Outing Report

West Pier, Dun Laoghaire Harbour - 8th December 2013.

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South Dublin members assemble in the West Pier Pumping Station car park. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

South Dublin members in the Pumping Station car park, 8th December 2013 (picture: Stephen McAvoy)

Although the West Pier of Dun Laoghaire Harbour is very much home turf for the South Dublin Branch we had not been there in over 2 years. Our December outing was about to put that right with a long-overdue visit.

The construction of Dun Laoghaire Harbour with its two granite piers took over 40 years to complete in the 19th century. Its main purpose was to provide a safe refuge for ships waiting to enter the port of Dublin. Those piers also provide excellent vantage points for bird watchers to scan Dublin Bay as well as being important roosting and feeding sites for the birds themselves. The sheltered harbour attracts many birds, especially during and after gales and periods of cold weather. Thankfully today was reasonably mild, the wind was about force 6 from the west, partly cloudy skies with good visibility and a high tide. All in all, as good a day as you could hope for at this time of year.

Peregrine flypast close overhead. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Peregrine over the West Pier, 8th December 2013 (picture: Colum Clarke)

By 10:30am over 30 members had gathered in the car park adjacent to the water pumping station near the base of the pier. Following a greeting from Niall Hatch and Stephen McAvoy, who both led the outing, we moved off a short distance and began scanning Dublin Bay.

Almost at once we spotted a commotion some distance off in the direction of the Poolbeg, where some gulls were getting very excited about something or other! That something or other turned out to be a Peregrine that was being well and truly mobbed. It soon had enough of the unwanted attention and took off leaving the gulls behind. Once clear it turned hard to starboard to head back inland and in so doing nearly passed directly overhead, giving us great views of the bird. We managed to follow its progress for another few minutes before finally loosing sight of it.

The noisy Pied Wagtail at the base of the West Pier. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Pied Wagtail on the West Pier, 8th December 2013 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Next, Stephen and Niall led us the short distance to overlook the Coal Harbour at the base of the pier. A noisy Pied Wagtail was busy in the vicinity, flying here and there looking for grub. On the water we soon spotted a Little Grebe, which as usual was spending more time diving than on the surface. A second Little Grebe was also spotted on the opposite side of the Coal Harbour, clearly giving each other some fishing distance.

We moved further out the pier until we were more or less opposite Trader’s Wharf where we could scan across Dublin Bay. Although there were plenty of birds around, they were mostly way off and it was not always easy to keep them in view as they disappeared behind waves in the choppy sea. Nevertheless we picked out some Red-breasted Mergansers, Cormorants, Shags, Guillemots and a few Razorbills. There were plenty of Great Black-backed, Herring and Black-headed Gulls in various plumages. Keen eyed Robert Busby found an adult winter Mediterranean Gull, which kindly put in a few more appearances before the day’s end. There was at least one adult Kittiwake around that was patrolling along the pier giving us some excellent close views at times.

Great Black-backed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Cormorants mingle on Dublin Bay. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Gulls and Cormorants on Dublin Bay, 8th December 2013 (picture: Colum Clarke)

We had heard from former branch Chairman, Dick Coombes, that he had seen a Snow Bunting the previous afternoon near the lighthouse at the end of the pier. There wasn't really any choice in the matter, we had to try for it and so headed off for the tip. Snow Buntings are winter visitors to coastal areas, probably arriving from Iceland. The majority of Irish birds are concentrated on the west and north coasts but Dun Laoghaire's West Pier has a long tradition of hosting small parties of this delightful bird from time to time. Sadly, despite much searching, we did not connect with the bird although Stephen heard it call once so we know for certain that it was still present. We'll never know, but it's possible that it made the short hop across to the East Pier around the time Stephen heard it.

A Purple Sandpiper down among the weed on the West Pier. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Purple Sandpiper on the West Pier, 8th December 2013 (picture: Colum Clarke)

We had better luck with waders. Earlier, while gathering at the car park we had seen a group of 10 Turnstone nearby on the mud and they continued to be seen throughout our stay in ones and twos. As we made our way from the Coal Harbour a Redshank flew past heading back in the direction we had come from. There were some Oystercatcher's foraging down among the weed on the seaward side of the pier. A real treat was a lone Purple Sandpiper that joined them and did not seem at all concerned that so many binoculars were trained on it.

Some More Pictures

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One of two Little Grebes that were in the Coal Harbour. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Some more of the pictures taken on the outing by Colum Clarke and Stephen McAvoy.
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Cormorant in Dun Laoghaire Harbour. Picture by Colum Clarke
Herring Gull, possibly 2nd or 3rd winter? Picture by Colum Clarke
A couple of Great Black-backed Gulls on patrol. Picture by Colum Clarke
Adult winter Mediterranean Gull. Picture by Colum Clarke
The most pelagic of gulls, a Kittiwake. Picture by Colum Clarke
A very distant Red-breasted Merganser approaches a navigation buoy on Dublin Bay. Picture by Colum Clarke
Turnstone on the West Pier. Picture by Colum Clarke
South Dublin members scanning Dublin Bay. Picture by Stephen McAvoy
Followed by more scanning of the bay. Picture by Stephen McAvoy

That was that then, we had walked the mile long West Pier, seen some great birds as well as missing out on one much sought after individual and all on a fine winter's day in December. Satisfied we turned around and headed back to the car park and home. We really shouldn't leave it so long until the next West Pier branch outing.

Joe Hobbs

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