Friday, 3 July 2015

Narrow-leaved Marsh Orchids

I came across about half a dozen distinct looking orchids about two weeks back that to me look like they could be Pugsley's / Narrow-leaved Marsh Orchids Dactylorhiza traunsteinerii / D. traunsteinerioides. The taxonomic status of Marsh Orchids seem to be rather confusing and ever changing. These six plants were found on blanket bog. They differed markedly from most of the marsh orchids that I see in Connemara. The usual Western/Irish/Broad-leaved Marsh Orchids are usually a much darker pink colour, a more robust plant with much more florets on the spike and aren't generally seen on open blanket bog here. I suspect that these plants were growing on a alkaline flush. Any opinions on the identification are welcome.


Friday, 26 June 2015

June 2015

A few more pics from a very busy few recent weeks between Golden Plover, Kestrel, Merlin, Peregrine, more seabird surveys, etc. Mixed season for a lot breeding birds. The very cold and wet May seemed to have a bad affect on many species.
Peregrines had a very strange season. In general they had their poorest year in recent years. However we had three successful pairs in West Galway. Despite the fact that there are several traditional sites in West Galway I only came across the first successful pair two seasons ago with just the same pair being successful again last year. The pairs in the quarries in East Galway had a particularly poor year. The handful of pairs that managed to raise chicks only had ones and twos. Taken all together the productivity rate was well below what it should be for a self-sustaining population. Here's hoping for a better season in 2016.
On the Kestrel front they didn't seem to fair as badly but we just didn't have the time to visit the same number of nests that we normally would.
I found three Merlin pairs this summer each producing four chicks each. One brood were only days away from fledging so were far to big to attempt to ring.

Sandwich Tern (one of two) head found in a Peregrine nest, the only known successful coastal breeding pair this year in the entire county that we know of.

On the bog counting Golden Plover.

Roundstone Bog fording spot.

Killary Harbour
Had Merlin breeding on one of these islands this year, can you guess which one?

Kestrel nest site right beside a busy road.

Irene abseiling down for a clutch of five Kestrel chicks.

North Mayo coastline with the Stags of Broadhaven offshore. Heather cliffs here have breeding Twite, an increasing rare species in Ireland.

Portacloy, Co. Mayo.

Porturlin, Co. Mayo.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Seabird Survey 2015

Its been a hectic few weeks here lately with a lot of survey work. I haven't taken a huge amount of photos for the last month or more now. We spent three full days out on the RHIB last week doing seabird surveys. We managed to cover Duvillaun, Clare Island, Caher Island, Inishdalla and Mweelaun Island in Co. Mayo and Davillaun and Inishark with a brief stop-off at High Island in Co. Galway. Thankfully we finally managed to get the first decent spell of settled weather here this year just in the nick of time for the boat work. Clare Island held large numbers of Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and a Gannet colony that is rapidly growing in size. The cliffs here are vast and at their highest reach around the 400 metre , 1,300 feet mark.

Another highlight was Caher Island which is well known for its seventh century early Christian monastery. There are still plenty of craved stone crosses on the island. An annual pilgrimage to the island by local people takes place on 15th August of each year. There were good numbers of Arctic Terns on Inishdalla also totalling around 300 individuals along with a single Little Tern.

Gannet colony on Clare Island.

Gannet colony on Clare Island.

Common Guillemots and Razorbill colony, Clare Island.

Common Guillemots and Razorbill colony, Clare Island.

Oystercatcher, Caher Island.

Oystercatcher, Caher Island.

Rock Pipit, Caher Island.

Sea stack Clare Island

The transport with Eoin and Aonghus.

Stone cross Caher Island

Stone crosses  Caher Island
Stone cross Caher Island
Stone cross Caher Island

Not exactly sure what this item is/was but it was inside the old church on the altar. This offering of money must surely be an old Celtic pagan tradition that was incorporated into the Christian religion like many other "Irish Christian traditions". 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Inishbofin Canada Goose

I was out with our Corncrake Fieldworker Sam Birch to carry out the first Corncrake census of the year last night. We had eight calling birds. Weather conditions were good but some of the birds were only calling sporadically so it's possible we might have missed a few. Twelve were recorded here last season which makes it the best spot in Galway for the species. They are only regularly recorded elsewhere in the county on Turbot Island and Omey Island. Local islanders have been reporting birds in areas in which we had none last night. Male Corncrakes have a bit of a tendency of moving around the island and even to other islands as the season progresses possibly in search of better habitat or a female. The vegetation has gotten off to a very slow start which doesn't help things. It has been unseasonably cold even for Ireland at this time of year with temperatures struggling to reach double figures for the last while. Things would what to very quickly as June is just around the corner.

While out there I came across a single Canada Goose on one of the small loughs. It's clear it wasn't a wild bird as it allowed quite a close approach. Two or three Canada Geese were released out on the adjacent island of Inisturk, Co. Mayo a year or two back I'd suspect it may well be one of these. At least two were seen at Roonah Lough during the winter by Pat Lonergan and were again mostly likely the same birds. Quite a few white farmyard geese dotted around the Inishbofin also.


Sunday, 10 May 2015

Inishark 7th & 8th May 2015

I camped out on Inishark on Thursday night last. I had been out with a school trip on Inishbofin during the day and after finishing up with them I headed on over to Inishark/Inishshark. I wanted to get a better handle on some of the birdlife of this island which is a both a Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area. My few previous trips to island were always rushed affairs with no time to properly examine breeding birds, so it was great to have the island to myself for 24 hours.
My main focus were the cliff breeding species. I find this survey work to be both hard work but very rewarding. The three Bonxie pairs were again on the island although none had yet laid any eggs. It was nice to see one pair in the middle of displaying which involved the female bowing to and moving around the male with a lot of calling from each bird. A pair of Peregrines breed somewhere on the island and finding this pair was one of my main objectives for the trip. I had the adult male on three occasions including one where it was joined a second calendar male. The latter bird was giving begging calls and there was no aggression from the adult bird. This was probably a juvenile bird from last season. Apparently it's not unknown for adult birds to feed their young a year after hatching even with new young in the nest! Given the extent and height of the cliffs it wasn't possible to confirm breeding on this occasion unfortunately but I have no doubt that the female was sat tight incubating eggs.
Despite wild and unfounded accusations by one regular visiting birder to Inishbofin, Ravens were not present in "unnaturally high" numbers on the island. There is only one pair on the entire island although I would have expected two pairs given the size of the island. Try as I might I just could not see the nest as it was at a spot that wasn't visible although the aggressive reception I got from the adults proved that they had chicks. This is a late enough clutch as most Raven chicks have now left the nest. I managed to find a new pair of Chough on the island also. The female was busy incubating. There was also a second pair breeding on the island but again I just couldn't pin them down.
On the seabird side of things I counted approximately 430 apparent pairs of Fulmars, 93 Guillemots, 41 Kittiwakes, 13 Shag nests and 18 Black Guillemots (latter incomplete count). Great Black-backed Gulls were thinly spread out across the island with single figures of Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls breeding on one spot on the west cliffs. I heard a calling Manx Shearwater in the middle of the night and I'm sure that a few pairs breed on the island along with Storm Petrels. Ringed Plovers were the commonest breeding wader by far with probably a few dozen pairs on the island followed by Oystercatchers and a handful of Snipe in the wet spots.
I heard no Corncrakes during my time on the island. There were 2 - 3 pairs here last summer. The nettle bed in which they hide are still very low which may explain their absence so far. We might be able to put some temporary fencing around some of the nettle beds give the Corncrake a better chance next season with the agreement of the landowners.
I flushed a Tree Pipit just below the highest point on the island. It called once or twice but I never saw or heard it again. This is only the third one I've seen in the county (two others on Inishmore). The only other modern county record comes from Inishbofin. Other than a single Willow Warbler and a few Sand Martins and Whimbrels, those were all the migrants I had on the island. The only other breeding land birds seen were Rock Dove, Swallow, Wheatear, Meadow Pipit, Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Stonechat, Skylark, Blackbird, Wren, Hooded Crow and Starling.
While walking around the island I was again amazed at the numbers of fallen livestock on the island. Between ewes and lambs I must have come across 40 dead sheep on the island. It was obvious that some had died while lambing, some had fallen off cliffs (I saw half a dozen live sheep trapped on cliffs and isolated coves) but I would imagine that most succumbed to the harsh winter conditions and lack of care. Sheep are left on the island over the winter in the full knowledge that it will not be possible to land on the island over the winter months due to very dicey landing conditions. You would have to wonder if its ethical to leave stock out in those conditions..

Bonxie with the mainland in the background.



Bonxie and Skylark

Bonxie and Skylark


Hooded Crow sitting on the old church.
Distant male Peregrine
Common Guillemots and Kittiwakes.

Male Blackbird collecting food, only one pair on the entire island.

Male Wheatear

Migrant Willow Warbler

Dead Barnacle Goose

Dead first-winter Iceland Gull, Inishbofin.

Dead Raven inside one of the abandoned houses.
Turf rack

West end of Inishark looking back East.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

California 19th February 2015

So just to (finally) wrap up the California & Arizona trip I've added a few pictures from my last few hours in the US which I spent in Point Lobos area with the Golden Gate Bridge viewable in the distance. Lovely stretch of coastline and urban park along here. Plenty of Surf Scoters offshore which included another Harlequin Duck (a female this time), my first and only Black Scoters (two females), plenty of Harbour Porpoises and a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins. There was a small flock of gulls gathered around the Sutro Baths which have seen better days a bathing spot. This spot attracted two first-winter and a very brief adult Thayer's Gull. The park area proved very productive for Varied Thrush. There were probably around a dozen here most of which were much more approachable than previously seen individuals although they still typically kept to the shadows of the large pine trees. Also around the site were a few Pygmy Nuthatches, Brown Creeper and California Towhee. Not too shabby for a city park. I couldn't say I was particularly looking forward to heading back to what seemed like a relatively bird less place like Ireland compared to California and Arizona. I ended up with around 274 species during the three weeks of which 128 were lifers for me which wasn't too surprising given that it was my first trip to western US. Full trip list below.

Wild Turkey Snowy Plover Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Scaled Quail Killdeer American Cliff Swallow
California Quail Mountain Plover Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Gambel's Quail Wilson's Snipe Wrentit
Ring-necked Pheasant Long-billed Dowitcher Cactus Wren
Greater White-fronted Goose Marbled Godwit Rock Wren
Snow Goose Whimbrel Canyon Wren
Ross's Goose Long-billed Curlew Sinaloa Wren
Brant Greater Yellowlegs Bewick's Wren
Cackling Goose Willet Marsh Wren
Canada Goose Lesser Yellowlegs Pacific Wren
Wood Duck Spotted Sandpiper Blue-grey Gnatcatcher
Gadwall Ruddy Turnstone California Gnatcatcher
Falcated Duck Black Turnstone Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
American Wigeon Surfbird Black-capped Gnatcatcher
Mallard Sanderling American Dipper
Mexican Mallard Western Sandpiper Red-breasted Nuthatch
Blue-winged Teal Least Sandpiper Pygmy Nuthatch
Cinnamon Teal Dunlin White-breasted Nuthatch
Northern Shoveler Pomarine Jaeger Brown Creeper
Northern Pintail Bonaparte's Gull Northern Mockingbird
Green-winged Teal Heermann's Gull Sage Thrasher
Canvasback Mew Gull Bendire's Thrasher
Redhead Ring-billed Gull Curve-billed Thrasher
Ring-necked Duck Western Gull California Thrasher
Greater Scaup Yellow-footed Gull Crissal Thrasher
Lesser Scaup California Gull Le Conte's Thrasher
Harlequin Duck American Herring Gull Common Starling
Surf Scoter Thayer's Gull Western Bluebird
White-winged Scoter Glaucous-winged Gull Mountain Bluebird
Black Scoter Caspian Tern Townsend's Solitaire
Bufflehead Forster's Tern Hermit Thrush
Common Goldeneye Royal Tern American Robin
Barrow's Goldeneye Common Murre Varied Thrush
Hooded Merganser Xantus's Murrelet House Sparrow
Common Merganser Cassin's Auklet Nutmeg Mannikin
Red-breasted Merganser Rhinoceros Auklet Buff-bellied Pipit
Ruddy Duck Rock Pigeon Sprague's Pipit
Red-throated Loon Band-tailed Pigeon Phainopepla
Pacific Loon Eurasian Collared-Dove Purple Finch
Common Loon White-winged Dove House Finch
Pied-billed Grebe Mourning Dove Lesser Goldfinch
Horned Grebe Inca Dove Pine Siskin
Red-necked Grebe Common Ground-Dove Evening Grosbeak
Eared Grebe Greater Roadrunner Orange-crowned Warbler
Western Grebe Whiskered Screech-Owl Nashville Warbler
Clark's Grebe Great Horned Owl Common Yellowthroat
Northern Fulmar Burrowing Owl Myrtle Warbler
Black-vented Shearwater White-throated Swift Audubon's Warbler
White-faced Ibis Broad-billed Hummingbird Black-throated Gray Warbler
American Bittern Black-chinned Hummingbird Townsend's Warbler
Black-crowned Night-Heron Anna's Hummingbird Rufous-capped Warbler
Green Heron Costa's Hummingbird Bronzed Cowbird
Great Blue Heron Allen's Hummingbird Brown-headed Cowbird
Great Egret Belted Kingfisher Red-winged Blackbird
Snowy Egret Lewis's Woodpecker Tricolored Blackbird
Little Blue Heron Acorn Woodpecker Brewer's Blackbird
Reddish Egret Gila Woodpecker Great-tailed Grackle
Cattle Egret Williamson's Sapsucker Eastern Meadowlark
American White Pelican Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Western Meadowlark
Brown Pelican Red-naped Sapsucker Yellow-headed Blackbird
Brown Booby Red-breasted Sapsucker Sooty Fox Sparrow
Brandt's Cormorant Ladder-backed Woodpecker Slate-coloured Fox Sparrow
Neotropic Cormorant Nuttall's Woodpecker Song Sparrow
Double-crested Cormorant Downy Woodpecker Lincoln's Sparrow
Pelagic Cormorant Hairy Woodpecker White-crowned Sparrow
Turkey Vulture Arizona Woodpecker White-throated Sparrow
Osprey Northern Flicker Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-tailed Kite Black Phoebe Dark-eyed Junco
Sharp-shinned Hawk Say's Phoebe Savannah Sparrow
Cooper's Hawk Hammond's Flycatcher Baird's Sparrow
Northern Goshawk Gray Flycatcher Chipping Sparrow
Harris's Hawk Vermilion Flycatcher Brewer's Sparrow
Northern Harrier Cassin's Kingbird Black-chinned Sparrow
Bald Eagle Loggerhead Shrike Vesper Sparrow
Red-shouldered Hawk Cassin's Vireo Black-throated Sparrow
Red-tailed Hawk Hutton's Vireo Sagebrush Sparrow
Ferruginous Hawk Steller's Jay Lark Bunting
Golden Eagle Western Scrub-Jay Green-tailed Towhee
Crested Caracara Mexican Jay Spotted Towhee
American Kestrel Yellow-billed Magpie Rufous-crowned Sparrow
Merlin American Crow Canyon Towhee
Peregrine Northern Raven California Towhee
Prairie Falcon Cedar Waxwing Abert's Towhee
Clapper Rail Bridled Titmouse Northern Cardinal
Virginia Rail Oak Titmouse Pyrrhuloxia
Sora Juniper Titmouse
Common Gallinule Mountain Chickadee
American Coot Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Sandhill Crane Verdin
Black Oystercatcher Bushtit
Black-necked Stilt Horned Lark
American Avocet Violet-green Swallow
Black-bellied Plover Tree Swallow

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's Hummingbird

California Towhee

Ring-necked Duck with mud/sludge on bill and forehead.

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

First-winter Thayer's Gull, bird no. 1.

First-winter Thayer's Gull, bird no. 2.

First-winter Thayer's Gull, bird no. 1.

First-winter Thayer's Gull, bird no. 2.
First-winter Glaucous-winged Gull
First-winter Glaucous-winged Gull

First-winter Glaucous-winged x ? hybrid gull.

First-winter Western Gull

First-winter Western Gull

First-winter Western Gull
Second-winter Western Gull