I've just returned from a long weekend in County Mayo with Kit Day. As always at this time of year, American waders were our primary focus, but alas it proved a slow five days for arrivals from across the Atlantic. In fact, a scour of the loughs of south-west Mayo on Thursday and then Achill on Friday produced barely any noteworthy birds, save a colour-ringed Eurasian Curlew at Mulrany and the usual assortment of species, most notably good numbers of Chough on Achill. Such is the nature of the beast when birding out west – when it's quiet, boy is it quiet!
With Rich Bonser due in on Saturday morning, we left Achill to him and headed for a second go at south-west Mayo. As it had been on Thursday, Corragaun Lough was bizarrely wader-less. However, Roonagh Lough was much 'birdier' and Kit soon picked up a couple of Golden Plovers feeding in short grass just south of the outflow, while good numbers of Ringed Plover and Sanderling, plus a few Dunlin, were roosting on the beach. As we walked down to the outflow, the plovers flushed and then I heard a distinctive prrrrt call a couple of times – it was a Pectoral Sandpiper and the bird duly flew into view, landing alongside the plovers. Here it began to feed happily and we thought it would be game on for photos – until a yellow-bellied Common Snipe flushed out the adjacent marsh, taking the Pec with it, until we lost it as a speck in the sky to the south. Back to square one ...
Still, it was at least something, although it didn't prove the precursor of a flood of transatlantic arrivals! With Rich reporting little among the usual suspects around Achill's hot-spots, we decided to continue north and explore some new sites that I'd not previously visited. First up was the estuary, beach and machair at Dooyork – there's a fantastic area of saltmarsh here, but it held nothing on our visit (and just a few GPs were noted on the beach). Then we moved up to Trawmore Bay where, as we sat scanning the Sanderling and Ringed Plovers out on the mudflats, we received a BirdGuides message about a Baird's Sandpiper, in Mayo, at ... Trawmore beach! Eh?! Well, as it transpired, it was a Dave Suddaby find earlier in the day, just as the tide had begun to drop. With the tide now well out (it was around 16:30 by this point), the waders were scattered for miles and there was predictably no sign of the Baird's ... so with that it was back to Achill to meet up with Rich and have a few pints.
We gave the regular Achill sites a hammering on Sunday morning, albeit with the same result – zilch. Then it was onto Trawmore Bay to catch the falling tide. This is a great site ... the birds are close and the viewing sheltered from strong W/SW winds. A juvenile Curlew Sandpiper was nice, but the Baird's didn't come in during the hour we spent on site. Dave Suddaby then texted to say that he'd found a Dotterel on the Mullet, near Cross Lough. With little else on the cards, Kit and I said our goodbyes to Rich (who was heading back to Dublin via Sligo) and headed round to Cross Lough to have a look at what would be an Irish tick.
We were fortunate to find Dave still on site as we pulled up on the south-west side of Cross Lough. His description of it as a "typical Dotterel" pricked our ears and we were thrilled to find it was indeed a showy bird. As far as I can recall, it's the first confiding juvenile I've seen anywhere. Despite the attention of several boisterous cows, we were able to score some pleasing images of the bird over the following hour. A juvenile Ruff was also seen nearby.
As it turned out, this was the bird of the weekend. Who'd have thought it – a weekend on the west coast of Ireland, in strong westerlies, and the rarest bird is one that has come from some way east of Mayo. Such is the unpredictability of birding.
Monday once again proved a quiet affair, with strong winds and some torrential rain. The Golden Plovers on Keel Golf Course had built up to six birds, although contained nothing rarer, nor did the 80-strong Ringed Plover flock (no sign this year of the Semipalmated, despite plenty of searching). A handful of Dunlin were among the Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers at Tonatanvally, while numbers at Sruhill Lough were scant all weekend. We did Roonagh and Corragaun Loughs on our way south back to Shannon Airport, finding a dead Glaucous Gull at the former and 17 Ringed Plovers at the latter (the first waders we'd seen here on this trip!), but nothing more exciting. Our final stop was Nimmo's Pier, where a loaf of bread failed to draw in the adult Ring-billed Gull seen a few days previous.
So, a quiet trip out to Ireland on this occasion, but it's rare to leave completely empty handed. And, while the Pec didn't linger and give itself up entirely, it constitutes a fairly satisfying result given the overall lack of American waders in western Ireland so far this autumn. And the Dotterel was class ...
The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.