Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Vorkstaartmeeuw / Sabine's gull

After the last day of picture taking in Cobh I felt the only thing missing was the Sabine’s gull that visits Cobh regularly every winter. It is in fact the first bird I had planned to photograph once I got my 300mm lens and is also near the top of my list of gull species to photograph this winter, right below Glaucous and Little. With all this in mind I decided to return for a quick hour in Cobh.

When I got there, I soon found the gull off the pier in the town, quite willing to do some flybys. Unfortunately the light was less then ideal. In fact glare from the sun and the grey of a cloudy sky had banded together to make it near impossible. With some grey and silhouetted pics under my belt I decided to wander and wait for the light to get better. It didn’t! but no matter, I got some half way decent flight shots of the sabine’s though I think the shoot would have turned out much better with even a slightly faster shutter speed! I may yet return if the bird sticks around after Christmas.

Some background on the species. The sabine’s gull (Xema sabini) is pretty unique in that it has a slightly forked swallow like tail, a trait that it shares with only one other gull species, the Galapagos swallow tailed gull, the worlds only nocturnal gull. Despite the tail similarity it is apparently not closely related at all. The bulk of its population summers in the Artic circle. Like the kittiwake, it reminds me a bit of a tern. It is the only member of its genus Xema and like many gull species develops a black hood during the summer.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wax on, wax off

With the country slowly filling up from top to bottom with waxwings lately I figured keeping an eye out for this small but colourful songbird might be worth my while. With an appointment to go to Cobh and see the waxwings there the next day with Floss I was content to go about other business. We had an awareness day for our sanctuary in UCC with a couple of reptiles and fudge that we where intending on selling. Halfway there in the taxi we realized we had forgotten the fudge so I volunteered to run back to the house. I backtracked to the house through an estate and heard a squeaking noise I had never heard before. I looked up and came face to face with a single waxwing. Holy crap! The lone bird was as surprised as I was seemingly and flew up to a nearby rooftop. I still got a pretty good shot. Epic!

Next day, we drove to Cobh and found the famous flock of just shy of 20 birds sitting around on a large bush all busily feeding. They where slightly more flighty then I would have expected for what essentially looks like a feeding frenzy, but that didn’t take away from the experience. They love those berries!

Then onto Cuskinny where a gadwall revealed itself right by the bird sign! There where also wigeon and teal in the distance and the usual mallards.

A small army of black headed and common gulls greeted us, especially when a car parked nearby and its occupants threw a large quantity of bread into the water. A ring billed gull soon showed itself too, but alas, no sabine’s gull.

Here is the ring bill, first time I have managed to get a common gull and a ring billed gull in the same shot for comparison. The ring billed gull IS lighter, I’ll be damned!

To top it all off a little egret flew past and gave some nice views in a tree and the usual statuesque great black backed gulls posed down at the piers!

A good morning out all in all with Floss who also has a birding blog which can be found here.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Circle of shovels

Last week I set out to take some headshots of birds at the Lough. I discovered that its that time of year when some of the shovelers have joined the armies of begging birds around the edges of the water. Usually they keep their distance from people in the area.

I like watching shovelers as they seem to have more obvious behaviourisms then other ducks around at the moment. Several pairs where isolated from the group and where feeding in a pinwheel formation circling each other with their heads down. Forums and what not seem to suggest that this helps churn up the water so more food is available.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Butterflies, counting up 2012

Tallying up the butterflies of 2012

1. Peacock butterfly (Inachis io)
Its pretty and its common, exactly what you want from a butterfly.

2. Small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)
Also quite common, but not always as approachable as you might think

3. Painted lady (Vanessa cardui)
Managed to spot a couple at the very end of the season, they are common outside the city but in the centre are quite hard to find.

4. Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)
Towards the end of the summer season this butterfly becomes quite common. It is not unusual to find a bush entirely with examples of this species.

5. Common blue (Polyommatus icarus)
Even those without an interest in insects probably have to admit that the common blue makes a great subject for photography. Its often quite vivid and is relatively approachable. Not to mention that unlike most Irish butterflies its underwing has quite interesting patterns.

6. Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria)
A constant companion on my summer time walks. The speckled wood is probably more interesting behaviourally then visually as it’s quite territorial and aggressively defends its patch from other butterflies. It has also ruined my attempts to photograph nearby species on occasion by scaring them off!

7. Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina)
A well camouflaged butterfly often found sitting with its wings closed and enjoying the camouflage that its brown colouration affords it. With wings open it is actually quite nice to look at, I like those false eyes with the yellowish surroundings.

8. Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)
I admit I am cheating here; this shot is from last year. This years shots where lost due to camera theft and the only surviving picture is buried somewhere in a facebook page where I can’t find it. I swear, I had pictures!

9. Green veined white (Pieris napi)
Ireland’s most common white butterfly. The green veined is easy enough to identify due to its underwing being patterned with green veins (yes). The other species don’t have this.

10. Small white (Pieris rapae)
Can be hard to tell apart from the large white except that its size is closer to that of the other whites.

11. Large white (Pieris brassicae)
Like the above species but much larger and with a different pattern of black on its wings, in the field its quite easy to tell the size difference.

12. Cryptic wood white (Leptidea juvernica)
Only recently named species, the cryptic wood white is small, has rounded wings and has weak flight. The common wood white is almost identical but is quite hard to find in Ireland. Outside the Burren and select area the cryptic is the primary wood white species.

13. Orange tip (Anthocharis cardamines)
Easy to identify with the males having bright orange tips to their wings and both genders having a distinct green marbling on its underwing. Its flight season is quite short and 2012 was the first year where I managed to catch it on camera.

Species I would like in 2012. Holly blue. Small blue, all the frits, green hairstreak and a couple of others.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dragonflies, counting up 2012

I am counting up the odonate species from the spring to autumn season of 2012 today. I must say I feel a little cheated as one of the best photo shoots I had recently was trapped on my camera when unfortunately it got stolen. That took care of four spotted chaser and emperor dragonfly which I had with great care and patience managed to approach. Grumbling aside, I did rather better with damselflies then dragonflies.

1. Banded demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) 
From my trip to Carlow I found these beauties clinging to the reeds everywhere by the river. Stunning and a delight are terms I would gladly use for this species. I also found some right in the city centre but couldn’t approach them.

2. Beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo) 
Considerably harder to approach due to its habit of flying to a nearby tree top when interrupted. Perseverance got me some alright shots though I feel with more time I could have done better.

3. Large red damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) 
Another new one for me this year. The large red damselfly does exactly what it sais on the tin and is rather easy to identify given that it’s the only red species in Ireland.

4. Azure damselfly (Coenagrion puella) 
One of Ireland’s several blue species; the azure can be distinguished most easily by the markings at the base of its tail. This is the blue I encountered most often this year.

5. Common blue damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) 
Much like the above species but again with different markings, the common blue has a different less azure shade (obviously I suppose). My main sight for them is Blarney castle gardens.

6. Blue tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans) 
Another blue damselfly; this one is not however in the same family and can quite clearly be told apart by its mostly black abdomen which has a bright blue end. Sometimes in flight this delicate creature looks like its carrying a tiny blue light on its tail.

7. Emerald damselfly (Lestes sponsa)
I really wanted to see one of these and after considerable late season searching one is what I got, in the shade with overcast skies, because of this the colours of this species don’t really show in this shot.

8. Emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator) 
Large and impressive species that has moved into Irish parts only recently but is now relatively easy to find. The below shot was meant as a preview of the pictures to come on facebook but now stand as my only emperor pic this year.

9. Migrant hawker (Aeshna mixta) 
Like its name suggests this hawker is migratory and like the emperor it is pretty new in Ireland. It seems to be more approachable then its cousins the common and brown hawkers.

10. Common darter (Sympetrum striolatum) 
My most photographed dragonfly, the common darter appears late in the season but is quite plentiful in places.

Other species I spotted but did not manage to photograph where ruddy darter, black darter, red veined darter, common hawker, brown hawker (likely) & four spotted chaser. Until summer 2013 then for these guys!