With a relatively delicious selection of rarities strewn across west Ireland in recent weeks, I decided the time had come for a trip west. Preferred means of travel were a Landrover Freelander coupled with the Holyhead - Dublin ferry, so that I was mobile on the other side of the Irish Sea. As a result, I found myself in the pissing wet rain at Holyhead ferry terminal in the early hours of Tuesday morning. Some hours later, I was stood in the pissing wet rain at Claddagh Beach, Galway, dipping the Forster's Tern. A good start.
Things could only get better, but the choppy waters of Lough Corrib off Angilham Marble Quarries didn't hold the remedy - hundreds of Tufted Ducks offshore, but incredibly difficult (and thus frustrating!) to view in the strong winds . Things needed to improve rapidly, and so I headed off towards Lough Atedaun (via Rahasane Turlough, which was dead) in the hope with connecting with another of the trip's main targets. It didn't take too long for the Pied-billed Grebe to show itself in the small bay in the lefthand corner of the lough:
Target one acheived! Two Swallows were also at Atedaun. A search of nearby Lough Inchiquin failed to reveal little more than 27 Tufted Ducks, and a very choppy Finvarra Point didn't produce the third target - the adult Pacific Diver, although there were 3 Black-throated, 3 Red-throated and 30+ Great Northern Divers offshore there. Back in Burren village, the Green-winged Teal porned it:
With the tide against me, further searches for the Forster's Tern around Galway produced a blank, and so I retired for fish and chips and a few pints in Galway city centre. Overnight in the car at Finvarra Point seemed a rash decision as a storm rolled in, leading to a very rocky night's sleep.
It wasn't half windy this morning. As a result, diver numbers were much lower off Finvarra than the previous day, and there was predictably no sign of the Pacific again. However, I had ducks on the mind, and soon left Finvarra to get amongst as many loughs as humanely possible. First stop, at around 09:00, was Loughrea (Galway). Having never been to the site before, I didn't really know where to look and opted for the southern end first. This proved to be a good idea:
Adult drake Ring-necked Duck at Loughrea.
Not a bad start to a day of lough-bashing, first port of call produces a Nearctic duck simply sat there with 4 Tufted Ducks. Sadly, it didn't continue in the same vein, with most loughs checked producing next to, or indeed, nothing. This Minger was at Nimmo's late morning, with 5 Sandwich Terns (still no Forster's) on Claddagh Beach:
Routine grilling of numerous Clare loughs revealed very little wildfowl indeed (it never ceases to surprise me how Dempsey & O'Clery's book claims 'large'/'good'/'nationally-important' numbers of wildfowl on these loughs and you get there to find no more than about 10 Tufted Ducks), although I guess I was a little late on in the season for large counts. Even Bishop's Quay in Limerick failed to produce a Minger - this site has been quite reliable in the past couple of winters, but not today.
By 17:00 or so, I had reached Lough Gur. It didn't take too long to pick up my second Pied-billed Grebe of the trip; it was frequenting the west shore although proving quite elusive. I walked (illegally) round to the west shore, only for the bird to become even more elusive and then for it to hail/snow for about 20 minutes. Views were close, but brief and intermittent - I only saw it three times over the next two hours before the light started to go. For once though, wildfowl numbers were actually quite good - c.100 Tufted Ducks, c.50 Wigeon and quite alot of Teal - no generic rare yank amongst them though. There were also c.50 Sand Martins hawking over the lake, and an Irish Coal Tit was making itself known near the car park.
The light went as I reached Shannon Airport Lagoon, so I sacked it and went back up to Galway for a pub meal and more Guinness. Overnight in the car near Angilham, Lough Corrib.
First light at Angilham revealed a much more pleasant day - sunny and, more importantly for looking at hundreds of distant aythya - still(ish). Sure enough, it was time to score again. Out popped a splendid drake Ring-necked Duck on the far side of the lough (too distant for pics), whilst this hybrid drake Ring-necked Duck X Tufted Duck momentarily saw me thinking I'd found a second:
Apparently that little beast has been around for much of the winter, though the pure bird is seemingly new in. There were at least 50 Scaup off Angilham, making it clear just how important calm conditions are at this site - the previous day I had seen one female, and on 30th none at all!
So, I was filled with early optimism once more. The sun was out, and surely the Forster's was about to give itself up?! Wrong. Yet again no sign of the bastard bird, but 7 Sandwich Terns along Claddagh Beach, an unexpected juv Iceland Gull at Nimmo's, with the hybrid Glaucous x Herring on the slipway there:
Not been many of these this winter...
Grotty hybrid gull.
I headed rounded for Doorus Pier, but couldn't find the Forster's there either (though there were 6 Sandwich Terns and, in hindsight, I perhaps should have given the site longer). The day went a bit dump from thereon; yet again no sign of the Pacific Diver despite calm conditions (though 2 summer male Long-tailed Ducks were nice there, as were 7 Black-throated Divers). Water levels at Atedaun had risen sharply and the grebe's favoured corner had been submerged - needless to say, I couldn't find it. A blast of a few loughs in the midlands on my way back to Dublin proved useless, as did a jaunt along the seafront in Dublin (low tide = birds much too far away). And so that was it; a rather low-key end to a mixed few days.
Bring back white-winged gulls please.