Friday 23 December 2011

It Was All So Horribly Predictable

Yesterday the humble Axe Estuary saw numerous visitors all hoping to see the Caspian Gull which had shown on the three previous days, some spending many many hours waiting patiently and hopefully, scanning the hundreds and hundreds of gulls, but alas, it was a no show. So when I received a text from Gav this lunchtime it was a horribly predictable one " Caspian Gull opposite Coronation Corner again". I immediately felt pangs of sympathy for all yesterday's unfortunates. Didn't stop me popping over there to 'fill me boots' though. I'd been unwell when it was showing so well on Wednesday. If you dipped yesterday and are reading this, firstly why? And secondly, you may want to look away now!

Sticks out like a sore thumb...when it's there!

Big Billed, Saggy Bottomed Gull

Erm?... It's erm?.....Oh yes, that's it....Stunning!

Monday 19 December 2011

Saggy Bottom

Firstly, just in case anyone cares, sorry for lack of blogging recently I've just been too busy because we are in the process of trying to move house. We have somewhere lined up now and are just waiting for the green light, hopefully all being well we'll be in by the second week of January. I really needed to have a break and get out in the field today and despite the persistent rain decided to pop down Seaton Marshes to try and see the December Wheatear. Leaving this until the nineteenth of December probably wasn't the best plan I've ever had. It wasn't there needless to say. I was just trudging back to the car when I got a text from Gav, which said "Caspian Gull at Coronation Corner now!" I took this as an order and dutifully drove round there straight away. It was a full scale local twitch and I think Gav was pretty surprised when I was the first to arrive. This was my second Caspian Gull on patch and it was much further away than the last one. Still, I was able to see all the salient features reasonably clearly (when Gav pointed them out that is!) including a very obvious 'ventral bulge' which I thought made it look a bit like it was 'wearing a nappy', a nappy requiring urgent attention! I took a few snaps but none of them came out particularly well.

My clearest shots were always when it was head on which didn't show much
except perhaps the whiteness of the bird's head.

This is a heavy crop of the photo above, quite awful I know
 but it does show that 'saggy bottom' beautifully!

As well as having no time for birding I haven't managed to do much astronomy either (feel free to stop here if astronomy bores you), seems like ever since I brought myself a good telescope the weather's been almost permanently cloudy, or windy or usually both! I have had some more superb views of Jupiter though and got a 'record shot' of it showing the Great Red Spot (which is actually a beige spot this year) and one of its moons, Io.

Monday 21 November 2011

On The Roof

This morning Bun and me went to see what appears to be the most photographed roof in Devon. My cunning (but risky) plan of waiting until Monday paid off nicely as there were very few people there. I'd never been to Mansands before and it wasn't an easy place to find by road, so thanks to Mark for the directions and gen. When we arrived the roof was showing very well and what a superb roof it was too! Absolutely teeming with creepy -crawlies and therefore very attractive to birds. On the roof this morning were a Wren, a Rock Pipit, a Pied Wagtail, a pair of Stonechats, a Black Redstart and a Desert Wheatear ... so not too shabby as one of these was a lifer for us both :-)

The famous roof, which belongs to the coastguard cottages at Mansands near Brixham.
On the very right hand side (just behind the solar panel) you may be able to see the Black Redstart. The Desert Wheatear is sitting on the furthest chimney just in front of the pots, you'll have to take my word for that though.
 As you can see the footpath here is raised above the level of the roof, which made for easy photography, the rain and cloud didn't. There were some brighter spells though.

Being used to the more crowded twitch, Bun solicits the attention of passing ramblers...

Soon we can't get a look down our own scopes!

The lovely Black Redstart.

The stunning Desert Wheatear
EDIT: I don't know why I didn't notice before I posted it but the bird was in the midst of a rather private moment here!  So I'll add this less embarrassing version...

.... Sans poop!


He was a bit too near at times , I only just got him in this one.
( It's worth opening)

Thursday 10 November 2011

On The Beach

I popped over to Seaton Hole with Rex this morning, he can't manage long walks these days but still seems to make lighter work of the steep accent from the beach than I do!  I was hoping for at the very least a nice Black Redstart and although conditions on the beach were superb (tonnes of  seaweed and millions of flies) there was very little birdy activity. All I saw were a few Robins and a couple of Rock Pipits.  While Rex stretched his legs I had a rummage about in the seaweed looking for my favourite gastropod (doesn't everyone have one?) Patina pellucida which feeds on kelp.

 Fitter than he'd have me believe.

Lots of lovely kelp, just a shame the birds don't seem to have noticed yet.

Patina pellucida, The Blue-rayed Limpet.
These are very small, only about a centimetre across and have the most beautiful bright iridescent blue spots. When I first spotted this one I thought it didn't have any. Worryingly though, they are all too obvious in the photo. I'm going to have to start taking my reading glasses into the field soon!

I stopped to chat to Steve on the esplanade just as a flock of six Greylag Geese flew over  and straight out to sea, they didn't look like stopping before they reach France. Steve told me the Snow Buntings were still there so I popped in to see them on the way home. I took a couple more photos but with my super-zoom this time. I thought it would be interesting to see how it could do.

Not bad. This shot of the male turned out quite well.

It was nice to get a shot with them both in it as when I digiscoped them on Tuesday they were just too near for one.

I tried to get an arty-farty shot with the waves breaking in the background but you'd probably not know there were waves in the background if I didn't tell you!

And just in case your not sick to death of the Snow Buntings (as if anyone could be) here's a video I took of them this morning. Turn the sound down as there's lots of wave noise and yakking in the background.


Tuesday 8 November 2011

Snow Buntings on Axmouth Beach

I didn't manage to get any photos of the White-rumped Sandpiper yesterday because  unbeknown to me at the time my camera had a flat battery ( too long since I'd last used it, so my own stupid fault!) Fortunately it was recharged and raring to go this morning when Steve found a couple of gorgeous Snow Buntings (male and female) on the beach near the yacht club. The habitat always looks ideal for them here but these are the first since  a single in 2006! They were very confiding as always. Definitely one of my favourites, they're so cute!


The gorgeous male

A close up of that funky bunting bill!

Friday 21 October 2011

Light Box...Yuk! Light Bucket...Wow!

I haven't found the time to blog recently and haven't read many either, so when I tried to open a photo in one the other day I was shocked to find that they now open in a horrible format called Lightbox. Even if you do find it aesthetically pleasing  ( I don't, you may have noticed) its main drawback is that when a photo is opened (clicked on) it just appears the same size, which is of little use if the image is meant to be viewed larger.  The good news is it can now be disabled in the settings menu. I've done mine, which would be useful if I ever posted anything!

While I'm ranting here's another thing to rant about, the continued despoiling of  my beloved Seaton,  once a backwater extraordinare! Yes, it was a bit run down but that's what gave it its charm and kept it quiet. Now the once peaceful birding sites along the river valley are major 'leisure' honey-pots and the town centre is being swallowed up under the monstrosity which is the new Tesco 'Eco-store'  whatever that is!? They have more lights in the new carpark than the average airport. Today I was very saddened indeed to see that yet more premeditated dendrocide is on the cards.

Here's the proposed victim. It beggars belief why when Harbour Road is about 95% tree free they should decide to stick a zebra crossing here. This tree is a lovely flowering cherry which used to really brighten up the place in the spring. It's also the favourite singing perch of a local blackbird. Why a crossing here anyway, nowhere near the new store? One side of the road's houses and on the other side Harcombe Trailer Centre, a few houses and a Bradfords Builder's merchants. Obviously of  the greatest attraction to pedestrians! Don't know what the grey pole in the foreground is going to be yet, it's wired for electrics, it's right opposite our house, ooh, I can't wait to find out.

On a brighter note I thoroughly enjoyed a patch tick yesterday morning, a Richard's Pipit in fields near to Beer Cemetery. I'd seen one on the deck a couple of years ago on Bryher but hadn't heard one call until yesterday, so now I know what to listen out for. I find you can never really get to grips with a bird's call until you've actually witnessed it coming from the bird itself, if you know what I mean.

 A Richard's Pipit is in there somewhere to the left of Gav. 
You should be able to enlarge this if I've successfully disabled Lightbox.

I was disappointed not to be able to go to the Scillies again this year because I couldn't get the week I wanted off work. To take my mind off it a bit I took the money it would have cost me and bought this.

I might be able to spot the odd Eagle out at sea with this!
It's an 8" Newtonian  reflector on a Dobsonian base also known as a Dob or a 'light bucket'  for obvious reasons!

Twenty or so years ago I was really keen on astronomy, I had a really crappy little scope back then and could only dream of getting something decent. Scopes were very, very expensive. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered just how affordable they are these days, easily cheaper  than spending a week sleeping rough on the Scillies!

The best thing about astronomy is that the vast majority of the things which you might want to see aren't ever going anywhere and the only limiting factor in seeing them is how long you can live for! :-( The time and distances involved are simply mind-blowing!

Jupiter's been showing well recently and nearing opposition on October 29th meaning it's only a mere 369 million miles from earth. Close enough to digiscope it I'd say.

With three of the four largest moons showing

I was amazed how much detail I could see at 200x.

Crop of above photo.

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Three Years and Counting...Well, Only Just!

On the 15th of September this blog was three, yes, THREE years old. I really can't believe I've been finding enough material to keep going so long. I was going to put on an anniversary post but circumstances prevented it (eldest off to university amongst other things)  and since then I've kinda got out of the habit. I've still got a few things from the summer that I really want to get on here (as a personal record for me as much as anything) and although I've not been out and about that much recently I've a few bits and bob to talk about. I've actually had two lifers over the last few weeks, the first being the Semi-palmated Sandpiper that was found on patch a week last Saturday. I didn't see it until it had been around for a whole three days! How slack is that? I was due in work when it was first found and the next day I went to Burpham in West Sussex with Bun and Nick to spend over five hours standing by a field. What fun that was! ;-) I finally caught up with the Semi-P on the estuary on the Monday and got reasonable scope views. It  was never near enough for decent photos, but you don't need to see any from me coz they're plastered all over the internet! This Sunday Bun and me had another shot at Pallid Harrier ( the bird we didn't see at Burpham), this time much nearer home near Cheddar in Somerset. We we're successful this time but still had to wait nigh on three hours! The bird was first spotted on the horizon by a famous Dawlish birder, not often seen 'off-patch' (nice to meet you again). However, for some reason Bun and me were the only ones to set off to look for it over the hill it had disappeared behind (only about a kilometre away, if that.) We were rewarded with superb views as it flew almost directly over our heads. I think most birders saw it later in the day at the same place, when they eventually made the effort! ;-)


Semi-palmated Sandpiper
You've seen the rest, now see the best!

We also made a visit to see the Sabine's Gulls and Grey Phalarope at Exmouth  beach, leaving it a bit late, (6 days or so) so that when we arrived there was only one Sabine's Gull left. They were unusually flighty and after we'd been there about five minutes they were gone. I took a few lame photos of these too, actually  I kind of like the Grey Phalarope ones even though it's distant.

Sabine's Gull

Grey Phalarope, doing what they do best.

A few photos from Black Down, Cheddar, not featuring the Pallid Harrier, which was way too quick for me.

The bird had been reported showing by the trig. point, so most of the birders there stood right on it. Nothing like making yourself blend in!

This made me smile. A photographer with netting draped over is enormous camera making it look like a small cannon from a distance. But not as much as this.....

Don't ask me what this was all about! 
The things you see while scanning the countryside for a raptor. Yes, it's two blokes with animal heads on being photographed by a young lady. Art project? I hope so!
If you don't like Spiders...

Look away now!! Whoops, too late!
We have a plague of these in the garden at the moment, seems to be a web attached to just about everything. This one's on the wheelie bin.

Cats aren't good for birds, we all know that, but they do have their uses. My cat Fidget used to kill the odd bird and I was always a bit upset by this, but he killed about ten times (probably more like a hundred times) more rodents. Unfortunately ( or fortunately if your one of those cat haters) he was run over a few months back and since then I can't really feed the birds, because if I do this happens.

This one's just a baby! They even get on the hanging feeders.
I don't know what I'll do in the winter when the birds really need to be fed. 

Finally, I haven't completely lost my ability to take a decent photo, so after all those lame efforts here's one I got right.

A Whimbrel

I'll endeavour to not leave it another month until my next post! :-)

PS: Anyone who read his when I first posted it will have noticed the deliberate mistake. What can I say but...whoops! You'd think with a master's degree to my name I would at the very least have the ability to count from eight to eleven sorted out.

Wednesday 7 September 2011


One from the archives that I just haven't found the time to slot in. I found these in Morganhayes Wood in the middle of June. I see them most years, in fact I always smell them first. I have a particularly acute sense of smell which I'm not altogether sure is a blessing, however it's not needed to smell this beast!

Phallus impudicus or the Common Stinkhorn.... Say what you see.... and smell!

Even though I've seen loads of these over the years these were the first ones I've seen with all the gleba ( greeny brown smelly goo or more correctly spore mass) in situ still.

Mmm... lovely. Still, flies love it because it smells like a rotting corpse. 
They walk on the gleba and carry it off on their little tootsies to spread around the woods.

 It's all in the name.
Botanist John Gerard called it the "pricke mushroom" or "fungus virilis penis effigie" in his General Historie of Plants of 1597, and John Parkinson referred to it as "Hollanders workingtoole" or "phallus hollandicus" ( Hmm...Not sure if that's meant as an insult or compliment!).Linnaeus (1640) was responsible for the fairly obvious genus name. Its specific epithet, impudicus, is derived from the Latin for "shameless" or "immodest".

Old specimens without the gleba.

Anyone interested in fungi has probably heard the story of Henrietta Darwin (Charles Darwin's erotophobic daughter) and her one woman crusade to rid the local woods of the fungus.

In our native woods there grows a kind of toadstool, called in the vernacular The Stinkhorn, though in Latin it bears a grosser name. The name is justified, for the fungus can be hunted by the scent alone; and this was Aunt Etty's great invention. Armed with a basket and a pointed stick, and wearing special hunting cloak and gloves, she would sniff her way round the wood, pausing here and there, her nostrils twitching, when she caught a whiff of her prey; then at last, with a deadly pounce, she would fall upon her victim, and poke his putrid carcass into her basket. At the end of the day's sport, the catch was brought back and burnt in the deepest secrecy on the drawing-room fire, with the door locked; because of the morals of the maids

Gwen Raverat (1952). Period piece: A Cambridge childhood.

A couple of things always puzzle me when I read this, firstly, if  'the maids' were in fact that innocent  why protect them from seeing the  fungus because surely they wouldn't have any idea what it resembled would they? Secondly, what strange behaviour to take the stinkhorns home and lock herself in the drawing room with them. They are very delicate and could easily have been squashed/flattened in situ. "The lady doth protest too much, methinks " comes to mind .... I can't help wondering if she lined them up and admired them!?