Friday 23 January 2009

The Dangers of Submitting Records

All of this Birse stuff has got me googling and I came up with this Aberdeenshire Council Planning proposal:

Mmmm that's interesting, Scottish Crossbill has been listed as 'notable' Biodiversity in relation to a planning application, which may or may not have been approved - I don't know. Bullfinch as well. Then the penny dropped - are those my records ! ? So I checked my notebooks and there in black and white for 28th November 2004 were Bullfinch and Scottish Crossbill at Finzean ! Now, the Bullfinches were seen in a drive by near to the Manse so fair enough, but the Scotties were actually seen over 2 miles away, though the correct Grid Ref. was given ! So what relevance do they have for this planning application ? None, I would imagine. I do hope the vicar got his new graveyard in the end.

These records must have been obtained from ones I submitted to The Northeast Of Scotland Bird Report. I have been species author for the three Crossbill types we have for the last 3 or 4 Journals but must confess I have not submitted any individual records of crossbills since then, primarily for reasons such as this (which I didn't know about) - basically, your data being used for things, and ways, that you have no control over. Essentially, it becomes 'Public Domain' for any interested party to use as they see fit. Yes, it does kind of make me feel guilty, but one day I will make sure it is all passed on after I have written it all up and done what I have wanted with it. It has, afterall, taken many, many hours of collecting sound samples and observations over these last 5 (!) years. Also, I do summarize my records in the report so at least there is some input ! Most of the locations are supressed as they are vital ringing sites susceptible to human disturbance, as well as being key nesting sites during the breeding season. So, if anyone does think I am a bit off hand or 'covert' regarding these things please bear these factors in mind !

Rest assured though- if it was serious planning proposal that could destroy or compromise habitat and threaten the species I would not stand back.........however, would I even know about it ? This is my problem, and thus the guilt continues.............

Wednesday 21 January 2009

"Breaking The Law, Breaking The Law", January 3rd

Priceless stuff this folks and definitely one for the memoirs ! Unlike that Mr. Von Meinertzhagen chappie everything you read on this blog is absolutely true. Last year's nonsense at Forest of Birse will have to wait for the official biography but here is the exclusive scoop on this New Year extravaganza.

Saturday 3rd January - fabulous day, no work schedule, no breath of wind. Perfect sound recording conditions. So off up Deeside we go to a site near Ballater that is good for Scottish Crossbills. On arriving there conditions were perfect - bright sunshine, snow lying and very cold. Great potential for birds singing as they are getting a bit frisky just now.

On parking the car out comes recorder and parabola, on goes boots. Meantime my missus goes off to photograph some scenery. Just as I was getting the camera out of the car a police Landrover crawls past with the occupants having a 'good look' at me. Ok, maybe thought I was a bit dodgy - dressed in green gear (but not camo) , calf boots, typical 'ringer look' which is, well, dodgy. So I kept getting my stuff together and assembled the parabola. Police Landrover now comes back down the road and this time pulls up. Two PC's get out one female the other male. The female officer started a conversation along the lines of :

"Allright, Sir ? What are you up to ? "

"Birdwatching" is my reply.

Female PC pointing at parabola - " Quite a lot of kit. What is that for" ?

Me - " for recording birdsong, I am recording crossbills in the nearby woods".

Male Police officer - "How far away can you hear with that".

Me, and I paraphrase - " It can pick up a gnats fart at 200 yards".

Them - "Oh" !

Then I was subjected to a full Police check - Car Reg, full name ( including my middle name), mothers name, address, place of birth, favourite band, etc. The male cop radioed all my details back to base awaiting result. I also had to give full details of what I was doing there eg. studying crossbills. They also had a real good look in the boot of my car.

Now, I am a tolerant guy, believe it or not, but this was beginning to wear a bit thin with me and I was just about to say "look I am not going to answer any more questions until you tell me what this is in relation to" when -

Female PC - " You will understand sir why we are doing this ".

Me - " No, to be honest I have not got a clue".

Female PC - " Well, this is clearly a very sensitive area".

Me, in surprise - "What, recording crossbills in Deeside ?"

Female PC - "No, it is sensitive in terms of who might be here".

Me - " Ah, the Royals ?". "I can assure you I am not remotely interested in recording them !".

Female PC - no answer.

Male PC to Female PC " Check has come back a clean slate".

Well that is reassuring at least. I am who I said I am.

I was then advised it would be best if I wasn't still there at 1.15pm and that it would be really nice of me if I did not take the parabola with me. Or my camera ( which had a 18-70mm lens on !). I asked if I could take my bins. Yes was the answer. Well thanks a bunch ! Of course I complied as things can be made very difficult if you don't, and whilst I later felt somewhat 'mugged', I have been told I handled it well. Or, at least as well as you can. To be fair the Cops were actually okay and were clearly only doing their job, however at one point I had visions of me in an orange boiler suit and leg shackles on a Cuban annexe all for being in the 'wrong place at the wrong time' armed with a Telinga parabola.

So, I had my walk and somewhat predictably, and thankfully, I never saw or heard a single crossbill. Nada. Nicht. So, there was some poetic justice ! Hopefully our future heir to the Kingdom enjoyed his walk. Makes me laugh that my missus avoided all of this - talk about perfect timing.

Now, moral of the story: remember the words of the song "If you go down to the woods today......".

Happier times, recording and watching 3 Scottish and 1 Parrot Crossbill with 1 Common Crossbill near Banchory....a Royal free zone apparently. That is frost on the parabola BTW !

Thursday 1 January 2009

Cones Glorious Cones !

Whilst you serious 'real' birder types are out chasing rare LBJ's around our coasts I, as you know, tend to be in the pine woods chasing crossbills about. Nuts ? Absolutely. Weird ? Of course. In need of 'help' some time very soon ? Yes you are. Well I am afraid for me it gets worse. I am not just obsessed by the Crossbills themselves, or even the sounds that they make, how deep their bills are, how long their wings are etc. You see, I am obsessed by all things crossbill. This includes what they eat, and that gentlemen, and gentle lady persons, is these:

The above image was taken in upper Deeside in mid November. It is clearly a green Pinus sylvestris, and the crossbill has opened the closed scales to get at the seeds inside. Now, if you do this long enough you can, with some degree of confidence, tell the species that depredated the cone. In this case I can go one better ( is thata Tap'ism ?) and say that it was a Scottish Crossbill male that I call Brian who has feasted on this cone. I joke, of course I don't give all them names. That would mean I really was crazy.

Here are some more from last week, notice that the cones are semi-open. It should normally be February before this happens, though I suspect it was a freak tree:

These cones above were created by an interesting mixed group including a Parrot type female (call and visual ID). Only 25 miles from Aberdeen as well ! Got some amazing behavioural stuff from this group, the kind of stuff you can only get by watching them closely in the field or 'arsing it' as the late DNT used to say.

This sample on the other hand, were all created by the same crossbill type, on calls and appearance:

These are closed cones again that the crossbills have had to prise them open. On a cold frosty day as it was this is hard work - it was hard work recording and observing them I nearly passed out with the cold due to hypothermia.

What are the crossbills in your area feeding on ? This, in my opinion, is more important than the type of call they are giving, this year at least.