Birdwatching Sites - North Wicklow
Kilcoole Marsh & Beach
The coast of Co. Wicklow from Kilcoole south to Wicklow town forms the largest coastal wetland complex on the east coast of Ireland. The beach and marsh at Kilcoole are at the northern end of this feature, situated between Bray and Wicklow and immediately north of Six-Mile-Point. A number of streams flow in to the marsh forming channels before converging and cutting through the shingle bank and entering the Irish Sea at The Breaches (Flag B). This cut in the bank also permits the tide to enter the marsh and a number of embankments have been constructed at various places around the marsh to attempt reduce the chances of flooding.
The area is a wonderful mix of coastal salt marsh, tidal channels, reed beds, farmland, low sand hills and beach bordered by a narrow dune strip and shingle ridge, which carries the main Dublin to Wexford rail line. The entire stretch of coast and marsh-land is ideal for birding at any time of the year. Viewing the birds is usually straightforward and very often at close range, with few obstructions in the way.
The village of Kilcoole is about 1 mile inland (Flag C).
Getting There and Access
Kilcoole railway station (Flag A) is served by Iarnród Éireann although the number of trains stopping there is limited to a handful each day. Two Dublin Bus routes serve Kilcoole, the 84 from Blackrock DART Station to Newcastle stops in the village (84 timetable) and the 84x provides an infrequent service to Kilcoole village from the city centre (84x timetable), with some going on to Newcastle. There is a car park behind the train station and you can cross the railway lines there by foot. Once across you should notice a grassy track heading south, along which excellent views over the marsh and out to sea can be had. The track is flat, easy to walk and runs all the way to Newcastle although at the Breaches (Flag B) it is interrupted by a rail bridge.
The marshes at Kilcoole are important wintering sites for wildfowl and waders.
Around the car park (Flag A) is an area of reeds which can hold Water Rail, Reed Buntings and Stonechat throughout the year and Phylloscs and Sedge Warbler in spring and summer. Historically, Bearded Tits bred in this area during 1975 producing two broods.
The field / marsh immediately south of the car park is BirdWatch Ireland's Kilcoole Nature Reserve, sometimes known as the 'Flooded Field' (Flag D). It usually holds good numbers of Teal on its pools as well as some waders including Redshank and Snipe as well as some rarities including Squacco Heron in 1999.
Webb's Field is the next field south and is the property of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. An 'S' shaped stream runs through it and it is enclosed by embankments at its northern (Flag E) and southern boundaries (Flag F). It usually attracts Geese, Swans and some waders in winter, especially Brent and Greylag Geese, Whooper and Mute Swans, Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Golden and Ringed Plover.
Continuing south brings you to the main tidal marsh. An embankment separates it from Webb's Field (Flag F) to the north and farmland to the south (Flag G). At low water a lot of mud is exposed along the various channels in this area, which attracts waders such as Redshank, Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover in good numbers as well as occasional appearances by Greenshank, Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Ruff and Whimbrel on passage, although almost any wader on the Irish list is possible in this area. At high water waders are scarce here but look for gulls and, at the right time of year, terns.
Hugging the bank south of the Breaches is a drainage ditch running south, while inland is a network of wet fields, marsh and channels which continue as far as Newcastle Aerodrome (Flag H). These fields can hold geese, especially Brent as well as a variety of other wildfowl and waders.
The number and variety of birds along the marsh attracts raptors and at any time Peregrine, Merlin, Kestrel and even Hen Harrier is a possibility and a Rough-legged Buzzard was observed in the general area during the winter of 2011-12.
The Beach & Off-Shore
The largest Little Tern colony in the country is on the shingle beach near the Breaches (Flag B). The colony has been monitored and protected by a BirdWatch Ireland scheme since 1985 including permanent on-site wardening.
Waders such as Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Turnstone frequent the beach, although at times they can be difficult to pick out against the shingle or if walking south with the sun in your eyes.
About three-quarters of the way to the Breaches there is a line of Buckthorn Bushes (between Flags I-J), which can hold migrants at the right time of year. Snow Bunting has occurred in winter favouring areas of Marram grass along the grassy path.
Seawatching can be productive at most times of the year. In winter Red-throated Diver is regular off-shore and there is the chance of Great-northern Diver as well. During summer months there can be big movements of Manx Shearwaters north or south as they move to and from their breeding sites in the Irish Sea.
Various gull species are generally obvious, and just off-shore is one of the best places in Ireland to see Little Gull, especially during and after easterly gales early in the year.
Some Notable Records for Kilcoole
Taiga Bean Goose
- January 1891. The earliest confirmed record in Ireland. The mounted specimen is preserved in the Ulster Museum, Belfast.
Tundra Bean Goose
- 13th January to 14th February 2012 (two birds).
- 18th April 1989
- 16th December 2001.
- 17th March 2004.
- 14th October 2018.
- 14th April 1962.
- 31st October 2008 to 13th April 2009.
- 11th January to 10th February 2011.
- 11th to 24th September 1994. Also seen at Newcastle.
- 4th August 2003.
- 11th October 2008.
- 5th November 2008.
- 4th to 18th November 1967. Also seen at Newcastle.
- 14th February 2012 and presumed the same individual again from 29th December 2012 to 1st January 2013.
Black-crowned Night Heron
- 13th to 16th June 1994. Also seen at Newcastle.
- 11th August to 4th September 1999.
- 9th to 13th November 2007. Also seen at Newcastle.
- 2nd December 2019.
Great White Egret
- 30th October 2000.
- 5th to 12th August 2019.
- 28th to 29th April 1996. Also seen at Killoughter.
- 18th February 2012. Also seen at Broad Lough.
- 18th to 20th June and presumed same individual again on 20th July 2007
- 27th April 2008
- 4th January 2009.
- 12th to 20th September 1982. Also seen at Greystones.
- 13th November 2010 to 27th March 2011 (2nd Irish record).
- 19th November to 5th December 2015 (8th Irish record). Also seen at Newcastle and Broad Lough.
- Winters of 1918-19 & 1919-20 (three birds). Also seen at Newcastle.
- 17th September 1971.
- 19th April 1987.
- 22nd May 2008.
- 21st November 2011 to 13th February 2012.
- 15th to 16th May 1994. Also seen at Five-Mile-Point.
- 3rd to 12th June 1995.
- 4th June 1995.
- 20th to 21st May and presumed same bird again on 2nd June 1997
- 23rd July 1998.
- 31st May to 27th June 1999.
- 28th May and presumed same bird again on 9th June 2005
- 12th July 2009.
- 1st to 2nd June 2012. Also seen at Five-Mile-Point.
- 5th June 2013
- 11th to 12th November 2000. Also seen at Killoughter.
- 19th May 1998. Also seen at Newcastle and Salthill, Dun Laoghaire.
- 1st June 2008.
- 23rd November 2013 to March 2014. Also seen at Newcastle.
- 14th November 1992 (three birds).
- 4th December 1994.
Little Ringed Plover
- 21st to 23rd July 2002.
- 6th to 8th September 2003.
- 13th August 2009.
- 6th April 2013.
- 1st June 2013.
- 27th September 2013.
- 6th May 2018
American Golden Plover
- 6th to 24th June 1996. Also seen at Newcastle.
- 21st September to 15th October 1999.
- 17th September 2008.
- 16th September 2011.
- 28th April to 3rd May 2013.
- 4th September 1999.
- 17th October 1970.
- 27th September to 4th October 1986.
- 5th to 6th August 1987.
- 6th November 1988.
- 13th to 14th August 1993
- 10th to 17th September 1994. Also seen at Newcastle.
- 17th to 18th October 2000.
- 17th October to 3rd November 2000.
- 1st to 3rd August 2004.
- 9th to 20th November 2006.
- 10th November 2007.
- 22nd to 26th August 2012.
- 4th to 11th September 1988.
- 14th to 15th September 2012.
- 5th to 8th May 1997.
- 20th to 22nd September 2003.
- 7th October 2009.
- 30th November to at least 31st December 2019.
- 6th to 13th October 1968.
- 7th to 12th November 1990.
- 2nd to 3rd October 2003.
- 22nd to 24th September 2010.
- 5th to 13th October 2010.
- 28th March to 3rd April 2006. Also seen at Wicklow Harbour.
- 10th April 2004.
White-winged Black Tern
- 21st to 30th September 1999.
- 26th July 1986.
- 7th to 8th April 2006.
- 13th to 14th April 2006.
- 31st July 2008.
- 8th May 2009.
- 1st October 2011.
- 10th May 2011.
- 8th September 1950.
- 27th September 1970.
- 2nd April 1990.
- 31st March to 8th April 1992.
- 26th to 27th March 2005
- 9th November 2006 (two birds).
- 15th to 16th May 1968.
- 22nd May 1976.