28 Aug 2016

28 Aug 16 - Slea Head, Ireland

After we left Inch Beach, we followed the road out to Slea Head at the far end of the Dingle. A good number of tourists had already arrived before us. We tried some seawatching from the car park overlooking the Blasket Islands, but other than a few Gannets, Fulmars & Shags, it proved quiet.
The Blasket Islands from Slea Head: The final population of the islands which had dwindled to 22 (from around 200 at the start of the century) were evacuated in 1953
Herring Gull: Adult. The locals Herring Gulls were very approachable
Herring Gull: Juv
Dave returned from exploring the nearby headland with news of a Bumblebee tick for me. So we headed down to see it. By this time, the steady breeze had dropped & the Midges had appeared in large numbers: we were all keen to see one or two quickly, before quickly escaping.
Moss Carder Bee: The all yellow hairs (& lack of any black hairs) on the abdomen is one of the features. It does occur in Dorset & now I know the features will have to pay more attention to my local Carder Bumblebees
One of the great things about the West coast of Ireland is the masses of wild flowers on the verges. Unlike the UK, where wild flowers are often seen as something that needs cutting back by local councils or farmers, nobody seems to do that in Ireland to the same extend as in the UK. There were some stunning local roads full of various species of native flowers, along with large blooms of Montbretia & Fuchsias: both common garden escapes.
Montbretia: A stunning roadside verge as we headed back towards Dingle
We headed back to see the Royal Tern again & had better views for our efforts. Then it was time to start heading back towards Rosslare. As we passed Ballylongford, Paul mentioned there had been a Semi-palmated Sandpiper there on the previous day. We had no further information other than it had been in a flooded pool in a field. Deciding on a quick look, we followed some side roads down to edge of the Shannon. There was no sign of any flooded pools, but after a couple of miles we found the ruins of Carrigafoyle Castle with a causeway across to the small island of Carrigafoyle. Apparently, there were 2 Semi-Ps on the island, but it would have been hard to find the exact location without further information. But it was worth the diversion to see the castle & have a quick look at the saltmarsh.
Carrigafoyle Castle: This was built between 1490 & 1500 by the O'Connors of Kerry who appear to have made their money by a mixture of taxation of ships going up to Limerick & smuggling
Carrigafoyle Castle: This is now an Irish National Monument 
The Dunbrody: The final stop on the way to Rosslare was to photograph this modern reconstruction of an 1840's Irish famine & emigrant boat. New Ross

28 Aug 16 - Tom Crean (Antarctic Explorer)

After first hearing the story of Shackleton's 1914-17 Antarctic Expedition, Earnest Shackleton became my all time explorer & survival hero. Shackleton's first expedition to the Antarctic was as Third Officer on Robert Falcon Scott's Discovery Expedition of 1901-04. He marched with Scott & Edward Wilson to a new record of 82 degrees South.
Window celebrating the Discovery Expedition: South Pole Pub, Annascaul. I remember visiting the Discovery when she was tied up on the Thames when I was a kid. She is now berthed in Dundee having been saved for the nation
Shackleton returned to the Antarctic when he led the British Antarctic Ninrod Expedition of 1907-09. He reached 88 degrees South & his team were only 97 miles away from the South Pole before being forced to turn back. In 1911, Roald Amundsen successfully reached the South Pole, followed five weeks later by Scott's team on the Terra Nova Expedition of 1911-13. Sadly, Scott & his four companions all died on their return after reaching the South Pole.
Window celebrating the Terra Nova Expedition: South Pole Pub, Annascaul
With the South Pole reached, Shackleton & his crew of twenty-seven sailed again on the Endurance on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in August 1914. The aim was to be the first expedition to successfully cross the Antarctic continent. Due to heavier than expected sea ice, the Endurance was trapped short of her destination & was frozen in over the winter.
Shackleton's famous advert for crew: South Pole Pub, Annascaul
After eight months of being trapped, the pressure of the ice finally cracked the hull & water started to pour in. The crew were forced to abandon the ship & set up a base on the ice. After the ship sank a few weeks later, Shackleton & the crew spent two months on a large ice floe, hoping it would drift towards Paulet Island, 250 miles away where they knew stores were cached. After another couple of months, they transferred to another ice floe for another couple of months. This floe drifted to within 60 miles of Paulet Island, but they were stopped by impassable ice. The floe broke in half in April 1916 & Shackleton ordered the men to take to the three lifeboats & take to the open seas. They reached the uninhabited Elephant Island after five days at sea.
Window celebrating the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition on the Endurance: Showing one of ship photographer Frank Hurley's superb photos of the Endurance, South Pole Pub, Annascaul
Ten days later, Shackleton along with Captain Frank Worsley, Second Officer Tom Crean, John sailors John Vincent & Timothy McCarthy & carpenter Harry McNish, set off in the James Caird, the strongest of the lifeboats, to sail the 830 miles to South Georgia. After fifteen days, thanks to the navigational skills of Worsley they sighted the Southern side of South Georgia. But hurricane force winds stopped them landing for another day. They landed on the unoccupied Southern side of the island. It was a further thirty two miles across the island & it took nearly two days for Shackleton, Worsley & Crean to cross the snow covered mountains, before they finally made it to the isolated whaling station at Stromness. Shackleton, Worsley & Crean entered the history books in a tale of epic survival.
Tom Crean's status: Tom Crean's Memorial Park, Annascaul
A boat was immediately dispatched to rescue Vincent, McCarthy & McNish. It was to be a longer wait for the remaining men stranded on Elephant Island & it took Shackleton three attempts over four months before they were finally rescued on 30 Aug 1916 on a Chilean boat. The whole story sounds more like the imagination of a Hollywood film than reality (although Hollywood would probably add Kate Winslet as ship's nurse & thrown in a Great White Shark attack tearing a boat in half in their usual crassness). Shackleton returned to Chile without losing any of his crew: an amazing feat. Many of his crew joined up to flight in the First World War. Timothy McCathy & Third Officer Alfred Cheetham both lost their lives at sea after being torpedoed on different ships before the end of the war.
Tom Crean's status: Tom Crean's Memorial Park, Annascaul
Tom Crean's status with two of the sled dog puppies: Tom Crean's Memorial Park, Annascaul
The Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition had a second ship, the Aurora which had sailed at the same time as Shackleton to lay out food depots along the second half of Shackleton's intended cross polar route. While ten of the men, including the expedition leader, Aeneas Mackintosh, were on the ice laying out the depots, the Aurora broke free of her moorings in a storm. She was unable to return after the storm due to the ice conditions. Later she became trapped in ice & drifted well away from where the men were on the ice. After a year, she finally escaped the ice and was forced to return to New Zealand. On reaching Chile & hearing the news, Shackleton left for New Zealand, where he managed to arrange a rescue expedition for the ten stranded men on the Aurora. He rescued seven of the ten men originally stranded on the ice. Unfortunately, three (including Mackintosh) had died while being stranded on the ice.
Stone from near to Shackleton's Grave: Tom Crean's Memorial Park, Annascaul
Memorial plaque: Tom Crean's Memorial Park, Annascaul
For those of you who have got this far into this story will perhaps be wondering why I've chosen to tell this story when the last couple of Posts have been about the Royal Tern twitch. Well by chance, my B&B on the night of seeing the Royal Tern was in Annascaul, which was Tom Crean birth place. He was an Able Seaman on Scott's Discovery Expedition of 1901-04. He returned to the Antarctic with Scott as a Petty Officer on the Terra Nova Expedition 1911-13. That wasn't enough for him & he sailed for the final time with Shackleton as Second Officer. Having made it home to Ireland, he spend a few more years in the navy, before returning to Annascaul & opening a pub called the South Pole pub. He ran the pub until his death in 1938 at the age of 61.
The South Pole Pub, Annascaul: Having read a bit more about the life of Tom Crean, I will have to make a return visit to Annascaul when there is an future excuse to head over to Ireland

28 Aug 16 - Portland, Ireland

After seeing the Royal Tern, Dave, Paul & I decided to head for Inch Beach on the Dingle peninsula rather than dash for the Rosslare ferry & a return to the UK. Dave & Paul were keen to run the Moth trap they had brought & I was keen to head to any potential Birding spots on the West coast. Inch Beach is a great looking sandy peninsula that sticks out about two or three miles into Dingle Bay on the South side of the Dingle peninsula.
Inch Beach: What a stunning beach
Inch Bay
There was a good roost of Gulls on the beach, but I failed to find any interesting Gulls in the flock.
Inch Beach: Looking towards Slea Head
The drawback with Inch Bay was it was still school holidays & there is limited accommodation next to the beach. In the end, we found one room with B&B for Dave & Paul within walking distance of the beach. Dave set the Moth trap running around dusk & they were planning on an early start to check it at dawn. I ended up in the next small town of Annascaul, about five miles further up the road. My priority as sole driver, was to get a good nights sleep, rather than an early start to check Moth trap. After breakfast in my B&B, I headed back to collect Dave & Paul. They had had a good night with the Moth trap with a Portland Moth as the highlight.
Portland Moth: This appears to be the first record from Inch Beach for around fifty years & was released soon after
I had assumed this was named after Portland in Dorset, but apparently coincidentally Martin Cade caught one at the Portland Bird Obs only a few days later which is only the second island record of modern times. It is named after the Margaret Bentinck, Duchess of Portland who was an Eighteenth century aristocrat & who had the largest natural history collection of the period.

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.