Tolka Branch Trip
12th March 2011
by Rosemary Doyle
At 7 a.m. an eager group of birders set off from the Botanic Gardens in
Dublin and headed north-west to Sligo. So determined were they, that
the driving snow which awaited them in Longford didn't deter their
quest. On arriving in Sligo the travellers re-grouped at the
Clarion Hotel and met up with more keen birders, those of us who were
lucky enough to travel the day before. Shortly after 10 a.m. all 17 of
us set off along the N15 bound for Lissadell.
Our first stop was at the Lissadell Goose Fields, which proved to be a
misnomer as we were disappointed not to find any geese at all. So we
drove past the Birdwatch Hide, through the forest and out to Ballygilgan
Strand. We had much more success at this spot with good views
of 28 Brent Geese, 12 Northern Divers, 5 Red-breasted
Mergansers, 3 Oystercatchers,
2 Redshank, 1 Cormorant, 1 Black Guillemot and a grey seal. In a distant field we spotted
about 200 Barnacle Geese.
Great Northern Diver at Ballygilgan
Nature Reserve (Photo by John Fox)
We drove on through Lissadell, stopping briefly as we neared the
aforementioned Barnacle Geese; to watch them take off, circle overhead
about 5 or 6 times only to re-settle in the same
Further along the coast we stopped at Raghly Harbour. We were
delighted to spot 2 female Eider Ducks in good viewing
distance. Even more so when we found 2 male Eider Ducks
preening around the corner. Again we had even better views of 4
Northern Divers and 7 Red-breasted Mergansers and 1 Black Guillemot
half-way through changing his winter plumage. Also fishing in the
area were 2 Shag and 4 Cormorants. Scattered along the
shore 16 Turnstone foraged for titbits. One lone Herring
Gull kept company with 3 Brent Geese in a quite corner of
Ardtermon Strand, whilst
5 Curlew and 1 Redshank busily excavated the seaweed. There
were several Oystercatchers and 9 Rock Pipits on the
right-hand side of the coast and 1 March Hare leaped for cover when
he spotted 17 birders invading his territory. A pair of Pied
Wagtails frenetically chased each other all over the
harbour. Across the bay, over near the
lighthouse at Black Rock, there was a raft of 50 Common Scoter.
We left the harbour happy in the knowledge that at least one pair of Stonechat
survived the winter.
Rock Pipit at Raghly Harbour (Photo by John Fox)
Shortly after leaving the harbour a Pheasant was spotted darting into a field.
As we headed over towards Ballyconnell a vision of goosiness
appeared before us. At Ballineden/Ballintemple area, the fields
sloping down towards Yellow Strand were full of Barnacle Geese.
Our first count was of 2,500 Barnacle Geese, 2 Mallard Ducks and 35
rabbits. Whilst taking in the spectacle we scoped through the
geese diligently in search of the Cackling Goose, but to no avail.
Just as we neared the end of our investigation a flock of 1,500 more
Barnacle Geese rose up from behind Knocklane Hill on the right and mingled
with the grazing geese. And so we had to start our Cackling Goose
search all over again. But still no Cackling Goose. About ten
minutes later a dark line appeared in the sky as a further 1,000 gabbling
Barnacle Geese flew in from the left. As they infiltrated
themselves amongst the now 4,000 feeding geese, a Cackling Goose
landed in one of the watering holes to the front of the site. We had
excellent views of the Cackling Goose as it washed and preened
itself. It was a tick for most of us and a brilliant study to
compare and contrast the differences between a Cackling Goose and a
Barnacle Goose. We had, between us, four different guide books to
consult so as to further imprint the differences of the two.
Barnacle Geese (Photo by Pat Lenihan)
We then stopped at Ballyconnell Point and saw over 50 Eider Ducks,
1 Red-breasted Merganser and 1 Cormorant swimming near the
breakwater. Meanwhile, 16 Brent Geese, 9 Ringed Plover
and 5 Oystercatchers were feeding at the shoreline and 1 Grey
Heron skulked quietly on the far side of the cove. In the
hedgerows behind us a solitary Reed Bunting flew out of the
On the far side of Ballyconnell Point around the corner, 200 Golden
Plover, 50 Oystercatchers and 4 Sanderling played tag
with the tide.
Our final stop was at Cloonagh where we saw 25 Herring Gulls, 8 Eider
Duck, 1 Donkey, 1 Pony and a dog. As we
seemed to run out of birds we decided to call it a day and head for Dublin
at 3.30 p.m.
Barnacle Geese (Photo by John Fox)
Looking for Eiders at Raghly Harbour (Photo by