The unsound approach

Planning autumn trips seems to get exponentially harder every year... Gone are the frivolous days when the calendar was wide open, now the negotiations over date and location seem to take all year and involve more amendments than a UN resolution. We all wanted to go to St Kilda, but then again we all want a lot of things we can't have. We couldn’t squeeze onto Foula, and we couldn't face a return to Inishmore after the horrors of last time. Due to some unfortunate work / intercontinental travel restrictions, it was decided that the traditional Octoberfest holiday would have to be brought forward to September.  Where can you reliably find rare birds in September? The answer was obvious... Kerry! Isn’t it?

DB managed to sort out digs in Dingle and the team slowly coalesced. Dan arrived first on the 18th, followed by AL & RMa the next day, then JG, RMo & MO on the Wednesday. The exit was equally complex and convoluted, with AL & DB last to leave on the 26th. Tactics were the same as usual: find rare or die trying. For once the weather gods did us some favours and served up some tasty depressions in the days prior to our visit. Expectations were high.... Check out this habo'...

The Blaskets (once home of Rose-breasted Grosbeak & Yellow-rumped Warbler) taken from Coumeenoole (once home of Cliff Swallow) (AL)

Dunquin, looking out to the Tearacht (AL)

Coumeenoole from the top of the valley (DB)

This bit has Yellowthroat written all over it (DB)

What we saw:

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
Dawn on the 24th September was crisp and clear and felt heavy with both eastern and western promise. So said someone else. Unfortunately, none of us managed to get out of the house before 9.30am. In fact, it was the fifth morning that at least one team member had vowed they were "never drinking again". A coin was flipped, DB, RMa and AL got heads and were dispatched to Ventry, the latter sole apparently ‘near death’. Shortly afterward the dead rose, however, when the radio crackled with DB's voice ‘probable Semi-P-Plover, bring your recording gear!’... Whilst walking up the beach, DB and RMa had heard a weird wader noise which RMa immediately suggested could be Semi-plover. A frantic search found the candidate, which looked suitably monster. Pulses quickened... AL then arrived at a shamefully low velocity, but did at least manage to secure sound-recordings and some crappy photos.  Done and dusted? Pressure off? Pop the corks? The bird was having none of it. It wasn’t settled, it kept flying and calling and then went stratospheric and disappeared across the bay. Shite.

AL looked back at the poor photos: the gape-line noted in the field wasn’t visible at all. No eye ring. Jizz looked great, however, and the call was unmistakeable. The team was quickly joined by a massively disappointed Mark Telfer (all-taxa lister and all-round supremo) who had walked the beach only minutes previously, before turning round to see "folk with scopes sprinting across the beach".

No sign, poor pics, muffled recording. Could we claim it? DB was totally convinced, RMa equally so but AL was keen to err on the side of caution. We summoned JG, RMo and MO (who were themselves embroiled in a fruitless search for a calling mega wader on the other side of the peninsula, the less said about that the better...) and released the news to a few locals in the hope of widening the search. However, hours passed and we continued to draw a blank.

Thankfully, fortune finally shone on us - late in the pm Michael O’Keeffe called to say he had relocated it back at the same spot. He'd picked it up on plumage alone still hadn't heard it call -  big skills! We watched it for a very quiet hour, took hundreds of photos and then finally it opened that tiny beak and made the same noise as we had heard early on. Done and dusted. The 2nd or 3rd for Ireland, and very nice it was too.

The only useful pic from the morning left a lot to be desired (AL), the gape-line wasn't visible, so we were suitably worried that the interweb pundits might crucify us if this was the best doc we had. That said, the sound recordings should have probably been enough. Note how the width of the breast band varies with ambient temperature; in the morning it was warm but in the evening it was freezing and the bird 'puffed up'. 

note 'chick-like' jizz and semipalmations in both 'gaps' (DB)

Fringey (DB)

gape detail (DB). Also see pics here.

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)
DB picked up two Semis on the 18th – one at Ferriters (probably a new bird) and one at Balle an Rannaig (old news), as well as two probable Semi's in flight at Blennerville (a site which a couple of days later held two). The former was gone the next day but the latter stayed until at least the 21st. More exciting was the Calidris superflock that JG and AL stumbled upon at the end of Derrymore Strand on 23rd. At least 700 Calidrids were grovelling in the seaweed at our feet; the first 20 minutes of grilling them was as exciting as wadering gets... AL was first on the ball with a frustrating Little Stint, followed a minute later by JG upping the quality with a Semi-P. Finally AL confirmed a second Semi-P (also independently located by DB from a different position) along with a dose of about 20 Curlew Sandpipers. Smart. Both Semi's were still present on 25th (and possibly others, difficult to count as they kept getting 'shuffled' by a juv Peregrine).

Smerwick Semi (RMa)

Smerwick Semi (DB)

(RMa)

Dan toying with someone else's Semi (AL)

Three species of Calidris on Derrymore Strand (AL)

Derrymore Semi-p (DB)

(DB)

(JG)

Little Stint (Calidris minuta)
One at Derrymore Strand on 21st.

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
The 26th started in a rather ‘exciting’ manner when the team suffered a puncture on the way to the airport, meaning that RMa and JG very nearly lost their flights. Big thanks to Ed Carty for setting out to rescue us, even if a friendly farmer’s bottle of WD40 hadn’t already saved the day. As it was, their luck in making it to the airport turned out to be something of a double-edged sword...

After fixing the tyre AL and DB headed over to Carrahane where DB used AL’s ‘own brand’ Jedi mind tricks against him, offering up unfettered access to the mudflats in exchange for the  machair (totally birdless on the previous visit). The result was another yet another DB glory... Half an hour later and ‘wallop’, he was buzzed by a tiny peep that was whirling around with the Meadow Pipits... “Probable Least” crackled over the radio. AL scurried over and after a frantic search the bird appeared, sat quietly on a pool 50m away. A somewhat atypical pale one, but post-hoc consultation of the available literature showed that we hadn’t jumped the red light. More Pro-Brownian magic.

Last and but not least of the finds (DB)

(AL)

this taken whilst prostrate inside the pool (AL)


White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicolis)

One adult at Trabeg throughout.

(RMa)

(DB)

Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)
RMo found one at Castlegregory on the 23rd (still present the next day), DB found one at Derrymore on the 24th. DB also had a previously recorded bird at Carrahane on the 18th.

Castlegregory Pec (DB)

(DB)

Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea)
One at Burnham Lagoon all week, up to 15 Blennerville, 20 Derrymore Strand, 16 Carrahane...

Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Tryngites subruficollis)

DB saw 3 at Carrahane on the 18th, with two present there on the 26th (DB & AL).

BBS (AL)

this one showed down to 'walking over my face' (AL)

Grey Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)

DB found one in Ventry on the 18th, and two past Slea Head on the 21st.

We thought you might have all had enough of crippling phalarope shots on Birdguides, so here's something completely different (DB)


Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
The long-staying adult was at Blackrock Strand on 26th (last reported in late August).


Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)
One at Dunquin on the 25th.

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Just a few singles with the exception of the 26th when there was a sizeable fall around Carrahane.

Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella naevia)
One at Coumeenoole on the19th.

BLYTH'S REED WARBLER (Acrocephalus dumetorum)
Glanfahan must be one of the best looking vagrant traps in Ireland, sheltered and facing the south coast with little cover in the vicinity. Yet again it was DB doing the damage on the morning of the 20th, with the radio message “I’ve got a warbler”  being followed quickly by “I think it’s a Blyth’s Reed”, getting RMa and AL scrambling up to join him and what soon resolved into a textbook dumetorum. It was bouncing around all over the place and proving extremely co-operative.... we stayed until we got the spread-wing shots, and then banged the news out. Another first for Kerry....

going bananas (DB)

looking mega (RMa)

perhaps the most useful in-field shot of Blyth's Reed ever taken? Check out those emarginations... (RMa)

looking like a babbler x chiffchaff hybrid (AL)


Eurasian Reed-warbler (Acrocephalus scirpaceus)
One in Dunquin on the 20th-24th and one at Coumeenoole on the23rd.

Dunquin Reed Warbler (RMa)

(DB)


Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
A minimum total of 8 birds over 9 days!


Common Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)
Minimum 3 birds. Yes we saw just 5 species of warbler!

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)
One at Dunquin on the 19th.

(AL)

Common Rosefinch (Carpodacus erythrinus)

An ultra-flighty grotfinch 'performed badly' in the wind and the rain at Glanfahan, initially identified in flight as about 10 species by DB, RMa and AL on the 21st. It eventually reappeared from cover as an obvious rosefinch, the only 'scarce' passerine of the trip.

Scarlet Grosbeak (RMa)

Conclusion
The Kingdom is great. Great people, great scenery, great beer, great opportunities to find American waders, but apparently not the holy grail yank passerine. Or in fact any landbirds, eastern, western, any. We didn’t see a Sylvia in a week. Keep plugging away though, and the vagrants are always there, as the dumetorum testifies. The difficulty in Kerry is that trade-off between bush and beach, easy wader or 'golden bird'. We found some sort of balance, although admittedly we might have produced a better haul if we'd wasted fewer hours on six Willow Warblers and spent more time in the marshes. More importantly, we would have done far better if we hadn't also traded off in favour of the Guinness... But then it is supposed to be a holiday right? Still, writing this I am about nine times more tired than when I left.  

Dan's secret weapon (AL)

alien versus predator (AL)

reflection on not finding tyrant flycatchers (AL)

Crosh on you (DB)

Deflated on Derrymore Strand (AL)

above the Magic Road (DB)

Some old-skool silliness: Rob trying to surprise a Lancy (DB)


hangovers are suboptimal for rarity-finding

Rich delivers the half-time team talk (AL)