31 May 2008

Near death experience

It's bloody dangerous out there! One minute I'm blundering about in the early morning half-light/Severn Sea mist, minding my own business (well ringing birds actually), next I know I'm fighting to keep my vital signs from flatlining. Stabbed, impaled actually, claret pissing all over the shop. Luckily, being the quick-witted, always prepared-type that I am, I managed to fight the waves of nausea, dizziness and a strangely enticing vision of the reaper beckoning me to a blissfully pain-free stupor just long enough to reach for the Leatherman and, with gritted teeth and hastily jerry-rigged torniquet in place, I wrenched the stiletto-like corpus alienum from my flesh. Then it was on with the pressure dressing and I'm stuffing my face with sugary morsels to counter the effects of the waves of shock (I'm sure I experienced ventricular tachycardia and arrhythmia and probably lots of other things with long unhealthy sounding names). Thank Christ-on-his-little-Rayleigh-bike I wasn't chucked out of cubs before getting my 'extreme survival badge'; and thank God-and-all-his-evil-impish-foot-soldiers another member of the ringing group was on-hand to drive me home. I think I'm on the mend now although I might need three weeks in some sunny clime to recover properly. Go careful out there folks.

[Oops, almost forgot. Here is a picture of the splinter and another of (what remains) of my finger, warning graphic images below.]

I know, I know, I feel sick just looking at the pictures, I think there might still be something still in there.

PS. In case you haven't already realised, the birding was pretty quiet today.

30 May 2008

A little bit harey

Nothing too exciting down on the levels this week, a trickle of passage waders was the only real suggestion of migration. Did bump into a few of these guys though,...

29 May 2008

Aberrant Grey Heron

Shot off this evening in search of the reported Purple Heron near Bishton, on arrival it became evident that the bird in question was an odd Grey Heron, either partially melanistic or very heavily soiled. Most of the upperparts were very dark grey and the remiges looked blackish; below, the flanks and part of the breast again appeared blackish whilst much of the belly, breast and neck were tinged an oily/rusty brown. The head and bill were pretty standard Grey Heron, though 'washed' with brownish. It spent most of the time hunched up at the edge of the field and eventually walked off into the field margin, it did not appear a picture of rude health. Unfortunately the weather did not make for quality photography, here's the best I could muster,...

Given the fact that the Purple Heron in Gloucestershire had disappeared a few days ago, I was pretty hopeful of adding to my Gwent list this evening, but nooooo, the curse of Gwent strikes again.

27 May 2008

Swearing is fine if it is necessary

The worst thing about doing a bird race is that, for weeks afterwards, you keep seeing all the species missed on the 'big day' (perhaps more accurately the 'mediocre day', in fact perhaps it should have been called a fuck-all race; indeed, while I'm at it, perhaps the new book should have been entitled 'The fuck-all of Gwent'). Anyway, today I was goaded by Red-legged Partridge, Little Owl, Stock Dove and, naturally enough, Sparrowhawk. I was not goaded by Siberian Blue Robin, Siberian Rubythroat or White-throated Robin, in fact I have never been goaded by any one of these species, I find them very ungoadly. If I had to be goaded, I would probably pick one of these to be goaded by. If there is a White-throated Robin reading this, I am awaiting my goading,... goadnight.

PS. Please note I have managed to avoid ranting about fat, ignorant, red and yellow lorry driving wankers who seem to think they live on a planet that is not being totally fucked up by global climate change and biodiversity loss and whose only interest in life is whether the can line their pockets with a few more quid - someone should give me a medal.

PPS. Please also note I have also managed to avoid ranting about fat, ignorant, self-publicising bastard MPs who seem to think they live on a planet that is not being totally fucked up by global climate change and biodiversity loss and whose only interest in life is keeping their seats at the next general election by pandering to drivers of knackered, old, gas-guzzling cars - someone should give me another medal.

24 May 2008

Bit of a slow one

A good wander round Uskmouth followed by quick visits to Goldcliff and Llanwern produced VERY little in the way of birds. The most notable 'highlights' were either: botanical, four species of orchid showing well; invertebrate, moffs, odonata, etc.; or mammalian, a lovely ickle baby fox. The only avian joys were, in rough order of joyousness, a brood of Stonechat (there is only one pair on the reserve), a Whimbrel or two, managing to read three metal rings on feral Greylags and the fattest gosling in the world EVER! Thank little baby Jeebus it is going to piss down for the next two days, I can now stay in tweaking my plans for next month's birding blitzkrieg of northern California (the Modoc Plateau or the Warner Mountains or both?).

23 May 2008

The amazing singing sheep

Imagine, if you will, a sweeping aerial view, a left-right camera pan through clouds and across snow-covered mountains before dipping into a green, wooded valley with steep cliffs that descend into a snow-fed lake. The hills are perfectly reflected in the mirror-like surface of the water. The camera moves over the landscape, alights on a meadow nestled between the peaks and zooms in to find a happy and joyous Maaaaria (Dolly Andrews) striding across the field in open-armed appreciation of the beauty of the surrounding peaks, she twirls and sings...

21 May 2008

Fight! Fight! Fight!

Watched a male Merlin kick seven shades of the sticky stuff out of a Carrion Crow yesterday (well out of county). Feisty little buggers aren't they?

PS. Note to Man plc fans, it'll take you another 18 years to get to five, at which point we'll probably have won eight. Liverpool FC - the true champions of Europe (bitter? Moi?).

20 May 2008

I know they're here somewhere

Whilst down at Goldcliff on Sunday I noticed this young Ringed Plover looking for his car keys; he still hadn't found them when I left three and a half hours later. You can tell he's a Ringed, as opposed to LRP, because the black line on the nape doesn't continue round and join across the forehead, other pointers towards Ringed are the lack of an iPod (LRPs don't leave home without them) and Ringed drive Toyotas whereas LRPs prefer Hondas. Finally, if you are still struggling with peewee plover ID, there is usually an adult stood about six feet away.

19 May 2008

Pipe and slippers

The result is in (sort of), it is still unofficial but it would appear the other teams got totals of about 108 and 102/103. So, unless some Mugabe-esque recount occurs, we won by a fair chalk/country mile/[add preferred cliche here]. I wonder what the reward is? Will we be able to retire on the prize money? Will we allow the fame to change us? Will we be hounded by the Gwentish tabloid press? Let's hope so.

18 May 2008

The final score

It mostly went to plan, crappy weather and a couple of dubious tactical decisions probably cost us a few species, but in general I think we did alright. Given that it took us 45 minutes to register a single species and we dipped on two of our first three targets (largely due to the weather 'up-county'), I'm amazed we didn't retire somewhere around breakfast time. Luckily things picked up and we clocked 80 by about 08:00 and were over the ton before midday. The afternoon then became a battle of attrition and as dusk loomed fatigue was taking its toll. By the time we decided to end the pointless proceedings one team member had a severe limp, another could only stand for short periods and communication was being carried out in shlurred shingle shyllables. We probably should have bagged Little Owl and Water Rail before surrendering but we just couldn't be arsed.

The Gwent day record, which had stood since 1991 (largely due to the fact that no idiot could be bothered to do a bird race in a largely birdless county) had been 111, so we comfortably surpassed that one. Mind you, what with the appearance of the Newport Wetlands since the last attempt, I think we'd have hung up our bins if we hadn't beaten it. As usual a smorgasboard of species eluded us the worst being: Sparrowhawk, Red-legged Partridge, Water Rail, Snipe, Stock Dove, Little Owl, Kingfisher, Grasshopper Warbler, Willow Tit and Lesser Redpoll. Equally predictable, was the fact we stumbled onto one or two birds we hadn't counted on with Little Stint, Arctic Skua, Mediterranean Gull, 'Commic' Tern (does that count?) and Fulmar the 'highlights'. If we had managed to turn an incredibly dull Little Stint into something a bit more interesting it would have helped but reality intervened (it will be interesting to see if any team claims Temminck's at Goldcliff).

I'm guessing, with today's better weather, the teams finishing tonight might have done rather well; we may yet be able to claim the title of 'the briefest holders of a county day record ever'. Will update when I know more...

16 May 2008

The calm before the storm

This week, I have been mostly counting Lapwings, Peewits and Green Plovers.

Also bumped into a few Garganey, a smattering of Whimbrel and sundry non-birds including Gatekeeper, Mother Shipton, Hares, a dead sheep and my favourite moo-cow (Freddy the English White, here shown on the left, on the right Andrew Flintoff, England's best all-rounder since the last poor bloke who got called the 'new Ian Botham').

15 May 2008


Spent this morning wandering about in rather persistent and oftentimes heavy rain; saw the square root of diddly-fuck-all too. Unfortunately, as we all know, boys (not unlike wicked witches of the wests) melt on contact with water,... and I sooooo nearly made it back to the car.

You cur-sed rain!, look what you've done!, I'm melting! What a world! Who would've thought a little low pressure system like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness! (Or something like that anyway).

14 May 2008

As the bird race looms

As Saturday draws near, here is a thoughtful insight into the World Series Birding event brought to you by the hee-hee-hilarious folks at Comedy Central and the over-scripted 80s throw-back Jon Stewart...

How will Gwent compare to New Jersey? I think we know the answer to that one. Unless county rares (e.g. Woodlarks, Red-footed Falcons and the like) just start appearing all over the place,... wait a minute...

12 May 2008

The stilt's done gone

Have a look at this shot of 'our' stilt, last seen on Thursday, and compare it to this one (you might have to scroll down) of a bird in Hampshire, first located on Saturday. Is it just me, or do they both have the same amount of white around the eye and an identical fleck of white just up and behind the eye?

11 May 2008

Hot 'n' hairy

Forgot to mention, yesterday the highlight of the 'seawatch' was a Hairy Dragonfly coming in off; picked it up in the scope quite a way out heading straight at me, it then veered off and tazzed west along the sea-wall, all very odd. Anyway, today there were quite a few down at a rather warm Uskmouth, briefly attempted a photo but failed miserably.

Had another 25 Cetti's to add to yesterday's, ending with a total of about 55 males. Along with the birds across the grasslands and at Goldcliff it is looking like a reserve total of about 70. Whilst sticking the gear back in the car hot-off-the-press news of a Garganey meant a little detour before heading home for the footy.

10 May 2008

A rat as big as your head

Most of my morning at Uskmouth was spent working my way from this...

... to this...

... via 30 other variations on a theme. Apart from the Cetti's and a huuuge Brown Rat there was very little else of interest. Goldcliff wasn't an awful lot better, a trickle of Common and Black-headed Gulls was the reward for a self-imposed sentence of one and a half hours on the sea-wall. I was going to do two hours (gawd knows why) but after the first 30 minutes I was ready to pack it in, unfortunately I then got into the train of thought that goes like this...

Sensible voice in head: "Right, that's it I'm off"
Masochistic voice in head: "But if I leave something is bound to fly past"
Conflict resolution voice in head: "OK, five more minutes"

Sensible voice in head: "Right, that's it I'm off"
Masochistic voice in head: "But if I leave something is bound to fly past"
Conflict resolution voice in head: "OK, five more minutes"

Sensible voice in head: "Right, that's it I'm off"
Masochistic voice in head: "But if I leave something is bound to fly past"
Conflict resolution voice in head: "OK, five more minutes"

Sensible voice in head: "Right, that's it I'm off"
Masochistic voice in head: "But if I leave something is bound to fly past"
Conflict resolution voice in head: "OK, five more minutes"

Sensible voice in head: "F**k it! You two can do what you like, I'm off home to listen to the football"
Masochistic voice in head: "Doesn't he know the games are all on tomorrow?"
Conflict resolution voice in head: [BLAM!]
Sensible voice in head: "Oh dear, he'll be sorely missed"
Masochistic voice in head: "No he won't,... bit odd though isn't it, I mean where do you suppose he got the shotgun from?"
Sensible voice in head: "I know, a firearm in an auditory hallucination, that's bonkers".

08 May 2008

Sex and long-legged birds

I can't remember who I was talking to yesterday, but somebody was suggesting the stilt was a male due to the dark crown, nape and hindneck; I thought a dark crown, nape and hindneck suggested a female, turns out we were both wrong (as is the Collins Guide).

Turning to Himantopus himantopus himantopus in a few venerable tomes (as you do), BWP describes breeding adult males as "Crown down to eye, nape, and hindneck black, frequently intermixed with all or partly white feathers, rest of head and neck white; occasionally, all head and neck white, except for some black-tipped feathers on hindcrown or nape; exceptionally all head white" and breeding adult females as "Head and neck white, frequently dappled black on nape, crown, or upper hindneck; at times, even darker than male partner."

Well that's all as clear as mud then. 'Shorebirds' is a touch less nebulous stating "sexing by head pattern is hazardous owing to individual and geographical variation; in most populations is likely to be whiter-headed than female" I think may well be where I got my 'white head = male' from, they then go on to describe adult male as "Crown and hindneck patterns vary from pure white to dusky-grey, but black patterning of other races is absent" and adult female as "crown and hindneck patterns show same extent of variation as in male."

Praters 'Holarctic guide' is the only one to really cut through the bollocks though with "All colour patterns of crown and nape occur in both sexes". Well that's sorted that out then.

PS. I did remember the Elmley birds correctly, the male of the pair was the white-headed bird (see here).

07 May 2008


The purple patch continues with Broad-billed Sand and Temminck's Stint both on the first lagoon at Goldcliff this evening. The Broad-billed Sand had been found yesterday but, due to various unfortunate occurrences including (and I quote) "some old codger saying it was just a Dunlin", did not get reported until lunchtime today. Luckily it was still present this evening and, even more luckily, a Temminck's dropped out of the sky to join it. Two nice big ticks on my list of 'birds I have seen within the borders of the county of Gwentcestershire'; three in three days, I hope it slows down or it'll make maintaining the bitter and twisted tone of this blog a right old effort.

And now for the photographic masterpiece you have come to expect...

05 May 2008

And again

The alarm went off at 04:10 today, out of the house by 04:35; this weekend has become some sort of birding stamina test. A morning at Uskmouth produced another mixed singing Willow Warbler [this one singing an awful lot of tsilp/tsalp notes, probably slightly higher pitched than most Chiffchaffs, at various points in relation to normal phrases (unlike the bird a few days ago which sang less of them and always as an introduction to normal phrases)] and a Red Kite (patch-tick!).

Arrived back home about lunchtime and proceeded to eat, snooze, wake-up, snooze, drink coffee, listen to footy, drink more coffee... When suddenly,... the peaceful idyll was shattered with the news that a Black-winged Stilt was pottering around at Goldcliff! Three phone-calls and five minutes later, it's off to the pools. By the time we had arrived the stilt had snuck off unseen to a place unknown, 15 minutes of much scannage ensued. Eventually the bird appeared on the back lagoon and proceeded to show well, if distantly, for the assembled masses (all 10 of us), despite one or two of the Avocets being less than welcoming.

Two patch-ticks in a day,... nice.

04 May 2008

An early start

Crawled out of bed at 04:15, down on the reserve by 05:05, is this normal behaviour on a Sunday morning? Singing Gropper and flyover Marsh Harrier at Uskmouth and a rather smart Black Tern at Goldcliff were the highlights of the morning. The tern would have been pretty good, if only some blighter in Glamorgan hadn't trumped it with a Whiskered,... buggerybollockytwatbag!

PS. Did you know there's a man with a mullet going mad with a mallet in Millets? Or at least, so say Messers Blackwell, Crossley, Hancock and Henry.

02 May 2008

An ickle trickle

The migrants have been coming in dribs and drabs this week. Marsh Harrier, Greenshank, Whimbrel, Curlew Sandpiper, Cuckoo, Yellow Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Wheatear and Garden Warbler have all appeared at the NWR, in varying doses. In concert the aforementioned have managed to maintain some vague impression of spring passage and drag the birding mood out of the usual wrist slitting Gwentish gloom. If anything, the mammals have done as much to improve the general disposition as the birds with both Badger and Hare popping up. Large Red Damselflies have also been appearing this week,... I can barely contain myself.

[Note to self: don't listen to Radiohead whilst writing posts (even if Thom Yorke is bashing away at a tambourine on the track, Thom on tambourine! Whatever next,... kazoo?)]