On the 2nd of January my father drove us to Helsinki-Vantaa airport and at 7:50 a.m. our Finnair plane left towards Dublin. The weather was really freezing, so the wings of the plane were well washed before we left.
We were sleeping most of the flight and finally at 8:55 a.m. local time we landed to Dublin. We found our luggage and walked to Sixt office to do the paper-work. We also rented a WiFi to our car as I couldn’t get internet work to my phone. Then we got very Irish accent instructions how to find our car. So we didn’t understand most of it and after some searching in parking halls, we realized that there was a Sixt shuttle outside that took us to another parking place that was a few kilometers from the terminal. There we found our Toyota Yaris and soon hit the road.
It was horrifying to drive on the left side of the road and there were lots of roundabouts but finally we made it to motorway and then it was easy to start driving towards Galway.
There were quite a few birds, mostly thrushes, corvids, Starlings and Skylarks flying over the road and Common Buzzards were perched on the fences and poles very close. Most surprising bird was a Green Sandpiper that was flying above one field.
After some 1.5 hours driving we turned towards Loughrea and visited a serving station to buy something to eat and we also bought a good road-map of Ireland. We had been quite lazy planning this trip and we had only planned to do birding around Galway for 2 days and then the last 2 days of the trip we would stay in Dublin without a car. But in between we still had a couple of days to do something. Of course we had Lonely Planet Ireland and Finding birds in Ireland books with us too.
Anyway our first target was Loughrea where a Lesser Scaup and also a Ring-necked Duck had been in flocks of other ducks for some time already. I had joined to Twitter to get some Tweets from local Irish birding groups and so I knew the Lesser Scaup had been seen on the SE corner of the lake in last 2 days. We parked our car to the only place where the Lough was well visible and started scanning the lake. There were huge numbers of Pochards and Tufted Ducks far on the opposite side of the lake but also about 100 birds on the SE-corner. This smaller flock was in very bad light but anyway we started scanning the birds very carefully. After some searching I found the Lesser Scaup! It was surprisingly easy to identify but it took some time before Hanna also found it as it was swimming all the time and also diving a lot. We followed it for some time until it swam close to the reeds behind some sleeping Tufted Ducks and swimming Coots and Little Grebes.
And then we found the Ring-necked Duck too, which was only some 20 meters from the Lesser Scaup. Unfortunately both of these birds were so far and in so bad light that we didn’t even try to get any pictures of them. Anyway we had got the first lifer of the trip and at least my target had been 2 lifers for whole trip, so the beginning had been great!
We continued to Turlough Rahasane which was pretty difficult to find but finally we managed to find a place where we still had to go to a pasture to see this very good flooded field which had amazing numbers of birds! There were also some other people walking with dogs, so we thought it was OK to stay in this place and soon we met one of the land-owners who was very kind and told that he had never seen so many Whooper Swans there before. There were about 150 Whooper Swans, but for us much more amazing was the number of ducks! There were hundreds of Shovelers, Wigeons and Teals and also quite a few Pintails and 3 Gadwalls. On the shores there were lots of waders and while someone was canoeing on the other side of the “lake” big flocks of Dunlins, Lapwings, Black-tailed Godwits, Curlews and Redshanks were in flight. We also saw several Grey Herons and 2 Little Egrets and a Long-tailed Tit came to catch some insects right above our heads.
But when the flocks landed they were mostly behind small grassy hills, so soon we decided to continue to Galway city.
We drove through Galway city to famous Nimmo’s Pier. I had got information that there had been 2 Ring-billed Gulls and at least one of the birds was the same that had been there for many years. I had got instructions to get some bread with us and throw it for the gulls and usually this Ring-billed Gull is the first one to arrive. So Hanna started throwing bread and suddenly there was one bird landing right in front of our feet while all the others were flying, it was an adult Ring-billed Gull!
We were photographing the gull for some time and found also a young Ring-billed Gull, but there weren’t many big gulls at all, just some Herring Gulls. We had hoped to see white-wingers, but it seemed they hadn’t arrived yet. So soon we walked to the tip of the pier and started scanning the sea. We knew there had been reports of a Forster’s Tern around the bay and I hoped it might arrive to roost somewhere close to the pier.
The visibility to the calm sea was amazing and we of course got lots of trip-ticks. Great Northern Divers, alcids, Cormorants, female Scaup and so on were seen before I found 4 or 5 terns that had arrived feeding close to one lighthouse. They were far but it was easy to say that there were both adult and young Sadwich Terns but one of the birds looked different. We hadn’t really studied how to identify a distant Forster’s Tern in flight so I opened my Collin’s App and after some 30 minutes we had seen the bird well enough to say it really was a Forster’s Tern! Unfortunately it never came closer so we couldn’t see the color of its feet, but everything else fit perfectly!
Soon the light started to get worse so we left the terns and started driving towards Barna. Hanna had checked that there was a hotel Twelve close to the shore there and once we got there they had only one double room left, so we took it even though the price was a bit expensive for us (115€).
We ate in the hotel restaurant which was extremely crowded! But the food was delicious and it was nice to see locals enjoying their evening with their families while eating and having the first Guinness of the trip.
Once we got into our room, I found out in Twitter that someone had photographed the Forster’s Tern somewhere in Galway Bay earlier during the day. I tried to get more info about where it been, but not even a couple of contacts I had couldn’t tell me more than probably it had been somewhere close to Nimmo’s Pier.
Birding around Galway Bay and other places nearby
On the 3rd of January we had a huge breakfast which was for me of course “Full Irish”. Then we decided to stay in the same hotel for another night too as we really enjoyed the place and the food. After all we were on holiday!
We started birding on Barna Pier which was very close to our hotel. Forster’s Tern had been seen also in this place earlier. We had decided to start checking the whole bottom of Galway Bay during the day.
The weather was again amazing and the sea was completely calm! Barna Pier was an excellent place to start as there were lots of birds. Already on the pier we saw some Pied Wagtails, a small rarity a Black Redstart which we didn’t know it had been found a couple of days earlier, some Stonechats and lots of Rock Pipits.
On the sea we saw several Great Northern Divers, alcids, some very distant Gannets, 2 Kittiwakes and so on. Along the shore there were some flocks of waders and Hanna found a Purple Sandpiper that was in one flock of Dunlins. Also a Common Sandpiper was seen shortly.
Next we continued to Silverstrand where we took some view photos before started scanning the sea. With Comrorants there were quite a few Shags and on small rocks there were some Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Plovers and a couple of Knots.
In Salthill the sea opened very well and we found lots of Great Northern Divers and some Red-throated Divers. After some scanning I found a diver that immediately looked like a small Black-throated Diver while it was swimming together with a Great Northern Diver. It was extremely far but the visibility was perfect, so we could see it seemed to be thick and short-necked, smallish-billed and it clearly had no obvious 3 white flank-patch like Black-throated Diver. But we had to follow the bird for a long time before we finally saw it really had some thin dark collar on its neck – it was a Pacific Diver! This bird had been reported only once more than a month earlier! I hadn’t really dreamed to see this bird even though I believed it is somewhere in the bay as it had been wintering there for several years already. The bird was swimming slowly further and it was clearly behind the Tawin Island where we were going later during the day, so we hoped to see the bird better later. We still saw it swimming together with a Red-throated Diver and it wasn’t any bigger.
Anyway we decided stay in our plan and headed to Lough Corrib which is the biggest lake of the republic. It was difficult to find a way to the coast but after some searching we managed to get to the southern shore. There were lots of birds but they were all too far and mostly seen only when in flight. We saw hundreds of Pochards and Tufted Ducks, 2 Scaups, 10 Goldeneyes and some Moorhens but nothing better really.
So we decided to continue straight to Tawin Island. It was a long and narrow road which went past some nice birdy bayous and a couple of pastures before we had to park our car and started walking to the shore. But unfortunately it had started to wind pretty much and we could found only some Great Northern Divers behind the waves. A flock of about 250 Pale-bellied Brent Geese were seen in flight shortly and a Peregrine was chasing wader-flocks.
We were a bit disappointed as we had seen both of the rarities so badly, so we decided to drive to Nimmo’s Pier for the evening hoping to see the Forster’s Tern better.
There were no Ring-billed Gulls this time so we went to scan the sea. We found soon a couple of Sandwich Terns perched far on the bay, but they weren’t flying at all. The tide was rising and after 30 minutes waiting the terns were in flight, and soon there were 10 of them flying around. After some checking we found the Forster’s Tern again and even though it was much closer now, it was impossible to see its feet. We were following it for a long time and slowly it came closer. I tried to compare it with the Sandwich Terns and it was easy to see that when Sandwich Terns were getting up from the water after a dive, the feet were completely black, but in this bird they looked just dark. It was already getting darker when a couple of tern started to fly straight towards us and luckily another one was Forster’s Tern! I was watching it with my scope while Hanna followed it with her camera. After a couple of dives I could clearly see the red feet and surprisingly they were visible also in some Hanna’s pictures!
In the evening we met Harry Hussey who was my Facebook friend and quite famous birder. We met in Eyre Square and it was nice to chat about Irish birds and also about everything else too. But pretty early we were back in our hotel and after a great dinner we were ready to go to sleep early again.
On the 4th of January after the breakfast we headed to the SE side of Galway Bay to Coole Park. We walked through a nice forest until a Turlough but there weren’t many birds at all. But the forest was really nice! There were lots of Bullfinches and Long-tailed Tits and also exactly those birds that we had hoped to see local sub-species of Coal Tits and Jays.
Next we drove to Kinavara where from the pier we tried to twitch a Green-winged Teal that had been there for some time. There were some Teals but some of them were sleeping in that kind of position that it was impossible to identify them. And as it wasn’t in our top-priorities to find this American duck, we soon continued to Traucht. We hoped this beach to be the place to see our Pacific Diver better.
The sea was again completely calm and we found amazing numbers of Great Northern Divers. I counted 80 of them in one count and there were 22 in one flock! I also found a flock of 5 Black-throated Divers and the looked much slimmer than the bird we had seen earlier. I once found a small diver swimming far on the bottom of Tawin Bay but it was too far to say anything and it disappeared too soon after it dived.
On Flaggy Shore we were on County Clare, but the birds were still the same, lots of Great Northern Divers, but also a flock of 4 Black-throated Divers. We also saw a flock of Common Scoters but there were no other scoters with them. A Long-tailed Duck was seen in flight and a Common Sandpiper was seen again. The visibility was so good that a Grey Heron was possible to see from Galway which was more than 10 kilometers away!
In Bell Harbour we saw 15 Shelducks, but soon we were continuing along the shore towards Black Head. While driving we could see more and more Great Northern Divers all the time! In Black Head we were watching a real Atlantic Sea and there were lots of alcids, Gannets, seals and porpoises.
Cliffs of Moher
Then we drove a bit longer to Doolin where we saw there was a parking place to Doolin Cave. We had no plans to visit this place but as it was so close, we went to ask, if it was possible to visit the cave. Unfortunately the next guided tour was at 3 p.m. which was too late as we had to hurry to the Cliffs of Moher.
There had been a Snowy Owl in Doolin but as we didn’t know the exact place and we didn’t see it from a moving car, we continued straight to the parking place of the Cliffs of Moher.
We walked past the information center and turned towards the cliffs on the left when a Black Redstart jumped in front of us to the fence. Later we heard it is a rare bird in Clare. From the cliffs we saw a couple of Fulmars flying against the sea and on the grasses there were 2 Choughs with Rooks.
We also climbed to see the views from the cliffs on the other side of the information center and I must say that they were spectacular!
We drove past Liscannor Bay when it was already getting dark and continued inland to search a place where to stay. It took some time as most of the hotel and B&B’s were closed and one that was open was full. After all we had to drive to Ennis city and big Temple Gate hotel which was once again a bit too classy to our taste (109€). We went to eat to a kebab-place nearby where local teens were so noisy that owner had to kick them out so we could enjoy our food.
I the evening I found out in Twitter that the Pacific Diver had been seen during the day from Tawin Island. I sent messages to a couple of contacts and Niall Keogh gave us instructions where the bird had seen and it wasn’t a surprise that it had been less than a kilometer from where we had seen it.
On the 5th of January we started in Ballyallia Lake where were quite a few Little Grebes, 3 Gaddwals and the first Reed Bunting of the trip. Then we went to check a couple of other lakes Lough Atedaun and Inchiquin Lough which the first one was pretty good. We saw 17 Gadwalls, a female Scaup, a Goldeneye and a female Hen Harrier.
Then we drove a longer way to huge Fergus Estuary which we had decided to check from Ing. We had timed our visit well as the tide had just made all waders to move to the grassy area that was in front of us. There were a couple of thousand Golden Plovers and hundreds of other waders, but once again the place where we were was on pasture and we weren’t sure if it was OK to look for birds there.
Anyway all birds were again very far, so we decided to skip a couple of other places in Fergus Estuary and drove straight to Shannon Airport Lagoon. Unfortunately the traditional parking place had been blogged, so we had to park to golf parking and walk along the shore-bank towards the lagoon. But the reedbed was just too thick and wide so we couldn’t see the lagoon well at all. And there weren’t many birds at all. It was again pretty windy too so it was pointless to start scanning the empty looking sea either.
We were a bit disappointed to the places we had visited in Clare, so we decided to drive straight back towards Galway. At least it was easy driving along the motorway which of course started close to the airport.
Again in Tawin Island
And so after an hour of driving we were back in Tawin and driving towards the island. On the way we saw a Kestrel and a male Pheasant and soon we were walking towards the tip. Unfortunately it was quite windy and for some reason we found only a few Great Northern Divers, most of them must have been swum further to the sea.
After some scanning I found a young Glaucous Gull that was swimming with a couple of Herring Gulls. It was the first Glaucous Gull for the autumn in Galway. Soon after that we found an Iceland Gull flying with other gulls behind a fishing ship.
We were accompanied with a Paidi Cullinan who had been trying to twitch the Pacific Diver already during the morning for 4 hours without luck. We were scanning the sea and we should have found much more divers but they were somewhere else. A couple of small flocks, together 7, Long-tailed Ducks were seen but no Pacific Diver.
After a couple of hours Paidi decided to give up and he had walked already 50 meters when I found a diver swimming behind the tip. It wasn’t far and I clearly saw it was a Black-throated Diver type of bird. But it was swimming away all the time. I shouted Paidi back and soon we were all looking at the bird. It wasn’t diving at all but swimming away all the time! In about 15 minutes it turned only a couple of time and with Hanna we could see pretty clearly the neck-collar, but Paidi had no zoom in his scope so he suffered not to see it. Of course everything else fitted to Pacific Diver too, but anyway I let him to look at the bird with my scope. It had been swimming away for a long time already and was quite distant but finally it turned for a couple of seconds again and also Paidi could see it well. It was a lifer for him too, so the atmosphere was great!
We were talking with Paidi while walking back to our car and he told that he had seen a couple of Spotted Redshanks on the bayous along the road. It was already dark when we stopped there but with scope we could easily wind them as a trip-tick.
Hanna found with her phone a possible place to stay and soon we parked to Oranmore Lodge hotel parking place. Again the room was a bit too good, but soon we were ordering dinner in a restaurant. I must say that this place is in very good location for birders.
On the 6th of January the weather was windy and also rainy. In the morning we visited Belclare Turlough where we watched a flooded field from the hide but there wasn’t enough water yet. There was no flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese with a Canada Goose either that had been seen there a couple of times. There were lots of ducks but they weren’t well visible from the ditches.
So we continued soon to Loughrea to try to see the scaups better but once we got there it was raining very hard. I quickly checked but there were almost no birds in the SE corner at all, so we decided to move on towards Dublin.
On the way we decided to drive to Meath to see one of the most famous tourist-places of Ireland Brú na Bóinne. It was still raining when we got there but at least there weren’t too many other tourists. So we managed to get to the first shuttle that drove us to Newgrange tomb. This 5000 years old large circular mound has an inner stone passageway. The entrance is aligned with the rising sun on the winter solstice, when sunlight shines through a “roofbox” and floods the inner chamber.
From Brú na Bóinne we drove to the ring-road and to the airport where we parked to the rental car park. There we found out that we should had checked the car with an officer before we had left there, but when we told that we had taken photographs of every corner of the car and there were no new scratches, we were soon free to go. Luckily the rain had also washed the car…
From the airport we took a bus to Dublin city and got out in St. Stephen Park where we had booked a hotel already before the trip. Stauntons on Green was an old hotel very close to the city center, so soon we were walking along the main shopping streets and found a good restaurant.
On the 7th of January we slept longer and after a huge Irish breakfast we walked to National Museum where we saw lots of golden and other treasures. Then we visited also Natural History Museum where the best find was an Eskimo Curlew!
During the day we rested a bit and then decided to go twitching again! I had got perfect instructions to twitch a local subspecies of Dipper from Niall Keogh, so we took a green line tram from St. Stephen Park and got out about 10 minutes later in Milltown. There we walked to Dropping Well Pub and behind the pub there was a streaming river. We walked to a bridge nearby and immediately found a Dipper and a couple of Grey Wagtails! Hanna got good pictures of the Dipper and we also saw a strange looking wagtail that is maybe a hybrid between Pied and Grey Wagtail. Soon we were going back towards our hotel as the pub was a bit too crowded to visit.
In the evening we went to eat to the same restaurant again and then it was time to go to sleep very early as we had really early wake up.
Back to home
On the 8th of January we woke up before 5 a.m. and a half an hour later we were sitting in a bus that drove us to the airport. Our flight left at 8:55 and I was a sleep already before the takeoff!
We landed to Helsinki-Vantaa at 14:40 local time and my parents were there already waiting for us. We ate well in a restaurant in the airport and as my parents had decided to continue to some museum by train, we were soon driving towards Parikkala.
We were finally at home in the evening and I must say that once again we had been very lucky on our trip! And for once we had also been resting enough on our holiday!