Sunday, June 1, 2014

Malin Head and Corncrakes

 A few field sketches and a painting I started since returning.
 I travelled upto Irelands most northerly point, Malin head, for a few days earlier in the week with a friend. Although I travel to Donegal every year it was my first time to visit the Inishowen Penisula. I was extremely lucky with the weather and despite overnight rain on my last night, the clouds cleared and gave way to another day of glorious sunshine on my final morning. 4 corncrakes had been reported over the previous week and we managed to add 3 more singing birds and another flight view of a possible female. I was really impressed with the area, beautiful scenery and fantastic habitat, it certainly is an area I will be back to again.
 This male showed really well every day and stayed loyal to his patch infront of a small cottage. The best views were on my final morning when he sat in the open basking and drying out in the morning light after a night of heavy rain. He spent most of his time sleeping and preening, occasionally singing in responce to one of the neighbouring males. Another bird flew into the grass infront of this male, but didn't seem to elicit any sort of reaction. I didn't see it again once it landed despite watching for 2 more hours!

 After a few hours sleeping and preening, he casually crossed the track we were parked on and began singing in a walled garden of a ruined building. The voice was amplified and I'm sure it was enough to keep all the neighbouring birds at bay!
 This was my only reasonable flight shot of a bird that worked it's way up to the top of a field singing all the way before flying back down to where it started from.

One of the last views of the cottage male, singing away only a matter of feet from the car. 
Most of the time was spent watching corncrakes, but we did look around and try a few areas for migrants and local breeders. Surprisingly not a single eider was seen, a winter black-throated diver was my first of the year. 3 summer great norhterns were probably on there way north, but a red throat could have been a local breeder. A reeling grasshopper warbler was typically elusive, as was a 1st summer cuckoo both singing on our first afternoon only. I heard a golden plover twice but could never locate it, but two pairs of common sandpipers, also my first of the year showed well.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Some paintings and pics

 I have been working on a few roughs for some larger paintings recently, I would like to keep this style and add a few more birds. Back in the field the reedlings were still a little skittish, had 3 males chasing a female several times and saw them mating close to the second nest. Apart from one male that landed beside me, most of the views were a little distant feeding in the reed bases or flying back and forth. The wind picked up quite early and after that the reedlings  stayed low and mostly quite.

I stumbled on a wood sandpiper yesterday, unfortunately I decided to come back to it after checking on the reedlings which tend to disappear after mid-morning. A friend sat watching it until a field of cows decided to go for a drink and flushed it, I never found it again.
 The water rail pair with chicks were a no show yesterday, but this adult showed really well until I tried to take out my sketch pad. The wind picked up early on and very little showed around the reed bed.
 This sinensis cormorant was hanging around all day, my first at the site, it rare to get close enough to scrutinise them most days.
I had over 40 crossbills last week at a pine forest near home and while watching them I had heard a woodpecker calling several times. This woodpecker has been giving me the run around all spring, this being only the third time I have heard it and have only seen it once in almost 20 visits since March. Atleast the crossbills have been showing well.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Some recent work

 I was back down watching the reedlings twice this week and have been a little perplexed by their behaviour.  I think this is the adult female from the 2nd nest, and the only time I saw her in the last 2 visits she was carrying reed heads away from the original nest site being chased by a few males.
After watching an adult male fly circuits around the first nest and calling for 5 minutes last sunday, I am almost sure I had a juv flutter across a channel after the male away from the nest. After that I only saw an adult briefly in the area. There was similarly little activety by the second nest, but adults were returning to particular areas in the reed bed and I hoped there were chicks hidden in there somewhere. On wednesday the adults were quite spread out and I never had even a sniff of a juv, hopefully tomorrow will give a little clarity.

 A few sketches of adult males from wednesday, I had a few really good views of males but they seemed very skittish and never settled for long.

 I have had a bit of time to work on some paintings this week and drew up a few plans and layouts. Hopefully I will have some more time soon to finish them off.

These grasshopper warblers were done up from sketches and photographs of several I saw well in Donegal last week. Locustella warblers are usually really shy and difficult to get good views of, but fresh migrants will often sing right in the open and can be quite approachable.

Some recent pics

 This bumblebee was found by a friend on the patch a few weeks back, we had spent all day friday in the area and again on monday when it was found. A little galling to think we missed some species of shrike, a family that is pretty scarce in Ireland and one I could never tire of seeing!
 While looking for the reedlings during the week I found a nice channel with a family of water rails, 2 adults and 5 tiny black chicks with white bills, I have never seen chicks this young before and hope to spend some more time watching them tomorrow.Will hopefully get a few shots and sketches of the family party.
 This Hairy Dragonfly was my first of the year, having only emerged recently from the looks of it. On wednesday it was in almost in the same spot as the previous sunday and looked a little un-gainly. Whirring the wings, he lost his balance and fell into the water, I am sure he would have got out himself, but after a few minutes of struggling I helped it out with a long reed.

The wings didn't look in the best condition and might explain why he hadn't moved far. I left a friend photographing it and again, it ended up in the water after whirring the wings!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tory Island

 Grasshopper warbler, Horn head.
I was in Donegal for the long weekend and it was a little cold, wet and miserable. Quite a few migrants around, plenty of wheatear, whimbrel, white wags and 4 cuckoos singing from Muckish to Maharoarty.I had great views of atleast 4 singing grasshopper warblers on the loop around Horn head, one bird showing incredibly well, singing from a rough patch in a front garden!

 Puffins were busy pairing up and digging nest burrows, several showed muddy bellies and feet, interestingly only one of each pair was dirty, wonder which one! I spent a lot of time watching and sketching the birds but had to give up after getting thoroughly soaked and cold!

 Only one corncrake showed well although I did briefly see 3 of the 4 singing birds on the island. Above are a few quick sketches of the bird, I am thinking about trying to get back up again in a few weeks to see them a little better.
 3 eider were in the harbour and gave great views, it was nice to see them up close for once although they were quite wary.
 The harbour was full of waders, mostly turnstones, ringed plover and dunlin, a few redshank and 2 sanderling also. 1 moulting purple sandpiper was a nice surprise, my first time in a few years to see this plumage.

Great northern divers were on the move, with several in most bays and harbours along the coastline. This adult was feeding on flatfish and crabs in the tiny harbour in Mahoroarty.

Friday, May 2, 2014

More reedlings

Spent most of today watching the reedlings again. Quite a bit of progress since my last visit, the two nests both hold chicks which are being fed by a female and atleast two males each! 3 males chasing a female at another site close by early this morning also. Still only the two confirmed nest sites though.

I spent quite a bit of time sketching the birds today, my first time this year. Both nests were visited by adults almost every 5 minutes, the begging calls of the chicks could be heard clearly but they are probably only a few days old at the most.
I was able to watch the adults feeding along the water surface at the edge of the channels collecting beak fulls of insects. It was amazing to see how many insects could be held. With all the food being brought back to the nest so regularly, the adults often left the nest again with full bills.