Monday, December 14, 2009

Geology of County Louth - an illustrated talk by Brendan McSherry, Heritage Officer for County Louth

Our next talk, on Monday 4th of January 2010 at the Spirit Store, will stray away from the birds of County Louth to the geology and geological history of the County. For such a small county Louth boasts geological features dating from three key geological periods in earths history. Bird habitats such as Dundalk Bay, the Cooley Mountains or Carlingford Lough, are created through geological processes over millions of years, processes with which birds have evolved. For example, bird migration started with the ebb and flow of the ice ages. Bedrock geology determines the quality of soil and therefore habitat. Geological processes created the mountain peaks where the Peregrine Falcon nests as much as the submerged skerries and moraine where the Guillemot hunts.
Brendan qualified as a geologist and practiced as one for several years before getting into the heritage business, making him the perfect speaker to elucidate this fascinating subject.
Carlingford Mountain represents the eroded root of a much larger volcano that erupted during the Palaeogene Period which started 61 million years ago.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Birds of Prey of Ireland, an illustrated talk by Eric Dempsey

Eric Dempsey of Mooney Goes Wild will give an illustrated account of all of the Birds of Prey of Ireland, eagles, falcons, hawks, harriers, kites and owls at the Spirit Store (upstairs) at 8pm on Mon 7th December Spirit Store. Eric is a very entertaining and knowledgeable speaker as well as a spectacular wildlife photographer.

He has authored several books and articles including "The Complete Guide to Ireland's Birds", "Where To Find Birds In Ireland" and "Birdwatching in Ireland". Eric will be available for book signing so this might be an opportunity to get Christmas present of a signed edition of one of his books for a birdwatching friend or family member.

This highly recommended talk is suitable for all levels and will end at 9pm.

Entry is free and all are welcome!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stormy Seas for Guillemots and Other Auks

This afternoon, in the storm, several dead Guillemots were washed up along the shore at Templetown Beach. Guillemots are members of the auk family, which are the northern hemisphere equivalent of penguins. These pigeon-sized birds generally spend the winter out on the Irish sea of further afield where they hunt for fish by diving deep under the water. Every year thousands die in storms, from injury, because they get oiled or simply because they are too young and inexperienced. Often the first problem is a failure to find fish, either because of the storm or because the fish species that they hunt are not there (primarily due to over-fishing but global warming is also probably a big factor). Once the bird cant fish it looses body fat and gets cold. When it gets cold it comes to the shore to get out of the cold water. Here it slowly starves and most birds are finished off by gulls or other predators.

However it is possible for them to overcome this if it is just a minor setback.

A few weeks ago neighbours dropped a Guillemot into the house. The bird had been sitting on the shore, apparently unable to fly and unwilling to get into the water. A quick examination revealed that the bird was starving (sharp keel bone) and had a minor soft ti sue injury under its wing, like a shotgun pellet but it is just as likely that the bird swam into something like a piece of wire under the water. Critically both wings were intact with no sign of any break. Anyway after an hour or twos rest in a dark warm quiet place (a cardboard box with cloth bedding in the back room!) the bird was fed using initially slices of fresh mackerel fillet (if an auk will not feed itself it may be force fed by opening its beak wide and gently pushing bits of whitebait sized fish down into its crop (do not give water as it may go into the birds airways).

Please note that you should not try this unless you have good experience of handling birds - always seek expert advice!!!

After two days the bird, now ensconced in our bathroom, to the great consternation of my wife, though the delight of my children, was devouring a half fillet of mackerel and 20 or so defrosted whitebait a day and the injury was apparently healed. So we kept him one more day before releasing him near where he had been found.

The bird was initially reluctant to get into the water (never throw a bird in the air or water when releasing it) but after 10 minutes slipped into the water and the following day could be seen far out in the same area (its head parts were stained from force feeding).

Lessons: I had always heard that auks should be placed in the bath in a few inches of water. While this is true for a healthy bird, it is the wrong approach for a bird in poor condition, who will simply get wet and cold. The basis of this advice is that auks are very prone to burn marks on their keel and their hocks form sitting on a hard surface, so always place them sitting on something soft with the option to get into the water if they wish. Another mistake I made was using cold tap water, the sea (once you get away from the shore) is about 15 deg C even in winter, so adjust the temperature of the bath to 15 - 20 deg C. Finally, while frozen whitebait goes down very well with a Guillemot, it must be supplemented either by fresh fish or by "Fish Eaters Tablets" as frozen fish lacks several B vitamin that the bird requires daily.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Barn Owls

Thanks to everyone for coming along to the talk last night. As John Lusby explained, Barn Owls are in decline in Ireland, particularly in the North-east. If you have any sightings of Barn Owls, please send the details to John at or phone him at 05791 51676. If you find a dead Barn Owl, please double bag it and put in a freezer and/or else call John or myself 0879145363 to get it collected.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Barn Owls in Ireland and the Discovery of the Greater White-toothed Shrew

On Monday November 2nd at 8pm at the Spirit Store, Dundalk Docks, John Lusby of University College Cork and BirdWatch Ireland will give an illustrated talk entitled "Barn Owls in Ireland and the Discovery of the Greater White-toothed Shrew". The talk will describe conservation efforts to reverse the decline of the Barn Owl in Ireland and the recent discovery of Ireland's newest mammal, the Greater White-toothed Shrew. John Lusby discovered this small mammal while studying the ecology and diet of barn owls. His talk will also cover the possible impact of this new mammal on the Irish environment.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Eagle Talk

At 8pm on Monday October 5th at the Spirit Store Damian Clarke of the Golden Eagle Trust will give an illustrated talk entitled "What is Happening With Our Reintroduced Eagles?" The talk will tell the story of the reintroduction of both golden eagles and white tailed eagles, how the birds have faired and what threats they face in the future.

All are welcome!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Introduction to Birds and Birdwatching Talk in Carlingford

Breffni Martin will give a 60 minute illustrated talk from 8 - 9pm on Monday 28th September at the Heritage Centre in Carlingford. The talk is an introductory talk on birds and birdwatching. It will cover garden birds as well as the birds along the shore at Carlingford. Free entry and all are welcome!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Herring Gull Rescue

A big thanks to the Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda for a 100 Euro donation to the branch. The donation follows the rescue of a juvenile herring gull that had gotten caught in a cavity in the hospital building. The cavity was overlooked by the windows of the emergency ward so that the patients had to look at a terrified and screaming juvenile gull while getting their head stitched. Meanwhile the parent gulls were frantically calling and swooping from above freaking out the rest of the patients in the block. But the spectacle of myself trying to catch the bird, then transporting it through wards and corridors to the roof must have made up for it.

As herring gull populations recover they are increasing nesting on the high buildings of towns and cities causing a potential nuisance problem. However herring gulls are red listed in Ireland and enjoy the highest level of protection the law can provide. It is illegal to interefere with herring gulls or their nests once eggs have hatched, but it is possible to replace fertile eggs with infertile ones to control the population under license from the NPWS.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Pelagic 2009

Our first branch pelagic yesterday (Sunday 13 September 09) made up in quality for what it lacked in quantity! Setting out at 2:30pm from Port Oriel at Clogherhead we immediately ran into several small rafts of manx shearwaters and guillemots. A few minutes later we crossed a few fulmars. The weather was fine with a gentle north-easterly breeze and a Beauford 3 sea (a few white tops on the waves).
We cruised straight out 23 km in an easterly direction and started chumming. This immediately attracted several gulls (kittiwakes, herring gulls, great black backed gulls and a few common gulls) and terns (a few common and one sandwich), which in turn attracted our first good bird, a bonzie (great skua). Observing that most of the manxies were to the north we headed towards Carlingford Louth for 10 or so kilometers until Eric picked out a distant great shearwater flying with a few manxies. Soon after that another bonxie arrived (possibly the same one), this time flying over the boat.

A few minutes later the star of the show made his appearance, a pomarine skua, who then sat on the water allowing the boat to approach to within 20 metres. Soon after that an arctic skua appeared in the distance, completing our quotient of skuas. We cruised home into a beautiful sunset, arriving after 7pm.

Thanks to Eric for spotting the birds and Oliver, our boatman, for bringing us out and home safely.

Final tally:

1000+ manx shearwaters
1000+ guillemots (many juveniles/1W)
50 gannets
7 razorbills (2 juvs)
500+ kittiwakes
3 fulmars
2 great skuas
1 pomarine skua
1 arctic skua
100+ herring gulls and assorted black-headed and great black backed gulls
6 common terns
1 sandwich tern
1 shag
12 cormorants

Friday, September 4, 2009

Blackrock Heritage Week

A introductory talk on birdwatching followed by an outing to Lurgangreen last week proved popular with the good people of Blackrock. it was particularly gratifying to see more than 30 people attending the talk, including several children. While its still a bit early for overwintering birds and wildfowl, there was still a good range on view at Lurgangreen, and the weather was thankfully dry and sunny! Species seen were mute swan, little egret, grey heron, black tailed godwit, bar tailed godwit, lapwing, redshank, mallard, great black-backed gull, common gull, black-headed gull and others...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Introduction to Birdwatching

Breffni Martin will give an illustrated talk entitled "Introduction to Birdwatching" at 8pm in the community centre in Blackrock tomorrow Wednesday 26th August 09 as part of the - details on the Blackrock web site. This will be followed by an outing to Lurgangreen the following evening weather permitting.

A further outing will be to Clogherhead (meeting at Port Oriel at 12 noon) for sea watching.

These events are in support of Heritage Week.

New Panels at Dundalk Docks

In collaboration with the Heritage Council and Louth County Council, we placed two new bird panels on the Tain Bridge at Dundalk Docks. The panels look both upstream and downstream and show all of the birds typically seen in the area. The signs are here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Events 2009/2010


Dundalk - Spirit Store - 8pm

August - we are in the process of arranging a pelagic boat trip to view seabirds in the Irish sea - anybody interested please contact myself at

August 30th - Clogherhead 12 noon: walk along the headland and seawatching (targets: arctic skua, manx shearwater and storm-petrel, as well as auks, divers, terns and gulls)

September 7th - Niall Hatch from Birdwatch Ireland - Introduction to Birdwatching (especially garden birds)

October 5th - Damian Clarke from the Golden Eagle Trust - What is happening with our reintroduced eagles?

November 2nd - John Lusby UCC - Barn Owls in Ireland and the discovery of the Greater White-toothed Shrew

December 7th - Eric Dempsey - Raptors of Ireland


Details and venue to be announced later:

Mid-September - Breffni Martin - Introduction to waders and shorebirds

Mid-October - Sandra McKeever - Little Terns at Baltray 2009


Dundalk - Spirit Store - 8pm

January 4th - Brendan McSherry, Heritage Officer, Louth County Council - Geology of County Louth

February 1st- Maurice Eakin, National Parks and Wildlife Service - Flora of County Louth

March 1st - Billy Clarke - Birds of New Zealand

April 5th - Don hodgers - Louth Entomology Update

On the occasion of the first talk in September 2009, details of birdwatching outings will be announced. We will also provide details of local bird and wildlife news at the start of each talk.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

New Birdwatching Facility at Carlingford

A new birdwatching facility was installed at Carlingford along the shore - the work was completed last week. The facility consists of a 10x telescope, an interpretative panel and a park bench. Two parking spaces are provided and the whole is mounted on a path that runs along the shore at Carlingford. The facility is the result of a collaboration between Greenore Port, Louth County Council, the Heritage Council and Birdwatch Ireland North Louth Branch.

The facility gives views over the mudflats and islands on the bay. It also affords views of the lough and the Mournes beyond. While the birdlife is fairly sparse over the summer months, with terns that nest on Green Island across the bay predominating. However in winter the bay is filled with over 3000 waders and wildfowl covering 30+ species. In particular at high tide the islands, which serve as high tide roosts for the birds, should provide close up viewing opportunities. The telescope is of robust design and should enable children as well as adults to use it.

Thanks to Greenore Port, The Heritage Council and Louth County Council for their support for the facility.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Shelduck Ducklings

Shelducks nest in holes, either disused rabbit holes or holes they excavate themselves. The holes may be near the shore or half way up a mountain, generally well hidden under bramble or gorse. About this time of the year the ducklings hatch and the mother duck brings them to the shore, often pellmell down a small mountain stream, often at night, until they get to the shore. Unfortunately the path to the shore is often obstructed by new housing developments, roads, piped streams, weirs etc and as a result the ducklings often get stuck and separated from their parent. If this happens with shelduck ducklings, the first thing is to try to get the ducklings back to mother, and try to get them down to the shore. However if mother is gone, collect ducklings and bring them to the nearest part of the shore where shelducks gather and where there is wet mud and cover, and leave them. The ducklings will call and call and if mother gets within 100 yards or them she will come to the call. Shelducks are also known to adopt orphaned ducklings, indeed in late summer most of the adult birds leave their young to moult their flight feathers. During this month long phase in the shelduck lifecycle, the young birds are taken care of by "aunts" in huge nurseries of up to 100 ducklings.

Weir at Jenkinstown

Many shelducks nest in the Cooley mountains near Rockmarshal and elsewhere. Yesterday Owen McCann called about lost ducklings in the Jenkinstown area - they had become trapped in the same weir as last year and mother had departed over the fields with four of her11 ducklings in toe, and a dozen crows and magpies swooping. Anyway to cut a long story short we rescued the ducklings with a net and brought them down to the shore at Rockmarshal and left them by the shore inside an old pipe that was lying around. Checking back a couple of hours later I was pleased to see that they had been indeed recovered by what I assume to be their parents. I imagine that the crows got the four who had the sense to avoid the weir. Shelducks like other ducks are prolific, producing up to 15 ducklings a year. It is part of shelduck ecology that the vast majority of these do not make it to adulthood (otherwise we would be up to our necks in ducks!) but where they get stuck as a result of human activity, it is worth attempting a rescue.

Ducklings reunited with parents

Shelduck ducklings are black and white with grey legs, quite unlike the brown and yellow mallard ducklings.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Evening Chorus Rathescar Lakeside Walk and Wildlife Reserve

Thanks to the 20 odd people who showed up at Rathescar on Sunday evening.
Looping around the outisde of the walk we had the following singing males:

song thrush (6)
blackbird (4)
mistle thrush (1 pair)
robin (4)
long tailed tit (1 family group)
blue tit (1)
great tit (1)
willow warbler (1)
chiffchaff (2)
coot (at least 6)
moorehen (at least 4)
mallard (only 2 females showing)
little grebe (at least 1 pair)
chaffinch (8)
greenfinch (1)
wood piegon (3)
pheasant (2)
wren (9)
magpie (1)

and also distant rookerie but curiously no rooks in Rathescar itself!

A cuckoo was heard just before we arrived and called once or twice distantly. The woodland consists mainly of beech with some very fine oak. Willow dominates around the lake with dense stands of dogwood. There is a good deal of laurel and some rhododendron. The woodland floor is dominated by ivy. The canopy is generally closed. It is interesting to note that the more diverse wood and garden around Listoke house held about as many species and numbers despite its much smaller size. Nevertheless Rathescar is a beautiful place to go for a walk at any time of the day or year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dawn Chorus and Evening Chorus 2009

Thanks to everybody for showing up at 5am last Sunday at Listoke House for the North Louth Birdwatch Ireland Dawn Chorus outing. About 35 people showed up at the beautiful walled Edwardian gardens, with their exquisite herbaceous border, lush undergrowth and mature trees, they making a superb habitat for birds. The highlight was no less than three male blackcaps singing in the main garden. Others were robin, blackbird, song thrush, wren, chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, goldcrest and more. We finally broke up at 7am after coffee and tea generously served by our hostess.

A special thanks to Patricia and Patrick Barrow for facilitating the event.

Following requests from attendees, we will be running a second event at 8pm at Rathescar Lakeside Walk and Wildlife Reserve. Directions here. Meet at the car parking area. For further information please ring Breffni 087 9145363.
Rathescar Lakeside Walk and Wildlife Reserve

Sunday, May 3, 2009

How To Rescue Lost Mallard Ducklings

Mallard mother with young duckling

At this time of the year (from April) ducklings may get lost. This is not supposed to happen as ducklings, although capable of feeding themselves, are entirely dependant on their mother for warmth, security and guidance. This is how things are supposed to happen:

The mallard pair, male and female, will bond during the winter (these pair bonds can last for life) and a nest site will be found. They will choose a quiet place near water usually, but have been known to nest in the flowerbeds of shopping centres, in back gardens, near busy roads etc. The female lays eggs over about two weeks finally producing 10 – 15 eggs. Once all eggs are laid the female will sit on them and incubate for 30 or so days. During all this time the male will discreetly hang around the area protecting the nest and mother. Finally one day inApril or later in the summer, the ducklings will hatch and the mother will lead them to water to feed at the edge and maybe to have a quick swim. The water is also the getaway in case a predator arrives so they will naturally go onto water when they are disturbed. Mallard ducklings can only tolerate being on water for short periods as they quickly get cold and need to return to the warmth under their mother’s wing. They cannot produce the oil that insulates their mother yet and so obtain iil from being brooded by the mother. The ducklings will remain with their mother for a further eight weeks or so until they can fly and then are completely independent.

If you find a single ducking by itself it is critical to get it back to its mother as quickly as possible. Generally the duckling will call continuously for its mother and if there is no disturbance the mother will soon return. However if there is no sign of the mother after an hour or more and there is no obvious disturbance (you should observe from a hidden place), the duckling may be completely separated from its mother. This could have occurred or a variety of reasons, eg duckling or mother and brood could have been carried away on a stream, or frightened by a wild predator or domestic cat or dog, perhaps crossing a road, one duckling got left behind. So if the mother duck definitely cannot be found, put the duckling in a warm box with some wet porridge for feeding and a sacucer of water for drink – duckling will eat some porridge and then drink water to swallow. Now try again to find the mother duck by backtracking from where the duckling was found.

If there is no sign of the mother there are three options:

Release the duckling at the nearest point to where you think it lost its mother ensuring that there are no predators or cats/dogs around; the mother may be hiding somewhere waiting for you to go away.
Contact an animal rehabilitation centre and ask them to take the duckling or find it a home.
Keep the duckling and rear it yourself until it is old enough to take care of itself (up to eight weeks) – it will need food, warmth, access to muck/water, and a secure pen. Release it to a place where there are other mallard once its flight feathers have pushed. Details of caring for ducklings are here:
Try to release it to another brood. Generally the new mother will not recognise its call and reject the duckling, even attacking it, but if there are many broods on the same pond, it may have a chance in the confusion, particularly if the duckling is a few weeks old.
Find a local farmer with ducks and put it in with his – a domestic duck may be less fussy than a wild one. I have even heard of a hen adopting a lost duckling.

Remember that ducks are very prolific and it is nature’s way that only one or two of the brood of up to 15 ducklings will make it to adulthood. If it his were not so and every duckling survived to breed we would be quickly drowning in ducks!

This advice generally applies to all dabbling ducks (ducks that filter-feed on mud including pintail, teal, wigeon, gadwall, gargany and others). In the case of shelduck, lost ducklings are much more likely to be adopted by other ducks (aunts).

Mallard with older ducklings

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dawn Chorus 2009

Our next event is on Sunday 17 May 2009, which is National Dawn Chorus Day - this will take place at 5am on Sunday 17th May at Listoke House.

Listoke house has several acres of walled Edwardian Gardens and a good variety of birds. It is located two miles from Drogheda on the Ballymakenny Road, Drogheda, Co Louth . For more details about the house and gardens or directions, click here or phone: 353 (0) 41 983 2265.

For details about the Dawn Chorus, call Breffni on 087 9145363.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Events in April

Louth Insects, An Illustrated Talk by Don Hodgers, Spirit Store, Dundalk Docks, Monday 6th April 2009 at 8pm

Don Hodgers, who is well known for his many insect-related records in County Louth and environs, and spectacular macro photography, will give us an account of moths, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies in County Louth in a continuation of his previous two very popular illustrated talks.

All are welcome!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Events in March

Events in March and April include the following:

March 2nd 8pm - Review of Birds in Louth 2008 and Historical Review of Rare Birds in County Louth - Breffni Martin and Derek Watters

2008 was an exceptional year for rarities in County Louth with 183 species being seen in the county including two county records but over the last century we have had other even more exceptional rarities!

March 8th 11am - Navvy Bank Walk with the Cavan branch - all are welcome to this outing. Meet at Soldiers Point in Dundalk at or before 11am. There is a 4.8 metre tide at 9am so we will observe the waders on a receding tide.

View from Soldiers Point

April 7th 8pm - Louth Entomology Update - Don Hodgers

All events at Spirit Store, Dundalk Docks, Dundalk.
All are welcome!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Carlingford Birding Festival

Our birding weekend in Carlingford went down very well despite arctic conditions. We were fully booked for the weekend package with 20 participants mainly from the Dublin area with a few from elsewhere in the country. We started with dinner in the hotel on Friday evening, followed by a talk by Eric Dempsey on the winter waterfowl we were to see the
following day at Oxford Island. Although the Ferruginous Duck and Bewick's swans failed to make an appearance, the sight of thousands of ducks including Tufted, Pochard, Ruddy, Goldeneye, Mallard, Teal along with the Great Crested Grebes and others well made up for it. The high quality hides and walkways were welcome given the weather.

Great Crested Grebe

That evening Eric gave a second talk, this time covering the over-wintering waders we were to see on the Carlingford mudflats on the Sunday morning walk along the shore. We were joined by 15 or so local enthusiasts despite the now freezing esat wind. The usual array of waders showed, n many instances hiding behind rocks to get out of the wind: Brent geese, Curlews, Redshanks, Oystercatchers, Dunlin and a Grey Plover. On the lough we found a Great Northern Diver taking shelter from the stormy sea. By now our group had whittled down to a hardcore dozen and were about to call it a day when an unusual looking grebe was seen off Carlignford Harbour. Initially misidentified by myself, it turned out to be a Red-necked Grebe, a siberian species that I, like several others, had never seen before - so a great finish to the weekend!

Distant view of the Red-necked Grebe

Other than that the theme of the weekend was animal rescue, with a Lapwing being rescued from a Grey Crow and a fisherman being persuaded to return a pike he had caught to Lough Neigh, then in Carlingford a distressed juvenile Common Shag was taken into care and successfully released the following day.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Events in February 2009

On Monday 2 February 2009, Éanna Ní Lamhna, president of An Taisce, writer, broadcaster and environmentalist will give a talk entitled

We Get The Environment We Deserve

at the Spirit Store, Dundalk docks, Dundalk at 8:00pm.

Entry is free and all are welcome!

Events in March and April include the following:

March 2nd 8pm - Review of birds in louth 2008 and historical review of rare birds in County Louth - Breffni Martin and Derek Watters

Apr 7th 8pm - Louth Entomology Update - Don Hodgers

All events at Spirit Store, Dundalk Docks, Dundalk

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Events in January

Monday 5 January: Review of Baltray Little Tern Project - a talk by Sandra McKeever, Chiarperson of the Louth Nature Trust , at the Spirit Store, Dundalk, 8:00pm. All are welcome!

Little Tern adult

Monday 19 January: Introduction to Birdwatching around Louth – a talk by Breffni Martin in the Westcourt Hotel, Drogheda, starting at the earlier time of 7:30pm. All are welcome!

Mute, Bewick's and Whooper Swans in fields near Oxford Island

Friday 30th January to Sunday 1 February: Birding Weekend at Carlingford with Eric Dempsey, with talks and outings to Oxford Island for winter waterfowl and the mudflats at Carlingford for over-wintering waders). Accommodation in Four Seasons Hotel, Carlingford, for those travelling but also open to all for the day outing to Oxford Island - for more details click here.