Sunday, September 30, 2007

We got incoming

I was a bit concerned about Saturday's Birdmap on BirdGuides that seemed to suggest that either 1) there are no good birds in NE Scotland or 2) there are no birders in NE Scotland or 3) all the birders in NE Scotland, including me, are hopelessly incompetent. 1) seemed unlikely, given the almighty haul they were getting north and south of us, 2) I *know* is no true, although we are a bit thin on the ground, which left 3). Ho hum. So I thought maybe a damn good trot round thepatch would throw some light on the situation, and initially I have to admit that I didn't rule out 3). I could bore you with where all the Chaffinches and Blue Tits were, but I won't. 4 hours, down the Elsick Burn, up to the clifftops, 10 minutes looking offshore, then allotments, over the coastal fields to Water Valley and Muchalls, back up the Muchalls track with eyes peeled produced virtually nothing migranty. A very small number of Goldcrests held a vague non-specific hint of eastern promise, and there seemed to be 1 or 2 Coal Tits in unusual places hinting that things were on the move. About 10 Eurasian Siskins came over in 1s and 2s, and there was a trickle of Skylarks. 11 Ruddy Turnstones on the beach - a quick look offshore reassured me that nothing interesting was happening, tho 4 Velvet Scoter went south. A really warm day with lots of butterflies: Small White, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell.

Is it just me, or are the bodies of my victims getting more gory?

Warning: this report contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing. Unsuitable for children and the squeamish. A House Mouse, post car tyre trauma. I made it smaller so you don't have to look.

As I was walking back up the Muchalls track, I got a phone call from home to tell me that, in light of the number of jobs needing done around the place, my family would view the prospect of my imminent return home with unalloyed pleasure. Those were almost exactly the words used. I trotted back through Newtonhill and met a man mowing his lawn - he knows me as being interested in birds. I know him as a local dogwalker who I see when out birding, and as an occasional lawn mower. 'I had a Merlin in my back garden this morning' he tells me. As you know, I'm very sceptical about birds I didn't see myself, and thought it was probably a Sparrowhawk, but to my surprise he went on to describe a Merlin very well, and indeed it sounds like it was one. mmm... potential patch year tick, must keep my eye out.

Got within sight of the house, Diane is waiting for me - she's jammed Peter into the car boot AND he's enjoying it. Suddenly I heard what sounded very like a Yellow-browed Warbler from the garden across the road, and as I turned to look a Phyllosc (the only Phyllosc I've seen today, btw) flew over our heads into our back garden. Errrr.... I think... and then it called again and errr...there's a Yellow-browed Warbler in my back garden! Regular readers of this blog, you saddos, will know that's not even a back garden tick, but it is a valuable patch year tick. (15th October 06 - see here and here).

Then it went all elusive on me, and Diane was getting even more pleasure out of the prospect of me spending the afternoon chasing a fly-by Yellow-browed. Fortunately I have Y-b W song and call loaded onto my phonem so turned the volume up to max and tried to lure it out. The call did no good whatsoever, but when I played the song it flew from wherever and perched in our birch (that rhymes!) within 4 m of me for a good grilling. I repeated that trick a couple of times and got the description. A stunningly bright bird with strapping wingbars. Here are my notes, uncensored. Sorry about the wren-bill thing going on, but remember these are genuine at-the-time unexpurgated notes, with drawing disasters and all.

I was by this time very keen on those back garden jobs. I hung out the washing, to the tune of a yellow-browed. Then I started digging up an overgrown b*****d Buddleia, to the tune of a yellow-browed. I was almost half-hoping that some passing birder at a loose end would come and see the YbW after I put it on BirdGuides. They could come into my back garden if they spent 10 minutes hacking away at the huge monster roots on this thing. Kept seeeing the YbW on and off up to abot 4 pm (occasionally I encouraged it with another blast of song). That belt of trees behind my house is crying out for mist nets.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Close friends get to call me MC...

... it's with digniteee, Top T**t... the indescribable Top T**t etc. ha ha. A quick seawatch before the li'l monsters came down from their Sugar-bomb and cartoon high and need to go swimming. O7:40 - 08:30, with only a very mild N 1-2 but a very choppy sea, with a nasty hazy backlight making things difficult to see. Northern Gannets were steaming through north (410 - I worked it out in ma heid that that's about 480 / hour), 47 Black-legged Kittiwakes and 328 Guillemots/Razorbills, 5 Atlantic Puffins and hold up... a Little Auk.

1 Pomarine Skua went north, and 1 Great Skua, 2 Northern Fulmars, 6 Manx Shearwaters and 1 Sooty Shearwater. The Sooty did something I haven't seen before - came up behind a gannet that was sat on the water, and tw*tted it on the back of the head as it went past, I think with its feet (or maybe belly) . Was deliberate, cos it sheared round as if for another go, but the gannet was in a bit of a mood by then and thrashed around to make it back off. Some sort of kleptoparasitism attempt? BWP is naff all use on the matter.

Otherwise, it was more ducks - 17 Eurasian Teal N, and 2 Mallards, 2 Common Scoters N and 4 Velvet Scoters S. Of patch year-tick-note, 3 Brent Geese went south - I'm pretty certain all bernicla, tho not always the easiest thing to judge in that light. A Red-throated Diver went south and a Peregrine Falcon was going back and forth along the cliffs giving the Pigeons something to do. But by that time I was hearing the junkie screams of sugar-craving sickness from our house, and I knew they needed their chocolate fudge milk.

Took Peter for a walk down to the beach in the afternoon, hoping there would be a really vocal Yellow-browed Warbler we couldn't miss. Not to be, but I did get my only patch dragonfly of the year - a girl Highland Darter.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Donkey's wanger of a seawatch

Today was the first day I could get away from work early, and with a northerly breeze there was a chance of some lost birds struggling up the coast. I sat at work in the morning with reports of Sab's Gulls, Long-tailed Skuas (Jaegers) and the odd Great Shearwater and Yellow-browed Warbler up the east coast and was starting to itch. At 2 o'clock I got a call from a journalist who wanted a photo of a cross-looking birder with bins stood on the SSSI sand dunes that Donald Trump wants to f*** up with his golf course. So he needed a media whore, and of course he thought of me. Sorry, mate, I'm away birding. And I was. Holy Guano - to the the cliffs, Batman!

And the omens were good, if a Short-tailed Vole of THIS quality can be a good omen. It was sat on the rocks as if placed by the god of small mammals for me to find.

And immediately it was obvious there was something on - 2 hours from 15:34 - 17:42 but straight away there were Sooty Shearwaters going past in 2s and 3s - a total of 50 in all, mostly in the first hour. Much smaller numbers of 9 Manx Shearwaters, usually closer in, but a wee diminutive 'Sooty' going past at 2 km with a flock of normal Sooties had a smudgy white belly because it was a Balearic Shearwater. Sweet! A juvenile Arctic Skua (Parasitic) went north, then a flurry of ducks (ducks) - 28 Eurasian Teal N, then 2 Velvet Scoters carrying a Mallard with them, then another 7 Mallards and a Tufted Duck. Gasp in amazement, Inglis birders, but the Tufted Duck was a base 5 patch tick of unprecedented occurrence on my Newtonhill list. Later on I was to get 6 Red-breasted Mergansers going south, and a single female Goosander (Common Merganser) going north, the latter a valuable patch year tick.

Another juvenile skua going north a 1 km was difficult to get plumage detail on, but was a cold dark bird, very small and was a provisional jizz id of Long-tailed Skua. However I almost forgot to write it down, because of the excitement that followed. Warning, this is going to sound stringy - at least I'd call it stringy if I read it, but I'll tell you what I saw... which is at 16:00 a large shearwater going north at 2 km with 4 Sooties, which on the basis of what everyone else has been seeing recently I would have assumed would be 'just' a Great Shearwater'. But it wisnae. The head appeared all uniform dark, and at this range I would have seen the dark cap of Great Shearwater, also the upperparts were milky coffee and the underparts were clean white - no dusky belly shite. It looked like a Cory's Shearwater, which is what it was... not only on the basis of lack-of-great-shear-features, but also the relaxed flight, shearing on wings bent back and angled down classic Cory's... except that I tend to assume that other people are stringing when they come out with crap like this. Maybe I should be more understanding. Cracking bird, followed 10 minutes later by bloody hell, a juvenile Sabine's Gull! Have I been good in a previous life or something and I'm getting all my rewards in one afternoon? Swanning north like it didn't care. I watched it disappear out of sight, with only a couple of Sooties to distract me. :-O

In between good birds I was mostly going goggle-eye trying to count Northern Gannets (249 N, 2 S), Black-legged Kittiwakes (182 N), and Guillemots/Razorbills (717 N). Only 7 Atlantic Puffins. One of the groups of Kittiwakes had an adult Little Gull in there (keep 'em coming). Also 16 Pink-footed Geese went south, 3 Red-throated Divers north (and 1 south), and 4 commic terns N. Annoying small waders, included the easy ones to identify i.e. 2 Ringed Plovers N, and 2 Purple Sandpipers - my first of the autumn.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Wake me up when September ends.

And everyone else. I think the fact that people are crowding in to a Long-tailed Skua tells you everything you need to know. Is it just me, or is everything shit?*

*Title of a book I got given three times for Christmas. People know me too well. it's very good btw, and has a volume 2.

Anyway, roll up roll up for today's seagull count (Hi Liz!). Brisk SSW this morning, or even S, tbh, maybe chance of some passerines? Worth a go... but as it happened, passerines null points. Migrant ones at least, unless you count the large numbers of Barn Swallows that seem to have taken up residence in Newtonhill this week - families sitting on rooftops etc. And also unless you count b
utterflies, as we are overrun with Painted Ladies, Peacocks and Red Admirals. Ah, insects, the poor man's bird. There was a male Common Stonechat on wires bordering Cow Field at Cran Hill, which may have been a migrant, but equally could be a local. Apart from singing European Robins, local hotspots like Mill Garden etc. aren't just quiet, there's actually no peeps cheeps or anything. I mean, I'm not asking for much - maybe a Blackcap or Common Chiffchaff for a bit of encouragement, but nope. Nowt.

13 Ruddy Turnstones and a couple of Rock Pipits on the beach
, with Eurasian Oystercatcher and Curlew. A flock of 15 crows feeding on Mount Doom that included 5 Hooded x Carrion Crows, some pretty smart ones at that. Another Redpoll sp overhead, this time over Cran Hill, and 6 Yellowhammers on wires over the stubble.

45 minutes offshore 08:25 - 09:10 - birds taking north at speed, but nothiong very interesting. No shearwaters, but 1 juvenile Arctic Skua (Parasitic) south, and 2 Great Skuas north. 409 auks (Razorbills and Guillemots (Common Murres)) north, 83 south, with a few Atlantic Puffins. 69 Black-legged Kittiwakes north negligently failed to pull a Sab's Gull along with t
hem. 6 Common Scoters north, 2 Eurasian Teal south. 104 Northern Gannets north and 100 south clearly couldn't make up their minds.

Pink-footed Geese pouring through just now.

As if this wasn't excitement enough, when I got home in the afternoon I hoovered the car. Yes, hoovered-the-car. I started up the Dyson and the car went 'ohhhhhhhh shit! Am I being sold?' Next week, washing the driveway - welcome to your new middle class blog.

That reminds me of a funny moment from the ace 1970s/80s sitcom Porridge, starring Ronnie Barker. Involving the main character Fletch (Ronnie Barker) and his Glasw
egian warder (sorry, forgot name).
Warder - You consider yourself working class, do you , Fletcher?
Fletcher - Well I did regard myself as working class, yes. That was until I visited Glasgow. Then I realised I was middle class, you know?
I've been waiting all my life to use that joke.

Diane - I'm really keen to be getting off to ASDA, but...
Martin - but what?
D - but the kids are still playing in the road.

M - well I can watch them.
D - but you're busy.
M - well I'm only busy cos I've got nothing else to do.
D - eh?

Soap Operas... it's about time Heroes of the Birding Revolution made a reappearance. Until then, I was reminded of this today while watching Channel 128 (whatever that is) at lunchtime.

Unsung babes of the soap- opera revolution with vague reference to birding no 2 (no. 1 was Emma Wray of Watching)

I give you Tessa Wyatt of Robin's Nest.

Robin's Nest had little to recommend it except Albert Riddle and the overtones of Class War between Robin and Vicky's dad. Blimey, I'm obsessed with class today.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The perfect storm

Not really. I was expecting it though, after our trip out to hoover up the good seabirds of the North Sea was called off on account of weather. Shame. I went down to the sea for an hour in the morning to be hit with a ferocious SW force 1 and a sea virtually empty of birds. 07:00 - 08:00 yielded 2 Black-throated Divers (Arctic Loons) going south (well, one definite, one maybe), and only 3 Red-throated Divers, with another one north. One wonderful Manx Shearwater going north (thats 'Vun Vunderful' Manx Shearwater to fans of ze Count) , 1 Common Scoter and 4 Eurasian Wigeon south. 164 Northern Gannets north, (6 south), a measly 10 Black-legged Kittiwakes, all north, 139 auks north and 72 south, 13 Sandwich Terns north, and 3 south.
So, sea has been boring in this week's winds, but the morning was not without its compensation. A Redpoll sp. was flying over the house, calling, as I stepped out the door, and, continuing my current run of good form, I found this Pygmy Shrew on the clifftops.

Because I was in that sort of mood, I fixed it to the bonnet of my car, and drove home with the windows open, a-hollering and a-whooping, firing my rifle and crushing cans of Budweiser before throwing them out onto the road.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Orca mallorcky

Uh-oh! I think there's a good chance I'm a stringer. Birds I know about... dolphins etc, maybe some more to learn :-O At least I think my Killer Whale from last week would not withstand the scrutiny of a rarities committee. At the time I was convinced, and I still can't reconcile thet bigness with anything else, but read these uncensored emails with Kevin Hepworth, one of the coordinators of the South Grampian group of the Sea Watch Foundation...

I have this basic form for simple sightings if you want to use that.
Have you more detail on the killer whale you reported? How certain are you on the id?

Thanks Kevin.
I never know what sort of level of sighting is acceptable for dolphins etc. I'd never claim a bird on the basis of the sort of 1/2 second views of bits of the back, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of alternative for land-based cetacean watching. The Killer Whale was a female type (not the classic male fin) large, fast moving, black with a greyer saddle behind the fin and a discrete large white spot on the flanks behind the fin. I'm pretty familiar with White-beaked Dolphins (although haven't seen many this summer), but this was a discrete white patch with a sharp border - no smudginess. I was pretty convinced (diagram attached (on yellow sticky note)), but since then alarm bells have been ringing. In my limited experience of Killer WHales, the white bits are difficult to see, and I normally associate seeing white bits on the roll as a feature of White-beaked. Also I have been known to make bad calls on dolphins. So I would not say it's 100% - on that sort of brief view I would never be 100% happy that what I think I saw was definitely what was actually there. If you've been seeing Killer Whales this summer i might give myself the benefit of the doubt, but if this is the only claim for the summer, I wouldn't want to add the datapoint without longer views.
Best wishes

I couldn't tell you for sure either way, but wouldn't personally accept this as a killer whale record, but know others would. I think that whilst it's difficult, there is still the need to apply some kind of rigour to sightings. I prefer cetacean or dolphin species rather than an id.
However, have included a whitebeak image for comparison if that is any use. Unfortunately, both of these species can show quite variable patterning.
There have been whitebeaks around quite a bit recently, but this would our first killer whale for this region this year, but we have had them in the past and at this time of year.

Ta for that, Kevin
I'd agree with you that this would be a non-starter as a rare bird description and I wouldn't expect it to be acceptable as a cetacean record either. At the time I was convinced on the basis that it looked very big, but I know size impressions can be very deceptive. Btw I tend to put stuff like this on my blog - would it be OK to copy these emails on and include that picture of the dolphin comparison? the website is if you want to see what you'd be associated with!

I think you'd agree Kevin's comparison undermines my id. It's all gone a bit IBWO on me. Mmmm... you leanr something every day. I try not to, but sometimes I can't help it.

Monday, September 17, 2007

This is interesting

From WestPal birds today.


News from Selvagens islands kindly provided by Pedro Geraldes (SPEA)
Iberian Seabird Group (GIAM) phorum: one Swinhoe's
Storm-petrel (Oceanodroma
monorhis) was trapped and ringed this
summer at Selvagens islands (between
Madeira and Canaries). The bird
had a ring also from Selvagens as it was
previously captured on 1986 there!!!

Cosme Damián Romai

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sensors detect presence of rain

This morning..

Me: 'What do you want for breakfast?
Lizzie: porridge!
Peter: Coco Pops!
Me: OK...
LZ: Can I get cream on my porridge like last time?
M: OK... oh no, sorry, I used it all yesterday.
[P: I want Coco Pops!]
LZ: How?
M: I made a fruit salad and put the last of the cream on.
LZ: Why?
M: Coz it was lunchtime and me and Peter were hungry.
[P: {forcefully} I want Coco Pops!!!!!]
M: Tell you what, I'll make your porridge with blue milk - will that be creamy enough?
LZ: OK. And are there any chocolate chips?
M: No! (makes porridge)
P: I want Coco Pops pleaasssseeeeee!!!!!
M: OK, here you are (pours Coco Pops)
P: I don't want milk on them!
M: But I've already put milk on them. Here, you'll just have to scoop the dry ones off the top.
P: OK. Can I get some milk?
LZ: My porridge is too hot.
M: here... stir it and blow, like this.
P: I'm finished (he has eaten 3 Coco Pops)
LZ: My porridge is too cold.

Wasn't it rainy today? Not a lot to report. Went out before tea. Bushes down the burn were birdless. Watched White-breasted Dipper calling and displaying to nothing in particular for 10 minutes. 30 minutes looking out to sea, pissing rain..10 Red-throated Divers south. 50 Pink-footed Geese south (20000 at Strathbeg today).
1 Great Skua north, 72 Northern Gannets, 12 Black-legged Kittiwakes, 188 auks spp, a Peregrine Falcon flying over north and 2 Harbour Porpoises.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

star-BLOGGING, across the universe

I sneaked out for a wee look at the sea before the kiddies started chirruping for their morning worms. Just over half an hour, 07:30 - 08:05, flat calm again with a very mild inshore breeze, but the Common Gull thing continues, with 132 going south in that time. Does anyone else get these or is it just me counting them heading off from a roost??

8 Red-throated Divers south and 1 Black-throated Diver north - not only did it change direction to be different, it changed species too, and sexual orientation for all I know. 137 Northern Gannets north, 1 south, 14 Black-legged Kittiwakes north, 3 south.... yawn! 14 Manx Shearwaters north, and 2 Sooty Shearwaters, a few Northern Fulmars and auks, 5 Common Scoters north and 10 Velvet Scoters. 2 Great Skuas north, and that was it. I know that even in these very special times, Great Shearwaters don't come past in flocks of 5, except that at enormous distance (5 km?) I could just about make out 5 birds heading north and I can't imagine what else they might have been. No plumage detail of course, but there was something about the way they flew that compels me to finish this sentence hanging. More to forget about. I noted the time 08:00 and hoped that some wide-eyed and very lucky seawatcher would report them from Girdleness 30 min later, but no such miracle occurred. Or maybe it was a flock of Fulmars!

I arrived back home to find hungry kids circling the fridge menacingly. Lizzie had fed herself. This is my conversation with Peter...
Me: Do you want Coco Pops?
Peter: No, Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs*
Me: OK (Pours bowl of Chocolate-Frosted Sugar Bombs)
P: No! I want Coco Pops!
M: What do you say?
P: Please!
M: OK (Pours C-f SB back in paket, pours bowl of Coco Pops).
P: I want both!
M: A mixture?
P: Yes!!
M: That's not how you ask, is it?
P: [With Father Jack-like insincerity and sarcasm] Pleeeaasssssssssssseeeeee!!!!!!

*Not their real name. In real life... Cookie Crisp.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The most beautiful dojo in the world

I had to go down to the sea again this morning, 06:40 to 08:15, but with a southerly breeze the idea was that I would do the first 30 min at the sea, satisfy myself there was nothing happening and go bash some bushes for an hour. And the first ten minutes, tis true, I saw nothing at all. Then a Killer Whale surfaced powerfully about 1 km out! And did it again, high enough for me to sea the clean white patches on the sides, and a grey saddle. No hallucination this time. That was better than 'McFadden scores and it's 1-0 to Scotland at the Parc des Princes', which is saying something. Suddenly the sea didn't seem so boring.

Except it was, but a trickle of Manx Shearwaters (20N 2S) and Sooty Shearwaters (10 N) kept the interest level hovering just above comatose. Then about 7:20 the alarms rang, whistles blew and claxons sounded, cos at about 2 km out, clear as day was a Great Shearwater heading north. The dark cap was obvious, and the powerful deep banking flight that made the Manxie nearby look like a wimp. It is 16 years since I last saw one of them (Strumble Head*, Wales). I punched the air with a 'yes!' - scribbled what deatils I had in my notebook and looked up to see another one going past - same distance! Total time, 2 minutes... out of 1.5 hours, then everything went back to near-comatose.

Also 23 Red-throated Divers (22S, 1N), 151 Northern Gannets north and 72 south (quiet, see), 67 Black-legged Kittiwakes north, and 7 south, 9 Common Scoters and 3 Velvet Scoters north, 1 Great Skua north, 13 Sandwich Terns (8 S) and 32 Common (Mew) Gulls south.

News today also of a Great Shearwater at Collieston and 1 at Auchmithie, so I would have said that maybe the English ones of a couple of days ago are making their way slowly up the coast, except for this report from last Friday - take a look at the big b*stards here.

*Strumble Head. I had come down fom Llandudno (where I lived) with Alan Davies on the offchance cos conditions looked good, and about 3 hours into a 6 hour seawatch in a seawatching hide/concrete bunker packed with birders I spotted a big shearwater coming towards us, and I couldn't really see what it was apart from the flight action looked like Great Shear... but with lots of other birders around you don't want to make a mistake, so I held off for a few seconds, until someone else started... 'Err... I've got a ... large shearwater... about...' and I thought NO! I'm not letting someone else get this one, it's mine. And called it: 'Great Shearwaterat 2 o'clock about 1 km out with Kittiwakes'. Fortunately it was one, and Welsh ticks for all!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Playing catch-up

I kinda felt, with everything going past the east coast yesterday, that my contractual obligations to the University of Aberdeen may have cost me my patch-tick Great Shearwater. Curse my contractual obligations! Swore I would not make that mistake today. Not a lot I can do about it of course, but tried an hour before work 06:15 - 07:15. OK, but still dark and identifiying silhouettes. Nevertheless, 15 Ruddy Turnstones and that Whimbrel still on the rocks when I arrived, and 2 White-throated Dippers having some sort of territorial fight among the breakers - bizarre. 7 Sooty Shearwaters went north, the first one before dawn, with 7 Manx Shearwaters north too (and 1 south). 17 Red-throated Divers south, and a few auks buzzing about, not least a silhouette, albeit close in, of something that looked exactly like a Little Auk. Please no - I refuse to string a September Dovekie. One to forget. 5 Common Scoters N and 5S, and 2 Velvet Scoters S, 2 Great Skuas north and 8 Common Terns south, 193 Northern Gannets N and 14S, 75 Black-legged Kittiwakes north, 2 south.
A Common Whitethroat in the clifftop vegetation was my first for about a month and will probably be the last of the year.

Went to work watching reports of Great Shearwaters up and down the Yorkshire and Northhumbrian coasts, but was prepared to live n' let live, until mid afternoon a report of about 30 from Flamborough Head made me crack - ENOUGH! etc. I was not going to stand for this. I completed my contractual obligations very quickly and went home, for another couple of hours seawatching 15:30 - 17:30. Whohahahahaaaaaaa!!!! Nothing could stop me now, this was going to be my best seawatch evern and I was going to get Great Shearwater and a Long-tailed Skua for good measure! Nothing could go wrong! Then Goddamit!!! Heathaze!!! Argh! I couldn't sea a thing at first (Boulmer Birder had this problem today too). It cleared up enough to be able to identify things up to a couple of miles, but still far from ideal. Eventually 3 Sooty Shearwaters condescended to power past, but the Manx Shearwaters were mostly feeding (5S, 13 N and 5 circling in a distant feeding flock). A Minke Whale and a Harbour Porpoise were the main entertainment, but there were some terns (14 Arctic Terns S, 12 Common Terns S and 6 Sandwich Terns north). The one of the Arctic Terns dragged a 1st summer Little Gull south behind it, the second of the year. Then another Arctic T
ern was pulling a juvenile Black Tern - not just a patch year tick but a long overdue patch tick, and a Scottish Tick to boot, if I kept a Scottish List, which I don't! ;-) God Save the King. And Ronny Biggs!

Other dross.... 2 Arctic Skuas north, attacking Kittiwakes as they went, and 2 Great Skuas. 10 Red-throated Divers south, 1 N, 35 Eurasian Wigeon north, 5 Northern Fulmars, and 7 Common Gulls north. A few auks. Northern Gannets = 88N 16S, Kittiwakes = 33N 6 S.
Whatever the hell was happening on the English East Coast with its miriads of Sooties and abnormal amounts of castaway Great Shears, and a Fea's Petrel ('but distant' - f*8k OFF!! :-) ), was NOT happening here.

There's always another day. Unless there isn't.

Sunday, September 09, 2007


First, Saturday, where I found this headless Common Shrew on our back patio. We have two cats, and between them they've caught NOTHING for the last 10 years (they're too soft and slow). but today... this.

Common Shrew (var. acephalic)

Went down to the cliffs first thing, to see if anything was happening on the sea, intending to decide then whether to stay there or go bush-bashing. In the end, did both, poorly. There was a Ruddy Turnstone on the rocks, and a Whimbrel on the rocks again, or maybe 'still' - there's no way of telling. it should be possible to mark birds, by means of, say, an individual, traceable, metal or coloured ring on their legs, and hence to keep track of their movements. That's a brilliant idea that no one has ever thought of before).


So I did my hour looking offshore - flat calm again, and sunny so I was diagnosing silhouettes mostly. Not ideal. Not exactly crawling with birds either. Highlights were a Minke Whale again (or perhaps 'still' - there's no way of telling. it should be possible to mark whales, by means of, say, an a small radio transmitter implanted into their skin, and hence to keep track of their movements. That's another brilliant idea that no one has ever thought of before. I'm full of brilliant ideas today - I should be careful my foot doesn't fall off.)
Also a single Harbour Porpoise. The flood of Red-throated Divers (Loons) has slowed to 6 south and 3 north, but they managed to carry a single Black-throated Diver south. And there were some Manx Shearwaters floating past in relaxed fashion (27N 5S), some staying to feed in the whirling flocks of gulls and terns. 2 Great Skuas north, 1 south,and 3 Arctic Skuas north. 17 Common Scoters south, 1 north, 64 Common Gulls (57S), 12 Sandwich Terns and 3 Arctic Terns south.

There were birds on the move, then, but a bit slow and I am repeating myself, and there was a constant passage of Meadow Pipits going over south to remind me about passerines, so I forewent the chance of a Great Shear silhouette and headed up the valley. There was a juvenile Eurasian Teal with 8 Mallards on the beach (also a juv Grey Heron, juv Black-headed Gull and 2 Grey Wagtails). I headed up the track and was delighted to find this undamaged, but dead, Pigmy Shrew.

Pigmy Shrew. Pound coin for scale. Note to US readers, this is what the dollar is doing so poorly against :-)
As I was taking the picture of this 4 red crossbill (sp.) flew over. The battery in my Remembird was dead (boo!) so I couldn't capture the call - but if my patch year list finishes on 149, then they'll go down a Common Crossbill! Patch year tick, whatever they were.

2 Bullfinches were inthe Mill garden, eating Rowan berries, or perhaps seeds - another patch year tick I think. So although of migrating warblers there were none, I was still keeping things ticking over. And then I found this Common Shrew - it was a bit squashed and I think it had been there a few days. It was stinkin'.

Common Shrew. No messing/Photoshop. It really was this flat.

Nothing else to write home about, unless I were to write home about Barn Swallows, which is unlikely.

Friday, September 07, 2007


bOOK review by your correspondent... published in British Birds

Ivorybill Hunters: The Search for Proof in a Flooded Wilderness.

Geoffrey E. Hill

Oxford University Press, 2007.

ISBN 978-0-19-532346-7

260 pp.

B+w photos and line figs.


This book describes year 1 (winter of 2005/6) of the search for Ivory-billed Woodpeckers Campephilus principalis along the Choctawhatchee River woodlands in Florida. Written by the leader of the search team, ornithologist Geoffrey Hill from Auburn University, it is a personal and partly autobiographical account of the background to Hill's interest in ivorybills, culminating in the surprising claims of sightings of the birds. The narrative also tackles the political and human aspects surrounding the birds: openly critical of Cornell University's overstatement of the evidence for the persistence of ivorybills in 2004/5 in Arkansas, and with more than a hint of envy at the political clout carried by big names at fashionable Ivy League Universities. It is, as stated by the author, primarily a human story. That much is true - it is nothing to do with the birds, which almost certainly went extinct many years ago. It is a birding tale, and anyone who has ever found themselves lost and miles from the car as dusk starts to fall will feel for the book's characters as they navigate their way by looking for a banana they left hanging in a tree on the way out. You cannot help but like the people involved and admire their determination. There is an argument that the book could have waited for a year or two until a more reflective assessment of the search and its results could be made. But when ornithological archaeologists of the future pick over the wreckage of the ivorybill 'rediscovery' they will be grateful for the immediacy of the moment captured here. Maybe it will go some way to explaining the psychology of birding, and how expectation and excitement can potentially bias the records of experienced and competent observers.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lest we forget

Peterculter, April 2005. Sorry I have no record of who took this shot, and I hope they're not cross. But it's a very good shot.

Here I go again on my own

Another early morning seawatch - it's September and I really should be tree-watching, but it seems easier to sit on my bum looking at distant specks. Flat calm again today 06:15 - 07:10 with the light against me.. not good for birds, but didn't stop me looking at 2 Minke Whales offshore (where else? unlikely to be dead on the path like all my lovely small mammals) - mum and calf, I think. A single Harbour Porpoise wasn't in the same league.

Red-throated Divers continue to pour through (44 south, 1 north) but otherwise it was pretty quiet (2 Manx Shearwaters north, 2 south, 2 Great Skuas (1N 1S), 2 Arctic Skuas south, 27 Sandwich Terns (20S) and 8 Arctic Terns feeding offshore. 88 Northern Gannets split 50:50 44 N 44S, probably the same 44!

2 Eurasian Wigeon N might be a patch year tick, can't remember, but doubt it, 3 Common Scoter N definitely not. 67 Common Gulls south, still doing whatever the hell it is they're up to, and a single Common Redshank on the rocks. And that, give or take a few Black-legged Kittiwakes and Northern Fulmars, was it. Nothing to get the lovely men and women at BirdGuides out of the tea room. Night all.

Here we are... looking north from the Muchalls/Newtonhill patch, to Aberdeen, where the crinkly coast meets the smooooth coast.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

up from the comments

I promoted this to the main page cos it was tooo gooood to leave languishing in yesterday's comments...

Camera Trap Codger said...

Risso's dolphins bring back fine memories of the time I was hired by the California Academy of Sciences to flense and de-flesh one that had been shot by some shady abalone divers south of San Francisco. All that meat seemed such a waste. So I froze the tenderloins. A few months later a Natural History of the Vertebrates course (SF State College) had an overnight field trip to the Sierra Nevadas, and that night the undergrads had what you would call a "jolly good time". At midnight, when no one was feeling any pain, we started to fry the defrosted meat. Naturally, after a while they all wanted to know what it was, and of course no one would believe they were eating the meat of a "toothed whale". Ah yes, Risso's dolphin, so fine a fishe!
Hope you see more!

Now I need to think of a true cetacean flesh story of my own. Hmmm... let's see. Oh yes. In the mid-90s a Sperm Whale was stranded in the Firth of Forth upstream from Edinburgh. It stayed a few days in the river - each day a flotilla of small boats would drive it out to sea, only next morning for it to reappear increasingly upriver. It was quite an attraction, lots of people came to see it and the local press nicknamed it 'Moby' in the predictable way they do. Also predictably, Moby died, and was scooped up so that his bones could be prepared for display at the Royal Scottish Museum. At the time I was working at the Vet School in Edinburgh, and we received some fleshy bits of Moby, including his outsize appendage which we predictably renamed Moby's Dick. It must have been 2 m long and filled a bath of formaldehyde by itself. The funny bit is that the Vet School was founded by William Dick and his severe-looking wife Mary, and is in fact fully titled the 'Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Sciences', or to all and sundry, 'The Dick Vet'. So, what we WANTED to do was to get Moby's Dick stuffed in an upstanding position and use it as the School mascot, with the motto 'Is this the Dick Vet or what?' Sadly it never came to fruition, but you can't make up that kind of entertainment.

I am a TB

Ohmygod - I just re-read my post yesterday about the sides of dolphins - 'seeing' white patches that just weren't there, because of autosuggestion (I was seeing what I wanted to see). And I realised... I have become an Ivorybill searcher! Quick nurse, some more of those tablets please!

in just seven days i will make you a man

Relatively quiet again this morning, although in the rain at 6 am it was still dark, so not going to see a lot except my Spider-senses picked up this - taken by flash in the dark, in the car park at the cliff tops...

A large mouse (sp - presumably Mus domesticus, whatever that is).
It ended up in my morning kedgeree

Flat calm 06:05 - 07:05 produced the following excitement... a Black-throated Diver (Arctic Loon) going south, easy to pick out among a flood (FLOOD!) of 53 Red-throated Divers heading that way too (and 1 going north). 149 Northern Gannets north (37 S - you can see not much going on), and 38 Black-legged Kittiwakes (22N, 16S). 4 Sooty Shearwaters north (in another year, that would be a good score) and 8 Manx Shearwaters north, 1 south. 7 Common Scoters south, 5 Great Skuas (2N 3S), 15 Sandwich Terns (2N 13S), 4 Common Terns and 9 Arctic Terns, all S.

A Whimbrel on the rocks was worth mentioning, at least to its mum, as were 53 Barn Swallows heading south over the sea and along the coast - prob more, but I'm likely to miss them overhead.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Well looky here

Look what I found while looking through some old notebooks. Apparently I used to be able to draw. I couldn't do that these days... at least I could never have the time to do this. The 1991 Waxham Lark Sparrow (!) Not sure about the flight pose, it's all gone a bit DIMW!

Dolphin débacle

Hmmm.... missed a trick yesterday - should have been seawatching, went to work instead. Resolved not to make that mistake today. We had a gruelling all day meeting at a rather fine restaurant on the outskirts of Aberdeen - hard this academic life is. And as it didn't start til the unearthly hour of 9.30, there was time for a bit of a bird beforehand. I got a text from Alasdair asking if I wanted a lift to the meeting, but I said I was out birdspotting and would make my own way there. More of that later.

Seawatch seawatch seawatch 06:15 - 07:38.
36 Sooty Shearwaters went north, and 25 Manx Shearwaters. The shearwaters are back!

Eurasian Teal 6N
Red-breasted Merganser 10N
Common Scoter 2N
Velvet Scoter 1N
Red-throated Diver 1N 4S
Northern Gannets, 297N, 24S
Common (Mew) Gull 127S
Black-legged Kittiwakes, 68N 16S
Great Skua 7N 1S
Arctic Tern 2N

Sandwich Tern 4N, 43S
+ Northern Fulmars 30+, auk spp. etc.

Jesus wept on a small fat furry bike. I had a mare of a time trying to identify some dolphins - I think I went through the works... saw some stretching pointy fins and thought my Killer Whales were back, then realised they weren't Orcas and decided they were probably Bottle nosed, and convinced myself I was seeing them, then one jumped out to reveal a belly pattern that was wrong for Bottle-nosed, but I thought they might be White-sided, and 'saw' the white sides, then 'saw' a greyish back
-patch and thought they must be White-beaked... and after about 20 mins of watching them slide sluggishly about the surface, still worried that the fins were wrong, one breached full out side on three times and I finally got the id.... 5 Risso's Dolphins. First I've seen for years, but my identification could have been any of about 5 species (and 'with certainty' on the basis of id feature I clearly 'saw') if they had dived and disappeared earlier. Tell you it shook my confidence in my cetacean ids, especially my ability to imagine white patches that clearly were not there. I am not claiming ANYTHING on cetacean jizz until I've got that sorted out.

A Harbour Porpoise was no problem, and cheered myself up on the way back to the car with THIS. I dedicate this Common Shrew to Harry (see Sunday comments). I'd like to pretend I was bitten by a radioactive Red Kite as a kid, but the truth is much darker... I'm one of those zombies from the Thriller video and I can only eat dead flesh which I sniff out with my super-undead powers. You read it here first. I'm a Creature of the Night.

This one was fried in batter with onion rings.

On the way to my meeting the exhaust split and I diverted via Kwik Fit. 2 hours and £152 later (ouch!) I turned up at the venue to find everyone thought I'd been out birding. That was only partly true! Was a bit perturbed to read on BirdGuides of a Great Shear past Collieston. But as I've said before, they're all stringy til I get one.

Anyway, by 15:20 I was back in Newtonhill on the clifftops in a stuff onshore wind, with 11 Sooties past in the first five minutes and I thought this was going to be a cracker of a watch. But the wind dropped and the birds dispersed. All the same, in 2 hours

Eurasian Teal 4S
Red-breasted Merganser 10N
Common Scoter 6N
Velvet Scoter 6S
Red-throated Diver 7S
Sooty Shearwaters 31 N
Manx Shearwater 20 N
Northern Fulmars 45N, 20S
Northern Gannets, 238N, 17S
Dunlin 29S
Common (Mew) Gull 5N
Black-legged Kittiwakes, 111N 19S
Great Skua 10N S
Arctic Skua 3N - and a small terny juv that I was pretty sure must be Long-tailed, but I didn't want to string a juvvy for my patch list. Would rather string an adult tomorrow instead.
Common Tern 5S
Arctic Tern

Sandwich Tern 8N, 2S
Atlantic Puffin 25 N (+ sundry other auks)
+ Northern Fulmars 30+, auk spp. etc.

So today, 66 Sooties was not bad, but then I read on BirdGuides that some copycat had seen 66 past the same spot in the evening. It's not on.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Death and sex

That wasn't going to be the title of today's blog... I arrived at the clifftops at 06:24 and after 10 mins had seen 2 gannets and a kittiwake and it was all looking pretty shit in a westerly breeze. I was going to call this the 'Green Withens Tribute Seawatch' in honour of the lack of birds. Then a couple of Grey Herons flew past, landing on the rocks, and as I raised the scope up from them, I noticed a black dorsal fin a couple of miles out... then 3, then 4 fins, and I was a bit perplexed but eventually saw a bit of a grey saddle and enough to suggest they were probably White-beaked Dolphins. And there was even a Grey Seal and a flock of 20 Common Eiders within striking range... I really hoped they were going to eat the lot. But after about 10 min I lost them, and they didn't reappear.

Suddenly this seemed like a decent seawatch. And what it lacked in numbers, it went on to make up for with a good species mix. No shearwaters this morning, 06:24- 08:00, 2 Great Skuas north and 2 south, and 2 Arctic Skuas (Parasitic) south together with one more sat on the water. 13 Red-throated Divers went south, and one of them was accompanied by a Black-throated Diver (Arctic Loon) - Ka-chow! It's easy when they're together.
The passage of terns continues... 68 Sandwich Terns south, with 4 A
rctic Terns and 2 Common Terns and hello - wassat - an adult Roseate Tern heading the same way, nonchalent as you like. Nice and white, with that awkward stiff flight action they sometimes pull off. I don't mind telling you, although perhaps I shouldn't, that I often feel carnal lust at the very thought of Roseate Terns. They're the only birds I know that pout, and they have a naughty come-hither glint in their eyes. If you don't believe me, Google a few images. There... NOW you see what I mean. Just get behind me in line, OK? A patch tick it goes without saying.

146 Common Gulls (Mew Gulls) went south. I guess that must be a passage, but I'm still not sure what;s going on. 196 Northern Gannets north and 25 south, with 7 Black-legged Kittiwakes north, 6 south. 6 Common Scoters south, 2 Eurasian Teals north, and 15 annoying small waders south. One of the waders was almost certainly that Red-necked Stint ;-)
that I'd promised Harry I was fully confident in my ability to string. It was certainly the day for surprises, and I was surprised to see a Black Guillemot fly past (less than annual in Newtonhill), and even more surprised to see another one take off from the water where it had been hiding in a small raft of Guillemots (Common Murres) and Razorbills. And a female-type Red-breasted Merganser going north would have been another unusuality, were that a real word.

So that was quite stimulating (I'm back on the Roseate Tern), and I once the excitement had gone down I went out again at 18:25, and THEN I got my Green Withens tribute seawatch, cos by then (to 19:10) everything had gone quiet. 3 Manx Shearwaters north and 1 south were the ?highlight?. Otherwise, 2 more Red-throated Divers, 70 Northern Gannets (64N), and ... y'know, I can't be bothered with this... ! NOt much else, anyway.

A walk out to the beach with the family mid-afternoon produced this magnificent specimen of another Short-tailed Vole.
It had been a bit flattened. The Range Rover suspected perp was parked nearby.

So, the most appropriate recipe... I sauted it gently, wrapped it in a savourry crepe with a merest whisper of Marmite and Worcester sauce, accompanied by a cheap Chardonnay. Perfick. Admit it, some of you were tempted too, until I mentioned Marmite.