Monday, 19 September 2016

Rusheen Bay LBD

I happened to be passing Rusheen Lough today and since the tide was out I decided to have a look. I first had a look from the Silver Strand where the best views of small waders can be had. I went through all of the close waders and then had a quick check of the waders on the far side of the bay. In amongst a flock of Redshank I could see what appeared to be a dowitcher asleep with the roosting flock. Thankfully it woke briefly showing its head. It was facing me the whole time but I thought it was rather bright on the breast. I picked up Aonghus O'Donaill who lives quite close by and we managed to find the bird feeding along the outflow from the Barna Stream on the north side of the bay. This is the third Long-billed Dowitcher recorded at this site and all have been from the very same small area of the bay. Surprisingly Long-billed Dowitcher was the only American species of wader ever recorded at Rusheen up to today.

A while later I picked up a juvenile Baird's Sandpiper about 500 metres out in the middle of the bay. We managed to get to within 300 metres later. It was great to add another American wader to the site list. It's looking like 2016 will be a record year for the species. The best year on record was the famous wader year of 2011 with 14 records. So far I think 2016 has just about matched this and there's still plenty of time for a few more yet before the autumn is over. Rusheen is probably one of the best sites in the whole of Galway Bay for Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Redshank so it should really be much better for rarities. Cathal Forkan is now regularly checking the site so hopefully it should pay dividends in the next few years.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Inishark 16.9.16

I paid a quick visit to Inishark yesterday. Nothing much doing in the nettle beds around the deserted houses apart from 3 Song Thrushes, 1 Blackbird and 1 Wren. I was expecting Lapland Bunting on the island as there's a bit of an influx ongoing at the moment with a very high count of 84 seen on Tory Island, Co. Donegal in recent days. I wasn't to be disappointed as I had a single bird not too far from the village up on one of the hillsides. Most of the island is covered in very cropped heather which is perfect for them, about as close to tundra in the west of Ireland. I sure I would have picked up more had I more time to check the entire island. I think it may have been an adult female on account of the lack of chestnut on the nape, the tertial pattern and black smudging on the breast. This seems to be the first record for the island but they must surely be annual in a spot like this.

Nearby I decided to check a reasonably large wet area. It looks like this area may have been formed by hand cutting of turf by long gone islanders. There were at least 30 Snipe in this area along with a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper - another first for the island. It proved impossible to get a shot of it on the deck as it would suddenly appear at very close quarters before being flushed by Snipe. Pectoral Sandpiper strangely hasn't been recorded from Inishbofin yet. Inishbofin has a rather poor list of American waders with just 1 Semipalmated Sandpipers and 2 White-rumped Sandpipers so far. Inishmore has fared much better with 1 American Golden Plover, 2 Pectoral Sandpiper, 2 Semiplamated Sandpipers, 1 White-rumped Sandpiper, 1 Baird's Sandpiper, 1 Buff-breasted Sandpiper, 1 Long-billed Dowitcher, 1 Spotted Sandpiper and of course last years Hudsonian Godwit.
This particular area on Inishark looks suitable for the likes of a Solitary Sandpiper, dowitcher or maybe a Least Sandpiper, if only it wasn't such a remote spot.

Lapland Bunting 
Lapland Bunting
Lapland Bunting 
Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper pool

Pectoral Sandpiper pool

Great Skua, one still hanging around the island.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Adult AGP

I found this adult American Golden Plover today on the machair commonage on the west side of Omey Island. A small flock of Eurasian Golden Plover spend their time between here and Omey Strand during the winter. I also had a single early Eurasian Golden Plover out on the strand earlier. They obviously hadn't encountered each other as they usually like to associate with each other. I've previously had a juvenile American Golden Plover on Omey Strand back in November 2008. Of all the "AGP's" that I've found in Galway this was the first one that wasn't in the middle of a flock of the Old World variety. Consequently I managed to get my first decent shots of the species as they are very difficult to approach once in a big golden plover flock. It was initially with a small mixed flock of Oystercatchers and Black-tailed Godwits but later did it's own thing. It was also rather vocal.

The tide was on the rise as I walked onto the island and by the time I made my way back to the van the tide had covered most of the strand. Thankfully the water was still very shallow and I was able to wade back across the strand. Only an hour after leaving the AGP I decided to give Aughrus Point a quick check for Lapland Buntings. There seems to be a large arrival of this species in the last two days or so along the west coast. There's a decent amount of windswept dry heath on the headland at Aughrus Point which they seem to be quite fond of. I was half expecting some out on Omey itself as well. Although there were no Lapland Buntings at Aughrus, I quickly came across the very same adult American Golden Plover! Aughrus Point and Omey Island are less than two kilometres apart so it wasn't a big surprise. Where will it end up next?

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Ballyconneely Buff-breasted Sandpiper

I found this lovely little juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper down near Ballyconneely yesterday on the area of machair commonage between Ballyconneely Bay and Crompaun Bay. While this looks great for Buff-breasted Sandpiper, this is the first time I've definitely had one here although I did have a flock of six or so possible Buff-breasted Sandpipers distantly in flight here in 2011. 2011 was a mega year for the species. There was a flock of fifteen on Loop Head, Co. Clare and a record breaking twenty eight birds at Tacumshin Lake, Co. Wexford, the latter being the largest flock ever seen in the Western Palearctic. Ninety three birds in all were recorded that year. They are no longer considered an official rarity in Ireland as there were 478 records up to the end of 2011. Incredibly Tacumshin Lake has recorded 158 birds up to the end of 2011 (per 2012 Irish Rare Bird Report). It wouldn't surprise me if the Ballyconneely bird ends up in Tacumshin in few days time as most wandering vagrants usually end up there at some stage or another. 14 Buff-breasted Sandpipers have been recorded in county Galway to date (four undocumented birds at Rahasane turlough from 1993 - 2000 also) . The last Galway record was back in 2013. The last two years have proved to very poor for the species e.g. I think only three were reported in Ireland in the whole of 2015, one in Kerry and two together at Tacumshin.

Globally they are quite a rare species and are classified as Near-Threatened by the IUCN. They are confined to the Americas normally breeding in dry, open short-sward tundra in Canada and wintering on intensively grazed grassland in Paraguay, southern Brazil, north east Argentina and Uruguay. The entire population is estimated to number only between 16,000 to 84,000 individuals. For comparison sake the global population of Dunlin numbers from 4,600,000 to 6,500,000 individuals! They were apparently intensively hunted in the early 20th century and the population has never really recovered from this as the population is still decreasing even though hunting isn't an issue any more. Even though they are the second most recorded American wader vagrant in Ireland it's still great to come across one. They really are a beautiful looking wader and it always amazes me to think of this small wader crossing the Atlantic Ocean on its own steam. This little guy was quite approachable after it got used to my presence. It seemed to be able to find plenty of insect life for itself in the form of Cranefly and moths.

Closest thing to the old prairie in the west of Ireland - machair.

Devouring a Cranefly (Daddy Long Legs).


I've never noticed the nostril shape before, almost like an old telephone handset.

Wolfing down another Cranefly.


Saturday, 27 August 2016

August Colour Ring Reading

Not a huge amount to report on the rare bird front since the Royal Tern which has subsequently turned up down in the Shannon Estuary moving between counties Kerry and Clare. Evidently this bird must have flown south via Galway unseen! It's performed a lot better than during its short stay in Mayo and has been widely twitched at this stage. Most of the shots below were taken just with phone camera so the quality of most isn't great. I had to get the Canon 7D cleaned recently as there were two nice big specks of dirt caught on sensor which were showing up on the pictures. I haven't had an opportunity to use it in the last fortnight anyway.

Cathal and myself headed down to the Bridges of Ross last Saturday for a spot of seawatching, about 12 hours of it in fact. We arrived about 40 minutes late for a very close in Fea's Petrel which was a bit of bummer but that's what you get for not arriving first thing in the morning. Despite this disappointment we had a very productive seawatch with four different Wilson's Petrel, one of which I managed to pick up myself. Add to this 1 Blue Fulmar, 7 Cory's (one very close), 5 Great, 325 Sooty, 8 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Leach's, c.1850 European Storm Petrels, 5 juv Long-tailed, 1 ad Pom, 29 Arctic, 25 Great Skuas, 12 Sabine's Gull and 2 Black Terns (thanks to Niall Keogh for keeping tabs on the tallies). The Storm Petrel passage was particularly impressive. I can't recall ever seeing such a large and consistent passage which continued all day. Only 20 maximum birders were on site during the day. The weather conditions haven't been as productive in the last week but most visiting birders probably aren't complaining too much with the backup of a Royal Tern. We didn't manage to see either the Solitary or Least Sandpiper which were on a nearby lough previously.

I've been doing all the regular wader sites out here in Connemara in recent weeks but so far I've just had two single Curlew Sandpipers and a juvenile Little Stint so far. I also had a very brief but very close Hobby out on Mweenish Island near Carna on Thursday. Probably more interesting on a Connemara front was a heard only Spotted Redshank at the same time. The only previous Connemara record that I can find is one at Clifden in September 1961! The species is only really regular at three or four sites in Galway. Also out on Mweenish was a colour ringed Ringed Plover originally ringed in Dena, Meaño (Pontevedra), Spain by the Shorebirds Monitoring Programme in Galicia on 19th September 2014. This was the first resighting of this individual.

I also had my two colour ringed Oystercatchers back in the very same spots in the last week also. The white and yellow rings on the Icelandic bird have somehow managed to overlap each other which makes reading them rather confusing from a distance. The Scottish bird's colour ring appears to have been slightly damaged/worn over the summer period also.

Icelandic ringed Oystercatcher, Ballyconneely Beach.
Scottish ringed Oystercatcher T90. Ring slightly damaged on the other side of the ring now.

I've also managed to read six colour ringed Sanderling in the last month or so. Details below.

G1WWWR - ringed at Sandgerði, SW Iceland on 10th May 2011. First seen at Omey Island on 4th August 2011. This bird has been seen every winter since and was back this autumn on 2nd August 2016.

G3BBGY - ringed at Sandgerði, SW Iceland on 22nd May 2016. Seen on 2nd & 9th August 2016 at Omey Island, Galway.

W1YBRY - ringed at Ostgronland, Eastern Greenland on 22nd June 2016. Seen on the North Inishkea island, Co. Mayo, 5th August 2016. This bird was fitted with a geo-locator, hopefully it will be recovered next summer to retrieve the data showing it's migration route and strategy.

B3BBYR - ringed at Ostgronland, Eastern Greenland on 11th July 2011. Seen in Achill Sound, Mayo on 10th August 2014. Back on the breeding site in Eastern Greenland again on 3rd July 2015. Seen by myself near Lough Baun, Mayo on 26th July 2016.

G3WYRB - ringed at Sandgerði, SW Iceland on 17th May 2016. Seen by myself near Lough Baun, Mayo on 26th July 2016.

NB00707 - ringed on Sandy island, Orkney, Scotland on 21st May 2016. Seen by myself near Lough Baun, Mayo on 26th July 2016. Presuming this bird pushed north and bred in the Arctic in this short period, it just goes to show how little time is spent on the breeding grounds by the species.

W1YBRY with geolocator on the left tibia.
While wader hunting yesterday I was delighted to read another two juvenile Sandwich Tern rings at Inishdawros at the exact spot that the Hudsonian Godwit was last year. Both birds are Tony Murray's birds from Lady's Island Lake, Co. Wexford. K3Z was ringed on 17th June 2016 and seen on site subsequently on 11th, 12th and 13th July, K2V was ringed on 4th July 2016. I heard Niall Keogh had another of Tony's bird while twitching the Royal Tern in Kerry recently and Eoin McGreal had another unread ring near Lough Baun two weeks back also.

K3Z white darvic.

K2V green darvic.
Juvenile/first-winter Sandwich Tern. A very advanced bird which also had a metal ring on the right tibia.


Sunset at Coral Beach yesterday evening.