Tag Archive: birds

Siskin au jardin

Male siskin, home garden, 27 Jan 2013

A male siskin enjoying some peanuts in our garden this morning



Ah, the days when Greenfinches were as common as sparrows at our bird table.

This shot from my early days as a photographer, with a 3.1 MP camera from Tesco!

House Sparrows and Greenfinches, Mourneview Caravan Park, Newcastle, 14 Jul 2007

House Sparrows and Greenfinches, Mourneview Caravan Park, Newcastle, 14 Jul 2007

Peatlands Park, Dungannon, Co. Armagh

Peatlands Park

Today my mum and dad took me to Peatlands Park for the Butterfly Conservation NI Recorders’ Day. The speakers were brilliant, the seats were gluteus-numbing, and the news was positive: conservation efforts are having measurable impacts, halting declines of several rare species, especially in the south of England. It gives us up here in Nornia some motivation to expand and expand and expand.

It was great to meet and talk to people too.

The weather was entirely non-lepidopterous: the Emperor Moths which should be around on every bog in the country were nowhere to be seen, and a walk with Ian Rippey after the meeting yielded no Holly Blues or Green Hairstreaks.

But we did see extraordinary pitcher plants…

Pitcher plants, Peatlands Park

Feed me, Seamour! FEED ME!

…a flock of mallard chicks that was completely off the cute scale…

Mallard chicks, Peatlands Park, 21 Apr 2012

Innocence incarnate.

Mallard chicks, Peatlands Park, 21 Apr 2012

Beyond cute.

…and of course the usual: several old Stigmella aurella leaf mines, which I won’t show a photo of.


Hillsborough Forest Lake

Hillsborough Forest Lake

Our family took a trip to the County Down village of Hillsborough today, taking advantage of the sunny weather. Nobody told the northerly breeze it was supposed to be a nice day, but despite its best efforts the wind couldn’t suppress a few butterflies – a Small Tort fluttered vigorously past as we started a brisk walk through the trees around the lake.

American Skunk-Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus), Hillsborough Forest Lake, 12 Apr 2012

American Skunk-Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). Apparently it smells pretty bad close up.

A patch of bright yellow American Skunk-cabbage flowers by the lake caught our attention as the path made a bend. But further out I saw what I thought was a duck sitting on its nest. The bird had a red-brown head. Wigeon maybe? Pochard?

Nesting Great Crested Grebe, Hillsborough Forest Lake, 12 Apr 2012

The mystery 'duck'

But as I squinted through the binoculars the mystery duck raised and turned its head to reveal the unmistakable, unforgettable face of a –

“Great Crested Grebe!” I gasped.

(At this point I will have to enlist the halp of Jack, one of my contacts on Flickr and a much better photographer than I am…)

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) © Purple Centipede~Jack on Flickr

I’ve never seen this bird before – and I wasn’t expecting to see it any time soon! Moreover, I wouldn’t have dreamed of finding one sitting on its nest!

We completed our circuit of the lake, and after returning to the toilets at the Fort where we had earlier discovered Jackdaws nesting in a tree on the lawn…

Nesting Jackdaws, Hillsborough Fort, 12 Apr 2012


…we had lunch in town. I renewed my love of sundried tomatoes, revived my hate of burnt red onion marmalade, and had the worst milkshake I have ever had at a cafe in town which shall remain nameless.

We dandered down Main Street to look for an entrance to the other lake in the town. A foray into the play park was unsuccessful in finding a gate (the lake was probably in the private grounds of Hillsborough Castle) but very successful in another way. A pale blue shape fluttered in the sunshine and landed on a fresh chestnut leaf lobe – my first Holly Blue of the year. It opened its wings to bask, showing the broad black borders that identified it as a female.

Holly Blue female, Hillsborough, 12 Apr 2012

Hiya Celastrina!

And then we returned home for dinner and wallpaper stripping. 🙂

2012 BIRDS
Great Crested Grebe takes my year list to 80
and my British life list to 114

Holly Blue takes my year list to 6 

Valentine’s Day with my birds!

Belfast Harbour Lagoon

Belfast Harbour Lagoon

I took the notion to do a bit of birdwatching at the Harbour Reserve today, and I’m glad I did!

Following a fishing vessel into the harbour when I arrived at the end of the road by the lagoon, was a Lesser Black-backed Gull, my first of the year, along with all the usual gull rabble. The cormorants at the end of the pier were sporting white thigh patches, and I was finally able to confidently say “they are not shags” for the first time in quite a while.

A seal came swimming along the shore but didn’t stay for a photo. At one point I looked up to see a sky full of shelducks, which had been temporarily spooked off the lagoon. Didn’t have the sense to check for a peregrine. And both types of guillemot were present in the channel, as well as a female red-breasted merganser.

The photo above shows the scene that greeted me as I opened the viewing flaps at the north hide. After picking out a pair of Shovelers…

Shoveler duck and drake

May McFettridge's makeup artists!

…and loads of Black-tailed Godwits…

Black-tailed Godwits

Godwits. That must be prophetic.

… I was joined by Stephen Maxwell, a photographer whose name I had seen online but had never actually met. First words out of his mouth: “Have you seen the Iceland Gull?”


Spot the Iceland Gull!

Spot the Iceland Gull!

He directed my attention to the blue ship. Below the letters AN…

Iceland Gull at Belfast Harbour Reserve, 14 Feb 2012

IcelĂĄnd Gull!!!


There has been quite a lot of rare gull activity in Northern Ireland lately: the Iceland Gull is the most common of these ‘rarities’ – it’s about the size of a herring gull, but paler and with white wingtips. I’ve been down at the Lagan Weir on several occasions after school to try and see one, but with no luck. Now, here was one, and in full adult plumage at that. I gazed at his Icelandicness. Just lovely.

I will now describe the rest of this photo extremely quickly: theresalesserblackbackedgullbehindhisicelandicnessandloadsofcommonandblackheadedgullsperhapsaherringgullandhalfashelduckintheupperrighthandcorner.

Having gorged on Icelandicness I headed round to the Observation Room where King of the Weir Ronald and several other birdwatchers, including Stephen who had retreated earlier, were munching cookies and sipping tea. It would be remiss of me not to mention the smaller birds: two greenfinches (that’s a good number for them!) flitted over my head as I came in, and there was a reed bunting at the feeder.

Munching a cookie, and looking over the hide checklist for the day, I noticed ‘Golden Plover: 90’. That would be a new tick for me. “Are they still about?” I asked Ronald. Sure enough, in the spotting scope I could see them, absolutely unmistakeable, just like the photos. No job for binocs though, which is why I hadn’t picked them up before. Shortly, they were all up in the air, a cloud of golden confetti.

And with that, I said my goodbyes and left.

Teal drake


life list BRITISH BIRDS: 113


Quel an!

With GCSEs… work experience… butterfly outings… birds… it really has been an important year for me. But most significantly it’s been a year for making contacts with other nature enthusiasts. I’m very thankful to them for giving me such a warm welcome. (And for teaching me a thing or two!)

I have enjoyed the natural world so much this year. I suppose it’s been a year where I’ve gradually turned into a birdwatcher on top of being a lepidopterist! I’ve begun to report my bird sightings and make lists of the species of seen, and so I can safely say that my Northern Irish bird total for 2011 comes to 101 species – including lots of new faces.

Well, I say faces. There was one bird that I never actually saw – a trill and a wheeze from somewhere behind a hedge was enough to inform me of the presence of a Yellowhammer. It has been a minor dream of mine to hear it sing its “littlebitofbreadandnocheeeeeeeeeeeeeeese” song – a dream fulfilled in an appropriate way: my only auditory bird discovery.

Some encounters were more spectacular. I shall never forget seeing that short-eared owl lifting off a fencepost in front of me. Or finding that sparrowhawk relieving a pigeon of its feathers.

28 Oct 2011 Sparrowhawk

Sparrowhawk breakfast

Or seeing whooper swans in July.

Or watching vultures soar around the Shenandoah Valley.

I saw my rarest-ever bird, Wilson’s Phalarope: one young wader blown off course into Belfast Lough.

18 Aug 2011 Black-headed Gull, Wilson's Phalarope and Knot

The beautiful white one in the middle.

And my ID skills are growing – I can now tell shags from cormorants (the shag has a steep forehead).

27 Dec 2011 Shags at the Lagan Weir

Shags at the Lagan Weir - not as rare as I had thought!

Another thing I’ll never forget is standing by a waterfall watching Purple Hairstreak butterflies chase each other around the oak trees. The second-rarest butterfly in Northern Ireland, yet so apparently invulnerable and free in their fifty-foot homes.

But whoops, I wax lyrical, and I’d better stop before someone throws up (like myself). The proudest moment of my year, second only to getting my GCSE results (!) was witnessing a caterpillar that I had protected through the winter turn into a lovely little female micromoth one sunny afternoon, and then find a dashing suitor that very night. This was Diurnea fagella. (For the benefit of anyone who knows Latin, a more appropriate name might be Nocturna mali, but never mind.)

To me, she’s Flipper.

To him, she’s well fit like.

26 Mar 2011 Diurnea fagella pair in cop

True love. The female on the left, male on the right.

My first butterfly sighting of the year was surprising in nature but not at all surprising in identity…

16 Mar 2011 Small Tortoiseshell - at school!

Dozy but very much alive, a Small Tort on the bathroom windowledge at school.

And then there was America! Amazing weather and amazing wildlife… including the brilliant Juniper Hairstreak…

25 Apr 2011 Juniper Hairstreak

Juniper Hairstreak on juniper at the lake near the hotel.

Back home I spent another summer catching moths in my back garden and in Murlough with my modified-badminton-racket-net, turning up some beautiful semi-rarities (Small Elephant Hawk; Narrow Bordered Bee Hawk) but also some beautiful unrarities like this pristinish Yellow Shell.

30 May 2011 Yellow Shell

A common but beautiful Yellow Shell brightens up a dark evening.

And of course the glorious daytimes brought such delights as Silver-washed Fritillaries, Graylings galore and my first ever Wall Browns.

17 Aug 2011 Wall Brown female

The rarest of them all.

All in all, Northern Ireland showed me 24 butterflies and 104 moths this year.

But there was one incredibly special moment that didn’t involve butterflies, birds, OR moths…

28 Sep 2011 Common Darter dragonfly

Greetings from the Ood ...onata

If I needed any encouragement to accept a challenge to a 2012 dragonfly race, this was it – a Common Darter dragonfly landing on my hand. I have a feeling I’ll be seeing a lot more of the Odonata in 2012!

Blogging all my experiences this year has been a joy, and I hope you’ve loved MMXI as much as I have.

Happy New Year!!!

Samuel Millar


As I was saying, guillemots weren’t the only thing I saw at the Lagan. I also saw several thousand starlings. And this time I had my camera with me!

07Dec11 Starlings

07Dec11 Starlings

07Dec11 Starlings

07Dec11 Starlings

07Dec11 Starlings

07Dec11 Diamagnetism DemoOn Wednesday, some of our physics class went to a lecture about superconductivity, where I accidentally put my finger in liquid nitrogen. The demonstration was a magnet levitating above a dish of yttrium barium copper oxide superconductors (which required cooling to -150C in order to actually work, hence the need for liquid nitrogen). Superconductors are materials with zero electrical resistance, so once a current is flowing in one, it can keep going for billions of years. A magnet placed near a superconductor will induce a current in the superconductor with an associated magnetic field that directly opposes it, and hence the magnet levitates. But as the superconductor had warmed up, the magnet fell down and became attached to it. So when I tried to lift the magnet, the superconductors and dish of liquid nitrogen came with it, and the rest is history.

But putting my finger in liquid nitrogen was actually not as bad as standing beside the Abercorn Basin later that day in a December gale, looking for a female Long-tailed Duck!

07Dec11 Lagan Ferry Docks

When I arrived at the Lagan, walking under the M3, I though I’d found it – a black-and-white bird swimming and diving in the river beside the Odyssey Arena. On closer inspection it was actually a kind of auk which I’d never seen before.

07Dec11 Guillemot

There were two of them, both with a distinctive black eye line through their white faces. I headed on round the path, past a young cormorant fishing in the Abercorn Basin, past the Titanic Museum, down the road to the Titanic dock before I realised I had overestimated the amount of time I had, and had to turn back.

07Dec11 Titanic Museum Belfast

Returning to the Odyssey, I found three of the auks now present – plus a mottled-white Tystie… and then I had my doubts. Were the unidentified auks simply Tysties in winter plumage?

Looking at my RSPB Birds of Britain and Europe, it turns out all Tysties / Black Guillemots have mottled-white plumage in winter, and the black-and-white auk I saw was actually a Guillemot – my 110th British bird!

But wait! That’s not all I saw at the Lagan…

07Dec11 Starling Murmuration

To be continued…

Birding on the Lagan

29Nov11 Black-headed Gull (adult winter) at the Lagan Weir

For the past few weeks a female Long-tailed Duck has been frequenting the Lagan Weir in central Belfast, along with a Kingfisher kingfishing off the pontoons. See NI Birding and NI Birds.

I went down there last Tuesday afternoon to try and find them. (The duck would be a new species for me, and the kingfisher a new tick for the year.) I had a nice time watching black-headed gulls under a clear blue sky (the one in the picture seemed fascinated with little eddies at the side of the weir, and was oblivious to the huge ceramic fish creeping up on him) but I didn’t see any duck or coraciiform of any kind.

But I got a cracker shot of Nula With The Hula (otherwise known as the Lady of Thanksgiving, my favourite sculpture in the entire country).

Lady of Thanksgiving

I mentioned in my post two Sundays ago that our family missed the evening Murmuration of starlings at their roost under the Albert Bridge (just upriver from the weir). Well, a few days later I trotted down the street after school, and rounding the Waterfront Hall saw a



                  stormcloud of starlings…

… but I will leave that story for another day, when I have the sense to bring a camera.

I’ll say this much: it was amazing…

Albert Bridge, Belfast. Not a starling to be seen, but you could certainly hear them.


Well I finally got my moth records for the year off to BCNI, which has given me a spurt of energy to do a bit of blogging.

My life’s British bird list reached 109 today with a lovely pair of Red-breasted Mergansers at Cultra. Pity they weren’t closer in to shore and in better light, but hey, I’m bound to see them again some time. Also present were a raft of 16 Eiders, males and females, another recent addition to my list when I first saw a pair of them in the same location a few weeks ago. Plus a flock of 15 Curlews, and 6 Brents feeding at the shore.

The light was apalling and no decent shots were acquired.

Our family then headed to the Albert Bridge to try and catch the evening  Murmuration but all we got was a cacophony of noise from the starlings which had beaten us to the bridge in the fading light and were all out of sight. Plus two juvenile Tysties (black guillemots) and a humungous woodlouse the size of someone’s big toe.

As it was almost dark, no decent photos were acquired – again.

At which point I shall have to insert a photo of a rather attractive grasshopper to stave off the visual boredom.


Going back over my bird lists recently I realised that not only had I miscounted my birds but left two out, so I was 4 species richer than I had thought! So the Dipper I mentioned in the Purple Hairstreak post was my 103rd, not my 99th. Do I want to bore my readers with my life’s bird list? Oh, go on then.

#99 Ruff (in non-breeding plumage, which means I’d never have identified it without the help of the birders at the Harbour Reserve Hide)
#100 Bar-tailed Godwit (is that the red one?)
#101 Snipe
#102 Wilson’s Phalarope (a juvenile at the Harbour, the only bird I’ve ever ‘twitched’)
#103 Dipper (dipping)
#104 Sanderling (on sand)
#105 Spawk (eating a pigeon alive. I was going to do a blog post but I was lazy and just wrote about it in the description box on Flickr)


#106 Linnet (linnetting)
#107 Shag (STOP!)
#108 Eider (way)
#109 Red-breasted Merganser (hey)

I was even starting to bore myself there. It’s much nicer when you’re standing looking at the thing.