Thursday, 17 December 2009
I've already set up a Twitter feed for local bird news - http://twitter.com/lrosbirdnews - and now I'm seeing if blog posting via email from my phone works.
I'm not sure why I would want to, but it might be useful one day.
Apparently you can upload photos as attachments, so let's give that a go as well:
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Local birdwatchers were also jubilant on hearing that the base is to close. “Hopefully we can now set up our expensive spotting scopes and huge telephoto lenses and look onto the airfield without being arrested and interrogated as terrorists or mistaken for sad, socially inadequate plane spotters,” said Mr Eric Twatt of the Leicestershire and Rutland Otorhinolaryngological Society.
Cottesmore’s oldest resident, Ezekiel Clunge, 97, was more forthright. “That’s grand. Now I might get some fucking peace and quiet without those bastard planes thundering over all the time,” he said.
Their delight may be short-lived, however: scores of greed-crazed property developers have already been reported snouting around the area like truffle pigs, on the scent of obscene profits to be made from turning the airfield into ‘affordable housing’.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Sunday, 8 November 2009
Another county tick at Cossington Meadows heard about just too late to be able to get there before dusk! This time Leicestershire’s third (if accepted) Richard’s Pipit, which apparently flew over and then landed in Swan Meadow some time this afternoon. Both the previous records were one day birds – the first, at Cropston Reservoir in 1990, was only seen by the finder (Steve Close); the second (Bardon Hill, October 2006) was seen by a few people, but not me as I was in Shetland at the time. But to be positive, it’s getting quite late for Richard’s so hopefully this one might be thinking about wintering, or at least hanging around for a while. Or perhaps it’s a Blyth’s. And even if it isn’t a Blyth’s I’m sure someone will try and turn it into one if it’s seen again.
However, I shan't be there at first light tomorrow as I have to get some background reference photos for a couple of commissions I'm working on, and tomorrow looks like being the only day of decent light this week. Plus I've got a cold at the moment, and don't really fancy being anywhere other than in bed at first light. Which brings me neatly to:
Quote of the day from Morrissey, explaining why he has had to cancel several gigs recently: “I have endured a titanic struggle with an intolerable virus”. A pronouncement which reminded me of the classic Viz headline: Morrissey - still a twat!
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
As they approached I politely (honestly!) asked them if it was really necessary to walk on that side of the hedge when there was a perfectly good road to walk on that didn’t involve trespassing on a nature reserve or scaring all the birds away. And their excuse? ‘It’s better for our legs to walk on this side rather than on the road.’
After a further exchange of words, which I’m afraid was rather less polite on my part, I left and went to Rutland Water instead.
At Rutland Water I saw a Black-necked Grebe, 5 Common Scoters, 5 Whooper Swans and 7 Red-crested Pochards, all in the North Arm. Couldn’t find the Red-throated Diver(s) though, despite much searching.
* - ref the ongoing battle of wills between English Naturists, or whatever they’ve decided to call themselves this week, and local birders, who, whilst fully understanding the need to conserve hedgerows, would not unreasonably like to be able to see at least some of the fucking birds at Eyebrook!
Monday, 2 November 2009
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
A phone call from Steve Lister this morning had me heading to Rutland Water (in my much improved car which no longer goes ‘clunge’ just before coming to a standstill, ‘rerrp, rerrp, rerrp’ when pulling away or ‘tikka-tikka-tikka-tikka-tikka’ when going round corners – thanks to Rob’s dad’s garage! *) hoping to see the county’s third ever Shore Lark. However, just like the previous two, this one had only shown itself to the finder before promptly buggering off. We searched all the shoreline around Whitwell where he’d seen it, and both sides of the Hambleton Peninsula before reluctantly accepting that it must have flown straight through.
Now, whilst obviously offering sincere congratulations to Steve on an excellent find, I do think this is just a little unfair after he gripped us all off with the Little Bittern the other week. Especially as I rang him about that and didn’t have to time to get there myself before it got dark! In fact I think I should be allowed to add one to my county list as well, as I would have seen the Little Bittern had it been identified as such when I first heard about it.
* – for anyone interested in the technical details, the clunge-ing, rerrp rerrp-ing and tikka-tikka-ing were apparently due to a broken tooth on the ABS reluctor ring on the front offside CV joint. I just nodded and tried to look like I knew what he was talking about.
Saturday, 24 October 2009
'Cretin' is too kind a word for the journalist who wrote this and the picture editor who came up with that photo...
Thursday, 22 October 2009
Prices start at a very reasonable £95 (unframed, including p&p) for an 8 x 8 inch head and shoulders portrait, but you can have any size you like (within reason – a 100 foot square picture would take me several years and cost you £144,000 at the same rate per square inch as an 8 x 8 inch one!).
Please see the pet portraits section of my website if you’re interested – www.ajm-wildlife-art.co.uk/pet_portraits.htm but bear in mind you’ll need to order as soon as possible for delivery in time for Christmas.
And if you haven’t got pets I also have lots of bird pictures for sale, including the cover painting and line drawings from the recently published Birds of Leicestershire and Rutland. Again, please see my website for details.
That’s it – thank you for your time. Normal service will be resumed shortly...
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
What in the name of fuck is the 'paradoxus morph' of Black Redstart? A red one with a black tail? Or is it more likely yet another 'trying too hard to turn a common bird into something interesting because we've run out of things to tick/write ID articles about in Birding World' type of thing?
Just stop it please - I'm too old to learn anything new. I don't want to know about Daurian this and Caspian that and weird new made-up 'morphs' of birds. And I don't like the ducks being at the beginning either. Everyone knows divers come first, then grebes. Ducks are somewhere in the middle of the non-passerines, just before the raptors and just after the herons.
And talking of herons (I knew there was some point to this rambling nonsense), there was a rare heron in Leicestershire yesterday, and it wasn't there today. Arse. I think I'd better go to bed now.
Sunday, 18 October 2009
There was a crowd of about 50 or 60 people (I won't dignify them by calling them birders or even birdwatchers) watching a bird which none of them could identify. On asking a few people what was going on, Andy was told that some of them thought it was an Arctic Warbler, some thought it was a Bobolink and some thought it was a Philadelphia Vireo! Remember, all these opinions referred to the same bird. Apart from those who were there or who have already heard the story, I bet no-one can guess what the bird actually was.
I will reveal all in a day or two...
Thursday, 15 October 2009
At about 12:20 Rob found a thrush skulking under the rose bushes, and after some manoeuvring Mark and I managed to get onto it as well. The views were terrible – the bird was sitting hunched up with its back to the wall, under the roses, and behind some chicken wire, but from what we could see we were certain it was a 1st-winter male Black-throated Thrush. Result! And bang in the middle of my ‘window of opportunity’ theory (otherwise known as ‘WOO’) that good birds turn up at the lighthouse around midday.
But then things went very wrong. While we were trying to get better views of it, a thrush came up out of the rose bushes and flew off towards the lighthouse. Assuming that this was the bird, we ran after it, but after about 15 minutes searching in the fog all we could find was a rather drab 1st-winter Ring Ouzel! Could this have been what we’d seen? Surely not, especially as it had a completely dark bill, and Rob and I are both sure that we saw a largely yellow bill on the original bird under the roses. But doubts had set in, and we were now beginning to wonder whether we had somehow fucked up big time. Confused, we fled the scene to try and collect our thoughts, using our flight off Shetland as an excuse for not hanging around longer. After some discussion we decided that, rather than try to push such a brief sighting, we could only honestly say that we now weren’t sure about the bird. Mark and I got on our plane and left Rob alone to face any ‘music’ that might be forthcoming (‘stringing in the rain’ probably).
However, on our arrival at Edinburgh airport the story was given a further twist when Rob texted to say that Steve Minton had briefly seen a Black-throated Thrush perched on the wall by the roses after we left! This gave rise to a variation on the ‘two bird theory’: presumably we had initially seen a Black-throated Thrush, then wrongly assumed that the Ring Ouzel which flew out was the bird we’d been watching and that therefore we'd made a mistake. But in yet another twist there’s strangely no mention of it on his blog, so I’m wondering whether he now isn’t sure what he saw either. Unless it reappears somewhere, it’s probably best forgotten about really, whilst remembering in future that the bird that flies out of the bush isn’t necessarily the bird you were watching in the bush!
Anyway, thrush stringing aside, the holiday list finished on an untidy 98, two more than last year, although the quality this year was in an altogether different league. Total haul for the 12 days was 7 BB rarities of 6 species: Taiga Flycatcher, Lanceolated Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Spotted Sandpiper and 2 Arctic Redpolls. Scarce migrants consisted of: Short-toed Lark, 2 Little Buntings, 2 Bluethroats, 2 Common Rosefinches, Ring-necked Duck and about 15 Yellow-browed Warblers. Of course, the latter aren't really scarce any more, but I'm old enough to remember when they were, so they still feel like something good when you see one.
Had I been so inclined, I could have had another two ticks: Veery and Blyth's Reed Warbler, of which there were at least three twitchable individuals. And without even going to any other islands we could also have seen at least 3 Pechora Pipits, 3 Olive-backed Pipits and 3 Arctic Warblers.
In terms of numbers of good birds, this was my best Shetland trip ever, the only disappointment being that we found absolutely nothing ourselves. Although there have been over 50 BB rarities in Shetland since the beginning of October, for some strange reason hardly any were in south Mainland where we were based. And it wasn't just us – the area has been pretty well covered, but no-one else has found much either, the honourable exception being Steve Minton with the Lancy at Scatness.
I have no idea why south Mainland hasn't produced the goods this autumn – the weather has looked perfect several times, but each time there has been nothing here and rarities a-plenty further north. It just goes to show that you never can tell with rare birds. In 2007 everything was down here and there was very little further north. Maybe next time it will be the other way round again. And we’ll probably be going to central Mainland every day...
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
It has come to our attention that, over the last week or so, one person has been responsible for all of the following single observer records: Lanceolated Warbler, Pechora Pipit, Black-throated Thrush, Arctic Warbler, Black-bellied Dipper, Red-throated Pipit and Firecrest (which is considerably rarer than Lancy, Pechora, Arctic Warbler or Red-throated Pipit in Shetland).
Other people have looked for most of these birds, but not one has been confirmed by anyone else. Now, it's been a pretty good October in Shetland, with around 50 BB rarities so far (compared with one [Long-billed Dowitcher] in Scilly – just thought I'd throw that in), but for one person to have found all that lot would be amazing. To have claimed all that lot with a single observer rate of 100% is nothing less than utter bollocks.
Apparently when someone met this bloke and showed him an Arctic Warbler at Wester Quarff the other day he said “Oh, that's an Arctic Warbler is it? It doesn't look like the one I saw at Kergord yesterday.” No, because that was a Chiffchaff.
Verdict: guilty as charged. You are hereby sentenced to spend all of next October on Muckle Flugga with no bins or mobile phone.
What we should have done was either stay in bed or start building an ark, but we foolishly thought there might be some birds around in the south (it was also south-easterly this morning), so we had a good look around Grutness and Sumburgh Farm. Whilst getting soaked we realised that yet again nothing new had arrived. After drying out and drinking tea we went back out and headed for Ellister, between Maywick and Bigton. Despite the pouring rain, the Western Bonelli's Warbler was feeding unconcerned in the sycamores and showing well. Sort of a tick for me, as the only other one I've seen (on Bryher in 1995) was only accepted as Bonelli's Warbler sp when the two species were split.
We then drove round Loch of Spiggie, adding Moorhen to the holiday list (yes!) before walking in the rain to Burn of Garth, where we easily found the Spotted Sandpiper feeding along the burn. If it had been nice weather, and if I had had my camera with me, I would have got some award-winning photos, but as it was I had to be content with just watching it.
The weather forecast for tomorrow is for more rain, plus Rob has had a letter telling him that the electricity will be off from 9 till 3 tomorrow. I don't fancy getting soaked again before packing and going home, so I shall probably stay in bed and leave the ark building to Gary.
Monday, 12 October 2009
This is my kind of twitching - a third for Britain with just three of us watching it! A Lapland Bunting flew over calling, and there were 5 Bramblings in a nearby field, but that was about it, so we headed south, checking various gardens on Yell, which were mostly devoid of birds. At Mid Yell we stopped at the leisure centre car park, and were just about to leave when Rob spotted the Arctic Redpoll feeding in a weedy patch by the car. We leapt out again and got a few shots of it feeding with its friend the Mealy Redpoll. The size comparison was interesting, the Arctic appearing about a third bigger!
A stop at the aptly named Graven (which consisted of a graveyard and a house) produced a nice Bluethroat, a Yellow-browed Warbler and this Pied Fly:
Next on the twitching agenda was a Red-flanked Bluetail at Sandgarth, which we saw but didn't manage to photograph as it was flying around all over the place and never staying still for very long. Always a nice species to see though. Finally on the way home we caught up with an old favourite, the drake Ring-necked Duck at Loch of Tingwall.
We also had a half hearted go at the Catfirth plantations, but it was getting dark by then, and the most important thing was to get to the shop before it closed. There we found a splendid selection of pies, including the 'Holy Grail' – the fabled macaroni pie (see Mark's blog for a full write up with photos). I had a very nice cheese, bean and tattie pie, which rounded off the day nicely.
Tomorrow is our last full day; we intend to continue with the twitching, the targets being the Quendale Spotted Sandpiper and the Bigton Western Bonelli's Warbler if they're still there.
Sunday, 11 October 2009
I presume these were birds which arrived in the strong SSE wind and heavy rain yesterday and overnight, trying to find shelter and/or suitable habitat in which to feed.
After this promising start, as usual we looked in various places, and as usual we saw pretty much bugger all. Highlights were a couple of Ring Ouzels at Levenwick and this obliging Little Bunting at Sumburgh Farm:
Tomorrow is the 'Glorious 12th' and once again we shall be having our 'change of scenery' day. Last year this involved seeing fuck-all at Eshaness; this year's itinerary is as yet undecided, but will probably involve seeing fuck-all in central and north Mainland. Or we might just decide to stop being whingeing martyrs and twitch all the rarities that are around.
Oh yes, I nearly forgot to have a rant about this piece of utter idiocy seen on one of the news services today: why the fuck is a pair of Cape Shelducks in Herefordshire of any interest whatsoever to anyone? They even included directions on where to park, for fuck's sake. What kind of fucking imbecile thinks that's worth reporting to the news services, and more to the point what kind of arse-witted twat is going to twitch them?! Answers on a postcard please. Unless you're the person who reported them, in which case don't bother.
Saturday, 10 October 2009
And I'll meet you in the crop field.
'Cause we've seen a skulking warbler
With some contrast in the tertials.
Don't be slow, oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!
'Cause we've only had some flight views
And I must see it again.
It's looking like a Lancy,
But it could be just a Wren.
Well I don't know, oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!
And I don't know if I'm ever coming home.
Take the last train to Toabsville,
I'll be waiting in the crop field.
And I'll blast it with my i-pod
Till I get some clinching photos.
Oh... Oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!
Take the last train to Toabsville,
It's just popped up on the wall.
And it's got no sign of breast streaks –
It's a Gropper after all.
I'm feelin' low. Oh, no, no, no!
Oh, no, no, no!
And I don't know if I'm ever coming home.
Take the last train to Toabsville,
Take the last train to Toabsville,
[repeat and fade]
Taking my regular morning walk around Toabsville it was obvious that birds had arrived overnight, with Redwings everywhere and a few Goldcrests. This seemed a good sign, so we went 'down south' to do the Grutness/Sumburgh area. There were even more Redwings and Goldcrests here, most of the latter searching for food on the cliffs, but not much else. Robin was new for the holiday list, and the old faithful Bluethroat was still in exactly the same spot in the Grutness crop.
After that... um... I can't remember what we did after that – went back to the house and drank tea probably. Yes, that was it, and then round Toab again. While we were in Toab Rob had a call from Steve Minton who had seen another 'interesting' warbler just behind the beach at Scord. I had to change my trousers at this point, not because of the excitement, but because I hadn't put my waterproofs on before going out.
We arrived at Scord and proceeded to walk the area of marram grass where Steve had seen the bird. The first thing we flushed was a Long-eared Owl which jumped out of the marram and flew off across the bay towards Toab. What happened next is slightly embarassing – seven of us, including two ex Fair Isle wardens, flushed something that none of us could put a name to. Our excuse is that is was absolutely pissing with rain, combined with a strong south-south-east wind, and it was only visible for a second or two in the thistles before disappearing, never to be seen again. It looked like a dark Phyllosc, and was most likely either a Radde's or Dusky Warbler. Or it could just have been a wet Chiffchaff.
Back to the house to change clothes for the second time (my 'waterproof' trousers aren't) and put coats in the tumble dryer, after which I really couldn't be arsed to go out again. The weather of the last two days must have brought something in (White's Thrush on Fair Isle today); it's just a matter of finding it if and when the wind drops and it stops fucking raining.
Highlight of the day: stew and dumplings for tea. It's still raining, by the way.
Friday, 9 October 2009
It was south-easterly when we got up this morning, and it's still south-easterly now, but despite thrashing the Toab/Scatness/Sumburgh area to within an inch of its life all day, absolutely fuck-nothing new has been unearthed. There was a brief scare with a report of a Lancy in Toab early afternoon, but that turned out to be someone jumping the gun as it was later re-identified as a Gropper. It was nothing to do with us, by the way!
Perhaps some rain will help, in which case tomorrow could be the day, as it's forecast to be strong south-easterly and wet overnight and for most of tomorrow.
Thursday, 8 October 2009
In between these megas we sat in the house drinking tea, making inroads into the 'Virkie bread mountain' (the result of a serious shopping duplication incident... peanut butter was also involved) and cleaning up cat sick.
An early night seems like a good idea as the weather looks truly 'monster' for the next two days. If we can't find something in that we should all have our bins confiscated.
I need to come up with some sort of gimmick to get my Fatbirder counter up – Mark is miles ahead of me now with his crop cam and Lancy shots/links on Surfbirds, Fuckbook etc. A free slice of bread with every page view perhaps? Or maybe I should just try and make this crap more interesting.
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
After rushing back to the house to look at the photos on the computer and check that it really was a Lancy we went back to Scatness and had further excellent close views of it as it perched on walls and crept around in the grass. I left my camera in the car this time, as it was raining, but I doubt I'd have got much anyway as it was getting distinctly dusky by now.
A splendid British tick, not only for me but also for Rob and Gary, and something I always hoped I'd see in Shetland one day. Thanks Steve!
Remember those two words at the beginning of this post – westerly gale... and the next day a Lanceolated Warbler turns up. So birds are arriving even in apparently 'adverse' conditions and given that the weather for the next few days looks more easterly, this probably is the turning point.
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
Bird news: The Wryneck and Meadow Pipit that were in Rob's freezer last year are still present, and have been joined by this Crossbill (gratuitous knob gag coming up) – a nice red cock:
I then went round the back of where it had come down, only to fall over a fence and land on my arse. Just as I finally made it to where Mark was now getting more photos it flew off high down the valley and we didn't see it again. The old cliche that owning a camera doesn't make you a photographer certainly applies to me. In my case owning a camera usually turns me into a fumbling incompetent fuckwit whenever there's something worth photographing right in front of me.
Monday, 5 October 2009
An annoying moment occurred early on as I was walking up the road towards Toab. Mark rang to say that the Rosefinch was in the big crop field; as I was on the phone to him a pipit flew over calling. Now, in early October, in Shetland with a south-easterly wind it really should have been an Olive-backed. But no – it landed right in front of Mark, who gave me the bad news that it was just a fucking Tree Pipit. Arse.
Then up to Sumburgh Head for the lunchtime 'window of opportunity' when birds seem to arrive. Today nothing at all arrived, although there were 6 Snow Buntings, and I even managed to get a half decent shot of one:
Levenwick is very underwatched and always looks good so we spent a couple of hours checking the various gardens there. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was crap.
Back down south late afternoon we relocated a few scarce migrants that had been seen earlier at Grutness: a nice but unapproachable Bluethroat, another Rosefinch and a Short-toed Lark flying around with Skylarks. The Twite in the Grutness garden are often very approachable, and with lovely afternoon light I got a few photos including this one which I was particularly pleased with:
Dinner was again provided by Mark, a nice chicken stew with dumplings. The cats were very interested in the preparation of this. No idea why – I didn't even know cats liked leeks.
No alcohol tonight, and hopefully an early night if I can get up off the sofa.
Sunday, 4 October 2009
Actually we did try fairly hard today, but for very little reward. The day got off to a promising start, with a brief Yellow-browed Warbler in Rob's garden. Only the second Sunnydell garden record and I've found both of them. And both times Rob hasn't been here! Encouraged by this and news of good birds elsewhere I went off to tramp through the Ditch of Delights or whatever it's called (the one where Marcus found the Paddyfield and Thrush Nightingale last year), only for Rob to see an even briefer Bluethroat in the same place the warbler had disappeared into. Needless to say there weren't any birds in the ditch. In fact I've yet to see a bird of any species in that fucking ditch. Ditch of Bollocks would be a better name.
After this we covered the Virkie/Exnaboe/Toab area thoroughly, but saw very little. After getting some essential supplies at the shop, Rob had the 'leftfield' idea of driving up to the top of Fitful Head. You're not really supposed to go up there, but we did, past the 'no unauthorised vehicles' sign and up an incredibly steep slope to the top. The view from here is amazing, but there was very little in the way of birds apart from 4 Snow Buntings which flatly refused to be photographed. I did, however, have a moth tick on Fitful Head – a Haworth's Minor, which was nice.
And that was about it, apart from the strange experience of being watched eating my tea (a very nice chicken biryani cooked by Mark) on Mark's 'crop cam' (see yesterday's post) which had inadvertently been left on, and was broadcasting a reflection in the window of Rob's living room! When we found out this was happening, we briefly considered turning the camera round to face the room in a sort of 'Birders Big Brother'. However, we quickly decided that this would be immensely tedious for everyone, watching three blokes sitting around drinking whisky and typing on laptops. And there's no sound on the webcam. In fact it would be worse if there was sound, as it would probably lead to a lot of libel actions.
Weather forecast for tomorrow is monster again, but this time the winds are from the south-east, so something might actually make landfall here rather than further north.
02:20 update: another moth tick - 2 Brindled Ochres in Rob's moth trap. Yes, I'm still up, and the bottle of Jura is empty.
Saturday, 3 October 2009
Let's assume for the sake of sanity that I'm not dreaming. The passengers on the Edinburgh – Sumburgh flight seemed to be mostly twitchers heading for the Whalsay Veery/Fetlar Taiga Flycatcher, and the weather when we arrived was surprisingly nice and sunny, with just a light north-westerly breeze, although this later deteriorated into 'heavy clag' – a descriptive Northern term for drizzle. My notebook tells me that we saw a couple of Wheatears in the Toab fields and a Snow Bunting at Sumburgh Head. We thought we might have heard the Pechora Pipit over Toab, but were more likely hallucinating from lack of sleep.
Highlight of the day was watching Mark set up his much anticipated 'crop cam' in Rob's garden. Yes, there really are crops (of a sort) in Rob's garden, planted with the sole intention of attracting birds, since Rob famously shuns vegetables and usually lives on fried egg sandwiches. The camera initially gave crippling views of a drake American Wigeon skulking among the onions (anyone who knows Rob's garden will understand), but these were later replaced by crippling views of the inside of a plastic jug keeping the rain off the camera.
Aha – I can prove I'm not dreaming – here are some photos of a lovely Shetland Starling (juvenile/1st-winter female), and the Island of Fair (adult male – no I don't know what I'm talking about either), showing well this afternoon from Toab:
The weather forecast is promising, veering monster, and there are rare birds all over the place apart from in south Mainland (very mobile Pechora Pipit somewhere, probably). A bottle of Jura has been purchased for consumption later, assuming I can stay awake long enough to open it.
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
Saturday afternoon: drink lots of tea whilst looking out of Rob’s window and hoping that something gets blown across his garden in the force 8 south-easterly/north-westerly, depending on which forecast you believe. Comment frequently on how cold it is up here and how like last year the weather is. Possibly accompany Mark to the Toab shop to check on the pie situation. Early night after tedious day's travelling.
Sunday: eagerly head out into the field with ‘first full day of holiday’ enthusiasm, kidding ourselves that just because it’s blowing a north-westerly gale and snowing, it doesn’t mean there won’t be a good bird to be found somewhere. Repeat the mantra that ‘the biggie travels alone’, even though at that moment any biggie with any sense will be staying in a nice hotel in Norway (in a single room of course) rather than trying to battle its way across the North Sea. Give up fairly quickly, telling ourselves that there’s plenty of time yet. Evening: drink large amounts of whisky. Write bollocks on blog.
Monday (when it looks like the wind may briefly drop below gale force): encouraged by news of rarities on Fair Isle/Foula/Unst/Out Skerries, spend every second of the daylight hours combing every square inch of South Mainland for migrants. Walk miles; see nothing. More whisky. More bollocks on blog.
Tuesday: stay in bed sulking, regardless of the weather. Get up in a hurry when someone else finds something interesting in the Virkie Willows (or Rob’s garden). Stay out till dusk trying in vain to find something else. Whisky. Bollocks to blog.
Wednesday: drink whisky in bed. Delete blog.
Um - I don't think I'd better plan much further ahead than that at this stage.
OK, OK, don't start saying "well why bother going then?" Last year the weather looked really promising and I predicted I'd find a Siberian Accentor and look what happened...
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Most likely at Rutland Water, and I think there would be a nice symmetry to it if Matt Berriman were to find it...
...but then I've been awake since about 3 o'clock this morning, so I may just be losing it slightly.
Saturday, 26 September 2009
Due to various domestic chores (yet more pants to iron) I couldn’t get out for a couple of hours, but fortunately it was still present and showing on and off when I arrived at about 12:50. Scope views were excellent, but my photos are distinctly in the ‘world’s worst rarity photos’ league:
As expected, the ‘cream’ of Leicestershire’s spotters were there, but this visitor was a most unexpected addition to Andy’s garden list:
El Presidente helpfully points out to everyone that it's the bird on the left
Huge thanks are due to Andy Smith and his family for allowing everyone into their back garden to see this bird, and I hope NO-ONE left without putting a quid or two in the bucket...
Thursday, 24 September 2009
I wanted to put one of those countdown gadgets on the blog, so I could sit staring at the screen 24 hours a day and watch the seconds ticking down, but I couldn’t get it to work properly. A not uncommon problem, apparently. Sort it out, Blogger!
Meanwhile in Shetland Rob appears to be heading for a breakdown, with no end in sight to weeks of continuous westerlies. But there are birds there, even if he can’t find them. Nothing massively rare it’s true, but bits and pieces – Arctic Warblers, Citrine Wagtail, Woodchat Shrike, R-b Fly, Bluethroat, Barred Warbler, Rosefinch etc all in the last week. And all arrived on the aforementioned weeks of westerlies.
Marcus arrives on Saturday – he’ll find something whatever the weather’s doing. And that’s the one and only ‘prediction’ I'm going to make after last year’s monumental failures (see here, here and here). However, the infallible and omnipotent Law of Averages clearly states (subsection 43887, paragraph 4301, clause 7c) that since Marcus had a good trip last year and ours was crap, the tables will be turned this year. That’s not my prediction of course, it’s the Law of Averages. And that’s never wrong. Or is it? Surely the Law of Averages says that the Law of Averages will be wrong about 50% of the time? Bugger.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
So readers of this blog can look forward after all to another instalment of 'the Shetland Llama' from 3rd - 14th October. And even if it's a crap autumn that's got to be better for everyone than me getting cross about what I'm missing!
I shall have to live on bread and cheese for the rest of the year though, so it had better be good...
Monday, 14 September 2009
The first offending piece of marketing bollocks was for a ‘High Powered Telescope’ with 60x magnification. Every time they mentioned the 60x magnification it said ‘6000%’ in brackets. Three times in a full page advert. Who ever measured optical magnification as a percentage? No-one (at least no-one sane). That figure is there simply to impress idiots.
There was also a little inset bit that read ‘Observe wildlife, sports, the night sky, in detail, from a distance.’ Question: how the fuck else are you going to observe the night sky other than ‘from a distance’?
But the advert got better. If you buy this amazing 6000% magnification scope from them (for a mere £79.95, saving £120 on the price it was being sold at three years ago), you also get a FREE SPY SCOPE (worth £9.95)!! This appears to be a pen, but no, wait, it has ‘precision-engineered optical lenses, so powerful you can see up to 7 miles away!’
Only 7 miles? I can see further than that through a fucking toilet roll. I can see about 230,000 miles if I look at the moon through my precision-engineered bog roll. And if I look elsewhere in the night sky (yes, even from a distance) I can see objects up to a couple of million light-years away through my 1x magnification (100%) cardboard tube. And I can wipe my arse on the ‘special paper’ that came with it – bet you can’t do that with your ‘spy scope’!
There was one more item in the magazine which caught my jaundiced eye. I’d better not name it, but it was some sort of clip to stop your bins swinging while you’re walking along with them round your neck. The description said ‘A new “must-have” accessory... a device which is fixed to the binoculars or camera and then clipped to the user’s coat or shirt preventing the inevitable bounce and swing...’
This sounds like exactly the sort of pointless invention that regularly gets laughed out of Dragons’ Den. I can just imagine Duncan Bannatyne (if he was a birder, which as far as I know he isn’t, and if he was allowed to swear on the programme) saying: “The only person who would find this useful would be someone who hardly ever uses their binoculars. I want to be able to get my bins up to my eyes in a fraction of a second; any longer than that and the bird I want to look at might have moved or disappeared. I don’t want to be pissing around undoing a fucking clip before I can lift them, and for that reason, I’m out.”
Thursday, 10 September 2009
Then the rest of them followed. Bill does look a bit guilty on this one:
Eventually they all disappeared through a gap in the bushes, heading towards the back of Lagoon 3:
So what happened next?
Now, I’m a big fan of Bill Bailey, but if he’s going to do the ‘celebrity birder’ thing, he (or to be fair, his birding ‘advisers’, of which there appeared to be two or three with him in addition to the film crew) ought to be aware of a few generally accepted rules, one of which is that you don’t go traipsing around the back of nature reserve lagoons in case you flush everything. And also that, especially somewhere like Rutland Water, the chances are that someone will be watching. And that someone may well have a long lens. And a blog.
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Anyway, why arse, bollocks and fuck? Well, due to a combination of the recession (and therefore being skint), not booking earlier in the year when prices were cheaper, and those bastards at flybe pricing themselves out of the market (not that it actually is a market as such – ‘monopoly’ would be a more accurate term) I can’t afford to go to Shetland this autumn. Which means that it will no doubt be a fantastic October for those who are going. Which as far as I can tell is just Mark ‘Pieman’ Reeder (who sensibly booked his flights in January and got a return from Birmingham for about £150. It’s now over £300 for the dates I wanted to go, plus another £75 for parking).
I shall therefore be having a ‘staycation’, a horrible non-word which should be banned, except that it describes perfectly what I shall be doing, i.e. literally staying at home. In bed, with the duvet pulled over my head, my phone turned off and the computer disconnected so I can’t look at Birdguides and the Shetland latest bird sightings website to see what I’m missing.
Looking on the bright side though (why not, just for once?) I certainly shan’t miss hanging around airports for hours on end, all that pointless checking-in and ‘security’ bollocks (“Did you pack this bag yourself, Sir?” “No, this complete stranger kindly offered to do it for me, what did he say his name was, Al something...”), taking your shoes off, putting everything through the scanner etc, et-fucking-c. And perhaps we’ll get some nice easterlies here instead and I can go to the east coast for the day and see a Yellow-browed Warbler. Or maybe I’ll go out and string a fly-over Richard’s Pipit or Lapland Bunting for my county list. See, it’s not all bad. I won’t miss Shetland at all really.
Friday, 28 August 2009
This is how I imagine the meeting of the County Council Parks Department went when they discussed this:
“Right, none of us knows anything about birds, so we have two options for this new board. Either we could contact a local bird club, or perhaps the RSPB and see what they suggest we put on it – I’m sure they’d be happy to help out, and they’d probably have some relevant photos we could use, OR we could use this random photo of a bird which I think might be a falcon (or possibly a hawk), crop out the falconer’s gauntlet it’s perching on, and bung that on. No, you’re right, the second option would be much quicker. I’m sure no-one will ever notice.”
And then there are the classic ‘information’ boards at Watermead Country Park South, which look like someone’s traced some of Thomas Bewick’s engravings and coloured them in. They include helpful species such as Eider and Bean Goose (actually there was an Eider there once), but very few of the species people are actually likely to see around the park. And even if the bird you’re looking at is shown on the boards you wouldn’t be able to identify it from the grotesque parodies of living birds they’ve used for illustrations.
I’ve lost the photo I had, but the best example of this sort of thing I ever saw was in Ireland a few years ago. It was advertising boat trips off County Galway, and had photos of Galapagos Cormorant and Sea Otter on it (or it might have been a sea lion, I can’t remember). Impressed, we went on the boat trip, but sadly didn’t manage to add either species to the Western Palearctic list...
Monday, 24 August 2009
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
So, what have I been up to in the last month? Not a lot really, although I did have the following salutary experience recently:
I had to go to Norfolk to pick up some paintings from the Picturecraft Gallery in Holt, so I thought as I was passing I’d have a quick look for the Black-winged Pratincole which had been hanging around just south of Thornham for a couple of weeks. Obviously this wasn’t real “fucking hell – I NEED it, let’s go NOW!!!” twitching, but still near enough twitching to remind me of one of the reasons why I don’t do it any more, i.e. not seeing the bird and thus wasting time that could be spent doing some proper birding.
Fortunately, since the bird had been present for weeks, I wasn’t reminded of the other reason I hate twitching (crowds of utter wankers talking bollocks and comparing the size of their
So I went to Titchwell (which I was going to do anyway, so that’s not really twitching either). I saw two distant Spoonbills (which were predictably asleep), plus the usual Titchwell fodder – Little Gulls, Bearded Tits, Cetti’s Warbler, Marsh Harriers and scores of incompetent dudes misidentifying everything in sight – “What’s that?” “Dunno – it’s got a curved beak like an Avocet, but it’s brown. I think it might be some sort of sandpiper” (it was a Black-tailed Godwit); “Did anyone else see that falcon? Was it a Merlin or a Peregrine?” (it was a Hobby); “Apparently there was a pratincole here this morning” “What’s a pratincole – a type of seabird?” etc, etc. But no pratincole.
As I walked back to the car I recalled that in my twitching days I was cursed with a pratincole jinx, having missed both the 2nd and 3rd British Orientals (the Norfolk one twice), and dipped on Collared and Black-winged two or three times each before I finally saw them. And when I did eventually see a Black-winged it was an unsatisfactory distant speck buggering off over the horizon with some Lapwings. Which is why I would quite like to have seen this one.
To cap things off perfectly, when I got home I looked on Birdguides, and of course it was seen at Titchwell about half an hour after I left, and then showed well for the rest of the afternoon. In fact it must have appeared while I was eating my lunch back at the car. Fuck knows who spotted it, as I didn’t see anyone at Titchwell other than the aforementioned dudes, none of whom would have recognised a pratincole if it landed on their shoulder, turned to the page of pratincoles in their spotter’s guide and said “That’s me! I’m a pratincole, you blind cunt!”, whilst pointing to the picture of the Black-winged Pratincole.
Twitching? You can stick it up your arse.
Saturday, 23 May 2009
But now, since that weird-eyed, slimy piece of shit (is that libellous or just satirical?) fiddled his expenses to the tune of some £140,000 (allegedly, he added quickly), my website has slipped to a poor fourth on Google. At least it’s still on the first page though, which I suppose is something given that the MPs’ expenses scandal is the top news story at the moment and that Andrew Mackay MP is one of the chief offenders.
But how many journalists have clicked on the link for my website, wondering if it’s the same person, doing a bit of moonlighting in addition to his MP’ing and expense-fiddling? And what would they think if they found this load of nonsense whilst digging for dirt on Andrew Mackay?
Oh well, perhaps I'll get some pet portrait commissions from journalists...
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
With apologies to any Don McLean fans...
A long long time ago
I can still remember how that murrelet used to make me smile
And if I said I’d been to Hoy
Then I could claim I’d seen ‘the boy’
And maybe I’d be happy for a while
But February brought no year ticks
My Vectra went through fourteen gear sticks
Bad news on the pager
The bustard’s gone, I’ll wager
I can't remember if I cried
When I heard about the crowded hide
But something touched me deep inside
The day the birding died
So, bye-bye, missed Acadian Fly
Drove at least ten million miles
With no word of a lie
And them good old boys were tickin’ Whiskered at Cley
Singin' this’ll be the day that I die
This’ll be the day that I die
Did you write BWP
And can you tell a Western from a Semi-P
If Lars Jonsson shows you how
Do you believe I saw that swift
I’m off to Cornwall, do you want a lift
And can you teach me how to age a crow
Well, I know that I’ve seen more than you
'Cause I’m always first in every queue
You can kick that off your list
Man, I saw all the ones that you missed
I was a lonely, teenage twitchin' fool
With my suit and loafers, I was pretty cool
As I scoped that cuckoo at the pool
The day the birding died
I started singin'
Bye, bye etc
I met a guy who’d seen a rare
And I asked him if he’d tell me where
But he just smiled and turned away
I went down to the optics store
Where I'd bought my Leicas years before
But the man there said the insurance wouldn't pay
And on the down called Wingletang
A plover called, then someone rang
But not a word was spoken
My mobile phone was broken
And the birders who admire me most
Svensson and Heard (that’s not a boast)
They claimed a Steller’s off the coast
The day the birding died
But they were stringin'
Bye-bye, missed Acadian Fly
Drove at least ten million miles
With only one eye
And them good old boys were tickin’ Whiskered at Cley
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die
Sunday, 10 May 2009
Sunday, 26 April 2009
The public is being advised to stay indoors, try not to breathe, and keep watching BBC News 24 for up to the minute advice on what to do. The Daily Quail has called for all migrant Weasels to be culled immediately to prevent the disease taking hold in Britain.
Symptoms of this deadly new disease include an inability to take anything seriously, and greatly increased levels of cynicism regarding anything overhyped by the media in a desperate bid to increase sales.
Saturday, 25 April 2009
Monday, 13 April 2009
El Presidente toured Watermead Country Park (strangely without his usual retinue of ‘Creebs’, bodyguards and assorted hangers-on) and was able to confirm a sighting of the rare red-tailed swallow, which is thought to have been blown off course by strong winds whilst migrating.
Yeah - got it - red tail showing really well!
Monday, 6 April 2009
Stand-up comedian Alex Horne’s contribution to this genre is different to all those in one big respect: he knew almost nothing about birds when he challenged his father, a lifelong birder, to a year listing contest. This very funny book is the story of that year’s birding, and, perhaps more importantly, Alex getting to know his father better.
It’s also about other birdwatchers, and how a newcomer sees us and our strange hobby. As someone who’s always been interested in birds, I often wonder what it must be like to get into birding relatively late in life. As Alex quickly realises, there is a huge amount to learn, and even after his year of regular birding he admits that he’s “still rubbish at it.”
He also admits towards the end of the book that he never really felt ‘passionate’ about birds, in the way that his father obviously does, or that he does about football for instance. Or words. With his passion for and interest in words, there is not surprisingly a lot of discussion about bird names. Bullfinch, for instance, sounds ‘a tiny bit too close to bullshit for comfort’, while Golden Orioles and Honey Buzzards sound like breakfast cereals. Other themes running through the book include the ridiculousness of bird feeder names (my favourites being the Opus Garden Ballet Hummingbird Feeder, the Duncraft Super Cling-a-Wing, and the Meripac Bird Banqueting Hall) and his attempts to ‘tick’ Bill Oddie, which he finally managed at the Rutland Water Birdfair.
There are several amusing references to El Presidente, and even a couple of brief mentions of llamas, but you’ll have to read the book yourself for the context, and also to find out who won the year listing competition and how many species they saw.
My only minor criticism, and it is a very subjective one, is that there is a bit too much about football for my liking (as well as being Alex’s ‘big year’, 2006 was also a World Cup year apparently). But then I have no interest whatsoever in football, so to be honest just one mention would have been too much for me. But if you aren’t interested in football, please don’t be put off by that. If you have any interest at all in birds, or know a birdwatcher, or are simply interested in what makes people tick (in both the birding and non-birding senses of the word), read this book.