Wednesday, 8 January 2014

From Russia With Love...

With a break in the weather forecast for today, myself and Oran O'Sullivan set out to conduct the monthly I-WeBS count along the 'North Wicklow Coastal Marshes'. Oran to start at Broad Lough and work North whilst I'd start at Kilcoole and head South.

Just before the count began, I had a look around the Northern boundaries of the patch from Kilcoole Sea Road/train station, peering into distant stubble fields & scanning hedges with the scope. This paid off with 10+ Redwing, a male Yellowhammer, Lesser Redpolls, Siskins, 15+ Stock Doves & a dreaded Feral Pigeon (a bird which put me through much hardship trying to see last year) all noted along with a host of common species. A Grey Wagtail on the rocks at Kilcoole train station was another good scarce patch passerine to get on the scoresheet from the off.

The Icelandic Greylag Goose flock (260 birds) have been frequenting a grass field quite close to the road, just inland of the BirdWatch Ireland Kilcoole Reserve of late, offering great views. Sure enough they were still there this morning and low & behold what was with them but a White-fronted Goose...and not just any old WFG, but a Russian (European) White-fronted Goose! Patch tick! (well, patch subspecies tick). It's been many years since the last record of albifrons at Kilcoole/Newcastle & I've only ever seen two before myself, both on the North Slob in Wexford. Delighted with this find to say the least.

1st-winter Russian (European) White-fronted Goose

Offshore, plenty of divers were still present (85+ Red-throated & 2 Great Northern) and 6 Common Scoter flew South but little else of note other than a single adult Gannet. The lagoon in Webb's field has flooded out to just the right level meaning that the area was alive with Teal (350), Wigeon (400), Curlew (150) & Lapwing (450) along with a couple of patch scarcities like Greenshank & Grey Plover. The Breaches estuary was full to the brim & bizarrely another Great Northern Diver was present in here, happily fishing away! Never seen a diver (or rare grebe for that matter) in the estuary before.

Great Northern Diver in The Breaches

The beach took a hammering from the recent tidal surges with many sections of sand dune washed over, sand & stones now replacing them. This includes the Little Tern colony site and it will be interesting to see if the terns & Ringed Plover avail of the new habitat further up the beach away from the (usual) high tide line. 

Whilst checking out the new layout of the tern colony site I flushed a male Snow Bunting! Nice views on the deck as it associated with a couple of Skylarks.

Storm driven re-profiling of the beach & dunes at the Little Tern colony site

The airstrip at Newcastle has flooded also, attracting in a large flock of gulls. Among these were an adult Mediterranean Gull & a rather poorly looking Kittiwake. The Crane then appeared out of nowhere flying South over the farmland soon after which the male Hen Harrier cruised past heading North. All go!

The coastal flashes at Blackditch ECNR held 41 Shoveler & 76 Black-tailed Godwits and a quick scoot around the woodland paths revealed no Woodcock (determined to get one there this year). The day was then capped off nicely with some much better views of the Crane on the deck & a female/immature Merlin.


An absolutely superb first full days birding around the Kilcoole patch resulting in 79 species, 96 points & 47.29%. And still missed out on a few 'easy' species like Black Guillemot, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Kestrel, Buzzard etc...

Take home lesson for the day: do more volunteer'll see some great birds in the process!

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