Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Most Powerful Man in British Birding?

The most worthy internet institution that is BirdForum has been taken down... Earthquake? Global Meltdown? Virus Attack? Ketchup spilled on one of the servers?

Possibly all of the above, but it seems much more likely that it is all just down to one man's All-reaching influence on the british birding scene. Within a mere half hour of Himself rejoining the forums for a friendly and frank open question time, and the major crash occurs.

People were Rude to him.

This is what you get .... how on earth did you think we'd get away with it?

Diss him at your peril; LGRE, the Big Cheese (or perhaps more accurately, 'The Big Marmite') of the birding world (loved or loathed, but never just 'liked' ...) and most certainly 'a bit of a character' and epitomisation of all that is extreme in british birdspotting,  the man, the legend in his own socks and lifetime. Proof indeed that we should all pay him a lot more respect than some of us cheeky young whipper-snappers do ... sacrifices/examples will be made at all key spotting sites before noon tomorrow.

The Other Prime Minister has been informed, although naturally he is absolutely powerless to intervene, no 'special relationships' have been invoked, so we have been told, and the Yank Bittern has not been flushed down any outside lavatories, contrary to rumours in certain quarters ...

Weird ... or what?

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Garden Birding in France

16th October to 7th November, hopefully ...

Been down here at the parents for the last couple of weeks now, unfortunately for me we've been working on trying to finish getting the house insulated for the winter - they're in the south west of France, balmy enough you might think, but actually as cold, or colder than the uk half the time, especially at night, so I'm not actually on holiday, or birding all the time, much as I would like to be.
Hence almost all of my birding has been restricted to the garden, and not much even at that. Although not all bad, as it has proven fairly productive for vis mig over the last few years, located as it is in a small lowland river valley just to the east of Les Landes forest (the largest in france) and a couple of hundred kilometres north of the Pyrenees.

Unfortunately it took 3 days to actually get to escape from the UK, due to the pesky french and their predilection for striking at the most inopportune moments (like when I want to travel), although I did manage to see a bunch of Firecrests and get Brent Goose on my yearlist down in Southampton at my brothers whilst I waited for the next flight from Bristol. But I made it in the end.

Typical garden birds seen over the last 2 weeks include such very nice non-typically british birds as Black Redstart, Cirl Bunting and Serin. News from the parents just before I left England was that the Eurasian Cranes had started arriving, with several big flocks flying over. Nice. And eventually I managed to see some of my own - only 12 or so the first time, but excellent birds as they slowly thermalled over one side of the woods, before somehow magically and almost instantaneously transforming into a perfect V and sailing southwestwards over the house and towards their annual maize field winter rendezvous. The following day saw 3 slightly more distant flocks of maybe a hundred or so each, all passing over in a southerly/south westerly direction. Very nice.

A Hawfinch on the drive first thing in the morning is always an excellent way to start any day, even if you then have to go on and battle huge sheets of plasterboard and fibreglass for the rest of it.
The Kingfisher from last year (or another, or even more than one) had returned, and been on the decking by the pond a couple of times as viewed from the lounge window. Once it almost landed while we were having lunch outside, unfortunately, wary as they are, it saw us and did a quick take and about turn mid-air. Other goodies include Firecrest in the pines, 4 or 5 Blackcap or more feeding on the overripe figs in the Fig tree (and even moving around into the very top of the highest pine). One morning I had just come out of the front door to saw some wood to be greeted by a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker flying overhead at treetop height, calling noisily as it did so and of into the distance beyond the village.
Somewhat more regular garden birds in a uk context include a good complement of Robins (3 singing the other day, never seen so many here), Blue and Great Tits, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers and various corvids etc. Mallard on three occasions, Grey Heron and Cormorant overflying the river. Collared Dove numbers up on previous visits, with 89 noted flying over in small flocks one morning, and then when two noisy tractors passed by, 75 at least in the air at once came back, obviously disturbed from their feeding just outside the village. Woodpigeons, Chaffinch and various other (often unidentified) flocks of small and medium sized passerines moving through southwards, often in good numbers, always good to see. Most birds get seen in the brief time around eating lunch and before siesta takes over, or by happening to randomly glance out of the window.

New birds today have included Goldcrest, a Nuthatch calling across the other side of the river, a showy Dunnock (for this part of the world) and the Serins and a Cirl Bunting showing particularly well in the birch in the veg patch.

Raptors have been fairly thin on the ground (or, to be slightly more accurate, in the air), with a sprinkling of Red Kites passing southwards in the first week or so, a couple of Common Buzzards on several occasions, presumably residents, the odd Sparrowhawk, and one lunch time, a Peregrine Falcon lazily moving around in the upper reaches. Oh, and something else, deserving of its own day account ...

Saturday, 30 October 2010

30 Oct 2010

Erm .... was I meant to be keeping this blog thing regularly updated?? Oops....

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Real life, and not a bad day on the patch ...

27th September 2010
Not a bad morning at the two reservoirs, it started off quietly, but by the end of the day had some pretty good birds, including at least 3 patch ticks ...
I'd set the mothtrap overnight, but overslept, and since it was going to be gone eight before I attended the trap, I went birding first, instead of afterwards, since I figured anything good would probably have left by then anyway. Worked out well (although I'll never know what mega rare moths exited the trap before I got there of course ...)
Argal Reservoir 8:30 -10:00, College 10:00 - 10:45

On the waters themselves I was treated to the usual highly stimulating fare of a dozen or more Mallard, the Male Tufted Duck, a few Cormorant and a sprinkling of Black-headed Gulls. I was worried that the waders had gone and fully deserted me for the winter, but I was treated to Green Sandpiper outside the hide, and a Common Sandpiper halfway around. Spent a fair while grilling it's distant form for signs it might be a Spotted, but I failed. Also around the edges we were back to 3 Grey Heron, the Moorhen in its regular spot in the bay below the car park, more BH Gulls and a couple of Grey Wagtail.
Looking towards Mabe church from the west bank, a tidy flock of 50 or so House Martin, with maybe 5 Swallows dipped and cavorted above the waters, one moment high, the next streaming low in a seemingly confetti strewn panic. Possibly not long before a day or two go by, and you think 'I haven't seen one of them for a while', and then that's it until next spring ...
Around the banks I was regularly treated to the sight and sound of the odd Chiffchaff or two, some bursting into song in the sunshine, with 3 together at the Spot Fly site and another threesome by the car park; 13 in all.
Highlight of the day at this point was a Wheatear flying over (possibly two) and alighting in the top of a bushy hedge above the bracken. Patch tick, and I even got some pics. Also possibly a patch tick were 3 Mistle Thrushes (or they could have been Fieldfares (!) ) which also flew past at this point, white underwings flashing like beacons below the church. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flypast, with a couple of Ravens overhead and odd assorted corvids and other commoner birds completed the picture for phase one of my mornings birding ... almost.
I'd already left Argal and was walking down beside the steep (and dangerous) road  between the two reservoirs to get to College when I heard an unfamiliar call coming from whence I had just came. From Argal, and over the dam wall came the sound, and the bird. Aaah. A lark, must be a Skylark was my immediate reaction, but of course it wasn't - it was a Woodlark ... Not a bad bird at all. In fact a very good bird. A regularly wintering bird in the south west, but I'd never come across one of my own before, so a bit special, and on the patch too ... I watched it briefly through the bins as it flew overhead, and turned to the south, still calling, showing smart white tips to its tail and a complete disregard for a desire to have a trailing white edge to its wings. Excellent stuff!
On a relative high, as the morning was going better than I could have expected - think rare of course, but expect nothing, and you won't get disappointed - I'm quite used to seeing nothing ordinarily. Thus I wasn't really paying attention when a medium sized mustelid crossed the path just ahead of only 30 yards in on the footpath that leads to College Reservoir. Could have been one of about 5 species, but young otter seemed the most likely on the views I had of a greyish brown animal bounding across the path and slinking into the undergrowth. Crumbs!
The waters on College were still not yet heaving with winter wildfowl, although the Wigeon population had undergone a massive 500% population explosion since my last visit - from 1 to 5 birds. Heady stuff ... The Mute Swan family, Coots now more dispersed (including one nearly full grown youngster), and a different 3 Grey Heron etc mostly completed the picture. I walked a little further than I usually do, into the meadow area (the boardwalk and path disappear into the waters if you try and actually follow the path), and was rewarded with views of 2 Coal Tit and a Willow Warbler in the trees bordering the lake, 3 or more Bullfinch noisily proclaiming their presence too. 7 Roosting Cormorant, 30+ Herring Gull ... nothing new on the water. Walking back towards the car and I stopped for a pssing tit flock, mostly Long-tailed. Raising my bins to a Goldcrest which popped out of a holly bush near me, and I realised it wasn't - a beady eye below a huge white supercilium was staring me out - excellent - first Firecrest of the season. And of the patch. Not a bad bird to end the visit on ... I realised afterwards I had forgotten to check it out for Golden-crowned Kinglet, oh well, not really a missed opportrunity though to be honest, since it was never going to be one... And no vagrant Empidonax Flycatchers at all either, as I made my way around the reservoirs - quite a huge relief, all things considered ...
And the mothing ...
A good catch, considering everything, 30 moths of 11 species, despite not getting to the trap until gone 11am. And there were even moths in it, despite it being in the sun! Had forgotten just how smart Black Rustics are ...

Sq Spot Rustic 9
Common Marbled Carpet 5
Autumnal Rustic 5
Beaded Chestnut 3 NFY
Set Heb Character 2
Brimstone 1
Rosy Rustic 1
Snout 1
Black Rustic 1 NFY
Small Square Spot 1
Sallow 1 Lifer

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Non- Empirical Approach to Empid Identification.

from 'The Random Approach to Bird Identification'.

With the occurrence of yet another Empidonax Flycatcher in the UK, in the somewhat unexpected location of Blakeney Point, Norfolk, I thought it might be a good idea to vaguely analyse the factors involved in identifying these tricky vagrants. Accepted knowledge in the USA, where they naturally occur, is that they are generally tricky all the time, but that come autumn (fall), and with non-calling birds, id is generally speaking impossible. To identify them requires capturing them (mist nets usually, shotguns generally frowned upon these days, in the uk at least), and carrying out a complicated in-hand analysis of wing length, comparing wing ratios and p-numbers ... Codswallop, as real birders in the field will testify ...
To satisfactorily identify your chosen empid, the factors included below (but not restricted to), and probably in the wrong order as regards importance, should be ascertained and taken into account;-
Bill length and shape
Wing and tail length
Apparent wing and tail length
Head size relative to body
Presence and position of crown peak
Overall size
Eye ring shape and strength
Upperpart plumage tone and colour
Underpart plumage tone and colour
Contrasts eg wings, throat to rest of plumage
Presence of shawl, breast band etc and degree
Throat colour
Lower bill colouration
Behaviour eg tail flicking
Time of year
Which ones you haven't seen in the uk before
Etc etc ...

Jizz based id is perfectly satisfactory, in my opinion (which admittedly, counts for very little. But we won’t dwell on that minor point …)
Firstly, of course, you need to find your empid. This is the first tricky bit, admittedly. Prime spots are the extreme south west, and a blasted shingly bit of Norfolk, the only places where they can be guaranteed 100%. Iceland is good, as is North America. Good luck with anywhere else. They must be out there. Alternatively, butt in on the id of any rare empids which happen to be found elsewhere on the internet. To start with, everyone else will be as ignorant as you, so you have a reasonable chance of looking intelligent and genned up, at least initially. It will probably all go downhill pretty soon, but hey ...

If you are in the fortunate position of finding an Empidonax flycatcher, multiple photos should always be taken, avoiding direct sunlight if possible. Even better if they can be taken of calling birds on last years vacation stateside (although of course you may not want to overly emphasise this point should you decide to submit your sighting to any rarity committees, or release the news (late of course) to the general birding public (the Masses)...). Multiple observers, as long as they are suitably respectful minions, or at least on your side/with poor eyesight and equally overly keen to get a tick no matter what, may be of assistance/useful. Multiple discussions on multiple internet forums should be avoided at all costs, as differing opinions may well be received, and non-birding numpty killjoys will invariably come out with the line ‘but they can’t be 100% identified’ or similar whining drivel ...
Field experience is always useful, but so last year. The modern birder has an array of websites he can view at a moment notice (admittedly some may be of dubious use, and the bird stated as being in the photo you are looking at may not necessarily even be of the same genus/kingdom even. But 80- 85% accuracy is probably plenty enough ... ) And you can always over-emphasis what little experience you do have. For example, I have personally seen 33% of all the Empidonax flycatchers to be seen in the uk to date (50% of all species seen ... possibly ...), and if I include ones that birding compatriots have seen, and the remaining one I've read about, I can even stretch that to 100%. Impressive, huh? ... As always, careful avoidance of stating certain key facts and ambiguous turn of phrase can be useful in these matters ...

Getting the bird to call is obviously useful, given the reliance placed on this feature of bird id by some (possibly including the birds themselves), although some think it is highly overrated (deaf people?). There is always the option of getting a mate to attempt to tape lure the bird from behind the bushes the bird is frequenting. If you cannot see him/her, and they are directly in line with you and the bird, there is always a chance you can convince yourself that the bird in question is even doing the calling itself. Or it may even respond (same thing really, especially if it is partially obscured by foliage when it calls).

Willow - a thick whit
Alder - flat pep
Least - a sharp pwit
Yellow-bellied - a clear rising tuwee
Acadian - a sharp pyew or psee

(Be suitably wary of overflying Oystercatchers, Children etc.)

Trail mix - a popular misconception is that Alder and Willow Flycatchers are so similar that they can't be identified, even in the hand. Maybe autumn 1st winters can be a little tricky, but, as long as you are a properly enthusiastic observationally based birder, and not bogged down by excessive reliance on the need to only believe in biometrics (ie you're a bander/ringer/observatory warden from the 80's), then there is hope most of the time. These kind of wrinkled old fruits and other nuts encountered in the field should always be avoided/their opinions discounted out of hand. Identifying a bird as a Traill's Flycatcher (the former name for Alder/Willow) is a bit of a cop-out in all honesty.  From a uk perspective there should be no problem in assigning any particular individual to one or the other species, given the fact that the british list does not include 'possibles' or 'species-pairs'.
Basically if it looks like a typical individual of one of the following; Least, Willow, Alder, Acadian, Yellow-bellied, then it probably is. Abberant  individuals of one species can look like any other. It’s things like this that make birding in the field rubbish, so ignore the fact that aberrant individuals can exist and everyone will be happy. Ensure that any photos showing ambiguous features remain on your harddrive, and write a glowing description of 'how the 'underside of the 3rd toe/extant of rectal bristling' etc actually appeared to you at the time', when you thought about it afterwards. The 'best fit' approach, or something like that. Easy peasy. Don't know why certain so-called 'bird experts' make bird id so difficult for themselves and others ...

(Hybrids? We most sincerely hope not ...)

Good luck!  (Not that you'll need it of course ... )

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Lizard and Snake

Friday 10th September 2010 (c.10am - 8pm)

Went birding on The Lizard today.

Saw some birds and got knackered again (I know I'm unfit, but we did cover a fair bit of ground...)

Highlights - Cuckoo at Windmill Farm almost as soon as we'd arrived - a good sign, although it was quite windy and we saw very little else in the way of passerines.  1 Whimbrel, 7 Teal and 1 Mallard at Ruan Pool (most birds I've seen on it). Probable Grasshopper Warbler from the boardwalk.

Various fields and hedgerows and such on the Lizard between Church Cove and Kynance and Windmill Farm:-

There was a Spotted Flycatcher at Church Cove in the scrub were I hadn't seen Woodchat Shrike on a previous occasion. c.30 Alba Wagtails (mostly white), 5 Meadow Pipits and 3 Yellow Wagtails in cow fields nearby. Sedge Warbler and Stonechats. Lots of Wheatear (30+), 4 or 5 Whinchat and a few Chiffchaff dotted around, with a larger flock of 12 or so Chiffchaff, 15+ Long-tailed Tit, Blue and Great Tits and 2+ Willow Warbler in a roving flock. The odd Whitethroat too.

No Wryneck, despite extensive searching, Predannack airfield held no waders, and none of the other scarce migrants we were hoping to encounter were encountered. Highlight for me was a small (6") or so reptile crossing open ground on the moor - an Adder. A first for me. I was really tempted to pick it up to arrest its speedy departure into thick cover, but I was concerned I might damage it in the process (it really was little), and then Ilya reminded me that they do have a poisonous bite, so probably a good thing on all accounts that I didn't. Excellent find though! We didn't get time to take any pics, but I might produce a graphical representation to post on here when I get around to it...

We ended up with a half hour or so seawatch off Bass Point - 5 Balearic Shearwater (4 in one flock), 1 Manxie, 2 Razorbill and a fair few Gannets going through.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Some dirty filthy twitching ...

(Ok, so maybe there is some point to going to see birds ... Or is there... ? ).

Tuesday 7th September 2010, West Cornwall

For the second time since I moved down to Cornwall about a year ago, I succombed (succame?) to the pressure and moved out of my Falmouth comfort zone, fired up the motor, and helped the globe warm up a little bit more to try and add a few new species of birds to my meagre UK life list (still sub 220 or thereabouts (ish...ok, its a bit more, but not much) ...

The last time was this spring and only as far as the Lizard on an unsuccessful foray to get the two long staying Woodchat Shrikes (both 'species' - normal and balearic). Needless to say both had cleared out overnight. Anyway ...

With fellow birder and Falmouth resident Will, we were on our way at the pleasant hour of 6am. First stop on the way was near Treverva in order to check out the moth trap. Unfortunately, with a clear sky overnight there was not an awful lot in the trap, although 3 were lifers for Will. More exciting for me was the presence of a young Wheatear on the windbreak fence around the veg patch - a long anticipated patch tick. A good sign for the day ahead? There were 3 or 4 lifers on offer for us in the far western reaches of the region - however, would the birds still be around? - Or would those same clear skies have led to a mass exodus for climes warmer? - nothing we could do about it, and in that slightly over-relaxed frame of mind we made a few random stops to check random field of gulls and the like... Realising this could become silly, we eventually pressed on and reached our first real birding destination, the car-parking valley of Nanquidno sometime after 8:30, with 18 or so species already on the day list. A walk southwards was then in order, and so we arrived at our first main destination; Tregifffiffian farm, where a couple of fairly good birds had been resident for the last 3 days ... would they be making it a fourth? We would have to see, fingers crossed ...

A single birder was set up and busy eating his breakfast as we arrived, but he did also report that he had a good contender for target bird no 1 - the bird had been on the muddy puddle not 20 yards away from our position, it looked good, but the light was bad, and it had then flown off into the middle of the field and was currently dodging cow legs ... (he didn't have a scope, and still couldn't confirm it's identity). However, his suspicions proved correct, it was one, as we and another group of birders were able to confirm. A first winter Citrine Wagtail - a very good bird and a lifer for us both. Smart! It continued to dodge cow legs and bodies, the second from our point of view at least, but after a while, and after most of the other birders had left, it flew back in to the muddy puddle where it performed brilliantly in all its stripey superciliumed beautyness. Five or so Yellow Wagtails further out in the field were nice, and additional to the 16+ we'd spotted in a field of cows on our walk up. Mr local birder without a scope then received a phone call from one of the other local birders who'd just been present to tell us that 2 of target species no 2 were performing well on a nearby roof of a house by the ploughed field they had been frequenting. How useful and friendly was that?! With due haste we left our new friend to its muddy puddle and headed out.

A distant stripey back was visible on one of the randomly dotted buildings roofs almost as soon as we left the farmyard, but it took the walk back to the beginning of the field and a quick disappearing act and return of 2 feathered parcels before I could confidently gain my second lifer of the day. Ortolan Bunting!! On the ridge tiles, eyering and submoustachial and all. Shortly afterwards they flew down into the field margin where they performed well along with the ubiquitous Wheatears, a Stonechat, Willow Warbler and the like. I recall seeing a pair in France maybe 15 years ago or more in my youth, but these (and there were now 3) were pretty good, and they were in Engerland. Part of a flock of 6 which had been present (almost unprecedented in recent times?) and especially nice considering their current declining status within the near continent as a whole (people eat them - not so good).

Moving back for the next course, we decided not to check out a report of a possible Melodious/Icterine (in hindsight we should have given it a go as well at least), and instead headed for Sennen along the coast path for the chance of Black Tern and more migrants. As it was we heard a good contender for Wryneck a short while ahead of us (spot on as compared to the sound recording on my phone, but countable?, and there had been a reasonable influx in the region...), and an exciting little scrubby flush filled with Whitethroats, Whinchats and Sedge Warblers (4,2,2, I think). Another field with 15+ Yellow Wagtails... More than either of us could recall seeing in a day ever before... Moving on, and terns were noticeable by their abscence in the bay, with a single Sarnie, and myself getting 2 Common Tern distantly. A Whimbrel calling, and one later seen, the most exciting bird of Sennen, and then we had the long slog back to Nanquidno and the car, were we ticked off Carbis Bay (wherever that is) resident and Cornish birder Ash for our respective day and life lists. Not very much else about at all, 4 sentinel Whinchats in a cornfield aside, and a possible heard flycatcher sp. (we later learnt a female Pied Fly had been seen at about the same spot earlier).

A quick step onwards by car and we were suddenly at Arden Sawah Farm near Porthgwarra. Lots of fields, of which we could see very little from the gateways, and it didn't seem very likely that the elusive Short-toed Lark reported from 2 of the previous 4 days was going to be seen. And it wasn't. Shame, as it would've been a UK lifer for me, and a second for Will. We decided to give Porthgwarra a go and try and boost our day list with a bit of a seawatch. This was very quiet too - 5 species in our half hour before we gave up included reasonable numbers of Gannet, 1 Fulmar, 3 Kittiwake, and then Will had a fast and dark auk which I couldn't get onto, and which he believed to be a Puffin, and I had a dark morph Balearic Shearwater (which Will couldn't get onto). Both relatively close in, but the light was poor, and it's hard to call the range accurately when you've just started a seawatch I guess. A thrash of the habitat, including 60 foot cover, merely resulted in lots of vegetation attacking us and us getting our feet wet.

So there we were, 51 or so species for the day, and target bird number 4 on The Hayle estuary to aim for. Obligatory stops at Drift and Marazion added a range of new species for the day, the highlights proabably being a distant scoped Common Sandpiper at Drift reservoir, and assorted waders on Marazion beach, with a briefly seen probable Curlew Sandpiper for Will. Reed burning was in progress on the other side of the road, so I don't think we even bothered to scan for Spotted Crake or Yellow Rail. And on to the Hayle for high tide.

Eventually parking up at Ryan's field (not actually in it of course) we joined the other birders present to be presented with no target bird no 4. Good numbers of Wigeon, Teal, Redshank, with Greenshank and singles of Knot and Black-tailed Godwit, but no Wilson's Pahalarope unfortunately. One had been found the afternoon before, but presumably it had moved on overnight (along with two Pectoral Sandpipers), so we were out of luck. We gave it a good go, checking out Carnsew Pool, and Copperhouse Creek, but only added Shelduck to the list, with Ryan's Field a positive melee of waders and gulls, Bar-tailed Godwit and Greylag Goose being new for the day. (I'm sure my expectations are going to be unfairly and disappointingly raised for my next visit ...)

And so the day drew to a close, although not quite, as we still had the premier birding hotspots of College and Argal Reservoirs to look forward to ... joke. Actually I did have high hopes of a Black Tern or ten, given the influx west Cornwall had received the previous day, but, sadly, it was not to be. We did add another 7 or so species to the day list, with a Great Crested Grebe on Argal probably the most notable in local terms (and the first Wigeon of the season on College too). My target prediction for the day had been 82, and we could have met that depending on which of the various permutations of heard only/subspecies/seen by all parties etc we included; Green Woodpecker and White Wagtail being two examples to play with.

Actually, achieving a good day list, or even accurately predicting it is a little bit besides the point (irrelevent?) ... we'd seen 2 Lifers apiece, good birds at that (common as muck I'm sure for some, but hey) ... Citrine Wagtail and multiple Ortolan Bunting. An excellent days birding, all 13 or so knackering hours of it. We'll both be a lot more confident when we find our own ones shortly ... ;)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

There is no point in going birding ...

The plan was to walk around the prime birding habitat that is Helston Loe Pool, with a bit of seawatching thrown in, as I had to go to Helston anyway. Arrived up at the field at about ten this morning to drop a few things off on the way, a bird flew out of the hedge as I drove through the second field. A glance of red - brain says Bullfinch? - but no, it had a red tail ... Redstart. Excellent. I managed to stop, as it flew out into the field, and then back in to the hedgerow, never to be seen again. Field tick, and possibly a tad embarassing, if I were concerned about such things, a year tick too. (Had to be a Common, even given the brief flight views). In short succession, 3 Whinchat, a Sedge Warbler next door in the Jerusalem Artichokes and a Common Whitethroat gave themselves up. Major excitement, best migrant passage/fall at the field in the year of my tenure. What was the Lizard going to be like ... if my random field(s) 5 miles from the coast were this good?

It was rubbish.

Best birds were a heard only probable flyover Yellow Wagtail, 3 Chiffchaff and a possible Whitethroat. Only a possible. I even walked around coastal stubble fields in the hope of rare larks and buntings ... I was amply rewarded with a single Skylark. Seawatching was equally spectacular, with 3 Black-headed Gulls the highlight. Great Stuff, not.

Overall I guess it was ok, if a quiet time was what you wanted, but I had visions of Wrynecks springing up from the path in front of me, Lapland Buntings (and the odd Ortolan) in the coastal fields, and every bush dripping with common migrants. It was not to be. A flock of 4 Goldcrest, 3 Coal Tit and 2 Chiffchaff in the pines was actually the real highlight, with multiple sightings of two Sparrowhawks. The sewage works only held a single Grey Wagtail. Mallard was the most exciting waterfowl. The whole perambulation was pretty knackering too - it was hot, I had my wellies on in the mistaken belief that the circular path would be a mudbath (based on Argal and especially College Reservoirs), it wasn't, and I had to contend with cheery octogenerians and assorted sprightly walking members of the public seemingly every 50 paces - the place was heaving. Only had to contend with the 'Have you taken some nice pictures?' line twice (I'm carrying a telescope btw, not a camera).  Three elderly walkers waiting for their dogs to finish paddling in the stream back by the car park really took the biscuit. (Whatever that phrase means). This is exactly how the exchange occurred as I walked past the threesome

Male octogenarian with dodgy smile - 'You can take our pictures if you like'

Me - (polite chuckle) ' It's not a camera. I'm just watching some of the wildlife'

Octogenarian (about 50 yards later, and probably pretty pleased with the speedy riposte) -  'We're wildlife too'

Me (thinks - 'Whaaaaat??!! ). I probably just grunted at this stage, or politely chuckled again or something. At any rate I would have been out of earshot anyway, whatever I said. (Think of that dodgy old toothless guy from South Park, and that's one reason why I didn't hang about to chat...)

Back at the field (and Corrrnwall Farmerrrrrs didn't have the 8' stakes I wanted in stock - so a wasted journey on that score (too)), and the 3 Whinchat were still in the same hedge I'd left them in. Performing brilliantly with their ariel sorties for flying buglife. I then took on another long walk of 5 miles plus, as I had to leave the car off road for various insurance reasons, but via the reservoirs. Birding-wise this was not that interesting either, although 3 Blackcap in an Elder bush within the first 100 yards had me getting my hopes up. 2 Green Sandpiper, 1 Greenshank, 1 Great Crested Grebe were probably the highlights on Argal, with 40 Curlew in the field below Mabe church. I don't think there were any highlights on College. I then set off through virgin territory, and the rolling fields of Cornwall, in the hope of reaching Falmouth. I think I was even more knackered by this stage, as I kept getting lost, even though I had the OS map with me. A field full of frisky cows and calves notwithstanding, I made it back eventually and only 3 and a half hours after starting off.

Moral of the story - don't go birding, cos you'll wear yourself out, and it's extremely doubtful that you'll find anything good. Especially if your birding plan for the day involves walking miles and miles. Much better to let the birds come to you  ...

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Wader heaven, plus another Osprey ...

Thursday 2nd September 2010

The day didn't start off well when I overslept by an hour or two - the moth trap had to wait until 8am before I could check it, instead of first light. The day took a whole turn for the worse though, with a real disaster striking when I realised that I'd forgotten to put any milk in my thermos tea mug ...

Anyway, realisation of that disasterous event came slightly later. The moth trap held 80 moths of 12 species, a good number of moths, unfortunately nothing very exciting. Frosted Orange and Green Carpet were the highlights I guess, with Large Yellow Underwing the most numerous. The distinctive calls of a Raven kept me company, with Green Woodpecker heard too, and the local large flock of Linnet (c.100) minor distraction as I put in a couple of tea-less hours of gardening up at the field.

Argal Reservoir seemed quiet as I started to walk around it at about 11 am, with for example, a dozen or two Swallow at the most hunting above the surface. However, nearing the southern end, two noisy waders flushed from the shore - 2 Green Sandpipers. Patch tick! Shortly, after, the constant cawing of a Rook above the water drew my attention, and moving out of the heavier cover around the pathway, I realised that it was mobbing a large raptor - an Osprey. Another one! This was an adult, and whilst it sallied around briefly, it seemed as if the attentions of the smaller corvid were too much for it, and it gained height before heading off and out of view. At the 'nature reserve' end, I re-encountered the Green Sands, with a heady mix of waders including a Greenshank, and wonder of wonders, a juvenile Redshank. All in the same field of view at the same time. It doesn't get much better than this (actually it probably does, just waiting for it to happen. Or maybe the Osprey was better...). The Teal was still present, and continuing on around, I encountered 2 Common Sandpiper. In the bay nearest the car park, the resting flock of BH Gulls  included a smaller grey shape amongst their number - a juvvie Common Tern to be precise. Along with the 2 Whitethroat and 2 Blackcap I had encountered alongside the pathway around, this brought the number of local patch ticks (Argal) to 6 for the day- a bit unexpected to be honest, and some of them a tad embarassing.

College reservoir did not hold any surprises, 33 Herring Gulls comprising mostly juveniles, with a single adult GBB Gull on one of the platforms. And so on to home - where a minor surpise did await me in the shape of a Speckled Wood Butterfly on the back door - commonest butterfly around at the moment it seems, but still a garden tick, and nice enough.


Large Yellow Underwing 26
Setaceous Hebrew Character 12
Small Square Spot 12
Flounced Rustic 11
Flame Shoulder 5
Brimstone 4
Common Rustic agg. 4
July Highflyer 2
Frosted Orange 1
Rosy Rustic 1
Green Carpet 1
Common Carpet 1

Monday, 30 August 2010

Monday 30th August 2010

A Rather Good day at College...

Slipping into quite a good routine now, although maybe I was over-excited by the prospect of a dozen common moth species in the trap and multiple common waders at Argal (common anywhere else, that is), because I couldn't get to sleep at all the night before. Instead, I watched some randomly unproductive tv and tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to do some useful and not-so-useful websurfing. Our internet (and the phone itself) seem to be mysteriously uncooperative after about 9:30 of an evening - I suspect one of our neighbours is tapping into our phone line and stealing some of our line connection ... (Or maybe it's just a virus or something, or even a faulty router, but conspiracy theories always sound better...) Of course it could just be that our phone company are rubbish.


The sky was a huge and deep royal blue, tinged already with a yellower suffusion around the eastern edges, a Greenshank calling somewhere high overhead, as I stepped out of the door, scope, bins, and sarnies at the ready. I was at the field by 5:45, to be met by a heavy dew and no moths outside of the trap... hmmm, what would it hold inside? Multiple distant Tawny Owls serenading/arguing with each other added to the atmosphere in the half light, and the idea of actually doing the birding appealed a lot more than waiting the half hour for it get light enough to really check the contents properly, so putting a cover on the trap and placing the whole thing in the shade for later, I left for the reservoirs.

Visibilty was still occurring as I arrived at Argal, but with frequent scanning, and by the time I had walked half way around one side I had notched up 45 or so Black-headed Gulls feeding on the banks or swimming out on the waters, plus most of the other common residents. Two Greenshank, one sleeping, with a watchful and distrustful eye on me as I watched, another preening on the far bank. A third was feeding at the hide end. Three Common Sandpiper were noted, two travelling and feeding together in close proximity on the opposite bank showing an amazing size disparity - one must have been at least twice the bulk of the other. Bizarre, but then maybe I've never looked for such things before. A couple of Curlew were heard to call ... somewhere, and a roving Chiffchaff flock, a couple of dozen strong, with admixed Willow Warblers and a few Blue and Long-tailed Tits kept me entertained for a while. Jays screeched and Blackbirds alarmed, but no Red-backed Shrikes or Wrynecks were to be seen anywhere... Actually there was one rarity of note - my first Teal for the site. It flew in not long after I started, and I caught up with it again at the hide end, warily sifting mud.

Starting the path that leads to College Reservoir I was pleased, much as I shouldn't admit it, to see a Grey Squirrel, first for ages, to add to the Rabbits, and a possible fox/badger/something from the car for the mammal day list. Got me thinking of other mammals that I could add, such as small insectivores that might come bounding down the path, or large water mustelids that could be hiding in the tangled jungle of vegetation at the swampy end of the lake. However, such thoughts were not really worth dwelling on - they seldom are. Reaching the lake, there was not an awful lot to see - the close knit grouping of Coot and such of the past few days seemed to be down in numbers, or more spread out at least. Carrying on, and scanning the floating vegetation for further Moorhens in the more open gaps between the branches, I noticed something else moving in the water - a large fish? The water swirled out in the middle as something large and strong sinuously moved below the surface .... could it be? Crumbs, it couldn't be... or could it? A large mammalian head broke the surface, greyish brown, craggy and ... and with a huge carp clamped in its bewhiskered jaws. It was an Otter. AN OTTER!!!!!

I've never seen an Otter before. Admittedly I've never really tried to. But here one was... on a random early morning walk, not on some stake-out on a secluded scottish loch. That is, it was me on the walk, the otter was engaged in a rather mighty struggle with its prey as it tried to swim with it towards the far bank and the safety of the tangled growth of the island. I caught two further glimpses of the pair (mostly of the back of the Otters head as it surfaced briefly. Excellent! I looked at my phone (which somehow had appeared in my hand, in a futile attempt to try and capture the scene) - 8.01am. I carried on around the boardwalk, elated despite my brief views. By 8.03 I was stunned again, as through the next major gap in the trees, a large and rather distinctive wingspan obliterated a small portion of the sky - just what was going on?! I watched as a magnificent beast of a raptor, another death-bringer to the scaly denizens of the deep, tilted on long wings as it calmly powered up the reservoir and away from me. Osprey!!


Crumbs. I watched it for a good few minutes as it covered the water at the asda end of the reservoir, before it turned its attentions to the trees in the north west corner, presumably to try and roost or something, as it then just seemed to disappear. There was little else of note (20 Roosting Cormorants with 3 Grey Heron in the island trees aside), so I carried on a little further to try and relocate it, without luck (added a definite Fox to the list near Adsa), until I had a second bite of the cherry as I returned back the way I had come. A smart juvenile, it made at least half a dozen unsuccessful hunting attempts, smashing down into the water maybe 50 yards away and flying right overhead as it completed several circuits, before eventually circling higher and disappearing behind the trees and to the south. Very nice INDEED!
Last stop on the boardwalk, and a Kingfisher instantly whizzed in, obligingly posing in a waterside tree and catching a small fish on its very first dive. Maybe more adept at catching fish, but definitely playing second fiddle to its larger cousin. Not a bad mornings haul ...

And the moth trap? - 11 moths of 3 species. 7 Flounced Rustic, 3 Large Yellow Underwing and a Small Square Spot Rustic. Worse trapping result for months - back to reality!!!
(Although I did manage to see a couple of Sand Martins high up after one of my rather frequent naps this afternoon whilst up at the field - don't see them too often up there.)

Now all that remains is to try and think up the obligatory attempt at a clever/witty title for this blog entry ...

Friday, 27 August 2010

Friday 27th August 2010

More Exciting Moth Trapping and continuing Wader-fest ...

There was a real Buzz about the place today ...

A couple of pints of fairly strong ale (6% so they told me) at the weekly Oddies pub quiz, a resultant late night after staying for a couple more games of free pool (and I was on fire, all that practise on facebook flash games such as 'Pool Master' really having paid off ...), and I managed to drag myself out of bed in time to get to the moth trap by 6am. Too early for me, but not quite early enough for the trap - it was getting light. Medium results, nothing too exciting, although 2 Frosted Oranges (should be a kind of confectionary really) in close proximity were new for year, and another sign of impending autumn. A Brimstone was the sole moth outside the trap. The exciting totals;

Large Yellow Underwing 14
Flounced Rustic 8
Straw Dot 3
Frosted Orange 2
Purple Bar 2
Setaceous Hebrew Character 2
Brimstone 1
Common Rustic agg. 1
Small Square Spot 1
Early Thorn 1
Small Fan-footed Wave 1
Common Carpet 1

Burying Beetle 1

Incidentally, the pub is called 'The Oddies', nothing to do with birding celebs whatsoever. Don't know if Bill has ever popped in, but I doubt it somehow. Inevitably any bird questions which do come up in the quiz I invariably get completely wrong.

Left the field and was at Argal by 7am - no rain this time. Half the Swallows upped and left again by 7:30 or so, and my walk around the perimeter was again actually fairly interesting. First waders were 2 Common Sandpiper, with another seen further around. Some distant calls alerted me to at least 2 Curlew, flying over the water and then up and past Mabe Church on the skyline. A Greenshank performed well, also working the shoreline, with another shortly after, flying past, and the first then taking flight too. There was a noticeable difference in size - not something I've really noticed before, and leading to obligatory self-doubt and worries over reverse stringing - what if the larger one was a Bar-tailed Godwit, say, or the smaller one a Marsh Sandpiper?? ... Probably not, as the second would be a first for cornwall, and the second first a pretty good bird given the location, but still ... A Kingfisher was glimpsed flying up and into the trees and presumably to the pond in a neighboring garden, and the Mallard numbers noted were marginally up on Wednesdays, with 23. Four Grey Heron graced the shores with, wait for it, a stunning white heron sp. - my first Little Egret at the site. Not unexpected, but still very nice. A Tuftie, 27+ Black-headed Gulls, 3 Moorhen and 3 Cormorant completed the line up, with further views of a single Ringed Plover again. All nice, considering the reservoir is my new (ish) local patch, hence it should not actually have any birds, and the 8 or so fishermen camped out in tents on the shoreline at regular intervals.
Other more traditionally terrestrially-based avian lifeforms included a brace each of Rook, Bullfinch, numerous calling young Willows/Chiffs (really lazy, should pay more attention, although both seemed present in good numbers), 3 Grey Wagtail by the dam, the splendid sight of a male Sparrowhawk in full flight being harried by c.100 Swallows, as it fled the airspace over the waters and dived into the trees, and a woebegone and constantly calling young Buzzard sat in a large bush.

Views over College are a little more restricted at the moment, but 42 Coot, the swans , 19 Mallard (presumably most the result of on-site anatid procreationals), 3 Grey Heron, 10 roosting Cormorant, 20+ Herring Gull of various ages and a copper underwing sp.moth (year tick) which tumbled out of the canopy and onto the boardwalk in front of me were the highlights. One day soon I'll try and bring the moth trap down into the woods around the lake ...

Argal Reservoir

Little Egret
Ringed Blob

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Wednesday 26th August

Exciting Moth Trapping results.

Checked the trap at 5.45am on Weds 25th. So to be strictly accurate, these results should be for Tues 24th Aug. Clear and full moon overnight :-

Large Yellow Underwing 16
Flounced Rustic 10
Set Heb Character 3
Orange Swift 2 (f)
Mullein Wave 1
Common White Wave 1
Garden Carpet 1 (possibly NFY!)
DB Tw Spot Carpet 1
Rosy Rustic 1
The Lychnis 1
Flame Shoulder 1
Common Rustic agg. 1
Obligatory Pug sp. 1

First multiple occurence of LYU this year. Not a bad catch considering how others up and down the country have been faring of late, but to be honest not a lot to get up at 5am and drive off into the countryside for.

Massive Frenzied Wader-fest at Argal Reservoir.

After waiting for it get light enough to check the trap and dodging the intermittent light rain showers which delayed the checking of aforementioned, I upped and drove the couple of miles to the local birding hotspots of  College and Argal Reservoirs.

It's been far too long since my last visit, and in the meantime water levels have dropped at Argal Reservoir by an astoundingly good metre or two, so lots of exposed shoreline (some mud, mostly granite 'gravel', with the odd 'cornish hedge' exposed), with the result that some waders were on display. I was hoping for some hot wader action, given the time of year and the fact that Stithians, about 3 miles distant as the rarity flies, has had up to 7 species (not sure how unusual that is?), but multiple Wood Sands, LRP and Ruff never too bad ... A walk around the perimeter this morning 7:20 am onwards, and the following were recorded:-

Greenshank 2+ (mobile)
Common Sandpiper 1
Ringed Plover 1

Not quite as good as Stiths, admittedly, but fairly outstanding nonetheless (only seen a flock of Curlew once in the fields with a single flyover, and fairly regular winter Snipe up until this point), oops ... maybe I should have been checking the reservoirs a leetle more frequently over the last month ... The Ringed Plover caught me a little by surprise. Now just need to get down there a little more regularly and put up my ... 'Yank Shorebirds Welcome Here!!' sign ... Non-Shorebird (Reservoirbird?) stuff included:-

Grey Heron 3 (1 ad, 2 imms)
Mallard 15 (1 of which was a youngster with mum)
Tuftie 1
BH Gull 23+
Cormorant 1
Swallow c.500 (stupid numbers - c. 300 flew up from the dam wall flushed by a BH Gull, whilst c. 200 where still hunting over the waters)
Sand Martin 1 (that I noticed!)
Chiffs and Willows - a fair few, didn't pay that much attention to them tbh.

It started to rain as I was nearing the end, but undaunted (stupid) I carried on to College where I was greeted by the improbable sight of lush vegetation, a family party of 6 Mute Swan, and 27 Coot, 3 Moorhen  and half a dozen Mallard at the bottom end. Summer and Autumn all rolled into one. Total:-

Mute Swan family of 6
Canada Goose 2
Coot 27
Moorhen 4
Mallard 11
Little Grebe 1
Big Gulls lots in the foggy rainy haze

Just need to work out how to get some pics of things up on here now ...

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Friday 20th August 2010

St Ives and areas ...

The girlfriend's mum was down for the week, and they wanted to see the delightful seaside town of St Ives before she went back to the slightly lesser delights of The General London Area in the Vicinity of the Dartford Crossing. Unfortunately, a damp and rainy day, a late start, and lots of other people wanting to go to St Ives too meant that we didn't. Well, we did, kind of, but we just didn't leave the car - all the various car parks were full and so eventually we gave up after I suggested we go to Penzance instead (and anyway, the winds were South Westerly, so St Ives was going to be rubbish for my planned seawatch whilst they went shopping ... ).

Penzance has a Poundland, as we discovered, which I doubt St Ives has, so all was not lost. It was still raining and foggy and I forgot that I should have been trying to find a fog and rain bound headland near Mousehole (pronounced Mao-zl ,or something like that) and peering out to sea for all the Great Shears which were undoubtably waltzing by just beyond the breakers...

After partaking of the delights of the Penzance shopping scene, we started on the homeward leg, stopping momentarily at the McDonalds near Marazion, a dreadful admission to make in public, going against all my environmental and personal health principles, and it being at least 6 months since I was last in one (they're doing different glasses now). Burgered up, we moved on to the free parking esplanade on the seafront opposite Marazion RSPB, seriously annoying a whole coachload of presumed german tourists in the process. I even managed to get the scope out, and carefully placing the chocolate milkshake on the ground out of the wind and harms way did a bit of seawatching. For about half a minute. St Michael's Mount was barely visible in the fog, so I gave up, but did enjoy a small group of waders flying past - disturbed by the random damp holidaymakers in the vicinity. Seemed to be 1 Dunlin and 3 Pale Dunlin. Interesting, as needed pale dunlin for the self-found year list (... incidentally, which is seriously flagging, as of the last 4 months or more). They then flew the other way, after a brief and happy confirmation that they really were Sanderling. Scoping the blurs that landed I suspected they had joined more, so off I toddled along the seafront, to find a roost of 53 Ringed Plover, 7 Dunlin, rather more actively feeding (no Baird's or others that I could make out), and a bit further on, a total of 12 Sanderling. Excellent! Marazion held the usual numerous windswept Bunnies, no water birds of note in the cursory glance I gave the grassy and marshy edges from the roadside viewing spot.

And on we went, myself complaining more than once at the poor driving skills of the general driving public as it seemed hardly any of them had put on their fog lights despite the obviously quite bad visibilty, and um, general fogginess present. Of course, I then realised that I hadn't even got my own headlights on at all, which was obviously far worse ... lol

So a really quite average days random birding, with typically very few birds, except I have gotten this far in recounting it and completely missed out a huge chunk and the undoubted highlight of the day!! Doh! We actually managed to stop off at the Hayle Estuary en route to St Ives. It was here that we encountered an almost unprecedented sight; an amazing birding spectacle the like of which I have never witnessed before.

We pulled up near the hide (I told the others it was a really great spot for seeing birds and as we were passing right by, we really should stop by and look ...) We got out the packed lunch and flask of hot tea (it was now about 10.30, and we were all pretty hungry after driving all the way down from Falmouth), and retired to the immensely spacious (cavernous, even) hide overlooking the premier birding spot that is Ryan's Field RSPB. We were not to be disappointed;  there was an adult Black-headed Gull on the grass, and an immature Seagull on one of the islands. Wow ...  Score!! More than one waterbird on Ryan's Field!!!!!! Absolutely unbelievable, except I really was there and not dreaming. The BH Gull was eventually joined by, not one, but two more! Oh rapture! Munching my sarnies, and we were rewarded with views of a Grey Heron and then, wonder of wonders, a distant Little Egret appeared in the far corner. At this point the GF returned from reading the sightings board for the previous day, which, after listing countless Balearics etc at Porthgwarra, ended with a jaw-dropping - 'HERE - Common Sandpiper' Nooooo ... I hadn't even seen a proper wading bird at the site. Happily, Mummy Herring Gull arrived to feed Junior, and as the cries percolated into my subconsciousness, I turned to see a small fluttering wader fly by to land on the muddy shores. Great - Common Sandpiper, and great again, as a Kingfisher flew past. Probably 8 times more birds than I have ever seen HERE before!

All previous sightings soon paled into significance, however, with stunning views of a partially visible Robin hunched down in the vegetation by the waters edge... words fail me to express my joy!!

random picture to try out the placing of random pictures option function.
With Hayle holding lots of Big gulls, and other stuff like that, and 4 nice Black-tailed Godwits, a 'good' days birding was squeezed into a day out with 'family'. Two random Sparrowhawks seen earlier in the day (how can people not see them?), and a dead badger by the roadside on the way home finished off the day, not bad at all mostly.