Tag Archives: ornithology

Birds at the Beach

Today was the fourth warm and spectacularly sunny day provided by a lovely weather system which made for one of the best May long-weekend’s I can remember. Temperatures have been skirting 20 degrees Celsius, and this has also had a remarkably calming affect on the sea. Today I found myself at the beach where Little Terns put on a fantastic display of their hunting agility for the many spectators there. These tiny seabirds were snatching fish, probably Sprat, as close as a metre from shore. Wicklow has officially the third largest breeding colony of Little Terns in the world, located at the Breaches of Kilcoole.

A Little Tern prepares to dive.
A Little Tern prepares to dive.

But terns were just the tip of the iceberg – early this morning there was a Red-throated Diver, and in the afternoon its place had been taken by Guillemots, which came much closer to shore.

A Red-throated Diver, a common sight along the Wicklow coast.
A Red-throated Diver, a common sight along the Wicklow coast.
A very beautiful 'bridled' Guillemot. There is quite a degree of pattern variation in this species.
A very beautiful ‘bridled’ Guillemot. There is quite a degree of pattern variation in this species. Note the water droplets on the head and back, which indicate just how waterproof those feathers must be.

Shortly after taking my photos, in the afternoon, I met another naturalist out taking photos. Paul Smith considers himself a ‘birder’ mainly, and as you can tell from the photo below, he carries the right equipment for ornithology.

Paul Smith keeping his eyes peeled on what proved a remarkable day for birdwatching.
Paul Smith keeping his eyes peeled on what proved a remarkable day for birdwatching. He told me he had been out birdwatching for the previous three days, and had the sunburn to prove it.

Paul was spotting birds I didn’t even notice. “Did you see the skua that just flew by?” he asked at one point, and I had definitely not seen it. He kindly sent me two of the bird photos he got while he was down at the beach today, including the skua I had missed.

An Arctic Skua, dark form, flying south just above the calm sea surface. It takes a sharp pair of eyes to spot a bird like this. (Photo by Paul M. Smith)
An Arctic Skua (dark form) flying south just above the calm sea surface. It takes a sharp pair of eyes to spot a bird like this. Skuas are ferocious predators of other birds, and known to injure people who get too close to their nests. They are remarkable predators, more like birds-of-prey than seabirds. (Photo by Paul M. Smith)

Paul also got an incredible shot of a Manx Shearwater before I arrived on the beach. These birds live at sea for most of the year, only coming ashore to breed. They are extremely clumsy on the ground, largely due to their feet being set very far back beneath their bodies, and therefore more suitable for propulsion in water than for walking on land.

Paul's remarkable shot of a Manx Shearwater skimming the waves. These birds soar mostly, and always just above the waves. A truly magnificent photo by Paul Smith.
Paul’s remarkable shot of a Manx Shearwater skimming the waves. These birds soar mostly, and always just above the waves. A truly magnificent photo by Paul Smith. Wildlife film-maker Colin Stafford-Johnson devoted almost an entire programme of his second Living the Wildlife TV series to these birds, which many people will no doubt remember.

 

 

 

Exotic Bird in Wicklow

Many people are reporting a strange and amazing-looking exotic bird in the gardens and parks of Wicklow. However, if you see one, or a flock of them, there’s no need to report it to the zoo as this species, the Bohemian Waxwing, is one of our winter migrants and arrives in both Britain and Ireland when there is severe cold weather on the continent. I first saw a flock of fourteen of these birds in late February 2002, but only today managed to get my first photo of one. Unfortunately the light was very poor, but here in all it’s glory is one of three spectacularly beautiful Bohemian Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) I saw today, foraging in Newcastle village.

The Bohemian Waxwing is actually a northern species, found across Scandinavia and Siberia, and in North America too. It feeds almost exclusively on berries, which is why it is especially fond of gardens and parks, where shrubs are grown. I think this just proves nature is the greatest show on earth, and it’s completely free.

Blue Tit Acrobatics

November is a great month for viewing the foraging behaviour of garden birds because so many leaves have gone from the trees and because the insect population begins to crash as foliage and flowers disappear due to the lower amounts of sunlight and increasing cold. In the video below you can see a Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus) very carefully searching leaves for small insects and other goodies. The footage is very slightly out of focus, so apologies for that.