25 Jan 2007

A stunning day and a new bird for my Garden List ( Lesser Redpoll) and a nice surprise out at Killard.

Peregrine's Birding Facts: The Hoopoe lines its nest with animal excrement, I wonder whether this is how it got its name!

100. Knot
101. Whooper Swan
102. Lesser Redpoll
103. Skylark
104. Barn Owl
105. Whimbrel
106. Merlin

After work I stopped off at Castle Espie WWT centre with the idea of seeing a Little Egret but was unsucessful however I did see a large flock of Knot off one of the hides which was nice. They fly very close to each other almost as one. After Castle Espie I went to Island Hill which is right at the top of Strangford Lough to see if I could see the Egrets or even a Peregrine yet again lucked out but I did see about fifteen Whooper swans feeding on one of the fields.

On arriving home I walked into the house and immediately noticed a different bird on the nyjer feeder; my first impression at a distance was probably a siskin as I have yet to see them this year. But on closer examination it had a red patch on top of its head and slightly pink breast feathers. It was a Redpoll This was new to me at Myra Road so I was really pleased. It has subsequently visited regularly ever since.

It was such a stunning day cold , very clear blue skies that I decided to take the dog out to Killard. When I got there, there was a flock of Tree Sparrows in the hedgerows which was great as they are becoming quite scarce .

As I was walking round from the beach back towards the car I saw an Otter cavorting in the sea. I quickly took some long distance photos and decided to try and get closer to it. The main problem was that the most accesible piece of the seafront was directly in line with the sun and where I had last seen it. I waited for half an hour lying on my belly but no luck. I was very pleased to see it nevertheless as I havent seen one out there for a couple of years. I found two dead otters after a bad storm last year and it had been on my mind as to whether I would see them out there again. My disappointment at not seeing it again was tempered by the fact that a Great Northern Diver appeared about fifty yards out. Some days when you are birding it all seems to come together.

As I neared the car a male Stonechat was flying close by and I got some nice pictures of it on a lichen covered rock.

I am definately getting behind in writing up this blog. When I do not have time I quite often just write the title and then come back to it. Today its the 30th and I am catching up with last week. I have been extremely tired of late not helped by the fact that I took my youngest son Charlie to Dublin on friday evening to go and see a band called Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. It has probably one of the best Bass Guitar players in the World "Victor Wooten"
and as my son is mad keen on the bass and quite an accomplished player for a fourteen year old we had to go and see them.So I got up at 2.35am went to work finished work picked up Charlie drove two and a half hours to Dublin watched concert left Dublin at 11.45pm got to bed at 2.00am and got up again half an hour later to go to work. Which is the reason I have been unable to get settled down to blog without falling asleep!

Yesterday I was driving a couple of hundred yards from the house when I noticed alot of finches or so I thought on the telephone wires. I looked through my binoculars to find that there were fourty four Yellowhammer. Last year I spent ages looking for them with very little success and now they are on my doorstep in large numbers.

This morning at about three am I was driving to work and saw my first Barn Owl in Northern Ireland which gave me a nice start to the day. I am now heading back out to Killard.

Am back now and added a Merlin and a Whimbrel to the years list excellent!

20 Jan 2007

Cannon Netting Brent Geese (Missed Opportunity)

Peregrine's Birding Facts:Cormorants can dive to depths of 50 metres in their hunt for fish.

99. Red Legged Partridge

On Wednesday it was a beautiful afternoon and I decided to walk along the shore in front of the house As I got down to the shore there were some Brent Geese flying along including this deformed bird with a crick in its neck!! It's the second time I have seen this particular bird. As I progressed along the shore a Sparrowhawk flew by with Killyleagh castle in the background.

I then noticed a guy in a field with a walkie talkie which I thought a bit odd. He came over to me and then I clicked that this was one of the guys I had been out earlier last year cannon netting the Brent Geese at Murlough in April. He was one of the team that was made up with researchers from Queens University,WWT,and the Brent Goose research group. He warned me that in one of the fields to the left of my house there was some nets set up and to be aware of the bang!! I then asked him whether he had been doing it the previous day as a truck was driving along the road behind my house when there was an almighty bang and I had wrongly assumed that one of his tyres had burst. They had caught and ringed forty geese the day before.

I then made my way back to my house and crept upto a corner of a field overlooking the netting site. You can see the dummies and where the netting has been dug into the ground. Well I waited and waited but no geese I then looked over towards the island in front of the house and I realised why. They had decided on the island instead of the netting site.

The following day there was a massive storm with winds gusting to 80mph and in Dublin upto 100mph. In England ten people died in the storms. The bay in front of the house which is tidal is usually fairly calm had two foot waves. There were also alot of Brent flying left towards the field that had had the nets the previous day.They then landed exactly where the nets had been. A missed opportunity but I think the weather was not the best for cannon netting.Ah well theres always the next time! I then went for a walk out at Killard and saw twenty eight Purple Sandpipers all together. There is twelve in this picture and one Dunlin landing.

This afternoon Penny and I were going to Killard with the dog and as we turned out of our drive there was a covey of fifteen Red Legged Partridge running along the road. A nice boost to my day.

15 Jan 2007

A Lifer (Bonapartes Gull) and a nice afternoon at the Belfast Harbour Reserve.

Peregrines Birding Facts: The Red Breasted Merganser is one of the fastest flying birds. It can reach speeds of more than 40mph and may reach as high as 60mph.

92. Shag
93. Rock Pipit
94. Pink Footed Goose
95. Meadow Pipit
96. Glaucous Gull
97. Bonapartes Gull
98. Goosander

I was on duty yesterday afternoon at the Belfast Harbour Reserve. I open the hide at 1.00pm on alternate Sundays.I had just come from the Cafe where I work.As there had been a break-in the night before and I had to see if there was anything missing. Fortunately nothing was stolen never the less the window will have to be repaired. It turned out that there had been four break-ins in the local area that night.Pretty depressing really. So it was nice to get to the hide. There are generally four birders that turn up when I open. Two Philip's, an Ian and a Drew. I am afraid I dont know their surnames. Their nickname is the "Leica Boys". Anyway yesterday it was just the two Philip's so I made them a cup of tea or rather was ordered to put on the kettle the moment they arrived!!

They spotted a Glaucous Gull quite quickly,it was too far way for decent photos. I took the following images throughout the afternoon.
1. Reed Bunting
2. Robin
3. Magpie
4. Ruff

I had twenty three visitors in all aged from three to eighty three. It is fascinating meeting the people who come in. Some are quiet and barely talk at all. Then there was an oldish lady who came in who started pointing out various birds to her friend and describing what was what and one instinctively knew that she had been birding for a long time. When I pointed out one of the Green Wing Teal that had been found she knew exactly what she was looking for. She was trying to make her mind up as to whether to buy the excellent book on Gulls. Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America I said that she ought to yet she thought it a bit expensive.

Then there are other people who come in who really irritate me. The one who shows a great deal of interest but hasnt remembered what a bird looks like from the previous time when you pointed it out. On the whole they are a good group of people most of whom are interested in the hobby that I love.

There was talk of a 1st winter Bonapartes Gull up at Whitehead and as I havent seen one before I decided I would have a look the following day. So after work this morning I headed up to Whitehead to the promenade I got out of the car and saw another birder that I hadnt met before called Cameron videoing something and sure enough it was the Bonapartes right next to the harbour wall feeding on the tideline.(Another Lifer)

After spending quite a while lying on the harbour wall taking photos I thought as I was in the direction I would go over to the Ballycarry Bridge and hopefully pick up a Little egret for my list. It wasnt there but a female Goosander was. So I was pretty pleased with that considering I had tried a few times last year to see one to no avail.

10 Jan 2007

I and the Bird Edition No 40

I and the Bird

A Happy New Year and a warm welcome from Northern Ireland. I have been filled with trepidation as the hours approach publishing time.Thinking what approach I was going to take. All I can say is thank goodness I am not a journalist or an author that has to meet deadlines the stress would be too much for me! Well as I am a chef I have decided to have a food orientated edition.

Rob the Bird Chaser chooses his Top 10 Meals of the Year, Sorry Top 10 Birding Moments of 2006.Item no 3 is the bird that I would particularly like to see if and when I come to the States.

Kevin at Natural Visions went down to his local restaurant at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge as he had Been there Before While he was there he took some nice photos of Dunlin, Pintail and a Roseate Spoonbill.

Ben at NYC Nova Hunter was in Riverside Park with a Red Headed Woodpecker It looks as though it got a big mouthful!

Liza Lee from the Egret's Nest has been making her own meals for all her guests. Not many turned up. So she went to dinner at her in-laws (rather her than me :-) ) after A Day with the Birds.

Eddie from a Birdfreak Birding Blog got off to a flying start in the New Year. He even went out before Breakfast and saw a Red Tailed Hawk.

Tai Haiku from Earth, Wind and Water was thinking about having some poached venison for his dinner but decided he didn't want to Killdeer.

Well we know that Charlie from the bird blog with his own name doesn't eat any meat so he won't be having any Manky Mallards for dinner.

John from a DC Birding Blog watched a Peregrine tucking into a meal but the real highlight was the feeding Barnegat Harlequins.

Deb from The Sand Creek Almanac spent the first 36 hours of this year counting birds before eating a turkey to Floridacracker's recipe. She then said "The Birds I've seen this Year!"

Whereas Patrick of Hawk Owl's Nest fame has never seen a Barn Owl and spent the day searching for one. No success I'm afraid. Maybe he should have taken some Barn Owl treats.Well maybe not. I have never found mice to my taste.

Snail from a Snail's Eye View has been looking at the invertebrate eating Masked Lapwing. With a name like Snail maybe she should be careful when in their company. PS I took a shot of one when I was in Sydney last year Here

Pam from the Tortoise Trail had a visit in her backyard from a Fly eating "Black Phoebe". She took some great photos.

I am always in awe of scientists such as Grrlscientist from " Living the Scientific Life" . She has been at the 2007 Annual Meeting of The Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology It was Day 3. After all those talks my head would have been swimming and I would be needing more than a meal but a stiff drink!!

Duncan from the Ben Cruachan Blog has some lovely photos of Calyptorhynchus Funereus Or to those of us without Latin a "Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo" searching for that favourite of all aussie foods the witchetty grub!

You learn something new every day. Today I learnt from Karen of "The Greenbelt" that the collective noun for Vultures is a Wake. This sounds very apt to me, coming from a country where a wake is commonplace. Karen must have a great deal of carrion in her neighbourhead. Tasty!!

Drew the "Nemesis Birder" was also at the Barnegat Light State Park. He was watching a Herring Gull having a very awkward meal of a Sea Star or as we call them on this side of the pond a Starfish.

Leigh Johnson an Avid Birder was another out before breakfast on New Years Eve and she has a shot of a Belted Kingfisher.

Jayne from a "Journey through Grace" had a juvenile Cooper's Hawk in her backyard. Sadly he wasn't in a fit state to get his breakfast.

Whenever I come across Rob's Idaho Perspective my first thought is potatoes. Well Rob was out on Christmas day at Wilson's Ponds. I hope he had some nice roasted Idaho potatoes with his Christmas dinner.

When I came to Mike from 10,000 Birds submission I could find no reference to food whatsoever but he was lucky on New Years Day because New Year, New Bird.

As with every year in the Restaurant Trade there is always the end of year awards in this case Chris from "Another Place" has come up with his Birding End of The Year Awards 2006.

Finally we come to Cindy from "Woodsong". She has produced for me my favourite blog of this fortieth edition of "I and the Bird" "Twas the Night (or so) Before Christmas" feeding her Redpolls and mice.

The next "I and the Bird " will be hosted by Snail at Snail's Eye View

7 Jan 2007

The Wokingham and Bracknell RSPB Members Group Visit

Peregrine's Birding Facts Feathers grow at a rate of 1-13mm a day!

85. Jay
86. Red Throated Diver
87. Black Guillemot
88. Stonechat
89. Yellowhammer
90. Purple Sandpiper
91. Reed Bunting

It started with the following email:

Hello Peregrine

I have reading through your blog with interest. I and some friends from the Wokingham and Bracknell RSPB Members group are coming to Northern Ireland this weekend for a birding trip, based in Comber near Strangford Lough. We have done some research of course, but it would be very useful to have some up-to-date tips on where to go. Where would you recommend we go in the Strangford area? We are planning to go to Castle Espie and Quoile Pondage and probably up the eastern side of Belfast Lough. is it worth going to Dundrum bay and Portavogie? Are there any other places that you would recommend?

I saw that you had Great Northern Diver on your 1st Jan list and Iceland Gull. Where did you get those? Are there any good places for raptors, gulls and divers?

Thanks very much for your help

Best regards

Patrick Crowley

I replied and when I found out that they would be arriving on the friday at midday I offered to meet them at the ferry and show them the hotspots in Belfast namely the Whitehouse Lagoon for gulls,Dargan Bay for Ducks, Divers and Gulls and The RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve.

The offer was accepted and after work I met them at the Ferry in Belfast. They had two cars and there were nine people in all. They had driven from Berkshire (which is to the west of London) all the way upto Scotland staying at Caerlaverock in Scotland before catching the mid morning ferry over to Ireland. We then headed over to Whitehouse Lagoon mainly with the idea of trying to see the Ring Billed Gull that is presently there. Unfortunately the tide was high which made it quite difficult as most of the gulls were sitting on the water facing into the wind which was coming directly at us. Also we were looking directly into the sunlight. Not ideal conditions! We saw lots of gulls but no ring billed. We then headed over to Dargan Bay which is between the city dump and the Dargan Industrial Estate. There was a raft of Scaup numbering six to eight hundred which excited us as none of us had seen them in such quantity before. We could also make out a number of divers in the distance but had a hard time identifying whether they were Great Northern or Black Throated.

I more recently posted a photo of some divers which I think were definately GND on Birdforum Here and since when there has been pages of discussion as to whether they were BTD or GND.

After Dargan Bay we headed over to the Rspb Hide I got the impression that they liked the place.Some liked the heating and some didn't. Most of the group saw the Green Wing Teal which was a first for most of them. Annoyingly the Black Tailed Godwits that feed right next to the hide windows were on the far side of the reserve. However there was a Mystery Gull that Joe Lamont had spotted and then was refound by Patrick Crowley. No conclusion other than it was probably a hybrid.

I then took them to "The Old Schoolhouse Inn" outside Comber where they were staying and made arrangements to meet them on Sunday morning.

On Sunday morning I arranged to meet at the gates of Killyleagh Castle in Killyleagh. I thought it was a landmark that could easily be found. Anyway I turned up and they were all waiting. So we headed off to the Clea Lakes to try and see the Lesser Scaup and after quite a while it was spotted on the far side of the lakes. This was there second lifer of the trip and then it was off to see if we could find their third the Barrows Goldeneye down on the River Quoile. As luck would have it it was just down from the coal quay and so we parked within fifty metres of the bird. It really is a stunning looking bird in perfect condition and here is a photo of the group having a look

Next we headed to the Castle Island hide where the water levels are terribly high and so little to be seen close too. However we saw Shoveler Teal Wigeon Mallard Pochard Tufted Duck Dunlin Black Tailed Godwit Cormorant Buzzard Jay Bullfinch Greylag.

The weather by this time was getting greyer and greyer so I then took the group to the Strangford Narrows where much to my dissapointment the tide was high, so not a chance of a wader. However out on the water were some Guillemots and Great Northern Diver . Then I felt I was running out of options with the high tide so I stopped off at Ardglass Harbour and I was very glad I did. The first bird we saw was a Black Guillemot in winter plumage quite close by. To be followed by a Red Throated Diver quite close in. Every time it dived you were not really sure where it was going to pop up. One can see why they are called Divers as it would dive and appear two hundred metres away. There was also a few Kittiwakes flying around which gave opportunities for photos. We then looked on the outer harbour and saw some Purple Sandpipers on the rocks amongst a group of turnstones. The rain had by now started and as we headed to the mouth of the Blackstaff river it was coming down progressively harder. While we were there we saw a number of Brent Geese, some Redshank, various Gulls, Goldeneye and a few Bar Tailed Godwit. Finally we went to Dundrum inner Bay to see if we could see the long staying Spotted Redshank. Not a hope the tide was high and by this time it was bucketting down. So instead I asked the group over to my house for tea and biscuits.

I telephoned Penny to let her know that nine strangers were about to come to tea!! She quickly lit the fire which always makes the house appealing and welcoming.

After tea they were very kind and gave me two very nice bottles of whiskey as a thankyou for showing them around. A ten year old Macallan and a revelation to me a bottle of Old Pulteney Single Malt which I think is absolutely delicious.

They had a successful trip with 112 species over the four days and three new lifers.

If anybody else is coming to Northern Ireland I will probably be more than happy to show them around. Contact me above right

6 Jan 2007

RSPB Portmore Lough

Peregrine's Birding FactThe Red Breasted Goose nests near those of Peregrines and Buzzards. This gives them protection and they don't seem to be harmed by the raptors.

82. Linnet
83. Kestrel
84. Ruddy Duck

It was a beautiful morning this morning. I went in slightly early to work and finished in good time. So I thought I would try and see a Male Smew that was wintering at Portmore Lough on the edge of Lough Neagh. I have never seen a Smew in the wild before so was looking forward to the experience. I drove on the motorway out of Belfast and it was alot quicker to get to than I had previously imagined, hence I will be visiting more often.

Next to the carpark there are some trees with feeders in which attract a large amount of Tree sparrows This is good as there has been a marked decline in population in recent years.

I had been told that it was advisable to take a pair of wellies if I wanted to go out to the hide overlooking the lough. Why dont I listen? At some points I was walking in mud that completely covered my shoes. Great!.

As I neared the hide a couple of birders were leaving and gave me the unwelcome news that they had been there for an hour and hadnt seen the Smew. In the hide were a few other birders that occasionally visit the hide up on Belfast, who had also seen nothing. There were however about fifteen Ruddy Duck with their very upright tails and pale blue bills.At least I had a tick. Then we could hear some Long Tailed Tits in the reeds to the right of the hide. They looked lovely especially as they were backlit by very bright sunshine. I took some photos.

Even though I didnt find the Smew it didnt detract from the day as the Long Tailed tits and the Sparrows more than made up for it. I guess thats why I love birding its the ordinary birds that can give you a real buzz just as much as the rarity.

4 Jan 2007

Met a couple of Birders from Co.Cork today

Peregrine's Birding Fact The smallest hawk is the African Little Sparrowhawk, which is only 25cm long.

61. Scaup
62. Redwing
63. Great Black Backed Gull
64. Ruff
65. Green Winged Teal
66. Iceland Gull
67. Reed Bunting
68. Bar Tailed Godwit
69. Woodpigeon
70. Tufted Duck
71. Dunnock
72. Red Breasted Merganser
73. Pheasant
74. Long Tailed Tit
75. House Sparrow
76. Sparrowhawk
77. Wren
78. Barrows Goldeneye (Quoile River)
79. Lesser Scaup ( Clea Lakes Killyleagh)
80. Grey Plover
81. Tree Sparrow

I sometimes visit the Irish Bird Network on Surfbirds.Com and yesterday there was a post regarding the Barrow's Goldeneye and the Lesser Scaup which presently reside close to where I live. A Birder from Co. Cork called Sean Ronayne was interested in coming up to look at them. So I offered to meet him in Downpatrick and show him them with a bit of luck.

We met at midday and headed over to the Quoile. I first of all looked at the place that I have seen it regularly and there was a goldeneye but no Barrows. We then moved to a couple of other viewing points where it has been a regular visitor again to no avail. I then went with them to the Quoile Yacht Club again nothing apart from about thirty pintail flying in. Then we went to the Castle Island Hide yet again nothing. We decided to go back to the second viewing point near the Quoile Countryside centre still nothing. I spoke to one of the wardens and he hadnt seen it for two days. Now I was getting more worried. Its a long way to drive (360 miles) to miss out on a bird that is seen most days. I decided to have one last look at our original spot.Nothing! However Sean and his friend Paul were a minute behind me and caught a glimpse of a bird in an area we hadnt looked at and total relief it was the Barrows. Sean and Paul having just seen it for the first time.

We then headed over to the Clea lakes outside Killyleagh when we arrived there were a couple of birders already there. I knew one of them Dennis Weir. He had a friend up from Dublin. They had been trying to connect with the Ferruginous Duck at Craigavon and the Male Smew over at Portmore Lough, both of which I need to see. So now there were five of us trying to see the Lesser Scaup and after about fifteen minutes we were all but going to call it a day when Sean spotted it. Again relief!! They were then going to head off to Portmore Lough while I was going to head off to bed.

1 Jan 2007

Happy New Year and 60 Birds for the first day of the year

Peregrines Birding Fact: Grebes have upto 20,000 feathers to keep their bodies warm and dry as they dive for food.

1. Greenfinch
2. Brent Goose
3. Goldfinch
4. Bluetit
5. Shelduck
6. Curlew
7. Rook
8. Herring Gull
9. Oystercatcher
10. Starling
11. Blackbird
12. Hooded Crow
13. Lapwing
14. Redshank
15. Black Headed Gull
16. Magpie
17. Coal Tit
18. Robin
19. Great Tit
20. Heron
21. Cormorant
22. Goldeneye
23. Great Crested Grebe
24. Lesser Black Backed Gull
25. Chaffinch
26. Grey Wagtail
27. Bullfinch
28. Fieldfare
29. Jackdaw
30. Mistle Thrush
31. Wigeon
32. Little Grebe
33. Teal
34. Dunlin
35. Coot
36. Pintail
37. Pochard
38. Shoveler
39. Black Tailed Godwit
40. Gadwall
41. Greylag
42. Mute Swan
43. Moorhen
44. Golden Plover
45. Greenshank
46. Snipe
47. Raven
48. Buzzard
49. Common Gull
50. Twite
51. Pied Wagtail
52. Kittiwake
53. Ringed Plover
54. Turnstone
55. Great Northern Diver
56. Sandwich Tern
57. Song Thrush
58. Razorbill
59. Collared Dove
60. Goldcrest

I have been really looking forward to this morning to start the list afresh. I got up made myself some tea and toast and sat in my living room window and counted twenty seven species of bird before I had finished my tea. I then went out for about three hours in my locality and saw another thirty three so pretty pleased with day one. This is of a Kittiwake in Ardglass Harbour. This year I am also doing a photographic year list on Birdforum which I think will be quite a challenge. I am aiming for about 130 species.

I and the Bird

Oh I almost forgot I am hosting the 40th edition of "I and the Bird" blog carnival. I and the Bird is a carnival celebrating the interaction of human and avian, an ongoing exploration of the endless fascination with birdlife all around the world. It is also a biweekly showcase of the best bird writing on the web published on alternating Thursdays. So if you write a blog about birds send your submission to me via the contact box top right of this page.