Wednesday, 31 December 2008

It's Official - Bird Forum Admin Read Loxia Fantastica !

Well, well. I have just been emailed by a regular LF fan (there is at least one) that those lurvely chaps and chappess's at Bird Forum Admin have deleted the link to this blog from all of my posts on their site. Nice touch - keep all my posts ( and pictures, which I will be contacting you about in the New Year as you do not have my permission to display them) but delete the link to my blog cause you're scared someone might read something negative about you ! Owww dibins.

I can only take it then that Bird Forum Admin actually do read this fantastic blog before you. Good ! I hope some of the reality of your actions and your blatant bias hits home, though I sincerely doubt it will though. Just a thought - in my opinion Bird Forum seems to be dying of death these days - there are fewer posts by the 'old school' that were very prolific on there a few years ago. Maybe more people are writing blogs which I think on the whole is much healthier - there is no agenda or biased moderation that is rife on Bird Forum. What you see is what you get, and if you don't like it you don't have to read it.

Strength is the ablity to be capable of listening to criticism, and when necessary, take it on the chin. It appears Bird Forum isn't strong and can't take any criticism. It panders to the whimsical rantings of certain members that they are 'chummy' with to the detriment of others.

No more BF criticism from now on I promise - lets just let it (BF) die of death in peace.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE ! 2009 is going to be a mega crossbill year and er...if its not then it will be 2010 !

The Dangers of Bird Forum

Here is a priceless gem of a piece of journalism, and I use that term loosely, by reporter Vicky Collins and many reasons why you should watch what you say on that orcale of birding knowledge that is Beginner Forum, and I suppose on blogs too ! She was such a good journalist that when she was given the task of writing a piece on Britain's only endemic the Scottish Crossbill she apparently only used Bird Forum as her primary source ! If you haven't read this please do and have a good laugh. At the time I had to delete all my posts so she didn't use them in her article. She was also emailing me asking if "I was affiliated with the RSPB" so she could get some dirt. As you all know I am not. I did warn the RSPB and being such nice guys they probably didn't tell her to just go and forth and fornicate as I would have - jeez it's great not to be moderated !

Here it is, enjoy !

"Feathers Flying Over Scottish Crossbill: is It a Unique Species? Ornithologists' Dispute Rages on the Net"

Posted on: Friday, 4 November 2005, 09:00 CST


ITis a pastime usually associated with quiet hours spent observing nature, but now a bitter row over Scotland's only unique species is dividing the world of bird-watching.
Ornithologists are questioning the very existence of the Scottish crossbill, which was officially identified as a separate and endemic species only four years ago.
Arguments about the status of the bird, which is virtually identical to the common crossbill except for a slightly higher and less staccato call, have been raging on one of the biggest internet birdwatching sites. Birdforum. net, which has more than 33,000 members, features heated discussions about the Scottish crossbill, with many claiming it is not a separate species and has been designated as such only because of its usefulness to conservation bodies.
There are three crossbill species in the UK: common, which is widespread, the slightly larger and far rarer parrot, and Scottish, whose size is midway between the other two.
They all rely on pine trees for their food, with the Scottish crossbill said to live exclusively in Scots pine forests.

It was declared a separate species four years ago after research by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) found it did not breed with the other two species.
So far, DNA tests have shown no differences between the three.
However, many Birdforum members are highly sceptical about its existence. Michael Frankis, from Newcastle, argues the Scottish crossbill's status has less to do with scientific evidence than it does with the need for a flagship species that can be used to attract funding for the preservation of Caledonian pine forests.
"The more interesting the species, the more likely it is to get funding (politicians being what they are! ), " he writes.
"Which one? Capercailzie - what, a re-introduced species that is also common in two other EU countries? - No, sorry. Red Grouse? - Endemic, yes, but not a pine forest species. No, won't work. Aha - invent a crossbill! That does the job just nicely.
"Of course the official UK ornithological bodies will strenuously deny all of the above because, if they don't, the funding might get stopped."
Everyone contributing to the online argument admits the near impossibility of identifying a Scottish crossbill, and two members of the forum claim the call associated with the species has been heard at least twice in Kielder Forest, in Northumberland.
Another contributor, jpoyner, lives in Strathspey, the heartland for Scottish crossbills. He reports several sightings of mixed pairs of crossbills in the forests there and questions whether the Scottish species may in reality be a cross between them.
An RSPB spokesman said:
"RSPB Scotland has carried out a detailed research project.
The results have yet to be published, but at this stage the indications are that the Scottish crossbill should still be regarded as a separate species."
Description: chunky finch with large head and bill
Length: 16.5 cm
Wingspan: 27 to 30.5cm
Plummage: mainly red with dark wings and tail
Description: large, powerful finch with deep parrot-like bill and sharply forked tail
Length: 17.5 cm
Wingspan: 30.5 to 33 cm
Plummage: orange to red with dusky wings and tail with dark wings and tail
Description: chunky, thick-set finch with large head and substantial bill
Length: 16.5 cm
Wingspan: 27.5 to 31.5cm
Plummage: mainly red with dark wings and tail
Source: Herald, The; Glasgow (UK)

Rather than highlight the list of absolute howlers and gross inaccuracies that Miss Collins has written regarding the species let's just look at what the BF's said. Michael Frankis used to be on BF and appeared to be a very knowledgeable guy. But, maybe it is just me, he really comes out of this sounding, well, quite silly ? Yeah, I can just see the RSPB having a Black Op's unit to invent a species for funding the preservation of the Caledonian Pine Forests ! Believe me the RSPB can do this themselves. The argument also falls flat when we take into consideration that scotica also thrives in non-native and mixed plantations of the type that Forestry Enterprise own !

As to JPoyner's "mixed pairs" how does he know they are mixed pairs ? Based on calls, which as far as I know none of the Speyside guides know anything about (even though, and I quote, "they are working with scientists to obtain the technology" to do this ! )? Based on apparent bill sizes, when in reality there is overlap and variation within species ? Nope, thought not.

Two things come out of this:

1) Bird Forum (and the web at large) is full of misinformation and faulty information and opinions that have no basis or peer validation. There is some really good stuff, but......

2) Most journalists are idiots who don't know the meaning of 'research', or certainly doing their own !

Be careful out there people !

Thursday, 25 December 2008

The Danger Of Sonograms ?

Cracking day up here in NE Scotland today. Prime site visit today so hopes were high.

Arrived at around 11.30am a bit later than hoped but just as the remaining fog had been burned off by the sun. The woods (native pine) were pretty quiet save for a few coalies and the odd Siskin and a parties of Redpoll sp. over.

I picked up (by ear) a small group of crossbills flying down the valley from me, distance around 200 to 250m hence faint sonograms:

These reminded me of sonograms of a suspected Parrot at Potarch posted on Bird Forum (arggh) last year, or earlier this year, I forget which. Are these Parrot Fc2's and if so why ? Discuss. Come, on the blog is getting more interactive and lets get it onto Crossbills ! The black 'noise' BTW is not because my DAT mic has packed in but is in fact white noise from a stream that was behind where the birds were flying. Like all parabolas this high frequency stuff is really pronounced.

Here is another one from the same recording at around 17 secs:

Same birds ? Different type ? Tune in later for my synopsis and thoughts, which might just hopefully make you all stop trusting sonograms at face value. It's all in the evidence I supplied above.

And that was it for the day. I got excited later when I saw pine seeds floating down from a Scots Pine ( ladden with perfect cones for crossbills BTW) but no falling cones made me suspcious - these should be affling every 1 to 2 minutes per bird. And there he was, a Red Squirrel munching away of Pinus sylvestris.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Scottish Crossbills R Eeezeee !

"Are you looking at me Jimmy ?"

Rightee o all ranting regarding Burd Forum now almost officially over and blog back to normal. However, was informed that KCFoggin is in fact a woman. So ? Still a twat. Apparently, Andy Bright is a woman too. Or a Pink Fairy, I forget. And Sandy, it wisnae just ower a jaicket - the guy was a turd and being insulting to the 99% of normal people who are happy with their gear ! Just like the gimp who thought that because you me and Uncle Tom Cobbly are happy with our 'leaky' Swarovski's or Leica's where the knob has gone stiff then we must be mentally deranged or 'dudes'. I think we all know who the mentally deranged ones are. Will keep checking out BF sporadically for crossbill stuff in Lurkerland but will not be contributing - I am no doubt banned( again) anyway ! I am especially interested in the post today of Common Crossbills feeding on Western Hemlock. in Ingerland. I am not surprised by this, more at a later date. Anyway, I digress.....

A short trip out today to a site near a village called Finzean. It's pronounced Fing' in BTW kinda like the whole John Menzies thing. On the way there a Jay was a welcome sight - quite a few around most of Deeside this year. I like Jay's, the best crows there are. Next to Choughs that is.

Very quiet in the woods save some sma' shite ( coati's, crests and creepers) moving through in feeding flocks. Did some scanning with the parabola and picked up something faint - finch type chatter but not crossbill, that I know, and not redpoll, siskin. FTW ? Oh well. Quite a lot of old foraging evidence by Scottish Crossbills on the floor so kept optimistic.

About ten minutes later I was on to something. Not a breath of wind today so a falling cone 100m away was easily heard and a dead giveaway along with chipping calls birds given when feeding. On goes recorder up goes Telinga. Recognized through the 'phones Scottish Fc's, or chip calls, and then two 'toop' ( excitement calls). Then they scarppered. Didn't even see them, such is often the case with Crossbills in plantations but there were 4 ( from the calls on the sonogram).

That was it. Another hour of gubbing about produced nothing and by 2.00pm it was technically dusk - light until 3.30pm but everything was away to roost. Not desparately exciting but a good result all the same - evidence of (a few) Scotbills in the plantations and feeding on Scot's Pine (which they were). Will they breed here in the Spring ?

More action this week given the high pressure over next few days at least. Key site tommorrow so hopefully more to report. Bonus point to anyone who can tell me what calls the bird in the pic above gave, or what the species is: hint it's not a Common Crossbill.

And a seasonal message folks - "Remember, A Paramo Jacket Is Not Just For Xmas, It's For Life " !

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Letter To KCFoggin Bird Forum Moderator

Some readers may also follow my exploits on Bird Forum. Well, not any longer I am afraid. I have just had that oh so predicatble "you're being a naughty boy and if you don't buck up we are going to remove you from our hallowed, beloved forum" from Bird Forum 'Admin' ! Not Andy Bright this time which makes a change. Well go fornicate yourselves Bird Forum Admin. I'll say that again cos I can on here, it's MY show after all. Why don't you all go f**k yourselves Bird Forum Admin.

For anyone that hasn't got a clue what I am talking about you will need to read the thread HERE. However, its Bird Forum, it's not cool and using it will totally mess you up. Just say "no". I would probably advise that you just watch the shopping channel or organize your CD collection instead.

Basically, I had two posts removed where I defended myself against this complete sphincter called "Joespy" who seems to have taken totally disproportionate offence to my balanced view of problems he has had with his Paramo jacket. Because he has a faulty jacket he thinks anyone who is happy with theirs must be an idiot. I should add I don't own a Paramo jacket but I hate these self righteous pricks - remember all the "my Leica's have a stiff focus knob" and "my EL's have a hole in them so they are not waterproof ( though I haven't actually tested that )" threads on the binocular Forums two years ago by Godawfulun ? These people should not be on Bird Forum they are clearly care in the community. I think they should change the name to BB Forum - "Bunny Boiler Forum".

I then get this gem of a PM from Uber Mod KCFoggin ( should that be Fogey ? ). Zeig Heil, Zeig Heil !! :

[KCFoggin]Sorry, but you need to settle yourself down a bit or admin is going to do it for you via removing you from membership. Surely you can get your point across in a less antagonistic way. Either conduct yourself in a manner suitable for forum activities or you are going to be removed. KCStaff[QUOTE]

Weeeell, maybe he just caught me at a bad time - earlier this evening I had been very disappointed to see Tom win the "Strictly Come Dancing Final". It is clear that Lisa should have won or at least made the last two as she had a perfect score from the judges. It shattered me. At least he opened with "sorry" before the "Vee vill take you out a szshoot zu iv you do not comply"

Anyway, I replied to KCDontLogginAgain with this :

"Dear KC,

You have removed two of my posts in reply to a very derogatory post by a BF member clearly insinuating that I am a w4anker yet his offensive post remains there in all it's un-modded glory. Clearly you must agree with him ? So, someone can basically call me a w4anker in pseudo language, but for me to say " go fornicate yourself " (verbatim) in reply is offensive ? Get real. Or at least be consistent. Clearly too difficult a task for BF 'Admin'.

All of my posts on this particular thread have been objective and I have only retorted 'in kind' when I have been provoked by this particular individual. My opinions have been balanced and well argued throughout, though he has ignored this and so do you now.

I am finished with Bird Forum so don't bother going to the trouble of removing me or don't bother replying to this as I will not get your response - it will be blocked as SPAM.
Clearly you intend Bird Forum to be a place for people like Joespy: I notice most of the decent, knowledgeable and serious birders from a few years ago have all left Bird Forum, or more likey have been removed by 'Admin'. Mmmm, wonder why.......

Out of interest did you also send Joespy a message like the one below you sent me ? No, thought not. Your loss. You can stick your Forum. There will be a detailed account of this, and your particular actions and comments going on my blog in an effort to discourage decent people from endorsing this sham of a site and the apparently biased actions of it's moderators. I know this as I am not the only one.

I can say what I like on my blog tough guy...."do it for you" indeed !

Goodbye. "

However, it gets more sinister. If you read the quote by BitternTwisted in post #34 by Markulous the orginal post from where the quote is taken has mysteriously disappeared ! Now, BitternTwisted I think might just have been sticking up for me by correcting Joespy's use of language and making him look a bit stupid. So, it's not just my posts being deleted, other people's innocent ones are too. However, Joesspy's snidy and derogatory post has been left. Clearly he is a friend of KKKFoggin. People, this is what you are accepting by contributing to Turd Forum.

I recall recently a Moderator being really nasty with a BF member on a photography thread. He was clearly using his position of authority to bully this poster. If anyone else had taken a similar tone they would have been 'terminated'. What an absolute prick.

So, do you want the good news or the good news ? Well, the good news is that I won't be contributing anymore to Turd Forum. The other good news ? Well, I thought that would be obvious - I've got to have somewhere to rant so that will continue to be on here. Loxia Fantastica will continue to inform the world of all things other assorted shite.

Bird Forum, well they can just go forth and fornicate. Oh, but KfCFriedChickenAgain if you are reading this, and I do hope you are, you and BF do now not herewith have permission to hold and display my images of crossbills. You can start by taking off the one of the Scottish in Opus. I did not give permission to use that picture there. As I recall, a moderator put it there. Says it all really. You do not now have my permission to display these images that are my copyright. They were submitted in good faith. You have eroded that faith and any permissions are herewith formally retracted. They are my copyright and I resign my membership of your crappy birding community. And don't get that fat fairy Andy Bright to write and tell me that because they have been put on bird Forum that you are not in the wrong. Remove them now or "we'll do it for you". My agent will be in touch. Not nice is it you tosser.


Monday, 15 December 2008

"Should I Stay Or Should I Go Now ? "

I hate to follow the trend of quitting blogging and following messrs. Allwood and McKinney (and possibly Menzie ?) in finally putting fingertip to keypad but I really am wondering who is reading this high quality crossbill copy that I write and wondering if it is worth continuing. Averaging around 4-5 hits per day it hardly seems anyone gives a monkey about crossbills in stark contrast to the two aforementioned blogs that were far more popular and who still decided to quit. Go work that out !

So, I am going to take a short sabbatical to review things ( actually, to write up some more stuff and to finally finish y CD of Crossbill recordings which should be available next year). My gosh, I have turned into a 'desk ornithologist' - shoot me. No, don't worry the fieldwork will continue, especially ringing crossbills ( on my own !!). I will also be starting a new blog linked through my professional website which will be updated in the New Year.

Keep tuned in all 5 of you as there may be sporadic updates.

All the best, your friendly neighbourhood Loxiafan.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

10,000 Light Years........

On the "One Show" BBC1 tonight Tuesday 2nd December there was a short piece on.....wait for it......Britain's only endemic the Scottish Crossbill or, as it is known in some parts, Loxia doiexistorno. Reporter Mike Dilger was with Ron Summers in Abernethy hot on the trails of the Scottish Crossbill. Dilger stated that as a result of the 2008 RSPB Survey "10,000 Scottish Crossbills were discovered, 10 times more than were previously thought to have exist". Well FMSWABP (it's a McKinney-ism so go work it out -RIP Tommo btw), but this is a family blog ! 10, 000 Scottish Crossbills ! I'll say it again...10,000 Scottish Crossbills ! Whoah..what methodolgy produced a figure like that and what is the bias or error involved ?

I missed the actual show due to work committments but my missus told me about it. She even made notes ( I can now call her my secretary). I saw the 10,000 bit she wrote down and peed myself. Luckily I was wearing my incontinence pants at the time. I managed to watch the show on the BBC site on her computer (mine doesn't like the BBC) and it is on at about 20 odd minutes. Strangely, it now appears to have disappeared or been removed from the BBC "One Show" site. RSPB PR department intervention conspiracy theory anyone ? Surely Not.

Highlights for me were that after twenty minutes of lure playing none of these 10,000 Scottish Crossbills were apparently tempted in. It's true what they say in film making.....never work with small children or animals. Now add to that men holding Telingas. A pair finally were spotted ( after stopping the lure). These looked like common types to me on bill morphology - they didn't call ! Also, I have never thought of Scottish excitement calls as sounding 'flutey', but maybe that is just me. Reeks of typical BBC journo agenda editing to me. Never trust journalists as they can never be relied on to get the facts right. Oh, well I'm off to count the Scotties in Deeside. By my reckoning there should be at least 1/5 to 1/3 of the Scottish population present. If I count 300 I reckon I'll be doing very well............

A Scottish Crossbill. There are 9,999 others.....apparently.

New Toyz ( and it's not even Christmas !)

Took the plunge and got a Nikon D300 Camera and a Nikon 300mm AFS ED f4 prime lens for my hide photography.

It's early days and just getting used to the camera but seems a big improvement on the D70s I have been using over the last 3 years.
All pics were taken at Allenvale Cemetery last week, unfortunately I missed the Waxies with the new rig - too busy catching (or trying to catch) them. All images shot in the open from tripod as fine jpegs and adjusted only for levels and slight unsharp mask to add a bit of 'punch'. Best viewed full size by clicking on them. Not bad for my first attempts with the new combo. I also forgot just how relaxing bird photography is - it's like fishing ! Guess I have been sound recording for too long.
My old Tamron 'BigRon' 200-500 is pretty good but the 300mm is making me try to get closer and giving me better speeds and improved sharpness. I am sure I can get even better results if I stick at it. Combined with the better quality higher ISO of the D300 it really is quite impressive for a sub £2000 rig. It's still a lotta dosh though.
Next on the agenda is some small finches and garden birds to see how the rig will cope with crossbills later next year ! Gonna have to dust off the hides and get some sites baited up (not for crossbills !). Problem is I have a conflict of interests: I am a ringer and also want to catch them !

Monday, 17 November 2008

Friday, 3 October 2008

'Scottish' Darters Anyone ?, Thursday 2nd October

Okay. some retrospective stuff, more to come. A fantastic day in Aberdeen today so thought we would make the most of the sunshine and check a site very near the city where we have had quite a lot of Common Darters since July this year.

It didn't take long to find some basking male and I spotted a pair in tandem along with several patrolling male Common Hawkers.

A typical Common Darter type for the site:

The taxonomy of Common and Highland Darter is comparable with that of Common and Scottish Crossbill - fraught with pitfalls and often vague ! However, the live specimens that I have examined in NE Scotland are markedly different from those more typical of nigrescens I found in Glen Affric and on the whole appear to be more characteristic of striolatum which seems to be spreading northwards along the east coast of Scotland. Last year I even had one in my garden in the city and there are no known pools in the neighbourhood. Most of the ID books I have do not show striolatum (Common) this far north but all my records will go towards the new Atlas.

Here is a profile of a basking striolatum from the site near Aberdeen :

And here is a fantastic and similar posed pic of a nigrescens to compare features:

Photo:Paul Ashton

Note the extensive black markings along the side of the thorax in nigrescens, the insect also appears more 'substantial' and robust though this may be age related. The black bands on segment 2 is not failsafe in my opinion as in the top picture these are thicker ala that suggested for nigrescens yet this specimen was clearly striolatum.

Here is one of my Glen Affric ones from July 2008:

A recent BDS Bulletin has a small update on research being conducted to determine whether or not nigrescens is a different species from striolatum. The preliminary results suggested no significant differences in DNA between specimens from Southern climes and those up here in the North, and that nigrescens is merely a 'dark morph'. Sounds familiar, ha-ha !

The Empire Strikes Back, Monday 22nd September

In stark contrast to yesterdays successful Scotbill fest the same dynamic and intrepid team of Loxia experts tried another 'all or nothing' site and........................yep that's right, we got nothing ! Strange as conditions were perfect for catching and there were quite a few birds about. However, they were obviously guzzling somewhere else, indeed I had two Parrot males with a female drink at a nearby bog pool that looked really uninviting for crossbills. Just goes to show "expect the unexpected". The large flocks I had two weeks ago had seemingly evaporated - the question is to where ?

Maximum count was 15 ( in one group) and there were small parties and singles over all day including some Common types ( sounded like Fc1).

Peewit Fest, Sunday 28th September

No Crossbills today, instead I opted for a canon net catch of Lapwings on the Ythan with GRG.

A fantastic bright and sunny autumnal day, warm in the sun and not too early a start which, for someone who works late like me, is a real plus point. Firing in eraly afternoon we caught 105 Lapwings ( 2 later escaped from the sacks they were temporarily held in - not my fault !) , 1 Golden Plover and 9 Starlings. I got to do a whole chunk of the peewits and it was a chance to do some wader type bios - total head, bill length and total foot as well as wing measurements on birds larger than I am used to. Perhaps rather worryingly we only caught one juv and this was a bird that was ringed at Rattray as a pullus by another GRG member. Has it been such a poor year for breeding with Lapwings ?

A few of the adults had completed their primary moult and most were only one primary short of completing. Some were showing signs of weird secondary moult with seemingly retained feathers. Fantastic birds to handle though, one of the best I have done.

I also got to do the Goldie after 'drawing lots' with one of the trainers ( for whom it would also have been a ringing tick ). I aged it as a juv according to Marchant.

Got to do a large chunk of the catch and subsequently learned lots. Rather bizzarely it was a ringing session where there were 3 trainers and only one trainee.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Scotbill Fest ! Sunday 21st September

Okay, non-believers please stop reading now ! You may not want to read this post as it contains images which some readers and small children may find disturbing -PLEASE CONTINUE WITH CAUTION ! Yep, that's right this post contains photographs of Scottish Crossbills (and some flash photography) ! "The horror, the horror" to quote Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurt.

These pics are from a relatively sucessful ringing session on Sunday with a couple of GRG colleagues - themselves both notable crossbill experts of some quite considerable repute (they may be reading !).

Seven birds caught in total which, to seasoned 'normal' ringers ( is there such a thing ? !), may not seem worthwhile but actually could not be further from the truth.

First bird caught, a cracking adult male with a honker of bill, almost putting it out of Scottish type range:

"Oooosha, look at the bill on that!"

As well as biometrics, speciation was also confirmed by it's call type, a classic Fc3 ( not shown as I know people have been pinching and using my sonograms - go get your own !).

Unusual bird of the day went to this female bird:

Body plumage shot here (note orangey tones):

And a shot of the rump (normally green/bright green !):

So, an orangey/bronze female type which was classified as female due to dark centres to crown feathers. A new one for me anyway, so glad I went. Nothing is straightforward as far as crossbills are concerned ! For me that is the part of their appeal.

Another male with 'classic' Scottish Crossbill mandibles:

Note the pine resin on the mandibles of all the birds who are clearly still feeding on unopened scots pine cones.

All release calls were consistent with Scottish Crossbill (as were bios) though one female bird was mute ( which happens and is annoying). Had to use my ME67 and FR2LE partly due to portability and partly due to the fact my Pro6 handle has been back in Sweden since early August but this backup setup seems to work really well in this context, although some of the harmonics are fainter without the Telinga.

Hopefully many more successful sessions over the winter !

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Where The Heck Ya Been ?

Okay, okay I AM feeling guilty that at least 6 people a day are visting this site only to think "that lazy crossbill loving tosser can't be doing much these days". Well that couldn't be further from the truth though I am back and will try to post some interesting stuff as it happens. Will also post some retrospective stuff especially from my summer holidays at Glen Affric which was fabby dabby - not only were the dragonflies in abundance but also had Parrot Crossbills in upper Glen Affric and Scottish at Coire Loch and at Corrimony. Loadsa Cresties as well - a bird that we really miss in Deeside.

In relation to a recent post on Bird Forum here is a nice pic from a hide session of a 2cy Scottish Crossbill on 13/07/08:

This individual was ringed as a pullus in the nest by a GRG colleague on 31/3/07 and he was pleased of the report that it was still alive over a year later. For those that are camera geeks I am afraid the equipment was modest: Nikon D70S, Tamron 200-500mm lens. It was shot on ISO400 as the light was pretty crap and it may have been raining a bit too. Was taken at around 9 feet distance from a Keatley Standard Dome Hide. These hides are fantastic and well worth the outlay. I also use the bag hide but it is harder to sit in for long periods and is more of an 'ad hoc' option in my opinion.

Now, me and my mate would know that this is a Scottish Crossbill, even without the ringing info (though we don't measure bios on pullus), but be honest what would you have it down as and why ? Now you can see why most of those photos on Birdguides and Surfbirds that are submitted as Scottish are actually Parrots !

Thursday, 26 June 2008

My Heid is Splitting !

More Gollocks on Bird Forum HERE ( see in particular post #62). Now, it is not that I have a major problem with classifying Loxia scotica as a race of crossbill rather than a species. Rather, the problem is a race of what exactly - Common or Parrot, something which the poster just so happens to conveniently omit ! ? One, would assume the former but how do we know ? The fact that genetically all three are, to all intents and purposes, 'the same' offers no clues either. So, in sharing the same ancestry, which Common, Parrot and even our old friend Scottish clearly must do, when does a clinal form stop being merely a race and become a species in it's own right ? Yep, it's that old problem: it is our definition and understanding of what constitutes a 'species' that is problematic rather than the organisms themselves that just do 'what they do'. I do not profess to understand the mechanics of speciation - I have Ian Newton's fantastic book on Biogeographic Speciation but must confess I only read the Crossbill bits ( and, true to form, looked at the pictures).

There are now hints and murmurs as to splitting Winter Wrens so hopefully the troglodytes of Fair Isle and St. Kilda will deflect from the Crossbills. Who knows, maybe the bird guides from Heatherlea will run trips to these places to show clients 'species' that they themselves do not believe really are species ala what they apparently do with Scottish Crossbill - that is if they (the wrens) haven't all moved to the Lodgepole Pine plantations of Sutherland or hybridised with Hebridean Dunnocks by then (only regular reader to my rants will get this one) ! Maybe they can "work with the scientists on technology" to enable 'retrospective' identification of the vocalisations of the wrens (little hint: it exists already in the form of a microphone, recorder and a copy of Raven Lite-duh).

Friday, 23 May 2008

Scottish Common

This is for Reg in relation to this thread HERE.

This bird was caught in lower Deeside in October 2007. As can be seen it has an intermediate bill, downcurved culmen and plumage that can be indicative of a pine crossbill. It gave both EcE and Fc4 on release, both classified as curvirostra.

Just to prove the point further, here is a Scottish Crossbill caught in October 2006. This has an intermediate bill that is downcurved (though not as much as the common above !) but has more orangey-red plumage ! This gave a Scottish Fc3 on release:

Hopefully this will illustrate the potential difficulty in separating these forms to species level, and even with considerable experience for some individual specimens it will be necessary to have all the evidence including biometrics and bioacoustic.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Calling All Crossbill 'Experts' !

A mysterious crossbill found in Glen Doll, Angus needs your help HERE.

Only serious crossbill boffins need apply, no timewasters please.

ICRAP ( The International Crossbill Research Analysis Program ) requests that participants refrain from using non standard and unsubstantiated terminology such as "glip", "british", "phantom" etc otherwise the following loxia subgroups will also be considered:

The "Fitlikemin" - of Aberdeenshire.

The "Yehoorsir" - found in the Lomond Hill plantations of Fife.

The "Ehlleatmehpeh" - specific to the Fintry hills outside Dundee.

The "WeeFree" - only found on the Outer Hebrides in irruption years.

The "Ganzee" - present on Shetland and Fair Isle in irruption years.

The "Wherzabizees" - only found in the plantations of Merseyside.

The "Gitorfmoiland" - of Dorset and Devon.

The "Buckie" - the resident Crossbill type of SW Scotland, also recently recorded in the Manchester area.

Thank you. You have been warned.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

"She Was a Fast Machine, She Kept Her Motor Clean"

Okay, hands up who went up North to see the Upland Sand. Me ? must be joking. I couldn't be bottomed driving the 50 or so miles from my pad in Aberdeen. I will happily wait till 2102 to see the next long as it lands in my back garden. It's just a bird afterall. Some people must have no job or at least no work to do ! I'd much rather have a Wryneck on one of my June. Now that would be interesting ! Or a Nightjar as happened a few years ago.

So what else makes me 'tick' other than crossbills given that I don't keep lists. Well, this year I am going to do a bit of Dragonfly surveying for the atlas. Things haven't really got going up here as of yet but reckon when I am out this weekend some Large Reds will have emerged. Also going to be targeting Golden Ringed's in Deeside as their distribution seems a bit vague. I have even got a holiday booked with the specific purpose of finding and photographing Odonata......and my real passion Mediterranean Chelonia of course.

A Golden Ringed wouldn't want to mess with it...obviously.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

"Who's Nest and Pictures of Billy", Sunday 5th May

A momentus day as I heard the first juvenile 'pine' crossbill begging calls of 2008. I didn't see them as they were in a mega 'bushy' granny pine, but the adults flew in to feed them, strangely accompanied by another female. The juvs could even have still been in the nest but I checked all the likely places for a nest and couldn't locate it, so it wasn't there. The birds had therefore probably fledged nearby and just managed to fly to this particular tree. The adults gave EcD Parrot type calls which I recorded just to prove that they actually were what I already knew they were.

On Monday my bestest half had juvenile crossbill calls at a site in mid Deeside. Though she had the Remembird with her she was too busy looking at and for insects to record them apparently. Duh ! Yep, it is possible to tell the juvvy calls apart to species level...................those of you still struggling to tell the adults apart probably didn't need to hear that ! :-)

Speaking of nests what a crazy year. I have found more nests than ever, and without even trying - it's actually getting embarrassing. However, the really bad weather in April has resulted in a high failure rate-well more than 'usual' 50%. This is to be expected in the odd year, though it will be interesting to see if any try again or have second broods this year like they did last year.

Nest Diary "Death In The Pines : A Typical Scenerio"

This nest was found as the female had just started building with literally 3 twigs on 9th March (if you look close you can see her peeking at you):

"Here's looking at you kid, celebrate......"

The following week on the 16th the nest was finished and eggs laid sometime later that week. On the 23rd March the female was sitting tight through driving snow storms. I was a bit worried as the male was feeding her only every 90 -120 minutes which is not great (for her). In wet weather the cones close making foraging times longer. This pair had intermediate bill depths (est. around 12.0mm) and both birds were practically identical in this respect. Both gave the same calls and I got the male singing on two occasions so some good stuff re-assortative mating and song to call correlations.

By the 4th of April the chicks had hatched and the male was singing above the tree, and both male and female flew off to feed. The next day an area of low pressure moved in with wet and windy weather and the chicks persished. Total bummer. All that effort from the dedicated female to no avail.

Today, I found yet another crossbill nest (the 23rd this year), the female sitting and the male coming in regularly to feed her. I recorded a male singing in this very tree two weeks ago but there was no nest then. More will be found no doubt.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Simply The Best !

Especially for all the Aberdeen fans I 'coexist' with up here in NE Scotland , here it is all over again just for you. Git it right up yiz !

Now, just to find £1500 to get a ticket......

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

"Do You Remembird When We Met" ?

This might be of interest to potential budget sound recordists, a quick appraisal of the Remembird Sound Recorder. My review will generally appraise it's suitability for what I do, namely crossbills, for a more comprehensive review see THIS one at the WSRS pages.

I primarily bought mine after hearing a recording of some crossbills from a Dutch poster on Bird Forum. The idea was that I would attach it to my bins on days when I didn't fancy lugging heavier sound recorders and more obtrusive microphones. In practice it is the missus who now 'owns' it, which is fine by me as I now get recordings from her day trips when I am working !


The main advantage is that the unit is small and 'covert'. A pet hate of mine when I am out is constantly being asked "what are you tracking" ? My answers have ranged from radio tagged Brown Bears that have been re-introduced through to measuring the timing of pine cones opening by listening for them 'crack'. It may seem a bit mean, but it really does wear you down when you are repeatedly asked the same question over and over by people who are not really interested but rather who's 'noses are bothering them'. Thankfully, this is only bad at a couple of locations and even then only when I am on the paths. I should add that I always give people a "hello" or "nice day", I just don't want to give my life story.

Another thing that is quite impressive is the software interface, which is well designed and written and allows one to catalogue all the recordings and even add comments.

Attaching to bins it works best on my EL 8.5's - the unit sits unobtrusively between the barrels and does not impede the thumb rests. Not so good on my 10 x 42 Ultravids though. The wife prefers to use the little carry strap.

Perhaps the biggest advantage is the cost. Mine was £199 which I considered good value given the product, well produced software and the quality. They are now £150 direct from the manufacturer which has to be a great incentive for the first time recordist ?


You really need to be close to the subject, even in good conditions. How close ? Well in the tree right above you or next to you would be good. As the WSRS review states wind is problematic, but then what do you expect for the money ?

I found a potential problem with using external MMC cards with my first unit. At the highest quality setting of 320 kps a pulsing noise was evident ( sounded like a helicopter). The owner of Remembird relplied to my email enquiry immediately and sent a replacement unit - great customer service. The replacement unit was better but the anomaly was still present albeit to a lesser degree when using 512 and 1 gig MMC cards. If the cards are not used and the 32 meg internal storage is used the anomaly is not audible though a trace of an artifact can sometimes be seen around 11 kHz on a sonogram. On best quality you will get approx 12 minutes recording on the 32 meg internal memory, more than enough for calls though possibly not song in a typical day trip. My suggestion if you think you need more storage is to contact Remembird and ask what MMC cards they recommend and record on the second highest setting as per the WSRS reviewer.

The exported audio (MP3) files from the program are very quiet but this can be remedied by gain boosting in a third party audio program. I use MP3 Directcut as recommended by the WSRS review, and generally boost by around 15dB to get satisfactory levels.


Well, yes, for the dosh it is actually pretty good. Here are a couple of sonograms from recordings that my missus made with it:

And the flight calls from the same group:

As can be seen both calls are clearly identifiable in the sonograms ( in this case EcB and Fc1, so a 1B type ). For those who prefer to listen HERE is the Ec's exported as MP3's and gain boosted by +22 dB's. These were made in good conditions and you can still here a bit of wind rumble.

So, in a nutshell if it can be used for Crossbills then should be no bother nailing that Ibe or Sibe Chiff, if you are close enough !

In the spirit of blogs being interactive (apparently!) a bonus point for music buffs that can connect the post title to Led's a toughie.

Friday, 21 March 2008

More Crossbills ? Get Stuffed !

At the risk of being accused of following the bizzare trend of exhibiting various dead things as seen on other blogs here is a 'curiousity' :

Found this on a random Taxidermy site whilst googling 'Scottish Crossbill'. Not sure if they are scotica, but a very realistic 'composition'. Personally, I prefer to see them flying around, but I suppose in the 19th century and early 20th this sort of 'collecting' was the norm.

There is a similar 'study' of a bird shot near Aboyne in the 1800's that is a good candidate for scotica. I will see if I can find it. ( UPDATE: I am struggling to find it again )

Meantime, here is an interesting specimen shot at Drumnadrochit ( great name):

In the absence of biometrics it is difficult to say what he is, but I could easily accept 'Parrot' type based on birds I have seen and handled. However, it could be a small bodied bird with an apparently big bill, so a tough one. Will try to find the details on this one too.

UPDATE. Here are the details:

Adult male, 2nd winter male, adult female & 1st winter female, 6 Dec 1925 (two), 6 Dec 1924 & 6 Dec 1925, Drumnadrochit (57°20'N, 04°30'W), Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom.

So 4 birds shot in total. The location is not typical 'parrot' but given the month of the year they were shot it is possible that they were migrants, however over two successive years hints at a population. Possibly Scottish afterall.

Told you ( in a now hacker deleted previous post) that Boleskine House would have mad a fantastic base for crossbilling !

Thursday, 20 March 2008


A couple of pics that unfortunately didn't make it in to BOS3, instead mainly putative examples being used ( the main pic of the 'Parrot' Crossbill in Vol.2 p.1433 is particularly dubious, and it seems I am not alone in this assertion). Could even be a Common Crossbill ! Here's a real Parrot:

And Again:

The above bird was caught, ringed, measured and sound recorded as a Parrot Crossbill and then photographed 'wild' six months later. It is not a 'possible' or 'probable'. The bird in the "Pinemuncher" Avatar to the side is the same individual. Digiscoped incase you need to know. Maybe not a great a photo, but then there were other not great photo's in BOS3.

Also, does anyone see the point of the nine crossbill profiles in the hand (p.1435), given the specimens chosen ? Is it just me or is that token ? Does it show, as claimed, "variation of bill shapes and sizes through the three species" ? I think not. They certainly don't demonstrate the variation of these charateristics within the species. The first 'Scottish' in line two looks Common and the bill is not typical of scotica. If that was the point of putting it in then fair enough. The furthest right bird in line two doesn't have the lower mandible tip showing ( the only one !) and is thus unhelpful. I feel it would have been more helpful to show a range of Scottish bill sizes, which seems to occur, rather than pick three birds close to the overlap with Common Crossbill. What the nine pics show is that Scottish Crossbill can have the most variation in bill shape at a similar size. Is this the case ? How do we know a bird at 11.0mm is actually a Scottish Crossbill ? On bill shape, plumage, where it was caught, its call (not done I am afraid) ?

From the Commons are we to take it that over their typical size range given as 9.5mm, 10.0mm and 10.6mm that their bill shape is pretty much the same ? This is not my experience, but again I don't know what these photos are meant to be showing.

The three Parrots all look identical and two are the exact same size ! There was an opportunity to show the structural differences with this species that was not taken, essentially 'Parrot' type birds at just over 12.0 ish mm which occur readily in Scotland. I would also add that only sound recordings were made for the furthest left and right Parrots - none at all for the Scottish and Commons. I supplied birds with biometric data and call data (like the one for my only photo - there were originally 4 or 5 of my pics ! ). This was all stated in communications from me but clearly fell on deaf ears as I have apparently only been working on crossbills for 5 minutes. Actually, it's been 5 years CONSTANT, but never mind I will bear it in mind the next time I am asked 'to help'. I don't really see the point of confusing birders further, especially when alternatives were available. I should add that it was not the authors choice either AFAIK.

Had to get it off my chest - the amount of work I did for it (during my holiday) and the resulting decisions and attitudes of certain individuals really surprised me to be frank. I don't really care that my pics were passed over, just a shame that the job, IMO, could have been done much better and been potentially more helpful to birders. Way too many politics going on regarding crossbills if you ask me........... never !

And if those 'that be' so to speak are offended and don't like what I am saying there is an old saying: "publish and be damned". I guess you've just been damned, by me at least. I bought my copy of BOS3 and I am entitled to my opinion just like anyone else. On the whole it is an absolutely fantastic publication.

Right, stuff these crossbills, off to study Chelonia and become yet another 5 minute amatuer.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Memoirs, Moi ? Shurely Not Mish Monneypenny..

I don't know what is more staggering - that someone would be interested in my (abridged) memoirs, my 'eternal life' if you like, or that someone would read this blog ! That said there are a lotta wanabee crossbill 'experts' out there.... dream brothers, of a time when we know what the hell we are talking about.

As to my six word memoir, with total lack of grace, hows about:

"Don't Waste Time Playing Meaningless Games " ! ( alas, something in life I have failed to observe and often fallen foul of......PhD anyone ?)

or, perhaps more appropriately:

"Don't Study Crossbills They Are *****"

or, even more appropriately:

"People who study Crossbills are *****"

As to 5 other Bloggers, 'fraid I don't know that amount, the 'unpopular' chap that I am. I ain't got no mojo pin with folks I am afraid.

Anyway, back to all things Crossbills....and not.

It may come as a shock to readers that my crossbill work is now nearly tied up and that soon I will be embarking on a long term desk based study on the classification of Mediterranean Chelonia, something far closer to my heart, but equally challenging all the same. However, don't worry I can assure you this won't be the last goodbye.

As David Coverdale used to say " 'ere's a song for yuh" just before "Wine, Women and Song", the wine of course being lialic wine:

I am not going to give the corresponding Ec of this individual as, well frankly, it will quite possibly scare small children and anyone with an interest in crossbills and their calls..... er that's about 6 people then. These, along with other scandals, will be published in the real memoirs. And believe me they will be so real -lover you should have come over ( you know who you are).

Topically, being nearly Good Friday and having just watched "The Passion", I feel curiously moved ( for an atheist) and feel myself humming Benjamin Britten's haunting setting of Corpus Christi Carol. Oh, well.

One final thought: that Jeff Buckley fellow was pretty good wasn't he ? Meaningless games -who said I didn't like them ?


Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Blogger On Strike ?

Ok, so I haven't been keeping the blog up to date. Well, it seems I am not the only one ok ? !

The principle reason is that I am really, really busy just now - I am out doing loads of fieldwork and quite a bit of ringing and it is taking a lot of time to 'process' sound recordings and log field notes (which is always best to do right after a site visit). I sleep the rest of the time that I am not working eg. earning a living. These sort of things really make me wish I was a 'desk ornithologist' after all..................well then again, maybe not !

As far as crossbills go I am afraid it is that time of the year that if I tell you anything I will have to kill you, or get that little Geordie fella Daniel Craig to do it for me. However, lots of good stuff recently including definitive evidence of crossbill monogomy, Scottish excitement calls recorded twice in one day (!) and some more potentially worrying evidence of uncoupling in association between Ec's and Fc's. Crossbills, don't you just love 'em ?

Another good bit of dogged and determined stubborn fieldwork on Sunday produced a song from a male that I recorded singing pretty much a year ago to the day over his nest. I haven't compared the sonograms yet but it will be interesting when I do ( he is colour ringed BTW). This is exactly the stuff I have been after - just need more of it now.

I also had crippling views of a Capercaillie ( female unfortnately) last Monday, only 30 yards away gritting on a forest trail at a very popular pinewood in a section very popular with walkers ! She just ignored me initially then got a bit nervous of a six foot potential predator holding a parabola and flew of. Stonking bird, and the closest I have been to one - normally I just see them crashing out of trees heading the other way or across my path. When I say 'normally', seeing Capers is not a normal occurence even for someone like me spending a lot of time in the pinewoods. Shame, really.

Nearly got to the bottom of the "WTF are these masts doing to my Telinga ?" thing but that is going in as a proper article on my new website which will be launched soon. Klas is working on a possible solution (a new Telinga handle !) now that we know what the problem is, and it is a problem......if in doubt, as always, blame the government and the police - all will become clear ( it really is their fault) ! The Telinga is IMHO still the best portable, quality and affordable system around.

More to come.

Hasta la vista...........or should that be "Do we get to win this time" in respect of action heros that are currently in vogue ? (yeah, yeah, I promise to keep taking my tablets)

Thursday, 17 January 2008

"Pieces of Eight" or ,"I say Species you say Faeces"

Wow ! As regular readers will know I am well versed in the martial art of defending the Scotbill cause on Bird Forum. However, things have taken an interesting twist in THIS thread where I am actually defending Parrot Crossbill as a species ! Really. Apparently all crossbills are 'one species' cos someone in a lab coat once shook a couple of test tubes about and someone else then came to this conclusion ! I have my own thoughts on this DNA research which I am not going in to here.

The sad thing is a couple of individuals have posted some well constructed thought provoking material, whilst another particular individual is being deliberately antagonistic and just spouting out a complete pile of crap. Great things blogs - I can write that eg. what I like, without a moderator shouting "naughty, naughty" ! However, being the 'vet' that I am with several 'tours of duty' under my belt I know not to rise and take 'the bait'.

I will continue to combat the whimsical ramblings and psycho babble of spectacled desk based 'ornithologists' with 'facts' and 'evidence' gained from 'experience' in the field.........or maybe I should just go and study Dippers ( or read a book on Crossbills) ?

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Dutch Parrot Fest

Anyone reading either Birding World or Birdwatch over the last couple of months may be aware of the recent influx of Parrot Crossbills into Holland and Germany in late Autumn 2007. This has produced quite a lot of interest in the form of photographs and sound recordings - the Dutch really are much more switched on than us Brits in this respect. Shame there has not been too much about the German Parrots (?).

Rather than the usual banal 'You Tubings' of random music trivia here is a small collection of video's of the Dutch Parrots.

Some great pics out there on the web too but I don't want to upset the photographers by posting them on here. With all those thirsty crossbills I hope someone is catching and ringing them ? ! Notable also that many of the birds are in their first winter.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

It's Official: Scottish Crossbill Is Doomed !

More Scottish Crossbill nonsense courtesy of bad PR can be viewed on THIS Birdforum thread.

And, just to see how hard it can be to find Scottish Crossbills these days see THIS Blog entry - a two man quest to find Scotbill in July 2007. The Scotbills were apparently so elusive that what they actually saw were in my opinion 'Parrot' Crossbills ! ( Sorry Rainer but reckon you might have to 'untick' that one ! ). To go to all that bother it might have been an idea to get a sound recording or two ? Scottish is much more confusable with Common - the birds in those photo's look bugger all like Common Crossbills.

For those who want to see a real Scottish Crossbill, here is one I prepared earlier, photographed near to its nest in March 2006 and emitting excitement call C:

And another, a 1cy from Winter 2005:

Notice the slight 'bulge' in the lower mandible - not just Parrots that have them ( or sometimes not as the case may be).

Monday, 14 January 2008

Glen Esk, Tuesday 8th January

Spent a morning ringing in upper Glen Esk with on of the TRG guys ( cheers Dave !). The catch comprised mainly of Chaffinches though we also caught the usual titmice and a couple of Goldfinches and one Siskin. Total of 70 birds which insn't bad for a morning.

Juv chaffinches can be tricky (for a trainee) to age if they have replaced all of their greater coverts with adult feathers so it was really good practice for me ( and I got them all right !) - only three juv birds had at least one old greater covert. Key points to look for were 'dodgy' tertials, though some adult birds (Euring 6) had really 'punk' washed out tertials, and some of the 5's were replacing their tertials with adult feathers. Tails are also good for Chaffinches (as per Svensson) but funny things happen with tails also - a young bird may have replaced all, or some of its tail with adult feathers, or simply shat all over its tail in a bird bag making diagnosis (of shape) difficult ! A good tip for any trainees reading this is to look for any contrast between the greater coverts, tertials and primary coverts as your trainer has told you. A Euring 5 ( or bird hatched in 2007) will not normally replace its primary coverts until Summer 2008 so these feathers should be a different generation and will be worn on the tips and more pointy ( adult PCs are generally broad). The primaries themselves will look paler and have more wear. However, with Chaffinches watch out as adult male PC's naturally do not appear to be as 'glossy' black as the secondaries or primaries, and with females the difference can be subtle - I find with both it helps to 'close' the wing then look for any contrast, if there is none it is an adult.

I would encourage all serious birders to attend a ringing session. I have learned so much about plumage, moult, ageing ( and sexing). Can you sex a Goldfinch through your bins or scope ? What I have described about the wing feathers above is often possible to see from some photographs. For example, most of the recent photographs of the recent 'Dutch' Parrot Crossbills on the web are of 2cy birds Euring 5 eg. hatched 2007. Can you see why ? If not then consider doing some ringing or at least get a copy of Svennson - I am told all serious birders already have it ! ?

A ringer doing his thing and er.....looking at feathers on this Greenfinch.

Fraserburgh, Monday 7th January

A pretty gash day for crossbills due to high wind speed so thought a jolly up to the Broch was in order to see if I could spot a 'white-winged' gull. Several had been reported at The Blue Toon, however, I couldn't be arsed going cross eyed at a thousand or so gulls flying around my head and trying to pick out a Glauc or an Iceland. Have always found the Broch to be an aesthetically better place for a stroll looking for such gulls -usually they are either sitting on the water or on the quay side. Maybe that's just me ?

Took a detour of the Ugie - Bonapartes indeed -paah !

Well, the Broch turned out to be a pile of crap re-the gulls and was reflected by the fact that I was more interested in watching a Grey Seal trying to catch and eat Black-headed gulls that were sitting on the water. There were 8 seals in the inner harbour, the most I have seen. A single Goldeneye and R.B Merganser in the harbour were barely mentionable.

On a nostalgic note I saw this fine example of a vessel leave the harbour:

This is former Fisheries Research Vessel (F.R.V) "Clupea" and used to belong to the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland with whom I was a Scientific Officer in a previous life. In fact I did my first 'sea trip' on "Clupea" in March 1986 in the Clyde at Ballantrae Bank, monitoring and 'sampling' a spring spawning ground for Herring ( 'Clupea harrengus' is the scientific name for Herring, or certianly used to be - maybe it's been split since then !). Most Herring spawn in the Autumn in the North Sea ( so it probably is a different type or subspecies).

As part of that trip we spent a lot of time tied up at various ports in the Clyde (and the Crianlarich Ferry Quay), the worst of which by far was Campbelltown on the Mull of Kintyre. I vowed then if I never saw Campbelltown again I would be a happy man. I have never been back. When Paul McCartney wrote his famous ode "Mull of Kintyre" it is clear to me he had never been to Campbelltown. If any readers from Campbelltown are reading this and are offended - get over it ! Your town is shit.

Most surreal memory from that trip was watching a Gannet dive bomb a Herring lying on the aft deck of the ship. The bird clunked into the metal deck at great speed, and dazed like a punch drunk boxer, shook it's head, picked up the herring and flew off !

Have got many great anecdotes from my days as a fledgling marine biologist but they will have to wait for my memoirs I am afraid - some of the people are still alive.

I promise, no more gulls from now on, only real birds like Crossbills. To paraphrase The Oddie "aren't Gulls Crap" !

6th January Lower Deeside ( near Banchory)

Spent the afternoon at one of my study sites that I historically visit on either Christmas Eve or Hogmany every year. I didn't this year and was feeling a bit guilty. Quite a good little site with all the main conifer species so a chance of getting a variety of types at various times of the year. So I shunned the multitude of Pine Crossbills I would undoubtedly have seen and instead got all 'Common'.

A total of 30 contacts and maxima of 11 birds. All birds were what I call 1B types - you Sound Approachers call 'em what you like but my New Year's resolution is to never use 'such' terms again ( no offence SA guys !). You see, for me there was (crossbill call) life before the Sound Approach book came out: however, it is nevertheless a very good book. These crossbills had been feeding in Larch and at dusk I spotted three still feeding frantically and flitting from tree to tree.

Larch - 9 out of 10 Crossbills prefer it you know ? Apparently.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

" Fit's bin gai'n o'wn "*

Happy New Year to all Loxia Fanatics (all two of you).

Not been doing much crossbilling for a variety of reasons, mainly cos the weather has been so crap - high winds and very wet, both not good for recording crossbills even if you can find them. Must have only about a dozen or so decent recordings for December.

I have been doing a bit more ringing ( of non crossbill passerines) in an effort to (finally) get this C permit once and for all. Hopefully, not long to wait now ( hint to my trainer who might be reading this ! ).

Did have 21 Crossbills at a well known local pinewood site last Sunday (30th) and got a freaky excitement call that tested me - it sounded like one type but 'looked' like another. In these instances I go with my ears. Also got an EcC Scottish tooping at the same time and it was interesting to actually hear the differences - see what I mean about using your ears. Flight calls included 2 Fc2's, 1 Fc4 with the remainder of Fc's being what I would class as typical 'pine crossbills'.

An interesting thread on exercising caution in interpreting crossbill sonograms is here on Bird Forum. My advice to wanabee crossbill call experts is to use your ears as much as your eyes - reading sonograms correctly is far more of an art form than an exact science. Many potential errors can be averted by simply listening to your recordings and comparing to library known 'specimen' calls. Okay, I know what you are thinking " fine for you with your finely tuned musicians ears". Well, maybe it helps but it does not substitute for experience in the field - this knowledge and skill has to be earned as much as learned. Humor me with this parable -Two female singers sing the same song, lets say the Theme from the Titanic "My Heart Will Go On" (or something!). One is Kylie Minogue the other is Grace Jones. Okay, could you tell both singers apart ? Maybe even recognise them 'blind' ? You would at least be able to describe a difference even if you hadn't heard either vocalist before. Well, if the answer is "yes" then you should also be able to hear the difference between a Scottish and a Parrot toop and flight call, the difference between a Fc1 and a Fc2 and even the difference between a 'scarce' type and a '1B' type toop. The reason for this is that in telling the difference between Grace and Kylie you are determining the tonal quality and timbre of each singers voice, in essence their 'jizz' in sound ( please don't google "jizz" and "Kylie" in the same search.....I know someone will now !). One has a higher voice the other a sultry lower voice, possibly mezzo sporano versus alto. That explains pitch but within this each singer will be producing different overtones or harmonics that enrichen their tone, or timbre. For more practice watch the new show on tribute acts on BBC1 on Saturdays - did the tribute Rod Stewart sound like the real Rod Stewart ( I didn't think so ! ).

In terms of refining this 'model' it is the same with the classical afficionado being able to recognize the differences between Beethoven and Mozart, whereas to many unfamiliar listeners they may sound the same. Each composer has different stylistic characteristics, or 'habits', that are made up of many things including form, harmony, melody and rhythm ( as well as orchestration). Well crossbill calls also have form ( to a degree) and certainly have meter.

These are all things that can be determined by the best recording hardware you can ever hope to own: your ears and brain. Sonograms merely provide us with a photographic 'snapshots' of sound events and allow us to classify and order them based on their differences and similarities. They also allow scientists to quantify and verify (or have verified) their data sets.

Philosophy lecture over. Where else can you have crossbills, Kylie and the Theme from the Titanic ? Promise some nice recordings and maybe piccies from tommorrows crossbill hunt. Hopefully an eagle or two as well......meantime go use those ears !

*Doric translation: "What has been happening"