Sunday, 28 April 2013

Yank wader on the scoresheet!

Decided to head back down to the patch today instead of going for the usual Sunday birding trip to Wexford. With a few Whinchats popping up on the East coast I was eager to see if one could be found by the ruins at Six Mile Point (Whinner is one of my most obvious patch bogeys).

Arrived at Blackditch ECNR with Brian Porter at 08:30am to find a Grasshopper Warbler still reeling away, a nice flock of 20 Wheatears on the coastal fields (no sign of the Yellow Wag), a flyover Whimbrel and lots of warblers still singing in the reedbeds/birchwood (20+ Willows, 2 Chiffers, 7 Sedgies & 5 Blackcaps). A pair of Whitethroat (112) chasing each other about at a traditional territory site at the North end of the reserve was nice to see. Always enjoy good views of these birds.

 Male Whitethroat 

We later joined up with Noel Keogh at Kilcoole train station car park and checked out the Reed Warbler site at Ballygannon where 3 birds are now in song (some seen in flight too). There was a great sense of anticipation in the air as we birded South along the coast, lots of waders dropping in on the marsh & a nice assortment of feeding warblers in the Sea Buckthorn. Tallies as follows: 4 Whitethroats, c.25 Willows, 2 Chiffers, 4 Blackcaps, 7 Sedgies, 4 Swifts, 22 Wheatear, 10 Whimbrel, 2 Barwit, c.195 Blackwits, c.275 Golden Plover, 19 Redshank, 4 Turnstone, 37 Dunlin, 2 Common Sandpipers, 5 Light-bellied Brent Geese, 1 Greylag Goose, 6 Shoveler, drake Gadwall, 11 Teal, 3 Wigeon & 16 Little Terns.

Singing Skylark

On the way back, a final scan over Webb's field revealed some feeding Golden Plover which had broken away from the main day roosting flock. One of the plovers looked distinctly grey and slim as it ran over a grassy mound and onto the lagoon shoreline, out of sight. Dam!

It popped its head up a few times showing off a whopper supercilium and a long, thin bill giving a Dotterel like impression, but it was clearly a Pluvialis. After a few tantalising views scurrying about in the grass, the bird finally ran out into the open for all to see...a cracking 2nd calendar-year AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER (113). Well, there was hardly a notion of colour on the bird, but what it lacked in dazzle it made up for in structure. Even the most stunning breeding plumaged European Golden Plovers nearby looked like fat blobs in comparison to this elegant & sleek wader!

This bird represents the fourth AGP I have seen on patch (ticked my first here in June 1996) and the third Spring in a row where yank waders have been recorded at Kilcoole.

Onwards & upwards!

113 species, 140 points & 71.61%

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Yellow Fever

Standards were starting to slip. Extended survey time on board the R.V. Celtic Explorer along the Rockall Trough and a recent trip to Scotland meant that I hadn't been birding on patch since 4th March...shameful! 

An impressive arrival of Wheatears & Grasshopper Warblers on the Bull Island during the week hinted that I needed to get the finger out and go patching so I headed off down to Kilcoole for 8am yesterday morning and 10 hours later I had racked up no less than 17 patch year ticks!

Swallows, Sand Martins & House Martins were trickling North in small bursts throughout the day along with a total of 9 Swifts. Great to see these guys back. Warblers were in song everywhere, particularly Willow Warblers & Blackcaps but only a handful of Chiffchaff were noted. Counted 10 singing Sedge Warblers along the full length of the coast and a nice Reed Warbler was chugging away at Ballygannon reedbed in exactly the same spot I hear one most years. Crippling views of a Grasshopper Warbler at a range of 3m in amongst the Sea Buckthorn at Kilcoole was most welcome. A further two were heard reeling at ECNR during a brief shower. Six species of warbler in a day is not to be snuffed at, but as hard as I tried, I couldn't dig out a Whitethroat anywhere.

White Wagtails and Wheatears were scattered along the coastal fields and beach, with six & ten respectively. Sandwich Terns were feeding up and down the shoreline throughout the day, at least 57 of these along with 4 Little Terns at the traditional colony site at Kilcoole. Nearly that time of year again! A few Manx Shearwaters loafing around offshore too along with some nice breeding plumaged Red-throated Divers and a couple of drake Common Scoter migrating North.

 A rather dull looking Wheatear (2cy?)

Common Sandpiper on the first scrape at the BirdWatch Ireland Kilcoole Reserve and 11 Whimbrel along the coast were more additions for the year whilst c.145 Black-tailed Godwits & c.190 Golden Plover, all in full breeding plumage added a nice splash of colour to the coastal fields. Other migrant waders included a Bar-tailed Godwit & 4 Turnstone. A few wildfowl linger on with 3 Greylag Geese, 37 Light-bellied Brent Geese, 4 Wigeon, 12 Teal, a drake Gadwall & 2 Shoveler noted. A good day for raptors too with 1 Peregrine, 2 Buzzards, 2 Kestrels & 2 obliging Sparrowhawks seen.


A tiny wee immature male Sprawk

Best was saved for last when I got to Blackditch ECNR in the afternoon. After a mooch around the Northern walkways & hides I scanned out across the coastal fields where a nice wet flash is still present. "Looks good for a Yellow Wagtail" says I...and sure enough there it was! A cracking male flavissima prancing about like a Dandelion on legs! A former rare but regular breeder along the Wicklow coastline, records are becoming more sporadic in recent years unfortunately so most definitely a good one for the scoreboards.


A great start to Spring! 

111 species, 133 points & 68.03%

Monday, 22 April 2013

A Day to Remember on Rathlin - Visit 9

I had a great day on the patch on Saturday 20 April which produced two island ticks amongst a decent fall of common migrants.  I wasn’t expecting very much as a stiff SW breeze was blowing, which isn’t the best wind direction for seeing birds on Rathlin.  So I focussed on the sheltered gardens and valleys.

One of the features of spring passage on Rathlin is the high proportion of Willow Warblers compared to Chiffchaffs.  I tallied 50 Willows (including 2-3 northern acredula types) and just 2 Chiffchaffs today.  Church Valley once again held a good number of these, yet it wasn’t until I had reached the East Light area when things really started to kick off.  A sheltered hidden pool which has a nice patch of scrub at one end was hopping with Willow Warblers and the hedges around the cattle fields held even more and a few Blackcaps.  It was here that I spotted a bird flying low over the fields, once it gained some height it began calling – Yellow Wagtail (90)!  I got onto it through the bins and watched it as it headed out to sea towards Kintyre.

I mentioned in the last update that I thought the Ballycarry Pool area looked ideal for attracting something good – along the lines of a Garganey perhaps.  Yet what I found there was completely unexpected! I had already scanned the pool noting that the 22 Teal were still present and had picked up a singing Twite nearby.  I often check the hedge along the lane here as migrants seem to funnel along it from the surrounding banks of thick gorse.  I noticed a bird fly up from the road into the hedge from about 100m away.  I raised my bins, scanned down the lane and there was a cracking male Common Redstart (91) perched in the hedge! I took a few record shots before moving a little closer to enjoy.  I watched it fly down from its perch to feed on the lane a couple of times, only to then disappear, never to be seen again.  This hedge also held 6 Willow Warblers and a Chiffchaff – think I’ll keep checking it...
Redstart - Prints available.......!

I have no doubt both today’s patch tick species are fairly regular in spring on Rathlin, but according to my records the Yellow Wagtail is the first since 22 October 1999 and the Redstart is the first island record since 6 May 1982, so both are triple point birds in my eyes!

I made my way to Doon Bay in a bit of a daze, hoping that the cove would be nicely sheltered from the wind.  I spent a fair bit of time here and checked a few rather precarious vegetated gullies in the cliff face which held numerous Willow Warblers, a few Goldcrests and further single Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps.  While perched at one of my favourite spots on the island overlooking the bay I noticed a few Sand Martins prospecting at a potential nest site where a recent land slide has exposed some nice mud banks at the top of the cliff.  Several Swallows were also swooping around and were joined by a couple of House Martins (92).  I scanned offshore and was eventually rewarded by a couple of Manx Shearwaters (93) gliding past Ushet Point.

Also noteworthy was the arrival of around 35 Linnets, making use of the early cover Corncrake plots near Church Bay and a flock of 7 Twite near Mill Bay.  Thrush numbers have completely dropped off, with only 15 Blackbirds and 4 Song Thrushes recorded.  Also present on the patch today were: 14 White Wagtails (including one from the ferry!), 9 Goldcrests, 13 Wheatears and 2 Common Sandpipers.

Target bird for next visit – Moorhen!

Scores – 93 species, 115 points or 90.55%

A Nice Suprise

Well, the Terns are well and truly all in with good numbers of all species up and down my patch, with the exception of Roseate which I would expect to get at some point due to my patch's proximity to Rockabill. Yesterday I had a nice small flock of Sandwich, Little, Arctic and Common Terns and at least one bird of each species was ringed. Somebody has been busy !
I had a little moment of frustration when I heard a Goose 'honk' overhead and looked up just in time to see a large Goose fly straight into the sun. I strongly suspect it was a Greylag Goose but..........!
A hour looking out to sea this morning from Laytown produced nothing new but it is nice to see the Great Northern and Red-throated Divers coming into summer plumage.
In the afternoon I got a call from Paul Kelly to say he had found 2 Avocets at Gormonston, which is outside my patch, and that they had just flown towards Ben Head, which is in my patch !!! I went straight to Laytown beach lower and Paul and Mark Stewart arrived a few minutes later. Paul picked up the Avocets out at sea wayyy north of where we were but thankfully heading our direction. They did land and we got to watch them for a while, albeit at a distance. Where were they ???? On the very beach I spent an hour looking from this morning !!!!!
I'm not complaining, really.

107 species, 132 points.

Spring Continues

Just a quick update of weekend species.

Made it down to Ballycotton on Saturday.
First up on the scoreboard was an Arctic Skua moving west, followed by flocks and flocks of Whimbrel making landfall.

A Common Swift at Shanagarry was the final year tick of the day.
No Groppers, Whitethroat, Sedgies, Common Tern or Puffins yet, but all are sure things in the next few weeks.

120 species, score of 159 and comparative of 67.47%.

April update - Brownstown

The first weekend of April added another six migrant species to the year-list. On the Saturday afternoon (6th), after finally connecting with a Willow Warbler (74), a brief seawatch produced a nice adult Little Gull (75) feeding close inshore – only my fourth ever record here. The Firecrest from 30th March was still feeding along the main lane (two others elsewhere in Co Waterford the same day included one at far side of Tramore Bay – a potential pair I wonder?). Otherwise, a young male Merlin and a couple of Chiffs and Wheatears rounded off the day. Next morning (7th), conditions were too blowy for a planned mist-netting session, so I headed for a seawatch. The first hour produced a couple of Puffins (76), in a cold SSE wind, the next hour (desperate for some further year-ticks!) a nice dark-phase Arctic Skua (77) and 3 Bonxies (78), all heading east, with a 2-hour tally of 20 Red-throated Divers & 90+ Manxies east. Back on land, conditions stayed a bit grim, but a male Blackcap (79) in the garden was new. 

Looking east from the "low" seawatch point
Saturday 13th was quiet, but highlight was a Moorhen (80) walking along the (wet) main lane – the first I’ve seen here, though I heard one last autumn (when locals reported the species on a local cattle-pond). Migrant or wandering local? Proper migrants were scarce, just a Willow Warbler & two Chiffs but, finally, I tracked down 4 Swallows (81) along the sheltered west side of the head.
"The stream" - site of Little Bittern & Subalpine Warbler in spring 2008
Anticipation was high the next weekend, after the arrival of a Hoopoe elsewhere in the county during the week. In the event, it wasn’t very exciting - various migrants seemed to arrive straight back at inland breeding sites instead - but a reasonable crop of new species obliged. Tree Sparrow (82) on 19th and Collared Dove (83) on 20th may have been local birds (both usually breed). More obvious migrants included 80 Whimbrel (84), 5+ Arctic Terns (85) & 2 Sand Martins (86) on 20th, also 11 WWs and 10 CCs. The day-total of 56 species on 20th was my best so far this year - and without ‘scoping Tramore Backstrand – but it took close to 12 hours’ coverage, including a quiet mist-netting session from dawn. Coverage was much less on 21st, but a seawatch produced 3 Bonxies and an Arctic Skua, and a ‘proper’ flypast Red-breasted Merganser (scarce here). The land had Siskin (87), and at least 2 hungry Sparrowhawks (88) which freaked out the local pipits, corvids and even Whimbrels. One of the hawks grappled with a live Jackdaw in long grass while plucking feathers (then flesh) from it – all while being dive-bombed by Hoodies and phone-videoed from 3-4 m range:
see video
Score to date 88 species (109 points, 74.66% of target).

Sunday, 21 April 2013

South Dublin Coast - Update

Unfortunately sickness and travel put paid to Patching through most of March and the beginning of April. Thankfully all that is now over, so here is a breakdown of the species that have been added to the list since the Curlew at the end of February:

-A quick seawatch during a strong easterly gale on the 10th of March added Red-breasted Merganser (65), with one male seen flying north. A scarce species in the Patch area.

-Two Fieldfare (66) were heard during a large passage of Redwings on the 12th of April. Redwings were heard calling about once every one to two seconds (roughly 3000 birds/hour) and considering that Redwings generally migrate in small flocks, the actual number of birds passing overhead is probably many times that. It would have been very interesting to see a radar scan of the night sky! Conditions were perfect with a light southerly breeze and moderately heavy drizzle.

-One Chiffchaff (67) sang in the garden on the 14th of April, with a single Swallow (68) seen flying north the next day.

-A Willow Warbler (69) sang beside the Shanganagh River on the 18th of April, with a group of three Sand Martins (70) flying over shortly afterwards.

-A short trip to Coliemore Harbour this afternoon (21/4) added four new species. A few Sandwich Terns (71) dove for fish in Dalkey Sound, later being joined by a Manx Shearwater (72) which at times was only a few metres from shore. Another 50 or so Manx Shearwaters were present beyond the Muglins and in Dublin Bay. A quick scan of Dalkey Island produced a good count of 13 Wheatears (73), with another 8 on Lamb Island. The rocks below Sorrento Point held a nice bonus in the form a Common Sandpiper (74). The species is regular in late summer, but this is my first spring record at the site. Finally, the long wait for a DART in Dalkey Station was eased somewhat when a House Martin (75) flew over.

Manx Shearwater in Dalkey Sound

Non-birdy highlights include the first butterfly of the year at Sorrento Point today (probably Peacock), while a Fox was a rather surprising sight from the DART near the Magic Cove. Moths have also (finally) begun to appear in the garden, with six species recorded at the trap so far.

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)

This all leaves me on 75 (bird) species, 88 points and 75.75%.

Beginnings of spring at Ballyquintin

I've been away for a couple of weeks and visited Ballyquintin this weekend (20/21 April) for the first time since the end of March. I was expecting to find the place heaving with migrants - wrong! It started well enough on Saturday morning at Templecowey. Straight out of the car, I heard a willow warbler, then saw a couple of chiffchaffs in the trees. A swallow zipped around, and I heard a pheasant calling (eventually finding it by one of the hedges). I moved onto the headland itself, but sea-watching conditions were poor (bright, glaring light, wind blowing somewhat offshore). A few Sandwich terns went past, but little else. I had seen several wheatears along the coast road driving down to Ballyquintin, but didn't spot one on my patch itself (though I didn't walk down to the shore, as I should have done). A whimbrel poked around in one of the fields. A good number of golden plover hiding in a ploughed field held promise, but proved to be a pure flock.

I tried again today, a bit harder. The few migrants had disappeared from Templecowey, but four buzzards soared, in some kind of compensation. Still only a few swallows around, and still poor sea-watching, though I tried harder than the day before. A walk around the headland produced a fine male wheatear, dozens of meadow pipits, singing skylarks, hundreds (it seemed) of linnets and a flock of 20 whimbrel, but still no movement of arriving terns, not even Manx shearwater were visible. There is always next weekend!

91 species, 115 points

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Spring arrives on Rathlin - Visits 7&8

I had a few days holiday to use up at work and decided to make good use of them by visiting the patch a couple of times recently.  This decision certainly paid off, as I added another 12 species to the year list. 
The weather forecast for Friday 12 April looked promising, with strong SE winds combined with rain and mist overnight.  The recent weather had pushed a few Manx Shearwaters into Rathlin Sound, but despite seeing many from the ferry, I failed to pick any up from the island, so they can’t go on the year list just yet.  During the ferry crossing, I also picked up two tiny passerines flying overhead and watched them make their way into Church Valley on Rathlin – things were looking good.
Once on dry land, I checked the first garden on the way to the West Pier and found 9 Goldcrests a singing Chiffchaff (78) and 6 Goldfinches in the one tree.  Another Chiffchaff was feeding around the base of the pier and several more Goldcrests were flitting about across the laneway between the gardens and shoreline.  A male Merlin was seen perched on high ground overlooking Church Valley, but once again this area was rather quiet otherwise.  The road to the East Light was a bit more productive, with a few more Goldcrests and a Chiffchaff in the last garden and 3 Snipe and a Jack Snipe (79) flushed from one of the many small pools near the lighthouse.  Several Wheatears were also seen in this area.
I found a sheltered spot behind the lighthouse wall and did a brief seawatch, hoping to pick up a Manx Shearwater for the year, but couldn’t see one. I did manage to see a few Puffins (80) sitting on the water beneath me though.
With the vegetation on the island still very bare, several species could be observed gathering nesting material or already occupying nests including Song Thrush, Blackbird, Wren, Robin, Hooded Crow, Starling, House Sparrow and Chaffinch.
The fields around Ballycarry Pool held a lonesome Jackdaw amongst some feral Greylags and the pool itself held 22 Teal a few pairs of nesting Coots and Mallard, but water levels looked ideal for attracting something good.

Ballycarry Pool

As I walked around Mill Bay, 3 Greenshank (81) flew past into the harbour and several more Wheatears were seen. Fourteen Fieldfares and 5 Redwings were also in nearby fields and one of the latter was even heard singing from the top of a hawthorn bush!  Craigmacagan Lough also produced some good birds – a Sand Martin (82), a female Wigeon and a female Merlin eating prey on a fence post (until I got my camera out).  Nearby a large female Peregrine looked on from a rocky outcrop.

Whilst making my way along the back road towards the harbour, a dodgy Feral/Rock/Racing Pigeon flew overhead, but I shall have to leave this one off the list for now as well.  The fields in this area held up to a dozen more Wheatears and one of Rathlin’s famous Golden Hares ran across the road a few hundred yards in front of me and into the fields, always staying outside of camera range. 

Strong S winds persisted throughout the weekend, calming down enough to allow another day trip to be made on Monday 15 April.

Once more the stretch of shoreline and gardens between the ferry terminal and the West Pier produced some good birds.  A Willow Warbler (83) was feeding amongst the seaweed and a Common Sandpiper (84) was bobbing around amongst the seals by the harbour wall.  A White Wagtail (no points!) was at the mouth of the small stream where I had seen the recent Grey Wagtail.  The West Pier gardens were quiet, but finally Church Valley had livened up producing: 12 Willow Warblers, 1 Chiffchaff, 2 male Blackcaps (85) and 10 Goldcrests.

Willow Warbler

Numbers of thrushes are now well down on recent visits and only 1 Redwing still remained on patch.  The coast road between the harbour and Mill Bay also held a good selection of birds including a Twite (86), 5 more White Wagtails, 5 Wheatears, a Common Sandpiper and 2 Sandwich Terns (87) feeding offshore.  A single Swallow (88) was then seen feeding above the building site for the new hostel .  Around 150 small gulls had gathered to feed at the south end of Mill Bay and I was hopeful for a Little or Med Gull, but sadly not on this occasion.

Several further Willow Warblers were in the scrub around Craigmacagan Lough and a few more Swallows flew by.  Several Lapwings were still displaying near Ushet Lough and yet more Swallows and a Sand Martin were feeding over the water.  A small pool just to the side of the road here held 2 Skylarks, a Jack Snipe and 2 Snipe, one of which was later heard chipping.

I returned to the harbour as usual via the back road and was keen to see if I could spot the Golden Hare again.  Sure enough it appeared skipping through a gap in an old stone wall, close to where I had seen it on Friday.  Using the old stone walls of a ruined building as a hide, I managed to get into position to take a few decent photos as it made its way into the next field. Stunning looking creatures; I would usually only encounter them once or twice a year on the island, so to get such close views was very pleasing.
                                                                                                       Golden Hare
Back in Church Bay, as it approached ferry time, a single Light-bellied Brent Goose (89) was looking a bit lost in the harbour.  This was only my second ever sighting of this species on the island, but I’m sure it migrates by in good numbers in autumn.

Score now on 89 species, 110 points or 86.61%

From here on I suspect I will start to struggle to add new species to the year list unless I manage some Seawatching (although I’m still missing a few “easy ones”).  Nothing a triple pointer in the autumn wouldn’t fix though! 

Blowin' in the wind

I finally decided to brave the gales as it has been a while since I have been on my patch and it appears the gales are not going to stop any time soon. I also saw that there is a big movement of migrants in the country and up to now I have not had one migrant this year.
I can't compete with the quality of Ballyc but I did manage 8 new species for the year in 2 hours this morning before heavy showers made birding miserable. Chiffchaff (yes, Chiffchaff!!!), Wheatear, Willow Warbler, Arctic Tern, House Martin, Sand Martin and Swallow were all welcome as was a male Blackcap, finally.

Still no Fulmar, Rock Pipit or Grey Wagtail !

103 species, 124 points.

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Open Gate

Spent the weekend at Ballycotton, as the first true taste of spring migration hit.

I was a tad irked (effed and blinded to be honest) that Denis O'Sullivan dug out a Little Ringed Plover at the lake mid week (Right where I predicted it would be), and was eager to head down in the hopes of seeing it.

South easterly winds with rain lent hope to some decent migration, and we were not disappointed.

Starting off at Phil's back passage, we walked straight into a mini fall of Phyloscs, with Willows and Chiffs singing along the track. Swallows started to stream over, and I picked up a female Ring Ouzel mooching along the back hedge at Phils, a very good Ballycotton bird.

From here we worked the rest of the village, but it was not as productive.
We then moved onto the lake.

Gull numbers have been gradually thinning out, and now the Great Black Backed population outnumbers other species in the roost. No evidence of any waders or duck moving, though the Pintail was still present, but the first House Martin of the year went by towards the back bog. When we checked this we found a number of Hirundines, including Swallow, House Martin and Sand Martin.

We then braved the beach, where we picked up the first Wheatear on patch (AT LAST), and Hanna picked up a nice fresh tree pipit. Birds were falling before us.

We then legged it back to the city to watch Leinster beat down Munster, as it should be.

We made it back down on Sunday, in much brighter sunnier conditions. But the shift in wind to a south west, meant migration was stalled entirely by comparison. A seawatch off the cliffs produced thousands of Manx streaming past, and a surprise 1st year Little Gull moving by also.

Phil's back passage had cleared out completely, and the village had just 2 Swallows hunting least until a rather nice Hobby, cruised along past Skinnys, and on towards the cliffs.

Hobby is one of those birds that epitomizes spring to me. Long considered "rare" in Cork. I have found them to be regular from Spring to Autumn, so long as one simply looks up...

A great weekend with 9 year ticks, 117 species, a score of 155 and comparative score of 65.77%.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

100 up on the 100th day of the year!

Well since mid-January and scoring the initial ‘run’ of species which culminated with the finding of a Green-winged Teal on the ‘duck pond’ on 14th January, birding has been pretty quiet with a slow trawl through to scoring the ‘ton’ for the 2013 patch list. January closed with a total of 86 species with the highlights in the late January period being a juvenile Glaucous Gull off the pier and both Waxwing and Mistle Thrush in the garden.
Since mid-January most days have been like this!
February was quiet with 5 new species added; the first Skylarks and Lesser Black-backed Gulls of the year and a small group of Long-tailed Ducks being the highlights. March was even quieter but a smart adult Ring-billed Gull arrived on the 13th and stayed for a few days loitering around the beach and towards the end of the month the first Sandwich Terns and Wheatears arrived (albeit in small numbers). March ended with a tally of 94.
The weather has started to improve!
Now April has opened with a little promise seeing the first Chiffchaff of the year ‘fly-catching’ in the garden on the 1st in sunny ‘mild’ conditions and an Arctic Tern joining the Sandwich Terns off the pier. The following day, a Shelduck (a patch rare!) flew in and joined a small group of Pale-bellied Brents on the beach – after some 30 minutes it continued its journey north, whilst in the garden 2 Great Tits appeared. A good stomp around the patch on the 7th found an increase in Wheatear numbers plus a few Fieldfares and Redwings but highlights were adding a Grey Wagtail and 2 Greenland White-fronted Geese to the 2013 patch list (now on 99).
So what was the 100th for the year going to be? Well whilst sitting having breakfast, on this the 100th day of the year, that question was answered – a Collared Dove arrived!

Previously on the west wing

March was a slow and cold affair in Kerry. Things have begun to shift a little recently and it was beautiful last weekend while out preparing for a new Countryside Bird Survey square that I am taking on. A few chiffers were chiffchaffing and a turtle dove crossed my path later in the afternoon (not even near the patch unfortunately). 

The longer days and the hint of warmer times has helped with the motivation to get out a bit over the last week or two. I've been down at the wetland centre a little bit "working" on the gulls (gawking hopelessly but enjoying the racket) . An adult yellow legged gull that has been reported numerous times has been consistently eluding me. 

On Saturday a brief walk west along the edge of estuary from Blennerville was enjoyable despite only adding a skylark to the patch year-list. The usual crew were knocking around: c45 teal, 36 shelduck, c250 brent, 150 bar tailed godwit and around 200 black-tailed godwit, as well as knot, dunlin, curlew, redshank, greenshank, oystercatcher, mallard, snipe, golden plover, grey plover and so on...nothing new but nice all the same. Lapwing are all gone. A peregrine put on a wonderful show - coming in quite close and soaring high before dropping like bomb. Missed this time. 

Afterward I had another go at the gulls. Still no michahellis for me though. Dang. A wander down a lane way with some mature gardens and a little woodland produced a few sitters that I'd been missing, including a fine pair of bullfinch (destroying someone's Prunus), coal tit, house sparrow, long-tailed tit, mistle thrush, greenfinch and lesser redpoll. Nicely. 

A field of thistles...

Looking forward to the weekend with the promise of new arrivals.


oh...70 sp, 80 points and 57.85%


Monday, 8 April 2013

Made an early visit to Kilmore this morning for a spot of Sea-watching , quiet enough around the harbour , plenty of gulls about but nothing major. moved on down the shingle beach where i spotted a female or juvie Black redstart amongst the Ripits and Wagtails (3rd bird i've had on patch this year ).
Headed out to St Patricks Bridge where first to greet me were a few Black guilles (91) sheltering among the rocks , plent of Gannet and Guillemot  moving about , and out twords the Saltees my first Razerbill (92) and Puffins (93) of the year. The usual Kestrel made an appearance then searching among the rocks for a snack and had a fleeting glimpse of a Stoat on the hunt.
Moved up through the Coastal fields to see if there were any migrants about but nothing doing , did see a Arctic Skua (94) though in the distance twords the Cull harrasing a mixed gull group so all in all not a bad couple of hours. , will be back later in the month for a Mig hunt.
Currently on 94 spp or 120 pts and 58.82 %  Tom.

April Mega at Ballycotton

I am ashamed to say that I, again, have not managed to spend much time at Ballycotton last month. Not that it would have made much difference. This spring is by far one of the weirdest I have ever seen. I have yet to see a single hirundine (anywhere, let alone on patch), whilst birds such as Wheatear and Black Redstart continue to avoid Ballyc like the plague.

This weekend saw the first signs of spring on patch. After a quick trip on Saturday into Wawwwwherford territory, for a couple of Firecrests, we made it down to Ballycotton for some much needed patching.

First up, were quite a few sandwich terns, both off the cliffs and in the bay. A species I would usually get here in March, but they eluded me. Little else was moving offshore.

It was then on to the lake, where some true patch gold was sitting in with the Teal, a female Pintail.
Dabbling ducks are exceptionally rare in Ballycotton. I have only ever known the site after the destruction of the Lake "Proper", and as a consequence have only ever seen 1 Pintail here before, so this constitutes a true patch mega.

Female Pintail - Patch Gold

We then headed out towards the beach, hopeful to pick up Wheatear, and maybe even something juicier, like a Little Ringed Plover. The beach was strangely dead for both Passerines and Waders. However a surprise did come in the form of a female Brambling, moving with chaffs and reed buntings in the fields.
I had seen a couple of Brambling earlier in the winter at the eastern end of Ballycotton Bay, and had hoped that they might make their way west at some point. This was a new species for me in Ballycotton, a patch tick (I believe the term is "Full Fat").

On Sunday, we again made our way down to Ballycotton, starting at the cliffs, where Hanna picked up the first Manx Shearwaters of the year (of which there were good numbers), and I picked up a solitary Arctic tern.

The Pintail was still on the lake, but apart from that migration was non-existant.

April starts well with 5 patch ticks, 1 being new for the patch.
In addition, noticing a cock up omission of 3 species seen back in January (namely Grey Plover, Grey Wagtail and Siskin) brings me a score of 107 Species, 144 points and a Comparative score of 61.10%.

EDIT: Goldcrest was also omitted. 108 species. Other scores updated accordingly.

Bring on the spring in full force.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Early Spring on Rathlin - Visits 5&6

I made it over to Rathlin a couple of times during the Easter period in search of some early spring migrants and managed to add another 9 species to the patch year list, including 2 island ticks! But not all were what you might regard as “classic” spring migrants.  The highlights on 30 March were the large numbers of pipits present on the island, mostly Meadow Pipits and an equally impressive number of thrushes.  Meadow Pipits and Skylarks (69) were even seen/heard arriving at the East Light.
One of many Meadow Pipits seen on 30 March

The cattle fields before the track to the East Light also produced a couple of Rooks (70) and I could hear a few Choughs, but could not locate them.  The abundance of inbound migrants around the East Light no doubt had something to do with the fact that both Merlin and Sparrowhawk were flushed from the grounds of the lighthouse.

The fields and ditches were full of Blackbirds and Song Thrushes and amongst a particularly active feeding flock were 4 Redwings (71).  The loughs too were full of activity, with Black-headed Gulls noisily courting at one and Lapwings displaying at another.  Coots were seen sitting on nests amongst the reeds.  Up to 60 (mostly feral) Greylags were present and I counted 88 Teal during the course of the day – It will be interesting to see if any of the latter remain to breed.  With all this pipit action going on, I decided to head to Doon Bay to see what the masses of seaweed there had attracted in.  Here’s a count of some of the birds present in this small bay:

50 Rock Pipits, 35 Meadow Pipits, 2 Scandinavian Rock Pipits, 4 male Wheatears (72), 10 Wrens, 2 male Reed Buntings, 45 Teal, 2 Skylark and a Snipe!
                                                         Rock Pipit - Easy to see why so many were attracted to Doon Bay
One of the littoralis type pipits was a real head scratcher, showing an almost unstreaked pinkish- white front and a whopper supercilium suggesting Water Pipit! The bird was extremely flighty and active and I would wait 10 minutes between sightings; such was the activity and movement of birds in the bay.  Eventually though I got enough on it to rule out Water Pipit.  The other bird was a more typical littoralis and paused long enough to allow for some horrendous record shots.  Of course none of this really matters, as Scandinavian Rock Pipits don’t score any points anyway!
One of two Scandinavian Rock Pipits present on 30 March

I had purposely decided to catch the late ferry back today to allow me to check some of the reed fringed ponds and loughs for Water Rail (73).  Eventually one squealed its way onto my year list at Craigmacagan Lough.  When I made it back to the harbour for the ferry, I was surprised to see the Long-tailed Duck remained amongst the Eider flock – more than a month since it was last reported.
                                                              Craigmacagan Lough with snow covered Scotland in background
I made another day trip on 3 April, when perhaps the rarest sighting of the day was of another birder waiting to board the ferry in Ballycastle! Once safely on Rathlin, the Long-tailed Duck was duly seen again amongst the Eiders and a Rook flew across the harbour.  My first stop, as always was over to the West Pier for a scan offshore and to check around the base of the pier and gardens for migrants (Black Redstart someday please!).  I was about to start climbing up the hill into Church Valley, when I heard a familiar call – I looked down amongst the rocks to find a lovely male Grey Wagtail (74) – I managed to take one shot of it before a Rock Pipit entered stage left and chased it across the bay.  This was an island tick for me and one I didn’t really imagine ever seeing on the deck, as most previous island records are of calling flyover birds.
I set off into Church Valley with renewed optimism, hoping for a few phylloscs which never materialised and the bulk of the pipits appeared to have moved on. There had however been an increase in Pied Wagtails.  I watched 3 Greylag Geese migrating north over the East Light and the large thrush contingent was still in place, including at least 2 Redwings.  I did the Church Quarter loop back towards the harbour checking all the gardens, but to no great avail.  Curlew was noticeable by their near absence, with just 1 seen all day.  I checked for the Grey Wagtail again but could not relocate it.
I wanted to try and get some photos of the strange Rock Pipit I had seen on 30th, so headed once more for Doon Bay.  This time the count of birds present was much different:
10 Meadow Pipits, 6 Rock Pipits, 1 Scandinavian Rock Pipit, 1 Snipe, 2 male Reed Buntings and 15 Pied Wagtails.
The Scandinavian Rock Pipit present was presumably the same typical bird seen the other day, but there was no sign of the brighter bird.  I heard a few short bursts of scratchy song from the scrub on the cliff face above, but could not locate the owner.  I scanned offshore for half an hour and picked up a close in Red-throated Diver (75) as many Gannets, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and large Auks passed by.
                                                                                                Ushet Lough
I checked around Ushet Lough and amongst some sheep were 2 Jackdaws (76) which seemed to quickly vanish into thin air.  I made my way back towards the ferry and had just enough time left for one last look for the Grey Wagtail, but there was no further sign.  I then heard another familiar call – Long-tailed Tits (77).  I looked up into the large sycamore in the main West Pier garden and saw at least 3 birds frantically moving through the trees - another island tick!  Again my camera skills were not up to it – there are actually no birds in the shots I took! The noise of the ferry engine starting up soon signalled it was time to leave.
Score now stands at – 77 Species, 93 Points or 73.29%
                                                                                       Do you think he has seen us?

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Migrants at last!

Between poor coverage, the weather & bad luck, Manx Shearwater on 16th March was my only Brownstown migrant before the Easter weekend. On 30th March, the garden was barren – hardly any willow buds open and not a single phyllosc - but a walk down the main lane produced a couple of actively feeding Chiffchaffs in decent sunshine. I wondered if that might be my lot, but decided to check the sheltered (western) side of the lane hedge - a minute later, a flash of white, green and gold: Firecrest!

Only the second spring record for Brownstown (first for March), and the first here since autumn 2004, it performed well for the 10 or so birders who soon arrived (see photos by Paddy Dwan & Richard Zamora & video by Micheal Cowming). Further Chiffchaffs (about 15 in total on the Head), a Wheatear & 10+ Sandwich Terns added to the migrant tally, but no sign of Willow Warbler (and I missed a Blackcap). A few resident or winter species later in the day – notably 4 displaying Buzzards well inland, a from-patch tick - brought the January-March total to 73 species and 89 points (60.95%).