Saturday, 28 December 2013

Ticking and Twitching

Yep, the bane of all respectable 'bird-watchers' and ahem, 'ornithologists', I have spend some of the past two days doing both! Now, my good lady is always up for a free trip to M&S at the Willows at Torquay, so I knew yesterday we could combine the trip with a bit of ticking and twitching for yours truly. So first things first, we drove down to Brixham at a leisurely pace, arriving late morning and went looking for the White-billed Diver which was found late on Christmas Day, (yep, even I was surprised that the news got out, given another rare bird that was discovered here backalong was 'suppressed'. The Diver was the first twitchable one in the county, so I thought let's go and have a look at it since I hadn't seen one for several years. Hadn't visited Brixham itself for several years either as we always find it difficult to get there on account of the chronic Torbay traffic. However, folk travelling in the Brixham direction were obviously too full of Christmas excesses to venture out today, so we were able to get there fairly swiftly. We pulled up at the breakwater car park to find no birders and worse still, no birds! I quickly scanned the outer harbour and saw a couple of birders in the distance with scopes looking out from Freshwater car park. Back in car and drive round....... to find several divers including Great Northern and Black-throated of which a few of the gathered birders were claiming to be the White-billed. Having risked a punch on the nose by correcting one or two present, the White-billed was seen out by the end of the breakwater. So yes I twitched it, and I ticked it as well, entering it in bold on my Devon list! Good back-up birds were my first Black Guillemot for a few years, and several Great Northern and Black-throated Divers. After some hard-earned cups of coffee in a harbour-front cafe, it was time to do battle with Magic & Sparkle's finest! Not to be outdone, the neighbouring county of Dorset also produced a fantastic bird over Christmas, but one that was much rarer. In fact it was so rare, it was World lifer for me, and was a devil of a long way south for this species, especially a seemingly healthy specimen that has lingered for more than a couple of days. Yes, Brunnich's Guillemot usually graces our far northern shores, and those that do are usually storm-blown sickly birds! Now, I don't tend to twitch birds nowadays outside of Devon, but if a lifer turns up in one of the surrounding counties, if I have the time and the money, I will try to make the effort. The Brunnich's was in Portland Harbour and had been performing fairly well for everyone, so at 5.30 this morning, I was up for an early breakfast and a reasonably early start. Traffic was very light and I duly arrived at the car park adjacent to Portland Castle at 8.08! The bird had been seen, but over 300 pairs of eyes had remarkably 'lost' the bird. Yes, I know that it could stay underwater for lengthy periods and yes, sometimes surfaced some distance from where it had dived, but surely all those experienced manic twitchers could have kept tabs on it! Well, I had been waiting for some time amongst the restless crowd (not exactly my cup of tea), when at 8.50 the star bird popped up right in front of me resulting in mind-numbing views. Then it was gone again, quickly diving under the surface. Luckily it popped up nearby and repeated the process several times! By now, most of the crowd had got accustomed to its behaviour and the bird was tracked up and down the shoreline. By standing still in one place you could guarantee that the bird would pop back up directly in front of you at some stage. Of course the usual nutters armed with big camera lens and small pea-sized brains had to rush up and down the path trying to get right up the bird's arse so they could outdo one another for the best photos. This normally results in half a dozen 'photographers' jostling and pushing folk out of the way who are just trying to get a good honest look at the bird. Over the years I have developed a way of dealing with these numpties. Just as they are about to click their cameras, my foot tends to have a spasm and either accidentally kicks their tripods or I accidentally trip over a rice grain and push them back! 'So sorry' tends to be one of my common phrases at these twitches. Probably why I don't tend to go to these events much nowadays.... Still, it was a cracking bird and I was so pleased to get my first World tick in the UK for over two years. (Last one was the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Chew Valley Lake in Somerset). I stopped briefly at Ferrybridge which was boring apart from an adult Med Gull. Then I called in at Radipole Lake where I had my first Glossy Ibis of the year, feeding in a wet grassy puddle next to a children's playground in Radipole Park Drive, most of which was very boggy after the torrential rain we had last week. Back in the car, I motored over to West Bexington, drove down to the beach car park, and trudged in to wind and by now intermittent drizzle showers along the shingle ridge. I came across a chap with a young lad who were looking for the same birds as me. They had been told the rough spot where they had been seen earlier in the morning and we split up and recovered some of the ground they had covered before. Hadn't been looking for long when I spotted the 3 Snow Buntings right in front of me! Smashing little birds and my first for 2013! Well pleased, I trudged back along the shingle ridge (bleddy good exercise!) and returned home, getting back for lunchtime, despite the traffic being very heavy. Oh well, I might be tempted to go for another lifer in Dorset should one turn up.................

Thursday, 12 December 2013


I refer you to the birds that have escaped in certain countries, gone on a shagging spree and now in some cases outnumber the original natural species! Now, in our visits to the Algarve, Italy and Cote D'Azur during the last couple of years I have ticked off birds which were certainly not part of the local avifauna, until some berk left some cage doors wide open. Do you count them or not? Well I do, as they are no different to us ticking off Golden Pheasant, Mandarin, Little Owl and Ring-necked (Rose-ringed) Parakeets in dear old Blighty. Let's start in the jolly old Algarve. Whilst wandering around the Parc Ambiental in Vilamoura in October last year, as well as seeing such wonderful species as Booted Eagle, White Stork, lots of Red-rumped Swallows and Spanish Wagtails, I also had cracking views of Common Waxbills and Black-headed Weavers! These birds have been nesting and multiplying all along the Algarve coast and beyond and now have self-sustaining populations. They are now part of the local birdy scene, and are likely to stay that way for the rest of my lifetime. Moving on. In June this year we travelled to Tuscany in Italy for a fortnight's holiday, relaxing, taking in the local history, the beautiful cities (such as Florence) and sampling the local culture and manic Italian driving. I also took in absolutely stunning views of Red-billed Leiothrix (Pekin Robin to you!) lurking in riverside vegetation with Crag Martins flying overhead and Nightingales singing from the same area. Yes, together with the Red Avadavats I saw in a reserve to the south of Montecatini Terme, these are on the 'official' Italian list. Finally, our trip to the Cote D'Azur in October just past. The area around Nice and Cannes seemed to have rather embarrassing numbers of Indian Silverbills, which apparently are increasing in numbers all the time and spreading along the coast quicker than Sebastian Vettel. They are not exactly the most colourful of birds, so who the hell keeps the damned things anyway? Presumably the French aviculturalists who kept them got so bored of looking at them they tipped them out of their cages one dark night. Land at Nice Cote D'Azur Airport. You walk towards the hire car garages and there they are. Loads of them in the bamboo stands planted by the airport designers to provide some sort of 'greenery' in an otherwise grey landscape! We drove over to Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat just after we landed and had a wander round the marina. It's a nice place. No dog turds on the pavements, properties kept rather clean and tidy, lots of 'yachts' in the bay and some pretty serious 'metal' on the streets. Oh, and yes, some noisy Lovebirds outside the cafe which we decided to sit outside under an awning whilst a thunderstorm passed over! Now these birds managed to provide superb views, conveniently perching in palm trees just the other side of the street from the cafe. Four of these were pure Fischer's Lovebirds, providing yours truly with another World Lifer. Examine the others closely and it soon became apparent that there were more than one species here, two were clearly Masked Lovebirds and a further two birds seemed to be hybrids between the two species! This clearly produces quite a dilemma. Yes, you can 'tick' the Fischer's as these are on the official French list. However the Masked Lovebirds are not! And yes if the two species keep on having a bit of 'nooky' with one another over the next few years, who's to say whether there will be any pure Fischer's Lovebirds left. Well, they're on my list for now. By the way, I also saw a few Ring-necked Parakeets in the Antibes/Juan les Pins area! Birding just gets more complicated, the older I get...........

Thursday, 5 December 2013

I'm back!!!

Yes, I'm back after a 4 and a half year absence! I'm older, wiser and stick more to my local patch and have started visiting more countries when funds allow, than all that time ago when I started this blog. Ok, my grammar is still the same, my spelling is probably off the mark and I might cuss a bit more, but hey, I am getting into serving my apprentice years as an old codger. Still working though (thanks Mr Bleddy-Cameron) and plan on travelling abroad more with my lovely wife. Since my last post, we've visited Cyprus, Mallorca (Spain), Algarve (Portugal), Tuscany and Liguria (Italy), Cote D'Azur (France) and Monaco. Birding highlights for me were Black Francolin, Eleonora's Falcon, Masked Shrike and Cretzschmar's Bunting in Cyprus, Audouin's Gull, Balearic Warbler, Griffon and Black (Cinereous) Vultures in Mallorca, Black-shouldered Kite, Azure-winged Magpie and Rock Bunting in the Algarve, Short-toed Eagle and Moltoni's Warbler in Tuscany and Bonelli's Eagle in Monaco, all of which were Lifers. I'm still covering my local patch, which is Exmouth. The boundaries are defined by the Civil Parish borders and directly offshore from the seafront. More on this later. I won't be publishing quite so often as I did 4 years ago, but any good birds seen will get a mention.