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Site guide: Tramore Bay & Backstrand

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published records - wildfowl & waders; other species
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Tramore Bay & Backstrand

Grid reference: S60/S50 (Backstrand), X59/X69/S50/S60 (outer Bay)
Ordnance Survey Discovery map:  # 76

Habitat:  Estuary, saltmarsh, sand-dunes and open bay.
Main interest:  Wildfowl, waders and other waterfowl.
Regular:  Red-throated & Great Northern Diver,  Little Egret, Brent Goose, Long-tailed Duck, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Arctic & Great Skuas, Ring-billed Gull (until recently), Glaucous & Iceland Gulls (now scarce), Kingfisher, Black Redstart.  Nesting Fulmars in Bay.

Scarcer species & rarities:  Black-throated Diver, Cory’s Shearwater, White-fronted, Barnacle & Snow Goose, Black Brant, dark-bellied Brent Goose, Goosander, Velvet Scoter, Eider, Buzzard, Avocet, Ruff, Green & Wood Sandpiper, Grey Phalarope, Little, Mediterranean & Yellow-legged Gull, Black Tern, Little Auk, Short-eared Owl (formerly regular), Hoopoe, Redstart, Whinchat, Pied Flycatcher, Brambling, Snow Bunting.  Surprisingly, no North American waders have yet been recorded at Tramore Backstrand. 

Best birds: Baillon's Crake (1858), Black-winged Stilt (2, May 1994), Glossy Ibis (May 2008).

Further reading:   A Guide to Tramore Bay, Dunes and Backstrand (Declan McGrath, 2001).

Access:  The most direct route to Tramore is via the main Tramore road from Waterford.  Depending on your choice of walk, either continue on into Tramore town or veer off left at Pickardstown, just before the petrol station on the west side of the road, and continue east towards Brownstown Head/Saleen.  In Tramore make your way down to the carparks near the dump.  If approaching Tramore from the west along the coast road from Dungarvan, continue into Tramore and make your choice from there.  The outer bay can be viewed from various vantage points along the cliffs at the west side of the bay (e.g. from Newtown Cove, the pier and the Guillamene walk) or from Brownstown Head at the east side.  Access to or views of the Backstrand are also possible from a range of points - from the dump area behind the beach (access to Sandhills also); from various points along the coast road east from Tramore town towards Dunmore East; and from the carpark at Saleen at the east side of the Backstrand.  Details are also given under subsites below.

Further details:

Ecologically, the wetland area of Tramore contains a diverse range of habitats with associated plant and animal communities and is a nationally important Area of Scientific Interest and internationally important Special Protection Area and Special Area of Conservation.  There are extensive mudflats in the inner bay, known as the Backstrand, formed behind a well-developed  dune system.  There is daily tidal flushing of the inner bay, via Rinnashark Harbour on the east side, and the Backstrand supports a rich invertebrate fauna on which many of the birds feed.  Large areas of Spartina or cord grass are found on the west side, near Tramore dump, and an extensive area of Zostera or eel-grass, mainly on the north side, provides good feeding for wildfowl in the autumn.

Ornithologically, Tramore is internationally important for the numbers of pale-bellied Brent Geese that winter annually in the Backstrand area.  Nationally important numbers of Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin & Black-tailed Godwit also winter, and Red-throated Diver numbers in the Outer Bay can be high.  The area is also of significant local importance in that large numbers of waders and wildfowl can be seen so close to Tramore and Waterford City, particularly from August to April. 

The distribution of shorebirds at Tramore Backstrand and their abundance varies with tidal conditions, weather and time of year.  For example, Brent Geese in the autumn largely concentrate on the north side, feeding  for a few weeks on the Zostera there.  They later shift to the area near the tip of the sandhills and by the new year and early spring they are well scattered over the wetland, becoming difficult to locate and count at these times.  Extreme winter weather conditions elsewhere, primarily prolonged periods of snow and ice, often result in considerable influxes of migrant birds from Britain, Europe and other parts of Ireland.  Of course, the tidal cycle determines the spatial distribution of birds on the Backstrand, regardless of weather.  At low tide when the mudflats are exposed, the birds are widely scattered and difficult to see.  As the tide rises, the birds tend to concentrate, so that by high tide flocks have congregated at a small number of roosts which tend to be traditional in use from year to year.

Wetland counts here are made at, or approaching, high tide and the birds at roosts are counted.  These coordinated counts are conducted by a team of people, strategically placed around the Backstrand to ensure as complete a count as possible.  By and large, the casual birdwatcher will not be too interested in counting all the birds in the area.  Nevertheless, there are some good walks which will provide views of a wide variety of wetland species. 

Tramore Sandhills, viewed from Saleen

The Sandhills area

The walk around the Sandhills is undoubtedly the most popular walk in Tramore, favoured by many thousands of people annually.  That is not to say that the dune area is crowded, even in high summer.  However, for the birdwatcher the ornithological delights of Tramore are more obvious in winter.

The carpark at the east end of the promenade (or ‘Prom’ as it is known locally) in Tramore, almost at the dump, is a good starting point.  The dump itself, and adjacent mudflats, can be a useful place to search first as there are usually good concentrations of the commoner gull species and occasionally rarer species.  Up to fairly recently, Glaucous or Iceland Gull were likely in winter, although these are nowadays much scarcer in Co Waterford.

There are two embankments crossing the mudflats just east of the dump, separated by a channel even at low tide.  A walk out along the southern one is recommended.  The embankments and adjacent saltmarshes provide high-tide roosts for Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Redshank, Greenshank, the two godwit species, and, with careful stalking, or preferably by waiting in position as the tide rises, good views can be obtained.  At low tide, these embankments are good for Turnstone and Redshank and the channel of water running between them often has Red-breasted Mergansers present. This is also one of the best places in Waterford for Long-tailed Duck in winter, and small flocks of Little Egrets are often present near the northern embankment.   Depending on the time of year, Brent Geese may be feeding either near the dump or along the tideline, inside the embankment and along the saltmarshes.

The walk proper is down to the tip of the Sandhills and back, down one side and back the other.  There are usually Sanderling feeding along the shoreline on the strand side of the Sandhills.  Offshore Gannets are often actively feeding, and Sandwich Terns are ever-present in autumn.  An odd Little Gull has been seen flying over the breakers among the usual Black-headed Gulls.  If the swell is not too strong, Red-throated and Great Northern Divers may also be glimpsed offshore.  Knockaunariark is the most conspicuous point in the dune system and affords excellent views of Tramore Bay and Backstrand.  A search of the debris deposited by the tide at the highwater mark will often reveal the presence of seabird corpses, including occasional ringed birds.   Several species of dolphins have also been found washed up here.  As you near the tip of the Sandhills you will see a large channel of tidal water, known as Rinnashark Harbour (Rinn na Searc - “Headland of the Sharks”), which drains and covers the Backstrand mudflats on the tidal cycle.  Shag and Cormorant feed in the fast and dangerous currents and in winter this channel can hold several Great Northern Divers, sometimes at close range.  In spring, small flocks of Brent Geese forage along the tideline.  A few pairs of Ringed Plover breed along the shingle by the channel and on Tramore beach.

The walk back along the northside of the Sandhills meanders around the eroded contours of the dune system.  From mid-winter on, Brent Geese should be present on the far side of the channel at low tide.  Brent Geese at Tramore can be very wary, due mainly to the shooting activities on the mudflats, so a careful approach may be necessary.  The very rare ‘Black Brant’, the Pacific subspecies, is possible among them, as there are a number of records from Tramore.  Red-breasted Mergansers may also be about at any time of tide and there are sure to be small numbers of Curlew, godwits, Oystercatchers, other waders and flocks of gulls, particularly at low tide.  The muddy area inside the western 'corner' of the Sandhills is also a good location for Ringed Plover and Sanderling, especially on a falling tide.

The Sandhills themselves are also worth a visit.  Botanically the dunes are of national scientific interest, with some lichen species typical of sand-dune systems, notably Collema tenax var. ceranoides, not found elsewhere in Waterford.  The shrubs Privet Ligustrum vulgare and Dewberry Rubus caesius can be found in the dune system and the rare Sea Knotgrass Polygonum maritimum also occurs nearby.  Stonechat, Meadow Pipit and Skylark breed and Rock Dove, Chough and Kestrel are regular visitors.  There are occasional records of Short-eared Owl (more frequent in the 1970s), and Snow Bunting has been seen in winter. 

Tramore boating lake

Boating lake
Outside of the main holiday season, the boating lake regularly holds good numbers of feeding Black-tailed Godwits and smaller numbers of other waders (occasionally Ruff or Common Sandpiper).  Several dozen Mute Swans are often present, and Brent Geese have increasingly been recorded here (highest numbers in 2004/05 winter).  A few diving ducks occur in most winters.  The main attraction here up to recently was Ring-billed Gull, with two or more birds on occasion, including an adult bird first seen here in autumn 1991 which returned each winter up to 2001/02.  Mediterranean Gull has also occurred, and other rare gulls are a possibility.

The northern side of the Backstrand can be viewed from the road that overlooks the Backstrand at Ballinattin - large numbers of Little Egrets can often be seen roosting in the fields and marshes here.   However, a walk down along the seawall can be very rewarding and is recommended, though it is more awkward than the Sandhills walk. Access and parking facilities are also restricted and there is the added disadvantage that the area all along the seawall is usually littered with rubbish removed by high tides from Tramore dump.  

Access:   Turn off for Dunmore East at Pickardstown from the main Tramore-Waterford road.  About 1 km further on, a small by-road on the left offers limited car-parking, and access to the Backstrand is by the lane directly opposite.  Do not cross the gate at the end of the lane but rather veer off right just before it.  Alternatively, view the reclaimed fields from the roadside further north-east.

A walk out along the embankment, particularly near high tide, can offer good views of roosting Grey Plover, Greenshank, Redshank, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwit. The mudflats on the west side of the embankment usually hold large concentrations of the various gull species, and good numbers of Brent Geese. 

It is possible to walk along the seaward side of the seawall at all stages of the tide.  Redshank, Shelduck and Dunlin will be present with an odd Heron stalking the channel at low tide, generally outnumbered by Little Egrets.  Red-breasted Mergansers are regular on the water and, as you near the end of the seawall, Wigeon may well be feeding on the eel-grass.  In the autumn, the entire flock of Brent Geese favours the area beyond the eastern end of the seawall; with care they can be viewed from behind ditches in the fields nearby.  On a rising tide, the mudflat area beyond the seawall can be difficult to cross and even dangerous.

The channel of water on the landward side of the seawall often holds Redshank, Curlew, Teal or Shelduck, with Common Sandpiper frequent early in the autumn, and Goosander and Black-winged Stilt have been recorded here.  Brent Geese often graze on the reclaimed land behind the seawall, especially in spring when other food resources on the Backstrand are depleted.  Whooper Swans have also been recorded here, as have Bewick’s Swans and (especially in autumn) White-fronted Geese.  Large numbers of waders also feed in the reclaimed pasture, especially plover, Curlew and Black-tailed Godwits, and hunting Merlin can occur in winter.  Cereal and stubble fields immediately north of the Backstrand hold good numbers of Yellowhammers throughout the year.

Clohernagh inlet viewed from near Murphy's Bar


Most of the Golden Plover and Lapwing and many of the Curlew that over-winter at Tramore do so in the fields behind the raised ditches just west of Clohernagh inlet.  Access to the area is down through the fields from the main road (this is private land and entry may be restricted) or, with care, along the shoreline from Murphy's bar (see below).  The gyrating flocks of plover are spectacular here in winter.  Small numbers of Mute Swans, Mallard, Redshank, Greenshank and Shelduck are often present in the shallow channel just inside the sea-ditch.  Grey Phalarope has occurred here, Green and Common Sandpiper are more likely, but there must be potential for American species also.  Flocks of Brent Geese are not uncommon, feeding on the grass in spring.  Just outside the sea-ditch there is an elevated sand-bar, which, although completely covered on spring tides, is usually packed with birds near high-water.  Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Brent Geese, Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew are usually present, actively feeding, and are best observed from behind the sea-ditch.  Be aware though, that in the mornings, strong sunlight may hinder clear views.   Large numbers of wintering gulls are often present here towards dusk.  Further west is also a good area for waders roosting on the saltmarsh at high tide.

Access:  Clohernagh inlet can be viewed from the roadside by Murphy's Bar, north of Corbally Church, while the mouth of the inlet can be reached by the small road running south-west just before the Church at Kilmacleague.  More distant views can be had from the carpark at Saleen (see below).

The mudflat area at the mouth of Clohernagh inlet can often hold good numbers of Ringed Plover and Dunlin, with Whimbrel regular in the autumn and Curlew Sandpiper occasional.  Much of the inlet can also be viewed from the roadside opposite Murphy’s pub, and Little Egrets are regular here, often at close range.  Kingfisher breed in in the vicinity, Whimbrel are regular in spring, and species such as Green Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank and Curlew Sandpiper occur at times.  The small Keiloge River enters the Backstrand near the pub. 

Saleen: looking north from carpark, with Corballymore Wood on right


 Saleen lies on the south-east side of Tramore Backstrand.  The carpark there offers a good vantage point from which to either view the mudflats or ramble north-east or south-west along shoreline.  The walk down Rinnashark towards Brownstown is perhaps the more popular and also likely to be best for birds.  Brent Geese are probably the most conspicuous birds to be seen, often just off the carpark.  In the autumn, large numbers of terns appear, mainly Sandwich but occasionally Little and Common/Arctic Terns are seen.  The inner part of Rinnashark channel, and the area of water off the carpark, hold good numbers of Shag in autumn and winter; this is also the best area to search for Red-breasted Mergansers, occasional Great Crested Grebes and Great Northern Divers.  Otherwise, small numbers of Redshank, Oystercatcher and Greenshank will feed on the shoreline.  

As you near the end of Rinnashark, Tramore Bay should be carefully scanned, particularly in autumn or winter after storms and onshore winds.  Red-throated and Great Northern Divers, Gannets, Common Scoters, Arctic Skuas and, on occasions, large numbers of Kittiwakes are possible.  The sandbanks here also demonstrate the power of coastal erosion with the forces of nature continually shaping and reshaping the shifting sands, as the regular walker will know.   

The walk northwards from the carpark is less interesting, with rather fewer birds, but Little Egrets are frequent along the shoreline here.  At low tide, waders will be scattered across the mudflats, while tighter flocks can be viewed (rather distantly) on a rising or falling tide, along the sandbank west from Clohernagh (see above).  Whimbrel are regular at migration periods and Kilmacleague inlet, at the north end of Saleen strand, is worth checking for Common Sandpipers.  Gull flocks are worth checking from Saleen (especially with a telescope) - mainly Lesser Black-backed Gulls nowadays, but rarer species have included Yellow-legged, Ring-billed, Mediterranean and Glaucous Gulls.  The trees and bushes along the access road to Saleen can also be good for warblers, newly arrived on the coast in the spring; Hoopoe has also occurred here.

Tramore Bay, with Brownstown Head in the distance

Outer Bay

The cliff-tops and slopes along the west side of Brownstown Head (see separate site account), at the eastern margins of Tramore Bay, provide good vantage points from which to scan the outer bay.  Alternatively, the eastern coastline of the bay, from the pier out to Newtown Cove, provides suitable vantage points.   Although wind-blown seabirds may of interest, calm conditions are best when viewing or attempting to count divers and Common Scoter spread across the bay.   The wooded glen above the pier has produced Pied Flycatcher in autumn, and Black Redstarts probably winter regularly near the pier.  Great Newtown Head (site of the Metal Man), at the extreme SW corner of the bay, can be a good seawatch point, and is accessible from Newtown Cove.  Breeding seabirds there include Fulmar, Black Guillemot and Cormorant, and Choughs are frequent.

Long-tailed Duck, Tramore Backstrand, April 1993 P. Archer


Ring-billed Gull, adult, Tramore boating lake, Oct 1992 P. Archer

Tramore Bay & Backstrand

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