Wheatears, Warblers & Whimbrels

Wheatears, Warblers & Whimbrels

Posted by Eric Dempsey, With 2 Comments,

I have reflected in this past year on how lucky I am to live where I live. Although I am a northside Dub true and true, I have to admit, I just love living in Wicklow. Besides the great birds in the garden, I am no more than a four-minute drive to the coast.


Since moving to Wicklow I have walked the coastal stretch from five-mile-point to six-mile-point at least four times a week…especially now with Suzie our well-trained birding Springer Spaniel. The stretch overlooks the coastal wetland fields of the East Coast Nature Reserve, the reedbeds on the southern end of the reserve, the rocky shoreline and the sea itself. It’s my ‘local patch’ and what a great place.


Having a local patch and watching it so often really does give you a sense of arrivals and departures. In winter, it might be the arrival of thousands of Lapwing during a very cold period of weather or it is the sudden departure in spring of the Wigeon. One day there are hundreds of Wigeon, the next just a few and within a week, they are all gone. I have watched Hen Harriers hunting the fields and was delighted to enjoy a Little Auk offshore in winter. Other unexpected, but common birds, add to the sense of this feeling of movement. Last week, I saw a Grey Plover on the beach. That is not a rare bird but it’s the first one I’ve seen in all my walks along here.



Last evening it was a wet, damp and gloomy scene when I arrived at Newcastle Railway Station (it’s no longer a station). Although raining heavily, it was calm with no wind and the rain was soft…enough to soak you but not enough to make you feel uncomfortable. So we started our walk and instantly I saw the flash of white as a Wheatear flew by. I looked among the rocks nearby.  There were lots of them…in fact at least 25 birds. Many of the birds were beautiful males with their black eye masks, greyish-blue backs and peach-washed breasts. Stunning birds even if they were a little bedraggled. As I watched, at least two more actually flew in off the sea. Such wet weather can ground birds and obviously these were fresh arrivals. They winter in North Africa and are usually the first spring migrant to arrive into Ireland.



Walking on a little further Willow Warblers could be heard singing in the rain from the woodlands on the reserve. Then, from the reedbeds I heard a very distinctive scratching song…a Sedge Warbler. Then another a little further away. My first Sedgies of the year! These are the jazz singers of the bird world. They improvise as they sing and no two Sedgies sing the same song. Like Swallows, these birds winter in South Africa and undertake incredible long-haul flights to get here. I stood in the rain and enjoyed their songs.



It was a lovely walk with Swallows overhead, Sandwich and Little Terns offshore, and a late summer-plumaged Red-throated Diver fishing just off the beach. Returning back to the car I was stopped in my tracks by a loud and clear sound. It was repeateded loud whistles…Whimbrels! I looked up and there, circling over me, was a flock of 17 Whimbrels. They called to each other as they circled and came down to probably spend the night on the reserve. These, shorted-billed, first cousins of Curlews will not stay. They would have spent the winter in areas such as Namibia in south-west Africa and are now making their way north to breeding ground in Iceland. They are transit migrants, merely stopping off en-route to their summer haunts.


It was a lovely end to a perfect evening. It was just me, Suzie and the birds. How lucky am I to live where I live? And how lucky are we all to share such an interest in the world around us? We really are very lucky indeed…don’t you think?




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