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Site guide: Mine Head area

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Mine Head viewed from Ardmore

Mine Head area
including Ballynamona, Hacketstown, Ballymacart, Crobally, Paulsworth
Grid reference:  X28 (see under Access).
Ordnance Survey Discovery map:  # 82
Habitat:  Sea-cliffs and coastal scrub, including a number of well-vegetated valleys.
Main interest:  Migrant passerines (under-watched but abundant, potentially productive habitat); nesting seabirds. 
Typical birds:  Common warblers & other night-migrants, Goldcrest; nesting Cormorants, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Choughs.
Scarcer species & rarities:  Marsh Harrier, Little Auk, Turtle Dove, Garden Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Firecrest, Pied Flycatcher etc.
Best birds:  Honey Buzzard* (Ballymacart, Sept 2004); Red-eyed Vireo (Hacketstown, Oct 1996); Hawfinch (Mine Head, Nov 1898).

Access:  Access to this coastline is possible from many points along the main road between Youghal and Dungarvan, but it is easy to get lost and close attention to Discovery Map #82 is strongly recommended!  For a full tour of the valleys and headlands, it is best to start either from Ring, on the Dungarvan-Helvick road, turning off (southwards) at grid reference X296883 near Ballynagaul, or from the west, from Lisakeelty Cross-roads (X204827) on the eastern access road to Ardmore.  The cliffs at Ballynamona (grid reference X2883) and at Mine Head itself (X286823) are best accessed from the west via Mine Head, near the unmanned lighthouse.  The farmer on the east side of the road leading down to Mine Head should be informed if the cliffs are to be visited.  The well-vegetated valleys at Hacketstown and Ballymacart, south-west of Mine Head, can be viewed or accessed from the main coast-road at Hacketstown Bridge (X271828) and Ballymacart Bridge (X253822), respectively.  For Ballymacart, there is also a second left-turn west of the bridge, leading down to the seaward end of the valley (but beware hairpin bends).   Further west again, before reaching Ardmore Bay, the wooded valley and small beach at Paulsworth or Ballyquin (X2180) can be reached from the east by turning left at an obvious cross-roads (X214814). 

Further details:

There are few recent interesting records of migrants from Mine Head itself, perhaps reflecting its remote location and difficulty of access and also the lack of suitable cover for landbird migrants.  Some lighthouses were notorious for causing mortality of migrant birds striking the unlit tower when they become confused by the strong light source in adverse weather conditions.  Although manned up to 1987, there are no recent such occurrences recorded for Mine Head lighthouse, but in the 19th century occasional casualties were noted, including Waterford’s first Hawfinch.  Little Auk was also recorded by the lighthouse keepers.  More recently, Quail has been recorded along the cliff-tops here.  The stream-valley (X286840) at Ballynamona might be productive for landbird migrants, though is under-watched.

The most productive locations for migrant birds in recent years have been the valleys at Hacketstown (X2782) and Ballymacart (X2581), about 1 km and 4 km SW of Mine Head, respectively, although both sites are still severely under-watched.  Good numbers of commoner passerine migrants occur on occasion, with species like Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Goldcrest regular in late autumn.  Rarer species have included, most notably, Red-eyed Vireo at Hacketstown and Honey Buzzard at Ballymacart, while Firecrest, Yellow-browed Warbler and other scarce species have occurred.  More frequent coverage would certainly be worthwhile, although Ballymacart, in particular, is difficult to cover well, given the large amount of woodland present.  The scrubby valleys around Crobally Lower (X2280/X2380) hold breeding Whitethroats and Stonechats, and might also be productive for migrants.   Further west again, the densely wooded glen at Paulsworth (or Ballyquin) undoubtedly attracts many small migrants in spring and autumn and deserves more frequent coverage.  A small colony of Sand Martins nests in the sand-cliffs immediately west of the valley, Ringed Plovers may breed, and Whimbrel occur as spring-migrants. 

Otherwise, breeding seabirds provide the main interest along this coastline.  The cliffs between Mine Head and Ballynamona, further east, are quite vegetated but the coastline, being reasonably indented, can be viewed from the headlands.  Usually a small number of Cormorants breed on the mainland cliff just east of Mine Head in the company of Fulmars and Herring Gulls.  ‘Blue’ Fulmar has occurred on the cliffs here.  A small offshore island nearer Ballynamona, Carraig na nÉan or “Rock of the Birds” (X290834), has a good-sized breeding colony of Cormorants in most years and a small Kittiwake colony on the seaward side.  In some years, the mainland cliff opposite also has breeding Cormorants.  The cliffs here are good for Choughs and large non-breeding flocks have been recorded.  Stonechats too are common.

The cliffs west of Mine Head towards are less inspiring and hold few breeding seabirds, although Ravens breed almost annually.  At Ballynaharda there is a high Red Sandstone cliff with many ledges used by breeding Fulmars (perhaps the densest colony in Waterford). Beyond that the birds are again scarce with just a few Herring Gulls, Hooded Crows and the odd Stonechat.  Continuing west, the cliffs to Ballymacart are difficult in terms of access and cannot be recommended to anyone other than the dedicated seabird-surveyor.  Cliffs between Ballymacart and Crobally are also difficult of access, and hold relatively few seabirds, but Cormorants sometimes breed west of Crobally Lower (X2380).  Otherwise, regular species in summer include small numbers of Fulmar, Shelduck and Chough. 

Ballymacart glen: looking north


Coast west from Mine Head

Mine Head area                                                     *Records subject to acceptance by Irish Rare Birds Committee

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