Tuesday 29 December 2015

Christmas Birding at Dun Laoghaire East Pier

Christmas this year was spent in Ireland. On the 23rd December, we drove from Norwich to Dublin which wasn't so bad seeing as Polina shared the driving duties. At Holyhead a Hooded Crow in the Asda / McDonald's carpark was a pleasant surprise.
Spending time with my parents was first and foremost for Polina and I, but I did manage a couple of hours birding along Dun Laoghaire's east pier on 26th December. In the past it has always been a favourite place of mine for some local birding. It was here I saw my first ever Black Redstart way back in 2005 and other birds I've seen here have included Great Northern Diver, Red-throated Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Little Gull and close up views of Purple Sandpiper.

Red-necked Grebe, Dun Laoghaire East Pier - January 2011
Dun Laoghaire from the east pier including the RNLI Lifeboat and the town hall

As is often the case there was at least one first winter / female type Black Redstart at the base of the pier near the old swimming baths. Since my first bird here eleven years ago, I've seen many more each winter but I've never photographed one at this spot. I have a great fondness for Black Redstarts (well, all Redstarts and all Chats if I'm honest). Eleven years ago, as I was new to birding, I didn't realise that Black Redstarts were regular if not scarce wintering birds along the east and south coasts of Ireland. On 9th January 2005, I checked Eric Dempsey's now sadly defunct BINs line and heard that a Black Redstart was present at the base of the east pier in Dun Laoghaire. I drove down, parked and walked to the spot and within two minutes was watching a female type Black Redstart fly-catching within a few yards of where I sat - I was at the time elated! The same day I ticked Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull at nearby Bullock Harbour. They were exciting times and while I might not manage the same reaction now each time I see a Black Redstart, I still always enjoy coming across them. Anyway, half an hour sat still in the rain and I managed a reasonable shot even though the light was dreadful.

Female type Black Redstart, East Pier, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
I hadn't much time, so I walked up the pier to the band-stand and scanned for divers between the east and west piers. There were at least two Great Northern Divers but they were very distant and a mixture of Shags and Cormorants with them also. I peered over the pier wall to the seaward side but couldn't see any Purple Sandpipers. Six years ago I  almost froze to death and fell heavily trying to photograph these birds on the pier, this year even if some had been visible, the swell was too big and the waves that were crashing up against the pier wall suggested it would have been foolhardy to go anywhere close. So instead, here's some file shots from that previous time.

Purple Sandpiper, Dun Laoghaire East Pier - December 2009
By now the rain was starting to get heavier and my gear was starting to get a little too wet for my liking. I called it a day but took a quick detour via Bullock Harbour in Dalkey on the way home.

Bullock Harbour, Dalkey, Co. Dublin

There were no white-wingers here this time but a good gathering of Great Blacked-backed Gulls including this one bearing a blue ring on its left leg with white text 1KH. I think it is an Irish ringed bird but am not certain (possibly from a scheme in Louth?).

GBB Gull with colour ring - Bullock Harbour, Dalkey, Co. Dublin
The bouquet of flowers on the bench in the back ground are a poignant reminder that Christmas is not a joyous time for everyone!

Friday 25 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - Christmas Day

Back at the end of 2014 I made a list of goals for myself. Not something I normally do but maybe that is part of reaching middle age? A time when you begin to take stock perhaps?
Anyway, amongst many personal goals around losing weight, getting fitter (non of which permanently happened), visiting family more and enjoying more what I do for a living - I had a small little goal of photographing a Nightingale in song. They're a somewhat iconic bird for me, not completely sure why - perhaps their absence from Ireland as a breeding bird and scarcity even as a vagrant and then the shear difficulty in seeing one due to their skulking habits, never mind even photographing one.
So when John Geeson contacted me to say he had come across a little spot of suitable habitat in Suffolk where he reckoned there was up to eight singing birds some showing in the open, well there was no time to be lost. A dash out from work one Friday evening and I managed shots of this bird as it sat out its favourite bramble perch singing gloriously. I get great personal enjoyment when I look at this shot - it didn't get POTW or any other such accolades but to me its represents personal achievement and my best birding memory of 2015 - Happy Christmas!

Nightingale, Suffolk - May 2015

Thursday 24 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 24th December

My second day on Fair Isle and this Blyth's Reed Warbler was found at Upper Stoneybrek in a croft garden. Initially it stayed buried in a clump of Rosehip and Michaelmas Daisy but on the second day of its stay it become much more active, feeding on bluebottles beneath the Angelicas. Which is where it sat out in this classic 'banana' pose - the shot gave me my first BirdGuides POTW - much to my surprise and delight.

Blyth's Reed Warbler - Fair Isle, Shetland

Birding Advent Calendar - catch-up!

Ok, had a bit of a glitch on the interweb front as we moved house so the birding advent calendar from 17th - 23rd December kinda didn't happen.
So here's what you might have won and then I'll add the today's Christmas Eve bird and finish with a flourish tomorrow.

17th December

Glossy Ibis

A nice approachable bird which fed around the channels and ditches behind the lake at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk last November.

Juvenile Glossy Ibis, Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk
18th December


On the same day in November this late Hoopoe was present at Crostwick, Norfolk. I say late but there's still a Hoopoe around the West Midlands and several Swallows in Norfolk including a Red-rumped at Blakeney - all a bit weird!!

Hoopoe, Crostwick, Norfolk
19th December

Siberian Stonechat

A very smart bird indeed, and a lifer for me also. I managed one decent shot courtesy of some passing golfers who flushed the bird towards me.

Siberian Stonechat, Caister on Sea, Norfolk
20th December

Thick-billed Warbler

Sorry no picture of this one but well worth covering in my birds of the year round-up. Like the Citril Finch, it was right place and right time. Thanks to a tip off by James Lowen followed by a mad dash from Sumburgh to Quendale, I managed to get several flight views of the bird as it dashed from one clump of nettles to the next. Not how you would want to see it but better than missing it altogether.

21st December 

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker

It took eight attempts, which reflects the scarcity of the species now sadly, but in the end perseverance won out and I managed good views of this female drumming at Santon Downham, Suffolk (in fact it flew across the Little Ouse so that gave me both Norfolk and Suffolk views also).

Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Santon Downham, Suffolk
22nd December

Western Bonelli's Warbler

An unexpected bonus en route to Fair Isle last September. I had gotten a taxi from Sumburgh Airport to the Sumburgh Hotel, dropped off my gear and got the driver to bring me up to Sumburgh Lighthouse. I told him to come back in two hours and pick me up. The light was running out and I had to meet the taxi at 6.30pm, chances of a photograph were looking slimmer and slimmer until with about two minutes left before I needed to go, the bird popped up briefly for a look about before dropping down and out of sight. The trip was off to a great start with a lifer.

Western Bonelli's Warbler, Sumburgh Head, Shetland
 23rd December


A small crowd of seven or so birders had assembled to watch this Bluethroat at Winterton dunes last September, once they'd had their fill they all trooped off to try for a nearby Wryneck. So I was left on my own with the bird as it continued to feed around the bottom of the gorse. This is where it got good. At one point a Redstart dashed in and seemed to chase it away. The Bluethroat held its ground and then perched up on a low stump a short distance off the ground and began excitedly fanning its tail. I was trying to figure out why it was doing this when an Adder slithered past below the bird. Marvellous to see such behaviour up close.

Bluethroat, Winterton dunes, Norfolk

Wednesday 16 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 16th December

This very fresh looking and showy Icterine Warbler was present at Burnham Overy Dunes last August. Easily the best views I've had of one. I remember ticking Icterine Warbler for my Irish list on Cape Clear during the spring of 2009 and that was elusive to say the least. Even though they're plentiful during the summer in Latvia, I've never captured a decent photo of one. Until this bird!

Icterine Warbler - Burnham Overy Dunes, Norfolk - August 2015

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 15th December

Winter wouldn't be winter without a Brambling thrown in somewhere along the line. Here's one from way back last January - taken at Santon Downham, Suffolk - from the warmth of my car!

Brambling, Santon Downham, Suffolk - January 2015

Monday 14 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 14th December

Early May and a long weekend in Latvia. Not quite "baltic" although there was still a chill in the air. Walking around the small local reserve I had a reeling locustella, a scan of the reedbed revealed the source to be Savi's Warbler. One bird became two, then three and at times four birds in a hormone-fueled "reel-off"! They kept a little distant for photos and the sun was very much from the side and very harsh, but I managed some "artistic" shots in the end.

Reeling Savi's Warbler - Lielupe, Jurmula, Latvia - May 2015

Sunday 13 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 13th December

In mid-June I did several evening visits to my local patch of Marston Marshes in west Norwich. I was very fortunate to have some excellent close views of a Barn Owl as it hunted. I had tucked myself away under a tree with the setting sun to my back. After a fifty minute wait or so, it just sailed past me within about twenty feet and proceeded to hunt over the meadow in front of me. The light was really fading so I had to go to ISO2000 but still managed a reasonable shot.

Barn Owl, Marston Marshes, Norwich - June 2015

Saturday 12 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 12th December

Some of my fellow Cork birders will know this as a 'Black Rodney' rather than 'Black Redstart'....long story but a good name!
This one was a late autumn bird hanging the compound at Horsey Gap, Norfolk. I see less wintering Black Rodneys in Norfolk than in County Cork, where presumably the slightly milder winters suits them better.

Black Rodney - Horsey Gap Gap, Norfolk - November 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 11th December

OK - I'm a day behind. But never mind, this is a good one.
Madeiran Firecrest, this bird was right under my nose - or more specifically in the pines outside our hotel room in Madeira. So I didn't need to walk too far. Its a little scruffy but still a very pretty wee thing!

Madeiran Firecrest - May 2015

Thursday 10 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 10th December

I'm continuing to bend my own rules here - yet another Lepidotera or more specifically Nymphalidae. A late summer visit to Holt Country Park had White Admiral, Silver-washed Fritillary and with a little bit of 'gen' from the helpful lad in the visitor center and I was able to locate at least one female Silver-washed Fritillary of the valezina form.

Silver-washed Fritillary of the valezina form, Holt CP, Norfolk - July 2015

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 9th December

I love Whinchats me! Doesn't matter how many I see, I never grow tired of them. By the end of the autumn I'll have usually seen double figures of these confident and handsome chats.
This pretty juvenile was one of two birds frequenting the ditches and gardens around Chalet on Fair Isle last September.

Juvenile Whinchat, Fair Isle - September 2015

Tuesday 8 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 8th December

On the first day of my trip to Shetland and Fair Isle I stopped off at Sumburgh Head Lighthouse to see the Western Bonelli's Warbler (keepin' that one for later). This Spotted Flycatcher was keeping it company in the lighthouse compound garden. Sadly the only Spot Fly I saw all year and that seems to be a reflection of their status right now!

Spotted Flycatcher, Sumburgh Head, Mainland, Shetland - September 2015

Monday 7 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 7th December

Late July and I had finished walking the east Bank at Cley and had checked Arnold's Marsh for passage waders. I scanned the sea for Skuas but got distracted by three Little Gulls patrolling up and down along the edge of the breaking waves - dainty little things! I got a few shots before rain got the better of me.

Little Gull, Cley, Norfolk - July 2015

Sunday 6 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 6th December

I'm bending my own rules a little. So its not a bird, but it does fly and its oh so pretty. Strumpshaw Fen is a good spot mid-summer for Swallowtail butterfly and the Doctor's garden is usually the most reliable spot to see them. Which was where I photographed this particular beauty last June.

Swallowtail, Strumpshaw Fen RSPB, Brundall, Norfolk

Saturday 5 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 5th December

Back to Fair Isle once more for today's bird. Not a vagrant or a rare but not an everyday species either - The Mountain Linnet, Pennine Finch or as it is better known Twite. A flock of around two hundred birds were ever present and provided plenty of photo opportunities when things were quiet.

Twite, Fair Isle - September 2015

Thursday 3 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 4th December - Pallid Harrier

Present for most of my week on Fair Isle, this juvenile Pallid Harrier put in many fly-bys as it hunted around the crofts on the southern part of Fair Isle. I had so many brief encounters with it during the first few days there that it almost became like an old friend. Then one day, just like that, it was gone.

Pallid Harrier, Fair Isle, Shetland - September 2015

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Birding Advent Calendar - 3rd December - Marsh Warbler

This fantastically vocal Marsh Warbler took up residence for a few days along the Nar Valley Way in Narborough, Norfolk last June. As always with Marshies the mimicry of its song was incredible. I recognised Chaffinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Swallow, Nuthatch, a very convincing blast of Blackcap, Reed and Sedge Warbler and even mewing Buzzard. A 4am start and devoured by midges but well worth it.

Marsh Warbler, Narborough, Norfolk

And of course, an obligatory video!

Youtube clip of Marsh Warbler singing