31 Dec 2009

Birding Books I Have Read and Enjoyed This Year

Life List written by Olivia Gentile is about the life of Phoebe Snetsinger, one of the foremost listers of all times. She saw over 8000 species of bird in her lifetime. (Certainly beats my 439!) Its a fascinating account of her obsession with reaching the figure of 8000 birds. She didn't really start listing until she was fifty,when she was told that she had terminal cancer, even though her interest in birds was piqued by a Blackburnian Warbler in her mid thirties. She lived another eighteen years.

I found the first eighty pages of the book quite slow going as it mainly details her early life and family ties. It then picks up to the point where you are willing her on to get to 8000 species. Fortunately for her she inherited a large amount of money from her father which enabled her to travel on tours all over the world. She comes across as a woman that did not have a great amount of time for her family. She was totally single minded and did not suffer fools gladly. In those 18 years of obsession she virtually abandoned her husband, missed her mother's funeral and her daughter's wedding. Most shocking of all she was birding in New Guinea and only just survived being gang raped and it was ultimately on a birding trip to Madagascar that she died in a crash when her driver fell asleep on the road.

The book is a great read but even though one has a grudging admiration for Phoebe Snetsinger I would not have liked her to be my mother.

I found the "Big Year" by Mark Obmasick a thoroughly entertaining account of the competition between three birders in the United States to beat the Big Year record in 1998. Every year there is a competition in the States to see as many bird species as they can within the year. It follows three twitchers of varying backgrounds to compile their list. Two of whom are pretty well off and the third an ordinary overweight white collar worker having to borrow from his father to enable him to fly all over the USA to connect with the various species.

It is a humourous account of the three birders who are at first unaware that they are all striving for the same goal. I found it on a par with the Big Twitch by Sean Dooley and I would recommend it to anyone interested in birding and along with "Life List" for anyone who is interested in the obsession of listing.

The third book that I read was "Birding from the Hip" by Anthony McGeehan published by the "Sound Approach"

It is a collection of his articles that he wrote for Birdwatch Magazine and a number of extra articles all accompanied by some wonderful bird photography and I have to say I loved it.

Here is a link to a review by Charlie Moores from 10,000 Birds which says it far more eloquently than I can. Review is HERE

28 Dec 2009

A White Christmas in Donegal and lots of Fieldfares.

Recently I was in a garden in which there were loads of cut up apples attached to trees and on the ground. These were attracting Blackcaps, loads of Blackbirds and Song thrushes. So I decided to put out a few apples sliced in half on the ground. I was surprised how quickly that the Blackbirds came to them. I was also pleased to find on the second day a Fieldfare, which would have been a garden tick for me.

They are a lovely bird and not one I see that regularly around where I live. So it was quite a surprise when I went home to my Parents in Donegal over Christmas to see quite large numbers of them.

There was a bit of snow on the ground when we left Co.Down on Christmas Eve but there was progressively more as we got to Donegal. My sister who lives in central Scotland had considerably more snow and was unable to get over for Christmas. My Wife and I and our boys stayed in a cottage whch my parents provide as a holiday cottage on our farm at Drumaboden. It is listed here with Shamrock Holiday Cottages. As the crow flies it is less than a mile to my parents house but by road about three. Once you were off the main roads the roads in Donegal were pretty treacherous and I was glad that I had four wheel drive. I stopped at my parents first of all to unload christmas presents and as I got out of the car I got a year tick with a Woodcock that flew directly over their house. We had my parents over to dinner on Christmas eve along with my mother's brother, who was over from England.

I woke up fairly early at about 7.00am and stuck my head out the door to find the temperature was -10C I dont think have ever experienced it as cold in Donegal. (I was later reminded that I was only a few months old one when there was a very harsh spell in Donegal in the winter of 1962/1963 which froze Lough Fern, this is the lough near my parents house.) The birds were already coming to the peanut feeder next to the house. Goldfinches, Siskins, Coal Tits and Blue Tits.

It always amazes me the difference between the male and female of the Siskin. I put out some muesli which attracted Robins and Blackbirds. I went for a walk in the fields behind the house and watched the sun coming up. It really was a beautiful morning.
I could hear Mistle Thrushes in the furthest fields from the house and as I approached I could see there were probably 40 Fieldfares in the Holly Bushes along with a number of Redwings.

I had to go back to the house so that children could open stockings. (I think they are a bit old for it now, but mother christmas had done a nice job!!) I then went down to the farm around my parents house and helped with the feeding and watering of the sheep. Even though they are kept in during the winter their buckets of water had completely frozen over. The yard was dangerously icy and I drove my mother from one door to another. One hip replacement in the last two years was more than enough for her! After lunch which was soup and cheese I headed back to our cottage while the boys were sledging and snowboarding. I wanted to get some shots of the Fieldfares and Redwings while there were still some berries on the trees. I first of all took a shot of one of the Ram Lambs. The light was dying away and I took this shot of the view from the top of the farm.

I had really left it too late and I had to boost the iso on the camera and over expose for the birds by nearly two stops to get any detail at all. I like this shot of the Redwing as you can see why it is so aptly named.

I was standing close to this Holly tree which earlier in the day had tons of berries and now had very few. The Fieldfares were quite wary and would approach and see me and either fly off or dive in behind the tree out of my line of sight. This was the best image I got.

Over the weekend I did get out the beach at Rosapenna where there were about 14 Ringed Plover , a Sanderling and offshore about 50 Common Scoter. On the way to the beach we were approaching Glen on this dreadfully icy road and came round a corner to find I would say about 200 Fieldfares in the bushes on either side of the road.

Overall a pretty good Christmas and the snow was a bonus as were the Fieldfares!!

24 Dec 2009

17 Dec 2009

I think there are too many Hooded Crows in Ireland.

On my parents sheep farm in Donegal
one of the things that drives me nuts is the amount of Hooded Crows. One can walk into some of the fields and just watch the crows land on the sheep and pull out the wool. They is also a danger when a sheep gets on to its back that they are susceptible to attack. The Crows go for the eyes first and once this has happened generally the animal has to be destroyed.

There are a few farmers who put out dead rabbits or a dead sheep with Alpha Chloralose sprinkled over them. Alpha chloralose is used as a poison.It is an anaesthetic compound which disables the bird and they ultimately die of hypothermia. In America in the past it was used to capture Sandhill Cranes for live study. If a bird or animal has eaten it and is found soon enough there are antidotes if taken to a vet soon enough.

Unfortunately in Ireland it is still legal to use alpha chloralose for vermin control and it is this continued use that is putting the reintroduction schemes of Golden Eagles and White Tailed Eagles at risk. There are constant reports of Buzzards, Kites and White Tailed Eagles being poisoned in Ireland and I would hazard a guess that these are a by product of farmers trying to kill Magpies and Hooded crows. I doubt that they are specifically going after the Birds of Prey.

So what are the alternative solutions? Shooting or Trapping. Now if you have tried to get near a Magpie or Hooded Crow with a gun they are remarkably wary birds and one can barely get within shooting distance. They also become even more wary if you on that rare occasion succeed in shooting one.

So that leaves trapping. There is the Larsen Trap which can be quite effective. It uses a captive bird in one half of the trap. This attracts other Magpies or Crows and they then get themselves into the other half of the trap from where they can then be despatched.

The route I think that I will take is the Crow Trap like this one below its called a Ladder trap.

This type has been found to be pretty successful on some of the moors in Scotland and also here in Northern Ireland. I might see if I can get the man that built two for the RSPB here in Northern Ireland to build me one. One was used at Portmore Lough to protect the breeding Lapwing against the Hooded crows and the other was used in the Belfast Harbour Conservation area . The trap in the RSPB Belfast Harbour Conservation Area accidentally caught a Buzzard and a worker on the adjacent industrial site saw it on is cctv and reported it to the RSPB at Belvoir. RSPB Reserves Manager Gregory Woulahan had to go and release it!! He then had the trap destroyed. What a waste of £500 pounds or 15 memberships. At least the beauty of this trap type is that if they do capture something other than crows they can be released whereas the poison kills anything that should eat it.

7 Dec 2009

Eric Dempsey is retiring the BINS Line :-(

Eric Dempsey, The Bird Tour Leader,Public Speaker and Author of a number of books including the really excellent
is retiring his BINS phone line. You could ring this number and he would have a list of rare birds seen in Ireland each day. He also had the "Birds of Ireland News Service" website where you could often find photos of the various rarities.

In his own words.

The BINS line was established in the summer of 1990 and began providing the news service for IRELAND on 1st August 1990. The concept behind the line was to make accurate bird news more widely available to all birders rather than have such news confined to a small elite group as was the case in the 1980's and in early 1990. I hope that in the time since then, I have achieved that. Of course it was also done with the aim that it would pay for itself and perhaps generate some profit.

This autumn (2009) marked my 20th autumn running the line. In those many years I have established some great relationships with birders from all over Ireland and Britain. I have also experienced some wonderful moments; there really is nothing quite like the buzz when you get a call from a birder who is skilled enough/lucky enough to come across a mega. Many of those conversations are etched on my mind and will stay with me for as long as I live (or until dementia sets in anyway!). Knowing that I was about to update with a 'BINS Red Alert' was always a moment to savour.

Since the bird information line began on 1st August 1990, the 9.30 pm update has been done every single night with the exception of two occasions when it was impossible due to technical problems/cable faults. It is also worth remembering that until the mid-1990's, no-one had mobile phones, so the updates were often achieved utilising various phone boxes around the country. The first time BINS was updated using a mobile phone was on 14th September 1996 with the headline being a Greenish Warbler in Killian Mullarney's back garden.

In recent years my birding has taken a totally new direction. With an emphasis on guiding, educational work, writing and broadcasting, the aspect of rare birds has very much taken a back seat for me. With continued developments in this work, the time and commitment required to maintain the BINS line is now no longer a viable option for me. Therefore I wish to announce that from Wednesday 9th December next, the BINS Information line will cease. The last update will take place at 9.30 pm that night.

I would like to thank everyone for their support during the past 19 years. I would specifically like to thank Victor Caschera who maintained the BINS line on a number of occasions in the 1990's and Paul Kelly who has taken on the line many times over the past ten years, sometimes at very short notice. I am very grateful to you both.

With a change in direction, our website will also be redesigned over the next few months to draw attention to the varying services and work BINS undertakes. It will also feature a wider selection of Michael O'Clery's artwork as well as a new photographic gallery displaying our own images. With the emphasis now shifting from rare birds, I would also like to announce that our current December Gallery will be the last that will feature images of rare birds from photographers. With so many superb photographers now hosting their own websites, as well as various Birdwatch Ireland branches displaying images from their own local areas, many of the photographs displayed in our galleries were already in the public forum. I would like to thank all the talented photographers who, over the years, have shared their images with so many people through our website.

All that remains for me is to say that I look forward to great birding ahead and to thank each and every person who has supported this venture over the years. I do look forward to keeping in touch with you all, Regards, Eric Dempsey, BINS,

I wish him well in his endeavours especially his Bird Photography . Good Luck Eric!

4 Dec 2009

A Nice afternoon out at Killard Nature Reserve

Yesterday I got home from work and it was beautiful outside,there was really strong sunlight so I grabbed the dog and camera and headed out to Killard. The tide was high so some of the shorebirds were on the tideline feeding on the insects in the seaweed. The Redshanks always flying off before you can get close usually in a state of high dudgeon. The Bar-tailed Godwits also flying way before I could get close calling in their distinctive way rather like a high pitched mocking laugh.

The Turnstones on the other hand are always fairly approachable and the numbers are slowly building up.

As I was walking along the shoreline I noticed a Greenshank flying towards me so I lay down and it landed fairly close. The moment the shutter clicked it was off.

I made my way to see if I could find the Grey Plover that seems to like a small outcrop and where I have seen it now over a period of five years returning every August. It is fairly shy and I saw it through my binoculars in the distance and I tried to creep and then finally crawl towards it. As I got closerI was amazed to see that there were five of them. The most I have seen there at one time.

This has to be one of my favourite birds and one of the reasons I love going out to Killard.

I also like the winter sun as it is generally fairly low in the sky and can give really good photographic opportunities. Between Killard and Strangford there is a small bay which can be brilliant for waders and today was no exception. There were a few hundred Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Greenshank, over a hundred Dunlin, Ringed Plover and quite a few Gulls.

A fab afternoon.