waxwing

Outing Report

Avoca & The Meeting of the Waters - 10th April 2016.

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South Dublin members in the carpark at St. Patrick's Church, Avoca. Picture by Niall Hatch.

South Dublin Members at Avoca, 10th April 2016 (picture: Niall Hatch)

A period of unsettled weather in the days leading up to our April outing did not auger well for a fruitful birding experience. However and despite heavily overcast skies, the rain held off, the wind remained calm and we had a fantastic time, with great birds throughout. This was the branch's second outing to Avoca, following our first in May 2013. It is one of the most reliable locations to get close views of Red Kites. These are birds that have been released to the area as part of the Red Kite Reintroduction Project, which has proved to be a great success. During the 2015 breeding season 47 pairs held territory in Wicklow, of which 20 pairs reared just over 40 young.

A group of about 35 South Dublin members met up in St. Patrick's Church car park at 10am, where Niall Hatch greeted everyone and explained we would spend some time around Avoca and later proceed along the short distance to the Meeting of the Waters.


Red Kite over Avoca, 10th April 2016. Picture by Bill Rea.

Red Kite clearly showing its characteristic forked tail, Avoca, 10th April 2016 (picture: Bill Rea)

Almost immediately we spied a soaring Red Kite further off in the distance down the valley. Various scopes were trained on it, and while we watched Niall spent some time describing its biology and behaviours. He explained that although they will occasionally take prey, they are essentially scavengers relying on road kill and carrion for food. In the air they are quite beautiful and unmistakable, with slow exaggerated wing-beats and a long forked tail that is constantly twisting one way and the other. It wouldn't be the last Kite on the day.

Around the car park there was plenty of activity, mostly a variety of corvids including a 'heard-only' Jay. Two male Siskins flew in and perched in a tree for a few minutes allowing everyone to get good views. Then a Willow Warbler put in a very brief appearance before disappearing in some pines. These Phylloscopus warblers arrive back from Africa about the first week of April onwards, so this one was probably not long in the country. Time was moving on so we headed off down the town to gather on the bridge over the River Avoca.


A couple of male Siskins in St. Patrick's Curch car park. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Siskins, Avoca, 10th April 2016 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

From the bridge we saw a total of three Kites as well as a single Buzzard. At times both Red Kite and Buzzard were in close proximity soaring high above the valley. Buzzard numbers have increased in recent years and are now fairly widespread over the eastern half of the island. This spread probably represents a re-colonisation of their former range rather than breaking new ground. Their previous decline seems to have been largely down to persecution, exacerbated by the decline of their favourite food, the Rabbit, following the introduction of myxomatosis in the 1950s.

We were surprised not to see any Ravens from the bridge, although there were plenty of Rooks and Hooded Crows. They harassed both Kites and Buzzard at every opportunity, but neither raptor seemed too bothered by the unwanted attention. Unfortunately, the river was fairly devoid of bird life. Some Woodpigeons were flying back and forth as well as occasional tantalising views of little brown jobs too far away to be identified with any certainty.


Buzzard soaring over Avoca, 10th April 2016. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Buzzard, Avoca, 10th April 2016 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

With time pushing on towards 11am we decided to make the short journey to the Meeting of the Waters and the Thomas Moore Park that is situated at the confluence of the Rivers Avonbeg and Avonmore. The park extends all the way to the water's edge where we had excellent views over the river in all directions. Thomas Moore is best known as the author of many poems and song lyrics, including 'The Minstrel Boy', 'The Last Rose of Summer', 'Oft in the Stilly Night' and 'The Harp That Once Through Tara's Halls'. He wrote 'The Meeting of the Waters', after a visit to the area with friends.

The first bird noticed at the Meetings was a Raven, the only one we got on the day, it didn't hang around and soon flew out of view. Next a Grey Wagtail was spotted on the river bank. These birds are associated with clean, fast flowing streams and rivers, especially those with exposed rocks and stones, so the Avoca is tailor made for them. As we watched, its white outer-tail feathers were very obvious as it flitted along catching insects.


A wagtail showing a lot of yellow, must be a Grey Wagtail therefore! Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Grey Wagtail, Meeting of the Waters, 10th April 2016 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

There is just as much a chance of seeing Kites at the Meetings as at Avoca, and so it proved. First a single bird was spotted, then another, and then two more, at times all four were in the sky at the same time. Not to be outdone, at least four Buzzards were present also. Nothing for it, but enjoy the wonderful sight of up to eight large raptors soaring overhead and that's exactly what we did. Of course it is possible that some of them were also at Avoca earlier, but it very much looks like we had a grand total of seven Kites and five Buzzards, a nice haul! A third raptor on the day was a very very distant hovering Kestrel.

On the opposite bank two male Pheasants were grazing in a field. One showed the typical appearance of a torquatus with a prominent white neck collar, bottle green head and neck, and copper coloured body with dark mottling. The other was very non-typical, dark rufous overall, with just the red face and wattles for contrast, perhaps a melanistic bird.

Among other birds seen were a couple of Cormorants in flight, a Goldcrest in a tall pine, a couple of fighting male Chaffinches and a hirundine in flight that was either a Swallow or a House Martin, but could not be pinned down to either.


A pair of Dippers on the river at the Meetings of the Waters. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Dippers, Meeting of the Waters, 10th April 2016 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

By this stage all that was needed to complete a perfect outing was a Dipper and as luck would have it we got two, obviously a pair as mating was observed. They obliged by hanging around in the vicinity, their white breasts standing out vividly in the dull light. Unlike most birds Dippers have solid bones, which helps to reduce buoyancy when they dive for food and 'walk' along the riverbed, where they overturn stones looking for aquatic invertebrates. This must qualify as one of the most unusual foraging strategies of any Irish bird.

Dippers frequent fast-flowing stoney bedded rivers in hilly locations. Irish birds are the subspecies hibernicus, also found in west Scotland and the Hebrides, and show a rusty-brown belly, in contrast to the near-Continental race, which shows a black belly. There is just a single Irish record of the black-bellied form, way back in 1956 on the River Tolka.


Some More Pictures

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Nice view of a Red Kite over the Meetings of the Waters with wing-tags showing...... Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Some more pictures taken on the day by Gustavo Zoladz, Bill Rea and Niall Hatch.
Click on the picture and then use the left and right arrows to scroll through them.

...... and another view of the same bird. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.
One of four Buzzards at the Meetings of the Water. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.
A Dipper with its translucent eyelid known as the nictitating membrane showing well. Picture by Niall Hatch.
Dipper on the River Avonbeg. Picture by Bill Rea.
South Dublin members in the Thomas Moore Park, Meetings of the Waters. Picture by Niall Hatch.

Niall thanked everyone for coming along and with lunchtime approaching announced it was time to finish up and head home. On the way back to the car park we noticed a 'heard' of about twenty Helmeted Guineafowl meandering across a field. These birds are native to sub-Saharan Africa, but have been introduced to many parts of the world and domesticated for food and pest control. They would be the last birds of a great outing to two great sites. I feel certain we'll be back for a third visit in 2017.


Joe Hobbs


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