30 December 2013

Kill the cake. Cut its throat.

Two days of venturing into the field.  Caldicot Moor, Magor Marsh and Boat Lane yesterday and the incomparable Ynys-y-fro Reservoir today.  And what do we have to show for our efforts?  Not. A. Lot.  Precisely zero Golden Plover with the c.400 strong flock of Lapwing on Caldicot Moor.  Very little at Magor Marsh except a female Stonechat.  One Golden Plover over the grasslands near Boat Lane.  And finally, one male Goosander, one female Goldeneye, two female Teal and three Shoveler at Ynys-y-fro.  Birding in Gwent is not a megafest right now,... no, no, no, it's not, it isn't and it ain't. 

Back to the cake and the chocolates,...

Look! We’ve killed a cake—we stole up on it—we got in a circle—we crept up—the cake squealed—we hit the cake—I fell on top—I cut the cake’s throat,... you should have seen it!

21 December 2013

Watery heavens and Ls

Visited what could/should be two of Gwent's premier wetlands today, Llandegfedd Reservoir and the lower valley of the River Usk.  No sign of the reported diver sp. at the reservoir and little else of note except five Goldeneye and the emerging skeletal form of Dwr Cymru's new visitor/watersports centre.  A visit to most of the vantage points along the valley between Usk and Newbridge-on-Usk didn't produce as much as it should have either; despite all the flooding, the highlights were just a healthy dose of common larid and five Bewick's Swans.  If the Usk Valley was managed as a nature reserve/flood alleviation area/carbon sink it would be a flipping gem of a site. 

The moist valley bottom of the River Usk as seen looking east from Llandowlais (click on the image for the larger version).  On the opposite side sits Llanllowell, a hamlet with more Ls than houses.  Also dotted along this stretch are Llanusk, Llanbadoc, Llantrisant and Llangibby.  According to local legend, all the Ls originated from place names further upstream, torn from their towns and villages during a prehistoric flood and, in some cases, borne hundreds of miles on the torrent before being washed up where the valley widened and the river's mind began to wander.  I guess this explains the comparative lack of Ls in Gilwern and Govilon, and why it was necessary for the English to add a second L to Crickhowell.  Of course, the tale does raise questions regarding the origin of the valley's voiceless alveolar lateral fricatives, I mean, all these places have got them and they can't have had them before.  Did they survive the trip adhered to each storm-tossed letter?  Are they the natural result of two unprotected Ls rubbing up against one another?  Are there invisible swarms of them in the Welsh skies silently waiting to alight whenever two Ls are placed in close proximity?  We may never know, someone should do a PhD on this sort of thing and find out.

13 December 2013

Random crap to fill the void

The top few strata of my ever-growing mountain of Nikwax® Analogy® and Parameta®, Pertex® Endurance, GORE-TEX® Pro, Pontetorto® Tecnopile® Double and Tecnostretch®, eVent®, etc., etc. [Are there enough ®s there?] 

As some smug anonymous git once said,
"There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."
Or, as I often say,
"It's only Gwent out there, just stay indoors in the warm and dry."

[Note: currently 'top-of-the-pile' is my Paramo Velez Adventure Light Smock; it's the bees bollocks, ethically produced, lifetime guaranteed, warm, dry, rustle-free and it makes you look like you're in the army,... squeeeeee!  And that, ladles and gentlespoons, is the closest you'll ever get to 'as endorsed by Gwentbirding'.] 

07 November 2013

Lunchtime cutie

A pre-lunch tweet from the Newport Wetland Reserve's "resident expert" [Don't blame me, that's what it says here] put in train the usual febrile chain of events that, via a rapid passage through a speed smeared landscape (complete with the scootage of roundabouts and the emergency application of the amber light rule*), soon saw one applying the brakes at the location of a nice new shiny bird for one's Gwent list. And it looked a bit like this,...

A rather attractive male Penduline Tit in the sun, the first to have knowingly graced a Gwentish Bulrush.

A rather attractive male Penduline Tit in the gloom. It's in there,... somewhere.

* The amber light rule: every light on a standard UK traffic light is amber or immediately adjacent to amber and, under emergency conditions and by applying the undeniable truth that you can only be 'one colour out', can be treated as amber.

28 October 2013

And now, the end is here,...

Managed to get off on Friday, got a surprisingly decent amount of kip in Lisbon airport and rolled over the Severn Saturday afternoon. Perhaps not a vintage season but a stand out bird and a few grip-backs. I'm going to blame illness for my lack of form, not sure I even scraped mid-table mediocrity. At some point there'll be more photos and ramblings on all things Corvo but, for now, it is back to the blankness of the page, the itching of the skin, the blaring of the music, and a slight wooziness caused by rain seeping in through the ear.

Stefan, Vincent, plane.

24 October 2013


Plane cancelled at lunchtime, watching my third Black-throated Green Warbler (of 4 [four] that have occurred on Corvo) by mid-afternoon.  Silver linings, silver linings.  The wee fella remained flitting about in the canopy, thus negating any chance I had of getting even the ropeyist of record shots but you can't have everything.  It did cross my mind that I have also seen three of the four Black-throated Blue Warblers which have graced this fairest isle.  There really should be some kind of 'swapsies' system in this WP listing game.

Forgot to share this masterpiece of the Black-throated Green Warbler with you,... slightly better images by Mika (who also found the wee canopy dweller) can be seen here.

23 October 2013

A little windypops

The plane didn't come. Something to do with a little bit too much wind. Still howling around out here.

Bumped into the Indigo Bunting this afternoon, which actually seems to be different to that which was über-flushed the other day.  Also pottered around the village this evening on crashed cagarro patrol, only one was found, which is almost certainly a good thing.

Much effort, nothing new

Melancholy is a demon that haunts our island. The black birds are upon our backs. Our dusky companions press upon us, and follow us in our flight,... or something like that.

21 October 2013

Is that a mojo on the horizon?

Finally blundered into an American passerine today. And a most awe-inspiring, aesthetically pleasing, gob-smackingly gorgeous one it was too. Unfortunately, for the Corvo-cum-latelies who needed it, moments after I found and photographed it, a bloke rolled up with a chainsaw and started chopping up the wood pile it had been sat on. Possibly, the most impressive flush of all time. It was, however, eventually relocated late in the afternoon on the opposite side of the village. Also relocated the Scarlet Tanager this morning, which was nice, albeit that also did a bunk before anyone else laid eyes on it.

Indigo Bunting, bit of a Corvo special.

20 October 2013

New birds

A Scarlet Tanager and an interesting White-crowned Sparrow appeared today. There is hope after a couple of slooow days.

Probable/possible/maybe western taiga/Gambel's/gambelii White-crowned Sparrow [photo from 21st, during the less-than-perfect initial viewing I had totally missed the 'western' potential]. Is it possible to rule out an intergrade with eastern taiga/leucophrys? Answers on a blog comment/postcard/talk amongst yourselves.

19 October 2013

Maybe tomorrow

Slow going again today. Did the lighthouse, Cantinho and Lapa, plus a few fields,... nothing.

Remember this? Well,...

Vincent in the eye of an almost ready to go Cory's Shearwater nestling. 

18 October 2013

A day off

Only got out in the field for a few hours today. A quick potter in the village fields, paid this fella a visit and saw a dose of Common Dolphins.

17 October 2013

Still looking

 Fojo on a good day. Neck ache much?

This valley has played host to Northern Flicker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Wood Thrush, Black-throated Green Warbler, Canada Warbler, Ovenbird,... And today? Nothing I could lay eyes on. 

16 October 2013


Another day to go down in Corvo lore,...

A ropey photograph of a stonking bird. Yellow-throated Warbler, Corvo, a first for the Western Palearctic find for Mr. Josh Jones. Unexpected and gorgeous.

Hel-lo! A slightly surprising first for the Azores on the slopes of the caldera.

On the way back to the village I spent 20 minutes hunkered behind a wall with the 'power station ibis'. We're pals now; me and the ibis, we see eye-to-eye on things, e.g. we both quite like the rain but thought this afternoon's downpour was taking the piss.

15 October 2013

Why did the ibis cross the road?

Wooded valley, open valley, hilltop, fields, another wooded valley, more fields and village. Naff all found, Black-throated Blue Warbler as briefly as hell, bit of a run-around for a no-show American Robin, and a Mourning Dove to end on. Another day on the rock done and done.

Two of the original five are now, unfortunately, ex-Glossy Ibises. But this one is still going strong,... and surprisingly adept at crossing the road and avoiding traffic.

The Mourning Dove. A goat carcass was being butchered just behind us as we were watching this. 

14 October 2013

Big and floppy

Spent all morning in Fojo and a fair part of the afternoon in Agua, didn't find squat in the way of yankee passerines. In fact, due to the fact that I shunned Black-throated Blue Warbler, Philadelphia Vireo and Common Yellowthroat, etc., I havent seen anything small and American all day. Did get an Azores tick in the form of a big floppy raptor though,...

Juvenile dark morph Rough-legged Hawk in absolutely god-awful light. 

13 October 2013

Drowning a cold

All the English breakfast has gone, down to green and chamomile. Tea crisis looming.

Most of my day consisted of the above and peering out (from the window of a 4x4 then the balcony of the guesthouse) at the Keystone coppery that was the Mourning Dove twitch. All very entertaining and, in the end, everyone who wanted to see it saw it, so that was nice too.

12 October 2013

Cedar not cidre

You won't be surprised to know there are better pictures of this, seek and you will find.

Bit of an arrival today with Cedar Waxwing, three Bobolink, Common Yellowthroat and Red-eyed Vireo new in around the village.  The Cedar Waxwing showed down to doughnut distance on at least a couple of occasions so it might be worth checking out Vincent's site at www.vincentlegrand.com just as soon as he gets round to uploading his shots.  Hopefully, something more exciting has piled into the valleys and will come out to play over the next day or two.

"We're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."

And one for Peter. Azorean Fairy-nipple?

11 October 2013

Bird of the corn

Today a juv/1st-winter male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and I stared at each other,... for quite some time. Got a bit awkward actually. Made my excuses and left.

Today the new bird was Indigo Bunting.  Hmmm, it's just all a little bit, ever so slightly, 'haven't-we-seen-all-these-species-before'.  Better get out there and find something different then hadn't we.

10 October 2013

Nice Philly

Fogo was in a strangely, borderline worryingly, giving mood today. Just a few man hours in her verdant womb produced an unseen American wood warbler, Philadelphia Vireo and Red-eyed Vireo all within about 100 metres of each other. What is she planning for us? WHAT IS SHE PLANNING?

After several prolonged episodes of dipping on this very rock, I finally have Philadelphia Vireo tucked away on the WP list. Well done me,... and it.

06 October 2013

That's quite enough of that for now

All the usual waders still at Goldcliff this morning minus Little Stint. The numbers of Curlew Sand and Ruff appear to have dropped, Spotted Redshanks remain steady and we seem to have gained a few Greenshank.  More interesting was the steady flow of Skylark, Swallow, Meadow Pipit, alba wagtails, Linnet, Goldfinch and Siskin.  There were just enough redpoll, Reed Bunting, etc., chucked in to give the impression that, any minute, something good might flop past,... it didn't,... but the stream of tasty passerine morsels did attract a female Merlin.

For those into plastic, the Canada Goose flock at Boat Lane includes both the Bar-headed Goose and a Black Swan (unofficial patch-tick!).

Nothing better than a record shot of the Merlin graced the sensor today so here's one from yesterday,...

The sunset at Uskmouth moments before the Rose-coloured Starling didn't come in to roost.

05 October 2013

The five stages of dipping

1. Denial and isolation - the first reaction to a dip is to deny the reality of the situation. It is a normal reaction to rationalise the inevitable overwhelming emotions. It is a defence mechanism, a buffer to the immediate shock. We refuse to look at the photos and hide from the facts. This is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.

2. Anger - as the masking effects of denial and isolation begin to wear thin, reality and its pain re-emerge. We are not ready. The intense emotion is deflected from our vulnerable psychological core, redirected and expressed instead as anger. The anger may be aimed at inanimate objects, complete strangers, friends or family. Anger may be directed at the dipped bird. Rationally, we know the bird is not to blame; however, emotionally, we may resent the bird for causing us pain and for 'doing a flit'. We feel guilty for being angry, and this makes us more angry.

3. Bargaining - a normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability is often a need to regain control. Secretly, we may make a deal with the birding gods. This is a weak line of defence to protect us from the painful reality.

4. Depression - two types of depression are associated with dipping. The first is a reaction to practical implications relating to the dip. Sadness and regret predominate, we worry about the costs and the gaping hole on the checklist. This phase may be eased by simple clarification ('yes, you did miss it') and reassurance ('it will turn up again'). We may need a bit of helpful cooperation and a few kind words. The second type of depression is more subtle and, in a sense, perhaps more private. It is our quiet preparation to bid farewell to the chance of ever seeing that bird in that place.

5. Acceptance - not everyone reaches this stage of a dip. A dip may be sudden and unexpected or we may never see beyond our anger or denial. It is not a mark of bravery or manliness to resist the inevitable and to deny ourselves the opportunity to make our peace. This phase is marked by withdrawal and calm. This is not a period of happiness but must be distinguished from depression.

Coping with a dip is a ultimately a deeply personal and singular experience. Nobody can help you go through it more easily or understand all the emotions that you’re going through. But others can be there for you and help comfort you through this process.

Still mired in stage one, I tried an afternoon at Uskmouth. One Redwing, one Wheatear, 500+ House Martin and 200+ Swallows did their best to raise my spirits but the primary target remained unseen. The Starling roost included approximately 140 birds but the f**king-f**k-f**kity Rose-coloured f**k-stick of a Starling wasn't amongst them.

Ah,... that'll be stage two embarked upon then.

04 October 2013

Dark and dreary

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing; doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before; but the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token; and the only word there spoken was the whispered word, 'Bugger!'

Completed the missing of the Rose-coloured Starling today; stood adjacent to and pottered around the, largely starling-free, fields of the Newport Wetlands Reserve for little more than a lone Whinchat and the pleasure of hearing the rain bouncing off one's hood.  This Raven did flop past at Goldcliff Point mind.

A stately raven of the saintly days of yore.

30 September 2013

And so it begins,...

Birder of the corn

The vanguard have arrived on Corvo. David is already in the field and blogging at http://birdingcorvo2013.blogspot.pt/ and rarity news will appear at http://azoresbs.weebly.com/index.html and http://azores.avesdeportugal.info/ (click on Notícias dos Açores then Registos de Outubro de 2013). Peter will also be blogging at http://peteralfreybirdingnotebook.blogspot.co.uk/ as will I at some point,... I might even spew forth a tweet or two, given a bit of luck and a fair wind.  So, whether you are on Shetland, Scilly or Svalbard, you now have absolutely no excuse not to be bang up to date when moaning about the fact that Corvo is on the American plate and shouldn't really count as the WP. 

Of course, one year we will all get out there and find absolutely nothing, at which point I predict a rapid descent into a Lord of the Flies scenario culminating in mass cannibalism.

28 September 2013

Most people need their oats

A steady, if light, passage over Saltmarsh/Farmfield lanes this morning included: Skylark, Swallow, House Martin, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Siskin and Redpoll. In the bushes Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler amongst a few Blackcap and Chiffchaff were about the sum of it.

At Goldcliff the not-particularly-high high tide meant a good proportion of the waders remained out on the estuary. Those that did grace the lagoons included: Wood Sandpiper, 5+ Greenshank, 2 Spotted Redshank, 6 Ruff, just 1 Curlew Sandpiper and 4 Avocet whilst at least 10 Grey Plover were out on the foreshore.  The only other notables included Wheatear, a showy juvenile Hobby, an adult male Peregrine and the fact that both Wigeon and Shoveler numbers appear to have gone up a fair bit.

All a bit meh really,... unlike these,...

BAM! See that? BAM! Oat biscuits. BAM! In your face.

27 September 2013

Killer ladybirds from the planet Mars

Harlequin Ladybird Harmonia axyridis f. spectablis

Harlequin/Multicoloured Asian/Halloween Ladybird is apparently "... the most invasive ladybird on Earth." Presumably the possibility for there being an even more invasive ladybird on another planet has yet to be ruled out.

More about the little bleeders, including how to record your sightings, at http://www.harlequin-survey.org/ and information on our native species at http://www.ladybird-survey.org/

Pottered about up-country today, bumped into a couple of Wheatear, a couple of Red Kite, a singing Chiffchaff, a few duck and a Snipe.

26 September 2013

Ma's out, Pa's out, let's talk rude,...

... pee, po, belly-bum, drawers.

Eighteen species of wader at Goldcliff over this morning's high tide included: 1 Wood Sandpiper, 1-2 Little Stint, 9+ Curlew Sandpiper, 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 Bar-tailed Godwit, 10 Ruff, 6+ Greenshank, 25 Knot, 9 Grey Plover, 4 Avocet and lots of Snipe, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and Lapwing.  Non-wader 'mentionables' included Hobby and Kingfisher; and visible migrants included Skylark, Swallow and Meadow Pipit overhead and a half-decent number of Chiffchaffs along the hedge.

25 September 2013

Chuck us a bone

So far, autumn round here is proving less than inspiring, bordering on attritional.

24 September 2013

Now I am become death, the destroyer of cakes

A few days in the field. Yesterday in the uplands produced Red Kite and hundreds of Mipits plus a few other bits and bobs; and today a foray across the bridge resulted in Whinchat and a Clouded Yellow.  Have also popped in on Ynysyfro a couple of times in the last few days,... hold onto your hats,... one Gadwall and one Pochard.

There were a dozen of these bad boys knocking about last night. Now down to four,... and counting. Their creation had nothing to do with me but I can claim a hand in their destruction.

21 September 2013

Cooky Puss

It is a little known, and well-guarded, fact that the most important ingredient of any homemade biscuit or cookie is noise and/or ruckus and, therefore, they must always be baked to a soundtrack of classic hip hop or punk.  Today I opted for various Beastie Boys' classics during the mixing and cooking to ensure a seamless transition into the unsurpassed biscuit cooling tunes that are I don't know and Instant Death.  Pretty sure I got it bang on,...
Lime lattice biscuits. Sweet and sour like a tangerine, fresh like a box of Krispy Kremes.

PS. The milk can be substituted for Horlicks depending on how you roll.
PPS. Thinking of starting a petition asking Mary Berry to dedicate her next book to Adam Yauch.
PPPS. Wilson's Warbler, schmilson's warbler.

18 September 2013

Just pop it in your mouth and...

Small brown bird, big blue sea.

The bird above is a Monteiro's Storm-petrel identified by means of a combination of structural and plumage features (ruling out all but the other close congeners in the 'band-rumped' complex) and the state of moult, which given the whopping great 'step' in the inner primaries suggests an adult in active primary moult at the end of its summer breeding season. 

The sea below is blue is due to the combined effects of the scattering and absorption of sunlight.  The scattering, similar to that which occurs in the sky, is strongly wavelength dependent and has the effect of enhancing the shorter wavelengths.  However, unlike in the sky, absorption also has an effect, in water, the longer wavelengths of sunlight are absorbed more strongly than the shorter wavelengths.  In combination these processes cause the sea to appear blue.

And that, dear reader,... is how to suck eggs.

17 September 2013

Azorean herps

Madeira Wall Lizard Lacerta dugesii on Graciosa. Endemic to Madeira, introduced to the Azores.

Perez's Frog Pelophylax perezi not Pool Frog P. lessonae or indeed Marsh Frog P. ridibundus, which is what I'd assumed they were for the last seven years. This was one of a metric tonne or two crammed into the pond at Ginjal, Santa Maria.

14 September 2013

Wadering about

Just one day left, pottered around the inland waterbodies, not much doing, not much doing at all. Thank gawd for the quarry,...

It's a cutie. It's also bit of an Azorean speciality. About four of these in Cabo at the moment.
Lesser Lellolegs in the dark, four Azorean Noctules were overhead by this point.

13 September 2013

Winding down

The return to blighty is looming, just time for a few waders and the like,...

Short-billed Dowitcher

American Golden Plover

Pied-billed Grebe on Sao Miguel today and seven Nearctic wader species on Terceira. 

11 September 2013

Azores mega!

Sao Miguel University, above the compact leafy campus a White-tailed Tropicbird arcs through the sub-tropical azure, part seabird, part revelation, translucent wings and tail ablaze, streamer a rippling trace of its angelic passage. Image of the trip. Seared on the retina, too sublime to confine to sensor or film,... or, perhaps, I'd left the camera in the motor.

In lieu of tropicbird feast your eyes on this beauty found knocking about with House Sparrows NW of Relva,...

OOOOOSH! Azores mega!

10 September 2013

07 September 2013

Catching pennies,... again

Pissed about at Ribeira Grande getting the longipes Oystercatcher and taking in some of the warm-up for the EUROSURF 13 quarter-finals. Of course, we should have been bagging a White-tailed Tropicbird but the news dissemination was 'gerbled'.  Did get Skylark on Santa Maria this afternoon though,... pennies and pounds and all that.

05 September 2013

One good tern, yadda yadda yadda

Had a couple of Sooty Terns today, it would appear Graciosa can still claim to host a breeding population. The seas have got up a bit though making waving a camera around a touch tricky, so here's an image from yesterday,...

Great Shearwater in the gloaming,... cadillac of the sky.

03 September 2013

Swinhoes, etc.

A tiny picture of a very nice bird.

Fea's (probable Desertas) Petrel

Monteiro's Storm-petrel, not that you can tell from this angle