Tuesday 30 March 2010

Monday 29 March 2010

... Like a pair of turds nailed to a wall or J.I.T.

I cant remember the last time I managed 4 lifers in a day. Well actually I can - on Mull 2 years ago nearly (Hooded Crow, Black Guille, WT Eagle & Corncrake). Well today was a good day. I needed to blow off some steam as my dad has been pretty sick after his chemo. I left at half 5 little knowing Id slept through the devil child doing her Exorcist impressions. A Jay overflew the A14 as I got stuck in Cambridges rush hour just after 8. After sitting in traffic for 30 mins I gave into my stomach and bladder and visited the services.

After McDo'ing my issues I pushed on (slowly) to the suffolk coast. I arrived on site just after half 10 and meandered to the viewing area. Thank god I didnt go any slower! I got distant views of the Lesser Kestrel for under five minutes but got as good a look as anyone else. The rain duly arrived and the bird bugged out to seek shelter in the pines. After 20 minutes it was evident it wasnt coming back for a bit so I decided to try Minsmere for a bit until the Kestrel showed again.

This was the first time Id been to this birding mecca and the ball and chain had given me strict time deadlines. I whizzed around the scrapes and got very lucky. As I walked about Chiffchaffs sung their hearts out and Green Woodpeckers yaffled unseen. Entering the North Hide I was struck by the sheer number of birds on the scrapes. Dunlin, Turnstone, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit (in summer dress no less) and gulls aplenty. A pair of Mediterranean Gulls displayed and copulated and whilst looking I noticed a couple of knots of these attractive gulls with at least 10 individuals about. A Swallow flitted across, a first for the year and the first time this has beat Sand Martin on to the year list. A Ruff pottered and a Spotted Redshank did elegant in my favourite Coot lovers parlance.

A quick scan of the gulls revealed a few Lesser Black-backs, a probable Yellow-legged Gull (it was sat down with its head under a wing) along with the Herrings and Great Black-backs. Avocets were everywhere. One of the other guys in the hide seemed interested in one of the gulls and I had a hunch he was on a caspo. Since I dipped the Caspian Gull at Potteric twice last year I was eager to connect and he kindly put me onto a classic 2nd calender year bird. It was huge with a beady eye on a pear shaped head, long legs, a parallel sided bill, long primaries and its centre of balance was behind the hips. It even did the diagnostic call thing and flew round showing its long wings. It bullied all the other gulls and was busy exploring plastic before bothering the now definite Yellow-legged Gull which moved out of the way (this must have been an adult female as it was much smaller than the caspo). I decided to move round to East hide to get a better look and en route heard some Willow Warbler subsong with no sighting. Nevermind. At least 4 Cetti's called en route.

The caspo had scarpered when I got round and so I had a better look at the Yellow-leg before being suprised by a close Cetti's Warbler. This then shot between two clumps of reed giving good flight views. A re-ticking at last. I received a call from Ange telling me I must return as the little shit had been a little shit. Or words to that effect.

I decided on a slight reroute that would give me a chance to take in the the roosting (and rightly so) Alpine Swifts in Lowestoft. I decided against the option of trying for the Kessingland Pallid Swift as I saw the Seaforth bird last year and have seen gabillions in Spain. Arriving at Lowestoft I quickly found the birds which were huddled under the eaves and looked like a pair of dog turds pinned to the wall. They didnt show an inch of white which is disappointing and whilst I couldnt have got closer views I sincerely wish they were better. I pushed on so as not to take the piss out of my beleagured spouse and was home armed with Pinot Grigio before dark with a big smile on my face and bags under my eyes. What a magic day. Whoever claims twitching is pressure ridden crap obviously doesnt do it right. I was relaxed and saw all I wanted, re broke 300 and got very lucky.

PS now UK list = 303

Sunday 28 March 2010

Ring ting

Yesterday I went ringing at Tophill Low with my trainer. We had 17 birds over 4 net rounds. Between 7 & 8.30 it was quite busy with best catches a male Goldcrest(belated year tick), a pair of Bullfinch and five Long-tailed Tits. The reserve was fairly quiet with best other birds being a single Brambling under the feeder & Chiffchaffs a plenty. The Chiffers were a year tick as whilst I heard several the other day including in my garden I didnt manage to clap eyes on them.

Other good birds recently included Willow Tit still at my parents and displaying Buzzards over a couple of copses on the northern wolds including an uber pale bird which got me a bit excited. In the garden I had a new record count of 3(three) Woodpigeons. Yay.

Random picture of the quayside at Port Ellen included.

p.s. Going for Lesser Kezza, Pallid Swift, Alpine Swift, Two-barred Crosser combo tomorrow. Wooo.

Friday 19 March 2010

Wax on, F**k off

Saw 4 Waxwings yesterday. Nothing to do with the post title. I will return to those later. No some fucking fucker driving an HGV around a business park hit my car whilst I was stood next to it and whilst my daughter was inside. Needless to say I went mental - I ran infront of the lorry and confronted the driver...he didnt speak english. Shit. This made a potentially difficult situation a bit easier actually. I was infront of the depot he was delivering to and made me calm down so i didnt chin this fella. The other bonus was the commotion had caused the manager to come out. She dealt with it promptly and the on damage luckily to my car was a big scratch to my wheel arch. Very lucky really. Izzy was more bothered about pooing herself than anything else. I didnt know I had that kind of anger in me.

Oh and the waxwings... Four of them showing unreally well on Heslington lane on the deck & on top of a lampost. No photos sadly as it was an impromtu twitch from mothercare. 2 males and 2 females and they trilled and showed and showed and trilled! I bumped into a few guys taking piccies and had a general birding gossip. Happy times.

Back to today - surveying on the humber...5 Barn Owls en route were predictable after overnight rain. We had a few birds of prey - a Merlin shooting past like a bullet, a big female Sparrowhawk over the car and a male Marsh Harrier looking horny. As for the wader roost. Not a lot doing. Handful of Black-tailed Godwit, couple of hundred Barwit. A few thousand Knot and Dunlin. Only a handful of Grey Plover in the roost and none on the foreshore. Curlew numbers have decreased as well. Bonuses were 4 Pintail flying in and loads of Dark-bellied Brents. Checking through them failed to reveal a Black Brant - 400 Brents must have passed through and not far from where the Brants had been seen. Lots of Meadow Pipits were back on territory and displaying. I flushed a male Reed Bunting whilst walking the floodbank. A Little Egret pratted about round the plantation and was very close on the bank before flushing as I tried to sneak up on it to take a snap. Sneaking up isnt easy in the badlands of Holderness and thus I had a Little Egret flying round and round. Last significant sighting was a Small Tortoiseshell. Spring!!

Monday 15 March 2010

Sunday 14 March 2010

Return to Islay

Sorry for the paucity of posting but I have been away for bit. I got back on thursday from Islay. Another super trip. The weather was devine. Little wind, sun and flat seas! Was really enjoyable.

The trip up was a shock to the system with a 5am pick up from home but this gave us views of six Barn Owls on the A165 plus a gritting Woodcock on Garraby hill. Not much else was seen as we drove on to Islay save a handful of Buzzards. We arrived at Oban just after midday and were soon steaming on toward Islay - an 8 hour trip. A few Black Guillemots were seen as we left Oban plus Shag & Eider. Wigeon & Mallard grazed along the loch shores and the usual gulls were kicking about. As we entered the Sound of Mull I picked up a distant large raptor. It circled revealing broad wings and a white tail - White-tailed Eagle! I was ecstatic but my shipmates were less pleased as they only got onto it after a few minutes and could make out a large sillouhette and nowt more. My luck only improved as circling over Jura not long before dusk was a Buzzard and then behind this two much large rakish birds, Golden Eagles!!! I was pleased with the sighting but dissapointed with the views - no better than glorified dots. Just before we entered Port Ellen we heard that our survey could be more interesting - a Navy Submarine was operating in the area. This was the last we heard of the sub but no doubt it was close at hand occasionally.

The first days survey was to the west of Islay and was a long day with standard sightings of Gannet, Fulmar, Razorbill, Kittiwake & Guillemot. The highlight was a couple of finches that over flew the boat mid-morning, probably Linnets. Returning to Port gave corking views of Black-throated Diver plus more distant views of Great Northern Diver, Red-breasted Merganser and a few seals of both species.

The second survey was more of the same but a lot shorter as we had done a long shift on the previous day. The trip back to harbour was more productive with a single Slavonian Grebe, several Raven and a single Golden Eagle over the Oa. Slightly better views this time. When we got back myself and another surveyor decided to go birding and got corking views of 200+ Greenland White-fronted Geese on the Bowmore road plus a few Greylags. A flock of Fieldfare and Redwing came whizzing through as if spooked but no raptors were seen save for a distant Buzzard. After a while the thrushes became emboldened and the Redwing burst into song, not something I have heard much before. I assume these birds were Icelandic as they were darker than the birds im used to on the east coast (although it was bright sun). As we reached a boggy area next to a side road three Snipe exploded from beneath my feet. We returned to the village one of the Rooks made a funny noise - hang on thats a Chough six feet over my head. The bill wasnt crimson so maybe it was one of last years birds or perhaps it was soiled? Anyone care to hazard a guess?

The last day of surveying was between Islay and Kintyre and as usual was the most productive - Eider and lots of diver. The birds werent the highlight though. The sea was flat as a fart, blooms of Ctenophores caused riffles on a flawless surface and we had some excellent views of Harbour Porpoise throughout the day. Little else was noted as we steamed up to Oban comin in at 9ish.

The journey home was quite birdwise except for a super naked eye view of a Golden Eagle near Loch Awe. Awesome. Boy was I glad to be back with only 30 hours between surveys.

Saturday 6 March 2010


Beatrice is the oilfield in which I have been offshore surveying this last week. It is east of Caithness in the northern Moray Firth. It holds lots of birds but at the moment all of them are Razorbill and Guillemot. Bird of the week was a single shag and only 9 species were recorded. The real highlights were a number of blue Fulmar varying from slightly darker than normal to almost totally uniform blue-grey. The better birds were seen in port and heading to and from the survey.

The journey up on tuesday was long at 496 miles (including a detour to Inverness to pick up our mammal observer). No birds of note were seen. Sadly. As we passed through Strathspey our thermometer dipped to -10.5 C. Pretty chilly. We passed through in the dark but the aftermath of the recent heavy snow was evident. We alighted at Buckie - our home port for these surveys aboard the Gemini Explorer (check out dolphin watching trips with these guys - superb stuff).

We left harbour at 3.30 on Wednesday morning and had an awkward day and were relieved to be heading to Wick for our overnight stop. Approaching the harbour it was evidently much chillier here than at sea and a Black Guillemot did little to cheer me up. A small flock of Goosander flew out to sea from the river Wick - a nice year tick. In the harbour a few Eider and Goldeneye pottered about, the latter pratting about like Mallards in the town centre. Very strange. Lots of gulls were seen - no white-wingers but plenty of northern Herring Gulls with reduced black in the wing tip and strong pale tongues reducing the black further. A Sparrowhawk over flew us as we found the local Wetherspoons at dusk. A signpost indicated we were a mere 17 miles by road to John O'Groats. This is now the furthest North I have ever been.

The next morning was a more civilised set of at 5.30 but we were on sight by 7 in order to beat the weather. Another day of survey was fairly straight forward and we finished at 1pm just before it started pissing down. Heading back to the harbour took a long time as we had to cross the entire firth. I decided to do a bit of birding once we got within the 6 mile limit and was rewarded with 8 Long-tailed Ducks including a close fly-by by two males and a female. A couple of Black Guillemots just outside the harbour were pleasantly surprising now we were proper east coast. A Red-throated Diver flushed by the boat did another flyby. Little else was seen.
Overall a pretty steady survey with only a few noteworthy birds seen during downtime.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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