Tuesday 27 December 2011

Fire in Babylon

I rarely if ever step outside the birding sphere on this blog. Occasionally there are allusions to my fanatical support of Tottenham Hotspur or a music video to accompany a post. If I am feeling really adventurous I may stray into ornithology which as my profession makes the header but as a subject I dont like to write about in an informal manner unless it broaches conservation. Today I am going to address something entirely different. My first love. My childhood. My now. Cricket.

Cricket is the greatest sport ever created in the history of the human race as it has both brutality and subtlety at its heart. As a player I am moderate managing the subtlety (and skill) whilst wholely lacking in the brutality. I try and at my peak I was decent enough (av 24.2 in 2003 batting at no.5 in the 3rd tier of 8 in Yorkshire cricket). I am currently in self-imposed retirement. No time. Children. Work. Wife. I know what is important.

Despite the above I would still stay awake an entire night to watch a beautiful innings or some destructive bowling. Michael Vaughan in 2003/4 in Australia. Flintoff and Thorpe in New Zealand. Harmison in the West Indies. Brian Lara versus Australia. Wasim Akram against anyone. I love it. I love the skill and the bravery and the fire.

This evening I am watching 'Fire in Babylon', the film documentary about the West Indies cricket team of the mid 70s to mid 80s. There are a bunch of blokes in their late 50s to early 70s being interview about matches that happened nearly 40 years ago. And they speak with soul and with fire and with brimstone. There is meaning and joy in what they achieved and they understand this. They were blazing a trail for black men and women across the planet against their old masters in babylon. Some, like Vivian Richards, were aware of what they were trying to achieve in creating a new order. Throughout the first half of the film (for I have only seen half thus far) I have been struck by the beauty and emotion of this piece with a soundscape of West Indian artists conveying brooding emotions throughout. Sadly I cannot be eloquent enough to convey exactly how important this film is but if you like sport watch it. If you like politics watch it. If you believe in equality, watch it. This film does not exclude anybody but consumes you in a peoples fight to take it to their former masters come what may. If you dont like cricket, you will stil enjoy this film as it contains such a strong message and some equally forceful characters. Im not sure anybody will reach this stage of the blog post due to my departure from normal procedings but if you have, please comment as I am intrigued by other peoples opinions.

cheers James

Friday 23 December 2011

Watton Wildfowl

I snatched a brief period at Tophill yesterday and spent the entirety at Watton. On arriving the hide was stacked but none of the assembled throng were seeing the decent birds. After 15 minutes or so I picked up the Green-winged Teal  very close to the hide but with its back to the hide and thus nearly impossible to see the vertical stripe. Record shots below.

I promise its the bird in the middle. Bit too far for my lens... The redhead Smew  was also quickly picked up but was up and down, feeding all the time.

There were plenty of other bits and pieces, with over 30 European White-fronted Geese, 3 Pintail, 2 Black-tailed Godwit and plenty of other things.

A selection of the Y-fronts and wildfowl
This was one of a number of swans that overflew me when I was walking back..

All said a very pleasant trip and it was my second Green-winged Teal.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Surprising Turn of Events

I write this at my kitchen table instead of in Suffolk as I should have been. A turn up for the books meant that we came back a day early but not until we had visited a couple of Suffolks RSPB reserves. We werent due to start work until midday and as such we decided to go for a ramble around Boyton Marshes in the hope of some Cranes.

Initially we got stuck on the wrong side of the river at Gedgrave marshes but some quick stearing had us redirected. Upon arrival it was evident that a vast flock of feral geese were in the fields adjacent. Canada Geese were in the majority with lesser numbers of feral Barnacle Geese and Greylags. Thankfully a few wild birds had tagged along and we managed to pick out at least 15 European White-fronted Geese. Walking on to the marshes were large numbers of Teal and Wigeon with a sprinkling of Shoveller. The ducks and Curlew grazing in a further field attracted the attentions of several raptors with 2-3 Marsh Harriers and a single ringtail Hen Harrier hunting the margins. As we returned to the car an adult Peregrine lazily flew overhead before putting on the afterburners and disappearing over Havergate island. No sign of the cranes but very pleasant.

We rolled up to work only to find the site closed and we soon called it a day and headed off to Minsmere to make the most of the remaining light. Aside from a couple of Reeve's Muntjacs  and a good number of Marsh Tits not a lot was seen but the sound of the marsh in the late afternoon was glorious with pinging Bearded Tits and Lapwing passing overhead. A couple of Green Sandpipers were seen in flight over the woods as we left which was odd. A gloomy picture below shows the view from the Bittern hide with a flock of Lapwing visible (if you squint).

Another good day of birding. Hopefully I can catch up with the Green-winged Teal and Greenland White-front tomorrow. And whats this I hear about a Cattle Egret just outside the village?

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Choked on Bitumen

We were back on the floodbank today but the wind had changed to WNW and thus the bitumen fumes came our way for 6 hours. I felt pretty rank by the arse end of that. There were less birds of interest today although we had much more pleasant weather and thus a few more pleasant photo opportunities but unfortunately the birds then stayed away. Doh.

Waders were close with Redshank and Dunlin within 15 metres regularly. Shame the light disappeared as they got closer. No avopigs, greenshank or egrets today but a couple of hundred grey geese landed in the valley about 2km away. Probably Pink-feet as they showed a lot of white in the tail but could have been flying monkeys tbh. Raptors were more distant and less regular today but a minimum of 5 Marsh Harriers  were seen along with 2 Buzzards and a single Kestrel although we did have this distinctive cream crown hunting set-aside for an hour before dusk 6 hours after our previous sighting of it (noted by its moulted secondary awaiting replacement). It stayed over 100m away at all times sadly though.

The brief visit the Stonechats made to us allowed this shot but it wouldnt face a decent direction and I gave up quickly, distracted by actual work.

Before we started work we had a quick trip to Tunstall forest for a dawn walk and were greeted by 2 Sika Deer which were a lifer for both of us (we also had Reeve's Muntjac yesterday which were my first in 15 years or so after being stuck in the northern wastelands). A Green Woodpecker  was expected fare on the sandy heath and a nice sighting due to the paucity at home. Siskin and Coal Tit were amongst commoner species in the pines but no crossers sadly. Plenty of Jays screeched their way around the common. A good start to the day to precede the inactivity that followed.

Monday 19 December 2011

Frozed like Block

I spent today sitting by a flood bank in Suffolk. Which is fine, except it didnt creep above freezing until 11am. We got tooled up in our marine gear and thermals and sat tight. There was some corking raptor action just off site with at least 5 Marsh Harriers and a single ringtail Hen Harrier with a Buzzard chucked in as an additional bonus. It clouded up mid morning and we then got pretty damp as it drizzled for the remainder of the day.

A plucky pair of Stonechats were feeding to within feet of us all day and despite the gloom I managed a few reasonable shots.

On the marshes highlights included a Greenshank and a few Black-tailed Godwits. A 1st winter Yellow-legged Gull flew upwinter and we had a bizarre albino Pheasant in the fields behind. Hoping for a drier day tomorrow so that I can get a few more photographs.

Saturday 17 December 2011


Another photo-less post I'm afraid dear reader. Sadly the perpetual drizzle has encouraged me to leave the camera in the car when I have been out and about. Yesterday was cold, damp and precipitous but this didnt lead to me being downhearted as the site on the humber produced the goods a couple of weeks ago.

I got stuck straight in walking the floodbank and doing my counts. Good numbers of Knot and Dunlin with plenty of Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey & Golden Plover. In the early morning light, Little Egrets left their overnight roosts in small numbers. It was overcast and the thermometer nudged above freezing topping out at a tropical 2 degrees.

Then BLAMMO. In my second count sector I had a male Hen Harrier flying round me and a female Merlin flushed from the marsh. The Hen Harrier continued to show down to less than 20 metres as it hunted actively. It was then joined by a ringtail and these birds hunted in tandem over the saltmarsh, flushing another/the same female Merlin. As if this wasnt enough, a female Sparrowhawk made a raid on the waders, failing on this occasion. A male Kestrel was looking for small furry things but not observed to catch successfully.

The rest of the survey was less interesting as the rain became horizontal but it was corking to be out and about. The week coming I am down in Suffolk working so hopefully there will be plenty to post about and even some photos.

On thursday I was working at the desk at home and ventured away a couple of times to the village garage (where fortunately my car was passing its MOT). In the morning a flyover Crossbill was a complete surprise and later on a skein of 120 Pink-footed Goose went over south in the twilight.

Monday 12 December 2011

Walk in the Rain

Not my photo but wholly representative of my surveys on the middle humber yesterday although it is missing the rain that sporadically drenched me. Not a huge amount to report with some nice close Bar-tailed Godwits and a good flock of Lapwing in 10km of walking. Did find some awesome habitat on the south bank though which I imagine is where the Arctic Redpolls have been supressed in the past. It was heaving with finches and thrushes with tonnes of alders and pools. Seemingly all in the possesion of various fishing clubs but worth a look. Hopefully gonna catch up with a goose or 2 this afternoon when I will come in with a more interesting report.

Saturday 10 December 2011

Havin' a Barnie

Went up to Hornsea Mere today and bumped into Andy Nunn, from uni where he works with fish. Andy was scoping the south side of Hornsea Mere and like myself resolutely failing to see much. We ambled on to Heslop's Reeds where the Slavonian Grebe was showing reasonably closely but briefly as it fed. Other birders informed us that the Long-tailed Duck was still about but we couldnt find it after a maggot drowner flushed a large number of the wildfowl. About 100 Barnacle Geese were bombing about carrying a Canada Goose with them but this wasnt the Richardson's type thing but a regular feral nasty. The barnies by the way are the genuine article thanks to a sharp-eyed ringing recovery when it was assumed they were feral birds from the humber or flamingoland. Further ambling revealed little aside from a squealing Water Rail and good numbers of Shoveller.

As we walked back east we stumbled across the Barnacles feeding in a field - I made it 105 and Andy made it 99 so 100 or so... A Bullfinch  was feeding with a small flock of Reed Buntings but this dispersed as we made our way past. No further wildfowl of interest were picked up but 200 or so geese dropped in raising hopes but these all proved to be Greylags.

Before I hit the south side I had tried Kirkholme but this presented little of interest except the feral wildfowl and associates providing aesthetic interest for photography in reasonable light.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Quickie with legs

Silly one this but I was on the train home from Beverley today (car costing best part of a months salary. Bonus...) when I spotted a buteo hovering just south of Arram. Jizz was spot on for Rough-legged Buzzard. No plumage detail but a long-winged and flat flying bird (relatively) with a similar jizz to the Lincs bird earlier in the autumn. As I have mentioned in other places I'd put a tenner on it not being a common but I dont think I will submit this one...

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Stinky Sei Whale

Today I was working on the humber and this gave me the opportunity on my break to visit the Sei Whale which drowned in the river and was washed up at Skeffling. It is pretty ropey now with the action of the spring tides and warm autumn taking its toll, leaving mostly the shell of a carcass. The tail stock is still complete but the body is desicated and decomposed, stinking to high heaven. Apparently it was much worse 6 weeks ago. Here is a video and picture of the whale for those with voyeuristic tendencies. Pervert.

Skeffling Sei Whale

Aside from the whale the birding was pretty good with juvenile Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl, Whooper Swan and some confiding Twite all seen off survey. Some distant White-fronted Geese were a bonus and a couple of skeins of Pink-footed Geese were expected fare although nice nonetheless.

A trip to Tophill Low yesterday for an hour failed to produce the expected Greenland White-fronted Goose amongst its Russian cousins but on D reservoir were three Whooper Swans which were a nice find. Cue record shot.

This post was more in depth but blogger deleted it so I had to start from scratch. There should be plenty more to blog about in the coming weeks if all goes to plan but there may be plenty which I cant say...cryptic!

Saturday 3 December 2011

Monday 28 November 2011

Just Deserts

I had to hold on for this bird until this morning and as it wasnt a Yorks tick I had no leverage to get away earlier so the gripping photos were turning me green. I got to Bempton around 11am and the bird was refound within half an hour. It showed very well and I managed some record shots in the chilling cold but the poor light stopped the pics from being gems. Anyway  - here are my efforts of the Bempton Desert Wheatear

A stooping Peregrine was nice although Im not sure the pigeons thought much to it. A surprise was a Weasel hunting the crop edges and bundling along the path. Too quick for my camera sadly.

Recently I have dipped Waxwings at Carnaby and on Friday I managed to see 48 European White-fronted Geese at Tophill Low which was pretty cool. Daughter was in tow so no shots of them sadly either.

Tuesday 22 November 2011

Vicarious liability for Raptor persecution in England

Serious message today folks. Gamekeepers suppress raptor numbers but do so to keep their jobs. Those that pay their wages should be held to account so that the pressure is to conform to legislation and not history. Which is what our birds of prey, especially those in upland areas, may become. Please sign the e-petition to get this debated in parliment.

Scotland, recognising that those who persecute birds of prey frequently do so at the direction of their employers or others with vested interests, has introduced an offence of vicarious liability, the purpose of which is to bring those parties to justice. This petition calls on the government to introduce an offence of vicarious liability to bring to justice those who direct or turn a blind eye to raptor persecution in England. As an indication of how bad thing are, in the last year only four pairs of hen harriers successfully reared chicks in England, fourteen peregrine falcon territories failed on grouse moors in Lancs forest of Bowland, and only one successful goshawk nest was recorded in the Derwent Valley, Derbyshire. Current legislation is not enough to deter those who break the law and destroy our heritage; the introduction of vicarious liability would hit those directing the slaughter.


Friday 18 November 2011

Things I may/may not have seen this week

I have been at sea. I cant say where and I cant say when. I may not have seen the following.

Sunday 13 November 2011

Birds & Whisky...

... are two of my favourite things. The lack of posts hasnt been malaise or lack of juicy material but a trip to Islay to get my ESAS certification. Me and my old boss Lucas headed for a load of crossings from Kennacraig on Kintyre to Port Askaig, Islay.

View of Jura from the breakfast table

We arrived at Tarbert, Kintyre in darkness and decided to overnight on the mainland. Whilst here we bumped into another group of ESAS'ers. Having been given a tip off by Fat Paul Scholes I enquired as to whether their pre-raphaelite-esque trainer might need a haircut which suprised him as he had never laid eyes on me before. I explained the situation and laughs were had all round - not least by his trainees. Yet another group of ornithologists were sharing the hotel and despite twitter spamming each other work got in the way of introductory beers for myself and @celaurie and so their was no twitter/reality crossover.

MV Finlaggan
The next morning we had to hitchhike the 7 miles from Tarbert to Kennacraig as there is no public transport to the ferry and the only local taxi driver was pissed up when I rang in the evening. Many thanks to the trucker who picked us up - only took 20 mins of thumbing for a lift in the dark. A hearty breakfast on board gave way to a blowy survey aboard the new ferry, the MV Finlaggan. Highlights were spartan with a few Red-throated and Great Northern Divers. Two hours later and we were in at Port Askaig and booking in at the wonderful Port Askaig Hotel. Its a bit rustic but the welcome is certainly warm. And the bar...

Our heading back was similar to the first and the highlights were a couple of Ravens crossing West Loch Tarbert. Numbers of divers were down from my previous trips to the area. We birded around the ferry terminal (which is clad in dwarf Silver Birch) and managed to find good numbers of Red-breasted Merganser, Goldeneye and a single Woodcock which gave great views as it flushed.

The final crossing of the day was uneventful save for a Lesser Black-backed Gull and we settled into our digs at Port Askaig with a few Whiskies and a game of darts. We sampled a touch of Bruichladdich Rocks and a Black Bottle (a better class of blended whisky). Pre-drinking we went birding down towards Caol Ila distillery - this whole area looks amazing for migrants with birds being funnelled up rhododendron hedges away from the coast. We managed lots of Chaffinch and some more Raven as well as some mega distant Barnicle Geese. A pipistrelle bat hawked over the road and was a sucker for the coin trick. Large numbers of thrushes and Stonechats were present and a Buzzard floated past. When we got back we found a migrant 1st winter male Blackcap trapped inside the entrance to the hotel and we quickly caught it - fat score of zero so probably just in and realeased it into the rhododendron.

The next day was grey and windy and we did a return crossing with best birds a Black-throated Diver at the mouth of West Loch Tarbert and the remarkable sight of 16 Great Northern Divers in a tight flock out in the sound - Lucas managed a photo so hopefully I can show you this sometime soon. We also found out that two juvenile White-tailed Eagles that have taken up residence in the woods to the south of Port Askaig. Sadly the wind kept them out of sight for the duration. We were beat so we didnt go birding on our return, instead getting stuck into the Coal Ila single malts in the bar (and being given a nightcap worth a tenner - amazing hosts). More darts were backed by some Gaelic music from the jamming musicians sharing the front bar with us (about half the size of my front room).

Our final day woke up to a fine morning but the sea was still a bit rough - as were we after a touch too much of the good stuff. Some decent stuff was added on the last leg of the trip with Golden Eagle over the peaks of Islay and Velvet Scoter in the mouth of West Loch Tarbert and three Common Scoter in the loch were the final decent addition. Public transport home from here takes a long time. Yawn...

Saturday 5 November 2011

The Daughter Bird

Had a chance to see the bird that we named our little girl after today. Just over 2 years ago I was flicking through my Collins trying to bone up a bit on features whilst quite,quite drunk and I had an epiphany whilst looking a sandy small passerine - we'd call my daughter Isabelle. Not after the more glamourous shrike but after Isabelline Wheatear.

Sadly sandy bird on sandy background in low light doesnt make for
great pictures

I had the chance to go for the Filey bird in 2006 but it was quite late in the day when news broke and I was still pretty much a newbie so I passed. Yesterday news broke when I was in the soft play centre with my daughter that one had been found at Spurn and I couldnt get away thus fearing another missed opportunity. I hatched a plan to head down this morning with trepidation as they are a species notorious for doing a bunk after a single day. Fortunately it stayed and I got pretty awesome views as it flew round the crowd early this morning. Very sandy without the bluetones of a northern, it had an indistinct super which was almost entirely infront of the eye. When the bird was feeding on the sand of the humber it was evident it had a black alula as well and the 'jizz' was a bit different from its commoner congener but not as distinctive as has been suggested. My thoughts are that it seemed easier to pick on plumage than behaviour.

Although I was only there an hour I also saw a Hooded Crow flying across the mudflats north (a Yorkshire tick for a friend that took him to 300 - what a tart) and a flock of c25 Crossbills heading south. It looked immense and if I didnt have commitments Id have stayed all day. I overheard an owl had come in and 2 Snobs flew past the obs and thrushes were piling out of the sky. I would be very much surprised if something else good isnt turned up by the end of the day. The wheatear was a world tick and a pretty cool bird. Im glad we named our daughter after it.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Nudge Nudge Wink Wink

Had a corking garden tick when about 100 Pink-footed Geese went over. Id heard them a bit before they arrived and it was obvious these werent the village Greylags which regularly take a trip over (flock is about 50ish at roost times at the moment). I could see them emerging over the houses to the north so I nipped in and got the camera. They literally went straight over the roof at about 60 metres height - pretty low really. 2 skeins in quick succession. Photos the usual standard but Im glad I got any record of them.

Monday 31 October 2011

Ibis at the Dams

Got a twitter tip off about the Glossy Ibis being back at Filey Dams. It seems that this bird has probably been on East Lee (?) for the last few days as it kept flying too and fro, disappearing for periods before arriving back on the dams although never close.

The local Sparrowhawks were obviously hungry as they showed amazingly well.

On the way home I was leaving Burton Fleming, in the wolds, when I noticed a biggish raptor was flying fast up the lane. It showed a white rump and was obviously a ringtail harrier. I caught up and ditched the car to see an adult female Hen Harrier hunting the fields on the Thwing road. Views from the car were point blank but by the time I had my kit together it had cleared off to the other side of the field so photos are grim but you get the idea.

It was big and pale with no boa and 5 primary tips so no stringing it for a Pallid... The Glossy Ibis was a new bird for Yorkshire for me taking me on to 287 (plus Collared Flycatcher still awaiting final judgement).

Thursday 27 October 2011


A rather skulky pipit hiding in a small copse isnt going to like a crowd. I moved away and as such was the only person to get views like this for perhaps 20 seconds before the galoots stomped through to where I was. I got an initial untickable view earlier as the bird flew up and dropped down but this was like a mouse crawling through the leaf litter. I massively underexposed the shot as I was set up for it landing on a branch at eye level. Lovely little bird and a little sod at the same time. Olive-backed Pipit on my list.

Whale Surveyor

Thanks to a couple of days in the flatlands of the Lincs/Norfolk fens I am now a fully qualified UK & Gulf of Mexico marine mammal observer. An interesting couple of courses courtesy of Alison Gill at Intelligent Ocean mean that once I have my upgraded medical and a few safety courses then I can work out in the briny as a whale man. Which is nice!

As reward for the classroom based shenanigans I rewarded myself with a day birding. Starting at Cley there was little of note with a single Brent and a few Black-tailed Godwits the pick. Walking back to the car a couple of Cetti's Warblers piped up and the whole reedbed started to ping. As I walked along the path Bearded Tits were all around, none showing well but views over the reeds. A couple of Stonechats were guarding a bench as I walked past.

I moved off to Salthouse where no laps or snobs were seen but a Long-eared Owl came in off and a probable Black-throated Diver came past close in but I didnt notice it was interesting until too late, assuming it would be a Red-throat. Indeed several Red-throated Divers were on the sea and parties of Common Scoter and Eider went past.

I called in at Blakeney freshmarsh whilst traversing the north coast and had views of the Cattle Egret preening. Massively underwhelmed I moved off to Titchwell being almost totally ignorant of this coast aside from the honeypots. At Titchwell I managed plenty of views of the Yellow-browed Warbler before establishing there were two. Thrushes streamed over and plenty of finches were present. Quickly it was half 3 and I had to get back to Yorkshire, where I belong...

Friday 21 October 2011

Raptor Porn

Okay - not quite but bloody brilliant views of the Rough-legged Buzzard and male and immature Hen Harrier at Worlaby Carrs today. It appears that the Buzzard has been suppressed for a number of days by the north lincs massive. Poor form!

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

Record, share and compare with BUBO Listing at www.bubo.org