Sunday 29 January 2012

Spotted Redshank........eventually!

The weather had been typical January all weekend, wet, cold and dull. But was showing Sunday afternoon bright and dry for a few hours so I took my chances and headed out. Plan A was to head for Carrigrennan Point, Little Island but as I drove there I remembered that 6 Spotted Redshanks had been seen earlier in the week at Rossleague, Great Island, so I decided to give them another rattle, 4th time lucky maybe. When I reached Rossleague though the rain was persistant and there was no sign of any Spotted Reds. I walked to the end of the point but all I had were Redshanks, BT Godwits and Curlews. Remembering that we had seen a Peregrine on the telegraph poles here during the race, I scanned and found one perched distantly. It was sitting out in the rain giving its flight feathers a really good clean, it makes me think that they and probably other birds purposefully sit out fully in the rain and get totally sodden in order to wash and preen their feathers.....bit like a shower really!

Sodden Peregrine! - Rossleague, 29th January 2012
As I trudged back though the rain stopped and the light began to improve, was true to its word. I'd given up hope of a Spotted Red though and took one final scan through the scope before reaching the car. As I stared through the eyepiece a bird flew across my line of vision, I swung the scope left, got onto the bird and tracked it as it! Spotted Redshank at last. I dashed back to the car for camera and lens and while it was still very distant and a bit misty I took a few shots. To even call this a record shot would be stretching things a bit, more of a water-colour than a photograph but hopefully you get the picture.

Spotted Redshank, Rossleague, Great Island, 29th January 2012
When I think of it now I've seen very few of these in Ireland, maybe one or two other than this one. There are far rarer birds than this that I have seen more frequently, I'm not sure why I've seen so few but whatever is the reason it is a very nice bird indeed.
After a short while the bird took flight, I returned to the car and made my way slowly along the road that runs along the north channel, checking all the time for other closer Spotted Reds but there was only to be one bird today. This Curlew was much more obliging!

Curlew, Rossleague, Great Island, 29th January 2012
I thought Marloag would be worth stopping at in case any Great Northern Divers had come in close. The best there was a group of 8 Light-bellied Brent Geese. Like Chough and other birds with black heads I struggle to expose these correctly and even though they allow close approach the photos I took were really too bad to post...........I need to work on that.

Marloag, Great Island, 29th January 2012

Further along the shore I stopped again and could make out a distant Great Northern Diver and several Great Crested Grebe out in the harbour. The pine trees beside where I parked held several Coal Tits and Goldcrests and a single Chiffchaff was calling occassionally but I couldn't see it. During the autumn I think I mentioned that I was seeing Goldcrests almost every day on the headlands, the mild winter has helped them I hope and I'd like to think their numbers have crept back after the hammering they took in the really cold spells in the previous two years.
A quick check of my phone told me that a Slavonian Grebe was still present off Aghada Pier. I decided to drive over that direction in case it was in close enough for a nice picture. I parked up at the base of the pier and made my way towards the end to see if the grebe was there.

Aghada village from the pier, 29th January 2012

I scoped the whole area of the harbour in front of me for about 20 minutes but no grebe. Plenty of Wigeon over towards Rostellan, about 4 or 5 Black Guillemots starting to moult into their smart summer garb, several GNDs and Great Crested Grebe but that was it really. Briefly a Rock Pipit stepped up onto the pier wall and gave me the best photographic opportunity of the afternoon.

Ripit - Aghada Pier, 29th January 2012

I moved on towards Whitegate but the rain returned and put paid to any further birding for the day.

And on a completely different subject..............for the next 6 weeks my birding will have to compete with another passion of mine...........the 6 Nations rugby championship. With 3 Irish provinces in the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup Ireland look poised for a good championship, but France with a new coach in Philippe Saint-Andre are my favourites this year. By the time Ireland meet England in Twickers on St. Patrick's Day spring will be well on its way and the first Wheatears, Chiffers and Sand Martins will be just about to arrive. I can't wait!!!

Saturday 21 January 2012

Rostellan and Roches Point

Often a quiet time of the year, I guess if I wanted to see good birds I could drive to Wicklow for the Rough-legged Buzzard (I even had the offer a lift) or to Ardglass, Co. Down for the Ross's Gull. But I just wasn't in the humour to venture too far. Don't get me wrong, both would be new birds for me and of the two I would dearly love to see Ross's Gull but the urge to twitch has weakened somewhat!. However the day was dry and reasonably bright so after a lie-in and breakfast we headed out. Stopping first at the Lough, there was no sign of the 2nd winter Iceland Gull reported earlier that day. There were good numbers of gulls present but nothing special. Polina though was quite happy to snap away at the Coots and Moorhens who as you know are very approachable at the Lough.

P shoots some Coots - 21st January 2012
However we soon got a little bored there and decided that Rostellan Lake would be worth checking. Rostellan Lake is midway between Ballinacurra and Aghada on the road to Roches Point Lighthouse. I have seen Marsh Harrier there a few years ago and while stuff can often sit distantly in the middle of the lake it is worth a look.

Rostellan Lake, 21st January 2012
When we arrived there were the usual collection of Mute Swan, feral Canada Goose and Mallard close in to the edge were people come to throw them bread. Beyond them was a large group of Black-headed Gulls resting on the water facing into a fairly cold and stiff breeze. A quick scan through them produced several sub-adult Med Gulls and one winter plumage adult Med Gull.

Med Gull -Rostellan Lake, 21st January 2012
A large female Sparrowhawk cut a quick dash along the edge of the opposite reed-bed and momentarily put everything up. I'm not sure she'd pose a threat to any gulls or ducks but I guess they take no chances and assume any medium sized raptor is a Peregrine. She sat perched in a far off willow before deciding to move on. I checked amongst the Tufties for Scaup or Ring-necked Duck but to no avail. The group of about 20 Wigeon gathered on the far side of the lake were all Eurasian. As the evening began to draw in we decided to continue on down towards Roches Point, the tide was fully in at Whitegate so I didn't bother to stop. At Roches Point the wind was bitterly cold, but even then its still a very picturesque spot right at the mouth of Cork harbour.

Roches Point Lighthouse - late evening 21st January 2012
Every year I promise myself that in the autumn I will check the gardens around the lighthouse for migrants, the cover is not great but it must surely bring some good stuff in. Of course, every autumn I forget that promise and flog the usual spots such as the Old head, Mizen, Power head and Galley...........ok so this autumn then!
With the wind so sharp and the place feeling so exposed there were very few birds to be seen, I looked briefly for Black Reds up near the Lighthouse but didn't look too hard. Meanwhile P forgot all about taking any photographs as she had made a new pal!

Polina (on the right!) with her new best friend!

With not much light left we headed for Rossleague, Great Island. I wanted to check quickly for Spotted Redshank. Unfortunately the tide was fully in so there were none, a close group of Ringed Plover were there though..........where were they during the bird-race?
After that it was hometime.

Sunday 15 January 2012

City Birding

If you live in Cork city and don't feel much like travelling too far for your birding there are two great locations each within a couple miles of the city centre that are always worth a visit. Both Cork city Lough and the Atlantic Pond are great spots for gulls and ducks and always popular with the photographers amongst us.
During the week a male Ring-necked Duck had been found at The Lough and a 2nd winter Iceland Gull had also been present. So with those targets in mind a visit was on for Saturday afternoon.

The Lough, Cork City, 14th January 2012
I had been looking for the drake Ring-necked Duck for about 30 minutes when I met up with Ronan McLoughlin. We contined searching together but the best we had was a single 1st winter Mediterranean Gull.
1st winter Med Gull - The Lough, 14th January 2012

(Actually now that I think of it possibly the best we had was a pair of Teal, can't ever remember seeing that species on The Lough before). Apart from the Med Gull, the most numerous other gull there was Black-headed Gull, then possibly Common Gull and also the odd Lesser-black backed but no sign of any Icelands sadly. Ducks included Tufted Duck, Pochard (all drakes - I'll say about 20 because Harry Hussey told me on Sunday that he had counted that many there!), a few Mallards (though not many) and several pairs of Shoveller.
Male Pochard - The Lough, 14th Janaury 2012

Male Tufted Duck, The Lough, 14th January 2012
Male Shoveller, 14th January 2012

We chatted briefly to Ken Preston who had seen the Ring-necked drake on Thursday at the far end of the Lough. Thinking that the bird could be elsewhere we decided to check the Atlantic Pond over towards Pairc Ui Caoimh which can hold small numbers of Tufted Duck, possibly it was moving around with these?
Atlantic Pond, 14th January 2012
However the pond was pretty dead. Not even a Ring-billed Gull present and those are almost a certainty each time I go there. A couple of Little Grebe were present, this is a great spot to get close views of Little Grebe during the spring and summer as usually 2 or 3 pairs breed on the Atlantic Pond itself, however for the moment the light was poor and the birds were sleeping. Not wishing to admit defeat just yet we headed back for one last look at The Lough. This time even the Med Gull had buggered off :-(
Polina and I checked The Lough again on Sunday but had nothing new, the light was even duller and we decided to call it a day after an hour.
I suppose following the run of the last few months there had to be an off day for a is January after all!!

Sunday 8 January 2012

The Great Island Bird Race

Yesterday the birding year got into full swing with the annual Great Island bird race. I was up and away early in the morning, collecting Harry at 7:45am in the city before a brief stop to swap cars at Paul Rowe's house. We parked at Kennedy Pier just before the 08:30am bell rang on Cobh catherdral signalling the off. Cobh-man Sean Ronayne (our 4th team member filling in for Brian Lynch this year) was already in place on the pier and quickly directed the rest of us to a Peregrine perched on one of the cathedral spires. I hadn't seen a Peregrine here on my last few visits to Cobh so it was nice to pick that one up for the race and so early on also. In previous years Peregrine had often been tricky for us to pin down. There were a few brief 'hellos' and 'happy new years' to other team members present but there would be more time for that in Kelly's later, for now there was serious birding to attend to!

Early morning on Kennedy Pier, Cobh, - the race just beginning!

We scanned the sea for gulls and auks while the resident House Crow made a racket behind us. No sign of any white winged gulls or Ring-billed Gulls so we decided to head to the Holy Ground for Black Reds and Stonechats. While there were no Black Reds there we picked up Stonechat, Grey Wagtail, Blackcap, Collared Dove and Turnstone amongst others. Paul picked up some distant Brent Geese over towards Haulbowline Island, good to get those out of the way early. The feeling was that Black Reds were going to be tricky, a pre-bird race report of one around the cathedral was worth checking but to no avail.

Harry and Sean gaze towards the heavens for Black Reds at Cobh cathedral

There are probably one or two around the town of Cobh but getting one may be just a matter of luck. Anyway, we were seeing a steady stream of birds and our race list was slowly ticking over. The weather was dry and not too windy, a little bit chilly but otherwise excellent conditions. Next stop was Cuskinny for Ring-billed Gull, Kingfisher and Gadwall, that was the plan but none of those were there. Nonetheless, we did manage Water Rail and Snipe and in the woods beside Cuskinny we got Treecreeper, Chiffchaff, Siskin and Redpoll. Back in the car the next stop was the Potteries for Tufted Duck and Coot, better luck this time as we got both species there along with a nice flock of Yellowhammer.

Paul, Harry and Sean scan for Tufties at The Potteries.
Our list was coming along nicely by now, the craic was good and we were feeling mildly optimistic, after all we hadn't even started on waders and ducks. Belvelly Bridge was next up for Common Sandpiper and Kingfisher, maybe it was too early for any optimism sign of either there! We pushed on though and soon had some waders added to the list, Redshank, Greenshank, Grey Plover, Lapwing and a distant flock of Goldies. Where were the Ringed Plover though? I took a short break for coffee and a sandwich before we took off again. By early afternoon we had reached 89 species. Not bad we thought but there were a couple of noticeable omissions. First of all Buzzard, another team had already had 5 birds! Also, Reed Bunting and Meadow Pipit. Not to mention that Common Sand, Kingfisher and Black Red were looking like very tricky ticks indeed! For the next hour or so we got stuck on 89, spirits dipped a little, the mid-afternoon slump. At one stage we resorted to walking fields to try and flush a single Meadow Pipit - where were they all?

Organised Meadow Pipit flush - note the perfect alignment!

We kept plugging away and eventually broke our duck with Buzzard, excellently spotted soaring in the distance by Harry. Jay followed next, seen briefly and heard a lot! Spirits picked up and we also added Pintail, Shoveller and Knot to the list from our vantage point atop of Great Island.

Sean lets Harry do the work.
Harry points out the finer details to me!
Thank God for scopes - Pintail and Knot in the mudflats below!

Not long after we had the regular Whimbrel at Glenmore, where Sean also picked up Common Scoter - well done Sean! We returned to Cuskinny and this time succeeded with Ring-billed Gull. Lifted by this we decided to give the harbour a thorough check for Gannet and Fulmar. We scanned carefully out as far as Roches Point, the sea was pretty calm and the evening sun was starting to sink. Nice view but no Gannets or Fulmars.

Cork Harbour - looking out towards Roches Point - no Gannets sadly but nice view!

Spike Island from Cobh around 4pm.

Paul, Sean and Harry check Cuskinny Bay for grebes, divers and seaduck

We checked a spot of waste-ground above Rushebrooke and finally got our Meadow Pipit - couldn't have shown our faces afterwards without that species. All teams finally came together at a regular spot for Long-eared Owl. It was a our last bird of the day but all 4 of us got it as it hunted in the semi-darkness at about 5.20pm. A quick dash back to the town and we were in Kelly's bang on 5.30pm.

Well earned pints - Paul Rowe, Harry Hussey, Sean Ronayne and me (Graham Clarke)

The scores were added up and winners announced. I think we were all mildly surprised and pleased to have come in second with 95 species.

Our list - 2nd place on 95 species

Well done indeed to the team of Owen Foley, Ronan McLaughlin, Jez Simms and Eddie Ronayne for winning with an impressive 100 species. They added Water Pipit and Spotted Redshank to the bird race list in the process.

The winning team - Owen Foley, Eddie Ronayne, Jez Simms and Ronan McLaughlin
The total species count for the day was 108. Other highlights included Iceland and Glaucous Gull, Tree Sparrow and Crossbill. There were also a number of interesting omissions, can't remember the last race without Black Redstart, Common Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Brambling and Fulmar. Reflecting our mild winter Fieldfare was there but I think very few got it. With all the official business aside it was time to enjoy a couple of pints and relax.

Micky Sull, Tony Nagle, John Lynch and Seanie Bourke
Jez shows Mark how a camera works - (joking of course Mark!)
Jim Wilson and Michael John O'Mahony share a joke.
Mark Shorten, Paul Moore and Dennis O'Sullivan
And so that's it for another bird race. Thanks indeed to the organisers. Thanks also to Paul Rowe for all his driving and thanks to Harry, Sean and Paul for being excellent team members and making the day so enjoyable.
Now to try and get up to Wicklow for that Rough-legged Buzzard.

Sunday 1 January 2012

'Great' Island

Every year for the last 23 years the Great Island Bird Race takes place around the first weekend in January. For those of you who don't know Great Island is situated in Cork Harbour and is where the town of Cobh lies. The approx. area of Great Island is 10 x 6 km, so not a huge amount of space to cover in a single day bird race but collectively, over the years, the species tally from the bird race is pushing 130! Not bad at all.
The race begins at 08:30am from Kennedy Pier in the centre of Cobh itself, once again for those of you who don't know, Cobh (or Queenstown as it was once known), was the last port from which the Titantic sailed before it sank on its maiden voyage 100 years ago in April 1912. Teams of birders cover the island and count all species seen from or on the island before convening in a local tavern to count up the scores and announce the winners. This year will be my 5th bird race, our team usually consists of Harry Hussey, Paul Rowe, Brian Lynch and myself. This year Brian is unavailable so Sean Ronayne is joining us I believe, we certainly won't be weakened by Sean's presence! Our 'crack' team of birders has done everything from winning it in 2008 to coming last in 2009 and somewhere in between in 2010 and 2011. Some of my personal highlights from previous bird races include Brambling, Cattle Egret, Indian House Crow, Black Brant, Slavonian Grebe and Ring-billed Gull to name just a few. Great Island itself has had many superb birds over the years, the long-staying and quite famous Indian House Crow for example, a Sabine's Gull that has been returning each year since 2003, numerous other records of rare and scarce gulls such American Herring Gull (a juvenile has been seen in recent days from Cuskinny Bay), Glaucous Gull, Iceland Gull, Little Gull, Bonaparte's Gull (a presumably returning bird that appears usually during or following stormy weather in Cork Harbour) and Kumlien's Gull. Last years Pied-billed Grebe was frequently seen in the north channel from Rossleague (see record shot below). Unfortunately we missed that bird in the 2011 bird race!

Pied-biled Grebe, Rossleague, Great Island, Cork, 28th December 2010
I'm sure there are plenty more exciting records that I should mention when it comes to Great Island, which some of the more experienced birders could remind me of, but for the moment those are the ones which jump to mind. Hopefully you get the point I'm making which is that there are loads of fantastic birds to be seen on Great Island even in the depths of winter.
So, with all that in mind, rather than driving yet again to Co. Waterford I decided to stay a little closer to home and do a little birding / scouting on Great Island today.
I started with a brief yet unsuccessful search for a Black Redstart around Rushebrook and then headed into the centre of Cobh to check for the Indian House Crow and to see what gulls were hanging around Kennedy Pier. Sadly no sign of the crow, but here's an archive shot I took in late 2010 when he first appeared.
Indian House Crow, Cobh, 19th September 2010
The only gulls of note were a few Kittiwakes and a single Med Gull. Sometimes a Peregrine sits out on the Gargoyles on Cobh Cathedral wacthing over the town and its pigeons but there was no sign this morning. Still the cathedral looked very nice in the morning sunshine so I took a shot anyway.

Cobh Cathedral, 1st January 2012

From there I moved on to an area called the Holy Ground. This is a small little harbour east of Cobh town centre. It's where the Cork Harbour Pilot boat is moored and a spot where occassionally a Bonaparte's Gull comes in, other gulls also hang around here and the place can be good for Black Redstart although the collection of stray cats sunning themselves on the fisherman's huts probably puts any Black Reds off the area! The area is named after the song 'The Holy Ground'. Apparently in the past it was a place where pubs and other joints which served the needs of visiting sailors were located......... so it was probably anything but holy!

'The Holy Ground' facing out to Cork Harbour and Roches Point, 1st January 2012
As there was no sign of the juv. American Herring Gull I pushed on towards Cuskinny Reserve. Here on the shore there were 2 Brent Geese and the high tide gull roost held a few Med Gulls.

Brent Geese, Cuskinny, Great Island, Cork, 1st January 2012
Just after parking my car I met Mark Carmody and we both strolled over to the lake to check for Ring-billed Gull. First though we both enjoyed a very nice sight of 3 Common Buzzards soaring over the the opposite hillside, they were joined by a Sparrowhawk, which they briefly mobbed. There were reasonable numbers of gulls on the lake and after a short search I picked up a single adult Ring-billed Gull resting on the water. In fact now that I think of it, Cuskinny lake is where I saw my first Ring-billed Gull during the 2008 Great Island bird race.

Cuskinny Lake, Great Island, 1st January 2012
Ring-billed Gull, Cuskinny Lake, 1st January 2012

With time moving on I drove over to check the north channel at Rossleague for grebes and divers, the best I had though was a Great-crested Grebe, no Pied-billed, Slavs or Black-necked I'm afraid.

The north channel of Great Island - Rossleague (in between the showers) - 1st January 2012

I decided to make one final check in the town for the juv. American Herring Gull, no sign of it at the Holy Ground although there was a ringed Black-Headed gull present. It had two steel rings, one on each leg, the code on it's right leg I think reads 7 IE (or IF), if anyone is reading this and knows who I should contact to report this please let me know.

Ringed Black-headed Gull, Cobh, 1st January 2012.
The light was almost gone at this stage so it was home-time. Hopefuly my next post will be all about our victorious day at the bird race...........and our tally will include American Herring Gull.
Oh, before I forget. Dennis O'Sullivan broke, nay smashed, the Irish year list record by seeing 288 species in 2011. The previous record was 268, well done Dennis, fantastic stuff. I believe you've already ticked Bluethroat for 2012 as well!