Monday, 30 July 2012

A bit more seawatching

I have to confess that I've never really gotten seawatching. I know plenty of birders who say that it's hard to beat. That the experience of watching thousands of seabirds streaming past a headland is second to none. Hundreds of large Shearwaters, Petrels, Skuas, Grey Phalaropes and Sabine's Gulls, not to mention the possibility of something really special like Black-browed Albatross, Fea's Petrel or Little Shear.
I first did a seawatch in 2006 from Galley Head and since then I've done a few more from the Old Head, Galley, Ballycotton, Power Head and the Mizen. None of them had been particularily successful, granted that I had seen small numbers of Cory's, Great Shearwaters and Skuas but no mass movement of birds or no mega rares. My seawatching experience involved spending a lot of time cleaning rain off my lens, straining my eyes to find and correctly ID a distant black spec or simply getting bored watching Manxie after Manxie and little else. So before I write seawatching off altogether as a bad idea, I really need to experience that 'red-letter' day. The one I described earlier where thousands of big shears and skuas are passing by and where, at some point, someone shouts "Fea's!" or "Albatross!"........maybe then I'll understand the hype and become addicted to the thrill and experience of seawatching.
To be in with a chance of that then there's probably several spots that I should visit. Blanan on Cape Clear Island, Kilcummin Head, County Mayo or, of course, The Bridges of Ross in County Clare.
So when Owen Foley offered me a lift up to the Bridges of Ross last Saturday, with the winds looking north-westerly and showers forecast all day, it seemed now might be the time.
Another early start, so it was bed at 10pm on Friday night, of course I couldn't get to sleep so when the alarm went at 4am I was knackered!
Owen picked me up at 4.45am and we travelled empty roads through Cork, Limerick and Clare before reaching the carpark at the Bridges at 7.05am. We got our wet gear on and scopes ready and climbed into position at the seawatching spot.

The only souls in the carpark at the bridges - 7am Saturday morning 28th July 2012

View of the Bridges of Ross at 7am

Things were looking good weather wise. A steady stream of Manx Shearwaters was a sign of promise. Within the first 10 minutes we had scored 4 Sooty Shearwaters. Within 30 minutes we had a light-phase Arctic Skua and a Bonxie. Hopes were high for Wilson's Storm Petrel so we kept plugging away. However none materialised and even the stream of Manxies eventually slowed down. By 10am we stopped having seen about 28 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 Arctics, 1 Bonxie, 2 Grey Phalaropes, I European Storm Petrel and many many Manxies. While the experience was enjoyable and its hard not to enjoy seeing light phase Skuas, it was a little like all the other seawatching experiences I've had.
I spent a little while out on tip trying to get shots of some of the birds that passed in close but even then the distance is quite considerable as you can see.

Manx Shearwater

Manx Shearwater

Yes.........more Manx Shearwaters!

Sooty Shearwater and Manx Shearwater

We took a short break at The Lighthouse Inn in Kilbaha. My last visit to Kilbaha had been in 2006 for the excellent Canada Warbler.......fond memories indeed. We were joined by Shane Farrell who was also down for a spot of seawatching, he stationed himself further down the coast towards Loop Head lighthouse but had had similar counts to us that morning.
After coffee we decided that it might be worth checking a few of the local wader spots. Perched on the western coast of Ireland with next stop being the east coast of the US, the area is famed for 'Yankee' waders. A little bit early perhaps but worth checking Doonbeg and Poulnasherry Bay. Sadly though apart from some 'shanks and a Whimbrel we had nothing else.
By late afternoon I was feeling the effects of the early start and a sensation that a throat infection was coming on. But I gave in to temptation and we returned to the Bridges for the evening session filled once again with hope that we would score better than we had that morning.

View that evening from the seawatch point.
The Bridges is a very scenic spot and even in a light NW wind the sea still looks powerful as it comes in against the headland - click on link below. That's Owen with the scope!
 The Bridges of Ross

This time the squawls weren't so frequent which meant I spent more time watching the sea than cleaning my lens. But apart from one Bonxie, 1 European Stormie and a distant Sooty we had little else other than Manxies. With the NW wind whistling into my ear for 2 hours I felt pretty shitty as we packed up and headed for home at 7pm, I've been laid up with the virulent 'man-flu' since then :-(
So that 'red-letter' day still awaits me. However it was an enjoyable day up at the Bridges and sincere thanks to Owen for the driving and good company during the day. We're back up there in 2 weeks time for a pelagic out of Kilbaha itself. Hopefully some close encounters with Oceanites oceanicus will ensue.

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