Sunday, 25 November 2012

Gulling down 'wesht'

It may well have been my last trip down to west Cork in a very long while. So why not make it a good one.
Owen Foley texted me midweek to see if I would be up for some gulling down 'wesht'. The weather looked reasonable for Saturday and the rain forecast for the afternoon coincided nicely with a 2pm kick-off to the Ireland v. Argentina match which I really wanted to see.
The alarm went at 6am, I gathered all my gear together and slunk quietly out of the house leaving a sleeping wife and three sleeping cats behind me. I waited out on the road for my lift and with the temperature down to -1oC I was glad to hop into a warm car.
We set off from Cork at 6.45am and had made good progress, reaching Bantry by 8am. We stopped and did a quick check, but there were very few gulls around at that time. We would come back to Bantry a bit later. At Adrigole, we pulled over and very soon Owen had picked up a first winter Ring-billed Gull. A very juvenile looking individual, too distant for shots but at least it was a good start.

Early morning Adrigole, Co. Cork - that's frost in the foreground.

We continued along the Beara peninsula and soon arrived at the fishing town of Castletownbere. I started to set my gear up while Owen crossed to the local Spar to stock up on a few loaves of bread.

Fish factory island and Bere Island from Castletownbere, Co. Cork 

I started scanning the far shore for gulls and after about five minutes I picked a single white-winged gull crossing the channel from the fish factory towards me. A smart 1st winter Iceland Gull. It quite readily came to the bread we threw for it. We enjoyed good views for about fifteen minutes before deciding that it would be useful to start checking the gulls over on the roofs of the fish factory buildings.
We drove around, stopping briefly to check the sound between the mainland and Bere Island. As well as several Great Northern Divers, Owen picked up a single female type Common Scoter. We pressed on towards the fish factory and while there were plenty of gulls, the first winter Iceland was the pick of the bunch. We starting throwing bread from the jetty and soon enticed many large gulls. From this side the light was slightly better and allowed brighter shots.

1st winter Iceland Gull - Castletownbere, Co. Cork - 24th November 2012
Once the bread had been devoured the gulls returned to the rooftops. We were satisfied that we had inspected all the gulls and so drove slowly around the opposite side of the fish factory island.

Owen proposes we check the opposite side.

The Common Scoter was a little closer now (but still a good five hundred meters out I would say). I took a few shots for the record though, here she is happily munching away on some west Cork crab.

Common Scoter (and crab) - Castletownbere, Co. Cork - 24th November 2012
With that it was back to Bantry. This time there were decent numbers of gulls at the outfeed. Best of the lot was this smart second winter Ring-billed Gull.

2nd winter Ring-billed Gull, Bantry, Co. Cork
We proceeded a short distance out of the town to a point where it would be possible to check for divers and grebes.
A large Great Northern Diver was easily visible with just the naked eye. Further out Owen got onto a single Black-throated Diver swimming with another Great Northern. We both started scanning the bay and simultaneously got onto a pair of Black-throated Divers swimming together off the very far bank.
We drove on to a small airfield just a little way out of Bantry itself. We walked to the end of the point where views of the Black-throated were slightly better. This single bird was still quite a way out but a record shot was possible.

Black-throated Diver - record shot, Bantry Bay, Co. Cork - 24th November 2012
In all we reckon we had three to four Black-throated Divers, great to see them so well for me. There were probably at least twice as many Great Northern Divers in the bay but no Red-throated and certainly no White-billed or Pacifics (although we did hope!).
Owen had a Black-necked Grebe in flight briefly but I couldn't get onto it. By now a light breeze had picked up and with the temperature still hovering around 3oC it felt bitterly cold. We returned to car. Looking at the clock, it was now 1pm. Time to head to Baltimore, check the fish factory and pier there and then hit t'pub for the match and some grub.
We cut through Ballydehob and Skibbereen and arrived at the fish factory outside Baltimore by about 1.45pm. There were good gull numbers present but nothing special. A curious seal (Grey or Harbour I'm not actually sure) checked us out, probably on the off-chance that there would be some fish scraps and not white bread. Best of all though was an Otter which appeared for a short while. I got some record shots but it was a little distant and by now the light was dimming.

Grey or Harbour Seal, Baltimore fish factory

Otter, Baltimore fish factory - 24th November 2012
We stopped quickly at the pier in Baltimore where a 1st winter Glaucous Gull flew over but never landed. By now it was gone 2pm, time for food and time for the match.
A big spicey pizza, a well earned pint and watching Ireland devour Los Pumas was the perfect end to a great days birding. Thanks to Owen for the driving and suggesting the day in the first place.


Jacob's Bar - Baltimore, Cork.

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