Tolka Branch Trip Report

 Sligo - 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 field.     

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 brambles.

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 Rosemary Doyle)




Copyright, Tolka Branch, Birdwatch Ireland 2006