30 October 2010

Quick to be slow, to be ready to be quick

It's 1991, four fresh-faced whipper-snappers zoom north in the comfort of a Mark II Vauxhall Astra. Halfway up the M6, one member of the team, a little hungover and decidedly grey-faced, winds down the window and, despite squeals of "Don't throw up out the front of the window!", proceeds to pebble-dash himself and a sizeable proportion of the inside of the car (including much of the ceiling) with a fine aerosol of diced carrots and partially digested whiskey. Those of us in the back cower behind seats and below hastily grabbed jackets and Rhino shirts (remember those? [Oh my! You can still get them! Click here]). A brief stop and we're off again, front seat passenger miserably dabbing at stubborn bile-coloured concretions with newly acquired mineral water and mansize tissues. Then we're into Lancashire, Blackpool looms on signpost then horizon and a screech of brakes announces our arrival at Marton Mere. In freezing conditions, three of us enjoyed excellent views of American Bittern, one of us, despite getting the same views, probably didn't revel in the experience quite as gleefully.

I knew that puke-stained trip would pay off one day. And today was the day. No early start for me, no need to waste a Saturday stood plotting the untimely demise of red Goretex-wearing, arse-gravy spouting, NerdForum regulars. No, for me, a leisurely rise, a polite "No thanks" to the offer of a lift to Cornwall and a relaxing cuppa and bowl of porridge.

But then it all went MENTAL! A phone call from the field, a report of untold ornithological riches just down the road. Mug and bowl flew, spoon described graceful arc towards sink, missed, and ended up in the dog's bowl. Cameras, bins, gubbins grabbed and, with a crash of front door, the house was silent. Fine motes slowly sink down sunbeams onto carpet and mantelpiece, dustily echoing the eddies of the recently exited.

Anyhoo, VVVRRROOOOOOM! EEEEEEEEEK! And I tumble onto the tarmac at Fourteen Locks. A laden jog down the lane and it's Ynys-y-Fro to the left of me, Ynys-y-fro to the right of me, a frantic scan,... there! Not one, not two, but three of the most beautiful apparitions of anatidae you could possibly hope to gaze on.

The, now regular, Pochard x something (personally, I'm not convinced on Scaup), or even Pochard x something x Pochard? More on this bird, including better pictures, can be seen here, here, here and here.

Pochard x Ferruginous Duck, presumably the same bird as that which appeared on Wentwood Reservoir last winter and possibly from various locations in earlier years (see here).

The star of the show, Red-crested Pochard x aythya hybrid, a hybrid tick for me, have seen Red-crested Pochard x Mallard before though, as illustrated earlier in the year here (though seen and photographed many moons previous to the post).

I will endeavour to get much better pictures when I get some midweek spare time,... they deserve it. I wonder what the life expectancy for an aythya hybrid might be? We might have decades of this sort of stuff to look forward to,... yay!

PS. 1 Crossbill, 4 Skylark and plenty of Siskins overhead between 12:00 and 13:00, and two Great Black-backed Gulls on the lower basin too.

27 October 2010

After years of waiting,... nothing came

Actually, something did come today. Back here, on 'Gropper Day', I mentioned a colour-ringed Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit sighting at Goldcliff. Got the details through the magic of an electronic mail today.

The bird was ringed at Farlington Marshes LNR, Hants, on 29 October 2009 as an adult female, then seen at Pagham Harbour, West Sussex, on 17 February 2010, then Goldcliff on 25 April 2010 and, in the evening of the following day, on Islay, Inner Hebrides.

That last leg is about 325 miles (as calculated, probably in a very rough and ready fashion, here) in, at most, a little over 24 hours. Not bad, and a great choice of stopover site too.

24 October 2010

Everything I know is right

A morning at Magor and Redwick produced very little to tootle one's trumpet about, and absolutely nothing to merit the term 'highlight'. I guess Water Rail and Cetti's Warbler were the best at Magor Marsh and Coal Tit [Yes, really?!] at Redwick. It. Was. Dire.

Despite the above, and countless other mornings at Magor seeing absolutely nothing of note, I always think this scrap of fen is going to produce; I always convince myself that a bit of habitat that good, however small, will have a gem of a phyllosc flitting amongst the willows or something secretive skulking down a ditch. It never happens but the conviction persists.

It is this sort of thing that is slowly leading me to the conclusion that, once a human has an idea lodged in some deep recess of an inner fold of their temporal lobe, it is nigh impossible to extract or replace. There the oh-so-resistant factoid sits, nestled in the grey goo, perhaps as wrong as wrong can be, but clung to, nurtured, and slowly woven into all the other, oftentimes quite unrelated, truths, half-truths and downright falsehoods. Once embedded and the mind closed around it, the belief will not be dislodged by any external force; no amount of contrary experience, evidence or carefully presented counter-argument will make an iota of difference. Perhaps opinions are complex parasites, insidious little barbed globules, exuding a complex brew of neurotoxins, to mask their irrationality and blind or instigate avoidance behaviour in the host when presented with conflicting information; and oozing neuro-relaxants to enable the host to partake of the mental gymnastics required to maintain their position. When greatly magnified, I bet they look like squidgy, stalkless purple strawberries, every seed a hair-triggered micro-harpoon with which to gain attachment and render it all but immovable.

Get out, stay out. I'll thank you not to come round here with your new-fangled theories about the likelihood of finding rares at MaMa.

23 October 2010

"They just seemed interested in finding the next American rare"

Cor! This blogging lark is getting harder and harder. It's almost as competitive as birding on Corvo. I was just penning one of my standard pieces, dripping with nigh inexplicable vitriol, regarding a self-publicising, sanctimonious, Robin-tickler, when I noticed somebody had beaten me to it. I do believe I have just wasted the entire gilded contents of one whole slop bucket of scorn. Well, it isn't worth publishing now. Unless I can locate another free-loading, "bird guider" [Ed. WTF?!] with a penchant for the word vibe who moans about being stuck on an Atlantic island during fast moving depressions instead of talking peanut feeders to the Prestatyn Women's Guild, all my literary effort will go to waste. Is there anyone else out there who, due to being totally bereft of a sense of humour, and lacking an appreciation of the finer nuances of English as a second language, bleats about how nasty and competitive WP rarity finders can be? No,... thought not,... bugger.

On a totally unrelated note, does it annoy you that people who spend half their lives working in ecology/taxonomy/conservation talk little of conservation when on holiday looking for rares? On finding Northern Flicker, why didn't the Corvo birders huddle together to knock up a quick habitat management plan or population viability analysis? It's enough to make you want to make a laughable attempt to look cool and save the world by writing another pile of inconsequential shite for the benefit of Waxwing-loving housewives everywhere.

And lo, it came to pass, that St Franny of Lee missed all the rares because he was too busy talking, but not doing anything, about the conservation of species he knew bugger all about on an island to which he'd never return (Manuel's guesthouse can just be seen in the background).

21 October 2010

Colour-ringed Curlews

Perhaps I've been slow on the uptake, but there's a new game in Severnland. Yesterday I bumped into a colour-ringed Curlew, it turns out that birds are being colour-ringed along the Severn Estuary in Glos, e.g. at Wibdon Warth, near Lydney (see here). The ultimate goal is to study the survival and turnover of Curlew on the estuary, however, with a bit of luck any findings will also underline the importance of the estuary and help fend off any future hair-brained 'development' schemes cooked up by middle-aged men in shiny shoes/cars who have nothing better to do due to the fact their cocks stopped working years ago and the wife is off shagging their golfing partner.

Birds have been marked with a combination of five colour-rings and a metal ring. All have a yellow ring over a white ring on the lower left leg (NB. I noticed on 'my' bird the lower, white, ring was discoloured/muddied and difficult to see), a metal on the lower right leg, a single colour on the upper left leg (the tarsus) and two colours on the upper right leg.

Any sightings should be sent directly to Dr. Niall Burton (Head of Wetland & Marine Research at the BTO) at niall.burton@bto.org. In addition to the combination and positions of colour-rings, they would also like date, time and location (ideally a six-figure grid reference). In addition to these details, they would also like to get data on the proportions of colour-ringed birds in flocks, i.e. the numbers of birds colour-ringed and the numbers of birds checked for rings (not necessarily the total flock size) and even data for flocks that had no colour-ringed birds.

The colour-ringed birds are, of course, most likely to be seen in the part of the estuary near where they were caught, but surely a few will filter Gwentwards.

This blog post has been brought to you by the letters O, T and B and the number 1 and fulfills part of Gwentbirding's annual public broadcast/non-sweary remit.

Communication ends.

16 October 2010


Turned my back on the Richard's Pipit and pointed the car towards the patch and the unshunnable European White-fronted Goose - Gwent and patch tick! Boat Lane also produced Golden Plover and Red Kite plus odds 'n' sods overhead (and, obviously, the Barnacle Goose). Saltmarsh Lane was fairly quiet: a Swallow, the odd Blackcap and Chiffchaff amongst the tits, and a Clouded Yellow along the sea-wall at the far end.

Red Kite and friends over Goldcliff Pill. It flopped around the pools and pill before settling on the grassy saltmarsh. Later on, presumably the same bird, was seen over Rumney Great Wharf.

13 October 2010

Right bunting, wrong county

My colleague (who I shall refer to as 'RM', largely due to the fact that his parents gave him names that begin with the aforementioned letters) and I found four Lapland Buntings today (two each, which was uncharacteristically fair of the birding gods). 'My' two headed over NE at 10:00, announcing themselves with the ringing 'tyu', this and the dry rattling call (which pretty much defies transcription) were then alternated as they carried on up the seawall,... lovely. The mysterious RM's were much the more settled, found at lunchtime and still present when we left mid afternoon, they were initially seen on the upper saltmarsh near the noisy kissing gate (between the Power Station and Thornbury Yacht Club) but then went back and forth between here and the adjacent 'sprayed/brown' field just inland,... also lovely.

The only slight fly in the ointment, was the fact that I was in Gloucestershire and not Gwent, ever so slightly taking the gloss (Geddit? Ho-ho,... ho) off an otherwise pleasant birding moment or two. Mind you, had I been in Gwent, the views would have been very distant indeed.

[NB. Actually 'the mysterious RM' would be better referred to as the 'not-that-mysterious RM' but I don't want to run the risk of having all those hysterical squeaming (yes, I do mean 'squeaming') girly Punkbirder groupies reading this and then nipping over to NerdForum to gush to their fellow fans about how they once caught a glimpse of someone who looked quite like [enter Punkbirder here] in their local chippy and then emailing their favourite ornithological knickers to Norwich before fainting onto their keyboards and adding to their post count with the, original yet indecipherable, message "higezcx/'aeihguszzzcnxm,eghswghuuehgstijhsbnjgjhnshjtshbsjhjjhbjtbgbhnshjs;hjij". I mean, nobody wants that to happen do they? And it will,... it will.]

10 October 2010

I woke up this morning but I’m still in the dark

Did two lengths of 'The Mighty V' this morning with very little to show for it. 'Highlights' included: Brambling and Hobby (this one?) at either end of Farmfield, five Golden Plover heading east, and a Wheatear at the bottom of Saltmarsh. Pretty steady passage overhead included: 15 Skylark, 80+ Swallow, 5 House Martin, 25+ Siskin and 2 Redpoll amongst larger numbers of other finches and Mipits.

Having pootled around for four hours or so, I headed back to Castle Aberquimcum and, just five minutes from the door, received news that a Lapland Bunting had been seen at Goldcliff Pill,... why I oughta!

Meanwhile, whilst peering over the fence at the blog next door, I noticed one of the "Cossy Tits" seems to be bearing a ring of Gwentish origin. Unfortunately, due to Beardies, frankly annoying, habit of a complete post-juvenile moult, we might not be able to individually identify the bird but stay tuned, hopefully, all the other birds on that string were female.

[Addendum: it transpires that we have only ringed four Bearded Tits on the 'L57****' sequence: an adult female, two first year females and an adult male, all caught on 12th September 2010. As a result, the Cosmeston bird becomes our first recovery,... thanks to Mr. Mitchell.]

09 October 2010

I decided to quit and get a zero

Another morning at Uskmouth with one eye on the nets and the other on the sky. The easterly trickle of birds overhead included 20 Swallow, 5 House Martin, 6 Redwing, 30 Siskin and 10 Redpoll; in the scrub, semi-interest was maintained by 5 Blackcap, 5 Chiffchaff plus a few Goldcrest and Treecreeper. However, the really-annoying-bastard-bird-of-the-day was the locustella which flushed from under someone else's boot and instantly disapoofed into a bleeding great swathe of inaccessible (and impenetrable) scrub. I'm assuming it was a Gropper, largely due to the infinitesimally tiny chance of it being anything else, well,... that,... and the fact that just considering the alternatives would likely cause me to experience some form of mental trauma after which purple goo would issue from my ears and I'd never be the same again.

07 October 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Autumn

Autumn,... 'fall'. The majority of the population are enjoying mellow mists, picking out a pumpkin and packing away the barbecue; birder's are preparing for torture. As August draws to a sweaty close each text alert, phone call or sneaky peak at Birdguides invokes an increasingly nervous reaction; by September every vaguely mobile-like 'peep' initiates a clearly audible intake of breath and minor palpitations. Come October, the phone is passed to the girlfriend, a foetal position is adopted behind the sofa, hankies are readied, and an arse-about-face scene from 'Marathon Man' is enacted,...

Me [Er,... AN Birder]: Is it safe?... Is it safe?
Babe [All birders' girlfriends are babes, right?]: You're talking to me?
Me [Er,...] : Is it safe?
Babe: Is what safe?
Me [Oh, who am I kidding]: Is it safe?
Babe: I don't know what you mean. I can't tell you something's safe or not, unless I know specifically what you're talking about.
Me: Is it safe?
Babe: Tell me what the "it" refers to. [Notices text message] Ohhh,...
Me: Is it safe?
Babe: Yes, it's safe, it's very safe, it's so safe you wouldn't believe it, it's Toyota, your car is ready for collection.
Me: Oh,... great.

Or at least, that's how it was. Now? Now, I'm the the very model of relaxation. The secret? It's all about the management of expectations; you start out wanting to find everything, needing to see everything, fearing to dip anything. These are unrealistic expectations and what do unrealistic expectations engender? Unfulfilled dreams, and what do unfulfilled dreams engender? An unhealthy culture of blame, you project your lack of fulfillment onto your nearest and dearest: your boss won't give your the time off, your girlfriend refuses to relocate to Corvo, your GCSE physics teacher was senile, your mother smoked during pregnancy, your species is an irrational, grinning idiot of a misplaced primate, happily sitting in the fetid gutter of the latest in a series of deity/dollar inspired self-imposed saeculum obscurum. All these things may be true, but their position at the forefront of your mind is symptom not cause.

Manage your expectations. You will not find or see everything, you will dip. In the light of this, inner peace is maintained by appreciating the fact that the Blackburnian Warbler on St. Kilda has been found at all; your cortisol levels are suppressed by revelling in the fact that yet another duffer has turned-up yet another first for Britain; and your risk of acute myocardial infarction or cerebrovascular accident is significantly reduced by basking in the ornithological glow on your buddy's face as he recounts the finding of that mega,... for the tenth time,... today. All these things (when practiced in conjunction with handfuls of Clozaril, Risperdal and Seroquel) will allow you to get through to December with, at least, an outward appearance of quiet contemplative bliss (as long as the drug-induced tardive dyskinesia doesn't give the game away). Job done.


05 October 2010

Did I miss something?

Given a week of perusing the net, watching TV and drifting in and out of conversations with the girlfriend and other human beings, it is slowly dawning that, whilst on holiday, I missed several happenings of monumental monumentalness:

1. The Avonmouth Glossy Ibis - given the location, this was much worse than the Bobolink;
2. Punkbirder Flycatchergate - the nice voices in my head say "It's all part of the game...", the evil voices in my head butt in with "... hence Pipitgate, Duckgate, Warblergate,..." [Sits in darkened room, gently rocking back and fore, "Listen to the nice voices, ignore the nasty voices, listen to the nice voices, ignore the nasty voices..."];
3. Reservoir Cats 'misidentification-of-American-warbler-whilst-taking-the-piss-for-the-misidentification-of-an-American-warblergate', a finer example of petard related self-hoistery has rarely been seen; and
4. The Glamorgan Bobolink - I am strangely relaxed about this one, must be ailing for something.

Naturally, given even the cursory appreciation of probability theory I possess, many more happenings of, frankly, bears-shit-in-the-woods predictability also occurred:

1. Precisely no rarities were found in Gwent;
2. Freddie Flintoff's brain finally realised that Freddie Flintoff's body had retired from cricket;
3. Liverpool (as hamstrung by Messers Hicks and Gillett) played 5, won 1, drew 2 and lost 2;
4. Surrey ended up third from bottom in the County Championship; and
5. World peace did not break out.

To all these I say "Meh".

03 October 2010

Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate

The Azores season has kicked off in earnest, yesterday, within five minutes of entering Ribeira da Ponte the colossus below found a Northern Parula. I fear this is just the initial salvo of an El Niño Modoki cum La Niña Mokiki driven yankee fest,... for those of us staying at home, that equals pain gentlemen. We are all destined to become a hand-to-shoulder chain of pale-lipped, leaden cloak laden wraiths, trudging down a dark descending road, lashed by the fearful icy storm, on a stumbling somnambulance to a place where the sun is silent.

Fear stalks my house,... and he's wearing khaki combats.

October in Gwent, black joyless sulkiness,... as so many members of the golfing fraternity are slowly realizing.

02 October 2010

Back on the patch

The highlight of this morning's ringing and vis-migging at Uskmouth was an Osprey, briefly perched on a pylon at 09:55, it was rapidly dislodged by a Magpie and dropped out of view. More raptor interest was provided by a Hen Harrier being chased eastwards by half a dozen Carrion Crows and a male Peregrine drifting overhead. Whilst there was little in the way of excitement in the nets, westward passage included: 32 Skylark, 4 Swallow, 60 Meadow Pipit, 10 alba wagtails, 6 Grey Wagtail, 56 Chaffinch, 14 Redpoll and 41 Siskin.

01 October 2010

Vireo minus tail

Yet another post aimed at a Californian audience, this time it's "Hello North Bay birders".

I noticed a few messages on the northbaybirds discussion group regarding a tailless vireo at Chimney Rocks from at least 17th-20th September. I was birding the Point Reyes lighthouse during the morning of the 17th and was tipped off about the bird (at that point being reported as Philadelphia Vireo). The following three photos were taken in the afternoon, it appears to be a (brightish?) Warbling Vireo,... it did have me going for a while though. All images can be clicked on for larger versions.

The 'tail' in this image is formed by primaries, at the time I don't think the bird had any visible rectrices.

The bird was feeding in brambles (briars?), etc., above the path leading down to the dock.

Also present were Black-and-White and Townsend's Warbler in the pines/cedars, it was, however, a lot less 'birdy' than on the 14th.