Monday, June 30, 2008

A Blackcap singing briefly behind the garden this morning - bit of a wildcard. Came from nowhere, and isn't in top habitat.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Didn't get out birding til this evening. This morning, *someone* had to look after the kids while *someone else* was having a hangover, I mean long lie. :-)

And only for an hour this evening too. There was some footie match on. I was in such a hurry to get down the cliffs I nearly missed this...

A timely reminder that my season of small mammal photography is on us again. This one was very small - some sort of teenage Short-tailed Vole. Or a dwarf version of a previously undescribed Giant Vole. Either way, it's In. The. Bag. and presumably the first of many. Wonder where its head went?

Brisk onshore wind, and a summer sea, with big flocks of Northern Gannets offshore, and even 40 Northern Fulmars in a tight raft - I know I see these all the time, but normally not many. So you can tell by the fact I'm mentioning Gannets and Fulmars that it wasn't a classic movement. Kept me amused for an hour in the showers (Matron!). A single Arctic Skua went north, with 10 Manx Shearwaters north and 1 south, and 10 Common Scoters south. The only non-standard thingy was an unexplained minor trickle of Eurasian Curlews going south - 79 between 17:50 and 18:50.

But that was that, except I stumbled over a Meadow Pipit's nest. I mean, not literally, but I know where it is.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

If The McKinney were French...

... he might come up with something like this:

Proud to be a Dunnock (watch the address... work filters might throw a fit).

Fantastic stuff, and you get a French re-telling of all your old favourites...

Messieurs, attention a vous.
Des chercheurs Australiens viennent de démontrer que la biere contient des hormones féminisantes.

Vous pouvez refaire l'experience chez vous ou dans un bar.

Prenez un echantillons representatif de la populations masculine (environs 5 potes). Videz environs 10 a 15 tournées de bieres.
Au bout de quelques ninutes vous pourrez constater les premiers effets des hormones:

- Vous parlez beaucoup
- Vous ete persuader d'avoir raison alors que vous avez tort et que vous en ete conscient
- vous devenez suceptible
- vous n'hesitez pas a faire de grandes accolades a vos amis
- vous aller environs 1 fois / 5min aux toilettes
- souvent vous pissez assis
- vous racontez votre vie
- vous avez du mal a conduire votre voiture et vous la rayez en la garant

Cette experience est terrifiante et ce passe de tout commentaire.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blazing June

So, if this were the 1950s, and I were 12 year-old public schoolboy on 'vac', I'd have looked out the window this morning and ejaculated (careful) 'What a filthy day!' and been disciplined by my (probably smoking) father, before going off to have jolly adventure. Fortunately, life ain't like that... I'm a 38 year-old birder so I looked out the window at 5.30 this morning and thought 'Seawatch!' and headed out. Pissing rain, onshore wind, poor visibility. Shame it was June not August, but I was so busy watching Doctor Who last night that I neglected to finish building my own time machine. According to the do-it-yourself time machine kit I got off ebay, I need nails and glue - where the hell am I going to get them from?? Anyway, to the cliffs. With a fresh southerly, and in 2.5 hours from 05:50 to 08:20, there were 7 (Parasitic) Arctic Skuas (3 north, 4 south), and 43 Manx Shearwaters all north. Not as good as it might have been, but they were all close in because that was all I could see. 359 Northern Gannets north, and 79 south, plenty of Atlantic Puffins and other auks, 2 Common Scoters north, 10 Sandwich Terns and 7 Common Terns. Actually, when I put it like that it sounds a bit shit, but I looked like I was enjoying myself at the time. Still a bit wet, and by 8.20 I had saturated all my tissues (let's face it, we've all been there) so there was no way to keep my scope clear, apart from stripping off and using a t-shirt, and I don't reckon the Fulmars deserve that kind of a trauma.

Cleared up a bit in the afternoon, and we went to Crathes Castle, where there was a falconry display. Kids were very impressed, but US-based readers might want to look away now...

The King of England stole your National Bird.

And what about this... a Bataleur... wild-taken in Botswana, if you please.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The definitive Birds of Fife

Aha. I was back onthe train today, to Edinborough, (Dun Eidin?). Back at Markinch Railway Station briefly, again, but the Sand Martins were eclipsed by a flyover Green Woodpecker, and then at the next station along (?Springfield?) a fly past Eurasian Sparrowhawk. I also saw a Common Kestrel. Thus endeth your definitive description of the birds of Fife. There's probably some other birds, but frankly, I didn't see' em.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Seawatch - Nature's boring miracle

A 7-year old smelly apparition crawled into the bed at 5 am, waking me up enough to get me out birding and leave it snoring with its mum. I went down to the sea, to see what I could see. Must be a bit of seabird action going on. And there was, kind-of, if you include Guillemots and Razorbills going back and forth with their fish, and feeding flocks of Black-legged Kittiwakes, with the odd Atlantic Puffin and a few Northern Fulmars.

Best bird, a single Black Guillemot heading south. Wow, they're smart. We're right at the edge of the range here, and they've been less-than-annual on my Newtonhill list.

150 Northern Gannets north, and 240 south, between 5.15 and 6.35, Common Scoters (30N 49S), Sandwich Terns (2N 3S), 1 Arctic Tern feeding with Kittiwakes offshore, 1 Red-throated Diver north, 4 Manx Shearwaters north, 1 south and 1 with the Kittiwakes,mand a single Grey Heron north. None of your Long-tailed Skua nonsense for me, ta very much.

Thanks to Louis Bevier, who pointed out this paper, regarding the use of unverified anecdotal sightings to build up false pictures of the persistence of animals in regions from which they have gone extinct. It uses three examples, the Fisher (a kind of dead-hard Pine Marten, as far as I can tell) and the Wolverine in California, and errr... the Ivory-billed Woodpecker. Very refreshing to here someone else tell it as it is.

'Although it is always possible to invent rationales to explain the lack of conclusive evidence, available evidence indicates that the ivory-billed woodpecker probably became extinct in the southeastern United States by the middle of the twentieth century.'

and this bit is for the 'there are too many sightings to dismiss them' all school:

'As a species becomes rarer, the proportion of false positives will increase. For example, in the contiguous United States, bobcats (Lynx rufus) are common and Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) are rare; occasionally bobcat observations are misidentified as lynx. Even if such misidentifications happen only 1% of the time, for every 1000 bobcat sightings, 10 will be identified as lynx, and false lynx observations can easily outnumber actual ones. Even if lynx were extirpated from the area, lynx would continue to be reported each year and, over many years, hundreds of spurious lynx observations would accumulate.'

The emphasis is mine. Replace bobcat with PIWO, and lynx with IBWO, and you get the point. Hell, maybe you got the point already. The whole thing must be as welcome as a cup of cold vomit in some parts of the USFWS.

Ref: pdf

BioScience Volume 58, 549-555 (2008)

Using Anecdotal Occurrence Data for Rare or Elusive Species: The Illusion of Reality and a Call for Evidentiary Standards

Kevin S. McKelvey, Keith B. Aubry, and Michael K. Schwartz

Anecdotal occurrence data (unverifiable observations of organisms or their sign) and inconclusive physical data are often used to assess the current and historical ranges of rare or elusive species. However, the use of such data for species conservation can lead to large errors of omission and commission, which can influence the allocation of limited funds and the efficacy of subsequent conservation efforts. We present three examples of biological misunderstandings, all of them with significant conservation implications, that resulted from the acceptance of anecdotal observations as empirical evidence. To avoid such errors, we recommend that a priori standards constrain the acceptance of occurrence data, with more stringent standards applied to the data for rare species. Because data standards are likely to be taxon specific, professional societies should develop specific evidentiary standards to use when assessing occurrence data for their taxa of interest.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I've been away

I've been to Rutland Water - BOURC summer meeting. And aside from all the interesting thingies that I would not normally see around here (Shoveller, Gadwall) I haven't seen a lot. Noticed some Sand Martins (Bank Swallows, if you will) nesting in some small drainage holes in the wall at Markinch Railway Station. Never noticed that before, which is a bit unobservant, bearing in mind I've been through Markinch Station, like, a million times, dude.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sweet 2

I stole this from Birdchick. It's not big and it's not clever, but what am I meant to do?

Zeiss plumb new depths of depravity with gummie nockies!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Punk patch stealers

Remember 30th May.. I do, Marsh Warbler and all that...

well if it wasn't weird enough finding out that the bird had already been seen the day before... can you imagine my face if I'd got down to the Elsick bird and found an entire marauding punkbirder crew poaching 'my' Marshie. Here (30th May). :-O

Git orrrfff moi paaatttttcccchhhh!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Scatalogical adventures of Peter in the forest

A very boring morning on the patch relieved only by two things...

1) watching a very sick-looking juvenile European Goldfinch down the burn, and waiting for it to die, which it didn't;
2) walking up the cliff steps, with Common Blue butterflies all around, a Silver-Y on the wing, grasshopper chirrupping uin the grass and a single Common Whitethroat the only birdsong in the sunshine, and wondering when did summer creep up on us?.

Afternoon, had to get the kids out of the house to prevent an infanticide. They didn't want to go, until I said they could take my butterfly net and then zoom! Couldn't get them out the house fast enough. To Swannley Hill - Forestry Commission war zone, recently clear felled in large part.

Please Dad, can we kill something... can we can we????

I'm sure this used to be woodland.

Honestly, Peter and his collecting pot. If you say 'don't pick up the poo' once, you have to say it a thousand times. Dog Poo, Rabbit Poo, it all goes in his pot. He thinks it's dinosaur poo, so I guess it's my fault for screwing up his mind. Also feeding his juice to the 'tablets' (tadpoles) in the puddles.

Birds - not all what you expect of spruce monoculture, much more what you expect of open country, which is what it was. Yellowhammers very common, also Meadow Pipits, Winter Wrens, European Robins, Chaffinches, Lesser Redpoll, Eurasian Siskins, a single pair of Common Stonechats, also Common Bullfinch, lots of Rooks, a Common Buzzard, a Common Kestrel.

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Isn't it nice when people start to look like their pets?

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Dear Martin....

I got another letter. I haven't actually asked if I can post this here, so I'm compelled to assume it's OK. But just in case, I'll hide the identity so that no one will EVER guess unless they already know.

Well done with Marsh Warbler, it's a good bird to find. Been good here recently, a good scatter of scarcies. Have found multiples of RB Shrike, Icky & Rosefinch; single Bluethroat (in the garden last week), Marsh Warbler, Quail, Hen Harrier, several GH Wags etc. Best find a smart Rustic Bunting last night. Have also seen Tawny Pipit, Surf Scoter, King Eider, 2 Temmincks together. And Black Stork (just), the only tick. A better spring than many/most, and still only 2nd June! 'RR from Shetland'

That was enough to persuade me that something more could perhaps be squeezed out of Newtonhill's spring, and with a bit of drizzle and SE breeze overnight, what would the early morning bring???

ha ha. Early morning brought fog, turning to heavy mist before settling in for the day as a majestic pea-souper. I wasn't going to be picking out those distant white-dot Lesser Grey Shrikes, for a start. Still... needs must when the devil is drunk on meths. All the usual stuff around - and a nice quiet morning when I could make some recordings, but nothing to write home about. Sedge Warblers are pairing up I notice. That's nice for them.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

I think it was George Orwell who said...

... something like - if you ever want to annoy a Scotsman, refer to him as being 'Scotch'. It won't be obvious why I said that just now, but I had an alternative start to my post that I withdrew in the end on the basis that someone might be offended. And as you know I go out of my way never to offend anyone. However, if I'd left it in, that first bit would have been mildly amusing.

Postscript to the Marsh Warbler... there I was, Friday morning at work, feeling smug and, if it's not too wet a word, 'elated'. Hee hee. Sorry, seems like I'm going to do in-jokes today for people who will never read them. Dear Reader, you must never let me go out on Friday nights again. I had, of course, 'found' a Marsh Warbler, and had put it on BirdGuides on the bus to work. What BirdGuides was doing on the bus to work I will never know. So was sat there this morning and in came an email *ping* from the Aberdeen rare birds group saying 'Marsh Warbler at Newtonhill'. I hadn't mailed the group, on account of never being quite sure what the address is and never quite getting round to writing it down, but it's not unusual for Aberdeenshite records to get lifted from BirdGuides and put onto the list. Opened it up to bask in the glory, but the mail was Marsh Warbler at Newtonhill on the evening of 29th, a full twelve hours before I saw the bird, and in a different place, further down the burn. All very perplexing, but it turns out that there is another Newtonhill birder I didn't know about (Hi Matt!!). My joy at finding out there's a bit of back-up was tempered a little by having Marsh Warbler snatched out of the sticky grasp of my 'found' list. Actually by UK250 rules I think it would still count as 'found'. Anyway, that's the story.

Today's birding: the Marsh Warbler was gone :-O but I was still supremely confident of bumping into a Red-backed Shrike if I covered enough coast on foot. I'm a very naive man! You can tell it's June cos there was a bitter north wind. Not a whole lot to see except the pile of Common Starling families making some sort of racket. Usual stuff. I looked offshore, where 3 Manx Shearwaters and a Red-throated Diver going north reminded me that it will soon be seawatching time again. Just... got... to... survive... June. So cold... so cold. And then 3 errr... ducks going north and well, they're Goosanders (Common Mergansers). wtf? I mean WTF? Weird. A trickle of Northern Gannets going north, a Sandwich Tern and 4 Common Terns going south. Blimey, maybe it's seawatch time already! Disappointly no shrikes in the allotments, so went across the coastal fields, fully expecting to find one impaling Siberian Hamsters on a rusty piece of barbed wire. I was so near and yet do far.... I got the rusty barbed wire on the list easily. And wow! Thistles. What sort of mentality makes the national dress a kilt-and-no-knickers in a country where the thistles are a metre tall? I felt a small prick, matron. Anyway, as far as Muchalls, no shrikes, no nothing.

But a garden tick in the evening. Dinnae fash - nothing special - a female Common Whitethroat. A juvenile European Robin was having a bath in the cereal bowl we use for feeding the hedgehogs, when the Whitethroat popped out of the dogwood and tried unsuccessfully to muscle in on the communal bathing. That makes Common Whitethroat exactly half as common as Yellow-browed in out garden.