Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Ireland or bust

From top: drake Green-winged Teal (left) with female (presumed) Common Teal and Little Egret, Great Northern Diver, Eurasian Wigeon and Rock Pipit.

I'd forgotten about the joys of flying Ryanair, but was abruptly reminded of them at Stansted this morning. Loudspeaker announcements and ground staff warned passengers, who were gathering at departure gates like prisoners awaiting transportation, what would happen to them if anyone attempted to take more than one item of hand baggage on board, or had a bag marginally too big. Welcome to budget air travel.

Chris Harbard, Roy Beddard and I were heading to Galway for what was originally conceived as a gull-watching trip, but which had changed in nature somewhat given the lack of white-winged gulls this winter and the presence instead of some major rarities. Fortunately we are all good travellers - Ryanair doesn't do seat-back pockets, so anyone looking in vain for a sick bag presumably has to throw up on their feet (or their neighbour's).

Anyhow, we duly landed unstained at Shannon Airport and made straight for the adjacent lagoons, where a local birder was already viewing the long-staying but rather distant drake Green-winged Teal. It was good to hit the ground running with our first 'Yank' of the trip, so after exchanging pleasantries and gen with our new friend, admiring at least 20 Little Egrets and a selection of waders, we headed north to Galway Bay via Corofin.

The big draw en route was a Pied-billed Grebe at Lough Atedaun - in theory at least. We met another local who hadn't managed to find it around its favoured reedy margin, perhaps unsurprisingly in the windy conditions, but were pleased to hear that he'd just come from watching the Pacific Diver at Finvarra. We searched long and hard for the grebe but without luck, so continued north across the impressive Burren landscape to Ballyvaughan and then Finvarra, expecting the diver to be a done deal.

If only. Here, yet another sole local birder was on site; he'd seen the bird 10 minutes previously, apparently, but a quick scan failed to produce it and nor could he refind it with more careful searching. We gave it a hour, notching up Red-throated, Black-throated and many Great Northern Divers, as well as Black Guillemot and Long-tailed Duck, but could not find a good candidate 'loon' complete with chinstrap and dark flanks.

A minor diversion nearby generated discussion of female-type wigeon, with one candidate rather American-like in general appearance (but, as we now know from the images and through discussion with others, definitely a Eurasian), and then we pressed on to Galway for the night. An OK day, but disappointing not to have connected with two major targets.

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