Thursday, 18 March 2010

Last chance saloon

From top: drake Green-winged Teal at Burren; Black-throated Diver off Finvarra (if only all divers there were so close); and second-calendar-year Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrid at Nimmo's Pier.

We were determined to have a better day today. Though there was again no sign of the Forster's Tern first thing, when the tide was quite high, we set off in a positive frame of mind for Finvarra, determined to relocate the Pacific Diver. Killian Mullarney had emailed me videograbs of the bird last night, and these helped refine our 'search image' of the bird. A shot in the arm en route came in the form of a handsome drake Green-winged Teal on a roadside pool at Burren - our second of the trip, and much better looks than the last one.

At Finvarra, however, the wind was outrageous and it had started to rain. It was almost impossible to keep the scopes still in the open, so we were forced to shelter in the lee of the Martello Tower. Roy was first in position and called two "interesting" distant divers. We could see they were Black-throated types but in these conditions, at that range, it was hard to be certain of anything else. With more scanning the diver count grew, until eventually we had eight Great Northerns (plus seven more a little later), three Red-throateds and four Black-throated types, including a cracking summer-plumaged bird that appeared from nowhere quite close inshore.

Thankfully, the visibility began to improve and we were better able to appreciate one of Roy's original two birds, which was now showing a clear suggestion of a chinstrap and, importantly, no white flank patch. The Black-throat next to it aided a positive identification of Pacific Diver, and it remained on view for a full hour until we left late morning.

Buoyed with this success, we rushed back to Galway to catch the beach by Nimmo's Pier at low tide. Still no Forster's Tern, despite several Sandwich Terns being present again, so it was time for one last check of the slipway, where I found a smart second-calendar-year Glaucous x Herring Gull hybrid (note the mixed characters in this image). After a major disaster when a gust of wind blew over my tripod-mounted long lens, leaving my 1.4x extender in pieces, we had to head south back to Shannon for the evening flight home.

Somewhat subdued by the damage to my photographic kit, it seemed fitting somehow that, stopping off near Corofin, we again couldn't find the Pied-billed Grebe in its favoured corner of Lough Atedaun. It wasn't meant to be, it seemed. Then, as the others climbed into the car, I decided to give the rest of the lough a final careful scan and there, well out on the open water among the Great Crested Grebes and Mute Swans, was the Pied-billed after all! We had assumed it was sheltering in the reeds because of the winds, but it was diving repeatedly and seemed unperturbed by the weather. Our final roll of the dice had paid off - never give up. Not even Ryanair could quell the euphoric feeling which lasted all the way back home to London.

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