Friday, September 29, 2006
Thursday, September 28, 2006
Lots of glimpses of what look like Ivory-bills, usually flying off at speed, lots of 'kent' calls that as sonagrams don't absolutely match anything, but are closest to IBWO, and some enormous cavities in trees, many of which are bigger than previously recorded for Pileated, and some bigger than ever recorded for IBWO! Blimey! No photo!
There's a large amount of evidence, and I think you would have to be NUTS to dismiss the possibility that Ivory-bills are holding on. Looking through the field notes, in some ways these are very honest descriptions of the sorts of views you get of fast-moving birds in dense tropical woods. But I think we also have to acknowledge that eyes and memory play tricks, and the naked eye views, silhouettes, blurry binculars (! yes really, you couldn't make it up!) and brief glimpses don't really hold water as acceptable records. In fact there's only two that, if they honestly describe what was seen, come close to being nail-ons. The first is Tyler Hicks 'shopping list' sketch (jelly, oatmeal, skim milk, Dr Pepper, Ivory-billed Woodpecker - couldn't be more American if it tried) where at last someone has seen another field mark... the white dorsal stripes. Presumably a slip, but in the text it mentions them going onto the flanks. If these really were seen as described, and are not an honest mistake, it's an IBWO. The second stonewall sighting it Brian Rolek's 'sketch 92'. IF, again, the sketch describes what was seen, which is a bird flying vertically upward to the tree trunk with the upperwing showing that clearly, then it really has to be IBWO. In fact this is the only rear angle where i really believe the difference from Pileated is clear.
Good on them! Good work.
Things that still confuse me....
A grad student desperate to go to Arkansas to find IWBOs, picks a spot on the map in Florida and finds IBWO within an hour. I know it's Florida, but we aren't actually in f***ing Disneyland are we?
Bad science. It's fine for birding to be bad science - we do that all the time... but it's not fine for science to be bad science. That was my gripe with Fitzpatrick et al. and it still is. Soooo... the most likely explanation for the double knocks is a large woodpecker, and the kent calls, though heavily degraded and difficult to work with are most like IBWO. So why not do a control... few hundred hours of audio analysis in a wet North American wood out of IBWO range, but still full of hunters, canoes, Blue Jays, nuthatches, baby pigeons, and show that the 'kents' and double knocks don't occur. Do Pileateds knock harder when the bark is tight on the tree?
So many holes, so little getting up to them and rummaging about in the litter at the bottom.
Why are they so often identified after being seen badly, flying away at speed? We saw after Arkansas that THIS is the angle where you can mistake Pileateds for Ivory-billed.
Don't you guys even carry binoculars?!!! :-) Or a camera. My granny could have done better!!! :-)
Anyway, I guess it's moot. If these IBWOs are real there will be a photo this winter.
I still think my truth was funnier. Actually, Ii think it's pretty ironic that although we are now virtually certain that the Arkansas video was spurious... the whole episode has kicked off the research programme that might tell us the true status of Ivory-bills in N America. Maybe not classically ironic, before someone jumps on me, but I don't know a better word.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
Bernard Tucker, overgrown public schoolboy, Harrow and Oxford, crumpets and thrashings, was a bit of a firebrand in the birding field, and already a giant before accepting the majesty and authority that came with being Editor of BB - at the time, the SOLE arbiter of acceptance/rejection of all British rarities! Birding since schooldays... kept snakes in his rooms while studying for his zoology degree, worked at Cambridge University for a while (I assume this is where he flirted with communism and learnt to appreciate the benefits of a good purge), returned to Oxford as a Lecturer, and stayed. He was a thinker. And a doer, actually. The 'doing' generally being extraordinarily close observation of birds, alive, in the wild. Taxonomy was one of his fields, and he wrote about subpecies, species boundaries, etc. in a lengthy article in BB that you could probably reprint without revision today and it would STILL be useful. His most widely respected body of work was perhaps the sections on 'Field-characters and General Habits' 'Voice' and 'Habitat' (among other bits and bobs) for The Handbook of British Birds - difficult to appreciate these days quite how revolutionary this was in being broadly accurate(!), and how few people at the time could have written so comprehensively. He was instrumental in founding the British Trust for Ornithology and the Edward Grey Institute; he wrote papers (often for stupidly dull and now forgotten journals); he edited reports, founded bird clubs, and ran them; he was an extraordinary pedant and a stickler for scientific method; he travelled; and at the end he rescued and rejuvenated British Birds.
Real birdwatchers... will have seen recently in British Birds the 'Adios Moustached!' paper, describing the reasons for the deletion of Moustached Warbler from the British List. The Cambridgeshire 1946 record of a pair of birds feeding young came over his desk (as sole arbiter etc.) and he accepted it. It is in his critique of the record (never published in full, but I've read it) that it becomes obvious that he was very troubled. In fact he didn't believe it. In his teeny tiny (but very neat) scrawl, he bangs on about how none of the descriptions fit (that's generally a bit of a no-no for rarity descriptions), or even agree, and he bangs on some more about the nest - he really wanted it found. For anyone who doesn't know, when first seen the adults were feeding young in a bramble bush... at least one of the young could barely fly, and as they got older they started to move away from the brambles and feed around, e.g. coltsfoot. Bernard Tucker knew that the nest must be in the brambles and he also knew that real Moustached Warblers don't nest in brambles, nor do they feed in Coltsfoot. They nest and feed in reeds etc over standing water. The descriptions, habitat and behaviour didn't fit. So why did he accept them? I think it was because Bernie himself had dipped. He'd been on holiday in Scotland (the fool!), and came back to a gaggle of the biggest names in British birding at the time telling him they'd just seen a family of Moustached Warblers. He went for a look a few days later, but they had gone. Tough titty Tucker! I honestly think he accepted the record against his better judgement because it would have looked like sour grapes otherwise. There, I said it.
So, a conscientious man. But he was sick, and was still editing BB on his deathbed. I assume there was some health reason why he wasn't playing some active part in Hitler's downfall, and hence was free to take over BB in 1943. Mail me if anyone knows what his illness was. He died in 1950, age 49, and suddenly there was a vacuum at the top. When they buried him, David Lack and Max Nicolson wondered very publically if they were burying BB as well - there was no one to take it on and the publishers were losing interest. Max (another hero of the revolution, one day...) did what he did best - took on a job for which he was profoundly unsuitable, and did a pretty good job. BB was never as good in the 50s as it had been under Bernie, but at least it survived. In his obituary, they wrote: 'He was the least dramatic of men, but he did much to bring about a revolution in ornithology and to guard it against the reaction which awaits a revolution if it goes too far and too fast.' Probably fair, although bollocks to the woolly liberal counter-revolutionary Menshevism at the end - and Pah!
Bernard William Tucker. It wasn't 'all rot'. You were in the vanguard of professional scientist birders who shaped the collective effort of organised research into birds in Britain. Your premature death just went to prove that there's no justice. You were 50 years ahead of your time and struggled manfully to bring the rest of the bird World with you. For this, we honour you a Hero of the Birding Revolution.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Sunday, September 24, 2006
Look offshore - no repeats of last weekend's fireworks. In fact with 58 Barnacle Geese going south in 2 flocks (first of the autumn, and unusually beating the pinkies in), there's a distinct wintery feel to the sea... 3 Red-throated Divers, 5 Eurasian Wigeon, 2 Sandwich Terns, some Common Gulls south, a trickle of Gannets and auks, incl a Puffin. No shearwaters or skuas. Boo! The Coastal Park, Community Park and Allotments were dead, bit of relief down the Muchalls Track with a few Goldcrests and a Northern Wheatear having a fight with a Chaffinch on the telegraph wires (true!). Saw another birder down at Water Valley - first time I've intercepted another birder on my patch in over 4 years, apart from that old boy with the dog. He hadn't seen much either.
Nothing else, sorry. This week I have been mostly listening to Ritual de lo Habitual by Jane's Addiction. Seriously weird - my no. 1 top album for the last 10+ years
Of course this land is dangerous!
All of the animals
Are capably murderous.
When I was a boy,
My big brother held on to my hands,
Then he made me slap my own face.
I looked up to him then, and still do.
He was trying to teach me something.
Now I know what it was!
Now I know what he meant!
Now I know how it is!
One must eat the other
Who runs free before him.
Put them right into his mouth
While fantasizing the beauty of his movements.
A sensation not unlike
Slapping yourself in the face...
Slapping yourself in the face...
Slapping yourself in the face...
Wow, those lyrics sound so much better when you're on a Paracetomol/
Ibuprofen/Custard Cream high.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
This is what will be announced next month...
A pair of Ivory-billed Woodpeckers has been confirmed in the Roaring Cutoff area of the Choctawhatchee River, Florida panhandle. The discovery was made by a graduate student, taking his Prof's hummer on a high speed tank cross-country. He described hearing a distinctive 'double knock' out the front of the vehicle. In his own words... not so much the classic 'double knock', as two sickening thuds. It was then that he noticed a male IBW smeared across the hood of the vehicle, and a second bird, a female, bouncing off into the water and being swept away. Both birds appeared to have died very recently. He pulled the vehicle over safely, but as he went to retrieve the body of the male, it slid off into the river and was lost. He returned the hummer to the Prof who confirmed by DNA analysis of the blood that it belonged to IBW. Previous estimates that there was perhaps enough suitable habitat in the vicinity for one pair of IBWs were rapidly upgraded to 9 pairs, just in case. In spite of extensive searching, no further birds have been sighted in the area. Fortunately a remote motion sensitive camera set up in the area captured one frame, confirming the identity of the birds.
*'TRUTH' may not be based on actual events for the purpose of this post.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Conditions were about as bad as could be - sun in my face, and with a bit of haze (vis down to a mile) turning the sea into this kind of haze of soft glow. You know you're in trouble when *every* Fulmar looks blue. But hang on a minute... there was something on here. Birds going past. Close in. Jinkies, better hope my jizz and silhouette id skills are up to scratch. Immediately Manx Shearwaters - in the next hour and a bit there were 21 of those. Then zoinks! 2 Balearic Shearwaters, close in - they even came in for a circular fly past so I could get enough plumage detail - praise the Lord Lucifer and all his little pixies. Although the light still wasn't great, they came both directions in front of me, where I could see they were brown +/-Manxie-sized shearwaters, with uniform dark heads, largely pale-centred underwings and pale bellies, but dusky flanks. Also the flappy wingbeats stood out in comparison with the Manxies. In fact there were going to be two more as well (separately), but further out and I really only got the flight pattern and the general impression of all-dark heads and darker underwings that couldn't be Manxie. Absolutely fantastic. While this was going on, I tallied through 12 Sooty Shearwaters, 6 Great Skuas (all north), 6 Red-throated Divers, 26 Common Scoters and 3 Eurasian Wigeon south, an Arctic Tern and 9 Puffins north, and a stream of Northern Gannets, going both ways. For the first time this autumn, I was starting to feel something (stop giggling McKinney, save your smut for your own website), but The Sender hadn't finished with me...
...I look up from a herd of Guillemots and there's a LONG-TAILED SKUA just off the rocks, sailing north. Argh! This is the funny bit. I'm testing something called 'remembird' which is a kind of digital dictaphone/bird sound recorder, so I was trying to describe this skua into the mike instead of making proper notes like normal. When I uploaded them all to my computer this evening, it turns out that all I recorded for posterity is a stream of expletives of frustration about the light. A bit like 'F*ck, juvenile skua... jeez, it's a small one, it's got to be long-tailed... f*ck... f*ck... f*ck... I can't see a bloody thing... yep, it's a skua... small... f*ck... get out of the light! Go on... get next to that sarnie.. go on... no! f*ck. Long-tailed. It's just sailing past, not doing anything. f*ck...it's just going to keep going. Looks quite pale.' Then a couple of minutes later... 'F*ck'. A classic of modern bird recording, and a lesson in how to do it for any youngsters out there. If there are any youngsters out there, isn't it past your bedtime? Do your parents know what sort of filth you're reading on the internet?
A Sparrowhawk in-off, and a Harbour Porpoise, off-in, were also entertaining. It turned out that the birds were coming in ahead of a weather front, and about 10.45 the light improved enormously as it went dull and cloudy, and the mist went away a bit, but the birds stopped. Best seawatch ever from here, but I'd like to see what sort of descriptions I'm going to come up with. :-) Ker-CHOW!
After this, I went up to the Coastal Park, and then the allotments. The allotments still look good, but it was a bit awkward as there were several gardners out there picking their onions and their noses. I guess i should try to get there before 11.15 am on Sundays - curse those infernal interesting seabirds!
Note added in proof: I'm not claiming the L-t S. MC
Friday, September 15, 2006
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Very calm and quite misty this morning. No, tell a lie, very misty. In fact I'm not quite sure which way is up, but there's Meadow Pipits flying over (or under), which can't be bad. Spectacularly calm birdwise too. The Mill sycamores etc were like the grave... oooh spooky. I won't enumerate the Robins, Wrens, etc. But there were some. And a Common Chiffchaff feeding in the willows. That's a bit more like it. Some encouragement to keep going. Very low tide, and a Common Redshank on the beach, with 2 Oystercatchers, 2 Rock Pipits and 2 Grey Wagtails. OK, I'll take you all in pairs. And a Manx Shearwater flying south very close inshore. Bullocks! Am I screwing up here? I was hoping that this hadn't been one of those inexplicable calm misty mornings when seabirds are flying really close in. I almost ran up the beach steps (Common Stonechat) to get up to see what else was flying past close in. But it was a false alarm - a few Gannets, couple of hundred Herring Gulls, and that was pretty much it. :-( but phew! Up to the Community Park, also quiet (Common Whitethroat) and was following some sort of squeaky passerine through dense willows (that makes it sound more interesting than it was - pretty certain it was only a Dun Prunella) (that makes it sound more interesting than it was too), and I turned the corner wondering where this track went and had a bit of a revelation - I'd hit the allotments, never ventured in before, and they look brilliant. Overlooking the sea, with a mixture of fences, sheltered gardens, nice walls, some dense willows, and full of birds (OK only Great Tits, Blue Tits, Blackbirds, Song Thrush etc. today... but one day... Sibe Blue Robin). I've been such a fool, birding here 4 years without finding this bit of habbo. Down the Muchalls Track (another Common Chiffhcaff, and a Buzzard) to Water Valley (dead). I met a couple walking the other way to get their newspaper and rolls in Newtonhill - he'd had a Hummingbird Hawkmoth in his garden the lucky sod. Had a pleasant 20 mins scannning Meadow Pipits and Skylarks in the stubble just south of Muchalls, but time was getting on and couldn't face the twitching curtains, of the village.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
With Pluto moving into Saturn, you will be prone to jitters about that funny Gropper you wrote off in the sedges behind the beach car park. On Sunday morning, check the bushes behind the vicarage. You are submissive to Taurus this week, so should not attempt to identify terns on seawatches.
Lucky colour: Tawny.
Your fortune is rising, and you should concentrate on identification of birds in the genus Tringa, especially on Monday morning. Beware of tall pale Pelicans, as verily they are all escapes, and no mistake. Do not go birding with men wearing fluorescent orange lycra leggings. Tuesday is a good day to find love in a bus shelter.
Lucky colour: Olive.
You can do no wrong this weekend, and should make giant leaps on your list. On Saturday you should decide that you might as well tick the Wells Indigo Bunting, because Ramsey was just too out of the way. Use your new-found peace of mind to come clean about that Fea’s where you had to ‘tidy up’ your notes after the event.
Lucky colour: Rufous.
You have been a bad boy but there is still time to make amends. Remember that small dark thrush that flew into the bushes at Fazarkerley and make chinking noises like a Blackbird… and you ticked it as Siberian and shook hands with your neighbour to celebrate your double tick, the other one being that Little Bunting that was surprisingly similar to reedie, until it hit your notebook? I’m going to leave you in a room with a bottle of whisky, your Leica list of British birds, and a rubber. I think you know what you have to do.
Lucky colour: Vinaceous
Sorry, but you are going to make a complete arse of yourself this week. You should avoid identifying anything in public. Do not attempt to sketch anything and keep ‘Brian’ away from your notebook at all costs. DO NOT PUT YOUR PHOTOS ON SURFBIRDS!
Lucky colour: Octarine
You will feel the urge to check the sycamores around the school playing field, but should resist. True happiness will be found on the dry stone wall behind Cripple Annie’s cottage, overlooking the bay.
Lucky Colour: Straw
With Uranus plonked firmly on the settee, you will see no birds this weekend. It’s time to understand the strong light streaming through the window is the outside World, full of interesting Phylloscs. Take a leap…go birding! There IS life after Steve Irwin.
Lucky colour: Mint green
Mars will dominate your actions this weekend, fatty. Aggressive encounters with arrogant t*sspots in the hide at Aberogwen are guaranteed. You will attempt to string a Snowy Egret.
Lucky colour: Slate
You are getting very stressed over a Semipalmated sandpiper. Remember that it is only a tart’s tick, and if you claim to have seen one already no one is going to quiz you very closely about which one. Don’t mention
Lucky colour: toast.
I know what you strung last summer….
Lucky colour: whatever you call the browny colour of ten pound notes…. Cos unless you find a stash of them and send them this way pronto, I’m going to tell, and you’ll never show your face around Llandyfnod again.
I know what you ringed last summer. Ffs! It’s very simple…. it’s not an Aquatic! Venus is in the ascendant, leaving you to decide between your spouse and your birding. And let’s face it, when you hold him/her in a good light, how cute are they, really? And what can they do for you that a
Lucky colour: Buffy
You have wasted your summer looking at creepy crawlies, but now is the time to come out of your shell. On Wednesday you will sit in a comfy RSPB hide and spout authoritatively, and at some considerable volume, on identification issues about which you know little or nothing. On Thursday you will string a Citrine Wagtail, but you won’t even have the decency to string a greyish Yellow Wag: oh no…, you’ll go the whole hog with a juvvy Pied. I hope
Lucky colour: Grey.
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
I read all the huffing and puffing in your blog about what what you missed on your patch at the birdfair. Well... you don't know you're born. People are still arguing about the 'Eastern Olly' that was in Shetland the Wednesday before the birdfair. [Important Birder X] has looked at the only pic available (http://www.nature-shetland.co.uk/naturelatest/pics06/EOW-by-Hugh-Harrop.jpg) and says he thinks it's an Olive-tree Warbler! [Big Birder Y and Important Birder Z] both think it is olive-tree too, allegedly, which is making the guys up here sweat a bit. However, they Y and X didn't see it, so size and tail actions are difficult to convey.
[Incendiary slurs and rumour about contents of next issue of popular birding magazine removed]
Yours, a Friend
PS [Birder A] is turning, he bloody is, he is wavering. Shit. It could have been one. Get it on your blog now.
Anyone got any advice for my 'friend'?
Sunday, September 03, 2006
- Oh darling!
- Yes darling?
- Oh darling! I love you!
- Yes darling, I love you too!
- Oh, I wish we were married
- But we are married!
- I meant to each other.
- I see. Come here you sweet romantic fool
- Oh darling!
- I say, that's a very unusual way to check my papers are in order.
[cut to fireplace]
Classic writing eh? To birds... to set the scene, our end of the village is total middle class bungalows and neat open plan gardens, substantially populated by oil company administrators who spend their Sundays washing the car and buying settees. So I opened the blinds early this morning, ready for another pleasant valley Sunday in status-symbol land and bloody hell there was a family of Grey Partridges sat on the lawn across the road. Mum and 5 full-grown kids, bold as you like. I rubbed my eyes and they were still there. What the small fat furry hell was I drinking last night? Started to panic and went round the front room checking for empty bottles, dregs etc. Turns out I was drinking red wine, cooking sherry, Windowlene and Diane's special mushroom tea. Probably not good, but I've tackled that combination hundreds of times before and never hallucinated partridges (who by now were pecking about on the pavement in from of my house!). I needed a second opinion so dragged Lizzie off the settee where she had been enjoying her bowl of Chocolate-frosted Sugar Bombs, with strawberry milk and a half-litre of Coke (I really shouldn't let her fix her own breakfast). We were in agreement, one adult grey Partridge, with the orange face, and the belly patch, and the body like Hettie Jacques, and her five kids. Then I realised I'd left my camera at work. Took a photo with Diane's, but it's one of those 20th century film-type thingies that will need to be processed at Boots before I can get the picture up. They stayed for 15 minutes, then took off over to the school field, for no reason. Only my second patch records (previously 2 on Cran Hill a couple of years ago), but I guess if I explored the fields inland a bit more, I'd bump into them now and again. I was a bit perplexed about that they were doing in Newtonhill, bearing in mind a Partridge can live its entire life in one or two fields. When I stepped out birding, things got clearer - the stench!! Argh! Muck spreading! Jeeeeezzzzus! No wonder they got out of the fields, it must have been making their eyes water. Oooh, I wished I hadn't breakfasted on all those lambs' kidneys and oysters. Dry boke. Still it was a decent atumn morning with Meadow Pipits flying over (never a bad thing), and again 100s of Barn Swallows going south. Turned out to be a bit of a false dawn, though, as the patch was dead dead dead, again. The trek to the beach was punctuated by a couple of Willow Warblers, a few Robins, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel, but frankly not much else. And the smell was getting worse... was something dead on the beach? maybe only a pile of cowshit that had hauled itself ashore and was rotting in a sheltered cove. Sandwich Terns,2 Common Terns and 4 Arctic Terns offshore, and I watched a Great Skua giving the Kittiwakes a run out before being mobbed and chased off by a pack of Sandwich Terns. It was obvious by now that this was not going to be a great day of birding, so I figured the best option was to cover as much ground as possible and hope to bump inot a shrike or something. The trudge to Muchalls... I realised I'd lost my biro, so prayed to our god (dess) Michaela Strachan (may her beauty and really-wildness guide our thoughts, words and actions) that she would not send any rare or interesting birds my way that might need some notes taken. And she, in her wisdom and graciousness, granted my boon, such that no noteworthy birds were in Muchalls either. There was an unusual number of Great Tits around though (several parties of 5+) - not sure if Michaela was trying to tell me something. Otherwise more of the same, with rafts of auks offshore at Muchalls including 1 Puffin, and another Great Skua. Can't believe that lot took my four hours on foot.