Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Frankfurt am Main

A brief trip to Frankfurt for a EURO 2020 qualifier to see the best team in the world play Germany was all in all not a terribly enriching experience for a variety of reasons. Each one on its own was bad enough but put them together and the overall result was one I have no desire to repeat. The downsides were as follows:
  1. It was cold, grey, damp and a typical  Central European winter scene. I think we had a brief glimpse of the sun on one day.
  2. Daylight was short to begin with and the weather didn't help.
  3. Frankfurt is a financial capital and is not really a tourist mecca..
  4. The Christmas market does not open until this week..
  5. We lost 1 - 6 and were expected to join in a Mexican wave - we refused!
  6. I picked up a cough and a cold and was generally feeling a bit miserable, well under the weather and not up to walking/birding as much as I would have liked.
There were a few brief moments of joy and happiness:
  1. I finally nailed a GSW for 2019.
  2. I got two other year firsts.  
  3. For 12 glorious minutes we were beating the Germans 1 - 0.
Here are a few photographs from the trip:

Beech woodland south of Frankfurt - easily accessible by bus and good range of woodland species including sparrowhawk, jay, treecreper, nuthatch, gsw, mallard and mandarin duck on a small pond.

River Main and the CBD
Old church
River Main looking upstream
A year tick
The riverside had a flood overflow area which provided Egyptian goose, black-headed gull, cormorant, greylag, mute swan, mallard, coot and moorhen. 

Finally a few of the WOW residents chilling in the low winter sun.

160: Egyptian goose
161: Mandarin duck
162: Great spotted woodpecker
Bangor West
66: Mistle thrush

Belfast WOW

98: Stonechat

Monday, 11 November 2019

Day trip to Cairnryan

Yes, you read the title correctly, this week I took the 0730 Stena to Cairnryan with ace birders Jim and David, birded the local area and returned on the 1530 ferry, all for £22 as a foot passenger. This came about thanks to three birders who have visited WOW a few times doing the same in reverse. Conversations ensued and I reckoned that we could do the same the other way, so we set it up for Wednesday and Val, Bob and Brian met us off the ferry and away we went. We stopped for a brief scan of Loch Ryan and then headed to Wig Bay on the west side. This is a favoured spot for sea ducks and we saw goldeneye, merganser, scoter, long-tailed duck, slavonian grebe and cormorant to add to the wigeon and eider we saw at the first stop. This was good as we experienced heavy driving rain which made using optics and keeping them dry a challenge. Next stop was to a sandy bay north of Stranraer where we added a selection of waders to the list including knot, ringed plover, bar-tailed godwit and dunlin. We also noted pochard, shelduck, mute swan, mallard, brent goose, red-throated diver and scaup. A warming cuppa at the Bunker and we headed off to West Freugh for the hen harrier and geese site picking up 10 whooper swans on a small lake along the road. We were hardly out of the car when we had sightings of both - a ring-tail harrier and 79 Greenland white-fronted geese. Conditions were dryer and we added buzzard and peregrine to the list and also noted that one of the geese had a collar on it. Subsequent reports told us that this goose was ringed in Wexford in 2017 and wintered on Islay last year. We also had a flock of 60+ pink-footed geese flying east. En route to the ferry we added a red kite to the list giving a group total of 53 and a personal total for me of 47 when you add in all the regular species like woodpigeon, collared dove, blackbird etc.

Four year firsts were a bonus and I did my Scottish list a power of good as well by adding nine birds to it. If I list them you have to promise not to laugh - pheasant, slavonian grebe, pink-footed goose, long-tailed duck, ringed plover, knot, dunlin, turnstone and bar-tailed godwit. I clearly haven't been to a beach with common waders and how I have missed pheasant I have no idea - probably saw it and didn't check it off.  The photographs give a flavour of the weather and the difficulty we had photographing birds. They are actually in colour, not black and white. Most of them are by my birding pal and ace photographer David, plus one of the collared goose from Brian. I didn't take that many.

Dawn over Belfast Lough - David
Ships that pass in the early dawn - David
Gannets, what gannets? - David
Scopes ready
Loch Ryan swans and waders
West Freugh - David
Greenland white-fronted geese - David
Y9R - Brian
156: Slavonian grebe
157: Greenland white-fronted goose
158: Comon Scoter
159: Hen harrier

Bangor West
65: Wheatear

Belfast WOW

98: Stonechat

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Winter looms

As you can no doubt tell from the lack of posting there has not been a lot happening. The clocks are back, the weather is decidedly wintry and the passage migrants have passed. Time in Bolton was largely bird free. Time in Croatia was delightful but also not very exciting birdwise. Mind you sitting in 23/24 degrees was a nice reward for house sparrows and collared dove - the default birds around Cavtat. The trip produced nice views of jays and two year ticks in yellow-legged gull and white wagtail, both of which were expected.

WOW has settled down into its winter colours of grey and white, the shelducks have returned and the coots have largely gone.The coastal path has eider in abundance and the black guillemots are in winter plumage. Every other gull is either herring or black-headed and the garden has not been producing huge numbers of visitors even though all the feeders are back up. Goldcrest was a nice exception and the bullfinch appeared again after an absence of about 8 weeks, other than that there is nothing startling. I have had a cat problem and so I am not getting wood pigeons, blackbirds ot collared doves on the grass. I had to cut back some wild areas where it was lurking and snaring unwary birds. One morning I watched it attack and snatch a magpie!! I couldn't believe how quick it was and how it took the magpie totally unawares. I am going to have to think carefully where the ground feeder goes. Enough of this rambling and enjoy a few photoes from WOW.

One ruff

Two ruff

The knot were over at the observation room side, normally they are on the far side so it was nice to get a close up. All we need now is for the curlew and bar-tails to be as obliging. I also took a trip to the wader high tide roost in Bangor. Saturday was excellent with nearly 300 birds (171 dunlin, 93 ringed plover, 11 turnstone, 4 purple sandpiper, 1 redshank, 3 oystercatchers, 2 black-headed gulls and a herring gull)  plus a calm sea and good light. I decided to go back on Sunday where there was an on-shore breeze, choppy waves, poorer light and less birds moving around more, c'est la vie!

Ringed plover, purple sand and dunlin
Ringed plover & turnstone

Dunlin, turnstone and one ringed plover
Ringed plover, dunlin and a beautifully camouflaged purple sandpiper.
154: Yellow-legged gull
155: White wagtail

Bangor West
65: Wheatear

Belfast WOW

98: Stonechat

Saturday, 28 September 2019

More nice migrants

Birding has been confined to WOW recently with a couple of walks along the costal path. New ticks are hard to get but the high tide roost at Seacliff Road produced nice numbers of winter waders - redshank, oystercatcher, turnstone, ringed plover, dunlin and 2 purple sandpiper. There were also large numbers of birds feeding in Belfast Lough  - eider, gannet, black-headed gulls, herring gulls, lesser black-backed gulls, razorbill and guillemot. Other observers picked up skuas off Helen's Bay - well off my patch - but try as I might I could never see anything out of the ordinary. I didn't do a count but there were close to 1000 herring gulls between  Carnalea and Bangor as well as 500+ razorbills. I tried very hard to spot a kittiwake but failed.

WOW came up with some nice stuff in the last two or three weeks. There were over 70 red-breasted merganser off Kinnegar as well as three little egrets on the beach fishing on a dropping tide. I also saw my first brent geese of the winter - a family party of four. The reserve turned up a spotted redshank which has been about for over nearly two weeks and a pectoral sandpiper which stayed for a day or two. We also have had a few visits from a kingfisher and I was lucky enough to connect. There have been up to 9 ruff and 4 curlew sandpiper and the winter ducks are drifting back in. Only shelduck are missing. Coot numbers are dropping fast as they move to their winter quarters and there were still a couple of common tern about on the 19th. Last week there were none but I saw small parties with young birds along the coastal path and resting on the rocks. Kinnegar turned up a few bar-tailed godwit and half a dozen knot as well as chiffchaff  in the trees behind Hide 2. All in all an autumny feel to the area with linnet and jay in the garden and leaves on the lawn. Here is a selection of recent images including a large visitor to the harbour.

Feeding redshank
Spotted redshank
Spotted redshank
Redshank front and spotshank behind
MSC Meraviglia which is bigger than Titanic and holds 6500 passengers and crew, it was hard to miss!!

152: Pectoral sandpiper
153: Spotted redshank

Bangor West
65: Wheatear

Belfast WOW

94: Pectoral sandpiper
65: Spotted redshank
96: Razorbill
97: Kingfisher 

Saturday, 14 September 2019

WOW delivers..........again......and again.

As the autumn migration started in earnest we were hoping for a few nice waders as the water levels were spot on - especially compared to August 2018. Tern numbers remain high despite predation by lesser black-backed gulls. Roseate terns have drifted north from the Rockabill colony and we have breeding success from shelduck, shoveler, mallard, coot, moorhen and mute swan. We also have had regular sightings of swallows, sand martins, house martins and swift all hunting over the reserve at the same time. The following photographs give a flavour of what we have had recently starting with the complete and utter patch gold megatick - a cattle egret - which appeared one Thursday and was gone by Friday.

Initial call was "Oh look there is a little egret between two herons beside Hide 2".

Max zoom did not help much as it roosted with it's back to us.
 Only when it started to preen did we realise that it did not have a thin black bill and it did not look right for a little egret. We called it in as a possible cattle egret and about 30 minutes later changed this to definite as it started to move about. There followed a rush to Hide 2 for better shots,

No doubt, check the head and neck plumage.

Always struggled to see the feet, but hey you can't have everything.
The nice ruff up at the window was sort of overlooked!!
We have also had little stint, up to seven ruff, roseate terns and three curlew sandpipers. Thursday September 12th provided two late swift, my latest ever as well as knot, whimbrel, sandwich tern and still up to 50 common terns. A smattering of images gives a flavour of the return wader migration over the last month as well as a stunning wheatear on a walk up Divis - one of four we saw very close together. Add to that one on the North Down Coastal Path and it was a good autumn for wheatears.

Little egret for comparision

Lapwing and curlew sandpiper
Common tern and black-headed gull, I didn't think they were that different in size.

Curlew sandpiper
Curlew sandpiper photobombing a lapwing
Sandwich tern
Dunlin and little stint in setting sun

Little stint

Wheatear on Divis walk
Wheatear on Divis walk
Wheatear by David Miller - he of the better camera than mine!!
Small tortoiseshell on Divis walk
Along the coastal path today there were large numbers of gannets, razorbills, eider, gulls and terns all feeding frantically just off shore with one ot two guillemot as well, quite a spectacle. All in all autumn has well and truly kicked in and hopefully there will be a few more nice birds before things settle down for the winter.

148: Cattle egret
149: Roseate tern
150: Little stint
151: Curlew sandpiper

Bangor West
65: Wheatear

Belfast WOW

90: Cattle egret
91: Roseate tern
92: Little stint
93: Curlew sandpiper