Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rye Water Aqueduct

This passed Sunday I got a chance to head out on a hike that I've been wanting to do for a few weeks.  Just south of Maynooth in Leixlip the Royal Canal crosses the Rye Water with an aqueduct.  It sounded like a neat place to walk, and I really enjoy the walking along the canal and I still want to see a Kingfisher, so off I went.
I left my front door on foot and headed down Carton Avenue, through town and towards the canal near the Maynooth Harbor.  I cut through the parking lot, I mean car park, of the local SuperValu when I noticed some small birds fly into the top of the tree.  I looked at them through my binoculars and couldn't believe it, Goldfinches, the first ones that I've seen in Ireland.

Goldfinch - Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland
What a great start and I hadn't even reached the canal yet.  They flew off and I continued on my way. I reached the canal and started my way south along the old towpath.  Here's an interesting aside, during a tour in Dublin the driver/tour-guide told us that "toe the line" is actually "tow the line" and referred to horses looking straight ahead and pulling their loads down the canal.
I saw the usual birds along the canal.  Some Great Tits, Blue Tits, Song Thrushes, Wrens, House Sparrows, Jackdaws, Rooks and Magpies.  Here is a female Blackbird, who looks like it's eating a crab.

Blackbird, Female
Blackbird - Co. Kildare, Ireland
There were loads of Dragonflies and Damselflies about.  There was a large, Greenish Dragonfly with amazing gold wings, but I never got a chance for a photo because they never landed near me.  But there were lots of these bright Common Blue Damselflies around and I saw more than one pair mating.

B is for Damselflies
Common Blue Damselflies - Co. Kildare, Ireland
There were many butterflies about too, this Tortoiseshell was nice to see.

Tortoiseshell Butterfly
Tortoiseshell Butterfly - Co. Kildare, Ireland
Just before the Canal makes a turn to the North, and towards the aqueduct, in Leixlip, I saw a pair of Barn Swallows who were sitting on a wire long enough or me to get a photo of them.

Barn Swallows
Barn Swallows - Co. Kildare, Ireland
To be honest, there wasn't many chances for nice bird photos.  I'm still missing my DSLR system and thinking of a way to replace it before next year.  But I also never saw a Kingfisher along the canal that day.  But I did get to the aqueduct about 8km from my front door.

Ryewater Aqueduct

The aqueduct was built in the 1790s and at the time was the biggest construction project in Europe.  It's basically an earthen dam with a tunnel for the Rye River and the canal running across the top, and now railroad tracks.  Overgrown trees really cut down the view, but the large Intel factory was easy to see to the west. I made may away across the top and decided to explore the Leixlip Spa area at the bottom of the far side. I saw more Blackbirds there and a small bird off in a tree.  I managed to get a quick glance at the head and saw a bright yellow-stripe, it was a Goldcrest, another lifer, but never sat still long enough for a photo.
I decided to get home an alternate way and walked to the nearby train station and caught a commuter train one stop back to Maynooth.
I chose the train over the bus so that I could walk by the Maynooth Harbor and a car park in town that is very birdy.  I got lifer Bullfinches there and it seems to always be busy, and today was no different. I saw some Pied Wagtails and House-Martins.  But a bright blue color caught my eye.  A Blue Tit was in some trees and let me stand there and watch it preen for a few minutes right in bright sunlight.  Conditions for my camera couldn't be better and I got the photos to prove it.

Blue Tit
Blue Tit - Co. Kildare, Ireland
And on the other side of the car park I saw 2 Spotted Flycatchers working an ivy-covered wall.

Spotted Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher - Co. Kildare, Ireland
By the time I made it back home my phone told me that I had walked a bit over 10km and saw 26 species, with 2 lifers, but still no Kingfisher or Buzzards. And all with foot power or public transit, so maybe a zero carbon day.
The weather is supposed to be turning rainy tomorrow, but I'm still hoping to get back down to Coronation Plantation and maybe meet up with my friend Paul at the coast (and to get my camera's battery charger back).  I've been taking the kids to the Dublin zoo about once a week and have some photos of the wild birds that we see there that I may turn into a blog post.  The zoo itself is pretty nice, but big, and we've already become members.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sally Gap and Coronation Plantation

As a stay at home dad, what I really wanted for Father's day was some time out of the house alone.  I was lucky enough to get that Sunday morning.  Using my copy of Finding Birds in Ireland I decided to head Southeast a bit to County Wicklow and Wicklow Mountains National Park.  There were 2 places that I wanted to explore, Sally Gap and the Coronation Plantation.  The hills around Sally Gap are known for Red Grouse, but I never did see one, and Coronation Plantation may have Dippers and Whinchats.  I got to the area early and it was much more open than I thought that it would be.

Co. Wicklow
Wricklow National Park - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Ireland normally has some of the narrowest roads that I've ever been on, and the roads near here were even narrower.  I found the first pull-off that I found and got out to walk around.  I left the road on a trail and ran into a guard sheep.

Guard sheep
Guard Sheep - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Lots of other sheep were nearby. This is a National Park, and I have no idea who's sheep they are. They were all tagged and color-coated.  There were some birds around, I saw a lone Wren singing away, but every other bird that I saw was a Meadow Pipit.

Meadow Pipit
Meadow Pipit - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
By the time that I left the Sally Gap area it was a given that anything in the air was a Meadow Pipit, which was a bit disparaging. But they are great singers.
Just West of the Sally Gap crossroads was the best place to see Red Grouse, according to my guidebook.  But all I saw was beautiful countryside, Meadow Pipits and bicyclists.

Sally Gap, Co Wicklow Ireland
Sally Gap - Co Wicklow, Ireland
I trudged up the slope for a bit, but I still didn's see any Grouse.  And the wind was starting to be something else.  As pretty as it was I decided to head towards home and a stop at Coronation Plantation along the way. Before I got back to my car, I noticed some shapes downslope, and on the other side of the road.  They were a heard of Sitka Deer.

Irish Deer
Sitka Deer - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
I later learned that these deer are originally from Asia and were introduced for hunting.  But they escaped their estate and are now found throughout the countryside. Did I mention how we go birding here in Ireland?

Birding in Style - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
The only automatics that they seem to have at Hertz are really, really nice cars.  
I made my way through the bicycles and sheep on the road and parked at Coronation Plantation.  I immediately regretted going anywhere but here first thing. I started to see lots of non-Pipits in the grass and bushes.  I'm thinking that I was watching some Warblers across a small stream, but I never got them to sit still long enough for an ID.  The Warblers here seem to fill the niche of sparrows in the US and are mostly all brown and tend to be shy.  But I kept walking along and found a river filled with various-sized rocks. Perfect Dipper area, with no dippers.  I came to a bridge across the river and scanned again for birds on rocks.  I didn't see any Dippers, but I saw a Grey Wagtail sitting out there.

Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
On the other side of the bridge was a fence with a closed gate.  There were no signs to tell me where I was, or if I was leaving the park or not, so I decided to stay on my side of it.  Apparently it's just a gate and the park keeps going, which I wish that I would have known then.  But standing around there I noticed some birds flying though the trees.  They were a few Chaffinches chasing each other around.

Chaffinch - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
This one got close enough and sat there singing for me to get some ok shots of it. Right after I turned around and crossed back over the bridge, still no Dippers, I saw a bird gliding along the trees on the far side.  It was dark like a Rook/Raven, but then it turned and I saw a lighter belly and tail stripes, a Sparrowhawk!  It flew by very quickly and then disappeared into a tree and I never saw it again, but it was awesome.  One of the birds that I've really been wanting to see in Ireland.  (I would happen to see another one the following day from my backyard.  I was hanging laundry and I heard some Starlings making a racket.  There were a dozen or so harassing a Sparrowhawk.)
The area of Coronation Plantation is really pretty.  There is an open field between the road and the creek with some Scotts Pines across the river.  The trees were planted in 1831 to try and get some timber business started, but the climate for them was really wrong and no newer trees were ever germinated.

Co. Wicklow
Coronation Plantation - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Since I dipped on the Dippers, I was looking for another bird that should have been in the area, Whinchats.
I thought that I had seen one high in a tree earlier in my walk.  But I was heading back to the car when I saw a bird fly by me and land a bit behind me.  I turned around and managed to get a photo of it.

Whinchat - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
It was a male Winchat. I would see a female nearby too. And also near there was a bird that I had seen a few weeks earlier at Bull Island, a Reed Bunting.

Reed Bunting
Reed Bunting - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
I tried once again to ID the brown birds off in the shrubs, but I never did.  I do plan on going back soon.  It's a really nice place to take the kids, not many places for them to get into trouble while I look at birds.  And next time I'll go through that gate and explore the Scotts Pines more, there can be Crossbills in there and someone in another blog mentioned seeing Woodpecker holes there once.
But I wasn't quite done with the birds yet.  On the way back home to Maynooth my Satnav sent me on a very narrow road that had lots of sheep on it.  I had to take my time anyway, but I got some nice shots of some birds from the Audi's windows.

Grey Wagtail
Grey Wagtail - Co. Wicklow, Ireland

Bullfinch - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
This Bullfinch photo may be one of my favorites.  Too bad that branch is in the background.  

Happy Father's day to my dad, who I really miss, and all you other dads out there. Especially my fellow Stay at Home ones.


Thursday, June 5, 2014

Howth Head Cliff Walk

I started writing about my Bank Holiday outing this past Monday here, where a local birder took me to Bull Island in Dublin. I got to see quite a bit of lifers, including Skylarks, which I have always wanted to see.  But our day wasn't over then.  Paul suggested that we go out to Howth Head and look at nesting seabirds and some other small birds who lived in the meadows at the top of the cliffs.
One of the first things to see as we parked at the base of the cliff walk was a large island north of us.  Paul said that it was known as Ireland's Eye.

Ireland's Eye island
Ireland's Eye
The Island is an uninhabited park which hosts quite a few nesting birds.  On the main part of the island we could see Cormorants sitting here and there.  But on the bit that is off to the right and on it's own, we could see lots of birds through our scopes.

Gannet and Kittiwake nesting
Nesting Gannets and Kittiwakes - Ireland's Eye
We could make out Gannets and some smaller Black-Legged Kittiwakes.  The Gannets were easily identifiable by the dark edges to their large wings. We did this observing while sitting at a small snack shop at the base of the trail while waiting for some coffees. We also got to see some of the birds that are becoming familiar to me, Pied Wagtails and Hooded Crows, along with some Swifts and Common-House Martins.

Pied Wagtail
Pied Wagtail - Howth Head, Irealnd
Hooded Crow
Hooded Crow - Howth Head, Ireland
After we finished our coffees, we started up the trail to the top of the cliffs. There were lots of hikers out, and by the voices that I overheard, this was a popular spot for tourists.

Irish Shore
Cliff Walk - Howth Head, Ireland
Once the trail leveled out, we stopped to look at many nesting birds on the vertical wall below the cliffs.  There was quite the assortment.  The most numerous were Black-Legged Kittiwake, followed by Guillemots (aka Common Murre), Razorbills and a single pair of Northern Fulmars.

Black-Legged Kittiwake, Razorbill and Guillemot nesting
Nesting Seabirds - Howth Head, Ireland
It appeared that everyone was still sitting on eggs and that there were no young yet.  I had seen Guillemots in Oregon, where they are called Common Murre, but the rest were new to me.  And it was my first time seeing nesting seabirds, which were as noisy as one would expect.  I may take the family back there in a few weeks after the chicks hatch.  But I'm not the only one waiting for the chicks.  There were 2 Ravens above the nests hanging out waiting for an easy meal too.
We were hoping to see a Rock Pipit, but continued to see Meadow Pipits instead.

Meadow Pipit
Meadow Pipit - Howth Head, Ireland
We left the edge of the cliffs to go inland a bit to try and get some different birds.  We found some thicker brush and were soon rewarded with some Whitethroats, a type of warbler.

Whitethroat - Howth Head, Ireland
As we walked up a path we noticed an egg on the ground, and then a few more.  They looked like Gull eggs and there were a pair of Hooded Crows nearby.  

Gull Egg
Scavenged Egg - Howth Head, Ireland
Paul remarked that Ireland was sort of the land of Corvids.  There seemed to be a lack of raptors, I had only seen a couple of Buzzards (Hawks) while driving and a solitary Kestrel on this trip.  And due to the lack of raptors, the Corvids have filled in the gaps.  He made me think about it.  There are Ravens, Jackdaws, Hooded Crows, rarer Carrion Crows, Rooks and Magpies everywhere. But I've yet to see a Buzzard or a Sparrowhawk through my binoculars.

Howth coast
Howth Head looking Northwest, Ireland
We kept seeing birds, more Meadow Pipits, Martins, Swallows and Swifts. And quite a few Common Linnets, which I would describe as a House Finch analog, were also flying around, another lifer for me.

Common Linnet - Howth Head, Ireland
We heard and then saw a Ring-Necked Pheasant, just called Common Pheasant here, and then Paul heard some Wood Warblers in some thick brush.  They never showed themselves for more than a second, but he heard a Sedge and a Willow Warbler, but I couldn't ID them.  But 2 Reed Buntings landed right next to us, a new bird that I had first seen earlier at Bull Island. One was an adult and it looked like a recent fledgling was begging for food.

Reed Bunting
Reed Bunting - Howth Head, Ireland
It was nice to meet someone in Ireland and great to see a couple of nice spots where I'll be sure to go back to while I'm here.  All in all a great day.


Monday, June 2, 2014

North Bull Island

Today was the Summer Bank Holiday here in Ireland. It serves as the unofficial start of Summer here and it even gave my wife an extra day off.  That made me able to go out birding with a local birder, Paul.  A good friend of mine from Albuquerque had put me in touch with someone from Ireland that she had birded with in New Mexico before.  He suggested that we meet in North Dublin and head to the coast.
Our first stop was Bull Island. It is a low, grassy island that is connected to the mainland with a causeway and contains at least one golf course.  It's also the home of a very important wintering spot for lots of different birds and we'd be visiting in the off-season.  And apparently the entire island is man-made.  When Dublin Harbor was dredged out decades ago, the silt got piled in one spot and an island was made.  Right by the car I was able to see lifer Shelducks and Great Cormorants, along with some Great Black-Backed Gulls and some Herring Gulls too.  But the bird that I think we'd see the most of by the end of the day were little Meadow Pipits, like this one sitting on a fence post.

Meadow Pipit
Meadow Pipit - Bull Island, Ireland
Paul remarked that he was hearing a Skylark.  I had wanted to see one since I read about Kenn Kaufman seeing them in Washington state in Kingbird Highway.  But our first look was one way up in the air singing away.

Skylark - Bull Island, Ireland
I was fairly excited, and then one flew down and landed on a tuft of grass right beside us and I got an even better look at it.  Their little crest is a good field-mark.

Skylark - Bull Island, Ireland
The weather looked like rain during the majority of our walk, but then the Sun would make an appearance, and one of those times I got to see my first Irish rainbow.

Add caption
We made our way to the shoreline where we saw some more Gulls and even some Oystercatchers, but nothing photo-worthy.

Bull Island Shore
Bull Island Shoreline - Dublin, Ireland
We did get to see lots of butterflies in the tall grass, like this great looking blue one.

Small Blue
Small Blue - Bull Island, Ireland
We made it back to our starting point and added a few more birds to our list, but nothing exciting.  And the weather was cloudy again.  Our next stop would be Howth Head and nesting seabirds.  But I'm going to save that for another post in the interest of not making these too long.