28th March. We're All In This Together

I've not had too much time for birding over the last 36 hours. Most of my time has been spent panic buying first and second class stamps, filling every available container, that I possess, with diesel and of course stacking the spare room from floor to ceiling with hot - well they were when I put them there - savoury produce.

What's 100 cars deep and smells of... er.. petrol...?
What's 100 people deep and smells of pastry?
What's 100 people deep and smells of piss?
Of course this is a complete lie and I've actually be firmly sticking my head in the sand pretending that nothing bad in the world is really happening, going birding and seeing very little.  It seems that not even the migrant birds want to come here - and who can blame them?

22nd March. 30 Years of the Beast

30 years to the day since the release of this iconic and still my favourite album (both in content and artwork) in the world ever. Thanks for the heads-up Tom.  
The moment I heard those Vincent Price sound-alike tones (it wasn't actually him - thanks Wikipedia) of "Woe to you o earth and sea for the Devil sends the beast with wrath..." I was hooked and still am. 
Of course back then it would have been a nice album sleeve, or in my case a tatty cassette
When Tom tweeted this momentous anniversary I was thrown back to a time of my prepubescent adolescence a time when not only did I like all things Maiden, but also a time where I started birding.  Back then Orgreave was a massive slag heap (apparently the countries largest) and coal mine, with the adjacent coke ovens belching out all kinds of foul smelling gasses. 

My local patch was Catcliffe Flash (where I could guarantee a good lung full of those previously mentioned gasses) and Tinsley Park Steel Works (now a redundant airport). I daren't go to Treeton Dyke, because Treeton was where all the rough boys lived.  That year a pair of Black-necked Grebes bred on Catcliffe. I never saw them - or at least I don't think I did - I and my Prinz 8X30's were a bit rubbish.

Orgreave Coking Plant, as viewed from Catcliffe Flash (mid 1980's) 
We were in the mid-term grip of Thatcher's Tory government, the following term of which saw the end of the aforementioned coke ovens, mine and steel works.  Many thousands of miles away we were fighting a pointless war resulting in many senseless deaths.  

Things haven't changed much. I still more or less bird the same patch area - though those rough boys from Treeton don't scare me these days - and I still very much love most things Maiden, we're fighting a pointless war thousands of miles away and of course we're in the mid-term of a Tory government (because that's essentially what it is).  

My daughter, Beth, is exactly the same age as I was when this metal legend was released, she enjoys birding (and is probably better at it than I was at 13), has all the Maiden back catalogue in her iTunes library (her choice), but doesn't really understand politics yet.  

On The Beast's sixtieth anniversary I wonder what her views and memories will be..... 

19th March. Knot Too Close

A bright sunny morning made it impossible to resist a pre-work walk around the patch. Typically with nice weather there was little evidence of any migrant movement, though a couple of Curlews passed through. At least five Wheatears were still around posing for the obligatory photo.

A repeat visit after work and a Knot that Andy had found during his lunch was still present. Given how close a couple of dog walkers had been to it I decided to chance my arm with the camera. At times coming almost too close to focus as it constantly fed unconcerned at my feet. 

18th March. Many Pipits (to cross off)

I'm confused. This morning during my now daily round of the patch things were going well. A couple of Shelduck were on the big lake and a nice adult Kittiwake dropped in among the Black-heads. Things were looking good.  That is until I found a pipit. I've been scrutinising the pipits and wagtails over the last few weeks hoping for a Rock or perhaps even a Water so it was no surprise when I picked up this bird.  My gut feeling was that it was a Rock Pipit of the littoralis race.  The light was poor and it was feeding on the small island about 30 metres away but I managed a few digiscoped shots at 800ISO.

However after looking at the pics and video I'm not so sure. The legs look pale, the supercilium strong and behind the eye and the breast isn't particularly strongly streaked, with the salmon pink wash coming through and fairly extensively. The outer tail feathers (visible in the first shot) also appear pure white. In my limited experience of spinoletta Pipits (I've seen more Buff-bellied in the last couple of years -shame!) I'm now leaning towards Water Pipit.  However, just to add more pain - to my already pipit induced headache - I found a further two this evening around the edge of the big lake. Again the light was poor but this shot, taken at 1250ISO clearly shows a different bird and one that I am happy to call a littoralis Rock Pipit. Clearly I have lots to learn about this tricky group and comments for and against are most welcome, but please don't waste your time telling me that I'm a twat as I already know that!

Shit picture (digiscoped at 60X) but nice and easy 

10th March. Hatfield Adders

Spent the afternoon on Hatfield Moors where the Adders put on a good show for us 

10th March. Go Fishing (somewhere else)

Illegal fishing at Pit-house West is becoming a major headache and with the days getting longer the problem is set to get worse.  The biggest nuisance is groups of youths whose fishing parties often leave the litter strewn all over the site. Added to this is their seemingly compulsive desire to burn everything flammable, including fences and scrub. Visitors, over this winter, can't fail to have seen charred remains of the gorse bank that formerly held a good population of Linnet and Yellowhammer. As the reed bed is an obvious target for bored fishing youths I ask that all incidents of fishing at this site are reported to the Environment Agency.  The more complaints they receive the more likely it is that they will take action.  As it is unlikely that any of these youths have a Rod Licence and hopefully visits by a water bailiff will reduce these incidents. The Environment Agency can be contacted on 0800 80 70 60 or follow the link to the right. These problems at this site are not the actions of responsible anglers however their unauthorised presence does encourage youths to fish there.

The Reedbed in 2009 following extensive burning of the Bitterns favoured area. The Gorse in the background was destroyed last summer.

8th March. Game On

Up for the challenge the four of us (Andy,Dave,Nick and me) arrived at The Hop at six for the evening’s entertainment. There were four categories, though to be honest most of them seemed to be students - or have I reached that age where everyone appears younger than me?  Our category was a bit under-subscribed; in fact we had one opposing team! 

The games got underway and the overall pace appeared pretty slow - one contestant taking a full six minutes to eat his pie - it doesn't take me that with a knife and fork!  Eventually our turn came, but there was a problem, the other team couldn’t be found!  Technically we were through to the final.  However we still wanted to go through with the challenge and they hurriedly grabbed four willing volunteers.  We felt a little deflated, but to be fair to this standby team gave us a bloody good game, being half way through their last pie when Dave sat down to start our fourth.  Dave had been less than enthusiastic all week and I had rather hoped he’d be a dark horse and he didn’t disappoint, racing through the pie in no time giving us a justified place in the final.

 The Team

 Meeting Pie Maker Andrew Jones and finding out he occasionally reads
 the blog was one of the highlights of the evening

 A good start using the upside down eating method

 Supporting Andy as he gets through those difficult final bits of pastry

 Nick 'Karate Kid' flagging at the halfway mark

Dave coolly licks his fingers as the last piece slips down

Sadly Dave can't make the final and with that in mind the rest of us decided to quit while we were ahead - it just wouldn't be the same. Added to this I suffered post pie indigestion throughout the night, this I must add has no bearing on the quality of Andrew Jones pies.  These pies are not your regular manufactured rubbish. These pies are in a class of their own and definitely require savouring like a fine wine. Once the indigestion calms down there's one in the fridge with my name on, though this time I'll use a knife and fork.. 

4th March. More Waders

A total of seven patch visits over the last three days, with not a great deal to show for my efforts.  With almost four seasons in just a few days I had rather hoped that I might sneak an early migrant or two.  Two Knot on yesterdays third visit were the highlight, though they didn't stay long with a near constant stream of dog walkers around the waters edge.  

Today's awful weather kept the canine wanderers mostly indoors. The days second visit, in heavy rain and a strong north/northeast breeze, produced 13 Ringed Plover (a big local count for March), 3 Dunlin, Curlew and a blinged  Oystercatcher parading a fine set of colour-rings (orange left leg, green over yellow + yellow over knee on right leg). 

3rd March. In Training

When a colleague jokingly sent me an email advertising a pie eating contest at The Hop he was a little surprised when I had pulled a team together by tea time (or should that be pie time). It has been said that I like the odd pie or three, though usually I like to spend a couple of minutes savouring the delicate pastry and savoury filling before moving on to the next one. The contest has a limited number of entries so I was chuffed to bits when our team (of pies and men) were drawn out for the first round.  This is a speed eating relay contest where hands or utensils are not allowed. So like my fellow athletes currently training for 2012 I am undergoing a strict regime of arduous physical torture.

 If this hasn't put you off your tea and you want more we'll be in The Hop Unit 14 Westone Plaza Fitzwilliam Street Sheffield from 6pm Thursday 8th.