Bridwatching

I’ve seen three seas in less than three weeks – the Mediterranean, the Agean, and now the good old North Sea! I’ve copied and pasted most of this entry from my blog at Birdforum, so apologies if it’s any geekier than usual…

Today I was booked in to go on the RSPB’s skua/shearwater cruise from Bridlington. Having never seen any skuas or shearwaters in my life, I thought it would be a good way to tick off a few lifers, hopefully see some surprise migrators, and maybe even a few whales and dolphins. Sadly, the trip was called off due to bad weather, despite it actually being quite a nice day (although the sea was quite choppy, and I’d never claim to know maritime matters better than the captain of a boat).

Like a fool, I’d already bought a train ticket, and decided a day in Bridlington and Flamborough would be a good time to spend a Saturday anyway, and I’d be damned if the rail network was getting £24 out of me for an empty seat…

After finally getting to Flamborough Head on the bus and a walk (I’m not convinced I actually got off the nearest bus stop, but ah well), the first birds I saw were a pied wagtail and a wheatear, chirruping round the golf course. The wheatear was a UK first for the year, despite the fact I saw shedloads in Rhodes the other week!

Near the lighthouse there was a goldcrest in one of the trees, more wagtails, and large number of meadow pipits, a small flock of redwings, as well as a few swallows and martins. A kestrel hovered overhead, mobbed by angry swooping jackdaws. There were also large number of starlings and house sparrows, which are both sadly becoming something more and more notable.

Out to sea all the usual suspects – cormorants, shags, gannets, guillemots, a few red-throated divers, oystercatchers, and herring, common, black-headed, lesser black backed and greater black backed gulls.

And then, shearing across the water (as they do), what I’m almost, almost, almost positive was a Manx shearwater. I say almost, because the presense of immature gannets got doubts in my mind, and a total lack of emotion from any of the assembled birders also made me wonder – of course they may not have seen it, or be too “cool” to show excitement for such things!

(Why didn’t you ask anyone, you say? Partly due to the “not wanting to look like a twonk” factor, and partly because it had already vanished.)

Back in Brid, the usual array of gulls, a few redshanks, oystercatchers, and large numbers of turnstones and dunlins.

Not a bad day, but no skua cruise! Maybe next time…

(Oh and I’ve not forgotten about the birding meme, or trying desperately to name the lizards I saw in Rhodes. That may (or may not) follow tomorrow).

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Casual birdwatching in Rhodes

Well, back in drizzly Britain after a week in sunny Rhodes! An easy, cheating way to get your birding yearlist up is to go to foreign climes, and although the birdwatching was pretty casual between bouts of beaching, eating, drinking and general sightseeing, the island didn’t disappoint.

The first thing I noticed was large numbers of quite unexotic collared doves and house sparrows, but more interesting birds started to arrive pretty quickly, with hooded crows overhead during the shuttle from the airport. There were also tantalising glimpses of birds of prey at various points, some which were long-legged buzzards, and some immense eagles I’ve not managed to identify with any certainty

At the apartment in Pefkos, the first thing I saw was a jay of the Middle Eastern subspecies, and before long a red-backed shrike on a telephone wire. These turned out to be very common throughout the island, and I saw several, sometimes three at once from the apartment balcony. The balcony was a great place to spot things, including loads of blue rock thrushes, wheatears, a hoopoe, another long-legged buzzard, and rock doves, swallows, sand martins, house martins, common swifts and at least a couple of crag martins. There were also a few blue tits and blackbirds. On the Sunday there was a great sight when a large flock of bee-eaters flew overhead.

Elsewhere in Pefkos, a small party of night herons flew from a tree, seemingly disturbed from their daytime roost, and warblers included wood warblers, willow warblers, spectacled warblers and icterine warblers. A patch of scrubland not far from the apartment was good for yellow wagtails, crested larks, orphean warblers, blue rock thrushes and wheatears, including at least one black-eared wheatear. Yellow-legged gulls and lesser black-backed gulls flew over the sea.

Elsewhere on the island, there were Sardinian warblers at the ancient ruins at Kamiros, wrens and blue tits at the Valley of the Butterflies (a famous breeding ground for Jersey tiger moths). Ravens were spotted a couple of times from coach windows near the coast, and a couple of peregrines over Old Rhodes Town. I also saw a couple of kestrels, sadly not close enough to tell if they were common or lesser kestrels.

A trip to Epta Piges (Seven Springs), brought up chaffinches, a kingfisher, some more Sardinian warblers, and a spotted flycatcher.

As well as birds I saw at least four species of lizard, which I’ll write about later on when I’ve actually worked out which species they all were!

More badgers…

One last one before I go away…

The badger has been visiting the garden a few times a night since we first saw it. I’ve been leaving a trail of peanuts out on a few nights, and it follows the scent of them with remarkable accuracy. Tonight it came so close to the French windows that it was sniffing the glass at one point, and we watched its antics for a good fifteen or twenty minutes, mere inches away from where we were stood behind the double glazing. I’m going to have to lay off the peanuts a bit – I don’t want it to become over-reliant on our treats, just to provide us with entertainment, however tempting it is.

Also, it’s quite powerful as it snuffles for nuts, knocking over plant pots, digging up the grass, and pushing the rockery around. I don’t mind this one bit, as its worth it to get so close to one of Britain’s most charismatic animals, but I don’t want to create a peanut-fed, badger menace that’ll terrorise the neighbourhood!

Egrets, they’ve had a few…

Sorry couldn’t resist that dodgy pun… just been for a quick visit to Old Moor, and the little egrets that were there at the beginning of August are still there, and have been joined by about eight other birds! We saw about seven of them, showing well and dotted around most of the hides.

Fingers crossed they’ll overwinter, and if they do they’ll probably breed, and if so that’ll be a Yorkshire first. Maybe it is climate change making northern climes more attractive to the egrets, or maybe just another sudden and spontaneous expansion (as collared doves did in the 1950s), but either way I don’t think anyone would claim little egrets would be an unwelcome addition to Yorkshire’s breeding birds.

Birding Meme part 1

I’ve been tagged by Roger at Words and Pictures for the birding meme. I’m going to steal his format of answering each of the seven questions in separate posts, as there’s one or two questions I’ll probably wax very lyrical about. So on with the first…

Question 1: What is the coolest bird you have seen from your home?
I can’t really tell of real occasions when I saw something amazingly “cool” from the house, such as an overhead osprey or a vagrant Baltimore oriole on the birdfeeders or anything like that, but I always like it when something unexpected shows up.

When I was a child, we’d occasionally get visitors turning up in the garden that excited my young mind, but I’ll save these for one of the following questions.

The house I’m in at the moment is brilliant. From the house and gardens I’ve seen jays, long-tailed tits, grey herons, sparrowhawks, bullfinches, blackcaps, kestrels and great spotted woodpeckers, and been woken by the sounds of tawny owls. Nothing rare, or too unexpected, but seeing birds like this from your bedroom or kitchen window is always fantastic.

And while we’re on the subject of television…

this story intrigued me slightly. The BBC have pulled a special about climate change, because they fear it would be against the BBC’s stance of impartiality.

Now, I’m not sure a TV special about climate change would have been particularly successful. I mean, Live Earth was hardly a runaway, world-saving success (though that could have been down to the frankly rubbish line up and mind-numbing hypocricy of several hundred celebs jetting round the world, just to be lit and amplifed and preach to the proles that they have to use energy saving lightbulbs and stop going on short haul flights).

But why is climate change an issue that is supposedly so politically sensitive that the BBC cannot be shown to accept it is real and highlight the dangers it poses? Nearly all scientists accept the climate is changing, and there’s general scientific consensus it’s down to human activity. This is not some political belief. It is what our scientists are telling us, despite what sadly very well-publicised “climate skeptics” would have us believe.

Since when has taking generally accepted scientific consensus been an issue of political partiality? Does this mean the BBC can’t make a programme about evolution any more, for example? It’s worrying stuff if taken to its conclusion.

I strongly believe that the BBC should hold true to its remit of political impartiality. But they have to be careful this doesn’t mean they never stick their neck out and say anything that could be mildly controversial, or they risk being bland, toothless and totally irrelevent.

Dumped

I watched an episode of Channel 4’s Dumped the other day, which is a bizarre hybrid of Big Brother, Scrapheap Challenge, and some kind of half-baked eco-experiment. A group of mis-matched attention-seekers are sent to live in a rubbish dump for two and a half weeks, living off what other people throw away, a bit like extreme Wombles.

The whole premise of “let’s show some people a rubbish dump and shock them into recycling a bit more” was horribly patronising. Well, until you realised that some of the contestants are such unrepenting thickies that they didn’t even realise landfill sites existed, and presumably thought their rubbish was magically vanished away by some kind of refuse pixie.

While it is shocking to see just how much of our countryside is covered in rubbish that could be very easily recycled and reused, I’m wary about this kind of programming. There’s too many shows throwing the extreme end of eco-living at unresponsive people for comedic effect, making people fear that environmental living can only be achieved by effectively becoming hippies in tents who use bales of hay for toilets. Where are the programmes that depict the relatively easy changes people can do to reduce their environmental impact and help the planet, rather than hectoring selfish fashion models, semi-pro footballers, installation artists and other assorted pricks into building a compost toilet for the sake of cheap entertainment?