For many nature enthusiasts, birdwatching is an intricate process. In Ireland many bird populations migrate from breeding grounds to non-breeding grounds each year. There are a variety of migrations, including: summer migrants, winter migrants, partial migrants, altitudinal migrants, and cold weather movements.
Millions of migrant birds fill the Irish skies. They have to contend with flying great distances, inclement weather, shortage of food, predators, and interference by humans. These migrations occur so that the birds have a better chance, and better climate, to breed and feed.
There is much interest in global warming and how it affects the bird population. The timing of biological events is termed phenology. Studies have been conducted for many years in the changing pattern of bird migration. Results indicate that birds are inclined to nest early, in rising temperatures, in March and April. This early warming also affects the flora, which affects the insect supplies for the birds.
Throughout Ireland, there are a variety of nature reserves and bird observatories, which monitor the movement and migration, and also ring the birds. The observatories can be interesting places to visit and observe the various types of birds. Some offer accommodations where the visitor can conduct research and assist the monitoring agency.
One such place is Cape Clear Bird Observatory, at the most southerly tip of Ireland on Cape Clear Island, County Cork. The climate is oceanic and the fauna is ancient. For the few residents on the island, the primary industry is fishing and farming. The island has become famous for its birds. Species that breed there are Chough, Black Guillemot and Rock Dove. Other seabirds, from all parts of the world traverse here. In addition, a variety of marine mammals, such as, Killer Whales and Risso Dolphins are sited here.
This observatory is managed by BirdWatch Ireland, and a full time warden is available from March to November. The building can accommodate up to eight people. Mid-March through May sees the departure of winter migrants and arrival of the spring migrants. Breeding seabirds arrive at this time as well. From June through December a variety of arrivals and departures occur with a multitude of global birds.
The Mayo National Park was established by Duchas, the Heritage Service. Located in the Northwest of Mayo, this is the largest national park in Ireland. There is an excellent range of bogland habitats in the park, and a number of rare and protected plant and animal species. The Owenduff / Nephin bog complex is also a protection area for the birds. The landscape is comprised of rocky peaks and blanket bogs. These bogs are the most important remaining bogs in Western Europe.
This national park requires a tremendous amount of work to reach its full potential. Because of erosion, sheep over-grazing, and pollution, the fish in the rivers and streams are in danger. However, the area attracts a tremendous variety of birds.
Tory Island is located at the far Northwest corner of Ireland, off the Donegal coast. This remote, inhabited island has a daily ferry service, weather permitting, a hotel, hostel, and bed & breakfast accommodations. Tory Island is famous it's migratory birds. Seabirds nest here in large numbers. The puffin colony nests on the Northern cliffs. There are guillenots, razorbills, kittiwakes and fulmars. There are also strom petrels and manx shearwaters. The cliffs are a haven for the birds, with little human interaction. The corncrake, almost extinct, has become a main attraction on the island.
Tory Island is a paradise for the various bird species, and for those photographers who wish to capture their images. This is an ideal setting for birdwatchers to explore and enjoy. The entire island is a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EC Birds Directive.
The Murrough, between Wicklow and Greystones, is the largest complex of wetland habitats on the East coast. Many international birds winter at this site. The entire area is a proposed Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive. It is also a proposed National Heritage Area. Some problems facing this area are erosion, and the growth in population along the coastal strip.
The Kilcoole Nature Reserve forms almost the entire coastline between Wicklow and Greystones. This area is a proposed National Heritage Area. Several species of birds have been recorded in the reserve. It is also a winter habitat for wild swans, wigeon, teal and brent geese. Many other birds feed on the marshlands.
The Kilcoole Marsh, is the northern boundary of The Murrough. Several species of birds from around the world use this natural habitat as breeding and feeding ground. In the spring and summer, you can hear the reed warbler singing.
BirdWatch Ireland is one of the leading conservation organizations in Ireland. It is a registered charity, supported by membership subscriptions, donations, and sponsorship. It owns a variety of reserves for the protection of bird life and those species almost extinct.
Reserves are located in the following areas:
- Allen's Pool
- Castlelack Lake
- Cuskinny Marsh
- Flaxfort Pond
- Lough Beg
- Lough Abisdealy
- Knockadoon Head
- Capel Island
- Kinsale Marsh
- Cape Clear Bird Observatory
- Balbriggan Nature Park
- Schnick Island
- Rogerstown Estuary
- Little Skellig
- Puffin Island
- Annagh Marsh
County Galway / Offaly
- Bullock Island and Bishop's Island
- Wexford Wildfowl Reserve
- Jamestown Marsh
Other Visitor Facilities
- Mitzen Lighthouse Interpretive Centre
- Rostaff Lake Hide
- Belclare Turlough Hide
- Ashton's Callow Hide
- Rostellan Lake Hide
- Dalkey TernWatch