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Saturday, 16 December 2017

Friday, 8 December 2017

Siberian Chiffchaffs, Killarney

Siberian Chiffchaff, Killarney, 8th December 2017 (D. Farrar).

One of at least two present, along with several Chiffchaffs.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

There's no bunting like a Snow Bunting

Six Snow Buntings, Kilshannig, 3rd December 2017 (M.O'Clery).

The flock at Kilshannig has now grown to six individuals.

Male Snow Bunting, Kilshannig, 3rd December 2017 (M.O'Clery).

There were two males and four female-type Snow Buntings on 3rd December, though three males were present out of the flock of five there last week (see post below), so though the flock has grown by one, there are actually two new female recruits.

Male nivalis Snow Bunting, Kilshannig, 3rd December 2017 (M.O'Clery).

The strong contrast between the cold, greyish mantle and warm brown wing coverts, along with the ginger-fringed rump feathers would make this a Snow Bunting of the Scandinavian or Greenland race, nivalis.

The same male nivalis (left) and female Snow Buntings, Kilshannig, 3rd December 2017 (M.O'Clery).

 Two female Snow Buntings, Kilshannig, 3rd December 2017 (M.O'Clery).

Male insulae Snow Bunting, Kilshannig, 3rd December 2017 (M.O'Clery).

With a rump this dark this second male must surely be an Icelandic race Snow Bunting insulae. The lack of a cold, grey mantle adds weight to that, as do the (mostly) all-dark outer primary coverts. 

Seriously though, I've just pored over ringer's guides and online detailed references about Snow Buntings and read up on Martin Garner's excellent Winter Challenge Series write-up on Snow Buntiings and I can barely figure out the age/race of the males, and seem to get brain-freeze when trying to figure out the females/first-winters. Looking at the above photo, which isn't bad, is the longest primary covert black, or almost all black? Is the outer greater covert mostly black? Is there a moult contrast on the innermost greater coverts, making it a first-winter male? If it is an Icelandic race bird, how come the ninth primary (the long outermost primary is primary 2 (P2) so count inwards towards the body to P9) looks to be only about 25% black at the tip, when the ringer's guides tell me it should be more than 60% if it is to be Icelandic race? Is the info out there completely contradictory or not taking individual variation into account, or am I just being an idiot? Ok, don't answer that. 

Feck, but Snow Buntings were supposed to be easy. Maybe I suffer from In-The-Hand Blindness (ITHB). "It's a real disease with doctors and everything." For example, years ago I picked up a freshly dead warbler, in Downpatrick, Co. Down. I quickly realised it was a phylloscopus warbler, either a Willow Warbler, or a Chiffchaff. For the life of me, with it sat there, well, lying dead there, lifeless in the palm of my hand, I couldn't figure out which it was. It looked so different up close and still. Until the logical side of my brain gave me a slap and shouted, "Cop on man! Leg colour! Wing length!..". Oh yes, a Willow Warbler. I could have told it at a glance if I had seen it alive in a bush nearby. Highly detailed digital photos sometimes also have that effect on me.

Anyway, I finally pieced it all together. After all my research and reading, all the online picture searches, all the careful research into moult, geographic variation and the delicate art of feather tract interpretation, I have finally cobbled together all the accumulated knowledge on ageing and sexing Snow Buntings, and assigning them to race with 100% certainty. This plate below is now the only reference you will ever need. Print it out. Keep it in your wallet, manbag or purse. Share it online, Facebook it, Tweet it. This kind of knowledge needs to be out there.

You're welcome.

Snow Bunting (M.O'Clery).

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Seasonal South Kerry selection

Merlin, Bray Head, 16th November 2017 (Pat McDaid).

Black-necked Grebe, Ballinskelligs Bay, 22nd November 2017 (Pat McDaid).

Presumably the same bird has returned to this spot near Reen pier for its fourth winter.

Purple Sandpiper, Ballinskelligs Abbey, 22nd November 2017 (Pat McDaid).

A scarce bird anywhere south of Dingle Bay in Kerry, and only just annual in Ballinskelligs Bay.

Two Long-tailed Duck with Common Scoter, Reenroe, Ballinskelligs Bay, 25th November 2017 (Pat McDaid).

Chiffchaff, Reenroe, Ballinskelligs Bay, 26th November 2017 (Pat McDaid).

Several late/autumn/wintering Chiffchaff have been seen recently, though so far, only one tristris type the entire autumn, at Dunquin last week.

Surf Scoter, Ballinskelligs Bay, 27th November 2017 (Pat McDaid).

We tend to think of all plumages of Surf Scoter as all-dark - until they do this...

Marsh Harrier, Reenroe, 25th November 2017 (Pat McDaid).

Present at the Inny Estuary and surrounds for its sixth week now.

Surf Scoter, Ballinskelligs Bay, 27th November 2017 (Pat McDaid).

Monday, 20 November 2017

Adult Little Gull, Scraggane, and Slavs

Adult Little Gull, Scraggane Beach, 19th November 2017 (David O'Connor).

Four of about 10 Slavonian Grebes, Sandy Bay, 20th November 2017 (M.O'Clery).

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Snow Buntings, Kilshannig

The flock of four Snow Buntings found by Kilian Kelly last Friday has now been joined by a fifth. Snow Bunting identification is straightforward, at least at species level, but when you get into the detail, ageing is actually very tricky - depending on e.g., amounts of black on individual upper wing coverts and the exact amount and extent of white and black on the underwing - and there are three subspecies that could occur. There were three male-types and two females at Kilshannig today.

Five Snow Buntings, Kilshannig, 17th November 2017 (M.O'Clery).

Male Snow Bunting, Kilshannig, 17th November 2017 (M.O'Clery).

Male Snow Bunting, Kilshannig, 17th November 2017 (M.O'Clery).

The complete and dark breast band, lack of contrast between mantle and scapulars, ginger wash to the flanks and dark crown are features more favouring the icelandic race Insulae. though the rump appears white with a ginger tone, an indication more of nivalis.

 Snow Buntings, Kilshannig, 17th November 2017 (M.O'Clery).

The overall 'swarthiness' of the female in the foreground would also seem more indicative of Icelandic Insulae. A pretty dark looking bird. Nevertheless, excellent open-wing photos would be needed to be certain.

The other two races which could occur in Ireland are the paler nivalis (North America, Greenland and Scandinavia) and the really frosty-looking, pale Russian race vlasowae. 

Nivalis are reportedly regular in winter in Ireland according to some sources, and the male at Kilshannig/Rough Point in January this year (see post HERE) might well be one, also with a pale, ginger-tinged rump), but i don't think there has ever been an attempt to figure out the proportion of each race occurring in Ireland. Vlasowae has yet to be recorded anywhere in the country and there are only 3-4 claims and specimens for Britain, but with this highly migratory sub-species, it could. Definitely need to pay more attention to these beautiful birds. 

Snow Buntings, Kilshannig, 17th November 2017 (M.O'Clery).

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Long-tailed Ducks, Black Rock

Long-tailed Ducks, Black Rock, 15th November 2017 (David O'Connor).

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Tracking of Barn Owl near the Tralee Bypass

Readers of this blog will recall several posts involving instances of Barn Owls being struck by vehicles on major roads (see HERE and HERE, for example).

Continuing with our project to discover the effects of major roads on Barn Owl populations (in conjunction with T.I.I.), in July 2017 we tracked a female Barn Owl whose home range included the Tralee Bypass (see a history of this nest site HERE). While we long suspected that the adult Barn Owls from this site might well be hunting along the Bypass, the findings from the GPS data loggers were astonishing... Over 11 nights, she hunted along the verges of the Bypass nine times, and crossed the road 14 times. 

The Tralee Bypass, near Manor West, looking north, showing multiple tracks of the female Barn Owl along and over the Bypass over 11 nights in July ((J.Lusby/M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS and BTO).

She also frequently perched along the verges, spending around two hours close to the road. The dangers to the bird are obvious and yet, she and her partner not only survived, but managed to raise two chicks this summer.

Have a look at a detailed video of the GPS tracking of this owl below. You can click on the 'four arrows' symbol on the bottom right to see a full-screen HD view.

Barn Owl tracking of a female Barn Owl near the Tralee Bypass, July 2017 (J.Lusby/M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS and BTO).
Please share this video on social media - see links at bottom of this post.

Track of Barn Owl over 12 nights, near Dingle, July 2017 (J.Lusby/M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS and BTO).

Above, a screengrab of the GPS tracking of one of the Barn Owls near Dingle showing just part of the movements of the bird over 12 nights in July 2017. The water body here on the left is Smerwick Harbour, the beach in the lower left corner is Baile an Reannaigh, a spot familiar to many birders. Red dots are where the bird is stationary, Orange is slow hunting flight, yellow is faster flight.

More on this project on the Irish Raptor Blog HERE.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Big lump of a yoke

Second winter Glaucous Gull, Kilshannig, 13th November 2017 (M.O'Clery).

Second winter Glaucous Gull, Kilshannig, 13th November 2017 (M.O'Clery).

Second winter Glaucous Gull, Rough Point, 13th November 2017 (M.O'Clery). 

Second winter Glaucous Gull, Rough Point, 13th November 2017 (M.O'Clery). 

Friday, 10 November 2017

Snow Buntings, Kilshannig

Snow Buntings, Kilshannig, 9th November 2017 (Ed Carty).

A flock of four were at the flooded commonage at Kilshannig today, found by Kilian Kelly.

Snow Bunting, Kilshannig, 9th November 2017 (Ed Carty).

Snow Bunting, Kilshannig, 9th November 2017 (Ed Carty).

Snow Bunting, Kilshannig, 9th November 2017 (Ed Carty).

Monday, 6 November 2017

White-rumped and Ring-billed

Juvenile White-rumped Sandpiper, Black Rock, 6th November 2017 (David O'Connor).

Presumably one of the two (or three) White-rumpeds seen in the area in late October.

Adult Ring-billed Gull, Black Rock, 6th November 2017 (David O'Connor).

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

The 'bread-and-butter' birds

Some worthy birds of late, not of themselves worth a blog post, but thrown in together make for a good helping of birder's bread and butter. Good staples, almost filling and somewhat wholesome, but you're not going to be contacting the Michelin Star crowd just yet...

Brambling, Trabeg, 1st November, 2017 (M.O'Clery).

To continue the bread and butter analogy, these beautiful birds are more like a good skim of jam on the bread. Bit of a treat really to get one in amongst the plainer regulars. 

A difficult species to see each year in Kerry if you are one of those birder sub-species, the Year Lister. Most are seen singly or in two or threes in autumn, much more rarely in flocks of up to 50 in winter.

Brambling, Trabeg, 1st November, 2017 (M.O'Clery).

Brambling, Trabeg, 1st November, 2017 (M.O'Clery).

Buzzard, Rough Point, 29th October, 2017 (M.O'Clery).

In the 'bread and butter' stakes, Buzzard is actually melted cheese on toast. Not a particularly rare or unusual treat, always satisfying, yet leaves you looking for more.

They're still not that common in Kerry, with about three to five pairs breeding in east and north Kerry, and with more typically recently, a fair scattering of records in autumn, when young birds disperse into the rest of the county. There were about ten records from the Dingle Peninsula alone this autumn.

Buzzard, Rough Point, 29th October, 2017 (M.O'Clery).

Slavonian Grebes, Sandy Bay, 1st November, 2017 (M.O'Clery). Three were present.

These grebes are really just like cheap white bread, a thin sprinkling of sugar on top, the whole lot folded in half and squashed flat. Rarely satisfying, but they'll do until you get something better.

Pintail and Wigeon, Inch 30th October, 2017 (M.O'Clery).

The graceful male Pintail and handsome male Wigeon are those posh sandwiches you might get at a gathering - white bread, egg and onion filling, crusts cut off, cut into neat triangles and beautifully presented on a plate with a paper doilie. Matching napkins.

About 80 Pintail were present at Inch, not a bad count for Kerry and the main wintering flock in the county. The 3,500 Wigeon present were an impressive sight.

Gull, Rough Point, 22nd October 2017 (M.O'Clery).

A slightly large-looking, slightly heavily-marked, but not that distinctively different from other Herring Gulls... although it might, or might not be an Argentatus, the Scandinavian race... or whatever.. I just lost interest. 

This gull is the burnt toast scrapings in the sink that then get washed into the plug hole where they expand and block the plug, forcing you to reach in to clear the whole sorry, soggy mess. The charred remains of the toast is now inedible anyway, and you spot the rest of the loaf has got bluemould on it so you have to bin the lot. Argentatus? Probably not, but who cares?

We need some artisan croissants... or even better, some Gruyere Focaccia, or French date-and-walnut Cob... NOW!

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Black Rock double

White-rumped Sandpipers, Black rock, 25th October 2017 (D. Farrar).

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

A good day out at Carrahane

Juvenile American Golden Plover, Carrahane, 24th October 2017 (David O'Connor).

White-rumped Sandpiper with Dunlin, Carrahane, 24th October 2017 (David O'Connor).

White-rumped Sandpiper with Dunlin, Carrahane, 24th October 2017 (David O'Connor).

Little Stint with Dunlin, Carrahane, 24th October 2017 (David O'Connor).

Pectoral Sandpiper Sandpiper, Carrahane, 24th October 2017 (David O'Connor).

Pectoral Sandpiper, Carrahane, 24th October 2017 (David O'Connor).

Ruff, Carrahane, 24th October 2017 (David O'Connor).

White-rumped Sandpiper, Black Rock, 24th October 2017 (David O'Connor).

White-rumped Sandpiper, Black Rock, 24th October 2017 (David O'Connor).