Friday, 11 January 2013

Ballyquintin point, early January

My first visit to Ballyquintin this year was on 1 Jan, as part of a birding day across the Outer Ards, and before I was aware of the Patch Birding project. I was looking for year ticks, not patch ticks, and did not keep complete notes of commoner species. I pulled into the layby at Barr Hall Bay in early afternoon, tide was nearly in and I scanned around. The usual group of teal were swimming among the rocks, a little egret was resting above the tide line, and a flock of golden plover were resting out on one of the islands. A couple of shelduck, a little grebe and a rock pipit, and that was about it. I tried scanning out into Strangford Narrows, but low and bright sun made it difficult. I even failed to find a heron! Back into the car, and the drive round to the National Trust car park, and from there a quick walk down to the point. It was quiet here too, but a Sandwich tern flew over, a skylark flew over, calling. I came over the drier shingle areas and crossed the wet tidal marshes, and quickly flushed a couple of snipe and a single jack snipe, flying over low and dropping down quickly (probably a bird that I had seen there in late December: this is almost a reliable place for them in winter). No sign of a short-eared owl, which over-wintered in the area in 2011-12, but apparently not this winter. Further along the shore, a flock of dunlin rose, some turnstones, and a single greenshank. Two carrion crows picked around on one of the shingle banks. I didn't scan the sea, as the the light and wind were difficult, and I wanted to head to other places.

Inner area of the northern, smaller bay at Barr Hall Bay at near high tide (1 Jan 2013)
East side of Ballyquintin Point, looking S (1 Jan 2013)
So, then along came Patch Birding! It struck me that Ballyquintin would be a good patch. Close enough to home, a good place to walk. I had begun exploring the area more over the last few months, and this would be a good excuse for visits, long or short. My first chance to get back was yesterday afternoon, 10 Jan, and I wanted to be sure of some of the commoner species, and have a crack at others, including the sea-birds that I ignored on 1 Jan. It was a grey day, which had been calm in the morning, but the wind was rising somewhat. I arrived about 15:00, mistiming it slightly, as the light was beginning to fade early under the thick cloud. I parked by Barr Hall Bay, right under an overhead wire with a patient kestrel. Some brent geese were swimming further out, and the little egret came flying in. A small group of teal flew past to the next, larger, bay, and I could see some small waders further out in that direction. I had decided to walk around the point and headed down the track.

Outer area of the northern, smaller bay at Barr Hall Bay at low tide (10 Jan 2013)
A short distance along, the track skirts the edge of the larger bay, and tide was completely out. It was jumping with ducks and waders. A buzzard flew over. I began scanning the ducks first. Mostly teal and a few mallard, at a first glance. I was hoping for a few wigeon, who knows what else. But on the second swing round, a drake teal dabbling at the water edge, moved from behind a female, and showed a bright white vertical stripe at the side of its breast. Whiter than white. I couldn't believe my luck, and stood there staring at this gorgeous green-winged teal. And regretting not paying more attention to the rules for this game - I was guessing it might be 3 points, but had no idea if it was a bonus points bird (which it is, of course). But it was getting distinctly dark. I tried the waders, but could find only dunlin and golden plover, then a solitary grey plover. I did add all the expected gulls. Something flushed the whole lot, but I didn't see what it was (could have been the buzzard).

I carried on along the track and shore, skirting the barbed wire fences extended down to the high tide line, and came around to the point itself. The wind was uncomfortably strong and no shelter, but having carried the scope thus far, I had a go for anything moving on the sea. A few minutes gave only shags and cormorants, so that is still something for another day. At least one of the carrion crows was still there. I flushed two snipe from the tidal marsh, and then a good dozen from the shore further along, but didn't pick out any jack snipe. Passerines had disappeared completely, and I saw nothing else in the walk over the top and back down to the car, except a final dunnock calling and hopping near a hedge in the last of the light.

So, I am at 43 species, 59 points. And a couple of lessons learnt: (i) you can get points very quickly if you find your own rarities; (ii) Barr Hall Bay at low tide is very, very promising territory, extensive and remote enough to be undisturbed by people or dogs. Still plenty of the patch not explored at all this year, and none of it in good conditions for sea-birds or flocks of passerines. I'll be back.

Keith Bennett
11 Jan 2013

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