13 December 2014

Birding in a weatherbomb

Popped up to Scotland, met a 'weatherbomb' coming the other way, it was mostly lovely,...

... although changeable,...

... and sometimes just a little bit blizzardy.

Love a dose of wintry weather, especially when there's about £1,500 worth of clothing between my body and the elements.  Also helps to have a 4x4 to hand,... and a nice flask of something hot.  Of course, the billy-big-bollocks Wrens and Goldcrests knocking about in little more than a layer of feathers must have thought I was really letting the side down.  But, as I tried to explain to them, my species evolved in sub-Saharan Africa and we aren't built for this sort of shit.

Birding highlights were pretty thin on the ground, mostly finchy; Bramblings, Crossbills, Redpolls and the like.  The mammal front was a touch more exciting with a brief sighting of a Woozle or Heffalump crossing a track at dusk.  As with all observations of Woozles/Heffalumps the views were inconclusive regarding specific identification, almost definitely one or the other though.  A notoriously difficult species pair those two, someone should write an identification paper. 

30 October 2014

Everything must go

The skeleton-like remains of leaves are formed from xylem cells which contain high concentrations of lignin (the substance that makes wood woody) and persist after the more easily decomposed cells disappear.  The pattern of branching follows Murray's law (as, by the way, do your circulatory and respiratory systems), a formula for relating the radii of daughter branches to the radii of the parent branch of a lumen-based system.  Either that, or this is how the pixies make the leaves in the Azores, knocking up the basic structure before giving them to the trees to add the green stuff.  One of these theories is more likely to withstand the rigours of scientific investigation than the other.

 "Who are you?"

A giant woodlouse crosses a blasted landscape of iron rich sedimentary rock,... probably.

29 October 2014

Azorean Farm

 Eeyore in his none too gloomy place, neither boggy nor sad on this particular day.


28 October 2014

Azorean greenery

The endemic Azorean Ivy Hedera azorica, photograph taken in a moist Fojo whilst awaiting a vireo that never came.

A wee baby orange dreaming of all the things he'll get up to when he's big.

26 October 2014

Azores 2014

The canopy of Fojo, prime parulid habitat.

A very brief summary of the last three weeks on one small rock and one slightly bigger rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean,... [yanks in bold.]

Birds I saw…
Great Shearwater, singles off the windmills on 15th and 23rd. Only small numbers seen this year.
Storm petrel sp., probably Leach’s distantly off the windmills on 15th.
Spoonbill, one alive on 6th-8th then very dead on 9th.
Common Kestrel, one over the slopes above the village on 7th.
Dotterel, one, first seen on the 15th, bagged it on the 18th.
European Golden Plover, one near the reservoir, bagged it on 15th, Azores tick, have now seen all three of the golden plovers in the archipelago.
Little Stint, in and around the old harbour during most of the first half of my stay, Corvo tick.
White-rumped Sandpiper, one to six on most days, a maximum of 10 were recorded on the island on 15th and 17th.
Wilson's Snipe, one, which had been seen near Fojo on 13th, bagged near the junction of the middle and lower roads on the 14th, also missed one in the old harbour.
Spotted Sandpiper, one present from 8th, bumped into it on 23rd.
Lesser Yellowlegs, one present from 9th in the village and around the reservoir, bumped into it a few days later.
Willet, one at ETAR (a charming acronym for a sewage outfall) at Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel. WP tick yay! [NB. You can here a brief recording of this bird on my SoundCloud site here.]
Skua sp., one probable Pomarine distantly off the windmills on 15th.
Eurasian Collared Dove, two in or near Lapa most days, Corvo tick, their westward expansion is now seemingly complete.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo, one in the village fields just south of the wind sock on 20th. Blanked the different bird which turned up on the following day.
Snowy Owl, female, just south of, then heading north over, the Lighthouse Valley on 7th, don’t think it was seen again after that, perhaps it just kept heading north. Azores mega tick!
Buff-bellied Pipit, saw singles at/around the reservoir on 8th, and at the dump on 19th, never did catch up with the flock of four to five knocking around.
Common Chiffchaff, my best find of the trip, two or three in the Tennessee Valley on the 23rd, Azores tick!
Northern Grey Shrike, Lanius excubitor borealis/Lanius borealis, one in the Lighthouse Valley on 18th, 1st for Azores (whatever taxonomy proves most popular), potential 3rd for the WP (if Northern/borealis gets split) and potential 1st subspecies record for WP (if borealis ID can be proven or is assumed on location/prevailing weather at the time). A world tick for this subspecies for me.
Red-eyed Vireo, found one in the village fields on 12th, blanked the others.
Blackpoll Warbler, one seen twice in different spots in the village fields on 20th, cracking views near the runway. 
Scarlet Tanager, one present from 9th in the Tennessee Valley, bumped into it on 14th. Blanked the other two reported individuals.
Snow Bunting, one near(ish) the reservoir on 18th, blanked the other reports.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak, one present from 9th in the Tennessee Valley, bumped into it on 14th. Another was reported,… blanked it.
Bobolink, one in the village fields on 10th and 11th, showed really well, as per ever on Corvo. 

Birds I dipped…
At least three Grey Phalarope (Aaargh! Potential Azores tick), Long-eared Owl (on Sao Miguel, starting to think these are mythical creatures on the Azores), one Yellow Wagtail, one or two Black-and-White Warbler (gawd knows why I even went looking for it/them), one Common Yellowthroat (see note for Black-and-White Warbler) and one or more widely ranging ‘north-western’ Redpoll.

Birds I blanked in the hope that if I kept ploughing my own furrow I might have a better chance of finding something good…
One Spotted Crake (potential Azores tick in the wrong place [Cantinho/Cancellas] at the wrong time [late in the afternoon]), one Corncrake, one Pectoral Sandpiper, several Willow Warbler, one Philadelphia Vireo, several Red-eyed Vireo, two Northern Parula, one Black-throated Green Warbler, one Lapland Bunting and one Indigo Bunting

Basically a pretty poor year saved by the Willet, Northern Grey Shrike and Snowy Owl.

Dense secondary woodland on the slope between Da Ponte and Pico.

 Dawn in Fojo.

 The very uppermost part of a misty Tennessee Valley.

07 October 2014


Wrote a blogpost, accidentally uploaded it to the wrong blog, quickly deleted it,... realised I hadn't copied it to paste it on here.  Can.  Not.  Be.  Bothered.  To.  Start.  Again.

In brief: car, plane, bird, eat, sleep, car, birds, car, bird, eat, sleep, plane, bit more unscheduled plane, not many birds,... bedtime.

14 September 2014

Invertebrate biocosmology Part II

An inter-dimensional caterpillar in it’s natural habitat.  Whilst the adult Dot Moth Melanchra persicariae largely resides within the bounds of ‘our’ four yawn-inspiring dimensions of space and time, in its larval form it spends significant periods of its existence wandering between the extra ten/eleven (argue amongst yourselves) spacetime dimensions.  This occupation of inter-dimensional subspace, the space between spaces if you will, is thought to allow the attractive, if highly strung, little caterpillar to avoid predation, take advantage of bountiful but unfathomably widespread food sources, and to chill the f**k out.  Isn't nature amazing?!

13 September 2014

Invertebrate biocosmology Part I

Some cultures believe that everything in existence was created by a giant spider which now sits at the centre of the universe controlling every particle (and every force acting on every particle) with timely tugs on its silken web.  I believe it’s called the big fang theory.

12 September 2014

Variety not numbers

Following an enforced, manflu-related, absence (feel free to send flowers and chocolates) I finally got back down the patch today,…

Waders present included: 45 Avocet, nine (then seven) Knot (see below). two Little Stint, one Curlew Sandpiper, one Ruff, 31 Black-tailed Godwit, one Bar-tailed Godwit, one Spotted Redshank and six Greenshank.  The Knot count fell before our very eyes as an adult Peregrine knocked two off over the course of the high tide.  The only other semi-notable non-passerines consisted of one Hobby and one Kingfisher. 

Migrant passerines included singles of Redstart, Whinchat, Wheatear, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat and Willow Warbler; a few each of Yellow Wagtail, Blackcap and Chiffchaff; and a steady flow of Swallow, with a sprinkling of House Martin, overhead.

31 August 2014

Groundhog Goldcliff

This morning's high tide produced much the same as Friday's.  On the wildfowl front, the Wigeon count has now climbed into double figures and the Bar-headed Goose is back; the wader highlights were two Knot, eight Greenshank and two Turnstone; and passerine migrants included 14 Tree Pipit, 30 Yellow Wagtail, one Whinchat and one Wheatear over or around the lagoons, and Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler in the hedgerows. 

As you were.