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Outing Report

Co. Sligo Outing - 6th & 7th February 2016.

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Smiling despite the weather, the happy group of South Dublin Members that came on the Sligo outing. Picture by Rachel Hynes.

South Dublin Members on the Sligo weekend outing, 6th February 2016 (picture: Rachel Hynes)

The Branch had not done an Irish overnight trip for some considerable time and we thought it time to put that right. Sligo looked like an ideal destination with a good number of birds not normally present on our part of the east coast and it does need an overnight stay to do even a small part of the area. We choose Mullaghmore, 20 kilometres north of Sligo town, as our overnight location.

Our coach with 29 on board left Dun Laoighaire at 08:00 on 6th February and, after one brief stop en route, arrived at Drumcliff at 11:45 where we had a quick lunch and met with Michael Bell, current Chairman of the Sligo BirdWatch Ireland Branch. Michael had kindly offered to guide us to the best places for our target birds, namely Barnacle Geese, Eider, Long-tailed Duck and any other rara-avis that might present itself.


Some of the large flock of Barnacle Geese present at Lissadell. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Barnacle Geese, Lissadell, Sligo, 6th February 2016 (picture: Colum Clarke)

First stop was a short drive from Drumcliff, where from the bus, we saw a large flock of Barnacle Geese and two Brent Geese. Onwards to the Lissadell Hide, which overlooks that same field, and gives better views of the entire flock. We found a good number of Wigeon, Teal and Shoveler ducks in a large wet area of the same field. This winter, as in several previous, a single wild Canada Goose and Cackling Goose, both from North America, have wintered with the Barnacle Geese that come from Greenland. These two geese were lifers for many of us on the bus, but alas neither was present within the flock.

And thus it proved for the two days, as we scanned all of the many fields with grazing Barnacle Geese, and much smaller numbers of Brent to no avail. Some were wondering where the Barnacle Goose got its name, so Niall Hatch explained that it was because of an old notion that it began life as a crustacean known as a Goose Barnacle. People could use it as an excuse to eat goose on Fridays and during Lent - times when the Church forbade the consumption of meat - on the basis that they weren't eating flesh, but shellfish.


Great Northern Diver rides the choppy waters of Drumcliff Bay. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Great Northern Diver, Drumcliff Bay, 6th February 2016 (picture: Colum Clarke)

From the shore at this stop we saw Great Northern Divers, Red-breasted Mergansers, some Redshank and a single Greenshank. Some of the group spotted an eye-catching small red fungus in the woods by the shore, which was subsequently identified as Scarlet Elf Cap edible fungus.

The bus got as close to Raghly Point as was feasible and we walked the final kilometre in howling wind. The rough seas did not yield up any new birds for us. As we made our way to Ballyconnell, we came upon an accident and were stopped for about ten minutes. From the bus in nearby trees and hedgerows, smaller birds were seen to add to the day list. We also came upon a field with a large number of gulls and Niall explained that in the Sligo area Common Gull is common, as opposed to the east coast where Black-headed Gull in the most common medium sized gull.


Male and female Eider off Ballyconnell. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Eider, Ballyconnell, Sligo, 6th February 2016 (picture: Colum Clarke)

At Ballyconnell, we braved the elements once more and were rewarded with our first Eider sightings. Two small groups containing males and females of these gorgeous sea-ducks were surfing the waves below and quite close to us.

We then headed to the Pier Head Inn at Mullaghmore for our overnight stay. It was a welcoming and comfortable hotel, where we were well looked after with a very good dinner and a superb breakfast. From the 17th to the 19th century the village was part of the large estate belonging to the Temple family in north Sligo. The land, some 12,000 acres, was granted to Sir John Temple, 1st Viscount Palmerston. The 3rd Viscount, Lord Palmerston, began the building of Castle Classiebawn, a baronial style house seen on the skyline as one approaches the coast. He also built the magnificent stone walled harbour in Mullaghmore which was was built between 1822 and 1841. The person responsible for the construction of the harbour was Alexander Nimmo, a Scottish engineer who supervised numerous engineering projects in Ireland during the 19th century, including the construction of over forty piers along the west coast.


A couple of Purple Sandpipers on the rocky shore just north of Mullaghmore. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Purple Sandpipers, near Mullaghmore, 7th February 2016 (picture: Colum Clarke)

The wind howled all night, and as we breakfasted, huge waves were sweeping in and breaking just below us at the sea side of the harbour, giving us east-coasters an impressive view of the wild Atlantic. The easterly swell of the Irish Sea we are used to is puny by comparison.

Michael, again accompanied by his daughter Molly, was waiting to guide us at 9am. We walked up the road from the hotel by a rocky shore which yielded up Purple Sandpiper, Rock Pipit, Oystercatcher and Redshank. As we climbed further, the swooping Herring Gulls were joined by the acrobatic flying of Fulmars and further in the distance by Gannets and Kittiwakes. Great Black-backed Gulls were content to sit out the storm on the nearby rocks. We then walked past the harbour to the beach area where Sanderlings, Dunlins and Ringed Plovers were busily feeding. Several gulls, as well as a Pied Wagtail, and surprisingly a Robin, fed on the wrack in the harbour as the tide ebbed.


Whooper Swan, a winter visitor from Iceland spending the winter in Sligo. Picture by Rachel Hynes.

Whooper Swan, Mullaghmore Lake, Sligo, 7th February 2016 (picture: Rachel Hynes)

We boarded the bus and departed for Mullaghmore Lake a short distance away. There were Mute Swans feeding on the lake, and amongst them were six Whooper Swans. At the far end of the lake a female Goldeneye was a reward for some careful scanning of the perimeter, which also delivered Wigeon, Teal, and Mallard, and two Lapwing hunkered down on a grassy tuft in the water. It was an ideal location for Snipe but none obliged, though we did find a busily diving Little Grebe.

Next stop was Mermaid Cove, where we again experienced the massive Atlantic swell sweeping in and breaking down below us. It was a truly spectacular scene of crashing waves and spindrift blowing off the top of wave crests. Then, just below us, we saw a huge raft of Eiders, again both males and females, ducking and diving in the boiling cauldron.


Common Scoters oblivious to the wintry conditions as they fly-by. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Common Scoters, Mullaghmore, Sligo, 7th February 2016 (picture: Colum Clarke)

Next, a cry of Long-tailed Duck from Des Higgins and everyone swung their optics to the other end of the cove, locating in the troughs a mixed group of 14 ducks. Once in our sights we had brilliant views, even the long tails of the males were visible. Close to them a long ribbon of Common Scoters was also riding the waves. A little further from us we spied another large flock of Eider.

All our target species had been achieved in spades, only missing out on the more elusive rarer species we had hoped for. A male King Eider had been seen in the area earlier in winter but unfortunately was not amongst the flocks we saw. After this great duck show, a literal wild goose chase was on again revisiting the favoured goose fields, in the vain hope of capturing views of the Cackling and Canada Geese. We failed to locate the quarry once again but were satisfied we had given it our best effort.


Some More Pictures

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Redshank on the shore near Drumcliff, 6th February 2016. Picture by Colum Clarke.

Some more pictures taken on the Sligo weekend trip by Colum Clarke and Rachel Hynes.
Click on the picture and then use the left and right arrows to scroll through them.

A trio of Oystercatcher, Redshank and Herring Gull near Drumcliff, 6th February 2016. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Part of the Barnacle Geese flock at Lissadell, 6th February 2016. If there's a Canada Goose with them, we didn't find it. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Oystercatcher squadron near Rosses Point, 6th February 2016. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Curlew in flight at Rosses Point, 6th February 2016. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Some of the Whooper Swans on Mullaghmore Lake, 7th February 2016. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Shag in Mullaghmore Harbour, 7th February 2016. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Ringed Plover on the beach near Mullaghmore, 7th February 2016. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Some of the Eider present off Mermaid Cove, 7th February 2016. Picture by Colum Clarke.
Mullaghmore Harbour, Co. Sligo. Picture by Rachel Hynes.
The impressive sight of the large rock formation at Benbulben, Co. Sligo. Picture by Rachel Hynes.
South Dublin members scanning for sea-duck, 7th February 2016. Picture by Rachel Hynes.

Our final stop was in Sligo Harbour at Gibraltar Point, where a heavy downpour greeted us as we alighted from the coach. However we spent some time there and added to our list of species with views of Little Egret, Curlew, Knot and Shelduck. It was now almost three o'clock, the light was fading fast in the continuing downpour, so we decided to call it a day and head for home. A few minutes later, the heavy downpour became a deluge and we were glad to be on the coach with wet gear peeled off and in the overhead rack. Our species count for the two days was an impressive 74.


Eleanor Keane


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