The Burren: Seabirds at the Cliffs of Moher

moherfeature

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…

 

cliffs of moher the burrenThese ‘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.

 


cliffs of moher the burren
The An Bhreannán Mór stack from the cliff path

 

cliffs of moher the burren

cliffs of moher the burren
The An Bhreannán Mór stack from the boat

 

fulmar cliffs of moher the burren
Fulmar

 

guillemots cliffs of moher the burren

guillemots cliffs of moher the burren
Guillemot (note the white-faced immature in lower image)

 

kittiwake cliffs of moher the burren

kittiwake cliffs of moher the burren

kittiwake cliffs of moher the burren
Kittiwake

 

puffin cliffs of moher the burren
Puffin

 

razorbill cliffs of moher the burren
Razorbill

 

shags cliffs of moher the burren
Shags

 

 

All photos copyright Charlie Moores/Talking Naturally 2012

 


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About the author

Passionate about animal welfare and conservation, veggie and dairy-free, I live in the Wiltshire (UK) countryside. I birded the world for twenty years before quitting my airline job and am now freelance. I co-founded Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Birds Korea. Trustee of the League against Cruel Sports On Twitter @charliemoores

4 Comments

  1. Stone Huts says:

    A convert to the Burren so!?

  2. Charlie Moores says:

    100% converted Stone Huts – has to be one of the most wonderful places I’ve ever been…:)

  3. Anonymous says:

    We went on one hour cliff tour and were very disappointed to put it politely! There was no audio info or ‘operatingtours info’ we sailed in choppy conditions and the ‘captain’ steered into waves that caused most to be sick and so all plastic bags used! I spent 90% of the ‘tour’ throwing up in the loo that had no flush! The ‘tour’ lasted 45mins and we hung to the side looking at cliffs for 7mins praying not to be thrownoverboard! Still suffering now been on tours all over Oman, Malaysia, Hebrides, the Med, but this was by far the worst! If you want to feel on deaths door and pray to kiss the ground then this is for you! But if you want to avoid money grabbing idiots that think bobbing you about in stormy seas without a care in the world then stay clear of this pretense of a tour and never sail with these pr**ks!

  4. Charlie says:

    Hi Anonymous (I removed the spam content and approved because your comment is interesting!) – that wasn’t my experience and we certainly had a taped narration, but it is true to say that there are many different operators (presumably some are better than others), the weather can be horrible, the seas can be rough (straight from the depths of the Atlantic), and if you do get seasick in big waves then I wouldn’t recommend a trip. We wouldn’t have gone if the sea hadn’t be fairly calm. And sorry to hear you had a rubbish trip.

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