Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Doctor is SICK

with what Diane and Lizzie are unsympathetically calling man-flu. Spent the morning in bed and catching up with the recent flurry of Ivory-billed Woodpecker opinions, viz.

David Luneau

David Sibley

Geoffrey Hill

Remote cameras

Some very interesting stuff in there. Especially the things in the 'Gambling on a Ghost Bird' that, according to David Luneau, must have been true!

See the quote in the last one from Laurie Fenwood

"We don't have the 8x10 glossy photo that everyone wants, but we've accumulated enough evidence that we cannot ignore," Fenwood says.'

Bearing in mind the USFWS IBWO recovery plan ignored my paper, apparently they can only not ignore the evidence they agree with. grrrrr.... Good job I'm not bitter.

I did drag myself out for an hour's birding after my meagre lunch of cold gruel, but only got a single Goldcrest as a reward for attempted luring of Pallas's Warbler.

Lots of Common Blackbirds. Has anyone else fallen for/know of this habit, which I have followed for many years, of calling 1st winter male Blackbirds with dark brown bills 'Arnheim Jobs'? I'm not sure when it started or why, but I can't stop, and I want to know how it happened...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

And... Pull!! Bang! Bogey bird down!

Aha. Bogey bird White-winged Tern still showing on-and-off Monday and yesterday at Loch of Skene. I had the car again today, but it didn't seem to want to take me straight to work. I *tried*. I really tried, honest, but it kept pulling off to the left towards Loch of Skene, so once I was there it seemed almost churlish not to have a wee look for the tern. This is what it looks like on a chilly dawn.

The haunted Loch of Skene. Note platform favoured by scarce Chlidonius terns, and the line of Pink-footed Geese preparing to fly off (in a line just below the top of the water level, top left).

I stood there for nearly an hour, admiring the cold. (eh?). Plenty of birds around - ~3000 Pink-footed Geese doing their dawn flight in dribs and drabs, Eurasian Wigeons, Tufted Ducks, Common Pochards, marauding gangs of up to 20 Goosanders (Common Mergansers) practicing their synchronised swimming for the 2008 Olympics, a few Mute Swans, Grey Heron, Great Cormorants and a Moorhen. But noticeably no terns, and I was starting to jump up and down and shake my puny fists at the vast empty sky (nearly empty, save for a flock of 150 Northern Lapwings), but there was a bit of encouragement... as the night shift headed noisily off to the fields, the day shift of a flock of Common (Mew) Gulls and a few Black-headed Gulls were coming in from the north, whence the WWTern was meant to be. Work was calling, when out of nowhere I saw the White-winged Tern in flight, east of me heading north away over the trees. Total length of observation, about 0.5 s!! This was most unsatisfactory... a) where the hell had it been? and b) had I seen enough to tick it?? :-O and probably not... white rump looked OK, but the angle was a bit acute and bugger, where the hell was it going? I jumped around on the spot like Rumpelstiltskin for 10 min, and then put it out to BirdGuides that it was seen heading off at 09:20. No sooner had I done that than I was back to the scope for another scan of the loch, when there it was sat on its favourite platform, about 400 m away. NOW it was just messing with my head, but at least properly under the belt. Below are crap but real field sketches (really must buy a pencil, and a rubber!)Even then it only sat there for 5 minutes when it was flushed by a big flock of geese coming back in. Lost it to the north, and had to go to work. But guessed it was feeding in the fields to the north, where indeed it was found later in the day.

This is what the flight of Pink-footed Geese sounds like... here. Turn it up LOUD, and then run for your life.

Eeek! Thanks to Remembird for this aural assault.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

'Nemesis' Bird

Ah, what a day. Begun in joy and with feelings of expectation, ending in sadness and with feelings of crushing hopelessness. Just like all the other days then!

First, a trip round the patch. In a fit of misplaced optimism I had loaded calls of Pallas's Leaf Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and, ahem, Red-flanked Bluetail, onto my phone. Just in case, y'know. As it turned out, loading calls of European Robins and Blackbirds would have been more useful, cos that's what was actually here. Very small numbers of Goldcrests, and Coal Tits, and a couple of Eurasian Siskins flying past. A (the?) pair of Common Stonechats were up the cliff steps, and another at the far corner of the Cran Hill track. A party of 7 Common (?) Crossbills flying over Newtonhill were a bizarre interlude. NO idea what is going on there.

I had a quick look offshore (15 min, 10:15 - 10:30). Amazing how quickly things go quiet - no Gannets, no Kittiwakes, but a single Atlantic Puffin feeding close inshore, with a Guillemot (Common Murre) and Razorbill - looks like I'm getting my auks in 1s today.

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone here that there are hundreds of thousands of people, all over the World.

Took a wee adventure outside the arbitrarily defined boundaries of my patch, up to a tempting patch of trees at Downies. I hadn't realised how much good habitat there is at Downies (from Cran Hill it looks like one house, a tree and a fuschia bush), but actually it's rather garden-city, quite isolated and on a hill. mmmmmmm.... No birds today, but I should keep a better look out.

Wtf? THIS sign has appeared along the Cran Hill track.

I'm confused... should I go that way or not? Are they a tourist attraction? Surely it's not the cliffs that are dangerous, but the wave-washed rocks at the bottom?

I avoided the footpath to dangerous cliffs, and walked home through the stubble from Cran Hill, seeing a Eurasian Tree Sparrow, in company with 8 Yellowhammers. I tried to string a juv Yellowhammer into a Pine Bunting. Sorry.

Back home a playing with my loverly children. There has been some recent bullshit hyperbole on BirdChat recently about people's 'Nemesis bird'. Now, to my mind that is going a bit strong. Wiki says:

(in Greek, Νέμεσις), also called Rhamnousia/Rhamnusia ("the goddess of Rhamnous"), at her sanctuary at Rhamnous, north of Marathon, in Greek mythology was the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris, vengeful fate personified as a remorseless goddess.

Which seems a little unfair as a way of describing a bird you're having a little difficulty seeing. 'Bogey' birds I can relate to. Mine was always Hawfinch - not uncommonly. Took me 25 attempts before I saw them in North Wales. Since they went safely UTB, I have to admit that my bogey bird is... White-winged Tern (White-winged Black Tern)... a bird that not only have I managed to avoid seeing on several occasions in Britain (they always go the day, on in some cases, the hour, before I get there), but in fact I have managed to avoid seeing ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD! So when I got news of one at Loch of Skene, about 12 miles from my house, this afternoon, Diane could tell by my twitchy feet it was kinder just to let me go. I got there at 15:40 and scanned round the Loch - impressive roost of Pink-footed Geese (2000+) in the middle, with smaller numbers of Greylags. Eurasian Wigeons, Tufted Ducks, Common Pochards, European Coots, Common (Mew) Gulls but no 'boy'. I hung around for a bit, but couldn't see any floaty terns, and went off home. The area was crawling with Common Buzzards and I picked up one of the reintroduced Red Kites (a juvvy) over the road to the south of the Loch.
Was inordinately displeased to read on BirdGuides that it had flown off at 15:30. Clucking Bell! TEN minutes late. Ouch!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Day off work...

Today, I was mostly on Stonehaven beach eating Pistachio Ice Cream from Aunty Betty's Ice Cream Parlour and 24 Hour Mobile Disco, with the family. Out for the last hour birding, picking up a grand (not so grand) total of 5 Goldcrests in bushes down the Elsick Burn, 3 Song Thrushes and about 20 Blackbirds, some of which are probably migrants. A Rock Pipit on the beach, and a Guillemot (Common Murre) sat out on the rocks, on its last legs. I've never understood this 'last legs' thing*. Which legs is it meant to be on? I'm on my last legs too. At least I think they're mine. By this time on a Friday I can't feel them. Rabbits, where? Oh Wowww!

There was also a juvenile Red-throated Diver, trying to hide among 100 European Herring Gulls, only about 25 m offshore. That was all today - didn't take long.

*Other things I don't understand. If a British person couldn't care less about something, that's what they say, e.g. 'I couldn't care less what you think about the effect of Ptarmigan crap on vulnerable high arctic ecosystems'. The same person in the US would say 'I could care less', and mean the same thing. That is patently nonsense.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Bit pushed for time tonite. Well beyond my deadline for picking over the sad corpse of an unidentifiable bird that was probably total bollocks anyway, even if it was what it was meant to be, which it wasn't. Maybe.

1) I was out birding this morning, walking round Newtonhill and to Muchalls on the same circuit as last 2 weekends.
2) I was merrily singing some old Mel and Kim songs to myself at top volume, in order to lure those self-effacing Tarsigers out of hiding. Or was it Tardigrades?
3) and i got to 'Tay tay tay tay t-t-t-t tay tay take or leave us...'
4) When a Eurasian Jay jay jay jay j-j-j-j-jay jay flew across the track in front of me, into the willows at the back of the gardens of St. Michael's road, called once or twice and headed off over the railway line.
5) which was a patch tick, and until it showed up had been completely off my radar, although there is a reasonable breeding population to the west of Aberdeen, and a larger one across the North Sea, so it should have been very much on my radar.
We're not worthy. And we ain't never gonna be respectable.

Otherwise it was disappointingly quiet. Maybe my Mel and Kim impressions put the birds off. I guess it was the dancing, or the hair, or the dress. Please tell me it wasn't the dress. There had been a smallish arrival of thrushes, noticably Blackbirds, which were everywhere, but a few Song Thrushes passing through as well, and the occasional Redwing. The female Eurasian Sparrowhawk was still around down the Elsick Burn, mobbed by a Western Jackdaw.
A pair of Eurasian Stonechats in the bracken up the cliff steps were probably local breeders, but may have been on the move. Allotments were empty apart from the usual crowd of crack-addled happy-slapping ASBO-waving hoodie-wearinng Winter Wren, Dunnock and European Robin trio. And a couple of Eurasian Siskins going over. It was such a nice day there was a Eurasian Skylark singing over the coastal fields, but little else apart from one of thos annoying dogs that 'won't hurt you' but WILL jump up at you and lick, yes LICK, your optics. Thanks for that. Note to dog owners... we don't all love your dog as much as you do.

Water Valley had Coal Tits (plenty of them around today) but no interesting migrants. A male Roe Deer, and another at the Elsick Burn, now I think about it.

Must run. More entertaining wit during the week, hopefully.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


hey hey Vikki, hey Vikki hey...

A walk down the burn, post-work but pre-showing-face-at-home produced a Coal Tit that I lured in with my Y-b Warbler call on the phone. There was a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk hunting, and while I was pishing at some
Blackbirds in a Rowan Tree I managed to attract her in to see what the commotion was. A White-throated Dipper on the burn but little else until I got home... sat on the driveway at dusk watching our urchin-faced kids throw stones at passing cars while Diane made our tea of Dairylea sandwiches with Marmite and Rice Crispies... a flock of 35 Fieldfares flew over calling, from the direction of the sea. Kept going inland.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

German Cory's Shearwaters - wtf?

We got this today - one of the very valuable updates on WestPal birds -

Rare bird records from Germany 09/2007

Data from Club300 Germany

Germany's premier service for rare bird alerts

For each following entry you will find a detailed map at:

Cory's Shearwater, Calonectris diomedea, Gelbschnabel-
08.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
10.09.2007 1 ind. (Hamburg)
10.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
11.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
11.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
11.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
15.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
15.09.2007 1 ind. (Hamburg)
22.09.2007 1 ind. (Schleswig-Holstein
25.09.2007 1 ind. (Schleswig-Holstein

etc - plenty Sooties and lots of other good birds

Okey dokey...

There were no Great Shearwaters seen, at all. If I look at BirdGuides for September, away from the west/southwest there was 1 Cory's at Flamborough on 5th September, and 2 'reported' from Titchwell on 24th September. And nothing else. So where are German birders getting all these Cory's from? And where are the Greats - bearing in mind we had 100s in the North Sea, even excluding Orkney, which is a long way away. A quick scan of the dba website suggests the Dutch had one Great Shearwater and 3 Cory's Shearwaters reported in September. What did other North Sea countries get?

Peanut brittle

I was a bit late out this morning. For one thing... Diane had been out drinking red wine til 3 am and was not quite ready to be left with the kids at 8:00. Not that I was complaining - bit of a lie in and some brekky never goes amiss. But on a nice day like this it meant that by the time I did get out it was crawling with dog-walkers, and the allotments were crawling with allotees - men with girly ponytails hauling round huge wheelbarrows full of crap and 'clippings', whatever they are. Put me off my birding. Won't bore you with the Blue Tits - basically did the same circuit as last Sunday - St Ann's - beach track - cliffs - allotments - costal fields - Water Valley - Muchalls Track - Secret Garden - hame - seeing very few migrants. There was a Northern Wheatear on the clifftops. At Water Valley, I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the north end of Muchalls. It flew over into the willows of the valley, and called twice after I gave it a blast of Y-b W song from my phone. However it didn't show again. Maybe it was just flitting through, looking for its pals. Or maybe it was iced by a Sparrowhawk.

Is no one going to feed me my line?

I don't know, we're not going to usurp Cannon and Ball, or the Chuckle Brothers, as the Kings of Comedy Duos are we? (see Sturnus vulgaris var. mortis sub pneumaticus on Thursday last). BB came very close (see comments for that post), but it was meant to go like this...

'Sturnus vulgaris var. mortis sub pneumaticus'

Then in comments...

Someone (Cannon): Errr... Martin, are you sure that's not a Jack Snipe?

Martin (Ball): Well, it has been under a car!! BOOM BOOM!!! Rock on Tommy!

Yes, not a Gallinago, but a Lymnocryptes. A Jack Snipe, worse for wear, on the dirt track to the beach. I assume it flew across the North Sea and relied on its superb camoflage to protect it from the oncoming (at speed, probably) Range Rover. it won't make that mistake again. Only my second patch record, and the first dead one!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A good goose?

I errrr.... 'worked from home'... for the first couple of hours this morning - tales of migrants up the east coast including Britain's first (or maybe 4th) Asian Brown Flycatcher were too much. I didn't get anything in that league. Unless European Robins are in that league (they aren't btw). There was a flock of 25 Redwings at the top of the cliff steps - astonishingly my first of the autumn. Dunno where they've been, but they're here now - slay the fattened calf. A single Common Chiffchaff (actually, it may have been married, or at least in a serious commitment, for all I know) in the clifftop garden was the closest I got to the majiK of passerine migration.
Sturnus vulgaris var. mortis sub pneumaticus

Offshore was quiet (2 Common Scoters and a Northern Gannet in 10 min). Best bird of the day, and probably year, got away though - a small V of 35 Pink-footed Geese went over south, and the second bird was a Canada goose sp. that was smaller than the Pinkies - about 2/3 the length and wingspan. To my mind, that has to make it a Lesser (Cackling) Canada Goose. Predictably it just kept going. I got a Greater Canada Goose in similar circumstances last year, but this one is a different kettle of fish and won't be acceptable as is. Uncensored and slightly pathetic field sketches attached.