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Site guide: Waterford Harbour

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I-WeBS counts - peaks; 5-yr meanscurrent winter
Waterford Harbour
including Cheekpoint, Passage East, Geneva Strand, Woodstown, Fornaght & Creadan
See alsoDunmore East.

Grid reference: S60/S70 - Cheekpoint (S6813), Passage East (S7011), Geneva Strand (S7007), Woodstown (S6905), Fornaght Strand & Bog (S7003), Creadan Head (S7103).
Ordnance Survey Discovery map:  # 76

Habitat: Estuarine mudflats (Cheekpoint south to Creadan Head); sea-cliffs (south from Creadan Head to Dunmore East); open sea (harbour mouth off Dunmore East).
Main interest: Wintering and passage waders & waterfowl; Sand Martin colony at Woodstown; breeding seabirds
Scarcer species & rarities:  Balearic Shearwater (Harbour mouth off Dunmore East), 'dark-bellied' Brent Goose, Scaup, Eider, Pintail, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Pomarine Skua (Hbr mouth),  Sabine's Gull (Hbr mouth), Mediterranean, Little, Iceland & Glaucous Gull,  Black Tern, Turtle Dove, Hoopoe, Redstart, Reed Warbler, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler,  Golden Oriole.
Best bird:  Honey Buzzard, October 2001 (a bird satellite-tracked from Scotland).
Access:  Passage East can be reached by taking the Dunmore road from Waterford City and then turning left (instead of continuing on towards Dunmore East) at the petrol station about 3 km beyond Ardkeen Regional Hospital; then continue another 6 km.  Alternatively, after turning left at the petrol station, the village of Cheekpoint can be reached by veering right (and under the bridge) after just over 1 km.   Panoramic views can be had of the confluence of the two rivers, Suir and Barrow and the estuary to the south (on the Wexford shore) from the road above Cheekpoint.  From Cheekpoint, Passage East can be reached by turning left at Faithlegg and following the winding road (and signposts) from there.  However, the Waterford coastline between Cheekpoint and Passage is practically inaccessible, being very vegetated and sloping.  Follow the main road which gives a spectacular view of Waterford Harbour along the approach to the scenic village of Passage East.  There is a ferry between Passage and Ballyhack, linking Waterford and Wexford, which operates continuously in daylight hours all year round, seven days a week.  This ferry is the gateway to Hook Head and other birdwatching sites in Wexford.  Geneva Strand is a short distance (just over 3 km) south of Passage East on the Woodstown road but is easily missed - there is a narrow track leading down to it, not accessible by car.  Woodstown is about 2 km south of Geneva Strand and can be reached either by road or by a walk along the shore at low tide.  From the Waterford-Dunmore East road, take the second left turn just beyond Callaghane Bridge.  Creadan (or Fornaght) Strand, south of Woodstown, can be walked to only at low tide.  By road, this small sandy area can be hard to locate; from Woodstown take the Passage-Dunmore road, then take the first turn left, left again at the junction further on and then continue down the hill on to the strand.  Car-parking is limited here. 

Further details:

Waterford Harbour is a long estuary, rather deep on its east side, with most of the available sand and mud on the shallower west side, or on the Wexford shore in the northernmost part of the estuary.  Any of the access points, Cheekpoint, Passage East, Geneva Strand, Woodstown or Creadan Strand, can be used to view the birds that winter on the west side of Waterford Harbour. 

Great Island power station, on Wexford shore immediately N of Cheekpoint

At the north end of the estuary, waders on the Wexford shore can be viewed, rather distantly, from Cheekpoint and the roadside immediately to the south.   Most Wigeon occur along the Wexford shore, and nowadays up to several hundred Black-tailed Godwits in winter.  Fewer birds occur on the Waterford shore here, although good views can be had of Black-tailed Godwits at Cheekpoint itself.   Good concentrations of Grey Herons can occur at Great Island generating station, immediately opposite Cheekpoint.

Saltmills area on Wexford shore, east of Cheekpoint

Better views of larger numbers of wintering birds can be had along the Waterford shoreline from Passage East south to Creadan Head.  From Passage East , the walk south along the stony shoreline is awkward, but can be interesting, with perhaps more birds about at low tide.  There is a mussel bed just off Passage East, which, when exposed, attracts many Oystercatcher, Redshank and gulls.  Large numbers of Cormorants are often present offshore, and to the north of Passage East.

Waterford Harbour, looking south towards Passage east from Cheekpoint direction

Geneva Strand, further south, is probably the most important area ornithologically, as many of the wintering birds roost and feed here.  Regular species include Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone.  Geneva Strand is also an important night-roost for Common and Black-headed Gulls.  Small flocks of Brent Geese feed here, especially in late winter and spring.  In general, the best time to visit Geneva Strand is at high tide when the birds will roost close inshore or just before dusk for the gulls.  Otherwise, the birds will be widely dispersed over the extensive sandflats and rocky shore.  At any stage of the tide, however, small numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers and Great Crested Grebes can be seen offshore. 

Geneva Strand at low tide, looking north

There is a long sandy beach at Woodstown and at low tide a massive area of mudflat is exposed, used for feeding by wintering shorebirds which usually roost elsewhere.  Oystercatcher can be numerous, and there are often good numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits and smaller numbers of Sanderling and Knot present.  Good numbers of Great Crested Grebes can occur immediately offshore.  Woodstown also holds a large night-time gull roost, with up to 4000 Black-headed Gulls and 3000 Common Gulls recorded.  Species such as Mediterranean or Iceland Gull also occur on occasion.  There is a colony of nesting Sand Martins along the north end of the beach.  Further south, Woodstown Bog holds breeding Grey Herons, Water Rails and Sedge Warblers (and Reed Warbler has been heard singing ), and can be a good spot for wintering Chiffchaffs;

At Creadan (or Fornaght) Strand, Oystercatcher are again the most numerous species present on the flats exposed at low tide but small numbers of other waders, including Ringed Plover, will also be present in winter, plus often a few Brent Geese.  There is also potential for migrant waders like Little Stint or Ruff, although recent records of such species (here or at Woodstown) are few, partly reflecting poor coverage.  Fornaght Bog, inside Creadan strand between Creadan Head and Knockaveelish, can be a good site for migrant landbirds, although has suffered from drainage and is less productive than in the past. 

From Creadan Head south to Dunmore East (see separate site-account) including Ardnamult and Foilakippeen,  small numbers of seabirds nest (mainly Fulmar, Herring Gull, Kittiwake and Razorbill).  Colonies can be viewed from a distance from Dunmore East pier, or accessed on foot along the cliff-tops.  Large numbers of Cormorants also roost on the cliffs at the south side of Creadan Head.  Dunmore East provides the best views of the harbour-mouth, when looking for feeding or passage seabirds, divers or seaduck.

Waterford Harbour

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