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.


Sandy said...

Great pictures as always, thanks.
Very interesting.

Eco-Vista | Brent Stephenson said...

Nice work - love the photos!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful photos. Thank you very much.


ice9001 said...

love the blog my friend have been reading it for about two years now and look forward to each and every article . I espescialy loved this one and decided to go to Killard myself monday past to see if I could spot the short eared owls . After a short walk through the marram grass i spotted two of the owls sitting on the ground in quit a open place (A truly amazing site a first for me ) . I obseved them for a few minutes but was eventually spotted and flushed botth birds sadly which was not my intention . I also spotted the little Merlin which was an added bonus . Thanks for a great days Birding one which I will remmember for a long time . Mark

I also take a few photos of my feathered friends although not to the same standard as yourself I try lol . Check them out on Flikr (markmcmullan64) . Sadly none of the owls as it was a dull and dreary day so I left my camera in the car . Your picture are superb by the way very insperational keep them coming . Can I ask what lens you used to capture the owls looks like a fantastic lens with a great AF system much better than my Sigma 150-500 a real downfall in the lense but not bad for the price .


Dean Eades - Birds Wildlife photos- BirdMad.com said...

Great Woodcock shot Craig

Dena said...

What a morning! Fabulous pics too. Enjoyed very much - thanks

siobhan said...

That's so cool that after all your years birding you say this is your best days birding ever. Your photos are amazing, as ever, especially woodcock and SE owls and Merlin.

Anonymous said...

Hi Craig
Agree with all the comments above your photos are quite superb. The woodcock shots well what can I say....amazing. I have never seen such brilliant flight shots of them. They are usually sitting on the ground. The Birdguides photo of the week was well deserved. You have to be one of the best bird photographers in Ireland. I had a long look through your flickr site this afternoon just gobsmacked. I commented on a few.


Anonymous said...

Now thats just AWESOME!!