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)