May 042011
 

After much deliberation and procrastination I’ve finally set the Ireland’s Wildlife Website free into the wilds of cyberspace.

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It’s still very early days, and it’s a bit thin on content (I’m working on it… so please bear with me), but I think there’s a great foundation to build an online wildlife hub and resource for everyone who’s interested in Ireland’s wildlife, the places they live, and the people who work with the,

Take a look, and let me have your feedback, thoughts, ideas and suggestions.

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Apr 202011
 

Woodchat Shrike, Rosscarbery -- photo by Colin Barton

Today was an amazing day.

You know those balmy April days that practically taste of the promise of summer… the vanilla-citrus scent of gorse blossom hanging in the unseasonably warm air. Well, this was one of those.

I had a meeting in the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery this afternoon, after which the plan was a leisurely stroll across the causeway and down towards the Warren Strand to meet the family for a picnic on the beach. Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? But it gets better.

A quick circuit of the reed-bed revealed an assortment of warblers in the deciduous trees at the western end… willow warblers, chiff-chaffs and a full on X-Factor-style sing-off between three male blackcaps.

DSCI2711There wasn’t much happening from the causeway – some late black tailed godwits and a couple of little egrets in their breeding regalia… they look so much “swankier” when they’re all dressed up.

So it was onto the Warren road, heading for the beach. Something made me stop scanning the estuary for waders and look up into the stubble field behind the houses on the other side of the road. A bird flew up and landed on the electricity wires… I swung up the bins.

Surely not…! I looked again… I was definitely seeing an adult female Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator).

I made my way into the field for a closer look. What a magnificent bird… a first for me, and a fabulous bird to find for yourself. I sent the news in to Colin Barton who runs @corkbirdnews and he was on the scene from Galley Head in short order. I’ve used one of Colin’s photos of the shrike above, as mine are a bit ropey (only had the compact camera with me, and handheld digibining is a tricky skill to master, see below).

These are my best two digibining efforts:

Woodchat ShrikeWoodchat Shrike

And here’s another one of Colin’s – a flight shot – to finish off.

Woodchat Shrike -- Photo by Colin Barton

A yellow wagtail in the same field (dubbed the “Woodchat field” by Colin – which has a nice ring to it, I have to say) was a bonus too, and the picnic with the family was a great way to round off a really fabulous day!

Apr 112011
 

Wood Warbler on Galley Head, Co. Cork

Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

Our house was complete chaos last weekend. The twins and the little one had their friends over on Saturday for a sleepover (more accurately described as a stay-awake-over). That meant that bright and early on Sunday we had a houseful of over-tired, hyperactive girls ranging in age from seven to ten.

It was mayhem. Then a friend of Sally Ann’s arrived with her daughter, and the female/male quotient hit critical mass. This lone male had to escape of risk terminal meltdown!

And so, somehow, me, the binoculars, the bird book and the camera ended up in the car. Quarter-of-an-hour later I was standing at the salubriously dubbed “Shite Lane” crossroads on Galley head, looking at a lovely example of a wood warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix).

Don’t you just love it when things work out?

I had a quick scoot along the Top Lane too, seeing as I was already in the vacinity. Secretly I wanted to bag a hoopoe (love that name… but the scientific name is even more impressive. Upupa epops anyone?)  on Galley, just to annoy @CorkBirdNews AKA Galley Head Birding, who was away from his home patch at the time. But no such luck, and he’s back now, so opportunity lost.

Did get some fantastic views of a peregrine on the deck (but crap photos – too far away for my poxy glass, and a mist rolling in didn’t help), and lots of hyperactive choughs mobbing a very vociferous raven. It was a happy reminder that great birding, even in the midst of spring-migrant-mania, isn’t all about rarities.

Peregrine on the deckLots of choughs aroundChoughs just after dive bombing the ravenRaven, trying hard to stay one step ahead of the choughs

That said, a few woodchat shrikes (Lanius senator) have been cropping up further east and west along the Cork coast, which makes me think there must be at least one or two lurking on nearby headlands too – Galley, Toe Head, or along the coast in between.

I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled… or failing that will monitor @CorkBirdNews on Twitter and let a more competent / dedicated / single / child free / retired birders find one for me Winking smile.

Mar 312011
 

Lesser Redpoll (top) v Mealy Redpoll comparisonThe mealy redpoll that spent the winter hanging around my garden is still making regular appearances at the feeders. During the recent spell of decent weather I managed to get these shots of first a lesser, followed a few seconds later by the mealy on the same station at the seed-feeder. Identical light, identical camera settings, etc. make for an interesting comparison.

It highlights the significant differences between two birds that in Ireland are still considered sub-species of the common redpoll, but in the UK are split into different species.

The Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis flammea cabaret / Carduelis cabaret) is on the top, the Mealy Redpoll (Carduelis flammea flammea) is on the bottom.

Click on the pic to see a larger version.

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Feb 212011
 

Arse! Tufted duck taking a dive.Damn… don’t you just hate it when birds are too far away, and moving too quickly for a positive ID?

The rain finally stopped and the sun was out. While I was waiting for the kettle to boil I grabbed the bins for a quick scan from the front garden.

The usual suspects – mostly tits and finches — were going about their daily grind. A grey heron was making it’s leisurely way towards where Corran lake sits hidden in a dip about a mile from the house. Behind it, and gaining rapidly, were two ducks, going like the clappers.

If they were anything other than mallard, tufted duck or teal they’d be a new species for my loosely defined patch. But they were just that bit too far away to make out features for a positive ID with the bins… and were travelling too quickly to go get the scope.

I’m pretty sure they weren’t any of the three aforementioned duck species, and for some reason a little voice in the back of my head keeps whispering wigeon… but I guess we’ll never know.

Feb 212011
 

… but hey, it’s a start!

Just spotted this on the Birdwatch Ireland Facebook page. It’s a post from the warden of the Cape Clear Bird Observatory, Steve Wing, confirming that they saw the first swallow of the summer pass by yesterday, 20 February.

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Typing this with frozen fingers, looking out the office window at the lashing rain, it doesn’t feel much like summer, but with the frogs a spawning, swallows arriving and bumblebees on the wing (saw my first one on Saturday) nature is certainly hinting that the winter is well and truly on its way out.

So chin-up, and look on the bright side… we might not get much dry weather, but at lease we have warmer rain to look forward to!

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Aug 192010
 

Whale Watch Ireland, Galley Head, Cork Whale Watch Ireland is an annual all-Ireland land-based whale watching event run by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG). This year’s watch will take place on Sunday 22 August between 2pm and 5pm at 15 headlands around the Irish coast.

This is a completely free land based watch (no boat-trips involved), and experienced IWDG guides / spotters will be on hand to give you the best chance of spotting some of the 24 cetacean species encountered around the Irish coast.

IWDG Sightings Co-ordinator Padraig Whooley showing children a whale jaw-bone at Whale Watch Ireland Some of the species you’re most likely to spot include harbour porpoise, common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, minke whale, if you’re lucky you may see fin whales blowing offshore, and if you’re REALLY lucky perhaps a humpback will put in an appearance.

As with all wildlife related events, there are no guarantees you’ll see anything – but the anticipation and uncertainty all adds to the excitement… and it’s a fabulous, free family outing at some of Ireland’s most spectacular natural locations.

Here’s a list of Whale Watch Ireland 2010 locations from the IWDG site:

Location Meeting Point Watch Leader
Howth Head, Dublin Balscadden Car Park Brian Glanville
Bray Head, Wicklow Pitch & putt car park Dinah Boyne
Hook Head, Wexford Hook Lighthouse Kevin Mc Cormick
Ardmore, Waterford Ram Head signal tower Andrew Malcolm
Galley Head, Cork Lighthouse Pádraig Whooley
Garranes, Beara, Cork Dzogchen Beara Ctr Patrick Lyne
Slea Head, Dingle Penisula, Kerry Slea Head Shrine Nick Massett
Brandon Point, Kerry Car park Mick O’Connell
Loop Head, Clare Lighthouse Aoife Foley
Black Head, Clare Lighthouse Joanne O’Brien
Downpatrick Head, Mayo Car park Conor Ryan
Mullaghmore Head, Sligo Mullaghmore lay by Fiona Farrell
Lough Swilly, Donegal Fort Dunree Dermot Mc Laughlin
Portstewart Head, Derry Harbour Hill Jim Allen
Larne, Antrim Larne Town Park, Glenarm Rd Ian Enlander

So get yourself to a headland near you on Sunday to find out more about the whales and dolphins around Ireland, and hopefully see a few for yourself.

I’ll be at the Galley Head watch in Cork… if you’re in the vicinity come say hello!

Aug 102010
 
Grey Seal

Image via Wikipedia

The sea was like a sheet of black glass.

I’d never seen the Atlantic quite so calm before. It was eerily silent, not a breath of wind. As I dipped my paddle into the shimmering surface I couldn’t help but feel rising disquiet as I contemplated what the darkness beneath me might conceal.

I pushed the notion aside and paddled on.

Ahead of me the aptly named High Island rose out of the sea, illuminated, for once, by that scarcest of West Cork commodities: glorious morning sunshine. Viewed from the vantage point of a kayak out on the open water it was a truly breathtaking vista.

We’d spent the night camping on Rabbit Island just off the coast near Myross. There were nine of us in total: my wife and I, another couple and five children. We’d ferried all of the gear and people over on two inflatable kayaks the previous afternoon, and had a wonderful evening with a view out over High Island and the Atlantic Ocean that’s simply out of this world.

Early the next morning we heard the seals calling out around High Island and Seal Rock, it was flat calm, so two of us decided to hop in the kayaks to investigate.

The other island turned out to be further away than it looked, but we reached it without incident and headed around to the ocean-facing side through a channel between the rocks. That’s where we encountered the seals.

Continue reading »

Apr 182010
 

I love cephalopods (squid, octopuses and cuttlefish). They’re among my favourite marine animals.

When I was studying Marine Biology at The University of Liverpool, we rescued an octopus that ended up in the wet lab with some Nephrops norvegicus (scampi or langoustine).

We kept him for a while, in one of the tanks at the marine lab. I spent a long time just watching him… and the changes in skin colour and texture never ceased to amaze me.

Amazing footage of the cryptic and behavioural colour changes in cephalopods in the second half of this TED talk.

Apr 082010
 

For me one of the most satisfying parts of photographing wildlife (or at least attempting to) is how even our most familiar wildlife species can offer the opportunity to capture truly spectacular images.

Whether it’s a robin in your back yard, a fox visiting your garden, or a couple of blackbirds squabbling in the local park… there’s action and drama all around you. More common species, are, by definition, more accessible, and are often easier to get close to… improving your chances of capturing that winning shot.

This Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) was hanging around Lough Ine, near Skibbereen on 06 April. I had the camera with me, and took a few shots as it came in to land

 Herring GullHerring Gull (Larus argentatus) on the wingHerring Gull (Larus argentatus) coming in to land

Nikon D90, Sigma 28-200 Zoom (300mm 35mm equivalent) @ f5.6