Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Flying for Fun

Located as we are, on the edge of the uplands with classic mixed farming and mixed woodland, we are usually able to see nearly all the crow species in any one day (exception being the Chough).  

It is particularly good at the moment: with Barley harvested from nearby fields , the stubbles have great mixed flocks of crows and the most recent harvest of 15 acres of potatoes brought lots of interest from Hoodies and the odd Kite, eager to examine any spoil from the harvest.

Typical flight view: note long wedge shaped tail and large beak (c. K Mullarney) 

Ravens are the largest crow, indeed they are our largest passerine or perching bird.  We often see and hear 4 or 5 , their atmospheric calls echo all around us, but of most interest is their aerial antics..rolling along in dare devil chases they really do seem to fly for fun!

One summers day a Raven perched out in the open lawn area, a respectable distance but very unusual to see one perched  in the open without an obvious prey item nearby.  It was most probably a juvenile bird,  not long out of the nest: tameness was probably based on uncertainty of its surroundings.

More typical was the barking or croaking calls that I heard recently: delivered endlessly from an oak tree on our boundary.  I suspected a Fox or other competitor for carrion was also on the scene, hence the barrage of noisy scolding, so I went to investigate.  I brought the camera just in case, and manged to grab a shot as the bird exited in a hurry.  The beauty of digital photography is that you can always get a grab shot that might have interest. I wasn't let down on this occasion: though grainy and unsharp, I looked at the pic long enough to ascertain that the bird might be ringed: back on the computer I was able to blow it up to max and indeed it was colour ringed: AA,  black on yellow, as it turned out, from a ringing scheme operating locally.

AA Takes flight! (c. OOS)

A text to Damian, of NPWS brought a quick response: It was one of 200 Ravens ringed, this bird ringed three years ago and is the first resighting of this scheme.  The bird was marked in Clara Vale, so it hasn't travelled too far, about 10 kms as the Raven flies. I suspect resightings will continue to be  hard enough to come by, they are generally shy and wary of humans, which is not unsurprising: as carrion eaters they also have to run the risk of taking  poisoned bait. 

Worth looking out for Ravens, ringed or not, they never cease to entertain.  

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Hunter and Hunted

A great feature of the autumn is the now regular appearance of dragonflies such as the Autumn Hawkers down on our East Coast Nature Reserve.

They were only first recorded in Ireland in 2000, from the south east, near Carne, county Wexford, and have since spread north and west along the coastline, inhabiting suitable wetland habitats and woods. They are one of the latest dragonflies to appear, with records of insects right up to the end of October.  They are of course spectacular looking, with bright blue abdominal markings and the distinctive little yellow 'golf tee' on the thorax.

Autumn Hawker (c. OOS)
They patrol the rough grassland and trees around the pools of the reserve, often perching and giving nice views.  They are of course, spectacular hunters: the Latin Odonata stands for teeth.. So, midges and flies are fair game for these beasts. 

Over the last few days, this gregarious predator has become the hunted and have had to share the marshes with a far larger hunter: a Hobby.  This scarce falcon is a passage migrant that has taken to patrolling the open fields, superbly adapted to agile and precise hunting: they can take dragonflies on the wing and glide along as it brings its prey from claw to beak, with no need to stop and perch.  The recent balmy weather has really brought the Autumn Hawkers out in numbers, attracting the attentions of the passing Hobby, who is now feeding for extended periods on this source, before it continues its journey south to Africa for the winter. What a spectacular sight, hopefully this drama will continue for a few days yet.

Hobby (c. Tom Shevlin)