25 Aug 2009

WWW.NATURESCAPES.NET Bird Image of the Week

I was really pleased to find that my photograph of an Albatross at Kaikoura in New Zealand has been chosen as Image of the Week in the Birds section of Naturescapes .

23 Aug 2009

Knot on the Beach at Killard NR

I headed out to Killard NR in the afternoon. I am not that fond of visiting on weekends as there can be too many people out there for my liking but Pickle needed a walk. There was quite a few cars parked where I park so the omens weren't good. If one is into Bird Photography as I am it can be quite frustrating getting closer and closer to a particular bird when unbeknownst to you a person is walking nearby and spooks it. The tide was just turning from High and there were tons of Ringed Plover and quite a few Dunlin feeding on the recently uncovered tideline all were fairly easily spooked, nice to see in such numbers nevertheless.

The Sandmartins are still here in quite large numbers (It has been a fantastic year for them at Killard) and it cannot be long before they head southwards again. There are lots of butterflies about settling on the Ragweed. Over the past week a couple of contractors have been pulling all the Ragweed and leaving it in black plastic bags to be picked up later, so the place is littered with bags. I have pulled Ragwort years ago on my parents farm in Donegal and I do not envy them there job. Infact I think they are doing a wonderful job.

I was about two thirds of my way round to Ben Dearg Beach when these two microlights came towards Killard from the Ards Peninsula they were flying quite low. I dont mind them but I do mind when they fly really low over the coastline disturbing everything.The Oystercatchers, Whimbrel, Curlew and Gulls were flying in every direction. It just put me in a mood.

This mood was to be lifted!!!! One of the things I like about spontaneous Bird Photography is that you never know what you are going to see and whether you are going to get nice images or not. As I got to the beach there seemed to be a few people at the far end and lots of Ringed Plover and Dunlin about. Again I couldnt get very close to them. I walked to the waters edge and chucked a stone in the sea for the dog when a flock of about 25 Knot flew past. I have only seen a few Knot at Killard in the last ten years so this was a nice surprise and then they landed about 50 yards away.

I walked slowly towards them and before long they took off again and flew down the beach and back again and this time landed about 20-30 feet away.
I then lay down on a soaking wet beach and crept closer and closer and meanwhile they edged closer and closer to me. Magical!!
Pickle was digging a hole in the beach and not interested in them thank goodness. I took lots of shots annoyingly I could rarely separate them. What was nice was that the background matched their colours. Then some people were walking towards me and the Knot flew away and out of sight. I left the beach on a total high!! Bird Photography is one of the best Drugs!!!

So what originally was very frustrating turned into a brill afternoon even if my front did get totally soaked!!
You can click on photos for a larger image except this one below which doesn't need to be blown up as it is big enough already ;-)

16 Aug 2009

Evening Boat Trip around the Copeland Islands and some Manx Shearwaters

I receive a mailout from the Copeland Bird Observatory and there was the offer of an evening out by boat to go round the Copeland Islands and for a brief visit to the Copeland Bird Observatory. So I rang Neville McKee and booked a place on the boat.

I do not on the whole do much in the evenings as I get up for work at 2.15 each day and like to be in bed by 9.30. But anyway I arrived at Donaghadee (The top right hand corner of Co.Down) to meet the boat at 6 O'Clock.I have not visited Donaghadee for a few years. The last time I was there I was looking at gravestones at a church in the centre of the town. My mothers side of the family came from Scotland to Northern Ireland in 1608 and settled just outside Donaghadee. There are gravestones in the church in Donaghadee that go back to the early 1800's for our family.

On the pier there was Neville McKee (Who has been ringing birds on the Copelands since the 1950's) There was also one of the Belfast Harbour ex volunteers , a couple of other faces that I didn't know and Anthony McGeehan. We all got into this lobster boat and headed out of the Harbour. The Copeland Islands are only a few miles from the coast.They consist of three Islands Copeland, Mew and Lighthouse Island. It is Lighthouse where the bird observatory is situated. We headed out towards Mew Island with the present day lighthouse.

There wasnt much activity on the water a few Gannets flying past , a couple of Fulmars and far off in the distance a few Manxies shearing the water but nothing close up. As we were rounding the Light house a Peregrine flew up and perched in one of the lighthouse windows. This is a heavily cropped image.

There were a few seals on the rocks and lots of Kittiwakes and a couple of Sanderling.
We then landed on the Lighthouse Island where the the Copeland Bird Observatory is based.

We all made our way upto the observatory at the top of the island. There were lots of wildflowers, a few rabbits and quite a number of gulls. The views were great here is a photo looking towards Kilroot Power Sation on the North side of Belfast Lough.
and looking down on Mew Island and the lighthouse you can just make out Scotland in the background..At the top Neville McKee introduced those of us that hadnt been before to the Observatory. The kitchen, Sitting Room,(A fab library of bird books!) The showers!!!! Basically Hand pump sprayers!!! and then to the ringing room and all its paraphernalia. He showed us a couple of tracking devices which are being used on three manxies at the moment.
On the island at the moment is Kerry Leonard (see update at bottom of page) and an Oxford PHD Student Holly, who was studying the Manx Shearwaters. They had been tracking three Shearwaters and she showed us the results of where they had been feeding in the Irish Sea. One had been going up to the Firth of Forth in Scotland another had been feeding off the eastern side of the Isle of Man and the other more locally. Anthony was saying that it was surprising none were feeding down towards St John's Point in South Down as one can quite often see hundreds of them from there. Holly usually does her studies on Skomer Island in Wales and had tracked the Manxies from there and alot came over from Wales to the east coast of Ireland and made their way up the coast with some surprisingly feeding just off the Copeland Islands before returning to Skomer. So from that I must assume that many of the Manxies I see from Killard NR are probably from Skomer!! and not the Copelands as I had always thought.
After showing us the results we went down the Island to some of the study burrows that is to say a burrow that has a concrete block over the nesting area so that the block is removed and the ringers can easily access the chicks and adults.
Kerry Leonard showed us a couple of chicks.

At the mouth of some of the study burrows particularly the ones where the birds have tracking devices there are little markers to tell them that the Adult has returned. So when the stick has been knocked over they know the adult has returned.
The chicks were lovely and had the softest down on them and they even smelled wonderful.

The chicks were returned to their burrows to await the adults returning with food during the night. Whereas we headed back to the boat and went to look for some Shearwaters on the water. George Henderson another ringer directed us from the Island.
There was a small flock on the water
As we got closer they started to take off and flyby. The light was really poor for photography and I was using a high iso to get any decent shutter speed. These were the two best efforts

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable evening apart from the fact I got to bed at 11.15pm and had to be up again in three hours time!!

UPDATE: Kerry Leonard is in charge of the Copeland end of the shearwater tracking studies. He obtained the funding from the NIEA for the study and is a cooperative venture between the Zoology Department of Oxford University (headed by Prof Tim Guilford, who was not on the island last week), The Copeland Bird Observatory and Sterna Environmental (Kerry Leonards company name)

9 Aug 2009

Beyond Belfast Harbour RSPB

On a number of mornings recently I have been sitting out on the breakwater beyond the RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve. There is the main channel that leads down into the centre of Belfast and to the Harland and Wolff dry docks. From the reserve hide it looks quite narrow but in effect has to be 400 metres wide. Here is a picture of a cruise liner taken from the reserve going down this channel.

I enjoy just sitting in one position for an hour or more as you really get to observe what is going on around you. Also the birds tend not to worry about you after a while. I had been watching some Common Sandpipers flying past and in a 90 minute period about 25 flew past. One of them landed pretty close to me.

and here is another coming into land.

They are a lovely wee bird and in flight can be easily identified they have a stiff wingbeat which is spasmodic and then they glide with their wings in the downward position with some flickering wingbeats.

Overhead meanwhile the Common Terns and Arctic Terns are returning with food for their young on the Tern Islands within the Reserve. I have seen them carrying small crabs, prawns, sandeels and small fish.

I was also fortunate to hear a Little Tern flying amongst the Terns. This would be the second time only that I have seen a Little Tern at the reserve.

As the tide rises in Belfast Lough many of the waders such as Curlew and Oystercatcher will fly towards Belfast and go and roost at the Belfast Harbour Reserve. So they all tend to fly down this channel. Here is a Curlew and Oystercatcher.

While I was sitting there a party of Eider Duck swam by.

Also you can see Black Guillemots feeding in the channel heres one flying.

Next weekend this channel will be filled with tall ships as Belfast has been chosen as the destination for the final leg of the 2009 Atlantic Challenge Tall Ships Race. So it will be Tall Ships not Birds I will be photographing for that weekend!!