Monday, March 26, 2007

We want your news!

Editor Kevin Wilmot writes:

Here at Bird Watching magazine, we love to hear from our readers, and where better to send us your comments than on this blog?

We want to hear your bird news. Tell us what you’ve seen, where you’ve been, when you hear your first Cuckoo of the year, what’s happening on your patch, in fact, anything bird-related that you think we’d be interested to hear. Just make it recent and relevant.

All you need to do is click on the 'comments' link below, write your comment, and we'll do the rest. We'll post the best ones on the blog, and also include them in the magazine.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Weedon's World, March 2007

Here is an extract from Mike Weedon's monthly column, Weedon's World, from Bird Watching Magazine, March 2007.
(All photos by Mike Weedon. Click each image for a larger version).

Bedraggled but happy.
(From left) Graham Catley, David Jenkins and Kevin Du Rose.

Hercules on BBC3 featured super-human blokes who on consecutive days carried out super-human challenges, like rowing two English Channels or climbing ladders to the height of Everest.

Last weekend, I attempted the podgy twitcher’s weekend equivalent of Hercules, pushing the boundaries of strength and stamina to seek out two long-staying Scottish rarities: Barrow’s Goldeneye and Ross’s Gull.

I was picked up in Peterborough at midnight by Kevin Du Rose, who then drove to Lincoln to pick up David Jenkins. By 2am Saturday, we had just about squeezed all our stuff and ourselves into the hire car and we were off to Barton-on-Humber, where Graham Catley occupied all remaining micro-spaces in the sardine tin.

It was 3am when we went north, David driving and the 6ft 6in Kevin entertaining him with ‘banter’. Graham and I attempted to find a position where blood could still flow in our legs and settled for the first Herculean task – surviving a night of no sleep, listening to drivel and, worse, the greatest hits of Deacon Blue, and trying to ignore some unignorable aromas.
At about 6.30am, after a brief coffee break, Kevin took over the driving and I lost all feeling in my legs as his seat came back even further.

By 9am, none of us had slept a wink, but we were at our first locality, Loch Venachar, just outside Callander, Forth. The sun’s attemps to light the world were impeded by endless cloud, releasing drizzle and rain, reducing visibility to 100m or so.
The odd Raven went by, laughing at us, but what we could see of the loch was devoid of birdlife. I took over the driving and we slowly went up and down the loch pushing one or two Goldeneyes and Goosanders out from the edges. After four painfully fruitless hours of straining and scanning we decided to check the area nearer the town. Recent rain had turned the river to a raging torrent and the fields were so flooded that canoeists were canoeing in the car-park in the middle of town.

Sleep deprivation, exhaustion and ‘dip fever’ were bringing waves of depression to the team, and with the latest downpour we withdrew to a cafĂ© for a cup of tea and some lunch. At 1.30pm the rain was as hard as ever, and despite full stomachs and cheery tea, we knew in a moment of Zen-like clarity and ‘letting go’ that the goldeneye had escaped us. We had enough energy, though, for one last look before we went west for the gull.

From my position in the back, I noted hundreds of metres away a tiny glimpse of the top of a duck’s ‘black’ head. But it remained hidden. Then it emerged and I dug my scope from the back and grilled it. It was asleep, but surely there was too little white on the back for Goldeneye. It’s the hope that kills, so I refused to get excited. Then I saw its white facial crescent: “It’s it!” I shouted and everyone else piled instantly out to grab scopes.

Kevin Du Rose improvises a new digiscoping technique for the distant Barrow's Goldeneye.

Barrow's Goldeneye, Callander, Forth.

Ah, how the mood changed for that distant view of a Barrow’s Goldeneye flirting outrageously with a female Goldeneye! Somehow, the following sodden drive over to Kintyre, the six hours standing in a marsh solidly photographing a gorgeous Ross’s Gull in the gloom and rain, the seven-hour night-drive back to Barton, and the further three back to Peterborough to arrive home at 1.30am all seemed a breeze, a doddle.

OK, it’s not quite walking up Everest in a day, but if anyone tells you twitching is easy…

The Ross's site, at the outflow from Eilean Traighe fish farm, Ormsary.

The first-winter Ross's Gull pecks at outlfow from the fish farm.

The Ross's Gull bags a juicy worm.

[*Mike would like to point out that none of the drivers involved were driving without sleep. He himself had 11 hours sleep prior to his only extensive driving on the sunday afternoon.]

Friday, March 9, 2007

DVD plug

If you would like to order your own copy of the Digiscoping Made Easy DVD, click here and follow the easy-to-follow steps.

White-billed Diver digiscoped (by Mike Weedon) at Hayle, Cornwall on 3.3.07, using the kit and techniques featured in Digiscoping Made Easy DVD (Click image for a bigger version)

Bird Watching Magazine

Assistant editor Mike Weedon presents the DVD and wrote the script. For the last few years he has been digiscoping – but he has never used an adapter or any complicated gadgets and his results are very good (so he says). So, for this DVD we look at how to take the best photos without all the fancy (and expensive) gadgets and fuss.

If you would like to order your own copy of the Digiscoping Made Easy DVD, click here and follow the easy-to-follow steps.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Cornish day-trip

To get your copy of Digiscoping Made Easy DVD, see Bird Watching Magazine

Assistant editor Mike Weedon writes:
As photographs of a White-billed Diver at Hayle, Cornwall became more and more outrageous at the beginning of March, so the nagging temptation grew to go and see what would be a tick for me. With a white-morph Gyr not that far away, and the Hayle itself overbrimming with juicy back-up, such as Spotted Sandpiper and Franklin's Gull, I had to do a spot of work to keep focussed on my beloved Peterborough area patch. Then on Friday March 2nd, a message came out on our local mailing list, Peterbirder, with local birder Jonathan Price looking for a lift share to the south-west. Within minutes I had an e-mail from my friend Kevin Du Rose saying he was off to Cornwall and was I coming?
At midnight Friday/Saturday, Jonathan pulled up outside my house with Kev and we were off. Jonathan had already had a decent sleep, he assured us, and he ploughed off, like a hero, through the most torrential rain imaginable. I snoozed in the back.
It was still dark and the near full moon quite high as we snaked our way through winding lanes near Padstow to park in the lanes near Stepper Point. Already more than 50 cars were emptied, their owners trudging along along the sodden, slippery path to the quarry near the point itself. We stretched briefly, then headed off on unfamiliar slopes (unfamiliar to any Peterborian) to our quarry – the mighty Gyr.
It was lightening as we got close, and we started worrying that the Gyr may have left its roost-site. Then we saw birders coming down the path towards us and we knew the game was up. Sweat beaded on my bald head – what a waste of time. But, no, they had merely taken the wrong turn and the locals had resuced them and sent them back on the right trail to the giant white falcon.
A crowd of some 100 birders were squeezed onto the precipice above the sea craning to see into a rocky cliff, with views impeded to newcomers by a blinking great rock. There it was through my bins, disguised as white lichen, but moving its head to confirm it really was a monster falcon. Kindly, some birders were offering views in their scopes, and I took the opportunity for a great look at the magnificent arctic beauty.
Meanwhile, Kevin had sneakily and unobtrusively found a tiny window to set up his scope and digiscope the Gyr. The trouble was it was only 6.40am and the sun wasn't due until 7. Huh! No worries, using the kit featured in the Digiscoping Made Easy DVD, Kev produced a shot at 1 sec exposure time. And what a shot!

Gyr, Stepper Point, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Kevin Du Rose

A few minutes later, it lifted its mighty bulk and on surprisingly broad wings powered across the estuary. Cue a mass exodus to Hayle. On the way back I overheard a birder telling another how on Thursday they'd seen Barrow's Goldeneye at 8.30am (at Callander, Forth) and White-billed Diver at Hayle at 6.30pm. Outrageous.
We were in Hayle in an hour or so and had no problem finding the library and parked by some birders who were looking straight down. We stepped out of the car and five metres from us there was a superb White-billed Diver fishing away happily. The sun was up now so after a brief spell of awe, Kevin and I tried a few photos. Though flightless owing to a bit of heavy primary moult, the loon was unimpeded in catching flounders, and caught a few while we watched, including one whopper which eventually won a battle of strength, twisting and slipperyness.

White-billed Diver with flounder, Hayle, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

After watching this beautiful diver at close range for a good long while and seeing loads of familiar faces (including another car-load from the Peterborough area), we went down towards Lelant to look for the Franklin's Gull. We joined a row of cars and birders parked just by a creek with a Spotted Sandpiper bobbing its way along. Then someone pointed out a gull-like speck a million miles up in the sky – Franklin's Gull, but untickable views and heading south to Penzance. Unpleasant.
Still the Spotted Sandpiper was new for me, so I got on with a bit of watching, digiscoping and digiscope-videoing...

Spotted Sandpiper, digiscoped at Hayle, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

We then went further toward Lelant and after a few minutes fruitlessly looking for an eastern Lesser Whitethroat, we heard that the Franklin's Gull was viewable from the train station up the road. In a few more minutes I was watching another 'tick'. Pleasant.

Birders at Lelant Station, Hayle, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

Franklin's Gull, digiscoped at Lelant Station, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

We tried a wee bit of digiscoping, and bathed in the sunshine and simply enjoyed all the seemingly-tame birds – waders, egrets, gulls – and the general good mood of a happy crowd of birders. Then we checked the time, thinking it was probably getting on for about 4 o'clock. It was 11am!

Mixed waders (Redshank, Greenshank, Knot, Spotted Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit), digiscoped at Lelant Station, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

Little Egret, digiscoped at Lelant Station, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon
After a bit of leisurely birding, we returned to Hayle for another spot of photography with the wonderful diver. I tried a bit of digiscoping, while Jonathan took a few hours sleep. At 2.30pm we were off home, after a brilliant day's birding a long way from home.

White-billed Diver, digiscoped at Hayle, Cornwall, 3.3.07 by Mike Weedon

See Bird Watching Magazine and follow the links to get your copy of Digiscoping Made Easy DVD.
See Mike's blog for more photos from Mike's trip.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Site for sore eyes

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
It's always a pleasure, as a patch-watcher, to discover a new site, and that's just what happened to me last weekend. A horrendous pile-up of prior engagements meant my Saturday birding was restricted to an hour around lunchtime, so I headed to Sawley Marina, close to my Leicestershire home, to look for the Short-eared Owls, Oystercatchers and Ringed Plovers that had been reported there.
Sadly, I had little luck, but heading home, I took a quick detour around the maze of industrial estates between the M1 and Castle Donington. Willow Farm Estate, which has turned up some good sightings in the past, is starting to look too filled-in and manicured, but next to it is the large EMDC site, which at the moment seems to be just an expanse of scrubby wasteground, plus a few large puddles with pretensions towards being pools.
Not necessarily that promising, but 15 minutes with bins and scope revealed some great birds. A Ringed Plover, for starters, not always easy to see on my patch, plus two Shelducks, which can also be tricky to find. Then there was a Mistle Thrush, a mixed finch flock, plus an incredible 79 Pied Wagtails (I had to give up counting because of the time). I think they were attracted by the swarms of very big gnats which were everywhere, making it look like high summer rather than a blustery February day.
I'm going to be heading back there this weekend, because two things suggest this site could turn up some real goodies.
Firstly, it's very close to the M1 migration flyway (I presume the birds follow the gravel pits, rather than the actual road), and secondly, all those insects are bound to be popular with all sorts of species. Oh, and there's something about the site that suggests Black Redstart isn't out of the question. Here's hoping...