Outing Report

Inishbofin Island, Co. Galway - 11th to 13th May 2012.

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Corncrake fields near the Youth Hostel on Inishbofin, Co. Galway. Picture by Dermot Breen.

A view on Inishbofin Island, Co. Galway (picture: Dermot Breen)

Ten of us gathered on Inishbofin Island on Friday 11th May for a weekend of birding with Anthony McGeehan. Before we arrived Anthony had been checking what was around and the first port of call was the field behind the Dolphin Hotel, our venue, where he had been feeding mealworms to attract Greenland Wheatears (below). These birds are bigger than the Northern Wheatears which come and breed here in the summer and much more colourful on the chin and chest, one was almost russet. Over 40 were on the island awaiting a favourable wind before departing for Greenland and Canada to breed. This male bird was defending his supply of mealworms rather like a Mistle Thrush does with a berried bush in winter, but of course other birds fancied a feed so as he chased one intruder off, a Reed Bunting or a Meadow Pipit or another Greenland Wheatear would dash in and help themselves. It was only at the end of the trip that we saw some Northern Wheatears and by then could easily differentiate between the two kinds.

Wheatear of the race leucorhoa, aka Greenland Wheatear on its way back north. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Greenland Wheatear, Inishbofin Island, 14th May 2012 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Inishbofin is known to hold Corncrakes (below) and just down the field across the road they had been heard calling. Attracted by Anthony's call of 'crex crex' we heard one replying and were rewarded after a wait as the noise came nearer and nearer from a mound of shrubbery. Then the blue and brown head appeared and it walked in front of the bushes and then flew, such a wonderful colour, a really vibrant chestnut. This happened 2 or 3 times more and the last time we were astonished to see 2 birds emerge and fly into cover again. A magical moment!

The elusive Corncrake shows well on Inishbofin for the group. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Corncrake, Inishbofin Island, 11th May 2012 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Up on the High Road we watched 4 Golden Plover lying in the grass. These birds are on the Amber List of conservation concern as their breeding population has declined by 25-30% in the last 25 years. They were in wonderful breeding plumage with a good deal of variety in the patterning but we reckoned 2 pairs. On a lake near the reservoir to the island we watched anxiously as a Raven appeared. It knew exactly its target and swooped down and took several Mallard ducklings, stashed some nearby and went off to its nest with one, returning later for the others. This was nature in the raw.

Ringed Plover chick, doing its best to avoid local Ravans. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Ringed Plover chick, Inishbofin Island, 11th May 2012 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Our ears picked up the peep peep of baby birds (above) and in front of us was a family of Ringed Plovers, the 2 young trying to keep up with the parents as fast as their wee legs could go. Lapwings were displaying over their breeding area. With 3 pairs of Ravens now on the island will all these young end up like the Mallard chicks?

A Ruff on passage north to breeding grounds stops off on Inishbofin. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Ruff, Inishbofin Island, 11th May 2012 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Eleanor spotted a wader; it was difficult for us to identify, perhaps Pectoral Sandpiper? Some said 'yes' and some said 'no'. Eventually it was decided ... a female Ruff or Reeve (above) which is not a common bird of passage on the island.

Sedge Warbler singing. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Sedge Warbler, Inishbofin Island, 15th May 2012 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Saturday there was a mini-marathon on the island in aid of 'Croi' with over 200 participants so the ferry and accommodation were busy. We had a pre-breakfast start and visited a reed bed and were fortunate to hear and see Grasshopper Warblers and Sedge Warblers (above). In the early morning air it is a treat to stand and listen to their song. To begin with you can't see them but gradually the noise increases as the birds climb up a reed and then sit on the top of it or even on a little tree and proclaim their territory.

Whimbrel departure lounge. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Whimbrel, Inishbofin Island, 12th May 2012 (picture: Colum Clarke)

After a late breakfast and to avoid the activity from all the runners we were bussed to the west end of the island and walked up to the headland. There were 27 Whimbrel (above) on the grassy hill which were joined by about the same number and all of them awaiting the change of wind direction to get them up to the breeding grounds. There was oodles of time to watch and note (I've only ever seen Whimbrels in ones or twos so it was a chance to really catch the detail of their wing pattern etc). Up in the sky there was a flock of about 100 of the same birds and then another flock all heading a little further as they did not touch down on the island. Being on the west coast we saw Chough. There were plenty of other birds around but these were the highlights.

Corncrake fields on the east side of Inishbofin at Cloonamore. Picture by Dermot Breen.

A view on Inishbofin Island, Co. Galway (picture: Dermot Breen)

Some More Pictures

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The Shag has a reptillian appearance! Picture by Colum Clarke.

Some more of the pictures taken by Colum Clarke on Inishbofin Island during the trip.
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Time to go for this Whimbrel. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Skylark. Picture by Colum Clarke
A reeling Grasshopper Warbler. Picture by Colum Clarke.
A young Blackbird. Picture by Colum Clarke.
A Robin carrying nest material. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Two young Stonechats. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Meadow Pipit and friend. Picture by Colum Clarke.
A Rock Pipit down among the seaweed. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Where there are reeds there are Reed Buntings! Picture by Colum Clarke.

The whole weekend was bathed in warm sunshine which made walking the island a pleasure. Anthony has a great eye for detailed observation and was an enthusiastic guide (several of the group had been on his birding weekends before) and we were well looked after by Pat in the Dolphin Hotel. Apart from the Corncrake my other highlight was a tasty picnic lunch delivered to us way out on the cliffs which we ate while watching 4 shimmering shags on their nests, 2 of them with young.

Aileen Prole

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