4 Apr 2011

A Memorable Days Birding with a Belgian Visitor looking for Ring-necked Duck and Red Grouse

On Saturday evening I sent a text to Anthony McGeehan saying that the Ring-Necked Duck was on Temple Water in the National Trust Property at Castleward and that it was giving fabulous views and was easy to photograph. On Saturday I had popped down to Castleward to see the duck which had been relocated there by Joan and Spencer Marshall earlier in the week. I lived in the Green Row on the estate for eleven years which is only a couple of hundred yards from the lake and used to walk round the lake almost daily. The Ring-necked Duck was associating with about ten Tufted Duck in the middle of the lake. As I was photographing the duck I heard and then saw my first Willow Warbler of the year as well.
Male Ring-necked Duck
Male Ring-necked Duck and Tufted Ducks
Male Ring-necked Duck and Female Tufted Duck
Male Ring-necked Duck
My First Willow Warbler of the Year

Anthony replied asking if I wanted to join him as he was taking a Belgian birder out for a days birding with the main aim of the day to find Red Grouse, which would be a lifer for him.

So on on the dot of eight Anthony turned up with his friend Ken Douglas and Belgian Birder Maarten Schurmans on an absolutely beautiful morning. I had coffee waiting for them and showed them my visiting Tree and House Sparrows and ubiquitous Chaffinches before we headed down to Castleward.
House Sparrow
Male Chaffinch
We walked round the lake and there were lots of Tufted Ducks but no Ring-necked Duck. First dip of the day.
We then headed to St.John's Point Lighthouse to see if there was any seawatching to be had. The wind was in the wrong direction and it was pretty chilly but nevertheless we saw a few Red-Throated Divers both flying and out on the water as well as a few Manx Shearwater, Gannets and Kittiwakes about. 
St.John's Point Lighthouse

As we were leaving we saw five newly arrived Wheatear near the lighthouse. We then headed back to Strangford to get on the ferry to Portaferry. There was a Carrion Crow on the beach just outside Portaferry. Next stop was Lough Cowey to see if we could relocate the Ring-necked Duck but after a fruitless search nothing. On then to Portavogie to see if there was any interesting gulls. On getting out of the car the first bird we saw sitting on the harbour wall was an adult Glaucous Gull.
Adult Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull
We then headed back to Belfast to drop off Ken at his house before heading to the Antrim Hills just north of Larne to look for Red Grouse.

We were full of expectation and in my mind we would find some birds but they would  explode away from us before we would get good views. We spread out and started walking over the bog when Maarten saw one in the distance. It was a male with it's bright red eyebrows. Happy days as it was a lifer for him. We walked slowly towards the bird and it slunk down into the dead grass. As we got closer Maarten also noticed a female just behind it. She was even better hidden. Much to our amazement we approached closer and closer and closer finally to within ten feet of the birds before they flew away. They obviously have great confidence in their ability to hide.
Male Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus
Female Red Grouse
Male Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus
Maarten Schurmans after finding his first Red Grouse 
We then walked over the brow of a hill and saw a few more but not with quite such stunning views. Here are a couple of them flying.  As we were walking back to the car I noticed out of the corner of my eye some broken eggshell at the base of a heather bush and on closer examination it turned out to be a beautifully constructed old nest with some broken eggshell in it. Whether it had been predated one will never know. However its camouflage was superb and if it hadn't been for the shell I would never have noticed it.
Red Grouse Flying
Red Grouse

Red Grouse in Northern Ireland are a priority species with no more than 220 pairs surviving. There are those that suggest that the Irish population of Red Grouse is taxonomically different to the British population but in genetic testing this has turned out not to be the case. Here is a link (DNA Analysis of Red Grouse) However the Irish Grouse is definately paler and more golden than British population and this may be attributed to the fact there are a higher proportion of grasses and sedges in the Irish habitats. Which in turn is effecting their diet or possibly their camouflage requirements.

We left the Antrim Hills and tried for Long-Tailed Duck at Carrickfergus unsuccessfully before heading back to the Castle Island Hide on the Quoile pondage for another look for the Ring-necked Duck again nada. There were both Swallows and Sand Martins there and we also got to see a Female Sparrowhawk catch a Teal. There was also a white Mallard which I suspect is the same bird that spends its summer off Killard. 

By now it was half past seven and we decided to try Lough Money which is a few miles away to see if the Ring-necked Duck had gone there. Success. The RND was busy chasing a female Tufty as it had been on Templewater which makes me think that wherever she goes the RND will follow. It made a brilliant end to my best days birding this year. I never dreamt that I could get that close to a Grouse. Thanks to Anthony, Ken and Maarten for great company.


mark said...

I'm jealous!


Laura said...

The pictures are beautiful ... I love them! :)

James said...

Love the male Ring-neck Ducks shots. I would love to get that close. Love the Blog also. Keep up the good work.

Maarten Schurmans said...

Great memories! Thnx for companion and pics.


jonah_knoffah said...

Your pictures are some of the best bird-photographs I've seen in a great while. I like the pictures of your applefeeder, it got some really great colors.

You definitely know what you're doing, try using some different lenses in the same sort of photographs. Just to get a variaton.

Have a nice day!

John Knof