Sunday, 23 January 2011

First Chiffchaff!

It's been another weekend of attachment to the PC, but I have given the Clerk of Works a committment that it will be the last in a while. Next weekend will be spent with a paint brush in my hand. Does life get any better.
Despite this I was delighted to hear my first singing Chiffchaff of the year. Now was this an over-wintering bird - no I can assure you it wasn't. This was genuine spring migrant. How do I know? Well it might have something to do with the fact that it was heard in the background of the Antiques Roadshow. While they were examining a fascinating old map, if you want to know. Is this a sign of birding frustration that I have to resort to TV bird spotting.
Actually, I can thoroughly recommend it and there was once quite a craze for the TV list. One of the rules was that the bird in question could not be "ticked" if it was on a natural history programme as this was surely too easy. No - for a legitimate TV tick it needs to be incidental to the programme in question. Silver Gulls on the pitch during the Ashes tour a good example. Once you start looking and listening you'll be amazed at what you can find, including some great birdy mistakes. I think it was Midsomer Murders or something similar when Bee-eaters could clearly be heard in the background. I think I should probably swiflty move on, before we get on to "dream lists".
The best bird of the weekend, however, was not the aforementioned Chiffchaff. Oh no, the best bird I actually saw with my own eyes and it was real and everything. And it was a tick. Unfortunately it was an Ashy Faced Barn Owl and was sitting on someone's wrist in the foyer of Morrisons. Drumming up support for the Screech Owl sanctuary, as it happens.
I did actually venture to Siblyback yesterday morning. Quiet as usual (apart from the gaggles of female joggers who seem to have adopted the circuit as their weekend venue since the path was "improved"). Usual Tufties, Little Grebes etc and a good number of vocal Siskin tazzing about. I spent an enjoyable few minutes watching a sparkling Siskin singing from the top of a small pine, bathed in the winter sun. Lovely.
Anyway, with a nod to the task of identifying birds on the periphery of broadcast content, I present you with Mountain Man, and assorted exotic birds in the background. I don't have a clue what they are, but I'm sure the more travelled of you will...

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Auks and Shearwater

Woke to the wind still fresh so headed down to Hannafore first thing. As soon as I parked up it was clear that there was considerable movement. I could have stayed longer but Plymouth's creative cluster needed my attention. So an hour (as is the law) was all I could give it. With Australia making a dramatic run chase on the radio, I watched as auks streamed by, in flurries up to 30 strong. I long ago lost my trusty "clicker" which resided in the pocket of my battered Barbour, so counting them while also trying to keep up with the steady passage of Kittiwake and Gannet was a challenge. Rough totals were as follows:

Auk sp - c1200,
Kittiwake - 160
Gannet - 80
Fulmar - 8

Closer in a couple of Slav Grebe were riding the surf, and today there were 5 Pale bellied Brents. 3 Great Northerns and a Grey Plover completed the list of birds of note.

I always find great amusement in the reaction to passers by when seawatching from the car. At Hannafore one parks up next to the pavement, along which dog walkers and grockles parade. Luckily in the best seawatching weather, the conditions put off all but the hardiest. However, there's always a few souls who invariably, coming across a scope pointing out to sea, will look out to see what you might be looking at. Some will walk by un-moved but once they get a distance away will stop and look out perplexed, wondering why you seem to be staring intently on a stretch of empty sea. Only very very occasionally will someone stop and ask what you are looking at. Now at this point one has a choice. Do you:

1) Keep it simple - "I'm birdwatching" and hope that they'll move off quickly.

2) Engage them in detailed conversation - "I'm watching passage seabirds, there's lots of auks passing offshore this morning, but they're too far out to see with the naked eye"

3) Bamboozle them with birding slang - "Plenty of Kitts moving"

The third is a particular favourite. I was once in the company of one of Lancashire's foremost birders at Heysham. We'd had a great hour or so at the outfalls, and were driving off, when we passed a couple of sweet old ladies who just happened to be sporting binoculars. It was clear to anybody that these were not hardened birders. However, our driver and foremost birder slammed on the brakes, wound his window down and shouted "A Med, two Littles and a Black!!". I can still recall the rather mystified faces of these ladies as we sped off. I wonder if they managed to see the Mediterranean Gull, two Little Gulls and the Black Tern, but somehow I doubt it.

Now for a seawatching related musical treat. I came across Shearwater last year and was quickly hooked. Their third album - Golden Archipelago suffers from a dreadful album cover, and is the third in a trilogy of "thematically linked" albums called the Island arc. If this sounds a little bit too much like Yes, don't be put off. The Golden Archipelago is a thing of beauty. This is the promo for the album...

..and one of the more mellow tracks from the album below (note I have mastered the embedding of video now!!)..

Saturday, 15 January 2011

"...on his gun there's more than twenty seven notches..."

This weekend, Clerk of Works has taken the Assistant up to see friends back in East Yorkshire, leaving me to a couple of days split between a bit of birding and work. Yes, I've moved jobs yet still seem to have to work at weekends. Ho hum.

Anyway, even for Siblyback standards it was dead this morning. Set against the drizzle and blustery wind the best bird was a Common Gull. I considered suppressing this remarkable record for fear of setting off a mass invasion of twitchers, that would disturb the immense flock of 18 Tufted Duck. Given the brisk wind, a quick trip down to Hannafore seemed the right thing to do before my sojourn in front of the computer. There was a steady stream of auks making their way out of the bay, of those close enough to identify mainly Guillemots with a few Razorbills (time was I could confidently identify these even at distance). A few Kittiwake were doing the same with Gannet further out. Just off the rocks a couple of Pale bellied Brent Goose were bobbing about (presumably returning birds from last year). A total of 4 Great Northern Diver were also located.

Gazing at the murky horizon I was reminded of my lengthy seawatches at Spurn when I was a proper birder. I would get up at first light, make a cup of coffee and walk the few yards to the seawatching hide. Within a few minutes it would be clear whether it was going to be worth staying, but the unwritten law was that a minimum of an hour was required. I fondly recall the camaraderie of good seawatches there, and the bizarre and often surreal conversations that resulted. For a spell there was a craze of singing Doris Day songs (which involved Dale Middleton I recall). You can imagine the surprise of a visiting birdwatcher when opening the door of the hide they were met with the sight of a line of scope wielding birders, enveloped in numerous layers against the biting wind, lustily singing "The Deadwood Stage" - "whip crack awAAYYYY!!!"

Other surreal moments occurred when in the absence of birds inanimate objects became of interest. "Plastic bag south" called from one end of the hide, followed by a period of silence. A few minutes later "Got your plastic bag" is called from the other end, as said item drifts gently southwards. Those were the days.

PS: Honorary membership of the ex birders seawatching and singing club goes to anybody who correctly identified the Doris Day lyric in the title.....

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Clerk of Works was away for the first time without the Assistant this weekend, a BIG EVENT. So finally I was entrusted with my offspring for a whole two days. Yesterday I toyed with taking her down to Penzance, eager as she was to tick Pacific Diver (for her British list of course, she already having noted the salient ID features in Canada). Instead we opted for the local area and a saunter around Siblyback in the morning and a quick stop at Hannafore in the afternoon.

Siblyback was its usual quiet self, apart from the hordes of Canada Geese, with the only bird of note being a female Goosander. I couldn't even find a Yellow legged amongst the gulls. However, I was struck by this beauty of pointless signage. Now which way would you go? Lots of choice. What if one has a wood-phobia? And a rather jaunty angle if I may say so.

Despite the lack of birds it was good to be out, although the brisk wind meant that the windsurfers were out in force, including one individual who obviously thought the buoys marking the "no watersports" zone were purely decorative as he proceeded to hurtle to and fro, scattering the few birds that were present (can you scatter a Coot?)

The light at Hannafore was excellent and a traditional lazy scan from the car turned up the Scaup as still present, along with 3 Slav Grebes and 3 Great Northern Divers.
Bird of the day, however was on the route home, when, a few hundred metres from home, a superb Barn Owl was sitting on a rock by the side of the road. There's something really special about these birds, and I always get a thrill from seeing one well. Brings back memories of birding the Derwent Ings where they were regular. So I've promised myself to go on a likely nesting site hunt.
Today we settled for a toddler paced potter up the lane "to see the horses". Less than half a mile from the house and conveniently on the route to Siblyback is this hugely promising spot. This will swiftly become my next in a long line of promising spots that fail to turn up anything. Nice reedy fringes, overhanging willows. A perfect migrant trap if ever there was one. And if uttering those words isn't the best way to ensure that it will be anything but, I don't know what is. I'll keep you posted. Bet you can't wait.
P.S: This afternoon I decided against a blast up to Dozmary as I had a tree surgeon coming round (and that isn't the cue for a joke). This evening I find out that someone has found a Lesser Scaup there. Grrrrr.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Rockie road!

As nearly a week has passed since my unheralded return, and its that time of year when even ex birders get a wee bit frustrated at lack of daylight, I thought I'd cast my thoughts back to the year just closed. While a lot has happened you would no doubt be unimpressed by tales of moving house. Late April, however, saw the beginning of our Canadian road trip. Our mode of transport was the rather large RV pictured here. This is a spot we discovered called Green Lake, which at that time of year is devoid of tourists but absolutely rammed with birds. Scanning the lake (and oh for the luxury of a scope - I'm sure the Assistant Clerk of Works could have done without her pushchair so I could have snuck it under the weight limit on the plane) there were hundreds of Surf Scoter, Bufflehead, Western Grebe, Barrow's Goldeneye, and Loons aplenty. This was one of our nightstops and one of the most atmospheric places I've been with the "haunting" cry of the loon drifting across the lake at dawn. We were also treated to the antics of a family of Beaver from the wagon. I would have been able to enjoy this spot even more if the night before, in the middle of nowhere, about 20k up a dirt track we hadn't been "attacked" by a pickup full of paint-ball gun wielding locals. It took half an hour the next morning to clean the pink splatters off!! Welcome to Canada.

Anyway, I was hoping for an extravaganza of migrants in the Rockies with a route that took us to Jasper and Banff National Parks. Early May? That's peak migration isn't it? Ermmm, no actually. I think my research may have been a bit lacking in its detail (worrying given that its what I do for a living!). Early May in the Rockies is...still deep winter. To say it was snowy was an understatement. It was also bloody cold. However, as you can see from the picture on the left, there were very few people about, and by and large we had this amazing landscape to ourselves. We were also treated to a pretty surreal experience of driving down out of the mountains into a valley and straight into spring with leaves on the trees, flowers in the verges and birds singing.

The other unexpected thing, and the Carter of Vancouver Island (of which more at some point) concurred with this thought - is that even in birdy places - Spring woodlands at lower elevations etc - there just ain't many birds about. Now a woodland in England would be full of the sounds of common birds, but in Canada its strangely quiet. I can understand why early colonists wanted to introduce the sounds of back home.

While I'm on the subject of Mountains I recently came across these young ladies (not in Liskeard I hasten to add) that go under the name of Mountain Man. Their first album - Animal Tracks - is a stripped down alt-country delight that verges on an oral history project (think the Unthanks with checked shirts). I'm not proficient enough to embed music or video but a hyper link is

Monday, 3 January 2011

Back for a while

Well, well, well.
If anyone's still out there and would care to pick up where I left off some months ago....

My excuses for prolonged blog-invisibility are several and a lot has happened since last I put hand to keyboard.

1) A near month-long trip to Canada - of which more at some point!

Closely followed by...

2) A NEW JOB. I now have the joy of a commute that doesn't take three hours out of a day


3) A new home. The three of us now live on the edge of Bodmin Moor, walking distance from Siblyback (not that this has meant I've been more frequently) with a proper garden that attracts proper birds in proper numbers.

Not forgetting....

4) Being bone idle

I leave it to you to summise which is most to blame (hint - it's the fourth)

Anyway - a New Year and a new conviction to return to the blogosphere with more tales of past adventures, whimsical musings on stuff vaguely bird related, remembering that I am, of course, an "ex birder". This means that any current bird sightings are likely to come from the immediate vicinity of The Haven, as our new abode is rather nicely named. There may be occasional forays to Siblyback before my enthusiasm wains as it is want to do around May (when I yet again fail to turn up a mega). Last year I had that post foreign jaunt birding hangover to blame as domestic forays seem rather too tame in comparison. This year? I refer you to Point 4 above.

As I write the sound of a Golden Oriole has just drifted downstairs. This is a result of the Assistant Clerk of Works new friend for her stuffed Hoopoe. She can now confidently name a number of commoner species as well as "Oopoe" and "ororol". Her favourite of the many "birdies" that visit the garden is the "fat pigeon". Oh well. But big garden news of today was the Yellowhammer that visited briefly this morning.

Other recent sorties included a New Years Day family walk up around Commonmoor which turned up a nice Brambling amongst a large flock of Chaffinch and a windy trundle at Hannafore on 31st which produced a female Scaup (first for me here and by no means a common bird in Caradon), single Slav and Great Northern and 2 Med Gulls. Highlight though was the hot chocolate served from the sea front kiosk in proper mugs and consumed wrapped in provided blankets.

Anyway - I hope its a welcome return and that some of you may find some of my occasional musings entertaining. I will return to my grand trip tp British Columbia but for now here's a pic of the Clerk of Works with the Assistant on her back striding out into the wilderness near Emerald Lake. We'll have to accept the proof of numerous post cards that the lake is, as its name suggests, a quite vivid blue. We saw it frozen solid and covered in snow! Early May is, it transpires, still winter in the Rockies!

Monday, 5 April 2010

A little souvenir of a terrible year...

You may have noticed that it's been a while since I posted. Less is more, that's my motto, and I'm sure you've all been awaiting my return with the same breathless expectation that awaited the third Sundays album (well done to those of you who spotted the Sunday's lyric title, and no excuse needed for a photo of the divine Ms Wheeler). Nearly five years waiting to find that they seemed just to have recorded the same album again but with different titles. At least the Stone Roses had the decency to record something that sounded different.
Anyway, all work and no play makes Adrian a dull boy. Suffice it to say, "dull" is currently my middle name. But light is at the end of the tunnel.

We did at least have Saturday and Sunday off and spent them in Hertfordshire with the grandparents. I'm still not used to the sight of Red Kites floating over the garden. I suppose that some day they'll get the same attention a Little Egret does. Saturday we took the Assistant to that mecca of ornithological research, the Natural History Museum at Tring. I was hoping that she would join me in close examination of the structure of closely related fairywren species. Maybe I was being over ambitious. She spent most of her visit cuddling a badger. It was the first time I'd been to Tring since I was a kid and several things struck me:

1) The Elephant seal is really very very big

2) Fish don't look real when stuffed

3) It's free! I was so impressed I made a generous donation.

Anyway, a variety of stuffed birds was as close as I got to birding this weekend, but my lack of attention to our avian friends was rewarded this evening on the train back from work. I have mentioned the delights of the Exe Estuary as observed from the train before now, and today, the tide was out so there were few waders to spot. However, as we neared Starcross, where the water's edge drew near to the train, there striding elegantly (not - there's something endearingly inelegant about these fellows) was a Spoonbill. Nice.

I've always had a soft spot for the Spoonbill, and indeed prefer our alternative name for it - the Bongo Bird. I can't lay claim to that most apt of nicknames, which derives from a hurried phone call taken by Ray (I think...he will no doubt correct me) from Mr Heysham - Pete Marsh, many years ago. Which went something like this:

Ray: "Hello"
Pete: "Ray, Bongo at the bog!"
Ray: "Wha..?"
Click, brrrrrrrrrr

Now to interpret. This means "Ray, there's a Spoonbill at Leighton Moss, thought you'd like to know". But "Bongo at the Bog" has gone down in folklore. Several years later, when Little Egrets were still rare in Lancashire there was a Spoonbill and a Little Egret at "The Bog". They became affectionately known as "Bongo and Son".
Finally, a little competition, and an excuse for a photograph. On the right is Mr Carter (J) celebrating a "top birding event". I found this in a stack of faded old photographs when preparing for the Clerk of Works car boot extravaganza. This was undoubtedly the highlight of a trip to The Gambia (there's a big clue) what enigmatic bird had we just bagged? A virtual prize to the most surreal answer.