Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Posts tagged “Bridled Guillemot

2016 Review

Robin & Worm

Another good year and the current mild weather is encouraging for a good 2017.

Old favourites were highlights again – Cold weather at the start of the year didn’t put off Harry the Heron in Saint Stephen’s Green, here trying to swallow a large fish.

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Harry in St. Stephen’s Green with Fish – Roach perhaps

Spring brought early flowers including the usual Crocuses, Snowdrops, Daffodils and Helebores as well as more cultivated plants – all providing sustenance for the early insects.

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Skimmia Japonica Rubella flower buds

In gardens and parks, birds were excited, feeding eagerly for the nesting season.

Robin & Worm

Robin eating Worm in St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin

Coal Tit

Coal Tit in back garden

Many walks were taken.  One of the nicest is in Durrow, Co. Laois. A couple of good walks taking in Castle Durrow and the Erkina river as well as woods and fields, are great for relaxation, exercise and nature.

Durrow Castle & Estate

Durrow Castle & Estate

Summer brought our annual pilgrimage to Great Saltee Island. Puffins and Gannets were numerous but the island hosts thousands of other birds as well as eye catching displays of wild flowers.

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Guillemots including Bridled variety on Rock Stack, Great Saltee

Beside the river Liffey, Coronation Plantation looked well in Summer sun.

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Coronation Plantation, Co. Wicklow

Back in St. Stephen’s Green – did I mention what a great place this is, in the middle of the capital city! Of course I did but it really is 🙂 – Swan, Duck, Pigeon and even Sparrowhawk chicks were thriving.

Mother Tufted Duck with growing juniors St. Stephen's Green

Mother Tufted Duck with growing juniors St. Stephen’s Green

Other good Summer walks took us to Carlow where we were rewarded with a glorious sunny wheat field with wild poppies around the edge and

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Wheat Field with Poppies, Carlow

back to my old North-side where Sutton at low tide revealed waders and gulls and great views.

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Worm Casts on Sutton Beach and Ireland’s Eye

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Squabbling M&F Red Deer, Killarney NP

We visited Killarney in August and people and clouds were once again dominant 😦  Someday we will get good weather but not that time.  The scenery was still stunning and we saw a good deal of wildlife including a lot of Red Deer, including 2 that seemed to be boxing! ——————-

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Silver-washed Fritillary butterfly, Killarney NP

The year did not seem to be great for Butterflies but this beauty appeared in Killarney National Park.

———————————————  Deer were again in focus in the Autumn in Phoenix Park, Dublin, where the annual rut saw stags strutting their stuff and sometimes clashing in head-jarring fights with rivals hoping to claim the ‘rights’ to a particular group of Does.

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Fallow Deer Rut master bellowing over Does, Phoenix Park

Climbing Croagh Patrick mountain gave brilliant views over Clew bay, islands and Baltra strand. We also had a great cycle ride.

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Clew Bay & Baltra Strand from Croagh Patrick

Wildlife around Westport included Great-Northern Loons (which used to be called Divers) and pleanty of waders. A wren foraged continuously in the trees and bushes and around old rusty pillars

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Wren at Old Head, Mayo

.All that sea produced lots of Seaweed in a variety of colours and patterns.

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Seaweed at Old Head, Mayo

The colours in Ireland in Autumn and early Winter are often taken for granted but it is worth getting out, particularly on those magical, crisp, clear days to walk, look, listen and just soak-up the scenery.

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Autumn Leaves Shankill River, Wicklow

Frost appeared early mornings late in the year and that coupled with an enduring cold / flu, curtailed golf a bit but the lakes looked stunning on calm days – the course too with a partial frost covering.

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Calm Blessington Lakes from Tulfarris

After Christmas over eating, we felt obliged to take a decent walk and revisited Seefin mountain in the Dublin / Wicklow range.  The cairn on top covers a 5000 year old Neolithic passage Tomb and the view from 621 metres up is well worth the strain and cold.

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Cairn over Neolithic Tomb on top of Seefin Mountain

A few trips were also taken to fine places in other countries but other posts will have to deal with those as it’s time to wish everyone a

Happy 2017.


Great Saltee

It really is a great place.Great Saltee

I have only been there twice but it has to be one of my favourite places in the world. 

I’ts not any any one thing.  You can see seabird colonies easier in Howth for example.  You can find ‘nicer’ islands where you can swim and sunbathe  with less disturbance and with good beaches.   There are much bigger seabird colonies in the UK and even in Ireland,  No it is the brilliant combination of super birds, good climate, off-shore location and the immediate belief that you are somewhere special.

The island is known for its sea-birds but its remoteness makes it a happy habitat for many small birds and of course, birds of Prey.  Also being so southerly, it is a good spot for migrating birds.

Razorbill on cliff, Great Saltee
Kittiwake on cliff nests, Great Saltee

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The ‘normal’ seabirds are here, clinging on to the cliffs like goats on mountain ledges. Razorbills with their heavy looking beaks on tiny cliff ledges and Kittiwakes – sort 0f black legged sea-gulls – on whatever bit of grass they can find on the sheer cliffs.

Just to look at them is exhilerating.

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Bridled Guillemot on side of cliff, Great SalteeFulmar flying in wind, Great Saltee

Razorbill taking off from cliff Great Saltee
Guillemots, auks, like the Razorbill, are also common.

This one is a ‘Bridled’ Guillemot, named after the monacle like stripe and circle on each eye.

Fulmars are here, often in the best nest sites. Like many other species here, they are hardly seen during most of the year, flying far out to sea, but they come to the cliffs to nest during the summer.

They look like Gulls but the tube on their bills relate them to the Albatrosses.

They have near complete mastery of the wind and fly with stiff wings.

The wind plays a big part in birds’ lives here, as at all cliff sites. Birds have to master landing on sharp edged rocks and just imagine launching yourself off a tiny ledge over rough sea far below the theacherous cliffs.

Birds use every bit of surface area to effect uplift when taking off, like this Razorbill with wings, tail and feet used to the maximum.
Razorbill offering sand eels Great Saltee

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Food is also key, both from a successful feeding and rearing point of view, as well as in formal rituals such as courting. The favoureed meal is Sand Eels and the availability of this food source generally dictates the success of the nesters each year.

Recently there has been a decline in Sand Eel numbers, believed to be due to climate change but also possibly due to over-fishing. Birds have been trying to make-do with other food but initial results look poor and the number of nests around our cliffs seems to have decreased.

Apart from the Black Guillemot, all our resident auks nest here. I seem to remember Black Guillemots nesting on cliffs when I was young, although that was a while ago. In any case they now seem to be more often seen in harbours and river mouths and they even nest and are commonly seen in the centre of Dublin.

Cormorants and Shags both have colonies of ragged nests. Other common birds here include Chiffchaffs, Wheatear, Reed Buntings, Rock Pipits and Choughs, while there are many Grey Seals around the coast.

Great Black_backed Gull approaching nest & Eggs Great Saltee
Gannet Colony section Great Saltee
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Above the Cliffs, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls nest.

The Great Black-backs are the perennial marauders and poachers and have a great view of unattended nests and babies from their high vantage points.

But the Saltees are best known for 2 bird species.

The first is quite obvious when you approach.
Gannet Colony section Great Saltee

Huge numbers of Gannets whirl in the air and dive straight down from a height for fish in the sea and 2 spots – one sea stack and one headland – are almost obscured in summer by Gannets and Gannet nests.

The nests are packed in, spaced to leave only enough room to avoid neighbouring beaks!

Apart from the noise and constant motion, the other noticable feature is the strong smell!

Overhaed there is constant activity with birds landing, taking off or over-flying looking for their patch, their nest or their chick.

Gannet flying overhead Great Saltee

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It is hard not to be impressed by this magnificent bird, even from a distance. Up close and personal, it is even more impressive.

Firstly it is big – the wings are nearly 2 metres wide and flying over you there is no mistaking who is the master!

Secondly, it looks great; white with black wing tips and a lovely pale yelow colour on the head.

Finally it seems to be built for speed or more precisely, for reducing air and water drag. Both ends, head and tail, are tapered and the eyes are recessed, making it perfect for diving through the air at spped, with wings swept back and cutting through the water to catch fish.

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Gannets approaching main runway Great Saltee
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Just like an airport, the wind direction determines the prevailing runway and a stream of Gannets follow each other into the air or back into the colony.

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Gannet looking down at colony Great Saltee

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Gannet on nest Great Saltee

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Is that a streamlined beak and head or what?

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The nest is a simple mound of seaweed and vegeatation and there is usually only 1 egg which is hatched after about 6 weeks.

Gannet babies Great Saltee

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The chicks start out as white balls of fluff but gradually turn black as the skin shows through.

They are fed for about 8 weeks before leaving to turn into white adults after a couple of years.

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Puffin on cliff top Great Saltee

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The other speciality here is the cutest and reason enough on its own, to come here

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Puffins nest in burrows at the top of the cliffs. They are very small, only around 30 cms head to tail and their wings seem too small to carry their puffy bodies. But when they fly, the wings extend more than you expect and seem to whirr to keep them airborne.

Puffin on cliff Great SalteeSea Parrots or Clowns they may be called but when you see them in their home habitat, it’s all other birds that look silly!

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If there were no birds here this would be a special place.

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With huge numbers of birds it is one of the places you just have to visit.

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But with all that and Gannets and Puffins and a magical persona, its a little piece of heaven!

Puffins overlooking bay Great Saltee