Sunday, 23 October 2016


I was out on Inishmore during the week after deciding not to do the usual full week all by myself so three days was a comprise. On the second day I made my way west as I usually do. At around midday I was in the Creig and Chéirín area between The Seven Churches and Bun Gabhla, This area contains the most western clump of Sycamores on the island. There are only a few small plots of Willows further west of here. These Sycamores had held a Yellow-browed Warbler, 3 Chiffchaffs, Garden Warbler and Blackcap at the time. As I had finished up here I returned to where I had left the bike by a derelict building surrounded by a fuchsia hedge. It's a spot I always have a quick look into as I'm passing but I'm not even sure if I've ever seen a phyllosc warbler in here before. As I was just about to move on I spotted movement in the form of a phyllosc. I was immediately struck by the bright green wings, rump and tail which contrasted with a very pale washed out mantle, tertials, head and underparts. The lime green rump and tail were particularly noticeable in flight. The only possible confusion species would be Siberian Chiffchaff. It soon became clear that it was a bonelli's type - the only question now was Western or Eastern. The sure fire way of separating the two is on their vocalisations. Thanks to modern technology in the form of the Xeno Canto Bird sounds app I was able to download the contact calls of both species there and then. The calls are very different e.g.
Western Bonelli's Warbler
Eastern Bonelli's Warbler

The bird wasn't particularly skulky but when I played the Western Bonelli's call it showed great interest and approached my position at such close quarters that I couldn't focus my camera on it! Unfortunately it never called once during this encounter and it later retreated back in a thick bank of fuchsia. It could be seen at very close quarters here but proved impossible to photograph thanks to the thick foliage but thankfully it was heard calling on one occasion confirming it as Western. The following day it moved out of this garden to a hedge of willow, hawthorn and elder to the north of the main road and was heard calling on several occasions. It sounded quite like a calling Greenfinch to my ears. It was again present the next day. This is the fourth reported Western Bonelli's Warbler this year with the other three being reported from Cork unsurprisingly.

There are fourteen previously accepted records of Western Bonelli's Warblers up to the end of 2014 for Ireland (eight in Cork, four in Wexford and two in Waterford). This will be the first time that the species has been recorded away from the south coast (that is if this record is accepted by the IRBC). There have been a few recorded that were't determined to species level and we are still awaiting our first confirmed Eastern Bonelli's Warbler here.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Mediterranean Gulls & Pink-footed Geese

A few shots from the last week or so. I came across a flock of six Mediterranean Gulls in Kilkieran Harbour feeding on the outflow from the seaweed processing factory on Thursday 6th October. One of the birds present was a green colour ringed first-winter from Zwillbrocker Venn in Germany which is right on the German/Netherlands border. It was ringed as a pullus on 18th June of this year and has moved approximately 1,100km to the west. This was the first re-sighting of it. 
I revisited the same spot again the following day and amazed to see that the flock had doubled in size to twelve - four first-winters and eight adults (there was a third-winter present on the 6th). The German bird was again present along with an Irish born and colour ringed bird 2X4N. This bird had been ringed by Tony Murray and co at Lady's Island Lake, Co. Wexford this summer.
ANNC German colour ringed first-winter Mediterranean Gull.
ANNC German colour ringed first-winter Mediterranean Gull.
2X4N Irish colour ringed first-winter Mediterranean Gull.

Adult winter, third-winter & adult winter Mediterranean Gulls

Third-winter Mediterranean Gull.
Eight Mediterranean Gulls and one Black-headed Gull.

Ten Mediterranean Gulls
Seaweed Factory outflow.

While up on Achill Island last Sunday I had a nice flock of Pink-footed Geese fly in from the west. Pink-footed Geese are still fairly scarce along the west coast but have become more regular in recent years as the population is increasing. Female Garganey also on Sruhillbeg Lough.

Pink-footed Geese
Pink-footed Geese
Pink-footed Geese
Pink-footed Geese
Pink-footed Geese

Monday, 10 October 2016

Achill Semipalmated Plover

I took a trip up to Achill Island yesterday to have a look at the Semipalmated Plover and to see if there was much else around just to take a break from birding in Galway for a day. I met Pat Lonergan and Micheal O'Briain who were already on site and who had the bird in a flock of a hundred or so Ringed Plovers at the stream outflow from the golf course. This bird had been found by Tim Jones the previous Sunday. The birds were quite skittish unsurprisingly but I managed to get reasonably close using the "belt buckle" approach, not easy over cobble stones! As usual it remained overcast and cloudy the whole time unfortunately. I didn't manage to get any shots of the feet due to the low angle of shooting.
While it certainly was smaller than the adjacent Ringed Plovers it didn't seem as small as the Galway bird. I also never heard it calling in the two hours or so of observation.

As I was finishing up a flock of eleven Pink-footed Geese flew in from the west and eventually landed in fields between the beach and Sruhillbeg Lough (photos to follow). Micheal had a single bird the previous day on Sruhill Lough. Also on Sruhillbeg Lough was a female Garganey that Micheal had found the previous day. Most likely a first for Achill, can't be many county Mayo records for that matter. I checked a few of the gardens west of Keel afterwards with Micheal but I was a little surprised not to see a single warbler in any of them. I've just seen that Micheal had a Yellow-browed Warbler in one of these garden this morning. There can't be many spots along the headlands and islands of Ireland that don't have at least one Yellow-browed Warbler. Fingers crossed they'll bring a few of their Siberian friends with them. I had five birds around the Ballyconneely/Slyne Head area on Saturday, four on Inishbofin the same day and at least ten on Inishmore yesterday. The numbers seem to increase with every passing year.

Thursday, 6 October 2016


Bit of an unexpected surprise today down on Ardmore Strand near Carna this afternoon in the form of what should be Ireland's sixth Semipalmated Plover if accepted! This is another site that I've never had any wader of note up until today, not even a Curlew Sand or Little Stint. There were about a hundred Ringed Plover present with slightly less Sanderling and just two Dunlin. I was initially struck by the size of the bird, it really was tiny compared to the Ringed Plover. The conditions weren't great for photos with overcast skies the whole time. The plover flock wouldn't allow close approach so all of the shots below are just heavily cropped record shots. Hopefully it will still be around tomorrow and I might be able to get better shots. Thankfully it was heard calling early on in the encounter giving the typical Semi-p Plover flight call e.g.
It was really eye-catchingly small compared to the Ringed Plover even more so than apparent Arctic breeding Ringed Plovers. The head shape looked more rounded at times however the bill wasn't particularly chunky which I usually associate with Semi-p. It could also look rather slim at times. The upperparts with a little darker than most juvenile Ringed Plover and the white underparts almost struck me as being whiter for some reason? The breast band very thin but complete along the centre which gave a characteristic look. This along with the size make it very distinct when face on. The supercillium wasn't as obvious compared to most Ringed Plovers of the same age. A yellow orbital ring was noted at close quarters especially on the lower half of the eye. It was partially lost against the pale supercillium on the upper half. One of the most important features obviously was the loral pattern which was much thinner with the base of the lower and upper mandibles highlighted by white featuring here. It was nearly impossible to make out the webbing/palmations between the outer and middle toes and more importantly between the inner and middle toes in the field but you can just about make this out in some of the record shots below. Have a look at this "Scary Plover" post by Dani Lopez Velasco on Birding Frointiers here
Semipalmated Plover is a species that a lot of us have been keeping an eye out for a long time now.

Up to the end of 2015 there have only been two accepted Irish records of this species. However this year there's been a first-summer at Tacumshin, Co. Wexford in May/June and an adult male also there on 26th July and only just last weekend there was a juvenile up on Achill Island, Co. Mayo. Four in a year is a bit unexpected but as they are quite a difficult bird to clinch I'm sure a lot more go unnoticed. There are only four UK records to date so we've managed to out do them in the Semi-p Plover stakes, there aren't many species that you can say the same about.

Semi-p on the left with a juvenile Ringed Plover.

Add caption

Showing a hint of the palmations.

You can just about see the webbing between the outer and middle toe on the left foot.

Dito for the right foot.

Juvenile Ringed Plover on the left with the juvenile Semipalmated Plover, note the size difference!

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Icterine Warbler

I headed out to Inishmore yesterday for a day trip to see if there was much doing out there. No doubt the island has had several American waders and maybe even a few Yank landbirds passing through the island in the last month or so but of course as usual there was no one out there to record them. I started out at the lough at Barr an Phointe but the water levels very extremely high so there was little or no suitable habitat for waders. The only birds seen were close to 30 Teal and a few Mallard and Moorhens. One White Wagtail on the beach. Next stop was Loch Phort Chorrúch where things were similarly fairly quiet on the lough with low numbers of the usual fare with another White Wagtail with large numbers of Rock Pipits on the storm beach. Again the water was very high on the lough. A huge shingle embankment was artificially created on the seaward side last year after severe winter storms. This was probably done in the misguided intention of protecting the lough but may in fact cause unforeseen damage to the lagoon. There has been a shingle bar protecting the lagoon since at least the mid 19th century. These works may have a negative influence on the hydrology of the lagoon. However I'm can't say for certain as I'm not a hydrologist or an expert in lagoons but I highly doubt these works were carried out on the advice of such an expert either! Time will tell what the outcomes will be.

I headed up to Kilmurvy, having a look at the turlough behind the beach where the Hudsonian Godwit was last year. Not as much water present as I would have thought and zero birds which is usual for this spot. Onto the village itself next. I dropped into Rónán Mac Giollapháraic who was manning the new Aran Fine Arts Studio Gallery there which only opened this summer to display the amazing paintings of Lucia Bližniaková who has been resident on the island for a number of years now.
Well worth a visit if you're out that way anytime. I particularly like her "Bathing Bumblebee", stunningly detailed piece of work. I even picked up a t-shirt designed by Rónán who has been dappling with the pencil in recent years a well.

I checked most of the usual spots around Kilmurvy but the only thing of note were a few Goldcrests and an unseen calling Sylvia warbler scolding a resting male Sparrowhawk. As the ferry was due to leave early at four I knew I wouldn't have time to properly check further west and was just about to head back east when I got a text from Mick Boyle to say he had an Icterine Warbler on Inishmore! Unbeknownst to either of us we had both come out on the same 1030 hrs boat but hadn't seen each other due to the large numbers on the boat. I rang Mick to say I was only 15 minutes away and would be straight up. I met Mick on the road below what we call the Blackpoll Ridge, which is above the Seven Churches. Mick was leaving to check further west. He said the bird was showing well and even managed to get a few shots of it. With time running out the pressure was on. Thankfully after a short wait I picked up the bird moving typically sluggishly around in an Elder tree. While not particularly shy it could spent long periods of time just sat in the middle of the tree which could mean that it could have easily been overlooked. As the cliff face was sheltered enough you could usually hear the bird moving amongst the vegetation when unseen and occasionally hear it bill-snapping as it caught passing flies and other insects. The light was very harsh and a lot of my photos were over-exposed even when I had dropped to -2/3 stops on the camera. It was a very grey bird with the lightest suffusion of lemon yellow on the centre of the belly and somewhat around the face in some light. Poorly seen, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler or even a Blyth's Reed Warbler could have been a possibility. Thankfully the long primary protection (eight primaries visible) with uneven primary spacing, square shaped tail, steel-grey legs, pale wing panel and pale grey greater coverts pointed in the Icterine direction. It's also possibly also a juvenile bird as the wing feathers appeared to be still quite fresh , the pale wing panel was still rather obvious.

John Murphy and Tony Mee had an Icterine Warbler at Gort na gCapall also on Inishmore on 5th October 1998 but unfortunately the record was never submitted. These are the only county records to date. Unsurprisingly they are quite a rare species on the west coast of Ireland with counties Cork and Wexford receiving the majority of records. I can only find two Clare records and can't find any Mayo records for the matter (open to correction). The species has got rather scarce in Ireland in recent years for some reason as there were no records for Ireland at all in 2011, 2012 or 2013 (seven in 2010 though!). Melodious Warbler while very similar in appearance has also shared this decline in national occurrences and also in it's rarity on the west coast.

Peeking out of the middle of the Elder tree.

Rather Blyth's Reed in this pose.

Lemon  yellow stripe down the centre of the breast.

Showing some of the yellow tones around the face.
Uneven primary spacing with eight primaries visible (p2 - p9).