29 December 2008

Frankly Mr. Fantasy Shankley?

I would just like to point out how well the Gruniad Allstars are doing; currently one's well-oiled and orchestrated fantasy footie team are sitting in the top 10 of the Liverpool fans league,... don't act like you're not impressed.

28 December 2008

Fly my pretties,... fly!

A warning for all the dull Sébastien Loeb wannabees who drive the length and breadth of this fair isle with your fog lights on (whatever the meteorological conditions). I have been lucky enough to be given a horde of flying monkeys for Xmas which are presently searching the highways and byways for the brainless, Top Gear-watching, twats who partake of the aforementioned unnecessary illumination. Each primate has been issued with a large jar of pickled eggs and instruction to stuff 20 of them down the throats of anyone driving around pretending to look like a racing car driver. So, unless you like broken teeth and breath reminiscent of botty burps,... turn your f*cking fogs off you blind bastards.

Fly my pretties,... fly! (sic [apparently this line doesn't actually appear in 'The Wizard of Oz' but the more accurate "Fly, fly fly!" just doesn't measure up to the apocryphal hence its retention here,... I'm glad I've cleared that up]).

PS. Yes, I did drive from the highlands to South Wales today (including the entire length of the M6 which was full of bloody arseholes).

27 December 2008

A day at the seaside

Gave up on the crossbills today (I'll be back in the spring) and headed for the coast. Bumped into all manner of sea-duck, divers, etc. on the glass-like sea between Lossiemouth and Findhorn, plus a Glaucous Gull and a few Snow Buntings to boot.

26 December 2008

It's a dog's life

I spent my day wandering around all over the shop not seeing crossbills; however, my dog had a much more entertaining day. As I was pottering about Abernethy and Glen More, Jack was tempting Tilda Swinton's black and white sheep-dog into oncoming traffic during a trip to the sea-side. Luckily oncoming traffic in northern Scotland moves at a slower pace than elsewhere in the western hemisphere and the starlet's mutt lived to tell the tale, take a number two on the beach and, I'd guess, nip home to polish off the leftover turkey,... it would appear my dog's life is more interesting than mine.

PS. Red Squirrels all over the shop today.

24 December 2008

Nothing to grouse about

All together now
Ptarmigangaroo down, sport
Ptarmigangaroo down
Ptarmigangaroo down, sport
Ptarmigangaroo down

23 December 2008

Capers, eagles and martens, oh my!

Capercaillie, Red Squirrel, Golden Eagle and Pine Marten,... not a bad day. Did dip on Feral Goat though, every silver lining has a cloud and all that. Also had more crossbill sp. will be putting in a bit more effort on those over the next few days.

22 December 2008

Into the wilds

A morning deep in the wild wood failed to produce Caper (largely due to the slightest of navigational errors) but did result in Crested Tit on ye olde wilderness peanut feeder.

Elsewhere crossbill sp. was logged a few times but none played ball and, due to a rather high snow-line, a Ptarmigan site was inhabited by Red Grouse. We'll try again tomorrow...

21 December 2008

Stoatally stiff

The first half day in the highlands and immediately pay dirt is struck; Insh Marshes, a few Whoopers and Greylags and then...

Dead mammals are good but dead mustelids are really the cream (and in full winter coat too!).

18 December 2008

Read all about it

There was a county rare in Gwent today, however, a quick check of the GOS website will leave you in no doubt as to what the real hot topic is - website design. Yes, apparently there are far too many locations in the menu on the sightings submission form,... I know, I could barely contain my apathy either.

By the way, the county rare was Snow Bunting; about 40 records in Gwent since the earth cooled and this present individual is spending half its time in Glamorgan,... and you wonder why I'm off to the Highlands for Christmas. Which reminds me, if any kind-hearted reader has recent gen on where I might be able to point a parabola at crossbill species/types/taxa within striking distance of Glenlivet, I would be most grateful if you could drop me an email or leave a comment below.

16 December 2008

All flaxen was her poll

For those long-term readers of this blog (both of you), the following may come as quite a shock. If you remember some time ago I stumbled upon this sad sight. Well, today I could barely countenance the scene laid out before me; not content with driving the poor soul to suicide, this morning they returned and flailed her pathetic lifeless form! THE HUMANITY OF IT!!!

The only comforting thought is that she was incapable of her own distress.

14 December 2008

More news from the eastern front

Yet another sojourn to the eastern wilds produced the goods. Whilst wandering down to the estuary near Mathern a rather dumpy passerine caught the eye. As it flew across a field I clocked white bases to the primaries and (self-doubt to the fore) momentarily thought I was seeing things, as it turned out, I was - a Hawfinch. Luckily it dropped into the next hedge, where it remained happily consuming Field Maple seeds until we got bored and wandered off.

Earlier the Neddern produced nothing more exciting than the Black Swans, the Scaup appears to have departed. Matthern village was nothing special either, however, it did add another point on my 'places on the levels where I have seen Coal Tit this autumn' map.

13 December 2008

Whoops shopocalypse

Ok, who let me go shopping all by myself? Found a great toy-shop in Pimlico, I do like shiny gold boxes. Well, what's money for? Actually, it's worse than it looks,... the 300mm f2.8 doesn't turn up until Thursday.

How could anyone resist this little cutie?

11 December 2008

Fox in the Snow (well frost)

Fox in the snow, where do you go,
To find something you can eat?

A day of fieldwork on a frizz hillside required some full-on anti-frostbite gear including EXTREME mittens,... oh yeah! Unfortunately, in the pic you can't make out the EXTREME string which runs up my sleeve, across my back and down to the other mitt but it is there and it is... EXTREME!

Cause the word out on the street is you are starving,
Don't let yourself grow hungry now,

It was so cold out there today that my egg and cress sandwiches (also EXTREME) had a slightly crunchy texture thanks to ice crystals in the filling.

Don't let yourself grow cold,
Fox in the snow.

PS. Also had a fox trot past resulting in four hours of humming Belle & Sebastian songs, nothing like Scottish indie pop tunes bedecked with Glaswegian omnibus inspired lyrics to warm the cockles.

10 December 2008

Well duh!?

Saw this 'news' story on the BBC website today (see below),... finally the scientific community awakens to the bleeding obvious. Given the penultimate paragraph, it would appear Professor Reinhard Genzel is a birder of sorts.

06 December 2008

Newhouse - St. Pierre Pill

Saw a fair few of these today...

Amongst which were one or two of these...

And we saw a goodly number of these...

Amongst which were three of these...

PS. Also had a Chiffchaff and a dose of Snipe at Collister Pill.

04 December 2008

Highlight of the week

Bagged a brace of Jehovah's Witnesses today, unfortunately, they escaped before I was able to convert them to the righteous path that is western scientific thought. Hopefully though, I did manage to share some small part of the joy that stems from the teachings of the great patriarchs (Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Popper, et al.); and hint at the everlasting light that shines on those of us lucky enough to embrace evolutionary theory and all that flows from it. Unfortunately though, I fear my attempt to draw them from the darkness may have failed as John (not his real name, I instantly forgot that) expressed the view that "the fossil record was the single biggest hoax of all time" and, following my effort to point out evolution in action, with reference to changes in beak morphology of Darwin's Finches, he uttered the truly wonderful repost "Yes,... but they're still finches aren't they". Well, there was nothing else for it, I had to concede that, yes, climatic changes on the Galapagos had not instantaneously turned finches into dragons.

One thing I do like to do, when visited by evangelical types, is to try and work out what it was that triggered their bizarre beliefs. It would appear that recovering alcoholics and heroine addicts are strangely attuned to the word of God, as are the educationally sub-average and those lacking in robust social networks. Am I the only one who finds it slightly puzzling that God has chosen these people to share his boundless knowledge with? He would also appear to want to populate heaven with people that have been inappropriately touched by their uncles/PE teachers and plain-looking women whose husbands have left them for a younger model. Oh, and why does he have a penchant for uptight young-men that appear to be struggling with their sexuality? Can you imagine what the next world will be like? What if all the addicts and ex-boozers fall off the wagon? I can see it now, the ivory halls caked in vomit; the saints gingerly picking their way through hordes of crack-toothed insufflators of crystal meth; and piss-sodden aficionados of Tennents Extra hurling handfulls of their own shit at passing cherubs. [Did someone say "Newport on a Friday night"?]

I didn't manage to work out what had triggered John's delusional psychosis, but I'm guessing he spent his formative years fine-tuning an, as yet unpatented, cocktail of tricyclic antidepressants, vicodin, human growth hormone, benzodiazapams and chloral hydrate. This obviously drew him closer to his God, or possibly just made him easy prey for evangelists,... one or the other.

Anyway, the real shame of the episode was that, despite me asking, they declined to call again, apparently they didn't think there was much point. Christ knows what gave them that idea, I didn't even show them my "Jesus Saves,... but Torres nets the rebound" t-shirt.

Religion, eh? SHIT IT!

02 December 2008

Has anyone seen my frisbee?

The pooch has pilfered my Pluto platter; pinched by the perro, it has presumably (possibly permanently) been placed in some particularly private pigeonhole on these very premises.

What? You were expecting something about 'Gwent' or 'birding', who suggested that preposterous idea? Was it Steve perchance? STEVE!

01 December 2008

Larking around

A recent brief exchange of emails on the finer points of not identifying Horned Lark subspecies had me perusing some photos this evening. Smart little fellow isn't he? Pity the cameraman was so unbelievably inept.

29 November 2008

Ducka, ducka ducka!

The Urban Dictionary has more than 250 entries beginning with the word 'duck' including: duck, duck 'n' mumble, Duck and a half, duck and cover, duck and swoop, Duck and Tuck, Duck Arse, Duck Ass, duck ass nigga, Duck Away, duck batty, duck bear, duck billed platipus (sic), duck bomb, Duck Boy, duck bread, duck bunny, duck but, duck butt, duck butter, duck butter, duck butter brewery, duck butter pudding, Duck Butter Slap, Duck Call, duck cheese, Duck Coily, duck cream, Duck Day, duck dive, duck dodger, Duck Dodgers, duck dont lie, duck duck goose, Duck Duck Grayduck, duck duck moose, duck egg, duck eggs, Duck Face, duck farmer, duck fart, duck fat, Duck feeder, Duck Feet, duck feet hands, Duck Fight, duck fonkies, duck food, duck foot hand, duck fuck, duck fucker, duck funnel, duck head nerd, Duck Hunt, Duck Hunter, duck hunter dog, duck hunting, duck hunting permit, Duck Lips, duck ma sick, duck man, duck man drake, Duck Me, Duck Meat, Duck Monkey, duck mustard, Duck My Sick, Duck Nugget, Duck Nuggets, Duck Off, duck out, Duck Party, Duck Paste, duck phuck, duck pond, duck pond simulator, Duck Puke, duck race, Duck Roll, duck sauce, duck sausage, duck shit, duck shoe, duck shoe mentality, duck shoes, duck shot, duck shove, Duck Shunter, Duck Sick, DUCK SICKER, duck Skirt, Duck Slider, Duck Sludge, Duck Snort, duck soup, duck spit, Duck spot, duck status, Duck Tagged, duck tales, duck tape, duck tape on the windows, duck that meal, duck tour, duck tours, Duck Town, duck tuck, duck under, duck walk, duck weed, duck whore, duck wrap, Duck Xing, duck yee, duck you, Duck'ed, Duck's Ass, duck's breakfast, duck's guts, duck's nuts, Duck-bill kiss, Duck-butter, Duck-duck-goose, duck-goosed, duck-it, Ducka, ducka ducka ducka, duckaduck, Duckage, duckalicious, Duckaluckaphobia, duckary, duckbill, duckbill platapus (sic), duckboy, Duckbutt, author duckbutt, duckbutter, duckdoogan, duckdow, duckduckduck, Ducked, ducked off, ducked out, duckee, Duckeey, duckegg, duckel bucket, ducker, duckers, duckery, duckerz, duckes up, ducket, duckets, duckett, duckettes, ducketts, Duckey, Duckface cuntmuffin, duckfloat, duckfoot, duckfucker, duckfuckery, duckfudder, Duckhead, duckhog, Duckhook, Duckie, Duckiefroggiestinker, duckies, duckin, duckin my fuck, duckin, DuckInferno, ducking, ducking chubi, ducking fick head, ducking it, duckish, duckitude, duckjob, duckket, ducklady, Duckle Nuster, ducklefart, Duckles, Ducklet, duckling, ducklings, Ducklips, duckman, Duckmanton, duckmeat, duckmo, duckmonkey, ducknuts, ducko, duckoff, Duckoutdoors, duckpin, duckplucker, DuckPuke, Duckrabbitism, duckrider, duckroll, duckrunt, ducks, ducks and drakes, ducks and sings, ducks guts, Ducks in a row, ducks nuts, ducks on the pond, DUCKS!, ducksauce, Duckshag, Ducksick, Ducksicker, DuckSloth, ducksnort, Ducksnuts, Duckspeak, duckstyle, ducktail, Ducktales, Ducktape, Ducktard, ducktionary, ducktown, ducktreesha, ducku, duckwad, duckwalk, Duckwarrior, duckwater, Duckwork, Duckworth, ducky, author ducky, ducky butt rubber, Ducky Duck, Ducky Ducky, ducky fist, Ducky Inc, ducky shirt, Duckylike, duckys, duckysex, Ducky_Dan, Duckzilla and duck_k.

It just goes to show: a. how inspiring the Anatidae can be; and b. how much spare time modern humans have at their disposal.

"My name is Ducky. Yep, that is what it is, yep yep yep!" (Judith Barsi as 'Ducky' the Parasaurolophus in 'Land Before Time' [Amblin, 1988])

26 November 2008


Popped up to Surrey for the day, parakeets all over the shop, must smuggle one back across the bridge next time. There just aren't enough brightly coloured exotics over here. Did you know alien invasives are the most common contributory factor in recent avian extinctions? For more cheery news click here.

Even more random thought for the day: fire-eating is a skill not a magic trick; the real danger is not the burning but the poisoning (the fuel is not good for one's liver),... here endeth the lesson.

23 November 2008

Sniffles and sleet

Despite a cold (it could be man flu, chocolates and grapes to the usual address thanks) and the weather, managed to nip out to Peterstone Gout this afternoon. The reported female/1st-winter Black Redstart and a flyby Dark-bellied Brent Goose were the highlights although a decent number of Pintail were also bobbing about just offshore.

There have been a couple of slightly odd happenings at Peterstone lately. News of the Black Redstart took two days to 'get out' and a sighting of Grey Phalarope took two days and two observers before seeing the light of day. Does Peterstone have it's own time-zone? Is news disseminated by wayward racing pigeons? Is it Gwent's answer to the Bermuda Triangle? As Toyah Ann Willcox (apparently writing, recording and co-producing new solo material as we speak,... oh dear) was once heard to exclaim "It's a mystery".

19 November 2008

Jumpers for goal-posts

Whilst watching the footy tonight, I couldn't help thinking there is a passing resemblance between Miroslav Klose (you know, the Polish-born German striker,... the only player to have scored 5 goals in consecutive World Cups,... yeah, him) and a certain Mr. Lee G.R. Evans circa 1990 (you know, that bloke who... [add personal diatribe/love-in regarding LGRE here]). Anyway, obviously I thought this was just a product of random chance when, on being substituted...

It couldn't be true,... could it? Next time your path crosses Lee's try asking "Haben Sie ein Bruder?"

18 November 2008


Just when you thought hybrids couldn't get any more interesting,... click here to see the 'Spoobis'. It would appear the Po Delta also has an Eurasian x African Spoonbill hybrid knocking about too (anyone up for a twitch?).

16 November 2008

Once more unto the larid, dear friends, once more

Popped along to Lamby this morning, the gull performed admirably on air, land (well boardwalk) and sea (well lake). Also had a decent number of Woodpigeon and Redwing/Fieldfare, a few Siskin and a Peregrine over; plus 3 Water Rail, 2 Cetti's Warbler and a Treecreeper around the eastern end but couldn't quite bring myself to do a complete circuit.

Checked the hedgerows around Peterstone church on the way back but couldn't come up with anything better than a Chiffchaff and a Coal Tit or two.

15 November 2008

Team Firecrest

Another pootle around a few likely levels locations (Sudbrook, Magor Marsh, Redwick, Whitson and Goldcliff village) produced another Firecrest, that's two in two weeks, that's a 100% hit-rate,... oh yeah! This one popped up in front of us at Redwick (just NE of the church) and then proceeded to drop into brambles six feet away before giving yet more stonking views within a few yards. Much better than last week. It showed again later, rather more briefly, much to the relief of 'Mr. Weekend Birder' the soon-to-be newly crowned Gwent year-list record holder.

Other sightings, bordering on interesting, included: Water Rail and Stonechat at Sudbrook; 100 Snipe and 2 Stonechat at Magor; Chiffchaff, 2 Blackcap, 2 Coal Tit and Treecreeper at Redwick; Green Sand at Goldcliff; and hundreds of Redwing and Fieldfare all over the shop.

Bit of botany

The much-overlooked Dangleberry (Bartleberry in the US), the seeds of which are known, in these parts, by the local name 'clagnut'.

14 November 2008

Where is Europe?

This month's Birding World appeared on the mat today. Having wrestled it from the jaws of the dog, I settled down to read it cover to cover (as is my wont). There are about 40 pages in a regular edition, so I usually allocate about 40 seconds for a read through: first I skip over the UK and WP photos/records sections (it's all been on the net for weeks by the time I see it in print); then I eagerly turn to the 'How I found the [enter rare bird here]' section and read the first paragraph or two of each article, the ones that cover the finder's moment of panic/euphoria; and, finally, I sometimes glance at whatever other random article has made it into the mag (often linked to whichever country Mr. Gantlett has just got back from). I then give it back to the dog to 'play' with. Well worth the money I think you'll agree (the mutt certainly thinks so).

This month's perusal was different mind, firstly I couldn't help but notice the editorial team had decided Corvo was far too quiet this year, so had randomly added all kinds of birds to our tally. One Common Nighthawk had become two, two Yellowthroats were boosted to five(!), the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker had found a friend, and likewise the Yellow-throated Vireo had also doubled in number. They have also reported that five REVs were present, it was probably, a slightly less impressive two. God knows who was to blame but, if you want a better idea of the status of yanks on the Azores, click here and check out the pretty darn accurate database.

As if the burgeoning of Corvo's rarity tally wasn't enough, I noticed that Birding World (presumably in an effort to make flipping rare birds sound even flipping rarer), are reporting the Little Blue Heron as "a new European bird". As if being a fourth for the WP isn't good enough! Of course, this now begs the question, where are the boundaries of Europe? The Azores are obviously excluded (that's where the last three LBHs have turned up), is Iceland? What about Scandinavia or Cyprus? I'm guessing Turkey is way out. I need to know,... in fact, I demand to know! Oh, wait up,... no,... I've just realised, I couldn't give a toss.

By the way, Ian Lewington's Goshawk cover and Amur/Red-footed Falcon plate are superb, is he the greatest bird illustrator of all time? Discuss.

Meat 'n veg

Got a bonus from Riverford; curled up in the bottom of my organic, locally-sourced, fairly-traded, totally guilt-free cauliflower was this little fella...

Last time I found a moth in my greens it was a first for Newport. Unfortunately, this chubby little, cauliflower stuffed, guy looks like a Large Yellow Underwing.

13 November 2008

Report time

Got the new Gwentcestershire Bird Report through the other day, and a most beautifully laid out and wonderfully shiny publication it is too (click here if you wanna buy a copy). A few items have caught the eye thus far:
1. I loved the final sentence of the Pink-footed Goose entry; someone has gone to great lengths in an attempt to find the merest shred of a thread of hope to cling to regarding the possibility that this escape once flew unfettered with his wild brethren (A+ for effort on that one).

2. Apparently, there were no Yellow-legged Gulls in Gwent last year, is that strictly true?

3. Equally apparently, there were no Great Northern Divers in Gwent last year, now I know that is not strictly true. In fact I know that's not true at all.

4. And even more apparently, there was a Corn Bunting recorded at Dingestow in 2006. I remember dipping it but I don't remember seeing it in last year's the report.

5. Finally, I noticed that an aythya hybrid I sent in as "Tufted x Ring-necked Duck?" became "Tufted x Ring-necked Duck". All it takes is an errant eroteme or invisible interrogation point and all doubt over the little critter's unholy parentage is whisked away. Shame really, I quite like the uncertainty a hybrid brings to the party.

Points 2-4, and the fact that at least four Arctic Skuas were missing from the report, illustrate the various, probably inevitable, failings in the current records collation process. Some people don't appear to send in records at all, others send in some of what they've seen, some forget to take notes as a county rare flies past (oops, thought they might have gone in as skua sp. at least) and then every now and again something falls through the cracks at the committee stage. All I can say is, we must all try harder.

PS. There appear to be a number of photographers taking photos of Schedule 1 species in suitable breeding habitat during the breeding season. Presumably they weren't causing any disturbance, or have the requisite paperwork. The adult Peregrine looks particularly pissed off.

12 November 2008

Spot the vireo

Bosse has updated his PBase gallery with a few Azores snaps. If you would like to play 'spot the vireo' and see a pic of my second second for the WP, click here. For those who want more, I would guess there will be more shots in the next editions of Dutch Birding, Norfolk Birder's Monthly and Birdwatch.

09 November 2008

No title could prepare you for what you are about to receive

The mighty Folly Bog, part of my ex-patch, good mix of heathland breeders, hard work on the migrant front.

I was going to write about a morning's birding in God's county (that's Surrey to those of you unfortunate enough to have been born elsewhere) and how the only proven way to protect lowland heathland from the great unwashed, multitudinous proletariat and developers of this world involves razor wire and unexploded ordnance but then,... as if handed down from on high, on a gilded comedy platter,... I stumbled onto a video lovingly cast of the finest comedy gold, probably the most hilarious ever to grace the interweb in the history of ever.

It really doesn't need an introduction but when a clip is subtitled "Scenes of chaos as the church brawl breaks out" you know you are just about to experience the most side-splitting 2 mins and 2 secs of your life. And so I implore you to watch the video residing here.

If anyone needs me, I am lying in a crumpled mess under my desk, tears rolling down my cheeks, attempting to regain control over my breathing. Can you laugh yourself to death? Monty Python never came close to this.

[Edit - it gets even better, see more, under the genius title "Bless me father for I have chinned" here. Keep a particular eye out for the flying red monk.]

08 November 2008

It only went and worked

A tour of a few sites on the eastern levels produced the hoped for Firecrest (yay!) but not the Pallas' (boo). Unfortunately, I only heard the blighter and got the briefest of flight views after Richard found it just east of the 'red cliffs' at Blackrock. It seemed to be loosely associating with the small tit flock which was doing a circuit of the hedgerows and the disused railway line. Other semi-good birds included: Water Rail, Stonechat, Chiffchaff, Redpoll and Siskin at Newhouse; plus Blackcap and Coal Tit at Redwick.

07 November 2008

Ooooooo, how arty!

Found a nice method for converting to black and white in Photoshop this evening, I think I'd stumbled over it before but forgotten all about it. Anyhoo, two hue/saturation adjustment layers, some judicious smart sharpening and ten minutes later...

Of course Blogger bollocks it up by automatically sharpening it to hell and back, but you get a hint of my masterly use of light and texture (ahem). I might even try it on a decent pic one day.

I might actually go birding tomorrow; there must be a Pallas' or Firecrest or something mildly interesting out there somewhere.

06 November 2008


A few Redwings seemed to be going down valley this evening, so accompanying muttley on his nightly ramble wasn't a complete waste of time.

Should you ever feel the need to slow traffic on a busy road, stand on a bridge and point a camera at the passing cars, seems to work wonders.

05 November 2008


The Aberqwimcumcarn valley has been resonating to the sound of fireworks ever since my return from sunnier climes. I guess tonight's are in celebration of a bungling, 400 year old, religion-inspired terrorist cell; and perhaps yesterday's were marking the arrival of America's new messiah. But what were the grubby little oiks celebrating with all the other evenings' whizzes, fizzes and pops?

On the Obama front, it's nice to know it is possible for the Republicans to lose a race for the presidency. Surely, if the Democrats had engineered a defeat this time there would have been civil war. I'd have thought the definition of a political 'shoe-in' probably involves fighting an election against a party presiding over economic armageddon and an unpopular war (or two), and against a rival who chooses a running mate best described as an ill-educated borderline nutter - but the gap was still only 6.1% of votes cast. In excess of 56 million Americans wanted 'more of the same',... eeep!

Downtown Aberqwimcumcarn, a pretty sight,... if you drive through at 80 mph.

PS. With regard to yesterday's postscript - I lied.

04 November 2008


This evening the girlfriend admitted to not knowing who Alfred Russel Wallace was,... I should sack her. Poor old Alfred, a collosus of evolutionary thought, local hero and a notably nifty nibbler of Nobby's nuts, cast into the fetid slurry pit of historical also-rans; the collected works of Craig Revel Horwood are more popular with some people in this house.

And now, the first in a gripping new regular feature, 'interesting facts about forgotten giants of science'...

Interesting facts about forgotten giants of science number one - despite being born at Llanbradoc, near Usk, Wallace was English (albeit with some Scottish paternal ancestry) as Monmouthshire resided on the less rainy side of the border in those days.

And now, the first in another gripping new regular feature, 'red herrings about forgotten giants of science'...

Red herrings about forgotten giants of science number one - the assertion that Alfred Russel Wallace was a "notably nifty nibbler of Nobby's nuts" may well be based on less than firm foundations, it might be 'a fact' but probably not a true one.

PS. I promise to get back to birds in the next post.

01 November 2008

Too cold to go out...

The body and mind are yet to acclimatize to being back in shitesville. So I'll stay in, listen to some tunes, read a few books and muck about on the Mac. Here's another pic from Corvo to keep you going...

I await correction on my French usage and abusage.

30 October 2008

Roll on 2009?

Left Terceira this morning and, after a brief stop in Lisbon, ended up standing at a freezing Heathrow waiting for my ride. Another successful Azorean jaunt completed, let's hope the tour groups sniffing around don't balls-up future years by filling Corvo's limited accommodation with useless tossers expecting to saunter round ticking yanks at every turn. During my stay, the team put in something like 1,500 birding hours producing two new megas (White-eyed Vireo and Black-throated Green) and it took us 10 days to nail down the sapsucker, despite birding its chosen valley every day. If the island gets booked out by numpties expecting Fair Isle-esque conditions and nicely manicured paths (as opposed to sub-tropical secondary growth woodland on ankle-mangling slopes) it may well result in half the parulidae going unfound. Let us hope the Corvo phenomenon isn't buggered by those looking to cash-in on Mr Alfrey's discovery.

Just the sort of image that would attract bird-spotting twats to Corvo.

29 October 2008

Last knockings

Flew off Corvo at lunchtime and spent the evening in Cabo da Praia quarry. This year has been pretty quiet at this, the premier Western Palearctic site for Nearctic waders, and only produced Semi-palmated, White-rumped and Pec Sands plus Semi-palmated Plovers. Not bad, but not the range or number of species found in here over the last couple of years. It is a classic birding location though, an oil refinery on one side, fly-tipped crap dotted here and there, and the primary viewpoint consists of the remains of a construction compound complete with rusting storage containers and dilapidated security fencing, aesthetically it's right up there with some of the finer sewage works of this world.

28 October 2008

The final full day

Three hours at the Black-throated Green site this morning produced nothing more than a slightly perturbed Woodcock. The da Ponte quarry was similarly barren but a wander back down toward Villa do Corvo resulted in my second American Great White Egret for the trip,... which was nice.

27 October 2008

Best day of the trip?

Refound the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker this morning and, after a few frantic minutes of headless chickenry, another half dozen birders scored before it disappeared once again, hotly pursued by the local Chaffinch mafia. Managed to get quiet recordings of both feeding taps (at around 30 secs and 1 min) and calls (at around 3 mins 28 secs) amongst the general melee...

[Two warnings on this one: a. it is a large file; and b. if you can speak French be warned of some upcoming language grossièr]

Spent the rest of the morning failing to relocate the vireo before news from Flores produced ideal conditions for the most fun-filled dip in history. The frigatebird sp. had spent all morning at Santa Cruz so we decided to charter a boat. The trip over was a race across 15 miles of sun-drenched Atlantic swell in a 25 foot rib (wind in the hair, sun at one's back, blah, blah, blah...). Then followed a couple of hours sat drinking ice tea, coffee, etc. at the Buena Vista Cafe whilst the bird singularly failed to play ball. The real fun was the trip back though, in the gathering gloom and rising wind, 12 birders bounced back to base through rafts of Cory's, rain squalls and spray as Villa do Corvo shone in the distance (at least when the increasingly lumpy ocean wasn't spoiling the view). I think my enduring memories will be Pierre doing his finest impression of Washington crossing the Delaware, Stuart being pitched back and fore on a makeshift space-hopper and the sad demise of Peter's Che hat. All jolly good fun and we were safely back in time for tea.

26 October 2008

Sloooooow day

No sapsucker, and precious little else. Sperm Whale and both Common and Bottle-nosed Dolphins were probably the best 'birds'.

Que você está olhando?

25 October 2008

Two Azores ticks but...

Managed to catch up with the juvenile Hobby (1st for the Azores) today and, whilst staking out the bleeding sapsucker, had a flyover Kestrel. Two new falcons for my Azores list. Unfortunately, both were rather over-shadowed by the fact that only Peter managed to see the sapsucker today, despite 15 of us blitzing Fogo. Sub-tropical woodland, not the easiest habitat in which to find a woodpecker.

24 October 2008


Found my second second for the WP today, will update properly tomorrow, beer taking precedence...


During the morning, Peter and I had worked our way up a small valley near the 'beanfields' finding nothing more exciting than a Lesser Yellowlegs; Peter worked his way back through the fields as I pushed on up. Dropping back into the valley, I was struck by how 'birdy' it was and briefly stopped to take a photo as it felt as though something interesting might be about to happen.

I settled down in some shade on one side, scanned across, then a small, grey-headed passerine with double wingbars and yellow underparts came into my life...

Recording one: The sound of utter panic, made moments after having seen the bird drop from a laurel about 50 yards away and instantly disappear. I somehow managed to underestimate the distance between myself and the bird, resulting in an underestimate of the birds size (hence the dendroica tag). I was also a little non-plussed as to the ID of my 'mystery dendroica' and absolutely delirious regarding the possible WP status (I think I was leaning towards Nashville, having conveniently forgotten their lack of wingbars).

Recording two: The sound of straight-forward panic, having had good views but singularly failing to digiscope the blighter, I now knew what it was but couldn't accurately describe where I was and then,... a Canary chased it off down the valley.

It took an hour for the others to arrive and two to relocate the little blighter. Two of the longer hours in my life.

Fourteen birders bagged the bird (well 14.5 if we count Peter's unborn child), my kinda size of twitch.

23 October 2008

Seconds of a fourth/fifth

Dawn in the valley with no name was just a touch foggy. It took a good hour to locate the bird but it was still calling regularly and everyone got it; by the afternoon there were some cracking photos in the bag and I even managed some reasonable sound recordings despite the wind, rain and 15 noisy bastard birders.

If you happen to be out looking for dendroicas (and specifically a Black-throated Green Warbler) the following has half a dozen calls on it to lodge in your memory banks...

If, however, you are a budding sound recordist and you want to record at twitches this is the sort of thing more likely to be passing through your microphone [note, some anglo-saxon language may be heard near the termination of this recording]...

22 October 2008

So not a blank day

It was all pretty quiet until lunchtime, then Pierre found a dendroica in 'the valley with no name'. Naturally, something bordering on blind panic ensued, mostly involving mud, rotten logs, a few dry-stone walls, two cows, and a small brightly-coloured passerine. By the end of the afternoon, two of us had Black-throated Green on our lists (including the esteemed author of this blog), whilst everyone else had heard it repeatedly but only managed glimpses as it flitted about in the canopy.

21 October 2008

So nearly a blank

Spent interminable hours in Fogo and Ponte today and got the square root of bugger all for my effort. Did hear Hermit Thrush singing at one point, which caused me to scale an 8 foot dry-stone wall and scramble up an earthen bank at breakneck speed only to be met by an apologetic French face clutching an MP3 player. Also heard a quiet, disyllabic, downward inflected call, bit like Bullfinch but not so plaintive - God knows what it was. It was not unlike some Catharus calls only very weak, probably another distant playback experiment or I have walked away from a mega (let's hope the former).

After dipping on the Yellowthroats it was fast looking like consecutive blank days on Corvo until, in the gloaming, Pierre pulled out a Hudsonian Whimbrel on the airfield. The bird then flew a short distance to join two of it's European counterparts on the nearby rocks as shown below, I won't patronise you by pointing out which is which (on these views the giveaway is the stronger heard pattern).

20 October 2008

Onto Corvo

A quick hour at Cabo added a few more White-rumps and a Pintail but the rest was yesterday's offerings reheated. We then flew out to Corvo (via Faial), on landing we were met by a TV crew, Manuel and bad news on the Yellow-throated Vireo front (no sign despite a search). Spending an afternoon crawling all over Cancales didn't help,... arse.

Another arse, the first in a new series - 'which WP rare's arse is this?'

19 October 2008

The Terceira roundabout

Did a spin around Cabo, Cabrito, Angra, the harbour and Praia Pools. The quarry was the poorest I have seen it, only 2 Semi-palmated Plovers, 2 Semi-palmated Sands and 1 White-rumped Sand kept the stars and stripes flying. A Lesser Yellowlegs at Cabrito (presently drained) and an American Great White Egret at Praia kept the interest going but Angra could only chip in with a Peregrine and the harbour was devoid of the long-staying Laughing Gull.

18 October 2008

The rarest bird in the Western Palearctic

First stop Serra da Tronqueira and the remnants of the Azorean native flora plus its famous inhabitant the Priolo. The bullfinches are pretty easy to locate, their calls (more-or-less identical to our birds') are regularly heard whilst peering into the undergrowth. Seeing the buggers is a wee bit more difficult, and seeing them well is bordering on flipping hard work. I had one prolonged flight view and one or two glimpses and, much to the chagrin of the Monsieur Crochet, ticked and ran. Also had Weasel at this site, who released those on the island?!

Next stop was the wilds of Terra Nostra Parque and its equally wild Wood Duck. This bird, considered tickable by all manner of muppets, was being fed by nippers out for a Sunday stroll and parading round in a mixed flock including such well-proven 'carrier species' as Bahama Pintail, Mandarin and Mute Swan. F*ck knows why anyone would put this plastic shite on their list but they do.

After a quickish lunch of cozido, we headed to Lagoa das Furnas and, between the fumaroles, model speed boats and Tai Chi types, we turned up 1 Blue-winged Teal, 5 Ring-necked Duck, another teal sp. (strong head pattern but bi-coloured greater-covert tips, so who knows?), 1 Ruddy Shelduck (every bit as wild as the Wood Duck), 6 Common Tern and an Osprey.

17 October 2008

Pixie gen

Landed post-lunch and headed to the western end of Sao Miguel and the last known site of one of this year's Yellow-throated Vireos - 'Phyllo woods'. Unfortunately, despite being enchanted, and quite possibly rammed with pixies at the right time of year, the woods were lacking in American passerines. At the nearby Lagoa Azul and Sete Citadades we managed to cobble together a 1st-winter male Ring-necked Duck, 1 teal sp., 1 Pintail, 1 Little Egret and 14 Coot. Not the most inspiring of starts...

14 October 2008

Cheek pouches

Both the above spent a fair bit of their formative years held captive by strangers in a strange land, without any hope of escape. But only one of them talks about it every time he opens his mouth.

PS. Also, and I just noticed this, only one of the above does strange things to his eyebrows.

12 October 2008

Back in the real world

I'm sure we'll can look forward to another week of world leaders, economists, financial journalists and bankers pissing themselves over the state of the markets/banks. All the while gloriously missing the point... click here, have a read and then email the link to Robert Peston, or your MP, or some other twat revelling/wallowing in the 'credit crunch' and ask them to "wake the [enter expletive here] up and smell the roses."

[Edit - for more on how the 'nature crunch' makes the 'credit crunch' look like a dribble of piss click here]

11 October 2008

Double aaaargh!

A bit of a mixed morning started with a Bar-headed Goose flying west with the Canadas. Then a pretty steady movement of common migrants (mainly west) along the coast maintained the interest; the bulk consisted of Skylark, Pied Wag, Mipit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, and Siskin plus the odd Song Thrush, Redpoll and one Bullfinch. On the deck Wheatear, Stonechat, Treecreeper and Coal Tit were the only semi-notables. Unfortunately, the bird(s) of the day were a couple of silent larks, going west, probably Woodlark, I only had a glimpse as they flew low along the opposite side of a line of hawthorn/blackthorn; despite legging it along the path, to try and get a view, I gained nothing but a slight muscle pull (and that, ladles and gentlespoons, is how to duff up a patch and county tick),... bugger!

Then came the news from Corvo; regular text updates including Hooded Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and two Red-eyed Vireos did little more than bring the words dejected, depression, despondency, doleful, dysphoria, doldrums, downhearted and dumps to mind, but I was so pissed off I couldn't even be bothered to fashion them into a sentence.

10 October 2008


This week saw a flurry of yanks reach our shores, a dose of ReVs were accompanied by Blackpoll Warbler, Grey-cheeked Thrush and, highlight of highlights, Alder Flycatcher. Ireland waded in with Scarlet Tanager, all very exciting I'm sure you'll agree, but it has taken Gwent to really grab the headlines with today's posting on the GOS sightings page of the following monumental October story (to be read out loud in your best [and, therefore, most annoying] Robert Peston drawl),...


Eat your heart out Nanjizal.

08 October 2008


This is a public information announcement for all those readers from Spain, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany and the Netherlands who have followed the link on Netfugl over the last day or two and arrived here expecting a picture of a Common Nighthawk - try clicking here. Alternatively, see below.

This bird was the one Peter and I bumped into last year on Corvo. Given the way this autumn is shaping up, I'm thinking the Azores might not be the worst place to be right now.

06 October 2008

How do people continually think up titles?

There appears to have been a bit of doom and gloom around lately. The Gwentish double whammy of putrid weather and limited ornithological fare seems to have coalesced with the recent economic down turn to sour the mood. So, in an effort to spread cheer to the birding masses, I thought I'd trawl this year's notebook and pick out the goodies, for they are easily forgotten amongst the avalanche of shite.

So far 2008 has provided yours truly with six (count 'em) county ticks, in rough chronological order: Caspian Gull, Black-winged Stilt, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, Long-tailed Skua and Wryneck. I have also had a couple or three in the way of decent patch ticks, including Red Kite, Pale-bellied Brent Goose and Nuthatch. What with a Spoonbill and a smattering of Ospreys, Med Gulls, Marsh Harriers, etc., it is all adding up to an OK year (certainly nothing that, given another rare or two and the opportunity to repeatedly punch a 'city banker' in the face, couldn't turn into a very nice twelve months thank you). Even the fact that the Yellow-browed Warbler decided to turn up at Llanwern doesn't dampen things unduly.

PS. Please note I am choosing to avoid mention of Great Grey Shrike, Great White Egret, Cattle Egret, Ferruginous Duck and Slavonian Grebe, all of which would have been new for my Gwentcestershire listette.
PPS. Yes nurse, I think upping my prescription has done the trick, thank you.

05 October 2008

Where not to watch birds in Gwent: Ynysyfro Reservoirs

The first installment of this new regular feature takes in the delightful Ynysyfro reservoirs.

Location - Just north-east of High Cross, from junction 27 of the M4 take the B4591 towards Risca, after approximately 0.5 miles turn right (signposted Fourteen Locks Canal Centre), park at the Canal Centre. From the entrance to the car park turn right and right again and walk down the minor road to the reservoirs (signposted Ynysyfro Reservoirs).

Access - All of the upper basin, and the majority of the lower, can be viewed from the causeway. Gwent Ornithological Society members also have access to the paths around the lower basin.

Habitat - Two small artificial reservoirs with very limited marginal vegetation surrounded by regularly mown grass banking. During periods of low water some restricted areas of mud occur, in addition, a culverted ditch runs along the south west side of the lower basin. A small coniferous plantation, hedgerows, pasture, rough grassland, a golf course and a garden border the site.

Species - Very few species of bird have been located at this site making it one of the premier sites for not watching birds in the county. Apart from Little Owl, Feral Goose, Pochard and Chiffchaff, this evening I managed to not watch birds during most of my visit.

The idyllic lower basin looking east towards the golf course, note the tranquil surface to the limpid waters, almost entirely undisturbed by waterfowl.

04 October 2008

A bit of a dip

A morning at Castle Meadows resulted in precisely zero Great Grey Shrikes (or indeed Cattle Egrets for that matter). A few Redwing, Redpoll and Siskin flew over between the showers, contrasting nicely with the small number of hirundines knocking around. The Dippers, Kingfishers and Grey Wags, liberally spread along the river, also did their best to keep the interest up.

03 October 2008

02 October 2008

Ickle boy Ieuan

If you prefer your Gwent Levels without a tarmac top, please click here and sign the online petition calling for the Westminster rejects/over-promoted town councillors of the Welsh Assembly to seek a sustainable transport solution for south Wales (as opposed to a 1970s vintage 'lets build our way out of traffic jams' plan).

01 October 2008

Naaarfolk, etc.

A couple of days in East Anglia, lovely, I even managed to get a few hours birding at Holkham and Blakeney whilst not ensconced in meetings, etc. What a change to be out and about in a county where finding a Yellow-browed does little more than induce a nigh-imperceptible rise of an eyebrow. Didn't see 'owt of great consequence but just working through a decent dose of crests whilst Pinkfeet skeins passed overhead was nice enough.

29 September 2008

The Animals wrote a song about Gwent

A dawn raid on Uskmouth produced Tree Pipit, 26 Siskin, 15 Snipe and a couple of Tawny Owls but nothing too exciting. Not long after I returned home this month's British Birds flopped onto the mat, complete with the 2007 rarity report. Gwent really has outdone itself in this one; not a single mention until the, now traditional, annual rejection of the, now traditional, annual 'Baird's Sandpiper at Goldcliff' report. The only ray of sunshine was Nathan's name all over the Hayle Estuary White-billed Diver record, the obvious moral of the story being - get in your car, drive a long way away then, and only then, start looking for rare birds.

Don't know about you, but I'm off to Norfolk.

27 September 2008

Onde está o pássaro raro?

Another morning at Uskmouth in an attempt to find Gwent's portion of this week's feast of eastern vagrants. It didn't happen, in fact, it never even felt like it might. If anything, the numbers of migrants were down on last week; only Siskin and Mipit were going over with any great regularity interspersed with the odd Skylark, Pied and Grey Wag, Song Thrush and Redpoll. On the deck a few Blackcap, Chiff and Goldcrest did their level best to keep the interest going but could I find a Yellow-browed, could I bog-roll.

PS. I'm working my Portuguese, the Azores beckon.

26 September 2008

He is never wrong

Click on the picture to learn of tomorrow's news today,...

24 September 2008

Goldcliff Lagoons

The usual range of waders were present including a Ruff with the most pronounced limp I have ever seen, it may well have been putting it on for effect. Strangely, over the afternoon high tide, the bulk of the waders preferred the back lagoon (complete with adjacent large blue tractor) as opposed to the shallow area near the third platform.

23 September 2008

CALM on down

Today's storming of the Senedd went terribly well, about 200 turned up to wear yellow T-shirts and politely voice their concern over the plan to totally bugger the levels with another phenomenally expensive road scheme which, like the Newbury bypass, will fill with traffic at twice the rate the traffic consultants predict. Unfortunately, that part of Crudiff's stagnant lake nearest the Welsh Assembly proved devoid of interesting birds. Presumably this explains the small number of local birders present, I'd hope for a better ornithological turnout next time, if nothing else, you might get to be on BBC Wales for half of one whole British second just like me.

This happened too,...

Me: Hello
Grumpy Policeman with camera: Er,... yes?
Me: Do you mind if I take your picture?
Grumpy Policeman with camera: What for?
Me: The irony
Grumpy Policeman with camera: Eh?
Me: You know 'the irony', you come here to take pictures of people exercising their right to protest, and you end up getting photographed; that, and to fill space on my blog.
Grumpy Policeman with camera: Sounds a bit 'sad' to me
Me: Eh? Sad? This is real life comedy gold
Grumpy Policeman with camera: Well I can't stop you,... but you'll have to do it from down there in the crowd
Me: No, I mean I'll stand there [pointing to spot two metres in front of him] and take your picture
Grumpy Policeman with camera: No,... I ain't posing for you
Me: Oh, well that is disappointing,... and you such a well turned out chap.

At this point, dear reader, I'm afraid I left empty handed and can't show you a photo of the less than laughing policeman; perhaps, when I get a moment, I'll draw you a picture. I hope he took my picture, it would be doubly disappointing if neither of us graced a digital chip today.

PS. When I asked the two Community Officers nearby whether he was always grumpy, they seemed to think he was.

21 September 2008

A Nutha

Forgot to mention, yesterday produced a second patch-tick, almost as exciting as the Wryneck,... Nuthatch, a levels mega! It didn't hang around mind, only showing once as it flew straight over my head at the rear of a tit flock. The moment was made even more magical as, whilst passing by, it briefly fanned its tail, showing off its exquisitely patterned rectrices to all and sundry. Enough to make one's waxiest of wax as lyrically lyrical as can be.


20 September 2008

At long bloody last

Finally, a Wryneck in Gwent and, even better than that sir, on my patch. First found this morning just east of the lighthouse, this afternoon it was covering a fair bit of ground to the west. In between being flushed by cyclists, semi-naked octogenarians (replete with wrinkly old man baps), blackberry pickers, picnic laden dudes, lead-lacking dog-walkers and screaming kids, the bird attempted to feed either side of the path along the sea-wall. The RSPB have turned Uskmouth into a f**king bad joke, quite how they get away with attracting thousands of people down there and yet fail to control (or even monitor) the disturbance is beyond me.

A Wryneck just before being flushed by a fat ignorant bloke, his long-suffering wife, five kids and a yapping dog minus a lead.

19 September 2008

Brent Invasion

The Pale-bellied Brent flock was off Uskmouth this evening, 25 birds including at least 15 youngsters. At Goldcliff the waders are still congregating off the third platform providing pretty good views. Just after dark, whilst trying to bag a few wader calls on 'tape' (well compact flash card actually, but anyhoo...), we had a close encounter with one of two Tawny Owls knocking around as it landed on the fence post about five yards in front of the platform.

Five young 'uns and an adult from among the unprecedented (in Gwentish terms) Pale-bellied Brent flock.

18 September 2008

Still looking

An evening on the levels produced a few common migrants at Magor Marsh, a good number and variety of passage waders at Goldcliff, and hundreds of Swallows heading west at both sites. No sign of a Great White Egret though, does the bird at Ynys-hir have colour-rings I wonder?

17 September 2008

Party time!

Yesterday, we had a 'No Wrynecks, No Worries!' party, it was great. We had fizzy pop, cheese and pineapple chunks on sticks, tortillas and dips, butterfly cakes (two flavours!) and a Smarties cake,... everyone ate until they puked. I'm now looking forward to this autumn's 'No Bluethroats, No Worries!' party, this winter's 'No Little Auks, No Worries!' party and next spring's 'No Golden Orioles/Hoopoes, No Worries!' party (theme yet to be decided). If you would like an invite to future shindigs celebrating Gwent's freedom from sub-rares, or my recipe for butterfly cakes, leave a comment below.