Saturday, 17 February 2018

2018 White-wingers

A selection of shots of several individual Iceland, Kumlien's and Glaucous Gulls that I've encountered in the last month and a half in Galway. It seems to be a rather good winter for white-wingers after a few recent duff winter.
Another American Herring Gull would be greatly appreciated. The last AHG found in Galway was a first-winter found in January 2008 while the returning adult bird was last seen in February 2011. There have only been six records for Galway, half of which were recorded during the 1990's. It's a little perplexing as to how few records there are for Galway (compared to Cork or Kerry) considering the amount of gull watching that has taken place here especially in the two or three decades. There was a nice smart first-winter recently seen at Cashen in county Kerry, hopefully we might get another here some time soon..

Second-calendar Iceland Gull, Nimmo's Pier, 14th January 2018.

Second-calendar Iceland Gull, Nimmo's Pier, 14th January 2018.

Second-calendar Iceland Gull, Nimmo's Pier, 14th January 2018.

Second-calendar Iceland Gull, Bunowen Pier, 22nd January 2018. Same individual taken into care and released at Nimmo's Pier three weeks later.

Second-calendar Iceland Gull, Bunowen Pier, 22nd January 2018. Same individual taken into care and released at Nimmo's Pier three weeks later.

Second-calendar Iceland Gull, Ardmore Bay, 16th February 2018.

Second-calendar Iceland Gull, Ardmore Bay, 16th February 2018.
Third-calendar Iceland Gull, Bunowen Pier, 16th January 2018.


Third-calendar Iceland Gull, Bunowen Pier, 16th January 2018.

Adult Iceland Gull, Bunowen Pier, 31st January 2018.

Adult Iceland Gull, Bunowen Pier, 31st January 2018.
Adult Kumlien's Gull, Omey Island, 15th January 2018.

Adult Kumlien's Gull, Omey Island, 15th January 2018.

Second-calendar Glaucous Gull, Bunowen Pier, 22nd January 2018.

Second-calendar Glaucous Gull, Bunowen Pier, 22nd January 2018.

Second-calendar Glaucous Gull, Bunowen Pier, 22nd January 2018.

Second-calendar Glaucous Gull, Bunowen Pier, 31st January 2018.

Saturday, 3 February 2018

The Netherlands December 2017

A belated post on a short trip over the Netherlands I did back in December. I flew into Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam on the morning of the 12th and left again on the afternoon of the 14th. The primary goal of the trip was to try and catch up with Lesser White-fronted Goose and Red-breasted Goose. I succeeded in accomplishing the latter target but was rather unlucky in the former. There had been several reports of different Red-breasted Geese on and off during the previous month at a few spots across the country. The nearest report was only a few kilometres north-west of Rotterdam from where I based myself for the next two nights. My trip coincided with decent amounts of snow which had been on the ground for a few days. Every road was perfect but it did have an effect on the birds especially the geese. After going through several hundred geese (the majority being Russian White-fronted and Greylag with smaller numbers of Barnacle, feral Canada and Egyptian Geese) I eventually picked up a pair of Red-breasted Geese which had been previously reported in the general area of Noord-Kethel. They were in a relatively small flock of geese but were about 800 metres away. Even at that long distance they were obvious enough especially for a goose! It would have been nice to have decent look at what was a lifer for me but I should glad I managed to see them at all. With the poor light already decreasing I made a bee-line for the Lesser White-fronted Goose location - Oudeland van Strijen. This is one of the main wintering grounds for the small Swedish breeding population. I ran into a helpful Dutch birder who pointed me in the right direction. I also had good information on the location thanks to the very useful Waarneming.nl website. The Dutch birder also mentioned that the snow could have pushed off the geese to another snow-free site. I searched the spot until dark but didn't get a sniff of any LWFG.

I started my second day at this same spot first thing in the morning after eventually managing to escape the Rotterdam traffic. I could see that the snow was slowly starting to disappear but there were still significant snow coverage. While scanning from the car I managed to drain the car battery of the rental car. The automatic headlights remain on if the keys are left in the ignition. Lucky I managed to convince a passing local to give me a hand to jump-start the bloody thing, lesson learned! After a few hours without any success I decided to head out to the coast and birded the area near Stellendam. This consisted of more polderland, sand dune systems, saltmarsh and mudflat. A few nice species here included Spoonbill, Cetti's Warbler, Firecrest, Snow Bunting, Brambling and Twite.

I only had a few hours to spare on the third day before flying home. Most of the snow had now melted. I was back again at the polderland near Strijen to look for LWFG. There was huge increase in the numbers of geese in the area particularly Barnacle Geese which had been largely absent the two previous days. There must have been several thousand geese in the whole area. I again searched the usual LWFG spot from all angles but had no joy. With an increasing mind-numbling migraine pounding in my head I called it a day and made my way back to the airport. I checked a large park within Rotterdam hoping for a few woodland species but saw little of note to be honest. I'm not sure if the Netherlands has a national bird but if not then it should probably be Eurasian Coot with the huge amount of water in the country, they seemed to be everywhere. It was interesting to see so many Great White Egrets throughout the country. I even managed to "twitch"three Cattle Egret at the LWFG site, they are still considered a rarity in the country. I didn't see a single Little Egret though?
I took virtually no shots during the three days. Shortly after arriving back in Dublin I checked the Waarneming site to see if there had been any news reported from my last day. It was a little soul destroying to see a report of 23 Lesser White-fronted Geese and a single Red-breasted Goose from Oudeland van Strijen after I had left!

Cattle Egret, Oude van Strijen, Netherlands, 14th December 2017.

Cattle Egret, Oude van Strijen, Netherlands, 14th December 2017.

Common Buzzard, Oude van Strijen, Netherlands, 14th December 2017.

Common Buzzard, Oude van Strijen, Netherlands, 14th December 2017.

Red-breasted Goose, Noord-Kethel, Netherlands, 12th December 2017.

Noord-Kethel, Netherlands, 12th December 2017.

Noord-Kethel, Netherlands, 12th December 2017.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Aillenaveagh - Cliff of the Ravens

I took a walk into a particularly spectacular Raven nest that I've been keeping an eye on from a distance for a several years now near Cregg Hill. I wanted to get an accurate grid reference reading for the nest as it's not on the most obvious of cliffs on either OS maps or even aerial imagery. The nest is located in a townland called Aillenaveagh which is the Anglicised version of the Aill na bhFiach,. Translated from Irish to English it means Cliff of the Ravens. I've always been interested in old Irish place-names. Wildlife regular feature in these names. Lough Nahillion (Elbow (-shaped) lake) is located within the same townland and contains a few islands one of which is called Illaunanilra which means Island of the eagle. Iolar is the common Irish name for eagle, oileán/illaun being island This is surely a reference to White-tailed Eagle given the location. This would strongly suggest that this small island was a traditional eagle nest site once upon a time. Looking at the island now it would appear that trees were possibly felled or died as there doesn't seem to be any mature oak or yew present. I'm also aware of an Eagle Island on Derryclare Lough, Eagle Islands on Lough Inagh, Eagles Lough in Roundstone Bog, Eagles Nest Primary School in Renvyle, Eagle Rock off Lettermullan and Cnocán an Iorla (Hill of the eagle) near Oughterard. The old 6 inch maps are fascinating to look at as the often have each little island named going way back to 1838 when Connemara was mapped. Most of these named islands are probably long forgotten by the current local generation. Lough Nahillion was once also a roost site for Greenland White-fronted Geese but these have also disappeared as a lot of the surrounding land has now been converted to hideous Skita Spruce plantations and the areas not planted have been damaged due to overgrazing by sheep and mechanical peat extraction. Like most of rural Ireland this area is a shadow of what it once would have been formerly. In the two hours that I was on site I just saw two Great Black-backed Gulls, three Mallard and two Cormorants on the lough, the pair of Ravens and heard one Wren - grim stuff!

Getting back to the Raven nest for which the entire townland is named. I've been watching this nest now for about nine years and they have used the very same nest every year. Given that there isn't any other suitable ledges on this small cliff face it probably isn't beyond the realms to believe that Ravens have used this very nest ledge for countless generations. The nest is probably about two metres in depth and is without doubt the largest Raven nest I've ever seen. Raven nests can fall during the winter season and occasionally when in use during bad weather and/or especially if they don't have a good foundation. One can see from the photos here that the sticks at the very base of the nest are so old that they have decayed. All this reminds me of story of nesting Gyr Falcons in Greenland a few years back where the carbon testing of remains from one nest were dated back to 2,500 years ago. http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8103000/8103872.stm
On closer inspection of the nest it was seen that the inner cup was already lined with fresh wool, hair and moss. The two adults were present in the area and definitely took notice of my presence.

It was a little discouraging to also note the presence of a few Rhododendron ponticum bushes growing on the cliff here in what is such an isolated spot several kilometres from the nearest Rhodo hotspot which is probably Kylemore. This plant is going to be a monumental issue for everyone (farming, forestry, tourism, etc.) in the very near future but to date most parties seem to sticking their heads in the sand with regard to the whole issue. It's only going to get worse with each passing year and the price of addressing the issue jumps a few million euro with each passing year.

Illaunanilra/Island of the eagle.

Unnamed island on Lough Nahillion.

Cliff face.



Lined inner cup of the Raven nest.
Lough Nahillion

Old sheep pen/Booley shelter and/or something much older?

Severely damaged blanket bog (formerly great condition) caused by just three donkey. I could say more about some farmers and payments but I better not...

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Eyrephort Glossy Ibis

I got a call from Martin O'Malley on Thursday morning to say that he had an unusual bird near his house. He began to describe a bird with a long curved bill, black-brown in colour and fairly big in size. Glossy Ibis immediately popped into my head. I was only the other side of Clifden town so I took the short trip out to the end of the Sky Road to have a look. When I met Martin on site he was fairly happy it was indeed an ibis. The bird was feeding on small flashes of water around a holiday home. It later flew close to the road and seemed very relaxed even though we were as close to 20 metres to it at some stages. I've seen the species in around half a dozen countries but these were probably my best ever views of the species. The sun came out for a period which produced some decent shots. The bird seemed to be doing well with earthworms regularly being caught.
A Glossy Ibis was also reported out on Inishmore over the Christmas period. Several others were reported away from the usual southern counties which usually get the majority of records especially during the winter. Several ringed birds have now turned up in Ireland in recent winters and most have been from the Cota Donana in Spain. They must be one of the few southern species that turn up here during the winter. After the Inishmore record this will be the seventh county record.


















Glossy Ibis from Dermot Breen on Vimeo.