30 Apr 2006

First Montagu's Harrier record for Northern Ireland

131. Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus

Well my day started very early indeed the alarm went off at 4.00am. Time for me to have a shower and wait to be picked up half an hour later by David Thompson.David was going to be leading the Dawn Chorus at Mount Stewart, a National Trust property at the top end of Strangford Lough.(I could have posted a photo of him having drunk seven bottles of wine between four of us,but sadly it is not a digital image and I dont have a scanner) At 4.30am there was not a sound coming from the bushes. It took us thirty five minutes to drive to Mount Stuart where there were a few people pulling up in cars. There was a party of ten men and women in their forties to fifties who had never been birdwatching in their lives. They set out once a month to do something different that not one of the party have ever done. Last month they went abseiling. In all there were about 25 brave souls who had got up very early on a sunday morning.

Mount Stewart House & Gardens has been home to the Londonderry family since the mid 18th century and continues to be the home of Lady Mairi Bury, daughter of the 7th Marquess of Londonderry.

The magnificent gardens planted in the 1920s by Edith, Lady Londonderry have made Mount Stewart famous and earned it a World Heritage Site nomination, as well as an award for the European Garden of Inspiration 2003. Within the estate, the Temple of the Winds, an architectural gem built in 1785 by James `Athenian' Stuart and based on the Temple of the Winds in Athens, offers visitors breathtaking views over Strangford Lough. By the time we left the house the birds were in full flow. Mainly thrushes, everywhere, Robins, All the tits with one very obliging long tailed tit. We walked to the Temple of the Winds as it overlooks Strangford Lough as we could listen to some of the shore birds. Curlew, Whimbrel and Oystercatcher. A few Sandwich Terns could be heard further out in the lough.

We then made our way towards the lake in front of the house where we heard Little Grebe, Coot, Mallard. We were also fortunate to spot two red squirrels, whose numbers are declining. There was also a pair of Ravens which I assume were nesting in the tall pine trees. When you are immediately below them they sound fairly loud. There was also the high pitched call of the goldcrest heard in the pines. After David's walk we went and had breakfast in the cafe.

After David had driven me home I got my binoculars etc and headed up to open the RSPB bird hide on Belfast Harbour as I was doing the sunday volunteering shift of 1-5. Not long after I got there some one came in and said had I seen the Montagu's Harrier at the other end of the reserve as it was showing really well. I thought to myself well I will go and see it at five when I have locked up as I was sure it would still be around. It had been spotted the previous afternoon. Well the hours seemed to go slowly and more and more birdwatchers were coming into the hide and immediately leaving to go to see if they could see it three quarters of a mile away. Meanwhile I counted the birds out in front of me. At least 270 oystrcatcher, 40+ Shelduck, Whimbrel, Curlew, Snipe, Teal, shoveler. Numerous gulls in their first,second and third year plumages amongst which there was a nice Glaucous Gull which then flew over to a party of Black Tailed Godwit and plonked himself in the middle of them before going to sleep. Identity crisis I think.

I was then showing a child all the linnets and a couple of Redpoll that were feeding just outside the hide when I noticed a commotion at the beginning of the hedge that runs up to the hide. 2 Shelduck, Loads of swallows and some Godwits were mobbing this grey thing approaching closer and closer to the hide. It was barely flying almost gliding on its upstretched wings. It came to within ten feet of the hide window and I was going f---ing hell, f---ing hell and racing to get my camera to take a couple of shots before it went out of range This is what BIRDING is all about I was ecstatic to see it and had to apologise to the father of the child for swearing. He was also quite taken up with the excitement and didnt seem too bothered. This was my first ever Montagu's Harrier and it was also Northern Irelands first ever sighting. Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant. I hope it stays around for a few days as I would like to get better photos if I can and I hope the reserve manager Anthony , who was in Spain on a Bird Race(187 Birds in 24 Hours), will get to see it. Even though he saw lots of them in Spain.

28 Apr 2006

Bird Song is so important when trying to be a better birder.

130. Sedge Warbler

This morning I went again to the Castle Island Hide. In the hide there was a very unfriendly individual ( You definately get all sorts when you visit hides ) However he did say he had heard a sedge warbler; so on the opposite side of the hide I went and opened the window and unmistakenly the sound of the sedge came in to the hide loud and clear. It did take me at least another fifteen minutes before I saw it. As the other person in the hide was not interested in talking at all I decided I wouldnt tell him it was less than three feet from the hide window :-)

When I left the hide I drove about half a mile and parked. I was right next to a number of willow trees and adjacent to a reed bed and for fifteen minutes I just stood and listened to all the birds I could identify. 3 or 4 Willow warbler,2 Sedge warbler, 2 Wren, 3 Chaffinch, 4/5 Long tailed tit, 1 Goldcrest,1 Robin. Loads of Black Headed Gull, The squealing pig sound of a Water Rail, Swallow, House Martin, Magpie and best of all the fly fishing reel sound of a grasshopper warbler.

I use both the RSPB Bird Guide on their web site or Birdforum Resources as a guide to birdsong or when I'm in the car I play Collins Bird songs and calls by Geoff Sample. Sometimes you can pick them up really easily and at other times you can be overwhelmed by the amount of different sound coming at you from all directions. I think it was Simon Barnes in his lovely book How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher that really made me think about birdsong as a good form of Bird identification. Certainly with a brief glimpse of a Willow Warbler or Chiffchaff you have to hear them to distinguish them from each other.

I bumped into a friend last night ,David Thompson The National Trust Head Warden for Strangford Lough He said he was doing a Dawn Chorus at Mount Stewart (Its a National Trust property) and would I like to come. Of course I said yes so he is picking me up at 4.30 am on Sunday morning. Now there's dedication for you.

Todays Mystery Bird offering

I do know this one but do you?

26 Apr 2006

A swift and whitethroat for the year.

128. Common Swift Apus Apus
129. Whitethroat Sylvia communis

I went to the Castle Island Hide on the Quoile pondage which as the crow flies is exactly two miles from my house and three miles by car. I was in the process of counting all the black tailed godwits (67) when my first swift of the year flew by. I think one of my earliest memories of birds were the swifts screaming over the
town where I went to nursery school: Alresford in Hampshire. Apart from the even earlier memory of a pigeon sitting at the end of the pram. And to think that this swift had screamed its way from South Africa. They tend to arrive later than the swallows and house martins and then leave earlier around august. They are also long lived birds and have been recorded over 20 years old. It also spends most of its life on the wing eating, sleeping and ----ing.

The last time I was at this hide (2 Days ago)I was mentioning to another birder that I walk regularly out at Killard Click on Killard for description. Here are a couple of photos from same viewpoint one looking southeast and the other southwest.
The birder said to me had I seen the whitethroats that come each year. I said I hadnt and would keep an eye out for them.( Whoever it was thankyou for the advice) As I was leaving the area my dog flushed a small bird into a hedgerow and after much searching I finally found it through all the branches. It was fairly obscured and I thought it might be a whitethroat, but wasnt absolutely sure. So I went home and looked at my Collins Bird Guide Svensson and I still wasnt sure until I quite by chance came across Postcard CV on Birdforum who is doing his yearly list by photo here or here and at number 118 at the bottom of the page was a photo of the bird I saw. And for further proof I went out this morning with my camera and got a considerably worse photo than Postcard CV,s effort.

Now for my next mystery bird What is the nearest gull I would dearly love it to be a Bonapartes.

25 Apr 2006

I dipped today :-(

Last night I received a Text at quarter to midnight saying there was a wood sandpiper at the Belfast Harbour Hide so as I had to go to Belfast anyway I thought I would try and see it.
When I got there,at about 9.00, I was praying(figure of speech) it was still there.However as I arrived I received a txt saying that it couldn't be seen this morning. Anyway I had a look but to no avail but did see an Iceland Gull flying off the lagoon(Thanks Anthony)

With the wood sandpiper, I felt it was similar to playing the lottery before you check your numbers,there is a feeling of maybe just maybe I will win/see it. On the way up I was really looking forward to seeing it as I had read up about it and had a pretty good idea of what it would look like from both Birdguides.com and Birdforum so it was a disappointment when it wasnt there. Met a nice Australian guy in the hide who was over researching records about his past which included a Quayle from Portaferry (I live about three miles from Portaferry next door to a family called Quayle)and who was also doing a bit of birding while he was over here. (If he reads this and comes back next year do get in touch with me through this blog and we could go birdwatching again.)

When I got home I was looking through some old photos from last year and came across some unidentified birds.
1. A sedge warbler maybe?

2. A stonechat?

3. A Willow Warbler ?

Anybody who can help please post message either here or on Birdforum.

22 Apr 2006

I heard a Cuckoo this morning and my first day of volunteering for the RSPB

124. Cuckoo Cuculus canorus(Heard not seen)
125. Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
126. Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus
127. Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides

Up at 5.00 am this morning for another Dawn Chorus with Anthony Mcgeehan(RSPB). This time it was at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum I arrived at 6.00am and there was a good crowd of people (nearly fifty) not bad for a saturday morning at six am. Anthony is an amusing guide and kept most of the audience giggling. We listened to the newly arrived Willow Warblers, Dunnocks, Wrens and then out of the blue a cuckoo sung for us, a nice addition to a dawn chorus at this time of year.

I took this photo out at Killard last summer. We then heard according to Anthony a female easyjet but proved to be a male british airways when spotted!

We then heard a blackcap which Clare Ferry (A lady who works for RSPB) spotted in a hedgerow. My first of the year. The more I have become serious about this hobby the more I realise there are a great deal of people who enjoy birdwatching. I go to a number of different hides or birdwatching sites and one always meets up with new people. They are nearly always very generous in imparting their knowledge or letting you use a different set of binoculars or scope to the one you own. On the walk this morning there was one of my ex customers from our cafe "Feasts" on the Dublin Road,Belfast (Now sold). Noel Thompson , who chairs the programme "Hearts and Minds" a political programme for BBC Northern Ireland.

After we had our breakfast in the Ulster Folk Museum's Cafe I met up with Anthony Mcgeehan at the RSPB Belfast Harbour Hide where he gave me some keys and showed me how to get into the place. There were 30+ Black Tailed Godwit just out infront of the hide so I took some photos. Sadly not great light. There was alot of common, herring,greater black backed, lesser black backed and black headed gulls. One dunlin landed right in front of the hide. Then Anthony pointed out a Glaucous gull in amongst all the other gulls, another tick for the year. After he left we had a steady flow of visitors to the hide. I lent them scopes and binoculars and pointed out various birds. You definately get all sorts of people , some who know next to nothing to those that would be far more knowledgeable than myself. I was doing the 9-1 shift and just before I left Derek Charles ( A well known Birder) pointed out two Iceland Gulls (Larus glaucoides
A medium-size gull, smaller than most herring gulls. It has a rounded head and a large dark eye, giving it a often dove-like expression. It has very pale wings and white wing tips, and, like the glaucous gull, it is sometimes referred to as one of a ‘white-winged' gull. It is a winter visitor, with small numbers of birds, usually seen singly. It breeds in the Arctic and winters as far south as New York and Britain.) to me another tick/Lifer for me. So yet again another enjoyable morning.

21 Apr 2006

Today I am very Happy; The housemartins that nest in the eaves have returned :-)

123. Wheatear Oenanthe Oenanthe

I have been getting progressively more and more worried that our housemartins had come to an unfortunate end. Having first seen some on April 9th not far from the house it was with enormous relief that when I came home mid morning from posting yet another job application . There were two lovely housemartins flying into last years nest. It really made my day on top of which it was an absolutely gorgeous one at that. It has to be the nicest day this year so far. In our garden (More lawn than anything else) in a wild area the primroses and the cowslips are flowering all over the place.
They seem to be later this year; out at Killard usually by now there are banks of primroses flowering.

I took Pickle out to Killard and was happy to see the white rump of a Wheatear

(I couldnt get that close to it so photo is rather small)
It was my first of the year and to think it had come all the way from Central Africa.

Oh Yes Happy 80th Birthday to the Queen

19 Apr 2006

Countryside Bird Survey in Donegal

120. White Wagtail Motacilla alba
121. Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
122. Common Tern Sterna Hirundo

(all the above seen from Castle Island Hide on the Quoile on tuesday 18th)

Countryside Bird Survey

The Countryside Bird Survey (CBS) is a national research project being conducted by BirdWatch Ireland volunteers and NPW wildlife rangers to monitor bird population trends, throughout the Irish countryside. The project was launched in 1998 and is supported by funding from the Heritage Council, Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, and previous funds from the ESB for CBS training programme.

This survey, which runs from April to June each year, provides vital scientific data on the abundance and distribution of Ireland's breeding bird populations. Longer term objectives include trend analysis and the production of indices for each breeding species. The survey runs in parallel with similar surveys in Northern Ireland and Britain and links with corresponding research work throughout Europe.

The survey uses a random set of 1km squares throughout the country. Bird data is collected in each square by walking two parallel lines (transects), with the same transects used each year. Field observers, walking these transects, record all birds seen or heard on two separate occasions., during early (April to mid-May) ad late (mid-May to June) season.

The survey methods are easy to follow and designed so that any birdwatcher with a reasonable ability in bird identification can take part. The fieldwork neatly combines science with an enjoyable morning's birding. Some 400 sample squares are allocated to almost 300 observers around the country each year. Using a simple system of counting, each square is surveyed year after year, ideally by the same observer.

Well on Monday morning I set the alarm for 5.30 and then drove to my pre determined site between Letterkenny and Derry. It was a bright morning but threatening to rain. I set off on my transects each a kilometre long divided into 200 metre sections. First I put down the birds I could see and then the birds I could hear on my field recording sheet. If you see a bird flying overhead you mark it down and put an arrow in the direction it was flying. You also fill out a fairly detailed habitat recording form. I started at 6.50 and was finished by 9.00. The second transect went fairly steeply uphill alongside forestry on one side and a grass field on the other before coming to a barbwire fence .I could not get over it as there was a ditch about eight feet deep on the other side so I decided to go into the forestry and bypass. Disaster. As soon as I got into forestry it was just Gorse and brambles everywhere underneath the pines. It took me at least 20 minutes to get fifty yards,where I emerged pricked, wet and scratched! Anyway I saw or heard pigeon,rook,crow,snipe,collared dove, numerous wrens, robins, blackbird, meadow pipit, stonechat, magpie, pheasant, goldcrest, goldfinch, house sparrows, starlings, bluetit, coaltit, great tit. Now I have to put them on the count summary sheet before going back to the site in four weeks time.
An enjoyable mornings bird watching.

18 Apr 2006

Choughs and Peregrine in Donegal

119. Chough Pyrrhocorax Pyrrhocorax

Drove from Co.Down to Donegal on friday afternoon and stopped at the base of Dooish mountain outside St.Johnston to arrange with farmer whether I could do a bird survey on his land on Easter Monday. The go ahead was given and he was given a brochure about Birdwatch Ireland Bird Surveys.

On saturday Penny and I went out ostensibly for Easter eggs for the children, whereas I was really out to see if I could see one of the Glenveagh National Park Golden Eagles. Efforts have been made to re-establish a viable Golden Eagle breeding population in the northwest of Ireland.The weather was very poor and the cloud level in the mountains was low so didnt see any. (Otherwise title of blog for today would be very different) I drove around seventy miles looking for them and guess what by the time we got back to Letterkenny there were no Easter eggs anywhere. I stopped at every petrol station on the way home even went to a village considerably out of our way to find only two very small kinder eggs. Felt quite guilty.

On Sunday we went to Horn Head. Horn Head's cliffs are some of the most spectacular on the north Donegal Coast.
Hundreds of gulls,fulmars, puffins and guillemots nest on the 600 foot sheer rock face. From the Head there is also a panoramic view of the Rosguill, Fanad and Inishowen Peninsulas to the right and out to Tory and Inishboffin islands on the left. My parents have had a farm in Donegal since early 60's and Horn Head is only 20 miles away and I had never been there!! It is also known as a migration hotspot. It was blowing fairly hard and showers were coming in horizontaly every 20 mins; so family were not over enamoured about walking out to headland, where there is an old lookout point. When we got there there were two pairs of Choughs playing around in the wind. It was fun to see and a new bird to the list for this year. Then they disappeared as did most of the fulmars and gulls. Suddenly I saw why. A peregrine was diving incredibly fast towards where they had been. Then it went out of sight. A few seconds later it was climbing above the cliffs high into the sky before diving down again. This happened over a period of ten minutes time and time again. I wondered whether it was infact displaying. ( Does anyone know whether peregrines display at this time of year. If you do please let me know) Anyway it was a lovely sight and more than made up for the fact that I was still stewing over the fact that our dog had chewed holes in both Pennys and my waterproofs.

14 Apr 2006

Off to Donegal for Easter

This is a short post to say off to Donegal for easter, back on monday. I will be doing a survey for Birdwatch Ireland while I am there. More of when I return. Im staying with my parents between Kilmacrennan and Ramelton.

Happy Easter to all!!

11 Apr 2006

A fascinating morning cut short and a Little Gull visits the Quoile

118. Little Gull Larus minutus

Last night I received an email from Graham McElwaine, Resightings Coordinator,Irish Brent Goose Research Group at 11.45 asking whether I would be interested in observing a group capturing and ringing brent geese, the downside was that I had to be at Dundrum for 7.00am. So alarm clock was set for 6.00am. It was an absolutely beautiful morning, it was also -2'C and there was a heavy frost. I met up with the team just at the back of the National Trusts Murlough National Nature Reserve and Dundrum Inner Bay. They were going to set up in a field that the Brent Geese had been observed flying in to. The team was made up with researchers from Queens University,WWT,and the Brent Goose research group.

First of all a landrover was driven across the field so that the capture net could be hidden in tyre tracks. Then the cannons were buried into the ground before the net was attached to metal posts that would be fired out of the cannon. You can see here Alex Portig from Queens University digging in one of the four cannons that fire each net. Today we were going to fire two nets. You can also see the net on the right hand side of the picture. Each cannon is wired up to a control lead that would be detonated from behind the hedge in the background. The setting up took a couple of hours and it eventually looked like this with the fairly realistic brent decoys made from polystyrene set out in a feeding pattern. Some of them also looked as though they were asleep and one of them was in a vigilant pose.

Annoyingly for me as I said in my post title I had to go upto Belfast for a meeting with the RSPB Volunteers coordinator Cara and Anthony Mcgeehan the reserve warden to be shown the ropes at the Belfast Harbour Lagoon Hide I have volunteered to do a four hour shift three times a month on the weekends. I have tried to coordinate them with the high tides as that is when many of the gulls come to roost on the lagoon. I cant think of a better way to spend a quarter of ones weekend.

On the way home I stopped off at the Castle Island Hide only a few minutes from my home. It was a lovely day and there was an enormous amount of insects flying on the surface of the pondage. The 200+ teal were everywhere noisily lapping them up and there were a hundred plus Black Headed Gull flying all over the place. Apart from one gull which was slightly smaller in size than the Black Headed Gulls it had grey underwing and it was flying fairly erratically darting upwards to catch flies and then diving to pick flies off the surface of the water. I wasnt sure about id and another birdwatcher went and got his fieldguide from his car and the description of its flight was identical to the Little Gull so was well chuffed(Or should that be Choughed) to spot it.
It was an adult in winter plumage.

9 Apr 2006

The Dawn Chorus

115. Lesser Redpoll Carduelis cabaret
116. Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
117. House Martin Delichon urbica

For the second weekend running I have got up at 6.00am to go on a guided Dawn Chorus. Today I left to drive the twenty miles to the WWT's Castle Espie on the northwest end of Strangford Lough. It was 4 degrees on my car thermometer and there were hail showers on the way there. I had sensibly put a decent amount of warm clothes on. (This is april !!)

Anthony McGeehan ( The RSPB Belfast Harbour Reserve Warden) was waiting for us all to arrive. As we were standing around a couple of probably male peregrines flew overhead, followed by a sparrowhawk. Even as we were waiting to walk around the reserve there was quite alot of activity notably Goldcrests singing. I have to say I find it quite difficult to learn new species. I wish I had a form of recording instrument that i could bring home and compare to a song on itunes. We had reasonable success, robin, dunnock, goldcrest, blackcap, bluetit, great tit,coal tit, long tailed tit, greenfinch, jay, blackbird, peregrine,wren and redpoll.

A flock of redpoll flew over us and I looked up and I wondered what type of finch they were and Anthony said unmistakebly redpoll I had never knowingly heard one its a staccato 'chi chi chi'. Whether I will hear one and recognise it the next time lord alone knows.

By the end of the walk we were all pretty cold and went and had breakfast in the Castle espie Cafe. It was a typically Northern Ireland piece of fried soda bread with bacon in it; delicious and fattening. As we are eating it Anthony says "look a Willow Warbler" which disappeared out of sight almost immediately.

Later in the day I visited the Castle Island hide on the River Quoile and saw a House Martin and then another Willow Warbler singing.

6 Apr 2006

The Swallows and Avian Flu have arrived.

114. Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica

Well yesterday I saw my first Swallow of the year in the field in front of the house and sadly it was announced that a swan has been found with Avian Flu in Fife, Scotland. They are at present testing samples at the EU's bird flu laboratory in Surrey to see if it is the UK's first case in a wild bird of the H5N1 strain, blamed for human deaths.

A 1.8-mile (3km) protection zone to prevent poultry being moved is in place around Cellardyke in Fife, where the bird was found eight days ago and the government's national emergency committee is to discuss the issues.

My main worry is that the media is highly efficient at creating hysteria and changing peoples perceptions of wild birds. So you could get the situation where Wild Birds=Avian Flu=Potential Death=Lets Kill WildBirds. In my view it wouldnt take long before the less educated take this view. We I'm sure will get reports of youths killing all the swans on a pond because they thought they were a danger to the public. Let us just hope that the H5N1 virus is not transferred to the human population in the UK.H5N1 Info as this will I also fear have a detrimental effect on the ability those organisations such as the RSPB,WWT,BTO to raise money for conservation.

I am presently trying to increase my knowledge of birdsong and Im sure it drives my wife up the wall when we go on a walk and every few minutes I say I think thats a xxxxxx and check with my bins. By which time she is thirty yards ahead of me! Birding is definately not a family friendly activity. As I am writing this I can hear a coal tit singing teacher,teacher,teacher,teacher very quickly.

3 Apr 2006

The 39th All Ireland Conference on Bird Conservation

I have just had a really great weekend of which the following were added to my year list

108. Grey wagtail
109. Pink Footed Goose
110. Greenland White Front Goose
111. Common Scoter
112. Red Throated Diver
113. Gadwall

Thanks to my mother who gave me an early bithday present of a weekend at the All Ireland Conference on Bird Conservation in the Glenview Hotel Glen o'the Downs Co Wicklow (Just south of Dublin).

I arrived on friday night after a three hour drive from Northern Ireland.On the way down I saw a sparrowhawk killing a blackbird on the verge of the motorway near St .Columbas school, sadly at 120km/hr I didnt have much viewing time.Arrived and then registered with Birdwatch Ireland of which i will write more in another days blog.

Had a quick supper before going to the first of the evenings two presentations.
1. We had a slide presentation by Eddie Dunn on the Birds that had visited his garden in the two previous weeks. Quite an amusing half hour.
2. The really interesting presentation was "Sceillig and Bermuda -A last Refuge" a shortish film by Eamon de Buitlear(A famous Irish natural history documentary maker. Irelands David Attenborough) and Deirdre brennan. It was about the Cahow the extremely rare petrel (Less than 200) and Bermuda's national bird A fascinating insight to the conservation of this rare bird on Nonsuch island in Bermuda.
Afterwards I couldnt make up my mind whether the bar or bed was beckoning. The bed won due to the fact I had to up at 6.30 for the dawn chorus walk.

Bleery eyed I made it to the Dawn Chorus Walk , not quite as bleery eyed as our guide who had only had two hours sleep and definately looked the worse for wear.However nice walk in woods near hotel and listened to wrens, robins, goldcrests, pigeon, coal,blue and great tits, blackbirds, song thrush. On the way out of wood saw first grey wagtail of the year.

The morning was filled with a couple of talks. The first "The secret lives of Garden Birds by Domonic Couzens" An author who has written a number of birding books.
The second was by Mike Toms of the BTO "British Trust for Ornithology" See Website on favourite birding sites to the right of the blog.Who talked about Wintering Warblers.

At midday I went on a field trip to the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve a bird sanctuary. The Reserve is located in the winter feeding grounds of the Greenland white-fronted geese and these birds are visible in vast numbers, as well as hundreds of other breeds. There is a visitor centre and various hides from which to view the birds on the slobs.

The Slobs
The town of Wexford is situated on the estuary of the Slaney River, which flows into the Irish Sea. To the north and south of the estuary lie the areas known as the 'slobs'. Originally, these were huge areas of sand and mud which were flooded at high tide and which changed from year to year as the currents carried new mud down the river. They got their name from the Irish word slab which means soft mud. In the 19th Century, the slobs were reclaimed from the sea by the building of dikes and drains and by pumping the water out, in a manner similar to the polders of the Netherlands or the Fens of eastern England. The slobs are now rich farming land. They lie about two to three metres below sea level, as can be easily seen by standing on the main dike.
The Birds
Over 240 different species of bird have been recorded on the slobs.

The most important are the geese. 10,000 Greenland White-Fronted Geese1 and 2000 Brent Geese use the North Slob as their winter quarters every year. These birds arrive in October, the white-fronted geese coming from Greenland and the brent geese from Bathurst Island, Canada, via Iceland. They complete the journey from Iceland to Wexford, a distance of about 900 miles, in one unbroken flight of 17 hours. While wintering in Wexford, each day they feed on the fields of the North Slob, then fly to the nearby 'Raven' peninsula to roost.

After spending a couple of hours there and adding to my list we headed for a beach a few miles north of the slobs and watched rafts of Common Scoter and a few Red Throated Divers just offshore.

The evening was spent at the Gala dinner.

On Sunday morning I packed up before going to the talk by Eric Dempsey( I have seen him before at the Belfast Harbour RSPB hide when the Baikal Teal was spotted) Eric is One of Irelands leading Bird Guides and Author of "Complete Guide to Ireland's Birds") on Bird Identification. He did an amusing talk based on his Ten step plan to Bird identification. It helped me when I got back to Co.Down and saw a duck I have never knowingly seen before The Gadwall at he Castle Island Hide on the Quoile.