Bridges of Ross 2016 and the tern that ate carrots

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I’ve never really been a big fan of paying homage to the pomp and privilege of royalty, but sometimes you’ve got to make an exception.
So last Friday, once Neill “Shangri-La” Hunt, Duncan “Skipper” Rothwell, Paul “Tropical” Thomason and I had deboated in Dublin, I floored it west across Ireland’s deserted motorway complex, waving at the Barack Obama Moneygall signs, Hooded Crows and Rooks of the Emerald Isle as we went.
Steered by top info updates courtesy of Messrs Niall and Noel Keogh, we were at Littor Strand in County Kerry by 9am and watching the gorgeous Royal Tern at a small roost on the sands in fine morning sunshine.
A cracker – we had it for about an hour while it roosted and occasionally set off on fishing forays, only to return and dwarf the Sarnie Terns beside it.
Like a daft gull eating a carrot, but not bad as royalty goes.
Look at the size of it!

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Black Tern and Med Gulls in the roost too, but the great big carrot gob was the undeniable main draw – a superb start to the latest of our annual seawatching trips to the Bridges of Ross in Co Clare, and only a minor detour, corrected with a ferry across the Shannon.
We got to the Bridges in warm sun and a light south westerly by lunchtime and we put in an afternoon sesh in pleasant conditions.
It felt good to be back…

Bridges of Ross, 26.8.16. 1250-1900:

Bonxie 3
Arctic Skua 8
Pomarine Skua 2
Long Tailed Skua 1
Manx Shearwater 2,800
Grey Phalarope 1
Storm Petrel 34
Sooty Shearwater 2
Balearic Shearwater 1
Arctic Tern 12
Kittiwake 22
Black Headed Gull 1
Whimbrel 12
plus Razorbill, Gannet, Fulmar, Rock Pipit, Shag, Wheatear, Turnstone, Oycs, Bottle Nosed Dolphins, Sunfish etc

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With the legendary Lighthouse Inn now tragically shut (the grief is still too raw to discuss this any further), Des Higgins had secured a brilliant cottage near enough to stagger to the Bridges, and not too far outta Kilbaha for an evening constitutional or twenty in Keatings.
Great work from the Irish massive to secure near perfect digs – just look at the Fridges of Ross (sorry).

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And that was the start of it – with Niall, Noel, Brian, Des, Vittorio, Neal, Joao and Gerard we gave the Bridges our best shot for four days.
Unfortunately the winds were not in our favour, but even the worse day offshore would rival and exceed most sessions from our patch of the Irish Sea.
We knew things were bad when we realised the beastie list (Otter, Mink, Minke Whale, Common and Bottle Nosed Dolphin, Brown Hare, Rabbit, Fox, Grey and Common Seal, Moo-cows, Sheep, Sunfish and huge Bluefin Tuna leaping from the water like deranged giant Sticklebacks crossbred with Exocets) was slowly equalling the bird tally…

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Bridges of Ross, 27.8.16. 0700-1100/1400-1900:
N’Ely f 2, cloud.

Arctic Skua 2
Storm Petrel 8
Leach’s Petrel 1
Sandwich Tern 11
Med Gull 1
Manx Shearwater 650
Balearic Shearwater 1
plus Gannets, Fulmar etc, and up on Loop Head, Chough, Mipits, Hooded Crow, Raven and Stonechat.

Tough work, and this was before the now notorious citrus wars broke out between the Higgins Peach Cartel and the Southsider Faction, and our Neill began to dress rather strangely (perceptive readers may be able to guess why he’s called “Shangri La Hunt” now…)

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Despite the high bar set by the Bridges (when this place is good and the wind is right, it is a seawatching world-beater) we carried on ‘scoping, laughing and generally having a blast, all the while willing the winds into the west.
It didn’t work – but then neither did ritual chanting, meditation or prolonged cursing.

Bridges of Ross, 28.8.16, 0830-1830:
Flat calm, then a light N/NWly, sunny…

Manx Shearwater 950
Sooty Shearwater 28
Balearic Shearwater 1
Pomarine Skua 2
Arctic Skua 3
Bonxie 2
Storm Petrel 2
Great Northern Diver (a stonking flypast in full summer plumage) 1
Sandwich Tern 21
Black Tailed Godwit 8
plus Peregrine, Sprawk, Wheatear, Hooded Crow, Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Rock Pipits etc.

But there are worse ways of spending your days than watching the birds flyby and the dolphins leap, all the while feeling the wind and sun gently burning your bonce.
There was even time for a bit of camera practice with the commoner residents.

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You know the place isn’t at its best when you have time to photograph Rock Pipits.
Never ones to give up, we kept on grilling the waves till our retinas fried, and Trops finally snapped, hopping on a plane out of Shannon in the ridiculously early hours of Monday morning.
He was last heard of in Turkey and may never return.
It was a bit of an extreme response to adverse weather conditions, but each to his own.

Bridges of Ross, 29.8.16. 0650-1900:
E’ly, then SWly which died away in the afternoon…

Sandwich Tern 7
Common Tern 1
Arctic Tern 6
Arctic Skua 9
Bonxie 7
Great Shearwater 1
Sooty Shearwater 18
Manx Shearwater 2,000
Storm Petrel 9
Puffin 2
Grey Phalarope 1
Common Scoter 11
plus the usual Gannets, Fulmar, Razorbills, Guillemots, Chough, Whimbrels and Shags.

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With the business end of the trip done all that was left to do was tackle a fine helping of Guinness and attempt beer-goggled stargazing, looking up into a Milky Way untroubled by light pollution, before we were back on the road again yesterday morning and over to Dublin for the boat home to Liverpool.
Sitting up front in the seats overlooking the pointy end of the ship, the P&O 1500 sailing was surprisingly good, with breathtakingly close views of Manxies and plenty of other stuff out in the Irish Sea.
The action continued long after we’d sailed past the Roseate Terns of Dublin Bay.

P&O ferry, Dublin-Liverpool, 30.8.16. 1500-2300:
S’ly, sunny periods…

Roseate Tern 3
Common Tern 54
Guiilemot 130
Razorbill 70
Storm Petrel 4
Manx Shearwater 1500
Gannet 85
Fulmar 60
Common Scoter 3
Kittiwake 65
Arctic Tern 6
Med Gull 50
Common Dolphin 4
Harbour Porpoise 2

This certainly beat trying to get some shut-eye in the bar of the Holyhead boat while the demented witterings of “Curious George” incessantly and mercilessly ear-worm into your brain.
That sodding crocodile is the children’s entertainer from hell.
Ahem, just had to get that off my chest.
So, thanks to all of our Irish friends for all the laughs, companionship, peaches and encouragement despite the pants wind direction – see you all at the Bridges next year if not sooner.
It was fantastic spending time with you again.
As long as the Sand Spurrey keeps on flowering we’ll be back.

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