Saturday, July 28, 2007

Site A - Scottish Highlands

Having tremendous grief with computer tonight, so this post might come in batches over the next few days.

21st - 28th July 2007

Deep in the Great Wood of Caledon, at site A – remarkably close to Nethy Bridge in fact, in a cold stone cottage in the pissing rain with the kids bickering over the Nintendo DS. But soft! It had stopped raining this morning (24th), and I ventured out into Site A. Fantastic area, with Roe Deer by the roadside, scary barking Red Deer charging through, Red Squirrels bouncing up and down the treetrunks. Scanning round some Eurasian Siskins flying between the treetops at the edge of the forest, I heard a Tree Pipit and saw it pelting away.

My mission, should I have chosen to accept it, which I did, was to get some crossbill recordings using my Remembird thingy and make some sonograms and get Scottish Crossbill back onto my list. So I marched into the forest, fearsome puddles notwithstanding. European Robins, Goldcrests, plenty of Coal Tits and a Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) going overhead. After about 30 min a flock of 8 Coal Tits came through with 2 Crested Tits in tow, and I saw them for a few minutes as they fed at mid-tree level. Pretty good, but potentially more exciting was as I was watching them a crossbill sp. flew over and I managed to get some (very) faint calls captured. Was very much hoping they were good enough to get a sonogram from, and that it would be a Scotbill. When I got round to processing it in the evening, point 1 was marginal – I could just about get a sonogram of sorts. Point 2 was equivocal, but more of that later.

As I walked back to the cottage, bumped into an adult and juvvy Great-spotted Woodpecker in the trees at the edges of the farm.

Now listen here guys an’ gals... as it ’appens as it ’appens, Diane is running the Loch Ness marathon in October and wanted to us drive the route, while we’re up he
re. I was obviously not averse to that. Obviously I have a keen interest in the site in my professional role as one of the World’s renowned leading cryptozoologists, but also had a little something else planned. So as we were tanking along the B862 towards the south side of Loch Ness, risking life and limb in the face of the radiator grilles of the Hydroelectric lorries, I pulled a sharp right and to the exasperation of the family swerved to the roadside at Loch Bran for a bit of dragonfly action. Me n’ Lizzie squelched through the bog to the water’s edge, to be joined shortly by Diane and Peter, and
immediately jammed into a couple of Brilliant Emerald (Somatachlora metallica) males going back and forth along the water’s edge. I was even able to point them out to Lizzie, who was uncharacteristically impressed.

Lizzie, impressed by Brilliant Emerald (dragonfly)

Notice the scientific name of Brilliant Emerald- you may not believe me but everyone’s favourite up-their-own-arse hard rocking ex thrash-now-just-trash rock band Metallica were named as a tribute to this dragonfly. Little known fact (FACT 1, or more likely, LIE) is that original line-up member Dave Mustaine was a big Odonata-fan. Shame he left the band before they released ‘One’ – a song about the thoughts of a Beautiful Demoiselle Calopteryx virgo in its last few hours after being hit by a truck on the A5 running through Betws-y-coed. However, he did go on to release ‘Countdown to Extinction’ with Megadeth, a song about the need to preserve dragonfly populations through the judicious use of wildlife corridors to prevent range fragmentation.

Anyway, also at Loch Bran were ‘courting’ couples of Highland Darter Sympetrum nigrescens, an earlyish Black Darter Sympetrum danae, with Common Blue Enallagma cyathigerum, Blue-tailed Ischnura elegans and Large Red Pyrrhosoma nymphula Damselflies.

Large Red... so nearly in focus

Speckled Wood, Loch Bran

Little known FACT 2 (and this really is a fact, a opposed to fact 1, which was a lie) is that my only publication about dragonflies is a very short note in Atropos from days-of-YOREEEEEEEE!!!

Collinson, M. (1999). Highland darters Sympetrum nigrescens in south-east Scotland. Atropos 6, 33.

Good result then, and after leaving the lochside strewn with drinks cans and sweetie wrappers ;-) we travelled on to Loch Ness. After all the monster talk, Peter was actually scared! But, to my disappointment, there were no monsters here. I immediately stormed into the Tourist Office in Inverness to complain, but was told that the Loch is very big, almost impossible to search, and there aren’t very many Nessies, and that they’re very shy anyway so as soon as they see you coming they fly away. I showed them my otter photos (see 12th July) and was later jumped in a back alley and soundly beaten by a whisky-soaked heavy with a superficial appearance to Groundskeeper Wullie. Ach! So many lies, so little time.

Loch Ness - disappointing lack of monsters

Wednesday 25th July 2007.

Took another walk deep into the forest for a bit of birding before the Kraken-kids fully woke up. More of the same, with extras this time. Once again, I had only one contact with crossbills - a couple of birds over the treetops, and got a slightly better recording. This time I think there’s a chance they were Scottish Crossbills.

Also some Crested Tits

A Common Raven flying over – with an Abernethy flavour Winter Wren singing in the foreground.

Goldcrests singing

And what do you make of this?

Or this?

A party of three (presumably) tree-nesting Common Swifts were screaming round, just like the old days, and at the edge of the woods I had (fnarr fnarr) a single Spotted Flycatcher. It’s becoming quite a treat to see them.

My strategy of covering as much ground as possible and hoping to flush a Western Capercaillie came to nought. We went to the Highland Wildlife Park later and I couldn’t even see them in a cage! Did see some Choughs though, and take a look at this rather contentious sign on the exhibit for part of Scotland's ‘native’ fauna.

C'mon Highland Wildife Park... you just had an Eagle Owl lying around and have to pretend it's native to put it on show, didn't you? I remember reading recently a list of zoos that were the worst for doing b*gger all for conservation... and I'm sure this was one of them.

Friday 27th July 2007

Findhorn Bay - Peter embarrassed us at the Findhorn Community place by asking if he could buy a hippie. Careful what jokes you make in front of the kids. Fantastic place though. Then on the beach, 2 Sandwich Terns and 15 Arctic Terns fishing, mobbed by a pale phase adult Arctic Skua.

Saturday 28th July 2007

More of the same at Nethy Bridge with some fantastic views of Crested Tits this morning, an Osprey circling over the woodland, and a juvenile Common Redstart with a spring-loaded tail in the tit flock. Disappointingly no more crossbill contacts. Cracking views of a Tree Pipit as it flushed from a damp farm field into the birches and showed off its Id features.

Loxia Phantasmagorica

So, my crossbills... I guess I should have run this past Lindsay first, but why not broadcast my misidentifications to the World uncensored?.

I was working from the Dutch Birding paper

Robb, M. (2000). Introduction to vocalisations of crossbills in north-western Europe. Dutch Birding 22:61-107.

It provides 2 figs for flight calls of Parrot and Scottish Crossbills (and everything else, of course). which are...


My 24th July recordings are very very faint, but I might put them up later. This is in comparison to these ones from 25th July, of three birds flying away over the treetops. Listen here.
Remember these are an improvement, so you can tell what the other ones were like. I made a sonagram using Syrinx and got this.

I can't really find a Common Crossbill that does this flight call. The sonagram is crap, but the maximum amplitude is at 3.7 kHz which is too high for Parrot Crossbill according to the DB paper, and the general shape of the call elements is prettyy close to Scottish 'g' in the fig above, recorded at Loch Baa, Highland. Also the call is very short, which is OK for Scottish. So right now I think they were more likely to be Scottish Crossbills. However in the Sound Approach the story has changed a bit with only Scottish variation 'd' with the extra flourish being given for Scottish and these perhaps being more characteristic of Parrot Crossbill (but still too high pitched and actually sound v like the Scottish Crosscills on the Sound Approach CD, and not like the Parrots). So I'm a bit confused, but hoping SOMEONE can pass an opinion.


Stephen Menzie said...

That 2nd mystery recording is a native Eagle Owl. Did you not see its head spinning round though 360 degrees?
And yup, they're Crossbills ;)

Lindsay said...

MMmmmm.... a good testy 'un that one Martin. The main energy is in the downward element ala Parrot. With Scotty there should be a higher trailing component, which yours dont have. On one of your calls I got a faint initial upward element which can be diagnostic of Parrot. On poor or faint recordings this can be missing, making them look like Scottish (though that extra bit should be there). I would expect Scottish to have the extra component or "two Syllables" as I call them. The high pitch does not worry me though I would prefer to see them reach lower eg around 1kHz on a good recording to be a typical Parrot. I have caught 'Parrots' who's release call has been around 3.5-4kHz maximum so yours is not unusual. Structurally they are the same as yours too.

However, it all comes down to what we are meaning when we talk about "Scottish" and "Parrot" eg. are we basing this on biometrics, morphology (in particular the shape and structure of bill), calls, behaviour, niche or a combination of all of these ? Under current call nomenclature the birds you have recorded would, IMO, be "Parrot" types, that is Fc2, but I bet the birds will have bill depths of around 11.9-12.5, at lower limits for Parrot but the upper range for "Scottish" ! (As a Cambridge first, doctor of Philosophy and 'cryptozoologist',as opposed to my 'craptozoologist',I am sure you can see where I am trying to go with all this crossbill mullarkey that I have been indulging in?). Aurally yours don't sound really "choopy" to me and are somewhere between both species, though this could be the recording.

There is only one confusable Common type that matches yours - a variant Fc1, that funnily enough Stephen Menzie recorded in Spain recently. These can sound "choopy" like Parrot flight calls. This one is not in SA.

Most of the "pine" crossbill calls in DB are suspect IMO - although Magnus did a good job matching corresponding Fc's and Ec's he was not working with biometrically verified specimens.

More deduction. Commons will be in or close to larch just now as Spruce has not really come on yet. There will be a few Scots Pine seeds available but most will have shed their seeds by now and Parrots are now on Green cones. Commons can do this but will prefer Larch (as will Scottish !).

I will have another go when I am not knackered - it is sometimes good to sleep on it (that's my get out clause !).

Bet you wish you hadn't bothered now !

PS I like how you also keep your crossbill 'sites' secret through supression - nice touch. It will win you no fans though ! ;-)

Martin said...

Hmmmm... lots of food for thought there... probably small Parrots?! On reflection i think I'll have them as both species. it keeps things simple! Ta!

Lindsay said...

How about calling them "'Scottish' Parrot Crossbills" ala Desmond Nethersole-Thompson ? !

It is refreshing for me to see someone actually have a go at doing their own ID from a crossbill call - I usually get audio files on a weekly basis, sometimes of greenfinch, chaffinch and redpolls mistaken as crossbills ! Unfortunately I just don't have the time to respond to all of them, what with the photographs I get sent also - though I do like a challenge !

With all the work that is going on the situation re NE Scotland's crossbills should become a bit clearer over the next few years.