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Puffins in Ireland- Blasket Islands- bird watching paradise

2 puffins

                Puffins on the water, Blasket Islands

storm petrel 2

                                                  Storm petrel

blasket island manx shearwater 2

                                        Manx Shearwater

gannet 2

                       Gannet, Dingle Bay, Co Kerry

cath rocks with bird 2

                   Cathedral Rocks, Blasket Islands


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Puffins in Ireland - Blasket Islands - bird watching paradise for bird watch enthusiasts especially seabirds.

Puffins - Fratercula arctica - are members of the Auk family Alcidae whose other members include the razorbill- Alca torda;the common guillemot - Uria aalge;the black guillemot - Cepphus grylle and the little auk - Alle alle, all present on the Blasket islands except the little auk.

Their appellation Fratercula - little brother - may be interpreted as an expression of fondness for them as for a little brother, or more probably their likeness to the black and white habit of a monk / brother.

They are the penguins of the North Atlantic, although of course they can still fly, but their attempts at taking off from the water are comical, as is their take-off posture with outspread red legs and feet sticking out from either side.

Of all the birds on the bird watchers wish list they seem to amuse and delight bird watchers of all ilk whether professional or amateur.Everybody wants to see puffins and many are surprised at their small size (12 in.), having seen many blown up photos of them in birding and glossy magazines. They are mid-way in size between the little auk (8 in.); the black guillemot (13.5 in.) and the common guillemot and razorbills (16 in.).

The multicoloured beak and deep red feet are the most striking features of the puffin, apart from when they display their immaculate white waistcoats when they flap their wings and stand on the water.

Their distinctive bills start with a yellow bordered blue base, then yellow stripes and a dark red tip. They use the brightly coloured beak which they have during the breeding season only as a weapon to wave at belligerent neighbours;or they bow to each other and hide their beaks when they want to make friends with each other; and the newly mating pairs rub their beaks together in a courtship display.

On the outer Blasket Islands they live in colonies called puffinaries - their fellow guillemots form luminaries or bazaars - and all form "rafts" on the water, which we usually try to sneak alongside on our Afternoon Eco Marine Tour.

Apart from viewing puffins on the outer Blasket Islands on our Afternoon Eco Marine Tour some of the other best places in Ireland to see puffins are on Skellig Michael and Puffin Island on the south side of Dingle Bay, Co. Kerry; Cliffs of Moher; Saltee Islands and Rathlin Island.

Puffins live on lesser sandeels during the summer season and on capelin in mid Atlantic during the winter. They moult during the winter when they become flightless for a few weeks, whereas guillemots moult immediately after the breeding season, losing their primary flight feathers on their wings and swimming out to sea for six weeks while they are flightless.

If you want to see puffins, please book or join our Afternoon Eco Marine Tour before the second week of August, as puffins are one of the first of our birds to migrate. 

Seabirds of the Blasket Islands and Dingle Bay, Co. Kerry, Ireland s.w.

The Blasket Islands have the biggest population of breeding European storm petrels - Hydrobates pelagicus - in the world but they are rarely seen by the visitor as they are a very pelagic species spending almost all of their time far out to sea as their name implies and only coming ashore at night to feed their mate and their young. Sometimes, in choppy weather they can be seen closer to shore, because as their common name implies - "stormy petrel" - they are very specialized wave foragers. Their name "petrel" may come from St. Peter from their apparent ability to walk on the water, but with much more confidence than he apparantly espoused.

On calmer days many Manx shearwaters can be seen either flying through the Black Sound on the west side of the Great Blasket Island or high out to sea in Dingle Bay or north of Sybil Head. They come all the way from Brazil and Uruguay to nest on the outer Blasket islands, only coming in at night to avoid predation from the waiting great black backed gulls. They are a beautiful bird to watch as they shear the water, alternatively showing white undersides or black top as they glide effortlessly over the wavelets.

The Afternoon Eco Marine Tour is the best chance to see these beautiful and rare visitors from Brazil and Uruguay.

For some people pride of place on the hierarchy of seabirds goes to the gannet - Sula bassana - with perfectly streamlined white body, black wing tips and yellow head and eyes highlighted in black. The second biggest gannetry in the North Atlantic with over 30,000 breeding pairs is on Little Skellig, on the south side of Dingle Bay, Co. Kerry. ( The biggest gannetry in the North Atlantic is in St. Kilda).

We are always on the look out for gannets on all of our tours as they form a dense "bird cloud" in the distance as they wheel and dive over shoals of fish and bait balls indicating to us the possible presence of dolphins and whales pushing shoals of prey fish to the surface.

It becomes a strange circular interaction of fish, cetaceans, birds and humans as the dolphins and / or whales hunt the fish, the gannets spot and hunt the bait ball formed by the hunting actions of the cetaceans, we watch the gannets and then hopefully spot the feeding dolphins and / or whales as they come to the surface to breath, lunge feed or breach from pure exuberance.

Blasket Islands EcoMarineTours are always happy to have birders on board because we can more or less guarantee you a unique bird watching experience. And all this without even mentioning the fascinating migratory species that we see in the late Summer, early Autumn from mid August onwards like Arctic skua and Great skua - the persistent, aerial highway robbers and kleptoparasites of the gulls; sooty shearwaters and great shearwaters; red necked phalaropes; Wilsons petrels ................

Press the "Book Tour" button now for your introduction to this wonderful bird watching paradise and please let us know when you come on board of your special bird watching interests.

Please book your trip before the second week of August if you particularly want to see puffins.

Cathedral Rocks - the most spectacular rock formation in Ireland after the Giant's Causeway

As most of the more interesting of the bird watching experiences on our Afternoon Eco Marine Tours are centred on the outer Blasket Islands of Inishvickillaun and Inish na Bró it seems appropriate to mention the spectacular rock formation know as Cathedral Rocks on Inish na Bró.  These have an imaginative similarity with a bleak and vast Gothic Cathedral with doors and windows carved through the rock face by the actions of the sea and a top "window" in the shape of a broken star. It is an awe inspiring place with the white foam of the sea and the white shapes of flitting kittiwakes below and a cacophony of sounds from the cliff dwelling seabirds above including fulmer petrels and gulls.

Words do not do wild places like this justice, nor photographs nor digitalised walls of video. You need to be here in a boat to hear its wild heart beat!

Join us on one of our afternoon tours to view and feel this force of nature and let us know your interest in viewing Cathedral Rocks as sometimes our tours head in a northly or westerly direction in quest of humpbacks and other mega fauna.......

Captain Whales Galore        May 10th, 2015

p.s. First humpback whale of the season HBIRL23 has arrived north of the Blasket Islands for the past week. When the weather settles down again this will be our main pursuit although we are aware that it is the very turbulance in the waters around the Blasket Islands and Dingle Bay, which prevents us getting out whale watching with visitors on board, that creates the nutrient rich / prey species rich conditions that bring these beautiful sea creatures back here year after year. Long may it last!

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