I visited some of the south Connmera island last Tuesday with Dave Suddaby of Birdwatch Ireland. Birdwatch acquired a contract to survey the islands between Rossaveel and Slyne Head for the current seabird survey and to carry out investigations into the presence/absence of mammalian predators that may have an effect on ground nesting seabirds i.e. mostly gulls and terns. The sea conditions haven't been conducive for survey work in several weeks now which has really hampered the work unfortunately. We haven't been able to get out on our own boat now for several weeks either. It's now far to late to be counting nesting gulls and terns as most of the young are now on the wing. Thankfully all of the islands in this area were successfully counted during the first visit in May. The majority of the islands in this area are within the Slyne Head to Ardmore Point Special Protection Area which is designated for wintering Barnacle Geese and breeding Sandwich, Little and Arctic Terns. The numbers of terns were rather low this summer which seems to be the case in recent years. The weather conditions this summer certainly didn't help the survival rates of young chicks. Large losses have been reported from closely monitored east coast tern colonies this year. This may be due to difficulties in fishing by adults and wet conditions which chill young chicks. Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls seem to have increased to a large degree given that they were a very scarce breeder in the county in recent years away from the urban dwellers of Galway city.
As part of our work on Tuesday Dave put out Gotcha Black Trakka traps on the islands we visited. These are flat pack plastic cylindrical boxes with bait (peanut butter) and ink pads. It should be possibly to identify mammals entering the traps by their footprints. We're fully expecting to see a lot of evidence of Brown Rats as they seem to be on a surprising amount of the islands, some of which are very small in size. I'm not sure what they survive on during the majority of the year outside of the relatively short bird breeding season.
Our first island was Eagle Rock just off Lettermullen. This is a small low-lying island (roughly 3 hectares) with a large amount of boulders and rocks. It may well have held a ground nesting pair of White-tailed Eagles in the past given its name. On previous visits I've always noticed Black Guillemots hanging around the island. On this visit I was amazed to count at least 174 adults either floating just offshore or sitting up on the periphery of the island on large rocks. Considering that the all county Galway total of Black Guillemots recorded during the Seabird 2000 census was 344 individuals, Eagle Rock must surely be an island of national importance for the species. It would appear that this island was never counted during the Seabird 2000 census. It seemed to be far from comprehensive as many of the islands weren't counted so I would expect to see increases in a lot of the seabird counts at the end of this current survey. Black Guillemots will probably be counted next year as part of the survey. The methodology involves counting all adult birds on land or water between 0600 and 0900 hrs between late March to early May. It will difficult if not impossible to cover all the offshore islands during the limited time frame that one can count birds. Weather conditions are likely to far from ideal at this time of year also but I certainly think that a proper count of Eagle Rock is a priority for next year.
|The Black Trakka Trap|
|The Black Trakka Trap, well weighed down!|
|Adult Black Guillemot remains, Eagle Rock.|
|Adult Black Guillemot and juvenile Herring Gull remains, Eagle Rock.|
|Eagle Rock, Black Guillemot utopia.|
|Vomited dinner from a juvenile Herring Gull - chips! The nearest fast-food outlet is 30+km away so these must have come from someone's kitchen.|
Our next island was Birmore Island which held good numbers of large gulls, Great Black-backs in particular. On our first visit here there were easily more dead sheep than live on this island. Most were now hidden by tall vegetation. I think it's ridiculous putting sheep out here over the winter when it's known that there will be a naturally high level of mortality amongst the livestock. This is the very type of reckless farmer who will then accuse foxes, crows, Mink, Pine Martens, eagles, etc. for such heavy losses rather than negligent husbandry.
|Dead sheep on Birmore Island. |
|Brown Rat droppings on Birbeg island.|
|Odd display on Inishmuskerry. |
|Amazing what turns up as marine litter.|
|Machair type grassland on Inishmuskerry.|
The nearby small island of Duck Island was the site of the sinking of the trawler Saint Oliver which sank here on 17th September 2004 with loss of all four local fishermen on board. The trawler was visible until recently from the mainland but the recent winter storms have had a significant effect on the grounded boat as most of it has now been obliterated with just the very bottom of the hull now left.
A pair of Hooded Crows actually nested in the remains this year. We also had a pair of Dunlin on the island which appear to be breeding on account of their calling. No chicks were seen though.
|Unknown device with inbuilt solar panels.|
|All that remains of the Saint Oliver trawler which sunk here in 2004.|
|Used Hooded Crow nest on the remains of the hull of the Saint Oliver.|
|Cattle feeding on Mason Island.|
|Beach on Mason Island.|
|Long dead Common Dolphin on Avery Island.|
|Craved cross on MacDara's Island.|
|Church on MacDara's Island. |