Thursday, June 18, 2009

Over the past few days I've spent quite a bit of time in the St Petersburg area, visiting Fort DeSoto twice, and Boyd hill nature preserve yesterday. I'm still adding birds to my list each day, but things are slowing down. I'm finding it very difficult to pick up passerines, with only a handful on my list.

Fort DeSoto is an amazing site, with lovely beaches and great birding. Here there were numerous heron species on offer which were very tame, as well as various species of waders, terns and magnificant frigatebirds.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fort Lauderdale

The last two days (12th & 13th) I've been in and have been travelling to and from Fort Lauderdale, which is down south of Florida, near Miami.

I'm starting to get the hang of the birding out here now, with my eye at least semi trained in. The drive to and fro was fantastic, with a total of six swallow tailed kites seen, several red tailed and red shouldered hawks, wild turkey, wood stork, numerous species of egrets and herons and many other species seen.

Double Crested Cormorant

When in the Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale area, a visit to West Lake Park offered the opportunity to photograph some approachable cattle egrets, snowy egrets and white ibis. However, due to time constraints little else was seen here. Of note in the this area was the abundance of iguanas and various other inntroduced/escaped reptiles.

Snowy Egret

White Ibis

Cattle Egret

Grasshopper sp

Green Iguana


At the end of the day, a visit to a known site yielded several burrowing owls including two adults and at least 3-4 newly fledged young. These birds were amazing to watch and were quite approachable if care and consideration was taken.

The following morning rewarded me with opportunities to photograph some closely perched northern rough winged swallows and white winged doves, of which the latter is extremely abundant in the area; mourning doves were seldom seen in comparison.

Northern rough-winged swallow

White-winged dove

On the journey home, we visited Shark Valley which is a pathway through the Everglades National Park. This place was amazing. I took some pretty mediocre pictures of a great blue heron here - the first decent view I had. There were huge numbers of florida gar in the water, those things were strange looking. The highlight of this place was a medium sized alligator which decided to pull itself out of the water and walk right past me!


Great blue heron

Red-bellied woodpecker

Red cardinal


My list out here is growing, however i'm missing quite a few warblers and all the waders. When I have time i'll post the full list on here and add to it at the end of each post. Im going to Adventure Islands today which is basically a water park full of huge slides. Can't wait. Hope ye enjoy the blog and pic's.
Talk soon,

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tampa Bay

I've arrived safe and sound at Florida and am currently in my third day here. The place is lovely although the humidity is certainly something that takes a little getting used to. The food out here is seriously good and I can see myself putting on a few pounds out here, haha. As for the birding out here - it's seriously good. As I type I can hear a flock of chimney swifts calling outside, with the odd mourning dove singing as well as screeching blue jays.

Lettuce Lake Board-Walk

Day 1 (9th June), I payed a quick visit to Lettuce Lake Park. This is an excellent site with a boardwalk stretching 3,500 feet through forestry and marshland. It hosts numerous breeding birds such as summer tanagers, prothonotary warblers, red eyed vireos, swallow tailed kites, osprey, etc. I didn't get to spend much time here this day, as there was a fairly bad thunder storm looming. However, I did get to see a pair of swallow tailed kites, many ospreys, singing parulas and a pair of downy woodpeckers. Below is a picture of a very confiding osprey at the site.


Also that day, I paid a visit to the local dog beach which is great place for seabirds including least terns, royal terns, laughing gulls, cormorants and a number of other species including loggerhead shrike, northern mockingbird, carolina wren, etc. During this visit I came across a very approachable loggerhead shrike which spent most of its time calling and hunting from a post along the beach.

Loggerhead Shrike

American Oystercatcher

Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

Day 2 (10th June), I took another visit to lettuce lake park where I saw a green heron and had several singing red eyed vireos, red cardinals, parulas etc. I also saw my first wild alligator here. On the way I saw a pair of swallow tailed kites, two dark morph short tailed hawks as well as a light morph. I also took a visit to the dog beach again where I took a number of pictures of confiding birds.

Green Heron

Mourning Dove

Brown Pelican

Boat-Tailed Grackle

Laughing Gull

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Tomorrow is officially my last day of this summer in Ireland. I'm off to Florida for three months. I'll be doing a LOT of birding and general wandering in the wilderness, so i'll be updating this a lot more regularly.
Apologies for the lack of posts in recent weeks - I was majorly bogged down with final year exams and the general debauchery associated with finishing.
I'll try to take pictures to the best of my abilities but i'm not promising masterpieces (haha). Also, I intend to keep a tab of my list/sightings over there as I build it up and gain experience out there. I'll probably throw in a few rambles and misc' posts also.
Keep in touch,
Seán R.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sea-Watching at the Old Head: 17th - May - 09

Of late there has been an incredible movement of pomarine skuas off the cork headlands with figures such as 81 being recorded from galley head, 62 from ballycotton, and similar numbers being recorded from waterford headlands.

As I hadn't done a proper seawatch yet this year; I decided to give the old head a try. So, at 5pm I met with Brian L and Harry H. We gave the plantation and the gulley at the old head a brief look, resulting in no more than a singing whitethroat on territory.

We arrived at the goldcourse at about 6:30pm and from here, we made our way to the "hollow", which was very much sheltered from the strong (20mph) South-Westerly wind. The sea looked perfect. Conditions were overcast with plenty of white horses on the sea surface. The first thing that struck us was the count of manx. There was a constant stream moving West. A one minute counted yielded an approximate 40 manx. So, roughly speaking this averages at 2400 manx per hour. As well as the manx, there were plenty of auks moving West. These included razorbill, guillemot, and a total of 18 puffins. The puffins were usually noted in groups of three to four.

One disappointing and unusual side to the seawatch was the lack of pomarine skuas! We had none. Absolutely none. This wasnt down to a lack of trying; we hardly left our eyes from the sea! The part we couldnt understand was, the night before observers from various headlands saw quite impressive numbers of the species, including a count of 38 from ballycotton, recorded up until 9pm the previous night. Whatever happened, ther just weren't there. I'm sure we'll get some later in the year. A nice bonus to this seawatch were two very close great skuas, also known as bonxies. These gave scoep filling views as they pumped their way west through the harsh conditions. Another nice addition to the day's haul was a mid-distance storm petrel.

At about 8:30pm, with no pomarine skuas and the rain, cold and dark beginning to set in; we decided to call it a day. But, watch this space - i'll get some pom's yet :P

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Marine-based birding in and outside Cork Harbour

This post is combined of both birding days in/outside Cork Harbour, and also general information on the birding which is out there for all to enjoy.

Cork Harbour is the largest of it's kind in Europe, and the birding available in the area is outstanding. As well as the birding side of things, there are also a number of cetacean species available to view and enjoy within a 2o minute journey from cobh town. In the last year alone, I have personally seen minke whales, risso's dolphins, harbour pospoise, common dolphins, and of course the resident pod of bottle-nosed dolphins.

The latter are an absolute thrill to watch. Once you don't harrass them, they WILL come to you and are generally a very lively bunch, often bow-riding, leaping out of the water, and even occassionally backflipping. This gang have a tendency of following sailboats, hugging right to the bow, allowing for amazing closeup views and photo opportunities. They approach so close that it's possible to see individuals head turning to keep an eye on you, out of apparent curiosity.

As well as cetaceans on offer, each summer it is very hard not to stumble upon basking sharks and sunfish, which reperesent the second largest fish and largest bony fish in the world, respectively! Without ever leaving the harbour, one has the opportunity to get closeup views of many common species which are usually only seen distantly through scopes. Cork Harbour offers up the opportunity to get closeup views of birds such as common, arctic and sandwich terns, three species of auks and numerous species of gull, including iceland, glaucous and mediterranean gulls.

Between August and September there is an incredible opportunity to witness immigration of mediterranean gulls, with my maximum count standing in the 40's. During this period it's possible to see double figures of juvenile med' gulls, which in my opinion look very smart upon arrival from their place(s) of birth.

By far, my most memorable day's birding took place last year, on the 13th of September. It was a flat calm, warm day. Myself and my father decided it was a perfect day for the sea, and we were by no means dissapointed. The day started out at the Irish Naval Base, located on Haulbowline island, where my father keeps the boat tied up.

Within 5 minutes of setting up the boat and leaving the mooring place, we stumbled upon numerous calling med' calls and the local, long staying glaucous gull, which was then just beginning to look like an adult, being in it's third summer plumage. This bird has been hanging around the harbour, giving excellent views since I first picked the bird up as a first winter from my work place on the 11th of Febuary, 2006. I've been following this bird each year and it's a pleasure to finally see it come into adulthood.

On the day of this particular pelagic, we only recorded 14 med gulls in the harbour, as the peak of immigration occured earlier that year. However, it was nice to see a pair of calling med gulls fly in off the sea that day. Our goal that day was to try to intersect some of the scarcer seabirds that were being recorded from numerous headlands in earlier days, including sabine's gulls, larger shearwaters, grey phalaropes, etc. It was really quite exciting heading out in search of these birds that day, as all my previous experiences of such birds were from headlands, through my telescope in the lashing rain and driving winds! The weather this day was far from those miserable conditions. In fact, it was so far from the conditions I associate with seeing such birds, I was actually quite concerned as to wheter or not we would actually see anything of note.
Upon leaving the mouth of the harbour it became quite apparent that the area of sea in close vicinity to the mouth was quite dead, in terms of bird activity! Many birds were just sitting on the water, doing little more that paddling around. This was quite worrying...

Below is part of a large raft of manx sheartwater which we met on our way out of the harbour. I find this behaviour is often the case on such calm days...

After seeing how slack the birding was close to the harbour, we decided to head far offshore (or as far as a sailboat could take us). We ended up motoring 8 nautical miles offshore, where we decided to switch off the engine and let the boat drift. We had no chum with us that day, as my dad is slightly obsessed with the cleanliness of his boat (just messing dad!:P) Well, we decided to have some lunch and at least relax and observe what we could in the unusually calm conditions. I must admit my alertness in terms of birding eased right off and I just sat there eating and taking in the scenery. That was until my dad asked me "Seán ,what's that weird looking gull with the black wedges behind you called?". I shot around to look behind me and see a lovely first winter sabine's gull, hovering with curiosity, over the boat. Fantastic! The bird hung around for no more than ten seconds before continuing West.

From this moment on I was woken up, and soon started picking up manx shearwaters, a distant medium sized skua (jaeger) which was either a pomorine or an arctic, 1 sooty and numerous other species which were not so scarce such as 7 storm petrels (Note the cornflakes and chopped mackeral which we resorted to using in the desperate hope of luring a sabine's gull with :P).
At this distance, there were no small gulls present - not even kittiwakes. So, when I saw a small gull in the distance flying toward me, I was on the job again. I stayed on it until it came close enough to be identified as our second first-winter sabine's gull of the day! What was extra pleasing with this bird was the fact that it dropped down on the water to feed! We started up the engine and slowly motored towards it, keeping an eye on the location on the way. It soon became apparent that there were other birds sitting on the water with it. What were they!? They were small and distant - maybe more sabine's gulls? It soon became apparent that they were some kind of wader, and of course turned out to consist of 7 grey phalaropes! I couldn't believe my luck. We ended up getting fantastic views down to feet of what turned out to be incredibly tame and confiding birds! It was fantastic to listen to the phalaropes call to each other while they fed and spun on the water. Here are a few pictures to give ye an idea of just how confiding and special these birds were:
One of seven grey phalaropes which would fly TOWARDS the boat if you stayed still.

This first winter sabine's gull was easily bird of they day for me

You know you've had a successful day's sea-birding when you manage to get a pic with both grey phalaropes AND sabine's gull in the one shot!

The icing on the cake this day was a nice first winter little gull which was feeding in the shelter of whitebay, located in the outer harbour - just within the mouth, on the way home.

Well, I hope I've given people a good impression of the birding that's on offer within and outside Cork harbour. I'm seriously considering trying to organise a pelagic next september/october. If anyone would be interested, please let me know. Who knows what might show up?