30 August 2008

Mockingbird at Uskmouth

Thanks to the guys working on the pylons, today's birding was accompanied by Eminem/Marshall Mathers. Tree Pipits and Yellow Wags trickled westwards to the tune of 'My name is'; a small mixed hirundine flock appeared as 'Sing for the moment' took to the air; and the odd sylvia 'tacked' along to 'Like toy soldiers'. The highlight, however, was 'Mockingbird'; unfortunately, it only heralded the appearance of a Redstart.

If I may put in a request, should you ever feel the need to inflict planet Gwent with your music, please have the good sense to play an original album as opposed to a record label cashing-in compilation; and, if it absolutely positively has to be Eminem, try The Slim Shady LP, at least it possesses momentary flashes of wit (and lacks any intervention by Dido).

This is the face a Reed Warbler makes when pondering the possibility that Marshall Mathers is second only to Elvis in the Top 10 of opportunist white boys who have successfully plundered black music traditions.

29 August 2008


If you are stuck in traffic between the M4 and the Bassaleg/Pye Corner roundabout at some point during the next day or two, keep an eye out, one of the roadside wires had a Spot Fly sat on it this morning. The magic of migration in the raw,... the excitement is bordering on the perceptible.

28 August 2008

Footy/Birding Crossover

For those of you who were on the Scillies when Gerrard, Voronin, Ballack, Anderson, Viera, etc., descended; the upshot of their visit (including a starring role for Spider) is now on the Adidas website here. Unfortunately I was on the Azores at the time (receiving increasingly unbelievable texts about the footballing-folk wandering the streets of St. Mary's).

24 August 2008

Goldcliff mit demi-fence

A stop at Goldcliff for high-tide produced a few waders (Ruff, Greenshank, Knot and Green Sand being the best) but the two Whinchat, making use of the wonderful array of new fence-posts, were probably the highlight that or the good number of Yellow Wags knocking around. The wind got up a bit, more than the weathermen predicted, but a brief peer of the sea-wall resulted in zilch. Also had a Spotted Fly near Redwick this afternoon.

23 August 2008

Three points

What an exciting Saturday! Off I trotted, northward, Anfield bound, Sonic Youth's 'Daydream Nation' twangling away in the background. Everything went pretty smoothly until the queues approaching Walsall and the point at which the M5 and M6 join in unholy matrimony. So there I am, creeping along at 5 mph and the phone goes, excellent something to while away a few minutes, conversation regarding Semi-p Plover ensues. Hold on, what's that car with blue lights doing behind me,... oh arse! Ten minutes later (during which I singularly failed to say "banged to rights" or "it's a fair cop") I had gained three points and lost £60, a fair swap in anyone's book.

Anyhoo,... met the chaps and proceeded to enjoy crawling along the M6. Slowly Liverpool loomed, then Anfield Road, then a whole loada signs saying "resident parking only"; we ended up parking closer to bluenose-central than Anfield, nice little walk through Stanley Park mind.

Hello Shanks, hello Scion Kop, hello first half; goodbye first half and good riddance. We were poor, flipping poor, apart from Carragher everyone else was well below par (Gerrard and Torres included). The second half actually got worse before it got better, but oh how it got better. Having allowed lardy Mido to score unchallenged, Liverpool woke up and, five minutes before full-time, the mighty Carra picked the ball up just outside the box, looked up and nonchalantly tucked it away with a trick shot off Pogatetz's arse. With time fast running out Gerrard had a sighter from a free-kick before, four minutes into extra-time, slapping a loose ball from 20 yards into the top righthand corner. Cue relief-tinged rapture in the Kop.

The view just prior to Gerrards sighter

How to maintain your place at the top of the league, something that Liverpool and the Gruniad Allstars are both doing swimmingly just now.

13 August 2008

One for the rarities committee

It was large, brown, 'blunt-headed' with a tapered rear; it was seen to glide approximately 200 metres before briefly alighting on a power line and then dropping to the ground. Buzzard? Dark-phase Booted Eagle? Eagle Owl? Great Northern Diver (eh, shurely shome mishtake)?

Answer here.

10 August 2008

Raptors in the rain

Following a tip-off, got excellent views of an Osprey at a rather soggy Llareggub this evening. At one point, having caught a large trout, the bird managed to attract the ire of both the local gulls and a young female Peregrine, all of which took turns dive-bombing the hapless visitor. Nathan had already bagged a series of corking photos by the time I arrived (see here), definitely one or two for next year's report.

As can be seen in the pic, the bird appears to be in at least its third calendar year (a minimum of three generations present in the remiges, all of which lack the neat pale tips seen in juv. feathers; the barring on the secondaries is indistinct, if visible at all, and they have at least a broad, solidly dark tip [some appearing almost wholly dark]; and the crown is white).

Anyone want to comment on the sex? Given the prominent breast band and spotting on the median underwing coverts, I was erring toward putting it down as a probable female.

PS. The fish in the photos is (was?) a carp of some description, the trout mentioned above was the Osprey's next victim.
PPS. This evening's rain was coming down onto an already brimming reservoir, the lack of any muddy margins meant the only wader noted was a single Common Sandpiper.

09 August 2008


Biogeographical crossroads can be counted on to produce two things: excellent birding and political strife. Georgia has been strategically important since year dot and has been invaded at regular intervals ever since. It is also a reasonably small country with an amazing array of habitats sitting on a major migration route. Today a Russian/American power-struggle is causing another round of death and destruction. Places I have visited and people I have met are currently within a war zone due to a couple of short-sighted superpowers squabbling over carbon reserves; carbon reserves which, if extracted and burnt as planned, will contribute to the ongoing suicide of everyone on this planet.

As of now, the fighting is taking place approximately 50 miles from Kazgebi, the best alpine birding in the Western Palearctic. If you haven't seen Caucasian Snowcock, you might be waiting awhile.

The timeline to trouble (or 'How to time birding trips to a geopolitical/biodiversity hotspot')
1991-92 South Ossetia scene of 'civil' war, an attempt to break away from newly independent Georgia;
Jan/Feb 2003 my first trip to Georgia, spent most of the time based in Poti counting waterfowl along the Black Sea coast;
May 2003 my second trip, birding in the Greater Caucasus and along the border with Azerbaijan (see Birding World Vol.17 No.6);
2004 Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia's newly elected president, promises to recover 'lost' territories (South Ossetia, Abkhazia, etc.);
May 2006 my third trip, visited locations from the Azerbaijan border up into the Lesser Caucasus (see here);
2006 South Ossetians vote for independence in unofficial referendum;
Sep 2007 my fourth trip, again most 'field time' spent in the Lesser Caucasus, right up to the Turkish border (see here);
Apr 2008 Russia steps up involvement in Abkhazia and South Ossetia;
Jul 2008 Russia and Georgia accuse each other of military build-up;
Aug 2008 clashes between Georgian and South Ossetian separatists escalate;
7 Aug 2008 sides agree to ceasefire;
8 Aug 2008 heavy fighting erupts, Georgian forces advance on Tskhinvali, Russian armour crosses into South Ossetia, port at Poti bombed;
9 Aug 2008 Russian forces seemingly retake Tskhinvali, Gori bombed, Abkhazia kicks off...

Here's hoping everyone I've had the pleasure of birding/working with is keeping their heads down.

08 August 2008

Plastic Robin

A complete dearth of activity around here, a quick wander this evening produced nothing more interesting than a plastic/sub-singing Robin.

07 August 2008

The anatomy of a bird recordist

You can't make them out in this picture but there are a pair of bins dangling around his neck too. As far as I can tell, the scowl is the single most reliable feature of the bird recordist, usually the result of either intruding background 'anthrophony' or the fact that the bird just buggered off without so much as a peep,... or chip,... or hweet,... or tack,... [ad infinitum]

PS. Rat care of Banksy; more from the UK's most gifted 'public artist' can be seen here. If you really like his stuff, the book 'Wall and Piece' is also worth a few of your hard earned Darwins.

05 August 2008

Dull but rare

Once again Macaronesia beckons; a plan has been hatched and the flights booked. This year, in addition to the hot-spots of Cabo da Praia and Corvo, the trip will take in a little laurisilva and its famed avian occupant the Priolo. The habitat used to cover most of the Azores and the bullfinches were widespread too. However, agriculture, timber and firewood have all proved more popular than laurel forest during the last 100 years and, as of now, there are only a few fragments of the native vegetation left which, along with bird, are restricted to the Serra da Tronqueira, São Miguel.

The entire population of the dull-looking wee beastie is estimated to be just 400 individuals (it has been lower), allowing it to claim two of the least celebrated titles in European avifaunal circles: a. most threatened passerine in Europe; and b. the bird most likely to marry its cousin. Unsurprisingly, it is listed as critically endangered by BirdLife which is why a, less than brilliant, drawing of it adorns this year's Birdfair programme. Gotta say though, it's up against some stiff competition on that cover,... of course, as long as a Spoon-billed Sand turns up in the Cabo quarry, I'll be happy.

03 August 2008

The proximodistal axis of evil

This is going to be boring but, if you think you might apply the terms distal or proximal to a rarity description please read on. Yesterday I was re-reading an ID article within which the term distal had been used in an 'interesting' fashion at least twice (by 'interesting' I mean unclear or incorrect, I'm not trying to alleviate the tedious nature of this post, an impossible task I think we can all agree). Within a discussion of tail bars, the author had used distal in a situation where 'sub-terminal' would have been much clearer and, later, with regard to a bar partly obscured by the uppertail coverts (presumably a typo in lieu of proximal). Therefore, in the spirit of universal education and due to the fact I am a birding pedant living in Gwent (where it is much easier to sit in reading about good birds rather than getting out and finding them) I present Dictionary Corner,... [insert fanfare here]

In the context of anatomical description, the term distal describes that end of a limb or appendage furthest from the point of attachment with the body; proximal describes the end of the limb or appendage that joins the body. The terms can, of course, be used in a relative manner to indicate where a structure lies along the proximodistal axis, e.g. a sub-terminal tail bar is distal in relation to almost every other part of the tail except the terminal bar (or perhaps tail-tip) to which it is proximal. If you are still struggling, if you imagine a central point within the bird then that end of the bill, tail, tarsus, etc., closer to this point is proximal, that which is further away is distal. Or, to put it another way if there's a bright centre to the birding universe, I'm sat in the county most distal to it.

There, now aren't we all going to sleep that much better in our beds tonight? Hmmm? Aren't we? Hmmm? Zzzzzzzz.

01 August 2008

Exxon Watch 2

More excellent tales about the loveable little chaps at ExxonMobil or Esso, as we like to call them round here,...

First an oldie but a goodie here. A story of intrigue and atrocity in the jungles of SE Asia; complete with alleged murder, torture and sexual abuse. It's a bit like Apocalypse Now only Esso didn't win the Palme d'Or.

Another old, but still relevant, one here. Less action in this one, more of a slow burner.

And this here is true class. It is amazing how understanding the supreme court can be when the President is more-or-less on the pay-roll. I'm looking forward to the film about this, I assume it will be a bit like All the President's Men but without the flares and collars (I suppose Brad Pitt will come in for Redford but who will step into Hoffman's shoes?).

Best avoid Esso garages, you might get done for aiding and abetting.