Outing Report

Belfast Harbour & Lough Neagh - 6th March 2016.

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South Dublin members outside the RSPB Window on Wildlife Centre in Belfast Harbour. Picture by Rachel Hynes.

South Dublin members at the WOW Centre, 6th March 2016 (picture: Rachel Hynes)

On a dry, chilly, still, bright morning a group of 27 keen birders set out by coach from Dun Laoghaire, to investigate some birding opportunities in Northern Ireland. The journey was uneventful with the usual selection of corvids and a good number of Buzzards, which are now becoming a usual and expected sight along our roads. On the way we stopped at Castlebellingham for coffee etc. and then headed across the border.

A flock of Black-tailed Godwits at the WOW Centre with the Port of Belfast in the background. Picture by Rachel Hynes.

Black-tailed Godwits, WOW Centre, 6th March 2016. (picture: Rachel Hynes)

Our first port of call was the RSPB Wow centre in Belfast Lough which reopened last year after extensive refurbishment and the addition of two new hides. This reserve is situated in the heart of industrial Belfast on a lagoon adjacent to Harland and Wolff and the new Titanic Centre. As we entered the main hide we were greeted by a staff member who was on hand to answer questions.

Not more than a few feet from this hide was a flock of Black-tailed Godwit. These very elegant waders, some of which were coming into stunning summer plumage, were a rarity in Ireland before 1900 but now we have a small Irish breeding population and a large number of wintering birds from Iceland. These birds were no more than a few feet away from us in front of the hide so our group was able to admire them in great detail.

Black-headed Gulls, Mediterranean Gull and Shelduck occupy a tern breeding platform. Picture by Rachel Hynes.

One of the tern breeding platforms, WOW Centre, 6th March 2016. (picture: Rachel Hynes)

Other birds seen from this hide were Reed Bunting that were feeding in the reedy area near the hide and on one of the lagoon breeding platforms Robert Busby spotted a Mediterranean Gull. Also on view across the water were several species of duck including Shoveler, Mallard, Teal, Shelduck, Wigeon as well as Lapwing, Grey Heron, Coot and Moorhen.

Feeders placed nearer the hide produced Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Blue Tit and Great Tit. The lagoon platforms are intended for breeding Arctic and Common Terns in the summer. We also noticed a bank for breeding Sand Martin and a Swift tower so this reserve would well worth a visit in the summer.

One of the Moorhens seen on the day. Picture by Rachel Hynes.

Moorhen, WOW Centre, 6th March 2016. (picture: Rachel Hynes)

Coming out of the hide we were greeted with the sight of a Peregrine Falcon, which was perched on a pylon that was being mobbed by a Kestrel. This battle went on for several minutes until the Peregrine moved off. At this stage the group split up and went in different directions to investigate the new hides at the reserve. The first of these is further along from the main hide and the second is accessed by a laneway which is bordered by trees where we found an assortment of passerines that were mainly tits and a Goldcrest. At the end of this lane there is a good view over Belfast Lough which yielded Red-breasted Merganser and a large flock of Eider in the distance.

On the seaward side of this lane is a large wasteland area where there was a large flock of feeding Linnet and Redpoll. On closer inspection this flock produced some Twite, which was one of our target birds. Twite are one of the species whose numbers have declined dramatically in recent years in Ireland and can prove difficult to find. Nowadays it is a very rare breeding species confined to coastal areas of Mayo and Donegal. Its worldwide distribution is extensive being found across northern Europe and central Asia. The birds found on the east coast of Ireland in winter are part of the Scottish breeding population. This area also produced good numbers of Meadow Pipit.

A close-up of one of the WOW Centre Black-tailed Godwits. Picture by Rachel Hynes.

Black-tailed Godwit, WOW Centre, 6th March 2016. (picture: Rachel Hynes)

After an enjoyable time spent at the WOW Centre we got back on the coach and headed for the Oxford Island Discovery Centre on Lough Neagh, which was opened in 1993. Lough Neagh is the largest freshwater lake in Ireland or Britain. It covers 160 square miles and drains almost half of Northern Ireland.

Due to the lough's international importance as a wildfowl site it is designated as a Ramsar site, a Special Protection Area and an Area of Special Scientific Interest. The reserve boasts many facilities, which include a restaurant and many nature related activities for children.

Tufted Duck at Oxford Island. Picture by Rachel Hynes.

Tufted Duck, Oxford Island, 6th March 2016. (picture: Rachel Hynes)

As we were driving in to the reserve we saw some distant Whooper Swans feeding in a field. Getting off the coach we split up and headed to various hides offering different views of the lough. Initially we noticed hundreds of Tufted Duck, then on closer inspection we picked out Goldeneye, Scaup, Pochard and Gadwall. After a couple of hours we decided it was time to call it a day and a tired but happy crew gathered at the bus for our return journey.

This was my first visit to both locations and I was very impressed with the facilities and the quality of the birding experience. During the day several of our number got Irish ticks and when the log was taken on the return trip we discovered we had a total count of 73 species for the day.

A view over part of Lough Neagh from Oxford Island. Picture by Rachel Hynes.

Lough Neagh, 6th March 2016. (picture: Rachel Hynes)

Many thanks to our Honory Secretary Eleanor Keane for her sterling work in organising this trip and to our Chairman Frank Doyle for so ably leading the group on the day.

Rachel Hynes

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