South Dublin Branch - Outing Report

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

Balbriggan & Bremore - 11th February 2024.

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South Dublin members assemble in the Balbriggan Martello Tower car park for our February outing. Picture by Bill Rea.

South Dublin Members, Balbriggan, 11th February 2024 (picture: Bill Rea)

It was all smiles in the spring sunshine as everyone greeted in the car park near the Balbriggan Martello tower to begin this month’s birding adventure. About 20 individuals including a few from the Tolka and Fingal BirdWatch Ireland branches joined us for the short walk along the coast to Bremore Point which began at 10:00.

As the tide was rising, leaving little seashore exposed, it was decided to begin the trek along the grassy low cliffs above the beach so as not to disturb any feeding birds. From there in perfect viewing conditions there was an impressive vista across the stony shore and out to sea.

Adult male Black Redstart showing well on rocks at Balbriggan. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Black Redstart, Balbriggan, 11th February 2024 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

Almost immediately there were excited shouts that a male Black Redstart had been spotted on the rocks below. This active little bird is a scarce winter visitor to the east coast of Ireland with an affinity for cliffs and seaweed covered rocks where it feeds on invertebrates and benefits from the slightly warmer terrain. They are continually active and also made conspicuous by their quivering orange tails. They typically inhabit the same location through the winter and are relatively unafraid of humans. These features combine to make it worthwhile to look out for on any coastal walk.

In spring they migrate back to Europe to summer in a wide range of habitats but have adapted especially well to nesting in urban buildings as an alternative to their natural cliff dwelling haunts. In recent decades small numbers of Black Redstarts have bred and become all year residents in parts of Britain including regions just across from the Irish coast. Therefore, it could be envisaged that in the future at least modest populations might also settle with us and so giving us the opportunity to listen to their unforgettable 'crisp packet' scrunching summer calls resounding from our rooftops.

Cormorants and a Great Black-backed Gull off-shore from Balbriggan. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Cormorants off Balbriggan, 11th February 2024 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

Fired-up after seeing the Redstart and with spotting scopes trained out to sea the next sightings were soon reported beginning with a group of Common Scoter ducks among which there may have been a rarer Velvet Scoter, the latter being most easily distinguishable by the presence of a white wing-bar in flight, but it was too distant and in the sun’s glare for a confirmation.

There was no difficulty in identifying the other marine duck seen that morning, the beautiful iconic Eider which is more common along our north coast, and which sadly has become a red-listed species. Nearby, a few Great Crested Grebes were observed with their dramatic summer plumage already developing. A Red-throated Diver was next to be ticked-off. Plenty of Cormorants were gathered on the rocks with their wings-spread in 'heraldic' posture drying out after their morning dives and perhaps basking in a little heat!

Ringed Plover and Dunlin settled on rocks off Balbriggan. Picture by Bill Rea.

Ringed Plover and Dunlin off Balbriggan, 11th February 2024 (picture: Bill Rea)

Despite the tide being close in, the group did a short walk behind the Martello tower and down to a more sheltered spot on the beach. Along the way Bullfinches and Goldfinches were seen on high bramble hedging but there was no sign of the Tree Sparrows recently reported.

From the beach looking upwards at the cliff face numerous vacant tunnels from summer nesting Sand Martins were evident. We paused momentarily to take in the smell of seaweed and the lapping sound of the waves before attention switched to the small clusters of wading birds settled on rock strips protruding above the sea.

Purple Sandpiper at Balbriggan, a winter visitor to coastal areas that favours seaweed covered wave-washed rocks. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Purple Sandpiper, Balbriggan, 11th February 2024 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

These included Red and Greenshank, Knot, Grey and Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and last but certainly not least there were splendid views of Purple Sandpipers associating as they often do with Turnstones. In poor light this bird only looks a plain brownish grey and can be overlooked if it were not for its distinctive orange legs however in the bright sunshine of that morning the plumage was lit up and with a little poetic licence could be described as purplish!

Many smaller coastal birds seen included a Stonechat, Rock, and Meadow Pipits, Pied and Grey Wagtails and a few Great-black backed gulls making their presence felt. Finally, a Dunnock was heard singing from a treetop heralding the new season.

Some More Pictures

Birds & Grey Seal

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A Shag on the water, this bird showing the small upcurved crest on its forehead typical of the species. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Some more pictures taken on the day by Bill Rea and Gustavo Zoladz.
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A very distant Great Crested Grebe on the Irish Sea. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.
This Great Black-backed Gull appears to have just eaten a large meal? Picture by Bill Rea.
First-winter Herring Gull with some Purple Sandpipers for company. Picture by Bill Rea.
Adult winter Grey Plover, a winter visitor to Balbriggan from tundra regions of the high-Arctic. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.
A cluster of Knots and a single Dunlin. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.
Redshank and Greenshank with single Ringed Plover and Oystercatcher. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.
Pied Wagtail moulting into summer plumage. Picture by Bill Rea.
Grey Seal keeping its head above water. Picture by Bill Rea.

Balbriggan Scenery & South Dublin Members

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The splendid 14th century Bremore Castle, located just north of Balbriggan. Picture by Bill Rea.

Some more pictures of the Balbriggan Martello Tower and its surroundings and of South Dublin members taken on the day by Bill Rea.
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Balbriggan Martello Tower looking towards St. Patrick Island, Colt Island and Skerries. Picture by Bill Rea.
Balbriggan Martello Tower with Rockabill in the background. Picture by Bill Rea.
Rockabill, with the Rock and its lighthouse on the right and the Bill on the left. Picture by Bill Rea.
Looking north along Bremore Beach towards Bremore. Picture by Bill Rea.
South Dublin members birding on Bremore Beach. Picture by Bill Rea.
South Dublin members scanning the Irish Sea. Picture by Bill Rea.

The event concluded at about 12:00. Warm appreciation was extended to Des Higgins who led the event. Earlier he declared the Black Redstart to be 'bird of the day' and as we headed home few could disagree with that. A wonderful morning was had by all and a great start to the spring!

Shane Kerr

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