Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bonus Birds

Another walk round the patch. Frosty day. Blatently obvious that there will be nothing to see. So I amused myself taking this photo of one of our local telegraph poles. Unlike other parts of the country, we use Common Buzzards to separate the wires. Grrr.... those wires.

Then Lo! or moreover, Blimey! A flash of iridescent blue in the sunshine and there was a Common Kingfisher flying up the Elsick Burn. And great was the Joy of the people of Israel, for it was only the third such bird in 3 years of patch watching, and indeed a useful patch year tick. I started to compose a round up of my patch year with... 'and it all ended in a splash of colour... etc etc.' largish skeins of Pink-footed Geese have been buzzing round this past couple of days, and I wonder if this is all part of a movement to the coast away from icy inland.

I flushed a Great Spotted Woodpecker from the Mill garden and it flew to the feeders at the retreat. Must be the day for brightly coloured near-passerines. Only a Goldcrest and a single male Common Chaffinch in the bushes otherwise.

Down on the beach, another mild surprise - this adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - surprisingly hit n' miss in Newtonhill even in summer, and scarce scarce scarce in winter. Surely the best gull of the day? Also a (the) Common Redshank on the beach and three Ruddy Turnstones. And a yellow-billed Common Eider in the sea.

Had a bit of a look offshore, but apart from a few more gulls (Herring, Black-headed, Great Black-backed) and a roving flock of 6 Common Eiders, I was struggling. So walked back along the south side of the burn and a flock of 6 Black-headed Gulls was flying inland. One of them caught my eye as being a bit white, so bins up and By Jingo! A second winter Mediterranean Gull. Ka-chow! A patch tick, unseasonal, and completely out of left field. As usual, pathetic but unedited on the spot field notes attached.

A rather nice addition to my patch list, but rather spoilt my Kingfisher-centric 'the year ended in colourful manner etc etc.' roundup, which just goes to show that some people are never happy.

There's only one way this midwinter wander could get any more exciting. You know it, and I know it... only one way. And it happened. As I walked past the Mill Garden again in the gathering gloom, I stumbled over this incarnation of my particular deity. A Common Shrew. God Bless us, Every One!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Selection Box is for Life, not just for Christmas

Thursday 27th December 07

ooooh.... I'm as full as a bull's bum. Waddled out birding in the afternoon, the usual look round the patch. Ahhh, it's so sad. You know how it is. All the kids want a selection box of low quality chocolate for Christmas, cos they look all cute and appetising in the shops (and ALL their friends are getting one, of course). But they don't think it through. They don't want to clear up the mess, and they don't realise how long they live. So within a few days of Christmas, they're being discarded and drowned in the local burn. This was the scene around Newtonhill this morning.

But the good news is… there’s no need for it. There are very good Selection Box rescue centres all around the country, where they never put a healthy selection box to sleep. But mostly, remember parents… don’t just buy them on a whim. Personally I think you should have to apply for a licence before you’re allowed to own one.

A few birds as well - Mount Doom, the local dungheap, was being spread and ploughed onto the stubble up by the A90, so there were a few hundred gulls to be sifting through - nearly all Herring Gulls, but about 50 Black-headed Gulls and a few Common Gulls. On the beach, 19 Ruddy Turnstones and 1 Common Redshank, and a pair of Common Stonechats among the seaweed. Surprised to see them wintering here, but then again I was surprised to see them summering, then surprised again to see them 'possibly on passage', andnow wintering. Will I eventually accept they're just 'resident'? Find out in the next exciting adventure of Pigs... in... SPACEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Tangerine for Christmas

Probably the best tangerine in the World.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

To fortune, a much maligned lady

I had such big plans for these holidays. I was going to start to write my book. Then I decided maybe I could read a book instead. Or perhaps I could find a really in-depth insightful documentary on TV and watch that. It's now 10.12 on Sunday night and I'll settle for just seeing what's on and watching whatever. Mmmm Still Game. Now that's funny. But I've been birding. And made a cake. Usual Sunday morning routine. Diane lying in a bit so I filled the kids with Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, and, because it's Christmas, a big piece of cake, then fled the house before the sugar got to their brains. It's all gone a bit Baltic out there. Good actually, cos it has shook up the birds a bit and there was plenty about to be looking at. Common stuff, but stuff all the same - including Meadow Pipits and Eurasian Siskins flying overhead, which is always a good sign of things on the move. several mdium-sized flocks of Chaffinches, European Goldfinches, Eurasian Greenfinches, House Spaarows, mostly loiteruing around garden feeders up the bank from the Elsick Burn. Fantastic lookie at one of the local Common Buzzards sat on a fence post above a rabbit warren.

On the beach a Common Redshank was chased off by a juvvy Grey Heron, and on the rocks there were 3 Eurasian Oystercatchers, 5 Ruddy Turnstones and 3 Purple People Eaters. I mean Purple Sandpipers, just having a bit of a retro moment there. There was a single
female Eurasian Bullfinch (patch year tick?) in the willows and other crap at the top of the cliff path.

Offshore - several Northern Fulmars in a brisk southeasterly - the first for a few weeks, a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls and a single Guillemot (Common Murre).

Scouting for Richard's Pipits, I went up to the allotments and then along the coastal fields to Muchalls (3 Roe Deer and a Song Thrush for my trouble), before traipsing back along the Muchalls path, adding nothing to my bird list but trying to avoid assorted dogs.

How come Jesus never remembers MY birthday?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cockoo For Caca

It's cold and it's smooth and it's a hard shade of white... but mostly it's just cold cold cold. And a biting easterly today as well. Good for migrants in October but good for freezing your swonnicles in December. I went for a good poke round the patch this morning, and saw very little indeed, especially away from garden feeders. European Robins, Dunnocks, Common Blackbirds, Grey Heron, all the usual residents. A Peregrine Falcon carrying away a Black-headed Gull was the highlight over the cliffs, but there were other raptors around too, viz a Eurasian Sparrowhawk hunting over Cow Field, a Common Kestrel and Common Buzzard over Cran Hill.

1 Common Eider and a Grey Seal in the bay, and offshore a single Velvet Scoter flying north, a Common Goldeneye south, 6 Common Gulls, 2 Guillemots (CommonMurres) and 2 Northern Gannets, which are pretty scarce by now. Everything's common today. Even me. Which reminds me... What's black and sticky and runs out of the ground yelling 'knickers! knickers!'? Crude Oil. What's
What's black and sticky and runs out of the ground yelling 'underwear, underwear!'? Refined Oil. What's Brown and sticky? A stick. What's brown and sticky and sits in the woods? Winnie the poo. You don't get this sort of entertainment on BirdChick.

Some other birds. A bugger it, there were no other birds I can be bothered writing about. Xmas presents to wrap and all that. Ooh, except a Redpoll (sp) that flew over - not too common. Unless it was a Common Redpoll. But it was almost certainly a Lesser.

Here's a photo of the sea and the sky, and some stones.

Offshore, there was a fishing boat being tossed around like a tossy turny thing. I tried a video holding my phone up to the scope, but it failed miserably to capture the drama of the occasion. Here... but it's not worth your while. If you go full screen you might just spot the boat.

I almost certainly ignored this article when it came out.

Have spent the afternoon doing a bit of tidying up, which includes recycling my enormous collection of fire hazards in the loft, including lots of old Birdwatch magazines. The May 2001 issue (here)

carried an essay by James Tanner called ' A Forest Alive', which I have never seen in full before. Here's some quotes, again which I've never seen in full

Winter is the best time to hunt for Ivory-bills. The birds were quite active and called frequently; their calls carried far through the leafless forest, and the same bareness made it easier to see and follow them. Every day of this season was used in hunting, trying to follow and count the birds before spring made it harder and also necessary to concentrate on nesting studies. Steady pursuit of the woodpeckers did not mean that eyes and ears were closed·to other birds and animals; instead, we were often led right among them. One December morning I started out well before daylight and walked through the dark woods to the roost tree of an Ivory-bill. Barred Owls were hooting ~ from here and there, and three of them flew from the tree-tops, hooting as they went, near the Ivory-bill's roost. By then, 6.30, there was a dim grey light in the woods. I knew there was plenty of time, so settled myself comfortably on a dry hummock. Brown Thrashers were just beginning to call. Soon White­-throated Sparrows and a Winter Wren sang, a squir­rel 'mewed' and a Carolina Wren called. At 6.45 the thrashers were very noisy, calling a hoarse, vigorous charr that welled up from the undergrowth. The sky in the east glowed rosy-pink, when suddenly and mysteriously the thrashers quietened. Three Wood Ducks flew over and then slanted down, twisting their way through the branches to land nearby in the water. Several loud plunks puzzled me, until I found that they were caused by large acorns falling into the still water. Two squirrels, one black and one grey, were creeping out along the twigs of a tall oak after the acorns, knocking many loose. When a squirrel suc­ceeded in securing an acorn, it crawled back with its gain to some comfortable limb to eat. The next bird to call was a White-breasted Nuthatch. At seven o'clock came the whining cry of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, the early riser among the winter woodpeckers, but not really early as by then the woods were quite light. Soon after that, a Red-bellied Woodpecker called and others answered immediately. One Red-belly flew to the top of the dead stub in which the Ivory-billed Woodpecker roosted, and drummed on the top. Almost at once a female Ivory-bill slipped quietly from her roost hole and jerked her way to the top of the stub, where she rapped and called a few times. Then she flew to another tree and settled to preen herself, interrupting her toilet occasionally with a call or a sharp pound on the limb. Another Ivory-bill answered from a short distance north and then flew to join the first; it was another female, but judging from its appearance a bird of the year. The two sleek black and white birds called and pounded a few times and then flew off together to begin feeding. I followed them on this day for three quarters of an hour as they moved from one tree to another until they finally took a long flight beyond my sight and I was not able to find them again.


Spring was the busy season for hunting and following the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. They are like most birds in being active and noisy in the early morning: consequently we did most of our searching then. The usual routine was to be up an hour before daylight, cook and wolf a quick breakfast, and be on the trail as soon as it was light enough to see the way.

As other have pointed out... you can only rationalise the failure of the current searches if you don't include the words 'active and noisy', 'called frequently' and 'easier to see and follow', in your dataset.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Choose Life

Martin is on holiday, getting himself a slice of the action in Bali. Your blog post today is Guest-written using text from John Hodge and is narrated by Ewan McGregor.

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a ******* big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of ******* fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the **** you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing ******* junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, ****** up brats you spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life. But why would we want to do a thing like that? We chose not to choose life. We chose somethin' else... the intensive study of wild birds in their natural environment.

At lunchtime I went for a wander round Rosemount to get me a slice of the Bohemian Waxwing action... but all I got for my pain was a single fly-by, which didn't lend itself to intensive study. They were all down near King's apparently.

Ach, who am I kidding?? No one wants to hear about what I did. You're either looking to see if I said something coherent about IBWOs for a change or let's face it, you want another page of the ex-Miss Lawson's birding experiences as taken from her personal diary. I really am dead next time she checks what I've been writing.

We never did get a painting. Still waiting to clear my overdraft.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Lest we forget.... one I'd forgotten

In lieu of proper birding, here we go again. I was flicking through notebooks from days of yore... all the way back to 31st March 1988*. I was very young... it's the only way I can explain what you are about to see. Apparently I was on Anglesey, Newborough Forest and Malltraeth. I really have forgotten everything about the day, but my notebook lists 40 (yes, 40) species of bird that day, including whatever the hell this was. Was I trying to draw a Red-necked Grebe? A crippling summer plumaged Red (Grey) Phalarope? Some sort of unholy Canada Goose x Merganser hybrid? No gentle readers (both of you), apparently a female Red-crested Pochard!? I have absolutely no rational justification for anything on that page. But it's worth laughing at. Especially the bit about the helpful birders. If they could see me now... they'd go - 'there he is!'

*My notebook does record that it was very cold, not unusual in those days... in the time before corrupt incompetent socialist scientists invented global warming by parking their do-gooder hybrid cars with the gun control bumper stickers too close to a weather thermometer as part of some sort of anti-capitalist agenda. I think that just about covers it.

Until the glorious day, brothers and sisters... FREEDOM FOR TOOTING!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Lest we forget - Blackness 1995

Been busy. Down to Newcastle on Saturday for a meeting. The BOURC* (*views expressed in this post are the views of the individual writing it, and have not been endorsed by BOU Council and do not necessarily represent the views of any other individual or organisation) recommends...

1) East Bengal Monkfish Curry at the The Plaza, Tynemouth
2) Remembering your jumper for the walk back.

Anyway, got back last night, and didn't get out birding today. Partly cos it was wet. So I will do you a blast from the past... call me Nostradamus, but I can foresee no possible repercussions from scanning pages out of your spouse's personal diary and putting them on the web without her knowledge. So here it is from the pen of the ex-Miss Lawson. Still a very good Scottish bird... the Blackness '95 Firecrest.

And this is my take on the thing.

I've been doing a bit of reading... and I think the most nonsensical thing I read was from here.

'On the grounds of parsimony, I find some of these criticisms, including those levied by Sibley et al. (2006), to be more contorted and dubious than the original affirmative evidence. Also, some of this criticism was levied by those who, despite searching many yearsfor the woodpecker and generally recognized as experts (Jackson 2006), were not part of the Arkansas discovery team. Candidly, in these and in other instances, one cannot entirelydiscount envy, turf-guarding, or other inherent human motivations as contributing to some of the criticism. At times, I’ve been hard-pressed to imagine any definitive evidence that might ever convince some of the critics, even film, digital image, video image, fresh feathers, or a DNA tissue sample of the IBWP'

I mean, honestly. And it still doesn't cite my paper. and I'm still not bitter.

Interesting stats (maybe accurate, can't vouch for the odd one or two out)... on Tom Nelson's blog
by the artist formerly known as Ivory-bill Skeptic.
November 2006. Posts, 37, on IBWOs. C omments, 450.
November 2007. Posts 247 (!!), nearly all on climate change, Comments 12.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dog crap, golf courses and my other favourite things

I'm just back from a trip to Peterborough (Petrograd). A combined 11.5 hours on the train... got a lot of work done, saw a huge flock (100) of Stock Doves north of Newcastle and (DON'T TELL PRINCE HARRY!!!!!) a Hen Harrier (Northern Harrier) just this side of the Scotch border.

But on Sunday I was birdspotting in Newtonhill, and saw some European Robins, errr... 2 Common Blackbirds strutting (yes, strutting) and other things of similar rarity value. 1 Redpoll (sp.) flew over, calling.

There was no sign of last week's Siberian-esque Chiffchaff, but I stood by its bushes and played my Yellow-browed call at maximum volume - may have overdone the volume, cos I flushed a male Common Pheasant!! A Eurasian Sparrowhawk was on the prowl, flying fast over from Cran Hill ans smashing into the pine trees at the corner of Newton Road, bugging the starlings. About 20 minutes later it turned up again at the clifftops, this time bugging a flock of 12 Rock Pipits.

On the way to the cliff tops, I watched a pair of Common Stonechats up the cliffs. A single male Common Eider was in the bay... basal half of the bill was lemony yellow, distal half 'eider green'. Argh! Has it got so boring it has come to this, racial identity of Common Eiders... *again*. And this from someone who can't be arsed travelling 5 miles up the coast to see a m/f pair of King Eiders. I'm telling you, dear reader, one of us has got their priorities wrong, and it's not necessarily you. Although if you're reading this, it might be you.

Offshore - not much. No Little Auks, but there were 2 other, notLittle Auks, going north and a couple of Guillemots (Common Murres) on the sea. 1 Red-throated Diver went north.

I got home and found the sole of my left boot covered in gritty dog crap. Thanks for that! My pet hates... #1 - dog crap (also badly trained dogs, for that matter, and frankly I'm not keen on dogs full stop, which is going to be a problem now Lizzie wants a puppy). #2 - Fat capitalists in suits who 'do deals' on environmental disaster golf courses. Which brings me to the Trump golf course plans (for anyone who's been living on Mars, or in the USA, see, for example, here). Encouraged by the local ABZ bird mailing list, I sent the following to our 68 councillors on Sunday afternoon.

Dear Councillors
Briefly I would like to applaud the Council’s brave decision to refuse further permission for the Trump golf course and hotel/housing plans. This was the right decision. While it is of course important to encourage investment and new people into Scotland, the Council’s decision sends out a strong message that we have a vision for how NE Scotland should be developed that incorporates a high priority for retaining the natural assets that make the place special. Any planning application that intends to stabilize the dune system would destroy the very characteristic that lead to its SSSI status.

As of today, I got 16 replies, of which 7 are on the lines of 'thanks, I agree', 2 are 'thanks, we'll have to wait and see'. No one has had the guts to say they disagree, but 7 replies are 'thanks, I acknowledge', which is probably the same thing.

One councillor said '
I have been appalled at the abuse my fellow councillors have had to endure, both in the press and through letters, email and phone calls. It is inevitable in any planning decision that there will be winners and losers, and as councillors we know this, and have to weigh up the evidence and make our decisions.' which sounds sensible to me. Of course it is all irrelevant at this level. As sure as eggs is eggs, our SNP government will bend over backwards to p*ss on our environmental legacy and find a way to bypass the refusal. We can try an conserve things for 5, 10, 15 years, but ultimately it's all screwed.

While I'm on the subject of people p*****g on their legacy. I know he'll take it in good spirit. :-$

Sunday, December 02, 2007