Outing Report

Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow - 11th May 2014.

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South Dublin members looking for Sedge Warbler on Ballygannon Lane. Picture by Niall Hatch.

South Dublin members at Kilcoole, Co. Wicklow 11th May 2014 (picture: Niall Hatch)

The variety of habitats at Kilcoole makes it an attractive destination for branch outings. Within easy walking distance you can find reedbed, marsh, flooded fields, channels, shingle bank, beach, the Irish Sea etc and all of these produced a fine selection of good birds on our May outing. About twenty South Dublin members assembled in the station car park at 10:30 to be greeted by Niall Hatch and Stephen McAvoy who were leading the outing. Overall the day was mostly fine with just the occasional drizzle, mainly cloudy with very good visibility and a fresh westerly breeze.

From the car park we noticed Swifts, Swallows and a single House Martin hawking insects overhead. A Whitethroat was in song but proving elusive as it buried itself deep in some foliage. A Song Thrush landed on a bare branch some distance off and began to sing. A number of Wrens were dashing about, sometimes halting on a branch in full view. Greenfinches were giving their wheezy song, looking splendid in the May sunshine. The resident troupe of House Sparrows were conspicuous along the station fence and Blackbirds and Dunnocks were both seen and heard.

Sedge Warbler showing well at Kilcoole. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Sedge Warbler, Kilcoole, 11th May 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Stephen suggested we make our way just north of the car park along Ballygannon Lane to look for Sedge Warbler in the adjacent reedbed. On arrival we heard the complex chattering and grating phrases of these Acrocephalus warblers in song and soon after we spotted an obliging individual that sat high in a willow. As we watched it regularly made song flights, rising 20 feet from its perch with fluttering wingbeats before turning to make a slow spiral descent with its wings and tail spread.

Next, another warbler announced its presence when a Blackcap began to sing on the other side of the lane. In contrast to Sedge Warbler, Blackcap possesses a beautiful flute-like warbling song. Try as we might we never managed to see the bird that remained deep in bushy shrubs along the lane, so we left it there and made our way back through the car park to cross over the railway tracks to the beach and marsh.

One of the Sandwich Terns that was feeding just offshore. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Sandwich Tern, Kilcoole, 11th May 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Kilcoole is one of the few locations in Ireland to hold breeding Little Terns. For the past 30 years BirdWatch Ireland have wardened the colony each season. This year's wardens are already in place carrying out the important work of guarding the terns from disturbance.

Some terns were feeding just offshore to the north of us. Niall announced they were Sandwich Terns, the largest of Ireland's terns. As we watched them we noticed some smaller birds arriving in their midst with very obvious bright yellow bills; of course they were Little Terns. In contrast to the Sandwich Terns they are tiny with very narrow wings constantly flapping. During the remainder of the outing Sandwich Terns were present, sometimes coming close enough to allow us hear their characteristic 'kerrick' call. Little Terns were not so obvious but at one stage about ten flew past heading south. In the distance we could see the BirdWatch Ireland caravans where the wardens would live during the Little Tern breeding season.

South Dublin members checking sea and marsh. Picture by Niall Hatch.

South Dublin members on the grassy track, 11th May 2014 (picture: Niall Hatch)

There were about a dozen Gannets seen out to sea, mostly way off in the distance but some came closer to shore allowing us good views of this beautiful seabird. The nearest Irish colonies are on Great Saltee Island off Co. Wexford to the south and Lambay Island off Co. Dublin to the north, while across the Irish Sea on the island of Grassholm off the Pembrokeshire coast is one of the biggest gannetries in the world. The colony on Lambay Island is the most recent Irish gannetry, with birds first noticed breeding as recently as 2006.

Loafing about on the sea were some Guillemots. Normally you expect them to be busy diving for fish but not today. There were a few Cormorants on the sea and in the air. Their white cheeks stood out very clearly as some flew over our heads in to the marsh. Not many gulls were around, some Herring Gulls and a Great Black-backed Gull among them. An unexpected sight were some Harbour Porpoises that were breaking the surface as they headed south.

Linnet on the rocks. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Linnet, Kilcoole , 11th May 2014 (picture: Colum Clarke)

We walked south on the grassy path that runs alongside the rail tracks stopping now and again to scan across the Flooded Field (a BirdWatch Ireland reserve) and Webb's Field. There were plenty of Swifts and Swallows and more Sedge Warblers. The male Sedge Warbler really does spend a lot of time in song right up to the time the chicks hatch. We had good views of a Reed Bunting that was sitting on a fence. Male and female Stonechats were seen including a pair feeding young on a bush in Webb's Field. A small flock of Linnets were flying about and as they departed across the fields their white outertail feathers became very noticeable. In the grass and on a fence near one of the channels that run through the marsh were at least three Wheatears. We managed to get great views of them in the scopes.

The only wildfowl present this late in the year were Mute Swans, Shelduck and Mallard, the rest having left for their breeding grounds. Waders were not much in evidence either with just a few Lapwing both on the deck and in flight. A real treat was a male Golden Plover in summer plumage that flew in and settled in Webb's Field staying long enough to give us good views through the scopes. This was the bird of the day for many. There were Grey Heron and a couple of Little Egret in and about the channels and a male Pheasant was also seen. Strangely we did not see a single bird of prey or any pipits throughout our stay.

Some More Pictures

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Greenfinch in among the greenery. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Some more pictures taken on the day by Colum Clarke and Niall Hatch.
Click on the thumbnail picture (left) and then use the left and right arrows on your keyboard to scroll through them.

Gannet on the turn.... Picture by Colum Clarke.
...and heads off. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Old reliable, Mute Swan over the marsh. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Along Ballygannon Lane looking out over the reedbed. Picture by Niall Hatch.
Which way did it go? Picture by Colum Clarke.
Looking out for terns. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Time was moving on and we decided to finish up so we turned around and headed back. On arrival at the car park the Whitethroat could still be heard singing only this time it decided to come out in the open and show itself. A satisfying end to our last main outing of the season.

Joe Hobbs

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