31 Dec 2009

Birding Books I Have Read and Enjoyed This Year

Life List written by Olivia Gentile is about the life of Phoebe Snetsinger, one of the foremost listers of all times. She saw over 8000 species of bird in her lifetime. (Certainly beats my 439!) Its a fascinating account of her obsession with reaching the figure of 8000 birds. She didn't really start listing until she was fifty,when she was told that she had terminal cancer, even though her interest in birds was piqued by a Blackburnian Warbler in her mid thirties. She lived another eighteen years.

I found the first eighty pages of the book quite slow going as it mainly details her early life and family ties. It then picks up to the point where you are willing her on to get to 8000 species. Fortunately for her she inherited a large amount of money from her father which enabled her to travel on tours all over the world. She comes across as a woman that did not have a great amount of time for her family. She was totally single minded and did not suffer fools gladly. In those 18 years of obsession she virtually abandoned her husband, missed her mother's funeral and her daughter's wedding. Most shocking of all she was birding in New Guinea and only just survived being gang raped and it was ultimately on a birding trip to Madagascar that she died in a crash when her driver fell asleep on the road.

The book is a great read but even though one has a grudging admiration for Phoebe Snetsinger I would not have liked her to be my mother.

I found the "Big Year" by Mark Obmasick a thoroughly entertaining account of the competition between three birders in the United States to beat the Big Year record in 1998. Every year there is a competition in the States to see as many bird species as they can within the year. It follows three twitchers of varying backgrounds to compile their list. Two of whom are pretty well off and the third an ordinary overweight white collar worker having to borrow from his father to enable him to fly all over the USA to connect with the various species.

It is a humourous account of the three birders who are at first unaware that they are all striving for the same goal. I found it on a par with the Big Twitch by Sean Dooley and I would recommend it to anyone interested in birding and along with "Life List" for anyone who is interested in the obsession of listing.

The third book that I read was "Birding from the Hip" by Anthony McGeehan published by the "Sound Approach"

It is a collection of his articles that he wrote for Birdwatch Magazine and a number of extra articles all accompanied by some wonderful bird photography and I have to say I loved it.

Here is a link to a review by Charlie Moores from 10,000 Birds which says it far more eloquently than I can. Review is HERE

28 Dec 2009

A White Christmas in Donegal and lots of Fieldfares.

Recently I was in a garden in which there were loads of cut up apples attached to trees and on the ground. These were attracting Blackcaps, loads of Blackbirds and Song thrushes. So I decided to put out a few apples sliced in half on the ground. I was surprised how quickly that the Blackbirds came to them. I was also pleased to find on the second day a Fieldfare, which would have been a garden tick for me.

They are a lovely bird and not one I see that regularly around where I live. So it was quite a surprise when I went home to my Parents in Donegal over Christmas to see quite large numbers of them.

There was a bit of snow on the ground when we left Co.Down on Christmas Eve but there was progressively more as we got to Donegal. My sister who lives in central Scotland had considerably more snow and was unable to get over for Christmas. My Wife and I and our boys stayed in a cottage whch my parents provide as a holiday cottage on our farm at Drumaboden. It is listed here with Shamrock Holiday Cottages. As the crow flies it is less than a mile to my parents house but by road about three. Once you were off the main roads the roads in Donegal were pretty treacherous and I was glad that I had four wheel drive. I stopped at my parents first of all to unload christmas presents and as I got out of the car I got a year tick with a Woodcock that flew directly over their house. We had my parents over to dinner on Christmas eve along with my mother's brother, who was over from England.

I woke up fairly early at about 7.00am and stuck my head out the door to find the temperature was -10C I dont think have ever experienced it as cold in Donegal. (I was later reminded that I was only a few months old one when there was a very harsh spell in Donegal in the winter of 1962/1963 which froze Lough Fern, this is the lough near my parents house.) The birds were already coming to the peanut feeder next to the house. Goldfinches, Siskins, Coal Tits and Blue Tits.

It always amazes me the difference between the male and female of the Siskin. I put out some muesli which attracted Robins and Blackbirds. I went for a walk in the fields behind the house and watched the sun coming up. It really was a beautiful morning.
I could hear Mistle Thrushes in the furthest fields from the house and as I approached I could see there were probably 40 Fieldfares in the Holly Bushes along with a number of Redwings.

I had to go back to the house so that children could open stockings. (I think they are a bit old for it now, but mother christmas had done a nice job!!) I then went down to the farm around my parents house and helped with the feeding and watering of the sheep. Even though they are kept in during the winter their buckets of water had completely frozen over. The yard was dangerously icy and I drove my mother from one door to another. One hip replacement in the last two years was more than enough for her! After lunch which was soup and cheese I headed back to our cottage while the boys were sledging and snowboarding. I wanted to get some shots of the Fieldfares and Redwings while there were still some berries on the trees. I first of all took a shot of one of the Ram Lambs. The light was dying away and I took this shot of the view from the top of the farm.

I had really left it too late and I had to boost the iso on the camera and over expose for the birds by nearly two stops to get any detail at all. I like this shot of the Redwing as you can see why it is so aptly named.

I was standing close to this Holly tree which earlier in the day had tons of berries and now had very few. The Fieldfares were quite wary and would approach and see me and either fly off or dive in behind the tree out of my line of sight. This was the best image I got.

Over the weekend I did get out the beach at Rosapenna where there were about 14 Ringed Plover , a Sanderling and offshore about 50 Common Scoter. On the way to the beach we were approaching Glen on this dreadfully icy road and came round a corner to find I would say about 200 Fieldfares in the bushes on either side of the road.

Overall a pretty good Christmas and the snow was a bonus as were the Fieldfares!!

24 Dec 2009

Wishing Everybody a Great Christmas

17 Dec 2009

I think there are too many Hooded Crows in Ireland.

On my parents sheep farm in Donegal
one of the things that drives me nuts is the amount of Hooded Crows. One can walk into some of the fields and just watch the crows land on the sheep and pull out the wool. They is also a danger when a sheep gets on to its back that they are susceptible to attack. The Crows go for the eyes first and once this has happened generally the animal has to be destroyed.

There are a few farmers who put out dead rabbits or a dead sheep with Alpha Chloralose sprinkled over them. Alpha chloralose is used as a poison.It is an anaesthetic compound which disables the bird and they ultimately die of hypothermia. In America in the past it was used to capture Sandhill Cranes for live study. If a bird or animal has eaten it and is found soon enough there are antidotes if taken to a vet soon enough.

Unfortunately in Ireland it is still legal to use alpha chloralose for vermin control and it is this continued use that is putting the reintroduction schemes of Golden Eagles and White Tailed Eagles at risk. There are constant reports of Buzzards, Kites and White Tailed Eagles being poisoned in Ireland and I would hazard a guess that these are a by product of farmers trying to kill Magpies and Hooded crows. I doubt that they are specifically going after the Birds of Prey.

So what are the alternative solutions? Shooting or Trapping. Now if you have tried to get near a Magpie or Hooded Crow with a gun they are remarkably wary birds and one can barely get within shooting distance. They also become even more wary if you on that rare occasion succeed in shooting one.

So that leaves trapping. There is the Larsen Trap which can be quite effective. It uses a captive bird in one half of the trap. This attracts other Magpies or Crows and they then get themselves into the other half of the trap from where they can then be despatched.

The route I think that I will take is the Crow Trap like this one below its called a Ladder trap.

This type has been found to be pretty successful on some of the moors in Scotland and also here in Northern Ireland. I might see if I can get the man that built two for the RSPB here in Northern Ireland to build me one. One was used at Portmore Lough to protect the breeding Lapwing against the Hooded crows and the other was used in the Belfast Harbour Conservation area . The trap in the RSPB Belfast Harbour Conservation Area accidentally caught a Buzzard and a worker on the adjacent industrial site saw it on is cctv and reported it to the RSPB at Belvoir. RSPB Reserves Manager Gregory Woulahan had to go and release it!! He then had the trap destroyed. What a waste of £500 pounds or 15 memberships. At least the beauty of this trap type is that if they do capture something other than crows they can be released whereas the poison kills anything that should eat it.

7 Dec 2009

Eric Dempsey is retiring the BINS Line :-(

Eric Dempsey, The Bird Tour Leader,Public Speaker and Author of a number of books including the really excellent
is retiring his BINS phone line. You could ring this number and he would have a list of rare birds seen in Ireland each day. He also had the "Birds of Ireland News Service" website where you could often find photos of the various rarities.

In his own words.

The BINS line was established in the summer of 1990 and began providing the news service for IRELAND on 1st August 1990. The concept behind the line was to make accurate bird news more widely available to all birders rather than have such news confined to a small elite group as was the case in the 1980's and in early 1990. I hope that in the time since then, I have achieved that. Of course it was also done with the aim that it would pay for itself and perhaps generate some profit.

This autumn (2009) marked my 20th autumn running the line. In those many years I have established some great relationships with birders from all over Ireland and Britain. I have also experienced some wonderful moments; there really is nothing quite like the buzz when you get a call from a birder who is skilled enough/lucky enough to come across a mega. Many of those conversations are etched on my mind and will stay with me for as long as I live (or until dementia sets in anyway!). Knowing that I was about to update with a 'BINS Red Alert' was always a moment to savour.

Since the bird information line began on 1st August 1990, the 9.30 pm update has been done every single night with the exception of two occasions when it was impossible due to technical problems/cable faults. It is also worth remembering that until the mid-1990's, no-one had mobile phones, so the updates were often achieved utilising various phone boxes around the country. The first time BINS was updated using a mobile phone was on 14th September 1996 with the headline being a Greenish Warbler in Killian Mullarney's back garden.

In recent years my birding has taken a totally new direction. With an emphasis on guiding, educational work, writing and broadcasting, the aspect of rare birds has very much taken a back seat for me. With continued developments in this work, the time and commitment required to maintain the BINS line is now no longer a viable option for me. Therefore I wish to announce that from Wednesday 9th December next, the BINS Information line will cease. The last update will take place at 9.30 pm that night.

I would like to thank everyone for their support during the past 19 years. I would specifically like to thank Victor Caschera who maintained the BINS line on a number of occasions in the 1990's and Paul Kelly who has taken on the line many times over the past ten years, sometimes at very short notice. I am very grateful to you both.

With a change in direction, our website will also be redesigned over the next few months to draw attention to the varying services and work BINS undertakes. It will also feature a wider selection of Michael O'Clery's artwork as well as a new photographic gallery displaying our own images. With the emphasis now shifting from rare birds, I would also like to announce that our current December Gallery will be the last that will feature images of rare birds from photographers. With so many superb photographers now hosting their own websites, as well as various Birdwatch Ireland branches displaying images from their own local areas, many of the photographs displayed in our galleries were already in the public forum. I would like to thank all the talented photographers who, over the years, have shared their images with so many people through our website.

All that remains for me is to say that I look forward to great birding ahead and to thank each and every person who has supported this venture over the years. I do look forward to keeping in touch with you all, Regards, Eric Dempsey, BINS,

I wish him well in his endeavours especially his Bird Photography . Good Luck Eric!

4 Dec 2009

A Nice afternoon out at Killard Nature Reserve

Yesterday I got home from work and it was beautiful outside,there was really strong sunlight so I grabbed the dog and camera and headed out to Killard. The tide was high so some of the shorebirds were on the tideline feeding on the insects in the seaweed. The Redshanks always flying off before you can get close usually in a state of high dudgeon. The Bar-tailed Godwits also flying way before I could get close calling in their distinctive way rather like a high pitched mocking laugh.

The Turnstones on the other hand are always fairly approachable and the numbers are slowly building up.

As I was walking along the shoreline I noticed a Greenshank flying towards me so I lay down and it landed fairly close. The moment the shutter clicked it was off.

I made my way to see if I could find the Grey Plover that seems to like a small outcrop and where I have seen it now over a period of five years returning every August. It is fairly shy and I saw it through my binoculars in the distance and I tried to creep and then finally crawl towards it. As I got closerI was amazed to see that there were five of them. The most I have seen there at one time.

This has to be one of my favourite birds and one of the reasons I love going out to Killard.

I also like the winter sun as it is generally fairly low in the sky and can give really good photographic opportunities. Between Killard and Strangford there is a small bay which can be brilliant for waders and today was no exception. There were a few hundred Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Greenshank, over a hundred Dunlin, Ringed Plover and quite a few Gulls.

A fab afternoon.

27 Nov 2009

At last a Cull of Feral Cats on Tory Island to protect the Corncrakes.

I am up in Donegal for a few days and was delighted to hear the news that on Tory Island there has been a cull of feral cats. Tory Island is one of the last remaining outposts for the Corncrake and the fact that the numbers of calling males had dropped from 34 calling males to 9 last year it was imperative that something had to be done. So I am very glad to see Birdwatch Ireland organised the cull. They first of all photographed all the pet cats and gave them collars before trapping the feral cats in humane traps before euthanasing them. In addition to this Gerald Roarty a vet from Letterkenny has been over to the island a couple of times to neuter the domestic cat population. So hopefully there will not be any young kittens next year.

One of the problems with feral cats in Ireland is that more and more people are leaving food out for them. This means they are better fed and consequently compared with previous years they are producing bigger and bigger litters.

I hope Birdwatch Ireland consider doing this on Inishbofin off Co. Galway as well because while I was there in October there seemed to be feral cats all over the island and I am sure they are detrimental to the breeding prospects of the Corncrake there as well as Tory Island.

(Photo by Anthony McGeehan)

24 Nov 2009

"The Hide" by Marek Losey and BTO Bird Ringing Blog

A friend of mine sent me a channel 4 film on DVD called "The Hide" by by Marek Losey. It is an adaption of Tim Whitnall's play called "The Sociable Plover" . It follows a birder into a hide on the Isle of Sheppey who is soon joined by another man and it is an absolute brilliant thriller.

You can rent it from Amazon or Lovefilm.com its well worth it .

One of the Blogs I follow is the BTO Bird Ringing "Demog Blog" yesterdays post will be of interest to those that go to Cape Clear. A small piece about the already ringed Marsh Warbler that was caught in September

23 Nov 2009

Eric Dempsey is giving a talk on Mon 7th Dec at the Spirit Store Dundalk Co Louth

Eric Dempsey of Mooney Goes Wild will give an illustrated account of all of the Birds of Prey of Ireland, Eagles, Falcons, Hawks, Harriers, Kites and Owls at the Spirit Store in Dundalk (upstairs) at 8pm on Mon 7th December Spirit Store. Eric is a very entertaining and knowledgeable speaker as well as a spectacular wildlife photographer. He has authored several books and articles including "The Complete Guide to Ireland's Birds", "Where To Watch Birds In Ireland" and "Birdwatching in Ireland". This highly recommended talk is suitable for all levels and will end at 9pm.

Entry is free and all are welcome!

Here are the Directions

11 Nov 2009

Follow up to BTO Birdwatching Conference 2009

In my last post about the BTO Birdwatching Conference I wrote that I wasn't that impressed by one of the talks and to be fair to the speaker, Ian Enlander, this is his email to me.

"I do usually enjoy your blog and was glad to see you did a write up about the BTO event last Saturday but sorry to see that you completely missed the point I was making about the absurd position that statutory requirements and European needs place on us in relation to positive conservation action. Creation of additonal tern islands does not miraculously increase tern populations - this will be a long term aim that may or may not succeed - no guarantees. In the short term there is a very high risk that sites end up competing against each other with the risk that they are in unfavourable conservation status i.e. show a significant population decline - whether you agree with it or not that then puts Northern Ireland plc at risk of infraction from Europe - trust me when I say that is not a good thing. The point is that collectively the conservation bodies at regional and national scales need to progress these initiatives collaboratively with our increasingly limited resources devoted to those actions that are likely to deliver the best outcomes - I do not believe that is currently happening.

I may be a bloody civil servant (that happens to be the position where I feel I can achieve most for conservation) but suspect I have done a damn sight more for bird conservation than most between a career of 18 years devoted to site designation, monitoring and management and over 25 years of volunteering for wetland bird surveys, breeding bird surveys, breeding and wintering atlas work and educational activities.

You may have noticed that the earlier projects which you so rightly praise were all entirely funded by NIEA, indeed through my section and supported by myself personally - only NIEA is in a position to fund this important work - so no civil servants = considerable reduction in the ornithological research and reserve management programmes in Northern Ireland. You might want to use your energies rather more positively to call for greater funding for NIEA, particularly our grant aid programmes, which fund so many of the conservation initiatives notably at reserves you frequent.

So please dont patronise me

There was ample opportunity through the course of the day to chat to me about my presentation but you clearly believed this was unnecessary - happy to meet up and chat about any of the above or anything else for that matter if you wish.

all the best

I still feel though as far as the Terns are concerned that as Terns breed in every sea lough around NI that have islands. Even on Lough Neagh and Lough Erne. By giving them SOMEWHERE safe in Belfast (and now Portmore) the birds can expand their breeding range. What about the Arctic Terns at Belfast Harbour Reserve? From whose colony have they been stolen? Arctic Terns are notoriously poor for breeding success - witness bad years at the Copelands and even Rockabill (where almost none were reared this year) yet the Belfast birds do all right and infact breeding success is increasing year on year , maybe since that they are not devasted by (localized) high winds and sweeping rain. Furthermore, if nest boxes at Rockabill and Coquet in (Northumberland) are doing the business for 95% !! of the eastern North Atlantic's Roseates, surely RSPB Belfast Harbour's attempt to draw the birds in - because they seem only to breed among concentrations of Common and/or Arctic Terns - is commendable.

I also would like to point out that I didn't call Ian a bloody civil servant in my previous post.

8 Nov 2009

BTO Birdwatchers Conference 2009 at Oxford Island

I finished work and raced down to to Oxford Island on the shores of Lough Neagh for the British Trust for Ornithology Birdwatching Conference 2009. It was a lovely clear morning.

The room that the conference took place was filled. A great turnout the only sad thing to me was the age demographic with most being over 50. Over the period of the next 8 hours we were to have 11 speakers.

Shane Wolsey the BTO's representative in Northern Ireland started the day off by welcoming all the guests.

Our first talk was by Kerry Leonard about Eiders in Northern Ireland, his monitoring techniques and the results of a recent Northern Ireland population survey. Eiders being a bird from the Arctic ,Northern Ireland is at the southern most extreme of their breeding range. Over the last twenty years has seen a large increase in their population.

Our next talk was by Lorraine Chivers and wife of James Robinson the new Director of the RSPB in Northern Ireland. She is a PhD student studying the ‘Factors influencing declining populations and reproductive success of seabirds on Rathlin  Island, County Antrim’ at ‘Quercus’ which hosts the Natural Heritage Partnership between 
the Northern Ireland Environment Agency and Queen's University Belfast.

Her talk was mainly about her methodology firstly by timing the feeding forays of the birds and also by using GLS (Global Location Sensors) and time‐depth recorders. These were attached to Kittiwakes, Guillemots and Razorbills. These birds then had to be recaptured a few days later and the information downloaded. She had very little success with the razorbills and about a 50% recovery rate of the Guillemots and Kittiwakes. This information showed where they were feeding (Off the coast of the Mull of Kintyre) and in the case of the Guillemots how deep and how often they dived. The fascinating fact to me was they achieved depths of 24 metres to find food. It will be interesting to hear her conclusions in a few years time.

This talk was followed by Irena Tomankova a biologist working at "Quercus" in Queens University Belfast. She is currently conducting her PHD research on the causes of diving duck population declines at Lough Neagh. The birds being studied are Pochard, Tufted Duck, Scaup and Goldeneye. Again this talk was a work in progress.

We had a talk by Ian Enlander from NIEA (Northern Ireland Environment Agency) describing the conservation significance of bird populations relying on their assessment at various scales, stretching from local to international and how conservation responses are guided by these assessments. it provided an overview of some of Northern Ireland's birds and an assessment of what was important from the Northern Ireland's Environment Agency perspective at these different scales.For example the Roseate Tern which would be fairly rare in Northern Ireland with 2 breeding pairs but is a bird of Least concern on the World scale. I felt the talk was a little patronising especially with reference to the Tern Islands popping up everywhere. My belief is if you create the safe habitat for the birds to breed that they will do so in ever increasing numbers. I dont know why but civil servants always get my back up.

On a slight aside the NIEA Biodiversity Unit which is supposed to conserve, protect and enhance the local biodiversity within Northern Ireland. I wish they would get their act together and do something positive with the Quoile Pondage which could be such a fantastic reserve for waders and ducks if managed properly.

There was a talk by Emma Meredith and she explained her role as the Wildlife Liason Officer with the Police Service of Northern Ireland. I first met her in 2007 at a BTO Bird Ringing Weekend.

We had a talk by David Leech from the BTO on the BTO's Nest Record Scheme. Not something I would really approve of. I think bird's nest should be left alone as I cannot believe it is in the birds best interest to have them examined on two separate occasions. For a start I think if a predator such as a Hooded crow or Magpie is aware of what one is doing that there will be a high chance of predation. A case in point was the Cuckoo that took over a Reed Warbler's nest at the BTO's base in Thetford. This was filmed by the BBC on Springwatch and no sooner had they stopped filming it the young cuckoo was predated.

We had a talk by Kerry Mackie, from the WWT (Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust) and Wetlands Bird survey coordinator on  the changes of Wildfowl on Strangford Lough over the years. His grandfather Lance Turtle gave a talk in the seventies on the changes of Wildfowl in his lifetime on the Lough and with his records from early shooting records Kerry gave an overview of the changes and some explanations. This was accompanied by some very old photographs.

Shane Wolsey gave a talk on Bird Ringing in Northern Ireland and his wishes to increase the number of ringers. He also has the unenviable job of coordinating the Bird Atlas 2007-2011 for Northern Ireland and was trying to get more help from volunteers for timed counts to specific tetrads.

Neville McKee one of the founding fathers of the Copeland Bird Observatory set up 55 years ago gave a talk on the improvements to the observatory over the years.

The day was finished off with a talk by Anthony McGeehan it was both funny and very serious and a wake up call to the conservation bodies to stop burying their heads in the sand as to the reasons as to why there might be decline in some of our songbird species. It certainly got the biggest ovation of the day. It was also sad that James Robinson the new RSPB Director in Northern Ireland and friend of Anthony's who was at the conference all day did not make any effort to go and talk to him. So still the powers that be in the RSPB continue to shun him. Disgusting in my view and after his speech it did make you think why did they sack somebody with such talent especially with no reason. It will be interesting to see what happens at the Industrial Tribunal in January.

The whole day was extremely well organised by Shane Wolsey and a credit to the BTO.


20 Oct 2009

A Week Birding on Inishbofin Co.Galway inluding finding a Cedar Waxwing a First for Ireland.

I set off at 4.30am to meet up with Anthony McGeehan at Lisburn before driving in tandem to Cleggan in Co.Galway. We stopped for a coffee just over the border and made it to Cleggan by 9.45am. We loaded our gear and food onto the ferry before getting some breakfast in the hotel overlooking the harbour. As the ferry wasn't leaving until 11.30am we did a quick drive further along the coast to see if anything was about. On one small loch there was about 18 Merganser and on the shore 4 Greenshank all together. We then bought a loaf of bread to see if we could get some shots of the gulls. I first took this shot of a Rock Pipit on the harbour wall.

Rock Pipit

Herring Gull

Common Gull

The ferry made its way on the thirty five minute journey to the Island. It was a lovely afternoon and Paddy-Joe King met us at the pier and took us to his cottage where we were to stay for the week. He also runs the bicycle hire business on the island.

We unpacked and had a quick lunch before first going and having a look at a crop field that Anthony had planted earlier in the year along with some willow and alders. There were quite alot of Stonechats about,

a few Reed Buntings and some Rock Doves. We continued out to the East End of the Island to look and see if there was anything in Irene's Garden or in the willows in the field below her house. On the beach there were about 100 Ringed Plover and the same again of Sanderling all now in their winter plumage. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs in the willows and the obligatory Wren and Robin, which would pop up in nearly every bush we looked at for the whole week.

Each evening Anthony followed the weather and wind patterns trying to determine whether it would aid or hinder migration. While I cooked the evening meal.I would also try and get a wifi signal and check the internet for the days bird reports and the all important weather outlook . We used Wind Guru and also used the UK & Ireland Windchart on Magicseaweed The week was looking very positive for migrants from Scandinavia.

Sunday was our first full day in the field and we literally covered the whole island and as Anthony walks at an enormous pace between sites I by the end of the day was absolutely exhausted. Our routine was to have breakfast and then head out first to the crop field behind the Dolphin Hotel then we headed to the East End of the Island either via the graveyard or over the top. In the graveyard there is a sycamore which has got good potential for migrants and on the banks on the other side of the road was good for the thrush family. Just before you get to the graveyard there is a small loch where we heard Water Rail on a few occasions plus a family of Moorhens.

View looking East from the Graveyard
We would then head towards East End Bay and look in the gardens of a couple of houses then check for shorebirds. Then to about three different groups of willow bushes in Michael-Joe's fields below Irene's House before possibly heading out to the headland on the eastern end of the island before heading back for lunch.Thats about a 6-7 mile round trip. Our cottage which has an excellent sheltered garden with quite a few sycamores in it is the next stop and we have a bench set up for ease of viewing.

After lunch we head West. First of all checking some apple trees just behind the Inishbofin House Hotel before checking out the area behind the church. Then we follow the coast round past the Doonmore Hotel before heading out past Loch Bofinne and out to the West End. On Loch Bofinne there a number of Mute Swans and a single Whooper Swan,

a few Redshank and a number of Mallard. We continue for another mile until we come to the tip of the West End.It is here there is a wonderful sea watching spot which Anthony and his wife Mairead built earlier in the year.
It protects you when there are strong Westerly or North Westerly gales. On our first trip out there we watched an amazing display of a Merlin chasing a Purple Sandpiper. It lasted nearly five minutes with both heading out towards the "The Stags" before the Sandpiper returned with Merlin just behind it. The Purple Sandpiper made it to the rocks and with the Merlin unsuccessful it shot upwards about a hundred feet before diving down to harry it again. This time it was successful and it landed with prey quite close to us

Over the first few days we found quite a few Chiffchaffs, the odd Willow Warbler and Blackcap. There were also a few Redwings arriving. On the monday I did get a lifer we were walking out to the tip of the East End when a Snow Bunting flew away from us unfortunately we could not relocate it. So only had the briefest of views. We spent some time on the beach at the East end trying to photograph the Sanderlings on their high tide roost.

Sanderling High Tide Roost

We were walking towards the church one day when we observed these two Hooded Crows that seemed to be playing on the electrical wires. They would go from upright to hanging upside down before flying back to upright and doing it all over again.

Hooded Crow

On the wednesday morning we were joking that it would be better off coming to Inishbofin to photograph landscapes rather than looking for rarities. How wrong we were to be! We had a look at the crop field behind the Dolphin hotel again. There were quite a few pheasants that had now found the area as well as quite a few Reed Buntings and the ubiquitous Stonechat.


We then headed towards Irene's Garden where there was mainly just House Sparrows and little else. So we decided to head out to where we had seen the Snow Bunting a few days earlier, again failing to find any. So headed back towards the beach and the Willows at the bottom of Michael-Joe's Fields adjacent to the beach.

Anthony and I went and sat on this rocky hillock overlooking the willows. There were two Chiffchaffs and a Willow Warbler flitting around. Anthony suddenly said did you hear that. It was a very high pitched call which meant absolutely nothing to me infact i wasnt even sure whether it was a bird. Anthony however was thinking was it Penduline Tit or Red Throated Pipit. At least another ten minutes passed and Anthony is explaining all the differences between the Willow warbler and the Chiffchaff that are very conveniently feeding together just in front of us. At that moment this bird appears right in between them. It has its back to us and Anthony says do you see it. I am not sure what it is until I see it has a small crest and at that point Anthony says Waxwing. It is a young Waxwing and Anthony's mind goes into over drive thinking could this be Cedar and not Bohemian. At this point the bird flies off and we have not been able to see the undertail coverts. A Bohemian Waxwing has rusty undertail coverts whereas the Cedar Waxwing has pale white undercoverts. So he says "You have the IBird explorer appon your Iphone does it have any photos? I open up to Cedar Waxwing and there aren't any photos of young birds so I play the bird call which is exactly what we had heard ten minutes earlier. Now we had to get photographs . We relocated the bird but it was very hidden in dense undergrowth. I took a few shots of a semi hidden bird and fortunately Anthony was at a higher elevation and got a better view and after quite a while it flicked its tail showing the pale white underparts. It then flew off again.
Anthony shakes my hand and says "Congratulations a Cedar Waxwing a First for Ireland."

Cedar Waxwing

I then ring Eric Dempsey of Birdsireland and say "Eric would you like a first for Ireland" He was very happy to say the least!! I then hand the phone to Anthony who goes over the finer details of the bird with Eric before letting other birders know about it. This was the First Record for Ireland. The third record for Britain and Ireland and the fourth record for the Western Paleartic. We then refind the bird feeding on blackberries and get some more pictures.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

We then head back to our cottage on a high. I make our lunch before heading down to the community centre to post the photographs online. We also let Dermot the Ferryman know that he may need to put on an extra boat for the following morning. Anthony and I then head back to where we saw the Waxwing and decide to try and relocate it from the road so as not too unduly disturb it. It is in the willows where it flew to after we first spotted it in the morning. Then it flew back to the bushes where we photographed it feeding on blackberries. We leave it at around six o'clock and head back to the cottage for a celebratory Powers Whiskey.

On the thursday morning Dermot has a special sailing from Cleggan at 8.15 and there about 40 birders on board.

It is the most glorious of mornings and Anthony and I go and meet the visiting birders. We then head straight out towards the East End. There is an amazing sunrise over the Twelve Pins of Connemara to greet us.

We make our way down the road overlooking where we saw the bird and with lots of eyes try to find the bird.

We all search for a few hours but sadly for all the other birders it does not reappear. Anthony and I then head back towards the cottage and Pete Tierney who owns the house in the foreground in the sunrise photo above asks us in for some tea and apple pie. As we are walking back from his house we see a skein off 175 Barnacle Geese coming in off the sea. These birds usually winter on the neighbouring island of Inishark.

While we are having our lunch we hear a Lesser Whitethroat has been seen down by the church. We also have a few requests from people wanting to stay the night. We head down to see the Lesser Whitethroat but no luck. Then A and I head upto the airfield in Middlequarter to see if there are any Golden Plover which we have heard a few times but not seen. Then we head towards some more willows above Loch Bofinne and on the way come across some very short heather where we sit down and I am scanning the Loch when I hear this snoring and Anthony is out cold!!

That evening we had Hugh Delaney, Victor Caschera, John Coveney and Tom Shevlin staying and I cooked them all Spaghetti Carbonara. Tom Shevlin has this excellent website Wildlifesnaps. One of the great things about it is the list of rarities found in Ireland on this day on the left hand side of the site. It was really nice to meet these guys who were only names that I had seen on IBN Irish Bird Network

On the friday we bought our evening meal at the Community Centre where they were raising money for a charity. We had a really good stew made by the lovely Aileen Murray. She is the manager of the Doonmore Hotel. While we were in the community centre all the islanders there were asking about the Waxwing. After a delicious tea and scone we took a few sunset shots. This is looking back at the deserted Inishark.

On the saturday we traversed the whole island again. I had seen around sixty species of bird in the week but only heard Golden Plover, Chaffinch and Water Rail however on my last day we traversed the whole island again and caught up with these three. The Water Rail I disturbed in a ditch and it flew away from us and we found four Golden Plover over at the West End.
That evening for the first time in the week the Dolphin Hotel was open and we went to have a pint only to find there was a woman having her 50th birthday with 20 of her female friends. Strangely two of which had been customers of mine when I had my cafe/delicatessen in Belfast. They had a couple of guys singing and Anthony and I ended up dancing till about three in the morning. It was a brilliant evening.

Inishbofin is a wonderful island.This was my third visit. The landscape is great , there are three nice beaches with the small one in the Westquarter which is absolutely fabulous. The islanders are extremely friendly. I am looking to stay there next May for a week with my family.

Do I have any complaints. Very few. I found the women working in the shop particularly unfriendly in total contrast to everybody else we met on the Island. I wish that some of the abandoned cars were removed. Infact the harbour area could do with a bit of tidying up. Also I think the planning office that allowed this house to be built out at the East End absolutely barking mad. It is a real eyesore But apart from these little issues I would highly recommend Inishbofin to everyone to go and visit and you never know you might find another first for Ireland!!