Musings and photos of wild and everyday life

Posts tagged “Gannet

2015 Review

Gannet Stare
Sorrell Hill from Lugnagun

Sorrell Hill from Lugnagun

Canon EOS 7D

Canon EOS 7D ready for new careful owner

Looking back 2015 was a mixed year, starting cold and ending with the wettest weather that I can remember.  In between there were decent warm and dry spells and from my perspective, at least, a good year for wild things and places.

January started cold with plenty of Finch flocks, particularly Goldfinch around the lakes.

Small flocks of flighty, restless Long-tailed tits tested my camera and patience and Redwing & Fieldfare appeared as usual. (Winter Birds)

It was a good time for walks and enjoying the clear winter air and views.  Lugnagun is one of our favourites offering views of the Lakes on one side and the mountains on the other with chances to see Ravens and small birds and perhaps Peregrines.

It was also the time to sell and upgrade my trusty 7D camera which had served very well for years.

 

Dunlin Flock, Bull Lagoon, Dublin

Dunlin Flock, Bull Lagoon, Dublin

February showed signs of Spring but it was our old haunt, the North Bull Island, that brought fondest memories.  Many hours have bben spent here in the past when it was on my doorstep.  Now it is a good journey but always rewarding.

Thousands of waders were there as usual, as well as Brent Geese and ducks such as Shellduck and Teal.

For me, the huge, wheeling flocks of waders in the sky when they are disturbed, beats any sight in Dublin.

Mute Swan with attitude

Mute Swan with attitude, Kensington Gardens, London

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March saw various creatures getting ready for the amorous season.

This Swan in Kensington Gardens in London seemed to have an extra dose of hormones.

He chased anything that moved and many that hadn’t intended to, seeing off all and sundry, including large Canada Geese, just for being there.

Rat sniffing air outside home, Russborough

Rat sniffing air outside home, Russborough

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Nearer home, a rat had made the base of a tree into a complex home with a network of paths and exits.

Wren on branch

Wren on branch

 

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Regularly hated, shunned and feared, these are interesting creatures and not in any way ugly to my eyes, although they are associated with a number of human diseases.

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Along with blooming plants, the nesting season accelerated in April.  Birds marked their territories by singing and despite being tiny, this little guy sang with the best of them – an unmistakeable high-pitched song to brighten any day.

Howth Head view

Howth Head view of Bull Island to Lambay Island

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May is the official start of Summer.  Flowers that had brightened Spring, spread and developed and showed the countryside at its best.

Howth Head is a great place to visit in May (or most months) and is a favourite trip of ours.

It may be unique in displaying such a diversity of scenes and habitats in such a snall area, still bustling with human life.

To the North is the well-known busy harbour with restaurants, fishing industry, Gulls and Seals.

A brilliant walk takes you all round the cliffs or up over the top of the head.  The cliffs host seabird ‘towns’ – vast numbers of closely nesting Auks, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and Cormorants – while the head hosts many lovely small birds, such as Wheatear and Stonechat.

Gannet Stare

Gannet Stare, Great Saltee Island

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The Saltees welcomed us for our annual visit in June.

A bit like Howth only more remote, quieter and with better weather, this is an absolutely brilliant Island.

Puffins Courting

Puffins Courting and Bill-clacking on cliff edge, Great Saltee

Thousands of seabirds, lovely wild flowers and an island away from it all – what’s not to like?

However it is a toss-up as which of 2 birds is the greatest attraction – Gannets or Puffins.

 

Both are magnicifent.  The gannets nest in great numbers  – one of the most important sites in Europe, while the tiny Puffins vary in number each year, depending on the availability of Sand Eels.

But they are strikingly coloured and impossibly cute.

Apart from the sea birds, the island also had Choughs and Gull species as well as Oystercatchers.

Heath Spotted Orchid

Heath Spotted Orchid, Pollardstown Fen, Kildare

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Pollardstown Fen in County Kildare was visited in July.

Fed by a spring, this marsh area is now designated as a Special Area of Conservation.

It has an old feeder canal to the Grand Canal and was important to that transport system.

Many different plants and animals can be found there including a number of Orchids and a car park, path and boardwalk make access easy.

Green Vervet Monkey

Green Vervet Monkey, Nairobi National Park

 

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Business required a visit to Nairobi in Kenya in August and, well, you can’t go there even for a short time without seeing some African wildlife!

Nairobi National Park is not huge and lacks quite a few animals, such as elephants, that had to be removed for their safety.

But it is very close to the city and has Rhinos, Zebra, Lions, and many other animals and birds.

The Green monkeys are cheeky and get quite close.

Elephants bathing and playing in pool

Elephants bathing and playing in pool, Etosha National Park Namibia

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September saw most of the Summer birds and animals still around – butterflies in the garden, terns at the coast, etc.

But holidays took us back to Africa on a brilliant trip from Victoria Falls to Cape Town.

Amongst so many sights, we took in Chobe and Etosha National Parks, the dunes and deserts of Namibia and Penguins in South Africa.

So many mammals and birds but particularly, many many elephants.

A great trip in great company.

Autumn Colours Mount Usher gardens

Autumn Colours Mount Usher gardens

 

 

Water levels in the lakes were quite low in October which saw little rainfall – quite unlike the end of the year!  Now if there could just be some storage scheme to even it out (and maybe have the rain fall at night!) :).

Autumn colours predominated and few places show this better than Mount Usher gardens.

Apart from the foreign trees and plants, there are many native species and the Vartry river flows peacefully through.

Also Butterflies, Herons, Dippers and Wagtails, amongst others, are regularly seen.

Tufted Duck male

Tufted Duck male, St. Stephens Green, Dublin

 

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We had a wedding in November and a number of visitors, so it seemed a more indoors time than outdoors.

But life in the great outside continued as normal, where the mild weather was well appreciated, especially by the smaller birds.

St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, one of my regular walks, seemed to be back near to Spring levels with Ducks back in full plumage and Swans and Pigeons being fed (although too much bread, I fear).

Tufted Ducks dived and preened and water rolled off them like worries should for us.

 

Wigeon feeding in Rogerstown estuary

Wigeon feeding in Rogerstown estuary

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Rogerstown estuary in North Dublin is a very good birding site with a tidal estuary, bird hides and some pools and a wooded area.

In December it was teeming with ducks and waders including Wigeon, Teal, Shelduck, Pink-footed Geese, Redshank, Greenshank and Lapwing.

There were also Peregrines and Buzzards.  Not bad for one site.

As the tide receeded, hundreds of mostly Wigeon, formed a line along the diminishing channel as the light became more and more golden.  Hard to leave.

Sunken Boats on Blessington Lakes

Sunken Boats on Blessington Lakes at Russborough

Christmas came and went with more parties! The weather outside however was stormy and rainy with many places flooded.  The only good part was that it remained warmer than usual.

With cold weather creeping in, I wish everyone a great 2016.

 

 


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