Birds of Sutton Golf Club

by Bill Quinn

Tolka Branch - BirdWatch Ireland

 and Member of Sutton Golf Club - August 2006


This report was initially produced for the members of Sutton Golf Club.  Please note that the golf course, the clubhouse and its environs are private property.  The birds in the Estuary can be viewed from several locations along the road between Baldoyle and Portmarnock.  Sea watching can also be carried out from Portmarnock Strand.

  Sutton Golf Club, which was founded in 1890, is located near the south-eastern end of Baldoyle Estuary. The late Clive Hutchinson in his book “Where to Watch Birds in Ireland” (Gill & Macmillan, 1994) noted that at high tide the inlet to the estuary, which is at Cush Point, where the Clubhouse is situated, is probably the best place on the Dublin coast for viewing the uncommon Slavonian Grebe in winter.   

Sutton Clubhouse and Car park at Entrance to Baldoyle Estuary at Cush Point



More common sea birds and waders, which can be seen throughout the year, are the Little Grebe (RS), Great Crested Grebe (RS), Cormorant (RS), Shelduck (RS), Pintail (WV – September to April), Teal (WV – September to March), Red-breasted Merganser (WV – September to May), Ringed Plover (RS), Oystercatcher (RS), Turnstone (WV – July to May), Dunlin (WV – August to April), Redshank (WV – July to April), Black-tailed Godwit (WV – July to March), Bar-tailed Godwit (WV – July to April), Curlew (RS), Black-headed Gull (RS), Common Gull (RS), Herring Gull (RS) and Great Black-backed Gull (RS).  Common Tern (SV – April to September) and Arctic Tern (SV – April to September) can sometimes be seen flying over the golf course. 

(RS = all year Resident Species, WV= Winter Visitor, SV = Summer Visitor)


Pintail - December 2001



Great Crested Grebe - July 2005



As a consequence of major course alterations, which were carried out at the end of the last century, two quite sizable ponds were created in front of, and behind, the fourth green.  A small pond was also constructed in front of the fifth tee. In addition a very large pond was formed beside the seventh fairway and behind the sixth green.  This latter pond includes a small island with mature trees, which is a relatively safe sanctuary for Mallard, Coot and Moorhen, which are now present in all the ponds. 

Mute Swans are also quite fond of the island pond, and three or four of them lie out on the fairway’s edge.  Golfers generally give them a wide berth when they are passing by!  When the new Clubhouse was being built in 1999-2000 a portacabin type structure was used as a temporary Clubhouse.  This was located at the edge of the sea, and it was possible to feed the two parent Mute Swans and their three cygnets from the window as they swam by at high tide.  Members became very attached to this family and perhaps these are the same group of swans that now visit the large pond at the seventh hole.  Little Grebes (Dabchicks) are also breeding in this pond.


Mute Swan with six Cygnets - July 2005



A Kestrel can often be seen hovering over the first tee.  Another Kestrel, or possible the same one, can be seen flying along the fourth hole towards the trees beside the tee.  Skylarks favour the eighth and ninth holes, while Meadow Pipits are quite common in the stretch of rough to the right of the eighth hole.  Northern Wheatears have been observed also in this area and on the rock revetment on the seaward side of the eight and ninth holes, where Rock Pipits can sometimes be seen. Thrushes favour the area near the fifth green, while Starlings use the telephone wires along the Burrow Road.  Magpies are often “mobbed” by the Starlings when they try to take their young. 

In summer, Swallows and House Martins flit about the course, often just above the ground, while Swifts screech noisily overhead. Blackbirds, Robins, Chaffinches, Greenfinches, Hooded Crows, Jackdaws, Goldfinch and the furtive Wren can also be seen. 


Large Pond on 7th Hole – The Mallards are quite tame
as they are fed regularly  by some of the golfers



Towards the end of July Black-tailed Godwits can sometimes be seen on the first fairway and in the hollow beside the second tee.  These long legged, long billed birds are very impressive – especially in flight. Grey Herons can be seen fishing along the water’s edge of the Estuary.  They also seem to favour the pond in front of the fourth green, where on one memorable occasion a life and death struggle was observed between a young Heron and an eel. The eel escaped!


Juvenile Grey Heron



Pied Wagtails seem to favour the car park.  On occasions a Wagtail can be seen tapping on the glass windows and doors of the Clubhouse, and sometimes on the car mirrors – obviously thinking that his image is either another male or female.

 In addition to the resident and migrant species referred to above, a regular, unique and welcome winter visitor every year is a flock of Light-bellied Brent Geese numbering anything between about 50 to 100+  (96 were present on Christmas Day 2004).


Brent Geese near Clubhouse – December 2004



They regularly arrive from Greenland in September, and remain until late April or early May.  They feed close to the water’s edge on weeds, molluscs and worms and locate themselves between the first tee and the most southern end of the estuary.  At some stages during their winter sojourn they come ashore to feed, generally on the first, second and seventh fairways.  They seem to have little fear of golfers and, as far as can be ascertained, there has been only a couple of fatalities recorded over the years due to a wayward golf ball, which probably indicates that they are fairly thick-skinned and hard headed!

 Nowadays golf course management staff are well informed of the major benefits to wildlife that the proper management of courses can deliver.   While their prime task is to ensure that the course is in peak condition for the playing of golf, they have a very important, and responsible, role in both maintaining and enhancing the ecology of the area in a sustainable environment. 

 Relatively minor changes in course management techniques can provide very positive benefits to wildlife at very little cost. By ensuring that hedgerows are not disturbed during the breeding and nesting season from 1st March to the 31st August the birds that nest in them will have a higher success rate in the production of chicks.  By planting reeds in ponds, and shrubs around their margins, cover can be created for nesting sites and shelter, so that both adult birds and chicks will have a better chance of surviving the many predators which are present – cats, urban foxes, rats, and other birds. Water quality is also improved, as vegetation becomes established.  Suitable shrubs, trees and plants will harbour insects, attract butterflies and bees, and provide seeds and berries for birds as well as providing a visually attractive display throughout the year.


Oystercatcher on beach near Clubhouse


Little Grebe (Dabchick) in pond at 7th Hole
November 2005


Looking to the future, when the construction of the main foul sewer from Howth, along the southern side of the course in Connor’s Field, has been completed, and the polluted boundary ditch has been piped and covered over, imaginative planting along this length of the course should provide an additional haven for the many indigenous bird species, small mammals, insects and butterflies.


Information obtained from “Special Protection Areas for Birds in Ireland” – a booklet produced by Dúchas – The Heritage Service, 2002

Baldoyle Estuary is designated as a Special Protection Area (SPA) for Birds established in accordance with the European Union Directive on the conservation of wild birds. The following species of birds, which are identified as being rare, and/or in danger of extinction, and/or vulnerable to habitat changes, can be seen in the Estuary, or around its margins: Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sandwich Tern and Kingfisher. Other important bird species are: Great Crested Grebe, Light-bellied Brent Goose, Shelduck, Pintail, Common Scoter, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit and Redshank.

The following birds are of seasonal interest in the Estuary:

Winter:  Light-bellied Brent Goose, Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Knot, Sanderling, Black-tailed Godwit, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Turnstone, and sometimes the Slavonian Grebe.

Summer: Shelduck, Mallard and Ringed Plover.

Spring, Autumn: Whimbrel, Sandwich Tern, Little Tern, and the occasional Green Sandpiper. 

As part of a feasibility study, carried out for Sutton Golf Club by Coveney Wildlife Consulting Ltd., a bird count was carried out over the entire Baldoyle Estuary in April 2003, when the following bird species were seen:  Cormorant, Grey Heron, Brent Goose, Shelduck, Teal, Mallard, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Redshank, Greenshank, Turnstone, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Sandwich Tern. The results of this survey give an indication of the bird species, which are most likely to be present in the Estuary in April of any year.


Red-breasted Merganser at
Cush Point - December 2001


Brent Geese with Ireland’s Eye in
background – December  2004


For anybody who would like to take up bird watching, or who would like to make their garden more bird friendly, the following books are recommended:


Ø      The Complete Guide to Irish Birds, 2002, by Eric Dempsey and Michael O’Clery

Ø      Collins Irish Birds, 2004, by David Cabot

Ø      Collins Bird Guide, 1999, (Birds of Britain and Europe) by Killian Mullarney, Lars Svensson, Dan Zetterstrom, Peter J.Grant

Ø      Collins Gardening for Birds, 2000, by Stephen Moss





© Copyright, Tolka Branch, Birdwatch Ireland 2006