Lough Boora Discovery Park - 16th April 2023.
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South Dublin Members, Finnamore Lakes, 16th April 2023 (picture: Joe Hobbs)
Following a gap of just over three years, our April outing marked the welcome return of the Branches' very popular coach trips. On this occasion, 25 South Dublin members boarded the bus at Harbour Road for the trip to Offaly and Lough Boora Discovery Park, where we were joined by six others who made their way there by car. This was our second visit to the Park (situated about midway between Tullamore and Banagher), almost 11 years to the day since the first and some of the Branches' long-time regulars were present on both occasions.
Committee member Gustavo Zoladz led the outing, and he announced that we would follow two different circuits of the park with lunch taken in between. To begin with, we would head to Finnamore Lakes at the Park's northeasterly extremity, and follow the walking route that begins and ends at the Lake's car park. We would then travel the short distance to the Park's Visitor Centre where we would take lunch, thereafter taking the Tumduff Mór route that meanders across the southwesterly part of the Park. Both these routes took us through tracts of cutaway bog that, once commercial production of peat had ceased, have been transformed into wetlands, lakes, grassland, woodland and amenity areas. The park covers 2,000 hectares, so we were only dipping our collective toes into the full extent of what the Park has to offer the visitor.
Skylark, Lough Boora, 16th April 2023 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)
We departed a rainy/drizzly Dun Laoghaire at 08:30, and after taking a comfort break at Enfield, we arrived at Finnamore Lakes at 10:50, by which time the day had brightened up, the sun had come out and it continued to shine brightly for the rest of the day. As soon as a group photo was taken we set off.
We saw and heard three warbler species during the Finnamore loop. First of these was a male Blackcap that was spotted on the top branch of a bare tree and shortly later a Chiffchaff was heard. However the warbler of the day was Willow Warbler and they were in full song just about everywhere. Other passers seen were Mistle and Song Thrush, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Skylark, Wren, Long-tailed Tit, Pied and Grey Wagtail. In the afternoon, one lucky person had a couple of White Wagtails, both probably on passage to Iceland where they breed. Corvids seen were some Ravens in flight and a Jay that was flushed by a Kestrel.
Golden Plover, Lough Boora, 16th April 2023 (picture: Simon Robinson)
We had to be satisfied with just two species of raptor, Buzzard and Kestrel, unfortunately there was no sign of Hen Harrier on the day. It's possible there were two Kestrels, however more likely, it was the same bird seen twice and it put on a great display of hovering, at one point dropping rapidly on some unseen prey. Buzzards were seen intermittently in soaring flight, usually singly or in pairs, although on one occasion we saw four together. As an Irish breeding species, Buzzards became extinct during the 1890s and were absent until the early 1930s when a pair bred at Rathlin Island, Antrim. Since then they have spread steadily south and west, and more recently their numbers and range have increased dramatically.
Lough Boora is synonymous with Grey Partridge and we tried hard to find one during the morning walk but could only manage one four second flight view and that was seen by just two of the group; some would have better luck in the afternoon. Other non-passers seen and heard during the morning were Mallard, Pheasant, Woodpigeon and Lapwing. By about 13:30 stomachs were beginning to rumble, so we headed back to the coach and made the short journey to the Park's Visitor Centre.
Grey Partridge, Lough Boora, 16th April 2023 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)
There are benches and picnic tables in the area surrounding the visitor centre, which also has a fine cafe with indoor and outdoor seating and proved an ideal place to take lunch. At 14:30 we gathered in preparation for the afternoon walk, which would follow the Tumduff Mór route. However, due to the heat, we decided to check regularly with those present to determine if we should modify this plan. We hadn't got far when we spotted a few Mallards and Little Grebes on one of the Park's lakes, heard more singing Willow Warblers and saw Greylag Geese accompanied by six goslings. Wild Greylag Geese are winter visitors from Iceland, however these geese are not wild, rather they are resident feral birds that are present all year round.
About an hour into the walk the heat of the day was beginning to take its toll, so some of the group decided to make their way back to the visitor centre, while the rest carried on heading for (what was hoped to be) a reliable spot for Grey Partridge. On the way we saw a large flock of about 100 Golden Plovers in flight, a truly spectacular sight. At the reliable Partridge spot we set up the scopes and scanned back and forth, but apart from more of what we had seen in the morning and good numbers of Irish (Mountain) Hare, we had no luck finding our target bird!
Some More Pictures
Time was moving on, so we started to head back. However in the final minutes, and at the last turn in the track, and in the last field we passed, we saw two Grey Partridges that were feeding just a few feet away! The joys of bird watching, the good stuff always seems to happen when least expected. A few seconds later we heard them call, then they took off and flew over our heads, landing about 30 metres away in an adjacent field, where we were able to get good clear scope views for a few minutes. With no more time to spare, we walked quickly back to the coach and headed off home at 17:30, arriving back in Dun Laoghaire at 20:30, pleased to have enjoyed a great day out. As is the tradition, the log was called on the homeward journey and the final tally for the day was 51 species seen.