I've just come back from a mixed few days in Ireland. I missed out on a winger-fest at Killybegs by two days (Derek Charles had a mind-blowing session on Sunday), but still recorded almost 40 individuals. There were some other highlights, too.
Day 1: 6th January
After an overnight commute on the back of a delayed ferry from Anglesey, I arrived at Killybegs in the early hours. A few hours' sleep was greatly appreciated before light eventually came around 08:30. There wasn't much activity in the harbour and, after conversing with a local fisherman, it transpired no trawlers had been out during the week due to the extreme weather conditions. No surprises then that there weren't too many gulls about - just a few hundred at most. My final totals for around three hours throughout the morning were a juvenile Kumlien's, 3 juvenile Icelands and 4 juvenile Glaucous Gulls. Following the weather, a real disappointment (Derek had over 60 white winged gulls on 8th!).
Small fan club attracted with bread
Juv Glauc and fluorescent paint
I decided to head south to Enniskillen, where the town dump had recently attracted several Iceland Gulls. Following an unsuccessful search for Nearctic wildfowl around the local loughs, I reached the dump to find a good few hundred large gulls around the dump. All in all, I had eight Icelands (2 adults, 3rd-winter, 2nd-winter and 4 juveniles) and a juvenile Glaucous Gull. There was also a 3rd-winter Glaucous x Herring hybrid and another, adult white-winged gull. The photos below should help to give an impression of jizz - kind of intermediate between Herring and Iceland. It was the size of a small Herring Gull and, facially, really reminded me of this species. However, the primaries are quite obviously white, and the legs short and kind of bubblegum-pink - it also looks quite long-winged for a Herring. These features were enough to convince me it's something more than just an aberrant Herring Gull, although equally it doesn't really look like an Iceland Gull either. As well as being too big and bulky, the grey on the outer webs of the outer primaries also appears far too extensive for a 'pure' Iceland (or Glaucous) Gull. I guess there are two options for this bird - either it could be an unusually small Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrid (although structural features would suggest this unlikely), or the mythical Iceland x Herring Gull? I'd be very interested in thoughts.
Mystery adult white-winger
3rd-w Glaucous x Herring
With time pressing, I headed west to Lower Lough MacNean to have a quick look for the recent blue morph Snow Goose that has been in the area. The closest I got was a flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese distantly in flight for a couple of seconds before they dropped behind a drumlin, although I did find the darkest Kumlien's Gull I have ever seen - Thayer's-like, but the tail was perhaps slightly too pale, and I felt the scapulars and tertials were also not right for a classic. Secondary bar looked decent though. It was feeding in a field with Hooded Crows miles away, so I could only manage a few poor records:
The final stop of the day was Lough Arrow, although I couldn't find anything of note amongst a few small flocks of Tufted Ducks found around the lake's margins.
Day 2: 7th January
Having slept overnight at Cross Lough, the first half an hour of daylight was spent exploring the lough and nearby beach. Three Glaucous Gulls were immediately apparent - two juveniles and a spectacular adult, although the aythya here consisted of nothing more exotic than Tufted Ducks and 16 Scaup.
Roadside Glauc at Cross Lough
Elly Bay and Leam Lough were both really quiet, so I headed for Annagh. On the way, just west of Belmullet, a juvenile Iceland Gull flew across the road and landed in fields. Lifting my bins, I was drawn to the shape of a big, dark goose in the fields behind - bang! A Canada Goose, of some sort, associating with three Greenland White-fronted Geese. First impressions were it was big, had the neck of a giraffe, and was dark. Any idea as to racial identification is most welcome because I really do not have a clue about these things:
Annagh Beach had three more Glaucous Gulls (two 2nd-winters and a juv), and nearby Dun ma Mbo had a juvenile Iceland. I then headed for Carrowmore Lake via Barnatra (Thayer's Gull 2005 fame), and had the two drake Ring-necked Ducks - the usual adult and a new, first-winter. I also saw three Tufted Ducks but not alot else.
Carrowmore Ring-necked Ducks: adult (left) and 1st-winter (right) drakes
The rest of the day was spent mincing around Achill Island and Clew Bay, where I saw nothing. A real anti-climax given the promising start to the day...
Day 3: 8th January
Throughout the morning, I checked various bays and beaches in south Mayo and west Galway with very little luck indeed - I had a single adult Iceland Gull fly over me at Roonah Quay, and another at Clifden (Galway). This was not made any better by contant messages from Derek, who was up doing extensive winger damage at Killybegs - the messages about arriving trawlers being tailed by flocks of Iceland Gulls is enough to make anyone sick, but I felt particularly bad having been there just 48 hours previous. The first productive stop of the day was early afternoon at Rossaveel, where I consoled myself with six (4 juveniles and 2 2nd-winter) Iceland Gulls showing very well around the harbour - at least the trawler activity here had also had some influence.
Icelands: juvenile (top) and two 2nd-winters
Driving back east to Nimmo's, I had a sort of lethargic end-of-trip feeling come over me. I was numbed by the numbers of white-winged gulls further north. Surely there had to be something around Galway? Alongside the charming Tom Cuffe, all I could manage was a muddy 2nd-winter Kumlien's, and 3 juvenile Icelands. There were hardly any gulls around, though.
Solid 2nd-w Kumlien's
With the light fading, I made one last stop before the drive back to Dublin for the evening ferry - for Dermot's drake American Wigeon at Rahasane Turlough. Eventually found the bird in less-than-ideal conditions at some distance in the middle of the floods. Talking of floods - never seen the water so high here!
Thanks to Dermot and Derek for constant updates over the weekend with various bits of generally gull-related news. Much appreciated guys.