Wednesday, 26 April 2017

After Dad

Dad passed away a month ago tomorrow. It feels like forever and no time at all. It was both tragic and sad and yet a relief and a blessing. Dad was brave to the end having a long conversation with me on the Monday prior to his death about a Rebus book he has leant me (and I'm still only 100 pages in) but was obviously starting what I anticipated to be a slow decline. By the Thursday he was much worse and by Friday evening he was bed bound. A long, hard weekend of caring for him with my mother (I used to be a nurse, she is a practice nurse and it afforded him far more dignity than having nurses come in) and then he slipped away quickly and quietly by Monday lunchtime surrounded by those that love him. Euphoria was our initial reaction as it was over and he was no longer suffering but this was soon replaced by intense sadness and a reflection on our time together and a future without him.

Dad, me and Tom atop the Moors in North Yorkshire, probably at Danby in the mid 90s when we were in our early teens.
This post wont be too awful I promise, just rationalising why I haven't been blogging and a quick reflection. My brother Tom came over from Australia for the funeral and was here for a fortnight. I was off for three weeks as well as I work 120 miles from home and wasn't in the right place to be away from home. Tom, Mum and myself worked through Dad's clutter. He appeared to have kept every paint tin and door handle since 1987 and considering how prolific a decorator my mother is that was quite the feat. Two skips full of junk plus a couple of dump runs and charity shop donations mean't that Mum didnt have the dispiriting process of working through his belongings. Dad would have preferred it that way. He had no truck with us having a shrine either physical or mental to his life and whilst he hoarded crap would have been glad we got rid of it without ceremony. Mum seems ok and whilst sad managed very well.

Dad in 1980, the wildman that Mum fell for. Terrible hair. The beard followed soon after and I didnt see his face until I was 11.
We couldn't get a funeral for Dad for a fortnight so on Wednesday, April 12th we said goodbye to my hero. He was far from perfect as a person but he was the best Dad I could have wished for. Caring, compassionate, proud of us and good fun, we shared many a joke (often at Mum's expense). Tom read a fantastic eulogy summing up Dad's devotion to his family unit and whilst his childhood was touched upon it was his life as a father and a husband that defined him and where he succeeded so well. Tom, my brother-in-law Ady and myself were 3 of the pall bearers. We were expecting 6 in all but it was so heavy which I couldnt believe. It was only at the wake afterward that my brother told me that only 4 of us carried him in. I was at the front with Ady so we couldn't see how many there were. It was an honour to carry Dad in and one I'm so glad I did. We had a trio of songs that summed up Dad's life with him coming into 'One More Night' by Phil Collins. Dad wasn't a huge fan but it summed up his devotion to Mum that they endlessly played Yahtzee to terrible white-boy soul that Mum loved on an evening and it reminded us of the late 80s early 90s period. The curtains came round his coffin to 'Chasing Cars' by Snow Patrol. Dad's musical repertoire didn't increase much after he hit 50 but this was on loop in his car or when he was on the computer. Finally we left the crem to 'Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)' by Cockney Rebel. Dad loved this song and found it galling that Mum saw Cockney Rebel live twice when she didn't really care for them. It lightened the mood and we said goodbye. For me Dad started my love of rock music and whilst he was generally pretty mainstream he loved listening to decent songs and set me off with a number of touchstones which I fondly returned to this month.

At his happiest, relaxing outside. Usually with a fag.
A special mention must go to Reverend Roy Shaw, a close friend of my father who had few of them and a former colleague (briefly) of my brother, mother and myself in various guises when he was a social worker. Roy conducted the funeral with a great aplomb and I personally couldn't have been more grateful for his efforts which I know were extremely trying for him. Also to my sister and my wife who read poems that looked at Dad's life and the future and how we must move forward with him our hearts. And move forward we shall. Tonight is the first time I have connected with the emotions Dads death left inside me without a torrent of tears. I'm ok, I'm coping ok but I love my Dad and I miss him dearly. A difficult month but one to treasure and remember as well. Good times, bad times.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Patchwork Shenanigans

A byproduct of the current home situation is that I am off work and needing time to get away and process. Birding has always been my escape and thus it is once again so. Spring is just getting underway at Flamborough and new additions have been flooding in with 8 new in the last three days despite missing an excellent seawatch this morning.

Crane - one of three.
I started off with a little seawatch on Wednesday which produced a few nice birds including three Little Egrets south which were the first record for the year. The other bits and pieces are here on Trektellen. It was the first 'trek' seawatch I had done entirely by myself at Flamborough so it felt good to be contributing data. There was also a Great Northern Diver on the sea amongst some modest movement. It was however interrupted by a Whatsapp message from the obs group which came through 40 minutes late about a party of three Cranes on Northcliff Marsh. I screeched up to Old Fall Gate and started scanning but with no luck as it appeared they had cleared off. Then I heard some bugling as they flew low towards me. They saw me as they approached the road banking up from a couple of metres in height to 8-9 giving me a scrambled chance to get some photos. Not the best but I was a happy lad. They landed near the cliff edge apparently but I didn't see them again in the gloom.

A Little Bunting was seen briefly at this point in a private garden but I didn't manage to see it as it disappeared and efforts whilst scanning the Yellowhammers at South Landing only yielded a displaying Lapwing and a singing Chiffchaff, both of which were new for the year on patch. Soon I was back to reality and headed off to complete chores.

After missing the first I managed to connect with the second and third LRP of the day.

Yesterday I missed the first good seawatch of the season but made amends somewhat with some common migrants in the North Landing area. Two Sand Martins over Thornwick Pools were the first of five seen whilst a cat moving down the side of the pool flushed four Snipe which then made themselves at home beside the lower hide. I had at this point missed Craig's LRP which had already moved onward. A further Sand Martin hunted over Thornwick Bay itself. A Chiffchaff sang from beside the pools and an interrogation of Holmes Gut revealed a further three along with two Goldcrests.

A tour of Thornwick cottages turned up four Wheatears including just a single male bird but a jaunt up to North Dykes produced just a single Buzzard and two final Sand Martins. A message on the local grapevine alerted me to a brace of Little Ringed Plovers back at Thornwick and upon arriving Brett and Cynthia kindly put me on to them for my fourth year tick of the day and my PWC list hit 101.

Annoyingly I have missed 10 species over the last few days, most of which I should get back but there was some quality with Iceland Gull, Little Gull, Med Gull, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Swallow, Woodcock, Hooded Crow, Firecrest and Shoveler seen. Hopefully I should get plenty of time in over the next couple of weeks and add a good few more.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Night Dad

'Night Dad' was the regular refrain over the last few years whenever we went our seperate ways so it only seemed fitting to bid his passing in a similar manner on Monday. He was my Dad and latterly since becoming a father myself we have become mates. A coffee, a fag and a moan were his raison d'etre, especially since his cancer returned and over the past three months there has been plenty of opportunity to say what needed to be said which ultimately wasn't much. It was more fun to talk waffle. Now, with his passing I feel a maelstrom of emotions which will distill in time just to sadness I imagine. For the first time this evening I had that 'I'll just tell Dad that' moment but of course I won't. So for one last time 'Night Dad'.

Dad with Abby on the ferry to Thassos. Our last proper conversation was about how much he enjoyed playing air hockey with me there. Super time, super memories, Super Dad.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The End of Winter

I know its the end of winter as it is the Spring Solstice tomorrow and I have finished counting waders in Somerset until the back end of the year. Last week was the final time and we dotted ourselves along the River Parrett. Waders were scarce and aside from an increase in Grey Plover and Knot it was a pretty humdrum affair. Birds were spread widely and the huge numbers of Dunlin that typify the site at other times just weren't in evidence. The first migrants were just appearing a bit more widely and Chiffchaffs were evident in plague like proportions throughout.


After our first day of work we headed to Berry Head in Devon as the Slapton Ley Humpback had relocated there on the previous day. We were very lasse faire about the pair of Cirl Buntings that greeted us although the slow punture we acquired whilst travelling down was somewhat more vexing. A small crowd of people were searching the azure sea which was unseemingly blue to someone who has the North Sea on his doorstep. Nothing had been seen and an hour of fruitless searching was punctured by squadrons of Harbour Porpoise which was not something Paul had seen well before. There were good numbers of seabirds returned to the cliffs to breed with carpets of Guillemot with a scattering of Kittiwake and Fulmar. A flock of seven Pintail were an incongruous sight as we tracked them coming in off from way out in Lyme Bay and doubtless rather further away. The highlight of the week for me was my first masked bandit of the year as a male Wheatear peaked briefly over the cliff before flying off into the ether.

As we made leave it became very clear that 9 psi was not adequate for travel despite filling the tyre with more air and we had to put out an SOS to be rescued. We chose to plonk down beside the Teign at Kingsteignton, scene of the Gull-billed Tern twitch for Pete and myself. The response was too quick to get our tea at the pub but it wasn't so swift as to prevent me from seeing my first Common Sandpiper of the year followed by the unseen choo-choo-choo of a Greenshank. We were on our way back and thankfully even got to the pub in Cannington just in time for tea.


The final day was somewhat vexing due to the gale force westerlies that battered us all morning. We got off lightly as the shower which soaked Dartmoor turned onto the Quantocks instead of continuing on to us. After more Chiffs I also added Wheatear to the work year list (we have an annual competition, loser buys the first round at the Xmas do, winner buys the second...). I am currently getting stuffed 114 v 104. A Red Kite seemed to dive into trees on Steart Point confusing the life out of Pete and myself and then it was time to be away. Well it felt rather longer at the time! That was that and now its gearing up for lots of CBC and schedule 1 monitoring. Love spring, hate early mornings.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Raptor Central



I decided to head back to Flamborough for a better look at the Raven as it had been showing well around Flatmere. On arriving I bumped into Gerard who patches Fraisthorpe and Barmston as well as coming onto the head. We set up at Old Fall steps and before too long were seeing birds. Initially it was Buzzards over Danes Dyke with up to three birds present. The Raven then flew into Flatmere pool and hid. Whilst waiting for it to reappear I noticed the feral Greylag flock close to the village and there was a single Barnacle Goose amongst them. I went back to checking the Buzzards only for one to morph into a Red Kite. This then toured most of the head before going over North Landing where it attracted the attention of the Raven.


The two birds then headed straight for us and onward to Old Fall where they circled together before they split, the Raven heading north and the Kite slipping south towards Sewerby. Four Grey Herons were seen at North Marsh before Andy Lassey flushed them by approaching too close. He repeated the trick later flushing them from a field to Flatmere. Apparently this is the March record so its all going quite nicely! The goose hid with the flock behind a hump in the field when Brett came looking and he was also too late for the kite. A calling Bullfinch was new for the year as was a Sparrowhawk which spiralled up over middle Dykes. The three Buzzards spent most of the morning mooching about between the village and the dykes.

I mosied off to South Landing where I had very little aside from a Coal Tit at Highcliffe Manor. No Woodcock or Long-tailed Duck but all round a successful morning.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Kronk-ing Brilliant

Today was headlined by my first decent find of the year up at Flamborough - a Raven. This monster corvid is rare as hens teeth on the Yorkshire coast although this is the second record in two years at Flamborough. I am led to believe there are just a handful of other records from the site. I was walking up to North Dykes hoping for the Hoodie or some Golden Plover in a field when amongst a monster flock of Rook I heard 'kronk kronk'. It sounded like Raven but the cynical bit of my brain cut in and said it'll just be Rooks doing impressions. I scanned to see a giant corvid slinking over the field being escorted by two Carrion Crows. In the mist it wasn't a great view but with the call I put it out on the local grapevine and on twitter. Despite living in a Raven desert I am fortunate enough to see and hear these impressive beasts on a weekly basis in Somerset, Northumberland and Scotland but it was the juxtaposition that had me on the hop.

Photos by Andy Hood. Thanks Andy!

After this I failed to reconnect but I got the word out and the regulars were scouring the head and it was heard not long after I left by Phil C before being found on the deck at Flatmere. All and sundry were then able to twitch it including Andy Hood who was stuck at work initially but got away just in time. Big thanks to him for letting me use his photos. I didnt have my camera on me as it was drizzling pretty much the whole time I was out and about.


Aside from 'da bigg crow' there was what felt like a quiet seawatch but it had small numbers of wildfowl moving of 7 species including 2 Gadwall, 1 Dark-bellied Brent and a Goosander which were year ticks at Flam. A couple of Dunlin south were also new as were the plethora of Puffins bimbling about and a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Rather more embarrassingly were tonnes of Meadow Pipits which were displaying everywhere. A trip to Thornwick Pools produced nothing of note as the regulars including the Pochard were all present and correct.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Cirl One Out

This is a little bit of a catch up post after a series of adventures and odds and sods over the last few weeks. It is illustrated with thanks to Pete Clark who has a new camera and now knows how to use it and yet he is still happy to share his photos with me.


So lets start with the Cirl Buntings. Working with Pete and Paul on an infrastructure job in the South-west we found ourselves with the afternoon off after an early start. Our original plan to see the Slapton Ley Humpback went up in smoke when it promptly did one so we went to Torbay to attempt to catch up with wintering seabirds and passerines. A swift transit from Somerset to Broadsands was only interrupted by a Subway stop for Paul and further sustenance for the remainder who fancied actual food. Annoyingly unforecast rain put a dampener on things as did a sea fret which obscured the bay. A Chiffchaff sparked up giving the 'swee' call. It looked like a colybita so thats what it was ascribed to as was its more conventional calling friend. After half an hour we were somewhat bunting-less and hiding in the bandstand when we noted lots of Chaffinches and Linnets in the stubbles. Soon we were seeing buntings and before long at least eight Cirl Buntings were seen foraging on the deck before coming to sit in the small trees by the beach. Great views were had and they were Paul's first UK ones so everyone was happy.

As the buntings lost their lustre we turned our attention to the sea where the only grebe was of the Great Crested variety and shared an empty bay with a somewhat forlorn looking Razorbill. We then focused on trying to find a Firecrest, Yellow-brow or Sibe chiff in the trees around the back car park only to find a singing Cirl Bunting, a standard Chiff and a duo of Goldcrests. Not quite what we were looking for but handsome enough.

We upped sticks and shifted to Brixham harbour, desperately trying to re-enact our visit of three years prior when 30+ Great Northern Divers shared the water with 8 Black-throats, a banana bill, 2 tysties, 2 slavs, 2 Red-necked Grebes and an Iceland Gull. Just outside the harbour on that occasion amongst a further flotilla of GNDs was Clet the Bottlenose Dolphin, famous for trying to shag Irish swimmers. This time however there were two Purple Sandpipers and a very dead Gannet.


The following day we worked rather later and thus had less leeway for adventure so slipped into the Quantocks for our constitutional. A Great Grey Shrike had been wintering not more than 6 miles from our B&B (the wonderful Blackmore Farm in Cannington - go there, its great) and an update from Brian Hill in the morning convinced us that Pointless and the Chase should be forgone for a few hours searching the upland heath for this bandit. Several Ravens, Peregrines and Red Deer later and Pete found it on a bush as we spread like a net over the valley to ensure it didn't evade our attention. Good views were had, if a little distant, but it was evident that the sun was going to emerge so we did a loop to get on the bright side of our mini-murderer. Pete managed to stalk it with patience and get some reasonable shots with the new camera without it ever getting close but it was well lit so some suitable souvenirs have been saved.


Not illustrated was yesterdays jaunt to Flamborough. I slept through my initial opportunity to add Puffin to the PWC yearlist but rather than sulk I decided to do a walk of the south side of the outer head, returning via Old Fall hedge and plantation. My first Coltsfoot and Red Dead-nettle flowers of the year were seen around the headland car park but little of ornithological interest. I moved stealthily along the cliff top when I finally managed to share the same space and time as the wintering male Black Redstart. Suitably dumbstruck I failed to record this with any sort of photography before it made its escape down the cliff. Indeed whilst it felt spring-like this was very much the highlight of my walk as the only other migrants noted were a band of 23 Wigeon on the sea and a brace of Rock Pipits flying over Old Fall plantation. A rather horny woodpecker was knocking seven bells out of the Sycamores in the aforementioned plantation but no female was in evidence. I moved on in search of brownie points by taking a trip to the dump and completing my flatpack duties.

Today I head to Perth for a somewhat different job which hopefully will reacquaint me with the Nazguls of the Spruce plantations as they perform their seasonal display flights. Paul is my travel companion on this occasion and we stopped off en route to check up on the wintering Black Scoter at Cheswick Sands. It was very much not in evidence but this didn't harm a beautiful Northumbrian scene with mountainous dunes providing the elevation to scan through the exceedingly choppy surf. There were plenty of wildfowl riding through the white horses and two Great Northern Divers were the first thing I laid eyes on. Several hundred scoter were offshore but none appeared to be anything other than the common or garden variety although the brevity of the views hindered our attempts as the swell rolled in. We did see several smaller flotillas of Long-tailed Duck totaling over 30 birds with associate Red-throated Divers, Red-breasted Merganser and Eider. We chalked up a brace of Slavonian Grebes just offshore amongst the duck leaving us content if a little chilly round the edges.


Our final adventure was from three weeks ago when Pete, Paul and myself went in search of Bitterns at Ham Wall. We failed but the Great White Egret roost was pretty cool with five birds in one tree as a horde of Starlings descended on the reedbed. The afternoon was finished with the scene below of a Great White Egret crossing a golden lacquered sky to join its kin aside the reedbed. Superb times in an ethereal location.


Ornithological Idiocy

How brains and birds become mutually exclusive