Wednesday 31 August 2016

Ballyconneely Buff-breasted Sandpiper

I found this lovely little juvenile Buff-breasted Sandpiper down near Ballyconneely yesterday on the area of machair commonage between Ballyconneely Bay and Crompaun Bay. While this looks great for Buff-breasted Sandpiper, this is the first time I've definitely had one here although I did have a flock of six or so possible Buff-breasted Sandpipers distantly in flight here in 2011. 2011 was a mega year for the species. There was a flock of fifteen on Loop Head, Co. Clare and a record breaking twenty eight birds at Tacumshin Lake, Co. Wexford, the latter being the largest flock ever seen in the Western Palearctic. Ninety three birds in all were recorded that year. They are no longer considered an official rarity in Ireland as there were 478 records up to the end of 2011. Incredibly Tacumshin Lake has recorded 158 birds up to the end of 2011 (per 2012 Irish Rare Bird Report). It wouldn't surprise me if the Ballyconneely bird ends up in Tacumshin in few days time as most wandering vagrants usually end up there at some stage or another. 14 Buff-breasted Sandpipers have been recorded in county Galway to date (four undocumented birds at Rahasane turlough from 1993 - 2000 also) . The last Galway record was back in 2013. The last two years have proved to very poor for the species e.g. I think only three were reported in Ireland in the whole of 2015, one in Kerry and two together at Tacumshin.

Globally they are quite a rare species and are classified as Near-Threatened by the IUCN. They are confined to the Americas normally breeding in dry, open short-sward tundra in Canada and wintering on intensively grazed grassland in Paraguay, southern Brazil, north east Argentina and Uruguay. The entire population is estimated to number only between 16,000 to 84,000 individuals. For comparison sake the global population of Dunlin numbers from 4,600,000 to 6,500,000 individuals! They were apparently intensively hunted in the early 20th century and the population has never really recovered from this as the population is still decreasing even though hunting isn't an issue any more. Even though they are the second most recorded American wader vagrant in Ireland it's still great to come across one. They really are a beautiful looking wader and it always amazes me to think of this small wader crossing the Atlantic Ocean on its own steam. This little guy was quite approachable after it got used to my presence. It seemed to be able to find plenty of insect life for itself in the form of Cranefly and moths.

Closest thing to the old prairie in the west of Ireland - machair.

Devouring a Cranefly (Daddy Long Legs).


I've never noticed the nostril shape before, almost like an old telephone handset.

Wolfing down another Cranefly.


Saturday 27 August 2016

August Colour Ring Reading

Not a huge amount to report on the rare bird front since the Royal Tern which has subsequently turned up down in the Shannon Estuary moving between counties Kerry and Clare. Evidently this bird must have flown south via Galway unseen! It's performed a lot better than during its short stay in Mayo and has been widely twitched at this stage. Most of the shots below were taken just with phone camera so the quality of most isn't great. I had to get the Canon 7D cleaned recently as there were two nice big specks of dirt caught on sensor which were showing up on the pictures. I haven't had an opportunity to use it in the last fortnight anyway.

Cathal and myself headed down to the Bridges of Ross last Saturday for a spot of seawatching, about 12 hours of it in fact. We arrived about 40 minutes late for a very close in Fea's Petrel which was a bit of bummer but that's what you get for not arriving first thing in the morning. Despite this disappointment we had a very productive seawatch with four different Wilson's Petrel, one of which I managed to pick up myself. Add to this 1 Blue Fulmar, 7 Cory's (one very close), 5 Great, 325 Sooty, 8 Balearic Shearwaters, 3 Leach's, c.1850 European Storm Petrels, 5 juv Long-tailed, 1 ad Pom, 29 Arctic, 25 Great Skuas, 12 Sabine's Gull and 2 Black Terns (thanks to Niall Keogh for keeping tabs on the tallies). The Storm Petrel passage was particularly impressive. I can't recall ever seeing such a large and consistent passage which continued all day. Only 20 maximum birders were on site during the day. The weather conditions haven't been as productive in the last week but most visiting birders probably aren't complaining too much with the backup of a Royal Tern. We didn't manage to see either the Solitary or Least Sandpiper which were on a nearby lough previously.

I've been doing all the regular wader sites out here in Connemara in recent weeks but so far I've just had two single Curlew Sandpipers and a juvenile Little Stint so far. I also had a very brief but very close Hobby out on Mweenish Island near Carna on Thursday. Probably more interesting on a Connemara front was a heard only Spotted Redshank at the same time. The only previous Connemara record that I can find is one at Clifden in September 1961! The species is only really regular at three or four sites in Galway. Also out on Mweenish was a colour ringed Ringed Plover originally ringed in Dena, Meaño (Pontevedra), Spain by the Shorebirds Monitoring Programme in Galicia on 19th September 2014. This was the first resighting of this individual.

I also had my two colour ringed Oystercatchers back in the very same spots in the last week also. The white and yellow rings on the Icelandic bird have somehow managed to overlap each other which makes reading them rather confusing from a distance. The Scottish bird's colour ring appears to have been slightly damaged/worn over the summer period also.

Icelandic ringed Oystercatcher, Ballyconneely Beach.
Scottish ringed Oystercatcher T90. Ring slightly damaged on the other side of the ring now.

I've also managed to read six colour ringed Sanderling in the last month or so. Details below.

G1WWWR - ringed at Sandgerði, SW Iceland on 10th May 2011. First seen at Omey Island on 4th August 2011. This bird has been seen every winter since and was back this autumn on 2nd August 2016.

G3BBGY - ringed at Sandgerði, SW Iceland on 22nd May 2016. Seen on 2nd & 9th August 2016 at Omey Island, Galway.

W1YBRY - ringed at Ostgronland, Eastern Greenland on 22nd June 2016. Seen on the North Inishkea island, Co. Mayo, 5th August 2016. This bird was fitted with a geo-locator, hopefully it will be recovered next summer to retrieve the data showing it's migration route and strategy.

B3BBYR - ringed at Ostgronland, Eastern Greenland on 11th July 2011. Seen in Achill Sound, Mayo on 10th August 2014. Back on the breeding site in Eastern Greenland again on 3rd July 2015. Seen by myself near Lough Baun, Mayo on 26th July 2016.

G3WYRB - ringed at Sandgerði, SW Iceland on 17th May 2016. Seen by myself near Lough Baun, Mayo on 26th July 2016.

NB00707 - ringed on Sandy island, Orkney, Scotland on 21st May 2016. Seen by myself near Lough Baun, Mayo on 26th July 2016. Presuming this bird pushed north and bred in the Arctic in this short period, it just goes to show how little time is spent on the breeding grounds by the species.

W1YBRY with geolocator on the left tibia.
While wader hunting yesterday I was delighted to read another two juvenile Sandwich Tern rings at Inishdawros at the exact spot that the Hudsonian Godwit was last year. Both birds are Tony Murray's birds from Lady's Island Lake, Co. Wexford. K3Z was ringed on 17th June 2016 and seen on site subsequently on 11th, 12th and 13th July, K2V was ringed on 4th July 2016. I heard Niall Keogh had another of Tony's bird while twitching the Royal Tern in Kerry recently and Eoin McGreal had another unread ring near Lough Baun two weeks back also.

K3Z white darvic.

K2V green darvic.
Juvenile/first-winter Sandwich Tern. A very advanced bird which also had a metal ring on the right tibia.


Sunset at Coral Beach yesterday evening.


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.