29 April 2009

It seemed a shame not to

I couldn't help but notice one of these was present not more than two(ish) hours from my front door, it seemed churlish not to go and see it flitting about amongst the apple blossom.

Look mum, no rings! Not the slightest hint of 'the spirit of the wild' about it either. There was a colour-ringed Tufted Duck stood on the same island though, I shall endeavour to discover from whence it came.

27 April 2009

Second helpings

The warbler is showing commendable loyalty to the southern end of the shelter belt. I bowled up this evening to a completely birder-less bench, sat down and, within a few minutes, the familiar sub-song trickled out of the exact same bush John, Helen and I first heard it in yesterday. I managed to get a few brief but close(ish) views before a series of showers swept in and it did what any self-respecting southern European warbler would, and disappeared to some unseen cozy little branch in the deepest recesses of the, newly christened, "Subalp clump". As soon as the clouds parted and the sun reappeared the warbler did likewise (reappeared that is, not parted, that might have been very messy) and we, there were now half a dozen present, had another brief look before it took umbrage at the noise-emitting-gadget-ridden birders' and flitted off. It reappeared once more just before dusk, at which point I took another stunning photograph.

Look there it is, behind all those pesky lichen-clad twigs yet waaaay in front of the plane of focus. That sort of subject placement takes real skill.

Not to be outdone

I couldn't help but notice the Subalp flight shot, complete with arrow, on the CBC site (see here). Well, so as not to be outdone, please see below (you may have to peer very hard, or click on the pic to appreciate its true mastery, but in amongst the withered remains of last year's willowherb and umbellifers is a Subalp in the act of putting on his air brakes). The inexorable rise in photographic quality continues unabated.

Actually, so far, the best shots are to be found here.

26 April 2009

Uskmouth produces first for Gwent!

The patch flexed it's ornithological muscles this morning and produced a rather smart Subalpine Warbler. It proved to be something of a bar steward to see though, giving a snatch (yes, I said said snatch) or two of sub-song and a fleeting glimpse to those first on the scene, before disappearing for what felt like ages. It then gave a few brief views before going AWOL for another yonk (I don't think the rain helped). Finally, it popped up a good few yards in front of me (see photo, bordering on artist's impression, below), it then showed on and off for a while before getting bored of the growing number of birders, making a dash for the sea-wall, flitting about in the scrub and disappearing once again. As I'd been out and about for the best part of 10 hours, I decided a celebratory cuppa was required and headed homewards. The only other mentionables knocking about were 10+ Wheatear, 15+ Whimbrel, 2-3 Cuckoo, 10 Swift and my first Blue-tailed Damselflies for 2009.

Dad: Darryl, where did you hide the Subalpine Warbler?
Darryl: It's in the salix! I'm... I'm not helping much am I dad.

NB. Wow! This blog is really cooking now, oblique references to long-forgotten AA adverts, it doesn't get much better than this does it folks! What an exhilarating, thrill-a-minute, whirly-gigesque life I lead.

PS. Just in case anyone out there in interwebland is waiting for this blog to get better, you might want to prepare yourself for the long-haul.

25 April 2009

"Swift kids!"

The weather provided a real boon this morning. The promise of showers seems to have put a dampener on the Newport masses' lust for the great outdoors with many fewer brightly-coloured anoraks doing the rounds of the reedbeds at Uskmouth. It appears the hordes are very happy to partake of the greenery whilst the sun shines, the paths are well-manicured and there is a cup of coffee waiting in the cafe, but the merest hint of precipitation and they'd rather be sat at home in front of the telly. One wonders whether their newly-aquired, RSPB-inspired environmental awareness isn't equally 'fair-weather'; I wonder weather they'd do a similarly rapid volte-face at the first sign of a green tax or a fuel price hike?

A few of these bad boys have turned up today; part of a broad front by the looks of it, I'm reliably informed a dose appeared at Beddington (amongst other places) this morning too. Other year-ticks safely stowed in the satchel included Cuckoo, Red Admiral and Large Red Damselfly.

19 April 2009

What lovely weather we're having

A late start and a late high-tide produced a predictably limited haul down at the wetlands. A dozen White Wagtails were probably the best on offer; beyond that, only Lesser Whitethroat, House Martin, Wheatear, Turnstone and Greenshank kept the mind from wandering and the eye-lids from closing.

Checked out the RSPB sightings page on my return. Top item was "the new play area has been a real hit with the children during the school holidays, and we had so many visitors the café pretty much ran out of everything on bank holiday Monday", as if proof were needed, it would appear the RSPB have a sense of humour.

Cute huh? Yes, but her mum looks like this...

18 April 2009

The weird have turned dude

Oh, how I'd forgotten the joy of the 'second weekend' twitch. The bird has been there for ages, anyone who is anyone has long since come and gone, and now the lazy, the useless and the afflicted appear at the gaping-arsed, entrail strewn, fly-blown carcass of the twitch.

As I was almost passing the site today, I thought it rude not to drop in and, boy, am I glad I did. Picture the scene: a small area of Hawthorn and Blackthorn scrub, nestled amongst calcareous grassland, perched atop a ridge (a chalky fold if you will), amidst the b-e-a-utiful landscape of the South Downs. And there, bathed in the spring sunshine; ears caressed by the lilting song of Willow Warbler and the fruity utterances of Blackcap stand a motley group who, to all intents and purposes, appear to be involved in either:
  1. a public information film warning against the outcome of intra-familial marriage; or
  2. a very low budget advert for euthanasia.
The sheer abject freakery of it was delicious. Seemingly undisturbed by this Diane Arbus inspired street theatre troupe, the White-throated Sparrow showed more-or-less hourly, even singing at one point (a performance which went pretty much unnoticed). And then, just as I thought it couldn't get any better, a member of the assembled choir of the ornithologically challenged, whilst attempting to better his view of the bird, caught a Millet-booted, sock-outside-trouser bedecked foot in a bramble and proceeded to perform a face-plant of such virtuosity and artistic merit that I had to phone a friend in Australia to share the moment. It was at this point I had to leave, I was fast approaching the point where, had they asked me to join their circus, I'd have been drawn in and spent the rest of my days plaiting the bearded lady's chin, becoming proficient in conflict resolution between argumentative Siamese twins and feeding the dwarves to the tigers.

This is a terrible image of the sparrow but it does illustrate the expression on it's face at the exact moment the chap emitted a barely audible involuntary moan as he succumbed to gravity. Look closely, you can see the bird has actually stopped 'chewing' and has a wonderful combination of mild surprise infused with contempt playing across it's features (notice the slight raise of the eyebrow).

17 April 2009

Trindade (not Trinidade or Trinidad)

Spent the day looking at dead birds, mostly redpolls to be precise ('redpolls' being about as precise as one can be when peering at what we laughably shoe-horn into three distinct species at this point in taxonomic history.

I haven't been up to the museum for ages. If there is a single location on this planet incandescent with ornithological raw data then Tring is it. In addition to housing specimens incorporating 95% of the planet's avifauna, they have a library to get emotional over and a tea-room where your favourite beverage is available for just 15p,... I'll probably take my sleeping bag next time and claim squatters' rights. Let's face it, it's not everywhere you get to say "My hands stink of dark morph Trindade Petrel".

The ultimate fly in the cardueline ointment (Copyright Natural History Museum, London).

16 April 2009

My plums

Organic, fairly-traded, local, guilt-free produce from the lovely people at Riverford. To be honest, I don't actually like the taste of plums,... but for visual gaggery they are hard to beat.

14 April 2009

It's a numbers game

I have just realised that I've been visiting the patch for almost a decade. The earliest mention in the notebooks, of the less-than-hallowed turf, is 18th September 1999 on which fateful day I bagged a White-rumped Sandpiper and dipped a Pec. I must have been mighty put-out by the dip as I appear to have returned the following day - only to repeat the Pec-less performance,... and so it all began. Perhaps I should have a party (or wake) on the second or third platform (not the first,... never the first,... we must never speak of the first platform again) on 18th September this year,... or maybe not.

Anyhoo, the reason I was perusing my notebooks was to work out my 'birds I have seen between the mouth of the Usk and Goldcliff Point list' (which, if I was of the sort to show any deference to brevity, would have simply been referred to as my patch-list). Well, whad'ya know, it is a less-than-colossal 185 (and it is littered with serious gappery),... oh dear, hardly worth the effort, certainly not worth reading a blog post about.

Definition of the day - prolixity ('prəʊlɪksɪtɪ, prəʊ'lɪksɪtɪ) n. the quality or state of being prolix; so long as to be boring; long-winded.

13 April 2009

Hello Molly

Today was another tale of potterage in search of acquiescent Cetti's interspersed with a few recently arrived migrants and one stonking patch rare (possibly only the second for the reserve, cue sharp intake of breath).

The less-than-red-letter birds included: 20+ Cettis, a similar number of Reed Warbler, 8 Sedge Warbler, 2 Whitethroat, 4 Swallow and a LRP. However, whilst wandering along the northern edge of Reedbed 8, I couldn't help but notice Wood Warbler song drifting across from the Uskmouth grasslands, took a while to nail it (top tip: a parabolic mic sure helps in pin-pointing distant phylloscs) but, after a few minutes, it briefly flitted about in the top of a Hawthorn hedge circa 200 yards away - patch tick, and a bright yellow and Persil white one to boot. Luckily, after a circumnavigation of the easternmost reedbeds, I bumped into it again along the 'green lane' (about 50 yards from where the Redstart had been on Saturday), and it sounded a bit like this (note Cetti's background vocal)...

PS. Stumbled over a great new way of suggesting dog-walkers put their mutts on leads whilst on the reserve, a simple five-step method: 1. when being approached by unencumbered canines keep your ears open and see if you can't work out the dog's name (it is usually being shouted at high volume in an effort to recall the dog as the owners know full well they are meant to be on leads); 2. wander up to the dog in a jovial/approachable fashion; 3. on meeting the dog, crouch down and whilst fussing the pooch say, in a voice clearly audible to the owners, "Hello [enter name here], hate to ask mate but where the [enter expletive of choice ('hell' on a good day, something else on a bad day)] is your lead?"; 4. maintain eye contact with the dog, try to look as if you are expecting a reply (do not acknowledge the owner's presence in any way, shape or form); 5. remain 'conversing' with the dog whilst the owner retrieves their pet and leaves wondering why all birders are borderline psychotics.

11 April 2009

Pretty kookie

Another day with one's nose at the Cetti's grindstone. Didn't last as long as planned mind, it is hard to get recordings of even the noisiest passerine when the grockometer is red-lining due to, amongst everything else, such bizarre happenings as: a. two middle-aged couples discussing the awarding of yellow cards for flatulence (I kid you not, I looked it up on my return, see here); and b. an entire family jogging/shuffling along the sea-wall (dad,... son,... mum [in hijab as opposed to a track suit!?],... daughter,... sulky daughter,... sulky son), I'm still not kidding by the way, no weblink though, you'll just have to trust me on this one.

Whilst pottering around, bumped into a vociferous male Redstart, 2 Whitethroats, at least 6 Reed Warblers and 2 Sedge Warblers. Other 'notables' included the return of the mixed singing Willow Warbler plus my first Green-veined Whites and Speckled Woods of the year (still haven't had a Brimstone as yet though).

04 April 2009

Surprisingly little

A very quiet morning down at the wetlands; nothing of note beyond a couple of LRPs and 8 White Wagtails at Goldcliff. The end.

03 April 2009


This mornings pea-souper produced a dose of Willow Warbler: 20+ at Uskmouth (mostly in the bushes along the sea-wall) and another half dozen or so at Saltmarsh Lane. Also had my first Sedgie of the year, 10 days earlier but in the same place (just behind the shelter belt) as last year. The only other 'notables' were a few Wheatear and hirundines plus Marsh Harrier and Short-eared Owl. The Blackcaps and Chiffs are well and truly 'in' with 5 of the former and 16 of the latter doing this...