29 Dec 2010

Feeding the Birds with My New Applefeeder and Some New Garden Ticks

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I feed the birds in my garden all year round. I have a peanut feeder,which attracts mainly Great Tit, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Starling, Greenfinch, House Sparrow and Long-tailed Tits.
Long-tailed Tits at Peanut Feeder

A Nyjer feeder which mainly attracts Goldfinches, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll and a window feeder which I put sunflower hearts into which attracts Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Blackbirds and occasionally Lesser Redpoll.
Lesser Redpoll at Nyjer Feeder

Earlier in the year I was in a friend's garden and saw his success at pulling in birds by putting apples out on the ground, particularly the thrush family. So I decided I would make a hanging applefeeder and see how it would fare. I used an old coathanger and fed the apples onto it as well as making a few perches. In the first few days there didn't seem to be that much interest. Then little by little I saw more and more birds using it. My first real surprise was a male Blackcap. It visited for three days in a row but hasn't been back since. Bluetits use it a fair amount and Blackbirds are the most popular user with Starling coming a close second. So all in all a success. Apart from my unwelcome visitor see below.
Blackbird and Blackcap on Applefeeder
Starling on Applefeeder
Bluetit on Applefeeder
Rat and Applefeeder
 With the recent cold weather and snow cover I have been putting wildbird food out on the ground as well. I use Jollyes Wildbird Food (£8.69/ 13kg) which is similar to the RSPB Table Bird seed Mix  for which they charge (£16.99/12.75Kg) Thats a staggering £8.63 more expensive per bag!!!!
I also have been putting feed out on the shoreline in front of my house during the really cold spell for this I use the Jollyes Budgerigar No 2 seed. This was the seed that used to be put out in front of the Belfast Harbour Reserve Hide to attract the Godwit and Duck on the reserve. Putting this feed out in front of the house attracted Teal, Wigeon and some Mallard and on one afternoon I had 70+ Black-tailed Godwit as well, which would be the largest amount I have seen here.

This cold weather has attracted five new species of bird into the garden the first was this Mistle Thrush. I have also had up to four Brambling and two Tree Sparrows and this very bossy Fieldfare. However my most exciting garden tick was on last friday morning as I was getting up I noticed a large shadow in a patch of grass which I had cleared of the snow on my lawn. I switched on the outside light and walked outside to witness a Long-eared Owl taking off. I assume that with all my ground feeding it was attracting rodents and the owl had been attracted by them. They breed within a few miles of the house so not together all that surprised.

Mistle Thrush

Brambling in Snow

Tree Sparrow


27 Dec 2010

Short-Eared Owls, Woodcock and Merlin at Killard Nature Reserve


A week ago Sunday I was walking Pickle out at Killard Nature Reserve when I saw a Short-eared Owl fly off into the distance towards Gibbs Island. At the time I was quite disappointed as it was only the second time I had ever seen one and it was too far away to photograph. The first time being also out at Killard about seven years ago and on that occasion it was also fairly distant.

Pickle in the Snow

On wednesday it was my day off and a beautiful morning to boot so yet again I headed out to Killard. As I approached the Cloghy Rocks the sight of the mist lifting off the Strangford Narrows with the sun shining through was so intense that i had to stop the car and get out and photograph it.
Mist over the Strangford Narrows

Lapwing and Mist over the Strangford Narrows

The roads around me were treacherous with the snow that had turned to ice. We are experiencing one of the coldest Decembers on record in Northern Ireland with daytime temperatures getting no higher than -5C and in some parts it has gone down to -18.6C the coldest since the 1890's. This in turn is having a dire effect on the birds. As I approached where I park I could see Chaffinches, Bramblings, Skylarks, Yellowhammers and even Snipe feeding right in the centre of the road. In the car I had some bird seed which I put out on the side of the road for them.

Snipe Gallinago gallinago

Walking out round the small peninsular that Killard is I was putting up Snipe and Woodcock everywhere. They were feeding right out in the open. I assume that the ground is marginally softer here than further inland. There are also cattle feeding out there and the probe marks in the cowpats were plainly obvious.

As I came round to Ben Dearg Beach I saw loads of thrushes. There were mainly Song Thrushes, Redwings and Blackbirds. In the past on this blog I have mentioned the thrush anvils where you can see the detritus of smashed snails against rocks and how I had barely ever seen a thrush out there. Not this time the song thrushes were working away all over the place.
Song Thrush using Anvil

I then saw this Peregrine diving on a Woodcock. I actually heard it first as it came over my head with a real whoosh, the Woodcock literally dived into the ground and escaped. The Peregrine almost looked bemused and then flew high up in the sky and proceeded to dive on another bird which also escaped into a clump of gorse.

As I headed inland from the beach this Short-eared Owl flew up from the long grass and flew directly away from me and pitched back in to the maran grass and as I headed to get a better look another one lifted out of the grass just in front of me which I was able to photograph and then yet another one lifted up out of the grass to my right. What fabulous birds. One of them was far more rufous underneath than the other two. Three at one time absolutely made my day. I assume that they were using the area to roost.
Short-eared Owl at Killard

Short-eared Owl at Killard

However the day just got better and better with Woodcock everywhere and decent light to actually photograph them in flight. On the previous Sunday I had seen 30+ , on the Wednesday 50+, and this morning I saw 72. I have never seen anything like it, some birds appeared to be coming in off the sea.
Woodcock Scolopax rusticola
Woodcock Scolopax rusticola

Woodcock Scolopax rusticola

Woodcock Scolopax rusticola

Woodcock Scolopax rusticola
Woodcock Scolopax rusticola

Woodcock Scolopax rusticola

While I was photographing the Woodcock I noticed a Merlin chasing Skylarks and in mid attack it diverted towards the ground and out of sight only to reappear clutching a Robin.
Merlin with Robin
Merlin with Robin
Merlin looking back at me

All in all it had to be one of the best mornings birding I had ever had.

16 Dec 2010

I and the Bird #140 and Twitter

I and the Bird

Wow "I and the Bird" is still here and so am I. Exactly 100 editions ago on 7 January 2007 I hosted the #40th Edition of "I and the Bird". How time flies when you are having fun. I find unlike the regularity of "I and the Bird" I now blog irregularly compared to when I started. So for all those that host "I and the Bird" fortnight after fortnight I am in admiration.

I now read far more birding blog posts than I used to and this is primarily down to Twitter.  I have thoroughly taken to Twitter and I reckon if you are a blogger who blogs about birds or a bird photographer it is an excellent form of social media to promote your blog or photography, infact far better than Facebook. You will also over time make quite good friends as well.  So please feel free to follow me @Birdblogger   

One of the wonders of following loads of birders and bird photographers on Twitter is that all these people are tweeting about things they have seen or posting links to interesting subjects. So for those not on Twitter it's time to join.

In this edition of "I and the Bird" there are some that tweet and others that don't. So I am going to going to describe the link within 140 letters as you have to on twitter. If the blogger is on twitter I will start it with their twitter name and then a second link within the tweet will be to the post in question.If they are not on twitter I will start with an imaginary twitter address which will be linked to their post.

@Docforestal  Dan Huber went to Hammonasset Beach and took photos of Ring-billed Gull, Northern Harrier and Waders. http://bit.ly/hgt7cj

@Tyto_Tony Tony asks himself whether he should be helping a juvenile Pacific Baza (Crested Hawk) that has fallen from the nest.

@Dreamfalcon Dreamfalcon is giving the results of his Quiz from a "Walk in the Snow part 3" http://bit.ly/fg3mpC

@Ben_Cruachan Duncan from Australia has been watching the Grey Fantail building it's beautiful nest.

@Dendroica John has found a Northern Parula staying in New Jersey a wee bit longer than expected.

@Twin_Cities_Naturalist Kirk has been using a motion activated camera to photograph a Bald eagle on a deer carcass.

 @The_Ridger Karen spent time with her father over Thanksgiving and you should see the birds she saw. http://bit.ly/ejBr5v

@Nemesis_Bird Alex has been watching Hawks and Raptors in Snowy Weather

@The-Birders-Lounge Amber has been studying the White Ibis an ancient idol.

 @GrrlScientist  This post invites YOU to join in the World Parrot Count an international citizen science project http://bit.ly/fQ9Ttk

@Slugyard  Mike found three different species of Woodpecker in his backyard including the biggest and smallest in America.

@CountYourChickens BLUE, BLUE, BLUE Jill has been out photographing  Eastern Bluebirds 

@Focussing JSK was driving from Howard's Covered Bridge when she came across a juvie Red Shouldered Hawk.

@10,000_Birds Corey has been birding in the high elevation grasslands of Ecuador in the Antisana Ecological Reserve.

@gregladen Greg has been watching some ducks being blown about both at home and on youtube. http://bit.ly/e4F9fc

@Soaringfalcon1 Larry has posted his favourite Bird Photographs from this year. http://bit.ly/e9oXO8

@WanderinWeeta    Susannah has been in Rome or was it Boundary Bay looking at Sanderling and Dunlin   http://bit.ly/gUp1My

The Next Edition of "I and the Bird" is being hosted by Robert Mortensen who can be found on Twitter @Birding_Is_Fun  send him your blogpost to birdingisfun at gmail.com or contact him on Twitter.





13 Dec 2010

My Favourite 40 Books about Birds, Birding and Bird Photography (Part 2: The Second Ten)

11. Top 100 Birding Sites of the World by Dominic Couzens
I really like this book as it fills you with pipe dreams of where you could go birding in the world. Do I want to go to Merzouga in Morocco to catch up with the Houbara Bustard, Andasibe in Madagascar to see the Common Sunbird-asity, Abra Patricia in Peru to see the Marvellous Spatuletail, a pelagic in Monterey Bay off the coast of California to see the Black-footed Albatross or the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia to see the Spot-breasted Lapwing. It just fills you with dreams of birding in foreign shores.

12. Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair (originally from Northern Ireland) Phil Hockey and Warwick Tarboton
This has to be in my opinion the guidebook if you are going to the Southern half of Africa. I used it on my visit to Namibia and found it invaluable. You can even get it now as an app for the Iphone.

 13. Down the Long Wind by Garth Christian
My parents have had this book for as long as I can remember and I would have read it in my teens when I had a voracious appetite for reading. It was published in 1961 and is all about bird migration.
 14. The Big Twitch
This to me is the best twitching book that I have read. It is gripping, amusing and unputdownable. Sean Dooley tries to break the record for the amount of birds seen in Australia in one year. Not that I have the inclination to do a big year, well maybe I might be keen on photographing as many birds as I can in one year. However in the book Dooley writes "infact the older I got, the more important birdwatching became to me. It went from just a hobby to being fundamental to my sense of self and a vital component in maintaining my mental health." I feel in total agreement with this comment as do I am sure many other birders. Go get it it's the best twitch book there is.
 15. Shorebirds by Hayman, Marchant and Prater
An excellent guide to the Wader species of the world. Hayman doing the illustrations which I think are excellent. A couple of years ago I bought a plate of Black Grouse that Hayman did for the Birds of the Western Palearctic Concise Volume 1. I think highly of his skills as a bird illustrator.
16. Border Reflections by Lord Home
In my teens I used to shoot and fish alot and I was given this book by my father. It is a signed edition by Lord Home (pronounced Hume) who was Prime Minister from 1963 to 1964. The book was illustrated by Rodger McPhail an outstanding sporting artist. Even though I gave up shooting four to five years ago it is one of my favourite books. Strangely a few years after I received it I was travelling through Europe on the Interail. I met three girls from London on a train in Italy and I continued travelling with them for a few weeks and one of them, Fiona, who I quite fancied, was Lord Home's granddaughter.
17. Masterpieces of Bird Photography by Eric Hosking and Harold Lowes
This book was published in 1947 and has amazing black and white prints of birds photographed in Britain going back to as early as 1892 by the Kearton brothers. There is a great photo of a pair of Black Throated Divers at their nest in Argyll taken by J.E Ruxton. It was taken with 8.5 inch focal length lens which today would be a 200mm lens at f8 for 1/4 second. Amazingly the photo is sharp.
Even in 1914 Douglas English, President of the Zoological Photographic Club, was concerned with photographs of captive species. He wrote "The true function of nature photography is to record and illustrate natural phenomena, without addition, without suppression, and above all things, without exaggeration of the difficulties involved." He also wrote "publication of a natural history photograph which purports to be a photograph from life, but which is in fact a photograph of a posed specimen, is in our view, a contemptible form of dishonesty" !!!!

 18. Blokes and Birds edited by Stephen Moss
My sister gave me this for my birthday six years ago. It is pieces written by well known members of the British Birding community and relates a tale by each of them and also mentioning their favourite bird. On one side of each page there is a nice black and white portrait of each birder.
19. Flight Identification of European Seabirds by Blomdahl, Breife and Holmstrom
I bought this when I first started to seawatch in the hope that it may help me identify seabirds. It is a photographic guide and pretty good. My only point against it is that most of the photographs are taken on really beautiful days and in reality the weather on a seawatch is rarely as nice.
 20. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America
This is my latest acquisition as I thought it maybe helpful if I found an American bird on Inishbofin and didn't know what it was. It's a really nice guide and nicely illustrated. I use it quite often when reading American Birding blogs and am not sure about the species that is been talked about.

28 Nov 2010

My Favourite 40 Books about Birds, Birding and Bird Photography (Part 1: The First 10)

These are the first ten of my favourite books either about Birds, Birding or Bird Photography. They are in no particular order of favouritism as I find on some days I am more interested in one particular book than another.

1. Birds of Europe by Lars Jonsson
To my mind the most beautifully illustrated Bird guide in the world. Lars Jonsson has to be one of the finest bird illustrators there is. One day I intend to go to his museum in Sweden and buy one of his illustrations.

2. Thorburn's Birds by James Fisher
This was the book that started it all for me. I was given this book as a 5th birthday present by my paternal grandfather. The illustrations by Archibald Thorburn are quite superb, he is definitely one of my favourite bird artists. I have a couple of signed prints one is a pair of Nuthatches and the other a Woodcock. Unfortunately the cover on my book disintegrated years ago. So below is one of the plates from the book.

3. Readers Digest Book of British Birds
This would have been my first guide book, which not that I knew it at the time was seen to be a breakthrough in bird guides in that era (Early 70's).  It was illustrated predominantly by New Zealander Raymond Ching for the main plates and Robert Gillmor for the line drawings. It has been well thumbed over the years.

4. The Eye of the Wind by Peter Scott
This is Sir Peter Scott's autobiography. He was one of the founding fathers of modern  conservation and bird painter. He founded the Severn Wildfowl Trust , which is now The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust

5. An Eye for a Bird by Eric Hosking
For forty years from the beginning of the 40's Eric Hosking was Britain's most renown bird photographer. This is his autobiography. He photographed 1800 species of bird in his life and don't forget this was prior to digital photography. Up until the 60's he was using medium format before changing to 35mm. In thirty years he said he took around 150,000 photographs. Nowadays a full time bird photographer would be taking that amount in a year or two. In 1949 he took this photo of a hovering Nightjar. Even nowadays you wouldn't find many bird photographers being able to take a shot like that.

6.  The PEREGRINE Falcon by Derek Ratcliffe
I bought this signed edition in the last few years off someone from Birdforum it was published by T & AD Poyser in 1980. It is a fascinating book which covers the Peregrine's biology and the effect that pesticides had on their decline in the UK. It was later updated in the 90's. Derek Ratcliffe's most important legacy was the National Nature Reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSI's) set up when he was the chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy Council

7. Finding Birds in Ireland by Eric Dempsey and Michael O'Clery
If you are visiting Ireland and want to go birding I reckon this book Finding Birds in Ireland and the Birds of Europe by Lars Jonsson are all you need. It covers every County in Ireland and is very detailed. For example one of my local patches is the Quoile Pondage. It gives you good directions how to get there, the species of bird you are likely to find year round and then a list of the seasonal birds as well as a list of the rarities that have been found there.

8. The Shorebird Guide by Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley and Kevin Karlson
This is mainly a photographic guide from America that relies on looking at the birds size, structure, behaviour and colour patterns at different stages in their life cycle. The photography is quite superb. I have a number of shorebird guides and this is definitely one I would turn to first. Richard Crossley is publishing the Crossley ID Guide in April which will be a very different photographic ID book to those in the past.

9. Bird News Vagrants and Visitors on a Peculiar Island by E. Vernon Laux
This book is about a year in the bird life of Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. I lived on Martha's Vineyard on and off for nearly five years in the eighties and was sent this book when it came out. I have read it a few times and reminisce what I might have seen. At the time I wasn't quite as fanatical about birds and even though I saw Cardinals,  Blue Jays and Common Grackle and even at one time killed four Northern Bobwhite when they flew in front of the van I was driving. I look forward to going back there one day.

10. The Birds of the British Isles by Bannerman and Lodge
This is a series of twelve volumes completed during the 50's and early 60's. They belonged to my grandparents only two still have their original cover. The illustrations were all done by George Edward Lodge one of the finest bird artists at that time.