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Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The coast less travelled. Dingle Bay's wilder spots

There's nothing quite like a good auld bird survey to get you out of your comfort zone and into areas were few have been. This spring and summer, there was to be a national Peregrine Falcon survey, organised by the Irish Raptor Survey Group, with the input of National Parks and Wildlife Service, BirdWatch Ireland, and many keen volunteers. Armed with OS maps and aerial photos of our assigned areas, the mission was to locate nesting Peregrines, wherever they might be.

The object of all our attention, a magnificent Peregrine Falcon, location withheld (All photos: M.O'Clery, June and July 2017).

Peregrines will most often breed on cliffs, though of course that might include man-made versions, such as castles, quarries and even high rise flats, gasometers and church steeples. Not too many gasometers in Kerry however. The survey brief was to visit each and every such cliff in a 5km square and establish whether they were breeding. I was to cover around 20 such squares, almost all in Kerry.

Stunning coastline, Dingle Bay, near Lispole.

Most suitable cliff habitat in Kerry is along the coast, though of course there is some in the higher mountains inland, but it was quite an eye-opener to realise how extensive and remote some of these areas were. Huge chunks of coastline in Kerry have no roads nearby, barely any paths, and are quite some distance from either a house or road if you should get into difficulty. A broken ankle, a tumble over boulders, your iPhone running out of battery or the realisation that you left the immersion on and you need to get back home RIGHT NOW are all issues that need to be considered before you set off to some of these remoter spots.

Out of curiosity, I did a map (below) of the general areas I was to survey, showing just how much of west Kerry might be considered 'remote'. Check out just how much of the coastline is away from roads and houses. The pale blue grid lines are 1km squares.

'Remoteness map' for west Kerry (M.O'Clery). 
Areas in black are within 200m of a proper road or an inhabited house. Areas in pink are 200m to 1km from safety, tv and electric kettles. Areas in orange are 1km or more from help and thus firmly in 'Bear Grylls' territory.

But away from the coastal roads and popular tourist lay-bys along the coast there are huge swathes of gorgeous unspoilt coastline, and with a variety of interesting birds to be seen. Here's a range of images which I hope conveys the beauty of these spots and which, until the Peregrine Survey came along, I was largely oblivious to.

Sit down a moment, put the phone away, and soak it in. Coast near Trabeg. 

In the photo above, the island just right of centre had a colony of around 50 pairs of Herring Gull. Not bad for a Red-listed species. On the stack to the right, nesting Shag, while Fulmars and Rock Dove nested along the cliffs to the left.

Stack, near Trabeg.

This prominent landmark can be seen from as far away as the road on the Dingle side of the Conor Pass, but the adjacent coastline has no paths or roads, so it is a bit of a hike to see it close up, but well worth the effort. Although it has nesting Fulmar and Shag it is also used on occasions by rock climbers, as evidenced by multiple climbing ropes left littering the rock faces.

Shag nest, with climbing rope adornment.

Nesting Fulmar, Dingle Bay.

Almost all sections of vertical or near vertical cliff in Dingle Bay have nesting Fulmars albeit in low densities. There were rarely more than about 15 pairs in any single view, but virtually all sections of coast had at least a few, often tucked away under boulders or ledges. Numbers are hard to quantify, but there must have been 150 to 200 pairs along the entire stretch from Inch to Slea Head.

Beach near Kells.

This spot looked like something in Thailand with lush greenery stretching down to a pristine sandy beach. You'll need a boat though, as there is no access other than by the sea. 

Beach near Kells.

And just offshore from this beach, Gannets were diving into crystal clear water, allowing a rare opportunity to actually follow their dives under the water.

Iveragh Peninsula on a sunny day.

Aw, jaysus. Gorgeous. It might be considered an Irish cliche, but this (above) is a real place, with real thatched cottage and real uninhabited, remote, vast mountains stretching into the distance. AND it's the Iveragh Peninsula on a perfect sunny day. Rarer than a royal flush in a poker game, with a live Dodo, during an eclipse.

If anyone from Failte Ireland is interested in the location of this image for their promotional literature, I am open to persuasion to reveal the location with, of course, the usual finders fee.

Skylark, near Anascaul

Plenty of song within earshot, thanks to the near continuous efforts of the local Skylarks, though this one chose a slight rise on the cliff top to woo the ladies rather than flying high over its territory. Lazy.

Rock Dove, near Minard

A much underrated resident of the Kerry coastline, or at least the rockier, cliffier bits. Most, like this one, are pure bred, untainted by the city version which attracts such disdain from birders and non-birders.

Juvenile Raven, near Minard.

During the survey, Peregrines were scarce enough, though a few pairs of Kestrel enlivened things, but there were several family parties of Raven still patrolling the cliffs in loose gangs.

Herring Gull nesting near Minard.

Like Fulmars, there are low densities of Herring Gull nests all along the cliffs of Dingle Bay. Not as plentiful as Fulmar, but important nonetheless. Many, like the one above, were nesting singly, rather than in the more typical colonies.

Juvenile Wheaters, near Trabeg.

The nest was in the low stone wall just below where the birds are perched.

Sea stack, Iveragh Peninsula.

About 20 pairs of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and 15 or so of Herring Gulls were nesting on this sea stack, west of Kells, as well as a few more Fulmars and another family party of Ravens. 

Now, I'm not a betting man, though last time I checked online it was odds on that I would become one within the next year and Paddy Power were even offering 5-2 that I would within the next 2 years, so obviously I put a hundred quid on that, but I bet if someone was brave enough or mad enough to land on this stack at night they would find a fairly large undetected Storm Petrel colony on it too. Lots of tussocky grass, not a hope of a land predator reaching it. Looks perfect. Maybe even Manx Shearwaters?

Waterfall, near the Conor Pass.

I've lived in Kerry for 17 years now, and until the Peregrine Survey came along had no idea this hugely impressive lake and waterfall existed. Officially, Ireland's largest is Powerscourt Waterfall in Co. Wicklow, at 121m high. So how come this beautiful spot doesn't even get a mention when you Google 'Irish waterfalls'? It doesn't even have a name on the Ordnance Survey maps, yet by my own estimate is 180m high. 

Am I missing something? Perhaps like mountains, there is a clear definition of what a waterfall is and this one is not 'vertical' enough? The photo above was taken after a largely dry summer, so I can only imagine it is many times more impressive after a more typical Kerry wet month of heavy rain. There are 18 different types of waterfall, in case you were wondering, including a 'plunge', a 'punchbowl', a 'horsetail' and a 'chute' (a full list is HERE). I think this one best suits the definition 'cascade', a waterfall which descends over a series of rocky steps. A hidden gem though and, again, if Failte Ireland want to know where it is, they'll need to dig deep into their corporate pockets for me to reveal the location. For the rest of you, it's on the east side of Lough Duin, 3.8km north-east of the Conor Pass on the Dingle Peninsula.

Peregrine Falcon (location withheld).

The results of the Peregrine Survey are being collated and analysed now and will be available soon. We'll lash the relevant Kerry stuff on the blog when it is published.

Monday, 21 August 2017

Late Barn Owl nest in Kerry

Four newly hatched Barn Owl chicks, east Kerry, 10th August 2017 (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).

This nest box in east Kerry was checked on Thursday 10th August and the young Barn Owls were just hatching. Eggs are laid one to two days apart, so there is always a difference in size between chicks, yet the oldest was only a few days old, and there were still two unhatched eggs. The eggs would have been laid in the first week of July.

If they survive, the chicks will be fledging in mid-October, an extremely late date.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Med Gull, Black Rock

Juvenile Mediterranean Gull (left) with Black-headed Gull, Black Rock, 17th August 2017 (David O'Connor).

Numbers of 'Med' Gulls continue to rise in Kerry, with record numbers seen in the mid-summer period though, as juvenile birds disperse away quickly from their breeding colonies, their appearance at that time doesn't necessarily mean they have bred nearby. 

Nesting Mediterranean Gulls have been spreading north and west in Europe in the last decade, first nesting in Ireland at Lady's Island Lake in Wexford in 1995, and nesting has been regular ever since. 72 pairs bred there in 2016 (see the National Park and Wildlife Report HERE) while in Northern Ireland, seven pairs nested at Larne Lough and two nested at the RSPB reserve in Belfast Harbour in 2017 (see HERE). Fledged juveniles had left the nest site in Wexford by 11th July.

A common characteristic of colonising Mediterranean Gulls is that they have a strong preference to nest within colonies of Black-headed Gulls (often with Sandwich Terns present too) for added protection from predators. Unfortunately, the chances of them colonising Kerry are now considerably lessened by the recent demise of Kerry's only Black-headed Gull colony at Kilmacalogue Harbour in Kenmare Bay.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Immature Spoonbill, Fertha Estuary

Sub adult Spoonbill, Fertha Estuary, near Caherciveen (with thanks to P.Mullarkey).

This bird appeared at the Fertha Estuary around the 27th July and was seen on several subsequent evenings going to roost nearby with up to 17 Little Egrets. It was also occasionally seen feeding on the estuary. 

At the time, with the age of the bird unknown, it was thought that it might be the adult which has wintered at Cromane for the last eleven winters, but the broad area of pale, rather than yellow on the tip of the bill shows it to be an immature, possibly in its second year, and therefore obviously a 'new' bird.

With thank to P. Mullarkey and D. Kavanagh.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The two oldest known Barn Owls are from Kerry

The Kerry male at his nest box near Tralee in spring 2016. He is by now nine years old, (M.O'Clery).

Ireland's oldest known Barn Owl - covered in a post from last March HERE - has survived the summer, and raised two chicks at his nest site near Tralee. However, his crown is now challenged by the discovery of another male of the same age.

A few days ago, a ringed male Barn Owl, discovered at a nest site near Ballinskelligs, was trapped, and found to have been ringed in 2008 about ten km away, in the same year as our old timer from the Tralee site.

The Ballinskelligs male, now also nine years old, August 2017 (C. Nelms).

Let's hope they both survive the coming winter and keep going. 

Ringing of Barn Owls in Ireland only really started in earnest in Ireland in 2007, so it is possible that we might yet encounter an even older Barn Owl somewhere in Ireland.

See the Irish Raptor Blog HERE for a full rundown on the story of the Tralee bird, and HERE for info on the Ballinskelligs bird.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Yellow-legged Gull, Carrahane

Left) Yellow-legged Gull, with Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Carrahane, 2nd July 2017 (David O'Connor).

Yellow-legged Gull, possibly of the generally smaller and darker race lusitanius (northern Atlantic Iberian form), found by David on 2nd July. David adds, "I'm basing this on jizz, size, primary pattern, proportions [e.g. head shape and attenuated rear end], slightly darker mantle tone, state of moult, shorter tibiae, gonys spot bleeding on to upper mandible, etc." Nice one.

Right) Yellow-legged Gull, with Lesser Black-backed Gull, Carrahane, 2nd July 2017 (David O'Connor).

Right) Yellow-legged Gull, with Lesser Black-backed Gull, Carrahane, 2nd July 2017 (David O'Connor).

Right) Yellow-legged Gull, with Lesser Black-backed Gull, Carrahane, 2nd July 2017 (David O'Connor).

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Astonishing new ID criteria - Dipper

You see a plump, dark brown bird, feeding along a fast-flowing river in the west of Ireland. You glimpse a white breast, straightish bill and a shortish tail. What could it be? There are any number of species which it might be. A young Cormorant? A Dipper? A Ring Ouzel? Or a... well, ok, three species it might be. Ok, it's constantly diving in the whitewater, so probably not Ring Ouzel. Two species it might be then.

So, still perplexed, you have it narrowed down to (a) young Cormorant, or (b) Dipper.

We are happy to reveal here, exclusively, on the Kerry Birding Blog, a 100 percent foolproof, brand new identification feature, which can clinch this identification conundrum, one which has perplexed the finest minds of the finest birders for decades.

Dippers have pink thighs. Young Cormorants don't...

Simple as that.

See the photos below. Identification secured. Enough said. Boom! Back of the net.

Fast-flowing river, dark brown bird, white breast. What could it be? Well, in this case, a young Cormorant, until now, fiendishly difficult to separate from Dipper. Ignore the brownish bird with the red breast, on the left.

So what about this one? Hard to know. But WAIT!... is there a hint of pink there? Near the top of the legs? Location withheld, but not too far away (M.O'Clery).

Young Cormorant! I mean... Dipper!. No! Young Cormorant! No! Must be a Dipper... Wait, no... Ring Ouz... Oh, I don't know. Hang on... Let me have a closer look at the thighs... *  (M.O'Clery).


It's a Dipper!

Thank you Kerry Birding Blog!


* Location withheld, but a different location from the above photo, which gives additional credibility to this whole ID criteria thing by now having a sample size of two.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Worst Hedgerow in Ireland? Kerry has a strong contender

"This is Kerry, west of Dingle. June 2016. Colaiste Íde, Lord Ventry's old estate, now a girls' school. There used to be  approximately 1 km of mature, tall,  dense Blackthorn hedge which divided  up the estate's farm pastures, adjacent  to the C19 arboretum (which  features a South American collection). A heritage landscape. This Blackthorn hedgerow was razed and grubbed up in June 2016 by the farmer, a relative of a member of the school management. He also dumped Tarmac (source was the Dingle car park?) in the field gateway. A year later the tarmac is still visible though the hedge is gone."

What was left of the hedgerow (J.Crosher).

"At the same time the school management felled trees (species not known of course) in the arboretum with no felling licences and razed an area of native Spindle. This is one of the few sites in Kerry where spindle is found and is the food plant of  Spindle Ermine Moth (the only recorded site for this species on the peninsula)."

"Some  residents alerted the four government departments responsible for dealing with these offences and Dingle  Gardai. Kerry County Council, (Biodiversity and Environment staff), NPWS (three staff) and  Forestry Service staff were all involved and at least five staff, maybe one or two more, completed site visits to the farmland and arboretum. Dingle Gardai also responded when one resident was threatened at her home by the farmer. There were no prosecutions and the damage is still evident a year on."

"Contextualised in its heritage landscape I think this (no longer with us so I hope it qualifies) hedgerow is a worthwhile candidate for not only ‘Worst Hedgerow in Ireland' category  but as part of (a) the most investigated simultaneous hedgerow /felling/ dumping offences (b) to the least effect."

"I hope it will go forward to the European Finals."

Best wishes, 
Jill Crosher

Monday, 26 June 2017

Adult Squacco Heron at Ross Castle

Adult Squacco Heron, Ross Castle, 25th June 2017 (Ed Carty).

Kerry birders enjoyed the first Squacco Heron in Kerry in over a century at Ventry (see HERE), back in April of this year, so a second within a few months was a real shocker. And a beautifully pristine adult bird too. The bird is frequenting the reed-fringed edges of the lake at Ross Castle, near the boathouse. The fourth county record.

Adult Squacco Heron, Ross Castle, 25th June 2017 (Ed Carty).

Adult Squacco Heron, Ross Castle, 25th June 2017 (Ed Carty).

Offshore seabirds from the RV Celtic Explorer

Gannets, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Storm Petrels and Fulmars, Porcupine Seabight, 24th June 2017 (Niall Keogh).

From Niall Keogh:
"While surveying the waters off the Blaskets and out to the eastern edge of the Porcupine Seabight today on RV Celtic Explorer we saw:

8 Cory's shearwaters, 17 sooty shearwater, 1750+ Manx shearwaters, 2 Leach's storm-petrels, 300+ European storm-petrels, 1 great skua

1 humpback whale, 2 Minke whales, several groups of common dolphins (including a melanistic individual, see photo, below) and 1 ocean sunfish


The Cory's, sooties, Manxies and Euro stormies were offshore from the Blaskets between 17nm (32km) southwest of Inishvickillane to 4.5nm (8.5km) northwest of Inishtooskert.
The Leach's were on the eastern edge of the Porcupine Seabight in 300m or so of water, approximately 45nm (85km) west of Inishvickillane.

 All the best,

Niall Keogh (Seabird Observer for MFRC GMIT/BirdWatch Ireland)
William Hunt (Marine Mammal Observer for UCC/MaREI)
Larry Manning (Marine Mammal Observer for NPWS)"

Storm Petrel, Porcupine Seabight, 24th June 2017 (Niall Keogh).

Cory's Shearwater, Porcupine Seabight, 24th June 2017 (Niall Keogh).

Sooty and Manx Shearwater, Porcupine Seabight, 24th June 2017 (Niall Keogh).

Melanistic Common Dolphin, Porcupine Seabight, 24th June 2017 (Niall Keogh).

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Danny Sheehy, Guardal Wilson

Dingle man Danny Sheehy who, among many things, was a poet and boat-builder, passed away today after his boat capsized off the coast of Spain (news stories on RTE News HERE and the Irish Times HERE.

Danny Sheehy at the helm (with thanks to Ed Carty).

Danny has a special place in Kerry birding folklore as, though not a birder himself, his interest was such that he took a small band of eager birders in his boat from Dunquin out into the Atlantic, on one of the first trips from Kerry to search for Wilson's Petrel, on 7th August 2002. My memory of that trip is one of great excitement and anticipation, along with the good nature of Danny and, when we started to see Wilson's Petrels appearing out of the thick fog off the Blaskets, he was every bit as excited as we were. So much so that Danny later penned a poem about Wilson's Petrel and the connection with that bird, Ireland and the Antarctic.

Here it is reproduced in full, in Irish, and again with an English translation. I suspect if you are fluent in Irish you will enjoy the full subtlety of the poem. Forgive me if I have deciphered the exact spelling of his handwriting incorrectly.

Guardal Wilson
Thóinig sé chugainn
ináir dtreo thíos fé'n (féin?)
giuílt chesigh ós cionu an uisce
ag síor-eitilt go híseal
ar chuina (chuma?) aingil bhig
ag beannú dúinn
ag fáiltiú romhainn
isteach san aoibhneas
gan radharc ar charraig né (ná?) ar thír
siar ó thuaidh ó Inis Tuaisceart

Éan farraige gan tuirse
tagaithe na milte míle slí
ón Antarctic Theas
mar ar thug Wilson i bhfochair
Shackleton fé udeara
aeireaball bán glégeal
dorcha féna sciatháin
go raibh sé difriúil (clifriúil?)
ó ghardail eile.

Spioraid é seo
i bhfuirm éin
ar chuma an aingil
tagaithe i lohfad ó bhaile
ag lorg Crean a charad
curtha sa chré gairid
do'n áit a chonacsa
an spréach i gclabhar ceoigh

Wilson's Petrel
He came towards us
downed himself in our direction
a fume of mist above the water
forever flying low
like a little angel
blessing us
welcoming us
into enchantment
without sight of rock or land
northwest of Inish Tuaisceart.

Tireless seabird
journeyed the thousands of miles
from southern Antarctica
as Wilson, in Shakleton's wake
bore witness
a brilliant white tail
darkness underwing
bearing his difference
from the other petrels.

This is a spirit
in a birds form
in the guise of an angel
tracking far from home
Crean, his friend
buried in the shallow clay
of the place where I beheld
the spark in the mire of fog.

Danny Sheehy, August 2002

Sketches of Wilson's Petrels from that day with Danny (M.O'Clery).

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Glaucous Gull, TBWC

Adult Glaucous Gull, Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre, 5th June 2017 (Ed Carty).

Only the sixth record for June in Co. Kerry, and undoubtedly the same bird as seen nearby on the outskirts of Tralee on 27th May.

Adult Glaucous Gull, Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre, 5th June 2017 (Ed Carty).

Adult Glaucous Gull, Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre, 5th June 2017 (Ed Carty).

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Whitethroat, Black Rock

Whitethroat, Black Rock, 30th May 2017 (David O'Connor).

Whitethroat, Black Rock, 30th May 2017 (David O'Connor).

Still a scarce bird 'out west'.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Dotterel, Mount Brandon

Kilian Kelly climbed Mount Brandon today with a few friends, and was puzzled by a strange call coming distantly from the ridge between Brandon summit and Brandon Peak. Although it was windy and the bird was some way off, the recording was enough to later identify it as a Dotterel call, or more accurately, a disjointed song phrase. The full song of Dotterel is a persistent "Pwit", Pwit, Pwit" quicker than one a second and often lasting 20 seconds or more. The recording of the song on Mt. Brandon is of a brief phase of three calls, a short gap, and three more.

If the player doesn't work in your browser, you can download it from HERE.
Dotterel call, Mount Brandon, 20th May 2017 (Kilian Kelly).

The cadence and tone is similar to eg., that of a Dotterel recorded in Sweden. Hit the play button below to hear it...

Dotterel call, Sweden, Rob van Bemmelen, XC322091. 
Accessible at

There are lots more example of Dotterel calls and song on the excellent xeno-canto website HERE.

There were five Dotterel seen on the summit of Mount Brandon on 23rd April last, almost a month ago, so it is possible they are still present. You can see photos of them HERE. One is shown below.

Five Dotterel, Brandon summit, 23rd April 2017 (Michael Connaughton, See more on the Irish Birding website HERE).

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Kestrel chicks update

A short clip of the young Kestrels in a nest box on the Dingle Peninsula. They're growing fast!

Kestrel nestlings - junior takes a tumble, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry (M.O'Clery, under licence from NPWS).
You can click on the 'four arrows' symbol to see it full size.

More from this nest site today on the Irish Raptor Blog HERE.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville, 11th May 2017 (Padraig Webb).

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville, 11th May 2017 (Padraig Webb).

Marsh Harrier, Blennerville, 11th May 2017 (Padraig Webb).

A first-summer bird, going by the bright yellow on the head and throat and the dark forewing.