27 Aug 2016

27 Aug 16 - Luck Of The Irish

When the recent Royal Tern was first found in County Mayo, Ireland in mid August, I was initially uninterested in a trip across the water to see it. Firstly, it was found mid week & there was no chance I could get a couple of days off work to go over. I thought about the possibility of a weekend trip, but that would have been a knackering weekend. The decision was made for me as it flew out to sea the following morning & wasn't seen again. Fast forward a week & it reappeared further South at Beale Point in County Kerry, where an Elegant Tern had hung around for a week & a half in Sept 13. Again I couldn't go as it had reappeared mid week, but there was a few days to see if it would settle down like the Elegant Tern. I was now a little bit more interested in going over given it was a Bank Holiday weekend in a few days. It seemed to settle down in the Beale Point area, before developing a pattern of moving between Beale Point/Littor Strand on the South side & Carrigaholt on the North side of the estuary. Whilst only about three miles across the Shannon estuary, it looked like it would be a minimum of an hour & a half to get between the two sites (assuming you heard it had been seen on the other side). When it was still there on the Thursday, I half-heartedly made a couple of phone calls to see if some of my mates fancied a long weekend in Ireland. This was followed by a call to Dave Gibbs, who I had twitched the Dutch Hawk Owl with. I had expected he would already have been over & was expecting he would be able to provide some more details on the trip. He hadn't been, but was also interested in a weekend trip as was his mate, Paul Chapman. We quickly agreed that if it was there on the Friday morning, we would head over that evening. That was a full car load as the others were taking a Moth trap as well. Having seen on the pager, that it was that still there on the Thursday evening, then I figured it would be seen the following morning & booked to take the car over on the Friday evening. I also packed some stuff for the weekend so I could head straight off to the Bristol area to meet Dave & Paul, rather than risk returning home that evening. With a local folk festival that weekend I didn't want to risk getting caught in a local Dorset traffic jam. Fortunately, the Royal Tern was seen the following morning & so we quickly firmed up the plan to head to Ireland for the weekend.

It was a quiet drive through to Dave's after work on the back roads to avoid the A303 & M4/M5 Bank Holiday jams, leaving time for some food before heading off to collect Paul & drive to the Fishguard ferry. When we arrived, the ferry office lady informed us, it would be cheaper to added Dave & Paul to my carload, than for them to go as foot passengers: good customer satisfaction. I was pleased to see how easy it was to take the car over. This would be my eighth trip to Ireland. However, I've always gone over as a foot passenger & hired a car over there so it was my first time to take my car over. This has worked well in the past, but meant I had been about the last vehicle to leave the port. Once we were on the ship, we quickly grabbed pillows & sleeping bags from the car to try & get some sleep on the journey across. It was nearly three in the morning now & this would be my only chance of sleep. As we headed for a quiet area of the ship, we bumped into Ewan Urqhart & his mate, Justin who had already found padded benches to sleep on. After finding & reserving one of the last padded benches, there was time for a few words with Ewan before heading back to get some sleep. I first met Ewan on the Mourning Dove twitch to Rum & have kept in touch since as he is a great guy. That's the positive side of twitching: the chance to catch up with old Birding friends. After a couple of hours of sleep, interrupted by waking up & trying to find a more comfortable position, I finally woke up & couldn't get back to sleep. Still a couple of hours sleep was useful, given I was the sole driver. There was time for another chat with Ewan & Justin and an exorbitant cup of coffee, before we were called to return to the car deck.

We were promptly off the ship at 06:30 & quickly heading West. We made good time as traffic in this part of Ireland always seems to be incredibly light (or maybe I'm just used to clogged up UK roads). Fairly quickly we were close to Waterford, where we had to turn off to take the road across towards Limerick. I opted for the slightly shorter route through Tipperary rather than the longer, but potentially faster, motorway option. On a couple of occasions, I caught up with Justin's car as he was held up with slow traffic, before he finally managed to pull ahead & we lost him. A UK Audi had been tailing me for over a couple of hours: a novel concept as normally they race past my car at the first opportunity. I assumed that this belonged to another Birder, but had no idea who it was. After about three hours of driving, we were close to a decision point: do we head for the Beale/Littor Southern side of the Shannon or take the ferry over to look from the Carrigaholt area. With no news, it was time for a call to the helpful lads at RBA. Perfect timing as they had just had a call to say it was currently at Carrigaholt. We were five minutes away from the ferry & would just be able to catch it. We rang Ewan, who had already gone past the ferry with the news, but they decided to keep going to Beale. That would be good as we knew we would get a call if it crossed South again. We made another call to Richard Webb to let him know the news. He was in a car were well behind us on the road with Lee Evans: they decided to go for the ferry option as well. The Audi pulled up behind me in the ferry queue & out jumped Vaughan Watkins & his better half. I had last see Vaughan when he organised the plane charter for the Chestnut Bunting twitch the previous year. Vaughan had assumed I was a Birder & knew where I was going & therefore was following us. There was a fifteen minute delay to the ferry leaving, allowing Richard & Lee to make the ferry along with the Garry Bagnell's car load. Another thirty minutes of driving & we pulled up at Carrigaholt where there was already a few Irish Birders along with Will & Pete from RBA. But the news wasn't good. The ferry delay had cost us views of the Royal Tern. We waited for another hour & a half, but there were no further sightings. It had been sitting on the beach, but flew off on the rising tide. It could have come down further along the bay in a distant collection of Gulls & Terns. But there were other Brit Birders looking from that area & no news. I rang Ewan to keep him up to date with the negative news as it was likely to be back at the main high tide roost on the Southern side of the estuary as it would be high tide in a couple of hours. It was negative news on that side as well, but Ewan said they were covering Littor Strand where the Tern roost was & Matt Denes (another member of the Chestnut Bunting planeload) was at Beale Point. But this time all the other Brits had disappeared, leaving just us & some Irish Birders who understandably were going to stick it out at Carrigaholt Holt, rather than leave their county & head to County Kerry. They convinced us the high tide roost was probably the best option & so we headed back to the ferry.
The Tern roost at Littor Strand (27 Aug 16)
I was just pulling up at the ferry to find a long queue when Ewan rang to say it was at Beale Point. I rang Richard Webb, only to find he was three cars ahead of us in the queue. Fortunately, we all got on to the ferry & we quickly on the South side. I was about the last to get off the ferry & had been left behind on the road. Still luck was on our side as there was a further phone call from Ewan, just as we were reaching the Beale area to tell us to head for Littor Strand as it had been booted by a dog walker & was going in that direction. That turning was only a mile away & we were the first from the ferry to arrive there. Richard's car had gone past the Littor turning & was heading West for Beale Point, until I gave him the latest news. We had a quick quarter mile walk along the beach to where Ewan, Justin & Matt were watching the Tern roost at the end of the beach. I tried to scope the roost as I walked along, but with no joy. As I reached the others, I realised it had been sitting by a small channel & had just been out of sight. Time to enjoy the Royal Tern & get some photos as the other Brits carloads started arriving. They had all been planning on a day trip to Ireland so had tighter time pressures than we had. After an hour of roosting & preening, it finally flew back West. At last I had seen a British & Irish Tick in 2016. With the Pasty-pouched (Dalmatian) Pelican & the Purple Swamphen both Pended, then there is at least no doubt about whether the Royal Tern should be accepted. Pity it wasn't in the UK, but maybe one will turn up & stay around for more than a few hours in the future.
Royal Tern: Heavily cropped shot with the Canon 7D & 400mm lens. Littor Strand (27 Aug 16)
We headed down to Beale Point in case it had reappeared there, but no joy. It was more disturbed now with several horse riders as well as dog walkers & little chance it would be seen there. Time to head off towards the Dingle Peninsula for the evening & the following morning with an important cafe stop en route as by now it was mid afternoon & we hadn't had much to eat all day.
Two happy Birders ready to find a cafe: Paul Chapman (left) & Dave Gibbs (right). Littor Strand (27 Aug 16)
After the following morning on the Dingle Peninsula, we decided to return to the Littor Strand area for the high tide roost. There had only been one update that morning to say it was on the Carrigaholt area. As we got close to the roost, Paul picked it up in flight flying towards us, before landing in the roost: perfect timing. It was there only for about fifteen minutes, before one final fly past, followed by disappearing down channel towards Beale Point. This appears to be the last sighting of the Royal Tern in the Shannon estuary.
Royal Tern: Littor Strand (28 Aug 16)
Royal Tern: Littor Strand (28 Aug 16)
Royal Tern: Littor Strand (28 Aug 16)
With no sign of it reappearing, I left the others to try getting some photos of the other Waders on the beach closer to the car.
Dunlin: Littor Strand (28 Aug 16)
Sanderling: Littor Strand (28 Aug 16)
Sanderling: Littor Strand (28 Aug 16)
That was until an ignorant dogwalker decided to walk her dog right past where I was clearly photographing the Waders & boot them all. Good to see the dog was on a lead which is slightly better than most Studland dogwalkers. But when you walk past a birdwatcher with a camera standing back to avoid disturbance & right up to roosting birds, it makes very little difference if the dog is on a leash or not. It wouldn't have been difficult to walk a few meters away from the water's edge, but clearly some Irish dogwalkers are just as ignorant of wildlife as their UK counterparts.
Sanderling: Littor Strand (28 Aug 16)
Sanderling: Clearly, being a selfish idiot with a dog isn't restricted to the UK. Littor Strand (28 Aug 16)
Before leaving the area for the last time, we quickly tried Beale Point again, but there was no Terns there. So we decided it was time for us to head in the direction of the Rosslare ferry, with a few Birding stops en route. We had planned to stay over that evening in Ireland & catch the ferry on the Monday morning. I've tried this option on my last two Irish trips & enjoyed the seawatching on both crossings.