30 Dec 2008

Birding for another Year comes to an End. What does 2009 have Instore? Have a Very Happy New Year!!

I have seen 281 birds in the World this year not quite the list that Alan Davies and Ruth Miller have put together in their "Biggest Twitch" They have seen 4,327 a New World Record!! I suppose something to aim for ;-)

The start of the year was helped by a visit to Namibia which was brilliant and I hope to get back there in the not too distant future.

It really is a wonderful country and I would recommend it to anyone. It is relatively easy to bird and with the help of SASOL Birds of South Africa I was able to identify all but a very small handful of birds. The only downside was a partner who was totally disinterested in Birding.

There are a few other things that stand out in the year. One was going to see The Little Tern Colony at Baltray just North of Dublin. Of which I was really impressed.
Here the Louth Nature Trust manage The Little Tern Conservation Project. They essentially set up a fence around the area of beach where the Little Terns breed and volunteers sit throughout the whole breeding season of May through to August in daylight hours and discourage people from walking their dogs too close to the area. They also disturb any vermin such as Hooded Crows from predating the eggs or Foxes getting too close.

I think the volunteers do a wonderful job and is a good example of people taking conservation into their own hands.

Talking of Terns I have seen 9 different species this year the majority of them in Namibia. Sandwich, Caspian, Common, Arctic, Black Tern, White Winged Tern, Little Tern, Foster's Tern and Damara Tern.

This Foster's Tern photographed flying into a Rainbow about a mile from my house. (Nice to have a rarity such as this so close to home.)

One of My favourite Images of the Year is this Arctic Tern at the Belfast Harbour Reserve.

The other event which I really enjoyed was going on my first pelagic with Anthony McGeehan off Inishbofin.
I am going on my next one in about six weeks time off Kaikoura in New Zealand. Hopefully my yearly list will again start of with a bang as I am spending the whole of February with my father in NZ.

Well all I can do now is wish everybody who visits this blog a Very Happy and Hopefully Prosperous New Year.

1 Dec 2008

An Afternoon at the RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve and a Morning in the City of Lisburn and the Latest Northern Ireland Bird Report.

I was on duty yesterday afternoon at the RSPB Hide in Belfast as I am every other Sunday. It was a stunning day and very cold. Infact most of the water was frozen and quite alot of the Teal and Wigeon were standing on the edge of the only area that wasn't frozen. The beauty about this reserve is that they all feed right in front of the hide.

This is a Green Winged Teal it can be identified by its vertical white stripes.This is the American form of the Common Teal.It was considered conspecific with the Common Teal for some time, and the issue is still being reviewed by the American Ornithologists' Union ; based on this the IUCN and BirdLife International do not accept it as a separate species at present. However, nearly all other authorities consider it distinct nowadays, based on behavioral, morphological , and molecular evidence.The bird below is the Common Teal.

as is this one in flight.

The Black Tailed Godwit were having a really hard time on the ice similar to Jon Sargent dancing; basically all over the place!!!
There was one Black Tailed Godwit that had broken its leg and it looked as though it had healed because it was walking on it without too much trouble. You have to feel sorry for it. Sometimes birds can seem very stoical.

Every now and again a Sparrowhawk would fly over and all the waders and ducks flew out to the ice. They then returned to feed when they felt safe. This presented great opportunities to photograph the duck in flight. My favourite of the day was this Wigeon (Anas penelope)

A Water Rail made a brief appearance and there were about twenty Reed Bunting on the crop field but no sight of the female Brambling that had been around earlier in the week.

There were a number of regulars who came in Ian Graham and Ian Patience and a young lad Mark. Ian had brought the latest issue of the Northern Ireland Bird Report covering 2005 and 2006 which features one of my photographs on the front. So was pretty chuffed with that.They had just come back from seeing some Waxwings in Lisburn. After they left I had a very quiet afternoon visitor wise. I got a photo of this Magpie which I quite like.

I finished work and decided that before I was my son Jeremy's taxi service that I would go home via Lisburn and see if I could find the Waxwings.I have a small attachment to Lisburn as my Grandfather who died in WW11 has a memorial plaque at the front of Lisburn Cathedral. Finding the Waxwings was successful this was only the second time I have ever seen them. There were about a hundred and you can get very close to them. However getting a clean image of them was very difficult and these are the only ones that I was happy with.

I also got my first decent shot of a Redwing which seemed to be sharing the blackthorn berries along with some Blackbirds, a Song Thrush and the Waxwings. The Waxwings were chattering away and flying between the edge I was close to and another hedge across a field. They fly very similarly to a Starling.

28 Nov 2008

My Local Patch Killard Nature reserve again!!! and a photogenic Greenshank

I came home from work at about midday and it was absolutely beautiful so grabbed the camera and dog and headed out to Killard. The tide was high which meant that any waders should have been pushed upto the shoreline. I generally do a loop of about two and a half miles which takes me out to Ben Derg Beach and then I follow the coast back to the car. As there were cows in a field I cross I decided to stick to the shoreline and I put up a snipe.I rapidly fired off a few shots at it but this was the only one in focus. They move pretty fast. it always surprises me in open ground how one rarely sees the bird before it gets up. They are well camouflaged.

The wind was pretty strong and it was about 5ºC so pretty chilly similar to a couple of days earlier that I had been out when I thought I saw an otter in the sea. I moved round to where I had seen it and then I saw it on a little island that appears at low tide. I moved to within about 30 yards and and it promptly curled up and went to sleep on top of some seaweed.

Well I waited for nearly an hour for it to wake up and hopefully get some shots of it. At about an hour my hands were so cold that I gave up.
I had brought gloves with me this time. There were alot of Common Gulls flying into the wind and some were feeding on the shoreline.

The Redshanks were also flying off in alarm as I approached. Their call seems to be far too noisy for the threat that they are under.

I found an area to lie down on the seaweed and start photographing the Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones. You can get remarkably close to both of these birds if you creep forward and lie still for any amount of time. I have in the past have had them as close as four feet and this was with my dog in the background.

As I was lying there I heard the alarm call of a Greenshank some way away and was delighted that it landed about twenty yards further down the shoreline from me and then made its way towards me walking in and out of the surf and feeding. Now a Greenshank is a bird that on the whole is pretty shy and not easy to get close to. So I was pretty pleased with the following shots.

Now Pickle had been very patient waiting behind me for over an hour and her patience ran out and she decided to go into the water and all the birds flew off.

I headed home stopping off at a little bay which can be brilliant for waders and I wasn't disappointed. There were Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Greenshank, Redshank, Curlew, Turnstones and Brent Geese. So I went out into the bay as the tide was falling fast and got some shots of Dunlin and Golden Plover.

If you click on any photos they come up in a seperate screen.

The other Bird News I have is that i was sent a copy of Birdguides British Birds Video Guide - 270 species edition

For this new British Birds guide on DVD Birdguides have started from the ground up, selecting the very best footage from hundreds of hours in their film library, much of it recently captured on HD cameras. It is their flagship edition running over 16 hours and covering 270 species on 4 DVDs. With all-new commentaries by Dave Gosney, revised maps, songs, calls and the use of freeze frames and split screen to help explain identification points.

I was sent it because they used my photos of Sooty Shearwater and Great Shearwater in the DVD. So pretty pleased with that!!

6 Nov 2008

A Very Bizarre Experience with a Wren.

I got up at 7.ooam on Sunday as the sun was coming into my room and I thought I would head out to Killard with my dog "Pickle" and my camera. It was a fantastic autumn morning with strong sunlight and clear blue sky. When I got there everything was singing. There seemed to be large numbers of Skylarks which have recently arrived and there were Linnets everywhere as well as Goldfinches and Meadow Pipits.

I initially just walked as there was no bird coming close enough to photograph until I came across some Wrens singing.I have to say I love the Wren. It is one of our most common birds and one of the smallest. (Not quite as small as the Goldcrest but close) I think it is reckoned there are around 8.5 million breeding pairs. Also for a bird of its size it has a remarkably loud song. I find Wrens one of the hardest birds to photograph and until this day have only one not very good image of a wren sitting on a barbed wire fence. The moment you focus on them they seem to move and one can rarely get one with a clean background.Today I was lucky I had the really bright sun behind me so I was even getting a catchlight in the eye. The catchlight is very important in bird photography in my opinion and can often make or break a photograph.

Well I took loads of photos of it before continuing on my circuit around Killard. I saw for about the third day running a Merlin,which I cannot get close enough to photograph as well as the solitary Grey Plover which has spent the last four winters here. I then headed home.

Now for the Bizarre bit!!!!Forward to yesterday: After I returned from work I was having a look at the photos on my computer of the Wren and going delete delete delete as one after the other was either out of focus or had a stick in front of it or it didn't have a catchlight or the head angle was wrong. As I was processing the three reasonable images on Adobe Lightroom I heard a Wren singing right next to me. My first thought was that my bird recordings on my itunes had suddenly switched on, then the song sounded again slightly to my left and I wondered whether birding had gone to my head and I was going mad. Then I looked down on the floor and blow me there was a wren sitting and singing on the floor right beside me. As I moved it flew back out into the kitchen and out through the open dogflap!!!!!!

25 Oct 2008

Birding Inishbofin (Inis Bō Finne ) and a MEGA Juvenile Blue Heron at Letterfrack.

I finally arranged to take a few days of work and headed down to Inishbofin off the coast of Galway. I finished work at about 10.30 and then started to drive the 240 miles to Cleggan. The weather was deteriorating fast and by the time I had got to Westport it was blowing horizontally and with the rain ,making it pretty unpleasant to drive. My car was also misbehaving and I was wondering whether I would get to Cleggan in time for the ferry at 4.45. The roads were becoming quite flooded and the wind was unbelievably strong and I was then worrrying as to whether the ferry would even run.

About six miles from Cleggan is Letterfrack where the MEGA Juvenile Blue Heron had been found a week earlier by Dermot Breen and Aonghus O'Donaill. They first saw the bird on 24th Sept and at that point didnt realise what it was until the evening of October 4th when Dermot was looking through "The Sibley Guide to Birds" and the penny dropped. This would be the first record for Europe and the 4th for the Western Paleartic with all the other records coming from the Azores. I found I did have a few minutes to spare and I stopped off at the Avoca Shop Car Park. There was one birder braving the elements and he said you could see it with the naked eye on the far shore, before driving off. I saw a white thing dipping down in the driving rain but couldnt make it out with my bins so tried the scope to find it was a white plastic bucket rocking in the wind. I couldn't see it anywhere. So at this stage I thought the ferry isn't going to run and I had dipped on the Heron.

Thank god the ferry was running as per normal so I parked the car and loaded my stuff onto the boat. The conditions were very different to when I went in early September. The swells seemed to be rolling in and it was quite rough. Then my day was brightened enormously when a juvenile Sabines Gull appeared along side the boat. This was a lifer for me. The forked tail clinched it for me as I had seen a couple of young Kittiwakes that can look similar. The man standing next to me said look there is another one and sure enough it was. After a fairly draining day this made my day. The Sabine Gull was named after an Irishman General Sir Edward Sabine a scientist, astronomer, ornithologist and explorer.

I finally arrived on the Island I was going to stay with Anthony McGeehan, Ian Wallace and Eric Dempsey for three nights. With the proviso that I did the cooking!!!! Eric was on the pier when I arrived and Anthony then came and helped me with my luggage and food!! and we walked upto the cottage they were staying in.

On the friday morning Ian woke us up with a cup of tea shortly followed by a bowl of porridge. It wasn't a nice morning but i had already spotted a Chiffchaff in the fucshia bush behind the cottage. The garden has been a magnet for migrants in the past with a number of Alder trees and Sycamore trees around the edges.

Eric and Ian went off in their different directions, while I tagged along with Anthony. I find it fascinating to go out with a top class birder. Over the last couple of years that Anthony has been coming to Inishboffin he has mapped out where all the likely migrant hotspots are. Whether it is the small cropfield behind a particular house or a Willow, Alder or Sycamore in the landscape. He has even enlisted some of the locals to plant Alder and Sycamore to provide future hotspots. Now that is what I call dedication creating future habitat for migrants. In the last year he has found Ireland's first Mourning Dove and a White's Thrush.Today however there wasn't a great deal about. We made our way to the beach on the east of the Island. A Merlin came in off the sea and there were about a hundred Sanderling on the shore. These were all disturbed by a Peregrine that flew the length of the beach. There were a lot of Stonechats everywhere a few Chiffchaffs here and there, some Song Thrushes. We then made our way to the Magic garden which has been a big draw for migrants. There were a couple of Redpolls but not the Northwest type that had been seen earlier.

The success or otherwise of finding migrants and rare migrants seems entirely down to whatever weather systems there are. Earlier in the week there had been North Westerlies and Eric had found a Barred Warbler and a couple of Yellow Browed Warblers. He had got really good photos of both. You can see them towards the bottom of the page Here

The weather was pretty dreary and wet and A McG and I headed back to the cottage for some tea and lunch. In the afternoon we made our way out to the other end of the island without much luck.

That evening I cooked them a risotto before heading to bed early.

The following morning was really beautiful and I was relieved as I rarely take time off and if it had been wet and windy for all the days I took off I would have been disappointed.

There were a few Chiffchaff in the garden and as Anthony and I headed off towards the East of the Island again we saw some Chough pass over. A year tick. We searched the graveyard but apart from about three stonechats not alot else. Four barnacle geese flew over head. We made our way down to the beach close to Inis Leaghean where there was a solitary Brent goose and a couple of Red Breasted Merganser out in the water. A pair of Chough were on the edge of the dunes.

We then made our way to East End Bay and there were all the Sanderling along with Ringed Plover. Anthony scanned them for Semipalmated Plover I personally would doubt I could tell the difference unless it was pointed out.

There was a fairly tame Curlew on the beach which I got quite close to.

Eric had texted to say that there was a Pied Flycatcher in the Magic Garden so we made our way slowly up to it seeing a few Snipe, lots of Blackbirds and some Pheasants on the way.

The Pied Flycatcher had been around for two weeks and I was glad to get another Life Tick. I still would like to see a Male though. I will have to make my way to the Wood of Cree in Scotland to get the opportunity.

The views from the Magic Garden over to Mayo and Galway were beautiful.

As we were walking back to the cottage Anthony saw this bird drop into the back of a garden but didnt get good views so we spent quite alot of time trying to relocate it. It turned out to be a Chaffinch not the Blackpoll Warbler that Anthony hoped it might be. He then told me about this simply quite remarkable bird.

The Blackpoll Warbler is a long distance endurance champion.It is a tiny bird with an annual migration route of some 12,000 miles. It is only about four inches long. It weighs around .385 ounces. When it comes to the time of migration it will triple its body weight in three days. They dont eat anymore than usual but change their physiology. And, in fall, those particularly from Western Canada and Alaska first migrate east, completely across the top of Canada for 1500 or 2000 miles. Until they wind up along the Atlantic seaboard of Canada and New England and the mid-Atlantic states. And then they wait for strong north-west winds, which will carry them out to sea, across the western Atlantic and they finally make landfall on the coast of the
Amazon river Basin in Venezuela the northern coast of South America. It's about an 80 to 90 hour journey, during which they will beat their wings three to four million times; they will have no rest, no food, no water. If they touch the water, they're dead.
They also fly at much higher altitude where there is less oxygen accounting for their ability to withstand the low levels of oxygen available at such altitudes, the blood of blackpoll warblers is characterized by two specialized adaptations. The oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is enhanced by a high concentration of red blood cells and Secondly, instead of one form of hemoglobin in the red blood cells as is typical in non-migrants, they possess two forms of hemoglobin which differ in their oxygen carrying and releasing capacities. This guarantees an adequate oxygen supply over a wide range of altitudes and allows birds to adapt rapidly to varying levels of oxygen availability.

An amazing little bird just a shame I didnt get to see one.

In the afternoon we made our way to Lough Bofin where there were about twenty Mute Swans and some Mallard a few Redshank and Turnstone. After we headed to the North West Corner of the Island to do a seawatch. I was really hoping to see another bird I have never seen a Grey Phalarope. Ian Wallace had seen quite a few in the morning. Not to be. However we did see a Bonxie and an Arctic Skua. I also saw a Dolphin in the distance probably Bottlenose. By now having tramped all over the Island for two days running covering about 10 miles each day I was absolutely knackered. We got back to the cottage had a cup of tea and sat on a bench in the garden listening to the Choughs flying past. A Brilliant Day exhausting but fulfilling. It made me realise why I love birding so much.

After dinner each night Ian turned to his daily log of what had been seen and what hadnt.

The following morning Eric and I were leaving the Island and we headed down to the harbour.

As we were waiting for the boat there was an Adult Great Black Backed Gull being chased by a younger one and on looking at the photos later I noticed it had a pipefish in its beak and the fish had wound the rest of its body round its neck.

We made our way back to Cleggan where I had to mend a puncture before heading back to Letterfrack to attempt to see the Blue Heron again. Eric had gone ahead and had located it. I made my way to the pier to find three Northern Ireland Birders Philip, Ian and Gary who had come down for the day. The Heron was at first quite far away and then it flew towards us.

It landed in the boat right beside us to give us great views. If only all MEGA's were this easy!!