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?"