Today was the fourth warm and spectacularly sunny day provided by a lovely weather system which made for one of the best May long-weekend’s I can remember. Temperatures have been skirting 20 degrees Celsius, and this has also had a remarkably calming affect on the sea. Today I found myself at the beach where Little Terns put on a fantastic display of their hunting agility for the many spectators there. These tiny seabirds were snatching fish, probably Sprat, as close as a metre from shore. Wicklow has officially the third largest breeding colony of Little Terns in the world, located at the Breaches of Kilcoole.
But terns were just the tip of the iceberg – early this morning there was a Red-throated Diver, and in the afternoon its place had been taken by Guillemots, which came much closer to shore.
Shortly after taking my photos, in the afternoon, I met another naturalist out taking photos. Paul Smith considers himself a ‘birder’ mainly, and as you can tell from the photo below, he carries the right equipment for ornithology.
Paul was spotting birds I didn’t even notice. “Did you see the skua that just flew by?” he asked at one point, and I had definitely not seen it. He kindly sent me two of the bird photos he got while he was down at the beach today, including the skua I had missed.
Paul also got an incredible shot of a Manx Shearwater before I arrived on the beach. These birds live at sea for most of the year, only coming ashore to breed. They are extremely clumsy on the ground, largely due to their feet being set very far back beneath their bodies, and therefore more suitable for propulsion in water than for walking on land.
Swans are not the only interesting birds sailing close to shore in November. It is an especially good time to see the Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata), quite a rare species, patrolling the Wicklow coastline. In America these birds are known as “loons” and are famous for the haunting cry of the male on lonely lakes at evening time.
According to Glynn Anderson, author of Birds of Ireland: Facts, Folklore and History, the name “loon” actually derives from the Shetland Island word “loom” meaning “lame”, a work originating in Old Norse. This seems a very apt term as Red-throated Divers, along with their relatives, are extremely ungainly on land. However, in water they have few equals and can diver for over two minutes (making them difficult to photograph). It has to be said that the species of diver (or loon, if you prefer) , can be very difficult to tell apart in Winter when they have plumage that is drab compared with their spring and summer breeding plumage which gives them their specific names. Fortunately, at a recent public meeting, the famous birdwatcher Eric Dempsey verified that the divers patrolling the Wicklow coastline at this moment are Red-throated Divers.