Thursday, June 5, 2014

Howth Head Cliff Walk

I started writing about my Bank Holiday outing this past Monday here, where a local birder took me to Bull Island in Dublin. I got to see quite a bit of lifers, including Skylarks, which I have always wanted to see.  But our day wasn't over then.  Paul suggested that we go out to Howth Head and look at nesting seabirds and some other small birds who lived in the meadows at the top of the cliffs.
One of the first things to see as we parked at the base of the cliff walk was a large island north of us.  Paul said that it was known as Ireland's Eye.

Ireland's Eye island
Ireland's Eye
The Island is an uninhabited park which hosts quite a few nesting birds.  On the main part of the island we could see Cormorants sitting here and there.  But on the bit that is off to the right and on it's own, we could see lots of birds through our scopes.

Gannet and Kittiwake nesting
Nesting Gannets and Kittiwakes - Ireland's Eye
We could make out Gannets and some smaller Black-Legged Kittiwakes.  The Gannets were easily identifiable by the dark edges to their large wings. We did this observing while sitting at a small snack shop at the base of the trail while waiting for some coffees. We also got to see some of the birds that are becoming familiar to me, Pied Wagtails and Hooded Crows, along with some Swifts and Common-House Martins.

Pied Wagtail
Pied Wagtail - Howth Head, Irealnd
Hooded Crow
Hooded Crow - Howth Head, Ireland
After we finished our coffees, we started up the trail to the top of the cliffs. There were lots of hikers out, and by the voices that I overheard, this was a popular spot for tourists.

Irish Shore
Cliff Walk - Howth Head, Ireland
Once the trail leveled out, we stopped to look at many nesting birds on the vertical wall below the cliffs.  There was quite the assortment.  The most numerous were Black-Legged Kittiwake, followed by Guillemots (aka Common Murre), Razorbills and a single pair of Northern Fulmars.

Black-Legged Kittiwake, Razorbill and Guillemot nesting
Nesting Seabirds - Howth Head, Ireland
It appeared that everyone was still sitting on eggs and that there were no young yet.  I had seen Guillemots in Oregon, where they are called Common Murre, but the rest were new to me.  And it was my first time seeing nesting seabirds, which were as noisy as one would expect.  I may take the family back there in a few weeks after the chicks hatch.  But I'm not the only one waiting for the chicks.  There were 2 Ravens above the nests hanging out waiting for an easy meal too.
We were hoping to see a Rock Pipit, but continued to see Meadow Pipits instead.

Meadow Pipit
Meadow Pipit - Howth Head, Ireland
We left the edge of the cliffs to go inland a bit to try and get some different birds.  We found some thicker brush and were soon rewarded with some Whitethroats, a type of warbler.

Whitethroat - Howth Head, Ireland
As we walked up a path we noticed an egg on the ground, and then a few more.  They looked like Gull eggs and there were a pair of Hooded Crows nearby.  

Gull Egg
Scavenged Egg - Howth Head, Ireland
Paul remarked that Ireland was sort of the land of Corvids.  There seemed to be a lack of raptors, I had only seen a couple of Buzzards (Hawks) while driving and a solitary Kestrel on this trip.  And due to the lack of raptors, the Corvids have filled in the gaps.  He made me think about it.  There are Ravens, Jackdaws, Hooded Crows, rarer Carrion Crows, Rooks and Magpies everywhere. But I've yet to see a Buzzard or a Sparrowhawk through my binoculars.

Howth coast
Howth Head looking Northwest, Ireland
We kept seeing birds, more Meadow Pipits, Martins, Swallows and Swifts. And quite a few Common Linnets, which I would describe as a House Finch analog, were also flying around, another lifer for me.

Common Linnet - Howth Head, Ireland
We heard and then saw a Ring-Necked Pheasant, just called Common Pheasant here, and then Paul heard some Wood Warblers in some thick brush.  They never showed themselves for more than a second, but he heard a Sedge and a Willow Warbler, but I couldn't ID them.  But 2 Reed Buntings landed right next to us, a new bird that I had first seen earlier at Bull Island. One was an adult and it looked like a recent fledgling was begging for food.

Reed Bunting
Reed Bunting - Howth Head, Ireland
It was nice to meet someone in Ireland and great to see a couple of nice spots where I'll be sure to go back to while I'm here.  All in all a great day.


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