Sunday, 25 September 2011


Jesus holy mary mother of god.  There's mega RBA stars all over the place. But none at all close to my home.  The best I've done lately was to go and have an 'educational' look at the 'educational' American Black Tern.  An 'educational' bird, it showed brilliantly after the long (for my hips) trudge around the bank.  I'd seen photos of the Farmoor (is that correct?) bird from a couple of years ago and read some literature on this (sub) species and was NOT bowled over immediately by the bird in the flesh.  When you read about tricky birds when you actually see them they usually stand out through jizz mainly I find, Pacific Goldie for example, though this was much more subtle.  Even at this range it was sometimes hard to tell where the auxillaries ended and the flanks began, making the feature of 'dark flanks' not as obvious as I would have imagined.  This feature is obvious in the photos splashed about though and is clearly an indication of just how shite I am.  Covenham Reservoir is not that far from Spurn as the crow flies so Mr Hutt has probably picked it out already from Clubley's and added it to the Spurn list! 

Still, a good bird, nay a great bird.  Distinctive in the end after a decent grilling.
Photos are on the finders' website here.  I love the head-on shot (9th photo down).

Fuck me I was drunk last night.  Not as drunk as last Sunday though I suppose.  Or Tuesday come to think of it.  Nicola tells me what I get upto the next morning just so I know.  Apparently last night I kept falling into deep, uncontrollable giggling fits like a little girl for no apparent reason whatsoever with, and I quote, "tears rolling down my face".  Sounds like a good night.  Just wish I could remember what the fuck I was laughing at because it was clearly highly amusing.

Glenn "Ollie" Oliver, whose father is hopeless at The Sun Dream Team, is working in South Africa (...and I've never met a nice South African and that's not bloody surprising man cos they're a bunch of arrogant bastards who hate black people) and has sent me a nice photo of a dickie bird he's seen there.
Here it is.

Hornbill sp.  Let's see that again heavily cropped.

Ah, Yellow Billed Hornbill.
Ollie described it as "I don't know what the fuck that is but it looks hungry".
Too right Ol.
Fucking too right.


Friday, 16 September 2011


The woods.....and the darkness....and the howling vind,
will the snows never cease, they seem to reach back for ever.

After Garry Yorkslister had relocated the Semi-P the previous night at Patrington Haven, I decided to brave the howling vind and have a look down there.  It was probably the least successful days birding I have ever had.  And believe me that's against some pretty stiff competition.  On balance I probably identified around 3% of all birds seen today with the howling vind buffeting, nay, BUFFETING me and my optical equipment which included an onslaught of 3 tuna triangle sandwiches, a party sausage roll, a pineapple/sausage/cheese combo on a stick, and 4 obligatory mushroom vol-au-vonts!  Buffeting?  Get it? 

Meanwhile......the howling vind continued.  Some distant waders had some black either on their breast or belly (I couldn't tell) which made them either Dunlin or Turnstone.  Not sure which.  Then a few more were narrowed down to Plover sp. with either Grey, Ringed or White-tailed the favourites.  A curlew was fully identified until it flew directly into the air and sort of swirled around then hit the deck not far from me to reveal it's true identity as a bag.  A dead bag at that.  All the other waders present didn't even make it to genus level, entering the mental notepad as 300 wader sp!  How's that for cutting edge birding?  Then a dazzling kingfisher shot across before my very eyes.  Result! An identified bird, even down to species level!  10 pipits (obviously Pipit sp.) fed not far away when I noticed a much paler and taller bird amongst them!  12 hours of grilling later I decided it was a juvenile Yellow Wagtail.  A cream-crown flew across the sand dunes and salty air shitting up the wader sp, the Dunlins/Turnstones, the plover sp and the bag.  Some of the Shelduck flew but some didn't.  There.  Just thought you needed to know that.

The woods.....and the darkness....and the howling vind,
will the snows never cease, they seem to reach back for ever.


Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Satellite Tracked Cuckoos

Interesting reading about the satellite tracked Cuckoos which are now in their wintering grounds south of the Sahara.  You can read about it on Birdguides here.  Basically the project caught five Cuckoos and tagged them with a tracking device.  Expensive tracking devices mind.  The results were this.  We know of course that Cuckoos winter in Africa south of the Sahara but some Cuckoos took a westerly route through Spain and some took a more easterly route through Italy but they all, upto now, have ended up in the same general area.

General approximated migration routes.
Notice the blue route, the Cuckoo stopped in Senegal for
some time (probably refuelling) before relocating to the "correct" wintering grounds.
Also notice the red Cuckoo naturally avoiding Malta.

I questioned why such behavior should occur.  Birds must migrate using a combination of magnetic north, the sun, the moon, the stars (?) etc yet using any of the last three would also mean a explicit comprehension of time, i.e. set off a month later and the sun is in a different position, nay, set off an hour later and the sun is in a different position!  Instinct?  Instinct is widely used in the animal kingdom, less so in humans, frogs returning to their places of birth to breed, Salmon likewise, insects copying the behavior of their oft long dead parents.  Is instinct genetic?  It must be.

The blue Cuckoo must be taking the route one of it's parents took, the red Cuckoo likewise.  Both parents were successful (i.e. they arrived and returned fit and well to provide offspring) so instinct surely tells the offspring that this journey is the way to go.  No one way is the "right" way to go, different means, same outcome i.e. both routes finish in the general target area.  This project is fundraising to be able to sat-track these birds for another year (and beyond).  I'd wager the blues and the reds take the same west or east routes when they migrate next year, both to and from England although the blue will surely take a more direct route when going north.

Something's just occurred to me.  The blue route actually skirts the Sahara!  It doesn't cross the Sahara directly, it follows the cooler coast then when south of the desert, cuts east to the target area.  This could be an individual thing, i.e. the Cuckoo itself starts to cross the Sahara and doesn't feel strong enough at that time, so skirts it and refuels in downtown Senegal before heading east.

Instinct in animals is well known yet we as humans feel we learn instead of it being genetic.  Since we cracked the genome this has changed somewhat with some studies showing that instinct is indeed genetic even in humans, for example a gene on chromosome 7 actually turns on an instinct for learning grammar!  Amazing brilliant stuff.  But not everything is genetic in humans.  You would've thought that a fear of snakes is a natural in-built deterrent.  It's not, something like that has to be learnt.  Imagine your 8 month old daughter, she'd poke and prod at a huge spider that's near her, yet your 4-year old would run off!  True, this is a generalisation and not all would run off, but if you have a mother, say, that warns your little girl of spiders, in turn your little girl will learn to run from spiders.  It's the done thing.  Mummy taught me subconsciously.

So, instinct is built-in genetically.  So what?  Well, apply this to vagrant birds.  It has been questioned before whether vagrants who do this "reverse migration" are maybe challenged genetically.  Indeed the Cornwall Varied Thrush was of a form very rarely observed even in the U.S. so the chances of it arriving here seems minute!  Unless of course it was genetically programmed to "go the wrong way" and to have strange plumage then this would greatly increase it's chances of turning up here.  If the next one is of this form then proof therein!

Could we combine the two (main) subjects above?  i.e. Could we sat-tag 100 Yellow Brows in Asia and watch 99 of them winter in Indo-China whilst watch the poor lone genetically challenged mite arrive dumped in Kilnsea churchyard?  Then the fun would really start!  Where would the Yellow Brow go next?!  What amazing viewing.  If it had done this reverse-migration thing then what would be the chances of it trying to continue north or west?  To watch it's signal lurch out into the Atlantic continuing it's supposed journey to it's wintering grounds "target area" only to sadly lose the signal 200 miles out would be quite something.  Not for the Yellow Brow of course.  I'm guessing, but who knows?  It would and could be one of the greatest ornithological projects, although expensive.  I for one would put into the fund to see it happen.  Would you?

I suppose it would be quite a long shot to actually tag a vagrant.  Also is the equipment too large for a Yellow Brow?  I presume so.  Miniturisation.  Maybe in a few years?

Please leave comments, I'm interested in opinions on this.

And you thought I couldn't go a whole post without doing a childish cock joke or adding some stupid picture.  Well there you go, I am sensible after all.  It was even about birds!

Finally have a look at this interesting flight migration route of the last sat-tracked Cuckoo. See how it ends up wintering somewhere in north east Germany!

I've spoilt it now.
That was quite a good post (for me) until then.


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Birding. Yes, birding. No Trevor Francis. No Metal Fury. Just a Pure Unadulterated Birding Tale

Honestly.  Fuck Trevor Francis.  I don't need to write short childish verses about him anymore.  I went out yesterday.  In the field!  I know you can't believe it that Q has now got the all clear from the Doctor clearly of eastern origin to drive, which means I can drive to places like Cornwall for a great seawatch, Shetland for rare hunting, and The Scillies to regain it's lost reputation by finding 14 mega rare American Yankee Doodle Dendroica Dandies.  Today I went to Barton.  Far Ings.

First up, Chowder Ness for a bit of Gulling and the very probable chance of a Semi-P or better.  I'd even settle for a Baird's.  Here's the cracking results:

3 Curlew
4 Black Headed Gulls
3 Teal (east on the Humber)


[still pausing]

Now that you're over the shock of my finds I'll continue with wild tales of deprivation, rock 'n' roll sex orgies and a photographer whose battery had ran out on his camera and he had to go back to his car to get his spare!  Crazy days.

Far Ings was a little bit quiet as well although a crazy hybrid duck with the head pattern of a teal, the head shape of a wigeon and the body of a tank did warrant closer inspection.  It also had the tertial plumes of a Falcated.  In fact I think there was a bit of Falcated (this bit is true honestly) in this duck.  Or maybe not. 

A young male Marsh Harrier did a fly-by so close to the hide that I could actually see it's wings, it's head and it's body.  A Cormorant fed on fish, probably Sturgeon, and the Coots were just swimming about minding their own business and not really doing much.  One swam about 5 metres to the right then, amazingly, turned and swam towards me, only to turn again back in the direction from where it had come then it carried on feeding and that.  This is the level of excitement that was witnessed here at Far Ings.  Truly shite and a very good example of why I should not write about birding and continue with odes to Trevor Francis.

Oh Trevor Francis,
I was you had wings,
Then I could spot you,
From the hide at Far fucking c.