Birdwatching is another of my hobbies, and it goes well with my love of photography. My favourite haunt is the local Corkagh Park, through which the Camac River flows, topping up mill ponds and fishing and ornamental lakes as it goes. My wish is to make a photographic record of all the birds which can be seen throughout the year in Corkagh Park and environs.
Living in Dublin, I'm spoiled for choices of places to watch birds. Dublin is ideally situated, having a long coastline, a large estuary, and being near to the Dublin / Wicklow Mountains. There are many parks, and ponds and lakes, with a variety of coastal, lowland, mountain and forest habitats.
Dublin also has a very active bird watching community (known as birders). There's lots of useful information available on bird watching on the BirdwatchIreland website click on www.birdwatchireland.ie for more information about the numerous Branches, most of which organize talks and outings to birding hoptspots throughout the year, which are open to non members.
Why watch birds in the first place? Well, because they're beautiful, and it's easy. You just can't avoid birds - they're everywhere! From the ubiquitous Sparrows and crows, to the rarely seen waxwings, from the beautiful range of finches which will come readily to your garden bird feeders, or looking for scraps, insects, grubs, caterpillars, to the successfully re-introduced Golden eagles in Glenveigh National Park, or the Red Kites in Wicklow (click on www.goldeneagle.ie for information), birds form a backdrop to virtually all human activities.
One cannot but marvel at the huge flocks of starlings as they tumble and wheel in the evening sky before they settle down to roost for the night, or the crowds of gray herons who appear like clockwork at the sealion and penguin feeding time in Dublin Zoo, (according to my daughter who works there as a Zookeeper).
Steady on, Tim, getting carried away! Waxing (or is it waxwing??) lyrical about our avian nature.
Anyway, it's so easy to observe birds, and you already have the specialist equipment you need - your eyes and ears. If you're really feeling reckless a small pair of binoculars, (referred to as "bins" by the birding fraternity), will give you a whole new perspective. Go for a pair of 8x42 minimum or 10x50 maximum.
What do these figures mean? Well, the first figure indicates the magnification of the binoculars, while the second figure shows the diameter in millimeters of the front lens, which has an effect on the brightness of the image, vital if you're using your bins in low light or backlit conditions. Any magnification greater than 10X will result in a shaky image, even if you haven't been drinking!!
More serious birders use telescopes mounted on tripods, and these can be really expensive pieces of equipment, with interchangeable lenses, zoom lenses, camera attachments; the list goes on and on.
The observation of birds can give scientists vital clues about the changing fortunes of the environment. Birds, like the Little Egret, which, according to the guidebooks, should occur no closer than the south of France, are now breeding in Ireland. Is this an indication of Global warming? Swallows are arriving earlier from Africa on their annual migration, along with their cousins, swifts, house and sand martins, and leaving later in the year.
The time of year is also important as some species only visit us during the summer, some during the winter, some are just passing through en route to other areas, and some more are resident - they're here all year long. From September to March is a good time to see woodland birds, mainly because there are no leaves on the trees, and the birds have nowhere to hide. Birds who prefer the wide open spaces, estuaries, shorelines, mountains where there's little or no cover, are easier to see at any time of the year.
Go on one of the Birdwatch Ireland outings (see the Events page of their website) and you will learn lots and probably become a convert to the Bird watching Fraternity.
Log on to the websites of Birdwatch Ireland (http://www.birdwatchireland.ie/) and the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) (http://www.rspb.org.uk/) for lots of useful information about birds and related topics.
Another vital piece of equipment is a POCKET guide to birds. Why Pocket? Because if it wont fit in your pocket you won’t bring it with you and it’s no good at home in the wardrobe! Look at the BWI and RSPB websites and online book stores for guidance, but a good guide is the Collins Complete Guide to British Birds, while the RSPB Pocket Guide to Birds is a good alternative. I use “The Birds of Ireland - a field guide” by Jim Wilson and Mark Carmody, ISBN978-1-84889-179-1 which costs about €15 from most bookshops.
There is a very good app for i-Phone called Birds of Britain and Ireland (Pro Edition) for €14.99, but there are some cheaper, or even free, ones but I don’t know how good they are.
Finally, join a Birdwatching Group, such as Birdwatch Ireland for as little as €40 which supports their conservation work and you get a quarterly magazine as well.
What to feed wild birds? That’s a good question and there are mixed opinions on this as the tradition of feeding white bread to ducks and waterfowl has come under suspicion of causing developmental defects (Angel Wing), as well as polluting the lakes and rivers and encouraging vermin.
Here’s what the RSPB have to say on the matter -
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) also said birds need a varied diet to stay healthy, and that while it is safe to feed small amounts of bread to ducks, people should also feed them sweetcorn, porridge oats, peas and bird seed.
The charity told the BBC: “Although ducks and swans can digest all types of bread, too much can leave them feeling full without giving them all of the important vitamins, minerals and nutrients they need”.
“So, although bread isn’t harmful, our advice is to only feed small amounts to birds.”
Below is a list of birds recorded in Corkagh Park, and the list was compiled by local bird watchers David Brown, Fridolin Kerr and Tim O'Brien.