Monday, March 26, 2012

At the Zoo

Was at the zoo today with college and got to spend a few hours wandering around in the glorious sunshine. Last time I was here I had a hawfinch fly over calling, and woodpeckers have been seen regularly along the boundary so I tried to keep an ear open. Took out the water colour box for a quick wash but it was run over by a buggie and trampled by screaming kids shortly after, a bit of a disaster really. Still, happy with a few sketches.

The red pandas were out playing in the sunshine all day and I got plenty of sketches but most of them were pretty poor. The snow leopards on the other hand were asleep for most of the morning, any time they were woken by screaming children they looked far from impressed!

Some wicklow pics

This blue tagged red kite crossed the road near roundwood, circling a nearby field giving great views. Gave quite a fright when I spotted first with a black kite found in the area the previous evening!
 Hen Harrier. This female or possible young male passed over me in the woods near Glendalough, the first I have ever seen in the Wicklow mountains.
 Great spotted woodpeckers, had great views of atleast 4, amazing to think how rare they were only a few years ago!

A few recent sketches

Spent most of my time with the Baillons crake photographing it, this was only a quick sketch done in between snapping away. With the views we were getting I thought I would get plenty of time to sketch but after walking up to our feet it fluttered around us and was never seen again! I only managed a few sketches of the ring-billed gull on saturday morning before setting off for Wexford, I had intended on returning a few times during the day.

 I spent sunday in Wicklow and had a fantastic time. Started brilliantly and only got better, a woodpecker flew along side the car in Kilmacanogue, landed in a tree near Avoca handweavers, once again doing well to keep control of the car! A red kite circled above the car near Roundwood and gave fantastic views and moving onto lough Dan I had more great views of a pair of dippers. I made my way towards Glendalough and walked a few trails, stumbling upon a territorial dispute between more woodpeckers. I sat down and had fantastic views of atleast 4 for the next 3 hours along with all the other great woodland birds like Jays, treecreepers and surprising hen harrier circling over head with buzzards!

Spent the afternoon sketching trees and woodpeckers, the lowest pic is of a tree a pair have nested in for the last few years. The day was far from over, met a friend near the Sally gap who had picked up a pair of crossbills near a traditional spot, unfortunately they disapeared almost as soon as I got the scope onto them! Just beyond the Sally gap I found a red grouse by the side of the road, walking back towards it I flushed 2 which circled around us. A great end to a fantastic weekend.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

One of those days

Started out today determined to get ahead of a college project due next week and hoping to break up the monotony with a look for the ring-billed gull. I got up early, worked till 1030 and went took my break, immediately having the ring bill. Enjoyed great views and a few sketches/photographs of it on the roof of the Dulux building bofore it eventually dropped down to the bread I was throwing out. It devoured almost a full loaf in a few gulps and departed back to its roof top, staying there for the rest of my stay. I gave up after I was out of bread and made my way back to the house for a late breakfast, thinking there would be a hard days work ahead of me.

Almost immediately I got a call from a friend telling me about a Bailons crake on Saltee Island in Co. Wexford, the first in Ireland in over a 150 years! I didn't take much convincing and was on the road in record time. A few buzzards and 2 red kites on the road down near Arklow livened up the journey south. Arrived at Kilmore quay around 2p.m. and all that around was an albino curlew, a strange looking beast that had the heart racing for a second! Eventually the boat arrived and we were on our way, told that the bird was showing well not to worry, wished people would just say nothing at times like these! I have searched for bailons many times before and never got close, so was more than eager to get a decent view of this bird. A long boat journey began and amazingly not a single shearwater or bird of note en route. When we drew near the island, a large crowd was gathered on the beach and my heart sank, thinking the worst and that the bird had disapeared. But they were all in good spirits and quickly told us the bird was showing really well just up the steps from the harbour! Incredibly, less than a minute later I was looking through the scope at the bird only 20 feet away as it basked in the sun shine! We enjoyed incredible views for 30-40 mins before the bird walked towards us, appearing almost under our feet and fluttered around us into the bracken, despite waiting another hour I saw no further sign after this and was forced to leave on the last boat. A single house martin, a few chiffchaffs,willow warbler and 3 black redstarts were the only other signs of migration on the island!

 Fantastic views had by all, but unfortunately not good enough for one camera man who insisted on intercepting it at every turn.
 The tertials were nearly always held above the primaries and gave it a long winged look.

  Bailons Crake. The beautiful colours and markings were easy to take in with such good views, in such good light, I can't imagine a better view of such an amazing bird.
After leaving the island the day wasn't quite done, we still had more than an hour of light left and were torn between heading east or west. The tide was high so we decided that the cull might not be productive and made our way east towards lingstown in the hope of a harrier or 2. After scanning for a while here, we had seen little so Iwalked ahead, amazed when I heard a few reedlings and picked one up in flight a short distance from Shane, Conor and Donal. After a brief wait, we heard them again and a male flew past us at very close range. A distant marsh harrier was joined by a ring tail hen as they fought together in the fading light. We ended the day at the forgotten corner, no sign of the green winged teal but who cares!! One of the best days ever and one that will never be forgotten!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Ring-billed gull again

Found this adult ring-billed gull last thursday on my way into college, it was sitting on a road light and I nearly crashed the car as I passed underneath when I spotted it! I have looked for it almost daily but have seen nothing.Today I was on the bike and nearly ended up in the canal when it flew up from the water beside me! I had no camera or sketch book again with me and was in a rush to get to college in time so I thought it had gotten away again. Amazingly it was sitting on a rooftop on my way back from college so I sped home to pick up the camera and sketch book and was more than relieved to find it in the same spot when I returned. Despite throwing out the best part of a loaf of tesco's finest white bread, it refused to leave its roof-top perch and just glowered down on me as lesser black backs, herring and black backed gulls fought it out. The bird has been around the Goldenbirdge luas stop in Drimnagh and well worth a look if anyone is passing by.

Adult ring-billed gull, on the roof of the old Dulux shop, 23 March 2012

Monday, March 19, 2012

wexford sketches

A few sketches from the weekend.

Singing reed bunting and female siberian stonechat. South Slob, Wexford, 17 March 2012.
I had a bit of a struggle finding the stonechat but there was plenty of interesting birds about. Reed buntings were busy singing and 3 buzzards displaying over head added to a spring feeling.

 This male Shoveller made a nice subject while waiting for bearded tits at the east end of Tacumshin, several pairs fed and roosted around the lake.

After a long walk around Ring Marsh on the 18, I finally picked up a pair of bearded tits. The female quickly disapeared but the male showed really well on and off for 30 mins or more. A pair of stonechats blocked my way back to the car and were a nice comparison with yesterdays female siberian.

This whimbrel was one of several fresh migrants around Carnesore point, I should have stayed drawing and painting for longer but I was starving and breakfast called! I had a water colour sketchbook with me, but completely forgot about it! I really should start using it more as the cartridge paper is not the best to use when wet.

Long-billed dowitchers, these 2 have been present at the Cull in Wexford all winter, best viewed on the rising and falling tides. I spent most of the afternoon trying to get good views but unfortunately they were quite flighty. Eventually the rising tide pushed the flock up to me and I got good views of one, though the late afternoon light was against me.

Wexford highs and lows

I began early on Saturday morning at Ballycarney in search of a great egret which has been in the area for a few months now. Dense fog for the first half hour was replaced by heavy rain for the second and I left at 8am having seen nothing. A poor start but I quickly moved towards blue skies and the South Slob. I was hoping to see a siberian stonechat which had been present for a few weeks, I thought I knew where I was going but after phoning a friend for directions I was completely lost. A hour wasted I phoned a few others and eventually I found where I was supposed to be, unfortunately there was no sign of the bird. I searched the area for over 2 hours, walking along every hedge and ditch but nothing more than a few meadow pipits and reed buntings, 3 circling buzzards drew my attention up towards rapidly darkening skies. The leg on my stool broke as I hunkered down for the a heavy shower, things were slowly getting worse! Half covered in mud I gave up and made my way back to the car, a final scan before crossing the bridge and there was the chat, sitting up on the closest snag! It spent the next hour or more keeping low in the strong wind on brambles in the reeds but showed really well.

From here I moved towards Tacumshin in the hope of bearded tits, not knowing that 2 pairs would be found on the slob that afternoon by birders watching the chat! I spent the afternoon over-looking the east pond, a stunning male hen harrier landed in the sedge and cruised the area for a while. A young (male?) marsh harrier spent the afternoon quatering the area also. Unfortunately I only heard a tit briefly in the few hours waiting and saw little else. Ileft in time to guarantee a seat in the nearby pub for the rugby, really wish Ihadn't bothered!

Dawn of the following morning was glorious, strong sun and a light breeze and I went straight for Carnesore point. Afew whimbrel were the only sign of life, no wheatears on on beach or anything of note out to sea. I made my way to Ring Marsh in another optimistic search for bearded tits. I staked out a few vantage points but it was only at the end as I was about to give up that I heard the fantastic pinging calls of a pair. The female sat briefly on the top of a stalk but quickly disapeared, the male gave fantastic views for the next 30 mins, popping up all around me and feeding acrobatically. Another or the same as yesterdays marsh harrier passed  by but quickly disapeared, a buzzard soon afterwards had me questioning the harrier! I left the reeds and had a pair of stonechats on the way back to the car, a great comparison with yesterdays bird.

 The belly was rumbling and Iheaded for Ladies Island but found the deli empty of anything appetizing. A quick scan of the island produced a min 46 med gulls, 8 sandwich terns and a single ruff. I was too hungry to stop and sketch so made my way to Kilmore for a much needed breakfast roll. A few distant great northern divers, but no black throats here was a little disapointing. Continuing onto the Cull for the sun was still shining and I regretted bringing my heavy fleece on the walk down to the estuary! I immediately picked up one of the dowitchers, which was then joined by the second. Unfortunately these birds were flushed and after walking both sides of the channel, the views weren't worth the effort. With the tide rising I finally sat down able to get reasonable views of one of the birds. It was interesting to see the very distinct difference in bill length between the pair. A short eared owl and a juv harrier cruised the dunes and 2 swallows bolted north were a nice distraction. I searched for the water pipit but had no joy, more and more families descended on the area as the afternoon wore on.

I decided to try for the great egret again on the way home as it has been a long time since I have sketched one and there have been a few gooseanders seen in recent days. I drove along both sides of the river, stopping to scan from every vantage point and lay by but no joy. It was great to see plenty of buzzards in the area, my first time seeing double figures in a day in Wexford. After giving up on the egret I continued north to Black hill in Wicklow in the hope of crossbills but again there was I was out of luck. All in all a mixed weekend, plenty of time to sketch, some good weather to do it in, but some frustrating birds, and that rugby match! Will upload some sketches shortly.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Worked up this pallid harrier over the last while for a friends birthday at the end of the month. I used water colour and gauche on pastel paper which I think will work well with more practice. The paint dries slowly on the textured surface and even after it dries it can be worked up and blended to a degree, just a shame the paper is expensive so I don't get to practice too often!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fuscus Lesser black back?

In Bray on sunday morning I spotted this slim 1st winter lesser black back amongst the good numbers of large gulls. It stood out, not only because it was my second l.b.b of the spring, (had an adult near college last week) but because of its slim, long-billed, long-winged and long-legged appearance. Getting good views of the bird was no problem with two loaves of Tescos finest and cheapest. The advance moult in the scapulars is also a feature that would point to fuscus, though there was no obvious sign of moult in the primaries.

Bray birding

I spent 2 years in college in Bray a few years back and regularly checked the harbour. In all my visits I only ever had single Glaucous and Iceland gulls, with an ad ring billed gull regularly returning annually since. This winter a minumum of 4 Icelands and an adult Kumliens have been present and despite several visits I have yet to see anything more than a Mediteranean Gull! The sea front is always full of large gulls and big numbers of turnstones which show down to feet, making great subjects. Today, a single immature great black backed gull dominated all the others.

Dippers on the Dodder

I have been out searching my local area for dippers and kingfishers in the last few weeks. There has been a well watched pair near my parents for the last few years but it is a difficult location to sketch in because of countless dogs and their owners. I found a new nest downstream of a pair last year which are a little more off the public path. The birds are used to people and my presence hasn't seemed to disturb them at all. They were busy nest building at the end of last week, regularly returning with mouthfuls of moss and grasses.

In the same area there has also been a pair of kingfishers nesting in the roots of a fallen sycamore tree for the last few years. These have been popular with photographers and unfortunately attracted a film crew from RTE's living the wildlife series who hacked down bushes around the nest, the damage is still visible 2 years on. The nest and perches set up by photographers are visible from a public path, with dogs and children often running down to the waters edge only feet from the nest. Fortunately spring is in the air and with buds showing through it wont be long before the area around the nest is little more secluded.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Merlin, Bull Island

Travelled out to Bull Island in north Dublin yesterday afternoon hoping to get good views and do some sketching of some of the good birds on offer. Atleast 4 short eared owls, merlin, peregrine have been around for a while now, with the blue winged teal there for its 6th or 7th winter now. The tide was way out when I arrived and a few scans produced nothing. I walked the saltmarsh to the northern tip and saw very little. No short eared owls and only a brief view of a hunting Peregrine in the distance. Half way back to the causeway a female merlin buzzed over and north towards the tip, I followed it in the bins for a while but lost it and thought that was the end of it. A few minutes later, I spotted it or another on a post in the middle of the saltmarsh. I was able to walk to within 50 metres of it and got the spend plenty of time sketching it. The only problem being I had nothing to sit on and a wet arse was the price of the best views I have ever had of a merlin.

The messy flanks and diffuse barring probably age this as a 1st winter bird. A gorgeous bird and well worth the time to go and enjoy it. Plenty of skylarks, meadow pipits and linnets singing were a nice sign of spring.