Friday, 21 September 2012

Getting Started

Pied Flycatcher by Paul Walsh
One of the foremost attributes of nature is its effortless accessibility. Nature is all around us and easily experienced. However the experience and enjoyment can be simply enhanced and remember, nature is free to all.


Fin Whale by Andrew Malcolm
As most animals are wary and tend to keep their distance, a pair of binoculars is almost essential in the field to fully appreciate observations. Binoculars vary in quality, optical choice and price so some research is essential prior to acquisition. For more distant observations, such as whale watching or assessing distant seabirds or waders, a telescope is essential. Again, the choice of telescopes is wide but good quality scopes, although expensive, deliver fantastic results. Astronomical telescopes are not usually suitable for nature watching. A note of warning, given our climate, it is essential that all optical equipment is fully waterproof. The pros and cons of optics can be easily researched on the Internet.

Smooth or Common Newt by Liam Cahill


For the beginner, the variety of animals likely to be encountered in the field can be bewildering so a good field guide is essential. Field guides have improved dramatically in recent times and are a fantastic resource to help identify various species and to understand their habitats, ecology and distribution.
Yellowhammer by Daniel Weldon
Recommended field guides to birds include ‘The Complete Field Guide To Ireland’s Birds’ by Eric Dempsey and Michael O’Clery. For a more European perspective ‘Collins Bird Guide’ by Lars Svensson, Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterstrom is superb. ‘Exploring Irish Mammals’ by Tom Hayden, Rory Harrington and Billy Clarke is an excellent introduction to Ireland’s mammals. Dealing exclusively with Ireland’s cetaceans ‘A Guide To The Identification Of The Whales And Dolphins Of Ireland’ by Jim Wilson with Simon Berrow is first-rate. ‘The Natural History Of Ireland’s Dragonflies’ by Brian Nelson and Robert Thompson is essential for anybody interested in Irish dragonflies. For those with an interest in Irish butterflies the recently published ‘Ireland’s Butterflies A Review’ by David Nash, Trevor Boyd and Deirdre Hardiman is the definitive publication. ‘A Guide To The Butterflies Of Ireland’ available from The Dublin Naturalist’s Field Club, 35 Nutley Park, Dublin 4 is an excellent field guide to Ireland’s butterflies, illustrating all regularly occurring species.


The ultimate nature research vehicle available at present is undoubtedly the Internet. The information therein is limitless. By merely typing the name of a species into a search engine, instant access is available to every known species, covering identification, vocalisations, habitats, ecology, range and much more. Below are some websites of local and national interest: (Irish whale and dolphin group)

Beware however, the Internet can be addictive, do not become a virtual nature observer.


For those with suitable phones, the app store is well worth a visit. Essentially all the information available in field guides (including vocalisations) can be downloaded onto your phone for reference and use in the field – which beats carrying all those books around. Although relatively new, apps look like the way forward.


Beautiful Jewelwing Demoiselle by John Joe Cahill
Photography certainly enhances the enjoyment of nature. However, this is a specialised interest, which we will visit at a later date.

Finally, if possible, link up with an experienced observer for your first few field trips. They should be of immense help to the inexperienced person given their acquired knowledge and field craft.


A spotted sandpiper (American wader) was identified and photographed at Ballinclamper on 05/08 by local birder Pat Veale. Sadly it moved on the same day. Yet another American wader, a white-rumped sandpiper, was located on the Cunnigar by visiting birder Michael O’Keeffe on 04/08 where it lingered for a day or two. A large passage of over 200 Cory’s shearwaters was noted at Helvick and Ram Head by several local birders on 02/08. A leatherback turtle (a trans Atlantic vagrant) was observed swimming past Bunmahon by Daniel Weldon on 16/08. Leatherbacks are the largest turtle on Earth and can reach 2 metres (7 feet) in length and weigh up to 900 kilograms (2000 lbs). 
Pygmy Shrew by Liam Cahill
Finally, Andrew Malcolm took the attached photograph of a fin whale off the Waterford coast. This is the same species as the unfortunate whale that died off Baltimore Co. Cork last week. Fin whales can reach a length of 27 metres (89 feet) and a weight of 109 tons and are the second largest animal that has ever existed exceeded only by the blue whale. Fin whales are regularly seen off the Waterford coast.

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