24 Jan 2010

Otters at Inch Lake Co.Donegal

I was in Donegal at the parents and thought I would stop off at Inch Lake near Burt to see if I could see the Smew that had been seen on the previous day on my way back to Co.Down. I walked a ways down the causeway and was beginning to scan the lake when I saw an otter about three hundred yards away. I ran back to the car to get my camera and long lens. As I was running back along the causeway to where I had last seen it I saw two otters further ahead and then a third one and they were coming closer to the shore. By the time I got there I could see one in the water and I tried to photograph it but the autofocus didnt seem to work. Grrrr. I then noticed the lens was fogged up as I had left the camera and lens in the car over night. So I frantically cleaned it by which time the otters had disappeared.

As I was trying to peer over the edge of the causeway I heard this noise behind me and watched as an otter crossed the causeway soon followed by another and another.

They then made their way into the lake on the seaward side and were feeding along the edge amongst the seaweed.

Up until a few years ago I used to be lucky to see maybe a couple of sightings a year. They definately seem to be increasing their population as this would be my eighth sighting this year. They have to be one of the best mammals in Ireland.
PS I didnt see any Smew

17 Jan 2010

Woodcock Scolopax rusticola and a Mystery Woodcock in Co.Tyrone + Update

There seemed to be a major influx of Woodcock over the last couple of weeks. The first observation was when I put up a bird in my garden a first for the garden. By the time I got onto it with the camera it was heading off into the morning sun.

On the 13th I was out at Killard and flushed five or six. I think I have only ever seen one out there over the past ten years. On thursday I was walking Pickle and she flushed a bird and it landed on the ground close by running out of sight. Then within quick succession another three birds were flushed and I got this shot as the bird just cleared the gorse.

They are very hard to get onto before they go out of sight. I went back there today with Anthony McGeehan to see if we could get some more shots but unfortunately nothing only various cowpats with evidence of probing. All was not lost as there were a few Great Northern Divers and a Red Throated Diver just off the shore and loads of Skylarks.

A few weeks ago Anthony told me he didn't have many shots of Jack Snipe and I said jokingly that I would go and get some that afternoon. Well I went out to Killard that afternoon to ostensibly walk the dog and blow me down if a Jack Snipe didn't explode away in front of me. This was the shot I got I know its not sharp or a great photo but you can see what it is and it amused me after what I had said previously in the day.

While we were out at Killard we met former RSPB Northern Ireland Director Bob Brown who was doing a shorebird count. He told Anthony that Michael Viney had written a nice review of his book in the Irish Times the previous day and on buying it on the way home it proved to be.

Now talking of Woodcock my father was picking up at a shoot with his dog Burkett in Co.Tyrone last week. A Woodcock was flushed and my father got a very brief view but there were a couple of other guns who noticed that it was smaller and had shorter wings than our birds. One of the guns remarked that it was not one of our birds and another thought it might be an American Bird. They also think there is an article in one of the shooting magazines that said two American Birds were either shot or seen in Galway in December, which I am following up at present. It would be nice to think that some of the American birds are getting over to this side of the Atlantic. It seems to me that it is probably overlooked as I doubt many birders go out looking specifically for Woodcock. It is a migratory bird in the States and is the widest populated of the American Shorebirds with an estimated population of 5 million (Brown et al. 2004)
I am heading back next week to have a look but not holding up much hope!!

Mike Watson from Mike Watson's Diary has pointed me to this blog post from Mike Crewe of Cape May Birding & Wildlife about American Woodcock!.

UPDATE: Went looking for woodcock on saturday 23rd in Co Tyrone. No Luck and shooter hadnt spoken to other guns re magazine article about American Woodcock in Galway :-(

12 Jan 2010

A Visit to the Ulster Museum's Skin Collection

Last week I went with Anthony McGeehan to look at some skins belonging to the Ulster Museum. We were looking specifically at Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocops major. We met the Curator of vertebrates Angela Ross in a very snowy Sainsbury's carpark before she took us to the building where they were held. The idea was to see whether the birds they held were of Scandinavian or British Origin.

The birds can be distinguished by the bill measurements. The bird above came from the Crom Estate in Fermanagh from around 1959. It turned out to be a British bird.

We also had a look at this bird below which had been collected in England.

The Museum has a large collection of birds in cases and it was from this that I learnt that there was a family called Shiels who were taxidermists, they were founded in 1856 by James Sheals . He was later joined by his two sons Alfred and Thomas. The Sheals family produced some of the finest mounted birds and mammals in the world at that time. Alfred Sheals was regarded very highly and prepared many of the skins in Lord Rothschild's collection at Tring. He also prepared many skins for the Cairo Museum. The collection includes a number of mounted birds collected in the early 1800s by the famous Irish naturalist, William Thompson This link lets you download in PDF format William Thompson's Natural History of Ireland .

It was an interesting morning and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Angela for her time showing us these items.

I forgot to say there is a new Irish Bird Blog it's called Cork Dude-ing by birder Owen Foley.

4 Jan 2010

A Visit to Killough and St. John's Point Co.Down with Black Redstart and Merlin the Highlights

Yesterday I thought I would see if I could get some better photos of the Black Redstart out at Killough Harbour. The light was fabulous a bird photographer's dream. Killough is about 12 miles from my house. I turned up and got out of the car and within five minutes had these shots.

The bird seems to have a routine of feeding on the high tide line and then heading over towards the pier and feeding on insects attached to the harbour wall. It then returns and disappears round the corner and into a garden. Having watched this happen a couple of times I decided to head out to St. John's Point. As I was nearing the cattlegrid I noticed a Snipe walking down the road. I came to within a cars length and surprisingly followed it for about two hundred metres . Here is a shot through the car windscreen as it finally heads off the road.

It then crouched down as I came alongside before exploding away. This shot is a large crop of it flying.

It was really beautiful down at the point and the fields were full of Redwings, Fieldfares, Golden Plover, Lapwing and I counted eleven snipe feeding. There were also quite large flocks of Linnet and smaller ones of Skylark and Reed Bunting. The Reed Buntings would feed and as soon as they were alarmed they flew into the hedges.

along with the Linnets and some of the Redwings. This Redwing came almost too close. I dont have photoshop so am unable to clone out the twigs which I find quite distracting.

As I was trying to get into position to photograph a Linnet there was a sudden explosion of birds from the field next to me and I looked up and watched an aerial dogfight of a Linnet and a Merlin. I must have been watching it for about a minute when the bird headed literally right over my head.

The merlin was unsuccessful. This was the fifth time I have watched a Merlin chasing a small bird. They are quite acrobatic to say the least. The most entertaining was an unsuccessful chase against a Pied Wagtail at Killard a few years ago.

On the way back home I was driving round the bay in Killough and the tide was high and there were a few Golden Plover right in close and I got this shot from the car.

All in all a wonderful afternoon. I was reading today that a walk in the country and just observing the things around you and appreciating nature is one of the best stress busters there is. I tend to carry a camera with me all the time and just driving around I am always looking for the next photographic opportunity whether it be birds or landscape. The sun comes out from behind a cloud and you are alert to the effect it is having on the countryside around you. It certainly takes your mind off the drudgery of life.

2 Jan 2010

Long Tailed Duck another Lifer finally!!

Finally made the effort to go to Carrickfergus Harbour this morning and just offshore amongst the Eider and Red Breasted Merganser was a lovely male Long Tailed Duck. A Lifer and not before time. I will be going to see them more often. A really lovely duck.

My thanks to Greg Schneider a great bird photographer from Canada for allowing me to use his wonderful photo. His website is HERE and he has a BLOG HERE


1 Jan 2010

Happy New Year and a Life Tick


Having woken up feeling dreadful. No not because of the drink, I was the designated driver but because I have Chondromalacia patella or in other words an excruciatingly painful knee. So now doped to the eyeballs and can walk about again. Consequently I decided to spend the morning birding from the house.
While I was looking out at Launches large (one of the islands in front of the house) I spotted an Otter with a flat fish on the shoreline then I noticed another and called my wife to come and have a look and as she was looking through the scope she said there are three not two and sure enough there was a family party. I also saw another just out from the Castle Island Hide later in the afternoon. So four Otters in one day ain't bad.
From the house I saw 37 species of bird. The most at a sitting is 45 but I was pretty happy with 37.

1. Curlew
2. Brent goose
3. Wood Pigeon
4. Greenfinch
5. Bluetit
6. Rook
7. Black-headed Gull
8. Herring Gull
9. Lapwing
10. Great Tit
11. Common Gull
12. Redshank
13. Oystercatcher
14. House Sparrow
15. Robin
16. Shelduck
17. Chaffinch
18. Blackbird
19. Coal Tit
20. Magpie
21. Goldfinch
22. Starling
23. Ringed plover
24. Mallard
25. Golden Plover
26. Dunnock
27. Wigeon
28. Heron
29. Hooded crow
30. Song thrush
31. Great Crested Grebe
32. Cormorant
33. Jackdaw
34. Bullfinch
35. Sparrowhawk
36. Pheasant
37. Teal

After lunch I headed to the Castle island Hide on the Quoile. Most of the area in front of the hide was completely frozen. There were areas that were unaffected and held concentrations of Teal, Mallard, Wigeon and Greylag Geese. There were also a number of Goldeneye out on the water. I then headed to Killough Harbour where there have been reported sightings of a Black Redstart over the past month. This was my fourth trip to try and find it and as I arrived I saw birders Gerard , Shirley and Mark who had the bird right in front of them. It does make life easier when they are easy to find!! There's a record shot above but I will now have to go back with a longer lens to see if I can get a better shot of it. Below are the remainder of the birds I saw today.

38. Buzzard
39. Mute swan
40. Greylag Goose
41. Goldeneye
42. Tufted Duck
43. Coot
44. Little Grebe
45. Redwing
46. Fieldfare
47. Raven
48. Mistle Thrush
49. Black Redstart
50. Wren
51. Stonechat
52. Greenshank
53. Turnstone
54. Little Egret
55. Moorhen
56. Collared Dove
57. Black guillemot
58. Rock Pipit
59. Sandwich Tern
60. Purple Sandpiper
61. Dunlin
62. Bar-tailed Godwit
63.. Pied Wagtail
64. Shag