Friday, 12 December 2014

Stranded Seabirds Winter 2014: a request for records

In late February 2014, back to back severe winter storms caused a large scale seabird stranding event along the European Atlantic seaboard. A mass ‘wreck’ was recorded along the West coast of France where some 28,000 dead or weakened stranded seabirds were recorded. Smaller numbers were found in other European countries with Atlantic coastlines. In order to ascertain the extent of this stranding event in Ireland, BirdWatch Ireland put out a call for people to send on records of any stranded seabirds they encountered around the country during the winter of 2013/2014.

As a result of this request we received more than 150 reports totaling over 330 individual stranded seabirds across 14 counties between December 2013 and March 2014, most of which were found in the south between counties Kerry and Wexford. Over 75% of the birds recorded were auks (Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Black Guillemot and Little Auk).

Typical example of a deceased, stranded Puffin © Lucy Weir

Through the recovery of ringed birds found among the mass ‘wreck’ in France, we know that some of the birds involved (particularly Guillemots and Razorbills) originated from Irish colonies such as Great Saltee and Puffins from Skellig Michael. Further evidence suggests that species such as Black Guillemot were affected by this event with some Irish Sea colonies such as Rockabill showing a 42% reduction in numbers of breeding pairs present during summer 2014.

With the first severe storm of winter 2014/2015 having just hit the West coast of Ireland this week, BirdWatch Ireland are renewing the appeal for records of stranded seabirds over the coming days, weeks and months.

As many of the following details as possible would be greatly appreciated:
(1) Date
(2) Location (with a Grid Reference if possible: www.gridreference.ie)
(3) Species involved (taking pictures can prove very useful for identification)
(4) Numbers involved
(5) Presence of any ringed birds (metal or coloured rings on the birds legs with details of codes if noted)
(6) General state of the bird (i.e. alive, dead, weak, alert, oiled, entangled in litter etc.)

Please send details of any stranded seabirds you have encountered to the BirdWatch Ireland seabird team at seatrack@birdwatchireland.ie

If any live seabirds are found which may require rehabilitation then please consult the Irish Wildlife Matters website (www.irishwildlifematters.ie) for guidance and details of any listed vets or rehabilitators in your area which may be able to help. The Oiled Wildlife Response Network may also be able to help (e-mail: oiledwidlife@gmail.com).

Please refrain from searching for stranded seabirds along the coast in dangerous storm conditions.

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In addition, a PhD student from GMIT is also requesting samples of stranded seabirds:

GMIT marine researcher Heidi Acampora (pictured below) is looking for help from the public to identify and/or collect any dead seabirds in their locality so she can use them in her PhD research.
Her research assesses the impact of marine litter on seabirds, as they are especially vulnerable to items discarded in our seas.
Why?
  • Seabirds mistake marine litter for food when searching for prey on the surface of the sea, as debris such as plastics are buoyant
  • These pieces of plastic can be particularly hard to regurgitate for some species, and they tend to accumulate them in their stomach
  • This leaves no space for real food, leading the animal to starvation

Beached birds can also be used as a good environmental tool reflecting the health of our waters. In fact, they have been heavily used as indicators of good environmental status throughout the North Sea, under the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).
Heidi's project intends to open the way for Ireland to use seabird stranding to comply with monitoring targets under the EU MSFD, and to acquire knowledge and be able to advise on marine litter in our waters.
What can you do?
If you can identify or collect beached, stranded or bycatch seabirds, or wish to find out more about this project, please contact Heidi using the details below:
Heidi Acampora
PhD Candidate
GMIT, Dublin Road, Galway
Tel: 086 361 5575


Thursday, 30 October 2014

Seatrack: final survey of 2014

The final Seatrack survey weekend of the season takes place this Sat 1st/Sun 2nd November with a start time of 08:25am (preference given to Sat 1st if possible so as to link in with other coastal seabird surveys being conducted by BirdLife Europe partners in France, Spain and Portugal).

Yet another Atlantic low pressure system will produce winds veering from Southwest to West over the weekend, hopefully conjuring up some good seawatching for observers on the Celtic Sea coast as well as along the Atlantic seaboard.

Some rather excellent late autumn seawatching continued over the past week or so with four species of shearwater seen from coastal headlands and islands in Co. Cork where small numbers of Balearic, Great and Manx Shearwaters were found among triple figure counts of Sooty Shearwaters. Strong Westerly winds coupled with an aggregation of Sprat saw a hive of feeding seabird activity in Galway Bay where impressive numbers of Kittiwakes, Gannets and skuas (particularly Arctic and Pomarine) were noted along with sightings of Leach's Storm-petrel and Little Gull. For an excellent series of pics from Galway Bay see the following blog posts by Dermot Breen and Cathal Forkan.

With the forecast for decent seawatching conditions this weekend, perhaps some Little Auks may be on the cards, particularly for those in the West and Northwest? Seawatchers should also keep an eye out for migrating divers and wildfowl with counts of Great Northern Diver, Barnacle Goose, Greenland White-fronted Goose and Whooper Swan making it into recent sightings reports.

If you would like to take part in this weekends Seatrack survey or wish to send on any additional seawatching records you've collated so far this season then please get in touch with Niall Keogh (Seatrack project co-ordinator) at seatrack@birdwatchireland.ie


Balearic Shearwater from the R.V. Celtic Explorer, south of Roche's Point Co. Cork, 23rd October 2014 © Niall T. Keogh

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Seatrack: mid-October update

The second last Seatrack survey weekend of the season takes place this Sat 18th/Sun 19th October with a start time of 09:00am.

Whilst the current weather predictions for the coming weekend are constantly changing, it would appear that the south coast will be the place to be with strong south to southwest winds and rain coming off the back of post-tropical storm Fay and likely to produce a few late autumn goodies. 

This past week has seen some excellent tallies of Balearic Shearwaters in Co. Cork with 30 passing the Old Head of Kinsale plus a separate 15 seen passing Galley Head on 8th October. Seabird rarities typically associated with late August continue to feature with a Barolo Shearwater seen eight miles off Quilty, Co. Clare on 7th Oct and both a Fea's-type Petrel and a Wilson's Storm-petrel seen several miles to the southeast of Galley Head on 10th Oct, all noted from the R.V. Celtic Explorer which is currently running transect lines through the Celtic Sea as part of the annual Celtic Sea Herring Acoustic Survey. In addition, several Great Shearwaters and Pomarine Skuas plus good numbers of European Storm-petrels along with Sabine's Gull, Grey Phalarope etc. have also been seen from the ship in the waters south of Cork/Waterford in recent days. The seabirds are certainly still out there!

If you would like to take part in this weekends Seatrack survey or wish to send on any additional seawatching records you've collated so far this season then please get in touch with Niall Keogh (Seatrack project co-ordinator) at seatrack@birdwatchireland.ie

Balearic Shearwaters West of Cape Clear, taken from the R.V. Celtic Explorer © Niall T. Keogh

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Seatrack: early October update

The fifth Seatrack survey weekend of the season takes place this Sat 4th/Sun 5th October with a start time of 08:30am (preference given to Sat 4th if possible so as to link in with other coastal seabird surveys being conducted by BirdLife Europe partners in France, Spain and Portugal). 

The current forecast for the weekend looks quite promising with a low pressure system originating off the southern end Greenland and stretching across the mid-Atlantic set to create moderate Westerly winds along the Atlantic seaboard on Saturday with increasing Southwest winds benefiting Southern watchpoints on Sunday.

Pomarine Skuas will hopefully be the order of the day for many Seatrackers on this next survey. When favourable seawatching conditions coincide with their late Autumn migration period it can be a real treat! An increase in the number of migrating Gannets, Kittiwakes and auks should also be apparent.

If you would like to take part in this weekends Seatrack survey or wish to send on any additional seawatching records you've collated so far this season then please get in touch with Niall Keogh (Seatrack project co-ordinator) at seatrack@birdwatchireland.ie


Pomarine Skua © Jason McGuirk

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Cetaceans on the Frontier 6


A team of seabird observers are once again present on board the Marine Institutes research vessel, the R.V. Celtic Explorer during the sixth Cetaceans on the Frontier cruise to take place since 2009. The team will join a group of marine mammal observers from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in surveying offshore fauna along Ireland's Atlantic margin.

To keep to speed with all the latest sightings and pics from the trip please see the project blog and Facebook page.

Blog: www.cetaceansonthefrontier.blogspot.ie

Facebook page: www.facebook.com/cetaceansonthefrontier





Thursday, 4 September 2014

Seatrack: early-September update

The third Seatrack survey weekend of the season takes place this Sat 6th/Sun 7th September with a start time of 07:45am (preference given to Sat 6th if possible so as to link in with other coastal seabird surveys being conducted by BirdLife Europe partners in France, Spain and Portugal). 

The forecast for the weekend is set to be calm with light East to Northeast winds across much of the country. True passage may be slow but we will be interested to know of any feeding flocks present inshore during the calm weather so please do keep an eye out for any 'milling' seabirds. Observers surveying in the East may be affected by strong morning sunshine so an alternative evening watch with a start time of 16:05pm is suggested if necessary.

Reports of the Critically Endangered Balearic Shearwater have been widespread so far this season but in typically low numbers with 1-3 birds at a time seen during seawatches from coastal headlands across eight different counties between Donegal and Wexford.

If you would like to take part in this weekends Seatrack survey or wish to send on any additional seawatching records you've collated so far this season then please get in touch with Niall Keogh (Seatrack project co-ordinator) at seatrack@birdwatchireland.ie

A new seabird blog featuring news updates and posts from BirdLife Europe partners in Ireland, UK, France, Spain and Portugal can be found here, or follow on Twitter by searching and posting using the hashtag #saveseabirds 

Balearic Shearwater off Baltimore, Co. Cork, 24th August 2014 © Robert Vaughan

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Bridges of Ross 31st August 2014

Time: 0710-1000
Weather: F2-3 S, dry, mild & good visibility.
Observers: Niall T. Keogh, Neal Warnock, Victor Caschera, Jimmy Dowdall, Eamonn MacLochlainn, John Power, Ger Murray, Des Higgins, Bernie Sheridan, Dave Fox et al.

Common Scoter: 1
'Blue' Fulmar: 1 'D'
Sooty Shearwater: 28
Manx Shearwater: 1,250 in 1.25 hrs 
European Storm-petrel: 2
Arctic Skua: 1
Sandwich Tern: 6
Arctic Tern: 8

Bar-tailed Godwit: 8
Whimbrel: 1

Leatherback Turtle: 1 @ 0905 (NWarnock)

The sea returned to a calm state once more for our final mornings seawatch. A light but steady passage of Manxies contained quite a few Sooties and a nice 'Blue' Fulmar (I guess it's the same bird which has been seen on several seawatches this past week or so). 

Neal connected with a surfacing Leatherback Turtle ensuring at least one made it into the records for our annual watch effort on site. Typically it was an all to brief encounter and difficult to get other observers on to. Luck of the draw! The Bridges of Ross is a particularly good spot for seeing them so with a bit of patience and careful scanning close in on calms days you'd stand a reasonable chance of seeing one, especially if there are plenty of Ocean Sunfish about it would seem based on previous years experience.

Hoping to make it back here later in September for a few more days seawatching so stay tuned!

Evening light at BoR © Neal Warnock

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Bridges of Ross 30th August 2014

Time: 0630-1810
Weather: F5 NW, dry, mild & good visibility.
Observers: Niall T. Keogh, Neal Warnock, Victor Caschera, Jimmy Dowdall, Eamonn MacLochlainn, John Power, Lee Gregory, Tom Buckley, Ger Murray, Des Higgins, Brian Porter, Tom Shevlin, Hugh Delaney, Aidan Moore, Dave Branagh, Bernie Sheridan, Dave Fox, John N. Murphy, Jarlath Coyle et al.

Common Scoter: 14
Red-throated Diver: 1 breeding plumage
Great Shearwater: 1
Sooty Shearwater: 50+
Manx Shearwater: 3,500 in first hour then 2000+ decreasing to 500+ per hour thereafter
Balearic Shearwater: 1
Wilson's Storm-petrel: 1 @ 09:22 (Lee Gregory et al.)
European Storm-petrel: 2
Leach's Storm-petrel: 15
Great Skua (Bonxie): 20
Arctic Skua: 5
Puffin: 2
Sandwich Tern: 51
Arctic Tern: c.75
Sabine's Gull: 5 (1 adult-type & 4 juveniles)
Little Gull: 2 juveniles/1st-winters

Peregrine: 1 juvenile


Common Dolphin: 8-10
Ocean Sunfish: 1

A busy start first thing, similar to yesterday but without the same level or rhythm of species diversity as yesterday. Saying that, an enjoyable few hours all the same. Whilst scanning through the seemingly relentless & uniform passage of Manxies, Lee happened upon a Wilson's Storm-petrel which caught us on the hop and showed up well to the left, only viewable for a brief period before disappearing over the ridge but thankfully at close range. The bird was in active moult with old outer primaries and new/growing inner primaries/secondaries and a short (half length) carpal bar. Great to see that bouncing flight style again! Fairly quiet for the rest of the afternoon & evening save for a trickle of Bonxies and a few showy Leach's every now & then.


Leach's Storm-petrel © Niall Keogh

Arctic Skua © Niall Keogh


Great Skua © Niall Keogh

Friday, 29 August 2014

Bridges of Ross 29th August 2014

Time: 0630-1900
Weather: F6 WSW (am) turning F5-6 W (pm). Largely dry with some intermittent light showers. Visibility good to poor at times.
Observers: Niall T. Keogh, Neal Warnock, Victor Caschera, Jimmy Dowdall, Eamonn MacLochlainn, John Power, Lee Gregory, Tom Buckley, Ger Murray, Tom Tarpey, Des Higgins, Brian Porter, Tom Shevlin, Hugh Delaney, Aidan Moore, Dave Branagh, Bernie Sheridan, Dave Fox et al.

Common Scoter: 3
Red-throated Diver: 1 breeding plumage
'Blue' Fulmar: 1 'D'
Cory's Shearwater: 1 @ 0635
Great Shearwater: 7
Sooty Shearwater: c.185
Manx Shearwater: up to 30,000
European Storm-petrel: 13
Leach's Storm-petrel: 3
Great Skua (Bonxie): 26
Pomarine Skua: 4
Arctic Skua: 9
Puffin: 3
Sandwich Tern: 16
Arctic Tern: c.85
Sabine's Gull: 43 (41 adult-types & 2 juveniles)
Little Gull: 3 juvenile/1st-winter

Whimbrel: 20

Grey Seal: 1
Ocean Sunfish: 1

REDEMPTION! Winds from the West producing the goods with a seawatch which has made the past weeks effort in testing conditions all the worthwhile for many present. 

A Cory's which slinked out of a trough in among the close Manxie line early doors was a welcome Irish tick for Neal (serious bogey bird for a hardened salty seawatcher!). Manx Shearwaters were absolutely piling through from the get go, with 4,500 logged in the first hour and 2,000+ per hour for much of the day after. The presence of a large raft of milling birds later in the evening muddled the counts up a bit but by that stage we were on a comfortable 25,000! And what's more they were showing very well. I haven't seen a passage like this here for a good ten years so definitely a real highlight of the day for sure. Large shearwaters are a treat at The Bridges at the best of times (not like Galley Head!) so several of the Greats which showed well at close range were most appreciated. 

What The Bridges does do well for however is Sabine's Gulls and they certainly didn't disappoint. A single flock of 10 adults which showed ridiculously well just off the point was a sight to behold (with lots of smiling faces in the assembled crowd to be seen after they passed). Whilst the numbers of other species might not have been as high as hoped for there was still some great variety throughout the day. A good year-listers seawatch! Red-throated Diver, Leach's Petrel & Little Gull were all firsts of the season for the site.

Here's a bunch of iPhone-scoped pics to give you a flavour of the day...

Sabine's Gull © Niall Keogh
Sabine's Gulls © Niall Keogh
Sabine's Gulls © Niall Keogh
Sooty Shearwater © Niall Keogh
Pomarine Skua © Niall Keogh
Seawatchers © Niall Keogh

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Bridges of Ross 28th August 2014

Time: 0645-1715
Weather: F3 S (am) then F5 SSW turning F6 SW (pm). Dry (am) then persistent rain (pm). Moderate-poor visibility.
Observers: Niall T. Keogh, Neal Warnock, Victor Caschera, Jimmy Dowdall, Eamonn MacLochlainn, John Power, Lee Gregory, Tom Buckley, Ger Murray, Tom Tarpey et al.

Common Scoter: 1
'Blue' Fulmar: 1 'D'
Balearic Shearwater: 3
Sooty Shearwater: 21
Manx Shearwater: 1,100 in 5 hrs (am) and 215 in 45 mins (pm)
European Storm-petrel: 3
Great Skua (Bonxie): 4
Sandwich Tern: 9
Arctic Tern: 23
Black Tern: 1 juvenile
Puffin: 1

Whimbrel: 37
Bar-tailed Godwit: 1
Sanderling: 1

Common (Harbour) Seal: 1
Ocean Sunfish: 1-2

A most welcome increase in seabird variety today with a few nice close in Balearics, higher daily counts of Sooties, Arctic Terns & Stormies (just about!) than in recent days and the first juvenile Black Tern of the season.

Persistent rain & decreasing visibility this afternoon called for an early end to the days effort. Here's hoping tomorrows Westerlies will produce the goods!


Sunrise at BoR © Niall Keogh


The Soggy Bottom Seawatchers © Niall Keogh

Ocean Sunfish © Niall Keogh

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Bridges of Ross 27th August 2014

Time: 0800-1000 & 1400-1700
Weather: F4 NE (am) & F5 SE (pm), brief periods of light rain (pm) & good visibility.
Observers: Niall T. Keogh, Neal Warnock, Victor Caschera, Jimmy Dowdall, Eamonn MacLochlainn, John Power, Lee Gregory, Tom Buckley et al.

Common Scoter: 10
Great Northern Diver: 1 adult 
Balearic Shearwater: 1
Sooty Shearwater: 2
Manx Shearwater: 850 in 1.5 hrs (am) & 420 in 3 hrs (pm)
Arctic Skua: 1
Sandwich Tern: 3
Arctic Tern: 10
Sabine's Gull: 1 adult

Swift: 1
Wheatear: 1 'Greenland'-type around the watch point

Common (Harbour) Seal: 1
Common Dolphin: 12+
Basking Shark: 2+ full breaching
Ocean Sunfish: 1

Another good day for animal watching! We're starting to think the adult Sab's is simply doing the rounds between The Bridges & Loop Head. A juv/1st-winter Mediterranean Gull was waiting for us in front of the pub at Kilbaha this eve! 

Serious high hopes for these SW and W winds coming tomorrow and Friday...

Arctic Skua © Niall Keogh

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Bridges of Ross 26th August 2014

Time: 0700-1000 & 1130-1825
Weather: F3 NE, dry, sunny & good visibility.
Observers: Niall T. Keogh, Neal Warnock, Des Higgins, Peter Gluth, Peter Colston, Victor Caschera, Jimmy Dowdall, John Power, Lee Gregory, Stephen Hack, Simon Dennis et al.

Common Scoter: 2
Great Northern Diver: 1 2cy type 
Sooty Shearwater: 17
Manx Shearwater: 2,350 in 4.75 hr (pm)
European Storm-petrel: 1
Great Skua (Bonxie): 4
Arctic Skua: 8
Sandwich Tern: 3
Arctic Tern: 11
Kittiwake: 70 (incl. 52 juvs)
Razorbill: 49
Guillemot: 18

Peregrine: 1 adult
Swift: 1

Common Dolphin: 4+
Basking Shark: 7 (incl. 2 full breaching)
Ocean Sunfish: 1-2 (incl. 1 breaching)

Highlight of the day was undoubtedly the Basking Sharks, which like the Humpback Whale on Sunday, were the first I've seen here since I began seawatching at this site in August 2001. A group of three individuals were seen milling about together plus another two singles at the surface and a further two fully breaching! Whacky looking creatures out of the water!

The first diver of the season, a late Swift & a male Common Scoter sat on the sea off the watch point (odd for here) were the best of the avian rest.


Basking Shark © Niall Keogh
Common Scoter © Niall Keogh

Monday, 25 August 2014

Swinhoe's Storm-petrel @ Bridges of Ross 25th August 2014

Time: 0730-1000 & 1430-1900
Weather: F4 SE, dry & sunny (am), intermittent showers (pm) & good visibility.
Observers: Niall T. Keogh, Neal Warnock, Des Higgins, Peter Gluth, Peter Colston, Sharon Hogan, Andy Marshall, Victor Caschera, Jimmy Dowdall, John Power, Lee Gregory, Stephen Hack, Simon Dennis et al.

Balearic Shearwater: 2
Sooty Shearwater: 6
Manx Shearwater: 90 in 1 hr (am) & up to 2000 in 1 hr (pm)
Swinhoe's Storm-petrel: 1 west @ 18:05 (SHack et al.)
Great Skua (Bonxie): 1
Arctic Skua: 3
Sandwich Tern: 1
Arctic Tern: 7

Loop Head (1330-1815):
Sooty Shearwater: 6
Manx Shearwater: up to 3,000 milling/rafting/passage South
Pomarine Skua: 1
Arctic Skua: 6
Arctic Tern: 10
Sabine's Gull: 1 adult

Another not so classic day of seawatching weather but a milling flock of Manxies moving between The Bridges & Loop Head with Sooties & skuas in attendance gave us something to look at.

The magic moment for those present at The Bridges of Ross in the evening came at 18:05 when UK birder Stephen Hack picked up a Swinhoe's Storm-petrel heading West. The bird was on show for about four minutes allowing seven lucky seawatchers to get onto it. This is the second record of Swinhoe's for The Bridges following one seen here on 15th August 1985 by Tom Tarpey. Not the first time a mega seabird has drifted by here in SE winds either (Fea's & Barolo have done the same) just going to show that the rewards are there for those willing to put in the effort. A great find and a great 400th Irish tick for John Power! Congratulations to all who saw it.

Unfortunately the author was seawatching from the tip of Loop Head at the time. That's what you get for abandoning your post! ;)

Rafting Manxies off Loop Head © Niall Keogh
Nice evening light at Loop Head © Niall Keogh