TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Western Ireland
The Burren and Aran Islands

27th May - 3rd June 2000


Leaders:
Christy Browne , Stephanie Coghlan

Diary

27th May Shannon Airport and Lagoon, Fergus Estuary

Showery

We all arrived at Shannon airport on a showery day and after lunch in the new restaurant, the Estuary Bar, which looks over the water, we set off to birdwatch. At the Shannon lagoon we were soon watching Mute Swans and counted 86 as well as Sedge Warbler singing and young Pied Wagtails feeding in the road. There were banks of Early Purple Orchids on the side of the road, and the Mountain Everlasting was set off by a patch of Blue Milkwort. We saw a family of Stonechats before we went round to the north side of the estuary to try to see the Black-tailed Godwits closer. We were soon watching Rock Pipits and Swallows and House Martins, and then the Godwits were frightened and 500+ lifted off to give us a great display while a couple of Common Terns remained sitting. We found Flecked Marsh Orchid on the reserve before it was time to collect the last two members. Their delayed flight meant we had time to have a cup of tea and a scone before gathering them up into the group and setting off to Lisdoonvarna where we were soon settling in after a warm welcome from Denis & Anne and after a salmon dinner we held a quick checklist and fell into bed.

28th May Kilfenora, Noughaval, Cahermacnaughton, Gregan's Wood, Whitethorn, Abbeyhill, Corcomroe Abbey.

Cold and Showery

The weather was still showery and there was a cold wind when we set off to Kilfenora to the Display centre. We were offered places immediately so we went into see the video which set the scene well before we inspected the diorama and imagined the scene 1000's of years ago before the arrival of man. At the Kilfenora Cathedral Christy explained its history and we inspected 3 of the High Crosses whilst Swifts screamed overhead.

We collected some lunch and set off dodging showers and hail and visited Noughaval market cross and church and Cahermacnaughton Ring Fort where the law school was held. In a break in the weather we had lunch at Gregan's Wood and a Willow Warbler sang to us as we ate, but it was too cold to linger so we went down to Whitethorn to use their loos and we saw Common Seals and Red-breasted Merganser, but the tern colony had gone from the island opposite. We spent the afternoon walking round Abbey Hill and there was a mixture of birds and flowers to keep us interested. We had to shelter a couple of times but the sun came out and dried us off rapidly and we glimpsed Chough and watched Rooks seeing off a pair of Ravens. We extracted Christy from a house where he was getting the latest on a Hurling match, a Celtic game which makes ordinary sports look tame, and went round to Corcomroe Abbey and admired the stone work with botanical carvings of medicinal plants which were done in the 12th century. On our return we had dinner, completed the log and went out to the Spa Hotel to hear some traditional music and dancing and to try the traditional Guinness.

29th May Poll Sallach, Fanore, Fullacht Fia, Black Head, Pinnacle Well, The Rine.

Sunny and clear. High Cumulus.

The weather had improved overnight and the cold wind had dropped, and we set off down to the sea at Poll Sallach. We were soon busy searching in the grykes for plants, and amongst the highlights were Sea Spleenwort, Hemp Agrimony, Golden Rod, as well as the better known Early Purple Orchid, Heath Spotted Orchid and primroses. Closer to the shore we found Hoary Rockrose and Irish Saxifrage, while around us there were Skylarks, Rock Pipits and Wheatears, and out at sea there was still a winter plumage Black-throated Diver. We continued north and visited the sand dunes at Fanore where we found Dodder on the Thyme amid sheets of buttercups and daisies, but the Pyramidal Orchids were only just beginning as the weather had been so cold in the previous weeks.

We went to Bridie's for lunch and enjoyed soup and scones and jam in her kitchen. The sun was still shining and we were enjoying the warmth and lack of wind as we walked down to the Fullacht Fia, an ancient cooking place. On the way we had good views of Linnets and Whitethroat. Christy explained ancient cooking techniques and we searched for Bee Orchids but there were none yet, again due to the cold early May.

Further along the coast road we stopped at Black Head and found Maidenhair Fern, which we had missed earlier in the day. Finally munching a welcome piece of fruit we walked down to The Rine and found Wood White butterflies and others in the shelter of the green lane. Out on the Rine itself we found Otter spraint and two Red-breasted Mergansers flew in but the tide was very low so we just enjoyed the quiet atmosphere and the marvelous blue seas and views over to the Twelve Bens in Connemara. We returned home to Lisdoonvarna and stopped off for some wine to enhance the chicken for dinner. Another session with the log and we were soon fast asleep after all that fresh air.

30th May Lough Bunny and Mullach Mor.

Sunny with high cumulus

After another huge breakfast we drove east to Lough Bunny where we were soon busy looking at new flowers like Dropwort and Lesser Butterfly Orchid as well as watching damselflies mating and butterflies such as Brimstone and Common Blue flew by. The birds were not so conspicuous but we found Great Crested Grebe, Reed Buntings and a Grey Heron. Further along the road at Kilmacduagh there were Swifts and Kestrel as well as our first House Sparrow, as we looked at the Glebe house and the Round Tower surrounded by at least 5 ruined churches.

We went into Gort for lunch and had excellent Fish Chowder and sandwiches. We had to drag ourselves away to Mullach Mor, but it was worth the effort as it was a wonderful atmosphere out there with Fen Violets flowering well and the Shrubby Cinquefoil just beginning. The Early Purple Orchids were only just beginning so we were not too surprised to find no others. We left about 4.45.pm and drove back through green lanes and then out on to the High Burren to Poulnabrone Portal Dolmen. The light was excellent and so was it on Leamaneh Castle where we heard about Maire Rua (Red Mary) and her plans to save the castle for her son after her husband was killed in Cromwell's time. We arrived back in Lisdoonvarna in time to enjoy the sun before dinner, completed the log and some people even managed evening walks.

May 31st Doolin, Inishmaan, Inisheer.

Overcast.

After breakfast we assembled with our small bags to go to Doolin, but where was Christy. At 9.15 he arrived, delayed by roadworks and lost cameras and binoculars, and we were soon on our way to the harbour. The tide was very low and the curragh was being prepared, so we had to be transferred out to the ferry. What with people, luggage and bicycles it took a long time but we were able to watch for Black Guillemot.

We sailed at 10.45 and saw Gannets, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins as we crossed to Inishmaan. As we arrived it began to rain so we called in for a cup of tea and as it seemed to be clearing we set off to explore the island. However the rain did not ease but we enjoyed our walk to Synge's chair, which we are still not sure we found. However, the cottage where Synge stayed was open so we were able to imagine his life on the island. As we returned to the restaurant we saw a variety of birds and at least 2 Cuckoos were calling. Then the weather cleared and we enjoyed soup and sandwiches or apple pie and yet more tea.

In the afternoon we went down towards the Knitting Factory, and the showroom was open so we enjoyed a browse amongst the fashions and some even found bargains to purchase. We walked out towards the airstrip and found yet more orchids but few birds although the Cuckoo was still calling. Then it was time to go for the ferry and we were soon back across the channel which was a little lively at first, and we landed at Inisheer with a Beagle Dog who seemed to know what he was doing. However he followed us all the way to Brid Poil's house and was ready to make himself at home. He hung around for quite a while but no one knew him. We trust he caught the ferry home the next day. We enjoyed yet more tea and scones and more rain kept us in before a huge dinner of Irish lamb and all the trimmings. 'Just like mother used to make,' said Helen from Donegal. Praise indeed! We did the bird list after dinner but low cloud made evening walks uninviting but despite that the Cuckoo was still calling late into the night.

June 1st Inisheer

Rain in the morning and dry in the afternoon

We awoke to a dry overcast morning but by the time we had consumed an enormous breakfast the showers were falling. Despite that we set off to explore the east of the island and looked at O'Brien's Castle, the Signal Tower and the Old School, all being used by Jackdaws but no Chough yet. We followed the Inisheer Way through the lanes as far as St Gobnait's Chapel noting Wrens, Song Thrush. Dunnock, Goldfinch and Robin on the way.

We returned to an excellent lunch at Brid's with smoked salmon and brown bread and salad. After a break to digest all this we set off to the seawatching spot near the airstrip and had good views of terns, Gannets and Shags and Cormorants as well as auks offshore. At Loch Mor there was a Grey Heron family and Mallards with young as well. The Plassey Wreck was inhabited by Jackdaws, but the pair of Chough returned to perch on the old Deck house after plunging into the interior to feed their young. Feeding on the seaweed at the shore were a flock of Oystercatchers and Turnstones with a few late Knot and Dunlin which we were able to see well as the tide pushed them closer to us.

We returned past yet more small fields and cattle being moved between them and had an excellent dinner again. Christy read his article to us, about his early memories and revealed another talent as a writer. The log showed we had already reached last year's total and as the Cuckoo called we wended our way to bed after June had everyone intrigued with her natural history quiz book, worrying us about the difference between fruit, nuts and seeds!

2nd June Inisheer, Doolin, R. Aille, Cliffs of Moher, Ennistymon.

Overcast with occasional drizzle.

The Cuckoo was still calling as we awoke and enjoyed our breakfast. Leaving our luggage to be brought down by tractor we walked down to the Church in the sand, where we found Wheatears amongst the gravestones as well as Rock Pipits while we looked at the history. We set off in different directions to explore and those who looked near the Airstrip found Ringed Plover and 2 pairs of Little Tern trying to nest on the beach. Others went to the Fishermen's harbour and the main beach where they saw Black Guillemots and Gannets.

We all assembled at the quay for the ferry at 12.30. Then things became confused but we eventually found out the ferry could not return to Doolin until 1.30 due to a very low tide and a heavy swell. So we raced off to the nearest pub and we were served the fastest round of sandwiches and mugs of tea in history. Yes OK, one person did have Guinness but the rest of us had tea. Honest!

Then it was back to the ferry and eventually we sailed back surrounded with birds. We saw Gannets, Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Fulmars as well as the odd Puffin but the great excitement was a flock of Manx Shearwaters feeding together. Back on shore we went to the R. Aille where we soon found 2 Dippers of the irish race, one up stream and one below. Walking up the road we stopped to look at the Bog Pine in the grounds of Rainbow Hostel. The owner was well known to Christy (who isn't known to Christy?) and Martin Shannon took us in to see his geology specimens.

Then we were off to the Cliffs of Moher where huge numbers of seabirds nest. The cliffs were full of Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars, and Kittiwakes. However there were few puffins in evidence probably they were out at sea looking for sandeels for their young. In town at Ennistymon we walked from the Falls Hotel along the River Inagh to the Falls themselves. Grey Wagtails were feeding along the rock shelves but we did not see the Dipper again. Finally we visited Crosbie's for books about the Burren and Aran, traditional music and the inevitable souvenirs. Back at Lisdoonvarna we dropped into the Smoke House and got some smoked salmon and cheese and other delicacies to take home.

3rd June Craggaunowen Project.

Showery.

We left at 8.45 saying goodbye to three members of the group who were driving home or taking an early flight and drove through some heavy rain but by the time we reached the Craggaunaun project where our guide took us to see the Castle, the Cranog, the Ring Fort and the ancient cooking place, as well as St Brendan's boat, but we were also birdwatching and found Little Grebe on the lake and Goldcrest in the woods. Deer were spotted near the car park, probably Roe, but the Wild Boar were part of the project. Then it was time for farewells and we were off to the airport for our flights home.

PS. I stayed on for an extra day and at Bridges of Ross the next day found Christy again showing his cousins from Australia the sights.

PPS The Beagle turned out to be from Inishmore. He was escorted home by the Ferry Skipper, on the first ferry after spending the night outside the Skipper 's house on Inisheer.

Species lists

Birds

Black-throated Diver One off Poll Sallach 29th May

Little Grebe Two at Craggaunowen lagoon on 3rd June

Fulmar Large numbers on the cliffs of Moher

Manx Shearwater Flock feeding between Doolin and Inisheer on 2nd June.

Gannet Several off Doolin on 31st and Inisheer 1st and 2nd June

Cormorant Recorded in small numbers daily.

Shag Recorded in small numbers daily.

Grey Heron At Shannon lagoon and Fergus estuary on 27th. Then recorded daily. Family with 4 juveniles on Inisheer.

Mute Swan 86 plus 8 cygnets at Shannon lagoon on 27th. A male at Loch Mor on Inisheer 1st June. A nest on Gall Island, Whitethorn, and at Lough Bunny with 4 cygnets.

Shelduck 14 on Shannon Lagoon on 27th and 2 off the Rine 29th May.

Mallard Small numbers at Shannon lagoon and on Loch Mor Inisheer.

Northern Shoveler One male at Shannon lagoon on 27th May

Red-breasted Merganser One off Whitethorn 28th May and a pair on Gall Island seen from The Rine 29th May.

Kestrel Singles at Corcomroe Abbey 28th May, and at Kilmacduagh 30th May

Moorhen Two at Shannon lagoon, singles at Loch Mor and at Craggaunowen lagoon.

Coot Five at Shannon lagoon

Oystercatcher Three at Fergus Estuary 27th May. 30+ on Inisheer 1st June and 10 in flock off Inisheer 2nd June.

Northern Lapwing 2 at Mullach Mor 30th May

Ringed Plover 1 near Inisheer airstrip on 1st and 2nd June.

Black~tailed Godwit 500+ at Shannon lagoon on 27th May.

Curlew A distant flock off the Rine on 29th May was probably this species.

Common Sandpiper 1+ at Mullach Mor 30th May.

Turnstone 50 feeding on insects in seaweed on Inisheer on 1st June. 7 in flock 2nd June.

Knot 3+ with Turnstone and Knot on Inisheer on 31st May.

Dunlin 15 with the Turnstone at Inisheer on 31st May.

Common Gull 10+ Fanore 29th May, Small flocks on Inisheer 1-2nd June.

Great Black~backed Gull Recorded daily 1-3 by the coast.

Herring Gull Common

Black~headed Gull Recorded daily in small numbers.

Kittiwake Common at the Cliffs of Moher and in flocks at sea.

Sandwich Tern One at Shannon lagoon, and singles off Inisheer.

Common Tern Four at Shannon lagoon. The Gall Island colony off Whitethorn had disappeared. The Inisheer colony had returned but with only about 20 pairs.

Little Tern Two off Inishmaan on 31st May. 4 on Inisheer on 1st & 2nd June.

Guillemot First recorded on 31st and large numbers at the Cliffs of Moher.

Razorbill Recorded from 31st, around the Cliffs of Moher on 2nd June.

Black Guillemot 10+ off Doolin 31st and Inisheer on 2nd.

Puffin Several off Doolin 31st and a few at the Cliffs of Moher on 2nd June.

Wood Pigeon Singles daily

Collared Dove Single Gort 30th May

Cuckoo Heard daily in the Burren, and on the Aran Islands.

Swift Six over Kilfenora on 29th May. 4+ at Kilmacduagh 30th. May .1+ Cliffs of Moher 2nd June.

Skylark Heard singing daily on the Aran Islands and the Burren.

Barn Swallow Common daily.

House Martin Small numbers daily but not on the Aran Islands.

Pied Wagtail Common

Meadow Pipit Common

Rock Pipit Common along the coast.

Grey Wagtail Recorded on R. Inagh.

Dipper Irish race Two Recorded on the R. Aille.

Wren Heard at Shannon lagoon. Common on the Aran Islands.

Dunnock Common.

Robin Common

Stonechat Several pairs at Shannon lagoon and Spanish Point and common on the Aran Islands and on the Burren.

Northern Wheatear Common in small numbers

Sedge Warbler Seen and heard at Shannon lagoon 27th May.

Reed Warbler Heard at Craggaunowen, 3rd June

Blackbird Common

Song Thrush Small numbers on 30th and seen on Inishmaan and Inisheer.

Mistle Thrush Cahermacnaughton, 28th May and at Burren Breeze, Lisdoonvarna.

Common Whitethroat Recorded at Abbey Hill, The Rine.

Willow Warbler Common where suitable trees and scrubland was available.

Chiffchaff Heard at 3.6.

Goldcrest Heard in the woodland at Craggaunowen

Great Tit Common.

Blue Tit Common

Magpie Common

Red-billed Chough One pair on Inisheer at Plassy Wreck and 2 on Abbey Hill 28th May.

Jackdaw Common.

Rook Common.

Hooded Crow Common

Raven Two over Abbey Hill on 28th May. 2 at Kilmacduagh. 30th May.

Starling Common

House Sparrow Only small numbers on Inishmaan and Inisheer.

Chaffinch Common in small numbers.

Greenfinch Recorded in small flocks.

Goldfinch Recorded on 1st & 2nd June on Inisheer in small flocks.

Linnet Recorded Shannon lagoon. Abbey Hill, Inishmaan, Inisheer and the Burren.

Reed Bunting Present at Shannon lagoon on 27th May and at Lough Bunny 30th May and Lisdoonvarna 31st May.

BUTTERFLIES

Small White Shannon lagoon

Green-veined White Noughaval

Brimstone Lough Bunny, Mullach Mor.

Wood White The Rine, and Inishmaan?

Common Blue Polyommatus icarus mariscolore The Irish race is larger and brighter than British race. The Rine, Fanore 31.5. and Inisheer 1.6. and 2.6.

Small Heath Fullacht Fia, The Rine 29.5. and Lough Bunny 30.5.

Speckled Wood Doolin 2.6.

Wall Brown Lough Bunny 30.5.

Dingy Skipper 1+ Lough Bunny 30.5.

MOTHS

Cinnabar Moth Tyria jacobaeae Common

Yellow Shell Camptogramme bilineata The Rine

Many Lackey Moth Malacosoma neustria caterpillars living in silken tents on Blackthorn on Abbey Hill

Browntail Moth Euproctis chrysorrhoea caterpillars at The Rine.

Muslin Moth Diaphora mendica Lisdoonvarna and Inisheer.

Garden Tiger caterpillar. Arctia caja

Common Heath Moth Ematurga atomaria Loch Bunny.

OTHER INSECTS

Buff tailed Bumblebee

White tailed Bumblebee

Red tailed Bumblebee

Rose Chafer Cetonia aurata Poll Sallach

Garden Chafer Phylopartha horticola Fanore

7 Spot Ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata Common

Stonefly sp. Lough Bunny

Common (Aeshna) Hawker Aeshna juncea

Hairy Dragonfly Brachytron pratense Mullach Mor.

Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans Lough Bunny

Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigera Loch Bunny

Queen Wasp sp. Burren Breeze

Hawthorn Shield Bug Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale Inisheer

OTHER GENERA

Sea Potato Echinocardium cordatum

Beadlet Anemone Actinia equina

FLOWERS

27th May Shannon lagoon
Flax
Field Mallow
Milkwort
Ox eye Daisy
Mountain Everlasting,
Yellow Rattle
Early Purple Orchid,
Tormentil
Red/White Clover
Flecked (Leopard) Marsh Orchid,
Ragged Robin
Ox-eye daisy
Bird's Foot Trefoil
Mouse-eared Hawkweed

28th May
Noughaval, Cahermacnaughton, Abbey Hill.
Irish Saxifrage
Heath Dog Violet
Herb Robert
Silverweed
Spindle
Shining Cranesbill
Mountain Avens
Tutsan
Hart's Tongue Fern
Yellow Flag
Woundwort
Maidenhair Spleenwort
Wall Rue
Creeping Buttercup
Wall Pennywort
Rustyback Fern
Wall Lettuce
Alexanders
Bog/Meadow Thistle
Burnet Rose
Common Spotted Orchid
Mouse-eared Hawkweed
Spring Gentian
Greater Spearwort
Water Avens
Twayblade
Irish Eyebright
Fine leaved cotoneaster
Wild Madder
Herb Bennet
Wood Sage
Cowslip/Oxlip
Lady's Smock
Primrose

29th May
Poll Sallach, Fanore, Fullacht Fia, Black Head, Pinnacle Well, The Rine.
Hoary Rockrose
Golden Rod
Sea Spurrey
Sea Spleenwort
Heath Spotted Orchid
Sea Campion
Opp. leaved Golden Saxifrage
Thrift
Golden Samphire
Butterwort
Fairy Foxglove
Valerian
Pyramidal Orchid
Dodder
Lords & Ladies
Thyme
Yellow wort
Honey suckle
Hemp Agrimony
N. Marsh Orchid
Quaking grass

30th May
Lough Bunny, Kilmacduagh, Mullach Mor
Lesser Butterfly Orchid
Dropwort
Heath Speedwell
Heath Dog Violet
Fen Violet?
Slender St John's Wort
Lesser Meadow Rue
Bugle
Shrubby Potentilla
Marsh Thistle
Heath Speedwell
Mouse-eared Hawkweed
Early Purple Orchid
Water Mint
Guelder Rose
Hazel
Spring Sandwort

31st May
Inishmaan, Inisheer.
Babbington's Leek
Bloody Cranesbill
Figwort sp.
Irish Saxifrage
Early Purple Orchid
Dove's Foot Geranium
White-ramping Fumitory
Broomrape sp.
Ox-eye Daisy Primrose
Sea Spurge
Cut-leaved Geranium
Common Storksbill
Gorse

1st June Inisheer
Bloody Cranesbill
Salad Burnet
Marsh Marigold
Irish Eyebright
Kidney Vetch
Hemlock Waterdropwort
Broomrape Sp
Polypody Fern
Maidenhair Fern
Wall Rue
Ivy-leaved Toadflax
Cut-leaved Cranesbill
Oxlip
Spiked Speedwell
Sea Sandwort
Scurvygrass
Woody Nightshade
Rock Samphire
Sea Campion
Thrift
Poppy
Dove's foot Cranesbill

2nd June Inisheer, R. Aille, R. Inagh.
Marsh Thistle
Portland Spurge
Common Burdock
River Watercrowfoot

3rd June Craggaunowen
Water lily.
MAMMALS
Common Pipistrelle
A small bat possibly this species 27.5. and 28.5. at Lisdoonvarna.
Badger 1 young female dead on the road near Mullach Mor.
Otter Spraints at the Rine on 3rd
Common Seal 10+ at Gall Island off Whitethorn and 4 off Inisheer.
Irish Hare Lepus timidus hibernicus 3 recorded on 28.5.
Rabbit Recorded only on Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Roe Deer Seen briefly near the Car park in Craggaunowen was probably Roe.
AMPHIBIANS
Common Frog
Singles recorded on two days.

© The Travelling Naturalist 2000