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.
Greylag Geese on a grey day