27 May 2006

Its been a quiet week and stabbed by a heron!

Still my year list does not get any bigger. As afar as birding I have had a very quiet week. A couple of days ago I was on my way to walk my dog when I came accross a young Grey Heron on a busy road , I assume it had fallen from its nest as there is a heronry above the road. So I pulled up and went to move it which it did not appreciate at all. It was squawking and squawking at me and caught me a glancing blow on the back of my hand. I caught it around the middle and lifted it over a wall where I felt it would be safer. It was amazing how light it was for what looks like quite a big bird. I hope it wasn't predated over night.

On Thursday Carel Brest van Kempen, the Nature artist and blogger at Rigor Vitae posted the latest I and the Bird ina cartoon style. Go visit his I and the Bird #24 for the best posts from recent bird blogging. His cartoon of the Montagu's Harrier which I wrote about earlier is very clever.

This morning I was on duty at the RSPB Bird Hide on Belfast Harbour and there was little around until the tide turned at which point quite alot of gulls appeared. The Common Terns and Arctic Terns were congregating on their islands always a pretty site. Then out of the blue a peregrine dived and missed its prey to be followed a few minutes later by another successfull dive catching a poor unfortunate Dunlin .

This painting is by Martin Ridley his Wildlife Art Portfolio is here

21 May 2006

Bird Photography Websites and very wet here in Northern Ireland

Sometimes I despair on two occasions in the last three days I have written my latest blog to erase it by mistake without saving it.
Third time Lucky I hope.

I have been working very hard on my links site for Bird Photographers.I have been trawling the web for sites and then copying and pasting them into a database. I have well over three hundred now and am dividing them up by country. In time I will review each site. I would like to build the site into a reference site for other Bird Photographers to go to, to look for other peoples work. For now here are a couple that are well worth having a look at Alan Murphy from the USA and Markus Varesvuo from Finland.

Well my Bird List is not getting any longer I am at 137 and at the beginning of the year I had hoped to get to 200. I have my doubts whether I will succeed unless I start driving longer distances within Ireland. I could of course go and visit my sister in Scotland at her Cottage/B and B. She has nesting Ospreys within five miles and is only an hour or mores drive from The Rspb site at Lough Garten in Abernethy where I could possibly see Crested Tit,Scottish Crossbill and Capercaille. Or even go and stay in Suffolk with my brother in law who isnt far from Minsmere where I could increase my list considerably Bittern, Avocet etc. I was volunteering today at RSPB Belfast Harbour and I met a guy called Ivan who happenned to be a boyfriend of a friend of a very good friend of mine;its a small world. Ivan reckoned I would probably have difficulty getting to 200 especially as I had dipped at least five or six birds recently. He's probably right.

In the last week we have had alot of rain for Northern Ireland especially in May.(Depressing) In the past I reckon May is the best month of the year in Ireland. Now where I do alot of my birding is at the Castle Island Hide on the Quoile Pondage and in the last week the water level has risen to the highest Ive seen it and in doing so has destroyed
two Gt Crested Grebe nests and two Coots nests and those are the ones I have spotted. The Dept of Environment and Heritage Service(DoE) , in my opinion , run the reserve very poorly when it comes to the bird breeding season. The Quoile Pondage has a barrage at the end of it which is controlled by sluices. All it would take is the DoE and the Water service to liase and keep the water at a certain level. Thats Government departments for you nobody with any balls to make decisions until its too late. it would also probably take two years of meetings to make a decision.

Here's to better weather next week.

17 May 2006

House Martin evicted by House Sparrow (Story has a happy ending)

136. Carrion Crow
137. Arctic Tern

On April 21st I wrote in my blog here that I was really happy that our resident housemartin had returned from Africa. Well within the week a House Sparrow had taken over the nest. Infact every evening I reckoned that the Sparrow and Housemartins were sharing the nest but then it became obvious that the Housemartins had been usurped, much to my annoyance. I was saddened that they had come all this way to be evicted. Subsequently I have seen housemartins around but not as much.I thought that they must have moved to the farm that is adjacent to our house. Well I was mowing the lawn yesterday at the back of the house and I observed a Housemartin fly up into the eaves above an outdoor light and there was a new nest. It made my day. It is amazing with birding how little things like that absolutely make your day.

The weather today has been wet and miserable and as I was going to Belfast I thought I well I will pop into the hide on Belfast Harbour Estate. There wasnt alot to see today compounded by the fact that when I tried to photograph some Arctic Terns ( The first I had seen this year) I remembered I had left the battery in the charger at home. Doh! Anthony McGeehan did a very good job of explaining the differences between the Common and Arctic Terns to David (Todays Volunteer at the hide) and myself. There is no doubt in my mind that to watch birds with a very experienced birder can only improve ones own bird recognition, especially as in Anthony's case the knowledge is passed on so expertly. (This blog will soon be called The Anthony McGeehan Fan Club Blog!!)

Sometimes on Bird Forum there are really interesting threads and today I found a link to this bird identification quiz on a Bavarian website , which is in many languages including english. I am hooked. Try it if you know your European birds.

15 May 2006

I dipped a Little Ring Plover but I did see an amazing display by a Peregrine.

135. Red Legged Partridge.

Well I looked out of my living room window and there were two hares.The Irish hare only occurs in Ireland – it is a sub-species of the mountain hare which occurs in the rest of the UK. The Irish hare is a native species with a russet brown coat, long ears with black tips and eyes set high in the head, which gives it a wide field of view for evading predators. Irish hares occur in a wide range of habitats, including lowland raised bogs, blanket bog, grasslands and sand dunes. In my case grassland. This is the first time this year I have seen them in the field. As I was looking at them with my lovely lightweight Leica 10 *25's I noticed two Red Legged Partridge walking directly behind them, neither seemed concerned with each other.

On flightline there was a message that a little ringed plover had been seen at the RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve so I popped upto Belfast for 11'o'clock. The Hide was closed until 1.00pm and as there were quite a few birders hanging around I opened up and stayed until the afternoon volunteer arrived. I am very glad I did. We couldnt find the Little Ringed Plover but were entertained massively by a Peregrine diving into the flocks of Common Terns, Black Tailed Godwit and Dunlin. It caused absolute mayhem. It was unsuccessful and would fly quite high over the reserve before diving back down again. This carried on for five minutes and was very spectacular. Meanwhile the godwits were flying in circles but increasing their altitude to get out of the diving range.
The Peregrine photos are a bit too far for my 400mm lens and I had great difficulty tracking it. It then flew of towards The Harland and Wolff Giant cranes.

I met a few new birders to me a couple of Ian's and George Gordon who runs Flightline so efficiently. Georgetold me about the differences in spotting a Bar Tailed Godwit to a Blacktail Godwit. I saw a bartail at the far side of the reserve which I couldnt really identify apart from the fact it looked like a godwit. One of the main things to look out for is the tibia length. It is shorter in a bartail as opposed to a blacktail . Now to demonstrate my observation skills. After I left Belfast I stopped in the Castle Island Hide on the way home where there was another birder who mentioned Black Tailed Godwit on the far side of the pondage. So I regaled him with the differences of the two types of Godwit that I had just learnt and he said " I know I told you in the hide in Belfast"!!!!!! Well George it was nice to meet you and I will try to remember you the next time. Just make sure you are wearing the blue hat.

13 May 2006

A sad tale about Ringed Plover and "I and the Bird"

134. Garganey Anas Querquedula

To start with I saw two male Garganey this afternoon at the Quoile Castle Island Hide. They are fairly scarce and this was the first time I have seen them in the wild. On Flightline ( 02891 467408 ) The Northern Ireland Birdwatchers Association's Rare Bird Alert there had been a number of sightings in the last 48 hours but none at the Quoile. Flightline works very well: You ring and listen to an answering machine with the latest sightings and then if you have a sighting you leave a message afterwards.

I have been out to Killard with the dog nearly everyday recently and was glad to come across a Ringed Plover nest with four eggs in it on wednesday. They are incredibly difficult to see and I made a mental note of its relation to a bit of flotsam.It was situated just above the high tide line on the beach. Well the following day I went out and there were two eggs left in the nest Can you see them? I doubt it. Here they are at 10 times magnification. Well I went out again today and sadly there are footprints absolutely straight through the nest and the remains of the eggs. It doesnt look as though the two foot tracks stopped or even noticed what they had done!!
I do think that the Dept of Environment and Heritage Service ought to cordon off this small section of the beach during the breeding season to give these birds a helping hand as Killard is designated as a ASSI (Area of Special Scientific Interest)

This week I am part of the I and the Bird Blog Carnival
being hosted by Bird DC . For those of you that are not aware what a blog carnival is. Here is a description courtesy of "I and the Bird".

What is a carnival?

A Carnival is a periodic presentation of excellent blog writing, selected and submitted by the authors themselves. The first carnival, Carnival of the Vanities, sought to showcase posts that bloggers felt were their very best, which is why such a collection can be called a vanity. Subsequent carnivals have developed in the same spirit, but are usually focused on a particular theme. The one that has influenced me the most has been the Tangled Bank, a carnival for science, medicine, and natural history bloggers. Other successful examples include Carnival of the Capitalists (business, marketing, finance, economics, capitalism), The Skeptic’s Circle (critical thought, myth debunking), Grand Rounds (medical blogging), and Philosopher’s Carnival (philosophy, natch.) A comprehensive list of current carnivals can be found at Blog Carnival, Conservative Cat, and the TTLB ÜberCarnival.

One of the defining traits of a carnival is that the responsibility (some call it honor) of being the host rotates. Each installment is edited by a different blogger and hosted on that person’s blog. Though hosting a carnival can be a lot of work, most bloggers find the experience quite satisfying. The potentially dramatic increase in traffic doesn’t hurt either.

What makes I and the Bird different from other carnivals?
At long last, bird bloggers have a carnival to call our very own. I and the Bird is a compendium of blog writing about birds, specifically some form of bird watching.

When is the carnival?
I and the Bird is published every other Thursday. If there wasn't a new one last Thursday, expect one this Thursday. Of course, we have contributors from all over the world, so time differences may shift the publishing time significantly.

Still working on the Bird Photography Link. Click on under construction and it will take you to the basic site.

10 May 2006

Birds do make their nests in strange places!

I was again at the hide today on the Quoile trying to take photos of Common Terns, not an easy job, before meeting my wife at her workplace in Killyleagh for lunch. She works for Irish Spars and Rigging a company that makes boat covers and masts and rigging for yachts. In one of the sheds where they make templates for the covers a Blackbird has decided to build a nest on one of the display covers. This is in a room where the window is always open and for five days a week there can be as many as four people working there.It is totally unconcerned as to the comings and goings of the employees. Lets hope she successfully fledges her young.

I received my quarterly copy of the Wildfowl and Wetlands the membership magazine of the WWT today. They are celebrating 60 years of conservation. They have a good history with geese or ducks that have fallen close to extinction of breeding them in captivity and releasing them back into the wild. For example the Svalbard Barnacle Goose were down to about three hundred birds in the late forties, but with legal protection in1949 and the establishment of a reserve at Caerlaverock in 1957 the numbers recovered to about 2500 in the sixties. It wasnt until the WWT moved in on the reserve and managed the reserve more efficiently that the numbers hold fairly steadily at 25000 now.

8 May 2006

Most Beautiful Birds meme

The most beautiful birds meme, which was started by John at A DC Birding Blog

The rules are simple: Post a list of the 10 birds you consider most beautiful on your blog; you may limit the list to the ABA area (continental United States and Canada) or use a geographic area of your choice. Mark birds you have seen with an asterisk. Tag 3 bloggers to keep it going. Well as I live in Northern Ireland I am going to post only birds found in Northern Ireland.

Arctic Tern
Grey Heron
Brent Goose

I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

7 May 2006

A bit of a Dilemma

133. Blue Winged Teal

I was at the hide on the Quoile when a local birder had a text saying there was a Blue Winged Teal at Castle Espie. Castle Espie is the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust's centre in Northern Ireland. So a rarity has made its way into a collection of rare ducks!!!!

Anyway I went there and it was showing well No rings, No clipped wings. and Castle Espie doesnt have any Blue Winged Teal in its collection.

However it didnt feel the same as seeing it on an open piece of water, the fact that it had landed in a collection rather spoiled it for me. My dilemma is whether to tick it or not. I think I will still tick it for insurance in case it is ratified so its my 133'rd bird this year.

In addition to my blog, and as I am very keen on Bird Photography , I am now working on a seperate page of links to Bird Photographers around the world. Its a slow process of putting html code round the various websites. I am upto 350 sites so far. I would like to make it one of the largest link sites in the birding world. So if you are a Bird photographer send me a website address to pluvius@hotmail.co.uk and I will put it into the links.

4 May 2006

Should one interfere with nature?

132. Manx Shearwater Puffinus Puffinus

Today I went to the Castle Island Hide on the Quoile and it was blowing a gale directly at the hide. When I opened the hide windows I couldnt keep the scope still enough to use it efficiently. So there wasnt a great variety of birds to see, apart from 100's of swifts.I started counting and when I got to a hundred I decided it was too difficult to continue,I would say there were three times as many. There were a few lapwing on the far shore amongst the black headed gulls as well as about twenty common terns.

However immediately below the hide there was a female mallard with twelve of her ducklings scampering over the mud/cropped reed bed.Unfortunately I had left the camera at home so no cute photos.She was moving away from the hide into some reeds when a Hooded Crow just started to dive bomb the ducklings much to the females dismay. The female started flying at the hoodie to try and stop it and was joined by another female mallard yet the crow continued and one of the ducklings was beginning to look the worse for wear. I couldnt watch any more and opened a hide window and clapped my hands and shouted at it. It immediately flew off across the pondage.

When I got back into the car I was wondering whether I should have interferred or not.At the end of the day the crow has as much right to its food source as the Mallard has to hers.I did it purely out of sentimentality. Was I right or wrong tell me what you think please.

Later on I took the dog out to Killard and for a while I sat and watched out towards the Isle of Man at the passing seabirds. There were Gannets,Red throated Divers, Guillemots, Terns too far away to be identified probably Sandwich. Gulls of various description and quite far out Manx Shearwater's were gliding over the waves up and down banking this way and that. One moment a dark body the next the white belly and flanks showing in the sunlight. Lovely birds.Its a shame they dont come closer into shore apart from at night. They are also very long lived birds. At the Copeland Bird Observatory off the coast of Co.Down Northern Ireland they recaptured one that was 49 years old and one of the oldest birds ever ringed. Click on the Observatory website there is a good deal of info about the Shearwater.

3 May 2006

Is this a Sanderling