Monday 3 October 2016

Cape Clear Bird Observatory 22-25 September

This weekend seen myself (Dean) and another trainee from the North, David S, head down to Cape Clear Bird Observatory to help trial the new bird ringing course.  After a rather long but fun filled drive from the north (6.5 hours), David and myself set off from the lovely seaside town of Baltimore for Cape Clear at around 18:00.  As we made our way out of the sheltered bay composed of a scattering of small islands and islets we were hit by strong south westerly winds.  Immediately our quick pint and a pizza at Baltimore didn’t seem like such a good idea as the ferry was met by the rather daunting swell.  Our sea legs faired however leaving us to enjoy a superb journey from Baltimore.  On route we were blessed with sightings of numerous Gannets, Black-headed Gulls and a lovely raft of around 100 Kittiwakes just off the North end of the island.  Slowly but surely we powered into Cape’s waters, eventually reaching a small islet located along the north west stretch of the island aptly named “Bird Island”.  As we approached we realised the islet was covered in Cormorant, Shag and a small number of Great black-backed Gulls.  Then as I was making some brief counts, something small and pale floating on the surface of the water caught my eye.  After raising my bins I was surprised to see a Grey Phalarope floating between the now reserved bouts of swell, David and I were delighted!  A new lifer for us both and we hadn’t even landed on the island yet, a sign of great things to come we thought! 

We landed in North harbour at around 19:00 and were met off the boat by Sam Bayley the current Wildlife Officer at Cape Clear Bird Observatory who, after helping us lug our kit to the observatory building, gave us a bit of a tour and a brief introduction to the island and the other bird ringers involved in the course.  We were both pretty wrecked from the long Diet Coke fuelled journey so after the evening log and a quick hot toddy we settled down for an early night to try and re-charge the batteries for the excitement ahead.

Goldcrest sheltering from the wind (DJ)

The next morning we split up into two groups and set off to unfurl the nets at two different sites on the island by 06:00am. Things were rather breezy as we arrived, though better than predicted, which enabled us to catch a small number of Goldcrest, Blackbird and Dunnock amongst others. We also made an attempt at catching some Meadow Pipit which were fluttering in small numbers around the site but the weather didn't work with us.  Disappointingly the winds then picked up leading us to furl the nets and leave the site a few hours earlier than planned.  We caught up with the other group by an area called the Nordy Wood, a lush area of mixed native woodland species which were planted there a number of years ago by another group of Northerners.  The other group faired roughly the same as us though they were lucky enough to catch the only Blackcap and Song Thrush of the weekend as well as a new Chiffchaff.  As we were getting ready to pack up at this site we got the news of a juvenile Common Rosefinch which was spotted in a Sycamore tree not far from where we had set up base.  David and I couldn’t pass up the chance for bagging another lifer so we set out to see if we could catch a glimpse, unfortunately we dipped!

Chiffchaff (DS)

The south westerly gales battered on through the afternoon squandering any attempts to get out ringing again.  Instead we equipped ourselves with hiking boots and numerous choccy biscuits and headed out to the south west part of the island for a spot of sea watching, something Cape Clear is reputed for being one of the best places in Europe for.  Scopes were shaky in the oncoming winds but we did manage to get some counting done.  The highlight during our watch had to be a lone Sooty Shearwater gliding and circling effortlessly above the intimidating waves.  We spent a good hour counting before we decided of head back via the East bog ringing site and the lake where we seen Chough, Dabchick, Stonechat and a nice flock of Starling (No Rose-coloured Starling however which had been seen a number of days previous).

Spotted Flycatcher (older pic of adult from CBO)

Again Saturday’s weather was less than favorable composing of more strong winds and heavy showers.  Therefore we opted for a bit of a lie in (which was well needed after playing Bill Oddies bird race game till near 2 in the morning) followed by a morning of presentations from Sam about his birding adventures around the world along with a few bird ageing quizzes to get the brain juices flowing.  After a late lunch we then headed to South Harbour where we had received a report of a small stranding of Portuguese Man O War.  We counted a total of around 60 of these colonial Siphoniphores the most I have ever seen in one wreck.  Shortly after we headed back out to set up the nets at an area called Cotters Garden situated behind the islands pub.  Here we caught some new Goldcrests, a few Blue Tits and the star of the show a super juvenile Spotted Flycatcher.  Things were looking good then out of nowhere the rain started pelting it down leading to us once again having to pack up the nets.  All was not lost however as after the rains had passed we had a go at Woosh netting baited with bread and sausages (these darn birds eat better than I do).  Within seconds of baiting the trap we caught a smashing 1st winter Herring Gull, shortly followed by a Hooded Crow.  A new ringing tick for our trainer and tutor Jodie Crane, the first she has had in two years!

Hooded Crow (DJ)

Sunday morning’s weather followed a similar trend to the rest of the weekend however we did get the nets up briefly in both the Nordy Wood and Cotters sites.  After we processed a few birds which included some new Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.  David and I then got a brief insight into Potter trapping on the isle before we embarked once again on the gruelling travel north.

Willow Warbler (DJ)

Blue Tit (DS)
All and all our weekend on Cape Clear was an extremely interesting and enjoyable one, despite the rubbish weather.  I'll definitely be heading down to this beautiful island again for a spot of birding and it possible another one of the Observatories ringing courses! 

Dean Jones

Cape Clear Ringing List 22-25 September

                                  New            Retrap
Blackbird                     4                   1
Blackcap                     1
Blue Tit                      12                 4
Chiffchaff                    3                  1
Dunnock                     6                  2
Goldcrest                   27                 6
Goldfinch                     1
Great Tit                      1
Herring Gull                 1
Hooded Crow              1
Robin                          2
Song Thrush               1
Spotted Flycatcher     1
Willow Warbler           4                   1
Wren                          4                   1

Totals                       69                  16

Cape Clear Sighting List

Little Grebe
Manx Shearwater
Sooty Shearwater
Grey Heron
Black Guillemot
Peregrine Falcon
Herring Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Grey Phalarope
Rock Dove
Song Thrush
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Willow Warbler
Reed Warbler
Meadow Pipit
Rock Pipit
Pied/White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Spotted Flycatcher
Hooded Crow
Reed Bunting
Common Rosefinch

As of this year Cape Clear Bird Observatory is once again open to visitors to come and stay and they are always very keen for ringers to visit.  For more information on the Obs and how to visit check out the BirdWatch Ireland page -

For up to date sightings at Cape Clear you can follow the Obs on Twitter @
or all Ireland sightings at -

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