30 January, 2012

Oops, She Did It Again...

After a bit of a lie-in and a look at the Garden, this afternoon I went for a wander with the Folks [only the second time this year!]. We had a good stroll around Yarner, but didn't get any snow.. Rain, yes. Oh well.

We only met one other person [and her dog] - dodgy weather has its uses - and for a long while didn't meet any birds either. Eventually we started meeting tit bands [6 in all], with a band of a dozen Coal Tits interestingly monospecific. One band of mainly Long-tails and Marsh Tits had a lone Redpoll with it, plus a Treeecreeeper. Adorable... Not long after passing them, Tilly managed to flush another Woodcock! Rough on the Woodcock, but one thing a little black dog is useful for [as well as tangling herself up in Holly and Heather, wrapping her lead around bridges {yes, you read that right...} and trying to deny poor starving Robins a few crumbs!].

I've waxed lyrical about Yarner's winter beauty before, more than once, so I'll spare you this time. It is, though.


I at last got around to heading over to Calshot and twitching the Spanish Sparrow!

Having crashed early on Friday I was up sharp and burning over to Hants - it took me less time than the Junco trip, even! I found a small crowd of about 20 watching the SS in the hedge. Got on it and was, I have to say, a bit underwhelmed. Then it buggered off. Very nice local eventually refound it in his g/f's garden and we were all invited in to see it on the assorted feeders therein [Kudos, very big kudos]. The Sparrow looked much better at point-blank range, with its huge bill making a Greenfinch look a bit weedy, though when I cracked and went for a picture it duly scarpered...

After expressing profuse thanks and giving a donation to the Good Cause, I decided on a quick cuppa before heading on to my second target. I strolled down to the beach and gave it a quick half hour. I got 2 GC Grebes and a great big german container ship called the Cap Stephens - definitely the star attraction.... Oh well, on to my 'Target 2, if the Sparrow behaves'.

Hayling Island is great! I've never seen waders so confiding and there's plenty more to look at as well as the star attraction; the Shore Lark. Very much a nice bird to twitch, it stays put. And so pretty, too! I pulled up my folding stool in the lee of some bushes and had lunch admiring the Lark. Pretty Lark, pretty pretty Lark. Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, Brent Geese, hell even Redshank coming to 40' or so from people standing around, chatting and wandering back and forth. Madness.... They get some serious numbers, too. Definitely need to go back there at some point.

Finally, it was time for Hume's II, the Revenge.

Dipped again....

However, this time the Richard's Pipit was feeling much better about itself and showed down to daft distances inside the Bridging Camp, just ignoring us completely. Really smart bird, a joy to look at. Then, the Black Redstart which has been hanging around arrived and started following the RP around! Sweet, very sweet. While I was dipping the Hume's, I did get the sight of 84 RB Mergansers - 70 of which flew in in one impressive flock - and a wonderful 1w male Kestrel hunting amazingly close. If the light had been better I think it would have been better than the one at the Pallid Harrier.

Twas a long and tiring day, but a rewarding one.

More Moor

Friday dawned cold but quite bright, with me yet again not going after that Sparrow. Coming straight off a night shift and then trying to get over to Calshot as early as possible didn't sound like a great plan, and it was still quite windy. Instead I decided a nice weekday on t'Moor was a better plan.

I went up to Fernworthy, thinking to stay among the valleys and trees if it was too windy and 'orrible, but to get up on the tops if it wasn't. The forestry was well sheltered and quite balmy in the sunshine - and there was some serious sunshine, albeit with big showers stomping around - I'd wrapped up and was a bit on the warm side, even. Getting out of the compound and onto the moor proper, I found it nicely damp underfoot, with some interesting changes wrought by rain. The Moor does that, it changes quite drastically. In this case a stream formerly not more than a foot or so deep now had bits that were deeper than my hiking pole fully extended... Still only two or three feet wide and full right up to the grass. Nasty accident waiting to happen, there. Holes happen. The track in Steeperton Gorge not too many years ago suddenly showed itself to have a hole about four feet deep under it - thin layer of rooty gravel on top... Now its all filled in. Probably. A ford on the Teign now has pebble banks in it where before it was calf-deep right the way across. Many slopes have huge gouges cut in them by the runoff from heavy rain - usually where some tosser on a bike has cut a furrow and the water has taken its opportunity - the grass ends in a big step down to a surface of uncertain soil; will you sink?

I went up to Sittaford Tor via the beautiful twin circles of the Grey Wethers, finding one of those lovely spots where the wind blows past. It rained, but thanks to the wind and the outcrop it rained past me not on me :D Taking a patch of blue sky I pressed on to Quintin's Man. More a ridge-end than a hill, with a cairn, a range flag pole and a couple of army huts, its quite out of the way but with a nice view. In this case of a big black cloud. Army huts are very useful cover when cairns are too low to hide behind, and I stood and grinned as it snowed past me!

Very interesting weather, with a textbook illustration of high level clouds visible above the showers, the sun being surprisingly warm for January, and the wind blowing a fair hoolie. The waterways were all up, and I didn't feel like yomping up Hangingstone Hill [let alone Whitehorse], so I headed back to Fernworthy in the hope of more birds. Oh yes, the birds! On the Moor, a distant and shifty flock of ~25 Golden Plover was the best. Among the trees, there were a fair few small groups of Crossbills, though only one male showed well, with two groups of Redpoll and the usual Tits and 'crests. A very dark Buzzard [looking almost like a dark morph vulpinus] was interesting and both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers were heard drumming. The reservoir was quiet, a few early arriving Herring Gulls, a Little Grebe, 5 Teal...

I had a most pleasant day, hardly a soul about [for some strange reason, can't think why...?], though I still managed to pick up a sandwich bag full of litter - a load of balloons lying around for some reason?!? - but what can you do?

24 January, 2012

Very Little, Very Late

Oh, how time flies when you're busy!

On Sunday I tried for the Kumlien's Gull at Brixham and as you can probably guess, despite staying until dark I dipped horribly with all the others. The 11 Purple Sandpipers on the breakwater were gorgeous, and worth lugging the Big Scope for, oh yes. :D So not an entire waste by any means.

Yesterday, the first Goldcrest of the year in the Garden.

That's it.

21 January, 2012

Decisions and Consequences

What to do, what to do....

Always the big decision, bird-wise. Do I burn off to twitch the Spanish Sparrow, or try staking out Brixham Harbour for the Kumlien's Gull [if its still within 500 miles, that is], or try somewhere else, or just prowl around the Patch muttering about the weather....

I decided that wind and possibly rain too were not conducive to sparrows being showy, let alone bloody Hume's Warblers [Mutter mutter..]. Figuring that trawlers wouldn't come in until late on when the tide came up and also that seeing as [Famous Devon Birder], [Devon Birder] and [Devon Birder] hadn't seen a sign of the Kumlien's despite many many trawlers, that it most likely wasn't still around, I didn't go to Brixham either.

Stop sniggering.

So, I went for a day-long stomp around the Patch. This was not an exercise in futility, and also saved me from what I believe would have happened if I had gone to Brixham - namely hanging around for ages, giving up, going home, wandering online - and then banging my head on my desk until my monitor fell over.....

But enough of that. The wind was blowing a hoolie and there were actual grebes off Blackball in the morning! Lots of them! 42 Great Crested and joy, a Red-necked! :D Of course said Grebe duly snuck off when I tried to get a better look, but still nice to find. More GC Grebes were knocking about in sheltered pockets towards Hopes Nose, with the final total being 55. Looking from Black Head, a Fulmar was the first of the year for me, and then a small group of Harbour Porpoises went north, with what looked like a Bottlenose Dolphin close by... [The pause being due to Bottlenoses having a nasty habit of killing Harbour Porps. Flipper has a lot to answer for.] At the Nose, a large group of gulls lurking on the Lead Stone gave me reason to stop and give them a thorough going-over. No dice, but while I was looking at them a smart w/pl Red-throated Diver surfaced in some convenient sunshine. :) Why so happy? Because the rocky tide-racey exposed place that the sea off the Nose is, RTDs are the least common of the 3 divers on the sea there. Strange but true. With that in mind I gave it a careful checking-over to be sure of it, as it wasn't holding it's bill in the usual snooty manner, but the starred soft grey uppers and extent of white on the neck plus fine bill and gentle forehead left the ID clear.

I shifted position to get a better look at the diver when it came up [I like divers and the light was periodically very kind], but the git made like the earlier RNG and pulled a Houdini on me.. Drat. After re-checking the Lead Stone, I was scanning further out when I noticed a stern trawler was making its way towards Brixham [but of course...]. Legging it back along the Sole*, I tracked it carefully, trying to somehow pick out a white-winged gull among its faithful devotees, but instead the best I got was a Bonxie.

[[*If you look at it on a map, Hope's Nose is shaped like a foot - the Nose is the toe and Sandy Point is the heel, thus the bit between the two is the Sole. Logical. ;) ]]

One location-change later, a wind-blasted Torquay Harbour was almost gull-less, with the sea defences lacking in Purple Sands but smelling badly of oil [not diesel, but proper 'some ship's been washing their tanks out' oil... Grr]. Wonderful... Bracing myself I scanned the north half of the bay and was rewarded with a BN Grebe to the east [seeking shelter] and a couple of Razorbills off Torre Abbey. Then I noticed a big beam trawler had come around Berry Head. Oh great... While I was looking at that, a little gull swung into my field of view. No, wait, a Little Gull! Brilliant! Less brilliant was the great big GBB which picked itself up off the sea and set out in what looked like pursuit..

Seeing a few gulls off Torre Abbey, I kept on round, but found nothing fancy, not even a Med. I counted the BHGs in sight and got 267. I counted the wagtails on the grass; 10 Pied and 1 White. I even went and counted the Mallards on the ponds; 48. It is a dream of mine to find a decent duck on one of those ponds one day. A Teal, or maybe a Gadwall. Hell, a Tufty would do! But enough of that madness.. Getting home, I had to set out again, as I'd discovered I'd lost a glove at the Nose. I amazed myself by not only finding it, but also finding it to be completely intact and un-gunged... Miracle.

Ooh, I've forgotten to mention that Herr Blackcap is on station guarding 'his' fat block in the garden. Also a big [16+] posse of Chaffinches, but no Bramblings with them so far. Also, the sparrows give the distinct impression they're thinking about nesting... Oh deary me.

15 January, 2012

Dartmoor in Winter

Once upon a time, many years ago, there were letterboxes on Dartmoor. You could find several on any Tor, and on a few you could get a score or more. One of these had a stamp of a beautiful moorland panorama, seamlessly shifting between the four seasons. Its name, The EverMoor.

But that was the far distant past and times were different. The EverMoor and the vast majority of letterboxes are gone, stolen usually, and though you can still find them [now frequently 'geocaches' with GPS instead of clues..] its not quite the same. The Moor has changed as well; more paths and those bigger and more eroded, fewer birds - except corvids, much much more rubbish. So much just lying around - wrappers and bottles and bits of bikes, mostly - I almost always have a thigh pocket-full after a day up there.

Oh, that's depressing. I'm listening to the wrong music - give me a sec....

Right then!
The day dawned sunny and windy - what to do? Too sunny for a good seawatch [at this time of year], too windy for much else and I've been to the Exe this weekend already.. Ok, up on't Moor!

The sun blazed away, low and golden like an August evening, but the wind was proper winter, oh yes. The thermometer said 8° when I got there, but I reckon the windchill was at least 10°, which put things neatly subzero... Plenty of folk out - so much so that parking was an issue. Unusual for January. Eventually squeezing in, I set off for my lunch target - Great Mis Tor. The wind on my starboard quarter gnawed away at the corner of my eye as I yomped up the long climb to the tor I always think of as the Dark Tower. Seriously, its ability to find a cloud and brood menacingly is unparalleled [Great Links Tor isn't bad if you approach along the track from Sourton Tor, mind] and it is bigger and badder than the rest. This isolated mount has a series of outcrops, each of which would be an impressive Tor in its own right. Go up there some time.

After a stop to examine a patch of feathers that used to be a Woodcock [caught out too late/early by a {CENSORED}, by the looks of it], I found a nice spot and plonked down to have lunch, drink coffee, wait and see what showed up. Nowt but the odd corvid. Oh well, that's t'Moor in winter for you.

I wandered back down, well, tried to but the wind had gotten even toothier, so I stopped to put on another silly hat. Much better! Right, on to Unfinished Business from the ascent; I'd twice heard a single distinct call from an area of rough grass [[That'd be 'Dartmoor', then ;) ]] on the way up that sounded horribly like a Richard's Pipit. A big area made more complicated by the wind and all the lumps of granite sticking out of the ground... I gave it a thorough methodical bashing, I can tell you. Just over an hour in [told you I was thorough and methodical!] I finally caught the caller in flight. A [and you'll excuse the language I hope] fucking little bastard mimic of a Starling. Just the one, all on his own. Mangy-feathered split-beaked son of a Cuckoo....


What our Elders and Betters refer to as a learning experience. The Goddess of Birding, once She had finished giggling, then smiled and sent me a flock of Golden Plover; 22 went contouring by, then popped up again as 32 before heading off east. Nice. Very nice.

Onwards I decided to try the valley below Foggintor Quarry, it being a little sheltered. I'd not gone far along the track to Yellowmeade [the Famous Yellow Farmhouse] when something popped up over the hill to my left - shit a ringtail! [[I've just re-read that, and decided not to rephrase. :) Sorry.]] It immediately dropped back down behind the skyline. And didn't come back up. Ok, it either went to ground, went back up into the wind and east, or went down the dead ground towards the valley floor. Hen Harrier on the deck is lost, no way I can catch it heading off over the hill, so onwards quickly! To the big spoil heap I repaired post-haste to scan hopefully for a nice Harrier view. I didn't get it. Drat!

Time passed and the sun westered, so I decided to wend my way. I passed a group of about a dozen Lapwing near Two Bridges [couldn't stop to count precisely, unfortunately] and also ran into the justifiably famous [Dartmoor Birding Group] at a location I will not reveal, waiting for roosting Hen Harriers. I shamelessly pulled up to ask what they were up to, and even more shamelessly didn't stay put to help. I'm a bad birder, I know...

I did stop at my Secret Mandarin Dipping Site [as it shall now be known], where I did indeed dip again. Never mind, eh?

Lovely to be up on't Moor in proper winter [without nasty icy roads, too. Result!] and hey, I didn't even burble on about the wind and the grass and the singing gate. Must be getting old....

14 January, 2012

Look Away Now.

If you're suffering from insomnia, ignore the title. If not....

Right then, as threatened promised, here's a rant on fieldcraft, kit and urban birding. Probably not in any that order.

I've mentioned Urban Birding before - I do a lot of it on the Patch because large parts of said Patch is houses. It has extra challenges in addition to finding and identifying birds, as you also have to avoid getting mugged / arrested / beaten up / all three. Really its just a challenge that requires a different set of kit and style of fieldcraft. After all, what is fieldcraft but what you do to see the birds without disturbing others? So, no traditional camouflage, but instead 'urban camo' - ordinary wear, though black for preference. Big scopes over the shoulder are impractical anyway at the often close ranges, attract attention, and impede you in running like hell from chavs.. A little scope in a handholding case either on a strap over the shoulder [see below] or even tucked into a voluminous jacket pocket is the most you'll need if you have to look at offshore stuff. Better yet, just bins. Bins around the neck are the traditional thing, but that means they're on display for all and sundry and it is the sundry you have to think about. So, strap over the shoulder and bins tucked under the arm out of obvious sight. You lose a couple of seconds' response time, but, with a bulky jacket [especially a black one with black bins and strap] they're only going to be noticeable if you look for them and chavs rarely bother.

The fieldcraft aspect is partly normal street smarts in avoiding becoming a statistic - and very much varies depending where you are; I live in a vaguely rough area, next to a definitely rough area [though this is relatively speaking - I've never heard gunfire, for example]. If you live somewhere nice where you don't have to lock your doors, then good for you and don't worry. :) The other part is the tricky art of looking into other peoples' gardens. You know you're looking at that interesting little thing in that bush which might just be a rarity, but concerned homeowner just sees someone looking in their windows. With binoculars... Angles are the key thing - its like hunting, you make sure there's nothing in the line of fire. It is may be a bit tricky and a lot inconvenient, but even though you're not breaking the law [as long as you're not on private property, which of course I never condone, officer] its just good manners not to annoy people. Especially if they are likely to come and ask you what you're playing at, or get the police to do it for them..


Wandering back to perhaps less risky areas.. Kit. What do you take birding? Optics, notebook, ghilly suit, camera with a lens the size of your leg? Does it really matter? Take two birders meeting for the first time - what's the first thing, before a word is spoken? The bins. What are they? How are they worn? Does it really matter? 'Bins don't make the birder', of course. Kit doesn't make you a better birder, but it can make a difference. The Sharp-tailed Sand springs to mind - if you had a scope with an eyepiece of huge magnification, that could handle said magnification, then it was showing very well and clearly. Especially when the light was good. If not, you had a problem. Compare the White-rumped Sand - you needed a scope [and quick reactions..] but any scope would do. Thus it is with most waders. There is a reason why people will pay for expensive optics - it works better in worse conditions, and sometimes, just sometimes, that can be crucial.

The limitations of kit is also the main reason why photographers [and by that term, I mean someone whose primary optical system is attached to an SLR, maybe even without bins, as opposed to someone who has a camera. Its about intent.] are so vilified. Big lenses are not telescopes, they can give wonderful images but only at short ranges - no magnification to speak of. Thus a photographer has to get close. Very close. So we have at one end lenses stuck out of hide windows, and at the other trespassing, flushing of roosting owls and so on...

Once upon a time, you had to be very serious to get wildlife photos. The kit cost a fortune and was hard to use. Film, you see. Now pretty much anyone can get a great image, thanks to the wonders of digital. The trouble is, there's no long painful learning curve, no having fieldcraft hammered into you via painful expensive lessons. To get into photo range you have to be there first, hours early if you're lucky, days or even weeks if not. You need camo, hides, and the hard-won knowledge of how to use them. My little games of fieldcraft vs. Fieldfares pale in comparison.

Your average photographer sees the pictures online and in magazines and thinks 'I could do that'. Its a fine and worthy challenge, don't think I disagree with it, but it leads to the need to get that shot. To get close. And close may be too close. Only the bird knows, and there's no line in the sand. Hard 0/1; relaxed/stressed, there/gone. I am [as you know] very fond of repeating 'Patience, Persistence, and Fieldcraft' - fieldcraft is self-explanatory, patience is what you need to keep it when you're cold/wet/tired/eaten alive by bugs, and so on.. Persistence is partly what you need when you run out of patience, but also going back again and again and again when you fail. Everyone needs these, not just our friends with the lenses. Everyone can and has fucked up and flushed something by being careless [[Yes, that includes me - one time the Exe Western Sand went out to the mud to feed a bit early, due to me not keeping my head down. I'd assumed that as cyclists were going past without a problem, it and the Dunlin it was with were ok. Fool.]]

To finally get to the end.. Fieldcraft doesn't have to mean silly camo suits or gradually creeping hides. It can be as little as not showing a human silhouette to a bunch of geese in a field - walking past might be fine, but as soon as you stop and look, they think 'shotgun' - so sit down, crouch, kneel. Simples, yes? The difference between a quiet and noisy hide at Bowling Green - ie are the birds coming right up to it or staying on the far side of the channel? The difference between stopping at the edge of cover to look and listen, and going straight on. Sitting down [silhouettes again] and waiting versus walking around, even.

Ok, that's all. You can wake up now.


White Wings

Another Saturday, another involuntary lie-in [I have an excuse - I turned my alarm off in my sleep. Seriously.], another late prowl around the Patch. This time no Hawks in Distress to distract, so I covered a fair bit of ground.

Mostly it was what you'd expect - standard suburban and coastal birds in unspectacular numbers. A Goldcrest showed very well from The Bridge on the Downs, but it had nothing fancy with it. Still cute. The wind coming from somewhere around ESE [it kept shifting] meant pretty much everywhere on the coast was exposed, and that combined with some twerps on jetskis meant there was little doing on the sea - not a single grebe of any flavour was to be had! There were the usual phalos and a few auks, though, which gave me something to play with in the big swell. No divers either - I was hoping for a nice 'ardcore GND or maybe even a Black-throat, which can sometimes be forthcoming off the Nose in conditions like this, but 'twas not to be. Oh well.

Torquay Harbour gave me some nice views, though. A Razorbill in the Inner Harbour was now not unexpected but still welcome. Two Guillemots [one in w/pl, one starting to moult] were sheltering from the jetscum in the Outer Harbour, while a couple of Razorbills were using the exposed rocks off Torre Abbey in the same way. The Real Living Coast had at least 8 Purple Sands and 2 Turnstones, plus one of the Rockits looked very nice for littoralis. On I have to say a sadder note, as I passed the Trawler Wreck I was given the beautiful and tragic sight of Choughs, Noddy Terns, and Red-legged Kittiwakes surfing the air. The Choughs especially were hanging and tumbling in the updraught created by the very brisk onshore wind [with extra spray from the rollers]. Wonderful to see them so close, but they should be doing that at Prawle Point or Bolt Tail, not in a cage. Breaks my heart.

I may have been a little more emotional than normal then, though, having just dropped what looked very much like a Blackstart uphill from the Imperial. Went into a rich person's garden, what can you do? It was faster than me today.

Before that, though, at the Nose I was scanning for divers among the rollers when a gull caught the eye. White wings! No, not an Iceland, let alone a Glonk, but a smart adult Mediterranean. It went by south, though seemed to re-orient towards a trawler out in the bay [[which was too far off to pick out any Glonks lurking - see DBN for that one]]. Meds are fairly regular on Patch - mostly lurking with the BHGs around Torre Abbey / Livermead - but scarce enough to make cold days out pounding the streets worthwhile. :)

13 January, 2012


Very contrasting themes today.

Finishing the last night of a week to forget, I decided to sod the sparrow and stick with the plan I'd had in mind since, well last week. The high tide was nicely timed and suitably high, with the forecast threat of ice and mist hopefully keeping the chavs at bay [I said 'hopefully'...]. Nightshift advantage showed, with my knowing that while there was a layer of frozen dew on my car, the roads themselves were fine.

The trip started very well, with no less than 3 Woodcock flying over the Old St. Marychurch Road :D Bowling Green was cold. It was damn cold. It was so cold I thought I might actually have to wimp out. [This is very serious indeed, as I don't suffer from the cold like most people. I have been seen in shorts in midwinter in t'North, even. In snow and hail. But that's another story.] Fortunately, I withstood the freezing fog with only a few mutters about wearing warmer kit next time.

It was also, as you may have gathered, foggy. You could barely see the water. The far side? No chance. Fortunately, the waders were on the near side, in a great mass. Plus Wigeon and Teal and the odd Shoveler. Ooh, those waders. The Avocet were in for the big tide and as a lessening of the fog allowed a count I gave it a go. And went WTF?!?!? I counted again. And again. Tried different methods. You expect about 400 Avocet in winter, maybe 400 and change. There were a good 650. That is a LOT of Avocet. Hell of a sight in the mist, too...

A brief stop at Dart's Farm gave little joy and no Brent flock, so on to Exminster, where it was sunnier. Plenty of what you'd expect, including Wigeon and Lapwing and singing Cetti's :) Getting down past Turf and back, I also met a lot of Brent Geese, though the biggest flock was flushed by a damn ultralight before I could get to it :( No sign of the Red-breasted Goose, which was a pity as in the sunshine it would have been very smart. A great deal of compensation, though, as the Glossy Ibis that's been hanging around turned up and showed down to about 40'!! Brilliant brilliant views.

Finally, I stopped off at Cockwood Crossing on the way home, hoping for Goldeneye, Slav Grebe, or even the yankee quacker, but got none of them. A band of Little Grebes and a Greenshank were some consolation in the now near blazing sunshine.

Annnnd finally.... I haven't forgotten. Its just been a git of a week and every time I've thought of it I haven't had time. Like now. But I will get to it. Honest.

09 January, 2012

Rescue Mission

Yesterday dawned.. well I don't know how it dawned as, due to being up all Friday and driving nigh on 300 miles, I slept in rather late... Eventually getting going, I gave the Patch a bash. This got cut short at Oddicombe, when, while counting distant Gannets I heard a commotion!

Something on the water was being dive-bombed by a couple of Crows and an ever-increasing number of Herring Gulls, something very unhappy to be taking an involuntary bath - a Harris Hawk! Defying its tormentors' attempts to kill it, the hawk managed to swim the 50 or so feet to Blackball Rocks, where it dragged itself out of the water and sat on a rock looking bedraggled and utterly cheesed off.

*[[The following account may read very oddly, due to my policy of only naming people who either a) have blogs in which to defend themselves, b) I know don't mind, or c) are too famous to care. Sorry...]]

I started making calls, trying to find someone who knew someone who could find out who the bird belonged to - it could clearly be seen to have a ring, jesses, and a bell. [Though being a Harris Hawk was a bit of a clue, I must admit.. ;) ]. Steve 'Superman' Waite put me on to [Famous Devon Birder] who called [Famous Devon Falconer] who called [Devon Falconer], who had a Harris Hawk AWOL. Said Falconer duly turned up and the two of us tried to first find and then get [Devon Harris Hawk], who had moved up into the piled boulders as the tide rose... After much bouldering and fortunately no falling into the sea, it became clear that [Devon Harris Hawk] was a very scared bird who wasn't coming out until he was ready [Can't blame him, he'd had 40 Herring Gulls on him...]. With [Devon Harris Hawk] in a safe position with regards to the tide, [Devon Falconer] resolved to wait him out 'til dark then from first light and so I said my goodbyes. I hope that the two were reunited today.

With my attention pre-occupied, all to be reported was a raft of 105 Kittiwake and at least 79 Gannets fishing well out into Lyme Bay.

Today saw a family day out, with Sister coming along - she brought Cake and handled much of the dog-wrangling. :) We walked from Start Point along to Horseley Cove and back, getting a bit drizzled on in the middle, but otherwise having a good day. Double figures of Cirls were to be expected, the Merlin and a brief Purple Sand were not. At Horseley, after a bit of searching [while the others threw a knotted bit of driftrope for Tilbury further up the beach], the Water Pipit eventually gave itself up, posing next to a Rockit like a little porn star :D

At sea, there was a light but steady traffic of auks in both directions - those close enough to ID were all Razorbills. In the sea, at least 3 Grey Seals, one of which seemed to be watching Tilly's fun with the rope with some interest! Once the frontal rain band had cleared, the sun and clouds made for a truly atmospheric afternoon, with the sea that wonderful turquoise washing creamy pink sand and dark dark rocks all twisted like molasses. The crystal beaches of the Start Complex are quite something, I always forget how pretty they are. Dragging me away from fruitless scans of Start Bay, we took the scenic route back - via Slapton - where to my delight Her Ladyship performed over the Higher Ley. No Bitterns, though a vast horde of sea anglers set up along the shingle made quite a sight - at least 100 little shelters!

06 January, 2012

One Out of Three Ain't Bad?

This really is going to be quick*. I hope to add more tomorrow.

Today I got back from work, gabbed a bite to eat, then zoomed off on a filthy twitch to the New Forest! Oh dearie me....

The Dark-eyed Junco showed very well, if briefly and with long gaps in between, stuffing its face with the seed which has been helpfully put on the fallen pine it [and a lot of Reed Buntings, Dunnocks, Robins etc.] like. It was a stunning little bird in the sunshine, well worth the trip! The Crossbills were a bonus :D

I then stopped off on the way back to see about that Hume's Warbler - there also being a Richard's Pipit nearby which it would be rude to ignore. This did not go so well. I dipped the Hume's, was looking the wrong way when the Richard's flew into the Bridging Camp, and had an unfortunate encounter with a veritable mudbath of a path... Oh well.


I'm still gonna git you, plover.

03 January, 2012

Following, not Chasing

Being the essential difference between 2012 and 2011. Probably. Well, we'll see..

I'm trying to remember why I didn't post last night - just slipped my poor aging mind, I guess. Anyway, I'm back on nights, so this morning I was asleep [or trying to be, anyway..] instead of risking my neck on a seawatch. Drat? This afternoon when I dragged up I headed to Blackball to see what was still cowering in the lee of the cliffs. Maybe now there would be a decent-sized grebe roost?

Ha ha. Not a single friggin' one! Time issues stopped me from going down to Oddicombe, and perhaps due to this I didn't even see a Shag! W T and indeed F!??!? There were a good few Kittiwakes, very close in and well spread out. An initial and careful count of 412 was later amended to 500+ as I realised birds were still arriving and so exact counting was never going to work. [Counting 50's got '500 and a few more' so 500+ is fair.] 11 Gannets were mostly sat on the sea well offshore, though with one closer than usual [a subadult] . 100+ gulls were rafted equally far out [I'd assume Herrings]. No divers or auks - indeed, no surface fishers at all! Where have they gone, I wonder? There was a sub-surface fisher on very close display, though - a Grey Seal! It was right in off Blackball, then moved towards Oddicombe, seemingly to have a look at the elderly gentleman having a swim off the beach! I don't think he knew it was there, might have given quite a surprise if he turned around and saw this big grey thing in the water coming towards him... ;)

A smart Grey Wagtail gave a flypast, but otherwise nowt else of interest to report.

Back to yesterday now. Looking at the forecast and then out the window first thing I decided that all this blue sky was too good a thing to miss and went up on't Moor! Blazing blue skies were offset by a wind on the strong side of brisk and the sight of a Moor seemingly covered in cloud. But not so! The showers were indeed present, and full of rain, sleet, hail, and snow, but they were discrete - hulking islands in the cerulean sea. Eventually a fair crowd cottoned on to this, but early on it was gloriously quiet for a Bank Holiday Monday. :)

I went to that old favourite - Vitifer and Soussons. Tooled up in full waterproofs I splashed my way down into the valley, for oh it was wet underfoot. When I reached the bottom of the workings and reached the valley floor proper, I had the following in my notebook; Raven 3, Mipit 1+. A few soggy sheep and ponies looked rather brassed off as the sunshine vanished and it started to snow. I was happier, I have to say. Not having been the first down there, there was no chance of Snipe in the boggy bits, so I pressed on and found some more birds down towards Golden Dagger. Bullfinches, mostly; Vitifer's a good spot for winter Bullfinch and a group of 7 were very showy, perching in the young conifers on the edge of Soussons and calling in that dejectedly melodic way of theirs. Siskin were a little less obliging and not a sniff of Redpoll [though its not a good place for them].

On my way there I'd passed groups of Fieldfare and Redwing, so I turned into Soussons proper and spent a fair while wandering the tracks and paths. Crossbills were of course the target, and they were indeed about in small groups - 20 or so in all, I reckon - though it took a lot of work to get a decent view. Green Woodpeckers were for once the opposite, with two different birds showing very well, but the Star of the day came when I picked a nice sheltered patch of young regrowth for lunch. Finding the right place to sit down is something I take a lot of care with - I'll often be stalking about for an hour or more, looking for the right mix of sheltered spot were I can set up unobtrusively, with a good view over decent habitat and not likely to get disturbed by every muggle and their dog! [[This gets even trickier when Little Black Dogs enter the equation, as 'no livestock in sight at all' and 'not within 30' of any path' and 'nothing Tilly can get tangled in' plus of course 'room for 3 plus pog' have to be factored in with the addendum of 'we're not going to be messing about, its time for lunch!'. Its an interesting challenge..]]

Anyway... From distant Hamel Down, to closer trees with Crossbills, to young trees with cones, it was a nice spot. Of course, it was pure spawny luck that the female Merlin chose that gap in the trees to cross the ridge... :D Oh what a view! Picked her up coming in head-on over the young conifers and tracked her up over and past as the Crossbills went "Eeek!" Merlins tend to be fairly distant, sat on a rock or post, or dashing over hillsides at zero feet, rarely flying over and only once before such a good view [and that a little more distant and lower*]. I'm a happy birder.

After lunch [curtailed by incoming weather] I worked my way up the ridge line and over to the Warren House valley [in case of GG Shrike] before dropping back into Vitifer, getting thoroughly hailed on, and then home. No grouse or even Skylarks, though a Roe Deer in Sousson's [point-blank range, Tilly would have been delighted] and a flock of 79 Fieldfare heading towards Fernworthy were both nice. It was a good day, no it was a great day, even when trying to deal with pesky mimicking Siskins while blinded by glare... The trees, oh the trees were festooned with droplets shining like jewels in the sun and the weather even decorated the windward side of my car with, well not snow but congealed hail, but it looked pretty!

[[*I refer to the Magic Minute we had a few years back at Fox Tor, I think I mentioned it once? Ringtail Hen Harrier, pair of Merlins, and a male Nightjar [!!!] flew past in front of us in quick succession. All going the same way [lucky for the Nightjar]. Mad...]]

01 January, 2012

Another Day

So, a new calender year. No List to chase this time*, but a slight case of the lie-ins had me staying on Patch anyway. I attempted to get out and to a bash before the forecast rain arrived. It might have worked if the rain had arrived when forecast. It almost certainly would have arrived if I had started at dawn. But it didn't and I didn't.

It started fairly light, and I pressed on, but on IMD it developed into what is technically known as Pissing It Down, and as I hadn't taken waterproof troosers with me [a lamentable oversight, primarily due to it being still far too warm] I got very soggy from the thighs down. As Dirty Harry so eloquently put it "A man's gotta know his limitations", same thing applies to birders. I gave up and headed home to dry off.

Later, I tried again. This time with the simple goal of checking the grebe roost. Such as it is - I don't know what's going on, but its a tenth of where I'd expect it. Warm conditions keeping grebes on inland waterbodies, where there is no ice and still-active fish, to guess.

So, I sallied forth in dry conditions and hey presto the rain came back, but this time I had my troosers, so I went "Ho ho ho, try it" and the rain sulked... :D There were a pitiful 12 GC Grebes, a slightly more impressive 102 Kittiwakes huddled nearby, and a Guillemot very close in. This one was a different individual to the one last week - yes, it was close enough to distinguish the fine details of plumage! I'm loving those surf auks.

35 species for the day is markedly better than 1/1/11, but ain't that always the way? Oh, I know I still owe you a burble, but it'll have to keep waiting. Sorry. :)

[*No chasing Yearlists this year, but I'll keep count. Just for comparative purposes, of course.. ;) ]
I'm-a gunna git you, plover...

You Were Warned...

So, here we go, the [slightly shorter and sweeter than I intended due to technical issues] Top Ten Birding Moments of 2011!

10. Firecrests, The Patch

Two Firecrests, two amazing encounters. Both on my Patch. Joy.

9. Red-flanked Bluetail, Durlston CP

One of the most-coveted birds going, imho. Not exactly the most forthcoming, but when she showed she did so so well and so close, yet so unbothered by us. Plus, did I mention - what a bird!! A true stunner.

8. Pallid Harrier vs Pied Wagtails, Mendips

Waiting 8 hours, yomping over hill and dale, enduring blazing sun and howling wind [well, sort of]. Getting a brief barely tickable view. Waiting more, finally getting the view desired, then heading back... The Pallid comes casually into sight right in front of me and 2 lucky others, only to be chased off by Pied Wagtails! I'm still sniggering.

7. Red Kite Out The Window!

The Gull Alarm works and how.

6. Wheatears on Rooftops, Gloucestershire and Mansands

Two rare wheatears, two roofs by the sea [well estuary], two crippling views. Its wonderful when a bird not only reads the script, but outdoes it.

5. The Day of The Skuas, Berry Head

233 skuas in a little over 8 hours, 88 of them Pomarine. Ho-ly Shiiiiiit. Much seawatching is just that. Ticking over 'ordinary' birds like Gannets and auks at best. [Though that's pretty unfair on them, but this isn't the place for that]. You sit and wait, sit and sit, sit and start singing..[[Ahem.]] But sometimes, just sometimes, something extraordinary happens, something that makes all the cold and wet and stiff necks and dead legs and pneumonia worth it. This was one of those somethings.

4. The Day of the Big Shears, Porthgwarra

Sometimes those somethings happen again. 23 large shearwaters, in frickin' sunshine! Having Great and Cory's flying side by side was one of those moments, you know? And they just kept on coming... There have been far bigger movements, but that day they came nicely spaced and in such good conditions.

3. Short-eared Owl, Hope's Nose

SEO on my Patch. Best views I've ever had. I can still see those eyes, looking right at me.

2. Pallas' Warbler, Prawle

At last. At long long last, after all those dips. Then to go there, look for it, work for it, find it, clinch it, and have it come down and perform so beautifully. Only reason this isn't number one is because now I want one on my

1. Patch Yearlist

Listing is a filthy habit. Its the birders' version of smoking. Does very little good and untold harm. But chasing a Patch List last year not only gave me something to concentrate on other than how unemployed I was, but it showed me how much is out there. I've been into birds since I was small, that's more than 3 decades of looking, but despite all that I should have seen around here, last year I actually beat my previous list total. It was hard [on my poor feet] yet rewarding, the satisfaction of every bird, the sheer joy of many of them, and yes the pride in how well I did. I thought 100 was acceptable and 120 a good target. I got 149. Boy dun good. :D

Just shows what a lot of effort can do. ;) The more you look, the more you see and so on. [Ok, I'm stopping with the cliches] I'm not going to be keeping up with quite so much effort, but there are things still to see - Spot Fly, Redstart and Marsh Tit for three - and one day I'll get that twitchable rarity. One day... ::Mutter mutter::

2011 was an interesting year, a very good one for birds - without trying I've seen more birds in Devon this year than ever before, and nearly matched my British record - and thankfully not ending with such a harsh early winter. What 2012 will herald {{Other than the End of the World, of course ;) }} we shall have to see.

Kentish fucking Plover, I hope.