Saturday, 29 November 2008

Cape Clear August 08

The boat journey across. Grey and dull going over but much better on the way back... calm sea, no rain and a lot more birds! A couple of Sootys in with the thousands of Manxies, several Puffins and 16 Black Guillemots, along with some very close Porpoise. No luck with the Minkie Whale unfortunately...

Seawatching from the cliffs of Bullig.

This is where I spent nearly all of my time seawatching, only getting out to the tip of Blannan on my last day, when the weather had improved and stopped raining. A somewhat treacherous route along the base of the cliffs, and the damp rocks on which I would have to walk on sounded like a bad combination... This did however give me the inspiration to go back there sometime in the near future. Though it may not have been quite as comfortable, the views of passing seabirds were simply amazing. Thankfully the Great Shearwaters that I saw from bullig (5 birds) were all close enough to provide me with a more than satisfactory tick of these truly wonderful birds... the next best thing to seeing an Albatross!

Now on the scale of probability, an albatross, would be just about possible, and a Feas Petrel would nowadays be hoped for, but when it comes to a trio of Yanks (at the end of August) most people would probably agree that you have more chance of seeing an Albatross. In most situations they are probably right... this year, however was different.

On returning from a morning seawatch, I was greeted to the news that Steve Wing (the Obs warden) had managed a brief view of what he assumed to be either an Icterine or Melodious Warbler. Given that I have only managed a 2 second flight view of an Icky (and missed out on about 5 others) I was hopeful we would nail it down to the above, finally crossing off the dastardly hippo as my long serving bogey bird. Despite searching for the remainder of the day, none of those looking were successful. Regardless of our failed quest, we both thought it likely that, given the unsuitable weather, the bird was still present on the island... we hadn't given up hope just yet.

Despite the brief initial views, doubts were soon being expressed. Several features were wrong for Icterine, whilst Melodious seemed far from a perfect fit... Though the time of year didn't seem too favourable for an American passerine, there was one option that seemed worryingly real. As quoted by a friend (who knew I was going at the end of August) "you never know, you might get Yellow Warbler..."

Spurred on by new ideas, we continued our search the following day, but despite visits in the morning and afternoon there was no sign of the bird. The following day (2 days after the original sighting) I returned from a seawatch to be greeted to the news that, the bird had been re found, it WAS a Yellow Warbler. After almost 3 hours of fruitless searching, I was finally able to breath a sigh of relief... I had eventually layed eyes on the bird. It promptly disappeared, just prior to the first arrival of birders, but after another anxious wait, gave itself up for all to see.

The following morning saw me back outside the garden, along with 3 other birders, all waiting for the Yellow Warbler to make its first appearance of the day. In the surrounding mist, Steve called out a Green Sandpiper, that had risen from the fields somewhere beyond the nearby houses, and was flying behind us, and away towards the lake. Wasting no time in looking, I quickly found myself faced with something totally unexpected. Clearly the bird in question, but with one major difference.. the rump was dark!! We all watched on in a state of shock, as it disappeared out of view, into the mist, and over the far corner of the lake. Standing in disbelief, all had to eventually face up to the facts; we had started with three candidates and had just eliminated two.

Despite the lake being a reasonable size, there was very little of it that could be described as wader friendly. After walking alongside the Northern shoreline (the only part that appeared evenly remotely suitable) we had failed to relocate the bird, and it was decided that we should split up to try and cover all the small pockets of potential habitat. After another unsuccessful walk spirits were dropping. With most of the likely spots already covered, it was looking doubtful that we would ever see our, known to be mega, again. After meeting up at the corner of Central bog, it was agreed that three of us would check the damp ground up on the Dotterel fields, whilst Brian would carry on along the edge of the bog. After only a few minutes apart, it was clear that our luck had changed. Shouts from below told us what we had wanted to hear all morning; Brian had, we assumed, re found our prize. Running down the hillside we arrived at the corner of the bog to be greeted by the biggest shock of our lives. Not the Sandpiper we had all come to expect, but another American passerine... a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH! After losing the bird against the wall, and embracing several celebratory hugs, I could see there was something waiting for us on the opposite side of the wall. At last, we were able to lay eyes on our intended quarry... a Solitary Sandpiper.

All three birds stayed of site for another three days, and were widely twitched by visitors from all directions, on several occasions, both the Sandpiper and the Waterthrush could be seen in the same telescope view! Equally as remarkable as the birds themselves, was the fact that visitors could see an Irish 2nd (Northern Waterthrush), 3rd (Yellow Warbler) and 4th (Solitary Sandpiper),together on the same island, on the same day! Remarkably, Irelands 4th Yellow Warbler appeared just accross the water at nearby Mizen Head the morning after our bird was finally nailed down. Unfortunately, I was able to break my camera on the floor of the pub, the night after seeing the Yellow Warbler, hence the lack of any further pictures...

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