Outing Report

Castle Espie WWT, Co. Down - 10th February 2013.

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South Dublin members brave the rain at Castle Espie. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

South Dublin members at Castle Espie WWT (picture: Stephen McAvoy)

Despite the cold, and persistent rain, a hardy group of thirty birders from South Dublin BirdWatch Ireland left the comfort of their beds to make their way to Castle Espie for the second outing of 2013. Castle Espie is a wetland reserve managed by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) on the shores of Strangford Lough, three miles south of Comber, County Down. It holds the largest collection of ducks, geese and swans in Ireland including the Hawaiian Goose or Nēnē. The Nēnē is the world's rarest goose having almost gone extinct in the 1950s before the WWT undertook a captive breeding program, which has seen it being re-introduced into the wild in Hawaii.

White-faced Whistling Duck, a Tree Duck from sub-Saharan Africa and South America. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

White-faced Whistling Ducks at Castle Espie (picture: Stephen McAvoy)

Also held in the collection are such exotics as the Black-necked Swan, White-faced Whistling Duck, Red-breasted Goose and, the bird featured on the BirdWatch Ireland logo - the Greenland White-fronted Goose. The wildfowl collection alone makes Castle Espie well worth visiting. However, in addition to the captive collection, the Lough itself is home to a wide variety of wild birds. Among other things it provides an early wintering site for almost the entire Nearctic population of Pale-bellied Brent Geese.

After looking around the wildfowl collection, the group headed off to the hides to see what was around. There were a variety of wild duck present including Wigeon, Gadwall, Teal, Shoveler, Mallard and Tufted Duck. Also seen were a number of waders such as Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew. A Peregrine flew over near the 'Brent Hide' putting up a large flock of Golden Plover. Also seen from the 'Brent Hide' was a single stately Whooper Swan on the water and in flight.

Binding in comfort! Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

A 'well appointed' hide at Castle Espie WWT (picture: Stephen McAvoy)

The 'Limekiln Observatory' is what might be described in estate agent parlance as 'well appointed'. Not your average bird hide constructed of 4x2 planks, it even has its own heating system, which was much appreciated given the weather on the day. From here we had good views over the Lough and the small saltwater lagoon. Sighted from the Observatory were Turnstone, Grey Plover, Oystercatcher, Shelduck and Eider. Although there were Eider in the Wildfowl Collection it was great to see them in the wild and a first for many of the group including myself. Also spotted were a Little Egret and a lone Bar-tailed Godwit. In addition we could see, in the saline lagoon, Moorhen and Little Grebe, again a single bird in each instance.

The facilities at Castle Espie were very much welcomed and used on the day and we were made very welcome by the staff and given an introduction to the facility by the reserve manager. A member of staff was made available to escort the group through the wildfowl collection and, give a brief guided tour of the duckery!

Some of the pools and wildfowl collection at Castle Espie. Picture by Pat Twomey.

Wildfowl and pools at Castle Espie (picture: Pat Twomey)

Our second stop of the day was Groomsport, a small village two miles north east of Bangor, located on the south shore of Belfast Lough and on the north coast of the Ards Peninsula. The weather had if anything deteriorated by the time we arrived or, perhaps it was because of the exposed coastal site that it just felt that way. We proceeded to take what shelter there was against the wall of a building in the hope of spotting the Ring-billed Gull that Anthony McGeehan, who had joined us for this leg of the trip, told us had been in the area. With the aid of some sliced pan, we managed to attract a variety of gulls including Common, Herring, Great Black-backed and Black-headed; but, there was no sign of the Ring-billed Gull. Also here were two Carrion Crow, which were seen very close by, together with some Hooded Crows, and in the distance, out on the water, Black Guillemot.

Looking for Ring-billed Gull at Groomsport. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

Taking shelter in Groomsport - anyone got an umbrella? (picture: Stephen McAvoy)

We moved around the harbour and managed to spot Cormorant, Shag, Red-breasted Merganser and a solitary Common Scoter. Also seen was a magnificent male Eider in the water by the pier. A few small groups of Eider flew past and, the mix of pale and dark heads was plain to see. We continued on our way around the harbour passing some bird feeders which allowed views of Blue, Coal and Great Tit. A small flock of Tree Sparrows was seen flying to-and-fro in the mid distance. Between the bad light, and the speed at which they were moving, most of us only caught a fleeting glimpse before, almost as suddenly as they arrived, they turned sharply and disappeared.

Some More Pictures

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Female Barrow's Goldeneye at Castle Espie. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

Some more pictures taken during the outing by Stephen McAvoy and Pat Twomey.
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Shelduck in the rain at Castle Espie. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.
Red-breasted Geese and a Shelduck at Castle Espie. Picture by Pat Twomey.
Too much rain, even for ducks! Male Eider at Groomsport. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.
Some of the scenery at Castle Espie. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.
Red-breasted Geese and other wildfowl at Castle Espie. Picture by Pat Twomey.
Bedraggled but satisfied at the end of the outing. South Dublin members at Groomsport. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

The group walked the short distance to Ballymacormick Point just off the harbour where we sighted our final birds of the day, three male Pheasant feeding on a scrubby outcrop close to the Lough's edge, blending nicely in with the landscape. With that, a group of damp and bedraggled, but satisfied, birders headed for home having seen a total of 62 different species on the day.

Jon Field

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