24 Nov 2015

23 Nov 15 - Hiding In The Fluffy Reed Mace

About once a year, Longham Lakes have provided me with a good excuse to desert Poole Harbour. In some years, it has been Dragonflies that have provided the distraction with my first Red-eyed Damselflies, Brown Hawkers & a Lesser Emperor, over recent years. In Dec 2011, it was my first Dorset Blue-winged Teal. This year, it was my first UK Penduline Tits since the Lytchett Bay Penduline Tit in Jan 1998. It is perhaps ironic that on the 22 Nov 15, Lytchett Bay Birder, Shaun Robson, had 2 Penduline Tits fly past him while doing a Vis Mig watch. They quickly disappeared out of view of his watchpoint & despite being looked for afterwards, could not be relocated. Later that afternoon, came the news they have been relocated at Longham Lakes. But with WeBS roost counts at dusk for Black-necked Grebes around Studland, there wasn't enough time for me to get over that afternoon & still do the dusk count. Frustratingly, Longham locals looked unsuccessfully for the Penduline Tits the following morning & I thought I was going to miss them. Fortunately, they were relocated early in the afternoon & were still on view when I arrived. They stayed around for about twenty minutes, doing their best to hide in the fluffy Reed Mace heads. Towards dusk they quietly disappeared to the Western side of the lake.
Penduline Tit: This was the brighter individual & looks like a male
Penduline Tit: When quietly feeding, they were quite unobtrustive & wouldn't be hard to overlook
Penduline Tit: The first individual
Penduline Tit: I was pleased to see the second individual join the first one
Penduline Tit: The second individual
Penduline Tit: The second individual. The grey forehead just touches the top of the bill which looks like this is a 1st Winter female
Penduline Tit: A final shot of the two. Soon afterwards they moved to the back of the pool, before heading off the Western side of the Southern lake. Presumably, looking for somewhere to roost
Longham Lakes were converted to fishing, recreational & wildlife lakes about six years ago. They are freshwater lakes next to the River Stour & despite being a relatively new Birding patch in Dorset, the lakes have already built up an impressive species list. One of the local Poole Harbour Birders, Steve Morrison, was involved in a lot of the early survey work on the site, prior to it being converted. Steve has recently told me that he had recommended retaining the area of small pools with the Reed Mace that the Penduline Tits were feeding in, for their wildlife. Clearly, a wise recommendation as this area has provided a restaurant to the 2013 Penduline Tit, as well as, these two. I will have to look for some feather duster covers to put on the South Haven Reed Mace!!!

15 Nov 2015

15 Nov 15 - The End Of The Taxonomical Sub Committee (For The UK List)

Birders were shocked today to hear the surprise news that the British Union For Ornithology, BUFO, have bowed to government pressure & disbanded BUFO's long standing Taxonomic Sub Committee, TSC. For many years the TSC had provides an independent assessment of Bird species & subspecies. Now in a stroke & with no explanation, BUFO's independent scientific committee has been shelved. A Birder was recently heard to quip, Fowl Play was involved, but this is no laughing matter. It is being quietly whispered that the government Home Secretary, Mrs May, had been lobbying hard to do away with the TSC after 2015 has repeatedly shown that the government's has failed to secure the UK borders against arrivals of immigrants. The Birding world have been shocked to hear it was pressure from Mrs May, especially given her ancestral links to the world of Bird taxonomy. It was her Great Great Great Grandfather & pioneering naturalist, Cape May, who first described this small American Warbler.
Cape May Warbler: It is widely believed that Mrs May personally intervened to grant a visa for this individual to visit the May ancestral home in the Shetlands two years ago. Baltasound (29 Oct 13)
A BUFO spokesman said off the record, we believe the government is trying to look tough about immigration. They believe that by disbanding the TSC, they will fool the general public into thinking they are taking strong action against immigration. By stopping the TSC, they think the public will believe no new species will appear in the UK.

But a different viewpoint comes from the UK's leading NGO, Rare Immigrant Alert. They have been monitoring the arrival of these immigrants for 24 years. Their spokesman Mr 'Golly Its' Mark said 2015 is a year that has seen unprecedented waves of immigrants. They have many arrival routes. Mr Mark said that the Immigration Services should be commended for making good progress in a historically weak area of Scillies & the South West. Few immigrants have made it through that route this year, an area that has seen a lot of success over recent years. He added, I think that is a really good news story, it's a sod of a journey from my home in Norfolk.

But action has been poor at other traditional points of weakness such as the South Coast. In Sep, a major breach occurred with the well documented arrival of an American Acadian Flycatcher at Dungeness. This was seen perching on boats on the beach. Perhaps even the one that landed it. Large numbers of left wing do-gooders & environmental enthusiasts rushed there to welcome it, but not one member of the Immigration Services was seen. Mr Mark said the government have focused their staff on the Eurotunnel & the Dover ferries & have taken their eye of the ball off the UK coastline.
Acadian Flycatcher: This left egg on the face of the UK Immigration Services. Dungeness (22 Sep 15)
Another area of clear under-investment by the Immigration Services has been the Northern Isles. Mr Mark said this whole region had been totally ignored. There have been unprecedented arrivals of Yellow-browed Warblers from Eastern Russia. They came from well outside the EU. It is widely suspected that other Scandinavian EU partner countries were allowing the fast transit through the region to the Northern Isles. Once there, they quickly dispersed throughout the UK. A government spokesman, who refused to be named, said this has been devolved to the regions & it was the failure of the Scottish National Independence Party (SNIP).
Yellow-browed Warbler: The spokesman said the UK government had helped a number of these Yellow-browed Warblers get onto ferries from Portsmouth & Plymouth, to encourage them to travel down to Spain, once they got South of the border. This is our payment for the Spanish & French authorities helping to dump large numbers of Killer Jellyfish on our beaches (read the full exclusive by the Daily Wail here). Gisla, Lewis (16 Oct 15)
But there were many other breaches of the immigration in areas under SNIP's control, with a Wilson's Warbler, a Chestnut Bunting, as well as, a number of rare Thrushes & Warblers arriving throughout the Northern Isles & that was just this Autumn. Mr Mark said, SNIP has failed completely to get on top of immigration in the Northern Isles.
Chestnut Bunting: Papa Westray (28 Oct 15)
But the problem isn't confined to Scotland. The Welsh government has also failed when a new Welsh point of entry shown up in 2015 on the North West Islands of Wales. Here a Cretzschmar's Bunting arrived fresh from Turkey. It stayed for over a week & only disappeared when a Welsh government boat was seen approaching the island. This is another species which clearly arrived into Greece & should have stayed & sought residence there. But instead it appears to have been smuggled on its way to the UK, via Bardsey Island.
Cretzschmar's Bunting: The start of a new Welsh smuggling route for immigrants? Bardsey (18 June 15)
Many Birders are worrying now about who will decide about future splits which might be allowed onto to the UK List. A government official said the UK Treasury has this in hand. The TSC is to be privatised in the next year. His Secretary of State, Mr Bornin-Oz, has been holding high level talks with a number of interested parties. Recent discussions have included meetings & a state visit from the Chinese President, See Dis-Pingu. Birders feel their lists might be devalued if Pingu the Penguin, Peking Duck and Mandarin Duck are fully admitted onto the UK List.
Ring-necked Parakeet or Green Squawker: Presumed to be the former. Bharatphur, India (27 Jan 14)
Another more recent state visit was from the Indian Prime Minister, Mr Moody. Birders were less sure about this. Many were critical that they will be expected to fully tick Ring-necked Parakeet & how to separate it from the near identical Green Squawker Parakeet. The latter has been claimed on a number of occasions in London, but so far hasn't been accepted onto the UK List. Birders have said, if Martin Garner hasn't figured this out on the excellent Birding Frontiers website, then what hope have we got.
Indian House Crow: Some Twitchers were pushing for the Indian Birding Club to take over the role of the TSC, hoping they will go soft on any future Indian House Crows records. Port Blair ferry, Andamans, India (23 Dec 13)
A few years ago, the obvious Atlantic partner organisation would have been the American Ornithological Union. But following a recent & bitter bidding war, the AOU's Taxonomical Committee was recently sold to the Disney Corporation. This has been watched with interest by members of the UK government who couldn't decide if they preferred the rival bid by the Fox Corporation or whether they would prefer to see the Fox bid hunted to extinction. Birders expect to lose out, if the privitised AOU Taxonomical Committee take over the UK List. This would be a double whammy, with the loss of species such as Green-winged Teal, but also having to pay huge costs of taking the family to see Donald Duck, following the recognition by the AOU of the offshore UK dependency of Disneyland, Paris.
Teal (left) & Green-winged Teal (right): One of several potential losses to the UK List as the AOU Taxonomical Committee can't tell the difference (once the specimen has been shot & cooked). Brands Bay (31 Dec 14)
Many Birders feel the obvious choice for maintaining the UK List (if the TSC couldn't be saved), would be the Association of European Records & Rarities Committees, AERRC. But it is widely believed that Tory back benchers have already nobbled this option, as it is one of the government's demands over the future of the UK in Europe.

But perhaps Birders biggest fear is that the role of the TSC will go to the lowest bidder. Many Birders feels this could be sold cheaply to 'Bare' Lee Credible who is Life President of the IQ40 Club. Mr Credible has been lobbying hard for this in recent weeks, including a recent statement on Twitter of "It is crazy that an out-dated committee is making decisions of what listers can tick. That is a job I should be doing". There are rumours of a secret pact between Tory back benchers & Nigel Farfetched, the leader of UKIQP, the political wing of The IQ40 Club. This has increased the fear that the role will go to the IQ40 Club to 'buy off the Tory back bench rebels'. Birders on recent twitches having been overheard discussing this worrying scenario.
Crag Martin: Why aren't Birders on BF calling this an escape? It's a worrying time. Chesterfield Zoo (14 Nov 15)
A Birdforum spokesman said, there has been so much worry about the disbanding of the BUFO TSC on BF, that we had to upgrade to faster servers. He added, there has been a near total absence of anybody stating the Crag Martin was an escape. A year ago we would have expected the escaped Crag Martin theory to be a big discussion point on BF given the crazy date, ridiculous location, the end of the Autumn & the long dark nights. We even tried adding our own inflammatory statements to encourage people, but we have been unable to get Birders to say they wouldn't go to the end of their own road to see a Crag Martin. This is unprecedented for a top ten rarity. That's how much Birders are focused on the replacement to the TSC. What is clear is Birders will be spending the Winter months worrying about the future credibility of their Lists.

14 Nov 2015

14 Nov 15 - Arse, Drink, Feck, Feck, Martin

Last Sunday lunchtime while I was in the Brands Bay hide, the pager mega'd for a Craggy Island Martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris fatherjacki) at Chesterfield. A quick look at the map, showed it wasn't that much further North than where I met up with Chris Gooddie for the Chestnut Bunting twitch & therefore should be just about possible to reach by dusk. Normally, I will wait for an update or two to say the new mega is still there before leaving, but that would have left me arriving after dark. So knowing how Craggy Island Martins don't like to hang around, I decided to leave immediately & hope for updates as I travelled. I had only gone halfway to Poole, when the next update came through saying it had gone. I carried on as far as the Poole Tesco store, where I abandoned the twitch in favour of the weekly food shop. I was worried I had made the wrong choice when I had another positive update while still shopping. It was too late to do anything by then, as I certainly would struggle to have got there before dark. A final update said there were no more sightings that day: phew. That evening I half made a plan with Peter Moore for a combined twitch for the Monday, if there was positive news the following morning. First light saw me out at South Haven, but the winds weren't brilliant & little was on the move. Then the pager mega'd again, almost immediately following by it has gone again. Peter was doing his week on call as Dorset Country Council's Major Emergency Man. He had noted his pager had gone off & it was a Birding emergency & not the other pager indicating a major disaster in Dorset. He made some final arrangements to take the day off, took great care to hand over the DCC pager (& keep the RBA pager), while I went back to looking for Birds at South Haven, until the next positive sighting. That soon came through & we both headed off to meet up at Wimborne. We had a good journey up & arrived into the car park at 13:15. Walking up to the nearest Birders, I checked the news of the latest sighting about 25 minutes before. The response was grumbles of 'Well some people saw it, but not me'. In hindsight, I could point out the particular Birder was standing in a daft place, well back in the car park, with a poor view of the church. Crossing the car park to the road, a shout went up & I saw it flight across the road to the church. Then almost immediately back again. I half wondered if Grumbling Man saw it: probably not. On both times, it was clearly the Crag Martin (although to be honest without getting the bins on it, I wasn't going to rule out Rock Martin (aka Pale Crag Martin)). We found a good vantage point on the road & expected it to appear again within a few minutes. Two hours later, the car park meter was topped up for another two hours, but in vain as it failed to show again that day. Easily, the worst seen tick on my UK List. ARSE.
The Crooked Spire: It is an impressive church (9 Nov 15)
After a slower drive back that night, I opted for a lie in the following morning. So I hadn't had breakfast when the pager alerted to say it was still there. I worked out I wouldn't get there until early afternoon, i.e. the time it had disappeared on the first two days. So it was doing to be tight to get there in time before it disappeared. I didn't bother leaving & settled to lots of cups of tea. DRINK.
The Crooked Spire: It is believed that it might of been the combination of unskilled craftsmen (as it was added soon after the Black Death would have decimated the population), use of unseasoned timber & uneven heating of the lead on the spire which caused the unusual shape (9 Nov 15)
Having decided not to go Tuesday, frustratingly, it showed most of the day & would have been easily twitchable (hindsight's great isn't it). So I was leaving at 04:30 on the Wednesday morning & on site at the church by 08:30. After two hours, I gave up & started exploring Chesterfield. I found another old church with lots of trees that looked an ideal feeding place, but it wasn't there. After two hours of driving & looking, I gave up & went to sleep in the Chesterfield Tesco's car park. Ironically, right next to the football ground where it was seen on Sat pm. I did look around the Tesco's car park & a prominent hotel opposite. But only looked along one side of the footie ground & that was only a quick scan as I was tired. After some valuable sleep & a bit more looking, I decided it had gone & started for home before it got dark. FECK.
The Crooked Spire: It is pretty impressive that it is still standing, 650 years after it was built (11 Nov 15)
Confusion seemed to occur the next day when it was reported again. This was followed by a contender for the most bizarre Twitter message of the year, that the Crag Martin sighting had been confused with an aeroplane. Perhaps one of the Red Bull pilots was exercising his plane around the Crooked Spire. The following day, another report, followed by confirmation it was back at the Crooked Spire. Could I really fancy a third attempt. FECK.

Part of the crowd on the Monday afternoon: Many more people were watching from poorer watch point in the car park, but most had gone by this point (9 Nov 15)
This morning, I was awake before 06:00. Deciding to take advantage of waking up early, I had a quick breakfast & decided to get on the road North. I still wasn't sure if I should be going, as the forecast was for rain most of the day (& it didn't perform in the rain on Monday pm). I was hoping there would be news before 09:00 as on most days it had been seen, there was news before 09:00. Warwick (09:45) came & went & still no positive news. I stopped for a loo break about twenty miles before the turnoff to Chesterfield. Well I might as well stop, as there was still no positive news. Back at the car five minutes later & the pager was ringing to say it was still there. Lots of frustrating 50mph roadworks to get through & then I was turning off to Chesterfield. Having had plenty of practice, I was quickly in the car park. I could see it was still there from the car park, but carried straight onto the main road, as I knew there were better views of the Crooked Spire from the road. It was circling the spire at great speed & making some very rapid manoeuvres in flight. I can now see why it was confused with a Red Bull pilot. MARTIN.
Crag Martin: A decent view at last
Crag Martin: Remarkable hard to photograph in flight, due to its rapid turns, but with Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Merlin & Peregrine all being seen passing the church, then perhaps that is why it is still alive
Crag Martin: It was a very similar colouration to the colour of the steeple tower
Ten minutes later it was gone. Twenty minutes later, it reappeared for another ten minutes of racing around the Crooked Spire, before vanishing just as quickly. I topped up the meter for another hour & returned to natter with some friends. Then the rain set in & didn't look like it would clear. I gave it another thirty minutes & decided that it probably wasn't going to show again & heading off to get some food, fuel & started to head home. When we were flying back from the Chestnut Bunting, I said I reckoned there was still time for one last mega this Autumn, but I was less certain if it was going to be a Tick for me. I really can't see much chance of any more Ticks for me now, unless we get a Northern Isles Brunnich's Guillemot in December. Perhaps the Autumn is almost over now.