Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chinese Democracy

Blimey, it's St Andrew's Day, so like any true Scotsman (I am in fact 1/4 Scotch by adoption) I went to the Church of St Andrew in Kiev and celebrated in the traditional way by supping a ancient-recipe cream-of-dioxin soup. Must say it hasn't done a whole lot for my complexion. I'm starting to see why St Andrew's Day never caught on like other famous saints like errr... St Martin. There was a St. Martin apparently. Roman guy, gave his coat away to a beggar or something. I gave my coat to Oxfam* and was never made a saint. There's no justice.

Actually, that's a lie... I never gave my coat to Oxfam. But it's the principle of the thing.

When I got back I engaged in the traditional St Andrew's day pastime of birdspotting. Forgot a biro, so I will have to regress through hypnotism to recall the events of the day. 1, 2, 3... and I'm under. The first thing I remember... I was covered in blood, there was a bright light and then someone smacked me... whoops, regressed too far. Fast forward 39 years. It was -3 C and icy with it, and the track alongside the Elsick Burn was hoaching with frost-addled birds, half mad with hunger and the other half mad with me for flushing them. And unusually, they were buntings - a mixed flock of ~12 Common Reed Buntings and 25 Yellowhammers. With the usual tommy titmice, Winter Wrens, European Robins etc. And a couple of Goldcrests. I don't remember anything else until the last drops of absinthe drained from my system, by which time I was on the clifftops scoping out to sea. The sea was pretty quiet, tbh, with the best action coming when an Atlantic Grey Seal refused to share its fish with an assembled audience of gulls (1 Great Black-backed, 12 Herring, 3 Common (Mew) and 1 Black-headed). Two Peregrine Falcons chased each other south, and a Common Buzzard soared past over the sea. A couple of Red-throated Divers went north, and there were a coupler of Guillemots (Common Murres) on the water with some Common Eiders. 2 Purple Sandpipers on the shore, with a few Eurasian Oystercatchers and Curlews.
After getting Snow Bunting on my patch list last week, they gave themselves up bigtime this week when a flock of 25 went north just offshore - obviously Aberdeenshire isn't cold enough for them.

There was other sundry stuff about, but there you go. Took the family to the Bervie Chipper at lunchtime, and then to the Christmas Fair to see Santa. In summary, it's wintery. Some local movement. I could have told you that without going on about my day.

Monday, November 24, 2008

All the best blogs are dying....

It's true. First Tim Allwood decides that it isn't worth the grief. Then Tom McKinney grinds to a halt in an ice-skid of expletives. It just goes to show that if you're got anything worth reading, the strain of writing it starts to tell. Expect this blog to be here a long time - it's no trouble at all :-)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Delicious and dangerous patch ticks.

Well what happened? This time last week we were trying to squeeze the last drops of Siberia out of the autumn. And then ka-boom overnight it was Siberia here. Newtonhill was transformed into something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike a winter wonderland.

That said, I love it when the birds are fighting for their lives. And it brought me a garden tick in the form of one of these Long-tailed Tits that has been kicking around. I caught it pecking my fat balls (OOoooooohhhhhhh, matron!). Birding was otherwise disrupted by a) having to build a snowman

and b) having to sloosh out the carpets after Peter had spent the night vomiting copiously over everything I own, including the file of 'family memorobilia', from which I need to salvage as much as I can. Poor Lizzie is so vomitophobic that she came birding with me before lunch rather than sit in the same house as Peter. We didn't see a lot really, except there was a constant stream of Eurasian Skylarks flying over, going south. We met Matt, who said there was a Snow Bunting in the stubble field with a big flock of Skylarks. And wowsers! It was a big flock of Skylarks - about 300 birds, and with another 300 or so flying off, my A-level Further Mathematics suggsts that's about 600 birds in all. Plus all the others going over without stopping. And yes, one of the birds flying south was the, or another Snow Bunting. Patch tick. Gooooodddd. Better... as we walked back home, among the Black-headed Gulls, Starlings and sundry other things going overhead, a Eurasian Woodcock! Another patch tick.

So, I spend most of the afternoon messing about. But I came across some old drawings. In my youth I tried to be an artist. Which was a shame, cos I'm no artist, but I could be a draftsman. Anyway, here's some rare birds I tried to draw.

1991 Waxham Lark Sparrow. Obviously not a stowaway.

1991 St Andrews Chimney Swift, with a Common Swift.
A very unconvincing representation.

1989/90 Holkham Red-breasted Nuthatch.
With the passage of time, this is the only one that works for me.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Note to self...

... new notebook. My current one keeps dropping pages out - they don't make them like they used to. And I keep sellotaping pages back in. It's a recipe for disaster. There's no integrity there. I feel a huge Meinertzhagen fantasy revision of my entire note keeping system coming on. Anyway, yesterday

16th November 08
I popped over to Cape Verde and got a nice Razo Lark on the lawn of my hotel. Oooppps, there goes the Meinertzhagen thingy again. Stop it. Really, I was in Newtonhill, seeing... more Long-tailed Tits (5) Coal Tits, and Goldcrests, though tbh not as many Coal Tits and Goldcrests as in the past couple of weeks and I think maybe the autumn is finally coming to an end. Not before I score one more Sibe, hopefully. Whereas on last week's walk round the patch I got maybe 50 Goldcrests, today it was certainly less than 20.

Along Honeypot Lane at the Retreat, which was to be fair quite busy with Chaffinches and Blue Titmice and such, there was a single male Blackcap at the feeders. 3 Redpoll sp. flew over the track to the beach, and at the bottom of the track I met a fellow Newtonhill birder tick - Matt Parsons, who also had seen nothing very interesting today, but who had seen one of 'my' (or quite possibly a totally different one) Pallas's Leaf Warblers on Tuesday. There was a single Common Stonechat up the cliff sides. A quick look offshore (dead, 4 Northern Gannets and a few gulls of 4 spp hanging around the lobster boat) down there.
And then to the allotments (also very quiet, save for Common Blackbirds, European Robins, Dunnocks) but meeting 2 other Newtonhill Birders - a very interesting trend - who also saw 'my' Pallas's on Tuesday. I went down to Muchalls, but things just got worse, though there were a few fresh-in looking Redwings

We've got a mouse/mice in the loft. Heard 'em last week, so I dusted a trap off and put it up there armed with peanut butter. For a day or so the mouse was eating the peanut butter without setting off the trap, so I finally put it on an absolute hair trigger and 5.30 am we heard 'ker-snap' and victory ... WAS MINE!!!!! When I went to collect the pathetic corpse later I felt guilty cos it was only a wee teenage mouse - about 2/3 full size - trying to get out of the cold etc. I noticed/presumed that it had nearly got away again, because the peanut butter was gone. But just in case loaded up the trap and left it a few hours. When I noticed the peanut butter gone again. So now I knew what was happening. We have some sort of General Haig-type mouse in the loft, sending the young underage mice over the top to die in the jaws of the trap, then sucking up the spoils and the glory of victory (OK, the peanut butter) for himself. So I rammed some chocolate and more peanut butter onto the trap, the idea being that they would have to tug real hard to get the choccy and ka-boom for them. A bit later... heard the ker-snap again... went up to get my prize but lo! and blimey! Not only was there nothing in the trap, but they'd taken the choccy and peanut butter and, believe me dear reader... DISMANTLED the trap! My mouse had taken out the hinges that held the spring loaded and rendered it useless. I can see I am up against a worthy opponent. And I have no more traps. So extras have been ordered, via the miracle of ebay, and I'll have another go. There may have been a point to this story but it has temporarily escaped my mind.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I love my job

No really, I do. Especially when i have to walk into Old Aberdeen to do some tutorials and over the sound of Nightwish* being pumped directly into my head, I hear and then see a flock of 90-100 Bohemian Waxwings in the treetops at Hilton Street.

*'For the [schrrrr] heeeaaaarrrrttttt, I once [schrrrrrr] haaaaaadddd etc'.

Strangely, in the most bizarre bit of immigration-related legislation I have heard of for a while, there is a good chance that all University employees are in future going to have to account for where they are at all times. So where were you at 9.45 on Thursday morning?' 'I was between assignments, watching some immigrants in the treetops on Hilton Street... is that good enough?'

The Waxwings had gone when I returned at 12.15. Probably caught a bus:

Waxwings: 'We'd like -'
Bus Driver: 'Shut it. You're barred!'

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I love you, you love me...

...let's go out and kill Barney
with a baseball bat and a 4 x 4
no more purple dinosaur.

There's a small resident population of Barn Owls around here that you see very occasionally, maybe once a year - usually flashing by on the A90 at night. Well there's one less of them now, as it was dead by the side of the road on the way into work this morning. That was me on the way to work, not the Barn Owl. No wait, i've told that joke before...
Barn Owl: 'I'd like a ticket to a place with lots of voles please'
Bus driver: 'Not you as well. Just f*** ***!'

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Bluuuuueeeee Cow. Blue Blue Cow

6 Bohemian Waxwings in Newtonhill this morning, waiting for the bus to work. That's me waiting for the bus, not the Waxwings. Can you imagine...
Waxwings: 'Prrrp - we'd like a ticket to a place with lots of red berries please'

Bus driver: 'P*ss off, this isn't an episode of Blue Cow, you know.'

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Full of Eastern Promise

Friday 7th November 08

With some good weather... actually quite appalling weather, but from the east - I sacked the papers, as the Punkbirder parlance would have it and went out for a walk in the wind at Newtonhill. A pretty stiff southeasterly, as it happened. And immediately a brownish
Common Chiffchaff hanging around with 2 Goldcrests in the bushes at the top of the track spoke to me of promises of eastern delights with a hint of Ukhtinskaya gulags. Unfortunately the other birds I saw subsequently spoke to me of back garden peanuts and wasted afternoons. Highlights were a party (presumably the same party as last week) of at leasrt 6 Long-tailed Tits in the bushes down the track, and another Common Chiffchaff. Both Chiffies called and neither was Siberian sounding, tbh. So in spite of Pallas's Warblers at Blackdog and Bridge of Don, there was nothing new here today.

Sunday 9th November 08.

Torrential rain and wind from the south last night. The weather is playing my song. Initially very quiet, with small numbers of
Coal Tits, Goldcrests, Blue Tits in the gorse etc along the burn. I wandered up what from now on I am compelled to call 'Honeypot Lane', the path between the Mill and the playpark. This is where the Wood Warbler and Yellow-browed Warblers were earlier this autumn. And now... Pallas's Leaf Warbler. Above my head initially, as soon as I saw the dumpy shape and the silky white underparts I knew what it was going to be, and then watched it for 20 minutes as it fed among the sycamores and coming down into the bracken to within 3 m of me, much as the Y-bW had done. Cripple cripple. It flew down into the Mill garden to allow me to make notes then it flew back up with a couple of Goldcrests for round two. Quite a lemony bird - green up top with a fresh clean yellow super etc and white covert bars. When it flew between branches or hovered in front of sycamore leaves it was showing off its creamy yellow band-rump. It went off down the bank and I thought it was worth my while walking 5 m further to check the bushes at the bird table in the Retreat garden. There was a Goldcrest and a Coal Tit and then who should pop its head out than the Pallas's Warbler, but it couldn't be the same one and this was actually a slightly different colour, with a kind of creme brulee face - warmer super and even darker green on top. There were two birds, and I kept on this one for 5 minutes before checking that bird one - lemoney cricket - was still present down the bank. Top hole.

Bird 1

So I phoned them in to BirdGuides, and continued down the track to the beach. There had been a few new arrivals and the place was hoaching with Common Chaffinches, Blackbirds and European Robins. And the party of Long-tailed Tits, 10 of them today. When I checked the BirdGuides website to savour the Pallas's glory(!) I noticed that also mentioned was a Hume's Leaf Warbler and Firecrest from Muchalls, yesterday afternoon! wtf!!! I mean wtf!!!!!! Nothing like getting the news out is there? :-) Anyway, worth a look, so I went down to Muchalls, calling in at the allotments, though it remains stubbornly Radde's free there. 'In the gully between the railwayy viaduct and the sea', said the BirdGuides news on Humey & Firey ltd., which should be quite easy as thereare only two trees, one willow and 1 alder, both head high, in there. No birds at all, and very few (Robins, tits) in the valley above the viaduct. No birders either.

Still, not to worry. Pallas's Warbler regains its place as commoner than Common Treecreeper in Newtonhill, and I got some cracking views of the bird so good an international committee of the UN actually named this blog after it. But that's a story for another day.

btw don'tcha just love it when this happens.

And finally...

Sunday, November 02, 2008


Friday 31st October 08

Clobbered I was... ooh yes, by hailstones the size of gobstoppers. Gobstoppers, I say! Ow ow ow owwwwww!!!! And all I was trying to do was enjoy as pleasant seawatch and pick up on some of this diver/phalarope/fly-by Pallas's Warbler action that became a feature of the past couple of days.

I came home from work early... headed out. Chilly, but a flock of 15 Long-tailed Tits, less than annual here, working their way up through the back gardens in St. Michael's Road spoke of migrant promise. Goldcrests were everywhere - at least 9 in Mill Garden alone, and constant peeping - kept the old Pallas's radar online, but without success. I was pishing away at the bushes down the track to the beach and a Great-spotted Woodpecker (just about annual here) popped his head out.

16 Ruddy Turnstones on the beach, then out for a seawatch and I set up my scope to see the hailstorm from hell (a cold icy hell, I guess) approaching fast and hard from the north, and I heard the hailstones pinging off my tripod and off me, and they got bigger and bigger until I hid under my coat and waited for it to ease. When it did, I looked out and my feet were encased in a drift of slushy ice. Out to sea it was a bit crap - a few Northern Gannets bravely ploughing through, and a cowardly Red-throated Diver going south.

After a bit of that, I set off home. Back in St Michael's Road, I heard a familiar call and, looking up, a Bohemian Waxwing was flying over. First of the year, and when I got home and checked BirdGuides it turns out they were pouring in that afternoon. Also when I got home I looked like I'd been playing dodgeball with air pistol pellets.

Sunday 2nd November 08.

Nice day, zero chance of hail. 'Very good' chance of Pallas's but although there were still a few Goldcrests and Coal Tits around, there seemed to be a lot less than a couple of days ago, and it seems as though many birds have scarpered. Mildly amusing things included a Common Reed Bunting in the Knotweed by the burn, and a (the same?) male Common Blackcap inthe elder bushes at Mill Garden. The sea was once again empty, apart from a few gulls messing about. Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew up from the Community Park towards Enchanted Garden, and later another one in St.Michael's Road. Pretty swish. As I was walking along the coastal fields (5 Eurasian Skylarks, 2 Meadow Pipits) a female Common Stonechat that popped out unexpectedly onto the wire fence was stubbornly hibernicus rather than maurus, and she smugly introduced me to her mate - a rather saturated hibernicus adult male. No stringy Siberians for me today.