Saturday 27 July 2013

Lesser Sand Plover in Cork

A Mongolian Lesser Sand Plover has just been found at Ballymacoda in Cork by Denis O'Sullivan...........absolutely superb find by one of Cork's finest birders (and a true gent!). For more details check out this link Cork Bird News

How sorry I am I don't live in Cork anymore :-(

Wonder could it be the same bird seen in Scotland recently??

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Protecting Ireland's Hen Harriers

I am embarrassed, angry and depressed all at the same time. This shocking level of ignorance and ineptitude demonstrated by a public official, paid to protect and promote Ireland's biodiversity and its environment both locally and at EU level.
Councillor John Sheahan from both Limerick County Council and the Irish Delegation to the EU Committee of the Regions (of which he is also a member), which means he represents Ireland at the EU, has called for “open season” on the Hen Harrier unless there are changes to special protection areas (SPA).

Full details on the following link

Owen Foley has set up the following e-petition, I would encourage as many as possible to sign this please.

Thank you!

Monday 22 July 2013

A second bite at the cherry

Having dipped on the Cley Two-barred Crossbill last Saturday I was a little miffed on getting back from East Wretham Heath yesterday evening to find that more Two-barreds were being reported from Lynford Arboretum and Kelling Heath. I had walked around Kelling Heath on Saturday evening looking for Turtle Dove and Dartford Warblers, it never crossed my mind to check the larches for tasty Crossbills. I'll blame it on hunger and tiredness.
Not one to pass up on a second chance, I packed my gear as I was leaving the house this morning and kept one eye on Birdguides all throughout the day. The reports from Lynford Arboretum seemed to stop around 1.30pm but I was going one way or another. Just after 5pm, I had my laptop shut down and my desk tidied up, I slipped out quietly and headed out into the heat! It was still 33oC as I hurried out to the car park. The hottest day so far!
Twenty minutes later I was turning into the car park at Lynford, a quick change of clobber and I was all set. This time it was a lot better than Cley. Ten or so birders were staring up into the larches at the entrance, clearing watching something.

Two-barred Crossbill twitch - Lynford Arboretum, Norfolk - 22 July 2013

A flock of Common Crossbills had just departed the area leaving behind two (maybe three) juvenile Two-barred Crossbills and an adult female. They were pretty high up but through my optics, the broad white wing bars were plain to see. One kind birder gave me a look through his scope where you could see a lot more detail. One juvenile appeared to have small patches of yellow on the nape and flanks but was otherwise quite streaked. Sadly I didn't see the adult female.

Juvenile Two-barred Crossbill - Lynford Arboretum, Norfolk - 22 July 2013
When the birds turned the right way you could also make out the strong white tips to the tertials (as seen in the photo below).


White-tipped tertials prominent on Juvenile Two-barred Crossbill - Lynford Arboretum, Norfolk - 22 July 2013
It was clear that any photos would be record shots at best. The birds remained at the very top of a tall larch tree. The top of the middle tree in the photo below was where they stayed mostly so it'll give you an idea of height and distance. But views were good, so if you decide to travel bring a scope and a thick neck!
All that aside though, after dipping in Cley it was nice to enjoy a successful outing.

Craning our necks for the TBXB

With the species added to my list, I moved around a little to try and get some better shots. After an hour I called time. Well worth the short trip and a great bird to have seen.

Sunday 21 July 2013

Decisions, decisions!

I can't decide what to call this blog entry. In the same way yesterday I couldn't decide between Cley or East Wretham??? I pondered over this and having been to Cley twice in the last few weekends I decided on East my later regret.
I wanted to see if the Redstarts had fledged any young, so sometime after lunch time I arrived at East Wretham Heath Reserve. Between the car park and the Langmere Plantation I was treated to a wonderful spectacle as two Hobbys attempted to catch some House Martins. The House Martins survived this time but those Hobbys sure could shift. I'd not seen them hunt Hirundines before, only Dragonflys, obviously the hunting style is completely different and the Hobbys really showed off their flying skills as they pursued the hapless House Martins. Difficult to see against the light but it seemed like one adult bird and one juvenile. On one I could see the russet trousers and some moulted flight feathers and the other was clean and fresh looking. At the same time I got speaking to another birder, he said that he had seen several Common Redstarts around by the hide and that according to the warden, six pairs had bred this year at the reserve. I don't know how that compares to other years but it sounds like a good number. He also gave me details to find a Little Owl so with that information I headed off to look. His directions were spot on and I had found the bird within a couple of minutes. I'm glad I met the guy as there's no way you'd know the bird was there if you weren't told. The shot below was taken at 700mm and without cropping it you can just about make out the face of a Little Owl poking from the hawthorn.

Uncropped at 700mm - you can just about make out the Little Owl in there.
Here is the same shot cropped.

Little Owl - East Wretham Heath - 20th July2013
So that was another tick for my slowly expanding British list. I only hope this little chap has not dined on too many young Redstarts.
I headed further up the path into the woods to see if I could pick out any Redstarts, I could hear them calling but couldn't see any. Just as I reached a likely spot I got a text from Nick which said "2B Xbill Cley now". 2B Xbill, I had to think for a minute and then I coped on, Two-barred Crossbill! Hells bells! Pity I hadn't gone to Cley. I turned on my heels and I headed back to the car park. I made it to Cley in one hour and ten minutes, going via Watton and Dereham. As I pulled into the car park at Cley the signs looked ominous. I could see groups of birders milling around chatting but no sign of any assembled group out on the reserve. I ambled over to one of the groups and they told me the bird had flown from its original position over an hour ago into the area around the three hides and hadn't been relocated. Birders were out looking but it didn't sound good. They said it had been giving itself up and there would be no need for a long lens. Drat and double drat! Rather than wait in the car park for news I decided to head over to the three hides and have a look myself. If I couldn't find it, at least I could stop in the hides, grab some lunch and see what would be out on the scrapes.
Well, as expected I didn't stumble across the 2B Xbill. From the hide I had Spotted Redshank (two or three), Ruff (numbers up on last week - maybe fifteen plus), a Spoonbill in flight and a Green Sand (which adds to my British list).
En route home I checked Kelling Heath for Turtle Dove and or Dartford Warblers but the sea fog rolled in, the drizzle became persistent and so it was time to call it a day.
It seems like there was a mini-irruption of 2B Xbills into Suffolk and Norfolk yesterday, one is reported from Lynford Arboretum today so I may check that out after work tomorrow.  All is not lost!
Sunday was an even later start but I did want to see the Redstarts at EWH. This time I wasn't distracted by any Hobbys or Little Owls and soon located a male and at least two fledglings feeding amongst the bracken. As you would expect they stayed a little distant for shots, I elected to walk around the reserve in the off chance that I might come across some others which were a little more obliging. It wasn't to be, but it was a fine evening and there were plenty of butterflys hanging around the ferns. Including several Comma butterflys. I've always thought these look like a very interesting insect. One of those "does not occur in Ireland" species. When I was first into birds and butterflys, all the very best species in the field guides always had the moniker  "does not occur in Ireland". I always felt a little cheated by that. I mean all the good stuff, Firecrest, Golden Oriole, Woodpeckers, Redstarts, Commas...........and lots more, do not occur in Ireland! We were left with the ordinary stuff as far as I was concerned! So I'd never seen a Comma and was more than pleased to finally catch up with one. Very handsome indeed.

Comma - East Wretham Heath - 20th July2013
I have totally the wrong lens for shooting Butterflys so please forgive these efforts. I also snapped one of these, I think its a Skipper of some sort, but am not sure so suggestions welcome please!

Skipper spp, - East Wretham Heath - 20th July2013
I did a full circuit and ended up back with the Redstarts. The male was working very hard, finding food for the young 'uns, calling them and dishing it out. He'd sit up on the bracken from time to time but was still a little distant for photos.

Common Redstart - East Wretham Heath - 20th July2013
He may not look quite as pristine as a few weeks ago but I guess that's what raising kids does to you. Nonetheless, in my opinion, is there a more handsome bird than male Common Redstart?

Common Redstart - East Wretham Heath - 20th July2013

Sunday 14 July 2013

Ticking over nicely

Following my unsuccessful but pleasant jaunt last weekend to Kelling Heath for Dartford Warbler, I headed out of Norfolk and south to Dunwich Heath in Suffolk where I was told I would have a far better chance of seeing some. This time I wasn't to be disappointed and I enjoyed good views of these marvelous little birds including several singing males within a short distance of the National Trust car park.
This time though I didn't get any photos worth mentioning, I reckon a good sunny day in spring might be the best chance to photograph a male singing atop some yellow gorse. Nonetheless I was very pleased to finally see this fine little Sylvia. Its been one of those birds that I wanted to see for some time. In Ireland, as I said in my previous post, they are rare, only handful of records and none in time that I have been birding. In 2011, we went to a spot called Arta in Mallorca, where they are said to breed but saw none there. As far as England is concerned, I always associated them with the heaths of Devon and Dorset so I was pleased to see that there were a few spots in Norfolk and Suffolk where they breed. Having already got Tristram's and Balearic Warbler on my life list it was time to see Dartfords for once and for all.
Sunday afternoon Nick and I headed up to Cley hoping for some signs of wader passage. Its threatening but not really happening just yet. Having said that though it wasn't all quiet. The beauty of being newly arrived in the UK is that I can amuse myself adding ticks to my British list. Its like ten years ago, every weekend I'd go birding I'd add two or three ticks to my Irish list, great fun. Today I added four to my British list.
First up was Spoonbill, this distance group of six birds sat in the sun preening and resting opposite the East Bank.

Spoonbills, Cley Marshes NWT - Cley, Norfolk - 14th July 2013
Not much else around that area so we headed back to the main car park and from there walked to the three hides in front of the Whitwell and Simmond's scrapes and Pat's Pool (could be somewhere in Tacumshin!).
At first the usual stuff, Avocets, Lapwing, Shelducks and Marsh Harriers. But in time birds starting popping up. First of all a Common Sandpiper, a British tick! Then, and Nick deserves the credit here, an adult Yellow-legged Gull resting out on mud. Tick number three.

Yellow-legged Gull, Cley Marshes NWT - 14th July 2013
Not long after I picked up a single Greenshank - tick number four. That sounds odd, but I don't think they are as common over here in England as they are in Ireland. If it was the other way around and I had moved from England to Ireland I'd have ticked them long ago.
And still there was more. Plenty of Ruff, Black-tailed Godwits (no limosa though), Little Ringed Plover, three Spotted Redshank (moulting into their pale non-breeding livery but still an elegant wader all the same), Common and Sandwich Terns and a smart adult Med Gull.

Avocet , Cley Marshes NWT- 14th July 2013

Ruff, Cley NWT - 14th July 2013

Spotted Redshank, Cley NWT - 14th July 2013
Great birds but a little bit too distant for anything other than these cropped record shots.

At 6pm we wrapped up and headed for home. Right now I'm celebrating surpassing 150 on my British list with a cool bottle of lager......its like the good old days once again :-)

Sunday 7 July 2013

Swallowtails makes the summer

You couldn't really call this the summer doldrums could you, possible Grey-necked Bunting at Blakeney (I was even ready to twitch that one!), an unconfirmed report of a Great Black-headed Gull at Titchwell, the Bridled tern in Northumberland and an Ascension Frigatebird in Scotland. They all generated plenty of discussions at least, if nothing else.
I built my birding around sport this weekend. The 3rd Lions test in Sydney on Saturday morning and the Wimbledon Men's Singles Final on Sunday afternoon. Thankfully both results went the right way.
On Saturday evening I decided to drive up to Kelling Heath and take a look for Dartford Warbler. I've never seen one, a very rare bird in Ireland, probably due to their sedentary nature. I'm guessing around ten records but I could be wrong there.
Anyway, after a bit of driving around I eventually found the right spot on Kelling Heath between the charming villages of Holt and Weybourne. I parked up and set off looking for the birds. The habitat is beautiful, dry heath with gorze, heather and bracken. Good for Nightjar, Woodlark, possibly Tree Pipit and of course Dartford Warbler. I saw none of these! The best I had was a recently fledged Nightingale, but on such a warm evening it was a fine place to stroll around. I may need to venture out of the county to Dunwich Heath in Suffolk for my Dartfords.
On Sunday morning Nick and I elected to stay reasonably close to Norwich. We parked up behind the train station at Buckenham Marshes. As with yesterday evening at Kelling Heath, there were Blackcaps, Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs all in song. We walked to the first hide where Nick picked up a nice Yellow Wagtail. However, apart from some juvenile Shelduck, Lapwing and Black-headed Gulls, there was little else there. We walked along the river bank towards the second scrape, it was only 9.45am but it was already getting hot. The Lepidotera and Odonata were out in force. I'm not good on either group but plenty of Small Tortoiseshells, Ringlets, Meadow Browns and one or two Red Admiral. Also, plenty of dragonflys, none of which I can identify. Nick tells me this is a Norfolk Hawker.

Norfolk Hawker, Buckenham Marshes RSPB - 7th July 2013

At the second scrape we had three Ruff, two Avocet (with chick) and several Redshank. With little else to detain us we decided to head back towards Strumpshaw Fen to look for the famous Swallowtail Butterflys. I say famous, because I've checked several times for them there without success. But I've always been a little late in the evening and sometimes the weather hasn't been great. Today it was already 25oC by the time we reached the car park so certainly warm enough for them.
We walked around the meadow trail checking the ditches. Plenty of Damselflys and Dragonflys but no Swallowtails. This one is a Four-spotted Chaser (correct me if I'm wrong).

Four-spotted Chaser, Strumpshaw Fen RSPB - 7th July 2013
Seriously though, on close examination they are fine beasts and I think its time to smarten myself up on Britain's Odonata and Lepidoptera, time to shell out on some books maybe! Any recommendations??
We also had this rather bleached and late Brimstone, typically an early spring butterfly, would this be the offspring of one that emerged in April??

Brimstone, Strumpshaw Fen RSPB - 7th July 2013
As we walked towards the fen hide we finally caught up with a single Swallowtail, it was a little distant though so we elected to head towards the famous private garden on the opposite side of the reserve.
We walked up the lane from the road and as we neared the garden I could see several photographers taking snaps of a something on the flowers. It was looking good and as we got close we could see one Swallowtail busy nectaring on the Buddleias. There was a second further up the border also.
There was no need for a big lens for these things, they paid no attention to any of us and went about their business oblivious to people. With patience it was possible to get some nice shots as they rested briefly with their wings open.

Swallowtail, Strumpshaw Fen RSPB - 7th July 2013
I must compliment the owners of the garden, who are clearly lovers of Natural History, they have created a very nice border for the Swallowtails and are very happy to allow people to walk up along it and take photographs within several feet of their living room. I hope this is never abused or taken advantage of. I spoke to them briefly and they seem lovely people.

Photographing Swallowtails near Strumpshaw Fen

Every so often two Swallowtails would come into contact with each other. I don't know if it was two males fighting or a male chasing a female or what (I suspect the former). But a bit of ruck would kick off between them as one would try to chase another off a flower head. They usually ended up tussling on the grass before one would give up and fly off leaving the other one alone. Quite entertaining to watch, at one stage their aerial tussle was within inches of my head.

'Get orf my land' - dualing Swallowtails - 7th July 2013
To see some movie clips of them click here and here

I was as interested and entertained watching these insects as I have been by any bird I've seen this year. They are truly stunning. If you have to chance go and see them. One Swallowtail could really make a summer!
After about an hour, we had both gotten reasonable photos and great views, the day was really starting to get hot, we were thirsty and a bit weary. We decided it was time to call a halt and go watch the tennis.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Starts, Shanks and Jars

With Polina away for a few weeks I had some free time last weekend. I took it easy on Friday evening and was up in good time to watch the 2nd test between Australia and the Lions on Saturday morning. The Wallabies spoiled the party a little and its all down to the last match this Saturday in Sydney. With the rugby out of the way by lunchtime, I pulled together a packed lunch and decided to head birding for the rest of the day.
I returned to East Wretham Heath to see how the Redstart situation was looking. Earlier on in the month there were a least two if not three male birds singing in the same general area and I had brief views of a female. This time there was no singing but I did have views from the path of both a male and female bird collecting food and bringing it somewhere. So the signs are that one pair has breed at least and are feeding young. Both birds were very busy and difficult to see well even though the male is obviously very striking. I watched them for a while and took a couple of record shots from the path before deciding it was best to move on. When I look at some of the stunning shots on BirdGuides of male Redstarts taken in Powys and other spots in Wales, I wonder how they are able to manage. I'm guessing you'd need a hide and a liberal amount of meal worms to start with.

Male Common Redstart, East Wretham Heath, Norfolk - June 2013
Female Common Redstart, East Wretham Heath, Norfolk - June 2013
With still a little time on my hands I headed over to the far side of Norwich to Strumpshaw fen. I wanted to try for the Swallowtail butterflys but the weather clouded over and the winds picked up. There was no sign at the garden so I wandered back to the hide at reception where I had distant views of Cuckoo and Common Tern.
Sunday afternoon, Nick and I headed for Cley to see if there was any early wader passage. From after 5pm the light was behind the hides and we enjoyed about two hours of nice light before departing. It's early yet but there were about seven Ruff, one summer plumaged Spotted Redshank, twenty or so Black-tailed Godwits and several Little Ringed Plover (including one juvenile bird).

Little Ringed Plover, Cley, Norfolk - June 2013

Ruff, Cley, Norfolk - June 2013
Several summer plumaged Common Redshanks entertained us by posing on the fence posts.

Common Redshank, Cley, Norfolk - June 2013
There were plenty of Avocets around although less chicks than a few weeks ago, possibly because now they are starting to look more like adults (?) or because the local Marsh Harriers are doing a job. I don't know which but every time a Marsh Harrier came near the scrape, all hell would break loose and the poor bird would be chased and harried away by the Avocets.

Hitching a ride - an Avocet hassles a local Marsh Harrier at Cley.

Marsh Harrier is seen off the premises by six angry Avocets
A quieter moment - taken from the same hide at Cley in early June

Sunday evening - an Avocet feeds in front of the hide at Cley
On the way back from Cley to Norwich I discussed suitable spots for Nightjars with Nick. He suggested Kelling Heath or Holt Country Park.
So, yesterday evening after work, with very little breeze and a warm evening I headed back up that direction around 8.45pm to look for Nightjars.
I didn't have exact details, but managed to locate a likely looking area near Holt Country Park. I parked up, gathered my gear together and set off on foot. I reached an area of open heath with short trees and gorse bushes. I scanned across the area and could see another birder about five hundred yards on the opposite side of the heath scanning too, so I figured I was in the right area. Seconds later a stunning male European Nightjar came into view hawking moths as glided over the tops of the gorse. The time was about 9.40pm, the light was still reasonable and although the bird was about one hundred yards away it was still possible to see some detail on its plumage such as the white feathers at the base of the outer primaries and on the outer tail feathers. They really stood out in the gloom. It wasn't alone and across the heath a couple more had started churring. On a still night the sound really carried. It was way too dark for photos but I did make the following recording of a bird churring as I scanned across the heath. Sorry for all the movement in the movie but hopefully, if you turn the sound up on your PC, you'll get a feel for how things were.

Sound of churring Nightjar

Bitten alive by midges and very satisfied with my views, I left the area at around 10.10pm and drove back to Norwich. This evening its dull and windy so I think I made the right call to go yesterday.

Dusk near Holt, Norfolk

Back in the Garden County

On the weekend of the 21st June I was back over in Ireland for a short family visit. I traveled light (thanks to Mr. O'Leary.......£50 for one bag?!!), so brought only my bins and left my camera gear behind. Anyway, it was a family visit so I wasn't expecting to do much birding. Nonetheless I had a little time to kill on Sunday afternoon so I took off towards the garden county of Wicklow.
First stop was Glendalough, I try to visit here every year. Its one of the very few places in Ireland where breeding Wood Warbler may be found and a very outside chance of Common Redstart and or Pied Flycatcher. I've seen Wood Warbler there twice including great views two years ago of a singing male.

Singing Wood Warbler - Glendalough, June 2011
This year however there had been no reports so I visited in hope rather than any expectation. I checked the usual spots above the second lake and wandered up amongst the woods above Poulanass waterfall without any joy. Nonetheless, two Spotted Flycatchers were nice and a few Jays which look noticeably darker compared to their UK cousins which I have been seeing for the last few months around Norfolk.
From Glendalough I drove towards the Sally Gap and down into the Coronation Plantation. This is a good spot for Whinchat, Crossbill and Spotted Flycatcher. A walk around the bracken at the back of the Scot's Pines provided a pair of Whinchat, I was sorry I didn't have my camera as the male was reasonably close at one stage. However they were carrying food in their bills so assuming they were feeding young somewhere I left them to their business. In the Scot's Pines I had a single Spotted Flycatcher and a Common Whitethroat further up towards the main entrance. The Coronation Plantation is a very picturesque place to visit and is always part of my agenda during trips down to Wicklow in the late spring or early summer.

River Liffey at the Coronation Plantation, Co.Wicklow, June 2013
At this stage I should have gone home but reports of a singing Lesser Whitethroat at Kilcoole were too tempting. A good spring bird for Ireland and even better if in song.
I speed walked all the way along the path to the Sea Buckthorn at Kilcoole. I located the bird easily enough even though I don't believe I've ever one in song before. Not the most remarkable of tunes but interesting if you've never heard it before. The wind was quite strong so the bird remained hidden as it sang. It popped up several times for brief views after which I turned on my heels and headed back to the car. I was too short of time to call over to the wardens at the Little Tern colony, sorry Niall if you're reading this, next time I'll say hello.

Sea Buckthorn, Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow - June 2013
So a short visit to Ireland but Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher, Little Tern and singing Lesser Whitethroat was good going in a single afternoon!