Monday, 19 December 2016

Bill Polley

Been away for a while due to the sudden and unexpected death of my younger brother Bill. Four days after my last post he developed an aortic aneurism and despite the efforts of the intensive cardiac unit at the Royal Victoria Hospital he could not be saved. Obviously birding took a back seat, but the family are slowly getting there and remembering a nature lover, birder, walker, and photographer. His photos appeared regularly on BBC weatherwatchers and his Flickr site contains almost 12000 images, many of them bird related. Here he is earlier in the month in Carrick helping me lead a walking group on an unfamiliar route. He is on the left hand end of the group.

  This is the last photo of him at the CS Lewis Square in East Belfast looking at the stone table sculpture.

We are left with pictures and memories which will help to ease the hurt, as will nature and the great outdoors, plus, " A wee Maudes and I could force down a latte!""

I got back to birding at WOW on Thursday and we had over 30 species including a good array of waders and ducks. We also had a grey heron fishing close in and an American visitor a bit further away.

There are no additions to any of the lists, partly because I had not been out and partly because anything else is a bonus. Off to Bolton for Christmas and hopefully some incidental birding or duck feeding with the grandchildren, otherwise have a Happy Christmas and a prosperous bird filled 2017.

Thursday, 24 November 2016


With a title like that I should get lots of hits from people looking for a cartoon character, but NO, this is WOW frozen for the first time since I started volunteering there in June 2015.

This meant that birds were at a premium. We struggled to reach 20 species and apart from 180 curlew and about 25 lapwing there were no waders. The only duck was teal  and empty feeders meant fewer passerines. The low tide probably didn't help either. The two female pheasants were around for the third week. As usual they favoured the area in front of the observation room.

Teal (F)

Teal flock on the only bit of open water.

Moorhen foraging.
Pheasant (F)
 Last week was a little better and we had full feeders and softer ground for feeding mallards.

The goldfinch "charm" totalled 30+

Mr Mallard
Patch birding in Bangor West is now clutching at straws as I have ticked most of the stuff I should see and am wating for a bit of luck. I finally managed a red-throated diver in Ballyholme Bay but three walks in the last ten days have not added any new birds. In fact Tuesday's walk saw the roughest seas for some time and very few birds were around.

Its all very well having five weeks to go but there is not much to hope for apart from a waxwing or a brambling. I still have never seen mute swan or coot on the Bangor West patch and that is a long shot in shorter darker days. Anyway targets were 70 for Bangor and 100 for WOW and both have been hit.

WOW patch list is still at:   
101 Razorbill
West Bangor patch list:
71 Red-throated diver
2016 list is still at:
190 Willow tit

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Visitor from Iceland

This week at WOW we had a lot of interesting events, not all bird related. First the heavy rain showers gave some spectacular rainbows.

Then we watched a ship head off down the Lagan loaded up with wind turbines from the site next door. This is a specialised vessel called the A2SEA Installer which transports and "plants" wind turbines. The four large rusty poles go into the seabed and lift the ship up above the sea. The cranes then lower the turbines into place. It is an unusual sight and sound so the waders and ducks all spooked and lifted. If you want more info on the operation use this link

Next Phyllis and Kenneth noticed a colour ringed black-tailed godwit which has been seen before here and elsewhere as we had a record of it in the file. The attached photo of the log shows that it is 9 years old and was ringed in Iceland. It has wandered around a fair bit but has not been seen since 2013 until it was spotted twice this week. It has not beeen spotted in Iceland again, only in its wintering areas

Not only is the bird 9 years old, so are the flags on its legs! They have endured all the flying miles and feeding in wet lagoons and are still hanging on in there. It was nice to be able to contribute to a little bit of scientific research as humble volunteers.

Finally the water levelels are rising as a result of the recent rain and the ducks were feeding outside the observation room for a change.

Pair of teal

Pair of wigeon

Pair of shoveler
The lists are updated with a willow tit in Bolton. The local patch, Elton Reservoir now has feeders maintained by the local patch watchers, so they gave up willow tit and nuthatch. I will be back in the new year!!  I went looking for divers off Carnalea, but sometimes you get lucky, I turned up three common scoter. I still have 6 weeks to turn up a diver or a grebe.

WOW patch list:    
101 Razorbill
West Bangor patch list:
70 Common scoter
2016 list
190 Willow tit

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Islay 2 and ton up

First a few more shots from Islay taken by Horace Reid who is clearly a better photographer than I am and also has a better camera which he knows how to use. He was there on the Friday. The pictures are superb,  what is lacking is the soundscape which was equally good. I never thought to take a video, but I suspect it would be a letdown.

WOW on Thursday had 29 species and at long last a peregrine appeared. It spoooked everything but we stil saw 5 snipe, 60 golden plover and a little stint. My SD card was in the computer, so no photos. On Saturday Daniel Newton reported a long-tailed duck off Kinnegar so on Sunday I called in to see if it was still there. Pulled up in the car park and there was Daniel with the duck in his scope!!  We also had a young razorbilll close in and a wheen of mergansers. On checking my lists later I realised I had omitted to record guillemot on the day I saw the diver, too excited or more likely thought it was already recorded. This is a long-winded way of saying that the "old squaw" was number 100. Thankyou Daniel. West Bangor is still stuck on 69 but divers have been seen off the coast so I live in hope. We are heading for Bolton for a few days so I am still in with a shout of a willow tit or some other exotic English species.

Somewhere out there is "old squaw"
Return from Islay
 The shot of Belfast Lough at Kinnegar last Sunday is what I would call a millpond. The trip to and from Islay is what the boatman calls a millpond ie no white caps on the waves. I think we are going to have to agree to differ on this one.

 WOW patch list:    
98 guillemot 
99 Peregrine
100Long-tailed duck
101 Razorbill
West Bangor patch list:
69 Brent goose

2016 list
189 Long-tailed duck

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The magic of Islay

Saturday saw me on Islay for the second time. Two years ago I visited in September and went to the Oa reserve. This time the plan was to go to Lough Gruinart to see the geese flock. The sight and sound of 30000+ barnacle geese is truly one of nature's great wildlife spectacles. The preferred means of travel is a boat from Ballycastle which takes about two hours. We landed at Port Ellen, a small functional harbour with a few houses and shops.

 Then a bus up to Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve which takes about 25 minutes. There are barnacle geese on the shore, in the air and in the fields, a truly awe inspiring sight. Unfortunately my photographs do not do the spectacle justice, but it is difficult to capture the sight never mind the sounds. Islay is big sky country and compact cameras do not do it justice. As well as the barnacles I also saw greenland whitefronts, brent, greylag, wigeon, teal, pintail, mallard, lapwing, buzzard and two genuine wild canada geese which seem to have attached themselves to the barnacle flock and arrived on Islay by mistake. Islay has a good range of raptors including both eagles but I only saw buzzard on this trip. Some of the group got twite but I managed to miss them.
missed the other 37980

There's some of them

A few more and their Canadian friends

Greenland white-fronted goose

There were about 20 whitefronts but very small and far away. This is called a record shot ie a very poor and out of focus shot which proves that you actually saw the bird. I have been known to take record shots of mallard in Ward Park!!

More geese - only about 37900 to go
Clearly these are different geese to the first photograph as they are in a different field. Shortly afterwards they all lifted and flew off just as I set the camera down to have a look at the batteries. Other folk got better shots than mine and I hope to be able to include some of their efforts in a later post.

WOW patch list:    
97 Grest-crested grebe
West Bangor patch list:
69 Brent goose

2016 list
188 Barnacle goose

Killer ponies at WOW

A rising tide at WOW brought 20 golden plover, 4 snipe and 2 ravens. Lack of feeders limited the passerines but we still logged 28 species. There were times when the birding proved a little difficult especially when all six Koniks were in front of the observation room, but eventually they moved off to the other side of the reserve. PS the windows needed cleaning.

The bad news is that we lost our last cygnet this week. We started with four and the first two were sent off for an autopsy as there was a worry of some dread avian killer bug. The autopsies revealed multiple fractures and organ damage consistent with being hit by a bus? We do not have any buses on the reserve and the cygnets did not go out on the road, get clobbered by a bus and then come back in and die. The only conclusion we can come to is that they were run over by the ponies in one of their stampedes when they gallop round for no apparent reason. If the cygnets were in the way and unable or unwilling to fly.......CRUNCH! Two further questions are:
 This did not happen last year when two cygnets fledged and flew successfully.
 Why did this year's birds stay on the reserve and not fly off once they were able to fly?
We assume the last two cygnets went the same way, so we now have "killer ponies" on the reserve!!

Motacilla Albus
WOW patch list:    
97 Grest-crested grebe
West Bangor patch list:
69 Brent goose

2016 list
187 Red-throated diver

Monday, 17 October 2016

Mudskippers at WOW

Brief update from WOW last week which was very quiet on a low tide, no feeders and mudskippers on the lagoon. This gave good and bad news. The bad news was that most birds lifted and flew off the reserve, the good news is that the camera on the tern island is being upgraded and replaced in time for the 2017 nesting season. The promise of close-ups of nesting med gulls and terns more than compensated for the scarcity of birds for a morning. I went to the end of the lane past hide 2 to view the channel as a group had gone down and ticked red-throated diver and great-crested grebe. For once I connected and got good views of both. The diver was close in but only surfacing for a second or two before going under again. Then you had to guess where it might come up.

I finally got curlew for the patch and a small flock of flyover brent geese

Spot the curlew

I nearly walked past it, but it moved and there it was. A good camera would have got an excellent shot but I had to make do with the ipod camera so it is blurry. Nevertheless it is superbly camouflaged on a stony beach and if it had not moved I would still be looking.

The other piece of bird news was a twitch at St John's Point for an NI first - a red-flanked bluetail. I visited on a chilly,  windy Tuesday morning along with at least eight other birders and we dipped. Suffice to say it was found on Saturday, seen on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday and has not been seen since. Nice views here - but not by me!!

More good news is that I have a new cable and the batteries are charged. I am also looking at an attachment to digiscope with an iphone - watch this space!! I am targetting 100 at WOW and 70 in North Down. Last year I had 74 in North Down but was incredibly lucky with buzzard, peregrine and kestrel, this year I only have sparrowhawk. Anyway there are two and a half months to go so I should be in with a shout. 

WOW patch list:    
96 Red-throated diver
97 Grest-crested grebe
West Bangor patch list:
68 Curlew
69 Brent goose

2016 list
187 Red-throated diver

Monday, 10 October 2016

London calling

Just a short update on our jaunt to London which was not all I hoped it would be as I dragged Tanya round some of my favourite haunts. We first visited Kensington Gardens and failed to see the little owls or attract any birds down to feed on the plentiful supply of pine nuts we had with us. We did however take a boat trip along the Regent's Canal to Camden Market where we were treated to very close views of starlings looking for easy pickings. Apart from that it has a wide variety of stalls and food outlets plus the bonus of watching barges use the locks, a very relaxed way of therapy.
Camden Locks

Waterbus on the Canal

Sturnus Vulgaris

Summary of Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park is as follows:
First visit May 2010
Last visit October 2016
Total visits 12
Best total was in April 2015 with 37 species
Worst total was in May 2015 with 18 species
Average species seen per visit was 23
Total species seen was 53

Rainham Marshes has just suffered its driest summer on record. Where there were once vast pools teeming with waders, ducks and gulls there was only hard brown mud. In fact my total for the visit was the worst ever and there was little to see. There are normally three large water areas and two were bone dry. The third had some water so most of the birds concentrated there - the only one with no hide overlooking it. We did see a flyby kingfisher, a little egret, stonechat, buzzard, kestrel and finally after nine visits and multiple disappointments I finally set eyes on a pair of bearded tits. Much bigger than I imagined, and thanks to the couple ahead of me who stopped and looked. I did the same and there they were in the tops of the reeds. No photos I am afraid, I just enjoyed the birds. Tanya dipped out as she did not fancy a second walk.

Grey heron hunting

Summary of Rainham Marshes is as follows:
First visit January  2010
Last visit October 2016
Total visits 9
Best total was in  December 2014 with 49 species
Worst total was in October 2016 with 36 species
Average species seen per visit was 43
Total species seen 81

 Last stop the Wetland Centre at Barnes which did have water. Highlights were good views of cetti's warbler and young, peregrine on the hospital, chiffchaff and a few late swallows. I was using the travel scope and was getting a bit of vignetting as I had not used it for a while, sorry about that, I think I have sorted it now.
Little grebe
Shoveler, lapwing and black-headed gulls

I don't normally photograph captive birds but as it was my last visit hear are a couple of photogenic specimens.

Southern screamer
Puna teal

Summary of Barnes Wetland Centre is as follows:
First visit July 2009
Last visit October 2016
Total visits 36
Best total was in November 2012 with 47 species
Worst total was in November 2009 with 28 species
Average species seen per visit was39
Total species seen was 97

 Back home to Belfast WOW on Thursday and a quiet day until a female sparrowhawk went looking for a meal and put everything up in the air. No photos,  as my charging cable finally gave up the ghost and I have no way of recharging the batteries. I am working on it via Amazon, but might invest in an attachment which will clamp my i pod to the scope. Highlights were returning shelduck, 280+ teal, 3 curlew sandpiper, over 700 black-tailed godwit, 20+ bar-tailed godwit, 100+ knot and 2 meadow pipit. Sandwich and common terns were noted at Kinnegar by one of our four visitors. Water levels are dropping and are good for waders hence the large numbers.

Phone photo of dropping water levels

WOW patch list:    
95 Little stint
West Bangor patch list:
67 Manx shearwater

2016 list 

186 Bearded tit