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.