Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Intermediate Blue Snow Goose - Eagland Hill, Lancs - 28th Feb.

Always distant, this intermediate morph Lesser Snow Goose associated with c1000 Pink-footed Geese in fields at SD425442, Eagland Hill, Over Wyre, Lancs. These grabs were obtained with camcorder/scope on a combined 320x magnification - I still marvel at the wonder of digiscoping. I haven't been able to find many photos of the Norfolk bird to attempt a meaningful comparison, but i'm assuming its probably the same.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ireland: Co. Clare, Co. Galway & Co. Mayo 17th-19th Feb 2007

Departing Blackburn at 07:00hrs on Sat 17th Feb, John Wright and I flew from Liverpool at 09:00hrs - Shannon and were on the road to the first birding location by 10:23hrs.

The first stop was Lough Atedaun for the Bufflehead. We arrived at the site in idyllic 'T-shirt' weather, a beautiful blue sky and unusually warm late winter sunshine. The surface of the Lough was mill-pond smooth and it was with some anticipation that we started scanning.

JW scans from the slipway at Lough Atedaun.
Twenty minutes passed with numbers of Teal, Wigeon, a few Pintail, Goldeneye and 2 Whooper Swan seen. A disturbance in the water at some distance revealed an Otter putting on a good display as it hunted for its breakfast, a most welcome bonus.
Aware that the Bufflehead was associating with Tufted Duck, we needed to find an aythya flock, but after 30 minutes only a pair of Tufted had been located.
Shortly afterwards and at the very far corner of the Lough, c1/2 mile distant, a group of 10 Tufted Duck appeared from out of sight and commenced diving frequently. A female Long-tailed Duck was soon picked up associating with the Tufteds, followed shortly by the Bufflehead.
The extreme distance of the bird meant that it was nigh on impossible to digiscope, but I gave it a go with the camcorder and succeeded in at least some record for the blog.

Female Bufflehead - Loch Atedaun, Co. Clare, 17th Feb 2007.

The view of Lough Atedaun looking straight out from the slipway.

The next stop was the extremely pictureseque Lough Inchiquin where a female Ring-necked Duck had been present. In contrast to the balmy conditions at Lough Atedaun only 45 minutes previously, the weather had by now turned decidedly colder. This very smart bird was located within minutes, at the opposite side of the Lough from the car park.

Female Ring-necked Duck - Lough Inchiquin, Co. Clare - 17th Feb 2007.

Above: Views of Lough Inchiquil from the car park.

We had heard that the southern side of Galway Bay around Ballyvaughn was the best site in Co. Clare for Black-throated Diver, so from Inchiquil we drove through the impressive limestone scenery of North Clare arriving about an hour later.

The chill experienced at the last site was replaced for a time with more warm sunshine, allowing us to satiate ourselves on the largest number of Great-northern Divers I have personally ever seen, with up to 100 noted along a c3 mile stretch of coastline.

Despite much searching no Black-throats could be located within scope range. 2 Red-throated Diver were noted, along with c20 Common Scoter, numbers of Razorbill, 3 Black Guillemot, 20 Pale-bellied Brent Geese and a Greenshank.

Great-northern Divers - Ballyvaughn, Co. Clare - 17th Feb 2007.

Above: Two images from the southern shoreline of Galway Bay in the Ballyvaughn area.

Black Guillemot - Ballyvaughn, Co. Clare - 17th Feb 2007.

With mid-aftenoon fast approaching, we headed for Galway and Nimmos Pier in search of some Gulls, stopping briefly at Bell Harbour where another Greenshank was seen as well as numbers of Wigeon but there was no sign of the recent Green-winged Teal amongst c60 Eurasian Teal present.

It was not until after 16:00hrs that we finally found Nimmos Pier, amidst concerns that time was now against us with the fear that a lot of Gulls may have already left to roost. One wrong turn enabled us to stumble upon the first Iceland Gull of the trip, a 1stw feeding with Black-headed Gulls in a small channel. Thankfully upon arrival at Nimmos there were a significant number of Gulls present by the slipway, with several English & Spanish birders in situ.

Immediately we noted an Iceland Gull at the feet of those birders already present, so it was a case of straight out of the car and make the most of the available light.

1stw Iceland Gulls - Nimmos Pier, Galway - 17th Feb 2007.

5x 1stw Iceland Gull - Nimmo's Pier, Galway - 17th Feb 2007.

In the time remaining we recorded 10+ 1stw Iceland Gull, 2 Great-northern Diver and 1 Red-throated Diver. An ad Ring-billed Gull put in a brief appearance which John connected with, but which I missed due to photographing the Icelands. The birders already present had totals of 16 Iceland, 1 Glaucous, 2+ Ring-billed, 4thw American Herring Gull and the Forsters Tern earlier in the day.

Above: Nimmo's Pier, Co. Galway - 18th Feb 2007.

Despite no positive news for a week, the plan now was to drive in the dark up from Galway to Belmullet en-spec and try for the Snowy Owl the next day.

We arrived at Belmullet at 20:30hrs, and after a few pints, retired to the B+B full of anticipation at the prospect of exploring this remote peninsula the next day, hopefully connecting with the Owl in the process.

Sunday 18th Feb dawned bright but with a cold, stiff breeze. The forecast was for the weather to deteriorate from early afternoon, so time was of the essence to get out there and look for the Owl. The Landlady offered to make breakfast earlier than usual, at 07:00hrs, so we were back on the road at 07:40hrs and arrived at the 'Standing Stones' car park at Termon Hill, Blacksod, at the end of the Belmullet peninsula 30 minutes later.

John and I set off across the moor, heading south of the Standing Stones. Walking approx 50m apart, I was soon alerted to John's frantic call that he had located the Snowy Owl. Upon arrival at Johns location, I could see the Owl with the naked eye, approx 50m ahead.... and what a scope view it was!! Magnificent, awesome and beautiful are three words which perhaps best sum up this truly incredible bird..... an absolutely stunning beast of an Owl!

The Snowy Owl sat there for ten minutes enabling me to obtain the above pictures using the coolpix through the scope, before flying of its own accord further down the hill towards the seaward end of the peninsula and out of sight.

It was clear as we made our way towards the area the bird had flown to that it had drawn the unwelcome attention of an adult Great Black-backed Gull, which could be seen mobbing it from some distance and much to our disappointment the Owl again took flight and continued away high to the east until lost to view. I manged to obtain a few hurried flight shots as it went.

female Snowy Owl (apparently 2ndw) - Termon Hill, Blacksod, Co. Mayo - 18th Feb 2007.

Despite a return visit to the area in the afternoon, we could find no further sign of the bird in the area south of the Standing Stones.

John Wright (left) and I at the 'Standing Stones' Termon Hill, Blacksod, 18th Feb 2007.

A few flocks of Golden Plover, 2 Great-northern Diver offshore, 5 Barnacle Geese, several Stonechat and a prob Lapland Bunting briefly were other noteworthy species seen in the area.

Above three photos: Landscape/Habitat shots of Termon Hill and surrounding area.

Other birds seen on the Peninsula during the rest of the day included two flocks of Barnacle Geese totalling c500 birds. The first flock at Annagh Marsh containing a single Pink-footed Goose. Away from the other Geese, a few presemably feral Greylags were noted. A few small parties of Pale-bellied Brent Geese fed along the shoreline. The harbour wall at Aughleam held a flock of 20 Purple Sandpiper and a look off the end produced 12 Great-northern & 1 Red-throated Diver and also a drake Common Scoter in a single scan.

Above: A view of the bay from the harbour wall at Aughleam.

Above: Barnacle Geese - Annagh Marsh, Belmullet, C0. Mayo - 18th Feb 2007.

Above: Pale bellied Brent Geese - Belmullet Peninsula, C0. Mayo - 18th Feb 2007.

Above: Two scenery photos from the Fallmore area.

Now late afternoon, a brief check of Belmullet harbour as we prepared to leave the area for a return to Galway and Nimmo's Pier produced this 1st/2ndw Iceland Gull.

The drive back down to Galway in the remaining light produced yet more sightings of Hooded Crows and a super herd of 85 Whooper Swan consisting of 75 adults and 10 1st winter birds.

Above: Whooper Swans - Co. Mayo - 18th Feb 2007.

By nightfall the westerly depression forecast was clearly moving in. The weather prospects for our final morning at Nimmo's Pier was not good, but surely the Gulls would not disappoint no matter how inclement the conditions.....

As expected, Monday 19th Feb dawned cloudy, wet and windy. We had a maximum of two hours birding time at Nimmo's before the drive back to Shannon for our flight back to Liverpool at 12:40hrs.

On arrival at Nimmo's Pier a few Gulls were present. Within 25 minutes several 1stw Icelands were loafing around the end of the slipway.

Above: JW feeds bread to the assembled Iceland Gulls - Nimmo's Pier, Galway - 19th Feb 2007.

It was nice to see a couple of older Iceland Gulls appear.

Above: 2x1stw & 1x2ndw Iceland Gull - Nimmo's Pier, Galway - 19th Feb 2007.

Above: 2ndw Iceland Gull - Nimmo's Pier, Galway - 19th Feb 2007.

Above two photos: 3rdw Iceland Gull - Nimmo's Pier, Galway - 19th Feb 2007.

Given our limited time before we had to head for the airport, I was beginning to worry that I would miss out on Ring-billed Gull altogether. Thankfully this adult appeard briefly at the slipway in my absence, and stayed long enough for John to drag me away from a Glaucous Gull that was washing in a puddle on a nearby field.

Above: Adw Ring-billed Gull - Nimmo's Pier, Galway - 19th Feb 2007.

Upon my return to the field, the Gulls including the Glaucous Gull and a couple of 1stw Icelands were being repeatedly flushed by dog walkers, with the Glauc heading off before I could attempt to photograph it. At this point we decided that despite the difficult conditions of wind and rain, we would try and look on the beach in the hope that the Forsters Tern was perhaps sheltering on the beach in what we thought were unsuitable feeding conditions offshore. Sadly there was no sign, but we felt it was close (This proved to be the case as a pager message mid-afternoon informed us that the bird was still present in presumably improved weather conditions) Birds on the beach included Bar-tailed Godwit, the ubiquitous Rock Pipits and a few 1stw Icelands.

Time was now against us, so we returned to Nimmo's Pier for a final look off the slipway. Much to our delight, the Glaucous Gull seen earlier was sat at the end of the slipway. An excellent ay to end a fantastic long weekends birding on Irelands west coast.

Above: 3rdw Glaucous Gull - Nimmo's Pier, Co. Galway - 19th Feb 2007.