The unsound approach

26th January
Norwich (AL)
Head still spining from Optic, I roared out of bed at 8am and back into bed at 8.03am. Resurfacing at midday I made a trip down memory lane; checking the Norwich waterworks and driving past a long-forsaken side of town where five birders spent what should have been the best years of their life, in the worst pub in the vice county of East Norfolk. Fortuitously without Rick's custom they closed the Earl and then when that wasn't enough, smote its ruin. Anyway, the waterworks was rubbish - Norwich-based kid-listers please note, its had some birds once upon a time (nb. note the background Slaty-backed Gull). Whitlingham was great, ducks and everything. Even better was this undescribed (indescribable?) species of goose, Some sort of Anser x Branta, mostly leucopsis genes methinks, but is that a hint of erythropus? Realising that I had reached a new low, I ran for home.
Unidentified goose. note its the size of a large female Gadwall, note also that in creating one mystery we solve another longerstanding one...
 
19th January
The Broads (Elly, James, Alex, Rob, Katherine, Rich, Amandine, Felicity, Emily, Helen, Charlotte)
Birthday boat-hire session produced widespread chaos on the waterways; we didn't find the hoped-for colonies of Pygmy Cormorants or even a Dalmation Pelican. A Hawfinch at Horning and adult Little Gull at Ranworth were scant rewards for this bunch of not-so-salty riverdogs... you don't succed 'cause you hesitate....
There were options (German bins or Belgian beer) for Rob when given the opportunity to take only one item to do the Wroxham gull roost; but only one choice (AL)  
 
12th/13th January
South Lincs/Notts (AL)
Brief sortie home produced A52 Merlin east of Grantham and an adult Caspian Gull at Cotham Tip but not the glaucland gulls I was hoping for. Thurlby Pit was heaving with 15,000 gulls but a 1530 arrival was too late and in the gloom a (different) candidate adult Caspian Gull was already out on the water when I arrived (refound by Trevor Lee the following day). Met up with Trevor the saidsame following day at Marston STW (and bonus BJ [with not so bonus bag-lady {as the semi-resident mad woman is affectionately known}]). Marston was predictably rubbish; so after testing the new camera on Stonechats I blasted down south to poach the next generation. Having not been actually birding at Baston and Langtoft since about 1995 (in some freak act of convergence I had two birding school friends from Stamford who patched Baston and Langtoft respectively [both later phased])  I was surprised at a) how high the trees had grown - making it even f*cking harder to see in b) how many more pits had been dug c) how amazing it looked. Having checked the smew pit at Tallington (my gen from 1993 didn't pay off) I did a drive by on the rest of the complex and decided to try Dogsthorpe in the last of the light. Arriving to find a reedbed; once open water with lots of gulls, I had a small breakdown, realising that a) I had become old b) well, that was enough of a reason for a breakdown. No one ever told me I might need counselling following landscape evolution.   
 chat (AL)
 
9th January (RoMa)
Abberton
Big bird rustling going on at the reservoir over the Christmas break: queenie must have got her table swans from here as a minimum of 120 have disappeared. Almost all the Gadwall and Wigeon have cleared orf too, but there are still at least 1100 Teal crammed into the central section. Also 1 White-fronted Goose in the western section, 6 Smew (3 rh, 3 drk) and a Black'wit in the central section, 2 Black-throated Diver (bastards to see, remarkably), Black-necked Grebe and Common Sand around the main reservoir. Of potential interest for certain people there are currently 30 Ruddy Duck in the central section. Have fun, and mind the Smew.

8th January
Mucking Out (RoMa)
Quiet high tide count: only 260 Teal, 40 Curlew, 100 Mallard and some GV and RK for the most part. I spent the majority of my time trying to not to slide into the Thames from the most slippery bank in Essex; a task in which I was successful only 87% of the time. Crabs. Someone released the Dunlin and B*'wit late on, 1800 of the former and 600 of the other, delaying my much needed rest in the car driving back up the A140.

7th January
Webland (S Mahood)
Evidently the Dutch Birdlife partner is taking a more aggressive approach to promoting bird conservation - check out this genuine web banner (best read in a geordie accent)...
If you've ever wondered what goes through a Robin's head when it's eyeing you up in Titchwell carpark, now you know...
 
Dan is just back Eire which was uncharacteristicaly cold and icy and not warm and wet as we like it.
Dan has a soft spot for photographing pigeons (HW)
 
adult Iceland (DB) Ed: (affecting best LGRE impression) Reeally????
 
Nimmo's Pier
Iceland Gull - 2ad, 1 2nd Winter, 4+ 1st winters
Glauc - 1 ad, 1 2w
Kumleins - 1 2ns W
Ring-billed Gull - 1 ad
White-wing mix (DB)
Glaucs, won't win any beauty contests... (DB)
 
Waterside, Galway
Iceland Gull - 1 1st winter
 
Silver Strand
Surf Scoter - 1 female
Pom Skua - 1 juv
 
6th January
Annagh Head now slightly drier
Little Auk 57
 
Claggan
1 1st W Iceland Gull
 
5th January
Big storm on the Mullet Peninsula
Lough something
30 Scaup
9 Whooper Swans
 
Annagh Head - under water so no seawatching in perfect Ross's Gull weather
 
4th January
Big blizzards and reduced vis.
Sligo town
1 ad Ring-billed Gull
1 1stW Iceland Gull
 
adult Delaware Gull (DB)
 
Belmullet
1 ad Med Gull
 
3rd January
Ardtermon and Raghley, Sligo
2 Richardsons Canada Geese with 2200 Barnacles.
1 dislocated knee and an afteroon in sligo hospital
 
and, er... a correction Blyth's Pipit, Powys, Wales.
Many thanks to those that have provided comments on the pipit. Following further investigation it has been re-id as a Blyths, 2nd for Wales, although further searches have failed to relocate it. The following shots show many of the key features including median covert patterning, facial pattern, neat crown stripes, bill shape, as well as tail and claw length and the overall slighter impression. Apologies for the mis-id in the first place. As Killer M points out in his Birdwatch Blyths Reed article - i should have spent more time watching the bird and less time trying to get poor shots! A major bone of contention was the apparent hind claw length - one photo (Fig 1) seems to show an elongated hind claw, more careful appraisal shows that this is actually a blade of grass (!) this previously unpublished (and ignored) cropped photo (Fig. 2) shows it to be shorter.
Pb team comments: Usher would be proud of this u-turn, coming after much intra-team and external consultation. Although its not like the rest of us haven't already found two other Blyth's in the last 15 months, this is still a massive record and nicely illustrates the fact that vagrant (& pseudo) wintering passerines are there to be found. Evidently the best way of going about this would be to do some sort of professional or amateur survey work, during which you can while away the time counting dross in the interest of (pseudo)science.... Get your survey hats on. This is also a sage reminder of how the digital revolution shows just how frequently we (the birding public)  make mistakes....   
 
Figure 1 (left) and Figure 2 (right) post-hoc toe-length analysis (DB)
 

January 7th

Cley Village (or what's left of it) (AL)

Having spent the previous day on a merry perambulation about the Norfolk/Suffolk border, I was woken from a nirvana-like state on Burgh marshes by a phone-call from Rob at 15.30 telling me that he was watching a certain sparrow at Cley. Evidently I had sowed the seeds of my twitching downfall,  as neither Rich nor Rob apparently thought I'd give a monkey's. I wasn't sure that I did either, but the next day (after a sleepless night [well I was editing my Brazil recordings till late]) I made my way up to Cley in my trusty Mitsubishi (trusty in the sense that its falling to pieces but isn't hiding that fact from me). All the great, good, bad and ugly were there. Viewing was well, difficult, Franko was dealing cards out to people and doing a stirling job of keeping the crowd under control; hurling abuse at the videographer who ran beyond his alloted time. I didn't play my cards right in this instance (deciding to stick rather than twist) but by standing on Dave Showler's head I was able to climb on to the fence, and was at least able to see this winter blaster* well, even if some kind of digeryscopery was impossible. This was 15 years and 4 days since I last saw Zonotrichia in the UK and a far cry from the my last Zono-twitch - Harris's Sparrow (along with the rest of the Z-set) at Mason Park back in the day. Anyhow I digress, twitching is really about standing around and talking to people, vaguely organised around a theme of some rare bird or other; in this vein the irrepressible Tom Gray had some stories about his 17 wives in Cambodia; Lee gave me a grilling about Dan's pipit** (Dan, I'll lend you my Sennheiser shotgun mic...); and Stu Piner revealed how Heron why you got to go away has become his changing track. Then I realised that this was all madness; somone's pager said the police and the army were on the way, and so I gave my dues to Richard Porter and got the hell out of there....     

* new terminology coined by the Swedes see http://kuwait20072008.blogspot.com/

**Dan has apparently already had a change of heart on this, more soon...

 

Crowd control, shortly after this photograph was taken, the police arrived with a water-canon

 

January 6th

Cley olde village greene (RoMa)

Weekend bumbling around the house led to an atypical incident in that I actually looked at Birdguides while it was still light. More unusual still was the fact that one of the most recent messages was White-crowned Sparrow at Cley. Hmm, I thought. And deep-buried urges reasserted themselves, destroying nearly three years of cognitive behaviour therapy dedicated to healthier birding lives for all. I legged it out the door, rang Rich and t.t.."twitched" it. Thanks for saying that for me. Predicting a good old-fashioned bun-fight I got stuck in, but actually the mob was suprisingly placid. Especially as the bird was only showing once every twenty minutes or so in a driveway only visible from directly opposite, with the crowd piled up in a mass of limbs and ill-advised tripods. I guess the fact that the bird was showing and the weather was nice must have calmed the nerves. Either that or someone has released a massive dose of prozac into the water supply.  Bunting was cracking, for the couple of times I managed to find the zen path past the ear in front, over the bald patch and through the hastily thrown velbon legs to actually see the driveway. Top work in the organisation though, apparently a successful rarity translocation from the adjacent garden into the viewing arena. Can't wait for the next escape from the Glandford Ultimate Emberizidae Collection 'best in the Palearctic'.  


Christmas time

West Cornwall (RDM)

Driving around looking for herds of cows produced new Cattle Egrets at Trevider (1) and Penventon Farm, Helston (4). Other birds of note were 2 Firecrests and a flyover Woodlark at Loe Pool, 2 Med Gulls at Marazion, Balearic Shearwater, 5 GNDs and a single RTD in Mount's Bay off Mousehole.

 

Cattle Egrets on the lush Cornish savannas (RDM)

 

27th Nov - 24th Dec

the Western Amazon (AL, A. Whittaker et al.)

After finishing with meetings in Manaus and admiring Mario Cohn-Haft's collection of new-to-science at INPA, the team headed west to Carauari in Amazonas state. Two days later we headed upriver on the Jurua to Bauana and the new REDE field-station. Owing to unforeseen permit issues we weren't allowed to collect or ring any birds within the RDS Uakari reserve (the primary aim of the mission and symptomatic of chronic Brazilian bureaucracy issues) and had to make do with some semi-structured birding on only a handful of trails that had thus far been opened in what is the inception of a 5 year project. Still we managed to get quickly into the swing of things and within one week I had reverted to wild-type with full facial hair and gut helminth load. Andy was quick to declare that the mosquitoes were the worst he had ever encountered in 22 years of living and travel in the neotropics. At times it was hell on earth. Other times it was just plain awful. Ornithological highlights included several mammoth range-extensions (including two as yet undescribed taxa) as well as several mega stocking-fillers including Black Bushbird (crippling views for ten minutes, including a porn-display of its white interscapular patch), Semi-collared Puffbird, Sooty Antbird, Orinoco Goose, Iherring's Antwren, Zimmer's Woodcreeper, Pearly Antshrike, Rusty-belted Tapaculo, Pale-winged Trumpeter and Rusty-breasted Nunlet. We scored plenty of pan-Amazonian dross such as Harpy and also a few Nearctic migrants including several late American Golden Plovers plus numerous Eastern Wood-pewees. Mammals were a bit disappointing but I did get a split-second view of Margay and saw loads of both dolphins. Places on the Jurua have the highest single-site species richness of primates for anywhere in the New World. Arrived back in England with chronic gastro-intestinal issues despite remaining healthy for the entirety of the trip (and despite drinking/washing in the river with 4m long Black Caimans). Not for the faint of heart. 
 
Rio Jurua from the air, the river's meanders have a pervasive effect on biogeography; the frequent bank-to-bank transfers lead to low rates of speciation (AL)
 
Purus Jacamars (left) and Red-and-white Spinetail (a river-island special) (AL)
Zimmer's Woodcreeper - cryptic Amazonian mega and Semi-collared Puffbird, photos are shite because a) I didn't have my scope and b) some twats with guns ran off with my camera in Belem. (AL)
 
are my legs supposed to look like this? always treat your ectoparasites compationately.... (AL)
 
We stayed in Novo Horizonte one night, the good people of this little town, all apparently the family of one chap (33 grandchildren), they offered us the use of one of their unoccupied houses which came complete with a colony of (unidentified) bats and 6 huge tarantulas. I macheted ones of the later to death which was living within 50cm of the string of my hammock only to pay the price when I got up in the middle of the night to go for a piss and got attacked by fire-ants eating its corpse... (AL)
 
Dendrobates sp. kissing it would be a really bad idea (AL)
 
Fer-de-Lance, statistically the most dangerous snake in the Neotropics, I sat down on a log and noticed this bad-boy having a kip next to me. Venom yield averages 124 mg, although it can reach as high as 342 mg. The fatal dose in humans is just 62 mg.  I gave it some space. (AL)
 
dusk on the Jurua (AL)
 
 
 
19th Dec, office in Cambridge (JG).
 
Thanks to the wonders of Birdforum.net, even non-birders like me can enjoy some genuine avian excitement these days. Yet another top internet-birding highlight was provided this morning, via http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=5908. Really exciting, and definitely better than anything of you "field birders" get from your outdoor exploits (even those of you lucky enough to live in Wales, or Sibeland as the locals call it). Guttingly I also realised that I was wandering around fields and poking yellow wagtails just 20odd miles from this bird back in June '03. Oh, what might have been....
 
18th Dec, undisclosed site in Wales (the increasingly shiny Golden Brown).
 
A dull, cold day was drawing to a close and nothing of note had turned up. As i drove up the last farm track of the day i caught sight of a female Hen Harrier hunting over the farmland and in my excitment started accelarating towards her in a bid to get better views. I was paying no attention to the track in front of me, and only when it was too late I noticed the small brown blob of feather crouching in the middle. I slammed on the brakes but the bird dissappeared under the car. As i rolled back there, still in one piece and staring straight back at me, was one scared looking Dick's Pipit! It had presumably been avoiding the harrier but hadn't done so well avoiding the looming 4x4. To my surprise it stood tall and walked down the drivers side of the car where i was able to open the window and look straight down on to it as it fed. Amazingly i also had my camera handy but it was too close to focus on so i had a nervous few seconds until it started moving up the bank to feed. This amazingly obliging bird stayed around for 10minutes during which time it called once and eventually moved up over the bank where i left it to feed.
Not a bad end to the day! Apologies for the photos usual excuses, bad light, juddering car and it was too close! Second Dick's Pip this autumn in random inland welsh fields - how common are they?!
Before any smart alecs email us about square median coverts and neat crown patterns, please note that this had a hindclaw like the Wolverine, a massive tail and sounded like a big Dick's.
 
 
16th Dec, Cemlyn, Anglesey
 
Reg Thorpe's fine Grey Phal showed beautifully today along with a water Pipit and 10 Purple Sands

17th December

Mucking (RoMa)

Completed my 146th hour at Mucking since September with at least 2 Pomarine Skua cutting through the gull melee with two other unidentified skuas. Brain-chilling easterly, mind-numbing number-crunching through the counts: max 675 AV, 718 BW, 3400 DN and all the rest. One Green Sand and a Greenshank were chatting back to my howls into the wind.  

14th December

Abberton (RoMa)

Complete contrast to last time, not a breath of wind and 2 Black-throated Diver. The pair of smew were still hanging around in the central section, one Red-necked Grebe and the Red-breasted Merganser had also reappeared. Video of the grebe here.

11th December

Southend (RoMa)

6 hours of standing around on 'The Longest Pleasure Pier in the World' watching the Med Gulls (up to 14) and counting flying waders. Of interest was a Shag, feeding under the pier as the tide began to recede, and a couple of Kittiwake appeared amongst the gulls following the pair of trawlers back into shore.  

6th December

Lincolnshire Egret site (RoMa)

No GWE, couple of Little Egret to add to my site list along with ringtail Hen Harrier. 

5th December

Abberton (RoMa)

Mega windy but still good. A pair of Smew were the highlight this time: we didn't see the diver and just 1 Slav Grebe today.   

20th-26th November

Amazonia update (AL)

First week in Brazil over and I've yet to go birding; 5 days spent in Belem, Para for the UEA organised symposium, spent some productive hours photographing skins in the Goeldi´s bird collection only to lose them all when we were robbed at gunpoint by the river. Offered some resistence but then realised that my photos of the holotype of Squirrel Cuckoo probably weren´t worth dying for (or taking). Am currently in Manaus and at least managed to twitch the critically endangered micro-endemic Pied Tamarin at the Mindu reserve (a 2ndry forest fragment in the city) this evening.

21st November

Abberton (RoMa)


Near death on the way but once I got to Abberton it was as good as ever. Highlight was the Grey Phal, of which we obtained indecently close views as we drove upto it around the perimeter road. The Black-throated Diver was still present, as were 6 Bewick's but additional birds included 2 Slav Grebe and a Red-breasted Merganser. Also a hideous Aythya hybrid caused initial heart-flutter, but was too ugly to be anything good. Uploaded more vid to tube: phalarope porn, and a pair of Peregrine from days of burgeoning spring.


Them Hills (JG)
Had a brief window of opportunity to go for some big sibe/steppe rare finding action early this morning, so I headed out marshwards. A search of the strandline failed to produce any rare wheatears, larks or warblers, though I did spend a few minutes doing some Simon King-style welling up at the sight of washed up Grey Seal pups and Little Auk little corpses. The pines were also pretty quiet, although there were plenty of migrant Blackbirds providing target practice for the raptors. Vizmig provided most of the value- big numbers of Skylarks and Starlings were moving west, together with a fair wedge of finches, lots of thrushes (inc. 2 Mistle) and a brace of Laps. Highlight came at around 9.45 in the form of a migrating Corn Bunting, pipping its way over with a small group of Skylark. Don't see many of them on the Hills... A drag through the brambles produced single  Robin and a couple of Song Thrush, but no rare accentors. Autumn almost over now...


18th November

Hardley Flood (RDM)

4 Scaup (all immatures), adult Yellow-legged Gull, Little Egret, Black-tailed Godwit, 3 Redshanks.

15th November
Lincolnshire flatlands (RoMa)
New site, more rare. 6 hours of VPs today. 2 hours 50 mins in things were just starting to drag. Cue Great White Egret. It appeared on the drain bank about 200m from my vp at 11:20, as I was just scanning back to see if that infuriating Kes was off again. Instead this mega white thing stuck in the bins. Ended up with 6 GWE flights recorded, a surprising VP tick. For the rubbish video: click on the right pic.


11th November

NE Norfolk (JG)
If you get in with the wrong crowd...

 

 

 you can easily find yourself on the wrong side of the tracks...

 

 

 

Crippling inland alcid action at Wroxham Broad late pm. Who said seawatching was shite? Me.

 

6th November

Abberton (RoMa)

Black-throated Diver, Jack Snipe, 13 Bewick's Swan, 20 Spotted Redshank, and loads of duckies. Diary


4th November

Whitlingham Lane (SiMa, SB)

With winter on the way there really is only one site worth visiting in Norfolk: Whitlingham Lane. Avoiding the traffic and Norwich City fans with clever use of bicycles we did a brief scan of the broad (cage dodging Fudge and a blinged-up Pochard) before heading down the Yare valley. A little way past the sewage works I picked up a Great White Egret flying west towards Whitlingham Lane, Yare! It lost height and circled in the general area of the CP, but was soon lost to view due to trees and topography. We followed it back but to no avail.

 

Norfolk (RDM)

A brief sortie east produced a Little Auk and a Peregrine heading north c400 metres off Walcott seafront. 50+ Lapland Buntings and a few Snow Buntings were the highlight somewhere else. Hot news from Whitlingham forced me back homewards. Mahoods big egret was nowhere to be seen but the ringed Fudge Duck was duly present. A Little Egret flew east at dusk.