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