Avoca & Meetings of the Waters - 6th May 2018.
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South Dublin members at Avoca, 6th May 2018 (picture: Joe Hobbs)
The Wicklow sites of Avoca and the Meetings of the Waters have become South Branch favourites since Dr. Marc Ruddock, the Project Manager for the Red Kite Re-introduction Scheme, visited us in May 2013 declaring that, ‘If you stand in the church car park in Avoca you are guaranteed to see Red Kite within five minutes’. Well... 'five minutes' might be wishful thinking but our two previous visits produced close views of Red Kite, so we had every reason to be optimistic as we assembled at St. Patrick's Church car park at 9am for our May outing. The weather was perfect with blue skies, light airs and balmy temperatures throughout.
The plan was simple enough, the thirty-odd South Dublin members present would ramble down the village to the bridge over the River Avoca and scan for kites in both directions. However, after about twenty minutes of 'nothing to report' it seemed that our earlier than usual starting time might be working against us as these big birds might not yet be ready to take flight. Happily, any concerns were soon banished as far-off to the south a Red Kite soared. Even at such a great distance it was unmistakable, especially once the diagnostic vee-shaped tail came in to view.
Red Kite, Avoca, 6th May 2018 (picture: Bill Rea)
The presence of kites here and elsewhere in Ireland is the result of a re-introduction scheme operated under the auspices of the Golden Eagle Trust in partnership with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Welsh Kite Trust since 2007, when the original stock came from the Welsh population. RSPB NI run a similar scheme in Northern Ireland. The Trust's ambition is to re-establish a viable self-sustaining population along the east coast and such has been their success that by 2016 the Irish population had reached about 100 pairs with breeding confirmed in Counties Down, Dublin, Meath, Wexford and Wicklow.
For the rest of our stay at the bridge we enjoyed wonderful views of kites soaring. It's difficult to be precise regarding our final tally, what with birds passing in and out of view. Certainly we saw two together at times and our best conservative estimate was at least five but it could have been more.
Grey Wagtail, Avoca River, 6th May 2018 (picture: Bill Rea)
Kites were just some of the birds observed at Avoca. We had at least six Buzzards, with four together at one point and another soaring in the company of a Red Kite, allowing close comparisons of these impressive raptors. A single Swift flew strongly south, which seemed odd, but no doubt it knew what it was up to. Some Grey Wagtails were flitting along the rocky river banks and a couple of Linnets were seen in bushes.
Grey Herons were both in the river and passing over in flight, including a very impressive fly-by of three in formation. There was the usual selection of Corvids, but unfortunately no Ravens, which might have been expected.
Goosander, Avoca River, 6th May 2018 (picture: Bill Rea)
All things considered the outing was going very well and it was just about to get better, thanks to Dave Cullen who announced he had just spotted a Goosander in the river downstream. It was a little distant but very clearly a male Goosander, especially when viewed through telescopes. It was a really great find by Dave and fortunately everyone on the outing got to see this unexpected treat.
Goosander is one of a group of five fish eating ducks, collectively known as Sawbills, that includes the more familiar Red-breasted Merganser. It is one of the rarest breeding birds in Ireland, frequenting rivers and lakes running through well forested areas of Wicklow. They build their nest in tree holes or nestboxes usually close to water. In 2016 two pairs using nestboxes near the Avonmore River fledged seven and eight young and in August five females were seen at Lower Lough Glendalough.
Thomas Moore Memorial Park, 6th May 2018 (picture: Ronan Browne)
At this point it was time to leave Avoca and make the short journey to the Meeting of the Waters and the Thomas Moore Memorial 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 excellent views over the river in all directions can be had. 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.
We gathered again near the park, but before we reached the entrance we stopped to listen to Blackcaps singing. One male made its way to the top of a tree and belted out its song, his whole body shaking with the effort. Further on some Pheasants were seen in a field, comprising two males and three females. In the bright sunshine the males brilliant plumage stood out. Also in the field were some Hooded Crows.
Pheasants, Meetings of the Waters, 6th May 2018 (picture: Emma Tiernan)
Once in the park our main targets were Grey Wagtail and Dipper and as it happened we got both. Our views of Grey Wagtail were superb and we had both male and female birds, but Dipper proved very illusive and we had to settle for fleeting views of blurred white bellies as they dashed about. We were also treated to further sightings of Grey Heron, Red Kite and Buzzard from the park, including another group of four Buzzards. Its anyone's guess if they were new birds or some of those seen earlier at Avoca. Regardless, they were great to see. Non-avian encounters there were some Orange Tip butterflies and one of the whites.
Some More Pictures
We had had a great outing, but all good things must come to an end, and with lunchtime fast approaching we made some final branch announcements before calling it a day and heading off home.