29 August, 2011

Sunshine and Showers

How often do we hear the weatherbods utter those dread words?

Yet, since coming back down to earth from the Joys Of Thursday, this has been the story. I've been rained on and sunned on, often when I was expecting [or at least had been told to expect] the other. All good clean fun, eh folks? But I'm not here to rant about the weather [again...]

A brief summary ensues;
Friday. Forecast: sunshine and showers. It rained. A lot. I decided to do something random and went to Yarner. I expected [as it was indeed raining there and as well as it does at Yarner, which is very] there to be no birds and fewer people, and to have a merry mellow time wandering around smelling wet trees and munching the odd Bilberry. As it happens there'd been some sort of Event on and there were several determined families with be-wellied kids wandering around. BUT I did meet my first Tit band of the Autumn, and it had the whole 5 flavours, so that was fun.

Saturday. Same forecast as Friday, but with actual showers turning up rather than just rain I went back to have a look at Huntingdon Warren. As I walked up to the dam, the sun was shining... Deary me. I took the chance to look for odonata and met some frisky Black Darters, a passing Golden-ringed, and some showy to the point of Porn Star-hood Keeled Skimmers [very odd, they're usually buggers to get close to..]. I just happened to have camera with Shiny New Lens with me [funny that, might even have been expecting sunshine?], and got a couple of shots off. Then it rained on me. I kept going and had a mooch about the place - the Heap Of Sinners is quite a nice cairn, with some serious views. Bird-wise the Avon and its tributaries gave me a whole heap of Whinchats and Wheatears, plus a Hobby passing through [How many is that this year now? I'm really doing well! :) ]. The reservoir was continuing to merrily pour over the top, but still no Goosanders [or anything else] on it.

On Sunday I gave the Patch some overdue attention and, after thinking I was going to have been sunblasted and generally made to suffer in the heat for very little, I was just about to leave the Nose when a big party of migrant warblers* collided with a group of tits** and I was in the middle! Imagine the chaos as more than 30 small passerines were zipping about the trees and bushes all around me, flycatching, chasing each other, calling, popping up, dropping down... The tits moved through fairly quickly, but the warblers stayed around for almost an hour and a half, starting at the Pear Tree, moving down to both sides of the First Slope, before looking at the Top Dell and finally moving off into the North Side. Of course, plenty of civilians were passing through while this was going on, fishers, dog walkers, and general wanderers - mostly looking at the guy with the bins spinning around and staring at trees with a silly grin on his face with various versions of 'These Bird-spotters are Crazy' on their faces... ;)

[* A good dozen Chiffs, at least 5 Willows, at least one Garden]

[** 7+ LTTs, 4+ Blue 2+ Great and 2+ Coal]

Today a Day Out with the Folks on't Moor! In an attempt to have at least most of a day without Tilly going bonkers, we went to Fernworthy. Cue mouse quote... Yeah, there were these sheep that had gotten into the enclosure. Oh dear.... Still, we did have some peace and quiet, and in a shocking development, the Little Black Dog even spent the whole of our coffee break being quiet..... ::Sound of Apocalypse Nearing:: She did this by means of finding a dead gorse stump [well, more of the whole stem], tearing it out of the ground, and then chewing it into teeny tiny little bits....

Aaaanyway. We went our way along many of the tracks among the trees, visiting the Circle [and wondering why people, when leaving flowers {which is sweet} leave the frickin' cellophane on them........] and various other bits. We wanted to go and have a look at Staddon Tor [which is one of the few we haven't been on] but unfortunately, a big herd of coobeasties were there first and there were sheep, so we decided perhaps next time.. While we had lunch beside a babbling brook near the plantation's edge [lovely little spot] we were visited first by not one but two Southern Hawkers [???] and then by two delightful [and presumably juvenile, as they were so bold] Redstarts! Ah, Fernworthy strikes again - got to be the best place to see Redstarts in Devon.

Redpoll were less confiding - a couple flew over the car park and that was it. Siskin were also feeling shy, giving only distant flight views, but the Crossbills.... Well, for almost all of the time they were busy playing les buggeres risibles, but finally a group of 15 decided to play nice and showed very well, and close up too :D The water has gone down a huge amount - you can see exposed some very nice hut circles by the main car park, and a bridge near the hide - and to my delight a Green Sand was present, at least for a while before being flushed away by all the bods... 4 Little and one GC Grebes were trying to fish in the reduced reservoir. A group of about 20 House Martin came overhead for a few minutes, and there was a steady passage of Swallows all day - eastwards.

Ok, so that's it for my summer hollyday; shutdown's over tomorrow, so it'll be weekend birding for me and not much for you to use for your insomnia cures.. Sorry.
Though you never know, I may be able to coincide finding the words for a rant with being here to put it into type... ;)

26 August, 2011

Shear Joy

Back to my more regular delayed posting, all that reporting on the day [or even within minutes] was just getting silly.

Also, 'twas a bit late when I got back and I needed sleep. Yes, 'got back', for yesterday I picked my moment and made the trip I've been planning since I found out about the August shutdown... That's right, folks, I was at 'Gwarra.

[[You can just see the grin, can't you?]]

Its something of a pilgrimage for seawatchers - not that I haven't been there before, but its always been after going for something else [usually as consolation and an effort to cheer myself up after horribly dipping something else, Citrine Wagtails and Savi's Warblers spring to mind...], I've never made The Trip, so to speak. This has been rectified, and The Goddess of Birding rewarded my devotion and She did rain down big shears upon Her worshippers and It Was Good.

But I'll get to that.

I dragged up at an obscene hour and decided that, while it is quicker to go via Plymouth when there's no traffic, as there were very heavy thundery showers forecast, it'd only take one of them plus one idiot to block the Bodmin road and I'd be screwed. A30 it was and a good choice that was as between Okie and Sourton a Woodcock flew across in front of me :D Crossing the Tamar into Cornwall, a couple of Goosanders did the same thing :D Good omens, I thought. The drive was enlivened by valley fog, hill fog, and apocalyptically heavy rain. I mean, ye gods and little fishes it threw it down - I was wishing for an 'Even faster' setting on my wipers and even the white vans and audi drivers were slowing down for it! [Yeah, that serious...] The sun came up between squalls, showing off the size of the clouds that were marching around - but also how spread out they were. Oh well, alea jacta est and all that...

Despite catching lorries, two buses and a tractor I made average time and found only 7 cars there before me, with one chap set up on the mound overlooking Porthgwarra cove. The sun was shining as I took the coast path to Hella [thinking to see what it was like there before deciding whether to stay put or go on to Gwennap] but the wind was keen [[That'll be 'Unsecured hats go bye-byes!', then]] and the sea looked frisky so I thought, 'Hmm, maybe...'. Watchers were spread out around the area - for those of you who've not been, the two heads are both big sites with a lot of places to sit at different heights and aspects - I picked a couple of chaps close by and wandered over, found a spot that seemed sheltered and had literally just sat down and was pulling my tripod out of my bag when [Cornish Birder] called "Large Shear!" followed a couple of seconds later by "It's Great". Cue the Benny Hill music as I raced the speeding shear while trying to suppress the flashbacks to my first one at Berry Head [[Really not my finest hour, that....]]. As at Berry, I just got on it in time. If I'd known... Nah, I'd still have wanted it!

Settling down to watch, I realised my spot was not ideal - the wind was coming around the corner and if it did what was forecast and got more southerly it would only get worse [[In a blatant Sign Of The Apocalypse, this indeed happened...!]]. I bit the bullet and moved, expecting "Big shear!" or worse at any second... I got to my new site [well down slope and right next to a nice chunk of granite] and set up ok. Phew. Then... "Big shear!" Then again, and again and again... Looking at the times, I can see that after three well-spaced singles, they came in little groups over 6 periods of 10-20 minutes and though I didn't record it, I'd bet money they were associated with those tight tall squalls that were prowling past. To my surprise, none of the squalls hit us, though we got 3 sideswipes that gave enough rain and wind gusts to make us glad of that. You see what that means? We were getting large shearwaters in sunshine. The odd one was distant, but most were on the Runnelstone line and some were closer - one so close I couldn't even get the Runnelstone buoy in view at minimum zoom... :D

Nobody got on everything; the sun and the swell, plus the wind carrying shouts away, saw to that. I saw 23 large shearwaters, of which 7 were Great, 14 Cory's and 2 unidentified, with the last [a Cory's] at 1431. * The Greats all looked pretty clean, but several of the Cory's [I'm kicking myself for not noting which] were moulting inner primaries.

Oh but it was glorious! Big shears coming through in bright sunshine, only one or two at a time with the chance to really follow them - see them in sunlight and shade, coming, passing and going, at different ranges, with other birds for comparison [one time a Great and a Cory's came through together and both were in one view... Wow.]. It is a truism of birding that there's no substitute for experience, that only by seeing a bird in the feather can you really know it. This is unfortunately used to justify a Catch-22 when it comes to IDs; 'If you haven't seen it, you can't ID it'. That is of course bullshit, but like the most effective lies there is a grain of truth within. I firmly believe that you can ID anything if you see [and if necessary hear] it well enough, no matter your experience - the difficult bit lies when you don't. So, I had 'Large Shear spp.' for what I was pretty sure was Great at Hope's Nose in 2008, because despite it coming in after trawlers twice, it was distant and hazy and I'd never seen a Cory's use that flight action and didn't know how they looked in those circumstances. Do now. Retrospective Patch Tick.

It really was a huge learning experience in big shear identification and unlike on say, the Day of the Sooties, I didn't have to get soaked [Bonus!]. Of course, it wasn't all Greats and Cory's going by, there were other birds. Again, I missed a few [or a lot - such as all the Stormies] but 2 each of Sooty and Balearic [plus a mid-sized shear that could have been either - it was just taking off and shaking, then I lost it..], 3 Bonxies, including a very dark one, more than 400 Manx [mostly going east] a single Kittiwake and 2 Razorbill, 4 LBBs, 2+ Common Terns [there were more in a flock but I got on them late] and two single Arctic Terns - a juvenile and an adult - which were a snap to ID on wing translucency; bless the sunshine! 32 Fulmars passed, with most being light phase [as opposed to the usual double lights you get off Devon] but one being.. not what I would call properly Blue, but all grey. There was a constant passage of Gannets west at ranges right down to cliff base, so I didn't even try to count them... Overhead 2 Whimbrel flew out to sea with much calling. I didn't see the Osprey. :(

In the sea, the big swell made things tricky. A Sunfish was briefly visible near the buoy, and to the east a Common Dolphin porpoised, followed later by a porpoising chorus line [very impressive synchronised swimming] of at least 3 robust dolphins that I'm hoping the Seawatch team got an ID on** - they were head on and too quick for me! Likewise what looked like a small whale went through my field of view as I followed a Cory's - I didn't stop for it and it wasn't there when I went back. Oh well... Late on a Basker was spotted right below us, but in a truly pathetic display of incompetence I was utterly unable to get on it before it sank out of sight. Drat.

I called it a day after 8 hours - no incoming squalls in sight and passage had really died - and went my way homewards. Despite the best efforts of assorted emmets to give me an aneurism, I got home in one piece and promptly crashed out. It had been a good day.

Oh, who am I kidding? It ROCKED!!!!!

[[[*There was originally a fairly long bit here about why the various published totals are different from mine, but it really doesn't matter; we saw what we saw and everyone had a good time.]]]

**EDIT: So, it seems the Seawatch team spent the day asleep really suffered from being round the corner at Gwennap, as they saw no cetaceans or big shears at all! Oh well, I'll put 'em down as 'Dolphin sp., probably Bottlenose' and 'Whale sp., possibly Minke'.

24 August, 2011

Just a Quickie

Hit the Patch today: not much to tell - a few Chiffs and a Wheatear at the Nose. I also had my latest film developed and [it having miraculously come out] want to share with you the last ever photograph taken through my Sigma lens. Taken at Stover, leaning out over the weir on the canal - image untouched save for a tiny crop;

I'm still grinning... :D

23 August, 2011

Yes, Another Post....

Deary me, what is the world coming to, five in five days, and this one with not all that much about birds. No, I still haven't gone to Cornwall...

So, I went to Exeter. Walking boots that really needed replacing and a scout for a new lens ⁄ new camera setup being the priorities, with a sneaky detour planned for some birding, because its shutdown week and I can't let a day go by without some! :D

Buying footwear is not something to be taken lightly for me. I have broad feet with high insteps that mean most boots are either too long or I can't get into them. As for shoes - forget it. When I was a kid you could see the assistants at Clarks trying to hide when they saw us coming in... [[Other shoe retailers may still be in business?]] Today was a good day, only the 4th pair was a good fit [though the retailer was a) very good and b) sold me some light boots earlier this year and remembered the fun]. In fact, I think a plug is in order [I'm not the BBC, after all]; for all your outdoor needs, be it clothing, kit, or footwear, if you're in Exeter, go first to Moorland Rambler. They're very good, very helpful and generally deserve your custom. [[No, they didn't pay me to say that, though if anyone from there is reading this and would like to..]]

I also surprised myself by buying a lens. Straight up, "I'll take it". I was just browsing about the second hand stuff [having seen the new prices..] and thought I might as well get hands on a couple. Lens in question is by someone I've never heard of; 'Mitsuki' [Which if you search you will learn is 'Three months' in Japanese and also an anime character...]. Apparently also a name of convenience for an OEM. Go figure. Anyway, this thing [and what a thing, it weighs a kilo or so] is a 75-260mm Macro, entirely manual, it will focus down to 195mm, which is pretty impressive [especially compared to my old Sigma]. Learning to use it will be interesting, as it focusses the other way and zooms properly [as opposed to the Sigma's trombone style].

My detour was in search of Dippers, about which I had some gen. Alas I dipped [I should have expected that, with all the puns I've been flinging around lately...], but I did finally see my first Kingfisher of the year [Woohoo!] and a very nice female Sprawk had a soar overhead after seeing off a couple of noisy Crows. Also a smart Grey Wag and a very over-friendly Labrador called Rocket...

22 August, 2011

I Didn't Expect That...

Well, I was going to get up this morning and most likely toss a coin on the Bonelli's. Unfortunately forgetting to turn it on a technical issue caused my alarm to not go off, so by the time I awoke it was far too late to make trolling west for 21⁄2 hours [plus traffic, and oh the traffic...] viable. Still, the sun was sort of shining it was warm and not that windy and while my not-going-twitching choice of Smallhanger was also not practical, I could still go looking for dragons closer to home.

Stover was, as you'd expect, full of people walking their dogs and⁄or kids, but I still managed to see some good stuff and it was worth the trip. :) Bird-wise the undoubted highlight and so very good to see was the pair of GC Grebes accompanied by a juvenile! :D I'm just over the moon for them - they're gorgeous and so confiding, its great they've finally succeeded!


Odonata-wise I did pretty good too, with 10 species getting my Not-Being-Chased Yearlist up to a creditable 25. What looked and flew very like a Ruddy Darter lost me on the canal before I could get a look at the thorax sides to confirm, so the Dragon of the Day award and blog title-giver goes to a lovely female Golden-ringed, which I was delighted and surprised to watch ovipositing [and the books do not prepare you for the sight of a Golden-ring ovipositing, they're like flying pneumatic drills!] in the little pondy bit opposite the Dragonfly Pond! Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but Golden-rings are dragonflies of gravel-bottomed streams, they like overhangs and cold flowing water, not shallow muddy heat-trap ponds full of weed?!? A male Common Darter [lots about - the most common dragon] tried to have a go at her [["Git orf ma' pond ya varmint!"]] and almost got eaten for his efforts...

A Migrant Hawker lurked about the far end of the canal, along with a half dozen Beautiful Demoiselle, which looked fabulous in the dappled sunlight. A smart Southern Hawker paid a few visits to the Dragonfly Pond, and a few Common Hawkers roved around. Emeralds were the most common damsels, with a few Blue-tails and just the odd Azure and Common Blue remaining.

On a less pleasant note, my big lens has seemingly jammed solid - its always been prone to sticking when knocked, but I've previously been able to straighten it out; now it just won't move at all, to zoom or focus... Drat. So I have a choice to make - get another one [ if I can find a manual Pentax-fit lens that's good for shooting dragons and very slow birds but doesn't cost a fortune] or say "Ok, time to put film behind me and spend far too much money on a digital setup..."

What to do, what to do.....

21 August, 2011

Who Wants To Go To Cornwall Anyway?

Reckoning that the Bonelli's would have done a bunk and deciding that as I'm planning a trip that way later and am supposed to be Being Good and trying not to spend vast amounts on petrol, I dragged myself out of bed at a respectably early hour and zipped down to the Nose to see if I could find some migrants, the weather having duly clouded over [and, I assumed. that the weak cold front predicted having passed through]. [[Oh, what a brief opening sentence]] A road full of cars had me worrying a bit about hordes of deranged doggers [no, not like that] but no less than 8 tents [cheerfully ignoring the 'No Camping' sign just as everyone ignores the 'No Barbeques' and 'Take Your Litter Home' and 'Keep Your Dogs Under Control', let alone shutting the gate to keep the livestock from getting onto the road... Ahem.*] in the quarry and a serried mass of fisherfolk bode well. Indeed, I didn't meet a single non-fisher while I was there - first time this has happened when its not raining sideways!

[[*What can I say? Its my Patch, my home, I grew up here. I pick up the litter [that I can carry - you seriously need a team with a vehicle to make a real dent] and I never fail to be annoyed that people can't even be bothered to shut one little gate so the latch catches. It's not rocket science; you just need to pull or push....]]

Relishing the peace and quiet I gave all the cover a good going over, managing to find some actual birds! [Shock!] It wasn't spectacular, and dwarfed by the good days I'd had in Spring, but considering the lack of proper fall conditions, I think it was a fair result. Star bird goes to a Lesser Whitethroat in the Top Dell, ordinary Whitethroat numbers were up and Chiff numbers had more than doubled. A couple of Blackcaps again and the odd Stonechat, but the most interesting birds were the Robins. Yes, you read me right. At least 9 in the Top Dell alone, at one point 5 adults were in one small bush and not trying to kill each other. This potential Sign Of The Apocalypse looks suspiciously like migration to me...

Down south there was the periodic rumble of thunder, and a Dark Cloud loomed on the horizon, but no flashes were to be seen, so I figured the weather minions had got it right[ish] for once. Ho Ho Ho. Yup, got rained on! Not for long, but big drops. Oh well. I may not have found a Melodious or Bonelli's of my very own, but I didn't do too badly and more importantly had fun. Oh, and I met a Common Lizard! [No Adders, though]

I headed home for a good shot of coffee and rescued a Beech-green Carpet from the conservatory [I shocked myself by managing to find it among about 1700 species on a very thorough website], then it was time for a trip up onto t' Moor with the Folks. After our fun in the boggy bits last time, it was decided to try something drier and the old railway line from Princetown [which loops round some nice quarries before ending up at Burrator] was selected. I like the quarries on Dartmoor - they're proper bites out of the hills and the spoil heaps are not only not toxic or collapsey, but great for Wheatears! We scored 19, including one incredibly downy juvenile which must have been days out of the nest at most. Some were ridiculously confiding, not even bothered by Tilly [which drove her a little nuts - she likes things to run away when she barks at them....].

The Mipits are gathering, one flock was a massive 35 strong - they were by the trackway and as we walked the grass just kept sprouting more and more Mipits, Tilly didn't know which way to look :) A party of 4 Ravens treated us to some aerobatics, the Starlings in Princetown got grilled extra crispy [can't think why...? ;) ], and despite some very promising-looking habitat being passed, I failed to see a single odonate. The wind, perhaps best described as brisk, may have something to do with that.

Still got mixed feelings about that Bonellis, though... I really want to see one [they're gorgeous!], but. I may see how I feel in the morning [before I see the 'No Sign of..' ;) ]. I might even flip a coin, who knows?

20 August, 2011

Migrants Fast and Skulky

The trees are turning and the birds are migrating; it's Autumn, folks!

I gave the Patch a bash today, concentrating on the Nose and aiming for migrants. I got lucky and managed to avoid getting soaked, so consider the day a win. Best bird was doubtless the juvenile Hobby which shot past low overhead and powered off out to sea - heading SE, not for Berry Head - as I arrived at the top gate. WOW!

It was a glorious way to arrive, though it may also explain why there were so few passerine migrants in evidence... ;)

Other than a few Chiffs and some Goldfinches, the only definite migrant was a Garden Warbler, which gave me an interesting burst of sub-song from a very tricky to get at position on the cliff scrub by IMD. I eventually nailed the little git [the song had me going WTF - not what I'm used to from them, it sounded very odd and thus potentially interesting] though not without having to half-climb into a wasp-infested bush overhanging a fair drop to be able to see the right spot. You know, I've always thought carrying an MP3 player of bird calls was a bit like cheating, but I'm starting to think it might be an idea. Memorising a call and checking on CD and BWPi is all very well, but not so good when you're on the spot wondering if something needs hunting down and getting eyes on. History and geography show that sooner or later there's going to be an interesting sylvia on my patch and I need to be ready to know what to hang about all day for and what I can leave where it is...

On a lighter note, and a very light and happy one it is - family party of LTTs on the Hill! :D Great to see after two hard winters.

19 August, 2011

The Cliché Strikes Again

It's one of the famous birding clichés; a group of birders are waiting somewhere, be it on a twitch, seawatching, or just sitting in a hide, and as soon as one of them leaves, something good appears. Its especially strong if that poor someone wants to see said something good, most of all if they've said they do out loud.

Thus it was today at Bowling Green, when [Devon Birder] was hoping for a nice Yellow Wag, but left bird-less. Within 5 minutes a gorgeous one was tarting about by the depth gauge - albeit briefly, as it was flushed by Canadas, themselves disturbed by a coobeastie!

I went over this morning for the high tide [arriving in time, this go around...] and was rewarded with a whole heap of birds. Ok, so most were Canadas and BHGs, but there were a fair few waders too, and some were very nice. Avocets, for example; 2 early birds [pun intended] which had only arrived this morning. 3 juvenile Ruff showed very well [when it wasn't too badly affected by the sunshine], as did - oh sod it, here's the list;

Knot 14 [one still in very smart s/pl]
Dunlin 16
Green Sand 1 [plus 2 unseen]
Greenshank 19
Redshank ~100
Blackwit* ~240
Barwit 8
Lapwing 14
Curlew ~410
Whimbrel 1+ [Not specifically looked-for, this one stuck its head up while I was counting the Curlew]
Ringed Plover 3
L Egret 35
G Heron 1
BHG 600+
Med. Gull 1 [juv.]

[[*One Blackwit had a colour ring; yellow over red flag, but it was standing on one leg and side-on, so which leg they were on was impossible to determine. When the Blackwits flushed it vanished and wasn't refound while I was there]]

The thistles in front of the hide were taking a battering from a large party of Goldfinch, mostly juveniles. More than a dozen Pied Wagtails, plus a couple of Greys and at least one Yellow were mobile among the grass, cattle, and waterside, while overhead a good-sized group of mixed hirundines were active. A very smart Chiff came close to the window while working through a neighbouring tree, giving a lovely if brief view. Speaking of, so did the Red Arrows, as they came over from Dawlish way [though I thought the display was supposed to be yesterday?]. Eventually, a big blue tractor came to cut the rushes, and that was pretty much that.

This afternoon, brief drama as a female Common Hawker buzzed into the garden, had a look at the pond, then flew straight into the conservatory window! She made one hell of a thwack, but flew off apparently undamaged - I suppose dragonflies are pretty tough, judging by the violence of the clashes I've witnessed in the past [[Southern Hawker vs Emperor at Smallhangar springs to mind...]. Garden tick, but a pity she didn't hang around to oviposit - the pond leeches could do with thinning out...

16 August, 2011

Once Moor

I'd like to apologise for that horrific excuse for a pun, really I would...
A belated Sunday post here, with no further apologies as you're doubtless used to my erratic timing by now. ;)
With the forecast for moderate west or nor'westerlies, with overcast and maybe a bit of sunshine, the Folks and I went up on't Moor to do a walk they'd done a few years back; following the Avon up to Broad Falls, then cutting behind Huntingdon Warren to Snowdon and back down the ridge to the dam. A shower en route was not in the forecast, but when we arrived at Shipley Bridge the sun was back out, and the Avon valley was its usual hot sultry self.
Golden-ringed and Common Hawker Dragonflies [no damsels, though - though we didn't hang around, as there were miles to go and so on] buzzed around the boggy bits [which still look very interesting, if ever I get around to looking at them properly]. Grey Wagtails and a juvenile female Sprawk being harassed by a Crow were the best birds before we started climbing out past the dam and met a group of mixed thrushes and Chaffinches munching the berries [looks like a lot of Rowan again]. The reservoir itself had nary a Mallard, let alone anything interesting, and as we thankfully diverged ways from a large horde of Happy Hikers, a big black cloud brooding over the tops to our north sent a couple turning back [well, we didn't actually ask them if they'd been scared off by the weather, but their body language suggested it..]
Personally, I was rather enheartened by this, as I'm not a fan of the heat and bright sun [I'll put up with it for odonata], and more rain means fewer emmets. The Folks are of the other persuasion, but to their credit, even when it started drizzling on us they just 'proofed up and kept going. Tilly, well she had seen sheep and was... keen for more...
Bird of the day was a gorgeous Wheatear, which popped up onto a wall at close range, looking all fresh and pretty. Less good was the amount of water up there. It's a rare sight to see the Avon Falls [when the reservoir is full and pouring over the top of the dam] in summer, and upstream all the boggy bits were very wet, all the streams were pretty full, and the going was 'interesting'. Also, with the Avon valley being much rougher going then even a couple of years ago, it was decided at the Mythical Avon Clapper Bridge to change the plan. Over the river we went, up the hill, and over to the tramways. Time had moved on in that way it does and lunch was needed, but the wind was fairly keen and getting some shelter from it a good idea. But where? This is one of the Great Arts of enjoying t' Moor; finding good spots to stop! With Tilbury Dog along, this is made even more complex, as she will a) bark at any livestock in sight [and I do mean any, up to tiny dots miles away if they move] and b) bark at any passers by in case they try to steal 'her' [ie. our] lunch - though she will now stop that when told to. She's an interesting little dog..
Finding shelter from the wind on a gently curving hillside when it's blowing upslope into the tin workings is not simple, but fortunately, t' Moor's industrial heritage [as they like to say] has left a few other nice bits of scenery. Some people don't like the various stone ruins, but I think they're great. Not only of archaeological interest but also wonderful windbreaks. Alas, the coobeasties think so too, and they really churn the ground to mud - which, while I don't mind muddy boots, would also lead to muddy dog, and as these were old china clay buildings... Yeah, not good. However, a leetle lateral thinking and a solution was found; next door were a couple of settling tanks, now dry and with a useful rim. Just sitting on the edge took the main force off the wind, sitting inside took all of it off, though at a cost of the panorama. Tilly had nothing to tangle herself around and no view to bark at, so she could concentrate on her 'Poor Starving Animal' routine. Result.
The tramway leads back to Shipley [well, one branch does, the other goes to Ivybridge - pick the right one or be sorry!], but matters were complicated by the herds of coobeasties and their calves. Some cattle are pretty laid back, and will just stare at madly barking dogs, but some aren't [even those without calves, as we found at Sourton...] and with a dog we can't let off the lead it can get dodgy. [[The rules are pretty simple; stick together, look big, and never ever run]]. Eventually after several detours we had no choice but to go straight through a big herd, but they were nice coobeasties, and while a few of the younger bullocks had a trot, they mostly just got up and watched Tilly being dogmarched past.
We went on past the Sub to Black Tor, where we had coffee in the sun and out of the wind. A couple of different distant dark brown soaring raptors eventually resolved into Buzzards [quelle surpris], and it was nice in a relaxed way.

13 August, 2011

Musician's Recompense

All the fun comes with a price, of course. Alas I can't just spend my days swanning around looking at birds [or staring at bushes, as we shall see later...], more's the pity. So, a week of work, more work, did I mention work? Oh and with a bit of overtime thrown in for good measure. Joy. Not even a work tick, either. Yep, you read right, overtime. ::Sigh:: It's all that pesky front's fault - if it hadn't sped up and gone through overnight... Tut. But petrol doesn't come cheap [despite crude falling 20%; scum-sucking profiteers that they are] and overtime helps to pay for all the fun.

As does Being Good and bashing my Patch yesterday. Strictly Longshank's Pony only as I gave it a fair going-over, with a juvenile Willow Warbler the highlight - passing through almost definitely [alas again] as I haven't had more than briefly singing spring migrants here for a long while. When I were a lad, they'd sing from just up there ::Points::, but no more...

Juvenile Whitethroat was more likely a local, but the interesting skulker with white tail sides at the Nose... It popped up and back down very quickly, but what little I saw and heard of it was promising. So, I picked a good spot - close but not too close, nicely tucked away and so on - and waited. And waited. How long do you stay staring at a bush [or vast area of scrub, in this case, as the little git was in the top end of the South Side]? I gave it an hour.

This is why I prefer seawatching to pass-bashing - they fly by, maybe they hide behind a wave, but you know within at the most a few minutes if you're going to get an ID. There's no malarky with hiding in bushes and sneaking out the back while you stand around like a plank... There's no giving a call that sounds like 20 other species' calls. Or giving a funny call then moving somewhere else, or.. ah, you get the idea.

Not to say I haven't had fun with little birds in big bushes - but usually when I already know they're there. A certain Sardinian Warbler at Berry Head springs to mind - I got myself sat down on my little folding stool with a flask of coffee and waited. It eventually came to me and showed quite cripplingly. 3 views totaling 4 minutes in a little over two hours [plus a point-blank Yellow-brow as icing on a very tasty cake :) ]. Though then there were two more hours of bugger all, of course... So when I'm at 'Gwarra I have a look at the Cover, but only as I'm passing to and from the main event. Bush-bashing's what you do when the weather's wrong to seawatch. ;)

I did get an unexpected Patch Tick, but not one for my yearlist. Common Hawker, near the Palace Hotel. Biggest dragon I've seen here! [Ok, the list is very short, {Its 4!} but what do you expect for a densely-populated urban area with cliffs, woods and some farmland? The ponds at Torre Abbey and Cockington can barely sustain the Mallard horde - odonata have no chance. There should be a few Demoiselles on the streams, but I've never seen one...]. Also, the annual "Oh shiiiiit!" moment, as a wandering juvenile Buzzard discovers that there are far worse things than Crows in the sky...

08 August, 2011

Patience, Persistence, and A Huge Scope III

After careful consideration of the weather forecasts, especially the wind, I decided that if I wanted to score some good birds today, I needed to desert my Patch and ideally go to 'Gwarra. This being unfeasible due to idleness [and the cost of petrol it has to be said, and the unwillingness to put up with the vast horde doubtless to be present after the jamminess of saturday] [[Ok, so I admit it; I'm a lazy stingy antisocial git.]] I decided that the next best thing was my standard go-to when the weather ain't right for the Bay - Prawle.

To my shock [yes, shock - really wasn't expecting it] I was alone. Seriously, I'd have thought one Very Famous Devon Birder would be there, but nope. The car park was filling just as I arrived, and later I met a family clambering about the rocks [or rather, they met me], but no other birders. Anyways, I gave it a mighty 7 1⁄2 hours - stretched out due to seeing a juicy squall coming when I was originally going to stop at 1730.

The early blasting sunshine and surprisingly nippy wind eventually gave way to overcast as a series of squally showers scored direct hits, as opposed to stalking by a mile or so out in the Channel. I went from melting in the heat to putting on everything I had and wishing I'd brought more - this is, by the way, more proof that 'You can never be too prepared' is true. An almost horizon-wide sun-glare switched to white squalls [that last one especially was a doozy!] and back again before the cloud more or less won. The wind switched around, the swell picked up and then dropped almost flat in the murk at one point. Day of big contrasts.

It was a watch of patchy nothings, flurries of birds, and moments of shear delight. Pun very intentional. If you've read the Devon Bird News blog you'll know what's coming - at 1334 a Cory's Shearwater, that's what. 9 minutes from Start. I had a Sooty go by further out and very fast at 1454, and a total of 659 Manx - every single one west. Not one Balearic that I could see... I did get an education in shapeshifting, though; I saw what for several seconds looked and flew like a Swift, low over the sea. Only it wasn't a Swift, it was a Manxie! Angles and flight action, angles and flight action... Next time I see him, I owe [Cornish Birder] an apology.. Also past [all west unless stated] 14 LBBs [including one intermedius; an adult flying next to an adult graellsii, which was considerate of it], 9 Fulmar, one lone adult Kittiwake, a Whimbrel, 99 Gannets west and 23 east, and that's all she wrote.


The thing about seawatching is that sometimes you see things. No, I'm not being funny. Sometimes you see things and just go ".......Huh?!???" Sometimes you see something fly past and try as you might you can't get a proper look at it. Sometimes you get a really great look at it, draw it nicely and you still can't find out what in the name of purple petunias it was..

As for today, the bird that went by between 1228 and 1232 [I got on it very early, for once]... Well, I'm not going to bore you to tears with a detailed account. I'm not ticking it. One day, when I know more, I might go back to it, but right now it's a ?

I come back to this many years later, having actually seen what I thought I'd seen then. Knowing what I did then, my conclusion was very reasonable. But knowing what I do now, I know this was not what I thought it was.

Ok, enough talking around things. I thought it was a Fea's. It looked like one, it was marked like one, but it didn't fly like one was supposed to. But the conditions were not ones in which anyone had seen a Fea's [or at least reported it], so it was a grey area. I did the right thing and put a ?

In fact, while there is the slight possibility it was a Fea's, it was 99% likely to have been a Fulmar. I have since seen Fulmars show plumages which are effectively a match for pterodromas of several species, with more than one showing a near duplication of Fea's. This has never been publicised to my knowledge, [which is I suspect another of those things like 1w and fresh adult ReedBunt plumages; a trap for the masses.] and ought to be. Take the 2015 'cornish Kermadec'... 

Put a weird spin on the day, but that's seawatching folks! Go on, go try it for yourselves, you never know what might go past next. [[0 auks and 1 Kittiwake - wft was with that?!?!]]

06 August, 2011

Red Hot News

Red Kite!! Mobbed by Herring Gulls over Torquay and drifted off north at 1147.

Breaking news from Backward Birding and in near real-time, as a Red Kite sends the local Herring Gulls all kinds of bonkers and the Backward Birder gets his reward for jumping up like a loon every time he hears them alarming. Garden and Patch Tick, oh yeah baby!!!! :D

PYL: 131

05 August, 2011

Public Humiliation...

They seem to delight in it, don't they? Those norty birds...

So, no sooner do I declare to the world* that all our Swifts have departed for the sunny south than I see that I am in fact wrong. Bugger. Yay too, for Swifts are Swifts and always a Good Thing but bugger in equal measure.

I was partly right, maybe you could argue even mostly right, as the main body of Swifts did indeed go on Tuesday, including all of the very local birds, and there are only 4 or so stragglers hanging around. 4 or so who are still here today, hunting over there this evening. ::Points::

Right then, post work birding consisted of heading to Bowling Green for the high tide, hoping for a nice yankee wader among the Dunlin, or at least that Ruff that showed up yesterday. Ha ha ha. Smallest waders were 3 Green Sands, plus a Snipe. " But where have all the Dunlin [and the White-rumped Sand that by rights should be with them - hey, I can dream!] gone??" Goosemoor, probably.. Curlew, Blackwit and Redshank all passed 200, with pleasing numbers of Whimbrel, Barwit [including s/pl] and Greenshank with them. A juvie Redshank had ridonkulously yellow legs [Yellowlegs yellow - made you look!], which was interesting and the best detail picked out of the detail look I gave the thronged waders [that Ruff might have been lurking]. A Fox came and had a look at them too, but skulked off without trying its luck.

It was hot and humid, just like most of the week's been [yuck] and I didn't have the energy to try somewhere else for odonata, so home I skulked to grab some shuteye and think about the forecast.. Not ideal, but possibly interesting?

[[*Yes, dear readers, you are my world. Touched? Probably. ;) ]]

04 August, 2011

Swift Update

[[Boom boom...]]

Waited a couple of days to be sure, as per usual, but I can now confirm that Swift Watch™ is concluded for another year. Our Swifts left on Tuesday, which at 2/8 is towards the earlier end of the range of departures. I guess the weather we've had may have been a factor [["Its going to rain how much?!? Sod that, let's go back to Africa!"]]. Always a shame when they go...