I love birding in June…the migration period is over and both resident and migrant birds are busy nesting and/or raising young. It can also be a great time to discover a rare non-breeding wanderer!
I walk the coastal stretch from Five-Mile-Point to Six-Mile-Point four or five times a week. It is my local patch and I have written about in the past. I found a Great White Egret there on 30th April. It is always a very exciting thing to come across a superb bird like that. In life, lightening rarely strikes twice but guess what?
On 30th May I was birding my favourite area in Ireland, Tacumshin Lake in Co. Wexford. I was watching for a Hobby that had been reported at the Lingstown End. It was a lovely calm, balmy evening…perfect conditions for a Hobby. However, it wasn’t a Hobby that appeared but, believe it or not, another Great White Egret! Could this be the Wicklow bird moved south? What are the chances that it was me to see this bird?
In Search Of Dotterel
The afternoon of June 10th last saw me again at Tacumshin. In the previous days, a superb female Dotterel had been seen. It was so tame that images appeared of people almost petting it on the head. Dotterels are plovers and are most unusual in that it is the female that is the more colourful. Males are quite drab and they perform most of the incubation and the raising of the young.
With a day to spare from a busy schedule, I headed down to Wexford more in hope than expectation of seeing this bird. Reports referred to the bird last seen flying high to the north with other waders. The weather was very overcast and with a strong wind.
Undeterred by the weather, I put on my wellies and headed out into Tacumshin Lake (when the water levels are low enough, you can cross the channels). It seemed quiet and I checked the area that the Dotterel had favoured. It soon became very obvious that I was a day late and rued such lost photographic opportunities. However, this place can always throw up a few surprises in June and July (I found a full summer Pacific Golden Plover here a few summers ago!) so on I continued.
My Heart Skipped A Beat!
Out in the middle, a good flock of Dunlin and Sanderling were present….all resplendent in full summer plumage. I spent some time checking through the first flocks but nothing unusual to report. I scanned with my bins to another flock of waders further up the channel that runs close to the sluice gates…and then saw something that made my heart skip a beat! A small wader seemed to be bobbing out in the water…it had a jerky little method of feeding, picking off the surface of the water as it swam. I found myself saying ‘Phalarope!’ out loud.
I got my scope and looked up the channel but couldn’t see it…was it gone? Was I wrong? Was it a Sanderling behaving oddly? I looked again…nothing. I lifted my bins and scanned…and there it was again. This time, it was on my side of the channel. I scoped it and there, before me was a ‘very beautiful female’ Red-necked Phalarope!
Just like Dotterel, this family of birds are also unusual in that it’s the females are the colourful ones while the drab males also take on the role of incubation and looking after the young. And like Dotterel, Phalaropes are also known for their tameness. The Great Bird God in Sky had shined on me!
Jumpy Sanderling and Dunlin
I took one step in its direction and the whole flock took off. The wind always makes birds jumpy and the Sanderling and Dunlin were really flighty. I watched it fly off into the distance…and took a few more steps…they took off again. So I simply stood where I was and watched what it was doing. Eventually, I figured out its routine. It was feeding along the edges of the channel so, when it had gone around the corner at the top end, I crossed over the deep water and sat down along the edge and waited.
They say patience is a virtue (one that I do not have in great quantities) but this time it paid off. Within a five minutes, the bird appeared and this time it was by itself (without the jumpy Sanderling and Dunlin). I held my breath and wondered…would this bird be as tame as others I have seen?
A Very Beautiful Female
And the answer is yes…it swam within 5 metres of me. How I wished for some sunlight! The light was so poor that I was taking shots at very slow speeds. However, this most beautiful female Red-necked Phalarope posed just long enough for me to capture one or two ‘ok’ shots. I suspect she even knew just how beautiful she was!