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Day 1: Sat 22 May - Arrival and travel to Rosscarbery
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we fly to Cork, expecting to arrive just before lunchtime. We begin birding in the afternoon, the estuaries at Clonakilty, Timolegue and Rosscarbery all being en-route to our hotel, or we could detour further south to Galley Head for migrant passerines and our first encounter with Chough. Overnight Rosscarbery area, for four nights.
Day 2: Sun 23 May – Cape Clear Island
Today we take the foot passenger ferry from Baltimore and visit Cape Clear Island, the most southerly point in Ireland. A renowned location for observing bird migration, we explore on foot, walking on good roads and paths. We plan to be flexible, deciding our exact route on the day. Migrants can turn up anywhere, so even the smallest patch of habitat is worth checking though we will pay special attention to well-known locations such as Cotter’s and the Post Office garden, ‘the Waist’ and Lough Errol. Cuckoo, Whinchat, Redstart, Pied and Spotted Flycatcher, hirundines, pipits, finches, thrushes and a variety of warblers are possible as they migrate north, and in the right conditions numbers and diversity can be high. Mediterranean overshoots such as Hoopoe, Wryneck, Bee-eater, Woodchat Shrike, Western Subalpine Warbler and Serin are virtually annual on Cape Clear, and anything can turn up from any direction. Chough and Raven are common, Peregrine are likely too and we should encounter breeding Wheatear, Stonechat, Whitethroat, Meadow and Rock Pipit as we walk. The Bird Observatory has been recording birds here for over sixty years, and we work with its team to make the most of our visit. A great day out to a very special island!
Day 3: Mon 24 May – Seabird and cetacean boat trip
Half our day will be set aside for a dedicated voyage several miles out into the Atlantic targeting cetaceans, seals and seabirds. May is a good time of year for large whales, with Fin, Humpback and Minke the most frequently recorded in these waters. Harbour Porpoise are likely, and we could also see Common, Bottlenose and Risso’s Dolphin and perhaps Basking Shark and strange Ocean Sunfish. Seabirds including Gannet, Fulmar, Shag, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Kittiwake should feature, as should Manx Shearwater, skuas and the first returning Storm Petrels.
Later we visit local estuaries and lakes for Little Egret and Kingfisher. Any late-to-leave wildfowl and summer plumage waders such as Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Black and Bar-tailed Godwit are possible, as are Greenshank, Common and Green Sandpiper on passage, terns and roosting gulls, which may contain Mediterranean and Yellow-legged Gull. White-tailed Eagle has also recently returned to County Cork as a breeding species and we might have a sighting in stunning coastal surroundings.
Day 4: Tue 25 May - Mizen Head
The whole area around Mizen Head offers a superb range of birding habitats and is well worth exploring. Driving west, Roaring Water Bay and other sheltered sites at Toormore and Schull can be checked for divers and grebes, perhaps in summer plumage. Lissagriffin Lake is the most westerly estuary, and so is often the first stopping point for many birds arriving into south-west Ireland. A regular site for Green, Wood and Pectoral Sandpiper, the lake boasts an impressive track record for rarities. Gardens, plantations, vegetated gullies and stone walled fields at Mizen Head offer plenty of potential for incoming passerines and we aim to work a variety of habitats for common migrants in the hope of unearthing something special. Southerly winds are preferable, though if the wind is from the west, sea-watching would be worthwhile as birds are pushed closer to land. Chough are abundant, and our guides recently enjoyed the memorable spectacle of over fifty ‘kettling’ into the sky from a house roof here!
Day 5: Wed 26 May – transfer from Cork to Wexford
We leave County Cork today, transferring east to County Wexford. Our exact route may be structured around rare bird news, and we will possibly visit one or more key sites on the journey. Old Head of Kinsale, Cobh Harbour, Ballycotton Bay and Youghal Marsh may be considered, or perhaps a detour to Brownstown Head and Tramore, two quality sites in County Waterford. We expect to arrive at our hotel mid-afternoon, and once checked in can take a walk around the grounds to look for distinctive, yellow-toned Irish Coal Tit, or to the banks of the Wexford river for waterbirds. Overnight for three nights at Ferry Carrig, Wexford.
Day 6: Thu 27 May - Tacumshin Marsh
Tacumshin Marsh is one of the most famous sites for birding in Ireland and indeed the British Isles. It’s vast wetlands make it attractive to large numbers of birds with many species of wader and waterfowl recorded annually! This is a large reserve, which needs to be covered by foot, and wellington boots are essential to explore properly, and at times to reach the best birding. Wader variety is second to none, and we hope to connect with summer plumaged Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint and perhaps a rarity or two. Garganey and nearctic species such as Ring-necked Duck pass through regularly and raptors can include Hen and Marsh Harrier, Merlin, Hobby, Peregrine and Osprey. The mild conditions are favourable for Kingfisher, and as we explore different sections of the reserve through the day, we should also see Sedge Warbler, Reed Bunting and much more.
Day 7: Fri 27 May – The Saltee Islands
The Saltee Islands are situated five miles off the south Wexford coast, and this is possibly the most famous seabird sanctuary in all of Ireland. We take a boat out to privately-owned Great Saltee (the larger of the two), home to breeding colonies of Puffin and Gannet. A quiet place with limited access, we explore on foot enjoying close encounters with the seabirds which should also include Razorbill, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Shag, gulls and terns. Grey Seal breed here later in the year and 'The Saltee' are also famed as an important stop-off site for migrants, so we keep our eyes peeled as we stroll about this special place.
Later, we can explore any number of key sites in a small area. There are lots of options, such as Lady’s Island Lake for waterbirds, Rosslare back-strand for roosting waders and terns including Roseate, Carnsore Point for migrant passerines and seabirds or the Wexford Slobs which are a good place for raptors and to watch Irish Hare.
Day 8: Sat 28 May - Return to Cork and departure
We may have the chance for some last-minute birding, perhaps visiting a new site before returning to Cork airport, for our flight back to the UK.