Rosscarbery hosts a wonderful diversity of wild life. The town itself is situated at the head of a tidal inlet about a mile inland from the sea. On summer evenings the swifts scream as they chase one another, swooping low over the rooftops. Flocks of starling roost on the radio mast behind the barrack.
The town stands above a large lagoon that was once a part of the tidal estuary. However access to the sea has been restricted by the causeway that now crosses the estuary thus forming a permanent lagoon margined at its northern end by reedbeds.
The lagoon is large and shallow and is a fine wintering place for species such as the red breasted merganser. Otters are often seen here. Rosscarbery harbours a large indiginous population of mute swan but sometimes whooper swans will use the lagoon as a resting spot on their migration.
Across the causeway there is a road which winds down the eastern side of the estuary where clumps of common rush, vetch, dog daisy and many other wild flowers grow along the roadside. It terminates at the Warren Strand, the dunes and the sea.
This is a very important area for birds, plants and insects. The dunes, which are in themselves a rare feature of our coastline (accounting for only 2% of the total land cover of Ireland) support a rich variety of plant and insect life. The more common species of dune plant-life would include the marram grasses, lady’s bedstraw, birds-foot trefoil, sea holly, sea spurge, sea bindweed and burnet rose.
However, amongst the rarer species of plant found growing on the Warren dunes are the sea pea, the bee orchid and the pyramidal orchid. Both the sea pea and the bee orchid are very rare.
There is a rich and varied assortment of insect life inhabiting the fragile ever-changing dunes and the fixed dune area behind. The common blue butterfly, the dark green fritillary and the burnet moth being but three of the many species. The clouded yellow butterfly is also a seasonal visitor. The large woolly catipillars of the tiger moth can be found here too along with dune slugs, snails and robber flies. The common lizard may also be found in the dune locale.
The bird life includes sky lark, meadow pipit and stonechat (all of which nest in this area). In the autumn there are often wheatear feeding on the greens of the pitch and putt course. The families of chough also enjoy these closely-mown areas. There is an ancient heronry in the tall trees behind the Warren and every autumn and winter, snipe can be seen in the wetland area between the Strand road and the pitch and putt course. The kestrel also nests in the vicinity.
The road on the western side of the estuary banks the tidal sand flats, with their green patches of samphire to the east and a small part-tidal lagoon, bordered by reeds, to the west. Water rail, woodcock and snipe have been seen in this lagoon, feeding amongst the reeds. From here the road runs beside the channel all the way to the sea.
Indiginous grey heron, little egret, kingfisher, oystercatcher, red shank, greenshank, mallard and mute swan can be seen all the year round. Alongside these there are grey crows (hooded crows), rooks and jackdaws. The grey crows have developed the habit of breaking shellfish by dropping them from a height onto the road.
During the autumn and winter flocks of waders, including golden plover, lapwing, dunlin, black-tailed godwit, curlew, ringed plover and the occasional rare visitors such as the lesser yellow legs and American widgeon feed on the sand flats at low tide.
There are several species of duck: widgeon, teal and shelduck being the most commonly seen. During the winter there is also a chance of spotting a rare gull amongst the multitude of the more common species: the black headed gull, herring gull, and kittiwake which frequent the upper estuary ever hopeful for a crust of bread!
At the end of this road is Rosscarbery Pier and the sea. There are steps which lead up from the pier and onto the western headland with its rugged cliffs and panoramic view of both the bay and the ocean. In May and June great clumps of thrift, kidney vetch and scruvy grass bloom alongside the heather and gorse which grow on the headland.
There are often gannet fishing just off the coast. Breeding chough, raven, perergrine falcon, rock pipit, rock pigeon, fulmar, cormorant, shag, lesser and greater black-backed gulls nest amongst the rugged cliffs. Every year great northern divers (loons) over-winter in the sea just off the pier where they dive for small crabs. Rafts of guillimot and razorbill gather off the coast during the moult. During the summer, the sandwich tern come into the bay and estuary to feed on sand eel. Sometimes they are noisily chased by an opportunistic parasitic skua.
Dolphins and whales can be sighted from this headland: Harbour porpoise, bottlenose, common and Risso’s dolphin. Minke, fin and humpback whale. When conditions are favourable, basking sharks can also be seen from this vantage point. Sightings of sun fish and leatherback turtles have been recorded and the grey seal is prevalent.
Rosscarbery offers the bird watcher, the botanist, the entomolgist and the general lover of nature some rare and wonderful opportunities to see and appreciate, not just the species mentioned but also many others, in their beautiful and natural surroundings.