Sunday, 23 December 2007

Back in time for Christmas

Back from an intensive bird-ringing session in Kenya, just in time to wish a Happy Christmas to anyone who reads this... If there is anyone!

One of the birds of the trip pasted below; a legitimate smug feeling of self-satisfaction to the first correct identification! I got to ring that one, but not the Corncrake - c'est la vie!

Good birding, happy Christmas & a jammy New Year to you all...

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Gone ringin'

I'm off. Catch you on the 19th. Have a pretty picture for the time being!

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Creature Comforts

From Youtube - amazing what you find when you're bored, isn't it?!

About 9 minutes long and thoroughly work-safe! Although the procrastination factor might kick in. Contains mild comic defaecation ;o)

Website updates

Updated some of the website now ( with a re-organization of the pictures galleries, a bunch more pictures uploaded and a bit more information on trip reports. Plenty left to do, but this is something of a start!

Some sparring Waxwings in Aberdeen a few years back. Just for the hell of it!

Sunday, 25 November 2007

WeBS, ringing and birding

An interesting weekend in all... Dog-sitting for a colleague meant I had chance to trot round a fairly unwatched part of Devon in search of some birds for the Atlas - no great excitement, but a handful of typical woodland species including Marsh Tit and Nuthatch, with Redwing much in evidence in the evening.

The afternoon was spent in a largely bird-free Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) count on the Exe, where the main excitement was finding a nice juvenile Great Northern Diver on the estuary - unfortunately outside our count area. A sprinkling of waders included a very few Black-tailed Godwit, handful of Turnstone and a nice quartet of Greenshank. Best of the wildfowl were about 70 dark-bellied Brent Geese, travellers from the area round the Taimyr peninsula in Russia which winter in quite reasonable numbers on the Exe.

After dropping the dog back at its home, I then hoicked up a substantial amount of netting in the orchard at the end of our road to try and catch some of the thrushes which have been gorging on the windfalls...

Toady (Sunday) saw me up and out by 6.45 to open the nets, in order to leave the site as quiet as possible for the arrival of the thrushes. The first check was just about what I'd hoped for: half a dozen each of Blackbird and Fieldfare, followed up by a rather mixed bag of parids, finches and a Song Thrush - first I've ringed in the village. Now just hoping to get a decent recovery or control from one or more of these wintering birds!

Fieldfare gets it's own back... The unfortunate hands belong to Judith. This was the one adult male we caught; the rest being an adult female, 2 juvenile males, a juvenile female and an unaged female which was probably an adult. Really interesting to see a bird we don't often have chance to catch - lucky to have an orchard that could almost be tailored for ringing!

Thursday, 22 November 2007

10 - or more - birds to see before you die...

This subject came up on an email listserv recently: which are the 100 birds every birder should see before they die? This was refined to choosing 10 each, and the top 100 nominated would then create this list. Being a North American-based group, there is a bit of a bias towards Neotropical species, which is fair enough... I put in my nominations a couple of days back - for the record, here they are:

#1: Wallcreeper
#2: Black Grouse
#3: Regent Bowerbird
#4: Great Bustard
#5: Sword-billed Hummingbird
#6: Long-tailed Duck
#7: Dotterel
#8: Shoebill
#9: Cuban Tody
#10: Standard-winged Nightjar

Now, there's obviously a bias here too - I'm approaching this through my own birding (I've seen nos 1, 2, 4, 6 & 7) and browsing, and if you asked me today, I'd have to say: what about kiwis? Light-mantled Albatross? Grass-green Tanager? Sabine's or Ross' Gulls?? Tricky one - the list is long and it's hellish hard to get yourself down to just 10 bird species.

Any takers? Suggestions?!

Revisiting the post: what about Horned Parakeet? Kagu? Crested Ibis? Blue Vanga?! The list goes on! It will be fascinating to see the final choices...

Thursday, 15 November 2007


The stunning weather this morning tempted me away from this machine and out to do my first tetrad for the new British bird atlas project. This is the is the first to combine breeding and wintering birds. The previous two breeding bird atlases covered 1968-1972 and 1998-1992, and the sole wintering atlas fell to the winters 1981/82 to 1983/84. The great bonus of this atlas is the ability to sign up for tetrads and enter data online, meaning some demonstration stats can be run continually - for instance, the number of tetrads covered, signed up for and visited, the percentage of expected species found and so on... If you want more information, search and if you're able to take part, DO SO! Again, through that link...

The system runs basically along these lines: two winter visits, minimum 1 hour each, one in the early winter and one in the late winter. Breeding is covered by the same system, one visit in the earlier spring and one in the later spring/early summer. There are options to continue on for longer and gain more detail about the use of the tetrad by the birds there, but those are the minima. Pretty simple, really!

This morning's visit was to a fairly uniform area of farmland near home. Most of the fields are pasture, winter cereals or stubbles, and the bulk of the hedges are cropped fairly tight with flails over the autumn. Despite this, I managed to find a respectable 28 species in the hour's visit, including Woodlark, Red-legged Partridge and Kingfisher. I missed out on at least 8-10 species that I know will occur in the area, so some further roaming will be required to confirm their presence.

Other interesting finds: a rubber dragonfly in the hedge, some late Red Admiral butterflies taking advantage of the ivy nectar and a fly-tipped washing machine...

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Webs for the web

Prawle Point, 11th November 2007
Took my cousin to Prawle Point today, the southernmost point of Devon. An otherwise unremarkable walk was enlivened by the discovery of the following web, plastered over about 3 square metres of gorse. The creators appear to be tiny red spiders - vast numbers of them having perished, presumably through the grotty weather. Plenty more where they came from, though... The only birds of note - beyond Cirl Buntings - were a couple of very late House Martins hawking round the woods below East Prawle village. They'd better get a wiggle on if they want to make it through the winter...

A snail's-eye view of the web - there was a snail wrapped well into the web a little further along as well...
Pete gets his shot!
The authors of this web!

Saturday, 10 November 2007


Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa). Bowling Green Marsh. 10/11/07
White, (Dark) green / yellow, white. Note the discolouration on the left leg's white ring which is regularly in the water. As the rings age, it can get a little tricky to distinguish white and yellow, especially at distance or under less-than-ideal conditions. Bird was ringed as an adult in August 1996, so now at least 12 years old.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Weekend birding - colour-rings and scarcities

Saturday morning, 3rd November. I headed out to the Exe with the intention of searching for ringed and colour-ringed birds - I've been watching colour-marked Black-tailed Godwit and Brent Goose on the river for a good number of years now, though less intensively than perhaps I should have! The search was largely unsuccessful today, unfortunately, with only a single godwit ring noted, but the bonus of a metal-ringed Canada Goose which finally gave itself up at Starcross golfcourse. The godwit turns out to be an old friend, ringed in August 1996 at Terrington, on the Wash - making him/her/it now over 11 years old. This isn't quite the oldest godwit I've found, but is getting there! The goose is likely to have been ringed at Chew Valley Lake during it's post-breeding moult.

Despite the lack of marked birds, the day was full of interest: Bowling Green was chocka with ducks, particularly Teal and Wigeon, though a trio of Pochard and a relatively early female Pintail provided some extra interest. Waders were not super-abundant, through the Long-billed Dowitcher put in another appearance and a ringed Redshank prompted a little musing about its possible origin - unfortunately there wasn't a cat's chance in hell of reading the ring, so it shall remain a mystery!

Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus) - at the point of an arrow

Further down the estuary, I bumped into this horrible Canada x Greylag hybrid goose, associating with the Canadas on Starcross golfcourse. A good example of the fecundity of waterfowl, which will happily hybridise across genera... A white farm goose and a Greylag were also present - the Greylag presumably one of the parents of this thing.

Hybrid goose (Anser anser x Branta canadensis)

Next stop Dawlish Warren, where there were few birds on show, although the 1w female Surf Scoter was close inshore - not close enough for photos, though! Diverting back through Powderham produced a confiding flock of Turnstone (below left) and a smart Buzzard (below right)

Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) and Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo)

I finished my day at a local Woodlark site, where I was able to admire a group of 8 very smart birds fossicking in the stubbles in gradually yellowing sunshine. Smashing little birds, and thoroughly under-rated. Typically though, they were tough to photograph at all, let along getting a decent image: below is the best I could get!

Woodlark (Lullula arborea)

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

website update

Some updates to trip reports are happening on my website. Not a huge change in circumstances yet, but a gradual increase in information... More pictures to be loaded at some stage too.

Monday, 29 October 2007

London pics

A whole two pictures from the weekend in London - not really photo weather, to be honest, but nice to catch up with family again!

The Golden Hinde

Setting up for Diwali in Trafalgar Square

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Followup photo

Just as follow-up to the previous post - here's one I photographed earlier... From Drift reservoir, Cornwall a couple of years back.

Juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher

Small brown wading bird

One of those odd things happened yesterday - I managed to hear of a decent rare bird on the Exe in time to go and search for it on the same day. A Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus), on Bowling Green Marsh. Oddly, it was a new Devon bird for me, so I was pretty keen to see it in that strange, somewhat obsessed manner of the lifelong birder...

Needless to say, I couldn't persuade myself that I'd seen it properly, so this morning I was back in the hide at first light. A massed pack of waders was on the pool, with about 500 Black-tailed Godwit, a couple of hundred each of Curlew, Redshank and Avocet and a smattering of Dunlin, Knot, Golden Plover and Lapwing. Everything hunkered down and snoozed for a while whilst the two of us present scanned the flock and enjoyed the whistling of the Wigeon flock - a bird that sounds uncannily like it's just been goosed!

After an hour, everything went nuts as a male Peregrine hurtled through the site and attempted to catch a fast breakfast, putting the smaller waders to flight and rudely interrupting the larger birds' sleep. After three racing passes in front of us, he disappeared back up the river and allowed everything else to settle. This obviously did the trick - all the birds were jumpy, running around at the slightest stimulus and allowing us to scan through properly; and eventually I managed to pick up the dowitcher amongst the Redshank, getting some decent views in the end. A nice juvenile bird, a little darker than I had remembered them being.

Incidentally, I discovered today that the word 'dowitcher' comes from an Iroquois Indian language, perhaps Mohawk, apparently meaning 'small brown wading bird'... and is the only Mohawk word in the English language. So there!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007


Bunked off for a quick wander round a couple of my stamping-grounds this morning - the sun was shining and the birds were a-singin', so it seemed like a good idea at the time. A brief wander down the canal-bank at Exminster Marshes (picture on the header) made me realise just how biting the ene breeze actually is today, and that I was slightly under-dressed. There were few birds of great interest, the best probably a juvenile female Ruff on the lagoon. Despite the wintry feel to the day, wintering birds were not particularly numerous - around 50 Wigeon, 100 Teal and a single Black-tailed Godwit on the marshes, plus a handful of Redwing flying over. When a local farmer moved in to top some of the grass round the pools and scared all the birds off, I headed off to the old sludge-beds at Countess Wear in search of wintering warblers.

Briefy, the sludge beds are the old settling pools area from the Exeter sewage works - a land use that has traditionally attracted birds and birders alike. The sewage works have long since moved to more modern techniques of treatment, and of course everything associated with them is now fenced off to prevent random numpties from falling in. The old beds, however, have been turned over to the Devon Wildlife Trust, who leave them part-flooded, with a mix of willow carr and reedbed.

(part of the boardwalk through the sludge beds reserve)

Inside the reserve, the wind was buffered by the trees to some extent, and I was able to get into a couple of flocks of mixed passerines - handy being able to cling to branches with your toes, I've found.

Not much amongst them, beyond a quartet of Chiffchaff flicking and flycatching their way around the sunny patches and a couple of the resident Cetti's Warblers exploding with indignation at my intrusion. Frustrating point of the day came when I caught a very brief glimpse of what was most likely a Yellow-browed Warbler in an ivy-clad oak: it stuck it's head out from behind a leaf and then vapourised.

My return journey was brightened by a rather tame Goldfinch feeding on teasel, which allowed me one photo only, and the disturbing sight of Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) seeding madly in the sunshine...

(Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis) and Japanese knotweed seeds. Vile invader...

Monday, 22 October 2007

Garden ringing

A handful of birds ringed in the garden this morning - two new female Blackbirds first thing were followed by a selection of the usual suspects (Greenfinch, Goldfinch) and a retrap Coal Tit. This is the first retrap CoaTi in the garden, after ringing a rather surprising six in the last month. Some pictures of this bird at first ringing - back on the 13th September, and a nice adult male Greenfinch from earlier in the year - just for the hell of it!

Winter seems to be heading in to the region now: Redwing (Turdus iliacus) and Fieldfare (T. pilaris) passing over regularly along with a smattering of Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) and Meadow Pipits (Anthus pratensis). One of our local Woodlarks (Lullula arborea) has begun to sing again on sunny days - yesterday I watched him looping high in the air, singing hard whilst flying in what I can only describe as a bouncy circle. This is a species that only moved in to the village in the last 12 months, presumably benefiting from the weedy stubble fields that are being left into the winter.

Coal Tit (Periparus ater)

Adult male Greenfinch (Carduelis chloris)

Monday, 15 October 2007


As an occasional blogger, don't expect any frequent updates. This one is to let people know that some new photos have been uploaded on my Flickr account, and that my website has been updated fairly recently - new look, some new content.