Sunday, May 29, 2011

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis)

Every now and again a particular bird or birds give themselves up completely to the camera, this is one such occasion when an amazing 8 of these birds were at Ballycotton last September. These birds all juvenile probably never saw a human before and as such were extremely approachable and inquisitive.

The buff colour which gives the bird its name isn’t restricted to its breast but in fact covers its head, neck and the rest of the underparts. The combination of buff underparts and delicately scaly upperparts is found in only one other wader, the juvenile Ruff. To clinch he identification of this rarity you should notice the shorter, straighter bill, the cluster of fine spots on each side of the breast and the plainer face with a more open-eyed expression. In flight they look characteristically plain brown above with no white in either the wing or the tail.

Very rare visitor from America, often found in dry, grassy habitats such as golf courses and airfields as well as at the margins of wetlands.

Birds which occur in Europe must have got caught up in westerly winds as they tried to migrate from their North American breeding grounds along the Atlantic to South America.

And I got completely soaked, but it was well worth it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe )

There is only one species of wheatear that breeds in Britain and Ireland so identification is fairly straightforward.  Wheatears are a bit bigger than a Robin, have an upright stance and in flight show a conspicuous white rump and tail markings.  The males are striking with a black mask, black wings, grey back and pale underparts.  Females are not so bright and lack the black mask.

The first Wheatears can be seen at coastal localities in early March and by the end of March or early April good numbers are in the country. Exceptionally, Wheatears are recorded in late February.  The larger ‘Greenland’ race passes through slightly later.  Counts at Bird Observatories vary tremendously with the more westerly observatories generally recording higher numbers. There is some suggestion that Wheatears fly straight to their breeding grounds and that the ‘Greenland’ race tends to pause at coastal localities before starting their North Atlantic crossing to breeding grounds in Greenland and Iceland.

Male at Ballycotton

Male in song at Malin Head

Male freshly in off the sea at Knockadoon Head, Co. Cork

Autumn migrant at Ballycotton

Autumn migrant at Cape Clear.

Fantastic birds that take on a mammoth migration and certainly welcome here every spring.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Stonechats on the road to recovery

Stonechats are robin sized birds. Males have striking black heads with white around the side of their neck, orange-red breasts and a mottled brown back. Females lack the male's black head, but have brown backs and an orange tinge to their chests. Birds are frequently seen flicking their wings while perched, often doing so on the tops of low bushes. As its name suggests, birds utter a sharp loud call that sound like two stones being tapped together. They are widespread in coastal Ireland, and disperse more widely in winter. Although the species is not faring too badly in the Ireland, though has suffered after last winter. It is doing less well on the continent and is of European conservation concern, making it an Amber List species.

First fresh juvenile of the year.