For the last number of years, I’ve been lucky enough to live just a short hop, skip and jump from Dublin Bay. I’ve always known it was a special place. However, I don’t think I fully appreciated it until these extraordinary times have suddenly (and understandably) restricted my ability to visit it fully. Thankfully, a small portion of the bay, the Estuary, lies within my 2 km zone.
|Tolka Estuary. Credit: Liam Gaynor.|
Now that my visits are purely personal rather than as part of our usual DBBP team to collect data, this little slice of the bay has become all important to me. Suddenly I find myself sitting on the grass, whiling away time, watching Black-tailed Godwits partially garbed in rusty breeding plumage. Redshanks scurry frantically amongst them, their incessant calls a reminder of their endearing nickname, the ‘warden of the marsh’. The first calls of Sandwich Terns fresh off the boat from southern Europe and Africa are now a for celebration as our worlds have shrunk to a two km radius. The immensity of their long-haul migration now seems particularly thrilling compared to our limited movements.
So, for those unable to get even this close to Dublin Bay, what would be better than to bring the bay to you. This blog serves as replacement of sorts to the DBBP team’s April surveys, which we naturally were unable to do this month. So instead, as an ‘ode to April’, we’ll at data from previous Aprils of the project to see just how important this month is for in the bay.
|Species found in Dublin Bay during counts in April. The size of the text corresponds to their relative abundance, with larger text indicating higher numbers.|
April is a time of migration both in and out of the bay for . Wintering wader and wildfowl numbers decrease significantly from March until June, but seabird numbers begin to increase.
Sandwich Terns make their first appearance in April. Often heard before they are spotted, these punk-rock superstars herald the beginning of the tern season with their suitably raucous call as they forage over the sea.
|Sandwich Tern. Credit: Brian Sullivan|
Common Terns, arriving from as far south as Namibia in Africa, trickle in towards the end of April, their buoyant flight giving credence to their nickname of ‘Sea Swallow’.
|Common Tern. Credit: Brian Burke|
Cormorants, while present year-round in the bay, begin to increase in number in April. Nearly fish-like as they dive, these prehistoric-looking beauties use the weight of water saturating the margins of their feathers to decrease their buoyancy and increase their diving efficiency.
The most abundant wading species recorded on average during low-tide counts in April, is the Black-tailed Godwit. In April, the Dublin Bay population is bolstered by Black-tailed Godwits on passage from elsewhere in Ireland and Europe. Breeding in Iceland, these beauties leave Dublin approximately one month later than their cousins, the Bar-tailed Godwit, which breeds in northern Norway. Both species occur in internationally important numbers in Dublin Bay during the winter months.
|Cormorant. Credit: Brian Burke|
Numbers of Black-legged Kittiwakes also increase during the month of April. These small, white-headed gulls are principally pelagic (living on the open sea) during the non–breeding season and are the most oceanic of the gull species.
|Black-legged Kittiwake. Credit: Brian Burke|
|Gateshead ‘Kittiwake Tower’. Credit: skyscrapercity.com|
|Herring Gull. Credit: Brian Burke|
|Herring Gulls in Dublin Bay: mean low-tide numbers per month 2013-2019, Dublin Bay Birds Project.|
|Light-bellied Brent Geese. Credit: Brian Burke|
|Light-bellied Brent Geese in Dublin Bay: mean peak numbers per month 2013-2019, Dublin Bay Birds Project.|
|Black-tailed Godwit. Credit: Nigel Clark|
|Bar-tailed Godwit colour-ringed by the Dublin Bay Birds Project and observed in Norway. Credit: Kim Fischer|
|Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits in Dublin Bay: mean peak numbers per month 2013-2019. Dublin Bay Birds Project.|
|Oystercatcher colour-ringed by the Dublin Bay Birds Project and observed in Iceland. Credit: Oskar Bjornstad|
|Oystercatcher numbers in Dublin Bay: mean peak numbers per month 2013-2019, Dublin Bay Birds Project.|
|Redshank colour-ringed by the Dublin Bay Birds Project and observed in Dublin Bay. Credit: Joao de Brito|
|Redshank numbers in Dublin Bay: mean peak numbers per month 2013-2019, Dublin Bay Birds Project.|
April is a time of passage migrants, riding the highway of the East Atlantic Flyway. One of the briefest visitors to our shores is the Whimbrel. This curlew- wader makes a short pit stop in Ireland in April and May, refuelling before resuming its northward journey. We will see it once more in June and July as it travels southward towards southern Spain and western Africa where it will see out the winter basking in sunshine. See here for a current Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit tracking study in real time.