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Thursday, 8 October 2015

Pectoral Sandpiper, Carrahane

Pectoral Sandpiper, Carrahane, 8th October 2015 (M.O'Clery).

Pectoral Sandpiper, Carrahane, 8th October 2015 (M.O'Clery).

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

More on the Olive-backed Pipit

An Olive-backed Pipit was found on Bolus Head on 30th September (see the post HERE about that period on Bolus Head). Calls of Tree and Olive-backed Pipit are almost indistinguishable, which combined with the bright sunlight and brief appearance of the bird, led to the initial ID as a Tree Pipit. Thankfully, thanks to the sharp eyes of Dave McAdams, examination of further photos confirmed it as an an Olive-backed Pipit, the first for Kerry and only the eighth for Ireland.

The original photo is shown below. Despite the harsh sunlight, it showed just enough detail for Dave to comment, “I thought some aspects of it odd for Tree Pipit, reminding me much more of Olive-backed”. 

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).
(You can click any of the images for a closer view)

Dave further commented that the supercilium seemed bicolored and very white with subdued streaking on the mantle, and that the general coloration was, “saturated, almost greenish”, again a pro-Olive-backed feature rather than Tree Pipit, and that the bill base looked finer than that of a Tree Pipit.

Luckily, more photos had been taken during the brief encounter with the bird, and last night were hastily downloaded and emailed around. There were 11 which were usable, all taken within 80 or 90 seconds or so, almost the sum total of the sighting, though the bird was seen and heard again briefly in flight twice shortly after, and heard calling but not seen once again, a few minutes later - and that was it, despite much searching.

The initial view, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery). Perhaps unusually for an Olive-backed Pipit, rather than being in a woodland context, this bird, after initially being flushed from the driveway of a cottage, landed a little further along the road and fed for a while before flying up, with many Meadow Pipits, and landed again on open hillside.

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).

With several others invited to comment on the photos, the consensus was that the 11 photos in combination, consistently showed the features of an Olive-backed Pipit.

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).

An analysis of these from Dave listed the pertinent features visible in the photos.

• The striking, bicolored supercilium, rich buff in front of the eye and very clean and white above and behind the eye, the rear part of which is bordered above by a narrow blackish streak (visible in several shots). In fact, in the top photo you can see that the fore part of the supercilium is almost rufous in tone - this is often the richest/brightest coloration on an Olive-backed Pipit.   

• The very prominent ear spot (in a few of the shots).

• The soft and subdued mantle streaking, showing relatively low contrast with the ground colour - consistently so in all of the shots. 

• Tertial fringes showing little contrast (perhaps most evident in the bottom photo)

• The fine-based bill (e.g. in the top photo and the one immediately below).

• The saturated, greenish tone of the upperparts.

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O’Clery).

 The 2013 Irish Rare Bird Report commented on the occurrences of the seven Irish records to date, saying, 'The timing [of one on Inishmore, Galway, 22nd to 29th October 2013] was typical – five of the previous six were also found in October. The sole exception was one in Cobh, County Cork, in January 1991. The first was found in Wexford [Great Saltee Island] in 1978, and the remaining records were all in Cork, clustered between 1990 and 1993. On a technicality, there have been no records on the mainland, although those driving to Cobh could be forgiven for forgetting that it is situated on Great Island!'

Thus the Bolus Head record is also the first for September (just) and the first Irish mainland record.

Many thanks to Dave McAdams, Killian Mullarney, Davey Farrar and Eric Dempsey for expert comments.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Barnacle Goose, Black Rock

Barnacle Goose, Black Rock, 6th October 2015 (David O'Connor).

Humpback Whales feeding frenzy

Up to 15 Humpback Whales, 100+ Dolphins and possibly a Fin Whale or two have been feeding just off Valentia Island for the past week or so, and drawing a large gathering of seabirds. They are easily visible in calm weather from the land with binoculars and are repeatedly lunge feeding.

Humpback Whales, off Valentia, 3rd October 2015 (Jill Crosher).

Humpback Whale, off Valentia, 3rd October 2015 (Jill Crosher).

Monday, 5 October 2015

Another Whinchat on Bolus Head

Whinchat, Bolus Head, 5th October 2015 (M.O'Clery).

Whinchat, Bolus Head, 5th October 2015 (M.O'Clery).

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Free Event! 'Don't Die in Autumn', by Eric Dempsey

Don’t Die In Autumn.
A talk by Eric Dempsey, Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre, 7.30pm, Thursday 8th October 2015. 
Everyone welcome. Admission free.

To coincide with the launch of Eric Dempsey’s new book, ‘Don’t Die In Autumn – a memoir’, Eric will present a free talk at the Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre, on his life of watching and enjoying Ireland’s rich and varied birdlife. Using original, stunning images of Ireland’s birds, Eric will present a relaxed, entertaining and fun evening, bringing everyone on a journey of his discovery of birds at an early age, from spending time in the Botanic Gardens to travelling the world in search of rare and exotic species… and everything else in between!

Everyone is welcome - young and old - admission free.

Signed copies of ‘Don’t Die In Autumn’ will be on sale on the night. 

Born and bred in Finglas in north Dublin and now living in Wicklow, Eric is a team member of the popular Mooney Goes Wild show on RTE radio, has written many books on Ireland’s birdlife, and is a professional speaker, writer, photographer and bird guide.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Inny Estuary

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Inny Estuary, 29th September 2015 (M.O'Clery).

Though one of the commonest of Nearctic waders to reach Irish shores, it has been a particularly lean year for all North American waders. However, this Buff-breast shared the beach on two of its four day stay, with a Semipalmated Sandpiper (and two Little Stints).

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Inny Estuary, 29th September 2015 (M.O'Clery).

Two weeks on Bolus Head

Two weeks on Bolus Head during the peak bird migration period. What might you find? No-one has spent much time birding there before, so is there potential for a few rare birds in autumn? Dunquin, the other main headland in Kerry, has proven to be a major draw for rare autumn passerine migrants, though never in the numbers and quality of some of the major headlands and islands on the south coast and elsewhere. A few days spent on Bolus Head and the Finian's Bay area last autumn showed a little of the potential (see posts HERE and HERE). 

Certainly, the first week on Bolus was slow, after an initial Ring Ouzel and Reed Warbler, there wasn't much more than a Chiffchaff or two to enliven the days. But for the last three days, a steady but modest flow of migrants started arriving.
(All photos: Michael O'Clery)

Wheatear, Ballinskelligs, 20th September 2015.

A slow first week, but a few Wheatears were still around. Always a treat to see. This one (above) was catching large crane-flies on Ballinskelligs Beach.

Greenland Wheatear, Bolus Head, 19th September 2015.

A long and hard trek to the tip of Bolus Head - one of the most remote spots on the Kerry mainland - was rewarded by a couple of Greenland Wheatears. Sobering to think these birds, having travelled from the Arctic, crossed the Atlantic, are now looking to launch themselves further from south Kerry to Spain, or perhaps even Morocco, and even further south after that.

The Skelligs, as seen from near Bolus Head, September 2015. 9km distant from Bolus Head. The furthest island, Skellig Michael, has a lighthouse on the far side.

A quick glimpse out on the headland, in late September, of a bird which takes off right in front of you, a flurry of black and white. What the...?
What do you think this is?
Answer at the bottom of this post... just to keep you interested.

"What the hell is that? Bolus Head, September 2015.

Rock Dove, Bolus Head, 23rd September 2015.

Though not common in this part of Kerry, two wild Rock Doves provided a little distraction during the quieter days.

A couple of days of strong south winds in late September raised expectations of perhaps a few European species being blown towards south Kerry, but for several days nothing appeared. Finally, on the morning of 30th September, the loud call of a pipit flushed underfoot drew attention, and though the encounter lasted only about a minute and a half, 11 photos were taken which later proved it to be Kerry's first Olive-backed Pipit.

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O'Clery).
(See post above for more)

Later the same day, two Whinchats were seen near the tip of Bolus Head, in smallish patches of bracken. This is a red-listed breeding species in Ireland and is now, alas, generally only a rare autumn visitor to Kerry. The entire Irish breeding population is almost in single figures now, none of which are breeding in Kerry, so chances are these are British or European birds, blown off course. One rough, overgrown field in Dunquin, close to Kruger's Pub, accounts for nearly all the recent Kerry records, averaging only one to three a year.

Whinchat, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015.

For a brief moment, the two Whinchats were perched on the same clump of bracken.

 Whinchats, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015.

Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers are often regarded as the barometer of migration on Irish headlands in autumn. Just one or two seen on a long days' birding holds the hope that something else rarer might be afoot, but when they appear in any numbers, or appear in unusual locations such as ditches or even open country, it must surely mean serious migratory events are under way. Or so you will tell yourself in order to summon the energy to keep searching.

Chiffchaff, Bolus Head, 29th September 2015.

Another barometer species is Blackcap. When these characterful pallid warblers start appearing in the hedges and bushes of an Irish headland in autumn you know you are onto something good. There were none seen early on, but then one, three and seven were present on the last three days.

Blackcap, Bolus Head, 1st October 2015.

The female Blackcap below appeared in open country, where no right-minded Blackcap should ever be, constantly harassed by the local Robins and Stonechats

Female Blackcap (the cap is brown, honest, it's just in the shade), Bolus Head, 2nd October 2015.

Reed Warbler, Bolus Head, 1st October 2015.

Reed Warbler are inveterate skulkers, and it always needs a little luck to get that first glimpse which can focus your efforts. Usually a long wait will then hopefully provide enough of a view to identify it correctly, but this is never guaranteed. One Reed Warbler, which was present early in the two week period never strayed from within a small privet hedge, while another (photo above), seen on the second last day, didn't budge from a small willow bush.

Turtle Dove, Cill Railaigh, Bolus Head, 1st October 2015.

This juvenile Turtle Dove has traces of adult chestnut feathers just coming through on the mantle, and the tail was a mix of missing, half-grown and new adult-type feathers. It was first seen flying inland from the headland on 30th, but turned up later that evening on the road just 200m away. There it stayed for three days, and proved remarkably tame, flying up just in front of passing traffic before alighting once more on the road. It was harassed by local crows and once was seen hunched on a post, eyes almost closed, so we feared the worst, though its fate is unknown.

Turtle Dove, Cill Railaigh, Bolus Head, 1st October 2015.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Bolus Head, 1st October 2015.

As a fantastic finale to the two weeks, four of these Siberian gems were found on 1st and 2nd October, at three sites. One was seen flying in from the headland into a small garden, working its way along the back hedge of the garden, before departing further inland, though at least one remained for two days. 

Yellow-browed Warbler, Bolus Head, 2nd October 2015.

A fitting reward for all the effort. Bolus Head, while not producing that killer punch of a rarity, can certainly produce some quality birds, especially in a Kerry context.


And finally, the answer to the teaser near the top of this post. Below, the same bird.

Male Pied Wagtail, Bolus Head, September 2015.

It's a Pied Wagtail, obviously, now it's perched, but an extraordinarily well-marked individual, with extensive areas of white feathering compared with the vast majority of such birds. Still, a striking bird.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Black Brant & Curlew Sandpiper

 Black Brant, Spa, 25th September 2015 (Ian Jones).

Curlew Sandpiper, Black Rock, 25th setember 2015 (Ian Jones).

Thanks very much for the hours you have put in at the most unhotspot in Ireland. You are a true birder!

Thursday, 24 September 2015