Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Black Guillemot & Little Auk

The target species for the Serenity Winter Birding Tour leaving Seahouses for The Farnes at 10:00 on Saturday. After the difficult weather skipper Andrew is keen to get back out, at least one Black Guillemot has been lingering around The Farnes and Little Auks should be in plentiful supply after recent northerlies.
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Snow Ticks

As the south basked in near-tropical conditions my day (Saturday) went far from that planned. We live at the bottom of a gentle slope, the last house before the farmland stretches off to the north as far as the eye can see. Add 10.5 inches of snow and the gentle slope may as well be the north face of the Eiger as far as either of our cars are concerned. So after an hour attempting to dig my way off the drive and aim the car in the right direction before enjoying the kind of pointless wheel-spinning session that would have had chaps half my age lavishing praise I give up.
Instead I took the opportunity for a new list, I haven't quite managed to come up with a cool acronym yet based around the 'On Foot From Home In Thick Snow' type theme, though with the snow continuing overnight and into Sunday it's one I may yet get another crack at fairly soon.
I decided out of sheer stupidity that it would be a good morning to climb the highest point nearby, the landscaped, former pit heap. A few birches and alders that might hold passing redpolls and a good visible migration point, perhaps not in near Arctic conditions though.
Still inside the village boundary the first surprise of the morning came in the form of five white shapes flying north fairly low and passing almost overhead, three drake and two female/immature Goosander being not on my radar of expected sightings. Having reached the top of Annapurna the local pit heap I planed a flag and captured the scene.
 I walked down into the mixed woodland alongside the Bothal Burn, crossed the footbridge over the swollen stream and up the other side, a Tawny Owl moved off a few feet into the wood and sat staring at me for a short while before moving on beyond sight. The next mile or so was a hard slog through unbroken snow back to the main road. Due to the lack of traffic I walked to Bothal Pond mainly on the road, a couple of Bullfinch feeding in roadside trees .

Bothal Pond was two thirds frozen, a small wader on the ice was intriguing but avoided more specific ID due to lack of a scope. Several Snipe and a couple of Little Grebe were around the margins. A couple of skeins of Pink-footed Geese moved south-west around this time.

I carried on east to the Longhirst Flash turn, the corner of the field there sporting a burst or a spring of some nature in the corner that was flowing strong and had prevented any snow cover on a 25m patch. It was alive with passerines with 5 Meadow Pipit, 2 Reed Bunting, 10 Starling, several Fieldfares & Redwings and a couple each of Robin & Dunnock. Worth checking for Jack Snipe if the snow cover continues and this patch keeps snow free.Whilst stood peering at this mob, five Whooper Swans flew south noisily calling overhead as they passed.
I walked back along the old railway line between the birches, alders and hawthorn that were filled with small stuff. Bullfinches and Chaffinches low down along the fence, more thrushes lifting along ahead of me. No surprise then to find two Waxwing on some leftover rowan berries and further along a small flock of Siskin.

The walk back along the road was unproductive, enjoying the freshness of the morning I cut through the woods to Bothal village, a small tit flock including a couple of Goldcrest scant reward for the effort. Dropping through the village a Nuthatch called and a Great Spotted Woodpecker surveyed the surrounding snow filled fields from atop a large pine. The Wansbeck was in full spate and the stepping stones were impassable, though a Kingfisher flushed from the bank below my vantage provided a self-found year tick. The uphill walk home added a couple more GSW and a large pale brown raptor in brief, between tree flight, away from me that was most probably a juvenile Common Buzzard.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

New RSPB Scotland Offices

More accustomed to the presence of FTSE100 companies (there are 12 of them with offices there), Edinburgh Business Park is about to become the plush new home of RSPB Scotland. The RSPB has signed a 10 year lease on nearly 12,000sq ft at Lochside View in the prestigous development that is one of Edinburgh's main business hubs. Perhaps in the current climate the RSPB were able to drive a hard bargain on rents and a move to such luxurious surroundings makes good sense though it may raise a few eyebrows with those who feel they should be spending more on conservation programmes than luxury offices.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Mongolian Bird Photo Contest

Just picked up a link from Axel Braunlich's fantastic Birding Mongolia site announcing the winner of the Mongolian Bird Photo Contest 2009 if you're not busy and not out in the field (Tom) go check them out there are some cracking images. Whilst not a big fan of Falconery, the Kazak falconers with Golden Eagles on horseback is just incredible and Benjamin Metzger's Relict Gull is eye-catching too.

It Doesn't Get Any Better

Allegedly, I say that as I haven't actually seen it with my own eyes, this blog, me in fact, has been quoted on the back cover of that fine outstanding publication Reservoir Cats - The Book (available from someone called Lulu). Whilst I can understand that my description of them/he/she may have appealed to the ego quite why they would want to add a quote from someone as insignificant as me is beyond me, perhaps it was meant to be ironic. I won't mention the quote, go and buy the book to see, I'm thinking I might get me mam one (as Cheryl might say), or maybe not.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Common as Muck

With the weather putting off any serious birding this last few days I've been concentrating on trying to search through some of the species available to look for something different, with it has to be said differing degrees of success. At QE2 I took the chance to look more closely at some of the dozen or so roosting Cormorant to see if I could pick out any continental or sinensis individuals. Waiting for a horizontal head posture so best to measure the gular pouch angle isn't the most thrilling of birding experiences I could recommend but nice when you are able to sort them out later and confirm the presence of two races.

 sinensis or 'continental Cormorant
juvenile carbo Cormorant

This morning after c.100 Waxwings behind Woodhorn Motors but now feeding on Rowans alongside the Portland Estate, I headed up to East Chevington for another 'listen' for the singing Cetti's Warbler, knowing it was a longshot in the weather, I gave it an hour without so much as peep. Cresswell still held a single Long-tailed Duck and female Common Scoter in the northeast corner though I never left the car in a heavy shower.
Three flocks and over 600 Jackdaws later I had two birds showing signs of a white collar, neither was particularly prominent and the underparts looked too dark for nominate race monedula Jackdaws.

Waxwing in grey morning gloom

I stopped by QE2 again as I headed home to do the Yorkshire Puddings and a picture I saw on Tristan Reid's Binocularface site, niggled at me when I saw this lone Canada Goose. It was the dark throat stripe that caught my attention, not unlike the bird Tristan had highlighted as spending several years at Caerlaverock. Having consulted it would appear that perhaps 1in10 of the bog standard, local pond type or Atlantic Canada Goose to give it it's Sunday name show this dark throat stripe, not something I can honestly say I've noticed, though if the weather continues like this you might find me counting Canada Goose throat stripes from the safety of a warm car.

On a Lighter Note

This should add a certain amount of excitement to entering hides up and down the country, Id be most interested in seeing any examples of good field sketches as a result of any observation.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Straight Talk

Let's ban Springwatch and Autumnwatch. Can we get Birdwatch taken out of distribution and can everyone un-subscribe from Birdguides and hand their pagers back to RBA. No Attenborough repeats on the Beeb; Collins should be forced to stop the printing presses and any remaining copies destroyed. Any mention of birds or nature should be removed from the National Curriculum before it encourages the younger generations to take up birding. Binocular ownership should be licensed and only to those who have can prove 20 years plus dedicated birding with at least 350+ consecutive days in the field in every year. And whatever happens don't tell anybody if you find anything decent, except your mates of course, just in case somebody who hasn't seen one before turns up to see it.

All logical conclusions to the current anti-mainstream birding stance seemingly being taken by, erm, experienced ex-mainstream birders who have seen it done it and bought the stupid t-shirt. Why? Oh, its in the best interest of the birds isn't it? Yes, of course let's go back to having no one interested in birds or their conservation apart from the local vicar and his wife. Fantastic, no crowds of part-time RSPB members cluttering up the reserves and hides and getting in our way.

Sorry what's that? Less birders and less RSPB members equals less reserves. Look I don't need an expensive breakfast and a soft toy shop anyway, I'm happy on my patch just finding stuff for myself (and my mates).... No they would never build on my patch, all the birders..., Oh, well... er, me I'd be up in arms, I'd stop them.

I'll avoid any ambiguity. THE WELFARE OF THE BIRD COMES FIRST but you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are good reasons to suppress. Private property, access, other sensitive breeding species, schedule 1 breeding etc. but 'because somebody might behave badly' in my mind simply isn't one of them. If somebody behaves badly, gets too close, plays tapes, trashes habitat, by all means call them out, give them grief, make the point, educate the ignorant SOB's but don't stop getting news of birds out, don't stop encouraging more people to get involved. The more people out there enjoying birding the more chance some of them will get interested in doing more than pointing their bins and looking. The more money our conservation organisations might have access to through memberships and donations and product sales.
Yes other people are frustrating, yes they get in the way, yes they can be incredibly stupid, sure some don't know their arse from their elbow and some never will. Plus ca change plus c'est la meme choses.

In the same way that many on the current birding scene have got fed up with chasing around the country after scarce and rare, many of the current crop of little listers will reach an epiphany somewhere down the line and realise that the appreciation and enjoyment of the bird, the moment and the place is far more important than the tick or the crippling picture. So stop being so fucking elitist and smug and give them a hand getting there when they need it. Instead of whining and bitching, offer to take one of them out for a morning, show them how it's done properly, be a mentor rather than a moaner.

As for all this about 'not serving an apprenticeship' what self-serving rubbish, do you really believe that? Ask yourself at which point in your birding 'career' had you 'served your apprenticeship' and how many rare birds that someone else had found had you managed to twitch before this mysterious 'apprenticeship' was complete? How much did you really know about your first non-self found BB rare or were you just  so excited you were like a Rabbit on speed trying to get better views? The only way that those individuals who have not managed to attain 5th dan black-belt in bird identification can learn is to get out and see them and more often than not this means other people's birds. The mortals, the ordinary birders who have jobs and who aren't lucky enough to have daily access to great patches just aren't going to find enough of their own birds to satisfy the desire for something new, something different.

Of course actually doing something positive is far tougher than just jumping on the old bandwagon and knocking anyone and everyone who doesn't conform to your high standards. It means talking to people who might be struggling with the concept of moult or who think an acro is something you get for bad behaviour. Being positive might mean that you have to stop slagging off Birdforum, you'll be familiar with that site, that's the one you visit and read as an unamed guest regularly but haven't contributed anything to because, well you know, their all just a bunch of idiots (Martin Garner, Martin Collinson, Steve Dudley, Tom Mckinney, Gavin Haig, Jos Straford); say the names slowly, google the ones you haven't heard of and marvel at how they freely give of themselves to contribute in a positive way despite their years of experience.

And last but by no means least, I've got a DSLR, my lens is not the biggest but not all photographers or birders behave badly, many put the welfare of the bird first, don't lump everyone with a lens into the lowest common denominator it demonstrates a certain lack of critical thinking, reasoning and ability to think for yourself.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The Post I Should Have Posted Yesterday

Desert Wheatears don't come along every day and now almost everyone has a blog (RIP Stringer) if you don't have the post out that night your yesterday's news, or tomorrows chip papers. So the day before the day I twitched the Wheatear, this one, if you need a refresher, I had headed to Newbiggin. Funnily enough with Water Pipit and the outside chance of a rare Wheatear in mind. Snapping Sanderling is one thing but trying to track the Rock Pipits is an altogether different fairground waltzer with the kids in tow. I made a few half-hearted attempts and it wasn't till I got home and banged them on the screen that I found this looking back at me.

"Those legs are just wrong" was my first thought. So what is it? I started going through the features, sturdy bill, eye ring, dark malar stripe flaring into the neck, dark brown breast streaks on a white ground coalescing into longitudinal stripes, white tail sides, nice white median covert tips and off white greater coverts AND PALE LEGS. I went and had a cup of tea and read some books (though not Alstrom if Santa is reading), and looked at lots of pretty pictures on the internet from Birdguides, then Japan and Korea. I sized up my options, took the 'phone a friend' (two and several emails). I'd already noted the lack of a super and the smudgyness of the breast streaking was just way too much when comparing with pictures on-line, Stewart hammered another nail in it's coffin noting the 'dark lores' and by the time Jimmy Steele posed the question 'call?' the almost unanimous conclusion was littoralis or Scandinavian Rock Pipit with extremely pale legs. Perhaps one of the few littoralis that could be identified to race at this time of year reasonably confidently (away from Scandinavia)?
Birds like this may be fairly run of the mill to the monster rare hunters but when that japonicus finally does come my way, it'll have been birds like this that have me ready for it.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

"Somewhere North Of Newcastle"

About 50 miles, though I won't allow Mr Riddell's poor grasp of northern geography to detract from the enjoyment my children, 'Lucky' Andy and I derived this afternoon from the smart male Desert Wheatear that was eventually reported today via BBC Autumnwatch and finally Birdguides.
With my last one only managing a three quarter tick (some of us are honest Lee) due to the lack of a tail, having missed the last one in 2008 and it being probably the last decent local twitch in 2010 it was an easy decision. A picnic was hurriedly thrown into the car as were the kids and off we went.

We arrived to a single observer, ex-county recorder Mike S Hodgson, filling his boots and camera card. By the time we left another former county recorder, an existing one and most of the Farne Islands wardens who had obviously shut up shop for the day were enjoying Northumberland's 5th deserti albeit in poor light.

There will be bigger and better images than this, particularly  if someone gets there in decent early morning light. However I would just like to end this post with a message to all the big listers, my kids are going to burn you up as they have time on their side, fail to take them seriously at your peril....
 Check out that tail Sis!

Camouflage? So last century dad.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Sunshine, Sanderlings and Sea

It's not a Club18-30 holiday that's for sure. Too far down the line of 'no nappies' to backtrack but still dealing with certain issues in relation to poo, this morning's sunshine and lack of wind forced me into making a decision, could we take advantage of the weather without major incident? So we headed to the beach at Newbiggin, let's face it if it's good enough for the dog walkers....
For some reason I kept hearing that old John Denver song, 'Sunshine in the morning makes me happy' though for most of today I thought it was The Ozark Mountain Daredevils that had sang it for some strange reason. Anyway it does and it did this morning, although standing on a near-empty beach with a large camera and two small children, one of whom has her trousers round her ankles did have me looking over my shoulder in a slightly nervous fashion given the ability for so many people to see evil in everyday actions.
Birds, oh that''s right you're only here for the birds, not much to report I'm afraid five Rock Pipit about 50 Sanderling  and a couple of Med Gull (adult and 2nd-winter seen as you asked). Luckily I've worked out a way of getting some photography done involving a 10foot length of rope and a large stone, and the kids. It keeps them out of trouble and is good training for their late teenage years when they they inevitably fall foul of the law, get tagged and blame it all on my irresponsible parenting as I forced them outdoors and away from a normal childhood involving dawn to dusk TV and videos.

Stringer's Ghost

just posted the funniest video I've seen today, shame about the music, check it out here

Going Continental

Family matters and catching up on household jobs have restricted the birding a little this weekend. A couple of hours yesterday brought the long(ish) staying Slavonian Grebe at East Chevington, Merlin and a Kingfisher that flew south over the dunes but no sight nor sound of Northumberland's first Cetti's Warbler. Interesting that it appears to have been singing again today on a slightly less bright day than yesterday...go figure.
I checked a couple of places looking for divers of the non-Red-throated varieties but without success, a few Common Scoter showed well off Birling Carrs.
No birding today but a little time to read, I've been dipping in and out of the back identification sections of Martin Garner's 'Frontiers in Birding' trying hard to embed it all to memory. It's a cracking read with some really great advice from several top birders and well worth shelling out for if you're interested in finding and identifying birds. (Claim to fame alert) Whilst I'm not mentioned by name I somehow managed to creep in there, I am that 'breathy shout' on page 46. and that Little Bunting was my first ever BB rare.
I've also been deleting some of the deadwood from my image files, stuff that I thought was OK at the time but now just doesn't cut the mustard, not that many of mine do. Hanging these two separate threads together I started looking at the Cormorant images, more specifically looking to see whether I had inadvertently grabbed any sinensis or 'continental' race Cormorants. Hard to identify without a protractor as it's mostly in the gular angle. If I've got my maths right then unwittingly I have managed to photograph both carbo and sinensis.

Both above birds are carbo taken at Bothal Pond October 2010.

The second two images taken in Blyth South Harbour October 2009 are (neck firmly stuck out) of sinensis race Cormorants in my humble opinion. Note the gular angle, egg yolk orange colour of the gular patch and how the bottom corner of the gular patch is behind or at the back of the eye, all good features according to the Yorkshire guru.
Could be all bollocks of course I only managed a grade c maths O level and I haven't really had the protractor out, I couldn't find it.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Squacco Standoff

After yesterday's weather related house arrest, I took the twins on an early morning hunt for the Squacco Heron not reported at all yesterday, presumably everybody had more sense than to wander around in the awful weather.
We walked up the flood wall towards Telford Bridge but as we approached I could see a man in luminous orange wading in the water's edge (go figure) so we turned back. As we approached the end of the flood wall I could see a hefty gent in dark glasses leaning on the wall looking like a CIA agent, the kind that get to watch street corners and grassy knolls. As I passed his gaze across the river remained unbroken and despite the outward similarity to photographer Richard Dunn I suspected another incognito royal visit to meet pensioner flood victims.
Thirty metres further on and I heard a shout from behind me, my inclination was to dive for cover grabbing the kids to avoid the inevitable spray of bullets but as I turned the spook was waving and pointing. We walked back to where Agent X had been joined by two other undercover operatives who had slipped from the shadows. In a bizarre 'birding imitating real life events' scenario the Squacco had emerged from adjacent to a Storm Drain and had been under our noses all along. It was now pinned down on the riverbank and surrounded. After a tense stand-off it suddenly broke for freedom down the river and the tension was relieved. A brief chat with the spook saw him claiming to be a birder but I'm guessing it was just a cover story.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A Grosbeak Year?

With only six records since 1954 Pine Grosbeak makes a mockery of its label of irruptive species, at least as far as Britain is concerned. With only a single twitchable record this century, at Easington, East Yorkshire in 2004 only present for a mere two and half hours before disappearing never to be re-found, a whole generation of British birders are yet to catch up with the biggest finch on home soil.
Recent reports from Scandinavia combined with the current weather system have however raised hopes that this year might be the year that we finally get one or more Pine Grosbeak on the mainland.

The first whisper this autumn that filtered through of Pine Grosbeak came on 2nd November when Julian Bell reported a single calling as it flew over his house the previous day, a new species for his garden list in Øygarden, Norway. Julian has subsequently had further sightings of three individuals on Saturday 6th November and a single on 8th November.

Mid-evening Saturday brought news to birdguides, again from Norway; 60+ Pine Grosbeaks had been seen earlier in the day at the island of Utsira about 10km off the coast off Norway and 70-80km north of Stavanger. The observer reported them flying off west! Further reports have subsequently surfaced of significant numbers including several flocks over the weekend in Stockholm and 70+ on the island of Orksar in Sweden. One observer in Sweden has suggested that the berry crop there is poor and has been reduced significantly by the large early movement of Waxwings that are currently rampaging through Britain.

Irruptions into Europe of Pine Grosbeak are thought to involve birds from Russia. There is a clear breeding range overlap with Waxwing and wintering numbers in the northern part of the range are linked to the availability of winter berries. If the berry crop across Scandinavia and Russia is poor this year this may increase the chances of individuals from the current movement making it across to our shores.

Half of the records since 1954 (admittedly only three individuals) have occurred in the first 10 days of November, all on the East Coast (Isle of May 8th November 1954; East Malling, Kent 2nd November 1957; Easington, East Yorkshire 10th November 2004).With a strong easterly airflow sweeping across Northern Europe and over the North Sea, we may be seeing the optimum conditions for an arrival.

Pine Grosbeak as a thrush sized, long tailed finch should be unmistakeable. A double white wing bar on blackish wings combined with the crimson red upperparts of the male or the orange yellow of females and immatures ensuring they stand out in a crowd.
 Pine Grosbeak (male) copyright and courtesy Stewart Ho.

The flight is powerful and undulating with the long-tailed appearance obvious in silhouette.
Whilst they regularly use many trees and shrubs such as birch, alder and willow, in winter in Europe it is often found in towns and parks where supplies of berries are present. In winter in Alaska it has been recorded roosting with Cedar Waxwings; perhaps an extra incentive to keep checking the southbound flocks of Waxwing that are seemingly plundering  every berry bush at the moment. Like many northern species Pine Grosbeak can be fairly confiding and approachable.

Of course movements in Scandinavia have happened before and none have been found in Britain but it would be in keeping with some of the great ‘invasions’ we’ve seen this autumn of other northern species such as Lapland Bunting, Red-flanked Bluetail and Waxwing if a Grosbeak gave itself up and did it in style.

Monday, 8 November 2010

First and Fourth

I don't have a patch as such these days. I have had of course, several over the years, that I've watched religiously, obsessed over, compiled the stats for, counted coots at and occasionally found something half-decent at.
The large ex-pit village in which we live is in a great location for getting to some of the best birding sites around Northumberland and is fairly close to the River Wansbeck with some decent woodland so there are always places to go and birds to see. I covered much of the area to the south west on the winter atlas last year and found nothing remarkable or unexpected.
So when news broke on Birdguides that Northumberland's fourth Squacco Heron was about 1mile from the house as the crow flies in one of my winter atlas tetrads, and had been for two days you can imagine my surprise.
Found by a 'new starter' Debra Burley, on Saturday, who actually lives in the same village as me and identified along with Tony Vick on Sunday, who managed some decent pictures it's a great bird for them on what is their local patch and may well spur them on to a much greater interest.
With news yesterday that Northumberland finally had its first long-predicted Cetti's Warbler with a singing individual at East Chevington, found by Neil Osbourne, that will presumably winter and hopefully be the start of a future colonisation it's been a good weekend in the north.
With the weather forecast poor by late morning, it's raining as I type, I had the kids up washed and out by 08:20 giving us a good 20 minute window pre-school to try and get to grips with the Squacco. No real need for any urgency as we cruised around the bottom of Whorral Bank Andy Mclevy and Stephen Trotter had it pinned down on the far bank.

We returned post-school run and took a little more time but got some decent views over the next hour though it managed to evade everyone for a good while hiding in waterside vegetation. The last one (2004) hung around for nearly seven weeks, whether this one remains for anywhere approaching that remains to be seen.

Sunday, 7 November 2010


Weekend here and I was looking forward to getting out to sea on the the first Serenity Winter Boat Tour taking in The Farnes and Holy Island. An excellent morning for it too with good sunshine and a fairly light breeze. Whilst the surveys I took part in last winter found little in the way of variety, this trip had the potential to be completely different as the area around The Farnes, Stag Rocks and Holy Island is well known for good wintering numbers of divers, grebes and seaducks.
I headed out hoping to add Black-throated Diver and Black Guillemot to the self-found year list and came back having failed to do either but the four hour trip was far from a failure.

'Serenity' is a Catamaran and as such has greater access into shallower waters and in theory should be more stable for photography and viewing. Restricted to a maximum 12 passengers during the winter it provides ample space and the luxury of a toilet. I had a hot cup of tea in my hand within five minutes of boarding, making me feel very welcome.
The journey to Holy Island to catch the tide correctly was fairly quiet, a few Guillemot and Common Eider, some diving Gannets and two divers, one of which, looked large but provided back end views only.
As we arrived at the narrow channel between Ross Back Sands we began to pick up some birds, 3-4 Long-tailed Ducks pitched in ahead of us and we edged closer to appreciate them, the males are one of my favourite duck.

Large numbers of common waders roosted in the relative safety of the small islands and nearby sandbanks. Mostly Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwits with the odd Knot and Curlew amongst them.

The trip back along Ross Back Sands, closer to the beach yielded much more with a Red-necked Grebe, 10 Slavonian Grebes including a group of five, 17 Long-tailed Ducks and several diving groups of Common Scoter. 

As the tours also taken in The Farnes and the Grey Seal colony we headed out to the islands from opposite Budle Bay. Heading into Staple Sound, Keith the on-board wildlife guide, a personable Kiwi, picked up the first of what was to be around a dozen Little Auks. One in particular was reasonably confiding and offered a few photo opportunities.

As we cruised around the islands, allowing the other passengers to fill their boots of cute creamy seal pups daubed with the various colours indicating age, we picked out two Peregrine on two different islands, a Blackbird on Staple Island, several Rabbits on the Wideopens (a Farnes tick for me) and most frustratingly of all a Wheatear (sp) on Staple Island that without scope despite seeing it from two different sides of the island eluded specific identification. In all probability a late Northern, or at least that's what I kept telling myself all the way back.
An excellent day's birding, helped by the weather and boat skipper Andrew and his guide Keith's friendly demeanour. I believe the trips are running each weekend throughout the winter, weather permitting.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Scots Move on Vicarious Liability

Both RaptorPolitics and Raptor Persecution Scotland report on the press release issued by the Scottish Government today that they intend to bring forward an amendment to Stage 2 of the Wildlife and Natural Environment Bill. The amendment will introduce a new offence of 'vicarious liability' and if it does become part of the legislation it will finally make those that employ and manage others responsible for their actions if they are found guilty in criminal raptor persecution cases.

In announcing the amendment Scottish Enironment Minister Roseanna Cunningham said:
"Increased awareness and condemnation appears to be doing little to bring down the number of illegal bird poisonings in Scotland. Official figures show that 16 birds of prey were poisoned in the first six months of this year and I find this extremely disappointing.
We have robust legislation in place to tackle this sort of crime but tougher action has to be taken to deter those who think that they can get away with persecuting our wildlife.
I don’t want to unfairly target any particular group and I will be engaging with stakeholders over the coming weeks to make sure that they know what we are trying to achieve with this amendment.
We have a duty to protect our birds of prey as they are an integral part of our national identity. They also help our economy by attracting tourists from across the world and we cannot afford to have our international reputation tarnished by the few who continue to target them illegally.”

Gamekeepers up and down the land should be celebrating this amendment as it will make it more difficult for landowners and Game Estate managers to instruct them to illegally persecute birds of prey in order to reduce gamebird predation and firmly pin the liability where it should lie  - with those more interested in profit than wildlife. If this amendment does make the law books in Scotland then the RSPB should begin an immediate campaign targeting the English and Welsh to make similar moves here where the problem continues. The benefits for species such as Hen Harrier are there to be seen.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Young Guns Go For It

I can hear the rain lashing in against the west facing windows as I type, I guess November's arrived. Yesterday's sunshine and blue skies resulted in an extended beach trip in the morning. The tide high and the sea calm various waders and gulls enjoyed what could be the last warmth of autumn, an emergence of sand flies along both beaches at Newbiggin providing good feeding for Rock Pipits, Pied Wagtails, Starlings and Turnstones.
By the time we had ambled our way to Beacon Point most of the waders were roosting, 100Redshank and 55 Golden Plover made up most of the number but a close look revealed five each of Grey Plover and Bar-tailed Godwit as well as a few Dunlin. A quick look on the south beach before the promised session in the park produced three Mediterranean Gulls, two adults and a 2nd-winter; one of the adults later circling our swing session as it fed on chips thrown from a nearby vehicle.

Today in contrast with the wind strengthening and a few heavy showers moving through we headed for nearby woods using them to shelter from the November weather. Still enough colour in the woods to keep winter at bay for another couple of weeks though the woods always seem a little empty after the summer months. A Jay offered typical back end views as we arrived and a Great Spotted Woodpecker dipped over the car as we left, moments before the passing tit flock disgorged a Marsh Tit. In hindsight probably about the best bird I could expect in November.

Wedged between these riveting adventures I managed to knock off the Northumberland October summary for Birdwatching Magazine, finally finish Michael Mcarthy's 'Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo' and start drafting my first proper post for 10,000 Birds.

The twins toilet training continues in a kind of two steps forward, one step back fashion, though poos seem to be a bit of a stumbling block (literally!).

I received a kind invitation to head out for a four hour sea based Winter Birdwatching tour around Holy Island and The Farne Islands on Saturday from Andrew Douglas who runs Farne Island Tours. I haven't been out in the North Sea since the Marinelife White-beaked Dolphin surveys last winter so I'm looking forward to hopefully getting some photo opportunities of some of the winter specialities in the area. At this time of year you are in the hands of the weather though.

Last night, in common with birders across the country, I  tuned in to the one off 'Twitchers' documentary. Thankfully I viewed it alone, I say that as I know my wife had a soft spot for Andrew Ridgeley and would have been terribly upset to see what had become of him and the inevitable comparisons he drew with the success of his former partner. I did in passing mention the comments about "not taking anyone under the age of 10 seriously" to the kids today and I guess you could say they were a little poked and were keen to put the record straight about the size of their BOU list and allegations of cheating.

How Big's Your List?

So Close But So Far

Thought this was interesting today, just needs to keep moving south and a quick hop across the North Sea, fingers crossed.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Beating My Own Drum

I've made no secret of my admiration for the 10,000 Birds blog so when I found out they were expanding the multi-author format to include a whole range of other talented bloggers from around the world I beat a path straight to their door. Throwing myself down before them I begged to be allowed to sweep the aisles or make the tea. I got my wish (gulp).

I'll be posting on the 17th each month for now, though I'll no doubt link to each post here as well. Do visit though as they have put together a great team with some great birders/bloggers.