Thursday, 3 January 2013

It's Oh so quiet... shh, shhh

Lack of zoom lens = lack of blog posts around here, so to answer all the one emails I've received urging me to keep posting, it's now time to confirm that this particular birding blog is now sadly extinct.
Sorry Mum.

After a full €800 refund for my faulty Sigma 150-500 zoom lens, I started looking for alternative lens options, which for the same price with the same reach, were non existent.

Money still safely put away, my car failed its NCT, new rear axles (or something) had to be fitted, €600 was thrown at that problem, then the car tax came in at €517, so quick and easy as you like the €800 refund from my beloved lens was gone.

Additionally I've signed up for the Bike to Work scheme and what with my new road bike and a rekindled romance of cycling, you can guess where this is heading....
No more bird blog from me.
Time to move on.

Hundreds of you have suggested I still keep writing the blog without the photos - but the photography was where my interest was.
Writing, not so much. 

So farewell, the cycling is a new challenge, which in my 40th year is quite a welcome discovery, unless I crash, then maybe not so welcome a discovery.

Thanks everyone for reading. 
I'd be lying if I didn't admit that the old ego is touched by people saying they'll genuinely miss this blog, nice to know it became a favourite for people.
It has been lovely spending time with so many of you from Birdwatch Ireland, whether it was the 5am starts to count wintering birds over at Bull island, helping you monitor the Little tern chicks on Kilcoole beach, canon netting and tagging Brent geese near Portmarnock or 'helping' spread the BWI message at Electric Picnic  - you're such a solid bunch, doing so much good work for our environment - thank you.

Dublin/Wicklow birders - those into the photography side and those who aren't, thanks for all the interesting outings and field trips.
And to Eric and all of you who were part of the 'Birds of Ireland' course - such good times.

I'm afraid I've had to disable the comments section so I can leave this blog up for reference purposes, trips down memory lane, stealing of photos etc  

Take Care all


Wednesday, 28 November 2012


40 Waxwings - Cooley Road, Drimnagh, Dublin 12!

Cycling to work this morning I heard a Mistle thrush going completely berserk in a tree to my right.

Looked up and saw a flock of around 40 birds lift from the top of the same tree I saw Fieldfares and Redwings in a couple of years ago (the tree is in the staff car park of the Children's hospital).

I cycled over into the car park, stopped at the barrier to get a better look - the flock of birds were WAXWINGS!
The Scandi/ Russian birds have made it to Cooley Road, so cool.
These birds have likely flown all the way from Denmark/ Norway/ Sweden/ Finland/ Russia to get these Dublin berries.The Waxwings were calling too - a real treat of sight and sound.

8.15am, Nov 28th 2012, 40 Waxwings, Children's hospital staff carpark, Cooley Road, Drimnagh

5 mins was all I had, great way to start the morning.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

60 Waxwings, Stannaway Ave, Crumlin, D12

As I mentioned in my last post my beloved Sigma 150-500 lens has died.

John Fox suggested I use a 300mm f4 with a 1.4 teleconverter, it's what he uses all the time and what a load of birders use too, he had a spare one and very kindly offered me a lend to see how I fared with it.

My shot, taken with John Fox's Nikon 300mm lens, the same lens he's won awards with.

With all the Waxwing sightings being reported around Dublin, I figured I'd have another go at Stannaway Ave, there weren't any there last week, but there might be today.

For some unknown reason, C and her hangover decided that they wanted to come along with me which made me kind of nervous, but I embraced the challenge and we set off around Drimnagh looking up into all the trees for possible Waxwings.
'The Waxwings can look a bit like a flock of Starlings' I mentioned.
'I always get confused between Starlings and Swallows' she said, my eyes widened and I drove on in silent awe.

With no luck around Drimnagh, we headed into Crumlin, down Windmill Rd, Cashel Ave, Stannaway Rd and onto Stannaway Ave.
'This is Waxwing road' I said, and pointed up to the large flock of either Starlings or Waxwings in exactly the same tree I saw them in two years ago.

The light was impossible today to get any decent shots, frustrating when you've been stuck in work all week looking out at cloudless blue skies and beautiful sunshine. Still, the image here is an amazing one for the middle of Crumlin - beautiful.

The Nikon 300mm f4, unlike most lenses today, has no VR system and because I was handholding and excited and cold and taking these photos with nothing to lean against - the technical quality is awful, but to capture a Waxwing with a berry in it's beak is great.

Watching them eat the berries was interesting, they seem to snap the berry from the branch, balance it at the tip of their beaks then knock the berry back like they're downing shots, which maybe they were that time they were found dead, drunk from the alcohol content of the fermented berries :o/

I know if I was on my own, I would have stayed longer and waited to watch more and get more shots, but my passenger was starting to hunger and fade, so we waved bye to the Scandinavians and wished them a pleasant stay in Dubiln.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

25 Fieldfares + 1 Redwing, Yorkshire

This is my 'Buzzard tree', quite a few times climbing over the brow of the hill, if I climb slow enough I see a Buzzard sitting in the branches, home, Yorkshire.

At home in yorkshire this weekend for my bro's bday earlier in the week.
Hit on a great weeknd weather wise, sun shining, clear blue skies and cold, but not too cold.
Woke early this morning and headed down the fields knowing the rest of the house would sleep another couple of hours.
2 Redkites and a Buzzard were the first birds I saw, always wows me how regularly and easily I see them here.
I walked down the fields and stopped to look down some berry laden trees for winter visitors.
As I stood there, 2 tiny little Wrens popped their heads out of a gorse bush. One of them hopped up onto a farm gate where I was standing, merely 30cm away. I froze and it hopped towards me rather than freaking out and hopping away. I stayed still and got to watch this smaller than a mouse bird, tilt it's teeny tiny head to the side, supercilium catching in the sun, eye me up, eye the gorse bush up, then unimpressed, hop away.
It is said that some of the winter visitors can be very tame around humans because they may never have seen us before, but some of our resident birds can be equally nonplussed by us - and when that happens it's always magic.
Further down, near the River Wharfe, a flock of Starlings were feeding on the ground, in trees next to them were some Fieldfares, about 25 of them, each feeding on berries spread across the branches of about 4 Hawthorn trees, nice to see them in Yorkshire.
In the distance I heard a Curlew calling in flight across some farmer's fields and overhead were a couple more Redkites silently circling the skies.
I was in the middle of some trees, keeping still and looking out, when a flock of Longtailed tits flew in and started their upside down feeding, hanging from branches right next to my head. As always, a Treecreeper in the same group of trees soon showed itself, again very close.
A lot of up close and personal birds this morning.
In the fields with the sheep, 50 or so black headed gulls and 10 herring gulls prodded the grass for worms.
I saw a far off flock of possible waders, but couldn't make out what they were, they deffo weren't Lapwings, or Plovers, and despite Niall's great talk on wader id on Tuesday, I couldn't figure out what they were from the brief, far off glimpse.
I did manage to id a solitary bird I fixed on for a while in a hawthorn tree,  super clear supercilium and a red patch under its wing made it the one Redwing of the morning walk, which ended up being a great morning walk.
You never regret a walk.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

200 Fieldfares + 1 Redwing, Donegal, Nov 3rd 2012

I was in Donegal last weekend, 4 hours 20 it took me to drive there Friday after work.
4 hours 20!
2 packets of crisps, a Bueno bar, a bottle of water and an Earl grey tea (very nice one from Applegreen) kept me going.
The N3 after Cavan up to Donegal is a dark one, throw in 3 hours of stop/start rain, a squeaky wiper, 1.5º temperatures, ice warnings on the car dashboard, lots of bends around Lough Erne and every other car seeming to leave on their full beams, and you've got one helluva drive.

Anyway, I got there. I was tired but excited to be going up to the actual Donegal town, never been. I've been to Malin head and all around North and some of South Donegal, but never wee Donegal town.

Woke up early the next morning, way too early for a Saturday, knew I wouldn't get back to sleep, and didn't want to stay inside when Donegal was outside, so I sneaked off, tip toed out to my car and found myself driving towards Lough Eske.

The temp on the dashboard was 1.5º it was freezing cold, there was snow on the ground and the peaks of the Blue stack mountains were all white with snow. It was also now raining and the sky was a heavy dark grey. Outside felt wild, bit similar to Wicklow wild - same terrain. I loved it.
Despite the heavy rain I parked up, got out of my car and walked a bit along a lane, a flock of 40+ birds flew overhead.
Starlings? Nope, Redwings? Too big, way too big.
The rain was too heavy to put my binoculars up to them - and then they were gone.
I got back into the car and drove on further, more of these flocks of birds flew over in patches.
Thankfully the rain took a break and I was able to step out of my car again.
I took out my big Sigma 500mm lens to take a shot of one of the birds in flight, hoping to zoom in and see what it was.
The auto focus didn't work, the camera wouldn't take a picture.
All settings were correct, but the big Sigma lens had decided it wasn't playing along.

Luckily I had my Nikon 18-55mm lens with me, so I swapped lenses and the auto focus worked just fine. I was able to take some landscape photos. I was annoyed though, another trip to Conns with the Sigma lens. I think I'm on my 3rd? but can't think of any other cheaper option to get a 500mm reach.

Misty mountains North West side of Lough Erne, Donegal, look at the colours! I would have loved to have wandered up to the top.

I took this from the car (think it was raining again). I was in awe of the vibrant red coloured berries everywhere, they were nearly glowing. Just beautiful.

Driving, still through the heavy rain, I spotted one of the flocks of birds land in some berry laden trees in a field to my right.
I pulled up, got my binoculars on them and could vaguely make out that they were indeed Fieldfares, about 200 of them. My god.
Never in my life had I seen so many, 20 tops would be my most, but usually I'd only see 1, maybe 2 or 3, I've always seen more Redwings than Fieldfares.
To see the trees and shrubs filled with these large, impressive visiting Scandinavian / Icelandic/ Eastern European thrushes was such a treat.
I really wanted a good look at them, well as good as the weather would allow, so I pulled my telescope out from the boot and in the pouring, freezing rain with numb, not working cold hands, I set myself up at the roadside and zoomed in on the Fieldfares.
Madness to onlookers, a complete delight to me.

You can't really see, but the Fieldfares were on every branch of every one of those trees in the photo, especially up in the trees on the right. Welcome, Welcome, sorry the weather's so shit, but better than where you've just come from eh? Fieldfares- Corracramph, Lough Eske, Donegal

Cropped and lightened, just to show the Fieldfares.

So as well as the Christmas lights going up everywhere, the Fieldfares are also in town.
Winter is here.
There was one Redwing in there too, just for the record.
I could have stayed watching these Winter visitors all day.
Text message received "Where are you?'
I headed back to a full fry up breakfast being served, got to appreciate times like these.

In the afternoon, we went for a drive out to Mountcharles, St John's point, Killibegs and Ardara, the scenery was stunning, as was the china collection in Nancy's bar.
The following day we took a trip out to Pettigo and then onto Rossnowlagh beach. Again - the views and landscapes in all these areas were soul stirring. I love Donegal's textures, colours and rugged wildness. I'd like to spend more time exploring this county, take it all in.

In Pettigo I spotted 2 Dippers on the river Termin, bobbing away on the rocks and flying under the bridge.
On a great little straight long lane (the L2225?) out to Rossnowlagh beach we passed several small loughs, one of them had some more winter visitors - this time, 10 Whooper swans honking away, I think it was Shivanagh Lough looking at google maps.

2 Dippers on the Termin river, Pettigo, Donegal

Some of Donegal's long coastline -Rahan Far, St John's point, Donegal

Didn't hugely have much time to explore here, only saw a solitary Oystercatcher, but there was obviously lots more I didn't manage to see.
That goes for the whole weekend really, the 2 hours I had to myself when I saw the Fieldfares was perfect, I haven't had much time to be out birding over the last few months, so that treat was extremely welcome. Can't wait to go back to explore more of Donegal's landscape - and a trip to Tory Island is beckoning.

Monday, 15 October 2012

iwepts October 2012

What time did you have your alarm set Saturday morning?
5.45am for me, crazy time to be getting up I thought, (as I got up), but a 10.30am high tide meant we had to be at Bull island for 7.20am.
It was a cold morning.
Jumping up and down cold, and it didn't warm up.
I could hardly concentrate on my counts, Ger was banging his mitts together so much.

10 of us turned up, quite impressive.
I joined Ger and John on their section (south of the causeway to Sutton), numbers weren't massively high or low, loads more Brent, some RH mergansers, only 3 Shelduck, 1 Pintail, few Teal, Wigeon....
Lots of birders were out with their lenses looking for the Yellowlegs, but apparently it wasn't showing.

Due to our extra early start we were all counted, finished and sat having our coffees by 9.30am

John and Ger iwebbing - Oct 2012.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Yorkshire Swifts

I was at my other home over the weekend, Yorkshire home, not Dublin home - and noticed large numbers of Swifts still flying around.
I was suprised, here in Dublin they usually leave before the House martins and Swallows, but in Yorkshire they're the last to leave.

Other goings on included a Redkite swooping down onto our patio to take some food which had been left out for the farm cats.

Quite amazing.

Oh and 2 Buzzards and 2 Red kites fighting it out over a dead rabbit in a field next to the house.

and a quite unusual leucistic Rook in Morrison's carpark in Harrogate.

That's all.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Eric/ John's Advanced photography course

A year on from Eric's Beginner photography course was today's 'Advanced' photography fieldtrip, again at Sycamore Hill, Wicklow.
I left Drimnagh just before 7.30am and was at Sycamore for 8.15am, a coffee and away to Wexford.
Well that was the plan, but I decided I'd stay behind with Katie and Celia who were there for a beginner lesson with 'Wings' magazine front page hogger, John Fox.

The plan was to join Eric and the others down in Wexford once we'd finished a quick overview of camera settings, fstops, shutter speed, all that fun stuff, but as it turned out, once we'd finished our class, we decided to stay local and practice some photography round the house with a drive down to Killoughter to possibly see the juv Osprey which has been seen around Broad lough.

Celia and Katie putting John's teaching to practice on the birds in the garden.

After another coffee (thanks Hazel), and having asked John all the questions we could think of, John drove us down to Killoughter so we could practice some more 'in the field photography'.

Killoughter Railway station, Co Wicklow.

Depth of Field Lesson.

This photo was taken at f5 (iso 320, 1/640 speed). I focused on the larger stone in the centre of the photo. As you can see the depth of field at f5 is very shallow, only the immediate area I'm focused on is actually in focus and there's a soft blur everywhere else. This is the setting most birders use. At f5 you get a lot of light hitting your camera sensor, so you get a quicker shutter speed which allows sharper photos. Ideally you'd use f4, but my 150-500 lens only goes to f5.

I took the same shot for every f stop on my camera, the final fstop being f22, this is the f22 shot. Still focused on the larger stone, you can see that the smaller f stop of 22 gives a much larger depth of field and now nearly everything is in focus. This f stop is pretty useless for bird photography as the shutter speed slows right down, so any movement at all fro the bird will turn out blurred. (this was 1/30 compared to the 1/640 at f5)

Once you cross the railway line at Killoughter, you turn right towards Bray, walk down some fields, past this derelict building, on a bit further and the lough is behind some hedges on the right past an old gravel quarry. I'd never been before, so it was nice to go somewhere different. Thanks to Hazel for showing us how to get there.

Derelict building on way to Broad lough 'End Garda intimidation disband special branch'.

Unfortunately I didn't actually get any decent photos to show off what I learnt today from John.

We also did manage a far away sighting of the juvenile Osprey flying over the north end of the lough, it started to look as though it was going to fly right over us, but instead turned away and flew back behind the far trees.
Juvenile Osprey at Broad lough, Wicklow. It's assumed from Southern Europe on migration to Africa.

When the Osprey disappeared behind the trees we waited another 45 minutes, taking photos of some far away Bartailed godwits, Ringed plover and Dunlin, when there was still no sign of it returning we decided we'd leave and see what was down at ECNR.
2 minutes after we left Broad lough, the Osprey (apparently) re appeared, swooped over the lough and grabbed two fish, one in each tallon.
That's right, an Osprey swooped over the lough and caught a fish in each tallon.
We could have seen it if we'd waited another 2 minutes.
But that's how it goes!

this Ringed plover was -0.3 (iso 320, f6.3, 1/1000), nice, but a little too dark

and this juvenile Stonechat was -0.7 (iso 320, f6.3, 1/320), which actually doesn't look too bad in this photo.

Male Stonechat, great to see them about again. Iso 320, f6.3, 1/160 - very slow shutter speed.

I think today was the second of several other courses being run at Sycamore hill from now until December.

There's more info on all Sycamore Hill courses on Eric's 'Bird's Ireland' website here:
I'd obviously recommend all of them having already taken most of the courses at this stage.
Huge thanks to John, Eric and Hazel for creating such a lovely learning environment.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

iwepts sept 2012

7.30am The wooden bridge, Clontarf, Sat 15th September 2012

7.35am Bull Island - lots of daylight still.

Jerry, back of John, Ger and the new boy, Denis.

Helen and Laura joined us and the fun began.

We were given our sections, we started counting, the fun drained away.

Not to put anyone off volunteering for iwebs within the 2nd sentence! because it is a good thing to do, but as soon as we started counting we were quickly reminded that iwebs, by its nature, is daunting.

Well, if you want to try and be accurate, it can be daunting; if you didn't care, you could look out at the mudflats, look at all the waders, react with a 'meh', make up some numbers, shout 'finished' and go drink coffee - but we are good little volunteers, so we get to bitch and moan, because if you want to get good counts, iwebs is a bit of a head wreck.
(unless of course you get to 'do' the beach - then you just get to sit on a rock, sip coffee and look wistfully out to sea).

So anyways, me and Denis got on with our counts, bitched and moaned (sign of a good volunteer), decided that sections 3 and 4 were extremely difficult, by far the hardest of all sections in Ireland, congratulated ourselves on being amazing people for giving it a go, made up a master plan of how to do the section differently next month, and before we knew it, we were finished.

Luckily there weren't actually all that many birds around today, hardly any in fact, so we finished up relatively early, and to be honest, it was probably one of the easiest iwebs counts I've done so far (thanks Denis).
The tide didn't rush in, the weather was great, it was very calm and still, no wind, no rain, no fog, no mist, no watery eyes, no snotty nose, no frozen hands, no tantrums, it was warm, maybe 13º, so the two of us were able to take our time, chat, count, we even managed a good look at a Peregrine perched on a post which Denis spotted.

Of note from today's count were early arrivals of Brent Geese, possibly around 100, I counted 240 Common gulls! never seen anymore than 20 in the one go, so to see 240 was incredible.
No Dunlin in our sections, no Knot, no Pintails, no Shovelers, 4 Shelduck, not many Oystercatchers in comparison to the numbers me and Jim saw in August, no Plovers at all - that we saw. 50ish GBB gulls, Helen got Wigeon and Teal....  and the perched Peregrine.

So that was our Sept iwebs, started 8ish, finished by 9.40am.

After iwebs, I drove over to Crumlin to see if I could see this Raven being reported by Stephen Lawlor
on Irish Birding.
He's also managed to see an adult Med gull (Clonmacnoise roundabout/ Bangor circle, Crumlin), Buzzard (soaring over Crumlin/ Drimnagh) and Merlin (Landsdowne valley park, Drimnagh) in the last few weeks.
Of course I didn't see any from his list today.

But I did see a Common gull in with the Herring gulls and Black headed gulls on Clonmacnoise roundabout.

Adult Common Gull, Clonmacnoise roundabout, Crumlin, Dublin 12

Size of Common gull in comparison to the juv Herring gull and Black headed gull in distance.
Adult Common gull

juvenile Starling, Crumlin, Dublin 12
Adult Starling, Crumlin, Dublin 12 - there was a flock of around 120.

Just look at the brush stroke precision of the plumage
Not the sharpest photo of a Rook, but I love that dagger bill and near blue tones going through the feathers.
2 juvenile Rooks, Crumlin
Would you just get off!


So there you go, there's a post for you.

No more official complaints to the blog ombudsman please.
Cold weather and long dark nights make for lots of posts, warm weather and long bright evenings make for few.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Pretend iwepts aug 2012

Bull island High tide was 1pm (4m), so we met at 10.30am to give us a few hours to get to grips with what was around.
I was amazed that there wasn't a single Oystercatcher north of the causeway. Usually, due to my poor wader id skills, I volunteer to count the 1000's of oystercatchers in this area, so to see none was a real eye opener, it made me realise how full on migration to the Bull actually is.
We didn't see any Knot (that's up for discussion), no Teal, no Brent, no Wigeon, no Pintails, 34 Shelduck, no Bartailed godwits, but 150ish blacktailed north of the causeway. 1 Dunlin.

150 Blacktailed godwits, Bull island, Aug 18th 2012.

points for the Dunlin and the Mystery bird.

Dunlin bottom left, Mystery bird top.

When we saw it fly off we saw it had seemed to have black legs, Knots have yellowy legs. The species of this bird is probably very obvious to lots of people looking at this photo, and I think it's probably a Knot, but who knows.

We saw at least 14 Little Egrets on the Bull. 46 were seen today (21 Aug) according to the Bull island website.

Black tailed godwit in summer plumage, Bull Island, Aug 18th 2012.

First Curlew I'd seen for months.

2nd Curlew? Much shorter bill.

Much shorter bill and obvious markings on the head. My first ever Whimbrel. There have been large numbers of Whimbrel on the Bull over the last few months, I think I saw 50 listed at one point. There was only 1 that I saw. Actually I've just looked at Tom's Bull island website and he saw 64 Whimbrel yesterday!

My one and only Whimbrel, a bird I've scanned and scanned for over the years.

South of the Causeway Jim was able to initially id, then differentiate 25 Grey plovers from 400 Golden plovers. I wouldn't have known they were plovers, I was glad he was around.
Neither would I have been confident to know that the flock of 150 Godwits was only made up of Black tailed with no Bar tailed there.
I got the Lapwing though, 30 and Redshank, 500. Then my old friends the Oycs, 700 of them hanging out south side.
By midday the tide had already risen to cover all the previously exposed mud.
So although high tide wasn't until 1pm, by midday most the waders had disappeared into the salt marshes, hidden from view.

A great morning, thanks to Jim for making it out.