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Saturday, 10 June 2017

Danny Sheehy, Guardal Wilson

Dingle man Danny Sheehy who, among many things, was a poet and boat-builder, passed away today after his boat capsized off the coast of Spain (news stories on RTE News HERE and the Irish Times HERE.

Danny Sheehy at the helm (with thanks to Ed Carty).

Danny has a special place in Kerry birding folklore as, though not a birder himself, his interest was such that he took a small band of eager birders in his boat from Dunquin out into the Atlantic, on one of the first trips from Kerry to search for Wilson's Petrel, on 7th August 2002. My memory of that trip is one of great excitement and anticipation, along with the good nature of Danny and, when we started to see Wilson's Petrels appearing out of the thick fog off the Blaskets, he was every bit as excited as we were. So much so that Danny later penned a poem about Wilson's Petrel and the connection with that bird, Ireland and the Antarctic.

Here it is reproduced in full, in Irish, and again with an English translation. I suspect if you are fluent in Irish you will enjoy the full subtlety of the poem. Forgive me if I have deciphered the exact spelling of his handwriting incorrectly.

Guardal Wilson
Thóinig sé chugainn
ináir dtreo thíos fé'n (féin?)
giuílt chesigh ós cionu an uisce
ag síor-eitilt go híseal
ar chuina (chuma?) aingil bhig
ag beannú dúinn
ag fáiltiú romhainn
isteach san aoibhneas
gan radharc ar charraig né (ná?) ar thír
siar ó thuaidh ó Inis Tuaisceart

Éan farraige gan tuirse
tagaithe na milte míle slí
ón Antarctic Theas
mar ar thug Wilson i bhfochair
Shackleton fé udeara
aeireaball bán glégeal
dorcha féna sciatháin
go raibh sé difriúil (clifriúil?)
ó ghardail eile.

Spioraid é seo
i bhfuirm éin
ar chuma an aingil
tagaithe i lohfad ó bhaile
ag lorg Crean a charad
curtha sa chré gairid
do'n áit a chonacsa
an spréach i gclabhar ceoigh

Wilson's Petrel
He came towards us
downed himself in our direction
a fume of mist above the water
forever flying low
like a little angel
blessing us
welcoming us
into enchantment
without sight of rock or land
northwest of Inish Tuaisceart.

Tireless seabird
journeyed the thousands of miles
from southern Antarctica
as Wilson, in Shakleton's wake
bore witness
a brilliant white tail
darkness underwing
bearing his difference
from the other petrels.

This is a spirit
in a birds form
in the guise of an angel
tracking far from home
Crean, his friend
buried in the shallow clay
of the place where I beheld
the spark in the mire of fog.

Danny Sheehy, August 2002

Sketches of Wilson's Petrels from that day with Danny (M.O'Clery).

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Glaucous Gull, TBWC

Adult Glaucous Gull, Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre, 5th June 2017 (Ed Carty).

Only the sixth record for June in Co. Kerry, and undoubtedly the same bird as seen nearby on the outskirts of Tralee on 27th May.

Adult Glaucous Gull, Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre, 5th June 2017 (Ed Carty).

Adult Glaucous Gull, Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre, 5th June 2017 (Ed Carty).

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Whitethroat, Black Rock

Whitethroat, Black Rock, 30th May 2017 (David O'Connor).

Whitethroat, Black Rock, 30th May 2017 (David O'Connor).

Still a scarce bird 'out west'.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Dotterel, Mount Brandon

Kilian Kelly climbed Mount Brandon today with a few friends, and was puzzled by a strange call coming distantly from the ridge between Brandon summit and Brandon Peak. Although it was windy and the bird was some way off, the recording was enough to later identify it as a Dotterel call, or more accurately, a disjointed song phrase. The full song of Dotterel is a persistent "Pwit", Pwit, Pwit" quicker than one a second and often lasting 20 seconds or more. The recording of the song on Mt. Brandon is of a brief phase of three calls, a short gap, and three more.



If the player doesn't work in your browser, you can download it from HERE.
Dotterel call, Mount Brandon, 20th May 2017 (Kilian Kelly).

The cadence and tone is similar to eg., that of a Dotterel recorded in Sweden. Hit the play button below to hear it...

Dotterel call, Sweden, Rob van Bemmelen, XC322091. 
Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/322091.

There are lots more example of Dotterel calls and song on the excellent xeno-canto website HERE.

There were five Dotterel seen on the summit of Mount Brandon on 23rd April last, almost a month ago, so it is possible they are still present. You can see photos of them HERE. One is shown below.

Five Dotterel, Brandon summit, 23rd April 2017 (Michael Connaughton, See more on the Irish Birding website HERE).

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Kestrel chicks update

A short clip of the young Kestrels in a nest box on the Dingle Peninsula. They're growing fast!

Kestrel nestlings - junior takes a tumble, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).
You can click on the 'four arrows' symbol to see it full size.

More from this nest site today on the Irish Raptor Blog HERE.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville, 11th May 2017 (Padraig Webb).

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville, 11th May 2017 (Padraig Webb).

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville, 11th May 2017 (Padraig Webb).

A first-summer bird, going by the bright yellow on the head and throat and the dark forewing.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

More from the Kestrel nest box

Female Kestrel at the nest box on the Dingle Peninsula, 9th May 2017 (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

Screengrab of female Kestrel inside the nest box, 9th May 2017 (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

Footage of the female Kestrel brooding her young chicks can be seen on the Irish Raptor Blog HERE.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

First Kerry Kestrel chicks of the year

The first Kestrel chicks of the year were found today at a nest box on the Dingle Peninsula, and are just a few days old.

Kestrel nest box, Dingle Peninsula, with the chicks just visible near the front of the box (M.O'Clery. Photo taken under licence to NPWS).

More information and a short video clip of the chicks HERE, on the Irish Raptor Blog, and there should be some good footage from this site in the coming weeks.

Four Kestrel chicks, Dingle Peninsula, 9th May 2017 (M.O'Clery. Photo taken under licence to NPWS).

Visit at dawn to the Magharees

Kayaking out to sea at dawn on a beautiful summer morning is one of life's more memorable undertakings, even with the slight unease and sense of vulnerability at leaving the shore far behind with nothing but a shell of a few millimetres of polypropylene keeping you and your expensive camera gear afloat.

Kayaking out to the islands at dawn (All photos: M.O'Clery, 7th May 2017).

The Magharees are a series of low-lying, generally flat-topped islands 1 to 2 km north and north-west of Castlegregory. They were first fully surveyed for seabirds in 2006 and 2007 (reference below), a census which was the first to cover all nine of the island group as well as three outliers to the east, in Tralee Bay. It was also the first to conduct nocturnal surveys, resulting in a significant discovery, upgrading the estimated Storm Petrel presence from around 50 pairs, to 1,272 Apparently Occupies Sites, fully 1% of the estimated Irish breeding population.

The main islands of the Magharees group (MOC).
(Click on the image for a closer view).

North-west corner of Illauntannig, where the walls used to be.

Unfortunately for the Storm Petrels, the massive storms of winter 2014/15 have destroyed one of their main nesting areas, the stone walls on the north-west perimeter of Illauntannig. The whole coast here has been eroded by about 2m-3m in just a couple of years of bad storms. It's possible the petrels will nest in the walls a little further inland, and a visit later this summer should see if that is the case.

The only house on the Magharees, on Illauntannig.

Even on the sheltered east side of the island, the sandy beach has been recently eroded to the point that, rather than a comfortable buffer of 10-15m of coastal grassland, the beach is now at the outlying walls of the only house on the island.

Common Tern, Illaunturlough.

The Magharee islands are perhaps best known - ornithologically - for its terns. A quick visit last summer saw the worst year in a decade for nesting terns on the main islands (see post HERE), and unfortunately the picture seems not to have improved sine then. Only 10-15 pairs of Arctic Tern, and perhaps one to two pairs of Common Tern were present on this visit. They had not yet laid eggs, but must be about to, so these figures will need confirming a little later in the summer, though it doesn't look good.

Common Tern, Illaunturlough.

Black Guillemots, Inishtooskert.

This is also the time of year when Black Guillemots are displaying at their best, just before egg-laying. The advantage of an early morning visit is seeing the pairs displaying and flying about together in small groups, before going about their business for the day.

Black Guillemot, Illauntannig.

Numbers of pairs seen were on a par with estimated numbers of previous surveys, so at least the Black Guillemots are doing ok.

Dunlin, Illauntannig.

The Magharees islands and adjoining peninsula are a great place to see arctic-nesting waders well into summer. Grey Plover, Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit and Purple Sandpipers are regularly seen well into May, even June. Here, four Dunlin, in immaculate summer plumage, were feeding along the shore. Also seen were eight Purple Sandpipers, six Whimbrel, and three summer-plumaged Sanderling.

We Have a winner!

One of the only species which seems to have undergone an increase on the islands was Lesser-black-backed Gull. The 2006-07 survey found 146-164 pairs, but at least 200 pairs were seen on Illaunammil and Reenfardarrig.

Shags, Illaunturlough

Although 271-284 pairs of Shag were detected on the 2006-07 survey (the highest ever), there seemed to be far fewer now. Nests were not directly checked however, to avoid disturbance, but a more complete count will be needed later in the summer.

Common Gull, Illaunammil. Rather ominously, a bit of what looks like nylon fishing line is hanging out of its mouth... (click the picture for  closer look).

The Magharee islands have been something of a stronghold in the southern half of Ireland for Common Gulls, though this visit showed a drastic reduction in apparent pairs. The large colony of of 38 pairs in 2007 on the south shore of Illauntannig has been abandoned for about four years, but numbers on the other islands visited seem also reduced. Another visit is needed later this season to make sure, but it's not looking good for nesting Common Gulls. The 178-187 pairs recorded in 2006-07 represented an astonishing one fifth of Ireland's breeding pairs, so if this loss of breeding pairs is real, it could be a significant loss.

Oystercatcher, Illaunammil.

Nesting waders, such as Oystercatcher and Ringed Plover, seem to be holding their own. Similar numbers to previous surveys.

Fulmar, Illaunammil.

A great place to see Fulmars flying close by at eye level.

Little Tern pair, Illauntannig.

The jewel in the crown for the Magharee islands must be the nesting Little Terns, one of the rarest breeding seabirds in Ireland. Through the nineties and early noughties, they have varied in numbers from around 15 to 50 pairs on Illauntannig. Last year however, only two to three pairs nested. On this visit, only two to three pairs were again present, though it is still a little early to determine if they will nest yet this year. Courtship is apparent and hopefully egg-laying will follow in the next few days.

Little Tern, Illauntannig.

A beautiful bird. The only colony of this bird in Kerry is hanging on by its fingertips. Little Terns are long-lived birds, and can generally accommodate a bad breeding season or two. But the loss of so many breeding pairs from the Magharee islands recently is surely a matter of concern. 

The causes are a little mysterious. Summer 2016 was a generally poor year for all tern species in Ireland, but two such years in a row are worrying. What is going on here? It seems the nesting beaches have eroded a little, but perhaps not sufficiently to warrant abandonment. The main storm beach on which they have nested in recent years is a little smaller, but similar in character. Disturbance might be an issue, as more human visitors descend on the islands in calm weather, or are there other subtle factors in the waters and fish offshore which are deciding factors?

More to come, as follow-up visits are planned in the coming weeks to try and get some more concrete information.

References: O'Clery M. 2007. Breeding seabirds of the Magharees and related islands, County Kerry, 2006/2007. Irish Birds Volume 8 number 2, pp 179-188. BirdWatch Ireland.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Some migrants at Black Rock

Purple Sandpiper, Black Rock, 25th April 2017 (David O'Connor).

Although some might describe Purple Sandpipers as a somewhat nondescript species, up close they have an exquisite and subtle patterning. But what an extraordinary bird. Lurking under that otherwise modestly-plumaged exterior is an extraordinary engine, resulting in one of the few bird species that regularly cross the Atlantic each spring and autumn. 

Because they nest in the high Canadian Arctic, it is not unusual to see this species well into May in Ireland as the birds are no doubt instinctively aware, their breeding grounds are often under ice and snow well into late spring. An amazing article in the Ardea journal (see below) recently showed the remarkable migration these birds make.

Fifty geolocators attached to Purple Sandpipers wintering in northern Scotland and southwest Ireland (Co. Clare) showed that the spring departure from Scotland and Ireland took place mainly in late May and that the birds staged in Iceland and/or southwest Greenland before reaching their breeding grounds in Arctic Canada, mainly Baffin, Somerset and Devon Islands.

Map of wintering (blue) and breeding (yellow) distribution of Purple Sandpiper. Although it was thought that Irish Purple Sandpipers bred in Scandinavia, or perhaps Iceland, the truth is, they are nesting far across the Atlantic into the heart of Arctic Canda (map adapted from www.hbw.comwww.hbw.com).

The return migration from Baffin Island and Labrador took place during late October to early November, and during mid to late December from Greenland, usually in a single trans-Atlantic flight. This ties in nicely with local records from the main wintering area in Kerry - Rough Point and the Magharees - where they are scarce in October and November, but numbers quickly build in December.

No birds staged in Iceland on the return trip, instead the birds made the trip in one enormous flight. The journey from Baffin Island to Scotland and Ireland took about 2.5 days at an average speed of about 1400 km per day. That's an equivalent to us making our way, under our own steam, from Costa's Coffee Shop on The Mall, Tralee, to Costa's Coffee Shop in Madrid Airport, in one day.*

Summers, R.W., Boland, H., Colhoun, K., Elkins, N., Etheridge, B., Foster, S., Fox, J.W., Mackie, K., Quinn, L.R. & Swann, R.L. (2014). Contrasting trans-Atlantic migratory routes of Nearctic Purple Sandpipers Calidris maritima associated with low pressure systems in spring and winter. Ardea 102(2): 139–152.

Littoralis or Scandinavian Rock Pipit, Black Rock, 25th April 2017 (David O'Connor).

Wheatear (perhaps 'Greenland Wheatear'), Black Rock, 25th April 2017 (David O'Connor).

White Wagtail, Black Rock, 25th April 2017 (David O'Connor).

The Wheatear and White Wagtail are also certain to embark on a trans-Atlantic flight of their own. White Wagtails passing through Ireland at this time are thought to nest largely in Iceland (there is also a small outpost of breeding birds in east Greenland), and the 'Greenland Wheatear' in, well, Greenland, but also all over Iceland AND largely shares the breeding areas shown above for Purple Sandpiper in Arctic Canada.

*No sponsorship from Costa's Coffee Shop, in either Tralee or Madrid, was received for this blog post. I asked, but they just laughed in my face. Their coffee isn't all that great anyway.