6 Nov 2011

Inishbofin 2011: Wind, Rain, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps


Pied Wagtail on Inishbofin Harbour wall

I have recently returned home from eight days on Inishbofin Co.Galway and as I type it is pouring with rain. Pretty similar to Inishbofin. Anthony McGeehan and I arrived last saturday on a nice afternoon. We settled into the cottage that Pat Coyne the owner of the Dolphin Hotel had very kindly lent us for the week before heading out to the east end of the island. In a few hours of birding we came across 12 Blackcaps 11 Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler, so were in high hopes for the week.

On our return to the cottage we put out some seed to see if anything would be attracted. The following morning I looked out the window and the first visitors were a pair of Pheasants, 9 Hooded Crows and 3 Magpies. The Magpies and Hoodies flew off when they saw me and then a flock of Rock Doves came in followed by a small party of Reed Buntings.

Rock Dove


The Reed Buntings and Doves were a common feature all week with as many as 11 Reed Buntings on one morning. There was also a small flock of Starlings which used to visit everyday. We put out seed every day and amongst others it attracted Redwing, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Robin, Meadow Pipit, Linnet, House Sparrow and Pied Wagtail. On some days the conditions were so bad that birdwatching from the house was all that we could do.

Male Reed Bunting


Infact of the 8 days I spent there there was only one day with superb weather. The forecasts were also almost all inevitably wrong. Most mornings we would head off to the east end of the island past  St.  Colman's cemetery, which dates back to the 7th Century, onto the beach at Dumhach. The graveyard stretch can be good and as there are loads of blackberry bushes along the road and are quite often full of Thrushes, Blackbirds, Robins and Dunnocks.

Dunnock calling


On most days this donkey would be in the field above the graveyard.



Inishbofin Donkey


 I was hoping we might see a Ring Ouzel again this year but no such luck. Over the week there were quite a few blackcaps feeding amongst the blackberries and we were hoping that we might see a Barred Warbler as this was the section that we had one for four days last year. On the way to the beach there is a small crop field on the lefthand side which we would check out each day. Anthony had found five Rosefinch in it early in September. On the nicest morning of the week it had Linnets, Meadow Pipits, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes, Reed Buntings and a Pied Wagtail feeding in it but no Rosefinches.

Rosefinch on Inishbofin A.McGeehan

Just after the crop field there is a stretch of bramble alongside the road and a pair of Stonechats could be found there most days.
Male Stonechat



Female Stonechat


This year the beach at Dumhach was covered in weed and there were Turnstones, Sanderling and Ringed Plover feeding as well as Meadow and Rock Pipits.

Sanderling



We would then head to two different sets of willows behind East End Bay, one of which was quite protected from the southerly winds we were getting, the other less so. One bush that had been very poor in previous years held 5 Chiffchaff and a Willow Warbler.

Chiffchaff in Willows



The next set of willows was where we found the Cedar Waxwing a couple of years back. There is a bank that you can sit on and look down onto the willows and where most days we would have a cup of tea while we watched. One morning This is the view if you look directly east towards an island called Damhoileán.



View towards Damhoileán from East End Bay


On one of the mornings it was blowing very hard so we sheltered in front of one of the cottages on the beach and had our tea there instead and were lucky as this Juvenile Arctic Skua came closer and closer into the bay.

Juvenile Arctic Skua


Most days in Waxwing Willows, as we now call them, a Blackcap could be found and the odd Redwing. One day we heard a lot of alarm calls and looked up to see a Merlin had perched up on a rock close by.

Male Blackcap in Willows

We then would head up to the top of the field to what we call "Irene's Garden". On the way up we would put up a few snipe most days. In front of the garden there are a few bramble patches and on one of the days a warbler dropped in and before I could put up the binoculars Anthony shouted Lesser Whitethroat

Lesser Whitethroat


which was a lifer for me. It didn't hang around and I only got a few shots before it was off. After looking  at the garden we head back to our cottage where I would generally make lunch before heading out again in the afternoon to the western end of the island.

Firstly we would head to the church and check out the habitat behind it. On one of the days we turned up to find an old rotten tree that looked a perfect spot for a flycatcher had been cut down :-( Then we would go round the harbour and one could look over the harbour wall and if the tide was in the Turnstones would be directly below you.

Turnstone


Then we would head towards the only two patches of willows in the west end and having searched one bush we headed up the road and Anthony spotted a Whinchat perched on the wall.

Whinchat

It was very windy and again it shortly headed for cover and sadly the background behind the bird wasn't really to my liking.

On the best day of the week in the afternoon Anthony and I headed off in different directions as I wanted to walk right round the West Quarter and climb Cnoc Mór the highest point on the island. I passed the Doonmore Hotel and this Starling was perched on the wall beside it.

Starling


A few yards later I passed this wee shuck and saw a warbler fly into it and it was a Chiffchaff.

Chiffchaff


As I neared the top of Cnoc Mór the wind was fairly strong and two birds flew away from me into the sun and I couldn't identify them but then as I reached the summit two Snow Buntings flew close by and looked beautiful in the sunlight.

The View from Cnoc mόr looking towards the Connemara Mountains



video
There were great views of the neighbouring island Inishark and a flock of nearly 300 Barnacle Geese landed on it. I descending and headed towards the north west corner of the island overlooking "The Stags" which are stacks about sixty to seventy feet high which in very strong westerly gales can have the waves breaking over them. A sight I would love to see one day. On my way I saw a pair of Chough and quite a few Redwing. To the north there was a steady stream of Gannets, Kittiwakes, the occasional Arctic Skua, Guillemots and Razorbills flying by the island.

It was a beautiful evening and as the wind began to drop the harbour looked fairly calm.

Inishbofin Light At Entrance To Harbour


The following day was a different story altogether with a force seven to eight southerly gale. I did very little birding and went to the community centre in the afternoon to get onto the internet. When I came out the ferry was leaving the harbour and I was very happy I wasn't on it.


Inishbofin Ferry Heading into Force 7 Gale


Inishbofin Ferry heading into Force 7 Gale



My crossing the following day back to the mainland was relatively calm.

While I was on Inishbofin I was texted that Northern Ireland's first Cattle Egret had been seen near Belfast Harbour which came as quite a surprise as I had been told ages ago that two years previously a Cattle Egret had been seen by three birders on a WeBS count on Lough Neagh in November 2009. So I got in touch with Adam McLure the RSPB's new Kite Warden and asked him about it as he was one of the observers. He confirmed that he was with Stephen Dunlop doing a WeBS count and another birder Eddie Franklin was there as well. Below is the BTO section about it.