Monday 28 May 2012

A short visit to Cape

What's the best cure for stress?............correct, a visit to Cape Clear Island! That was my plan after a long and hard week so it was bed early on Friday night and I was up and away Saturday morning arriving in Baltimore before 10am. I grabbed a quick coffee and waited on the pier for the Cape Clear Ferry. Texting bird warden Steve Wing to see if anything was about, 'Marsh Harrier at East Bog', he replied. 'That'll do for starters', I thought! There were plenty of Black Guillemots and Gannets on the way out but oddly no terns. At Cape, Steve met me off the boat, I dropped my gear in the Bird Obs and headed straight for Cotter's Garden. A singing Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were present and a Spotted Flycatcher was mooching around the Sycamores. I gave it twenty minutes there before moving on.

Cotter's Garden, Cape Clear Island, 26th May 2012

Nordy Wood and The Waist seemed relatively quiet, plenty of Hirundines about and Common Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers were in song. Just as I was about to move on a Turtle Dove flew in and hid in the gorze at the back of The Waist. I tried for a picture but the bird was unsurprisingly very wary of my presence. Not too worry though, it was still nice to see one and enough to put a spring in my step.
I took the low road to East Bog, passing many singing Whitethroats, Willow Warblers, Dunnocks, Wrens and Sedge Warblers along the way.

Wren belting out his song, Nordy Wood, Cape Clear Island, 27th may 2012

But at East Bog there was no sign of the Marsh Harrier, I started to wonder if I had my bogs right! Was this East Bog or West Bog? Couldn't work it out, this is definitely East Bog I thought, so where's the Harrier. OK, might be over at West Bog, might as well try there. Lugging a big lens and tripod through Central Bog and over many stone walls didn't seem like a great plan so I went back along the low road and took the road to Lough Errul, I passed Michael Vincent's and his garden of many cats! Through Mary Mac's, down to Olly Gulley and along the ditch that hosted the Northern Waterthrush and Solitary Sandpiper in 2008 and eventually I reached West Bog. Not easy when you're hauling a 500mm lens, bins, tripod and stuff with you!! And of course, no sign of the Harrier. However 3 minutes later it appeared quartering the reeds. No sign of any grey on its wings, as Steve mentioned, so probably a 2cy female. Lovely to watch close-hand. I set my gear up for a flight shot when my attention was drawn to a bird perched on a barbed wire fence about 150 meters away. Looks interesting I thought! I was looking into the light and the wind was strong, I really needed a scope. I fixed on the 1.4 times extender and pulled a few record shots. Checking the view-finder it definitely looked Shrike-like! I moved carefully towards it, it flew and I had brief views of white outer tail feathers, something to check later in the guide-book. I stopped and checked for it with my bins, no sign! I pushed forward a little more, still no sign, hmmh! Must be here somewhere, I spent the next 90 minutes checking for it but to no avail, It just seemed to vanish. Hunger was really setting in, perhaps the best idea would be to leave the area, grab a bite to eat and return to where I first had seen it. I headed back to the harbour and tucked into a Steak Bagette at Siopa Beag, just the job! I texted Steve to let him know about the bird. Fortified by some grub I headed back and this time decided to approach from the East Bog side. Steve met me on the road and we both started to search the area in earnest, to no effect. We did a full circuit of West bog but no Shrike.

Geoff Oliver's Boat, West Bog, Cape Clear Island, 26th May 2012

We checked a small gulley and flushed a Garden Warbler, not bad! As we watched it move through the gorze I picked up a smart male Hen Harrier moving over the Wheatear field. Time was getting on so Steve and I headed back towards the Obs stopping in Cotters for a swift one! That evening we joined the folks from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group who were on Cape for a whale-watching weekend. A healthy steak and some nice creamy pints in Cotter's rounded off the day nicely. Shattered from all the walking and fresh air I hit the hay early dreaming of tasty shrikes!
Next morning Steve and I were out early, the wind had dropped but the a thick fog lay over the bogs. We began our search again but held out little hope. No sign of any Shrikes but the Marsh Harrier was still around. We had a Turtle Dove at Michael Vincent's as we headed back for breakfast. Maybe the same one from yesterday at The Waist?
After tea and toast I decided to give Cotters and Nordy Wood one final check before the ferry sailed. Still plenty of House Martins and Swallows around and 5 or 6 Common Swift also. There was no sign of the Turtle Dove but at Nordy Wood a very well concealed Reed Warbler was babbling away to himself from deep cover. A Willow Warbler sang from a wire and a Garden Warbler dashed past and chack-chacked at me before vanishing! As always I had to dash for the ferry, stopping briefly to look at male Blackcap in Cotter's Garden. Its always so difficult to leave Cape, I always end up squeezing the last few minutes out of my visits there and am the last person to climb on the ferry. For good measure on the way back to Baltimore I had 2 distant Bonxies and 4 Common Terns from the boat. By the time I got home to Cork I was wrecked, I fell asleep on the sofa with 2 cats sprawled across me.
As many people will tell you Cape is a very special place to visit. I find it very hard to leave and always feel that little bit more connected to what's important in this life when I come back from there. Steve Wing is in the process of completing what looks like being a superb book on the Cape Clear Bird Observatory. I can't wait for it to go to print, it'll sustain me through many a long winters night as I dream of walking the narrow roads of Cape Clear with the sun on my back and bins 'round my neck!
As for the Shrike, I checked the few record shots I took late yesterday evening. I'm happy to put my money on female Red-backed Shrike. Pity it vanished so soon but a finds tick nonetheless! All opinions welcome, just please don't tell me it's a Brown Shrike!

Female Red-backed Shrike, West Bog, Cape Clear