Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cassette tapes, Persimmon woods, ink jet printers, telephone booths, Sony Walkmans, Kodak 110s, analog TVs, Betamaxes, and 120 SbCs

Weekend... I was down at the British Birdwatching Fair, where no birdwatching was done, but an awful lot of gabbing. So much to report... first thanks to all you blogees who were concerned about my Diamond White intake. You'll be pleased to know that tonight I am drinking nothing but the purest detoxifying JD.

First, a big welcome to the new Editor of
British Birds*.

*disclaimer. Person shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not a new editor of British Birds

The very exciting news that a new and improved Remembird upgrade is but weeks away, that promises to sort out some of the glitches with memory, battery life, and usability that some readers will remember have occasionally caused me to comment.

Look at my new t-shirt. The Ivory-billed Woodpecker reigns supreme as the flagship species for conservation of extinct birds. I wonder if some committee meeting at Birdlife International had an agenda item about '?' vs '!'

btw, it cost me £15... so for that they'd better bloody conserve some IBWOs grrrr......

'I've seen 120 Slender-billed Curlews' :-O

For some reason, Anthony McGeehan turned up naked. See here. Fortunately Mark Constantine (who owns 'Lush', for those of you who doubted my A-list credentials) was there to cover up his privates with some filthy rag. I think the moral of the story is... 'Don't bail on the Sound Approach team.'

I took my old Zeiss 7x42s (remember the scratched ones?) to the Zeiss stand to see if anything could be done to recondition them. They said not to bother. Cleaned 'em up, said the scratch was cosmetic. Could anything be done for the coating on the objectives, asked I, pointing out that it was heavily abraded. They said not to bother, it was just cosmetic, made no difference to the optical performance of the binocular. So next time some binocular salesman is trying to wax lyrical about the coating of some binoculars he's trying to sell you, tell him about this.

The BB team of bird-crazy Hazel (would NOT stop talking about subspecific identification of Locustellas), Roger and I were staying at a B&B with one other Birdfair couple. On Sunday morning she says to me that I was looking the worse for wear and had I drank too much last night? As you know, I drink in great moderation and has genuinely had 2 lager shandies the previous evening. 'Worse for wear' is how I normally look, thank you very much. She is from Glasgow, though hasn't lived there for many many years. When she met another couple from Glasgow at her stall in the Art tent, the first thing they asked her was 'what school did you go to?' Some things never change*.

*For people who aren't familiar with the Weejie scum mindset... the question is a way of asking whether you are Protestant or Catholic.

In Kazakhstan, we shoot all the bears.

The t-shirt wasn't my major extravagance of the weekend. For nearly 20 years now I have owned and used a Slik D2. About 5 years ago, it was kinda funny that I was still keeping it going, but the joke has started to wear thin. So I bought myself a new tripod.

Yes, you poor old SlikD2. You were my first love, but time has not been kind to you and you have been replaced by a younger sexier Italian model with fantastic legs, better lubrication and a smoother head action.

There's a lesson for us all there, though I can't quite put my finger on it. Unlike my new Italian model.

Wednesday 26th August 09.
I took my new tripod for a 05:45-06:45 spin, worried that Xenospiza was sat at home worrying about how many Northern Gannets were passing Newtonhill. The answer... 109 north. Happy now? Actually it was still pretty dark when I started, only brightening up and a few Gannets starting to go through as I had to go. Tssk. Other things around... 2 Arctic Skuas N together, a few Common Scoters scooting back and forth (36N 12S). 6 Common Teals S, 5 Red-throated Divers south, 119 Sandwich Terns north, 16 Common Terns, and 6 Common Redshanks.

A big hi to all the people I met for the first time and all those I only see once a year.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Loch Tay - home of the fabled Loch Tay Monster.

We were meant to be away Friday and Saturday night at an idyllic campsite on the banks of Loch Tay, home of the fabled Loch Tay Monster that I just made up. A severe weather warning on Friday night, so we postponed our departure til Saturday morning, so we only had to enjoy the balmy midge-filled Saturday evening in a tent.

So Saturday, we skidded and slid the car across the mud-slide of a camp site with difficulty, mostly because of the evacuation of soggy campers that went on throughout the day. We decided to pitch just off the road, and by evening, it was just us, a green tent up the hill, and a refugee camp of some extended family of geordies in three enormous tents, in the prime site beside the showers. Loch Tay... geographically, was not far away, but it was a 45 degree descent down a mudslide and operational forest cutting. I kept myself amused and Diane a little annoyed with my persistent Mel & Kim impression... 'Tay tay tay tay t-t-t-t-t tay tay, take or leave us but please believe us we are never going to be respectable' at high volume at regular intervals. It was pissing down all night, apart from a 10 minute spell in the evening when I flew the kite. Then cooked beans crouched down behind the shelter of the car like a gnome. In the morning when I slid across to dump the can, and wondering where the green tent had gone, I found (?)it, flysheet, guy ropes, poles, the whole bang sheboot, dumped in the bin, with the owners nowhere to be seen. I bet there's a story there that kept me giggling all day. Crannog Centre,

where this spider turned up on the car

and (this is the birdy bit), lunch on the banks of the river at Dunkeld where there were enormous numbers of
Sand Martins (Bank Swallows ) and Goosanders (Common Mergansers).

Friday, August 14, 2009

It was nice being popular... and Emma Wray naked.

Normal number of hits per day ~30. At least 20 of which have googled 'Emma Wray naked' (Try it!). Post something about Slender-billed Curlew and the whole world (or about a thousand of them) come to your door.

Alas I have no plans to maintain my new found popularity.

BUT there hasn't been any Ivorybill activity for a while, so I thought I could add my bit. Remember when the paper by Hill et al published 'toot' noises and sonagrams from the Florida woods that they suggested could be IBWOs but I suggested were a better match for baby White-tailed Deer?

Posts here and here.

My problem, at least one of them, is that I have never heard baby deers and a search of YouTube came up with nothing. Well now it doesn't come up with nothing. Check out this one.

I have no idea if these are White-tailed Deer or some other sort of deer (someone please advise), but made sonagrams anyway of the bleats from 1.37 to 1.42 and this is what you get.

Eyeballing them, they are a better match for the Florida 'toots' than they are for the archival IBWO recording (see the second of my postings above). But on the other hand, they don't sound the same as the 'putative kent' noises published by Hill et al here and here. Allwing for differences in microphones, equipment, etc. I have difficulty believing that the 'putative kents' came out of a deer. Not as much difficulty as I have believing they came from an IBWO, but all the same...

Birding too. Is there no limit to my talents? Teatime in the rain. I remember as a young boy birding round Flamborough and one of the older hands (we shall call him 'Andrew' to preserve his anonymity) told me that rare birds don't turn up in the rain, that I should go and have a cup of tea and he would let me know when it was easing off. Well, I learnt my lesson there. So at teatime, in pissing rain and an easterly breeze, I went out birding to hoover up the harvest of flycatchers and warblers that would be waiting for me. 2 hours and 1 Willow Warbler later, I was on the seawatching bench, still in the pissing rain and visibility down to, well, I could see my toes. In 30 minutes... 3 Arctic Skuas (Parasitic Jaegers), 1 Great Skua (Huge F*ckoff Jaegers), 12 (!) Northern Gannets, 7 Manx Shearwaters. However the birds were tanking past so fast in the tailwind, and in such haze and poor light I realised that if, for example, something good came past, I was never going to get enough on it to get a description through. Which is a shame, cos actually something did come through in the half-visibility that looked pretty good, but it got away and we never speak of it again. I mean it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Links

For those who thought the UK was a developed nation

and for those who thought westward vagrancy of Saker was unlikely (thanks to Chris Kehoe for pointing this out)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bit more SbC

First, a comparison with the Minsmere Curlew (both montages, Moroccan bird left, Druridge Bird middle, the Minsmere 'Slender-billed' Eurasian Curlew at right. Not exact poses but I don't have as much to choose from for Minsmere. Allan Tate at right, I think the lower Minsmere bird is Dick Newell's.

Next, a poor but good enough grab from Trevor Charlton's video showing the Druridge bird in a more erect 'SbC-like' stance.

Finally, an example of how too little resolution and too much contrast can start to turn a rather fine picture of a Eurasian Curlew (Dick Newell again, I think)

into a diamond-spotted putative SbC.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Not many birds, quite a bit of mammal biomass.

First, note the update to yesterday's post.

I had meant to get up early for a seawatch and a pound round the Mill gardens etc looking for any migrants. However I unaccountably missed my 5.30 alarm call (perceptive readers might link that with yesterday’s Diamond White comment), and in the event I didn’t get out until teatime.

It was very very quiet – occasional Willow Warbler houeet from the bushes, but apart from a flyover Eurasian Sparrowhawk, nothing.

However I did collect this impressive haul of dead shrews. The Pygmy Shrew at left is so old it’s almost a fossil. Common Shrew in middle is nice and fresh, and the Common Shrew at right is nicely middling.

There was a White-throated Dipper on the beach, too. And this mess of a hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow on the rocks.

Offshore, for a mere 30 min from 17:45-18:15, lots more Black-legged Kittiwakes, a pitiful 2 Northern Gannets and that was it. EXCEPT a flock of 4 White-beaked Dolphins that started breaching. I tried to get a photo, but the problem is that between pressing the shutter and getting the image, the beautiful sight of a dolphin arching gracefully through the air in delight becomes a rather embarrassing, 2.5-scoring and rather sore-looking bellyflop splash.

Mystery photograph, anyone? Clue, the bird is flying off to the right.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

The Druridge Curlew (and a seawatch so boring my heart stopped again).

Back in time to the murky depths of the last century, May 1998, in a tiny uninhabited rump of England called Druridge Bay. Here, primitive man fashioned rudimentary binoculars out of flint chips and animal hides, and saw the bird that was subsequently accepted as Britain's first (and the Western Pal's last?*** Update*** not true, see below) Slender-billed Curlew. It came to BOURC just before my time, so I wasn't involved with the assessment. And I didn't see it either. Anyway, the identification has been doubted by people who didn't see it, and inspired by 660 posts of bickering in a BirdForum thread called Slender-billed Curlew - 10 years on, I compared some images from a video produced by Justin Carr of the Druridge bird with stills from a video on YouTube taken at Merja Zerga in 1994 of the last Moroccan SbCs. The Moroccan video is by Andy Butler.

In each of the following images,the left hand bird is an SBC from Merja Zerga (Andy Butler) and the right-hand bird if the Druridge bird (Justin Carr). I hope they don't mind me doing this. In some of the images I have horizontally flipped one or other bird so thety are looking the same way. Also bear in mind that the Moroccan birds are adults and the Druridge is a 1s hence the moult pattern.

Look at the bill shape and proportions above, and also the exact pattern of black spotting in the upper breast and flanks. Considering how individual feathers canbe displaced in the wind and due to brushing by vegetation, I am surprised how much match there is. The Druridge bird has head and body proportions similar to a real SbC too.

This one below is interesting cos it shows the narrow bill base of SbC and the Druridge bird (the Minsmere Eurasian Curlew by contrast had a broad bill base).

This one below shows the wing length of the Druridge bird and it looks to be in the right ballpark for SbC

The two below are perhaps less informative, but the top one maybe puts the Druridge bird's primary projection as a tad shorter than the Moroccan bird. But it also shows the extent of flank spotting to be pretty much identical

As followers of the shenanigans surrounding the-woodpecker-we-shall-not-name will know, it's not enough to show that your image of a potentially extinct bird is consistent with that species, you also have to show it is not consistent with Pileated Woodpecker. I mean any other commoner species. Sorry. Frankly we now know that Eurasian Curlew can look superficially similar to SbC and the quality of the video images from the Bronze Age are not anywhere near as good as we would have got if the Druridge bird had shown up in these modern communist times. Fortunately, I have some Eurasian Curlews among the video grabs from Justin Carr's video. I should say that I took this videograbs when BBRC and BOURC were looking for photos to illustrate the paper in British Birds, so I didn't keep many shots of the rest of the curlew flock. But I've got these two...

In the top one the Druridge bird is at back, with a Eurasian Curlew at front. The danger is that the apparent black 'diamond' spotting on the flanks of the 'boy' was a video artifact caused by poor resolution and high contrast of the video. That the chevron flanks of a Eurasian Curlew could look diamond spotty under these conditions. I think the grabs of Eurasian Curlew confirm that this is apossible concern, but in both shots the Eurasian flank markings appear less contrasty and more chevron shaped (as they should ) than the bird of interest. (especially top shot with the direct comparison). Not great evidence, but I think there's enough here to suggest that the apparent diamond spotting of the Druridge 'SbC' is real.

I think the similarity between the Druridge bird and SbC is quite impressive. But do you know what the most impressive thing is... that I've been drinking Diamond White all night and can still spell shenanigans.


I also did a seawatch this evening after a barbecue at Newtonhill Church where Lizzie has been praising God for his creation of curlews, woodlice and sweets. It was so boring I only last an hour (the seawatch, not the barbecue). (The barbecue had chickens, which is more than the seawatch did). There were hundreds of Black-legged Kittiwakes, including many many fresh juveniles (at sea, not the barbecue). Now I don't want to disrespect Kittiwakes, they are most marvellous birds with an enterprising juvenile plumage that should win design awards, but frankly, I've seen enough Kittiwakes for this life (but I haven't eaten enough - I bet they'd be good in a bun with tartare sauce). Highlights were 2 Black Guillemots flying south towards Muchalls. They are just about annual here, and Muchalls represents pretty much their southern-most breeding point on the east coast. 9 Northern Gannets going north between 18:00 and 1900, 1 Manx Shearwater and 1 Great Skua were just enough to remind me that I was looking at the sea, but it was pretty desperate stuff. Is it any wonder I drink?

Update - Hungary record 2001 - thanks to members of the WestPal birds email list that supplied me with details of the forthcoming publication of an accepted multiobserver record form Hungary in 2001.

Oláh, J. Jr. & Pigniczki, Cs. (2009): The first XXIst century record of Slender-billed Curlew (Numenius tenuirostris) in Hungary. Aquila, 114, p. ???
A summer plumaged adult male Slender-billed Curlew (Numenius tenuirostris Vieill. 1817) was observed near Apaj in the Kiskunság National Park on the 15th of April in 2001. The observation was accepted by the MME NB (Hungarian Cheklist and Rarities Committee) as the first XXIst century observation of the species in Hungary. To our knowledge this record also represents the first documented and accepted observation anywhere in the World. The identification was made after a very thorough examination and was based mainly on the size, plumage details, colouration, bill, legs and body shape. The identification was also supplemented by a video recording made through the telescope. Detailed description of the this bird is given in this paper as well as describing the status of the species in Hungary. A copy of the documentary video was also deposited in the archive of the MME NB.

Sunday, August 02, 2009


Many apologies. My guest blogger from the previous post appears to be a little confused about what is real and what is cult movie. You'll be glad to know that I am alive, though I did have a bit of a brush with a fat-arsed Shh-mutant Wicker man.

After Skye, starting to think that maybe the seawatching season is starting. Soooo... ignoring the offshore winds and apparent absence of birds:

Sunday 26th July 09. 18:36-19:40
6 Manx Shearwaters north
1 Great Skua south, attacking Kittiwakes, and then probably the same one, going back north for another go.
1 Red-throated Diver S
22 Red Knots, South.

AND, my first kill of the autumn. It was me or him. Nasty vicious fangs in my toes. Wouldn't let go.

Pygmy Shrew

Wednesday 29th July 09
Late morning... the house starts to fill up with kids, not all of them mine, so I head out for a bit of mid-day July birding. Unsurprisingly, very few birds (1 Common Whitethroat), but plenty of butterflies, including Dark Green Fritillary and Ringlet (both second patch records) up the cliff steps, with the usual Small Coppers, Common Blues, Meadow Brown and Small Whites.

Offshore for 30 min from 12.00, just 1 Arctic Skua, 10 Eurasian Teals, and a few Atlantic Puffins and Northern Gannets.

As I walked back to the house, 4 Black-tailed Godwits flew over, going south along the coast, itself unusual (have previously seen them once or twice on seawatches). This was about 12.30. Interestingly, at 5.30 pm, 4 were on the lagoons at Musselburgh, according to Birdguides. Reckon it would take a Black-tailed Godwit about 4-5 hours to make the journey. Wonder if they were the same ones.

Sunday 2nd August 09
Seawatch 07:10 - 08:40. S winds still.
Rather boring...
1 Great Skua N, 11 Common Scoters and 1 Velvet Scoter S.
Also 3 Eurasian Teals and Common Goldeneye. 25 Annoying Small Waders S, and a Guillemot (Common Murre) on the water with a single chick.,. The first I've seen here this year.

Guest Blogger

Hi All

After a bit of a delay, the blog today is being written by me, Edward Woodward (you may remember me from such long running TV hits series as 'The Equalizer'). Martin was called away to investigate the disappearance of a young girl on an island off the west coast of Scotland, and after
a long and frankly rather implausible series of adventures, was burnt in a large Wicker effigy. I, in contrast, was on Skye from 18th-25th July, at a house on the Braes overlooking Raasay, from where it was possible to scope the Sound and see Black Guillemots at play. Or being played with by Great and Arctic (Parasitic) Skuas. I spent some time floating in the water in my dead fish outfit, until I saw this sight coming towards me.

At which point I reached for my camera and got this single shot of
White-tailed Eagle, the male from the Portree nest.

In Portree harbour, this Glaucous Gull was savouring a fish head.

We saw dinosaur footprints fossilised on the beach at Staffin... here

and enhanced here for the hard-of-seeing.

Also, I need someone to identify my moth for me...