Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Bridges of Ross, Co. Clare, Ireland - 2nd-4th Sept 2006.

John Wright and I (left) pose for the traditional signpost photo.
Although titled as a three day trip, actual birding time was the last 2.5 hrs of daylight on the 2nd, all of the 3rd and 2.5hrs on the morning of the 4th Sept before the flight home. Seawatching was the absolute priority, but with such a short visit the chances of suitable weather for a good seawatch was in the lap of the gods. It was with baited breath all week that Myself and John Wright studied the weather forecasts, praying that conditions would be at least decent for seabird passage. As it happened, the wind was fortunately a pleasing westerly for much of our time, veering southerly on our final morning.

Flying from Liverpool at 12:10hrs on the 2nd, we arrived at Shannon airport and upon picking up the hire car immediately embarked on the c1hr drive to Kilbaha, ignoring the Long-billed Dowitcher that had been present on the adj Shannon lagoon for some time, in favour of the priority... Seawatching.

Luggage was promptly dumped at the Lighthouse Inn, Kilbaha, and then it was straight to the Bridges of Ross.

Upon arrival at the Bridges, seven other birders were present, all Swedish. From 17:00hrs-1930:hrs we logged: 100 Manx Shearwater, 2 Sooty Shearwater, 1 Balearic Shearwater, 1 light phase ad Pomerine Skua, 8 Arctic Skua (5 light phase, 1 intermediate & 2 dark-phase adults), 3 Bonxie, 1 ad sum Red-throated Diver, 4 kittiwake, 2 juv Arctic Tern, 15 Sandwich Tern, 14 Storm Petrel, 1 Whimbrel & 2 Curlew.

Conversation with the Swedish birders in the Bar later that evening revealed that they had seen 230 Great Shearwater the day before, and a further 10 on the morning of our arrival. So after a few pints I retired hopeful that this species would fall the next day.

In-situ at the Bridges of Ross.

Sunday 3rd Sept.
Woken by the alarm at 05:45hrs, we were at the Bridges for first light for the first of three seawatching sessions during the day, totalling 10 hours. The forecast looked good, with a decent westerly and showers. Sitting in the first viewing area with four other birders, we recorded the following up to 10:30hrs: 50 Sooty Shearwater, perhaps several thousand Manx Shearwater, 7 Balearic Shearwater, 8 Arctic Skua , 8 Bonxie, 17 Storm Petrel, 22 Leaches Petrel, 7 Arctic Tern, 24 Sandwich Tern, 20 kittiwake, 3 Puffin, 15 Razorbill, 2 Guillemot and 7 Common Scoter.

Leaches Petrel - Bridges of Ross, Co. Clare - 3rd Sept 2006.

With weather conditions 'improving' IE fewer showers, we took an hour off for breakfast, returning at 11:30-14:30hrs recording: 2 Bonxie, 9 Arctic Skua, a superb light phase adult Pomerine Skua passing just offshore at 12:00hrs, 7 Storm Petrel, 28 Kittiwake, 15 Sandwich Tern, 7 Artic Tern, 1 Black Guillemot and 1 Bar-tailed Godwit 'in'.

Bonxie - Bridges of Ross, Co. Clare - 3rd Sept 2006.

With things fairly quiet, we decided to spend an hour at Loop Head, an area i had heard about and was keen to see (provided the seawatching was quiet, which it was at that time) and in particular the area where the Yellowthroat had frequented a year or two before. Although quiet during our visit, what a super area to cover for migrants, with a extensive heather/peaty area that must surely get Dotterel annually, and some fabulous Yankee passerine 'first landfall' weedy vegetation.

Inevitably, my thoughts wandered as to what it must have been like to have found (or even seen) the Yellowthroat and what the thrill of finding a quality migrant on this headland would be like. I left the site very impressed. A flock of c30 Chough was the highlight, and a Whimbrel passed over.
Other sites checked included a superb little estuary on the oustkirts of Kilbaha, that simply must get American waders annually, and also a small pond nr the Lighthouse Inn with a superb muddy edge. On the two occasions these sites were checked the tiny estuary held 2 juvenile Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit, including 1 colour ringed bird, and a few Redshank.

Birding the estuary NE of Kilbaha.

Imagine finding a good bird on this pond by the road in Kilbaha village. It has at least had a Pectoral sandpiper that i am aware of.

The third seawatching session at Bridges of Ross spanned from 16:30-20:00hrs: 9 Arctic Skua (3 light phase ads, 6 dark phase ads), 2 Pomerine Skua ( 1 light phase adult, 1 light phase sub-ad) passed by singly, again just offshore giving fabulous views, 10 Sooty Shearwater, 3 Balearic shearwater, 200 Manx Shearwater, 2 Kittiwake, 6 Arctic Tern and 1 Storm Petrel.
Monday 4th Sept.
With only a few hours to spare before the return home, we were at the Bridges from 07:00hrs-09:45hrs. The wind this morning was far from ideal, a light southerly and the sea was the smoothest i had seen it during our short time in the area.
The first hour was very quiet, and we discussed returning for breakfast early in order to fit in Shannon Lagoon before the flight home... then the Manx Shearwaters started moving. In fear of developing RSI (repetitive strain injury), I stopped clicking the Manxies on the counter after reaching 2125 in the first hour. By the end of our time, the movement had stopped and we estimated 4000 had passed by, as well as 38 Sooty and 2 Balearic Shearwaters.
Other birds noted were: 6 Bonxie, 7 Arctic Skua (3 light phase ad, 4 dark phase ad), 3 Storm Petrel, 1 Black Guillemot, 10 Kittiwake, 4 Arctic Tern, 11 Sandwich Tern, 8 Common Scoter, 1 Puffin and 1 Curlew. 2 Chough and Hooded Crows were present in fields adj to the viewpoint.
Totals for selected species:
Manx Shearwater - c10,000.
Balearic shearwater - 13.
Sooty Shearwater - 98.
Arctic Skua - 41.
Great skua (Bonxie) - 19.
Pomerine Skua - 3.
Storm Petrel - 42.
Leaches Petrel - 22.
Arctic Tern - 26.
Sandwich Tern - 65.
Red-throated Diver - 1.
Puffin - 4.
Kittiwake - 64.
Common Scoter - 15
Whimbrel - 2
Knot - 4 juv.
Puffin - 4.
Black Guillemot - 2.
Razorbill - Commonest Auk sp. Only counted on first day, max c60 seen over all sessions.
Guillemot - 5.
Also, several pods of Dolphin sp. including some spectacular breaching and 4 Ocean Sunfish. Hooded Crow appeared to be fairly common in the area. Rock Pipits were labelled 'the seawatchers companion' showing down to feet on all seawatch sessions. A few views of Peregrine were had, inc a juvenile offshore feeding on what looked to be a Storm Petrel.
Although no large Shearwaters were seen during our short stay, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and everything I had seen. I hope to visit this site annually from now on.

Above & below: Scenery shots from Bridges of Ross.

Chough - Bridges of Ross, Co. Clare - 4th Sept 2006.