Alan Dalton post's birding diaries and original artwork from Sweden. Established in 2006, this now long running blog is now a complete overview of my birding experiences. As an artist I greatly enjoy sketching birds in the field and you will find a wide selection of that work here, from fieldwork to finished paintings. I am very passionate about my artwork and try to depict birds in their natural habitat, as I see them in the wild. My artwork is for sale and can be viewed at http://www.alandalton.net/
As regards to my photography, since 2008 I have used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera coupled with a Sigma 150-500mm OS lens for since March 2012 for bird photography, all previous images being digiscoped. Regarding sound recording, I have been usung a Telinga Stereo Dat Mic and parabol to record birds in the field, coupled to a Marrantz 661 digital recorder, a superb piece of kit. Interest in butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies has recently seen the accquisition of a Sigma 150mm macro lens. I hope you enjoy the blog and please feel free to leave comments or contact me at alandltn@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Birding on Cape Clear Island; Ireland; An Overview

 A remarkable aerial shot of Cape Clear taken by Chuck Kruger in the nineties. A rugged island at the best of times, it is exposed to extremes of weather and is battered by the full force of the north atlantic. It is a mecca for birder's, boasting some remarkable rare bird records. It is justifiably famous as one of the premier sites in western europe for scarce and rare migrant birds and huge seabird passage. The island receives less attention these days and is perfect for the birder who likes to find his or her own birds. Not to be written off, this island is still very much capable of turning up mega rarities. I travel there next week for the optimum period, the first two weeks of October, based at Cape Clear Bird Observary.

From the 1-15th October next week I will be birding at Cape Clear Island in west Cork, Ireland. I will be blogging daily from the island over those dates, with latest sightings and photographs, along with accounts of the days birding. Hopefully there will be a few good birds along the way, perhaps even a major rarity or two, with american passerines at the very top of the wishlist. Accomadation has been arranged at the Cape Clear Bird Observatory, rates here are reasonable and the facilities have much improved in recent years, the observatory having had a recent facelift and now has hot, indoor showers. Having been a warden at the observatory in the past I am very familiar with the island and am hugely looking forward to two weeks at the optimum time of the year, early October....

 Cape Clear Harbour in the sixties, the bird observatory can be seen at the upper right of the photo...

Cape Clear is located off the southwest coast of Ireland. It lies off county Cork, just inside the Fastnet Lighthouse and is a remarkable site for seeing migrating birds, scarce passage migrants and rarities alike. It's location means it is well placed to receive eastern vagrants, american vagrants and huge passage of seabirds. It is a truly remarkable site in this regard, where else has a single observer found a Swainson's Thrush and Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler within minutes! Only a handful of sites can match it's list of past rareties, Fair Isle and the Scillies spring to mind. Bear in mind this is a small island, just  a couple of kilometres from east to west, less than a kilometre from north to south, just perfect for a visiting birder to work over  couple of weeks...

 Yellow-browed Warbler. A regular migrant on Cape Clear, often several birds can be present on a good day in early October...

Birding in October on Cape Clear is reliant on the weather. Winds in the easterly to southerly quarter bring regulars passage migrants such as Pied Flycatcher, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Blackcap and birds like Redstart, Black Redstart, Reed Warbler and Thrushes. From these birds one may well find Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Firecrest, Lesser Whitethroat and Barred Warbler. Anything can turn up, major rarities from the east have included Greeniish Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Sykes Warblers, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Pallas Grasshopper Warbler, Siberian Thrush, Dusky Warbler and Bonelli's Warbler, off the top of my head!

 Arctic Warbler, the first for Cape Clear and an extremely rare bird in Ireland. The bird was found in the 'Nordy Wood', which was planted for Alder saplings and Willow cuttings more than 15 years ago thanks to Anthony Mc Geehans industry. I had a great time helping to plant the area back then with Anthony, Stuart McKee and Catherine Hannon, nice to see birds of this quality turning up at the site now...

The potential for neartic passerines has been well documented in the past, Cape Clear Island has a jaw dropping list of yanks. Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, Gray Catbird, Yellow Rumped Warbler(several), Blackpoll Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Blue Winged Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Grey Cheeked Thrush, Swainsons Thrush, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, White Throated Sparrow, Boblink, Red Eyed Vireo, Baltimore Oriole, American Redstart and Northern Waterthrush, again off the top of my head! These birds generally turn up during westerlies after a series of rapidly moving low pressure systems cross the atlantic, though sometimes they turn up out of the blue in other weather, perhaps coming off the mainland after an earlier landfall...

 Yellow-rumped Warbler. Cape Clear boasts more records of this american warbler than anywhere else in western europe, the last individual occuring in October 2010.

Cape Clear is not all about rarities though. The island has breeding Chough, a cracking sight tumbling overhead on occasion. Ther are breeding seabird colonies and there is superb passage of seabirds off the island, which is famous for Great Shearwater movements. Auks, Shearwaters, Petrels, Skuas and other species all pass off the island in southwesterlies, when they are pushed in close to the island and can be seen from the islands seawatching points, though these are not for the faint hearted! The island itself is beautiful, wild and rugged. It is stunning in some places, with high cliffs and seascape vistas, the might of the Atlantic Ocean often pounding the island with spectacular waves. Bracken, Brambles and tangled gardens hold passerines. Robin, Blackbird, Stonechat, Dunnock and Wren are the commonest species on the island. After the day is done the birders shower up, eat and make there way to one of the three island bars for the daily bird log, evening weather forecast, a few pints of Murphys Irish Stout, banter and conversation and occasionally, a celebration of a rarity...

 Chough is one of the more interesting resident species, easily seen over the course of a days birding. There is much more to the islands fauna than rare birds...

Birding Cape Clear in the right conditions is exciting stuff, falls of migrants can be large and on a good day every patch of cover can seem to hold a migrant. Quite often large numbers of common species are recorded, whilst over the following days the rarities staying on are found, having been lost amongst the fall to observers eyes. On occasion weather conditions do not suit and birding can be tough, though there is always the chance of a huge rarity out of nowhere, which confounds birder's...in short you never know whats lying in the next tangle of cover around the corner...

Eastern Towhee, wouldn't that look good in the brambles in Cotters Garden! You just never know what might turn up, anything is possible from the neartic and birders dream of finding american passserines whilst birding on the island in early October.

In recent years other sites in Ireland have been discovered by pioneering birders, such as Tory in Donegal, Inishboffin in Galway, The Mullet in Mayo, Kilbaha in Clare, as well as other headlands in the southwest such as Dingle, Garinish, Iveragh and the Mizen. These sites have turned up some great birds and shown that exploring new sites can lead to rarities, that the entire western seaboard can, and does throw up rarities. Cape Clear was a birding mecca in the past, though numbers visiting the island have dwindled markedly. Whereas the prime early weeks in October would of seen perhaps thirty birders in the past, coverage is now down to less than half that. Incredibly you can find yourself one of a handful of observers on the island in midweek in good conditions and god knows what waiting to be found. The potential for finding good birds and rarities is staggering, so fingers crossed for some good birding weather, along with a little bit of luck and perhaps a little perseverance. If nothing else the blogged accounts of the fortnight of birding might give an insight into the magic of birding Cape Clear to the unititiated. See you on the other side folks...

Link here to the Cape Clear bird Observatory webpage, detail of accomadation, general imformation and an account of October 2010 to be found here..
http://www.birdwatchireland.ie/Birdwatching/CapeClearBirdObservatory/CapeClearBirdObservatoryIntroduction/tabid/567/Default.aspx


Monday, September 26, 2011

Birding on Landsort; 27th September 2011

A stunning scene at dawn, Sodra Udden.

Up early, this time to a west/southwesterly wind of about F3. Thw wind matters greatly to migrating birs and we expected less birds of prey as a result. Sea passage and passerines wold be passing though and on arrival at thelighthouse the scene was spectacular due to a stunning sunrise over the sea to the east. I took some time to get some shots in the half darkness. using long exposures to photograph the lighthouse...



Above and below; Sodra Udden Fyren; The lighthouse pre dawn...



The birding today was as expected. as soon as it was bright enough to see them birds were passing on the sea in greater numbers than yesterday. First up were a Great Crested Grebe and a summer plumaged Black-throated Diver flying south purposefully. Duck were moving in small flocks, with Wigeon, Teal, Eider and Velvet Scoter the most numerous. Then a raptor over the sea heading for the island, wings held upwards during the glide, a Marsh Harrier, which flew fairly close in the early morning light..

Marsh Harrier

Sparrowhawk were present too, though in smaller numbers, as were Kestrel. Then the call for a group of 3 Little Gull, most welcome and my first in some time. A short while later there was a closer bird, then another group of ten! As it transpired there was a notable movement of these birds taking place and we would go on the record 106 moving south, an exceptional passage and one of the highlights of the morning...


Sparrowhawk




Stock Dove

As the light increased the passerines became identifiable. A feature were the first Skylark of the trip, groups flying east overhead, vocal as always. Then cam the deep call of Crossbills, three passed at close range, big with deep bills, Parrot Crossbill! My first of the year and a superb view. THe first of three Merlin had been seen hunting passerines over the sea, I watched it now to the south as it attacked pipits, eventually catching one whilts upside down in mid air. Then the shout for Peregrine came and we had a huge adult female bird over the west shore of the island. It dissapeared for a short time and then reappeared, it was about to give me one of the most memorable birding species imaginable...

Attack from beneath and behind bt a Peregrine on a juvenie Hobby, a quite amazing sight over the sea on the west side of the island. The peregrine was a very large female and caught up on the Hobby in speed quickly...




The bird sweeps up on the hapless smaller falcon, which tries to evade it..




The strike happenned a split second agter this moment, the two birds are already in contact here. The peregrine flipped over and took the Hobby, then carried it off southwards.

Quite incredibly it was chasing down a Hobby, it soon became apparent this was no game but a true hunt. The bird powered from the coast at the smaller falcon which was migrating along the coast of the island. The peregrine powered along underneath the Hobby before twisting and powering upwards, the Hooby avoiding it by twisting to the side upwards. The peregrine turned again and corkscrewed, this time maling contact with the smaller bird, but was not able to hold on, the Hobby slipped free and escaped calling loudly. Some damage may have been inflicted though, as the peregrine easily caugh up on the bird in level flight and took it in its talons, the bird then carrying ot off to the south. A quite incredible spectacle...

Kestrel hovering. All birds seen over three days were juvenile...

After the Peregrine left we had some good views of Kestrel. The first of 5 Red Necked Grebes was also picked up distantly in the scope, whilst Merlin was seen again. Little Gulls passed constantly, the final count was a remarkable 106. 7 Waders over the sea were eventually identified as Purple Sandpipers, my first of the year.


A Magpie mobs a passing Sparrowhawk.

Afte a while the passage died and we left to search for passerines, Song Thrush were everywhere. We had seen many arrive earlier from the lighthouse and many were resting on the island. Again Goldcrest and Chiffchaff were dominant, though John had a brief Yellow-browed Warbler which was not relocated. We left on the afternoon ferry after a wonderful birding experience, looking forward to next years visits already..


The west harbour at Storhamn, taken from the ferry as we left the island..


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Birding on Landsort; 26th September 2011

A Sparrowhawk rounds the lighthouse at Sodra Udden. These bird were on the move from first light and on occasion dashed past just overhead...

A full days birding at Landsort starts at dawn and we were up at 5am for breakfast. Coffee was thrown down our throats as we headed for the lighthouse in anticipation. The wind was northwest, good for birds of prey we were assured, the forecast was for a clear day too. Raptors like these conditions. At barely first light a Sparrowhawk blasted past the assembled birders. Redpoll, Brambling, Meadow Pipit and White Wagtails were sudenly overhead calling, all moving south. Then a small group of Siskin, a couple of Kestrel, then a Tree Pipit passed south calling. This really was a class apart...


Sparrowhawks just kept on coming ovr the morning...

This is visible migration at its best, we were in the middle of a strong passage of passerines and raptors, many of which were coming in off the batic sea and flying on to the east. The first White Tailed Eagle of the day drifted in over the sea and perched on the rocks off the point, a blue colour ring on the left leg telling us this bird was eleven years old! Then came a shout, "Harrier" and we latched on to a ringtail moving southeast over the island, a Hen Harrier. A couple of Common Crossbill flew over calling, then a Grey Plover was picked up whilst Red Breasted Mergansers moved south over the sea. A call for a bird of prey revealed a Honey Buzzard, the first of the day, but not the last.
 Some of the sights will not leave me for some time. Four Greater Spotted Woodpeckers high overhead migrating out southeast over the sea was remarkable, I never took these birds as migrants. The sheer numbers of Cormorants moving was phenomenal, how many populate the archipelago here?

Juvenile Kestrel. These birds have had a superb breeding season due to terrific numbers of Lemming to the north this year, the fourth bumper year in a row. This may explain the large numbers at Landsort over the day..

Kestrels kept moving through, the numbers remarked upon by local birders as exceptional. I picked up a female Pintail far out to sea. Sparrowhawk numbers increased steadily, birds streaming past every three or four minutes. I then haerd a call I've not heard in a while, Lapland Bunting, the bird passing over calling for others to hear. The came a harrier out to sea at over a kilometre range, a ringtail low over the water. It struck me as very narrow tailed with a noticably small white rump. Others remarked on the light panels on the upperwings, but the bird could not be surely identified, only suspected of being a Pallid Harrier as it drifted off to the east and not coming closer. Oystercatcher, Brent Goose and more Honey Buzzards followed before a heavy looking bird powered down the centre of the island, a Peregrine Falcon.


Peregrine Falcon, a juvenile bird. Quite rare here in Sweden...

The bird came closer and rounded the lighthouse were we were treated to a superb sight when a Goshawk appeared from nowhere and the two birds showed their mettle in the air above us! It was appreciated in all and was one of the hightlights of the day for me. Cormorant flocks were moving constantly over the island on groups up to 100 strong...


Cormorants, a typical migrating flock...

Cormorant the most obvious species overhead. Meadow Pipit, Siskin and White Wagtail were the predominant passerines. Sparrowhawk continued to the point where eight birds were viewable in the air. A late morning highlight was a group of eight Crane high overhead, trumpeting as they passed over.


Cranes migrating...

The remainder of the day was spent looking for migrants. Lots of Goldcrest about, super abundant on the day. Chiffchaff were aslo noted, three uttering the sparrowlike call I have heard on occasion in Ireland, northern Chiffchaff it seems they were?

 Chiffchaff



 Outside the observatory we were treated to a winderful sight, 3 Rough-legged Buzzard moving up the island, a really memorable site. They were followed four Honey Buzzard! All in all a great days birding, the totals as follows; 3647 Cormorant, 3 Black-throated Diver, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Pintail, 240 Wigeon, 5 Red Breasted Merganser, 1 Brent Goose, 1 Oystercatcher, 3 Dunlin, 1 Grey Plover, 8 Golden Plover, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 2 Greater Balck-back Gull, 14 Black Headed Gull, 8 Crane, 254 Sparrowhawk, 27 Kestrel, 1 Peregrine Falcon, 1 Hen Harrier, 1 Unid. Ringtail Harrier, 2 Marsh Harrier, 4 White Tailed Eagle, 5 Common Buzzard, 16 Honey Buzzard, 1 Hobby, 3 Rough-legged Buzzard, 3 Goshawk, 4 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Lapland Bunting, 22 Redpoll, 52 Siskin, 619 White Wagtail, 560 Meadow Pipit, 9 Tree Pipit, 22 Greenfinch, 18 Redpoll, 63 Chaffinch, 1 Snipe, 12 Tufted Duck, 5 Common Scoter.


Above and below; Goldcrest feeding in pine...


A quite remarkabe day was ended by a quite remarkable sunset, I was tired and slept very well, another mornings birding ahead of me...




Birding on Landsort; 25th September 2011

 Kestrel; Aptly, this was the first bird of the trip. The first of many over the coming days...

This was a long awaited late September visit to Landsort, a two night stay with John Costello to sample autumn birding at this baltic island. What a great couple of days birding it would prove to be...
 We arrived around 4.30pm. and hastily dropped our bags and headed for the main watchpoint, the lighthouse at Sodra Udden. Almost immediatly a juvenile Kestrel passed south and out over the sea! I grabbed the first of many shots as it did so. We scanned south for more approaching migrants. White Wagtails flew south overhead, as did Meadow Pipits. Then we picked up a larger bird of prey moving towards us down the spine of the island...





 Juvenile Honey Buzzard over Sodra Udden..

A juvenile Honey Buzzard was identified through the telescopes and it proceeded to fly right over us in glorious light against a backdrop of clear blue sky, thouroughly enjoyable. More passerines passed overhead as visible migration continued, the first of a brace of Merlins hurtled over the lighthouse. Then a few Stock Dove began to pass...



 Migrating Stock Doves at Sodra Udden...

We saw several singles before a flock passed. Later another Stock Dove was accompanied by odd company, a couple of Ruff! They passed together overhead as we enjoyed a short evening session of visible migration watching. The totals as follows..
6 Kestrel, 1 Honey Buzzard, 2 Merlin, 53 Meadow Pipit, 77 White Wagtail, 28 Stock Dove, 18 Chaffinch, 2 Ruff,


Sunset to the east of Landsort.

Considering migration often stops by midday we were very happy with the short watch at the lighthouse. Later, back at the observatory, we sat in on the daily log, an impressive day of raptor migration and passerines had been had by those presnt in the morning, Two-barred Crossbill had been seeen and our appetites were well and truly whetted for the following days birding at this fabulous site...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

Gulls; Skeppsbron; 15th September 2011

 Above and below; 1st calender Great Black-backed Gull at close range, a very confiding bird this one. Three present today. though this one was the largest, a real beast of a gull...








 Above and below; a 1st calender Baltic Gull displaying vert brown tones in the plumage, a striking bird. Note the new scapular, dark grey in colour. A pale headed bird this one, a light morph.








 Above and below; a nicely marked pale type 1st calender Baltic Gull, a cold toned bird this one.



Back today to look for the Caspian type gull seen yesterday, alas no joy at all. There were not so many gulls resting in the area and the bird was not seen. A few nice 1st calender Baltic Lesser Black-backed Gulls around though, including some new individuals...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Juvenile Dunlin; Sandemar; 14th September 2011

 This confiding group of four were oblivious to my presence, perhaps breeding far to the north away from people. In an event they aloowed me some lovely shots today. Note the new greyish scapulars, the bird is now moulting to 1st winter plumage...




 Note the rufous fringes to the upper scapulars and the long billed appearance of these birds...














 Note here the white "V" where the mantle borders the scapulars...




 Right in front of the lens...









The closest bird here looks remarkably long billed...

Shots here of juvenile Dunlin, by far my best to date of the speceies, Sandemar Reserve.