31 Mar 2007

A Very Unusual Albino Bird. Black Guillemot or should that be White Guillemot

Peregrine's Birding Facts A Cuckoo can lay an egg in 9 seconds

It was a beautiful afternoon and I went out to Killard with Pickle. The afternoon was memorable for two reasons. First I was scanning the sea with my binoculars when I caught sight of three Eider Duck, two male and one female. At that point I tried to get closer to the shore which at that point is quite difficult as there are about a hundred yards of very rocky shoreline. It is covered in seaweed and the rockpools I would almost disappear in if I fell in let alone knows what would happen to my camera.
As I got closer I noticed a third white bird amongst them and realising it wasnt a duck i was rapidly thinking what it could be. At that point it sort of stood up and flapped its very short wings just like a Guillemot before sitting back down on the water and diving.

I tried at this point to take some photos. I only had my 400mm lens with me and no converter so it appeared very small in the frame. I noticed it had a red beak and red legs. Click on photo for bigger image. I watched it for a while but Pickle kept on coming to me and getting perilously close to the swell coming in over the rocks.Sometimes birding and walking the dog do not work well together.

Since coming back I have found out that it would be a very rare occurence to see a Leucistic version of one of these birds. I also have been told that Birdwatch Magazine might print a copy of it if the resolution is high enough in their monthly updates of rare and unusual birds.

The second reason for the day being memorable was that Pickle actually caught a rabbit for the second time and she was flying when she caught it.

So a good afternoon was had by both of us!!

22 Mar 2007

Another Lifer: Two Smew

115. Smew

Peregrine,s Birding Facts A Kiwi lays the largest eggs for its size of any bird. It weighs 25% of its body weight and a female will lay upto a 100 eggs in its lifetime.

I went down to RSPB Portmore Lough after work as I was determined to see the male smew that has been wintering there. The weather was not at all good with constant drizzle. I had remembered to put my wellies in the car the night before as the last time I went there in early January it was so muddy that it completely covered my shoes. I am glad I did it was worse.

I walked down to the hide or was that swam! Well not quite.
Once inside I had a quick scan of the lough and couldnt see any smew :-( However right out in front of the hide were two Little Grebes Unfortunately the light was really bad. I did a further scan with my scope from the hide (here is a photo taken from the interior earlier in the year when the light was good) of the whole Lough and saw Mute Swan, Teal, Widgeon, Ruddy Duck, Shoveler, Mallard and finally a Male Smew and with a bit further scanning saw another so there were two. BrilliantHere is a slightly closer look of one which I took at WWT Castle Espie

I always find it quite exciting when you see a new bird for the first time in the wild but more was to come as I was looking out of the front of the hide at the grebes some thing caught my eye to the right of where I was sitting and it was an Otter swimming along the waters edge. I got my camera out to photograph it when I noticed there were two!!!
To me the otter is the pinnacle of wild animals in Britain if I had to see no other it would definately be the otter. I think this is because of reading "Ring of Bright Water" by Gavin Maxwell who incidentally went to the same school as me. I feel quite fortunate that I do see them from time to time. A couple of years ago I was walking out at Killard with pickle and thought I saw a bird struggling in the seaweed and it wasnt until I was ten feet away that Pickle flushed it into the sea. It then swam about five yards out and lay on its back and looked at us.
The other really close encounter was in Co. Donegal when Penny and I were swimming round one of the small islands in Mulroy Bay when some body shouted from the shore that there was an otter with us and blow me it was swimming right next to us. Infact it shadowed us nearly the whole way round the island. Even though the people on the shore had a camera did they think of taking a photo. NO they didnt.

14 Mar 2007

Peregrines Bird Blog 1st Anniversary

114. Peregrine

Peregrine's Birding Facts The Heaviest ever domestic Turkey weighed 39kg as much as a 12 year old child!!!

Wow I have now been doing this for exactly a year and for somebody with not great will power and many half finished diaries over the years I am extremely chuffed!!! Maybe its because of the subject. BIRDS, BIRDS and more BIRDS. I find it very rewarding especially when you get a message saying that so and so really enjoyed reading it or somebody saying I really liked that photo.

I get between twenty and sixty hits a day with twenty percent being previous visitors so its a start. Sometimes I think what am I going to write about but generally something comes along or I go out and take a nice photo. Infact I think this blog has encouraged me greatly to go out and take photos of birds. Some of my better ones are HERE and here are some I have taken in the last week or so.

The highlights of my year are first of all volunteering for the RSPB at the Belfast Harbour Reservewhich I do every other Sunday and in so doing have met many birders.

One of whom is the warden Anthony McGeehan somebody who has encyclopeadic knowledge of the bird world.He also has a great sense of humour. I have learnt an enormous amount from him and we are both into bird photography. He has also done wonders with the reserve over the last ten years if there was somebody who deserves an MBE for services to the Natural World it is he. I think the powers that be in the RSPB should recognise this and put him forward for the award.

Other highlights are taking really good photos or just watching bird behaviour in excellent light. The evening that I saw the two cranes and the osprey on Lough Beg near Toomebridge, or sitting in the Castle Island Hide and having an Osprey diving twenty feet in front of the hide. Magic. Seeing a Yellowhammer in the hedge in front of my house after many hours trying to see them. The Peregrines and the four young below Scrabo, Newtownards. Seeing Northern Irelands first Montagues Harrier fly twenty feet in front of the hide.Sitting in a garden in Donegal ten minutes before I head back to Co.Down and seeing a female Redstart for the first time. Meeting Ian Wallace. The Whinchat out at Killard. The Red Throated Diver just a few yards offshore in full summer plumage off Portrush. Holding a Dunnock in the hand at my recent bird ringing weekend. Taking Pickle the dog out to Killard and having her run round while I bird.

There also have been some lows as well. The days that it is so grey that you wouldnt dream of taking the camera out of the house. Finding the cat had killed the Grey Wagtail that had spent five months attacking the car.(Cat now rehomed and not in the sky!!) The Ringed Plover nest trampled on by unsuspecting walkers. Going to the hide in Belfast in torrential rain and barely being able to see out the window. Dipping on various birds such as the Long Billed Dowitcher in Co louth and the Forsters Tern in Belfast by a minute. Watching a magpie kill a lapwing. The litter out at Killard. Lack of management of water levels and environment at the Quoile's Castle Island Hide. ( I intend to write about this in further depth in a future post.)

I must also thank Derek Charles for pointing me in the right birding direction every now and again and I must also thank YOUthe reader for reading my observations. Thank you

5 Mar 2007

BTO Ireland Bird Ringing Training Course for Beginners (Me)

113. Treecreeper

Peregrine's Birding facts A Treecreeper can lose up to two centimetres of its tail length between moulting due to scraping on tree trunks.

Early last December I was in the RSPB Hide in the Belfast Harbour Estate where I was introduced to Shane Wolsey The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Liason Officer in Ireland. I mentioned to him that I was interested in ringing and he said he would be in touch.
On January 2nd he sent me details about a weekend of training from the 2nd-4th March. I sent of my cheque for £75. At this time it hadn't occurred to me that I would be missing my wife Penny's birthday and most of our 18th wedding anniversary!!! On the 2nd and 4th respectively.

I arrived on friday night at The Kilbroney Environmental Education Centre I was late and the last to arrive which is most unlike me but the signposting from Newry were really bad. (My excuse anyway)

First of all we all introduced ourselves. There were a number from Queens University, a lady from WWT Castle Espie and another from the Environment and Heritage Service.

Our first talk was by Chris Acheson, a principal of a special needs school in Hillsborough who had forty years ringing experience.
Titled "Mist Nets, Bird handling and Safety"

Basically it boiled down to the fact that the "Welfare of the Bird is Paramount".
From thinking about catching a bird to releasing a bird there are 6 stages.
1. Erecting Net
2. Extracting
3. Transporting to Ringing Site
4. Ringing
5. Release Bird
6. Closing Up

Mist Nets were introduced from Japan in the early fifties. Their advantages are that they are portable, efficient and quick and easy to use. Their disadvantages are that they are non selective, weather dependent ( as we were to find out) and very fragile.When netting there are a few points to consider. Basically you have to consider the bird as from the moment it hits the net it is VULNERABLE whether from rain, temperature, windchill , direct sunshine and predators. You also have to consider the length of net you are going to use, the height you are going to set it the depth of pocket and how vulnerable the net is to damage ie catching on twigs etc.
Extracting is the riskiest part of the operation and one needs to check the net carefully so as not to miss any. Which side has the bird gone into. Some species are easier to extract than others ranging from siskins which are quite easy to Starlings and Wrens which are quite difficult.

Once you have released the bird from the net you put it into a linen bag and tie up the top and transport it to the place that you are doing the ringing. Again being careful not to trip or knock the bag or bags.

Then you consult the ringers manual to see what size ring you are going to put on the bird. These range from AA for a Goldcrest to M for a Mute swan. There are a number of reasons that you might let the bird go without ringing.
1. You cannot identify the bird.
2.There are signs of a breeding bird.
3. If the bird is in poor condition , suffering from stress or even injured.
4. You may not have the right ring size available
5. It may already be ringed in which case you would note the number, age, sex, wing length and weight before you released it.

Our next talk was by Shane Wolsey about The Copeland Bird Observatory off the coast of Northern Ireland. After whetting our appetite it was time for bed.

We started the morning with breakfast and then we were put into teams. There were four A licence ringers and each one had three trainees. I was with Kerry Leonard. Kerry's speciality is ringing Manx Shearwaters of which the Copeland Islands are an important breeding site. He is in his early thirties and has been visiting the copelands since he was twelve.

We were very lucky as it was a beautiful morning and no sooner had the traps been set birds were flying into them. We had the nets in three different sites on the property. Here are some photos of trapped birds.
A Dunnock

A Wren

Bluetit being delicately extracted from the net

These birds along with a number of others were taken to the processing room where the birds were taken out of the bags and then ringed. But first we were shown how to handle the birds. Basically you hold the birds neck between your first and second fingers At first it is quite nerve racking but after the first few you get your confidence. I ringed seven birds in all. Once you have ringed the bird you write down the ring number, the species of bird, age, sex, date, time, wing length and weight.

For example
T664908 Chaffinch 6 Male 3.3.07 09.35
T664914 Great Tit 5 Female 3.3.07 10.15

Now the age is decided on whether it is last years juvenile or whether it is older than that. This is done by examining the feathers in its wings and its tail.

One of the fascinating things was that you had no idea what was going to come into the net. Fortunately for us a Sparrowhawk was caught. These have to be dealt with extreme care as the last thing you want is its claws clamping onto your hand. It was processed and then Staffan Roos, a Swedish guy, studying at Queen's University released it.
The other bird that I have never seen really close up was a Treecreeper. They are beautiful. Its claws were enormous for the size of body.

The morning came to an end and we had lunch in the centre. After which we had a Mist Net workshop. This was basically how to set them up which we then did a number of times. By now it was getting dark so we headed in to the centre. George Henderson (Below) from The Environmental and Heritage Service Northern Ireland then gave a talk and demonstration about Integrated Population Monitoring Recorder (IPMR) Ringing and Nest Recording Software. It is a great way for collating the data which can be easily cut and pasted into Excel and then sorted in what ever way you can devise. For example if you have a sample of a hundred birds of one species you can find average weight or even average wing length. You can divide up into female and male populations and see if there is a marked difference between the two. You might find that the males weigh on average 6 gramms more than the females and if it was a species where male and female are hard to distinguish it could be a pointer to determining sex at the ringing station.

When this was over we had our dinner. And afterwards more lectures!!!

Neville Mckee, The Copeland Bird Observatory's Secretary,
with over fifty years experience of ringing gave an illustrated talk on "Ageing, Sexing and Moult" which was fascinating. It certainly inspired me to learn more. We only got half way through the talk as it is such a large subject so the remainder of the talk was scheduled for Sunday.

For the final half hour Kerry Leonard , my trainer, gave a talk on seabird ringing. We finished at about ten o'clock just in time to go outside and see the eclipse of the moon. We were very lucky as it was a perfectly clear evening and below is a photograph of the full eclipse when the moon turns pink.

I then headed down for a couple of whiskeys in the town of Rostrevor, before heading back to my top bunk and sleeping really well. I cant remember the last time I slept in a bunkbed.

On sunday the weather was really windy and after a few birds had been caught and ringed it was decided to take down the nets and head inside for the remainder of Neville's talk.

I would like to thank Shane, Neville, Kerry, Chris and George for the way the weekend was run. It was also nice to meet all the trainees Wesley, Oisin, Staffan, Askia, Alyn, the two Peters, Ron, Donna and Emma.

See you on the Copeland Islands this summer. My application for a trainee license is on its way to the Nunnery in Thetford!!