Brownstown Head, Co. Waterford by Paul M. Walsh
Brownstown Head forms the SE corner of Tramore Bay, in east Co Waterford, and though it doesn’t project as dramatically as some south-coast headlands (notably Hook Head, Co Wexford, 11 km east), it’s certainly produced the goods over the years.
Up to the mid 1970s, Brownstown was best known for having produced old records of Sociable Plover, Stone Curlew and, I like to think, Great Auk (one captured ‘close to the cliffs between Ballymacaw and Brownstown Head’ in 1834.) In the early 1970s, it produced some scarce seabird and landbird migrants (Firecrest the best), and reading about these in early Waterford Bird Reports prompted me to make my first visit in January 1977.
For the first few years, I concentrated on seawatching, with highlights including Great Shearwater and some large Sooty Shearwater and skua passages. 35 years later and I’m still getting new species on seawatches (bizarrely, Cory’s Shearwater not until 2011 and Sabine’s Gull 2012). But a stay at Cape Clear in autumn 1980 got me seriously interested in landbird migrants, my main target at Brownstown ever since (including mist-netting and ringing 1988 onwards).
Tower and lookout hut
For passerines, the most productive area has been the main gardens just before the main road turns into the dirt-track of the main lane down the head. One of the gardens no longer has the amount of cover it used to, but I was lucky enough to take over the next-door garden and cottage in 2003 and have planted lots of willows to compensate. My weekend/holiday garden list here now stands at 90, including Ireland’s first Iberian Chiffchaff (2010) and other goodies like Western Bonelli’s Warbler, Greenish Warbler, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Woodchat Shrike and Quail, plus Yellow-browed Warblers and commoner migrants. (The moth list isn’t bad either, including Ireland’s first Dark Mottled Willow.) Adding next-door’s garden brings the total to 99, including Northern Parula, Red-eyed Vireo, Bluethroat, and Pallas’s, Melodious and Icterine Warbler (not counting Yellow Warbler, a major dip in 1995, and Scops Owl, found dead in another neighbour’s garden).
Yellow-browed Warbler – on the garden ringing list
Elsewhere on the head, the fields and hedges have produced Blackpoll Warbler, Tawny Pipit, and Barred Warblers, among others, while the stream and gulley on the way out to the seawatch point have produced Little Bittern, Subalpine Warbler and Wryneck. Further east on the head, a much larger, well-wooded gulley, ‘the valley’, has produced Greenish Warbler and Hawfinch, and Desert Wheatear on the nearby clifftop.
The main lane, looking SW towards the towers
Regular breeding species at Brownstown include Chough, and good numbers of Skylarks and Stonechats, but Yellowhammers have retreated inland from the head since the 1990s. Cliff-nesting House Martins have also been lost recently, but Sand Martins nest on low dunes bordering Tramore Bay.
Standing water on the head is limited to flooded patches and a small pond, so the wader and wildfowl opportunities tend to be limited to flypast, rocky shore and farmland species, plus whatever can be ‘scoped in Tramore Bay or, more distantly, Tramore backstrand. Occasionally, the likes of Woodcock, Jack Snipe or Ruff turns up, but nothing rarer in recent decades.
My patch list for Brownstown is 186 species, of an overall list of at least 198 species for the site, with 111 species in 2010 probably my highest year-total (down to 104 in 2011 and 2012). Certainly there’s plenty of species overdue (e.g. Fea’s Petrel, Radde’s Warbler, Little Bunting) and the last Nearctic passerine was in 2003 (total of 4 during 1985-2003) so still lots to look forward to I hope...
What a patch can produce – Northern Parula, October 2003