30 Oct 2006

A few Bird and other Photographs that I have taken in the last week

No new birds

I came home from work on friday and as I walked into the house I saw a Sparrowhawk sitting on the hedge just to the left of my bird feeders. I crawled along the floor and grabbed my camera and raised myself very slowly and took about fifty photos before to my horrorI realised that the memory card was in the card reader. I crawled back grabbed it and thank god it was still there. They were taken through double glazed windows so could have been better but nice to get the shot anyway.

On Saturday I went after work upto Donegal to stay weekend with my parents. My mother had stayed the night before nearby so I picked her up and went and showed her the Belfast Harbour Reserve Hide which I think she was suitably impressed with. The tide was high and so alot of birds on reserve; nothing outstanding. Even though I probably missed the Green Wing Teal in eclipse plumage photographed here by Derek Charles The following day.It has been around for about a week so far.

We arrived in Donegal mid afternoon having driven through pretty unpleasant weather to find it a lovely afternoon. In my parents garden there were goldcrest, long tailed tits and a Mistle thrush protecting a rowan tree full of berries and very noisy it was too.In the spring we have a treecreeper that nests and the goldcrests also nest in their beautifully made nests. Its a lovely garden with a great view of Lough Salt Mountain. When I was walking around garden I found a Boletus edulis I think (Not going to try it though)

On sunday I decided that I was going to try and see Golden eagle and Dipper as I havent seen them this year yet. Glenveagh Estate nearby has some Golden Eagles that have been released into the wild. I have yet to see one though. The last time I saw one was about four years ago in the Outer Hebrides out beyond Amhuinnsuidhe Castle and it was brilliant it flew fifty yards away from the car and paralleled me for over a mile. Yet again camera in boot of car.

I drove the road over Lough Salt Mountain and took a picture of the View Donegal is a beautiful County sadly now blighted by excessive development of holiday homes built in totally inappropriate areas. The percentage of housing in Donegal owned as holiday homes by people from Northern Ireland is very high.

Well I didnt see any eagles or Dippers so will have to try again. The only bird I photographed was a Hooded Crow

After work today I went out to the reserve in Belfast weather was very overcast and took photos of juvenile black headed gull and a rook.

Afterwards I went home and picked up dog and as I was getting into car to go to Killard this Grey wagtail that has been around for a few weeks landed fairly close by. Infact it seems to live on a car in the drive and is covering the wing mirrors with p--h!

Went out to Killard which makes Pickle extremely happy and was photographing a Grey Plover at some distance. When the plover and the surrounding waders exploded in all directions as a Merlin dropped into where they had been standing. Then an oystercatcher came into land just behind it
before the Merlin took off again Now if someone had asked me for a photo of a Merlin I would have thought the chances of success were remote. I was on a real high after that and the only other photo I took was of a distant Pink Footed Goose.

24 Oct 2006

Sometimes its the smallest things that can make your day. Goldcrest

No new birds for list.

I went down to Castle Espie today to buy a bird feeder. Castle Espie is where the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust is based in Northern Ireland a bit further up Strangford Lough to where I live. Many moons ago it was owned by some of my forbears.

I decided to have a look first of all from the bird hides at the Brent Geese as although I have seen a few since they returned from the Arctic I havent seen them in any great number. Well they were there in their hundreds quite along way out. I love their sound infact during the later months they come down to the bay in front of my house and if I have my window open at night I can hear them quite clearly. A nice sound to be lulled to sleep.

On the way back to the centre a Goldcrest landed in the bush right beside me. It then started flitting its way up a branch straight towards me so I put my finger on the tip of the branch hoping it would come up onto my finger and then hand. Well it stopped a centimetre away from my finger before flying off to some teasels nearby. Did I have my camera? No it was on the kitchen table. I sometimes think when one goes birding its instants like these that can make your day. Here is a poor photo of one I took earlier in the year It is the smallest bird in Europe.

I have recently been getting fairly bored of filling my feeder with sunflower hearts every single day due to heavy demand so the reason I went to Castle Espie was to buy a giant feeder, which hopefully will not need replenishing quite so regularly. I always feel guilty if I dont fill the feeders. Anyway this one weighs a ton when its full of seed.

When I got home there was this very pretty and elegant Grey Wagtail sitting on the car. I have heard it a few times in the last week so quite nice to make visual contact.

21 Oct 2006

Handbook of the Birds of the World

No new birds for the list.

I have just bought Volume 3 of this Handbook by Lynx Edicions. It weighs just under 10lb!!!! This is the first work ever to illustrate and deal in detail with all the species of birds in the world. So far they have published 11 of 16 Volumes with the 16th due out in 2011. It is filled with amazing photos and beautiful colour plates by artists such as Ian Lewington. The reason I bought Vol 3 is that it covers 577 species from 30 families, beginning with Hoatzin and ending with the Alcidae (Auks) including the Laridae (Gulls) and waders . The format follows that established in the first two volumes. The reader is first introduced to each family, and then detailed accounts of every species in that family follow. Every aspect has been well thought through so the book is both practically set out as well as being visually pleasing. I am particularly impressed with the text that accompanied each of the stunning photographs. I also like the short bibliography at the end of every species account for its practical application for those seeking to read further. There are more than 10,000 references used. I have many hours of reading ahead of me especially of birds that I have never heard of or seen before.

This afternoon I went for a short walk out at Killard with the hound! and there wasnt alot around apart from two Grey Plover one of which I think lives most of the year here as I have seen it on the same area of beach at all times of the year in both summer and winter plumage.

18 Oct 2006

I looked most of the summer for one and then two appear on the hedge in front of the house.

No New Birds for the list.

I got home from work yesterday and looked out of our sitting room window at the bird feeders which I have positioned in a hedge and they were humming with Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Blue tit, Dunnock, House sparrow. Infact there were so many birds that it seemed to be attracting more and more in. There were two goldcrests right below the feeders and a couple of Bullfinches arrived and then my eye was attracted by a vivid yellow ( Ah I thought Canada Warbler) no sadly not, but in my mind just as good it was a Yellowhammer and then I noticed that there were a pair. I had been looking for them for weeks and weeks in the summer before I found one. So to find another within a few metres of the house was a real buzz. Especially as they are in a marked decline here in Northern Ireland see here

16 Oct 2006

Another Rare American Vagrant.

159. White-Rumped Sandpiper

On Saturday I had a text from Derek Charles saying that he had seen two White Rumped Sandpipers on the outer Ards Peninsular at a place called Cloghy.Click on Image for larger picture. I was exhausted after the week and went home after work to bed, for most of the afternoon. I was hoping they would be there on Sunday. Sunday came and went with very little birding done. I picked up my new to me but old VW passat estate with 100k miles on it. As I drive around six hundred miles a week it was costing me a small fortune in petrol in my Subaru so had to change to a more economical diesel. At least I will be getting 600 miles to a tank as opposed to 350.

I listened to flightline at about three am this morning and they were reported to be still there. After work I went home and received a text from Anthony to say they were there this morning. So I headed down to Strangford to catch the ferry across to Portaferry While I was on the ferry I read up about the W-R Sandpiper and looked at illustrations. Anthony also rang me and gave me a good description.

I then drove over to Cloghy and the road was being dug up right alongside the shore so I parked up beyond the diggers and wound down the window looked at the first bird that caught my eye and blow me it was the White-rumped Sandpiper. Photo by Derek Charles
At this stage it was only 20-30 feet from me. I got my telescope out to really learn about the detail of the bird. Then I thought I would phonescope it; Not to be! at the moment I put phone to scope digger revved its engine and bird flew off and landed a few hundred yards away amongst about twenty Dunlin and Thirty Ringed Plover. I had great difficulty picking it out from then on. Not helped by the fact a Kestrel flew overhead a couple of times putting them all to flight. There was a nice Bar Tailed Godwit on the beach as well.

I then went to Ballyquintin Point National Nature Reserve.Wild, windswept and remote, Ballyquintin Point forms the southern tip of the Ards Peninsula. It lies on a low, exposed, rocky coastline consisting of small promontories, bays, inlets and islands. The point is formed by a raised beach of shingle and cobble stones, gently sloping inland to low cliffs. Such deep banks of raised beach shingle, vestiges from the last ice-age, are found nowhere else around the Ulster coast.

Thin soils support only sparse, dry grassland which briefly comes to life in May and June with a colourful display of wild flowers. Patches of low-growing burnet rose flower profusely from May to July and produce their unusual, purple hips soon after. Curious wind-dwarfed blackthorn scrub survives on the exposed cobbles, barely twelve inches high. The undisturbed cobbles on the surface are covered in an intriguing patchwork of lichens, in shades of grey and sometimes yellow, resembling an ancient map. Pockets of saltmarsh nestle amongst the mosaic of rocky outcrops and shingle towards the shore.

Gorse or whin provides excellent cover and nesting opportunities for stonechats, whitethroats and linnets. The point is a good spot to see Irish hares, which feed on the grassland and along the shoreline. Migrant butterflies such as Red Admirals cross the Irish Sea and can be abundant here in some years.

Well bizarrely I have lived within five miles as the crow flies of this spot (see map above) for sixteen years and have never ever visited . I will now be going more regularly what a brilliant place. I saw Stonechat, Magpie, linnet, Wren, Robin, Goldfinches and a Sparrowhawk popped up over this hedge right in front of me. It saw me and almost did a back flip back over the hedge in shock. All in all I had a great afternoon.

13 Oct 2006

I finished early and thought I would try for Buff Breasted Sandpiper and American Golden Plover.

I have had a bad week at work with my panini and ciabatta sealer breaking down. I have been putting in 10-12 hour days trying to sort it out which is not good when you do a six day week! Anyway I had done alot of preparation for this morning and I finished early. So I decided to head upto Limavady to the Myroe Levels. If you click on the google map it comes up on a page to itself.
There have been regular reports of 2500 Golden Plover and 4-5 Buff Breasted Sandpipers and an American Golden Plover. These have been on land that Emerald Lawns create their turf from. So basically acres and acres of lawn which migratory and over wintering birds love.

I left Belfast at 9.00 and drove the 65 miles to Castle Rock on the Northern Coast of Northern Ireland. I went to the sea front and saw some Cormorants and Common Gulls but best of all about thirty yards offshore three Red throated Divers. I adult and 2 Juveniles. They looked really good in the light with the red throat standing out in the light.
Then I headed down to the Myroe Levels which I hadnt been to before and I ended up at the Magilligan Prison, obviously wrong turning. I did eventually find where I wanted to go but was very alarmed when I saw a man on a mini tractor mowing the lawns and at the opposite side of the lawn about fifty Golden Plover. Not quite the 2500 I was expecting!!! Anyway I met another birder Jeff Campbell and I followed him at a distance as he went further down a sea wall . This wasnt emerald lawn territory but other forms of agriculture. In the next field there were 24 Whooper Swans ( My favourite type of swan) 2 Pink Footed Geese hundreds of Common Gulls and Hundreds of Starlings. Then I moved on round to another field where there were a few hundred Golden Plover and about a hundred Lapwing. In their midst I thought I spotted something different however it wasnt the Buff Breasted Sandpipers but a couple of Ruff which look similar but bigger. Jeff told me that the bulk of the Golden Plover were nearby in a ploughed field. He also mentioned the Dowitcher that had been on the River Bann down from CastleRock and showed me how to get there on my map.

So I left the levels and went to the ploughed field. No sooner had I got my scope out than a police helicopter appeared and the birds all took off and after ten minutes they still hadnt returned so i headed off to the River Bann to find the Dowitcher (Another American vagrant). Plan sadly did not work out as I arrived at high tide and not a bit of mud was showing!! So i dipped on everything I went upto see.

I have been thinking of going to see the Canada Warbler which has been found in Co Clare.It is only the second record of this warbler coming to the Western Paleartic and probably Irelands biggest twitch. With many birders from England coming to see it. There were reports of 130 people seeing it at one time. I dont know if I would like all that attention. I also dont think I have got to that stage of twitching just yet but I can foresee that I might do and then I will regret not going to see it. C"est la Vie.

1 Oct 2006

Migration Birding in Donegal and meeting Ian Wallace of "Beguiled by Birds" Fame.

157. Great Skua
158. Redstart

This weekend Anthony McGeehan had invited me to stay the night in Malinbeg Co Donegal where he was going to be staying for ten days with Ian Wallace "The Grand Old Man of British Birding".
( Ivan Quail, Ian Wallace and Anthony McGeehan.)
I set off after work on saturday morning to Donegal. I firstly decided to drop in on my parents who live not far from Letterkenny for lunch as my father was suffering from a bad back and my mother from an agonising ankle. As I walked in the door she was sitting with a bag of frozen peas on it! to reduce the swelling I was told. So I laid out the lunch (Generally Biscuits and Cheese and chutney followed by a yoghurt) . The talk was mainly about my impending weekend and the trials and tribulations of the North West Pet Rescue a charity of which my mother is a co-founder. Even during lunch a call came in about a starving collie which my mother went off to collect. I on the otherhand drove another seventy five miles to the south west point of Donegal.

I arrived in Malinbeg at about three thirty and Anthony was sitting in the porch sea watching. (The house is very conveniently situated looking straight out to sea at RathlinO'Birne Island) I had a cup of tea and then we were off . First of all we went a bit further down the main street of Malinbeg to what Anthony calls the "Magic Garden". It is a small garden with fuchsia, apple trees a few windblown sycamores.In this garden over the last ten years Anthony and others have seen the following rarities:
Pied Flycatcher
Melodious Warbler
Barred Warbler
Yellow Browed warbler
Common Rosefinch
Ortolan Bunting
Ring Ouzel
Lesser Whitethroat
Turtle Dove
Reed Warbler
Garden Warbler
A nice patch list considering I have only seen four of the above. Anthony and Ian Wallace have been coming to this area for over ten years and have given names to many of the gardens in Malinbeg, Malinmore and Glencolumkille as a way of explaining where they are going. There is Kitty,s, Voodoo(named because of a strange doll in the window of the house),Priest,Hostel and various others. Our next stop was Kitty's in Malinmore where you climb over a fence and sit in the back of very overgrown garden looking at a bunch of small sycamore trees.A good start was the goldcrest flitting around.Then we went up onto the headland that leads down to Rocky point. There were about thirty Golden Plover flying around and settling quite close by as well as a flock of about fifteen red legged partridge disappearing into the distance. The headland is in reality a shallow turf bog. We put up a lovely Irish Hare very dark in colour. We then went down to the cliffs edge where Anthony had made a hollow in the rocks so that you can seawatch without being blown off the cliff. As we were looking out to sea he said theres a "Bonxie" and sure enough a Great Skua {Catharacta skua-The great skua is an aggressive pirate of the seas, deliberately harrassing birds as large as gannets to steal a free meal. It also readily kills and eats smaller birds such as puffins. Great skuas show little fear of humans – anybody getting close to the nest will be repeatedly dive-bombed by the angry adult. These birds migrate to the northernmost isles of the UK from their wintering grounds off the coasts of Spain and Africa. At a distance they look stout and dark and show white wing flashes in flight.} flying low over the waves.As it was a fair way out I thought I would change from using the 7 by 42 to 10 by 25'sbinoculars and I couldnt get back on it. Anyway new bird for list and life. We then made way back up headland past some small stones and rocks where AM has put out seed to keep the likes of lapland and snow buntings feeding when they drop in.He had also seen Dotterel out at Rocky point. We returned to house at about seven.

I was then introduced to Ian Wallace. Ian is a writer and an artist. He has been observing birds for more than a half century, he was a former editor of " British Birds" magazine, a former Chairman of the British Birds Rarities Committee and a founding contributor to the "Birds of the Western Palearctic". A real character he turned out to be.
I had bought his book and thoroughly enjoyed it especially the artwork and consequently my impression of him was totally different to the reality. I sort of thought he would be very professorial so the scottish accent completely threw me. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in birds or birding in the British Isles.

Ivan Quail was also staying who I knew from back in Belfast. Well I had told them that I was cooking dinner for my payment for coming to stay. So I raced into the kitchen and cooked their dinner.
Starter : Tomato and Buffalo Mozzarella Salad
Main: Roast fillet of Beef, Horseradish Mash, Baby Carrrots and Mixed leek and Cabbage.
Dessert : Rhubarb and Vanilla Yoghurt

4 Bottles of Wine later between us all I may add and having got up 20 hours previously I conked out, but not before Ian had conducted the days log. This he does every day whether it be Birds, Insects, Animals or Marine Life.

We all got up at around seven thirty to find there was a power cut so tea was made by boiling water over a fire hastily made by Ian and Anthony while Ivan was seawatching from the porch. He had a peregrine in the scope when I had a look through it, it was sitting on some rocks in the sea.

We then headed out to the golfcourse in Malinmore where we dropped Ian who was walking over to Glencolumkille. Ivan, Anthony and I walked out onto the golfcourse to see some of the migrants coming in off the sea. Meadow Pipits, Reed Bunting, Solitary Greenfinch. Anthony is exceptional at bird Identification by sound and he kept on saying can you hear that thats a xxxxxxx. I could barely hear at all. I had had a bath recently put my head under the water and the pressure must have pushed the wax deep into my ear and completely blocked it. On the weekend it was the one thing that put a shadow over it my lack of hearing. Afterwards we made our way down to the centre of Glencolumkille and Anthony and I birded through the centre of the village. A very graceful and pretty Grey Wagtail, lots of Robins a few tits and not alot else. At eleven we all met up at the firestation and Ian had seen a Yellow Browed Warbler below the hostel. So we made our way up there to see if we could catch sight of it. We spent at least an hour to no avail.

We then headed back to the house for lunch where Ian cooked a late breakfast. During lunch he was sitting outside and shouted Dolphins so I raced outside and there was a pod of 25-35 Bottle Nosed Dolphins heading up the sound. What a great sight.

After lunch we then went back to Malinmore and checked out Kitty's Garden where a few minutes before I had to leave on my three and a half hour journey home we all simultaneously spotted a female Redstart it was my first and I drove home absolutely chuffed to bits. Thankyou Anthony, Ian and Ivan for a most enjoyable weekend.