Bird Photography at Annagassan and Salterstown Pier

As Rosie and I continue our adventures along the east coast of Ireland, we decided to do some bird photography at Annagassan and Salterstown Pier.

Annagassan is a small sleepy village situated on the banks of the River Glyde in County Louth, where it meets Dundalk Bay in the Irish sea.

Annagassan began its life as a Viking settlement

The Vikings established Annagassan as a Longphort (an Irish name for a shore fortress) several kilometres up the river Glyde to harbour their longboats and they called the settlement Linn Duachaill.

Around the same time, other Vikings also established the Longphort of Dubh Linn, later to become known as Dublin. [1]

The Vikings used these Longphorts as bases where they launched raids on the surrounding countryside and both settlements competed with each other to be the prominent Viking seaport on the eastern coast.
Eventually Dublin won, possibly because the low tide which effects the river Glyde at Annagassan prevented access in and out of the fortress once a day. 

Having lost the competition, Linn Duachaill was eventually forsaken and the settlement was abandoned to time and nature. Both did a very good job of breaking down the settlement and hiding its foundations as though it never existed.
However, the first recorded mention of Linn Duachaill dates back to AD 841 in the ancient Annals of Ulster. Because of this medieval record, curious minds went looking and finally located the hidden remains of the Viking settlement, and in 2010 Linn Duachaill was rediscovered. [2]

Linn Duachaill is now one of the top ten most important historical Viking sites in the world. [3]

Annagassan at sunrise

We timed our arrival in Annagassan to coincide with a low incoming tide. However, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the sunrise was quite lovely as the forecast had predicted heavy cloud cover for the entire day.
Sunrise at Annagassan

I was elected to go down onto the beach and photograph the sunrise and the estuary, while Rosemary focussed on some of the whimsical attractions at the viewpoint just outside of the village. The truth be known that Rosemary refused in her typical Rosie fashion to clambour over those big slippery rocks in the poor early morning light.

Annagassan at sunrise with thatched irish cottage
This wee house is neither a bird house or a letter box, It's got us stumped.

Annagasson at sunrise in October
The pier and small sheltered estuary at the river mouth.

Little cute handmade houses in an Annagassan garden across from the viewpoint

Top photo: the little harbour with some fishing boats
Bottom left: the bridge over the River Glyde
Bottom right: one of the cute little bird boxes overlooking the coast at the Annagassan Viewpoint

With the tide being low the birds were out of our reach. We could see that there were lots of brent geese and assorted waterfowl out on the water and wading birds on the mudflats. So we busied ourselves with a walk along the beach on the southern side of the pier as the sun rose. As we walked along the beach we noticed that it was just full of cockle shells. Most of the Annagassan fishermen make their living from cockle fishing as exported cockles from Dundalk Bay are a highly sought after delicacy in continental Europe.

Annagassan looking across Dundalk bay
Although we had the sun on our faces and from the beach we should have had good views of Dundalk Bay and Cooley Mountains, it was not to be on this morning. As the morning progressed the hazy cloud continued to build up.
Sun rise at Annagassan
I found the light reflecting off the front of this apartment building irresistible.

A hazy sun rise at Annagassan
The hazy conditions made shooting directly into the rising sun a possibility. 

Bird Photography at Annagassan

Time and tide wait for no man and soon it was time to return to the car for a coffee and then look for some birds.

We had found Annagassan to be a beautiful wee seaside village, however the main attraction for us was the anticipated birdlife.

Sunrise at Annagassan harbour
Having a sheltered harbour with a river estuary running alongside a pier jutting out to sea, we knew this would be an attraction for wading birds.

On the way back to the car for our much needed coffee we came across a small flock of reed buntings. We positioned ourselves so that the soft early morning light fell directly on the birds.

A reed-bunting in the soft morning light
I have to admit that I have a soft spot for these wee birds and find them just as attractive in their soft winter plumage if not more, than when they are in their gaudy breeding colours.  

While enjoying our coffee along with some delightfully wicked iced finger buns on the banks of the river, I spied my first ever red-throated diver fishing its way upstream past us.
Being my usual ready freddie, my camera was within arms reach and I stealthily made my way up river to stage an ambush. I waited for the bird to come opposite me offering me a decent shot.
A red-throated diver on the Glyde river
By following the bird at a discreet distance at first and only progressing upstream past the bird when it was under the water I managed to over-take him and eventually lie in wait for him to pass. The result was my first red-throated diver image, so that was a lifer for me.
I returned to Rosemary and my iced finger buns a happy man. Any day that I manage to get a decent photo of a new species is a good day. We also had a great chat with two keen birders from Northumberland who were making their way back to England after a 3 week birding and astronomy holiday in Ireland. 

Sadly as the tide came in, it became abundantly clear that our plan was flawed. As the birds were being pushed closer to shore by the rising tide, they simply lifted off the water and we were left staring at a bird barren sea shore.
So a new plan had to be hatched and we decided to visit Salterstown Pier which is a 3.2 km drive from Annagassan.

Bird Photography at Salterstown Pier

Strand Road weaves its way around the rocky coast out past Salterstown Pier, our next port of call.

While I concentrated on keeping the car on the narrow winding road, Rosie gave me a running commentary of what she could see out her window. Although Rosie saw plenty of birds we had to give them a miss as there were no pull offs or parking spots to be found until we got near to the pier.

Salterstown pier looking out across Dundalk bay
On a sunny day, Salterstown pier offers the best view of the Cooley peninsula all the way to the Mourne mountains beyond. But when we arrived, the clouds were gathering thick and menacing, rendering the view a little less than awe inspiring, so we went for a look-see along the stoney beach. 

A male stonechat
My first contact was the obligatory stonechat, this one is the male version. I have more images of stonechats than any other species since arriving in Northern Ireland! This time last year I was desperate to get a shot of a stonechat, but once we discovered County Louth we've had more than ample opportunities to photograph these birds.

Meantime, Rosemary had left me to the stonechat as she just can't cope with having anymore shots of them in her lightroom catalogue. Rosemary was keen to explore the shore line in the hope that she might spot a skua.

Once the stonechat got bored with me and flew off, I looked in Rosemary's direction only to find her waving her arms in the air and pointing out to sea. Had she spotted a skua? Alas no, but she was trying to catch my attention to a group of sandwich terns and juvenile gannets diving for their lunch. 

I took off knowing that the action could end at any moment and after few stumbles on the smooth stones of the beach I arrived, a bit short of breath. The birds were working the coastline and it was a matter of waiting for one of them to work within camera range. 
A juvenile Gannet diving for fish, Salterstown pier
A juvenile gannet about to get his or her share. They dive into the water at a speed of around 60 miles per hour.

A sandwich tern diving for fish, Salterstown pier
A sandwich tern lining up a hapless fish meal.

I'd only come across a whimbrel once in New Zealand, but now I can see whimbrels on most of our adventures around the coast of County Louth.

A whimbrel in flight, Salterstown pier
I spied this whimbrel trying to sneak past unnoticed, but I managed to swing the camera onto him and record his image onto the camera's sensor.

As expected the action ceased as fast as it began and the beach was deserted of bird life. We could not complain, it had been a great morning but the time had come to move back up the coast towards home. 

The plan was to have a late lunch on the wharf outside the Spirit Store at Dundalk docks. Saying goodbye to Annagassan we worked our way back up the coast checking out some great looking spots and planning to return to them in the future.

We had only just managed to eat our lunch out on the Dundalk wharf when the heavens opened up and it looked like the rain was settling in for the rest of the day, so reluctantly we headed for home but not before we got some photos of green-winged teal, knots and little egrets.

You can bet we will be back in Annagassan as the winter progresses for another visit.

A green teal sifting mud for morsels
A green-winged teal sifting mud for morsels