Sunday, 19 February 2012

139 declared plus 10 ringers

I got back from Ireland late last night after an excellent 8 days of action with Alan C and Staines. Following the last blog post, where we'd been up in the north of the Republic, the last 4 days saw us head south through Clare, into Limerick briefly, and then to the extreme southwest taking in Cork and Kerry.
juvenile Kumlien's Gull at Kilbaha, County Clare
On Wednesday, we hit the spots that you so often do when the seawatching's quiet at the Bridges of Ross. But this February, with wingers everywhere, there were a load of gulls at the mouth of the River Shannon. The highlight was a juvenile Kumlien's Gull on rocks to the east of The Lighthouse Inn, along with 2 1st-winter Med Gulls. While up at the lighthouse at Loop Head 6 Iceland Gulls were cruising on the thermals, and near Carrigaholt we found a further 4 Iceland Gulls lapping up Rinvella Bay. Chough were spiralling around too, and sharp-eyed Staines picked out a nice Otter chilling out along the shore at Kilbaha too.

After a nice morning's work, I wanted to see the Kumlien's Gull that had been lingering in Limerick. So within an hour or two, we were in Stab City and I was severely disappointed: -
tenuous to say the least...

Squint and you may just about get a bit of colouration in those primaries

Even the pigeon has turned its head away in shame after looking at that (lack of a) tail band
Anyway, a nice Ring-billed Gull that flew over livened up proceedings before we headed south and spent the night in Bantry. Awakening to a bright morning on Thursday, we mooched to the harbourside where a 1st-winter ringer was playing ball early doors along with a dopey looking Iceland Gull.

This dopey guy didn't fancy its chances with gulls of its own size, so kept with the smalls in Bantry harbour.
Having had our fill of these guys above, we headed west and were soon in on the action at Castletown Bearhaven in southwest Cork. Here, with a few trawlers going in and out of southwest Ireland's largest fishing port, it was another winger fest. There were 13 Iceland Gulls and 4 Glaucs, as well as an adult Ring-billed Gull and 3 Mediterranean Gulls (including a ringed adult bird).
A trawler bringing in a few larids into Castletown Bearhaven

The rest of Thursday was pretty desperate, and a sole 3rd-winter Iceland Gull out towards Firkeel was all that we could find on the rest of the Beara peninsular. We rocked up pretty early doors at Waterville, ready for the last couple of days of the trip in County Kerry. Friday morning was pretty murky, so much so that after a 20 minute look into Ballinskelligs Bay for scoter, we decided to chalk it due to poor visibility and headed around the coast to check out the gulls at Portmagee. Another 'white-winged gull', but not not one to add to the totals as this bird was presumably an adult Herring lacking pigmentation in its primaries, though its slightly paler mantle compared to some of the nearby Herring Gulls perhaps suggests it's a Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrid? Structually, however, it fitted a Herring Gull.

Back to the real stuff though at Reenard Point, Cahersiveen. An adult Kumlien's Gull with darkish markings to P8-P10 was top of the haul, backed up by another 7 Iceland Gulls. Some lad from the nearby restaurant helped us out, emptying a load of fish scraps in front of us... which were devoured quickly by the gulls.

Note darkness on P10 extending onto both webs and down the primary shaft

Nearby on The Iveragh, the Spoonbill was still at Cromane, doing absolutely nothing but sleeping as usual, along with a second-winter Iceland Gull. However, we weren't going to hang about as the weather had closed in and we had more sites to hit and birds to see. Unfortunately the poor weather meant that we only gave Rossbeigh a token effort, as it was hopeless looking for scoter so who knows whether last year's rhinoceros was about? Probably not, but we couldn't be sure.
A super slick, relatively advanced 2nd-winter Iceland Gull at Reenard
The river just upstream of Blennerville had a couple of Ring-billed Gulls - an adult and a first-winter - while heading west along the north side of the Dingle peninsular produced my first Irish Lesser Scaup; a drake at the west end of Lough Gill. Despite there being 15 or so Greater Scaup on the lough, it kept with the Tufties. At Fermoyle, with relatively decent seas due to it being sheltered, there were 1000s of Common Scoter and a careful search through them produced a quality count of 12 Velvets and a Long-tailed Duck. The last hour or so of light was spent at Milltown, Dingle watching gulls come into the estuary and have a pre-roost wash. Again, there were loads of Iceland Gulls - 7 in total - plus a bird that seemed to fit the bill for a 2nd winter Kumlien's Gull. Whatever Kumlien's Gulls are anyway?
Note the uniformly biscuit-coloured primaries, darkening towards the tips.
 The next morning we headed back out to Milltown and spent a couple of hours watching the gulls again before breakfast. There was a real dark juvenile argentatus that had me going for a short while, before it decided to bare its rump. The previous day's Kumlien's-type Gull was still about, as was another bird that looked very similar; perhaps slightly paler on the body though it had retained a dark eye. I've seen worse Kumlien's claims this winter in Britain, but let's be honest, 2nd-winter Kumlien's Gulls this side of the spectrum can be proper bullsh*tter's birds and we don't necessarily know what's going on between Newfoundland and Iceland. Sure, these are northwestern birds but that's as far as you can often go.
Typical scene from this week's trip - a Glauc, a Kumlien's and 2 Iceland Gulls
Just one of 110 seen during the week
Anyway, a tour of other sites produced a couple more Iceland Gulls at Ferriter's Cove, though they quickly dispersed as some scrotes decided to practice their golf swing on the beach flushing all the gulls in the process. The final afternoon of the trip was spent bashing some sites close to Tralee - the highlight being a nice adult Ring-billed Gull at Barrow harbour and an adult Glaucous Gull at Carrahane Strand. 
Kittiwake in Dingle harbour
So, that's that. Despite lacking that little bit of proper bang - something like a Thayer's - I ended up seeing 4 Kumlien's Gulls (adult, 2 2nd winters, juvenile), 110 Iceland Gulls (25 adults/near adults, 4 3rd winters, 35 2nd winters, 46 juveniles), 25 Glaucous Gulls (2 adults, 1 3rd winter, 8 2nd winters, 14 juveniles) and 10 Ring-billed Gulls (7 adults, 1 2nd winter, 2 1st winters).

Surely worth more than £35?

Add in an American Black Duck, a Lesser Scaup, 4 vagrant Canada Geese, a Black Brant, 2 Ring-necked Ducks and a Tundra Bean Goose and it's easy to see why I'd recommend a week of chilled out birding along the Irish west coast in winter.


  1. Nice one, Rich. I really must do one of these trips one winter... How many other birders did you encounter in eight days?!

  2. Nice Haul. Looks to me like a fair few of your birds at Castletownbere were "new" birds. Certainly the Glaucs probably are, and the Ring Billed is new (far streakier than the others I have seen there).