Friday 29 February 2008

My Wife Returns!

And hark on high! She's back and its not all that bad...except for the video footage of Ostrich and Kori Bustard in Etosha, Namibia. As for birding, I didn't go to see those crummy geese in East Park. Mainly because I didn't have time and not that I didn't want to see them. I did however do my 2 late tetrad visits for the bird atlas and found 3 Corn Buntings (again) on the outskirts of Acomb. Other stuff included 8 Mistle Thrushes & not a lot else. No more birding for a bit either...

Monday 25 February 2008

Now I have to see that Goose...

Bloody, bloody Mike (Skink1978, bf). He only goes and notches his 2 bogey birds right in front of me on my patch. Oh well it could have been worse, like my start to the day. In the petrol station fill up, pay... I'm sorry sir but your card isnt working (not you've got no money in your account but your chip is buggered). Great, so i have to haul off back home to get some cash in tuppences (almost) and head back to the garage. Im now 20 minutes late. I get to Shiptonthorpe and the rozzers have only gone and closed the A1079. Bastards. Another 20 minutes is lost wending my way around rural East Yorkshire.

Its ok because I'm going to see the Tundra Bean Goose currently pretending to be a Greylag along with its partner in crime a juv White-front. And then it hits me, I'm in the wifes car. The bins aren't in there! I grumpily saunter into my Salmon population estimating regression something something practical some time after I had intended. I didn't really achieve much, my heart wasn't in it. So I copied my mate Grum. Scandal.

I went to see my tutor to see if I could half inch some gear thinking, he is a good bloke, he'll lend me a scope, DSLR and a pair of bins for sure. Well he might have done if he was in his office. Buggeration. A chink of light appeared as my lecture finished 15 minutes early at 3pm. A race back home and I grabbed my bins at 4.14 (very good time for those in the know!). I arrived at Wheldrake Ings at precisely 4.39 (a less good time) and thought if i get down to the hide quicksmart i may see a gull or 2.

At this point I was aware that Mike's car was in the car park and curiosity got the better of me. I phoned him - 'Anything good?' He replied something along the lines of 'yup, just seen Iceland and Glaucous. Good and bad. Good because it means I was likely to see white-wingers on patch and bad because we were now level on 229 for birds in Yorkshire.

I duly saw at least 2 sub-adult Glaucs and 1 1st winter Iceland Gull. The fella stood next to me managed to pick out a 2nd winter Herring Gull showing features of American Herring Gull but i couldn't manage that. I tried to string an argentatus 1st winter with long wings, uniform tone and slight build as the wandering Thayer's type gull but to no avail. Now there is nothing to it, I have to see that goose.

Sunday 24 February 2008

Cup final and a lucky stoat

I dont mean to be crass but i really fucking love Spurs. Today is the first time in 8 years we are in a cup final. We haven't won a thing in 9 years. Today i will be mostly not going to see the putative Thayer's Gull on my local patch (much neglected) but sitting in a pub cheering on my boys. Come On You Spurs! Went out in Hull last night and had a mighty hang over so decided not to go and see the Tundra Bean Goose at East Park. That can wait until Monday. As can the gull roost. On driving back a Stoat legged it under my wheels and must have had a rabbits foot on its (or in its) person as it came out the back unscathed and got back to the kerb. Phew. Massive black tip to its tail and a very pale individual. Got obs a 60 mph me thinks.

Sunday 17 February 2008

Yorkshire and Beyond

Julie arrived at mine at 6.45 this morning. She is Jay-jay from Birdforum. We were headed to Reeth at the southern end of Arkengarthdale to meet with others for the latest Yorkshire forum meeting. Last to arrive, so we didnt have to wait for anyone. Already in attendance were Birdieboy123 (John), Skink1978 (Mike), Keith Dickinson, Schiffornis (Andy), Jtw521 (Jim), Jimmy2faces (Marcus) and Lawts (Steve) and Ron. Quickly we transferred to 2 cars and headed up to the Black Grouse site up the valley. On the route up Red Grouse was year ticked. At the site (in Yorkshire!) approximately 30 black cocks were seen over quite a large area. They were starting to lek although not very vigourously. No females were seen. After this we headed to a secret forest site out of Yorkshire where we had crippling views of Crossbills (they landed on Jim's car at one point). They had no fear. Raptor was called and a large accipiter was seen. The group was divided on id but ten minutes later another even larger bird went up. Goshawk and a good looking one with gleaming white utcs. It seems likely that the first bird was a small male and the second a female. Also seen were Siskin and a year tick in the form of Grey Wagtail.

We headed to Stockton-on-Tees for the Hume's Warbler. Quickly it was seen to be moving around the churchyard. The first wingbar had been abraded away and the area between the two wingbars was green. Good indicators as to its ID. It was heard by some to make a disylabic call, the clincher. All happy we headed for the Tees barrage. Here an adult Yellow-legged Gull looked monsterous and was chasing other gulls and eating bread provided by a birder away from us. Around the area breeding plumage Cormorants were sat drying themselves. Most remarkable considering how far from the estuary we were a massive bull Grey Seal was by the barrage. Lawts thought he was hallucinating. On nearby Portrack Marsh was a redhead Smew, probably a sub-adult male. Quite a pretty bird.

The final area for us to visit was Redcar. Not sure im going back unless its a proper stonker. Wasn't keen. We dipped Iceland Gull beside Coatham Marsh. Up on South Gare we had a few Red-throated Divers, Guillemots and a small group of Red-breasted Merganser. Just in Durham so Mike couldnt county tick em. Take that. A further dip on the Iceland Gull and it was time to go home. A cracking day and good birds with good company. Hope to see everyone at the next one.

Thursday 14 February 2008

Aberdeen or bust

On Thursday 7th I had a lecture on surveying Aberdeen bay for seabirds on a potential windfarm site. Today a whole week later I'm a hardened seadog able to discern at a miles distance a Guillemot from a Razorbill (lucky guesses!). An email on Friday and a phone conversation with Lucas Mander, an ornithologist with IECS (Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies), a commercial outfit within the University of Hull led to me becoming the 3rd bird observer and official field ornithologist on the Aberdeen Windfarm site. Exciting stuff. I jumped on a train at Hull at 1105 Monday morning and 7 hours later I was in the granite city.

We were to stay in an old lifeboat called the Gemini Explorer (who do very good Cetacean Trips in the Moray Firth, plug plug) and our crew were very welcoming, Davey the skipper, Iris, his wife and cook and George the mate. The team from the University of Hull was made up of myself, a 2nd year undergraduate in Biology with Ornithology, Ray Eades, a field ornithologist (and birder), Sue Travers, a marine mammal observer and Lucas Mander, the boss and ornithologist. We were working with a couple of mammal observers from the university of Aberdeen and an acoustics expert to record cetacean sounds also from Aberdeen.

The first night a meal at La Tasca was followed by a restless night in the bunks of my cabin. I really needed a piss but i couldnt get out my bunk without treading on Lucas (I quickly learnt my phone makes a great torch). At 6 i got up and the boat was rolling. For those that know the seastate was a 3 despite the lack of wind (the swell quickly dropped off). I felt very sick and couldnt face my breakfast. We were steaming to a site near the Ythan estuary to do our control survey and birds seen before the start included a couple of Fulmar, Shag and a Gannet.

I felt a lot better once I was up top surveying. To ease me in I was the recorder solely on the first day. It was sunny and my stomach sson hardened as we surveyed for 9 hours from the top of the boat. Highlights being many Red-throated Diver, Eider, a single Long-tailed Duck and a single Red-breasted Merganser. The latter 2 were year ticks. A few glimpses of Porpoises were also good.

As we got back to Harbour we had a couple of Atlantic Bottle-nosed Dolphins riding our bow. A UK tick for me! In the harbour a Red-throated Diver and a couple of Mergansers were good but me and Ray had bigger fish to fry. A Glaucous Gull was supposed to be in Torry and a couple of King Eiders amongst the Eider flock at Girdle Ness. Needless to say we dipped them both but got good views of Purple Sandpipers and a Common Gull roost in Nigg Bay. A few Rock Pipits sat on the foghorn and I took some blurry photos with the Institutes DSLR which i will include when i get copies including one which had a shot of the city's smog at sunset. Chokingly beautiful. Got a mammal lifer in the form of Common Seal in the harbour. Ubercool.

A trip to the Italian followed with my diminished appetite now fully restored and a couple of beers to chill out. I was having a ball. Back on board we went to bed at around 11pm. I slept like a baby. Up at 6 again and the sea was like a millpond. A hearty breakfast and we were surveying at 7.30 from Blackdog back towards Aberdeen. Very little birdwise of interest initially but a Puffin late doors was a year tick. We also had a couple of hundred Eider, over 70 Red-throated Divers, 3 Long-tailed Ducks (all drakes), a redhead Merganser and a good laugh. The highlights were 2 parties of Harbour Porpoises which were milling on the surface giving crippling views. So good!

In harbour I was packed and ready to go. We ran to the train station at after docking at 13.07. Our early train was at 13.21. 3 of us made it but Ray (who is a little older than the rest) was struggling to get through the barrier. The whistle went so Sue was very naughty and stopped the train departing. Ray made it. Highlights of the journey back included a field of Bison (mmm tasty) near Arbroath and 7 Buzzards from the train. I arrived back in York very tired but having had a great time.

Bloody hot for February

On Sunday 10th, I was sat shivering outside McDonalds, St Andrew's Quay, Hull. In roared Mike & John, fellow Bfers. Our destination was Howden's Pullover (not a sweater shop) just south of Donna Nook, the 'wrong' side of the Humber. As we sped to Lincs across the Humber bridge a Cormorant passed us flying upriver and the sun was breaking on the horizon. It was going to be a good day.

Previously constued as a tickfest for all three of us the targets were R-C Pochard in Hull (later decided against as an escape), Glossy Ibis at Donna Nook, Richard's Pipit at Howden's Pullover, Cattle Egret somewhere I forget and lastly Great Grey Shrike and Hawfinch at Clumber Park. It all sounded so easy.

In Lincs we saw loads of Grey Partridges in the fields (and I mean loads)plus amorphous, distant white blobs which all turned out to be either plastic bags or Little Egrets. Velly nice. Once at Howden's Pullover we saw Skylark (including a couple that looked a lot like Woodlarks but we bottled it) Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings and Stonechats it looked very promising. We rushed past the Richard's Pipit without clapping eyes on it to tick and run on the Ibis.

It was the usual story of you should have been here 5 minutes ago as it was making short flights. We stuck around for 3 hours walking the saltmarsh and nearly sinking across the freshmarsh. A Water Pipit and good views of Little Egret were our only reward. at 11.40 we decided we would head off at 12 if it hadn't shown by then. Straight away we see the Ibis fly from further north into the cattle field it had been in the week previous. All 3 of us got great views on the deck, a lifer for myself and John and a Uk tick for Mike, and we headed the mile back to the car toward the Richard's Pipit.

We got back to the field the pipit had been seen in when we were told the big lense brigade we passed had seen it fly into the freshmarsh behind (and neglected to mention it to us-bastards). We couldn't be arsed at this stage despite the fact all three of us needed it as a lifer. It was 16 degrees and sunny. I was cooking in my ski jacket and jumper combo and the others likewise. Feeding up was required.

After a stop at a service station (read as 1960s garage) we stuffed our lunch watching a Cattle Egret marching around a paddock in Linconshire. It looked most at home and we left soon after. A handy year tick for me. Off to Clumber Park. The only bird seen en route of note was a Common Buzzard sat in a field on the Lincs/ Notts border eating worms. Nice.

Got to clumber park at 3 with intentions of Hawfinch and Great Grey Shrike with the Shrike a lifer for Mike and Hawfinch for me and John. To say this part of the trip was unsuccessful was an understatement. It was warm, sunny and Sunday. Chave central. People everywhere. Not a Hawfinch insite. We followed the brief directions we had (near the chapel) and searched. Our inability to id a Hornbeam surely didnt help our quest but we ploughed on, slowly getting more and more frustrated. Seen were Treecreepers and Nuthatches but little else of note. Ruddy Duck on the lake was a year tick for me. Needless to say we saw nothing and we didnt even try for the shrike. Dismal. My advice if its a nice day, avoid the National Trust properties!

All in all a good day...except it transpired when we were packing up that I didnt have my camera. Actually my wifes camera. Actually my wifes schools camera. We turned the car upside down but nothing. Not good. Good news did follow as the pagers alerted John to a camera found at Donna Nook - I rang the number and it was mine. Im happy to report it is now sat in a sub Post Office in York waiting for collection. To whoever found it, Im most grateful and you seriously saved my skin.

Saturday 9 February 2008

What is this?

Posted this pic on birdforum for discussion but I havent had any definitive answers. It was taken in Barbados last August. I dont have any other better pics and it was taken with a 5.1 megapixel digital camera and no optics so its shite. I wasn't sure whether it was a Little or Snowy Egret. Both breed on the island. If you have any opinions feel free. It looks like a Little to me but there you go.

Birding for Idiots

Having refound my blogspot id and decided to start blogging again the question loomed, do I go back to the old blog? Simple answer. No, it was crap. Got some mint news today, I'm now an official ornithologist. I figure this because someone is finally dumb enough to pay me for bird surveying.

Once a month I will be travelling to Aberdeen, courtesy of the Institute of Estuarine and Coastal Studies, University of Hull, to survey seabirds on a potential windfarm site. My job is to stand at the front of a tub for ten hours looking for divers and the like. Cool (when do i find my first White-billed Diver or Brunnich's Guillemot?). And they pay me!

Birding this week consisted of a trip to Wheldrake to check out the gull roost. Found a few argentatus Herring Gulls and a possible 3rd-w Yellow-legged Gull but I'm not so hot on them. On tuesday afternoon I ventured to Castle Howard great lake for a female Scaup which was the first Aythya I saw. Also 15 Goosander walked onto my year list. Sweet ness.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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