I'm kinda playing catchup here, but I said in my last post that I was going to do some exciting birding; so here is it – a summary of four days staring down a telescope in Ireland and three days heaving my guts up on a boat 80 miles off Lanzarote...
Ireland was officially a work offsite. A strategy weekend where we purge ourselves of the distractions of London and instead distract ourselves with birding. This year's destination of choice was Loop Head, County Clare. And by Loop Head I actually mean Loop Head; our accommodation for the four days at the start of September was Loop Head lighthouse cottage.
Seawatching was, by Bridges of Ross standards, pretty average – though thousands of Manx Shearwaters, dozens of Sooty Shearwaters, and the occasional skua and storm-petrel were certainly enough to keep us entertained and happy between meetings. We thrashed the headland, the beaches and the "trees" a bit but with not much more to show for it than a Hen Harrier, some Wheatears, and plenty of Sanderling and Turnstone. Resident stuff included a family of Stonechats, a handful of Chough, and a Peregrine.
We also had regular sightings of a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins, which were feeding below the cliffs near to the lighthouse.
Then I flew direct from Dublin to Lanzarote, where I met up with Marcel and the Lanzarote Pelagic Team for three days of at-sea birding on a small boat 80-odd-miles northish of the island. To cut a long and frankly rather unpleasant story short, I spent most of the first night and morning puking my guts up with intermittent periods of vomiting there after. Once I'd got a grip of my seasickness (lying perfectly still on the deck for a few hours was the answer... getting nice and sunburnt in the process), the birding could begin... First day highlights included Bulwer's Petrel, Wilson's Petrel, and some winter-breeding (Grant's) Band-rumped Storm-petrels.
Seas were rough on the second morning but we scored with White-faced Storm-petrels, more summer-breeding Band-rumped Storm-petrels, and some summer-breeding (Maderian-types; no Montiero's-types this trip) Band-rumped Storm-petrels. There's lots to be said on the matter but to give a very brief over-simplified summary: winter-breeding birds were morphologically quite consistent – thick-billed, square-tailed, quick thickset, and all in fresh plumage. Summer-breeding birds, identified by the fact they were actively moulting, were a bit more variable – most had thinner bills (than the winter-breeders) and you could convince yourself the tail was a tad more forked; they felt lighter in flight too (although perhaps some of this was to do with state of moult). No birds were as thin-billed or fork-tailed as would be expected for Montiero's. Some moulting birds, however, had bills that approached winter-breeders in thickness. Given that summer-breeding birds didn't seem to cluster into distinct morphological groups, I suspect it's just (considerable) variation within the same taxa rather than anything more sinister – but you never know...
Non-identification highlight of the trip was finding a feeding flock of several thousand Cory's Shearwaters accompanied by hundreds of Spotted and Short-beaked Common Dolphins and a couple of Bryde's Whales. It was just like in the wildlife documentaries; you know, where the shearwaters and the dolphins are going at the fish from all angles and then a whale pops up in the middle of them. There were also White-faced Storm-petrels bouncing about between it all, which was a particularly memorable vision given that it felt like this is what the bird's should look like in their "natural habitat" (er, rather than picking chum out of a rubber ring).
We didn't have much time on dry land – just a few hours either side of the boat – but Marcel did an expert job in getting us all of the interesting island species: Eleonora's and Barbary Falcon, Houbara Bustard, Berthalot's Pipit, Lesser Short-toed Lark, Trumpeter Finch, Barbary Partridge, Stone-curlew, degener Blue Tit, and other species that I'm sure I've forgotten to list.