Tuesday, 11 March 2014

A turn up for the bird books

The first couple of months of 2014 have been challenging for water birds and waders in Ireland. High winds and storms put great pressure especially on migrating species as it means they have to spend more time, under difficult conditions, searching for food. There have been several reports of sea birds being washed ashore along the western seaboard and on the south east coast, probably as a result of exhaustion and lack of food. These storms in mid and late winter can also result in winter vagrants turning up on our shores. Species that are on passage migration to their intended winter grounds can get blown off course and turn up on our shores or further inland.

One such example was the Glossy Ibis that was spotted feeding next to the River Shannon some weeks ago. BirdWatch Ireland received a call from a local resident to say that there was a ‘black curlew’ feeding in their garden. On visiting the site, just on the edge of Shannonbridge, sure enough the caller was correct. The Glossy Ibis or ‘Black Curlew’ as it is sometimes called was busy feeding in a water logged back garden alongside some black headed gulls. Glossy Ibis are a medium size, long legged, wading bird. They have a long downward curving bill similar to a Curlew and the winter birds that arrive here have a brown black appearance to their plumage with a slight green and purple gloss to the upper parts. On migration some birds, particularly juveniles, can become separated from adults flocks and begin dispersing in all directions, which could account for this record.  The last one known to be recorded in this area was in Banagher in 1909.


Glossy Ibis feeding in a back garden in Shannonbridge in February (Photo: Rose Ryan (Top) and Colm Kenny (Right))

Elsewhere on the callows, the numbers of winter migrants have been reaching the peak numbers over the last month with thousands of Golden Plover, Lapwing and Wigeon recorded along the River Little Brosna callows with sizable flocks of Pintail, Teal, Tufted duck and smaller numbers of Pochard, Whooper swan and Greenland White-fronted Goose. By April many of the winter migrants will be leaving to return to their summer grounds, by which time we will be looking forward to the arrival of our breeding waders on the Shannon Callows.

The flood remains high at the moment with Inishee Island and most of the breeding sites remaining underwater. Hopefully this fine spell will continue over the next couple of weeks and expose some of the badly needed habitat that is crucial for prospecting breeding waders.  

Clonmacnoise, during summer 2013, taken from Bunthulla, an important breeding  wader site (Photo: C Gallagher)

Clonmacnosie in full flood this January, a perfect example of why these areas are called callows, from the Irish word caladh meaning river meadow (Photo: C Gallagher)

Posted by: Colin