Thursday, 1 March 2012

Gull Watching added to list of Olympic Events

It was widely considered that the definitive list for events in this year’s London Olympiad had been finalised months ago, but the IOC last night exclusively revealed that a new discipline, Gull Watching, will be a last minute addition to the roster.

Prominent IOC member Gianfranco Caspian explained the reasoning behind the last minute decision.

“Gull Watching has increased in popularidy (laughs) over the last few years as more and more in learnt about these fascinating critters. Contrary to popular belief, we are an open minded bunch willing to consider the inclusion of any sport, providing the relevant inducements are in place.”

The location of the event is yet to be decided, but rumours abound that North Wales is set to be chosen.

Sab’s Coe mused:

“We could have opted for the tip near Rainham Marshes, but felt that the global audience of billions would be turned off. Not by the mind-numbing tedium of this discipline I hasten to add, but by the large pile of garbage.”

Instead a beach in Gwynedd or Conwy is being mooted, where the spectacular backdrop of Snowdonia will at least provide some mental succour to dazed viewers.

The rules are yet to be finalised, but provisional plans hint at some sort of ‘biathlon.’

Another IOC member Mr Habu Kumlein added some flesh to the bone:

“We anticipate that all participants will be required to take an identification test. Local chippies and other fast food outlets will be invited to deposit any waste on a yet to be specified beach or school playing field. Each competitor will then have two hours to identify as many different species, age groups and races of gull as possible.

Finally, each entrant will give a lecture to a group of local birders on the subject of gulls, with the most points allocated to the contender who puts them all in a catatonic state the in the least amount of time.”

However, the inclusion of Gull Watching has not been looked at favourably by everyone. Old-skool committee member, Professor Communis fumed:

“Seagull Mithering? What the tw*tting hell will those clucking, dribbling old duffers think up next – bloody Rhinoceros Painting, I’ll bet you.

I turn my back for 10 seconds to ensure that there is some nice totty competing in the Beach Volleyball and just look what fecking happens.


Until later.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The Ministry of Silly Gulls

There is a scene in Monty Python where Graham Chapman, dressed as a General, appears on the screen in order to lambaste the previous sketches for being too silly.

I think it is about time for his character to make a come back, for if I read another post or comment on a birding website relating to the finer points of gull identification I think I’ll go doolally.

Why have so many birders gone gull mad?

It’s not that I have anything against gulls – adults in breeding plumage are handsome birds - but I must confess that after a six month tour of India passed without me seeing a single gull, I wasn’t hankering to get down to my nearest rubbish tip when I returned to Blighty.

Buried in last month’s Birdwatching magazine there was a well overdue article on ‘Intraspecies variation’, highlighting, through the use of various images, how different individuals of the same species can vary.

It was quite illuminating and a timely reminder that not everything can be placed into neat categories. Old olive-munching default monkey Harris Tottle was fanatical in this respect, so anybody out there scrutinising P5 on a 3cy argentatus Herring Gull is in good company.

Personally, I fall into line more with the American poet Walt Whitman:

You must not know too much or be too precise or scientific about birds and trees and flowers and watercraft; a certain free-margin, and even vagueness - ignorance, credulity - helps your enjoyment of these things."

Until later.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Return of the Native

I took a trip over to the Wirral Satdee morning in the company of Mark Murphy. It’s been nearly two years since I visited my old stomping ground, so it was a pleasant change to reacquaint myself with the area.

We started early doors at Denhall Lane on a glorious clear, frosty and mercifully wind free morning. First bird out of the hat was a belter: a Great White Egret that flew overhead on a course, no doubt, to its regular haunt of Parkgate Marsh.

Decca Pools was encouraging; although the assembled wildfowl was scared off by a hillbilly farmer who had decided he had just enough time to shoot something before he settled down to watch his collection of Jeremy Kyle DVDs.

This didn’t affect the owls thankfully and it wasn’t too long before we enjoyed incredible views of two Short-eared Owls that flew so close there was no need for binoculars – a good job too as MM’s new pair of field glasses were steamier than a Fred Dibnah documentary.

Neston Old Quay was next, with fingers crossed, Water Pipits to follow. They didn’t, perhaps our chances had been scotched by our lousy field craft as when rolled up a probable flew up stream and into cover never to return.

We waited. And waited, but nada. Their no show made even more galling when I read later in dispatches that one had been seen at the sewage works and two later on near the bridge.

Compensation was at hand however in the form of an immature Spoonbill picked up roosting behind Neston Reedbed. Strange, but I would have quite happily swapped it for a humble Water Pipit having only ever seen two, ever.

The last half an hour was spent grilling Parkgate Marsh for any raptors. Incredulously after four hours in the field we had not logged one bird of prey and our luck didn’t change at the Donkey Stand Flash with a hazy blob of a Buzzagrine way over towards Flint the closest we got.

Until later.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Nigra Falls

A few spare hours during the middle of the day afforded me the chance to nip down to the Point of Ayr.

My first nose was over Warren Fields. Hundreds of birds were on show including at least 2,000 Lapwing and a monkey or so grazing Wigeon.

No sign of the recently spotted immature Spoonbill; linking together a host of reports from a few websites, the bird seems to be a prostituting itself all over the estuary, never staying faithful to the same site!

Next stop was the dunes at Talacre for a seawatch. It was immediately obvious that the recent spell of north-westerlies had succeeded in cornering quiet a few birds in Liverpool bay.

Common Scoters were the most numerous, but despite well excess of a thousand birds flying fairly close to the shore, for the umpteenth time I didn’t see the telltale white wing-bar of a Velvet Scoter…do they ever come east of Rhyl?

In addition to the Scoters, the normal potpourri of over-wintering commoner sea duck, grebes, auks and divers moved out at various points over the two hours with perhaps a pair of Goldeneye the pick – not common birds at the Point of Ayr.

Until later.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012


Being on the dole – despite the obvious drawbacks – does have its advantages. Especially if one enjoys a pastime that is to all intents and purposes ‘free’ to engage in, such as the noble art of birding.

True, my life is so much poorer for not being able to charge around North Wales in pursuit of obscure races of gulls, but I guess I’ll just have to live with it and be content with walking down to one of Europe’s finest wildlife estuaries, the Dee. What a bugger.

So, with the forecast downpour not materialising I set off after breakfast on a circular walk from my village, Lloc taking in Mostyn and Greenfield Valley.

When I moved here a year and a half ago my initial impression of the local countryside was fairly negative. On par with most of Britain’s rural areas, it has largely been destroyed by modern agriculture; a once rich and diverse area replaced by a patchwork of green desert-like fields separated by piss-poorly managed hedgerows.

Still, if you look hard enough there are still small pockets of quality habitat. The area between Whitford and Maes Pennant has a couple of good areas of woodland and a largish area of rough grassland too.

A couple of weeks ago I heard a Willow Tit calling in one of the woods, and today an adjacent section of trees produced its close relative the Marsh Tit. Fortunately it wasn’t as bashful as the Willow Tit and stood in full view atop of a Rhododendron.

The tide was well in when I reached Mostyn Docks and many of the waders had opted to roost on the farmers’ fields behind the seawall. They were extremely jittery and it was not long before their tormentor-in-chief revealed herself - an adult female Peregrine I picked up bombing after a flock of feral pigeons.

Things were generally a little quiet until I reached Greenfield Dock, where hundreds of Starlings thronged the sewage works pools.

The area of marsh behind the Kingspan factory was a little more interesting with a good mixture of waders roosting over the high water. A scan with the ‘scope revealed another Peregrine, this time an adult male doing a decent job of impersonating a Merlin by perching on a clod.

I enjoyed fantastic views of the bird as it momentarily enjoyed a brief burst of sunlight. When seen at this proximity they are unquestionably absolutely beautiful.

It was one of those moments that brings John Buxton’s quote to mind:

“…lived wholly and enviably to themselves unconcerned in our fatuous politics, without the limitations imposed all about us by our knowledge of Azorean Yellow-legged Gull, Kumlien's Gull, Thayer's Gull and feckin' Argentatus Herring Gulls..."

Until later.