20 Oct 2009

A Week Birding on Inishbofin Co.Galway inluding finding a Cedar Waxwing a First for Ireland.

I set off at 4.30am to meet up with Anthony McGeehan at Lisburn before driving in tandem to Cleggan in Co.Galway. We stopped for a coffee just over the border and made it to Cleggan by 9.45am. We loaded our gear and food onto the ferry before getting some breakfast in the hotel overlooking the harbour. As the ferry wasn't leaving until 11.30am we did a quick drive further along the coast to see if anything was about. On one small loch there was about 18 Merganser and on the shore 4 Greenshank all together. We then bought a loaf of bread to see if we could get some shots of the gulls. I first took this shot of a Rock Pipit on the harbour wall.

Rock Pipit

Herring Gull

Common Gull

The ferry made its way on the thirty five minute journey to the Island. It was a lovely afternoon and Paddy-Joe King met us at the pier and took us to his cottage where we were to stay for the week. He also runs the bicycle hire business on the island.

We unpacked and had a quick lunch before first going and having a look at a crop field that Anthony had planted earlier in the year along with some willow and alders. There were quite alot of Stonechats about,

a few Reed Buntings and some Rock Doves. We continued out to the East End of the Island to look and see if there was anything in Irene's Garden or in the willows in the field below her house. On the beach there were about 100 Ringed Plover and the same again of Sanderling all now in their winter plumage. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs in the willows and the obligatory Wren and Robin, which would pop up in nearly every bush we looked at for the whole week.

Each evening Anthony followed the weather and wind patterns trying to determine whether it would aid or hinder migration. While I cooked the evening meal.I would also try and get a wifi signal and check the internet for the days bird reports and the all important weather outlook . We used Wind Guru and also used the UK & Ireland Windchart on Magicseaweed The week was looking very positive for migrants from Scandinavia.

Sunday was our first full day in the field and we literally covered the whole island and as Anthony walks at an enormous pace between sites I by the end of the day was absolutely exhausted. Our routine was to have breakfast and then head out first to the crop field behind the Dolphin Hotel then we headed to the East End of the Island either via the graveyard or over the top. In the graveyard there is a sycamore which has got good potential for migrants and on the banks on the other side of the road was good for the thrush family. Just before you get to the graveyard there is a small loch where we heard Water Rail on a few occasions plus a family of Moorhens.

View looking East from the Graveyard
We would then head towards East End Bay and look in the gardens of a couple of houses then check for shorebirds. Then to about three different groups of willow bushes in Michael-Joe's fields below Irene's House before possibly heading out to the headland on the eastern end of the island before heading back for lunch.Thats about a 6-7 mile round trip. Our cottage which has an excellent sheltered garden with quite a few sycamores in it is the next stop and we have a bench set up for ease of viewing.

After lunch we head West. First of all checking some apple trees just behind the Inishbofin House Hotel before checking out the area behind the church. Then we follow the coast round past the Doonmore Hotel before heading out past Loch Bofinne and out to the West End. On Loch Bofinne there a number of Mute Swans and a single Whooper Swan,

a few Redshank and a number of Mallard. We continue for another mile until we come to the tip of the West End.It is here there is a wonderful sea watching spot which Anthony and his wife Mairead built earlier in the year.
It protects you when there are strong Westerly or North Westerly gales. On our first trip out there we watched an amazing display of a Merlin chasing a Purple Sandpiper. It lasted nearly five minutes with both heading out towards the "The Stags" before the Sandpiper returned with Merlin just behind it. The Purple Sandpiper made it to the rocks and with the Merlin unsuccessful it shot upwards about a hundred feet before diving down to harry it again. This time it was successful and it landed with prey quite close to us

Over the first few days we found quite a few Chiffchaffs, the odd Willow Warbler and Blackcap. There were also a few Redwings arriving. On the monday I did get a lifer we were walking out to the tip of the East End when a Snow Bunting flew away from us unfortunately we could not relocate it. So only had the briefest of views. We spent some time on the beach at the East end trying to photograph the Sanderlings on their high tide roost.

Sanderling High Tide Roost

We were walking towards the church one day when we observed these two Hooded Crows that seemed to be playing on the electrical wires. They would go from upright to hanging upside down before flying back to upright and doing it all over again.

Hooded Crow

On the wednesday morning we were joking that it would be better off coming to Inishbofin to photograph landscapes rather than looking for rarities. How wrong we were to be! We had a look at the crop field behind the Dolphin hotel again. There were quite a few pheasants that had now found the area as well as quite a few Reed Buntings and the ubiquitous Stonechat.


We then headed towards Irene's Garden where there was mainly just House Sparrows and little else. So we decided to head out to where we had seen the Snow Bunting a few days earlier, again failing to find any. So headed back towards the beach and the Willows at the bottom of Michael-Joe's Fields adjacent to the beach.

Anthony and I went and sat on this rocky hillock overlooking the willows. There were two Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler flitting around. Anthony suddenly said did you hear that. It was a very high pitched call which meant absolutely nothing to me infact i wasnt even sure whether it was a bird. Anthony however was thinking was it Penduline Tit or Red Throated Pipit. At least another ten minutes passed and Anthony is explaining all the differences between the Willow warbler and the Chiffchaff that are very conveniently feeding together just in front of us. At that moment this bird appears right in between them. It has its back to us and Anthony says do you see it. I am not sure what it is until I see it has a small crest and at that point Anthony says Waxwing. It is a young Waxwing and Anthony's mind goes into over drive thinking could this be Cedar and not Bohemian. At this point the bird flies off and we have not been able to see the undertail coverts. A Bohemian Waxwing has rusty undertail coverts whereas the Cedar Waxwing has pale white undercoverts. So he says "You have the IBird explorer appon your Iphone does it have any photos? I open up to Cedar Waxwing and there aren't any photos of young birds so I play the bird call which is exactly what we had heard ten minutes earlier. Now we had to get photographs . We relocated the bird but it was very hidden in dense undergrowth. I took a few shots of a semi hidden bird and fortunately Anthony was at a higher elevation and got a better view and after quite a while it flicked its tail showing the pale white underparts. It then flew off again.
Anthony shakes my hand and says "Congratulations a Cedar Waxwing a First for Ireland."

Cedar Waxwing

I then ring Eric Dempsey of Birdsireland and say "Eric would you like a first for Ireland" He was very happy to say the least!! I then hand the phone to Anthony who goes over the finer details of the bird with Eric before letting other birders know about it. This was the First Record for Ireland. The third record for Britain and Ireland and the fourth record for the Western Paleartic. We then refind the bird feeding on blackberries and get some more pictures.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

We then head back to our cottage on a high. I make our lunch before heading down to the community centre to post the photographs online. We also let Dermot the Ferryman know that he may need to put on an extra boat for the following morning. Anthony and I then head back to where we saw the Waxwing and decide to try and relocate it from the road so as not too unduly disturb it. It is in the willows where it flew to after we first spotted it in the morning. Then it flew back to the bushes where we photographed it feeding on blackberries. We leave it at around six o'clock and head back to the cottage for a celebratory Powers Whiskey.

On the thursday morning Dermot has a special sailing from Cleggan at 8.15 and there about 40 birders on board.

It is the most glorious of mornings and Anthony and I go and meet the visiting birders. We then head straight out towards the East End. There is an amazing sunrise over the Twelve Pins of Connemara to greet us.

We make our way down the road overlooking where we saw the bird and with lots of eyes try to find the bird.

We all search for a few hours but sadly for all the other birders it does not reappear. Anthony and I then head back towards the cottage and Pete Tierney who owns the house in the foreground in the sunrise photo above asks us in for some tea and apple pie. As we are walking back from his house we see a skein off 175 Barnacle Geese coming in off the sea. These birds usually winter on the neighbouring island of Inishark.

While we are having our lunch we hear a Lesser Whitethroat has been seen down by the church. We also have a few requests from people wanting to stay the night. We head down to see the Lesser Whitethroat but no luck. Then A and I head upto the airfield in Middlequarter to see if there are any Golden Plover which we have heard a few times but not seen. Then we head towards some more willows above Loch Bofinne and on the way come across some very short heather where we sit down and I am scanning the Loch when I hear this snoring and Anthony is out cold!!

That evening we had Hugh Delaney, Victor Caschera, John Coveney and Tom Shevlin staying and I cooked them all Spaghetti Carbonara. Tom Shevlin has this excellent website Wildlifesnaps. One of the great things about it is the list of rarities found in Ireland on this day on the left hand side of the site. It was really nice to meet these guys who were only names that I had seen on IBN Irish Bird Network

On the friday we bought our evening meal at the Community Centre where they were raising money for a charity. We had a really good stew made by the lovely Aileen Murray. She is the manager of the Doonmore Hotel. While we were in the community centre all the islanders there were asking about the Waxwing. After a delicious tea and scone we took a few sunset shots. This is looking back at the deserted Inishark.

On the saturday we traversed the whole island again. I had seen around sixty species of bird in the week but only heard Golden Plover, Chaffinch and Water Rail however on my last day we traversed the whole island again and caught up with these three. The Water Rail I disturbed in a ditch and it flew away from us and we found four Golden Plover over at the West End.
That evening for the first time in the week the Dolphin Hotel was open and we went to have a pint only to find there was a woman having her 50th birthday with 20 of her female friends. Strangely two of which had been customers of mine when I had my cafe/delicatessen in Belfast. They had a couple of guys singing and Anthony and I ended up dancing till about three in the morning. It was a brilliant evening.

Inishbofin is a wonderful island.This was my third visit. The landscape is great , there are three nice beaches with the small one in the Westquarter which is absolutely fabulous. The islanders are extremely friendly. I am looking to stay there next May for a week with my family.

Do I have any complaints. Very few. I found the women working in the shop particularly unfriendly in total contrast to everybody else we met on the Island. I wish that some of the abandoned cars were removed. Infact the harbour area could do with a bit of tidying up. Also I think the planning office that allowed this house to be built out at the East End absolutely barking mad. It is a real eyesore But apart from these little issues I would highly recommend Inishbofin to everyone to go and visit and you never know you might find another first for Ireland!!


Chandrika Shubham said...

Beautiful birds beutifully photographed.

Anonymous said...

I like the "hanging" crow and the sanderlings, they look like little balls.
Waxwings are always great!