13 December 2014

Birding in a weatherbomb

Popped up to Scotland, met a 'weatherbomb' coming the other way, it was mostly lovely,...

... although changeable,...

... and sometimes just a little bit blizzardy.

Love a dose of wintry weather, especially when there's about £1,500 worth of clothing between my body and the elements.  Also helps to have a 4x4 to hand,... and a nice flask of something hot.  Of course, the billy-big-bollocks Wrens and Goldcrests knocking about in little more than a layer of feathers must have thought I was really letting the side down.  But, as I tried to explain to them, my species evolved in sub-Saharan Africa and we aren't built for this sort of shit.

Birding highlights were pretty thin on the ground, mostly finchy; Bramblings, Crossbills, Redpolls and the like.  The mammal front was a touch more exciting with a brief sighting of a Woozle or Heffalump crossing a track at dusk.  As with all observations of Woozles/Heffalumps the views were inconclusive regarding specific identification, almost definitely one or the other though.  A notoriously difficult species pair those two, someone should write an identification paper. 

30 October 2014

Everything must go

The skeleton-like remains of leaves are formed from xylem cells which contain high concentrations of lignin (the substance that makes wood woody) and persist after the more easily decomposed cells disappear.  The pattern of branching follows Murray's law (as, by the way, do your circulatory and respiratory systems), a formula for relating the radii of daughter branches to the radii of the parent branch of a lumen-based system.  Either that, or this is how the pixies make the leaves in the Azores, knocking up the basic structure before giving them to the trees to add the green stuff.  One of these theories is more likely to withstand the rigours of scientific investigation than the other.

 "Who are you?"

A giant woodlouse crosses a blasted landscape of iron rich sedimentary rock,... probably.

29 October 2014

Azorean Farm

 Eeyore in his none too gloomy place, neither boggy nor sad on this particular day.


28 October 2014

Azorean greenery

The endemic Azorean Ivy Hedera azorica, photograph taken in a moist Fojo whilst awaiting a vireo that never came.

A wee baby orange dreaming of all the things he'll get up to when he's big.

26 October 2014

Azores 2014

The canopy of Fojo, prime parulid habitat.

A very brief summary of the last three weeks on one small rock and one slightly bigger rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean,... [yanks in bold.]

Birds I saw…
Great Shearwater, singles off the windmills on 15th and 23rd. Only small numbers seen this year.
Storm petrel sp., probably Leach’s distantly off the windmills on 15th.
Spoonbill, one alive on 6th-8th then very dead on 9th.
Common Kestrel, one over the slopes above the village on 7th.
Dotterel, one, first seen on the 15th, bagged it on the 18th.
European Golden Plover, one near the reservoir, bagged it on 15th, Azores tick, have now seen all three of the golden plovers in the archipelago.
Little Stint, in and around the old harbour during most of the first half of my stay, Corvo tick.
White-rumped Sandpiper, one to six on most days, a maximum of 10 were recorded on the island on 15th and 17th.
Wilson's Snipe, one, which had been seen near Fojo on 13th, bagged near the junction of the middle and lower roads on the 14th, also missed one in the old harbour.
Spotted Sandpiper, one present from 8th, bumped into it on 23rd.
Lesser Yellowlegs, one present from 9th in the village and around the reservoir, bumped into it a few days later.
Willet, one at ETAR (a charming acronym for a sewage outfall) at Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel. WP tick yay! [NB. You can here a brief recording of this bird on my SoundCloud site here.]
Skua sp., one probable Pomarine distantly off the windmills on 15th.
Eurasian Collared Dove, two in or near Lapa most days, Corvo tick, their westward expansion is now seemingly complete.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo, one in the village fields just south of the wind sock on 20th. Blanked the different bird which turned up on the following day.
Snowy Owl, female, just south of, then heading north over, the Lighthouse Valley on 7th, don’t think it was seen again after that, perhaps it just kept heading north. Azores mega tick!
Buff-bellied Pipit, saw singles at/around the reservoir on 8th, and at the dump on 19th, never did catch up with the flock of four to five knocking around.
Common Chiffchaff, my best find of the trip, two or three in the Tennessee Valley on the 23rd, Azores tick!
Northern Grey Shrike, Lanius excubitor borealis/Lanius borealis, one in the Lighthouse Valley on 18th, 1st for Azores (whatever taxonomy proves most popular), potential 3rd for the WP (if Northern/borealis gets split) and potential 1st subspecies record for WP (if borealis ID can be proven or is assumed on location/prevailing weather at the time). A world tick for this subspecies for me.
Red-eyed Vireo, found one in the village fields on 12th, blanked the others.
Blackpoll Warbler, one seen twice in different spots in the village fields on 20th, cracking views near the runway. 
Scarlet Tanager, one present from 9th in the Tennessee Valley, bumped into it on 14th. Blanked the other two reported individuals.
Snow Bunting, one near(ish) the reservoir on 18th, blanked the other reports.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak, one present from 9th in the Tennessee Valley, bumped into it on 14th. Another was reported,… blanked it.
Bobolink, one in the village fields on 10th and 11th, showed really well, as per ever on Corvo. 

Birds I dipped…
At least three Grey Phalarope (Aaargh! Potential Azores tick), Long-eared Owl (on Sao Miguel, starting to think these are mythical creatures on the Azores), one Yellow Wagtail, one or two Black-and-White Warbler (gawd knows why I even went looking for it/them), one Common Yellowthroat (see note for Black-and-White Warbler) and one or more widely ranging ‘north-western’ Redpoll.

Birds I blanked in the hope that if I kept ploughing my own furrow I might have a better chance of finding something good…
One Spotted Crake (potential Azores tick in the wrong place [Cantinho/Cancellas] at the wrong time [late in the afternoon]), one Corncrake, one Pectoral Sandpiper, several Willow Warbler, one Philadelphia Vireo, several Red-eyed Vireo, two Northern Parula, one Black-throated Green Warbler, one Lapland Bunting and one Indigo Bunting

Basically a pretty poor year saved by the Willet, Northern Grey Shrike and Snowy Owl.

Dense secondary woodland on the slope between Da Ponte and Pico.

 Dawn in Fojo.

 The very uppermost part of a misty Tennessee Valley.

07 October 2014


Wrote a blogpost, accidentally uploaded it to the wrong blog, quickly deleted it,... realised I hadn't copied it to paste it on here.  Can.  Not.  Be.  Bothered.  To.  Start.  Again.

In brief: car, plane, bird, eat, sleep, car, birds, car, bird, eat, sleep, plane, bit more unscheduled plane, not many birds,... bedtime.

14 September 2014

Invertebrate biocosmology Part II

An inter-dimensional caterpillar in it’s natural habitat.  Whilst the adult Dot Moth Melanchra persicariae largely resides within the bounds of ‘our’ four yawn-inspiring dimensions of space and time, in its larval form it spends significant periods of its existence wandering between the extra ten/eleven (argue amongst yourselves) spacetime dimensions.  This occupation of inter-dimensional subspace, the space between spaces if you will, is thought to allow the attractive, if highly strung, little caterpillar to avoid predation, take advantage of bountiful but unfathomably widespread food sources, and to chill the f**k out.  Isn't nature amazing?!

13 September 2014

Invertebrate biocosmology Part I

Some cultures believe that everything in existence was created by a giant spider which now sits at the centre of the universe controlling every particle (and every force acting on every particle) with timely tugs on its silken web.  I believe it’s called the big fang theory.

12 September 2014

Variety not numbers

Following an enforced, manflu-related, absence (feel free to send flowers and chocolates) I finally got back down the patch today,…

Waders present included: 45 Avocet, nine (then seven) Knot (see below). two Little Stint, one Curlew Sandpiper, one Ruff, 31 Black-tailed Godwit, one Bar-tailed Godwit, one Spotted Redshank and six Greenshank.  The Knot count fell before our very eyes as an adult Peregrine knocked two off over the course of the high tide.  The only other semi-notable non-passerines consisted of one Hobby and one Kingfisher. 

Migrant passerines included singles of Redstart, Whinchat, Wheatear, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat and Willow Warbler; a few each of Yellow Wagtail, Blackcap and Chiffchaff; and a steady flow of Swallow, with a sprinkling of House Martin, overhead.

31 August 2014

Groundhog Goldcliff

This morning's high tide produced much the same as Friday's.  On the wildfowl front, the Wigeon count has now climbed into double figures and the Bar-headed Goose is back; the wader highlights were two Knot, eight Greenshank and two Turnstone; and passerine migrants included 14 Tree Pipit, 30 Yellow Wagtail, one Whinchat and one Wheatear over or around the lagoons, and Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler in the hedgerows. 

As you were.

29 August 2014

Water up, birds down

Had thought a few bands of blustery showers coinciding with high tide would drop something in,... didn't.  First up, nothing dropped in; secondly, there was very little to drop in on.  The recent (and ongoing) rainfall has pushed the water levels right up and there is now very little exposed mud to draw down the flyover rare/scarce/mildly interesting wader.  The bits and bobs that were present included: three Wigeon, ten Pintail, one juvenile Marsh Harrier, two Peregrine, three Avocet, 79 Ringed Plover, just 12 Dunlin, one Ruff, ten Snipe, 13 Black-tailed Godwit, six Greenshank, one juvenile Mediterranean Gull and 30+ Yellow Wagtail. 

The Marsh Harrier caught another duck, that's two this week, it gonna get fat!

24 August 2014

Some more actual Gwent birding

Another evening high tide at Goldcliff, nothing shocking, but a trickle of migrants keeps hope from flat-lining.  Waders included: two Ruff, nine Knot, six Greenshank, four Little Ringed Plover, 65 Ringed Plover, 120 Dunlin, 43 Black-tailed Godwit and 10 Avocet, plus the odd Snipe, Curlew, etc.  On the passerine side of things, one flyover Tree Pipit, 25+ (again, probably ++) Yellow Wagtail, two Redstart, one Whinchat and two Lesser Whitethroat were about the best of it.  The goose roost honked to the tune of 500 Canadas, ably accompanied by 55 Greylags, and was topped off with the glowing form of the white 'farmyard goose'.  Joy.

23 August 2014

Come fly (spider, moth,...) with me,...

One flowering Oregano plant and half an hour playing with a new gizmo for the flashgun produced,...

... four species of hoverfly, including the drone fly Eristalis pertinax,...

... a few greenbottle Lucilia sp.,...

... one tachinid fly Tachina fera,...

... three species of spider, including this female crab spider Xysticus cristatus,...

... and hordes of Small Purple and Gold Pyrausta aurata.

Or, in other words,... there's a tonne of bird food in my garden.

22 August 2014

My autumn has begun

Spent a few hours at Goldcliff over this evening's high tide. Highlights meriting the scribble of biro on scrap paper included: two Wigeon, one Marsh Harrier, one Avocet, five or six Little Ringed Plover, 43 Ringed Plover, four Knot, 85 Dunlin, one Ruff, four Snipe, 36 Black-tailed Godwit, four Greenshank, 15+ (probably ++) Yellow Wagtail, two or three Redstart, three Whinchat and eight Wheatear.  

During the quieter moments I counted all 345 members of the Canada Goose flock along with the one 'farmyard goose'/white Greylag-type; and all 236 Black-headed Gulls, amongst which were only three juveniles. 

Yes, at times, it was reasonably quiet. 

17 August 2014


Popped up to the Birdfair yesterday.  Quite fun as a social event, bumped into some people I hadn't seen in ages; also managed to cadge a full English breakfast off Conservation Grade, coffee off the World Land Trust, cake and biscuits from REGUA, a CD from The Sound Approach and, best of all, a cracking collection of sound recordings from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Did wonder about the aim and/or target audience of one, or three, of the talks though.  I also found it difficult to dismiss a nagging feeling that one ill-judged short-cut, through an apparently innocent looking marquee, could lead to one blundering into a League of Gentleman inspired cult of aging Bill Oddie devotees, decked out in nothing but overly pocketed Country Innovation waistcoats and thongs, prostrating themselves at the feet of a huge papier-mâché effigy of Kate Humble. 

Could happen,... could definitely happen.

31 July 2014

We will wash it, we will splosh it,...

Harvest Mouse nest attached to Great Willowherb in a jungle of Greater Pond Sedge.  If you put your ear to it, you can hear the distant piping of the Marvellous Mechanical Mouse Organ from somewhere deep within.  

25 July 2014

Fun week,... fungi

Spent most of this wonderfully hot and humid week up to my sweat/sunscreen-filled eyeballs in aquatic (and other, largely stingly/prickly) vegetation.  Heard a Kingfisher, found a Harvest Mouse nest and a brood of Tufted Duck, was bitten by horse flies, mosquitoes and red ants, and have had enough of Water Voles for the foreseeable future.  Also had a very showy, bordering on nonchalant, Water Vole during a quick stop at Magor Marsh but little there in the way of bird interest. 

PS. Can anyone identify the fungi in the image below?  Three appeared in a plant pot out front this week, almost certainly a garden tick if someone can put a name to it. 

When they first appeared the colour of the cap was shiny and a sandy-yellow (a little brighter than the tip is here) which bleached over a couple of days to this. This one measured 10 cm from tip to 'root' and could neither speak English nor play the piano.

20 July 2014

Let's. Get. Ready. To. CRUMBLE!

Home-grown rhubarb, homemade crumble,... custard on the way.  Yummers!

15 July 2014

We went east

The greatest of Knots, partially obscured by a Redshank and phone-scoped from within a rolled up carpet whilst suffering from temporary tunnel vision.  Fusion technology performance art at its very best.  Luckily, before the bird moved onto the mudflats to feed, half decent views had been secured as it repeatedly flitted around in the wader roost amongst the Sea Lavender in the foreground. 

13 June 2014

Last week

A week of early starts, ickle ponies, six foot rabbits and countless moist bottoms in the lovely New Forest.  Bagged a couple of long overdue avian year ticks (Eider [in the Solent] and Spotted Flycatcher) and a fair number of new invertebrates for 2014 (e.g. Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Keeled Skimmer, etc., etc.) but the highlight was the quality and variety of the breeding stuff and the accompanying dawn chorus.  It can't be too bad when you're surrounded by oodles of singing/displaying Curlew, Snipe, Woodlark, Redstart, Dartford Warbler, Firecrest, etc., etc.  Did manage to not see Short-toed Eagle or Black Kite though.

Clayhill Bottom. Very moist, if wearing walking boots and gaiters (or 'birding spats' as I like to call them) best crossed at pace whilst being very mindful of your step. "That looks solid,... nope,... that looks solid,... nope,... that looks solid,... nope." [ad infinitum]

A horsey.

09 June 2014

Smell the roses

Pottered around the grasslands on Sunday, rounded up a few more Cetti's but little else of note on the ornithological side of things. Plenty of dragon-, damsel- and butterflies though, and a smattering of pwiddy flowers.

A rose by any other name would,... err,... be a misidentified rose.

06 June 2014

That's the way to do it

Mother Shipton in the sun at Uskmouth. That's supposed to be the profile of a witch on the forewing, looks more like Mr. Punch.

Thought I'd better get down the patch whilst the sun was shining.  Nothing new on the bird front but the number and variety of bugs, and other spineless wonders, seems to be on the up.  Down at the pools most of the action was provided by regular sorties by the resident, wader bothering, Buzzard.  High tide was almost a total wash-out, just two Dunlin came in off the estuary.

Umbridge at Goldcliff. [In the interests of full disclosure, the above is a composite of several images (can you see the join[s]?); no less authentic than images taken with the aid of MP3s, mealworms, etc., especially when photographers then fail to mention their use. Of course, all photography is, at best, a manipulated, imperfect reflection of reality, but that's another, yawn-inducing discussion altogether.]

01 June 2014

It's very green out there

It was very green and, in places, moist (right up to your pockets); and, in other places, stingy, today. The Cetti's Warbler survey is complete. The Savi's is still present. That is all.

A wee hoppy-kitten-bunny early doors but mostly greenery.

Latticed Heath but mostly greenery.

Untrampled Grass Vetchling between path and Savi's Warbler (well done everybody),... but mostly greenery.

31 May 2014

Just reeling

Both Savi's and Grasshopper Warbler whirring away at Uskmouth this morning.

Still a trickle of birders coming to pay their respects to the Savi's, though they are now outnumbered by an expressionless undead horde of hardcore dudery.  Look down their binoculars, down, down into the distant, diminished eyes and you will see,... you will see nothing,... nothing but vacancy.  Their leaky-milky orbs, opaque, weepy windows into a soulless dusty void; rigid tympanic membranes deafened, unmoving within the dusty crack-waxed auricles; an arrhythmic slurry of vapid syllables oozing intermittantly from their slack, dribble-cornered, jaws.  Oh!  The horror!  What did they do in their past lives to be cast out this way?  Back!  What merry murderers must they have been?  Back I say!  What unfathomable crimes must have been conjured behind those unseeing eyes?  Get thee back into the tempest!  Back!  Back to night's Plutonian shore!

The scene of panic at Uskmouth today, triggered when a recently retired sales executive from Fladbury, Worcestershire, was overheard to mispronounce Cetti's.  The dudes were among them!  Even the crows were terrified.

29 May 2014



The Savi's Warbler is still present, still singing and still showing on-and-off at close range.  There really is no need to encroach on the edge of the reedbed or to resort to playing MP3 recordings at this bird.   

And to the aged pizzle-stick with the 'oops-no-manual-focus-option-bridge-camera-thingy' bemoaning the fact he couldn't get a clear view, standing right up against the reedbed and overheard muttering something to the effect of 'somebody should have cut some of the reeds back' - piss off you ... [the author removed the following text as, even for him, it was "a little bit ranty"].

27 May 2014

And lo, it came to pass that Gwent had a good day

Soaked up the Savi's Warbler for a few hours this morning, bagged a few more recordings (one of which is now here) and generally revelled in its whirring glory.  Then, on leaving, I decided to detour via the shelter belt, 'just in case'.  Pottered eastwards, entered said shelter belt, heard Golden Oriole singing. 

Slight panic. 

Quickly recorded a snatch [he said snatch] of song, then flailed around with the phone in an attempt to get the news out from one of the few 3G black spots on the reserve.  Then totally titted up the chance of a good recording as the bird performed, hidden to view, from somewhere almost above me - song, calls, the whole nine yards [note to self, next time make double sure you press 'record'].  After a very quick flash of oriole-shaped/sized bird in the canopy, I had another go at phoning/tweeting/semaphoring out the fact that, for the first time in ten years an oriole was in Gwent.  Unfortunately, despite a small group forming, I don't think it was certainly heard or seen again.  Luckily for all you lovely people, you can go here and hear the few phrases I did shoe-horn onto the CF card before having my techno-brainfart.

... and now a Pectoral Sandpiper has rocked up at Goldcliff.  It's all kicking off! 

26 May 2014

Reeling from the Savi's

The Savi's Warbler is still present and, given the slightly better weather conditions, I thought I'd have a go at bagging the song for posterity.  You too can now enjoy the bird in all its mellifluous magnificence by clicking here

Gawd knows how I managed to get even a half-decent recording above the cacophony of voluntary (and not-so-voluntary) noises emanating from the assembled twitchette.  I should get some kind of award for the meticulous editing out of all the nattering, wheezing, shuffling, sneezing, burping and sharting (if you want an idea of what it sounded like through my headphones try this). 

24 May 2014

Savi's Warbler, Uskmouth!

Photo now, words later.  First for Gwent found by Matt Meehan.  Note the rain drop across the eye,... it was hoying it down.  Singing and showing pretty well on-and-off.  Number 201 for the patch list.

23 May 2014

Water levels going up

An afternoon peering out of the hides at an increasingly soggy Goldcliff produced hardly anything of note.  The tide came in, produced precisely one summer-plumaged Knot, one Ringed Plover, two Curlew and two Dunlin, and then went out again.  Eight Whimbrel had flown east earlier and a fair few House Martin did their best to entertain, but it was, to all intents and purposes, a total waste of six and a half hours of my life that, unless someone gets off their arse and invents time travel, I shall never get back.

The moistest of Shelducks.

21 May 2014

A flying visit to the forest

A midweek dusk and dawn in the New Forest.  Drumming Snipe, churring Nightjar, bubbling Curlew, yadda, yadda, yadda,...

The post-survey breakfast included homemade honey soaked toast.  With a slight lean to the right, I could see the bees from the breakfast table.

Dawn's misty crack

19 May 2014

Weekend catch-up

Managed to carefully avoid the best bird of the weekend, Friday night's Temminck's Stint flitted in and out between my three visits to Goldcliff.  Did manage a few migrants, the weekend's combined totals including: Spoonbill, two Ruff, a fair few Whimbrel, two Yellow Wagtail, two or three Wheatear (one of which was a knackered bird, broken wing, claret on the belly; looked as though it had been got by a predator), Grey Plover, two Curlew Sandpiper and three Greenshank. 

Two of the re-introduced Cranes flopped over too.  FYI, when clocking the colour rings on these birds you are looking for three rings on each leg.  All UK birds should be ringed black-blue-black on the left, so it might be best to concentrate on the right leg initially, the rings on which should allow individual identification.  Apparently, birds wandering in South Wales recently have included: 'Tamsin', 'Chocolo', 'Lofty' and 'Gibble'.  If you're struggling to read the rings, perhaps just shout the names out and wait for the bird to turn its head,... bound to work.

12 May 2014

That was the weekend that was

Calidrids at the point, there's a Sanderling in there,... there's also a pale-headed wintry Dunlin,... fill yer boots!

Compared to Saturday and Sunday, it transpired that Friday was a bad choice for a seawatch.  One each of Fulmar, Sanderling and Barwit, and a dose of Whimbrel stopped us from throwing ourselves into the drink but did little to increase the heart rate.  Nothing particularly noteworthy at the pools either, although, an hour or two counting newly hatched nippers and a potter round nest monitoring, did mean I'd gained muddy bins and a vague whiff of saline goo before I made it home.

Popped in on a breezy Ynys-y-fro on Sunday.  Bit of a hirundine/swiftfest,... and then it was home for a cuppa and homemade stodgy chocolate brownie-type things. 

04 May 2014

International horrified hellish rage day

Started the day with a garden tick at 04:35; a Cuckoo, somewhere on the opposite side of the valley, its voice stirring the motionless air just enough to reach across the intervening gloom.

The International Dawn Chorus Day walk primarily produced 20 pairs of bleary eyes and, hopefully, 20 lightly massaged brains betwixt 20 pairs of birdsong soothed ears.  On the bird front, it turned up most of the usual haul (we somehow dipped Lesser Whitethroat) plus Grasshopper Warbler, Hobby and Marsh Harrier. 

Then it was off down Saltmarsh Lane where some ear-catching and slightly out of place 'chirrips' signalled the end of a long wait for Tree Sparrow within the boundaries of the reserve.  A bit of a patch mega and, given the tiny local breeding population isn't showing any signs of increasing, likely to remain so for the foreseeable.  There was very little else down the lane though so, before fatigue and rapidly falling blood-sugar levels took me down for the day, I headed for two cereal bars and Goldcliff.  Despite the fact that a Crane lumbered over westward, the two male Garganey were about the best of the pools.  A few years ago the Crane would have been worthy of red-letters and much celebratory swearing but is now, thanks to the 'The Great [sic] Crane PRoject', reduced to being written off as the semi-feral escape that it probably was.  Of course, due to the fact that this bird went over at no insignificant altitude, and photos failed to rule in or out the presence of colour rings, we will never know if we chucked away the second, albeit highly unlikely, patch mega of the day.  The true status of Crane in the UK is now utterly buggered due to our collective inability to capture the public's interest with naturally occurring wetland wildlife and, instead, opting for an ornithological distraction technique aimed at the lowest common denominator.  To paraphrase Frankie Boyle, it's the equivalent of some guy from the WWT, RSPB, or wherever going "Look at the big shiny shiny bird",... "No need to make the effort to appreciate what's already here",... "Look at the big shiny shiny bird."

Muppetry for muppets.  

Not the best songster in the world ever but they do play ball don't they.

PS.  Please note the title is, as I'm sure you know, a reference to a Kurt Donald Cobain quote about the dawn chorus and nothing to do with one's anti-pointless-reintroductions rant.  Boing.  Time for bed. 

02 May 2014

All a little subdued

A bit of Blackbird on Water Rail action.

All a bit low key today.  Only Whimbrel and Wheatear were on the move at Uskmouth, although the immature male Marsh Harrier did do his best to brighten up the, otherwise overcast, Cetti's Warbler survey.  At Goldcliff, two Garganey, a Common Sandpiper and a few Swift high overhead were the highlights.  All manner of ickle babies are starting to appear though, taking on the cute baton from the rapidly-becoming-too-big-to-be-cute lambs.  Laaaavely.

21 April 2014

No big birds with long legs

Popped to Ynys-y-fro this afternoon, thought I'd better scan the skies over Newport for a passing White Stork or escapee Common Crane,... nothing doing.  Breeding waterfowl, a few Whitethroat and a handful of hirundines were about the sum of it.  The only semi-notable was a male Mallard hybrid (possibly Mallard x Gadwall or 'Brewer's Duck'), the bird was accompanying a female Mallard and a brood of two small young. Mmmmm, backcrosses, potential future stars of many a Gwent Birding blogpost.  Watch this space.

Due to the lack of anything picture worthy at the reservoirs,... here's a woolly lawnmower from Saturday.  For those in need of a step-by-step guide to butchering the above, see here.

20 April 2014

Predictably half-decent

Classic conditions for a half-decent arrival or two today; E to NE winds with the odd front, and associated precipitation, passing over.  As a result there was a good array of waders at Goldcliff, amongst the 18 species on show were: nine Ringed Plover, three Grey Plover, one Knot, one Sanderling, one Curlew Sandpiper, 237 Dunlin, one Ruff, 15 Black-tailed Godwit, 7 Bar-tailed Godwit, 12 Whimbrel, one Spotted Redshank (in almost full summer plumage [sooty jubbliness]) and one Greenshank.  Also three Dark-bellied Brent Geese on the pill, a lone lingering Wigeon, one Yellow Wagtail and two singing Reed Warbler.  I should have hung around longer, something better was bound to have dropped in, but homemade cake beckoned like nothing had beckoned before.

Having dipped the Garganey yesterday, popped back to Boat Lane/Redhouse and snuck that into the notepad too.

  Part of the calidrid flock, including the Curlew Sandpiper decked out in its most dull-diddly-dull-dull plumage.

19 April 2014

Ladle and gentlespoon birds

A few hours over high tide at Goldcliff produced a couple of passes by the immature male Marsh Harrier, one Bar-tailed Godwit, seven Whimbrel heading up-channel, one Greenshank, 29 Black-headed Gull passing through, a steady trickle of Sand Martin and Swallow with a couple of House Martin mixed in, two Yellow Wagtail and a Lesser Whitethroat. Also a Sedge Warbler at Boat Lane but no sign of the Garganey.

Second calendar-year male Marsh Harrier(-type? [better add the old 'type' caveat in light of Blanc, Sternalski & Bretagnolle]).  Presumably yesterday's 'female' was also this long-staying bird and not a sly passage lady Marsh Harrier attempting to sneak by under the radar(?).
Whilst we're getting all 'sexy',... a lady Lapwing, identified as such by the brown feathers on the forehead and crown; shortish crest; significant amount of white feathering on the lower throat/upper breast; and the dark feathers on the breast, throat and head dull blackish with white feather admixed, not as deep and glossy as in males.  Other features not visible in this image include differences in wing shape and the white sub-terminal pattern on the outermost primary; and extent of glossiness on the mantle and scapulars.  More information on sexing Lapwing here and here.

18 April 2014

Beyond the borders

This week, whilst on a series of potters around various parts of eastern and southern England, I saw/heard a few Egyptian Goose, two Greylag x Canada Goose hybrids, one Ring-necked Duck, a fair few Red-legged Partridge, one Red Kite, one Marsh Harrier, a few Little Ringed Plover, a fair few Common Tern, a fair few Cuckoo, one Tawny Owl, a surprisingly small number of Woodlark, lots of Lesser Whitethroat, a few Whitethroat, a fair few Dartford Warbler, one Grasshopper Warbler, five Nightingale, lots of Redstart, a few Wheatear, a few Yellow Wagtail, a few White Wagtail, one Crossbill and one Corn Bunting.

And,... back in Gwent,...

Two Dippers and a Tawny Mining Bee.


12 April 2014

Spring still springing

Another morning at Uskmouth, this time up the eastern end, another morning of migrants. Overhead, hirundine passage included one Sand Martin, 24 Swallow and three House Martin; and the best of the warblers was a Grasshopper Warbler, closely followed by four Lesser Whitethroat and ably supported by four Sedge Warbler, two Reed Warbler and three Willow Warbler.  Nothing, knock-yer-socks-off exciting though,... and no Cranes,... plastic or otherwise. 

11 April 2014

They've arrived

It was a morning of migrants, not paticularly rare migrants, but migrants.  A sun-bathed, barely breeze-tickled, Uskmouth produced a Whimbrel on the foreshore; one Cuckoo, 43 Sand Martin, eight Swallow, one House Martin, one Wheatear, five Sedge Warbler, ten Blackcap, 23 Chiffchaff, four Willow Warbler and seven Lesser Redpoll in, around and over the lagoons; and one Whitethroat which caught the ear as I exited the car-park and then took 30 minutes to actually show itself (skulky Whitethroat, whatever next!). 

PS. There were also a tonne of Cetti's Warblers,... oh, and another couple of Swallow graced the overhead wires near Nash.

It was like a duck pond out there today, oh wait, it was a duck pond out there today. A duck. A pond. Quack.

05 April 2014

One of the bestest ducks in the world

Skipping gracefully over the fact that we drove to the Baikal Teal, dipped the Baikal Teal, drove back,... and then heard the news that the Baikal Teal had been refound 17.5 miles NW of where we had been looking for the Baikal Teal,...

Oh! The things I've seen today! Red-legged Partridge, Egyptian Goose, Goldeneye, Comma, Willow Warbler, Brown Hare, Red Kite, Sand Martin,...

Bugger. All. Of. Note.

The most annoying thing is I really like Baikal Teal.  No, really, I do.

04 April 2014

Bulk-standard-run-of-the-mill patching

Bits and bobs, but no more, at Goldcliff this morning. The highlight was either the somnolent Spoonbill or a distant flock of c.30 Kittiwake-shaped white dots heading up-channel; and the supporting cast included two Bar-tailed Godwit, three Greenshank, 115 Black-tailed Godwit and a handful of Grey Plover.  Still quite a few winter wildfowl about with two Pintail, c.30 Wigeon and almost 70 Shoveler dotted around.  Very few passerine migrants though, just one singing Blackcap and three or four Chiffchaff. 

Nothing of note at Boat Lane bar the mighty Barney.  

29 March 2014

Scratching around

Have trawled round Magor Marsh, Ynys-y-fro Reservoirs and Uskmouth in search of migrants over the last few days,... very little doing.  The only new arrivals at Magor and Ynys-y-fro were a few Chiffchaffs; this morning, Uskmouth did a little better with Wheatear, Willow Warbler, 30+ Chiffchaff and a few flyover Meadow Pipit but the show was stolen by a slightly less well-travelled patch scarcity - Red-legged Partridge,... ooooosh!

On the butterfly front, more Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Brimstone today, still haven't seen Comma or Orange-tip this year

On the way back had a Red Kite flying down the by-pass at Risca.  Seems to have been a few wandering semi-locally today with reports from elsewhere in Gwent, Gloucestershire and Somerset popping up on Twitter. Joy.

25 March 2014

I went north,... and came back

Forgot to blog,... popped up to Lancashire last week: 1 definitely-wild-no-doubt-about-it Ross' Goose, 2 'Siberian Chiffchaff' (at least one of which had been singing, although not whilst I was present), a handful of bulk standard Chiffchaffs and sundry wildfowl, waders (including a fair bit of Curlew passage), mad March Brown Hares, etc., etc.

A Ross' Goose, phone-scoped in a breeze; having become bored of pottering around the UK with his Pink-footed chums, he's probably thinking about heading back to the Canadian tundra. He is definitely not considering going back and checking out the cage he jumped out of at some indiscernible point in the past,... because that definitely didn't happen.  Fully-winged, unringed and as cute as a button.

[Ross' Goose update from the WWT Martin Mere latest sightings page: "The ‘wild’ credentials of the Ross’s Goose took a blow when it followed it’s Mallard friends onto Swan Lake (opposite the restaurant) yesterday".  Oh dear.]

[PS. Ross' or Ross's? Vote now!] 

09 March 2014


Lots of invertebrates out and about, hordes (well mini-hordes) of Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells and bumblebees today. 

Had the first two bumblebees in the garden on 23rd February this year, seemingly with one each of Bombus terrestris (rich/dark yellow bands and a buff tail) and B. lucorum agg. (pale yellow bands and a clean white tail) appearing on the heather.  Both were accompanied by mites, the B. terrestris queen being well and truly infested, yuck/ewww, or so you would think, although, according to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BCT) website:
"... most of the mite species that live with bumblebees are fairly harmless to them and are simply clinging to the bumblebee so that they can be transported to new nests. When in the nest, the mites usually feed upon the wax, pollen, nest debris, and other small insects, so do not feed on the bees."
So perhaps just meh.

 White-tailed Bumblebee B. lucorum agg. This 'species' is actually a complex of three cryptic species B. lucorum, B. cryptarum and B. magnus. The tricky little buggers. 

Buff-tailed Bumblebee B. terrestris

More on bumblebees on the BCT website here; at the Bees, Wasps and Ants Recording Society website here; and on the Natural History Museum website here.