Friday, May 27, 2011

Big Friendly Gulls (BFG's)

I must say I haven’t got that much to say today. Over the last few days I took a few more strolls through the city and spend a couple of hours in Cobh hoping that maybe the House crow that lives there would come down from the rooftops. Alas, he didn’t even show up. Never mind because I found a load of gulls (which ain’t so common in the city this time of year). Mostly herring gulls, though I spotted some common gulls and lesser black backed gulls too. Highlight of the day turned out to be the two below. 

The Great(er) black backed gull is the largest of the Irish gulls, its strong bill, huge size and jet black wings make it easy to identify and tell apart from other species. It’s much less approachable then most gulls and this is the first time I got a good shot! Usually I get grainy images of them on sandbanks 100 meters away.

Kittiwake. Wow, what a pleasant surprise, I haven’t seen one of these in years since my last visit to the Skelligs. Its more delicate then Larus genus gulls like herring and black backed gulls and has a different build too. I’m not entirely educated on the genetics of gulls but the kittiwake looks distinctly like it belongs close on the family tree to terns, or maybe it’s just the short black legs that give it the tern like posture? Either way it really is a stunning bird.

I always imagine gulls as the unfriendly giants from Roald Dahl’s BFG as each has a slightly different way of getting their food and has different grouping behaviours. The kittiwake would probably be the BFG while the great black backed would likely be the Bonecruncher!

A house sparrow, surprisingly hard to find (or photograph) these days.

A young cormorant relaxing in Cobh posing nicely, I saw several others here too.

Back in Cork the pheasant was back in the very same place as before and seems to recur here daily. I have found him and his mate here several times now. I’ve named them Terryo and Quinn! 

Also, a goldcrest suddenly appeared on UCC campus and stayed for about ten seconds within a meter of me. The shots aren’t perfectly in focus but are certainly an improvement on my last pic of this species. Slightly disgruntled that I didn’t capture this tiny bird’s bright orange crest but there’s always a next time right! As a point of interest this is Ireland’s smallest bird in length....

...whilst the long tailed tit is the smallest in body mass, it just so happens that I also managed a dodgy shot of one of them! 

I am now off to Valentia island and the Skelligs for a week courtesy of my mother (thanks!) so no more posts for a while. Let’s hope for loads of auk species, choughs, ravens and some of them wheatear and stonechat fellows. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

In Otter news

I’ll be honest, of the 55 or so species (you better be right Wikipedia!) of mammal in Ireland I have seen maybe ten and only managed to photograph a couple. Here in the city, as you might imagine, we are a little short on creatures such as Sika deer and Pine marten so finding these species on my limited time and transport is near impossible (bring on the Summer). 

 Go a little more coastal or rural though and you have a significant chance of finding Otters. These large Mustelids are one of the least hated animals in Ireland at the moment, their playful and inquisitive nature endear most of the people that they share ground with and aside from that they feed primarily in fish, a habit that keeps them generally out of human conflict. Heck maybe it’s just the fact that they are rather entertaining! Just look at the video below (not mine, random vid, hope they don’t mind the embed).

To find otters, estuarine areas are probably easiest. My preferred area is Clonakilty bay where I have spent extensive time exploring and encountered otters nine times. Not bad considering I wasn’t looking for or expecting to find them. Otters live inland too but apparently are shyer, I think maybe this has something to do with coastal otters being well used to flocks of large and aggressive gulls circling and mobbing them for fish. Once you’ve had a great black backed gull (wingspan 1.7m) lunge at you you’re probably not going to be afraid of a long haired dude with a camera.

Here in Ireland we are quite lucky because we apparently have one of the highest concentrations of common otter anywhere in Europe, a pretty awesome statistic if you consider that we usually have the lowest concentration of or completest lack of most European species! 

Early mornings are the best time to find otters, they like the peace and quiet of not having too many people around I guess! The mentioned gull mobbing are also a handy way of finding them since these large birds circle the poor otter and can be seen from quite a distance, a gang of gulls is always worth investigating. The oddest thing about these guys seems to be that once you do spot them they usually start watching you right back instead of running off. This mother and littleuns is the perfect example. She was unaware of my presence at first, but after she noticed me she just watched me for about five minutes before strolling off. An encounter that made my day!

I am not sure if we have otters here in the city but I am guessing that the answer is yes, the area of waterlogged fields and ponds across from the Lee river fields seems ideal; if it’s quiet enough to have kingfishers then I am sure otters exist too. Further research to come!

In other news! Nothing new in the past few days but I did get some interesting shots of the ‘everyday’ birds.
Also, added a page for the UCC bird list (Here) or on the Sub-page toolbar to the right!

My favorite Pied wagtail shot to date!

Some experimental closeups of the Grey heron. Monsters of the water, I actually saw one eat a baby duck yesterday

Mute swan.

Greenfinch, my best shot to date but I'm still not happy with it!

A hooded crow at UCC, looking a bit grumpy!

A Dunnock (?) I think its a dunnock but it looks odd somehow, I'm guessing its newly fledged!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Residents and seasonal regulars

As I haven’t much time to compose a post today because of heavy study I thought I’d throw up some shots of the everyday birds that are almost unavoidable anywhere in the city. The commonest of birds vary at different times of year but many stay around all year. 

First then are the pigeons; three species can commonly be found in the city, the domestic rock pigeon (picture at top of post), the woodpigeon (below) and the collared dove (bottom).  All three are relatively easy to spot with the domestic pigeons preferring concrete environments and the Peace Park, the woodpigeon present at almost every grassland and tree location and the collared doves wandering randomly from tree to tree.

In summer the air is alive with the chatter of barn swallows (left), these small but extremely fast songbirds can be very entertaining to watch, though a bit of a nightmare to photograph! The closely related house martin and sand martin can also be seen around the Lee canals but is less common. Swifts, another aerodynamic insectivore can also be seen up in the sky but actually isn’t related at all, their wings are more sickle shaped then swallows. 

In winter when the swallows and swifts have migrated away they are replaced by vast flocks of black headed gulls (top) which are joined by common gulls (bottom). Both of these species can be quite approachable and can be lured over by food offerings to within inches especially in places like the Lough and the North Mall canal!

Slightly less common are lesser black backed gulls (below) and herring gulls, these gulls are somewhat shyer then black headed gulls but can none the less often be approached.

See you next time!

Also thank you to for adding a link back to my blog, its much apreciated!

UCC songbirds

University College Cork (UCC) may at first seem largely devoid of life but on closer examination it reveals a surprising variety of wildlife. The river, stone walls, trees, bushes and short grass areas all provide ideal habitat for several small songbirds as well as some bigger species.

The best hotspot for life on the UCC grounds is the river walk which can be accessed by taking a right just past the main gates, here overhanging willows and a variety of other tree species provide ideal refuge for many robins which can easily be spotted looking for food, feeding chicks and singing on branches, these robins are quite approachable and are undoubtedly drawn to the nearby restaurant where they can scavenge for tidbits. (robin of the day!, right)

Alongside the robins live numerous chaffinches which can be easily viewed amongst the branches! 

Another attraction, perhaps the most significant of all is the presence of several mistle trushes (below). These large trushes are much bigger than the closely related blackbirds and song trushes that can be seen around the city, they have slate grey backs and a harsh urgent calls and can be seen regularly looking for food around the fields. I have never seen such an abundance of them as I have here, one day I found eleven of them in one area. These birds can be hard to find and go largely unnoticed but are quite worth pursuing. An Irish nickname for them is ‘storm cock’ because they have a tendency to sing from treetops during rain showers. 

Pied wagtails (top) and Grey wagtails (bottom) can also be found along this path, both birds are closely related but the pied is a lot more common, the grey is harder to spot and generally sticks only to river banks. It’s worth seeking out as its yellow plumage is quite a sight! The pied wagtail in contrast is extremely common and at least one can usually be seen on the fields and paths of UCC at any given time.


The rocky part of the river walk with its overhanging vegetation provides ideal habitat for several species of tits such as the great tit below. These entertaining birds can also be seen at the bird feeders around campus. 

Other species of interest that I have seen here are bullfinches (left) and greenfinches (right) and gold crests (bottom) which remain camouflaged most of the time but can occasionally be seen amidst the leaves, a bird worth pursuing, it’s also Ireland’s smallest bird.

The four most common crow species of Ireland can all be found around campus as well. Magpies are easy to find with their bold colours and loud agitated calls whilst jackdaws roam most of the grassy areas. Rooks and hooded crows occasionally join them as well especially if there is food to be scavenged. A visit to UCC is guaranteed to turn up at least two of these species if not all four! (rook below)

Seal the Deel

Below is a picture of one of the more interesting sights I’ve seen recently, it’s a seal wrestling a large (over a meter long) elongated fish, probably a particularly large common eel or a ling, the seal seemed to be having some trouble overpowering the trashing fish and kept surfacing every minute or so to continue its battle. Unfortunately the weather, the seals distance and my camera skills did not add up to give me a pride worthy shot! Still, worth keeping for posterity.


I also decided to make my weekly visit to the Atlantic pond and Cork Lough which revealed great numbers of young birds. Mallards, coots, moorhens and domestic greylags all have chicks in the water attracting the ooh’s and aah’s of onlookers. The mallard chicks in particular are everywhere at the moment, in fact it’s hard not to step on them (please don’t, it’s not nice).

Saturday was an especially lucky day as I found two grey herons and a little egret all posing perfectly along the bank and seemingly unbothered by my presence and the presence of a cerebrally challenged teenage girl who decided to try chasing them off with an umbrella. The little egret is usually very shy and unapproachable but today showed a change in behaviour by staying put. I named him Monty (the nearby heron is called Python). 

I managed to get some pretty good close-ups of Monty but unfortunately his snow white plumage, the lighting and the rippling murky water all messed up my shots, they turned out greyer then I had hoped and lacking in detail. Still, could be worse! Note the yellow feet, I’m not sure why this evolved; perhaps they appear like water plant stalks to passing fish? 

Note also, the size difference between Monty (back) and Python (front), the grey heron truly is an underrated bird with its massive wingspan and spear like bill!

In other parts of the city I finally managed some half descent shots of a dunnock, not full framed but none the less good for a bird that spends most of its time hiding from me.

It should be noted that it’s a bad idea to approach too closely or photograph a nest, many species are highly sensitive to human contact so it’s best to stay at a respectful distance.  In fact I believe it’s illegal to photograph a bird on a nest.

Robin of the day!