Monday 3 September 2012

Autumn again

Saturday was the 1st September, to my mind the start of autumn. The silly season that, as birders, we wait all year for. The weather conditions didn't suggest that there would be anything special out there (a week of westerlies mainly) but you never can tell. And to celebrate being reunited with my beloved binoculars, which had spent 3 weeks on holidays in Austria getting a make-over from Swarovski, I decided to check a few spots around east Cork. I might just add that if you own a pair of Swarovski bins or a scope and you have the warranty card it's well worth having them serviced, my bins came back looking and feeling as good as new, just in time for silly season.
Anyway, Saturday was one of those fine autumn mornings, clear skies, a light wind (in the city at least) and a little 'nip' in the air also.
I'd missed the high tide at Ballynamona, so many of the 'smalls' were spread out over the beach. However on the decaying seaweed in front of the car park were at least 50 wagtails, and most of them White Wagtails with a few Pied Wagtails thrown in. I consulted with Alstrom et al (Pipits & Wagtails of Europe, Asia and North America) later and have tried to age and sex some of the White Wagtails, I could be miles off, but here are my guesses.

adult female winter

adult male winter

hmmmh - adult female moulting to winter (not sure though)

Present also were 3 juvenile Wheatears and one fine moulting male (who wouldn't pose for pics).

Juvenile Northern Wheatear - 1st September, Ballynamona, Cork
Further on up the beach were plenty more, possibly up to 20 birds. Also nice to see so many juvenile Ringed Plover and Dunlin, clearly they had had a good breeding season.

Dunlin, Ballynamona Beach, 1st September 2012

Juvenile Ringed Plover - Ballynamona Beach, 1st September 2012
As much as I could, I checked through them for an LRP, a Little Stint or some American 'peeps' but to no avail. A single Whimbrel was the best other wader, a flock of about 200 Sandwich Terns busy flying up and down the lake contained 2 Arctic Terns but no Black Terns. I took a path back away from the beach to avoid flushing any birds and also to check if any Buff-breasted Sandpipers were hiding in the long grass, sadly not.
Back at the carpark I stopped to chat to a visiting UK birder before meeting up with Owen Foley and Dara Fitzpatrick. We took a short coffee break before heading further east to Knockadoon Head. The cloud had rolled in and the wind had picked up by the time we got there. It was pointless looking in any of the sites on the western side of the head as the wind was so strong. So instead we covered the sheltered west facing paths around the campsite. Dara picked up a nice Painted Lady butterfly resting along the path, I will never forget the invasion of Painted Ladies in 2009 when they were just everywhere, beautiful creatures. We stopped further along the path and began scanning out to sea. I got onto what I thought first were two juvenile Peregrines but once I noticed the white panels on the primaries I realised they were skuas. Dara correctly called them as light phase adult Arctic Skuas. Instead of passing on they remained in the bay chasing Sandwich Terns. I returned to the car for my camera and tripod but by the time I returned they were much further out (hence this distant cropped shot).

adult Arctic Skua (light phase) - Knockadoon Head, Cork 1st September
With a strong wind shaking all the bushes there was little chance of finding anything so we moved away from Knockadoon Head. On the way over to Pilmore strand Dara picked up a Spotted Flycatcher in the trees along the edge of a sugarbeet field. On closer examination there were 2 juvenile birds and an adult with a juvenile Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff in the same tree also.

juvenile Spotted Flycatcher - 1st September 2012 (nr. Knockadoon Head, Cork)
By now it was mid afternoon, we stopped to check the mudflats at Womanagh where there were plenty of Ringed Plovers and Dunlins, for me it was time to head home. Dara and Owen continued on towards Pilmore Strand while I called it a day.
Bird(s) of the day was Arctic Skua, no rare or scarce waders or passerines just yet but signs of movement are there for sure.

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