Annamoe

Annamoe, Co. Wicklow by Declan Murphy

When I first heard of Patch Birding I didn’t really think of it as something that would be relevant to my birding. Living in the heart of the Wicklow uplands I don’t have a small ‘patch’ that I cover on a daily basis, instead I have a large, species poor, district that I visit irregularly, usually while walking the dogs in the woods or cycling several miles to the nearest shop! How on earth could that compare with somewhere like The Mullet or Kilcoole?

But as I looked into the details of a restricted area of only 3km2.  I realised that this would be a real challenge – and I love a birding challenge so I’m on for it!

Firstly I noticed that many people had selected a block shaped patch rather than linear whereas I knew that mine would be quite linear – very linear in fact which meant I would be covering larger distances than most people. However that’s the way I bird in my area so that was the way it would have to be – I may have a 5km stretch of road to cover but its private property and houses on either side so I can’t go into it to ‘work it’ in a constructive fashion so there won’t be many opportunities.

So what is my patch like? The map shows the area covered in general but because much of the patch is very small and linear it wouldn’t be visible on a small map so I’ve illustrated the area covered larger – the actual patch covered is contained within the shaded area and covers 2.96km2.

Patch area

Centred on Annamoe Village in Co. Wicklow, it is located 14km inland with an average altitude of 220m but this rises to 575m along Scarr Mountain. Because the 3km2 patch is quite linear the length is over 18km! This extends from Glendalough upper lake through large tracts of oakwood along the Avonmore River before reaching the village of Annamoe and rising up onto Scarr Moutain, Despite this seemingly giant sized ‘patch’ my species list over the past two years for the area covered is only 64 species with a species score of 67!! My district list is a lot higher but that doesn’t count!

So what are the challenges to birding my patch? Well I don’t see gulls, terns waders (except Woodcock) or seabirds of any sort so that rules out a lot of species! Three species of duck, no swans or geese and only a handful of warblers narrow down the list even further. Regular species on other patches such as Little Egret, Hen Harrier, Wheatear and even Swift don’t occur! And as for migration and the possibility of a vagrant – no further comment is necessary!!So what birds actually can be seen in the area? Surprisingly, several interesting species do occur in the area covered. A small breeding population of Goosanders frequent the area especially the lakes at Glendalough. Several pairs of Dipper can be seen along the river while during the summer single pairs of Redstart and Wood Warbler usually occur – however neither occurred last year so nothing is guaranteed. Possibly the best bird in the area, and one which the district is well known for, is Great-spotted Woodpecker. At least four pairs bred in the patch last year with several more pairs in the district also. Other than these highlights there isn’t much to brighten up a day out my patch!

Wood Warbler (c) Dick Coombes

Great-spotted Woodpecker (c) Dick Coombes

A variety of habitats are contained within my patch and these can be broken down as follows.

Upland
While not exactly open moorland Scarr Mountain contains a small covering of thin heather along the slopes before turning into stony plateau with moor grass. I rarely visit it as it is bleak and birdless! Meadow Pipit and Raven are usually the best, and only, birds although I have heard Red Grouse further along towards Lough Dan. I always dream of finding a trip of Dotterel on the top but I think it’s more of a pipe dream than a reality.

Rivers and Lakes
The Avonmore River flows through most of the patch and provides ample opportunities for Dipper and Grey Wagtail. Goosander frequents the river but can be very flighty as they are very secretive along this river due to the high number of canoeists which use the river during the weekends. Grey Heron is regular and Cormorant sometimes occurs. Several years ago a single Kingfisher was seen along with a pair of Moorhen but in recent years there have been no sightings.The lower lake at Glendalough is reliable for Grasshopper and Sedge Warbler and occasionally Little Grebe. Historical records of Ring Ouzel exist for the upper lake in Glendalough and a possible singing male was reported last year but searches during previous years were unsuccessful.

Avonmore River
Upper Lake, Glendalough (c) Dick Coombes

Village
Both Laragh and Annamoe Village are in the area covered and they provide the only opportunity to see birds such as Collared Dove and House Martin as well as the usual suspects of Starling and House Sparrow. A flyover sighting of 3 Waxwings in December 2012 was unprecedented and unlikely to be repeated. Woodcock are often seen roding over the village from their breeding sites in nearby woodlands.

Coniferous Woodland
Several small patches occur, a mature plantation at the base of Scarr mountain with another at Trooperstown while a young plantation intermixed with clearfell is found on a small hill on the outskirts of Annamoe. Woodcock and Goldcrest occur in the mature plantations while the clearfell usually has several pairs of Whitethroat and occasionally Stonechat, the only area these species occur within the patch. Buzzard and Kestrel also occur in these areas

Oak WoodlandThis is the primary habitat within my patch that I regularly cover. During the winter months it can be fairly quiet except for roving tit flocks, Treecreepers and Chaffinches but during the summer month’s good numbers of Blackcaps and Spotted Flycatcher can be found. Great-spotted Woodpecker is now well established in the area and increasing in numbers each year which is a nice bonus species for Ireland – even if it still only has a score value of 1! The woodland around the shores of the upper lake at Glendalough is a traditional site for one or two pairs of Redstart and Wood Warbler although they can often be absent for a few years. Jays occur throughout the woodland area in good numbers, as do Sparrowhawk, and Woodcock can also be found.

Wicklow oakwood in winter

Scrubland
Small patches of birch and willow scrub occur at Trooperstown and Glendalough and these areas are good for Willow Warbler and Blackcap

So that’s a brief summary of the cards I’ve been dealt – the challenge is now to increase the species list with some hard to get species such as Wheatear, Moorhen and Lesser Black Backed Gull.

…….It’s all to play for on this patch!!

Irish Jay (c) Colin Rigney

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