TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
26 May - 2 June 2001
Saturday 26th May
Dark clouds greeted us at Shannon Airport as we met Christy, and it was actually starting to rain as we headed out to the airport lagoon. However there were masses of birds here, and the count of Black-tailed Godwits reached an amazing 700. On the lagoon approach road a yellow mini-bus marked 'Airport Police' charged up to us, and the chap asked us what we were doing. I thought it a good start to get both soaking wet and arrested in the first ten minutes of the trip!
We then headed off to the golf course for a rather wet walk, however with good views of an Irish Hare on the course. We walked out to the hide behind the golf course but it was sadly locked; however there were good views of waders here. It had really come on to rain heavily and so we didn't take a look at the mud flats.
It took us about an hour and a quarter to drive up to Lisdoonvarna where we had an excellent welcome and meal, although as we traipsed in soaking wet and muddy the landlady rather pointedly extolled the virtues of her drying room for our wet gear and boots. In the evening a Grasshopper Warbler was heard reeling from a nearby field.
Sunday 27th May
A damp but mild start to the day, and the early morning walk in light rain was very productive with a singing Blackcap and a Siskin new for the trip in this area. We also saw fine Fox looking back at us from the over the Spectacle Bridge.
After breakfast Christy met us again and we headed down to Kilfenora Cathedral where we saw the usual Swifts and many Jackdaws nesting in the nearby houses. Christy explained the long fifteen hundred year history of habitation here. One of Christy's friends(I suspect most of County Clare count themselves amongst this number) opened the Burren display especially for us. It was being extensively refurbished but we climbed in amongst the building equipment to visit the loos. Christy's friend asked us if we were going to be long, to which Christy replied "Well, we're not going to be all day here."
We then went on to a ring-fort, Cahermacnaughton where we saw Whitethroat and the first of many Cuckoos. Christy explained this was where a law school for the Brehon Laws, the old Celtic law, was held. Amongst other things it gave equal property rights to women and is generally regarded as being somewhat ahead of its time.
We visited Noughaval Market Cross where we had brief glimpses of a pair of Siskins and Christy explained how the marks on the cross were used to measure cloth many years ago. We then drove up to the coast at Ballyvaughan and the displays at 'Burren Exposure' on geology, history and the plants. We also had a chance to look off-shore at the Common Tern colony and saw a nice group of loafing Common Seals with one Grey Seal, unusual in this area.
However the rain was coming on and it continued as we had lunch in the mini-bus. After lunch we walked alongside Abbey Hill. This was the Burren proper and we saw early Purple Orchids and many Spring Gentians, although only a few were fully out, and towards the end of the walk masses of Mountain Avens. The walk follows a contour line alongside the hill with superb views out across Galway Bay.
At the end of the walk we eventually met Christy and he took us the Mrua Gallery and tearooms where we saw our first House Sparrows of the day. We finished off at Corcomroe Abbey looking at its wonderful botanical stone carvings and interesting history. We drove back home via Corkscrew Hill and Gregans Wood where there was a fine display of Mossy Saxifrage across the road.
Monday 28th May
Rain greeted us again this morning, and we decided to go to Ennistymon first. At the falls we walked down the river seeing Grey Wagtails, but only seeing the Irish Dippers on the way back. We had excellent views of a pair visiting their nest under a ledge on the main fall.
We waited for Christy to return in the high street, during which time we were nearly arrested for the second time this trip. The Garda seemed oddly suspicious of a group of people with scopes, and we were told not to film..but what?. Suddenly, soldiers with flak jackets and automatic weapons appeared out of nowhere and we realised that this was standard procedure for a delivery of cash to one of the town banks!
We noticed that the wind had got up as we drove round to the Cliffs of Moher. When we got there, there was a full gale blowing into the cliffs and it was actually hard to stand up, never mind see the thousands of Guillemots and Kittiwakes on the ledges. We beat a strategic retreat but as we drove away we saw two Chough feeding on the grassy slope above us.
We then headed to Poll Sallach via Doolin hoping the weather will have calmed for our crossing to Inisheer in two days time. At the coast we looked down the grykes in the limestone pavements for Sea Spleenwort and walked across to some turfed areas for Irish Saxifrage where we saw just the last few flowers, but here there were sheets of orchids, mostly Heath-spotted but a few Northern Marsh Orchids. The Bloody Cranesbill and Golden Rod together with a blue stormy sea produced wonderful colours in the bright sunshine.
However the wind was tiring and we soon headed off to Bridie's for soup, wonderful scones and a warm welcome. After this we went the short distance to Fullacht Fia, an ancient cooking place. Christy told us how this was worked and we saw several new plants including Sanicle and Wood Sorrel, relics of the woodland flora that used to cover this now barren area. The Bee-Orchid fields have been sadly 'improved' with fertiliser and there was another agricultural development in the form of a herd of Alpacas further along.
We then headed along to Black Head for a look at the Maidenhair Ferns there and noticed many sea birds in Galway Bay just around the corner from the wind. Most of them were Sandwich Terns. There were at least seventy, possibly up to a hundred in view fishing in the bay, and two or three Gannet giving excellent views. Best of all were two Great Northern Divers, one in full breeding plumage. We finished up with a walk at the Rine where it was rather too windy, but we saw a few waders including Ringed Plover, and two Rock Doves flying by. We returned rather tired and windblown but having had a good day.
Tuesday 29th May
It was cloudy and with still quite a fresh westerly wind as we set out for Lough Bunny. From the van we saw Mistle Thrush and Bullfinch briefly, and on the lough there were Common Sandpipers and a Great Crested Grebe. It was too windy for many dragonflies but we saw Four-spotted Libellula and Common Blue Damselfly, as well as a couple of frogs. We also identified Marsh Speedwell, a new plant for the list.
We then headed onto Kilmacduagh with its huge rocket-shaped round tower surrounded by a cluster of churches and other monastic buildings. Here we went inside the Glebe House where a huge pile of sticks had been left by Jackdaws on the floor. As at Kilfenora there were several Swifts flying about. We explored this remarkable group of ruins, hearing Chiffchaff from nearby trees, before heading for Gort and an excellent seafood chowder at O'Grady's popular local pub.
We then retraced our steps to Mullagh Mor where the 'turloughs' still held water as well as a few Mallard, together with a single Lapwing defending its territory against a Hooded Crow. Here too a Yellowhammer sang, another new bird for the trip. The Shrubby Cinquefoil was abundant here, some bushes with many flowers, and there were other new plants including Lesser Meadow Rue.
Christy then showed us the devastation caused by the aborted Visitor Centre. Apparently this cost a million pounds to put up, and then the same contractor charged 0.85 million to demolish it! We then headed back to Kilnaboy Church for its distinctive double cross and a Shelagh Nagig, over which we shall draw a veil.
We then went to Lemanagh Castle and Christy told us the story of Mary Rua. Finally across the high Burren in superb sunshine we stopped at Poulnabroe Portal Tomb. On the way down to Ballyvaughan we stopped at the earthen ring fort of Ballyalavaen where few butterflies, mainly Green-veined Whites, together with a few Hairy Dragonflies were taking advantage of the sun and shelter.
In the evening a small group of us went off to the Royal Spa to do the set dancing, but unfortunately the classes were not exactly for beginners. Chris's comment about my efforts was 'what he lacked in skill he more than made up for in enthusiasm'- but I thought Anne & Chris did splendidly! However we were only allowed one set before being politely dismissed so that the local experts could have a go unimpeded.
Wednesday 30th May
We headed for Doolin in overcast conditions. While waiting for the ferry we saw 15 Sand Martins hawking insects on the beach, and we watched a Black Guillemot in the bay. Just as we got onto the 'Happy Hooker', our ferry, two Chough flew over us.
The ferry was busy with over seventy people on board. We stowed luggage under cover and went to the after-deck. The crossing was a bit lively at first and it was very difficult to see any birds, however a few auks went past.
But the sun came out as we headed out across the islands and it was to be a glorious day. We landed on Inishmaan at 11 o'clock and decided to walk round the sheltered east side of the island, an inspired idea from Christy. We had only gone a few yards when I noticed two Great Northern Divers offshore. Again these were in superb breeding plumage and not very far away. It was really quite warm as we walked along, and the flowers were excellent , including Babbington's Leek and Dune Pansy, and there were also many butterflies, including Wood White and Small Blue. At one point we came upon a busy colony of Transparent Burnet Moths, an excellent find.
It was a splendid walk past the small flowery stonewalled hay fields. On the way back we found a patch of Purple Milk-Vetch, these islands being only place it grows in Ireland.
We then walked up to the café for lunch and were given a warm welcome by a lady called Vilma who is from Guatemala, would you believe? The views from the caféwere stunning and it was delightful to sit and just watch the weather. After lunch we walked across the island past thatched cottages in varying states of repair, and Christy stopping to converse with the locals in Irish. Towards Synge's Chair we had views of Inishmore, and then headed back via the knitwear factory to the quay… and still the sun shone.
We caught the 4.30 boat across to Inisheer and were met by Pedar Poil and his tractor. Pedar took our bags and two of the clients up the hill to Brid's guesthouse while the rest strolled up. Brid's house is in a truly wonderful setting with panoramic views across the tiny stone walled field of Inisheer across the Sound to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher and on a clear day the mountains of Kerry to the south. We were welcomed with tea and scones and sat gawping at the views in the lovely evening light. The superb and filling dinner of roast lamb made a wonderful end to the day.
Thursday 31st May
The early morning walkers were treated to sunshine and close views of two Chough flying in and out of the look-out tower.
After an incredibly filling breakfast of kippers and porridge we walked to the southeast lighthouse with many butterflies including Orange-tip and Grizzled Skipper on the way. The meadows here were superb and full of flowers especially where there had been old potato fields. Near the lighthouse we saw Raven, Oystercatcher and Turnstone and then headed back on a rather rough walk across the boulders before regaining the road.
Climbing up the hill towards Brid's we had views of the lake with a brood of eight signets and two broods of Mallard Ducklings. One of the most memorable features of this walk were the Cuckoos, up to three were seen flying around together calling continuously and including the bubbling call of the female. Christy reckoned there were fewer than last year, though, when the Cuckoos woke them up at 4.30 in the morning. We learnt to say 'good morning' in Irish and to reply to it to one or more people, but I don't think I could spell either greeting.
After a superb lunch of smoked salmon some opted to nurse their feet from this morning while others walked down to the church in the sand. Here we found many Bee and Pyramidal Orchids in bud. Out at the Plassey wreck we were greeted to a display of two Choughs attacking a Raven before we headed back in increasing cloud and showers.
Friday 1st June
It was dull but relatively calm as we walked down to the Quay. Our first cetacean of the trip, a Bottle-nosed Dolphin was in the harbour and showed a couple of times. We looked at a Neolithic site where many Pyramidal Orchids were beginning to show and Cuckoos were again much in evidence. This time we saw a flock of four together and three Curlew also flew over. It was a cold westerly wind as we walked along the shore through a lunar landscape of barren rock and we headed back via the Holy Well and St. Gobnait's Chapel and back to the Quay and time for a quick coffee in 'Tígh Ned's'. On the 12.30 boat, calmer waters near Inisheer gave us excellent views of Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot and other sea birds with two distant Manx Shearwaters.
We landed at Doolin as a group of Morris dancers from Suffolk were about to embark in full kit. We headed for the Doolin Craft Centre for lunch and then set off for the Cliffs of Moher. It was much better this time and we had good views of all the auks on the ledges including the Puffins and superb views of Choughs down to twenty feet just along the cliff tops. We also saw Roseroot growing down the cliff. Then we had the short journey back to Lisdoonvarna and finished with a visit to the smokery in the fine late afternoon sunshine.
Saturday 2nd June
After paying our farewells to Kincora House, we headed for the Craggaunown Project, where our guide took us to see the Castle, the Crannog, the Ring Fort and St. Brendan's Boat. On the lake there were Little Grebe and there was Chiffchaff singing in the woods.
After coffee we headed for the airport and said our farewells.
Great Northern Diver Two off Black Head, 28 May, 2 at Inishmaan Harbour, 30 May
Little Grebe One at Craggaunowen Lake on 2 June.
Great Crested Grebe One at Lough Bunny, 29 May.
Manx Shearwater Two between Doolin and Inisheer on 1 June.
Cormorant Recorded in small numbers daily.
Grey Heron Up to 6 noted daily, including on Inisheer.
Mute Swan 50+ at Shannon Lagoon on 26 May. A pair at Loch Mor on Inisheer with 8 cygnets.
Oystercatcher One at The Rine, 28 May. Up to 5 Inisheer.
Northern Lapwing One at Mullach Mor 29 May.
Ringed Plover 3 at Poll Sallach and one at The Rine, 28 May. Singles on Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Common Sandpiper 2 Lough Bunny, 29 May.
Turnstone 3 on Inisheer on 31 May.
Common Gull Several in Lough Bunny area. Seen from both Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Great Black~backed Gull Recorded daily by the coast, both Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Herring Gull Common. Mainland, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Lesser Black-backed Gull Up to 3 noted 4 days, mainland, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Black~headed Gull Recorded daily mainland. One off Inisheer, 1 June.
Kittiwake Common at the Cliffs of Moher and in flocks at sea, off Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Sandwich Tern At least 70 in Galway Bay off Black Head, 28 May. Two off Inisheer, 31 May.
Common Tern Min 30 on the Gall Island colony off Whitethorn. The Inisheer colony had disappeared.
Guillemot Lrge numbers at the Cliffs of Moher. Seen from boat, and both Inishmaan and Inisheer
Razorbill Many onhe Cliffs of Moher. Also from boat.
Black Guillemot 2 off Doolin 30 May and from boat.
Rock Dove Two past The Rine, 28 May. Flock of 9 Inishmaan.
Collared Dove Noted 4 days, Lisdoonvarna, Ballyvaughan and Corcomroe
Barn Swallow Common daily mainland, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
House Martin Seen daily on mainland.
Pied Wagtail Common daily mainland, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Grey Wagtail Seen Lisdoonvarna, Ennistymon and Lough Bunny.
Rock Pipit Noted along the coast. More seen Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Dipper Irish race
Blackbird Common daily mainland, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Song Thrush Seen daily mainland, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Northern Wheatear Seen Abbey Hill, Poll Sallagh and Inishmaan and Inisheer, where up to 10 daily.
Sedge Warbler Two or three at Shannon Lagoon 26 May.
Common Whitethroat Recorded at Abbey Hill, Mullagh Mor, Lough Bunny and Doolin.
Willow Warbler Noted four days on mainland
Chiffchaff Heard at Kilmacduagh on 29 May and Craggaunowen on 2 June.
Goldcrest Heard in the woodland at Lisdoonvarna on two days.
Great Tit Noted four days only, including one Inishmaan.
Red-billed Chough Two at Cliffs of Moher on 28 May, and again on 1 June. Two at Doolin 30 May. Two pairs Inisheer, in the Plassey Wreck and Lookout Tower.
Hooded Crow Common daily mainland, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Yellowhammer One singing Mullagh Mor, 29 May.
Reed Bunting Present at Shannon lagoon on 26 May and at Lough Bunny 29 May and Lisdoonvarna.
Goldfinch Two at Noughaval Market Cross, 27 May. One Inishmaan.
House Sparrow Seen daily in small nos; mainland, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Common Seal 20+ at Gall Island off Whitethorn and one off Inisheer.
Grey Seal One at Gall Island.
Bottle-nosed Dolphin One Inisheer Harbour, 1 June.
Irish Hare Lepus timidus hibernicus
Common Frog Two at Lough Bunny.
Small White Inishmaan, Inisheer
Green-veined White Ballyalavan
Wood White Inishmaan
Common Blue Polyommatus icarus mariscolore
Small Blue Abbey Hill, Inishmaan.
Speckled Wood Ballyalavan
Wall Brown Abbey Hill, and both Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Grizzled Skipper Several Inisheer, 31 May.
Common Heath Moth
Transparent Burnet Several on Inishmaan in a sheltered site. Many larvae and pupae of Burnet moth sp. on Inisheer.
Garden Tiger Caterpillar on Inishmaan
White Ermine One at Brid's
Lackey Moth Caterpillars on Inisheer
Buff tailed Bumblebee
White tailed Bumblebee
Red tailed Bumblebee
4-spotted Chaser Dragonfly Lough Bunny
Blue-tailed Damselfly Lough Bunny
Common Blue Damselfly Loch Bunny
26 May Shannon lagoon
Ox eye Daisy
27 May Kilfenora, Noughaval, Cahermacnaughton, Abbey Hill.
Heath Dog Violet
Hart's Tongue Fern
Common Spotted Orchid
Opp. leaved Golden Saxifrage Thrift
29 May Lough Bunny, Kilmacduagh, Mullach Mor
Heath Dog Violet
Devil's Bit Scabious
30 May Inishmaan, Inisheer.
31 May Inisheer
1 June Inisheer, Cliffs of Moher
2 June Craggaunowen
Yellow Water lily.