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Preview: Fat Paul Scholes

Fat Paul Scholes

Updated: 2017-07-23T10:11:00.938+01:00




I like Oban, which is good, cos I was there over the weekend. It has an excellent restaurant. It has otters. It has a very confiding ring-billed gull every winter, which no doubt someone who had remembered to take his camera would have got excellent pics of, instead of this phonebinned shit...

It also has tysties, and plenty of them...On saturday morning, as I wondered round at about seven in the morning wondering where the hangover I should have had had got to, I had 24 in view at one time. And I dont just mean 'in view'...I mean swimming around practically at your feet, displaying, whistling away and rather comically fighting over nest sites.

The drains in Oban esplanade are in the highest demand among it's tystie population, and on friday I had the great pleasure of watching three birds fighting over a site just beneath the esplanade as about 20 folk looked on, feet away. At one point, one bird grabbed another by the bill, and jumped out of the whole, only to be left hanging there, rather to its surprise I should imagine. I didn't manage to get any of that on film...but I did manage to get all three birds tumbling from the drain into the water...its worth waiting for...!
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Gold in them there hills...


Just got back from a great weekend on Deeside, which was composed of gentle birding, sleeping, and a huge amount of eating a huge amount of food. We did rather well. Up Glen Muick on saturday we had Black grouse, red grouse, displaying lapwings, dipper, whooper swans flying over, very standard sounding crossbills and ravens. We also had a good time with mammals, bagging red and fallow deer, and a single red squirrel.

Today was an even slower paced affair, mainly due to the monumental breakfast we had first thing. Our primary target was goshawk, which we failed with, but were amply compensated by a pair of golden eagles giving pretty good views as they circled over a hill. We also got a good listen to some crossbills that sounded a little unusual, to my ears at least. I've had 'large billed crossbills at the same site before, and was feeling a wee but please with myself to have remembired this flock, with a view to making a sonogram. Unfortunately the recording was not of ample quality to get a good enough sonogram (not with my very basic know how, at least) which is a mite frustrating.

Anyway, have a listen and see what you think.

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One direction


I can only draw birds (and I use the word draw in its loosest sense) facing in one direction. I call it west, or left sometimes. I seldom draw birds at all, but after catching up with the siberian chiffchaff at Dalgety Day (after an hour or so's aimlessly wandering around) I felt it would be appropriate to do a little sketch. I would call it a field sketch, but I did it in a railway station.

It was a nice bird after getting some good views of it, if not a little underwhelming at first. I've seen better site chiffs, but eventually managed to see this one well enough to bag a full range of features. Quite educational, and well worth the journey.

And're not getting to see the picture.

Upper Forth, land of contrasts...


Kinneil and Blackness castle...two of upper Forths premier birding spots. I know which one I'd rather do my birding at...

Most days in Upper Forth must be pretty unremarkable, I guess, despite the best efforts of a small band of county listers. Shetland, it is not. It does have its good days though...

March 1st was one of them. I had a pre-work trip out to Kinneil with one of the counties top listers, and despite the horrific smell (that we were both silently blaming each other for in the car...) it was a very pleasant. There were oodles of birds there, with loads of shelduck, blackwits, teal and redshank, along with smaller numbers of scaup, greenshank, and great-crested grebes. The main prize though was eventually catching up with the drake green-winged teal, which has been around for a wee while.

With nothing more than a days work planned after Kinneil I reckoned my birding opportunities were over. Imagine my surprise then, while gazing out of the window as someone spoke to me about statistics, when an immature Iceland gull flew past the office window! Panic ensued and it took me an age to locate my nockies, which were on the desk in front of me! Luckily I got them in time and got myself and one of the other UF listers onto it before it vanished behind the rooftops.

The next morning was spent at Blackness castle, and with a flat calm river Forth, the sun shining, and mist and fog rolling over the fields and the water, it was a far cry from Kinneil the day before. Not quite the same quality bird wise, either, but watching a pair of great crested grebes through the mist was quite the thing....

A patch icer at last


I thought it was going to be a matter of time, but I didn't think it would take until the arse end of mid february...

Not much else going on on patch over the weekend. Birdsong continues to build up slowly, with greenfinches wheezing away for the first time this year. A few additions to the patch year list as well as the aforementioned Iceland gull, in the form of a cracking salmon Goosander and several singing skylarks.

 The brent goose that has been causing such controversy has been hanging around as well. I originally had this juv as a pale-bellied, but then began to waver a bit. A bit of research into these things showed that the presence of white immediately behing the legs would make it a hrota, and inspection of the first pics suggested that the bird was dark here, indicating bernicula. Other photos have come to light now though, which show that it's almost certainly a hrota. Not that it matters one jot of course, but it's always good to learn a new feature and to closely look at something I never really get to spend any quality time with.

my Upper Forth year list


Competitive patch listing eh? everyone seems to be doing it these days. I'm doing it here, and I'm also doing it here. Somehow, I've also found myself embroiled in one of the most fiercely contested listing challenges, the Upper Forth yearlisting competition. I spend a fair bit of time in the upper forth recording area, but an awful lot of that time I'm office bound, certainly at this time of year when the days are so short.

Consequently, my list is very small...a round about 50 ish species. Sometimes I wonder if I was told I was going to be competing just to prop everyone else up...I certainly have no chance of winning the thing.

As with other seemingly pointless listing competitions though, one of the more positive spin-offs of the whole thing is that folk are getting out into the field a lot more than perhaps they might. Upper Forth therefore has seen a pretty decent selection of birds recorded so far this year, with long staying ring-billed gull and green-winged teal being joined by several tundra bean and white-fronted geese, smew, mediterranean and iceland gulls, and a couple of great grey shrikes. It was one of these shrikes, a bird at Kilmahog near Callander, that had me up early and out before work on thursday this week.

Our day out started well with seven very jammy white-fronted geese flying over the David Stirling monument as we met the rest of the gang. These were well received by us all, as all three of us were involved in the aforementioned competition, although some a lot more convincingly than others.

The shrike proved slightly more elusive but gave it up after 15 minutes of looking, but was slightly disappointing as it sat rather distantly and looked sorry for itself through the drizzle (much as we were doing, actually). Jay and Crossbill also gave themselves up on the slope and were yearticks for all.

We were already fairly late for work so we had to leave before anything interesting happened (like the bird moving, or something) but the timing was sweet as I bagged a red kite on the way towards Falkirk, and then a wing tagged buzzard on the edge of town. The tag was half-read and hopefully will return some interesting details on the bird.

signs of spring


I cant remember who it was, or what exactly was said, but someone tweeted recently about how the first, tiniest signs of spring often have the most resonance for us. Lets face it...a real sign of spring would be a swallow arcing by, or my first willow warbler song of the year. But there is a gradual build up to these things... the first skylark song of the year, snippets of songs from other species such as goldfinch or rock pipit, or the first coltsfoot are much less spectacular, but as the first sign of whats to come, they are the most exciting. Because even in mid February, they can make you think winter is over.

Obviously it isn't. If you told me today that winter was over as I sat shivering in the wind and rain for eight and a half hours I would have smashed your face in, but yesterday, among the singing skylarks and the like, it really felt springlike.

Springlike, but not spring. It was warm, but the only additions to the patch list were the aforementioned skylarks. The only other birds of note were a couple of skeins of pinkies heading north, decent numbers of redthroats offshore, and at least 2 grey wags, one of which was, at least, warming up his vocal chords.

Fast-forward to today, doing some survey work on a bleak hillside with 7 layers on and 2 hats. Vast periods of inactivity punctuated by the odd bird dashing over...and the occasional bit of quality in the form of an Iceland gull, and then a hen harrier.

To cap it all off we got back in time to have a look at the brent goose ( a juv pale bellied) that I obviously walked past at the ness yesterday...

Guillemot close-ups


I've been hearing from a few folks about large numbers of auks washing up on southern north sea coasts. One report I heard suggested razorbills were mainly involved, but a recent run on tideline corpses in East Anglia has involved puffins as well.So I was a little concerned to find a guillemot on the beach in Nigg bay this afternoon while out on my lunchtime zoom around the Ness. Despite allowing a close approach, it actually seemed pretty healthy, and scuttled off back out to sea without any fuss after I ventured too close. The sun was shining bright and the bird posed very nicely for pics... You might think that in my line of work I might get a little fed up with guillemots...but not so. There's always something to look at. For example, this bird can be assigned to one of two subspecies, but on range, this bird will most probably be of the subspecies U. a. alge rather than the more southern and western albionis. We probably get the odd hyperboreus bird as well, but, well, no-ones really looking, are they. They could be quite distinctive if you get a good one... I often look out for these things when I'm out  on my surveys but I've never had one as good looking as those in the link. What I have found though is that flank streaking and upper part tone in guillemots are both very variable and difficult to judge in the field.This bird can also be aged to a certain extent as well. ESAS surveyors might be used to leaving guillemots un-aged (and rightly so) unless they are cute and fluffy little young'uns...but beached bird surveyors have a little trick up their sleeves to at least sort out the 1st winter birds from the older ones...white tips to the underwing greater coverts make a 1st winter bird (a nice explanation and pic, but with a Brunnichs here) OK, not something thats going to be particularly useful in the field, but you never know...[...]

crestie sounds


Just spent a very pleasant week in the highlands. Not really birding, but grabbing the odd opportunities here and there, when they presented themselves. There was nothing too surprising, but I seemed to be getting very lucky with crested tits. Wherever we went they were practically throwing themselves at us...but due to the weather, it was unfortunately a bit too dark to get any decent images. Got some nice recordings though...and thanks to Audacity, I've managed to eliminate most of the noise of the 40 mile an hour winds...

This is what it sounds like

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And this is what it looks like...

Here you can see the 'bulk' of the call around 3 to 4 kHz, with two main chunks of harmonics at around 5-5.5 kHz and at 7-7.5kHz. Each call lasts around half a second...which is crazy as they seem to last a lot longer in the field.

Here you can see in greater detail the structure of each individual 'churrr' sound, with usually 5 or 6 discreet notes made each time, and the period of silence in between them longer than the notes themselves...although those periods of silence were completely imperceptible in the field.

And here you can see what the calls are made up of...a series of inverted 'v' shaped notes, with various harmonic layers. I love being able to see the intricacies of what appears to be a pretty simple noise. What sounds to me like a 'churrr' is actually a series of notes that rapidly increase and then decrease in frequency, each lasting the best part of 2 or 3 hundredths of a second.

I bet your glad I never managed to record any crossbills, eh?

black and white


I took some more substandard gull photos up at Peterhead today...but managed to jazz them up (or at least emphasise the cold, harsh environment they live in) by changing them to black and white.



The highlight of two failed trips up north to look at the humpies over the weekend was definitely a last minute look at Peterhead harbour this afternoon. In an hour and a bit we saw....well, who knows how many iceland gulls we saw! The max count at any one point was of 8 iceland gulls, and with 2 glaucs thrown in for good measure. The majority of the Icers we saw were 2nd winter types, as has been the case everywhere else this winter.

Any other year I'd have been chuffed to bits with 10 white winged gulls in one day, but the following numbers put that into context a little. Chatting with Chris Gibbons this afternoon, who had been there since dawn (I think he scavenges on fish scraps as well...), it seems that there were 6 different glaucs, 19 different Icelands, and 4 different Kumleins. Which is an awful, awful lot.

And it's an awful lot of fun standing around in the harbour (if not a little cold as well) picking up white winger after white winger with the naked eye, as they mingle in around the blizzard of herrings, gbbgs, kitties and black headed gulls, while grey seals look up at you from the waters below. Certainly a lot more fun than standing around at Collieston seeing sod all.

And there was one more surprise white winger today, lingering with a mixed sparrow flock in the gardens of Collieston....

SEO and shag returns


Short-eared owls are pretty much annual at the ness, in later autumn, but I've never known wintering birds. They've been around since early january, but it's taken me a while to catch up with them, partly due to humpbacks, partly due to Falkirk, and probably partly due to me forgetting to lift my chin up when I'm out and about.

I eventually caught up with one bird on Thursday when I took the long way round to a meeting at the JNCC office...a bird briefly seen quartering over the golf course. On friday the french one and I took the long way into town and had awesome views of one as it fluttered around the battery for five minutes, before getting shoo'd off by a crow. I hadn't realised how infrequently I see them until I consulted my new fancy multi-coloured spreadsheet of patch lists...since the beginning of 2008, if I remember correctly, I've only seen 4 shorties on patch. Thank god for multi-coloured spreadsheets, I hear you say.

And a bit of feedback on that darviced was ringed as a young' un on the Isle of May last year...and the herring gull was ringed here.

nothing to report


A very quiet morning at the ness today, but larger numbers go gulls (an increase from, say, 30 to 300) was at least a little promising. It's about time we had another Icer in the harbour! I once heard someone say that  in Aberdeenshire the gulls don't attend the tips on a sunday as there is no dumping of 'fresh' waste. I believed them, only just...but it would provide a handy explanation to the rather rapid increase in numbers.

I passed the time by looking for colour rings...finding a yellow ringed herring gull (T601) that had made a staggering journey of 4 or 5 hundred metres since December. I also had a blue ringed shag (TAI) that had come from a little further afield, so it'll be nice to see where that one originated.

humpback revisited...


Took a wander up to Collieston  today to have another look for the humpbacks that have been around. This time the french one was with me too, getting quite excited about the prospect of seeing her first whale.

I remember my first whale. It was a terribly seen, distant minke, so hopefully she appreciates how lucky she's been that her first whale was a Humpback down to 200 m offshore!

It was also reassuring to confirm my suspicions that there were two animals the other day, with clearly two different beasts on display this afternoon. One was a gert big gun, and the other was a little less big. I'm not sure if that means anything, but there has been speculation that the animals seen before christmas were a family group. Assuming that these two are the same as the pre-festivus ones.

Also kicking around off Collieston were both great and pomarine skuas. Has nobody told them its January? I've seen a few winter skuas before, obviously, but not three species in one year and not at the frequency that I'm seeing them at the moment. A male peregrine was also a pleasant distraction.



Today started with a bit of work. Not mundane officey type work, but marginally less mundane counting herring gulls type work. Although it wasn't just herring gulls today, as the monotony was broken down by such treats as crossbills, flyover geese, and best of all by a long shot, a female hen harrier that drifted over my head and barely flinched as it swept past me. Well worth sitting out in the cold for.

Today ended with a bit of twitching. Our field site needed two and a half days work so my chum and I decided that today, with humpback whales being seen off the coast, would be a good day to take a half day. We stopped briefly en route to scan through a big (5/6000) flock of pinkies which were decent enough to give up a barnacle and two euro whitefronts, and then high-tailed it to Collieston, just a few miles north of where the whale had been seen in the morning.

At first there was nothing. For a good half an hour we scanned the sea, picking up good numbers of red-throats but little else. And then wham...a series of tall and quite bushy blows (probably embushened by the wind), followed by glimpses of a massive animal under the water. At over 1500 metres out it was difficult to get any details but eventually we got decent views of the surfacing profile, showing off the knobbly dorsal fin very nicely. We stayed with this (although I think these might be more appropriate) amazing creature for about half an hour, being briefly distracted by two pom skuas heading south, but it wasn't until close to the very end that we saw the characteristic white-centered fluke of a diving whale. When you see these, you realise just how big the things are. When you see a whale at the surface you see very little of it at any one time...and I often think that it can be a little underwhelming. These flukes though, even at that sort of range, looked absolutely huge and for me were well worth waiting for. This was my third humpback sighting...but until now this iconic image had eluded me. Cetaceans will never replace birds for me...but crikey...when they're good, they're very, very good.

chuck and zeeep


A very slow day on patch this morning, none of the hoped for iceland gulls, short eared owls or humpback whales. Instead, and ample compensation I think, here's some redwing noises, in sounds and pictures...

(object) (embed)  Redwing, chuck and zeep by fat paul Scholes

Buckie...and beyond


Well, my employers were decent enough to let me go gadding about on a boat again, for what should have been 4 days, but ended up being 3 and a half due to half out team being struck down with savage seasickness. We were on the MV Sickmaker though so perhaps it was to be expected.

I guess the least surprising surprise is that we saw Iceland gulls. An immature offshore, a 2nd winter in Buckie harbour, an adult in Wick harbour (along with a probable distant glauc) and then a cracking adult offshore. I even managed decent photos of the Buckie bird, and might have got some nice ones of the Wick bird as well had it not been night time.

And an eider thrown in too for good measure....

Other 'goodies' included a few little auks here and there, and some good stuff for the site such as shag, pink-footed goose, and black-headed favourite however was a flyby black-throated diver, which is something I don't see as often as I'd like.

Deriving interest from the little details...


Because sometimes that’s the only option!
Sunday was quiet on patch. A few long-tailed ducks and common scoters wung there way onto the patch yearlist, as did a grey wagtail, but on the surface, that was it. Time to dig a little deeper.
What’s this I see among the eider flock? Hmmm...a male with small sails. Probably best not to dwell on that for fear of alienating the remnants of any readership I ever had. Never mind, here’s a big brute of an argentatus herring gull. And whats this...a juvenile gannet! That is actually quite interesting. The vast majority of younger gannets would probably be a lot further south at the moment, somewhere like the Bay of Biscay, or of the coast of North West Africa. Certainly not in the North Sea. Wild speculation might predict that this was a Norwegian breeder (more likely to winter in the North Sea) or possibly even an Icelandic one (more likely to winter off western Britain....and possibly persuaded into the North Sea by all this weather we’ve been having).
And while I’m on gannets here’s an interesting thing. The winter range of UK breeding birds is believed to me on the march southward. With less bycatch disposed of in the North Sea, and lots more being discarded at new, large fisheries off northern and western Africa, it seems our gannets might be opting for the easy option. And why not? I know where I’d rather spend the winter.

2012 preview


Instead of looking back over what has been, over the last 12 months, as has become affy trendy among the squillions of birding bloggers, I’m going to do something a little different. I’m going to attempt to look forward. Not in a sort of I-predict-a-rarefest kind of way, but with a view to defining the up-coming year…what I’ll be looking for and when. All, of course, from a local patch perspective. Naturally it will be dominated by thoughts of some of the more interesting stuff that I try to keep my eyes and ears out for, but I’ve tried to mention some of the less glamorous stuff as well. As for the ‘big wish’ selection….I’ll be delighted if just one of them happens. Ever. They are though, the sorts of things that get me out of the house and out into the field, so probably worth a mention! Here goes…JanuaryThe start of the year will be taken up by clearing up on all the winter residents, all 20 or so of them, and checking out the bays and shorelines for any interesting waders or sea birds. ..grebes are rare on patch and January can be good for them. I’ll be checking gull flocks for white wingers, eider flocks for kings, and loitering around the sewage works for roving flocks in the hope of a bullfinch, long-tailed tit, or like the other day, a coal tit. The main seawatching target would be little auk. January can get interesting after some severe weather, with big freezes pushing thrushes and other passerines towards the coast, and ducks and other waterbirds towards the harbor or streams.Big wish…Stellers eider in with the eider flock.FebruaryMore of the same from January really, with probably better chances of a white winged gull. Probably lots of looking at eiders with sails!Big wish…Ross’s gull in the harbor. And for March to hurry up.MarchThis is when things start to get a little more interesting! Throughout March I’ll be looking out for increasing numbers of seaduck, especially in Nigg Bay where long-tailed ducks, red-breasted mergansers and occasionally goldeneye can be watched displaying. Lesser black-backed gulls should be around, and of course the first of the migrants should be in. By late March I’ll be hoping to have notched up chiff, sand martin, wheatear and Sandwich tern. Offshore, scoter and divers should be beginning to move past. In the right conditions, bits of extra quality such as black redstart or white spotted bluethroat will be on the agenda, but I’ll probably have to satisfy myself by looking for white wagtails and littoralis rock pipits.Big wish…great spotted cuckoo on the golf course.AprilApril is an excellent time to keep an eye out for wildfowl passage, especially freshwater ducks heading northward. The big prizes here would be shoveler, gadwall or pintail among others, and while looking offshore I’ll be keeping an eye out for large divers on the move. Naturally, my attention will turn to migrants as well, with plenty of commoner species arriving and the opportunity to look out for something a little less regular such as redstart or tree pipit. I’ll have a proper rare head on by this stage and will be keeping my fingers crossed for something like a subalpine warbler or woodchat.Big wish… something I’ve always fancied along the railway embankment, Iberian chiffchaff.MayOne of my favourite months. The volume of influx is probably less than in April but the chance of some quality is a little higher under the right conditions. Along with the last of the common migs such as swifts and house martins, I’ll be looking out for lesser whitethroat and garden warbler, and[...]

A cracking pair of tits


Oh the joys of working a local patch!

It was my first day back at work after the new year and needless to say it was getting me down a little. I decided a lunchtime walk down to Nigg Bay was in order to see if there was anything interesting in the bay or on the flashes. Both were dead, but I took the long route home around the sewage works (or the shit factory, as the missus likes to call it) and soon got onto a wave of passerines.

First up were a couple of goldcrest but then Bingo, one, and then two coal tits! I've only ever recorded coal tit on patch once before (in 2008 I believe) and even then thats a bit of a cheat as the birds themselves weren't actually on the patch. I was though, but only just....Unfortunately I had to leave the flock and get back to work so all of the treecreepers and humes warblers will have to wait until tomorrow.

Apologies about the title, but it might see the hit rate increase a little...

bad weather


I knew it had been windy overnight but I had no idea how much rain had fallen!

You can always rely on a bit of bad weather to stir things up a little. The floods in Nigg bay were bare apart from a few surprised looking mallard that usually float around on the burn, but out to sea things were very different. There were now fulmars scudding southward and the odd gannet thrown in for good measure. A few red-throated divers went past but the big surprise of the day came in the form of a juv Arctic skua, which went south. Later in the year a single Arctic skua would hardly be at all noteworthy, but this is definitely the earliest one I've ever had. When I first got onto it I fully expected it to be a pom, by far the most likely mid winter skua in Aberdeen bay, but it was undeniably an Arctic skua, and all the more interesting for it.

A quick look at some NES bird reports show no reported January Arctic skuas between 2004 - 2008. In fact, April and May had the first records during these years.

But we shouldn't be too surprised by these things. My time in the wintery North Sea has shown me that species such as all three likely skuas, sooty shearwater and grey phalarope are all kicking in low densities at this time of year.

In which I rant about 'the process'


Got out again this morning and added a very healthy sounding 13 species to the PYL (although I suppose it's only healthy sounding in relation to yesterdays rather anaemic sounding 28 species). Yet again there was nothing to really write home about, but buzzard, lapwing and goldcrest were all reasonably noteworthy.Instead of birds, there seem to have been plenty of birders poaching my patch these last few days. A couple of them looked like those 'shoot-now-identify-later' type 'birders' that seem to be overrunning bird forum of late. It's safe to say that I have built up something of a snobbish disregard for these types. Far be it for me to tell anyone how to enjoy their hobby of course, but can we come up with a different name for them and what they do? To call them birders, or birdwatchers, is way off the mark. To call these folks birders very much cheapens what real birders do, in my opinion.Howsabout we call them 'snaplisters' or something like that? It seems that all they are interested in is getting the shot and applying the correct label to it. This is fine, but when the process of applying the right label involves nothing more than asking a question on Bickerforum, you've got to ask yourself what the point is!Take this example for instance. Even just the most cursory tips of the hat towards trying to identify this bird would have answered the posters question.This winds me up a little and I'm not really sure why! Of course, I use a camera and have used it to help identify birds. I've also posted photos on the above forum and asked for advice, so I guess this is all rather hypocritical of me. Perhaps what it is, is that for me, it's all about the process. The learning, the researching, the fieldcraft, the feeling of development, and ultimately, that moment in the field when it all comes together. If I have to be told what something is, I get no other feeling than disappointment (apart I guess from a little kick up the arse to consolidate my knowledge in whatever area I've just ballsed up in) Luckily, that seldom happens these days, but, you guessed it, thats a result of putting in the hard work over nearly 30 years of birding.As I said earlier its all about choice, and if thats what people want to do then they should go for it, regardless of what a grumpy ginger tosser like me thinks. Perhaps for some people, 'the process' is irrelevant, and it's all about the cataloguing of what they get, or the accumulation, rather like stamp collecting, or, dare I say it, twitching (I dared). Theres probably a bit of that in all of us...after all, just look at the first paragraph!Its when the snaplisters make comments such as "oooh...I'll never get to grips with these willow warbler and chiffchaffs" that it brings it home to me. They're right. They won't, until they start to look, listen and learn.[...]

All is quiet, on new years day.


Not often I quote U2 on this blog, or anywhere else for that matter. Primarily because I don't know too many U2 lyrics, but also because Bono is a dick.

Dick or no dick, he was right about it being quiet on new years day. Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day though, eh. Girdle ness offered up 28 species this afternoon, a selection of such staggering mundanity that the highlight was 4 red-breasted mergansers. It was a classy clear winters day though, and the dolphins put on a nice display for a while. It would have also served handily to clear my head from the night before if I hadn't retired just after midnight with a dicky tummy.

So what will 2012 have in store for me then? Well, obviously I don't know, but I'd like to think that it'll be a little more productive than last year. Thinking back through my birding year, I remember highlights such as the Ouessant and Sanday trips, and several handfuls of white billed divers on the Dogger Bank. Overall though, the feeling last year leaves is one of disappointment. Probably a result of not many decent finds, which I fully intend to remedy this year. One thing I'm determined to do though is steer clear of a retrospective look at my birding year. Not that I don't like them, I just simply can't be arsed. I prefer to look forward, too.

28 species under the belt then, and 128.5 to go before I'm at 100%. See here for more of that patch listing malarky. I might even update my scores every now and again...

Anyway. Happy new year to one and all, and the very best birding luck for 2012. I really mean that.

some goodness at last


I really am getting pretty terrible at keeping this blog up to date. However, I do have the excuse at least of having very little to write about. Since my last posting, I've had a flock of whooper swans past the ness, I've had a long walk in Glen tanar where I fell over at least once for every species of bird recorded (distant calling crossbills and a red kite on the way the highlights), and I've stood in a freezing field for a few days in the name of renewable energy (where I also had crossbills frequently, and a distant probable goshawk).

This weekend however, things took a very minor turn for the better with an Iceland gull off the foghorn it the ness. I think this is only my second record of this species here, glaucs being much commoner. I know that an Iceland gull really isn't anything to get my knickers in a twist about, but for me it really has been a slow year on the patch. My total of 121 spp is pretty close to average, but my finds this year have been pitiful!

The only challenges to the icer this year have been the bean and whitefront geese. Not a single decent passerine. Not a single decent seabird. Horrific!

Anyway, enough of the moaning. It was a very eventful few minutes in between snow showers while I seawatched from the foghorn. While I got a little over excited about the gull, a lone little auk flew over, a long-tailed duck and a common scoter mingled with the eider flock, and to cap it all off, a peregrine dashed over. Quite exciting really. Anyway, here's a few iceland gull pics that I took at peterhead a few years ago...apologies if they have appeared on this blog before. I really should get back to the heed cos as far as white-wingers go it can be like shooting fish....

a close look at goldcrest noises


Already I'm fascinated by the detail I can see in sonograms of birds whose calls I'm very familiar. Here's some goldcrests I recorded this afternoon at cults reservoir, on a brief visit before the very serious deal of feeding the ducks along the river dee....

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Nothing unusual there. Once you get past all the background noise the 'tsee tsee tsee' contact calls of the goldcrests are easy to pick out both in the recording and on the sonogram. Looking at them at the scale of the first sonogram there isn't a lot you can take from it really...a simple 3 note call at a round about 8 kHz.

Its only when you zoom in and look at each phrase at a fine scale that you begin to see the detail...some of which can be heard, and some of which can't (by me at least!). To my ears, each note is if a constant frequency, but the sonogram here shows that that is not the case, with each note starting around an average of 7.6 kHz and finishing at around 8.1 kHz. Something I do hear which is 'verified' by the sonogram is that the first note in the phrase is shorter than the second two, even if only marginally so.

What surprises me is how quickly it is over. Each phrase is well short of a second long with each note lasting less than two tenths of a second. It seems to take so much longer in the field! And why only three notes? In autumn birds, contact calls often seem to consist of 4 or 5 notes (which perhaps adds to my perception of the overall length of the phrase) but these ones pretty resolutely only called with three note phrases.

Bloody if this blog wasn't boring enough as it is!