The unsound approach

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” 
 Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Time isn’t wasted when you’re getting wasted”
Asher Roth

It would be fair to say that at the end of the 2008 trip we were cripplingly disappointed: after a week of fast and furious graft we managed some great supporting cast (15 Ring-necked Ducks, Blue-winged Teal, Long-billed Dowitcher, Sabine’s Gull, 17 Yellow-browed Warblers, Rose-coloured Starling) but just couldn't pull out that headline act. We still can’t believe we didn’t get a yank passerine, in an October when anything and everything seemed to be possible. The Irish contingent stayed on after our departure and bagged an RBF the next day, whilst Hugh returned the following weekend and skored a Semi-P. We were left in no doubt of the potential. In 2009 we planned to put right those wrongs; most of the original team was reassembled (albeit swapping Dan Golden Brown for Mark and Derek Charles for ‘Ultra’ Rob Vaughan). We had the measure of the island, we expected big things...

An advance party of Alex and James were dispatched on the 2nd with a plan of checking some mainland wader hotspots bookmarked in July. But in a day and a quarter of foul nor'westers, the haul was a total blank. When your highlight is a partial albino Rock Pipit, you know things aren't going to plan....

Presumed  White-headed Marsh Tyrant (Arundinicola leucocephala) in a previously undescribed plumage? This austral migrant has long been predicted as a potential vagrant  - indeed, we've calculated that a 180 degree reversal of the route taken from their nest to a nearby pond leads directly to this Galway beach - paper in preparation (AL)

After a second night of bad sleep in a hire car on the Slyne machair, the wind had dropped the following morning (the 4th) and a check of the sycamores immediately delivered a Red-breasted Flycatcher, along with a Garden Warbler, two Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler. Whilst we were under the trees a generic rare wader called three times (sounded a bit like LRP) and a Redpoll sp, went over. The flycatcher was the 4th Galway record, the Garden the first of the year (!). Spirits and expectations were raised, and we expected Arctic Warbler at any second, but then had to dash south to Galway city to catch a boat....

Sly(ne) RBF (AL)

Meanwhile Dan had driven over from Glasgow and entertained himself with a seawatch off Downpatrick Head from 1715-1900: two adult Sabs, 26 Poms (all ads), 22 Bonxies, 1 Arctic Skua, 275 Sooties, 135 Manx and 1 Balearic. He then camped in the car o'night and managed to bag the Snowy Owl at Termon Hill the following morning....   

Pottertastic (DB)

RMo and RMa made their way up from Shannon and got a ride in Dan's sickness stimulator/simulator and by the evening the team assembled in the Kilronan bar. Already there was nuch talk of frustratron at the weather - 2008 it wasn't. Still, beggars can't be choosers and next morning we got down to business.... 

A photograph that sums up some of the excitingness (is that a real word?) of Inishmore, remember what was on here last year. Considering this site only gets checked on a handful of days a year, one just wonders how many rare crakes and waders have graced this shoreline, gazed at only by cows. By comparsion, how often does Porthhellick get rare birds, considering it's checked daily?  (AL).

Semi-systematic list of species that are marginally more interesting than the species that aren't interesting at all, but to be fair aren't interesting either....

Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus)

At least 6 individuals present on the island all week, well inventoried on account of rare rallid possibilities.


Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

Common Snipe (AL). Check out (as best you can) the plumage details on these presumed faeroensis Snipe (or just standard local Common?). Underwing, flank barring, toe projection etc obviously not useful features when considering delicata. The same goes for all other features. 

Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus)

One on 'Dowitcher Marsh' on the 8th and 10th.

Jack (AL)

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa)

One on the 9th, an island first. Remember the island has had two Red-eyed Vireos and a Blackpoll...

Stock Dove (Columba oenas)

Three on the 6th, an island first...

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

 Date  5th  6th  7th  8th  9th  10th
 Number  4  6  5  3  3  7

Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)

Two on the 8th were about the only certain new arrivals of anything all week.


Redwing (Turdus iliacus)

Three on the 5th, one on the 7th.

Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla)

 Date  5th  6th  7th  8th  9th  10th
 Number  3  2  4  3  3  3

Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin)

 Date  5th  6th  7th  8th  9th  10th
 Number  1  1  1  2  3  3

Lesser Whitethroat (Sylvia curruca)
A good bird out west, these and one on Inishboffin are the only Galway records this year... At least 3 birds were involved. 
 Date  5th  6th  7th  8th  9th  10th
 Number  1  2  2  1  1  1



Yellow-browed Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus)

Hugh had one on the Monday (his last day) after the rest of us had left: who knows how many sibes filtered through the observer-less island in the rest of that week...

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita)

About 70% of the birds gave the retro-classic "hueet" call, whilst the rest gave the now east-coast population norm "swee-oo".

Date  5th  6th  7th  8th  9th  10th
Number  21  6  15  17  18  23

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)

Two birds present for most of the week in the 'Vireo Garden' were assigned to acredula.

Date  5th  6th  7th  8th  9th  10th
Number  3  2  5  10  6  5

Eastern Willow Warblers, top JG, bottom RMo

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)

Last year we had up to 120 per day, this year (in common with the rest of the country) they had failed to arrive. Also no Coal Tits (or any other Parids) this year.

Date  5th  6th  7th  8th  9th  10th
Number  7  0  12  7  5  4

Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax)

Probably got more attention this year...


Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)

One on 5th-7th!!!!

Siskin (Carduelis spinus)

One present on the 8th, cf last year's high count of 30.

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)

Unrecorded last year.

Date  5th  6th  7th  8th  9th  10th
Number  2  1  1  0  1  0

both RMo, the showy bird present near Gort, which caused momentary excitement for AL when he nearly ran it over.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)

Two were present from the 5th to the 8th in Dun Aengus, joined by a male briefly on the 7th.

the new male on the 7th (RMo)

showed well, not that anyone really cares... (DB)

The rest, species in bold face were new on last year:

Mute Swan Cygnus olor, Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus, Brent Goose Branta bernicla, Wigeon Anas penelope, Teal Anas crecca,Mallard Anas platyrhynchos,  Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator, Pheasant Phasianus colchicus, Great Northern Diver Gavia immer, Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis, Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis, Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus, Gannet Morus bassanus, Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo, Shag Phalacrocorax aristotelis, Grey Heron Ardea cinerea, Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, Merlin  Falco columbarius, Peregrine Falco peregrinus, Water Rail Rallus aquaticus, Moorhen Gallinula chloropus, Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula, Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria, Lapwing Vanellus vanellus, Sanderling Calidris alba, Dunlin Calidris alpina, Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica, Curlew Numenius arquata, Redshank Tringa totanus, Greenshank Tringa nebularia, Turnstone Arenaria interpres, Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus, Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus, Common Gull Larus canus, Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus, Herring Gull Larus argentatus, Great Black-backed Gull Larus marinus, Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea, Sandwich Tern Sterna sandvicensis, Guillemot Uria aalge, Razorbill Alca torda, Black Guillemot Cepphus grylle, Rock Dove Columba livia, Woodpigeon Columba palumbus, Collared Dove Streptopelia decaocto, Skylark Alauda arvensis, Swallow Hirundo rustica, Meadow Pipit Anthus pratensis, Rock Pipit Anthus petrosus, Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea, Pied Wagtail Motacilla alba yarrellii, Wren Troglodytes troglodytes, Dunnock Prunella modularis, Robin Erithacus rubecula, Stonechat Saxicola torquatus, Blackbird Turdus merula, Song Thrush Turdus philomelos, Magpie Pica pica, Jackdaw Corvus monedula, Rook Corvus frugilegus, Hooded Crow Corvus cornix, Raven Corvus corax, Starling Sturnus vulgaris, House Sparrow Passer domesticus, Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis, Linnet Carduelis cannabina, Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus


So, we didn't get shit. Literally nothing to text home about. Dire. Oh how we longed for those bird-filled nettles of Shetland!! Come back Northlink, all is forgiven!! Still, despite the complete lack of birding interest, we had a great time. The craic was good, the sun came out a few times; we all basically had a pleasant cycling holiday, like the ones Judith Chalmers used to have on Wish You Were Here... 

Despite our failures, that corner of Western Island has had a good autumn in general; Michael O'Brian found an Isabelline Shrike on Achill Island to the north, and after we left, Anthony McGeehan and Craig Nash nailed an ultra-crippling Cedar Waxwing on Inishboffin (which would've looked pretty sweet in the roses at Bungowla),  and David McAdams found a Blyth's Reed Warbler on Achill Island. Considering that coverage out here is so minimal, that's way more exciting birds than were for instance found anywhere in Eastern England (with the highest birder density anywhere on earth) in the same time period.


Fig. 1. Locations of key NW coast sites.

So what of the period we were on, why the blank? Well, it wasn't just dead on Inishmore, basically Ireland had virtually no new birds (with the exception of Cape, which mustered 2 AGPs, Arctic Warbler and 2 RBFs) and Scillies was at its quietest in at least two decades. Norfolk, Yorks, Kent and about everywhere else had nothing. Only Shetland did well during the week, so not really all that surprising we scored a duck. The previous week on Shetland had been dire, with Arctic Warblers about the only thing on offer (so it was no surprise that one eventually trickled down to Cork, presume "ours" got lost on the way?). It seems likely that it takes sibes at least a week from arriving in the far north-east to trickle down as far as western Ireland. Given the big arrivals happening on Shetland whilst we were out there,  we dread to think what made it to Inishmore after we left it alone.

 County  Vagrants between 4/10/09 - 10/10/09
 Galway  Dick all
 Mayo  Snowy Owl, Isabelline Shrike
 Cork  Arctic Warbler
 Scilly  Long-billed Dowitcher, Paddyfield Warbler
 Norfolk  Glossy Ibis
 North Yorkshire  
 Outer Hebrides Long-billed Dowitcher, Snowy Owl, Olive-backed Pipit, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler
 Shetland Gyr Falcon,Veery, White's Thrush, Olive-backed Pipit, Pechora Pipit, Lanceolated Warbler, River Warbler, Savi's Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Western Bonelli's Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Taiga Flycatcher.

So, is Inishmore any good? Well, yes, its has had three American passerines before and has scarcely received any coverage. Last autumn we found about 18 Asian passerines and 17 Nearctic ducks and waders in a week, so in theory it should still come good. Obviously it isn't as good as the Cork headlands for trickle-down, otherwise we should have got at least something, but last year Inishmore fared better than Cape during the week we were there. Some folk have been worried about the location - slightly set back in Galway Bay (see Fig.1), yet the same can be said of say Lundy and the Isle of May, which don't struggle to deliver. Basically the golden rule is time. In one week you can be struck with the same crap weather. In two you have got the chance of a regime change to something good. Saying that, even on Fair Isle there are horror stories of nothing in three weeks, but that's the chance you take. These peripheral 'fringe' sites are not likely to be as good as the likes of Scilly and Cap Clear, yet given the manpower and time, the chance of a 'mega' may be similar, and the enjoyment factor will be so much more. So what of the chance of scarce? Well, looking back we did ok last year, and delving into the archives, Inishmore had both Barred Warbler and Red-backed Shrike in a five day period in early October 1927 (both lighthouse kills), but it would be good to have clarification about how 'one-off' these observations were. Interannual variation in success can be high at west coast sites even if you go for several weeks. Witness the highly variable returns from Barra for instance. I guess without persistence, we'll never know....

Afterthought: Mammals

Dan spent an inordinate amount of time at the top of Dun Aengus where he saw several Minkie Whales, Harbour Porpoises and some sizeable pods of Common and Bottle-nosed Dolphins. He also had a Striped Dolphin accompanying a pod of the former. Things got so quiet late in the week that Brown Rat counts featured heavily in the log...

Rich's highlight (RMo) 

Rob looking for Paddyfield (DB)

Golden giving it some big concentration... (AL)

It was surprising how often this team could be found hanging around the Spar... (AL)

Rob pulls off his best Father Jack Hackett face (DB)

Chiffchaff in the lobster pots at the far west end, the only 'out-of-place' migrant there all week, Dan nearly fell off his bike when he got a glimpse of it disappearing over the wall. In any other week it could have been an Orange-crowned Warbler... (well maybe) (AL)

AL's previous search image for lobster traps (Nova Scotia, AL) next year maybe? Or will we be stuck on Shetland finding Pechoras in Rob's garden?

Windy (AL)