Sunday, October 26, 2014

Amersham Great Grey Shrike Gen

Come twitch me!

  I've had a few Bucks birders contact me about the cracking Great Grey Shrike I spotted in Amersham two days ago, so rather than replying to each message in detail, I'm putting the intel up here.
  The best way to get there would be via the trail by the Jaguar dealership near the Amersham Tesco. Head down the trail about 10 minutes, and the shrike hedges are just after the path which crosses the field diagonally, past the little footbridge over the mighty Misbourne. The shrike seemed to be pretty keen on this large U-formation of hedges, so hopefully it will stick around. Good luck Amersham twitchers!
  Hmm I wonder if those are Luftwaffe bomb craters on the hill? 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Last of the Danish birds, October 2-18, 2014

Small remnant of Denmark's pre-agricultural moor landscape, at Stubbergaard Sø
Old boathouse at Stubbergaard Sø
Stubbegaard Sø
Stubbergaard Sø
My temporary backyard in Havnbjerg
Double rainbow all the wayyyyy!

First-year male Common Blackbird Turdus merula (note dark bill)
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Terrible record shot of my first Fieldfare Turdus pilaris (a long-awaited bird!)
Barnacle Geese Branta leucopsis
A blur of Grey Partridges Perdix perdix
European Robin Erithacus rubecula - I suspect a victim of the local cat
male Ruddy Shelduck Tadorna ferruginea at Tivoli amusement park - never overly nice to see captive birds, but interesting to see one so close
Distant record shot of a Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvcensis
Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvcensis
Yellowhammer Emberiza citrinella
  The Danish word for bird is 'fugle'. Pronounced by a Dane, the word sounds suspiciously like 'fool'. Consequently, on several occasions when I was birding in Denmark, Danes would point to me while grinning, and say 'Blah blah blah FOOL, blah blah FOOL FOOL, blah FOOL blah FOOLFOOL blahFOOL.' That didn't do much to soothe my latent persecution complex. Ah well, they may be onto something I suppose.
  During my last few days at Ebeltoft on Jutland's east coast, migration was in the air, with small flocks of Twite and White Wagtail on the beach, and daily skeins of Barnacle Geese winging west towards their wintering grounds in the low countries.
  Amazingly, a Barnacle Goose turned up in South Korea during this same period, probably East Asia's first record. It's amazing to think that that directionally-challenged individual and the ones that I was seeing most likely left from the same bit of northern Russia at around the same time. Insert slick computer-generated maps and graphics here, along with a stern British narrator.
  Also seen at Ebeltoft: a pair of Red Kites, three handsome Sandwich Terns dive-bombing close in to the beach, and a raft of six Common Eider
  At Havnbjerg, which is near Sønderborg (close to the German border), I finally saw my first Fieldfare. Unfortunately it wasn't dramatically dive-bombing any intruders with excrement - just my luck. Nevertheless, I was so pleased on seeing one (I've got a 'thing' for Turdus thrushes) that I did back-flips all the way home. Seriously.
  I spent a weekend visiting a friend in Holstebro, which is towards the northwest corner of Jutland, turning the map of my Denmark travels into a giant red spaghetti-squiggle. I whinged and moaned and cajoled him into taking me to Stubbergaard Sø, a lake surrounded by reeds, mixed forest, and apparently some of Denmark's last remaining old scrubby moor habitat. The rest of the country is literally one big grassy agricultural field. Boooo-ring. In spite of all this wonderful habitat, the place was deserted, bird-wise. In fact, I was struck by a tumbleweed filled with chirping crickets on the way out.
  All in all, I had a rip-roaringly good time in Denmark, llama spit aside. I managed to sneak off most days for a spot of good ol Vitamin B, and was able to soak up some excess Danish happiness. The Danes are a happy people (in spite of paying 60% taxes - whaaaaat?!), I'd say one degree short of being smug about it. It's a tiny little country that works well, and it's their little secret.
  Best Danish bird: Crested Tit, hands down.

  'Last of the Danish Birds' = Good name for a pretentious indie band featuring a smouldering expressionless red-headed lady with horn-rimmed glasses playing the xylophone?

Denmark list concluded, for what it's worth:

58. Barnacle Goose (Ebeltoft, October 2, 2014)
59. Twite (Ebeltoft, October 2, 2014)
60. Red Kite (Ebeltoft, October 2, 2014)
61. Sandwich Tern (Ebeltoft, October 2, 2014)
62. Common Eider (Ebeltoft, October 2, 2014)
63. Great Crested Grebe (Havnbjerg, October 4, 2014)
64. Goosander (Havnbjerg, October 8, 2014)
65. Eurasian Coot (Kolding, October 10, 2014)
66. Eurasian Sparrowhawk (Havnbjerg, October 12, 2014)
67. Fieldfare (Havnbjerg, October 14, 2014)
68. Canada Goose (Odense, October 17, 2014)
69. Greylag Goose (Odense, October 17, 2014)
71. Common Pochard (Copenhagen, October 17, 2014)
72. Common Moorhen (Copenhagen, October 18, 2014)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Amersham, October 24, 2014 - Great Grey Shrike, and the thrill of seeking shelter in a hedge

Amersham hills
Sheltering in a hedge - the best
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
European Robin Erithacus rubecula, my partner in hedge
  After a lovely month-and-a-bit in Denmark, I'm back in Amersham for a week before heading to Devon this weekend (last chance for Ring Ouzels?!). It's been classically autumnal here, with silvery skies, chilly rain, and rolling fields of tan. Under the threatening clouds that regularly roll through the area, I went out for a stroll in the hills of Amersham today.
  About ten minutes into my muddy saunter, the skies opened up, in a strange situation that looked to me like one small, dark rain-cloud had parked itself over me, cartoon-style. Instead of using my exciting new surplus poncho (surplus stores rock), I followed the ancient impulse that lit up in my head - 'hide'. After kicking away some menacing thorns, I pushed my way into a small void in a hedge, and hunkered down under the thin canopy of yellowing leaves. As the rain squall soaked the fields, I sat there for 15 minutes or so, relatively dry and happy. It was a strangely relaxing and cozy situation, and pretty soon other rain refugees joined me. A Robin and a small band of Long-tailed Tits bounced through the hedge and perched around and above me for the duration of the rain shower, eyeing me curiously. We're in this together, fellas.
  It reminded me of a warm and fuzzy memory from my youth. While staying at a country house north of Montreal with my family, I made a habit of heading into the forest when it rained, wearing a huge green poncho. I'd sit on a clump of moss, listening to the rain drum on my hood, for endless happy hours. He's a weird one, that one.
  When the rain ended (today, not in my youth), I reluctantly extricated myself from the hedge, my knees going off like firecrackers. Not five minutes down the trail, I walked past a gap in a hedge, and found myself staring at a medium-sized greyish bird at a distance of about 20 feet. In the span of one second, the internal dialogue in my head went like this: 'Shrike! Can't be, it's a Jay. Jay, must be. Jay habitat? Not Jay. Great Grey Shrike! Shrike!! Get an image!', and I cracked off a few record shots before it flew off into the empty field, eventually doubling back into the same long hedge. High five! 
  Other highlights from my walk included 30+ Skylarks overhead, numerous Yellowhammers, some good looks at an actual Eurasian Jay, several flyover Fieldfares, two active clusters of Chaffinch, single Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Eurasian Sparrowhawk being seen off by a Magpie, and noisy European Robins – everywhere. Additionally, contrasting with their secretive summer behaviour, numerous Pheasants and Moorhens were spotted out in the open, feeding at the edges of the fields fairly boldly. On my way back an hour later, the Great Grey Shrike was spotted again in the same bit of hedge. Re-high five!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

We want YOU, on Team Sisu

Team Sisu (note the Finnstick-equipped binos, visible at far left), with an uber-cheerful Dr. Moores on the right
It was weird to have all these birders in 'my' park
Moments before spotting the vaunted Pacific Reef Egret
Checking out the Yellow-billed Loons at Seongsan (Nial without gloves of course)
Pacific Reef Egret Egretta sacra
  Way back in February of this year, Dr. Nial Moores led a group of Finnish birders on a whistle-stop birding tour of South Korea, and on the 9th, the circus came to Jeju, tour bus and all. I should mention that this wasn’t your average group of Finnish birders (if I had a Markka for every average group of Finnish birders...), it was essentially the Finnish rarities committee, some real heavy hitters. These were the kind of hardcore birders that watched a juvenile Pale Thrush for 40 minutes then had a lengthy discussion on the finer points of ageing the species in the field. Legit.
  Keeping this in mind, when I was kindly invited to join the Jeju leg of their tour, ostensibly to offer some local knowledge, I kept repeating: Don’t say anything stupid in my thick head. The proceedings got off to a tense start when I boarded the rented bus in the pre-dawn gloom of Jeju City. It seems that the Finns each had their own favourite seat on the bus, and this seating order was written in stone (it was, I saw the tablets), and not to be trifled with. I floundered on and sat in the first available seat, which was earmarked for a Finn who had yet to embark.
  “HiyaI’mMattI’mtheguyNialknowsIliveonJejuhehhehheh,” I blurted in a thin voice. Icy glares. Goatees twitching.
  “I’m a birder,” I added helpfully, pivoting my shoulders to display the bins slung around my neck, assuring them that I wasn’t just some random foreigner who had decided to jump onto a tour bus at five in the a.m. to see where it was going. Nothing is icier than a bus full of testy Finns. They were an intimidating lot - at least half of them looked like members of a badass death metal band.
  Nial defused the crisis by hustling me into another seat, but I felt I had to make amends. At the first stop, a park in Jeju City, I bore gifts. I ran into a GS 25 and grabbed an armload of cans of hot iced coffee from the heat fridge (try figuring that one out), and meekly passed them out to every Finn I could find. That gesture melted their frosty demeanors in a Helsinki heartbeat, and soon we were laughing and making cracks about how all Finns are reputed to carry knives in their boots (“Not all of us, haw haw haw!”). They were impressed by the fact that I had been to Finland and knew of the uniquely Finnish concept of Sisu, which translates more or less to “grim determination against all odds.”
  We semi-circumnavigated the island that day, as we birded east along the Jeju’s north coast towards Seongsan, south down the east coast, and back west to Seogwipo, where they spent the night. A stressful development arose when the bus driver goofed up his ETA for a prime Pacific Reef Egret location, and advised us that we wouldn’t make it there before the sun had set. The ash-grey Pacific Reef Egret was one of the crucial Jeju target species that the Finns wanted to get look at, but hadn’t yet caught up with.
  “Matt, we need another site for Pacific Reef Egret that is within an eight-minute drive of here,” Nial casually informed me. OK, no problem, sure, no pressure. I whipped out my taped-together, falling-apart tourist map of Jeju and spread the pitiful fragments out on the seat beside me. There was only one suitable town with a harbour within range.
  “Let’s go to Pyoson, it’s a good spot for Reefies,” I said with confidence. I had never before seen Pacific Reef Egrets there.
  The bus braked to a noisy stop in the tiny harbour, and the Finns fanned out towards the ocean. You could tell that the few startled locals felt like they were under attack, as 15 tall foreigners wearing khaki and bristling with optics clinked town through like a bumbling SWAT team. I liked that. That’s how I roll, I mused, banking that feeling for all those times when I get glared at while solo birding in Korea.
  We all ended up in the backyard of a boarded-up house, studying the horizon. I summoned my inner Sisu, and was fortunate enough to pick out a large dark bird flying low to the water. I yelped: “Pacific Reef Egret!” but tried not to point, as Nial had already reprimanded me twice that day for pointing. The Finns got on it quickly, and a row of smiling goatees gave me nods of benediction. I walked back to the bus with an “Of course there are Reefies here,” swagger to my step. The birding gods had slipped me a little Sisu for once.
  Besides being some of the best birders around (watching Nial’s gull ID getting mercilessly questioned was a shock – it’s just not done!), most of the Finns had a unique piece of kit: the Finnstick, a foot-long handle slung under their bins, opera-glasses style. All Finnish birders use them, for extra stability. They explained that Finnish soldiers started using this device on their optics during the Winter War with the Soviet Union (to mitigate shivering), and Finnish birders have carried the practice forward. Neat-o!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Birds Korea Status of Birds, 2014

  Birds Korea has just come out with this impressive piece of research, which has clearly taken an immense amount of time and expertise to produce. It illustrates well the current status of birds and their habitats in Korea, and the varied and growing challenges they face.


Birds Korea Status of Birds 2014: