Sunday, August 14, 2011

Open Season

As we are now entering the Open season for sea watching at the Bridges of Ross, I feel I better post some advice for the novice or newcomer to the Loop.  The weekend of 20th and 21st August is the start of Heritage week 2011 and Sunday morning sees the annual Birdwatch Ireland Clare Branch Outing to the Bridges for a sea watch.The following weekend is the British August Bank Holiday and this is when we see an influx of British and European birders descend on Loop Head.  

How to find the Bridges.
The Bridges of Ross are approximately 20 km from the town of Kilkee, the entrance gate to the Loop Head Peninsula. The Bridges are situated on the North side of the headland less than 3km from the village of Kilbaha.   This landmark is well signposted in the locality.  

The Bridges of Ross © John N Murphy

From this aerial photograph you can see the lie of the land at the Bridges.  Only one bridge remains and it can be found in the bottom right hand corner of this photo.  It is a three minute walk to the bridge from the car park.  Just follow the footpath across the cliff top and it will lead you to the Bridge.  The favoured seawatching spot is on the west side of the horseshoe bay in the middle of the photo.  This spot has been tried and tested for over 25 years and offers the best shelter from west and north west winds.

During late summer and early autumn Great, Cory's, Balearic, Sooty and Manx Shearwater passage can be excellent.  All four skuas, Great, Arctic, Pomarine and Long-tailed are regular and occur from late July to early November.  Storm Petrels can be seen from mid July to late October.  Wilson's Storm Petrels are normally spotted from mid July to mid September with mid August being the best bet if you require one for your tick list.  Leach's Petrels are always that bit later and occur in large numbers from early September to mid October. Sabine's Gulls appear from mid August to late October.  Grey Phalarope and Black Terns are regular in September and October.  Little Auks put in an appearance from early October to late winter depending on wind direction. 

Arctic Skua are common off the Bridges throughout the season © John N Murphy

In autumn the best sea watching conditions are often after north-westerly gales, especially if the storm centre lies well to the north between Scotland and Iceland or if a fast depression moves down from Greenland and Arctic Canada across the north Atlantic.   These systems blow in Sabine's Gulls, Leach's Petrels, Little auks, and Grey phalaropes along with a good selection of skuas.  Of the rarer seabirds so far there has been at least 16 Fea's Petrels, two Swinhoe's Petrel, one Sooty Tern and five Little Shearwaters.

Other Wildlife.
Regularly seen off the Bridges are whales like Minke and Finn and Basking Sharks occur from time to time. Bottle-nosed and Common Dolphins can be spotted on a daily basis with Risso's Dolphin irregular, The Mola mola or Sunfish, occur throughout august and September coming up from the Carribean with the warm currents at this time of the year.  With the Sunfish Leather-backed turtles can also be seen from time to time as they break the surface to take in air.

Bottle-nosed Dolphins © John N Murphy

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