27 Sep 2006

Too wet this afternoon to go Birding

No new birds.

So here is a portrait I took on sunday of a Black Tailed Godwit up at the reserve which I am pleased with. One of the very few. I have taken thousands of photos and there are only about five that I am really pleased with.

26 Sep 2006

Binoculars, Binoculars, Binoculars

Well No new birds for the list even though I have been trying to find some but to no avail. When I was out with Anthony McGeehan last week and he was phishing the birds in a wooded area I realised the shortcomings of my binoculars The Leica Trinovid 10 by 25 . As much as I love them for their portability and the fact I take them in my pocket everywhere; the field of view is very narrow.You can see a bird in bushes put the bins to your eyes and take ages to find exactly where it is by which time it quite often has flown or flitted to the next branch.

I have always been of the the opinion that magnification was everything and therefore it was far better to have ten times magnification which would bring you closer to what you are trying to observe however this has its limitations in that as the magnification increases it becomes less easy to keep the binocular steady.

I think Anthony realised my binoculars limitations and I received a text to say that he had left his spare Zeiss 7 x 42 Dialyts in the observation room for me to borrow. My first thought was 7 times magnification wasn't going to be that good at all. WOW is all I can say. The field of view was much wider (150metres at 1 Kilometreas opposed to 95metres for my Trinovids) and it focuses far quicker than mine. Not at all bad for a binocular that first came out in October 1981. The main downside is the difference in weight.

Being an RSPB volunteer I get to meet many people coming in to the hide and quite often the talk comes round to binoculars and they will let you borrow their bins.Some are amazing and some are simply appalling. This sunday was no exception I tried everything from Leica, Swarovski, Zeiss and Nikon. I find the Leica's do not feel at all right in my hand even though I like what I see. I have now tried SLC Swarovski 10 by 50 and 8 by 42 and the EL 8.5 by 42 . The EL was a lovely binocular and has a price to match. I was impressed with the Nikons but it was the Zeiss FL 8 by 42 that blew me away. I have to have a pair. The clarity was simply stunning and if you are into butterflies the minimum focusing distance is only 6.5 feet. Since looking through them I have been looking at reviews and reviews on the internet and they all have been incredibly positive. Watch this Space.

Back to birding. Last night I read on Birdguidesthat a Hoopoe had been spending the last three weeks less than five miles from where I live and this was the first public indication that it was there. There has been nothing on flightline and nobody seems to know anything about it. So I am sure I probably will not see a bird that I havent seen in thirty years. The only time I saw one was on Portland Bill in the early seventies with a friend of my grandmother who took me birdwatching a couple of times.Heres hoping that I will see my first in Ireland.

Sometimes I find this blog really exciting to do then followed by periods of time when I think what can I write about. Every now and again I think yes I must keep on doing this. I was out at Killard the other day and I start talking to a couple and she out of the blue says " Are you Peregrine from the Bird Blog". What a nice surprise. She had googled Killard and my blog comes up high in the listings. I also get the occasional email asking questions or giving me positive encouragement which is very nice as well. Thank you Eve and Simon.

19 Sep 2006

My first Little Stint

156. Little Stint

When I get up at ten to three in the am I always ring Flightline (00442891 467408)The Northern Ireland Birdwatchers Association's answering machine that is updated every day with rare or uncommon birds seen in Northern Ireland and the South of Ireland. A little Stint had been seen on the reserve in Belfast yesterday so I hoped it would still be there later on in the morning.

Again I finished work promptly and txted Anthony to see if bird still there. It was. So I headed over at a moderate speed ;-)
It could be viewed from hide but not easily and then there was the morning attack by the peregrine.
which displaced all the small waders. But after a while it reappeared. It was closer to one of the other hides so I headed over to it.

It was really too far away for my lens but above is a record shot. There was also two ruff and two pectoral sandpipers over by the hide as well.

15 Sep 2006

A beautiful day Pectoral Sandpiper, Chiffchaff and Whinchat

154. Chiffchaff
155. Whinchat

I finished very promptly this morning and headed to the RSPB reserve on Belfast Harbour.It was a fantastic september day. Clear blue skies, quite crisp in temperature and very bright sun. There was a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper in beautiful plumage out in front of the roadside hide, which almost immediately flew off when the peregrine came for his morning visit. Anthony McGeehan suggested we go to the conservation area where there is ideal habitat for Pec Sandpipers; we looked unsuccessfully, however we put up at least fifty snipe. He was telling me this number can rise into the hundreds during the winter. I mentioned that I had heard chiffchaff but not seen any this year so we went to another area of unclaimed land nearby where Anthony started to phish the birds (Phishing a method used by birders to attract birds, it consists of making repetitious hissing type (also: psst psst psst, etc) sounds which seem to attract a bird's curiosity and also they sometimes call back) within seconds a wren was responding followed by a bullfinch and then up popped a chiffchaff
with its tail dipping downwards and very dark legs. Quite similar to a willow warbler but hopefully now I wont mistake them again.

We then had a look at Kinnegar Shore to see if we could see the pec but not too be. We did see a Mediterranean Gull quite a long way out into Belfast Harbour. I also saw my first returning Brent Goose which was on the shore line;Ive heard that a few thousand are already back at the top of Strangford Lough. Anthony then got a txt from his brother Gerard to say that the pec was back on the reserve so we headed back and went to take some photos my battery was flat so here is a very arti shot by A.M probably would have been better with a better beamer !!!

In the evening I took Pickle
out to Killard for my daily walk. It was a beautiful clear autumnal evening and the light was fantastic I walked along the shore and saw the Grey Plover that i think lives at this particular spot and then on the way back from the beach I came over the top and thought I saw a chat of some sort on the top of some brambles. I looked through the scope and it was my first Whinchat ,with its unmistakeable broad supercilium, in Northern Ireland and possibly in my life I think I may have seen them before in Dorset years ago.

So two nice new birds for my list.

13 Sep 2006

Guillemots. Dying everywhere!!

Recently there have been reports that dead Guillemots were washing up along the whole East and South Coast of Ireland. I had noticed a couple of dead guillemots out at Killard and then I had also seen some along the shore at Murlough.There was also reports of over 25 found in Dundrum Bay and The following relevant article appears in The Irish Times :

Sea birds may have died from starvation
Seán MacConnell

Scientists believe that dozens of young guillemot sea birds found dead recently on the east coast died from starvation.
The public began reporting to a bird flu hotline and BirdWatch Ireland that birds were being found dead along the coast from Monday.The first discovery was made at Killiney beach, Co Dublin, where four birds were found, and later that day 12 birds were found dead at Dundalk, Co Louth.According to Niall Hatch of BirdWatch Ireland, the number of dead birds being reported raised concerns over possible pollution at sea."We were on to the Wildlife Service, the Department of Agriculture and the Coast Guard and no pollution was uncovered."He said between 12 and 17 dead birds turned up in Arklow yesterday as scientists continued their investigation.

"When the birds were identified as guillemots, it became clear they were all juvenile birds. There were no adults.
"Having ruled out pollution, and because the birds had no oil on their feathers, the scientists discovered the birds had died from hunger."Mr Hatch said it was possible the young birds were from second broods and did not have the
strength to survive the very tough life the guillemot leads."They need plumage and they need it fast to survive the diving they have to do to catch fish when they feed far out at sea."
© The Irish Times

Well this evening I decided to go and see if there were anymore out at Killard and sadly there was another. I picked it up as it looked as though it had died recently and there was no flesh on its breast at all. My non scientific conclusion was that it had died of starvation. The tide was right out and I continued to search the high tide line and there was another but this time it was alive. I picked it up and it seemed in better condition than the dead one. As there was very strong on shore winds and the sea was quite rough I decided to put it back into the sea on the other side of the peninsular in the lee of the wind. I hope it survives. The strange thing about these deaths are that they have all happenned to juveniles and it seems to have happened over a very short period of time. I have been looking regularly since and there seem to be no further reports of them washing up on the shores locally.

12 Sep 2006

Finally Catch up with the Lesser Yellowlegs

153. Lesser Yellowlegs

After work today I headed down to Dundrum again to look for the Lesser Yellowlegs. The closer I got to Dundrum the worse the fog was getting and I wondered whether I would be able to see anything at all by the time I got there. I decided to go to the Carrigs river which runs into the inner bay and I hadnt gone more than five hundred yards when there it was. I was looking through my binoculars through my passenger window and I thought I would get the scope to have a look at the detail more carefully and I looked up again and it had gone. I couldnt find it but was mightily relieved that I had at least caught up with it.
Here is a nice shot of one by Bill Schmoker.His images can be found here
This is an american wader and a few are found annually in Western Europe primarily in August and September

11 Sep 2006

One Curlew Sandpiper less, An Arctic Skua or four and dipped on the Lesser Yellowlegs again

152. Arctic Skua

I do bakers hours starting at 3.30am so when I finished at 10.30am I headed off to the reserve to see if the Curlew Sandpipers were still there. It only takes me six minutes to get there from work pretty convenient really. The main hide is closed on a monday so I used the roadside hide sitting there with scope and cappucino which I had brought with me! There were three CS in the middle of the lagoon with a number of Redshank and Black Tailed Godwit. As I was watching them fairly intently through the scope BANG a peregrine picked one of them up and then shot up high in the sky before disappearing towards the airport. I found it quite shocking really as I hadnt been expecting it at all. This particular peregrine is being quite a nuisance at the lagoon at the moment and was the second time I had seen it take a small wader in the last few days.

After leaving the lagoon I heaaded about a mile round the corner to Kinnegar Shore (Click on Image for bigger view) a small shingle and shell beach with a small freshwater outlet that seems to attract hundreds of oystercatchers, gulls, terns and small waders. Derek Charles had spotted Arctic Skuas out across Belfast Lough the day before so I thought I would try and see if I could.I looked for ages without seeing much more than fifty or so eider sitting on the water and the odd gull. Then one of the seacats that go backwards and forwards between Belfast and Scotland was making its way towards the harbour and following it were quite a few terns. Then I noticed four Arctic Skuas chasing one unfortunate tern one of them was in pale phase and the others were in dark phase. They look like mini pterodactyls from a distance. Photo by Derek Charles from the same spot as I was. Another for the list.

After I left there I thought I would head down to Dundrum to look for the Lesser Yellowlegs but even though I searched for over an hour I failed to see it :-(

10 Sep 2006

Five Curlew Sandpiper and a new bird for my list a Merlin


I was on duty at the Rspb Hide on Belfast Harbour today. Not long after I opened up the two Ian's and Philip West arrived. They are known as "The Leica Boys"" or so I am told. Philip very quickly spotted a Curlew Sandpiper on the far shore and soon after I noticed a wader in front of the roadside hide which I couldnt identify from the way it was positioned. Fortunately three much more experienced eyes confirmed it was another Curlew Sandpiper and then another just behind it. They then disappeared down to the roadside hide. I had quite a few visitors at the time and was pointing the birds out when I realised there were four of them and one on the far shore so five Curlew Sandpiper in all.

Phil came back and suggested I try and get some photos and as there was another volunteer visiting he held the fort while I went and got a few shots of them. My unrepaired camera has a exposure problem and it massively overexposes so was experimenting with it to see if I could get a half way decent image.

Otherwise the afternoon was pretty uneventful not even a visit from the peregrine that is terrorising the site at the moment.

On my way home I decided to have a quick look at the Quoile Pondage. I was driving down to the hide on a single track road when I had to pull in to let a car get past. At that moment an adult male merlin suddenly popped over the hedge and was flying low alongside the car coming towards me. I thought it was going to go under my car when it just appeared in front of me flying up over the car. I couldnt have been more than two feet from it. It made my day as it was my next tick for my list.

The Merlin (Falco columbarius) is a falcon that breeds in northern North America, Europe and Asia.
In North America it was once known as the pigeon hawk, and its scientific name (from Latin columba, a dove) also refers to this popular prey item. However, the Merlin is a falcon, not a hawk, so the old American name is to be avoided.
This small bird of prey breeds in open country such as moorland, taiga or willow or birch scrub. Like the larger Peregrine Falcon, it is migratory, wintering in more temperate regions. Northern European birds move to southern Europe and North Africa, and North American populations to the southern USA and northern South America. In winter, the Merlin may be found in almost any open country, from coasts to prairies to desert scrub. In the mildest parts of its breeding range, such as Great Britain, it will desert higher ground and move to coasts and lowland.
In Europe, Merlins will roost communally in winter, often with Hen Harriers. In North America, communal roosting is rare, and Merlins are well known for attacking any birds of prey that they encounter, even eagles.
The male Merlin has a blue-grey back and orange-tinted underparts. The female and immature are dark brown above and whitish spotted with brown below. American subspecies range from pale (Great Plains) to nearly black (Pacific Northwest). This species' small size, darker underparts, and less strongly marked face distinguish it from the Peregrine Falcon.

Merlins rely on speed and agility to hunt their prey, which is mainly small birds such as larks and pipits and also large insects. They often hunt by flying fast and low, typically less than 1 metre above the ground, trying to take prey by surprise.
Merlins nest on the ground in most of their range. In the UK this is usually in a shallow scrape on heather moorland. They have a preference for long heather so are suseptible to over management, by burning.
In medieval Europe, Merlins were popular in falconry.

3 Sep 2006

I am trying to see this Lesser Yellowlegs that has been around for a couple of weeks.

No new birds for list.

I was woken by a text message saying the Lesser Yellowlegs was still at Dundrum Bay south. So grabbed my low calorie breakfast of 1 banana and headed out. (I have now lost 26 pounds in the last month and had to tighten belt by two notches so diet is working well! I only have another 24 pounds to go which I think will take a bit longer).Click on Image for larger version.

I arrived in Dundrum about 20 mins from the house and started to scan the seashore only to look up about five minutes later to see 6 birders (Gerard McGeehan, Shirley, Norma P-P and Carol UOH and two other guys whose names I have forgotten)on the other side of the road looking at something. Locked car and dashed across very busy road to the other side. It wasnt the Lesser Yellowlegs (Photo courtesy of Derek Charles who had texted me earlier) it was a lovely juvenile Spotted Redshank. It was fishing with its head completely under the water. It then flew over to main bay. I watched it for a little longer before I had to head off to Belfast as I was on duty again at the RSPB hide. Again I dipped on the Lesser Yellowlegs

When I got there there was virtually no birds on the reserve. A few blacktailed Godwit, A single Knot, a few Redshank, Shelduck, Teal, Mallard and a Widgeon and two Dunlin. Unfortunately I couldnt find the juvenile Curlew Sandpiper that had been spotted over the last few days. and photographed by Derek.

The excitement for the afternoon was a Peregrine catching a Godwit and a Buzzard caught a rabbit, which it proceeded to devour. There were four magpies very warily trying to get titbits with one of the birds grabbing at the buzzards tail. It didnt seem that bothered by them. This hide dishes out all sorts of excitement.

I really like volunteering at the hide you meet all sorts of people. The last couple of weeks I have had a guy called Damien in the hide and he is obviously fascinated by raptors. He goes and sees them in Sicily and soon going to Falsterbo in Sweden, which is reknown for being a migration hotspot. There was also a boy of about 11-12 years old who came in who was definately a birder of the future. He was really excited when I showed him the Knot as he hadnt seen one before.He then proceeded to tell me about his trip to California in the summer and the different birds he had seen. I asked him if he had seen any Hummingbirds as it was the one bird I remember seeing in LA twenty years ago. He then said he had seen Rufous and Anna,s which surprised me. He then asked me if I wanted to see his sticklebacks which slightly concerned me as I didnt want to leave the hide. So he rushed off and brought them back in and told me that they were two different species the Three Spined Stickleback and the Nine spined Stickleback.He was showing them to everybody in the hide. Not once did his parents come into the hide from their car! I subsequently found out that he is known at the other RSPB Reserve at Portmore Lough and nicknamed "The Professor" !!! He even found a Cattle Egret near Lough Neagh recently.