31 December 2009

Quick look, quick post

A quick look at the top end of Boat Lane produced 5 Ruff, 6 Golden Plover and 16 Black-tailed Godwit amongst 600+ Lapwing; also had 13 Stock Dove on the opposite side of the road. Must dash...

30 December 2009

... and whither the weather is bound.

Some books to spend your Xmas money on, if you're interested (and you should be) in this sort of thing:

Helm, D. & Hepburn, C. (eds.) (2009). The Economics and Politics of Climate Change
Mackay, D.J.C. (2009). Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air (Available for FREE here!)
Mittermeier, R.A., et al. (2008). A Climate For Life: Meeting the Global Challenge
Stern, N. (2009). A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How to Manage Climate Change and Create a New Era of Progress and Prosperity

NB: 1. these books are unlikely to make you laugh out loud (especially post-COP15); 2. all are available from the lovely people here; 3. only Mittermeier et al. has nice pretty pictures in it; and 4. if the topic of global climate change is not your sort of thing then, in the spirit of public service blogging, I'd suggest either this or this (depending on your personal preferences).

29 December 2009

Whether the weather is good...

Seven hours in the field with very few birds to show for it. Did have a smörgåsbord of weather though, mostly on the rainy theme, but a good variety nonetheless. We had everything from hissing and icy, via heavy, percussive and persistent through to floaty and globular before sleet and then, eventually, wet snow (the type the Yupik and Inuit, with the rich terminology for the white stuff, would call 'shitty').

28 December 2009

Magical mystery tour

A quick tazz round produced more grockles and dog walkers than birds, did manage one female Merlin going through the power station, one Avocet on the west bank of the Usk, three Stonechat and a Chiffchaff at Uskmouth; two Ruff, one Greenshank, one feral Barnacle Goose and 25+ Snipe at Boat Lane; one Spotted Redshank and one Green Sandpiper at Goldcliff Pools; and naff all at Redwick and Ynys-y-fro Reservoir.

26 December 2009

Great shrike

Jack got his second shrike today, not much else though, heathland (even the very best quality Surrey/Hants border heathland) in the winter is hard work - the odd Darty, a distant Crossbill and the nice ickle blighter above and that was that.

24 December 2009

Burp, fart, snore

If anyone needs me (or Jack) over the next couple of days we'll either be eating, drinking, or sleeping off the effects of eating and/or drinking. Might sneak some birding in somewhere but can't see it being anything too strenuous. As I think someone once said - "Happy bloomin' Xmas". Or, to be more precise,... "Happy bloomin' Saturnalia/pagan festival that was co-opted by the early Christians in an attempt to replace the traditional belief structure with the 'new' fairy story emanating from the Middle East". Why can't I find cards with that on in the post office?

23 December 2009

Neigh, neigh and thrice neigh

Spent most of today's meagre daylight hours at lovely Avonmouth; nothing too exciting, had to make do with a few Chiffchaff (all collybita looking/sounding), Stonechat and Snipe, plus a lone Blackcap. Most of the interest was passing overhead with 13 Golden Plover heading southwest along with a dose of Lapwing.

Almost forgot, a Barn Owl flopped across the M4 just west of the Magor turning,... and goodnight.

22 December 2009

Pretty cold

The view from my 'obs'. No Bramblings on the feeders and no flyover Lapwings; so far, this weather has done nothing to enhance the birding reputation of the Aberquimcum valley. It's amazing what the thinnest of white veneers does to the look of the place though,... you can hardly make out the scrambler-induced erosion when a touch of the white stuff has fallen.

21 December 2009

Brillo-haired monster vanquished!

In honour of the recent triumph of music over institutionalized mediocrity and pre-packaged shite, I give you Iffy Biro's acoustic (more festive feeling?) version of 'Killing in the Name'.

20 December 2009

Green bins, discuss

Seems to be a fair few Black Redstarts about this winter so it wasn't too surprising to find one at Uskmouth Power Station this morning. Unfortunately, just as I was composing the perfect shot of black redstartedness, some muppet wandered right across my line. The only other mentionables were four Golden Plovers amongst Lapwing on the Saltmarsh Grasslands and a rather striking leucistic Blackbird outside Liswerry College.

PS. The girlfriend also had "loads" (about 50) Crossbills at Craig Fapi near Forest Drive this morning.

19 December 2009

Do Kingfishers dream of fishy sheep?

In lieu of a very large, pale falcon in Glamorgan; I made do with a very small, dark falcon in Gwent. The female Merlin is still knocking about down the bottom of the Farmfield Lane, its finchy larder seems a bit depleted though, most of the Greenfinch appear to have buggered off. The only other eyebrow raiser was a Kingfisher that took a short-cut through the game crop.

Pull back and centre,... enhance 34 to 46,... pull back, wait a minute,... pull right,... stop,... enhance 15 to 23,... give me a hard copy right there.

18 December 2009

COP-out looming

"It's a lot of uptight, middle-aged men doing the negotiations, who need to see through their particular little spheres of self-interest..." - Thom Yorke
Should we really be surprised that a large number of old, rich men, who have done just fine fucking the world to this point, aren't going to produce the required outcome from COP15? Given that the ruling elites of China, USA, India and Europe will, due to their positions of monied power, be able to insulate their friends and families from the risks of water-induced conflicts, issues of food and energy security and the unrest induced by migratory pressures (at least in the short-term), is it not just the slightest bit predictable that the best to come out of the COP circus is likely to be a few gallons of green-wash and a thinly veiled two finger salute to every other fucker that walks, crawls or flies on this planet? Would it have been different if Katrina had totalled New York as opposed to New Orleans? What if Beijing was disappearing under the waves not Tuvalu? Oh well, next year is supposed to be a more active year for hurricanes in the Atlantic, perhaps one will take out Manhattan and COP16 will be undertaken in an atmosphere of greater urgency.

Addendum: it's even worse than I thought it would be, COP15 has produced absolutely nothing. Ab-so-fucking-lutely nothing. They haven't even produced a document that requires signing off by the heads of state. Laughable. Obama is hamstrung by the Republicans; and China and India aren't going to take any significant steps until every member of their populations has a BMW, a 32" plasma TV and a Tesco loyalty card.

Addendum 2: the bad news just keeps coming, two of the more significant outcomes of COP15 are that the Chinese have agreed to some level of outside scrutiny with regard to carbon usage (albeit they haven't agreed to any targets, so there is nothing to scrutinise) and, in return, the Chinese have had the long-term target of halving emissions by 2050 dropped from the accord (and, presumably, any future agreement).

17 December 2009

A mystery demystified?

"... any Chiffchaff producing a typical tristis call should be a tristis, providing that plumage and bare-part colorations remain within the limits described..." van den Berg (2009).
I have my doubts about our current approach to Chiffchaffs but, if this is where the goal posts are at, and apparently it is (for now at least), then I had a classic Siberian Chiffchaff in Avon/North Somerset/South Gloucestershire/some geographically schizophrenic location this morning. I was working at the time so, unfortunately, I didn't have DSLR or recording equipment with me, but I'll have another look next week. In the meantime, if you're in the Avonmouth area, take a wander down Lawrence Weston Road, the bird was showing very well (and heard to call) just past the incinerator site in the trees/bushes on either side of the road opposite the brewery distribution depot. In addition, two or three Ruddy Ducks were at the 'square pool' near Avonmouth Sewage Works along with a good dose of native wildfowl.

NB. As often seems to be the case nowadays the reference you need is from Dutch Birding not BB or Birding World, details as follows: van den Berg, A. (2009). Calls, identification and taxonomy of Siberian Chiffchaff: an analysis. Dutch Birding 31: 79-85.

15 December 2009

Rise up little souls,... wage the unwinnable war

This morning The Daily Express published an online article containing a list of 100 'reasons' why global warming is natural (see http://www.dailyexpress.co.uk/posts/view/146138). The 'reasons' were presented as fact (under the subtitle "UK News") not as editorial comment or conjecture. Within hours the New Scientist blog had published rebuttals for the first 50 of the 'reasons' (see http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2009/12/50-reasons-why-global-warming.html), the other 50 were so derisory as to be not worthy of response. Each 'reason' was shown to be inaccurate, misleading or a distortion of fact.

Editorial arse gravy of this sort, masquerading as erstwhile alternative theory, is no longer simply ignorant scepticism in the face of overwhelming evidence and international scientific consensus; it is a conscious and malicious attempt to distort facts and misinform a public that is all too ready to cling to comfortable lies in the face of a very uncomfortable reality. This continual assertion of mistruths also seems to be in flagrant disregard of the first clause of the The Press Complaints Commission's Editors' Code of Practice (parts i and iii). Personally, I am so bored of this blatent pedalling of self-interested shite as fact, I have made a complaint to the PCC, almost certainly an act of flawless futility; however, if you would like to do the same (it only takes a few minutes, and feel free to copy and paste any of the above) see http://www.pcc.org.uk/complaints/process.html.

13 December 2009


A few hours at the bottom of Farmfield Lane produced a couple of sightings of a female Merlin and a pair of Stonechat. The flock of 300+ finches didn't appear to harbour anything exciting, couldn't even rustle up a Brambling; did see a one-eyed Cetti's Warbler though.

Merlin, when the baddies look this good who cares if the rest is shire.

12 December 2009

A bit more brown

Jack ticked the Brown Shrike today, during the process we both got slightly muddier than was strictly necessary but did get to chuckle, in typically childish fashion, at the little band of scope-pack wearing, RSPB cafe inhabitants who form the majority at these last knockings twitches. Oh, what larks!

07 December 2009

Oh, most mournful 'Anas, alack!'

Six hours in the field, three in pouring precipitation,... laaaaavely! The day was made all the better for lacking anything of real ornithological note, although a Mallard x Pintail hybrid appeared, post-deluge, amongst the Mallards (perhaps hybrid ducks fall from the clouds, a birding biblical plague, sent to try us by the big bearded birding pixie).

Two things to ponder whilst you peek at the pics: 1. this appears to be one of the less variable and easy to ID hybrids (see the following for photos of living, dead and long dead specimens; and here for a smorgasboard of all manner of Mallard hybrid action); and 2. auto white balance is an, as yet, imperfect feature on the Coolpix 5100 (although, as ever, pilot error remains a possible explanation for the faux 'warmth' in the first image).

For the record, whilst this hybrid combination appears to occur quite regularly 'in the wild', the origin of the bird above is clouded by the fact that a Wood Duck hybrid was found in almost exactly the same spot a couple of weeks back (it looks like a Wood Duck x Wigeon sp. to me, however, I didn't see it in the field and am only going on the phone-scoped image below [when I originally looked at it on the phone, my first thought was Wigeon x Mallard, oops!]. Presumably somebody not too far away is: a. putting the wrong ducks with the wrong drakes; and b. totally inept at keeping the questionable results in their cages.

Image courtesy of a bull,... wait a minute, let me try that again,... Image courtesy of A. Bull.

Should you feel the need, images of various Wood Duck hybrids (including Wigeon and Chiloe Wigeon combinations) are here; Wood Duck x Mallard pics are here; and Wood Duck x Pintail pics are here,... the very epitome of bedtime reading I think we can all agree,... zzzzz.

05 December 2009

Melt-in-the-mouth meat

Still present, still feeding on fetid lamb and still looking surprisingly good for it.

Hey good lookin', what's your secret?

Well, I eat a healthy breakfast of grey sheep flesh, followed by a light lunch of grey sheep flesh and round the day off with a grey sheep flesh supper,... it's nutritious, low in calories and tastes great. Gives me gosh awful wind mind, I'm having to sleep with my nose upwind of my arse and, at the office, I've been banned from using the lift.

PS. Forgot to mention, also had Redpoll and low-flying Helmeted Guineafowl at beautiful Beachley.

01 December 2009

Illegal bird trapping in Gwent

Just in case anyone doesn't visit the GOS homepage,...

Last Thursday an illegally set net (probably aimed at trapping finches) was found on the Newport Wetland Reserve which resulted in the death of a Reed Bunting (luckily, a number of other birds were released). If you see anything suspicious on the reserve please contact either the CCW reserve manager (Kevin Dupe) on 01633 275813 or the the Police Wildlife Liaison Officer for Newport (Tony Williams) on 01633 244999. There have been suspicious reports of bird trapping elsewhere on the levels in the past, so keep please your eyes open whenever out and about.

Mist-netting of birds to be ringed as part of the BTO Ringing Scheme is undertaken by the Goldcliff Ringing Group on the reserve (though largely on private parts of the site), and at other sites in the county. BTO ringers check their nets at 15-30 minute intervals (depending on conditions) so should be regularly visible and are pretty approachable and happy to answer queries but, if you see anything suspicious, err on the side of caution and contact the numbers above.

According to the RSPB website, last year, they received 64 reports of the illegal taking, possession or sale of wild birds (other than birds of prey) across the UK, these predominately involved finches. There is a market both in the UK and Europe (e.g. Malta) and birds fetch £40+ for the bastards doing the selling. As someone once said,... keep 'em peeled.

28 November 2009

Goldie Lookin' Plover

A wander around the western half of the Uskmouth Lagoons late morning/early afternoon produced 1-2 Peregrine, 4 Water Rail, 15 Cetti's and 6 Siskin. Dusk at Goldcliff wasn't much better, although the leucistic female Lapwing and a single Golden Plover were amongst the best part of 1,000 Lapwing on the first lagoon.

Amongst a whole lot of these...

... was one of these.

27 November 2009

November has been kind

Had a little count this evening, turns out yesterday's (and still present) phalarope was the 215th species I have slapped eyes on within the bounds of Gwent (plus Quail which I've only slapped ears on). Bit ropey as county lists go, but it is a great excuse to upload another photo of the cheeky little chappy.

26 November 2009

Reservoir in 'quite good' shocker!

A bright point in the middle of, an otherwise, dreary day...

I can see I'm going to have to think up a new nickname for Llareggub; two Gwent ticks in five days, that's bordering on not shit that is.

25 November 2009

I'm going to heaven

Today went a bit like this...
A tragicomedy in one long drawn out (and ongoing) act
By someone who should really know better

Act I (continued), scene iii
Scene: morning in an early 20th century house, a phone rings once, twice, thrice...
Enter Me

Me: (picking up phone) Hello?
Voice of county recorder: There's a Black/White-bellied Storm-petrel off Severn Beach... (the voice is drowned out by high volume screaming and arrhythmic percussive sounds as the stage is drenched in buckets of fake blood thrown from the wings)

(the rest of the scene consists of five hours of abstract improvised freeform contemporary dance, interspersed with alternating mime and primal scream sequences expressing shock, a lack of milk in the fridge, manic phone calls, the hinderance of the M4/M48, being asked "So, what does one of these look like anyway?", plotting the untimely demise of the creators of TurdForum, the inevitable crushing gloom of the dip and the act of carving "Fregetta sp." into one's forearm alongside "Magnificent Frigatebird" and "Yellow-nosed Albatross".)

Exeunt Me
A dark work I think you'll agree, but just the latest offering in a long tradition of birding related art; did you know Francisco Goya's Black Paintings were produced as a direct result of dipping Spain's first Lesser Flamingo.

Birder and the wrong sort of petrel.

Pom Skua just after it harried a large yellow lorry on the Severn Bridge.

PS. And why am I going to heaven? One of my pre-leaving manic phone calls resulted in a colleague connecting with the flipping bird, I couldn't negate that sort of positive ornithological karma in a lifetime of trying.

23 November 2009

Birds report

Der-dum, der-dum, der-dum, der-dum, der-diddly-dum-der-dum

Good evening and welcome to Birds Report live from Abercwimcum, the headlines: Pom Skua takes over at the top with a confident display in today's early kick-off; Jack Snipe come from 1 - 0 down to triumph 2 - 1 away to Water Pipit; and, after a strong showing at the weekend, Little Gull are beaten by fellow strugglers Kittiwake. Coming up, we'll hear from Tel O'Scope on a good day in trying conditions but first a full check on the classified birding results with James Ferguson Lees Alexander Gordon:

Pomarine Skua 1 - Great Skua 0
Kittiwake 1 - Little Gull 0
Water Pipit 1 - Jack Snipe 2

And finally...
Wigeon x Mallard hybrid against Leach's Petrel match postponed.

[What does any of that mean?! I'll tell you what it means,... they put too much sugar in Tesco's doughnuts, that's what it means!]

PS. Naturally, none of the species mentioned above were seen within the borders of the county from which this blog gets the first of its three titular syllables.

22 November 2009

A bit of little action

Another Weekendbirder text message, another scramble to the motor and, a short drive later, I'm standing in another downpour watching one of the better looking larids daintily picking an erratic path across the murky moistness of Llareggub. Cracking little creature and my first for for the county,... scher-weeet.

A Gwent tick, a very palpable Gwent tick.

PS. The bird showed reasonably well at the dam end of the reservoir, albeit regularly buggering off out into the middle, still present just before dark, so almost certainly roosted.

20 November 2009

Plastic pants

Spent the day walking around with my waterproof trousers on backwards. It took me four hours of traipsing seawall and saltmarsh at Peterstone to realise my mishtake, by which time I'd manage to not find the Snow Bunting and avoid the two Black Redstarts both, possibly, the result of the trouser malwearance (actually the lack of Black Redstart might have had something to do with the fact I stopped short of the blockhouse but anyhoo...). I did see at least 10 Water Pipits (eight together at one point) but that was about that. Checked a few fields at the West Usk/Ebbw estuary end of the levels on the way home but, apart from the tip attracting a decent number of gulls in the distance, only Stonechats broke the tedium.

On returning home all thoughts of boredom were banished, Birding World had appeared and Jack threw up (twice), I do not know if the two were related, they may well have been.

19 November 2009

A bit flash

And Gosh said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And Gosh saw the light, that it was good: and Gosh divided the light from the darkness with clever use of a Nikon SB900 and a flash extender.

You can never have enough toys,...

18 November 2009

The many-named ladybird

The most invasive ladybird on Earth arrived today; unless I'm horribly wrong, the above picture is a Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis f. succinea looking for somewhere to bed down on a knackered old CD player/radio (for more information see here). In addition to Harlequin, this critter also goes by the name of Asian, Japanese, Multicolored Asian, Halloween, Multivariate, Southern, and Pumpkin Ladybird,... which is nice.

14 November 2009

Not quite Little Auk

Went looking for some post-storm feathered flotsam this afternoon. Ynys-y-fro didn't produce, although the number of gulls had jumped; Goldcliff Pools also lacked quality but the 300 or so Shelduck did have another Tadorna hybrid in their midst (see superb, 70mph wind enhanced, video grabs below). Got to Goldcliff Point for the last half hour of decent light, the first bird to appear in the Swarovski was an Arctic Skua (not too bad), then Weekendbirder pulled out a Great Northern Diver heading down channel (not bad at all) and a couple of Kittiwake rounded things off. Not quite Little Auk or Grey Phal but you take what you're given round here.

Seemingly a different bird to those in Breconshire a couple of months back.

13 November 2009

There's a storm brewin'

Given this morning's BBC weather map looked liked this...

... I just nipped to Ynys-y-fro, counted the Pochard (all 18 of them) and returned to Castle Gloom to batten down the hatches and refloat last season's ark. Thought listening to the cricket (if Twenty20 qualifies as cricket) might provide a little vicarious respite, but now it's pissing in Jo'burg too.

12 November 2009


A couple of Med Gulls were the best of a slightly disappointing haul today. Did stumble over this on my return though. Apparently Big Bird would shit himself if you told him the truth about climate change, bit odd,... I'd have thought Oscar would be a recycling guru by now.

That's it Ernie, get that description off to the county recorder.

Today's post has been brought to you today by the letter M and the number 2. This blog is not a production of the Children's Television Workshop.

11 November 2009

In need of a biggy

This weeks tally of half-interesting species continues to grow, today Bewick's Swans, Woodcock, Black Redstart, Chiffchaff, more Bramblings, Crossbill and more Yellowhammers were added to Monday's Whooper Swans, Swallow, Rock Pipits, Water Pipit, Brambling, Yellowhammer and Lapland Bunting. Supporting cast bagged, just need a proper rare to be the star of the show now.

PS. Rest easy, all the above is occurring comfortably beyond the Gwent boundary.

09 November 2009

Tardy Swallow

Actually bumped into one or two half-decent birds today and, as hammering everyone's bandwidth is all the rage, I thought I'd spoil you with some moving pictures of a Swallow that might not be moving for much longer.

08 November 2009

Go faster forks

Two days flogging the dead horse that is Gwent, and the promise of a week in the field to come, meant I opted for a spin on the bike followed by a day of indoor chores (WRP stuff, Azores stuff, stuff stuff, stuff-stuff-stuff-stuff-stuff, etc.). The ride was basically just wide and fast, or at least, potentially fast, if you don't keep easing back to register Siskin, Bullfinch, Goldcrest, etc., and stopping to check Dipper spots. Lets just say, not exactly an adrenaline-jolt-ball-shrinker but then you don't have a cat's chance of bagging Goshawk, Crossbill or Brambling on some tight-arsed, super techy downhill or a balls-out, rip-roaring airborne speedfest on which, by the time you have worked out what "screaming road gap", "corkscrew", "dropaway" and "tabletop" actually mean, you have used your face as a brake and your abiding memories of the day out are restricted to the rhythmic throb of air ambulance rotors.

The view from the handle-bars, magic red forks showing well, knackered hydraulic disks showing (and working) very poorly indeed; oak, beech, birch and larch,... now where are those Crossbills?

07 November 2009

Tits, feck, arse and tits

This morning's attempt on Collister Pill was totally buggered by one of the local farmers shuffling his herd, I didn't even get to the saltmarsh and narrowly avoided having several mobile tonnes of beef put a new slant on my paintwork. Magor Marsh held all the usual but nothing more, and Redwick/Porton didn't exactly get the heart pumping either. Should have stayed in bed.

Another mediocre image of a dirt common bird,... because there just aren't enough on the internet already.

06 November 2009

The Jack Snipe Game

Couldn't relocate the Twite this morning, mind you, only seeing the Linnet flock (now a 20 strong throng) in flight heading towards the Glamorgan boundary didn't help. Did see a few Water Pipits (no more than two at any one time though), plus singles of Blackcap and Chiffchaff. I was also presented with a perfect opportunity to immerse myself in The Jack Snipe Game.

Naturally enough, I can't go into details, the very mention of the game is probably too much for the more draconian members of the order, but think of it as something akin to Das Glasperlenspiel plus mud. I can divulge that today's period of play lead me to momentarily doubt the existence of the snipe, then, in turn, the existence of the saltmarsh and I was left knowing only I persisted in an anchorless, undifferentiated time and space. It was only via a fleeting understanding of the primal homology of snipe and marsh, and yet the fragmentary internal nature of each within the basal human consciousness, that I began to harmonise search image with quarry and found the snipe (or allowed the snipe's presence to form in my reality by way of retina, nerve and cortex) - a new way of seeing the snipe! A break through moment for someone at my level I think you'll agree. And how did I do overall? Well, I'll let you decide (pics below), suffice to say, I performed to my current position in the grand hierarchy of things, not exactly Magister Ludi but I persist with my struggle towards a dynamic fusion of meditative mind and meaning within nature, and continue to peer blindly into the internal cosmic mystery that is... Lymnocryptes minimus.

And I looked, and behold a small horsegok: and his name that sat on him was Jack, and Hell followed with him [before you ask, I was listening to Johnny Cash, not reading Revelations].

03 November 2009

Azores FAQs: part four

Corvo is pretty much perfect if you enjoy finding your birds and marvelling at the chaos wrought by inclement weather. It might seem the island presents a blissfully easy way to bag Yankee rares; in order to provide some balance, I feel duty bound to outline those facets of the experience that might not sit comfortably with one and all. Therefore, prepare yourselves for... the dark side [cue rhythmic pounding of timpani or discordant blast of brass].

1. The lack of common migrants. A bit of a double-edged sword this one. On the one hand, it is quite easy to spend six hours with nothing more to trouble the retinas than Blackcap, Chaffinch and Blackbird; the flip-side is that, by becoming accustomed to every call, squeak and fart emitted by the regulars, one day you'll find yourself chasing an unseen bill-snap through the canopy knowing full well you are just about to nail something very exciting indeed.

2. The distinct possibility of breaking one's neck. The sides of the ribeiras are steep, coated in a reddish clay-like sediment (that goes all Bon Jovi after rain), and littered with decrepit stone walls with an unerring ability to collapse at the least useful moment. One day someone will have a serious accident in one of those valleys. If Corvo doesn't get you in a single fatal blow, the sheer physical grind of birding an upturned cone of petrified volcanic rage is sure to wear you down in the end. The only sizeable area of almost flat ground is the platform on which the village perches, beyond that, it is all gradient: caldera and cones, radial faults and basaltic dykes, they are all a bit 'upsy-downsy'.

3. Extreme weather. Another example of the double-edged weaponry which litters the rarity finding battlefield. Every year we beseech the ornithological gods for another hurricane season like 2005, we sit under anticyclones hoping for a storm so big it destroys another city, we revel in the increasing frequency of extreme weather events (keep burning the carbons folks) but, one day, a blow will come through that will rip the roof off the Comodoro, or a perfect storm that'll pluck a birder from the crater's rim and deposits them, head first, into the top of a Cryptomeria and we'll all wish we'd been botanists.

4. Travel woes. You pretty much have to like flying in planes big and small; on my last journey home I had five flights (this must be one of the few places you can do this and remain in Europe). Changing flights can be something akin to [well you think up something that should be straightforward but is inexplicably impossible]. Also, if the wind is coming from the wrong quarter the flight is cancelled; if the wind is out of the north there'll be no discussion, no chance and no plane.

5. Mental fatigue. Finding small birds in big valleys choked with sub-tropical secondary growth is tiring. Each day's toil erodes the cerebral defences, consumes the mental reserves and chips away at your belief in the redemption promised by the big one. The creeping, then rampant, agoraphobia; the rushing wings of the Corvo wraiths, at first, just perceptible in the depths of the darkest ribeira, become, by the end of a ten day stay, a constant, hounding cacophony. Crushed birders cower at the foot of walls, grazed flesh pressed against unforgiving alkaline basalt; gently rocking, their eyes white, wide, wild. The thrashing canopy closes in, the 'chink, chink' of aggravated finches piercing tympanic membranes, the 'tack, tack' of insistent Blackcaps tearing along shredded auditory nerves to explode in clusters on the superior gyrus of your, now crumbling, temporal lobe. And finally, there you are, trapped in a verdent 'Scream' or stumbling through a 'Guernica' of Atlantic Gulls and shattered windmills. Quietly violent, unbearably intense, unreal; this is birding in the foaming maw of an Atlantic breaker of existential anguish,...

...nothing that a cuppa and a slice of Rosa's chocolate cake can't put right mind :-)

Missing the flyby Double-crested Cormorant proved too much.

PS. I didn't even mention the limited diet - ham & cheese anyone?

01 November 2009

Nice little surprise

A valiant, though ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to see the Peterstone Firecrest produced a nice little spin-off this afternoon. Despite five Gwent birders (that's as near to a twitch as we get round here) coming and going from the environs of the church, the natty little crest remained unseen. However, during a quick wander to the sea-wall, Nathan heard an interesting call and (to cut a long story of mud slippage, wet footery and near talocrural breakage short) it turned out to be an initially flighty, then bastardishly skulky, Twite. After several hours of effort, I got one decent, but flipping brief, view on the deck and a few flight views, not ideal but - GER-WENT TER-TICK! Even got an absolutely brilliant photograph as I'm sure you'll agree...

The first Twite in the county since 2002 (I think). Whaddya mean "Which one is it?"

31 October 2009

Couldn't hit a phyllosc's arse with a banjo

Went looking for a Gwentish Yellow-browed, Firecrest or better today (it would appear my rampant ornithological optimism persists). Magor Marsh was very quiet: 1 Blackcap, 1 Stonechat, 1 Kingfisher, 3 Water Rail, 1 Tawny Owl and 4 Cetti's were about the sum of it. About 600 Woodpigeons headed westwards with the odd Stock Dove but the only other vis mig consisted of a few thrushes and a very few Skylark and finches. On the way to Redwick found a flock of approximately 300 pigeons/doves, managed to count 80 Stock Dove before the local Buzzard flushed the lot,... keep double-checking the pigeon flocks folks. Redwick was dead-diddly-dead-dead, much deader than the shot Rook in the village that some little scrote had winged (presumably under licence, though I doubt it) and left to crawl into a bush and die.

Approximately a 50:50 split in this pic; one odd thing, all the Woodpigeon reports on this side of the estuary today were of birds going west, over on Severnside they were flying east ('ow queer!).

30 October 2009

The poetry of logical ideas

Finally managed to muster the gumption to roam the patch this morning. My presence in the zone, however, proved fitful at best and it was no surprise that I failed to find some skulking monster (or, indeed, anything even bordering on noteworthy). A decent number of big obvious things were knocking around though, in the form of Woodpigeons; had 600+ in the air early on and, at regular intervals, several flocks in the low hundreds. Very few of the birds seemed to be heading in any particular direction though, and quite a few were ditching on the reserve, I wouldn't have wanted to guess how many birds were involved but, luckily, I managed to recall Friedrich von Furtwängler's equation*, a quick application of which produced a figure of 1,267 which sounds about right. Where would we be but for Herr von Furtwängler eh? I'll tell you where - up Cosby Kids creek without any propulsion, that's where. Anyhoo,... a few finches, Skylark and thrushes were also scudding about, as were half a dozen Stonechat, a couple of Blackcap and a Chiffchaff.

A moment of Columbid indecision over the Newport Wetlands [it helps if you squint a little].

*I know this is teaching grand mama to suck eggs but, just for completeness, von Furtwängler's equation for g (the guesstimate) is as follows:
g = (d2u/dx2) + L sin u
where d is the number you first thought of, u is average flock size, x is Hirshvogel's constant and L is the length of time between joy and despair. [Apologies for the inaccurate formatting of the equation (just one of the vagaries of Blogger I'm afraid)].

29 October 2009

Azores FAQs: part three

Is there another option to Corvo? Yes there is, and it's not rocket science. Just 15 miles away is the much larger island of Flores, the accommodation is bountiful, the list of rarities found to date isn't too shabby (e.g. this autumn Upland Sandpiper, Magnolia Warbler, Scarlet Tanager, Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Rose-breasted Grosbeak and Baltimore Oriole) and, with a bit of organization and amiable weather conditions, day-twitching Corvo is a possibility (day trips to and from have been undertaken by birders on three occasions in the last two years). So far, the number of birders on Flores has been limited, certainly not reaching the density of those on Corvo, however, with a decent number of people looking, there is every possibility that Flores would start to turn up everything its smaller neighbour does.

Autumn birding on the Azores, this year there was literally a kaleidoscope of Nearctic waders in the quarry,... at least through Peter's scope.

Yet to come in this gripping series - The darkside of Corvo: why you might actually prefer somewhere else (seriously).

PS. Getting to the Azores is oh-so-slightly more taxing on the planet than popping to Scilly, if you do decide to go, at least offset your flights (not a perfect solution but the least a travelling birder should be doing nowadays). Companies with carbon offsets approved by the Government Quality Assurance Scheme for Carbon Offsetting include: Carbon Footprint Ltd, Carbon Passport, Clear, PURE the Clean Planet Trust, and Carbon Retirement.

28 October 2009

Azores FAQs: part two

Why is it difficult to get accommodation on Corvo? It's simple, there are very few places to stay on the island, 16 people can stay in the Comodoro guesthouse and another dozen or so elsewhere. Most of these places are booked up by the regulars and the situation is further 'complicated' by tour groups booking up twin rooms for single occupancy (filling, with one dude, a room which could otherwise hold two decent birders). Realistically, your options on Corvo are restricted to: 1. going 'out of season' which will see you choosing between sitting under a blocking Azores high in September or making do with the rump of migration in increasingly inclement conditions in November; or 2. joining a tour and, in effect, paying for someone to take you twitching. There is a third way though for which, in true Doctor Who fashion, you'll have to tune in tomorrow (or, failing that, at some point over the next few days)...

27 October 2009

Azores FAQs: part the first

I'm going to be providing short and sweet answers to one or two queries regarding the Azores over the next few days, first up - Why go to the Azores when you can go to Canada or the USA?

Why indeed. Well, whatever you think, and despite the fact that Corvo is on a different tectonic plate to the rest of Europe, the Azores are in the Western Palearctic. If you define yourself as a local birder you probably spend a fair bit of your time searching your patch for local rarities; if you see yourself as a UK birder you may well end up on the Scillies or Shetland each autumn looking for a first for the UK; however, if you define yourself as a Western Palearctic birder you might just think about visiting Iceland, Kuwait or the Azores seeking that species never before seen in your native biozone. Personally, I don't go to Corvo to see Nearctic passerines, I have done that at Point Pelee, Long Point, Point Reyes, etc. I go to Corvo to find Nearctic passerines in a vagrant setting, it is a very different thing.

Of course, there is also the additional interest in all things Macaronesian; there is all manner of stuff to exercise even the most addled of ornithological minds; it's not just the thrill of stumbling over yankee passerines, there are seabirds and island endemics too, hell, even the Starlings seem to be genetically distinct.

See,... totally different (or, if you are struggling, try reading this).

Tomorrow - the accommodation conundrum.

24 October 2009

Questions, questions, questions

Q. Brown Shrike?
A. Hmmm, don't mind if I do.
Q. Eastern Crowned Warbler?
A. Oh, go on then.

Two trips, two ticks. The supporting cast wasn't too shabby either...

22 October 2009

Damn, the plane didn't crash

Back in shitey-blighty again. The final morning on Sao Miguel produced a couple of Blue-winged Teals but very little else and, before I knew what had happened I was back in the midst of the M25,... now, can I muster the effort required to go looking for late autumn sub-rares on the Gwent Levels?

Must... fight... urge... to... hibernate... zzzzzzzz.

20 October 2009

Easing to a halt

The last full day on the islands consisted of all the fun of Furnas (Sao Miguel) and all points east - Azores Bullfinch, the oh-so-wild Wood Duck, Pied-billed Grebe and a couple of Ring-necked Ducks. Having previously written about the dubious Wood Duck, I won't bore you with another tirade regarding it's origins; instead, a couple of pictures, firstly the Wood Duck, followed by one of his bestest pal.

19 October 2009

Bad time to leave

A nice little system promised new arrivals, experience indicates the village fields are often their first stopping point; and so it was that Peter and I found ourselves circumbobulating the lower fields this morning accompanied by the clickety-clickety of tamarisk in a westerly. Result - naff all. A well-timed coffee and cake stop avoided a couple of bands of rain but, by the time it had dried-up we only had an hour before check-in, we had to make do with a quick blitz of the fig groves. Result - two new Yellow-billed Cuckoos and the Baltimore Oriole. Can't help but feel we left something behind out there, perhaps another tanager or a nice sparrow, let's see what the chaps turn up over the next day or two.

18 October 2009

Ultimate blank

A night disrupted with barking dogs, shouting locals, a bloke road-testing his quad at 03:40 and all manner of comings and goings meant I had absolutely no intention of doing anything requiring energy today. Spent the morning watching Short-beaked Common and Bottlenose Dolphins interspersed with periods peering into tamarisk scrub, the highlight though was not twitching the White-eyed Vireo (always nice to push the boundaries of ornithological nonchalance); after a veeeeeeeery long lunch-break a circumnavigation of the village produced a megaton of dolphins over which a feeding frenzy of Cory's included at least 1 Great Shearwater,... naff all else in the bushes and fields though.

17 October 2009

King of the hill

A quick semi-visit to the caldera produced 2 Ring-necked Duck, Tufted Duck, Pintail and Great White Egret. Then it was off down Ribeira da Lapa (or whatever the valley is called where I found the White-eyed Vireo last year). After another near death experience and, whilst attempting to photograph a frog for Frenchman, said Frenchman radioed through with news of 2 Dotterel on the slopes high above me (10th record for the Azores). Well, who could turn down a nice little trip for a trip. One bust lung and three years shaved of my lifespan later, and I'm peering at a couple of lurvely waders. Then, mid-morinellus, Pierre appears over the horizon and announces the fact that, on the opposite side of the hill are two Buff-bellied Pipits. So, that's two European vagrants on one side of the hill and two Nearctic vagrants on the other, I do like it when that sort of thing happens. Trouble was the pipits had gone by the time we'd scooted back up there and took an hour and a half to relocate at which point they, rather handily, reappeared at my feet. The rest of the day was filled with a meander back, a drawn-out coffee break and an hours seawatch (10 Great and 1,000s of Cory's).

16 October 2009

Happy ending

Yet another morning not seeing Philly Vireo was saved by an afternoon during which I managed to add Turtle Dove and Baltimore Oriole to the Azores list and, whilst watching Pierre's Yellowthroat, found another in the same bush only my one was one helluva better specimen. There are currently three Yellowthroats on the island, making six in total since 2006.

15 October 2009

I have looked into the void

I spent every daylight hour looking for Philadelphia Vireo and Chestnut-sided Warbler today. The highlight of the day was cracking my skull against a tree, a right old tooth rattler, pretty much summed up the day. I'm fast approaching the point where the vegetation is closing in and the winnowing wings of the Corvo demons haunt my every step but, apart from that, I'm enjoying every moment. The fact that I am being lead a merry dance through the nine circles by a couple of bundles of Yankee feathers shouldn't detract from the fact that we had double-figures of American landbird species on this island today (Yellow-billed Cuckoo,  Black-and-white Warbler, Yellow Warbler, American Redstart, Ovenbird, Yellowthroat, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, Bobolink and Baltimore Oriole) - a WP record?

Kill the pig! Cut his throat! Kill the pig! Bash him in! Er,... guys,... it's a horse.

PS. For those who aren't long-term followers of these ramblings, previous year's Corvo gubbins can be found by clicking here(ish) 2006, 2007 and 2008.

14 October 2009

And still they come

The wind made Agua (Chestnut-sided Warbler site) and do Vinte (Motown Philly Vireo site) flipping hardwork today, in short, it was what the French call "Furr-king rur-bish". After an interminable period watching branches lashing to and fro, I was saved from this personal hell by a report of an "unidentified warbler with yellow underparts" in da Ponte which rapidly became a Yellow Warbler. Not quite as rapidly, but in reasonably short order, I'd seen it and bagged a record shot as it fed in the dense canopy. So far our top-bollock photographer hasn't got an image so this is a Gwent Birding exclusive...

Good huh?! Tell your friends, you saw it here first,... or don't, I couldn't give a tinker's cuss.

Last year's American Great White Egret is still going strong, stronger probably, it's semi-bust wing is no longer bust. [Edit: it turns out this is almost certainly a new egret, there is another in the caldera]

Just in case you are yet to ride the Corvo blog merry-go-round, there is yet more of this inconsequential garbage at www.corvo2009.blogspot.com. www.peteralfreybirdingnotebook.blogspot.com.

13 October 2009

Chicken oriental

Found Indigo Bunting today but it paled compared to another self-find - Willow Warbler, yay Azores list! Mind you, the bunting also had it's arse kicked by Pierre and his Chestnut-sided Warbler but the less said, at this point, about that the better. Also got Alpine Swift, another Azores mega, and the Philly Vireo has reappeared, something else on tomorrow's to-do list.

Another for the CPR chaps.

12 October 2009

Discovering Canada

Three hours in the Heart of Darknessesque Fojo paid off today when a movement in a sunny patch of foliage became a yellow-bellied pink-legged pulse-racer, then a slatey-blue backed gem and then, eventually (whilst I was shouting "Canada Warbler Fojo" into the walkie-talkie), a balls-out bespectacled beauty. Unfortunately, being the nice guy I am, my brief impersonation of a public service broadcaster meant I missed the first opportunity to get a photo. The bird then proved to be a bit of a bar steward, instantly disappearing for an hour and a half, then showing to Ferran, disappearing for another hour, reappearing momentarily in front of me, avoiding detection for another 30 minutes before, finally, giving itself up to all ten of the assembled masses. Being in the depths of Fojo, there was more vegetation between eye and bird than is strictly necessary (or fair) and light was a mere memory, as a result my photographs are more an experiment in abstraction than accurate illustration (got enough to get it past the CPR though).

This is precisely the view I got on finding the little beauty - pink legs against a yellow belly and white undertail,... it's Canada o'clock!

Just to give you an idea of the vegetation, there's nothing to see here,... wait a minute!