15 Sep 2011

A Few days in Co.Donegal, The Tail End of Hurricane Katia and a Baird's Sandpiper

Baird's Sandpiper

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I went up to Donegal on Sunday night as the weather forecast was dismal with the tail end of Hurricane Katia expected to hit the North Donegal coast on the Sunday night/ Monday Morning and I thought there might be a chance of some interesting birds being deposited in Donegal.

On the monday morning I headed to a friends house in Downings he looks towards Dunfanaghy and is right next to the sea. The 50mph+ winds were coming directly into the front of his house and it was wild. The view from his living room window is below and looking south below that. By the time I left in the afternoon the gusts were getting up to 80 miles an hour. I headed around the Atlantic Drive and had a look from the top of the head.
View from Downings towards Marble Hill
View from Downings towards Ards Priory
View north from Melmore Head
I had my scope on the car window and it was virtually impossible to see anything as my car was being rocked in the wind so I headed to the inlet between Carrigart and Downings mainly to let my dog out for a run as the tide was out at this point. There were a few Dunlin and Sanderling out on the sand all hunkered down and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwit on the machair. I took this photo of a Dunlin struggling to fly into the wind.

Dunlin in flight.
Then I headed back to the car and disaster struck it had broken down. Well it wouldn't go faster than 20mph and the revs never got over 2000. Something I had never experienced before and it took me over an hour and a half to get home. At this point I thought my three days break were buggered. However on Tuesday morning I got the car to the dealership in Letterkenny and in the afternoon I collected it somewhat poorer. I then headed to Fanad Head and on to the Lighthouse where it was still gusting up to fifty miles an hour. As I was heading down to the lighthouse I noticed three Chough feeding in a field on the clifftop. They were only twenty feet or so away from me. The light was dreadful and so was difficult to get detail in the birds which was sad but it was a pleasure to watch them so closely. They really attacked the ground looking for worms throwing the earth from side to side.
Choughs at Fanad Head Co.Donegal

Chough feeding
I parked in the car park at the gates of the lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse in Stormy Weather

and walked past the ruined barracks to the left of the lighthouse and noticed these two donkeys taking shelter from the wind.

Donkeys at Fand lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse

 There is a small building that I watched the sea from out of the wind just beyond the Barracks and over a period of an hour I saw quite a few Manx Shearwaters, a single Great Skua and loads of juvenile Gannets and quite a few adult birds. I then thought I would head over to Carrigart to look for waders but the Harry Blaney Bridge was closed because of the wind so I headed home. When I got home my mother suggested I photograph the swallows in the shed beside the house. There were three juvenile birds. My mother has been watching the shed for an hour or so in recent days and counted the adults making upwards of six to eight visits to feed them every minute. With the storm this had been reduced to two per minute.

On wednesday morning the wind had completely dropped and it turned out to be a fine morning apart from the fact the electricity was off. Out came our Kelly's kettle and just as I had finished boiling the water the electricity came on which was a relief as my mother makes very good bread so we were able to have our toast and home made marmalade. Before I left  I took one last look at the swallows and only one bird was in the nest and as I got closer I noticed it was dead. I assume it died from starvation as it's parents hadn't been able to feed them so regularly during the storm.

After breakfast I headed back to Carrigart as the tide this time was only just starting to drop. There were loads of waders and the first two I saw were a couple of Curlew Sandpiper. There were also a few Knot,  lots of Turnstones, 20 or so Bar-tailed Godwits, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Sanderling and Ringed Plover.

Curlew Sandpiper

As I was scanning a flock of mainly Dunlin I saw a small Stint and at that moment all the birds were spooked and I lost sight of it. Then five Bar-tails flew over.
Bar-tailed Godwits in flight. Centre bird has been ringed.

All the Dunlin flew to some seaweed and most started to go for a nap. So I gradually got closer and closer and took a few shots.
Dunlin, Sanderling and Turnstone
Then I noticed a bird out on it's own feeding differently to the Dunlin it seemed to be far quicker and it's wings projected further. It's bill was also shorter and straighter. It had to be either a White Rumped or Bairds Sandpiper. At this point my dog ran out towards me and all the waders near me took to the air and flew to the Carrigart side of the Bay. I headed back to the car and decided after reading my "Birds of Europe" by Lars Jonsson that it had to be a Bairds. A lifer for me. On returning home I sent the photographs to a couple of birders who agreed it was a Baird's. Happy Days :-)
Baird's Sandpiper

Baird's Sandpiper