Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Not so Ruff times

So I finally managed to see a few Ruff. I took a trip out to Muckrush on the shores of Lough Corrib along with young Galway birder Cathal Forkan http://barnabirder.blogspot.ie/ Aonghus O'Donaill had been out to the site earlier in the day and had a hoodwink wader which would have been a first for the county if it could have been pinned down. Unfortunately it was never seen again. This was the first time this site has been checked this autumn as we had all assumed that the high water levels would result in far from ideal wader conditions. While we did have an excellent selection of waders, the majority of birds only stayed briefly and were quick to move on due to the distinct lack of mud. It was really amazing to see stuff just drop in from nowhere. It's the sort of spot that you would probably have to check throughout the day as even many of the waders Cathal and myself had weren't there when Aonghus was. I can't see the water levels dropping any time soon however as it's been raining here all day.

So we had at least 20 Ruff during our time there, all juveniles of course. Most of the Ruff spent most of their time feeding away from the open water but in the longish grass. When they do feed in fields it's usually in short sward. One single individual proved to be very extremely tame, the kind of behaviour you would expect of a newly arrived American wader. I've never had such great views of the species before. We had several misty rain showers and the light was comparable to a Decembers day here though. I was delighted to come across two Wood Sandpipers and a single Green Sandpiper in the area as well. I can probably count the number of times I've seen each species in Galway on one hand. I've yet to see either species out here in Connemara. We had a Pectoral Sandpiper fly over on two occasions but Aonghus and Mike Davis definitely had two on the following day. There are at least 65 Pectoral records for county Galway but only 25 Wood Sandpiper county records.
We also had 2 Greenshank, 2 Black-tailed Godwits, 40 Lapwing, 20 Snipe, 3 Dunlin, 20 Little Egret, 1 Hen Harrier and a juvenile Shelduck which was a nice record for a site 10km away from the coast.
It was a productive day for Cathal with three lifers - Wood, Green and Pectoral Sandpiper.

I've attached a link to the site below on Bing maps. You can see the two shallow muddy bays either side of Muckrush island which can be walked out to. The mouth of the Cregg river is also worth a look though it's a bit of a walk through some fairly rough and wet ground.

Muckrush Ruff from Dermot Breen on Vimeo.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The other godwits

Things have been fairly quiet since the Hudsonian Godwit a month ago. Not that surprising really as we generally don't get many American waders here until the second week of September. There was a juvenile Black-tailed Godwit keeping company with a juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit out on Omey Strand during the week. Black-tailed Godwits are very scarce in Connemara and I'm lucky to see one a year on passage. Only a handful of Bar-tailed Godwits winter here. Despite some record numbers of Ruff in other parts of Ireland this autumn I've yet to see one here in Connemara yet this year. There seem to be good numbers of common waders at the usual spots though which included my first juvenile Sanderling  of the year at Omey on Thursday. I had a colour ringed Sanderling there on 27th July that was originally ringed at Punta Balea, Cangas, Spain on 11th September 2011. It has also been seen on Tiree, Scotland by John Bowler on 6th May 2014 and in Gardskagi, Reykjanes peninsula, Iceland on 8th June 2014. I haven't seen it since. It probably just dropped in briefly on its way back south to its wintering ground which may well be west Africa? Another regular colour ringed Sanderling which spends the winter at Omey Strand has arrived back. It has wintered here every year since August 2011 having been only ringed in Iceland three months earlier.

Juvenile Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit

Juvenile Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit

Juvenile Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit

Juvenile Bar-tailed Godwit

Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit

Juvenile Black-tailed Godwit

Spanish ringed Sanderling

Male Wheatear

Male Wheatear

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Grey Partridge August 15

I was back in the Midlands at the weekend and had a look at the Lough Boora Parklands which is just down the road from where I grew up. This is where I spent most of my early years as a birder. It's a huge area of cutover raised bog which has been harvested by Bord na Mona over many decades. Milled peat from this area was used to supply a Ferbane Power Station which was decommissioned /blow-up in 2003. As I was passing by the old site on Saturday I saw two newly erected wind turbines quite close to the old power station site, how times are changing!

Several lakes/wetlands have been created on the cutover bogs and these attract a few waterbirds. While they're no where as rich as the Shannon Callows they have proved to be quite good for wintering Whooper Swans, up to 250 birds. They have also been quite good for breeding waders, Lapwing in particular. It is now probably one of if not the most important site for the species in the Republic of Ireland. Thanks to work carried out by the Irish Grey Partridge Conservation Trust for partridge, many other species such as Lapwing have benefited greatly. Usually when I hear about local gun clubs talking about doing there bit for conservation it usually consists of shooting a few foxes and crows and then dumping a few hundred naïve Pheasant or Mallard into the wild. What this produces is very questionable. However in this case a huge amount of time and effort is put into creating nesting cover, insect rich chick rearing and winter food and cover habitat for Grey Partridge. Brendan Kavanagh originally started the project who managed to hire Kieran Buckley as a gamekeeper and has been involved with the project ever since. Paddy Kelly has also been working on the project for several years now and has done great work on rearing partridge chicks in captivity which are later released into the project area. He's also involved in a pilot project to rear Corncrake chicks in captivity down at Boora. These haven't yet been released though to my knowledge. Predator control is also carried out by two professional full time gamekeepers now. It's great to see responsible gamekeeping unlike what is regularly seen in the UK. While I was down in the partridge area I had Buzzard, Hen Harrier and three Kestrels all in the core partridge area. While Buzzard and Hen Harrier will occasionally take the odd partridge the guys working there know that this is insignificant in the bigger picture of things. There is such an abundance of food in the area between small bird and mammals that there is more than enough to go round for everything.

Grey Partridge had a very close call here in Ireland as they very nearly went extinct in recent years. The last two wild populations were found here and at another Bord na Mona bog in Lullymore, Co. Kildare. The partridge managed to just about hang on here due to the many "weeds" found growing along Bord na Mona railway lines which were used to transport the milled peat to the power station. These areas were thankfully never sprayed with herbicide. The Lullymore population eventually went extinct and the Boora population reached a worryingly low number of just 21 wild birds in 2001. It was decided to introduce wild birds from continental Europe as the population at that stage was unviable. Captive reared birds were released in Lullymore but these quickly died out as they had very little "street smarts" to survive long enough to reproduce. They are very short lived bird but do produce high numbers of young. Wet weather at the point of chick hatching can be detrimental to survival as they get wet and cold and can also suppress insects which is vital for young chicks. Predation at the time of incubation can also be bad news. The predator control is only carried out while the partridge are incubating and while the chicks are young. To carry it out year round is unnecessary and unwarranted. I believe the number of partridge now has passed the 1000 mark and is an incredible conservation success story. Birds from Boora have now been released in north Dublin so that a satellite population can be established.

I came across two coveys of partridge on one of the quiet roads while visiting on Saturday which gave good views from the car. You don't often get such good views it has to be said. I can remember seeing my first ever Grey Partridge at Finnamores in 1995 which is now a lake! The area around the Back Lakes (Boora and Tumduffbeg Lake) as we used to call it was very busy with a new visitor centre. All of the old railway lines have now largely been converted into bicycle tracks which are proving to be very popular with people. Back in the day you could spend the day down there and be lucky to just come across one or two Bord na Mona workers out on the bog.
Over the last 20 years the area has attracted a decent list of rarities which includes Black Kite, Montagu's Harrier, Hobby, Crane, Black-winged Stilt, Temminck's Stint, White-rumped Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher and Red-necked Phalarope. A lot of these have been found by Tipperary based birder Pat Brennan who has been keeping an eye on the area for the last decade or more.

Male Grey Partridge
Male and female Grey Partridge with three young.

Partridge covey with a second covey in the background.

Female Grey Partridge with chicks.

Female Grey Partridge with chicks.

Common Buzzard with a young Rabbit.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Irish Ladies-tresses

I've been looking for Irish Ladies-tresses here in Galway and Mayo now for a few years but never came across any specimens despite checking known sites in recent years. Water levels are very high on all of the loughs at the moment. The species is known for growing along the shoreline so I wasn't too hopeful of finding any this year as I thought the area in which they normally grow would be submerged in water. I had a look at one site beside Lough Mask in county Mayo and surprisingly came across about ten spikes along the shoreline, most amongst fishing boats hauled up on the shoreline. I checked a site at Lough Corrib in county Galway later but only managed to find a single spike. They were all found about three metres above the waterline amongst short dry sward. Like a lot of orchid species they do not flower every year so can go unseen for several years. Quite a nice orchid to finally catch up with. In Ireland it is largely confined to the western great lakes with a few scattered sites from Kerry to Donegal. It's even rarer in Britain with the Outer Hebrides in Scotland being the stronghold. I don't think it's found at all otherwise in continental Europe but oddly has a wide distribution in North America.

Irish Ladies-tresses habitat.

Irish Ladies-tresses habitat!

Irish Ladies-tresses along Lough Corrib, Co. Galway.


Thursday, 13 August 2015

Slyne Head and Inishlackan 11th August 2015

Paid a site visit out to some of the islands around Ballyconneely and Roundstone on Tuesday. It's been around three years since I was last out on Slyne Head. It was pretty quiet on the bird front during the entire day as the majority of seabirds have now finished up with the breeding season and a lot are now on route to the wintering areas. The best out around Slyne was a Storm Petrel and Little Tern from the boat on the way out and two Sand Martins on Illaunamid with just a handful of Manx Shearwaters passing offshore. Inishlackan was also quiet. The Little Terns didn't appear to breed here this year. There were several people sitting out by the beach where they normally breed, hopefully disturbance earlier in the season was responsible for this.
There seem to be a few Whimbrel moving through at the moment. They are normally much more scarcer here in the autumn compared to spring.

Grey Heron on Inishlackan with the Twelve Bens Mountains in the background.

Whimbrel heading back south on Inishlackan.

Old Raven nest in old lighthouse window.

Old Raven nest in old lighthouse window.

Warbler habitat on Slyne Head, have had Lesser Whitethroat in here before.

Old and new Slyne Head lighthouses.

Panoramic view of Slyne Head looking North.
Church Bay looking back towards Duck Island from Chapel Island.
Human remains buried adjacent to the NE corner of the oratory on Chapel Island, exposed by the winter storms two years back. Probably the remains of a priest or monk given the proximity to the chapel.

12th or 13th century chapel on Chapel Island

Abandoned digger on Inishlackan, really adds to the island character of the place - not!

Layer of peat being eroded by rising sea levels on Inishlackan.