Thursday, 1 October 2015

Inishskinnymore Bottle-nosed Dolphins

We were counting Grey Seal pups out on Inishark and the surrounding smaller islands yesterday. We will be returning five more times over the next few weeks to get a more accurate idea of the number of pups raised out there during the pupping season. It will be interesting to visit this island during this time as we just might get an interesting migrant or two out there. That's all assuming we get suitable weather as it's not the easiest place to land on.  The weather over the last few days has been unseasonably good. The only obvious migrant on Inishark was a single Robin. They don't breed here but do on the adjacent Inishbofin. I've seen Chiffchaffs feeding in the nettle beds and stone walls here before. There are no trees or even bushes on the entire island so if anything shows up it should be relatively easy to find although a lot or migrants probably wouldn't hang around for too long due to the absence of cover and would probably head off to the mainland or maybe even Inishbofin.
We also visited Inishgort, Inishskinnymore, Inishskinnybeg and Glassillan. Landing on some of these small islands was a little challenging which involved jumping onto seaweed covered boulders from the RHIB and clambering up large barnacle encrusted rocks.

One our way out we encountered a large pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins, at least 30+ animals. Some even came right up to the boat. They were all travelling at high speed and proved very difficult to get any shots of, they were just so quick. I got shots of about six individual dorsal fins which should make it possible to identify them individually. The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group have a catalogue of individuals photographed in Irish waters. Most can be identified by unique nicks, markings and scars on the dorsal fins. These are received by other Bottle-nosed Dolphins. It's a rough life in a dolphin pod! You can see a very fresh injury on the animal in the very last photo posted here.


Monday, 28 September 2015

Inishmore & Achill weekend washout

I headed out to Inishmore on Saturday for my annual September wader trip. I didn't have high hopes on the wader-front given how poor its been this autumn. Checked all the wader spots - Trawmore, Loch Bharr an Phointe, Loch Phort Chorrúch, Kilmurvey, etc. There was zero water at the turlough at Kilmurvey so no chance of the Hudsonian Godwit still hanging around there. The best was right at the end of the day as I was on the ferry back home in the form of two Grey Phalaropes right beside the boat. Very brief and of course the camera was in the bag! On the island I had a Little Egret at Loch Phort Chorrúch (island tick for me) and 2 Grey Plover (possibly another island tick for me?), 4 Pintail and a Grey Wagtail. I only had time for a quick look at the gardens/wood at Kilmurvey and the REV garden along the High Road, both of which held a single Chiffchaff. I would have stayed until Sunday but I just couldn't find any accommodation. The whole island seemed to be full up. My days of staying in the hostels are over I think. The only two B&B's that had a vacancy were charging 70 and 80 euro each, thanks but no thanks. Sad to see rip-off Ireland is as healthy as ever, probably never went any in the last seven years in some quarters anyway.

I checked the SW Mayo coastline and Achill Island with Cathal Forkan on the Sunday. All very quiet there too. No sign of the adult American Golden Plover at Keel sadly. This wasn't too surprising as there was a huge amount of disturbance in the area between a small outdoor festival beside Keel Lough, numerous wind surfers on the lake and beach, a lot of golfers on the machair (did I mention before how much I despise golfers?), walkers with/without dogs and even a scrambler bike to top it off. Trying to regularly bird a place like Achill would do my head in with all this disturbance. I generally associate Achill with either badly overgrazed/damaged overcut bog or Rhododendron/Gunnera invested land. Safe to say I ain't a fan!

Little Egret

Little Egret

Little Egret and Grey Heron

Little Egret and Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Grey Heron


Lapwing near Kilmurvey, probably hung out with the Hudsonian Godwit when it was on the island!

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Dotterel update

I returned to Slyne Head yesterday to find the two Dotterel again present in the usual spot along with a few European Golden Plover nearby (no American Goldies quite yet). I headed off to retrieve the trail camera which I had put out in the marsh a few nights previously. I put it out to see if anything interesting would show up on it, who knows maybe a crake species or Solitary Sandpiper? Not surprisingly it didn't quite pan out like this but it was nice to pick up a Water Rail and a few Snipe. After checking a few other spots I returned to have another look at the Dotterel. On the way I inadvertently flushed two Pectoral Sandpipers from a very small pool in the car ruts near the surfers beach. I then noticed that there was a Peregrine sitting further along the car ruts. It flew off and as it did so it appeared to be carrying a largish bird, it couldn't be, could it? A quick search failed to find either Dotterel. I followed the Peregrine but before I could get close a farmer herding cattle flushed it. When I reached the spot at which it had been feeding I discovered a few feathers and even a lower and upper mandible. It was one of the Dotterel. I must say I was disappointed that one of these great little characters had been taken but then again this is the sort of danger that Dotterel like every other species in nature faces every day. There's been no sign of the remaining bird since and it has probably wisely moved on. It's been relatively quiet in the gardens on Slyne Head. The best have been a Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher and a male Blackcap in the Trident/Ballyconneely Holiday Homes garden. The first two have been present there for over a week now.

Dotterel scapular feathers.

Assorted Dotterel feathers including primaries and secondaries.

Dotterel bill

One of the Slyne Head gardens, this site hasn't been farmed in years which has resulted in a dense carpet of Dwarf/Western Gorse.
Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher

Pied Flycatcher

Male Blackcap doing his Black-and-White Warbler impression!


Water Rail

Monday, 21 September 2015

Dotterel 18/9/2015 Part 2

This is the second of the two juvenile Dotterel I had at Truska last Friday. The video below is actually of the first individual. I returned today and while both were again present it didn't end up well, more to come in another post...


Sunday, 20 September 2015

Dotterel 19/9/2015 Part 1

I found two nice juvenile Dotterels down at Truska last Friday. They were without doubt the tamest Dotterel I've ever encountered. Most Dotterel that I've found associate with Golden Plover which makes approach often difficult. Some have given good views but these two were something else, often showing down to four metres. After a "trip" of up to eight adults only this Spring in the same area, this makes it TEN Dotterel in just one year. As I think I've mentioned previously this has to be the number one site in the country for this species in recent years. These two now make it seventeen birds from the Truska/Aillebrack area (five juveniles and twelve adults). Amazingly there is only one previous accepted county record from Inishbofin, June 1992. There's also an unsubmitted winter record from Rahasane Turlough. I've included a poor quality video of one of the birds here as you can just about hear the birds soft contact calls at the beginning of the video. They were usually quite relaxed but surprisingly the one thing that did seem to spook them were over flying and vocal Chough for some reason. All the shots in this post relate to one of the juveniles which was darker and more colourful of the two. I'll make another post on the other juvenile in a day or two and upload a higher quality video.
I'm fully expecting to find an American Golden Plover down at Truska/Aillebrack shortly enough as there have been a few found on the west coast in recent days. Apart from AGP's the American wader season has been hugely disappointing. So far in September there have been zero records of any regular vagrants such as White-rumped, Baird's, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs or Long-billed Dowitcher. There has been a single Buff-breasted Sandpiper which is simply crazy! We should really be in peak mode at the moment for a lot of these species. We all thought it couldn't be as bad as 2014 for waders but there you go! I suppose we are all still a little spoiled with the crazy year that was 2011. Thankfully the reappearance of the Hudsonian Godwit on Inishmore during the week certainly livened things up. I'm assuming this must be the same individual that I had in July. The bird has significantly progressed in it's moult making comparison very difficult. The simple fact two different individuals would show up within 35km and two months of each other for the first time ever with less than ten Western Palearctic records would be highly suspect. I never made it out myself as I got caught up with manual handling training and trying to trap a family party of Pine Martens. The godwit proved to be highly unreliable in it's appearance and several high Irish listers missed the bird having made two different trips out to Inishmore along with dipping the bird in July. Well done to the Punkbirders for picking it up on Tuesday and giving a lot of Irish twitchers as second chance.




Friday, 18 September 2015

Inagh Valley Pine Martens

I've been setting out the trail camera for the last two weeks to try and fill a lot of holes in the distribution maps of the current Mammal Atlas. The results of my endeavours has been rather disappointing up until recent days. I think the sensor on my trail camera is malfunctioning as it doesn't seem to be anywhere as sensitive as it used to be. I still managed to pick up some nice activity when I set it up on a quiet forestry road on last Friday. I put out a small amount of fruit and seed to see if it would attract much. A single Pine Marten was caught on the camera in the first three nights and made a few return visits each of those nights. In the second video below there appears to be a small rodent following the marten as it leaves the field of view. I'm guessing it's a Field Mouse, you just can't make it out due to the quality of the video. I would have thought a Field Mouse would run a mile if it encountered a Pine Marten in open terrain like this. The fact that the marten shows little interest in is also a little strange? The marten was seen to scent mark the middle of the track at one stage and a passing Badger was seen to have a good sniff of the same spot only an hour and three quarters later. The only other mammals picked up was a single Irish Hare. I would have expected a Red Deer or Fox given the location but as the camera now seems unreliable I wouldn't be surprised if one or two did pass by without being picked up.

Pine Martens are now very common in most parts of Ireland and Connemara is no exception. They are not easily seen however especially in daylight hours. We usually get a few calls about them nesting in peoples attics during the Spring and early Summer. While they must surely be one of Irelands most beautiful mammals, sharing a house with a family of Pine Martens can be another matter altogether! The young can be very noisy chambering around the attic space day and night and can be very vocal. Then there is the issue of the smell. As they are members of the Mustelid family they have a rather strong pungent smell. The female will bring in many prey items such as rodents, birds, etc. many of which are only partially eaten which just adds to the aroma.

Pine Marten

Pine Marten

Pine Marten scent marking.

Badger sniffing Pine Marten scent marking.


Irish Hare

Pine Marten 2 from Dermot Breen on Vimeo.