South Dublin Branch - Outing Report

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

St. Catherine’s Park, Lucan - 7th April 2024.

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South Dublin members taking part in our April outing gather in St. Catherine's Park overflow carpark. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

South Dublin Members, St. Catherine's Park, 7th April 2024 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

St. Catherine’s Park in Lucan has 200-acres of deciduous woodland and meadow with the River Liffey cutting through, making it an attractive location for a variety of birdlife. The park also has a rich history originating from Anglo-Norman times in the early 13th century and still holds various structural remnants from its past

The morning of the outing was mild and sunny however the blustery winds that lingered from Storm Kathleen, which battered the country the day before made conditions for birdwatching less than ideal. Small birds do not like to spend energy battling gusts and so will stay grounded and unfortunately for the birdwatcher that often means out of sight.

Male Blackcap in full song, one of of the most musical songsters on the Irish List. Picture by Gustavo Zoladz.

Blackcap, St. Catherine's Park, 7th April 2024 (picture: Gustavo Zoladz)

Most of the 23 individuals who attended the event met up at 10:00 in the overflow carpark before making their way across the Liffey pedestrian bridge and onto a woodland path which eventually led down to and alongside the river.

Although bird sightings on the morning were sparse there were a few highlights including that of a nearby Blackcap, which loudly sang the full range of its warble for several minutes so that everyone present could appreciate why this species is sometimes referred to as the 'Mock Nightingale'. As an encore, there was a glimpse of it before it flew off.

Mistle Thrush finds a handy look-out platform in the ivy. Picture by Robin Pollard.

Mistle Thrush, St. Catherine's Park, 7th April 2024 (picture: Robin Pollard)

Blackcaps such as the one we observed, arrive in spring from Iberia and North Africa where they have over wintered. They come here to breed during our summer before making their return journey south in autumn. Interestingly there is a separate Blackcap population which breeds in central Europe during the summer, but which migrates northward to Britain and Ireland for the winter instead of heading southward like the others, a behaviour developed only over the past few decades.

The explanation for this seems to be in response to the milder winters experienced here in recent years but more so to the increased popularity of bird feeding in British and Irish gardens, which offers the Blackcap a steady supply of food all winter without it having to spend energy traveling about seeking new food sources as would be the case for those birds wintering in the southern regions.

The patches of brown showing in this Blackbird's wing tells us it is a first-summer male. Picture by Bill Rea.

Blackbird, St. Catherine's Park, 7th April 2024 (picture: Bill Rea)

Blackcaps on finding a feeder may often aggressively defend it all winter for their exclusive use. Another benefit to this change in migratory strategy is the relatively shorter distances traveling to Britain and Ireland than to southern destinations. Studies have shown the advantages provided by energy saving appear to have resulted in central European Blackcap populations having larger egg clutches in comparison to the southern migratory counterpart.

Not surprisingly the versatile Blackcap has become one of the few bird species which has gained significantly in numbers and territory across Europe. Another warbler heard on the morning was Chiffchaff but surprisingly no Willow Warblers were evident.

Hooded Crow keeping lookout, ever vigilant and alert. Picture by Robin Pollard.

Hooded Crow, St. Catherine's Park, 7th April 2024 (picture: Robin Pollard)

The muddy banks along the Liffey in the park seemed ideal for Kingfisher sightings but there none on the morning. There was excitement when it was thought that Great Spotted Woodpeckers had been spotted in flight until it was quickly realised that they were just Mistle Thrushes, which are about the same size as the Woodpecker. It is worth noting that the Great Spotted Woodpecker has a very distinctive bouncing flight which is an effective way of helping to identify it on the wing.

There was a marvelous view of a Mistle Thrush sitting on its nest high up in the bough of a tree trying to look inconspicuous to the nearby Hooded Crows on the prowl for eggs or hatchlings to take as food.

Woodpigeon, now a regular sight in parks, towns and gardens. Picture by Robin Pollard.

Woodpigeon, St. Catherine's Park, 7th April 2024 (picture: Robin Pollard)

In one of the fields there was a fold of magnificent Highland cattle with their long horns protruding from their lengthy thick shaggy waterproof russet coats. Apparently, they are amongst the most docile of cattle breeds and will approach fences on seeing humans and have become a favourite for children visiting the park. They were introduced in 2012 from a stock living in the Wicklow Mountains as a way of increasing biodiversity. Their heavy hooves break up the soil creating microhabitats and as they eat almost any vegetation, they also keep down pervasive plants giving the more uncommon species a chance to compete in the meadows.

Walking back towards the carpark it began to rain heavily as the group passed by the 18th century ruins of St Catherine’s Chapel and the nearby 16th century Holy Well.

Some More Pictures


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A Mallard swims along the River Liffey. Picture by Robin Pollard.

Some more pictures taken on the day by Bill Rea and Robin Pollard.
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Cormorant, the most reptilian looking of all birds. Picture by Robin Pollard.
Woodpigeons will often sit upright and motionless for hours. Picture by Bill Rea.
Mistle Thrush carrying food back to the nest. Picture by Robin Pollard.
A Goldfinch adds some colour to the day. Picture by Bill Rea.
A Jackdaw on the march in St. Catherine's Park. Picture by Bill Rea.

St. Catherine's Park Scenery & South Dublin Members

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The River Liffey at it makes its way through St. Catherine's Park. Picture by Bill Rea.

Pictures of St. Catherine's Park and of South Dublin members taken on the day by Bill Rea.
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St. Catherine's Park overflow carpark, the meeting place for our April outing. Picture by Bill Rea.
The Lucan Spa Hotel from St. Catherine's Park with the RTE mast on Kippure visible in the background. Picture by Bill Rea.
What's left of old stables and a mill at St. Catherine's Park. Picture by Bill Rea.
The ruins of an old chapel in St. Catherine’s Park. Picture by Bill Rea.
Gustavo greets those taking part on our April outing and outlines the plan for the morning's birding. Picture by Bill Rea.
South Dublin members birding St. Catherine's Park. Picture by Bill Rea.

Des Higgins and Gustavo Zoladz led the outing which concluded around mid-day and despite the weather a respectable 27 bird species were counted the list of which can be viewed on this ebird webpage set up by branch member Simon Robinson.

Shane Kerr

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