Belfast Local Group Trip to the Quoile Countryside Centre & Ardglass Harbour, 9 March 2024

(by Moyra McMaster)

Great Crested Grebe pair (Photo: Paul Hilton)

For our March outing, the RSPB Belfast Local Group (LG) met at the Quoile Countryside Centre for 10am. Although we did have a field trip there in 2022 it had not been a regular location for our outings prior to that for some time. We were grateful to Mervyn Boyd, who continued to step in for David Nixon as our acting lead for the morning. Fifteen attendees met up in the Centre carpark, one even arriving by boat – the Strangford Ferry. Mel O’Hagan, our outing organiser, welcomed everyone and explained that we would spend approximately ninety minutes locally before heading southwards on the short journey to Ardglass to have some time in and around the harbour. Gary, our newest member, hopefully felt welcomed and enjoyed his first fieldtrip with us. On arrival it was a dry morning, a little cloudy with a gentle breeze coming off the Quoile River; temperature cool at 7˚C.

Both Mel and Mervyn were keen that we spend a little time in and around the Centre Gardens and that suggestion was well worthwhile. The many flower beds were well stocked and maintained by the Downpatrick U3A Volunteer Gardening Club. Many of the small garden birds were sighted including all the usual four tits, Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit and a pair of Long Tailed Tits near the numerous feeders. Chaffinch and Goldfinches were sighted and Mel heard the distinctive song of the Greenfinch.

Goldeneye (Photo: Paul Hilton)

We turned right on foot out of the Centre carpark and made our way along Quay Road with the Quoile River and its main car park to our left. There was a pair of Reed Buntings busily hopping around the grounds of the carpark. We continued along Quay Road planning to return by the riverside footpath. The road is surrounded by natural unspoilt woodland, providing the perfect habitat for woodland and farmland birds. Five Redwing flew overhead. Just where Quay Road ends at the entrance to private property, a few steps down on the left lead to a perfect viewing platform overlooking the Quoile River. Teal and Wigeon were in good numbers as were Mallard and Tufted Duck. There were great views of Goldeneye in flight and a number of Little Egret on the north side of the riverbank. A highlight was seeing three Great Crested Grebes with a pair clearly displaying the beginnings of their unique courtship dance by tapping their bills together. It has been reported that the numbers of Great Crested Grebe have greatly reduced on the Quoile River over recent years so this was a reassuring sight. Mervyn was quick to point out a Raven in flight overhead.  

Raven (Photo: Paul Hilton)

We returned slowly along the riverside path still totting up the sightings with Fieldfare in the woodland and Little Grebe on the river when suddenly word was passed back that a Tree Creeper had been spotted. We all gathered around and just enjoyed the spectacle of four Tree Creepers working their way methodically upwards only to flutter all the way back down again – another highlight. We managed to see the Reed Buntings again still in the carpark on our way through to the Centre.

Craning our necks for the Treecreepers at Quoile River…
Ah, there they are! Treecreeper on Ramalinaceae fungus (Photo: Paul Hilton)

Most of us travelled onwards on the short drive to Ardglass to continue the morning by having a look around the harbour. The weather conditions had changed somewhat and, as had been forecast, rain came in shortly after midday along with a strong and chilly breeze from the Irish Sea. However, it was still great to get the opportunity to observe a different range of birds. There were a large number of Great Black-Backed Gulls sitting motionless on land facing into the strong breeze, as were Cormorants, Brent Geese and Oystercatcher. One Black Guillemot flew in and landed in the harbour in front of us, and then took off over our heads and landed on a concrete ledge nearby. On the far bank beneath the harbour wall Mervyn spotted what looked like Dunlin and Turnstone but even with his telescope could not give it a definite call. One Grey Seal in the harbour kept an eye on us from a close distance, its curiosity being mutual.

Ruth helping us keep an eye on the Black Guillemot! (Photo: Moyra McMaster)
The Black Guillemot themselves! (Photo: Paul Hilton)

By now the wind chill had made us think of an early lunch so twelve of us made our way across the road from the harbour to Doc’s Fish & Chips Shop. We can thoroughly recommend their Fish & Chips along with their excellent service, well appreciated on a cold morning. Mervyn, meanwhile, setting the example of a true birder, delayed his lunch, making his way round to that harbour wall instead and reporting back to confirm the Dunlin and Turnstone that he had spotted earlier. So when they were added to our sightings for all three locations, it brought a total of forty-six for the fieldtrip.

Great Cormorants, Herring Gulls and Great Black-backed Gulls (Photo: Paul Hilton)

Our thanks to Mel for organising the fieldtrip and booking lunch for us. Thanks to Mervyn – always willing to share his local knowledge and expertise with us. It is also greatly valued that members come along and take some stunning photographs that they are willing to share with the reports.

Male Chaffinch (Photo: Paul Hilton)
  1. Black guillemot
  2. Blackbird
  3. Black-headed gull
  4. Blue tit
  5. Brent geese
  6. Chaffinch
  7. Coal tit
  8. Cormorant
  9. Dunlin
  10. Dunnock
  11. Feral pigeon
  12. Fieldfare
  13. Goldeneye
  14. Goldfinch
  15. Great crested grebe
  16. Great tit
  17. Greater black-backed gull
  18. Greenfinch
  19. Grey heron
  20. Greylag geese
  21. Herring gull
  22. Jackdaw
  23. Lesser black-backed gull
  24. Little egret
  25. Little grebe
  26. Long tailed tit
  27. Magpie
  28. Mallard
  29. Mallard hybrid (possibly with domestic breed)
  30. Mute swan
  31. Oystercatcher
  32. Pied wagtail
  33. Raven
  34. Redshank
  35. Redwing
  36. Reed bunting
  37. Robin
  38. Rook
  39. Shag
  40. Starling
  41. Teal
  42. Tree creeper
  43. Tufted duck
  44. Turnstone
  45. Wigeon
  46. Wood pigeon
  47. Wren
Info sign at Ardglass, click to enlarge (Photo: Moyra McMaster)
Greylag Geese (Photo: Paul Hilton)
Mute Swan (Photo: Paul Hilton)
Goldfinch (Photo: Paul Hilton)
Mallard hybrid (Photo: Paul Hilton)