Outing Report

BirdWatch Ireland's East Coast Nature Reserve, Blackditch and Newcastle, Co. Wicklow - 10th March 2014.

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South Dublin members at the old train station, Newcastle, Co. Wicklow. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.

South Dublin members gather at Newcastle, 10th March 2014 (picture: Stephen McAvoy)

Winter was still very much in evidence during our March outing to Newcastle and the East Coast Nature Reserve (ECNR), Co. Wicklow. Ducks and swans were the main attractions and early spring migrants conspicuous by their absence. Early on there were overcast skies with a cool breeze and a persistent drizzle, which made viewing difficult at times as bins and scopes fogged up. Later on the rain stopped, the skies cleared from the west and we enjoyed some pleasant sunshine.

Mindful that parking around the ECNR is limited, about 35 South Dublin members gathered at the end of Sea Road beside the old Newcastle Train Station at 10:30am. Stephen McAvoy and Niall Hatch greeted everyone and following a few branch announcements told us that we would first head across the Dublin to Wexford railway and walk south along the path that runs beside the tracks before returning and walking the short distance back up Sea Road to the ECNR. So, with that we set off!

Part of the large flock of Wigeon that was just offshore. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Wigeon on the sea off Newcastle, 10th March 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

From the stoney path we scanned out to sea. First to attract our attention was a large flock of Wigeon about a hundred yards offshore. They seemed content to drift along until the tide carried them too far south when they would take off and either fly back where they began or head in to the flooded fields adjacent to the railway. Once in the air their white bellies and dirty-grey underwings were very noticeable. There was very little else out to sea, with just a few passing Herring Gulls and a single Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Turning our attention to the fields we could see plenty of ducks and a couple of Mute Swans. In addition to Wigeon, there were Teal, Shoveler and Mallard. These four species are dabbling ducks, typically seen feeding on the surface of shallow ponds and lakes or tipping headfirst to graze on aquatic vegetation just under the surface. Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler are mainly winter visitors with Wigeon the most numerous. Mallard is probably the most familiar duck and can be seen all year round.

Male Shoveler showing its spatulate bill off very well. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Shoveler in the flooded field, Newcastle, 10th March 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Flitting around the gorse were a couple of Stonechats that were proving elusive. It was very good to see them after the dreadful winter we just endured as it is a bird known to be vulnerable to severe winters. There was the usual half dozen or so Hooded Crows that solialise in and around the fields and beach area. Also seen were Meadow Pipit, Dunnock and Reed Bunting.

A Redshank flew in landing on a muddy spit, but it didn't linger and soon departed giving its familiar 'tew it' call. They are a lively and excitable wader, often the first in a mixed flock to get up and depart noisily when flushed, spooking everything else in the process!

It was now time to turn around and head back to Sea Road and make our way to the reserve. On the way we heard the distinctive 'teacher teacher' song of Great Tit from roadside bushes.

South Dublin members making their way back along the stoney track. Picture by Des Cannon.

South Dublin members and train on the move, 10th March 2014 (picture: Des Cannon)

At the entrance to the reserve we halted to listen to a couple of Wrens who were engaged in a singing duel. It is extraordinary just how loud these tiny birds can sing. Nearby we noticed a Goldcrest that was busy feeding in a tree. These are the two smallest birds found in Ireland. Goldcrest can weigh as little as 5 grams and even a big one comes in at only 7 grams. Wren is slightly bigger and can weigh up to about 12 grams.

Way off in the distance we could make out a Little Egret asleep at the edge of some reeds. These elegant herons were first recorded breeding in Ireland as recently as 1997 and are now a regular sight along the east and south coasts. We pushed on heading for the hides stopping from time to time to scan the area but apart from a Goldfinch and the usual selection of Crows and Gulls it was very quiet.

Dunnock taking a good look around. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Dunnock, ECNR, 10th March 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Due to the large size of the group we split in two with one group heading for the Main Hide and the other for the West Hide; later we would swap over. The author headed with the West Hide group. From there we could see the same four species of dabbling duck that we had seen earlier, only by this time the sun had come out and the views were much clearer. In the same field of view were two Lapwing that didn't move the entire time we were watching. Both birds were showing their long thin crests.

We departed the West Hide and headed the short distance to the Main Hide. The only new bird from the Main Hide was a Little Grebe that was well on the way to acquiring its full breeding plumage. At this point we decided to call it a day and finish up. When we got back to the reserve's entrance we had one last scan around before departing and to our surprise the Little Egret was still asleep in the exact same spot as before!

Some More Pictures

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Two adults with an immature Herring Gull just offshore. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Some more pictures taken on the day by Colum Clarke, Des Cannon and Stephen McAvoy.
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A pair of Shoveler in flight. Picture by Colum Clarke.
A pair of Shoveler on the flooded field. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Mallard showing off its brilliant blue speculum. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Male Wigeon. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Little Grebe on the ECNR. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Crossing the tracks on the way back to the ECNR. Picture by Des Cannon.
South Dublin members at the entrance to the ECNR. Picture by Stephen McAvoy.
South Dublin members on the way to the hides. Picture by Des Cannon.
The Main Hide on the ECNR viewed from the West Hide. Picture by Des Cannon.

It is wonderful to have such a fantastic facility as the East Coast Nature Reserve so close to our home patch, so it is very sad to report that we noticed some deliberate damage done to and near the Main Hide during our outing. There was graffiti sprayed inside the hide and some of the blinds that obscure the path leading up to it had been knocked down. Let's hope this is a one-off occurrence!

Joe Hobbs

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