2nd Edition of The Birds of Ireland: A Field Guide out on 21st March 2024

March 19, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

Eleven years after the first edition first appeared on the shelves of bookstores around Ireland, we are proud to bring you the 2nd edition of our field guide. It comes out on the 21st March 2024 and is being published by Gill. 

Birds of Ireland V1Birds of Ireland V1

We have updated a lot of the plates with new images, for example, flight shots of passerines, more comparisons on plates of similar species, additional images on the rare and scarce plates, and changes to some of the background colouring. We also included distribution maps, an updated red species list (unfortunately), and updated the sections at the start and end of the book. We are both thrilled with the second edition and feel it is a marked improvement on the 1st edition. An example of some of the updated plates follow. 

Whooper Swan Plate_edited-2Whooper Swan Plate_edited-2

Whooper Swan

Red breasted Merganser Plate_edited-1Red breasted Merganser Plate_edited-1

Red-breasted Merganser

Grey Plover Plate_edited-4new_editedGrey Plover Plate_edited-4new_edited  

Grey Plover

Raven-Plate 2nd EdRaven-Plate 2nd Ed

Northern Raven

Sanderling-Plate 2nd EdSanderling-Plate 2nd Ed

Sanderling

Jim and I are very proud of the 2nd edition. We hope that you get as much enjoyment from using the book as much as we enjoyed putting the updates together. A huge thank you to everyone at Gill Books (Margaret, Mia, Charlie, and Teresa, and everyone behind the scenes) for all the hard work in getting this over the line. Thank you to the photographers who filled some gaps for us...much appreciated. Links to purchase the book are here: Gill BooksEasons, Hodges Figgis/WaterstonesDubray Booksand Amazon. The book will also be available in all local bookstores and online. The book is out on the 21st March 2024. 

 


Refresh is coming!

December 03, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

I am hoping to have a refresh of the website up and running soon! Please bear with me. Thank you.


Tysties getting feisty

June 26, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Black Guillemots, or Tysties as they are known in Scotland, are part and parcel of Ireland's coastline, with the exception of the south east corner. They breed in sea caves generally, but have also taken to nesting in pier walls, quay walls and even road support walls. They like to nest in crevices and holes in these walls, above the high tide mark. For those living in or near Dublin, Dublin port, and its surrounding harbours, are a great place to see Tysties in all their breeding finery. They even breed far up the River Liffey in the city's quay walls near the Four Courts! One of the better places to watch them is at Poolbeg, along the Great South Wall. It is a best on a rising tide and from late morning to early afternoon. The birds fly close by, land on the wall and will ignore you if you sit quietly and be patient. They are a great subject to practice exposing dark and bright colours on a single object. 

MC7D3448 TystieMC7D3448 Tystie MC7D3438 TystieMC7D3438 Tystie

The distinctive black and white alcid is easily recognizable in the waters that traverse the nation's capital and the coastline of Ireland. In breeding plumage, they take on the jet black plumage, with white wing patches and white underwings. Their legs and mouth are bright red. The younger individuals, and those wearing their winter garb, are more white than black, and have a mottled appearance.   

MC7D3405 TystieMC7D3405 Tystie MC7D3411 TystieMC7D3411 Tystie

With the majority of the adult Tysties paired up in late April/early May, the youngsters born the previous year try to squeeze in on the territories of these pairs, which can cause some ructions amongst the loved-up pairs. They youngsters are generally chased away by one or both of the pair, which can end up with their chosen nesting hole being taken by a pair lurking around and watching it all unfold. It's quite entertaining.  

MC7D3482 TystieMC7D3482 Tystie MC7D3525 TystieMC7D3525 Tystie MC7D3456 TystieMC7D3456 Tystie MC7D3516 TystieMC7D3516 Tystie

The pairs often fly up from the sea surface and alight on the quay side (or wall). Here, they would call, sit, preen, reinforce their bond and chase off any other interested male who may be trying to push in on the pairing. This generally results in a face off and some quite aggressive posturing, with the pair chasing off the would-be suitor. The reaction is often never hinted at, so it is a great way to practice one's reaction to action happening in a split second. I usually find a spot where the birds rest up and sit on the opposite side of the wall to them. The later morning/afternoon is the best time for this on the Great Wall in Dublin Bay as the sun will be behind you. Not ideal in terms of disturbance, as it tends to be busy with folk walking along the Wall, but the birds won't fly away if those walkers give them some space. 

MC7D3560 Tystie flightMC7D3560 Tystie flight MC7D3571 TystieMC7D3571 Tystie MC7D3446 TystieMC7D3446 Tystie MC7D3450 TystieMC7D3450 Tystie

The display flights are always great to witness, watching the pair match their flight pattern and chasing each other on short flights. Sometimes when they come in to land, they can misjudge a wave and literally belly flop into the sea and skim across the surface like a skipping stone. They also like to snorkel when they are looking for food by simply putting their head underwater and paddling along the surface.  

MC7D3588 TystieMC7D3588 Tystie MC001625 TystieMC001625 Tystie

The Tystie is unusual when compared to its auk cousins that also inhabit our shores (Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin) in that they change their appearance completely from breeding to non-breeding plumages, and are unrecognisable as being the same species to those unfamiliar with them. The once dark and white plumage becomes overall white/grey with some black on the wings and around the neck. They are equally beautiful in winter as they are in summer. 


Kittiwakes are brilliant!

June 15, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Kittiwakes are brilliant. I just love watching these elegant seabirds effortlessly make their way over stormy seas with aplomb. It is a treat to listen to the contact calls of the Kittiwakes on the seacliffs around Ireland at this time of year. I went down to Dublin Port at the beginning of April on a rising tide to watch a gathering of over 100 or so Kittiwakes, having returned back to their breeding grounds around Dublin Bay following their winter sojourn out to sea. I love this time of year, as the Kittiwakes are looking resplendent and there is a backdrop of calling Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns in the Bay. It is a real feeling that Spring is here and Summer is around the corner. Poolbeg Power Station and the Great South Wall is a fantastic place to see the gathering Kittiwakes at that time of year. The birds just saunter up and down the Great Wall into the teeth of the wind, hanging there just enough to enable some good photographs to be had. It is a real treat to watch. 

MC7D2799 KittiwakeMC7D2799 Kittiwake

It also allows one to practice one's panning technique for birds in flight and to hone one's skills in quickly adjusting camera settings to get the exposure correct while the action is happening in real time.  

MC7D2878 Kittiwake shiteMC7D2878 Kittiwake shite MC7D2745 KittiwakeMC7D2745 Kittiwake MC7D2707 KittiwakeMC7D2707 Kittiwake

Because of the nature of the way the Kittiwakes make their way up along the edge of the wall here, it is an opportunity to play with the depth of field of oncoming, moving subjects. It is also fun trying to freeze some action or flight poses that the birds are exhibiting, such as certain wing angles, positions or head movements. 

MC7D2826 KittiwakeMC7D2826 Kittiwake MC7D3384 KittiwakeMC7D3384 Kittiwake MC7D3388 KittiwakeMC7D3388 Kittiwake

MC7D3390 KittiwakeMC7D3390 Kittiwake

This sequence of images shows how the Kittiwake walks along the surface of the water, picking up food as it goes along. Always nice to watch a group of them doing this.  

MC7D3050 KittiwakeMC7D3050 Kittiwake MC7D3379 KittiwakeMC7D3379 Kittiwake

MC7D3893 Kittiwake 2sumMC7D3893 Kittiwake 2sum MC7D3989 KittiwakeMC7D3989 Kittiwake I was fortunate to see these seabirds in their Arctic habitat recently and I now look upon them in a whole new light. So strange seeing Kittiwakes among icebergs, sea ice and glaciers. But more on that anon...


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

April 30, 2016  •  Leave a 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 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. 

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