30 April 2006

Pied Flicker

Just the one new species today, Pied Flycatcher, a pair nest building at Goytre House Wood.

29 April 2006

Aythya ID, cynicism and the vagaries of digiscoping

Since New Year I have recorded at least four different aythya hybrids on the Newport Wetlands Reserve, my initial reaction to any report of Scaup now teeters between deep cynicism and outright disbelief. However, this morning my hybrid-induced neurosis appears to have reached new heights, I am now at the stage whereby, even when confronted by a spanking male, I grill it to within an inch of its life, in an attempt to find the merest hint of a hybrid origin. An even more surprising development is that my camera appears to have succumbed to the same condition. My negative outlook, and an errant imaging sensor, today conspired to suggest a more extensive black bill tip was present than would be expected for a pure Scaup (see left-hand pic below) and I briefy entertained the thought it might be a Scaup x Scaup hybrid backcross. However, once better views had been obtained, the bird showed the classic Scaup bill pattern (see right-hand pic below), it was of course a perfectly normal male Scaup with apparently unquestionable parentage.

Heads up guys, it's not just the birds that are out to fool you, your camera might be too.

Three steps forward, two steps back

Another three (briefly four) species were added to the year-list today and one removed. First the removal, due to woefully inaccurate information regarding the northern boundary of the GOS recording area, I'd erroneously ticked off Ring Ouzel whilst in Powys,... bugger. New species today were: Little Stint, Scaup, Arctic Tern and Swift.

And now begins a twisted tale of doubt and paranoia, a salutary story as to why birding is bad for your psychological well-being and why waders are the spawn of Satan. Picture the scene: a bleary-eyed birder, intent on a seawatch, stops briefly on the second platform at Goldcliff; about 200 Dunlin fidget and jostle on the back of the large shingle island; an earlier report of Little Stint bobs, phalarope-like, on the swell of the birder's subconscious; and then, up pops a wee, greyish, small-billed head; a stint/peep shuffles across a gap and disappears into the throng. Bob's your mother's brother, Little Stint goes on the year-list, off goes the birder happy as the proverbial Larry.

At a slightly less anti-social hour, three locally renowned observers follow in the footsteps of the first, bag a Sanderling on the first lagoon and make their way to the seawall.

Birding musketeers: "Much doing?"
Larry-like birder: "No, did you get the Little Stint?"
Birding musketeers: "Nope, one Sanderling though"

The (slightly less) Larry-like birder thinks "surely not", dismisses the possibility and continues to stare at the wobbly blank canvas that is the Bristol Channel. But, of course, the doubt nibbles away at the certainty of the stint, paranoia consumes the diminutive calidrid and disgorges in its place the plump, hind toe-less form of a smug-faced Sanderling. Do you have any idea how smug a Sanderling can be? Surely the most evil of the waders. Oh sure, they look "purer than the driven..." in their whiter than white winter dress, but we know the malevolent machinations crossing and recrossing their little avian brains. Smirking all across its stubby little bill, it sits, on the barren shingle ridge of the birder's mind and, every now and again, stretches a strikingly contrasting wing.

Other birds come and go; three or four Arctic Terns move up-channel, a few swifts shoot inland and a very smart drake Scaup hangs out with the local Tufties. News of a 'funny' swift at Uskmouth induces mild panic and a brief sojourn to the far end of the reserve.

But back comes the birder to Goldcliff, the hateful Sanderling forcing a return to the fateful second platform, its little black bill probing at the softest parts of the ornithological psyche. Of course there is no Little Stint offering salvation from amongst the Dunlin now, no redemption of mind by minuta and no bleeding Sanderling either!

Anyway, to cut a long story short, it's off the list, still think I saw a Little Stint (somebody get a photo, please!), still can't believe I f****d up quite as royally as it would appear I may have, and still looking for something to wipe the smile off a certain Sanderling's conceited little fizzog. Oh the shame of it all!

PS. 140 for the year.
PPS. Note to self - mustn't let imagination run riot.

27 April 2006

Two little Ruffs at the pools are we...

Two Ruff at Goldcliff kept the numbers ticking over (138 now), the only other half decent boids were 15 Whimbrel, 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, 1 Wheatear and a couple of Yellow Wags although also got 43 more Whimbrel and a Short-eared Owl at Uskmouth before bad light stopped play.

23 April 2006

There's hares here

Another morning at Uskmouth produced Lesser Whitethroat and Cuckoo for the year-list plus another Gropper and a few bits and bobs. Sighting of the trip though was a Hare on the Saltmarsh Grasslands (see pic, just to prove I can use my camera, below).

22 April 2006

Once more unto Goldcliff

A night of mothing put pay to a dawn raid, the birds didn't seem to mind though. Top migrant was a nice male Blue-headed Wagtail (see awful pics below) which dropped in with a few Yellows, unfortunately subspecies don't add to the year-list, but it was still a quality find. Three species, of varying quality, do count: Kingfisher, Whinchat and Sanderling (feeding with a small group of Dunlin on the foreshore). Other species worthy of mention included: 77 Whimbrel, 1 Common Sand and 40 White Wags. Perhaps the surprise of the day was the continued presence of the Porpoise, again feeding just offshore.

Addendum - it has just crossed my mind that the paleness of the grey head plumage and the relatively extensive white in the moustachial/malar region may mean the wagtail below was a Yellow x Blue-headed hybrid, sometimes referred to (presumably by people who like catchy MTV-generation-type names) as 'Channel' Wagtail.

21 April 2006


A post-work dash culminated in a smart pair of Ring Ouzels near Trefil along with a metric tonne of Wheatears, four scrambling bikes, one scrambling quad and three hatchbacks of laddettes (complete with Playboy windscreen stickers,... nice).

17 April 2006

Five more

The 'local' produced another five county year-ticks today. A prolonged period of staring out into the Bristol Channel from Goldcliff Lagoons resulted in a lone Sandwich Tern heading west; one of the adjacent hedgerows contained a singing Redstart; and a flyby group of Curlew were accompanied by a single Bar-tailed Godwit. Other 'goodies' on the lagoons/foreshore included: two Purple Sands, 11 Whimbrel, one Goosander and three White Wagtails.

Uskmouth delivered visible Sedge and Reed Warblers plus a Yellow Wagtail going west and a veritable smorgasbord of grockle (big ones, small ones, some as big as your head...). A basking Grass Snake was also the first for the year.

15 April 2006


Having spent yesterday doing a Dartford Warbler survey, twitching Bonaparte's Gull, eating eggs and chips and seeing 'The Mighty Boosh' (see www.themightyboosh.com if necessary), today was a return to business. Goldcliff Pools pulled out all the stops on the mammal front, in the form of a porpoise just offshore, but was a little backward at coming forward on the bird side of things, just a single flyover Yellow Wag added to the 2006 tally.

Uskmouth proved less of a tease, producing Grasshopper Warbler, Whitethroat, Whimbrel and Ruddy Duck. Had I managed to see the singing Reed and Sedge warblers it could have been even better. Even so, not a bad haul, the Gropper being an especially nice find as it was a non-singing, grubbing-about-in-ruderal-vegetation individual as opposed to a bleedin' obvious reeler. I have now reached 126 species, another four species before going back to work and I'll be a happy little birdspotter.

PS. The wee purple dudes are still at Goldcliff and here are two action-packed pics to prove it...

13 April 2006

Drive-by birding

A quick detour to Caldicott produced a pair of Red-legged Partridge. I did manage to grab a quick photo but to say it was pants is a wee bit of an understatement so, unless I get real bored, I'll leave it unposted.

The total has now reached 121.

11 April 2006

'Garden Warbler'

A Blackcap singing in my carefully manicured bramble patch was the first seen, as opposed to heard, this year. Last year the same patch attracted a singing Gropper so, if it's going to keep up its average, it'll need to pick its game up.

08 April 2006

Naffin' special

Spent a fair bit of time out and about today with nothing special to show for it. Little Ringed Plover and House Martin were additions to the year-list but Osprey eluded me and, as ever, Gwent is not producing the goodies turning up elsewhere. Oh well, 119 species, here's hoping tomorrow will bring the biggy.

06 April 2006

First major dilemma

Dropped in at Llandegfedd Reservoir today, bagged a few bits 'n bobs and then, just as I got to the car-park, an Egyptian Goose flew past (heading towards Green Pool). Now this is a potential Gwent tick for me and, obviously, a new one on the Gwent year-list, but can I count it? Is the nearest feral population closer than the nearest wildfowl collection? Category C or category E? Answers on a postcard or just click on the 'comments' link below...

PS. It was fully winged and the running total is now either 116 (+1) or 117 (-1).

02 April 2006


Did a few hours staring out from Goldcliff Point this morning and was rewarded with four Gannets and one Fulmar (Pendeen eat your heart out). However, the best bird was the first-winter Purple Sand feeding with the Turnstones at the point. A brief stop at the pools produced a whole lot of wind and the regular assortment trying to get out of it. The Gannets and Fulmar have edged the total to 116, ooooh, can barely control my excitement.

01 April 2006

Super Purps

Followed up another, less-than-outstanding, seawatch with a look at Goldcliff Pools. Two first-winter Purple Sandpipers (see photo below) and two Golden Plovers added a bit of excitement to the usual wader roost, all four hunkering out of the SW wind on the first lagoon. The only year-ticks came in the form of passerines: a single Willow Warbler just behind the viewing platforms; and three Wheatears knocking around the sea-wall, two of which were corking males. The total is now 114 and I've yet to see a single half decent seabird.