First IWDG Winter Weekend

1st Dec 2009 Braving some truly biting northeasterly winds and moderate to poor sea conditions, hardy IWDG members gathered in Rosscarbery, West Cork for our inaugural winter whale watching weekend. The first of these two weekends 20-22nd November had to be cancelled due to severe flooding in the area, but with an improving weather forecast we were delighted that no such decision had to be made on this 2nd weekend.

Weekend participants met on Friday evening at their base for the weekend, the Celtic Ross hotel, for the welcome and the 1st of the weekends presentations delivered by Sightings Co-ordinator, Pádraig Whooley.

After a good breakfast on Saturday morning the group travelled in convoy to nearby Cloghna Head for a brief land-based watch to see if any whales were present in the waters off Rossarbery Bay and out West towards the Stags. None were seen. Continuing East we drove out to the Old Head of Kinsale for a 2nd brief watch at the Lusitania memorial, before gaining access (with prior consent) to the Old Head lighthouse, which is one of the countries premier land- based whale watching sites. Despite a few records the previous week of large blows being seen to the southeast of the Old Head, we again drew a blank, although everyone did get lovely views of the harbour porpoises, which are a permanent feature at the tip of the headland.

Raw with the cold we headed back to a warmth of the Speckled Door restaurant on the Old Head for lunch, before driving back to the hotel where people had a free afternoon to either enjoy watching Ireland beat the South African world champions in rugby or relax and enjoy the leisure facilities in the Celtic Ross hotel. We met for the evening meal at 8:00pm before retiring to the Abbey Room for some after dinner entertainment with a series of presentations on recent IWDG trips to slightly warmer climes such as Baja and the Cape Verdes. Those who missed this year's documentary series “Living the Wildlife” were treated to a showing of the episode which covered the fin and humpback whales of West Cork and IWDG photo ID research on them.

But at this stage it was clear that this DVD viewing was likely to be as close as we were going to get to fin whales in West Cork on this weekend anyway, as a decision was made to cancel the following days boat trip with Colin Barnes, due to yet another poor weather forecast showing increasingly northeasterly winds, which are unsuitable for whale watching along the south coast.

On Sunday morning, the group rallied and participants remained determined to find whales and a decision was made to search further west off Mizen Head, a good hours drive away. Again in moderate sea conditions, no sightings of either whales or dolphins were made, from Mizen. It is most unusual for land-based watches at multiple sites over a 60 mile area of West Cork to produce no sightings of either whales or dolphins, and so the mystery remained as to where exactly the activity was centered. Alas, this was a mystery that wouldn't be solved over this weekend, as the weekend came to an end at Mizen and many people had long drives back to the north and Northwest.

In a cruel twist, Andrew Malcolm did a watch off Ram Head Ardmore, Co. Waterford where he enjoyed sightings of several porpoises, c200 common dolphins, 4 fin whales and one likely humpback whale. See his report on article below this one on homepage. Sometimes there is very little justice when it comes to wildlife watching.

This weekend was run very much on a "pilot" basis and there are likley to be ways we can improve on further winter weekends. Should we decide to run them in 2010 we will of course offer 1st refusal to IWDG members and they will be advertised in the Wallplanner and next issue of IWDG. We hope y