Friday, September 19, 2008

The Doctor is OUT

Two Coal Tits this morning in our back garden are clearly on the move somewhere.

As am I - to China for 9 days!

Work :-(

but with some birding planned :-)

Anyway, I think it's safe to suggest that my internet access is not guaranteed.

The same. But more so.

I just had time for a quick dash up and down the Elsick Burn between nursery drop-off and nursery pickup. As I walked down St Anne's Road a buzzard going over was a Common Buzzard (daaaamnnnn!), and in the bushes at the top of St Anne's track, there was a Spotted Flycatcher, a rather grey Common Chiffchaff and a Sedge Warbler. So the migrants are still around... encouragement.

And encouragement indeed, when at Elsick Mill, the Wood Warbler was still present, this time in company with at least 3 Common Chiffchaffs and 2 Willow Warblers, as well as 4 Goldcrests and a couple each of Blue Tit and Great Tit. While I was there, who should turn up but Ken Hall, he of the wondrous photographs, and a birding companion whose name I shamefully forgot to ask. Together we enjoyed the less-than-regular Newtonhill experience of there being so much movement in the bushes that you didn't know where to look next. It is not like that all the time.

Further down the burn, there wasn't so much to look at, but it turned into a nice autumn's day with a Small Copper up the cliff steps and several Red Admirals. And as I walked down past the Wood Warbler again, one of each of the Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were in song. That's how crazy it all was. Today would have really repayed being able to spend all day kicking trees.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wood Warbler. You would, you know.

Called in for a circuit of the burn at the patch for 45 min on the way home. I'd done that after the Face-only-a-mother-could-love Sand Plover on Tuesday, for a reward of a total two (not one, but tw0) Willow Warblers.

And it looked like I was going to sub-cede that total today, with not two, but 1 Willow Warblers under my belt when I left the Mill Garden to walk up to the swing park. Then there was a movement in the trees at pathside and thump! A Wood Warbler jumped up onto a twig, nearly breaking it! Patch tick! it was feeding actively at low level - lovely primrose super, face and throat giving way to silky white underparts. I'm not saying they're my favourite European birds... but they're in the top two. See it's not only Tim who can borrow Cloughie's lines. They're not as carnal-sexy as Roseate Terns, but they make a nicer noise.

As I was watching it, a flitting in the branches above, and there was a Spotted Flycatcher too. That's just too much.

I put the Wood Warbler on ABZ Rare Birds to heads-up to others that there are some migrants about, and was surprised to see it appear on BirdGuides 30 min later. Great, now I'm going to have car loads of 'twitchers' coming off Scilly for my Wood Warbler. :-)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sand Plovers and other animals

Tuesday 16th September

The Ythan had moved me greatly ;-$ on Sunday, so thought it worth my while going back there this morning for a proper poke round. Arrived in the pre-dawn, somehow, and wandered out onto the beach at the south side of the estuary to where the Sand Plover had been flushed on Sunday. It was low tide, and the beach was hoaching with birds. I perched on a small concrete tuffet in the pissing rain, eating my curds and whey, and got down to business - 100s of Dunlins, 50+ Ringed Plovers, 25 Red Knot, a couple of Sanderlings, 15 Bar-tailed Godwits, and plenty of Eurasian Curlews and Ruddy Turnstones and a few Eurasian Oystercatchers. So far so good, but then also the Greater Sand Plover popped out from behind an unnecessarily large dollop of seaweed, and started feeding actively along the hid tide mark.

Bit bigger than the Ringed Plovers, with a bill that at times looked huge, this b****** product of an unholy alliance between a Caspian Plover and a Crab Plover, the Ugly Sister to Lesser Sand Plover's Cinderella, is not one of Nature's masterpieces. But it sure knew how to move. Not really associating with anything, but on occasions was aggressive to the Ringer Plovers. I sat there for an hour and a half looking at it and, this being Northern Scotland, there was no one else about. A Slavonian Grebe just out to see struck me as being a bit unusual here as well.

When hypothermia threatened, I got back in the car and went to the other side of the estuary to that ploughed field, where there was still a juvenile Little Stint and three Ruff.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Barry's predictive water

Barry's water is never completely wrong. Today was perhaps not epic on the cosmic scale, but in the scale of Newtonhill passerines, it was pretty good. Observant reader will have noticed me complaining recently about checking bushes and seeing *nothing*. Well I wasn't lying. So when I put on my lederhosen and opera glasses and went out this morning, and immediately saw a Garden Warbler in one of the rowan trees with the House Sparrows and European Goldfinches, I knew something was up. And me so when I hit the track from St Anne's, saw a movement in the aspens and boing! A Common Redstart bounced up onto a branch - these are less than annual here. The heard a Willow Warbler in the gorse by the burn, and as I was looking for it another small bird - looked Phylloscy - started flitting out calling repeatedly 'shree', but wouldn't settle and I have the dubious pleasure of hearing its 'shree's getting further and further away until it was lost in the gardens of the village somewhere. Can't help thinking that something interesting got away there.

Mill Garden had another Garden Warbler (by this time I knew something was up), and hello, and unstreaked Acro - but I couldn't really get anything on it as it flitted away. Probably Reed Warbler. All these birds were very flighty and obviously fresh in. In fact I know for certain they weren't here yesterday.

Down the track, and I I came to the willows at the very bottom of the Mill Garden, the ground shook as a Barred Warbler flew up the burn and straight into cover. Outsize. I saw enough on it as it skulked away - particularly the back end(!) but it was soon gone for good, and even a blat of Barred Warbler call from my phone couldn't entice it out. Anyway, as any fule know, Barred Warblers never call.

After this level of excitement, gardens in Newtonhill were disappointingly quiet, but when I made it up to the allotments (no gardeners - c'mon!) they at last started to show a bit of their potential, with another Garden Warbler, 2 Common Whitethroats, and a juvenile Willow Warbler that disappeared behind a branch and metamorphed on the other side into a Common Chiffchaff. wtf? but then the WW came back. OK I'll have one of each.

Had to get back by 10 so Diane could go jogging, but I saw on BirdGuides that a European Honey-buzzard was heading over the Bridge of Don, and went out into the back garden to 'helpfully' hang the washing out, with my bins and an eye on the sky. There was a family of Goldfinces in the trees at the back of the garden and... eh up, a Lesser Whitethroat. Must be a Sylvia day. N/hill getting its years supply of passerine migrants in a single morning. Suits me fine.

Afternoon, and Lizzie, bless her, wants to go and see the rare bird (Greater Sand Plover) at the Ythan! What, Lizzie? I checked her temperature, and she was fine, so I buckled and we went. Lizzie has never been birding before, so why not start at the top? Got to the Ythan, and she started whinging immediately about having to walk.. until we got to the beach, which was covered in dead jellyfish, and amused us immensely. Turning the corner... ooh, waders, so I set up the scope and showed her Ringed Plovers and Dunlins, and hmmm a Red Knot and hold on, a dog! Noooooooooo!!!!!! It flushed everything and I saw the Sand Plover scooting off across the estuary. Now I didn't really know what to do - din't want to grip Lizzie off on her first trip, in fact didn't know how she would take this at all, so I kept shtum and was reasonably confident that we would be able to catch up with it on the north side. Although to be honest, I don't think she was taking it too seriously, which is how it should be.

We drove round to the north side, to the ploughed field where there were a few people watching without success. But frankly, who cares - the field was stowed and Lizzie was having a fantastic time - she loved the Northern Lapwings in the scope, and the 100s of Eurasian Golden Plovers, spotting the ones with black tummies. There were 3 Ruff, v close and with a male still quite bright. I told her they're called Ruff because they hurt your hand if you touch them. 'What, really?' 'Yes'. (looks doubtful) 'What, really really?' 'No, Lizzie'. We saw some Grey Plovers (Black-bellied) too, and I saw a Sanderling (bit subtle for Lizzie that one) and a Little Stint (asking a bit much for her this time. Next time maybe). Chuck in some Common Redshanks and we were having a ball. 'Is this what you do every weekend Daddy?' I mean, I hope she likes it, but not every weekend! Also she needed to get back for athletics at 5, so we couldn't really search the place to see where the Sand Plover had gone.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sticking to my guns...

Blimey, with these south easterlies continuing it must be about time for some migrants. So I ignored temptation to the north, and stuck with it here. Still very disappointing, but at least a bit more lively (if you include an arrival of 5 + Willow Warblers), and with a late Common Swift heading high south along the coast.

Offshore... 07:05 - 08:10 - the obligatory Sooty Shearwater eventually went north, and10 Manx Shearwaters. The southerly passage of Red-throated Divers (13), Eurasian Teal (7) and Eurasian Wigeon (9 ) continues just. 3 Great Skuas and 2 Arctic Skuas south, and 1 Arctic north.
16 Common Scoters south, 9 Sandwich Terns, 1 Arctic Tern. 284 Northern Gannets north, 114 S, and 123
Black-legged Kittiwakes south, Didn't count Northern Fulmar or auks, but there were plenty of both.

Sorry bit boring today, but tomorrow is going to be epic. I can feel it in my Swedish au pair's water.

Look what I found while cleaning out my sock drawer (I threw away everything that had a hole in the heel, and all I had left was 1 pair of Christmas socks, unopened, and a single red sock that I'm sure isn't mine. Diane had to buy me some more). Anyway, i found this photo (young people may not remember that in the old days images had to be printed out on special light sensitive paper. I'm not making this up). Dunno who took it, but it wasn't me.

Snowy Owl (well duh!), Wainfleet, Lincs. ?1990.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

More birdspotting

Still not exactly cooking with gas here, but I've lowered my expectations to a level where they match my experience, and as such I'm reasonably satisfied with today's haul of birds. Left work an hour early, in the secure knowledge that no one would ever know, unless I opened my big mouth, and sat on the clifftops from 16:35 - 17:50 before falling through the front door and begging for pity: 'Hi Honey, I'm hooommmmeeee!!! You would not believe the day I had...' etc.

There was a fresh southerly force 4-5 - witness the majority of the Northern Gannets going the wrong way - 55 N and an impressive 445 S, and big flocks of Black-legged Kittiwakes that i couldn't be arsed counting, and about 100 Guillemots and Razorbills, mostly sat on the water.

Two Little Gulls were the cute boys - both moulting 1st summer/2nd winter birds, going south among the feeding flocks of Kittiwakes. These Kittiwakes also pulled in 2 hungry Great Skuas, 23 Sandwich Terns south, 2 Common Terns and 1 Arctic Tern. I had 14 Red-throated Divers heading south, 8 Manx Shearwaters and 3 Sooty Shearwaters. Ducks... 20 Eurasian Wigeon going south, 2 Eurasian Teals inclugding another one that went to sit among the auks, and best of all... wait for it.... my last look at a flock of Wigeon as I was giving up to go home, had.. could it be.. come a little closer my dear... a female Pintail among them. Oh Glorious Patch tick!!

Not a bad illicit undercover birding haul, in all. And totally undetectable, until I got home and Diane mentioned that there were lots of Herring Gulls flying down towards the bay and I went: Oh, yeh, there were a couple of hundred down there earlier when... errr.. I was... errr... working...'

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

To insanity, and beyond!

Lying in my bed at 5.45, occurred to me that I'd been woken by a passing train and the rain pattering against the window, which can only mean one thing... nasty weather from the south-east and time to get up. Walked down to the beach along the Elsick Burn, but *still* with no migrants and desperately green over other people's good falls. Btw, I *really* thing Sky News isn't taking its weather reports seriously just now.

With all the rain, the burn was very full and I wasn't too surprised to find two White-throated Dippers on the beach, feeding among the breakers. Also 12 Ruddy Turnstones here, a couple of ruddy adults among them. As always when the bushes are crap, I stared out to sea, and although there weren't large numbers, the mix of species was just enough to keep my interest for 45 min, 07:15 - 08:00 - i.e. 2 Sooty Shearwaters and 3 Manx Shearwaters, 8 Red-throated Divers south, and 1 N, an unusual 9 Dunlins south, and a patch scarcity 1 Ringed Plover. 3 Great Skuas north, and 2 Arctic Skuas, attacking Black-legged Kittiwakes of which there were 86 moving south. Also 8 Eurasian Teal south, 4 of which landed to sit incongruously among a small flock of Guillemots on the water - btw there were 100+ auks back and forth, which there hasn't been recently.
Northern Gannets - bit confused 113N and 80S, Northern Fulmars 3N and 10 S. I also heard the Herring G
ulls making a racket about something and looked up just in time to see a Peregrine Falcon flying off with prey - an auk sp.

Monday, September 08, 2008

One that got away

After tea, I was sitting in front of the telly, burping occasionally. OK, frequently. Diane was out in the back garden, mixing cement for the patio... hard for her, I know, but I need somewhere new to bury the bodies of my enemies. Anyway, something flew over that struck her as odd, so she called out to me 'Master, master! What's that flying over the house?' Now whereas Diane wouldn't claim to be a top birder, she does know something a bit different when it flies past (e.g. Spotted Flycatcher recently, grrrr....), so I roused myself to upright a bit faster than my normal Jabba-the-Hutt-type progression and saw what she was getting at, moving away from the house at speed and sending the House Martins into a panic. Flapflapflap gllliiideee flapflapflap and everything about it was Hobby! I ran for my nockies, but knew I wasn't going to be quick enough (I *knew* I shouldn't have covered them with tar, locked them in an underground filing cabinet and fed the keys to the cat. Then buried the cat.) By the time I got them out and me out the door, the bird was gone. Alas and bum!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Fannie Mac ate my hamster

Sleeping the sleep of the just... woken by the rain hammering against the bedroom window. Are Sooty Shearwaters really worth getting that wet for? You betcha. Go go go. And to the clifftop, but it really is wet, and visibility is down to a kilometre. I didn't think I was going to see much, and by and large I was right, i.e. 06:55 - 08:00, 208 Northern Gannets, 44 Northern Fulmars and just 29 Black-legged Kittiwakes, all north, perhaps tells you how little there was to see. But I did get 3 Sooty Shearwaters, at the edge of visibility, which in fact was quite close in, and best of all, a Black Tern - only my second patch record. There was a small movement of Eurasian Teal (11N), 2 Great Skuas N, and 2 Red-throated Divers south.

I also went round Newtonhill, pishing into all the sheltered gardens I could find in the hope that Boulmer Birder and Alastair weren't hogging all the migrants, but they were - there was nothing here at all. Deid. But still raining. When I eventually got home I had to burn all my clothes. The jeans were the worst as a Spaniel had licked them. Diane even threw a few pairs of my old pants onto the pyre, to make sure they died.

During the day, I saw there had been a small passage of Sooties at Girdle Ness, so with visibility back to normal and the water stopped falling from the sky, I went out for another seawatch 17:45-19:00. By this time, after that dog had licked my morning jeans and the good clean sky had p*ssed on them, and Peter had vomited copiously over my afternoon jeans, I was on my third pair of keks for the day. But now there were some things to see. Mostly Black-legged Kittiwakes actually - there was a feeding flock of 500+, almost at the horizon, and I could see 2 Arctic Skuas acrobatically harassing them. Closer in, there was a decent passage of Kittiwakes too - 527 north, and another 4 Arctic Skuas passing through, with 5 Great Skuas. At about 18:00 a Long-tailed Skua came through, about 800 m out - dark juvenile. An uncharacteristically easy one too: tiny weedy thing with a wasted rear end and little stick wings and hardly any white in the wings.

I was hoping for a passage of Sooties, but got 34 Manx Shearwaters heading north and no other species. Bearing in mind Sooites were obviously going through at lunchtime, the only word to describe them is 'capricious' Maybe not the only word. But it is a good one.

There were at least 30 Sandwich Terns, 2 Common Terns north, and 8 Arctic Terns (2N 6S), but as rare as Long-tailed Skua in a Newtonhill context was the single Tufted Duck that flew north, reminding me that Greater Scaup remains a hole on the Newtonhill list that by rights should have been filled before Tufty.

229 Northern Gannets north and 2 south, 59 Northern Fulmars north. Sadly nothing amusing happened. Just birds today.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Swimming Cows

I only have myself to blame. It was a perfect opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with enthusiastic kids. To explain about the miracle of migration, about how Sooty Shearwaters visit Newtonhill from the South Atlantic. Maybe recruit a couple of extra soldiers for the war against total environmental meltdown. And I blew it. Still, I am what I am. It went a bit like this... 6.30 pm, and I am seawatching with scope and bins from the bench at the clifftops. Two kids come along, girls, maybe 9, 10 years old, with their Mum, or Dad (I honestly wouldn't like to be drawn on that point) trailing behind. This is the conversation, verbatim as I remember it. I'm not proud, but what can you do?

Girls: Whatcha doing?
Me: Just looking... for things.
Girls: [look at scope] Are you making a video?
Me: Something like that, yeh.
Girl1: [stands right in front of scope] Can you see me?
Me: No, you're too far away.
Girl: Can I look through?
Me: No. Move along.
Girls: Whatcha looking for?
Me: Cows.
Girls: Cowards?
Me: No. Cows.
Girls: [look out to sea!] Can you see any?
Me: Not yet.
Girls: Will there be any here.
Me: Might be; might come swimming past.
Girls: How long have you been here?
Me: Since 1983
Girl 1: Since 3?
Me: No. 1983.
Girl 2: No. How long have you been here today?
Me: Since 1983! [Looks at watch] - yep, about 25 years i think.
Girls: [puzzled,'can't be bothered with this' look] Bye.

I have actually used the 'cows' line before. Last year, I was stood scoping for pipits in a field full of cows. That time it was 2 boys.
Boys: Whatcha looking for
Me: Cows.
Boys ?[puzzled]
Me: Will you tell me if you see any.
Boys: The field's full of them
Me: ? [Looks at field] [Doubletake] Argh!!

Still not proud. But in general it's not a good idea to try and strike up a conversation with me in the field. And that's another thing. Why is it that everyone I met this morning told me 'It's breezy today!'. Yes, I know. Can you tell by my horizontal hair full of yesterday's gel... *I know* it's breezy, and that in fact is why I'm out birdspotting. Now get your stupid dog off my jeans.

Which is me getting ahead of myself again. As many of you will have noticed, there was a bit of an easterly or north-easterly blow going on overnight and this morning (why did no one tell me it was a breezy day?!), potentially good for migrants. Indeed, in the end, it looks like the northeast of Ingerland got lucky. Not Newtonhill. But it could have been us, on another day. So I was out. Started with the sea at 06:15 to 07:20, not sparkling, but 5 Sooty Shearwaters, 3 Manx Shearwaters, all north, 5 Arctic Skuas (1N, 4S). One of the Arctic Skuas was, on shape and size, likely to have been Long-tailed, but just that bit far out. 1 Great Skua north presented no id. problems, nor did 4 Red-throated Divers (3S), 10 Sandwich Terns south, 2 Atlantic Puffins north. For ?fun, I counted Northern Gannets (235N, 4 S), Northern Fulmars (99N) and Black-legged Kittiwakes (33N). I didn't stay too long as I wanted to bash bushes, but in hindsight that was a mistake, with no proper migrants whatsoever around the patch. Very disappointing. However with the wind staying in the NE all day, I nipped out for another seawatch around teatime, 17:45 - 18:45. Another 2 Sooty Shearwaters, and a Great Skua, but very slow. I counted 185 Northern Gannets north, and 38S. Couldn't be bothered counting Kittiwakes but actually they picked up and by the time I finished I reckoned there must have been a few hundred through. And of course a herd of cows swimming majestically in on their annual transmigration of the North Sea. So you can see that my conversation with confused children was the highlight. That's why I put it first. If tomorrow doesn't improve, I'll tell you about my new salt-and-saturated-fat-laden unhealthy snack, going to market in the next few months, I call it 'I can't believe it's not lettuce'.

Actually that reminds me... a final perusal of yesterday's Cage and Aviary Birds, before I used it to line the kids' litter tray, revealed another seller offering 'Calorina Ducks'. I think they're like Carolina Ducks (Wood Ducks), but with more fat and sugar.

Friday, September 05, 2008

In your Super Soaraway Cage and Aviary Birds this week.

Mmmmmm... a bit of interest in C&AB this time. Top of the list..

Purple-backed Stalings [sic] £250 pr. Do they mean Daurian Starlings? They surely do. From Birdways of Stowmarket, if you're interested in releasing one for the autumn.

Still cheaper than Azure-winged Magpies, £425 pr, also from Birdways.

Not your scene? the try
Egg-laying pair of American Kestrels, £350

The ol'd favourite
European Eagle Owl, £75..

for the man who has everything...
4 year old Red Kite female, a bargain at £2500 (wouldn't it be easier to pop down the M40 and collect one?

and without a shadow of a lie... *exactly* as advertised (typos retained for educational interest)
Female Peregrin x saker, 5 years old, no vices, £650.

Wanted Golden Eagle, male preferred Entered.