10 Jun 2011

Tory Island Co Donegal , Corncrakes and a sighting of what I firmly believe was a Great Snipe

Corncrake on Rathlin
Last week I arranged by means of Twitter to meet Rónán McLaughlin, an excellent Bird Photographer originally from Co.Donegal now living in Co.Cork, at the Magheraroarty ferry for a day trip to Tory Island off the northwest coast of Co.Donegal. We were hoping to photograph some Corncrakes. My inspiration to come and photograph these birds was the above photograph taken by Anthony McGeehan on Rathlin last year and the photograph below taken on Inishbofin a couple of years ago. The top photo being simply superb.
Corncrake on Inishbofin
So on monday morning he set off from Cork at 4.30 in the morning and I set off at 6.30 and we met at 11.30 at the ferry at Magheraroarty.

The weather was fairly dreary and grey. Not good bird photography light. On the ferry trip over to Tory Island we saw Great Northern Diver in summer plumage, Shags, Cormorants, a fair few Manx Shearwater, a single Puffin, Gannets and a single Storm Petrel.
Storm Petrel

Manx Shearwater

Great Northern Diver
Tory Island is situated on the north west corner of Ireland it is about ten miles from the mainland and the crossing can be fairly hairy with atlantic ocean swells that have come all the way unbroken from America. Fortunately for a person who suffers from seasickness this trip was ok. Rónán, however is in the Irish Navy so not a problem for him.

We arrived and were welcomed by the "King of Tory" Patsy Dan Rogers and Rónán had a little chat to him in Irish of which I didn't understand a word apart from traon the gaelic for corncrake. No sooner than we had left him on the pier we heard a Corncrake in the fields behind the main street. Infact there were two or three birds calling. Now we had to find them. We walked up the street and came across another bird photographer who had seen them earlier. From his accent we guessed he came from Dublin. There was a bird calling only a few yards away behind a wall in a field of nettles but could we see it. No. So we decided to head out towards the lighthouse.
Tory Lighthouse
The cacophony of sound from birds on the way there was deafening. There were Lapwing protecting there young from Lesser Black-backed Gulls. Oystercatchers protecting their nests, Common Gulls protecting their young and both Ronan and I were mobbed by one particular individual. Ringed Plover were doing broken wing displays. All in all it was absolutely wonderful.
Common Gull on the Attack
We walked right round the lighthouse and came across this family party of Choughs feeding on the short grass just in front of the lighthouse before they took off at our arrival. Then we both photographed this Common Gull that allowed us to get quite close.

Common Gull

After walking right round the lighthouse compound we decided to head towards a lake close to the Lighthouse to see if there were any Little Terns about. As we were doing so we walked through a stretch of boggy land and this bird got up and flew into the wind about forty metres before flopping down again. It was bigger than a snipe and flew low not much more than a metre of the ground in a much less frenetic way than a snipe. It also appeared to land rather suddenly as though it had just stalled and put its wings out at the last moment. Rónán commented afterwards that it was almost lazy in flight. We both said to each other almost simultaneously that it was a Great Snipe even though neither of us had seen one. Apart from the size difference it appeared to have far more white in the tail than a snipe. We decided we had to get photos and headed down towards where it had landed. As we were doing so a number of Dunlin flew around us. We also flushed two snipe both of which flew straight into the wind before heading skywards and over towards the east of the island. These were definitely not the same species in our minds to the bird we had just flushed. Rónán also commented that it was almost Woodcock in size. After searching in the area we thought it had landed we couldn't find it. Then a Dunlin presented us with a nice opportunity so we took a few shots.

I then said to Rónán that we had to go back over the ground we had just come and see if we could find it again. Fortunately for us the bird hadn't moved too far from where we reckoned it had landed and yet again it took off similarly to when we originally flushed it and I got the following poor shots. Yet again it flew only a few metres off the ground and headed away from us before flying to our right and behind a hillock. The tail was again noticeably white. I am positive it was a Great Snipe.
Great Snipe?? 1st Shot
Great Snipe 2nd Shot and Crop

I used to rough shoot and have seen hundreds of snipe over the years and this in my mind and Rónán's was definitely not a Gallinago gallinago. I have also taken photos of snipe in flight before and apart from the obvious difference in size I cannot for the life of me see how the tail feathers of the above bird is similar to the one below.
Snipe in Flight
We searched for quite a bit longer but didn't find the bird again. The ferry that was due to leave at 6.00pm we had been told was leaving at 4.00pm so this curtailed our visit and we headed back to the ferry past a calling Corncrake. The light was now getting worse and the chances of getting a last minute photograph were doomed. On the boat journey back to the mainland a Great Northern Diver appeared even closer to the boat.

It was a long day and even though the light was not in our favour and we did not get to see any Corncrakes but did hear 5-6 birds. It was an exciting one never the less with a possible sighting of a Great Snipe. We will be making a submission to the Irish Rare Bird Committee at some point. Thanks to Rόnán for a great day.


Alan Dalton said...

ve posted some Great Snipe record shots on your birdform thread along with some comments of the spevies in flight, hope this helps.All the best, Alan.

forensca said...

Nice article!!! Thanks for sharing such awesome pics.