Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Iz ziss yeour minke?

In the words of the immortal, but dead (eh?) Peter Sellars: 'Fúcn get IN!' Pre-work seawatching in pays-off shocker! Got down to the sea at 05:35, very calm - a good day for spotting cetaceans, which is just as well cos there were some good cetaceans to be spotted. An enormous black slug in the water showed a fin towards the back end as it rolled, which was enough for me - a Minke Whale. Then as I scanned around to try and keep up with it, further out were two White-beaked Dolphins breaching. Not a bad start.

Stayed til06:50. Birds were passing by in steady fashion, rather than spectacular, but small parties of Manx Shearwaters heading north (64 in total) kept the interest bubbling, and then a small victory as I hit my own little jackpot with a single Balearic Shearwater heading north on its own. A valuable year tick for the patch list and worth the effort getting up for. In other news, 4 Great Skuas went north, and an Arctic Skua paused on its way north to harass a couple of Black-legged Kittiwakes from the feeding flock of 40+ (several juvs) and 200 Herring Gulls (1 Great Black-backed). 4 Sandwich Terns north, and 12 south; 2 Arctic Terns north, 4 Common Terns north and 3 'Commics' - sorry I wasn't paying attention at the dolphins were demanding some telescope love. 108 Northern Gannets (80N, 28S), and 15 Common Scoters north were the others. Welcome to.... THE OTHERS!

Sunday, July 29, 2007


Back looking offshore from Newtonhill, 18:15 - 19:15 this evening. Not very interesting... A Great Skua ripping something apart on the water was joined by 2 more going south, and there were 2 Arctic Skuas south too. Northern Gannet (107 north, 28 south), Sandwich Terns (5 north, 9 south) and err... that's it, apart from the usual Kittiwakes, 3 spp auks Northern Fulmars etc.. There were one or two juvenile Razorbills out on the water, and a single juvenile Atlantic Puffin with 2 adults. Also a steady trickle of Puffins going north, maybe about 50. Might be worth counting them once August is in.

I recorded a Razorbill chick on the water, calling to its parent. Wacky modulating call. Listen here.

Eight Random FACTs

Thanks John, who noticed I'm so good at FACTS he wanted 8 random ones. In spite of myself, I'm interested in seeing what I come up with.

1) My real first name is Jon. Jon Martin Collinson. It's such a fantastic 1960s name. I think my Dad wanted to call me Jon, my Mum, Martin. He never stood a chance.

2) I was never very interested in birds until I was 15, when we moved to Llandudno, North Wales. The story is told in highly embarassing fashion in Birdwatch 106 (April 2001) - 'Mergansers in the Mist'. I can't believe I wrote that crap. Here it is for you all to laugh. It's excruciating.

3) Although I'm a mild-mannered birdwatcher by day, as the result of a terrible laboratory accident on a school trip in 6th form (I was bitten by a radioactive scientist), at night I become a costumed crime-fighting superhero biologist. I save the World while you sleep, you lazy gits.

4) I got a first-class degree in Genetics from Cambridge. Hell, it was a double first. Bloody Hell, it was the *top first* and, do you know... NOBODY has ever asked... nobody has ever cared. I want recognition, goddamit! :-)

5) I watch wayyyyyy too much telly. I like Doctor Who, and 1970s/80s non-PC sitcoms constantly rerun on Sky etc channels. I aspire to be George from 'George and Mildred'. He seems to have a nice life. Also Carry On films, and Big Brother

6) Historical Figures I most identify with... really it's Thomas Huxley, but without the whiskers. I would really have liked to have been a scientist in the late 19th century - the days when you could still be interested in everything and keep up with the field.

7) My favourite food is Jelly Babies.

8) I have not had time to read a novel for 6 years, since Lizzie was born (Jan 2001). I'm currently reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, 5 pages at a time, to Lizzie as a bedtime story. I think it's pretty shit, tbh. If anyone looked through my bookcases, they'd get the impression that I was interested in birds, Thomas Hardy, birds, evolution, birds, George Orwell, birds, other living things, birds, biographies, birds, and 20th Century history.

is that enough?

Oldies but goldies

I was looking for my Atropos Note about Highland Darters... found it, and also a forgotten note of mine in Scottish Birds, stuck in the bookcase next to it. So I scanned them both.

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.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Deceptive weather...

Deceptive. Y'see I thought it was pretty chilly last 24 hours (sorry to bang on about the weather, but I am English). Apparently though, last night was unbearably warm, according to an unknown midnight perambulator who, I noticed this morning, had been compelled to remove and then leave behind on the clifftop bench what I shall call in deference to any American readers, their pantyhose (that's knickers and tights to the Brits).

Another 2 hours of dashed albatross hopes this morning - face it Martin, you've been stood up. It's like at the school disco 1986 all over again. Some wounds run deep - you know who you are. So what did turn up... 05:35 -07:50, northerly breeze. A trickle of 16 Manx Shearwaters going north, with 345 Northern Gannets north (12 south). There was a bit of a passage of Arctic Terns going north (42) with a single Common Tern and some 'Commic's in a distant feeding flock of about 200 Black-legged Kittiwakes (I think the Commics were Arctic too. It's a jizz thing - don't tell Bill!). Only 10 Sandwich Terns. Bit of skua stuff - 6 Arctic Skuas heading north out of the North Sea and one other pale adult that looked Pom-like (that jizz thing, but also size and shape), in fact I',m 90% certain it was a Pomarine Skua, but the spoons were missing and I wasn't quite happy. 5 Great Skuas north.
And the rest - 16 Common Scoters north, 3 Eurasian (Green-winged) Teal with a flock of Guillemots (Common Murres) slightly more unusual, 2 Red-throated Divers (Loons) north), a Common Black-headed Gull and a Common Gull south, and 2 Eurasian Curlews. 3 Razorbills on the water had chicks in tow, and there were lots of Atlantic Puffins offshore, and a few Northern Fulmars back and forth. Also a Peregrine Falcon went north at speed and came back at leisure with prey.

There was a single Harbour Porpoise close inshore, but best of all, a couple of dark sluggish fins that broke surface and I tentatively assumed to be Bottle-nosed Dolphins subsequently turned into a fireworks display of 6 White-beaked Dolphins - breaching repeatedly full out of the water in all directions in a tight huddle, about a mile out. Went on for a couple of minutes. Spectacliar.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Eh up. Compelled to document another boring seawatch - slightly under an hour this evening in a gentle northerly breeze, vomited up 5 Great Skuas going north, including 2 that decided to stop and bathe in front of me and eye up the Puffins. Also 1 Great Skua going south. 5 Manx Shearwaters went north, 67 Northern Gannets, 3 Sandwich Terns south and 37 Common Scoters that way inclined also. Hundreds of Black-legged Kittiwakes offshore, and the auks still going back n' forth. Mind I don't think I'm the only one who's had a boring day. Take this screenshot from the most excellent seawatch southwest website.

Admittedly a couple of Balearic Shearwaters woulds constitute a red-letter day for me, but on the whole, Porthgwarra wasn't very good today was it? Now I generally blame my lack of interesting sightings on the fact (or FACT - I never get tired of that, sorry) that I'm a crap seawatcher putting in crap hours at a crap sight, so the fact that I get crappy numbers of interesting birds seems pretty fair, on the cosmic scale. But if I were a really good seawatcher putting in 13 (thirteen!!) hours at one of Britain's top seawatch sites for that return, I think I'd be pretty aggrieved. 30 Manxies? Bet the Irish boys are wetting themselves at that. :-)

Also in today's news... newly fledged Rock Pipit learns one of life's harder, and indeed last, lessons - don't f*** with Sparrowhawks.

And once again, in the absence of anything interesting of my own to present, I'll pass on something interesting from Bob McGowan - an old advert from the Jourdain Society (hellspawn eggers) that, as Bob points out, would be unlikely to have appeared in British Birds.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wednesday 13th - I walked with a zombie

Bit boring today, offshore 05:40 - 06:45 before work put out 3 Arctic Skuas, 1 Great Skua, 25 Common Scoters north, 208 Northern Gannets north, 2 Manx Shearwaters and a few Sandwich Terns.

And btw.... WHO is it that scrutinizes every version of the Scottish List looking for mistakes?? Stop it! :-)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ruby Tuesday

Another trek down to the clifftops to finish what I started yesterday. At 05:30 it was a beautiful morning... by 05:40 the haar had rolled in and visibility was more or less nil. At least the things I saw were nice and close!

Sometimes you have to admit you're beaten. That white surf is about 50 m offshore

Wasn't a total washout... but only 28 Northern Gannets north, and 27 south, 5 Sandwich Terns north, then 16 south, 3 Red-breasted Mergansers north in a pack, then 3 south, a Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) heading north along the coast - do you ever get the feeling that it's just birds blundering about in the fog like I was? 4 Arctic Terns went north, and then 2 Common Terns, and towards 06:40 a Little Tern north. Patch Tick! How many hours of seawatching over 5 years has that one taken? That's a rhetorical question, btw. Except the answer is 'a lot'. See, even in the fog it was worth staying out.
Also, 2 Red-throated Divers (Loons) north, 4 Common Scoters, 1 Manx Sh
earwater, 3 Great Skuas - I've had worse hours.

One adult Guillemot (Common Murre) on the water with its 'Little Auk' chick. All others childless as yet.

Some abstract lichens.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Another Manic Monday

Pissing down this morning with a bit of a north-easterly breeze, I reckoned it was probably worth another seawatch to look out for pathetic drenched albatross corpses floating around in the surf. 05:45-06:50, an heroic effort and I didn't feel that (exactly) 200 Northern Gannets going north, albeit very close in mostly, really repaid that effort. However, the single Sooty Shearwater that bombed north at 6:15 was a bit more like it - first of the year... and first of many I hope.

Sooty's off the starboard bow, as the might say in notBB.
Also 9 Manx Shearwaters, 2 Great Skuas, 11 Arctic Terns north, the 'flight of the Puffins' with 300+ north, 4 Common Scoters north and then 3 Velvet Scoters south. O-kay, what-ev-errrrr... as long as my patch year list keeps ticking over.

Actually got the feeling that today would have repaid a longer seawatch, but work beckoned :-(

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Maestros of Miss-t-ary

Have to say that response to my mystery photo competition was a little disappointing. Here are the answers anyway.

photo 1, which can be seen here, appears to show a large, long- and slender-winged dark bird with white underwing coverts, a small dark head and a slender tail. The photo is in fact misleading, as the bird in question was in fact an adult European Herring Gull.

photo 2, here is a broad-bodied bird with an apparantly large head and broad wings. No colour is discernable, but it looks quite dark. It was in fact another European Herring Gull.

Mark Thomas came closest, with a suggestion of breeding Moustached Warbler for photo 1, and an almost plausible Snowy Owl for photo 2. He wins a year's subscription to George Bristow's Secret Freezer.

I was out birding this morning. The July doldrums have hit hard, so it's a bit boring, and we don't even have any decent dragonflies (the poor man's bird) to keep me amused. It was a beautiful day though. As the Bratz girls would say, Newtonhill is super-stylin' on days like this.

Very quiet, but a few Sedge Warblers, Common Whitethroats singing, and a Garden Warbler appeared (reappeared) in the dense bushes down the track to the beach. I found a Barn Swallow's nest in one of the more decrepit fishermens' huts down on the beach. Offshore, some rafts of Atlantic Puffins and Black-legged Kittiwakes feeding, but nothing moving. Like everyone else round the coast just now, I'm hoping one of these will fly past.
(photo credit Kristian Ståhl - here)
I like an albatross that knows when to keep its mouth shut... here

I went back for another hour in the evening, with a bit of an onshore breeze, 18:30-19:30. Birds were miles offshore but the light was perfect. But the birds were a bit sparse. Think I said it last year, but I know that if I sit down and see a Great Skua going past, I'm pretty much guaranteed not to have a good seawatch(!). Well that happened today. Also 21 Manx Shearwaters north, 104 Northern Gannets, 2 Common Scoters, 1 Common Tern north and 3 Arctic Terns, 5 Common Gulls south. That's all for today.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A 12 inch pianist

UPDATES - see bottom

OK, my hard-rocking cryptozoological amigos, this is your Head of Department speaking...

Careful what you wish for. As a softie Sassenach git, I often wish it would get
a little hotter here in Newtonhill. Well today, I got a little otter! That is a terrible pun on a par with the joke about the 12 inch pianist. Was down at the cliffs at 5.30 am, and bit of a gull commotion going on - saw they were mobbing a Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra) swimming north about 50 m offshore. I did not expect to get one of them on my patch list! It just kept going, surfacing, with head exposed, then going under for a bit with a flip of a big muscly spiky tail. I snapped a couple of rubbish phone-cam pictures, of which more at the bottom, and then had a bit of a seawatch.

This is what 5.30 am looks like off the Aberdeen coast.

Seawatch... a flat calm sea and generally quiet, though with a couple of Harbour Porpoises (cue the joke about the Prince and the Porpoise) and an Atlantic Grey Seal to continue the mammal theme. Can tell there was not a lot of movement from 54 Northern Gannets going north and 30 south in 1 .25 hours (i.e. not many about, and mostly going in circles). 46 Sandwich Terns went south, and 2 each of Common and Arctic Terns north. 7 Manx Shearwaters north at a distance, 16 Common Scoters north, and 2 annoying small waders south. 1 Arctic Skua south, then just as I was giving up at 6.45, a Pomarine Skua went north about 100 m offshore. First of the autumn.

Got home and downloaded my Otter photos, and they're a bit crap - head, shadow, bit of a wake, and yet strangely familiar... where had I seen them before? And then it rang a bell - remember in May there was a new video of the 'Loch Ness Monster' on all the international news, filmed by a scientist, so it must be true? My otter photos were both intriguingly and compellingly similar. Take a look at this below - two Nessie stills above, 2 Newtonhill Otter pics below.

So with the usual exhaustive level of careful thought, analysis, and attention to fine video detail, I'm writing my next paper... 'Does the Loch Ness Monster persist in north central Scotland, or is it a big fat Otter?' Look out BMC Biology.

See Lindsay's comment. You have to go see the Pine Munchers for some genuine Scottish 'kent' calls.
And it chokes me to say it, but you also have to go and see the second comment here

Monday, July 09, 2007

The zipper up the back!

Soooooo.... both Bill Pulliam and Dave Nolin mentioned the apparently odd flight wing posture and dynamics of the Luneau video bird in their comments on my post HERE. Bill drew attention again to his analysis here, and Dave referred to the rather common practice of identifying birds on their jizz and flight action when plumage can't be seen clearly or isn't much help. So, let's assume there is something unusual about the Luneau bird's flight action, as opposed to wingbeat frequency (which now seems to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction). I was going to do this last night, along dave's lines of identifying raptor silhouettes or shearwaters at sea or something, but it was getting late and I left it to today. I'm glad I did now, because yesterday's post would have been tedious for the increasing number of people who have heard enough of this, and frankly not got a lot of laughs from those still reading, whereas today's (after an exhaustive 3 minutes research that characterises my style of analysis) is much more fun. Here goes.

And even with my, admittedly not vast, experience of Pileated Woodpeckers, there is some nagging small cloud of conscience or whatever that does admit something weird about the way the Luneau bird flies. The problem is that 'flight action' or 'wing dynamics' are soft and very variable features that are modulated by flight vector, speed and condition of the bird, whereas plumage features are hard and in this case, relatively invariant and obvious differences between Pileated and Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. The outside of a PIWO looks obviously and consistently different from the outside of an IBWO, always, whereas both birds can (could, obviously) change the way they fly, within reason, to suit their travel plans. If wise people can prove that the way the Luneau bird flies is outside the range of the ways that Pileateds fly, and then infer (without comparative material, unless the Feds are suppressing an archival video of Imperial Woodpecker...) that it may have been an Ivorybill, I won't jump on them for that. What I would suggest though is that they check out (again) figure 3 in my paper and the figures here on Louis Bevier's website - here there are some side-by-side comparisons of the Luneau bird with known Pileated Woodpeckers showing that the Luneau bird is at least plausibly (and more like very) consistent with a normal Pileated Woodpecker holding its wings in normal positions. That is the 'hard' evidence and you have to discount that before the 'soft' evidence of wing dynamics becomes very relevant.

As I was thinking that through last night and predicting that Bill would politely mention video artifacts :-) it occurred to my half-baked memory that Ivorybill TBs love being compared to Bigfoot believers. And bloody hell etc... wasn't one of the main lines of evidence for that Bigfoot ?hoax film by Roger Patterson that the ape-like individual in question was flying, sorry walking, in an unusual manner that was difficult if not impossible for a man to do... and by inference (without comparative material, unless the Feds are suppressing an archival film of a real Bigfoot) that it was a Bigfoot??? And ?? again. First look at the film, for fun.

And now have a look-see at what Wikipedia has to say about it HERE. if nothing else, read the 'Analyses' section 6. That's all I could be bothered with. What's clear is that while not everyone was fooled, there are apparently perfectly intelligent people stating categorically that the 'Bigfoots' flight action (sorry, gait) was outside the range a human being could pull off, that it's wings, sorry knees, were bent too far backwards, and that its wings (arms this time) were proportionately way too long to be human, and that it twisted its arms to an unusual extent as it flew (walked). The similarities to the arguments for the putative IBWO flight of the Luneau bird are UNCANNY. You couldn't make it up. Well, you could make it up, but no one would believe you. In my juvenile way, I find that funny.

Don't get me wrong, I don't really care whether I'm right or wrong (although in this case I'm right)... I want the pure truth as God made it. :-0 And the flight action argument might be worth pursuing, but I think its worth pointing out how far into Bigfoot territory it takes the Ivorybill to hammer away at increasingly softer aspects of the evidence when at the end of the day, the harder evidence will win out. That 'Bigfoot' conceivably has a visible zipper up the back. It doesn't matter how it was walking, if it has a zipper - even if the gait was outside the range a human could pull off, cos if you believe the testimony, and the zipper, it had to be human! So the photographic comparisons of Luneau bird with PIWO represent the zipper up the back of that bird. If it was a PIWO, it is irrelevant whether you prove it could not be a PIWO, because it was one! If it was flying funnily, maybe it was sick, or had hurt its wing, or was tired and shagged out after a long squawk.

While I'm gently ribbing Bigfoot. Take a look at this one.

...especially the second of the last three questions as it is closing. That is to my mind so close to the 'so show me a PIWO that flies like that' argument that I think it's probably worth another chuckle.

And this one is a LOT of fun.

And remember, it's very tempting to pontificate that we are only arguing about the Luneau video still bacause Ivorybills are extinct. If they were still around, we'd be looking at photos of the 2007 nests in National Geographic by now.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

When I went to bed last night, there were two things I was pretty certain about for the morning

Well, three things actually. Three things. Come to think of it, four. Hold on, I'll go out and come back in. Ha! No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!!

But first, I haven't even got to this morning yet. As I looked out of the kitchen window at the kerfuffle at the bird feeders on Saturday, I noticed a juvenile Eurasian Tree Sparrow on the back fence with about 25 House Sparrows (dependency culture families eating all my peanuts. MY peanuts, d'yer hear?). A garden tick presumably a bird dispersing from a local breeding site. It didn't stay long. Not surprising if you smelt that side of our garden recently.

So four things I expected when I got up this morning... such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms - Oh damn! No.

Things I was expecting:
1) That the sun would still be up there (obviously behind clouds; this is Aberdeen) and the World's ecosystems would still be able to support life and, more importantly, birding. We ha
ve those jet-set pop start and their big concert to thank for that. Thank you for all you have given us.

So with that in mind I went birding. A good poke around the patch, more in hope than expectation. Doing a few recordings, checking up on some nest sites etc. Plenty of juv Willow Warblers around, also raggedy-looking Common Whitethroats still carrying food, one or two Sedge Warblers singing, and flurry of Common Linnet families. Intriguingly (or perhaps compellingly - I could have let it lie, but I didn't let it lie) an adult Great Tit flew out of the old nest site in the hole in the bridge at Mill Garden and called in an agitated way while I hung around trying to see what was going on. I'm pretty cetain I've never come across a second brood before, but it could be happening here. I'll keep an eye open. I did expect a second and third brood from the local Winter Wrens, so an adult with a faecal sac flying out from below the fisherman's huts at the beach wasn't such an issue. Looking over to Cran Hill, I could see a family of, presumably olfactory-deficient, hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crows, feeding on Mount Doom (the pile of dung and assorted cattle-related detritus brooding over Newtonhill's landscape). Failed miserably to get decent recordings of duetting Common Swifts over the Courts.

Half an hour looking offshore was to little effect, although a feeding flock of Black-legged Kittiwakes pulled in a feeding Common Tern, and an Arctic Tern went north. About 20 Sandwich Terns loitering around, including 1 flying juv, so at least some terns are successfully breeding this year. When I returned in the evening for another hour seawatch, things weren't a lot bettern with 2 adult Arctic Skuas going north (Parasitic Jaegers) the icing on the cake. Hell, they were the cake! No shearwaters, only 52 Northern Gannets. For a bit of entertainment there was a nice close flock of Atlantic Puffins bobbing on the water. Come closer, and I'll tell you something really exciting about Puffins you might not have heard before... (whispers)... they have really pretty beaks! What? I thought it was just me who spotted that. I'm going to be in disequilibrium now until I'm proved right about something.

I also noticed this - some gentleman has hung a CD from the side of their house to st
op the House Martins nesting there. But hurrah! it didn't work! This seems to be a very popular way of trying to keep birds off things. The allotments are festooned (yes, gentle reader, FESTOONED) with old CDs of Roger Whitaker (hurrah!) (again) CDs and those annoying freebies you get in newspapers that serve only to stop you folding them properly.
You can see one of the adults not bothering to rip the CD to its collection.

As I was taking this photo, the man came round the side of the house with his wheelbarrow. It would have been funny if it were full of CDs, but it wasn't.

2) That there would be a comment from Bill Pulliam tagged on to yesterday's po
st about flight dynamics. I'll say something tomorrow. Was intending to do it now but it's getting late. Jam tomorrow.

3) That my post would make it to Tom Nelson's website and that some anonymous p
erson would call me an arse. It's not like I've ever tried to hide it but a) at least I put my name on stuff and b) I'm ugly but you can diet... no wait, I got that wrong. I'll come back in. I may be stupid but you're fat and I can grow hair back. No, wait, i got it wrong again. One more time... I may be ugly but you're fat and I can diet. Nope, nearly right... *blows raspberry*. Hey, that almost works.

4) That the capitalist system would still be oppressing us all
. I was going to Smash the State tonight, but, as for 2), it's late. Maybe tomorrow. Meantime, as Mystery photo competitions featuring low-res pictures of silhouetted birds seem to be in vogue, try these two. Taken today, within 30000 km of the centre of the Earth. By me, if that helps.

Please do have a go. This is a real competition. The prize is a visit from the Spanish Inquisition. When you're least expecting it of course.

And finally, these are all genuine 'in the wild' photos around the rubbish tips, middens and pathways of Newtonhill today, genuine photos, no set-ups, in response to disappointing low numbers (zero) of dead Shrews to ogle. I call it 'Slugs eating things'. From top left... slug eating melon, slug eating pineapple, 2 slugs eating dead snail (disturbing) and finally slug eating dog turd (after posting anonymously on Ivorybill Skeptic, I presume) :-)

I mean, f*** Ivory-bills or photos of bees and David Copperfield... what other blog gives you entertainment like this?

Saturday, July 07, 2007

It's a bird... it's a plane. No, it's a moving goalpost. And a new Percy.

The title refers to my lucid and thought provoking, if not a little arrogant, post on Birdforum here. So the data I was thinking of and hinting at has now been published online here by Louis Bevier. I'd been trying to suggest that people who were defending the IBWO-identity of the Luneau bird by wingbeats 4-8 and the different processing of the Luneau and Nolin videos in my paper were grasping at broken straws and moving the goalposts to defend an untenable point of view, whereas any sensible interpretation of the data would be that the Luneau video was a Pileated. Hiding behind science when for once common sense was enough. BUT Louis has driven the message home by providing the 4-8 wingbeat data and mimicking as closely as possible the video capture and processing of the Luneau video. I agree with Cyberthrush... the Luneau video is dead, but if you believe the reported sightings you don't need the Luneau video. Is it possible for so many people to be so wrong? Random but not entirely unrelated leap... this is a very educational historical piece from the Jourdain (eggers) Society journal about Moustached Warblers, which were added to the British List on the basis of a breeding pair + kids well watched by a crowd of British birding glitterati in Cambridgeshire, later taken off the British List after being shown to be so much wishful thinking and autosuggestion. Provided by Bob McGowan**... pity the poor old eggers, who aren't doing any harm but are unjustifiably persecuted by the RSPB.

**... who also found a new Percy for CaMPaGULAN... Percival Taverner... of Canada ornithology fame. From here...

Taverner, Percy Algernon, ornithologist (b at Guelph, Ont 10 June 1875; d at Ottawa 9 May 1947). Taverner first earned a living as an architectural draughtsman while studying birds in his spare time. In 1911 he was appointed ornithologist at the National Museum of Canada, where he developed a unique system of distributional maps linked to card indexes on individual species containing up-to-date information on bird distribution in Canada. Taverner played an important part in Canadian ornithology and in wildlife conservation, such as the designation of POINT PELÉE as a national park (1918) and the protection of Bonaventure I and Percé Rock in the Gulf of ST LAWRENCE as bird sanctuaries (1919). His ornithological writings culminated in Birds of Canada (1934). Comprehensive and readable, with coloured illustrations by Allan Brooks, it did much to develop a better understanding of ornithology and make birdwatching a popular recreation.

He is 'honoured' by Taverner's Canada Goose. Genetically a small Canada, morphologically a big Canada, probably total bollocks. Taverner's Canada Goose - we salute you!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

All hail - Baffin island!

Noticed this dot on the ClusterMap thingy. I don't know who you are... approach and be recognised, but unless I'm mistaken... Baffin Island! Fantastic. Next time I'm complaining about the weather, I'll remember that some readers have it worse. Please write in and tell us something interesting about geese and gulls.

Shamefully, have been doing more decorating than birding this weekend. Did try a seawatch this evening, starting 18:15 with visibility down to 400 m! And then by half seven when it was down to 200m I gave up. This is what I was looking at.

There were scores and scores of Atlantic Puffins going past. Normally I don't count things that breed here, cos there's little point counting them when you can't distinguish migrants from local nesters, but today, I still didn't, but this time is was for laziness and badness. You know who picked up The Master's ring at the end of Doctor Who last night, with the red nail varnish? That was me. Scores, though, all heading north.
Oh, go on then, I know you're asking. Well, I also saw 211 Northern Gannets, 9 Manx Shearwaters, 3 Arctic Terns and 1 Great Skua going n
orth. Except 2 of the terns, who were off south. That's pretty crap. but on the other hand, given by half seven I wasn't even seeing the sea and I was sat there messing with my phone, it could have been worse. This is one of the mails I got, btw. Verrrrryy in-ter-est-ing...

Randler, C 2007. Assortative mating of Carrion Corvus
corone and Hooded Crows C. cornix in the hybrid zone in

eastern Germany. Ardea 95: 143-149.

Mating patterns in hybrid zones may be important for
maintaining a stable hybrid zone. Theory suggests that
hybrid zones are stable due to assortative mating outside
the zone. To test whether assortative mating occurs in the
crow hybrid zone in eastern Germany, I studied pairs of

crows. The study area between Magdeburg and Dresden was
divided into a grid and in each grid cell I recorded paired
crows between 8 April and 12 July 2006. Carrion Corvus
corone and Hooded Crows C. cornix mated assortatively given
that the composition of observed pairs deviated
significantly from what was expected by random mating;

homotypic pairings, i.e. Carrion × Carrion or Hooded ×
Hooded Crows, were observed more and heterotypic pairings
less often than expected. These findings contradict previous
suggestions for this region but are in accordance with
studies in other parts of Europe.

In the days before I was a cryptozoologist, I was a taxonomist. We wrote a paper and everything.