4 Nov 2010

Birding on Inishbofin October 2010

Male Stonechat
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I have recently returned from an absolutely brilliant week on Inishbofin Co.Galway. I was not sure whether to title this blog post "Inishbofin I Love You" or the above but as this blog is generally about birds I went with the above. I am exhausted and sore from leaving the house at first light, walking and searching for birds all over the island and returning at about six thirty every evening.

I arrived on Sunday by ferry to find a body being lifted out of the harbour by the RNLI. Two men from Castlebar had drowned in the early hours of the morning after leaving a bar at two in the morning. Sadly the same old story of two people with too much alcohol on board making their way back to their boat by dinghy, the dinghy had been tied up to their motor cruiser and it looked as though it flipped over when they were trying to board the bigger boat. Both men were found with inflated lifejackets. It should really never have happened as the two men had been offered a bed to stay on the island for the night . Some of the islanders were extremely unhappy that they were attempting to do so on a moonless night and one even switched his car headlights on to illuminate the harbour for them.

I was picked up at the pier by Paddy-Joe King and taken to the cottage where I stay while on the island. I unloaded all my gear and stocked the kitchen cupboards before heading out with my binoculars and camera. I was meeting Anthony McGeehan later in the day after he had finished leading a birding tour. However it was only a few minutes later that I bumped into him near the Dolphin Hotel with his charges. He knew I hadn't seen a Ring Ouzel before and said that they had just seen one near the graveyard. He said it was a first winter bird and that if I was lucky I might also connect with an adult bird that they had seen earlier in the morning. Well I made haste to the graveyard where there were also quite a few blackbirds and then I heard the Ouzel before I saw it. It was the first winter bird.
1st Winter Ring Ouzel

A lifer in the first hour on the Island. Things were looking up. I headed back to the Dolphin and joined Anthony and his guests before we headed back to our cottage.  We went out in the afternoon and saw Whitethroat, Blackcap, Brambling, Tree Sparrow, lots of Stonechats, Redwings, Song Thrushes and just before we got back to the cottage we heard some Choughs.

Before I arrived on Inishbofin Anthony had sent me a text to say not only to bring my binoculars but to bring my ears. In some ways almost as important as the eyes. I am a slow learner but as time goes on I spend more and more time listening to the bird calls and trying to identify them, you eventually become tuned in to their specific calls. As I sit here writing I can hear a Dunnock in my garden along with some Long-tailed Tits. Whenever I go out to Killard I usually hear the Reed Buntings before I see them with their plaintive tseu . Anthony has a fantastic ability in identifying bird calls and then the ability to transcribe them onto paper. On one morning he said "can you hear it?" I couldn't. But as the bird got closer and closer I eventually could hear this Snow Bunting with its teuw followed by tiririririririp flying over head with its white wing patches visible. He would occasionally ask me how to transcribe the sound which I found difficult but it certainly made me think alot more to what I was hearing. One evening I played various American bird calls from my Ibird pro app on my phone to test him and he was rarely wrong. I now listen to a different bird call each night before I go to bed in the hope that with a bit of repetition it will lodge itself in the recesses of my brain.

On Monday morning it was an absolutely fab day with clear blue sky and a lovely sunrise. Each day we had breakfast and were out of the house by eight. Every morning we would first check a small plantation of alder and sycamore that Anthony had planted. We were straight onto a very pale chiffchaff of the northern race. There were a number of meadow pipits flying overhead. Then we headed back to the garden in where we were staying and I spotted a Yellow-browed Warbler which I had never seen before. Anthony didn't see it and then I was beginning to doubt whether I had seen it, especially as we went and looked from the other side of the hedge and the first two birds that we spotted were more chiffchaffs. Then the Yellow-browed popped up again. RELIEF and another lifer. Two in two days was this going to keep up I asked myself.

Hidden Yellow-Browed Warbler

We then headed to the east end of the island and Anthony spotted this Pied Flycatcher which was the second time I had seen one; the last time being on the island in a previous year. We spent a while gradually getting closer to get some photos.
Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher
We left this spot and headed to Irene's garden where I had previously seen one. Only a couple of Blackcaps and not much else apart from a Golden Plover calling overhead. Below is a youtube clip of the view.

We then headed to the cottage for some lunch via the graveyard. Again loads of Blackbirds, Redwings, Song Thrushes and Blackcaps. As we are approaching the Dolphin Hotel Anthony says did you see that. I say no :-( then this bird pops up and he says "Barred Warbler". My third lifer in two days.
Barred Warbler

We were lucky with this bird as it stayed in the area for four days. It was feeding on the blackberries and in another photo it has a very red/purple back side!

In the afternoon we headed to the west end of the island via Lough Bofin here we found 2 Pink Footed Goose and 1 Brent Goose. On some days the Brent Goose would be on the east end of the island eating weed from East Bay and on others it would be at Lough Bofin. We then headed to a house where there are a couple of willow bushes and we found two blackcaps. Over the whole week we saw quite a few sometimes as many as four together. I took this shot of one at the hostel.
Male Blackcap

Each evening we would head back to the cottage and I would cook the dinner for the both of us this was usually in exchange for lighting the fire and the washing up. My least favourite jobs.

We were up at first light on the tuesday morning and yet again it was an amazing day. The Yellow-browed was still in the garden, the Barred warbler was in roughly the same place and a Spotted Flycatcher was near the graveyard and unusually a Tufted Duck was on the little lough beside the graveyard.
Spotted Flycatcher

We carried onto the beach next to Inishlyon and decided we would come back in the winter to tidy up all the rubbish which has accumulated on the high tide line. Then it was onto the willows where we found the Cedar Waxwing last year. This year it was very different from last year. Last year there were always a few phylloscs in the bushes every time we visited. This year a single chiffchaff on one day. So we headed up the field to Irene's Garden and I spotted a Pied Flycatcher which I assumed to be the same bird as the previous day. I took quite a lot of photos and it wasn't until that evening when Anthony I were looking at them that he said that it might not be a Pied but there was a possibility that it might be a Collared. He felt there looked as though there was the sign of a second wing bar and that the pale mark on the primary coverts was very close to the wing edge. His inclination was that it was probably a Pied Flycatcher.
Mystery Flycatcher

At the time we were out of internet contact and weren't aware that another similar bird had been spotted on Cape Clear ninety miles south of us. This bird had been trapped and a DNA sample taken. Here is a link to the Cape Clear bird from Paul and Andrea Kelly. I have to say I think it looks very similar to our bird and also to this bird found at Spurn Head. Here is a link to Martin Garner's website Birding Frontiers" 

One afternoon I headed out to the west of the island and came across a party of thirteen Chough feeding on the turf. These birds were probably the total island population. They are such a fabulous bird fairly talkative calling their distinct Che-oww call but never really letting me get that close to them. I got this silhouette photograph.

 As I made my way back from the westquarter I passed what I regard as the Most Beautiful Beach in Ireland.
Fab Beach on Inishbofin

As I made my way back there were loads of rabbits all diving into their burrows. This one remained outside his burrow long enough to photograph.
Inishbofin Rabbit

 I passed the memorial stone to the three men that had drowned on Easter Sunday 1949 on their way back to Inishshark
Ruins on Inishshark

and as I did so I heard a Chough calling close by just above me on the hill so I was able to photograph it in the setting sun. The Choughs seem to roost in a cave on the hill overlooking the cottage we stay in along with a pair of Ravens.


As I continued my walk back to our cottage I passed Day's Bar and was rather taken by these two dogs sitting on the wall.

Dogs outside Day's Bar on Inishbofin

One of the things I love about Inishbofin is the opportunity to photograph the more common birds. Here is a Female Stonechat and a Dunnock.

Female Stonechat

One morning we went past the graveyard and out to the beach before following the coast round to East Bay and we saw two Great Northern Divers and in the water just below us was a shoal of these Grey Mullet.
Grey Mullet

I had a wonderful week seeing 75 species of bird including three lifers in absolutely gorgeous weather and yet again learnt more and more about different species. It was a shame I had to drive back on yet another beautiful day here was the view from the ferry back to the mainland. I will be back.

Looking from Inishbofin to the Galway Coast


Timothy Belmont said...

Great photos, as ever, Craig. We saw a male stonechat at Ballymacormick Pt on Wed; and a hen pheasant! Hugh's dog, Finn, scared it off.

Anonymous said...

deroleI have been coming to Bofin for many years and have taken the wildlife for granted. Thanks for your great pictures - I now will be able to identify some of the birds I see. My daughter lives in the housebehind the Dolphin.

siobhan said...

I still haven't been to inisboffin, thanks for the great photos. Especially like the first one of the male Stonechat.