Saturday, 3 August 2013

Belfast Birding -Part 1

The other day I called into the RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve, unfortunately it decided to rain and as I can only photograph from inside anyway, my photos were not as good as I had hoped.  However there was quite a lot to see and it is always lovely to see some of the young birds out and about now.
Dunlin (above) are long-lived shorebirds that often mate with the same partner over several seasons. In 126 recorded Dunlin breeding attempts, biologists Lars-Åke Flodin and Donald Blomqvist found that 23% of the pairs divorced. They compared the breeding success of males and females before and after divorce to explore some causes and consequences of divorce. Divorcing couples did not differ from non-divorcing couples in nest success in the season preceding divorce, both in terms of total nest failure or the number of eggs in the nest.   Non-divorcing pairs and male divorcees that paired with new partners had similar nest success in consecutive years. However, female divorcees that found new partners doubled their nest success. The authors concluded that female Dunlin divorce in order to upgrade to a better mate or territory.

Shelduck Juvenile
Shelduck and Black headed Gull losing the colour on his head.
One of the 4 cygnets breed at the Reserve
Lapwing Juvenile
The Common Sandpiper above is a rather small, short-legged wader with a long, straight beak, relatively drab colouration, and a distinctive ‘teetering’ behaviour, in which the head and the rear of the body are constantly bobbed up and down when the bird is standing or walking.  The head, upper breast and upper parts are greenish-brown with delicate dark streaking, contrasting with the white underparts.  A white eye-ring is visible up close and the legs are greenish-grey.  The common sandpiper has a distinctive flight, with rapid, shallow wing beats on stiff, curved wings, and in flight a striking white wing bar is visible.

Redshank young
Then this Redshank decide to show me his ballad exercises!(below)

Black tailed Godwit
Although this species occurs in Ireland and Great Britain all year round, they are not the same birds. The breeding birds depart in autumn, and are replaced in winter by the larger Icelandic race, L. l. islandica.

In 2006 the Black-tailed Godwit was classified as a Near Threatened species by BirdLife International due to a decline in numbers of around 25% in the previous 15 years.

They are monogamous and establish life-long relationships which can last up to 25 years, despite, or perhaps aided by the fact that the winters are spent around 600 miles apart.

A group of Godwits are collectively known as an "omniscience", "pantheon", and "prayer" of Godwits.

Then I spied this Black tailed Godwit  (above) with tags on its legs and after looking up the records discovered that this bird was first tagged on 15 July 2008 at E fra –Haganes, N of Langhus, Fijot, W. Siglufjovdeer, North Iceland.  It had also seen at the Belfast Reserve on 30 June 09, 26 July 09, 13 July 11, 14 March and now 30 July.  I was very excited that I had spotted this bird.  Below is a Black tailed Godwit in non breeding plumage.
Later at one of the other hides on the Reserve I saw Bar tailed Godwits and 5 Ruff seen, 1 Wimbrel and Curlew among about 900 Black tailed Godwits.
The European Bar tailed Godwits bred in Iceland however those that bred in Siberia and Western Alaska, winter in East Australia and New Zealand.  Although it is a long migration for these birds, this is not uncommon for other birds.  What is astonishing is that they never touch down on land from the time they leave.  They are only 15” in size, weighing only 22ozs.  However research has shown that they make a transoceanic flight without a stopover.  This means they fly at least 6,460miles without touching dry land.   Amazing! 
Until recently, airliners could not fly that distance without refuelling however these birds are not machines but use their animal fat as fuel and that is from eating small invertebrates.    The flight is calculated to be 175 hours which is 7.3 days.  You may well ask, So how do they do it?  They fed up before taking off on these flights, doubling their weight.  Some of their internal organs shrink.  You would expect that when they arrive, they would be emaciated and have used up all their fat reserves.  However, you would be wrong.  Researches have caught some of these birds and have found that they have enough fat left to fly another 3,000 miles.  This is truly the bird with the longest non-stop journey.

The rain stopped, the sun came out and the place looked totally different.

Below is a young coot. It is a member of the Rallidae family of birds, which includes Rails and Crakes, so, although it is often found in the company of ducks, it does not have the webbed feet of a duck.  However, it does have flaps of skin on the toes that act in similar way to webs.   The adult is about 15 inches and are almost entirely slatey-black (the underparts being slightly lighter in tone) apart from the white bill and front of the head.  The white patch, which extends to above the eye line, is what gives rise to the expression "bald as a coot", although the coot is no more bald than is the "bald eagle"! Males and females look very similar.

Coots are aggressive birds, both to other species and their own kind; they have even been known to kill their own young, usually the youngest of the brood if they have too many to feed successfully. 
Coots are territorial and will swim menacingly towards any intruders on their patch. They are closely related to moorhens and, though found in the same highly vegetated lakes and ponds, the two species do not compete for food. Coots dive below the surface, to depths of up to two metres, searching insect larvae and other food. When they take off from the water, they run along the surface. They are sociable birds, often seen feeding together in flocks on pond.
Mother and her 2 chicks, later the Father turned up.
I thought I would show you the view we have from inside of the Reserve, the photo above is to the left and below is to the right.  You can probably see in the background the the channel where all the ships come up and some of the cranes in Belfast harbour.
This is the mother Moorhen above with her chick below.
Below this photo (not good)  are mainly Oystercatchers and Godwits and is on the far away bank, near where you see the shipping channel in the photos above.
This is a black head gull looking at itself and saying,
" Is that really me"! 

"Boy, I am handsome"!
Young Redshank and Black headed Gull 
There are 2 Tern islands and you may remember in a previous post, that I wondered if the returning Terns were going be able to breed because it was covered in Black headed Gulls, however as you can (just) see, both the Common and Arctic Terns managed to breed.  We had 150 pairs of Common Gulls and 16 pairs of Arctic Terns.
Scientists have tracked the pole-to-pole migration of 11 Arctic terns using a tiny device that records location and they discovered that the small birds travelled an average of 44,000 miles a year, with one completing an annual round-trip journey of 50,700 miles. The new findings show that the Arctic tern migrates farther than any living thing and that, over the course of the tern’s three-decade lifespan, the bird — weighing just 3.5 ounces — travels 1.5 million miles.  That’s equivalent to three round-trips to the moon.
The latest study, conducted by an international team of scientists used “geolocators” attached to the birds’ legs.  The devices, weighing just .05 ounces, recorded the birds’ location by measuring light intensity and day length.  The study, which nearly doubled the estimate of the terns’ migrations, showed that after leaving Greenland and Iceland in the fall, the birds fed in Arctic waters before flying south to the Antarctic Peninsula.  They followed two routes, along the coast of South America or Africa.  The birds then spent the southern summer in Antarctica before returning to the Arctic in April and May, following an S-shaped path to take advantage of wind currents. On the way home, the birds averaged 323 miles per day.  Surely the Arctic Tern earns the title of the bird having the longest migration.

 Just to the right of the reserve is this bird feeder with Greenfinch and Goldfinch
With all this activity going on, this Wood Pigeon is just sitting quietly sunning himself.
I was excited to see 2 Little Gulls which we do not get here in Northern Ireland too often.
I will leave you with a video I took that day.  There is quite a bit of background noise from other people at the Reserve and also a young lady who was standing beside me was asking me questions and she did not know I was taking a video then.  It is great to be able to encourage young people who come into the Reserve.  A young man called Adam was also there and he is very keen and a great photographer.
The video can be accessed at  If there is a black space below, click on it.


Thank you for joining me today as I vistied the RSBP Belfast Reserve and I hope you will look in again tomorrow as I have some more photos around the Reserve area.
MANY THANKS TO ALL who visited my blog yesterday and left comments.


  1. Wow, what a wonderful collection of shorebirds. Loved the photos and video. The juvenile lapwing and shelduck are some of my favorites. Have a happy day and weekend!

  2. did not realize the coots were aggressive. liked the 'redshank ballet'. the shelduck was cool.

  3. This is another well-photographed and very interesting post. There are just too many photos to comment on each one, so I'll mention a couple that caught my eye. One was the harbor shot with the large white ship in the background. That's just a beautiful photo, with the dark sky and all. And then the close-up of the pigeon caught my eye, too. But I enjoyed seeing and learning about all the other birds as well.

  4. Hi Margaret!
    I admire your excellent post and fantastic photos ...
    Several times I watched the post because the birds which are showing in the first razw see.
    In Poland, they are not common. I am very pleased with our virtual friends.
    Thanks to you, get to know the wonderful nature and wildlife.
    I send for you kisses and greetings.

  5. Despite the rain you took some great pictures Margaret. So interesting to see the godwits in their moulting plumage. Lovely landscapes and good to see "the other" Belfast.

  6. I love the idea of Dunlins getting divorced! Great photos Margaret.

  7. Brilliant series of the waterlife, to me, it was the the Black-tailed Godwit, superb.

  8. Rain or no rain, your photos are lovely Margaret, and I enjoyed your video too. You always include a lot of information in your posts which I continuously find so interesting. Thank you very much!

  9. Margaret, I'm always amazed at how far birds migrate around the World. A fascinating subject.

  10. RAIN N Ireland, never !, great set of photos........i never seem to get close enough to get a good photo of Goldfinchs.


  11. Beautiful photos. The sunshine does make a big difference.

  12. I love these last few pictures with the reflections in them. I also think the rain really adds to the pictures! It is hard to believe you took the first ones from inside!

  13. These are all fantastic shots, and so wonderful to see different birds!

  14. Wow....Margaret these are beautiful...each and every photo share!!!

    [and to answer your question from last week's comment that you can post anytime you wish from Saturday at noon [Texas USA time zone] through the entire week if you'd like ---at the bottom of the MEME linking feature [where you add your link] it will tell you how many days/hours are left for linking on any particular meme link tool. For instance as I type this the Bird D'Pot has " (Submissions close in 5d 17h 27m)" So, that means you have over five days to add any birding links from your posts. Until next Saturday when a new one is set up. Hope that helps.

  15. Great review of the birds here!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

  16. Hi Margaret! I really appreciate your effort to provide interesting facts and details along with your great photos - thank you! Reading about the Godwit and Tern migrations was really fascinating, as was the Dunlin "divorces".

    As for the photos, my favourite would be the one of the Shelduck and Gull in the grey water, with the surface ever so slightly disturbed by the rain. Beautiful!