Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Mystery of the Vanished Prince

Saturday 30th August

Heck. For the first time in 17 years I'm not using Zeiss bins. I feel as naked as those dreams where you're stainding in the buff in the school corridor and all the girls are looking at you. I'm currently trying out a review pair of Opticron Aurora 8x42. Will let you know how I got on. Of course, it might be coincidence, but since I started using them all the birds seem to have flown away. Not quite true. Walked down to the beach at Newtonhill with the family, and saw a Common Stonechat. Also 3 Ruddy Turnstones on the beach, a procession of Northern Fulmars and a young Guillemot whistling for its fish. Normally I wouldn't even mention that trip out except that we hada near-legendary haul of dead mammal on the track on the way back AND we were nearly crushed by a Range Rover. First this:

Bank Vole?

then this dried up specimenCommon Shrew

and then this
Pygmy Shrew

Sunday 31st August 08
Woke up to fog, with visibility out to sea less than 100 m. I wandered round thepatch and tried some phone-scoping - my new phone seems to manage marginally better than the old one. Only migrant-ish bird was a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the trees at the back gardens of St Michaels Rd. Ooh, and 3 Coal Tits. And a Goldcrest.

Juvenile Grey Heron, in the fog.

Hybrid Hoodie x Carrion Crow

Arty shot of stones on beach. if this were Stonehaven, they'd have been carted off for someone's rockery.

Santa, drunk in a ditch - a Newtonhill tradition.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A song for Boulmer Birder

I made this up myself. I thought of it. In my head.

Nobody loves me
Everybody hates me
Think I'm gonna go and eat Glaucs

Big fat juicy ones

Slightly smaller female ones

See how they wriggle and squawk.

Well I'll bite of their heads

And suck out the juice

And throw the skins away.

You will see how I will thrive

On Glaucs three times a day.

Thank you. Thank you, everyone. No really. You rock. No photos please.

Went birding this morning before work. But first, this. Flushed with success at finding Newtonhill's best migrant of the year yesterday, Diane doubled up by noticing AND photographing a garden tick - Spotted Flycatcher, on our whirly all afternoon. To Peter's relentless delight, it flew away for good before I got home, but the evidence is here.
Diane apologises for the fetid piss-poor pitiful quality of the photo :-) , but points out that it was through the double glazing with 4 under-5s clinging to her at the time. She's a childminder. I'm irresistible, but not that irresistible. I know on this photo it looks a bit like a Pied Fly, but the description was very clear - it had a streaked slightly cresty head a cross little face (such a girly description!!!) and thin white edgings to all its coverts and secondaries + tertials.

IF I'd seen it, it would have been only the 4th or 5th one I'd seen in Newtonhill, since 2002, so a decent migrant. And with two decent migrants in the garden in 2 days, I thunk that maybe there may be more decent migrants about, and went birdspotting this morning round the patch.

Predictably, it was all pitifully, painfully quiet. A Common Whitethroat in bracken down the Elsick Burn reminded me that I forgot to mention there was one under the viaduct on Sunday carrying food - getting a bit late in the year for that. There was also a flighty juv, bright yellow (yellow seems to be the new black) Willow Warbler in the garden at the White Houses, that was conceivably migrant. More obvious migrants were the flocks of 30+ Barn Swallows heading south along the coast in regular streams, carrying with them a few Sand Martins. Newtonhill may be a bit boring, but even I can see the passerines are game-on.

A half hour seawatch (Dedication, that's all you need, if you wanna be a record breeaaakker!) in a mild southerly, 07:15 - 07:45 scooped another single Sooty Shearwater heading south with 3 Manx Shearwaters, a Great Skua north, 46 Northern Gannets north and 13 south, 1 Common Redshank, 1 Ruddy Turnstone, both south, some flocks of Black-legged Kittiwakes feeding, a single fully grown but juvenile Guillemot whistling for its breakfast, and a White-throated Dipper on the rocks. And that's all.

I would give my entire Primeval sticker collection to have been on Cape Clear today.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I'm not joking... there are *invisible bugs* crawling all over me...

... but I don't let it get me down. Except for those snappy bitey ones.

Sunday 24th August 08.

Bit of a southerly breeze going on, maybe good for migrants, but probably crap for seawatching. So I went for a seawatch first. Sheltering in the bay, on the water, was a tight flock of 45 European Shags - probably the biggest flock I've seen here. Then 06:15 - 07:50, a choppy seawatch unrelieved by interest, except borderline - a single Sooty Shearwater going north at distance. 5 Great Skuas (2N, 2S) included one that whiled away an hour dismemebering a Black-legged Kittiwake on the water, and 3 Arctic Skuas (2S, 1N) harrassed the unfortunate survivors.

There was a trickle of Eurasian Teal, with 29 going south in bits and bobs, and 2 Mallards north, 4 Common Scoters north and 13 south. 37 Sandwich Terns, 25 Common Terns, 254 Northern Gannets north and 394 south. Actually looking at it now, it seems like a lot more interesting than it felt at the time. Blessed relief when the light got too in my face to continue, and I went bush-bashing. My blasts of Greenish Warbler calls pulled in a couple of Great Tits and an inquisitive European Robin. A couple of White-throated Dippers on the burn, and a Common Swift with the House Martins over Cow Field may turn out to be the last of the autumn.

Cran Hill was not much better, with the only definite migrant being a Sand Martin (Bank Swallow) with the Barn Swallows at Backburn Farm. although in the vegetation where glorious Mount Doom used to stand I saw a couple of Reed Buntings, and a Common Whitethroat, and as I scanned round from there I saw 2 Common Kestrels (m & f), a Eurasian Sparrowhawk being mobbed by 2 hybrid crows, a Common Buzzard being mobbed by 2 other crows and a juvenile Peregrine circling in the air with a small crown of Herring Gulls. I had a good mind to write a letter to the Scotsman:

'Dear Sir - if the RSPB and other so-called 'conservation' bodies want to know the cause of the decline of songbirds, they need look no further than the uncontrolled proliferation of hookbills in our countryside. When will these people wake up and see that the only good predator is a keeper with a bottle of carbofuran. And there were no 'homosexuals' in my day, either. Yours etc. Colonel Digby-Vane-Trumpington (retired).'

But then I saw a flock of 50 Common Linnets - 25 of them were holding down a Sparrowhawk while the other 25 were kicking it in the head, and that pleased me greatly.

Isn't autumn wonderful?

Fishermen's huts.

Monday 25th August 2008
Got home as usual with the cry of 'Where's my tea, wench!?', and was told it was sitting outside on the wall of the house. Wtf? Went out for a look, expecting a migrant chicken nugget to be stuck to the wall, and saw this monster!!
Convolvulus Hawk-moth

And with its 10 cm wingspan, who was going to argue with it. Stay as long as you like, mate. I don't really know much about moths, but from what I can glean on the internet, it's a decent migrant- a bit like finding a Barred Warbler stuck on the side of your house.

This is it as night fell and it was getting restless and ready to go.

Tasted good, too. With chips and mayonnaise.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Greenish Warbler blank

I got up early hoping to jam in on some of this Greenish Warbler action and find my own in Newtonhill. It was very disappointing, and not a little wet. No migrants at all really, unless you count a couple of Goldcrests that I suspect had moved about 100 m from their natal site down to the bushes by the Elsick Burn. There was a White-throated Dipper on the burn, and anoter one on the beach.

And this Pygmy Shrew. It was out of focus in real life as well. Strange but true.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

British Birdwatching Fair 2008 - includes Ivory-billed Woodpecker sighting, and monstrous hybrid. And now... sweetie porn!

It was too good to be true. I should have known. I was packed and loaded into my armoured limo for the journey back to my rightful position as comrade/chairman/dictator of my Central American soviet republic. Fawning henchmen dressed me in my full ceremonial regalia - in truth the alarm bells should have rung when I noticed it was a blue polo shirt. I did ask, but they had a very good explanation. At least it seemed very good at the time, although I was drunk on power and Diamond White. Again. They gave me a nice drink that made me sleep through the entire flight. I thought there was a flight. Then into a blackout truck, I arrived back at what they told me was Victory Square in our glorious liberated country's capital. I stepped out into the light and realisation hit. F****** h***!!! I was back at the bloody British Birdwatching Fair for another year. It had all been a cunning ruse. Sometime I wonder if the doctors are right, and I don't actually own a Central American republic.

So back at the Bird Fair, where I met everyone the same as last year, though we're all a year older. And also some new people. People who read the Secret Freezer!!! Hello to you all. Shamefully I didn't get all your names and addresses so I could send the begging letters. But you're all wonderful, and fantastically good looking, I may add. Which is another point. Don't get me started, but birders... where do you get all that hair???? As usual, I had a very nice time and some fantastic chats. I ticked Stephen Menzie, and then he won the raffle AND I didn't have to fix it.

Some random Bird Fair photos...

Top artist Clive Byers wearing the world's best shirt. It must be the artistic temperament.

But what's this... sighting of Ivory-billed Woodpecker in the 'preventing extinctions' tableau!! Bit late for that, old boy. :-O


Prevent bird crime. And stop heavy petting by dead Redfoots.

British Birds stand. In this photo... Richard Chandler, Robin Prytherch's bum, and Hazel Jenner's legs.

British Birds Jelly Babies. Higher quality than normal jelly babies on account of full peer review.

You can tell I was not happy about this.

Stand of popular glossy women's magazine, Birdwatching.

Eugh... a monstrous hybrid. That Ivory-billed Woodpecker has been mating with the cygnets. No one except possibly Gary Glitter would approve.

Secret filming at the British Bird Fair, revealing unequivocal evidence of gratuitous art, Ivory-billed Woodpecker, Chris Packham not knowing anything about Hawk Owls, and me cutting out just before bumping into Bill Oddie cos I didn't want to make him grumpy.

and this is for Hazel. Another boring brown bird - Garden Warbler Sylvia borin. See, it has 'boring' woven right into the name!!

Original here.

When I got home, as usual everyone had been letting the dead ?mice? go to waste. Gain a grip, you guys!!

And btw, have you ever been frustrated by not being able to combine your interest in refreshing chewy sweeties with your interest in sexually provocative cartoon fruits?? Let's face it... we've all been there. Well frustrate no more! Ladies and Jellyspoons, I bring you sweets that are flaunting themselves openly on the shelves at ASDA. It's a disgrace. I mean.. look!

And if that wasn't bad enough, this is disgusting.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

And the lesson for today is...

... don't f*** with Russia.

So I didn't. An hour's seawatch before work, 06:00-07:00 in a reasonable northerly 4, wasn't heaving. 7 Great Skuas (5N 2S) were decent, also a jumping fish! Things were a bit slow. But there was a small passage of Eurasian Teal going north (15 in total), also 86(!) Northern Gannets north, 7 sooth, 1 Red-throated Diver south, 2 Annoying Small Waders north, and another 2 that would have been annoying small waders except they were Ruddy Turnstones, so not annoying. but easy. Also a Dipper on the shore.

Anyway, I have to go. Apparently this birdwatching thing was all a sham. According to me little spaceman friend, I'm really the chairman-dictator of a small Marxist Central American country (don't look for it on the map, the CIA removed it from all the maps), and it's time for me to go home. My people need me.

If you see someone like me at the British Birdwatching Fair, it is but a shade of a shadow of a memory.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Saturday 9th August:
Foolishly went out for an early seawatch, though I suspected as I left the hoosie that knocking out another couple of levels in PS2 Indiana Jones Lego game would have been a better use of my time. I was almost right, as there wasn't a whole lot happening on the sea. Started at 06:00 with a single Arctic Skua going south in a fresh southeasterly, and downhill from there. 3 Common Scoters and 3 Eurasian Teal north, 1 Red-throated Diver, 142 Northern Gannets north and 61 south, a few Sandwich Terns. 7 Annoying Small Waders going south were probably Red Knot.

Interestingly, in light of the 20th July posting on Hugh Harrop's refreshingly unmodest blog, about 20-25% of the Black-legged Kittiwakes I was seeing (hundreds milling about) were juveniles, so not everyone is starving in the North Sea this year.

So I decided that Indiana Jones was a better use of my time, and quit after an hour to go home. As I got back the the car the Common Starlings started to kick up a fuss, and Merlin flew over my head and continued over to cran Hill They're less than annual here. So it was worth coming out, just.

I turned the volume right down on the TV, and kept the living room door shut, and didn't even turn the lights on, but the aura of PS2 electromagnetic fields were enough to get Peter scampering into the room wanting to spoil my game. grrr....

Sunday 10th August.
Back out again, with a determined... chin. With sweat from my pores as I work for my cau- cau-cau-cau caussssee. Flat calm and with rain rain RAIN!! Wet. 06:15 -07:50. A bit better than yesterday, with a single Pomarine Skua heading south, also a single Arctic Skua and 3 Great Skuas (2 N and 1S being mobbed by a foolhardy Sandwich Tern). 7 Manx Shearwaters north (it's not much, but it's something, as I told the nurse at the clinic). Best bird, in the objective 'scarcity status in Newtonhill' rankings was a single Ringed Plover going south.

Some Dolphin action! First for a while. First a pod of 4 Bottle-nosed Dolphins (2 adults and 2 dolphinlets) close in, and then much further out a flock (even) of 16+ dolphin-sp - I presume they were most likely to be Bottle-nosed, knowing they're out there today, but actually they were more White-beaked jizzy. A single Harbour Porpoise.

In other news, 118 Northern Gannets north, 44 south, 6 Arctic Terns north and a reasonable showing of 20 Common Terns N, 2 Atlantic Puffins north (in contrast only a few moulty Razorbills on the water), and 2 Red-throated Divers south.

A quick stomp around the patch was unrelieved by any hot bird action, in spite of my phone blasting out random migrant calls at intervals. I did find this though, which is a welcome change from the usual diet of dead shrews, voles and mice. ...

... a juvenile Oystercatcher. Note how the bill is still growing.

No dead voles etc. for you today.
Oh go on then....
I know you want it, don't you sir... a Common Shrew. Looking how I felt.
Update Monday morning - looking at it again, I think it's a Pygmy Shrew.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Trumpet lessons

Yoinks! Look what's popped up in this week's Cage and Aviary Birds (available from all good newsagents and some really crap ones).

And don't get me wrong (i'm never wrong), but I can't imagine anything more irritating than a pet Trumpeter Finch buzzing in my earhole all day.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

nearly forgot this

a secondary from a Common Buzzard, found at Crathes Castle.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Bug hunt

Who forgot to turn my alarm off?! Seawatch at 06:00, in hindsight not the most exciting way to start the day. Becalmed... but a good day for watching cetaceans, except there aren't any. I'm starting to think there aren't a lot of fish. There were only 2 Razorbills on the sea, and 1 more flew past. These were going to be the only ones I saw, except just as I was getting up to go, I heard the whistle of a juvvy Guillemot (Common Murre) and saw it on the sea with its parent, with a huge fish tail sticking out of its mouth, and Dad sat there with another huge fish sticking out of his mouth. So there are fish out there, but I wonder if they were too big for the baby auks. Didn't look like pipefish. Of the Black-legged Kittiwakes, about 1/5 were juveniles, so they found something to eat OK. Anyway, 06:00 - 07:05, very boring (or maybe this is normal, and we were just spoilt last year 205 Northern Gannets north, 41 south, 2 Great Skuas north, 2 Common Scoters south, no Manx Shearwaters but then at 06:45 the first Sooty Shearwater of the autumn sauntered past - haven't heard of many being around in the North Sea yet, but they must be on the way. Looked like it was loosely in a feeding flock of Kittiwakes. About 15 min later, another, or the same one, came past again at a distance.

So not totally boring, but I went off and spent another hour playing Greenish Warbler calls at high volume at the bushes along the track to the beach. Nae luck (but effectively dragged in a family of juvvy Willow Warblers). A few Common Swifts over the valley, and a White-throated Dipper on the burn (unringed) was the first for a few months.

PM - a visit en famille, or at least en voiture to Fetteresso forest, with the butterfly nets and some sharp eyed kids who insisted on re-enacting scenes from the LEGO Indiana Jones PS2 game along the way - you see what I have to put up with? Or at least I would have to put up with it, if I wasn'tthe ringleader. We only caught 1 butterfly ( a Ringlet) but had cracking views of a couple of stonking Golden-ringed Dragonflies that even impressed Lizzie, and that's not an easy thing to do. Anyway, they enjoyed the bugs and big toadstools ... such as this

and these beauties

And I think this is Sericomyia silentis. Vernacular name 'Fat-arsed Hoverfly'

The good old days...

I don't like it... but WHAT A PHOTO!! Bird Photograph of the Year 1914 without a doubt. A Eurasian Sparrowhawk exhibiting normal behaviour in the keepered countryside.

The text is worth reading too.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Misery loves birding

Egad! Had to misfortune to be woken by my alarm at 05:30 - curse its nasty little bells. Then I remembered I had thought it might be a decent seawatching gale. It was wet at least, but not really windy, as it happened, but with a good soaking and misery guaranteed, i had to go out. So it was 05:45 - 07:15 in E4, pissing rain and visibility medium.

And guess what, it sucked. Dreadful to start with, with nothing but a Great Skua for ages. 191 Northern Gannets north, 38 south, and I was even counting Black-legged Kittiwakes. A couple of Atlantic Puffins north, and apart from a few Razorbills on the water, no other auks going past - seems like they genuinely bombed out this year. An Arctic Tern north, then a feeding flock of 200 Kittiwakes appeared from nowhere, and that was enough to get a couple of Manx Shearwaters, an Arctic Skua (Jaeger) on the rampage, and 4 Common Terns heading south in a flock, and then 3 Grey Plovers (Black-bellied Plovers). The Grey Plovers were a patch tick, so I would pontificate about the value of persistence dragging a boring seawatch out of the gutter, but... well... it was still a bit sh*t.

I want a Yelkouan Shearwater!! It's the new string for the 21st century, now that no one believes Little (Macaronesian) Shearwaters any more.

When I got to the cliffs this morning, I pulled out my notebook, fine, but no pen. So I pulled out my Remembird, fine, but batteries dead AGAIN! So pulled out my mind, and it was lucky there weren't more birds to remember cos my mind is a little, what's the word... I forget.

Not as bad as my son's mind. I'm kind-of proud, but ashamed at the same time. We were at Crathes Castle (NTS) yesterday and he was happy in the playground and I could only get him to leave by asking if he wanted to go on a fern hunt round the woods... and he cheered and got up to come with us. Geek. He drew the line at Bryophytes, mind. We heard some Crossbills (Remembird safely tucked up with bins at home, where it was no use) and saw one of those deadly toadstools that Boulmer Birder saw - the extrovertly labelled 'Panther'.