Wednesday 29 October 2008

A Bit of Vis Mig

I managed to surface reasonably early this morning and hurried up to Axe Cliff where I knew Steve would already be 'vis migging'. It was really, really cold, and once on Axe Cliff there was a fairly gentle, but non the less freezing, northerly blowing. When I arrived at the edge 0f the golf course Steve was already frozen, so much so that I felt compelled to lend him my gloves and we all know how nesh I am! Just look at him, poor lamb.

Warm enough?

While in possession of the gloves Steve was able to continue to record the bird numbers (I'm sure he'll post them somewhere) while I stood around with my hands in my pockets. Actually I found that trying to accurately count all the Wood Pigeons in each flock took enough concentration to momentarily forget how cold it was! Steve relied on the good old 'best estimate' method and I must say he's extremely good at it! One flock he estimated at 180 Wood Pigeons actually contained 176. Some flocks were too big to count, the biggest was around 350 or so. Unfortunately a lot of the passage appeared to be quite a way inland. Funny isn't it, how one of the most mundane of all birds can become quite entertaining moving in big flocks. I don't know the total number we saw, it was over a couple of thousand. A flock of 11 Stock Doves was the most I've seen together.

A highlight was my first Brambling of the winter, pointed out by Steve, obviously! I'd never have noticed it's call myself, hopefully if I hear a few more I'll get the hang of them eventually.

Steve told me that there were lots of golf balls in the next field, he'd seen them on his way here. "There's at least fifteen" he said.
"Ooh really?" I replied, my face lighting up with enthusiasm, I eagerly waited for his response. He just looked at me with pity and said nothing. I could tell what he was thinking, something along the lines of " You really are very sad Karen". None the less, when we left we crossed the field in question and sure enough there were a few golf balls lying around. Steve's also very talented at spotting golf balls, so it seems. Picture the scene if you will.... As he strides across the field he says, "there's one" and "there's three over there, and another four there." I eagerly scurry around picking them up, giving the occasional shriek of excitement, the ear-flaps on my Peruvian chullo hat, wafting around in the breeze. I must have looked like a demented spaniel!! Steve had his camera with him but I think he probably squandered the opportunity of an embarrassing scoop! I do hope so!!

When I got home I emptied my little haul out onto the ground to count them. There were forty-one of them. There were, really, here they are:

The morning's catch

Strangely one of these was a driving range ball, and as you can see one's a smashing flourecent yellow one. My favourite is this one though:

The 'Attack Life' from The Greg Norman Collection.

Being a girl* I like this one because of the pretty rainbow coloured shark on it, obviously!!

* The use of the word 'girl' here and on my previous post is a bit of poetic license.

Monday 27 October 2008

And There's More... Black Redstarts that is!

Hello there! If your coming here for any bird news you'll probably be disappointed. I've been out quite a lot today but can't really tell you of anything that hasn't already been reported by Steve, coz he's been out all day too and seen, well, everything I have!! I did manage to get up early this morning and go to Beer Head, although a flat tyre 100 yards from the house delayed me somewhat. I managed to fix this and arrived at Beer Head by 7.30- ish. I didn't see much, three Goldcrests and a Blackcap to be exact, so worth it then!! Actually it's almost always worth it if only for views like this:

What could be at the end of the rainbow? Let's see shall we...

It's the enchanted kingdom of Sidmouth of course

I saw my first Redwings of the winter whilst walking the dog in the vicinity of Whiford for some obscure reason, I forget what exactly. By some incredible coincidence I bumped into Steve here too. Rex, who was wet and very muddy to boot, decided to jump into his car to say hello, whoops, sorry Steve! :-(

Steve told me that there were now four Black Redstarts at the Yacht Club, I wasn't already aware of this of course!! When I got home I walked the couple of feet from my house to have a look and sure enough there they were, they'll be starting to outnumber the Pied Wagtails at this rate! I took another quick snap of the male with the S3, not much cop, but so what! At least the sky's blue.

I shouldn't need an excuse

Then I went to Bruckland Ponds and saw, (yes, you already know) these:

Ooh! Tufties

And loads of these:

I really like these. Why? Because they're pink! Why else?

Monday's my evening off work and so I made the most of it by nipping down to Colyford Common for the last hour of daylight again. Gav was already there and had conscientiously counted the Godwits, the Sandpipers... oh and the Dunlin.

In Gav's latest blog post, after publishing what has to be said was a 'truly gripping' photo of a Vincent Black Shadow he said.

..... Be warned - if anyone professes even the slightest bit of interest in seeing more pics of old British bikes parked in muddy fields you won't be able to stop me....

I for one haven't the slightest urge to see any more. Why? Because I'm a 'girl' and not remotely interested in such things? No, it's because I have hundreds of them myself!! Doesn't everyone!?

Here's one:

The Triumph - thingy-migig- whats-its-name in muddy field.

And another:

A BSA... purple coloured one, in muddy field being admired by Keith and Nigel (must give them a mention in case they see this)

Sunday 26 October 2008

Then There Were Two

It appears that I am even more observant than I thought because yesterday I didn't notice that there were in fact two Black Redstarts on the Trevelyan Road rooftops, the other one being a gorgeous adult male. I had planned on getting up early this morning to look at the sea but managed to fail miserably again. When I did finally drag myself out I saw the male Black Redstart almost immediately; on my own roof too!! It appeared to be spending a lot of time on the next door neighbour's roof, giving me a great oppertunity to digiscope it from my bedroom window. The weather conditions were not exactly ideal, but I tried anyway, coz you never know it may not be around much longer, it could move on, or something worse!? More on that in a mo....

Here are some of the 'stunning' shots I managed to get, he really was a stunner, just a shame about the dull weather.

Front View

Err.. Back View (worth seeing I think)

He really is very nice!

That's right hide!!

Why hide? Well because while I was admiring this lovely little chap, this lovely big chap arrived on the scene. Here he is :

Waiting for lunch

It was a Sparrowhawk. Can you see it in the picture? It's right in the centre halfway up the gold coloured mast. I was a bit worried that one of the Black Redstarts would be on the menu, because they tend to be rather conspicuous when they flitter about on the rooftops. The hawk stayed put for ages surveying the boat park for a quick snack. Fortunately the Black Redstarts and almost every other bird sensibly made themselves scarce, leaving me to digiscope the Sparrowhawk, and here he is:

I spent the last hour or so of daylight down at Colyford Common with Gav, we were hoping to see plenty of Gulls and Egrets passing but didn't. There were a couple of Green Sanpipers around and a possible Water Pipit had a little fly about before landing, very frustratingly, out of view. It was also nice to see (well hear) several Water Rails in the new reedbed, it would be nice to see them nesting in there in the not too distant future. When the Tawny Owls started calling we guessed it must be time to call it a day. Totally dark by half past five!! Winter's well and truly here.

There was an awful lot of tram activity tonight too. A kind of 'rush hour' of sorts. One tram coming from Seaton stopped. "Strange" we thought. The driver got out and climbed onto the top deck to adjust the, erm, er, 'thingy' that attaches it to the overhead powerline. This it transpires was so that it could reverse, because shock! horror! another tram was coming the other way!! What high drama. We were literally only a matter of hours away from seeing a high speed tram crash!!

Saturday 25 October 2008

Another Interesting Bird at Last

Well Ring Ouzel hunting on Beer Head didn't happen this morning as planned, with the strong southwesterly wind arriving much sooner than forecast. Instead I decided to walk to Jubilee Gardens from Seaton Hole. I didn't see any good birds, although I'm sure the Firecrests will be back shortly.
On my way home I got a text from Ian M who had seen a Black Redstart at the AYC. So when I arrived back I popped over there for a quick look, and sure enough there it was on one of the rooftops of Trevelyan Road. I don't know exactly what it is about these houses that Black Redstarts like so much, but I'm glad they do like them. I got out the S3 and with my usual foolproof technique, (wave in general direction of bird press and hope) took these snaps of it.

While I was pointing my camera at some bloke's window he asked me (understandably, I suppose) what I was doing. When I explained, his reply was; "Oh yes, the Black Redstart, he's been here for around a week now, I hadn't seen him yet this morning though." Seeing as this man only lives about about 4 doors away from me, and the bird's been knocking around for a whole week, I don't think I'll be winning any prizes for the backwater's most observant birder!

Friday 24 October 2008

Back To The Eighties

I haven't been out much over the last week on account of being a bit under the weather. That hasn't actually changed today, but I thought I'd better post something on my blog to prevent it stagnating completely. I am, as you are probably aware, dead keen on this new fangled digital photography, it's just all made so easy isn't it? Back in the 1980's I got my first (well actually ONLY) SLR camera for my sixteenth birthday. It was a Zenith E, a Soviet 'masterpiece of engineering' which in an emergency could easily be utilized as a hammer! It was practically indestructible! I dropped it down a cliff once!! I wanted to take pictures of wildlife, especially birds so also acquired a monster lens, actually I don't recall the exact size, I think it may have been a 350mm. I do remember it was very heavy and also difficult to use. I don't recall ever getting the hang of it really. I took some pictures with it and for some reason was really pleased with them at the time. Here's one of the better ones, and its bad, really bad:

Wow, another stunning close up!

I'm not showing you any more, they're far too embarrassing. Here's one taken without the 'benefit' of the long lens, one of my better efforts:

A Genuine Vagrant Wood Duck

The good thing about the Zenith is that you didn't really have to think about the aperture setting too much, because a method which almost always worked was to open the aperture fully, focus on the subject, then stop down the aperture until the view in the viewfinder was just a shade darker than in the real scene 'et voila'! I was too lazy to do all the photography thing properly. It probably shows! This is why I love the new 'foolproof' digital cameras of today, take my Canon S3 for example, just whip it out of your bag/pocket, point in general direction of obliging bird and press shutter. Then you don't even have to wait, just look into the viewfinder, select playback and enjoy frame filling shots like this:

Typical Canon S3 Fare. What could be easier?

While looking through my old photos I also found this one, a duck I didn't even remember having seen.

An armchair tick!?

Obviously another genuine wild bird, which only appears to be ambling around on a lawn. I really don't remember where or when this was taken, but I know it's a Red-crested Pochard and I also know it's on my list!

I had my trusty Zenith for many, many years and it saw me through all the fieldwork for my degree. As I was studying geology its rugged build ( and inbuilt hammer capability) was particularly appreciated. The lens cap was an invaluable tool for showing scale in my many fascinating photographs of fossil burrows. "Fossil burrows, wow, that sounds interesting" I can hear you thinking, so I'll treat you to a sample, like so:

This picture shows a superb example of a Diplocriterion parallelum burrow, taken at a location just to the east of Weymouth called Bowlease Cove. Yes I know the burrow's upside down!!!

I also found this incredibly embarrassing photo, it was taken in 1985, when I was nineteen and at college in Derby. I was lucky enough to be a teenager in the eighties 'the decade that fashion forgot' and so got to wear fabulous ensembles like this!! Those of you who know me, also know I tend to have a penchant for stupid hats. I started this many moons ago, as you can see! Laughing isn't compulsory!

Eighties elegance!?

I think that cone up the tree is a nice touch. Yes, look at the cone NOT the hat!

I'm going to see some birds of interest tomorrow, Ring Ouzels or better I hope. I'll have my S3 so watch this space.....

Sunday 19 October 2008

Semi-succsessful Twitching?

Firstly, on Thusday last week I visited Beer Head first thing in the morning, I saw nothing much of note, except I did see what was most probably my last House Martin of the year! Meanwhile, Steve had elected to go vis-miging on Axe Cliff and was quite successful. Here he is in action (he is there honestly, reading glasses probably required!).

Axe Cliff from Beer Head

Friday I only had time for a quick walk in Morganhayes where I only saw 12 Crossbills (probably different combos of usual eight). Yesterday I decided to give Beer Head a miss and try Axe Cliff again, and where was all the action, yes Beer Head!! (Dartford Warbler and YBW no less!) There was some 'vis mig' but not in great numbers and to be honest I couldn't ID a lot of it anyway! A nice surprise was a late Wheatear, most likely my last of the year, and therefore my last chance for ages to add one to my blog photo tally. It will be Wheatear number4. It's very bad indeed, but it has to go on, so here it is:


The sun was just rising as I made the cliff edge and river mist was rolling out to sea like so:

River Mist

While standing here I got another easy golf ball tick (golf ball list now 22!!) It was just lying on the grass in plain view but was totally covered in mud and looked as if it had been buried for years. I don't know who or what had unearthed it? It was a Maxfli Revolution - 'Multiplayer 100' I can't find any references to this particular species and must therefore conclude that it's another on the 'presumed extinct list'.

Just as I was leaving I got a call from Bun, Clive had seen a Yellow-browed Warbler by the holiday chalets in Branscombe. The location was even narrowed down to a particular chalet called 'Puffin', so should be easy to find. Not for me though! Because I had to go to the Town Hall to help on the Axe Estuary Ringing Group's stand at the Seaton Community Fair first. Here's a photo of our very prominent stand, being expertly manned by Doug and right alongside, the stand of the Axe Vale and District Conservation Society:

Seaton Community Fair

To Doug's left is Ian Waite, apparently often referred to as 'Steve's Dad', he's standing behind a fine display featuring a newspaper article and a superb Osprey photo! Being the modest type I wouldn't dream of gratuitously displaying my local fame and prowess as a wildlife photographer on my own blog now would I....

Published in the Pullman's Weekly News- What kudos!!

After I had finished my stint here I met Gav at Beer Head to go and twitch the YBW, Phil caught up with us at Branscombe too. If you've read Gav's blog you know the result, but it was an enjoyable walk non the less. Here's a nice photo of Phil and Gav on Branscombe beach looking for the YBW.

Looking in the wrong place!

We didn't have any luck here, especially as this was the wrong chalet, 'Curlew' NOT 'Puffin'.
We did see a lovely couple of White Wagtails though, one of them looked like this, albeit a bit less blurry!

Bird of the day

In reference to my post title, why semi-successful twitching? Well, we did eventually find the 'Puffin' . Although it was a stonking great big holiday chalet it was none the less very elusive, skulking in the undergrowth, there was no Yellow-browed Warbler in attendance. Here's a typically dodgy 'record shot'

The Elusive 'Puffin'

The low air pressure was allowing superb visibility out to sea and amazingly clear views of Portlad could be had from many vantage points along the coast path. Here's a picture of the northern part of the island taken from Branscombe. You may even be able to see a Short-eared Owl (or better) circling over the lookout!!

Finally while walking through the chalet/caravan park on Branscombe undercliff we saw a familar looking site and couldn't resist an attempt at recreating a familar tableau. If you have been a regular reader of 'Backwater Birding' you may recognise it!! (if not take a look at Steve's Blog HERE (post no2)) It must be said Phil was quite reluctant at first, for some reason he thought people would think we were nutters!! Look for yourself. What could be more normal behaviour than this!?

Look vaguely familiar?

In fact we were in the wrong spot, because in the original scene the backdrop was cliffs. The correct place, I think, is just along the track a bit by the silver Volvo, just behind that very puzzled looking couple and their dog!

Anyway I decided to try and make it look more authentic by importing some of the original background elements and aging it by changing the colour, like so:


Wednesday 15 October 2008

Beware The Carrion Crow!

A morning walk on Axe Cliff was pretty unproductive again today but a Merlin flying east low over the undercliff was notable and that's all I have to report. I thought I'd take the opportunity to share some more of J. Wentworth-Day's 'wisdom' with you. If you're not new to this blog you'll perhaps remember his lyrical description of the Great Black-backed Gull, a bird he obviously held in some regard. Not so this next one, the Carrion Crow, you may just get an inkling that it isn't one of his favourites!!! Obviously it isn't most other peoples either and we do have an excessively large population of them here in the Axe Valley. On the 10th of February I counted over 200 of them on Colyford Marsh alone. They are shot locally, one trapped and ringed by the Axe Valley Ringing Group was recovered shot at Colyford in June, but their numbers don't ever seem to reduce that much. Despite their continued presence however, Redshank successfully bred in the area this year.

Universally Unpopular

Here's what he had to say, he doesn't hold back either:

There is another member of this family for whom neither you nor I need cherish soft thoughts. A bird black as death in coat and deed. A bird for whom no good can be said and against whom every gun should be raised......

.......Two clumsy wing flaps, a sideslip like an aeroplane stalling, and they landed, black and ungainly, on the gleaming mud. There was the suck and gurgle of the tide in crab holes; the silken sound of running waters; the cry of curlew and the squeal and bark of gulls, quarreling in the sun; and on the tide edge, grotesque forepieces in this scene of lonely beauty, the two menacing crows.

The hideous, black plumage; the pickaxe beaks; their chunky, wedge-like shapes, and ungainly struttings and hoppings-all these are a savage caricature of the white gulls, of the flashing grace of terns fishing in the channel and the slender delicacy of shorebirds wading in the shallows. There in the bright sun, flaunted the challenge of the birds of death, the most bloodthirsty, destructive and foul of all English birds.

Carrion crows are probably the greatest winged menace in England today. They are killers pure and simple. Their habits like their food are foul and revolting. They will eat the eggs of ducks, chickens, pheasants, partridges, grouse, wood pigeons, song birds or anything else which incubates within their territory. They will kill and devour young birds and young rabbits and will even attack and kill young lambs. Two or three hammer-strokes from that powerful beak will peck out the brains of a newborn lamb.

And they are on the increase…

Eek!! I'm terrified.

I've always found some of their antics amusing, (obviously not the bloodthirsty beak-hammering lamb slaughter) the way they pick up and investigate everything, to check if it's edible, they do a good job of cleaning up a lot of discarded 'vaguely edible' rubbish in the river too. Here's one I saw earlier, trying to eat a cork!!

The most bloodthirsty, destructive and foul of all English birds!?

They are highly intelligent for a bird and I always admire their tenacity as they persevere feeding on mussels washed up on the beach during storms, repeatedly dropping them from a great height to smash them and getting such a small morsel as a reward. Surely if pecking out the brains of lambs was such a cinch they'd be off doing that, wouldn't they? A bit of hard rubberized fishy stuff, or nice fresh juicy lamb brains? Uhm, difficult choice! Anyway, I've got nothing against them, they can't help being what they are after all.
Here's another photo of a couple on Colyford scrape. They are approaching our resident Egyptian Goose, what are they up to? The goose seems unruffled, not so the Barwit in the foreground, he suspects something and is making a quick getaway.

Watch out! The Black Birds of Death Approach!!

Two or three hammer-strokes from those powerful beaks later, and......


Oh my goodness!! They've decapitated goosey!! Mr Wentworth-Day was right.....

Run for you lives!!!

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Brightening up a Dull Day

It continues to be uneventful in the backwater at the moment, to give you some idea of how slow the birding has been, yesterday my highlight was, wait for it!!... 123 Pied Wagtails at Colyton 'waste water treatment works' (which is the PC way of saying sewage farm these days), I was obviously bored to have counted them, no?

This morning I went down to Colyford Common at high tide but it was all much of a muchness again. I didn't think it would pay off to take Rex for his walk up on Axe Cliff either, because while at Colyford Common the wind began to get up somewhat and it's far from the best place to be when it's windy. So I resorted to my old faithful spot, Morganhayes Woods. It was dreary and trying to rain when I arrived, almost dark in fact. I thought about taking my scope in with me, just in case the Crossbills put in one of their erratic appearances but experience has taught me that they NEVER show when I take it along on the off chance. So I didn't!

The trees were 'almost literally' dripping with Goldcrests today, migrants no doubt, and their euphonious little calls filled the air. They were soon interrupted and overpowered by a familiar 'chupping' as several Crossbills obligingly flew in. The two males perched in the topmost branches of a spruce, not feeding, just posing! I could almost hear them saying "Who wishes they weren't too bone idle to carry their scope now eh!?" Pants! I whipped out my faithful old S3, it tried it's best but it was just too dull and overcast to get anything less than mega-naff. Like so:


I wasn't going to to stand there and take their mockery, my scope and camera were in the car waiting, and it was only 2oo metres or so away. I got to thinking, that's not so far, Usain Bolt can run that in 19.30 seconds, so it stands to reason I could easily run there and back before their little bird brains even have chance to think about flying off!! The run to the car went well, the run back with my scope..... Well, the less said the better!! When I arrived back, all 'rosy cheeked' and invigorated, they had indeed not even had time to register my fleeting absence and were still sitting there as smug as ever. I hastily took some snaps, then I realised I'd left the white balance setting on sunny and it wasn't sunny, it was almost dark!! Doh! I fumbled around a bit more and just managed to get a few shots on the correct setting before they said. " You've had your chance loser, were off!". As they flew I counted 7 of them. They could be passing migrants I suppose but the flock size and make up was much the same (adult male, young male, females and juvs) as on the previous occasions I've seen them. So I'm leaning towards them being a long-staying family group.

Here are the hard earned photos. The first two I had to lighten due to the white balance error. The second two are a tad brighter (they look a bit better enlarged) but even so, still not exactly surfbirds material, I wish the sun had been out!! You can see just how intensely red the male is though!! In the first one he's looking straight at me defiantly, but I think he looks a bit like a red Orville (if anyone remembers Orville):

I know they're not exactly rare or exotic but they certainly brighten up a dull day!! :-)

Sunday 12 October 2008

Weekend Bear Hunt

Not much in the way of birds to look at at the moment. Admittedly it hasn't helped that I've had a couple of massive lie-ins the last two mornings instead of getting out there and looking! What I have been out looking for though are Bears, the sort that live down in the local woods too! Firstly yesterday I went to Ox HIll Woods near Colyton because I knew that there was an area of ideal habitat within them, here it is:

Bear Habbo.

This is at the bottom of a steep slope and is in fact a bit of a mire. I sank almost over my wellies a couple of times. The kind of bears that I was looking for live in lots of wet places but especially in waterlogged moss. They are called Water Bears the scientific name is Tardigrada, which translates to slow- walkers and with four pairs of stumpy legs with claws at the ends and a slow lumbering gait they do look like microscopic bears!! I think (with a little imagination) they look a bit like Haribo 'Gold Bears', really cute!! I really wanted to find one of these little beauties, not having seen one for donkey's years. Here's some amazing facts about them from a web page:

Tardigrades are a fascinating group, and have an ability to withstand extreme conditions in a desiccated barrel-like form called a 'tun'. In this form they are one of the most resilient types of animal known. Temperatures as low -272ºC (i.e. almost absolute zero) or as high as 151ºC; X-ray radiation 1000x times the human lethal dose; high vacuum - conditions are all taken in the stride of the not so humble water bear. They have been proven to survive dessication for over a decade and
recent research has notched up another feat of endurability, apparently they can withstand 6000 atmospheres pressure, which is nearly six times the pressure of water in the deepest ocean trench.

Here's a close up of their preferred habitat. It's not surprising that they are also sometimes called 'moss piglets'. They're in there somewhere and it's going to take much patience to winkle them out.

Home of 'Moss Piglets'

After many hours of looking, and burning far too much midnight oil, I eventually found a single one but before I could take a decent photo I lost it! Not that difficult with something one tenth of a millimetre long, believe me!!

While in the vicinity of the River Coly I popped down to Heathayne Lane hoping that the Hornet's that were around there last year would be back again. They certainly were with around a dozen or so milling around. I waited for a photo opportunity and one individual eventually obliged posing beautifully in the gentle autumn sunlight and I'm really pleased with the result:
What a Stunner!!

Along the Coly there wasn't much bird activity except that I could hear a Green Sandpiper calling. I couldn't locate it though and quite frankly it wasn't worth trying, with the dog in tow I wouldn't get within 500 yards of it anyway!!

Today I had a second attempt at finding and filming a Water Bear. The woods at Colyton had been a disappointment, I needed to look elsewhere. I decided on Shute Woods, there are always loads of wet mossy areas there! Shute Woods are slightly different to other local woods in that apart from being truly fascinating in their own right, they also have an historic building in them and here it is:

Shute Beacon House

I can't be bothered to tell you all about it but you can read it here (if you enlarge photo):

Poor beacon keeper, not even allowed a dog for company eh... (you'd know that if you'd read it) that makes me one up on him then. Here's the view the beacon keeper would have had, if you imagine no trees in the way that is. Oh, and he wouldn't have the dog in it either would he?

Beacon Keeper's View

Unfortunately the sun was too bright to allow the distant view to be visible in this shot so here's one showing it:

View from Shute Beacon of Axe Estuary and Seaton Bay

There were plenty of the usual suspects in the woods bird wise and 2 flyover Lesser Redpolls were slightly noteworthy, I suppose. The moss I collected from here was far superior to the Colyton rubbish and was literally teaming with tardigrades, I found one within the first hour!!

So whether your itching to see one or not, after all the effort I've put in, I'm going to show you one anyway and here it is!! The Water Bear:

And another one: