30 April 2008

The reeds are alive with the sound of acros

She said "There's something in the reedbed
I know because I saw it
I can't simply ignore it, darling"
He said "Now baby, don't be stupid
Get this into your sweet head
There ain't nothing in the reedbed (except maybe some reeds)"

[to be sung to the tune of 'Something for the weekend' by The Divine Comedy (with apologies to Neil Hannon et al.)]

29 April 2008

Do my ears deceive me?

Forgot to mention, on Saturday I had a Willow Warbler (or what appeared to be a Willow Warbler, the views obtained didn't allow DNA analysis) singing a mixed Chiffchaff/Willow song. Every now and again it would introduce a 'normal' Willow phrase with pretty classic 'tsilp tsalp' Chiffchaff notes. According to BWP this isn't all that rare. The only mixed singing I've heard before (many moons ago on the lovely Surrey/Hants border) was a Willow that interspersed its normal song phrases with soft 'trett' syllables performed in a typical Chiffchaff rhythm (as often heard from Chiffchaffs in between their normal phrases). Unfortunately, on both occasions, I was lacking any recording gear, might try and refind this latest fella though.

Another two 'did I hear that right?' moments this week came courtesy of Man City. The first was the the announcement today that they have taken a shot-gun and blasted both their feet off (see here); the second, a direct result of the first, was Noel Gallagher talking sense (listen to the snippet embedded in the link above, I particularly like the final remark). Could this be the first season where one manager loses his job despite winning the Premiership/Champions League double and another loses his despite his club having the best season for 20 years? Who said people who have amassed multi-million pound fortunes through nefarious means know nothing about football? As a Liverpool fan, can I just say - nice timing Thaksin, you football genius you (still fighting those corruption charges too, bummer).

27 April 2008


Spent a few hours mopping up the last of the Cetti's today whilst keeping half an eye on the sky for flyover stilts. No stilts, did manage to bump into two Gwent goodies though. Five or six distant Common Scoter bobbed past on the Severn Sea off Goldcliff (well they looked distant, I suppose they might just have had their minds on something else) and a Marsh Harrier caused havoc over the pools before flopping off westwards. There are still oodles of Wheatears piling in, which is a perfect excuse to use a pic from yesterday so here it is...

Oh, hold on, that's definitely not the picture I was hoping would appear, I s'pose it does have a white arse though. Oh well, you know what a Wheatear looks like, use your imagination, if you have anything like a half-decent imagination, you now have a better image in your head than I had in my camera (everyone's a winner!).

Just checking,... you are thinking of Northern Wheatear aren't you? If not, you now have a much better image in your head than I had in my camera and that is totally unfair so stop it.

26 April 2008

The end begins

When a day that you happen to know is Saturday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.

I felt that from the moment I woke. And yet, when I started functioning a little more sharply, I misgave. After all, the odds were that it was I who was wrong, and not everyone else - though I did not see how that could be. I went on waiting, tinged with doubt. But presently I had my first bit of objective evidence - a distant clock struck what sounded to me just like five. I listened hard and suspiciously. Soon another clock began, on a loud, decisive note. In a leisurely fashion it gave an indisputable five. Then I knew things were awry.

Or, to put it another way - today, whilst we pootled around the reserve counting the Cetti's we bagged a mighty 58 Wheatears. I prefer the first version, albeit John Wyndham is currently doing about 500 rpm within his last resting place.

I wonder whether we could harness the 'spinning dead' as a renewable power source? I'd have thought it would be quite easy. Rig up a former author with a horizontal axle, a few gears and a drive belt or two; rewrite their life's work in the style of your average tabloid journalist; and 'Bob's your mother's brother' a plentiful, renewable and clean energy source. Another global woe solved (I'm available for collecting my Nobel prize on most week days between six and ten).

24 April 2008

Sky watching

Following the Veracruz-esque raptor movement logged 'up county' on Wednesday, I have spent each of the last two evenings sky watching. If you would like to partake of this new craze sweeping Gwent this is how:

1. gather together bins, mobile phone/wireless internet device (to disseminate the news when the rares start passing over), comfy chair and a sustaining beverage;
2. take the above out into your garden (back garden for the chattering classes, front for the working classes, either if you lack the other, on the pavement if you have neither);
3. locate that point in your garden with the greatest vista and place chair thereon;
4. sit down (ideally slightly reclining) and scan the heavens (top tip - alternate scanning with and without bins);
5. every 10 minutes or so partake of your chosen beverage (if there is a slight chill in the air I'd opt for a nice blended tea, if warm perhaps a Pimms or a glass of an obscure continental beer, Kazbegi p'raps);
6. should a local/national rarity pass overhead phone/email the news out without delay.

Thus far I've got to say the results have been a little disappointing, yesterday a not-to-be-mentioned-on-the-internet raptor and a Swallow were the highlights; today another not-to-be-mentioned-on-the-internet raptor (different to yesterday's), a Swift, a few high altitude hirundines (almost certainly House Martins) and an unknown passerine (approximately 5,000m above my head going north, probably a pipit, possibly a finch, definitely a bird) were the sum of my efforts. Oh well, I'll keep looking up.

[Edit - this isn't a new craze at all, I just found this photograph which purports to show Death and Antonius Block sky watching at a site close to modern day Falsterbo somewhen between 1271 and 1480. NB. notice that Death (a renowned stringer) is reaching for an American identification guide having just claimed Rough-legged Hawk Buteo lagopus sanctijohannis!]

Click on the pic for a slightly larger version.

20 April 2008

Accidental birding

Had planned a day at home but ended up wandering the length and breadth of the levels for the best part of the day. Goldcliff produced: 3+ Yellow Wag, 15 White Wag, 1 Redstart, 1 Spotshank, 1 Greenshank and 20 Whimbrel. There was also an excitable Reed Warbler which was chucking the odd bit of mimicry into its song (it could do very passable impersonations of House Sparrow 'chirrups' and Swallow alarm call).

An afternoon pottering about between Sudbrook and the mouth of the Wye resulted in: 1 White Wag, 9 Wheatear, 7 Whimbrel, a Grey Seal (county tick) and 1 metric tonne of dog shit. The best site for the shite was Blackrock: park at the picnic site (ST512881) then take the 'coastal' path SW for approximately 100yds, once past the tree lined green, turn left and check the soles of your shoes; if you don't see any, retrace your steps and then try the path NE from the picnic site (a very showy individual was about 20m along this path this afternoon). NB. They can be difficult to see whilst birding, but remember to use your ears, doggy doo will often give away its position by way of the characteristic 'silent footstep'.

19 April 2008

Parakeet year-tick

For the second year running an afternoon in the away end at Craven Cottage proved irresistible. Excellent tickets and a slightly less B-string Liverpool team than last year ensured an, embarrassingly, easy 2-0 win and an entertaining day out for all. Also bagged Ring-necked Parakeet between Putney Bridge and the ground and got Mallard, Woodpigeon and Feral Dove on my 'birds seen whilst watching Liverpool beat Fulham' list. Best bird of the day, however, was the Woodcock which flew out of Prince Edwards' gaff and over the car near Bagshot. Second best bird of the day were the Snipe at Barnes Station pointing you in the direction of the London Wetland Centre.

17 April 2008

Drum roll please

A quick look at Goldcliff pools produced Spotted Redshank, a couple of Greenshank and Ruff. One or two birds were moving up-channel including a few Barwit and Whimbrel plus, most exciting of all [for full effect perform a drum-roll with two rubber-tipped pencils on your desktop at this point] - a Sandwich Tern!

[you can put the pencils down now]

[or the boys can do impressions of Hughie Flint whilst the girls emulate Meg White]

The lovely Meg White, I'd have found a picture of Hughie Flint but he isn't quite as pretty. Mind you, I don't believe Hughie Flint ever cancelled a tour due to "acute anxiety" or became the subject of a bogus internet sex-tape, so they both have their plus and minus points.

16 April 2008

A bit of an arrival

Goldcliff and its immediate environs were, at least in Gwentish terms, sinking under the weight of passerine migrants this morning. Gropper, Yellow and White Wagtail, Wheatear, Redstart and Lesser Whitethroat all put in an appearance, ably supported by Golden Plover, Ruff, Spotshank, Greenshank and Whimbrel. How terribly super,... no really,... how terribly super.

Wheatear, so named because 'white-arse' was just too rude; terrible all this rudeness, although factually accurate of course.

15 April 2008

Saltmarsh savannah

Migrants noted today, whilst wandering the wide open spaces of the Saltmarsh Grasslands, included: 15 White Wagtail, 2 Wheatear, 2 Reed Warbler, 1 Sedge Warbler, 1 Whimbrel, 1 Greenshank and 1 Spotted Redshank (the latter two presumably having a day out from Goldcliff). Also saw a couple of Hares and the female mostly-Pochard hybrid.

Interesting factoid of the day: did you know there is a hoverfly called the Marmalade Hoverfly? Episyrphus balteatus (click here for a picture) was named by James Keiller, a keen amateur entomologist and the famed inventor of Dundee Marmalade. As a result, ever since 1797, all jars of marmalade have a tiny hoverfly logo stamped on the bottom of the jar.

14 April 2008

A few more arrivals

One Sedge and two Reed Warblers were singing away at Uskmouth this morning; the only other notable migrant was a Whimbrel on the foreshore although 140 Black-tailed Godwits, where the Usk spews into the channel, were also worthy of a quick raising of the bins.

Have just been flicking through the 'Climatic Atlas'. According to Huntley and his mates the "simulated potential late 21st century distribution" of Cetti's will be 50% greater than current. Almost all of England, Wales and Ireland is likely to become climatically suitable for our noisy little friends, plus south and west Scotland. Of course the downside is that, as Spain turns into a desert, gaps start appearing further south. How exciting,... bet it happens twice as fast as predicted.

13 April 2008

One for the knaves

After a wee bit of ringing, dropped in on Goldcliff where at least half a dozen White Wagtails were pottering about, lovely.

Does my supra-orbital ridge look big in this?

12 April 2008

Humans are soooo shit

Walked from Goldcliff Point to Redwick and back this morning, in the hope that the Slimbridge White-tailed Eagle might have decided to touch down on the levels - no such luck. A dozen Whimbrel were the 'highlight' along with a trickle of hirundines and a few scattered Cetti's Warblers.

My digi-binning technique could do with a bit of work, the brown blob balancing on the rocks is a Whimbrel, honest. Just above the bird, at the top of the seawall was half a mile of heavy gauge fishing-line and a gaggle of fisher-folk, apparently the latter felt absolutely no responsibility for the former, but then why would they? Click here for another, ever so slightly more extreme, illustration of why humans are shit.

10 April 2008

Drown'd, drown'd

Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelibear,
And therefore I forbid my tears...

Millais ain't got nuffin' on me.

04 April 2008


Whilst out bagging Cetti's at Uskmouth, I snuck up on a randy group of Pochard doing their thing (well who wouldn't?), surely the most acoustically entertaining Aythya in the world. If all you expect of Pochard is the 'grrr-grrr-grrr' flight call, click on the snippet below and prepare for 'wi-wi-wi' whistles and nasal wheezes (with and without 'ricochets') courtesy of displaying males; and the odd soft cluck or two (not sure which sex is emitting this, answers on a postcard/comment). As if that's not enough, there is also a pretty picture to show you what you're hearing from roughly second 17 to 20. PS. Apologies for the wind/anthropogenic background rumble, I had to leave it in or lose some low frequency elements of Poch.

02 April 2008

Identification pitfalls (part 2)

The second installment of this regular feature (click here for part 1) includes a moth that won't be seen until the summer but, given the trickiness of the identification challenge, I thought I'd bring it up now. First off, you can tell it is a moth because it has six legs, most birds have two. However, quite how you discriminate the pretty little critter from the spherical glass object (shown here on the left) is beyond me.