25 Oct 2008
I finally arranged to take a few days of work and headed down to Inishbofin off the coast of Galway. I finished work at about 10.30 and then started to drive the 240 miles to Cleggan. The weather was deteriorating fast and by the time I had got to Westport it was blowing horizontally and with the rain ,making it pretty unpleasant to drive. My car was also misbehaving and I was wondering whether I would get to Cleggan in time for the ferry at 4.45. The roads were becoming quite flooded and the wind was unbelievably strong and I was then worrrying as to whether the ferry would even run.
About six miles from Cleggan is Letterfrack where the MEGA Juvenile Blue Heron had been found a week earlier by Dermot Breen and Aonghus O'Donaill. They first saw the bird on 24th Sept and at that point didnt realise what it was until the evening of October 4th when Dermot was looking through "The Sibley Guide to Birds" and the penny dropped. This would be the first record for Europe and the 4th for the Western Paleartic with all the other records coming from the Azores. I found I did have a few minutes to spare and I stopped off at the Avoca Shop Car Park. There was one birder braving the elements and he said you could see it with the naked eye on the far shore, before driving off. I saw a white thing dipping down in the driving rain but couldnt make it out with my bins so tried the scope to find it was a white plastic bucket rocking in the wind. I couldn't see it anywhere. So at this stage I thought the ferry isn't going to run and I had dipped on the Heron.
Thank god the ferry was running as per normal so I parked the car and loaded my stuff onto the boat. The conditions were very different to when I went in early September. The swells seemed to be rolling in and it was quite rough. Then my day was brightened enormously when a juvenile Sabines Gull appeared along side the boat. This was a lifer for me. The forked tail clinched it for me as I had seen a couple of young Kittiwakes that can look similar. The man standing next to me said look there is another one and sure enough it was. After a fairly draining day this made my day. The Sabine Gull was named after an Irishman General Sir Edward Sabine a scientist, astronomer, ornithologist and explorer.
I finally arrived on the Island I was going to stay with Anthony McGeehan, Ian Wallace and Eric Dempsey for three nights. With the proviso that I did the cooking!!!! Eric was on the pier when I arrived and Anthony then came and helped me with my luggage and food!! and we walked upto the cottage they were staying in.
On the friday morning Ian woke us up with a cup of tea shortly followed by a bowl of porridge. It wasn't a nice morning but i had already spotted a Chiffchaff in the fucshia bush behind the cottage. The garden has been a magnet for migrants in the past with a number of Alder trees and Sycamore trees around the edges.
Eric and Ian went off in their different directions, while I tagged along with Anthony. I find it fascinating to go out with a top class birder. Over the last couple of years that Anthony has been coming to Inishboffin he has mapped out where all the likely migrant hotspots are. Whether it is the small cropfield behind a particular house or a Willow, Alder or Sycamore in the landscape. He has even enlisted some of the locals to plant Alder and Sycamore to provide future hotspots. Now that is what I call dedication creating future habitat for migrants. In the last year he has found Ireland's first Mourning Dove and a White's Thrush.Today however there wasn't a great deal about. We made our way to the beach on the east of the Island. A Merlin came in off the sea and there were about a hundred Sanderling on the shore. These were all disturbed by a Peregrine that flew the length of the beach. There were a lot of Stonechats everywhere a few Chiffchaffs here and there, some Song Thrushes. We then made our way to the Magic garden which has been a big draw for migrants. There were a couple of Redpolls but not the Northwest type that had been seen earlier.
The success or otherwise of finding migrants and rare migrants seems entirely down to whatever weather systems there are. Earlier in the week there had been North Westerlies and Eric had found a Barred Warbler and a couple of Yellow Browed Warblers. He had got really good photos of both. You can see them towards the bottom of the page Here
The weather was pretty dreary and wet and A McG and I headed back to the cottage for some tea and lunch. In the afternoon we made our way out to the other end of the island without much luck.
That evening I cooked them a risotto before heading to bed early.
The following morning was really beautiful and I was relieved as I rarely take time off and if it had been wet and windy for all the days I took off I would have been disappointed.
There were a few Chiffchaff in the garden and as Anthony and I headed off towards the East of the Island again we saw some Chough pass over. A year tick. We searched the graveyard but apart from about three stonechats not alot else. Four barnacle geese flew over head. We made our way down to the beach close to Inis Leaghean where there was a solitary Brent goose and a couple of Red Breasted Merganser out in the water. A pair of Chough were on the edge of the dunes.
We then made our way to East End Bay and there were all the Sanderling along with Ringed Plover. Anthony scanned them for Semipalmated Plover I personally would doubt I could tell the difference unless it was pointed out.
There was a fairly tame Curlew on the beach which I got quite close to.
Eric had texted to say that there was a Pied Flycatcher in the Magic Garden so we made our way slowly up to it seeing a few Snipe, lots of Blackbirds and some Pheasants on the way.
The Pied Flycatcher had been around for two weeks and I was glad to get another Life Tick. I still would like to see a Male though. I will have to make my way to the Wood of Cree in Scotland to get the opportunity.
The views from the Magic Garden over to Mayo and Galway were beautiful.
As we were walking back to the cottage Anthony saw this bird drop into the back of a garden but didnt get good views so we spent quite alot of time trying to relocate it. It turned out to be a Chaffinch not the Blackpoll Warbler that Anthony hoped it might be. He then told me about this simply quite remarkable bird.
The Blackpoll Warbler is a long distance endurance champion.It is a tiny bird with an annual migration route of some 12,000 miles. It is only about four inches long. It weighs around .385 ounces. When it comes to the time of migration it will triple its body weight in three days. They dont eat anymore than usual but change their physiology. And, in fall, those particularly from Western Canada and Alaska first migrate east, completely across the top of Canada for 1500 or 2000 miles. Until they wind up along the Atlantic seaboard of Canada and New England and the mid-Atlantic states. And then they wait for strong north-west winds, which will carry them out to sea, across the western Atlantic and they finally make landfall on the coast of the
Amazon river Basin in Venezuela the northern coast of South America. It's about an 80 to 90 hour journey, during which they will beat their wings three to four million times; they will have no rest, no food, no water. If they touch the water, they're dead.
They also fly at much higher altitude where there is less oxygen accounting for their ability to withstand the low levels of oxygen available at such altitudes, the blood of blackpoll warblers is characterized by two specialized adaptations. The oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood is enhanced by a high concentration of red blood cells and Secondly, instead of one form of hemoglobin in the red blood cells as is typical in non-migrants, they possess two forms of hemoglobin which differ in their oxygen carrying and releasing capacities. This guarantees an adequate oxygen supply over a wide range of altitudes and allows birds to adapt rapidly to varying levels of oxygen availability.
An amazing little bird just a shame I didnt get to see one.
In the afternoon we made our way to Lough Bofin where there were about twenty Mute Swans and some Mallard a few Redshank and Turnstone. After we headed to the North West Corner of the Island to do a seawatch. I was really hoping to see another bird I have never seen a Grey Phalarope. Ian Wallace had seen quite a few in the morning. Not to be. However we did see a Bonxie and an Arctic Skua. I also saw a Dolphin in the distance probably Bottlenose. By now having tramped all over the Island for two days running covering about 10 miles each day I was absolutely knackered. We got back to the cottage had a cup of tea and sat on a bench in the garden listening to the Choughs flying past. A Brilliant Day exhausting but fulfilling. It made me realise why I love birding so much.
After dinner each night Ian turned to his daily log of what had been seen and what hadnt.
The following morning Eric and I were leaving the Island and we headed down to the harbour.
As we were waiting for the boat there was an Adult Great Black Backed Gull being chased by a younger one and on looking at the photos later I noticed it had a pipefish in its beak and the fish had wound the rest of its body round its neck.
We made our way back to Cleggan where I had to mend a puncture before heading back to Letterfrack to attempt to see the Blue Heron again. Eric had gone ahead and had located it. I made my way to the pier to find three Northern Ireland Birders Philip, Ian and Gary who had come down for the day. The Heron was at first quite far away and then it flew towards us.
It landed in the boat right beside us to give us great views. If only all MEGA's were this easy!!