25 February, 2013

The North (East) Wind Doth Blow

With the weather having remembered what this 'winter' thing is supposed to be about, what have I been up to in the schnow??

Well, Friday I took a little trip to see a little nephew of mine :D

Before that, I gave the Patch a mighty bash, but no trace of frickin' Waxwings could I find. Or indeed a great deal else. I did get three figures of Herring Gulls again - 105, plus 2 GBB and a LBB - in the Inner Harbour. Though the ravening wind was offshore [there], there was a big swell and I could only find 3 Sandpipers Purple on the Real Living Coast and 5 GC Grebes on the sea. My hopes of a Red-neck moving up to the sheltered waters off Torre Abbey were [predictably] dashed. There was a very smart mature adult Cormorant, though, which was some consolation. :)

Saturday, with a little less wind and more time to play, I went up on't Moor! Though the ambient temperature hovered around 0° all day, the lighter wind made it quite bearable. I was wearing proper winter kit, it must be pointed out, but sitting out of the wind when the sun tried to come out it was almost balmy.

En route a flock of 20 Redwing and 3 Fieldfare, plus a female Brambling flying along a lane in front of me, hinted at a good day. The roads were dry, so the only dodgy bits were caused by persistent runoff - and most of the ice sheets were narrow enough to slide over with no problems - so I arrived the usual way and found but two cars at Bennet's, despite my comparatively late start time. Odd, you'd think an icy day in February with constant light snow would be really popular..?? ;)  Anyway, I headed down into Vitifer and worked down then across into Sousson's. A superb Treeeeecreeeeeper in one of the swamp willows made the trip worthwhile by itself [I love Treeecreeepers] and looked to maybe be pretty much it, with birds being thin on the ground [or above it]. Again there was a paucity of small jobs - only singles of Mipit and Skylark in the whole day - this is rather odd, there's usually a few about...

You don't expect a lot from the winter Moor; maybe you'll get something great, but numbers? Not likely. This trip was not an exception. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Sousson's was quite quiet, with a small group of Siskin, a couple of Goldcrest parties, and 2 'wok'ing Ravens, outshone by two lovely male Bullfinches. They posed and everything. Then flew off sniggering when I started getting photographical ideas, the little gits.

After stopping early while I had shelter from the wind, I pressed onward towards and past the Warren House with no sign of anything Great at all, [well, it was worth a look!], I contoured Water Hill and had a look about the southern bit of Fernworthy. Very very quiet, with two Song Thrushes [in amongst the tall conifers] pretty much it. Back over Water Hill I headed.

It was actually a lot better than it sounds from this account - just being able to walk without sinking was such a treat! - with Assycombe Row bathed in utter utter silence....   Bliss.

Yesterday morning I gave the Marshies another go. En route to Occombe Reserve I took a not so small detour and yomped around the top end of Cockington - lots of nice fields and hedges, but only two had stubble still in and only one was accessible close up. I did strike gold, though!  My first singing Skylark of the year; on the Patch. :D
The Devonshire Red has dried out a lot and so I avoided getting orange to the knees, but perhaps as balance to that, I could only find a lone Yellowhammer to go with the Skylark and it wasn't singing. Occombe itself proved another bust - I do have to wonder if there ever really are Marsh Tits there, though the habitat is very good.... In other news, a GSW drummed [another year first], a small group of Redwing are hanging on, and one particular sheep had a bodyguard of no less than 10 Pied Wagtails in a tight ring around it! I have no idea why, no other sheep had wagtails escorting them...???

In the afternoon I went for a wander around Yarner with the Folks [we've not been out together for ages]. Tilbury Dog did her duty again and found a poor innocent Woodcock [though it was less than 8' from the track, so can hardly complain]. This one definitely by smell, as we'd been stood at the spot for a minute or so when she suddenly cocked her head and took a couple of steps downslope - WHOOSH!
There were 4 male and 2 female Mandarin on the pond when we arrived - though only 2 and 2 when we left - along with a Grey Wagtail. In the woods, Marsh Tits, Siskin, a couple of GSWs and a yaffling Green Woodpecker were the best of it.

Again, much less swampy underfoot, and so we were able to enjoy Yarner in winter. Not so busy with birds, true, but still full of atmosphere.

Annnd finally, today at work - 2 Redwing! Work Tick!! :)

21 February, 2013

Joyous News!

I got a surprise Garden Tick today - Waxwings!!!!  :D

They didn't hang around, though. A brief rosehip raid on a neighbour and off. I'm not [that] bothered. Not least because of my other, non-bird, news. You don't get non-bird stuff often, but this is an exception;

I am now an Uncle. :D
Sister the ElderYounger gave birth in the early hours to a baby boy. Both are doing well, though it's debatable who's more tired [at least for now; soon, no contest! ;) ]

This concludes the 'real world' section. We will bring more bird-related wibble in the near future. I would like to assure all readers that no amazingly cute [and he really is] baby pictures will appear on this blog at any point.

17 February, 2013

It's A Rat In A Sock

Thus was the Pied-billed Grebe described by a Birder Who Shall Remain Nameless. I'm still sniggering...

But before all that.

Yesterday I had Things to be Done, and no twitching up to zumerzet for me, oh no. I had to be in Exeter, though [and the temptation to keep going was strong, I can tell you], but after getting all that could be done, done, I had some time. I came home the scenic way, via Matford and Exminster. At Matford the Firecrest eventually gave itself up and showed amazingly well for myself and a couple who were diligently waiting. While carrying out said waiting, I counted 12 visible Snipe on the Marsh, but couldn't find any Green Sands.

Onward to Exminster in search of the Smew. Just because. She was being naughty and hiding in one of the pools at the back [looking from the canal bank] and with the heat haze it was a reach even for the Big Scope. Tut. Better were two nice groups of Brents that flew over low :) Worse were the Merlin, which didn't show at all..

After that I still had time to get to Blackball to look at the roost. I should have stayed at home, as the swell was coming in and there was not a grebe to be seen! Drat.

So, bright and early this morning I made my way through the mistyfog to the Levels, where I managed to get into Ashcott Corner car park [having a li'l car is quite helpful sometimes]. The Grebe was a bit elusive until it became apparent that it was just running loops; all you had to do was wait and it would eventually come into the open water and perform. This it did and I enjoyed the spectacle no end!  :D  I even got to sit down at the same time [oh, the luxury] and it eventually came past pretty much as close as possible, in the sunshine. Wow. I've said this before for other birds and I mean it again; Go And See This Bird!

At least 2 Marsh Harriers and a dark and very busy Buzzard paid visits to liven things up a little as well. After taking in my fill - it even displayed and called for us - and enjoying a cuppa, I moved on to let someone else sit down and decided to see where I could have an early lunch out of the mounting wind [early start, cold day, etc etc..]. I figured I'd have a look to see if I could get into Noah's Hide, it's not so far to come back from, after all. On the way a Bittern dropped into the reeds in front of the first platform - it was even visible on the deck for a whole three seconds! :)

Blimmin' place was empty! Noah's Hide, possibly the best single spot to bird in the south west, empty on a sunny Sunday when there's a twitch on.. Whatever next? I didn't wonder about that for long though; the logbook said "Male + female Smew,  G W Egret, Whooper Swan, Goldeneye" Oooooohh......

I lodged into a corner, set up, and found the latter three fairly quickly, plus two BN Grebes, among the throngs of quacks. The hide soon got busy and with extra eyes still the Smew were invisible. [[I suspect that the writer had neglected to add "..then flew off towards Decoy"]] But the sunshine was glorious and the Great White gave us a close flypast, so it wasn't bad at all. After I'd finished my rations and given up the fruitless Smew-scanning, I tried the main track to see if the Smew were just being sneaky, but got no joy other than another low-flying Bittern.

I still had a fair chunk of the day left, so I decided to move on and let someone else into the car park [though there were spaces when I'd passed through to Noah's, and still a couple when I left]. The road was lined with cars for maybe 200m to the south as I drove off, but at least the traffic could pass. On the Glasto road I caught a slow lorry, [which was actually stuck behind a 35mph car!]. I was in a good mood and there was no cursing. In fact there was soon happy crowing as a frickin' ringtail Hen Harrier flew over the car in front of me and gave me a great view!! Now that is pure spawny jam there, folks...  :D

Despite there having been no news about American Wigeons when I left, I decided to drop into Bowling Green anyway and lo and behold there he was. Hidden in a ditch. After not that long a wait, he came out and after being very slippery, finally flew across to the big pool on the right and showed amazingly. While the AmWig was being naughty, we were treated to a visit by Mr. Evans, though despite the yank's best efforts at being elusive, he and his friends eventually got good views [and I got my Lee Yeartick! ;) ].

A great day's birding and another Lifer bites the dust. Indeed, today was but a drake Smew from perfection.

15 February, 2013


Just a quickie? Maybe not...

This week seemed destined to be very quiet, with the only noteworthy event being a flyover Skylark at work yesterday [Work Tick - result!]. Even my midweek gull raid failed miserably - only 1 BHG in the Harbour and that flew off as I arrived... After having my plans changed for me at the last minute, I didn't even get this afternoon to go chasing stuff, and was only able to have a look off Blackball for the evening roost.

At first glance it looked like another bust, but no.. there were birds, just way way out in the near calm. The calm helped and I started picking out grebes - unhelpfully they weren't in their usual neatly separate groups but mixed in with gulls, so it took a little time - and more grebes and more.... The roost was spread out in a great line which waxed and waned from scores deep to singles and small gaps - mostly Herring Gulls, of course, and at least 600 of them. About 40 GBBs were mixed in, though as the light faded, the immatures stopped sticking out as well as the adults, so that's probably a low minimum [as opposed to a high minimum...]. Only three grebes were set markedly apart from the long wavering line of birds; they were also [very helpfully] closer. Oooh, and not GCs either! Picking grebes on silhouette is not always easy [to say the least] but having been able to rule out GC and Little easily, the fact they were all the same size and shape helped rule out Red-necked* [plus they weren't really big enough, and had too much neck going on]. Slav vs. BN can be very tricky, but head shape and neck structure when not actively diving but keeping an eye on all those gulls is pretty good. Slavs they were. [Ah, I remember the day when only finding 6 together on my Patch in winter was disappointing... How things change.]

At last, three figures of grebes, and it only took until February.. :)

And now for something completely different. Well, not so much.

I've been thinking about psychological prisons. Is your Patch a pleasure or a burden? Once started, once publicly defined, once walked and worn into [though it into you, or you into it?], is it an obligation to maintain it? A birder's duty? Or is it beyond that? A rite, perhaps, an echo of our past. Territoriality is built into our genes from millions of years of forebears and while it is no longer acceptable to defend Yours in the ways once used, some sort of release for these ancient instincts is, I think, healthy for the psyche. Especially for us testosterone-afflicted males. Thus sport, after all. Having a Patch, Bounds you can Beat, feels so deeply right to me that I doubt the sentiment is due to any of my personal insanities. [Probably].

As to mental bars... Certainly when I was actively chasing a Patch Yearlist, I felt bound to put it before what may have been more enjoyable birding further afield. But even at my most reluctant, I've known that it was just Bed Syndrome. By that, I mean that feeling when you have to force yourself to get up, even though you know you want to be out and you'll regret not doing so. I don't call it 'dragging up' for nowt, you know. Summer seawatches, when being there for half an hour [ish...] after sunrise is a really good idea but also means getting up really early, is a perfect example. A more effective preventative to roaming afield is the cost of bloody petrol - and indeed all other means of transport - but this is another subject.

This doesn't mean I don't get cold, wet, miserable, or down right brassed off on't Patch. But even after I've stomped miles of dogshit-infested pavements, been left dripping with sweat by inclement weather, been abused by brainless scum chavs my fellow citizens, and all for nothing scarcer than a Chiffchaff... [Deep breath]... I still keep at it, because of the ecstasy. Nothing to do with artificial stimulants of dubious legality, I'm talking of the utter rush of finding something that is so utterly yours. Your work, your persistence, your reasoning, or just your sheer luck and On Your Patch....

There are great pleasures to be had in birding. The pure experience of just watching birds do what they do, the wonder of those rare connections - the moments when you look at them and they are looking at you, the rush [not least of relief] at a successful twitch, the times when you can help someone else see what you see [like the RSPB say; "Aren't birds brilliant?"], the satisfaction of going and seeing and finding out. Of them all, I think the most intense is the bird on your Patch. Certainly, while I have knelt down and given thanks [in public] on a twitch [or two..], I've never danced so maniacally as I did when I saw the Spotted Flycatchers at the Nose... Slightly more sanely, I'd rather count very distant GC Grebes and [usually vainly] hope for something else off Blackball than go to Broadsands and see a Red-neck, Slavs, BNs, divers, [and who knows what else] far far better than they're ever likely to on Patch.

For me at least, if it's a prison, the bolt is on the inside of the door.

[[*I'm trying hard to remember if I've ever seen more than 1 RNG at once...]]

10 February, 2013

Proper Winter Resumes

Namely rain.

I was out in it today, freely and of my own will. In full waterproofs, mind. :)

I'd decided to do a full survey of what was on the sea off the Peninsula, seeing as it was rather rainy but not that windy. The temptation to go chasing Smew - two males at Roadford, a female at Exminster plus Merlins... I mean, come on! Who wouldn't?? - was leavened by the knowledge that I had been neglecting the Patch recently [Friday's escapades being the first proper bashing since January] and also the ridiculous rise in petrol. I don't know about where you are, dear readers, but here it's gone up 6p/l [About 4.6%] in two weeks. I know I've gone on about this before, so refer to that if you're really bored..

EDIT: Make that 9p in three weeks - that's almost  7%!!!!  I mean, for fuck's sake......

What did I find? Well; 76 GC Grebes, 1 BN Grebe, 2 RT Divers, 4 C Scoter, and 2 Razorbills. I don't know where all the auks have gone....  Everything except the Scoter, 1 Razorbill [which was in the Inner Harbour], and 1 GC Grebe were on the north side. The pontoon when I got to it had 2 whole Herring Gulls, but I wasn't expecting many as they were all either chasing fishing boats or at the Nose. The South West's Biggest Chumming Machine was running and it had a large gaggle of customers; a few Kitts, LBBs, and Common Gulls with BHGs, Herrings and GBBs.

Halfway through the rain gave up, the sun came out and it all got quite pretty. I did try again for the fancy grebes [with Slavs now joining the Red-neck, it seemed worth a try once more] lurking off to the south, but with the shiny sunshine and just enough chop to be annoying, the best I could pick out were dots. Oh well.

My previous naughty grebe-snatching attempt was on Friday, when I took the li'l scope out and had a go at the Red-neck from various points from Daddyhole to the Harbour. The conditions weren't perfect, but I'd managed to get a Long-tailed Duck off Preston from the Harbour with bins before and the Big Scope can reach across the Bay quite happily, so the li'l scope might just reach to Broadsands [well, worth a try, anyway...]. Needless to say, I failed, though I did get a grebe sp. off Hollicombe which wasn't a GC, BN, [or Little!] but I couldn't rule out Slav on the vexingly brief view. [This being irony - it probably was a Slav, of course. The 'probably', though..]. On the sea and close enough to be sure of were a GN Diver, 2 GC Grebes and a variety of Guilles and Razorbills. After giving up on the sea, 12 Purple Sands on the Real Living Coast were, I must admit, far more enjoyable to look at than any 'just barely identifiable' grebe in the far blue yonder.

On Saturday I went somewhere secret and saw something protected under Schedule 1, so no more will be said on that. I also went to Mardon Down, near Mor'n'ampster. There are a couple of very nice circles there - a big 'proper' one and a cairn circle - the big one is on the ridge top and has some truly amazing views. Actually, the cairn circle on the north flank has a serious panorama to it as well. I was surprised to see that neither is in Burl's Guide, which is odd as they're both interesting monuments. It's not a perfect site; the hill is mostly covered in low gorse, with brambles, and by the profusion of stems, a very thick covering of bracken later in the year. Also, it seems that every dog in Moreton is walked there, so eyes needs to be down more than you'd like with those views..  I got rained on a couple of times while I was there, but it was still a very enjoyable day. :)

07 February, 2013

Lots and Nots (Oh, and Knots)

I was going to post on Saturday, but I forgot. Sunday I got back too late and had to get to bed as I had to get up in the morning. Monday I forgot again. Tuesday the same. Yesterday I got distracted and then had stuff to do.

I blame work. There is good reason for this as I am again on Days and having to get up unnaturally early.... :(

Right then, one big catch-up coming-up;

Wednesday [this being the one in January] - I got down to the Harbour to annoy the gulls and as well I did too as there were loads of them! I counted 128 Herrings and 2 GBBs on the pontoon - a new record by more than 40!! Ok, no sign of anything with or to one day have yellow legs, but that's a mere detail...

My last Friday for however long was spent rocking up to Topsham for the tide - and again well I did as the place was heaving with birds. Taking lunch proved very prescient as I spent nigh on 5 hours there - mostly in the hide. There were so many birds so spread out [and quite frequently so mobile] that getting accurate counts of everything was pretty much impossible. Only the Avocets, Barwits, and Curlew were together enough and still enough to say there were 602, 242, and 56 of them. Yes, six hundred Avocets! Not as many as last winter [they got to just over 650 if I remember rightly] but still an amazing sight. 2 Grey Plover were also countable, and 8 Snipe was a minimum figure [with 14 more flying over]. I did make attempts at Blackwits and Dunlin, getting ~1200 and ~900. The Lapwings and Redshank were so spread out and so mobile that I only recorded 140+ and 'low hundreds' respectively..

While counting the Dunlin - ok while trying to count the Dunlin - I came across the Curlew Sand which has been knocking around with them. I thought 'Ooh, Curlew Sand, quite close, I'll get back to that'. Could I find it again? Ha ha ha... A Spotshank also tried the same routine, but eventually decided on a different game and materialised on the bank opposite the hide. Having posed like a porn star for a while, it then decided to be naughty and moved the the grass by the railway line with some Redshanks - yes, a Spotshank feeding in grass! Getting [finally] to the title birds, there were a few Knot on the Point when I arrived - mixed in with the Barwits and so on - but they buggered off very early and I didn't get a count. The birds were quite twitchy and a fair few moved over to Goosemoor after a couple of the bigger flushes.

Eventually I gave my legs a stretch and went to look for the female Long-tailed Duck. After working up to the pub and back, I decided to just stay put and plonked down on a bench at the head of the Goatwalk. Sure enough she popped up, feeding in the main channel just south of the last big buoy. Closer to, 5 Turnstone did what they do, down to 'ooh, aren't they close?' range. :)

Late afternoon I got down to the Harbour again, but the gull numbers were a good hundred less. I wonder where they went? Heading on, the sea gave up a lone Razorbill [which looked fine].

On Saturday I was up and out for a yomp on't Moor. I was mostly after the stones, but birds popped up now and again. Heading south from Whiteworks, my primary targets were Drizzlecombe and Hingston Hill [or more properly the wonderful stone rows thereon]. Between these three points I meandered and detoured a bit - I almost went down to Brisworthy, but decided I didn't have quite enough daylight to play with. Instead I had a mooch around the Nattor Brook edge of Burrator, with little to show for it in way of birds I must say, but it was worth a try. I did break my own record for Ridiculous Range to Nail Goosander on Burrator - picking out an obliging drake from nigh on 3km from first Gutter Tor and then Cuckoo Rock [the ranges on the map for the two sightings are pretty much the same] - this being one of the reasons why I take the Li'l Scope in my rucksack.

Another came while I was having lunch at Higher Hartor Tor [yes, really] - I picked out a big flock of birds to the southwest and the numbers made me think at first of Starlings - but wait, Starlings with white undersides? Must be waders; I got the scope on them and indeed not Starlings, Golden Plover! About 500 of them, easily the biggest group I've ever seen on the Moor. They were the only big numbers around, though, as mostly it was very quiet up there. Hardly any Mipits, even. Still, it was glorious walking even though there were hordes about and I spent far too much time picking up other peoples' litter... [Stop moaning]

Sunday saw a family outing to cornwall to see Sister and Brother-In-Law. Little Black Dog came along and met their Mad Dog - no fur flew so it was a success ;) - we had lunch and took a stroll [after several aborted attempts at beaches] around some nice clay pits. There were 13 Tufties on a very green pool and I was mildly vexed that I hadn't brought the Big Scope - well, so many RNDs about, you know! Despite the wind and sideways drizzle it was nice - the Hounds Of Hell had a great time as BIL had brought out two balls and a pocketful of treats [he knows how to keep dogs happy]. I had quiet hopes for an owl on the way back, but they were dashed.

This week has been work and nothing even vaguely interesting to report. I did have something to blabber on about in mind, but typing all this has driven it far away [so be grateful! ;) ]. Well, there's always tomorrow.