Thursday, 28 February 2013

Who's ¢*!#@!^ idea was this?

Two months down and depression is setting in!  I spent three hours this afternoon trying to reach 70 and failed dismally.  Not a Grey Wagtail or Feral Pigeon in sight.  As for Linnet!

Having said that, the past two months could have been worse.  Kingfisher, Treecreeper and Crossbill were pleasant surprises and if I was being really honest, I probably would have said when I started my Patch that 60 was a reasonable target by the end of Feb.

And things can only get better.  Spring has nearly sprung, the grass is nearly riz, hopefully the boidies won't be far behind.

First 'good' patch find

A late Saturday night/late rise Sunday morning for both myself & my father last weekend put pay to our usual weekend birding in Wexford so we decided to check out a few local sites instead. I try and avoid birding on the patch at weekends when I can (too many dog walkers, dog poos & other birders!) but this provided a chance to get an extra visit in before the months end.

Starting off at Kilcoole, it was instantly apparent that the marshes here were as dead as a Dodo. Seems that most of the duck are down in ECNR at the moment where feeding conditions are favourable. A pair of Peregrines surveying Webb's field from nearby fence posts might explain the lack of birds here too. All the while, four vocal Ravens tumbling South overhead and a singing Skylark on the beach hinted at a seasonal change in the air.

Numbers of Shags, auks & Red-throated Divers offshore had decreased somewhat in comparison to previous visits but the regular Great Northern Diver & a couple of adult Mediterranean Gulls provided some quality. Most welcome though were several sightings of Common Scoters (90) migrating at a distance. Would have no problem getting these guys on Spring/Summer passage but good to have safely under the belt & out of the way in winter.

The real surprise of the day came in the form of a lumbering barrel of a 1st-winter GLAUCOUS GULL (91) flying North over the beach past The Breaches!!! Only my fourth ever on patch with the previous three being seen each in April, May & June. Great to get a 'winger' on the patch yearlist. Iceland Gull remains a patch bogey but I hope to nail one in a similar manner to the aforementioned Glauc this March.

The fields at Newcastle held c.450 Light-bellied Brent, c.180 Greylag & 20+ Whooper whilst an untagged male Hen Harrier was getting mobbed by Rooks over the airfield. At least 3 Brambling were still present in the stubble field near the entrance to the airfield/ECNR along with some Yellowhammers, 2 Collared Doves & 2 Buzzards.

By the end of February the patch tallies are as follows: 91 species, 107 points & 54.73%

Top o' the house

The recent calm dry weather has made patching quite pleasant if not very productive for new species, although that is inevitable. A couple of days ago I finally found a Little Egret on the river. I had two more today. I wonder where they have been for the last 2 months??
I have spent many hours looking through the huge flocks of Common Scoter and although this has given me a few nice surprises, Long-tailed Duck, Little Gull and, yesterday, a male Eider, I still have not managed to connect with a Velvet Scoter. I wonder if they are still in the area. I remember seeing them quite often when I was a lot younger but have not seen one for many years.
Blackcap, which keeps on showing up in my garden, Rock Pipit and Grey Wagtail are all proving to be elusive.
A walk down down the beach this evening with the tide fully out had the beach full of waders and gulls and the usual flock of Brent Geese (4 of which are ringed), and thankfully I also found a ringed 1st winter Mediterranean Gull.
This brings my total to 90 species which I wasn't really expecting in the first two months of the year. Not bad at all !
90 species 107 points.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

When sitting on your arse pays off

After a couple of months of patchlisting I have begun to realise why more people didn't opt for inland farmland patches. The birds can become a bit repetitive. The same flock of  Chaffinches, the same pair of Mallards flying over, the same stuff on the feeders. When you're on patch every day it all becomes a bit samey. Ok there was a male Stonechat eventually, and a Stock Dove finally flew over  and a Reed bunting but just not much new.
                                           Stonechat looking lonely
With the weather finally drying up there was once more the chance for some habitat creation ... I mean ploughing, getting my priorities mixed up again. It started well a few days ago as a big flock of Gulls gathered but
I was starting to loose hope after three days. The same birds kept reappearing, the  Black Headed Gull with a white colour ring on the left leg that flies off every time I stop the tractor to try to read the ring, the  2nd winter Med Gull with a totally smashed leg that is hanging on by just a tiny piece of skin. I've been tempted to try and reach out of the cab to pull it off just to relieve him of the useless appendage that keeps tripping him up. But nothing new - until today. First time it got away , looked pale mantled, wingtips looked like they had more black than a Common Gull should have but the bill was coated with mud, it was a bit distant and the tractor windows were dirty.
        The second time he reappeared though there was no doubt, he (actually probably a she on size) had washed the bill and allowed a close approach with my mobile hide ... sorry tractor, and allowed an easy id of
adult Ring - billed Gull. Just the second one ever on patch and very well timed for the yearlist. Didn't pose for a photo as it soon departed. The raucous melee behind the plough was building nicely and who knows 
what else might have put in an appearance but the local Buzzard came in and started catching earthworms and put the frighteners on everything else, very nice and all that but really there's a time and a place for everything.
                                                       Buzz Off

54 species and 60 points.

Monday, 25 February 2013

South Dublin Coast - Weeks 5, 6 and 7

As I didn't get a chance to post an update in the last few weeks here is a quick summary of what has been happening in the patch.

Week 5: Didn't get a chance to visit the Patch and so nothing new added.

Week 6: Started Saturday (16/2) morning on Killiney Hill looking for Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker, both of which had been reported at the end of January. Despite searching the woodland for about two hours, the only bird of note was a Treecreeper (60). Also, one of the re-introduced Red Squirrels gave good views looking for food in the canopy. With a dense layer of sea-fog drifting in from the Irish Sea and blanketing the Hill, there was no chance of repeating the trick of Mute Swan tick.

Sea Fog on Killiney Hill
I followed this with a one hour seawatch from Coliemore, which produced about 160 auks passing offshore, as well as a few Gannets and Red-throated Divers. Next up was Bullock Harbour, which was full of the usual gulls. Managed to get a few ring-reads including the third winter Herring Gull (GC 96244) below.

Ringed Herring Gull
Just as I was leaving, I had last scan through the roosting Herring and GBB Gulls, when a wader popped up its head - a Greenshank (61)! A completely unexpected patch tick - lacking any kind of mudflat the Patch was always going to struggle for waders so this is a nice bonus. Nothing much else to report this week other than the three Brambling still in the garden.

Week 7: Had another thorough look on Killiney Hill on Saturday morning, but still no joy finding either the Jay or GS Woodpecker. The only thing of note was watching a Common Gull chasing a Med Gull to about 150 metres altitude in an unsuccessful attempt to pirate some food.
Sunday started off great with a group of four Skylarks (62) flying west over the garden - only the third garden record. A quick visit to Shanganagh brought another Patch Tick in the form of 16 roosting Ringed Plovers (63). Also present were a few Oystercatchers and Turnstones, as well as about ten Red-throated Divers offshore. A female Brambling was a nice find near Shankill Dart Station.

Greenfinch at Shanganagh
So, those four new species bring the Patch List to 63 species, 74 points and 63.64%.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Rathlin Island - Visit 4

Saturday 23 February was one of those rare birding days when everything seemed to fall into place.  News reached me the day before that a Long-tailed Duck had been found in Rathlin Harbour, a species I reckon should be regular winter fare around the island.  I had been under the impression that there had been no previous records, but have subsequently found out there have been at least two (my source obviously hasn’t been following the blog...).  Thankfully, it was still there on Saturday morning, seen from the ferry as it glided into the harbour, associating with the local Eider.

I made my way over to the West Pier, happy to have finally added Long-tailed Duck (62) to my island list.  I barely had time to lift my bins when a Merlin (63) lifted off the harbour wall and started chasing pipits around, before flying up onto the cliffs above.  I wasn’t really expecting much from the day so this was a great start.
Long-tailed Duck, Patch gold.
Not much had changed bird-wise at Ballycarry Pool with much the same cast as last visit, but 17 Greylag were in fields nearby.  These were to be the only geese of the day, so many have either moved to somewhere else on the island or have left altogether.  I was making my way towards Mill Bay checking the rock pools and sea, when I flushed a small bird from  the weeds along the shore, which turned out to be a male Reed Bunting (64); another patch year tick.  Offshore was a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers, a Great Northern Diver and a lone Common Scoter.
Ushet Lough at first seemed empty, but a scan of the far shore revealed some new arrivals in the shape of 8 Lapwing (65) and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull (66) amongst the loafing large gulls. Just 4 Wigeon remained from the last visit.  As on every patch visit so far this year, I squelched through the marsh at the southern end of Ushet, but this time a single Snipe (67) finally materialised!
Nothing of note was seen around Rue Point, so I made my way back towards Church Bay to try and get some shots of the Long-tailed Duck, only to find it now way out in the harbour on its own.  As the tide had dropped, I decided to have a concerted effort looking for waders on the rocky shoreline.  I found a nice spot to sit down as it began to snow.  I counted around 20 Turnstones and 10 Ringed Plover, then hold on what’s this... a Purple Sandpiper (68).  A most unexpected Island tick! I have included the horrendous record shot to try and show just how poor most of the shoreline is for waders, but also to give some impression of how difficult it is to pick them out.
What Purple Sandpiper?
As I waited to board the 16:00 ferry, I watched the Long-tailed Duck fly out of the harbour, turn right, then land on the sea some 500m out into Rathlin Sound.  The day was rounded off nicely by 5 Porpoise from the ferry back to Ballycastle.
Latest score: 68 species, 83 points or 65.35%

Saturday, 23 February 2013

End of Feb at Ballyquintin

I wasn't able to get out to Ballyquintin in the middle of the month, but have caught up with a couple of visits this week. 

Tuesday 19th Feb I had a chance for a quick walk around. The green-winged teal was still in Barr Hall Bay, and as I headed on past the bay a raven came over, calling (joined later by 2-3 others). One of the fields on the east side of the headland now has some grazing ponies in it, with a sign asking people to keep out, so I followed a circuitous route along the shore, and between the shore and the field, until I had reached the farm, which effectively stops progress northwards, and turned back to go round the field on the inland side. Coming past one of the stony ridges, I was startled by a sudden flapping, and half-turned to see a short-eared owl launching itself into the air - I must have been within 2m of it! They always do seem to sit very tight, but this was one of my closest encounters. Once airborne, it flapped softly away, no doubt to its second-best sleeping place. Continuing inland, I went over the headland and started down the tracks back to Barr Hall Bay. The linnet flock was still present, and sitting well enough in the hedge for a good look, and I found one twite amongst them. Further down, a fine male reed bunting sat up nicely in one of the hedges.

Today, 23rd Feb, I drove past Barr Hall Bay, spotting a flock of greenfinch in a tree by the road at the farm, then up to the National Trust car park, where I started walking. It was calm but steely cold in a light and very chill breeze. The shelduck were going about the business, but very little happening off shore. The tide was out in Barr Hall Bay, and it was busy with waders, mostly dunlin, with ringed, grey and golden plover, one bar-tailed godwit, and four knot. The green-winged teal showed really well, feeding at the water edge in the outer bay. It has broad, pure white vertical stripes at the breast sides, and stands out a mile (as long as it is not behind a rock). All was quiet the rest of the walk back up to the car. I drove slowly north checking the fields towards Templecowey but picked up only a fast-moving sparrowhawk near the entrance. 

So, continuing progress with what should be commoner species, and a couple of less common on the list. I'm ready for some spring migrants now!

81 species, 103 points.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Damn, it's cold

Even lazy birding from the safety of the van has been a bitterly cold experience these last few days. Needles to say my laziness has produced diddly squat. No improvement on the score, but did have a merganser on the mud today, along with all the usual suspects. I did a short study on Red-breasted mergansers in Mayo a while back - definitely one of my favorites. Must try toughen up though - won't win any prizes in the van. Here's some badly phone-scoped pics from today.  

The odd couple. Merganser and shelduck
This merganser was as lazy as I was - didn't bother to move as the tide dropped away

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Spring ( sort of )

Paid an early morning visit to Kilmore this morning , nice and mild but overcast , decided to leave the camera at home as i get too distraced at times.
Had a quick look around the quay first , quite enough but did spot a couple of Med gulls on the strand
Took a strool up around the coastal fields and among the highlights were a lovely male Brambling and a pair of Tree sparrows.
Headed on down to Patricks bridge next where among the usual Great-northern and Red-throated divers i spotted a lone Black-throated diver , usually get a few annually late winter/early spring.
Among the many Gulls passing i picked out a lone juvie Little gull and up to 6 Bar-tailed godwits in the surf.
On the journey back to the pier had a Kestrel and a flyover Peregrine so all in all not a bad mornings birding , current standings 80 spp and 96 pts or 47.07%.

Friday, 15 February 2013

A Crane in the Ass

Weds evening was spent debating whether I'd go birding on patch on Thurs or stay in and do some work. I opted for work...a poor decision!

It all started with a tweet from @ECoastBirdNews on Thurs morning reporting that 5 Cranes had been seen flying North over the North Slob at 10:15. The Tacumshin birds on the move? Then word came through that the staff at BirdWatch Ireland had intercepted them from the Kilcoole office at around 15:30 as they continued North! So I dashed up to Killiney Hill which isn't far from home in the hopes of seeing them coming over Bray Head (previous records of Osprey & White-tailed Eagle at Kilcoole have been successfully twitched from the hill in this manner before, see here). Spent 45mins on the hill with Noel Keogh & Brian Porter but no sign...

Anyway, it transpires that the Cranes were first seen flying North over Blackditch ECNR by a member of the public who phoned it in to the office. The guys in the office then picked up the birds circling over the coast heading North before turning back South and seemingly dropping down somewhere between Kilcoole & ECNR at 15:50 possibly to roost for the evening. 

No news on them this morning so it would appear they continued on their journey unseen? I was tied up for most of the morning but made it down to Newcastle/ECNR this eve for a look around in the hopes they might still be there but alas it was not meant to be. That makes 4 times I've dipped Crane on the patch now...ouch!

Did see a Merlin over Newcastle Airfield however which was a nice patch year tick (only got one by the skin of my teeth there last year on 30th Dec). Silver linings and all that jazz.

Onwards & upwards! (I hope)

Four of the five Cranes in question. I found these birds back on 29th Oct '12 as they flew in off the sea & over Tacumshin Lake where they then spent the next three & half months...I'd much rather see them on the patch though!

It's a beautiful day

Finally we have a lovely day here on the east coast. My last few days patching were very unproductive so I went out to make the most of the good day to look for some of the species I have not yet seen.
With the calm conditions I felt it may be worthwhile looking through the huge Scoter flocks in the hope of getting a Velvet Scoter. Alas, it was not to be, again, but while scanning I noticed a smallish bird flying somewhat like a Tern that immediately caught my attention. As I watched it come closer I realized that it was a Little Gull, a species I have not seen before in the area. While watching that a Black Guillemot flew past. I was now feeling lucky so decided to have a good look for Yellowhammer which has so far eluded me. Time spent looking at stubble fields eventually paid off as one bird came up out of the field and landed close by on a hedgerow.
Amazingly, I still have not seen a Little Egret. Where do they go during winter I wonder?

87 species. 101 points.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Quiet and the Other Place

It has been a month since my last confession. 

A bad auld dose of (man)flu and catching up with work has kept me away the patch, or indeed any birding for that matter. That said, I did pop down to Killarney for a bit of dirty twitching last weekend. Sinner! 

A half hour here and there is all I've managed to get around the bay but I have picked off a few things in the process. I found a merlin near Annagh island (just about on the patch), two red-breasted mergansers and a great-northern diver on high tide at Blennerville last weekend and some shelduck and knot way out on the mud flats at low water. I spent a couple of hours scouring the place for a jack snipe before the rugby but no joy. Some great-crested grebe were close in at Blennerville on Sunday which was nice - didn't even have to roll down the window in the van.  

The “Other Place” is Mount Brandon Nature Reserve near Cloghane in west Kerry and I will be up there a lot over the next couple of years. It comprises of 450 hectares of upland habitat, from blanket bog to vegetated sea cliffs and all sorts in between. It will be interesting to see what turns up. So far not much: kestrel, merlin, wren (up at 400 m, the hardy little beggers), raven, great black-backed gull, blackbird, fieldfare, stonechat, chough and fulmar. I found a good sea-watching spot yesterday and I am looking forward to spending some time doing “field work” in that area during the year  J

Más an Tiompáin, Mount Brandon NR

Must do some field work here! West of Sauce Creek, Mt Brandon NR. 

current patch stats: 51 species, 60 points and 48.8%.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Catching up

Made it back to dry land after two weeks onboard the R.V. Celtic Explorer so I’ve been birding the patch four out of the past five days trying to make up for lost time. Thursday & Friday were spent scouting for the Wicklow Bird Race which was held on Saturday and today, myself and a few others from BirdWatch Ireland conducted the monthly I-WeBS count along the North Wicklow coast. Managed six patch year ticks in the process: PochardOystercatcherFieldfareRedwingBrambling & Yellowhammer. Saying that, I missed out on Pintail, Little Gull & Carrion Crow whilst at sea.

Brambling have been reported in the area since last Monday when 15+ were seen by Paul Smith near the entrance to ECNR. A mixed flock of finches & buntings have settled in a nearby stubble field since then and on the days I was about this flock contained 4+ Brambling, 3+ Yellowhammer, 20+ Reed Bunting & plenty of Chaffinches.


The stubble field directly West of ECNR (O’Connor’s field) has been alive with Lapwing, Woodpigeons, Starlings & Black-headed Gulls for a few weeks now. Careful scoping of it from the main hide on Thursday revealed some Golden Plover mooching about in there too plus a mixed flock of thrushes in the Ash trees along the border. Scoring Redwing & Fieldfare there was a major bonus to the year list challenge as I have (rather amazingly) failed to see either species on patch for the past two years. Had visions of standing around Six Mile Point some night in October hoping to hear them calling overhead in order to get them on the year list!

Oystercatchers are surprisingly scarce in Wicklow during the winter so three in The Breaches over the past few days are presumably the first returning birds of the Spring (several pairs breed around here & many more pass through in May). A male Pochard in Stringer’s channels today was most welcome. Generally only see them once or twice a year on the patch which isn’t great for diving duck all round.

Other highlights in recent days include 43 Whooper Swans, 207+ Icelandic Greylag Geese, 5 Gadwall, Great Northern Diver, a 2nd-winter male & a ringtail Hen Harrier, Buzzard, Peregrine, 1050+ Lapwing, c.230 Black-tailed Godwits, 2 Bar-tailed Godwits, Grey Wagtail etc.

Went stomping about a small area of wet rush & iris along Newcastle Sea Road for Jack Snipe but to no avail.

So now up to 88 species, 102 points & 52.17%

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Brownstown Head - visit 1

A slow start to the year, but between I-WeBS, being stuck in Cork and pure laziness, I only managed a 'proper' first visit to Brownstown yesterday (9th). A quick check of the garden produced nothing better than Goldfinch, so I headed to the west cliffs for a 'scope count of Tramore Bay in near flat-calm conditions. Rinnashark, the NE corner of the bay, held a good flock of 135 Brent Geese, and a single Bar-tailed Godwit was a patch scarcity. Slightly further out, 4 Great Crested Grebes then the first of many Red-throated Divers came into view, as hoped. Good numbers of Razorbills were also present, plus a couple of Porpoises, but just a single Great Northern Diver and no scoter. Still, with the addition of a few other seabirds (and slightly guilty scoping of Shelduck and Little Egret in Tramore Backstrand), the non-passerine list was creeping up nicely. Best of all, the Red-throat total hit a new county record of 235 (75 in Tramore bay, and 160 immediately SE of Brownstown).  That said, still a long way to go on the year list!

37 species, 47 points (32.2%).

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Cruising for Gulls

It must be a sign of desperation  when you start to indulge in habitat creation to try and boost your year list.
Well I call it habitat creation, others call it ploughing, either way it worked. A few days of drying and it seemed to be about time to try and drag in some gulls.

                  Habitat creation

You would think that gulls would appear and dive in as soon as you start ploughing with all those worms.
Instead they circle and dive and leave and come back and so on for up to an hour, if there's a collective name for a flock of foraging gulls it's probably 'a suspicion' , finally deciding  it's safe they start to settle. Once they're engaged they pull in other small flocks from all around and gradually the numbers build until you get what you want in the form of 3 Med Gulls. Two adults and a 2nd winter. Meds don't seem to get as involved as Black Headeds in the whole following a plough thing, they hang back slightly feeding on older ploughed ground as though a species as superior as them shouldn't be seen to be indulging in the melee behind the tractor.
       Shortly after 5 Lesser Black Backeds joined in to add my second Gull tick of the day. And a Jay flying along a hedgerow was the third.
      That was it for the year ticks though one there was one other interesting sighting. While crossing a field
I noticed a pale Chiffchaff feeding in a wet corner of a field. Pale and buff and grey suggested Siberian Chiff.
It was obviously different from the two wintering Chiffchaffs which joined it and all features pointed to Tristis,
but it took three hours of following it over two days before it finally called and confirmed it's eastern origin.
Still present at the time of writing now I just need them split before the end of the year for it to really matter.
          "Split me, split me"

50 sp and 54 points

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Wet & windy..............and wet & windy

It's been fairly quiet in north Co. Wexford since my last posting - was it really two weeks ago?  I've done a fair bit of walking in between gales and rain and even in gales and rain but it's been slow going building up my Patch list.

Another walk around Kilgorman marsh on 26th provided four species in the form of a pair of Ravens, Goldfinch, a Kingfisher - which has since probably starved to death because it couldn't possibly have been able to see any fish in the silt laden Kilgorman River, and completely unexpected, 8 Crossbills feeding in some stunted Scots Pines in the mobile home park.

I tried seawatching in south easterlies, north westerlies and south westerlies and only managed a single Gannet and a patch rarity, Great Northern Diver.  A calm period on 2nd produced two Great Crested Grebes at sea.  I've seen this species in the same area in the last two winters - wonder is it the same pair?

Got out again this morning before the rain and finally managed to connect with Ringed Plover.

So 61 species and 68 points. Still haven't got Linnet or Greenfinch.

Latest Hits

Although the weather hasn't improved much in the last few days the winds have died down somewhat which has made birding a bit easier and less cold. I now have quite a good handle on all of my patch and spending time in each habitat has been proving to be quite productive. Yesterday I first came across a Little Grebe  at the mouth of the river Nanny at Laytown. Not exactly where I would expect to find one but I'm not complaining. In a field nearby I found a flock of Skylarks with a fabulous Buzzard nearby. I have seen up to 4 Buzzards every time I have gone birding on my patch. I wonder just how many Buzzards are now present in Ireland?
I moved on to the grounds of the national ecology center (Sonairte) and found a single Tree Sparrow in the main garden. I still don't have Snipe so a walk around the saltmarsh was called for. Alas, no Snipe but I was surprised to flush 3 Siskins, a species I was having trouble locating.
Today, I decided to walk to the very southern end of my patch, Ben Head, fort he first time since I started patching. I was hoping to find Rock Pipit in this area as I have been unable to locate one at Laytown. The beach had all the usual Gulls and waders but not one passerine. I had all but given up on getting a new species today but saw a large flock of Common Scoter not too far out to sea and scanned it in the hope of, maybe, a Velvet Scoter. What I wasn't expecting was a single Scaup in the middle of the flock! 5 Razorbills nearby are the first Auks I found so far.
..............and then it started raining!
82 species. 94 points.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Brass Monkeys

Like an idiot I went out to my patch today. I would like to offer a small but crucial piece of advice. Don't leave your wellies in the car. I usually do and when I put them on today I nearly lost a couple of toes due to the frozen wellies !!
Over recent days I have added Redwing and Fieldfare and while looking for these I had a blip view of a possible Brambling and this is the reason I went out in such inclement weather today. I relocated the Finch/Thrush flock but in the gales everything was very flighty so it wasn't possible to properly look through the flock. A flyby Merlin was the best I could manage before the frostbite set in.....and then it started raining !
Home is where the hearth is.
75 species. 85 points.

Monday, 4 February 2013

South Dublin Coast - Week 4

I finally managed to visit the two remaining areas within the patch - Cherrywood and Killiney Hill. Cherrywood lies at the extreme south-western end of the patch and the only bit of standing water found in the patch in the shape of a small pond within the Business Park. Unfortunately the water quality of the pond has declined significantly since its construction six or seven years ago that now only a few Moorhen (patch tick) can be found there. Mallard and Little Egret used to be regular visitors, but I haven't seen either species there recently.

Cherrywood Pond

After helping out the Wicklow BWI Branch on Sunday morning with an event at Booterstown Marsh, I headed up to Killiney Hill to look for a couple of target species. The hill is covered in a mixture of oak, beech and conifer woodland, and offers the best chance in my patch of finding Treecreeper and Long-eared Owl. No luck with either species this time around - the only notable bird being a Raven flying north. One of the benefits of including Killiney Hill (153m ASL) in the patch is that it gives a fantastic view over Dublin and north Wicklow and I experimented with ID'ing birds at various sites outside of  the patch. Cormorant and Shag were identifiable to 3km (base of East Pier), while Bray Harbour (6.3km away) yielded the second patch tick of the week in the form of a Mute Swan. Maybe next week I'll ask a birder to point out the Ring-billed Gull while scoping from Killiney Hill...

A quick check of Bullock Harbour yielded very little other than a posing Grey Seal and two Mediterranean Gulls, while Coliemore was similarly quiet. The regular female Brambling in the garden was joined by two males over the weekend, while three Blackcaps gorged themselves on the half-dozen apples I had put out in the (futile) hope of attracting a  Waxwing or two.

The two ticks bring the scores to 59 species, 70 points and 59.59%.

Grey Seal in Bullock Harbour

Rathlin Island - Visit 3

The first sunny day in what seemed like ages had me back on Rathlin on 2 February.  It was quickly apparent that a lot of the birds seen on previous visits had moved on and there seemed to be low numbers of birds around generally.  However, this visit did offer some hints of spring, as several species were heard singing including Song Thrush and Great Tit.  Several small flocks of Black Guillemot had also arrived back, including a summer plumaged bird in Church Bay.

Common Seal, Church Bay

Church Valley was again devoid of birds, but a male Sparrowhawk (59) soon made a quick dash through the area and onto my patch year list.  Water levels at Ballcarry Pool had dropped since last visit and held 36 Teal and 2 Tufted Ducks.  I check out one of the wild bird cover plots nearby but again very little activity was noted.

More joy was had back at Church Bay when a couple of Ringed Plover (60) were spotted running about the shore and there was now a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers in the harbour.  Single male and female Common Scoters remained in Mill Bay, as well as 50+ Common Gulls and a single Black-headed Gull.  The area around the outflow here is always a good place to check and today up to a dozen Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails were present as well as a few Stonechats.
                                                                                Church Bay - looking mega!
Tufted Ducks were chasing each other around Craigmacagan Lough and were making a weird call – I don’t recall ever hearing a Tufted Duck making any sound before.  The Greylag flock were at the far side of Ally Lough today, over 100 present but nothing strange mixed in with them.  The female Pochard appears to have moved on.  I made my way out onto the cliffs overlooking Doon Bay and scanned the bay and sea below.  The recent storms have left a good pile of seaweed here – and several Rock Pipits were seen scurrying about.  Out to sea I picked up a Gannet (61), several small rafts of Eider and a good number of Black Guillemots.  

Doon Bay with Mull of Kintyre in Background

In and around Ushet Lough was eerily quiet, the only birds present were Little Grebe, Coot and 8 Wigeon.  I checked the marsh at the south end and then went cross country through some rushes and pools towards Rue Point, but still no sign of a Snipe!  The rock pools at the South Light held lots of tiny fish but few birds.  Looking north along the cliffs were yet more rafts of Eider and umpteen Kittiwakes and Guillemots. 
 Ushet Point

So a fairly non-eventful outing, but  another 3 species added to the year list and signs that spring is on its way.  It can’t come soon enough.
Score now stands at 61 species, 73 points or 57.5%
You can watch a short video with Chris Packham HERE about the legendary Rathlin Golden Hares.