Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Christmas Birding at Dun Laoghaire East Pier

Christmas this year was spent in Ireland. On the 23rd December, we drove from Norwich to Dublin which wasn't so bad seeing as Polina shared the driving duties. At Holyhead a Hooded Crow in the Asda / McDonald's carpark was a pleasant surprise.
Spending time with my parents was first and foremost for Polina and I, but I did manage a couple of hours birding along Dun Laoghaire's east pier on 26th December. In the past it has always been a favourite place of mine for some local birding. It was here I saw my first ever Black Redstart way back in 2005 and other birds I've seen here have included Great Northern Diver, Red-throated Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Little Gull and close up views of Purple Sandpiper.

Red-necked Grebe, Dun Laoghaire East Pier - January 2011
Dun Laoghaire from the east pier including the RNLI Lifeboat and the town hall

As is often the case there was at least one first winter / female type Black Redstart at the base of the pier near the old swimming baths. Since my first bird here eleven years ago, I've seen many more each winter but I've never photographed one at this spot. I have a great fondness for Black Redstarts (well, all Redstarts and all Chats if I'm honest). Eleven years ago, as I was new to birding, I didn't realise that Black Redstarts were regular if not scarce wintering birds along the east and south coasts of Ireland. On 9th January 2005, I checked Eric Dempsey's now sadly defunct BINs line and heard that a Black Redstart was present at the base of the east pier in Dun Laoghaire. I drove down, parked and walked to the spot and within two minutes was watching a female type Black Redstart fly-catching within a few yards of where I sat - I was at the time elated! The same day I ticked Glaucous Gull and Iceland Gull at nearby Bullock Harbour. They were exciting times and while I might not manage the same reaction now each time I see a Black Redstart, I still always enjoy coming across them. Anyway, half an hour sat still in the rain and I managed a reasonable shot even though the light was dreadful.

Female type Black Redstart, East Pier, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin
I hadn't much time, so I walked up the pier to the band-stand and scanned for divers between the east and west piers. There were at least two Great Northern Divers but they were very distant and a mixture of Shags and Cormorants with them also. I peered over the pier wall to the seaward side but couldn't see any Purple Sandpipers. Six years ago I  almost froze to death and fell heavily trying to photograph these birds on the pier, this year even if some had been visible, the swell was too big and the waves that were crashing up against the pier wall suggested it would have been foolhardy to go anywhere close. So instead, here's some file shots from that previous time.

Purple Sandpiper, Dun Laoghaire East Pier - December 2009
By now the rain was starting to get heavier and my gear was starting to get a little too wet for my liking. I called it a day but took a quick detour via Bullock Harbour in Dalkey on the way home.

Bullock Harbour, Dalkey, Co. Dublin

There were no white-wingers here this time but a good gathering of Great Blacked-backed Gulls including this one bearing a blue ring on its left leg with white text 1KH. I think it is an Irish ringed bird but am not certain (possibly from a scheme in Louth?).

GBB Gull with colour ring - Bullock Harbour, Dalkey, Co. Dublin
The bouquet of flowers on the bench in the back ground are a poignant reminder that Christmas is not a joyous time for everyone!

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