The Spirit Store = Music, Comedy, Gigs, Venue, Bar, Drink...
George's Quay, Dundalk, Co. Louth +353-42-9352697

Harbour Birds
The Spirit Store is not the only place on the quay where the wildlfe thrives..... There is a thriving ecosystem which brings many birds and wildlife from all over the world to our doorstep. Hopefully this area of the site will enlighten you with some of the wonders of the Dundalk Bay.

All photos in this section are copyright Breffni Martin

Frequent Visitors

Spirit Store Ecosystem
If you stand with your back to the door of the Spirit Store on a clear day and look out you will see an area of water in front, and, further back, an area of salt marsh. To the left is a bridge under which flows the Castletown River. Directly in front and to the right Dundalk Harbour opens up to Dundalk Bay. To the far left is a small wood mainly of Alder, Sycamore and Ash. In the middle distance is an area called Ballymascanlon Bay and in the far distance is a small mountain range: Slieve Gullian on the left, the Black Mountain in the middle, and Slievenaglogh on the right. The area as a whole supports a large variety of wildlife. Ballymascanlon Bay is designated both a Special Protection Area (SPA), in particular for migratory birds, and a Wildfowl Sanctuary (as is the area around Lurgangreen). As such it is protected from development, hunting in the actual bay area, and other human activities that could have an adverse effect on the wild bird populations in the area. The whole of Dundalk Bay is also a designated an SPA and a Ramsar Site (i.e. it has been identified as internationally important for waterfowl according to the criteria from the Ramsar Wetlands Convention that took place in Ramsar in Iran in 1971) and a candidate Special Area of Conservation (protects flora and fauna, as opposed to birds) as well as a proposed Natural Heritage Area. The area of Dundalk Harbour is proposed for SPA designation.

What all this means is that you are looking at a very valuable ecosystem that supports a variety of wildlife in particular migrating birds. The problem with protecting migrating birds is that they must be protected through their migratory path or flyway. There is little point in protecting nesting corncrakes in Ireland only to have them shot or netted while migrating over the European mainland or in the Nile valley.

The value in the area is not limited to its support of wildlife. Wetlands such as Ballymascanlon Bay play a critical role in flood abatement and pollution reduction.

Wetlands prevent and reduce flooding by acting as a buffer when there are tidal swells combined with heavy rainfall. Instead of your house or road getting flooded, the hopefully undeveloped floodplain takes the water. So an area of marsh or wetland that seems apparently useless is in fact playing a critical role. It would be tempting to erect sea defence barriers or dykes and reclaim the land in and around the harbour and Ballymascanlon bay – this could provide valuable housing and agricultural land. However such a development would end up costing a lot more than the initial gain because of inevitable flooding as global warming progresses and sea levels rise. As development on the north side of Dundalk progresses this will continue to be a risk.

In terms of pollution reduction, wetlands provide a veritable biological engine for filtering and transforming harmful pollutants into useful nutrients and harmless by-products (it is no accident that the Dundalk dump was located next to the bay). This is brought about by the degradation of pollutants, firstly by microorganisms, then worms, molluscs, bivalves, crustaceans, insects, amphibians and finally by the birds themselves – just watch the industry of a flock of Dunlin or Godwit from the harbour wall.

Birds can be seen all year round from the quayside but the habitat is most important as a wintering ground for wetland birds migrating from Arctic Canada, Iceland, Scandinavia, the high Arctic and even the Siberian Taiga. In spring and autumn many passage migrants can be seen and in summer breeding ducks and swans use the area for nesting and raising young

The most important species in the bay from a conservation point of view (i.e. listed in Annex 1 of the European Community Birds Directive as species of special conservation concern in Europe) are listed below – many of these birds need not only space to feed (at the tide-line or over the exposed mudflats at low tide), but also a place to roost at high tide – it is this latter that is most threatened by development.

Whooper Swan, White-fronted Goose, Golden Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit as well as Red-throated Diver, Great Northern Diver, Peregrine Falcon, Buzzard, Little Egret, and Ruff – if you look carefully all except the divers may be seen from the quay wall.

Other important species in the area include the following: Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Greylag Goose, Light-bellied Brent Goose, Shelduck, Widgeon, Teal, Mallard, Pintail, Common Scoter, Red-breasted Merganser, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Goldeneye, Knot, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Mute Swan and Turnstone. Also to be seen are Little Grebes, Coot, Grey Heron, Moorhen, many gulls (Black-headed, Herring, Common, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed and occasional terns (Common, Sandwich, Arctic). Over the years many rare, scarce or birds atypical for the area or time of year have been spotted around the harbour. These include a Hobby, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Twite, Bewick’s Swan…also may be seen a variety of passerines or songbirds including finches such as Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Siskin, Redpoll that exploit the trees and shrubs to the left of the quay. In summer Swallows, Swifts and House Martins may be seen nesting in the buildings on the quay and collecting insects over the area marsh. All year round are Wagtails, various crows, House Sparrows and a flock of feral Pigeons.

In addition to this otters may occasionally be seen in and around the bay – though you are more likely to detect their presence of their “straints” - sweet smelling dark thin faeces usually deposited prominently in their territory. Grey and Common Seals may also be seen, though only rarely as far in as the harbour. Doubtless the warehousing around the harbour supports many bats.

On the quayside you may see several boats and ships. Some of these are engaged in various kinds of fishing activities, some using drift net methods. Outside of the poor economic performance of this kind of fishing, it is also potentially devastating to both fish stocks and other wildlife (a drift net that went astray off the coast of Scotland ended up trapping at least 800 guillemots). Other boats are engaged in extracting cockles from the seabed using simple vacuum technology. Last year over 200 tonnes were taken from the bay area. The impact of this is unknown, however it is known that a flock of over 1000 Common Scoter and other diving birds that over winter on the bay at least partially exploit the same food.

A huge development project has been approved for much of the area north of Dundalk and this will have several major effects on the ecology of the bay and harbour. It will increase runoff water from rainfall, increase pollution entering the river and thence the bay, generally increase a range of human activities that adversely affect wild bird populations from dog walking to rubbish dumping to the arrival of cats and rats, not to mention the impact on the natural beauty. Looking out across the harbour and bay we can see a few houses going up just beyond the first dyke but on a clear day is still breathtakingly beautiful– hopefully it will remain so after the development is complete.

Breffni Martin
January 2005