Alan Dalton post's birding diaries and original artwork from Sweden. Established in 2006, this now long running blog is now a complete overview of my birding experiences. As an artist I greatly enjoy sketching birds in the field and you will find a wide selection of that work here, from fieldwork to finished paintings. I am very passionate about my artwork and try to depict birds in their natural habitat, as I see them in the wild. My artwork is for sale and can be viewed at http://www.alandalton.net/
As regards to my photography, since 2008 I have used a Nikon D90 DSLR camera coupled with a Sigma 150-500mm OS lens for since March 2012 for bird photography, all previous images being digiscoped. Regarding sound recording, I have been usung a Telinga Stereo Dat Mic and parabol to record birds in the field, coupled to a Marrantz 661 digital recorder, a superb piece of kit. Interest in butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies has recently seen the accquisition of a Sigma 150mm macro lens. I hope you enjoy the blog and please feel free to leave comments or contact me at alandltn@gmail.com

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Birding on Cape Clear Island; Ireland; An Overview

 A remarkable aerial shot of Cape Clear taken by Chuck Kruger in the nineties. A rugged island at the best of times, it is exposed to extremes of weather and is battered by the full force of the north atlantic. It is a mecca for birder's, boasting some remarkable rare bird records. It is justifiably famous as one of the premier sites in western europe for scarce and rare migrant birds and huge seabird passage. The island receives less attention these days and is perfect for the birder who likes to find his or her own birds. Not to be written off, this island is still very much capable of turning up mega rarities. I travel there next week for the optimum period, the first two weeks of October, based at Cape Clear Bird Observary.

From the 1-15th October next week I will be birding at Cape Clear Island in west Cork, Ireland. I will be blogging daily from the island over those dates, with latest sightings and photographs, along with accounts of the days birding. Hopefully there will be a few good birds along the way, perhaps even a major rarity or two, with american passerines at the very top of the wishlist. Accomadation has been arranged at the Cape Clear Bird Observatory, rates here are reasonable and the facilities have much improved in recent years, the observatory having had a recent facelift and now has hot, indoor showers. Having been a warden at the observatory in the past I am very familiar with the island and am hugely looking forward to two weeks at the optimum time of the year, early October....

 Cape Clear Harbour in the sixties, the bird observatory can be seen at the upper right of the photo...

Cape Clear is located off the southwest coast of Ireland. It lies off county Cork, just inside the Fastnet Lighthouse and is a remarkable site for seeing migrating birds, scarce passage migrants and rarities alike. It's location means it is well placed to receive eastern vagrants, american vagrants and huge passage of seabirds. It is a truly remarkable site in this regard, where else has a single observer found a Swainson's Thrush and Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler within minutes! Only a handful of sites can match it's list of past rareties, Fair Isle and the Scillies spring to mind. Bear in mind this is a small island, just  a couple of kilometres from east to west, less than a kilometre from north to south, just perfect for a visiting birder to work over  couple of weeks...

 Yellow-browed Warbler. A regular migrant on Cape Clear, often several birds can be present on a good day in early October...

Birding in October on Cape Clear is reliant on the weather. Winds in the easterly to southerly quarter bring regulars passage migrants such as Pied Flycatcher, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Blackcap and birds like Redstart, Black Redstart, Reed Warbler and Thrushes. From these birds one may well find Yellow-browed Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Firecrest, Lesser Whitethroat and Barred Warbler. Anything can turn up, major rarities from the east have included Greeniish Warbler, Arctic Warbler, Blyth's Reed Warbler, Sykes Warblers, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Pallas Grasshopper Warbler, Siberian Thrush, Dusky Warbler and Bonelli's Warbler, off the top of my head!

 Arctic Warbler, the first for Cape Clear and an extremely rare bird in Ireland. The bird was found in the 'Nordy Wood', which was planted for Alder saplings and Willow cuttings more than 15 years ago thanks to Anthony Mc Geehans industry. I had a great time helping to plant the area back then with Anthony, Stuart McKee and Catherine Hannon, nice to see birds of this quality turning up at the site now...

The potential for neartic passerines has been well documented in the past, Cape Clear Island has a jaw dropping list of yanks. Yellow Bellied Sapsucker, Gray Catbird, Yellow Rumped Warbler(several), Blackpoll Warbler, Black and White Warbler, Blue Winged Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Grey Cheeked Thrush, Swainsons Thrush, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Indigo Bunting, White Throated Sparrow, Boblink, Red Eyed Vireo, Baltimore Oriole, American Redstart and Northern Waterthrush, again off the top of my head! These birds generally turn up during westerlies after a series of rapidly moving low pressure systems cross the atlantic, though sometimes they turn up out of the blue in other weather, perhaps coming off the mainland after an earlier landfall...

 Yellow-rumped Warbler. Cape Clear boasts more records of this american warbler than anywhere else in western europe, the last individual occuring in October 2010.

Cape Clear is not all about rarities though. The island has breeding Chough, a cracking sight tumbling overhead on occasion. Ther are breeding seabird colonies and there is superb passage of seabirds off the island, which is famous for Great Shearwater movements. Auks, Shearwaters, Petrels, Skuas and other species all pass off the island in southwesterlies, when they are pushed in close to the island and can be seen from the islands seawatching points, though these are not for the faint hearted! The island itself is beautiful, wild and rugged. It is stunning in some places, with high cliffs and seascape vistas, the might of the Atlantic Ocean often pounding the island with spectacular waves. Bracken, Brambles and tangled gardens hold passerines. Robin, Blackbird, Stonechat, Dunnock and Wren are the commonest species on the island. After the day is done the birders shower up, eat and make there way to one of the three island bars for the daily bird log, evening weather forecast, a few pints of Murphys Irish Stout, banter and conversation and occasionally, a celebration of a rarity...

 Chough is one of the more interesting resident species, easily seen over the course of a days birding. There is much more to the islands fauna than rare birds...

Birding Cape Clear in the right conditions is exciting stuff, falls of migrants can be large and on a good day every patch of cover can seem to hold a migrant. Quite often large numbers of common species are recorded, whilst over the following days the rarities staying on are found, having been lost amongst the fall to observers eyes. On occasion weather conditions do not suit and birding can be tough, though there is always the chance of a huge rarity out of nowhere, which confounds birder's...in short you never know whats lying in the next tangle of cover around the corner...

Eastern Towhee, wouldn't that look good in the brambles in Cotters Garden! You just never know what might turn up, anything is possible from the neartic and birders dream of finding american passserines whilst birding on the island in early October.

In recent years other sites in Ireland have been discovered by pioneering birders, such as Tory in Donegal, Inishboffin in Galway, The Mullet in Mayo, Kilbaha in Clare, as well as other headlands in the southwest such as Dingle, Garinish, Iveragh and the Mizen. These sites have turned up some great birds and shown that exploring new sites can lead to rarities, that the entire western seaboard can, and does throw up rarities. Cape Clear was a birding mecca in the past, though numbers visiting the island have dwindled markedly. Whereas the prime early weeks in October would of seen perhaps thirty birders in the past, coverage is now down to less than half that. Incredibly you can find yourself one of a handful of observers on the island in midweek in good conditions and god knows what waiting to be found. The potential for finding good birds and rarities is staggering, so fingers crossed for some good birding weather, along with a little bit of luck and perhaps a little perseverance. If nothing else the blogged accounts of the fortnight of birding might give an insight into the magic of birding Cape Clear to the unititiated. See you on the other side folks...

Link here to the Cape Clear bird Observatory webpage, detail of accomadation, general imformation and an account of October 2010 to be found here..
http://www.birdwatchireland.ie/Birdwatching/CapeClearBirdObservatory/CapeClearBirdObservatoryIntroduction/tabid/567/Default.aspx


2 comments:

Jelmer said...

The best of luck out there, looking forward to read about your sightings! Jelmer

cindyzlogic said...

Great post and series of pics!! My favorite is the Eastern Towhee...they are migrants in Kansas!