Sunday 12 December 2010

Some lovely Waxwings

Until this morning I hadn’t seen a Waxwing for years; usually I can’t be bothered to twitch them when there’s an invasion and then end up not seeing any. I did hear one calling somewhere near my house the other week, but didn’t see it, and there doesn’t seem much chance of another one round here as all the rowans have now been stripped bare by thrushes and Starlings.

So, given that I’d been thinking that I ought to make an effort this time, plus the fact that Mrs Llama wanted to see a Waxwing, news of a flock of 100+ in Loughborough for the last two days seemed too good an opportunity to miss.

Most of the flock had buggered off by the time we got there, but we did see about 30, initially in flight and then perched in some trees for about half an hour. They were slightly too distant for any really good photos, and mostly hidden by branches, but these were the best of about 150 shots I took (all heavily cropped, and in some cases edited to remove annoying out of focus twigs!). Just in case you hadn’t seen enough Waxwing photos on the Internet recently....

Monday 15 November 2010

It's not fair!

After the unprecedented autumn passage, I naively thought that when I got home from Shetland there would be Lapland Buntings everywhere. I feverishly imagined vast flocks of them creeping around in every field (maybe even in the field behind my house), blotting out the sun as they migrated over in their countless millions, drowning out every other bird with their calls. Over and over again I visualised myself triumphantly adding that glorious tick to my county list, wiping out the years of hurt. Yes, I would finally see a Lapland Bunting in Leicestershire and everything would be all right.

How wrong I was. In the last month there have been precisely TWO reports in Leics, and one of those was only ‘99% certain’. It’s not as if I haven’t tried – every time I’ve been out I’ve been straining my ears skywards for just the faintest hint of a ‘tickitick’ or a ‘teu’, but not a thing. I even resisted stringing one, foolishly thinking I’d be bound to get a real one flying over eventually.

So where have they all gone? It’s a conspiracy, that’s what it is. Some bastard’s been catching them and putting them all in a big cage somewhere just to stop me adding it to my county list. Just one miserable county tick, that’s all I ask. Everyone else has seen one. It’s not fair.

And don’t try and fob me off with Waxwings. I’ve seen thousands of fucking Waxwings. Although one on the rowan tree outside my house would be nice, please.

Saturday 6 November 2010

Blast From The Past

I've absolutely no idea why, but I've just been seized with a sudden urge to post this completely random page from the original Leicester Llamas site (this was written in 2001):

The Stringers Page

Like most counties, Leicestershire and Rutland has a few well-known stringers. However, ours do seem to be rather prolific. The Leicester Llamas have gone undercover into the dim world of stringing to find out what is going on.

[And for some equally inexplicable reason I've decided that I'll leave out 'Case 1' and just post the second part of the original page. I don't know why I've done this, as this bit was probably even more libellous than the first. But fuck it, we got away with it in 2001, so I'll probably get away with it now. I think Richard wrote this anyway, so that's OK.]

Case 2 - the 'Wildlife Writer'

A very sad tale. This individual used to be the county ecologist, but was sacked after a rather dubious incident involving late night nudity in the office. He writes a regular weekly wildlife column in the local paper (which covers the whole county and has a large readership). He sees a wide variety of birds and insects in his normally bird-free, bland, intensively farmed section of the county, and only tells us about them a few weeks later in the paper. This, at least, saves us from having to look for these fantasy birds.

By far the best of his recent claims was only last September, when a few skuas turned up inland. The 'Wildlife Writer' saw a skua at Swithland Res, which is not impossible to believe. Anyone else would have been happy enough with finding a Bonxie, but our man has to find a South Polar Skua! Something in the name of this species suggests, to me at least, that it would be unlikely to be found, for the first time in Europe, at a Leicestershire reservoir.

Almost as good, in early November, was a Lesser Short-toed Lark in a field near his home!

Some of his other 'finds' have included: Rough-legged Buzzard (to which he devoted an entire column in the paper, but didn't see the tail colour!), Honey Buzzards, Ring-billed (which he described as 'the same size and shape as Common Gull') and Bonaparte's Gull together amongst a small group of Black-headed and Common Gulls that one of the Llamas had already looked through, breeding Red-backed Shrikes, Wrynecks and Golden Orioles, a summer-plumaged Great Northern Diver on a farm pond, a Sociable Plover, etc etc. He has also added a couple of species of dragonfly to the county list (on local streams), and found some 'unusual' butterflies. Diagnosis: a disturbing combination of madness and incompetence.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Oh go on then

Having initially resisted watching and commenting on the Twitchers programme on Sunday, I cracked and watched it on the iPlayer at lunchtime today. There’s not much to be said that hasn’t already been said at great length elsewhere (life’s too short to read the entire Birdforum thread), so I’ll restrict myself to a few observations.

I was going to say that the programme would have been much more enjoyable without the oppressive presence of Evans, but on reflection, I think it’s good that they included him – hopefully as a result more people will realise what a poisonous individual he is, and how much more pleasant birding would be without him. And don’t say that someone else would just come along and fill his shoes, because there is no-one else like him and hopefully never will be. To sum up in one definitely non-PC word how he came across in the film: retarded. And that’s my honest opinion, rather than just trying to be offensive.

Most sensible thing anyone said in the whole film? Brett Richards: “There’s no point to anything in the universe – we’re all here by accident.”

Least sensible thing? Spoilt for choice, but a good contender would be LGRE, quoted by Garry Bagnell: “Lee said my chance of seeing the bird was less than 41%.” Sums him (Lee) up perfectly, although of course he wouldn’t understand why!

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Just a Thought

@ BirdGuides - would it not be easier to list the places where there aren't any Waxwings at the moment? You could start with Leicester...

Friday 15 October 2010

Don't say things like that!

County recorders and records committees everywhere were today bracing themselves for even more bullshit raptor claims than usual after Chris Packham told people to look out for Long-legged and Rough-legged Buzzards migrating with Common Buzzards on last night's Autumnwatch Unsprung. They turn up particularly on the Isle of Sheppey apparently, so watch out KOS....

Edit: Typical! There's me taking the piss as usual, and then a Long-legged Buzzard only goes and flies over my garden! Managed to get a record shot - hopefully this will show other people what to look out for. Certainly makes up for finding fuck-all in Shetland again!!

Tuesday 12 October 2010

All the way from Dauria

The plan today was to twitch pies and Otters, and also to find something rare on the 'Glorious Twelfth'. Two out of three achieved – guess which one we failed with!

Starting at Voe, another furtive entrance was made through the anonymous brown door of the Johnson & Wood bakery (anyone would think they were selling porn in there or something!), resulting in the purchase of another macaroni pie and a cheese, bean and tattie. No birds at Voe apart from a flyover Redpoll sp.

A look around the amazing garden at Sandgarth in absolutely flat calm conditions produced just one Yellow-browed Warbler, and then it was on to the ferry terminal at Toft. This is apparently one of the most reliable places in Shetland to see Otters, and sure enough we saw one almost immediately, just off the jetty. It seemed completely oblivious to our presence about 50 yards away, and continued swimming around, popping up every few minutes with a fish. I rattled off loads of photos, but most weren't worth keeping. This was probably the best:

I think we checked some other places after that, but I can't really remember – when you've looked at one barren patch of bushes you've looked at them all. Kergord was equally birdless, so we headed for Strand Loch, where there was a Spotted Sandpiper yesterday. It wasn't there today, but a Long-tailed Duck was new for the holiday list, and yet another Redpoll sp which didn't land.

Somewhere along the line we received a text about an Isabelline Shrike at Scousburgh. However, Mark also had a text from Birdnet about an Isabelline Wheatear, so we were a little confused. The best thing seemed to be to go and have a look for ourselves, so we did. Arriving at Scousburgh, we discovered that it was actually at Spiggie, having flown across the valley, and was in fact an adult female 'Daurian' Shrike (according to those who know about such esoteric matters). First time I've ever seen anything from Dauria. And I still don't know where it is!

The light was terrible by this time, but I managed to get a few reasonable shots at 800 ISO, of which this was the best:

Leaving the shrike wondering why its carefully cached Blackcap 'larder' had moved from where it left it to a more prominent position (courtesy of a certain photographer, tut, tut), I wandered down the road to Loch of Spiggie in a last desperate attempt to get Coot on the holiday list. Couldn't find a Coot, but I did add Daurian Moorhen, Daurian Mute Swan and 3 Daurian, sorry, Slavonian Grebes.

All that's left to do now is drink the last of the whisky and try not to string anything tomorrow. We may not have found much, but at least we haven't fucked anything up this year!!!

Monday 11 October 2010

Nearly time to go home

It was a lovely sunny day today here in Shetland, so we decided to go bird spotting. We saw lots of lovely birds – Robins, Black Caps, Chiff Chaffs and Gold Crests. I took some snaps of the Gold Crests with my camera.

There was also a nasty grey and white bird at Sumburgh Farm eating the other birds. I think it might have been a Shrike. The RSPB should do something about it.

Then we were told about a Bonelli's Warbler at Lerwick, so we went there and looked at it, but it was a bit boring. There were a lot of men in coats chasing it around, so we didn't stay long. I was also pleased to see some Collared Doves here, which was a new bird for my List.

After that we looked at some other places, but didn't see many other birds. Then we came home and had our tea and now I'm drinking some whisky. Tomorrow we are going to go to some other places to look at birds.

Sunday 10 October 2010

Where's our Bluetail then?

Another nine hours in the field today, including walking all the way from Virkie to the lighthouse, in apparently ideal weather conditions, and for what? Pretty much fuck-all, that's what. At least it wasn't just us though – the only new rarity found anywhere in Shetland today was a Black-throated Thrush near Scalloway. Can't be arsed to write anything else tonight. Maybe it will happen tomorrow....

Saturday 9 October 2010

Nine hour marathon

A look round the crop fields first thing produced not a lot other than 9 Lapland Buntings and a Greenland-type Common Redpoll. Then, stopping only to stock up on provisions for the day at the Toab shop, Mark and I set off heroically to walk to Quendale. We already knew there had been a Dusky Warbler there earlier, and we did manage to see it, but views were poor. In the same area we found this obliging Red-breasted Flycatcher, and also a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers.

But that was about it for all our efforts. We narrowly missed finding an Olive-backed Pipit at the bottom end of the burn; presumably it had dropped in after we'd walked that section. Or maybe we're just not very good at finding rare birds. Either way, we didn't see it, and it was found by the usual Quendale suspects, Paul Harvey and Roger Riddington, accompanied by Martin Garner. On hearing this news we walked back up the burn for a second time with them, mainly because we were worried they would find something else we'd missed! We had further crap views of the Dusky Warbler, but nothing new.

With birds continuing to arrive all over Shetland today, and more easterlies forecast for tomorrow, all we can do is keep plugging away and hope that eventually we will find something good.

Friday 8 October 2010

Persistence pays off

So, what did you do on the 8th of October in Shetland in a perfect south-easterly? Um, I took some nice photos of a Twite, a couple of Shags and a Turnstone:

In between taking photos of common birds we thrashed around the crops at Toab and saw a Yellow-browed Warbler and not much else, then went down to the Sumburgh area. I read recently on a blog that shall be nameless that there are '160 observers scouring every nook and cranny of Shetland' at the moment. Well if there are that many people here I haven't seen them - there were precisely three of us scouring the entire area between Grutness and Sumburgh Head this afternoon. Maybe the other 157 were all off twitching all the rare birds which turned up all over the place today and gave us the motivation to carry on, even though we hadn't seen much other than lots of Goldcrests.

After several laps of the farm, we walked down the 'White's Thrush ditch' towards the hotel, and stumbled upon a nice Pallas's Warbler feeding behind a wall with two Yellow-broweds, two Chiffchaffs and two Spotted Flycatchers. Didn't manage to get any keepable photos of it though because, as has been noted before, I can't take photos of rare birds.

After this we went up to the lighthouse, where, apart from lots more Goldcrests, we didn't see a lot apart from this newly-arrived Short-eared Owl:

The weather looks even better tomorrow, so we'll probably do it all again, although I suspect that being a Saturday there will be a few more people around.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Halfway House

Six days gone; another six to go.

Another quiet day with continuing 'nothingy' moderate southerly winds. Walked round the Toab crop fields/iris beds/ditches several times, but nothing new apart from a Barred Warbler. Got a reasonable photo of a Lapland Bunting perched on a fence first thing, and also a nice Shetland Starling (1st-winter male for anyone who's interested in that sort of thing) in Rob's garden this evening. Tomorrow, however, looks like a totally different kettle of halibut, with the wind going round to south-east again, and then full-on easterly for several days. Early night tonight, and no whisky. Mainly because we finished it last night!

I was going to keep this and pretend I'd taken it in Leicestershire when I got back, but I thought that might have been a bit too obvious...

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Gratuitous Twitching

With the weather looking unpromising for finding anything round here, we headed north today for a spot of twitching. First stop was Voe, where there were a few birds, but nothing terribly exciting. However, a major discovery was that pies are available for sale direct from the bakery there. Enquiries were made, and – result! – the 'King of Pies', the fabled macaroni cheese and bean was 'obtained', along with a cheese, bean and tattie. Having eaten the macaroni pie, I am in full agreement with Mark that this is unbeatable (at least in Shetland – I think the Lochinver Larder's offerings might top it, at least in the pastry department!).

On to Eshaness, where the Buff-bellied Pipit at Tangwick initially only showed itself to Mark before disappearing. So we went off to the lighthouse to look at the 2 Buff-breasted Sandpipers – I got my regulation piss-poor photo of one of them:

We then went back to where the Buff-bellied Pipit had been earlier, and had crippling views of it from the car. This time even I couldn't fuck it up – this is undoubtedly the best photo of a BB rarity I've ever taken, although that's not saying much. It was also my 200th Shetland bird – damn, I forgot to get that T-shirt made up!

After this we didn't see a great deal, my first Yellow-browed Warbler of the holiday and a Jack Snipe, both at Isbister, being the only birds of any note.

Silly photos of the day – Mark being attacked by a ravenous pie-eating cat at Orbister:

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Filling a hole

Not much to write about today – the two highlights of a very windy day were 1) filling in a gaping and extremely tarty hole (oo-er) on my 'insufferably smug, self-righteous bastard' (in other words self-found) list: a Barred Warbler briefly behind the Toab shop this afternoon – get in! and 2) the even briefer appearance of a lasagne pie in the Toab shop shortly afterwards, which was a fitting celebration.

I managed to get possibly the worst photo ever of a Barred Warbler to satisfy any doubters of my claim before it fucked off over the fields towards Quendale Bay, never to be seen again.

Apart from that, it was a case of slogging round the Greater Virkie area all day seeing very little. Given the weather forecast of continuing strong southerly winds, I suspect this will be the case until Friday/Saturday. And then it will all kick off big time if the current forecast is correct.

In the meantime, here's a nice photo of a Brambling:

Monday 4 October 2010

Still all to play for

Fortunately we decided to give the Pallas's Gropper a miss first thing this morning and wait for the inevitable crowd to bugger off before heading to Levenwick. As a result, we were not in any way involved in the debacle that was to follow. The Great Grey Shrike was still in the willows first thing, and then we finally caught up with the Radde's Warbler at Sumburgh Farm. This was showing quite well and I managed to get a half decent photo of it:

Mark was getting increasingly twitchy though, and we were beginning to think we might have to take him to the doctor for some Ritalin. Eventually we gave in and set off for Levenwick via the Toab shop (still no pies!). But all Mark's pre-tick nerves were in vain: just as we arrived the first doubts were beginning to be expressed about the bird, and on viewing photos on John's laptop, it was obvious that it was in fact just a Grasshopper Warbler. Arse. I need Gropper for my Shetland list, but couldn't raise the enthusiasm to give the irises more than a half-hearted kick before giving up.

As we were walking back up the hill, news came through that the Booted Warbler at Channerwick had been re-identified (or rather confirmed, as the original observers apparently suspected that's what it was) as a Sykes' Warbler. As that was going to be our next port of call anyway, we shot off to see that. After half a dozen flight views it finally showed reasonably well down near the beach, but not for long enough to get any photos. Hurrah. A splendid tick, which made up for not seeing a Pallas's Gropper. And I'm sure I'll see one of those eventually if I keep coming to Shetland for long enough!

Next on the agenda was a pie twitch to Sandwick. Arriving just after those bastards from Levenwick had cleaned out the shelves, it looked like we had dipped again, but no, Mark in his role as self-styled President of the British Pie Munching Association, did his 'do you know who I am?' routine to the woman behind the counter and as if by magic a batch of lasagne pies appeared! Unfortunately by this time I had already purchased a Chinese chicken sandwich, which was very nice, but no substitute for a lasagne pie. A quick look around a very windy Hoswick produced nothing more than a Pied Flycatcher, so it was back to the house for a cup of tea. Back at Virkie there was a 1st-winter Little Gull on the Pool – another Shetland tick for me.

And so to the 'score' (or should that be skor?) – does a misidentification count as an own goal? If so, it's 1-1, or perhaps 0-0 if the Gropper cancels out the Swainson's? No doubt the Levenwick Lepers will argue that it's really back to 1-0, but either way there's still plenty of time (9 days to be precise) for us to come back. We'll just have to be doubly on our guard now to avoid joining the ever-growing list of 'gurners' (see Brown Flycatcher thread on Birdforum!) this autumn.

Post-pub edit: I felt John Hague's description of the Sykes' Warbler's supercilium deserved a wider audience: "it sort of peters out behind the eye like a dribble of spunk." I'd love to see the finders include that gem in their BBRC description!

Sunday 3 October 2010

Sack the Manager!

Not content with their Swainson's Thrush yesterday, the Levenwick Leviathans (can't really call them the Levenwick Losers any more!) gripped us off again with a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler in the irises at South Punds just as it was getting dark this evening! Can we come back from 2-0 down? Hmmm.

Meanwhile, down here in the Virkie/Sumburgh area, despite apparently perfect south-easterlies and showers, there were far fewer birds today. We tried to see the Radde's Warbler at Sumburgh Farm, but failed (it reappeared after we left of course), and the only bird of any note was a very flighty Great Grey Shrike around the Virkie Willows (and briefly in Rob's garden), which I managed to get this poor photo of as it landed briefly about 200 yards away. At least you can tell what it is.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Lots of birds; lots of birders

We arrived at Sumburgh at 11:00 today after an uneventful journey to find Shetland literally sinking under the weight of birds. I can't remember there being so many migrants around in early October as there are at the moment. A fairly thorough flog of the crop fields around Toab and Exnaboe produced: Short-toed Lark, Bluethroat, Black Redstart, 4 Lapland Buntings, Redstart, 4+ Whinchats, Stonechat, loads of Bramblings, Garden Warbler, 2 Reed Buntings and lots of Goldcrests.

Around 5pm, Mark and I were at Sumburgh Head, where there was a very skulking Sedge Warbler in the rosebushes (Shetland tick!) when we were startled by a loud noise coming from the direction of Levenwick. It was the sound of a gauntlet being forcefully thrown down by John Hague, Andy Lawson & Dave Gray who had found a fucking Swainson's Thrush! If I'd been wearing a hat I'd have taken it off to them. You may have to wait a while for John's gripping account and photo though, as the WiFi where they are staying is currently not working.

As both of us had only ever seen one Swainson's (mine was 20 years ago and Mark's even longer than that) we thought we ought to go and have a look at it. Arriving at Levenwick we were greeted by a scene more reminiscent of Scilly than Shetland – there are about 50 people visible in this photo, and by the time we left I reckon the crowd had about doubled in size – unprecedented!

Anyway, we did see it, although not very well – I only saw it in flight a couple of times, but managed to see the distinctive Catharus underwing the second time.

One other notable sighting today was the Exnaboe 'Hitler cat', which some people may remember from my old blog a few years ago. He's still going strong, and was obviously contemplating a bit of trampolining when we saw him.

Will the challenge be taken up by the Sunnydell-ites? Stay tuned to find out....

Sunday 26 September 2010

Like it or lump it!

So the second big talking point of the autumn is another flycatcher. Ho hum. No doubt reams of crap will be written about the Empidonax currently residing on Blakeney Point, so here's my two penn'orth. Not that I shall be going to see it of course!

I've already heard several people say that they don't want to see it as it will never be identified. Although I have no interest in seeing it anyway, I have to say I don't understand this attitude at all. Most twitchers are more than happy to split species to suit their lists (and let's be honest, it isn't for any other reason) without any official endorsement from 'the authorities', so why not lump for the same reason? If it comes down, as now seems likely, to one of either Alder or Willow, just call it a Traill's Flycatcher for listing purposes. No more debate and everyone's happy.

If you don't like that idea, just stop for a minute and consider the parallel example of Grey-cheeked & Bicknell's Thrush. To the best of my knowledge no-one has Bicknell's Thrush on their British list, but everyone's quite happy to tick Grey-cheeked. Nor have I heard of anyone taking it off their list when the two were split. This is exactly the same situation as Alder/Willow Flycatcher - they are not separable in the field. The only difference is that 'Grey-cheeked Thrush' had already occurred in Britain before it was split, whereas 'Traill's Flycatcher' hadn't. If it had, I'm damn sure everyone who had it on their list would have kept it right there. I know I would!

Thursday 23 September 2010

Well that was a waste of time

The BBC weather forecast yesterday evening suggested that this morning might be good vismigging weather, with a light SW wind and any rain clearing by about 7am. In fact I distinctly remember the forecaster saying 'and if you're going to Burrough Hill tomorrow morning, take an extra pencil to write down all the migrants that will be passing over - and I wouldn't be surprised if there were a few Laps as well. So make sure you set your alarm nice and early!'

Lying bastard - it was a strong, almost directly southerly wind, there was fuck-all going over apart from a few Mipits, Chaffinches and Swallows, and after about an hour it absolutely pissed it down. After standing under a tree swearing at the rain for half an hour I gave up and came home.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Worrying increase in tedious birding blogs and websites

I am being directed to more and more dreary and pointless ‘birding diary’ type blog sites being created on the British Birding scene which I find very distressing, disturbing and sad about. Just what is it with British and the odd Irish birder [Is there only the one odd Irish birder? Surely not!]? Others may find this puerile attempt at nature writing interesting but I for one find it highly monotonous and tiresome. I have spent a birding lifetime trying to inject a little humour into birding and do not really expect to have to put up with this nonsense, nor do I expect to see every single migrating Meadow Pipit and Chaffinch counted and listed in detail in the way that is becoming fashionable. I am also very concerned to see that Birdforum only this past week had a sensible thread about moult in which no-one made an even slightly sarcastic comment, let alone escalated things into a full-blown slanging match. British birding needs to clean up its act – it has never been as dull and anorakish as it is currently on the web.

P.S. Come back tomorrow for full vis mig counts from Burrough Hill!

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Gull cull?

I see Alan Tilmouth has already picked up on this - - but just to add that (as you'd expect really) I'm all in favour of culling Yellow-legged and Caspian Gulls - then I don't have to try and identify the fuckers. Not that I do anyway, but getting rid of them would mean I don't even have to think about it. Or see any more photos of them on Surfbirds.

But seriously, if they did try and cull them (which I'm sure they won't, as it would be totally impractical and never-ending) who would they get to do it? Given that 99% of birders (including me) can't identify most of the large gulls they see these days, how the fuck would DEFRA's half-witted gunslingers manage? Is this just an undercover way of getting rid of all 'dirty seagulls' dreamt up by the Daily Mail? Or a devious attempt by the hired guns to create a new gravy train now that they've finished with the Ruddy Ducks?

As Alan says, no doubt this will get ramped up by the Great British Press into the next bullshit health scare, and we'll have to put up with weeks of lurid headlines and ridiculous articles screaming about how migratory birds are going to kill us all, until everyone forgets about it and the media vultures move on to the next stinking corpse of a story they can find to pick over.


Or, as the classic Daily Mash headline said: EVERYONE DEAD BY TEATIME!

Monday 20 September 2010

We want to hear from

Following the recent Llamas reunion, I had a trawl through the old site (I’ve still got its final incarnation on my computer) and thought I’d update one of the old features. I think the idea was nicked from some football magazine in the first place, so this is a re-hash of an idea we nicked from someone else. Nothing new under the sun, as they say.

We want to hear from:
  • Garry Bagnell’s geography teacher – Ofsted want a word with you.
  • The birder who thought that reporting a ‘heard only’ Honey Buzzard in Worcestershire the other day would in some way enhance their reputation.
  • Anyone who’s actually paid money to join the British Birding Association.
  • Anyone who voted for the so-called President of the aforesaid organisation.
  • The other Presidential candidates.
  • Anyone who knows the true identity of ‘Mr White’.
  • Someone who can tell us what ‘skor’ means.
  • The birding advisers for Bill Bailey’s Big Birdwatch – Tim Appleton wants a word with you.
We don’t want to hear from:
  • Anyone who has anything more to say about House Finch moult.
  • Anyone who gets excited by putative 1st-winter Thayer’s Gulls, or indeed 1st-winters of any large gull. It’s just not right.
  • The October 2009 ‘Shetland Stringer’ – fucking hell, I hope he’s not going again this year!
And we still haven’t heard from:
  • Anyone who actually witnessed L.Y.R.E. ticking the Pacific Swift at Cley.

Friday 17 September 2010

In Town For One Night Only

I had planned to go to Burrough Hill this morning for a spot of vismigging now that the wind of the last few days has finally dropped, but a combination of Beacon, Cobra, Jack Daniels (so much for the rehab!), curry and getting to bed at about 1.30 put paid to that idea. No doubt the Laps are streaming over in their hundreds as I type....

Anyway, John has already written up last night’s Llama reunion in far funnier style than I can manage this morning, but suffice to say it was an excellent evening. It’s sad that it took Rob & Richard’s granny’s funeral to get us all together in the same place for the first time since 2002, but such is the way of things now we’re scattered across the globe.

Unfortunately the photos John took with my camera didn’t come out too well, but as a comparison to the ones on his blog, I offer these dreadful old camcorder shots from the original Llamas site. It’s quite scary to think these were only taken about ten years ago (I think they were either 2000 or 2001), both in terms of how we’ve aged (and expanded in my case!), but also the pace of digital change. It really is only ten years since we all excitedly bought our first digital camcorders, and were amazed by the blurry 640 x 480 pixel images we got through our scopes. But now of course they look utterly shite compared with modern multi-megapixel cameras. I might dig out a few old favourites from those early digiscoping days and post them some time.

Don’t bother clicking on these, by the way – this is about as big as they get!

Saved the best one till last!

Friday 3 September 2010


Having done very little birding (or anything else much) over the summer, I thought I ought to make a start on trying to get into some sort of shape before Shetland. Otherwise I won’t even be able to make it to the Toab shop before Mark eats all the pies, let alone slog round South Mainland looking for rares for ten days!

So, there’s been an easterly wind for several days, loads of stuff on the east coast – time to check out Burrough Hill again. I’m sure if someone was able to do Burrough Hill every day, it would produce something really good. I know it’s in the middle of boring Leicestershire farmland about 40 miles from the coast, and it doesn’t even stick up that much from the east (it’s more of an escarpment than a hill), but it does seem to have an attraction for migrants.

What I was really hoping for of course was a flyover Lapland Bunting, a species I still need for my county list. John and Dave had one here in October 2008, so it’s not an outrageous thing to hope for, especially given the unprecedented numbers around the country at the moment. But on arriving at about 08:00 it was immediately obvious that nothing at all was flying over as the early morning fog cleared. So I turned my attention to the bushes on the south side of the hill fort, which is where most of the migrants usually are. One of the first birds I saw was this female Redstart, which I was well pleased with, not having seen one in the county since 2002. Even better, I then found another three nearby (including two males which I couldn’t get near enough to photograph), plus Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Wheatears and a good assortment of warblers including 2 Garden Warblers.

I’ve always thought the southern slope of the hill looks perfect for a Wryneck, so I was slightly annoyed to get an email about one in Great Glen whilst actually walking through this bit. It should have been here! Fortunately I don’t need Wryneck for my county list, so I was able to ignore it (after putting it out on Twitter) and carry on.

Climbing up the ramparts of the hill fort and then back up the valley on the north side of the hill proved to me just how unfit I really am – I was well and truly fucked by the time I got back to the car. I’ve got a lot of work to do in the next month....

Monday 2 August 2010

Whatever happened to Swithland Res?

Inspired by the BUBO Listing badge which recently appeared on John's blog, I decided to join the site and add a couple of my lists. There are only two lists I care about these days - my British self-found list and my Leicestershire list, so those were the ones I added.

Two things struck me as I was entering the records for these: firstly, that I haven't added anything to my found list for about two years, and secondly, how many good county birds I first saw at Swithland Res.

When I started birding, Swithland was my main local patch, and I used to spend a lot of time there, often with Jeff Higgott and/or Steve Close. Like all the best inland local patches, most of the time it was crap. I have notebooks full of records of exceptionally dull visits in the 1980s and 90s which make me wonder why I spent so much time there. The answer, of course, is that every now and then it would be worthwhile. A quick skim through my county list reveals the following species I county ticked at Swithland: Long-tailed Duck, Red-throated Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Shag, Bittern, Red-necked and Grey Phalaropes, Arctic Skua, Great Skua, Ring-billed Gull, Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, White-winged Black Tern, Sandwich Tern, Crag Martin, Red-rumped Swallow, Rock Pipit, Firecrest and Hooded Crow. And that's just the ones that were county ticks; there were plenty of other good birds that I'd previously seen elsewhere.

And what has Swithland had in the last few years? Lesser Scaup and Leach's Petrel in 2006, and, er, can't think of anything else off the top of my head. And the reason is because it doesn't get the coverage it used to 20 years ago. I hardly ever go there now I live on the other side of the city, and Rutland Water and Eyebrook Res are easier to get to. Yes, people do look at Swithland, but I don't think anyone spends the amount of time there that we used to. An opportunity waiting for someone to rediscover how good it can be?

P.S. Corn Bunting isn't really the most recent species I've added to my found list - I just did it in checklist order.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Holiday highlights

I’ve been home for a week now, and I’ve just about finished going through all my photos from our Scotland holiday. I can’t be arsed to write a day-by-day account of it now, so here are just a few highlights in pictures.

On the way up, this lasagne sandwich caught my eye while we were stocking up on provisions at the last proper supermarket en route to Sutherland. It was duly purchased and eaten for lunch in a layby overlooking the Kyle of Sutherland. Verdict: 6/10 – a nice idea, but the meat was a bit tough.

I was delighted to find a colony of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries just down the road from Laxford Bridge – a new butterfly species for me. Being towards the end of the flight period, most were a bit tatty, but I managed to find this reasonable specimen, which kindly sat still for some photos.

The Fritillaries were in the boggy, grassy area on the right of this photo. About 20 were seen in total. There were also half a dozen Golden-ringed Dragonflies zipping around this area.

Laxford House itself was superb – massive (6 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, 2 sitting rooms, huge kitchen with Rayburn etc, etc), fantastic views overlooking Laxford River and completely hidden from the road by trees. This is another place which must get rarities in the autumn, being an oasis of trees in the middle of miles and miles of mountain and moorland. There is a record of Red-breasted Flycatcher from here a few years ago, which shows it does have potential. Breeding birds around the house included Spotted Flycatcher, Redpoll and Siskin; other birds seen from the house included Black-throated and Red-throated Divers on the river, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank and Red-breasted Merganser. We also found Otter spraint not far from the house, but didn’t manage to see the actual animal. In case anyone was wondering, we didn’t have the whole house to ourselves; there were eight of us – me, Sophie, my parents, my brother, his wife and two kids.

The world-famous Lochinver Larder pie shop has already made an appearance on Mark’s blog, but just for the record, here are the photos again. If you’re a pie fan, it’s worth making the long trip north just for these.

The stunning beach at Balnakeil on the north coast. Another area which has had a few rarities in the past. These photos make it look a nicer day than it really was!

Nearby is the John Lennon memorial in Durness, where the Beatle spent his childhood holidays at the house of his cousin in Sangomore.

From the sublime to the ridiculous: this bizarre waxwork of that well-known Scot Mohammed Al MacFayed greets visitors as they enter the gift shop at Falls of Shin. The falls are a brilliant place to see Salmon leaping up the waterfalls as they return to their breeding grounds. No, I didn’t manage to get a photo of one.

We did a tour of the Glenmorangie distillery at Tain, on the east coast, one day – great value at just £2.50 each, which included a generous-sized dram afterwards (at least a pub double), and then you got the £2.50 off any purchase over £16 from the shop! I was amused to see this plaque on the door:

On our last full day we went on a boat trip round Handa island. You had to sit astride the seats like a motorbike, and also get dressed up in rather ridiculous waterproofs. I’ve got a photo of Sophie in these as well, but I’ll get into trouble if I put it on here! Having walked round Handa at the start of the holiday, it was fantastic to see the seabird cliffs from the bottom. The smell was even stronger down here too! The ride back to Scourie was fast and exhilarating, but the waterproofs were almost totally pointless – despite the speed of the boat and the heavy swell, there was virtually no spray at all.

I didn’t take many bird photos – apart from the first and last days it was generally grey and wet. Also my Sigma 150-500 seemed to be playing up the day we went to Handa, resulting in most of the photos I took that day being slightly out of focus. I think it was just the contacts, as after I cleaned them it seemed to be OK. Here are some of the better ones:

Other highlights I didn’t manage to get photos of included a sub-adult Golden Eagle soaring over the hills just north of Loch Assynt and a Pine Marten disappearing into roadside vegetation just outside Lochinver. Total bird list for the holiday was exactly 100.

Finally, here’s a panorama of the view from the house in Achriesgill where my Granddad was born. One of my favourite views in Britain...