Monday, 23 December 2013

Winter Wader Wonderland!

Well, it’s almost Christmas eve and we’re getting into the heart of winter but water levels on the River Shannon have been unusually low up until this weekend. Some fields were flooded just over a month ago but the river receded again and dropped to almost summer levels before rising again following the recent stormy weather. Usually the flocks of winter birds are pushed up into these fields by the flood and can be easily seen at this time of year. But as the river has been low the birds were absent from the spots where large flocks can be usually spotted. However, Bullock Island commonage, close to Shannon Harbour and the Little Brosna are still excellent spots for doing some bird watching over the Christmas.

Between the two you have a good chance of encountering large flocks of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Curlew, Wigeon and Teal as well as Pintail, Shoveler and Tufted duck among others.

Dunlin can also be seen on the Shannon Callows in winter © Brian Caffrey  

Large flocks of Golden Plover are not unusual in this area and watching them feed on the callows it’s hard to believe that this medium sized wader is somewhat responsible for all those records that have been broken since the start of the Guinness book of records. The story goes (recorded in the 31st edition of the book) that a hunting party had spent a day shooting on the Wexford Slob lands during which time they had missed some Golden Plovers in a flock. That evening there was a lively discussion about whether or not the Golden Plover was Europe’s fastest game bird. Some argued that it was the Red Grouse but it was Sir Hugh Beaver, then managing director of the Guinness breweries, that realised there was no book that could answer the question one way or another and that there must be many other similar questions that went unanswered. The first record book was published in August 1955 and by Christmas it had reached number 1 on the best sellers list. Oddly enough it wasn't until the 39th edition in 1989, that the Red Grouse was claimed by the Guinness book of records to be faster than the Golden Plover.

The famous Golden Plover on Bullock Island © Brian Caffrey

In the new year the breeding wader project starts to prepare for the coming breeding season and part of this includes the annual maintenance of the predator proof fence on Inishee. As you may have seen earlier this year we rely heavily on volunteers to help out with this important task, so if you think you might be interested in helping out next year go to for more details.

Small groups of whooper swan, like this one, can be seen up and down the Shannon Callows at this time of year © Brian Caffrey

I’d like to thank all of you who visited the site this year and to wish all of you a very Happy Christmas and prosperous 2014. I look forward to keeping you all up to date on the project over the next breeding season. 

Posted by: Colin

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