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Site guide: Helvick Head

other sites
published records

Helvick Head viewed from Ring

Helvick Head

Grid reference:  X38 - X3189, X3188
Ordnance Survey Discovery map:  # 82

Habitat:  Fishing port with pier, sea-cliffs, gardens, scrub.
Main interest:  Passage & breeding seabirds; landbird migrants; wintering divers & gulls.
Regular/near-annual: Common seabirds (including breeding Black Guillemots) and landbird migrants;  Sooty, Great & Balearic Shearwaters, Storm Petrel, Pomarine, Arctic & Great Skuas, Glaucous & Iceland Gulls, Black Redstart, Whinchat, Pied Flycatcher.
Scarcer species & rarities: Black-throated Diver, Cory's Shearwater, 'Blue' Fulmar, Leach's Petrel, Hobby, Quail, Grey Phalarope, Sabine's, Yellow-legged Gull & Little Gulls, Roseate & Black Terns, Long-tailed Skua, Little Auk, Turtle Dove, Short-eared Owl, Hoopoe, Ring Ouzel, Redstart, Reed Warbler, Melodious Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Red-backed Shrike, Brambling, Snow Bunting.

Best birds:  Pallas’s Warbler (Oct 1999), Fea’s or Zino’s Petrel (Sept 1998), Red-footed Falcon (May 1994), Alpine Swift (Apr 1988), Radde’s Warbler (Oct 1985).

AccessHelvick can be reached by taking the Dungarvan-Cork road and turning east, where signposted, 5 km south of Dungarvan.  Veer left beyond the second hairpin bend and the road then to Helvick Head affords excellent views of Dungarvan Bay, the Waterford mountains and the Head itself in the distance.  The car-park at Helvick pier is a good starting point when searching for landbird migrants (scrub, trees and gardens slightly uphill from the car-park), or when seawatching.   Gardens further back along the road, of slightly 'inland', might also be productive but are under-watched.  Heading back from Helvick pier, either the first or, preferably, the second left turn leads to a small car park west of Helvick Head, allowing access to the main seabird colony from the west, and providing panoramic views of the sea offshore at Muggort’s Bay and Mine Head to the west.

Helvick pier

Further details:

Helvick Head lies at the mouth of Dungarvan Bay, on the south-west side, and holds an important seabird colony, in addition to being a good site for seawatching and landbird migrants.

Helvick pier often has some of the rarer gulls present, especially in winter, with occasional records of Glaucous, Iceland and Mediterranean Gulls.  Outside the pier and off Helvick Head itself, particularly in rough weather, good numbers of seabirds are often present, feeding, roosting or on passage.  Some of the diver species may be about, and Cory’s, Great, Sooty and Balearic Shearwaters have been seen here more often than elsewhere in Waterford, in addition to impressive sea-passages of Manx Shearwaters, mainly in autumn.  Both Great and Arctic Skuas occur regularly, and there is the possibility of Black Terns among the tern flocks (mainly Sandwich) that feed or pass offshore.  Ideal seawatching conditions are during strong southerly or SSW winds, and (depending on visibility) good views can be had from the pier carpark (from the car-window if necessary!), or the nearby cove or (for the best views) from the clifftop further south.

For land-birds, coverage in spring and autumn has shown that the Head is an excellent site for those in search of scarce migrants.  Ireland’s second Radde’s Warbler was seen here in October 1985 ,and there are records of Red-backed Shrike, Icterine Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest and other species, especially following south-easterly winds in autumn.  Common migrants such as Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs are usually present in the gardens, hedgerows and tall conifers near the Head.  Resident passerines include Stonechat, while other landbirds include the commoner raptors, and sometime Merlin or even rarer species.  

Helvick Head is the most important seabird colony in Waterford and they breed mainly on the higher, south-facing cliffs.  Be forewarned though, that these seabird cliffs are high, difficult to reach and dangerous.  For those with suitable footwear and a head for heights and densely vegetated slopes, the seabird cliffs are a revelation and very spectacular.  Kittiwakes (up to 1500 pairs in a good year) and Guillemots (c.1000 adults) are the most common species, but up to 9 seabird species breed.  The colony is spread out over several cliffs, each more spectacular than the other, heavily indented and each with poetic Gaelic names in keeping with this Irish-speaking locality in the heart of the Ring Gaeltacht - names like Faill a’ Phíobaire - “The Piper’s Cliff” and Poinnte an Phréacháin - “The Crow’s Point.

It is rare to visit the Helvick cliffs without seeing Choughs, as a few pairs breed in the vicinity and there are usually non-breeding birds about.  Ravens regularly occupy one of the high cliffs west of the seabird colony and there are Rock Pipits, Stonechats and cliff-breeding House Martins.  Apart from the birds, keep an eye out for Common Porpoises and Basking Sharks offshore; even Killer Whales have been recorded here. The headland itself can be good for migrant butterflies like Red Admirals and Painted Ladies.

The clifftop west of this carpark is heavily vegetated and walking can be difficult; there are no seabirds, the cliffs in Muggort’s Bay being low and sloping, though there are usually Chough and Shelduck about in summer.  Botanically, Muggort’s Bay is of regional importance with Autumn Gorse Ulex gallii, Bell Heather Erica cinerea and Ling Calluna vulgaris, and the cliff-top here supports one of the finest stretches of coastal heath on the south coast of Ireland.

Little Gull, 1st-winter, Helvick Head, 30 Oct 2004 © D, Clarke


Helvick Head: view E from carpark at pier

Black Redstart, Helvick Head, 30 Oct 2004 © D. Clarke

Helvick Head                                                                                         *Records subject to IRBC acceptance

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