South Dublin Branch - Outing Report

Bluethroat - Ballycotton, Cork (photo: Paul & Andrea Kelly)

Turvey Nature Reserve - 12th February 2023.

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South Dublin members hoping to see owls at Turvey Nature Reserve on our February outing. Picture by Bill Rea.

South Dublin Members, Turvey Nature Reserve, 12th January 2023 (picture: Bill Rea)

Our February outing took us to Turvey Nature Reserve in north County Dublin. This is an area of mixed agricultural land, saltmarsh and mudflats that is managed for biodiversity by Fingal County Council. The main purpose of this outing was to look for hunting owls in an area that holds Barn and Long-eared Owls and sometimes Woodcock, hence the later than usual meeting time of 4:30pm.

About 30 South Dublin members, including two young lads aged about five and eight, met in the reserve's car park where they were greeted by Branch Chairman Des Higgins who led the outing. The owls do not hunt until darkness so we walked as far as the ponds and saw Little Grebe, Coot, a flock of 20 Linnets and a hovering Kestrel, a rapidly declining falcon species that feeds mainly on mice. Turvey has several areas that are planted with a sacrificial crop of seed plants such as Flax which provide food for the mice which in turn attracts Kestrels and Owls. .

A hovering Kestrel on the lookout for prey over the fields at Turvey. Picture by Bill Rea.

Kestrel, Turvey Nature Reserve, 12th January 2023 (picture: Bill Rea)

At 5:15pm the group gathered at the seed plant field located next to the car park and waited patiently for the owls. On the previous Friday, Barn Owls had been seen at 5:50pm and the day before at 6:10pm. We were joined by Fingal Branch Member Brian Carruthers who was on Turvey hide duty that afternoon and who knows the area well. By 6pm it was just getting dark and it was a nervous wait before we saw our first owl.

At 6:12pm a Barn Owl was picked up by Des, hunting over the field. It was possible to pick it out even with the naked eye, because of its almost luminescent white colour. It looked like a huge white moth and proceeded to fly up and down for 20 minutes. As darkness began to fall it became increasingly difficult to pick it out but by that time everyone had managed to see it and the two young lads were especially good at picking them out for the rest of the group. It was difficult to be certain but there appeared to be two Barn Owls, on account of the frequency at which they were seen. .

Brian Carruthers and Eleanor Keane discuss owls at Turvey Nature Reserve. Picture by Des Higgins.

Turvey Nature Reserve, 12th January 2023 (picture: Des Higgins)

Jim Bowman saw a Woodcock fly past us but very few others managed to get onto it and it was gone in about two seconds. A second group, including Brian Carruthers and Rachel Hynes, managed to see a hunting Long-eared Owl but only a few managed to get onto that, although we did hear a brief contact call. Long-eared Owls are harder to see due simply to being much darker than Barn Owls.

All in all, it was a very relieved outing leader at the end of the day to have seen any owls at all and to get everyone onto Barn Owl after a nervous wait. Many of the participants had never seen an owl in Ireland and it was a great success and a memorable outing.

Des Higgins

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