27 February 2010

Punxsutawney Marsh

Another Saturday morning, another sortie round Magor Marsh. Three or four Cetti's, a pair of Kingfishers and two Water Rails (including one flushed from under the boardwalk) were, once again, the best on show; the duck numbers appeared to have dropped a bit though.

Arrived in glorious sunshine, left in glorious sunshine, copped a bit of a downpour in between though.

26 February 2010

Any day now

Almost an entire week in the field, when did that last happen? Not an awful lot to show for it though, when did that last not happen? There was just the glimpse of a hint of a suggestion of the first few signs of movement in the air; a few more Mipits collecting in those places pipits collect, one or two new faces arriving amongst the waders, and one or two disappearing from amongst the wildfowl. Just need that first Sand Martin,... or LRP,... or Wheatear,...

20 February 2010

I blame the RSPB but I don't care any more

Another morning pottering round Magor Marsh turned up the usual: 3-4 Water Rail, 2 Kingfisher, 2-3 singing Cetti's Warbler, another calling, and a smattering of duck.

Much the more entertaining was Hendre Lake this evening. We arrived half an hour before dusk and dutifully stood atop the viewing tump; by the time the Little Egrets were dropping in, a small group of middle-aged Robin-ticklers had gathered and every new bird was causing bins to be raised. Then, after half a dozen or so Little Egrets had dropped in, another Little Egret did the same only, this time, a voice piped-up with "There it is" and the assembled posse watched this Little Egret fly across, turn not more than 50m in front of their bins (in a very Little Egret-like fashion), and drop into the island looking remarkably similar to each of the Little Egrets that had done so not minutes earlier. Then, having seen this Little Egret, almost everybody promptly left, happy as a pig with two tails or a dog in shit (whichever you prefer). I didn't like to say anything, in fact, I didn't really see the point, they were happy.

The Great White Egret flopped in 10 minutes later; also had 1-2 Cetti's Warbler, 2-3 Water Rail and 3 Snipe, no sign of the Bittern though.

19 February 2010

Barney & Friends

Spent the afternoon in search of the Gwent White Egret. Goldcliff Pools, Boat Lane, Saltmarsh Lane and the eastern end of the Uskmouth Lagoons had a few large white objects dotted across them but, unfortunately, each and every one was a Mute Swan, Feral Goose, Little Egret or large lump of plastic agricultural detritus.

By far the best-looking bird of the day, there is nothing like wild geese,... and this is nothing like a wild goose; it seems to have a robust cable tie type 'ring' on its right leg, that'll be category E then.

18 February 2010

Did you know?

The other day the leg-clamp on my tripod cracked clean through (see image below); I phoned the (always helpful) Manfrotto service gurus today and was informed this was the result of water getting into the carbon fibre and causing it to swell. To stop it happening to the rest of the clamps, it was suggested I ease the pressure off a bit by loosening the appropriate nut on each closing lever. I had not heard of this before (either the water/carbon fibre intrusion [I wonder if this is something that is particular to Manfrotto's 'Mag Fiber'?] or the 'fix') and, given the prevalence of Manfrotto in the birding realm, I thought I'd pass it on. The replacement part was £13.25, so not exactly bank-breaking, but it will have to be fitted by my own fair hand (quite possibly a task too far for a GAMI* aficionado like me).

Of course the real answer to this woe is to either pick a manufacturer that uses water-resistant carbon fibre [does it exist?]; or invest in a Gitzo (I was thinking a GT3541LS might do the trick), given they have a screw tightening clamp, as opposed to lever clamp, you wouldn't over-tighten them. Problem solved,... right, I'm off to spend £550 on a tripod.

The offending crack. The nut that requires 'easing off' is at the opposite end of the spring from the lever, do I have a spanner to fit? Do I even have a spanner? Will I know which end to hold? Stay tuned folks,...

* GAMI, noun. Definition: chiefly Brit. the activity of employing a professional rather than decorating and making repairs in the home oneself. Derivatives: GAMI’er, noun. Origin: abbreviation of get-a-man-in. Antonym: DIY.

[Addendum: Manfrotto service steps up to the plate, the spare clamp was delivered within 24 hours of my order] 

17 February 2010

Pretty much over this now

Left Gwentsville in this...

... spent the day in righteous Hampshire,...

... seeing plenty of these, and...

... drove straight back into this on approaching the tolls.

16 February 2010

Flat pack strepera?

A Woodcock erupting from the bottom of a hedge near Avonmouth brightened up a wet-dry-wet-dry morning. Apart from the 'cock, a pile of feathers which were probably once part of a Gadwall, but might just have been the missing pieces of a build-your-own Gadwall, were the only other just notable find.

Took in Wentwood and Ynys-y-fro reservoirs on the way home. Bobbing about on the first, despite some disturbance at the southern end, were a Pochard x Ferruginous Duck hybrid, 36 Pochard and 81 Tufted Duck (including the 'dusky flanked' male,... a hint of Ring-necked Duck genes past?). Tucked in on the eastern bank, a male Mandarin did its level best to avoid detection but, given they look like an explosion in a fireworks factory, didn't prove too hard to pick out. Ynys-y-fro, another site presently the subject of some disturbance, held a female Goldeneye, 18 Pochard and 49 Tufted Duck.

Once home, I realised it was pancake day,... yay!

15 February 2010

The rise of autonomous machines

My bread making robot and I managed this in less than two hours; if you look closely you can see his fingerprints.

13 February 2010

Hop, skip, jump

At least two of the Cetti's have made it through the winter at Magor Marsh. The only other mentionables, noted in a quick hour on site this morning, were: 1 Water Rail, 3 Shoveler and 5 Gadwall. The reserve was being readied for some form of open day, of the mini-events being set-up around the site, I think the "Can you jump as far as a frog" was definitely shaping-up to be the most fun, turns out the answer (for your twinkle-toed correspondent at least) is "Yes".

12 February 2010

Public service announcement

I got sent an email from Blackwell's today, apparently they are selling Frans Lanting's "Life: a journey through time" at half price (see here). This may, or may not, interest you but it is a stunning collection of images from one of the few natural history photographers that merits the tag 'artist'. If you aren't yawning yet, you can see more about the project that spawned the book here.

Many more altruistic posts like this and the Vatican will be calling to book a date for my canonization. "Saint Darryl of Nowhere-in-particular", catchy, huh?

11 February 2010

Bleached bones and matted feathers

Finally, a day in the field, unfortunately not a lot doing,... nice weather though. There did seem to be a lot of death about today; found carcasses of Mipit, Lapwing, Herring Gull and a species of swan (though I don't know which species), all four were suffering from nasty cases of not-breathing-anymore.

On an even brighter note, I learnt two cool factoids today: a. Florence Nightingale was a statistics buff and the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society (thanks to Radio 4 for that one); and b. in proportion to their size, banana slugs have a huge penis (thanks to the Natural History Museum for that one).

Finally, as if I hadn't had a full enough day as it was, found these two little fellas peering out from the bottom of a near bursting hard drive this evening, pretty aren't they.

10 February 2010

Tasseography, tasseomancy or tassology?

What have we here?
A young lady!
To what do I owe this pleasant surprise, my pretty one?
How may I be of service this dark and wintry night?
Ah, I see. You wish me to look into the future... your future.
After GCSEs, A-levels, university...
After your first badly paid job in advertising...
Okay, my pretty, just cross my palm with plastic,
And I'll see what I can do..."

As the picture above clearly shows, this year is going to be one of a cat, boat trips, mountains, desert and smelly seas, more boat trips and a disappointing October.  You heard it here first.

07 February 2010

Hold the bat-mobile

Just as I was about to exit, gun the bat-mobile towards Newport and seek out the fugitive parakeet, my interest was peaked by the scurrying of the kitchen oompa-loompas,... uh-oh, cake bakery occurring.

Lickings, parakeet, lickings, parakeet, lickings, parakeet, lickings, parakeet, lickings,...

The finished articles.

Deconstructing the alchemy,... I feel so sick.

Didn't actually get as far as the parrot. Not sure I'm capable of any rapid movement just now, think I'll just lay down and listen to the footie.

Groovy baby!

Found a funky new feature on my Nikon D300 today. Deep in the shooting menu (shooting menu-set picture control-modify existing picture controls-blah blah blah) is a 'date style' setting. Basically, you set a date and the camera uses its image processing settings to adjust the picture controls (sharpening, brightness, saturation, etc.) in an effort to recreate the picture as if taken on the required date. This is then saved as an additional profile which can then be applied (or not) later in Capture NX2. Fun huh? Here's an example (you may need to click on the pics to see the full effect):

A. 2010: bulk standard, über digital, every-boring-bastard-can-take-them, Wren pic.

B. 1979: a Wren in the age of Brenda Ann Spencer (and, later, the Boomtown Rats), the Islamic Revolution (and, later, the hostage crisis); of Vietnam in Cambodia, China in Vietnam, Tanzania in Uganda and the Soviets in Afghanistan; Voyager prying on Jupiter and our first sight of the shuttle (and CDs); Three Mile Island, the Unabomber, Ixtoc I, SALT II, the Gossamer Albatross, Fastnet tragedy, Mountbatten (and Warrenpoint); the arrival of Thatcher (and Saddam Hussein), the birth of the One Child Policy, Pete Doherty, Usenet, Heath Ledger and the Happy Meal, the death of smallpox (sort of), Airey Neave, Sid Vicious, Marion Morrison and Mary Millington; Mother Teresa being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (back when they were given to the deserving) and the world in the grip of an energy crisis, cold war anxiety and Lego. In response to this, Nikon seem to apply a warm-glow of nostalgia, a bit of grain, the softened and vignetted edge of a poorly hand-crafted lens, a date-ravaged semi-cross-processed colour palette and a 'chirpy' post-Vietnam, pre-AIDS, pre-climate change glint in the eye, albeit, on close inspection, there is definitely a slight furrowed browedness, perhaps he's just heard Mr. Ed is dead.

Can you tell it's February?

PS. Whilst writing this, I have been reliably informed that the Ring-necked Parakeet is still in Haisbro Avenue, quick,... to the Bat mobile! Category E Gwent-listing, it's where it's at.
PPS. I forgot to mention the 'Sverdlovsk leak' and the 'Vela Incident',... bugger.