28 May 2024

28 May 24 - Overnight For A Night (Heron)

One the afternoon of 26 May 24, reports appeared on twitter & RBA of a Yellow-crowned Night Heron in Ireland, with the initial twitter suggestions that it was probably ringed. At the time, I dismissed this as an escape on the basis of it being ringed and I carried on with the decorating I was doing. I didn't look at the phone again for any subsequent updates until I finished painting that evening. The updated news was it had been seen by some of the nearest Irish Birders, who had photographed it and confirmed it clearly unringed.

I had a think about a trip over to Ireland While I was eating. I looked at the logistics to get to County Mayo. The good news is I had driven to within a few miles of its location on my last trip to Ireland and so I knew the roads. There wasn't room on the ferry from Pembroke Dock with the start of the UK's half term and it would have mean a longer drive up to Fishguard. But that was an earlier departure and it was getting very tight to try & catch the overnight ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare. The news suggested that the Yellow-crowned Night Heron might have been around for a while and therefore there was a good chance that waiting for a day wouldn't be a problem. It would also allow time to see how the first UK Birders fared in their various routes to get there.

I had another look at ferries to Rosslare when there was early news that the Yellow-crowned Night Heron was still there. There was a smaller ferry running from Pembroke Dock and the day time crossings were full. The first option to get across was that evening's overnight ferry. This is my preferred option anyway, as the ferry arrives around breakfast time the following morning & it allows the full day to get to the location and hopefully see the target species. My other preference is a day time return crossing a day or two later, which allows a bit of contingency time in Ireland, some Irish Birding and a good night's sleep. The day time crossing also allows for some Cetacean and Seabirds to be looked for on the crossing. However, with the smaller ferry & the school holidays, the return daytime ferry was full & I couldn't book the car on it. In the end I decided to settle for two overnight ferry crossings with two days and one night in Ireland. I booked the car onto the ferry & rang my old mate, Pete Aley to confirm I was going & my plans. Pete had been looking at various options for getting across, but after a few minutes, he rang back to say he was interested in teaming up.

In the old days, I would meet up with the Plymouth Birders for an Irish trip at Aust services. This was just before the Severn toll bridge. We would park one of the cars and then carry on with the remaining car. This caused a few problems as the on road parking site we used wasn't ideal & more so, there was one trip where the Plymouth car followed the M4 & before they knew it, they had crossed the toll bridge. They had to return to England again to follow the M48 to Aust services. An expensive mistake in the days before we had mobile phones. Anyway, with the tolls abandoned, we decided to meet up on an urban road, just over the bridge at 22:30, where we could park Pete's car for a couple of days. This gave us plenty of contingency time to get to Pembroke Dock before the last arrival time of 01:45. We arrived about an hour early. We were quickly out of the car on the ferry with our sleeping bags and pillows, and were just in time to grab the last seats we could lie down on in the lounge. However, I don't think I got more than a broken hour or two of sleep on the three & a half hour crossing. But I had enjoyed a few hours of sleep before I left the house & that was enough to keep me going for the following day.
This was the same road I had travelled on to The Mullet after seeing the Least Tern and I did enjoy seeing this group of statues near Tullamore again (8 Jun 22)
We were off the ferry just before 08:00 and five hours later, we were pulling up in the small village of Belcarra about forty miles North of Galway. It had been a pleasant drive across Ireland, on the quiet by English standards, roads. The drive had given Pete & I to have a good chat about Birding on various trips and also put a tentative plan in place for the rest of the trip. Belcarra is halfway between Galway and The Mullet and we were both up for heading in that direction later in the day. I was also keen on looking for the Irish endemic Cryptic Wood White Butterfly on the journey back to Rosslare. I had a couple of good sites in Northern Ireland, but that wasn't on our route. But there was a site about thirty minutes off our route on way back.
Another of the Tullamore statues (8 Jun 22)
We met an Irish Birder as we pulled up, who confirmed that the Yellow-crowned Night Heron was on show & roosting in a tree behind the community centre. A few minutes later, the car was parked up & we were watching it with a handful of other Irish Birders and bemused locals who were seeing what all the fuss was about.
The Yellow-crowned Night Heron was roosting in these trees behind the community centre
Yellow-crowned Night Heron: Initially it was sleeping, but it kept waking up & moving. After a couple of hours it moved to give a good view without any leaves in the way
Yellow-crowned Night Heron: A slightly better view of the yellow crown
There was also a lower path next to the river. We checked it out a couple of times, but the views were never as good as behind the community centre.
Yellow-crowned Night Heron from the lower path: The hope was the Yellow-crowned Night Heron would drop down to the river to feed, but it was still in the trees when we left around 17:30
At one point, I popped back to the car & an Irish guy started asking me questions about the Yellow-crowned Night Heron. After a couple of minutes, he explained he was an RTE reporter & when his cameraman arrived, he asked if he could do a short interview. The result was both Pete & I made it onto the RTE national news that evening, along with Eric Dempsey of Birds Ireland Photography: fame at last.
The RTE camera gear: And there's me thinking my Canon R7 & 100-400mm lens was heavy. This was about as large as the crowd got with three or four others on the lower path
We had to shelter a few times in the community centre as several short, sharp showers arrived, but they cleared after a few minutes. We had been hanging in the hope that the Yellow-crowned Night Heron would drop into the river to start feeding on the local White-clawed Crayfish, but it didn't. But I did manage to see my first native White-clawed Crayfish from the lower path as we waited.
Grey Wagtail: The local pair of Grey Wagtails were finding plenty of food for their chicks
Eventually, we decided to head off to The Mullet. There was an Elegant Tern hanging around a Sandwich Tern colony, which also had a few Arctic Terns in it. After a ninety minute drive, we arrived at a small croft, where we could distantly scope the colony. Google Maps showed that the island the colony was on was only one kilometre away, but with the poor light it seemed further. We had been told that at any time we would see about fifty or so Sandwich Terns, but that number would increase to a couple of hundred or more Terns, if they were spooked. This was the best chance of seeing the Elegant Tern, unless we saw in fly in or out of the colony. We spent about forty-five minutes looking, but without any joy. The plan for the evening was Pete was booking into a local three star hotel, while I had a booking in the Focus Hotel at Cross Lough. There is a toilet at the Lough and it's a great place for sleeping in the car, with the added bonus of some early morning Birding. We found a great pub in Belmullet for evening, where I managed to avoid the Guinness: Ireland is about the only place I half-regret giving up drinking back in 2011.
Irish Biscuits: Fortunately, we didn't quality to buy these Twitcher unfriendly biscuits
I said goodbye to Pete about 22:00 & headed off the short distance to Cross Lough for the evening. I arrived at the same time that another couple arrived & I was ready to get some well-deserved sleep in the car while they were still mucking around with putting a tent up. It had been a good successful day and the UK/Irish List has increased to 563 with eight species only seen in Ireland.