Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dusky warbler, I'm having it!

While checking a garden on Aranmore a few weeks back I heard a few lesser throat like chak calls. With out really time to think about the identity, a small warbler popped up infront of me. I could only see the head but I immediately thought dusky warbler. After a stand off, I tried to move slightly to see the whole bird, but it dropped out of view. I tried a chakking a bit and the bird popped up again, but once more, only the head was visible. While waiting for it to re-appear, I scribbled down some notes. Unfortunately, the bird never showed again, only calling a few times from thick cover a few hours later.
It was one I thought would probably be best forgetting about, but I felt the distinctive head and call combined were enough to work with. The notes I scribbled down about the super being sharply defined and ending infront of the bill match all my notes and photos of dusky from Asia, plus everything on a google search. Chiffchaffs' super is more diffuse and usually extends over the the bill, plus the call is completely different. Raddes', although never really thought of with this bird falls down on these features also.

 Dusky warbler from Rudong in May 2013. The head is a little blurred but the well defined super is still obvious. It is not a feature mentioned in any field guides I have, but is in the advanced bird id handbook.
Its good enough for me and I'm having it!

Chiffchaff from Tory Island, 2012, the diffuse super extending over the bill.

Raddes warbler, Beidehe 2010, just like the chiff, diffuse super continues over the bill.

Monday, October 14, 2013


 I was on Aranmore Island off the north west coast for the last 10 days or so hoping for a good selection of migrants. I had planned to spend my time on Tory Island again, but the small island had 3-5 birders out there daily during my planned visit so I decided to find somewhere else. Tory is easily doable in a day by one person, Aranmore was a different story altogether! It was tough work, and I really only had 2 good days of migration. The first produced this wryneck along with a common rosefinch, yellow-browed warbler, pied and 3 spotted flycatchers with a back up of phyloscs. Some north west winds towards the end of my stay produced some great sea-watching, flocks of skuas, a single sabines and little gull. Geese also arrived in big numbers with a single pink-footed and 4 large Canada geese amongst several hundred barnacles.
 The wryneck showed really well most days during its 5 day stay, on the final evening I saw it, it fell asleep so close I wasn't able to focus the camera on it!

 I spent a lot of time sketching and photographing it, the island was very quite most of the time and it was great to have the diversion.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Recent wanderings

 Was out for the first time in a while over the weekend and it wasn't too bad! Found 2 lesser whitethroats and a melodious warbler on Cahore point. Plenty of crests and a few other migs about. A leucistic starling just south of the point could cause confusion if not seen well.
 This stonechat was one of several that showed a largely pale plain rump, could easily be of continental origin?
 Migrant Hawker, one of 2 that were around the marsh at Cahore on Saturday. We also flushed a corncrake in the marsh, some great views of it the 2nd time round.
 Had a few groppers aswell during the day. Great to get some experience of migs ahead of a mig hunting trip to Aranmore this week. Really hoping for a pallas's or lancey! Either of the following would do nicely as well!
 Rufous tailed robin
Pechora pipit, be nice to find one in Ireland, I can dream!

Sunday, September 15, 2013


 Male Crossbill, Blackhill, Wicklow, 2006
Have been looking for crossbills a few times in the last while in hope of digging out a two-barred crossbill. The Wicklow mountains can be a frustrating place to search for them, lots of pine forests isolated by large areas of bog. Luckily one of the closest tracts to my house has atleast 20 birds at the moment, probably a lot more judging by the direction of their comings and goings. I have had difficulty pinning them down and getting pro-longed views yet, despite the lack of many drinking pools. In the past, summer has been a great time to look, a stake out of puddles has usually led to great views.

Sparrowhawk and crossbill
Yesterdays attempts were constantly foiled by this sprok which repeatedly attacked every time the flock settled. Had my first buzzard at this site yesterday, it got a hard time from a pair of ravens.
Two-barred crossbill
Its been a few years since I saw a two-barred, a juvenile at Baltimore in west cork was the first in Ireland in 80 years, possibly the first for the Republic as well?

Fallow deer seem to be everywhere in the mountains, I am constantly flushing small parties every corner I turn.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A long week

 Golden plover, Rogerstown
With a lot of American waders turning up in the last week I tried a few sites this week with little success. Kilcoole had almost 200 dunlin, 70 ringed plover but little else, a few whimbrel passing south were the only sign of migration. I tried Swords the following day but the tide was high and 4 ruff roosting with the redshank were the best, a distant swift was just too far away to do anything with. Moved swiftly to Rogerstown where there were good numbers of dunlin but I couldn't dig anything out, 2 golden plovers stayed around long enough for a few sketches. I did flush a wader which showed no wing bars and a dark rump but the views were very brief as it flew over the mounds surrounding the flooded field. A flighty buff b was in the same spot this morning, damn! 

 Imm male reedling
I was in north Wexford yesterday, a great start with a red kite circling low over the road near Wicklow town, a green sand in off the sea and a few migs around the carpark. But by 9am the wind picked up and there was nothing doing.

 Greenland wheatears
There were 2 whinchats with over 30 wheatears along the dunes during the day, some of the wheatears gave great close views. Made a nice subject for some sketching.
By 5pm we were back in the car and ready to leave, when a buzzing sounding wagtail passed south just over head had us running towards the reedbed again. After finding one of the whinchats again, we were about to give up when the wagtail flew over calling a 2nd time. It landed in a field before flying back over our heads giving great close views, banking infront showing huge white wingbars and all the features you'd expect on a 1st winter citrine wagtail! It landed out of view in the marsh, only flying out as a large flock of hirrundines passed over head. I heard it call a few times but couldn't pick it up. We moved north again and while trying to re-locate it I had great views of a few reedlings sheltering low down in a channel. A probable spotted redshank was heard calling late in the evening but I couldn't get onto it.
 Spent this morning hoping to find a two-barred crossbill at a traditional crossbill site, atleast a dozen commons' were feeding in trees around the carpark at Cruagh wood but nothing amongst them.
I found quite a bit of woodpecker damage near the carpark, with around 20 pairs in Ireland confined to braodleaved woodland, it was interesting to find this in a coniferous forest. I'll be back to keep an eye on the crossbills, hopefully I'll get to pin down a woodpecker or two during the winter.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A few weeks ago I came across some photographs I had of a red-breasted flycatcher I saw on Inishmor Island in Oct 2008. It motivated me to dig out some old sketches and images of red breasted and taiga fly's I have seen in the past and do up a few illustrations. As usual though, half way through I had some work to do and the sketches were left on the desk for a few weeks. Finally got a bit of time to finish them off yesterday and start some more, hopefully I will get a good run at these and they won't just be left to gather dust!

 Red-breasted flycatcher, Inishmor, Oct 2008.
A showy bird photographed on a very dull wet day, typical of autumn in Ireland. A little overexposed, the buff breast side extended across the breast.
 Taiga flycatcher, Happy Island, Oct 2010. 
The strong buff underparts and throat on this bird are a result of the evening light.
 Female Taiga flycatcher, Happy Island, Oct 2010.
In a more neutral light than the juv, the sharply defined throat and grey underparts are striking.
Mongolian plover
Another sketch which has been sitting on my desk for a few weeks, nice to finish it off. I have been trying new papers again recently, this was a stiffer card than before, the first coat was nice and smooth, but subsequent layers were quite rough, the surface breaking up a little. Will go back to water colour paper again for a while.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Little shearwater

I was supposed to be out on a pelagic off Loop head on saturday morning but due to rough weather it was cancelled. The weather didn't look too promising for a sea watch but good enough to give it a try. It started well with leach's petrel and a few skuas, sooty shears, a blue fulmar and balearic shear. After the morning fry and some wader hunting on nearby beaches we moved to the Fodry to try our luck again. The seawatching spot here was fantastic, a little higher than the bridges but a much wider area of sea infront and a lot more protection from the wind. We were barely there 30 mins when the little shear was picked up coming towards us. It was so far to our right that there was no panic and both of us were able to get onto it very quickly with the directions from the finder. The bird was immediately obvious, flight, size, colour, just everything was different. The angle of the body was slightly angled up, wings arched slightly and shallow wingbeats below the horizontal. When flying away from us it was very common sandpiper like! It never banked high, never near the vertical reached by manxies rolling out of the troughs. Flying low over the water, it disappeared into troughs regularly but our elevated height allowed us to get better views than would have been possible at the bridges. Every time it re-emerged from the trough it was instantly obvious, it was never lost or confused with the manx which were streaming past. Its hard to know but it was probably on view for 3 mins or so, plenty of time to take it all in, certainly a lot longer than we would have had if we picked it up from the bridges.
 It was also great that it was just 3 of us there, the directions were clear and straight forward,- the memory of the panic when a fea's went past the bridges  a few years back will always stay with me. Awful directions, several seconds from the initial muffled call until any directions came out and then the panic of a mass of bodies diving across infront to view it from on top of the hollow.I don't think I will be going back to the regular spot again!

Hard to convey just how obvious the bird was, it was very difficult to make out the eye due to a combination of the evening light and distance. I had a zoom eye piece, and after finding it at 20x I zoomed into 60 which was too much. I could find the bird easily but the shake was just too much to really enjoy it. Zooming out a little to around 50x was perfect. I couldn't make out any secondary bars but a sooty shearwater like pale panel on the far secondaries was always clear.
The following day was another good one, a few leaches, sooties, balearics, a black tern (which I couldn't get onto) juv little gull and a great selection of skuas. The views of the skuas were great, they were usually picked up coming towards us from quite a distance, their flight style and shape could be watched and compared. Have a few pages of sketches Im hoping to work up this week. Will be interesting to see how they compare with skua watching when the wind is a lot stronger and juvs are the common plumage in the coming weeks.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Snowy Owls and seawatching

 I travelled upto Aranmore Island off Donegal over the weekend for the snowy owl and was hoping for some seawatching. The weather looked good for seawatching Saturday and clearing up to enjoy on the snowy on the sunday.
 Saturday was a slow day, a few sooty shearwaters, artics and bonxies were the best. Myself and a friend spent a few hours searching for the snowy owl in the afternoon with no luck. Later in the evening, we sat out on a hill top hoping to pick it up, just before 9pm it appeared and for the next 40 minutes we enjoyed some incredible views. The bird initially sat in the last rays of evening sun preening before flying to few prominent lookouts in between bouts of hovering upto 100 metres high. It stooped disappearing into heather, re-emerging a few minutes later and feeding on a small mound. It was a little distant and dark to make out what it was feeding on.

 The following day the bird was sitting in a hollow created by turf cutters. Similar hollows all over the same hill side held dozens of feathers and a few pellets.

 I worked up a few sketches today hoping to work on a larger painting when I get some more time.
 This ring-necked duck was on a small lake near Finntown on the way to Aranmore, I saw it on the same lake last October and assumed it would have left for the summer. On the way up it was with a female tufty, no sign of any offspring though.

 This was one of 4 Pomarine skuas seen over the weekend from Aranmore. 3 of which held full 'spoons' and showed immaculate plumage, all skuas seen appeared to be to adults.
Sooty Shearwater, this was one of almost 300 seen on Sunday, along with 6 Great and a single balearic shearwater. The Lighthouse was a fantastic seawatching spot, plenty of walls to shelter no matter what direction the wind is coming from and a great panoramic view. The birds could be followed for long periods and we enjoyed most of the great shears and skuas for almost 3 minutes. Great, pro-longed and often close views of everything that passed.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Recent birding

 Bearded Reedlings
It was a quite day in Wexford on Saturday, but only 2 juv reedlings showed well despite the great weather. A few waders had returned, 12 dunlin and 8 ringed plover, no juvs yet but nice to see autumn migration starting.

 This sanderling was one of over 200 on the beach at Pilmore in east cork last week. I spent the evening there, 24 hours before Irelands first Mongolian plover dropped in!

 Juvenile Dunlin from Pilmore last week. About 150 dunlin were on the beach with the sanderling, this was the only juv, the silver ring on it's right leg was unfortunately illegable.

 With the Mongolian plover on Pilmore I worked up a field sketch from China in May, have a few more sketches I'll hopefully get back to work on soon.