Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Wildlife Sightings 20th-28th May

Over the past week or so it has been quite apparent that Spring is drawing to a close. Resident species are busy feeding their recently fledged or hatched young, many of our summer visitors are still setting up territories or building nests & there has also been a notable Northward movement of High Arctic breeders, hoping to reach their nesting grounds just in time for the frost to subside...

Up to 18 Mute Swans are present on the marshes & estuary behind the tern colony. Most of these are non-breeders or one year old 'loafers', but two pairs have hatched a total of 13 cygnets in the past few days (broods of 6 & 7 respectively). We also have up to 18 Shelduck present but no sign of any young yet & small numbers of summering wildfowl persist in the form of 2 Wigeon, 3 Shoveler, 2 Gadwall & 4 Tufted Ducks.

Mute Swan pair with 6 cygnets © Niall Keogh
Seawatching (more fun than it sounds!) has been quite productive despite the settled conditions. Species which breed on headlands & cliffs in the Irish Sea such as Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Gannet, Fulmar & Manx Shearwater are regularly seen feeding or passing by. A Puffin flying North with a 'train' of auks on 27th was a nice local record & could well have originated from Wicklow Head where a tentative breeding population may exist. Migrants have included small numbers of Red-throated Divers & Common Terns, an Arctic Tern, a stunning Great Northern Diver in full summer plumage on 20th (followed by a comparatively dowdy 'winter' plumaged bird on 22nd), a Great Skua flying South on 27th & some nice Common Scoter passage which has seen a total of 78 birds recorded during the period in question.

Wader migration is at a crossroads. Numbers of Temperate or Low Arctic breeders have decreased, most notably Whimbrel, with a count of 24 on 20th reducing to 3 on 28th. Sanderling passage has picked up with a total of 70 moving through over the past week & a nice flock of 104 Dunlin on 26th included a striking 'arctica' type bird, which should be heading for Greenland. Other peak counts include: Oystercatcher (33 non-breeders), Bar-tailed Godwit (8 non-breeders), Black-tailed Godwit (7 non-breeders), Turnstone (7 flying North), Knot (1 non-breeder), Golden Plover (1 flying North), Curlew (1 flying South!) & 3 Snipe 'drumming' over the marsh.

Whimbrel © Niall Keogh
On the surrounding farmland, the dawn & evening chorus is enriched with the sound of Collared DoveYellowhammerBlackcap & WhitethroatPied Wagtails & Linnets have been confirmed as breeding successfully with recently fledged juveniles of both species seen in the past week. Stock Doves are ever present, as are a pair of Sparrowhawks & a pair of Kestrels which are still hunting the area, so all three may well be feeding young locally. Wheatears have disappeared completely after the large fall earlier in the month whilst what was presumably the same female Yellow Wagtail as seen previously showed well on 28th, this time along the path right beside the tern colony.

A male Sparrowhawk which caught a juvenile Starling © Niall Keogh 
Skylarks love to perch & sing from the tern colony fencing © Niall Keogh
Meadow Pipits are also breeding in the dunes © Ronnie Martin

You'll be glad to know it's not just all birds either! We've had four sightings of Harbour Porpoise & daily occurrences of 1 or 2 Grey Seals offshore. A pair of Rabbits, a Brown Rat & calling Pygmy Shrews are in the Marram dunes along the railway line. Leisler's Bats can be seen most evenings feeding over the wardens camp site whilst Pipistrelle bats prefer the more extensive tree cover surrounding the nearby farmyard. The Otters have also finally put in an appearance! Cole reports that up to two animals are feeding & calling in The Breaches estuary at night.

The recent run of glorious weather has even enticed a few butterflies onto the wing, but in much reduced numbers compared to previous years. PeacockSmall TortoiseshellSpeckled WoodGreen-veined WhiteLarge White & Common Blue have all been noted but best of all was a nice Clouded Yellow which flew alongside the tern colony, stopping to feed briefly on 21st. The warmth has also brought out some Fox Moths which flutter erratically over the dunes & Viviparous Lizards which emerge from dune tussocks to bask in the morning sunshine along the coastal path & railway line.

"Webb's field" NPWS Reserve...our back garden! © Niall Keogh
Morning light along the electric fence © Niall Keogh


  1. Thanks for the update Niall. You have been busy. Sounds like the Little Tern Camp has been pretty idyllic for the past few days...hope the tan is coming along nicely!

  2. 'Calling' Pygmy shrews? What do they sound like?

  3. Super Stuff going on down there Niall, So I may be down over the weekend for a chat. I wouldn`t mind a sighting of a Lizard, seeing as the last live one I saw ran under the wheel of my Jeep.

  4. Class Blog Niall - keep em coming!