Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Well, SOMEONE'S got to say it

I don't know who Chris D is, or why he posted this randomly on an Ivory-billed Woodpecker thread on BirdForum
but AT LAST someone has said what we've all been secretly thinking . Chris D, I salute you.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hell, CA, Pop. 4

Very unsightly, my home village of Newtonhill, the day after the village fair. Like Sauchiehall Street on a Sunday morning, the pavements are lined with pizza boxes, urine and the remains of a pipe band. There are no pizza parlours in Newtonhill (population 4), confirming my belief that they sprout out of the ground like mushrooms through the cracks in the pavement. I didn't wander out birding til 10, which isn't ideal, but gave me the opportunity to top up my sunburn. Remember kids, sunburn is bad. I fancied a walk down towards Muchalls (south), not expecting much.
And so starting off at the community park (above) - a meadow of cow parsely and dog crap, with suspiscious looking patches of nettles where generations of Newtonhill folk have quite possibly buried the bodies of their enemies. A Willow Warbler flitting delightfully around the birch trees; Great Tit, Greenfinches, Sedge Warbler and a male Yellowhammer in the gorse. Down the track to Muchalls, there were six Linnets on wires above the setaside, and when the sun came out a Skylark started up, which encouraged a Common Whitethroat to start singing from the gorse too, and then a I noticed one carrying food. Ha! So it was going to be one of those days where the lazy birder like me has to be resigned to trying to enjoy watching bird behaviour, being of course a much more worthwhile and satisfying occupation than bumping up your County records by spotting rare migrants etc. I decided to note breeding birds.... that Whitethroat, Dunnock carrying a faecal sac, juvenile Robin etc - an excellent way of annoying County Recorders. When it comes to compiling the report and they are faced with 'Common Whitethroat - 1, confirmed breeding, Deadpan farm, 25/6/06, unusual for this site' they feel compelled to put it in the report, lest they be accused of over emphasis on 'meaningless' records of occasional migrants rather than the 'scientifically valuable' records of breeding populations. Of course, ad hoc records of breeding pairs doesn't mean diddly squit for the scientific record either (that's what the BTO is for), but it's a brave Recorder that puts their head over the parapet and tells you that. Until that day, I'll go on annoying them. Whoahahahahahahahaaaaaa!!!! :-)
Of course another way of increasing the volume of your records in the County Report is to string records of interesting but not too rare stuff to get yourself noticed on
the local scene. I'm not naming names, but you know who you are and I have proof, so don't mess with me :-0

Just North of Muchalls, the small patch of likely-looking habitat I have christened Water Valley.
Looks good eh? An ideal place to bird if you like standing on the rotting remains of 50 years of garden rubbish and potato peelings (the locals use it as a dump, the 21st century not having reached us yet). More of the same sorts of common birds. A Chaffinch was singing, and although I pished and squeaked till my eyeballs popped, all I did was bring that Chaffinch closer. Greenfinches, Linnets, Balckbirds, Sedgies etc, but one day I will have my Arctic Warbler here. But not today.

Muchalls was a laugh, with families of tits in the tall trees and mature gardens. This village really does look like the donkey's for rare Phylloscs. It's a bit posh though. When the big one does turn up the instructions on the info services will be 'Please respect the wishes of local residents by parking sensibly, not encroaching on private land, smartening yourself up a bit and voting Conservative.' Glad the Scops Owl didn't turn up here! Have a look at Muchalls...

If you walk through Muchalls, with the curtains twitching on either side and little poodles sniffing your legs, you come to Bridges of Muchalls, rather nice rock formations with a shattered shore where Black Guillemots are rumoured to breed, not that I have EVER seen them! There was a flock of 200 Common Eiders here, mostly moulting males - it must itch like Hell, CA., pop. 4, cos they would not stop scratching their bits. Saw some baby Herring Gulls stretching their wings, and a pair of olde-fashioned cliff-nesting House Martins - just like the old days before houses.
Moulting Eiders.

Smallest possible Herring Gulls

Cliff-nesting House Martins under these overhangs.

Male House Sparrow surveys his World

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Great spooky field notes of our time

25th November 1990, when dinosaurs stalked the earth. Martham Ferry, here be dragonnes. And White-tailed eagle... but what's that... a ghosty spooky and very bohemian Waxwing. Ooooh, spooky!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Better than my blog

As I wade through the piles of fan mail in my In Folder each morning, normally about 30 emails offering my Viagra, another 30 for Cialis, 30 for both, 30 telling me not to be the 'little guy', another 30 or so imploring me not to let my lady laugh at me for reasons I can only guess at...but between all those the recurring theme I hear is 'Martin' (for it is I) 'Martin', you say, 'we like your birding blog, we even tolerate the other blog (calcarius - go see, it needs some comments), but your humour is too subtle, too genteel. Martin (and btw, YES that's my name, you're wearing it out), what would really make it funny is lots of gratuitous swearing, uncensored expletive-laden boozy sweary stories about what birding is really like for the yoof.'
Well, I appreciate your concerns, I really do, but sadly I can't oblige. Firstly, I'm not the yoof. Second, and unfortunately, I don't know any rude words. At least, I didn't. UNTIL, I read Tom McKinney's 2006 diary at http://skills-bills.co.uk/birds.htm
So for all your sweary action, I suggest you head off there, and leave my blog the oasis of high-brow culture that it has become. If you're not easily offended, it's much funnier than anything I can come up with.
Pity the poor Miss Cole!

George Bristow's Secret Freezer also recommends Punkbirder http://www.freewebs.com/punkbirder/index.htm

Funny, and sweary-free.

Also this one
Apparently humour-free, but with the added bonus of lots of birds.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Heroes of the birding revolution

Well, Santa let me down - I didn't get my Red-footed Falcon. Yet. It's only 1.30 so I guess there is still time. I DID get an industrial-size Toblerone, which is almost as good, and lasts longer. Or it least it would if it hadn't been set upon by the family as soon as I opened it. Actually, I've had a rather boring morning's birding around Newtonhill. Basiclaly just like last Sunday's but with fewer Pom Skuas, fewer everything, but more baby birds. I chivvied a family of Great Tits (2 ad and 3 kids) from the willows with hi-grade pishing. Think they must have bred in a bird box or something in the houses to the south of the burn, and another brood of Common Whitethroats from the brambles. A Reed Bunting was singing in the brambles opposite St Anns - I never seem to track breeding Reedies down... they seem to be very irregular, but always about. Found an extra 2 Sedge Warblers carrying food along the burn near the A90, which makes a likely 9 pairs in 1 km of Elsick Burn down to the sea.

Tried a bit of a seawatch, but it only lasted half and hour - just auks, kittiwakes and fulmars. I stayed on a bit cos I could see squally showers moving north offshore, and there was just the possibility of birds in front of them. Then suddenly, there were squally showers onshore as well, and there was me out birding wearing nothing but a string vest and my nylon Y-fronts. This was too much even for me.

Don't know about you, but if there aren't many birds about, my mind starts to wander, sometimes it doesn't come back. Of course there's never going to be anything about if you're not looking, but by 12 noon I was doing more thinking than looking... and I was thinking, in a surprising non-pervy way, about the Duchess of Bedford. She was one of thos early 1900s birding characters that you only know about from books, if at all, as a name at the end of, or even in the middle of, papers and notes in British Birds etc. but she sounds like a dynamo. She pioneered Fair Isle with William Eagle Clarke - I first came across her in an account of her finding a Blyth's Reed Warbler in a turnip patch on Fair Isle, must be about 1910-ish, which is a pretty sharp id call even now, never mind wayyyy back then. She turns up all over the place in birding records of the time, not just in Britain either. Notably she saw two birds 'like Green Sandpipers but wit
h dark rumps' at Rye in July 1908 , a month before George Bristow processed 2 Solitary Sandpipers in his little shop. There was no suggestion that the Duchess ever made things up, but George Bristow's ability to produce apparently fraudulent specimens to order is a continuing mystery of the 'Hastings Rarities Affair'. Hence the title of my blog. If you are interested in Hastings Rarities, read my article in Birdwatch magazine -
Collinson, M. 2004. The great south coast swindle. Birdwatch 145:18-22. Let me know if you want a pirate copy, I'm sure Dominic isn't watching.

Apparently unrelated interlude... I guess at this point I'm going to alienate everyone, but between you and me... are birdwatchers uglier than the average population? Cross section of all life and all that, and even I will not be winning any modelling contracts in the near future, and I know some pretty stunning birders, male and female, but on the whole... well.. wandering round the British Birdwatching Fair last year it felt like wandering round the joint conventions of the Societies of Circus Sideshows and Medieval Plague Victims. I mean that in a nice way :-) I'm sure we're all very nice people, very cerebral, but too much time outdoors in parts of the world wheref flies lay eggs in your eyelids etc. takes its toll.

I was thinking this morning that I had previously kind-of imagined the Duchess of Bedford as a ruggedly tousled matronly figure, a bit like Lady Maud in Blott on the Landscape - sort of character who told people to 'buck up', bullied the servants, wore tweed, hunted enthusiastically, would have been first against the wall if the revolution ever came, dying a virgin in spite of 45 years of apparently blissful marriage. But that's just me sterotyping. For all I know she was a chain-smoking heroin-chic drunken sweary pixie-like birding machine who spent the long evenings on Fair Isle keeping William Eagle Clarke entertained with her repartee while polishing his big gun. So while I was out, i resolved to try and find a photo of her by the magical power of the internet when I got home. An
d look at this! Not sure about the hair - looks like when it got too long she would need it sanded down rather than cut.. but you can see that my mental image was well off track. Thanks to the V+A museum and the wonderful expiry of copyright, I present to you Mary Russell, Duchess of Bedford and careless pilot (they never found her body), birder's birder, pioneer of the modern age of birding, and a HERO of the BIRDING REVOLUTION, 1st class

Friday, June 16, 2006

For Fathers' Day

Dear Santa, or Easter Bunny, or Tooth Fairy, or baby Jesus, or whoever is in charge of Fathers' day (probably Hallmark, or whatever company makes those mugs saying 'World's Best Dad'). (note to pedants, we can't all be 'the best'). Anyway, for Fathers' Day, i don't want a mug, I want a Red-footed Falcon flying round Newtonhill, please. And World peace. But mainly the falcon.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Sea Urchins

Back in sunny Newtonhill. Between you and me, it wasn't very sunny... there was a harr lingering offshore. Apparently that's some sort of Scots word for a sea-mist. Which is what it is. Don't get me wrong, I love everything about Scotland, apart from Highland dancing and 80/-, but the Scots words get me down sometimes. I married a Scot, I have hybrid children, or maybe that should be intergrades, or more accurately, abominations, whichever, that's 15 years experience of dealing with Scots words coming up in conversation, but there's thousands of them! Just as I think I'm pretty much on top of it and I can finally understand what Diane is trying to tell me, she comes out with 'am pechin' or something, and whoosh! there's another 10 years to go. Anyway, it was bright, but misty. Oooh, no. before I move on... I HATE it when people use dialect words for birds for no other reason than to show how clever they are that they know a word that others might not. Cushies, linties, cuddies etc., there is NO excuse. Birding is not a private club.

Plenty more baby birds around the patch today - mostly the ones you'd expect - Blackbirds following their mums, spotty Robins, a family of (Winter) Wrens giving high pitched squeaks down by the white houses on the shore. Others I might be more impressed by - a juvenile Stonechat that I flushed carelessly from the gardens of the white houses during a particular noisesome pish. They are irregular breeders here and i hadn't found any putative pairs this spring. Also a fresh fledgling Common Whitethroat in the garden of the Mill. The adults only turned up on site on 4th May, so by my reckoning that is 5.5 weeks to get territory sorted, lay, incubate and fledge. Must check it out, but surely that is TOP SPEED effort.
Also at the Mill, a Song Thrush carrying food for the second brood while a bird fromthe first brood bobbed about, and a Mallard with 8 v small (1/8) ducklings, swimming amusingly against the flow.

Why do shrews die on paths? There was a Common Shrew snuffed along the clifftop, no visible injury, except maybe it was scared by a particularly aggresive Rock Pipit. How many dead shrews have I found on paths (even THAT path) in my life. I don't know, but if I had 50p for every one, maybe I'd be able to afford new binoculars!

Offshore, at least with the mist the sun wasn't too badly against me for a mid-morning seawatch. And it was almost worth it! 26 Manx Shearwaters north. 43 Common Scoters, 114 Northern Gannets, 1 Red-throated Diver. A Pomarhine Skua! Wow! Spoons and everything. Unusual date for one along this coast too, although I have seen some in July before. I tried to get a sooty-faced street urchin to bring it down for me with a stick, like I did for the Norfolk Black-capped Petrel in 1850, but unfortunately on this occasion he failed, drowning himself and his entire family in the effort. On some levels, a tragedy, yes, but on the other hand, it creates some space in the workhouses. I may have been lying about that last bit, but I will someday write an article for a magazine about 'rare seabirds killed with a stick in Britain'. Catchy eh?
Other things, 3 species of Auk, a Sand Martin going south along the coast (weird), 3 Sandwich Terns, 2 Common Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, plenty
Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes, a few Fulmars, and another good Shag.

Blackdog - the brightly shining sea - 8th June

Nipped oout from work for another scan at Blackdog. Took a lingering look at my parking space as I left the car park - bet it will be full when I get back. Smoothly does it, into Blackdog, and walk down to the beach. Must remember to look for dead Guillemots - told Kerry at work I'd bring her one back in a plastic bag.

Thetide was up, so I sat on the sanddunes and stared into the glittery sea. Actually not many ducks on the water at all. There was a tight knot of 150 Common Eiders on the beach to the north, and a smaller knot, a tangle even, of 30 to the south, and about 100 offshore. 5 Common Scoters flying past north were the only scoters. 4 Red-throated Divers, 4 Sandwich Terns. 8 Manix Shearwaters north. So... bored.... can't... stay.... awake. No dead guillemots, though there was a sick Kittiwake that I could almost have picked up, should I have wanted to, and a long-dead Herring Gull. Nothing doing then. Back to work and halleluljah! There is a space in the car park.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Does anyone like yellow wine gums?

Dammit. Just been working my way through a packet of wine gums, but there were 8 yellow ones, and I can't eat any more. I will happily send them on to the first eight people to send me an SAE.

Birds. This morning. An atmospheric shot of a Common Eider sat on a rock - early brooding morning etc etc.

There was this specimen among the 50 'Black-legged' Kittiwakes just above the shoreline. All the books will warn you about these.

It's not the cliffs that are dangerous. It's the jaggy rocks at the bottom.

Quite a pleasant morning out, but not very exciting. I flushed a Dipper Cinclus cinclus from the burn as I bumbled along - bit careless. Haven't seen one recently... they have bred by the Mill the last 3 years, but was no sign after the early spring this year. Suspect they have gone further inland a little way.

3 species of auk feeding on the water, and a few birds going back and forth - mostly feeding movements. Highlights were a couple of Sanderlings moving north close in - second time I've seen them at N/hill, both times at sea - there's nothing for them here apart from those jaggy rocks and sharp sticks. One Great Skua went past north. I assume this will be a non-breeder or not-quite adult, enjoying the summer here. There's plenty to eat, mostly Puffins. Argh! I can't stop thinking about eating Puffins.
2 Red-throated Divers north, 23 Common Scoters (all heading to Blackdog?), and a Eurasian Teal (?? not sure what that's doing). Otherwise, Kittiwakes, Sandwich Terns, Gannets, Fulmars, and a good Shag.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Blackdog - digitally remastered

Didn't take too long 'fore I found out
What people mean by down and out.

Another lunchtime birding session. Digitally remastered Blackdog.

better today cos I could get there -Anderson Drive open. Hurrah. The drake King Eider has been making sporadic appearances here, and even pulled a girlfriend. So you get to the beach, past fallen logs and snapping dogs etc., set up your scope and Argh! there are two young people who obviously want to be alone. Don't mind me. But I don't want to appear a total pervert, so i just set up my scope behind them and stare vacantly out to sea. Several hundred Common Eiders, and a coupler of hundred Common Scoters (now you know what's in thart image), couple of hunfdred Herring Gulls. Two Arctic Terns, a flock of 10 Sarnies. 2 Red-throated Divers... you can tell I'm not getting round to 'King Eider' here. Nope no sign. Having to check the girl eiders too was a bit of a bind, but still not exactly 'Id frontiers'. I walked way down the beach (splosh - who put that burn there?) to some more eider flocks on the sand. No luck. No duck. That reminds me of one of Lizzie's books. grrrrr..... authors of childrens' books should be FORCED to read them out over and over again, every night of their miserable sadistic lives. When age and senility get the better of me, I'll be lying in my bed reciting childrens' rhymes from books I read every night at bedtime for years to thsoe two horrors who didn't scratch my bins. 'Down by the marsh, by the sleepy slimy marsh, one duck, gets stuck in the muck, down by the deep green marsh.' Wish the thing would hurry up and die.

Anyway, back to the present, and Blackdog. The other thing of interest was that there is still a flock of 20 Sanderlings here. High Arctic waders and all that, I know I know, but it's JUNE now guys. Can't help but feel they're taking the piss. I guess they could be non-breeders, but they sure look like breeders.