Blog Site by Appointment to His Regal Majesty the Maalie King

He who would be a Leader, let him be a Bridge

Crown Copyright: The Royal Maalie Court

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Red Lichties in five-goal drama

“Red Lichties” translates roughly as “Little Red Lights” and is the popular name of the Arbroath Football Club team. Their claim to fame is recording the highest score ever in a senior football match when they beat Bon Accord 36 – 0 in a cup match on 12 September 1885. It is reputed that the score would have been even higher if time had not been lost repeatedly recovering the ball from the sea when kicked out of play. It appears that the Arbroath goalie never touched the ball and spent the game sheltering from the rain under an umbrella supplied by a supporter.

Arbroath harbour. Many a time I have stayed in the blue guest house
Arbroath is special to me because, after driving groups of students in a noisy smelly Landrover on a hot dusty motorway north from Leicester to Aberdeen (en route to Shetland) every summer for some 30 years, the fishing port of Arbroath was where we finally reached the sea. So it was a matter of strolling round the harbour to fill lungs with fresh sea air before consuming fish and chips from Peppo’s chippery. All washed down with pint (or two) of “heavy” in the Smugglers’ Tavern before bedding down for the night in a local camp site before the final run in to Aberdeen the following morning.

This week the Red Lichties had an evening home game against East Stirling and I felt the urge to go north to support them, as well as to obtain an overdue supply of Arbroath Smokies. I arrived on a sunny afternoon of 26 March and rapidly refreshed my memories of the harbour area. My attention was quickly drawn to a pale gull in immature plumage, much paler than the numerous Herring Gulls, that proved to be an Iceland Gull, quite a rarity!

An immature Iceland Gull, a pale rarity from the Arctic, was looking for scraps around the harbour

This flight shot shows the pure white primaries which easily distinguishes it from a Herring Gull

The warm weather meant that the shutters of one of the fish smoking houses were open, and I could see the small haddocks hanging up waiting to be smoked. I’d leave my purchase until the last minute...

Arbroath Smokies are supplied world-wide. You can see the haddocks ready for smoking

By tea time, Peppo’s was open and I indulged myself in a fish supper to be eaten, as by Ancient Custom and Practice, on the benches by the harbour where the gulls queued up for scraps.

Peppo's - the best fish supper in the world?

I slept the night camping in my X-trail near the dunes of the lovely Lunan Bay, a little north of Arbroath. I spent the next morning birdwatching in the area and saw seabirds such as Fulmar, Kittiwake, Red-throated Diver and Razorbill. A foray north to the Montrose Basin (stamping ground of fellow blogster The Trabant Driver) where I found a skein of Pink-footed Geese, and made a brew with my Kelly Kettle by the Bridge of Dun.
The ornate Bridge of Dun crosses the River Esk at the head of the Montrose Basin
Then it was back to Arbroath to park up right on the harbour edge ready for the night, knowing that I would not be driving after the match, and the ensuing nightcap in the Smugglers’ Tavern. During the afternoon, I indulged in a little Geocaching, and placed in a local cache a Travel Bug that I had snatched in South Wales from Tortoiseshell .

It was finally time to wander down to Gayfield Park where the spring daffodils were in magnificent display.

Gayfield Park at daffodil time, home of the Red Lichties.
Notice the proximity of the football ground to the sea!

As a matter of course, pre-match refreshment was taken in Tuttie’s Neuk, the fans’ pub, where I indulged in some good-natured banter and posturing with some 'away' fans, before crossing the road to see the game.

Tuttie's Neuk, the fans' pub, across the road from the football ground
The game turned out to be quite a thriller, with the Red Lichties squandering the two-goal advantage they had acquired just after half time when two cracking quick goals from East Stirling levelled the score, much to the delight of the Away Fans (all 17 of them) who never stopped singing behind their goal throughout the whole game. (In Arbroath the respective fans dutifully exchange ends at half time in order to be behind their own goalmouth).
A nervous moment for the Red Lichties as they defend a free kick
At length a free kick awarded to the Red Lichties on the edge of the East Stirling penalty box resulted in a deflected goal, and so the Arbroath fans could celebrate a home victory. Two balls were kicked out of the ground into the sea during the match but, unlike the occasion in 1885, replacement balls were rapidly supplied from the technical area and no time was lost.

And so it was a matter of indulging in a couple of drams in the Smugglers' Tavern before snuggling down in my sleeping bag for the night in the back of my X-Trail.
The Smugglers' Tavern, cosy inside, just the place for a night-cap

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Since 1st March my time has been almost exclusively occupied by “rassing”. This means participating in a programme of ornithological research with the acronym “R.A.S.”, namely Retrapping Adults for Survival. The scheme is directed by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and a full description of the scheme is found here.

It is to do with measuring survival of a nominated species, of which mine is the Marsh Tit Parus palustris. In this context, survival means the proportion of a population which survives from one year to the next. In a stable population, the number of new births in a year is balanced by the number of deaths. If the survival rate should decline, a population might spiral into extinction; on the other hand, if it increases we could end up with the eponymous proverbial “knee deep in Marsh Tits”. My study area is the Roudsea Woods and Mosses National Reserve which I have previously described here .

The Marsh Tit - recognised by its glossy black head and small neat black bib

The fieldwork is conducted during the “RAS Season”, nominally the breeding season which for Marsh Tits is designated as March to August. However, it is during March that the birds are most readily captured as they still come to feeders, and that explains the intensity of field observation during that month.

Survival rates usually differ at different stages of the life cycle. This is called age-specific survival rate and it is known that young birds have lower survival rates than adults. So “RAS” specifically investigates the survival rates of adult birds. Once we can measure survival, we are in a position to examine factors which affect it, for example habitat management practices.

In order to determine the number of birds which survive from one year to the next, individuals have to be caught and ringed with uniquely numbered metal rings issued under licence by the BTO. However, it may be difficult to catch every bird in the population every year, and so the task is facilitated by fitting each bird with a unique combination of coloured rings (up to three, in addition to the metal ring). The colour combinations can be seen in the field with binoculars, especially as they come to feeding stations placed around the habitat. This enables individual birds to be recognised without the need to retrap them.
A ringed Marsh Tit. Each individual has its own unique colour combination

The research is ongoing, and should persist for at least five years. This enables the accumulation of a sufficient sample size to minimise the margin of error in the survival estimate. The objective is to ring, in any one year, enough birds to generate at least 25 retraps (or re-sightings) the following year. So far this season we have accounted for 60 individuals of which 28 are retraps from previous years, so we are well on target.

This year, 2007, is the fifth year of my study period, during which time I have caught and ringed (to date) 155 adult Marsh Tits. Preliminary analysis of the results from the first four years indicates that adult Marsh Tits have a comparatively high annual survival rate of about 70%, compared to about 60% for other tit species.

These results are fully analysed by advanced statistical computer packages operated by the BTO and the outcome may give an insight into the natural history and conservation of this attractive little bird.