Monday, 9 March 2009

Ireland, 7th - 8th March

Bantry Harbour, Cork, 7th March

Another Irish visit with Rich Bonser over the weekend; on the whole very successful. We caught the usual late evening flight out to Shannon from Stansted (flights were £15 or so return thanks to a no-taxes deal from Ryanair), and then drove down to Baltimore Harbour overnight, arriving there about 03:00 on Saturday morning. Although there were a few gulls drifting in and out of the lights around the quay, there was no sign of the juvenile Ivory Gull..!

First light came at around 06:45, and by 06:50 I had located the Ivory Gull showing extremely well by the trawlers. Views were exclusively in flight, and the bird soon headed off upriver. It was not for another 90 minutes or so that the bird returned, once again affording views to just three metres, albeit again always in flight. We were entertained by a couple of juvenile Iceland and a juvenile Glaucous Gull in the area and, after having our fill of the bird, we headed off west.

Next stop was Ballydehob, where there was a rather pleasant near summer-plumaged adult Ring-billed Gull chilling out on the estuary. Hormones seemed to be kicking in, with the bird being very vocal and also throwing its head all over the place in display. Whilst the nearby tip held decent numbers of large gulls, there was nothing of interest amongst the gathered larids.

Ring-billed Gull, Ballydehob, Cork, 7th March

It was then on to Bantry, where one of the first gulls noted was a juvenile Iceland Gull hanging in the wind above the pier. The creek held a 1st-winter Mediterranean Gull, 2nd-winter Glaucous Gull and this 1st-winter Ringer:

Ring-billed Gull, Bantry town, 7th March

Our Irish tactics are usually based on the smash-and-grab theory; we rarely linger at any one site unless it is big/good. Castletown Bearhaven is both. Since my first visit in December, I have been constantly questioning why this site is not watched as much as it probably should be, given that it is Ireland's second-largest fishing port behind Killybegs. As we arrived at the town, it was evident that there were alot more gulls about than back in December. It wasn't long before white-winged gulls were in evidence; indeed our final tallies were 1 juvenile Kumlien's (present since late January but looking a little more faded now), 10+ Icelands (adult & 9+ juvs) and 7 Glaucous Gulls (2 adults & 5 juvs). In addition, there were two 1st-winter Mediterranean Gulls and the usual adult Ring-billed Gull plus several Black Guillemots to pad out the sightings list. One of the Glaucs appeared to be the dinky little bird we first saw back in December, being more Iceland Gull-like in proportions and size, and smaller than many of the Herrings beside it:

Point Ba- sorry, Glaucous Gull, Castletownbere, 7th March

L. g. kumlieni, Castletownbere, 7th March...

... and the 'business' end

Yours truly with friend, Castletownbere, 7th March

After spending almost three hours at Castletown and feeling quite happy we'd seen and checked all the gulls present, we decided to head off and continue north on to the Iveragh Peninsula (Co. Kerry). The Derrynane Estuary near Caherdaniel held c.50 Lesser Black-backed Gulls (one of several migrant flocks observed loafing at various beaches/estuaries over the weekend) but little else, so we pressed on up to Reenard Point for late afternoon.

What greeted us was something quite unexpected; there were very few gulls present but a ludicrously high percentage of wingers - after scanning we confirmed 11 Iceland Gulls (2 adults, 3rd-winter and 8 juvs) and a cracking 3rd-winter Kumlien's Gull showing well by the pier. To put this in to perspective, there were probably no more than about 25 Herring Gulls present; a very low total for this site and presumably having something to do with the fish factory being closed for the weekend. Again, another site that is appallingly underwatched, but regularly produces decent counts of wingers - how long will it be before this site gets a smithsonian?!

A drive round to Portmagee produced little aside yet more Black Guillemots (they seemed to be at almost every site we checked), and back at Reenard as dusk approached revealed the Kumlien's Gull still, and a couple of Great Northern Divers. The day was celebrated in Caherciveen's most established fast food restaurant - Joey's, and then later in a nearby bar where a couple of Guinness (Guinnesses/Guinni?) were sunk.

The overnight kip in the car can only be described as eventful as stormy conditions battered the west coast of Ireland - thankfully I didn't need to get out to relieve myself as I suspect I would have been blown to Tipperary; certainly not the most enjoyable night's sleep I'd ever had.

We awoke to an adult Iceland Gull blogging about over the beach at White Strand (where we had kipped) - not a bad way to start the day, and a sign of things to come. Back at Reenard, there were just four white-winged gulls amongst about 10 gulls present; the third-winter Kumlien's was still there as were three juvenile Icelands. As not alot was happening, we headed north once more. Cromane (on the south side of Castlemaine Harbour) held a few birds, including the adult Spoonbill which was still present. This bird, an Irish tick for yours truly, is now in its fifth calender year at the site having arrived as a juvenile in 2005 - it must be a lonely old life spending your time alone in a couple of muddy creeks in Kerry. There was also a Greenshank here.

adult Spoonbill, Cromane, 8th March

Next came the fairly dull drive along the south side of the Dingle peninsula; a brief stop at Inny Strand produced zilch, whilst Trabeg was as uninspiring as ever with just a few of the common gull species of note. By this time it had become very cold and had started to snow making even getting out of the car a real chore.

Dingle Harbour did its best to warm us up, with the sun poking through amongst the squalls, but the biting northwesterly still managing to chill us to the bone. Again, winger totals here were excellent, with 9 Icelands (adult, 2 2nd-winters and 6 juvs) and 3 juvenile Glaucous Gulls. An adult Mediterranean Gull and the ever-present Black Guillemots spiced things up.
Moving on to the north side of the peninsula, a brief scan of Baile an Reannaigh at Smerwick produced an entirely unexpected adult Ring-billed Gull. Nearby at Ferriter's Cove, there were an impressive 5 Glaucous Gulls (adult, 2nd-winter and 3 juvs) and a juvenile Iceland Gull amongst the main flock on the beach. Yet another Glaucous Gull, a juvenile, was amongst gulls on Ventry beach where there were also c.50 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, but the Black Duck was notable in its absence.

A dampener was then put on proceedings when a 1st-winter American Herring Gull was found down at Castletown Bearhaven, but after being briefly gripped, we got back amongst the action with a few wingers still showing nicely in Dingle Harbour. Lough Gill, Fermoyle and the Cloghane Estuary were all quiet (the former site quite remarkably not even holding a single aythya!), but Blennerville hit back with a couple of adult Ring-billed Gulls on the estuary upriver of the windmill, where there were also c.50 Black-tailed Godwits.

Routine grilling of minor sites on the way back to Shannon airport produced fairly little as usual; Fenit had 3 Great Northern Divers around the pier but few gulls, Black Rock Strand had no gulls but 3+ Great Northern Divers offshore (the tide was exceptionally high here), and Tarbert offered 9 Scaup and c.30 Teal on the Shannon.

In recent times, a stop in the centre of Limerick city has been a fix on the agenda of most winter trips to Ireland. Many of the locals regularly feed the swans from Bishop's Quay, and naturally plenty of 'small' gulls are attracted. As a result, the site is becoming quite well-known for producing Ring-billed Gulls, and today was no exception with a 2nd-winter bird showing well on the Shannon. Perhaps this is the bird I first found here as a 1st-winter last February. The nearby marsh held a few Tufted Ducks and Pochard, as well as c.15 Redshanks but little else, and so the weekend was ended on a fairly quiet note.

So, in summary another excellent weekend out west. Hopefully we have again proved there is more to Ireland than just Nimmo's and Killybegs..! We had a minimum of 56 white-winged and 7 Ring-billed Gulls over the two days, visiting none of the particularly 'popular' sites on the west coast. Bring on next winter!


  1. Hi Josh,
    I would respectfully suggest that the main reason why Castletownbeare isn't watched more is the fact that it's just so far from anywhere where birders actually live: true, that could also be said for Killybegs, mind.
    That Spoonbill may meet up with others of its kind yet, the highest Irish count was of 10 on the Mullet, of all places, in recent years, so the fact that this bird is so far west doesn't necessarily mean that it will die without getting some 'action'...

  2. Thanks for that Harry; as I've said many times before I suspected that was the reason. You'll have to excuse my rhetoric banter!!