Thursday, November 19, 2009

From the Archive

There’s not a lot to be done today with a weather warning out for North West England of heavy rain and floods. I did my swimming yesterday, but not outdoors in the floods even though lately I do appear to be growing a useful pair of webbed feet and I swear I contracted swimmer’s ear from the ingress of rain rather than pool water. I have an acquaintance who swims in the sea off Fleetwood in all weather; apparently there are a group of them that do so, but I don’t know if Seumus has spotted any when sea watching, unless they went down in the notebook as “unidentified mammal sp”. So it’s not just birders who are mad.

This morning I’m stuck in again in front of the PC trying to keep the blog going with a few old pictures to entertain other troubled British birders who need a bird fix during these inclement times.

This morning’s theme is “Birds I Don’t See In The Hand Much Any More But Here’s A Picture Of Some” with a bit of a story, a touch of reminisce and a smidgeon of nostalgia. And by way of an apology, because it’s so long since I have actually witnessed them in the hand, the pictures are by definition fairly old if not quite sepia toned which adds to the authenticity of a walk down Memory Lane.

The first photo is of a Manx Shearwater being released in the early morning following keeping overnight after becoming a casualty of the infamous Bardsey lighthouse. If my memory serves me correctly the hand in the picture belongs to one Colorado Dave, so called not because he hailed from Colorado but because he could demolish a plateful of spuds quicker than a Colorado Beetle.

There are many thousands of pairs of Manx Shearwaters on Bardsey Island where they breed in the rabbit warrens and tumbledown old walls. I spent many nights on Bardsey, not only going out ringing them but often waking up in Cristin hearing their harsh cackling, wailing and moaning sounds coming from the mountainside. A description of their voice on The Isle of Man in 1731, where they were originally known as Manx Puffins, reads: "The spirit which haunted the coasts have originated in the noise described as infernal. The disturbed spirit of a person shipwrecked on a rock adjacent to this coast wanders about it still, and sometimes makes so terrible a yelling that it is heard at an incredible distance. They tell you that houses even shake with it; and that, not only mankind, but all the brute creation within hearing, tremble at the sound. But what serves very much to increase the shock is that, whenever it makes this extraordinary noise, it is a sure prediction of an approaching storm. . . . At other times the spirit cries out only, " Hoa, hoa, hoa !" with a voice little, if anything, louder than a human one."

Well that is a bit of a dramatic description fit for the times I suppose, but I agree the calls are very spooky, especially from yards away in the pitch black of a windy wet Welsh island whilst trying to find the outside loo. And not the best sudden awakening experience from a bad dream when the previous night’s entertainment consisted of consuming a week’s supply of red wine during an extended round robin of the day’s sightings.

Talking of nausea, this isn’t the best video for anyone liable to sea sickness but it does show some manxies.

Ringers that live south of a line drawn from the Mersey to the Wash will be more familiar with Nightingale than us in coastal Fylde where news of a local Nightingale would create a stir amongst those that list. A stir?, I should probably change that to another word or phrase all the way up a scale from mild interest at the bottom to blind panic at the top. This is another Bardsey picture where just south of the imaginary line it is also rare, however not only did this one sing briefly, it also ended up in a mist net.

I contrast this scarcity with my limited experience in the south of England (where is Watford?) where I believe Nightingale is very common despite being confused with night singing Robins by softy southerners.

I am much more familiar with Nightingale from my visits to the Balearics and Menorca especially, where in May Nightingale is the most common species, more abundant even than Sardinian Warbler. As we tour the island most of that we hear through the open windows and sun roof are Nightingales and Corn Buntings from respectively below, middle or the top of proper hedgerows.

Then on Menorca there's always the Balearic Shearwaters at Cap de Cavalleria in a landscape so reminiscent of Bardsey, but that's a tale for another day.

But let’s all cheer ourselves up with a Nightingale song and pretend it’s spring again.

And Bardsey again where one autumn I walked this Ring Ouzel into the withies Heliogoland. Even up here in coastal Lancashire not far from the Pennines, Ring Ouzels are very scarce in autumn and getting rarer in spring, where I always reckoned to find one on my April 19th birthday somewhere close to the coast but now I’m lucky to find one in April full stop and this year it’s too late again.


Pete Woodruff said...

Enjoyed the read, video, and singing Nightingale Phil. I can also send you a birthday card now!

By the way I think your comment in the previous post re hiding behind a hedge or tree if you saw someone coming is positively brilliant.

Phil said...

I saw you doing it Pete. Just don't send me a "C" card.

Related Posts with Thumbnails