17 Sep 2012

A few days on Inishbofin and another lifer Ortolan Bunting

1st Winter Ortolan Bunting Inishbofin Sept 2012
Penny and I arrived on Inishbofin on monday at lunchtime. Paddy-Joe picked us up and took us to the cottage where I stay every year. After settling in and having a quick lunch we headed out to the East End. It was raining and within the first few hundred yards there were birds everywhere Linnets, Meadow Pipits, Swallows, Pied Wagtails, Wheatear, Robins, Dunnock and Starlings. We were just passing Pat Concannon's house and there were a few linnets on the ground beside a gate which all flew off as we approached. One bird remained on the ground and I raised the binoculars and the first thing I noticed was the white eyering followed by the moustachial stripe. I took two shots before it flew off back down the valley. I suspected it might be Ortolan but wasn't sure having never seen one before.
Ortolan Bunting
By now it was pissing down and I put the camera into my backpack before heading to East End Bay where there were a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits, some Dunlin, Turnstones, Ringed Plovers and Sanderling.

Sanderling at East End Bay Inishbofin
Turnstone in flight
As we headed round the bay I stopped off at some willows and found both a Sedge Warbler and Chiffchaff.  Stonechats were also in abundance on the stone walls.
It was at this point that my camera fell out of my bag and crashed to the road. I very gingerly picked it up and fortunately the body was undamaged but my beloved 400m lens was dented and it has impacted on the autofocus. From now on I would have to use manual focus. With the camera lens being damaged and the pouring rain my mood was not a good one.

This changed somewhat when I reviewed the two images on the laptop and confirmed my suspicion that it was after all an Ortolan Bunting and a 1st Winter one to boot. Thanks must also go to Ronan McLaughlin for verifying it for me. A first for Inishbofin and Galway. I then went and put out some seed at the side of the road between the Dolphin Hotel and the cottage I was staying at, in the hope it would come and feed on it.
Ortolan Bunting Feeding on Seed
The following morning I went out as the sun was rising over the horizon and found it again a hundred yards past the Dolphin Hotel. Yet again it flew back up the valley towards the cottage in which I was staying. I continued onto the graveyard to see if anything else had popped in during the night. On my way back I found it feeding on the seed I had put out the previous night just fifty yards from the cottage. I then texted Dermot Breen, a Galway birder, to let him know that it was still around as he was thinking of coming to see it.
Ortolan Bunting
Penny and I then headed over to the west end of the island to see if there was anything about. Over Lough Bofin there were a flock of 33 Lapwing which I think is slightly higher than last years numbers. From the sea watching site just near the Stags of Inishbofin there were a steady stream of Gannets and Fulmars and nothing else. Above the beach that I think is the most beautiful in Ireland there were three Chough calling.
Most Beautiful Beach in Ireland
I met Dermot off the ferry and headed to the bunting. It wasn't where I had seen it earlier and we had a quick look before I headed back to the cottage for some soup. After lunch I left the cottage and as soon as I was on the road I could see it with the naked eye and texted Dermot. He appeared with remarkable haste. His blog is here
Dermot Breen photographing Ortolan Bunting
The rest of the day was spent at the Dumhach Bay where my wife went for a swim before we headed to Day's Bar for a couple of pints of Guinness and free wifi.

Each morning I would head off early and walk down to the graveyard to see if any new migrants had arrived. Only on the last day was there a steady stream of Meadow Pipits flying through the valley. I tried to get a few shots of birds landing on the gravestones.

Meadow Pipit on Gravestone
Stonechat on Gravestone
Blackbird overlooking the ruins of the 14th century St.Colman's Abbey
On the wednesday Dermot texted me to see if the bird was still around as Conor Foley wanted to see the bird. I replied with positive news. Wednesday was a fab day and made for getting nice photos of the bunting. The bird spent most of the day feeding on the seed I had put out and when ever people walked by it would pop over or into the adjacent hedge. Conor connected with the bird fairly quickly after his arrival.
Ortolan Bunting hiding in the hedge

Ortolan Bunting on New Zealand Flax

Ortolan Bunting on the tarmac
The weather was wonderful and I walked parts of the island that I hadn't covered before. In particular the ridge on the south side of the island that leads to Cromwell's Barracks. The views from the top of the hill were stunning. Unfortunately the tide was against us to get to see the Barracks but there will always be another time.
View of Inish Lyon from Knock looking towards Maumturk Mountains
On thursday there was no sign of the bunting and there were very strong winds all day and the occasional showers which made finding anything difficult. Every time there was movement it was usually one of the many resident Robins on the island. One in particular was so engrossed in eating a blackberry that I was within arm's reach of it and too close to get a photo. There were also quite a few young swallows sitting on the barbwire fences waiting to be fed by their parents. In Regina's garden in the house we were staying there were a family of five Blackbirds and three Song Thrush. In the afternoon we headed out to the sea watching site in the West and observed Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Manx Shearwaters and a single Sabine's Gull.
Robin on Inishbofin
Young Swallow
Song Thrush in Regina's Garden
On the friday I decided to go to Leachta Beag one of the high points of the island at Middlequarter and see if there were any birds up by the airfield. There were three Lapwing, a Heron, a few Wheatear and Meadow Pipits. The views from the top were amazing and we could see in the distance the waves breaking on the Stags. So we set off to get a closer look. When we got there the rollers were coming in whipped up by the previous days wind and were crashing into the rocks. You could feel the power. Sometimes a wave would crash into the Stags and water would be shot a hundred feet into the air. Spectacular. My love of the island was reaffirmed.
Waves crashing onto Inishbofin
Wave Crashing into the Stags
Wave Crashing into the Stags of Inishbofin
The Stags from the South

On the way back I saw in the distance a wader feeding in the short grass and was puzzled as it seemed to have a bill too short for Curlew or Whimbrel but on approach it was obviously a juvenile Whimbrel. I then wondered whether it might be a Hudsonian Whimbrel brought over with the recent gales, but as it took off the rump was obviously very white so excluded that possibility.

Juvenile Whimbrel
Juvenile Whimbrel

Sadly that was the end of my short break and on the way home Anthony McGeehan texted me to say he had just received a few copies of his book that morning and did I want to pick one up from him on my way back. So I met him outside Sprucefield McDonalds at eleven o'clock at night and received my copy before he headed south. It is absolutely superb but there will be a blogpost about that at a later date.

Birds through Irish Eyes

14 Aug 2012

Owen Foley's Pelagic 2012

Storm Petrel feeding
The fingers were crossed the previous years pelagic had been cancelled due to poor weather. This time the weather was looking good but my main worry was that I was in Kent in England for a 50th birthday party and my flight to Belfast wasn't until nine in the evening on Easyjet. My two previous late evening flights with Easyjet had been cancelled. Not to mention the fact that the pelagic was due to leave Kilbaha in Co.Clare at 5.00am three hundred miles away from Belfast.

The Easyjet flight arrived on time and I was picked up by Anthony McGeehan and we drove through the night and reached Kilbaha with forty five minutes to spare. I set the alarm for five had a quick kip before meeting up with Owen and the guys, some who were Twitter friends and Facebook friends that I hadn't previously met, who were all heading out on the pelagic.
Owen Foley's Pelagic Summer 2012
We left Kilbaha just as dawn was arriving. As we passed Loop Head a very bright shooting star came down and I took it for a good omen. Over the next hour the light of dawn was absolutely spectacular and there were many birds out on the water. Storm Petrels, Fulmars and Manx Shearwaters could be seen all over the place. There was little to no wind and the sea was remarkably calm even ten miles offshore. At the beginning there wasn't enough light to take a reasonable shot but as the sun came up over the horizon it was fab.

Lone Manx Shearwater at dawn

Common Dolphins in early morning light.
Somebody shouted Minke Whales ahead of us and we steamed on out towards them. As we headed towards the sighting we passed a number of rafts of Manx Shearwaters some of which contained one or two Sooty Shearwaters. As we neared where the whale was seen we started to see Common Dolphins and before long we were in a massive pod which stretched hundreds of yards. It was so exciting as they jumped all around us.
A pod of Common Dolphins with Loop Head Co.Clare  in the background
Common Dolphin beside the boat
We put out some frozen chum that I had brought with me and the skipper put out a vile smelling liquid version and very quickly it attracted Fulmars and Storm Petrels and a couple of Great Skuas.


Great Skua
Juvenile Gannet and Great Skua
Storm Petrel

There were quite a few Manx Shearwater flying past but whenever we approached a raft of birds they were very quick to disappear and they weren't really attracted to the chum. In each raft there appeared to be one or two Sooty Shearwaters some of whom came quite close to the boat.
Manx Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
It wasn't too long before Owen shouted "Wilson's" and at quite a distance it could be seen just marginally bigger than the surrounding Storm Petrels and the pale band on it's upper wing coverts and it's feet protruding beyond it's tail.. Sadly it never really came close into the boat.
Wilson's Petrel
After a while we decided to motor to another location and the moment the engines went on I called a Skua that was approaching. I definitely wasn't sure about it's id as I haven't seen young skuas. It was a juvenile Arctic Skua. It showed characteristics of being a Long Tailed Skua and at first we thought it might be. Immature Arctic Skua and Long Tailed Skua can be quite problematic. The quantity of white-shafted primary feathers are supposed to be diagnostic. Five on an Arctic and two on a Long Tailed. In Kenn Kaufman's Advanced Bird ID book it says that you can get a good idea from bill proportions. Essentially, in LTS, the upper half of the bill is comprised of about 40% 'distal arch' and 60% 'level base'. The bill's plates account for the two entities. On AS, the distal arch  is about 20-30%, leaving a longer, flat-topped base. However it's pretty difficult to determine the bill method in the field on a flying bird whereas it becomes marginally easier in front of a computer screen looking at photographs. I posted one of these photos and a few people have called it LTS even though it is an Arctic.
Juvenile Arctic Skua
Arctic Skua harassing a Kittiwake
Juvenile Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua
Arctic Skua
Arctic Skua
We then headed back to where the frozen block of chum was being devoured by twenty to thirty fulmars. As we approached so did two Sabine's Gulls both landing on the water close by followed by one doing a close circumnavigation of the boat.

Sabine's Gull
Owen then called a second summer Pomarine Skua which never really came close to the boat. It spent it's time harassing rafts of Manx Shearwater at some distance.

2nd Summer Pomarine Skua
We had been out on the water for seven hours and the skipper called it a day and as we headed back to Kilbaha we saw another Minke Whale. We were accompanied most of the way in by a few Fulmars. We passed the cliffs of Loop Head which in daylight were spectacular and made from sedimentary rock a geologists dream. It had been an absolutely wonderful day worth the sleepless night and the upcoming 300 mile journey home. Click on photos for larger version

The "DEVA"