, but haven't even seen Damaged Primaries again - its definitely not one of the very local ones. As for Stocky Pale One at work or Moulting Odd-caller here. Two sites on the edges of colony areas, so plenty of room for them to hide, assuming they're residents and weren't just passing... ::Shrugs::

Finally, got my hardcopy of Palores* today and am delighted with the gorgeous shots of Arctic and Pom Skua - a brilliant comparison of the differences in typical 'seawatch view' shots [SR you have done well!].

[[* Newsletter of CBWPS, who do lots of good and have some very nice reserves. If you bird in the SW, you really ought to join. While you're at it, also join DBWPS - a likewise very worthy and hard-working society, whose newsletter is The Harrier.]]

[[[Recruitment spiel over]]]

Oh, even more finally; don't worry, still no plans to inflict my Work List on you!

Edit: While watching the Swifts and House Martin [at least 42 Swifts and 1 House Martin - the latter don't come this far up the hill much] out the window this evening, I've just seen a[nother?] chunky Swift - thickset with shallow tail fork and blunt-tipped wings - but could get nothing else on it. It happened about 10 minutes ago, and since then I've seen what might be it twice more, even more distantly and briefly.

This is getting silly....

[["Getting?!!??!?" I hear you attempt to cry through the peals of laughter... ;) ]]

03 July, 2011

Not About Rocks. Honest.

Have you recovered from the horror yet? I know, terrible the things I'll inflict upon you... Still, it could be worse. Don't believe me? Four words; justin beiber audio clips.

::Waits for the screaming to stop::

See? Vast burbles about mud sound so much better now, don't they?


Right then, on with the fun.

Well, for the past couple of days I've been spending probably far too much time watching Swifts. Other than a lovely moment when one came past so close I could hear the rush of air, it was exactly as you'd expect. Lots of Swifts [well, mostly the dozen or so very local ones] zipping around like jet fighters. No funny-looking ones [apart from a couple of glimpses of the feather-damaged Swift], no funny-sounding ones. Drat and double drat.

In my quest to prove I haven't missed something spectacular [[and thus avoid having to bash my head against the wall whilst wailing piteously...]] I have even gone so far as to publicly humiliate myself on a Certain Internet Forum To Do With Birds. [[Yes, I swore I'd never do that again, but never say never...]]. However, despite well over a hundred views, my request for help has gathered precisely 0 replies. Not even a "Shut up you hallucinating stringer". I'm a little disappointed, I must admit. I can understand the 'Guess the Bird' lot not being interested, but there are some very good very serious birders on there, who know a huge amount and, well, I hoped I'd get at least an 'Yeah, that's odd but this one time in 1985...' or something, you know? Oh well.

Having spent a fair while Swift-watching on Saturday, I was later than I desired getting to Stover [which was the backup as I was too late getting going to go where I'd originally intended to go]. Still, I saw 11 species of odonata, which was a nice total, including star billing to a female Common Hawker, with Broad-bodied Chaser just beating 4-spotted for most numerous dragonfly [while Azure walked away with most numerous damsel]. Late on, I managed to drop what looked very much like a Honey Buzzard out my back window - it had a nice long tail, but was distant and resolutely side-on, so bins weren't going to clinch it. I took the risk and dashed for the scope. I got it there and up in a creditable 20 seconds, but to no avail, as of course the bird took the chance to vanish*, and another one gets away. Triple drat.

[[*The two smug-looking Herring Gulls circling in the area may have had something to do with this, the gits...]]

Today, an amble on't Moor with the Folks gave cute juvenile Wheatears, a 3 on 3 Peregrine vs Buzzard fly-off [thus ambiguity about location], a couple of immature LBBs past south, a half dozen Goldfinches past east, and a whole heap of gorgeous Golden-ringed Dragonflies [plus a single Large Red Damselfly hiding from the wind]. The wind helped it from getting too horrific, as the sun was very hot [funny, you'd almost think it was July or something...] and we had a good day.

01 July, 2011

That's A Funny Swift......

I think I'm seeing things.

Work is bad for your health, reading books gives you ideas, looking at BWPi gives you worse ones. I'm rambling.

Ok, two incidents to report. Entertaining anecdotes to lighten your day. 'Oh, that Backward Birder, what a hoot he is' and so on...

Yesterday I'm walking to my car after work, when over flies a Swift. Quite low, maybe 30 or 40 feet. "Ooh, a Work Tick!" is hotly followed by "That's a pale Swift..." Eyes only at a bird against blue sky is not optimal, but its got a shorter tail and blunter wings than I'd expect, pale secondaries and inner primaries too, but it's just the light playing tricks. Right? The whole chunky impression is just that, an impression. Then another Swift joins it, they fly side by side, and the new one is darker, pointier, but not smaller. "Oh shit" I need optics and get to my car very quickly. They've gone, not to return. Fuck.

[[Edit: Something that still bugs me about this pale swift was the paleness of the body - every Common Swift I've seen with it's wings 'lit up' by bright sky or sunshine has shown a very contrastingly dark underbody. Not this bird.]]

A pale Swift. No more can be said. A 'might have been'.

Today, this very evening, I look out the window and see the local Swifts are for once low over the Garden when the sun isn't overhead. I take my proper bins and head out to do some Swift-watching. Swifts rock, 30+ rock a lot, and the chance to get some practice in with the local Commons is always good. So when I see a Swift in primary moult... This is not damage [there was one with a nice bit of damage to P8 and P9 on the right wing, btw] this was both P8s shed and re-growing. Its tail feathers looked to have pale inner webs too and no, they weren't the long forked Common Swift tail feathers either. But. Oh yes, the but and a big one it is; it was dusk, the cloud to the west kept the sun off, and plumage features were pretty much impossible except on those birds which came in very close and low. Guess what our bird didn't do? So, no masks or scales or saddles to be seen - I only got on it well the once and it wasn't one of the nice rooftop ones over your head, alas. The call I heard among the Commons' periodic screaming was very exciting, but I can't be sure it was the moulting bird which gave it.

Aside from that little bit of drama, I learned once again that Swifts are a lot more varied than you'd expect - one had pale patches on its underwing coverts, for example. Others were very slim and dark, some had glaring throat patches, others seemed to have almost none, a couple had very long tail forks. Despite the frustration and the midgies, it was fun - stopped only when they moved off down the hill after a good 40 minutes of aerobatics.

Now I have a few questions for the people who read this blog and who know a whole lot more than I do;

Can Common Swifts moult in July? Suspended moult of P10 yes, found references to that and to replacing lost/damaged feathers, but actively moulting primaries in the middle of the breeding season? Also, thinking back to the pale swift - could there be juveniles on the wing this early?

Any answers, comments, thoughts etc. will be gratefully received.

Well, You Were Warned...

It even made the local news, with that lovely video [I'm sure its on youtube somewhere..] of the Yealm setch [I think that's the spelling, only ever heard it spoken, you see]. No, they don't call it a bore, cause they're not boring [[Boom, boom. Thankyou, I'll be here all week...]]

Time for some geology! 'Underwater Landslide' is probably the best term to put on the news, but 'Slump Leading To Turbidity Current' is more like the proper terminology. Being unable to inflict diagrams upon you [and geology is much less fun without diagrams!] I'll be brief...


Ok, I'll be horribly long-winded, but you were expecting nothing less, am I right?


Cast your mind to the sea floor to the south west of the South West... The continental shelf slopes fairly gently away, until it reaches the shelf edge, when the continental slope down to the abyssal plain begins. This is shown usually as a huge steep step, like a massive cliff three kilometres or so high. If you were to go there, you'd need a clinometer to notice it, but its a steeper slope [those diagrams, at least the decent ones, are to scale - its just such a large scale involved..]. There is a constant gentle rain of sediment - at least on geological terms - which has been carried out by rivers and then tides and currents. The deeper water is calmer, encouraging more deposition, and over time the sediment builds up as mud and silt layers, full of water [you'd sink right into it]. The sea bed isn't flat, though, its cut by gullies and canyons, some on ridiculous scales and many, in shallower waters like the Channel, relics of glacial periods when the sea level was lower - submerged river valleys.

Anything built up on a slope is eventually going to have an issue with gravity. Sometimes the sediment slumps due to the shockwaves from an earthquake [the most famous example being the Grand Banks in 1929 - the first record of a turbidity current, when transatlantic telegraph cables were cut in sequence by something that moved at up to 55 knots across hundreds of miles of seabed], or even from wave action [There are some interesting studies into the effects of hurricane-generated waves]. Sometimes they just fail - when the weight of the sediment passes the threshold of its internal cohesion. Being a great mass of gooey liquid mud, there's no spectacular effects, - the word slump is very appropriate. But these slumps can be very big - one off west Africa covers 30,000 square km. [We had a fairly small one, this time.] Once its started moving, the sediment rapidly becomes what is called a turbidity current - a mix of sediment and water which flows down slope with very little friction*. Its the same process as a powder snow avalanche and would look very similar. The current would race away and could cover an amazing distance, all the time becoming more and more diluted and containing finer and finer particles, first following the channels left by previous currents before spreading out in a fan over the abyssal plain.

The initial slump is what generated the tsunami - the descending mass pulls the water column above it down while displacing water below it, generating the waves. Though the volumes involved could have been very large, because this is mud sliding down a fairly gentle slope [as opposed to, say, a chunk of a volcanic island falling off] it lacked the kinetic 'punch' needed to cause a major event - fortunately for us. Also, as the slump was traveling away from us, the main force will have gone that way, and will have hit South America after several hours travel time. I doubt anyone there will have noticed, to be honest, as the waves gradually lose force over distance and they weren't apocalyptic to begin with.

If you look at a map [for example, the satellite version of the bird map on a Certain Internet Forum To Do With Birds], you'll see that the shelf edge is well away from the South West - indeed the likely area that the slump occurred in is due west of Brittany** - another reason why the waves didn't get higher than 3' [and that funneled in river valleys]. While I'm on the subject, if you look just SW of Ireland, you'll see an oval chunk 'missing' from the shelf. The reasons for it being there I won't bore you with, but that structure is one of the reasons why the Bridges of Ross is the best seawatching spot in Europe, as it brings the upwelling [caused by marine currents hitting the slope and pushing nutrients to the surface] much closer to shore and so also the animals that feed on it and the seabirds that feed on them.

[[*The process is known as a density current - if you introduce a liquid into a less dense liquid, it will flow downhill under gravity along the bottom of that liquid, ingesting the less dense liquid and gradually diluting until it either runs out of room or becomes so dilute there is not enough difference in density to drive its movement. Because they ingest the liquid they pass through, they suffer very little loss of energy through friction and so can move very quickly for great distances. Turbidity currents, powder avalanches, pyroclastic flows {more properly called pyroclastic density currents, and capable of some really interesting stuff due to being hot}and sturtzstroms {a rare form of landslide where rocks quite literally flow like water} are the main natural density currents.]]

[[**So the tsunami will have hit there too, probably more strongly {though they can be tricky}. I can just imagine the locals' reaction to the tide going back and forth - a gallic shrug, no doubt. ;) ]]

If anyone who attempted to read this is still awake [well done, btw], I maybe ought to apologise for taking 6 odd hours to write this. [Blogger helpfully uses the time a post starts being written, rather than the time it is posted - I have no idea why!] I was distracted by Swifts, you see. More to follow in a new post which might not drive your brain to crawl out of your ear and make a desperate leap for your computer's OFF switch....