Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Whales and badseawatching

Click this link for a wild and wacky Badseawatching experience.

Let me know if you see a bird.

On a more serious note follow my new link under wildlife campaigns and send an email to heads of state to protest against the Japanese so called "scientific" whaling expedition in the Southern Oceans. You can click here too.

Information about the Greenpeace campaign and what is going on can be found here.

Monday, November 26, 2007


Managed an assist after lunch today as the mobile brought news of a possible Desert Wheatear down the coast near Scarborough. A quick call to Russell Slack meant troops were summoned and a speedy confirmation was made. I called the finder back who was delighted to have been proven correct - he's only been birding a year.

What with the Short-toe up at Newton, Pallas's at Filey and this I think I should develop a hardier attitude at this time of year.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Attitude 'n' stuff

Woken at an unsociable 05:40 with "Dad could you get my snack?" by 3 breakfasts Moll I escaped to the sea. The recently neglected Kettleness produced 2 Velvet Scoter and the first Fulmar for weeks. The wind strengthened and shifted more to the north making viewing an uncomfortable experience so after an hour I packed up.

Back home and sheltered from the northerly the garden was rather pleasant and even after mowing the grass (lawn would be flattery) and digging out the clogged up drainage ditch I still managed some rather good birds. 3 Crossbill were the stars, 2nd garden record, but Treecreeper, 8 Mallard, Tree Sparrow, 2 Marsh Tit and Great Black-backed Gull added interest. Siskin are still about and the Chaffinch flock is approaching 50 but Goldfinch are down to 3 and Greenfinch to a similarly low number. Red Grouse continue to threaten to get on to the "in the garden list" but are still 100m or so shy. The daily trickle of Redwings and Fieldfares appears to have dried up although Redwing are still around and about in small numbers.

Being at home I couldn't escape the enviable hospitality - great cake Moll.

The rebuilt cafe at Sandsend was reopened this weekend, more seats and more windows plus a rather sumptuous veranda. The "closest to the sea cafe in the UK" one suspects. A drake Eider, c40 Common Scoter and the usual gulls were espied from its cosy interior this after'.

The sea was huge and approaching the high tide was threatening to engulf the road. (It did soak some friends who ventured a little too close on foot.) A small Common Seal sought shelter a little way up the stream and proved to be a popular attraction.

Common Seal debating the age old fish or beer conundrum as it eyes up the pub across the water.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Parallel universe

I occasionally have this problem with George Bristow's Secret Freezer. It's happened a few times this year.

Now, let's be clear, I've never met Doc Martin and apart from being an expatriate Scot and blogging a little have no connection, but this is getting scary ....

Back on the 11th August the Good Doc ended up in a church on the very same day that I also visited the house of a god (overlooking Robin Hood's Bay for strange and arm twisted reasons), a very,very rare event. At the same time there was a pile of breakfast cereal trauma in both households; decorating mayhem; dead critters, especially shrews, haunting our every step; then there was coinciding plague afflicting us. And now this washing machine business - fortunately (and sanity saved) I'm yet to find strange phallic fertility symbols stained into the the kitchen floor but I'm convinced it is but a matter of time ....... aaaaagggghhhhhh - it even snowed here today as well. "Now what are the chances of that?"

Black-headed Gull roost

Quite a roost of Black-headed Gulls in the harbour at Whitby this evening, about a 1,000 or so, I'd popped down to the fishmongers before closing. Probably there because of the rough sea.

A fatality at the harbour mouth around lunchtime when someone thought it was a good idea to set sail out into the North Sea in a strong north wind with a 6+ metre swell. Ill advised. You wonder why really.

On Wednesday after two days of rain there were a few birds at work in the morning. 4 flocks of Lapwing were seen to distantly head west, a Peregrine shot over and flushed 6 Redshank which panicked away inland.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Barn Owl

A Barn Owl was being hassled by corvids as I drove to work this morning. Eventually the corvids desisted and the owl perched on a fence post a small field away. I reversed up and we stared at each other for a while. The bins were in the boot so I didn't bother and after a minute or two I left the owl on the fence post and continued on my way. I've probably driven that route more than 100 times at a suitable time of day for a Barn Owl but that was the first sighting.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

West Pier

Work commitments prevented much birding today but I did manage to nip down to Whitby mid-afternoon.

A Purple Sandpiper was lurking under the West Pier. At first the Common Scoter proved elusive with 2 duck inshore and 24 in the bay but then those in the bay flew off east. However, as I was leaving, way off in the distance, 250 milled around vaguely heading west and these were followed by about another 100 a little later.

3 Red-throated Diver, 1 drake Eider, c15 Shag, 10 Cormorant, Turnstone, Redshank, Black-headed Gull c500 in the roost, Herring Gull and Geeb plus a Starling or ten were the supporting cast.

In the failing light these three Homo sapiens (unwise I would have thought, nevermind) appeared to be attempting to roost just offshore.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Extra Whitby records from last Sunday

Thanks to JB for the photo

Little Auk in the harbour, c200 Common Scoter offshore + Velvet Scoter and Long-tailed Duck. Also Little Auks passing close in at Sandsend in the afternoon.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Link to field notes in flight G. adamsii

Stewart's field notes of an accepted, in-flight White-billed Diver.

Thanks Stewart

Title link full page, text link straight to big.

Fly-by Banana-bill (Gavia adamsii) id issues

I posted the comment about id of White-billed Diver Gavia adamsii because I have concerns about the id of this species in flight. Stewart responded that he's seen a couple in flight and had them accepted by BBRC and I'm not raising the issue to cast any doubt on the records of those folk (like Stewart) who clearly know what they're about. However, caution should be exercised with this species. It's worth reading what observers who have seen plenty of these birds have to say. Kenn Kaufman for example writes, "Yellow-billed Loon (G.adamsii) should be identified with extreme caution, with attention to every possible field character." Kenn then goes on to list these characters (Advanced Birding 1990). (If readers would like me to post this stuff I will scan and post on request.) More recently Blomdahl, Briefe and Holmstrom (Flight Identification of European Seabirds 2003) indicate less directly the difficulties in their descriptions of how to separate G. adamsii from G.immer, but still imply strongly I think that it's a tricky business.

My own interest is more prosaic as I like to id to species every bird that flies by if I can and I don't think I can do this with the adamsii/immer species pair on more than about 30% of birds seen. Usually this is because I get on to the birds too late or the scope is dancing about in the wind or the birds are just too far away. I don't see that many likely suspects in any case. Of the 8, I saw on Sunday, which were mostly within id range I would judge I got good enough views to id 3 with some confidence (immer). There was one bird which I saw well which might possibly have been adamsii and the other 4 I didn't see well enough - and that was a good day. (I realise I am contradicting myself here - previous post - but I've been ruminating so forgive me.)

Now maybe if I'd seen a few in the past I might change my tune but the published criteria seem to me to be difficult to observe in flight to 100% certainty of an id. I would be interested to read any field notes of in-flight observations of adamsii or even better see some sets of photos of in-flight birds of both species in winter / 1st winter plumages (taken on the same day by the same person preferably). Maybe I'm making a meal of this (I have recently had this suggested to me) but there have been a good few Banana-bills claimed this season and maybe this species is more common than we think it is in the North Sea (I don't actually believe this to be the case in most years, I hastily add). I think a bit of a discussion might be healthy - I'd welcome the opinion of anyone who has seen a few (2 or more would do) adamsii and has an opinion.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Venue change - Ness Point seawatch

This jolly sight greeted me at Ness Point when I arrived at 07:30. The only Puffin seen during this seawatch.

Two Little Auks went past initially. Then I continued to stare through the scope seeing nothing until I glanced down at the rocks below and saw a small flock beneath me. After that the scope was abandoned and counting was steady. A Red-throated Diver and a Great Northern went south in this first period. After 40 minutes or so JB and Bev appeared and recommended a change of venue - a bigger gully further north. Not quite so sheltered but with a better view.

I hadn't been seawatching at Ness Point for a good few years but a northerly like today's would have been hard work at the Kettle, also Ness Point is much better for birds moving north. However, you are too high up really and monitoring close inshore and further out is hard work even with three observers.

The Little Auks seemed totally knackered and several were seen to be taken out of the air by the breakers. The gulls were quickly upon them, several only escaping by flying in over the rocks. Most were seen very close in, over the surf, only later were any numbers seen further out to sea. Little Auk total to 12:15 was 335 north and 17 south.

7 Great Northern Divers went north in singles apart from a pair that snuck past very close in, we nearly missed these two. We were pretty certain of our id but for one white headed bird, but this was the most distant. Again, because of the height it is not possible to see the belly profile of passing divers, a useful guide to White-billed I believe. I would be very, very cautious of claiming White-billed flying by. It would be necessary to see all the features, bill shape, head features and the body shape I reckon. Many Great Northern (several today) show a white bill. I have no field experience of White-billed in flight, I would think this would be essential to claiming one in flight unless it was very close / photographed. Hereby the cautionary tale endeth.

Various other bits and bats went by including a very nice 1st winter type Pomarine Skua which briefly hassled a Kittiwake before proceeding rapidly south. A two and this flock of Goldeneye. Some Wigeon, two small flocks of Common Scoter, the flock of 24 including another duck which we failed to id. 3 grey geese went south which we reckoned were not Pink-feet, possibly White-fronts. A Purple Sand snuck under the cliff. A few Red-throats, Guillemots, Razorbills, Gannets - but only a few.

Initially Kittiwakes were going north only close by but as the morning went on there was a constant stream of distant birds heading south.

Something weird was happening in P. aristotelis World (Shag World sounds a bit coarse somehow). Two singles went north then a flock of 25 went south followed by 4, 10, 1, and 3 all south.

As we walked back to Robin Hood's Bay 7 Pale-bellied Brents cruised north. A Stonechat popped up and that was enough.

Ness Point rainbow time.

Saturday's birds

Male Bullfinch in the garden, with the now resident Tree Sparrows and Marsh Tit. 60+ Fieldfare in the next door field (and the same number at Scaling Dam a little later). Best tho' was 4 Redpoll which dropped in to the feeding flock, no bins so no id unfortunately.

Later at Scaling there were more duck than of late with 227 Teal, 30 odd Wigeon and 12 Goldeneye as well as 2 Goosander ducks (there'd been a drake earlier).

Also at Scaling was the Stoat World Marathon champion which spent the morning galloping around the edge of the reservoir chasing rabbits, without a great deal of success. One had to admire the Stoat's tenacity as at one point it bounded all of a 100 metres in pursuit of one particular terrified Lagomorph.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Bit of a sea ....

No birds tho .....

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Early morning West Pier

Down to the end of the West Pier for 7 a.m. Very difficult watching conditions with the wind blowing WNW with a bit of welly in it. Scoter were moving and after 5 minutes two skuas sheared down with the wind. Of course they were gone in moments and with the scope shaking around id was tricky. I reckoned they were Arctics but I could not be certain. In the following half hour there were no more skuas, no little weeny things and lots more scoter - various small numbers close in going east, a large flock west and two large flocks (40 or so) east. There were also Kittiwakes all over the shop, close in, distant going up and down and there were a few Gannets knocking about as well. By 07:35 I decided to have a look in the harbour and around and about - 2 Guillemots were in the harbour mouth, a few Cormorants but that was it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Atlas practice

Having a bit of the sleeping sickness at the moment due to some vile lurgy that has invaded my body and is devouring my energy. So, too late for the sea I decided on a local round. Also I thought it would be useful to see how easy an Atlas count would be. I did not cover much of the home square in an hour. But it was a good hour. Tree Sparrow, 1; Marsh Tit, 1; Yellowhammer, 8, all good stuff. Then on the edge of the moor I heard a familiar sound.

Hear (sic) they come.

Have a quick look and estimate how many there are (answer tomorrow).

These were up in the air at the same time, nice as well.

Over my head.

Elder stems in autumn evening

Hoverfly on Ivy flowers

The Pink-feet just went due south over my head. 65 Golden Plover got up at the same time.

The bottom two photos are from last weekend to tell the truth - there was a Red Admiral as well but I missed the pic.

Later on I went to Scaling Dam where there were 8 Goldeneye with a drake Goosander (which is an uncommon bird at Scaling). The gull roost was a bit pathetic with just 500 Common Gulls, and half of them flew off, to roost at sea I guess.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

I've done this before ....

On the way down to the point this Blackbird was lying dead.

Very nice hour and a half on Kettleness Point from 7 this morning. The wind wasn't blowing when I started but after half an hour it got up to a 4-5, not quite as far round to the north as I had expected.

The first Kittiwakes for weeks appeared early on and their numbers increased until I reckoned about 100 were seen over the watch. The sea was thinly scattered with auks, mostly Guillemots and although there appeared to be a bit of westerly movement this was probably just repositioning for feeding. In all there were probably 250 Guillemots; only 6 Razorbills were ided.

Three drake Eider were swanning around off the point, one of which flew conveniently closer. Small numbers of Gannets appeared, in the end a total of 40 or so.

Star turns were an excellent adult Med Gull that drifted by close inshore at about 07:45. This is probably only my second or third from Kettleness so I was well pleased. Then a few minutes later as I was looking out to other lands at x45, espying some suspicious but distant feeding activity, a first winter Pom powered into view. I turned the power down to x15 to enjoy this bird, it was quite close but all too soon it was around the corner and eyeing up the Black-headed Gulls in Sandsend Bay. Now I did think at this point, maybe there'll be more of these. Classic date, wind getting up and I remembered the morning some years ago when I counted 13 off Ness Point (the other side of Whitby) and then packed up too early because subsequently 150 or so probably went by (reports from other coastal stations). There's no signal at Kettleness so I can't check what's going on elsewhere but I reckon I'd have seen a few more Poms if I'd sat tight beyond 08:30. So it goes.

Next up was a tiny thing, a wee, wee thing, very distantly heading east that ditched in an auk like manner, no doubt it was a Little Auk but unclaimable.

There were in addition to all this 2 Red -throated Divers, 2 diver sp, 14 Common Scoter and several buckets of Black-headed and Common Gulls. But I wanted to check the dell and the point bushes so I packed up.

The point bushes, one of the two Sallows (there's also 1 Elder and a good old bit of Gorse, an Apple and a Hawthorn or two). Sitting on the rock to the right of the bush is the likely "cause of death" of the Blackbird.

Maybe this is why the Sparrowhawk abandoned its prey.

Up top there were still lots of passerines around the farm including 7 Twite. But on the whole numbers of thrushes, Robins etc were much reduced.