Sunday, October 31, 2004

Birding Babylon

Something I've been meaning to mention for a while now is a blog called Birding Babylon. It's written by J, a soldier (and birder) serving in Iraq, about the birds and other wildlife he sees while out and about.

Iraq isn't a place you often hear birdwatchers talking about, and nor does birding feature heavily in anything you see, hear or read about Iraq. So it's a refreshing perspective on a country most of us don't really know anything about.

Here's a sample:
"Monday, October 18, 2004
This morning I had to go to a meeting at one of the high security buildings. For the last two weeks I've seen a bunch of small hairstreak butterflies flying around one of the bushes outside. Because of the location I can't catch one to ID it and I can't bring in a camera to photograph it. The butterflies have tiger striped underwings and little black tails on their back wings.

A new bird I saw a couple of days ago was a male Redstart hopping around in the tamarisk trees near our building. It flew down to the ground and was running around under some old boards.

When we were out on our patio a few nights ago a barn owl flew in circles over us screeching. The noise flushed a couple of wood pigeons out of our Eucalyptus tree."

There's a clip about Birding Babylon on the NPR (National Public Radio) website. Click here to hear it!

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Dirty twitching in Norfolk

Lesser Yellowlegs

Went to the Norfolk coast for the day with WeedWorld, guided by Mark 'Wardy' Ward to take advantage of his immense skill, local knowledge and twitching expertise. Oh, and the 'X' factor [for bird-finding] that Mike and I both seem to lack...

Weedon and Ward go seawatching

We started off at Holkham, where Wardy felt sure we'd stand a good chance of finding Pallas's or Yellow-browed Warbler. But all we could muster was a single Firecrest (seen only by Mike). Which was a bit disappointing, though seawatching was pretty interesting, with highlights including Black-throated Diver, Velvet Scoter, Red-necked, Black-necked and Slavonian Grebes, a Razorbill close-in, and stuff like Brent Goose, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and a Pomarine Skua which we saw hunting down an incoming migrant thrush - so near, yet so far...

Mike has his own way of solving the 'seawatcher's eye' problem.

Meadow Pipit

Mark's admirable theory is that if you spend the morning working hard, trying to find your own stuff, then it's OK to go twitching what other people have found in the afternoon.


Click on the photo to see a bigger, brighter, better version!

Another Lesser Yellowlegs to add to the collection (see the Drift Reservoir pics from last month), at Stiffkey. Though it didn't come as close as the Drift bird, it fed more actively and the light was much better for digiscoping purposes. In some of the pics, you can see where new, grey, first-winter feathers have grown through.

This Redshank showed nicely next to its transatlantic counterpart.

This Ring Ouzel was one of two at Stiffkey. It looks like an adult female, though it seems to be very 'scaly' indeed (just like the alpestris bird illustrated in Lars Jonsson's Birds of Europe). But I don't really know anything about Ring Ouzel plumages so I'll leave it at that.

A most enjoyable day, despite the lack of self-found rares.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Serpentine Brick Pit

Took the chance to get out once the Mighty Gale had stopped blowing a bit. Nowt of ornithological note but a few interesting/pretty other things...

Migrant Hawker

Shaggy Inkcap

miscellaneous mushroom things

autumnal Sycamore tree

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Ringing at Gib

That's Gibraltar Point, Skegness, Lincolnshire, not Gibraltar in sunny southern Europe... At the East Midlands Ringers' Conference last month, Mark Grantham gave an entertaining talk about ringing at Gib, and issued a general invitation to everyone to visit. So I thought it might be fun...

Sunday morning started amazingly well, with the first bird out of the net being a female Firecrest! I hadn't even handled a Goldcrest before, never mind a Firecrest...

I thought that was pretty good, so I texted Chris (my trainer) to let him know of my good fortune. He replied: "I haven't ringed Firecrest! If you ring a Pallas's, you're sacked!"

Other birds trapped on Sunday included Blackbird, Goldcrest, Goldfinch, Robin, Dunnock, Long-tailed Tit and Blackcap.

Click for the bigger picture

Monday morning saw more Goldcrests trapped in nets set among the sea buckthorn, plus Redwing, Reed Bunting, Robin, Garden Warbler, Great Tit, Blackbird, Goldfinch, Dunnock, Linnet, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Wren. Oh, and this male Sparrowhawk...

Spadgerbasher meets Mr G

That would have been a ringing 'tick' for me, had it not been for the arrival of a BBC film crew who wanted to film what we were doing. So Mark did the honours (doing very well not to swear too much when the talons got stuck in his hand). My day will come... The bird can be aged as a first-winter by the rusty-brown fringes to its feathers.

I did get to ring this female Great Spotted Woodpecker, though. Always very interesting (and noisy) birds to handle.

These Great Tits were intriguing. The one on the right above (left below) is very obviously a male (because of its broad belly stripe) and is much brighter than the other individual, which couldn't be sexed conclusively.

On Tuesday we had a couple of nets in the garden of Kevin Wilson, the Gib warden. Though the one by his feeders wasn't enormously productive (having said that, my fingers still sting from the pecking of the Blue and Great Tits...), we had a bit more success with a net just over the fence in the buckthorn. As well as lots more new Goldcrests, we trapped another female Firecrest, just missing out on a third which bounced out! Other birds included Blackbird and Song Thrush. A Waxwing flew over calling and a male Brambling perched nearby.

Yes, it's true - Skegness is so bracing. So bracing, in fact, that Tuesday night's planned wader-ringing session had to be abandoned due to high winds. You can't win all the time...

Thanks to Mark G for being so helpful and patient, and also to the Tit Boys (Stuart Sharpe and Andy McGowan), Mark Brown and Kev and the Gib staff.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Wryneck at Langtoft

Click on the images to view bigger versions!


As mentioned earlier, we had a brief glimpse of the Langtoft Wryneck this morning en route to the coast. However, it was spooked and flew off. We made the tactical decision to bale out of Skeggy mid-afternoon since there was nothing there, and dropped in at Langtoft again on the offchance that the Wryneck was showing again.

We'd barely pulled into the school car-park when the bird was spotted feeding on the ground, out in the open! Though it was frightened off by a dog-walker, it soon came out again and excellent views were had by all present. The bird spent a lot of time licking up insects from between the kerb stones and on the grass - presumably ants. It hopped around quite undisturbed by us.

I think it's safe to say that it "showed well".

Wryneck photographers


Steve and Brian, er, get down and dirty...


I really wanted to see a Wryneck in Cornwall the other week, but we managed to miss several. I thought there might be an outside chance of one in Lincolnshire this weekend, but I was thinking more of the coast than inland near Peterborough!

I'll take a confiding Wryneck over 50 White's Thrushes which have to be shared with an enormous crowd and need "organised searching" (ie. flushing) to see, any day! Thanks to Martin Coates and his dog for finding it yesterday.

Wryneck poo!

The reason I picked up these droppings (shown approximately twice lifesize, fact fans), is that I know Mike used to collect bird poo in his youth, and I thought he might like some. Alternatively, I might try to flog it on eBay...

They're like mini Green Woodpecker turds, if you like that kind of thing.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Skegness & Gibraltar Point

Today Steve, Brian and I made a long-planned out-of-area birding excursion to the Lincolnshire coast. We decided to get together for some birding a while back but decided on Lincs yesterday, in light of the weather conditions looking great for the east coast.

We did the Skegness seafront in the morning, after a quick stop-off at Langtoft for the Wryneck. More on that later... We saw precious little and there were certainly no rares to be had. Best birds were Woodcock, Lesser Whitethroat, Stonechat, Brent Geese and Chiffchaff. Not really what we were after...

A depressing stream of rarity news from Holderness came through on the pager... Olive-backed Pipit, Pallas's Leaf Warbler... Yellow-browed Warbler... possible Yellow-breasted Bunting, Barred Warbler... Richard's Pipit... Bluethroat... Red-breasted Flycatcher... White's Thrush - surely this isn't fair?

There were a few waders on the creeks.


Bar-tailed Godwit (right) and Redshank

Bar-tailed Godwit (right) and Redshank

Unfortunately, insects, not birds, provided the highlight of our visit to Gibraltar Point. Sorry. I think I've done Common Darters to death now.

Common Darter

In common with the rest of the Lincs coast, the place held plenty of Goldcrests but not a lot else! It was comforting to speak to some other birders who reported that they, too, had found nothing but Goldies during the day. It's funny how there were rarities in Yorkshire and Norfolk, but nowt in Lincs...

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Cream-coloured Courser, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly

Mr Creamy Courser, St Mary's, Isles of Scilly Posted by Hello

Twitchers are renowned throughout the birding world and beyond for doing stupid things. This weekend, I did something pretty stupid. Or sensible, depending on your outlook. I went with Mark Ward and Steve Dudley to see the Cream-coloured Courser on the Isles of Scilly.

We departed Peterborough at 10pm on Friday night, drove almost non-stop to Penzance (arriving in record time at 4am), had a couple of hours' dozing in the car, and caught the first helicopter (transport tick!) to St Mary's.

The bird had moved from St Martin's to St Mary's airport the day before, which we hoped would save us a boat trip. There was no sign of it initially, so the three of us set off to try to relocate it. We'd got a fair way with no sign whatsoever when the vital pager message came that it was showing well from near the terminal building! What a bird! There was something slightly surreal about watching it trot about on the turf, in all its peachy glory...

We knew the weather was going to be bad and indeed, it was very windy. Then it started raining. So, instead of sitting in a cafe with a cup of coffee, we went looking for birds, of course. Didn't see a lot. Too windy and wet. I ticked Short-toed Lark, and the Short-eared Owl we saw was quite good. We got a good soaking, adjourned to a cafe and decided to leave early if possible.

Saw the courser again in a bulb field near the airport, where I took the above record shot. The bird looked utterly miserable, as did its admirers, in the relentless rain.

Thanks to Steve for taking this picture of me and Mark. We're having fun!

Fortunately, we managed to take an earlier flight back to Penzance and thus had time to stop at Tesco's for a hot meal.

It was my first time on the islands, and though it felt stupid spending such a short time there, I suppose that's what time-efficient twitching's all about... Peterborough to St Mary's and back again in less than 24 hours isn't a bad use of time, is it?

There are much better photos of the Cream-coloured Courser on BirdGuides and Surfbirds, to name but two. And Steve got some OK photos.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x eyepiece

Monday, October 04, 2004

Reed Bunting control info

In June this female Reed Bunting was controlled by Chris at Ferry Meadows (ie. he trapped it and found it had already been ringed by someone else). The info has now come through from the BTO and it turns out that it was ringed at Ten Mile Bank, Norfolk, on 12 Feb this year.

If you find a bird with a ring, click here to report it! You'll make a ringer somewhere very happy.

photo taken with Nikon Coolpix 995