Friday, 26 May 2017

Lamenting 'The Leaving', Lauding Lepidoptera

I'm sure if you've checked in on this site within the last few months you'll have noticed the lack of any new posts. This is due to my current status as a leaving certificate student. This doesn't allow me much free time due to an incessant need to study. Fortunately the exams themselves are fast approaching and soon after they conclude i'll be back birding, snapping and blogging. The exams start on the 7th of June and I will be finished by the 20th, and am already looking forward to throwing the books aside and making the most of the summer.
    I haven't been doing much concerted birding this spring, the best bird being a curlew sandpiper on patch. Of late I have of course been rather cooped up in the house, but all the same I have managed to get out the odd evening to take some photos. I've found myself drawn to macro photography in the last while as it allows me to take advantage of what's nearby, with a smorgasboard of invertebrate life frequenting the garden. Butterflies and damselflies are particular favourite subjects of mine, and can prove to be beautiful posers. I'm still relatively new to macro photography, and am continuously experimenting with various depths of field, angles and the like, but it's proving very enjoyable. I'm looking forward to the emergence of some of the more characteristic summer species, such as the stunning Marsh Fritillary butterfly, in the coming weeks. The last (and only) time I photographed a Marsh Fritillary was an individual in the beak of a stonechat, so for the sake of the local fritillary population I hope the stonechats have moved on to a different field. This particular species of butterfly has the unenviable title of being Irelands only protected insect. From what I've observed their colonies are usually found in fields of devils-bit-scabious, their food plant. A very charismatic insect.
    Another species of butterfly currently on the wing, and one of my personal favourites, is the diminutive Green Hairstreak. No larger than a thumbnail, the Green Hairstreak has plain brown upper-wings, but this is immaterial, as it is almost impossible to see them, due to the insect always resting with its wings closed. The reverse of the wings is exposed when the butterfly alights, and is why they stand out among all other species to me. The underwing is an extraordinarily iridescent emerald colour which glimmers and gleams in the sun. One would imagine such a gaudy looking creature would soon be snatched up by any passing predators. Not so. Not only does the Hairstreak choose carefully matching green leaves on which to perch, it has also evolved specialised bio-photonic crystals in its wing scales. These minuscule crystals reflect polarised light, which allows the butterfly to advertise to potential mates. However this does not divulge its location to passing predators, as birds eyes are insensitive to this particular polarised light. I was lucky enough to stumble across a perched Green Hairstreak on a recent evening bog walk, and it allowed for some close inspection. Note the black-and-white striped antennae!
    So now you know what's been occupying my mind lately. I'd imagine there aren't many leaving-certs in the country obsessing over the minutiae of a butterfly wing this May, here's hoping it plays to my advantage if a suitable English essay title lends itself to discussion of such fantastic details. Thanks for checking in. That's it from me until next month!
One from the archives, stonechat eating one of our rarest butterflies!
Green Hairstreak

Green Hairstreak

Large Red Damselfly

Green-Veined White

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Winter Birding

After a long, unintentional hiatus of basically the whole Autumn, mostly due to a lack of time (and a small lack of determination) I've decided to get typing again and put together another blog post. With good intentions I could promise more in the next few weeks however with mock exams coming up I don't know how much spare time i'll have, but we'll see. 
    I may not have been blogging, but I have not stopped birding, or taking photos for that matter. School is admittedly an obstacle, this year being that of my leaving certificate, but if I could not get out I'd surely go insane.
   By far the best bird I've seen in recent weeks was a fantastic female Snowy Owl in the wild, wet and quite remote bog west of Spiddal. The bird was picked up by Paul Troake on the 10th of December (fair play Paul!) and so I was on site the following afternoon after a hellish bike ride out from Barna. No sooner had I clambered up the sodden hill and set up the scope, than I found myself looking at the distant white speck that was oh-so-certainly a Snowy Owl. In the effort to get to within at least a kilometre of the bird, I quickly made my way across the open bog, where I met up with Dermot Breen, who i'd been unsuccessfully trying to get on the bird from afar. After cresting an unseen ridge we both managed to get pretty good views of the bird. I was so enamoured with the Owl that I went back two weeks later for seconds, and the day after again for even more! I've now gone a whole 18 days without seeing a Snowy Owl and think I might be getting withdrawal symptoms, could be time for another trip out west sometime soon...
    Patchwise I had a good December, finding a nice first winter/female type Black Redstart at Barna Pier, the first site record. Later on in December I managed to pick up a Forsters Tern at Barna Pier too, on the rocks to the west of the Pier. Although there's every chance that it's the returning bird from Nimmo's I was nonetheless utterly taken aback to see it there, another site first. 
    The past two months have been productive for wildfowling too. While out with Dermot I got to see Lesser Scaup and Green-winged Teal, although these distant birds only allow for dodgy phone-scoped record shots. 

Moving Portrait of some sedentary Granite boulders. This is about equal to the best binocular view to be had at this distance 

if you use your imagination you can just about make out a snowy owl. Scope views were actually quite amazing from even this distance
The Black Redstart at Barna Pier, a bit of a rare treat so I spent a good while photographing it

The Forsters Tern at Barna Pier. Note ringed sandwich tern to its left

Turnstones rifling through sand

Garden birding ends up becoming the staple of an exam-preparing student like myself. Nothing better to bring oneself back to the present moment like the incessant flitter of a chiming Goldcrest. 


Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Florida Part 3: Palm Beach Area

It's been quite a while since the last blogpost on Florida but I will take up where I left off and work on getting some more out in the next month.
    After leaving Orlando we headed south to stay in Palm beach for about a week with friends of the family. This area was extremely affluent and built up with many mansions and country clubs, including the house of a certain US presidential nominee who shall not be named. Although it was hard to see the house for the massive wall.
    There's a long beach here, and as it was thronged with people it wasn't brilliant for birdlife. The local pier however had some friendly if not slightly menacing Brown Pelicans that were waiting for scraps from the fishermen. Laughing Gull and Royal tern were also seen here. On a non avian note it was pretty cool to see the masses of Portuguese-Man-of-War that were washing up on the strand. These nasty stinging jellies kept us out of the water here for a long time. A couple of days into our stay at Palm Beach I discovered a small unassuming boardwalk across lake worth called Snook Islands Natural Area. It was one of the shortest boardwalks I have ever encountered but it produced a surprising wealth of new birds for me. I had my first Red-Bellied Woodpeckers nesting in a tree here, and saw a good few new waders. American Oystercatcher were breeding here, in what I later found out is one of the few spots on the Atlantic coast in Florida in which they breed, the population mostly being found on the Gulf coast. Spotted Sandpiper, Least sandpiper, Short billed Dowitcher, Black Bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover and Least Tern were all new birds here also. I was watching the spotted sandpiper in the heat of the afternoon when an ominous black shape appeared. This intimidating bird glided purposefully past giving good views. A Magnificent Frigatebird! Not quite what I was expecting to find in such an urban area but wow what a bird! Another of these fine creatures later passed by, giving good views. These are extremely agile seabirds which get their prey by harassing other seabirds and forcing them to give up their catch, similar to the behaviour of skuas, in what is known as kleptoparasitism.
     In our time here in Palm Beach I got to visit some other great birding spots, but they will be written up in full in their own blog posts which should be on their way soon 

Brown Pelican

Laughing Gull 

Laughing Gull

Mottled Duck

Royal Tern



Green Iguana - These cool reptiles were quite common in some areas, here bathing in the sun, But I later learned that they are quite a serious invasive species causing some problems in the local ecosystem.

Green Heron - Very approachable and stunning plumage, quite a change from birds in Ireland!

Spotted Sandpiper. I spent some time trying to point this bird out to a pair of birdwatchers who happened upon me watching it. Much to my amusement after nearly 15 minutes of pointing and very precise directions they managed to see it. It was interesting to compare this to our common sandpiper, with the intention of picking out a spotted back home at some point in the future.

Least Tern
Magnificent Frigatebird

Add caption

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Florida Part 2: Merritt Island and Gatorland

I've been very busy since my last post but I will continue where I left off. This post is on our final two days in the Orlando area.
    The day after we got our rental car we headed east to Titusville, to visit Merritt Island NWR. We spent a whole day exploring this area, the most productive birding of the trip to that point. We drove the black point wildlife drive and did some other birding around the island, as well as checking out the manatees which were also present. The day was fairly cold and windy, which definitely reduced the standards of the days birding, but I did end up seeing almost 60 species. The highlights for me being Reddish Egret, Roseate spoonbill, Belted Kingfisher, Willet, Eastern Meadowlark as well as Florida Scrub-Jay, although the views of this species were unfortunately rather brief. Here I saw the first yank waders of the trip, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Willet, Dunlin, Killdeer and Long-Billed dowitcher. We also saw first our first wild alligator here.
    The wildlife drive and ponds on Merritt really had astounding levels of birdlife, nearly all of which were incredibly tame. The quality of the photography from the day is slightly lower than that of the last post, as most of it was taken from the car or road. 
    The day after the trip to Merritt Island we left Orlando and made our way south to Palm Beach. Before leaving Orlando we spent the morning at Gatorland, a "Theme Park" renowned for its alligators and crocs, as well as its breeding heron/egret rookeries. Here I had good views of Swallow-Tailed Kite and my first Black-crowned Night heron and Downy Woodpeckers of the trip.
Little Blue Heron -
One of the more common herons in Florida but stunning birds and they were always a pleasure to see in adult plumage like this.

American White Ibis

Lesser Yellowlegs

Glossy Ibis

Blue-Winged Teal

Pied-Billed Grebe

Roseate Spoonbill, Adult in breeding plumage

White Pelicans

Great Egret in the centre, background gives a bit of a flavour of the abundance of birdlife here.

Northern Flicker peeking out of nest hole

Phone-scoped Eastern Meadowlark

Manatee tail fluke

Manatee head

American Kestrel

Next pole up from the Kestrel, Osprey

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Swallow-Tailed Kite

Downy Woodpecker

Blue-grey Gnatcatcher

Black Vulture