Sunday, 8 September 2019

Tacumshin Magic

The weekend after a poor ten days spent seawatching at the Bridges of Ross in late August myself and Brian McCloskey, another young Irish birder, discussed heading down to Tacumshin for a few days birding. In conjunction with two other young Irish birders, Dublin based Joe Proudfoot and Wexford based Cian Cardiff, we quickly managed to get a plan together, and by Tuesday evening we were powering down the M11. Tacumshin wouldn't know what hit it.
    We arrived at Tacumshin in the evening. Despite the rapidly fading light we quickly dropped off our bags at our AirBnB and hit the lake. The lake was enveloped in an all-encompassing and all-drenching misty-drizzle. The conditions were some of the worst you could have encountered, but despite that we managed to see the continuing Little Ringed Plover, in what would be our only views of the species during the week. A few curlew sandpiper and little stint picked out of seething masses of small waders whet the appetite for what was to come. We bade our retreat back to the house as dusk fell and prepared for a serious day of birding.

Wednesday morning and we were on the lake by 0700. The numbers of small waders were astounding. Cian managed to pick up the continuing bairds sandpiper from a flock of Dunlin feeding in relatively high grass. No mean feat. We had decent but brief views of this bird, and I managed some phonescoped record shots. This would be our only decent look at this bird. As we moved on across 'the patches' we reached an aggregation of small waders. A small juvenile stint was picked up distantly. We initially penned this as a little stint, but some features were noted at the time, such as lack of any white 'tramlines' on the mantle of the bird, and a generally cold appearance. This left a feeling of uncertainty in our heads as the bird was lost, and we spent at least an hour trying to relocate it. When eventually it was relocated we had much better views, and it quickly became apparent that we were looking at a juvenile semipalmated sandpiper, a rare vagrant from America, and a new bird for me. At one stage we even had it side by side with an adult little stint, a great comparison. As the bird got even closer, down to less than 4 metres at one stage, we began to have second thoughts- was it too rufous for a semipalmated sandpiper? Was the extent of the gape notch within the range for a SemiP? With prolonged observation we decided it fit the bill, and news was put out. A great find and a real group effort. It's safe to say we were all pretty pleased at this stage. We continued to bird the lake and enjoy the surfeit of waders and other birdlife. On the way back to the east-end we decided to check the beach, where I picked up a black tern, apparently the first record of the year for Wexford. Continuing back down onto the lake we worked our way back to the car-park. Myself Cian and Joe spotted two small passerines flip over some vegetation and land not far away. Assuming they were pipits, but intending to check just in case, I made my way over and picked one up in the binoculars... to find myself looking at a stunning lapland bunting! The bird, reacting to being spotted, flushed, and flew off calling with its compatriot. This was an unexpected but welcome surprise. Lapland bunting had been a 'bogey' bird for me, so to finally see one was great. We would go on to hear up to 6 of these birds in the coming days and on the last day finally get good prolonged views of one on the ground. 

Leaving the lake we went on to Lady's Island, where we had distant views of the Great-White Egret that had been lingering around there for some time. 

The evening was spent in the 'Forgotten Corner' watching marsh and hen harriers making their way to roost. A green sandpiper flew high calling to the west. A great end to a bird-filled day.

The following morning we worked our way out onto the lake early again. No sooner had we crossed the channel at the east end than Cian had picked up a Pectoral sandpiper feeding some way up with Redshank. It soon became apparent that there was not one, but two present. This later became three. A Finnish birding tour group arrived just as the 'Pecs' were found. These rare American waders surely proving to be a fantastic start to their trip in Ireland, and they certainly put smiles on our faces as we were treated to nice scope views of them feeding in the open. As myself and Joe were crossing the channel to the patches we had a further two Pectoral Sandpiper fly over calling. We managed to establish the Finnish birders were simultaneously watching the other birds, so a count of 5 Pecs for the day was reached- excellent going! The Finns picked up a female/immature type Garganey on the lake, which was also great to see.

We continued out as far as the Forgotten Corner, enjoying great views of Curlew Sandpiper as we went. Here I managed to pick up the juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper again, and fortunately all the Finns managed to see it too. The rest of the day was spent looking around other Wexford sites without much success. In the evening we returned to Tacumshin for more fantastic views of the Semipalmated Sandpiper in gorgeous evening light. At one stage it fed literally metres away with a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper, the latter fitted with a BTO metal ring. Fortunately I was able to eek enough detail out of my photos to establish the ring number, and hence discover the bird was ringed on the night of the 30th/31st of August in Ynyslas, Wales. As we watched the duo a pair of Green Sandpiper briefly dropped in before flying off, filling the sky with their piercing whistles. 

The following day was our last, and the morning had us out on the lake as on previous days. Strong winds dampened our hopes however we powered on regardless. Lapland bunting was one of the highlights on the way out to the patches. The SemiP was still present, although I missed it, engrossed with a skulky wader which transpired to be a Pec. Much better views were had of this later. One of the trip highlights came on the way back as we flushed a Lapland bunting. Joe kept eyes on it as it flew around distantly and returned to a patch of open ground not too far from us. As a result we managed to get super 'on the deck' views of the bird as it fed on seeds. Fantastic!

Before leaving the lake for the last time I decided to look for Bearded Reedling. A normally quite-reliable species here, at one of its few Irish breeding haunts. This would have been a new species for me, never having visited Wexford beforehand. Despite some serious searching all week long we had had no success whatsoever on this front. However I was delighted to pick up a juvenile at the eleventh hour, and had fantastic views of it perched up on Phragmites reeds. 

The trip was over, but the memories will definitely last. I feel we've proved what a formidable team the young birders of Ireland can be when united. The craic was unsurpassable and the birding excellent. In honour of the former birding group of rarity-finding fame- the Punkbirders- we've christened ourselves the Spunkbirders. And we'll be back!

Lapland Bunting record shot
Bairds Record Shot
The Spunkbirders in action 

Watching the unrelenting pursuit of a meadow pipit by a merlin was one highlight- the pipit eventually escaped
One of the 5 Pectroral sandpipers we found

Our Juvenile Semipalmated Sandpiper

Welsh ringed Curlew Sandpiper
Green Sandpiper evening flyover

The Jean-Claude Van Damme of the bird world. A cracking juvenile Bearded Reedling



  1. The enthusiasm leaps off the screen. Well written trip report. One of the best I have seen. Congrats on the finds.