Watch the birdies and help the environment
We have destroyed more shorebird habitats on the east coast than we have created. But there is hope, as the Dublin Bay Birds projects’ work with oystercatchers shows
Dublin Bay Birds: the Dublin oystercatcher known as AJ, photographed in Norway. Photograph: BirdWatch Ireland
Dublin Bay Birds: oystercatchers with colour rings on their legs. Photograph: Graham Prole
Few Irish shorebirds look more dramatic than the oystercatcher. The size of a plump duck, with very smart black-and-white plumage, it flaunts a dramatically long orange-red bill, shocking pink legs, and red eye rings.
Everyone can recognise an oystercatcher quite easily, and they are not very shy of people. Indeed, like Brent geese, they are increasingly familiar in city sports fields and parks, especially in late winter. And you can hardly step on to a Dublin beach without seeing one.
Wherever you see an oystercatcher next, look closely at its legs: if you can spot green and yellow rings, this bird is part of the project. If you have a camera, zoom in on the two big letters on one of the yellow rings.
These letters identify individual birds, and each resighting builds up a clearer picture of the bird’s favourite places and behaviour. The results are already flowing in: of 118 oystercatchers ringed last February, 93 have been spotted again at least once so far, with a total of 282 resightings. Most have been in the bay area, but two were in Scotland, and one was in Norway.
The most interesting figure is that 80 per cent of these reports have come not from experts but from ordinary citizens, many of them alerted by the project’s informative blog, on dublinbaybirds.blogspot.ie.
What’s the point of it all?
The project officer for BirdWatch Ireland, Niall Tierney, says the fundamental aim of the project is to establish a baseline for bird behaviour in the bay. Where do particular species feed and forage? Where do they roost and rest? How do they respond to disturbance, by humans and other animals? Where do they go if they migrate?
Dublin Port Company, the semi-State enterprise responsible for managing the city’s maritime infrastructure, decided to help find out.
It is funding this project from the refreshing perspective that it is better to understand environmental impacts fully before embarking on new development, rather than bogging down in endless hearings with objectors during the planning process.
The chief executive, Eamon O’Reilly, says: “We are not disconnected from the environment. We love it ourselves. We expect a substantial piece of science out of this project, enabling us to make decisions that are good for us and good for the environment. My instinct is that this kind of collaboration will become a normal part of how we operate in future.”
The abundance of birdlife that can be found on the shoreline within the city limits is one of the joys of our capital city. But it’s also, evidently, a challenge to planners and conservationists alike.
It’s well known that the vast tidal flats of the bay act as a magnet in winter to thousands of migrant geese and ducks. The bay also attracts kaleidoscopic flocks of long-legged waders, from the familiar heron, curlew and oystercatcher to birds with archaic and evocative names such as redshank, godwit and sanderling.