28 September 2009

The countdown has begun

Corvo is starting to come to a nice simmer with American Redstart and Bobolink in the last few days, another week of work and I'm off to join the party. Olof, currently on Corvo for a first (marathon) season, is blogging daily here; Peter and Simon are closing in fast (having completed their chumfest) and their adventures can be followed here. Official news is probably best garnered from Staffan et al. here. The usual mix of profanity, misinformation and downright lies will, of course, be brought to you on this very blog,... just as soon as I get out there. With luck I'll be able to Twitter on the hoof, imagine that, a live text feed from the WP land of milk and honey/ham and cheese/wicker and man (delete as appropriate).

In the meantime, something for the über natural historians amongst you, a little poser. Can you identify the subject of the piccy below? The prize for the supplier of the first correct answer is to be revered like a god wherever you go, rose petals shall be scattered before your every step and a fanfare of golden trumpets shall sound as you awake each new morn. Failing that, you might get a "Well done sir!" or, at the very worst, a "How the f**k did you know that?!"

27 September 2009

Big blue wobbly thing where mermaids live

Just back from a few days with the lovely people at Marinelife on the 'Pride of Bilbao'.

In addition to the downright freakery of the ferry inhabiting primates, true ocean-dwelling stuff included: 50+ Bottle-nosed, 40+ Short-beaked Common and 60+ Striped Dolphin (tart's tick, yay!), 20+ Harbour Porpoise, 5 Fin Whale (including one of the, as yet undescribed, sub-species quasimodoensis, see pic), 30+ Pilot Whale (assumed Long-finned), 2 Sperm Whale, 1 Basking Shark and a tonne of tuna. Unfortunately, I didn't connect with Cuvier's Beaked Whale although a few were reported and both Minke Whale and Ocean Sunfish snuck past too. The only beaked whale I got onto remained stubbornly unspecified, it was either Northern Bottlenose or Cuvier's but the undemonstrative little bastard didn't show enough to shimmy onto the list (do beaked whales shimmy? We may never know).

Nothing outrageous on the seabird front but approximate totals included: 80 Great, 30 Sooty and 1 Med Shear, 20 Stormies, 60 Great and 1 Arctic Skua plus 4 Sabine's Gull. Mid-bay migrants included 1 Kestrel, 3 Turnstone, 2 Bar-tailed Godwit, 5 Swallow, 5 alba wags, 300 Meadow Pipit, 4-5 Chiffchaff, 1 Starling and a Clouded Yellow. On the hill behind Santurtzi Turtle Dove, Hoopoe, Sardinian Warbler, Red-backed Shrike and Serin were knocking around with a good number of chats, flycatchers, etc. (plus helice Clouded Yellow, Adonis Blue, Wall Lizard sp. and Autumn Lady's Tresses); and the port was peppered with, assumed though not grilled, 'Cantabrican' Yellow-legged Gull (only saw 1 Med Gull though but at least 10 were later seen just outside Portsmouth).

A rather pristine 1st-cal year Bonxie, there were also plenty of tatty, mid post-breeding moult, adults around.

A shy (I assume that's why he is hiding his face) dark/melanistic Short-beaked Common Dolphin, apparently none too rare in the bay.

22 September 2009

Road to nowhere

Carbon dioxide emissions are predicted to fall by 2.6% this year as a direct result of the global economic nose-dive. This is good news in spite of, rather than thanks to, governments' actions. Had it been possible, the grey-suited, shiny-shoed 'elites' from Brasília to Beijing would have avoided this reduction in greenhouse gases in favour of economic activity, a fact that rather flags up a fundamental problem - the hegemony of the Finance Ministers. When do you suppose the second most important job in government will be the Minister for the Environment? At what point will policies have to pass an assessment of climate change/biodiversity impact, as opposed to leap through an economic hoop, before being trumpeted in the manifesto/leaked to the media/announced on YouTube? And, while I'm at it, when will Ed Milliband's job be more about fighting climate change and less about securing energy supplies; and Hilary Benn's more about reversing biodiversity loss as opposed to sucking up to farmers and fishermen?

The nihilist within is sustained by the fact that he doesn't have kids but instead has lovingly nurtured a twisted enjoyment of watching humans suffer. The optimist within is lying in a hospital bed surrounded by grey-faced doctors whilst a figure with a scythe stands in the corner looking at his watch.

20 September 2009

Just short of good and evil

A goodish day but still lacking in real quality. Seven warbler species in the reeds and scrub at Uskmouth/Farmfield this morning included: 1 Grasshopper, 2 Sedge, about 20 Reed and 1 Willow. Additional, earthbound, migrants included 2 Whinchat and 3 Stonechat flicking about in the sunflower field whilst, overhead, movement consisted of a trickle of Skylarks, hirundines, Mipits, Yellow and Grey Wags.

19 September 2009

Où est l'oiseau rare?

A quick squizz at Goldcliff Pools this afternoon produced 2 Little Stint and 2 Ruff amongst other bits and bobs. Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs all over the shop at Uskmouth and still a few Reed Warblers knocking about, but nothing too exciting. The hirundine roost wasn't particularly impressive either. There must be something slightly better lurking out there.

18 September 2009


Has the proportion of 'in-betweeny' carbo/sinensis cormorants in the UK increased beyond the 10% as per Newson (2000)? During those idle moments, when my attention is drawn to the lovely little fellas, I seem to come across a fair few which I'd suggest are best left unassigned (see below).

Given the vagaries of field observation, the drawing of little white lines on photographs and the holding of one's protractor up to a shiny-shiny Apple screen, at circa 78° this bird is very close, or quite possibly within, the 66-75° overlap zone. Presumably this individual is either at the bottom end of the range of sinensis, a hybrid, or possibly, an immature bird with an, as yet, incompletely developed pouch. Well that's cleared that up then.

PS. Obviously none of the above refers to birds seen in Gwent, that would imply something of ornithological interest occurring within the county, a ridiculous assertion at the best of times.

15 September 2009


Couldn't help myself, got to Goldcliff pre-dawn and set about looking for the latest in this autumn's amazing run of megas*. Unfortunately, no flicker. Slightly more surprising, I was the only person down there; surely, however unlikely, the potential risk of missing a mega outweighs the, much much greater likelihood, that it would be a wasted morning. That said, I had to make do with 1 Redstart and 1-2 Reed Warblers in the hedgerows and 3 Wigeon, 3 Spotted Redshank, 1 Green Sandpiper, 4 Greenshank and 30 Snipe on the pools,... should have stayed in bed.

* So far Glossy Ibis, Little Whimbrel, Northern Flicker and Greenish Warbler have all been reported in, or within spitting distance of, Gwent this autumn, amazing huh? It's better than Fairly Vile round here.

13 September 2009

Optimism dies

Another day, another visit to the NWR, a late afternoon/evening raid on Uskmouth/Farmfield this time. Still good numbers of Chiffchaff in the scrub plus a few Blackcap and Reed Warblers and a solitary Sedge Warbler. Several hundred Swallows, a fair number of House Martins and a few Sand Martin were overhead and a good proportion roosted; the Starling roost is also slowly building. None of the above attracted much in the way of raptor action though, just one Hobby made an unsuccessful pass at dusk, temporarily putting the hirundines off coming in.

So the weekend produced nothing really exciting, it would appear my, rather atypical, optimism was unfounded. Back to the tried and tested bitter, cynical and twisted outlook methinks.

12 September 2009

A lot of effort for nuffin'

Another morning's ringing at Uskmouth; Blackcap and Chiffchaff were pretty dominant but a few Reed and one Sedge also rocked up in the nets. The Blackcaps included a partially albino bird with P1-3 on the left wing completely white and a partially white tip to P4. Movement overhead was pretty disappointing, only one Tree Pipit and a handful of Grey Wagtails made looking up worthwhile. I did hear a couple of snatches (yes, I said snatches) of Lesser Whitethroat song coming from the vague direction of Farmfield Lane, I'm assuming it was the real thing and not an MP3-toting 'birder'.

11 September 2009

I'll be having lunch out of the office today dear

High tide at Goldcliff, home for a late lunch, then back out for an evening at Farmfield Lane. Wow! What a non-stop, whirly-gig, rollercoaster of a life I live. The high tide at Goldcliff would have been better but, not long after my arrival, a 1st-year female Peregrine decided to scare seven shades of merde out of the waders. This resulted in most of the small stuff doing a bunk before I'd had the pleasure of going through them. My own fault for turning up late and nattering on the first platform. After pottering around for a few hours I did manage to 'recover' 3 Spotted Redshank and 6 Greenshank but the remaining interest had to be provided by non-waders, the best of which were 2 Whinchat, 20 Yellow Wagtails, 4 Wheatear and 2 Rock Pipit. Apart from more of the common migrants, Farmfield was pretty quiet although a couple each of Little and Tawny Owl piped up at dusk.

PS. Too knackered right now but, if I don't remember, please remind me to tell you about the most blatant extra-marital fumblage that occurred at Goldcliff this lunchtime.

[Edit: forgot to mention 4 Avocets and, probably 'bird' of the day, a Clouded Yellow at Goldcliff]

10 September 2009

Biker grove?

Hmmm, I wonder what these pictures mean? Let's take the bottom one, OK, it seems to be a graphical representation of a bicycle with a thick red line superimposed on it. Now, given generally accepted international standards in signage practice, I'm thinking the red line might suggest negativity with regard to the bicycle. If I just had to have a wild stab in the dark, I'd guess the message is something like "No bicycles" or "No riding of bicycles". Like I say, it's just a stab in the dark...

... it meant f*ck all to this fat twat mind.

Tonnes of Swallows going east or northeast over Saltmarsh/Farmfield this afternoon/evening; a Hobby had also noticed. In the hedgerows, half a dozen wobbler species and a Spotted Flycatcher kept things ticking over but the only other, even half-decent, species were Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail.

06 September 2009

No ibises,... yet

Shunned the Pembrey ibises, ambled down Saltmarsh and Farmfield Lanes, had a few Mipits going west and saw one or two Tree Pipits,... and that was about it. Lunchtime at Goldcliff Pools produced one juv Curlew Sandpiper, one Spotted Redshank and three Greenshanks (1 adult, 2 juvs) but, despite much positive thinking, no ibises.

I wonder if this sheep (one of Goldcliff's finest, I'm sure you'll agree) will gaze on a Glossy Ibis within the next day or two?

04 September 2009

Not great but not bad

Thought today might produce a stonking seawatch off Pendeen, unfortunately, it just proved pretty good, not complaining though. Rough totals of the more noteworthy species included: 9 Sooty, 45 Balearic and shed loads of Manx Shearwaters, 3-4 Sabine's Gulls, 10 Grey Phalarope, 1 Pomarine and plenty of Arctic and Great Skuas, 1 Puffin, 1 Ocean Sunfish and 2 Basking Sharks. Slightly better than the average vigil at Goldcliff Point, but no mega. Did dream up a new way of avoiding the slightly awkward moment when it comes to departing a well-attended seawatch - leap to your feet, clutch all your stuff to your chest and scream "I've gawt blisters on me eye-balls!" before legging it to the car whilst imitating the gait of a Sanderling on a hot tin roof. Absolutely guaranteed to negate the need to go through the usual pleasantries of saying good-bye, and offering repeated apologies, as you step across in front of people's scopes.

As we were passing, it seemed churlish (bordering on the rude) not to drop in on the Baird's Sandpiper at Marazion. It had, apparently, been showing down to a few metres but, by the time we arrrived, it was getting regularly disturbed by the usual trickle of oblivious non-birders pottering along the shoreline in search of something to do with their, otherwise vacuous, lives.

As per the Baird's, we also thought we had better pay our collective respects to the Wilson's Phalarope at Exminster Marshes, a brief stop produced the bird and some excellent loosely-associated bovine action,... sweet.

02 September 2009

Shelduck epic

More shelduck fun in the offing. Thanks to Keith Noble in Breconshire, the story rumbles on; Keith sent through a few photos of two birds that were seen at Brechfa Pool and Llangorse Lake in late April and June. Are these the recent Gwent birds?

The bird on the left appears to be a female Cape Shelduck although, my barely controllable hybrid inspired paranoia, does make me worry about one or two features, e.g. the hint of a pale collar. The bird on the right I do wonder about, it looks mostly Australian, however, I can't find any other photos of Australians with pale undertail coverts, whether this is due to immaturity (which might explain the general dullness and lack of collar), or hybridisation, or a combination of factors, I'm not 100% sure but I can't help erring towards hybrid.

I do wonder whether the female might be mostly Cape with a touch of Australian; and the male mostly Australian with a slightly heavier touch of Cape. Could Paradise be involved as well? Or has my paranoia just got the better of me? All comments gratefully received, especially from those who; a. are sat next to HBW volume 1; or b. saw the hybrid pair (and their offspring) that used to breed at QEII Res, Surrey (one bird was a Cape and the other was a hybrid, either Cape x Paradise, or Australian x Paradise); or c. are lucky enough to wander round WWT centres on a regular basis.

Just to add another layer of intrigue, if you go to Birdguides then 'pictures' then select 'Shelduck, Cape' from the species search menu (of which there are 19 piccies) look at the two pictures of three birds taken at Wyver Lane DWT, Derbyshire on 20th August last year. Despite the differences in colour production, that male looks rather odd and slightly familiar. Anyhoo, I'm off to lay down in a darkened room.

All photos supplied by Keith Noble.

PS. Promise this is the last of it - for a possible hybrid Cape x Ruddy click here,... wibble.

01 September 2009

Birds/music interface

Blundered onto this forthcoming wireless programme this evening (it's on Radio 4 therefore it is 'wireless' not 'radio'). Why is it that, despite being a combination of two of my favoured interests, I still have doubts over the resulting hybrid? Were they really looking for Montezuma Quail in Shetland? And did Hugh Harrop help them find it? Answers on Saturday presumably!?

PS. Thinking of hybrids, if you are looking for Shelduck hybrid pics click here.