29 November 2015

Yet more seabirds

Another half-decent few hours at a chilly and westerly swept Goldcliff Point (luckily we were tucked out of it with tea and chocolate biscuits on tap).  Highlights included: adult Little Gull, Great Northern Diver (it's been a good year for these), two pale phase Pomarine Skuas, two Great Skuas (one coming right in over the point) and 22 Kittiwake.  The one member of 'Team Point' doing a Gwent year list was beside himself with glee.  Unfortunately this was the end of the era of comfy seawatching, from now on it's back to the sea-wall with us.  This time next week it will be a flask of lukewarm, metallic-tangy tea; the twin trails of nose across glove; and the creak and squeal of compacted spine and corroded tripod head,... *sob*. 

At Goldcliff Pools conditions were bloody awful (neither tea nor biscuits on tap) and only a Greenshank made it into the notes app. 

 Bonxie coming in to the point,...

... Bonxie passing over the point.

23 November 2015

Wholemeal crusts

Popped in on Ynysyfro in the hope that a roaming Whooper Swan (or seven) had dropped in,... they hadn't.  Also fed the ducks at Fourteen Locks, Newport's premier venue for random combinations of polluted Mallard DNA.


First-winter Mudwangler.

Oh dear.

18 November 2015

Barney,... not quite Wilma

 Two of the Great Skuas in the, slightly murky, estuary this morning.  Difficult to be sure just how many were knocking around but 5-10 would probably cover it.

First-winter Shag just off the point, had a standard metal ring on the right leg, same bird as seen at Severnside?

Storm Barney produced a few seabirds off Goldcliff Point today including two Gwent tart-ticks: Razorbill and Shag.  Had I not got stuck in traffic it would have been three but Guillemot eluded me again, definitely my Gwent list bogey.  Bird of the day, however, was probably a brief Slavonian Grebe on the water just off the point, all the briefer for me thanks to a show of despicable blocking tactics by the former county recorder (ungentlemanly conduct, bringing the game into disrepute, etc., yellow, borderline red, card behaviour).  The best non-seabird was a late Swallow heading off towards Weston-super-Mare.

Haven't had a bad few days 'channel-watching' with Common Scoter, Great Northern Diver, Leach's Petrel, Gannet, Shag*, Slavonian Grebe**, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Razorbill*, auk sp., Black Guillemot* and Kittiwake all putting in appearances.  Just waiting for the Surf Scoter to come and visit now. 

* - Gwent and patch tick; ** - patch tick.     

15 November 2015

The perfect wave of improbability

Remember me, Captain?

There are many obstacles placed before the frustrated seabirders of Gwent, dubious geographical location (does that count as sea?), distance to the deepwater channel, a limited choice in observation points, etc.  However, it is the evil conjoined twins of disbelief and self-doubt that are the most impassable impediments.  Anything half-decent flying up or down-channel is instantly trailed by a dense fret of vacillation.  But add the slightest imperfection of viewing conditions, or brevity of sighting, and the water at the foot of the sea wall broils and froths, spray fills the air and a nigh impregnable wall of watery irresolution rushes skywards.  And there you are, at the foot of an impossibly vertical torrent of unlikelihood, clinging to your possible penguin or probable petrel.  Momentarily a troubled, colourless face peers back then,… the wave breaks and crashes down, crushing down, pummelling the olive clad body without and the ornithological spirit within.  The under-current swirls around once planted, sliding, slipping, flailing feet.  Swept out into the sea of not-quite-knowing, gasping, thrashing, turning to see,… to see nothing but unbearable wave after wave of incredulity, bearing down, barrelling down.  Submerged, wide-eyed, white-eyed, silent screams; brine-filled convulsions, lungs burst and from your grasp slips the prize find; down, down into the weedy, eely-mouthed darkness to a silty-soft, cold as death, hagfish-filled (thats-what-you-get-for-birding-on-the-)bed.

How’s it above?

And so it was.  An auk, arse-on, going away, Avonmouth-bound at a rate of (no [knots], only Barwit of note on the wader front).  White below, black tail, white rump, WHITE RUMP!  Get on this!  There's white on the upperparts, THERE IS WHITE ON THE UPPERWING!  GET ON THIS!  It ploughs on towards blighty.  GET ON THIS!  Directly away, following an upriver furrow, lost amongst the frothing white horses.  PANIC!  A squall murks the background, landmarks blur, ill-formed directions are ineffectually blurted.  The arse is lost in the distant foam and all that remains is an alcidic etching on the retina.  A resignation settles on the flock, a helplessness learnt of innumerable unidentified feathery specks.  The one has all but got away. 

Tiddlers in a jamjar?

But it couldn’t be anything else.  There is nothing else it could be.  Solace?!  Who will give me solace?  The good book is sought, offered and, once found (in a glove-compartment beneath the sticky tin of sugar dusty sweets), consulted.  And from the bible-black-backed tome comes forth the flickering light of faith.  No, really, there is nothing else it could have been.  A phone call to Severnside and tweet to the ether (carefully caveated with ‘possibles’, ‘maybes’, ‘keep your eyes open fors’ and ‘he’s not 100% buts’) and,… and that’s all that can be done.  Not that that knowledge halts the wind-whipped waves of despair and self-loathing.  AAARGH! Didn’t nail it.  F***CK!  A county first.  Definitely didn’t get enough to get it accepted.  Jeeebus!  Single observer.  No photo.  Didn’t happen.  Sob.  

When she smiles, is there dimples?


“Thanks… Just had close views of Black Guillemot off Severn Beach”

Oh, Twitter how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.  Get in!  I’m bloody having it!  Will it come back down?  Keep flipping looking. 

Rock-a-bye baby?



“Black Guillemot showing well Blackrock… on the rocks.”

Slamming of car doors, revving of engines, screeching of brakes and passengers, then brakes again,… Blackrock.  It was here three minutes ago,… it’s here now!  Lappage, photographage, rejoicage, oh-bugger-it-just-flew-offage,… more birding, then home. 

Oh, my dead dears!

First-winter Black Guillemot, Blackrock, Gwent.  If it had flown by Goldcliff Point in this fashion much less anguish would have ensued.  Photo by Tom Chinnick. 

First-winter Black Guillemot, Blackrock, Gwent.  It climbed out of the water on several occasions, maybe not 100% healthy.  Again, photo by Tom Chinnick.

07 November 2015

“Un homme qui dort,…”

“When a man is asleep, he has in a circle around him the chain of the hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly host.  Instinctively, when he awakes, he looks to these, and in an instant reads off his own position on the earth's surface and the amount of time that has elapsed during his slumbers; but this ordered procession is apt to grow confused, and to break its ranks.  Suppose that, reclining in a ribeira, say, after a lunch of ham and cheese rolls, sleep descends upon him while he is staring up at the canopy: then the world will fall topsy-turvy from its orbit, his chosen cradle will carry him at full speed through time and space, and when he opens his eyes again he will imagine that he went to sleep months earlier and in some far distant country.  Not knowing where he is, he cannot be sure at first who he is; he has only the most rudimentary sense of existence, such as may lurk and flicker in the depths of an non-birder’s consciousness; he is more destitute of human qualities than the city banker; but then the memory, not yet of the place in which he is, but of various other places where he had birded, and might now very possibly be, would come like a rope let down from above to draw him up out of the abyss of not-being, from which he could never have escaped by himself: in a flash he would traverse landscapes formed over untold millennia, and out of a half-visualised succession of stone walls and vegetation, would put together by degrees the component parts of his ego.”

Marcel Proust (had he fallen asleep in Poço da Agua on 19th October 2015 whilst looking for yankee warblers)

Yep, another grey and rainy morning in Gwent,... how did you guess?

NB. Quotation marks may have been misused and abused in the production of this bog post.