Thursday, 31 December 2009


The start of 2010 brings to a close the first six months since I sold my business and set out on a journey to turn my passion for birds and nature into a sustainable occupation. I have reaffirmed my belief that the opportunities exist if you have the character, resilience and determination to go and seek them out. Casting a glance back over the last six months I am pleased with the progress so far with notable milestones such as:

- securing part time work with Birdguides as part of their news team.
- having freelance work published online several times.
- becoming the Newcastle Journal's birding blogger.
- securing a place in a large seabird & cetacean survey project.
- creating and selling two products including the Bird North East Calendar 2010.

So what of next year? Well, there are a number of ornithological projects in the mix including two excellent web based opportunities that I have begun to discuss with potential partners. I have agreed to become an author again for Birds in Northumbria. I will as always be looking for opportunities to write and get published in a variety of places.
I finished my county list on 183 species this year, well down on my best but reasonable considering my other commitments, next year I intend to aim for a self-found county list, though I've had little time to cobble together a target (suggestions welcome).
I'm giving this blog a little revamp too so you may find a few changes over the coming days.
So, it only remains to wish everyone a Happy and hopefully bird-filled 2010, I hope my Homo Sapiens List gets some serious stick next year, although I may add a twist to that too.

Best Wishes


Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Cracking Nutshells

This week has offered a little taste of the incredible energy and efforts that go on behind the scenes when a 'mega' gets reported and it certainly gets the adrenalin pumping. First up Christmas Day I got a call from a fellow member of the team alerting me to an image that had been uploaded that would have been a huge bird if the ID was correct. Several opinions later and it all came to nothing but dashing upstairs to log on and check it out gave almost the same rush that we have all experienced in the field when your heading for a big one.
Tonight we had one of those sightings that split opinion, a Nutcracker, inland (in Worcestershire) two days old, single observer and no images. When I saw the three red !!! ping up and the species name in the box I immediately had mixed feelings. A few emails later and some background from the observer and the record goes out.
I noticed the vultures were up quickly from their roosts on Birdforum looking for bones to pick over, it would be tremendous to see the bird re-found in the area tomorrow to stop the squawkers in their tracks.
With single observers and time lag it is impossible to be absolute but in this instance the observers responses to my questioning were credible and assured, let's hope its the first of a few in the continued cold spell that would herald a superb start to the new decade wouldn't it?

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Raptor Research

This link to the English Language version of some very interesting research on migratory Lesser Spotted Eagle makes grim reading. I've kept an open mind on wind farms in particular but it appears to be more an more apparent that they are not the right solution in areas that are used by large migratory birds of prey, the long standing issues at Altamount in California being the prime example.

Monday, 28 December 2009

When needs become mass purchases a small industry is not far off - Ian Wallace 1981.

Prophetic words from a great bird artist and a wonderful storyteller. Thirty years later that industry is here and self-sustaining. The pursuit of birds must contribute a significant amount in any given year to our economy. I tried to find out online just how much for this post but unlike the US where the Wildlife & Fish Service deliver a 'State of the Nation' type analysis regularly I couldn't find much for the UK that drew together all the various strands of what we do and how we spend our money, optics, travel, information, communication, books etc. We should know because it matters to those for whom birds don't matter, as the old saying goes, 'Money talks'.
Look at the hunting lobby as an example, well organised, they regularly trot out the pound signs to demonstrate how much of a contribution they make to the economy and use it to justify certain projects such as road creation across Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or when campaigning on policy issues such as laws on predator control, licences etc.
I did manage to find out a little about you though which I thought worth sharing. You may or may not be surprised to learn that you are a key target market for many commercial and non-commercial organisations who are now using sophisticated advertising techniques guided by specialist marketing and advertising companies.

Bird-watching is one of the UK’s most popular leisure pursuits with almost 500,000 people taking part on a regular basis (Source : TGI 2009) 250,000 of whom regularly access birding content online.

And you wondered why you couldn't get in the hide at Titchwell.

This is who they think we are

Highly educated – 80% have a degree or international equivalent.
Affluent – 20% earn more than £75K per annum
Young to mid-aged – 78% are under 50 years old

There might be a few eyebrows raised at the last one if the average age of my local bird club is anything to go by.
Why I am blogging this? I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to try and make a living from what I enjoy the most. I'm trying to understand how best to do this, what and where the opportunities lie and how best to take advantage of them. Understanding the 'industry' that is birding as we slip into the second decade of the 21st century is therefore valuable to me and possibly to a few others out there trying to do the same. As we end this year and decade like many I want to stand back and see what I've achieved, if anything, and start thinking about how and where I go from here to build on it but that's for another post, in a day or two.

Meadow Slipit

Sunshine and time to use it are often not in synchronicity during the winter months so I took advantage of an hour late afternoon after we had been out as a family to Newbiggin to try and make the most of a bright calm afternoon.
Newbiggin still has several Mediterranean Gull floating about, you could pick the translucent primaries out with the naked eye as they chased about the bay in the early afternoon sun.
I headed back to QE2 as I didn't want to go too far. I was a little surprised when I arrived to find some competition as two other local lens were strolling about the foreshore waving their Canons about. It has to be said that when I arrived most of the birds were behind them on the water but then Keith Reeder and Mark Mowbray probably wouldn't mind me saying they are photographers first and birders second.
With the light coming from the south west I tried to concentrate on the small stuff, four Meadow Pipit and a male Pied Wagtail were fairly confiding as a result of the cold snap. I made the mistake of forgetting about the ice as I attempted to get between them and the sun and an inadvertent step on a slope resulted in me getting a good layer of goose shit on my back and arm and a wrist that is starting ache tonight. Luckily the camera stayed clean and I'm hoping neither Keith or Mark were quick enough to catch me on my arse. It seems to have been the day for taking a tumble. Was it worth it? You judge.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Andalucia - Day 2 La Campina - Sierra Sur

Taking in the impressive views from my room’s small balcony as dawn cast its thin light over the muted winter creams and buffs of the rounded hills surrounding Montellano the tinkling song of a nearby Serin encouraged me to hurry down and start the day’s birding.
With seven pairs of eyes in our bus, the journey through the La Campina area produced a number of additional species to those seen on the first day. A single White Stork standing sentinel-like atop a huge nest topped pylon and brief views of a flying Black-winged Kite were the highlights.
After collecting a local guide we moved off the main roads onto dirt tracks that wound between huge empty fields and areas of regimented Olive trees to look for our first major targets Great Bustard and Little Bustard. As we approached our first stop we could see at least two Red Kite moving across fields ahead of us, they and another were in attendance throughout our stop at this location as were up to nine Raven.
A car-sized puddle held a single Green Sandpiper that flew as we approached and later a small group of Linnet arrived to drink. Within five minutes our guide located a small group of Great Bustard huddled in tall grass at the edge of a line of Olive trees. Views of this party were distant, as we moved on three Eurasian Curlew lifted from between lines of Olives and the first of what was to be many Black Redstart put in an appearance as we passed by some farm buildings.

A few kilometres further and a almost identical field of low Olive trees produced an incredible flock of over 100 Stone Curlew at first lifting off in twos and threes before moving off into an adjacent ploughed field and back again, the occasional ‘kurr-llie’ calls resonating around the otherwise silent land. Crested Lark lifted from field edge to furrow as our minibus moved further and the razor sharp eyes of one of the group picked out the one and only Hen Harrier, a ringtail, of the trip. Only minutes later and we also had Marsh Harrier on our trip list as a female/immature drifted over.
As we moved slowly along the lines of Olive Trees one of the guides suddenly picked out a Great Bustard perhaps 200m away.

Great Bustard

We swung the van around 90° and stopped perhaps 20metres from the edge of the field. Here we were able to watch a group of 10-15 Great Bustard for some time engaged in the early stages of display, posturing as they strolled regally back and forth.

Great Bustard

Red-legged Partridge added to the scene before we had a superb flypast by two groups of three Black-bellied Sandgrouse. A short while later most of the group connected with a further 10-12 of this species again in flight whilst others tried in vain to stalk the Stone Curlew for close up pictures.

Stone Curlew, (record shots)

Our next stop in contrast to the steppe was the Lantejuela Natural Reserve. Blackcap and a confiding Little Owl were quickly noted as were large numbers of Mallard, Northern Shoveler and a single Little Grebe. Two to three Cetti’s Warbler fired off their explosive song from the surrounding vegetation; Spanish Sparrow, Greenfinch and Song Thrush were amongst the other passerines noted as walked around the reserve. Three Black-winged Stilt, adults and a 1st-winter produced perfect photographic opportunities as they picked from the surface of the mirror calm main lagoon.

Black-winged Stilt (juvenile)

Black-winged Stilt (adult)

A Zitting Cisticola offered excellent open views in a dry area as did several ground-feeding Common Chiffchaff.
We headed back to take our picnic lunch at the entrance to the reserve pausing to take pictures of the Little Owl enjoying the afternoon sun. Lunch was disturbed by two soaring kite, one Red Kite and one Black Kite allowing a great comparison of these two species as they circled together nearby.

Black Kite

We settled back down to eat when another raptor came in from the opposite direction, this time a magnificent pale phase Booted Eagle that nonchalantly circled almost over our heads before catching sight of something interesting and dropping into a hard stoop into nearby woodland and away north.

Booted Eagle
Other wildlife was available to those not purely interested in birds. Including this Spanish Terrapin which was joined by a second as we re-traced our steps.

Spanish Terrapin
Our afternoon destination in complete contrast was a 6km walk along Via Verde de la Sierra ending at Penón de Zaframagón.

Via Verde is an old railway line, complete with several cool tunnels, that curves around thick green hilly forest scrub of Holm and Cork Oak. Sardinian Warbler called and darted across the path every 20metres, an Iberian race Green Woodpecker yaffled nearby. Suddenly low over the treetops a Bonelli’s Eagle carrying a dismembered Rabbit glided toward us, 20metres above our head, passing above us it circled briefly before being lost over the trees. A few kilometres further we were further graced by this increasingly rare species as two adult and a juvenile jostled above the forested crags on the approach to Penón de Zaframagon.

We had expected Bonelli's to be much more difficult to connect with as numbers in Spain, as in many other countries across the WP have reduced dramatically. Our guides suggested that from 700-800 pairs 15 years ago there were perhaps as few as 55 pairs left. The reasons for the decline appear to be poorly understood.
Griffon Vulture soared in the afternoon thermals in increasing numbers as we approached the impressive rock formation that provides ideal vulture nesting habitat. By the time we reached the visitor centre perhaps 60-70 soared in a huge kettle.

Bonelli's Eagle
Rock Sparrow and Black-bellied Dipper were the pick of the passerines, whilst Blackcap was the commonest species here, the constant ‘tack’ calls never far from earshot. Several Spanish Wild Ibex on the lower scree slopes added a different dimension to the trip which ended with some short video presentations in the visitor centre of nesting Bonelli’s Eagle and Griffon Vulture as well as a hair raising Fox and Ibis chase sequence well worth seeing if you have the opportunity. Part of the group even managed a calling Eagle Owl as they waited for the minibus to ferry them back to the hotel. Others in the group saw Ring Ouzel and Blue Rock Thrush at this site which I failed to connect with.
10 species of raptor during the day was a good haul ( we also saw Common Kestrel and Sparrowhawk) but the superb views of both the Booted and Bonelli's Eagles was the obvious highlight of a busy day in some interesting habitat.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Boxing Day Birds

A morning to clear the head, cold, ice and the perfect cure for the excesses of Christmas. I had noticed yesterday that the Wansbeck is frozen from the weir to Castle Island except a small area opposite the north bank. I headed there this morning in the hope of some close Goldeneye but although there were several present they were further west and the vantage points are all heavy with Hawthorn. After checking the Spital Burn for Jack Snipe I moved onto Newbiggin Golf Course with low expectations, the ice crunching underfoot as I went. Whilst there was nothing to hold the attention of anyone purely interested in rarity there was a good range of species.

Pied Wagtail
A couple of Pied Wagtail crept around one of the tethered horses and I counted over 20 Meadow Pipit.
Meadow Pipit
With the tide high there was a few waders, Redshank, Oystercatcher,Turnstone, Curlew and a couple of Dunlin amongst 50+ Golden Plover.


Golden Plover

A Kestrel watched proceedings from one corner of the old football pitch and a male Sparrowhawk dashed out at the Mipit from another corner.

Common Kestrel

Next up I headed for QE2 hoping for some unfrozen water and I was rewarded with a small patch next to the car park and a clear channel running south that was chocabloc as we say in the north east of duck, swan, gulls etc.

Common Gull

QE2 under Ice and the clear channel.
A single drake Goldeneye dived repeatedly a few metres out in the channel giving me a chance to try and get one or two images.

Common Goldeneye (male)

Common Goldeneye (male)

About 60 Wigeon pottered around the ice trying out some of the moves from last night's Strictly.
Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Andalucia - Day 1

Last week's trip to Andalucia was a 'familiarisation' trip designed to stimulate inland tourism around the area of Seville in Andalucia. The organising company had lined up an international group of birders, tour leaders and journalists (four UK, four Dutch, one German, one US) to show what Seville had to offer for birding/nature tourism. Over a series of posts I'll describe our visit and show some of the images I took whilst there.

Day 1.
Arriving at Malaga Airport, some three hours south of our evening accommodation we were met by Sergio Asian one of two local guides that stayed with us throughout the week. Trevor Blake the Field Trip Organiser from Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club arrived on the same Easyjet flight; together we noted our first species in the airport car park, White Wagtail and House Sparrow.
The journey north through the hills behind Malaga, added Yellow-legged Gull. As we drove on through agricultural land and rolling hills criss-crossed with lines of Olive Trees we had a few roadside sightings typical of the habitat including small parties of Goldfinch and Common Kestrel. Common Stonechat of the rubicola race prominent on fences and tall roadside weeds, small tight groups of Jackdaw (nominate monedula)appeared around telegraph poles and buildings and several Starling (sp) were noted. By the time we stopped mid-afternoon for Tapas in a small traditional Tapas bar in a village nestled beneath imposing rocky outcrops near Campillos we swiftly confirmed the Starlings as Spotless Starling. Collared Dove and the first of several Red-backed Shrike were also noted in this area. A brief look at a small flock of Serin as we stopped for directions wetted our appetite for more.
We arrived at our first accommodation ‘La Posada de Montellano’ with maybe an hour of light at most left. After check in we took the little time left to wander a few hundred metres away from Montellano toward the large wooded area that lies to the north east. Our reward for avoiding the temptation of sleep was, first one, then two Griffon Vulture over the edge of the wood.

Sunset from Montellano.

Monday, 21 December 2009

A.T. At Work In Andalucia

Images courtesy John Van der Treyst

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Andalucia 2009

A familiarisation trip to Andalucia and some of the inland areas around Seville in December 2009 provided some great birding and photographic opportunities. I have created a series of posts about each day of our visit.

Andalucia Day 1
Andalucia Day 2
Andalucia Day 3
Andalucia Day 4

The Quest To Find The Slender-billed Curlew

Running through the mythologies of tribes and cultures in all corners of our planet are common themes, threads of inspiration that bind us across oceans, deserts and even time. One of the most recurrent threads is that of the quest, the search for something precious that requires a journey into the unknown of foreign lands and the courage to seek what has been lost or not yet discovered.
Whether it is a Golden Fleece, the Holy Grail or a Lost World, Jason, Sinbad or the Knights of the Round Table the quest is an unfulfilled and integral part of our psyche. You may think that in the twenty first century there is no place for the quest and it has been consigned to history and Hollywood but not so, for whisper it quietly a new quest has begun this very year, one that needs courage and the unswerving belief that all is never lost as well as a decent set of optics and a good knowledge of Numenius biometrics.
The Quest to find The Slender-billed Curlew has begun and across the world heroes are girding their loins and polishing their Zeiss in readiness. Billed as the ‘Last Big Push’ this winter sees the beginning of a globally coordinated effort to find evidence that may help to bring back Slender-billed Curlew from the edge of the abyss of extinction.
The first ever coordinated search of the potential non-breeding grounds of the Slender-billed Curlew is now underway. For about a decade there have been no verified records of this Critically Endangered Bird, the rarest in the Western Palearctic. The search is focussed on areas where the Slender-billed Curlew may winter or undertake autumn moult so that the birds may be present long enough to deploy the international catching and satellite tagging team (there are four tags available, including three funded by AEWA).

The search includes some level of coverage in more than fifty former and potential range states from Morocco to the subcontinent, with countries, such as Greece, establishing national Slender-billed Curlew Working Groups to facilitate the search.

A Slender-billed Curlew Expedition Fund, based on contributions from the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme/British Birdwatching Fair, is supporting searches this midwinter by national teams in Algeria and international teams in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. Libya has raised its own funds for a search. Sudan is covered thanks to funding from SOF, BirdLife in Sweden. Funds are being sought for Djibouti and Somaliland.

International volunteers are assisting IWC teams in Italy, Greece and Turkey among other countries. Every middle-eastern country is also being searched, as are India (especially Gujarat), Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The Croatian Institute of Ornithology is coordinating a spring search of the whole Adriatic and CMS/AEWA may feature an international Slender-billed Curlew during World Migratory Bird Day on 8-9 May. The Slender-billed Curlew Expedition Fund also hopes to contribute to some searches for potential autumn moult sites around the Aral, Caspian, Azov and Black Seas.

The International Waterbird Census (IWC) provides the main framework for the search but to ensure coverage of this huge area, the search depends on international volunteer bird identification experts, well equipped with telescopes and digital photographic, video and sound recording equipment. Such birders may coordinate with the IWC counters, mount their own expeditions or simply take time during other fieldwork, or holidays to suitable areas, to keep an eye out for the bird.
A Slender-billed Curlew identification leaflet, designed for taking into the field is available in English, German, Russian Kazakhstan, Bulgarian, Greek , Italian, French, Arabic, Persian, Croatian and Romanian. Videos and sound recordings of the bird from its last regular wintering site in Morocco are also available.

Any fresh report of a potential Slender-billed Curlew will be assessed within 24 hours by the SBC International Verification Panel and the national bird rarities committee where such exists. If there is insufficient evidence to confirm identification a bird photographer and sound recordist will travel to collect more information as necessary. The aim is to deploy the Slender-billed Curlew catching and satellite tagging teams within 48 hours of a report.

In September, a Slender-billed Curlew Workshop, held during the International Wader Study Group conference in the Netherlands, discussed four draft protocols on: search methods (with involvement of Wetlands International and WIWO, Foundation Working Group International Wader And Waterfowl Research), catching/handling/tagging (British Trust for Ornithology), ecological observations (RSPB) and captive breeding (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust).

Even if the search is unsuccessful in terms of finding the Slender-billed Curlew, it looks set to provide a number of other long term conservation benefits, including capacity building on bird identification. In other words whilst you may not find the Holy Grail you can still help create a green and pleasant land in which other species have a better chance of living happily ever after. Searchers will also record any other Globally Threatened Birds encountered, such as Sociable Lapwing, Northern Bald Ibis, Siberian Crane and Red-breasted Goose and also the threatened steppe-breeding subspecies of Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata sushkini and Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus alboaxillaris, which can be confused with Slender-billed Curlew.

You may never wear the hat as well as Indiana Jones but if you are interested in participating in the search, or may be able to help narrow the search by submitting any past (possible) Slender-billed Curlew records, please contact the Chair of the Slender-billed Working Group For more details visit:

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Andalucian Outakes

Whilst I work my way through the 700 images I've come back with from Andalucia and write trip reports and action some of the tasks that were created as a result of the trip I thought I'd fill some space with a few 'outtakes' from the trip. Consider them a challenge, winner can do a 'guest' blog post on this blog on any birding subject of their choice.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Only Large Gulls & Englishmen..

Go out in the North Sea in December.

I've spent the last couple of days in the company of Martin Kitching & Ross Ahmed conducting some surveys along transect lines in the North Sea off the Northumberland Coast.
Yesterday was a bright day with a light swell for December and perfect viewing conditions till late afternoon fog descended. Today was a little different, more cloud cover and a much bigger sea made for more challenging conditions.
Statistically speaking what we have done so far is a drop in the ocean if you'll excuse the pun but it has been interesting to note that the majority, perhaps 90%, of the birds we have seen have been of two species Herring Gull and Great Black-backed Gull and the majority of these were in areas that contained trawlers. No real surprises, a few Fulmar, Guillemot and the odd Razorbill. We recorded Atlantic Puffin on both days but only a handful, Northern Gannet on Friday, again only a couple of birds. Today we found 0.5% of the British wintering population of Little Gull, five birds in total, interesting that all these were immature birds. I suspect that next week's birding in Southern Spain might be slightly more productive and a tad warmer.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Calm Before The Storm

Another mild and sunny December day prompted a lunchtime walk with the Tetrad Twins into the scrub north of our garden and along to a gap under two hedgerow oaks where someone has snipped the barbed wire allowing the kids to balance in a death defying display of agility and courage eight inches off the ground. The view north isn't bad either.
One field over, a pristine looking vixen switched between chilling in the breeze, ears bent back and lazily hunting the grassland with the odd pounce here and there. Despite the Fox being downwind and the hysterical giggling from my two tightrope walkers it appeared oblivious to our presence.
Southbound Goldfinch each one tinkling calls seemingly appropriate for the coming season broke the midday silence. A single Sparrowhawk soared eastward over the nearby grain store as the sound of a single shotgun lifted a field of Woodpigeon and pricked up the ears of the Fox and my twins. A small skein of geese (sp) in the hazy eastern sky will have to remain as just a small part of a larger scene too far away for more specific identification.
This could be my last blog for a while as I have eight days work from the next nine. In the past that might have been cause for gloom and a requirement to exercise willpower to stay focused however when the schedule reads:

one day as a small cog in the Birdguides wheel
two days offshore surveying seabirds in the North Sea
five days in Andalucia acquiring familiarisation with that region's birdlife

I think I can be excused the occasional grin that slips out about once every 42 minutes.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Hand-Me Downs?

Common Starling- Elvis Impersonator

Coming home from the school run a few minutes ago we eased up the gentle hill on the west side of the village as the sun eased down behind us. You get a good view south just before you enter our village, on a clear day probably ten miles.
On winter afternoons such as this the skies above the housing estate that stretches south are dotted with micro-flocks of Common Starling, four perhaps five groups of between 10-20 individuals swirling and dipping around the roofs and aerials in a Legoland parody of the bigger roost flocks at sites such as Gretna.
Almost always they come back to the high point of the incline and gather in two tall trees that must give the best view south as they are the tallest feature at that end of the village. They'll sit for a while, chattering and preening, demonstrating why their name is used as a nickname for the mostly female Phillipino workers that gather either side of Star Ferry each weekend in Hong Kong, chattering and preening.
This routine has been going on on winter afternoons all of the twelve years I have lived here. Never more than fifty or sixty strong, it is a scene probably echoed in many towns and villages throughout the country. It has me wondering though whether the trees used are 'handed down' in some way. Are there always individuals from the previous winter who know they offer the best viewing points? Have those trees been used in this way continuously since they were tall enough to be useful? Or is it simpler, are they so obviously the highest point that new individuals would pick them out anyway without any 'guidance' from older birds?
I'm willing to bet that there may be one or two ex-village resident bloggers that can confirm that Starlings have been using those trees in this way for a lot longer than the twelve years I've noticed it.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Probably The Best Conservation Idea Of The Year?

Those of you who come here regularly will know that my favourite bird blog is 10000birds. A three part tag team, two parts Yank with a Brit thrown in the mix, 10000birds is the benchmark by which all other bird blogs are measured. Their net is thrown wide and the content as a result is a stimulating blend of news, opinion, stories and images drawn from across the birding globe. The quality of writing and levels of detail are consistently high across a hugely diverse range of topics.
The conservation ethos that underpins much of what they do and many of the subjects they cover shines through and delivers a uniquely independent,often feisty but always insightful view of many of the most important species conservation challenges facing us today. Check out the Spoon-billed Sandpiper series of posts that represents everything I've just said and provides a clear, balanced and thought provoking resume of one of our most urgent conservation challenges.
Not content with shining light onto many worthy issues they have recently launched a 'Conservation Club' with a twist. First up you have to pay 15 (gbp)-ish for membership and you immediately get a warm feeling from the fact that every penny of that(less the Paypal fee) goes to conservation projects. So passionate are the 10000birds team their not taken a penny (or a cent) in administration fees, pure unadulterated philanthropy driven by a shared concern that not enough is being done and that they and like minded others can make a difference.
It gets even more impressive when you realise that as a perk of joining you get to enter into a year long series of product giveaways of birding related material that the team have been giving to review or have managed to prise from the grasp of publishers, optics companies etc as a contribution to conservation.
The list of giveaways is already extremely impressive with all three Sound Approach books, free membership of WWT, three as yet un-named (they're sure to be good) donations from Birdguides, all in the first two weeks.
So look, its Christmas, its better to give than receive, think how much you're going to spend in the coming weeks on unnecessary garbage that you don't really need and this becomes a no brainer really, go join because it really is the best conservation idea of the year, it will make a difference and you might get something back. Read about it here and here

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Dodgyscoping- 3GS Style

Having only had the Iphone for 48 hours I'm still trying to figure it out but I got excited tonight when I saw this. OK the image isnt brilliant but all those gulls roosting beyond the reach of my 400mm lens might just be doable like this. Watch this space.

A (Not So) Deep & Dark December

Sunshine is infinitely more appreciated in the midst of winter don't you think? A calm, warm, sunny December day brings a much needed lift and a break from the rain and darkness. I took advantage Friday and went west. I stopped at Whittle Dene to see if the Great Northern Diver was a) still present and b) photograph-able; it was there but appeared very wary and kept to the centre of the west reservoir. I went back on the return journey and it had hardly moved.
I had other plans so I didn't sit and wait. Two Common Buzzard came over low during the afternoon visit.
Hawfinch was what I had planned but despite touring a number of past sites I was to be disappointed. A walk along the south side of the river at Allenbanks produced a large mixed flock of woodland birds Nuthatch, Chaffinch, as well as Blue, Great & Coal Tit. I stopped for a while in the dappled light as birds moved all around me, Coal Tits in particular were numerous with at least ten in this flock, mainly ground feeding in leaf litter and bare patches on the steep banked wood floor. Challenging light, fully manual I didn't do too well with much of what I shot ending up in the bin. I added another tit species, this time Willow Tit at Prestwick Carr on the way home as I passed through mainly in the hope of an early flying Short-eared Owl in fantastic light, again not to be.

Great Tit
Coal Tit

Willow Tit
Driving up to Plenmeller & Lanehead provided more soul food, the early afternoon light with that deep quality that seems to accentuate the browns and yellows of the grasses and heather at this time of year and add depth to every colour and shadow. Not so many Pheasant around now, presumably many have served their purpose, although a small number of Red-legged Partridge remain in the area calmly plodding off through tangled undergrowth when the car stops.

Red-legged Partridge
Up on Plenmeller it was quiet apart from a few Red Grouse keeping low in the heather. I had no raptors despite the sunshine and I couldn't find any Black Grouse despite a couple of hours of
checking various locations around the area. Perhaps higher up for the winter.

Red Grouse, female
Over Lanehead I chanced upon another winter flock this time Siskin about 20 strong they moved along a line of Alder. Whilst they allowed close approach the multitude of small branches and their seeming inability to come right out to the edges preferring to be slightly inside the protective cover of the trees left me doing an impromptu aerobics session as alternately stretched and crouched trying to capture a clear shot. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was also still high up feeding in the same area. A third Common Buzzard drifted over the open moorland to the north east.
Bird of the day would have been the single Twite unexpectedly amongst the Siskin flock, but for the small matter of it not been one, at all, no Twiteness, none. It is, as has been pointed out from two counties, a spectacular mistake as its a Redpoll, which of course is why it's feeding with Siskin in an Alder and not on weedy dune in Cleveland with all its mates. I think I need to lie down now.