It had been a number of years since I'd done any winter birding in Ireland, so it was with anticipation that I headed over to Cork and Kerry for a couple of days at the end of February – along with Dante Shepherd, for whom it was a first trip to Ireland.
All in all it proved a decent trip, with a good selection of gulls in addition to a couple of Ring-necked Duck, the Pacific Diver at Crookhaven, some fantastic Badger views and, of course, the superb Irish scenery and hospitality. The arrival of Storm Jorge on Saturday more or less wiped out that afternoon for birding; it was hard enough to stand up at times, let alone raise the binoculars.
The visit had partly inspired by the appearance of a couple of American Herring Gulls, one in Cork and and the other in Devon, which suggested that the incessant storms of recent weeks had produced a small arrival of the species – as one of those on my 'most wanted' list of finds, it seemed a good option to get in the mix out west and see what happened.
Alas there was no quality find, but the Castletownbere American Herring Gull, found by Fionn Moore back at the beginning of February, showed about as well as it could have done. A few photos can be seen below, but plenty more can be found in the Photography section of this website.
This largely mild winter has proven another poor one for white-winged gulls, so our tally of 13 birds wasn't all that shabby considering the overall lack of either species in most areas. Glaucous Gull was the more numerous, with eight seen compared to just five Iceland Gulls. Both are always good value and throwing bread produced good views of almost every individual seen, even those on some of the more remote beaches. Needless to say, there were some fantastic photo opportunities and I think Dante was pretty blown away by how co-operative they are out here, particularly when compared to the distant views usually endured at Rainham Tip.
One thing that has changed very rapidly in the time that I've been birding is the number of Ring-billed Gulls around. Even on some of my trips in the early 2010s, 'Ringers' could be relied on at multiple sites along the west coast of Ireland, often in their multiples and usually involving birds of all ages. For a younger birder like Dante, what was once reality for us elders now seems like utter fantasy. We just about scraped a single adult out of the trip – the regular individual at Tralee – despite intensively covering just about every notable gull site between Clonakilty and Limerick via Dingle. Even a decade ago, you could have expected close to 10 birds on this same stretch of coast (click here for more on the changing status of Ring-billed Gull in Europe). These Irish trips just aren't the same now that these charming North American visitors are less conspicuous.
Despite not being the most vintage of Irish trips, and being somewhat brief in its nature, it was a nice reminder of how enjoyable winter birding out west can be, even in an 'average' year. No doubt Dante will be back again, too ...
Lots more photos from the trip can be found at joshrjones.smugmug.com/Birds/British-and-irish-birding/2020/.
The musings of a wildlife enthusiast, usually armed with his camera.