Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Ninch Niche

I decided that as I regularly go for walks in the Ninch/Laytown area of East Meath that I may as well treat it as my patch. I do suspect that others occasionally go snipin' on the Laytown/Mosney beach but I have never actually bumped into them.
The area I have chosen stretches from Sonairte in Ninch along the river Nanny and down the beach towards Mosney as far as Ben Head. I have rarely seen anything of note on my many walks but patching makes you look at common birds more which I have enjoyed over the last few days.
The weather has been continuously shocking over the last 4 days (when I started) but I have clocked up a surprising total of 69 species (78 points). The only surprises were a Long-tailed Duck and a Carrion Crow but it was very nice to find a flock of around 100 Stock Doves.
I don't expect much in the way of rarities but I now have another reason to welcome the Spring when it arrives and the migrants that come with it.


Ballycotton - Hello. How was your January?

I am coming at this whole patch birding thing a bit late. But with the amount of time I spend at Bally-C I thought I would give it a go.

I have never really "worked" a patch properly before. I tend to work certain coastal routes at different times of year, to maximize the birds I find. But over the past couple of years I have found those routes are taking in Ballycotton more and more.

Ballycotton is a strange site. Some years, there are good birds galore. Others a sparse sampling of juicy tidbits.

Sitting down to work out what I had seen there was a challenge in and of itself. In total I have seen about 195 species in the area. Most years do not come close to this however, and keeping track of what I have seen from year to year was difficult.

The Patch

The patch I work is pretty much the same as what people have always worked. From the cliffs and the famed "Phil's Back Passage", taking in migrants and Seabirds, to the beach and its waders and gulls, to the back bog and its raptors and the marshes up as far as Garryvoe.

This patch should allow for a good mix of species, and is easily worked in a few hours. However the real tricky birds will be those that you would normally not be bothered with on a visit to Ballycotton. Finding birds like Treecreeper will be...interesting.

Working out the past years scores was also interesting for the bias involved. 2011 was a damn good year for American Waders, and I found a fair few on the beach here. This plumped up the average score a fair bit, coming in at 235.7 (This could change if I notice some omission or misplaced inclusion.)

I do not intend to work the area religiously, as other patch fanatics do. There will be times I go nowhere near the place, particularly in October, when I am usually haunting West Cork. Probably madness really, as I would stand to dig out good birds that time of year. Luckily, east Cork often does very well in November for passerine migrants, and I can put in some time then.

January was a reasonably good month. Though I only managed a few visits to the area due to distractions like Bird-Races etc, I did manage to see some decent birds.

Over the past 2 weeks, the numbers of gulls have boosted, due to the renewed level of fishing out of Ballycotton and the icy easterly winds. The result was a real bonanza in terms of large Gull species, including ~6 Yellow Legged Gulls, ~4 Glaucous Gulls and a single Adult Iceland gull.

Big Gull Bonanza - Hanna Hyvönen

Glaucs - Brutes - O. Foley and Hanna Hyvönen

Yellow Legged Gull - Hanna Hyvönen

Due to the incessant bad weather and windy conditions, however, hoodwinks over the past couple of weekends have included a possible Caspian Gull and 1-2 American Herring Gulls.

Possible Yank - Hanna Hyvönen

In fact I am convinced this one is the real deal. With a solid dark tail, barred upper and undertail covs, and smooth,solid chocolate-mocha underparts, I am just hoping for some better views to seal the deal. With luck, he will hang around and I will run into him again, or someone else will.

Last weekend I failed to connect with this or the Casp candidate, but with storm force winds, no fishing boats were active, and gulls could be seen out on the various islands, waiting patiently for a free meal.
The weather did have the benefit of moving a few juicy bits inshore, which included a Black Throated Diver (tough enough in Cork) and a cracking Little Auk flying by (Patch Tick).

The month's end sees a score of 92 species and a score of 117, Comparative score 49.6%.

I guess I will have to put a bit of effort into mopping up some of the obvious, "gettable" species, no doubt lurking in the marshes and laneways.

Monday, 28 January 2013

South Dublin Coast - Week 3

After adding almost thirty species to the Patch list last time out, this week was much quieter with only two additions. Redwing continued to move through the area during the week, but unfortunately no sign of any Fieldfares or Snipe, two species I was hoping the cold snap would push towards the coast.

Killiney Bay - No bonus points for nice views though

 Started off on Saturday with a quick look in the "Magic Cove" at the northern end of Killiney Bay, which has held Black Redstarts in the past, but no sign of any this time around. A fly-past Rock Pipit was new for the Patch list though.

Magic Cove

From here it is a relatively short walk to Sorrento Point, a birding site I had never visited before. Icterine Warbler has been found here, as was a Frigatebird during a seawatch. The area near the tip of Sorrento Point is covered in dense hebe and other vegetation - hopefully enough to hold a Yellow-browed Warbler or flycatcher in autumn. A quick seawatch from here produced a few Gannets and three Red-throated Divers.  Around 150 Shags were gathered in one big group around the southern tip of Dalkey Island - possibly a pre-breeding gathering? Around twenty minutes into the seawatch there was a very impressive low-level flyby of the Coast Guard and Army helicopters through Dalkey Sound, the latter hanging around for a while to carry out exercises on Dalkey Island.

Does Common BlackHawk get 10 points?

 As it was high-tide, there were relatively few gulls in Bullock Harbour, the most notable of which was a second winter Mediterranean. A quick look around the Shanganagh River estuary added Grey Wagtail to the Patch list, while the Brambling returned to the garden on Sunday. Slightly galling were records of Little Gull and Waxwing seen by other observers on the patch during the week - would have been a nice few points.

The two new species bring the total to 57 species, 68 points and 57.57%. I'll post the full species list so far in a comment to this post. 

Missing Birds on Rathlin - An Update

Many thanks to those that got in touch with records – I am sure you will all be relieved to hear that Mute Swan has been recorded on the Island (one at Ushet Lough last autumn).  Other additions to the list are Scaup (a few previous records), Glaucous Gull and Waxwing (5 present on 6 November 2005).  Another interesting record is of a Dark-bellied Brent Goose on 2 May 2008.  Any sort of Brent Goose on the island is a good record but unfortunately even on my unofficial list, this doesn’t go down as a full species.

It was also interesting to discover a previous Bullfinch record (1 June 2007) and a couple of previous records of Yellowhammer – the latter seems to occur during cold weather movements – I’d best check the wild bird cover patches next visit!  This has bumped the island list up to a staggeringly low 180!

For anyone that missed this the first time – here’s just some of the species not on the list:

Pintail, Shoveler, Long-tailed Duck, Grey Plover, Dotterel, Slavonian Grebe, Garganey, Velvet Scoter, Smew, Green Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Stock Dove, Kingfisher, Dipper, Pied Flycatcher, Black Redstart, Long-tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Jay, Tree Sparrow, Bewick’s Swan, Long-tailed Skua, Reed Warbler

Sunday, 27 January 2013

                                          Tough Going

Another fruitless scan of the golf course pools, sadly  they're not producing the goods like I thought they might. There are a number of Duck sp on the patch list from the '80's as a result of  the Owenacurra floodplain, (now known as housing estates) but they're not showing up on patch this year. The trouble with an inland patch is that there are no 'right' conditions. falls dont happen, seawatching isn't an option, you just need to get lucky with something flying over.
     The only new bird recently was Little Egret  and the most surprising thing about that was that it took until now to see one on patch. Since they first started breeding nearby at the end of the 90's they have become a regular sight, even on one occasion following a plough. 

                                                     What's that coming over the hill?

    Little Egrets seem particularly unsuited to a wet Irish winter. You see them standing at the edge of a field, morose and hunched in the downpour probably cursing whatever ancestor thought range expansion was a good move. When they do rouse themselves they stalk slowly around a field like an old farmer inspecting cattle leaning forward with his hands clasped behind his back, afraid to show enthuasiasm in case anyone thought he had money.
    They dont seem to particularly care for cattle, preferring to keep their own company, which makes them easy to tell apart at long range from the much perkier Cattle Egret. 47 sp and 50 points now.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Patio Patch Tick!

A full-fat patch tick from the patio this morning....

Somewhat galling that its only worth two points but hey, what can ya do?


Half century

Went out this morning, determined to catch up on a few certainties and found the flock of Turnstone in the usual place accompanied by a Rock Pipit.  Had a quick look through the gull roost but nothing new there and nothing at sea.  Just about to leave when I noticed a small flock of ducks flying out to sea - Wigeon.  Made my way to Kilgorman Marsh and flushed a couple of Pheasant.

I had a good walk along the river and flushed several flocks of Teal, one of which was accompanied by a Little Egret.  I continued on up the river but saw nothing new so headed back.  Halfway back down the river I heard a familiar call and quickly found a Chiffchaff feeding in the reeds along the edge of the river.  While watching it, a Water Rail called a short distance away.

So still missing some obvious species but added 7 species to go to 53 species and 58 points.  Not a bad morning.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Cold and wet.

Kilmichael - Kilpatrick - Kilgorman

They must have been a shockin' holy bunch around these parts with all these churches so close together and I think I might have to say a few prayers myself to get a decent patch list.

I managed to get in a few hours patching last Friday and at the weekend, the first time this year I've actually gone out birding.  Like Niall, went seawatching on Friday and saw the sea.  Not a bird in sight!  When my fingers started going numb I reckoned it was time to go home.

Saturday dawned bright and dry and I thought I'd put in a few hours tramping before the rain that was forecast for the afternoon.  Ten minutes after I set out it started raining and just got heavier and heavier.  Still, I managed to get 40 species, which I felt was respectable.  Nothing out of the ordinary at all and still missing a number of 'dead cert' species.

A few hours on Sunday brought the species total to 46 including the first Redwings and Fieldfares of the winter.  I know - I really must get out more!  With a week still to go this month, there must be a good chance of getting past the 50 mark.  Still missing the 'resident' flock of Turnstones as well as Pheasant, Snipe, Rock Pipit, Greenfinch, Linnet, Goldfinch and Reed Bunting.  Might pick up a Gannet or Fulmar as well.  After that, I might as well put my feet up and wait for Spring!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

A week of two halves

Seems we got the works in terms of weather this week with heavy rain originally; from reading this blog it appears
that floods in fields are known as flashes. Interestingly farmers confronted with a crop under six inches of 
water also have a word beginning with 'f ' to describe the situation, several in fact. Anyway the floods brought in a few Common Gulls briefly which was the first new species in nearly a week.

A soft day

Then the frost came. We avoided the snow but the coldest nights of the winter prompted a little movement,
the best of which was a small flock of lapwing. These seem to be scarce this winter, I'm not seeing them in
large numbers anywhere. Other than that it was all very much the same old stuff with no great increase in 
Thrushes or finches, and the wintering Chiffchaffs still present. Roll on the spring.

Sunday, 20 January 2013


In order not to be accused of being a lazy arse in the January footit challenge I took some more steps away from the patio this morning. Didn't get a whole lot on the trudge to Shite Lane but, once at the top of the hill I figured another trip into Dirk might be the most productive. I was very surprised to hear a coal tit calling from some heebies at the top of Dirk - never seen them here in January, indeed I think October is the only month I've had them, and even then, they are far from annual. I think I've had more records of yellow-browed warbler than coal tit, (certainly before last Autumn's record haul of coal tits, where birds were present for several weeks in Dirk).

That was my lot though for the walk, despite wandering for a further hour and a half. However, I wasn't done for the day, as the patio had still not been checked! Once home, I scoured the lake and sea with the scope, picking up the green-winged teal again (past glories now though!). With nothing much doing, I left the scope set up so I could peruse some more in passing throughout the day.

With the kids embroiled in lunch, I ducked outside again and was just scanning the reedy channel between the lake and the road when I noticed a kingfisher! It was sitting in the open, in a patch of sunshine - fantastic! Kingfisher is another species that can be hard at Galley, and I probably average one every two years. To get one out of the way so early in the year is another big bonus!

Gutted that both only worth single points on the scoreboard though! Swizz! Total now 73 species or 91 points.


Ballyquintin in the gale 18-20 January

SE gale on Friday 18th, blowing full on to Ballyquintin point. I went down to take a look, and to see if there was any shelter at all with that kind of wind .... and there wasn't. Nearly blown off my feet going to the coastguard lookout. Birds were moving out at sea, but nothing identifiable without any protection. A little better at Barr Hall Bay, on the western side of the point, and the green-winged teal was still around, but that was it.

Shore near Port Kelly, N of Ballyquintin farm, in the gale. 18 January 2013

Winds were forecast to decrease, but still strong enough, and still SE-E over the weekend. On Saturday 19th I looked in briefly, and found a flock of 20 fieldfare lurking in the hedge at Templecowey. Bleak at the Ballyquintin NT car park, but 50 teal on one of the farm ponds were a little unusual. Barr Hall Bay was better, though. A great northern diver was out in the bay (the first I have seen there), along with some red-breasted mergansers, and a few feral pigeons flew over. A group of teal also in the bay, but I didn't manage to pick out the green-winged fella.

I spent more time there today, still with a biting E-SE wind, and frequent vicious hail showers. The green-winged teal was showing fine in Barr Hall Bay. Out in Strangford Narrows, a flock of kittiwake caught my eye, and I found guillemots and razorbills on the water beneath them. Walking around the point produced very little, unsurprisingly, but the western fields on the headland were thick with corvids, starlings, gulls, linnets, pigeons and plovers. The linnet flock was large and held promise, but I failed to get a really good look at them. Even though it seemed like a pure flock, perhaps 500 strong, it was frustrating not to be sure there was nothing else with them. A few stock doves did show themselves nicely, however. A female merlin (probably the one I saw there last week) flashed around and kept the whole lot on the boil.

Some gentler weather would be nice, if anyone can fix that ... still haven't found a great tit on this patch!

68 species, 88 points.

South Dublin Coast - Week 2

Having finally shaken off the cold from last week, I finally got a chance to do some birding on the patch. I started Saturday morning with a quick scan of Killiney Bay, which added a couple of local scarcities in the form of single Red-throated Diver and Shelduck. There was little else around so I moved on to Coliemore Harbour for an hours seawatching. Never having done any seawatching from here during the winter months, I was intrigued what may be around, especially with weather conditions quite favourable (moderate SE winds with on/off sleet). As it turns out, there was a small passage of Auks and Red-throated Divers, as well as seven Mediterranean Gulls and two Kittiwakes moving south. Not bad for January.

Purple Sandpipers occur in small numbers around the Dalkey Islands during the winter and I was delighted to find two feeding with Turnstones amongst the seaweed on Lamb Island. Further patch ticks included Grey Heron, Common Gull and Black Guillemot. Non-birding sightings included a Porpoise and about ten Grey Seals hauled up on Dalkey Island.

Dalkey Island
After almost freezing solid during the seawatch, I was glad of the walk to Bullock Harbour. Linnet, Goldcrest and Collared Dove were welcome patch ticks along the way. The harbour held the usual array of Black-headed, Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, as well as 11 rather tame Turnstones. Two or three Mediterranean Gulls were also mixed in amongst the Black-heads. One of the reasons I chose to include Bullock is to keep better track of the ringed Gulls which regularly turn up here. There were two present this week, a third winter Herring Gull (OJH) and a first-winter Great Black-backed Gull (1KH), both blue darvics.

Looking from Bullock Harbour towards Howth
Larus uglii
Sunday morning brought another patch tick in the form of Redwings, with several small flocks seen flying south along the coast during the day (displaced by the snow in the Dublin mountains and further up the coast?). At lunch time I headed over to Shanaganagh Beach, hoping for one or two Little Gulls blown in on the easterly winds. Three white-winged gulls were amongst the gulls feeding offshore, unfortunately Mediterranean rather than Little. A couple more Gannets and Red-throated Divers were about the best of it in worsening weather conditions. At least the garden contributed a patch tick in the form of Redpoll, with the female Brambling putting in another appearance at the feeders.

The totals for the first two weeks then are 55 species, 66 points and  55.56%.

Shanganagh Beach looking towards Bray Head

Friday, 18 January 2013

Looks like rain Ted

What was I thinking going birding on the patch today?!! F5 SE winds, pelting rain & sleet, chilly fingertips & visibility down to 300m at times.

Envisaged getting some seawatching in, spurred on by Eric Dempsey's Little Auk off Newcastle yesterday, but could barely see out to sea!

The rivers leading down on to the marsh were in full flood and as such the lagoons & channels were starting to back up, with flashes forming on the coastal grasslands. Lots of duck on these but with the scope fogging over pretty much anytime I looked into it I didn't really get to check them properly (there'll be a Green-winged Teal found there this weekend while I'm away, mark my words).

Anyway it was all worth it in the end...a pair of Gadwall with 68 Icelandic Greylag on a flash in Blackditch ECNR and a Bar-tailed Godwit with c.90 Blackwits on the flooded Newcastle Airfield runway were both new for the patch year list. Zing!

That's me done on the patch until early February. Tied up with branch events this weekend then off out to sea on Monday for 2 weeks surveying seabirds & cetaceans along the shelf edge (keep an eye on my exploits over at the Cetaceans on the Frontier 4 blog here: www.cotf4.blogspot.ie)

82 species, 96 points & 49.1%


Wednesday, 16 January 2013

the magic patio comes good

Been banging them in steadily the last few days at Galley, with the patio producing most, if not all of the goods again! Two (count 'em!) gadwall (scarce here & not quite annual), followed by a male green-winged teal the next day (and grey heron at last), and then yesterday brought flyover siskin and a 1st w mediterranean gull - all good!

The teal was close enough today for an awful record shot but hey, saves writing a description! Only my second one at Galley after the first in winter 05/06. Good to get another one here, and the first 6 points of the year!

Look at the green wings on that!

Rainy Day in Kilmore.

Knew i should have went yesterday was the first thing i said to myself when i pulled into the harbour in Kilmore this morning , could'nt see the Saltees which is always a bad sign.
Anyway , on with the wet gear and off i went. Plenty of Gulls around the Pier but nothing too exciting so decided to take a walk down the beach. All the usual waders still knocking around and plenty of Rock pipits to keep me company and couple of Red-throated  and Great-northern divers near the harbour. Managed to pick up a few Goldfinch  and Redwing in the Fields and moved on down to Patrick's bridge where i picked out a distant Slav Grebe ,  a Red breasted Merganser pair here was another tick.

Red-Breasted Merganser
At the far side of the Bridge pools had two Little grebe and lots of Sanderling and Turnstone ,  a flock of Blackwits and Curlews here aswell and plenty of Hoodies and Starlings knocking about and a few Linnets sheltering from the rain , also had a Kestrel swoop in for a few minutes.
Curlews and Starlings
Did'nt hang around too long after that as the rain was pelting down , not a bad day despite the conditions , going to be hard to add anything elese to the patch now before the spring although should have a few White-wing gulls yet , usually a good spot for them.
Anyway up to 74 spp / 85pts and 40.7%
Tom 16/01/2013

Monday, 14 January 2013

Industrial Strength Birding

Definitely a lot colder today and Redwing numbers were well up, though  strangely most were passing north.
With it supposed to get colder hopefully there will be some movement as things have slowed down. Checked a large flock of c 150 Chaffinches that were leapfrogging around an oilseed rape field but couldn't
dig out a suspected Brambling from last week. Last Friday I tried the Golf Course again at dusk for anything
that might be calling, luckily it's still closed or I could  be getting a name for myself as some sort of weird golf
voyeur, again I didn't hear any Water Rails but there was one interesting little interlude before I got there.

                                                       Hopefully not this week

Ringed Plover is on the patch list from two previous sightings, the first in June around ten years ago involved a single displaying bird high over the farm for five minutes. I figured it was a strange one off as Ringed Plover is a scarce bird in Cork Harbour in Winter and a  rare breeder in Summer. Then four or five years ago while
taking the kids for a cycle around the industrial estate 11 Ringed Plovers flew low off or over the largest building in the estate. Were Ringed Plovers breeding on the roof of a warehouse?. I had a good look at 
the roof after that but never saw a wader. Certainly the habitat looked right, the roof is almost flat and completely covered in stones presumably as some kind of strengthening/insulating cover. Gulls used previously roost on it in large numbers when the nearby abattoir was open, so much so that two plastic
Peregrines were put on the roof to try keep the gulls off.

                                                           Plastic doesn't count

Anyway while on my way to listen for Water Rails I set up the scope to have a general scan of the area. While panning right I scoped the roof and was most surprised to see some white blobs on the gravel. I moved a lot closer and confirmed Ringed Plovers roosting three stories up, 32 of them in total, probably the biggest flock I have ever seen around Cork Harbour, should I be counting it for IWeBS ? . Probably because there were 4 Dunlin with them also only the second patch record. Species 43 and 44 and 46 points.

#patiobirding scores 9 points!

Not that I have a patio but following an all day stomp around ‘my’ Blacksod patch on Saturday I spent Sunday around the house, it has to be said more in than out! However following a tweet from Col of Galley Birding fame about 2 Gadwall on his Galley patch with the hashtag of #patiostrikesagain encouraged me to set up the ‘scope on the front doorstep and scan the patch. Result! After thirty minutes of scanning my #patchbirding score had increased by 3 points with a male Wigeon on the ‘duck puddle’, 2 distant white blobs which turned out to be a pair of Mute Swans and a fly-by Woodpigeon. Fantastic; definitely #lazybirding!

This morning I quickly scanned the patch again from the ‘patio’, particularly the ‘duck puddle’, and now 6 Teal had joined the male Wigeon - nothing new so I made my way to the office. Then during the morning another tweet from Col informed us that he had found a male Green-winged Teal on his patch - more #patiobirding! Congratulations tweets were then sent to him from his #irishminileague challengers and one, from Niall K, predicted that the next one would turn up on my ‘duck puddle’ - I smirked!

Lunchtime arrived. I headed for home remembering NKs prediction, so as I pulled up outside the house I grabbed the ‘scope and scanned the ‘duck puddle’ – 9 Teal, and, WOW one has an obvious white vertical stripe - a fantastic male Green-winged Teal - 6 points in the bag and #patchgold!

Long distance birding - can you see the white stripe? 
Thanks Col - I’ll certainly be spending a little more time #patiobirding!

South Dublin Coast - Week 1

Well, the first week of this PatchBirding thingy is over. Being stuck in bed with a cold really didn't help in getting the list started. Monday morning started with garden regulars, such as Dunnock, Blackcap, Blue and Coal Tit. The first real surprise came on Tuesday morning when an adult winter female Brambling joined the half dozen or so Chaffinches feeding on the sunflower seed in the garden. Only the fourth garden record in the last ten years.


Not much happened until Saturday, when a Raven flew over, as did a group of ten Brent Geese (garden tick!). The Brambling re-appeared Sunday morning, while 6 Starlings performing a mini-murmuration on Sunday evening were the last species to be added to the patch list this week.

That leaves the total at 26 species and 28 points so far. Having recorded 99 species in the area last year, I am hoping to break through the 100 mark in this years challenge.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Nice morning for a walk!

Finally left the confines of the patio & garden this morning, and managed a good two hours hoofing round Galley. It was a cracking morning, with no wind and some nice light - perfect birding conditions! Managed to nail new eight species for the year during the circuit, including the traditional wintering whimbrel in Dirk, (though Birdtrack didn't like the record much!) Golden plover, goldcrest and grey wagtail all fell, as did raven and snipe - both of which I'd normally have had by now.

Bird of the day came courtesy of the patio though, as once back home I set up the trusty swaro to give the lake a scan. There nestling on the far bank in amongst some mallard were a pair of gadwall - ker-ching! I think this is my 3rd or 4th record for the patch, all in the last 5 years - definately a species that seems to be getting a bit more regular.

So finished on 65 species (or 77 points), which is one above the January total of the last two years so going well so far in 2013! However when I compare that to the previous two years its only a measily 37.02%!) Still no herons yet, normally a daily regular on the lakeshore - dunno where they are hiding! Maybe tomorrow?


Ballyquintin, chipping away ... 13 Jan 2013

Having thus far made only quick runs at Ballyquintin, I decided to do it properly today. The morning was grey and nasty, with a cold, spitting rain. I headed first to Templecowey (aka Cowey Wells), and found the place virtually devoid of birds. A lone little egret stood out on the marsh. Only one thing for it: I headed for Portaferry to sit out the rain with some coffee and a bacon sandwich at Barholm (picking up a robin for the patch along the exit road).

Templecowey, looking down over the reedbeds and tidal marsh. Small area of woodland on the slope to the left. 13 Jan 2013.

An hour or so later, it seemed to be looking better, so I returned to  the NT car park, and took the track N along the shore. Four wigeon were on the sea, with the teal, and house sparrows and chaffinches around the farm. Hundreds of gulls searching among the seaweed, all of the commoner species (to my eye). Near the end of the track, a purple sandpiper flew up from a group of turnstones (I later saw what I presume was the same bird out on the point). It was still spitting the same nasty rain as I moved back to the car park, and then out to the coastguard lookout. For once, there was shelter there, the rain cleared off, and I had a great views both E over the sea, and W over the fields towards Strangford Narrows. The fields held lapwings, curlews, golden plovers, and a few dunlin but, while scanning these, I picked up a female merlin preening on a fence post. Out at sea, there was more action than a few days ago. A few scoter flew past in small groups, two red-throated divers on the sea, a couple of black guillemot and several guillemot. A couple of kittiwake flew around with the other gulls, and then a gannet wheeled past. Into the sea birds at last!

From Ballyquintin coastguard lookout, over the last field on the Point, with Strangford Narrows in the background. This field held hundreds of plovers today, and is where dotterel were found a couple of autumns ago. 13 Jan 2013.

I walked down to the point and round the shore to Barr Hall Bay. Ringed plover rested on the shingle.  Once round to the bay, a pair of stonechat popped up onto the fence, there was a meadow pipit with the rock pipits on the shore, and song thrushes shot in and out of bushes. The tide was in, but there was still a large flock of teal, and the drake green-winged teal among them, in the innermost part of the bay. Continuing up onto the headland, 50 tree sparrows came up into the hedge, and I found two blue tits in the same section. On the top of the headland, every field seemed to be full of gulls, starlings and corvids, with at least one flock of linnet. A final scan over the sea from the car park produced a solitary female eider. I drove back up to Templecowey for another go, but it was still more or less birdless, and the afternoon was darkening.

Barr Hall Bay from the SE. The near shore, but at low tide, is where the green-winged teal was found on 10 Jan. Today it was in the innermost part (top right in the photo), along the far shore. 13 Jan 2013.

So, I think I'm still missing a few species, but the day's 19 new patch birds means that the total is now starting to look more like how it should ... 62 species, 80 points.

Rathlin Island - Visit 2

A switch to colder air in recent days had me back out on Rathlin on 12 January, hoping that something decent might have dropped in.  The omens looked good as while driving up to Ballycastle on Friday evening, a Woodcock flew across the road near Ballypatrick Forest. 
The first noticeable difference to the last visit was the large numbers of Guillemots and Kittiwakes present in Rathlin Sound.  Many of the good birds from the last visit were still present; a female Goldeneye in the Harbour, a Great Northern Diver off the West Pier, female Pochard in Ally Lough and 3 Common Scoter (2 female, 1 male) in Mill Bay.  However, this time I wanted to concentrate more on the northern section of the patch I had not checked on the first visit.
Coastguards Station, Rathlin Island

I quick check of Church Valley produced the first of the days patch year ticks, as 2 Goldcrests rummaged around a gorse bush.  I headed uphill and onto a rough track that leads through the rough grasslands of Ballyconagan to the old Coastguards Station, which sits roughly 120m above the Atlantic Ocean.  A couple of flyover Linnets were a welcome addition to the year list and were later seen feeding by the side of one of the many small pools in the area.  Several Song Thrushes were in a bramble covered bank and a few Meadow Pipits were flushed from heather areas.

The stony heather covered slopes in and around the Station are a good spot for Snow and Lapland Buntings in autumn and must occasionally have Golden Plover as well.  The views east and west from the Station should produce a few good birds throughout the year as this part of the island is excellent for raptors, but the hoped for Kestrel or Merlin did not materialise today.  Instead though, masses of Fulmars were already back around the cliff face below and as far as the eye could see to the west. Unfortunately, the site is too high for seawatching (that won’t stop me trying though), but could prove a good spot to spend a few hours during migration periods looking upwards instead.
                                                                    View of the North Cliffs from Coastguards
                                                                             View of the East Lighthouse from Coastguards
I made my way to the end of the surfaced road before the track to the East Lighthouse.   Here a few cattle fields are usually good for corvids and finches but I was soon interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a CHOUGH.  I looked into the fields to see not one but two birds feeding in the mud amongst Hooded Crows at a cattle feeder.  This is the first time I’ve seen them in this part of the island and in fact this year is the first time Northern Ireland’s only breeding pair have decided to over-winter on the island.  You can find out more here.
I completed the loop back towards Church Bay and made my way to Ballycarry Pool and was delighted to find 5 Wigeon present, another patch year tick.  Also present here were 35 Curlew, 61 Teal, 1 Tufted Duck, 2 Coot and 4 Mallard.
                                                                            Ballycarry Pool in full flood
From here I made my way down to the Harbour and along the Shore Road towards Mill Bay – gull and wader numbers were very low so I kept going south towards the Loughs.  The birds present here were much the same as last visit, with a few notable exceptions.  There were now several different flocks of Greylag, I counted at least 117 – so many were new in.  Also new was a male Goldeneye at Ushet Lough (that had been reported during the past week).
I always check the pines and bramble ditches at the south end of Ushet and was pleased to find that in amongst the many Blackbirds and Song Thrushes was a single Fieldfare – my final patch year tick of the day.  All these birds are likely to have been new arrivals.
I decided to try and find a good seawatching point along the cliffs between Ushet Point and Maddygalla and I think I’ve sussed out a good spot that should be sheltered by a stone wall in a southerly.  My presence along the cliff tops spooked some of the birds in the rocky bays and pools below – and out flew about 40 Teal which landed on the sea – this is definitely an area to check more in the future.  I then realised I had lost track of time and spent the next 45 minutes hoofing it back for the 4pm ferry.
So another day and another 7 species has brought me to 58 species/69 points/54.33% for the year.  Glad I went over!
                                                                                       Greylag Geese on a grey day