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A Report from birdtours.co.uk

Trip report - Southern Ireland 28th February - 3rd of March 2000,

Jeremy Robson

Although famed as an autumnal destination for many UK birders, the Republic of Ireland offers an unrivalled birding experience in winter and with this in mind, Mike Shurmer and myself were tempted over the water and were not to be disappointed.  

Wexford Slobs

Taking the overnight ferry from Pembroke, we arrived in Rosslare at 7:15am and were watching Black Guillemots in  the dim dawn light as we pulled into the harbour. By 8:00 am we had arrived at the Wexford Slobs and had seen enough Hooded Crows to last a lifetime. As we left the car a Peregrine stooped over our head and took a Moorhen from in front of us and we realised we were in for a good week. Skeins of geese were flying in all the time and soon we were admiring Greenland Whitefronts in all their glory. Large numbers of wild swans of all three species were all present along with a couple of hundred Pale-bellied Brent Geese. As I am not familiar with this race I decided to look more closely. I put my eye to my scope and was greeted by a bird with a neck collar that looked like it was wearing a serviette. I realised at once I had either found a Black Brant or a giant pint of Guinness! At this point the entire flock took off and I was able to rule out the latter. Fortunately they landed closer to us and we were able to note all the salient features. As we were watching it a group of Gulls flew over and Mike was able to pick out a second winter Ring Billed Gull amongst them. Other birds present included two Little Egret, Ruff, Black Tailed Godwit and commoner wildfowl but there was no sign of the Canada Goose. Having got off to a belting start the remainder of the day, as we travelled west to our first stop in Cork, was uneventful.

Dingle.

Tuesday morning was wet and grey as we negotiated the suburbs of Cork and headed north-west to Dingle. Although on the map this does not appear a major trip it took us about three hours. This was more than compensated for by the fact that as we entered County Kerry we came upon some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe. On arriving in Dingle a gleaming white gull by the side of the road caused brakes to be slammed on and we logged our first Iceland Gull of the trip. On scanning the harbour we discovered at least five Great Northern Divers, several Tysties and Red Breasted Mergansers. After a few minutes the long staying female Surf Scoter was located and showed very well with its preposterously large bill making it look like a giant door wedge. We returned to the town centre and parked by the aquarium and threw some bread. Almost immediately we found ourselves in the company of at least ten Iceland Gull and two to three Glaucous Gulls. Having enjoyed the spectacle of more white winged gulls than I had ever seen and failing to locate any Ring Bills we continued north into County Clare.

Poulnashery Bay.

The car ferry across the "Broad Majestic Shannon" saved us a long drive and also produced four more Iceland Gulls and some Scaup. We disembarked at Kilmore and headed west through Kilrush along the N52 to Poulnashery Bay. The Bay is in fact an inlet of the Shannon which is sheltered from the prevailing wind. Gulls were everywhere and we were having difficulty finding a good vantage point. Eventually we found the minor road that ran south-west and crossed over the river and located a farm track that ran along the south side of the bay. This offered fine views of the gulls coming into roost. Somewhat surprisingly the commonest gull appeared to be Kittiwake along with Black Headed and Common. It was apparent that Iceland Gulls were everywhere. Random counts on the visible sections of shoreline produced groups of at least 15 together. I picked out a distant adult Ring Billed Gull and two 2w Med Gulls were picked up. We repeatedly scanned the close gulls and after about fifteen attempts Mike asked me to have a look down his scope and sitting on the mud in front of me was a first winter Ross's Gull. This bird had been seen briefly the day before but we were sceptical of our chances of connecting. After watching it for five minutes it disappeared as mysteriously as it had arrived. Glaucous Gulls were also present although in smaller numbers and a Spoonbill sat incongruously with the gulls. At least one Bonxie swept through the birds reminding us how close to the Atlantic we actually were. By the end of the day we estimated we had seen at least 50 Iceland Gulls although despite close scrutiny we were unable to locate any Kumliens. The fact that there at least six in the area gives an idea of the number of bird that must have been present in the vicinity. As it got dark we travelled up the Atlantic coast and spent the night near Liscannor.  

Clahane beach

The next morning we arrived at Clahane beach and were greeted by three Glaucous Gulls and a Great Northern Diver. However we could not immediately locate the Bonaparte's Gull. Good views of singing Rock Pipits and some Twite kept us amused as we set off around the bay. This was equally fruitless but on returning to Clahane the Bonaparte's was picked up feeding with the Black Headeds. A really cracking leprechaun of a gull with a bulbous head, delicate bill, salmon pink legs and distinctive wing pattern. A fourth Glaucous Gull had joined the small group of gulls as well.  

Galway town

Once the gull had flown out to sea we moved to Galway town and the legendry Nimmo's Pier. This proved something of an anticlimax. Despite good views of two Ring Billed Gulls and five Icelands we were unable to locate the long staying Ross's Gull in a four hour search despite the fact it had been present in the morning. I suppose this was being greedy and may have been due to it being low tide.  

Wexford Slobs

The weather finally let us down on Thursday and the poor visibility resulted in us dipping out on Choughs along the Clare coast. The drive from Clare back to Wexford was long and painful due to poor weather and heavy traffic. A final look at the Slobs revealed lower numbers of geese and swans than before although we saw our first Golden Plover and Sparrowhawk of the trip.

The weather had improved dramatically for the return crossing and sea watching gave us four species of auk, Manx Shearwater and Harbour Porpoise. We travelled with Irish Ferries and paid 80 for a car and one passenger for a five day return (there is a 10% for AA members). Petrol is about 65 Irish Pence a litre (about 52p a litre sterling!). We paid 18 and 20IR each for excellent B&B in Liscannor and Ballyvaghan.

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