Outing Report

Co. Louth Coach Outing - 9th February 2014.

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South Dublin members at Gyles' Quay, Co. Louth. Picture by Eleanor Keane.

South Dublin members on the Louth coach outing, 9th February 2014 (picture: Eleanor Keane)

Our February coach outing took us to various sites on Dundalk Bay, the Cooley Peninsula and Carlingford Lough in Co. Louth. Dundalk Bay is a very large shallow bay with extensive saltmarshes and intertidal mudflats, holding thousands of wildfowl and wading birds. The Cooley Peninsula divides Dundalk Bay from Carlingford Lough.

Considering the very unsettled weather recently the day turned out to be very agreeable for the time of year. It was cool with just a few passing rain showers, partly cloudy skies and a blustery southwesterly wind that eased as the day wore on. We departed Dun Laoghaire at 08:30, stopping for pick-ups at Blackrock, The Point Depot and finally near Blake's Cross for Aidan G. Kelly who was leading the outing. As we departed Blake's Cross a Buzzard was spotted from the bus, the first of three for the day. We took a comfort stop at the Castlebellingham Service Station before heading on to our first stop at Lurgangreen.

Some of the thousands of Black-tailed Godwits at Lurgangreen. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Black-tailed Godwits, Lurgangreen, 9th February 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Lurgangreen is on the south side of Dundalk Bay, just south of Blackrock. Upon arrival we were greeted with the sight of thousands of birds spread out as far as the eye could see. As the tide was out most were far off in the distance on the exposed mud or in the various channels in between. The majority were waders and by far the most numerous species present were Black-tailed Godwit, Golden Plover and Lapwing that congregated in huge flocks. They appeared to be very nervous, often taking off in their thousands, twisting and turning as they flew back and forth across the bay, changing colour rapidly as they banked one way or the other in an exhilarating spectacle. Other waders seen were smaller numbers of Redshank, Knot, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Greenshank. Among the wildfowl on show were Brent Geese, Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal and some very distant Goldeneye.

A female Kestrel was spotted sitting on some wires. She was soon on the move to land in some nearby conifers to escape the attention of the local Rooks. Thankfully she remained in the tree long enough to allow us get great views through scopes. Soon after, a Peregrine appeared that spent some time dashing about the bay before eventually settling on a grassy patch. It's possible this was the reason that so many of the birds in the vicinity were so jumpy.

Female Kestrel at Lurgangreen. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Kestrel, Lurgangreen, 9th February 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

From Lurgangreen we moved on the short distance to Dundalk docks where we were delighted to meet local birdwatcher Billy Clarke. From the docks we could scan along the Castletown River and further off across the marshland to the north. There was a large flock of Redshank on the opposite bank and in the middle of them Robert Busby found a Spotted Redshank. This gave us all the opportunity to compare these two close relatives in some detail. Later on Spotted Redshank will acquire its distinctive black breeding plumage, but at this time of year it's winter plumage is not so different to Redshank. Robert did very well to pick it out so quickly and for many on the outing it was the bird of the day. A Greenshank was noticed feeding around the edge of the river, making it the third Tringa wader we saw at Dundalk.

A familiar sound then caught our attention, the unmistakable rhythmic whirring of Mute Swans in flight. Looking up we saw a pair flying in our direction across the marsh, then coming in to alight on the river in front of us, where they remained during the rest of our stay. There were good numbers of Teal present, some on the river and some on the bank. Both a single Buzzard and a few Ravens were seen in flight circling quite high up against the blue sky. A Grey Heron had found a sheltered spot in a tree across the marsh from us and a few Goldfinch were struggling against the wind to settle in the tops of some nearby trees. Leaving Dundalk behind we headed on for Gyles' Quay and the Cooley Peninsula.

Spotted Redshank on the bank of the Castletown River, Dundalk. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Spotted Redshank, Dundalk, 9th February 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Gyles' Quay is on the southern side of the Cooley Peninsula and during our visit was buffeted by strong southwesterly winds, which made observations difficult at times. There had been reports of Twite there in recent weeks and we had high hopes that we would connect with this intriguing little finch ourselves. Unfortunately, despite much searching around the carpark, adjacent fields, tracks and beach we drew a blank. We did find a few Linnets, Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails that were doing their best to keep out of the wind.

On the sea there were at least a dozen Great Northern Divers and a Red-throated Diver. Also seen were some Guillemots and Razorbills and a single Kittiwake. By now it was getting on towards 1pm so we decided to take our lunch here in the carpark before heading on to the other side of the peninsula and Greenore. Our interest in seeing good birds must have been contagious, as our driver spotted a Buzzard just after departing Gyles' Quay!

One of a pair of Mute Swan's landing on the Castletown River at Dundalk. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Mute Swan, Dundalk, 9th February 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Greenore is very near to the tip of the Cooley Peninsula. From here we could see the buoyed channel that guides ships to various ports on Carlingford Lough. Further out is the imposing granite lighthouse that marks the dangerous Haulbowline Rocks at the entrance to the lough. The scenery in and around the lough and peninsula is spectacular, dominated by the forested slopes of the Cooley and Mourne Mountains on the southern and northern sides respectively. Not surprisingly both Carlingford Lough and Dundalk Bay are Ramsar Sites and Special Protection Areas under European Law.

From Greenore we saw more Great Northern Divers, bringing our running total for the day towards twenty. A couple of Black Guillemots flew strongly in from the sea and headed up the lough. On the sea there were Red-breasted Mergansers, Cormorants and Shags. At one point a Cormorant landed on top of one of the red navigation buoys to be joined soon after by two Shags that sat around the base providing us the opportunity to compare and contrast both. Song birds were not so evident but there were some Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits around.

One of the dozen Great Northern Divers seen at Gyles' Quay. Picture by Colum Clark.

Great Northern Diver, off Gyles' Quay, 9th February 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

From Greenore we headed back up along the northern shore of the lough to Omeath. The lough is esturine in nature and there was plenty of mud exposed along the shore there that was teaming with waders and gulls. The majority were Dunlin, that most familiar of our small shorebirds. Small numbers breed in Ireland, mainly in the west and northwest, however it is best known to Irish birdwatchers as an abundant winter visitor on our esturies and coasts. There were about 100 birds present, mainly feeding on the shoreline in two groups and all of them were still in their winter plumage. From time to time something spooked them and they flew out over the lough soon returning to begin feeding again. Other waders present were Ringed Plover, Redshank, Turnstone, Curlew and a Greenshank.

Among the many Black-headed Gulls were Common Gulls including some sparkling looking individuals that gleamed in the winter sunshine. There were Great Crested Grebes just offshore on the lough. Some were still in winter plumage but some were showing signs of acquiring their breeding plumage.

Great Crested Grebes on Carlingford Lough off Omeath. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Great Crested Grebes, off Omeath, 9th February 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

We headed back down the lough to Carlingford where we were able to take another comfort break. The harbour was fairly quiet with just a few Redshank and Curlew here and there as well as the usual mix of gulls, crows and Starlings. In the distance soaring in slow circles were four Ravens but they were so far off to be specks even in binoculars.

At this point Aidan Kelly decided it would be worth returning to Lurgangreen in the hope that the tide would have begun to flood and pushed the birds a bit closer to the shore.

Just some of the thousands of Lapwing present at Lurgangreen. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Lapwing, Lurgangreen, 9th February 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

In the few hours since our first visit the tide had advanced but not by as much as we had hoped and many of the birds present remained quite distant. There were still huge flocks of Black-tailed Godwits, Golden Plover and Lapwing around. On this visit we saw some Grey Plovers that we had possibly missed earlier. They were feeding on the mud in their characteristic stop-start action. The Goldeneye continued to be elusive although some did manage to pick out the two males and two females that were swimming along one of the tidal channels. This time we also saw some Pintail but like the Goldeneye they were well off and difficult to pick up; we reckoned there were about a dozen of them. A Little Egret was spotted as it flew inland off the bay and there were a couple of Collared Doves watching us from overhead lines. By this time, the light was starting to fade, which told us it was time to get back on the bus and head on home. We arrived back in Dun Laoghaire at 7:15pm.

Some More Pictures

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Woodpigeon flying over Lurgangreen. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Some more pictures from Louth taken on the day by Colum Clarke, Eleanor Keane and Aidan G. Kelly.
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Lapwing, Redshank and Spotted Redshank along the Castletown River at Dundalk. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Mostly Redshank and Teal along the Castletown River at Dundalk. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Curlew and Dunlin on the shore at Omeath. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Some of the Dunlin that were around Omeath flying over Carlingford Lough. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Common Gull on the shore at Omeath. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Herring Gull flying over Carlingford Lough off Omeath. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Oystercatchers flying over Lurgangreen. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Collared Doves watching over us at Lurgangreen. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Carlingford Harbour looking out on Carlingford Lough. Picture by Eleanor Keane.
South Dublin members at Castlebellingham Service Station. Picture by Eleanor Keane.
South Dublin members at Carlingford. Picture by Eleanor Keane.
South Dublin members and the Big Red Bus at Gyles' Quay. Picture by Aidan G. Kelly.

As is our custom, the log was called on the return journey to discover the day's totals and the final tally came to 68 species seen. We all agreed we had a great day's birding and we were very grateful to have Aidan Kelly along to lead the outing so expertly.

Joe Hobbs

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