Wednesday 18 October 2023

Patch birding madness, Cahore marsh, October 2023.

October can be a good month for patch birding given autumn migration is in full swing. Though this year I didn’t expect my patch to go on such a good run! On my first visit for some time I picked up a glossy ibis flying in the distance before two more flew close by, leading me to think it was likely that three birds had been present. After a while I saw the three together. I then scanned picking up one then two juvenile curlew sandpipers, a rare bird for the patch and only my second and third ever! Followed by scanning to see a first-winter grey phalarope swimming and picking at the water’s surface at the south end of the now flooded marsh! A patch tick ✔️
Glossy ibis Cahore marsh, Ruff also with the 3 ibis in flight... Another visit a few days later and I had added cattle egret, three greater scaup (another patch tick ✔️) both Cetti’s warbler sang for a few hours also that day. And I then went on to scan a large mixed flock of black-tailed godwit, European golden plover and Eurasian teal to discover a long-billed dowitcher feeding among the mixed flock! Yet another patch tick ✔️ and one of my most desired!! Rev dowitcher proved to be very elusive and not showy when seen over the several days. Often just seen and heard while in flight around various areas of the marsh. And not to forgot the beaded reedlings that are regularly flitting among the reedbeds around the marsh, often catching glimpses or snatches of their characteristic ‘ping ping’ calls.
First-winter Grey phalarope and Juvenile Dunlin and 2 Curew sandpipers... A visit the next day was in order to see what could be found and what may still be present still on site. I scanned the tufted duck flock that has been present recently to find the three greater scaup still present along with a very intriguing individual. Not a greater scaup or tufted it seemed. The head shape had immediately struck me, the peak to the back of the head compared to the rounded head of the greater scaup especially really stud out! I couldn’t be looking at a lesser scaup on my north Wexford patch could I? After a few hours of distant views and phonescoped images I rang my father to let him know what I suspected I had found and then my good friend Brian Mccloskey for his views on my poor record images and for his knowledge on lesser scaup/diving duck identification. After eventually getting good views and better images I sent them onto Killian Mullarney whom was speedy to respond with exactly what I wanted to hear, he suggested that my bird looked good for a first-winter male lesser scaup but it would be good to see the bill pattern better as it appeared to show quick a lot of black away from the nib. I managed to capture some poor flight images of the bird in question and this nailed a perfect wing pattern of pale inner wing bar and greyish outer wing bar! I could also see the grey on the upperparts, mantle beginning to come through and white beginning to emerge along the brownish flanks. The bird often appeared slightly smaller and slighter than the tufted ducks it was present alongside and far smaller and slender than the three accompanying greater scaup.
First-winter male lesser scaup,with tufted duck, a first for Cahore and second for Co, Wexford...Also a female type Greater Scaup in flght image 1... I saw the bird again a couple of days later in fantastic morning light while guiding and could see the bill pattern (black restricted or mostly restricted to the nail, can be more valuable in first-years I believe) was just about spot on for a pure lesser scaup, good flight views also again and I don’t think there can be much doubt about this one! A mega for Co, Wexford and my patch! A selfinds tick ✔️ also to just add to the excitement!! While on this day’s guiding event I picked up a juvenile Goosander flying over the sand dunes and around the marsh, my fifth patch tick ✔️ in the month of October after a spell without any over the summer months (Which is usually to be expected when things can be very quiet on the patch).
Cattle egret and Greater scaup... With thanks to everyone whom gave me feedback on the lesser scaup.

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Autumn birding 2023: Inishmore Island, Galway

Storms on the horizon and the chance of American birds hitting Irelands coastline gave myself and Joe Proudfoot an easy decision to make, with Hugh Delaney also heading out onto the island with us. We had to head west, this would give us the best opportunity of connecting with some of these American birds that had been migrating from north to South America and ended up blown across the Atlantic to Ireland. This sounded like a foolproof plan at the time, and in fairness it would make sense to base yourself on an island in the Atlantic after a storm has hit in autumn! Some fantastic birds had shown up before we left and even when we arrived on the island elsewhere in Ireland and the UK, giving us even more hope!
Inishmore... The weather conditions were never exactly easy to look for passerines in. Wind or rain was a feature of most of the 6 days on the island that we spent. Our original plan was 4 night but that soon changed when another storm left us with no option but to stay on the island an extra night. Arriving on Thursday last and leaving just yesterday (Tuesday). This was my first time on the Aran islands, and Inishmore to be exact. A lovely island, but for me a little too big and full of cover for searching for vagrant passerines. A pretty slow start for the most part, though Hugh did pull out a red-eyed vireo on the 21st which happened to be my 25th birthday! And I saw the bird on the 22nd which was a lifer for me, and giving me my 296th bird species that I have seen in Ireland to date! Which isn’t bad going for somewhere that isn’t a big twitcher. Joe stated that he picked up an interesting wigeon on the lake and for me to get on it with my scope. I did just that and after a while and some discussion we found eclipse male American wigeon to be the correct fit! The bird was among Eurasian wigeon which gave a nice comparison and contrast between the two species. Over the next few days we had very little of note seeing the American wigeon a few more times and very little else! An educational bird to pick up and spend some time watching!
A series of images of the eclipse male American wigeon. The grey head with contrasting dark eye mask, bright grey-blue bill, rufous flanks with clean white belly, clean white rather than grey-white (shown on Eurasian) axillaries on the underwing. striking bird even when seen at distance with binoculars. A brighter bird than Eurasian birds present. Always an enjoyable plumage to see in this species! Most likey to be the bird that spent the winter here for the past few years, but is not often found or looked for while in this eclipse plumage.
Red-eyed vireo... A difficult island to work and a bit of a slog at times, though we did book into a B&B that was around a forty to fifty minute walk from the west end of the island the the village! Which made things a little more difficult, the bikes did help but not always easy to cycle around all day! You win some and you lose some! Autumn isn’t over yet!
Leaving the island after 6 days! Pomarine and Arctic skua along with some European strom petrel seen from the ferry also.

Monday 11 September 2023

Autumn birding, Wexford 2023.

Joe and myself on Tacumshin lake... Each autumn I plan on spending around a week around south Wexford birding. A nice break from the busy work schedule, though I often lead a few tours on the weekends while I’m down showing my clients what Wexford has to offer during the autumn migration. And these tours rarely disappoint! If you are interested in coming along just get in touch with me and I will organise an itinerary for some great birding!
Me seawatching at Carnesore point... This year was no different in terms of my plan of action, I stayed very close to Tacumshin lake being able to see parts of the main lake from the house I had rented out for the few days. Some months ago I was asked if I would be available and interested in doing some Co-leading of birding tours with Oriole birding whom had a birding group over from the UK. This was a great opportunity for me to begin to branch out my guiding business and work with a fantastic company that have been in the business for many years!
Young Whinchat at Tacumshin... After arriving back from Inishbofin on the 6th of September after a successful few days of leading tours on the island. I then made my way to Wexford on the morning of the 7th to Co-lead the Wensum valley birdwatching society from Norfolk while they arrived over for a four day birding trip with Ashley (Oriole birding). The first day got off to a nice start meeting the group and seeing what Tacumshin had to offer. We began our days birding at the forgotten corner, scanning the lake and surrounding areas. Ashley picked up a beautiful juvenile whinchat which is always a great sight in Ireland, and especially when this bird is likely to have arrived while on its migration south to Africa! The temperatures began to rise as the day progressed and birding was difficult, but we continued on and walked onto the lake from the high car park/east end. While on the lake we saw at least five juvenile little stint which showed well at times along with a handful of juvenile curlew sandpipers and not to forget a lovely dainty juvenile wood sandpiper also. A juv hen harrier showed nicely at times while it quartered the lakes edges and grasslands.
The gang watching the juvenile kentish plover at sunset on Tacumshin lake... After leaving the group after a days birding and a quick rest up. I then headed for stoney point at Tacumshin which gives a fantastic viewpoint over the lake and surrounding areas. As the light began to fade I noticed three glossy ibis had arrived in and had begun to preen on the lakes edge. Presumably the birds that have been around for some time now! I also had very distant views of a marsh harrier as it looked for its last potential meal of the day flying with the sunset in the background. A distant skua species over the beach had my interest for a few minutes as it harassed terns offshore, the bird appeared to be a pomarine on the general body structure, but unfortunately was too distant to be sure of its identification!
Juvenile little stint among dunlin Tacumshin... Day two of the tour and we headed out to Carnsore point in search of any migrants that may have arrived in the fog that night or early morning. Lots of activity with at least 10 blackcap feasting on berries, several common chiffchaff, a handful of common whitethroat, 2-3 spotted flycatcher and a sedge warbler present along the well vegetated lane to the point. The group walked the point with myself and Ashley and we had a nice flyby Merlin, and couple of white wagtails and some whimbrel around the main point area. But no rares that we had hoped for!
Spotted flycatcher Carnsore point... Churchtown was next on our agenda. 2 pied flycatcher had been here for a few days and we managed some very poor and brief views of both as they flicked from tree to tree. Always a nice bird to get during your tours and in general a good bird to see in Ireland! A few blackcap and common chiffchaff best of the rest in the area. A quick coffee pits top was needed at Carne, a scan around the area revealed some Mediterranean gulls flying around though little else of note. Rosslare back strand was quiet as the tide was still rather high, though a juvenile peregrine falcon gave a nice view for the group! A look around stoney point and the forgotten corner and we added marsh harrier to the trip list for all of the group, a common enough bird for the group back home but always a nice scarcity over here! It was then time to say our goodbyes to the gang. A nice two day Co-guiding to say the least!
Juvenile Kentish plover Tacumshin... A good friend of mine, Joe Proudfoot said he would join me in Wexford for a few days and we could bird around the area. And here’s what we say over the few days. We had brief views of a single pied and spotted flycatcher at churchtown, while an arctic skua was flying around offshore here also. We picked up a juvenile spotted redshank was a very welcome find at Lady’s island for myself and Joe, this is now a very scarce bird in Ireland and a difficult bird to see and find away from returning wintering individuals. A short-eared owl was a big surprise as it appeared from the thick fog at ring marsh on the evening of the 8th. While three glossy ibis flew out from the marsh also. Juvenile little stint, curlew sandpipers and one wood sandpiper had continued at Tacumshin. We did manage to track down the juvenile pectoral sandpiper also and that bird gave some nice though distant views while among the dunlin flocks. A little ringed plover have a high pitched call overhead on the lake on the 9th. The juvenile hen harrier was kicking about while we wandered the lakes shores also.
Short-eared owl Ring marsh...
Glossy ibis Ring marsh... On the evening of the 9th after some much needed resting. Myself and Joe headed out across the lake at Tacumshin in the hopes that something new may have dropped in! And our hopes soon became a reality when Joe said can I look at a bird in your scope. I said of course, Joe then asked me to look in and give my opinion on what this bird was. A plover species clearly when I looked in, and to my amaze this bird was a juvenile Kentish plover! A very rare bird for Ireland with around 20 Irish records to date!! Joe had just gone and picked up this magnificent bird which had really blown this trip out of the water! And for me it is always brilliant to be involved with finding something so rare! Killian Mullarney and Aidan Kelly had been standing with us chatting away as we scanned the flocks so they had been on hand to lend their expertise for this bird’s identification also. The bird flew off with some common ringed plover as it called and disappeared behind the Sandy dunes heading for the beach. We arrived the next morning to try and relocate the bird with no luck. After a few hours I received a phone call from Kieran Grace to say he had just found a juvenile buff-breasted sandpiper among the beach! Myself and Joe left the patches and slogger through the sand to get eyes on this magnificent wader species. The bird showed well for a short period before flying away down the beach out of sight. A good flock of white wagtails feeding along the seaweed gave some nice views there also. As did an arctic skua harassing gulls and seabirds just offshore. Hard to beat Tacumshin during migration!
Juvenile buff-breasted sandpiper on the beach, Tacumshin... A fantastic trip spent with great people and seeing great birds. Until the next one! Which will be leading tours in October of Inishbofin island, Galway in search of rare vagrants! Fingers crossed 🤞 Cian (The life of an Irish birder)

Saturday 8 July 2023

Finding rare birds in Ireland: Part 1

 Finding rare birds part 1:

The story of finding my dream bird, Black-winged stilt, Cahore marsh, Wexford, 10th May 2023. 

After twitching a black-winged stilt on the 11th of April with a friend of mine, Mark Stewart I thought this maybe my only chance of seeing this magnificent wader species in Ireland this year at least (as I am sure I’ll see quite a few more throughout the years 🤞). This long winged and legged elegant wader species has been always on my radar as a ‘find’, especially at my local patch, Cahore marsh, Co, Wexford. The habitat here in early spring is always absolutely bang on for this species, though in most years we don’t have an influx like we did in spring 2023. 

Anyway, down to the two days of mega patch birding. The 9th and 10th of May. I spent the morning and early afternoon at a work site like I do most days depending on the survey and then I would tend to go for a ramble down to Cahore marsh. The habitat over the previous days I had been here was incredible looking and Brian Haslam had found a great white egret around the south pools and flood the morning of the 9th of May. I had been very keen to see this bird and after my survey headed for the south end of the marsh. Almost immediately after arriving I could see the great white egret feeding among some grey heron in the south pools/flood. A fine start to any afternoons birding in Ireland! As I began to walk down the south track I picked up a glossy ibis flying over the south end before dropping in and walking out of view. Luckily I managed some ropey record shots before it disappeared into cover and I didn’t see it again! I also had some brief views of a drake garganey among vegetation in the back marsh along with the two singing Cetti’s warbler that had been present for some time now. This was a fantastic day on the patch, but still no black-winged stilt! 

The drought conditions in southern Europe seem to have had an effect on why Ireland and Britain saw such unprecedented numbers of rare vagrants such as black-winged stilt, night heron and purple heron mainly. 

On the 10th of May I did pretty much the same as on the 9th. Working, this time quite close by in Co, Wexford leaving me with a little more time to spend walking Cahore when I was done my surveys. Was today to be the ultimate days patch birding? You bet your life it was. The afternoon actually started out rather quiet and I didn’t see much while walking the south end of the marsh, hearing one of the male Cetti’s singing and drake garageny were the only bird of note. I then decided to walk into the central marsh to see if I could find any rare herons such as night or purple that had been showing up around the country over the past month or so. No joy there, but I did see a couple of bearded reedling which is always a treat. After a couple of very heavy downpours I was beginning to think that many of the birds I had seen the previous day had perhaps left or maybe they were just hiding from the heavy rain and thunder like I should have been! As I began to get tired I was undecided whether to walk into the back marsh field for a nice height advantage over the flooded areas. Knowing that if I didn’t check it and someone else found something I would be kicking myself so I walked slowly into the main back marsh field with my scope over my shoulder being to fade of any hope of finding something juicy! How wrong was I! As I began to set myself up and get my scope ready for scanning I looked into the eyepiece onto a small area of flood and I could not believe my eyes, I had to look in, look away and look in again to make sure this wasn’t tiredness playing tricks on me! But no, there was actually a stunning adult male black-winged stilt sitting among some mallard in the corner of Cahore back marsh. My dream had finally become a reality! If there had been any year in recent times to find a black-winged stilt then it was this year! I quickly took some distant phone scoped record shots just in case the bird flew off. I then sent a very panicked voice note to two of my great friends telling them what I had just found. They are both birders and had known how much I wanted to find this species. The bird just sat among some rocks at the waters edge for some time. Giving me the opportunity to get the news out and let my father know to get down here right away and bag himself a lifer! As I waited for his arrival some birds began to get up and flew around the back marsh, a raptor was around it seemed. And this was exactly the case. A female type marsh harrier began to fly straight for the black-winged stilt area!! Oh no I thought, great to see a marsh harrier but I had really hoped it wouldn’t flush the stilt. As the harrier flew right by the stilt I fired the camera up getting some images of both the stilt and harrier in one image! Boom, not something you will see too often in Ireland. As the stilt returned and the harrier landed out of view my father arrived. I then picked up the great white egret at a distance feeding in a large channel. My father got onto the stilt, phew! While watching the stilt the marsh harrier flew up and gave some very nice views and disturbed a drake garganey on the large pool. Two half days on the patch rewarded me with a black-winged stilt, great white egret, 2 Cetti’s warbler, 2 garganey and some bearded reedling! Not bad!! I had arrived home and had some dinner when I received a phone call from Brian Haslam to say well done on finding the stilt and that an adult night heron had just flown past him at the back marsh! Amazing but quite frustrating also considering I had been there less than 1 hour previously. I did manage to catch up with the night heron over the next few days and weeks and got some nice views. Patch birding at its very best! What will my patch throw up next?! Who knows, but I’ll keep searching. 

So far this year I have seen some fantastic birds, long may it last! 

#explore #Irishbirding #patchbirding #birdfinding

Patch birding madness, Cahore marsh, October 2023.

October can be a good month for patch birding given autumn migration is in full swing. Though this year I didn’t expect my patch to go on ...