Monday, October 13, 2014

County Wicklow Trip

Yesterday was a beautiful sunny day and I got to spend it in County Wicklow with a brilliant local birder and photographer, Brian Carruthers. We started at the East Coast Nature Reserve near the coast.
On the walk to one of the fabulous hides that they have here in Ireland, we passed lots of songbirds, the usual Tits, Robins, Wrens, Bullfinches, Chaffinches and Stonechats. The usual winter visitors weren't there yet and only some Mallards were on the water in front of the hide. But we were soon treated to a flock of a dozen or so Common Sandpipers that made a few laps around the refuge.  They never landed where we could see them, but we got some good looks as the passed in front of the hide. And then another bird flew in front of us and Brian said "Snipe!" A lone Common Snipe was spooked by something and circled a few times before flying off. This was a lifer for me.  And was later joined by a second one, also flying off for some unseen reason.
There was a steady stream of gulls and corvids flying over during this time too, but a group of swans caught our eye and we ran out to follow them as they flew behind us towards the north.

Whooper Swans in Flight
Whooper Swans - ECNR Co. Wicklow, Ireland
They were early Whooper Swans and some more lifers for me, but I'll come back to them later.
After a spell in the hide we decided to walk around and warm up a bit.  We visited another hide without much going on, but saw a Jay flying over on our way out, which was another lifer for me. I learned that a white-patch on the rump is diagnostic for Jays in flight.  We walked along some boardwalks and saw Stonechats everywhere.

Stonechat - ECNR Co. Wicklow, Ireland
We left the refuge proper and continued to see passerines flitting around the trees around us and made our way to a stretch of land between railroad tracks and a small airport along the coast. There was a small stream beside us, what I would call an irrigation ditch in New Mexico, that was part of the tidal flow.  Brian saw a blue flash and we crept up to the water's edge and saw a pair of Common Kingfishers a bit further upstream.

Kingfisher - ECNR Co. Wicklow, Ireland
They quickly flew off and we never located them again.  But we continued on our way and saw loads of Meadow Pipits and Linnets sitting along a fence which ran along the rail-line. There were still plenty of Stonechats around too.
The view from our walk - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
We eventually reached the Breech, which was where the ocean flowed in forming a small estuary.  We arrived just at low-tide and got to see some Common Redshanks and a pair of Ringed-Plovers among a hundred or so dozing Gulls, mainly Black-Headed with a few Herring and Lesser-Black Backed mixed in.  We were up on a bridge looking inland at some ponds when we spotted some swans way out in the distance.  We managed to set up my scope on a too-narrow strip of concrete on a railroad bridge.  Brian shortly got excited because he ID'd them as an early-season Whooper Swan. Which turned into 2 Whoopers, and then a third.  They moved out of sight and we decided to turn back to go looking for Red Kites.  But before we got too far we saw more swans and they were all Whoopers, seven in all.

Whooper Swans
Whooper Swans and Coot - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Zooming in shows their diagnostic yellow and black bills.  There was a lone Mute Swan nearby, but I didn't get a photo of it.  But Mute Swans have a black bill near the base with a bulb near the head.
Whooper Swans
Whooper Swans - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
We trekked back to the car and swung back through the refuge again.  Just before we left we heard a pheasant call very close by and spotted it in some very thick brush.  We thought that it was a regular Ring-Necked type, but it was actually a blue variety.  Unfortunately, it never gave us a good photo.

Our next stop was the small Irish village of Avoca. Apparently some TV show was filmed there ages ago, but not one that I was familiar with. But our target were Red Kites. Red Kites became extinct in Ireland in the 19th century, and almost in the UK too. But some work was done to let the species recover, and a scheme to reintroduce them to Ireland was started a few years ago with a number of Welsh Kites released in Co. Wicklow.
We parked near a stone bridge in the middle of town and walked out onto it.  Brian said that we'd wait for a half hour and see if we could see some Kites.  It wasn't more than 5 minutes when we spotted our first one.  We were following a Raven when we spotted a Kite shape even further off cruising by off towards the coast.  We waited a bit more and spotted another one in the opposite direction passing behind a tree line and doing some slow circles.  Still too far to really see.  And then behind where we were looking we saw one, and then two.  One chased the other off and then circled our way.  We both had our cameras firing away while it got closer and closer, finally passing about 30-meters directly over our heads, it was awesome.

Red Kite
Red Kite - Avoca, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

Red Kite
Red Kite - Avoca, Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Tearing our eyes off of the Kite we saw a third one, so our count was three for sure, with maybe five total, all within 20 minutes of standing on the bridge. Having seen my 4th lifer for the day we left to head back towards Dublin and a quick stop to see some Jays.  And would you believe it, we saw another Red Kite from the car while driving on the carriage-way.
We wound up near the Powerscourt Waterfall at a stand of oak trees where he had seen Jays collecting acorns the previous day.  We saw a few flying over the car before we got there, but only one in the oak trees.  We waited and it finally flew into view before flying off to some pine trees where they were roosting.

Jay - Co. Wicklow, Ireland
Shortly after we parted ways and concluded a very good day of birding.  We got 50 species with 4 lifers for me. Plus I got to see some parts of Ireland that I would't have seen otherwise.  I plan on visiting the East Coast Nature Reserve again, especially once the geese show up.  But it would be a great place to take my kids to.
I'd like to thank Brian one more time and I'm looking forward to more trips.  Maybe I'll even learn to understand the Dub accent.

I'm not sure if I'll get out again birding in the next week, but the family is going to Portugal in two weeks for mid-term break and a bit of Sun.  But hopefully we get to see some wild Flamingos and Hoopoes too. 

Cheers and thanks for making it this far. 


  1. An excellent write-up Steve, on my top birding spot in Co.Wicklow
    Check out this album for the Melanistic Pheasant
    Also . . You've a little editing to do . . . I saw a Blue Flash not a green flash for our Kingfisher
    and that would be some day seeing a Dunlin sitting along a fence which ran along the rail-line
    Ha ha LOL, you must have been tired after the long walk when writing this up, they were Linnets with the 'Mippits'.
    Again . . . a great days walk with good company, will have to do Rogerstown Estuary/Turvey Park with you some day soon.
    With your E-Bird List below

    2014-10-12 08:38
    East Coast NR
    Protocol: Traveling
    4.5 Miles
    284 Minutes
    Observers: 2
    All birds reported? Yes
    19 Mute Swan
    7 Whooper Swan
    26 Mallard
    1 Ring-necked Pheasant blue type
    3 Little Grebe
    6 Great Cormorant
    9 Gray Heron
    17 Little Egret
    1 Eurasian Coot
    1 Eurasian Oystercatcher
    2 Common Ringed Plover
    12 Common Sandpiper large flock circling the hide at ECNR.
    7 Common Redshank
    1 Bar-tailed Godwit
    2 Common Snipe flying around the hide at ECNR. we observed one fly off and a few moments later another fly by from opposite direction.
    99 Black-headed Gull
    4 Herring Gull
    1 Lesser Black-backed Gull
    1 Common Wood-Pigeon (White-necked)
    2 Common Kingfisher
    2 Eurasian Kestrel
    1 Eurasian Jay
    22 Eurasian Magpie
    15 Eurasian Jackdaw
    45 Rook
    12 Hooded Crow
    2 Barn Swallow (White-bellied)
    3 Great Tit
    5 Eurasian Blue Tit
    12 Long-tailed Tit (europaeus)
    11 Eurasian Wren
    7 Goldcrest
    12 European Robin
    21 European Stonechat
    6 Eurasian Blackbird
    2 Dunnock
    1 Gray Wagtail
    3 White Wagtail pied
    33 Meadow Pipit
    2 Eurasian Bullfinch
    2 European Greenfinch
    150 European Goldfinch "multiple large flocks were seen all day flying in the same direction, north along the coast. "
    40 Eurasian Linnet

    2014-10-12 14:23
    Kilmagig Lower, R754
    Protocol: Stationary
    38 Minutes
    Observers: 2
    All birds reported? Yes
    3 Red Kite
    1 Common Buzzard
    7 Rook
    5 Common Raven

    2014-10-12 16:12
    Glebe, R760
    Protocol: Stationary
    25 Minutes
    Observers: 2
    All birds reported? Yes
    1 Gray Heron
    5 Common Wood-Pigeon (White-necked)
    1 Eurasian Jay
    3 Eurasian Magpie
    3 Eurasian Jackdaw
    6 Rook
    4 Hooded Crow
    1 Great Tit
    2 Mistle Thrush
    2 Common Chaffinch (Common)
    1 European Greenfinch

  2. The TV show was Ballykissangle