On Saturday evening I had just got home from work and was pondering what to do on Sunday when I noticed I had a missed call. I rang back and was asked whether I would like to go to Ballycotton in Co.Cork (272 Miles Door to Beach) on Sunday to hopefully see the Buff-breasted Sandpiper's and Curlew Sandpiper's that had been seen on the beach there over the previous couple of days. Buff-breasts would be a lifer for me. Well in 1997 I spent three months living in Ballycotton while I attended the Ballymaloe Cookery School in nearby Shannagary. It used to take me between five and a half hours to get there and the thought of doing the there and back in a day wasn't the most appealing. However the draw of seeing this bird was too strong. Especially as a fellow bird photographer Rónán McLaughlin had posted this beautiful shot of two of them on flickr a couple of days earlier. I asked what time we would leave and was told meet me at McDonalds in Lisburn at 3.30am......
We met up at 3.30am and I then went to sleep for a while and by 7.00am we were approaching Cork and the sun was just rising. Driving to Cork is now a doddle, especially when being driven :-) It really is dual carriageway from Belfast to Cork. All the towns that you used to take an age to drive through have now been bypassed it's just great.
We arrived at the beach and there were already three birders and a bird photographer there. Dennis O'Sullivan, who I was told was Ireland's biggest lister and Paul Moore and as yet an unidentified photographer. The Buff-Breasts hadn't at this stage been seen so Anthony and I headed off towards the lake and were astounded by the amount of Wheatears. They were everywhere.
Male and Female Wheatear on Hogweed Seedheads
Wheatear on Thistles
It wasn't long before Anthony said there's a Lapland Bunting on the fence.
My first lifer of the day. We saw seven in all with five flying overhead at one point. We were also fortunate to see both Lapland and Reed Bunting perching on a fence for comparison purposes. Every now and again when it was disturbed it would fly off and circle giving it's fairly distinctive flight call.
Lapland Bunting and Reed Bunting
Then as we were walking along the shore we put up a Ruff. Then we saw 9 Brent Geese all of which were adults. These were the first I had seen this autumn. A Kestrel flew over and was being mobbed by Linnets and Meadow Pipits.
We headed back to the car to make a cup of tea. As we were having tea the Buff-Breasted Sandpipers landed on the beach in front of us along with a couple of Curlew Sandpiper, some Dunlin and a Little Stint.Birdwatch Irelands Migration and Seabirds Course.
After the waders had been flushed again by a couple totally oblivious to the fact that lots of people were watching them. I decided to walk further down the beach on my own. I was looking at the rotting seaweed at the the tideline and saw quite a few more Wheatear and then noticed one of them was behaving differently. I had found the Buff-breasts again so I signalled to Anthony to come over and then spent the next five minutes crawling closer and closer to them. One of the birds just seemed to walk towards me closer and closer.
By this time Anthony had crawled alongside me and we were getting hopefully good shots when the other bird photographer, who turned out to be from England, that we had seen earlier just walked right up to us and started talking to us. I wasn't very amused and a few moments later they were off again. They are not that easy to photograph as they are constantly on the move.
We all walked back and I introduced myself to Rónán Mclaughlin a bird photographer originally from Donegal. We had conversed a few times on our flickr sites. His and Mine I was also impressed by how nonchalantly he smoked as he photographed the birds.
The Buff-Breasted Sandpipers then all pitched in together near where we parked the car. They then made their way to the waters edge.
Three Buff-Breasted Sandpiper
As we were making our way towards them two Curlew Sandpiper flew in and landed a few feet in front of us. Here is one of them.
It was near midday by this stage so we decided to head back for home. I think both of us felt elated that the journey had been so successful as after the first hour we were wondering whether we were going to even be able to photograph any of the waders.
As we left the roundabout at Little Island just outside Cork I saw a Kestrel to the side of the road. Shortly after there was another and by the time we had driven past Portlaoise we had seen fifteen during the journey. There was one more just shy of Dublin and between Dublin and Lisburn we didn't see any.
All in all it was a fabulous day. However things changed slightly when I got home as I had given my dog a flea bath the night before and used my wife's favourite towel to dry the dog and I had forgotten to wash it. She came home from taking the boys to their various universities and found it and I didn't hear the end of it :-(