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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A week in Ireland

Having found an exceptionally cheap way of getting to Ireland (just £67 plus £4 booking fee Return to get from Leeds Bus Station all the way to Limerick) I just had to give it a go.  When you consider the foot-passenger fare on the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin is £28 each way this is amazing value.  The only downside was that it was by coach, as fairly comfortable as it was, the spending of 17 hours travelling overnight brought back dark memories of two months on Greyhound buses and three days on a coach from Athens to London all those years ago....

So having got all the way to Limerick, and 45 minutes on a local bus got me to Shannon Airport where a pre-booked hire-car awaited, I was on my way.  Another hour or so later I was happily tucked in with four other birders at the Bridges of Ross on Loop Head looking at seabirds in a good stiff westerly gale.  To be greeted with 'You should have been here this morning...' was not what I wanted to hear, and the passage up to 1100 had included over two hundred Sooty Shearwaters and several Long-tailed Skuas.  After a quiet start, the late afternoon haul did produce at least six Sooties, 12 Bonxies, an Arctic Skua, two close adult Sabine's Gulls, and c.25 Grey Phalaropes.  Several hours sat on a rock after sitting for so long on a bus was hard to take, so with movement tailing off I had a look for an American Golden Plover that had been seen irregularly, to no avail.

The next morning the wind had moved round to the north, the spray was bad and very few birds, so decided to drive round the Ring of Kerry (oooer Matron!) with fantastic scenery and occasional stops at sandy beaches looking for waders.  Looking for Reenroe beach at Ballingskelligs which had hosted several yank waders over previous days, a place not on any of my maps and apparently unknown to the odd locals I spoke to.  As it turns out I did find the actual beach, but the state of the tide and bloody fisherman meant that the only waders on the beach were on a fisherman....


The next day was spent at Rosscarbery on the south Cork coast, a wonderful sandy estuary surrounded by minor roads giving full uninterrupted views, and with plenty of waders just screaming out for a yank wader hiding amongst them.  I spent the whole day there scanning every nook of the estuary and looking carefully at all the waders but could not squeeze any rarities out.



However, great views were had of up to 18 Little Egrets, c.500 Black-tailed Godwit, 17 Greenshank and a sprinkling of Sanderling and Knot among the Dunlin and Ringed Plovers.  At least three adult and a first-winter Mediterranean Gull were seen among the gulls.

Black-headed Gull

Little Egret


The Black-tailed Godwits were in all manner of plumages from almost full summer plumage through to moulting juveniles, and presumably most if not all were Icelandic birds en route to wintering quarters.

Black-tailed Godwit

The next image has an interesting example of rhynchokinesis on the left-hand bird, the elasticity of the upper mandible tip which allows grasping and manipulation of prey without opening the bill.

Of interest among the Black-tailed Godwits were a couple of colour-ringed individuals, the details of which I have sent off to the Icelandic authorities for further information.

colour-ringed Black-tailed Godwits

Overnight at Rosscarbery, gave me another chance to look for waders the next morning.  In fact many of the smaller waders seem to have moved out, the only notable addition was a 1st-year Little Gull.  So, a drive east to the nearby Inchidonny and Clonakilty estuaries again looking for waders and a possible Azorean Yellow-legged Gull.  They are odd estuaries in that from being totally full, it seems like it takes only minutes for all of the water to drain into the waterways, so flood to desert in a blink of the eye.  Waders were much fewer in number and it was the muddy pools at the north end by the embankment that were best, with several hundred Black-tailed Godwit, a half-hidden Knot that had me going for a while and a Green Sandpiper.  Parking here is extremely difficult here and you take your life in your hands birding on the narrow roads....and then the rain came.  Views of the gull flocks bearer the estuary moth and especially off the Ring gave up a couple of first-year Mediterranean Gulls and a sleeping Yellow-headed Gull displaying some heavy streaking around its head, but not quite as much as I was expecting as the crown was much clearer of streaking.  A close Guillemot off the Ring on the incoming tide gave reasonable passing views.

A evening drive and beach-side overnight stop next to Garretstown beach near Kinsale, and I awoke to a beach totally devoid of any waders at all.  On cursing my luck on managing to avoid all the yank waders, I drove on a couple of hundred metres and found the real beach.  This was more like it.  Dozens of Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Sanderling spread the length of the seaweed strandline with the sun behind me...and sure enough I found the first-year Semi-palmated Sandpiper.  What cracking views of a stunning bird, no problems in identification, and plenty of video footage taken.  When I decided to try and photograph it, the pesky dog-walkers arrived and ensured that every bird took to flight, completely oblivious to the disturbance they were concerning despite my animated attempts to wave them away....bah humbug!

The afternoon further east in Co Wexford at the estuary south of Wellingtonbridge produced yet more Black-tailed Godwit,  including two more colour-ringed birds; unfortunately they were both sleeping with one leg tucked up so could not get the full colour combination.

I spent the night with my Mother and family near Duncormick, close to a village which appears on the maps but impossible to locate in real life...Bastardstown.  It would have appealed to my Dad to have had that in his address...  So Saturday was a visit to Tacumshin, a superb place, but host to about a dozen dudes displaying absolutely no field-craft and walking right out to the muddy margins and wondering why all the waders were flying off.  Having been denied a pleasant spot of wader watching at one of Ireland's premier sites by thoughtless birders who should know better rather than thick dog-walkers, a visit to the nearby Lady's Island rounded off by some goujons of cod from the world's best fish and chip shop at Kilmore Quay was divine.

Saltee Chipper

Turn round from the Saltee Chipper and the boats that brought the fish in are tied up in the small harbour.  I do not know how you would measure the carbon foot print of walking across the road with a box of fish...

Kilmore Quay
A Sunday evening drive to Tipperary and on to Limerick on Monday morning where rather disappointingly the locals did not talk in rhyme...  Hire-car dropped off at a very rainy Shannon departing in the same weather as I arrived, a local bus back to Limerick before the coach trip overnight back to Leeds and yet another local bus to Harrogate where I picked up Em's car to get home.

Epic travelling, a numb bum, some great scenery, super birds, a superb meal at The Yard in Wexford with Mother and family and those unbelievably good cod goujons all made for a great experience.

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