29 Apr 2009

Godwits at Belfast Harbour Reserve

Today the RSPB in Northern Ireland are having a staff day out at Crawfordsburn Country Park (I love to see how the memberships are put to waste) I think it will probably be a Team rebuilding effort now that Anthony McGeehan has been sacked. I just hope they actually tell the rest of the staff why they have sacked him. I suspect it will all be glossed over.

Anthony told me some time ago about a previous staff day where the question was put "What should an RSPB employee be" and he rather succinctly put it that "An RSPB employee should be fired with enthusiasm or fired with enthusiasm" some didnt understand what he meant. Now ironically he has been fired with enthusiasm for being fired with enthusiasm.

Well in the last few weeks I have been taking a few photos of the Black Tailed Godwits at the Harbour Reserve now that food is being put out for them and are coming close enough to photograph.

If you click on an image they will appear at a larger size in a seperate window.

26 Apr 2009

Whiskered Tern on Quoile Pondage. A first for Northern Ireland

Another Rare Tern on my local patch. Infact a first for Northern Ireland found by Keith Bennett. A Text came through saying there was a Whiskered Tern at the Quoile Pondage so I said to my wife Penny that I was heading off to see it. Instead of going for a walk at my other local patch Killard with her and Charlie my youngest son and on his birthday as well. Didn't go down very well. I drove down and there were so many cars parked outside the Castle Island Hide that I thought I would turn around go for the walk and come back later.

Went out to Killard. Initially saw a Heron being mobbed by a Hooded Crow. As I walked further there were quite alot of Whimbrel on the shore and about eight Eider offshore. All the time I was thinking I must get back to the Quoile.

Anyway we finished walk and when I had dropped of Charlie and Penny I headed down to the hide to find Gerard McGeehan and Shirley with the bird in sight a hundred yards in front of the hide. It was starting to spit with rain so chances of getting a reasonably good photo wasnt very likely. these are the ones I did get.

As I was leaving Breffni Martin from Co. Louth arrived so had a quick chat with him before heading off home.
So I have now seen both Whiskered and Foster's tern within a couple of miles of my house.

The Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybridus when I saw the latin name it made me wonder from what it was a hybrid. However it was so named because of its similarities between Black terns and White terns (Sterna). There are three geographical races of this bird.This was probably the Eurasian Whiskered Tern as opposed to the African or Australasian Whiskered tern.

13 Apr 2009

Kea at Arthur's Pass

After leaving Kaikoura I made my way to Arthur's Pass in the Central Southern Alps. I stopped a few miles out of Kaikoura on the shoreline because I had seen some Terns that I hadn't seen before and was glad that I caught up with the Black-Fronted Tern (Tarapiroe)

They were on a bar where one of the braided streams met the sea. There were also a number of Caspian Terns (Taranui)

I love the Caspian Tern it is the biggest of the Terns and is distributed throughout the world. I saw them previously in Namibia.
On the beach there were quite a few black phase Variable Oystercatcher a NZ endemic. They were quite approachable.

The other bird on the beach were a number of Pied Shag (Karuhiruhi) also approachable but not to the same extent as the Oystercatcher.

I had three days before picking my son Jeremy up from Christchurch Airport and one of the stops I had decided on was Arthur's Pass to see and hopefully photograph the Kea. Then potentially onto Twizel to catch up with a very rare bird the Black Stilt (Kaki). It is the rarest wader in the world with at present no more than 61 adults in the wild, and of these only 14 are known to be female. Just seven productive breeding pairs exist in the wild.

However!!! after driving the very scenic route upto Arthur's Pass and at this stage having driven nearly 3000 kilometres in all I was exhausted and I decided to stay the three days in Arthur's Pass. I stayed in the Youth Hostel in a room of my own for NZ $55 per night which I thought was pretty good value. I ate in the Wobbly Kea Cafe and Bar each night and had excellent food. On the first night I was having a pint of beer outside and I saw my first Kea of the trip landing on top of the Arthur's Pass Store, which is opposite the Wobbly Kea Cafe.

It then flew down to the road and started to cross it towards me.

The road through the village is one of the main highways from the East Coast to the West Coast and many people stop and photograph the birds.

The Kea (Nestor notabilis) is one of the few Alpine Parrots in the world and found only in the forested and alpine regions of the South Island of New Zealand. There population is unknown but thought to number around 5000. they are now a protected rare endemic. It has an omnivorous diet and also feeds on carrion. They have the reputation as sheep killers while they may feed on dead sheep and occasionally kill sick and injured sheep only a very few birds have been known to kill healthy animals. They are attracted by the prospect of scraps and will often carry off unguarded items of clothing. They also will attack the rubber on cars and many a tourist has returned to find his windscreen wipers in shreds. In Arthur's Pass there are a number of signs requesting the public not to feed the Kea.

The following day I thought I would take a day off from photographing birds and went down to the Dept of Conservation (DOC) office to buy a local map and ask where I might find Blue Duck another rare endemic known to be in the region. The lady behind the counter told me and I rather naively said that I would walk over the hill to the river on the other side of the valley. Whereupon she told me that it was a mountaineers track and suggested very politely that I didn't. In the end I saw a small track that went from the youth hostel upto a peak behind Arthur's Pass so I decided to climb that instead. When you go hill walking or tramping as they call it in NZ you fill out a form and leave it with DOC saying where you are going and then you return the bottom portion of the form when you return. If they do not hear from you within 24 hours they then call the police.

It was a beautiful day around 24C or 75F and I started off on what was to be an epic day for me!!! (It also taught me to map read properly in future) The climb to Avalanche Peak (1875m) from the village was 1200metres or about 4000 feet in 2 kilometres. In Scotland there are only seven mountains over 4000 ft. It took me 7.5hrs to get up and down. I had climbed to above the bush line and was feeling absolutely knackered and was seriously doubting whether I could go on as I had about 500m to climb at this point. When out of the blue a Kea landed on one of the waymark poles within twenty feet of me.

This bird completely changed my frame of mind which at the time were very much in the negative: thinking I wouldn't be able to get to the top and I didn't feel very good about it. I sat down and for twenty minutes this bird stayed around me. First of all it landed on my backpack

Then it walked around and started picking things off the bottom of my hiking boots.

I put on my wide angle lens and it came to within a few inches of the camera which meant I could get some quite interesting angles to photograph it.

I also quite like this shot of the bird in its true habitat.

I had at the point just before the Kea landed been cursing myself for bringing a camera and two lenses with me as they were quite heavy but now was delighted and the rest of the journey to the top was alot easier. When I finally got to the top I was ecstatic and reckoned it was the most energetic thing I had done in the last twenty years. This is a self taken photo.

These were the views from the top the first looking towards MT. Rolleston at (2275m)

The journey down was exhausting and even though I had taken a few litres of water with me I was desperate for water and probably had one of the best pints of beer I had ever had when I got back to the village. My legs were killing me and I got cramp a few times in the night.

The following day I walked 10 kilometres up to the head waters of the Mingha River climbing 400m and then back again looking for Blue Duck which I failed to see. So all in all I had a very energetic few days before I headed back to Christchurch to pick Jeremy up from the Airport before driving to Kaikoura to take him on another Albatross watch.

Jeremy and I then stayed with my Aunt Sally and her husband Bob near Nelson at Stafford Place their Bed and Breakfast. Jeremy and I went out for a day in the Abel Tasman National Park and we saw this Arctic Skua chasing a White fronted Tern

All in all I had an absolutely wonderful holiday and now I am back can't wait to go back there. I must also thank my father very much for funding most of the trip. Here is a photo of three generations of Nash in New Zealand.

4 Apr 2009

Kaikoura: One of the Best Birding Experiences of my Life with Albatross Encounter

Having left Kapiti Island we stayed in Wellington with my father's first cousin Jan for a few days before we headed to the South Island and went our seperate ways. I wanted to see Albatrosses at Kaikoura and Kea in Arthur's Pass and my father wanted to visit friends and go fishing.

I arrived in Kaikoura and stayed in the Adelphi Backpackers Lodge.I had booked to go out with Albatross Encounter about a week earlier on the internet. I got up on a beautiful morning and headed to the Encounter building. I had made sure I had taken my seasickness tablets the previous night and an hour before we were to leave. At the Encounter centre there is a really nice cafe serving excellent breakfasts and great coffee. so i had a quick coffee before our group of seven were to meet up with our guide Alastair Judkins.

Alastair drove us from the centre around a headland to where we would board the boat. Pretty much the same as Kapiti we got onto boat and it was then reversed into harbour. We made our way out to an offshore canyon which is pretty close to the shore.It is about a mile deep. It is here that two currents converge and forces nutrient rich water upwards which in turn supports a wide variety of fish and marine animals creating a wonderful feeding habitat for many different species of seabird.

The first we were to see were the Cape Pigeon or Cape Petrel.

They have a black and white colour and were named cape pigeons because they frequent Cape Horn. They are not a pigeon but a Petrel and in NZ follow fishing boats looking for scraps.

Once we were over the canyon Alastair put a bag of frozen chum overboard and what felt like seconds birds were coming in all directions. There were Great Northern Petrels,
Albatrosses and as they came in Alastair was pointing them out and naming them as they came in, as I was trying to photograph them. Westland petrel, Sooty Shearwater, White Chinned Petrel,
Buller's Shearwater,
Hutton's Shearwater, Salvin's Mollymawk,
Gibson's Wandering Albatross.

The shear beauty of these very large birds cleaving the water as they bank over the waves was awe inspiring. Also the backdrop of the Kaikoura Mountains made it all the more spectacular. To me it was one of the greatest birding experiences I have ever had.

Alastair then shouted Chatham Island Mollymawk.

This had to be the bird of the whole NZ trip for me. It is critically endangered on the IUCN red list. There are about 4500 pairs in the world and they breed on a rock called the Pyramid 800 miles to the East in the Chatham Islands. They would be a very rare visitor to New Zealand and this was only the third time in six or seven years that Alastair had seen one.It is one of the three sub species of Shy Mollymawk. It flew round the boat before coming into land right next to the chum. It really was a beautiful bird.

It then flew off not to be seen again. I then tried to take photos with my sigma 10-20mm lens with my camera body as low to the water as possible. I got a range of shots. In this one immediately below the tip of his bill is only about an inch away from the lens!!!

Then we were visited by a Black-browed Albatross of the Campbell Island Race. It is one of the most widespread albatrosses. It looks as though it is wearing eyeshadow.

The only other Mollymawk we saw was a New zealand White -capped Mollymawk. This one is immature.

Alastair then headed to show us the Spotted Shag Colony on a rock just a few hundreds from the shore when we stopped at a group of Buller's Shearwaters sitting on the water. We looked and photographed them and then he chucked the remaining chum into the water. The albatrosses and the giant petrels went into a feeding frenzy.It was a pretty noisy affair.

As a photographic experience it was second to none.It had to be one of the best mornings of my life. The next time I am in NZ I will definately go out on an earlier trip in the day to experience the early morning sunlight. I would also love to photograph the birds from an underwater perspective.

I entered this photograph, which I changed to Black and White, into the Birdforum Monthly Photo Competition (In this case the title was Monochrome Birds) and it won so I was pretty pleased with that.