11 Mar 2022

11 Mar 22 - Finally A Short Trip Abroad

In Feb 18, I started the first part of a three month trip abroad, starting with a 3.5 week trip to Colombia with my late mate Brian Field on a Birdquest trip. When that ended, I headed down for two weeks of Birding in Chile on my own, before travelling to Ushuaia a few days ahead of the Atlantic Odyssey & West African Pelagic on the expedition ship Plancius which ultimately ended up back in Holland after seven weeks on the ship. I had a short minibreak abroad that Autumn on a Cetacean watching ferry trip to Santander & haven't managed to get abroad since then.

A new contract means I wasn't able to consider any foreign trips until Apr 20, when I was due to go on a private trip with some mates to Vietnam. Further trips were planned for Autumn 20 to Spring 21. Then C19 came along & blew all those trips out of the water. None are close to happening given the C19 situation & my cautious approach to C19.

But on a positive, my contract kept getting extended & this allowed me to save enough to be able to take early retirement at Christmas 21. The early retirement has given me to opportunity to go Birding every day so far in 2022 & it will allow me the opportunity on long distance twitches to not have to race home straight away. In Nov 21, a Northern Harrier turned up at Lough Boora in Ireland. There have only been ten accepted UK records up to the end of 2019 and no mainland twitchable records since the species was split from Hen Harrier. The majority of those records have been on offshore islands or single day sightings including the only Dorset record, which my mate Pete Moore jammed in on Portland. There have been a further eight Irish records. As the Northern Harrier settled down for the Winter at Lough Boora, I vaguely considered a trip, but the rising C19 rates didn't make it attractive. I reconsidered it at the start of 2022 when I had more time available given the early retirement, but I still was still concerned about travelling to Ireland due to C19. In late Feb 22, the mobile Egyptian Vulture was finally pinned down in Ireland and within an hour's drive from the Northern Harrier. Initially, I still wasn't tempted despite two British & Irish Ticks.

I have been across to Ireland on eight previous trips over the years since the 1988 Sapsucker twitch to Cape Clear. All the trips have been good fun & all, but one, have been successful. Having heard back from friends that the paperwork to travel to Ireland was straight-forward for C19, I looked into the logistics of an Irish trip. In the past it would have involved trying to coordinate a trip with some mates for a short break as foot passengers from South Wales & a hired car in Ireland. But having taken my car over for the Royal Tern, then taking the car looked to be a better alternative for a longer break. With my C19 concerns, I'm not comfortable about car sharing yet, so the costs of the trip couldn't be split across a group of friends. But this allowed me to consider a longer break & kipping in the car, rather than having to find B&Bs every night. Having spent a lot of nights kipping in cars on UK & foreign trips, I know that was a practical option to reduce the C19 risks and offsetting the costs of taking the car over. I also knew my Sat Nav worked in Ireland which was another benefit. I looked at various ferry options to travel across, but the cost of the car & my ticket was coming out around £320 - £400. This was before the costs of fuel were added. I put the plans for the trip to one side, as I had a few other commitments in early Mar 22.

My interest was kept warm, as other Birders posted results of their trips on twitter. With the Egyptian Vulture still being around on 10 Mar and no other commitments, I had another looked at travel options & found I could travel from Pembroke Dock on a three day mini break for £238. This was significantly cheaper than the previous quotes. I choose to give myself two full days in Ireland and then come back on the following daytime crossing, when I would be able to have a look for some Cetaceans on the way back. I had already checked there was no problem taking my car over following the problems caused by Brexit. My car insurance covers up to 90 days in Europe, but thanks to Brexit, it wasn't clear if my car insurance could be quickly sorted to travel. It sounds like it took some months post Brexit for the UK & EU to start agreeing new travel arrangements & rules for cars to travel abroad. Ireland has always been the easiest of countries to travel to with a car given they also drive on the correct side of the road. I was pleased to find that rules have settled down now for Ireland & all I needed to do was to confirm that dates & times I would be in Ireland to the insurance company. I booked to travel over on the ferry for that evening. Then I found my passport and panicked. One of the websites I looked at gave the list current documents needed to travel with & it mentioned a passport with six months validity left. My passport only had 25 weeks left. A quick phone call to the ferry company confirmed that a photo driving licence was enough to travel with. I took the passport with my anyway, but nobody asked to see it. Having planned the ferry tickets, I had time to pop out Birding locally for a few hours, as I didn't need to leave for Pembroke until mid-evening. I also had a kip that afternoon, as I knew I wouldn't get a lot of sleep on the ferry. In the end, I managed about 2.5 hours sleep on the ferry crossing. The ferry was relatively under-booked as it looks like they are keeping the number of vehicles low. But thanks to Brexit, a lot of the Irish freight traffic that used to travel into the UK from mainland Europe & then across to Ireland, now bypasses the UK on new direct routes from France to Ireland.

I was woken by an announcement about 06:00 to say we would be docking at Rosslare in about thirty minutes time. Once docked, we were all told to report to the car deck. Not long after I was back in Ireland & starting the 3.5 hour drive to the Egyptian Vulture site. In my rush to book the trip to get to the Egyptian Vulture one day ahead of the weekend Birders, I hadn't checked the weather. It was to be a wet day with the prospect of drying up in the afternoon on the West Coast. I arrived at the gate where Birders had seen the Egyptian Vulture to find nobody was there & it was still raining & windy. After pulling the coat on, I got out to scan the trees. No obvious sign of the Bird. I had assumed it would already have headed off looking for breakfast given it was now about 11:00. Then I looked in the field & found one sogging-looking Vulture, sitting there & not enjoying the weather. After a bit of manoeuvring of the car, I managed to park it, so I could watch the Vulture from the shelter of the car: one bonus of being the only person there.
Egyptian Vulture: A very soggy Vulture photographed in fairly heavy rain
Over the next twenty minutes, I watched it as it sat in the rain & took some photos. I put the news out that it was still on view. Then I looked up in the gap between the gates which gave me a clear view of the Bird: it wasn't there. Jumping out of the car, I saw it was flying over the field. It did one loop of the field, before heading off South East & out of view. Time to consider my options for the afternoon.
Egyptian Vulture: I picked it up in flight heading away from me
Egyptian Vulture: Fortunately, it turned back over the field before heading off South East
The Egyptian Vulture treeline: This photo was taken after it flew from just in front of the treeline
Given it was still raining heavily, I decided against heading for the Northern Harrier site as it would have been just as wet there. Additionally, there had been no news updates over the previous week, but I was hoping Birders would check the site out at the weekend. The added bonus of a longer trip. With the forecast to be brightening up on the West Coast during the afternoon, I decided to head for the Forster's Tern site near Kinvarra near Galway, for the late afternoon. It had stopped raining by the time I arrived, but there was still a strong wind blowing. I tried various viewpoints between Kinvarra & Tracht Beach. It's a great looking area, but unfortunately, I couldn't find the Forster's Tern which seems to feed over several miles of bays & rocky coastline. But it's a great area and in the three hours I was there I saw three Otters catching & eating crabs, several Great Northern Divers, several flocks of Pale-bellied Brent Geese, a male Long-tailed Duck with a long-tail, several Black Guillemots and a Sandwich Tern. One of my early long distance twitches was the original Falmouth Forster's Tern on its first twitchable day, but that was 1980 & it would have been nice to see another one on this side of the pond. Given I was on the West Coast, I decided to drive North that evening to look for the American Black Duck at Cross Lough on The Mullet. The Sat Nat was saying it was only 115 miles, but it took about three hours driving to get there. I found a quiet location close to the Lough to park the car for the night & some well-deserved sleep.
Looking back on the beach at Tracht