The Patch




Hidden away down in County Cork in south-west Ireland, Galley Head is a grand spot altogether! Its not as blitzing as Cape Clear or Mizen Head can be, which is good because it means that Galley is rarely overrun with other birders, but it gets enough stuff to always keep me guessing. Typically, I’d expect to see just under 140 species in a year, but 2012 was exceptional for whatever reason, with a mighty 149 species seen. This sterling effort was still only just sufficient to win me the coveted Golden Mallard in the original Patch Challenge.

I’ve been working Galley since 2003, and the area that I cover is just about 2km2 in area. It’s a coastal headland, with a mixture of dairy and arable farmland that is thankfully not particularly intensively farmed, with gardens and a bit of woodland. Galley Head is probably most famous for seawatching between July and October, with some very large numbers of goodies like Great and Cory’s Shearwaters in some years. I’ve been lucky enough to see 7 Fea’s-type Petrel’s go by off Galley too, and there really is no better adrenalin rush!

Galley also does ok for migrants in south-easterlies, although the numbers aren't anything like Cape Clear standards and anyone used to birding on the UK east coast would be pretty unimpressed. As far as I'm concerned, the "Shite Lane" area is the best bit for migs turning up – (its also amusing to put it out to bird news services!) Shite Lane is on the western side of the head, and my half-baked theory is that eastern stuff ends up on that side in a south-easterly, for shelter. This is kind of backed up by the fact that at least 4 yanks have turned up on the east side, in the scarily overgrown (particularly if you've birded Shetland) Dirk Bay - Philadelphia Vireo & American Redstart in '85, Hermit Thrush in '98 and Swainson's Thrush in '08 - classy birds! God knows what has been missed in there though!
Looking down into Dirk - American thrush anyone?

Although its often a slog, over the years I’ve racked up Marsh Warbler, 2 Pallas's Warblers, 2 Richard's PipitsIcterine and Melodious Warblers, several WrynecksWoodchat and Red-backed ShrikeHoopoe, Ortolan and probably best find of all, Black-headed Bunting, as it was a proper “world tick”. Species such as Yellow-browed Warbler are pretty much annual, which is great, as its never really a proper autumn without a yellow-browed on patch! In fact, bizarrely, common gank like Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Bullfinch are all less likely to occur on a Galley year list than YBW – one of the things I love about patch birding! As for extreme rarities, well, I was close on hand to see both the Swainson's Thrush in October 2008 and the female Red-flanked Bluetail in March 2012, and both were absolute belters!

Prospects for wildfowl and waders are a bit more limited. Kilkeran Lake, although just off-patch, is easily scope-able from the house and is usually good for dragging in a few bonus species each year, although nothing seems to stay very long. There are few resident species (Little Grebe, Mallard & Mute Swan being it) although in the course of a year I usually do ok for the commoner duck species.

My best birds on here are a female Ring-necked Duck and a male Green-winged Teal, although sadly I did miss the Black-winged Stilt which visited for 6 days in 2006 – bugger! Generally speaking,waders are pretty thin on the ground although I usually get a reasonable variety of the commoner species passing over in autumn.

I’ve seen 195 species on patch at Galley to date, and reckon that breaking the near mythical 200 barrier will realistically take another three years or so! There’s still a few glaring omissions, notably Red-breasted Merganser, Treecreeper, and that stilt, but I did manage to put a few patch bogies to bed in 2012 – Long-tailed SkuaGarden Warbler (ffs!) and Crossbill, oh and bluetail of course!

Still can't believe I've seen one of these at Galley!! 
(Photo: C Cronin)

All in all, its a great patch to have - there is nowt better than being able to stroll out the door and find class birds like Black-headed Bunting within 1/2 mile of the house! It doesn't happen often, but when it does, its feckin great!

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