TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
The Burren & Aran Islands
Saturday 29th May - Saturday 5th June 2004
Sat 29th May 2004 Sunny and Dry
The group came in from all directions, Heathrow, Prestwick, Manchester and the USA. At 4.00 after the late arrival of the Manchester group we met Christy and Marty, our driver, and set off along the causeway to birdwatch, where the Shannon lagoon was looking very low and was crisscrossed by marker buoys and lines. The weather had been dry since early May: unusual for Ireland. We found a Mute Swan flock, Black-tailed Godwits and Moorhens. On the Shannon there was a flock of 200 Dunlin and we had close views of Stonechat and Meadow Pipits displaying. Our drive to Lisdoonvarna took us over the Fergus, through the edge of Ennis and out to the farmlands on acid soils through to Lisdoonvarna, where we got our usual warm welcome from Doreen and Diarmid at Kincora House and we had an excellent evening meal.
Sunday 30th May 2004 Heavy rain in night, clearing.
The early morning walkers found Whitethroat, Robin, Swallow and Coal Tit amongst others on their short walk to the river. After breakfast we set off to Kilfenora and explored the visitors' centre, bought books and maps and went to the High Cross. Afterwards at Noughaval we saw the Market Cross and checked out the plants on the stone walls and within the old church. A fox was spotted by some of the party. At Cahermacnaughton Fort, Christy explained about Brehon Laws and we looked for flowers and listened to the Cuckoo. There was lots of Dame's Violet on the roadsides. We had lunch at Gregan's Wood in sunshine and saw Whitethroat and Willow Warbler as well as plenty of flowers, such as Meadow Thistle and Bugle. Our walk along Abbey Hill took us past Burnet Roses, Common Spotted Orchid (including the white O'Kelly's), Early Purple Orchid, Bloody Cranesbill and Twayblade, and our first Spring Gentians. The coach was waiting for us and took us round to Corcomroe Abbey where we admired the flowers carved in the capitols and listened to Song Thrushes singing. We held a checklist and enjoyed another large evening meal.
Monday 31st May 2004 Overcast. Rain.
We left for the Cliffs of Moher at 9.15 as the rain began. We paused briefly to look at Doolin Stone and went out to see the breeding Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Razorbills and Puffins through the rain. At 11.00 we went down to the ferry at Doolin but it was delayed due to the low tide. We got on board eventually at 12.15 and stopped briefly at Inisheer before reaching Inishmaan at 1.15, where the rain had fortunately stopped.
The cafe had tea and coffee ready for us to enjoy with scones, and we were able to dry out our things. At 2.00 we set off to explore the island and climbed up to the Stone Fort, after passing the cottage where J M Synge spent four summers learning Irish. The fort was pre Christian and had been erected with a great deal of organised labour and restored in 1889. We spotted Linnets, Dunnocks and Robins as well as Swallows and House Sparrows in the small island fields as well as Western Marsh Orchids and Babington's Leek. On our return to the harbour we found there was a further delay and a big swell on the sea. We spent the time studying the seaside plants and birds with Rock Pipit and Wheatear giving good views. We sailed back to Inisheer and were met by a minibus, which took all our baggage. We walked slowly up to castle village where we got a warm welcome and a huge spread of local salmon and vegetables and home-made apple pie.
We reviewed the sightings for the day and some explored up to the tower and castle to see if there was a sunset and to look for the choughs. The sky was clearing and it looked good for tomorrow.
Tuesday 1st June Sunny
Some were out for early morning walks as it was a lovely morning, and then we had a huge breakfast before setting of to explore the east of the island. We watched Common Terns fishing and a Gannet flew by at the Fisherman's beach and at Loch Mor, the Mute Swans had 4 cygnets this year. Coots and Moorhens had young and there were a pair of Little Grebes, as well as Stonechats, Linnets, Skylarks and Wheatears. We paused opposite the Plassey Wreck, which was wrecked on 8th March 1960 on the Carraig na Finnise reef, All the crew were saved. Heavy seas later moved it up to where it is now resting. It is now famous as a manmade Chough nest. We watched two Red-billed Choughs, bringing in food for their young. Off shore there was an Atlantic Grey Seal "Bottling" and keeping an eye on us. We wended our way back through the lanes for a large lunch of Salad and Smoked Salmon and had a rest in the afternoon while the Cuckoo called, determined we should not sleep.
The party walked on the Inisheer Way through to the east of the island via an 8th century chapel. Sadly the terns seem to have deserted the nesting area but we saw plenty of interesting plants and lots of chrysalis attached to grass, which were probably 6-Spot Burnets. We bought some wine and climbed back up the hill to an excellent lamb dinner and watched a wonderful sunset.
Wednesday June 2nd 2004 Sunny
We awoke to clear skies and cuckoos rushing about calling. We had another large breakfast and set off to visit O'Briens Tower and had excellent views over the islands to Connemara. At the Church in the Sand we looked at St Caomhan's grave and watched Wheatears. Sea-watching from behind the airstrip we saw Grey Heron, Cormorant, Shag and Black Guillemot. When we arrived back at the harbour, we were not surprised to find the time had been changed again. So we had lunch at the pub and sandwiches and soup were produced very speedily. We sailed back to Doolin and called at Roadford Bridge to look for the Irish Dipper, as well as Sand Martins and some distant Grey Wagtails. We decided to return to the Cliffs of Moher, and we were rewarded with excellent views this time including Chough feeding on crumbs outside the cafe. We returned to Kincora House, to reclaim our rooms and to enjoy another meal in the sunlit dining room.
Thursday 3rd June Rain & low cloud
We awoke to a complete change of weather and so we set off to drive out of the mist. At Whitethorn it was just beginning to clear so we were able to see Red- breasted Merganser, Mute Swans, Grey Heron and Curlew, as well as Grey and Harbour or Common Seals. We had morning coffee and then went to the Rine where it was very quiet, but we did find a few sea speciality plants.
At the Pinnacle Well, we found the Fairy Foxglove was still in flower, despite the drought in May. We had lunch at Bridie's and then we walked in the Caher valley near St Patrick's Church. At Fanore dunes there were Pyramid orchids, Dodder, as well as Thyme and the usual masses of Birdsfoot Trefoil. On the shore at the edge of the seaweed, we found TWO Curlews feeding and there were more orchids to come as we made our way back to Poll Sallach. Here we were soon looking at Hoary Rockrose, Hemp Agrimony, Golden Rod and Carline Thistles just making rosettes while we heard and saw Wheatears and Ringed Plovers. In the grykes there were Maidenhair Fern and Sea Spleenwort as well as more common Honeysuckle and Buckthorn and Blackthorn. We returned to Lisdoonvarna with very low cloud still, but it had been dry all afternoon.
Friday June 4th 2004 Low cloud and rain, clearing.
The cloud was still low so we headed towards Poulnabrone Dolmen. We saw a fine dog fox and after passing another ring fort now set in trees and the site where the Gleninsheen collar was found, we enjoyed the dolmen setting in the mist. As we headed east to Lough Bunny we saw a pair of Irish Hares. At Kilmacduagh we explored the Churches, Glebe House and the Round Tower. Swifts and Jackdaws and Song Thrushes called and Pied Wagtails nested in the wall. At Lough Bunny there were Willow Warblers singing as we had lunch at the picnic tables and the Common Spotted Orchids were out, but the Butterfly orchids and Dropwort were only in bud. At Mullachmore, we found Shrubby Cinquefoil coming into bloom. Lesser Butterfly and Fly Orchid were in flower, as well as leaves of Lesser Meadow Rue. The Turloughs were very low but we could not find the Fen Violet. However Stonechat, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Whitethroat were seen and as we headed back towards Leamanaugh Castle on a wet area we found more Mute Swans and a Grey Heron. Back at Lisdoonvarna we visited the smokehouse and purchased Cheese and Salmon to take home.
Saturday June 5th Sunny
We left at 9.00 and were met by our guide at Craggaunowen who showed us around the Crannog, Togher, an Iron Age Road, Ringfort and Ancient cooking place as well as The Tower Castle. We found Tufted Ducks on the Lake and Little Grebe and saw Tree Creepers in the woods as well as hearing Goldcrest as we took the woodland walk past the Wild Boar. We departed for the airport just before 12 and the early flight went ahead by bus while the rest of us had a country picnic at a park on the edge of Bunratty. The bus came back to collect us and we all set off for our various flights home, while some stayed on to enjoy a few more days in Ireland.
Great Northern Diver 1 off Inisheer 2nd June and 1 off Black Head 3rd June.
Little Grebe 2 at Loch Mor on Inisheer and 2 at the lake at Craggaunowen, and possible one near Poulnabrone.
Northern Fulmar Large numbers on the cliffs of Moher and singles from the Aran Islands.
Northern Gannet Single off Inisheer.
Cormorant Small numbers seen daily from 26th and from the ferry.
Shag 10 + on 31st May at Doolin Harbour.
Grey Heron Single on 2.6. Inisheer, 4 on 3.6. at Whitethorn and 1 near Mullach Mor 4.6.
Mute Swan 24 at Shannon lagoon on 29th A pair on Inisheer, Loch Mor on Inisheer with 4 cygnets on 1st June. Nest on Gall Island 3.6.
Mallard 10+ at Shannon lagoon and on 10+ Loch Mor Inisheer.
Red-breasted Merganser One male off Whitethorn on 3.6.
Kestrel One on 5th June.
Moorhen 2 and singles at roadside pools,
Coot Only one on Loch Mor.
Oystercatcher 2 at Shannon and 20+ in roost at Crab Island, Doolin. 2.6.
Ringed Plover A pair on the Rine 3.6. and another pair at Poll Sallach, and near Inisheer airstrip on 2.6.
Black-tailed Godwit 22 in roost at Shannon Lagoon 29.5.
Eurasian Curlew One on Gall Island off Whitethorn and 2 at Fanore shore, all on 3.6.
Common Sandpiper 1 seen at Inisheer 2.6.
Dunlin 200+ feeding in Shannon Estuary 29.5.
Common Gull 1 at Loch Mor 1.6. and several at Lough Bunny 4th June.
Great Black~backed Gull Recorded daily 1-3 by the coast.
Herring Gull Common
Black-headed Gull Recorded in small numbers at Shannon lagoon and inland at Lisdoonvarna.
Kittiwake Common at the Cliffs of Moher and at sea off Inisheer.
Sandwich Tern Single 1.6. off Inisheer and 4+ Whitethorn 3.6.
Common Tern 6+ at Shannon lagoon. Small numbers between Inisheer and Inishmaan and at Gall Island off Whitethorn.
Guillemot Large numbers at the Cliffs of Moher on and at sea around the Aran islands.
Razorbill Nesting on the Cliffs of Moher on and at sea .
Black Guillemot Seen in harbour at Doolin and near Aran Islands.
Puffin Recorded at the Cliffs of Moher on 31st May and 2nd June.
Wood Pigeon Singles daily
Collared Dove Common in villages.
Cuckoo Singles heard daily in the Burren, and very common on Inisheer and Inishmaan.
Swift Only recorded at Kilmacduagh on 4th June. The ones at Kilfenora seem to have gone.
Skylark Heard singing almost daily.
Sand Martin Seen at Roadford bridge, Doolin.
Barn Swallow Common daily, breeding.
House Martin Small numbers on 30th and 31st, but not on the Aran Islands.
Pied Wagtail Common recorded daily.
Grey Wagtail Recorded on Roadford bridge at Aille River.
Meadow Pipit Common recorded daily.
Rock Pipit Common along the coast.
Dipper Irish race Recorded on the R. Aille.
Wren Recorded daily. Very common on Inisheer and Inishmaan.
Song Thrush Common; recorded daily.
Stonechat Common; breeding pairs recorded daily.
Northern Wheatear Breeding in small numbers in the Burren uplands and on Aran Islands.
Willow Warbler Common where suitable trees and scrubland was available.
Chiffchaff Heard and seen at Craggaunowen 5th June.
Common Whitethroat Regular at Lisdoonvarna.
Goldcrest Seen and heard in the woodland at Craggaunowen.
Long-tailed Tit Two seen in woods at Lisdoonvarna.
Coal Tit One at Lisdoonvarna and several in woods at Craggaunowen.
Great Tit Common
Blue Tit Common
Treecreeper Seen at Lisdoonvarna and Craggaunowen.
Magpie Common, except on Aran Islands
Red-billed Chough 2 on Inisheer at Plassy Wreck, and 2 outside café at Cliffs of Moher.
Rook Very common
Hooded Crow Common
Starling Common, small flocks daily.
Yellowhammer Only 1 male at Lough Bunny.
Reed Bunting A pair at Lough Bunny 4th June.
Chaffinch Common in small numbers.
Greenfinch Recorded in small flocks at Lisdoonvarna.
Goldfinch Small flocks around Lisdoonvarna.
Linnet Small flocks recorded in Caher Valley, Inisheer and the Burren.
Bullfinch Pair seen at Lisdoonvarna
House Sparrow Recorded daily at Lisdoonvarna, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Common Pipistrelle Droppings in the Glebe house at Kilmacduagh, were probably this species. There was also a pile of Small Tortoiseshell butterfly wings nearby.
Red Fox One near Noughaval 30th May and one near Ballyvaughan 4th June.
European Otter Droppings on The Rine.
Harbour(Common) Seal 20+ resting on Gall Island off Whitethorn on 3rd.
Grey Seal Singles off Inisheer and off Gall Island.
Irish (Mountain) Hare 2 seen in a field near Poulnabrone on 4th June.
Rabbit Single below Abbey Hill on 30th May and several on Inisheer on 1st June..
Pine Marten Evidence with signs on 4.6.
Common Frog Recorded from Abbey Hill and Mullach Mor.
Brown Trout Several seen in the Caher River Pools on 3rd.
Large White Common
Small White Common
Green-veined White Shannon, Abbey Hill
Orange-tip Abbey Hill
Wood White Shannon, Abbey Hill,
Small Copper Inisheer
Small Blue Abbey Hill
Common Blue Common almost everyday.
Small Tortoiseshell A heap of wings in Glebe House at Kilmacduagh.
Speckled Wood Shannon, Inisheer,
Wall Brown Abbey Hill
Dingy Skipper Abbey Hill
Transparent Burnet The Rine
Cinnabar Moth Common
The Lackey Caterpillars at Shannon, at The Rine and on Inisheer.
Garden Tiger Woolley Bear caterpillars common on Inisheer.
6 Spot Burnet Many cocoons on grass stems on Inisheer.
Brimstone Moth Opisthographis interlata 30th on Abbey Hill.
Common Blue Damselfly Inisheer
Blue-tailed Damselfly Fanore.
Aran Bee Bombus muscorum smithianus Seen on Inisheer.
Rose Chafer Cetonia aurata Seen on 3rd June.
White-tailed Bumble Bee B. leucorum Common
Red-tailed Bumble Bee B. lapidaries Common
Common Frog Hopper Philaenus spumarius Common.
Please note that these are some of the highlights noted each day and are not a complete list:
29th May Shannon Lagoon
Ox eye Daisy
Bird's Foot Trefoil
Cats Paw/Mt. Everlasting
Common Spotted Orchid
Western Marsh Orchid
30th May Noughaval, Cahermacnaughton, Abbey Hill.
Heath Dog Violet
Rue leaved Saxifrage
Hart's Tongue Fern
Brittle Bladder Fern
Early Purple Orchid
Fine leaved Cotoneaster
Cats Paw/ Mt. Everlasting
31st May Cliffs of Moher, Inishmaan, Inisheer.
Early Purple Orchid
Dove's Foot Geranium
Western Marsh Orchid
Field Mouse-eared Chickweed
1st June Inisheer
Dove's foot Cranesbill
2nd June Inisheer, O'Briens Tower, Church in the Sand, Doolin, R. Aille, Cliffs of Moher.
Lords and Ladies
3rd June Whitethorn, Ballyvaghan, The Rine, Pinnacle Well, Fanore Dunes and beach, Caher River, Poll Sallach,
Heath Spotted Orchid
Opp. leaved Golden Saxifrage
Lords & Ladies
N. Marsh Orchid
Stag's Horn Plantain
Early Purple Orchid
Slender St John's Wort
4th June Poulnabrone Dolmen, Leamaneh House, Corofin, Kilmacduagh, Lough Bunny, Mullagh Mor,
Lesser Meadow Rue
Heath Dog Violet
Slender St John's Wort
Early Purple Orchid
5th June Craggaunowen
Yellow Water Lily
Stephanie Coghlan, June 2004.