Friday 2 November 2012

Late Wheatears

I mentioned in a recent post that I might go back to Ballynamona Beach to try for some shots of the Wheatears. I noted the first juvenile Wheatears of the autumn on Ballynamona beach on 5th August (see 'Wheatears on the move'). That indicates a very extended autumn migration window for this species. However I suspect that some of the Wheatears that are now present on our beaches are Greenland or 'leucorhoa'. 
Earlier in the week I had noted about two juvenile Wheatears on Ballynamona Strand. One in particular looked quite large, robust and even pot-bellied. Now whether or not it is a Greenland Wheatear I wouldn't like to say. Given the size of it, the occassional very upright appearance and the time of the year, chances are that it is. The Greenland subpecies of Northern Wheatear breed in north-eastern arctic Canada and Greenland and winter in sub-saharan Africa, so are real long distances travellers indeed, especially for passerines.
I had thought that if they were born in Greenland for example then they may not be too wary of people. I imagine Greenland is quite sparely populated and most of these juveniles then would have had scarcely any human contact.
However they remained quite difficult to approach. As with all Wheatears, even if you begin to approach slowly, they become wary and the next thing you know all you can see is their little white-arse disappearing off down the beach in front of you. 
I tried the frying-pan method with this bird but the sand is littered with lots of small stones and the sound of my trusty tefal scrapping along clearly gave the bird the spooks. I adandoned that idea very soon. However near where the bird was feeding there was a nice large lump of driftwood. I had a couple of hours to work with so I decided to get in behind it and wait. And it was quite a wait! Two hours in total I reckon, I'm feeling the effects of it now.

Drift wood hide - complete with frying pan!
I lay on my side peering through a gap in the piece of wood. I reckon the bird may have come closer a little sooner if;

(i) It hadn't been chased by a dog. Actually come to think of it the dog was being chased by its owner, the owner had clearly seen me lying there with my camera as he stared at me long enough through his own binoculars (don't worry he wasn't a birder, a 'dude' at best). It didn't stop him though chasing his dog towards me.......what a maniac!
(ii) A nice elderly gentleman strolled up to me and asked me what I was photographing. I'll let him off as he was old and you should respect the elderly but all the same.......WTF????

Eventually the bird come to within about fifteen feet and enabled me to get some shots.

quite upright posture!

juvenile Northern Wheatear (poss. leucorhoa subspp.) - Ballynamona Beach, Cork 2nd November 2012
The bird posed so well in fact I could have filled two or three 8GB cards with images (I shoot in raw). Eventually it got up, flew past within about a foot of my face and landed on the other side of my driftwood hide. With the sun in my face I decided I'd gotten my shots and headed home.

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