Outing Report

North Bull Island , Co. Dublin - 13th January 2013.

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Birding from the solid causeway looking south over the salt marsh. Picture by Pat Twomey.

South Dublin members on the North Bull Island (picture: Pat Twomey)

The North Bull Island is the most recent part of Dublin to be formed as the result of a build up of silt just off the inner part of north Dublin Bay following the construction of the North Bull Wall in the 1820s. By 1900 the island's geography had more or less become the one we are familiar with today. The island is a Special Protection Area under the EU Birds Directive and is especially important for wintering wildfowl and waders.

The weather forecast was not very enticing for an afternoon's birding, what with the chance of rain or sleet and temperatures not predicted to rise much above freezing. Fortunately, South Dublin members are made of sterner stuff and almost 70 made the short trip across the city to assemble on the solid causeway at 2pm to be met by Niall Hatch, who led the outing. The later than usual meeting time was to take advantage of a predicted high tide. From the causeway, excellent views over the intertidal lagoons that lie between the landward side of the island and the coast road can be had. We began by scanning north towards Sutton before slowing making our way towards St. Anne's Golf Course, then across the causeway road to view part of the salt marsh and finally making our way back along the south side of the causeway.

These Wigeon seem to be getting on quite well. Picture by Graham Prole.

Wigeon on the Bull, 13th January 2013 (picture: Graham Prole)

There were good numbers of wildfowl to enjoy; Brent Geese, Shelduck, Mallard, Pintail, Shoveler and Wigeon were all giving good views and there were plenty of Teal, both on the water and in the salt marsh, while further off towards Sutton there was a single pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. In winter there are just a few locations where Pintail can be found in big numbers and the Bull is one, holding one of the largest aggregations of this elegant duck anywhere in Ireland, sometimes accounting for 10% of the national population.

Both Grey Heron and Little Egret were present, mostly keeping to the salt marsh, variously appearing and disappearing from view as they moved along the channels, then occasionally making short flights to and fro. As the tide departed and some channels appeared a single Little Grebe was observed in one, diving regularly for fish. We had mixed success with raptors. Early on, before everyone had arrived a Kestrel flew over but did not linger and later, as we made our way towards St. Anne's, a female Merlin shot across the causeway and quickly disappeared somewhere in the salt marsh, giving brief views to those at the head of the group only. Thankfully we had better luck with a Peregrine Falcon that was spotted on a post and it hung about long enough for everyone to get good scope views of the bird.

Bar-tailed Godwit on the Bull Island mud. Picture by Graham Prole.

Bar-tailed Godwit, Bull Island, 13th January 2013 (picture: Graham Prole)

Just about everywhere you looked there was a great variety of waders. Both Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits could be seen with Black-tailed the more numerous. Bar-tailed were mainly to be seen south of the causeway feeding on the mud and at times we had excellent close views of individual birds. At one stage our attention was drawn to a huge flock of Golden Plover overhead spread out in typical v-shaped formations. They remained in flight for some time, eventually settling down on the salt marsh. Here and there were some Grey Plover, easily picked up by their stop and start feeding motion. Our third plover on the day was Lapwing or in old money, the Green Plover, one of the few Irish birds to show a crest. Also present were Oystercatcher, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Curlew and a few Turnstone.

The most obvious gulls were Black-headed and Common Gulls and there were smaller numbers of Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls. Robert Busby picked up an interesting gull that had some credentials for adult Ring-billed Gull, however in the end we decided that it was just a 'funny' Common Gull.

Black-tailed Godwit on the prowl. Picture by Graham Prole.

Black-tailed Godwit, Bull Island, 13th January 2013 (picture: Graham Prole)

Passerines were not so much in evidence. There were plenty of crows, especially Hooded Crow but no sign of the hybrid Carrion / Hooded Crow that has been on the Bull these past few years. Some Meadow Pipits could be heard and seen around and over the salt marsh. However, the biggest surprise on the day were 3 Brambling that had been lurking in cover nearby us before getting up and flying off towards St. Anne's. Unfortunately they were seen by a lucky few only and did not return.

Some More Pictures

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Typical Bull Island scene, with Black-tailed Godwits, Common Gulls and a Black-headed Gull. Picture by Graham Prole.

Some more pictures taken on the outing by Graham Prole and Pat Twomey.
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Well wrapped up against the cold on the Bull. Picture by Graham Prole.
Telescope city! Picture by Pat Twomey.
Grey skies over the Bull. Picture by Pat Twomey.

By late afternoon the already single figure temperature was dropping and having built up a healty appetite, we decided it was time to head home for Sunday dinner. Just how many birds we observed during our outing is difficult to say but it was easily in the thousands and all to be seen just 5 miles from the centre of the city!

Joe Hobbs

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