Sunday, January 27, 2008

Disappointing lack of peripheral blogging

I actually think the birds can be a bit boring on a blog. Does anyone care how many gannets I saw today?* Even me? Really what I'd like to do is to fill it up with petty libels, anecdotes, woodpecker news**, Heroes of the Birding Revolution etc. Can't manage that at the moment, hence the disappointing lack of peripherals. My Iberian Chiffchaff paper is just about published, but as the deadline looms for the submission of the revised version, I find I'm not happy with it... i.e. not happy with the quality of some of the sonograms, not happy with the order of the text, not happy with the text, not even 100% happy with all my conclusions. So I've been spending my evenings getting that sorted, rather than working on my screenplay of the secret sex life of great ornithologists living and dead.

*One actually... a bird with black secondaries. White tail though - apparently near adult. I bet one day there'll be a Cape Gannet to be found in our waters, but I wouldn'tlike to be the one claiming it. There is a rejected record of one from Bass Rock in 1831.

**There is some woodpecker news, but it would be unprofessional and disrespectful to tell you. Elvis has apparently left the building, though.

Birding burding... I was back around Newtonhill today. Nice day, not many birds. but 4 Eurasian Skylarks singing round Cran Hill, and that aforementioned Northern Gannet, suggesting spring might be back one day.

A Grey Wagtail was back on the Elsick Burn for the first time in a few weeks, and there was a flock of 40 Eurasian Curlews on the rocks, with 19 Common Eiders and 2 Mallards on the sea. Some Northern Fulmars were flying around aggressively (?), also a single Black-legged Kittiwake and the usual gulls etc.

A Mistle Thrush
feeding in the field by the railway line was uncommon enough here to be worth scoping. That is so sad. Smart bird tho.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

'King Eider

Blimey, the kiddies wasted no time today. As soon as they got up they were whinging for a) Breakfast and b) Playstation. Even by their standards they were persistent.

- Can I play Grand Theft Auto?
- No, Peter, you're 3!
- Can I play Grand Theft Auto?
- No
- Can I play Grand Theft Auto?
- No
- Can I play Grand Theft Auto?
- No
- Can I play Grand Theft Auto?
- No
- Can I play Grand Theft Auto later?
- Yes, OK, maybe, later.
[elapse, 20 seconds]
- Is it later now?
- Well, technically, yes, but...
- Hooray!!! [turns on Playstation]
- Whoa whoa whoaHHHH! Put that down!
- But you PROMISED [wails]...

Eventually Diane took pity on me and called through from her cosy bed that she'd listen to the whinging now, and I could get out. For a change I went up to Girdleness to look for the King Eider that has been around since last year.

No hurry, so parked in the first car park and walked along, looking at all sorts of birdy bollocks.

Look, I really was at Girdleness

Looking off from the foghorn, there was a smallish flock of about 25 Common Eiders among the breakers, but of course it wasn't with them. After a couple of minutes scanning, I picked the first winter drake King Eider about 800 m out with a male and female Common Eider. They did float in a bit closer during the next 30 minutes as I was watching. I considered going up to work to hoik one of the Coolpixes off a microscope, but couldn't be bothered, and took this with my phone, sorry.

As you see, the King Eider was surprisingly sh*t. Now sh*t is a word I use quite a lot, but not previously in relation to male King Eiders. Mind, I've never seen a first winter before either. A better photo is here (but even then, it's not much better, is it? :-)) Or this one (from when they were two). My first King Eider was a female, in Wales in 1991 - can you imagine the disappointment. Almost as exciting as your first Common Rosefinch, as NotBB would say. Anyway, the heavy white eye ring is obvious on this one, the smooth brown/black head, beginnings of a bill shape and some orangey pink colour. The breast a paler shade than the head, wings and flanks. Bit smaller than a Common Eider.

Of the other things on display, only a gathering of 25 Ringed Plovers on the rocks represented something I wouldn't have got in Newtonhill, although there were considerably more Common Redshanks here. And just to prove it, I went back to Newtonhil, where I saw 1 Common Redshank - considerably less than at Girdleness. There was a flock of 30 Northern Fulmars lingering offshore. I thought I was in luck that there were 2 porpoises splashing about off the rocks to the north, off Cran Hill. Bins up... and I kid you not, it was two people swimming. Yes, gently reader, swimming. I mean, not in their Speedos and nakedness, they were all wetsuited etc, but all the same, they were swimming in the North Sea in January, apparently for fun. As the turtle in Finding Nemo would say... 'Duuuuddddeessss, you have some serious thrill issues'.
AND THEN, a Bottle-nosed Dolphin swam past, as the two blokes hauled themselves out of the sea at the sewage outfall. The dolphin was naked. Duuuuddeeee!

Arty shot of a swollen burn.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I forgot to say...

When I went out birding yesterday, I walked down the road 400 m before I realised I'd forgotten my binoculars. And I only remembered when I tried to use them. The decline started here - and this is where you read it first.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The standard is dipping a little.

It was Lizzie's seventh birthday yesterday, involving a sleepover at our house and a midnight feast at 5 in the morning. AND that means she was out birding before me. Look, she started my notebook off, with her observation of a Seagull.

I know. I've TRIED to explain about Seagulls not being Seagulls. I've gone all Monty Python on her with a slide show and everything. No 1. The Kittiwake. The.... Kittiwake. But between you and me I think she thinks all this birdspotting is a bit, well, geeky. Heavens! Goddamnit to hell, she's probably right. By the time I wandered out, it was a dry dull day, which got wild in the afternoon with the wind and the rain and the screaming. I found that Lizzie was right - there were some Seagulls outside. And more on the beach. Down the track to the beach, it was deathly quiet, except for the peeping of a Small Brown Job. A strong SE onshore wind, brought a flosk of 23 Pretendy Seagulls alternately sat on the water and checking out their nest cliffs. There was a Grebey-ducky Thing in the bay, and some Peeps rummaging among the seaweed. I spent 20 minutes scoping offshore to little effect, so walked round Cran Hill, not seeing any birds but laughing in the face of the weather like an unhinged person would. Saw some Crows, and a Hawk, came home and made soup.

I wish I'd saved Boulmer Birder's deleted post. One should NEVER post stuff on the internet after drinking. :-)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Pigeons are not the only fruit

Up and away at the crack of 10:30 this morning. Of course I wouldn't have been so tired if Diane hadn't come back home drunk at 3 am and then woken me up to ask if the kids were asleep. How would I know... I thought they were with her... :-O Then we had to go find the kids - huddled in the dishwasher, again! At least they were nice and clean. And lemon scented. It's all go in our house.

Twas quite a nice day, sunny and everything. Remembirded a trio of Great Tits chasing through the bushes at St Ann's emitting an unusual range of squeaks, peeps and churrs, when a Coal Tit emerged soaking from the Elsick Burn and tried to dry off in the sunshine.

Mill Garden was quiet, but I looked over to the flock of Feral Pigeons on wires at the house on Cran Hill. They scattered as a Peregrine Falcon buzzed them fast and low, and as I was watching it hit a rather pretty white pigeon and sent its primary feathers scattering on the wind. Mmmm... thought I, because it all looked so arty an picturesque with white feathers floating and spinning in the bright sunshine against the blue shy - quite a trippy effect. The the Peregrine circled round, and cool-as-feck went through the flock again and picked out the spinning white bird with a casual flick of the leg, and carried it off. For a few seconds I watched this three-winged Peregrine flying off into the sun (one of the Pigeon's wings was still flapping like mad), until they disappeared over the brow of the hill. Of course, once that had happened, all the other Pigeons could sit down and relax on the wires, making chat.
'He killed Kenny, the b******!
'Watching the footie later?'
'Nah. Fancy a fag?'
'Sh**! Kenny had the fags.'
[In unison, shaking their wings at the sky in the general direction of the peregrine]
'You b******!'

10 Ruddy Turnstones down on the beach, and the Common Redshank. Also 2 Common Eiders in the bay, the male being the only genuinely green/grey billed individual I've seen for some time. I went for a look offshore, which was a bit boring, except there was anotherTurnstone hopping around the rocks at my feet - even my 7 x 42s couldn't focus that close. There were several Common (Mew) Gulls far offshore, and a single Black-legged Kittiwake. Eventually I got 3 Long-tailed Ducks going north, a Razorbill south and a Red-throated Diver feeding close in. Otherwise I was staring out at a wide empty sea. Also an Atlantic Grey Seal, in the sea, and 2 distant Harbour Porpoises. Funny, but since New Year I was feeling a bit flat, but now I feel like I've got a porpoise in life again. Stop me now before I steal a joke from Black Adder III about the story of the Prince and the Porpoise.

Oh, what else - the long-staying (1 week) female Great Spotted Woodpecker was still on feeders at The Retreat. Am I keeping a patch year list in 2008? I dunno, but if I am, I'm glad to have that one under my belt in my treeless desert.

I thought this was an interesting effect, though failed to capture its glory... sunlight on rain and wind-flattened grass.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Emma Wray Naked

I noticed I got a lot of hits during the week.
Naturally I assumed they were all from Tom Nelson's buddies taking pity on my pathetic hit rate and dropping in to make me feel better. But it turned out they were mostly related to this thread about borealis Eiders. But some of them were related to Emma Wray, co-star of Watching (see here), in particular some pervert had done a Google search for 'Emma Wray Naked'. Shame! It's like asking for naked pictures of your favourite cousin's puppy dog.

Anyway, 2007. I've been counting up and I saw 144 species on the Newtonhill patch, which fits neatly in this 3 km x 3 km square.

I arbitrarily decided in January that i would try and see an arbitrary 140 species, so I arbitrarily beat my target. hurrah! In fact it's 145 if you assume the crossbills I saw were Common Crossbills*. Highlights were my second back garden Yellow-browed Warbler, Siberian Chiffchaff, the sea (period) including those Great Shearwaters, Little Auks, Long-tailed Skua, Sabine's Gulls, Mediterranean Gull and whatever else I've forgotten just this second. Notable absentees were such east coast migrant staples as Common Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, and still no patch Ring Ousel, which is proving a bit of a pain.

*and talking of being a bit of a pain... cop this.

Edelaar, P. 2007. Assortative mating also indicates that
common crossbill Loxia curvirostra vocal types are species.
Journal of Avian Biology (OnlineEarly Articles).

Compared to most other birds, the taxonomy of crossbills
(Loxia) is still highly unsettled. However, much progress
seems to be achievable when data on vocalisations is
included. In a recent paper, Summers et al. (2007) argued
that strong assortative mating indicated that parrot
crossbill Loxia pytyopsittacus, Scottish crossbill Loxia
scotica and common crossbill Loxia curvirostra behave as
good species when breeding in sympatry. Here I argue that
their data, when placed in the context of other studies,
also indicate that three vocally differentiated European
populations within the common crossbill are species
(following the biological species concept of Mayr (1963):
species are groups of interbreeding natural populations that
are reproductively isolated from other such groups). If this
tentative conclusion remains to be upheld, it might have
large repercussions for our understanding of the speciation
process as well as for a number of more applied issues such
as the discovery and description of biodiversity and the
conversation of mobile, cryptic species.