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! 

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