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?

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