Wednesday, 17 August 2016


I got a text from Sligo birder Seamus Feeney at 1550hrs to say he had just found a Caspian Tern on Roonagh Lough near Louisburgh. Thankfully I was near Leenane so that knocked off a bit of travel time for me. As the tern flies Roonagh Lough is just 28km away from Clifden but thanks to narrow, winding roads, Killary Harbour and infuriating slow driving tourists, it's actually 66km away by road which takes about 90 minutes. This summer has seen huge numbers of tourists visiting the west of Ireland.
I was first on scene. Before running/walking down to Seamus who was by the lake side I had a very quick look through the scope from the van. It was clear that it was actually a Royal Tern due to the body size and bill size, colour and pattern. I was shortly joined by Eoin McGreal, the ranger for the area who was also close by when I passed news onto him.

The bird most of it's time lying on the exposed sand and was generally reluctant to join the small Sandwich Tern flock when they regularly flew back and forth out to the sea. It did make a few flights around the lough over the four or so hours of observation and it was seen that the right leg was hanging underneath the body as the bird flew. It was even more obvious when the bird attempted to land. While the left foot was opened for landing, the right foot remained closed. While standing the right foot was regularly bent backwards in an unnatural posture. It wasn't seen to fish at any stage but spent a good deal of time asleep.
The bird was in full summer plumage with just a few scattered white flecks in front of the eye. Royal Terns are supposed to lose their full black crowns very early in the summer (most have white foreheads by June) so it's a little unusual that this bird has retained this feature so late in the summer, I wonder if this could be somehow related to the leg injury? It may never be possible to certain if it is of North American or African origin although an argument could be put forward for the former subspecies in this case.

It also doesn't look like it's a full adult and it may actually be a second-summer/third calendar due to the following;
Dark secondary bar.
Dark extreme outermost primary covert.
Dark tip to outer tail feather. T1 and T2 seem to be new compared to the rest of the tail feathers.
State of primary moult (two moult series).

The bird last seen flying out to the beach late last evening and flying south. It appeared to land a few hundred metres down the beach out of sight but I couldn't refind it even though there were quite a gulls, waders and a handful of Sandwich Terns there.
It was seen briefly again first thing this morning but hasn't been seen since although it rained for most of the day making things difficult. This will be the third Irish record following a tideline corpse found on 24th March 1954 on the North Bull Island, Co. Dublin and a bird seen briefly near Clonakilty, Co. Cork on 9th June 2009.

Obviously dragging the right leg.


Some staining evident on the bend of the wing due to the bird lying on sand.

Seamus Feeney the proud finder with the tern/gull flock on the sandbar in the background.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Summering Glaucous Gull

A few shots of a summering second-calendar Glaucous Gull that's been hanging around Cleggan Harbour since at least 12th June when John Brittain saw it. I saw it myself on 23rd July and Michael Davis saw it again today. We get the occasional Glaucous Gull summering here. They seem to far outnumber summering Iceland Gulls. I've probably only ever seen one or two Icelands here during the winter. You can just make out some feather lice or feather flies hidden behind the eye on this bird. The blob of blood on it's mantle is actually fish blood as it was feeding on scraps of mackerel being gutted on a few fishing boats that had arrived into the harbour after a day of fishing.
Also few shots of some Rock Doves feeding in an area rooted up by Tamworth Pigs out on Inishbofin also.



Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Colour-ringed Sandwich Tern

A quick bog post about a colour ringed juvenile Sandwich Tern that I had at Ardmore beach just east of Carna last Thursday. I had a flock of just over sixty Sandwich Terns resting on the beach here. It's one of the few spots where they rest up on the mainland away from the breeding colonies. The nearest Sandwich Tern colony this year was about 16 kilometres to the east at Costelloe near Rossaveel. There were just a handful of juveniles in amongst the flock and the logical thought would suggest that these were locally born young. I was surprised to see one of the juveniles was wearing a white darvic on the left leg and a metal ring on the right. It appeared slightly more advanced in its moult compared to the other juveniles in the flock but it was still very clearly a juvenile/first calendar/hatch year individual. I thought there would be virtually no hope of reading the code as terns are usually skittish at the best of times. I tried to edge closer and closer over a long period and after the flock settled down a little I managed to read the ring - K4T.

I regularly see Sandwich Terns with metal rings here in Connemara but without nearly seeing the bird in the hand it's impossible to read these in most circumstances. The only sites in Ireland where Sandwich Terns are ringed that I'm aware of are Inch Island Lough in Co. Donegal and Lady's Island Lake, Co. Wexford. It didn't take long to find out that it was from the latter site and was ringed by work colleague Tony Murray on 17th June, only seven weeks ago! That's a movement of 260 km in a straight line between the two sites but it's far more likely that this bird easily covered twice that distance if it like most Sandwich Terns, it flew along the coastline. The nearest previous resighting of juvenile Sandwich from Lady's Island was from Kerry last August. There have also been a few from around the Irish Sea as well. The bird wasn't being fed by any adults so it looks like it was on it's own.

Most of our Sandwich Terns winter along the Atlantic coastline of Africa. Have a look at the BTO site for a map of UK and Irish recovered Sandwich Terns
Inner Galway Bay is one of a handful of sites in Ireland where Sandwich Terns winter, less than a dozen birds at most. I've encountered two colour ringed birds here in recent winters both of which originated from the Farne Islands off Northumberland in north east England.

Juvenile Sandwich Tern K4T

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Bee Orchid & Swallows

A few pics from back in June. I came across close to 20 Bee Orchids in an old marble quarry near the National Park. These were the first Bee Orchids I've ever seen in Connemara. Given that most of Connemara consists of acidic peaty soils it's not to surprising that they would be so rare here. There is an old record from Inishbofin but after that I couldn't find any other records for West Galway/Connemara on the Biodiversity Centre database.
A few photos of some recently fledged Swallows from down near Cashel also earlier in the summer.


Sunday, 24 July 2016

June/July 2016

Another random collection of pictures from the summer. Only managed to locate one pair of breeding Merlin out on the bogs this summer. We ringed the four chicks on the same day that we ringed a late brood of two Peregrine chicks and two broods of Kestrels. One of the Kestrel chicks was actually too small to be ringed making it one of the latest Kestrel broods we've ringed in Connemara. This was the first time that we managed to ring all three Irish breeding falcons on the one day.

Juvenile Merlin 
Juvenile Merlin  
Juvenile Merlin

Juvenile Merlin
Third-calendar Common Gull

Adult Common Gull in attack mode. 
Adult Common Gull
Juvenile Kestrel on Mason Island beach. 
Rock Island Lighthouse off to the west of Inishmore.

Common Tern  colony near Carna.

Common Tern  colony near Carna.
Adult Common Tern
Irish Hare 
Irish Hare 
Inishbofin Ferry

Great Skua 
Great Skua