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A wintering Firecrest in Dublin...what a little gem

April 30, 2016  •  1 Comment

There are a few regular Autumn and Spring migrants that have escaped me over the years. For example, after 30 years of birdwatching in Ireland, I have seen the grand total of one (1!) Ring Ouzel in this country. In fact, it's the only one I have every seen...anywhere. I've seen more Pacific Divers, Stilt Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers and Pallid Harriers in Ireland than I've seen R'ouzels! That glorious day came on 1st November 1987 on an amazing late Autumn fall of migrants on the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork. It was a day where I saw my first Yellow-browed Warblers, Ireland's 2nd Dusky Warbler, and witnessed Cork's last stronghold of Tree Sparrow, which are sadly no more.

The second species that has escaped me is Firecrest. I have only seen 2-3 in Ireland, and all have been on Cape Clear Island in Autumn. So, when a report came in of a Firecrest in Swords in Co. Dublin in March(!), I was amazed. Firecrests are rarely reported from Dublin. This was apparently the first report since the 1980s. Winter records of Firecrest in Ireland are quite scarce. It turns out there were at least 3 Firecrest wintering in Ireland in 2015/16 (one in Dublin, two in Cork). With daily reports of the bird coming in that week when i was in work, I managed to get there as soon as I could, which for me was a week after the event. Not too shabby given my previous "ah shur, if it's there in a few weeks, I might go for it"-type of attitude to twitching these days. And it was worth the trip to see this little gem of a bird.

MC002552 FirecrestMC002552 Firecrest

Firecrest in all its glory.

The Firecrest is a small passerine that is not too much bigger than our resident Goldcrest and is very similar in plumage as well. The bold eye-stripe and supercillium combination gives it away when compared to the open-faced Goldcrest. I have always found that Firecrests look a bit angrier than the startled-looking Goldcrest. 

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Goldcrest in all its startled glory!

I had never photographed Firecrest before either, so this was all very exciting for me. I had brought my 500mm and 100mm-400mm lenses with me. I wanted to use the 500mm so that I could stand back and let the bird behave naturally and not to be put out by me peering in over the wall or into the hedge. The area was over a low wall and by a river bank with thick undergrowth and thicket. Perfect for the miniature bird to forage and feed. Not great for getting clear shots though!

MC002573 FirecrestMC002573 Firecrest   MC002554 FirecrestMC002554 Firecrest

The problem was that there were too many people there, jostling for position, trying to photograph the sprite. I sort of stood back and watched the bird do a circuit. I figured it would make its way out of one area and into a clearing, so I positioned myself in a decent spot and waited. Sure enough, the bird appeared like a shinkansen out of the hedge and darted up the tree. It was difficult to get a clean shot of the bird through the small branches and busy undergrowth. Manual focus was called for to try and get a sharp image. Autofocus was pointless given the amount of distracting branches in front of the bird. Add to the fact that the bird moved so fast, it was difficult to lock on to it using manual focus. Oh how fast we get accustomed to autofocus!  

MC002580 FirecrestMC002580 Firecrest

It did pop out in the open for a brief second every now and then, though, which was nice. A bonus was that the Firecrest had started singing! It was a lovely song and the first time I had heard it.

MC002555. Firecrest FlightMC002555. Firecrest Flight The conditions were difficult to get a sharp flight shot, despite the 1/2000s shutter speed...

MC002405 BullfinchMC002405 Bullfinch While waiting for the Firecrest to make an appearance, a pair of Bullfinches were gorging themselves on the freshly emerged buds on the trees. The female kept herself quite hidden, but the male was quite bullish in feeding away at the top of the trees. Always fantastic to see. 

It was a great few hours spent with the Firecrest, frustrating at times with the rush of people trying to get photographs. However, it was also nice to catch up with some folk I had not seen in quite a while. 


Comments

Kevin Maguire(non-registered)
Hi Mark.
Great blog and well written.
Nice to see patience paying off.
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