Monday 13 April 2015

Chairman's Report - AGM March 2015

  Chairman’s Report, March 2014

Sixteen events were organised in 2014 with trips to the Old Head of Kinsale also being run throughout April to look for migrants on days when the weather was suitable.  We will be running the same system this year, so if you want to see migrants at the Old Head, please sign up to receive text notifications.  Our trips ranged from the local, with walks at Courtmacsherry and Clonakilty to slightly further afield with a weekend trip to Castlegregory in Co. Kerry.  Sadly, the response for the trip to Kerry was poor and so we will not be running something similar this year.

Perhaps the highlight event of the year was the annual talk , this time given by Jim Wilson at the Cork Airport Hotel.  This event was run in conjunction with the Cork Branch and turned to be a popular and successful event with further monies being raised that will be used to fund work on conservation and education in County Cork.

The Dawn Chorus event was held at the Liss Ard estate and my thanks go to Nicholas Mitchell who stepped in to cover my absence, I’ll book my holiday for a different time of the year this year!.

My own personal highlight was autumn trip to Cape Clear, where we had good views of Whinchat, Turtle Dove and for the lucky few, Melodious Warbler.

In organising events, the Committee have tried to put on a range of different types of events, we hope that they are the sort of events that people want to attend.  We are always very open to hear suggestions as to the type of events or venues that people want.  So please get in touch if there is anywhere that you would particularly like to go to or any birds you would like to see.  We have considered running weekend trips away but following the response to the Kerry outing, we will rethink this unless we get feedback that this is the type of outing that people would like to attend.

Nicholas Mitchell attended the Birdwatch Ireland AGM, and what an eventful AGM this turned out to be with a number of new Board members being voted.  The organisation has gone through some turmoil and upheaval over the last 18 months or so but once the new Board settles in, we are hopeful that a period of stability will allow Birdwatch Ireland to grow.

As always my thanks go to the members of the Committee and to all the leaders who have given their time to lead our events and to all of those involved in organising the trips.  In particular, my thanks go to Pete Wolstenholme who despite standing down as Chairman has continued to provide invaluable advice and lead outings for the Branch.

I would appeal to any Birdwatch Ireland members that live in West Cork to become involved with the Branch and we are always looking out for memebrs to join the Committee, we would welcome fresh ideas and input.  A strong committee can only lead to a strong branch.

2015 looks set to be a good year for the Branch, our finances are relatively healthy and we have an excellent programme of events planned and some ideas for future events.  I look forward to a succssful year for the West Cork Branch.

Thursday 19 February 2015

West Cork Branch outing to Bantry, 8th February 2015

Members of the West Cork Branch met outside the Westlodge Hotel in Bantry on a beautiful sunny day. After cramming in to as few cars as possible, we headed off to Bantry Harbour to look through the usual collection of Black-headed and Herring Gulls to look for anything out of the ordinary, but today it was not to be. From there we headed over to the promenade to scan the bay. Great Northern Divers and Black Guillemots were showing together with some seals. Despite our best efforts we couldn’t turn any of the divers into a Black-throated Diver, one of the target species for the day.
Over at the new pier, again we had good views of Great Northern Divers in the channel and Oystercatchers along the shore. Moving on to the Bantry airfield, again we saw Great Northern Divers and Black Guillemots. A possible Black-throated Diver tantalisingly moved into a bay and out of sight before we could positively identify it.

We drove on down to the Sheep’s Head to the fish factory at Gerahies, a well-known site for Mediterranean Gulls, and it didn’t disappoint with at least three different individuals. One of the birds was colour ringed but we couldn’t get a good enough view to read the ring. Offshore, still plenty of Great Northern Divers, good numbers of Shags and a single Gannet were showing whilst we had a quick lunch. This area also turned up two birds of prey with Sparrowhawk and Kestrel.

We then took the scenic road over the top of the Peninsula, down into Ahakista and travelling west to Lough Farranamagh. Here we picked up some extra species including Moorhen, Collared Dove, Stonechat, Reed Bunting and surprisingly two Chiffchaffs. Driving back to Durrus, we stopped to scan Dunmanus Bay at several locations but only added Ringed Plover to our list, to give the final species list total of 54.


1 Hooded Crow
2 Wren
3 Coal Tit
4 Starling
5 Jackdaw
6 Magpie
7 Robin
8 Chaffinch
9 Goldcrest
10 Song Thrush
11 Cormorant
12 Grey Heron
13 Black-headed Gull
14 Mute Swan
15 Oystercatcher
16 Redshank
17 Herring Gull
18 Pied Wagtail
19 Turnstone
20 Little Egret
21 Woodpigeon
22 Curlew
23 Black Guillemot
24 Great Northern Diver
25 Dunnock
26 Rook
27 Great Black-backed Gull
28 Mallard
29 Greenshank
30 Pheasant
31 Shag
32 Raven
33 Kestrel
34 Common Gull
35 Mediterranean Gull
36 Meadow Pipit
37 Bullfinch
38 Gannet
39 Grey Wagtail
40 Blackbird
41 Sparrowhawk
42 Kestrel
43 House Sparrow
44 Redwing
45 Little Grebe
46 Chiffchaff
47 Moorhen
48 Linnet
49 Collared Dove
50 Reed Bunting
51 Stonechat
52 Rock Pipit
53 Blue Tit
54 Ringed Plover

Friday 6 September 2013

Seabirds and Seawatching by Mike Cobley

Seabirds and Seawatching

Over the last twenty years or so there has been a tremendous increase in interest in the study of seabirds. I suppose it all began during the Second World War when birders, conscripted into the navy s on both sides, were compelled to scan the sea horizons in search of enemy ships and submarines. What a gift to a birder of the 1940s !  What would it have felt like to ‘up periscope ‘and see a Great Shearwater at 20 feet staring into the lens ? There must have been competition amongst some sailor birders to do the extra shift or so on deck with binoculars. It’s a pity that the sailors did not keep accurate records of what they saw – or did they.  If they did they would make fascinating reading. 
But now back to the present – and the present in Ireland. We are a small country with a fluctuating population of about 5 million. Only about 250 of us could be described as active birders (equipped with binoculars, telescope a few bird books at home, and the will to go out looking for birds on a regular basis – perhaps every week.) This means that we miss most of the birds which visit our country and as a result many interesting birds go unrecorded. This situation is magnified when it comes to seabirds. Recent times have seen enormous advance in the standard of optical equipment , including cameras, but seeing  and  identifying seabirds is very difficult at the best of times let alone in poor visibility, in the wind when you cannot keep the scope steady, your hands are cold, you are probably wet and the birds are a mile or so away.
So how is it done ?  Well the first thing to do is get close to the birds and in West Cork there are many headlands which jut out into the sea enabling us to reduce the distance to the birds. Secondly we must chose weather conditions which drive the birds closer to land – generally this means strong SW winds which have originated out in the Atlantic. And thirdly we must choose a good ID book – preferably a modern book devoted to seabirds. Perhaps the most valuable tool in the box is an experienced companion to help you on the first few headland excursions. Sea watching is completely different to watching land birds and it is unlikely that you will be able to find and identify a bird at a long distance for the first time which is flying at great speed without the help of an experienced sea watcher. Most of the ID is done on size, shape and the way the bird flies. Colouration, if you see any, is a bonus. As in life generally we learn from each other. There are excellent birders in Ireland but very, very few excellent sea watchers. This is because we cannot get the practice required. We cannot study seabirds at close quarters like we can garden birds for instance. Going out a few times with a good sea watcher is invaluable before you ‘get you eye in’. I managed to get my eye in at an early age in 1967 on the east coast of England at Spurn Bird Observatory – a very poor place to sea watch. There lived there at the time one of the UKs best birders named George Edwards. George was a wildlife film make working for Colin Willock who produced the Survival TV documentary series. He was very well travelled and had spent many years filming in the Southern Ocean both on the Falklands and on South Georgia . One day a young birder ran into the observatory exclaiming that he had seen a Great Shearwater. George asked him for a description and then said that he thought that it was not a great shear. The youngster then asked quite indignantly how George would know, and how many had George ever seen anyway. George replied ‘’I have eaten more Great Shearwaters than you will ever see in your life ‘’ The youngster was very chastened. That young birder now has several of George’s bird paintings on his wall at home – George was also a gifted artist. George eventually taught me a great deal about birds.
Where to go.  As I said the best place to go is a local headland. The best in West Cork are Severn Heads, Galley Head, The Old Head of Kinsale, Toe Head and Mizen Head. There are others and it makes sense to choose the one closest to home so that you can practise more often. It’s worth mentioning that probably the best sea watching site in Europe exists at Blannan on Cape Clear. Blannan juts out into the Atlantic more than anywhere else in the South West but is access is difficult  involving a ferry crossing, a long walk across the island and a dangerous traverse of 300 meters along a ‘goats path’ along the cliff edge in order to reach the best viewing spot.
  When to go ? The best times are in autumn from about early August to the end of October.
What can be seen ?  As I write on the 21st of August, there have been some great seabirds in West Cork already this year. Good birds, from a seawatching point of view, are birds like Cory’s Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Feas Petrel, Sabine’s Gull and Skuas (Great, Pomorine and Actic) and best of all a Bulwers Petrel. There have also been sightings of many Puffin, Guillimot and Razorbill. Manx Shearwater can now be seen daily in large number s and will probably reach a peak in mid September with perhaps 8,000 to 10,000 per hour passing the headlands. These birds have a very interesting breeding biology too complex to cover here and in the SW we see only a minute insight into their very interesting ‘big picture’.
The only downside to seawatching is that at its best it is done in very poor (for us) weather conditions so if you go don’t forget  some creature comforts such as a snack, a warm drink, some waterproof clothing and something comfortable to sit on ( a fold up chair is ideal ).   So next time you see SW gales forecast on RTE, pause a second and consider a few hours on the coast you might be glad that you did.    

Michael Cobley

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Dawn Chorus at INFF Manch - 19th May 2013

BirdWatch Ireland’s National Dawn Chorus Day – Sunday 19th May 2013
National Dawn Chorus Day is traditionally the day when wildlife enthusiasts the length and breadth of Ireland set their alarm clocks a little earlier than usual and go out to enjoy a morning of beautiful birdsong.  Of course, that isn’t the only day on which you can experience the marvel of the dawn chorus; the birds will be in full voice throughout early summer, and the best time to hear them is in the twilight period just before the sun comes up.
So what is so special about the dawn chorus?  Woodland and garden birds sing throughout the day, so why not just listen to them then?  Well, that is certainly a very worthwhile thing to do, but the most amazing thing about the period just before dawn is the sheer number of birds that are singing and the high volume of their songs.  People who have never before experienced a full dawn chorus in a woodland park or even a well-wooded garden are often astonished by how many birds seem to be involved.  You might think that you have a lot of birds in your garden or local park, but until you hear the dawn chorus you honestly have no idea how many are there.
This year BirdWatch Ireland branches all over the country will be holding guided dawn chorus events on and around the 19th May.  They are always very popular and are ideal for beginners, so why not come along this year and see what all the fuss is about?
Here in West Cork, the local Branch is holding its Dawn Chorus event at INFF, Manch, Ballineen  Meet at the INFF Centre car park at 4:30am for a prompt start at 4:45am.  Manch lies just north of the main Bandon to Dunmanway road (R586), about 2 miles west of Ballineen and 5 miles east of Dunmanway.  Entrance to Manch: OSI Map 86 grid reference W 311 532.
This event is free and open to everyone and the walk will be led by David Rees.  Tea and coffee will be available afterwards.  There will also be some stalls and information about BirdWatch Ireland and INFF.

For further details, please call Nicholas Mitchell at 023 8821640 or 087 1215256

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Michael Cobley's Bird Of The Month - April

Bird of the month – April
If March is a rather quiet birding month then April is quite the opposite. This is the ‘real’ and easiest month in which to observe bird migration in action. Most of our trees will not have their full cloak of leaves, and seeing birds in the branches is not too difficult. The first job of our male summer visitors is to establish a territory to which they can attract a mate, and which will provide a good breeding area in which the pair can and raise a family. The males do this by singing and displaying, and one of the most common birds singing now is the Chiffchaff. Their song cannot be confused with any other bird and to hear the first of the year is a delightful treat. Very often the first indication of their presence is a bird singing in the upper branches of a small tree. I must add that their monotonous song can soon become a bit wearing and we soon treat it as background noise. I much prefer the song of the closely related Willow Warbler but Chiffchaff is truly the bird of April. 

We have a very small number of birds which stay with us during the winter instead of migrating to the Mediterranean and North Africa, but they are seldom seen and of course they do not sing. They spend most of their time trying to find enough food with which to keep them alive, their strategy being that if they do make it through the winter they will have a head start in establishing the best territories before the hoards of competitors arrive. They will be in far better physical shape (flying from Africa really takes it out of you), and so for the survivors it will have been worth the risk. These wintering Chiffchaffs are best found in coastal reed beds – coastal because that is where it is warmest, and reed beds because they provide the most insects on which the birds feed. A few years ago whilst ringing with mist nets on one such reed bed we trapped perhaps 10 birds over a period of three weeks. We did not see any other than those which we trapped, and only then when they were caught in the nets. ‘Normal’ observations would have led you to believe that there were none present.
So how do we tell a Chiffchaff from a Willow Warbler? Well its difficult! Apart from their songs which are unmistakable there are some other clues. Willow Warblers ‘GENERALLY’ have pale legs, a slightly cleaner and brighter appearance, the yellow is more yellow and the green more greener; they are also slightly larger, but most of all they hardly ever dip their tail when perched. Chiffchaffs frequently dip their tail. But what about a bird that does not dip its tail but looks like a Chiffchaff ?– well you just have to look for some other sign or wait for it to sing!
Most of our summer visitor warblers spend the winter in sub Saharan Africa and do not reach us as soon as the Chiffchaff so this warbler is the bird of the month for April.
Mike Cobley

Saturday 16 March 2013

Michael Cobley's Bird Of The Month - March

Bird Of The Month – March
Along with July, many birders consider March to be a dull month in the birding year. I tend to agree with them. Interest lies mainly in the few winter visiting waders which linger around the coast and we sometimes have reports of early Chifchafs (or are they the more active of the few which spend the winter hear?) It’s too early to think of the summer migrant passerines with any seriousness, and the winter thrushes have all but gone. My bird of March is the Sandwich Tern. In West Cork we are never very far from the sea and these birds are fond of the type of coastline that we have. They are a thoroughly maritime species frequenting the vicinity of low-lying, sandy and shingly / pebbly coastlines. Sometimes they nest near fresh water at considerable distance from the coast but always use coastal areas for feeding. Their diet consists almost entirely of fish.

They spend the winter along the southern African coast from Duban clockwise round to West Africa. March is the time to look for them around the coast and this year ( by 10th 2013) we already have had two records in West Cork. Logic says that these birds are from the population wintering along the West African coast, but there is no proof that I know of. Sandwich Tern is easy to separate from the other species which we have. Their larger size, longer looking wings and black cap are good indicators. We usually become aware of their presence when we hear their diagnostic ’kir rick’ flight call – the second syllable being generally lower than the first. They are often mistaken for gulls but their call is unmistakable even at distances of a mile or more.
So if you find yourself by the coast this month and see what you think is a small gull offshore on its own (they only come together later to fish and nest) listen for the call and you might find your fist summer visitor of the year.

Mike Cobley

Monday 14 January 2013

Illustrated talk by Killian Mullarney

Illustrated talk by Killian Mullarney
In aid of wild bird conservation and education projects in County Cork
The Art of Bird Identification
A forty-year perspective on birding and field guides 
The West Cork and Cork Branches are delighted to welcome Killian Mullarney to the Cork International Airport Hotel on Friday 1st February 2013 to give a talk.   
Killian is considered one of the foremost bird artists of our time and an authority on the subject of bird identification.  His vast experience in the field throughout Europe, the Middle East, Asia and North America has helped him develop an exceptional understanding of the birds covered in Europe’s leading field guide, the Collins Bird Guide, which he co-authored with Lars Svensson, Dan Zetterstrรถm and the late Peter Grant.  In 1995 he was commissioned by An Post to design and illustrate the State’s first definitive issue of postage stamps to be printed in full colour, which featured 30 species of Irish birds.  More recently, in addition to completing work on the second edition of the Collins Bird Guide, he co-authored the highly acclaimed Sound Approach guide Petrels Night and Day and contributed illustrations of various wildfowl to the latest revised edition of the National Geographic Guide to Birds of North America.  He is a former long-serving member of the Irish Rare Birds Committee, and continues to act as an identification consultant to Birding World, and an editorial advisor to Dutch Birding
 Killian is very generously waiving his fee and all funds raised from ticket and raffle sales will be for wild bird education and conservation projects in County Cork.  An original sketch by Killian will be a raffle prize. 
Killian is going to talk about the advancements in bird identification over the last forty years with particular reference to the work that went into the Collins Bird Guide.  He will be looking at current trends and considering the advantages of illustration over photographs (and vice versa!). 
There will be a BirdWatch Ireland stall with Killian’s books available for purchase along with information about BirdWatch Ireland.  A number of Killian’s original plates and sketches will also be on display. 
7:00pm            Doors open and an opportunity to purchase Killian’s books from the BirdWatch Ireland and Sound Approach stalls
8:00pm            Illustrated talk followed by Q & A session and book signing
Entry:              Free     Children under 14
                        €5        Members, students and OAPs
                        €7        Non-members
Raffle:      €5 per ticket, €15 for five
Prizes:      1st Prize       Original Curlew sketch by Killian Mullarney
                 2nd Prize      Collins Bird Guide hardback signed by Killian Mullarney
3rd Prize      Collins Bird Guide paperback signed by Killian Mullarney
Raffle sales:
From Monday 14th January, raffle tickets can be purchased online.  Please e-mail with:
        Quantity of tickets required
        Your postal address & phone number
You will then receive a PayPal invoice & when this has been paid, you will receive an e-mail confirming the Raffle Ticket Numbers that have been entered into the draw. 
Online sales are available until Wednesday 30th January.  Tickets can be bought at the Talk on the night of the draw. 
Raffle tickets can only be sold in Ireland.

Contact:           Nicholas Mitchell        087 121 5256
                         Paul Moore                 087 690 8108
Lottery Permit issued to BirdWatch Ireland West Cork Branch by Garda Superintendent Colm O’Sullivan on 8th January 2013