Sunday, 5 November 2017

8 weeks to go.

After a few weeks of not much happening things slowly moved recently. WOW delivered razorbill and meadow pipit, while Castle Espie came up with a grey plover. WOW has been fairly quiet lately although we have had some peregrine action as two birds sat on the light towers in the wind turbine area and made occasional flyovers. This made counting quite difficult if you were half way through counting the teal!

Male in front, female behind.

Teal close to window looking for millet
What peregrines??
 We also saw the return of an old friend from Iceland who featured in the blog back in February. The bird was ringed in Iceland in July 2007 and is now ten years old. Hard to get a good shot as it was continually moving and in the middle of a flock of feeding godwits. 

No bling but a nice winter plumage
Thursday saw my birding pal David and I heading for the Montgomery"hide" at Castle Espie to hit the rising tide, which we did successfully. You need to be there about 30 minutes before high tide at Belfast which was 10.05. As you can see from the first couple of pictures it was pretty muddy. As the tide pushed up the birds either swim or fly up the estuary past the hide. As they have knocked the roof off the hide to discourage anti-social behaviour the birds give it a wider berth than they used to but you still get good views. 

View to Scrabo when we arrived at 10.04

Assorted birds feeding

Whoopers in the Comber river, there were over 100 in total.
One hour and fifteen minutes later the mudflats were covered and the birds were either floating on the tide or roosting on one of the many high tide roosts. There are three within sight of the hide but you really do need a scope to see them well. Once the tide reaches the banks of the lough it then spends a couple of hours simply filling up and getting deeper. If you arrive at High tide at Comber all you will see is a pretty full lough. You need to be there earlier to get the birds pushing up towards you. We had a rich full list and a splendid ninety minutes looking at brent geese, shelduck, wigeon, teal, whoopers, mute, curlew, redshank, lapwing, dunlin, grey plover, turnstone, eider, black-tailed godwit, little egret, grey heron,  black headed gull, herring gull, and great black-backed gull. The soundscape is as good as the viewing with bugling whoopers, guttural brent, peewitting lapwing, whistling wigeon,  spooked redshank, and the signature sound of Strangford Lough in winter, the call of the curlew. We even had a squawk from a little egret. If I could tape it and sell it I would make a fortune from people wanting a tape of nature to de-stress and put them to sleep. Sorry, nearly dozed off there!!

Mute swan
View to Scrabo when we left at 11.30

209: Grey plover
Bangor West
67: Greylag

Belfast WOW
98: Meadow pipit
99: Razorbill

Monday, 16 October 2017

Oslo mini break

WOW on the day before we left still delivered close-ups of ruff.

But enough of WOW and on to Oslo. It is 42 years since we visited Norway. We were there for a holiday in July 1975 and at that stage I was very much a novice birder. I have no list of what I saw as I didn’t keep lists back then. What I did was record any new birds in my guide book with the date and the place. About a year later I found new birds were harder to come by so I started to list any birds I saw in a notebook and added new birds to the book. Over the years the new birds got fewer and the notebooks took over.  By going through the book I have found out that in two weeks in Norway I was able to add 17 new birds to the list at Flam, Balestrand, Kjossfoss, Finse, Vatnahalsen, Heirina and Esefjord. We had a fjord and mountain holiday at Balestrand and Vatnahalsen.

Some of these were birds which I now regularly see at home but saw for the first time in Norway  – sparrowhawk, golden plover, raven, dipper, wheatear, long-tailed tit, tree sparrow and reed bunting. Others were birds which are easy to see on the mainland but not in Ireland – nuthatch, willow tit, and redstart. The third group were continental specialities such as nutcracker, white wagtail, garden warbler, bluethroat, twite and Lapland bunting. I must admit to a pang of conscience about the garden warbler. 42 years down the line I fear it was either a chiffchaff or a willow warbler. I remember the bluethroat, nuthatch and Lapland bunting clearly and I also remember struggling to identify juvenile starlings which I was not familiar with. It was a good but expensive, holiday for a young couple not long married and before kids came along. 

Fast forward to 2015 and Northern Ireland drew Norway in the World Cup qualifiers  in October 2017and suddenly there is a reason to go back and to stay in Oslo with a Norwegian friend who is married and lives in Bangor but keeps a flat in Oslo. We were really supposed to be there in spring but October would have to do. Hence we flew into Oslo for a five day/six night mini break with Ingeborg in a flat at Bergkrystallen at the end of Metro Line 4.  One thing hadn’t changed since 1975 – the prices were still horrendous. A piece of apple tart was £13.50, glass of wine £11, coffee £3.50, and beer up to £10 per pint. If you are birding in Oslo bring very deep pockets or stay with a friend. 

Birding was squeezed in along with football and sight-seeing but we did manage 36 species. Much of what we saw was easy to pick up and common – cormorant, mallard, herring gull, black headed gull, magpie, hooded crow, jackdaw, fieldfare, blue tit, great tit, and house sparrow. Fieldfares were everywhere and far outnumbered blackbirds which we only saw a couple of times.

 The first walk we did was round Sognsvann Lake and we spotted treecreeper, willow tit and goldcrest. 
Sognsvann Lake

Sognsvann Lake

 Ostensjovannet  added a good cross section of common species including feral greylag and Canada goose which I was not expecting to see. I was expecting coot, moorhen, little grebe, great-crested grebe, tufted, goldeneye, and mute swan.





 A feeding siskin flock was a bonus as was the Scandanavian variety of long-tailed tit which has an all white head. No photos I am afraid but this blog by an English birder, Simon Rix, who lives in Oslo has some cracking shots taken at Ostensjovannet, possibly the same birds I saw! The blog is well worth following and I have been using it for 18 months to prepare for the trip. If you are visiting Oslo it is a must read.

The last morning saw us in the Botanical Gardens for an hour and a half before the rain came in and we were again surprised by the sheer numbers of fieldfares and crippling views of nutcrackers. Crossbills remained elusive, we think we heard them but could only see a nuthatch. There were also starlings, redwings, tree sparrows, blackbirds, robin and jay but the biggest surprise was a flyover jack snipe!! If I get back to Oslo I will be back there again, as it was a really good site. 

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens
Woodpigeons were scarce but we picked one up at Bergkrystallen. We also saw a great spotted woodpecker there as well as one at the ski jump. That only leaves the grey heron seen from the bus at Bygdoy to complete the set.Some birds gave close views for a phone shot.

Herring gull on the Opera House taking in the stunning view?

House Sparrow at the Fram museum

Ringed black headed gull at the Fram museum

 Sorry couldn't get the number with an iPhone!!

207: Nutcracker
208: Jack snipe
Bangor West
67: Greylag

Belfast WOW
97: Grey wagtail

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Ruff time at WOW

WOW has been very good for ruff recently. Not only have there been up to ten present but they have been imitating the godwits and coming right up to the window and giving stunningly close views. Sometimes they are so close I cannot get the digiscoping equipment working as they fill the frame. There are over 100 teal and last week we had the first adult shelduck back in. There was also a kingfisher present, seen twice and perched on the post in front of the window just long enough to miss a photo opportunity - as I reached for the button it flew off. The terns are gone as are the swallows and martins but there were 60+ lapwings, 5 redshank and four grey herons.

The coastal patch remains quiet and has not produced a new bird since May. The tern loafing area only "terned" up sandwich, roseates have been conspicious by their absence and I have dipped on common and arctic as well as shearwater this year. I will struggle to hit 70 this year in North Down and am still 6 short of the 100 target at WOW/Kinnegar.

Belfast Lough

Sandwich tern

Adult and young

No apologies for the mass of ruff shots as it was difficult to leave any out. The first half dozen were taken on September 14th

Ruff and blackwits not digiscoped.


Collective noun for ruff? Apparently it is "a hill"

Redshank at rest

Great black-backed gull
 The gull was eating a carcass and very mobile, again it was difficult to set up the digiscope as it was quite big and quite close. The next selection were snapped on September 21st.

Redshank reflection

A hill of ruffs, possibly juveniles

Juvenile ruff?

Adult male?
Thanks to Google I can now go in to WOW and say, "Look, a hill of ruffs" and be greeted with more scorn than normal. It makes a change to our usual counting method which involves liberal use of Ulster-Scots, as in a wheen of curlew,  a lock of geese or a wild lot o' mallard. "Look there's a quare lock of geese about th'day"

Today (September 28) again had 7 ruff and 25 species in all - low tide and no feeders. The bonus was a superb peregrine which appeared on two occasions, but better than that were three WOW ticks in the form of grey wagtail, stonechat and water rail, which was also a 2017 tick. It appeared briefly three times in the cut reed channel before I got the kit set up. The camera remained focused there for three hours but it never appeared again. There were lots of moorhens so here is one I took as practice in case the water rail re-appeared. It was an argy-bargy with a young moorhen which put me on to it. It then had the decency to re-appear briefly twice so everyone got a look at it.

Nice moorhen waiting for the water rail to appear


206: Water rail
Bangor West
66: Raven 

Belfast WOW
95: Water rail
96: Stonechat
97: Grey wagtail

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Patches grind to a halt

Not a lot to report. I have had three walks in the evening to try and add manx shearwater to the list and have failed each time. WOW has turned up some nice birds but not on a Thursday morning. Water levels remain high and waders are hard to attract. The best on Thursday was over 200 house martin in and around the reserve, a sparrowhawk thermalling and two swift - late birds indeed as I have never seen swift in Northern Ireland in September. There was also a 100+ finch flock in the distance - too far away to be sure of what was in it. The total for the morning was 27 which was 3 more than I got in Italy and San Marino over 6 days!! The beauty of expecting no birds at all in Italy was the excitement of seeing even one. By the end of the holiday I had added 5 birds to the 2017 list including a Bolton tawny owl and a life first in great white egret on Terciello. I also spotted Italian sparrow in Venice, a black kite over the A14 and gull billed tern in Venice lagoon. San Marino came up with two totally unexpected jays. Venice was awash with yellow-legged gulls and Cesenatico managed a redstart in the park and a black-necked grebe swimming around the water feature which runs through the town!! Little egrets were quite common in Venice lagoon and in the park at Cesenatico but they are not the exciting bird they were 30 years ago seeing as I have seen one in the Rathmore Estate in Bangor!! Any additions to lists will now involve a lot of graft and a slice of luck even though there are three months to go - the joys of patch birding.

BNG with the phone, wasn't expecting a megatick en route to dinner.

Cesenatico yellow legged gull

Young gull looking for pizza.
 Interesting pic of the young yellow-legged gull is that it has pink legs, maybe I need to look more carefully at first and second year lesser black backs and herring gulls, or maybe life is too short and I will wait for an adult!

201: Tawny owl
202: Italian sparrow
203: Gull billed tern 
204: Great white egret
205: Black kite
Bangor West
66: Raven 

Belfast WOW
93: Greenshank

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Travelling again

A brief update to keep things ticking over before we travel to Bolton, Venice and San Marino. I have surfed birding in  Italy and am not that hopeful of much in the way of birds, so anything is a bonus. Bolton involves a lot of family so opportunities will be limited there as well. Last week saw WOW produce 35 species including common sandpiper, ruff, raven and sparrowhawk. I had a couple of days at Castlerock and finally got a key for the Barmouth hide. An hour on a dropping tide gave good views of greenshank, curlew, knot, blackwit, redshank and dunlin. Nice to link up with Richard Donaghy and put a face to a good website ( ). Things are generally quiet all round and the patch lists show no change,  so a couple of pics and see you in September.


Friday, 11 August 2017

200 up

Finally ticked number 200 for the year a mandarin duck on the River Braid at Broughshane. Number 200 had to be a bit out of the ordinary as I have most of the common stuff. Mind you I missed cuckoo, whimbrel and grey plover, might get the latter two but cuckoo has passed me by. WOW on Thursday was relatively quiet with less than 30 species seen. Highlights were a common sandpiper and a greenshank at Kinnegar. Ten greylag appeared and two of them had neck collars on as part of a study funded by the Airport to see where they go and how this might impact on the planes. Feral greylags continue to be a problem!! Black-tailed godwit numbers reached 250+ as the tide pushed in and one of them appeared to be hopping on one leg. It turned out to have a cockle shell clamped to one of its toes so was unable to put its foot to the ground. It can feed and fly but is a bit slow in the take off department so has a higher chance of falling to a predator.

Godwits feeding right up to the window

Second or third brood of mallards

The cockle shell hero

Serene coots


Moorhen at rest
200: Mandarin
Bangor West

66: Raven
Belfast WOW
93: Greenshank