28 February 2009

Siskins shmiskins

Quite a few Siskins knocking about at the moment. Last time this happened I had birds to/from Norway, Highland, Merseyside and Herefordshire in the garden; bugger all so far this winter. This lot are showing the usual variability in post-juvenile moult though, anything from 1-8 old greater coverts on the first winters.

A couple of pics from this morning, top adult, bottom 2nd cal year. Note the differences in the tertials, greater coverts (GCs 1-5 and 10 retained juv feathers in the bottom pic), alula, median coverts (outermost is a retained juv feather in the bottom pic), primary coverts, primaries and secondaries.

27 February 2009

Roger the hybrid II

Having wasted the morning taking my G5 Powermac to the Apple hospital, I decided to waste my early afternoon on another trip to see the Rogerstone hybrid, and it went a bit like this,...

[Enter Roger the aythya hybrid, diving energetically in the canal]

Me: Mr. 'Scaup', I believe?
Roger the aythya hybrid: Yes — Scaup by name, Scaup by nature. [keeps diving]
Me: Yes... if you'd like to remain motionless for a moment, Mr. 'Scaup'. Please be still. Now, Mr. 'Scaup' you are, I believe, auditioning for the part of a free-flying sub-rarity?
Roger: Right.
Me: Now, Mr. 'Scaup', I couldn't help noticing almost at once that you are a one-winged duck.
Roger: You noticed that?
Me: I noticed that, Mr. 'Scaup'. When you have been in the business as long as I have you come to notice these things almost instinctively. Now, Mr. 'Scaup', you, a one-winged duck, are applying for the role of a free-flying sub-rarity — a role which, traditionally, involves the use of a two-winged bird.
Roger: Correct.
Me: And yet you, a unidexter, are applying for the role.
Roger: Right.
Me: A role for which two wings would seem to be the minimum requirement.
Roger: Very true.
Me: Well, Mr. 'Scaup', need I point out to you where your deficiency lies as regards landing the role?
Roger: Yes, I think you ought to.
Me: Need I say with overmuch emphasis that it is in the wing division that you are deficient.
Roger: The wing division?
Me: Yes, the wing division, 'Mr. Scaup'. You are deficient in it — to the tune of one. Your left wing I like. I like your left wing. A lovely wing for the role. That's what I said when I saw you appear. I said ‘A lovely wing for the role.’ I've got nothing against your left wing. The trouble is — neither have you. You fall down on your right.

Two things I didn't notice during yesterday's brief stop: 1. the right primaries are well and truly clipped, Gosh knows how I missed this; and 2. the bill does darken somewhat towards the base (the Pochard option looms slightly larger in the rear-view mirror).

26 February 2009

Rogerstone 'Scaup'

Dropped in on the reported "male scaup duck" at Rogerstone this afternoon. As anticipated, it wasn't a Scaup but it was more interesting than it might have been, cynical ol' me was expecting a Tufty. The bird appears to be an escape, it allows very close approach and readily swims to within a few feet for fodder, I don't think any rings were present though. It looks pretty good for Tufted x Scaup but, given a captive origin and the variation in mixed aythya offspring, back-crosses, etc., I suppose ruling out input from Pochard, Lesser Scaup or even something as exotic as New Zealand Scaup, etc., might not be possible.

Just in case you want a little more detail the bird is larger than a Tufted and quite broad in the beam. The bill is long and broad with an extensive black tip, a sub-terminal white 'crescent' and an inverted black, ill-defined, 'U' on the culmen on an otherwise blue bill (no significant darkening at the base). The iris is medium yellow. The head has a quite steep forehead, short blunt crest and extensive green and purple sheen (green largely restricted to the ear-coverts, purple largely restricted to forehead, crown and nape); overall the profile is much more Scaup than Pochard-like. The mantle is finely vermiculated blackish, appearing medium grey at a distance; tertials black with greenish gloss; flanks very finely vermiculated pale grey, appearing off-white at any distance. The breast, neck, uppertail, tail and undertail all appear black. It didn't wing stretch during my short visit; a pic of an open wing would be useful should anyone feel inspired to get one.

25 February 2009

"Ancient fossil penis discovered"

One of the better headlines from the BBC news archive; I missed this story on first circulation and have only skimmed it, but I guess it has something to do with Michael Douglas, Silvio Berlusconi or Peter Stringfellow (see for yourself here).

22 February 2009

I did not know that...

... Little Grebe's inner mandibles are white, well what d'ya know.

[Edit: 'inner mandibles'? Eh? Perhaps 'the inside of the mandibles' would be a better description.]

21 February 2009

On visiting an ex-nature reserve

Uskmouth Country Park was pretty dire today; amidst teenagers riding bikes across floating pontoons, people climbing the viewing blinds, neonates screaming their general disapproval and dogs on invisible leads were a couple of Goldeneye, a couple of Stonchat and very little else. Above the hordes, three Skylark did their level best to hint at spring passage and a Siskin wheezed its way over, heading who knows where.

Ynys-y-fro Res is still locked up, I assume due to the danger of the ice that melted away three weeks ago. Don't get too hot under the collar though as there was bugger all present anyhoo.

Uskmouth Country Park, where men are men and Little Grebes are frightened.

20 February 2009

Pub-lighthouse, lighthouse-pub

Not an awful lot at St. Brides this afternoon and, whilst I could see a fair bit of large larid loafing on the rooftops in the distance, I couldn't be arsed to trek along to the tip. Did see a 1st-winter/female-type Marsh Harrier working its way across the fields in the general direction of Newport, presumably the bird from the wetlands.

Just cos something cranes its neck don't mean it's a crane, especially if it then goes and sits in a river and/or riverside trees (for those who don't follow the GOS sightings page, don't worry, you're not missing much).

18 February 2009

Public service announcement

Just for your collective information, NHBS have got 'Nature's Music' (a jolly good textbook on birdsong) in their sale at the moment (see here). It was worth the £55 I paid for it, so it is a bit of a bargain at £33.

17 February 2009

Another red-hot Gwent news outlet

Just in case the local readership haven't noticed, the RaSPBerries have now added a 'Recent sightings' page to the Newport Wetlands bit of their website (see here). I daresay your anti-duff gen software will have to be regularly updated to safely surf this site but you never know, it might be worth checking for news of birds seen a week or two ago (it appears to be updated less than once a week). I assume news which deserves more immediate dissemination will be put on the GOS site, by 'assume' I mean 'forlornly hope with little expectation', by 'forlornly hope with little expectation' I mean 'I hope to hell and back in a hand-cart that they would at least tell the CCW staff if anything interesting appeared (given that it is a CCW reserve and all that)', by 'I hope to hell and....' oh,... you get the picture.

13 February 2009

Look at each other and say BLARE

The first-winter male Black Redstart showed reasonably well at Sudbrook this morning. You can't see all the detail in this pic, but it has rather obvious moult contrasts in the greater coverts and tertials, and a much less obvious one in the medians. A few median coverts, the outer three greater coverts, the longest tertial and all the alula, primary coverts, secondaries and primaries are retained juvenile feathers; the shorter two tertials, the six inner greater coverts, most of the medians and all the lessers/marginals are moulted adult type feathers. The fact it has broad white edges to the replaced tertials makes for easy sexing (many 1st-winter males don't show this).

Following success at Sudders, I popped along to the reserve where both the female Marsh Harrier and the stonking male Hen Harrier showed rather well.

12 February 2009

Happy Birthday Big Man

Two hundred years ago the most important human to walk the planet thus far was born into a comfortable middle-class existence in leafy Shropshire. By the time of his death, 73 years later, he had completely reshaped our understanding of life on this planet and had laid down the bedrock upon which all modern biological science is based.

If you claim to have an interest in anything vaguely biological, from cutting edge oncology to the finer points of redpoll taxonomy, you really should have read On the Origin of Species and The Decent of Man. The majority of Darwin's written works are available absolutely free of charge here. I would, however, suggest you invest in physical copies of the aforementioned masterpieces as, in addition to being beautiful things in their own right, they also happen to be precisely the correct dimensions and heft for beating door-knocking evangelical religious types over the head with (my personal favourite edition in this regard is the 1928 Everyman's Library version of On the Origin of Species [the one with the Jurassic fossil on the dust-cover] although I daresay the cracking new Penguin anniversary edition [complete with Damien Hurst cover] would prove equally efficient at rendering Jehovah's Witnesses unconscious).

"...above all, Darwin has shown us that we are not apart from the natural world, we do not have dominion over it, we are subject to it's laws and processes as are all other animals on earth to which, indeed, we are related." David Attenborough, Tree of Life. Or,... to put it another way, Darwin's works prove you are just another animal, so stop thinking you are something special and stop believing that some fantastical deity will appear and save your arse in this, or the next, world; take some responsibility and start working towards ensuring this planet is not utterly f*cked during the period of time you spend on it.

PS. For the truly lazy, attention span deficient, members of generation Facebook, gentle little introductions to the great man's work and its consequences are presently being aired by the BBC, see here for details.
PPS. Finally, for information on the sterling work being undertaken in the name of Darwin see here.

10 February 2009

The green and gold

There's a half decent flock of plovers on Caldicott Moor at the mo, counted 1,300 Lapwing are 55 Golden Plovers on the way past this afternoon but the Lapwing estimate is probably a conservative one.

08 February 2009

Knot to be missed

Might be worth double-checking Knot and Dunlin for colour rings/flags at the moment. A friend of mine in Essex has been turning up a decent number of colour-ringed/flagged Knot and Dunlin originating from everywhere between Norway and Mauritania; given the number pottering about the estuary, there must be one or two out there awaiting discovery. Of course, they would have to bowl up somewhere amenable to semi-close viewing, Goldcliff? Peterstone? St. Brides?

07 February 2009

Bjork, Sigur Ros, dodgy banks and now...

Magor Marsh this morning failed to produce Dusky or Hume's Warbler (one day) but the fields immediately south of the reserve did have 33 Golden Plovers in them. Luckily, just as I was starting to become disenchanted with Magor's meagre muneration, the indefatigable 'weekendbirder' phoned to say he'd found an Iceland Gull at the tip, which saved me the bother of finding an answer to the oft asked question 'What to do next?'.

Got the gull (showing down to 500m) half an hour or so later and obtained stunning pics, in the best the bill tip is rendered invisible and a Herring Gull partially obscures the primary projection (see below), nice. That, by the way, is four Gwentish ticks in five weeks,... giggidy-giggidy.

Having seen Nathan's Bittern pics (see them for yourself here) I then made the pig's ear of a decision to go to Hendre Lake where I saw the following: three oiks mit scrambler, 5000 dog turds, 50 dog walkers, half a dozen 12 year old girls complete with really quite impressive smoker's coughs (hack-hack-hack-gurgle, etc.), 5 oiks with push bikes (presumably a lower class of oik as compared to those with the scrambler), two police officers (aged approximately 15 and 17) and two or three Kingfishers. The Bittern was wise enough to keep its head down.

03 February 2009

Didn't happen

I was sure this weather would push something interesting onto the feeders, so sure, I ate my lunch staring out the back window. Unfortunately, a solitary Redwing was the result (although another small flock had gone 'down valley' earlier in the morning), no Brambling, no Reed Bunting, no Woodcock and not even a sniff of a Dusky Thrush.