31 July 2010

A steady little opener

Kicked off the acro season this morning, just short of 150 Reed and Sedge snagged and tagged (including three non-locals, one Spanish, two British). Nothing going over though, we didn't even manage Osprey, despite being given a heads up that the Llandegfedd bird was heading our way; either it took a diversion or snuck over whilst we were busy in the bottom shelf.

29 July 2010

A little bit of movement

A day mooching up and down the opposite side of the estuary produced a hint of passerine movement with plenty of warblers knocking about the hedgerows, hirundines passing through and a juvenile Wheatear popping up out of nowhere. Apart from a few Whimbrel the waders were ropey in comparison, very little to shout about.

28 July 2010

The year of the Crossbill

In lieu of any real action, here's a pic from early May; there are still an awful lot of these guys knocking around,... which is nice.

24 July 2010

Llanbadoc Common and churchyard

A smattering of dirt common birds and butterflies and not a lot else,... except the birthplace of the most important son of Monmouthshire (and Wales for that matter) and the resting place of two of his sisters [NB. For those who wrote the little information label above the grave, it should be Mary Anne not Marianne]. As you may well know, Wallace's origin (ho-ho) is currently for sale; what you may not know is that, as of now, it is the subject of three different offers, one at the asking price, one above and another as yet unspecified (worryingly one is 'cash' so, just maybe, from a property 'developer'). Let's hope the house doesn't get razed to enable another greedy bastard to make a few quid.

23 July 2010

Things I like to do when I'm bored

1. Going to my local Proto-neologisms-R-Us store and partaking of their weekly 'Buy two get one free' offer. This week, after the usual exhaustive selection process, I got the following (one of which is a new ornithological term!):

Punge [pʌhnʒ] vt. 1. to passionately create something (e.g. poetry, sculpture, musical composition) with the goal of it achieving some permanence 2. to passionately re-create something after someone (or thing) has hidden, destroyed or otherwise removed it from its original position of prominence [NB. unrelated to alternative definitions found here or here which appear to have completely distinct etymologies].

Goonger [guːndʒə] n. a stringer* who lives, seemingly with intent (or malice aforethought), in isolation in a geographical location known for producing good rarities therefore enabling them to attain fame/notoriety whilst ensuring the process of unmasking them is a difficult, long-winded and acrimonious affair. Perhaps the most famous goonger was Adam Spiteri (older half-brother of Sharleen Spiteri the recording artist, songwriter and former lead singer of Scottish rock/blues band 'Texas') who moved from his native Glasgow to Attu (the westernmost island in the Near Islands group of the Aleutian Islands) a proven hotspot for Paleartic vagrants boasting, as it does, more first and second ABA Checklist records than any other location on the American continent. Within five years of his landfall Mr. Spiteri had claimed 32 'firsts' for the ABA recording area only two of which were corroborated by other observers. His ornithological misdemeanours may have remained undiscovered but for increasingly bizarre claims (culminating in the, now infamous, Red-billed Chough episode) and the tireless work of David R. Scox, a young biostatistician with an interest in predicting unlikely avian events [NB. Again, this word is quite unrelated to the similar looking and/or sounding 'go-onger' or 'goong'].

Thrube [θruːb] n. a medicinal balm or ointment with powerful revitalising properties manufactured from the purified faeces of Mongolian Hamsters Allocricetulus curtatus fed on a restricted (some would say inhumane) diet of mint tea and toothpaste; often used by people stuck in front of their computers late at night to give them the strength to stop reading inconsequential shite on the internet and go to bed.

*Stringer [strɪŋə] n. a birder who, either maliciously or in a state of self-delusion (due to a, as yet unidentified, psychological abnormality resulting in them being full-blown ornithological fantasists), claims to have found or seen a statistically unlikely number of rare birds; on the vast majority of occasions the stringer is the only observer to witness the sightings and fails to obtain objective proof (e.g. photograph, video or sound recording) of the existence of the birds in question a failure that they put down to a. bad luck, or b. a rebellious devil-may-care attitude to accepted norms of rarity documentation.

21 July 2010

Typhon x Echidna?

It never fails to impress how proficient falconers are at: a. shoe-horning one species' sperm into another's oviduct and thus 'improving' species for which evolution has, over millions of years, honed into nigh-perfectly optimised killing machines; and b. losing their birds.

This monster was singularly unimpressed with the whistling and shouting of its green-wellied, flat-capped owner and, despite a downpour, seemed to favour taking up residence within a nuclear power station instead of a ride home in a wooden box in the back of a pick-up, strange huh?!

Luckily, the local Peregrines were absent or I daresay battle royal would have ensued, given this thing was sat pellet-coughing distance from their favourite vantage point.

Care to have a guess at the identity of the beast? Feel free to leave a comment. Just for once with a large falcon hybrid, I know the answer, or at least, I know what the owner thinks the bird is.

18 July 2010

A surprisingly entertaining day

Spent the day showing the hoi bird ringing at a very moist and rather blustery Uskmouth. As ever, it seemed to go down well but it will come as no shock to you that the haul was small and the rarity value non-existent, indeed the highlights of the day were: a. returning home to hear Rob da Bank ask his listening public to guess who had "plopped into his fish tank" (don't believe me? Click on 'listen again' here); or b. in the course of the evening coming across the word 'diphthong' quite unawares (aapnac).

[Note to self: must get out more,... or less.]

12 July 2010

We don't need no education

One of the above is responsible for the education of many thousands of kids, the other is the Conservative MP for the lovely constituency of Surrey Heath.

11 July 2010

The full text

Now that Birding World have published a rather space restricted version of the Lundy Shearwater gubbins, and Birdwatch are unlikely to print any of the more technical bits, here is my full text of the sound recording and analysis of the Barolo (who knew it lacked a patronymic apostrophe?) Shearwater,...

Robb et al., (2008) and Sangster, G. & Robb, M.S. (in prep.) describe differences in the vocalizations between the three forms of north Atlantic ‘little’ shearwaters and between the sexes within each taxa. Aerial call data and methodological information, kindly supplied by Magnus Robb, have enabled a preliminary comparison of the Lundy bird’s vocalizations with those of baroli, boydi and lherminieri.

Vocalizations of the Lundy bird were recorded on the night of 8th-9th June 2010. Recordings were made with a Telinga StereoDAT mic and Sound Devices 702 recorder (bit depth 24, sampling rate 48 kHz). Sonagrams were produced using Raven Pro version 1.3 Build 32 with settings: window type Hann, window size 512 samples (3dB filter bandwidth 135Hz); time grid 50% overlap, hop size 256 samples; frequency grid DFT size 512 samples, grid spacing 93.8 Hz; brightness varied as required and contrast 50.
The table below shows measurements taken from the sonograms, sample sizes differ as each measurement could not be taken from every sonogram.

Conclusions regarding the identification of the bird to a particular form, in comparison to Sangster, G. & Robb, M.S. (in prep.), should be made in the light of the fact that the Lundy recordings included both aerial and terrestrial calls. That said, measurements of the duration of the longest exhaled note and the proportion of the exhaled section of the call made up of the longest exhaled note, both fell outside the range of data available for boydi and all but outside the range for lherminieri. In addition, the measures of duration of exhaled notes, the duration of a phrase and the maximum pitch of the fundamental frequency of the inhaled note all broadly point towards baroli.

Differences between the sexes in baroli include males having: exhaled notes containing clearer harmonics; higher pitched inhaled notes; and the entire phrase being longer but including fewer exhaled notes. The Lundy recordings strongly support the sexing of this individual as a male, in particular, the clear harmonics in the exhaled notes.

A recording of this bird can be heard here.

Robb, M. & The Sound Approach (2008). Petrels night and day: a Sound Approach guide. The Sound Approach, Poole, UK.
Sangster, G. & Robb, M.S. (in prep.). Vocalizations and species-limits in the north Atlantic clade of small shearwaters (Procellariiformes: Puffinus).

Thanks to Magnus Robb for information provided and valuable comment.

10 July 2010

Santiago vs. the sea (days 8-10)

Dear reader, my usual mode of blogging is to pace my study whilst dictating to my long-suffering personal assistant. I like to pace, pacing is what I like to do. Today I write firmly sat, for pacing is a thing of yesterday (and hopefully tomorrow) as presently the world pitches and yaws about me. The bookcase looms and recedes, the carpet rolls and retreats and here I loll, lost, adrift, aboard SS Easy Chair. And the cause? A few nights (and days) pottering about on a choppy high frequency swell betwixt Devon and Wales.

It didn't start well, a 24 hr delay in an effort to sidestep the weather, but then a glassy morning dotted with rafts of becalmed Manxies and rolling Harbour Porpoise lured us out. The afternoon became a little more lumpy, but nothing to steer one away from the slippery chicken, well-cooked vegetables and greasy boot-polish gravy dinner. Inexorably the evening's rise and fall grew, now Fulmars and Gannets winged effortlessly about the gloom, and was it me, or did the the calls of the young Guillemots carry a timorous note of forewarning? We pitched on, the diesel fumes swirled, a Stormie slipped by, the horizon was squeezed between bumpy black and bank of bubbling cloud.

We turned south to slip and climb the beamy swell, we watched, we turned, lurched, watched, auks skittered from the bow, we retreated momentarily to our beds. We rose, we rolled, we watched, we turned, we watched, Common Dolphins swished and snorted unseen underneath our perch, we slept. We rose again, we watched. And throughout, an unnamed member of the team accrued an insurmountable score in the old 'diced carrot game'. Post-dawn, post-Puffins, I slipped below the duvet and into a restless shallow sea of bizarre dreams - Golden Oriole's nested at knee-height behind giant telegraph poles in boundless fields of abandoned cars (not quite white lions on an African beach but there you go).

Extricated myself at lunch, but could only manage breakfast. Momentarily we touched terra firma, one lucky bastard disembarked, then about face to retrace our course on the still gathering swell. Another identical dinner, another dusk, another Stormie and a thinner scattering of the same species in increasingly uncomfortable conditions. At some point the radiator flew clean off the wall. By midnight I had, for the first time in my 36 years, succumbed to Neptune inspired nausea and, despite trailing 12-1, felt a perverse pang of relief on avoiding a whitewash. I was in good company though as half the crew had decided to play, the scoreboard went into meltdown.

Not long after, the chances of being pitched over the side approached near-certainty and a premature halt to proceedings was called. Back to the bunk in the sweaty bowels and and a full-blown retreat to the cocoon of mattress and duvet. Awoke quayside,… still awaiting everything to stop swaying.

It's only my third trip on the big blue this year, it's still only July,... oh dear!

06 July 2010

Adrift again

An early July Biscay sortie, risky on the bird front but cetaceans included: 6+ Cuvier's Beaked Whale; a transient pod of Killers, I managed to see five of eight but missed the closest animal; big numbers of Bottle-nosed Dolphin; a dead Humpback at the western end of the channel; just two Fin Whale; a probable Minke Whale; a few pods of Pilot Whales; a few Harbour Porpoise; and a surprisingly small number of Common and Striped Dolphin. Birds were limited, just a few Manxies, Stormies and Bonxies really.

A dead Humpback at the western end of the channel, seemingly tangled in netting.

Another, slightly smaller, victim of the trawlermen's 'art'

Blah, blah, blah,...

A puffy little blow.

Heath or Provencal? [NB. I reckon male Provencal but feel free to disagree]

One of about a dozen beaked whales, at least half were positively identified as Cuvier's.

Penguin in Portsmouth, possibly ship-assisted.

01 July 2010

It's quiet out there

Apart from a dose of Common Sandpipers, a Whimbrel and some cute ickle Shelducks it was all rather quiet on the other side of the estuary today. I kept checking the Black-headed Gulls but no Mediterranean for me,... must try harder.

Am now gearing up for a season of boat trips. Biscay, Bristol Channel, Cornwall and California all beckon,... if I don't get a decent return from that lot, I'm going to want my money back.