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Bridges of Ross: The circus comes back to town

Posted by on September 4, 2013 5:30 PM | 


With the dust happily settling on yet another excellent seawatching expedition to the Bridges of Ross on Ireland's wild west coast, it's time to report what happened (as best as I can remember it thro' the Guinness fug).
With Tropical Thomason, Er Neill Hunt and Mike "Mickey Boy" Stocker out there from the middle of last week, I picked up Bazzo and Andy Pryce on Thursday night, caught the 0230 sailing from Holyhead to Dublin, and we were on the Bridges of Ross seawatching by 1030 on Friday morning.
The Bridges were busier than our last two visits, with birders from as far away as Australia joining the massed ranks of Ireland's best seawatchers scouring the waves in the hopes of scoring something massive.


With the ever-patient help of Niall Keogh and numerous others, the wild seas off County Clare yielded quality seabirds again and again.
Hospitality was as brutal as ever at the Lighthouse Inn in Kilbaha, the pub responsible for some of the most vicious seawatching hangovers on the planet - it was marvellous to be back.


Conditions were never quite perfect (but then, they never are) during my stay from Friday through to Monday, but seawatching was still excellent at times with a sublime passage of skuas on Sunday, and crackers like Sabs and assorted shearwaters keeping us on our toes throughout the weekend.
Manxies and Sooties moved west in impressive numbers.
Neill and Trops had already raised eyebrows as they unveiled their "seawatching pods" - photographer's hide chairs that may, or may not, be the ultimate seawatching accessory. Neill's stayed in one piece, despite being used in all conditions indoors and out.

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Tropical did not enjoy the same success.

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Seawatched in a light westerly that veered from south to north and brought a few drizzly showers from 1030 to 1900 on 30/08/13.
Superb to be back on the Bridges with a reasonable haul:

Sabines Gull 2
Kittiwake 12
Sooty Shearwater 82
Manx Shearwater 1,000
Bonxie 13
Arctic Skua 5
Pom Skua 4
Guillemot 2
Razorbill 9
Puffin 2
Storm Petrel 3
Arctic Tern 12
Fulmar loads
Gannet loads
plus Sunfish, Tuna, Bottle Nosed Dolphin offshore.

No chance of getting any shots of these beauties, but lovely scope views, especially of the adult Sabs gulls which drifted by. At least one Bonxie came over our heads for a dodgy "point and press' pic, and Fulmars defied my digiscoping attempts in the swell.



Prolonged Guinness-fuelled buffoonery ensued into the wee small hours and past them at the Lighthouse, so it was a good job passage was a bit light from 0700 to 1000 on Saturday morning, as I scoured the waves bleary-eyed.
Bonxies, Sooties, Manxies and Arctic Skuas sailed through over the dawn swell, but as I was seeing two of each, it would be unwise to estimate numbers.
Not even a full Lighthouse breakfast could restore me to life, so I bumbled round the Fodry in bright sun for the rest of the day, enjoying up to 13 Chough, Ravens, Hooded Crows, Rock Pipits and breathtaking scenery until late afternoon when it was time for a nap.


Guinness levels topped up, the full crew was back on the Bridges again on Sunday, 01/09/13, for a classic seawatch from 0630-1000, then 1125-1900.
A light westerly, cold, cloudy conditions and a near constant flow of birds made for a memorable day.

Whimbrel 1
Turnstone 2
Kittiwake 11
Bonxie 10
Pomarine Skua 4
Long Tailed Skua 6
Arctic Skua 15
Manx Shearwater 2,000+
Sooty Shearwater 187
Balearic Shearwater 2
Storm Petrel 6
Fulmar loads
Gannet loads
Arctic Tern 12
Guillemot 3
Razorbill 21
Common Scoter 6
Mallard 4

The skuas stole the show today, with the buoyant delicacy of a few Long Taileds finally floating past - sensational brds, and a fascinating plumage range.
The first was so pale underneath, it was a good candidate for a Greenland race bird, while another had underparts so grey, only the top of its breast shone pale against the heaving swell.
The high point was two adult Long Tailed Skuas coming past together - amazing.
Best views I have had of the species in our waters - almost enough to get me painting and drawing again, 'cos I wasn't going to waste viewing time trying to digiscope these beauties.
The Poms were equally arresting - crisp, fully spooned adults, all studies in restrained power and menace, with two dark phase adults, complete with spoony spoons thrown in for good measure.
Can't remember seeing dark phase adult Poms before, juvs yes, but adult no.
However after a few days at the Bridges, it's hard to remember your name, so my recall probably doesn't count for much at the moment.


A breaching Sunfish caught my attention - like an albino dustbin lid being hurled into the air - I never knew they did this???!!
Later in the watch, Neill picked up on 4-5 of these weirdos just beyond the scumline offshore, floating along like giant dead pizza bases, their fins swaying lazily.
Over a pint or 20 that evening, Niall K explained a theory that says Sunfish float along like this waving their fins to attract seabirds to pick nasties off their sides - remarkable if this is the case.
And one of the "pod people" had earlier managed to convince a passing (and gullible) American tourist that we were specialists searching for a dangerous Giant Squid, so anything is possible at the Bridges.


Calmer conditions on Monday meant a vital lie-in before the drive back east to Dublin, the ferry and home.
Another great trip - many thanks to everyone for the fun and friendship, especially Niall Keogh and his dad Noel, and Maureen et al at the Lighthouse.
See you all again soon.
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...




Brilliant, just brilliant !!

A great read.
Clearly my birding is missing a dimension or three...

11 Wheatears on beach between Formby and Ainsdale on Friday afternoon.

My first Pink-footed Geese (5) of the autumn over the NNR at Banks Marsh this morning (7/9) John. Quite good there - 11 Curlew Sands still plus 2 juv Little Stints on the rather dry marsh. Two Whinchats on wire fence in the meadow.

Marshside 07/09/13:
Singles of the following:-
Peregrine, Kestrel, Merlin, Little Egret, Barnacle Goose
Large flocks of Starling and Black Tailed Godwits.
A few Swallows moving through during the showers.

My first Pinkfeet of the season just flew over the house. About 100 heading SE. Nice!

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