Adventures in the birding paradise that is Co. Offaly, Ireland...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Finally, it pays off...

I've just realised that I managed to devote an entire post to Greenfinches. Recognising an acute need to get out more, this week I visited possibly the top birding site in the county (it certainly has the most bird hides - four and counting). The Lough Boora Parklands comprise a landscape of post-industrial peat extraction, rehabilitated for wildlife through the creation of wetlands and other habitats (in addition to other things: one of the top European sculpture parks, Sculpture in the Parklands, is also here (and one of the sculptures is a bird hide!)). Birding-wise, the area is probably best known in Ireland as the last remaining site for Grey Partridge, although it has attracted a few other juicy species over the years. This week, however, the focus is on wetland birds which I was surveying for the Irish Wetland Birds Survey (I-WeBS).

Bird Hide at Boora
(Wetland beyond frozen, so no birds, but a nice hide...)
Wetland birds here typically consist of large flocks (1,000+) of Lapwing and Golden Plover with good numbers (100+) of Mallard and Teal. There is usually a herd (note correct collective noun for swans) or two of Whooper Swans around, a flock of Curlew and smaller numbers of Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe and Moorhen. Unfortunately the wetlands completely froze over during December, forcing most of the wetland birds to bugger off and find some unfrozen sites, probably on the River Shannon system. Nevertheless, a monthly count was required, so we bravely headed out not expecting too much. Fears were confirmed at the first couple of wetlands, which were almost completely frozen. However, we did find a few unfrozen pockets of water and were able to record a few wetland species, including Whooper and Mute Swans, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, a flock of Curlew, and the odd Lapwing (4), Golden Plover (3), Snipe (1) and Little Grebe (1 - no idea why it has persisted on its own). Bird of the day was nearly the four Grey Partridge (but they are becoming easy enough to get here thanks to the successful conservation work), so it was almost a solitary Shoveler (not a regular species here), but one of the Whooper Swans managed to oust the lonely old Shoveler from top spot. Why? Because it was ringed. Even better, we managed to read the ring (a yellow Darvic ring) in the field and, the icing on the cake, the readies I forked out on a fancy zoom eyepiece for the telescope for exactly this (reading Darvic rings on Whooper Swan at Boora) two years ago (having spent a winter chasing one sodding Darvic-ringed Whooper around the peat fields without getting close enough to read the damned ring) finally paid off because without it we wouldn't have been able to read the ring at all. Probably. Money well spent then.

The Darvic-ringed Whooper Swan
(digi-scoped (badly) with old eyepiece and not at all clear)
The Darvic ring reads B9T (anyone get that from the photo above?). The details have gone to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust who run the "Super Whooper" project (seriously) and a soon as I hear back from them about this one, I'll post its story here.

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