Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Monday 28th July 08

Have a look at this:

Dead Common Shrew

I went for my first tour of the patch in 2 weeks and it's a disgrace! Non one... and I mean NO ONE, has been attending to the dead shrews and voles, such that I found this one stinking high and crawling with maggots. I took a video, but YouTube didn't do it justice, so took it down again, sorry.

Warm muggy day - wanted to seawatch but with the harr, visibility down to 100 m - not great..!! But I could hear an Arctic Tern offshore... and there was a small trickle of Common Gulls (17) going south in ones and twos, hugging the clifftops, which is why I could see them. Also a few juvenile Black-legged Kittiwakes on the wing, which they weren't when I last came down. A single female Common Eider on the sea was sticking close to a brood of 2 half-grown (4/8) eiderlings, big enough now that they only have the Great Black-backed Gulls to worry about.

Tbh, the land was pretty birdless, best bird being a butterfly... surprised/shocked to see a couple of Ringlets in the long grass by the track to the beach. A patch tick. GOD SAVE THE KING!

Wednesday 30th July 08

An hour off for a seawatch at teatime - 17:30 - 18:30 in a brisk northerly. I was bored in the first 5 minutes - not a good sign. I even counted Kittiwakes (now that's bored - a level above counting gannets*) - 90 south in 5 minutes = 1080/h - prob all local breeders heading to Fowlsheugh. There were eventually some small thrills - best being annoying small waders. 2 Dunlin flying south are not too common in Newtonhill, and there were 5 more annoying small waders heading south that I thought were probably Red Knot. Then 2 ASWs that were in fact quite ABWs going south , and oooohhhh!!!!! obvious - Black-tailed Godwits. Nice patch bird. 2 Velvet Scoters went north, 3 Manx Shearwaters south (poor). 1 Great Skua south - some feeding flocks of Kittiwakes shamefully failed to pull anything more interesting in. 6 Arctic Terns. Can't stay awake... zzzzz

*101 north, 55 south.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Mis-spelt Scotch Island of Skye

It's called 'Skye' because the sky is at eye level. And that's official.

We went on holiday… HOLIDAYS!!! Set off Saturday morning and about an hour into the journey it’s first blood to Martin, as I squash a Red Squirrel that foolishly got into my line of sight along the A96. Lizzie said it was going to be on my conscience forever, but little does she know that my only regret was that we didn’t stop and eat it. Only then would its death have meaning.

We got to our cottage without further slaughter, among ‘The Braes’, on the east side of Skye overlooking the Sound of Raasay and, indeed, Raasay itself, which has some sort of extinct volcano on the skyline and, for all I know a Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs lurking beneath.

Little known fact... Lizzie can actually control the storm clouds with her mobile. Raasay volcano in distance.

Sunday morning – threw Lizzie’s toast crusts out and was beseiged by Chaffinches and a Great Tit, also a Pied Wagtail and Willow Warbler in the garden, & Barn Swallows about. I took some photos of the garden flora – Heath Spotted Orchid, Bog Asphodel, Lousewort (sp. – I really cannot be bothered opening a flower book).

Heath Spotted Orchid

You can guess what kind of ground we’re on. Over the sound of Raasay, a Common Raven was bothering a Northern Gannet – now there’s something you don’t see every day. And a Great Skua out there looking like it meant business. A trundle down over to the beach. In my day… as a kid I mean… we’d have gone ‘shell collecting’ and come back with maybe a handful of pretty shells. My lot, on the other hand, seem to need to strip the entire beach of any sign that any mollusc ever lived there. I had to go back to the cottage for more bin bags to put them in. Also on the beach… a single Common Sandpiper, some Common Gulls, and a fly-past by a squadron of 2 Common Ravens.

Stripping the beach... looks like we've just seen something mildly disgusting

Went to Portree, stopping off at the Aros Centre which promised to be fun, with live video links to White-tailed Eagles – knew the kids would like that. Ohmygod. OK, maybe I should had got some gen and known that the usual nest was not occupied this year, but I was a bit dischuffed when they charged us £9 and the ‘exhibition’ was a video screen showing archive low-res footage of the boring bits of previous year’s nests. Fecking joke, the whole thing.

Evening… midgie hell notwithstanding, I got my scope out in the back garden, for more Great Skua, a Black Guillemot going up the Sound (lots of Razorbills and Guillemots too), and looking to the north, several circling mobs of Manx Shearwaters – I’m home!!

Monday 21st dawned… well I don’t know how it dawned – I was asleep! By 8 am however it was bright sunshine, with the water in the Sound flat calm, a Great Skua still marauding among the Northern Gannets, and a flock of 3 Harbour Porpoises. Sweet. While the weather held we went to Kyle of Lochalsh for a ride on the semi-submersible boat affording underwater views of Spongebob Squarepants and his pineapple under the sea in the underwater city of Bikini Bottom. Between you and me, Spongebob has let Bikini Bottom get a bit overgrown with cabbagy brown seaweed. Above the surface, among the rocky islets lurking around the Skye Bridge, we oohed and ahhhed at Common Seals, adults and pups. I can ooh at Common Seals back home too, but they’re *holiday* seals here. Also… holiday Atlantic Puffins flying around, and not so common back home, small groups of holiday Black Guillemots swimming around.

Spongebob's magical underwater kingdom. Bit of a sh*thole, really.

Holiday Common Seals

Skye Serpentarium – bloody brilliant!

What wasn’t so homestyle, was in the evening as I was being midgie bait on the back doorstep and scoping the Sound of Raasay for interesting thingies, an adult White-tailed Eagle crossed over from the Skye side to Raasay. Game ON!

But that’s the problem with White-tailed Eagles… you need more and more to get the same effect. So next morning I was lining up on the quay at Portree to get aboard the MV Starship Enterprise for a trip round the cliff to the nest site. Strangely, out of 25 people spread around 2 boats, I was the only one who’d thought to bring some bins. Anyway we chugged away round the corner and within a couple of minutes of arriving I picked up an adult bird sitting high up on a branch on the wooded cliff face. We bobbed about for about 5 minutes waiting for it to do something interesting, as the gulls gathered round the boat knowingly. Then we threw a fish into the water… and the eagle did nothing, having presumably stuffed itself silly at the back of a trawler already this morning.

After failing last year, the birds had moved to a new site this year and yesterday successfully fledged 2 young. The adult took off along the line of the cliff and suddenly there were 2 juveniles in the sir as well, circling and flying off with the ad. Then they came back, and we watched them overhead for a couple of minutes. Very hard to believe the juvs had only fledged yesterday. The adult settled down on another branch, while the juvs went.

Adult White-tailed Eagle.. just

Eagle nest-site... ish

We sailed off, looking unsuccessfully for porpoises at the other side of the bay. A couple of Common Ravens in the air, and as I was watching another adult White-tailed Eagle came overhead. The skipper of the boat, nice short man though he was, called it a Buzzard, then when I said it was an eagle he called it a Golden Eagle… oh the pressures of having to show people lots of birds. Anyway, it was a W-t E, and a very smart one at that. Much as I’m not a big fan of reintroductions, and these dependency-culture eagles scrounging tourist boat fish and trawler scraps are only one step above Muscovy Ducks (!!) actually these eagles in this scenery looked pretty damn good on it.

Portree from a boat - are you Balamory in disguise?

Evening.. a flock of 1000 Manx Shearwaters circling the Sound from the back garden. Watching them all stream past the scope, it was like being back in Ireland, AND a reminder about how crap Newtonhill is.

Wednesday morning… up at the Coral Beaches, north of Dunvegan, a small town where they’re started eating meat again. Fantastic scenery, and a volcano to climb. A small flock of Arctic Terns offshore needn’t have bothered trying to feed, as an Arctic Skua was sat relaxing on one of the skerries ands every time one of the terns caught anything, the skua would saunter over and steal the fish. Couple of Common Terns further aloing the shore as well.

Coral Beach

Not much new around the house today (did I mention Rock Doves?), except that a few Lesser Redpolls have appeared from who knows where. Our neighbour called round and when Diane told him I was into birds he told us that, implausibly, at around 4 in the afternoons a Golden Eagle came into the trees behind the small hill at the back of the house. Against my better judgement, I went up the hill late in the evening and, predictably, there was a Common Buzzard flying around.

Lizzie gets the bug

Heavy duty paddling in the sea. Whassat? Li’l juvvy flatfish in the water – Plaice, I would guess. And some sort of mass beaching of those most notorious of cetaceans… moths! I found 5 drowned Magpie moths, and 2 ‘very boring’ moths – i.e. the ones that don’t have nice patterns and are a uniform greyish ghoul colour. One of them wasn’t quite dead.

Sex on the Beach

Midgie HELL! But also this

Highland Darter

We went down to the ‘fossil beach’ north of Portree. Now I knew it was meant to be a bit of a scramble… but it was a 200 m drop on rough steps down a sheer cliff face. Fantastic. When we got to the bottom I found some sandstone pebbles and started smashing them at random. I hit the jackpot first time with this cracking fragment of ammonite.

The bit of ammonite what I found. it must have been a whopper

Lizzie found some coral impressions and whereas I found a few other bits of shell I didn’t do any better than my ammonite. One Common Sandpiper on the beach too. Not fossilised. Then it was time for the trek back up the cliff face. Peter took three steps and it was ‘Iwannacarry!!’. Daddy enjoyed the next 200 m of his life like a cup of cold sick. 20 years ago, and without a parasitic 4 year-old sitting on my hip, I’d have skipped up those steps.

Found this Garden Tiger in the toilets near the Pieces of Ate (sic) café.

And now for something completely different

Friday, July 18, 2008

Heinz 57 varieties.

I had my naughty Swedish maid, Barry, bring up my copy of Cage and Aviary Birds with my massage oil after tiffin this afternoon, and had a good peruse while she worked on my peroneal muscles (look 'em up - not as dirty as they sound). As always, checking for potential vagrants on sale in trade. Normally, in fact always, this is very disappointing. Plenty of parrots, Diamond Doves, Japanese Quails etc, never anything juicy like a Citril Finch, or a Yellow-headed Blackbird. Superb ('Spreo') Starlings are back in trade in a big way though, if you have £290 the pair, but are not going to get the blood racing on a misty day at Portland. I expect. Yellow-fronted Serins ('Green Singing Finches') seem to be going through the roof (£155 pr). To appear in C&AB I think a species really has to be heavily in trade. I mean, you can pretty much get anything through the white van trade, but mainstream legit trade eventually appears here. For example, Mugimaki Fly turned up here during a period when they were for sale in C&AB, which probalby means there were a lot around. Since the early 90s it has completely dropped out of mainstream trade, and sure enough there have been no more occurrences. Only a coincidence, of course :-)

Other things this week...
Siberian Bullfinch cock, £65
Mandarin Duck, £40 pr
Red-crested Pochard £35 pr - dirt cheap
Black Kytes (sic)- £750 each OUCH!
Gyr x Sakers £400
wait for it...
Gyr x American Kestrel £800... wtf? I mean WTF????? What the hell is that... and WHY??? WHYYYYY!!!!
European Eagle Owls £150

and Wanted... Turtle Dove (don't we all)

The McKinney would approve... I'm listening to an Iron Maiden tribute CD that fell out of Barry's copy of Kerrang. It has Remember Tomorrow covered by Metallica which would appear to be the best thing Metallica have done in a studio for about 10 years. Also Flash of the Blade covered by Avenged Svenfold in a bodacious way.

Anyway, I'm off to officially midgie-free Skye for a week. Youse can all had away n' shite.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Midgie hell

Sunday 13th July

Saturday was very windy with a southerly force 5-6 (July!), but today dawned calm - gonna be rubbish for shearwaters, but the sort of day that is better for skuas. Sometimes. Maybe.

And so it proved to be, sometimes, maybe. Diane kicked, yes kicked, me out of bed and I had 2 hours at the cliffs, from05:40 to 07:40, when I gratefully gave up in the knowledge that I'd served my time. On a flat sea, 5 Arctic Skuas went north, 1 south, and 3 Great Skuas north. Not burning up... but at least it was a good sort of sea for cetacean watching, if you include 2 Harbour Porpoises out fishing. Ony 13 Manx Shearwaters north, with 139 Northern Gannets, and 42 gannet south too. A massive feeding flock of gannets on the horizon - in fact I think they were over the horizon(!), but certainly up to 1000 birds out there. Ducks n' stuff... oooh, 46 Common Scoters north, and a Red-throated Diver too. OK, so it's a dog-day doldrum and you think that maybe your bonus bird might be a European Storm-petrel, which I still ned for the patch list, and this is the day for it.... so this is a really bad day for a passage of hirundines to start low over the water. But still they come, and the first 15 Sand Martins (Bank Swallows) of the autumn head south.

Other thingies. Some more birds. The tern families have started turning up - with 37 Sandwich Terns kicking about, 26 Arctic Terns, 8 Common Terns. Piles of auks going all ways, including many Atlantic Puffins, all local breeders, probably.

Walk round the patch was a bit boring, tbh, but with taking Monday off as well, I made a mental note to try again tomorrow.

Tomorrow.. (today) Monday 14th July 08.

I was too busy doing very important and secret things last night to blog away. So turned up at the cliffs this morning to find a slight offshore wind and a nasty high contrast sea, and all the birds have left me. Not all of them, mind - three cheers for the 62 Northern Gannets that went north from 06:10-07:10, and a big round of applause for the other 104 who went south. 3 Arctic Skuas today, 2N 1S, and the Sand Martin migration continued, just (3S). Also a single Red-throated Diver and that's the lot.

Got my copy of Frontiers in Birding, by Martin Garner and friends, of which I'm one.

And another thing, goddammit, it's midgie hell down at the clifftops just now. I'm looking forward to escaping from the midgies, on err... Skye... next weekend,

Sunday, July 06, 2008

July my ar*e

This morning, and this time it was Peter and his sweaty jammies that wandered through into our bed, spurring me to get out and go sit in the fresh air on the clifftops for 2 hours, 05:30 - 07:30. Piles of Atlantic Puffins going back and forth, with the other auks, Black-legged Kittiwakes swarming, and a few Northern Fulmars, but quite possibly all local breeders.

Not quite so local were 370 Northern Gannets north,171 south and a reasonable (for here) 41 Manx Shearwaters north. The light was perfect, i.e. dull crap weather, and there was no chance of a Balearic slipping through unnoticed. But let's face it, it was getting a bit dull - 8 Arctic Terns N, 4 Common Terns, 2 Sandwich Terns south, 3 Red-throated Divers (Loons) north, a single Great Skua north and then bam! A single Pomarine Skua going south, a shiny pale bird with spoons...now that's the way I wanna rock n' roll. Good way to get the first of the year too, really obvious, reminds you what they fly like etc. Zooim and it's gone, and you're left wondering if thart just really happened.

A single Common Redshank went north, and then just as I was giving up, an Arctic Skua north at distance.

The walk round the patch was interesting if you're into that sort of thing (i.e. looking a shabby breeding adults) but I think we both undeerstand that you don't want to know the details and I want to go to bed, AND I didn't find any dead mammals, so let's leave it there. Here's a photo of Stephen Menzie's poster that he had to present for his assessment. It's very nice, but don't ask him about figure 2 - he'll go on about Lactobacillus or something like it's obvious he hasn'teven read it.
Warning, sweary... children and Birdwatching Magazine readers are warned. I've made it smaller so you don't have to see rude word.

Finally, it finally happened. We published the Herring Gull taxonomy paper. For me it represents the end of 8 years work. I can't say if it's any good, but it had better be...

If you don't subscribe to British Birds, this would be a good time to do it. And tuck in. Here are some genuine quotes on the paper from Birdforum...

Taken a glance at BB article, and must admit that I was a little disappointed. I was hoping it was going to propose further splitting.

I hesitate to display my ignorance, but there was so much about genetics (mtDNA etc), that it felt more like reading a medical paper than an article about birds.

The last word on the subject is far from said!

I think the article in British Birds was excellent and a must read for anyone with an interest in large gulls. While i agree it is at times "heavy going" surely there was no other way the authors could approach a subject matter like this. It provides a sound basis for more discussion and research into Herring Gull/Lesser Black Backed Taxonomy. As others have said much more needs to be done but it does provide a good "snapshot" of where we currently are. I applaud everyone concerned.

Even if gulls aren't 'your thing' then a paper under the joint authorship of Messers Collinson, Parkin, Knox, Sangster & Svensson must attract both respect and attention. Being no taxonomist I can't comment on the content and confess I'll probably have to read it several times to fully understand it.

Ooh, and another thing before I go. How can July be so bloody freezing!!!???? ffs!!!! We had mist and cloud and northerly breeze all day, though apparently it was nice and sunny in Stonehaven. Well f*** off Stonehaven! And that's McKinney-level swearing!

Know Your Enemy


Saturday 6th

An hour's seawatch this evening, before the Dr Who series finale (ohh... how dull... bad guys tell good guys they're no different. Batman did that a long time ago :-) ). Anyway, lovely light, slight east breeze, no chance of anything good but on the other hand, not getting wet. I counted 407 Northern Gannets going north, (13 S), and 21 Manx Shearwaters north, 2 south. Most entertaining were 4 Arctic Skuas (Parasitic Jaegers) north - may have been the same one four time, it was zipping about a bit. But I'll call it 4. 5 Sandwich Terns north, 4 Common Terns likewise, and then I went home to see Davros.

Last year at the BirdFair the kiddies and Diane phoned up wanting to know what presents I'd brought them and I fed them the teaser that it was 'an expensive present for the whole family'.
Strangely, when I got home and brought out a bat detector, they laughed, and my spider-senses detected just the faintest hint of disappointment. I play with it all the time, but generally bats and kids are at opposite ends of the circadian rhythm thingy. Until last night however, when I let Lizzie stay up til 10.45 to see the Pipistrelle bats flying around over our back garden. She was almost impressed, and got to use the bat detector at last, catching lots of this. Who's laughing now?