Sunday, 13 September 2015

Seabird Salvaging Saturday

Yesterday I decided to pay a local sand spit a visit, for a very specific purpose: to find and collect any intact dead seabirds,
Now you may think this morbid task is a bit out of the ordinary (and to be fair it is to an extent) but it's for science, you see a researcher is doing her PhD to assess the impact of marine litter on seabirds up in GMIT (where I am currently in second year of the colleges applied freshwater and marine biology course). This project requires dead seabird specimens as the researcher does a necropsy (animal autopsy) on the bird specifically checking it's stomach contents and intestinal track for any man made refuse the bird may have mistakenly have viewed as food and ingested. If the bird swallows a piece of plastic, it will likely remain within it for the rest of it's life as it will not be broken down and if the worst comes to the worse, the bird may die either by it;s stomach eventually becoming full of refuse where there is no longer any room for real food resulting in starvation or the bird may choke while swallowing a piece of litter.
The fulmar.

The North Atlantic is loaded with human waste be it deliberately dumped into the environment or that it managed to get to sea by accident our actions on land have dire consequences for the species living off our waters, this project is a great means of evaluating just how much of an impact our marine litter has on our birds.

Back to yesterday, I arrived a Inch strand, one of the counties finest stretches of sand joined to the mainland on the Dingle peninsula, it juts southward dividing the shallow mudflats of Castlemaine harbour and the deeper, more open water of Dingle bay almost touching Rossbeigh strand on the opposite side of the bay.
I haven't walked this beach in a long time, probably because my dog died back in May suddenly, he loved Inch and it's never ending scents revealing spots worth marking his territory on!

It's dry, sometimes sunny with a slight wind wisping in from the Atlantic. The smell of the coast hits me immediately and my nostrils feel as though they have been filled with sand as various wafts from the spit hit me at once. I begin my search to the right of the car park (where no cars are allowed) I have often found cetacean remains literally where the sand bank gives way having being  eroded by many visitors opting to traverse it rather than going around it's perimeter. No sign of cetaceans. I follow the mounds of seaweed cast ashore and intricately scan them for any signs of an unfortunate bird: feathers, beaks, legs, wings, anything. The drying remains of bladderack and kelp are inundated with various forms of man made material, as if we as a species were marking our territory just like my dog did. Fishing line, rope fragments and salmon tag from Scotland all piled in amongst the natural debris that the North Atlantic had thrown up during the last hide tide.
Then I spot something feathered, as I approach (beleaguered holidaymakers on the nearby rocks watching on) it becomes apparent that it is indeed a bird but it looks to be half buried, I don't have my gloves on me so I vow to return later for a more detailed look.

I returned to the car to continue the search a lazier way (by driving). After leaving the mini village of beach users cars, abandoned while their owners strolled the sand or splashed in the surf, I renewed my search.
I have to say it's not easy to maintain complete and utter attention while critiquing ever white object or flickering piece of material but that's exactly what I did all the while moving along the strand slowly.

It didn't take long before I spotted something peculiar, I got out of the car to discover it was the almost skeletal remains of a fulmar, part of the tubenose family which includes the much larger and iconic albatrosses. This bird was crow size, it's left eye socket was clearly visible and it still retained some ragged feathers, a strand of rope was also visible tapering away from its body (possibly impairing it in life?). It looked like a worthy candidate for the project as it's chest appeared to be intact, no doubt its contents still remained, so I marked its location by grabbing the closest, sturdy stick and stabbed int into the sand to resemble an awkward flagpole for the return visit.

Continuing the search I spotted a white object towards the spits dunes, half buried it was a gannet, our largest seabird with a six foot wingspan. It too looked like a good candidate for collection so I made a mental note of the nearby landmarks, a warped piece of black netting that'll do. I found a second gannet up the strand before we turned around to begin the collection process.

The first birds white feathers were speckled with the black bodies of the flies attracted to the opportunistic feast facilitated by the sea. Donning the green gloves supplied by the researcher and ditching the clear resealable plastic bags also supplied for the much larger black plastic bags I keep on hand for bigger jobs, I had my doubts about actually taking this bird. I moved it to assess it's condition, flicking sand out of the way in the process I was hit by a rank musky smell, the flies flew skyward. The birds body was intact and I was able to maneuver its wings as they were not stiff however somewhat peculiarly, its head was missing, never the less the bird was quickly placed in a black plastic bag and tied tightly. Job done, onto the next one.
The gannet.

The second gannet was in a much worse condition than the last one as it's vertebrae was clearly visible where it's tail feathers would have been, after lifting the carcass it became clear that the bird was a no-go as it's rib cage emerged from the sand there was no chance of it's stomach still being intact so I let the bird be. On the way back to the fulmar I spotted another gannet I had previously missed but it too was in the same condition as the last bird.

Arriving back at the fulamr after carefully scanning the sand for the low standing stick I had propped up, we successfully found the bird but a couple of walkers had decided to spark up a conversation just feet away from it, so I waited a minute or two until they moved on and got to work. This time the clear plastic bags supplied to me were more than suitable. After picking up the bird I carefully brought it's wings up against it's body and craned it's neck back tight against it's chest for it to fit comfortably into the waiting bag. it went it without a hitch and the resealable top was duly closed.

Finally I returned to the feathered remains I had spotted before setting off in the car. In two seconds with a gloved hand I discovered it was only a birds wing, the body had departed from it some time ago, I think it was an Manx shearwaters left wing because of its pointed tip, jet black colouration on top and white contrasting colour underneath. I did consider taking it away with me but I just placed it back where I had found it.
Both birds ready to go.

And that was that, I went to Inch with the sole purpose of finding and recovering and salvageable seabirds and that task was more than achieved, it's not everyday that such plans actually work out especially when your depending heavily on many factors in the natural world, but it did for me yesterday. It will be interesting to see if anything abnormal is found within the fulmar and gannet and I will endeavor to find out the results but right now I am scheming a way to smuggle a gannet and a frozen fulmar from Limerick to Galway in my buses undercarriage later on this evening, but one things for sure, the hard work is done and these birds will get up to Galway tonight!

Monday, 10 August 2015

A very diverse Wednesday! 17/7/15

Below are a series of images I took on the 17th July within Killarney National Park and at the coast from Bray Head, Valentia island.

Highlights from the day for me were three probable Humpback Whales, a blonde Red squirrel, Red deer stags in velvet and of course finding the parks resident male White-Tailed Eagle!

I have already written up the day over on the facebook page so you can see the text here:

A red deer stag taking it easy.

A nosey Sika deer hind has a look at the stag!

Swallow fledgling being fed.

Two swallows clash mid air!

The blonde Red squirrel, I have never seen such a distinctive squirrel!

Only its distinguishable tail scan be seen while in amongst the grass.

The location of the Common dolphins who passed underneath the headlands cliffs!

A heavily cropped version of the above photo clearly showing tow dolphins surface.

Little Skellig, the largest gannetery off Ireland!

An adult male White-Tailed Eagle,  Killarney National Parks resident male!

A Goldfinch.

Monday, 29 June 2015

On the trail of the white tail

Recognise this location? read on for more.
About a month ago this video was sent onto the facebook page by
Eagles Nest.

It features an adult (7 year old as indicated by its red wing tags), male White-tailed eagle feeding on what appears to be a young deer along the Long range in Killarney National park, the bird is then spooked and flies to a nearby rocky outcrop to assess his surroundings dwarfing the accompanying raven in the process!

After seeing this video I was interested in locating this site for the oppertunity to spot the feeding eagle and positivlty identify its lunch!
It took me another week to find the time to acually venture out into the park and by this time I really didn't expect to come across and feeding eagles as there would surely be no meat left for the birds to strip.

In the build up to my mini expedition I went about reviewing aerial images of the area the above clip was filmed at, which just so happened to be Eagles nest mountain, the location where the last pair of Golden eagles nested in the park a century ago. Back then it has been reported that a blunderbuss would be fired while passing by boat to flush any eagles for the delight of any visitors. Times have changed as the cameraman in the featured film keeps his distance from the eagle while he had his fill of food.

Back to the trek, after singling down the likley location that the eagle had fed on by means of locating the rocky outcrop I gathered my gear and got a lift out there. Admittedly I went into the bogland far sooner than I should have and this added alot of time onto the walk, the soft grround underfoot often rose up to knee height so I had to choose my footholds carefully and I eventually managed to reach higher (and dryier) ground. I was near the old weir bridge which was far too downriver to where I reckoned the location was but in any event I took out the binoculars and scanned the dead grass banks and bare rock for any sign of the parks avian giant.

Moving down from the high patch I stumbled upon a small isolated woodland with very evident schorch marks. The wood was some distance from where the massive fire burned its way into the park a few months ago so it may or may not have been deliberitaly been started in this secluded section of the park, regardless the damage appeared to be minimal, thankfully.
Dire damage in the park.

Back to the task, I opted to wade through the various deer paths crisscrossing the Long ranges banks rather than my origional strategy of trudgine through the mounds of dead vegetation along the waters edge.
Meandering my way along the river I opted to avoid a section of the river near the mountain as I could see a rocky area that resembled the area the film was taken at. But I was wrong and I had to wade back the way I came and out onto the area of land flanked on three sides by the river.
Ascending aother patch of high ground, the terrain seemed failiiar but in an inverted senxe as I was up on top of where the eagle had landed!
A road less travelled!

I moved down to rivers side once more and weaved my way through the tussuks of grass towering above the kneehigh water overflowing from a much higher Long range than a week previous when the eagle fed on its shoreline. Following a thorough search of the area where the prey item would have been I came to the conclusion that it had either been swallowed up by the deeper river or had been taken away by a scavenger be it terrestrial of aerial.
Returning to the rocky outcrop I searched for any evidence left behind by the eagle and wasent disappointed ass I uncovered a white downy feather tipped by a brown colouration tangled in a clump of heather growning from the outcrop, sucess!
The eagles downy feather.

This find was worth getting well drenched for and while I didn't find the carcass I know the eagle was well fed after discovering it, and thats what really matters!

The Eagles view and Eagles nest!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Plight of a Pilot

Over a week ago I came across a video on Facebook of a half submerged, half floating carcass of an as yet unidentifiable toothed whale.
I correctly identified this animal for the unsure person as a Long-finned Pilot whale going by its bulbous head, muscular demeanor, well rounded dorsal fin and of course it's long pectoral fins or flippers. The animal was rather well rotten in the video and it also appeared to be the same carcass reported floating near the Lemon rock to the North of Lambs head days earlier before managing to manoeuvre itself into a well protected natural harbour at Lambs head. 
It was dead over two weeks and resembled melted cheese in some spots, it was also largely yellow as its black skin had peeled away since its death somewhere at sea, probably miles offshore in the deeper waters in which this sociable species is commonly sighted.
The whales white oil/blubber underwater looking like drying paint.

After seeing the video and subsequent still shots of this bull Pilot whales teeth I decided to take a trip back to Derrynane to possibly obtain a tooth to figure out how old this whale was.
That Saturday was a dreary affair inundated with thick misty rain that could soak you considerably in very little time.
It took no time at all to find the whales carcass as it was at the side of the pier but set Hong was up, quite literally... The tide.
The whales bloated body floated in the narrow cove over some ten foot of water, and I didn't fancy a swim in the whale oil filled waters so all I could do was watch from above of this animals bizarre yet amazingly streamlined body bob in the calm provided in the rocky cove. It was my second ever encounter with a Pilot but both individuals were dead.
I was asked how did it die but there's no way of telling when a whale is in the state that bull was. Interestingly the rock face opposite the carcass appeared as if it had been painted recently by a white substance which rolled downwards as if it were excess bits of paint all while being underwater!
Note the fence post that was probably used to take the whales teeth.

I returned the following day on the second low tide, the whale was once again in place but this time it was land bound. It's carcass looked like a twenty foot rag doll just tossed onto the rocks in an untimely manner. After dining a pair of wellies I made my way down the grassy trail to the whales shingle beach. Being careful not to touch anything and picking my footholds carefully to avoid slipping on the whales oil I passed both the unknown paint like substance plastered on the rock face to my right which was not clearly a combination of oil,flesh and blubber a refreshing combination! While doing so I passed a fence post with a noticeable wet patch near its point, then it was upon me. Despite being right next to a fairground well rotten carcass I didn't get effected by its faint smell or displeasing look. Angling my head so as to gaze into its mouth without touching the rocks right by it, it was clear that the teeth were gone most likely because the nearby fence post was used by some one to prop the whales mouth open during the previous low tide earlier that morning, alas the teeth were gone but the carpals or finger bones on one of the Pilot whales flippers were strewn across the narrow strand like white shells.
Part of one of the Pilot's pectoral fins skeletal structure.

Climbing up from the strand and looking down on the carcass it's amazing how many species are out there beyond the horizon but tragic that such encounters are often the only way you might experience such a mammal for yourself in the flesh!
A somewhat graphic view of the bulls head.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Swift Spotting

Earlier today I took it upon myself to scout my town for Swift colonies, this summer bird has captivated me ever since my early days. My very first bird field guide stated that this small blade-like winged bird could sleep while flying and would only land while at their nest, such facts fascinated me at an early age but it was years before I sighted these blackened sky slicers for myself.

Reading about the birds of Killarney National park in a publication of the same name I was dismayed by the apparent low breeding pairs in the park back in the 1980's standing at around four pairs residing at Killarney house at that time.

It was a cloudy school day and I was out in the schools pitch half heartdly participating in some sport or activity I didn't care for when I heard a series of unusual schreeches approaching from overhead at speed from the cathedral, moments later my eyes caught sight of the small streamlined birds enroute, they were too big for a swallow or martin and flapped their sharply edged wings with less frequency than the latter and former species, by using my powers of deduction and factoring in the fact that these screeching birds were coloured black there was no doubt that I was watching my first swifts wizz by! in all (if I recall correctly) there was about thirteen which thankfully is a vast improvement in about twenty years by some margin.

Back to today I went for a spin on the bike around various spots around Killarney to see if Swifts were present. Starting on the hill lingering above Fitzgeralds stadium and then down to St Columbanus's where I took all of the images displayed in this post. Six birds were definitely present but there was likley to be more as I was watching the one side of this widespread old stone building. There was a nest site or nest in development by a gutter and two birds whixxed past me by a couple of centimeteres at one stage! Its hard to describe the speed these birds travel and swevel at so just try to imagine a giabt, hyperactive swallow. Needless to say its a tricky job trying to follow and photograph swifts, who for the most part fly at high altitudes but I was fortunate today at my first attempt at capturing these birds on the wing.

After counting (as best I could) the swifts around St Columbanus's I cycled into town wgere I could hear swifts in numbers over head being masked by the cencrete environment. The highest numbers I encountered were near the town centre where 8 or more birds were circling high up near the direction of the sun which made counting harder.

Based on todays first skim over look at some the swifts of Killarney they seem to be faring well with some 26 birds across four distinct areas but there may well be more locations I've overlooked.
I have some ideas that will be of benifit to this African migrant in the town but it may be awhile until they might become a reality, regardless the numbers encountered today were well above what I had imagined in areas I wouldn't have considered but this was a preliminary scouting excercise that will likley be of benefit for any developments in the near future.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Circumnavigating Killarneys lakes

Today inpreparation for cycling the 180km ring of Kerry in the coming months I decided to head through the Macgillycuddy's reeks and onto the National Park.
After leaving the house the first port of call was the Gap of Dunloe, a glacial valley characterized by some expansive interlocking spurs. There are three lakes up the gap but I encountered no interesting wildlife while passing through. The valley is a popular spot for tourists and lies near the western boundary of Killarney National Park.
Today was sunny and the gap became a giant steam room as I cycled upwards onto the crest of the valleys main ridge, only grinding to a halt at one time. I only took a handful of images in the gap as I opted for speed of up to some 47km as I descended into the Black Valley.
Within the Gap of Dunloe.

It didn't take long for me to reach the park after leaving the gap and I was soon along the shores of the Upper Lake which is nestled within the regions mountains.
It's an area I haven't visited in about three years and is also not frequented by tourists as often as other parts of the park.  The lake is inundated by a series of islands covered by native flora.
The track was not suitable for cycling at times but that suited me as I stopped on numerous occasions to take photos.

After leaving the open, flat ground adjacent to the lake I came into the areas oak woods which were on higher ground over a series of small hills.
Derrycunnighy beckoned next where I stopped to have a look at a little-known waterfall just off the path.

Next stop was the main Kenmare road that would bring me back to Killarney which was still within the park but provided me with a better surface to cycle on.
Approaching Eagles Nest mountain a very small mammal scurried across the road in front of me with something in its mouth. I applied the back brake duly and it gave out a screech which startled the Stoat causing it to release its prey and hop over the wall it was heading towards, its prey ran for cover next to the wall. I stayed around for a few minutes to see if I could get a half decent shot of the Stoat that was hanging around with the ipod.
The Stoat let out the occasional concerned call as it bound back and forth on the opposite side of the wall while I was near his prey so I moved away and it returned to move in to dispatch its prey which was a young rabbit that screamed for about a minute as the Stoat killed it, I then moved on to leave the Stoat be with its food, this sighting was the best I've ever had of a mammal you can't plan on encountering.
A heavily cropped image showing the Stoat before it moved in for the kill.

Next brief stop on the cycle was at the smallest of the Killarney lakes, Muckross and then onto Lough Leane and then back to Killarney itself.
All in all it was a decent day but I should have brought the proper camera with me as the Stoat came within FEET of me but theres always next time.

Here are some more images from the cycle.
The Upper lake.
The Upper lake again.

An Oak canopy.
A panoramic of the Upper lake.
Moss covered rocks.
The dead and living!
The native white flowering of the Hawthorn and pink of the introduced rhododendron.

The mountain side burned recently, now recovering.
Some "artwork".

The Upper lake.

The original Stoat shot, see if you can spot it!
Muckross lake.
Heeding the nearby signs message....
Flowering invasive rhododendron.

And finally Lough Leane, Killarney's largest lake.