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Saturday, 3 October 2015

Two weeks on Bolus Head

Two weeks on Bolus Head during the peak bird migration period. What might you find? No-one has spent much time birding there before, so is there potential for a few rare birds in autumn? Dunquin, the other main headland in Kerry, has proven to be a major draw for rare autumn passerine migrants, though never in the numbers and quality of some of the major headlands and islands on the south coast and elsewhere. A few days spent on Bolus Head and the Finian's Bay area last autumn showed a little of the potential (see posts HERE and HERE). 

Certainly, the first week on Bolus was slow, after an initial Ring Ouzel and Reed Warbler, there wasn't much more than a Chiffchaff or two to enliven the days. But for the last three days, a steady flow of migrants started arriving.
(All photos: Michael O'Clery)

Wheatear, Ballinskelligs, 20th September 2015.

A slow first week, but a few Wheatears were still around. Always a treat to see. This one (above) was catching large crane-flies on Ballinskelligs Beach.

Greenland Wheatear, Bolus Head, 19th September 2015.

A long and hard trek to the tip of Bolus Head - one of the most remote spots on the Kerry mainland - was rewarded by a couple of Greenland Wheatears. Sobering to think these birds, having travelled from the Arctic, crossed the Atlantic, are now looking to launch themselves further from south Kerry to Spain, or perhaps even Morocco, and even further south after that.

The Skelligs, as seen from near Bolus Head, September 2015. 9km distant from Bolus Head. The furthest island, Skellig Michael, has a lighthouse on the far side.

A quick glimpse out on the headland, in late September, of a bird which takes off right in front of you, a flurry of black and white. What the...?
What do you think this is?
Answer at the bottom of this post... just to keep you interested.

"What the hell is that? Bolus Head, September 2015.

Rock Dove, Bolus Head, 23rd September 2015.

Though not common in this part of Kerry, two wild Rock Doves provided a little distraction during the quieter days.

A couple of days of strong south winds in late September raised expectations of perhaps a few European species being blown towards south Kerry, but for several days nothing appeared. Finally, on the morning of 30th September, the loud call of a pipit flushed underfoot drew attention, and though the encounter lasted only about a minute and a half, 11 photos were taken which later proved it to be Kerry's first Olive-backed Pipit.

Olive-backed Pipit, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015 (M.O'Clery).
(See post above for more)

Later the same day, two Whinchats were seen near the tip of Bolus Head, in smallish patches of bracken. This is a red-listed breeding species in Ireland and is now, alas, generally only a rare autumn visitor to Kerry. The entire Irish breeding population is almost in single figures now, none of which are breeding in Kerry, so chances are these are British or European birds, blown off course. One rough, overgrown field in Dunquin, close to Kruger's Pub, accounts for nearly all the recent Kerry records, averaging only one to three a year.

Whinchat, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015.

For a brief moment, the two Whinchats were perched on the same clump of bracken.

 Whinchats, Bolus Head, 30th September 2015.

Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers are often regarded as the barometer of migration on Irish headlands in autumn. Just one or two seen on a long days' birding holds the hope that something else rarer might be afoot, but when they appear in any numbers, or appear in unusual locations such as ditches or even open country, it must surely mean serious migratory events are under way. Or so you will tell yourself in order to summon the energy to keep searching.

Chiffchaff, Bolus Head, 29th September 2015.

Another barometer species is Blackcap. When these characterful pallid warblers start appearing in the hedges and bushes of an Irish headland in autumn you know you are onto something good. There were none seen early on, but then one, three and seven were present on the last three days.

Blackcap, Bolus Head, 1st October 2015.

The female Blackcap below appeared in open country, where no right-minded Blackcap should ever be, constantly harassed by the local Robins and Stonechats

Female Blackcap (the cap is brown, honest, it's just in the shade), Bolus Head, 2nd October 2015.

Reed Warbler, Bolus Head, 1st October 2015.

Reed Warblers are inveterate skulkers, and it always needs a little luck to get that first glimpse which can focus your efforts. Often a long wait will then eventually provide enough of a view to identify it correctly, but this is never guaranteed. One Reed Warbler, which was present early in the two week period, never strayed from within a small privet hedge, while another (photo above), seen on the second last day, didn't budge from a small willow bush.

Turtle Dove, Cill Railaigh, Bolus Head, 1st October 2015.

This juvenile Turtle Dove has traces of adult chestnut feathers just coming through on the mantle, and the tail was a mix of missing, half-grown and new adult-type feathers. It was first seen flying inland from the headland on 30th, but turned up later that evening on the road just 200m away. There it stayed for three days, and proved remarkably tame, flying up just in front of passing traffic before alighting once more on the road. It was harassed by local crows and once was seen hunched on a post, eyes almost closed, so we feared the worst, though its fate is unknown.

Turtle Dove, Cill Railaigh, Bolus Head, 1st October 2015.

Yellow-browed Warbler, Bolus Head, 1st October 2015.

As a fantastic finale to the two weeks, four of these Siberian gems were found on 1st and 2nd October, at three sites. One was seen flying in from the headland into a small garden, working its way along the back hedge of the garden, before departing further inland, though at least one remained for two days. 

Yellow-browed Warbler, Bolus Head, 2nd October 2015.

A fitting reward for all the effort. Bolus Head finally produced a quality rarity in the form of an Olive-backed Pipit, showing it can certainly produce some quality birds, especially in a Kerry context.


And finally, the answer to the teaser near the top of this post. Below, the same bird.

Male Pied Wagtail, Bolus Head, September 2015.

It's a Pied Wagtail, obviously, now it's perched, but an extraordinarily well-marked individual, with extensive areas of white feathering compared with the vast majority of such birds. Still, a striking bird.