Monday, 4 February 2013


Coastal Habitat by Paul Archer

Biodiversity can be defined as the variety of life in a particular location.
Biodiversity is driven by habitats and climate and Waterford, being a coastal county, boasts a number of diverse habitats. Waterford also experiences four distinct seasons.

Being located on the sea gives Waterford a rich marine coastal habitat. With abundant fish and mollusc populations this environment can support a large diversity of mammals such as seals, porpoises, dolphins and whales. Birds are also well represented with gannets, gulls, terns, shearwaters, divers, auks, petrels and parasitic skuas. Sea cliffs too are important breeding grounds for choughs, kittiwakes and other seabirds.

Black Tailed  Godwits Feeding on Estuarine Mud by Richard Zamora
Estuarine mudflats are considered one of the richest habitats in the world. The mixture of fresh and salt waters, with abundant nutrients and organic materials, supports an extremely abundant invertebrate resource. This food concentration attracts huge numbers of waders such as golden plover, knot, godwits, dunlin and duck. In Waterford, estuarine mudflats support nationally and internationally important numbers of waders and are an essential staging post for migrating and over-wintering birds. Important estuarine mudflats are located at Dungarvan, Tramore and Waterford harbour.

Lakes and reservoirs, although not extensive in Waterford, do attract various ducks, swans, grebes, moorhen and coots. In spring, summer and autumn this habitat type attracts flying insects, which provide an important food source for swallows, martins and swifts.

Riverside Habitat by Liam Cahill 
Rivers and streams are a lineal habitat and support specialist birds such as dipper, kingfisher and grey wagtail. Also found along rivers and streams are mammals such as otter, mink and the specialist daubenton’s bat. Slower rivers, streams and pools attract dragonflies and frogs.

Marshes and bogs provide an important habitat for amphibians and birds such as sedge warbler, reed warbler and harriers. Good examples of marsh and bog are located outside Dungarvan, at Dunhill, Belle Lake and Fennor.

Traditional farmland is a very diverse habitat with hedgerows, meadows and cropland. Fallow fields in winter are a particularly important feeding ground for thrushes (fieldfare and redwing), finches, whooper swans and waders together with their attendant predators and barn owls. Mammals such as foxes, badgers, rabbits and hares are also well represented. Wildflowers are a very important food source for insects.

Ring Billed Gull by Bernie Sheridan
Forests and woodlands, in particularly deciduous, are important for songbirds, and specialist species including crossbill, long-eared owls, nightjar and woodcock. Woodland also provides essential cover for deer and the rare and elusive pine marten. Forest paths and clearances are also very good for butterflies and moths.

Gardens are an increasingly important habitat for birds given the availability of food provided by householders, and berries on various ornamental shrubs. Garden flowers are also very important to butterflies, bees and other insects.

During spring, summer and autumn the sky becomes an important habitat in its own right. Huge numbers of insects including moths become available in the warmer weather providing food by day for swallows, swifts, martins and flycatchers. By night nightjars and various bats replace these birds. In winter this food source disappears forcing the birds to migrate to sunnier climes and the bats to hibernate.

Waxwings Feeding by Richard Zamora
December has generally seen an unprecedented influx of waxwings into Waterford and Ireland. This invasion is a consequence of berry failure in their normal range. Flocks of waxwing have been encountered in Waterford City, Dungarvan, Cappoquin, Dunmore East and elsewhere. The first winter male surf scoter, spoonbill, black-necked grebe and long-tailed ducks remained into the New Year at Dungarvan. Countywide reports of brambling are still occurring albeit in small numbers. A glaucous gull and several purple sandpipers are over wintering at Dunmore East along with an adult ring-billed gull at Tramore boating lake.

Greater Spotted Woodpecker by Dick Coombes
Perhaps the most exciting recent news concerned the possibility of a great-spotted woodpecker drumming in County Waterford. Although Wicklow is still the stronghold with well over 25 known pairs, breeding has also been proven in Wexford, Kilkenny, Dublin and probably Louth. A scattering of reports increasingly come in from adjacent counties (Kildare, Monaghan, Offaly, Meath and Tipperary.) so they are definitely doing well and gradually spreading. Hopefully this may be the first indication that this beautiful bird is colonising County Waterford.

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