Out All Day Birdwatching
Out All Day Birdwatching - from Coney Island by Van Morrison
UPDATE Nov 2016: I just came across this anonymous article from 2000 in the Irish Times describing the author's odyssey on the trail of Van's lyrical tour. Back then, apparently some cars didn't have CD players and he had to use a . . . .cassette player! Anyone???
On a sunny last Saturday in September, I headed to Ballycotton hoping to see an American Golden Plover found there yesterday - AGP in birder parlance. It was a perfect day for a shirtsleeves and sandals stroll from the Ballynamona car park to the old lake under the ever watchful eye of Ballycotton lighthouse.
Although the tide was nearly in, there were very few waders on the beach but Wheatears, stopping over on their migration from the Arctic to Africa, were giving good views.
I spent a lazy hour watching very little on the lake edge as the tide came in, thinking there are worse ways to miss out . . . until I was startled by a loud disyllabic plover call right over my head! WTF?? - that's unfamiliar!! Could it be the AGP?? As it spiralled down and landed at the edge of the incoming tide, I reached for the new Canon 100-400mm mkII, and went into to 10 frames per second burst mode . . . shoot first ask questions later. Sadly the lens is not mine but a loaner from an Offshoot friend - thanks Mike. As the bird made a few short hops on the shore, I was thrilled to catch the diagnostic light brown underwings - very different from the gleaming white of the European Golden Plover.
It then settled down to wait out the high tide and was gradually pushed further away from us. Not to worry, the craic was good as old birding friends arrived and new acquaintances were made.
Then I decided to head back to Cork to try for an Azorean or Atlantic Gull at Blackrock Castle. However, the walk back to the car was slow as we checked the flocks of gulls and waders on the beach - they had been pushed out of the now flooded lake. There were no more rarities but I got a few nice shots of Oystercatchers in flight and, amongst the Black-headed Gulls, a Mediterranean Gull with its heavier red bill. This former rarity is now increasing on the south and east coasts.
I arrived at Blackrock Castle about 7pm, just as the tide started to go out and gulls were arriving to roost. I was looking for a large gull with the strongly streaked head characteristic of this form - officially called "Yellow-legged Gull showing characteristics of the Azorean or Atlantic subspecies" by larophiles! Just in case you are worried, these folk are not beset by some dodgy fixation - instead they are fascinated by gulls - the term is from Larus, the scientific name of the group. OK, OK, perhaps being fascinated by these urban killers, as they are portrayed in the dafter extremes of the British Tory press, is a dodgy fixation! Check out this article for all you're ever likely to want to know about the origins and identification of the gulls from the Atlantic islands.
Meanwhile as I waited, there was a steady stream of arriving gulls but as the light declined after half-seven, I still hadn't found what I was looking for . . . OK, OK enough of the song titles, and not even the right city! And then, suddenly . . . it was just there on the mudflat, preening actively and then running Lesser Black-backed Gulls out of its way! I was back into burst mode at ISO 3200 as moonlight took over from sunlight. Fifteen minutes later, I could barely see it anymore, never mind judge if the tones of its mantle were between light grey of Herring Gull and darker grey of Lesser Black-backed Gull. Fortunately, the camera could see it far better than I. No worries, it was in a bag. It may not be an official tick . . . yet!. . . but it's an excellent new bird!
Wouldn't it be great if it was like this all the time?
Keywords: American Golden Plover, Atlantic Gull, Azorean Gull, Ballycotton, Ballycotton Island, Blackrock, Canon 100-400 MarkII, Co. Cork, Ireland, John Coveney Photography, Out all day birdwatching, Yellow-legged Gull, www.johncoveney.ie
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