Sunday 30 January 2011

Guess Who's Back?

Back again!

Bully's back - tell a friend.

Just in time for the Big Garden Birdwatch - 4 Bullfinches have come back to eat the buds on my trees. 3rd year on the trot. They should now be ensconced until the blossom arrives which brings Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers. Almost spring!

p.s. do the Big Garden Birdwatch today if you haven't already.

Saturday 29 January 2011

Puffin Ahoy!

So said my colleague to alert me to my first Puffin of 2011. I was out in the Moray firth doing another survey. I missed a Little Auk sadly but we did manage a couple of Porpoise and 3 Seals, a pretty good mammal haul for January. Flyover Pink-feet were noted on a couple of times and a Blue Fulmar was seen in the company of its normal coloured conspecifics. This wasn't a double-dark bird but nonetheless it stood out. You may be asking - where are the pictures of these lovely creatures and I can tell you. There aren't any as I left the camera at home due to the expectation of a grey and choppy survey. Imagine my surprise when the first day was flat calm and sunny all day.

Gemini Explorer - Moray Firth (last year)
A night in Wick held the usual trip to Wetherspoons (are there any further north in the UK? how come curry night is so reasonable? What does a cabin smell like the morning after with 3 surveyors in it? - I cant answer any of these questions as I was sent to Coventry [the small cabin] due to my persistent cough associated with my bout of swine flu, thankfully). Still no Iceland Gulls or Glaucs in Wick but it was pitch dark - I think the best chance is March/April with a bit more daylight. For the record I went for Chicken Jalfrezi and Belgian Waffle plus Amstel. In different containers. Obviously. We were back on our regular boat and thus it was a doddle although the second day held some pretty big waves and temperatures of 0c at sea. Not conducive to a good time. This mean't that a relatively quiet day was had although throughout the entire survey we had good numbers of gulls including many presumed argentatus Herring Gulls. Some of the Kittiwakes were entering summer plumage and winter plumage Guillemots and Razorbills were very much in the minority.

A surprise was sprung on us as we returned to Buckie - we weren't overnighting on the boat and thus I hatched a plan that involved Travelodge, a train and the newish food hall in the mall attached to Aberdeen station. Once our immediate future was decided I went on deck for the final miles before entering the harbour. I regret the first 2 of the 2.5 I stayed on deck for. Cold is not the word, I can assure you as I was rewarded with a single Shag and Eider. As we got closer to the harbour 3 trios of Long-tailed Duck were seen. Each trio consisted of an adult male, female and 1st-winter male. I was very chuffed but they were distant views of flushed birds. I was hoping for decent, close-ish views of these prettiest of sea ducks but seeing as they usually flush from the boat at very close range I wasn't optimistic. Immediately 2 pairs either side of the harbour entrance showed on the sea at around 100m range - outstanding views were obtained in the looming dusk. Better than this though was an adult female within the harbour itself showing down to 10 metres with the resident Eider flock. Now if only I had bought my camera with me you would have been subject to some acceptable images.

We managed to get to Aberdeen and despite my colleagues hesitancy were esconced in the luxury that is Aberdeen central Travelodge. My review - 3/5 on the travelodge scale - slightly past its best in decor and the bedding needed more conditioner but otherwise pretty good. The only birds I saw were as we returned from Pizza Hut at 10pm - 6 Herring Gulls fighting over and consuming a carton of Kebab that someone had vomited in. I ruled out Glaucous Gull despite the falling light and my burning contempt for their dietary choices.

This morning was a blur until Arbroath - I must have managed to catch the train as I was on it. Beautifully lit I enjoyed the British east coast immensely from Carnoustie down with Goldeneye seen on the Tweed in Berwick, several Buzzards, 2 groups of Whooper Swans and bizarrely 50 Teal in a puddle. No Green-wings sadly (the train was on the go slow at the time). The last sighting of note - meaning the last I remember was a Heron overflying the train south of Newcastle, notable only for the sexist rant that the passenger opposite was engaged in. And then I was home. Bliss. Same time next week?

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Gentlemen Prefer Redheads

Smew - North Killingholme
A pretty hideous picture of a really rather lovely duck. I was doing my high tide roost count of the pits when I see a small duck dive out of the corner of my eye. I could swear I had seen a white cheek but I dutifully continued with my count of 1 Redshank. Moving round to a better position this baby was hiding amongst the Mallards. A proper self-found Smew

The actual survey was not that exciting with the highlight my first Black-tailed Godwits of the year. Considering they are the target species it wasn't a huge surprise.

I decided to have a bash at the Rough-legged Buzzard at South Ferriby before I returned to Yorkshire. I got views of it briefly on the fence west of the cement factory before it circled high and disappeared for a while. A Sparrowhawk took advantage of its absence to hunt the fence line. A male Marsh Harrier sat up on Read's Island doing little and not bothering the roosting Lapwing and Teal. Amongst the ducks were a fine pair of drake Pintail, a nice bonus year tick.

Don't enlarge me!

 A steady stream of Pinks and Gulls bombed around headed for roost and the Roe Deer of the island gave a decent showing. Suddenly the Rough-leg was back and it started scrapping with a female Marsh Harrier. The male came across from the Island and briefly it was a three-way before they all split up and the Rough-leg got to sit on its favourite bit of fence.

Definitely don't click on me

Incidently regular viewers may remember my moan from my last attempt at this bird just prior to christmas about a photographer leaving the layby to get a pick. From my views today I'd suggest he was stood immediately next to the birds favourite perch. Twat. On my way home a flyover Great Spotted Woodpecker was nice in the gloom.

P.S it was dark ALL day except for the 5 mins I was taking pictures of the Curlew. Thats why the rest of the pictures are shit. Honest.

Monday 24 January 2011

Help Me!!

Hi to those that have viewed the blog since new year! Back in the Fatbirder Top1000 after their virus 'issue' and shot up to my former ranking of just about 500ish but I seem to be getting loads of hits. With all these new views I was wondering if you guys can help me.

I edit my photos on Picasa (in the process of getting photoshop) using a crappy old laptop. At work today I had a look at the blog and noticed that the pictures seemed overdark and under-exposed. Which of my monitors is rubbish? My gut feeling is that its the laptop and would appreciate any feedback. The most noticeable for me was the underwing on the 1st winter GBBG in the previous post. Fine on this monitor but too dark to see any detail at work.

I am going to North Killingholme tomorrow and then Scotland again on Wednesday followed by Killingholme (again) on Monday, so if I dont have time to post I shoud hopefully get some material - even if it is just more pictures of large gulls following our boat on the Moray Firth.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Gulls and tings

The last couple of weeks have been a swine flu filled fun time. Despite this I have managed to get away on survey for a bit in the Moray Firth latterly. No great shakes but a few skeins of Pink-feet were the highlights on a choppy trip. I managed a few snaps of Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls and a couple even came out ok considering they were handheld on a boat in seastate 4.

Great Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull

Herring Gull in silhouette

The gull theme was continued today with some Mediterranean Gulls in pretty terrible light at Holbeck car park, Scarborough.

Mediterranean Gull

Mediterranean Gull

Black-headed Gulls

I also tried for the Iceland Gull in Scarborough Harbour. Abject fail - all the gulls were up in the air, presumably due to Peregrines patrolling the air space. A female Red-breasted Merganser in the harbour was a pleasant surprise and the Great Northern Diver was patrolling the South Bay, year ticks both.

Just to prove I'm not gull obsessed here is a Tree Sparrow

Tree Sparrow

Saturday 15 January 2011

Garden List

Siskin - only garden record

Rank Bullfinch photos in garden
Just added my garden list to Bubo - turns out that the Yellowhammer last week was my 50th species recorded since May 2008. Highlights have included Barn Owl, regular Bullfinch in spring, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff & Blackcap on blossom (or the insects on the blossom), Tawnys singing from roof, Cuckoo singing nearby (can 2011 be the 4th year in a row?), Stock Dove, Tree Sparrow, Grey Wagtail, GS Woodie, Siskin, Kestrel, Yellowhammer and a few other nice bits and pieces. Plenty of 'good' stuff for a garden. Have a feeling that I have seen a couple of other bits but cant remember - Yellow Wag, Meadow Pipit, Sand Martin, Tufted Duck are the ones I'm struggling with.

The birds I want - I quite fancy a Turtle Dove, calling from the reedbed, across the railway and Moorhen calling is possible as they both breed close-ish. A flyover raptor isn't out of the question (Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Osprey & Hobby seem the most likely). Reed Bunting summer and winter on the sewage works as do Goldcrest although I lack a pine tree for the latter. A flyover Lesser-black Back must be a possibility. Waterfowl from the mere regularly bomb about so there are a few potential additions there with Tufty and Gadwall chief amongst them. Lapwing breed across the road so if I listen hard I am sure I will get some in spring.

What have I missed? Tophill Low regularly gets raptors passing over - Osprey's and Marsh Harriers. The one that may have passed overhead was the White-tailed Eagle in 2009. I also missed the Wansford White Stork of 2008. Nightmare eh!

Terrible pic of Blackcap in garden in spring
Best keep looking, although I think lots of skywatching will be needed to get to 100.

Saturday 8 January 2011


Third time lucky with the Ring-billed Gull today! I got across to Mirfield for about half 12 and connected immediately. It looked settled so I fired off a few test shots and started faffing with the camera settings. We ll that was a mistake - I looked down at the camera to sort the white-balance to improve the exposure and puff it was gone... A nice bonus was a Lesser Black-backed Gull in with the Commons and Black-heads. I tried to connect round at the weir but there was nothing there save a few Pochard.

Horribly over-exposed/out of focus Ring-billed Gull "fixed" in Picasa

A subway beckoned to cogitate on a plan - did I try and get a better picture of the RB Gull or did I have a crack at the Arctic Redpolls at Hatfield Moor with a Lesser Scaup as a bonus year tick. Easy choice. I arrived at Hatfield about 45 minutes later. I decided to ignore the Lesser Scaup initially in order to get a better crack at the Redpolls. A mistake as I had to shoot the Lesser Scaup at 1600 ISO. Back with the Redpolls - I wandered about in the birch and alders quickly seeing my first Bullfinch of the year. This was followed by a group of Redpolls, seemingly a few Mealies and plenty of Lessers. I also bumped into a few birders who had a possible Arctic in the morning but nothing since and even that was a bit streaky apparently. Walking on I had a few flyover Redpolls and a year tick in the form of 4 Crossbills overhead. Another yeartick in a Goldcrest caused almost a hesitation - didnt they all die this winter?? How on earth did it not freeze. The light was starting to go so I bombed back to catch up with the Lesser Scaup. This little beaut was trying to climb through the fence - it seeemed desperate for food although once it had its fill soon moved back onto the lake. The question remains - escape or desperate? A gammy leg apparently is hindering its feeding so maybe it is gen. A trio of Whoopers were a nice bonus at the back.

Did I jump a fence? Can James take a decent photo?
On this evidence, no.

Lesser Scaup - Hatfield Moors

Thursday 6 January 2011

West Somerset and Waxwings

Waxwings - Driffield
 Spent Sunday to Wednesday doing bird disturbance work in Bridgewater Bay, West Somerset. It wasn't great weather, we got a puncture second day but still it was good to be somewhere new. Infact if the transit van didnt get the puncture I was due to go looking for the Great White Egrets at Shapwick heath, 10 miles away from Burnham-on-Sea where we stayed. Sadly it was not to be but some decent birds were seen.

The travel down was later than expected - I had racked a mere 27 species of bird on New Year's Day (highlights few and far between) and I was hopeful of perhaps getting Buzzard en route. What I did manage was Feral Pigeon, Herring Gull and something else equally crap. We got a good run down (we being me and a colleague, Ann, who was doing the benthic hovercraft sampling I was observing) and arrived at Burnham around 9.30pm.

The next morning I managed to sleep through my alarm almost failing at my job before it started. I zoomed down to Hinkley Point with new year ticks including Teal, Wigeon, Shelduck, Curlew, Greater Black-backed Gull and Oystercatcher. Exciting stuff. I did manage a Buzzard as I travelled - infact these were pretty universal in the area. Plenty of Dunlin were kicking about with top counts around the 10,000 mark.

As the hovercraft sampling moved along Bridgewater Bay I had to move to Stert Flats to get a better view. As I trundled along I noted a bird of prey on a post. I readied my camera and ... bugger, I had forgotten the battery in the rush from oversleeping. I rolled the transit van to within 20m and the bird flushed onto the next post - a female Merlin. It just sat and watched me with me watching it, gutted I didnt have a battery to snap away at it. Not alot on Stert flats so that was my lot for the day save manual labour.

mmm - muddy
The next day had me watching the estuary of the River Parrett as the van had a puncture and I had to sort that. Not alot to report but a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits and 8 Ringed Plover were nice and a Grey Wagtail in a garden was a surprise. We were about done and dusted apart from a few bits and bats don by the power station. These took much longer than expected on the Wednesday so when we got finished at half 3 we were releaved. Then I got the van stuck on wet grass with over a tonne of mud samples in. An hour it took me to unload the van, move the van and reload the van although I was concerned it could have been allnight... Finally we were away. 

Waxwings - Driffield

On the way back I heard that a few Waxwings were knocking about Driffield - I managed to get away and see them this morning. I managed a few shots but messed up my autofocus - sorted now but these shots were all I could manage. I did manage a Common Gull on the roof of next doors house though and a bona fide garden tick - Yellowhammer on the seed under the feeder - a nice bright female.
Common Gull - Nafferton

Saturday 1 January 2011

New Year, New Camera

I didnt manage to get out today recording 20 or so species incidently. The village pond seems to have lost its Pochard, 3 of which were present yesterday including a 1cy male. I finally got hold of my new camera, which is my first foray into DSLR-dom. I have a Nikon D200 with a Sigma 170-500mm. This is all baby steps so I hope you bare with me. Been a bit ropey light wise so I have mostly been reading the manual and trying to get my head round F-stops, ISO and aperture size.

Black-headed Gull - Nafferton Mere
Yesterday I headed up to the mere to try the stuff out and I was rubbish frankly but here is my first effort at a Black-headed Gull.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

Record, share and compare with BUBO Listing at