Friday, May 30, 2008

The early birder

I haven't been thrashing the patch as much as an east coast May really warrants. Pressures of life and all that. Plus it's been a bit shit, tbh. However news of a Red-backed Shrike at Cove Community Woodland yesterday had me in hives with guilt. Also I really fancy Icterine Warbler for my patch list, so hauled my sorry ass out of bed at 5 am to go find my own. This was in spite of having to use Diane's nockies, on account of leaving mine in work last night. Got to the top of St Anne's track, bursting for a pee, and while urinating in a public place there was a bird noise impacting on me. Song Thrush, no, not that, there's a Common Whitethroat, but it's not that. Sedge Warbler singing. nope. Willow Warbler...very interesting, but that's not what's setting the alarms and claxons off in my head. P*ss off Blackbirds etc. I walked round the corner a little bit, and from the Japanese knotweed and gorse by the stone bridge I was assaulted by OhmyGod OhmyGod OhmyGod!! Marsh Warbler! Argh! A Scottish mainland Marshie. Not a common sight. Mind, it was still not a common sight in Newtonhill at that point, cos I couldn't see it. Very close, but hiding. And then I started to panic cos weird questions started in my head like, 'Why isn' it an Icky?', and not having heard either of them singing for a few years, there was no obvious answers except that it was obviously a marshie, with the tempo and the mimicry and the whoaaaaaa!!!! take a breath! more mimicry.

So with a bit of contortionism I started to see bits of the bird in stages... yes, it's a plain Acro, dark eye, obvious super , especially in above and in front of the eye, cold colours, no a rufous rump, long undertail coverts, oooh... wings (always a good sign), but can't quite get the primary tips, but look OK. Whiter throat, contrasting wih upper buffy breast. At no point did it come out in the open, and it wasn't singing all the time, which didn't help, but when it did open its gob it was obvious. Last saw it at about 7 am when I had to head to work.

More later... Friday night protocol demands that I go spend my salary rehydrating, but will scan the usual high quality biro field notes at some point

Like this...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cage and Aviary Birds

In my constant and seemingly hopeless quest to find interesting potential vagrants for sale in the UK, Cage and Aviary Birds disappoints once again this week (actually last week now, but it took me a bit of time to read it).

Still... of some interest, you can buy Glossy Starlings at £225 a pair (species indeterminate), Mexican House Sparrows at £80 pr (I have no idea what they might be), ever-popular Yellow-fronted Canaries (Green Singing Finch) for £60, Africa Silverbills at £20 pr, which seems dirt cheap to me, Chestnut-flanked Whiteeyes at £10 pr (you could get them for your tea at that price), and Western Grey Plantain-eaters (who in their right mind...???) at £100 each.

North Cornwall Aviaries (+44 1208 850572) are unloading Scops' Owls at a bargain £500 pr - imagine the kerfuffle if one of them went for a jaunt round Bodmin Moor?!

Also for sale... microchipped Brittany Spaniel puppies, ex-pedigree, from working parents. Ah, latch-key puppies. I'm 95% certain they're not birds.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Crappy video killed the radio star

Well it's a dark dark day chez Martin. Hull City are in the Premiership while the Mighty Leeds remain rooted in bloody division 3. If there was ever a sign that the natural order of things is going all topsy turvy, that is it. personally I blame global warming.

Pleasant if slighty chilly Newtonhill this morning. I puttered around maiing some recordings of Sedge Warblers along the Elsick Burn. Not a lot interesting, although I spooked a Roe Deer in comedy fashion (I've never seen a deer sh*t itself before), and saw two Grey Wagtails on the burn flying up to mob... a Barn Swallow. Needs must. Sea was quiet, but with a few Atlantic Puffins out there. Similarly Cran Hill was a bit crap, with the only irregular thingy being a male Reed Bunting in the same spot where they bred last year. Also a woman and her dog singing (gentle reader) to the cows.... I wonder what she was singing. Mooving on Up? Bull-et with Butterfly Wings? Some udder third song? Anyway, while she was doing it her dog was eating a rabbit skin. He'll be sick as a dog in the morning.

Radom interlude... I've got a big shed. Just need wireless in there and I can withdraw from the human race...FOREVER...!

Time for a random Mystery photo competition. You can see where this is going. I've been on YouTube again. A bird and its reflection flying low over the glassy still waters of an American swamp. We really don't see enough of that. This is not meant to imply anything... but I think it goes to illustrate how crappy videos of birds distort patterns of light and dark and make them look like birds that they clearly are not. Have a look at this first and try and decide what it is.

Clues: it's not a Pileated Woodpecker, but it could have been taken in the southern swamps.

For the answer, look here.
So how the hell does that look like that... ?

Update 26/5/08.
Here's a couple of Belters with apparent white trailing edges :-O taken from this video. Btw it's worth watching the whole thing.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Great - get insulted by the internet

Your Score: The Dork

You scored 25 anxiety, 53 awkwardness, and 34 neuroticism!

You aren't particularly anxious, and you don't count things--but you do notice sometimes that you don't exactly fit in. Polite people would call you an eccentric, but you truly are The Dork! And proud. Just because you feel a little awkward at parties doesn't mean you're not happy with yourself and fairly relaxed.

Your low anxiety score implies that you are able to relax, can enjoy the here and now, and have a healthy amount of self-confidence.

Your high awkwardness score implies that you are socially inept, probably stick out from the crowd, and perhaps feel uncomfortable in large groups of people, such as at parties.

Your low neuroticism score implies that you don't exhibit subtle neurotic behaviors--your nails are probably an acceptable length, your pencils aren't covered with bite marks, and your bookcase isn't arranged alphabetically by genre. Congrats!


See the other results!


The Neat Freak

The Dork

The Geek



The Subtle Neurotic

The True Neurotic

Link: The Neurotic Test written by littlelostsnail on OkCupid, home of the The Dating Persona Test
View My Profile(littlelostsnail)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Afraid to say my tour of the patch this morning produced absolutely nothing that it would be worth my while writing down and your while reading. Thanks to a not-so anonymous tip-off, I was put onto another classic CD hanging in the allotments to scare the birds... well it scared me. The Strictly Ballroom 'Shall we dance?' soundtrack, in Association with The Sun. Nice. Mind, i can hardly talk. Got me thinking about CDs in my collection that would be put to better use keeping Bullfinches off the cherry trees. Things like 'Cinderella Live at the KeyClub' and Electric Boys - Freewheelin' and, indeed, my back catalogue of Musical Youth.

So I'll leave you with this for today, sorry, because it tickled me enormously at 12.30 am last night when, thanks to the restorative properties of hard drink, the world seemed a warmer place. You can guess where it's from.

He twisted round in his seat.
'Are you sure she's all right?' he said again.
Beyond the fact that she was heart-thumpingly beautiful, he could make out very little, how tall she was, how old she was, the exact shading of her hair. And nor could he ask jer anything about herself because, sadly, she was completely unconscious.
'She's just drugged, ' said her brother, shrugging, not moving his eyes from the road ahead.
'And that's all right is it?' said Arthur, in alarm.
'Suits me,' he said.
'Ah,' said Arthur. 'Er,' he added after a moment's thought.
The conversation so far had been going astoundingly badly.

Douglas Adams.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bird Photograph of the Year 2008

Perusing Mark Lewis's blog last night, and wassat... a Bluethroat at Girdleness. Mmmm... I fancy some of that. Funny but when I realised I was moving to Aberdeen a jaw-dropping 6 years ago, I thought Girdleness... Bluethroats... easy. But this is the first one I had chance to see in those 6 years, so 5.00 this morning, I was up and awaaaaAAAAYYYYY!!!!! Got to the Torry Battery and there was just one other car there, but not birders so I naturally assumed it was only a young couple enjoying the fruits of love. Nice, but I've got better things to point my nockies at. Did a clockwise circuit of the battery, nice and slow, bit of pishing, about 10 minutes, then from the NE side I heard the busy song of... a Bluethroat! coming from round the corner. Sidled gently round and there he was, at the top of a nasty scrubby Bramble. Remembird was up to the job, and I got some sort of recording and a sonogram.

For what it's worth, you can listen to it (just about) here. Quite a lot of wind on that that recording - mind I did eat an East India Chilli Chicken from the Bollywood Tandoori, Newtonhill's BEST Indian Restaurant last night, so it's only to be expected.

The birdy soon stopped singing and went down onto the path to feed in short grass. Now I had had a brilliant idea that rather than persisting to try photos with my phone, I could maybe use Diane's camera, umptididdly megapixels and all that. I neglected to try and work out how it works before I tried to use it. So I got it turned on OK, and tried a shot.

Argh! Where's the AF? C'mon camera. Press some buttons and see if it can do any better.

Oh, you beastly camera... why won't you focus???

I decided to leave that little problem solving exercise for another day, and settled down to give him a good grilling. Shortly after though, he did something that in my experience Bluethroats are very good at, walked behing a tiny twig of gorse and disappeared. I lost him and did another couple of circuits of the battery without bumping into him again.

45 minutes later and no further sign. I went back to the car in time to see the ferry coming in from Shetland, carrying a cargo of Shetland twithchers desperate to see Mark's Bluethroat.

Oh, I see you'll focus on that won't you? F***er!

Then the occupants of the other car got out, and it was an old couple (eugh!) but no... no naughtiness, he got his rather nice camera out and started taking photos of the ferry - they'd obviously been laying in wait for it. I'm not sure who's most nuts at 5 am... the overnight ferry-spotters, the swarms of golfers teeing off, or the birder looking for someone else's scarcity. A young couple having al fresco sex would have added a touch of sanity to the proceedings.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Oh Lordy! it's the return of borealis!

Today was the first day that I really felt all the summer migrants had got into Newtonhill. Like last Sunday I was picking up a single Sedge Warbler and a single Common Whitethroat - well today they were everywhere e.g. 4 Sedge Warblers along the burn, and popping out all over the place in bits of rough grass and unlikely-looking patches of gorse. It was the Common Whitethroats that were most flighty and in some very unsuitable locations (like the treetops in St Michael's Rd!) so I assume they may have been fresh in this morning. Also fresh in this week were 3 Common Swifts over the Courts.

Down at the bay... an unusually large (for this winter) flock of 25 Common Eiders, males and females and lawks-a-mercy (crikey, even!) one of the males on the rocks is a yellow-billed borealis-alike (search this blog to track my unhealthy obsession with this northern subspecies of Common Eider). It had a largely yellow bill, only the nail being a conventional greeny-grey. And lawks again (blimey o'reilly!), it's COLOUR-RINGED (COLOR-BANDED for people of a transatlantic disposition). Metal ring on right leg, white ring over orange ring on the left. All of Satan's little pixies are smiling benevolently on me again. I love Satan and all his little pixies.

Visibility was pretty average offshore - with small parties of Atlantic Puffins among the auk and kittiwake flocks on the water, and a trickle of Northern Gannets went past but nothing too interesting.

Community Park and allotments had more Sedge Warblers and Common Whitethroats singing, but have yet to deliver my BB-rare. I took a look at some of the dangling CDs that were meant to keep the birds off the flowers - they included (gosh I bet someone chuckled about this) an ironic RSPB Wildlife Explorers Bird Guide CD; also the Soundtrack to Phantom of the Opera, the Sunday Express Christmas Carols CD, the Daily Mirror Summer Lovin' (sic) (and sick) CD, and a CD of Balamory including the hapless Wildlife Investigations Officer PC Plum. I would very much like to see PC Plum transferred to a nightshift beat on a sink estate in Manchester or Leeds - wonder how he would get on? Actually maybe the police force just sends all the useless ones to a quiet village on the isles where they're relieved of the burden of ever being required to solve a crime? I must ask that next time I'm on Islay or Mull. I can see a Hot Fuzz situation happening in Balamory, btw.

Water Valley had a grey-and-white acredula-type Willow Warbler in song.

When I got back I checked the colour-ringing cr-birding website and got a contact email, then took the family, my imaginary friends and the voices (the VOICES!!!) down to Stonehaven. We enjoyed the delights of gambling on the Sabbath at the penny-falls, followed by the delights of gluttony at Auntie Betty's Ice Cream Emporium and 24 hour mobile disco. I then enjoyed the delights of trying to wipe 2 square metres of sticky ice cream off a 3 year-old boy with a tissue that would not have been overly generous for wiping a gnats a***. In the end the most effective strategy was to strip Peter naked and lay him out on the beach for the gulls to pick at his skin until he was clean again. While this was happening, I scanned across the sweep of Stonehaven bay and in the distance could see the 1s Iceland Gull at the mouth of the Carron among the Herring Gulls.

When we got home, I had a very informative mail from Ian Patterson at Aberdeen Uni, confirming (as I suspected) that the cr- Common Eider was banded on the Ythan Estuary, (that's a few miles north of here). Further confirmation, if any were needed, that these yellow-billed Eiders are not vagrant S. m. borealis. For further interest, it was ringed in 1986, which makes it a whopping 21 years old, approaching 22 (I worked that one out for you), and is presumalby in transit between wintering on the Tay and breeding around the Ythan, where Ian says numbers are still low this year.

Something a little more visual...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Uptown Girl

I'm gonna try for an upland sand
She's been living in her white bread land
As long as anyone with hot blood can
And now shes looking for a downtown man
Thats what I am

It was very tempting... when news yesterday came up of an Upland Sandpiper at St Combs, the thought occurred to me that it just might be still there today, so I sneaked the telescope and bins into the back of the car and went to work as normal. At my advanced stage of life it's not often there's a life-tick within striking distance. Did an honest hour's innovative thinking (!) until news came on BirdGuides that it was showing, then drove the hour north for a keek. Surprisingly easy... over the hill, down the slope, set up scope, ker-ching lifer under the belt. When I turned up there were 5-6 people on it, but they drifted off and I had the little tease all to myself for an hour! I wish I'd brought a proper camera though - phone-scoping is nice but it doesn't really produce the goods.

I do have my errr... usual standard of meticulous and accurately captured field notes and biro drawings, but left my notebook at homw so will scan them in tomorrow. In the meantime... some record shots.

And gettaloadathis... twitching north-east Scotland-stylee

Unfortunately my superbly presented soundtrack is lost in the wind noises (matron!)... but it goes a little like this:

-I want to show you something...
-Upland Sandpiper
-And now the crowd...
-There you go.

The sandy turf was hoaching with Northern Wheatears, and a little further south there was a bare field with an impressive 25 Whimbrels in it. Then I got back to work, topped the car up with petrol on my way home, my crime is totally undetectable... neither my family nor my lab will have any clue that I wasn't in my office all morning. Unless they read this.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Predators and prey

A Sedge Warbler singing half-heartedly at the top of St Anne's was new in since Friday, and there was a good feel about today, with the wind apparently straight from Denmark - good for birds (I heard there were one or two Black Terns around today), but bad for the temperature, which stayed resolutely somewhere round 5 degrees.

Song Thrushes are busy just now - after that juvvy in the garden yesterday, I found another pair with a nest up in the back gardens facing onto the Elsick Burn (parent joining the feeding franzy in the bare field with Blackbirds, Pied Wagtail and errrr... a Great Tit). And for some reason it had an aerial fight with a Starling. And remember I saw a Song Thrush removing a faecal sac from the Cypresses at the Mill garden last week? Well today I found t
he brood. This one first... mutilated (apparently) by a cat and left on the side of the path under the Cypresses.

Then 3 m further up I found a sibling, and just up from that, another one - all broken and then left to rot by some bored decadent cat, probably called 'Fluffy' or something and his owners think he 'never catches anything'. Mind, I'm only guessing.

I lined them up on the wall for a last family photograph. I guess there's a chance there was another 1-2 in the brood that maybe got away (or maybe the cat was full after 1)

Be still my son, you're home

In the bushes down the track... Common Pheasant, singing Willow Warblers, Barn Swallows and onther newbie - Common Whitethroat singing intermittently in the drizzle.

A female Northern Wheatear on the beach was further encouragement. And there was another one on the clifftops. Offshore... apart from the usual auks, Black-legged Kittiwakes and Northern Fulmars, today saw the first Atlantic Puffins on the water, just off from the colony. One with a beakful of seaweed (??). A few white lines of Northern Gannets (that analogy would work better if the sea was like a mirror, but unfortunately it was choppy. Cut even. Two Manx Shearwaters north (first of the year) and a mild unusuality - 2 Tufted Ducks south.

Nothing of note in the allotments, AGAIN. All those shiny dangling Tiffany CDs muct be scaring them off. I think we're alone now... there doesn't seem to be any migrants arou-and. Coastal fields deafening with the sound of 6+ Eurasian Skylarks doing their noisy thing, but really just all last week's stuff (Common Linnets, Yellowhammers, Meadow Pipits..) all over again.

When I got to Water Valley, a Peregrine Falcon flew over at speed looking like it meant business this morning, and a female Eurasian Sparrowhawk went over, carrying prey, over to the trees on the south side of Muchalls. I bet the curtains twitched as it flew past. As I got nearly back to Newtonhill, a Feral Pigeon flew lazily over my head... bad mistake, as it should have been running for its life. The Peregrine Falcon came up behind it on the level at full pelt and I heard the 'smack' as it hit and grabbed the pigeon away. It was 15 m right above my head, and i stood in the gentle shower of feathers as the Peregrine called 'ka-ka-ka-ka-ka' in triumph and the pigeon struggled and fluttered for a few seconds. Pretty hot.
And by the time I got back to Newtonhill, the Sparrowhawk was back bothering the Starlings - all go for the predators today.

In the evening, took Lizzie on her FIRST TWITCH. All the way to Stonehaven. A nice easy one, and to my surprise she was genuinely excited by spotting 'the white one'. A first winter Iceland Gull, against a backdrop of sewage-and-chips-eating Herring Gulls. Like this...

When I got home, I got to take a screwdriver and a hammer to an old shed, and then got in just in time to see the melting Nazies on Indiana Jones. Does life get better than that?

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Song Thrush

Juvenile Song Thrush in the back garden this morning, hiding in the dogwood, being fed. I set up the scope and uncharacteristically the kiddies wanted a look AND were interested. It'll never last.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The Mole - Kenneth Mellanby, New Naturalist Monograph...

... is what it says at the top of my notebook for today, for reasons entirely unconnected with birding, but I couldn't think of a better title. Hell, it'll do. So, it's Friday night, and I have suppered marvellously on scallops and a glass of red wine* , have chortled through Brian Blessed presenting Have I Got News for You, but Jonathan Ross and his incredibly crap house band have bored the pants off me in less time than it takes to say 'syphilis', and that means it must be time to make up some exciting wildlife-related observations. Ooh, did I say 'make up', I meant 'describe' obviously.


## it's the sound of the rat from Ratatouille turning in his grave.

I went birding, in May, on the east coast, in an easterly breeze and.... it was crap! First House Martins are back around their nest sites at St Ann's, though. I caught a Song Thrush carrying a faecal sac out of the Cypresses at Mill garden, and this evening there was a fluttery juvenile Song Thrush in our back garden. Offshore, there was a Harbour Porpoise , a Red-breasted Merganser flew south (surprisingly a patch year tick), and 3 Northern Gannets went north. Plenty of Black-legged Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots and Northern Fulmars around, but still no Puffins.

Cran Hill: crap. I spent some time sifting through a small flock of gulls, counting 152 Herring Gulls, 2 Lesser Black-backs and 1 Great Black-backed Gull. Didn't take a lot of counting. A few Barn Swallows round the farm the usual cacophony of Eurasian Skylarks and Meadow Pipits and well, yes it was surprisingly quiet, overall. Never mind, I've still got the scallops, until 2 am at least, when we might all be seeing them again**.

** I'll take a photo.

Evening, was on Stonehaven beach with my geek-monster son, and saw a lot more gulls and some enterprising seaweed.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Yes. Birders and psychiatric institutions - it's a marriage made in heaven. So I was sat at work this morning, idly marking a bunch of essays, and a quick look at BirdGuides suggested there was a Hawfinch in the grounds of Cornhill Hospital, in the trees by the crane at the new development. Hang-on-a-mo, wondered I... don't I work next door to Cornill? Didn't I walk past that crane this morning ? (Well, no actually, i had the car today, but that isn't the point). So picked up my bins and had a quick march down the road to Cornhill. Ooooh, it's so peaceful... I love the deliberate atmosphere of calm, the open spaces, the way everyone assumes you're just a wandering patient and is very careful around you. I never want to leave - you can't make me leave!

But you can make me dip. Or at least, I did, in that the bird wasn't there. Mind, it was a full scale building site. I know Hawfinches aren't as timid as people sometimes suspect, but surely they draw the line somewhere.

Btw, if you haven't been here recently, you should.