Cooling Marshes, Kent, 7th December 2014

Monday, 4 April 2011

Birding the Beara Peninsular and beyond

I’ve been meaning to get over to Ireland to visit family in Dublin for a long time now so last week’s trip was a special one. But prior to a long overdue trip to the capital, I decided it would be fun to spend a few days exploring in the south west of the country.
A little background reading drew my attention to the wild qualities of the Beara Peninsular, a rugged finger of land jutting out into the Atlantic bordering Counties Cork and Kerry. Of particular interest to me was Dursey Island, a remote island at its tip that could only be reached by cable car. That was enough to make it sound like a worthwhile trip to me but when I discovered it was also a rare bird reserve...well, my bins were in my bag quicker than you could say ‘another Guinness please’.
Getting to Dursey Island was an adventure in itself and I briefly wondered whether basing my travel plans on an out of date, photocopied local bus timetable was a tad ambitious. However after a day in Cork, mostly spent enjoying spring sunshine and the various birds on offer along the banks of the River Lee (picks – a Greenshank, a pair of hooded crows and an assortment of gulls) that’s where I was headed.
A bus could only take me so far and after that my path to the tiny, picturesque village of Allihies on the north side of the peninsular, which was to be my base for a few nights, was less certain. Thankfully the good folk of the peninsular are accustomed to wayward hikers thumbing lifts from the side of the road and even my beardy appearance was not enough to put some kindly locals off.
Situated next to a sandy beach ( a legacy of the intensive copper mining that once dominated the area) among patchwork grassy slopes and overlooked by foreboding rocky hills Allihies makes a stunning picture. Birds were also plentiful and my stay was soundtracked all the while by Meadow Pipits and Stonechats vying for attention with Skylarks, Linnets, Dunnocks and more. But Dursey Island was my mission and on a glorious, warm day it didn’t disappoint.
After a hearty breakfast, several miles of walking and several lifts I reached the cable car car terminal in time for the morning crossing. 4euros, paid to a man in a hut, saw me climbing into the little cable car (also regularly used to carry livestock to and from the island) and being hoisted off over the dazzling blue Dursey Sound.

Room with a view, Dursey Island

Once on the island, it was only a matter of minutes before a Peregrine falcon, swooping low and fast over the headland to my right, had me reaching for my binoculars. All along the 4.5km track that took me to the end of the island the bird life was abundant. With it being one of the first bits of land many migrating birds likely encounter on their flights northward in sping I thought there might be a chance of seeing a few and so it was. Early migrants appeared in the form of a Chiffchaff,  several Wheatears and a lovely male Black Redstart that showed well from the yard of a derelict farmstead. Elsewhere, Choughs flocked noisily over the ancient grassy slopes and at one point I counted 19 overhead. I couldn’t help but marvel at the effortless way in which they tumbled and soared in the sunshine.
Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) typical bird of upland grassland, heaths and moors

Raven (Corvus corax) a large, epic master of rocky country.
This individual seemed to follow me for a while; frequently calling
with its distinctive grunt and rolling and tumbling with folded wings

male Stonechat (left), Wheatear (right)
The path to the end of the island took me through ancient pastures, patches of moorland and up a hill before descending onto a high, grassy outcrop surrounded by sharp rocks and crashing waves. Great black-backed gulls wheeled overhead as curious Fulmars kept close to the cliffs. At certain times of the year it’s reported to be a good spot for whale watching but my attention this time was drawn to the majestic, white Gannets passing by. A birding first for me- I hadn’t realised how big they are! I loved watching them feed in their trademark, spectacular, nose-diving fashion. I sat for a bit, revelling in the sun and the cloudless sky, looking west at several thousand miles of water.
Gannet (Morus bassanus) pleased with this pic - it was taken from moving cable car!

Cheese...standing on the end of Dursey Island

Think I’ll leave it there for now, what more to say? The Beara Peninsular: stunning scenery, great birds, friendly folk, good craic!  Next stop: Dublin.

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