Kilcoole, Wicklow - 10th September 2017.
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South Dublin and Wicklow members at Kilcoole (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)
If its September it must be Kilcoole! The combination of open sea, shingle beach, grassy path with Buckthorn bushes, cultivated fields and marsh make it the ideal location to kick off a new season of South Dublin Branch outings. On this occasion we were delighted to be joined by some from the Wicklow Branch swelling our numbers to about 45.
The group were greeted in the train station car park by our Chairman Frank Doyle and Hon. Treasurer Niall Hatch and following some announcements we set off hoping for good birds and especially for good weather as the forecast was not promising, with westerly gales and passing rain showers expected; instead, the rain held off, the wind abated and the sun came out and we enjoyed fine weather with partly cloudy skies throughout. As per usual for Kilcoole, we proceeded at a leisurely pace south along the grassy embankment that runs beside the railway, halting every now and then to scan across the Flooded and Webb's Fields, Main Marsh and Beach.
Cormorants at Kilcoole (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)
Small numbers of Gannets were passing out to sea, with some close to shore but most at telescope range; these were probably birds from the Irish Sea colonies on Ireland's Eye and Lambay Island. A single Black Guillemot and a single Fulmar flew north and the usual selection of gulls, including some Kittiwakes were hanging about. Cormorants were regularly seen moving in off the sea to loaf around grassy areas in the marsh. It was still too early for large numbers of wildfowl but the first arrivals of Wigeon, Shoveler and Teal were noted as well as the resident Mute Swans and Mallards.
At least fifteen Little Egrets were present, constantly on the move; this one time rarity is now widespread in suitable habitat and has become an Irish breeding species since the late 1990s. Its larger cousin, the Grey Heron, took a more leisurely approach to stalking and stabbing fish along the edge of the marsh. Also taking an interest in fish were Little Grebes, their fluffy rear-ends popping in and out of view as they dived repeatably for grubs.
Little Grebe, Kilcoole (picture: Bill Rea)
A flock of Ringed Plovers, their white wing-bars prominent, flew along the beach, closely followed by a small flock of Dunlin that turned right and headed across the railway line to the marsh. Hanging out together were Lapwing and Curlew, and as they took to the air, the Lapwing's slow flapping and dramatic appearance was one of the best sights we enjoyed. Other waders observed were Oystercatcher, Greenshank and Black-tailed Godwit.
A one time Irish rarity that is happily recolonising much of the countryside is Buzzard and we saw six, including a group of five together. A lucky few among us managed views of a Sparrowhawk but it did not linger. Our third raptor, a Peregrine Falcon, was undoubtedly the highlight of the day. It was first picked up by Niall Keogh high against the blue sky away to the north. It gradually came closer until it was soaring more or less overhead, spooking everything in the process. Then it ascended to a few hundred feet before turning, pulling back its wings and plummeting downwards at lightning speed until it looked like it would surely hit the ground, before dramatically pulling out of the dive just twenty feet above it. The bird did not appear to be in pursuit of anything and certainly did not take any prey so maybe it was a training run? Regardless, it was one of the most exhilarating exhibitions we have ever encountered on a South Dublin outing.
Northern Wheatear, Kilcoole Beach (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)
Big numbers of Woodpigeons were roaming the fields and from time to time some Stock Doves joined them, when their smaller size and overall darker appearance helped pick them out.
At least ten Northern Wheatears were seen, both along the beach and in and around the marsh, where they seemed to especially like perching on a couple of water troughs. They are heading for sub-Saharan Africa where they will spend the winter. Also on the move south were Swallows that were constantly passing by in ones and twos. These hirundines will migrate even further than the Wheatears, with some going as far as South Africa. Just how both these amazing species, weighing no more than 30 grams, manage to undertake such monumental journeys is mind-boggling. Their departures marks a change of seasons.
We saw plenty of Corvids included some Ravens, the largest passerine in the world. Among other 'songbirds' observed were Kilcoole regulars Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Skylark, Starling and a large flock of Goldfinch. Some of those who arrived early were treated to a Willow Warbler in the vicinity of the car park.
Raven, Kilcoole (picture: Niall T. Keogh)
Non-avian wildlife encountered included a Red Admiral and a very obliging Common Blue that stayed put long enough to allow everyone get photos. A Fox Moth caterpillar that was making slow progress across the beach was also well photographed but a fly-by Common Darter was not so accommodating and soon disappeared off in to the Buckthorn.
Some More Pictures
By the time we finished up we had gone almost as far as the Breaches and we had seen some great birds and sights along the way in beautiful weather. It was a hugely enjoyable outing and a great way to begin our 2017-18 season and there are many more outings planned in the coming months.