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%

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