Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Is fearr liom 'Winter Birding'

What's all the fuss about autumn birding? We wait all year for October and in the meantime forget to enjoy that which is right under our noses.
I had forgotten how good winter birding can be until I took a two hour jaunt around Great Island yesterday. Normally I bird Great Island quite often in the winter months as prep for the January bird race. This year however I'll be over in Norfolk by then so no race for me. But it's still worth spending some time there all the same.
I headed first for Kennedy Pier in the town centre. Even as I crossed the main street I could pick out the distinctive wing pattern of the Sabine's Gull as it cavorted with the Black-headed Gulls off the end of the pier. I turned quickly on my heels and headed back to the car for my camera gear but by the time I got back it had ventured over to Haulbowline Island on the opposite side of the harbour. I had also forgotten to bring gloves and a hat with me, with a cutting wind coming straight in off the sea my fingers were numb in minutes. I could barely depress the autofocus / shutter button and so I forgot about any photos and contented myself instead with just watching the bird each time it came alongside the pier. The grey, white and black tricolour wing pattern is so striking that I don't think I will ever tire of watching this bird.
As I left the pier I noticed the familiar anchor-shaped silhouette of one of the Cobh cathedral Peregrines as it drifted over the town centre before alighting atop one of the gargoyles.
I warmed my frozen fingers up with a coffee from Supermacs (classy eh?) and then set about trying to locate the Waxwing flock that had been frequenting the berry bushes near Colaiste Mhuire. Unfortunately my timing was a little off, it was 1pm and all the school kids were milling out of the gates on lunchbreak. I thought better of sitting parked opposite the school gates peering through a pair of bins. In any case I've done pretty well so far on the Waxwing front but wouldn't mind them as a Cork tick.
From there I pushed on to Cuskinny Reserve. Nothing much out at sea and a nice wave of salt water crashing over my car at the harbourside car park told me I'd be better checking out the lake instead.
As soon as I pulled in over at the lake, all the gulls got up and flew over towards me. Obviously very used to be being given bread. I let them settle and picked up a single adult winter Ring-billed Gull amongst all the Black-headed Gulls.

Adult winter Ring-billed Gull - Cuskinny Reserve, Great Island, Cork - 11th December 2012
Today there was no sign of any Buzzards but a flock of Wigeon bobbed about on the far side of the lake as I chucked bread to the ravenous gulls.
I checked the woods at the back of Cuskinny for Redpolls or Siskins but it was quiet there. From Cuskinny I drove towards Rossleague where the road tracks close to the channel that runs between the north side of Great Island and Rossmore on the opposite side. I've seen Slavonian and Pied-billed Grebe in that channel but today there were just Little Grebe (albeit in good numbers), Great-crested Grebe and Red-breasted Mergansers.
I checked for finch flocks and winter thrushes along the way. Not far from the Oyster farm I found a sizeable flock of Chaffinches but despite careful scrutiny I couldn't see any pale-rumped Bramblings. As well as mixed flocks of Blackbirds, Redwings and Song Thrushes I caught a brief sight of a Treecreeper and could here a Yellowhammer calling from somewhere but couldn't pin it down.
A large juvenile looking Peregrine put up all the Wood Pigeons and Corvids that were feeding on the stubble fields and from over by the pinewoods I could hear the mewing call of a Buzzard. Eventually I picked up the bird perched high in a tree on the edge of the woodland.
As darkness fell I headed home to spike some fresh apples for the Blackcaps that are feeding around our apartment grounds.
Winter you're talking!!

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