Friday, 19 January 2018

Aillenaveagh - Cliff of the Ravens

I took a walk into a particularly spectacular Raven nest that I've been keeping an eye on from a distance for a several years now near Cregg Hill. I wanted to get an accurate grid reference reading for the nest as it's not on the most obvious of cliffs on either OS maps or even aerial imagery. The nest is located in a townland called Aillenaveagh which is the Anglicised version of the Aill na bhFiach,. Translated from Irish to English it means Cliff of the Ravens. I've always been interested in old Irish place-names. Wildlife regular feature in these names. Lough Nahillion (Elbow (-shaped) lake) is located within the same townland and contains a few islands one of which is called Illaunanilra which means Island of the eagle. Iolar is the common Irish name for eagle, oileán/illaun being island This is surely a reference to White-tailed Eagle given the location. This would strongly suggest that this small island was a traditional eagle nest site once upon a time. Looking at the island now it would appear that trees were possibly felled or died as there doesn't seem to be any mature oak or yew present. I'm also aware of an Eagle Island on Derryclare Lough, Eagle Islands on Lough Inagh, Eagles Lough in Roundstone Bog, Eagles Nest Primary School in Renvyle, Eagle Rock off Lettermullan and Cnocán an Iorla (Hill of the eagle) near Oughterard. The old 6 inch maps are fascinating to look at as the often have each little island named going way back to 1838 when Connemara was mapped. Most of these named islands are probably long forgotten by the current local generation. Lough Nahillion was once also a roost site for Greenland White-fronted Geese but these have also disappeared as a lot of the surrounding land has now been converted to hideous Skita Spruce plantations and the areas not planted have been damaged due to overgrazing by sheep and mechanical peat extraction. Like most of rural Ireland this area is a shadow of what it once would have been formerly. In the two hours that I was on site I just saw two Great Black-backed Gulls, three Mallard and two Cormorants on the lough, the pair of Ravens and heard one Wren - grim stuff!

Getting back to the Raven nest for which the entire townland is named. I've been watching this nest now for about nine years and they have used the very same nest every year. Given that there isn't any other suitable ledges on this small cliff face it probably isn't beyond the realms to believe that Ravens have used this very nest ledge for countless generations. The nest is probably about two metres in depth and is without doubt the largest Raven nest I've ever seen. Raven nests can fall during the winter season and occasionally when in use during bad weather and/or especially if they don't have a good foundation. One can see from the photos here that the sticks at the very base of the nest are so old that they have decayed. All this reminds me of story of nesting Gyr Falcons in Greenland a few years back where the carbon testing of remains from one nest were dated back to 2,500 years ago.
On closer inspection of the nest it was seen that the inner cup was already lined with fresh wool, hair and moss. The two adults were present in the area and definitely took notice of my presence.

It was a little discouraging to also note the presence of a few Rhododendron ponticum bushes growing on the cliff here in what is such an isolated spot several kilometres from the nearest Rhodo hotspot which is probably Kylemore. This plant is going to be a monumental issue for everyone (farming, forestry, tourism, etc.) in the very near future but to date most parties seem to sticking their heads in the sand with regard to the whole issue. It's only going to get worse with each passing year and the price of addressing the issue jumps a few million euro with each passing year.

Illaunanilra/Island of the eagle.

Unnamed island on Lough Nahillion.

Cliff face.

Lined inner cup of the Raven nest.
Lough Nahillion

Old sheep pen/Booley shelter and/or something much older?

Severely damaged blanket bog (formerly great condition) caused by just three donkey. I could say more about some farmers and payments but I better not...

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Eyrephort Glossy Ibis

I got a call from Martin O'Malley on Thursday morning to say that he had an unusual bird near his house. He began to describe a bird with a long curved bill, black-brown in colour and fairly big in size. Glossy Ibis immediately popped into my head. I was only the other side of Clifden town so I took the short trip out to the end of the Sky Road to have a look. When I met Martin on site he was fairly happy it was indeed an ibis. The bird was feeding on small flashes of water around a holiday home. It later flew close to the road and seemed very relaxed even though we were as close to 20 metres to it at some stages. I've seen the species in around half a dozen countries but these were probably my best ever views of the species. The sun came out for a period which produced some decent shots. The bird seemed to be doing well with earthworms regularly being caught.
A Glossy Ibis was also reported out on Inishmore over the Christmas period. Several others were reported away from the usual southern counties which usually get the majority of records especially during the winter. Several ringed birds have now turned up in Ireland in recent winters and most have been from the Cota Donana in Spain. They must be one of the few southern species that turn up here during the winter. After the Inishmore record this will be the seventh county record.

Glossy Ibis from Dermot Breen on Vimeo.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

White-beaked Dolphin & Leatherback Turtles

I came across a dead male White-beaked Dolphin while out walking the shoreline down at Aillebrack last Sunday on the first day of 2018. This is only the second time I've encountered this cetacean species stranded on the Connemara coastline, I've never seen them alive. The species is a rarely encountered dolphin species in Ireland and is usually only found far offshore. They seem to be a cold water species and it's been possible that they will retreat further north in distribution with rising sea temperatures.

Another unusual stranding recently was a Leatherback Turtle which was present on the beach at Carrownishy Strand north of Roonagh Lough just across the border in Mayo back in November. Quite a large specimen. I also found very old remains (just the carapace) of another Leatherback on the shoreline at Renvyle Head in August. Not much of it left by the stage I saw it!

White-beaked Dolphin, Aillebrack, Ballyconneely, Co. Galway, 1st January 2018.

White-beaked Dolphin, Aillebrack, Ballyconneely, Co. Galway, 1st January 2018.

White-beaked Dolphin, Aillebrack, Ballyconneely, Co. Galway, 1st January 2018.

White-beaked Dolphin, Aillebrack, Ballyconneely, Co. Galway, 1st January 2018.

Leatherback Turtle, Carrownisky Strand, Co. Mayo, 13th November 2017.

Leatherback Turtle, Carrownisky Strand, Co. Mayo, 13th November 2017.

Leatherback Turtle, Carrownisky Strand, Co. Mayo, 13th November 2017.
Leatherback Turtle remains, Renvyle Head, Co. Galway, 30th August 2017. 
Leatherback Turtle remains, Renvyle Head, Co. Galway, 30th August 2017. 

Monday, 1 January 2018

Adult Kumlien's Gull Omey Island

New Years resolution - must blog a bit more regularly! The old blog postings have slipped a small bit especially in the latter half of 2017. To remedy this here a few shots of an apparent adult Kumlien's Gull that I had on Omey Island on 20th December. I first had it on the east side of the strand and latter had it on the rocks in the small bay just west of Fahy Lough. A reasonably pale adult. It's tempting to speculate if this actually the same bird that I had here in January/February 2016 as a second-winter?
However this bird doesn't show any signs of immaturity which one would expect for a fourth-winter. This has been my one and only "white-winger" of the winter so far, fingers crossed for a few more along with a Connemara Ross's or Ivory?

I also had a flock of at least seventeen Twite on the island, my first time seeing them on Omey. Again I would love to know where these birds are coming from, I'd doubt if they are Irish. One wintering Chiffchaff also seen in a tiny reedbed on the island.

Adult Kumlien's Gull, Omey Island, 20th December 2017.

Adult Kumlien's Gull, Omey Island, 20th December 2017.

Adult Kumlien's Gull, Omey Island, 20th December 2017.

Adult Kumlien's Gull, Omey Island, 20th December 2017.

Adult Kumlien's Gull, Omey Island, 20th December 2017.

Adult Kumlien's Gull, Omey Island, 20th December 2017.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Lesser Whitethroat & Yellowlegs

Alex Ash found this juvenile Lesser Yellowlegs in the small turlough at Kilmurvey on 5th October. Still a finds tick for me and I drove past the site twice just beforehand. The water levels were extremely low and the favoured pool couldn't even be seen from the road. The pool was no more than ten metres in diameter. This turlough very rarely has any birds in it even when fully flooded. Despite this it was the site of the 2015 Hudsonian Godwit and previously has had a brief Blue-winged Teal in 2008, both found by the Punkbirders (Rich Moores & Dan Brown). The yellowlegs was the only island tick for me during the week and another great American wader for the island list making it the tenth Yank Wader for Inishmore. The Nearctic wader list for the island now includes - American Golden Plover (just one surprisingly), Semipalmated Sandpiper (2 both on Kilmurvey beach), White-rumped Sandpiper, Baird's Sandpiper (2), Pectoral Sandpiper (2), Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Hudsonian Godwit and Spotted Sandpiper. Can't be too many offshore islands with a comparable list, Inishbofin has only two for example. Anyone know what the Cape Clear Island Yank wader list stands at?
The Lesser Yellowlegs went missing the following day and wasn't relocated again until 8th October at Loch Dearg. It was later seen flying into another small turlough between the Seven Churches and Creig an Cheirín. It was a particularly difficult spot to access due to the maze of small fields with high stone walls and large patches of brambles. Cathal Forkan managed to find a way in and was treated to point blank views.

222Z Common Gull, ringed as a chick on Lough Mask, Co. Mayo, 3rd June 2006. First seen by myself on Inishmore on 7th October 2007. Has been seen on Inishmore several times since and also back on the breeding colony on Lough Mask. 
Harbour Seal, looked nice and fat, no need for "rescue".

Blackpoll Ridge, Seven Churches with Niall Keogh and Joao de Brito.

Loch Dearg, Seven Churches where the Lesser Yellowlegs spent its time later in its stay.

Bun Gabhla Willow patch where my Red-eyed Vireo resided. The water levels rose from nothing to two or three foot in depth overnight on the last day.