Tag Archives: seabird

Little Tern Season

It’s that wonderful time of the year again, when the Little Terns have returned to the beaches of The Breaches along the coast between Kilcoole and Newcastle. The main nesting areas have been fenced off by Birdwatch Ireland to protect them from predators and human beings and their pet dogs, who would otherwise walk unwittingly all over the nest sites and do terrible destruction:

And with them are many other wonderful birds. Here is one of my favourites, the Ringed Plover, which will feign injury to lure a predator, or suspected predator away from its nest site:

White is a very popular colour with shorebirds, largely because it affords them a degree of camouflage while hunting and/or nesting. Here is another beautiful species, the Oystercatcher, which has arguably the nicest call of any shorebird or seabird:

Although this bird looks bright and bold against the sea, when it lies down on the pebbles of the beach it becomes almost invisible, especially at a distance.

The terns themselves are bold and beautiful birds, and will attack you if you get too close to any nests:

However, as they come in to land on the beach the terns seem to vanish, and even at close range are very difficult to see, which is why the Birdwatch Ireland wardens mark the nests by numbering large stones:

You have to look hard to see this tern, but you can do it.

If you really want to see this spectacular sight then now is the time: taking Kilcoole Station as your starting point walk along the sandy path towards the thickets of Sea Buckthorn which is located just to the north of the nest site, which is permanently guarded at this time of year.

Also keep an eye out for more common birds, which you can get very close to, especially along the railway fences. Here is a beautiful swallow which I saw, which most people outside of the British Isles will know as the Barn Swallow:

Red-throated Diver

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.

A Red-throated Diver, photographed this morning along the coast near the village of Newcastle. It is well worth observing the diving antics of this fascinating species.

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.