Tuesday 11 June 2019

Its A Normal Scorp!!

A Scaup! Oops sorry its a Yellowhammer. I love big fat stinking dirty basslines and big phat dirty gripper buntings. Oh and big fat dirty ducks. Cocks especially, please refer to https://dub-birder.blogspot.com/2011/04/orange-knob-on-black-cock.html - try searching for that post on google!

A few weekends a go, it was Andy's birthday and the wind was blowing from all the right directions. Andy always gets a birthday rare, so with another phat Farnes mate, Ciaran now working at St Abb's we headed up to grease the Lochs. With the May crew wading through ass high puddles of Bluethroat and common migrants along with plenty of conti-mental birds dropping on the east coast, team hopes were elevated for our first bird together since the Seahouses Ivory Gull's in 2013 and of course, the Farnes. Epic times.

Ciaran suggested we hit a small Loch on our way to the head, so we wandered over and started scanning the Tufties. To my left Ciaran could see the righthand side of the flock and after about a millisecond in shouted 'Scaup!?'. I detected that magic tone of rareness in his voice! That gentle 'its just a normal Scaup' OR IS IT thought. By this time I had stepped left a foot, scanned right a couple of birds, and clapped sockets on the Scaup 'Christ it's got a peak! Is it a Lesser?'. It was a perfect looking vermiculated cock. Had that manic scaupish look created by the yellow eye, disproportionately flappy blue bill and more buoyant gait. 

We duly zoned in on the nail/nib, head shape/colour, overall size and the detailing in the vermiculation, which were magnificent. Got to love a worm-backed diving duck! It was obviously a Lesser and not a hybrid to us, but we needed some 'into the brain' scope views of decisive features such as the upper-wing. So Andy babysat the bird while we ran back and grabbed scopes, all the while feeling a bit weird about how easy the whole thing was. We returned to find Andy looking like scantily clad raver freezing their chebs off on a comedown at a bus stop at 8am! We duly force fed him a highly magnified images of the nib til he conceded there were worse things than standing in a freezing easterly. Unfortunately Andy had done such a good job of baby-sitting the Scaup was in bed fast asleep! Despite 2 hours of waiting it didn't flap,wink or fart. Eventually draw of passerine migrants overwhelmed us all along with the cold and boredom. Luckily a local birder papped the flap a short while later helping us clinch this mega first for the county into the anals of time and Borders birding legend....ish.
Many look down upon Aythya for being stupid sex-mad idiots incapable of identifying their own kind. I prefer to see these horny ducks as leaders in their field! They don't mind too much what gender or species you are as long as you're up for some quick, cold, wet fun! This female Tufted Duck wasn't keen on the great blue billed bugger following it around making burping noises!

Nailed on boy!

Have a peak at the peak. Peaky. Peak. 

TWO HOURS WATCHING THIS. If you thought I wasn't insane from my previous posts I assume you will reconsider. Just as well the easterly wind wasnt blasting us face-on til our faces came off!

The Loch that the Lesser wasn't on, well at that time.It was subsequently but now I'm just getting pedantic. Nice spot though innum.

It was late afternoon by the time we hit the head. Alas the only grip was from the sea of thrift and the biblical influx of Diamond-backed Moth, with a dub count of 10's of 1000's! Almost as dense as the fog, the soup of water and moth was a sight to behold. While a background of seabirds and their associated smells and sounds made for an evocative philosophical moment.

Seabirds maaaaan. That shit is wild. Always big up and respect the species and habitat. Great to get shagged down the head!

Thrift and rock, the way we like it.

These Small Copper were getting their Aythya on. Well not quite. Dirty intra-specific copulators. Get back in the past where you belong! 

I'll bang out a power blog on the my biker Bai-curiosity in the next post, and it'll be frigging high-tensile mate! Bring the donger #fencing

Sunday 9 June 2019

Dub's Own Pantry

Dub birder re-emerges to enhance your natural urges! Dub birder is a mystical force that ebbs and flows in and out of the anal of time. Like a chilli-infused muesli I am re-emerging with energy and vigor! Here to bend language and nature with upmost rigor!

Translation. Hi! Been a few years. Blogs are hard sapiens. Speaking of hard, going hard in god's own country this summer surveying inverts and generally filling my boots with landscape level grip. Also getting into Rye and multigrain Sour Dough breads hard, but more on that just before lunch on any day ever.

What a landscape it is! Never had the pleasure to work in such a grand place. A true Grandscape with associated charismatic mega-flora and fauna that will defo floor ya! I wont be going into 'chicks with specifics' regarding where any of these near-conscious experiences take place because its a secret, and already archived in the dubrary of my hyper-cerebellum. 

Like any modern landscape the Dales show clear signs of degradation and the ironically termed agricultural 'improvement'. While striding abreast a fell-top being hectically gusted to the point of sea-sickness, I often get vivid hallucinogenic intrusions of thought. These visions are of mellow U-bend (LOL) Valleys coated in low-density mature woodland, open and full of sheltered micro-climates abounding with all the ground flora that barely clings to the grazed, burnt and wind-blasted modern form. However from these relic woodland ashes rises the upland pheonix in the form of a safe refuge for breeding waders - with some places visited as loud as the most voluptuous dawn chorus or an all-encompassing seabird colony - filled with bubbling Curlew, belligerent Oycs, buzzing Redshanks, synthesiser Snipe drumming, grunting Woodcocks, descending Mipits, choatic Skylark song, simplistic Golden Plover calls and fluting Rouzel under-toned by the modulating harmonics of Black Grouse leks that all reverberate around the glacial amphitheatre of the Dales landscape. A combination of sounds that utterly grip-out even the most battle-hardened ear canal.


One man-made feature I can live with in most landscapes is a dry stone wall. They at the very least mitigate the blustery moorland vibes and help recreate some of the sheltered micro-habitats that woodland once provided. Being an obvious landscape feature they always provide a focal point for a multitude of taxa  from lichens to stoat dens!

From the big to the small! If you look closely enough there's a full swath of greasy upland flora to satisfy your wildest herbiphilic fantasies. Several spots had some epic pansy-fests with meadows full of all the colours of the rainbow (bar most of the colours of the rainbow). Nice to w@nk off the background landscape perspective to full effect. 

I've always appreciated and respected lower and higher plants but its a one in, one out system in terms of my memory for even their vernacular names. So being in the company of some epic botanists I am making a renewed effort to learn, assimilate, regurgitate their names...then I usually need to quickly defibrillate, as my heart has exploded with the effort and new grip.

The more you learn the more you know! HA. State the oblivious. Anyways the above are two different mineralised growth forms of Mossy Saxiphrage found on old mining spoil heaps just a few feet apart. Such intra-specific variation in close proximity, seemingly forming distinct colonies could easily be seen as part of an evolutionary event - though I made that up on the spot so could be wrong. However the genius of dub penetrates so deep into the every florafice I may just make sense. What I have dedicated more focussed penetrations of thought is the consequences for insect conservation. Such obvious variation in how a single species reacts to different growing conditions really crystallises the impacts of human chemicals and habitat structure on insect niches.

Another plant what I did good learn is the Marsh Marigold. Phwwwaaar, I'd wear that in my hands any day. Seemingly happy with this last year's hot/warm and dry weather, it has been out in force! What a force of yellow it is! And not just a pretty facade though, proper floral and niche resource! Check out the Green-veined White nectaring while a May Fly shelters below. Niche off!

Though I am a Leper by and large, I'm strongly considering becoming a Apiphile. With fluffy queen Bilberry Bumblebees nest hunting around me as I 'do luncheon' on the high tops, its hard not to feel inspired by their beauty and upland specialism.

They are almost better in flight, so for once, being inept/having a bridge camera enabled me to jam a flight shot of that bum!

Here's another classic pollinator interaction - Common carder Bee on Bugle. Banging!

Bugle clumps are proving to be an essential early nectar source in the uplands. Each patch was full of insects. I had visceral flashbacks to running around lowland grasslands in my youth, focusing on microscopic heterogeneous (I knew it then as 'dffierent') patches of thistle, ragwort etc as they were equally enticing for insects and their predators! 

One last butterfly! A Small Heath being an upland specialist by hiding in the sheltered, sunny side of a tussock of grass on a fell top. Great strategy for gearing up for the next 10 feet flight!

Here's some of that dry stone wall micro-niche action. here a sheltered side was utilised by a few male Crambus lathoniellus as they fluttered weakly in search of female scent plumes. 

What's more gripping than dry stone wall niches? GREEN HAIRSTREAK DRY STONE WALL NICHES! Come on! I added Green, Hair and Streak to Dry and Stone - gotta be an improvement?! The upland Green Hairstreak populations are proper spin-outs. Using walls as trees and displaying  (kind of) convergent behaviour with Grayling by flattening themselves against the dark stone to warm up! Absolutely mind-blowingly beautiful insects and some serious behaviour. Have a ton more pics, fill your boots!!

As if you were getting Lepped out. Here's a Mother Shipton - so called by the similarity of wing markings to the traditional portrayal of a witch as a gnarled old person/woman. 

How about this! Found an emerging Fox Moth, got over-excited and ID'd it as a Northern Eggar, then realised I was a stringy (almost) bastard and amended my initial ID. What a furry beast! Heaving itself out of the mat of Tormentil at ground level.

Another mainstay of sunny upland days...the Common Heath. Check out them feathers! 

ONE. gasp. LAST. gasp. LEP. gasp. Pyrausta purpuralis on Cuckoo Flower. Even when they are slightly worn they are just too much for my feverish mind to handle!

I'll depart in a dust of particulate, or particularly beefing uplanders and their habitat and predator. What a place. Get yerself up!  

Fun times watching two male Cuckoo fight a few feet in front of me. This male won, saw me, then flew a few feet so he could start pumping his noise into my ears at head level on the now infamous dry stoners.

Lapwing chick. 

Two chats and their habitat. Ring Ouzel and Wheater. Some magic melodies emanating from these charismatic species, that sit well over the basal sound of wader song.

Where there's food....! Stoats are about up here, cool to watch a proper predator prey interaction as they search for bird eggs and chicks!

Corrr I'm spent. Thanks for coming. I'll be (near a) beck....

Saturday 12 March 2016

Are you Taiko the piss mate?

dub birder experiencing the ultimate Chatgasm aboard the mighty Pyramid. 10,000 Albatross, 1 Rock, throw in some guano and you've got a porno!! (pic by Dan Burgin)

 After the echo of new years had just about reverberated out of my cranial stations a new vibration startled the old grey matter - a message, relatively out the blue, offering 5 weeks on the legendary Chatham Islands volunteering for the infamous Chatham Island Taiko Trust. If im honest they had me at 5 weeks! And so, it was thus, that I travelled, abreast a great ancient steel (or alloy, ahoy!) albatross the 800 or so kilometers of arid Pacific to the hallowed peaty turf.

A real place of isolation and lack of development, superficially untarnished by humans' destructive hand - looking wild and rugged as the wilds of Scotland or moors of the westcountry. An awing beauty, but of course like so many places across the planet, a misleading one. As this was, until the arrival of the various forms of people a completely forested island alive with huge abundances of seabird and terrestrial life, mostly endemic which soon disappeared with the bush and introduction of mammals and marsupials (aka predators/competitors). As such the work I was involved with echoed much of New Zealand's plight - predator control or exclusion. A really eye-opening experience and super rewarding to contribute to, knowing every dead Possum, Cat and Rat was exponentially benefiting the endemic flora and fauna that in reality has know adaptation or strategy of dealing with these recent introductions. However it wasn't all same as, with radical translocation projects of species like Chatham Islands Albatross (a critically restricted and therefore vulnerable crippling blow your tits off Procellariiforme) giving me the privileged opportunity to perch on the 'SHARP END OF THE WEDGE!'

It's difficult to describe the graft and crippling nature of the work and er nature, so here's some pics and garbled verse yo.

Endemic form of the New Zealand Fantail. Stonkingly common and charismatic. 

Endemic Chatham Warbler, not too dissimilar to the mainland's Grey Warbler in song but clearly island pressure have transformed the (in my opinion) dullish Grey into a knee-cappingly good island hermit! 

Chatham Island Pigeon, again similar to the mainland but bigger, fatter and brighter! Check out two-tone bill! suits you sir!

Despite the latent destructive impression of bareness where whence forest came before, it still makes for a rectal-tighteningly beautiful vista home to even more mega-triple neck spinners. 

Chatham Island Oystercatcher, yes, endemic, again. Those bright pink legs were divine darling, went well with my sunburn dont you know pip pip cup of tea.

Although most of the Blue Penguins had departed after their post-breeding moult, this tardy individual provided an excellent opportunity to get reet up in it's grill. Some believe they are a different subspecies or even full species, looks like a 'normal' penguin to me though!

Chatham Island Pipit, fairly distinct from its mainland counterpart however not recognised as such. Great little birds that had me flinching everytime they called thinking a Dick's Pip was going over until I remembered I'm in New Zealand...


I spent a great deal of time whacking the old bush as it were (giggidy), enjoying some of this unique habitats residents including Red-crowned Parakeets, more specifically the Chatham Island 'form'. Totally criptastic birds, and radically different from anything native in the UK. As such I spent a decent bit of time learning their habits so eventually I may train them to form a super army to eradicate all I see as unfair in the planet. It didn't go well however, so I contented myself to quietly waiting and watching, getting more and more of a feel of there perky little green buggers behaviour and ecology whilst generally getting manic and tarnished by their beauty.

After a while I realised they were just bloody Crossbills with those honking great head-spades and all the frass and such that spilt to the ground! Funny to similarities you subjectively draw between vastly different birds.

Bluer than David Carmeron's lobotomized ballsack 

With camp set amongst the rolling paddocks of the legendary Bruce and Lizz Tuanui farm, it was not uncommon for to see the odd cow, or sheep, or Lapwing (ps might be a sheep).

The hallowed predator fence, truly epic achievement by the most dedicated of conservationists. Soon to be teeming with tubenoses big and small whilst hyper restricted landbirds grovel within its protected confines. 

Perhaps the moment I was most excited about was the chance to walk between Chatham Albatross on their only colony - The Pyramid. The purpose, besides shear sexual stimulation and bohemian pleasure was to translocate chicks to form a satellite colony in the newly predator fenced area on main Chatham, so all eggs weren't in the same basket, per se. Beautiful calm conditions dominated our skin for weeks for that persistent SW swell finally died enough to facilitate landing and removing chicks safely. A very long day but without a doubt one of my best. Check dem picture word two time sisters and brothers.

Get in a boat. See Buller's Albatross. Fantastic little Alberts that stayed with us for most of the journey.

Southern coastline of main Chatham complete with fogfall.

In the UK these may be Gannets, but this is the Chathams and they Albatross G! A huge swell and circling birds greated our approach to the sacred rock.

Thar she blows! Hard to see why it's called the Pyramid.

Rafts of them! The best Albatross!

Look at that bill against the clean grey and white patternation. Holy Chatham batman! Yes Robin I just came too. BBBAAAZZZZOOOCK.

Birds massing around the peaks. Nests were all over the rock with presumably younger, inexperienced birds nesting on the peripheral more accessible (for Skuas/human harvesters in the past) while older experienced birds in their prime got the prime real estates in the caves and cliff. True or not it was an unforgettable sight, sound and being a seabird colony - smell!

It is unnatural what these birds do to me. No, I retract that, it is totally natural! Appreciation of nature and birds is what made us humans great! While disconnection and unappreciation is what will end us. 

OOOO MATRON! Postulating was common among the non-breeding courting birds at lower levels. Lots of feet slapping too - an artifact of porr walking ability or staking their claim who knows!

Holy Maccaroni Penguin! Look, there's bloody tons of them, in a colony, Albatross!! Trossing off mate!

Just cant get enough of that face colour juxtaposition. 

Stick that on page 3 baby!

 We had some time to quickly explore the colony before getting down to running the rocks and moving chicks from the selectors to the boat, so I jumped straight into an area containing both chicks with attending adults and courting non-breeders.The noises and styles blew every appendage into orbit. Holy Crap! It felt very special to witness the courtship of such a unique bird so far detached, in some ways (very similar in many others) from other seabirds I have been lucky enough to absorb. In particular that luminescent orange gape sent all my appendages into orbit! Virtual tubenose job! I tried my best to document some of this oinking and postulating and here a the lack-luster results...


Oh yeah and the chicks look like clowns! Friendly ones of course. They were hilarious and dangerous!

Like that crappy Mute Swan heart composition that everyone tries for but cripple-times better. A real hamstring bender of birds!

My last moment on the cock of a rock were spent craning the neck skywards admiring the gallions of birds circling and aborting landing attempts and retrying. It was spectacled in its aculation! Whatever that means. Blue skies, crisp Chatham Alberts, industrial rock all made for the ultimate clash of the titans which I duly desecrated with my my long hard lens. Unreal to the extreme. Get out there, help, screw your body and build experiences that will live within your bones infinitly. 


Got on the old layering flex n ting blud clart reppin. Birds up and up and up..

Get ya feet out! Fleshy.

A Buller's even joined the party, not breeding on the Pyramid.

Synchronised aching movements threw my eyes and brain into a harmony rarely attained in this oxymoron counter-natural landscape. A trance which is as intoxicating as it is liberating for this ape of the sea. Yeah mate stick some verse in ya hearse of a brain.

With poetic intentions, or was it pure adrenalin powered sleep deprivation? We departed the holy land with the most precious of cargos, bound for main Chatham. Thankfully there was a fairwell squadron of pelagic eye wanderers to bid us adieu.

It's not all Orange conk this and tubenose that, there are brown familiar gull-like creatures too! This Southern Skua was one of a couple that I was uber chuffed to get some close up views of, cracking parasite!

 Back on land some opportunistic seabird monitoring/porno work allowed some excellent Taiko and Chatham Petrel consumption. The old retinas were full those days I can assure you! Amazing to think these birds can locate their nests in the thick monoculture of heterogenius bush after weeks at sea. Hats off Taiko! If i were wearing one.

Cracking in the nest shot by Dan Burgin

A couple of nights were spent at Sweetwater witnessing a pantomime of courtship by Chatham Petrel, singing, a gliding together, truly mesmerising experience tweaking all the right places!

The mighty Morriori River

Crazy red fungi, did not sample.

Some free time was spent exploring various compass points of main Chatham with the surprisingly large island sparsely populated allowing human free viewing of cracking endems such as Chatham Island and Pitt Island Shags...

Post translocation the chicks settled well into their new colony and the daily positive conditioning by the 'blue beings' meant by the time I left they had stopped verbally complaining about having water, squid and fish shoved down their throats, with some even opening up and attaining bin dimensions! Luckily they clearly know we're arsehole humans as the defensive bill-clapping behaviour remained throughout!

Aint they cute!

Finally! Almost there, been to the toilet yet? Bet you need it after that scholarly length essay of ablog post. But lets not forget the insects. Equally pivotal in any ecosystem, especially insular ones. Lots of awesome moths which I shall not go into here so here's a couple of endemic damselflies and the Chatham Island Red Admiral to wet the appetite.

A riot of colour and of form!

A tip to the past, old Morriori tree carving in a rapidly degenerating piece of bush. A strange experience.

One final scan from the colony site where great seawatching was had on so many occasions, think I was paranoid about fog on this day so maybe checking the visibility!

All good things come to an end...back to the south island 

Good night Vietman