For the Love of Birding: Brian McCloskey

This weeks “For the love of Birding” post comes from the hands of one of Irelands leading young Birders & Twitchers in the form of Brian McCloskey. I first came across Brian on twitter when he joined Cian Cardiff and I for one of our many Bird ID Quiz’s; It wasn’t long till we became good mates and even started to assist me on the odd bird ID (Yellow-billed Tern). I hope that you have as much pleasure of reading this MEGA jam packed post as I did. Remember feel free to add your comments


When did you start Birding?

When I was about 6 I got my first set of binoculars. They were fairly poor to be fair but I was shown the difference between coots and moorhens on a local pond by dad and from there I was hooked on birding. That summer we were in Cork on holidays and I saw my first gannet and rock pipit, I thought this was the best thing ever! I get the same feeling then as I do now if I get a lifer. When I was 7 I was waiting to be collected from school when I found my first Waxwings, this made sure I was going to a birder for life because of the sheer excitement I felt then. Without birding I don’t know what I would do, it’s completely taken over my life

Who got you into Birding?

Dad. Without dad I would have never become a birder, he always had an interest in birding and took me on so many twitches. My first twitch was to see Ireland’s first great-grey shrike in over 40 years! I’ve seen some mega rare birds over the years with dad, the best ones being Elegant Tern, Pacific Diver, Ivory Gull, Spotted Sandpiper, Forster’s Tern and Stilt Sandpiper. One time we found a White-winged Black Tern together. I absolutely love twitching, but without dad, I wouldn’t know a Rook from a Jackdaw, so I’m extremely grateful for all that he did for me.

Brian McCloskey Vega Gull
Vega Gull (Brian McCloskey)

Why do you going? What drives you?

What drives me is my list. Someday I want to have the biggest Irish list or perhaps be the first Birder/Twitcher to see 500 birds in Ireland. I’m currently on 225 which is respectable enough for a 17 year old in Ireland without a car. Seeing new birds also drives me,  I get the same buzz out of seeing a bird like a Little Auk as I do of seeing an American Bittern if they’re both lifers.

What’s your best Birding moment?

Brian McCloskey American Bittern
American Bittern (Brian McCloskey)

I have two favourite birding moments, the first is my favourite twitch which goes as follows. I was offered a lift to Cork for the American Bittern, on Tuesday the 8/12/2015, an offer I couldn’t refuse. I got the day off school. I met Peter Phillips at approximately 4:10am at the garage in Ardee Co. Louth and we collected Gerard Murray about 20 minutes later in Drogheda and made our way south. At about 5:00am I called Barn Owl and the three of us got good views of the bird as it hunted in the Lusk area in Dublin. We got to Cork and had a fry before travelling the remaining 50 or so minutes to Rosscarbery. Just before we arrived it started to drizzle lightly, this didn’t favour our chances for the American Bittern. We arrived at about 9:30, I was hoping it would be on show immediately but it wasn’t. The wind started to pick up and the rain started to pour down, there is some swampy land and a few freshwater channels in the area so we split up and had a look around for it. I had a few decent bird whilst searching such as little Egret, Grey Heron, a Chiffchaff which showed yellow tones ruling out Siberian and a high flyover flock of finches which I was hoping would land as it could have had Brambling, but it continued over unfortunately. I was freezing so walked back towards the car and noticed we were joined by another three birders, two Cork and one Scottish. I went to the car and viewed from there until the rain died down. At about 12:30pm the rain stopped and the wind stopped and within seconds the Bittern stuck its head up in the middle of the short grass in the field right in front of us. All birders let out a sigh of relief when it eventually showed, I was thinking it was going to be a dip. The Bittern walked quite quickly half way across the bridge before stopping, so I fired a couple of record shots before it continued in behind a few reeds on the near bank and only showed very briefly for about 2 or 3 minutes before it got disturbed by a Grey Heron and flew into dense reeds and long grass and disappeared for several hours. We were joined by several birders before its next appearance at 3:00 pm when it flew from the long grass and hid on the near bank for a further hour. At 4:00pm it flew just in front of the bridge and this time slowly walked up and crossed the bridge to the other side, the 10 birders on sight sprinted to the garden which we were allowed entrance to and were able to view along the small stretch of the river running into the lake, we got absolutely crippling views of the American Bittern for about 10 minutes. My best views of a mega in Ireland so far other than the extremely tame Ivory Gull from Tacumshin Lake in 2014. The Bittern took off again so we left it and made the long 4 and a half hour journey back home. My best twitch to date and bird number 223.

Brian McCloskey Glaucous Winged Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull (Brian McCloskey)

My second best birding moment was one which I’ll never forget and I may not find a rarer bird for the rest of my life. On Monday the 26/10/2015 at 4am Gerard Murray, Peter Phillips and myself set off for Mizen Head, County Cork. We arrived on Mizen shortly after 11am, we checked a few gardens before being told about a Firecrest in the last garden. We picked the Firecrest up after a few minutes and had good views. We checked several gardens up until about 1.30 pm before going to get food. We discussed what we were going to do next, I wanted to check the area around visitor centre for the Ring Ouzel that had been seen on the day before, but Peter and Gerard wanted to check Toor Pier.

I was dropped off at the centre at about 2:30 were I checked the fields nearby for the Ouzel but to no luck. I turned around to walk back down towards the gardens again when a Swift flew straight over my head, with a short stubby square tail with long wings. I shouted CHIMNEY SWIFT hoping there was another birder around but there wasn’t, it continued straight down alongside the road towards the last garden and I sprinted after the bird but I lost it as it constantly kept ahead of me.  I picked it up again a few moments later as it tried to keep high with glides in between rapid wing beats. It disappeared about a minute after I picked it up for the second time this time for good as it swooped low in the valley.  I immediately rang Gerard and they came up to help with the search but unfortunately it never showed again. Without doubt the best bird I’ve found!


The future – What do you think the future holds for the world of birding?

The future of birding in Ireland I think should be good as there is a few young birders spread out throughout the country, so at least the main birding spots will be covered for the foreseeable future. As for the future of birds in Ireland it also looks good for example with the good work from Bird Watch Ireland, the Red-necked Phalarope has finally returned to the Belmullet Peninsula after disappearing years ago. The Grey Partridge is only present in one small area in the centre of Ireland in county Offaly and hopefully they will start to spread soon. We may have lost our Corn buntings but if the Phalaropes can return so can the Buntings. We were close to losing our Corncrakes but they seem to have a stable population in Mayo and Donegal. Overall the future looks bright from birding in Ireland in my opinion.

Brian McCloskey RN Grebe
Red-necked Grebe (Brian McCloskey)

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