Monday, 12 December 2011

Highs (and lows) of 2011

Each December I look back and ask myself what were the best birds I saw or what made up the best birding moments of that year. I gave it a bit of thought over lunch today and came up with my Top 3 birds / birding moments of 2011. I decided to split it up into 'Ireland' and 'Outside of Ireland' (as I birded in Latvia and Mallorca this year) and I have mentioned some of low points too (which has a serious side so please read that).

To start with here is my Ireland Top 3 birding moments (in reverse order);

Number 3
Ring-necked Duck at The Lough, Cork, 3rd April 2011.

Probably the same bird that Harry Hussey's brother found along the Lee Fields in November 2010. It stayed in that area but moved with the Mallards to The Lough in early April. Myself and Polina went there one Sunday morning but there was no sign of it. After a busy day's birding Polina suggested that we check the Lough one more time before we head home and this time the bird was present (well done P). The light was spot on and the bird came so close at times that I couldn't focus on it. We were both very happy with the shots that we got and probably won't ever get better shots of this species in Ireland.

Female Ring-necked Duck - The Lough, Cork, 3 April 2011
It was one of those beautiful spring evenings, the first Willow Warblers were singing from the island on the centre of the Lough. Chiffchaffs were aplenty, there were good numbers of Sand Martins around and the first few Swallows of the year were seen skimming across the water. Just to show that winter was still hanging on though, there were a couple of female Bramblings poking around also.

Number 2
Red-eyed Vireo at Mizen Head, 20th October 2011.

For a bit more detail see an earlier blog entry - A few days off

I had seen Red-eyed Vireo's before but they were high in up in the canopy of jungles in Panama and Ecuador, so it was such a pleasure to see one up close.

Red-eyed Vireo, Mizen Head, Cork, 20th October 2011

Number 1
Wood Warbler, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, 5th June 2011

I'd had the week from hell in work and knew it was going to get worse, P was away visiting her Mum and it was the June Bank Holiday weekend. I decided to drive up to Glendalough for the day and look for the Wood Warbler that had been reported earlier in the week. I'd seen Wood Warblers before in Ireland, Latvia, Mallorca and Bulgaria but its a very rare breeding bird in Ireland and Glendalough is a special place, so worth the drive. The weather was dull and drizzling but I had a feeling it would be a good day, driving through Hollywood, Co. Wicklow I passed by this Common Snipe sitting on a fence post, it was an opportunity shot, no plan, no set-up, no waiting, but I really like it.

Common Snipe, Hollywood, Co. Wicklow, 5th June 2011.

I continued on to Glendalough and soon located the bird singing in the Oaks near the Upper Lake. I found a good spot in the woods and just waited. I was getting bitten alive by midges but I didn't care less, the bird put on a great show, at times singing from branches at eye level about 20 feet away.

Singing male Wood Warbler, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, 5th June 2011
It was so good to hear the spinning coin song and plaintive 'puw' call in an Irish woodland. As I sat still watching the bird there was so much else to see, Spotted Flycatchers, Red Squirrel, Jay, Raven's calling overhead and a briefly calling Great Spotted Woodpecker.
I rounded the day off at the Coronation Plantation with some equally nice Whinchat but it had gotten a bit soggy by then as you can possibly see.

Whinchat, Coronation Plantation, Co. Wicklow, 5th June 2011
And I completely forgot about the shitty week I'd had in work! Thankyou Co. Wicklow!

'Outside Ireland' Top 3

Number 3
Tawny Pipit, Cuber Dam, Mallorca, 16th April 2011

Cuber Dam is a beautiful spot, up in the mountains in the North-West of Mallorca. We'd seen Firecrest, Nightingale, Common Redstart, Black Vulture and Booted Eagle that day but had no decent shots. Towards the end of the walk P found this very obliging Tawny Pipit sitting on a rock, I got quite bad sunburn on my left arm getting these shots but worth it I think.

Tawny Pipit, Cuber Dam, Mallorca, 16th April 2011
Number 2
Spotted Redshank - S'Albufera, Mallorca, 13th April 2011

I'd never seen summer plumaged birds before and they look amazing. Especially a flock of 30 which stayed for several days at the excellent S'Albufera Marsh near Port d'Alcudia. This one came close to the hide and allowed some nice shots. I was very pleased when Joe Hobbs asked to use one of these as a cover photo for his excellent reference article on Tringa spp.

Spotted Redshank - S'Albufera Reserve, Mallorca, 13th April 2011.

Number 1
Bluethroat, Nagli Fish Ponds, Latvia, 16th July 2011

Latvia is an undiscovered birding gem. P and I spent three days with a great guide called Karlis Millers and an evening visit to Nagli Fish ponds in east Latvia near the border with Russia was the highlight. While we waited for singing Bluethroat to appear we saw White-tailed Sea Eagle and Little Bittern. As the evening drew in we waited for the male Bluethroats to start singing. I played a brief snatch of song on my ipod and a male immediately popped out from the willows and eyed me carefully. Sadly my camera was 50 meters away in the car, by the time I got back he'd disappeared. I described to Karlis how it had a red spot on it's chest (subspp. svecica) which he said were very rare in Latvia, no photo to prove it though. I waited for another 30 minutes until another male appeared, this time a white spotted bird (subspp. cyanecula). The light had  faded so much that this shot needed to be taken at ISO1000.

Bluethroat (subspp. cyanecula), Nagli Fish Ponds, Latvia, 16th July 2011
 We went back early the next morning but the Bluethroat were much more elusive. Nonetheless there were Barred Warblers, Blyth's Reed Warblers and Garden Warblers all breeding along the same stretch of river bank.....smashing!!!

So what were the crappy birding moments of 2011??

Number 3
Falling into the mud in the Douglas estuary trying to photograph Barry Ryan's excellent Wilson's Phalarope. Ronan McLoughlin assured me I wouldn't sink in the mud but I'm heavier than him and had more gear. I got halfway across the channel and got stuck. I chucked my gear to safety but it landed short in the silt. I almost lost the use of my 500mm lens!!! I spent 2 hours getting these not so great shots and got an earful from P who I left on her own minding the car all that time............sorry again P!!

Wilson's Phalarope, Douglas Estuary, Cork, 17th September 2011.

Number 2
Double dipping on the Least Sandpiper and Semipalmated Plover. We searched but the Least Sand had gone and in order to salvage the day I drove to Ventry for the Semi-P plover (it was a cert after all!). We spent an hour looking at a Ringed Plover until I noticed it had no palmations, by then it was too late and we needed to get back to Cork. Double d'oh!

Number 1

On a more serious note I listened to a Talking Naturally podcast featuring Ceri Levy discussing the bird genocide that is taking place in Malta. Many of us are aware of the indiscriminate slaughter of birds by Maltese hunters. You really need to listen to this podcast to realise just how sad and maddening it really is. There are still knuckle-heads out there who think it is macho to blow the brains out of Wheatears, Nightjars and Short-toed Eagles. To cap it all several Maltese hunters were arrested recently for illegally shooting raptors in the UK.....staggering.

Talking Naturally podcast - Ceri Levy and Malta's illegal and shameful hunting

Well done to Charlie Moores and Ceri Levy for this excellent podcast. Please support Birdlife Malta! They are the heroes!!

BirdLife Malta


  1. Great Round Up G-Dawg. Ahh Red Eyed Vireo. Only Number 2?? ;) Will try and get ya something better on Mizen next October!