This is the fourth post on a recent six day trip to the Burren in western Ireland with Wildlife Travel. Though I knew a little about the Burren before I began hitting the guide books and the internet – particularly in connection with its high number of orchid species and the Burren Green moth Calamia tridens which in the British Isles is found only in the Burren – nothing prepared me properly for the dramatic hills, the palette of colours, and the wide range of quality habitats found there…
These ‘quality habitats’ include the stunning Cliffs of Moher with their huge colonies of seabirds (which I can now sound fairly expert about but which in all honesty I’d not even heard of before the trip – shameful stuff for a supposedly keen birder!).
Named from a ruined fort on the headland, Mothar, which was demolished during the Napoleonic wars to make room for a signal tower in the 1800s, the Cliffs lie to the south of Doolin, where trips to the Aran islands leave. Originally the site of a gigantic river delta the Cliffs were laid down about 320 million years ago during the Carboniferous period. Towering 214m at their highest point, their rugged features have been shaped by the storms that sometimes batter the Co Clare coastline.
Perhaps of more interest to naturalists are the ledges and grassed areas which are home to one of the major colonies of cliff nesting seabirds in Ireland. Of national importance the area was designated as a Special Protection Area for Birds under the EU Birds Directive in 1986 and as a Refuge for Fauna in 1988. Included within the designated site are the cliffs, the cliff-top maritime grassland and heath, and a 200m zone of open water directly in front of the cliffs which protects part of the birds’ feeding area. An important feature of the ‘Cliffs’ is the 70m stack called An Bhreannán Mór upon which many of the seabirds nest. It sits just below O’Brian’s Tower, which is in the photo above right.
The Cliffs hold one of the largest concentrations in Ireland for five species of seabirds i.e. Guillemot, Razorbill (apparently over 7500 adults), Fulmar, and Kittiwake all nest in nationally important numbers. They also hold Ireland’s largest mainland colony of Puffins (listed as 1,365 individual adults on Discover Ireland though I can’t find the data source). Choughs are regularly seen, and a pair of Peregrine breeds on a small ledge overlooking the stack.
We had two bird-days at the Cliffs. The first was a land-based visit which saw us standing high over the ledges on the path that runs from the Interpretative Centre (which is well worth a visit). Access to the paths are free and they are well-paved along their lower levels. Be aware though that strong winds can swirl along the higher areas, and they get very narrow. Our second visit was by boat. Numerous operators run regular tours from Doolin and get surprisingly close to the stack especially. I have to say that the birds didn’t seem bothered, and the views are quite wonderful. Trips take about an hour and are well worth taking.
While we had good views of all the aforementioned seabirds – plus small numbers of Shag, and around ten Black Guillemot around Doolin (they’re not on the Cliffs) – we didn’t see any Choughs and the Peregrines are a LONG way off even through binoculars. Meadow Pipits are common at the top of the Cliffs, Rock Pipits are easy enough to find around Doolin, and we had good views of up to three Ravens spiralling around the Cliffs and hunting for Puffins as they returned to their burrows. Whilst we did see a handful of Manx Shearwater on a ferry crossing to Inisheer none were seen from the Cliffs (or the boat trip), but undoubtedly they could be seen with a scope and patience.
The An Bhreannán Mór stack from the cliff path
The An Bhreannán Mór stack from the boat
Guillemot (note the white-faced immature in lower image)
All photos copyright Charlie Moores/Talking Naturally 2012
- Wildlife Travel have been visiting the Burren every year for almost a decade.
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