Sunday, August 28, 2011

Revenge of the Odontates

Went back to Blarney lake the last day to get some more pictures of the dragon and damselflies that live there before winter sets in and they disappear, surprisingly the species I found last time seem to have declined or disappeared entirely and have been replaced by a large population of ruddy darters. All in all we saw about 50 of these very picturesque dragonflies (below).

Very approachable species and quite easy to capture on camera as well, perhaps the only downfall is their tendency to sit flush with the ground making side profile shots difficult. They are quite territorial and jealously defend their patch of about 2 meters from passersby. I know very little about insect behaviour but my guess would be that the dragonfly with the best territory gets the girl. There was plenty of egg laying couples present as well bobbing up and down together over the water’s surface. Very interesting!

The drastically smaller population of damselflies that remains consists of the same species I saw here before, namely blue tailed, common blue and azure. There may have been variables too; frankly telling them apart gives me a migraine! (Some of the ones below may be wrong). 
Blue tailed damselfly

Azure damselfly

I thought this was quite interesting, a pair of blue tailed damselflies mating and getting attacked by an azure damselfly. Weird behaviour! Perhaps this again is a territorial dispute but the damsels generally don’t seem that fussed over territories, maybe these species are in competition for egg laying spots. Heck, maybe he crash landed!


Finally we spotted several emperor dragonflies, the largest dragonflies I have ever seen in Ireland and also a bit nightmarish in appearance. It’s as big as my fist and flies around in quite an aggressive manner. The fact that it buzzes while doing this and comes quite close at times doesn’t help either. Instinctive caution aside it is actually harmless to humans (obviously). The females seemed busy looking for the best lilies to lay their eggs under. Unlike the darters and damsels the pairs aren’t attached whilst laying eggs. Not sure if this is a trait of their subfamily or if they are simply too heavy to do so. Interesting to compare the three species and their different methods of egg laying though.
If ever there was a competition for perfect predator then the massive emperor would be a prime candidate.
Female laying an egg
Oh yeah, almost forgot about the butterflies. Quite like the red admiral below, delighted to get a non cropped picture of one of these beautiful butterflies before they too disappear.
Common blue

Red admiral buttefly, one of several on a thistle bush

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Summer's end

A couple of trips to both the Lough and Atlantic pond offered up some very photogenic birds lately. Highlight amongst them was the little egrets at Atlantic pond which have burst forth into the world like an eruption of white fluff. The photo below is crap, but that’s because they were far away, you get the idea!
One of the parents was as usual a little bit more obliging as it fished by the edge of the water. Here’s my best attempt at catching it fly, land and then walk next to the water. If you’ve read this blog before you probably know that this egret is called Monty. :D

On a much sadder note I haven’t found any evidence of the little grebes breeding at Atlantic pond this year, the only nest easily viewed from the edge of the pond seems to have been taken over by a moorhen pair. Last year I sighted at least 6 young grebes but this year only adults??

Anyway, plenty of young crows around at the moment, as you can see from the scruffy magpie and hooded crow below, the rook is looking a little better. 

Bit of a boring blog entry? Maybe, but we did at least have fun watching and feeding the rather massive population of shedding mallards! Also next week, back to Ballycotton, weather permitting!
Lesser black backed gull, wishes he could keep his summer tuxedo, alas, its already started to fall apart
Oh and a robin...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Gull city

Yesterday I had my 20th sighting of a kingfisher this year in Cork city. Usually I see them along the Lee river fields but this one was passing by my house. Most of the non birdian people I’ve mentioned it to don’t seem aware that we have them in the city and frankly it’s not surprising, anytime I have spotted them they have been flying past like a tiny blue dart. I know where their main perches are but the area is unapproachable. Probably a good thing, they are very private little birds!

Birds, ok, hmm well I’d love to say I had found some to photograph in the past few weeks but almost nothing has revealed itself in the city in between the rain showers, also, my money dried up nicely during electricity bill season so no trips either...

I am however delighted to announce the slow but steady return of the various gull species in the city centre. Hotspots for them are The Lough, Atlantic pond and the 2 canals but in winter time you will see them on nearly every rooftop and in every sky. It’s my favourite time of year for birds.

Black headed gull
By far the most common of the gulls in Cork, they lose their dark brown hood in winter. Large flocks of them can be seen almost anywhere in the city in winter. Throw a piece of bread into the Lee and see what happens ;-)

Common gull
Not that common but a regular in the city for sure. About the same size as the black headed gull but closer in appearance to a very small herring gull (to my eyes that is). The Lough or Atlantic pond in winter is probably your best bet for finding one. They don’t seem to be returning to the city yet at this point.

Ring billed gull
A rarity in Ireland, or well...maybe more of a scarcity since I found 8 last winter in Cork city alone (never minding Clonakilty & Cobh). It’s quite similar to a common gull but the best identifier seems to be its yellow eyes (common has black). As with all gulls it can be hard to say for sure though, its bill ring for instance is not unique as common gulls often have black on their bills as well. Atlantic pond is likely the best spot for them in the city. 

Herring gull
Much larger than the species above. Herring gulls are probably one of the most common gulls around. In the city they seem to like the river and can be found on lamp posts, in the water itself and occasionally on the riverside walls in winter. It’s got a lighter ‘back’ then the lesser black backed gull and all ages and genders of this species have pinkish legs.

Lesser black backed gull
The big gull I seem to run in the most in the city which if compared to scarce populations elsewhere is actually quite cool. They have a similar distribution to the black headed gulls. In summer they have yellow legs but the identifiers start to blur in winter as many forms have pinkish legs at that time. Oh well.

Great black backed gull
A gull that only rarely wanders up the Lee, it seems to prefer being more coastal. It is however worth a mention since it is the largest Irish gull which is easily identified by its heavy bill and very black back (in adults anyway). I have seen 4 or 5 on the Lee so far.

Well k that’s my guide to the gulls done. Other scarcer species sometimes find themselves in the city too; I’ll let you know when I find them! I hope to be back in full birding form soon! Also does spotting a pair of peregrines very high up (10 meters) above UCC mean I can put it on the list or is that cheating?