Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Big dame hunters

Let's face it. If there were any birds about, there'd be no need to feature this

Or this

Monday, November 27, 2006

This will stop...

When McKinney and now Menzie stop too. Until then try this... the true story of my attempts to build a West Lothian list in blue-collar orange-marching hard-drinking Winchburgh. It was love at bomb site!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Warning, may stray off topic

This blog post has been edited by Diamond White technology

Diamond White - directly responsible for my reproductive output x2 and many embarrassing experiences

Nighttime turns to morning, it's a cold but sunny day, and I resolve to STOP slipping old Quireboys lyrics into my text. If it started raining I could maybe slip some GnR lyrics in. But it didn't. With hopeless optimism, I put a new battery in the RememBird and headed out birdspotting. Have decided I need a PSP so I don't have to stop playing Star Wars just for the sake of going out. Did a big figure-of eight walk, down the track to the beach, up the cliffs, seawatch, back through Newtonhill to the Retreat, then down and up and round Cran Hill, back to the railway bridge and hame. Afraid it was dull again. Blue Tits and Robins. Not that I want to disparage Blue Tits and Robins. Jeez, if they were rare we wouldn't be able to stop talking about them. But as it happens (ladies and gentlemen) they're common as muck, especially in sunny Newtonhill. For the RSPB magazine, I saw a Chaffinch having a bath, and for Birdwatch magazine, I pished for a bit and brought a further 4 Chaffinches out of cover, and two Blue Tits and a Robin. 2 more Robins having a fight up the cliff sides, while a Dunnock and Wren watched. Offshore... 4 Common Gulls, 2 Great Black-backed Gulls feeding, + 2 Guillemots, and 2 Bottle-nosed Dolphins swimming about. Yada yada. I enjoyed the sensory-overload of 5 hybrid Hoodie x Carrion Crows feeding around the enormous dung heap on Cran Hill - when they spread *that* it spells DOOM for Newtonhill. Ach! Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Magpies. Sorry I've got nothing to interest the casual reader. Mmmmm casual readers. You are welcome here.

My mind started to wander.... but that's OK - it came back. I've been watching the Dr Who spinoff, Torchwood, which on the whole is pretty dire, except for all the girl-on-alien sex etc. Last two episodes were interesting. One the other night they all went off to investigate aliens making people disappear in the Welsh Valleys. In the end it turned out there were no aliens involved - it was just Welsh farmers eating each other! I object! Being one third Welsh by residence (eh?) I thought it perpetuated stereotypes of rural communities being made up of suspiciously closely related, socially inept primitives. It was a cheap shot at the people we all know are the TRUE GUARDIANS OF THE COUNTRYSIDE! The other episode, I only saw 5 minutes in the middle and 1o at the end, but I think I picked up on the nuances of the plot. Housing estate built on ancient woodland site... fairies in the wood (who are really aliens, obviously) get cross and start killing people and taking children away. Actually, I think that might be true. Suburbia - where they cut down the trees and name the streets after them. That used to happen all the time where we used to live in West Lothian. You used to drive past bits of habbo month after month, and then one day it would be gone and there'd be one of those yellow signs advertising new developments called things like 'DeerPark', 'Birchwood Estate', 'Red Moss' etc. The worst one I remember was called 'Waterside Meadows'. I bet all the middle-management money-men commuters wonder why they can't get house insurance and their gardens go all squelchy in winter. Am I digressing? Maybe there's a hidden message here. Maybe it's not very hidden. Diamond White is driving my life tonight. And it's drunk!
Not sure what happened in Newtonhill. We live on a relatively modern estate... but the streets are all C-list celebrity saints... St Michael's, St Ternan's, St Peter's (guess he's an A-list), St Ann's. They must have dissolved a monastery, slaughtered the good people, and built houses on top. Btw did you know the best way to preserve Scotland's wildlife is to plant trees all over the top of it? It must be true cos I saw it in a leaflet.

Anyway, inspired by The McKinney, I thought I could post my top five songs of the week too. First one... the one most likely to make you go wtf? is by a band called Love/Hate, and is in fact one of the top five of my life. In fact I think everything self destructive I've ever done has been a direct result of this band. I even had a Budweiser-can crucifix of my own. Diane made me hang it from the rafters in our garage in Winchburgh, and I left it there when we moved out. Nice surprise for the person moving in. I saw this band once, at the Buckley Tivoli (oh yes!). Went on the bus. How they were not HUGE I will never know.

And the rest.... I won't embed these for the benefit of people who have lost interest by now... but check out:

Smashing Pumpkins - Today. The best song ever, with the best video ever. I wish our ice-cream man had the same Mad Max feel.

Alice in Chains - Nutshell. My physical desire for all members of Alice in Chains, even the dead one, needs no further comment.

Cure - Friday I'm in Love. I KNOW that if you like The Cure you're meant to say that the early stuff is best, and that Killing an Arab is your favourite song, and later they sold out, etc etc. But sorry. I 've GOT the Killing an Arab album and it is largely sh*t. This song is genius... I don't care if Monday's blue, Tuesday grey and Wednesday too. Thursday I don't care about you, it's Friday I'm in love!

Abrasive Wheels - Burn 'em Down. Leeds punk band, early 80s, still going but now fat. Even at this stage (82 video) they had lst the urgency... a couple of the band members used to hang around our house. It's where I first learnt the seductive smell of glue. Genius song. Caused troubled when some kids really did burn down their school.

Confession. I aren't really drinking Diamond White tonight. It's too classy and expensive. I'm on ASDA White Lightning. I'll regret it in the morning. Still, nothing lasts forever, and we both know hearts can change. And I'll just end up walking in the cold November Rain. ha ha! Got it!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Swine and pigs and hogs

I was at the Young Farmers' Annual Ball and Piss-up on Friday night, and there I met a rosy-cheeked big-bosomed farmer, predictably called Molly, who invited me over to her place Sunday morning to see her pigs. I was rather taken, to be honest, so naturally I scooted round there at 5 am (fashionably late) today. To my disappointment it turned out she really did want me to see her pigs. Or more accurately, find them. They were out in the woods - had been since the acorns fell - and now she wanted them back. So I called up my swineherd, Matty. He really didn't want to come because apparently his wife was giving birth or something, but I threatened him with the sack and homelessness (nothing like the Scottish feudal system with its tied houses for keeping the working classes in line) and he was round in 20 minutes. We had a bit of a natter about the best way to make applejack, then got to work. Didn't get home til after noon. I was hoping for better luck at the Young Conservatives wine-tasting tonight (just got in) but to be honest it was the same crowd, each with a bigger set of false teeth. And Molly? Well 'she' turned out to be a man. I guess the beard should have been a clue, but love IS blind. Or maybe it's just me. That would in fact explain why I saw so few birds today. Actually I haven't seen many birds at all this week. The reason is we bought a Playstation... and it's fantastic. Have been playing Star Wars Lego all week. In fact this is me...

... I can't believe that I've wasted my life reading books, watching telly, going birding etc., when really I should have been defeating the evil empire of whatever. This is my problem really. I haven't actually seen the films. Not the new three anyway, so I'm not sure who I'm meant to be saving and who I should be slaying. But things seem to work out OK.

I was out today though, round Newtonhill against the odds. Hard work. I had to fight for every Blue Tit. There was a bit of movement going on, with some Skylarks and Meadow Pipits going over, and a Eurasian Siskin. There's a flock of Rock Pipits building up in the fields in from the beach - 12 today - built up to over 50 last winter. An Atlantic Puffin offshore was a bit unusual for winter, also 2 Northern Gannets going north. A Great Black-backed Gull turned up and the Puffin scarpered. Stood on the clifftops in an eastely breeze coming straight from Denmark, it occurred to me that it was unnecessarily chilly. In fact it was bloody freezing. I was really regretting my choice of vest, shorts and sandals for today's excursion. Trouble is Diane has washed my army coat and it doesn't feel like home any more. It smells pleasantly of washing powder.

So, I'm off to kill some Lego dude with a red and black stripy face. TTFN and remember kids...

Take heed, take care and TAKE BACK THE BIRDS!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Country Diary

Sunday Morning.

There was a westerly gale overnight, but the morning was pretty calm and in fact quite a nice day. So nothing for it, but to spoil my fun with a walk round newtonhill looking for birds. Face it Martin, the autumn is OVER - no Blackcaps, no Chiffchaffs, not even a Goldcrest today!
As I was throwing stones into the bushes at the Mill, hoping to flush all those Dusky Warblers, there was a Peregrine attacking a flock of 15 pigeons over Cran Hill. Really serious getting-my-breakfast-type going-for, very fast, on flickery half-folded wings. The pigeons were scattering round and round in confusion, and for a couple of minutes the Peregrine would pile through them, miss, come out the other side, turn round and smash through them again. Very exciting, except it didn't get any closer to a kill than knocking a couple of wing feathers out of one bird. When the pigeons split up and went in separate directions, the Peregrine gave up and relaxed its wings, flew over my head into Newtonhill. See... that's how few migrants there are now; I'm forced to write about this sort of stuff. My blog has become a country diary / natural gleanings. Next stop... The Guardian. And after that, the ignominy of Birdwatching magazine. While this was happening, a Common Buzzard flew through, going west (more hookbill vermin!), and I heard the calls of the wild wild geese, returning from their Arctic breeding grounds as they have done for so many millenia (I'm good at this!).

After this, I met up with my cousin, Lord Bufton of Tufton, for whisky and eggs, and we went out stalking deers. There was a Roe Deer on the opposite (south) side of the Elsick Burn, bouncing through the bracken. I quickly changed out of my hunting pink back into my stinking army coat, and sat down to watch it as it approached within 5 m without seeing me. It jumped into the burn and started heading downstream. With my high powered Communist resistance rifle, I could have shot it, but pity, I say pity, stayed my hand. I admired its beauty as it headed away to eat the roses in someone's garden. They are beautiful animals, but VERMIN, of course, and they all have to die. As Lord B says, they eat your crops and destroy your land. And he should know, because unlike you townies, us cuntry folk understand the ways of the errr.... countryside.

A White-throated Dipper (vermin - they drink your streams and crap on your washing) was on the rocks just up from the shore, and 12 Common Eider just out (parasites - they come to our country and spread disease). I tried a seawatch, but there was nothing happening. I think I was the only active birder in the country on Sunday who didn't see a Pacific alcid of some sort. What about that eh? Do you think it's not a coincidence that the Murrelet came in with Little Auks, and that it had come over the top? Anyway, I didn't see any murrelets, nor their considerably rarer cousin, the Little Auk (vermin - eat your plankton and laugh at your pint). There were a few Guillemots and Razorbills going back and forth, a Red-throated Diver south and a Long-tailed Duck north.

Cran Hill blah blah blah... Eurasian Curlews, Northern Rufous-backed Linnet-finches, Sky Larks, hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crows. Brown Hare. Myself and Buffie, we killed and ate them all, and drank heartily. I saw some dolphins close inshore, and ran pell mell across the stubble field to the clifftops for a better view, sending 20+ Rock Pipits scattering all directions (vermin). They didn't mind, they thought it was sweet. At least that's what they kept saying. The dolphins were two Bottle-nosed, going north close in. I got them both with a right and a left (you townies might think this is cruel, but remember they're WILD ANIMALS and they ENJOY the thrill of the hunt. And they eat all the fish. AND don't even get me started on Grey Seals, of which two offshore also).

When I got home I told Diane about the mammals I'd seen, and Lizzie asked me what a mammal was. So I said they were furry animals like hares and cats and errr... dolphins. But dolphins aren't furry, she pointed out. And Diane threw Kangaroos into the conversation for me. NEVER, repeat NEVER start an explanation you can't finish. I guess that's my top tip for the day. Ker-CHOW!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

"If any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied"

So, on 22 October 1914, Lieut. Francis Monkton (24), posted to St Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire, wrote a letter to Harry Witherby about the migration of birds through the area. The letter was subequently published in British Birds.

Two weeks after writing this, Monckton was killed in action, and became the first obituary in BB resulting from that stupid series of family tiffs between inbred Royal donkeys that was the Great War.
The writer has lost in Monckton a valued and sincere friend and correspondent, and the study of Staffordshire Ornithology will suffer much by his having given his life so nobly for his country. (BB 8, 287)

Lewis N. G. Ramsay, 1890 - 1915.
Ornithologists have cause to mourn the loss of one most enthusiastic fellow worker who, though only 25 years old, had already much good work to his name... From an early age Mr Ramsay had been a keen student of birds and had amassed a great amount of data regarding the ornis of Aberdeenshire.

Lord Bradbourne, 1885-1915
..was killed at Neuve Chapelle on March 12th 1915. Lord Bradbourne had for some years been engaged in the study of South American birds, and at the time war broke out he was making collections of birds in Peru, whence he hurried home to rejoin his regiment.

Captain the Hon. Gerald Legge 1882-1915.
... was mortally wounded at Sulva Bay on September 9th 1915. All his life he was a keen naturalist, taking a special interest in wildfowl... As an instance of his keenness in studying ducks I may relate that one day when I met him at Patshullm he has just arrived from Northumberland, whence he had brought a nest of teal just hatching out. By telegraphing forward to several stations en route he had secured a relay of hot water bottles by means of which he had succeeded in keeping the ducklings warm.... He was last seen mortally wounded on the ground, and cheering on the men of whom he was so proud.

Major C. H. T. Whitehead 1881-1915
... was killed in action in France on September 25th or 26th, 1915. He was thirty-four years old... He discovered the new thrush, which I had the pleasure of naming Oreocincla whiteheadi after him, and amongst other interesting discoveries he made were the breeding haunts in the Himalayas of the Chinese Reed-Warbler.

Richard Bowen Woosnam 1880-1915.
..was killed while gallantly leading his men in an attack on the Turkish trenches in Gallipoli in June 4th,, 1915. Woosnam was an experienced traveller and field naturalist... All the collections he made are in the British Museum, and accounts of the birds with his field-notes have appeared in various volumes of the Ibis and the the Transactions of the Zoological Society.

Charles Stonham, 1859-1916
The ranks of British Ornithologists have been further thinned by the death of Charles Stonham... the brigade was duly mobilised at the outbreak of the present war, and in April 1915 Stonham proceeded to Egypt... and contracted the illness from the effects of which he came home to die... As a man, Stonham was a striking personality, tall of figure, lean and saturnine of appearance, of a fearless and outspoken honesty, and the possessor of a biting tongue: he hesitated not to speak of men and things as he found them: of enemies therefore he did not lack, nor did he of very many friends, and those of us who were privileged to know him well, knew him for a man of the kindliest nature, true as steel, and with a heart of pure gold.

Lieut. Col. H H Harington, 1868-1916
...who was killed in Mesopotamia on March 8th 1916. Colonel Harington was the discovery of a number of new forms, and several birds have been named after him in recognition of good work he did. He also contributed from time to time to the Ibis, the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society and other periodicals.

Major F W Proctor, 1862 - 1916
...Almost to the last he retained his keen interest in oology and bird-life, and nothing gave him greater pleasure than the receipt of a letter full of bird news or a talk with a brother ornithologist.

Capt JM Charlton, 1881-1916 and Lieut HV Charlton, 1884-1916.
John Charlton was killed in the great attack near La Boiselle on July 1st 1916. He fell, shot through the head by a bullet, while leading his company....his last words being to his orderly: 'Is that you, B----? For God's sake, push on, I'm done.'...He supplied British Birds with a number of interesting notes and wrote many short articles in other journals and local papers. He was a most skilful and accurate taxidermist.
Hugh Charlton fell in action near Whychaate on June 24th 1916, struck by a bomb from a trench mortar... He also was a clever ornithologist and the brothers worked much together.... Birds were his speciality; his work was very artistic in nature.... One of his pictures, 'Home of the Dipper' was exhibited in the Royal Academy in 1912.

Capt. Cecil Stanley Meares, 1883 - 1916
... was killed while leading his company into action on July 30th 1916... He made, together with his brother DH Meares, an excellent scientific collection of British birds' eggs, which contained perfect clutches of eggs, of nearly every British breeding bird, supplemented by profuse and accurate data of their localities, notes and habits.... In his spare moments, even within sound of the guns, he would take walks and rides through the country to observe the bird life.

Captain Lord Lucas 1976-1916.
It was reported the Lord Lucas was missing after making a flight over German lines on November 4th, 1916... He was an ardent lover of Nature, and especially of birds, and was elected a member of the BOU in 1902. It may be mentioned that he took a considerable interest in our Marking Scheme, and only the other day we heard of an interesting record of the recovery of a Lapwing ringed by him some four years ago.

Frederick Courtney Selous 1842-1917
On one occasion, when grouse driving, Selous saw two Peregrine Falcons pass over, very high, mere specks in the air. None of the other six guns had noticed them; our gaze was presumably limited to the level of game flight. Selous scanned the whole arc of heaven... His very death - 'killed in action' at 65 - epitomizes his whole career.

Capt. John D. Grafton-Wignall, 1888-1917

... January 1916 saw him in Mesopotamia where, to the bitter regret of all who knew him, he was killed in action just over a year later... he had that perfect sight that enabled him to 'pick up' a sitting Woodcock or a clutch of shingle-laid eggs as quickly as (and he was quick) he could detect - and accurately name too - flying or at rest some bird a great way off... To his many friends - and to me especially - his loss is irreparable: ornithology has lost a very accurate, first-rate and indefatigable observer.

Eric B Dunlop, 1887-1917
The war has claimed as a victim in the person of Mr Eric B Dunlop, who was killed in action on May 19th, 1917, at the age of 30 years, one of the most promising young ornithologists in the north of England... He made a special study of the roosting habits of the Corvidae showing that the whole of the British members of this group congregated for roosting at certain seasons. ....At the outbreak of the war he was engaged upon a study of the nesting habits and incubation of birds and was in northen Manitoba, Canada... He was in France barely a month before his death.

Christopher James Alexander 1887-1917.
He was seriously wounded near Passchendaele on October 4th 1917, and it seems almost certain he was killed, or died after being put on the ambulance...
...Several letters followed from France, ending with one on September 30th in which he wrote of a Quail they had put up , which, with Pied Flycatcher, Woodchat and Melodious Warbler seen passing a few days before, made 107 species for the year - a wonderful total under such conditions. 'The sun is sinking into the mists' he concluded: 'it really looks quite wintry, in spite of the heat'. And then they went up to the line again...
... His work seemed hardly to have begun. But such as it is, all his work is methodical, scientific, accurate, full of insight and judgement, and, above all, the true expression of a life devoted to the study of Nature.

CJ Alexander was one brother of Horace Alexander (see 'Heroes') and this was written by him.

All these come from obituaries published in
British Birds.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

is total BS! I make the joke in the Secret Freezer Sunday. it appears in the Aberdeen Evening Express Monday!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Another Yellow-browed

I've spent a lot of my lunchtimes in Westburn Park over the autumn, sometimes with nockies, sometimes not. Today not, but I wish it had been with, cos as I was tucking into my prawn sarnies a Yellow-browed Warbler called a few times from the sycamores around and about me. it was keeping high up and although I saw it moving about I couldn't get any plumage. It seemed to drop down into the bushes by the Tennis Centre, but when I went over I couldn't pish it out again, so it may have headed off.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Warning, terrible pun, just thought of, makes me giggle

Back out around Newtonhill this morning; I wanted a slice of this Little Auk action that's been happening midweek. This was my first chance to be out, so reckoned had missed the big push, but almost certainly some stragglers to catch up with. A chance for my new scope to do its stuff too. I've thought of a new advertising campaign for Zeiss - here it is. Do you think they'll go with it and I'll get rich?

Actually, the reason I went for this scope was that it was designed by Tolkien-obsessed nerds and does in fact glow blue when in the presence of Auks. Ideal for today's job.

Deadly dull heading down the track, with all the Blackcaps cleared out of their recent haunts. Couple of Rock Pipits on the beach, with a Common Eider offshore. Dull dull dull. I even contemplated making some notes about bird behaviour. THAT'S how dull. Two men burning one of the fishermen's huts was interesting. Hope it was theirs to burn.

So I get to my clifftop seawtching soot,and my scope is glowing blue - good sign - but it turns out to be 2 Razorbills and a few Guillemots on the water. They look good though, as I'm no longer looking through strata of dried-on rainwater. I can tell there's been Little Auks about, because 3 Great Black-backed Gulls are flying up and down offshore, looking really fat and well fed. Bit of a seawatch, and bingo, I get onto 12 Little Auks moving north in ones and twos. A dribble. As I told the nurse at the sperm bank, it's not much, but it's something. Actually I'm not sure how long it took to see that many/few. I think it was about an hour, sometime mid-morning. My watch stopped at 12.30 pm a week past Friday. You'd think it would be a pain, but quite the opposite - I've entered a fantastic alternative universe where no one can pin me to a deadline, because time has no meaning, except in so far as it's lunchtime ALL the time. It's a bit like being on BOURC!!! haha! That's a joke by the way. In truth, it's so *completely* unlike BOURC it would be insulting to the committee and my colleagues on it to even contemplate such a joke publically and perpetuate unjust and inaccurate stereotypes. I really wish I'd think before opening my mouth. Sorry sorry sorry.

back on track... also 4 Red-throated Divers south, and a Great Northern Diver (pretty good). 2 male Common Scoters north and 2 male Long-tailed Ducks, and a single juv Northern G
annet. As I was packing up to go home, a Shelduck flew north close inshore. Pretty uncommon here. And as I walked back through Newtonhill, I chivvied a Blackcap out of the sycamores in the cottage gardens. So there are some migrants still about.

Fantastic sunset this evening - photos in Lizzie's Pink Plastic Warehouse.