Monday, May 29, 2006

Stoopid oyk

Or maybe not as stoopid as they look. Right next to the A90. They nested here last year and got some chicks away, temporarily at least.

Sunday 28 - Can you feel the tension?

So, we're in that 'last few days of May'... memories of Ancient Murrelet, Pallas's Sandgrouse, Alpine Accentor triple whammies. The days for the 'big one'. Nervous shaking fingers around Britain checking Birdguides, Birdlines, pagers etc., excited, yet fearful (please God, not Foula!). No worse than that, Sula Sgeir! But it's only the teeny tickers that need long staying trash like BB Albatross. Oooh, and me, of course. No, what's mega and accessible... errrr... 'possible Heuglin's Gull, Dunge'. ffs! Please not 10 pages of BirdForum about an unidentifiable seagull? My advice, go out and find your own unidentifiable seagull. It's easier, and your list stays just the same. So, I was out looking at seagulls. Praise the Lord Lucifer etc. they're all Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes. That made things soooo much easier.

In the absence of megas, i've become a bird of a bird nester. At least, I get a kind of pleasure from proving I'm cleverer than birds by knowing where their nests are. Turns out the birds are cleverer than I am. But I'm pretty certain I know where my Grey Wagtails are nesting. They're a bit cagey about it, but I've found the spot where they don't like me to be. They can scold in a most piercing manner. Similarly Rock Pipits. I was trying to seawatch and they made me get up and go away, with a really irritating alarm note. Mostly the auks were all just sat on the water again, feeding (100 Guillemots, 150 Razorbills, 20 Puffins). A small number of gannets were flying back and forth, 1 Red-throated Diver went south, and some Sandwich Terns feeding offshore.

I used to think that Wood Warblers were my favourite bird. That was when I lived in Wales and used to see them! NOW, well I'm kind-of warming to the charms of Sedge Warblers. Nice and easy to identify, always doing something interesting... the only thing they can be strung as is Moustached and Aquatic, and no one is silly enough to try it any more, so they are bullet proof. And by the Lord Harry, they are such gorgeous things and they are always up to something interesting. Yes, I... I... I.... think I love them, but I'm scared of the commitment (just ask the Wood Warblers)

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Ivory-billed Woodpecker.

I've just been reading about Ivory-billed Woodpeckers on BirdForum.

jeeeeeesssssuuusss I must have been bored! Now don't get me wrong... I would love the IBW to be alive, and the evidence presented in Science magazine is better than anything I'm likely to get... but is the search for the IBW more of a religion?

In my spare time when I need to earn money, I am a professional scientist. Blame my Mum for making me go to school and not letting me skive off to go birding. I have a lot of experience of sending data off to scientific journals for possible publication. If I thought that in my lab we'd found something really interesting, and wanted it published in Science, I KNOW that I would have to make damn sure that my presentation of the data was absolutely textbook - lovely photographs, statistics, a movie, computer simulation etc. If I thought I'd found something really interesting, but we didn't have the record of it, (if, for example, our photos were crap, or the movie was blurry, or the statistics didn't add up) and I sent it to a top journal, I can already predict the response
1) 'Collinson's data are highly suggestive but do not prove that such-and-such is the case'
2) 'hahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaa!!!!!!.... eeeee... we haven't laughed so much since the great lab 4.59 radio wars of 2006'

I have really tried, but I can't see how the evidence published in Science for the persistence of the IBW is anywhere near that normally required by top journals. If the paper had been published in Biological Conservation or some similar, international but lower profile journal, as 'Evidence for the persistence of IBW', I would not have a problem with that. But I'm absolutely astounded that it got past the editors and peer-review and into Science - the quality of the evidence is not in that top league.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Miles and miles of nuttin

This morning was one of those days when the sea is not only flat, but it's completely silent. You look round and there's wee black dots all around - a cornucopia, a smorgasbord even, of seabirds. Admittedly, they're mostly Guillemots and Razorbill, but it's the principle of the thing. And Eiders - they always sound like they've just seen something surprising. 'ooooh!' Also visibility was brilliant - crystal to the horizon. 15 Common Scoters went north, and 4 Manx Shearwaters, otherwise I was just watching the Kittiwakes feeding.

On the land, I don't see a whole lot of migration going on. A whole load of sexy antics and some heavy-duty parenting. The Grey Wagtails seem to have bred - at least both were carrying food.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lest we forget, again

You never forget your first time.... with a Nutcracker! 3rd November 1991. A great day in the life of every right-thinking Englishman. When it crapped on the lawn, I just had to stick it in my notebook, where it lies to this day, leaving an ever bigger and greasier stain.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The dawning of the age of aquariums

Nasty nasty drizzle. Drizzly enough to be annoying, but not rainy enough to be raining. The Sedge Warbler know something we don't, perhaps. I've noticed this before, but when it gets wet they take to the trees* - feeding among the wet leaves. Moving to higher ground, if the rain were heavier. Really heavy, they start building arks and taking two of every animal, except cats presumably.

*'trees' - Shetland boys - look them up on Wikipedia. They come in several flavours. 'Trees' are what get in the way of nice views of all those rare Phylloscs. You know how rare Phylloscs actually prefer to bounce around on barbed wire, drystane dykes, in short turf, around cow sheds etc... well
on the mainland they are forced to sit in 'trees', and it pisses me off something rotten.

I got a patch tick today! Must tot up my patch list sometime. But while I was trying a quick seawatch, a single Shelduck Tadorna tadorna flew south. Ahhh!!!! long overdue, but there is no habitat for them in the immediate areas (we're all rocks and jaggy sticks). If there is ANY pleasure a human being can experience that fires off more endorphins than an overdue patch tick, I'd like to know about it.

Also on my seawatch... a Great Skua flew past just as I was sitting down. Actually, I'm sure it's not just me, but I'm amazed how often that happens. You turn up at the coast, put your bins up, and there is a skua flying past, and you think 'mmmm... looks decent seawatching today'. Then an hour later it's the only skua you've seen, and you're worrying about all those Phylloscs that must be hiding in the trees. I also saw 1 (count 'em - ONE) Manx Shearwater, nine Red-throated Divers, and 2 Turnstones.
Top tip. NEVER call Great Skuas 'Bonxies'. You can't shag them. Never call Black Guillemots 'Tysties' - you can't eat them.
Sea was calm, with ~200 Guillemots and 200 Razorbills and exactly 42 Puffins sat on the water. Good dolphin=watching day, were there any dolphins.

On the clifftops there was this

clearly a Black Lark....

and this....

a lost racing pigeon feeding on the cliff edge. Is this your pigeon? if so, come and get it PDQ... it's in PEREGRINE country Falco peregrinus. Whohahahahahahahahahahahahaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!! It's dead meat. OOoohhh OOOhhhh, the peregrines are eyeing up its goolies right now. Run! Run!

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Baby Birds

Newtonhill has exploded to life with baby birds. This is one a a brood of 4 Blackbirds Turdus merula in our back garden. There's a couple of broods of Starlings Sturnus vulgaris too, and some fluttery House Sparrows Passer domesticus chasing their dad round the back fence.

I tried another photo of the blackbirds (digibinning through the kitchen window, sorry) and this happened.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


Hey, hey mama said the way you move, Gon' make you sweat, gon' make you groove.

Blackdog! Not the Led Zep song... the small village north of Aberdeen. Sometimes you have these fantastic ideas about 'nipping out for a spot of birding' at lunchtime. Don't try it when Anderson Drive is closed by an accident! Two hours away from work, for a total of 40 min birding. grrrrr.... Last time I was at Blackdog, I got a Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata and a King Eider Somateria spectabilis. Today.... lots of Common Eiders S. mollissima, and 46 Sanderlings Calidris alba in various stages of breeding dress. Or undress.

Pathetic digi-binning efforts attached.

Full of Eastern Promise

Well, I had kind-of promised Diane I wouldn't get up at first light again this week, as I do tend to drop my scope, wake the kids and leave the front door open at 5 am. Turns out I lied, but it wasn't my fault. The winds are all over the shop, but I get jumpy when I'm sat watching telly last thing at night, with the rain beating against the windows, and the sound of trains going past, cos we only hear the trains in easterlies/northeasterlies. Such was the case last night during the cup final (Henrik Larsson eh? - the man is God!), so dawn this morning saw me out. More of a westerly by now, but what the heck, I'm awake already.

More pleasure and consequences today, with a pair of Sedgies Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
building a nest, a family of European Goldfinches Carduelis carduelis (2 ad, 2 juv) in the sycamores at the Mill, also a juvvy Song Thrush Turdus philomelos here.

A Sand Martin Riparia riparia overhead was unusual - I only get them as migrants, and this is a bit late.

Offshore, Kittiwakes streaming south to Fowlsheugh - over 1000 in 30 min. The other day, when I was salivating over a juicy Puffin, there were hardly any Kittiwakes around at all. Not sure what seabirds are doing day-to-day, but I don't think it's a daily routine.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Full Scottish Breakfast

Set my phone alarm for 5.15. What I hadn't realised was that the clock was still an hour slow, so my alarm didn't go off til 6.15. This is irrelevant, cos I'd already woken up at 5 and was out the door, but it surprised a Sedge Warbler at 6.15!! As I type this at 21.48, I'd like to think that somewhere under the railway bridge there is a Sedgie doing a passable impression of my ring tone. Shame we don't get a few Marsh Warblers paludicola. They'd be better at it.

The burn was quiet, apart from my phone! Offshore, Puffins Fratercula arctica were heading north, local breeding birds. Saw 28 in 30 min. Not too interesting I guess, but better than anything you're going to get if your local patch is a god-forsaken park in Manchester. Puffins before breakfast, sir? Of course, if I lived on Shetland, I could probably have Puffins for breakfast.
'Waiter! I'll have the orange juice, porridge, egg, white pudding and toast please'
'Marmalade, jam, or Puffin?'
Errr... I think the Puffin today, thank you.'
'Tea of Coffee?'
'Tea, thanks, and some of those oatcakes.'

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mr Nobody - a BAD MAN

Brrrrring brrrrring. Alasdair rings at 7.30 am - do I want a lift to work? Yes please, and THEN I realise it's still easterlies, and raining. Should have gone out birding - v slack of me. Again. When Alasdair turns up, he has no petrol in the car, and no money! Good job I had a tenner. But that's not the point. What do birders do when they spend the day not birding? Fiddle with their nockies, of course. And that, gentle reader, is the point. My nockies. Once a very fine pair of Zeiss 7x42s. Bought in the halcyon days of my youth, I saved my paper round money for about a billion years. To be frank, I haven't looked after them. They been on the car roof as I drove off. They been dropped. They've even been in the Atlantic Ocean (ohh, how we laugh now, but it wasn't bloody funny). They've been arrested. They've been moved on by police from a bus shelter in Newcastle. They've even survived a bar brawl. But now, this... they were left safely on a bookcase in my house one Sunday last month. When I next came to them, THIS had happened.

Deep deep scratches on the objectives. Doesn't really
effect my vision thru them, but bloody annoying all the same. The important thing is... and you can probably guess this.. neither of my wonderful kids has any idea what might have happened. So, I need new bins, and this is the problem, skint. Zeiss FL what, £800+. Maybe I should take one of those ads in Private Eye:
Money needed for new bins. Barclays Ac. no 40077416 Sort. 20-19-81. thanks. That might work. I also accept brown envelopes. Just ask my postman.

Little Angels - no idea what happened to my bins.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Flat calm Newtonhill

Why Ambassadeur, with these easterly winds you are really spoiling us. And some drizzle as well this morning. Gooooddddddammit, I think I screwed up today. Down by the burn, was overwhelmed with skulking warblers (3, maybe 4!) deep in the willows. Sedgie, whitethroat, and I think sedgie +1, and the +1 was unstreaked and appeared to have buffish undertail coverts, only seen from behind before it whizzed off. I must have been thinking about fairies or something, cos it didn't register until I was down at the shore. Ran back but no sign. Could have been Cetti's, or anything! It's a write-off. whatever. Never mention this to anyone, and we will not speak of it again.

24 Red-throated Divers Gavia stellata went north in an hour, and one south, the idiot.

Round Cran Hill for the first time in a while.... mmmmm.... savour the scent of burnt gorse and guillemots. One measly Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe. I remember when my ol' grannie sat me on her knee and told me not to eat measly wheatears.

Lest we forget 2

One year ago today.... Meikle Loch, Aberdeenshire, Barrow's Goldeneye Bucephela islandica. Many thanks to the person whose name I forgot, who put this picture on Surfbirds

Friday, May 12, 2006

Lights, Camera, Revolution

Bit of drizzle in Newtonhill, first thing this morning. Just a chance it might bring some migrants down. Migrants didn't think so, though. It just brought me down! You. can't. bring. me. down. no. bring me down you can't bring me down no bring me down. bring me down. bring me down.

Gosh, sorry, went a bit weird for a moment then.

There are now at least 7 Sedge Warblers singing alongside the burn, probably 8 - think that makes it the best year, assuming they stay.

Sea was flat-calm, with streams of Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla heading south to Fowlsheugh. Small parties of Common Scoter Melanitta nigra going the other way (there is a big flock at Blackdog, just north of Aberdeen). One Great Skua Stercorarius skua went past.

sooo... pretty quiet, but still looking good for the w/e.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Cove Community Woodland

Half an hour at Cove Community Woodland on the way home from work. I hardly ever go there, which is a DISGRACE, cos it gets good birds - a stand of tall trees on the coast just south of Aberdeen. Cove is where people who work in Aberdeen go to sleep at night. In the best tradition of Community Woodlands it's bordered by new housing estates and is full of little twiggy saplings planted as landscape work.

In fact this is my fourth visit. Cop this for a hit rate.... 1st time I went, it was for a Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides. Second time was for a Hume's Warbler Ph. humei. third time was 'on spec', and I bumped into a Yellow-browed Warbler Ph. inornatus and a Barred Warbler Sylvia nisoria (the Phylloscs were getting a bit repetitive). I thought these last two were finds, but when I got home they were already on Birdguides. Grrrr.... you expect that sort of thing in Naaarfalk, but in underpopulated Aberdeenshire it's a bit unnecessary.

Today's birds... wellllllll..... in a mild north-easterly, today seriously lowered my average for CCW. Let's leave it at that. But I did hear a smoke alarm going off in one of the houses across the fields, and then smell what must have been someone's tea.

Dog walkers.... why? I say why? WHY go to the trouble of picking up your dog's crap, putting it in a wee plastic bag, and then throwing it into the bushes where it will stay forever? Us birders have to walk through that, pishing as we go.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Another blast from the past

Another blast from the past, and one of my rare attempts at digiscoping. This was in July 2004. about as expected as snow, a 1st summer Black-throated Diver Gavia arctica among the guillemots off Newtonhill.

After the pleasure, the consequences

A lesson for us all. After the red-hot Willow Warbler action yesterday, I saw one one them feathering a nest in the long grass by the banks of the burn this morning. I could have told them... 3 minutes of pleasure, a lifetime of pain.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Newtonhill, Monday 9th

Stepped out the door this morning for a bit of pre-work birding. Jeeeeezzzzzzzzzz it's cold. Wind was northerly, little disappointing. Not a whole lot about either. Some red-hot Willow Warbler action down at the Mill. I'd be embarrassed to even describe it. Don't let the children see. Won't someone think about the children!!??

Monday, May 08, 2006

Shore Lark - Girdleness

Bunked off work today at 3.15, made way to Girdleness. There was a Shore Lark Eremophila alpestris feeding in the short turf and stoney bits behind the lighthouse. Nowhere for me to hide, so just had to crawl like a twit for a close look. Allowed approaches to about 15 m. Not bad. Like the Pot Noodles, it was spanking gorgeous. mmmmmm..... Pot Noodles. Some a*se with a dog and a set of golf clubs started smacking balls in its general direction - didn't help. I've done dog walkers, don't get me started on golf. Or the combination.

Also 6 Northern Wheatears on the grass - more than I've seen in Newtonhill all year!

Y'know... I have NEVER ended up regretting skiving off work, Uni or school to go see birds, ever.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Now, I'm the sunniest of Sunny Jims, but I can't stand people, by which mostly I mean dog-walkers , trying to talk to me while I'm out birding. Trouble is I always feel like you have to be polite, otherwise they go away thinking birders are a bunch of surly misanthropes. Like cyclists. Don't get me wrong... I'm a cyclist too. Well, I've got a bike. But I associate Lycra-clad cyclists with the sort of bad attitude I got off a testosterone-fuelled bike demon about 15 years ago. SO people generalise, and if they meet me, a surly birder, they think birders are surly. And I don't want that. Today, I was out enjoying the Yellowhammers, and this old bloke with a pack of Jack Russells walks up behind me, letting his dogs pee on my legs (sort of - not really) and he asked if I was a twitcher, and then wanted to talk about the big black panther his wife keeps seeing. I had to pretend to be manically making notes on these Yellowhammers (they must have been doing something really interesting) to excuse my monosyllabic responses. Eventually he got the hint and went away. Sorry mate, but your wife is seeing a DOMESTIC CAT. She just has a vivid imagination.

Sunday morning

Out at 5.30 this morning. Chilly.
The roads round our estate were full of House Sparrows Passer domesticus and Starlings Sturnus vulgaris. They had gob-fuls of food, and were rubbing it vigorously on the road surface. I assumed it was small slugs, but when I went over to look at things they left behind, it was leatherjackets. Weird.

Migrant highlights this morning.... a Lesser Whitethroat Sylvia curruca in the bushes down the burn track. A Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe at the coastal park. Sedge Warblers Acrocephalus schoenobaenus have been pouring in during the week - now 7 singing down the burn, and more elsewhere. Also several Common Whitethroats S. communis, fresh in the past few days and on territory.

Offshore - 20 Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus, 3 Great Skuas Stercorarius skua.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Blast from the past

Mmmmmm..... Blast from the past. This was in October 2004

I found another one, in pretty much the same place, in Oct 2005 as well.
Newtonhill is on the east coast of Scotland, UK. For geographically challenged North American cousins :-)))) that's 'England'. Few miles south of Aberdeen. This 3x3 km square is more or less my patch boundaries. Elsick Burn ('the burn') is the best area - scrubby valley leading directly up from the North Sea. The railway bridge seems to make grounded migrants think twice, and they gather in the gardens underneath it ('the Mill' and 'the Retreat'). To the south is Muchalls, an even smaller village, if that were possible. Another nice valley here, I call the 'Water Valley' because East of Scotland Water have some tanks or something down there. This has some decent willows, and one day I will find something good there.

You'll notice the sea. Seawatching is always on here. Even if (gasp!) there are no birds, Newtonhill is fantastic for dolphins. Bottle-nosed are year round - part of the resident flock around Inverness. We get white-sided dolphins in July/August.

Note to self - take some photos of top birding spots in Newtonhill. Thought I already had some, but apparently not, or can't find. Note to self... organise your photos.

Here's a photo from Llandudno - the Naples of the North - where I used to live as a wee tiny teenager. It's also where I started birding. Unfortunately in 1999 it was squashed by a giant Herring Gull and is now underwater. Apparently. Haven't been back to check.

And another thing... Blue-footed Booby. These weren't in Newtonhill. I put these in as a reminder of the time before children when we could afford to do things.

Note to birders. NO KIDS! The first one slows you down. The second stops you dead.

Look Mom, I'm blogging

I figured it was time I had a birding blog. We'll see how long this lasts. Family... you're in the wrong blog... try

My local patch. Where I live, with one wife and two kids. Newtonhill - south of Aberdeen on the North-east coast of Scotland. Should get loads of birds. Probably does. I think I miss a lot of them.