Sunday 16 December 2012

Bird of the Year

2012 was, for me anyway, a less than vintage birding year. When the good stuff such as Baillon's Crake and Red-flanked Bluetail turned up in spring I was stuck in work, autumn in Cork was one of the poorest on record for scarce and rare vagrants and all in all I must have dipped or failed to connect with at least twenty target species during the year.
Picking out a 'Bird of the Year' would seem like selecting a 'Man of the the Match' from a rain-soaked nil all draw. But there is one bird that does stand out from 2012. Well, actually two to be precise. The pair of Dotterel that Dara Fitzpatrick found near Robert's Cove, County Cork, Ireland gets my vote as 'Bird of the Year'.
It was early October and I had spent the day bush-whacking around Knockadoon Head for migrants. The best bird had been Spotted Flycatcher and so with little to show I decided to round the day off at Kennedy Pier, Cobh hoping to see the returning Sabine's Gull.
I received a call from Dara Fitzpatrick who told me he had found a pair of Dotterel in a stubble field right at the end of the headland past Robert's Cove. With no sign of the Sabine's Gull I made a quick decision to drive the forty minutes over to see the Dotterel pair.
Myself, Dara and Seanie Bourke tracked out along the headland as the sun began to lower. By the time we reached the field where the birds were the sun was just minutes from dropping behind the hills. We scanned the stubble field as a Hen Harrier quartered the ditch at the far end. It didn't take too long to pick out these two little heads poking up out of the cut corn. Lifers for all three of us, we took scope views first before beginning to move a little closer.

Dotterel - Robert's Cove, Co. Cork, Ireland - 6th October 2012

Once Seanie and Dara had 'filled their boots' I began to approach for some shots. The birds were remarkably tame although it was tricky to get an unobstructed shot as they fed amongst the corn stalks. Within about twenty feet they would grow wary and begin to walk away, so that was close enough. At that distant they looked truly stunning, a striking pale supercilium that meets at the back of the head, both busy feeding on insects about five or six feet apart but regularily calling to each other.

Dotterel, Robert's Cove, Cork, Ireland - 6th October 2012
Satisfied with my views and shots we left the birds happily feeding away in the field. The next day they had moved on.
Dotterel are not exceptionally rare in Ireland, they're not a breeding bird but occur during both spring and autumn migration. However their preference for high mountains plateaus or large open stubble fields means that they are probably overlooked or pass through unseen.
To finally connect with the species and to do so in such subtle light and with two very confiding individuals makes them my 'Bird of the Year'!