Sunday, 7 February 2016

Connemara Coastline winter of 2015/2016.

A completely bird free post today. Just a few random shots mostly landscape shots taken over the last two months with undertaking NEWS counts. I covered a lot of coastline that I've never walked before so it was good to familiarise myself with these areas. Captions under each photo below.

Bronze Age Standing Stone Streamstown Bay

Sunset at Creggoduff beach.

Tree stumps uncovered by the sea which have been lying there before the formation of blanket bog. These tree stumps are at least 2,000 years old being preserved in the peaty soil. By the way trying to transverse this sort of coastline was a right pain to say the least.

Seaweed covered rocky shoreline interspersed sand and mud. Seaweed harvesting on shoreline like this is still relatively common.

Remains of an old coast road running between the new castle (in the distance) and the old castle at Bunowen, Ballyconneely. Doesn't appear on the old 6 inch or 25 inch maps never mind the current Ordnance Survey Maps.

All that remains of the old Bunowen Castle which dates back to the 16th century.

Small building on a small little islet just offshore at Canower, Rosroe.

Coral and shell remains that make up the substrate of the aptly named Coral Beach, Ballyconneely.

The Watcher's Cottage at Canower, Rosroe. An amazing location for a summer cottage. The only access into the house for at least half a mile is a rough footpath on the right here.

(Holy?) Well at Canower, again not marked on any maps.

Chough nest poking out from ceiling boards. A common nest location for Chough here.

The Chough Cottage which has seen better days!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Otter & Mink signs

A short post on a few signs of Otters that I've come across in recent weeks while walking coastline doing the Non-Estuarine Waterbird Survey. They appear to be widely distributed throughout Connemara and there probably isn't a stretch of coastline where one won't find some evidence usually in the form of spraint which they use to mark out their territory.
I also found a perfect skull of an Otter when doing counts out on Mweenish Island. The skull is very flat and wide which makes them very streamlined while diving underwater.
I've also included a shot of what I think are Mink prints from Omey Island. Doesn't seem to match anything else?

Otter spraint marker

Otter skull, looks like one of the molars on the right-hand side had been missing for a long time.

Otter skull.

Otter prints with a two Euro coin for scale.

Mink prints with a two Euro coin for scale.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Furbo Little Gull

I took a trip out to Furbo on Saturday with Cathal Forkan to have a look for the adult summer Sabine's Gull seen there on Friday. Cathal had looked for it on Friday but didn't see it. We had similar luck on Saturday. An adult summer Sabs had been seen by Cathal and others nearby in late December so this was presumably the same bird. To have a wintering Sabine's Gull is rather unusual and to have a summer plumaged one on top of that is even more unusual. We did have a nice approachable second-winter Little Gull associating with the mixed flock of Common and Black-headed Gulls though. It was being chased by some of the Black-headed Gulls for a short time and was heard giving its almost tern like call in response. There were good numbers of small and large gulls along the whole stretch of coastline from Furbo out to Loughaunbeg but most of the large gulls were moving up and down along the shoreline in the very windy weather. It would have been nice if we could have found where they feeding.

Also present at Furbo was one Eoin McGreal's colour ringed Common Gulls from Lough Mask. Ringed as a chick in 2007 but not seen since 2009.

Longwalk, Galway 53 16N, 09 04 W
45 SSE
Waterside, Galway      53 16N, 09 05W
44 SSE
Michael Davis
Rusheen Bay 53 15N, 09 08W
43 SSE
Rusheen Bay 53 15N, 09 08W
43 SSE
Tom Cuffe
Furbo, Co. Galway  M183228
Dermot Breen

225V Common Gull


Little Gull with Black-headed Gull.

Little Gull with Black-headed Gull.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Glaucous-winged Gull Castletownbere

I was on my down to Castletownbere two weeks ago to see the Glaucous-winged Gull along with Michael Davis and Cathal Forkan. Unfortunately my car gave out near Ennis so that was the end of that twitch. Fast forward two weeks later to last Saturday and I picked up the car in Ennis and completed the journey. Thankfully the Glaucous-winged had remained in place the whole time. I had considered travelling over for the Vega Gull in Wexford afterwards but news had been negative for a few days unfortunately so I didn't bother.

I arrived down at Castletownbere late in the day on Saturday and thankfully the GWG was easily found in amongst small numbers of gulls on the town side of the harbour. It spent most of its time sat out on a small rock facing me the whole time so the views weren't of much use although it did briefly take to the air and do one or two fly-bys. It took no interest in a loaf of bread that I had throw out to entice it closer. I stayed in the town that night in the hope of better views in the morning.

I rose to rain the next morning which didn't let up until the evening which made photography a bit of a challenge. Most of the shots below are rather dark and will high ISO levels. It was much more interested in the bread this time around. Although I can't say too much on the bird before we (the Irish Rare Bird Committee) assess the bird, it isn't what I would call a classic Glaucous-winged Gull structure-wise. The eyes look rather large, the bill was long but wasn't very heavy and at best it certainly didn't dwarf any Herring Gull present. Saying that though most of the plumage features do match the species although the upperparts did look quite dark in dull conditions.

Also present were an adult Ring-billed Gull and first-winter & adult Mediterranean Gull. The GWG spent nearly all of its time on the town side of harbour but I did have it sitting up on one of the large shed/fish factory roofs on Dinish Island later.

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull
Adult Ring-billed Gull

Adult Ring-billed Gull

First-winter Mediterranean Gull

First-winter Mediterranean Gull

Friday, 8 January 2016

Omey Kumlien's and the NEWS

I've being doing several Non-Estuarine Waterbird Surveys (NEWS) now since December. The survey is due to finish up by the end of the month. I think it may be struggle to try and get all of the sectors that we've signed up due to the incessant poor weather we had for most of December. It has settled down noticeably in the last week and with luck will hold for a while yet. The survey involves walking around a few kilometres of coastline to count all waterbirds using the shoreline. It aims to cover as much of the coastline that isn't covered by the regular Irish Wetland Bird Survey (I-WeBS) and is only undertaken every eight or so years. Connemara as a rule doesn't hold much in quantity or quality of wintering waterbirds even compared to east Galway and Galway Bay for example. Despite this however it's great to get out to stretches of coastline that I only rarely if ever visit. Who knows there's always the very slim possibility of stumbling across an Ivory Gull or a Gyr Falcon. The best bird I've managed to come across while undertaking the survey was a second-winter Kumlien's Gull on Wednesday on Omey Island. Unfortunately I recorded the bird after finishing up the survey and it was just outside of my assigned sector anyway. It was seen slowly flying south over the island after coming from the direction of Lough Fahy. The camera settings weren't quite right so the shots came out very dark and I've had to brighten the shots up a little. This is my first "white-winger" of the winter, hopefully I'll have a few more before the winter is out.

While walking along the coastline it's been a good opportunity to discover other items of interest. I've have found two dead Common Dolphins so far in the Ballyconneely area. The animal below was found today. As can be seen from the shots it was entangled in green fish netting. It's possible that the animal may have become entangled post mortem in inshore waters as it was being washed onshore. It was lightly wrapped around the snout but it was caught tightly at the base of the tail fluke and if it was the case that the animal was entangled while alive it certainly would have resulted in its demise. Dolphins do regularly get caught in commercial fishing nets and usually died from drowning. When found in nets fishermen will usually cut off the tail flukes to remove the dead animal from net rather than cutting the net. In this case this section of netting was cut away so I'm not 100% sure what happened to this unfortunate animal but the fact that it was caught tightly on the tail doesn't look good.

There have been several foreign supertrawlers off the Galway/Mayo coastline over the last month or so. These ships can hoover up a huge tonnage of commercial fish. Large amounts of discards ("collateral damage") are evitable in these operations. These boats have received a lot of bad press here in Ireland recently because they are seen as decimating Irish fish stocks and people would rather see Irish fishermen doing the decimating instead! Nothing is usually said of the very same damage that an Irish fishing ship of a similar scale can do to non-target fish and other marine life.
On another note the amount of plastic refuse which is continually washed up on every single metre of Irish coastline is staggering and depressing in equal measure, the majority of it coming ships of one description or another.

Second-winter Kumlien's Gull

Second-winter Kumlien's Gull

Second-winter Kumlien's Gull

Common Dolphin entangled in fishing netting.

Common Dolphin entangled in fishing netting. Left hand side of the body in a much better condition than the right.

Common Dolphin with the net removed from the snout.

Close up shot of the head with the netting removed.

Monday, 4 January 2016

Ross Beach Black-throated Diver

It's been well over a month now since my last blog post. The main reason for this is there hasn't a whole lot to blog about. Galway has been rather quiet to say the least with the best of the bunch being the returning Forster's Tern and a few scarce species such as Little Auk, Grey Phalarope and surprisingly a summer plumaged Sabine's Gull. There are just the two Icelands at Nimmo's Pier so far with none seen out here in Connemara yet nor a Glaucous Gull anywhere as of yet.

I had a quick look out at Ross Beach near Cleggan this morning to have a look at the gulls hanging around the offshore fish farm. There have been in the region of 200 to 300 large gulls here in recent weeks which compares favourably to the likes of Rossaveel which has produced a max count of 30 large and small gulls combined, pretty grim. I had two adult Mediterranean Gulls at Ross beach this morning, one of which had an unread metal ring on the right leg. While I was there I had this Black-throated Diver fishing relatively close in along the beach. I've had presumably the same individual in the same area of Ballinakill Harbour for the last winter or two now. I'm lucky to see one per annum in Connemara. Strange to think how scarce they are away from the south side of Galway Bay. The only are that they are regular is just before the county Clare border along Aughinish to Traght/Newtownlynch Pier area but are exceedingly rare on the north side of the Galway Bay. I'm not sure if I've actually seen any in the Galway city area. The odd one is reported from Silver Strand but I'd have to wonder about these.