Sunday 4 December 2011

Un-American Activities

In case anyone was wondering what was behind the statement on the LROS Bird News page yesterday regarding a reported American Golden Plover at Cossington Meadows, here is a short version of the story.

Basically, the ‘observer’ who reported the plover is known to have claimed a lot of highly unlikely birds in the county recently. I thought Birdguides at least were aware of him, but this one slipped through the net somehow. Unfortunately I didn’t find out who it was until after dark, by which time a lot of people had wasted an afternoon looking for a non-existent bird.

Although I’ve never met him, he has been described to me as a ‘very keen but over-enthusiastic young lad’. I’m not sure how young, but certainly old enough to be able to use a computer and report sightings to Birdguides and LROS. I would also suggest, particularly in view of the fact that he has been warned about reporting fictitious rare birds before, not least by his parents, that he ought to be old enough to realise the possible consequences of his actions.

Before anyone asks, given his previous claims I don't think there is any possibility that he simply ‘made a mistake’ with this bird. It’s not certain that he was even at Cossington Meadows yesterday as about ten later ‘updates’ on the bird in the afternoon all appeared to have been sent from a home computer, along with a later report of a White-billed Diver at the site and a Red-flanked Bluetail & 2 Black-necked Grebes at Priory Water around the same time. And that wasn’t his first Red-flanked Bluetail in the county this autumn.

Over-enthusiasm is one thing, but this seems to be crossing the line into out and out fabrication. All very unfortunate, and sadly symptomatic of our modern rarity-obsessed birding culture. As John Hague pointed out, when we were that age (whatever age he is) we wouldn’t have even heard of birds like Red-flanked Bluetail, let alone thought that we might see one. We can only hope that he will grow out of this and go on to become a proper birder, although I’m afraid it will be a long time before anyone believes anything he reports!

Tuesday 15 November 2011


Yet again there’s a thread in progress on Birdforum about an apparent hoax – this time an anonymous Twitter report of an Eyebrowed Thrush in a private garden at Hunstanton last weekend. I have to say that on the evidence available so far this one is looking like a hoax, but some of the arguments regularly trotted out on BF on these threads are somewhat spurious, to say the least. In particular a lot of people seem to have become fixated on ‘EXIF data’ whenever a photo of a contentious bird appears. Look at the EXIF data – that proves it’s a hoax. Someone’s removed the EXIF data – must be a hoax. No, it’s gen – the EXIF data fits with the claimed time of the sighting. Etc, etc.

OK, if the bird was claimed to have been seen at a particular time and the EXIF data is completely at odds with this (weeks or months out), then yes, be suspicious, but it doesn’t prove anything on its own. Many cameras will have incorrect times and dates – I just checked mine for the first time since I first set it up nearly three years ago, and although the date was right, the time was an hour and fifteen minutes ahead! Doesn’t say much for the clock chips Canon use. EXIF data can also easily be edited using various free programs, so even if it does fit with the claimed time and date of a sighting it’s completely irrelevant as evidence to support a claim.

But what about a total lack of EXIF data, as is the case with the Eyebrowed Thrush photo? Anyone who knows even a little bit about web design should be aware that photos should ideally be ‘saved for web’ to minimise browser loading times. This is even more important these days with so many people using mobile devices to browse the Internet. Obviously the majority of people don’t know this, which is why you see so many HUGE photos around that take forever to download on a phone. And many photos saved at low jpeg settings, which consequently look a lot worse than they would if they were properly optimized. But people who do know what they’re doing save everything for web in Photoshop. As well as optimizing the image so you get the best possible quality whilst keeping the file size small, this also completely removes the EXIF data. There is absolutely nothing sinister or suspicious about this – in fact in an ideal world it would be normal practice for anyone uploading photos to the web.

If you look at any photo of mine anywhere on the Internet (flickr, LROS website, this blog etc) you will not see any EXIF data, and the date shown will be the date I saved the file (which could be months later), not when the photo was taken.* Does that mean I’m a hoaxer? Well, I was in Hunstanton on Sunday......

* - a perfect example of this is the first Humming-bird Hawk-moth photo on my flickr page - it says authoritatively: 'This photo was taken on November 6th 2011'. No, it wasn't - it was taken on September 27th 2011, but because there's no EXIF data, flickr gives this completely spurious date, which is just the date the file was created. As far as I know there's no way of turning this off - if I could, I would.

Tuesday 25 October 2011


This may come as a shock to some people, but I've finally given in and joined Facebook. It seems to be the thing to do these days. So if you know me, you may be getting/have already been sent an invitation to be my friend. This always sounds a bit pathetic and needy to me, but that's what they decided to call it, so who am I to argue. So pleeeease be my friend..... oh, go on....... I'm really not as objectionable as I seem...... I promise I won't keep ringing you up, or emailing you hundreds of amusing pictures of cats, honest......

At some stage, when I get my head round it all, I shall be creating pages on the aforementioned social networking site for my two art websites. I know most of the people who read this crap aren't likely to become customers for artwork, but the point is that friends of friends, or relatives of friends, or friends of relatives might. Sort of like viral, innit. In the modern parlance. I'm dead modern, me. I'm on Twitter as well, you know.

Thursday 20 October 2011

More Shameless Self-promotion

As I may have mentioned a while back, I've been intending for a long time to create a separate website for my pet portraits. After a lot of messing about, it's now live, so in the interests of getting at least one in-coming link to it, here it is:

Feel free to link to it, share it, Tweet it, like it on Facebook etc.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Religious Persecution by Mustelids?

This could easily have been Photoshopped, but I swear this is a genuine screengrab from the BBC's Nature UK page ( today. No doubt it will have disappeared by Monday.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Shetland Days 9 - 12


Back to near gale force westerlies, accompanied by heavy showers. There are now pretty much no migrants anywhere (apart from an arrival of Redwings and Fieldfares overnight), and the only bird of note we saw all day was the Buff-bellied Pipit at Quendale.


Decided to go a bit further afield today, so we drove to Lerwick, where several Purple Sandpipers and a Long-tailed Duck were new for the holiday list, but Helendale and Seafield were devoid of migrants. Fladdabister produced the only warblers we've seen for a few days – a Garden Warbler and a Blackcap, and 1 Chiffchaff was the only migrant at Hoswick (as an aside, we've seen more Willow Warblers than Chiffchaffs here since we arrived, which is very unusual).

We were then reduced to twitching the Citrine Wagtail again, and I managed to get a photo for a change, although it was being blown about a lot in the wind. Finally, back at Pool of Virkie, a Curlew Sandpiper was new for the holiday list, and 6 juv Arctic Terns were also here.


Our last full day was mostly spent driving around South Mainland trying to think of somewhere that might be hiding a migrant, but apart from 3 Snow Buntings on the top of Mossy Hill, we largely failed to find any. Saw the American Golden Plover again at Dunrossness, and the Isabelline Shrike again at Fleck.

Mark totally gripped me off this morning with a brief Robin in Exnaboe, the only one of the trip. Apart from that though, our last couple of hours produced nothing in flat calm, sunny weather. Strange how, every time the wind's dropped below about force 7, we've been travelling and haven't been able to take full advantage of it. Our flight from Sumburgh was delayed due to a fault with the plane (we actually had to get off and board a different one after farting about on the runway for half an hour), which meant a fast walk across Glasgow Airport to catch the connecting flight, but apart from that the journey home was uneventful.

So, a bit of a mixed bag this year - saw some good birds (certainly more than in 2008, when we didn't see a single BB rarity!), but nothing really outstanding, and once again we failed to find much, despite trying hard. It would be an understatement to say that the weather wasn't in our favour though! Probably shan't be going next year, so book your flights now - it will no doubt be mega....

Shetland Day 8

Typically, the day we left Unst it was relatively calm. The wind even went easterly for most of the day, although it wasn't really coming from anywhere, and most of the remaining migrants seem to have taken the opportunity to leave.

Stopped off at a few places on the way south, the most productive of which was the excellent garden and plantation at Sandgarth, where we found a Lesser Redpoll (the rarest of the redpolls in Shetland!), 4 or 5 apparent Mealy Redpolls, a Greenfinch (also scarce here), a Lesser Whitethroat and a few Blackcaps. Kergord was absolutely dead as usual.

Sandgarth plantation

Arriving in the birder-infested south, we quickly cleaned up on all the rarities in the area: juv Citrine Wagtail and American Golden Plover at Fleck, and the Isabelline Shrike at Brake, but decided to give the Buff-bellied Pipit at Quendale a miss until the crowds had died down.

Shetland Day 7

Went back to Fetlar today to look for the American Golden Plover, Dotterel and Pec Sand Martin Garner's lot saw yesterday at Tresta (where we didn't look on Monday). Found the Golden Plover flock. Nothing else with them.

Golden Plover ignoring the weather and pretending it's still summer

Looked for the Black-headed Bunting at Belmont. No sign.

Last couple of hours of daylight at Norwick – Pied Fly and 2 Rosefinches still at Valyie, and a juv Hen Harrier by the beach, but nothing new.

Forecast still bollocks. Tomorrow we leave Unst and head for the apparently birder-saturated and almost equally birdless South Mainland. I can't wait.

Shetland Day 6

Notice how the posts get shorter as the week goes on...

More of the same – strong westerly winds and showers. Went to Norwick first thing and saw the same birds that have been there all week – 2 Rosefinches, Pied Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler and several Bramblings.

South to Uyeasound, where all we could find were a Yellow-browed Warbler and a Spotted Flycatcher (valuable holiday tick). The OBP was still at Baltasound late afternoon, but again no photos worth keeping.

With the forecast is still stuck on strong westerly winds coming from nowhere, it's hard to see anything new turning up at the moment. We may be reduced to twitching Fetlar again tomorrow...

Shetland Day 5

A disappointing day, with not much seen. Started at Uyeasound, where we wasted over an hour waiting for an interesting juvenile Aythya sp to flap its wings or fly, and hopefully confirm that it was what it looked like, a Lesser Scaup. However, when the Tufted flock did eventually fly, it clearly had white extending on to the primaries. Presumably it was some sort of horrible hybrid (Lesser Scaup x Tufted?), but it did look good apart from the wing pattern. Martin Garner (who arrived just before the flock flew) agreed, which made us feel a little better about it!

After that we checked various sites around Unst, but saw very little apart from a Redstart in the burn at Burrafirth, the two Common Rosefinches at Norwick and a couple of Hen Harriers at Burrafirth and Northdale. We drove past the OBP site, but there were too many people there so we gave that a miss. Weather continues to look unpromising, with more westerlies forecast for the foreseeable future. It may be going more north-westerly by Friday, which is marginally better, but at the moment it doesn't look like we're going to get any easterlies at all.

Shetland Day 4

The continuing ‘westerly gale and showers’ theme made conditions difficult for birding, but we made the effort to get out reasonably early, and headed to Norwick once more. This time the Pied Flycatcher appeared for us in the Valyie garden, and a Yellow-browed Warbler was calling, but not a lot else. A drive down to Lamba Ness produced even less, but I did manage to get a nice photo of a female Merlin on the ground. A ringtail Hen Harrier, probably the one we saw at Norwick the other day, was battling against the wind here, and yet another shortly afterwards at Haroldswick. Having only ever seen one Hen Harrier in eight previous visits to Shetland, I've now seen probably four different birds in four days! Also at Haroldswick were a late Swallow feeding low over a field, and a juv Arctic Tern in the bay.

After drawing blanks at several sites we found ourselves at Uyeasound, where I had a somewhat overdue Shetland tick – a Richard's Pipit flying over calling. On the way back to Baltasound we had a text from Rob saying 'Rustic Bunting, OBP and Rosefinch around the school'. What?! We'd struggled to find anything all day and someone had seen all that lot in one place! On arrival at the school we discovered that there's a nice stand of conifers there, and the Olive-backed Pipit was soon found, and showed well on the sheltered side. Mark got some good photos, but I spazzed it as usual, only managing to add to my collection of 'world's worst rarity photos'. No sign of the Rustic Bunting, which would have been another Shetland tick.

My 'best' OBP shot - i.e. the only one where it's actually identifiable...

After this we looked at the Setters Hill Estate plantation and Halligarth with renewed optimism, but needless to say saw bugger all.

Shetland Day 3 - Fetlar

Despite having only been on Unst for a couple of days, we decided to go to Fetlar today to look for the Pallid Harrier and three American Golden Plovers which were near Funzie the other day. All the ferries to and from Unst are free (once you've paid your initial return fare from Yell), so it didn't cost us anything. Not having checked the ferry times before we set off, we were very lucky to arrive just as one was about to depart – a minute later and we wouldn't have got to Fetlar till the afternoon.

As we drove across the island in heavy rain I picked up a ringtail harrier, which obviously we hoped might be the Pallid, but on closer inspection it was yet another Hen. The rain continued for most of the day till about 3pm, and the south-south-west wind steadily increased from about force 5 in the morning to gale force 8 or 9 by late afternoon.

We spent most of the day trying to get good enough views of the Golden Plover flock between Funzie & Everland. This was difficult, as the flock was flighty and kept splitting up into smaller flocks. Eventually we had reasonable views of most of them, but couldn't find any Americans. A Lapland Bunting was at Loch of Funzie, and then in the afternoon the juvenile Pallid Harrier flew across the road and landed at Mires of Funzie. Got some crap flight shots of it, which at least prove that it was a Pallid:
Loch of Funzie

Poor record shots of rare bird caused partly by forgetting to turn the
image stabilizer back on, and partly by general photographic incompetence

Another stroke of luck was arriving at the only shop on the island just as it was closing (at 1pm!) – fortunately the proprieter let us in, and we were able to purchase a couple of Johnson & Wood chicken and bacon pies. Again, a minute later and we would have been left hungry till we got back to Unst!

While we were consuming said pies, we received a text from Rob about a 'probable Black-eared Wheatear' reported on Unst, which we didn't really want to hear, as we couldn't get back till about 17:15 or so. Fortunately it was re-identified, as Rob correctly predicted, as a wet Northern Wheatear.

Very rough crossing back across Bluemull Sound. Forecast for more of the same tomorrow.

Shetland Day 2

Another warm, sunny and flat calm day here. Up and out by 07:45; as we were putting stuff in the car I picked up a ringtail harrier flying over the field in the front of the chalet. Momentary panic, followed by frustration as it turned and flew off across the sound and disappeared over the hill. Clearly a Hen Harrier on jizz, but one of those 'interesting' dark above/orange below individuals. Others who have seen it over the last couple of weeks think it's a variant Hen rather than a 'Northern Harrier/Marsh Hawk' or whatever you want to call the American race.

The plan for today was to start at Skaw and then work our way south – just one Garden Warbler at Skaw, so on to Norwick, where I had a long overdue and tarty self-found tick: 2 Common Rosefinches with sparrows in a field of oats. There were two here a while ago, but since they haven't been reported for 8 days it's going on my found list. Oh yes. Also around Norwick were 2 Barred Warblers and 2 Yellow-broweds.

Garden Warbler - typical fence-perching Shetland migrant

Rosefinch and House Sparrow friend
Two views of the brilliant Valyie garden at Norwick

Encouraged by this, we then walked around Baltasound for a couple of hours, but saw very little apart from Unst resident Mike Pennington, who greeted us with the words 'get off my island'. One Willow Warbler in Halligarth plantation was the only thing I wrote in my notebook.

Halligarth, Baltasound (can't quite make out the Willow Warbler on this shot)

After a quick cup of tea back at the chalet we headed south to Belmont to try and get better views/photos of the Black-headed Bunting. After a bit of searching it appeared, and I managed to get some semi-decent shots of it.

Another look at Norwick late afternoon produced nothing new apart from another (different) ringtail Hen Harrier, and finally we had good views of an Otter just offshore at Haroldswick.


I've decided that, having made the effort to write something each day we were in Shetland, I might as well upload them. Mainly because I can't be arsed to write a summary now, so it's either this or nothing. Bear in mind though that these were written at the time, so references to the birding looking 'promising' at the start of the holiday may sound like wildly optimistic wishful thinking with the benefit of two weeks' hindsight...

Day 1 (Saturday 1st October)

It was all going so smoothly until we got to the chalet. We arrived at a surprisingly calm and mild Sumburgh on schedule at 10:45, picked up the hire car, quick cup of tea and chat at Rob's, during which Dave found Rob's third garden Yellow-browed Warbler (I found the first two), drove across Mainland, Barred Warbler flew in front of the car at Voe (landed in a rose bush just for confirmation), saw the Black-headed Bunting at Belmont and then.... couldn't get into the chalet. The door was supposed to be open, and the key inside, but no, the door was locked and the key nowhere to be seen. Bollocks.

Fortunately the people in the chalet next door knew where a key might be found, and eventually we got in. Apparently the owner thought we were arriving next week. Good job he hadn't double booked it!!

Next, and more annoying problem – no phone reception either in the chalet or anywhere nearby. Arse. But there are a few places both north and south of here where the phone works, so we should be able to get news out reasonably quickly if necessary.

So, no blog posts until we get to Rob's next Saturday It's also very odd not being able to take the Blackberry out every five minutes to check emails. How quickly we come to regard technology as a basic human right....

Anyway, apart from seeing the Black-headed Bunting near the ferry terminal at Belmont we didn't do a great deal of birding apart from a couple of hours this afternoon at Norwick, where there were at least 6 Yellow-browed Warblers and not a lot else. But with a Siberian Blue Robin (unfortunately killed by a cat) on Foula today, and various other new bits and pieces, it's looking promising. In the absence of any internet access we've had to resort to watching television, writing our blog posts ready for uploading in a week's time, and working our way through a 'catering' sized bottle of Tesco own brand whisky (“A versatile drink which brings enjoyment to every occasion” according to the blurb on the label).

Finally some good news. Mark has brought two compact cameras for some reason, so I have a 'non bird photos' camera for the week.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Back to (semi) civilisation

It's unlikely I know, but just in case anyone has been wondering where the daily updates from Unst were, here is the answer. I had hoped that we would get a phone signal at the chalet, and that I could therefore tether the phone to the laptop and get onto the Internet that way. But no, neither Vodafone nor O2 work anywhere around Baltasound, except for a very occasional weak signal, good enough to deliver a text or an email, but not to send anything. Apparently Orange does work there, but almost nowhere else in Shetland!

Mark has done a couple of blog updates on his phone when we were elsewhere on Unst, but I couldn't be bothered with that. Having now arrived at Rob's house for the next four days, I will either upload the crap I've been writing each night or, more likely, some sort of round-up of the week on Unst.

Or I could just sum it up in one word: windy.

Friday 30 September 2011

35.68 million inches due north

This time tomorrow, all being well, I should be on Unst. If Google Earth is to be believed, I will be 563.16 miles (906.32 kilometres; 991,128.63 yards; 35,681,710.28 inches, or intriguingly 532,562.84 Smoots, whatever a Smoot is*) as near as makes no difference due north of where I am now. To get there I will have travelled by car, airport shuttle bus, two planes and two ferries. From leaving home at 4 am, it will probably take about 12 hours. I shall no doubt be knackered, but looking forward to kicking around ditches and iris beds and peering into people’s gardens in search of birds.

Although we will have no such luxuries as WiFi in our chalet at Baltasound, as long as I can get a reasonable signal on my phone I should still be able to update the blog, but photos may have to wait until we get to Rob’s house next week. There probably won't be many photos actually - having decided to take wellies this year rather than put up with wet feet all the time, I had serious weight issues with my suitcase. As a result, the 50mm lens was one of the things that had to be left out. So it will be just bird photos (hopefully) and possibly a few crap pictures taken on my phone.

Kelda chalets – ours is the white one on the end. Halligarth Plantation just visible in the distance at the extreme left of the picture.

For anyone who knows Unst, or has seen John Shuttleworth’s ‘It’s Nice Up North’, this image shows where the chalet is in relation to the famous Bobby’s bus shelter (chalet just visible in the middle of the picture)

I hardly dare mention the weather, but despite distinctly unpromising wind directions (almost entirely westerly) so far this autumn, Shetland has already had loads of good birds. And there's a Pallas's Gropper on Fair Isle today. That would do....

* 67 inches apparently

Tuesday 27 September 2011

Garden hummer

I first saw this Humming-bird Hawk-moth in the garden on the 18th, then again the following day, but on both occasions it disappeared before I could grab the camera and get outside. Today, however, it fed around the Verbenas for long enough to get a few shots. Very difficult thing to photograph - these were the only two in focus out of about 50 attempts:

Always nice to see - this is only the third one I've ever seen in Leics.

A couple more similar shots when it came back later:

And finally a reasonably sharp one!

Thursday 22 September 2011

The long wait is over!

After many months of badgering Richard (stop that sniggering at the back) my completely revamped website is finally live:

However, because nothing in life is ever simple, this has unfortunately coincided with Richard's server account being hacked by some piece of retarded lowlife shit in Malaysia. This caused spam links to appear on all the sites Richard is responsible for. Although my site is clean now, this means that all the sites have to be reinstalled and new accounts created, so it will probably disappear for a day or two, or possibly be replaced temporarily by the old one. So please have a look at it while it's there! If it's a blackish/dark grey design with a Short-eared Owl at the top, that's the new one. If it's white with a Ringed Plover on the home page, it's reverted to the crappy old one.

Either way, if anyone wants a pet portrait or anything else doing in time for Christmas, please let me know as soon as possible.

Ad break over.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

I'm sure it's very nice, but...'d think they might have done some market research on the name before launching this range of Indian foods in the UK (seen in Sainsbury's this evening):

Monday 19 September 2011


Not content with covering all of Unst on Google Streetview, checking weather forecasts every five minutes and revising the field characters of extremely rare birds that I almost certainly won’t find, I’ve discovered another excellent Shetland-related timewaster:

The best one is the Sumburgh Head cam – I bet if you watched this long enough you’d see something mega rare. Although it would be frustrating, as the camera follows a set pattern of panning and zooming lasting about six minutes, so you’d have to hope it was still there when the camera returned to the same spot!

If you watch the sequence all the way through, at one stage it zooms in on Rob’s house, although at over two miles away you can’t identify anything in his garden to grip him off with unfortunately.

There’s another one looking back from Exnaboe towards Sumburgh Head, which is a nice view, but it’s static and only updates every two minutes. The Pallid Harrier the other week would probably have been visible on this if it had flown past at the exact time the cam went off!

Edit: Hmm - these all seem to be offline today - probably overloaded the servers with too many people looking at them!

Tuesday 13 September 2011

And the answer is....

As Peter Cook said on that sketch: no.

Or least not anywhere I've been in the last three days. The wind seemed to have dropped considerably this morning, so much so in fact that there were good numbers of Mipits, Chaffinches, hirundines and the odd Skylark and Yellow Wagtail heading south over Eyebrook this morning. So forget about seabirds - it's time to dust off the vismigging hat, gen up on passerine flight calls and get out and string stuff flying over instead!

Saturday 10 September 2011

Will this wind....?

Every year we get wind in the autumn (actually, I get wind all the time, but that’s another matter), and every year I go out looking for any stray seabirds that might have been blown inland by it. A bit silly when you think about it – if I really wanted to see seabirds I could go to the coast and see thousands of them. But no, I have to go and look for them in Leicestershire and Rutland.

So last week when it had been windy for a day or two, I went to Rutland Water and Eyebrook Res in the hope of finding seabirds. I saw a few bits and pieces – 7 Knot at Eyebrook (the equal fifth biggest flock ever in the county!!!) a Black Tern, an Arctic Tern, a couple of Turnstones and loads of Yellow Wagtails (is anywhere else in the country getting exceptional numbers at the moment, or is it just Rutland Water?). But no seabirds.

This isn’t actually that surprising – in all the years I’ve been going out in autumnal winds looking for inland seabirds (at least 25), I’ve only ever found a few – Sabine’s Gull and Little Auk at Rutland Water (the former on a day when it wasn’t even particularly windy) an Arctic Skua at Swithland Res, a couple of Great Skuas and a few Grey Phalaropes. I’ve seen all the other ‘regulars’ over the years – Fulmar, Gannet, Leach’s Petrel and Manx Shearwater, but not personally found any of them.

Of course the day after I went out last week there was a Manx Shearwater at Eyebrook. Arse. Granted, it was ‘well fucked’ to quote the beast, and predictably found dead the next morning, but a Manx Shearwater nonetheless.

But there is still hope – the forecast for the next few days is for even stronger winds. I shall be out looking from Tuesday/Wednesday onwards I think.

Sunday 28 August 2011

Dear BBC

I see the BBC is asking for ideas for this year’s Autumnwatch. Personally I don’t agree with all this ‘interactive’ bollocks – it’s just a guaranteed way of ending up with lowest common denominator dross. Did Tony Soper ever ask people what they wanted to see? No, he showed us what he thought was interesting (usually Cormorants, Puffins and Guillemots as I recall), and we were grateful for it. Does David Attenborough ever read out emails and tweets from cretins on his programmes? No, and he's all the more respected for it.

But if the BBC really has run out of ideas, here are a few they might like to consider. Let’s get the most predictable one out of the way first:

Beaver Patrol

Kate Fumble adopts an orphaned beaver and prepares it for release back into the wild. Each week she gets it out for Charlie Hambleton-Peninsula to check on its progress, giving him an excuse to leer disturbingly into the camera whilst using the word 'beaver' as many times as he can (actually, come to think of it, he doesn't need an excuse - he does that anyway).

Peew with Pacman

(Does anyone else get really irritated with the way Packham pronounces ‘poo’? In fact do they even have to keep going on about ‘poo’ all the time? It’s like listening to a bunch of four year olds.)

Pacman gets to indulge his coprophilia by rolling around in shit for ten minutes, after which he has to identify the species that produced it. Just for a laugh, in the final programme of the series the producers get him to roll in his own.

Sorry – I can’t show this, it’s just too gross.

A Shag with Martin (the housewife’s favourite)
Martin Huge-Gains has to try and pronounce ‘Phalacrocorax’ without mugging frantically to the camera or constantly pushing his glasses up into his mane...... with electrodes attached to his gonads to ‘remind’ him if he fails.

Introducing: Lichen Cam!
Never again will viewers complain about non-performing badgers on the webcams after they've suffered the mind-numbing tedium that is Lichen Cam. Watch for a couple of years and you might even see it grow! (thanks to Mrs Llama for this one)

I’m sure I saw it move!
Deer Diary

Simon Thing dons his best camo gear to get as close as he possibly can to Red Deer mating on a remote island where there’s no-one around to stop him.

Oh no, hang on, they’ve done that one. Every fucking year in fact......

Friday 19 August 2011

World's Worst Rarity Photos

In my ongoing contest with the Hooded Birder to see who can post the crappest bird photos, I offer below a couple of images which originally appeared on the 'World's Worst Rarity Photos page' on the old Leicester Llamas site. I've got quite a few more like this, but they're all in a shoe box somewhere and I can't be arsed to find/scan them at the moment. But I may do at some stage. Something to look forward to eh?

Richard helpfully points out the Common Rosefinch
feeding on our spilt seed at Gord, Shetland, May 1999

No such help with this one - you'll have to pick out the King Eider for yourselves!
Ythan Estuary, April 1996

Friday 12 August 2011

Maps, lovely maps

I love maps. I don’t feel I can really get to grips with a place unless I’ve studied every inch of as large a scale map of the area as I can get my hands on. One that shows each individual tree would be ideal, but they’re very expensive. And very big (cue Steven Wright joke: I have a map of the United States...... it’s actual size. It says ‘one mile equals one mile’. Last summer I folded it.).

Anyway, this October, along with my esteemed colleague of the pie, I will be spending a week on Unst, the most northerly of the main Shetland Isles (there are a few lumps of rock, including Muckle Flugga, further north, but they don’t really count). Surprisingly, although I’ve been to Shetland several times over the last 15 years, I’ve never actually owned a map of the place. Mainly because I’ve always either been with, or stayed with Rob, who has the complete set.

But as we won’t have that ‘luxury’ this year I’ve had to buy my own map of Unst. It arrived today, and very exciting it is too – OS Explorer map number 470, the highest number of all this series, since they started at the bottom this time, unlike the Landrangers which start at the top. A double sided, 1:25000 scale veritable smorgasbord of cartographical delights and birding potential is how I would describe it. The cover photo even shows a pseudo-birder looking down at the Hermaness gannetry, although the blurb inside warns, rather bizarrely ‘...the photograph on the cover is intended merely as an illustration of the type of activity that your map is designed to facilitate...’ Not sure what that’s all about – maybe Ordnance Survey have been sued in the past by people who were disappointed that they didn’t see a Gannet when they went to Shetland?

I can’t quite remember how many times I’ve been to Unst, but I think it’s only twice – once in 1996 when we went for a day and saw nothing, and again in 2006 to see a Red-flanked Bluetail at Westing, then on to Halligarth, where I seem to remember we didn’t see a Bonelli’s Warbler sp. But I can’t find my notebook from that visit, and my memory is worse than that of an expenses-fiddling MP foaming at the mouth about ‘criminal behaviour’.

So it’s all going to be new and exciting. Probably. Right, I’m off to pore over my new map a bit more. In bed. Expect more excessively long posts going on and on about Shetland between now and 1st October....

Wednesday 10 August 2011

Digiscoper of the Year

I see Swarovski are running a Digiscoper of the Year award - here are my entries. I think I've got a good chance of winning a prize:

Greenshank (I think, or it might be a Greater Yellowlegs - the legs do look quite yellow)

Little Egret - taken when they were rare, which is surely worth extra points

Slavonian Grebe - I like the composition of this one

Wood Sandpiper - lovely light on this shot

Tuesday 21 June 2011

The Starling Squad

Many thanks to Jeff Higgott for posting this clip on YouTube – it’s a Central News report from November 1984 on the work of Leicester Polytechnic’s ‘Starling Squad’, which was formed to investigate (and try to get rid of if possible) the huge Starling roost in Leicester’s Abbey Park.

It’s very poignant seeing my old ringing trainer Jim Fowler interviewed here, as sadly he died last month. Strange to think that he was younger than I am now when this was filmed. Also in the clip, pretending to catch roosting Starlings in broad daylight, are Will Peach (holding the net), Jeff (with hair!), Dave ‘Hodders’ Hodson (with head torch.... in daylight) and Richard Seddon. I think I must have got involved with the Starling Squad shortly after this was filmed. This was my first introduction to ringing, and I spent many nights over the next couple of winters with the team in Abbey Park catching and ringing thousands of Starlings. Happy days!

And here’s a scan of my official Starling Squad badge – there can’t be many of these around!

Wednesday 15 June 2011

Cull everything!

Watching a piece on Springwatch last night about Magpies v ‘songbirds’ got me thinking....

The argument of the Songbird Survival Trust (as championed by that intellectual leviathan Jeremy Clarkson) goes like this: We like songbirds – they’re pretty. But songbirds are declining. Magpies eat songbirds. Therefore Magpies must be causing the decline of songbirds. Cull Magpies!

Supposing some members of the Songbird Survival Trust tried to extend that logic to other things....

We like butterflies and moths – they’re pretty. But butterflies and moths are declining. Songbirds eat caterpillars. Therefore songbirds must be causing the decline of butterflies and moths. Cull songbirds!

And if we culled songbirds, then the Magpies would have less available prey, so their numbers would drop as well. Brilliant! Oh, hang on a moment – songbird numbers are falling anyway, and yet predators are.... somehow.... increasing.... and butterflies and moths are.... declining as well.


Perhaps we’d better cull everything just to be on the safe side.

Sunday 12 June 2011

When Bellringers go bad...

From today’s Daily Bollox:

It was once the most mild-mannered of hobbies – but bellringing’s image is being tarnished so much by growing concerns over the bad behaviour of devotees that a “respect” code is now being introduced.

Followers have warned of rising tensions and even outbreaks of violence among bellringers (or “bellers” as many prefer to be known) as they vie for the best ropes to pull.

Traditionalists have become so concerned about damage to the hobby’s reputation that they have drawn up a new code of conduct, published in the belling “bible” Bell Ends, and endorsed by the Royal Society for the Promotion of Bellringing.

The new code calls for Britain’s estimated six hundred bellringers to “respect” others taking part in the hobby, stresses the need to observe “good belfry etiquette” and urges people not to “tug their ropes” too hard. Fights have broken out over limited spaces in bell towers, while there are increasing reports of bellringers interfering with each others clappers in their determination to ring the most bells.

Lee MacAllister, a leading beller who set up the British Belling Association said “many of these newcomers don’t know their Reverse Rounds from their Weasels and just turn up pulling ropes willy-nilly. It’s just got ridiculous.”

He said he personally had been involved in several violent confrontations with other bellers. “I have had lots of serious, physical fights when I have tried to stop people from tugging on my sally while I’m trying to ring Plain Bob Minor. In the last three years the situation has been just awful. The hobby has gone down the pan.”


knobcheese said: these peeple need to get a lief

mememememe said: G.E.T. A. L.I.F.E!!!!!

wanker258 said: they need to get a girlfreind, too much tugging on there bellends lol!!!!!!!

fluffyhead said: leeve them allone they arn’t doing no one any harm!

doltbrain said: i never seen a bellriner on xfactor so it must be crap lol

wanker258 said: well they ovbiously wudnt fancy you flufyhead lol!!!!!!!!

fluffyhead said: and how would u know wanker258 you’re name says it all wanker!!!!!

Imsofunny said: “Weasels”? “Plain Bob Minor”? Sounds like something from Monty Python!

pleaselikeme said: bellringing is just wierd. why don’t these people do something normal like going to football or getting pissed or watching tv?

neverhadanoriginalthoughtinmylife said: I agree!!

goosefat said: I’m naked.

Bellman said: Well at least we aren’t as bad as those bloody birdspotters – I heard they all carry knives these days!

sparklyshoes said: omg i cant beleive people waist there lives like ringing bells! wtf is that all about? sad or what?!?!

fluffyhead said: and what do you do with your life thats so grate sparklyshoes? some people oughtto look at there own life before slagging off others all the time!

wanker258 said: ffs ligten up fluffyhed!!!!!

goosefat said: anyone want to ring my bell?

cumface said: This comment has been removed by a moderator

FFS give it a rest

No doubt this will be commented upon and dissected in detail at great length on Birdforum and elsewhere. I would hope that anyone with a grain of intelligence, whether they know anything about birding or not, will be able to see that it’s largely typical British media sensationalist crap, but I’m going to restrict myself to one comment:

Lee – if you’re genuinely concerned about the image of birding being tarnished, for fuck’s sake next time a journalist rings you up looking for a comment, just politely tell them you’re not interested.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Stop......................Carry On!

Now there's an obscure catchphrase from the past that probably only about 1% of people reading this (if indeed anyone reads it) will remember! Mass appeal? Bollocks, more like.

Anyway, I got fed up with seeing my moribund blog taunting me with its lack of updates since February every time I switched the computer on so rather than leave it sitting there on the remote chance that inspiration might strike, I deleted it. Fortunately Blogger allows you to undelete a blog for up to 90 days, so in a fit of probably misplaced optimism I decided to do just that and carry on.

Since my last post, spring has been and (just about) gone, the highlights for me being Leics & Rutland's long overdue first Glossy Ibis at Rutland Water in early May, and an equally overdue twitchable Hoopoe at South Kilworth last weekend. Not so good was the Savi's Warbler which sang in the Lagoon 3 reedbed on Monday evening, but hasn't been heard since. At least we heard about it this time, unlike all the previous county records.

Never mind, it'll soon be autumn...

Saturday 15 January 2011

Identification of Slaty-backed Gull

Despite what some so-called experts might tell you, this is actually very straightforward. Does the gull in question look like this?

If so, then you’re in luck – that’s a Slaty-backed Gull alright. You can add it to your list and everyone will look up to you.

If, however, it looks like this:

Then someone's fucked up big time. This is the closely related, but sadly much commoner Salty-backed Gull, often found hanging around outside seaside fish and chip shops (OK, it doesn't look much like salt, but what do you expect for 5 minutes pissing around in Photoshop?). And if you still need that, then you’re a fucking tart.