Saturday, 31 October 2015

Connemara beachcombing

Things have been a little quiet on the bird front of late. While I was out on Inishmore I picked up a few dogfish & skate/ray eggcases along the strandline. Out of boredom I decided to find out a little bit about these eggcases (also known as mermaids purses) that are laid by some small shark and all ray/skate species. Most intact eggcases are easy enough to identify and it gives an idea of what species may be found in a locality. I found very useful information on The Shark Trusts website here There's also a fantastic app which can be downloaded which has a key for identifying them, detailed information on the species and also has the option to upload your sightings directly to the Shark Trust, well worth a look.
I've picked a few more up here on the mainland since. Lesser spotted Catshark which is commonly called Dogfish are certainly the commonest species I've encountered here so far.
Several species are listed as critically endangered under the IUCN Red List Assessment, mostly the larger species of skate due to overfishing. The best area on a strand seems to be the very highest tide mark.

While having a quick look at Rossadillask during the week I came across a sea bean called Sea Heart. This is a seed from a species of flowering vine that grows in the tropical Americas and the West Indies. The vines grow along riverbanks where the seeds are dropped into the river and are dispersed further downstream or even along the coastline. As they are buoyant and long lived they are sometimes caught up in the Gulf Stream which can carry them all the way to western Europe. An amazing journey for such a small little thing.

Small-spotted Catshark Scyliorhinus canicula eggcases.

Nursehound Scyliorhinus stellaris eggcases.

Blonde Ray Raja brachyura on extreme left, three and a half Thornback Rays Raja clavata on top and seven Spotted Ray Raja montagui eggcases below.

All Thornback Rays Raja clavata

The Great Eggcase Hunt App.

Sea Heart Entada gigas

Sea Heart Entada gigas

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Inishmore October 2015 Part One

I just spent a week out on Inishmore, 11th to 17th October. The Arctic Warbler was by far the best bird I had during the week. Otherwise it was pretty quiet with about eight to nine Yellow-browed Warblers, 1 Lapland Bunting and long staying and unseen Reed Warbler being about the best of the lot.
While Inishmore has probably become best known for it's American passerines in recent years that possiblity just wasn't going to happen during my week. Ireland has been stuck in a high pressure system for the last while so if it was going to happen it was going to come from the east. I can't exactly complain about a self found Arctic Warbler I suppose! The high pressure resulted in unseasonably good weather. For the first time ever I didn't have a single drop of rain all week. While the wind never reached gale force it did get a little strong towards the end of the week and first time you could really feel the winter chill in the wind.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler







Meadow Pipit

Pied Wagtail

Adult and young Woodpigeon.

Rock Doves

Goldfinch, one of the 4.4 million of them on the island along with Linnets which were even more numerous!


Lapland Bunting


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Inishmore October 2015 Part Two

A few more pictures from my week out on Inishmore, mostly non-passerines. I recorded about 82 species during my time. Good week for raptors with up to three Kestrels seen in a day. Many were most noticeable hovering very early in the day before sunrise. Merlin was seen on most days and probably involved a few different birds. It was nice to see an adult pair of Peregrines tag teaming a Woodpigeon one particular morning even though they missed on the occasion. A few Sparrowhawks out there but like Kestrels and Peregrine they probably breed on the island anyway.

Not as many Red-legged Partridges seen this year compared to last October. One showy pair over at Bun Gabhla which obviously didn't breed as would be expected. I'd imagine that the majority of them will have died off by next year as they aren't likely to reproduce and are very short lived birds anyway. Seem to large numbers of Pheasants out there too. I don't quite get why people go to the expense and time releasing large numbers of non native species onto an offshore island like this. It would be far more beneficial to do something with native species. Most people actually don't realise that Pheasants aren't native to Ireland. There was even a white farmyard duck on Loch Phort Chórrúch. I've seen a few domestic ducks released here in the past, most of which die of starvation.

It was sad to see several landowners/farmers spraying brambles and shrub with what is most likely Roundup. The island has a big problem of land abandonment and many fields are now clogged up with brambles, ferns, blackthorn and hazel. It also makes finding migrants who seek out such habitat extremely difficult e.g. shrikes, Wrynecks, Barred Warblers, etc. Traditionally these would have been correctly controlled by livestock, fire and manual clearance. The use of these chemicals in such a pristine habitat is disappointing to see. The long term effects of these herbicides is still being debated but could be likely to be damaging to environmental and human health. The islands are essentially an extension of the Burren habitat-wise and are rightly renowned for their flora which has been the result of active farming over many centuries. The use of these chemicals could well result in the loss of some of these important flora communities. The majority of farming is dry stock cattle, horse/pony and with some goats which have become more popular again in recent years. I only saw two sheep during the whole week which was two too many as far as I'm concerned. Sheep are just bad news in just about every Irish habitat you can imagine. There are no longer any cereals or root crops apart from the very rare small vegetable patch here and there. This has been responsible for the loss of species like Yellowhammer to these islands. I'm sure Corn Bunting must have been a resident out here in the past although there is no written evidence of this.

There's a great agri-environmental scheme just started on the Aran islands called AranLIFE. Mirrored on the BurrenLife project it describes itself as - "The AranLIFE project is a demonstration project operating on the three Aran Islands over a 4 year period from 2014-2017, co-funded under the EU LIFE Nature programme. It seeks to develop and demonstrate the best conservation management practices of local farmers on the designated Natura 2000 sites of the three islands (protected habitats for flora and fauna of European importance). The project focuses on farming activities on the islands within the Natura designated sites, harnessing local farming knowledge and experience with the scientific expertise of other project partners to overcome some of the challenges of island farming and to improve the conservation status of the designated sites."
It's good to see such projects that reward the farmer for actual results rather than giving money for plans on paper that have no measurable outcomes. It seems to have a good take-up by local farmers. Have a look at the website for further information.








Red-legged Partridge

Red-legged Partridge

Red-legged Partridge

Red-legged Partridge
Black Guillemot

Common Guillemot

Brown Rat

Kilmurvey Cat

Belted Galloway Cow

Young Rabbit
Gable stone on old shed, built in 1888 I think?

Rock Island Lighthouse

This used to be one of the best gradens on the west side of the island. It's had Dusky Warbler, 1+ Red-breasted Flycatcher, 2 Wood Warblers and several Yellow-browed Warblers. That all changed with the construction of a house right in the middle of the Sycamore grove with only a third of it now remaining. I didn't see a single warbler or even Goldcrest in there during the whole week but that's progress as they'd say :-(

Wild Strawberry, rather tasty!