Monday, 21 March 2011

Saturday 19th March 2011 - Clayheads on Tour in Ireland

It had been suggested several times that a trip to Ireland should be made when there was a fine selection of birds on offer. In fact, out of the crew, only GAS had ever been there before, and that was on a sight seeing trip. So with the arrival of the ASIATIC WHITE-WINGED SCOTER and the continued presence of the HOUSE CROW, the idea cropped up again. With another Stoke crew successfully seeing both birds on a day trip the previous weekend, we realised it was possible to do, and the wheels were set in motion.

All week there was constant discussions going on. Some members dropped out, and the whole trip cancelled for good on the Wednesday. On Friday morning, news that the duck was still present came on quite early that morning, and, despite finally cancelling the trip I suggested to GAS that we had nothing to loose, and there was nothing stopping just the two of us going. So we booked the ferry and the trip was on.

We left home at 17-45hrs on Friday and drove up to Holyhead, and we didn't arrive at the port until 20-30hrs due to the roadworks on the A55. Now I really wasn't looking forward to the ferry crossing and I've heard many stories about the Irish Sea. The notice board said "moderate" seas. That made me even worse. We caught the 21-30hrs Stena Line and soon found the lounge area where we hoped to bed down for the crossing. The ferry is huge - there are two levels for the vehicles and in total the ship has about 11 floors. As for the crossing, well once I was settled down on my sofa you could hardly tell the ship was moving. If only the Scillonian III was as smooth as this. I was soon asleep and I woke up at 00-15hrs. We docked at 01-05hrs (some 15mins late due to not running on full power!) and I was finally setting foot in Ireland.

Sat navs are amazing things, and we zipped straight through the centre of Dublin just as the pubs and clubs were emptying. We were soon on the M7 heading towards Limerick. The roads, once you were away from Dublin were empty and GAS was sound asleep - until I saw a toll booth ahead - but it was only €1-80 to get through. We eventually parked up on the spit at Rossbeigh, Co Kerry at 05-15hrs. We went through a maze of tiny villages with many unmarked roads, and getting there would have been unimaginable without the sat nav.

Looking over Rossbeigh at first light

We tried to sleep again but by 06-00hrs, we were parked in the layby with the hay bales with the scopes set up. As soon as it started getting light, there were small flocks of Common Scoter coming in - feeding, displaying and calling. The light was too poor at first, and everything was silhouetted, but we soon saw our first Hooded Crows and Choughs flying past. By 07-00hrs, the light was good enough to see the yellow beaks, but despite quite large groups just offshore, there was still no sign. Then at 07-25hrs, I caught a glimpse of the white around the eye and we had found the Asiatic White-winged Scoter. We watched it for the next hour or so as it preened and even went to sleep. When it dived it seemed to be under for a long time, far longer than the Common Scoter. It truly was an awesome looking bird. We also had 60+ Red-throated Divers and 10+ Great Northern Divers in the bay, but as you scanned, it was amazing as to how many Common Scoter were in the bay - they were as far as you could see; right into the distance. If the AWWS was in these, I wonder if anyone would have picked it up in the first place?

The crowd at the Scoter twitch.
The Asiatic White-winged Scoter

At 08-30hrs, we started the 2hr journey to Cobh where we hoped to see the INDIAN HOUSE CROW. It appeared that this bird was becoming slightly erratic now with its appearances, and last weekend we heard that birders had been looking for it since first light and had only seen it briefly when it finally did appear. We had about six hrs to see this bird, but I was still slightly concerned. We arrived in Cobh centre via a €5 car ferry (sat nav on wrong setting) and we met the birder we had been standing with at Rossbeigh. He hadn't seen the Crow yet. I walked over to two other birders looking in the harbour. As I approached the bloke immediately ran across the road. I stood next to the lady and asked if she had seen the crow yet. She pointed to it perched on a boat. We had been in town less than five minutes and had seen the House Crow. We followed it around the harbour, getting some incredible views, and for a Crow, its quite a looker. The wings were almost blue, and its call was something else. After about 15mins it flew off and we never saw it again. We now only had 9hrs to wait for the ferry. House Crow in Cobh Cobh, Co Cork
We ate our dinner and then had a look around Cobh, including a visit to St Colman's Cathedral. Unfortunately, it started to rain at 13-45hrs, and we decided to head back to Dublin. I decided as we still had hours left to head for the coast line just below Dublin, and we made for Blackrock. Along this coast we made several stops, seeing 33 Pale-bellied Brent Geese, a good selection of waders, at least three Mediterranean Gulls, a few Gannets, Razorbills and Guillemots. By 18-00hrs, it was getting dark and it was raining again. We tried to find a bit of tea at several petrol stations, but we failed (no fridges full of sandwiches and ginsters over there. Only deli bars, that were all shut!).

We headed for the ferry and parked in the queue at 18-30hrs. To our amazement, we were soon driving on, and we were soon lying on our sofas again with an hour to go before we set sail back. I was soon gone, and woke up at 23-15hrs, and again you were hardly able to tell the boat was moving. We arrived back home at 03-15hrs, thoroughly knackered but very happy as to how our first trip to Ireland had gone. And for the right bird, we'd go back again.