Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Rathlin Island - Visit 1

I got my Rathlin patch challenge underway on 3 January – I would have been over sooner but had to wait for the wind to die down a bit.  Even then there was a fairly decent swell on the 10:30 ferry across and it had to bide its time at the mouth of the harbour before surfing the waves in (not a recommended experience!).  Had I had known of Niall’s plans for a blog I would have taken a few photos on the day, but in the meantime here’s the only one I have of the island.

 View of Rathlin Island from Marconi's Cottage, Ballycastle

The recent rough weather had certainly stirred a few decent birds into the harbour, with the usual Eider flock and a Great Northern Diver present – a good species to get out of the way early on.  A scan offshore revealed many Kittiwakes, a few Razorbills and a single Guillemot. I made my way along the shore at Church Bay towards Mill Bay ticking off all the common gull species. As usual waders were few and far between with just Redshank, Turnstone, Curlew and Oystercatcher present.  Better luck was had at Mill Bay itself, where a scan offshore revealed 5 Common Scoter (4 female, 1 male) a long overdue island tick! A single Black Guillemot was also in the Bay.

I had intended to spend most of my time at the various lakes and pools in the central section of the patch to see what wildfowl I could find.  The first water you come to is Craigmacagan Lough and it held relatively few birds; mostly Coots, Little Grebes, half a dozen Tufted Ducks and a few Teal.  More joy was had at Ally Lough where amongst c30 Tufted Duck was a female Pochard, only my 3rd on patch and all have been at the same site. Also here were three Grey Herons, which probably represents most of the island population of this species, as they only started to breed in the past few years.

Map of Patch Site Names
I made my way cross country towards the west side of Ushet Lough trying my best for a Jack Snipe, but failed to even see a common one.  From high ground here you can usually expect to pick out the Greylag flock (a mix of feral and Icelandic birds at this time of year) and just as I had finished counting 56 of them, up lifted 5 Greenland White-fronted Geese from below me.  I watched them fly off west and then towards the mainland (they must not have seen too many folk during their stay on the island!).  As I was doing this I picked up a Peregrine hanging about over the cliff face.
I made way back onto the track leading down to Rue Point at the south tip of the island and hung around there for a while scanning out to sea.  I needn’t have bothered though, at least several small rafts of Eider could be scanned for something more unusual.  After a quick lunch break, I trudged back towards Church Bay and made a detour to a small turlough which is not marked on any maps – I know it as Ballycarry Pool and have earmarked it for big things in the future!  Today it had c50 Teal, several Coot, Mallard and two Song Thrushes.        
It was now around 3pm so I made my way uphill to check some of the gardens behind Church Bay for passerines and scored Great, Coal and Blue Tits!  Another site you will hear a lot more about over the next while is a superb looking valley which I call Church Valley (It will be duly renamed should I ever actually find anything in it!).  But it was absolutely dead...
From a vantage point overlooking Church Bay Wood and the harbour below, I picked up a small duck at the harbour entrance which had an interesting profile and diving motion.  A quick dash down the hill to the harbour revealed it to be a female Goldeneye – another island tick!  I still had a few minutes before the boat left at 4pm, so I made my way to the weeds at the back of the only sandy beach on the island hoping for a last minute Twite or even a Ringed Plover!  Instead a nice male Red-breasted Merganser was feeding only metres offshore amongst the Seals and Eider and 6 Greenfinches were feeding in the weeds.  Believe it or not this is actually my highest island count of this species – I believe there is only one breeding pair on the patch. 
As I sat on the ferry on the way back to Ballycastle I was pleased to tally up 51 species for the day.  I have now put these into the scoring spreadsheet and it works out at 60 points or 47.2% - A very good start.  However, I would be very surprised if I manage to hit the 50% mark before the first of the spring migrants arrive and this is when the other Irish sites are likely to steal a march on me. 

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