30 Mar 2006

The Terns are back.

107. Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis

I walked out to Killard again today and the tide was as high as I had seen it there. Many of the offshore outcrops were completely covered consequently not a great deal of birdlife. Quite alot of herring and black headed gull sitting out on the water,a few brent geese of which two were ringed .Both right legs had a B and on the left leg H and I on the other. I will have to ring Kerry Mackie at the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust up at Castle Espie to see where they were ringed. I was mainly trying to spot any smaller migrants in the gorse and bramble bushes on top of the headland to no avail apart from loads of meadow pipits and skylarks all singing away.

Then I heard the unmistakeable sound of a tern and looked up to see a Sandwich Tern obviously back from the west African coast. The Sandwich tern is a very white tern, with a black cap on its head, a long black bill with a yellow tip and short black legs. In flight it shows grey wedges on its wings tips and it has a short forked tail. It always gives me a buzz to see the birds that have gone away over the winter coming back.

I am going to have to get a recorder so that I can record some of the bird sound that I hear as I am not brilliant on bird identification from sound, I know a certain amount but still could do with learning alot more. So anybody reading this with any information on cheap bird recording instruments please let me know.

28 Mar 2006

Migrants continued!

106. Sand Martin Riparia riparia

Today I saw the first of the new year's migrants. A Sand Martin( Riparia Riparia) was flying over the Quoile in front of Castle Island Hide. I felt that spring had arrived; well not quite it was blowing a north westerly gale and it was only 7 degrees and felt very chilly out. I hope it survives the next week as the forecast is very poor with rain and much colder temperatures than normal.We are having the coldest March for twenty years.

Sand martins are the smallest European hirundines (martins and swallows), with dark brown upper parts and dark under wings contrasting with otherwise pale under parts divided by a distinctive dark chest bar. Agile fliers, feeding mainly over water, they will perch on overhead wires or branches. They are gregarious in the breeding season and winter. Over the past 50 years the European population has crashed on two occasions as a result of drought in the birds' African wintering grounds.Both males and females make a horizontal tunnel 45-90 cm long with a chamber at the end. Suitable sites may be used for years. New tunnels will be dug as the cliff collapses, or as old holes become too big (when they may be taken over by sparrows or starlings).

The white eggs, usually four or five, sometimes three to seven, are generally laid in late May or early June in a nest of feathers, grass and leaves. Incubation is by both parents once the last egg is laid, and lasts for about 14 days. All eggs hatch at the same time. The young are helpless and remain in the nest. They are bed by both parents and fledge when 19-24 days old. After fledging, they are dependent on the parents for about one week. Usually two broods are raised each summer.

The birds depart British Isles from late July to September. Most are thought to winter in the Sahel, the zone south of Sahara, where they feed in damp places that offer plentiful supplies of flying insects.

Eggs: 4-5
Incubation: 14-15 days
Fledging: 22 days
Maximum lifespan: 9 years
Length: 12cm
Wingspan: 26-29cm
Weight: 11-14g
UK breeding: 160,000 pairs
Source: Sand martin wildlife information leaflet (1998)

My favourite walking area Killard has a sandy bank where they nest each year and it is my intention to get some decent photos of them this year.

Blogging is definately not as easy as I thought. I started off with good intentions of doing this every day then my local exchange went out and now I realise I wont post every day unless something of interest comes up. At present I find birding a solitary experience and a good way to be on my own it definately isnt very family friendly. My children Jeremy and Charlie couldnt be less interested; even though on the way to a Ulster rugby match one of them noticed some tree creepers climbing a tree near the rugby ground before I did. I was pretty chuffed with them for noticing. Now Penny my wife is only interested in Horses definately not birds. I think I should have realised when I was on my honeymoon on the Mull of Kintyre when she asked me what the pheasant running across the track was!!! At the time(17 years ago) I thought have I made a big mistake, well seventeen years later it still annoys me that she isnt very interested in birds. C'est la vie.

24 Mar 2006

"MIGRATION" I will miss the Brent Geese but at the same time be happy that the Swallows will be arriving.

I am now counting the days until the Brent Geese that live in the bay in front of my house leave for their long journey to the Canadian Arctic Tundra ,via Iceland and Greenland.
Brent goose Branta Bernicla
Also known as Dark-bellied brent goose, Light-bellied brent goose,
A small, dark goose . It has a black head and neck and grey-brown back, with either a pale or dark belly, depending on the race. Adults have a small white neck patch. It flies in loose flocks along the coast, rather than in tight skeins like grey geese.

It is an Amber List species because of the important numbers found at just a few sites.

Where does it live? Well It breeds in the arctic tundra with shallow pools, usually near the sea., during the summer months of the Northern Hemisphere and then spends its winters on the Estuaries and shallow coasts with mudflats of the United Kingdom. The main concentrations of dark-bellied birds in the Wash, the North Norfolk coastal marshes, Essex estuaries, the Thames Estuary and Chichester and Langstone Harbours. Most light-bellied birds are found at Strangford Lough and Lough Foyle, N Ireland and at Lindisfarne in Northumberland.

They eat eel grass, which is the main component of their diet and they are filling up at present for their long flight back to their breeding grounds.

In 2002 I sponsored a goose in conjunction with the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust . The WWT put transmitters on 6 geese in Iceland and then followed their progress to the Arctic and then back again to Strangford Lough. (Here is their website project address www.wwt.org.uk/brent/brent_goose.asp)

For the last three years they have always left the bay in early april on exactly the same day as the Swallows arrive back from Africa . Swallows are very sensible escaping our cold damp winters.I sometimes wish I could do the same.

I have been unable to blog for the last few days as their was a problem with the local exchange. The problems of wanting broadband in rural areas. Today was the wettest of the year so far however I had tons of Goldfinches to my bird tables, a few siskins, loads of blue tits,great tits, greenfinches and coal tits. At one point I had five dunnocks and some were displaying by beating with one wing.

21 Mar 2006

RSPB "The Royal Society for Protection of Birds"

Today I offered my services as a volunteer to the RSPB in Northern Ireland.
I have offered to look after the hide on Belfast Lough from 9-1 on a Sunday morning. I have been up there on a Sunday morning a few times recently to be frustrated with the fact that it was closed. So hopefully I will start shortly. I am also going to apply for a job with the organisation as for the last fifteen years I have been involved in the catering trade in one way or another and I am tired of it now. I sometimes think why did I not get involved with an organisation like the RSPB when I left school.(At least it would have been involved with something I love. I guess its never to late to change direction.)

I visited the hide this afternoon and there were very few small birds as a male sparrowhawk had just paid a visit ;so they were all very sensibly in hiding. The weather was around 4 degrees but sunny and there were a number of black tailed godwit and ruff close to the hide, which in the sun were beautiful especially as one of the godwits was turning into summer plumage. I also met a number of other birders there,all very friendly and ready to let one look through their scopes or cameras. (If any of you are reading this it is much appreciated.)

I then went home and took Pickle out to Killard where I saw two more birds to my year list
104. Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria
105. Bar Tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica

20 Mar 2006

My Bird Books

As I said in a previous post the first book on Birds that I ever owned was
1. James Fishers Thorburn Birds followed by
2.Collins Pocket Guide to British Birds by Fitter and Richardson (May 1957 edition 5)
3.Collins Photo Guide Birds of Prey of Britain and Europe
4.Collins New Generation Guide Birds of Britain and Europe
5. Blokes and Birds Stephen Moss
6. The Reed Field Guide to New Zealand Birds Geoff Moon
7. Collins Field Guide Bird Songs and Calls
8. To see every Bird on Earth Dab Koeppel
9. Arrivals and Rivals; A birding oddity Adrian Riley

I have recently finished the book by Dan Koeppel about his father chasing all over the world to see about 8200 birds so far!!!! Quite an enjoyable read a bit boring in the first few chapters discussing his background and where he came from but then it gets more interesting. I have yet to read Arrivals and Rivals but will start tonight.

I dont think that I would be that obsessive, even though my dream in the future is to spend a year trying to photograph as many species as I can in a year.

Today I went on a First Aid Course which was quite interesting, however no time for birding :-( Now my wife is accusing me of spending too much time on computer and not allowing the children on it so will be back tommorrow.

19 Mar 2006

The main thing that bugs me when Birding. "LITTER"

I go birding all over Co.Down and the one thing that annoys me the most is the litter. Northern Ireland has a culture where everybody drops litter and doesnt care about it. This morning I went out to Killard again! I park the car and somebody has emptied his ashtray onto the grass patch that I park on: now I dont mind picking up the occasional piece but cigarette butts NO THANK YOU. The thing was it was a beautiful morning and this put me in a bad mood.

As I do my loop, with pickle, which is about 2.5 miles I came across an old Marks and Spencer salad pack and I thought I will pick that up on the way home. Then at the far end of the walk is a lovely beach called Ben Derg When I get to the beach there is tons of fishermans waste strewn along the tideline . Bits of nets, Buoys, Fishboxes, Rubber Gloves, Orange rope, Green rope , Blue Rope and you just know that it has all been chucked overboard by commercial fishermen. Not only do they rape the seas but they pollute it as well. When will they learn. God knows. ( Now I do like to eat fish but I also want to preserve them to some extent. I fear my grandchildren's children will not even know what Cod is.) Then one has to think what commercial fishermen are doing to this beautiful bird The Northern Royal Albatross ( I took this photo in New Zealand this time last year) The Royal Society for Protection of Birds is trying to inform fishermen on how to combat the problem of killing these birds when they longline you should visit this site www.savethealbatross.net/ for more information.

Sorry I digressed there for a while. So how do we combat litter I think the only answer is Education, Education and more Education. Children should be told the harm that it does to the environment every year until they leave school when they are 16/17/18. It should be drilled into them.

On my walk today I saw a solitary Gannet Morus Serrator feeding. To me the Gannet is a spectacular bird I just love sighting the black wing tips on the white body far out to sea. I once was out fishing for mackerel as a child and there were loads of Gannets diving right beside the boat it was thrilling to say the least. Time now for me to go to bed!

18 Mar 2006

Killard (My favourite local walk)

I go out to Killard every dayto walk my highly energetic dog "Pickle", its about eight miles from my house. In fact last year I would probably have gone for a walk there every day, except when I wasnt in the country. Killard is a Nature Reserve

Killard is situated to the south of Strangford Lough,it is surrounded by beautiful views of the Mourne mountains and to the east is the Isle of Man. Saint Patrick is said to have preached to the fishes here in 432 AD; Over the years it has been managed as a rabbit warren(Of which there a great many)and presently for grazing cattle. From 1952 to 1978, the flat top served as an RAF radar station, now included in the reserve. (Now completely overgrown)

As far as birds I have seen Meadow pipit, Rock Pipit, Skylark, Blackbird, Stonechat, Reed Bunting, Peregrine, Buzzard, Kestrel, Merlin, Sparrowhawk, Short eared Owl, Teal, Mallard, Widgeon, Red Breasted Merganser, Shelduck, Brent Goose, Greylag, Mute Swan,Grey Heron, Shag, Cormorant, Gannet, Fulmar, Little Grebe, Eider, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Sanderling Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Snipe, Curlew ,Whimbrel, Redshank, Greenshank, Arctic Skua, Great Northern Diver, Cuckoo, sandwich, Little and Common tern, Greater and Lesser Black backed Gulls, Black headed gull, Common and Herring Gull, Pigeon, Guillemot, Razorbill, Swift, Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin(They breed here) Wheatear, Linnet, Twite Raven, Magpie, Hooded Crow,Rook

The grassland flowers colour the landscape throughout the year. In late April and early May there are thousands of primroses, 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.

The banks in July and August are alive with butterflies. Dark Green Fritillary,Grayling,Large White,Meadow Brown,Painted Lady,Red Admiral,Ringlet,Small Heath,Small Tortoiseshell,Small White,Wall Brown,Common Blues, Meadow Browns.

Well today no increase in my list but I did watch two Shelduck mobbing a Buzzard for about ten minutes. They would both fly straight at the buzzard, he would drop a little height and they would go round for another pass unlike any mobbing I have ever seen. It was like watching a jumbo jet buzzing a hot air ballon the shelduck would fly at least 50 yards past before turning in large circle before coming back.

17 Mar 2006

The View from my house of Strangford Lough

This photo of island in better light from house. The brent geese are forming a circular group for protection, this usually happens when it is very windy for some reason.

I am very fortunate to live about 200 yards from the south shore of Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland (30 miles south of Belfast) and 5 miles from Downpatrick (Where St.Patrick is supposed to be buried; it being his day today!) I look due north towards Killyleagh. Strangford Lough is a sea inlet that emerged from under the melting ice-sheets of the Ice Age and is for the most part less than 10m in depth. There is a deeper Y-shaped channel (possibly an old river-valley or geological fault-line) up to 66 m deep which extends from the Narrows up the central portion of the Lough.

The surface of the bed and the indented shore of the Lough ranges from bedrock in areas with strong currents to fine mud in sheltered waters. The west shore has numerous islands typical of flooded drumlin topography.
The Lough contains extensive areas of mudflat and also sandflats (mainly at the northern end), with gravel, cobble, boulder and rocky shores as one moves further south. It also has areas of saltmarsh, the most extensive being in the Comber river estuary.

The water in the Lough is virtually fully saline except at the mouths of the two moderate-sized rivers, the Comber and the Quoile, and where several streams drain into it from the catchment of about 900 km² where it may be somewhat brackish.

The area has a mild climate with relatively low rainfall compared with other areas of Ireland, infrequent frosts and prevailing west to southwest winds.

Strangford Lough attracts vast numbers of wildfowl, waders, gulls and auks which overwinter on the Lough or stage here. Around 70,000 birds are present each winter. The Lough is an essential stop-over by these birds. July sees waders such as dunlin, turnstone, black and bar-tailed godwits. Autumn brings up to 15,000 Brent geese. Flocks of knot, dunlin, curlew, redshank and oystercatcher build up over the winter. Wildfowl such as wigeon and teal arrive from eastern Europe, whooper swans fly down from Iceland, while shelduck mass and rank across the sandflats. Breeding birds include sandwich, arctic and common terns, black-headed gulls, eider, mallard, merganser, canada geese, oystercatcher, ringed plover and cormorants.

This morning I dropped my wife in Belfast and made my way to the RSPB Bird Hide on Belfast Lough
where I was able to increase my list. There were 40+ linnets,reed buntings,1 goldcrest,1brambling,20 Blacktailed Godwit,loads of Teal,4 Red Breasted Merganser, 1 Green Winged Teal,1 Buzzard and innumerous Gulls,(Herring,Lesser and Greater Black Backed ,Common and Black headed) There was talk of a Caspian that had been seen the day before but to no avail. Paul Kelly was there from www.irishbirdimages.com.

2006 Bird List update

102. Linnet Carduelis cannabina
103. Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus Fuscus

16 Mar 2006

Why Peregrine's Bird Blog

Probably the most obvious reason of all I was called Peregrine. Well I was named Peregrine Pluvius Craig Nash; My father always wanted to be called Peregrine and consequently gave it to me.I use Craig there were too many times at school in the early years that I was called Penguin, which never amused me. You also may wonder about Pluvius. My grandfather heard news of my birth in the midst of a massive downpour and fatefully he said "Heres to Pluvius" Pluvius being the latin god of rain.

It was my grandfather who in 1967 gave me a book for my 5th birthday "Thorburn's Birds by James Fisher". It is a beautiful book full of Archibold Thorburn's bird illustrations.This set in motion my present love of the avian world.

Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935) is now recognised as an outstanding illustrator of animals and in particular of the birds of Western Europe. His four volume British Birds, first published in 1915-16,is a classic of ornithology. In this single-volume edition the 82 magnificent watercolour plates, notable not only for their high scientific accuracy and exactness of detail, but also for their distinction as works of art, depict over 400 species.

Well my list was extended by another four birds today

98. Gannet Morus bassanus
99. Great Northern Diver Gavia immer
100. Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla
101. Razorbill Alca torda.

I saw them at Ardglass Harbour .The kittiwake was accompanying a trawler on its way back to the harbour; diving backwards and forwards in front of the bow of the boat.It was blowing an easterly gale and pretty cold by our standards,my hands were freezing after half an hour with the binoculars. The scene was tinged with sadness as there were alot of police searching for the body of a fisherman that had died when his trawler sank in january just out from the harbour entrance. Two died that night and only one has been recovered.

15 Mar 2006

Bird List 2006

I have only really just discovered blogging and I think I should probably have started this on January 1st. So to get upto date I have decided to post all the birds I have seen to date this year. Then I will update as the year goes on. I have also decided that I am starting my life list as at 2006 . Any birds with a star would be presumed escapees and not be included to life list.

1. Rook Corvus Frugilegus
2. Great Tit Parus Major
3. Coal Tit Parus Ater
4. Blue Tit Parus Caeruleus
5. Dunnock Prunella Modularis
6. Brent Goose (Pale Bellied) Branta Bernicla
7. Oystercatcher Haematopus Ostralegus
8. Shelduck Tadorna Tadorna
9. Redshank Tringa Totanus
10. Starling Sturnus Vulgaris
11. Curlew Numenius arquata
12. Jackdaw Corvus monedula
13. Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
14. Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
15. Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
16. Robin Erithacus rubecula
17. Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
18. Hooded Crow Corvus corone cornix
19. Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
20. Blackbird Turdus merula
21. Fieldfare Turdus pilaris
22. Greenfinch Carduelis chloris
23. Lapwing Vanellus Vanellus
24. Pied Wagtail Motacilla yarrellii
25. Wren Troglodytes troglodytes
26. Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
27. Wigeon Anas penelope
28. Teal Anas crecca
29. Coot Fulica atra
30. Herring Gull Larus argentatus
31. Goldeneye Bucephala clangula
32. Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula
33. Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus
34. Greylag Goose Anser anser
35. Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
36. Blacktail Godwit Limosa limosa
37. Common Buzzard Buteo buteo
38. Black Headed Gull Larus ridibundus
39. Pochard Aythya ferina
40. Mute Swan Cygnus olor
41. Magpie Pica pica
42. Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
43. Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto
44. Great Black Backed Gull Larus marinus
45. Dunlin Calidris alpina
46. Purple sandpiper Calidris maritima
47. Turnstone Arenaria interpres
48. Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
49. House Sparrow Passer domesticus
50. Shoveler Anas clypeata
51. Snipe Gallinago gallinago
52. Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus
53. Barrows Goldeneye (Quoile YC) * Bucephala clangula
54. Common Gull Larus canus
55. Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
56. Raven Corvus corax
57. Mistle Thrush Turdus viscivorus
58. Stonechat Saxicola torquata
59. Meadow Pipit Anthus pretensis
60. Skylark Alauda arvensis
61. Red Breasted Merganser Mergus serrator
62. Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus
63. Scaup Aythya marila
64. Grey Plover Pluvialis squatarola
65. Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis
66. Siskin Carduelis spinus
67. Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus
68. Jay Garrulus glandarius
69. Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
70. Fulmar Fulmaris Glacialis
71. Woodcock Scolopax rusticola
72. Treecreeper Certhia familiaris
73. Twite Carduelis flavirostris
74. Greenshank Tringa nebularia
75. Peregrine Falco peregrinus
76. Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula
77. Redwing Turdus iliacus
78. Linnet Carduelis cannabina
79. Water rail Rallus aquaticus
80. Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus
81. Ruff Philomachus pugnax
82. Baikal Teal (RSPB Belfast Lough) Anas Formosa
83. Red Grouse Lagopus Lagopus scoticus
84. Goldcrest Regulus regulus
85. Pintail Anas acuta
86. Ruddy Duck (Oxford Island) Oxyura jamaicensis
87. Long Tail Tit Aegithalos caudatus
88. Guillemot Uria aalge
89. Brambling Fringilla montifringilla
90. Hawfinch (Inch Abbey) Coccothraustes coccothraustes
91. Little Egret Egretta garzetta
92. Kingfisher ( In Birmingham Airport!) Alcedo atthis
93. Eider Duck Somateria mollissima
94. Wood Duck * Aix Sponsa
95. Green Winged Teal Anas carolinensis
96. Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle
97. Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus

14 Mar 2006

I'm brand new to this blogging Lark

Went for a walk with Pickle(the working cocker spaniel ) to Killard,Co.Down Northern Ireland this morning around 8.30.
She put up a snipe almost immediately. The tide was going out and there were a good few brent geese
feeding on the shore line. Saw a group of about 30 goldfinches on the raised beach. The meadow pipits and the skylarks were in abundance. Over on the main beach there was a male red breasted merganser. As I walked around headland a female peregrine was flying low over coastline. Not long after a Whimbrel(First tick of the year) started calling.(Checked it out on my bird sounds cd when I returned home)

At home on the shores of Strangford Lough I have a bird feeder in front of the house where I feed niger seed, sunflower hearts, peanuts and fatballs. Very busy today Blackbird, Dunnock(2),Goldfinches(6), Blue Tits, Coal Tit, Chaffinches, Great Tit, Greenfinches, Robin and a very fat rat.(Now deceased) On the shore from the house there were 15 Shelduck and 100+ Brent Geese.