Monday, 30 December 2013

A Month of Sundays on Rathlin – Review 2013

The weather has beaten me and I have been unable to visit the patch at all during December; so it’s time now to reflect on the year that was, the year that could have been and look forward to the year that’s to come.   During 2013, I spent a total of 30 days on Rathlin and my efforts resulted in a total of 121 species (151 points or 118.9%) being recorded, which included no fewer than 11 patch ticks, a first island record and numerous highs and lows. 
I outlined my hopes and aims for the patch birding year (here) and this is how I got on:
1.    Visit more often particularly in winter and spring – Outcome - doubled the number of usual annual visits.

2.    Go in search of commoner species which I may not have looked for otherwise – Outcome – you have no idea the lengths I went to see a Moorhen this year! See previous posts (here and here).

3.    Increase my chances of finding those all important double scoring rarities – Outcome – epic fail.  Not even close.

4.   Increase my island and self-found lists – Outcome – with 11 patch ticks this year, my patch and island list (as I rarely venture beyond the patch boundaries!) now stands on 138.  Redstart was a most welcome addition to my Irish self-found list, this species is now a Northern Ireland rarity – the birds I had on Rathlin account for 2 of the 3 records in the country in 2013!

5.    Improve my patch seabird list via some seawatching – Outcome – got this all wrong. Just about got Bonxie on the year list and they breed on the island! Noted a submarine as a highlight during one seawatch.

Fair and Torr Heads from Doon Bay on Rathlin

Patch Ticks (in order of appearance):
Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Purple Sandpiper, Long-tailed Duck, Grey Wagtail, Long-tailed Tit, Yellow Wagtail, Redstart, Black Redstart, Collared Dove and Brambling.
The fact that 10 of these species were found in winter or spring says a lot about how the year went; an exceptional spring (for NI standards) was followed by a somewhat disappointing autumn, not helped by me going to Portugal for the one week in September when good birds were being found at all corners of Ireland.

The East Light from Coastguards
First Island Record:
Black Redstart, 5 May. This was the first documented record for the island, found in exactly the spot I have long predicted this species would turn up; at the base of the West Pier in Church Bay.  This was the 190th species to make it onto the island list I’ve been putting together.

Patch Mega
Dips and Glaring Omissions:
The only species I missed on patch (that I’m aware of) that were seen by others were Pomarine Skua, Hen Harrier and Whinchat.  The most obvious omissions to the year list included Mistle Thrush, Great Crested Grebe (not seen one since about 2008 at Lough Ushet), Bar-tailed Godwit, Arctic Tern and Pink-footed Goose.
Some Highlights:

1.    On an atrocious mid winter day, when only a complete fool would have been out birding, I sat huddled amongst rocks in Mill Bay sheltering from the elements as it began to snow.  Birding for the avid patch worker stops for nothing and through the snow – a vision of the distant bobbing head of a Purple Sandpiper appeared like an apparition though my misty eyed bins.  My first patch record.
2.    It’s early October, lashing down outside and I’m setting off from the Manor House while it’s still dark to hike to the East Light for a seawatch.  Standing sodden underneath one of the few streets lights in Church Bay was a Wheatear.  I began to wonder what this tiny migrant might have been through that night to end up puffed up and shaking under a street light on Rathlin.  Somehow my hike to the East Light seemed very easy afterwards.

3.    I had already seen a Yellow Wagtail at the east end cattle fields (patch tick) and would have been quite happy to call this one of the highlights of the spring. Yet, the patch had even better in store – a cracking breeding plumaged male Redstart seen all too briefly at Ballycarry Pool. I had only added this species to my Irish list the previous spring on Saltee!

4.    Finally seeing a Moorhen after 5 months of trying only to see one with a chick the following visit.

5.    Late evening at the East Light in October as Meadow Pipits and Wheatears dropped in from nowhere and Silver Y moths buzzed around the heather.

6.    The look I received from a Merlin as it flew passed me at close range clutching one of the above pipits in its talons.

7.    Pinning down the hangouts of a spectacular Rathlin Golden Hare and getting a decent photo.

Redstart - you may need to squint
Moorhen - a contender for bird of the year!

Wheatear from the late evening fall in October

Golden moment captured

As I never managed to find a bird deemed rare enough to trouble the multiplier effect column on the score sheet here are some of the other species not mentioned so far, which I consider good birds for the patch which were seen this year: White-fronted Goose, Jack Snipe, Grasshopper Warbler, Mealy Redpoll, Woodpigeon, Spotted Flycatcher, Garden Warbler, Snow Bunting and Lapland Bunting.
I must make a particular effort to stress just how good the migration buzz was on the island on some days during the spring.  Species like White Wagtail, Rock and Meadow Pipits passed through the island in their hundreds. Birds such as Skylark and Wheatear were seen bombing over the East Light and some decent falls of common migrants were also noted; day totals for Willow and Sedge Warblers peaked at 50 and 27 respectively.

Twite and cow - on territory
On the breeding bird front, I was involved in an all island Twite survey carried out by the RSPB, which revealed several breeding pairs of Northern Ireland’s rarest breeding finch and one of my favourite birds.  Unfortunately, soon after discovering a pair visiting a probable nest site, a large gorse fire tore through the area, obliterating all in its path.  The small breeding population of Lapwing continues to struggle, with only a couple of fledged juveniles seen from the 6 pairs which bred on the patch.  The Black-headed Gulls failed at the previously known colony due to spring flooding, but I located another small colony (25-30 pairs) elsewhere on the patch which fared much better and for the first time in many years a few pairs of Sand Martins bred, making use of a landslide in Doon Bay which revealed some nice muddy banks.

Eider congregate and display in the harbour...

Then pair up...
And produce plenty of these

Several species remain on my wish list for next year, but I need to up my game and be on the island during autumn when things are moving and I really must try some seawatching in a proper north westerly – lots of island ticks and points are available.  The mega find on the island still evades me, but I’m having a bloody good time trying.

Thank you and goodnight

Saturday, 28 December 2013

2013 Kilcoole Patch Birding round-up

Today (28th Dec) was my last patch visit of the year. What with the mad weather we’ve been having lately it was nice to get out & about on a calm, cold & clear winters day. Some highlights included the usual male Hen Harrier, lots of Siskin & Lesser Redpoll, 7 sharming Water Rail, 5 Stock Doves, a juvenile Peregrine, 52 Whooper Swans, an Otter, good numbers of duck at ECNR, quite a few Stonechats & an interesting dark morph Buzzard at Newcastle (about as dark as I have ever seen one in Ireland anyway, with seemingly uniform chocolate brown head & underparts).

Offshore, divers were certainly the order of the day with 4 Great Northerns (about as many as you’ll ever see here) & a minimum of 120 Red-throated counted on a single scan. With divers spread out (often in loose flocks) between Kilcoole train station & Six Mile Point (c.4km), and a fast flowing Southerly current, it’s hard to say how many were present exactly (large numbers not without precedent... Dick Coombes got a count of 185 Red-throats here in Dec 2012).

So with no new species added today the 2013 Patch Birding Year at Kilcoole, Newcastle & Blackditch ECNR finishes up with 152 species, 203 points & 103.83%

All in all, an excellent result! Achieved my two targets for the year:

(1) Beat my previous highest patch year list record of 146 (2012), ideally getting at least 150 species in the process... DONE

(2) Reach 200 species for my overall patch life list (was at 199 by the end of 2012 & got 3 new patch ticks in 2013)... DONE


Patch ticks: Lesser Whitethroat (200), Whinchat (201) & Crane (202).
The Lesser ‘throat was an all round winner on the basis of it being the big 200 but also as it did the honourable thing & hung about for 2 weeks, drawing a crowd of up to 40 local birders. The Whinchat was a most welcome claw back on a bogey bird & the Crane was great to catch up on after having dipped many in the past.

Bird of the Year: Long-eared Owl... amazing views & totally unexpected! Superb.

Rarities: American Golden Plover, 2 Little Ringed Plovers, Hobby & Sabine’s Gull. Not the greatest haul compared to recent years but still can’t complain. A Dotterel wouldn’t have gone astray however... to round off the cast of plovers nicely that is! ;)

Good patch birds: 2 Scaup, 3 Glaucous Gulls, Balearic Shearwater, Pomarine Skua, 3 Marsh Harriers, male Hen Harrier, Spotted Redshank, Wood Sandpiper, 2 Yellow Wagtails, Spotted Flycatcher, Snow Bunting etc. (the Glaucs, Balearic & Yellow Wags were particularly sweet).

Notable events:
  • Some excellent falls of common/scarce migrants in late April & again in late September (highlighting the potential for something rare!).
  • Keeping track of Spring passage of Arctic waders on a daily basis from May to early June.
  • Nice to hear plenty of singing Reed Warblers using available pockets of breeding habitat.
  • Shoveler & Lapwing still breeding away despite all the odds.
  • The Spring passage of Roseate Terns was just superb and let’s not forget migrating Arctic Terns, always a delight to see bouncing in off the sea on a foggy day!
  • Flocks of Greenland White-fronted Geese migrating overhead on clear October days, a sight to behold.

Little Tern wardening: 45 pairs fledged 75 young (nothing died!). Ringed Plovers & Oystercatchers did well too.

Other wildlife:
  • A great year for Otters (at least 8 animals in the area).
  • Awesome views of Risso’s & Bottlenose Dolphins.
  • A couple of Common (Harbour) Seals which are rare around these parts.
  • Heartening to see butterflies making a return to decent numbers (incl. patch tick of Dark Green Fritillary).
  • Impressive swarms of Ladybirds in late summer!
  • Bumblebee ID for beginners (7 species nailed so far).

Dips: Little Auk, Sooty Shearwater, Great Crested Grebe, Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker & Cetti’s Warbler (all seen by others).

Species missed (?): Jack Snipe, Goldeneye, Garganey, Little Stint, Black Tern, Lapland Bunting etc (any number of these usually expected in a given year).

I'll be back on patch come the first weekend in January for Patch Birding 2014! Still need to sort out patch bogeys of Iceland Gull & Woodcock...


Sunday, 22 December 2013

Hyvää Joulua - Merry Christmas from Suomi

Well that is it for me. Patching done and dusted. I gave a last effort just before I left in the hopes of a last year tick, but it was not to be.

What a year it has been. The first year that I have ever put in such a concentrated effort to BallyC and the result was the addition of a host of new species, particularly among the passerine migrants.

So a quick review is in order, (very quick, as the Christmas preparations are in full swing here in Finland...and there are owls to see!)

First up, the most notable absentees from the year list.

Number 1 has to be Short eared owl. It has been a poor year for the species in general I have found. I have only seen one, in October at Ballymacrown. And whilst there HAS been one at Ballycotton, frequenting the back bog this winter, it has failed to show for me. Usually you would connect with 2 or 3 at Ballycotton, often with birds popping up even in spring and summer. A lot of cold evenings were spent at the back bog gate in vain.

Number 2 spot goes to Marsh Harrier. I would usually manage a bird in spring at the back bog. This year I saw no Marsh Harriers anywhere in Ireland, so that eases the conscience a little.

Number 3 was the one and only Long Tailed Duck back in February. This was a sitter, which I missed because of some filthy twitching in Wexford. Lesson Learned.

Working BallyC so much was bound to add a range of new species for me. At the end of the day, despite the loss of the lake in the 90's, it remains one of Ireland's premier birding sites (though at times it can feel otherwise).

The rake of new species accumulated has a bundle of species that should be no surprise, (Redsart, Yellow browed warbler etc etc.), but there were some genuinely enjoyable species to find which did come as a surprise.

Number 1 spot goes to the most recent. Glossy Ibis. As I said, this to me was an evocative, quintessential Ballycotton species, and adding it to my list as a find was a great Christmas present.

Number 2 - Slavonian Grebe. 2 of them no less. Grebes are gold dust in Ballycotton. You rarely get more than two Great Crested, so having 2 little black and white gems feeding in the kelp wracks was a real treat.

Number 3 - Fea's Petrel - The species people think of for any seawatch. Nailed down on a day with ferocious wind, always a delight to see.

Number 4 - Spotted Crake - This was actually a lifer! A species that has managed to elude me on frequent trips abroad, despite the other crakes falling easily.

Number 5 - Dotterel - Just cos it's a Dotterel-

Number 6 - Surf Scoter - A Drake on a seawatch was very surprising, but the year that was in it produced a second Surfer in the bay.

Ones that got away? Well that Radde's will haunt me until I find one proper. But that Yelkouan...hmmm...remains to be seen what happens with those. Could be a retrospect candidate for best patch find? Problem is they are out there, probably commoner than we think.

The main things learned from the patch challenge is, if you want a good score...pick a top site. If you want a good comparative score, pick a top site that you have put a little effort into before..but not enough to limit your comparative score to the 90 percent mark.

Statistics are fun.

So Hyvää Joulua from Finland. A Merry Christmas to all patchers, and a best of luck for the rest of the year. It's never too late! A desert or pied wheatear could make all the difference!

My final scores rest at-

Species: 177
Score: 343
Comparative: 144.32%

Sunday, 8 December 2013

That puts a nice Gloss on things

Ballycotton is the patch that just keeps on giving.

On Saturday I wandered down mid morning, starting out at the pier. Not much was doing here, so I moved on to Silver strand for a scan of the sea. Some divers were loafing around but otherwise not much compared to recent weeks.

Having a serious need for coffee before I could even face the thought of hiking down the beach, I knocked back 2 big mugs of tar like coffee and then hit Ballynamona. Normally I would walk down the beach first to the lake and then work Shanagary and Allens, but today I changed my route for some unknown reason and walked in towards Shan. As I came up on the gate, I noticed a Black Headed gull mobbing something over towards Allen's, raised my bins, and was stunned to see the bird being mobbed was a Glossy Ibis!
Full Fat Patch Tickage Baby!

I was amazed to see the gull and 3 Hoodies mobbing the poor thing, and they never left it alone the entire time it was on the marshes. Even watching with Phil, from Shanagarry cafe, you could always tell where the Ibis was in the channels from the black head hovering over it.

There is something about Glossy Ibis for me, which seems quite menacing, so I can almost understand the birds mobbing it. That dark, oily plumage and bizzare flight silhouette, really stand out in the Irish landscape.
They always remind me of a book I read as a child, about Hercules and his labours.
The 6th labour was to drive the Stmyphalian birds away from a lake near the town of Stymphalos.
The birds were said to be man eaters which "looked like the ibis", and in this particular book, the illustrations were very much Glossy Ibis like. The image always stuck with me, as did the menacing connotation.

The bird turned up on the lake late evening, looking out of place wandering among the gulls for a few minutes, before feeding for the last hour of the day in the channel, and finally roosting with the egrets and herons.

Glossy Ibis to me is an iconic Ballycotton species. Starting out birding in the late 90's, I would read about all the top birding sites in Clive Hutchinson's "Where to watch birds in Ireland" book, and Ballyc was one of those dog eared sites, in particular that Glossy Ibis had been resident there for some years.

My first trip down to Ballycotton in my late teens (staying in the equally iconic Seaspray, now gone), I almost expected to see a Glossy. Now 15 years later I finally have!

A 2nd year Yellow Legged Gull and a 1st winter Iceland were fresh in with the trawlers late evening.

Today I started out at the pier again, hoping that the increased gull numbers from the previous evening would bring in a topical Ivory. It was not to be, but this beast was here. A series of rubbish shots follows.

Big, dark and brutish. This scary looking individual had a barred undertail and rump that any American Herring gull would be proud of. The strong smooth coloration on the belly and flanks, gave way to a slightly more streaked appearance on the upper breast, the tertials could stand to be a little less patterned for my liking and from what I saw on the tail, it just doesn't look right. But if anyone is down that way and can get video or shots of that tail I would love to see them.

I haven't found many references for American Herring Gulls with reduced tail bands. I doubt such tail pattern would allow for an American Herring Gull to be "Acceptable in a Western Palearctic context" (hate that phrase). But, again, would love for a suite of shots on this bird to appear for experience sake.

Species: 177
Score: 343
Comparative: 144.32%

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

November Patch Tick!

Only managed 3 days birding on patch during the month of November but each proved extremely rewarding with some great winter birds logged & a patch tick in the bag! 

Friday 22nd November: A Merlin, a Buzzard, 2 Yellowhammers, 2 Redwing & a Grey Wagtail along Newcastle Sea Road made for a nice start to the day. Up to 280 (Icelandic) Greylag Geese were seen coming up out of the coastal fields ECNR around 8am, flying North or dispersing into the surrounding farmland to feed. A Kingfisher whizzed by the main hide at ECNR also. An unseasonal Whimbrel was in Valentine's field, just North of Newcastle Airfield. Some nearby maize stubble was busy with pigeons & corvids including c.10 Stock Doves & a Feral Pigeon. At least 60 Red-throated Divers were offshore between Six Mile Point & Kilcoole and totals of 70 Shoveler & 52 Whooper Swan were noted along the entire stretch of coast between these two sites. c300 Lapwing & a Raven were in Webb's field and a confiding female Snow Bunting (151) was on the beach opposite there. 

Snow Bunting

Saturday 23rd November: Was out with the BirdWatch Ireland Wicklow & Carlow Branches on an outing to Broad Lough that morning. Just as we were finishing up we got word of a CRANE (152) at Newcastle which had been found by Cian & Tommy Cardiff. A unanimous & wise decision was made to extend the outing & head straight for the Crane! So a bunch of us barreled straight up from Six Mile Point to find the bird still knocking about, in the maize stubble field near the Whooper flock, just North of the airfield. Views were somewhat distant but the bird showed well enough, chilled out, feeding happily away among the flocks of corvids & pigeons. A great patch tick, one that I have dipped on several times through the years (including back in February). Nice one Cian & Tommy! Brings my all time patch list to 202.

Friday 29th November: Nipped down for a quick blast of the ECNR-Kilcoole stretch in the morning before heading off the BirdWatch Ireland HQ to help pack copies of the Bird Atlas 2007-2011 for distribution (if you haven't got this fantastic book already then be sure to put it on your Santa list). Nice views of c250 Greylag & 45 Whoopers in the fields at Newcastle. Big numbers of Common Gulls on the move (for the patch anyway), with 130+ in The Breaches alone. Associating with these was a stonking juvenile Glaucous Gull on the beach at the Little Tern colony site. My third record of one here this year alone but I strongly suspect this is the same bird I saw here on 30th Sept given that very few white-wingers have been seen on the West coast so far this winter. Otherwise, the adult male Hen Harrier, an adult Peregrine, a Greenshank & 92 Light-bellied Brent Geese (including just one 1st-winter) were the best of the rest in Webb's field.

Glaucous Gull

Adult Whooper Swan with an atypical bill pattern (so-called 'Dark neb'), almost Bewick's-like in appearance when viewed from above, but then normal when viewed side on. Part of a flock of 45 (including 14 1st-winters) in the fields at Newcastle. NOTE: "The bill patterns of Bewick's & Whooper swans are split into three categories: (1) 'Yellow neb' - all yellow at the top of the bill, (2) 'Dark neb' - totally black strip from top to bottom & (3) 'Penny face' - a black strip with a small yellow circular patch in the middle of the bill. 'Penny faces' & 'Yellow nebs' are common in Whooper Swan but 'Dark nebs' are very rare, <1% (!) of birds in flocks are 'Dark neb'." Many thanks to Kane Brides (Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust) for this information.

Scores at the end of November: 
152 species, 203 points & 103.83%

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Another Surfer

Made it back down to Ballycotton today, after mitching off down west Yesterday.

Not much on offer, except distant views of Alec's Surf Scoter from the northern fringe of the patch. Only my second at BallyC after my first earlier this year, so I cannot complain.

Plenty of divers around the bay, with 3 red throats (very scarce last winter), numerous Great Northerns and what looked like 1 very distant Black Throat (though I was not sure).

No sign of my slavs around.

Off patch, a juv/female Long Tailed duck was at Rostellan. Maybe it will flake over to Ballycotton and give me a chance at a patch tick...

Monday, 25 November 2013

Déjà vu birding – Visit 26

No additional year ticks were seen on Rathlin on Sunday (24 November), but a fine selection of winter visitors were present.  Many of which could be found in much the same spots as I had seen them earlier in the year. 
As the ferry pulled into the harbour, two smaller shapes amongst the Eider flock drew my attention – a Long-tailed Duck and a Goldeneye. Both scarce birds on the island and both in exactly the same place I saw them last winter!  Flat calm seas and great visibility allowed for careful scanning offshore and this produced 4 Great Northern Divers off the West Pier and 2 Common Scoters in Mill Bay (in exactly the same spot I had added them to my island list earlier this year).
Goldeneye and Long-tailed Duck - both would have been island ticks this time last year
Next up was a female Pochard at Alley Lough with a few Tufted Ducks.  I get the impression this may be a returning bird, as I have seen a lone female at this lough every autumn/winter for the past few years.
Ballycarry Pool this week had 33 Teal, 4 Tufted Ducks, a few Snipe and a Water Rail.  The hedge and lane were full of finches and thrushes including 2 Fieldfares and 4 Greenfinches.  This week the goose flock was found hanging around Ushet Lough and was now 57 strong, but all were still Greylags.  I later heard from the RSPB warden that a Snow Bunting had been seen in the Ushet area earlier in the day.
So no change on the score front and with perhaps only one trip remaining this year, will I have to settle for 121 species?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

AGP at last and Patch Tickage

Saturday down at Ballycotton was fairly boring. Aside from small numbers of Divers starting to move past the cliffs (Winter's coming), seawatching was unproductive.

It is also a tad too early for any decent gulls at the pier (though I gave it a go), and nothing much out on this side of the bay.

Spent the rest of the day trying to dig out the AGP with no luck, only to leave and have news texted to me that it made itself known as the high tide came in.

Today was a far better showing. Nothing much to be said for the morning, but as the tide came in Plover numbers magically increased (from whence who knows). Besides this, I could not see the bird on the lake.

I then moved to silver strand, where a smaller group on the rocky spit FINALLY produced the bird...with an excellent bonus of a pair of Slavonian Grebes sitting off the rocks. Full fat patch tickage as they say!

Prior to this I have only seen one grebe species other than the common pair (Great crested and little), and that was a single Black Necked Grebe way back in early October 2006. Other species seem few and far between here, so to have not one, but two together as a patch tick was great, and having checked Aghada, in vain yesterday, specifically for grebes, I soaked these birds up for a good hour. Which lead to me picking up 2 crossbills flying over towards the village chipping away.

Just when you think, with winter closing in, year ticks will be few and far between.

3 year ticks today and 1 patch tick. Turned the weekend right around.

Species: 176
Score: 331
Comparative Score: 139.29%

Monday, 11 November 2013

One point at a time – Visit 25

I paid another visit to Rathlin on 10 November and managed another year tick in the form of two Siskins (121) in fields and hedges east of Church Bay.  Most of the finches noted recently appear to have moved on, with no large flocks encountered during the day.  On the ferry across a Rock Pipit landed on board before quickly flying south and it was clear that this species at least is currently on the move.  Over 50 birds were in the West Pier area and were searched through carefully for Water Pipit (no joy).  

The thick scrub and hawthorns near the rescue centre (have had Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler here in the past) held 25+ Blackbirds, a female Blackcap, 9 Long-tailed Tits, 2 Song Thrushes and a Redwing.  A late Peacock butterfly was also on the wing here.  Ballycarry Pool ‘looks rare’ at the moment and today held 41 Teal and 45 Curlew.   The hedge here was strangely quiet. 
Around 200 small gulls were loafing in Mill Bay but still no sign of a Mediterranean or Little Gull amongst them this year.  I caught up with the goose flock in fields east of here but unusually for this time of year the only species present were Greylags (about 45). Will this be the first year since I started visiting Rathlin regularly that I won’t see a Pink-footed Goose?
The Siskins were a species I had missed earlier in the year so were a welcome sighting.  The only species I have now knowingly ‘missed’ which have occurred on the patch this year are Pomarine Skua, Hen Harrier and Whinchat. Other glaring omissions from the year list include Mistle Thrush, Great Crested Grebe, Bar-tailed Godwit and various gettable seawatch species such as Storm Petrel and Arctic Tern.

As we move into the winter season, it is now time to focus my attention on the various patch wetlands. 
Score now 121 species, 151 points or 118.9%


Wednesday, 6 November 2013

South Dublin Coast - Update

Since the last update back in February, I have managed to get over the hundred species mark for the patch, which I didn't really think possible at the start of the year. These are the species that I managed to find since then:

(64) Curlew: One flew over Shanganagh on the 26th February. Small flocks noted on the patch through the summer.

(65) Red-breasted Merganser: A female flew past Coliemore during strong easterly winds on the 10th of March.

(66) Fieldfare: Several heard at around 11pm among thousands of Redwings flying east on the 10th of March.

Spring migrants arrived throughout April with Chiffchaff (67) on the 14th, a Swallow (68) the next day and Willow Warbler (69), as well as Sand Martin (70) on the 18th. A seawatch from Coliemore on the 21st added Sandwich Tern  (71) and Manx Shearwater (72), with several Wheatears (73) on Lamb Island plus Common Sandpiper (74) and House Martin (75) at Sorrento Point. The best spring migrant was a Grasshopper Warbler (76) heard singing for several minutes along the lower Shanganagh River on the 21st of April - only the third I have found in the patch. A Lesser Black-backed Gull (77) flew over shortly afterwards. A Mallard (78) on the 23rd was the last new species for April.

Manx Shearwater a few metres off Sorrento Point

May started well with a singing Sedge Warbler (79) along the Shanganagh River on the 1st and a Stonechat (80) along the Shanganagh Cliffs a few days later. The first Swifts (81) appeared on the 15th of May. I was away on work most of the rest May and June, so the next new species was a Crossbill (82) heard flying over the garden on the 25th of June.

Throughout July, I helped with the tern watches organised by the South Dublin Branch at Coliemore, so it was no surprise to add Arctic (83) and Common Tern (84) during the first watch there on the 9th of July. The tern colony on Maiden Rock was moderately successful with at least 15 chicks fledged. Unfortunately there was no breeding attempt by Roseate Tern this year and I had relatively few sightings of that species during the summer. Puffins (85) are quite rare locally, so it was good to get five flying north on the 9th of July. The rest of the month was fairly quiet, only managing to add another three species: a Dipper (86) on the Shanganagh River on the 15th.


Things picked up again in August, adding Tufted Duck (87), Dunlin (88), Redshank (89), Common Scoter (90) and Roseate Tern (91) during seawatches from Coliemore. Several Teal (92) and Wigeon (93) flew north past Coliemore at the end of the month.

A Buzzard (94) perched on a lamppost in Cherrywood was a bit of a lucky find at the start of September. For the rest of the month, I was hoping to concentrate on seawatching at Coliemore and trying to find migrants at nearby Sorrento Point, but the weather refused to play ball - light westerlies dominating almost the entire month. At one stage, Manx Shearwater passage was averaging about 0.3/hour over nine hours of seawatching. Despite this not exactly ideal conditions, I kept the patch list ticking over with Whimbrel (95) and Peregrine (96) in the middle of the month.

Sewatching did pick up at the end of the month, with both Great (97) and Arctic Skuas (98) past Coliemore on the 26th of September. So what species was going to be #99 and bring me up to 100%? Amazingly enough it was a Spotted Flycatcher looking quite miserable out on Lamb Island on the 30th. Noel Keogh had found one at Sorrento Point back in May, but which failed to hang around so I was delighted to get this "catch-up" patch tick! A Kestrel (100) was also hunting on the main Dalkey Island. Sorrento Point didn't hold any other migrants, but a scan out to sea did produce a rather jammy first-year Glaucous Gull (101) flying north to join a large feeding flock of gulls and auks between Dalkey Island and the Muglins. The same bird had been found by NTK at Kilcoole earlier that day. The good run continued with a Sooty Shearwater (102) flying south in awful conditions the next day, as well as a Grey Plover (103) heard calling over the garden on the 5th of October - the first garden record no less!

Coliemore at dawn

For the rest of the month I was out on the Celtic Explorer surveying the Celtic Sea (Grey Phal + Great Shearwater best birds) - of course the winds shifted easterly as soon as I was off the patch. Once I was back on dry land, I headed straight for Coliemore and more seawatching, noting a Great Northern Diver (104) on the 30th of October.

So all that leaves me on 104 species, 127 points and 105%.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Late autumn on Rathlin - Visits 23 & 24

In case you were wondering if I have given up on Rathlin for the year. No not a bit of it.  Unfortunately the weather has been against me and I have not made it over as much as I would have liked.  Nevertheless, I have made a couple of trips since my last update.
19 October
A common feature of late autumn birding on Rathlin are the hoards of Kittiwakes which can be seen dip feeding in the sound, particularly following westerly gales.  This morning saw over 1000 birds bobbing above the waves.  Another is the frustrating ferry times at weekends, which result in only being able to bird for about 4 hours during a ‘day’ trip.  Covering the north half of the patch today produced very little – a Whimbrel at the West Pier, 1 or 2 Common Redpolls with 30 Lesser Redpolls in Church Valley and good numbers of other finches which have now attracted at least 3 Sparrowhawks (including a very large female mentioned in a previous post) to the patch.  Also of note were 15 Goldcrests and an obvious arrival of Chaffinches, with over 50 birds scattered around the patch.
3 November
Perhaps the most unusual sighting of the whole autumn was of three other birders joining me on the ferry today!  Wilton Farrelly, Ian Graham and Philip West picked a good day to come over, as this was the roughest ferry crossing I have experienced to the island!  It turns out the next sailing was cancelled, so we were lucky enough to even get to the island.
Once safely on dry land the lads covered the East Light and gardens area and I went off to check the southern half of the patch.  I was glad to find Ballycarry Pool holding water and attracting a few birds again, including 28 Teal and 17 Curlew. The hedge here had numerous Blackbirds, a Redwing and a Goldcrest. Several Meadow Pipits were feeding along the edge of the pool.
I worked my way down to the South Light seeing very little of note, so I began making my way back towards Church Bay to check some gardens.  I then received news of a Brambling feeding along the shore in Church Bay; this would be an island tick – so needless to say I got there fairly quickly!  Initially there was no further sign of the bird, but it was eventually picked up again at its original location, when it was discovered there were actually 2 of them.  Species number 120 for the year and my 138th for the patch! Cheers lads.  
Patch tick Brambling
Whilst on the ferry back to Ballycastle, Wilton filled me in on the rest of their sightings from up East – 2 Snow Buntings, Blackcap, Merlin, c16 Goldcrests and numerous Goldfinches.  It then transpired that they had also seen a couple of proper patch rarities, a Woodpigeon and 8 Long-tailed Tits!  I’ll need written descriptions for those two...
From talking to a few islanders today it appears there has been somewhat of an influx of Snow Buntings to the island this past couple of weeks, with single birds being seen in gardens, ones and twos in the Ushet Lough area and a small flock currently at Kebble at the west end of the island.
This late in the year my chances of seeing additional species are becoming slim, but I won’t be giving up just yet.
Score now 120 species, 150 points or 118.11%


Stormy Weather

With forecast cataclysmic South Westerlies, I was up and on the cliffs at Ballycotton early on Saturday morning to be greeted by this.
White Water at Ballycotton

The wind was incredible, making it difficult to even open the car doors.
I hunkered down behind the car, and at times thought the wind was going to lift it on to me.

Birds were definitely moving, with good numbers of Auks, Gannets, Kits, and Sooties moving through the troughs.

Whilst watching a lovely juv Sabines gull, I saw a a dark sickle shaped underwing come up behind it, and then a gorgeous Fea's petrel arced up over the through. A full fat patch tick! It arced exceptionally high in these winds, covering ground with ease compared to the Sooties. After just a few arcs it passed behind my car and was on its way.
Another Sabs and a flock of 5 poms were the best of the rest.

The squalls passed fairly quickly and so I moved on to the gardens, but there was little of interest here.

Moving on to the lake, I ran into Murf who had seen the White Rumped Sand and found an AGP also.
A good scan from the road failed to produce either. I was going to have to brave the beach and the wind to have a chance.

An hour sat in the reeds at the lake in the lashing rain eventually produced the White Rumped as the tide came in, but I never saw the AGP. That is the second one this year on patch to give me the slip.

On returning to the car park, I checked Shanagarry where a long over due Spotted Redshank was up the back, whilst great finds bonus points came in the form of a lovely Green Winged teal in the quack flock.

Sunday was basically just a wash out with nothing of note save for a Dark Bellied Brent Goose on the lake.

Species: 173
Score: 325
Comparative Score: 136.74%