Sunday, 28 November 2010

Blizzards and snowdrifts - southern style

A shower, for an hour, and everything stops. An inch of snow at most and the road is like sheet ice, threatening civilisation as we know it. The Scots and the Geordies have been accumulating piles of the stuff over the last week, and are of course brazen with how hard(y) they are.

It was very pretty (beautiful snow is God's way of apologising for the dull grey weather of Autumn) and with no wind, clung to every surface.
Saturday by contrast was cold and dry, with a hoar frost lasting until mid-morning, picking out the details of each leaf - in this case of Wild Cabbage.
The weekend got off to a good start as I opened the curtains to see not snow, but two Firecrests in the shrub just outside. The photo below is an entry in the "Worst Pic" competition, and is included merely to show my barber just how bright these birds are in comparison to Goldcrests.
Yes, my barber. Hands up all of you who have barbers who are keen birdwatchers? Makes a nice change of conversation from the usual. He keeps a pile of Birds magazines on the table, and it was lovely to see two young children looking through them and talking about the pictures.

Elsewhere, a couple of sociable chats were had at Sandwich Bay - these chats get everywhere.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Swampy and Stump - y

In the cold midday air I took a walk, choosing a sheltered wood to keep the wind off. In this I was only partly successful. It was these woods (Lyminge Forest in fact) that Swampy and friends occupied in 1997, when developers planned to turn it into a holiday park.
There is an interesting account of the camps here.
A stump in an area of Sweet Chestnuts showed evidence of a more recent occupation - presumably a squirrel that likes to have a panoramic view when eating.

Last night, Stumpy the Turnstone got his five minutes of fame when he/she was featured on Autumnwatch. I've seen the bird over the last five winters on Deal pier, and now a BBC cameraman has photographed him/her and some of the other Turnstones that scrounge for titbits from the anglers.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Suddenly Seymour

My approach to birding is

  • "the faster and further, the more I'll see".
  • "I like to travel light" and
  • "don't fence me in".

This principle has long been used to put off buying a telescope, which would be cumbersome and heavy, and would get in the way of my fast and loose approach.

The downside of this is that, when a scope would be useful, I have to interrupt the peace of a nearby scope-equipped birder, to cadge a squint. Standing on the ramp at Grove Ferry trying to see a very distant Phalarope was an example. Fortunately a bright, sunny person next to me was kind enough to offer.

So the bullet had to be bitten, and today was the first opportunity to use my new purchase. I slung the thing over my shoulder and suddenly I was a new man - like carrying a rifle (or a 500mm lens) I suddenly looked the part. This macho image will no doubt be shattered the first time the scope falls over at a twitch.......

First to the rifle range, where a movement of divers was immediately evident - GNDs and BTDs by the look of it. (I can use acronyms now I'm a real birder - probably wrongly though).

Then up to Oare, where the close-ups brought out the colours of Teal, Lapwings and Golden Plover, even on such a grey day. A whole new world is opened up. Even the mythical "peregrine on a pylon" became visible - doubly so, in fact.

If anyone sees me and needs to borrow a scope, please ask, because I owe a debt to society.

PS if you don't get the title, you've missed a great movie.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Smoke on the Water

There was a strange phenomenon at Dover harbour this morning - small mists of water vapour blown lightly by zephyrs of cold air across the warmer water. So that's how clouds are made.

The air was still and cold inland, leaving a beautiful hoar frost.

After a tough morning's work fighting spreadsheets, the sunshine tempted me to Folkestone, where the clarity of light was stunning. Why isn't the summer this bright and colourful, with aquamarine sea and skies when we can lie and enjoy them?

Not a ripple from Calais to Dungeness, but in the middle of the bay, miles out, was a raft of Scoter - I counted 61, with at least one Velvet Scoter among them (13th from the right, or maybe it's an Eider?). You have to work hard for year-ticks around here.  

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Twitter Feed

An early walk yesterday along the cliff top produced a late Swallow and an early Fulmar (last year's first returner was on 14th November). Plenty of birds in the Hope Point bushes, including Redwing and Fieldfare, Bullfinch and Goldcrest..........

Went to see Jeremy Hardy at the excellent new Folkestone venue, the Quarterhouse. Very clever bloke, full of humanity...... might have toned down his politics for the Folkestone Radio 4 audience.
"We won't get peace in Ireland until they renounce violins".
One of the few "celebs" that I could consider following on Twitter......

Grotty weather so made some bird food mix. Think I'll call it Twitter Feed.......

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Sea watch - see much?

I took today off as a holiday - not a sickie, what do you think I am, a twitcher? As usual, I got the weather conditions wrong and instead of masses of birds flying past after the rough weather, I just got the weather. Actually, it wasn't too bad, as shelter was generally found, like the lower deck of Deal pier.

There was a trickle of birds through the morning - enough to keep us interested, as SteveR seems to have developed an unhealthy interest in identifying flying (Philadelphia?) ducks. He has also started writing lists in a notebook - he'll be sketching next.
SteveR's notebook says:
Auks sp 2
Eider 6
RB merganser 6 [above]
Scoter 34
Teal 2 (though I think the ones in the picture are also teal so will be 7) [Good call - Ed]
Widgeon 4
Goldeneye 5
Gt crested grebe 2
Little gull 4
Shelduck 3

Brent geese 237 [above, chased by a Shelduck]
Divers 3 (red throat I expect - the chance of any being black throat when only seeing 3 birds is minimal)
Turnstones 12
Kittiwake 2 on pier.
Common and herring gulls didn't count.
A few unidentified waders but again no counts.
A Kittiwake took up the usual Kittiwake position on the flagpole at the end of the pier, and the Turnstones were loafing around the anglers. A Stumpy bird was there, as was another whose only leg is being destroyed by fishing line.
Despite the challenging conditions and relatively sparse birds, the morning was enjoyable in good company - highlights were the six Eider, three males and then three females, in a row; and the four Little Gulls - always a favourite.
Lowlights included two Gannets close into shore, apparently joined at the hip - presumably by more fishing line.

The afternoon consisted of a divertisement at Oare marshes, again in good company, which produced a stunning flock of 17 Eider and two Pomerine Skuas which perversely flew inland. There were also some Little Gulls, but I missed them because of a mobile phone call from work. Murray just managed to keep a straight face when he told me.

As the gloom of late afternoon descended for the last time, more Brents flew over.
I hope that the OAPs enjoy tomorrow's birding.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

If you're going to plant a tree....

..... plant a rowan. Not only do they attract Waxwings, they seem to harbour a wide variety of other birds. My forays into the outside world didn't extend far today in the contant showers but my attention was often on the tree across the road as there always seemed to be birds in it.
A Redwing stayed for a while, giving the impression of exhaustion, and there were Blackbirds, a Song Thrush, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Jays, a female Blackcap and a Wren at various times. Oh, and I nearly forgot the ubiquitous Robins. When/if the Waxwings arrive, they will be too late for the berries.

The Rowan or Mountain Ash (or quickbeam or witchwood or rune tree) has a rich pagan tradition, and is the wood of choice for wizards' wands. It also gave a nice name to a coal-scarred town in the South Wales valleys.
In trees nearby I added Greenfinches and Goldcrests to the list. The disturbed weather has shaken them up, and tomorrow's blast will no doubt move them around again.

There was little moving on the sea early morning, but that might have been because all the birds were following this fishing boat. Later in the day, between squalls, there were Brent Geese and Scoter flying, and probably much else but I couldn't hang around.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Gillingham 0 Dover Athletic 2

For posterity......... Gillingham 0 Dover Athletic 2

Unfortunately I couldn't be there, but it must have been great - like being at The Valley for Charlton v. Maidstone United in 1979, and (of course) at Wembley for Deal Town winning the FA Vase in 2000.

The last time Dover reached the first round of the FA Cup, they were at home to Oxford United and I had a ticket. Admittedly, I was in Indonesia until a couple of days before the match, but the flight would get me back with 24 hours to spare so that shouldn't be a problem.

I saw very few birds in Indonesia as it was one of the populous parts but one of the few (probably one of the egrets at the side of the runway) inconveniently flew into one of the plane's engines on take-off so after it circled and landed I was stuck in Semarang with no replacement aircraft available.

Eventually another was arranged, and the very efficient airline staff in this small airport managed to rearrange my flights to Jakarta, Singapore and home. After a 36 hour journey I reached home with time for a couple of hours nap before the game.

Dover lost 1-nil.

One of the factories that I visited was about ten miles from Mount Merapi - they were lovely people and I hope the're OK.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Nighttime - all the time

It's dark when I leave for work........ then it's dark when I return. [Retired readers will just have to image this, if they can't remember how bad it was].

The only wildlife I see during the week are moths that fly indoors during this unusually warm spell, like the one above that might be a Feathered Thorn, nicely posed on the food mixer.

So I'll resort to trawling the net for entertainment:

I remember seeing footage of Umbrella Herons in my early days, and their behaviour was so unusual that it made me actually think of 'behaviour' - instead of doing the things that birds usually did, like pecking around randomly, they were clearly following a precise strategy. This then got me thinking (slowly and laboriously) that other birds carry out activities that are more deliberate than had previously been apparent.
I'm not saying I was advanced in this line of thinking, just that the Umbrella Bird made me think differently.

Similarly, an early stay in Singapore taught me that birds (in this case Mynah birds) can talk, which is a skill that had been honed by Lyrebirds.