Tuesday 27 August 2013

Sea-watching in Ireland

I have to admit that I'm going off sea-watching a little bit. First of all there was the minor problem of missing a Tropicbird by about fifty metres last weekend, and now my monster weekend on the Bridges of Ross turned into a bit of a flop as the winds were essentially non-ideal. Or pants as it's often known.

I've always wanted to go to the Bridges, with its mouth-watering record of amazing birds and amazing counts, and with a free weekend (kids away chez grandparentals, Mrs L off being musical somewhere) I decided to go and book it. The risk was always that the winds and I didn't coincide, and so sadly it proved. In that respect it's very much like going to Shetland, you can either time it absolutely perfectly and drown in rares, or you can spend a week being blown to shreds by northerly winds and seeing a few Chaffinches in the brief moments when you can raise your bins to your face. If you live in Ireland you can just look at the forecast and go when it suits, whereas the needing to book flights bit is what did for me. I'm not a last minute person when it comes to that kind of thing, and so booked a fair while ahead. And so while the east coast of the UK has been plastered with Wrynecks and hippolais Warblers, I've been staring forlornly out to sea on the west coast of Ireland not seeing a great deal.

Well, it depends on what your definition of "a great deal" is. If for you that means a handful of Great Shearwaters and a good passage of Sooties, then you would have been happy. If however you understand seeing a great deal to mean a couple of Fea's Petrels, a Little Shearwater, daily counts of large Shearwaters numbering in the hundreds, then, like me, you would have come away slightly underwhelmed by the whole experience. In many ways my experience of sea-watching, with Fea's bagged on my second Cornish trip, has set me up for almost constant future disappointment. I guess it comes down the fact that by far the majority of sea-watching days are quiet ones where not a lot happens, you know, the odd Tropicbird, but not a lot else. The massive days are the rare events, but these are the ones that stick in the mind, and that you kid yourself are the norm at places like the Bridges of Ross. To be fair, I did see more Sooty Shearwaters than I have ever seen before, and piles more birds besides, but I didn't experience a 'classic'. There is always next year though, and, like Shetland, at some point the winds and I will meet, and it will be good.

Nonetheless I very much enjoyed the trip. The west coast of Ireland is beautiful, the people very friendly, and there was a lot more than just sea-watching. The small band of die-hard observers were a good bunch - fun times in the Lighthouse at Kilbaha on the evening I managed to stay awake - and it was excellent to be able to explore the Loop Head area, and gain some familiarity with place names that normally you just see on a pager associated with outrageous megas. And of course if the sea was slow, plan B was always to break out the camera.

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