Saturday, 30 August 2014

Maybe you can hire the A-Team...

In an autumn that’s already seen another public confusion over the identification of Sykes’s and Booted Warblers in Shetland, and a retrospective re-identification of said bird by online birders, a new force for settling birding disputes is emerging from the shadows.

Known as the Assessment Team, or A-Team for short, the group comprises four quirky but competent birders outcast from the mainstream birding scene for a birding crime they didn’t commit, neither self-styled ‘punks’ nor come-lately retirees – instead, birders from the almost forgotten New Wave of the late 80s and early 90s, deeply unfashionable by contemporary standards.

John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, the group’s leader said, “We’re not cool, young nor callow enough to call ourselves punkbirders; nor have we just retired and kitted ourselves out in Swarovski. We represent the forgotten generation, birders from a time when birding was about enjoying going out looking at birds, and wasn’t about scoring points over other birders.

“None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. Take the Essex ‘Eastern Olivaceous Warbler’ in August 2002, for example. The photo was in Birding World, but nobody cried foul at the time. In due course the BBRC picked up that it wasn’t one, but where were the keyboard warriors when Birding World was published? Did you see anyone online saying “surely this isn’t an Olivaceous? Surely this is a rama Booted Warbler?”? No, us neither.

“So if you’ve got an identification problem, and nobody else can help, and you don’t fancy being pilloried online for getting it wrong, maybe you can hire... the A-Team.”
He added, “dah dah dah dah, DAH DAH dah, dah-dah-dah-dah, DAH-d-d-dah dah!

Monday, 25 August 2014

RSPB squirrel in drug and hooker scandal

The poster boy for the RSPB’s latest campaign to compel political parties to put conservation issues on the agenda in the run-up to next year’s general election has this week immersed the bird charity in a mire of sleaze and scandal.

The carefully cultivated image of Bob the Red Squirrel as a wholesome, cute and somewhat endangered front for the RSPB began to show signs of strain when his drey was raided by police as part of the ongoing Operation Scots Pine Tree. As yet, Bob has not been interviewed under caution, and it is understood that no charges will be forthcoming in the absence of any hard evidence.
A police spokesman said “We found nothing but some soft moss, pine needles and grass lining the drey. We think he may have buried what we’re looking for somewhere in the forest floor. Unfortunately, Bob claims he can’t remember where.”
Rumours had abounded for some time that Bob was operating a crack-drey, with nervous squirrels seen coming and going in the area at all hours of the day and night, muttering something about “Bob’s massive stash of nuts”. ‘Nuts’ is believed to be ancient Caledonian forest slang for crack cocaine.
Matters deteriorated when Bob was photographed outside an Inverness nightclub indulging in mutual grooming with a female Red Squirrel who was clearly not his established mate. A press release was issued denying any wrongdoing, stating, “it’s a well-established fact that Red Squirrels are polygamous, and may have more than one mate in any given breeding season”.
It came as a shock then when a Grey Squirrel escort known as Saucy Beechmast came forward to claim she’d spent a night of wild passion with Bob after he picked her up in the woods outside Aviemore. “He was branch-crawling, looking for a good time,” said Ms Beechmast, “and I certainly gave him one, the dirty forest-dwelling beast!”

Bob was seen visiting an SSPCA clinic this morning, complaining that he’d contracted squirrelpox from Ms Beechmast, adding “She said we could do it bareback, but now I’m oozing from every orifice.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Absolutely everyone suffering from Puffin fatigue

With the launch at last week’s Birdfair of a bafflingly pointless quest to find a new ‘national bird’ for Britain, a nation cries “enough of this shit” and “for fuck’s sake, not yet more fucking Puffins”.

The inclusion of Puffins on the shortlist for a bird to replace Britain’s current national bird, the enduring and resilient Robin, is proving hard to swallow for a general public that’s frankly had enough Puffins to last them a lifetime. “If I see another bastard Puffin being pointlessly cute and anthropomorphised by the RSPB and the media, I might just shoot myself and put an end to it all,” said Nikki Hollis, a mother of two from Basildon.

“The little bastards are everywhere at the moment. On telly, online, on my kids’ beds at night – I don’t know what sorts of batteries the RSPB are putting in those cuddly Puffins, but they seem to have the half-life of plutonium – I wake up to a chorus of Puffin voices, they’re the soundtrack to the day, and I can still hear them ringing in my ears when the kids finally go to sleep in the evening.”

Tom Logan, a wildlife tour guide from the Western Isles, had the grace to look embarrassed when asked about how important Puffins were to his business. “There was a time when they were all people wanted to see,” he said, “but now nobody gives a flying fuck about them. Everyone’s sick to death of the sight of their cheerful, gormless faces. I blame overexposure – you can have too much of a good thing.

“Speaking for myself, when I hear someone call a young Puffin a ‘puffling’ it makes me want to punch them repeatedly in the face. Or vomit. They still eat them in Iceland, and that’s maybe not such a bad idea. I wonder how they harvest them...

“I’d love to hit a Puffin with a stick.”

Monday, 18 August 2014

Magpies not blinged up, say researchers

University researchers have revealed today that, contrary to popular belief, Magpies are not irresistibly attracted to bright shiny objects, and when blagging in your house prefer easily fenced electrical goods to jewellery.

Professor Arthur Balsam commented “It’s long been an accepted wisdom that Magpies can’t resist glittery, shiny things. When you came back from your holidays and discovered your house had been ransacked and your wife’s diamonds had been stolen, it was always the local Magpies that the police would pull from the local hawthorn hedge for a quiet chat. Turns out, Magpies prefer popular electrical goods. The cheeky scallies”.

Tom Logan, a Magpie from Exeter agreed. “Yeah, we gave up nicking jewellery years ago. It’s hard to fence, innit. All them cash for gold websites have fucked us right over. And anyway, everyone wants a scrubbed iPhone these days, know what I’m saying? We’d take your flat screen telly if we could, but they’re so bastard big these days we just can’t get airborne carrying the motherfuckers.

“So all we do now when we break in your house is look for the phones. That and trash the joint, stick your toothbrush up our vent and take selfies with your wife’s knickers on our faces.

“Some things will never change - the old ones are still the best”.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Birding Chanticleers: 'The Fall'

This weekend’s Birdfair at Rutland Water sees the launch of many new products aimed at the keen and credulous birdspotter eager to part with some hard-earned cash in the belief that merely owning the latest HD binoculars, massive white lens, or identification guide will automatically make them a better birder, photographer, or student of the fine art of discerning a ‘northern’ Great Spotted Woodpecker and actually giving a flying fuck about it.

Into none of these camps comes the latest publication from Birding Chanticleers. Simply entitled ‘The Fall’, it aims to empower observers of tricky birds with very latest thinking on how to identify them. For once, the content more than lives up to the hype – using the techniques outlined by the Birding Chanticleers team, a positive identification is practically guaranteed for any bird encountered in the coming weeks.

“It’s amazing!” enthused Charlie Chaucer, company director, birder, and ill-deserved possessor of a ringing licence. “I feel like I’ve been handed the keys to the kingdom! There’s a simple mantra that anyone can remember, and it solves literally any identification conundrum: ‘if in doubt, pull a feather out’. All I need to do is get my hands on the bird in question, tug a feather out of it, pretend it was moulted in the ringing bag, and fire it off to the nice people at Aberdeen University. A little while later you get a definitive identification based on DNA.

“And that’s properly scientific, and helps to dispel any laughable and muddle-headed notion that ringing’s more about the self-aggrandisement of the ringer than actually contributing anything meaningful to our collective knowledge of a species whilst maintaining the welfare of the bird at all times”.

Identification guru and member of the Birding Chanticleers team Paul Heaton is pleased with the public’s reaction to his book. “We’ve brought together all the latest thinking about how to deal with those worrisome warblers and pesky pipits. Gone now are the days when you’re struggling with a bird and end up on the receiving end of a patronising and sanctimonious identification from some distant expert in his ivory tower.

“Now all you need to do is forget that most advances in in-the-field identification are freely available to read about online, fork out some readies for our book, and get plucking! Aberdeen may soon be knee-deep in feathers, but at least your reputation will be iron-clad”.

He added, "Birding Chanticleers - always earning!"

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Keepers deny being upland pimps

Grouse lovers across the UK were this morning celebrating the advent of the Glorious 12th, the annual festival that celebrates all that’s great and good about Red Grouse. A series of events will be kicking off today on any number of carefully and lovingly managed upland grouse moors.

Arthur Balsam, a wealthy grouse fancier from London, travelled up to Scotland at the weekend. “I look forward to this all year,” he said. “I’m going to find myself a nice attractive Red Grouse, take her out for dinner, show her a good time. Candles, wine, young heather shoots... We’ll see where it leads... Who knows, perhaps we’ll settle down, lay a clutch, raise a brood. That’s the dream. Call me a soppy old romantic, but I still want that fairytale, they-lived-happily-ever-after relationship”.

Others are less idealistic. Tom Logan, a farmer’s son from Buckinghamshire, is more pragmatic about the prospects of pulling Red Grouse. “Yeah, for me it’s all about the birds. Loads of hot grouse totty, creeping through the heather, giving me those alluring come-hither looks. They’re gagging for it, the little teases. I can’t wait to get a couple of them back to my hotel and give them a good seeing to”.

Meanwhile, upland gamekeepers are reportedly stung by accusations that they’re little more than pimps for their grouse-loving clientele. Dougie McTaggart, head keeper for an estate in the Highlands, was emphatic. “We’re not in the business of procuring grouse. This is a completely transparent industry, I’ll have ye ken. What goes on between an independent, free-willed young lady-grouse and one of our clients is a private matter. Our clients are just paying us for the grouse’s companionship, and nae other. It’s not like we’re trafficking foreign birds like Chukar”.

For those who don’t consider themselves grouse-fanciers, the whole matter remains deeply confusing. “I’m deeply confused,” said Nikki Hollis, an entirely representative member of the British population from Reading. “I thought the Glorious 12th was all about people who think killing wild animals is a fun thing to do. Whether it’s Red Grouse or Hen Harriers, I was under the impression it’s all for shit and giggles and money. Shows how an ignorant, anti-bloodsport townie like me can get completely the wrong end of the stick, doesn’t it?”

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Open season for harriers

Birders all around the country this week are gearing up for the Glorious 10th – the date upon which open season is declared on gamekeepers, shooting estate owners and their well-heeled patrons.

Sickened by decades of unprosecuted Hen Harrier persecution by the driven grouse shooting industry, birders are finally taking matters into their own hands this weekend. Officially, the 10th will be the first Hen Harrier Day – a day of collective peaceful action to highlight the issues surrounding the parlous status of Hen Harrier as a British breeding bird. Rumours abound of more direct action being taken.

“We’re planning to engage with the grouse shooting industry in ways they’ll understand,” said Tom Logan, a spokesman for Supporting Harriers Against Gamekeepers (SHAG). “We’ll be leaving carbofuran-laced organic smoked salmon sandwiches out on the moors as bait for the rich banker shooting guests. They’re such plump, inviting targets, it’s really not worth trying to hunt them for sport – it’d be like shooting fish in a barrel. Or pheasants. Better to just condemn the bloodthirsty twats to a lingering, painful death on the overnight sleeper back to London.

“The gamekeepers on the other hand are a more cunning lot, a more worthy opponent. To deal with them we’re going to place Pole traps in places gamekeepers traditionally congregate – rural pubs, for instance. Gamekeepers are known for their wild, irrational prejudice against what they see to be invasive, competitive species – so we think that they’ll be unable to resist the lure of the chance to verbally abuse some Polish plumbers and decorators in their local. Once they’ve been flushed out of cover our Polish friends will ‘re-wild’ the gamekeepers – we’re not sure what ‘re-wilding’ will actually involve, but imagine it might be something along the lines of dropping them off the back of a tramp steamer somewhere in the Baltic.”

Meanwhile, donations continue to flood into SHAG to go towards the cost of putting harriers back on British uplands.

“We looked into the cost, time and effort involved in reintroducing Hen Harriers into the habitat where they should rightly be,” said Tom Logan, “but we quickly realised that it would be much cheaper, and more fun, to buy a few decommissioned Harrier GR-9 jumpjets and use them to target particularly troublesome shooting estates. We’re planning on celebrating Hen Harrier Day with a patrol over some of Norfolk’s more notorious estates. We’ve got some really big speakers mounted alongside the shotguns on the weapon platforms, so we should be able to drown out the squealing sound of outraged viscounts by blasting ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’ as we go. And it’ll be interesting to see if anyone near Sandringham fancies a pop at this particular harrier...”

He added, “I love the smell of restorative justice in the morning”.