25 Sep 2010

A Rather Dazed Sparrowhawk. Photo Taken With An Iphone

I arrived home from work and was sitting at my living room window. I had been sitting for a while reading "The Biggest Twitch" by Alan Davies and Ruth Miller and was quite surprised that nothing was coming to the bird feeders especially my window based one. Then I noticed a juvenile Sparrowhawk sitting on the ground with it's eyes closed and it's head twisted around on it's back. So I went out and picked it up remembering how Staffan Roos from Queen's University held a Sparrowhawk at a BTO bird ringing course a few years back.  I then took the following photos with my Iphone 4. It spent nearly half an hour with one of its eyes closed before before it flew off. It flew in a couple of circles round the house before settling in a tree where it remained until dark.

I have to say I have been very impressed with the quality of photograph for a phone.
Juvenile Sparrowhawk
Juvenile Sparrowhawk

22 Sep 2010

I Thought For A Moment I Had Found A Rare Wheatear and The One Legged Redshank

I was out at Killard Nature Reserve this lunchtime and I noticed a small pale bird fly up and land down on the shoreline. I put up my binoculars and my heart was racing as I thought initially I had found a rare Wheatear. Not knowing the family particularly well I wondered whether it might be a Desert Wheatear or Isabelline and beyond those I wouldn't have a clue. I got close enough to photograph it and was really looking for some obvious black detail in the feathers in the tail.
Leucistic Wheatear

Then it flew off and you can see from the photo below that it was a very pale colour where the black should have been and from that I assumed it had to be a leucistic Wheatear.

Leucistic Wheatear in Flight

On my way back I saw in the distance this Peregrine chasing a Sparrowhawk. It was a pretty close thing and in the end the Sparrowhawk just dove straight into a crop field to escape scattering hundreds of Linnets that were feeding there.
Peregrine chasing Sparrowhawk

I then stopped off at Tullyhill on the way back and the two Curlew Sandpiper were still there and there also seems to be an increasing amount of Golden Plover every day. This Linnet popped up onto a rock right beside the car.

For at least the last month I have wondered whether a particular Redshank only had one leg. It hops everywhere and after a certain amount of effort just sits down. Well today it was far closer to the shore and I could see that it's left leg was just a stump up by its body. I hope it survives.
One Legged Redshank

The "East Cork Edition" Seems To Advocate Poisoning of Birds

I was rather astonished to be alerted to a link by Bird Photographer Rónán McLaughlin in the East Cork Edition about the Indian House Crow that has recently been found in Cobh Co.Cork. With the concerns in Ireland about the recent poisoning of Birds of Prey it seems extraordinary and totally irresponsible to have posted this article in it's format.
There is the picture of the bird followed by a few lines about the bird and the reason for the twitchers visiting it. The remainder of the article had been plagiarised from the GISP (Global Invasive Species Program) website . Shoddy journalism.  You can see from the article that it is saying that this bird is undesirable shortly followed by method of control. How long will it be before somebody thinks it's time to get rid of this bird. It essentially is not that different from our own Hooded Crow and Magpie who both have the same undesirable characteristics.

This was the article below copied

Rare Sighting – Indian House Crow Visits Cobh

Rare Sighting The Indian House Crow photographed by Stephen Lawlor in Cobh on Sept 18th
‘This is only the second time this species has been spotted here in Ireland. It most probably came here on a boat, as they do not migrate or fly over large bodies of water. This species has never been spotted in the UK, hence the twitchers from the UK present in Cobh’. Stephen Lawlor
About The Indian House Crow
As its name suggests, the native range of the Indian house crow, Corvus splendens, is centered in India, and extends from Iran in the west to Burma in the east However, the bird was introduced to Africa in the 1890s, reportedly via Zanzibar, where it was brought to help keep the island free of rubbish. It subsequently spread along the coast of  Africa by hitching lifts on ships, and is now found right down to Cape Town at the southern tip of Africa. The crow also inhabits parts of the North African coast bordering the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea. It mainly occurs in urban and suburban environments, living in close association with humans.

A mean competitor

As an avian invader, the Indian house crow is undesirable for a host of reasons:
• It is an aggressive and opportunistic feeder, and has a devastating impact on indigenous bird populations by eating eggs and chicks, and mobbing other birds that might compete with it.

• It threatens the local wildlife by preying heavily on frogs, lizards, small mammals, fish, crabs and insects.

• It affects agricultural productivity by stripping fruit trees in orchards and decimating grain crops, eating chicks of domestic poultry, and has even been known to peck out the eyes of sheep and pigs.

• It is unafraid of humans, and may enter houses to steal food, dive-bomb people walking past the nest, and frighten or even injure children by snatching food from their hands.

• In Cape Town many of the roosting areas are close to the airport, representing a bird-strike hazard for air planes.

• Indian house crows have also been blamed for causing power cuts in some areas, as they often construct nests out of wire in electric pylons.

• Furthermore, their droppings at roosts and feeding areas have been known to strip paint off walls and deface statues.
More seriously, however, the birds pose a threat to human health, because they are a vector for pathogens that cause cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and salmonella poisoning.

They scavenge for food in rubbish dumps, informal settlements, open-air abattoirs and markets, and may contaminate food and drinking water with their faeces. It is primarily because they represent a health hazard that efforts are made to control their populations.


To date, the most effective control has been achieved using the poison Starlicide (3-chloro-p-toluidine hydrochloride). The poison is mixed with meat bait, ideally beef, which should be cut into small chunks and fed to the birds at a feeding site near their roost. However, before any poisoning takes place the birds should be accustomed to being fed by conducting pre-baiting for at least two weeks. A regular feeding routine should be established until the birds recognise the baiter and a large group gathers at the feeding site well before feeding. Pre-baiting also lessens the risk of ingestion by non-target species, as the crows will chase off any other birds approaching the feeding site.

Once the crows are habituated, they should be fed poisoned bait. Starlicide takes about 20 hours to take effect, but since it is metabolised during that period, the corpse will be free of poison and will not affect other animals that might scavenge on it. Dead crows around the roost site should be collected by somebody other than the baiter to avoid arousing the birds’ suspicion.

Island innovation

An innovative ‘bounty system’ has proven highly successful in controlling the Indian house crow in the Seychelles. A cash reward is paid for each crow delivered to the authorities, which encourages community involvement in the control programme. In addition, a ‘green line’ has been set up, allowing members of the public to phone in and report sightings of the crow and other alien invaders. The initiative is part of an aggressive campaign to raise public awareness about the threats posed by invasive alien species to this island paradise.

Did You Know?
It is thought that the Indian house crow was introduced to Europe via Egypt as a stowaway on warships passing through the Suez Canal while returning from the Gulf War. The first European record was from Gibraltar in March 1991, and a small breeding colony has since become established in Holland.
The Indian house crow is known to stage gang attacks on domestic livestock, pets and even people in its native range. Records of the crow feeding on human corpses and killing young goats, calves, sheep and domestic cats are commonplace in India. It is not unusual to see the birds hitching rides on the backs of pigs, feeding on watermelon rinds and street garbage, flitting in and out of train stations or darting through open windows to snatch food.

UPDATE: The article has now been changed due to I suspect complaints to a much better one by birder Jim Wilson.

14 Sep 2010

Buff-Breasted Sandpiper and Lapland Bunting at Ballycotton Co.Cork

Buff-Breasted Sandpiper

On Saturday evening I had just got home from work and was pondering what to do on Sunday when I noticed I had a missed call. I rang back and was asked whether I would like to go to Ballycotton in Co.Cork (272 Miles Door to Beach) on Sunday to hopefully see the Buff-breasted Sandpiper's and Curlew Sandpiper's that had been seen on the beach there over the previous couple of days. Buff-breasts would be a lifer for me. Well in 1997 I spent three months living in Ballycotton while I attended the Ballymaloe Cookery School in nearby Shannagary. It used to take me between five and a half hours to get there and the thought of doing the there and back in a day wasn't the most appealing. However the draw of seeing this bird was too strong. Especially as a fellow bird photographer Rónán McLaughlin had posted this beautiful shot of two of them on flickr a couple of days earlier. I asked what time we would leave and was told meet me at McDonalds in Lisburn at 3.30am......

We met up at 3.30am and I then went to sleep for a while and by 7.00am we were approaching Cork and the sun was just rising. Driving to Cork is now a doddle, especially when being driven :-) It really is dual carriageway from Belfast to Cork. All the towns that you used to take an age to drive through have now been bypassed it's just great.

We arrived at the beach and there were already three birders and a bird photographer there. Dennis O'Sullivan, who I was told was Ireland's biggest lister and Paul Moore and as yet an unidentified photographer. The Buff-Breasts hadn't at this stage been seen so Anthony and I headed off towards the lake and were astounded by the amount of Wheatears. They were everywhere.
Male and Female Wheatear on Hogweed Seedheads

Wheatear on Thistles

  It wasn't long before Anthony said there's a  Lapland Bunting on the fence.
Lapland Bunting

 My first lifer of the day. We saw seven in all with five flying overhead at one point. We were also fortunate to see both Lapland and Reed Bunting perching on a fence for comparison purposes. Every now and again when it was disturbed it would fly off and circle giving it's fairly distinctive flight call.
Lapland Bunting and Reed Bunting

 Then as we were walking along the shore we put up a Ruff. Then we saw 9 Brent Geese all of which were adults. These were the first I had seen this autumn.  A Kestrel flew over and was being mobbed by Linnets and Meadow Pipits.
We headed back to the car to make a cup of tea. As we were having tea the Buff-Breasted Sandpipers landed on the beach in front of us along with a couple of Curlew Sandpiper, some Dunlin and a Little Stint.

As time went on there were more and more people arriving to walk their dogs which were putting up the birds. Dick Coombes of Birdwatch Ireland dropped in for an hour to see them before heading off to Cape Clear where he was due to be Course Leader on Birdwatch Irelands Migration and Seabirds Course.

After the waders had been flushed again by a couple totally oblivious to the fact that lots of people were watching them. I decided to walk further down the beach on my own. I was looking at the rotting seaweed at the the tideline and saw quite a few more Wheatear and then noticed one of them was behaving differently. I had found the Buff-breasts again so I signalled to Anthony to come over  and then spent the next five minutes crawling closer and closer to them. One of the birds just seemed to walk towards me closer and closer.

Buff-Breasted Sandpiper
By this time Anthony had crawled alongside me and we were getting hopefully good shots when the other bird photographer, who turned out to be from England, that we had seen earlier just walked right up to us and started talking to us. I wasn't very amused and a few moments later they were off again. They are not that easy to photograph as they are constantly on the move.
Buff-Breasted Sandpiper

We all walked back and I introduced myself to Rónán Mclaughlin a bird photographer originally from Donegal. We had conversed a few times on our flickr sites. His and Mine I was also impressed by how nonchalantly he smoked as he photographed  the birds.

 The Buff-Breasted Sandpipers then all pitched in together near where we parked the car. They then made their way to the waters edge. 

Three Buff-Breasted Sandpiper
As we were making our way towards them two Curlew Sandpiper flew in and landed a few feet in front of us. Here is one of them.
Curlew Sandpiper

It was near midday by this stage so we decided to head back for home. I think both of us felt elated that the journey had been so successful as after the first hour we were wondering whether we were going to even be able to photograph any of the waders.

As we left the roundabout at Little Island just outside Cork I saw a Kestrel to the side of the road. Shortly after there was another and by the time we had driven past Portlaoise we had seen fifteen during the journey. There was one more just shy of Dublin and between Dublin and Lisburn we didn't see any.

All in all it was a fabulous day. However things changed slightly when I got home as I had given my dog a flea bath the night before and used my wife's favourite towel to dry the dog and I had forgotten to wash it. She came home from taking the boys to their various universities and found it and I didn't hear the end of it :-(

8 Sep 2010

Curlew Sandpipers and Dunlin

Curlew Sandpiper in Flight

I was out again this afternoon at Tullyhill. There were a couple of Curlew Sandpiper, loads of Dunlin and Ringed Plover and a few Knot. They are very approachable if you move slowly. Again there was perfect light. I love watching waders when they wash themselves. As soon as they finish they flap their wings and lift up into the air a couple of feet before settling back down again. This Dunlin below was in the middle of drying itself. Click on images for larger picture.

Dunlin Drying Itself After a Wash

Dunlin Portrait

Dunlin Portrait

Dunlin in Flight

5 Sep 2010

Michael O'Clery Bird Artist and His Exhibition "Birds of the West" and The Soon To Be Published "The Complete Field Guide to Ireland's Birds"

Michael O'Clery in front of his portrait of a White Tailed Eagle

Last Weekend I went to the opening of "Birds of the West Coast" by Michael O'Clery at the Graffan Gallery at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Castle Espie Centre.  Michael is one of Ireland's most talented bird artists and this exhibition proved this statement. Having never met him I was glad to finally catch up with him. I had heard much about him from Eric Dempsey, Anthony McGeehan and his sister who lived briefly next door to me.

The exhibition features many of the illustrations from the above book "The Complete Field Guide to Ireland's Birds" by Eric Dempsey and Michael which is being published this week by Gill & Macmillan.
This book is an upgrade to their "Complete Guide to Ireland's Birds" which has now been in print for 20 years. It illustrates and describes around 370 species of bird that have been found in Ireland.

There were individual portraits of birds and then there were some plates that would be in the new field guide.

The Warblers of Ireland
The Buntings of Ireland
The Shrikes of Ireland
The above plate of the shrikes was my favourite in the exhibition. If only I had a spare £500.

In another life I would come back as a bird artist. It is a talent that I wish I had. 

If you click on the blog post header it will take you to Michael's website and if you click on the galleries you can see what pictures he has for sale. 

3 Sep 2010

Curlew Sandpipers ,Ringed Plover, Rock Pipits and White Wagtails at Tullyhill Co.Down

One of my regular stops on my way out to Killard is a small picnic area overlooking the Strangford narrows in the townland of Tullyhill. There is a small stream that flows into the lough and there are some mudflats which can be brilliant for waders. It is also very favourable in the afternoon for bird photography as the sun is generally directly behind you. In the winter there can be sometimes over a thousand Golden Plover. At this time of year you mainly find Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Greenshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Knot, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and the occasional Curlew Sandpiper passing through.

The last three evenings the light has been fantastic and I have taken the following photos.

Dunlin at Tullyhill

Click on Photos for larger images

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper

Curlew Sandpiper

Juvenile Ringed Plover in Flight

There are loads of wagtails there at the moment. I love how they chase other birds. I watched them this evening chasing Dunlin, Swallows, Ringed Plover and Linnets. I wonder is it territorial behaviour or is it for fun. I even watched this Swallow chasing a Dunlin for over a minute earlier in the evening. Again I wonder the reason they do this. Any answers let me know.

White Wagtail

There are some that say in bird photography that the golden hour as the sun is setting or rising is the best time to photograph birds. I tend to disagree. The last two photos were taken two days apart. A Rock Pipit in golden light and the other in very flat light. I definately prefer the flat light as it portrays the bird in the way that I think of them. Let me know what you think.

Rock Pipit in Flat light

Rock Pipit in Golden Light

1 Sep 2010


I have been asked by the American Museum of Natural History to mention their Fall Bird walks led by experts from the museum for any of my American readers who maybe interested.

Fall Bird Walks in Central Park

Observe more than 50 different species of birds—including resident and migrant birds, water birds, song birds, and birds of prey— during this eight-week bird-watching adventure in Central Park. Join naturalists Stephen C. Quinn (Tuesdays and Fridays), Joseph DiCostanzo (Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7 am), and Harold Feinberg (Thursdays, 9 am) on tours through the park, one of the premier places locally to watch birds during spring and fall migrations. Participants will learn how to use field marks, habitat, behavior, and song as aids in identification. Interested birders, from beginners to the advanced, are invited.

WHEN Eight Tuesdays: September 7–October 26, 7–9 am
Eight Wednesdays: September 8–October 27, 7–9 am
Eight Thursdays: September 9–October 28, 7–9 am
Eight Thursdays: September 9–October 28, 9–11 am
Eight Fridays: September 10–October 29, 7–9 am

WHERE Walks start across from the Museum on the northeast corner of Central Park West and 77th Street.


Maybe you will come across one of these.

Prothonotary Warbler