Monday, 31 January 2011

Asalam Alaykum - Oman

By and large, the local cemetery has been overlooked during the past few days, and so on the last day of the month it was worth prolonged scrutiny today. There had been yet another night of hard frost and it was only the diminished wind speed and total cloud cover that prevented it from being 'bitterly cold'.

Entering the north section of the graveyard first my hunch was almost immediately rewarded with the discovery of a 'pair' of

Blackcap (male) and

Blackcap (female). A Warbler, one of just 4, that can be seen with a degree of certainty during the winter months in England, the others being Dartford and Cetti's Warbler plus my very next sighting a

Chiffchaff. It is unheard of in my little world not to see one during the month of January, but as previously stated it was the final day before it was added to the Year List. Over the road, the favoured fruit tree once again came up trumps as I counted 50 Redwing flying in and out before confusion prevailed as to whether they were in or out bound. It was indeed a 'Thrush' moment all round as Blackbird too was plentiful, Song Thrush nearly reached double figures, Fieldfare were represented by c2 birds as a Mistle Thrush also obliged by flying overhead.

At Radipole some of the lake had once again frozen over, but seemed to have attracted a few more wildfowl, particularly these Teal, plus more Shoveler and Gadwall.

This mornings 'Jesus bird' (walking on water) was represented by this Grey Heron, but it was now time to hurry on view the 'low water mark' at Ferrybridge. There, c2 of both Shelduck and Curlew were present as were just a few Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Mediterranean Gulls but the number of

Little Grebe had increased to c9 (these are just c7 of them) my highest count of the winter.

The day I tire of Portland is the day I hope to 'fall off my perch' and while there is always great and unique beauty here, today under a leaden sky with the sun trying its hardest to peep through it just seemed to have an extra dimension which spurred me to share a few of the scenes with you!

Walking the East Cliff south and towards the Portland Bill Lighthouse, there are 3 of these 'sheer-legs' used to raise and lower small boats used by the pot fishermen to catch crab and lobster (take it from someone who knows, these are the best in the world. If you know differently, I'm all ears).

One of a number of sea caves along this stretch of coastline and directly above this is what has become known as

The Whoosh Hole ( due to the noise the sea makes when forced through the cave and upwards). Carved out by the power of the sea over many decades, I remember in the 60's a hapless yacht foundering just off-shore and becoming jammed in the hole - oh for a photograph! From here,

you can see the second of the boat cranes, the active lighthouse at the Bill and to the left the Trinity House Obelisk.

In this closer view Soweto by Sea can also be seen. A mass of wooden sheds that go under the heading of Beach Huts, but love 'em or hate 'em there here to stay!

This is Reedy Ditch fed by off-spill water from the surrounding farmland and a spring, which coupled with the bushes at Culverwell (above) is a superb catchment for birds. I doubt there would be many disagree that headliner in this was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, a trans-Atlantic vagrant, that appeared here in 1979. While I was more than content to end the month with a Chiffchaff and a huge total of 176, in the relentless search for more there was at least one plausible addition - Little Owl.

However, with a predator on the loose there was little (NO) chance of seeing one at the first traditional site. Can you see it yet?

This Black Cat proved lucky for neither me or the Little Owl! This is the moment the silence was shattered by an overflying aircraft.

There was a time when Portland was a veritable Hornet's Nest of helicopter activity, but since the Royal Navy disbanded the Heli-port at the north of the Island these 'petrol pigeons' are now scarce. Every reason then to suss out what this 'low flyer' was up to

especially as it 'landed' just west of the Bird Observatory. Being a bit of a 'Shrinking Violet' and a 'Nosy Git' there was only one course of action, bowl over and get the buzz. Met by 2 of the attendant company, one had a Royal Navy badge on his woolly hat which simply implied 'game on'. I did suggest what they were doing might be 'SECRET' it would be understandable if they couldn't divulge what was going on. I then suggested that if that were the case, physically knocking the information out of them was an option. In true RN fashion this was taken as the humour it was meant to be, and these 2 hilarious lads gave me the guff.

The Royal Omani Warship 'Al Shamikh' (photograph © Martin Cade) is undergoing 'maker's' (BAE) sea trials, and today was gunnery proving. The 'chopper, on hire to the builders, was being used to measure and calibrate the gunfire, for more information (recommended) visit the link below.

A timely reminder of my own visits to this fabulous country -

Redwing were much in evidence on my way home, and this

Common Buzzard was far too

tantalizing not to loose off a few shots.

the final 2 items include my continuous whistling today of 'Goldfinger' as we learned of the death of magical composer John Barry. No need to expand on this, save to say his compositions will live forever!

and this e-mail from my encounter yesterday with Ian and Rachel, I'll let them explain:-

* From: Rachel Foster
* To:
* Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2011 20:58:30 +0000
* Subject: Well Hello!

Hello Bagsy.
Returned to Rugby teatime and have just perused your blog... wow! can`t believe our photo is up already... THANK YOU!!!
what a lovely character meeting you today was a truly awesome moment!
Tried to find you on Facebook, but no luck.. if you look for me my name is Rachel Foster and Ian Haynes.. look us up and add us.
Love and peace

Rachel and Ian x

I simply hope ALL my meeting are the same as this!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

The Birder & the Bard

There was no need to rewrite the script for today's sortie. as the plan was that of yesterday. The Black Redstart was again high on the agenda, the only difference being some change in the weather. With a cloudless sky overnight there was little protection from a hard frost which had hit with a vengeance, but the wind (in Weymouth at least) had dropped to a mere zephyr.

I hear the sighs of "oh no, not again", but I simply cannot pass this beautiful bird by without firing off a few shots. There is even a thought that this male Hooded Merganser may reach the status of 'heading photograph' when Allen's Gallinule is replaced.

Bye-passing everything in favour of an early return to Chesil Cove, the Pied Wagtail and Robin were both still present and today joined by a

Wren, plus

only the second

Stonechat I've seen this year. The bonus from here was bumping into a fellow 'birder' from Somerset doubling the chances of finding the target bird. We searched all along the waterfront and around the built up area, then at quite a distance it was seen

perched on a chimney in Brandy Row.

With a little patience this smart

Black Redstart flew down to the sea-wall

allowing for decent views and these photos.

It was time to head for the Bill, and on the bus met Paul a resident of Fortuneswell, and despite the length of out little chat we exchanged a wealth of information about both birds and Thomas Hardy. He introduced me to this poem, melding both birds and bard, which I had not heard before.
The Baby and the Wagtail

A baby watched a ford, whereto
A wagtail came for drinking;
A blaring bull went wading through,
The wagtail showed no shrinking.

A stallion splashed his way across,
The birdie nearly sinking;
He gave his plumes a twitch and toss,
And held his own unblinking.

Next saw the baby round the spot
A mongrel slowly slinking;
The wagtail gazed, but faltered not
In dip and sip and prinking.

A perfect gentleman then neared;
The wagtail, in a winking,
With terror rose and disappeared;
The baby fell a-thinking.

Moving on, and alighting the bus I happened on these lovely people from Rugby. Ian works across the south of England, while Rachel was enjoying a first visit to the Magic Island. It was a great pleasure to meet 2 such up beatJimi Hendrix fans, hurry back!

By now the wind was freshening, but walking to the Bill along the East Cliff it was behind me so no problem. Once again today no sign at the traditional sites of Little Owl and I'm not sure if anyone has seen one out here this year? However, there were

c3 Purple Sandpipers showing on the rocks below the Trinity House Obelisk

and although in the direct sunlight these shots were possible.

and finally, it was too much of a temptation not to take a photograph of this A/C Cobra sat on the car park. Just take a look at that registration plate!

Oh yes, and I should just wish Phil Collins of Genesis a Happy 60th Birthday, still one of the most amassing drummers I have had the pleasure to see live.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

John Edward Masefield, OM, Poet Laureate

Cold, cold again this morning and with continuing full cloud cover it was dull to say the least. Between home and Portland, this small group of

Cormorants were the only subject worth an exposure. What is known as Chesil Cove on Portland stands at the north west corner of the Isle formed by the curve of the south east end of

Chesil Beach. On this shingle barrier the pebbles are naturally sorted size-wise by the action of the sea. At this end lie the larger stones with the pea size ones 18 miles away close to the village of Burton Bradstock.

In the opposite direction the West Cliff of Portland, with just around the point Clay Ope, the highest point Blacknor and off-shore Tarr Rocks.

On the promenade, built as a defence against the ferocity of the sea, is the Cove House Inn, a popular 'watering hole' for visitor and local alike. On a warmer day, what better place to sit enjoying a pint of cider and a steak sandwich?

The point of the visit today was to see a Black Redstart reported in the area yesterday. Unfortunately, it must have heard I was on my way and if still there it was certainly keeping a low profile. Other birds on offer included this


a lone Pied Wagtail and by way of a big bonus

this Red-necked Grebe

also lingered from yesterday albeit at great distance.

The word Ope is an archaic or poetic word for 'open', but hereabouts more particularly 'open to view, hence place names on the Island such as Church Ope, Clay Ope etc. Today was the first time I have encountered this road sign at the end of a blind passage, no chance of any kind of view here, and maybe it's a 'pun'?

From here on in the day turned out to be more about people than birds (although there were a few more common ones to be seen) as Terry and Isobel Why stopped at Southwell and gave me a lift to the Bill. Terry and I were school friends, and while I chose to join the Royal Navy directly from there Terry took a few years before catching up with me. I do believe he made a 30 career of it. Leaving their company, there was a telephone call from my longish lost Ecuadorian friend Byron Palacios, we have agreed to get together for a beer next month. Finally, at the Bird Observatory there was an unexpected visit from another firm friend, this time PBO Chairman Edwin Welland who was on his way home back to Hampshire. His intent was to try to see the White-tailed Sea Eagle at Hordle just across the Dorset border which, via a text, he tells me he did - well done Matey!

Oystercatchers off the Bill

Kestrel at the Coast Guard Cottages

The Serco Denholm work-boat SB Navigator rounds Portland Bill. SD are the company that took over from the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service when the service was privatised. I spent a number of years with the RMAS and forerunner the Port Auxiliary Service (PAS) pushing similar vessel about. When I see such vessels, as is often, I am reminded of the last verse of this epic gem penned by John Masefield, a poem which was later put to music. I was privileged to sing this song along with the Bramcote Hills Boys School Choir at the Royal Albert Hall, Nottingham.

Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory, apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the Tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds, emeralds, amethysts,
topazes, cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal, road-rails, pig-lead,
firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

A Roman Quinquireme
Nineveh was an ancient city on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in ancient Assyria. Its ruins are across the river from the modern-day major city of Mosul, in the Ninawa Governorate of Iraq.

Ophir is a port or region mentioned in the Bible, famous for its wealth. King Solomon is supposed to have received a cargo of gold, silver, sandalwood, precious stones, ivory, apes and peacocks from Ophir, every three years.

and the female Blackcap still enjoying the groceries supplied by the Warden at the Obs.

finally, my remiss yesterday was not welcoming Peter Storrs and his wife to the Blog readership. I have seen them around the town on a number of occasions but we were able to talk on the bus at this meeting. Peter informed me that his wife has always wondered where my hat comes from, so I was delighted to tell her Mongolia. Looking forward to seeing you both again soon, hoping for a longer chat.

Friday, 28 January 2011

'Whale Meat ' Again - Vera Lynn

Don't know where, don't know when!

The single most notable element about this morning was the 'cold', and while the ambient temperature was low enough the biting north easterly produced a bitter wind chill. A walk around Radipole, through the town centre, over Town Bridge and Weymouth Quay to the Nothe Fort, a wander along the Stone Pier and around Newton's Cove produced little more than the 'usual suspects'.

Great Black-backed Gull

Herring Gull

and Black-headed Gull all scavenging around the harbour, and

two dozen Turnstones, turning stones on the fore-shore.

At Ferrybridge there was little more than c7 Little & c2 Great Crested Grebe and

a handful of Red-breasted Merganser

this male at least putting on a reasonable 'fly past'.

Not a bad day really for having my perambulations curtailed by a trip to Bristol Airport to pick up my lovely neighbour Joy. However, having watched yet another instalment of the superb BBC television production of 'Human Planet' most of my thoughts harked back to last evenings subject material. The essence of these fine documentaries is the way that 'man' has adapted to the most harsh conditions the world can throw at him, last night focusing inside the Arctic Circle. My first venture into this mainly frozen waste was at the tender aged of 16 years when I was drafted to the type 14 frigate HMS Keppel part of the Fishery Protection Squadron. For a year I plied these northern waters and enjoyed every minute, what mid-teenager wouldn't.

As the years went by, I flew over it many times on various journey taking the 'Great Circle' route to such places as the United States, but perhaps the most unusual of all crossings was submerged at one to two hundred feet on HM Submarine Alcide in 1968. Each and every one of these trips were both exciting and mind boggling, but none more so than a visit to Barrow, Alaska in 2007.

Last nights programme featured the Greenland Inuit, while in the most northerly city in the USA we visited the Alaskan Inuit. Along with Susan Hallam , we had travelled the full length of the Alaska highway, having started our journey in Los Angeles and arriving at Fairbanks had to take a flight to Barrow as the road (if that;s what it could be called) was still frozen even in June.

The Captain announced as we 'crossed the line', at which point I took this photograph of a mainly mountainous terrain.

Only a few minutes later, the whole scene had changed to ice floes with some open water.

Our welcome could not have been more convivial, as even before leaving the aircraft an Eskimo (don't let the PC brigade deter you from using this description or the term Indian as my own extensive research has shown that the indigenous population have no problem with this at all) lady had already invited us to her house.

We walked from the airport, through the town centre to

our hotel which, had it not been frozen solid right up to the North Pole, would have been beside the sea. Even before checking in, we were again befriended by 2 young men conducting an ornithological survey on behalf of the US government who were at pains to drive us on their quad bike to see a summer plumage Red-necked Stint (see photo below).

On day 2 we met the most famous man in town at that time, 'Forest the Bowhead Slayer' seen here with Sue. Having hunted the Bowhead Whale for 5 years, thus far he had never returned empty handed. It may be of note that in Greenland the prime target is the Narwhal, in both cases hunted legally and in the traditional manner.

These small boats are the only protection these brave hunters have from their might catch, and spend most of their time on the frozen sea. If the boat has a flag at the mast, this denotes success in the previous seasons hunt.

The Whale Festival starts as the collective crews drag the most successful boat from the ice and place it central to the celebrations, as

ALL the towns people gather around a table weighed down by bowls full on piping hot White-fronted Goose stew - no one goes unfed, yum, yum! After the stew comes the highlight of the day and the most prized part of the whole catch. Once the Whale is landed most of the carcass is butchered and shared out among the population, All that is except for the select part of the epidermis, which is cut into strips and marinaded in whale blood for 6 months. Every morning and evening the meat is ceremonially stirred, the final product being

Muktuk 'the' delicacy to the Eskimo.

Never being one to shy away from a new experience, especially gastronomic, I braved the Muktuk, but
as can be seen in these photos, much to the delight of the local populous,

my demeanor changed with every mouthful.

The Greenland's also do a delicacy of Little Auk marinaded in their own feathers within an airtight seal skin. Unfortunately I have never tried this but having eaten Puffin, maybe that counts?

and finally just a few of the host of wonderful birds we encountered.

Dunlin, certainly a different plumage to which we're used to!

Lapland Bunting

Long-tailed Duck

Red-necked Stint

Snow Bunting (male)

Snow Bunting (female)

Grey Phalarope

Red-necked Phalarope

The Magnificent

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl nest