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

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