Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Semipalmated Plover on Achill

Studying the weather maps on Monday 26th September I was a bit dismayed to see it was forecast to be another westerly airflow for the weekend at Spurn. However, several low pressure systems were tracking in across the Atlantic with the potential for them to drop some Yanks in looking good. I toyed with the idea of going west, so tried to find a couple of other mates to do a long weekend on Barra or South Uist but no one seemed keen (until a Kingbird turned upon Thursday 29th!). So the decision was made, I'd head to Ireland with my Dad for a long weekend of rarity hunting on Achill Island.

We got the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin in the early hours of Saturday (1st Oct) morning and were scanning Mulranny Harbour by lunchtime. No sign of anything different so we continued onto Achill, the golf course was our first port of call and we quickly flushed a Pec, a nice start. We settled in and found some accommodation.

Sunday 2nd, started with a check of the golf course, the Pec was still present, before checking several nearby decent stands of cover for passerines and a few lochs for nil return. We then pulled up to scan the machair above Achill Rovers football pitch to see 3 distant plovers on the top of the hill, quickly grabbed the scope and could see that the middle bird was a crisp juv American Goldie! Nice! Got some cracking views of it before heading back round to the golf course for the second check of the day.

juv AGP (left) with Euro Goldie (right)

Juv AGP (right) with Euro Goldie (left)

Walking in from the east side, we could see straight away there were a lot more Ringed Plover on than earlier on in the day. We picked up a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper that looked rather out of place feeding alone on the golf course. Getting better views of this we managed to get pretty close to the 60+ Ringed Plover that were also feeding on the golf course. I started looking through these, when I noticed that one of the closest birds in the flock had a very pale gape line. I'd been looking at juvenile Ringed Plover for the last couple of months at Spurn and Hatfield Moor, paying particular attention to variation in gape line and breast band. This bird instantly stuck out showing a very pale gape line and thinly connected chest band, as we were looking into a F6 SE wind I decided to phonescope a few pics and had a look at them on my phone. My Dad asked what I was photographing and I told him it was just a Ringo but had a few Semip features and put him on the bird. I blew the photos up on my phone and realised just how pale the gape line was on this bird! Having been looking at juv Ringos quite a lot in the weeks running up to this trip I knew what else to look for, pale flared super, connected chest band, slim bill with orange at base and slender structure, this bird ticked all the boxes and I started to get a little excited, but surely it wasn't actually a Semip Plover!

The bird was quite flighty and it was noticeable how dull the wing bars were in flight. We kept picking the same bird out of the flock each time they moved, now seriously thinking we might be looking at an actual Semip and having obtained on the deck and blurred flight shots, I knew we needed to hear it call. We tried our best to position ourselves down wind in order to hear it if it did call when flying, to no avail. The whole flock then lifted and moved off down the golf course and we lost the interesting looking one. We were now starting to loose the light, so after not being able to relocate the bird we started walking back towards the car, thoughts turned to a frustrating evening posting photos of the bird online and seeing what others thought of it and hoping we could locate it in the morning. However as we were coming away we noticed a few Ringed Plover feeding in the shingle on the edge of the golf course. We walked towards them, the majority of the flock got up and flew but we struggled to hear any non-Ringo calls. Then 3 birds separately got up and flew, one of which gave the the diagnostic chewee call of Semipalmated Plover. I turned to my dad to see if he heard it as well ''Did you hear that???!!! It actually went chewit!!'' adrenaline was now pumping and I quickly set the scope up again to get straight back on the bird from earlier! There it was, a Semipalmated Plover in all its subtle glory, a dream find! It then flew several more times continuing to call and I even managed to sound record it on my phone!

Sound recording available here http://www.xeno-canto.org/337236

We floated off the golf course and straight into the nearest pub where we could share news of our find with a pint of Guinness in hand! A 5th for Ireland and a bird I would always dream of finding as a teenage birder, never thought I'd actually be lucky enough to find one!

With worsening weather conditions the next day there was no sign of the bird, despite our best attempts to turn a good looking Ringed Plover into it! However the bird was again seen by visiting Irish Birders on and off until the 14th October. With some cracking photos taken by Pat Lonergan and Michael O'Briain viewed here http://www.irishbirding.com/birds/web/Display/sighting/91972/Semipalmated_Plover.html

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Glauc Fight

Back in March I was lucky enough to travel to Northern Norway to enjoy the delights of the frozen north as part of GullFest, one of the highlights of the trip were the large numbers of Glaucous Gulls present in nearly all the harbours.

The following photos were taken during GullFest 2016 (hosted by Biotope) in Vardo Harbour. A dead drake Common Eider came floating past and attracted much attention with the large gulls.

Initially claimed by a 3w Glauc, it was then claimed by a juv Glauc before an adult GBB was the winner of the final! Some rough and tumble from the Glaucs, but just a menacing stare was enough for the GBB to win!