Last week I awoke to a prefect day. It was cold, crisp and bright…a perfect day for photography. I love days like this, when the light is clear and crisp.
I had a target bird in mind as I packed the camera gear, camouflage netting, tripod and beanbags into the back of the car. My thoughts were interrupted suddenly by the wonderful ‘mewing’ calls of Buzzards overhead. A pair were soaring over the garden and calling to each other. This is the time of year when raptors do their flight displays and this resident pair was doing their courtship flight. They have nested close to our house for several years.
‘I never thought I’d see the day when Buzzards would be so common,’ I said to myself as I stood enjoying the spectacle.
I saw my first Irish Buzzard in Derry on 12 April 1981. They were only found in Northern Ireland back then but changes in legislation on how poisons were used on farms, allowed the birds to gain a foothold in the Republic of Ireland. Now, hardly a day passes when I don’t see one!
With the car packed, I headed off along the ‘coast road’ close to where I live. It was not going to be a long journey. However, I had barely gone 2km when I spotted three raptors soaring high above the road…two Buzzards and a Red Kite.
‘I never thought I’d see the day when a Red Kite in Wicklow wouldn’t be an unexpected sight’, I said to myself as I watched the birds soaring off to the north and out of sight.
I saw my first Irish Red Kite in Co. Down on 15 Jan 1994…a big twitch back then.
Red Kites were (re)introduced into Wicklow some years ago and it’s been a great success with almost 50 young birds fledged from nests in the county in the summer of 2015.
On the coast
On I went along the coast road, before taking a turn off down a rough track towards the coast. The light was not quite right for my target shot so I decided to check the flooded fields along the sea. The water levels were still high and the field held hundreds of Wigeon and Teal, along with Black-tailed Godwits, Redshanks and Lapwings.
In one flooded section of the field, I enjoyed a feeling of being in the Mediterranean as I watched a small flock of 17 Little Egrets rise from the reeds and gracefully land into the pools.
‘I never thought I’d see the day when Little Egrets were nesting all over Ireland,’ I said to myself as I watched them land.
I saw my first Little Egret in Ireland on 12 June 1981…I twitched all the way to Ballycotton, Co. Cork to see it. Now, with climate change (?), the birds have extended north from Europe and colonised Ireland. I never tire of watching Little Egrets.
My target bird
As the sun rose higher into the sky, the light now seemed perfect so I retraced my steps and settled in at my target location. I placed my netting over the car, got my beanbags in position and my camera ready. I was watching a nutfeeder in a private garden (with the permission of the owner, I hasten to add!).
Siskins and Greenfinches were coming and going, while a small group of chattering Long-tailed Tits provided a colourful diversion. Then ‘it’ appeared suddenly on a tree above the feeder. It moved slowly, looking around for danger before swooping down to land on the feeder.
I looked through the viewfinder of my camera and was delighted to have my ‘target bird’ before me in perfect light…a pristine male Great Spotted Woodpecker.
‘I never thought I’d see the day when I’d see a Great Spotted Woodpecker feeding like this in an Irish garden,’ I whispered to myself.
I travelled all the way to Galway on 15 Jan 1989 to see my first Irish Great Spotted Woodpecker. They were very rare in Ireland back then. However, in the last ten years Welsh birds have re-colonised Ireland after an absence of hundreds of years. It seems these birds took a gamble and crossed the Irish Sea to land along the east coast. Here they found perfect habitat with no competitors and have now very firmly established themselves as Irish birds. I have even seen them in my own garden (but never on the feeders).
As I watched this wonderful bird feeding in front of me, I couldn’t help but reflect on the birds that I’d seen on this short trip from home. When I was starting off on my birding journey in life, I could never have imagined that Buzzards and Red Kites, Little Egrets and Great Spotted Woodpeckers would almost become common Irish birds.
As I continue on my birding life, I can’t help but wonder what species might be next.