29 December 2012

Momentarily, I saw colours

A fleeting moment of not-hoying-down in Steinsville, during which a Black-necked Grebe performed in the harbour entrance. Moments later it came to my attention that my girlfriend's car's battery had developed a fault, information relayed in the form of a clicking starter button and underlined with a £150 bill from the RAC for the joy of being temporarily stranded in north Cornwall.  Being the eternal opportunists that we are, Jack and I snuck off down the Camel Trail and found ourselves a couple of Firecrests in the now expected, and therefore strangely comforting, wind and rain. 

An hour later we were off but, before achieving the A30 and its black-topped, multi-laned promise of civilisation, a Corn managed to barrel round a blind bend and destroy our driver's side (rather expensive) motorised wing-mirror assembly before disappearing from our perfectly undamaged rear view mirror in his shitty, murk-coloured Ford Focus. Despite leaping from the car and legging it back up the road, this second moment of car-related mishappedness did not produce Firecrest or, indeed, any other pretty little scarcy.

28 December 2012

Carbis, Hayle, Godrevy, Sennacherib

A morning peering over the placid waters of Carbis Bay and touring the Hayle produced 3-4 Mediterranean Shearwaters, 4 Great Northern Divers and Slavonian Grebe, ably supported by 7 Mediterranean Gulls, 3 Goosander and a Greenshank; all under relatively benign skies. However, an afternoon jaunt to Godrevy Point, proved a red rag to the bullish meteorological gods. The Gannets spread their wings on the icy blast, the chill spray of the rock-beating surf salted the earth, marauding bands of rain came down like wolves on the fold,... and there lay the birder distorted and cold.

Angels of death feeding frenzy or some such thing or other. 

This pretty much sums up the weather for the whole trip, it's times like this when you just have to set your face to the wind, grit your teeth, jump in the car and go home.

27 December 2012

Cry 'tristis' and let slip the dogs of war

Kenidjack sewage works, Kenidjack Valley, Cornwall; 27th December 2012. A Chiffchaff cornucopia,...

Images 1-4, bird A: overall pale and very cold-toned, all greyish-browns and frosty off-white (further accentuated in this image by the contra lighting and the high ISO and colour noise reduction settings, all of which tend to desaturate the image slightly); the only green/yellow tones are on the edges of the remiges/rectrices and a hint at the alula; the pallor of the crown emphasizes the short dark lateral forecrown stripe which extends to just behind the eye; paleness on the bare parts is restricted to the cutting edges of the upper mandible and the feet.

Images 5-6, birds A and B (bird B on the right in image 5, left in image 6): bird B showed slightly more warm ochrous/ochrous-buff tones on the ear-coverts and breast sides than bird A but was still a strikingly greyish-brown individual; both birds showed obvious wingbars due to pale-tipped greater coverts. One of these birds uttered a monosyllabic tristis-type 'peep' twice in quick succession during my initial sighting, however, none of the Chiffchaffs were calling with any regularity, and neither were heard to call subsequently despite observations spanning two and a half blustery hours.

Image 7, bird B: taken from the opposite side of the sewage works compound, i.e. 'with the light', and at a slightly lower ISO setting, note the difference in saturation/plumage tones as compared to images 5-6; this image probably shows the 'truest' impression of bird B's plumage, with bird A being slightly greyer/colder again. Having only heard one of the two birds call, I would only claim one as tristis but, were I local, I'd keep going back until I'd nailed the calls of both,... 'cos I'd be surprised if the second bird didn't go 'peep' too.

Images 8-10: three increasingly yellow/green toned individuals (there were several others knocking around); the bird in image 8 shows a greyer crown and nape, a reasonably obvious lateral forecrown stripe, and ochre washed ear coverts; whilst the bird in image 10 had lots of yellow in the supercilium and an extensive pale lower mandible. Wouldn't it be nice to pop the bird in image 7 in the abietinus box and 9-10 in the collybita pigeonhole, everything would be so neat and tidy then.

26 December 2012

Holiday snap

Dinas Head, The Bull and Quies through a glass, darkly.

24 December 2012

Reservoir roundabout

Dozmary Pool, Siblyback, Colliford and Porth Reservoirs and a quick jaunt around Towan Head; a Christmas Eve well spent. Nothing new but Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Duck and Great Northern Diver were ably supported by 1 Goosander, 3 Goldeneye, 80 Golden Plover and several species not beginning with G.

Great Northern Diver, Siblyback Reservoir. The Ring-necked Duck was the best part of a nautical mile away, the Lesser Scaup at Dozmary Pool was none too close either and both left my camera sensor unblemished by their yankee doodle dandyness.

22 December 2012

Cornwall has melted

Heading southwest.

 Somewhere in west Somerset.

Entering the submarine Atlantis that was once Cornwall.

21 December 2012

We'll have toy fights in the hall

A brief scan of the Usk Valley, in between Christmas shopping stops, produced at least 20 Bewick's Swans and a few Wigeon this afternoon.  And then it was off to spend money on brightly coloured paper and adhesive tape of a brand whose name you have probably heard before; both of which, in a few days time will lay strewn on a carpet having been removed by an excited human and then, in all probability, shredded by an over-excited dog.  Money well spent I think we can all agree.

19 December 2012

“Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.”

Saw this on Peter's blog and, given that creativity is almost extinct and should probably not be wasted on blogs, I stole his theme and twisted it to my own nefarious ends [NB. Click on the images for larger versions,... or squint].

The patch 1945, Uskmouth A power station is already in gestation although it wouldn't open until the early 50s.  Even by this point, it would be a bit late for breeding Red-backed Shrike, Cirl and Corn Bunting; maybe the odd Corncrake would have been hanging on, but I'd bet any of these species would have gone in the notebook in capital letters.  Yellow Wagtail, Spotted Flycatcher, Tree Sparrow and Yellowhammer must all have been reasonably common breeding species; less sure about Grey Partridge and Turtle Dove, though they couldn't have been any rarer than today.  Given the nearby populations, Marsh Warbler must have snuck through on a semi-regular basis. Was Quail regular?  Did Snipe breed?

The patch 2012, definitely a greater diversity of species, and a reasonable number of local 'notables' at any time of year (sometimes even a national doozy) but I bet the intervening years' erosion of our avifauna means today's overhead passage is crap in comparison; and the amounts of breeding and wintering farmland dross (Skylark, etc.) must be much reduced.  On the up side, at least birds are in colour now and the vast majority of Gwent is no longer living with sugar rationing. 

PS. If your time machine did rock up in 1940s Gwent, I'd suggest you get your arse up country and bag a real county blocker - Black Grouse.

18 December 2012

Not quite www

Had a day in the field across the water; one Woodcock and a couple of Water Rail were the best on offer. Was hoping for a flyover Waxwing,... never happened.

15 December 2012

Buff-bellied Pipit drive-by

Returning from the office Xmas party involved driving by this little gem, seemed a shame not to pop in. Not having taken my camera or recording gear to the party, I had to make do with recording the event for posterity via the iPhone. If you do ever find a rare without a camera I'd suggest banging the iPhone into video mode and lifting pictures off that, worked OK here, certainly well enough to convince a rarity committee. Mind you, it did help that the bird was showing in the open down to less than two metres.

The video can be seen here, I warn you though YouTube's compression process appears to be awful, and dealing with moving pictures filmed in portrait mode seems beyond them too.

PS. Also Long-tailed Duck and Red-necked Grebe knocking about the reservoir too; and all being overflown by passenger jets every 30 seconds,... lovely.

08 December 2012

"What the hell you got there?!"

Twitched TC's Waxwings today in the hope they'd be in a nice quiet cul-de-sac and offer up a reasonable opportunity of a recording or two. Found them easy enough, even managed to get within ten metres of the pwetty ickle things but the recordings are only memorable for their comedy value. Front doors slamming, car doors thudding, car engines revving, van engines chugging, fan belts squealing, bicycles whirring, pedestrians scuffing, contractors building (hammering, sawing, 'tidy jobbing'), gardeners gardening; overhead light aircraft towing gliders not yet gliding and passenger jets just fucking the entire soundscape. My favourite end to a recording was a bloke wandering up and providing me with a blogpost title by means of introduction.

Did manage a short recording in which I bagged three different contact/alarm calls in about seven seconds albeit accompanied by a couple of passing nippers,... 

Click on the spectrogram for a reasonable sized version and/or, if you can spare 18 seconds in your busy lives, the recording can be heard here.

Post Waxwings, I had 21 Bewick's Swans (including seven juvs/1st-winters) in the Usk valley near Llangybi Bottom and a couple of Goldeneye on the river at Llanllowell [NB. Yes there are six, count 'em, ls in Llanllowell,... madness].

04 December 2012

Swift, Pope, Hogarth,...

Damn! I was gonna do one of those hilarious lookalike posts (like this one), where I'd put something along the lines of "One of these is a vegetable with little or no grasp of climate change or the necessary measures to minimise its impacts,... the other is celeriac" and then put "celeriac" under the picture of John Hayes and "John Hayes" under the picture of the aesthetically challenged root vegetable; unfortunately, I have forgotten which image is which, therefore totally buggering this opportunity at political satire.

I fear I have let everyone down; my readership, my family, myself. Apologies one and all.

03 December 2012


Another random post to keep you going whilst I'm busy trying to get my computer to count birds so I don't have to,...

One of the terribly pretty, though single winged, Falcated Duck at Slimbridge from March.

Falcate: /ˈfalkeɪt/ adj., curved like a sickle; hooked. Early 19th century, from Latin falcatus, from falx, falc- 'sickle'.

24 November 2012

The goats who stare at men

There is just not enough randomness in the blogosphere,...

Interesting goat fact #1: goat call development is affected by their social environment, kids raised in the same social groups produce similar calls which become more similar as they grow older. This suggests that vocal plasticity may be more widespread in mammals than assumed, and might provide a window onto the evolution of vocal learning and human language. Wow! Now that is interesting.

Interesting goat fact #2: they sometimes smell a bit. Wow! Now that is interesting.

Are we done here? Yes? Good.

23 November 2012

Mostly Dunlin,... mostly

Pottered around the reserve this afternoon in a vague attempt at relocating the Great White Egret. Given it appears to have buggered off west before I arrived, it will come as no surprise that I didn't 'connect'. Did have over 4,000 Dunlin on the reserve though, the vast majority out on the grasslands. Other things I wasn't looking for but did bump into included: a ringtail Hen Harrier, a 2nd cal-year male Marsh Harrier, a couple of fence-hoppers in the form of 'Barney' the friendly Barnacle Goose and the Chinese Goose, a reasonable total of 82 Snipe and a Chiffchaff.

Here are 2,284 of the Dunlin (plus a few Lapwing and Starling). How do I know?

 Because I counted 'em. A Friday night well spent, I'm sure you'll agree.

PS. Also dipped on the Tredegar House Hoopoe/Jay/Mistle Thrush (delete as appropriate) this morning just for the sheer hell of it.

21 November 2012

I'll just slip this in here

Meant to say, I did get out last weekend, honest guv, did the reserve and Llandegfedd. However, apart from a dose of Water Rail at Uskmouth and a Dunlin, a Woodcock, 40 Goosander and a Kingfisher at the reservoir, it was dire.  I had, therefore, decided to spare you from a boring blogpost but then I thought, "Hell, they deserve it, they're the ones who read this shit."

11 November 2012

[*blows raspberry* in lieu of a title]

Was hoping for a nice bunting or a Firecrest (or better) but, despite touring round Caldicott Moor, Collister Pill and Magor Marsh, had to make do with reasonable numbers of Lapwing, Skylark and winter thrushes, and two Water Rail, two Kingfisher, one Rock Pipit, two Cetti's Warbler and two Chiffchaffs.  Not exactly Bertie big bollocks birding. 

09 November 2012

Way out in the water, see it swimmin'

Overcame the post-trip inertia today and managed to actually get out birding in Gwent. Good numbers of Lapwing, Dunlin and winter thrushes at Goldcliff but little of real interest beyond Spotted Redshank and a few Black-tailed Godwit. Boat Lane flattered to deceive, lots of flooding and quite a few birds but, apart from the Canada Goose hybrids, nothing to trouble the notes app. However, highlight of the day appeared just before dark in the form of a 1st-winter/female Common Scoter in the bay just east of Goldcliff Point; clearly viewable from MM's gaff, nice garden tick.

Oh yeah, we rescued a sheep,... 

Sheep as found (inset) and sheep once righted (note other sheep staring in disbelief at its bizarre shape).  Was it like that before it fell over? Or did it writhe itself flat? You could serve drinks off that.

03 November 2012

Corvo Orthoptera

This is my first foray into Azorean Orthoptera so any comments regarding identification, etc., would be gratefully received. Click on the images to view at a larger size.

Southern Field Cricket Gryllus bimaculatus, the dominant sound in the nocturnal chorus around Vila do Corvo.
Southern Field Cricket Gryllus bimaculatus by darrylspittle

The blurred background trace on the spectrogram at approximately 4.5 kHz is the stridulations of competing males nearby. I'm pretty sure Large Conehead Ruspolia nitidula is responsible for the indistinct trace centred on approximately 15 kHz.

Large Conehead Ruspolia nitidula, identification slightly more tentative but see what you think.
Large Conehead Ruspolia nitidula by darrylspittle

The significantly higher frequency range produces a much less far-carrying and dominant sound (at least to human ears) as compared to Southern Field Cricket. Due to a former diving accident, presumably resulting in a ruptured tympanic membrane [Correction: the injury was a perilymph fistula - ouch!], at least one member of Team Corvo struggled to hear this at all.

Here's the identification of which I am least confident. I think, in between the barking of a dog displaying his displeasure at being awoken by a bloke creeping about with a Sennheiser MKH60, this might be Mediterranean Katydid Phaneropterus nana. Whaddya reckon?
Possible Mediterranean Katydid Phaneroptera nana by darrylspittle

And finally, the most obvious orthopteran on the island, Migratory Locust Locusta migratoria, they are everywhere: sitting on the roads, squashed on the roads, shagging on the roads,...

Aaah look, the big one is giving the little one a piggy-back.

02 November 2012

Corvo Odonata

Time for a few posts on Azorean bugs, first up, the Odonata. I've only ever noted two species on Corvo, most visits just one,... still awaiting a Green Darner Anax junius.

Emperor Dragonfly Anax imperator, I only remember having seen a couple to date, one in 2006 and that pictured above, on 13th October this year.

Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii, quite common and seen most days on the rock.

25 October 2012

Almost last knockings

Somewhere in the bottom of a weedy field creeps a large feathered mouse.

Pretty hard work today, nowt much in Da Ponte, murk at the reservoir, not a lot in the higher fields, just a Yellow-rumped Warbler above the village and only the Mourning Dove in the village fields. Limited supporting cast too. 

A few Corvo waders

The Bobolink and Mourning Dove are still around and showing down to inches, however, the effort find new stuff was curtailed today thanks to much faffage at the airport. Did manage to relocate one of the Yellow-rumped Warblers on the slope above the village this evening though. Highlight of the day though was another Azores tick - Purple Sandpiper.

Semi-palmated Plover on the slipway near the airport, just out of shot are another two plus a Semi-palmated Sandpiper, a Purple Sandpiper and a flockette of Turnstones.

Another Semi-palmated Plover at the western end of the airfield, would have got much a better shot only moments after this it was flushed by somebody driving the 'Corvo circuit'.

It's laugh a minute round here. The aforementioned Purple Sandpiper - Azores tick!

23 October 2012

What I did

What I did today was,... a quick check on the dove, still there. Crippling views of Bobolink. Up to the caldera, also still there, and in which was Pink-footed Goose [Azores tick, yay!], Great Blue Heron, Ruff, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, 10 White-rumped Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Wilson's Snipe and a couple of Snow Buntings. Down to the reservoir which produced a flurry of 13 Snow Buntings. And then back to the village for a troll round looking for the new Dickcissel, dip. Did get more Bobolink action though.

Mourning Dove after a morning shower.

Bobolink showing down to nothing. Feeding constantly whilst dibbling about at birders feet.  

22 October 2012

Pretty little pigeon

Strong westerlies slowly becoming north-westerlies pretty much put pay to any valley action today. Unfortunately, seabashing and fieldwatching didn't really produce much, and the day was slowly sliding towards an early bath via American Herring Gull, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, etc. Then, with an hour or so of light to spare, another mega dropped off the conveyor, bagged, tagged and ready to go as Vincent pulled out a Mourning Dove.

What a little cutie.

21 October 2012

To the lighthouse (again)


Deep in the magic junipers. 

The Prairie did dink about in full view but was either too close or too sharpish.  The Yellow Warbler was also still present, at one point the two had a brief difference of opinion but mostly they played nice.   Both, however, were eclipsed by a flyover Snow Bunting - Azores tick!

[Correction: D'oh! Snow Bunting wasn't an Azores tick, saw them on my first trip to Corvo in 2006 as evidenced by the ye olde blog post here.]

20 October 2012

The Western Palearctic just gained a new species

Managed to see the Blackpoll Warbler in Da Ponte before all hell broke loose this morning. A report of a Cape May Warbler at the lighthouse valley had us all scrambling. On arrival a quick look at the back of a camera and,... F***ing Hells Bells! Minutes later we're watching a Prairie Warbler which, over the next hour or so, was also joined by a Yellow Warbler and a Yellow-rumped Warbler. The magic junipers of the lighthouse valley strike again. So far, the only thing I have found today is a Blue-winged Teal flying up Lapa at head height.

Yep, that'll be a Prairie Warbler.

Caspian Plover

Caspian Plover gawd knows how many miles into the Atlantic. Chicken. Oriental. Possibly the most surreal afternoon of my birding life.

Caspian Plover. That. Is. All. 

19 October 2012

Whilst it's raining...

Hoying down here at the moment, in the meantime, anyone know what species this might be?

Photograph by iPhone in the dark of Da Ponte, before you start thinking my standards (what standards?) have slipped.

[Update: I think this might be Ascotis fortunata azorica]

18 October 2012


May have found a new Bobolink today (was it new? Was it the bird from last week?) but basically it was pretty darn slow. Dipped on the Philadelphia Vireo and Blackpoll Warbler at Pico,... again. Unsurprisingly, I did get an Indigo Bunting in the Indigo Bunting field on the way back, have probably seen four different individuals so far this trip.

The tiny field above the bridge at Da Ponte never knowingly lacking an Indigo Bunting. 

Here comes another one

A long morning in Da Ponte deep below the dancing canopy, amid the earthy decay, flickering shadows and swirling ghosts of rarities past,... bugger all in there today mind, all I managed was another of these,...

The most REV.

Whilst I was REVving next door, on the summit of Pico, Philadelphia Vireo and Blackpoll Warbler were putting in brief appearances. However, both had slipped away before I popped in and my search came to an abrupt halt as news of an American Robin (first for the Azores?) crackled across the airwaves. Then, having lapped up the robin and with thoughts turning to coffee, a sparrow scooted along in front of Eric and David before putting on a display of skulking of world beating proportions,... I didn't get tickable views for the best part of four hours.

Lincoln's (Thomas not Abraham) Sparrow, presumably I was going for the ropiest photo of a 2nd for the WP ever, but I forget why now.