Monday 21 May 2018

The trip to Tory - part two

The next morning we were all up and out by 7am for more Corncrake photography and to check for migrants. On Tory, the most obvious place to check is the famous 'Magic Bush'. It has previously hosted such mega rarities as Paddyfield Warbler and Collared Flycatcher. However, this morning it was a lot more modest with just Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. A Corncrake sang from the nettles clumps in the adjacent paddock (we called him Peadair!). 

The famous 'Magic Bush'
We stopped for breakfast at 9.30am and then met up at the pier for 10.30am where Rob had organised a boat trip to look for White-billed Diver.

Our vessel for the day - The Laura Dean

The boat took us east along the southern edge of Tory and rounded the cliffs at the easterly end which is called Tormor. We had great views of the many Puffins on sea as well as Razorbills, Guillemots (including some ‘bridled’ birds) and Kittiwakes. After that we headed out into the sound between the Donegal mainland and Tory Island itself to look for White-billed Divers. Despite the numerous pairs of eyes on board, we struggled to see anything. We had Ger Murray with a scope on the island guiding us via mobile phone to a diver that was 600 metres or so in front of us but we couldn’t find it. I guess between the pitching boat in a heavy swell and the bird itself diving, we missed it. By 2pm we were all getting a little despondent and some were getting a little queasy when Polina livened up proceedings by chucking bits of her baguette off the back of the boat. This brought in a good few hungry gulls including one 3 cy (?) Iceland Gull and then several very brutish Great Skuas. We all ended up chucking our lunches away just to keep the show going – I even sacrificed a bag of Tayto Snax!

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

Scrambling for some baguette

Great Skua joins the melee

Great Skua
We returned to Tory Island at 5pm and spent the remaining hours between then and dinner with the Corncrakes where I managed to get a few more decent shots – I think it was the same bird from the previous day (which at this stage I had christened Liam). He was craking loudly from a small clump of nettles in the corner of a little paddock just off the main street of west town. After a lengthy wait he broke cover from his nettle bed, paused briefly on the stone wall before slipping over the other side and out of site. He seemed to have a circuit and I figured that if you waited in the one spot for long enough, he’d eventually pass your way.

Corncrake - Tory Island, Co. Donegal
That night we had dinner in the hotel which was relatively quiet at first but, a combination of a stag do, a bunch of first Holy Communions and a reception for the Donegal Rose (who happens to be from Tory Island) meant the place was jammed by 11pm.

A thorn amongst the Roses!

Good and all as the atmos’ in the hotel bar was, I knew that one more beer might be the tipping point, so we baled out at around 11.30pm and headed back to the B&B. I slept soundly until 7am although Nick was once again awakened at 5am by the Corncrake at the rear of the B&B – can’t say I’d be too upset with that type of alarm call. (we incidentally decided that this particular Crake was called Padraig).

Sunday 20 May 2018

The trip to Tory - part one

I had often thought about a trip to Tory Island to see and photograph Corncrake but had never gotten around to it. Each year would pass and I'd leave it too late to organise a trip. However, this time I had Robert Vaughan working on me and he did a very effective job at talking me into going - and how glad I am that he did!
Tory Island is about ten miles off the north Donegal coast. Its about about three miles long and half and mile wide. Approximately one hundred people still live there and as its a Gaeltacht region, Irish is the main language spoken. Its one of the few remaining places in Ireland where its still possible to see Corncrakes. I had never seen one in Ireland (in fact last summer in Latvia was the the first time I ever saw one although I had heard them on a number of occassions in Sligo, Donegal and Latvia). We visited from the 4th to 7th May coinciding our time there with the initial arrival of Corncrakes and relatively low cover thereby improving our chances of seeing them.
On the morning of the 4th May, Nick picked Polina and I up at 4am. P snoozed in the back while Nick and I caught up on the latest birding gossip. We fortified ourselves with a hearty ‘full English’ at Stansted Airport before boarding our flight to Ireland.
We arrived to a dull and windy Knock, picked up our rental car and drove north towards Magheraroarty, Co. Donegal with plenty of time for the 4pm ferry to Tory Island. We stopped for provisions in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo – stocking up with Tayto Cheese and Onion (what else!!).
We were welcomed to the pier at Magheraroarty by the sounds of flight displaying Rock Pipits, several Swallows moving through as they headed north and two almost summer plumaged Great Northern Divers snorkelling in the harbour.

Great Northern Diver, Magheraroarty, Co. Donegal

The crossing to Tory was pretty bumpy to say the least! Nick picked up a single Sandwich Tern but otherwise apart from a couple of Manxies, Kittiwakes and Gannets, it was uneventful bird-wise.
At Tory harbour, two male Eiders slept on the rocks as the ferry pulled in. We gathered our luggage together and trudged through West Town to our B&B.

Polina trudges through downtown 'West Town'
As we passed a small derelict cottage by the road, a Corncrake started ‘craking’ from the other side of the stone wall. 

I stopped to listen and suddenly realised he was sitting only fifteen feet away on the stone wall of the cottage. Fortunately, I had my camera with 100-400mm lens on my shoulder so I managed a few shots before he slipped down the wall and into the nettles. Talk about being lucky! Even though it wasn’t with my 500mm prime, a couple of the shots were pretty good. I could have turned around and gone home happy at that stage if I wanted.

Corncrake - Tory Island, Co. Donegal - 4th May 2018
We dropped our stuff at the B&B and Polina and I headed back to the same spot to try for more Corncrake shots while Nick birded the west of the island. 

Waiting for Mr. Crex!

Polina also waiting for Mr. Crex
We didn’t have any further luck with the Corncrake and at 7pm we called time and convened to the local pub for refreshment.
We were joined by Rob Vaughan and his partner Sara and also Irish birders Brian McCloskey and Ger Murray. Despite the long day we stayed in the pub until nearly midnight (it was only getting going at that stage!) and enjoyed some great craic and birding gossip over a few creamy pints.

A cheeky pint of the black stuff!

A little later - L-R: Brian McCloskey, Ger Murray, Sara Sirtoli, Rob Vaughan, Polina Kasapova and Graham Clarke