Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Rubbish birder visits Finland and Norway.

Just returned from a relatively unsuccessful trip abroad – Finland and Norway. I say unsuccessful, although perhaps that’s a bit unfair, as I did manage 11 lifers, 30 or so year ticks and some pretty good birds. Expectations were a lot higher however – over 20 further lifers were on offer, and I had a total target list of 60 species or so. Didn’t get the time to go for the night singers in the east (warblers and Corncrake) which was a main target group. No special owls (I’d hoped for at least one, although Short-eared was a year tick), and dipped various Varanger/northern/forest specialities. I put this largely down to a few basic reasons. Obviously ‘going it alone’ without paying for guiding was always going to make certain species difficult. Went a month or so later than I could have, which affected things, and the method of getting around was a big hindrance. The weather too, of course - got thoroughly soaked and had wet feet for over a week. Spent more time hitching, walking and sleeping than I did birding. At one point ‘lost’ 2 and a half days –trying to hitch out of northern Finland I only managed to cover 35 km in 2 short lifts over a 60 hour period – wondered if I was even going to make it to Tampere for my flight home! Did make it in the end though.  
Started with a lift from Tampere to Varanger on the 20th of June with a Lithuanian group (mostly photographers) in their camper van, some useful birding along the way (along with some less useful dips). Visited Oulu and Kuusamo en route, along with a useful feeder near Kaamenan. Walked nearly 40 miles the first day (24 hour period) in Norway, which obviously had some knock on effect. Did 3 days in Varanger, dropped down to twitch an Arctic Warbler, then back up to Varanger for another day, finally getting King Eider (7 females (2 ad, 5 1st year)  and 2 1st year males) and 12 Bean Geese. Attempted to leave the north (as described above), only had time for a brief look at Kuusamo and Oulu on the way south (dipped Bluetail and Terek Sand again …) Certainly feels like I failed to do some of the habitats any real justice at all (aside from those I didn’t even get to). Oh well. I enjoyed the trip overall, a bit knackered now though, and maybe my expectations were a little high. Didn’t prepare as well as I could have (only booked the flights on 9th June, then had to sort out gen etc) although I was aware that ‘northern birding’ was never going to be easy as 'southern birding' eg like Morocco etc. Some good birding highlights nonetheless. Will just have to make a return trip and do it properly one day ...
(Only) 145 or so species recorded –
Lifers – Willow Ptarmigan, Black Grouse, Three-toed Woodpecker, Parrot Crossbill, Long-tailed Skua, Arctic Warbler, Siberian Tit, Siberian Jay, Pine Grosbeak, Brunnich’s Guillemot and Arctic Redpoll.
Other year ticks – Rock Ptarmigan, Capercaillie, Short-eared Owl, Willow tit, Common Redpoll, Bean Goose, King Eider, Velvet Scoter, Pomarine Skua, Glaucous Gull, Puffin, Snow Bunting, Brambling, Rough-legged Buzzard, Dotterel, Long-tailed Duck and Red-necked Grebe.
Other good birds/highlights – Temminck’s Stint and Red-throated Pipit up north, all the waders on breeding territory, 31 spiralling Sea Eagles, 71 Red-necked Phalaropes, the landscape etc etc. No Dunnock though.
Mammals – Bank vole, Norway Lemming, Wood Lemming, Red Squirrel, Reindeer, Moose, Red Fox, Stoat, Mountain Hare, Hare, Rabbit, Mink (or something similar).
Flights – return flight to Tampere, including baggage, check in fees etc - £147.41. Lift up to Norway – 40 euros 'contribution'. Food, travel and accommodation in Finland – 29.90 euros. Food, travel and accomodation in Norway - 0.00 NOK. Return travel from Falmouth to London Stansted cost £52 or so. So the trip cost about £260 in total, which wasn't too bad, although doesn't really help the overdraft that much.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Robin-strokers disappointed, but north wales birder reaches milestone 500 on his dream lifelist.

The week (and probably the one before it too) in brief ...

Not sure if it was jynxed it or not, but the bird left. But then it was always going to ...

There does remain a certain amount of controversy over the bird however. The cosily familiar 2-bird theory  as well - the bird disappeared for a whole morning. Was it's reappearance actually the arrival of a second bird? The short answer is ... No. Probably not. Rather unlikely at any rate. It probably just fell down a worm-hole on the bowling green whilst play was in progress, resurfacing once the game had finished. Our scientific correspondent says that actually most extreme waifs and strays regularily utilise temporary rips (wormholes) in the space-time-continuum-thingy, as a migration strategy to the scottish islands and other isolated locations. Many aviaries even have one conveniently placed in a random corner ...

Closely related to String Theory of course.

Which is also quite big oop north ... only allegedly of course. It was of course only a matter of time before the true breeding grounds of the slender-billed curlew were discovered ...

All a big steaming pile of doggy-doos, some people might say .. which is also, ironically, what you actually get when you build a toilet for retired greyhounds (otherwise known as a slender-build cur-loo ...) Maybe there's just a very, very long underground passage between Crayford race track and the norf. Not sure how any battered old dogs got through, but there must be a few ...

In other news, Britain's finest have had a wealth of other good birdies to enjoy, including 67 species of scoter off the Scottish east coast, a rollicking good bird in Suffolk, and the south west, not be outdone, with 2 Seagulls and a Pigeon. Or something like that ...

After the Steinway scoter and Dresser eider off Ireland it was only a matter of time before the british isles were furnished with some classical yanky doodle ducky action. Top Bird according to those who've seen it, not so exciting according to those who live too far away to make the trip.

Further south, and a bit further inland, Lady Penelope rather enjoyed her first Roller. Surely not - First ? That wormhole time traveller thing again - (must be The Doctor again) - even the colour managed to get switched. Parker was not amused.

Something else rare turned up on the Isle of Man the other week. But no-one cared.

Twitching's great - you can't knock it. Well actually you can, but there of course worse things in life, like beating up old grannies, fiddling the inland revenue and listening to hip hop.

Not being a twitcher, of course, personally I never had the urge to rush up to the other end of the country to see the funny coloured robin... (It helped somewhat having just seen a couple of dozen a few weeks earlier in one of their native haunts, in eastern Turkey).

Twitch a White-throated Robin? - how mundane is that! Proper birding is planning on finding your own this autumn on the local patch ... Just need to find a suitable looking branch ...

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs of Hartlepool

Breaking news from our correspondent in the Hartlepool Fish and Chip mines ... ...

A White-throated Robin, a rare type of Blue Tit never seen before in England, has reportedly been seen in the North East.

Originally misidentified as a Red-flanked Bluetail, a rather common and uninteresting bird of eastern coastal headlands, local parks and Siberia, the bird has been performing well for the hordes of birdspotters who have turned up ‘in big groups’ to see it.
The bird first turned up in Doc’s garden.  It is not known what the other dwarves thought of this,  although Sneezy, a birder with infamously poor fieldcraft skills, was apparently seen trying to harvest the ‘interesting’ looking poppies growing under the hedge, before his hay fever and the local constabulary got the better of him.
Top lister Sleepy was uncharacteristically late for this mega. “Rumours that my batteries are running low are totally unfounded” he said. “I wasn’t going to miss this blocker* for all the snoozing in the world” he yawned, his eye still only half-open.
{*Better Blockers  (inaccurately sometimes called beta blockers) are well known in the medical world, it should be noted, and used for reducing stress hormones, something which all top twitchers are pretty susceptible to .. that heightened pulse rate, diluted pupils (sadly seen less often in these days of diminishing Apprenticeships) and heart failure induced by not seeing a bird/seeing one that is too exciting. }
Dopey, B-Laddered as usual, was seen standing on fellow twitchers heads at the scene instead of those kindly donated for the ‘greater birding good’ by the local inhabitants. Grumpy was probably one of those he was standing on. But Happy was seemingly everywhere else at once. Most twitchers were indeed ecstatic, especially those who had climbed the wall. Anti-climb paint, liberally smeared, being the latest hot fashion to come out of the north-eastern fashion hotspot of Cleveland, trendy people tell us.
“Mega, mega White-throated thing” one half literate and happy birder from Leeds sang as he stumbled back up the road to someone else’s car.
Bashful was uncharacteristically absent from the twitch. Rumour is that given a few more days, a bit of bad parking and frayed tempers, and he will undoubtably turn up ...

Happy twitchers descend on Hartlepool

In scenes being dubbed ‘The Cleveland Show’, the rare type of pie/bird which has been spotted in the north-east have led to a lot of twitchers, and even ordinary birders, feeling slightly unwell, and having to leave work in large numbers to visit ‘The Doctor’. Miraculous recoveries have quickly followed in almost all cases. Local residents are a little bemused, but reckon birders are mostly harmless, albeit totally barmy, from what they've seen so far.

As is normal when a lot of birders descend on an area in such numbers in search of a rare bird, other rarities will be found nearby. Two such examples found on the Monday are the Lesser-spotted Wallcreeper and the Ladder-backed Woodthruster, both so extremely rare as to have never been recorded outside the near-mythical Cleveland Recording Area Perimeter, either before or since...

Photographic evidence of the sordid events unfolding

A GP can also regularly be seen here according to local residents. And web-surfing Scoters abound too ...

Typically, as when any half-decent bird is found these days, an internet smear campaign was immediately instigated. Unfortunately it didn’t really get anywhere; given the numbers of birders allegedly spotting the bird, any hoax was likely to be so well constructed and with so many birders being ‘paid off’ that, just like the Devon Long-billed Murrelet, the bird would be accepted as genuine, and twitchers could remain in denial.
Allegations that the ‘Doctor’s Garden’ is actually an overseas territorial outpost of the state of Turkey will however be fully investigated ...

“If we can just correctly identify the type of mortar in the doctor’s wall, we’ll be well on the way to seeing whether it’s a genuine wall or not” Maurice, a brick spotter from Shropshire told us. "These walls don't just build themselves you know".

The bird, the White-throated Robin, or I ran a kebabstalgutturalis as all proper ornithologists should know it as, is however a bit of an enigma. "It shouldn't be here at all" a local Robin told us ... "Next thing you know it'll be inviting all it's relations over, taking our jobs and ..."

The local British variant of the European Robin, Robinus ofourjobsetc need not be too worried though.

Having mistakenly turned up in the North East, it's fat score is already likely to be abnormally high, we were told by a local Ornithologist. "It will probably either die of heart failure in the next few days, or continue its migration to the aviary or pet shop it originally came from".

Leaving such controversy aside, we spoke to some local residents about the bird.

The bird was spotted early on in its stay near a local amenity centre for older people. One local pensioner told us “He was totally bowled over” by the turn of events.
Another shifty looking octogenarian sidled up to us ... “That Snow White throated Robin ...” he whistled through his gappy teeth.
We were rather shocked, to be honest. Presumably he had been watching dodgy clubhouse videos again. We didn’t really need/want to know. But not wishing to appear ageist, we patiently waited for him to re-adjust his teeth properly. “That’s no White-throated Robin” he nashed. ” It’s all a big hoax to stop me winning the Friars Lane Bowling Trophy again. These birdy people. Just how low will they go? Snakes in the grass, that's what they are” he spluttered.

Looking for ladders in their natural environment ...

Arthur Spickle, a reservoir hamster from a Hartlepool petshop commented “I’m a hamster. I can’t talk. What on earth are you printing my comments for? Get a life …”
So what's next for the North East, indeed UK birding as a whole? Is Spring sprung? Have we hit The Wall? Or will the megas keep on pouring in? Unfortunately we don't have a Magic Mirror on it …  (Although the catastrophic consequences of a casually misplaced ladder don't really bear thinking about, so probably not a bad thing … )

At any rate, this bird is unlikely to hang around for too long, just like any wild rare bird shouldn't. It doesn't really belong in suburban England ... lurking cats (black or otherwise) and robins in the hood don't really mix … Fairytale Endings are only part of the story (usually the bit at the end, when they do occur).

The saga will undoubtably unfold a bit further, like a piece of origami I once tried to make (it was meant to be a swan, I think ... )

Walt Disney was unavailable for comment.

(All pictures stolen off the internet)

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Dipping and Diving, Penzance Style.

Went off on a twitching foray to the current birding hotspot that is Penzance. Suddenly, over the last week or so, a plethora of good birds have been reported; in addition to the returning Pacific Diver being finally pinned down for the season, a pair of Waxwing had been showing well just off the A30 just on the north side of town, with Grey phalarope(s), Pale-bellied Brent Goose and a 2nd winter Glaucous Gull off Tolcarne beach, with a Red-necked Grebe off Jubilee Pool, in addition to the regular Purple Sandpipers, Divers and Bitterns at Marazion RSPB etc etc.

So we eventually made it out the door, only 26 hours late (we'd been hoping to get off at 8am the previous day, we were almost ready at 7:30, then and I went and fell asleep for the rest of the day instead. Such is the peril of missing out on a night's sleep the night before. Doh.)

Flask loaded, satnav (Suzi) primed, and expectations high, and we were off. First stop Marazion, the actual village, for a recce for when Suzi's folks might come down. But we also did a scan seawards - planning to keep heading west until we hit the Pacific Diver. The sea was relatively bird free, but on the beaches below the town were 3 Bar-tailed Godwit, 6 Grey Plover, and a sprinkling of other commoner birds. Added Feral Pigeon to the year list. Next stop, the beach opposite Marazion RSPB. Erm, nothing, almost (3 Sanderling doing their thing), and so swiftly moving on as it started it started to rain ... to the Waxwings ... which we found, after some minor detouring. Smart bird - we only saw one - although I had  what I thought was a second lower down in one of the trees flying out, but couldn't be sure. ***

Jubilee Pool was next, and again the sea seemed relatively bird free. The beach just to the west, however, held the goods - 30+ Purple Sandpipers, maybe 8 Ringed Plover and a handful of Dunlin. We walked along the front, as far as Tolcarne beach, but unfortunately we failed to see any of the species of note, aside a single adult Med Gull, 2 Razorbills, a Common Scoter and 2 Eider out in the bay.

On to Newlyn, and a couple of distant Great Northern Divers; an adult and a first year bird. 5 Common Scoter in flight. A Firecrest just south of Newlyn by some feeders off the coast path - might even have that as self-found, considering I can't see any reports of one ... and a Knot a little further along.

Mousehole merely held large numbers of gulls - just GBB and Herring as far as I could make out.

And then back ... eventually winding up at Marazion, dodging squally showers as we went. A brief look for Bitterns and stuff with no joy, another Great Northern off St Michaels's Mount, 2 Stonechat on the beach, and that was about it. 13 year ticks, and some nice birds along the way, but the Waxwing aside, none of the target birds were to be had.

(Although on getting back, both the Grey Phalarope and the Pacific Diver were reported today. Oh well... I guess that just means a return trip soon will be in order...)