Monday, 29 July 2013

Irish Birding

Whilst the birding has started to improve of late my photography seems to have taken a real nose dive. I have seen some good birds, but most of my shots have been taken at a distance and in this hot dry weather the air quality and heat haze have had a devastating effect on picture quality. The trouble is that I know this and I should have been spending more time getting closer to the birds.

Still this is a diary of what I have seen and photographed so you get the bad as well as the good.

The first success was the Turtle Dove which had been at the top of my hit list for a couple of months. I had looked at various sites and despite hearing them on a number of occasions there had been no sightings. My luck changed when I picked up Dave and we headed over to Pagham North Wall. It was all very quiet on the wall but we did manage to spot the Turtle Dove in the trees by Honer Farm. The bird was very mobile though and despite waiting a long time we could only get distant shots.

Turtle Dove

Dave was only carrying a 400mm lens but his pictures looked better than the ones I had taken using a 500mm and 1.4 converter. Heat haze, air quality, or just better skills?

I then headed off on a touring and walking holiday with the wife taking in Pembrokeshire and the South and West of Ireland. It was not a birding trip but I did have a target list and was intending to get a few hours birding along the way.

Pembrokeshire gave the first opportunity when we spotted Chough whilst walking over Stackpole Head.

Chough - It looks as though Junior still wants to be fed!

You can actually see the heat haze in the back of this shot

 Dave had told me to look out for Black Guillemot when we arrived at Rosslare Harbour and sure enough there was one there albeit a bit distant.

Black Guillimot

 One thing that I had not expected in Ireland was a complete roll reversal of Crows and Rooks. A Hooded Crow was top of my target list and I assumed that it would be easy to get a good picture of these as with Crows back home. In practice they seemed very shy and wary of anyone approaching them. The Rooks however had filled the vacant slot of picnic scavengers and were quiet happy to have their pictures taken.

Rook - beautifully groomed for the photo shoot

Hooded Crow - looking a bit tatty

Definitely does not want his picture taken

 There were lots of Terns about. We looked at the Tern Colony at Lady's Island Lake hoping to see a Roseate Tern. No luck with that but there was an Arctic Tern that ventured close enough for a picture.

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern
And, sitting on the beach one evening we watched a long procession of close on a hundred Sandwich Terns fly past carrying Sand Eels. I assume they were also heading for Lady's Island Lake but the odd thing was that there was not a single Common Tern amongst them.

Sandwich Tern

We spent a few days around the Killarney National Park and the Cork and Kerry peninsulars and I spent most of the time with one eye on the sky waiting for a White-tailed Eagle to appear. I had one slight panic when a couple of ravens drifted over a hill we were climbing but that is the closest that I got.

Lots of the usual small birds about and lots of Juveniles in confusing plumage. I got some nice pictures but I am still trying to work out what they are.

No black Guillimots as we left Rosslare, so I was unable to improve on my record shot taken on the way in, but I was tipped off that the Tuskar Rock Lighthouse, just off the coast, was a good area to look out for Manx Shearwaters. Sure enough there were lots flying about. Most were distant but I did manage a couple of decent shots before the boat disappeared into a fog bank.

Manx Shearwater

My overall impression of birding in Ireland. There are not so many species about and some of the sites are hard to find or access but overall nature is having a better time of it over there. There were far more birds and butterflies about than I see in England.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Dragonflies and Damselflies part 2

Out looking for Turtle Doves again on Monday. Tried the Arlington Reservoir area again but no luck and not many birds of any sort. My plan B for the day, was a visit to the Park Corner Heath Butterfly Reserve, but that proved to be a bit of a disappointment as well with just a couple Meadow Browns seen.

I headed for home with only a couple of pictures of Demoiselles from Arlington. These are both females. The first is clearly a Beautiful Demoiselle showing the brown tint on the wings being enhanced by sunlight. The second could be a Banded as it appears to have narrower wings and is showing a slight green tint, but this probably comes from the foliage around it and there were no other Bandeds about.

Beautiful Demoiselle Female

Demoiselle Female -  Beautiful or Banded?
It looked like a bit of a wasted day, but fortunately I used the lanes at the back of the Downs to get home and ended up at Woods Mills. I knew the pond had been drained to clear out the fish but thought it would still be worth a look. Better luck this time as there were  Dragonflies in the remnants of the pond and Demoiselles in some of the drainage channels.

Azure Blue Damselfly

Downy Emerald

Large Red Damselfly

Tuesday morning and I was sitting at home having decided that I was not going out unless I could find some birds to photograph. Then Dave called to say he knew of a pond with Black-tailed Skimmers and Red-eyed Damselflies and did I fancy a look. How could I resist such an invitation?

The Skimmers proved hard to photograph. They stayed still long enough but they favoured the muddy banks so were hard to separate from their background. We tried  putting out some perches but the Skimmers ignored them. When I got home I found that they will only perch on low vegetation when the temperature gets above 26 degrees. Another good example of the benefits of doing the research before you go instead of when you get back.

I did get one on a low perch but still could not get the separation from the background.

Black-tailed Skimmer

Most shots were on the mud or low rocks.

Black-tailed Skimmer

The Red-eyed Damselflies were a bit easier to photograph but they were in a very small area of Lilly pads and did not move about much.

Red-eyed Damselfly

Red-eyed Damselfly

We also had a look for Golden-ringed Dragonflies on one of the commons. We had possible sightings but nothing definite and no picture opportunities. There were also a couple of Emperors about but both were very mobile.

On the way home we called in at Stopham Bridge. There were lots of Banded Demoiselles there and a single Dragonfly that looked like a Southern Hawker but it did not come close enough for a photograph.

Banded Demoiselle

A great day out and I am learning a lot about Dragons and Damsels but I really need some birds to photograph.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013


There are a couple of places in the Ashdown Forest where Turtle Doves have been seen in previous years. With this bird still at the top of my target list I thought I would spend a day wandering around the forest and if nothing else I should be able to pick up a Redstart at the Old Lodge Nature Reserve.

I tried a few different locations. There were birds about but they were mostly Willow Warbler types or the common Tits and the best I saw in the morning were a couple of Coal Tits and a fly over Buzzard.

The Butterflies were also thin on the ground. A few Speckled Woods and what I at first thought was a Large White. Its flight looked unusual though, so I checked it out and it turned out to be a female Brimstone. I had seen males before and they are  an easily identified sulphur yellow colour. This was a much paler greenish white and very difficult to spot once it landed in amongst the tree leaves.

Female Brimstone hiding behind a couple of blades of grass

On most of the tree leaves the camouflage was perfect and the butterfly virtually impossible to spot. It was only on the darker green and distinctive shape of the Oak leaves that I got a chance of a picture.

Not quite as well camouflaged on the Oak leaves

I was hoping for a picture of the top of the wings but checking it out when I got home I found that it never sits with its wings open.

In the afternoon I headed over to Old Lodge to look for Redstarts. I could not find any adult birds but there were a few young about.

Juvenile Redstart

A bit more colour on this one so it may be the female
Showing the rusty tail

I got a little bit confused when the next bird appeared in the shot as there was no rusty tail, but this looks more like a juvenile Stonechat.

Juvenile Stonechat

and there was an adult close by

Female Stonechat

I searched around for a while but could not find a male Redstart and walking around the perimeter there were very few other birds visible, although I was serenaded by a Peacock from one of the adjacent gardens.

On the ponds there were a few Dragonfly active and I managed to get a picture of an Emperor Dragonfly. Its a pity about the background but this is the first time I have seen one grounded so any picture is a bonus.

Emperor Dragonfly

No Turtle Dove again and I am running out of places to look. Probably find that if I give up looking, one will turn up on the feeders in the back garden.