Birds, Leps, Observations & Generalities - the images and ramblings of Mark Skevington. Sometimes.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Welsh Blackcock

With apologies to anyone who has inadvertently stumbled on this posting whilst looking for information on specialist Cymru porno.

Another long overdue birding first for me yesterday, when John picked me up at stupid o'clock (02:30) to drive us over to Wales. I've been birding with John many times since February 1996, but this was the first time he'd driven with me as passenger. Naturally I celebrated by nodding off at various points during the journey. We were headed to the Coed Llandegla Forest for a pre-booked RSPB guided walk to a Black Grouse lek. John had originally planned to go with his wife, Leigh, but she'd quite sensibly spurned the offer in favour of sleeping in a comfy bed. Seeing as I'd last seen lekking Black Grouse in 1997, and the RSPB blurb had built this up as being the ulimate lek-watch, I was keen to go.

We arrived at 04:45, after taking various ffecking llengthy diversions through places less pronounceable than if driving through Holland. We got kitted up for an uphill slog through coniferous Tilhill plantations and onto the viewpoint overlooking moorland. We were also overloaded with photographic and video kit in anticipation of good close views of the lekking blackcocks. Once in the hide, it was immediately clear that the expected frame-filling views was a pipe-dream - the lek was so far off that the birds were barely visible with the naked eye and we were not even getting scope filling views. DSLR shots were impossible and even digiscoping was a waste of time. I did get some distant video footage of flying birds but that will have to wait until I can transfer to PC and upload.

We watched the cocks (6+) for a good while, and a couple of greyhens were also seen. Despite the less than promising forecast for later in the day the early morning sunshine was superb. Of the walk leaders, one of the volunteers was fucking annoying due to his repeated outpourings of orgasmic exclamation every time a bird was in view of one of the cameras beaming images to his laptop. The RSPB had also installed microphones to beam back the bubbling, burping and farting which was good to hear albeit too loud. Overall I felt it was a slightly disappointing venture. The RPSB could do a better job of deterring visits to other leks if this one was setup with better viewing facilities (the hide was plain shitty) and closer views. I'm sure a decent sized hide 100m from the lek, with the approach in darkness and no leaving until 2hrs after sun-up would not affect the lekking birds. If you haven't seen a lek before then this is a good walk to book, but otherwise you are better off going it alone at other well known leks - just don't be a fucking moron by disturbing the birds.

The walk back was enlivened by 20 or so good close Crossbills, including a couple of nice males and several smart stripey juveniles. Also loads of Siskin and a few Redpoll including pinky breasted males mixed in with Goldfinches and Chaffinches. I was always stalking the wrong birds though and only managed a few dodgy shots that aren't worth posting - see John's blog for photos of this trip whilst I photoshop mine to death. Also worth noting that the motley crew of RSPB members and volunteers included a couple of dodgy looking characters that are members of the crowd formally known to many as The Eyebrook Wankers. On returning to the visitors centre (the OnePlanet Adventure cafe and bike shop) we duly enjoyed decent sized and very tasty breakfast baps - bacon, egg and sausage for me with a mug of tea. Grand. We left the forest just as the throngs of mountain biking enthusiasts were preparing their erosive assault on the pathways and moorland - just the right time to leave as I doubt there'd be any enjoyable walking or birding to be done with all those two-wheeled wankers about. I guess it's just as well that they have centres and places like this to limit the potential damage, but we saw other bikers during the morning on open moorland and plenty of evidence of churned up pathways. They're just as bad as quad-bikers and green-laners for damaging habitat.

We next had a look around the moorland at World's End - as it turned out we were effectively looking at the same moorland but from the other side. We could even see the poxy RSPB hide from one point. Here we eventually found a group of feeding Black Grouse (8+ males) and managed to get a lot closer then at the lekking site, but by now the wind was getting up and the weather was turning so digiscoping was still useless. We also saw a single distant flying Red Grouse, but the moorland looked in pretty poor condition for this species with loads of bracken, old woody heather growth and very little bilberry. Peregrine, Buzzard and Ravens were also seen, along with a fair few Stonechats, but we were probably too early in the spring for Ring Ouzel and Wheatear and definitely too early for Whinchat. Another month and this could be a great birding day out. A small coniferous copse held more Crossbills and Siskins, but now the rain was starting so we decided to head home.

On the way, we stopped at Park Hill CP just outside of (the shit hole that is) Stoke on Trent. The park holds regular wintering Long-eared Owls in a pine wood. After half an hour of neck-breaking searching of the tree-tops, John thought he'd picked one up but had then completely lost his bearings as the canopy was an ever-moving target in the increasing wind. Just as I was starting to loudly think 'stringy bastard', a local dog-walker with a fucking huge donkey-sized Rottweiler knew of the birds and pointed us to the 'regular' tree where we soon picked up the lone bird that John had seen previously. Very strange to see a Long-eared Owl so high up, and oddly it was initially sitting on a branch away from the trunk so was being blown senseless before it then moved to the trunk-side. I've only ever seen LEOs before lower down in scrubby hawthorn or similar. Three girls then turned up with bins looking for the owl - another unfamiliar birding site! We then moved on to nearby horse-paddocks to unsuccessfully look for a pager reported Lapland Bunting. This turned out to be a mistake as we then got completely drenched and chilled as the rain and wind really picked up once we'd walked a few hundred metres from the car. Time to call it quits and head home.

3 comments:

russmalin said...

The Eyebrook Wankers? They seem to have passed me by. Do tell.......

Skev said...

Can't remember where the phrase came from or who coined it - probably the Fray-Mackay contingency?. There was a group of 'birders' at Eyebrook that were wankers. Basically. I don't believe they were ever actually observed wanking at Eyebrook mind.

The Drunkbirder said...

At least one of them would have trouble finding his cock and thus be rendered unable to wank.
The Eyebrook wankers, happy days indeed.