Monday, 2 March 2009

12 months summary

I'm off to sea again next week so will post more photos (time and internet connection allowing). Thought I'd post a few photos from the last 12 months and some waffle about how I came by taking them (click on photos for slightly larger versions if you want)

**Crib sheet for references to projects I’m involved with:

Bird atlas – mapping distribution and relative abundance of every bird species in the British Isles. Requires timed (1 or 2 hours) visits to at least eight 2km squares (tetrads) in every 10km square and all other "roving records" to improve the species lists. Winter period is Nov-Feb summer from April-July (when observing breeding behaviour is also needed). The Cambridgeshire target is all 25 tetrads in every square, see

Geograph – trying to get geographically relevant photos from across the British Isles, at least one per 1km grid square, see The only squares left in England are MOD, private farmland or mud but still plenty of extra features/details/seasonal variations to add to squares with only a few photos.

Cetacean surveys – surveys from ferries or a hired yacht trying to see how many whales and dolphins (and seabirds from the ferries) are out there in the North Sea, English Channel and Bay of Biscay. They’re big, they’re charismatic (though also enigmatic) and they’re just off the European coast and yet we still know very little about them. See


Arrived back 20th February from the Falklands (see earlier posts). Had to have thesis corrections finished and a conference poster printed by the end of the month. Luckily it was a leap year so I made it.


Flew to Orlando 1st March for a large oceanography conference – very interesting. Thanks to the internet I found contact details for a local birder who took me out to Cape Canaveral area for birding. Great day being driven round and seeing some cool birds (and alligators and manatees). Was last there in 1986 (when aged 5) but could remember some of the birds and sites from then.

Gave a talk at UEA on the 14th, which was the end of the list of things that needed doing over the previous 9 months (settle into new job, finish and submit thesis, Drake Passage research cruise, PhD viva, main research cruise, conference, talk). It’s fair to say I was quite tired by then so padding around in the snow at Easter was about my level. Managed to make it to a conservation task at Fen Drayton again at the end of the month.


The spring bird atlas period starts 1st April (2008-2011) so could start doing the timed visits to the four tetrads I’d signed up to do (one visit April/May, one visit June/July, preferably April and June in southern England). Otherwise a bit of conservation work but mostly some calm time recovering and pottering round trying to record breeding evidence for the bird atlas, e.g. at Grantchester:


First weekend did a seabird and cetacean survey from Felixstowe to Vlaardingen (near Rotterdam). No cetaceans but some nice seabirds, especially three adult Pomarine Skuas on their way to arctic Russia. Ship canal approaching Vlaardingen:

Dragonflies and damselflies were out early (7th) so there were several trips to Fen Drayton to see them. Also a visit to Lakenheath RSPB reserve on the 10th. Hairy Dragonfly:

The third weekend I was back on a ferry - a freight route from Poole to Santander. Great boat, great food, great sightings of beaked whales near Spain. Brownsea Island as we were leaving Poole Harbour:


I had to do all four of the second timed tetrad visits but they are done early morning so fitted in before work without too much bother. Also fitted in a successful trip to Strumpshaw Fen with the new macro lens (2nd and 3rd images not cropped) and a few more visits to Fen Drayton. Swallowtail, Blue-tailed Damselfly(x2) and Scarce Chaser:

On the 27th, flew to Spain to join a yacht for a three week cetacean survey off north Spain. Bluefin of Hamble, 'our' yacht:

The five of us rotated between observing, data entry and observing again each hour and then had two hours off, so not tough. Ilaski, Andrew and Maria in survey mode:


Mostly on the 60ft Ketch “BlueFin of Hamble” doing day sails out of harbours in north-east Spain. Aim was to do effort-based surveys for beaked whales to assess their abundance over the undersea canyon. On top of that we wanted photos for individual photo identification. Fantastic time, some incredible encounters with Cuvier’s and Sowerby’s Beaked Whales, Sperm Whales and Common Dolphins, along with several other species seen. Also a great bunch of people. Part of the time we were in the Basque country and it was very interesting to have Ilaski, a native Basque on board.

Cuvier's Beaked Whale, our main survey target:

Sperm Whales, being so photogenic that I could get some decent images despite being extremely seasick (first day, fine after that). Part of a group of 12!

Sowerby's Beaked Whale, rare but we saw two groups:

Sperm Whale tail-slapping, it did this 26 times in a row:

Well, if I could make a splash like that...

Common Dolphin and Gannets in a feeding frenzy, a frequent but always interesting and fun sight:

If the weather was too windy for surveying we went for walks along the Spanish coast:

We spent our nights in harbours along the Spanish (Basque) coast:

Back in time to graduate in Southampton. Then a trip to Thompson Common, a reserve with a series of pingo lakes (remnants from permafrost conditions) which are fantastic for dragonflies. Massively under-rated place, which is fine as it means it is also peaceful.

Ruddy Darters egg-laying:

Fan-bristled Robberfly:

Emerald Damselfly (we saw Scarce Emerald but no good photos)
The large pingo:


First weekend in Northumbria for Tom and Liz’s wedding. Second weekend in Penzance for a one-day seabird trip (I actually had to pay to go on a ship!). From there had a weekend at my aunt’s cottage ‘Boxtree’ with parents. It’s on 120 acres of common land and is a very relaxing place to catch up with things.

Hay Bluff from the Twmpa, edge of the Black Mountains:


Weekend in Norfolk walking the coast path Hunstanton - Morston via a night at the hostel in Burnham Deepdale. Some good birds and lots of photos for geograph. Finished the month with a weekend’s conservation work with the Southampton crowd at Fen Drayton.


Conference in Bangor, weekend in Norfolk birding and getting away from people across the saltmarshes at Stiffkey.

I'm normally pissed of with tideline debris, but...
Largely unspoilt (trees excepted) sand-dunes as access is across the saltmarsh so little trampling
Then a week sat halfway down a cliff in Cornwall (deliberately). Was counting seabirds (especially Balearic Shearwater), cetaceans and basking sharks for the SeaWatchSW project Shifts were dawn-12, 2-dusk, after which there was a walk to the pub, dinner and a walk back across the fields to the B&B in the dark. Gave some time to explore at lunch. Very good weather so few seabirds but lots of Basking Sharks, two sunfish and five species of cetacean. The interaction between the Gannets and Common Dolphins became very clear over the days with several hundred Gannets hanging around doing not a lot for hours until the dolphins arrived. was very obvious they were around as the gannets converged on the spot and started diving down on to the bait ball the dolphins had pushed to the surface.

The survey headland (watchpoint the other side of the far rock)

Blowhole on Gwennap Head illuminated by the setting sun:

Juvenile Hobby catching dragonflies on the pond between the headland and B&B:

Sennen Cove the evening before the surveys:


Back on ‘the ship’ (RRS James Clark Ross, the main BAS survey and logistics ship) to test some kit between Immingham and Azores. We had a bit of a blow down the English Channel but after that some good birds and cetaceans and importantly, good progress with the testing. Was on Sperm Whale watch as we approached the Azores. Two tail-slapped distantly but not for long but then there were three ahead of the ship (exactly dead ahead – the third mate swerved to miss them as he couldn’t work out what they were). Enough time to get people out of the labs before they went down the side of the ship. Soon followed by a small pod of Atlantic Spotted Dolphins. Got off the ship at the Azores and spent a day exploring San Miguel.

Leaving Immingham into the Humber:

Fumerole on San Miguel:Crater lake:

House-mate swapping hassle, bad weather, a bit of conservation and eventually some bird surveys. The start of four months of ‘calm time’ where I didn’t go to sea or wander up and down the country (too much). Very good day in Norfolk but car died on the way back, conveniently just before the MOT so at least it went cheaply (£300 for 2½ years isn’t too bad). Had just signed up for ten bird atlas tetrads 6-15 miles away. Got five of them done by bike.


As November but with Christmas added, particularly playing with nephew.

Did the first visits to the other five bird atlas tetrads and managed a trip to the Suffolk coast late in the month:


Second set of bird atlas surveys and general birding. Cold day in the Fens (river was frozen, as was my water bottle) followed the next day by much more fun in a strong southerly. 40 miles north, lots of birding, lots of geograph photos, very little effort, train back.

River Great Ouse:


More bird atlas surveys, more conservation, more geograph photos (you may be seeing the pattern now), didn't fall off the bike despite all the snow and ice.

A part of TL65, a 10km square I did a fair bit of atlas fieldwork in. Mix of farmland, reasonably mature woodland and stud farms.

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