30 January, 2016


To all you dear readers, but Backward Birding is currently suffering technical issues.

I'm having to post this on a borrowed computer as Blogger has decided it doesn't want to work for me.. Bladdy Giggle and other comments.. :(

So... Backward Birding is on indefinite hiatus until this is resolved.


16 January, 2016

Don't Read This Post

Seriously. You will regret it.

Ok, you were warned...

So, I went for a mooch about the South Hams. First up was South Huish, where there was the chance of good views of Glossy Ibis, Ruddy Shelduck, and Water Pipit.

All three were distant and elusive. The Ibis so much so that it couldn't be seen at all!
The slail was very non-elusive. [That's sleet with added hail for extra ouchiness, btw].

With Bolt Tail and the Thurlestone
looking all atmospheric

A Barwit showed up and hung with the Oyks [who were feeding in a grassy field..], which was a bit random.

This is a Barwit
[Plus an Oyk's bum..]

A Kingfisher swayed on a reed stem at the back, and in a brief look at the sea, a 1w RTD was bobbing around. Apparently, there's a funny pale pipit in the big flock, but I didn't find that, either.

Something that amused me was the sight of workmen putting speed bumps in by the NT car park. Why so funny? Well, if you consider the craters potholes they were filling in as part of the same operation...

I then went looking for the 2 male Red Crested Pochard, who would now be in splendid plumage. Bowcombe Creek had been mentioned, but no joy was had there. Indeed, they too were very elusive to the point of invisibility.

Finally, Slapton Ley.

There was going to be a particularly long and vehement rant about the new Stokely Bay hide here. Going on about how the only thing it seems to have been designed to do is be as uncomfortable and impractical as possible.
Indeed, the only good thing is the location.

BUT. Those stupid enormous fixed side 'windows' were great when the 1w Marsh Harrier [not moulting yet, so cannot be sexed] showed up and started hunting the back of said bay. For 15 minutes until it got something. WOW!

With 6 Goldeneye and 3 BN Grebes out on the Ley, things were good indeed. Ok, there weren't many birds other than them. 2 Coot. Yes, 2!!!!

Then the Water Rails decided to have a barney right outside. [Yes, seen Water Rails very close and chasing each other]. Something in the water, maybe? Later on, one even posed for pictures!

Water Rail
Right by the ring bench at Slapton Bridge


A movement in the reeds, a disturbance in the water. Less than 20m away, there it was.. OTTER.

An adult [perhaps the/a male?], it then proceeded to fish its way out into the Bay and right across the middle of the lower Ley. In the middle of the day, in the sunshine. It was catching teeny fish [four or five crunches and gone] and, while it spent less than 5 seconds at a time on the surface, I watched it for more than 35 minutes. Just think about that. [Maybe weep...]

I've had better views, and closer views [both on the Levels], but they were always seconds, at most a minute or so. Not half an hour and then some.

I went up to Ireland Bay - where most of the [still pretty sparse] birds were hiding. 2 more Goldeneye, a few Gadwall, etc... No RCPs. There were a couple of very vocal Mistle Thrushes. So vocal, they didn't seem to be paying me [presumably the object of their rattley ire] that much mind. Thus, the following gratuitous up-skirt shot..

 Actually identifiable..!

Still time for icing;  I saw a Barn Owl on the way home.

Happy Happy Joy Joy

[For once said unironically]

10 January, 2016

Birds And Rain.

Lots of birds.

Lots of rain.

So I went off to the Exe to amuse myself in the 'sunshine and showers'.

Hmm, well there was a brief hint of what might have been approaching sunshine in the morning, and the showers were more like variations in degrees of it pissing down..

But lots of birds, oh yes.

I started at Matford, where I was hoping to get a decent [ie. under 1km] view of the Ridgway's Cackling Goose. Unfortunately, said goose had other ideas and proved elusive. I did see a lot of other birds, mostly for the first time this year [isn't that nice?], and most notably a frickin' YBW*!!

This was during the bright bit, and it was feeding busily along the little hedge past the footbridge by the thatched cottage**. It then moved into the trees by the viewing area [with the benches and Lapwing bike holders] and off towards the main pool.

Thoughts of waiting the Cackler out were banished by large amounts of water falling out of the sky. There being absolutely no shelter, I retired first to my car, then to Bowling Green.

This was a Good Idea, as a full-on hard core frontal system duly piled in, with sideways rain and everything...

Bowling Green was [like everywhere else] rather damp. Observe, regardez...

Someone left the tap on..

There were shedloads of wildfowl. As I ended up staying longer than planned, I eventually cracked and  started counting. I did not count everything, life is too short and there were too many sodding Teal.. There were too many Wigeon too, but as I was looking to refind the AmWig, I figured what the hell. Counting in 50s, I got to 2300. That's just 'in sight'...

Those dots are all ducks...

230+ Shoveler. 14 Pintail [they flew in together], 2 Pochard, 4 Tufty, 210+ Canada, 13 Greylag, 10 Avocet [they came in for the front and left after the worst of it], 2 Grey Plover, 2 Snipe, 9 Shelduck, 1 Spotshank, 2 Greenshank, and finally; 750+ Brents over towards the Exe from Dart's when I arrived and 350+ Blackwit when I left [with a lot more coming in].

Speaking of finding the AmWig..

He was feeling fairly elusive himself..

Unlike the Spotshank.

Or the Wigeon,

Many of which came in very close.

Eventually I moved on to Dart's Farm, [after finding nothing on Goosemoor. At all.], where both Brambling and Cattle Egret got away, but the Kingfisher showed very well. Loads of finches and corvids around, plus a handful of winter thrushes.

Keeping count but not chasing [::cough::] I'm now over the ton, which only took a week longer than when I was trying.

In other news, I managed to lose the nut that holds my sunflower feeder together down the drain.. Fortunately, we still have a local-ish hardware shop where I could take the lonely screw to get a nice shiny new one. Yay.

In better news, a flock of 67. Yes, 67 Goldfinches were lurking in three trees when I got in from work on Thursday.. Wowzer.

[[*Probably. Possibly. Ok, it had all the visual signs of being the Other One, but the bastard didn't call once. It did ignore my attempts at YBW and take note of my woeful HW, though possibly only to double-take then laugh its undertail coverts off...]]
[[**Apologies to all of you readers who are unfamiliar with Matford Marsh reserve.***]]
[[***It could be described as a rushy pond-come-flooded field in the angle of a large roundabout with a cycleraceway around it..]]

08 January, 2016

Back To The Old Ways

How to get out of the habit? Every non-working daylight hour is an hour that could, nay should be spent looking for something. What can I get? What might be where? What do I need to be aware of?

Questions questions now without point.

I've tried the time-tested remedy of blatant apathy. It's worked pretty well.
Telling myself 'Chase only Ticks, and bird for fun. Numbers will see to themselves, it's not like you'll end up under 200, now is it?' is another one. That might take a bit more work.

Having started the year staying resolutely not just on-Patch but on-the-middle-of-Patch-and-nowhere-near-the-naughty-fringes, today I went off birding after work.

Back to a very long-standing place*, dear to my heart, and as soggy as it should be..

I speak of Yarner.

Short Fridays means the chance to take some rations to work and get straight out there. Weekday Yarners are far quieter than weekend Yarners [at least usually, but today there were 6 in the car park.. ::gasp::], and well, having it more or less to myself is always a treat.

I didn't stay for that long, and spent most of my time in the hide - the birds were insane! - but it was lovely just to be there.

Wet winter Yarner is different now that so much of the lower understory has been hacked cleared. You can see the mosses and Bilberry much more clearly [well, when it's sunny, anyway]. It changes the colour balance, but not for the worse. More bright greens and oranges low down make a stronger contrast with the blacks and grey-whites of the wet trunks.. It's still Art.


Anyways, there were plenty of birds about, especially around the hides as the feeders were both there and filled up [always helps, that].

Oooh, who's that bashful lady?

GSW and Coal Tits

The feeder was hung at an angle, btw [I think to let all the rain drain...]

The old hide was really hotching, with not only repeated GSW -  I got phonebinned shots - but at least 5 Nuthatches, 6 Marshies, and tons of other tits plus the odd Chaffinch [yes, on the feeders!] and a stonking male Bullfinch.
There was also a wonderful moment that I almost got on camera.. Imagine a small peanut feeder with one of those big guards on it. Now imagine 9 LTTs inside said guard, totally covering the feeder with black and pink fuzz, tails stuck out all over the place. And imagine said feeder is purple.

I nearly died...


[[*Now in my fourth decade of looking up down and sideways at the same time..]]

04 January, 2016

The Inevitable Countdown Post

A change this time, with the addition of 'pretty' pictures. Some may even be new to your poor suffering eyes. I was going to do a whole spiel to start with. Maybe a written overview of the year, but I know you just want me to get this over with so you can bang your heads against the nearest solid objects until the pain goes away...

Ladies and gentlebirders, here is the Top Ten of 2015.....

10. Hudsonian Godwit.

2015 was not for the most part a year spent zooming far and wide. An exception was burning up to the Levels for one of the 'WOWZER!' birds. You know, the ones you don't really expect to see.
It was a proper twitch too, with a big crowd and the bird hiding in a corner when I arrived. But it came out. Then flew off! Then came back. I even got decent piccies. Plus, one of the best locations to show up in.

9. 600 Avocets.

On the Exe. Together. Breathtaking.

8. White-winged Black Tern.

I'd seen the Farmoor bird [with Black and American Black - hell of a formation!], and missed the Slapton one, so this was a very welcome arrival. The way it showed so insanely well, just motoring up and down the canal at Exminster... Made the mozzies ignorable. Which is saying something.

7. Kingfishers on the Otter.

Getting to show my second niece her first Kingfisher.

6. The Greater Yellowlegs.

Vengeance can be expensive..
Having dipped twice, it was personal. So I went back and got the bugger.
The fact the bird was so unutterably beautiful helped.

5. The Year of the Goshawks.

Never have I seen so many. Not the closest or most spectacular views I've ever had, but they just kept coming. Blessed is the word.


Out that window! In the sunshine! At eye level!!

3. The Great Wild Dove Hunt.

A day that started as a determined attempt at a tricky yeartick, which looked like becoming a failure, then turned into a big twitch, which became a two-in-one-scope-field, then got flooded by Kites, and finally, when I'd given up on my original goal, an enforced detour gave me unlooked-for success just outside Patch bounds [again].

2. Wild Tor.

What is it about that place? If you go there [and it's always a good yomp] you'll find an unassuming collection of low outcrops and lots of boggy rushy ground.
But it is my favourite tor, my favourite spot on the Moor, if not anywhere.

Raptors seem to like it too, though you have to be looking the right way.

1. The Reedrunner.

Beep! Beep!

A worthy winner.

Ok, run, scream, claw at your eyes, whatever. It's over for another year...

03 January, 2016

Hybrid Theory

Oh ye Gods and Little Fishes, I had some fun today.

So I was trying to buy something in the sales and failed miserably, but I also got to take a look around the Harbour and oh what a bird I did see.

It was very choppy out in the Bay, and only 1 Razorbill was noted, but a nice GND came into the Outer Harbour [then buggered off when a jetskier came through...]. 8 Purple Sands and 4 Turnstones [plus Rockits and Pied Wags] were about the Real Living Coast and Shags were all about the Harbours.

However, the bird of which I speak was in the Outer Harbour, tarting about the main channel and towards the slipway. A diver. A big brown diver with a dark halfcollar its darkest bit. A chunky diver with pale markings on its nape. A diver with a visible eye and a rather chunky pale bill....

Surely this was the bird off Blackball yesterday.

It was very hard to keep up with. Actually, that's an understatement. It was an utter git. Passers-by must have had a right laugh [or a worried check for the number of the loony bin], I reckon...

So, I tried very hard and got very cold to get these pitiful excuses;

Pale face and big bulge visible-ish

Dark collar clear but pale markings less so, alas.

These pics really don't do the bird justice. You have to see it if you're anywhere near, trust me.

It is not, I must stress, a White-billed Diver.

However, it is the oddest, biggest, WBD-est 2w GND I have ever seen.

It's even better than the one that was knocking around Brixham with the 2013 WBD. The bill is even [and I assume it's some wear effect] a bit white. It seems to have ivory-like sides with gunmetal atop culmen and below mandible. The whole effect of the bird is to seem halfway between the 2 species.

So, is there any record of diver hybridisation?

I'm just wondering...


Dammit, always forgetting things...

I bashed the Patch a fair bit, saw some nice birds, then was mobbed on the Downs by a group of brats adorable little childyrens. They meant no harm, [[and stop laughing...]] but they just would not leave me alone. I started to feel horribly like a Buzzard. [[I said stop laughing]].

Ahem. Anyway, due to them, no roost numbers from Blackball. Did get some late afternoon numbers, and to finish the inlet survey I ran, so not a total loss.

Speaking of...

In the afternoon, I worked around from Meadfoot to Blackball, counting divers and grebes [yes, there were both!], to try to find out how many there were inshore [seeing as how the south/central parts of the Bay were covered].

One GND off Meadfoot, an RTD flew south past Sandy Cove, 12 GC Grebes and 9 GNDs in Hope Cove, nothing off Anstey's, and 4 GNDs plus a diver sp* with 2 GC Grebe off Blackball. A Razorbill and 2 Guilles [one s/pl one w/pl] also at the Nose. The 6 C Scoter were again off Blackball.

To compare with last year.. After 2 days of 2016, I'd seen 47 species.

[[*Well out, off Petitor and drifting north. It was with a GND and looked bigger. It was also brown, with a half collar the darkest part. Interesting, neh?]]

02 January, 2016

The Year In Listing Post

  Ten momentos of a year spent chasing a ridiculous target because I read a book and was attacked by persistent inspiration.

2015 wasn't the first time I've chased a yearlist. The Patch has suffered [and that was a proper one, too, done on foot] in the past and I sort of went after Devon once before, too. I've filled up in Decembers when I've seen I was close to my personal record [there was an occasion when I just happened to decide I needed to go xmas shopping in Bath, which naturally necessitated side-trips to Cheddar Res, Chew, and the Levels... [yes, all in one day; travelling to and from was done in darkness!] The resulting British Isles Yearlist total is still my record.

Anyway, having mashed my old Devon record [set in the famous year of 2012], here are what may be my top ten moments from chasing this that and more than a few others...

10. I Hate Herons.

Not a highlight so much as a protracted lowlight. 2015 was the year of heron dipping, with only GWE falling. The Squaccos were easily the worst, as not only did I manage not to see any of a large influx, despite repeated attempts, but they would have been a Devon Tick to boot. [No, I managed to miss the NA one.. ::mutter mutter::]

9. Centenary Birds.

Bird 100 was not the Penduline Tit I was hoping for, but in fact... House Sparrow. That's yearlisting, folks.
Bird 200 took getting rained on a lot, but eventually, after far too much slogging, proved a gem; Dipper.

8. The Record Falls.

Curlew Sand. Dawlish Warren. Say no more.

7. A Little Corker.

Broadsands.. What do you get? Mud. Dogs. Biting wind. Diving birds. Oh, and such glories as this YBW, which showed so fabulously I still smile thinking about it.

6. Exminster Satisfaction.

Having previously missed Marsh Harrier, SEO, and Whooper Swan there, the news of White-fronted Geese had me scrambling. I got there as it was getting dusky to find not only the birds, but also several of Devon's Finest. Who then wimped out of looking for a reported male Merlin. I didn't and trotted off up the canal in the gathering gloom. And scored. ;p

5. Gotcha You Beauties.

Dart's Farm. Penduline Tits. Far too many attempts, but oh they were gorgeous when they finally deigned to show.....

4. That Li'l Bar Steward.

Little Tern. There's always a bogey. Bad that I'd had more than one 'probable'. Worse that I'd somehow missed multiple birds so many times.The fact that there had been one flying up and down in front of us at the HudWhim was just rubbed salt.
Finally, on my I-can't-remember-how-many-th trip to the Warren, even the Dynamic Duo couldn't help me, but then Mr Eagle showed up and bingo. The Force was strong in him that day. [[Sorry..]]

3. See You Eventually.

The Black Hole. A SEO. [[I might stop the 'humour' eventually..]]. Two very long trips and a lot of rain. There is huge satisfaction in getting the bird [and the photo..] just in time. Though getting someone else on it would have been even better.
Then come the end of December I just drive past one up on't Moor.....

2. The Bridge.

Slapton bridge. Dusk. Patience. Silence. And then.. the Bittern. Not flying but walking, fishing.. Practically holding my breath, straining my eyes.. Oh, magical.

1. Dartmoor.

At an undisclosed location on an undisclosed date, I was out looking for something else entirely, certainly not this bird, when there he was. Male Ring Ouzel. Singing.
I was taken back to my very first Ouzel. That one was sat on top of a big tor on an overcast and chilly day. The mournful song was something I didn't recognise. Then I saw him, up above us... 
As you might have surmised, it left a mark.

And I didn't even mention being seconds from Leach's on New Year's Eve, or the AmWig saga, or spending hours in the cold because escapes don't count, or how I forgot my ace and never got it back or.. ::deep breath::

Yeah, so, that was that. The best bits were half listing, half 'proper' birding, but something I do take from this is that many of the wonderful moments I had, watching brilliant birds being wonderful, only happened because I was chasing a yeartick. And there's more to come, because yes, yearlisting will also feature in my full Top Ten Highlights of 2015. Which is Coming Soon to a Screen near You.

To quote The Toecutter; "You can run, but you can't hide"

New Year, New- Oh, Wait, Maybe Not..

I do have my Dreaded Annual Top Ten Of Nonsense coming. In fact, you will quake in your boots to learn I'm planning two.. [shock, horror]. But not quite yet.

To the 1st of the month and year, when I did not get up before dawn to go chasing year ticks. This was quite deliberate. The way the rain arrived far earlier than forecast [unlike later, like last year..] didn't help.

So, I restricted myself to a little amble about the Patch [best birds were a nice flock of Greenfinches] and then a check on the roost at Blackball. Here there were.. well, not a lot different! 6 GND, 1 BTD, the 6 C Scoter with 2 males and at least 1 1w, and a paucity of grebes. The great big swell didn't help, I'll admit. Neither did the vast horde of gulls needing sorting through. 1900 Kittiwakes!!! 5500 large gulls!!! 48 BHG.. ! And they were spread in multiple rafts, too.. It was fun going through them.

Actual highlight was the flock of Purple Sands - only the second time at that site - which came in. Definitely an indicator of how rough the Bay was..


Arg, there are other things I meant to talk about, but again I can't recall them when I'm actually sat here logged in and typing.. I remember having half a post written in my head as I was stomping up from town this afternoon, but now.. Just gossamer blown away on the wind.

Plus ├ža change.

01 January, 2016

Yes, I Did That.

Evil? Moi?

You gotta have a cliffhanger sometimes.

Ok, so having ummed and ahhed, my final total is 242. So 12 short of the Official Record, [I somehow doubt the Dynamic Duo were ever worried] tying the Old Official Record, and 16 over mine!
To say it's way beyond what I expected is an understatement. I was aiming for 230, with 240 more like a shining city in the distance..

If I'd had more time/made better choices/had everything go my way, yadda yadda, I think another 10 or so could have been doable, out of the 26 or so birds I missed. But that's all couldawouldashoulda. I did great. :D

A shout-out and kudos to a big help, Mr Gen himself... BUN! Cheers mate!  :)

Anyways, happy new calendar year.

May 2016 bring more birds and fewer floods.