Thursday, January 3, 2013

Oh so quiet

Lack of zoom lens = lack of blog posts around here eh, and that's how it's going to stay for a while I'm afraid.

After Mike Conn gave a full refund on my broken Sigma 150-500 zoom lens, I put the money away safely and 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 big style, new rear axles (or something) had to be fitted and paid for, I think just over €600, then the car tax came in at €517 ! and the money from my lens was gone.

Add into the mix that after years of cycling, a while back I decided I'd treat myself to a posh new road bike and so have been spending whatever spare few hours I've had cycling (did I mention I cycled 82km on my first cycle), so you can see where this is heading.

I'm still going to be out and about birding, I couldn't not - I love it, in fact I've had some lovely birding days here in Yorkshire over the Christmas holidays (Red Kites, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels, Buzzards, 30 Tree Sparrows, 40 Greylag geese in a field, Canada geese, Fieldfares, Redwings, Great spotted Woodpecker in a tree) I'll just not be posting about the day on here.
Without photos, I'd find the blog boring since I've always been more into images than writing.
I'm also not going to give up the photography, with my smaller 200mm and 18-55 lenses I might start getting into landscape stuff, something I've always been meaning to do.

So au revoir for now, the cycling is a new challenge, which in my 40th year is quite a welcome discovery, unless I crash and then I'll be of a different opinion.

Thanks everyone for reading and for the phone calls / texts to say how much you've enjoyed various blog posts- it's nice to think that sharing some photos from a day's birding is enjoyed by others. 

Happy Birding, see people around on outings etc

Siobhan

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

40 WAXWINGS, COOLEY ROAD, DRIMNAGH!


Waxwings in Drimnagh?

YES, 40 WAXWINGS ON COOLEY ROAD, DRIMNAGH!!

Cycling to work this morning (crazy in this morning's frost, but there you go, I cycled carefully Mum) I was pootling along Cooley Road, when I heard a Mistle thrush going completely beserk in a tree to my right.

I looked up and saw a flock of around 40 birds lift from the top of the same tree I saw Fieldfares and Redwings 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 and stopped at the barrier to get a better look - the flock of birds were WAXWINGS!
The Scandinavian/ Russian birds had made it to Cooley Road, so cool.

Waxwings at the top of this tree  in Children's hospital staff car park, Cooley Road, Drimnagh.

I pulled off my gloves, found my ipod and took these crap photos - this had to be recorded.
If I managed these in a rush on an ipod, someone with a decent lens will get the best shots this morning - the light is magnificent, the tree where they're eating the berries is a metre away from your head and the Waxwings should be there all morning given the amount of berries on the tree.
And if you're not a photographer and close to Drimnagh, get down to see them, these birds have likely flown all the way from Denmark/ Norway/ Sweeden/ Finland/ Russia to get these Dublin berries.
They were calling too and its something else to hear that trilling sound they make.


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

40 Waxwings, Children's hospital staff carpark, Cooley Road, Drimnagh, D12.

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

Also I'm going to use this post to re-print an email a few of us received from Eric Dempsey about the importance of feeding birds in this weather.

Eric writes:

These past few days I have been on the hunt for
Waxwings...those beautiful winter visitors from Scandinavia. Ireland
is graced by their presence every now and then, and it seems that this
winter is a 'Waxwing winter'. However, cruising around their expected
haunts, I have noticed something odd about this winter...there are
very few berries on the trees. So many birds like thrushes, Blackcaps
and Waxwings need berries to get them through the winter. Our dreadful
summer weather that impacted on our native and summer migrant birds,
has now had a negative impact on our winter visitors. So I am
appealing to everyone I know to please, please put out as many feeders
and food as you can this winter. The birds really do need as much as
they can get. Even apples that are bruised...don't compost them, cut
them in half and put them out. It will be a lean winter for our birds.


So if you haven't already - this weekend, get some form of bird feeders out in your gardens, cut up those red apples and stick them out for the birds, throw out some bread crumbs and grated cheese, it will give the birds the energy to survive these freezing nights.

Also - if anyone is interested, Eric is running a Winter Garden Birds workshop this Saturday (1 Dec, 2012) more details can be found at this link http://www.birdsireland.com/workshops
 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

60 Waxwings, Stannaway Ave, Crumlin, D12

As I mentioned in my last post my beloved Sigma 150-500 died.
I took it back to Conns, managed to speak to Mike himself and got a refund for the lens without even asking.
€825 spondoolies in my pocket, but no lens and that made me sad.
I'd swap the notes in my pocket for a working 150-500 any day, but Mike suggested the lens wasn't for me - no definite reason or explanation, just the fact that I'd been in with the same complaint so many times when no-one else had (apparently he's sold loads of the 150-500's) is what made him think that whatever way I was shooting didn't suit the Sigma and I should try a different set up.
The Sigma had taken me by surprise and dumped me, I miss it.

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 and very kindly offered me a lend to see how it fared.

My shot, taken with John Fox's Nikon 300mm f4 and 1.4 t/c, the lens what he's won awards with.

Perhaps if I found a bigger bird? Heron in flight. The light was so bad when I took this pic I had the iso right up to 1000 (not regular practice), 1/2000 sec

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' says I.
'I always get confused between Starlings and Swallows' says she.


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.

We counted 60 Waxwings - not Starlings (or Swallows), between this tree and another across the road.

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.

My complete inability to use the Nikon 300mm f4 lens handheld.

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.

Great image content wise!

Waxwings, Stannaway Ave, Crumlin

At one stage I changed to my 18-200mm (with VR!), this is one of the photos cropped.

Back to the 300 + 1.4 t/c

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 doing shots, which maybe they were that time they were found dead, drunk from the alcohol content of the fermented berries :o/

Possibly the 'sharpest' shot from today, not great, but the best I could manage.

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, November 14, 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, November 8, 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 some stop start rain, a squeaky wiper, 1.5º temp and 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, and I was excited to be going up to Donegal town, never been. I've been to Mizen head and around there, but never the West of Donegal.

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 in when Donegal was outside, so I headed out in my car and found myself driving to Lough Eske.

The dashboard was reading 1.5º / 2º, it was cold, there was snow on the ground and the peaks of the Blue stack mountains were all white. It was raining and the light was pretty bad, but outside felt wild, bit similar to Wicklow wild - same terrain.
Despite the rain I got out and walked a bit along the road, a flock of 40+ birds flew overhead.
Starlings? Nope, Redwings? Too big, way too big.
Fieldfares?
The rain was too much 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 get out again.
I took out my big Sigma 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.
Again.

My Sigma 150 - 500mm lens doing a great job of focusing.

Me swearing

Luckily I had my Nikon 18-55mm lens with me, so I swapped lenses and the auto focus worked just fine thank you very much and I was able to take 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 the 500mm reach.

Misty mountains North West side of Lough Eske, Donegal, look at the colours. It would have been great to walk up.

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.

Driving round a corner, 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 into the side of the road, got my binocs on them and could vaguely make out that they were indeed Fieldfares, about 200 of them.
Never in my life had I seen so many, 20 tops would be my most, but usually I'd only see 2 or 3, I've always seen more Redwings than Fieldfares.
To see the trees and shrubs filled with these large, impressive visiting Scandinavian / 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 out my scope from the boot and in the pouring, freezing rain with numb, cold hands, I set myself up at the roadside and zoomed in on them.
Madness to onlookers, a complete delight to me.

Welcome, Welcome, sorry the weather's so shit, but better than where you've just come from eh? Fieldfares, Corracramph, Lough Eske, Donegal

You can't really see, but the Fieldfares were on every branch of every one of these trees in the photo, especially up in the trees on the right.

Cropped and lightened, just to show the Fieldfares.

So as well as the Christmas lights going up everywhere now, the Fieldfares are also in town.
Winter is here.
There was one Redwing in there too.
I could have stayed watching these birds all day.
Text message recieved "Where are you?'

In the afternoon, we went for a drive around 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 beautiful route out to Pettigo and then onto Rossnowlagh beach.

It was in Pettigo that I saw 2 Dippers on the river Termin, bobbing away on the rocks and flying under the bridge.
On the road (I think it was the L2225?) out to Rossnowlagh beach we passed several loughs, one of them had 10 Whooper swans honking away, I think it was Shivanagh Lough from looking at google maps.


2 Dippers on the Termin river, Pettigo, Donegal

The Donegal coastline from 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 to be seen.
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.

Monday, October 15, 2012

iwepts October 2012


What time did you have your alarm set Saturday morning?
5.45am for me, crazy time to be getting up, crazy to be actually 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, Denis couldn't be bothered I noted, in handwriting not quite as neat as his.
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
With Helen m.i.a, Olivia sat us all at a different table.
She wasn't to know but this sent everything into shock and meltdown, the scones became square, the jams turned to liquid and Sinead's imaps started to work.
Still, at least Phil and John found a way to warm up by sharing a seat (aaaaah).


John and Ger iwebbing - Oct 2012.

Tuesday, October 2, 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, September 25, 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.
Katie tries to show John how to use the camera, but he's transfixed.
Special rare bird, Suzie the dog
Celia off in search of a wild Peacock which sometimes wanders around the house.

That's him there.

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.
Sorry John, but I did learn alot, more than I thought I would and all that I had wanted to.

But in this instance, the light was dull and the birds remained pretty far away.
There were some Long tailed tits and a Chiffchaff which were close, but the light was so low my photos ended up blurry, and I deleted them all, but at least I had learnt why they were blurry.

These Cormorants were far away in low light,so the photo quality is poor and it's hugely cropped, but I like the content.

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.

Hooded Crows mobbing the Osprey.

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!


Gutted.com.

Messing around with exposures, this Ringed plover was taken at + 0.7 (iso 320, f6.3, 1/400) bit too bright.

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 todays 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: http://www.birdsireland.com/workshops
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, September 15, 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!

Whev.

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.