25 Dec 2011

Merry Christmas

7 Dec 2011

Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plover at Killard Nature Reserve

Bar-tailed Godwit
What a fab morning it was this morning. When I listened to the weather last night the forecast was for heavy gales and rain in the morning and I thought that had put paid to my day off. So when I got up later than usual and the sun was streaming through the house I hastily grabbed some porridge before heading to Killard Nature Reserve with Pickle my dog.

The sun was incredibly bright and the tide was just on the turn. This can be really good for shorebirds as they feed on the receding tide. One particular spot at Killard is very good and there can often be Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Turnstones, Purple Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Oystercatchers and Bar-tailed Godwit.
Ringed Plover

Grey Plover and Ringed Plover

Grey Plover / Black-bellied Plover
Grey Plover / Black-bellied Plover
Over the last five or six years there have always been one or two Grey Plover that spend the winter out at Killard and I have always found them very difficult to get close to but a couple of days ago this bird above allowed me to get fairly close, even if it took 45 minutes of crawling to get close to it. It was worth it. They are one of my favourite birds and I would love to see them in their full summer plumage on their breeding grounds.

Today the Grey Plover wasn't on the beach but there were three Bar-tailed Godwits which were flying around along with some Dunlin and Ringed Plovers.
Bar-tailed Godwit

 At first they were quite flighty but the longer I stayed in the one position the less they became worried about me or the dog. After quite a while I crawled across the very wet sand and got to within about 25 feet of them and watched feeding on ragworms. I meanwhile was getting colder and colder as the wet beach was working it's way through my clothes and called it a day. I walked away with a spring in my step (this might be to do with the fact I have lost 35lbs in the last two months) There is something about bird photography that gives me a real buzz especially when the light is right and you finally find yourself getting close to birds that aren't that easy to approach.
Bar-tailed Godwit feeding on Ragworm
Feeding bar-tailed Godwit

Incoming Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

Bar-tailed Godwit

6 Nov 2011

Inishbofin 2011: Wind, Rain, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps

Pied Wagtail on Inishbofin Harbour wall

I have recently returned home from eight days on Inishbofin Co.Galway and as I type it is pouring with rain. Pretty similar to Inishbofin. Anthony McGeehan and I arrived last saturday on a nice afternoon. We settled into the cottage that Pat Coyne the owner of the Dolphin Hotel had very kindly lent us for the week before heading out to the east end of the island. In a few hours of birding we came across 12 Blackcaps 11 Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler, so were in high hopes for the week.

On our return to the cottage we put out some seed to see if anything would be attracted. The following morning I looked out the window and the first visitors were a pair of Pheasants, 9 Hooded Crows and 3 Magpies. The Magpies and Hoodies flew off when they saw me and then a flock of Rock Doves came in followed by a small party of Reed Buntings.

Rock Dove

The Reed Buntings and Doves were a common feature all week with as many as 11 Reed Buntings on one morning. There was also a small flock of Starlings which used to visit everyday. We put out seed every day and amongst others it attracted Redwing, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, Meadow Pipit, Linnet, House Sparrow and Pied Wagtail. On some days the conditions were so bad that birdwatching from the house was all that we could do.

Male Reed Bunting

Infact of the 8 days I spent there there was only one day with superb weather. The forecasts were also almost all inevitably wrong. Most mornings we would head off to the east end of the island past  St.  Colman's cemetery, which dates back to the 7th Century, onto the beach at Dumhach. The graveyard stretch can be good and as there are loads of blackberry bushes along the road and are quite often full of Thrushes, Blackbirds, Robins and Dunnocks.

Dunnock calling

On most days this donkey would be in the field above the graveyard.

Inishbofin Donkey

 I was hoping we might see a Ring Ouzel again this year but no such luck. Over the week there were quite a few blackcaps feeding amongst the blackberries and we were hoping that we might see a Barred Warbler as this was the section that we had one for four days last year. On the way to the beach there is a small crop field on the lefthand side which we would check out each day. Anthony had found five Rosefinch in it early in September. On the nicest morning of the week it had Linnets, Meadow Pipits, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Reed Buntings and a Pied Wagtail feeding in it but no Rosefinches.

Rosefinch on Inishbofin A.McGeehan

Just after the crop field there is a stretch of bramble alongside the road and a pair of Stonechats could be found there most days.
Male Stonechat

Female Stonechat

This year the beach at Dumhach was covered in weed and there were Turnstones, Sanderling and Ringed Plover feeding as well as Meadow and Rock Pipits.


We would then head to two different sets of willows behind East End Bay, one of which was quite protected from the southerly winds we were getting, the other less so. One bush that had been very poor in previous years held 5 Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler.

Chiffchaff in Willows

The next set of willows was where we found the Cedar Waxwing a couple of years back. There is a bank that you can sit on and look down onto the willows and where most days we would have a cup of tea while we watched. One morning This is the view if you look directly east towards an island called Damhoileán.

View towards Damhoileán from East End Bay

On one of the mornings it was blowing very hard so we sheltered in front of one of the cottages on the beach and had our tea there instead and were lucky as this Juvenile Arctic Skua came closer and closer into the bay.

Juvenile Arctic Skua

Most days in Waxwing Willows, as we now call them, a Blackcap could be found and the odd Redwing. One day we heard a lot of alarm calls and looked up to see a Merlin had perched up on a rock close by.

Male Blackcap in Willows

We then would head up to the top of the field to what we call "Irene's Garden". On the way up we would put up a few snipe most days. In front of the garden there are a few bramble patches and on one of the days a warbler dropped in and before I could put up the binoculars Anthony shouted Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat

which was a lifer for me. It didn't hang around and I only got a few shots before it was off. After looking  at the garden we head back to our cottage where I would generally make lunch before heading out again in the afternoon to the western end of the island.

Firstly we would head to the church and check out the habitat behind it. On one of the days we turned up to find an old rotten tree that looked a perfect spot for a flycatcher had been cut down :-( Then we would go round the harbour and one could look over the harbour wall and if the tide was in the Turnstones would be directly below you.


Then we would head towards the only two patches of willows in the west end and having searched one bush we headed up the road and Anthony spotted a Whinchat perched on the wall.


It was very windy and again it shortly headed for cover and sadly the background behind the bird wasn't really to my liking.

On the best day of the week in the afternoon Anthony and I headed off in different directions as I wanted to walk right round the West Quarter and climb Cnoc Mór the highest point on the island. I passed the Doonmore Hotel and this Starling was perched on the wall beside it.


A few yards later I passed this wee shuck and saw a warbler fly into it and it was a Chiffchaff.


As I neared the top of Cnoc Mór the wind was fairly strong and two birds flew away from me into the sun and I couldn't identify them but then as I reached the summit two Snow Buntings flew close by and looked beautiful in the sunlight.

The View from Cnoc mόr looking towards the Connemara Mountains

There were great views of the neighbouring island Inishark and a flock of nearly 300 Barnacle Geese landed on it. I descending and headed towards the north west corner of the island overlooking "The Stags" which are stacks about sixty to seventy feet high which in very strong westerly gales can have the waves breaking over them. A sight I would love to see one day. On my way I saw a pair of Chough and quite a few Redwing. To the north there was a steady stream of Gannets, Kittiwakes, the occasional Arctic Skua, Guillemots and Razorbills flying by the island.

It was a beautiful evening and as the wind began to drop the harbour looked fairly calm.

Inishbofin Light At Entrance To Harbour

The following day was a different story altogether with a force seven to eight southerly gale. I did very little birding and went to the community centre in the afternoon to get onto the internet. When I came out the ferry was leaving the harbour and I was very happy I wasn't on it.

Inishbofin Ferry Heading into Force 7 Gale

Inishbofin Ferry heading into Force 7 Gale

My crossing the following day back to the mainland was relatively calm.

While I was on Inishbofin I was texted that Northern Ireland's first Cattle Egret had been seen near Belfast Harbour which came as quite a surprise as I had been told ages ago that two years previously a Cattle Egret had been seen by three birders on a WeBS count on Lough Neagh in November 2009. So I got in touch with Adam McLure the RSPB's new Kite Warden and asked him about it as he was one of the observers. He confirmed that he was with Stephen Dunlop doing a WeBS count and another birder Eddie Franklin was there as well. Below is the BTO section about it.

15 Sep 2011

A Few days in Co.Donegal, The Tail End of Hurricane Katia and a Baird's Sandpiper

Baird's Sandpiper

Click on any image to enlarge in a new window

I went up to Donegal on Sunday night as the weather forecast was dismal with the tail end of Hurricane Katia expected to hit the North Donegal coast on the Sunday night/ Monday Morning and I thought there might be a chance of some interesting birds being deposited in Donegal.

On the monday morning I headed to a friends house in Downings he looks towards Dunfanaghy and is right next to the sea. The 50mph+ winds were coming directly into the front of his house and it was wild. The view from his living room window is below and looking south below that. By the time I left in the afternoon the gusts were getting up to 80 miles an hour. I headed around the Atlantic Drive and had a look from the top of the head.
View from Downings towards Marble Hill
View from Downings towards Ards Priory
View north from Melmore Head
I had my scope on the car window and it was virtually impossible to see anything as my car was being rocked in the wind so I headed to the inlet between Carrigart and Downings mainly to let my dog out for a run as the tide was out at this point. There were a few Dunlin and Sanderling out on the sand all hunkered down and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwit on the machair. I took this photo of a Dunlin struggling to fly into the wind.

Dunlin in flight.
Then I headed back to the car and disaster struck it had broken down. Well it wouldn't go faster than 20mph and the revs never got over 2000. Something I had never experienced before and it took me over an hour and a half to get home. At this point I thought my three days break were buggered. However on Tuesday morning I got the car to the dealership in Letterkenny and in the afternoon I collected it somewhat poorer. I then headed to Fanad Head and on to the Lighthouse where it was still gusting up to fifty miles an hour. As I was heading down to the lighthouse I noticed three Chough feeding in a field on the clifftop. They were only twenty feet or so away from me. The light was dreadful and so was difficult to get detail in the birds which was sad but it was a pleasure to watch them so closely. They really attacked the ground looking for worms throwing the earth from side to side.
Choughs at Fanad Head Co.Donegal

Chough feeding
I parked in the car park at the gates of the lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse in Stormy Weather

and walked past the ruined barracks to the left of the lighthouse and noticed these two donkeys taking shelter from the wind.

Donkeys at Fand lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse

 There is a small building that I watched the sea from out of the wind just beyond the Barracks and over a period of an hour I saw quite a few Manx Shearwaters, a single Great Skua and loads of juvenile Gannets and quite a few adult birds. I then thought I would head over to Carrigart to look for waders but the Harry Blaney Bridge was closed because of the wind so I headed home. When I got home my mother suggested I photograph the swallows in the shed beside the house. There were three juvenile birds. My mother has been watching the shed for an hour or so in recent days and counted the adults making upwards of six to eight visits to feed them every minute. With the storm this had been reduced to two per minute.

On wednesday morning the wind had completely dropped and it turned out to be a fine morning apart from the fact the electricity was off. Out came our Kelly's kettle and just as I had finished boiling the water the electricity came on which was a relief as my mother makes very good bread so we were able to have our toast and home made marmalade. Before I left  I took one last look at the swallows and only one bird was in the nest and as I got closer I noticed it was dead. I assume it died from starvation as it's parents hadn't been able to feed them so regularly during the storm.

After breakfast I headed back to Carrigart as the tide this time was only just starting to drop. There were loads of waders and the first two I saw were a couple of Curlew Sandpiper. There were also a few Knot,  lots of Turnstones, 20 or so Bar-tailed Godwits, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Sanderling and Ringed Plover.

Curlew Sandpiper

As I was scanning a flock of mainly Dunlin I saw a small Stint and at that moment all the birds were spooked and I lost sight of it. Then five Bar-tails flew over.
Bar-tailed Godwits in flight. Centre bird has been ringed.

All the Dunlin flew to some seaweed and most started to go for a nap. So I gradually got closer and closer and took a few shots.
Dunlin, Sanderling and Turnstone
Then I noticed a bird out on it's own feeding differently to the Dunlin it seemed to be far quicker and it's wings projected further. It's bill was also shorter and straighter. It had to be either a White Rumped or Bairds Sandpiper. At this point my dog ran out towards me and all the waders near me took to the air and flew to the Carrigart side of the Bay. I headed back to the car and decided after reading my "Birds of Europe" by Lars Jonsson that it had to be a Bairds. A lifer for me. On returning home I sent the photographs to a couple of birders who agreed it was a Baird's. Happy Days :-)
Baird's Sandpiper

Baird's Sandpiper