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A Report from

Ireland (Feb.'99 ),

John Girdley

A group of ten birders from Lancaster, took a mini-bus to Ireland, with the intention of seeing a representative selection of Irelands winter birds. The emphasis was on Gulls and Wildfowl although with hindsight we should perhaps have concentrated on the Gulls!

We travelled by the Stena Line HSS from Holyhead to Dublin. A quick and comfortable journey.

Key Sites                                                                                                        

Killybegs (Co. Donegal )

Our first bird was a Great Northern Diver sitting just off the harbour wall. A raven flew over and a Glaucous Gull took off from just behind. This set the tone for the morning!

On our first visit we saw approximately seven Glaucous Gulls (4 x 1st winter, 2 x 2nd winter and one adult) and nine Iceland Gulls (6 x 1st winter, 2 x 2nd winter and 1 adult). A 1st winter "Kumliens" Gull gave point blank views on the fish quay.   Black Guillemots and Great Northern Divers swam in the bay.

On our second visit the mix of gulls was different indicating a considerable turn around.  Killybegs was the site of Europe's first Thayers Gull (if accepted). The proportion of white-winged gulls was high, at about one in forty, and so they where easy to find. Arguably this is the best site in Britain and Ireland for seeing these species. Other reports in Feb. '99 include a 4th winter Thayers Gull and at least two other "Kumliens" Gulls.                                                                               


Blanket Nook (Co. Donegal )

An excellent site for wildfowl and waders. We were hoping that a previously reported American Wigeon would still be present, but to no avail.  Best birds were three Smew (1 drake and 2 redheads) which I am informed was a high count for Ireland. Whooper Swans were present and also several Greenshank which I hadn't realised wintered that far North-West.           


Inch Island (Co. Donegal )

Inch Lake held lots of wildfowl including another Smew. The Lake comes into its own at dusk when considerable numbers of geese and swans come into roost. ( Greylag, Greenland White-fronts and Whooper.)

At the end of the island is Inch Pier, a good viewing point for birds in the bay which include Great Northern Diver.                                                                                                       


Burton Port (Co. Donegal )

This small fishing port on the NW coast of Donegal apparently had a resident adult "Kumliens" Gull. We didn't find it, but a 1st winter Iceland Gull and very close views of Black Guillemots was some compensation.                                                                                                          


Mount Charles (Co. Donegal )

This three mile stretch of coastline on the north shore of Donegal Bay proved to be exceptional for Divers. We saw at least fifty Great Northern Divers, three Black-throated Divers and a single Red-throat. To supplement this a Velvet Scoter was close inshore. The supporting cast included Greenshank, Guillemot and about thirty Pale-bellied Brents.                                      


Bundoran Cliffs (Co. Donegal )

This is a good site for viewing Scoter flocks. There were about eighty Common Scoter on our visit, but there was a howling gale blowing and this made viewing the flocks difficult. Apparently Surf Scoter are almost annual. Other birds seen included Razorbill and a 1st winter Iceland Gull.


Lisadell (Co. Sligo)

The area near to Lisadell House is an important wintering ground for the Greenland race of Barnacle Goose. There were about two hundred present on our visit along with about fifty Pale-bellied Brents.                                                                                                                   


Sligo (Co. Sligo)

The river at Sligo held good numbers of Black-headed and Common Gulls. At least one adult Ring-billed gull was amongst them. A Great Northern Diver fished along the river.            


Nimmo's Pier (Co.Galway)

The river mouth in Galway City attracts numerous gulls and waders. At high tide these loaf on the rocks or adjacent fields. They are much disturbed by dog walkers.

As the tide begins to drop, gulls start to dip-feed in the river. They are easily enticed onto the pier by bread. (they prefer white!)  On our visit we saw at least eight Ring-billed Gulls. (3 x 1st winter, 2 x 2nd winter and 3 adults.). This was an unprecedented opportunity to study all plumage types of Ring-billed Gull in direct comparison with Common Gull.  Previous visitors had seen up to eight adults and up to eight 1st winters on different occasions. Evidence would seem to suggest that there are probably up to twenty Ring-billed's in the area!  Extrapolating further, is there now a colony of Ring-billed Gulls breeding somewhere  nearby in Ireland?

Other birds here included about a thousand Bar-tailed Godwits and similar no's. of Oystercatchers. A Stonechat graced the sea wall. An adult Meditteranean Gull joined the gulls briefly.

A two minute drive away is the tidal Lake Atalia. Among the birds seen were six Scaup and a Sinensis type Cormorant.                                                                                         


Towin Head (Co. Galway)

Towin Head is a long peninsular of land sticking out into the inner end of Galway Bay. A maze of roads leads to the end. There are numerous stopping points along the way to view inlets and tidal flats for gulls, waders and geese.  The most productive area was around Kilcaimin where the thousand plus gulls really ought to have hosted  at least one bird out of the ordinary.                      


Rahasane Turlough (Co. Galway)

For sheer no's of birds, Rahasane Turlough is on a par with the large WWT reserves in the UK. There are no visitor facilities however and all viewing is from the road or from footpaths. Several hours would be needed to fully do this area justice.Key wildfowl included three hundred Whooper swans, two Bewicks, one hundred and twenty Greenland-white Fronts and hundreds of Wigeon. The wader flocks included several thousand each of Golden Plover, Dunlin and Lapwing. They were rather too distant for full scrutiny.  A solitary Ruff was noted.                                         


Ballyallia Lake (Co. Clare)

We made a longish detour to this lake because of a long staying Ring-necked Duck. On our visit it had evidently gone missing. However there were plenty of ducks to observe notable amongst them over a hundred Shoveller and also smaller no's of  Pintail and Gadwall along with the commoner species. Three Black-tailed Godwits were unexpected.                                        


Sandymount Strand to Dun Laogaire (Co. Dublin)

Waiting for the Dun Laogaire ferry in Dublin can be quite productive. There must be at least five thousand mainly Black-headed Gulls along this coast and reported recently with them have been up to ten Med. Gulls and three Ring-billed Gulls.  We failed to connect!                            


One can't visit everywhere on a four day visit! The following two sites would make good additions to the itinerary:

Culmore Tip (Derry)

Caspian Gull, Ring-billed Gull, up to seven Glaucous Gulls and three Iceland Gulls have been reported in Feb '99

Newport Dump. (Co. Mayo)

A 1st winter Thayers Gull has been reasonably regular along with reports of American Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Glaucous Gulls and Iceland Gulls.                                                       


Bibiography:  Where to watch birds in Ireland,  Clive Hutchinson


  1. To the kind staff of the Sail Inn in Killybegs who fed us all at eleven o'clock at night and then locked us in!
  2. To the friendly people of Ireland who stopped to pass the time of day with us.
  3. To Pete Marsh who made it all possible

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