Thursday, 9 January 2014

Celebrating Spring Migration in Waterford

Swallow by Andrew Malcolm

Every spring millions upon millions of birds migrate from Africa into Europe. They do so primarily to take advantage of the super abundance of food and longer days available in the northern hemisphere during spring, summer and autumn. These conditions are a prerequisite for successful breeding. Spring migration is concentrated in April and May and Waterford fully participates in this phenomenon.

For many, the swallow is the harbinger of spring. Due to the recent adverse cold weather conditions swallows were slow to arrive this year but are now here in good numbers.
Swift by Andrew Malcolm

Swifts are only just now appearing over our towns and will be the earliest departing migrant being mostly gone by late august.

Blackcap by Fran O'Connell
Being insectivorous warblers are mainly summer visitors to this country although small numbers over winter. Blackcaps can be heard singing their rich melodic song from cover at present and with a little patience close observation will be rewarded.

Little Tern by Fran O'Connell

Terns are a pelagic seabird also known as sea swallows for their elegant flight. Sandwich terns can now be easily observed fishing close inshore along the Waterford coast while continually uttering their harsh call. A little tern (a scarce
Waterford passage migrant) was recently briefly observed feeding along Clonea beach before heading to its breeding grounds.

Whimbrel by Andrew Malcolm
Some migrating species use Ireland as a staging post to feed up on their way to their breeding grounds far to the north of us. Each spring whimbrel (somewhat resembling curlew in appearance) feed on beaches in Waterford before continuing on to their breeding sites in Iceland. Black throated divers do not breed in Ireland so the adult summer plumaged bird recently observed at Helvick was most likely feeding up on passage north.

Firecrest by Paddy Dwan
Firecrests vie with the more familiar goldcrest as the smallest bird occurring in Europe. This spring Waterford experienced an unprecedented influx of at least three of this beautiful little bird. Further small numbers were recorded in Wexford. Whereas these occurrences were most likely a cold weather movement there remains the tantalising possibility that these birds were prospecting future breeders.

With so many birds moving from Africa into Europe there are bound to be a few overshoots. Hoopoes normally breed in Southern Europe but every year small numbers migrate way beyond their target area. True to form a hoopoe graced Creadan Head this spring lingering for several days to the delight of many bird watchers.

Hoopoe by Richard Zamora

Watch out over the next several weeks for cuckoos, dragonflies and butterflies such as holly blue and peacock.

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