Sunday 20 November 2011


It's the autumn that just keeps on giving, one month to go before Christmas and all sorts of good stuff is still turning up. Yesterday (19th November) saw the Pallas's still at Power Head and the campsite at Knockadoon Head had 6 Black Redstarts, a sandy coloured looking Lesser 'throat and quite a few Chiffs, several of which were likely tristis. Late in the evening a probable Hume's Leaf Warbler was picked up in the gulley between the shrine and the campsite but sadly it was not seen the following morning.
I had made my plans to head to Knockadoon Head on Sunday morning with the purpose of checking out the Hume's, however with no word on twitter all morning I assumed the worst. Nevertheless, Owen found his second Pallas's of the autumn with a bird in the caravan park, so I'd go for that and possibly it might pose for some pics. Sadly for me the bird was quite mobile so after a brief but unsuccessful search I headed over to the campsite. The Lesser 'throat was showing well but in such light that told me photos wouldn't be anything special.
A suggestion from Ronan McLoughlin that it might be worth heading across the county bounds to Waterford for a Bluethroat at Ballinclamper seemed like the right idea. Heading east over the mountains though with a heavy mist and diminishing light it seemed like we'd made the wrong call. I arrived at Ballinclamper about 10 minutes after Ronan, the light had improved slightly and Ronan had seen the bird. It was feeding on the bank which runs down onto the beach and occassionally on the seaweed. The amount of weed on the beach was significant. While it provided plenty of insect food for the Bluethroat and various Pipits it was slippery, uneven and stank to high-heaven!! Initially the bird did a disappearing act, but after about 15 minutes it showed feeding on the weed and for the next 45 minutes or so it gave great views at times coming within about 20 feet. Given the light conditions I think Ronan and myself did pretty well!

Bluethroat - Ballinclamper, Co. Waterford - 20th November 2011
What I really liked about the bird was something I only really noted in pics afterwards and that was its attractive rusty-red outer tail feathers. They're just visible in the first photo but were obviously much more apparent in flight. I assume from its plumage the bird is a first winter male.

Here are some movie clips posted to Youtube

Youtube clip of Bluethroat

Another Youtube clip of Bluethroat

Always a great bird to see, only my 3rd ever! It's been a great autumn, here's hoping for more!

Tuesday 15 November 2011

One last look!

One more day out birding before reality bites and I return to work. I thought I'd have another crack off the Pallas's Warbler and possibly get some better shots plus it could be at least a year before I see another Pallas's Warbler, it had after all been 4 years since I last saw one!
However by the time I reached the garden where the bird was whatever bit of sunshine that had been there earlier was now gone and I had to ratchet the camera up to 1000 ISO before I could get shutter speeds of between 160 and 200. The bird was still in the garden showing reasonably well but it was unlikely that I'd improve upon yesterday's image. Instead it was just time to watch and enjoy the bird through my bins. A pale looking and silent Chiffchaff was feeding actively in the fushcias around the garden. Its probably an ordinary Chiffer but its upperparts seemed very pale......not sure if that signifies anything though to be honest. (Footnote: this bird was heard to call the following day and confirmed as tristis after all!).

Chiffchaff 15th November 2011 - Power Head

There was no sign of the Yellow-browed Warbler which had been present yesterday. Here's a record shot of the little guy from yesterday at least.
Yellow-browed Warbler - 14th November 2011 - Power Head
I did a brief check of the same spot where the 2009 Dusky Warbler had been and had a second Chiffchaff there and the first Redwing of the winter!
I detoured home via Ballynamona but with the tide fully out I decided to check the laneway for the Whinchat but it seems to have moved on, hopefully it's warming its bones somewhere in southern France or Spain by now.

Monday 14 November 2011

The autumn continues!

Sunday 13th November was to be a lazy day with no plans for birding least of all twitching. However a tweet from Wexford Bird News that a male Desert Wheatear had been found near Bray Head Co. Wicklow changed all that. I read the tweet at 10.50am and was on the Cork-Dublin road at 11.30am. Not bad going, and there was now news of a second male Desert Wheatear at the same site. A quick 'bio-break' in Cashel and I had reached the base of Bray Head at 2.10pm. The walk to the site where the birds were was the hard part though, especially with a heavy lens and tripod on my back. It was more of a 'yomp' than a walk. Both birds were located in an area of burnt furze about 500 metres south of the cross on Bray Head. The area was pretty exposed facing right out into the Irish sea but the bird I saw seemed quite happy there.

Twitchers on Bray Head 13th November 2011
Being the sort of bird they are, it often sat up on small rocks or pieces of burnt gorze and posed for pics. This was much to the delight of birders who had come from Cork, Waterford, Wexford and Northern Ireland to see what were the 5th and 6th records of Desert Wheatear in Ireland. I guess with an Isabelline Wheatear across the water in Glamorgan and another Isabelline and a Pied Wheatear this autumn on Spurn, many of us were hoping for something similar in Ireland. This was a great find and goes to show you the potential some of these under-watched sites have.
Before the sun set behind the Wicklow Mountains I managed some shots of the more showy of the 2 males.

Male Desert Wheatear - Bray Head, Co. Wicklow 13th November 2011

Male Desert Wheatear - Bray Head, Co. Wicklow 13th November 2011

There's also this brief video clip of the bird too.

youtube movie of Desert Wheatear

With still a few days left before I return to work, I headed out to Power Head on Monday morning. The plan being to try and get some shots of the Pallas's Warbler that had been found the day before. The light was pretty crappy and the bird very mobile, calling only occassionally. However this "seven-striped sprite" (I think it was D.I.M. Wallace who coined that phrase) showed well enough to allow one decent enough shot.

Pallas's Warbler - Power Head 14th November 2011

Out of curiosity I wanted to find out a little more about the bird's namesake (Pallas himself). Here's a link for anyone who is interested.

Peter Simon Pallas
As we watched the Pallas's Warbler, a Yellow-browed Warbler called a couple of times and allowed brief views but no decent photos. 2 great birds in the one garden!
With 2 seperate flocks of Common Cranes, a Swift spp. over Cork City and a white phase Gyrfalcon in off the sea at Inch Beach this morning, this autumn isn't over just yet!

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Ballynamona Strand

So much for the settled weather continuing until Thursday, this morning it was overcast skies and drizzle. A quick check of the weather forecast showed that tomorrow would be wetter so I decided to head out.
I drove over towards Ballynamona direction and decided to check for the Barred Warbler, Whinchat and Buff-bellied Pipit.
Arriving at about 10.30am I parked up and began checking the roadside bushes and hedgerows where I'd had the bird last Sunday. Sadly however it all seemed much quieter today with the only birds present being a few Greenfinches, a Robin, Song Thrush and a few Blackbirds. I gave it about 45 minutes before deciding to myself that the bird had moved on! As I write this entry at home now I have just received a tweet from Cork Bird News that Ger Walsh has had the bird at that exact spot.....d'oh!
Anyway, I moved further up the road on foot towards the car park and could see a chat sitting up on the right hand side of the road. However looking at it through my bins I could see it was a female Stonechat...darn! I'd only gone a few paces further when a second bird appeared sitting up on the hedgerow on the opposite side of the road and this turned out to be the Whinchat. Still there after all! I decided the best bet for a shot was to use the car as a hide so I went back and set up my gear in the car and drove carefully back towards the spot where it'd been. The bird was quite obliging, at times sitting quite close to the car but all the shots I got were of it against a dull, milky-grey sky and apart from being tricky to expose properly it didn't really look that nice. Plus the bird was quite mobile, often flying around the other side of the hedgerow or disappearing altogether. OK, maybe the Buff-bellied Pipit would be easier!! Let's try that instead I thought.
I parked up at the beach carpark and began making my way towards the lake. About half-way along I picked up the bird on the decaying weed. As I mentioned in a previous post there is a heck of a lot of weed on Ballynamona Strand right now so plenty of insects for wintering Pipits and Wagtails to feed off.

Ballynamona Strand 8th November 2011 - loads of weed!

A tweet just then from Cork Bird News said that Ger Walsh had had a Water Pipit at Silver Strand Ballycotton. That might be worth checking later!
I spent about an hour on and off with the Buff-bellied Pipit but the grey light meant crisp sharp shots were difficult.
Buff-bellied Pipit - Ballynamona Strand 8th November 2011
A kind dog walker asked me if the silver Saab in the carpark with its boot open was wonder I lose stuff at Ballycotton!!! I headed back to shut it....this isn't going too well I thought. On returning I met Ger, he'd had a juv. AGP and the White-rumped Sandpiper at the back of the lake, too distant for shots though. The tide started to come in and as a high tide roost formed further up the beach Ger kindly showed me a juvenile-type Ringed Plover amongst the flock of other Ringed Plover, Sanderling and Dunlin which was smaller and darker than the rest suggesting it may be of the sub-species tundrae. Interesting stuff and worth keeping an eye out for over the coming months.
I decided to give the Whinchat one final go and drove slowly back down the road. It was still there and with a little break in the clouds the light was slightly better. The bird continued to move around fly-catching but as before all the shots were against the back-ground of a dull sky. If only it would sit against the hedge or even for a moment lower down in the hawthorn. It paid no attention at all to my car and at one stage flew within a few feet of my face as it chased a flying insect. Finally it perched on a low barbed wire fence. With a nice green back-drop this was my chance for a shot. Holding my heavy 500mm lens in my right hand balanced against the drivers door window and steering with my left hand, I edged carefully forward in first gear. When I felt close enough to get a shot and not spook the bird, I fired the shutter 3 or 4 times. Just then the bird flew, I checked the camera and one of the frames looked sharp. That'll do, time to go before I break any further rules of safe motoring!!
Whinchat - handheld (with one hand!)

Monday 7 November 2011

A 'tail' of two Pallids

Looking outside this morning I could see a very thick fog lying over the River Lee and hoped that it might have grounded some overnight migrants.  I called Harry Hussey and told him I was planning to head out and could he be ready in 40 minutes. I picked him up in the city before heading towards east Cork. Given that Ballycotton and Power Head were already in the process of being checked we made an 'executive' decision to go once again to Knockadoon Head. First stop was the campsite. We checked the small beach and pier below for Black Reds or 'tasty' Wheatears but to no avail.  A further check around the campsite itself and the fields beside it yielded zilch and I was starting to think that autumn had finally finished. Moving further back along the headland we pulled up outside a house about 200 metres from the campsite and within a few minutes I picked up a small flycatcher perched on a fence post along the side of a private garden. As I checked it with my bins I could see it was a Red-breasted Flycatcher. It cocked its tail a few times as it sat in the sun before it disappearred into the fuschia bush. We checked the adjacent gardens and waited for 20 minutes hoping for further views and some shots but that was all we got. This was no doubt the same bird that was found last Saturday so buoyed by this we continued on to a number of other spots on the headland. Sadly however the best we could find was a Chiffchaff in the Pallas's Lane and no migrants whatsoever along the Holy Ground or in the Hume's Garden.

Pallas's Lane - just a Chiffer here :-(

The Hume's Garden - but no Hume's Warbler sadly!

I suggested then we head back to Ballycotton and see if we could relocate the Barred Warbler Harry had found the previous day. I hadn't really got any decent shots and felt the bird could still be there. As we reached Shanagarry Ger Walsh called to say the juvenile Pallid Harrier seen the previous week was again on view. With some good light still remaining we decided to head for that instead and hopefully I could get some decent shots.
Arriving there we were met by Ger Walsh and Paul Moore and joined soon after by John Meade. Ger and Paul had had the Pallid about 30 minutes beforehand and sure enough after about 10 minutes wait it showed up again quartering the fields nearby. I managed a couple of flight shots before the bird disappeared over distant fields chased by some grey crows. On checking the shots I could see one of its tail feathers was missing, I didn't think anything of this assuming the bird had lost that feather in the previous week since I had last seen it or perhaps in the misty conditions a week ago, that missing feather just wasn't apparent.

Photo 1. Juv. Pallid Harrier (with tail feather missing)

Just then a Merlin scattered the large flock of Starlings from the overhead power lines and as they took flight it was Ger who picked out a single juvenile Rosy Starling. The flock settled back on the wires but sadly once again the light was the wrong side of me.
As we waited for further views of the Pallid Harrier, a smart 2nd cy male Hen Harrier came in with at least one ringtail. Then the Pallid was picked up again, this time over a distant field. I watched it as it flew around for a short while before it alighted in the middle of the stubble. At this point I can remember hearing Ger and Harry describing how the Pallid was in the air and moving along the hedgerow on the edge of the stubble field. I started to get a little confused then, through my bins I could indeed see a Pallid Harrier in the air but when I switched back to my camera I could see the Pallid Harrier remaining on the deck in the stubble field.

Photo 2. Pallid Harrier - stubble field.

The pale coverts on the folded wing were very obvious and even visible with the naked eye in the fading light. I said that I thought the Pallid was still on the deck and that the pale wing coverts were clearly visible. Paul quickly said that he too had the Pallid on the deck and then I think it was Paul who exclaimed something along the lines of.....'there's two effing birds!' And that was it, all five of us at this point had been looking at not one but two juvenile Pallid Harriers in the same location. Until last April the species hadn't even been recorded in Ireland. What were the chances of this happening and where had this second bird come from (for that matter where had the first bird come from?). Anyway, we all watched in awe as both Pallid Harriers quartered the same field. One of the birds clearly differentiated from the other by its missing outer tail feather.

Photo 3. Juv. Pallid Harrier - the second bird. No missing tail feathers!
Photo 4. Juv Pallid Harrier - same bird as photo 3.

Photo 5. juv. Pallid Harrier - missing tail feather

Photo 6.  Obvious missing tail feather.
 (the shots above were taken at ISO 3200 and are heavily cropped so please excuse their crappiness)

So for a day that at one point seemed to signal a depressing end to the autumn it finished with an RB Fly, a Rosy Starling and 2 fantastic Pallid Harriers!

Sunday 6 November 2011

"Ballycotton gives and Ballycotton takes!"

Ballycotton gives and Ballycotton takes!". My wife Polina came up with that about a year ago after she started to notice that everytime we see good birds at Ballycotton I end up losing something. 3 years ago a White-rumped Sandpiper, Purple Sandpiper (a good BallyC bird) and a Marsh Harrier cost me a lens hood. Last year, 7 Buff-breasted Sandpipers and 20 Curlew Sandpipers cost me a pair of waterproofs. Today, A Buff-bellied Pipit, a Whinchat and a Barred Warbler cost me a pair of sunglasses! Good help me if I ever find something really rare there myself, I'll probably lose my car keys then!
Anyway, the weather today was absolutely cracking, not a breathe of wind, clear skies and good light. Myself and Harry Hussey headed to Ballynamona strand to get views of the Buff-bellied Pipit which Dennis O'Sullivan found yesterday. The bird had been located near the beach carpark feeding on the weed with Rock and Meadow Pipits. It was initially distant but a helpful Red Setter flushed it  little closer to our group.

Buff-bellied Pipit - Ballynamona Beach 6th November 2011
Unfortunately that was the last time any loose dogs helped us out so once the beach had filled up with other dogs (and their owners) we called it a day and decided to look in Ballycotton village itself for migrants.
We had got no further than 200 metres away from the carpark when I spied a nice Whinchat sitting up on the hedgerow along the road. Sadly before I got a chance to press the shutter it flew into the field on the opposite side of the road against the strong sun. It was fly-catching here happily so I decided to set up the camera and tripod and wait for it to return to the hedgerow where I'd first seen it. In the meantime Harry suggested he'd continue to walk the narrow road that leaves the car-park and joins the main Ballycotton road in the hope that there might be something else around. He returned 20 minutes later and happily told me that he'd had a Barred Warbler further down the road. I left the Whinchat to its fly-catching and followed Harry. We relocated the bird after about 5 minutes and were soon joined by several other birders who'd been to see the Pipit. The bird did what Barred Warblers often do and remained elusive but at times it showed quite well.

Barred Warbler - Ballycotton 6th November 2011

This was the best shot I could manage, if it stays there may be better shots than this. 2 male Blackcaps and a female Blackcap were also in the same area.
We eventually made our way up to the village but it was all quiet there. One final check for better views of the Barred or Whinchat but by that stage the light and birds were gone so I headed home to roost myself.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Knockadoon 'sore' Head

Last night was my 'going away' do from work so fully expecting a bad hangover today I had made no plans to do any birding. However news of a RB Fly giving amazing views at the campsite on Knockadoon Head was too tempting so I dragged my sorry carcase off the couch and headed out.
Once I reached the site I found several other birders watching a Garden Warbler in the brambles opposite the campsite, the RB Fly had been sitting out earlier giving great views but was now nowhere to be seen. In fact I never got to see the bird despite checking several possible places. It's around somewhere and will hopefully oblige tomorrow if it stays.
Anyway, I'm personally a fan of Garden Warblers so I was quite happy to see if I could get some shots of this one. It remained quite close in the brambles but there was always a leaf or a branch in the way of 'that' shot. However after a little wait it got somewhat more showey for me and I managed some pics as it munched away happily on the blackberries.

Garden Warbler - Knockadoon Head 5th November 2011

While at Knoackadoon there was also news of a Buff-bellied Pipit found by Dennis O'Sullivan on Ballynamona Beach this afternoon with a Water Pipit also there,that one found by Owen. With all the weed on the beach it has the potential to pull in some more nice birds...maybe a Wheatear of some sort Santa!

Wednesday 2 November 2011

East Cork

The weather here in Cork has been pretty unsettled so clear skies and calm winds yesterday meant it was a chance to check some spots in East Cork. I was joined by Harry Hussey and first stop was Cobh for a brief and unsuccessful check of Kennedy Pier and the Pilot Boat Pier for the juv American Herring Gull. Maybe it's saving itself for next years Bird Race!
Over at Cuskinny, Harry quickly picked up a 1st winter Little Gull amongst the Black-headed Gulls on the seaward side. The light was the wrong side for shots so I just enjoyed watching the bird instead. No sooner had it appearred when it disappeared but was quickly replaced by the regular Sabine's Gull. This bird, assuming it's the same one, has been appearring annually each autumn in Cobh since as a far back as 2003 I believe.

Sabine's Gull over Cuskinny Reserve
It flew out of the Cuskinny reserve presumably after a quick wash and away out of sight. Between House Crows, American Herring Gulls, Sabine's Gulls and lots of other stuff, Great Island always has something to offer, the Bird Race tallies often pass the 100 spp. mark. Not bad for early January!
We headed on to Knockadoon Head in the company of John Meade but could only dig out a Chiffer, some Goldcrests and a Lesser Redpoll. Harry received at text from Micheal Cowming that the 1st winter Ring Ouzel was showing well over at Ardmore Head so for the sake of seeing a good bird we jumped back in the car and headed to Ardmore. The bird was indeed showing well but was very nervous, it was returning to the same Cotoneaster hedge all the time though and with a little patience in the fading light it obliged for one shot.

1st winter Ring Ouzel - Ardmore Head, Co. Waterford
After that it was homeward bound!

A few days off!

I had 6 days off work in late October and decided to head west for Mizen Head after word reached me of a Red-eyed Vireo found by Owen Foley. Reaching the head on Thursday morning I met local birder Dan Ballard, Dan told me the bird was on show in the garden in the pines. 2 minutes later I was in position and of course no sign of the pesky varmit! 3 hours later it still hadn't showed so I decided it was time to take a break, warm up a little and get some coffee. I headed over to the main Mizen garden with Owen where we pinned down the tristis Chiffer. A very distinctive looking bird alongside the other common Chiffs and it called intermittently allowing me to get my ear in on its vocalisation. I obtained a couple of decent shots of the bird as it fed close by in the willows;

Sibe Chiffer - Mizen Head 20th October 2011

Sibe Chiffer - Mizen Head 20th October 2011

Feeling in better spirits I returned to the REV garden and this time the bird appeared feeding in the fuschia hedgerow in the field opposite. I've only seen REVs in Panama and Ecuador and then they were high up in the canopy feeding but this chap was very showy in the evening light and allowed some nice pics!

REV -  Mizen Head 20th October

REV - Mizen Head 20th October
The bird remained in the garden for at least a few more days and I know several people connected with it and got some great shots also!
The next few days I took in the Old Head and Knockadoon Head in East Cork but the best bird was a late Willow Warbler on the Old Head picked up by Harry Hussey. Blackcaps and Chiffers were plentiful however.
With a bit of brighter and calmer weather I decided to head west again this time to Galley Head. A Black Redstart (looked like a 2nd cy male) was hopping around the rooftops near Red Strand and while trying to get a shot of a Yellow-browed Warbler (without success) at Dirk Bay this Chiffer showed briefly. It never called sadly but I think it looked good for tristis (what with me suddenly being an expert on these now ;-)). See what you think!
Sibe Chiffer? - Dirk Bay 24th October

A female Common Redstart appeared briefly in the garden of the end house but I couldn't relocate her, a female type Black Redstart was also present on the pier wall at Dirk. Just in case you think it's all very autumnal, there was a winter plumage Red-throated Diver in Dirk Bay and a very nice summer plumage Great Northern Diver off Red Strand, just letting me know that winter was on the way.
My final day off saw me once more on the Old Head. Checking the Plantation the very first bird was this nice Lesser Whitethroat. I spent a few hours watching the bird and obtained some shots. After posting them on line some observers felt the bird looked very brown and could possibly be one of the eastern forms. Some of the local ringers were contacted but were unable to travel to the Old Head so this one will remain a little mystery. Here's the shots and I will leave it up to you to speculate!

Eastern form Lesser 'throat???

Showing quite a lot of brown on the head and mantle.

I headed home just as a Firecrest was found by Ronan O'Driscoll and the next morning a Subalpine was also located by Ciaran Cronin proving that the Old Head always has the potential to deliver!