After the previous weekend’s trip to Kerry with Karen, this time (Friday 16 to Sunday 18 September) it was a solo ‘rough’ mission to the wild west. County Mayo’s a place I’ve dabbled in now and again. With the exception of Dave Suddaby who produces the goods quite regularly, the rest of the county is criminally underwatched. JJ and I have done the odd scouting mission to other sites – with the pinnacle of my birding action being a (presumed) Fea’s Petrel and the odd Ring-necked Duck - but neither of us had ever hit it during prime conditions. To date, I’d never seen a single yank wader in the county.
So with a steady stream of yankage coming off remnant hurricanes, I got the ‘usual’ late Friday evening flight from Stansted to Shannon, hired a car and headed northwest – arriving at Doogort, Achill Island shortly before 2am. If I didn’t score on this trip, then that’d be it for me and Ireland during autumn 2011. What’s more – with much higher numbers of Buff-b’s, Pecs and Semi-p’s – it’d be a little embarrassing, as well as frustrating, to come back with nada.
I got up out of the car early doors, and immediately a brisk NW wind was bringing in the squall and waking me up. I had a walk along Doogort beach – a typically lovely deserted place – with just a few smalls to show, predominantly Sanderling. The machair just beyond and north of Achill Rovers was nice and flooded, but not a single bird. The tide was high and Sruhill Lough was too choppy with just a few RB Mergs bobbing about. No sign of the usual Black Duck , but I wasn’t going to hang around too long as the place looked poor for wader score. So I headed to the golf course at Keel, drove down to the beach at Trawmore and looked back towards the clubhouse...
The usual scan got a few smalls – Ringed Plovers – and then bang! Looking through the bins, there was an obvious yank; a whacking set of long wings and scalloped upperparts got me going for the scope straight away, pretty much confirming what I’d thought straight off – a quality juvenile Baird’s Sand. Happy days, and after grafting it out last weekend in Kerry with little reward I was content. Not just with the fact that it was a nice dose of adrenaline, but I’ve moaned on to a fair few people about Achill and its potential. So I drove onto the golf course in my car to get closer views, using the car as a mobile hide. It has to be said there weren’t many waders, but they were whizzing around a fair bit. After a couple of double takes, and a bit of pondering, it became evident there were in fact 2 Baird’s Sands – a decent moment when they both walked side-by-side. Not exactly a species that regularly gets multiple occurrences, and interesting to note the difference in bill length, prominence of lores and size in the two birds.
|Baird's Sandpipers together, Achill Island, Mayo|
|Waders on the golf course (including a Baird's Sandpiper)|
|Baird's Sandpiper, Keel golf course, Achill Island|
|stony machair adjacent to the golf course at Keel - Baird's habitat|
I had an enjoyable Ham Salad baguette nearby, and checked a few bushes at the west end of Dooagh and Keem. Given that a Black and White Warbler had just broken on Scilly, joining the Waterthrush, it wasn’t a bad shout but alas that mega crippling yank passerine needed to be saved for another day.
I spent the afternoon driving around Clew Bay, checking a few spots that I’d picked using maps and Google Earth. A couple of spots looked bang on the money, but one thing you need on your side at this extensive place is the tide. High tides and low tides are crap, so it’s Blennerville all over again – you probably only have half an hour before high tide at each spot to properly assess the score.
But the area west and southwest of Louisburgh has been a recent target of mine. Roonagh Lough isn’t bad, but this trip the water levels were too high and the wind was whacking straight through it. However, Corragaun Lough is a sheer delight. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say it’s possibly one of the emerald isle’s best kept secrets. If you’ve ever been to Carrahane Strand or heard about the yankage that place gets, then a lot of it is down to location and habitat (obviously!). Corragaun is pretty much the same – a huge intertidal bay that filters birds in, nice flooded machair and saltmarsh as well as being slap bang on the west coast of Ireland. Problem is, the nearest active birder lives over an hour away... and on the infrequent visits that Dermot has made he’s already scored Citrine Wagtail and Buff-breasted Sand. So with the showers getting worse and the wind getting up, it felt pretty rare as I headed off and paddled through the stream.
|Grey Phalarope Corragaun Lough, Mayo|
First signs weren’t good as there was nothing on the saltmarsh, and after a load of trudging managed to find a few smalls towards the lough. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a juvenile moulting to first-winter Grey Phal dropped in front of me. It was gone in an instant though, moving off before the next rain shower. Plenty of smalls were near the lough itself and a quick scan produced something of interest – nice small bill, smaller size and greyish tones immediately had the White-rumped Sand warning signs out. And after losing it for a minute or so, the third yank of the day was found. A decent enough adult White-rumped Sandpiper. The bird was relatively skittish, in amongst the throng of Dunlin, but during a quick bit of rain it came pretty close and managed to get a few shots for the record. There were a few Curlew Sands too, as well as a bright juvenile Little Stint – no chance of whacking that one in as a Semi-p!
|A soaked adult White-rumped Sand looking a bit pissed off with life, Corragaun Lough|
|Spot the White-rumped from the white rumps...|
With news of serious haulage at The Bridges – including a record number of Sabine’s Gulls – it was time to change tact, head south and do a dawn seawatch there. After going through the rather sombre scenery of Mayo – including the Doolagh Valley that saw one of the worst tragedies of the Irish Potato Famine (always worth reading Lonely Planet before a trip!) – I settled on a typically average SuperMacs in Oughterard and then got to The Lighthouse in Kilbaha just in time to have a couple of jars of Guiness with Niall. Owen, Killian, Noel and Brian were pretty worn out with the day’s seawatching and sloped off to bed early.
Well done to JJ and Staines for pulling out a further 2 Semipalmated, a Pec and a Buff-breast today. The lads are there til Friday so should continue to do some damage.