30 Jun 2006


No new birds for the list

Yesterday morning my lovely camera fell off the kitchen table and my 100mm lens was trashed and my camera (Canon Eos 10D)
is not working properly. It takes photos but is massively over exposing so they have gone off to Calumet to get a quote for repair.God I hope it isnt too expensive. So I will probably be posting either old photos or phonescoped versions.

So here are a few bird photos I took in New Zealand and Australia last year.

Red Billed Gull

North Island Kaka

Northern Royal Albatross



Masked Lapwing

Chestnut-Breasted Mannikin

24 Jun 2006

Orchids and Storm Petrel

142. Storm Petrel

I went out to Killard this afternoon with Pickle, my working cocker spaniel. I have not been out here for over a week and the difference in growth is amazing. Also the orchids are now in full bloom. It really is a magical spot in the summer with all the wild flowers.In early May, the blues of spring squill and bluebells appear. Through June, yellow flowers of bulbous buttercup, kidney vetch and wild pansies predominate. In July, restharrow, centaury and pyramidal orchids change the scene to pink while in August the rich purples of knapweed, thyme and field scabious complete the picture. Many of the plants found are uncommon or rare in Ulster. Thousands of orchids flowering in late June produce a display unequalled in the province.

Well as to Birds there were loads of Sand martins flying over the fields, a Whitethroat, a few Stonechats and many Skylarks and Meadow pipits feeding their nearly adult young. Infact the sound of the Larks was almost deafening. When I got down onto the beach there was not many birds around apart from a heron and a few oystercatchers. So I decided to look out to sea with the scope. There was a sea mist starting about a mile offshore which I have found tends to bring the pelagic birds closer to the coast. I could see a few Gannets both mature and immature flying by as well as Manx Shearwaters, Guillemots and then for my first time from the shore I saw a Storm Petrel
fluttering over the water black all over with its very distinct white rump.It always gives me a buzz to see a new bird especially a pelagic as it means that I will not have to go out to sea to see them (I usually get very seasick and wouldnt enjoy a pelagic bird trip at all)

15 Jun 2006

The Heron and the Eel and another for the list.

141. Reed Warbler

I stopped off last night at the Quoile Hide and regrettably due to the lack of management the area in front of the hide the reeds are growing up so fast that it is becoming very difficult to see much. However I did see this Heron dart forward and come up with an eel that was at least 18 inches long. Well over the next ten minutes I watched the eel being swallowed alive and writhing around in the gullet of the Heron before popping back up and escaping before again being grabbed and banged around. The eel was entwining itself completely round the Heron's bill and again slipped from the Heron's grasp. Yet again the heron ran forward and grabbed it. It appeared to be trying to serrate it up and down its bill. At this stage there was a certain amount of blood flowing from the eel, who was determined not to give up the struggle. It was swallowed again and yet again it came back up and slipped out of the heron's mouth. Sadly this time the heron stabbed it right in the head and it was swallowed with no more defence. After which the heron proceeded to rub its beak back and forwards against the reeds, which I assume was to get rid of the slime. Nature is cruel. I didnt have a camera with me but here is another picture of a Heron with unexpected prey. See HERE and after it drowns it See Here

At lunchtime today I popped down to the RSPB Hide on Belfast Harbour, fortunately my new job means that I am only 5 mins drive away. Anthony the warden was there with his brother and we went to see if there were any Reed Warblers. Anthony is very good on identifying birds by sound. I have to admit I have difficulty in determining the difference between Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler .Anthony then phished the birds.

What is phishing?

Phishing refers to a group of noises that birders make in the hope of attracting birds; some noises work better than others. Time of day, time of year, weather, ambient noise, crowds and even too much pishing can affect the success of the procedure. True phishing (various silibant noises made by forming "s" or "sh" sounds with the tongue); the theory is that pishing throws out an array of frequencies taken to be alarm calls. These alarm calls are recognized mostly by Passerines. I think most people are of the view that a limited use of pishing to attract shy birds in a setting where the bird will not be repeatedly bothered -- and where you are not interfering with nesting of or brooding course -- is not likely to be very stressful to the bird and hence is acceptable. Views are more mixed on tapes, with some people finding it both unwarranted and unnecessary and others thinking it perfectly acceptable if used cautiously. I am of the latter view.

Anyway it was successful and this Reed Warbler appeared ;another for my year list :-)

9 Jun 2006

My first ever Curlew Sandpiper and Phonescoping.

139. Curlew Sandpiper.

There are times when one is doing a year list you think am I going to see any more birds this year. I hadnt seen anything for three weeks and then I saw the Spotted Flycatcher and yesterday I was in the Castle Island Hide on the Quoile after work chatting away to a couple who had come by motor boat from the Isle of Man. They were telling me about the Choughs and some of the seabirds they had seen on the way over. I had left my scope at home and only had my binoculars which are Leica 10 by 25's. However even though I could see waders on the far shore I couldnt clearly identify them apart from the Black Tailed Godwit. Then another couple of guys came in , one of whom was Dennis Weir, who I have subsequently heard is one of the best Northern Ireland Birders He had just come back from a birding trip in Venezuela on which one of his best friends Willie McDowell, another extremely well known NI birder,had died in his sleep.(I think when my time comes that is how I would like to go). Dennis's friend suddenly said I think thats a Curlew Sandpiper on the far shore and Dennis confirmed it. They then generously let myself and the couple from the Isle of Man look through their scope. A lifer for me.I decided to go home and get my scope and try out phonescoping, that is to say using the camera in my mobile phone to take a photo using the telescope as a long lens. As it was well out of reach of my 100-400mm lens . An artform that will have to be improved on as it is not easy.

6 Jun 2006

Finally after three weeks a new bird for my year list.

138. Spotted Flycatcher

I have been very poor at writing my blog recently. I have just started a new job where I will be providing the food for a chain of seven cafes in Belfast, therefore alot of my time has been taken up setting up the kitchen. Tonight I went for a walk with my wife in Castle Ward (A National Trust estate nearby, where we lived for twelve years) It was a lovely evening and was made even better when within fifty yards of parking the car I saw the Spotted Flycatcher and its discreetly streaked breast. As I was watching through my binoculars my wife ,as usual, continued walking towards it and it flew off. These birds are on the Red List which means that they are Globally threatened, their Historical population declined in the UK during 1800-1995 and there has been
rapid (> or =50%) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years and rapid (> or =50%) contraction of UK breeding range over last 25 years.

It is a summer visitor here and spends its winters in Africa. Now I know where to find it I will have to go back with my camera to see if I can get any shots.

Talking of Bird Photography I had a link from this blog to my list of bird photographers of the world which google has decided in its infinite wisdom is a spam site and have blocked me from posting to it or editing it so when I have the time I am going to set up a website dedicated to bird photography. I have registered the site www.peregrinesbirdphotographers.com and once my new job is more underway I will work on it. However for the time being I am adding the links to the side bar in this blog.

I have also been visiting a peregrines nest site, well I have been watching them across a quarry at Scrabo Tower, two adults and four nearly fully fledged juveniles. In this photo even though it is hard to make out there is the female and four chicks and the male was sitting on a rock 20 feet further up the quarry face. I have been to this site a number of times and what amazes me is the amount of woodpigeons that run the gauntlet of flying in front of the nest. You would have thought they would have the area designated as a no fly zone!

I am hoping for a call in the morning to say that a White Winged Tern that was spotted at RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve this evening is still around and that I can go and see it before work tommorrow. It is a rare vagrant and there are 10-40 records annually in the UK and Ireland.The White-winged Tern, or White-winged Black Tern, Chlidonias leucopterus, is a small tern.
Adult birds in summer have short red legs and a short black bill, a black head, neck and belly, very dark grey back, with a white rump and light grey (almost white) tail. The wings, as the name implies, are mainly white. In non-breeding plumage, most of the black is replaced by white or pale grey.

Their breeding habitat is freshwater marshes across from southeast Europe to central Asia. They usually nest either on floating vegetation in a marsh or on the ground very close to water, laying 2-4 eggs in a nest built of small reed stems and other vegetation. In winter, they migrate to Africa, southern Asia and Australia. It is a scarce vagrant in North America, mainly on the Atlantic coast, but a few records on the Pacific coast and inland in the Great Lakes area.

Like the other "marsh" terns (Chlidonias), and unlike the "white" (Sterna) terns, these birds do not dive for fish, but fly slowly over the water to surface-pick items on the surface and catch insects in flight. They mainly eat insects and small fish.

The name 'White-winged Tern' is the standard in most English-speaking countries; in Britain, this name is also the one used by the formal ornithological recording authorities, but the older alternative 'White-winged Black Tern' is still frequent in popular use.