Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Barking, unplugged

A shameless bit of self-promotion to begin with: I've been interviewed (scary) by Nick Hand, on his journey round the UK's coast - have a look at for what he's up to, and follow the link through to the soundslides for yours truly... Under Slapton Bird Ringers... It's for a cracking good cause, and the photos on there are great.

So. Above and beyond some mumbling for the dictaphones, have been out and about taking some pics and generally keeping myself busy: here, in chronological order...

Scumbag ducks at Slapton. The bunch of ganky farmyard escapes at Torcross has recently been augmented by this delightful group (har har) of Rouén Mallards - great for feeding bread to - let's face it, fattening them up for Christmas on fresh bread is no bad idea - but not much cop for anything else. Sorry.

Osprey, Erme estuary. This is one of this year's birds, presumably born in Scotland. No colour-rings though to give any clue as to origin. Pity. Becoming a traditional sight on South Devon estuaries in September now; instead of getting excited about Ospreys, we seem to be agitated when we don't see them!

To my shame, I have forgotten what these are. I know they're the fruiting bodies of a seaweed, sorry, marine alga, but I don't know which one. Just as you get an autumn flush of fungi, you seem to get a marine copycat version

Snakelocks anemone growing in kelp.

Bryozoans growing on kelp.

Yacht heading up the Kingsbridge. Just nice and photogenic, really.

After a bit of low-tide learning on the Kingsbridge, it was time to do some more Dormouse training. Clearly, they've never read the books. In the wake of the very terrestrial dormouse I nearly squashed on a road in Slovakia, here's an example of the species demonsrating it's highly nocturnal habits:
We found two Dormouse nests (with three animals in 'em) in the specially-sited, designed and attended boxes placed low in their favoured habitat. After that, we cleaned out the specially designed, placed and attended boxes that have been erected for Pied Flycatchers, where we found no fewer than six (count 'em) Dormouse nests, containing at least eight Dormice... One of the nests was even built on top of a Pied Flcatcher nest, so we hope the birds got away first!

Following that, we headed off to East Sussex, where Na and Judith spent some time avoiding the Weever-fish of the south coast. Either that or swimming to France. Or doing a Reggie Perrin.

Here you can see the effects of the dangerously dehydrating Crassula helmsii, the Australian (or New Zealand) Pigmyweed, a plant so water-hungry that it leaves the entire Australian conitnent teetering on the brink of drought. The only solution is to cover it in gravel and allow deer in to nibble away the growing shoots - clearly impractical on a landmass as large as Australia. Or something.
In fact, the valley has a problem with invasive Crassula, as a result of which the scrapes have been drained and dried, to try and prevent it blanketing everything. Nasty invasive stuff.

Finally, for anyone out there who likes gulls, here's a rather odd-looking thing from Prawle on Tuesday. A Lesser Black-back with pink legs? Hybrid Great Black-back and Herring? Something rare? I don't really think I care any longer.

No flight shots; sorry.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Year of the Cett'

This is the year of the Cetti at Slapton. They first turned up in the nets back in the late 1970s, about a year before I was born, to be as precise as I wish to be. Since then the number ringed each year has described the sort of upwards trend you'd associate with a profile of - well, of somewhere fairly gentle. Not Lincolnshire - that's flatline flat - but perhaps if someone really heavy sat on the western border of Lincolnshire and the eastern side rose in sympathy, that sort of incline. Anyway, this year, it's as if the north face of the Eiger has suddenly been shunted into Lincolnshire - we've had over a hundred (count 'em!) Cetti's in the nets, over 60 of which are new birds. And there's still a good month left to the season...

Otherwise, we had the pleasant surprise of a Lesser Whitethroat in the nets last weekend, along with over a hundred Chiffchaff (no less than 99 new birds, plus a handful of recaptures from previous weekends' efforts). This season has turned into a very decent year in general, Swallow roosts aside, suggesting that we've finally had a good breeding season to repair some of the damage of the last two or three. About time...

Lesser Whitethroat

Yellow Wagtail. Not the easiest to age in the hand, this bird appears to be a first-winter male

This weekend began with some promise: a Yellow Wagtail caught in the alba wagtail roost is the first we've caught for a couple of years, but Saturday brought disastrously windy weather - we managed, somehow, to open a handful of nets on Saturday morning for the paltry return of 18 birds. The day was so quiet, we ended up photographing spiders...:

The day was rescued when the wind dropped in the evening and about 40 Swallows were ringed out of a passage of a couple of thousand; still no roost, though. Fortunately the weather was more clement this morning. We opened up at a civilised 6.15 and the catch was quite steady. Nothing spectacular until a Tawny Owl decided that night-time was for wusses and dived into one of our reedbed nets mid-morning. Spectacularly, this is only the fourth Tawny to be ringed here: the last one was in 1966! Much appreciated...

Tawny Owl. What a cracking bird in the hand, or out of it... Photo courtesy of Tim Frayling

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


A quiet weekend at Slapton in many ways: the weather wasn't ideal, and the continued lack of a swallow roost meant that ringing was rather slow. However, we did hit a very nice patch when a juvenile Wryneck appeared in the scrub nets - only the fourth Wryneck ringed here since 1960, yet the second in the last 10 years! Gentle entertainment whilst it did the Wryneck party trick.

And here in action (with some - interesting - commentary! That'll learn people to keep quiet when I'm filming)...

Aside from that, an ephemeral lizard graced our tent: