To begin with, I’ve amended the last post, I had submitted my gull record to the Irish sightings site as an Iceland, because that’s what I believed it was. The Irish sightings site changed that (re-identified it as it were) saying it was a Glaucous, complete with my photo submission on their site, hence my notes in the blog, but on day seven the Irish site had changed it back to Iceland, and that’s what they, and I believe it to be, and that’s what it is.
So the morning dawned fine and bright with a strong westerly wind, with the next days set to be still and sunny, this was my last opportunity for a good long seawatch. Croagh River was scanned again first thing, four Greenshank, six Ringed Plover, but only one Med Gull, this time a second summer bird. I had another look out across Lissagriffen Lake, the Iceland Gull was absent but six Greenshank and my first Skylark of the trip were on show. My plan had been to head back up to Brow Head, but on arrival I thought I’d see if I could find a site nearer sea level (where I sat last week was about 70 m above the sea). Not far from a car park was just such a site – between Crookhaven and Barley Cove, so at 11.00 I settled down to spend ‘until whenever’ seawatching/staring southwards out to sea.
New seawatch site, between Crookhaven and Barley Cove, with Brow Head signal tower where I sat last week, in the distance to the west
…and looking more South-west, not what I’d call ideal seawatching conditions
There was steady passage of Gannet and Fulmar all day, with bursts of Manx Shearwater and Stormies. Two Ravens were a frequent sound – kronking, if not always sight, overhead and four Chough went by calling their characteristic ‘Che-ar’ call. Two Harbour Porpoise and two adult and a small calf Common Dolphin were ever-present, a pair of Bottle-nosed Dolphins sped through the area quickly too. I finally gave up at 19.30, having sat in the sun for 8.5 hours, my final totals were: Gannet 4,786, Fulmar 1,122, Manx 746, Stormies 94, Cory’s Shearwater 1, Sooty Shearwater 4, Balearic Shearwater 4, Puffin 1, Razorbill 1, Guillemot 16, Black Guillemot 2, Arctic Skua 1 and just before I left a male Peregrine and all in what I would call less than ideal seawatching conditions, my tan is coming on nicely now. Nope, I’ve no idea why I count all these things either. And no further sign of the Iceland Gull when I headed back either.
With the forecast settled, warm and sunny for the remainder of the week, a chance to head away from the seawatching and into one of Eire’s few bits of apparently decent ancient oak woodland at Glengarriff. The wood covers about 300 hectares and contains four laid out ‘walks’. I decided to do each one in turn over the course of the day and ended up walking about six miles. The wood is largely comprised of Sessile Oak, with some conifer, heather and grassland. The ‘River Walk’ took me along the bubbling river, but too many dog walkers meant no sign of any Dippers. Next the ‘Big Meadow Walk’ along the river a bit, before some woodland, skirting the ‘big meadow’, then a detour onto walk three ‘Lady Bantry’s Viewpoint’ named after the original owner of the wood and guess what…Before my final circuit, a much longer walk through the woods, up and down steps and paths of the ‘Esknamucky Walk’ with views across the Caha Mountains. One thing about all these walks were the footpaths, as in Rineen Wood earlier in the trip, were all laid down with gravel and stone and in some places concrete, which made it easy to stay clean, but did make for a rather noisy walk.
Riverside walk at Glengarriff, complete with concrete and stone footpath
This site was even more bizarre in that the grass adjacent to the car park area was being mown when I arrived, and I discovered in the remote parts of the Esknamucky Walk the edges of the paths had been strimmed and in one place high on the hill top a 15 metre long boardwalk over a muddy patch. I don’t envy whoever took all the materials up there because it would have been quite a trek and there was no vehicle access.
Anyway, the woods were alive with the calls of Coal Tits and Jays (both the Irish race), and completing my ‘set’ of corvids for the trip. I had seen both species over here last May.
Irish Jay – slightly deeper red than the British one
Irish Coal Tit, slightly yellower underneath than a British one, slightly blurred due to being eaten alive by mosquitoes at the time
Treecreepers were abundant too, but few other birds, save for a nice Wood Warbler, a species that probably breeds in the wood in low numbers, quite a bonus for the trip and doubling the number I’ve seen this year. Long-tailed Tit completed my Irish list of tits for the trip. A Pygmy Shrew ran across the track in front of me, so I can tick off one of the hardest mammals to see, and later I found a dead one on the track too. Purple Hairstreaks danced around the canopy while a Holly Blue butterfly and Beautiful Demosielle damselfly found their way onto my ‘Irish List’. I turned over every log and stone I could find in the wood in the search for the globally rare Kerry Slug which is known from here, but to no avail. Interestingly, I found no other slugs and no snails either. The Kerry Slug only occurs in Counties Cork and Kerry then Spain and Portugal, and as such is given the highest levels of protection afforded any species. It’s part of what’s known as the Hiberno-Lusitanian flora and fauna, made up of species that occur in Eire (Hiberno) and Spain/Portugal (Lusitanian), and includes Irish Spurge, Strawberry Tree and St. Patrick’s Cabbage, which all grow in the wood here.
St. Patrick’s Cabbage, Saxifraga spathularis – native to Eire and the rest of Europe, but not Britain
Strawberry Tree fruits just ripening, the last time I saw these I was cutting them down as an invasive non-native on the Great Orme in Gwynedd, North Wales in 1992
Out of the wood, I headed for Glengarriff harbour in the hope of seeing the White-tailed Eagles that had been breeding in the area. They are part of a re-introduction scheme (more here), but sadly this year, this pair’s chick died shortly before fledging, due to a blocked intestine. On arrival at the quayside I asked one of the local fishermen the best place to go to look for them or stand a chance of seeing one, and he replied that after their failed breeding they had left the area. Whether this is a permanent departure remains to be seen. A photographer here, who also wanted to know about the eagles, suggested I gave him my email address and he could email me some pictures of them…like that’s of any use, I know what they look like, have seen one before, but would have liked to have seen one again in the flesh…dolt.
So I headed northwards towards the town of Kenmare along the Caha Pass, through the mountain scenery, something I’m not used to, with odd stops to take in the view – there were plenty of pull-ins along this route.
View across the Caha Mountains
Wouldn’t it have been easier to blast this right through rather than make a quaint 10 metre long tunnel?
The scenery was superb and in the boggy ground along the roadside I found Large-flowered Butterworts growing, I’ve grown them on a window-sill before but never seen them in the wild. They are insectivorous and use their sticky green leaves to trap and digest small invertebrates to make up for the nourishment they fail to get from the poor soils they grow in.
Large-flowered Butterwort – green starfishes of death to small invertebrates, here growing in abundance by the roadside
Further up the road another target species, but not necessarily of this trip…my first ever Pine Marten…
my first Pine Marten
I certainly never expected to see one as close as this! Last year scats, this year roadkill, live one next year?
Today started with a three hour drive across country to meet Una in Waterford. From here it was another hour drive, including a short five minute ferry trip, to our insect survey site at Kilmore Quay at the south-east corner of Co. Waterford. Here is a large sand dune system and we set about sweep-netting and general searching for insects to improve the national database. I’ve never seen sand dunes of this scale before, some of them being in excess of five metres high.
Kilmore Quay sand dunes, stretching on as far as the eye can see, and hugely impressive in height with a rich flora and a good insect selection
An impressive flora enabled us to quickly accumulate a large species list, and a number of specimens to pin later in the day. One of my favourite species was in some abundance – the beefly Villa modesta – this species lays its eggs around the nest sites of solitary bees, the larvae enter the bee nest and feed on the bee larvae inside.
Beefly Villa modesta
After spending five hours collecting we headed northwards to Wexford for an overnight stay in a B&B that couldn’t be farther removed from Stanley House in Schull. ‘Creepy’ is probably the best way to describe it, with a garden I last saw in the 1970s – all gaudy dahlias and french marigolds – and owners who seem to have migrated from Royston Vasey I am grateful it was only for one night.
We hot-footed it out of the B&B straight after breakfast and headed up the Co. Wexford coast to Curracloe and Raven’s Nest Nature Reserve. Another sand dune site, not quite of the scale of Kilmore, and here with a large Scot’s Pine plantation.
Raven’s Nest Nature Reserve, Curracloe, Co. Wexford
Floristically much poorer than Kilmore, but still with enough entomological interest and another new plant species for me; Round-leaved Wintergreen Pyrola rotundifolia in an area of dune-slack.
Round-leaved Wintergreen in all its glory
Another four hours sweep-netting provided quite a rich species list (as well as Mistle Thrush for my trip list), before Una had to head back to work leaving me with a few hours to kill before the ferry home. I headed just down the coast to Wexford Wildfowl Reserve (also known as the North Slobs). This is really a place to visit in the winter when thousands of Greenland White-fronted Geese arrive to spend the winter, it is also a ‘designated Irish Hare reserve’. I last visited eleven years ago in torrential rain and saw next to nothing, so it was nice to visit in sunshine. Although birds were in short supply I did add Cuckoo to my trip list and there were Swallows nesting in each of the hides. Brown Hawker Dragonfly made it onto my trip list as did a number of Irish Hares, but all too far away for a photograph.
Point of fledging Swallows nesting in hide, Wexford Wildfowl Reserve
With more time to kill, I headed down to the Co. Wexford coast to a couple of famous birding sites, Lady’s Island Lake and Tacumshin Lake which have both had their fair share of rarities over the years. Both are large water bodies with many viewing points down rough country lanes. Neither held anything spectacular but on my way to the ferry port a female Sparrowhawk stooped over the car to bring my trip list up 106 species.
And so onto Rosslare for the 20.45 ferry, as we left, six adult and three juvenile Med Gulls were feeding in the swell, I managed to squeeze in one more hour of seawatching before the light went (1 Stormie, 15 Gannet and 60 Manx) and maybe two hours sleep before we arrived in Pembroke at 00.50hrs. The drive home was a mixture of short sleep-stops in random lay-bys and Services, through torrential rain with added aquaplaning on the M4 to keep me alert. By the time I reached Hampshire the rain had stopped, and with it being Friday a trip to The Point was a suitable way to finish the trip before heading home to sort and pin my specimens from Thursday.
Until the Postscript…