Tuesday, April 29, 2008

20 Ways To Maintain A Healthy Level Of Insanity

I already do all these things anyway, In Accordance with the Prophecy.

20 Ways To Maintain A Healthy Level Of Insanity
1. At Lunch Time, Sit In Your Parked Car With Sunglasses on and point a Hair Dryer At Passing Cars. See If They Slow Down.
2. Page Yourself Over The Intercom. Don't Disguise Your Voice.
3. Every Time Someone Asks You To Do Something, Ask If They Want Fries with that.
4. Put Your Garbage Can On Your Desk And Label it 'In'.
5. Put Decaf In The Coffee Maker For 3 Weeks. Once Everyone has Gotten Over Their Caffeine Addictions, Switch to Espresso.
6. In The Memo Field Of All Your Checks, Write 'For Sexual Favors' .
7. Finish All Your sentences with 'In Accordance With The Prophecy'.
8. Don't use any punctuation.
9. As Often As Possible, Skip Rather Than Walk.
10. Order a Diet Water whenever you go out to eat, with a serious face.
11. Specify That Your Drive-through Order Is 'To Go'.
12. Sing Along At The Opera.
13. Go To A Poetry Recital. And Ask Why The Poems Don't Rhyme.
14. Put Mosquito Netting Around Your Work Area and Play Tropical Sounds All Day.
15. Five Days In Advance, Tell Your Friends You Can't Attend Their Party Because You're Not In the Mood.
16. Have Your Co-workers Address You By Your Wrestling Name, Rock Bottom.
17. When The Money Comes Out of The ATM, Scream 'I Won! I Won!'
18. When Leaving The Zoo, Start Running Towards The Parking lot,Yelling 'Run For Your Lives! They're Loose!'
19. Tell Your Children Over Dinner, 'Due To The Economy, We Are Going To Have To Let One Of You Go.' (One of my favorites!)
20. And The Final Way To Keep A Healthy Level Of Insanity ..
Send This E-mail To Someone To Make Them Smile.
Its Called ... Therapy.

Editorial note: btw, that last little bit is how you tell that this version came via the USA. I've noticed this... British jokes reach a crescendo of absurdity and then stop, left hanging. American jokes reach the same punchline, then have some sort of a tag or finale that connects the joke-teller and the joke-tellee and finds some common ground or viewpoint that brings the situation back to earth. Now I've told you, you'll notice it too, and whether you prefer British or American stylee jokes, it'll bug the a*** off you. See... I ruined your life. Whohhahahahahaaaaaa!!!!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Languishing in captivity

Sorry, I've been reading Cage and Aviary Birds again. For Sale this week, actually very little of real interest, and frankly I'm just living for the day when I see 'Black Lark - cock - £170'. Mind it would probably be spelt wrongly... i.e. Essex Birds (01992 525525 if you're interested) are selling
Yellow Hammers, £70 pr; Linnetts £60 pr; Bramble Finches, £60 pr.
and also
Bullfinch - English £150 pr; and Goldfinches - English, £125 pr.
I assume they eat pork pies and sing 'God Save the Queen' while throwing flowers at Princess Diana's coffin.

Some stuff being exhibited in British Softbill sections includes Common Redstarts, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds,'warblers' Whinchat, Wheatear (three cheers for Chris Atkinson's promising wheatear hen - a full-bodied bird), Pied Wagtail, Rock Pipit, Blackcap, a pair of wrens, Bearded Reedlings. To my mind the Rock Pipit (Rock Pipit - wtf?) just proves that people will keep anything.

I do quite like the bird-warders though, not least because they are a welcome antidote to the pigeon brigade. They do some nice snippets on wild birds and on page 17 Andrew Ross writes: Guess who's back? It is time we all celebrated the revival of Britain's sparrowhawks.

Cage and Aviary Birds
is available weekly, priced £1.45 from all good newsagents and some fairly shit ones too.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another busy week... a bit of this

a LOT of this

...so if you don't already, now would be a fantastic time to subscribe to BB, or you're going to miss out.

Heads up... spring is finally starting here... at least some Willow Warblers are in - those flighty first arrivals that sing from all sorts of unusual places - heard them straight away this morning and there were 2 on the Mill Garden, where they will probably breed. Still no leaves on the trees though. Between you and me, I think they're all dead. But the birds know it's spring and are getting down to the very serious business of having lots and lots of sex - in and around the Mill Garden they was a Song Thrush with a gob full of disgusting worms and such, and I found a pair of European Goldfinches nestbuilding in the Cypresses. Male and female Roe Deer in the shrubs down the track to the beach, and I got some fantastic WW and Common Chaffinch songs recorded.

At the beach, 3 Common Eiders had entirely grey-green bills - this is in contrast to last year andit fits Martin Garner's observation that these yellow-billed borealis-alikes appear in fits and starts from year to year. Nice male Grey Wagtail here too. I climbed up the cliff stes and in the willows at the top there was a Common Chiffchaff skulking, and singing intermittently - another fresh-in. I recorded that as well, but when I downloaded from the Remembird this evening all I got was the ear-busting white noise of data-transfer that means my stoopid phoone must have been trying to phone Mars or something at the time.

At the seabird cliffs - the usual Black-legged Kittiwakes, Guillemots (Common Murres) and Razorbills, but still no Atlantic Puffins. Offshore though... a Red-throated Diver south, then 5 Eurasian Curlews and looking down onto the rocks, there's a Whimbrel. Things are actually on the move in Newtonhill. And about bloody time. And 2 Sandwich Terns going north reinforced the summertime theme.

From there I went up to the allotments. Argh! Something that had never occurred to me is that people might read this blog. I mean, I *know* birders would read it from time to time. Bit I didn't expect *real* people to read it. So HELLO to all the allotment-eers. I overheard that some of you have got dishevelled gardens at home that need seeing to. Now I'm worried that someone from Muchalls migh read this blog and hear what I think about their curtain-twitching habits. More busy busy Song Thrushes, House Sparrows etc at the allotments, but the only migrant was a I looked over to the cricket pitch (a Scottish cricket pitch, on a wind-blasted cliff, go figure) and there was a single Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) buzzing the Oystercatchers.

Down to the coastal fields for another look-see for itinerant Black Larks. Whoah! Common Linnet overload! Well, only about 25 of them, but they were NOT here last week and now they were in the gorse, and the weeds, and collecting nest material, the whole works. It's like someone let them out of a box. Eurasian Skylarks singing lustily as you would expect, but also a larger than normal number of Meadow Pipits, in fact they seemed to be everywhere as well.

Slinking under the railway viaduct and into Muchalls, my hair started to stand on end from the static electricity caused by nylon net curtains rubbing against each other. There was a single Barn Swallow over the fields here, and another Willow Warbler in Water Valley. Then as I walked back up the track towards Newtonhill, I was stalking a Yellowhammer (I was hungry by then) and a Grasshopper Warbler started singing from the gorse. So that's more like it - not just my entry-level migrants today, but also a patch-second. I wanted to get a recording but Remembird's battery chose exactly then to go flat. I know I should take the battery out when I'm not using it for a bit, but by the same token I also know that I should learn Mandarin, brush my teeth after eating sweets and wash the blood off my driveway, but those things never seem to happen either. By the time I changed the battery the gropper had shut up, apparently for good, but I did get this...

...some fantastically complicated Common Linnet song, and now I've got the bit rate sorted out on the ol' Remembird I can capture it easily. Hurrah!

Bit of an irritating Eurasian Skylark twittering away in the background on this first one,

but here you can really see why the Cage and Aviary people think they're worth imprisoning.

Secret Garden was empty of interesting birds, but there was a Small Tortoiseshell, Green-veined White and a Peacock butterfly.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I know it's wrong to laugh at the afflicted, but...

this is for the Liverpool fans out there.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Black and Calandra Larks eh? Show-offs.

Strange and strangey strange. I had a hunch about Black Lark today. In fact I wandered down the coastal fields looking for one. Little did I know I was only 400 miles too far north. And a Calandra on Fair isle is just taking the piss, sorry. Newtonhill by comparison was a cheery sunny place, but not a rarity hotspot. Sunny and cold with a NE breeze still not singing the Ood song of spring migrants, although they appear to be pouring in all over the shop. Around the top of St Ann's there were lots of chirpy European Goldfinches, Common Chaffinches and House Sparrows singing and displaying, Common Blackbird and Song Thrush in the gorse, then down at the Mill Garden... this.

A Common Shrew

I still haven't lost my touch. The touch of DEATH. Inexplicably, it was surrounded by a gang of pickled gherkins. Your guess is as good as mine, probably better.

Snuff porn for Shrews.

Down the track to the beach, and among the Blue Tits, Great Tits, etc, a Common Chiffchaff, singing, allowing me to whip the ol' RememBird out for an airing. Then to the beach, passing under a Peregrine Falcon, and a look offshore, which was boring except for another Great Northern Diver (Common Loon) headiing south. Also 5 Northern Gannets going north.

The Community Park was empty, as were for the Allotments, except for strange looking men doing strange looking things with strange looking bits of wood and metal. I went down the coast, looking for Black larks, calling in at my favourite Barn Swallow farms* to see who had turned up yet.
*Andif you think my Swallow farms sound inhumane, you should see my House martin sweat-shops.

No swallows of any kind, and no larks apart form Sky Larks in the fields. And you know what, it dawned on me as I walked up the Water Valley which looks as though it's been given a dose of Agent Orange, there are no leaves on the trees yet. Talk about slow.

In the afternoon I took my whining hyperactive kids into the woods and hills to see Cairn Monearn, site of Britain's first Eskimo Curlew, 153 years ago, and we saw some Eurasian Siskins, Goldcrests, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming. Peter says he saw its bum, but I don't believe that. He also wanted a carry within 20 s of arrival.

Cairn Monearn. Eskimo Curlew magnet

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Whip in my valise

Birding time a bit limited just now. Deadlines deadlines. Mind, it's perhaps just as well because it's still bl**dy winter here. Braved the Ice Storms of for a look round the village. What a waste of 3 hours of my life! Such were the highlights that I followed (yes followed) a female Common Stonechat around the fields for a bit, for something to look at, and turfed up a few (5) Meadow Pipits. Then I followed a Grey Wagtail down to the beach, and for a brief moment of excitement the beach was on fire! A pair of Rock Pipits called anxiously at me from a cleft in the cliffs just below where I was walking, and they are obviously hard into their breeding cycle. Maybe it isn't winter after all. But then I look out to sea and there is a Great Northern Diver (Common Loon) (actually that's quite decent) heading south, and a Red-throated Diver going north - it IS winter! But no, there is also a feeding flock of 200 Black-legged Kittiwakes - it's summer! And a couple of Eurasian Siskins overhead - it's autumn!

As you do, I spent an hour outside in the afternoon locked in mortal light-sabre combat with Peter. This was fun enough for me, but it got better when I heard the gulls squawking about something and saw an Osprey heading north along the coast. Now that's worth looking at. Just goes to show, if you're ever torn between re-enacting famous scenes from the Star Wars trilogy in six parts, and going birding, you can always do both.

ohhhhh.... I hate to say it but I am inexplicably possessed by the ghost of Morrisey this week, and he's not even dead. This is magnificent.

and !!! This is not for Morrisey, children or Birdwatching magazine readers).

Sunday, April 06, 2008

April. Really?

April eh? Naff off. I don't appreciate waking up to this.

But of course it meant that birding went on hold for half an hour, as it was perfect snow for doing this:

An anatomically accurate snow-woman. A thing of beauty. I actually wanted to build it on top of the car, but feared the wrath of any sensible people in the house. Then as I was getting kitted up to go out birdspotting I got an email from southern Spain. A Reader writes:

"Dear Martin, please will you pass this message on... this is FAO all the alpha-male pioneer first wave migrants that laughed, yes laughed, at us dorky geek-boy 1st summers, unwell, poor quality and frankly scared Northern Wheatears, Barn Swallows, Pied Flycatchers etc. who stayed behind in North Africa while you piled on northwards . We advised prudence and noted there was a good chance of more cold weather further north, but you put on your Homer Simpson voice and laughed and made fun of us and called us chickens and little girls and did a little dance and used baby voices at us as you crossed into France. Well who's laughing now, eh, Jock-boys, eh?? Think about this while you're dying of cold and hunger in a snow covered gorse bush on the wind-blasted bit of territory you risked everything to get to. Well, we're coming now, and we're going to occupy 'your' vacant territory and fertilise 'your' mate and defecate on your sorry little corpse [Editorial comment - hold on there... that's a bit strong. Remember there might be children and Birdwatching magazine readers online]. 'Survival of the fittest' our big feathery cloacas! Die! Die! Die by the truckload!!!
We remain, yours etc. assorted migrant passerines.
P.S. we saw your little sisters today and they are all looking hot!"

To be honest, I was a bit disturbed by the tone of the message, feeling frankly that that sort of petty attitude is what leads to bad feeling and disrespect, but promised to pass the message on to any advanced migrants I saw. I left the house as another snowman was being started across the road.

As you can imagine, most of the birds around here were under a bit of stress, and apart from around the bird feeders, the open countryside was a bit quiet. Plenty of Meadow Pipits though. Normally I might see a couple on a walk round Cran Hill, but today there were 15 in the field at St Ann's, 11 in cow field, another 9 at the white houses, 5 along the clifftops, 1 picking over the remains of Mount Doom, and a few more round Cran Hill. Probably short distance movement from local high ground - the snow was melting fast and I imagined they'd be back inland pretty soon. Couple of Mallards on the sea were taking refuge from the meltwater burn , and there were 3 Ruddy Turnstones and 1 Common Redshank on the beach, but all my Herring Gulls were flying away inland (with no Iceland Gulls, which is becoming a bit of a gap on my patch list). Offshore, given the strong northerly wind the sea was disappointly quiet - a passage of Black-legged Kittiwakes north, but very few auks and the breeding cliffs were empty. 1 European Shag in the bay, and an Atlantic Grey Seal. In fact it was all very boring really, although as the snow melted the Yellowhammers and Common Chaffinches started to appear in the sunshine, and a Great Black-backed Gull eating a sheep carcasse was positively mediaeval.

By the time I got home, the snow was going going gone, except for mine and Sandy's snowmen staring naughtily at each other across the road.
Shortly after this photo was taken the head fell off mine. Such is the life of a snow-person. Melting away during their last moments of consciousness in a mad frenzy of lust and fear, probably.

I hope this is a lesson to all that beauty is transient.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Look out... Iberian Chiffchaff... we're on your case.

While obviously not wanting to blow my own trumpet, again(!), I'll advertise the magnificent monthly bird magazine British Birds ('the leading journal for the modern birder in the Western Palearctic').

This month's issue contains, after a biologically impossible gestation in a pile of 'assorted stuff' on my desktop, my paper on Iberian Chiffchaff. Don't worry Ibe Chiffy... you
do exist, you're not extinct and you can be easily recorded and videoed by conventional techniques of people going out and looking at you.

In the April issue of British Birds:

Identification of Wilson’s and Common Snipe
Martin Reid gets to grips with one of the thorniest of current ID problems. In recent years, a number of putative Wilson Snipes Gallinago gallinago delicata – the American counterpart of our own Common Snipe – on Scilly have generated considerable interest and debate. Several features have been proposed to help separate delicata from nominate gallinago but little has been published to quantify these characters. All criteria previously suggested are reviewed in this paper and, based upon field experience, museum specimens and photographs of both forms, their effectiveness discussed. Consistent differences were found in the depth of the white tips to the secondaries, extent of white on the underwing-coverts, pattern of the axillaries, number of tail feathers, and the pattern and width of the outermost tail feather. The paper reaches the conclusion that - if supporting evidence documenting these features is obtained - separation of gallinago and delicata should be possible in many instances.

Identification of vagrant Iberian Chiffchaffs – pointers, pitfalls and problem birds
Records of Iberian Chiffchaff in northern Europe are increasing. At the time of writing, all British records have been singing males. In this paper, Martin Collinson and Tim Melling present sonograms of some accepted and potential Iberian Chiffchaffs from Britain. The characteristics of Iberian Chiffchaff song that can be used for identification of vagrants are reviewed. A record of a bird at Skelmersdale, Lancashire, in 2004, is thought unlikely to have been an Iberian Chiffchaff, but another bird, a mixed singer at Dibbinsdale, Merseyside, also in 2004, may be acceptable. The vocalisations of an accepted Iberian Chiffchaff in Oxfordshire in 2000 are now considered not to be absolutely typical. A problematic bird at Lavenham, Suffolk, in 2007 is also discussed and thought not to be acceptable.

A large selection of Notes and Letters in this issue includes items on Breeding Slavonian Grebes in Scotland and the first evidence of British-ringed Honey-buzzards returning to the UK to breed. In letters, BOURC are taken to task over their assessment of the Cheshire Kermadec Petrel, while other topics range from Balearic Sherwaters in Britain to the naming of Lammergeier, via breeding Woodchat Shrikes in Britain…

Book reviews, news & comment, BBRC news and recent reports make up the remainder of the issue.

See the British Birds website at http://www.britishbirds.co.uk for full details of current and back issues, and to download a sample copy of BB.

Friday, April 04, 2008

This was my finest hour

More detritus from the bottom of the filing cabinet. From the Edinburgh Evening News, 21st December 2001. Gentle reader, I think you can guess who wrote that letter.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Blast from the past

Among the jetsam of my past life I found during the office clearup, this scanned piece here I wrote for the November 2000 edition of the 'West Lothian Warbler', World-famous newsletter of the West Lothian Bird Club. I don't know for certain, but I suspect the bird club is now defunct. This is exactly why I hate this sort of memorabilia. My Viz Top Tip for today: if you ever stop running, your entire life will catch up with you, and stopping to reminisce on this sort of stuff just gives it its chance. It's a good read though, I think.