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 222011
 

No really, it isn’t… although in all fairness you could be forgiven for thinking it was morphing into one of late. That’s just a reflection of me rekindling an interest that’s been there since I was a wee nipper.

Inevitably life gets busy, and things fall by the wayside, but they’re always there, to be picked up again when time allows. That’s what’s happening now.

I’m enjoying re-acquainting myself with the common and not so common birds around me, brushing up very rusty fieldcraft and ID skills and generally re-calibrating the bird-radar.

It’s also seems to be rekindling my enthusiasm for this blog, which is no bad thing.

Where am I finding the time for this real life stuff? To be honest I’m mostly slotting it in around all the other stuff. It’s amazing what you can do with a spare ten minutes here, quarter of an hour there.

So… I hope you’re enjoying the wildlife and birding related posts, and I will get back to writing about other things soon.

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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Feb 092011
 

Play the Swarovski Optik Birding Game and WinIf you are a birding enthusiast this new online birding game by Swarovski Optilk is great fun, and a useful way to keep those ID skills finely honed.

It’s been developed to help promote the brand new Swarovski EL50 Swarovision, the latest addition to the thoroughbred Swarovski Optik binocular range.

There are currently three habitats to choose from – Lake Neusiedl in Austria (Swarovski Optiks’ back yard), Extremadura in Spain (where they’re officially launching the new bins) and Corpus Christi in Texas, USA.

I’ve tried the Austria and Spain ones and they’re great fun. Haven’t had the temerity to attempt the American one yet… know far too little about US birds (and European ones come to that).

With my online marketing hat on, it’s good to see a traditional high-end manufacturer in a niche area like speciality optics getting adventurous with online marketing like this, and harnessing it in a way that will really engage with its niche market of birders.

Feb 082011
 

lesser redpoll and mealy redpoll in West CorkOnce upon a time, not very long ago, I used to be content with the notion that a redpoll was a redpoll was a redpoll. All that changed just over a month ago when a mealy redpoll (Carduelis flammea flammea) joined the gang of lesser redpolls (Carduelis flammea cabaret) visiting my garden bird feeders.

I get lesser redpolls in the garden every winter, and lovely little birds they are too. But back in early January I was casually watching a few of these charming little finches jostle for position on the feeder, when I noticed one bird in particular that looked very different. It was noticeably chunkier, and much paler in appearance – more of a frosty grey-brown than the usual warm brown and buff tones of the lessers.

I dived for the books… and opened up a real can of worms. Redpoll identification, it turns out, can be a real NIGHTMARE!

After a bit of reading, comparing and some more watching… followed by more reading and head-scratching, I was convinced that the paler bird was a mealy redpoll — the nominate sub-species of the common redpoll (Carduelis flammea flammea).

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