GREAT SALTEE - A 'MUST SEE' SITE

By Allen Gillespie, June 2012

Situated in the south east corner of Ireland approximately 5km off the Co Wexford coast, the island of Great Saltee is a 'must see' site for birdwatchers and bird photographers alike. The island is amongst the very best locations in Ireland for spring migrants, particularly in light winds from the S, SE or E, and has spectacular numbers of breeding seabirds.  With travelling time from Belfast reduced to around 31/2 hours, there's no excuse for not giving it a go. The focus of this article is on the breeding seabirds and for this purpose the best months to visit are May, June and July.

Gannets, by Allen Gillespie

The island can be reached by boat from Kilmore Quay.  Boats tend to run periodically between 10.30am and 4.30pm and are dependent on visitor numbers and the weather.  It is always best to contact the boatman Declan Bates in advance on 00353 53 9129684 to book and get the latest information.  The island is privately owned by the Neale family and when the owners are in residence, most likely holiday weekends and from late June onwards, access isn't permitted outside these times.  However, when the owners aren't in residence, for the more intrepid, it is quite possible to privately hire the boat for early and late visits; the ideal solution for photographers.  In May 2012 it cost around Euro 160 to charter a return trip.

Gannets, by Allen Gillespie

Being a touristy area there is a good choice of accommodation in the area.  Kilmore Cottages, 3 properties accommodating between 4 and 6, located at Kilmore village 3 miles from Kilmore Quay, is a good choice for groups.

Gannets, by Allen Gillespie

www.salteeislands.info site provides useful information about the birds and various route maps showing how to access the key locations.

Gannets, by Allen Gillespie

The biggest and most obvious attraction is the large and expanding Gannet colony; currently more than 2000 pairs plus associated non breeders.  Gannets nest at two locations, a rock outcrop on the east side directly opposite the landing stage and the headland at the southern tip of the island. The colony is hidden from view until the very last minute when you start to descend from the highest point of the walk.  A spectacular scene then suddenly unfolds and your senses are suddenly attacked by the sight, sound, noise and smell of thousands of Gannets. 

Gannet, by Allen Gillespie

It is possible to observe the fascinating interaction of the birds at extremely close range but take care not to cause unnecessary disturbance. 

Guillemots, by Allen Gillespie

The island is also home to huge numbers of breeding auks, with more than 20,000 Guillemots and 4000 Razorbills, although Puffin numbers appear to be declining.

Razorbill, by Allen Gillespie

The Guillemots and Razorbills are easily observed at any of the cliff areas (east, south and south west) and if you keep your eyes open you should also see Puffins on the steeper grassy slopes at the top of the cliffs.

Razorbill, by Allen Gillespie

Puffin, by Allen Gillespie

Shags are also very visible as you clamber amongst the rocky slopes where they conceal their nests.

Shag, by Allen Gillespie

Gulls are also very well represented with Great Black-Backed, Lesser Black-Backed and Herring all breeding in good numbers, mainly on the higher ground immediately behind the Gannet colony. Take care when passing through as the Great Black Backs vigorously defend their territory.

Great Black-Backed Gull, by Allen Gillespie

Great Black-Backed Gull, by Allen Gillespie

Kittiwakes another gull species, also nest in numbers on the cliffs where they are joined by that other master of the updrafts, the Fulmar.

Kittiwake, by Allen Gillespie

Fulmar, by Allen Gillespie

Amongst a supporting cast of breeding birds are Chough, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover Meadow Pipits, Rock Pipits and Sedge Warblers.

Chough, by Allen Gillespie

In addition to the attractions of Great Saltee there are many other famous birdwatching locations in the immediate vicinity, Tacumshin and Lady's Island to name just two, providing the perfect combination for a great weekend or longer visit to the area. To finish here are a few more pictures to whet your appetite and hopefully encourage you to visit to this 'must see' site.

 

Great Black-Backed Gull, by Allen Gillespie

Puffin, by Allen Gillespie

Guillemot, by Allen Gillespie

Lesser Black-Backed Gull, by Allen Gillespie

Herring Gull, by Allen Gillespie

Razorbill, by Allen Gillespie

Gannet, by Allen Gillespie

Gannet, by Allen Gillespie

Shag, by Allen Gillespie

Puffin, by Allen Gillespie