Birding a slice across the Emerald Isle


Well, it’s not really birding.  It was more like paying attention to what birds were around while sightseeing, but it was enough to help me compile a list of 56 species (including 16 lifers!) during the last week of June in the Republic of Ireland. As trips of occasional birding whilst exploring a beautiful land go, this one was terrific.

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It’s difficult to look over your shoulder instead of out to sea when at the Kerry Cliffs,  but there is a reward for doing so.

I don’t need to convince anyone to come to Ireland for a good time.  Whether it’s castles or coastlines, history or hospitality, or just the search for great craic in a rustic old pub, we Americans at least are well aware that wonders await us in verdant glens of the idealized Eire. Such was the case for us, and Ireland wouldn’t be a top choice for me to visit just to go birding. But while there, I was happy to make the most out of any chance to get better acquainted with the local avifauna.

Late June turned out to be a great time to visit Ireland. Birds were singing lustily and/or feeding their noisy fledglings. The days were long, with sunrise before 5:00 and darkness not really settling in ’til about 10:30.  Despite the potential for heat to build with such extensive daylight, I don’t think we climbed above 65F on any day of our week on the ground there. So many places abuse the saying “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute” but in Ireland conditions really do change minute to minute. We had brilliant sunshine alternating with soft rains – and every beautiful cloud formation in between – every day.  Looking for rainbows?  You’ll find them here.

Following along on the map below, we began our sojourn in Dublin (1) and then explored a number of locations just north in County Meath (2). From there we headed southwest to County Kerry with stops at the Kerry Cliffs (3) and Torc Waterfall (4) in Killarney National Park. We headed back east along the southern coast with a stop in Ardmore (5), and then north back to Dublin via Enniscorthy and Avoca (6).

Ireland-June 2016.jpg

Dublin isn’t renown for its birding, but St. Stephen’s Green is a lovely, lush, and verdant playground in the heart of the city.  My checklist looked like this,

Mute Swan  1
Mallard (Domestic type)  12
Tufted Duck  6
Eurasian Coot  1
Herring Gull  22
Lesser Black-backed Gull  8
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  30
Common Wood-Pigeon  2
Eurasian Magpie  1
Eurasian Blue Tit  3
European Robin  2
Common Chaffinch  1

but its brevity belies the fact that it was raining quite hard while we were there, and I only had about 20 minutes to poke around.  There was more to be seen, but this was an example of having to wait a few hours instead of a few minutes for the weather to change. Nonetheless, it was fun to get up close and personal with wood-pigeon and Lesser Black-backed Gull, and see the Tufted Ducks on the same pond where I found this species 18 years ago on my first visit.

 

From Dublin we traveled north into County Meath to visit with friends and for some rambling about Trim Castle, Bective Abbey, and Newgrange. The latter is the only place I managed to put together an eBird checklist:

Newgrange Visitor Centre, Meath, Leinster, IE
Jun 26, 2016 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM

Common Wood-Pigeon  1
Rook  3
Bank Swallow  2
Eurasian Blue Tit  1
Eurasian Wren  1
Willow Warbler  1
Common Chiffchaff  1
Eurasian Blackcap  2
Eurasian Blackbird  3

Newgrange passage tomb, Meath, Leinster, IE
Jun 26, 2016 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Common Wood-Pigeon  1
Eurasian Jackdaw  2
Rook  3
Hooded Crow  1
Barn Swallow  6
Eurasian Wren  2
Eurasian Blackbird  3
Eurasian Linnet  5
House Sparrow  2

 

The afternoon drive across the country from Meath to Kerry was facilitated by the many hours of daylight. As tired as I was, it would’ve been much worse to have completed that drive in the dark. Our full Irish breakfast got us going the next day, however, and we jostled among tourists, buses, and cyclists around the Ring of Kerry. The crowds a nuisance, but it was easy to find delightful little towns to explore along the way where the pace was decidedly slower and the tour buses dared not follow on the narrow roads.

My birding goal for this part of the country was to make it to the coast, find some cliffs, and look for Red-billed Chough – an odd-looking crow that frequents sea cliffs and mountain hideaways. To do that, I checked for the most recent reports of Chough on eBird, and they pointed us to the Kerry Cliffs.  In addition to offering incredible views of the UNESCO World Heritage Skellig Islands, the small crowds and wild terrain made for some great birding. It took a while, but we did find the Choughs!

Kerry Cliffs, Kerry, Munster, IE
Jun 27, 2016 11:50 AM – 1:20 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.0 mile(s)
14 species

Northern Fulmar  41     Fulmars visible nesting on the cliffs from the walk.
Northern Gannet  4
European Shag  4
Herring Gull  10
Lesser Black-backed Gull  6
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Red-billed Chough  3     Tough to find (and, obviously, to photograph). These were on the left wing of the cliff walk.
Hooded Crow  2
Sky Lark  2
Barn Swallow  1
Northern Wheatear  2
European Starling  3
White Wagtail  4
Meadow Pipit  4

 

Away from the coast, we headed back through mountains and fields into Killarney National Park. During the height of tourist season, this really was a bit too crowded for my tastes, but we found some isolation along the way and on up above Torc Waterfall.

Killarney NP–Torc Mountain, Kerry, Munster, IE
Jun 27, 2016 6:15 PM – 7:05 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.25 mile(s)
7 species

Rook  1
Hooded Crow  2
Coal Tit  1
Eurasian Wren  1
Goldcrest  1
European Robin  1
Eurasian Blackbird  1

The next morning brought us to Blarney for some real tourist action, but the grounds of the famous castle really are to be explored at a leisurely pace.  Alas, I kept no bird list there (raining a bit hard for much of that time) but it was really lovely.

Continuing along the southern coast to Waterford County, we spent the next evening in the lovely seaside village of Ardmore. Here we enjoyed some of the freshest fish ever, met a wonderful beach dog, chatted with some young hurlers, and followed St. Declan’s path along the cliffs until well after dark.  If you’re looking for the best full Irish breakfast in the Republic of Ireland, you’ll find it at Duncrone B&B in Ardmore!

Ardmore, Waterford, Munster, IE
Jun 28, 2016 8:00 PM – 9:00 PM
Protocol: Traveling
0.25 mile(s)
Comments:     Downtown and along the beach in Ardmore
12 species

Black-headed Gull  5
Mew Gull  1
Herring Gull  12
Sandwich Tern  5
Common Wood-Pigeon  3
Eurasian Collared-Dove  1
Common Swift  5
Eurasian Jackdaw  6
Hooded Crow  1
Barn Swallow  1
Common Chiffchaff  1
House Sparrow  1

Ardmore cliffs walk, Waterford, Munster, IE
Jun 28, 2016 9:15 PM – 10:45 PM
Protocol: Traveling
3.0 mile(s)
18 species

Ring-necked Pheasant  1
Northern Gannet  2
Common Murre  1
Black-legged Kittiwake  40
Mew Gull  2
Herring Gull  26
Great Black-backed Gull  2
Common Wood-Pigeon  2
Common Raven  2
Sky Lark  1
Barn Swallow  21
Common House-Martin  12
Eurasian Wren  2
Goldcrest  1
Common Chiffchaff  1
European Stonechat  1
Dunnock  1
Meadow Pipit  11

 

 

From Ardmore, we headed north through Enniscorthy on our way to Wicklow and The Meetings of the Waters in Avoca. We found Red Kites by surprise in Avoca! View from Vinegar Hill, Enniscorthy:

The Meetings of the Waters, Wicklow, Leinster, IE
Jun 29, 2016 8:00 PM – 8:30 PM
Protocol: Stationary
8 species

Gray Heron  1
Common Wood-Pigeon  1
Hooded Crow  1
Bank Swallow  12
Barn Swallow  4
Eurasian Blackbird  1
Gray Wagtail  2
Common Chaffinch  1

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Grey Wagtails were entertaining but surprisingly difficult to photograph.

The Meetings of the Waters, Wicklow, Leinster, IE
Jun 30, 2016 8:45 AM – 10:15 AM
Protocol: Traveling
0.25 mile(s)
14 species

Ring-necked Pheasant  1
Common Wood-Pigeon  2
Eurasian Jackdaw  1
Rook  1
Hooded Crow  4
Barn Swallow  2
Eurasian Blue Tit  3
Great Tit  4
Eurasian Wren  2     feeding fledgling
White-throated Dipper  2
Spotted Flycatcher  1
Eurasian Blackbird  1
Gray Wagtail  2
White Wagtail  2

At last, this bird brought us home. ‘Twas a week that went by far too quickly and, like just about everything I see and do in Ireland, I’m left wanting to do it again. We will return. Slan, for now!

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