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.

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