1 Oct 2006

Migration Birding in Donegal and meeting Ian Wallace of "Beguiled by Birds" Fame.

157. Great Skua
158. Redstart

This weekend Anthony McGeehan had invited me to stay the night in Malinbeg Co Donegal where he was going to be staying for ten days with Ian Wallace "The Grand Old Man of British Birding".
( Ivan Quail, Ian Wallace and Anthony McGeehan.)
I set off after work on saturday morning to Donegal. I firstly decided to drop in on my parents who live not far from Letterkenny for lunch as my father was suffering from a bad back and my mother from an agonising ankle. As I walked in the door she was sitting with a bag of frozen peas on it! to reduce the swelling I was told. So I laid out the lunch (Generally Biscuits and Cheese and chutney followed by a yoghurt) . The talk was mainly about my impending weekend and the trials and tribulations of the North West Pet Rescue a charity of which my mother is a co-founder. Even during lunch a call came in about a starving collie which my mother went off to collect. I on the otherhand drove another seventy five miles to the south west point of Donegal.

I arrived in Malinbeg at about three thirty and Anthony was sitting in the porch sea watching. (The house is very conveniently situated looking straight out to sea at RathlinO'Birne Island) I had a cup of tea and then we were off . First of all we went a bit further down the main street of Malinbeg to what Anthony calls the "Magic Garden". It is a small garden with fuchsia, apple trees a few windblown sycamores.In this garden over the last ten years Anthony and others have seen the following rarities:
Pied Flycatcher
Melodious Warbler
Barred Warbler
Yellow Browed warbler
Common Rosefinch
Ortolan Bunting
Ring Ouzel
Lesser Whitethroat
Turtle Dove
Reed Warbler
Garden Warbler
A nice patch list considering I have only seen four of the above. Anthony and Ian Wallace have been coming to this area for over ten years and have given names to many of the gardens in Malinbeg, Malinmore and Glencolumkille as a way of explaining where they are going. There is Kitty,s, Voodoo(named because of a strange doll in the window of the house),Priest,Hostel and various others. Our next stop was Kitty's in Malinmore where you climb over a fence and sit in the back of very overgrown garden looking at a bunch of small sycamore trees.A good start was the goldcrest flitting around.Then we went up onto the headland that leads down to Rocky point. There were about thirty Golden Plover flying around and settling quite close by as well as a flock of about fifteen red legged partridge disappearing into the distance. The headland is in reality a shallow turf bog. We put up a lovely Irish Hare very dark in colour. We then went down to the cliffs edge where Anthony had made a hollow in the rocks so that you can seawatch without being blown off the cliff. As we were looking out to sea he said theres a "Bonxie" and sure enough a Great Skua {Catharacta skua-The great skua is an aggressive pirate of the seas, deliberately harrassing birds as large as gannets to steal a free meal. It also readily kills and eats smaller birds such as puffins. Great skuas show little fear of humans – anybody getting close to the nest will be repeatedly dive-bombed by the angry adult. These birds migrate to the northernmost isles of the UK from their wintering grounds off the coasts of Spain and Africa. At a distance they look stout and dark and show white wing flashes in flight.} flying low over the waves.As it was a fair way out I thought I would change from using the 7 by 42 to 10 by 25'sbinoculars and I couldnt get back on it. Anyway new bird for list and life. We then made way back up headland past some small stones and rocks where AM has put out seed to keep the likes of lapland and snow buntings feeding when they drop in.He had also seen Dotterel out at Rocky point. We returned to house at about seven.

I was then introduced to Ian Wallace. Ian is a writer and an artist. He has been observing birds for more than a half century, he was a former editor of " British Birds" magazine, a former Chairman of the British Birds Rarities Committee and a founding contributor to the "Birds of the Western Palearctic". A real character he turned out to be.
I had bought his book and thoroughly enjoyed it especially the artwork and consequently my impression of him was totally different to the reality. I sort of thought he would be very professorial so the scottish accent completely threw me. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in birds or birding in the British Isles.

Ivan Quail was also staying who I knew from back in Belfast. Well I had told them that I was cooking dinner for my payment for coming to stay. So I raced into the kitchen and cooked their dinner.
Starter : Tomato and Buffalo Mozzarella Salad
Main: Roast fillet of Beef, Horseradish Mash, Baby Carrrots and Mixed leek and Cabbage.
Dessert : Rhubarb and Vanilla Yoghurt

4 Bottles of Wine later between us all I may add and having got up 20 hours previously I conked out, but not before Ian had conducted the days log. This he does every day whether it be Birds, Insects, Animals or Marine Life.

We all got up at around seven thirty to find there was a power cut so tea was made by boiling water over a fire hastily made by Ian and Anthony while Ivan was seawatching from the porch. He had a peregrine in the scope when I had a look through it, it was sitting on some rocks in the sea.

We then headed out to the golfcourse in Malinmore where we dropped Ian who was walking over to Glencolumkille. Ivan, Anthony and I walked out onto the golfcourse to see some of the migrants coming in off the sea. Meadow Pipits, Reed Bunting, Solitary Greenfinch. Anthony is exceptional at bird Identification by sound and he kept on saying can you hear that thats a xxxxxxx. I could barely hear at all. I had had a bath recently put my head under the water and the pressure must have pushed the wax deep into my ear and completely blocked it. On the weekend it was the one thing that put a shadow over it my lack of hearing. Afterwards we made our way down to the centre of Glencolumkille and Anthony and I birded through the centre of the village. A very graceful and pretty Grey Wagtail, lots of Robins a few tits and not alot else. At eleven we all met up at the firestation and Ian had seen a Yellow Browed Warbler below the hostel. So we made our way up there to see if we could catch sight of it. We spent at least an hour to no avail.

We then headed back to the house for lunch where Ian cooked a late breakfast. During lunch he was sitting outside and shouted Dolphins so I raced outside and there was a pod of 25-35 Bottle Nosed Dolphins heading up the sound. What a great sight.

After lunch we then went back to Malinmore and checked out Kitty's Garden where a few minutes before I had to leave on my three and a half hour journey home we all simultaneously spotted a female Redstart it was my first and I drove home absolutely chuffed to bits. Thankyou Anthony, Ian and Ivan for a most enjoyable weekend.


Anonymous said...

Killard Googler says,
I love Malinbeg! did you seeor hear any chough?
We were in Donegal last weekend as well. 1st Oct.

Wonderful article, bird-man. I shall study it closely.

Billy Hamilton said...

You have got me excited now as I am doing Malin Beg this year for the Countryside Bird Survey. That is how I stumbled on your Blog. I'll certainly call again!

Billy Hamilton said...

You have got me very excited now as I am covering Malin Beg in the Countryside Bird Survey. I had never even been there until last week. Very enjoyable read which I just stumbled upon researching my square.

Billy Hamilton said...

You have certainly wet my appetite now for the Countryside Bird Survey. I happen to be covering a square in Malin Beg! Can't wait!