Thursday 6 April 2017

Larne Lough and Rathlin Island - March 2017

It has been typically dull around Larne Lough lately, the gulls are now settled on the islands for the summer, the terns are trickling back as a smattering of other spring migrants begin to put in an appearance. The first year tick of the month were some Lesser Redpolls on the Alders along the railway line at Curran Road on 4th, saving me the indignation of having to check garden feeders. My usual jaunt around Larne usually includes a seawatch from the leisure centre in the hope of a Fulmar - I can't understand how they are so difficult to see when they breed in numbers nearby. Eventually much squinting towards the Maidens paid off when 2 Common Scoter flew by on 4th.  I will be on Manxie (and Fulmar) watch from now on.
The first Black-tailed Godwits arrived on 5th March, with numbers building to 15 on 18th before a flock of 40 appeared at the mouth of the Inver River on 23rd March - which isn't a regular site for this species.  Numerous Snipe and the odd Jack Snipe were on the move during the month. The feral Greylags made their first appearance at Glynn on 12th, but unfortunately did not manage to persuade the long-staying Greenland White-front to join them - though there is time yet!  Sandwich Terns were seen feeding off Sandy Bay and roosting at Glynn from 17th. A fairly standard return date.  Chiffchaffs were in song along Bank Road on 26th, but my usual site for Wheatear has not produced the goods so far.

Sanderling with Dunlin, Sandy Bay

Jack Snipe with Ballylumford Power Station in the background

As time moved towards the end of the month my attention turned to Rathlin and I managed another visit on 25th March, which turned out to be rather productive.  Things looked promising as I made by way up the hill at Church Valley, as numerous Goldcrests were flitting about above my head, easily totalling over 40 by the end of the day. The first Peregrines of the year were back at a regular breeding site, as were a couple of pairs of Twite. Near the East Light, as I checked around the cattle feeders for Chough, a large white blob entered my view.  A rather tatty, but glorious Iceland Gull. Only my third patch record! Into Church Quarter and two Woodpigeons bombed overhead, charging about gormlessly as only they can, before nearly impaling themselves in a blackthorn.  A classic early spring migrant on Rathlin and a most welcome year tick. Five Chiffchaffs were also noted.

A scan of the small sandy beach beside the harbour failed to produce any new waders for the year, so I decided to check a few Rock Pipits on the seawall for pink-wash. In return, a red-tail sprang onto the rocks beside me - the adrenaline rush began, was this finally it? Well, no... but a nice Black Redstart, just the second documented Island record and the first since 5th May 2013.  I was delighted, but only managed distant record shots as getting any closer would have disturbed the seals and they put up with enough of this already.  The south end of the patch produced the first Chough of the year and 2 Whimbrel at Doon Bay. A promising start to Spring!
Gannet action from the ferry

Over 40 of these on Rathlin on 25th March

First butterfly of 2017

Dappled light

Iceland Gull

Pair of Teal

Black Redstart

Black Redstart (taken from the ferry on my way home!)

Meadow Pipit

Close up Mipit

Chough, Doon Bay

Say my name

Irish Hare

Larne Lough additions in March: Lesser Redpoll, Common Scoter, Black-tailed Godwit, Greylag Goose, Sandwich Tern, Chiffchaff
Rathlin Island additions in March (since last update): Woodpigeon, Chough, Black Redstart, Chiffchaff, Iceland Gull, Blue Tit, Lesser Redpoll, Whimbrel, Peregrine, Twite, Coal Tit, Pheasant

Monday 13 March 2017

Rathlin Island - 11th March 2017

The first signs of spring were stirring, the weather set fair and feeling energetic, I found myself on the first ferry to Rathlin on Saturday.  The crossing on flat calm seas was worth the effort alone with razorbills, kittiwakes, shags and guillemots galore.  No sign of any white-wingers in the harbour, which have been regular there this winter, but large numbers of displaying eiders raised the spirits.

The soon to be retired Canna

Guillemot from the ferry

Male eider in the harbour

Diving duck

All eyes on us

It wasn't long before the first of many skylarks could be heard overhead, both singing and flying over.  Other species present in notable numbers were goldcrests, pied wagtails and meadow pipits.  At Mill Bay, the long-staying drake gadwall was keeping a low profile but yet again there were no divers offshore.  Craigmacagan Lough boosted the year list with reed bunting, water rail and a patch record 3 (yes three) adult moorhens! The apparent imposter was not welcome, the regular male in murderous mood.  A male pochard was with tufted ducks at Ally Lough, which were in fine voice - giving the eider a run for their money in the call of the day competition.
A slog around the small marsh at the south end of Ushet Lough produced 3 snipe but no miniature versions.  Just a handful of breeding lapwing have returned, their numbers on the island dwindling fast.  Common gulls and lesser black-backed gulls have returned in more pleasing numbers and a few auks and fulmars were already on cliff ledges near Rue Point.  As I watched a group of hooded crows busying themselves in some seaweed, my second ever patch carrion crow flew over before being sheepish nearby.
Tufted duck pair, Ushet Lough

Common gull, Ushet Lough

Lapwing, Ushet Lough

Sheepish carrion crow
Additions to year list: kittiwake, skylark, sparrowhawk, water rail, reed bunting, pochard, carrion crow, goldcrest, moorhen, lapwing, turnstone, black-headed gull, cormorant and lesser black-backed gull.
Scores: 61 species / 70 points / 51.9%

Saturday 4 March 2017

February - Larne Lough

February is one of my favourite months for birding around Larne Lough as several thousand gulls arrive over the course of the month.  The majority are birds returning to breed at RSPB Larne Lough Islands Reserve. This usually means there are a few scarcities to be found.  By the end of the month many Eider, Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebes and Goldeneyes also gather off Glynn for a spot of displaying.  In general there are lots of birds to look at.

There are currently at least 11 Mediterranean Gulls in the lough (8 adults, including a metal-ringed bird and 3 second-years, including a ringed individual pictured below), which have been seen displaying and posturing at various locations.  Their unique call is heard overhead more often than they are seen.  Despite obsessive sifting through the gathering swarm of Common Gulls, there has been no sign of a Ring-billed Gull.  Iceland Gulls have been seen regularly, involving 4 individuals (3 first winters and an adult) though none for longer than a few minutes.  I will be on high alert for a Glaucous Gulls in the coming weeks.  An adult Little Gull was seen along the Antrim Coast a few times following recent storms but frustratingly hasn't ventured onto the patch.  The first returning Lesser Black-backed Gulls were back at the Inver River on 4th.

A great day was had on 18th tidying up some tricky species, with a Treecreeper along Glynn River and the patch Coot and a Water Rail (not recorded last year) at Glynn Lagoon.  Whilst checking some alder trees in search of Redpolls, I was delighted to see a Kestrel hunting over Redlands industrial estate - I usually have to wait until autumn to see one of these.  The following day, the first Peregrine of the year was seen at Glynn Station.

On the wader front, a Knot has been at Glynn throughout the month, as have a handful of Bar-tailed Godwits.  At Sandy Bay excellent numbers of Dunlin, Turnstones and Ringed Plover have been joined by up to 6 Purple Sandpipers (a good site count) and a new for year Sanderling from 20th.

I made a rare pre-work visit to Sandy Bay during Storm Doris, as this coincided with high tide. There was a colossal flock of gulls at the entrance of the lough including four adult Med Gulls, but surprisingly nothing rarer.  It was lashing and viewing conditions were extremely difficult, but I thought I heard the flight calls of Twite overhead and caught a split second view of a soaked finch on the deck.  As there has been a flock of Linnets around the harbour all winter, I wanted a better look and made the idiotic decision to exit my car.  Within 30 seconds, I was drenched and couldn't get back inside quick enough.  A couple of days later, I managed to pin them down - a flock of six, including a colour-ringed bird from Kintyre.  They allowed incredibly close approach; karma for my soaking perhaps.

Additions in February: Treecreeper, Coot, Kestrel, Twite, Water Rail, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Peregrine and Sanderling.
Totals: 90 species / 108 points / 66.7%


Thursday 2 February 2017

January - Larne Lough and Rathlin

I'm going to try to do monthly blog posts this year, which on this occasion amounts to copying and pasting a few photos and providing a score update to the end of the month.  In summary: a decent enough start to the year in Larne Lough with the first Waxwings for a couple of years and a last minute Iceland Gull on 31st.  The most remarkable thing about this bird was its complete lack of interest in sliced pan - a first patch record of a white-winger buggering off at the sight of bread. Such scenes have not been seen in the borough since the Bonaparte's.  The annual arrival of small gulls is well underway and will be checked closely over the next month for hubba-bubba pink legs. 
My only trip to Rathlin of the month produced some good winter birds for the island.  The long-staying drake Gadwall and a female Goldeneye at Craigmacagan Lough, a Knot with Redshank at Mill Bay and a lone Whooper Swan (which rarely land on the island) at Ushet Lough.  There has been a dearth of divers along the East Antrim coast this winter, so I wasn't surprised when I failed to spot any off Rathlin despite favourable sea conditions.  Sadly, it appears the female Pochard that has wintered at Ally Lough for the last few years has not returned.  
Larne Lough - 82 species / 98 points / 60.5%
Highlights - Jack Snipe, Slavonian Grebe, Iceland Gull, Waxwing
Rathlin Island - single visit in January - 47 species / 55 points / 40.8%
Highlights - Goldeneye, Gadwall, Whooper Swan, Knot

Ushet Lough, Rathlin Island

Knot, Sandy Bay, Larne

Oystercatcher, Sandy Bay, Larne

Adult Med Gull, Sandy Bay, Larne

Little Egret, Glynn

Jack Snipe

Knot - recorded on both patches in January, unheard of.

Song Thrush whilst looking for Waxwings

Black-headed Gull making a splash

Black-headed Gull

It posed

Patch Birding

Purple Sandpiper



Wave runners


Sunset from the Rathlin Ferry