Saturday, 18 December 2021

Winterbirding: Brent geese in Dublin

Winterbirding: More putative ‘grey-bellied brant’ in Dublin this winter?

On the 14th it December Joe proudfoot found a nice feeding flock of 1100 Brent geese at Killbarrack Co. Dublin. This flock contained two adult dark-bellied Brent and what appears to be a male ‘grey-bellied Brant’. This bird appears to be a different individual to another adult male that Brian McCloskey found in Co. Louth earlier this winter. An adult male (the same or perhaps another male) was seen at Blackrock Dublin a few days later. 

The main issue still remains regarding the uncertainty behind the ‘grey-bellied brant’. The Uncertainty refers to the fact is this brant a separate race, or is it a hybrid between two other brent/brant races? This is the question that still remains. The fact that any genetic work to date has not proven conclusive then the hybrid option may be the case? Even with all this uncertainty I am very keen to document these individuals showing up around Ireland to try and get a better understanding of their identification features. It takes a team to work on these subjects not just one person so the more the merrier when working with these types of tricky identifications. A good number of dark-bellied brent have been recorded this winter in Dublin also which is great to hear. This may mean more people are paying attention to brent identification than in previous years.

Putative adult male ‘grey-bellied Brant’ with adult male dark-bellied brent and pale-bellied brent - Joe Proudfoot

Even with the strong afternoon sunshine beaming down on this bird you can still clearly see that the under parts are far darker to that of the pale-bellied present to the right and is a different colour tone to that of the dark-bellied.

Putative adult male ‘grey-bellied brant’ being attacked by adult male dark-bellied brent - Joe Proudfoot

Note: Broad white neck collar on putative grey-bellied brant’ and similar on the adult male dark-bellied and is what you would expect to see on a black brant almost. Also note the darker brown/grey under parts contrasting with the whiter flanks similar to that of a black brant.

Putative ‘grey-bellied brant’ and dark-bellied brent - Joe Proudfoot 

Note: darker upper parts of the putative’grey-bellied’ to dark-bellied and pale-bellied brent. The upper parts of the dark-bellied are a light brown-grey to that of the ‘grey-bellied’ and then again the even greyer pale-bellied upper parts.

In this photo you can just about make out that the dark runs in between the legs here which is always a very good indication that you are not viewing a pure pale-bellied brent.

A series of images all taken from screen grabs of Joe Proudfoots video footage. The flanks can clearly be seen to be whiter than the adult male dark-bellied to it’s right along with the grey-brown under parts and then the upper parts of the ‘grey-bellied’ are darker. Strong lighting situation’s will of course affect just how dark both the upper and under parts appear on any brent/brant. 

I hope to see some more of these geese this winter and get some nice images to work off for more documentation and project work on wintering Irish brent/brant races.

Many thanks to two good friends of mine for their insights and photos once again. And they of course are Brian McCloskey and Joe Proudfoot.

#winterbirding #Irishbirding #brent #brant #vikingoptical #birdguides #Dublin

Monday, 24 May 2021

Ireland's Seventh Marsh warbler

 Ireland’s seventh Marsh warbler

Marsh warbler singing - Cahore marsh, Wexford - Cian Cardiff

Cahore marsh is well known for its large numbers of breeding reed warbler in summer. In fact it could be one of the most important sites in Ireland for this migrant species. On the 27th of June 2017 just after myself and my parents had moved to Kilmuckridge, Wexford (which is about five minutes from cahore) I went down the marsh for a few hours birding. And I was not expecting to find a seventh record for Ireland. After finding a lovely juvenile little ringed plover in the muddy section of the back marsh I then moved on after the little ringed had flown over my head towards the central marsh. As I opened the gate to walk down the track between the two drainage ditches, I suddenly heard a loud warbler singing its heart out from low downin the reeds to my left. I knew that this did not sound like a reed warbler which I was so used to hearing from mid-April on here. I thought to myself this sounds interesting, trying not to get too excited just in case it was a male reed warbler giving an unusual song. I stayed in the same spot listening to the bird for a couple of hours as I rang my good friend Brian Mccloskey just to let him know that I had a potential very rare bird at Cahore. Eventually I managed some reasonable sound recordings on my phone and sent them around to several birders. I then saw the bird as it creeped up a reed stalk and graced me with a lovely view as it sang from the tops of the reeds. I fired off several record shots, also sending them off to other birders. I received some great feedback that this bird was in fact what I had suspected it to be, a Marsh warbler! Only the seventh time this species had ever been recorded in Ireland to date. A mega to say the least. Thankfully Brian had left after I had figured out that this was a marsh warbler and got to see the bird that evening as it put on a great performance. As it did for several days for many to see and hear!

Marsh warbler singing - Cahore marsh, Wexford - Cian Cardiff

The bird sang constantly during it's stay and gave the opportunity for some to get sound recordings which I hope to share some time. This link is well worth a read (Marsh and Reed Warbler | Birding Frontiers ( Another link to the sound approachs work recently on acros and more. ( 

Marsh warbler singing - Cahore marsh, Wexford - Cian Cardiff

This was one of the first images I managed to obtain of the bird after it decided to come to the top of the reeds and sing. The creamy/sandy colour can be seen well from this image which really gave me the impression that this was no reed warbler.

Marsh warbler singing - Cahore marsh, Wexford - Mark Stewart

Marsh warbler singing - Cahore marsh, Wexford - Mark Stewart

Marsh warbler singing - Cahore marsh, Wexford - Mark Stewart

Thankfully this bird stayed a few weeks for many birders to enough throughout late June and early July of 2017. Hopefully this is not the last marsh warbler I see in Ireland! I have been lucky enough to now find this marsh warbler along with a cetti's and savi's in Ireland. Great reed next?

#Summerbirding #warbler #rares #Wexford #vikingoptical #irishbirding #birdguides

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Subtle 2cy dark-bellied brent

 While working on Sandymount strand this morning I came across a flock of 20 brent geese feeding close to the dune pool at Merrion gates. One of these birds was definitely standing out from the 19 pale-bellied even at a distance in the heat haze. It looked like a dark-bellied brent. As I began to move closer to the flock I could then see with my naked eye that this bird was quite stand out, definitely not a pale-bellied from what I could see so far. As I got closer to the bird and set up the scope it was no more than 20 feet away. Giving point blank views. This was a stunning but subtle 2nd calendar year dark-bellied brent. Over the past few weeks there seems to have been an influx of dark-bellys mixing with the pale-bellied along the east coast of Ireland. Jan Rod has been finding most of them and Brian Mccloskey had quite a nice count at Lurgangreen over the past month. Usually we tend to see dark-bellied brent from March into early April in good numbers, but usually just the occasional bird with a flock of pale-bellied at the usual sites. I have not seen an influx like this before really.

Many of the birds that have been found recently are 2nd calendar years. Many of which are sutble in plumage, though still eye-catching enough and showing enough classic features to be identified as dark-bellied. This particular individual was quite interesting when the light began to change. From strong sunlight to dull the birds appearance would change quite drastically. This is to be expected with most birds, but especially when dealing with brent. I was ways quite used to seeing adult dark-bellied at Kilcoole when the large flocks of up to 1000 pale-bellied would begin to gather at Kilcoole marsh in March and April with the occasional 2nd calendar year thrown in over the years. Though over the past few years I have become a lot more aware of immature birds with varying plumages as I have with adults just like the adult I had that was ringed a Presumed hybrid dark x pale-bellied that I saw at Kilcoole earlier this winter. Though I do think that bird was probably still well within range for a pure dark-bellied with white flanks. Who knows what goes on with the Hybridization in remote breeding colonies though! 

The key features that make this bird a dark-bellied include: greyish/brown upper parts with a blueish tinge, brown washed flanks and breast, light chocolate brown under belly and a nice collar that perhaps indicates that this is a young male. Most dark-bellied brent of this age that I am used to seeing in Ireland are far darker on the under parts. Though with the variation within all brent races this is something we should come to expect. It seems that more and more people are taking in the different plumage types of Brent these days and this is leading to more expensive plumages of dark-bellied, black brant and the possible subspecies of the 'Grey-bellied brant'. Always a lot to learn about brent races. Luckily enough they will have departed quite soon to breeding grounds in Arctic Canada and Siberia for the dark-bellied so you guys won't have to read anymore about brent geese 🤔😅

A lot more to be discovered next autumn when the brent arrive back again. And I look forward to seeing what we can find. Hopefully a few black brant which always seen to elude me!

A set of phonescoped image's can be found below. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera with me which is quite typical considering how close the bird was showing! But there's always next time ⌚📷

2cy Dark-bellied brent (left) adult pale-bellied (right)

#springbirding #Dublinbirding #brent #geese #wildfowl #Vikingoptical #BirdGuides 

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Spring gulling in Wicklow

 For many years I have been watching a small estuary in Wicklow Town. Myself and my father would check this site regularly when we both lived in the county. Nowadays I am lucky to have some work in the area and I can check this beautiful place regularly each month. This is Wicklow's only 'large' estuary bar the small tidal lagoon known as the breaches at Kilcoole marsh further north which is also part of the Murrough wetlands.

Broad lough is well known for it's gull flocks, though these flocks rarely produce any rare or scarce gulls. Over my years of birding here the rarest gull I have seen there to date is most likely Iceland which tells you about all you need to know. Though it seems like an ideal site for species such as, Bonaparte's, laughing, Franklin's and Caspian. I'm sure these species have showed up there on occasions as it is a rather underwatched location. The rarest bird apart from gulls I have seen there would be a stunning adult female red-necked phalarope myself and my father found back in June 2015 which was a lifer for both of us and a brilliant finds tick!

I love sifting through the gull flocks here as you just never know what you might stumble upon! The joys of birding. Each August an adult yellow-legged gull returns and stays right through into November at least. This is a rare occasion of a yellow-legged gull returning to the same site year on year. This bird is now returning since August 2015. I first saw the bird that same month at the same location and began to see it ever time I visited the site for a few months. The bird then seems to depart around mid November. Occasionally the odd Yellow-legged gull will drop into the lough for a while and have a wash. I've seen birds from 2nd calendar year right up to adult at this site. No Caspians just yet!

The main gull species at this estuary are common species as you would expect. Herring, great black-backed, black-headed and common gulls. Lesser black-backed gulls also pass though mainly in spring as they migrate to breeding grounds. Any time lesser black-backed gulls pass though a site I get quite excited, as they are notorius for being a species that attracts rarer species such as Yellow-legged and Caspian. I have been lucky to see at least three different adult intermiduis type lesser black-backed gulls here over the years. All three being strikingly dark and long winged, though not fitting the bill for the far rarer Baltic race!

Today (20 April) I was delighted to pick up a dark lesser black-backed in my binoculars as I scanned the gull flock at the south end of the estuary. While setting up the scope on it the flock had moved around slightly. I refound the bird and it was a striking Intermedius type. Dark upper parts (slightly lighter than nearby Great Black-backed) but far darker than any of the other 11 greallsii that where also in the roost. One of which was strikingly pale, a 3rd calendar year type bird which I will attach some photos of below. I managed to document the Intermedius type quite well by phinescoping as I had no camera (typically).

After being at the site for a couple of hours and enjoying studying the Intermedius type I lifted my head from the scope to see a bleached almost pure white 2nd calendar year Iceland gull had popped into the roost also! Bingo, just my second ever record for here. I had also seen a 2nd calendar year at Arklow the week before that had become very faithful to the area. In terms of Wicklow this was a very good day's gulling, it's the little things when your birding these kind of sites! Most of the time you see nothing much at all. A nice flock of dark Arctic type ringed plover with the migrating dunlin where also nice to see. One day I'll find something worth tweeting out as a MEGA there hopefully! 😉

Adult herring gull pair showing fleshy yellow legs (More yellow in real life) I had seen a single adult showing leg colour very similar to these birds at exactly the same spot a couple of years ago. I had seen two adult herring gulls with bright yellow legs like that of a yellow-legged or lesser black-backed at Carne beach a couple of years ago, all of the above being the common breeding race of argenteus. 

Adult/near-adult Intermedius lesser black-backed gull. A striking dark bird, long winged with an unusual primary pattern, mainly mirrors p9 and 10 being so white. A bird I enjoy spending time watching in the field, as they are not recorded very regularly in Ireland, though probably under recorded. 

2nd calendar year Iceland gull in very worn/bleached plumage. Intermedius in the background in the last image. 

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Wexford Gull bonanza

                                           Spring birding

                              2cy Caspian gull

                       3cy Bonaparte's gull 

For many years I have been extremely caught up on gulls. Myself and my father would spend hours searching through gulls in Wicklow and South Dublin on the weekends when I was off school and he off work. He never really had the same interest in them as me, but never tried to take my very keen interest away. We used to spend are Saturday and Sunday mornings checking Bray Harbour looking for anything out of the ordinary. As a teenager there was just so much variation to take in with all these gulls. Even just looking at a flock of herring gulls was mesmerising, the variation in one species was amazing. So much to learn about these birds that are often regarded as not important or interesting in identification by some! Though, this is far from the case in my opinion. 

Two species that have always caught my attention while viewing them online or in books are the Caspian and Bonaparte's gulls. Both rare species in Ireland, the Caspian has been recorded to a lesser extent in Ireland to date. I was lucky enough to see an adult Caspian gull at Duncannon, Wexford back in 2016. Along with another adult at Kildavin, Carlow back in 2018. I have wanted to find one of these very rare large white headed gulls for many years in Ireland and was delighted when a First-winter (2nd calendar year) bird drifted by me while searching through some herring gulls that were moving south along the Wexford coastline. This was unfortunately only a brief view of a magnificent gull. The bird did not land and just continued south. A very special moment for anyone that is keen on gulls in Ireland to experience. For some reason Ireland seems to be quite a few adult caspian gull records over any other age. Is this due to the lack of knowledge about other ages of this species or are other age groups genuinely rarer? Caspian gulls are a special species of gull, quite a magnetic looking gull in my opinion. And are one that perhaps is going missed in Ireland? Not many Irish birders are quite keen enough on gulls to spend hours and days on end sifting through gull flocks across the country, though this is understable if gulls are not your thing. Though, when the graft is put in by the gullers the twitches are quite happy to tick and run after all your hard work of finding something rare! But that's the way it goes. 

The second gull that has been one that has eluded me for several years is the Bonaparte's gull. A North American species that is closely related to the European Black-headed gull. Over the years I had tried to twitch several of these rare altantic vagrants to no avail. But a 2nd winter bird found by Killian Mullarney in Wexford harbour in March would change this! Myself and John Murphy decided to check the south slob and Wexford harbour for any potential vagrants. After hopping up onto the sea wall to check Wexford harbour we were greeted with a large feeding frenzy of black-headed gulls. It was a low tide, the lowest I've ever seen in the harbour. Leaving a vast area of exposed mud for birds to feed on. As I lifted my eye from the scope I spotted a smaller gull amongst the close black-headed flock, not quite as small as a little but not terribly far off. As I raised my binoculars, the bird flew. Showing a stunning pristine white underwing, this could mean only one thing especially going on the size. This was the species I had long been awaiting to see in Ireland. The Bonaparte's gull! I ran down to let John know and then we tried to refind the bird. For about 10 minutes with no joy. After about 15 minutes had passed since seeing the bird I then came across the bird feeding, far more distant at this stage among the black-headed flock. A clear cut 2nd winter Bonaparte's gull! The same individual that had been found a few weeks previously. Delighted to have finally seen the species, my next mission was to find one of my own. And I did so just a couple of days later on my north Wexford patch. After a day of survey work I decided to give the back marsh of Cahore a couple of hours going over. There had been a nice black-headed gull flock there all winter that had attracted in some little gulls on and off over the winter and early spring. So I reckoned something rare could show up with this every changing flock of birds. Luckily that was true! A large flock of black-headed gulls had came in from the south and began to have a wash when they were flushed by a soaring buzzard. They flew over my head, going west, inland! I quickly noticed that one bird showed a very white underwing, it couldn't, surely not. Yes, it was a Bonaparte's gull! Absolutely amazing to see one on my local patch. A dream bird to see there. The bird countied to fly inland with the flock and then began to disappear out of sight. Luckily enough I had managed 

Watch this space for more substantial gull work in the not so distant future! 

#Gulls #Irishbirding #gulling #Vikingoptical #Birdguides 

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

First-winter European White-fronted goose on the patch


Spring Birding: Surprise Russian on the patch

First-winter Russian white-fronted goose flying with whooper swans, Cahore marsh, Wexford

After writing an identification piece on sepearting the Greenland and Russian white-fronted geese from an Irish context a few months ago I was then delighted to find a First-winter Russian white-fronted goose had stopped off on my local Wexford patch for a few days. This is the second Russian (European) White-fronted goose I have seen at Cahore to date. The other being and adult in October of 2016 that was an early arrival and mixed with the greylag flock for just one day before likely departing to the Wexford wildfowl reserve were it would mix with the far more common Greenland white-fronted geese flocks for the winter. This is now the around the tenth time I have seen this European subspecies of the Greater white-fronted goose in Ireland. Most of these being in Wexford and one in Wicklow which was also a First-winter. 

I had seen this goose with the whoopers after arriving at Cahore in the early afternoon and viewed from quite a distance. The bird sitting on the water appeared to be a Greenland white-fronted with an obvious orange bill. However it was just the string sunlight and heat haze that suggested this as when I saw the bird later in the afternoon in flight and then again on the water it clearly was no Greenland white-fronted. Myself and Brian Haslam watched the bird flying distantly with the whoopers and you could see the broader white tail edge was quite striking, giving me a good indication that this was in fact a Russian white-fronted. The upper wing was also paler with a hint of a blue hue, short wings and a short neck could also be seen while in fight. As the bird turned it was clear that the bill was extremely short and showed a lot of white around the base of the face. All good indicators for a First-winter Russian white-fronted. The under parts were not well marked and appeared brown throughout, lacking the bold black markings of an adult. When viewing the bird preening the next day I could see the start of some of these bold markings emerging on the belly. 

I had received an email after finding the bird at Cahore Marsh to say that the First-winter Russian white-fronted that had been present all winter on the Gearagh, Co. Cork had left with the whooper swans. The Cahore Russian white-fronted was with whoopers and only whoopers for it's short stay. After comparing some images of the Cork and Wexford bird/s it was quite evident that this is in fact the same First-winter individual! Quite a nice bird to track as it migrants towards Iceland with the whoopers swans for the summer months. Mid Sunday evening and the whoopers accompanied by the Russian white front left Cahore and began their journey north. Perhaps they will be seen again along the way, or maybe the goose will be recorded in Iceland along with it's new found family of whooper swans. 

First-winter Russian white-fronted goose, Cahore marsh, Wexford, 20 March
A digiscoped image taken in strong late afternoon sunlight. Always sticking close to the whooper Swan flock while in the water and feeding on the grasslands. This bird occasionally swam by a mallard on the water and it wasn't much bigger than the duck. Also very short necked and bodied which made it stand out while swimming amongst the whoopers and greylag. 

These digiscoped images show the key features of this First-winter quite well. They include: short pink bill, white around the base of the face, short pale neck, pale brown head, lighter brown upper parts with a blue hue to the wings, far paler than any of the Greenland white-fronted present. The outer tail feathers are broader white than a Greenland white-fronted goose also. Which I have documented in an image below while the bird was dabbling in the water. See the below set of digiscoped images for the bird upside down feeding that shows the tail off . This image was darkened to make the tail stand out. In general the bird was far paler than any Greenland white-fronted geese I've seen in Ireland and would definitely stand out due to this and it's size from a Greenland flock. 

A series of edited digiscoped images over the weekend of this rare Russian vagrant, hope you enjoy. I sure did! Don't forget to check out my identification guide to Greenland and European white-fronted geese in this link: The life of an Irish birder : Winter Birding: Greenland vs Russian white-fronted goose Identification

Thanks to Joe Doolan and John Lynch for information on the Cork birds movements.

#Wildfowl #BirdID #WFG #albifrons #VikingOptical #BirdGuides

Winterbirding: Brent geese in Dublin

Winterbirding: More putative ‘grey-bellied brant’ in Dublin this winter? On the 14th it December Joe proudfoot found a nice feeding flock of...