30th January. Unbelievable

Finally managed to find some settled Waxwings at Orgreave, with up to 17 birds present for the last couple of days feeding on Guelder Rose.

Just when I thought I'd seen every type of anti social behaviour at Orgreave along came a new one for my list. Arriving this evening, for the now daily gull roost, I was a little perturbed as to why A. All the ducks were congregating at the northern end (they are usually on the smaller lake) and B. Hardly any gulls. The reason soon became apparent. At the edge of the smaller lake four grown men - not of the usual feral appearance - were discharging what I can only describe as a home made canon. After tipping off the site security I discovered that it was a device for training their dogs! Basically it was a metal pipe. This pipe then had the contents of a firework emptied in to it and a golf ball rammed down with a long pole. The pipe was then pointed in the required direction and detonated. Hilariously the dog just sat there as though to say "bollocks I'm not fetching that - the remaining gulls and ducks however had heard enough and left. Whatever happened to throwing a stick?

28th January. Just the Tonic

With Friday being an official day off and coinciding with regaining enough fitness to get out - honestly a complete coincidence- I forced myself out of the house for at least an hours birding.
At Orgreave I was greeted by a nice crisp frosty morning scene, which if nothing else would make for a good day.

Typically with nice clear January mornings a few Pink-footed Geese began to move through, firstly a few small skeins then an all mighty one containing at least 700 birds. Added to this two Whooper Swans went north and a tight flock of 30 Waxwing headed northwest. After just half-an-hour of action it was all over and the old saying "quit whilst you're ahead" never seemed more appropriate, particularly as the next few hours proved fruitless.

Later I met up with Jo at Pit-house West and spent a couple of hours searching, unsuccessfully, for roosting Long-eared Owls - though we did find a single fresh pellet. It's not like the old times when you could find them fairly easily, particularly around RVCP. In the late eighties one roost often held birds in double figures and provided the local scum dogs hours of entertainment. This particular roost lasted a good few years until the, then, bright sparks managing the Park planted the favoured hunting area with stupid trees! The next roost lasted a good few years until a now ex-employee of RMBC decided to remove a fence, that kept cattle out, and despite numerous requests the stupid stubborn bitch refused to put it back. Deep breath.... The latest site to go, not only provided a roost for up to 6 birds it also provided much more precious breeding habitat. Like the previous site a fence was removed and stupid cows and thick sheep were let in to graze and cause irreversible damage to the trees. I'm sure it was no coincidence that within a couple of years the birds had stopped roosting and a year later the birds bred for the last time - which is a real shame as they were always very successful. I'm not blaming anyone for their disappearance I'm sure that there are other factors at play and not just bad (non-existent) management!

One I did manage to find

26th January Yes Means NO

As I write this from my death bed (a severe stomach bug has laid me low) my spirits have been lifted by the news that Rotherham Borough Council (RMBC) have cancelled the YES project. Those of you unfamiliar with this project might wonder what the YES project is, sorry was.

Back in the late 1980's the area, previously the home of Brookhouse Coking Plant and Colliery, was opencast. Following the removal of many tonnes of coal the site was landscaped alongside some remnants of what lay before. Pit-house West was born. The site composed of woodland, grazing areas, pools (latterly reed beds) and the nearest thing we have around here to heathland. Alongside the adjacent Rother Valley Country Park it has made for some excellent birding over the years. As far as I was aware it was always intended for Pithouse-west to become part of the park, having been handed over from British Coal to RMBC. Sadly this proved not to be the case - presumably the cost of running the site could not be justified and at the start of this century the YES project was announced. Would this be a project encompassing the natural beauty (admittedly man-made) of the site and blend in accordingly - judge for yourself!

As a resident of the Rotherham Borough, for over forty years, I could see one major stumbling block with the development - it's in Rotherham! However unlike me the town planners are always up for schemes like this and lets face it they do have a few on the go (another fine example later) they are forever trying to polish the turd that is Rotherham.
Oak Holdings (the developer) shrugged off comments about damage to the local wildlife scoffing at the wintering Bitterns - claiming that they were just stopping off en-route to more popular places such as Potteric and Old Moor (we have had more wintering bitterns than the latter). The site was described by BBC Look North as an industrial wasteland, ironic really considering that at the time the Orgreave site really was an industrial wasteland!

Pit-house West 2001

Pit-house West 2005

The ecology report was a complete waste of time and by no means a true reflection of the site. However this is where as birders we fall down. Ecology reports are taken at face value and unless you have the records to back up claims in defence of a site you're on a losing wicket. Records of scarce and rare occurrences don't hold much water with planning boards - it's the bread and butter birds (and other wildlife) that really matter. Despite submitting quite a few records from this site I didn't submit enough and my claims of various breeding birds were met with scorn. So unless you want to see your brown field site (though PHW is in Green Belt) disappear under a mountain of concrete get those records in!

Fortunately a blind man could see that the developers crazy ideas for this field in Rotherham would never come to fruition and for the time being the birds can sleep sound in their reedbeds.

Meanwhile those other sites remain in the pipeline (or should that be pipe dream?) and by far and away the best of these is the Waverley Project - cosily named that because presumably calling it Orgreave would conjour up bad memories of 1985. Please take a few minutes to look at the WAVERLEY PROJECT I promise you it will be worth it - remember this is Rotherham!

The Dream

The Reality

And lastly. Some might think of me as selfish and say "but what about all the jobs that these sites would create". If you had inspirations to work in a fast food restaurant for barely the minimum wage then I'm sorry. If you hope to be the proud owner of a waterside apartment then why not look somewhere where the sun shines for more than two months a year and the water isn't full of rats piss. If however you want to enjoy the reborn countryside after suffering years of industrial blight then welcome to Rotherham.

Brookhouse Coke Ovens

Orgreave 1985

23rd January. That Was The Week That Was

A frustrating week at work, not because of work but because of the three days of cracking sunshine. Sunshine that would have washed away my winter blues or SAD as we like to label it these days. Frustratingly with no leave left I would have to wait for the weekend to satisfy my birding urges. However my frustrations were nothing compared to birders living in Leigh, Greater Manchester. If you've been living in the middle of an Essex dump during the last week or avoiding the mud chucking on Internet based forums you probably wont know what happened in Leigh on the 10th December. You would probably shit your pants if you opened the curtains and THIS was looking back at you - I know I would!

Not to be outdone the Yorkshire Coast hit back with a Gannet showing characteristics of Australasian Gannet off Flamborough Head.

Meanwhile back in Essex. Rumours were abound that Dominic Mitchell hadn't slept a wink since his star find and had in fact been living among the human detritus and making good use of the things that the everyday folk leave behind.

Back Home. Despite two dawn raids at Orgreave I failed to pick anything of interest out of the post gull roost apart from a couple of yellow legged argentatus Herring Gulls - ooh get me!!
6-700 large gulls have been roosting most nights with up to 2,000 Black-heads so at least I've got something to get me through the winter (well that's what I keep telling myself).

17th January. Turd Boredom

The following post was written whilst under the influence of a rather fine bottle of Veuve Clicquot.

A few years ago a forum was born - Birdforum. It seemed a good idea at the time and I signed up. I was pleasantly surprised that it was full of like minded individuals with a genuine interest in all things birding. We swapped tips on digiscoping, trip reports and all the good things in birding. There was the occasional light-hearted banter that was always tongue in cheek and was taken with a pinch of salt and never got out of hand. However during the last few years the light-hearted banter has changed to downright nastiness and in some cases nothing short of abuse. And after several comments on here and social networking sites I have been banned from posting on there. I'm glad that I've been banned from posting but what I really want is to be banned from viewing it. Today I glanced over the Slaty-backed Gull thread. All seemed well for, amazingly, the first four pages. Then the bile began. All because some birder claimed to see it on Saturday. So what if he's happy then let him think he saw it even if he didn't. I wasted twenty minutes of my life reading the last five pages and if Steve wants to email me I'll gladly provide him with the various I.P addresses to ensure I'm banned from the vile shit that is Bird Forum!

There's a fine line between satire and abuse and some posters and indeed some bloggers need to learn that. I might have taken the piss out of other birders but that's as far as it goes taking the piss.
Lee has been the subject of several posts of mine during the three years of ramblings, but not once have I meant him any harm - in fact I'm sure that Lee has found some of it amusing. I actually like Lee, he's a character and life would be boring if we didn't have characters. Personally I hope that his 'moving to Spain' is a bluff and that he continues to entertain us for years to come.
Praise Be

17th January. Losing the Urge

A strange thing occurred the other day. Following an enjoyable evening listening to Mr Garner's inspiring talk on the frontiers of gull i.d the mega alert revealed the presence of a Slaty-backed Gull in Essex (near that there London). Most of you probably don't need telling this, some of you might even have gone for it. Anyhow I digress. For the first time in my birding life I failed to get the urge. It must be the same feeling you get when you suddenly realise that you got up to make a cup of tea before the adverts during Hollyoaks! So a Slaty-backed Gull in the beautiful south and I can't be arsed, is it the end of my twitching days? Possibly. Fortunately (at least for me) It failed to show over the weekend - though any birder worth his salt (even one's like me) must have thought a gull favouring a tip would be a Saturday/Sunday no show. Those very sentiments probably hint that I've got a few years in me yet.

Some nice shots of the crowd on Mark Thomas's blog, though to be honest it looked like the set of Birding Prison Break. I'm glad I passed on this one.

Ironically whilst the fun in Essex was occuring I was enjoying a festival of gulls at Orgreave. It would appear that for the last week (at least) a decent gull roost has been building up. By the time I left at 4:30 at least 2,000 Black-heads were roosting with a steady build up of large gulls. Perhaps we'll get our own Slaty-backed, though a Glauc' would do!

8th January. Smitten with the Bittern

Back in 1984 I had my first proper birding holiday a full two weeks in North Norfolk at the end of July. As my mum and I sheltered from the rain in Daukes Hide we caught our first glimpse of a Bittern. Twenty-seven years on and the Bittern is still one of my favourite birds. It's always been a challenge to see these birds and always a thrill when I do. For the last eight winters I have been lucky enough to have a least one bird within walking distance of home. Most views of these birds have been as they drop into roost. Occasionally though I've been fortunate enough to have them out in the open sometimes for up to an hour, but inevitably this always coincided with me not having any cameras or the light being too poor for anything other than shaky video.

This morning, at Pit-house West, whilst failing to see any Redpolls I finally nailed one.

3rd January. Flammea

Today was the happiest moment of my newly married life. I didn't come home to a clean house or fresh ironed shirts. It wasn't even a delicious pie with mushy peas and Hendersons on the table, all those things though are regular enough in our house. This was something far better. After a week of decorating and Christmas over indulgence I talked Jo into a spot of birding. Orgreave was frozen solid as it has been since mid-November and had very little life. Interest however was provided by a flighty flock of Redpolls favouring the riverside birches behind the sewage works. Getting a better view I immediately picked up a frosty grey, white-wing barred black streaky flanked Mealy - an Orgreave tick no less. Trying to get Jo on the bird I described the finer parts of Mealy I.D, well you know what they say "in the land of the blind......"

No sooner had I finished my description Jo exclaimed that she'd found another! Hmmm surely not. She pointed the bird out and bugger me she had. Her bird however was better than mine a nice male with a lovely pink-flush. The flock wouldn't sit still but it didn't matter now I was well chuffed with my super birdy wife. Now as soon as I work out how to do those improper Arctic Redpolls I'll pass on my knowledge.
Meanwhile here's a proper Arctic.

A proper hard bastard Redpoll