Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Common Sandpiper

I was in Dublin last Friday (17/5/13) and paid a visit to Rogerstown Estuary in the afternoon. I was hoping to see the Short-eared Owl that was seen there the previous evening but it did not show up.   I had distant views of Red Kite and Buzzard but neither were in photo range.  There was a steady passage of Whimbrel through the area and a flock of about 25 Common Terns were roosting on the mudflats.  I also came across a Wheatear that had the curious habit of taking to the trees when flushed.

I then moved to the Swords Estuary at Broadmeadows. Here many of the birds were in photo range and I got good views of a lone Common Sandpiper, a nervous species that I have always found difficult to get close enough to for a good shot.

Common Sandpiper ©Tom Tarpey

There was also a flock of Black-tailed Godwits feeding close to road, a few of which were in summer plumage.  A few Common Terns were roosting near the Gull flock in the middle of the estuary. Resident birds included several pairs of Shelduck.

Black-tailed Godwit   ©Tom Tarpey

Common Terns  ©Tom Tarpey

Shelduck ©Tom Tarpey

Monday, 6 May 2013


I paid another visit to the Coonagh Nature Reserve on Sunday morning (May 5th) to check it out for new arrivals and was pleased to find a pair of Garganey.  This duck is a regular but scarce summer visitor to Ireland and can often be difficult to catch up it due to its discrete habits at potential breeding sites.  These birds were roosting on the grassy verge of the small middle lagoon and seemed to be relatively approachable. The species is quite rare in County Limerick, though maybe under recorded.  This was the sixth record for the County and the second for the site, the first being on a male on the same lagoon in mid May last year.  The birds eventually took to the wing and moved off into one of the many pools in  the willows on the south side of the upper lagoon.

Garganey  ©Tom Tarpey

Several Sedge Warblers have taken up residence on the site by now and the males were loudly advertising their presence.  Another recent arrival, a lone Whitethroat, was also making an occasional burst of song.  A single male Wheatear was also present.

Wheatear ©Tom Tarpey

There was a very large hatch of insects on the site, mostly Olives, and these were being mopped by the large flock of Black-headed Gulls present.  There was no sign of the Little Gulls that were present in the previous two weeks, though John Murphy did mange to find one there later in the day along with a fine summer plumage Spotted Redshank. 

One other species that I was surprised to see there on Sunday was Scaup.  A duck and two drakes were busily engaged on bouts of head bobbing, presumably some form of courtship display.  I had seen two pairs there in the early winter but had not seen athere in the past few months.  Most duck breeding in northern  or Arctic regions have moved on some time ago so these birds were a little bit of a surprise hanging around this late into the early summer.

Scaup ©Tom Tarpey

Thursday, 2 May 2013


I paid a number of visits to Gooig Bog near Castleconnell, Co. Limerick, in the past few weeks in search of Spring migrants.  This partly dug out bog, straddling the Limerick/Tipperary border, is always a good spot to catch up with the first arrivals.  Most migrants have been at least two to three weeks later than previous years because of the persistent northerly winds and poor weather on mainland Europe.  I saw my first Whitethroat of the year there yesterday and heard a few others nearby.  I also had my first Cuckoo there one evening last week and Willow Warblers in the middle of the month.

Whitethroats can be skulking in behaviour and are reluctant to show themselves even when singing so it can be quite difficult to get a full clean view shot. Unlike may of the earlier arrivals they appear to be arriving on schedule this year.

Whitethroat  ©Tom Tarpey

The Cuckoo appeared late in the evening but was still calling vigorously and causing consternation among the local Meadow Pipits.  I just about manged to get a few shots in the fading light. It appears that the arrival of Cuckoos here was at least a week behind normal due to the poor spring weather.  This impact can clearly be seen from an ongoing satellite tracking study of Cuckoos in Britain ( Of the five birds in the study only one had arrived back in Britain by April 26th and up to today the number was still only at two, with a third bird having briefly crossed into England and promptly reversed south back to France. One bird still remains in Morocco.  Considering this information the the first two birds reported in Limerick on April 23rd and 25th appear to be very much at the head of the posse this year. 

 The BTO study is well worth a look.  The movements of the birds can be tracked on a daily basis throughout the year. It shows a very marked south easterly bias on the southward migration through the central Mediterranean, down into Libya or Egypt, resting in the Sahel belt in Chad and finally wintering in the Congo. The northward migration is quite different with birds moving north westwards initially, filtering up to Nigeria and the Ivory coast before crossing the western Sahara.  They also take a more westerly route through Europe via Spain and France.  Interestingly it shows that some of the birds spend less than two months of the summer in Europe.

Cuckoo (male) ©Tom Tarpey

Willow Warblers are perhaps the most characteristic species of places like Gooig Bog, as they are fairly abundant and they tirelessly fill the area with their descending song through Spring and early Summer.

Willow Warbler ©Tom Tarpey