South Dublin Branch - Outing Report

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

West Pier, Dun Laoghaire - 8th October 2023.

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Some of the South Dublin members that came on our October outing to the West Pier, Dun Laoghaire. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

South Dublin Members, West Pier, Dun Laoghaire, 8th October 2023 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

A visit to the West Pier at Dun Laoghaire harbour has become an almost annual event for the South Dublin group and as it is easily accessible by public transport it often attracts unfamiliar faces from across the city to join in. This year about 35 individuals of all ages and several nationalities rendezvoused at 10:00 in the nearby Salthill car park. The exceptional balmy weather combined with the lovely Spanish, Turkish and French accents amongst those gathered gave a positively Mediterranean feel to the outing.

The journey towards the pier began with a brief scan over Dublin Bay from the grassy slopes of Apna Park. The tide was too high to see many waders except for a Turnstone. The waveless sea was like a sheet of glass making anything that moved on the surface easy to spot. However, apart from a few Shags and Red-breasted Mergansers there was little to see close-in and the offshore birds appeared only as tantalising specks glistening in the distance. So, the group headed for the pier to begin the walk of almost a mile (1.5 km) out to sea to get better views.

More usually seen swimming, a female Red-breasted Merganser finds a convenient rock to rest up on. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Red-breasted Merganser, Dun Laoghaire, 8th October 2023 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

From the pier, Harbour Porpoises were soon observed surfacing, and this created excitement especially for the many who were seeing them for the first time or for those who had on previous occasions mistaken them to be dolphins! The Porpoise is the smallest and most numerous inshore Cetacean found around the coast of Britain and Ireland. These mammals are often overlooked unless conditions are calm because they are typically solitary, slow moving and barely rise above the sea surface.

Dolphins in contrast are much livelier and lift higher out of the water making their presence felt. The dorsal fin of the Porpoise is also shorter, less sickle-shaped with a blunter tip than that of the Dolphin. Dolphins unfortunately are less likely to be seen along the east coast of Ireland.

Watching me, watching you. Grey Seal pops its head up to check out the goings on. Picture by Bill Rea.

Grey Seal, Dun Laoghaire Harbour, 8th October 2023 (picture: Bill Rea)

The heads of a few Grey Seals appeared out of the water close to shore much to the amusement of the children present. Grey Seals are not always readily distinguishable from our other native seal, the Common Seal, which ironically is less frequent around the Dublin coast. However male Grey Seals tend to have the appearance of having longer noses giving them a more dog-like appearance in profile.

The first bird sighting to cause a stir was a Wheatear seen at the rocky base of the pier glacis. It was quickly noticed by its giveaway white rump in flight and in fact the name 'Wheatear' is derived from its less polite but apt Old English folk name 'White Arse'.

Only passing through. A Wheatear stopping off in Dun Laoghaire, before pushing on south to winter in Africa. Picture by Bill Rea.

Wheatear, West Pier, 8th October 2023 (picture: Bill Rea)

The Wheatear is a summer visitor to Ireland that breeds mostly in the west and migrates to southern Africa for the winter. Therefore, the bird seen on the outing would be in preparation for its arduous journey. Astonishingly, Wheatear populations that breed in Eastern Canada and Greenland during the summer will migrate across the Atlantic passing through the British Isles on route to their North African and Iberian winter destinations which is one of the longest journeys taken by any songbird.

Several Rock Pipits were active near to the Wheatear and there was some lively debate when it was suggested that there were also a few Meadow Pipits present which can also turn up at the coast. Comparing these two Pipits the Rock Pipit is larger, stockier, darker brown and has less refined breast streaking than the more elegant Meadow Pipit, which looks like a mini-Song Thrush.

Rock Pipit on the hunt for invertebrates down among the West Pier seaweed. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Rock Pipit, West Pier, 8th October 2023 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

Moving on, scanning out to sea, a few Great-Crested Grebes in their drab winter plumage were seen diving. Understandably, some observers commented how difficult it is to differentiate at distance the Grebes from other seabirds in similar winter plumage such as Divers. There is no doubt that having the resolving power of a spotting scope is invaluable in such situations.

Notably, Red-Throated and Great-Northern Divers witnessed at last year’s excursion to the West Pier were absent, possibly because this year’s event was held a month earlier and as these birds are winter visitors it may have been a little early for their arrival.

Turnstone, here to spend the winter, before heading back north in the spring. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Turnstone, West Pier, 8th October 2023 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

A favourite to see for everyone is surely our largest seabird the Gannet and thankfully a few entered the vista feeding offshore. This has been the bird species most affected by avian flu in Ireland and remains under serious threat. Other welcome sights included the Black Guillemot in winter plumage and as it is mostly confined to the north coasts of Britain and Ireland, it was a novelty for English birders present.

Some More Pictures

Birds & Butterfly

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Fish beware, Grey Heron alert! Picture by Bill Rea.

Some more pictures taken on the day by Gustavo Zoladz and Bill Rea.
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Not a Shag, so must be a Cormorant. Picture by Bill Rea.
Juvenile Razorbill doing a good impression of a Little Auk. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.
Guillemot in winter plumage. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.
How did I get here? Robin in an unfamiliar setting. Picture by Bill Rea.
Wheatear showing off the origin of its name! Picture by Bill Rea.
Peacock butterfly still flying in October, cant be long before it finds somewhere to hibernate. Picture by Bill Rea.

The Harbour & South Dublin Members

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Ketches Ilen (Conor O'Brien's round-the-world yacht) and Leader (1892 Brixham trawler) berthed at Dun Laoghaire. Picture by Bill Rea.

Some more pictures of the Harbour and South Dublin members taken on the day by Gustavo Zoladz and Bill Rea.
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Trader's Wharf, with the old ferry terminal in the background. Picture by Bill Rea.
The Light Keeper mural by Sophi Odling, painted on the rear of the Sea Scout den, West Pier. Picture by Bill Rea.
The Twin Stacks of the Poolbeg Generating Station, from the Windsurfer's car park, West Pier. Picture by Bill Rea.
The Poolbeg, Irishtown and container gantry cranes at Ringsend from the Windsurfer's car park, West Pier. Picture by Bill Rea.
South Dublin members birding the West Pier. Picture by Bill Rea.
South Dublin members birding the West Pier. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Although it was not a vintage outing in terms of bird species rarities or variety it was a wonderful morning full of smiles and friendly conversations and a reminder, if any were needed, that while bird watching you can put all your troubles and the madness of the world aside. The trip was led by the author and Gustavo Zoladz and concluded at 12:15.

Shane Kerr

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