South Dublin Branch - Outing Report

Bluethroat (photo: Paul & Andrea Kelly)

Kilcoole, Wicklow - 10th September 2017.

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South Dublin and Wicklow Members assemble in Kilcoole Train Station car park. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

South Dublin and Wicklow members at Kilcoole (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

If its September it must be Kilcoole! The combination of open sea, shingle beach, grassy path with Buckthorn bushes, cultivated fields and marsh make it the ideal location to kick off a new season of South Dublin Branch outings. On this occasion we were delighted to be joined by some from the Wicklow Branch swelling our numbers to about 45.

The group were greeted in the train station car park by our Chairman Frank Doyle and Hon. Treasurer Niall Hatch and following some announcements we set off hoping for good birds and especially for good weather as the forecast was not promising, with westerly gales and passing rain showers expected; instead, the rain held off, the wind abated and the sun came out and we enjoyed fine weather with partly cloudy skies throughout. As per usual for Kilcoole, we proceeded at a leisurely pace south along the grassy embankment that runs beside the railway, halting every now and then to scan across the Flooded and Webb's Fields, Main Marsh and Beach.

A pod of Cormorants loafing on grass in the Main Marsh at Kilcoole. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Cormorants at Kilcoole (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

Small numbers of Gannets were passing by out to sea, with some close to shore but most at telescope range; these were probably birds from the Irish Sea colonies on Ireland's Eye and Lambay Island. A single Black Guillemot and a single Fulmar flew north and the usual selection of gulls, including some Kittiwakes were hanging about. Cormorants were regularly seen moving in off the sea to loaf around grassy areas in the marsh. It was still too early for large numbers of wildfowl but the first arrivals of Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal were noted as well as the resident Mute Swans and Mallards.

At least fifteen Little Egrets were present, constantly on the move; this one time rarity is now widespread in suitable habitat and has become an Irish breeding species since the late 1990s. Its larger cousin, the Grey Heron, took a more leisurely approach to stalking and stabbing fish along the edge of the marsh. Also taking an interest in fish were Little Grebes, their fluffy rear-ends popping in and out of view as they dived repeatably for grubs.

Blink and you miss it, Little Grebe on the surface at Kilcoole. Picture by Bill Rea.

Little Grebe, Kilcoole (picture: Bill Rea)

A flock of Ringed Plovers, their white wing-bars prominent, flew along the beach, closely followed by a small flock of Dunlin that headed off across the railway line in to the marsh. Hanging out together were Lapwings with smaller numbers of Curlew, and as they took to the air, the Lapwings slow flapping and dramatic appearance was one of the best sights we enjoyed. Other waders observed were Oystercatcher, Greenshank and Black-tailed Godwit.

A one time Irish rarity that is happily recolonising much of the countryside is Buzzard and we saw six, including a group of five together. A lucky few among us managed views of a Sparrowhawk but it did not linger. Our third raptor on the outing, a Peregrine Falcon, was undoubtedly the highlight of the day. It was first picked up by Niall Keogh high against the blue sky to the north of us. It gradually came closer until it soared more or less overhead, spooking everything in the process. Then it soared upwards to a few hundred feet before turning, pulling back its wings and plummeting downwards at lightning speed until it looked like it would surely hit the ground; then dramatically pulling out of the dive just twenty feet above it. The bird did not appear to be in pursuit of anything and certainly did not take any prey so maybe it was a training run? Regardless, it was one of the most exhilarating exhibitions we have ever encountered on a South Dublin outing.

A Northern Wheatear stopping off at Kilcoole during its long journey south to Africa. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Northern Wheatear, Kilcoole Beach (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

Big numbers of Woodpigeons were roaming the fields and from time to time some Stock Doves joined them, when their smaller size and overall darker appearance helped pick them out.

At least ten Northern Wheatears were seen, both along the beach and in and around the marsh, where they seemed to especially like perching on a couple of water troughs. They are heading for Sub-Saharan Africa to winter. Also on the move were Swallows that were constantly passing south in ones and twos. These hirundines will migrate even further than the Wheatears, with some going as far as South Africa. Just how both these amazing species, weighing no more than 30 grams, manage to undertake such monumental journeys is mind-boggling. Their departures marks a change of seasons.

We saw plenty of Corvids included some Ravens, the largest passerine in the world. Among other 'songbirds' observed were Kilcoole regulars Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Skylark, Starling and Goldfinch, which were in a large flock. Some of those who arrived early were treated to a Willow Warbler in the vicinity of the car park.

A Raven is a big brute of a bird! Picture by Niall T. Keogh.

Raven, Kilcoole (picture: Niall T. Keogh)

Non-avian wildlife encountered included a Red Admiral and a very obliging Common Blue that stayed put long enough to allow everyone get photos. A Fox Moth caterpillar that was making slow progress across the beach was also well photographed but a fly-by Common Darter was not so accommodating and soon disappeared off in to the Buckthorn.

Some More Pictures

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Mallard, Wigeon and Cormorants taking it easy on a grass bank. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Some more pictures taken on the day by Bill Rea and Gustavo Zoladz.
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Black-headed Gull flying offshore at Kilcoole. Picture by Bill Rea.
Willow Warbler in the car park bushes. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.
Common Blue butterfly. Picture by Bill Rea.
Fox Moth caterpillar. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.
South Dublin members getting to grips with things at Kilcoole. Picture by Bill Rea.
Looking north from Kilcoole towards the Sugarloafs and Bray Head. Picture by Bill Rea.

By the time we finished up we had gone almost as far as the Breaches and we had seen some great birds and sights along the way in beautiful weather. It was a hugely enjoyable outing and a great way to begin our 2017-18 season and there are many more outings planned in the coming months.

Joe Hobbs

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