Archives for the month of: September, 2012

Hello there.

First I must apologise for Robert. The last post on the blog reads as though he was suffering whilst he wrote it. I have not yet finished it off as it makes me almost physically sick to read it. Clean up your act, I say.

Also Robert, if you read this, please could you put some pictures on our Lincolnshire butterfly trip post? Lacking them, it is like a flower without the sun.

Anyway, what have I been up to?

Well, last weekend me and Stuart travelled up to the Hartlepool area to try and see the Baird’s Sandpiper, and fail we did. Spend a good hour or so waiting, but no show from the little rascal. Oh well. Best bit, however, was when a flock of Sanderlings dropped in on the wader roost. Everybody else was chattering, so I was the only ones who saw them arrive. I quickly scanned through and spotted a bird darker than the rest, so I let everyone know there was something different with them (Notice that I never claimed it as the Baird’s). Seconds later everyone was looking at it, and mere seconds after that a gentleman with a camera the length of a prosthetic leg (and twice as broad) shouted that it was ‘the bird’. At this point I had half-inched Stuart’s scope and was having a proper look at the bird myself. It didn’t look like a Baird’s. Now, I will put this out over the internet in all honesty, I am not great at waders. In this instance, however, the wader was only about 8 meters away and I was looking through a scope that is better than my own and I had the Collins in front of me and the bird was a Dunlin. A juvenile Dunlin. Whilst I was reaching this conclusion, the gentleman next to me whispered that he hadn’t found the Baird’s yet and all he could see was a Dunlin. I told him that the Dunlin was the bird that everyone else was looking at. “Oh” said the other man. We looked across at the gentleman with the obscenely large camera who was still snapping away madly. “It’s a Dunlin” I called in a thin voice, “just a Dunlin”. Slowly all the other birders put down their cameras. Eventually the man with the massive camera realised his mistake, but it was okay because it was actually quite difficult to see the bird on the camera screen. The best bit was about ten minutes later when about twenty birders turned up because somebody had put the news out that Baird’s was showing, only to see a Dunlin. Priceless. 

After that we had a quick look at a Parakeet in Ward Jackson’s Park (most northerly breeding colony in England so I’ve heard) and then head down to Saltholme RSPB. Highlights were, in order, 3 Bar-headed Geese (Geese!), 2 Black-Necked Grebes and a Pectoral Sandpiper (my second ever). A poor photo of the little yankee below:

Pectoral Sandpiper

The best bit when I was looking at the Pectoral Sandpiper was when somebody left the hide and shut the door a bit loudly,  (accidentally I assume, unless they were bastards), and a man sat in the hide used this as an example of people had no field-craft these days. He may well be right, but I always imagine the word field-craft to relate to methods of moving quietly through habitat, blending in, enduring discomfort in order not to bother your subject etc., etc., It just amused me that a man sat in a chair, in a hide, with an enormous camera that clicked like a distant gunshot every time he took a picture was bemoaning somebody else closing the door incorrectly in the aforementioned hide. I will, of course, retract this statement if the man in question built the hide that day purely in order to see the birds on that pool and he did it without bothering them. That, my friends, would be enviable field-craft.

Also in Cleveland I saw these snails:

Possible Striped Snail?

I think they might be Cernuella virgata, the ‘Striped Snail’. They were found amongst sand dunes, which is a good habitat match, but I need to have a thorough check of my snail book before I put them on my species list. 

On the way back home I stopped off at Lockwood Beck and had a walk round. Bird highlight was a pair of Treecreepers, but the overall highlight was the smallest Adder I have ever seen on the path. Awww. Too quick for photos though. 

Fast forward to this weekend. Me and the gang (that includes Robert, Stephen, Stuart, Rachel, Katie and Lucy) went on a sea boat (or ‘ship’) in order to see birds. And birds did we see we did. The trip kicked off with a Pom Skua which I confidently identified as an Arctic before being wrong. New species for me. No one else in the gang had a decent view, so I won. Porpoises were seen and admired. A Red-Throated Diver flew past, and all three common auks were on the sea. To cut a long, tedious and picture-less story short, we saw Arctic Skua (distantly), Bonxie (very close and awesomely), Manx Shearwater (close and awesome), Sooty Shearwater (close and awesome) and a Long-Tailed Duck (very distant and awfully, year bird though). Pretty good stuff. Highlight was probably the Barnacle Goose in the harbour (goose!).

And finally, today. What have I done today? Well, you could very well ask what I haven’t done today, but that would be tedious to answer. What I did do today was drive to Robin Hood’s Bay for a YNU rockpool thing. The day started well with a lovely view of a cream-crown Marsh Harrier flying across the moors being harried by crows just after the turn off to Robin Hood’s Bay. I found a free place to park, and as I walked down the hill into the bay itself I heard a Chiffchaff singing. I also took a picture of the famous house:

Famous House

I met up with the rest of YNu group in the bay, and we had a delightful couple of hours of tossing quadrats around and laughing merrily. Some of the best sightings of the day were found by me, which sounds a little big-headed but is in fact true. These included two Edible Sea Urchins, including the smallest one I’ve ever seen:

Tiny Urchin

As well as a Corkwing Wrasse and my second ever Jorunna tomentosa (though I assume I have been overlooking them for years as just small Sea Lemons – thanks Paula for identifying it):

Jorunna tomentosa

Also found a good few brittlestars, so I got this picture of an Ophiothrix fragilis next to an Amphipholis squamata:

Ophiothrix fragilis left, Amphipholis squamata right

Whilst rockpooling I heard a clamouring overhead, and looked up to see my first skein of the autumn passing overhead; Pink-Footed Geese! (Geese!). A Whimbrel flew overhead as well, first I’ve seen for a few weeks.

Probably my favourite bit of the morning was a wonderful bit of seaweed identification. I am pretty rubbish at identifying seaweeds, but I am slowly improving, and after today I feel I can add a few more to my personal list, such as Pepper Dulse, Black Scour Weed and Grape Pip Weed.

Pepper Dulse

Black Scour Weed

Grape Pip Weed

Good fun was had. I think there might be another meet at Scarborough in a few weeks, so that should be a laugh.

Like a budding theatre troupe we headed to Scotland in August. Unlike a budding theatre troupe we decide not to investigate societies perceptions of gender and sexuality on an Edinburgh stage, but instead look for scottish-centric wildlife.

Heading off from Hull at the bright and early 8pm, we had a fun 7 hour drive in near constant darkness. So besides an early barn owl we didn’t really see much on the first chunk of our journey. Who cares though. It was night. What was we meant to see at night driving (I assume) 400mph.

We pulled into the Loch of the Lowes carpark at 3am and settled down for an obviously comfortable 2 hour sleep before dawn eked itself into existence. We decided that our first efforts should be spent looking for somewhere we could look over the Loch. We didn’t very well at this. We walked down a random footpath for 10 minutes before realising it led to nowhere. So after ten minute walk back we noticed that we were parked next to a visitors centre. We information and hides and everything.

So we went into a hide. And settled in for what I could call an explosion of beaver activity. I could call it that, but it would be completely unfounded as there wasn’t any beavers like the internet promised. We sat there for what I assume was hours, but was probably about 20 minutes. A charming osprey had a brief circle of our end of the Loch. We temporarily gave up on beavers, planning to spend several hours looking at them later that day. After briefly admiring some red squirrels and pleasant birds on the feeders we drove in a direction.

What happened on that small drive I’m not entirely sure of, as I nodded off for its entirety. My best guess is that James and Jess at some point took a wrong turn down a dirt road. They pulled up to an old wooden cabin. Realising their mistake they confidently strode to the decaying building and knocked on its front door. The knock was enough to open the rickety door revealing a poorly lit corridor. ‘Hello?’ said James to the apparently empty house. Jess lets out a gasp when she notices that a pool of blood can be seen half way down the corridor. Following the flow they found a child’s arm laying limply in the hallway, its owner obscured from view by a dusty corridor. A whimper of pain is heard. Lightning flashes. The blood and arm disappear. They quickly head back to the car promising never to speak of what they saw in the wooden cabin.

Or they just made good time to our next destination. We pulled over after Jess saw a black lump on some moorland. I manage to wake myself up. A trio of red kite circled in the sky and a buzzard perched on nearby fence post. I needed a wee. An onyx-coloured gamebird erupted from behind some heather. Black grouse. Lovely. If I remember correctly none of us had seen before. I certainly hadn’t. A handful more became airborne. We had a brief walk amongst the moorland, admiring the kites wheeling about. taking advantage of our right to roam. We questioned whether we had the right to roam. We decided probably.

We carried on our merry way. I’m not entirely sure where we were, but James seemed to know so I let him be navigator for a change. I was probably too asleep to read a map or shout about signs. All of a sudden we amongst some rather stunning craggy slopes. Buzzards and kites seemed to be ever present. I noticed a small flock of jackdaw take flight. I then saw a larger bird quickly catch up and take one out of the sky. A bloody peregrine. I squealed like an excitable youth. James managed to find a thin strip of grass to pull into so we could look about for it. It’s mewling could be easily heard but the bird didn’t stand out much amongst the grey rock. Eventually it took a small flight and revealed itself. More kites flew over. That was nice.

More driving took us past a place where mountain hare supposedly abound. We didn’t see any. Being 9am I decided to cook noodles at  a place with a view of mountains. I don’t see many mountains. So it was good.

More driving. Then back to loch of the lowes on a hunt for information. We spoke to the man behind the desk. He basically said everything we’ve ever wanted to see (beaver and pine marten) is dead and we should give up on existing. He was English and infinitely posh. Having been in Scotland for just over 12 hours at this point I felt I was able to feel derisive about his Englishness. He seemed to hate me for looking at the bird feeders without having paid £200 for the privilege. I hated him for hating me. I then looked at a red squirrel. It calmed the rage that grew within. We moved on, crestfallen and struggling to decide where we should go next.

Some how we decided on another loch. I couldn’t honestly tell you what we intended on seeing. We got to loch leven after I slept in the back of the car for a bit. I’m guessing I was tired. We made our way to the visitors centre and enquired about what delights their reserve held. Firecrest was managed. I got giddy. We briefly talked with the man at the place. James pointed to a painting of a sea eagle on a nearby wall. “What’s the chance of seeing them?” he enquired, enquiringly. We were on tenterhooks, having come to the entirely wrong conclusion that every sea eagle in the UK was on the other side of Scotland. “Well they fly over occasionally” he replied, replyingly. We got amazingly giddy. He then said something about seeing them more regularly at other places nearby.  We set fire to every other plan we ever had and decided to focus all our intentions on sea eagles. Except we had a little look around the reserve first, which allowed jess to have presumably sexist and patronising things said to her by the most Scottish birdwatcher in existence. We think he was sexist and patronising but I honestly had no idea what he was saying. I’m not sure he did. In the place with the sexist birdman we also saw a piece of fungus that had been left on a shelf. It was maggoty. Hopefully they’ll read this and do something about it. Seems the most efficient way to contact them.

Upon getting back to the visitors centre we enquired about exact locations to see/sea eagles. We were told by some lovely people with thick accents who didn’t seem to hate women.

We got to the first of the locations. I think we listened to they might be giants on the way. That last sentence was setting the scene. I can only imagine it worked brilliantly. After standing next to a chunk of estuary for half an hour we realised that all the buzzards we were seeing were definitely buzzards and not eagles. Then it rained. I say rained when I actually mean that Scotland seemed to have decided to get rid of all its people and animals besides two examples of each on a boat somewhere. I bet sea ducks would have been fine during the whole Noah’s ark thing. That’s probably the biggest problem with the bible.

We then looked for eagles for somewhere else. We saw just as many as we did before. So we went somewhere else. Not for eagles, but for sea birds. Which was largely unsuccessful besides large helpings of gannets and a smattering of fulmar but I see them quite regularly at home. Not on the bird feeders quite, but sort of near home. I had chosen this spot for sea watching as it is supposedly quite good for seeing cetaceans. It wasn’t.

With night becoming ever more evident we decided to find ourselves somewhere to sleep.  We set off for the place we planned to begin the next day. Unfortunately the sat nav thought that place was in the middle of one of the most intimidating industrial estates known to man. It’s main feature was a tower of flame which bathed most of the surrounding land in an inescapable eerie glow. To look directly into would be to see your own death. When we tried to take pictures of it cameras malfunction and the viewfinders exploded.

After being in the presence of satan incarnate we decided to sleep near an old railway bridge. It seemed the sort of location vagrants would use for love making. Either they weren’t present that night or they were very understanding of our tiredness and kept their howls of passion to a minimum.

At first light (ish) we headed to a petite nature reserve. Cant remember if it had a name. I imagine it did. Regardless it was a short but productive visit, with spoonbill and a resplendunce(?) of waders on show. Spoonbill are fantastic, as is every bird named after cutlery. James looked for a ring billed gull that was supposedly there. It wasn’t.

Feeling marginally buoyed by spoonbil,l we headed to yet another place (after some googling, I believe it was Cockenzie and Port Seton), to see yet another thing. The thing we wanted to see was a roseate tern. They are apparently very similar to common and arctic tern, except for some features that are different. I might even remember what they were if we had seen some. But we did see some nice other things. If memory serves me correctly, the other things included golden plover, sandwich tern, godwit and ringed plover. There was also an incident involving a man and rules about parking which I’ll let James handle when he decides that teaching is a lost cause and full-time blogging is the way forward.

To another place we went, like people who go to places. This time we went to sent St. Abbs to find Jess a raven and find me an influx of unusual migrants. We did a small circular path from the car park which not only allowed for some nice vistas of the cliffs, but also meant we could get ice creams. After good views of peregrines and passable views of ravens for Jess, the road began to beckon yet again.