Friday, 31 October 2008

Paying Homage to El Presidente!

I’m so glad I found this on Youtube, I only saw it on “Have I Got News For You” earlier. As we all know, “Autumnwatch” is back. Bill Oddie and Kate Humble were being interviewed on BBC Breakfast to plug it, and it was obvious that Bill wasn’t happy with the quality of sound from his earpiece. All can be seen here!

I know he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you watch it I’m prepared to back him up on this one. I don’t blame him for getting annoyed with those two halfwit newsreaders, who in the end were just down right rude (perhaps they should join messrs Woss and Brand?). How on earth Kate Silverton got to present “Big Cat Live” the other week is anyone’s guess. At the end of the day, who’s the one with the OBE?

Bill Oddie was certainly an inspiration to me as a young lad. I also think his unpredictability, as well as his enthusiasm, makes him worth watching. I can only think of one other celeb who’s probably more unpredictable and that’s John Lydon. Now there’s an idea for a new wildlife presenter!

Here’s some more tributes that I’ve found to the great man, president of the West Midland Bird Club and the undisputed king of Ecky Thump. His classic appearance on Never Mind the Buzzcocks a couple of years ago, and Kitten Kong!

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Where's Wossy?

After 18,000 complaints to the BBC, I wonder just how many of those people actually listened to the Russell Brand show on Radio 2 on the 18th October? I didn't, I was on a ferry! That must qualify me to complain as well?

Although I think it really has turned into a witch-hunt, if it can get Jonathan Woss off the telly then I'm all for it!!!

PS, Errata. Last Sunday I mentioned there were no site ticks at Uttoxeter Quarry. In my very old age, I can't believe I haven't seen Goldcrest there before. But unbelieveably it was a site tick. Which takes me to 98. Two more to go, then I can raise my bat for the century.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Back To Reality

Saturday 25th October.

I've done enough travelling over the last couple of months, time to concentrate on some old stomping grounds nearer to home. Despite news of a Welsh double-whammy, namely Little Blue Heron and Siberian Thrush. I can't be bothered.

Blithfield Reservoir, 11:00 - 13:30.

A walk round the deep end first. Wasn't half windy, just like being on Shetland. On arrival at the sailing club, this area of water had been taken over by windsurfers. Meaning that the Long-Tailed Duck had moved on. It must've been on the reservoir somewhere but I didn't see it. Never mind. As a matter of fact, I saw my first Long-Tailed Duck at Blithfield in 1988!

2 Pintail and 9 Goldeneye in Tad Bay, and a Grey Wagtail on the causeway. When about leaving Blithfield I received a text from birding pal and fellow Uttoxeter Quarryman, Andy, of a Jack Snipe there. Time to cut my losses at Blithers for today. I also saw not one other birder here, has everyone gone to Wales?

Uttoxeter Quarry, 14:00 - 16:00.

Needless to say I didn't see the Jack Snipe. But there were three new site ticks for me this time, in the form of 5 Fieldfare, a pair of Stonechat and a covey of 23 Red-Legged Partridge.

Following the quarry, and making the most of British Summer Time, a drive up into the North Staffs Moors for the evening produced a Short-Eared Owl. There do seem to be quite a few in the Peak District at the moment. There's an intruiging article from the BTO recently, with the discovery of the numbers of Kestrels migrated from Scandanavia after such a successful breeding season. No doubt Short-Eared Owls have gone the same way as they share similar prey.

On arrival back home, I found the comforting news that there was no sign of the Little Blue Heron, and the Siberian Thrush is still only a possible. Phew, vindicated! I also made the welcome discovery that now dark nights are here, my world of the ridiculous has been boosted by the return of "Harry Hill's TV Burp" on the telly. Hurrah!

Sunday 26th October.

Uttoxeter Quarry, 12:30 - 14:15

No new site ticks today, but there were 2 Pintail, 1 Goosander, 1 Green Sandpiper, 20 Snipe. Whilst at the quarry my thought were turning to another drive up into the moors again. Looking at my watch, hmm, nearing 3pm I'm cutting it a bit fine. Then arriving back at the car, I then realised I hadn't put my watch back an hour. Doh!

Another trip into the moors until dusk produced a male Merlin this time. Just need Hen Harrier for the set now!

Just an aside. Has anyone been watching the Electric Proms? In particular, the first one with Burt Bacharach? I don't mean to have a go at him because he's one of the greats. But after watching it I can understand why he got other people to sing for him (well, apart from Cilla!), because he murdered "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head"! Almost of Paul Shane proportions!

There has also been the "Saturday Night Fever" prom as well, which included the song "Disco Inferno". My particular favourite re-enactment of that song was performed by Keith Lard on Phoenix Nights (another child orphaned). I can't believe I can't find it on Youtube. That may be because of Keith Lard's other habits, and Peter Kay's large payout to Keith Laird!

Thursday, 23 October 2008

World Tour of Shetland, Part II

Wednesday 15th October.

A bit of a bump down to earth today. It threw it down the whole morning. There’s only so long you can sit in the car reading newspapers! It’s also quite a trek to Isbister from Lerwick, about an hour. Four Whooper Swans were at North Roe.

A few other birders were at Isbister on arrival. When the rain cleared, giving way to a lovely sunny afternoon, a walk around surrounding fields produced a Whinchat and a Blackcap, but alas no Pechora Pipit. Perhaps to find this bird again was always going to be an impossible task.

Knowing it was going to be a long trek back to Lerwick, a stop to have a look around Voe produced 9 Whooper Swans, 12 Redwing and a Woodpigeon.

Thursday 16th October.

Really tough conditions for birding today. Really strong winds and frequent showers. A bit of a write-off for finding passerine migrants, but I was hopeful the afternoon might improve. Which in the end it didn’t!

In the morning at Loch of Spiggie were 25 Whooper Swans. Then a bit of a seawatch at Bigton, near St. Ninians Isle, produced 4 Red-Throated Divers.

As there was not much out at sea despite the strong wings, I decided to return to Toab. A walk along the gardens eventually produced a brief view of a Barred Warbler. It then made a couple of brief jumps deep into other bushes in the garden. Very typical Barred Warbler behaviour from my experience!

A walk around Exnaboe produced a Brambling and Chaffinch, unfortunately not the Great Grey Shrike. Not very much seen after that, hopefully the wind will die down a bit for the next couple of days. In fact, at Pool of Virkie, this was the best thing I saw!

As I’ve previously mentioned Bod, there’ll be no references to Geoffrey, Zippy, George and Bungle.

Friday 17th October.

Nowhere near as windy today, thank goodness. However, it appears it has produced a clear out of migrants. Days of westerly winds has finally taken its toll. No sign of the Bluethroat at Channerwick after two visits, but there was a Woodpigeon.

I did finally manage to get the Great Grey Shrike at Exnaboe, plus a Yellow-Browed Warbler and Chiffchaff at Toab. Not a lot else though. This view of Fair Isle however:

Saturday 18th October.

Just going through the motions now, in anticipation for the ferry back home. Another visit to Channerwick still didn’t reveal the Bluethroat, although a pair of Fieldfare flew over, my first for the trip and taking the total for the week to 82. There’s a patch of Japanese Knotweed there, the Bluethroat could stay in there for days and still not be seen!

Another visit round Trondra, Burra and Scalloway, for flocks of Eider still didn’t produce a King Eider. Almost giving up, just one last visit to Kergord. A birder told me that the White’s Thrush was still around, and sure enough I managed to find it. I can’t believe I would be able to view this species on my own on the mainland. Also a Yellow-Browed Warbler, Chiffchaff and loads of Goldcrest.

This is Scalloway by the way:

So that was about it, apart from buying tourist tat in Lerwick and a very civilised pot of tea and slice of cake (too early for beer). Checking in on the ferry, they seemed much more understandable about not having any photo id. Just goes to prove that people are nicer up north. Speaking of which, I bought this DVD a couple of months ago:

It’s a documentary starring top singer/songwriter John Shuttleworth, and the people of Shetland. It’s well worth buying if you’ve ever been, or are thinking of going.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

World Tour of Shetland, Part I

As you can probably tell reader (do tell the other reader!), I’m back from my great world tour of Shetland.

First of all, a word of caution regarding the ferry from Aberdeen. Apparently, as of the 1st May, photo id is required at check-in. I wish this was mentioned on the Northlink Ferries website when I made the booking (in July!!!), because I didn’t have any on me!

If this is law or company policy I don’t know. But the way I see it is, what’s the most common form of personal ID with a photo on? Answer, a passport! I should not need a passport to travel around my own country. Not all of us are terrorists or drug dealers.

Not knowing of this slight detail that was missing on their website, and more importantly the confirmation e-mail, I made my feelings on this issue well known to the chap at check-in. No-one messes with me, and so they let me on the ferry.

Sunday 12th October.

Not the best night’s sleep out at sea, but still better than I can ever do on long-distance flights. After docking at Lerwick I paid one of first of many visits to Loch of Clickimin and the Helendale area of Lerwick. A leafy suburb in Shetland terms, although nowhere near as leafy as Woking.

A Slavonian Grebe and 3 Goldeneye were on the loch, and migrants at Helendale included Blackcap, Goldcrest and Siskin.

A short drive over to the isle of Trondra was called for next, especially as a King Eider was here a week before. On arrival at a mussel farm in Cliff Sound there was a huge raft of Common Eider, plus three Long-Tailed Duck (two of them were cracking winter-plumaged drakes!), but unfortunately the king had left the building.

Loch of Tingwall had 2 Slavonian Grebes, then at the Kergord plantation there was a Yellow-Browed Warbler and a Pied Flycatcher.

Starting to flag from the lack of sleep at this point, a quick check of Loch of Benston produced 6 Whooper Swans.

By this time I was poised to return to Lerwick to check into my B&B, when a text on my moby mentioned a Red-Breasted Flycatcher at Helendale! Aaagh. Strange how you wake up when that happens! On returning there I did manage a brief view of it in the gloom. Also by now a Long-Tailed Duck and Goosander at Loch of Clickimin.

By the way, I decided to use a B&B and not another form of accommodation in Shetland, a Camping Bod.

No not that one! Although whenever I see these in Shetland, it always reminds me of this memory from childhood. Even now I can still whistle the theme tune. Do you remember Farmer Barleymow, Aunt Flo, PC Copper, and Alberto Frog and his Amazing Animal Band (I wouldn’t say no to a milkshake!)? All narrated by the dulcite tones of John “Sergeant Wilson” Le Mesurier!

Monday 13th October.

Over to the south mainland today, in particular to Toab for the Little Bunting. No sign of that, but a Richard’s Pipit had replaced it. Also a Whitethroat, Wheatear and Brambling. I also met local birder and photographer, Jim Nicolson.

A walk around Sumburgh Head produced 2 Twite and 2 Redwing. 5 Pale-Bellied Brent Geese at Pool of Virkie, plus two Brents and a Pintail at Boddam Voe. I had about finished birding for the day, and was stocking up with drinks at Tescos in Lerwick. Then a text appeared that REALLY got the adrenalin running. Unbelievably, considering the weather conditions, White’s Thrush at Kergord! Wow!!!

As soon as I saw that, and knowing there would be a bit of daylight left I zoomed off in the car and twenty minutes later I arrived. I managed four flight views of the bird. The first three were in the tops of the trees. My thoughts were yes it’s a thrush, not a Blackbird or Redwing, and I’ve seen no Mistle Thrushes here, so I’ve no reason to believe that’s not it. The last view, however, was much closer and lower. You could see the bird’s head and the large white patches on the under-wing.

Absolutely fantastic, not many twitches I go to these days really do make me physically twitch, but this one did! It was one of the big Siberian rarities I was secretly hoping for while I was here, and I’d got one so early into the trip. There were also Sparrowhawk and Merlin overhead during the evening’s entertainment. I also knew where I was returning to in the morning!

Tuesday 14th October.

I just had to return to Kergord, in case I could manage a better view of the White’s Thrush. On arrival I spoke to another local birder and photographer, Hugh Harrop. A group of us had gathered in the plantation. After a while most had dispersed but I stayed put.

The Yellow-Browed Warbler appeared again, then after a while a thrush landed in a conifer tree. A look in the binoculars, and would you believe it, it was the White’s Thrush. What a magnificent bird it is with all the scaly plumage, just wonderful. Its reclusive nature meant that it didn’t stay in the tree for very long, and a lot of birders missed it at that point.

I decided to move on, thinking I wouldn’t get a better view of the White’s Thrush now. News also filtered through of a Shetland mega at Sumburgh Head, a Long-Tailed Tit. It's quite odd to see a mass exodus of birders for a Long-Tailed Tit, but it was only the 4th one recorded on Shetland. It still didn't float my boat.

Back to Loch of Tingwall. There was the Ring-Necked Duck, 2 Scaup and still 2 Slavonian Grebes. Another look at Trondra produced absolutely no Eider at the mussel farm, I couldn’t believe it actually.

I just spent the rest of the afternoon mooching round Lerwick again. Seafield didn’t produce much, apart from a very furtive Robin that got me going for a moment. At Helendale were a Chiffchaff, Garden Warbler, Grey Wagtail and another Sparrowhawk. Loch of Clickimin produced another Ring-Necked Duck, I assume it must’ve flown here from Loch of Tingwall at some point during the afternoon.

At this point, just when I thought I was running out of birds to see, a text appeared. Pechora Pipit at Isbister! Right at the northern end of the mainland. Unfortunately too late to get over there today, but I’ll be over there tomorrow. Can this place get any better?

Sunday, 5 October 2008

2-1 to the Pub Team

Saturday 4th October. Uttoxeter Quarry, 11:45 - 13:05.

Just a quick look round the quarry before heading over to see the mighty Brewers against Crawley Town. 1 Wheatear and 3 House Martins was about as good as it got, birding wise anyway. Not bad considering we're now into October.

As for the game (apologies to Nigel Clough and Ben Robinson as it's only the second game I've been to this season). I really wanted to go to this one as us Burton Albion supporters have a history with Crawley Town's manager, Steve Evans.

As manager of Boston United, following an FA Cup game there about nine years ago that ended 1-1, Evans was quoted as saying "we made Burton look like a pub team". We won the replay 3-1, and ever since then that "pub team" remark has followed him. Especially after our last minute penalty that won the game, the chants of "2-1 to the pub team" filled the Pirelli Stadium.

Sunday 5th October, Uttoxeter Quarry, 13:15 - 16:00.

A most pleasant afternoon's walk around the quarry, which also produced by far my most unexpected find so far.

Whilst walking along a hedge trying to get a view of a Chiffchaff, when out of a Hawthorn, in the middle of the afternoon, a Barn Owl flew out and away from me! What's all that about? That's unbelieveable, because there's been absolutely no sign of any during the summer. If it was a cold day in the middle of winter it would be a bit more understandable.

So in addition to the Barn Owl there was a good mix of "season cross-over" migrants. 1 Redwing, 6 Swallow, 30 House Martin, 1 Chifchaff, 1 Green Sandpiper, 11 Snipe, 1 Dunlin, 4 Curlew.

Well folks, this is the last blog entry for a couple of weeks or so, until my return from my birding week in Shetland. Unless I find any free Wi-Fi access in Lerwick. Even if I do I'll be too busy birding during the day, and in the evenings I'll be more interested in finding the produce of the Valhalla Brewery.