29 February 2008


Two poor shots from a few evenings ago, this gull has had a rather muted response from all and sundry, so far, only five birders have laid eyes on it.

25 February 2008

Haven't we done well

Thanks to a query on the GOS website, I compared the taxonomic approach to large white-headed gulls in 'Seabirds' and Clements yesterday. Jeeeez, poor old Harrison, thanks to all the tinkering over the last two decades page 338 is looking a little tired to say the least.

rrrritzbew,... rrrritzbew,... rrrritzbew

If you avoid taking into consideration all the intervening stages, the nigh total re-classification of the 'Herring Gull' complex looks rather brutal. How dare these birds keep evolving like this? More to the point, how dare these taxonomists keep coming up with new ways to produce phylogenies?

rrrreeea,... ritzbew,... rrrreeea,... ritzbew

Just in case you were wondering how the shifting sands of gull classification would look if someone had too much time on their hands and decided to illustrate the changes in the form of a flow-charty-type-thing (and then write a particularly long sentence about it), click on the pic below (NB. those taxa marked with an asterisk either don't 'exist' today, or didn't 'exist' in 1985; and those in bold type have occurred in the UK). I should point out that the Clements approach is not the be all and end all; you might prefer to nestle smithsonianus alongside vegae, or cachinnans with barabensis (and armenicus?), you may still pine for taimyrensis or even omissus.

chebik,... chebik,... chebik

PS. Knowing all the scientific names does not make you clever or even a good birder, it does make it a helluva lot easier to have a conversation about seagulls though.

whit,... whit,... whit,... whit

PPS. Does anyone else find it difficult to type whilst listening to Empidonax flycatchers on the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs (Western Region)?

23 February 2008

Third time lucky

The second-winter Caspian Gull showed reasonably well to the gathered throng this evening (if five birders can be described as a throng) thus breaking my recent protracted run of dippage at Llareggub. A first for Gwent and Wales,... excellent.

22 February 2008


My nemesis returns (in a slightly different disguise). The one good thing about having a nemesis is that you know there is always someone looking out for you, albeit in a plotting-your-untimely-demise-type way. I am reliably informed Casper the friendly gull has also reappeared this evening (try checking here later for more news).

17 February 2008

The curse of Llareggub

It took its time, but it appears Caspian Gull has finally flopped into the Gwent avifauna. Efficiently found and photographed on Friday (see here for pics and info), it was dipped (with equal efficiency) by yours truly on both Saturday and Sunday.

As if to prove the fact my luck was out, just as I was about to get an excellent shot of a sun-kissed rock on the far side of the reservoir, somebody hoisted up the south end and tipped all the water out. Bugger!

PS. Now that GOS appear to have rebelled against the use of BOU names, does this mean they will have a vote at the next AGM on what to call Caspian Gull? I think I'll propose 'Wych-of-my-broomstick-hazel Gull' any seconder?

13 February 2008

My ears are rubbish

The things you miss when relying on your ears. A buzzard's call, a sound heard a million times an hour, a simple 'mew'. Nothing to it via the crappy human ear but, bang it through a Kay Electric Company 'Vibralyser' (or modern software equivalent) and "Bob's your mother's brother", all the complexity is laid bare. A hum-drum, slightly annoying, 'mew' from Uskmouth, becomes a many-layered squiggly masterpiece. By the way, the lowest 'layer' is the 'fundamental' above which (at exact multiples of the fundamental frequency) sit 'harmonics'; our useless auditory system hears this as a single sound, however, we do experience the harmonics as timbre, the different 'textures' or 'colours' of sound, hard to describe easy to hear (or see in a spectrogram).

12 February 2008

Interesting fact number 1

I know all the GOS rank-and-file (and committee members) will have already heard and digested the following (for they are masters of all things taxonomic and nomenclatural) but, for those who haven't, there is a wonderful little nugget in the recently published 'Crazy Dutch Birding'. Buried amongst the usual rampant splittery, from the DBA/CSNA, is the news that a paper by David & Gosselin has concluded that the grammatical gender of Poecile is masculine, as a result, all Poecile species and subspecies names ending in '-a' (including our beloved Willow Tit) will, once again, revert to '-us'.

Sooooo, if the BOU follow suit (as they often do) the scientific name in the last few years will have gone Parus montanus > Poecile montanus > Poecile montana > Poecile montanus. How much fun can you have!

May I suggest a way out of this game of tana/tanus tennis? If you go back far enough, there was a spell when Willow Tit was lumped with Black-capped Chickadee; whilst errant nonsense from a taxonomic viewpoint, a swift backward step to this position would instantly remove the need for any more iterations of this appellation oscillation. "Why?!" I hear you cry from the very foremost edge of your seats, well (and this is where the oh-so-interesting fact, alluded to in the title of this missive, comes in), atricapillus is a latin noun with an adjectival suffix making it a 'noun string', as such, it need not follow the gender matching considerations that purely adjectival names do. Therefore, Black-capped Chickadee is impervious to geeks fussing over genders and would provide all Luddites from Cardiff to Monmouth a scrap of respite in an ever changing world. Everyone's a winner with Poecile atricapillus kleinshmidti! Oh,... hold on, that still results in another name change, hmmm,... I haven't thought this through have I.

Note to self: rearrange the words 'life', 'get' and 'a' into a popular phrase.
Note to readership: if you have got this far see note above.

09 February 2008

Down at Uskmouth Country Park

The Royal Society for the Protection of reedBeds' 'Come to Newport Wetlands campaign' is having the desired effect - by ten o'clock this morning the place was swimming in grocks walking their dogs/kids/rolls of flab (delete as appropriate) around the reedbeds whilst gabbing at high volume about the lovely weather or moaning about how long the walk to the car-park/'sea' is.

However, one should always attempt to make the best of a bad situation (this actually happened)...

Water Rails: [Squealing their heads off at the end of Reedbed 9]
Grock: Hello, do you know what that noise is?
Me: Yeah, sure, that's the Dwarf Water-pigs,... they escaped from Whitson Zoo years ago.
Grock: Really?
Me: Yeah, the squealing is two males fighting over a territory boundary.
Grock: Oh.
Me: They can be quite aggressive this time of year, I guess it's all the testosterone.
Grock: Oh right.
Me: Best keep the kids on the path.
Grock: Really?
Me: Well, if they charge they can give a nasty nip.
Grock: Oh, [calls to his missus (a rather rotund woman who was watching two overweight kids lobbing stones over the sea-wall)] Clare,... Clare! Tell the kids to stay on the path. [turning back to me] They should put signs up.
Me: Yeah,... I guess most people know they're here.
Grock: Well we didn't, do you work here?
Me: No, I'm just birding.
Grock: Birding?
Water Rails: [more squeals]
Me: [taking a few steps back from the reedbed] Well bye then.
Grock: Er, yes,... thanks.

08 February 2008

That duck

It appears that the female aythya hybrid that starred in such fantastic Gwent Birding posts as "She's back", "Look who's back..." and "Wild swan/duck chase" is in residence at the little square concrete pool at Avonmouth. I do believe she is stalking me.

07 February 2008

Shooting cats

Three random facts regarding cats (which sprang to mind having chased a bastard feline from the garden with a Goldfinch in its gob):

1. Every year 400,000 cats (feral and not so feral) are shot by hunters in Germany to protect wild birds and game (yay);
2. There are between 50 and 90 million feral cats in the USA (boo);
3. If you play a recording of an irate Scottish Wild Cat at high volume out of your back bedroom window, it scares the living shit out of any moggy in your garden (yay); and
4. Russ Meyer's film "Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill!", is not about killing cats (boo).

06 February 2008

They're still here

At least four Brambling in the garden today; a quick 'tickle' with a mist net and "Hey Presto!", three will be winging their way back to Scandinavia with a bit of BTO jewellery.

05 February 2008

Instant artistry

The briefest of stops at Ynysyfro paid off with an adult Med Gull. Not having time to waste on photography, I just took a flipping good shot first time, packed up and left. It's hard being as naturally gifted as I am.