Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bonus Birds

Another walk round the patch. Frosty day. Blatently obvious that there will be nothing to see. So I amused myself taking this photo of one of our local telegraph poles. Unlike other parts of the country, we use Common Buzzards to separate the wires. Grrr.... those wires.

Then Lo! or moreover, Blimey! A flash of iridescent blue in the sunshine and there was a Common Kingfisher flying up the Elsick Burn. And great was the Joy of the people of Israel, for it was only the third such bird in 3 years of patch watching, and indeed a useful patch year tick. I started to compose a round up of my patch year with... 'and it all ended in a splash of colour... etc etc.' largish skeins of Pink-footed Geese have been buzzing round this past couple of days, and I wonder if this is all part of a movement to the coast away from icy inland.

I flushed a Great Spotted Woodpecker from the Mill garden and it flew to the feeders at the retreat. Must be the day for brightly coloured near-passerines. Only a Goldcrest and a single male Common Chaffinch in the bushes otherwise.

Down on the beach, another mild surprise - this adult Lesser Black-backed Gull - surprisingly hit n' miss in Newtonhill even in summer, and scarce scarce scarce in winter. Surely the best gull of the day? Also a (the) Common Redshank on the beach and three Ruddy Turnstones. And a yellow-billed Common Eider in the sea.

Had a bit of a look offshore, but apart from a few more gulls (Herring, Black-headed, Great Black-backed) and a roving flock of 6 Common Eiders, I was struggling. So walked back along the south side of the burn and a flock of 6 Black-headed Gulls was flying inland. One of them caught my eye as being a bit white, so bins up and By Jingo! A second winter Mediterranean Gull. Ka-chow! A patch tick, unseasonal, and completely out of left field. As usual, pathetic but unedited on the spot field notes attached.

A rather nice addition to my patch list, but rather spoilt my Kingfisher-centric 'the year ended in colourful manner etc etc.' roundup, which just goes to show that some people are never happy.

There's only one way this midwinter wander could get any more exciting. You know it, and I know it... only one way. And it happened. As I walked past the Mill Garden again in the gathering gloom, I stumbled over this incarnation of my particular deity. A Common Shrew. God Bless us, Every One!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Selection Box is for Life, not just for Christmas

Thursday 27th December 07

ooooh.... I'm as full as a bull's bum. Waddled out birding in the afternoon, the usual look round the patch. Ahhh, it's so sad. You know how it is. All the kids want a selection box of low quality chocolate for Christmas, cos they look all cute and appetising in the shops (and ALL their friends are getting one, of course). But they don't think it through. They don't want to clear up the mess, and they don't realise how long they live. So within a few days of Christmas, they're being discarded and drowned in the local burn. This was the scene around Newtonhill this morning.

But the good news is… there’s no need for it. There are very good Selection Box rescue centres all around the country, where they never put a healthy selection box to sleep. But mostly, remember parents… don’t just buy them on a whim. Personally I think you should have to apply for a licence before you’re allowed to own one.

A few birds as well - Mount Doom, the local dungheap, was being spread and ploughed onto the stubble up by the A90, so there were a few hundred gulls to be sifting through - nearly all Herring Gulls, but about 50 Black-headed Gulls and a few Common Gulls. On the beach, 19 Ruddy Turnstones and 1 Common Redshank, and a pair of Common Stonechats among the seaweed. Surprised to see them wintering here, but then again I was surprised to see them summering, then surprised again to see them 'possibly on passage', andnow wintering. Will I eventually accept they're just 'resident'? Find out in the next exciting adventure of Pigs... in... SPACEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Tangerine for Christmas

Probably the best tangerine in the World.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

To fortune, a much maligned lady

I had such big plans for these holidays. I was going to start to write my book. Then I decided maybe I could read a book instead. Or perhaps I could find a really in-depth insightful documentary on TV and watch that. It's now 10.12 on Sunday night and I'll settle for just seeing what's on and watching whatever. Mmmm Still Game. Now that's funny. But I've been birding. And made a cake. Usual Sunday morning routine. Diane lying in a bit so I filled the kids with Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, and, because it's Christmas, a big piece of cake, then fled the house before the sugar got to their brains. It's all gone a bit Baltic out there. Good actually, cos it has shook up the birds a bit and there was plenty about to be looking at. Common stuff, but stuff all the same - including Meadow Pipits and Eurasian Siskins flying overhead, which is always a good sign of things on the move. several mdium-sized flocks of Chaffinches, European Goldfinches, Eurasian Greenfinches, House Spaarows, mostly loiteruing around garden feeders up the bank from the Elsick Burn. Fantastic lookie at one of the local Common Buzzards sat on a fence post above a rabbit warren.

On the beach a Common Redshank was chased off by a juvvy Grey Heron, and on the rocks there were 3 Eurasian Oystercatchers, 5 Ruddy Turnstones and 3 Purple People Eaters. I mean Purple Sandpipers, just having a bit of a retro moment there. There was a single
female Eurasian Bullfinch (patch year tick?) in the willows and other crap at the top of the cliff path.

Offshore - several Northern Fulmars in a brisk southeasterly - the first for a few weeks, a couple of Great Black-backed Gulls and a single Guillemot (Common Murre).

Scouting for Richard's Pipits, I went up to the allotments and then along the coastal fields to Muchalls (3 Roe Deer and a Song Thrush for my trouble), before traipsing back along the Muchalls path, adding nothing to my bird list but trying to avoid assorted dogs.

How come Jesus never remembers MY birthday?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cockoo For Caca

It's cold and it's smooth and it's a hard shade of white... but mostly it's just cold cold cold. And a biting easterly today as well. Good for migrants in October but good for freezing your swonnicles in December. I went for a good poke round the patch this morning, and saw very little indeed, especially away from garden feeders. European Robins, Dunnocks, Common Blackbirds, Grey Heron, all the usual residents. A Peregrine Falcon carrying away a Black-headed Gull was the highlight over the cliffs, but there were other raptors around too, viz a Eurasian Sparrowhawk hunting over Cow Field, a Common Kestrel and Common Buzzard over Cran Hill.

1 Common Eider and a Grey Seal in the bay, and offshore a single Velvet Scoter flying north, a Common Goldeneye south, 6 Common Gulls, 2 Guillemots (CommonMurres) and 2 Northern Gannets, which are pretty scarce by now. Everything's common today. Even me. Which reminds me... What's black and sticky and runs out of the ground yelling 'knickers! knickers!'? Crude Oil. What's
What's black and sticky and runs out of the ground yelling 'underwear, underwear!'? Refined Oil. What's Brown and sticky? A stick. What's brown and sticky and sits in the woods? Winnie the poo. You don't get this sort of entertainment on BirdChick.

Some other birds. A bugger it, there were no other birds I can be bothered writing about. Xmas presents to wrap and all that. Ooh, except a Redpoll (sp) that flew over - not too common. Unless it was a Common Redpoll. But it was almost certainly a Lesser.

Here's a photo of the sea and the sky, and some stones.

Offshore, there was a fishing boat being tossed around like a tossy turny thing. I tried a video holding my phone up to the scope, but it failed miserably to capture the drama of the occasion. Here... but it's not worth your while. If you go full screen you might just spot the boat.

I almost certainly ignored this article when it came out.

Have spent the afternoon doing a bit of tidying up, which includes recycling my enormous collection of fire hazards in the loft, including lots of old Birdwatch magazines. The May 2001 issue (here)

carried an essay by James Tanner called ' A Forest Alive', which I have never seen in full before. Here's some quotes, again which I've never seen in full

Winter is the best time to hunt for Ivory-bills. The birds were quite active and called frequently; their calls carried far through the leafless forest, and the same bareness made it easier to see and follow them. Every day of this season was used in hunting, trying to follow and count the birds before spring made it harder and also necessary to concentrate on nesting studies. Steady pursuit of the woodpeckers did not mean that eyes and ears were closed·to other birds and animals; instead, we were often led right among them. One December morning I started out well before daylight and walked through the dark woods to the roost tree of an Ivory-bill. Barred Owls were hooting ~ from here and there, and three of them flew from the tree-tops, hooting as they went, near the Ivory-bill's roost. By then, 6.30, there was a dim grey light in the woods. I knew there was plenty of time, so settled myself comfortably on a dry hummock. Brown Thrashers were just beginning to call. Soon White­-throated Sparrows and a Winter Wren sang, a squir­rel 'mewed' and a Carolina Wren called. At 6.45 the thrashers were very noisy, calling a hoarse, vigorous charr that welled up from the undergrowth. The sky in the east glowed rosy-pink, when suddenly and mysteriously the thrashers quietened. Three Wood Ducks flew over and then slanted down, twisting their way through the branches to land nearby in the water. Several loud plunks puzzled me, until I found that they were caused by large acorns falling into the still water. Two squirrels, one black and one grey, were creeping out along the twigs of a tall oak after the acorns, knocking many loose. When a squirrel suc­ceeded in securing an acorn, it crawled back with its gain to some comfortable limb to eat. The next bird to call was a White-breasted Nuthatch. At seven o'clock came the whining cry of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, the early riser among the winter woodpeckers, but not really early as by then the woods were quite light. Soon after that, a Red-bellied Woodpecker called and others answered immediately. One Red-belly flew to the top of the dead stub in which the Ivory-billed Woodpecker roosted, and drummed on the top. Almost at once a female Ivory-bill slipped quietly from her roost hole and jerked her way to the top of the stub, where she rapped and called a few times. Then she flew to another tree and settled to preen herself, interrupting her toilet occasionally with a call or a sharp pound on the limb. Another Ivory-bill answered from a short distance north and then flew to join the first; it was another female, but judging from its appearance a bird of the year. The two sleek black and white birds called and pounded a few times and then flew off together to begin feeding. I followed them on this day for three quarters of an hour as they moved from one tree to another until they finally took a long flight beyond my sight and I was not able to find them again.


Spring was the busy season for hunting and following the Ivory-billed Woodpeckers. They are like most birds in being active and noisy in the early morning: consequently we did most of our searching then. The usual routine was to be up an hour before daylight, cook and wolf a quick breakfast, and be on the trail as soon as it was light enough to see the way.

As other have pointed out... you can only rationalise the failure of the current searches if you don't include the words 'active and noisy', 'called frequently' and 'easier to see and follow', in your dataset.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Choose Life

Martin is on holiday, getting himself a slice of the action in Bali. Your blog post today is Guest-written using text from John Hodge and is narrated by Ewan McGregor.

Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a ******* big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose a three-piece suite on hire purchase in a range of ******* fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the **** you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing ******* junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, ****** up brats you spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life. But why would we want to do a thing like that? We chose not to choose life. We chose somethin' else... the intensive study of wild birds in their natural environment.

At lunchtime I went for a wander round Rosemount to get me a slice of the Bohemian Waxwing action... but all I got for my pain was a single fly-by, which didn't lend itself to intensive study. They were all down near King's apparently.

Ach, who am I kidding?? No one wants to hear about what I did. You're either looking to see if I said something coherent about IBWOs for a change or let's face it, you want another page of the ex-Miss Lawson's birding experiences as taken from her personal diary. I really am dead next time she checks what I've been writing.

We never did get a painting. Still waiting to clear my overdraft.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Lest we forget.... one I'd forgotten

In lieu of proper birding, here we go again. I was flicking through notebooks from days of yore... all the way back to 31st March 1988*. I was very young... it's the only way I can explain what you are about to see. Apparently I was on Anglesey, Newborough Forest and Malltraeth. I really have forgotten everything about the day, but my notebook lists 40 (yes, 40) species of bird that day, including whatever the hell this was. Was I trying to draw a Red-necked Grebe? A crippling summer plumaged Red (Grey) Phalarope? Some sort of unholy Canada Goose x Merganser hybrid? No gentle readers (both of you), apparently a female Red-crested Pochard!? I have absolutely no rational justification for anything on that page. But it's worth laughing at. Especially the bit about the helpful birders. If they could see me now... they'd go - 'there he is!'

*My notebook does record that it was very cold, not unusual in those days... in the time before corrupt incompetent socialist scientists invented global warming by parking their do-gooder hybrid cars with the gun control bumper stickers too close to a weather thermometer as part of some sort of anti-capitalist agenda. I think that just about covers it.

Until the glorious day, brothers and sisters... FREEDOM FOR TOOTING!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Lest we forget - Blackness 1995

Been busy. Down to Newcastle on Saturday for a meeting. The BOURC* (*views expressed in this post are the views of the individual writing it, and have not been endorsed by BOU Council and do not necessarily represent the views of any other individual or organisation) recommends...

1) East Bengal Monkfish Curry at the The Plaza, Tynemouth
2) Remembering your jumper for the walk back.

Anyway, got back last night, and didn't get out birding today. Partly cos it was wet. So I will do you a blast from the past... call me Nostradamus, but I can foresee no possible repercussions from scanning pages out of your spouse's personal diary and putting them on the web without her knowledge. So here it is from the pen of the ex-Miss Lawson. Still a very good Scottish bird... the Blackness '95 Firecrest.

And this is my take on the thing.

I've been doing a bit of reading... and I think the most nonsensical thing I read was from here.

'On the grounds of parsimony, I find some of these criticisms, including those levied by Sibley et al. (2006), to be more contorted and dubious than the original affirmative evidence. Also, some of this criticism was levied by those who, despite searching many yearsfor the woodpecker and generally recognized as experts (Jackson 2006), were not part of the Arkansas discovery team. Candidly, in these and in other instances, one cannot entirelydiscount envy, turf-guarding, or other inherent human motivations as contributing to some of the criticism. At times, I’ve been hard-pressed to imagine any definitive evidence that might ever convince some of the critics, even film, digital image, video image, fresh feathers, or a DNA tissue sample of the IBWP'

I mean, honestly. And it still doesn't cite my paper. and I'm still not bitter.

Interesting stats (maybe accurate, can't vouch for the odd one or two out)... on Tom Nelson's blog
by the artist formerly known as Ivory-bill Skeptic.
November 2006. Posts, 37, on IBWOs. C omments, 450.
November 2007. Posts 247 (!!), nearly all on climate change, Comments 12.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Dog crap, golf courses and my other favourite things

I'm just back from a trip to Peterborough (Petrograd). A combined 11.5 hours on the train... got a lot of work done, saw a huge flock (100) of Stock Doves north of Newcastle and (DON'T TELL PRINCE HARRY!!!!!) a Hen Harrier (Northern Harrier) just this side of the Scotch border.

But on Sunday I was birdspotting in Newtonhill, and saw some European Robins, errr... 2 Common Blackbirds strutting (yes, strutting) and other things of similar rarity value. 1 Redpoll (sp.) flew over, calling.

There was no sign of last week's Siberian-esque Chiffchaff, but I stood by its bushes and played my Yellow-browed call at maximum volume - may have overdone the volume, cos I flushed a male Common Pheasant!! A Eurasian Sparrowhawk was on the prowl, flying fast over from Cran Hill ans smashing into the pine trees at the corner of Newton Road, bugging the starlings. About 20 minutes later it turned up again at the clifftops, this time bugging a flock of 12 Rock Pipits.

On the way to the cliff tops, I watched a pair of Common Stonechats up the cliffs. A single male Common Eider was in the bay... basal half of the bill was lemony yellow, distal half 'eider green'. Argh! Has it got so boring it has come to this, racial identity of Common Eiders... *again*. And this from someone who can't be arsed travelling 5 miles up the coast to see a m/f pair of King Eiders. I'm telling you, dear reader, one of us has got their priorities wrong, and it's not necessarily you. Although if you're reading this, it might be you.

Offshore - not much. No Little Auks, but there were 2 other, notLittle Auks, going north and a couple of Guillemots (Common Murres) on the sea. 1 Red-throated Diver went north.

I got home and found the sole of my left boot covered in gritty dog crap. Thanks for that! My pet hates... #1 - dog crap (also badly trained dogs, for that matter, and frankly I'm not keen on dogs full stop, which is going to be a problem now Lizzie wants a puppy). #2 - Fat capitalists in suits who 'do deals' on environmental disaster golf courses. Which brings me to the Trump golf course plans (for anyone who's been living on Mars, or in the USA, see, for example, here). Encouraged by the local ABZ bird mailing list, I sent the following to our 68 councillors on Sunday afternoon.

Dear Councillors
Briefly I would like to applaud the Council’s brave decision to refuse further permission for the Trump golf course and hotel/housing plans. This was the right decision. While it is of course important to encourage investment and new people into Scotland, the Council’s decision sends out a strong message that we have a vision for how NE Scotland should be developed that incorporates a high priority for retaining the natural assets that make the place special. Any planning application that intends to stabilize the dune system would destroy the very characteristic that lead to its SSSI status.

As of today, I got 16 replies, of which 7 are on the lines of 'thanks, I agree', 2 are 'thanks, we'll have to wait and see'. No one has had the guts to say they disagree, but 7 replies are 'thanks, I acknowledge', which is probably the same thing.

One councillor said '
I have been appalled at the abuse my fellow councillors have had to endure, both in the press and through letters, email and phone calls. It is inevitable in any planning decision that there will be winners and losers, and as councillors we know this, and have to weigh up the evidence and make our decisions.' which sounds sensible to me. Of course it is all irrelevant at this level. As sure as eggs is eggs, our SNP government will bend over backwards to p*ss on our environmental legacy and find a way to bypass the refusal. We can try an conserve things for 5, 10, 15 years, but ultimately it's all screwed.

While I'm on the subject of people p*****g on their legacy. I know he'll take it in good spirit. :-$

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

What better way to celebrate the Siberian weather...

...than with some Siberian birds?

Within five minutes of the kids getting up this morning, one of them was back in her room until she was ready to say sorry, and the other one was on his last warning. I did what any responsible father would - left them for their Mum to sort out, wrapped up warm and went for the usual circuit of Newtonhill, thinking there would be no birds but at least I could go down the cliffs to hoover up any lingering Little Auks.

Predictably, things were very very quiet, with the only excitement being flushing a hidden Grey Heron from the banks of the Elsick Burn. In the Mill Garden there was only a Great Tit at first, but as I tracked the bushes down to the beach, I heard something calling repeatedly - a monosyllabic 'eeeeih' or something, over and over again. It reminded me a little of the Donmouth Hume's Leaf Warbler from last year (here and here), although possibly a purer note. So I was hoping it was one of them. I didn't have Hume's call on my phone (bit of an oversight that) but remembering how that Hume's had responded (weakly ;-) ) to Yellow-browed call, I gave the unseen birdy a blast of that. What appeared in the willows 3 m from my head was a chiffchaff... so suddenly it fell into place and I realised that for the first time I was hearing the 'sad' call of a candidate tristis, i.e. Siberian Chiffchaff. Ka-chow! And while it was sat there stunned by Y-bW decibel-overload I got a really good look at it, confirming there was no yellow in the face - a fully buff supercilium, white eye ring, darker lores. Generally the bird was a study in brown and buff. The upperparts were brown - not dark brown, but a mid dirty brown (not really grey or green tinges at all), and the underparts from throat to vent were dirty off-white tinged with buff especially along the flanks. There was quite a discrete greater covert bar, with the tips of the outer 4-5 coverts at least being fringed paler buffy/grey (a long way from white). A flash of yellow feather was visible at the bend of the wing, which was the only yellow visible on the bird, and I could just see dark green/olive fringes to the primary feathers. The legs were black, as was the bill. Cos it was still calling, I thought this was a good time to turn on the RememBird thingy for the first time in a few weeks. Pressed the 'on' button, but it was dead. batteries gone. No no no noo NOOOO!!! This is NOT happening. But it was... remember kids... always check the batteries before you start the game.
The chiffy flew up into the tops of the willows where it moved around actively, loosely with a Blue Tit and a Great Tit, obviously much more difficlut to see against the light, but it was tail-dipping and I got to see the chiffie structure, with medium-short primary projection. I followed it round for a while, but didn't get better views than my initial minute or so while it was working out where the 'Yellow-browed Warbler' was. However, it was calling ALL the time 'iiiih' - so much so that I wondered if there were two birds, but I only saw one, and the calls only came from one place at a time. Took as many notes as I could, before continuing on my way. Ka-chow! again! Best bird I'll find this year. Also, it was in the same bushes as the previous two Pallas's Warblers. There should be a preservation order on those bushes.

An hour at the sea then, 10:45-11:45 with a bit of a swell and a NW breeze, and hurrah!! Little Auks coming past in fits and starts. Say what you like about this autumn - even though the passerine migration has been crap (Newtonhill - 1 Yellow-browed, 1 Common Chiffchaff, and 1 Siberian Chiffchaff now), the sea has ROCKED! Not exactly overwhelmed, but 146 Little Auks north in an hour (and 7 south) would have been pretty impressive any other year. Accompanied by not much, but there were 21 'other auks' which included 1 Atlantic Puffin north, 2 Red-throated Divers north (and a juvvy fishing close inshore), 8 Common Scoters south and 3 Long-tailed Ducks north. 2 Northern Gannets north, and 35 Pink-footed Geese south.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

It's a Kind of Waxwing

The bell that rings inside my mind, is challenging the doors of time...

But it can go take a fag-break. Because I was off down to the Post Office at lunchtime to post another batch of fake Soft-tab Cialis to gullible middle-aged men across Europe. As I set off down the road, a flock of 35 Bohemian Waxwings flew over, calling magically. First of the winter for me. The temperature was plummeting, and now (11.15 pm) it has plumetted, and it's SNOWING out there. No more work til April for me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

It's a miracle!

Sorry, no birding. Contractual obligations and all that. Not that life has been boring, oh no. Our washing machine decided to irrigate the undersurface of the kitchen floor. So now it's drying out... but what this? The drying marks on the floor have produced this shape... a willy... it must be the Willy of Our Lord!! A miracle. I rubbed my piles on the willy and I am cured!!! And I can walk again. I could walk before, but now I can do it with panache and... thanks to the cured piles, a swagger.

Monday, November 19, 2007

All hail Siouxsie

back in the days when somethingty something. This ruled.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Ack. And Ick. We are still a house of dysentry and assorted emetic diseases. It was Peter's turn this weekend. I squelched over our vomit-soaked carpet and out for a brief birding session in the rain. Mmmmm south easterlies too - wish it were October. As it happened, unless you count a full-on Common Blackbird shouting session in the Mill Garden , involving 5 birds, there was little passerine action. Out at sea, in very unpleasant viewing conditions, 2 Little Auks flew south (south?), and there was another one on the sea, that was nearly sunk by a surfacing Bottle-nosed Dolphin. Nothing else happening though. Now, back to that carpet...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Once more now, with feeling.

It was Diane's turn, for man-flu with bonus D+V (nice!). I stayed home to take the kids to borstal, then figured that as I was going to be late for work anyway, I might as well be good and late, and had half an hour at the seaside. 09:30 to 10:00, and a grand total of 2 Little Auks. Yes, 2. Count 'em.... there's one, *1* .... .... .... .... .... .... annnnnnnddddddddd.... .... .... .... .... .... .... .... there's another. *2*. See, told you so. Ah, has anyone ever captured the magic and excitement of seawatching so eloquently in written form? I very much doubt it. In that time 4 Razorbill went north, and 2 Razormots south (or is it Guillebills) (or Murrebillemots)? 2 Red-throated Divers south, 1 Northern Gannet north (count it.... or is the joke wearing thin?). 4 Long-tailed Ducks flew north, and 2 Eurasian Wigeon for a bit of variety. Also 25 Common Gulls. Whichever way you look at it, and I personally look at it like this

the party was over in Newtonhill today. As the actress said to the bishop, you've put me in a very difficult position.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Errr... witty title... lots of Little Auks?

I hate Manchester United. Can't help it, always have done. I'd rather have a threesome with Margaret Thatcher and John Prescott (US readers, think Ross Perot and, errr... Nancy Reagan?) than watch the team in red. But something that Sir Alex of Fergiescum once said was true. Actually two things, the irrelevant one being 'Football, Bloody Hell!', which I hope he never has occasion to say again. The other one was when ManU PLC had won the championship, maybe at the end of the nineties sometime, and the ever intrusive Sky TV cameras went into the dressing room to see them popping the champagne and whatever other indecent acts occur in there. He told his team to enjoy the occasion, cos days like this don't come round very often. That was true.

Depends where you were how many you saw, but 10000's of Little Auks along the east coast today - fantastic spectacle. These mass movements where you get the weather, predict the birds, get the birds, and then the birds fly away again. Better than any rarity. Nearly. Days like this don't come round that often. Just enjoy it when it happens - it's what you work for.

Another thing someone once said that was true, except it wasn't ()eh?#). A Gambian bird tour guide, on holiday in Britain, enjoying his birding, not very impressed with the weather, but noted that 'If you have the birds, you do not get cold.' Which is true, except he wasn't talking about seawatching from an Aberdeenshire clifftop in November.

Which brings me to
an Aberdeenshire clifftop in November. I'd learnt my lesson from yesterday... no more Arthur Dent clobber for me, this time I was fully kitted out in my velvet smoking jacket, cummerband and frilly shirt ( a bit Jon Pertwee as third Doctor Who). I didn't go seawatching straight away this morning - first had a very boring look round the Mill garden and bushes near the beach, scoring nothing apart from the usual residents. A Mistle Thrush on wires above Cow Field was pretty noteworthy - they've been very scarce this year and it was probably one on the move.

So, it had been a brisk NW overnight... predicting Little Auks, unfortunately for me that is an offshore wind, so not expecting 1000s, but I was pleased to get hundreds. They came in dribs and drabs from about 09:00, with 150 in the first hour, then there was 10 minutes when it went mad and about 300 came through ahead of a freezing sleet shower (ref. error of Gambian bird guide). 577 in total in 2 hours. 67 Razorbills and Guillemots (mostly Razorbills when I could tell) and 3 Atlantic Puffins, coming through, all north. 4 Great Northern Divers (Loons) went great north, and 2 Red-throated Divers south. 36 Northern Gannets, 4 Common Scoters, 1 Velvet Scoter, 3 Common Goldeneyes and 4 Mallards, all north.

One of the local Peregrine Falcons was out and about roasting the passing Little Auks. Not 'roasting' as in 'Sunderland footie players on video'-type, but splitting them up and trying to eat them-type. Didn't seem to have any success - the Little Auks were low enough that they could splash down and be out of the way. The local Great Black-backed Gulls on the other hand are so fat they can hardly move.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Dear Santa...

Saturday morning and you have offered 101 varieties of tasty breakfast until the kids have judged which one is of sufficient quality to consider eating. They are on the settee, with Spongebob and other Saturday cartoons nipping away at their brains. You are sat there with a mug of mahogany coloured tea, and all is well in the house. You have precisely ONE hour before the E numbers, sugar and discordant flickering images send the little ones into the sort of hyperdrive that can only be controlled by machine guns. What is to be done? Of course, one goes to the SEA....

...where jeepers, it is pissing down - I should have changed out of my dressing gown and jammies. Still, sat there Arthur Dent-like, I stare at, well, not much to begin with. But I sat it out for an hour (08:00 - 09:00) and got a bit of action in the end, primarily 36 Little Auks flitting north at varying distances. They were in fact the most common auk, with only a few Razorbill/Guillemots (Common Murres) going past. Also an Atlantic Puffin sat on the sea close in (bit of a warning shot for careless Little Auk identifications - in fact I think there was only a couple of Puffins in flight).

Slow, but also 29 Northern Gannets north in the hour, 8 Red-throated Divers (and one fishing just off the rocks with a gang of Common (Mew) Gulls). Nine Long-tailed Ducks north, 7 Common Goldeneyes, and 2 Common Scoters N (1S), with 5 Eurasian Teal S. Two Harbour Porpoises and single Atlantic Grey and Common Seals were in the water, and 15 Ruddy Turnstones with 4 Purple Sandpipers on the rocks.

Comedy moment for the morning was as a Little Auk came past, pretty close in, obviously tired and shagged out after a long squawk, and looking for somewhere to land. It appeared to be about to land right between adult and 1st winter Great Black-backed Gulls on the water, which was probably the WORST place to pick, except for the gulls, who would have approved. Fortunately for the wee auk, it thought better of it and went over and landed somewhere else. Just as it sploshed down and shook itself a bit, the Grey Seal's head popped up next to him and shocked it back into flight. Rock and hard place and all that. OK, I think you had to be there.

When I got back home I chained the kids up and explained to Lizzie about Little Auks, and how they came from near the North Pole, probably next to Santa's house. But Lizzie was adamant that Santa lives not at the North Pole, but somewhere called Reindeerland. And to prove it she asked to be unchained and brought me a pre-printed envelope with Santa's address for her 2007 begging letter (I hope she knows how to spell 'tangerine' and 'coal'), where sure enough the address was 'Reindeerland'. Personally I have my doubts about whether that it the real Santa, but if he's organising the presents then frankly, who cares?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Richard III got the right idea.

I was in a bad enough mood after spending Wednesday afternoon looking after a visitor at work while a Brunnich's Guillemot frolicked off Girdleness. And my mood got even worse after being linked to this abomination from Tom's site. Talk about p*ssing on one's legacy. I had to go outside and slaughter a few Hen Harriers. Then I cheered myself up by reading this. Vive la Republique, as they say in Paris.

So now waiting for the flood of Little Auks. It's so windy here they're crashing against the windows right now. probably. Something is. Haven't done any of these for a while... here goes...

Living Color - Bi

And this one - ha! appropriate!

And this...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

More on the demise of the Romanovs

Quoting freely from A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924, by Orlando Figes.

After a few minutes, Yurovsky entered the room with the execution squad - six Hungarians usually described as 'Latvians', and five Russians. Each had been assigned to shoot a particular victim, but when they entered the room it turned out that they were not facing the right person and the room was too small, with murderes and victims practically standing on each others toes. It was this that partly caused the confusion that followed. Yurovsky read out the order to shoot the Romanovs. Nicholas asked him to repeat it: his last words were: 'What? What?' The the firing began. Bullets richocheted around the room, which filled up with smoke. Given all the evidence that has come to light, it is inconceivable that any of the Romanovs survived the ordeal. The only certain survivor was the spaniel, Joy. After the murder the bodies were driven off in a lorry and dumped in a series of neraby mineshafts. Sulphuric acid was poured on their faces to hide the identity of the corpses should they be discovered.

I guess one can debate the rights and wrongs of the premeditated cold murder of an entire family until the cows come home :-$. According to Krusty the Clown, it seems like you in the US have the right to bear arms for family protection, hunting dangerous and delicious animals, and keeping the King of England out your face. To that I would add keeping the King of England's family away from your Northern Harriers. Can't help thinking that a more robust attitude to illegal hunting of harriers on Royal Estates might go some way to sorting the problem.

And btw, what a f****** surprise... here.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

My blog is really boring today. You should go see the McKinney. Is this why there are more Hen Harriers in Russia?

I wandered round Newtonhill etc this morning as usual. Lots of Eurasian Siskins flying through today. Flocks of up to 20. Still trying to lure Pallas's Leaf Warblers out of the bushed, but still no luck. Occurred to me that it's been such a mild autumn... the leaves are still pretty much on the trees unlike last year.

A whopping 15 Mallards in the bay (whoop de doo), and spying through my powerful KGB binoculars.... also a single Red-throated Diver and (divers alarums!) an Atlantic Puffin on the water.

Because everyone else appears to be seeing Pomarine Skuas in the North Sea this weekend, I thought I'd go hoover a few up on a mid-morning seawatch. Perfect flat calm - good for seeing skuas going past, even if distant. But I sat there for an hour, 9.30 - 10.30 and saw not one single skua. Is that a record today? they were mostly centred further south, but plenty seen in Fife even. I can only put it down to the Newtonhill force field - a bit like that thing in the Simpsons movie, but there solely to keep Poms out of my scope distance and hence to hack me off. Hell other people were seeing this.... which is taking the piss, frankly.

I saw a very pretty Peregrine Falcon flying back and forth along the cliff tops. Offshore, some Common Goldeneyes have turned up - with a couple on the water and 7 flying north. Also 42 Northern Gannets north, 3 Red-throated Divers N (and 2 S), 1 wonderful Manx Shearwater north, and a couple of Black-legged Kittiwakes N. I was so bored I was counting auks (55 north). No definite Guillemots (Common Murres) - most of the things id'd for definite were Razorbills, but there was another, or perhaps the same, I careth not, Atlantic Puffin, and 2 Little Auks heading north.

Bored with lack of skua action, I walked back into Newtonhill (Eurasian Sparrowhawk being mobbed higher and higher by Carrion and Hooded Crows, Roe Deer being chased across the burn by a particularly aggressive dead Hedgehog) and up Cran Hill (wind). Sieved through the Yellowhammers looking for Chestnut Buntings and Rufous-collared Sparrows (if you're going to aim high, aim tame I always say) (eh?), and came across a Stock Dove (Stock Pigeon if you prefer) in the stubble, which is a good patch bird (my third?). Rock Pipits feeding in the stubble round Cran Hill too, which never fails to confuse me.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Doctor is SICK

with what Diane and Lizzie are unsympathetically calling man-flu. Spent the morning in bed and catching up with the recent flurry of Ivory-billed Woodpecker opinions, viz.

David Luneau

David Sibley

Geoffrey Hill

Remote cameras

Some very interesting stuff in there. Especially the things in the 'Gambling on a Ghost Bird' that, according to David Luneau, must have been true!

See the quote in the last one from Laurie Fenwood

"We don't have the 8x10 glossy photo that everyone wants, but we've accumulated enough evidence that we cannot ignore," Fenwood says.'

Bearing in mind the USFWS IBWO recovery plan ignored my paper, apparently they can only not ignore the evidence they agree with. grrrrr.... Good job I'm not bitter.

I did drag myself out for an hour's birding after my meagre lunch of cold gruel, but only got a single Goldcrest as a reward for attempted luring of Pallas's Warbler.

Lots of Common Blackbirds. Has anyone else fallen for/know of this habit, which I have followed for many years, of calling 1st winter male Blackbirds with dark brown bills 'Arnheim Jobs'? I'm not sure when it started or why, but I can't stop, and I want to know how it happened...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

And... Pull!! Bang! Bogey bird down!

Aha. Bogey bird White-winged Tern still showing on-and-off Monday and yesterday at Loch of Skene. I had the car again today, but it didn't seem to want to take me straight to work. I *tried*. I really tried, honest, but it kept pulling off to the left towards Loch of Skene, so once I was there it seemed almost churlish not to have a wee look for the tern. This is what it looks like on a chilly dawn.

The haunted Loch of Skene. Note platform favoured by scarce Chlidonius terns, and the line of Pink-footed Geese preparing to fly off (in a line just below the top of the water level, top left).

I stood there for nearly an hour, admiring the cold. (eh?). Plenty of birds around - ~3000 Pink-footed Geese doing their dawn flight in dribs and drabs, Eurasian Wigeons, Tufted Ducks, Common Pochards, marauding gangs of up to 20 Goosanders (Common Mergansers) practicing their synchronised swimming for the 2008 Olympics, a few Mute Swans, Grey Heron, Great Cormorants and a Moorhen. But noticeably no terns, and I was starting to jump up and down and shake my puny fists at the vast empty sky (nearly empty, save for a flock of 150 Northern Lapwings), but there was a bit of encouragement... as the night shift headed noisily off to the fields, the day shift of a flock of Common (Mew) Gulls and a few Black-headed Gulls were coming in from the north, whence the WWTern was meant to be. Work was calling, when out of nowhere I saw the White-winged Tern in flight, east of me heading north away over the trees. Total length of observation, about 0.5 s!! This was most unsatisfactory... a) where the hell had it been? and b) had I seen enough to tick it?? :-O and probably not... white rump looked OK, but the angle was a bit acute and bugger, where the hell was it going? I jumped around on the spot like Rumpelstiltskin for 10 min, and then put it out to BirdGuides that it was seen heading off at 09:20. No sooner had I done that than I was back to the scope for another scan of the loch, when there it was sat on its favourite platform, about 400 m away. NOW it was just messing with my head, but at least properly under the belt. Below are crap but real field sketches (really must buy a pencil, and a rubber!)Even then it only sat there for 5 minutes when it was flushed by a big flock of geese coming back in. Lost it to the north, and had to go to work. But guessed it was feeding in the fields to the north, where indeed it was found later in the day.

This is what the flight of Pink-footed Geese sounds like... here. Turn it up LOUD, and then run for your life.

Eeek! Thanks to Remembird for this aural assault.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

'Nemesis' Bird

Ah, what a day. Begun in joy and with feelings of expectation, ending in sadness and with feelings of crushing hopelessness. Just like all the other days then!

First, a trip round the patch. In a fit of misplaced optimism I had loaded calls of Pallas's Leaf Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher and, ahem, Red-flanked Bluetail, onto my phone. Just in case, y'know. As it turned out, loading calls of European Robins and Blackbirds would have been more useful, cos that's what was actually here. Very small numbers of Goldcrests, and Coal Tits, and a couple of Eurasian Siskins flying past. A (the?) pair of Common Stonechats were up the cliff steps, and another at the far corner of the Cran Hill track. A party of 7 Common (?) Crossbills flying over Newtonhill were a bizarre interlude. NO idea what is going on there.

I had a quick look offshore (15 min, 10:15 - 10:30). Amazing how quickly things go quiet - no Gannets, no Kittiwakes, but a single Atlantic Puffin feeding close inshore, with a Guillemot (Common Murre) and Razorbill - looks like I'm getting my auks in 1s today.

I'd like to take this opportunity to remind everyone here that there are hundreds of thousands of people, all over the World.

Took a wee adventure outside the arbitrarily defined boundaries of my patch, up to a tempting patch of trees at Downies. I hadn't realised how much good habitat there is at Downies (from Cran Hill it looks like one house, a tree and a fuschia bush), but actually it's rather garden-city, quite isolated and on a hill. mmmmmmm.... No birds today, but I should keep a better look out.

Wtf? THIS sign has appeared along the Cran Hill track.

I'm confused... should I go that way or not? Are they a tourist attraction? Surely it's not the cliffs that are dangerous, but the wave-washed rocks at the bottom?

I avoided the footpath to dangerous cliffs, and walked home through the stubble from Cran Hill, seeing a Eurasian Tree Sparrow, in company with 8 Yellowhammers. I tried to string a juv Yellowhammer into a Pine Bunting. Sorry.

Back home a playing with my loverly children. There has been some recent bullshit hyperbole on BirdChat recently about people's 'Nemesis bird'. Now, to my mind that is going a bit strong. Wiki says:

(in Greek, Νέμεσις), also called Rhamnousia/Rhamnusia ("the goddess of Rhamnous"), at her sanctuary at Rhamnous, north of Marathon, in Greek mythology was the spirit of divine retribution against those who succumb to hubris, vengeful fate personified as a remorseless goddess.

Which seems a little unfair as a way of describing a bird you're having a little difficulty seeing. 'Bogey' birds I can relate to. Mine was always Hawfinch - not uncommonly. Took me 25 attempts before I saw them in North Wales. Since they went safely UTB, I have to admit that my bogey bird is... White-winged Tern (White-winged Black Tern)... a bird that not only have I managed to avoid seeing on several occasions in Britain (they always go the day, on in some cases, the hour, before I get there), but in fact I have managed to avoid seeing ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD! So when I got news of one at Loch of Skene, about 12 miles from my house, this afternoon, Diane could tell by my twitchy feet it was kinder just to let me go. I got there at 15:40 and scanned round the Loch - impressive roost of Pink-footed Geese (2000+) in the middle, with smaller numbers of Greylags. Eurasian Wigeons, Tufted Ducks, Common Pochards, European Coots, Common (Mew) Gulls but no 'boy'. I hung around for a bit, but couldn't see any floaty terns, and went off home. The area was crawling with Common Buzzards and I picked up one of the reintroduced Red Kites (a juvvy) over the road to the south of the Loch.
Was inordinately displeased to read on BirdGuides that it had flown off at 15:30. Clucking Bell! TEN minutes late. Ouch!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Day off work...

Today, I was mostly on Stonehaven beach eating Pistachio Ice Cream from Aunty Betty's Ice Cream Parlour and 24 Hour Mobile Disco, with the family. Out for the last hour birding, picking up a grand (not so grand) total of 5 Goldcrests in bushes down the Elsick Burn, 3 Song Thrushes and about 20 Blackbirds, some of which are probably migrants. A Rock Pipit on the beach, and a Guillemot (Common Murre) sat out on the rocks, on its last legs. I've never understood this 'last legs' thing*. Which legs is it meant to be on? I'm on my last legs too. At least I think they're mine. By this time on a Friday I can't feel them. Rabbits, where? Oh Wowww!

There was also a juvenile Red-throated Diver, trying to hide among 100 European Herring Gulls, only about 25 m offshore. That was all today - didn't take long.

*Other things I don't understand. If a British person couldn't care less about something, that's what they say, e.g. 'I couldn't care less what you think about the effect of Ptarmigan crap on vulnerable high arctic ecosystems'. The same person in the US would say 'I could care less', and mean the same thing. That is patently nonsense.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Bit pushed for time tonite. Well beyond my deadline for picking over the sad corpse of an unidentifiable bird that was probably total bollocks anyway, even if it was what it was meant to be, which it wasn't. Maybe.

1) I was out birding this morning, walking round Newtonhill and to Muchalls on the same circuit as last 2 weekends.
2) I was merrily singing some old Mel and Kim songs to myself at top volume, in order to lure those self-effacing Tarsigers out of hiding. Or was it Tardigrades?
3) and i got to 'Tay tay tay tay t-t-t-t tay tay take or leave us...'
4) When a Eurasian Jay jay jay jay j-j-j-j-jay jay flew across the track in front of me, into the willows at the back of the gardens of St. Michael's road, called once or twice and headed off over the railway line.
5) which was a patch tick, and until it showed up had been completely off my radar, although there is a reasonable breeding population to the west of Aberdeen, and a larger one across the North Sea, so it should have been very much on my radar.
We're not worthy. And we ain't never gonna be respectable.

Otherwise it was disappointingly quiet. Maybe my Mel and Kim impressions put the birds off. I guess it was the dancing, or the hair, or the dress. Please tell me it wasn't the dress. There had been a smallish arrival of thrushes, noticably Blackbirds, which were everywhere, but a few Song Thrushes passing through as well, and the occasional Redwing. The female Eurasian Sparrowhawk was still around down the Elsick Burn, mobbed by a Western Jackdaw.
A pair of Eurasian Stonechats in the bracken up the cliff steps were probably local breeders, but may have been on the move. Allotments were empty apart from the usual crowd of crack-addled happy-slapping ASBO-waving hoodie-wearinng Winter Wren, Dunnock and European Robin trio. And a couple of Eurasian Siskins going over. It was such a nice day there was a Eurasian Skylark singing over the coastal fields, but little else apart from one of thos annoying dogs that 'won't hurt you' but WILL jump up at you and lick, yes LICK, your optics. Thanks for that. Note to dog owners... we don't all love your dog as much as you do.

Water Valley had Coal Tits (plenty of them around today) but no interesting migrants. A male Roe Deer, and another at the Elsick Burn, now I think about it.

Must run. More entertaining wit during the week, hopefully.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


hey hey Vikki, hey Vikki hey...

A walk down the burn, post-work but pre-showing-face-at-home produced a Coal Tit that I lured in with my Y-b Warbler call on the phone. There was a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk hunting, and while I was pishing at some
Blackbirds in a Rowan Tree I managed to attract her in to see what the commotion was. A White-throated Dipper on the burn but little else until I got home... sat on the driveway at dusk watching our urchin-faced kids throw stones at passing cars while Diane made our tea of Dairylea sandwiches with Marmite and Rice Crispies... a flock of 35 Fieldfares flew over calling, from the direction of the sea. Kept going inland.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

German Cory's Shearwaters - wtf?

We got this today - one of the very valuable updates on WestPal birds -

Rare bird records from Germany 09/2007

Data from Club300 Germany

Germany's premier service for rare bird alerts

For each following entry you will find a detailed map at:

Cory's Shearwater, Calonectris diomedea, Gelbschnabel-
08.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
10.09.2007 1 ind. (Hamburg)
10.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
11.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
11.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
11.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
15.09.2007 1 ind. (Niedersachsen)
15.09.2007 1 ind. (Hamburg)
22.09.2007 1 ind. (Schleswig-Holstein
25.09.2007 1 ind. (Schleswig-Holstein

etc - plenty Sooties and lots of other good birds

Okey dokey...

There were no Great Shearwaters seen, at all. If I look at BirdGuides for September, away from the west/southwest there was 1 Cory's at Flamborough on 5th September, and 2 'reported' from Titchwell on 24th September. And nothing else. So where are German birders getting all these Cory's from? And where are the Greats - bearing in mind we had 100s in the North Sea, even excluding Orkney, which is a long way away. A quick scan of the dba website suggests the Dutch had one Great Shearwater and 3 Cory's Shearwaters reported in September. What did other North Sea countries get?

Peanut brittle

I was a bit late out this morning. For one thing... Diane had been out drinking red wine til 3 am and was not quite ready to be left with the kids at 8:00. Not that I was complaining - bit of a lie in and some brekky never goes amiss. But on a nice day like this it meant that by the time I did get out it was crawling with dog-walkers, and the allotments were crawling with allotees - men with girly ponytails hauling round huge wheelbarrows full of crap and 'clippings', whatever they are. Put me off my birding. Won't bore you with the Blue Tits - basically did the same circuit as last Sunday - St Ann's - beach track - cliffs - allotments - costal fields - Water Valley - Muchalls Track - Secret Garden - hame - seeing very few migrants. There was a Northern Wheatear on the clifftops. At Water Valley, I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling from the north end of Muchalls. It flew over into the willows of the valley, and called twice after I gave it a blast of Y-b W song from my phone. However it didn't show again. Maybe it was just flitting through, looking for its pals. Or maybe it was iced by a Sparrowhawk.

Is no one going to feed me my line?

I don't know, we're not going to usurp Cannon and Ball, or the Chuckle Brothers, as the Kings of Comedy Duos are we? (see Sturnus vulgaris var. mortis sub pneumaticus on Thursday last). BB came very close (see comments for that post), but it was meant to go like this...

'Sturnus vulgaris var. mortis sub pneumaticus'

Then in comments...

Someone (Cannon): Errr... Martin, are you sure that's not a Jack Snipe?

Martin (Ball): Well, it has been under a car!! BOOM BOOM!!! Rock on Tommy!

Yes, not a Gallinago, but a Lymnocryptes. A Jack Snipe, worse for wear, on the dirt track to the beach. I assume it flew across the North Sea and relied on its superb camoflage to protect it from the oncoming (at speed, probably) Range Rover. it won't make that mistake again. Only my second patch record, and the first dead one!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A good goose?

I errrr.... 'worked from home'... for the first couple of hours this morning - tales of migrants up the east coast including Britain's first (or maybe 4th) Asian Brown Flycatcher were too much. I didn't get anything in that league. Unless European Robins are in that league (they aren't btw). There was a flock of 25 Redwings at the top of the cliff steps - astonishingly my first of the autumn. Dunno where they've been, but they're here now - slay the fattened calf. A single Common Chiffchaff (actually, it may have been married, or at least in a serious commitment, for all I know) in the clifftop garden was the closest I got to the majiK of passerine migration.
Sturnus vulgaris var. mortis sub pneumaticus

Offshore was quiet (2 Common Scoters and a Northern Gannet in 10 min). Best bird of the day, and probably year, got away though - a small V of 35 Pink-footed Geese went over south, and the second bird was a Canada goose sp. that was smaller than the Pinkies - about 2/3 the length and wingspan. To my mind, that has to make it a Lesser (Cackling) Canada Goose. Predictably it just kept going. I got a Greater Canada Goose in similar circumstances last year, but this one is a different kettle of fish and won't be acceptable as is. Uncensored and slightly pathetic field sketches attached.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

We got incoming

I was a bit concerned about Saturday's Birdmap on BirdGuides that seemed to suggest that either 1) there are no good birds in NE Scotland or 2) there are no birders in NE Scotland or 3) all the birders in NE Scotland, including me, are hopelessly incompetent. 1) seemed unlikely, given the almighty haul they were getting north and south of us, 2) I *know* is no true, although we are a bit thin on the ground, which left 3). Ho hum. So I thought maybe a damn good trot round thepatch would throw some light on the situation, and initially I have to admit that I didn't rule out 3). I could bore you with where all the Chaffinches and Blue Tits were, but I won't. 4 hours, down the Elsick Burn, up to the clifftops, 10 minutes looking offshore, then allotments, over the coastal fields to Water Valley and Muchalls, back up the Muchalls track with eyes peeled produced virtually nothing migranty. A very small number of Goldcrests held a vague non-specific hint of eastern promise, and there seemed to be 1 or 2 Coal Tits in unusual places hinting that things were on the move. About 10 Eurasian Siskins came over in 1s and 2s, and there was a trickle of Skylarks. 11 Ruddy Turnstones on the beach - a quick look offshore reassured me that nothing interesting was happening, tho 4 Velvet Scoter went south. A really warm day with lots of butterflies: Small White, Painted Lady, Red Admiral, Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell.

Is it just me, or are the bodies of my victims getting more gory?

Warning: this report contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing. Unsuitable for children and the squeamish. A House Mouse, post car tyre trauma. I made it smaller so you don't have to look.

As I was walking back up the Muchalls track, I got a phone call from home to tell me that, in light of the number of jobs needing done around the place, my family would view the prospect of my imminent return home with unalloyed pleasure. Those were almost exactly the words used. I trotted back through Newtonhill and met a man mowing his lawn - he knows me as being interested in birds. I know him as a local dogwalker who I see when out birding, and as an occasional lawn mower. 'I had a Merlin in my back garden this morning' he tells me. As you know, I'm very sceptical about birds I didn't see myself, and thought it was probably a Sparrowhawk, but to my surprise he went on to describe a Merlin very well, and indeed it sounds like it was one. mmm... potential patch year tick, must keep my eye out.

Got within sight of the house, Diane is waiting for me - she's jammed Peter into the car boot AND he's enjoying it. Suddenly I heard what sounded very like a Yellow-browed Warbler from the garden across the road, and as I turned to look a Phyllosc (the only Phyllosc I've seen today, btw) flew over our heads into our back garden. Errrr.... I think... and then it called again and errr...there's a Yellow-browed Warbler in my back garden! Regular readers of this blog, you saddos, will know that's not even a back garden tick, but it is a valuable patch year tick. (15th October 06 - see here and here).

Then it went all elusive on me, and Diane was getting even more pleasure out of the prospect of me spending the afternoon chasing a fly-by Yellow-browed. Fortunately I have Y-b W song and call loaded onto my phonem so turned the volume up to max and tried to lure it out. The call did no good whatsoever, but when I played the song it flew from wherever and perched in our birch (that rhymes!) within 4 m of me for a good grilling. I repeated that trick a couple of times and got the description. A stunningly bright bird with strapping wingbars. Here are my notes, uncensored. Sorry about the wren-bill thing going on, but remember these are genuine at-the-time unexpurgated notes, with drawing disasters and all.

I was by this time very keen on those back garden jobs. I hung out the washing, to the tune of a yellow-browed. Then I started digging up an overgrown b*****d Buddleia, to the tune of a yellow-browed. I was almost half-hoping that some passing birder at a loose end would come and see the YbW after I put it on BirdGuides. They could come into my back garden if they spent 10 minutes hacking away at the huge monster roots on this thing. Kept seeeing the YbW on and off up to abot 4 pm (occasionally I encouraged it with another blast of song). That belt of trees behind my house is crying out for mist nets.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Close friends get to call me MC...

... it's with digniteee, Top T**t... the indescribable Top T**t etc. ha ha. A quick seawatch before the li'l monsters came down from their Sugar-bomb and cartoon high and need to go swimming. O7:40 - 08:30, with only a very mild N 1-2 but a very choppy sea, with a nasty hazy backlight making things difficult to see. Northern Gannets were steaming through north (410 - I worked it out in ma heid that that's about 480 / hour), 47 Black-legged Kittiwakes and 328 Guillemots/Razorbills, 5 Atlantic Puffins and hold up... a Little Auk.

1 Pomarine Skua went north, and 1 Great Skua, 2 Northern Fulmars, 6 Manx Shearwaters and 1 Sooty Shearwater. The Sooty did something I haven't seen before - came up behind a gannet that was sat on the water, and tw*tted it on the back of the head as it went past, I think with its feet (or maybe belly) . Was deliberate, cos it sheared round as if for another go, but the gannet was in a bit of a mood by then and thrashed around to make it back off. Some sort of kleptoparasitism attempt? BWP is naff all use on the matter.

Otherwise, it was more ducks - 17 Eurasian Teal N, and 2 Mallards, 2 Common Scoters N and 4 Velvet Scoters S. Of patch year-tick-note, 3 Brent Geese went south - I'm pretty certain all bernicla, tho not always the easiest thing to judge in that light. A Red-throated Diver went south and a Peregrine Falcon was going back and forth along the cliffs giving the Pigeons something to do. But by that time I was hearing the junkie screams of sugar-craving sickness from our house, and I knew they needed their chocolate fudge milk.

Took Peter for a walk down to the beach in the afternoon, hoping there would be a really vocal Yellow-browed Warbler we couldn't miss. Not to be, but I did get my only patch dragonfly of the year - a girl Highland Darter.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Donkey's wanger of a seawatch

Today was the first day I could get away from work early, and with a northerly breeze there was a chance of some lost birds struggling up the coast. I sat at work in the morning with reports of Sab's Gulls, Long-tailed Skuas (Jaegers) and the odd Great Shearwater and Yellow-browed Warbler up the east coast and was starting to itch. At 2 o'clock I got a call from a journalist who wanted a photo of a cross-looking birder with bins stood on the SSSI sand dunes that Donald Trump wants to f*** up with his golf course. So he needed a media whore, and of course he thought of me. Sorry, mate, I'm away birding. And I was. Holy Guano - to the the cliffs, Batman!

And the omens were good, if a Short-tailed Vole of THIS quality can be a good omen. It was sat on the rocks as if placed by the god of small mammals for me to find.

And immediately it was obvious there was something on - 2 hours from 15:34 - 17:42 but straight away there were Sooty Shearwaters going past in 2s and 3s - a total of 50 in all, mostly in the first hour. Much smaller numbers of 9 Manx Shearwaters, usually closer in, but a wee diminutive 'Sooty' going past at 2 km with a flock of normal Sooties had a smudgy white belly because it was a Balearic Shearwater. Sweet! A juvenile Arctic Skua (Parasitic) went north, then a flurry of ducks (ducks) - 28 Eurasian Teal N, then 2 Velvet Scoters carrying a Mallard with them, then another 7 Mallards and a Tufted Duck. Gasp in amazement, Inglis birders, but the Tufted Duck was a base 5 patch tick of unprecedented occurrence on my Newtonhill list. Later on I was to get 6 Red-breasted Mergansers going south, and a single female Goosander (Common Merganser) going north, the latter a valuable patch year tick.

Another juvenile skua going north a 1 km was difficult to get plumage detail on, but was a cold dark bird, very small and was a provisional jizz id of Long-tailed Skua. However I almost forgot to write it down, because of the excitement that followed. Warning, this is going to sound stringy - at least I'd call it stringy if I read it, but I'll tell you what I saw... which is at 16:00 a large shearwater going north at 2 km with 4 Sooties, which on the basis of what everyone else has been seeing recently I would have assumed would be 'just' a Great Shearwater'. But it wisnae. The head appeared all uniform dark, and at this range I would have seen the dark cap of Great Shearwater, also the upperparts were milky coffee and the underparts were clean white - no dusky belly shite. It looked like a Cory's Shearwater, which is what it was... not only on the basis of lack-of-great-shear-features, but also the relaxed flight, shearing on wings bent back and angled down classic Cory's... except that I tend to assume that other people are stringing when they come out with crap like this. Maybe I should be more understanding. Cracking bird, followed 10 minutes later by bloody hell, a juvenile Sabine's Gull! Have I been good in a previous life or something and I'm getting all my rewards in one afternoon? Swanning north like it didn't care. I watched it disappear out of sight, with only a couple of Sooties to distract me. :-O

In between good birds I was mostly going goggle-eye trying to count Northern Gannets (249 N, 2 S), Black-legged Kittiwakes (182 N), and Guillemots/Razorbills (717 N). Only 7 Atlantic Puffins. One of the groups of Kittiwakes had an adult Little Gull in there (keep 'em coming). Also 16 Pink-footed Geese went south, 3 Red-throated Divers north (and 1 south), and 4 commic terns N. Annoying small waders, included the easy ones to identify i.e. 2 Ringed Plovers N, and 2 Purple Sandpipers - my first of the autumn.