Thursday, 30 May 2013

Little Update

Only 2 species added to the year list since the last update, namely Spotted flycatcher and Puffin.
Still no Common Tern yet, which is pretty mind boggling. With June approaching, Storm petrel and Balearic Shearwater will be on the cards, but a few weeks away.

Species 128. Score 169. Comparative score 71.71%.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Moorhen at last! Visit 14

I thought it would never happen, but nearly 5 months into the patch birding year, I finally saw a Moorhen (108) on Rathlin on Saturday 25 May! Migration seems to be on the wane for some species but a few waifs and strays are still turning up.  A missed opportunity this week was failing to connect with a female Hen Harrier that has been reported from several spots around the patch since mid-week.


Decent numbers of common warblers were spread across the usual locations and a Spotted Flycatcher was in Church Valley snapping away at insects from a fence post.  As I was leaving this area a Woodpigeon (109) sped across the sky and circled the valley a number of times before heading off west (I only saw my first of this species on the island last autumn).  
Plenty of finches have taken a liking to the fields behind Church Bay, which are currently full of wildflowers.  In amongst these were at least 4 Common Redpolls.  As to where these birds are heading is anyone’s guess, but there seem to be a few around the Western Isles in Scotland and other migration watch points in NW Ireland at the moment.  In other finch news, a breeding plumaged Twite was observed singing and visiting a probable nest location.
I reported last week that the Black-headed Gull colony had failed, so I was pleased to discover a new colony today that held around 25 nesting pairs.  Several other species were also seen with hatchlings or fledged young including Song Thrush, Lapwing, Starling, House Sparrow, Stonechat, Mallard, Coot and Greylag.  Only 2 Sand Martins were seen around Ushet Lough and appear to have changed their minds about breeding in the cliff face nearby.
Patch day totals: 27 Sedge Warbler, 25 Willow Warbler, 9 Whitethroat, 2 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 15 Goldfinch, 30 Linnet, 20 Lesser Redpoll, 4 Common Redpoll, 1 Twite, 1 Moorhen, 1 Woodpigeon, 2 White Wagtail, 2 Wheatear, 1 Dunlin, 1 Chough, 35+ Swallow, 9 House Martin, 2 Sand Martin
Score now 109 species, 135 points or 106.3%

Thursday, 23 May 2013

That's that then.

With migration basically a struggle throughout Cork this Spring it's no surprise that nothing unexpected turned up on patch. I suppose I should be thankful that at least the expected managed to make it. A Spotted Flycatcher turned up back on territory before I had heard of one at a migration spot. Then the next day a Whitethroat was singing. Luckily two Whimbrel flew over calling one evening, I was starting to think I was going to have to string them if they didn't pass over soon.
    And that's that until the summer post breeding dispersal of Sedgies. Ok I might get a June Hobby or a
flyover Crossbill but at 98.79% anything else will be a big bonus. I had suspected that I omitted some species
in my tally from earlier in the year but I didn't expect that I had left out 12 species hence the jump to 82sp
and 96 points.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Still no Moorhen - Visits 12&13

I spent the 19th and 20th of May on Rathlin doing a mix of patch birding and survey squares for the RSPB Northern Ireland Twite survey which has been taking place over the last two breeding seasons.  Naturally, my survey squares were all within the patch boundary!  The two days produced 3 new birds for the year list, including two patch ticks but will be remembered just as much for making the rookie mistake of leaving the island while other birders were still present!
I decided to split the patch into two sections, north and south of the harbour and cover one area each day.  From the ferry across on Sunday 19 May, it was unusual to see many Puffins sitting on the water and several more were seen later on the water below the Coastguards Station and East Light.  The harbour wall was swarming with hirundines feasting on flies and 2 Common Sandpiper were at the base of the West Pier.  As I checked the trees and scrub at the bottom of Church Valley, a small finch appeared into few feeding on seed heads by the Church.  This turned out to be the first of a number of rather interesting Redpolls seen during the day (and the only one that I got the chance to photograph).  Answers on a postcard...


Interesting Redpoll

White Wagtail passage appears to be coming to an end, with only 1 bird noted today, but a small number of waders are still on the move, including 8 Dunlin at the south east side of the harbour.  Also of note today were high counts of 27 Sedge Warblers and 15 Whitethroats.  The laneway running alongside Ballycarry Pool has produced a few good birds so far this spring and today held 2 Spotted Flycatchers (105) and at least 2 Common Redpolls (106) as well as multiple Sedge Warblers and Whitethroats.  Two pairs of Coot each had 4 small chicks in the pool itself.  The Common Redpolls were in a flighty flock with 10 Lesser Redpolls and really stood out from the crowd – real chunky birds.  A small arrival of finches had obviously taken place with small numbers of Goldfinches and Linnets also present. I see Common Redpolls most autumns on the patch, but good to get them on list early on nonetheless. 
Spotted Fly - one of 3 on the patch today

Another Spotted Flycatcher was seen in the upper part of Church Valley along with large numbers of common warblers.  Half an hour spent seawatching from the East Light saw 320 Large Auks (mostly Razorbills), 1 Puffin and 5 Manx Shearwater heading west and 3 Porpoise milling around.

19 May - Day totals (north section of patch only):  35 Willow Warbler, 27 sedge Warbler, 15 Whitethroat, 2 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Goldcrest, 3 Spotted Flycatcher, 2 Common Redpoll, 10 Lesser Redpoll, 29 Goldfinch, 20 Linnet, 55+ Swallow, 14 House Martin, 1 Sand Martin, 2 Common Sandpiper, 10 Turnstone, 8 Dunlin, 1 White Wagtail, 4 Wheatear

The next morning I met with work colleagues in Ballycastle for the 8am ferry to spend the day looking for Twite around the island.  This also provided the rare opportunity for the bulk of the island to be covered simultaneously, so I asked the others to keep a note of anything unusual they encountered in their survey squares (any Moorhens lads?).

I had barely started into my survey work, when a Collared Dove (107) flew by.  I paused for thought soon after finding myself clambering up to a high point for a better look!  This was an island tick after all.  Sedge Warblers were again prominent with a further 20 birds noted in this half of the patch.  One lonesome Sanderling was in Mill Bay. 

 Sedge Warbler

The weather all day was rather misty and murky, but this certainly ushered plenty of Snipe into action, as out of the 10 encountered today, 7 were heard chipping or drumming.  In fact this was a good day overall for breeding waders around the island, several more displaying Snipe were recorded, as were breeding Lapwing and a “suspicious” Curlew.  However, it looks like the Black-headed Gull colony has been flooded out, as all the birds have now left the area. 

The Doon Bay area had 2 Sandwich Terns feeding offshore and yet more Sedge Warblers were in the vegetated gullies along the cliff face.  From the top of the cliffs, while eating lunch, I spotted a Ferret bolting around below.  Several Rock Doves were also seen in this area.  I had finished covering my survey squares by 3pm with a return of 2 Twite to show for my efforts.  I met up with some of the others who had also finished in Church Bay for a cup of tea.  Reports came in that a Spotted Flycatcher was seen behind Church Bay (M. Tickner) and that presumably the same 2 Common Redpolls from yesterday had been seen again, this time at the west end (B. Robson).

Talk soon turned to my Patch Challenge efforts on the island and I mentioned how the laneway beside Ballycarry Pool (it turns out no-one seems to know what this area is actually called) had been producing the goods for me.  A couple of us caught the 4.15pm ferry back to Ballycastle, leaving the others to finish up the Twite work or have a final look around.  The inevitable text was received at 5.30pm while sitting with my feet up in Ballycastle – “Whinchat at end of laneway by Ballycarry Pool”.  Bollocks.  That text almost ruined my chippy!  To top it all off, not one Moorhen was seen on the entire island.

20 May - Day totals (south section of patch only): 20 Willow Warbler, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Blackcap, 1 Goldcrest, 20 Sedge Warbler, 4 Whitethroat, 1 Collared Dove, 2 Sandwich Tern, 1 Sanderling, 10 Dunlin, 6 Turnstone, 30+ Swallow, 12 House Martin, 14 Sand Martin, 10 Wheatear, 2 White Wagtail, 2 Lesser Redpoll, 25 Linnet, 2 Twite, 6 Goldfinch

Score now on 107 species, 133 points or 104.72%




Monday, 13 May 2013

Knot another Redstart - Visit 11

Sunday 12 May was a miserable, wet and windy affair.  Yet for some reason, I found my way over to Rathlin for a quick afternoon dash around the patch and by the end of the day I had jotted 3 year ticks into a soggy notebook.
During the few clear spells, it was evident that a good number of migrants were around, particularly in Church Valley and the gardens around the east end.  A Water Rail was heard calling from one of the reed beds at the latter.  I checked some feeders in the gardens in Church Bay and found a single Lesser Redpoll (102) feeding with several Goldfinches.  The small bay at the east side of the harbour also held a surprise, as amongst several summer plumaged Dunlin and Turnstones, were 2 Sanderling (103) huddled amongst the seaweed. 
As ever Mill Bay had attracted some good birds, including several White Wagtails and Wheatears, a few Ringed Plover and a smart (almost) Red Knot (104) amongst several more Dunlin and Turnstones.  As I was attempting some photos in the gloom, a pipit hopped up briefly onto a nearby rock, sporting an orange breast and creamy almost unstreaked underparts! I have no idea what to make of the Rock Pipits on Rathlin at this stage.  I would assume the small numbers now present are all breeding birds, so what is this littoralis type doing there? In fact several birds in recent weeks have been equally perplexing.  A flock of unseen Whimbrel called overhead as I sat out yet another downpour.
Knot - a scarce visitor to Rathlin
A quick tour of the loughs produced the peak count of hirundines of the year and a pair of Teal were still lurking around.  I wanted to check the ditches and pines at the south end of Ushet Lough for Whinchat and thought I was in luck when I heard a few scratches and whistles from behind the last group of pine trees.  As I approached, a bird shot out of the undergrowth and flew into the next small group of pines 100m to the north.  In flight I could see a distinct red tail and grey body – it soon perched nicely on some lower branches. The second male Common Redstart of the spring! I took a few record shots and then the bird completely vanished!  You’d think I’d learn...
Another award winning shot of a Redstart!
Day totals from the patch: 1 Goldcrest, 17 Sedge Warbler, 30 Willow Warbler, 6 Whitethroat, 1 Blackcap, 1 Lesser Redpoll, 9 White Wagtail, 40+ Swallow, 10+ Sand Martin, 3 House Martin,  16 Wheatear, 1 Common Redstart, 20 Turnstone, 11 Dunlin, 2 Sanderling, 1 Knot
Score now 104 species, 129 points or 101.57%

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


After skiving off to Tuscany last weekend, this weekend was about cleaning up on some expected may-migrants.

As expected, many of these were easy to connect with, such as Whitethroat, Sedge warbler and Grasshopper warbler, which were get-able at the back bog and shanagarry.

Nice surprises however were, Reed warbler, Cuckoo and Carrion Crow, also at the back bog. Carrion's are scarce enough in Cork, though there are always a couple around if you look, this was my first of the year however and a nice bonus. And reed warbler, though I do not believe they breed at Ballycotton anymore, tend just to pass through. So nice to connect with one singing.

Still no sign of Puffin or Common Tern. But only a matter of time.

126 species. Score 166. Comparative score 70.44%.

Monday, 6 May 2013

A new start on Rathlin - Visit 10

As it had been more than a fortnight since my last visit to the patch, I was concerned that I might have missed out on a few of the commoner summer migrants.  I needn’t have worried though, as I managed to pick up no less than 8 year ticks on Sunday 5 May, including a long overdue first island record!

On the ferry across I spotted a fishing boat that was attracting a few large gulls, so I decided to have a check for any skuas and sure enough a Great Skua was in tow.  The bird must have been about 4 miles off Rathlin, but this didn’t stop me trying to see it from dry land.  Unfortunately, I’ll have to leave to off the list for now, as I couldn’t see the boat from Rathlin never mind the skua!

Regular blog readers may recall a few posts ago I mentioned that the West Pier area was bound to attract a Black Redstart someday.  I was watching a few White Wagtails feeding amongst the fresh seaweed at the base of the pier, when a bird popped up onto a rock – a Black Redstart! (94). A new species for the island list, which now stands at 190. I think I will throw in a few more predictions in future posts!
Patch Mega!

A Sandwich Tern then screeched by the pier and a Light-bellied Brent Goose here was presumably the same bird first seen on 15 April.  I made my way uphill and saw several flowering Early Purple Orchids by the Church (in an area I always think looks good for an autumn Ovenbird...).

Early Purple Orchid
As I entered the upper section of Church Valley, I could hear a Sedge Warbler (95) in song soon to be joined by a second.  Next into song was one of 3 Whitethroats (96) in the area and then a Grasshopper Warbler (97) began reeling in the background. This area also held a few Wheatears and 10+ Willow Warblers.
As I made my way along the high road towards the east end two Rock Doves (98) flew over giving good views as they headed towards the north cliffs and a Sparrowhawk looked destined for its own check of Church Valley.  Nothing new was seen around the east end gardens or cattle fields, but Sedge Warblers seemed to be everywhere.
Ballycarry Pool is now almost dry and had attracted the Brent Goose over for a feed.  It was interesting to note that two pairs of Teal were still present.  The shoreline between Church Bay and Mill Bay proved more productive with two summer plumaged Dunlin (99) and 5 Whimbrel (100) in attendance alongside further Wheatears and White Wagtails.
I had already scanned Ushet Lough and made my way to the marsh at its south end, before I heard Black-tailed Godwits (101) calling from nearby.  I finally managed to spot 12 cracking summer plumaged Icelandic race birds feeding along the west shoreline.  Only the second time I’ve recorded this species on the island.
I seawatched from Ushet Port for half an hour, seeing several Manx Shearwaters moving east and 10 Whimbrel moving south.
A great number and variety of migrants were on the island today and the final tallies for the patch were:
4 Chiffchaff, 28 Willow Warbler, 1 Sandwich Tern, 25 Wheatears (mostly now Greenland birds), 1 Black Redstart, 1 Brent Goose, 12 White Wagtail, 13 Sedge Warbler, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 5 Whitethroat, 1 Blackcap, 20+ Swallow, 1 House Martin, 8+ Sand Martin, 2 Dunlin, 15 Whimbrel, 12 Black-tailed Godwit and 1 Common Sandpiper.
If only I could find a Moorhen!
Score now 101 species, 126 points or 99.21%

Brownstown slowdown

Good coverage at the end of April and start of May produced not a lot in the way of new species. First up was a singing Whitethroat (89) on Friday evening 26th April, but not much else on the way down to (or during) a brief seawatch – not surprising in northwesterlies. A sudden, freezing hail-shower did produce some nice rainbows when it ended – and deposited a mini-fall of Wheatears (23+) that hadn’t been there beforehand. Some appeared to be Greenlands, though it was hard to be sure as most were puffed up against the cold.

Gratuitous rainbow shot, 26th April
Next morning (27th) I was on a Waterford bird-race team but Brownstown was cunningly scheduled for a few hours in the early morning – surely our best chance of land and sea migrants. 47 species in 3 hours was reasonable (county day-total of 96 – runners-up to the winners with 102), but only Common Tern (90) was new. Other useful species included 3 raptors, Tree Sparrow and Common Scoter, but an hour’s seawatch failed to produce any Manx or skuas (northerlies again). A return to southwesterlies next day (28th) produced a Bonxie and plenty of Manxies, but no newbies apart from hearing of a Brambling in a neighbour's garden a few weeks ago.

Young male Blackcap, 2nd May
Surely 5 or 6 days’ coverage from the start of May would produce more? A belated first Sedge Warbler (91) singing by the front-door on Wednesday evening (1st) was a start. But the next few days produced just a trickle of landbird migrants (including the first Blackcap and Willow Warbler ringed here this spring). Seawatches produced occasional Bonxies and Arctic Skuas but still no Poms – I’d been counting on a flock or two this week. Still, the best species since March turned up on the last seawatch - 5 Roseate Terns (92) feeding with small numbers of Commics, Kittiwakes and Manx on the 5th.

Creeping fog, 2nd May
Score 92 species and 114 points (78.08%) – but still missing House Martin, Grasshopper Warbler, Swift and Bullfinch (or a major rare) among others.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Cracker Quackers

So now that everyone has got the first spring migrants out of their system - yes everything is very late isn't it, no I've never had swallows before sand martins either. The first fine day in quite a long long time came in April , visibility was good so I made my way at high tide to the highest point of the farm, in appropriately enough 'The High Field' . (Field nomenclature can be as imaginative as the bird variety, the equally elevated next door field is called the Top Field, so I'll leave it to your imagination to guess why the adjacent Boreen Field got it's name.) Once more looking south to the north channel of Cork Harbour in hopes of something flying high above the intervening hills. After about 10 mins two ducks flew through and quickly disappeared, 'bugger' I was sure they were Wigeon but just not sure enough. Another couple of minutes and five more ducks, except this time they showed well against the background and they were clearly Shellduck, only the second patch record ever. Clearly you can seawatch from an inland site even when you cant see any water.

Five or ten minutes later and 4 more ducks and this time they were Wigeon, again showing below the horizon but above the intruding hills and trees, first ever patch sighting, the previous record was a migrating flock at night; now if only Grey Plover and Turnstone were given to such flights of fancy.  

The bitter spring has had it's impact on crops and birds. The Oilseed Rape should by now be 6-8 inches high, due to the cold it was at best 2 inches, now I'm sure you'll admit, we've all used that excuse from time to time,but from a farming point of view this crop had had it's chance and had to be ploughed down. Whatever about the expense the year listing upshot is Sedge Warbler may be trickier this year as 2 pairs bred in last years OSR.

Miniscule Oilseed Rape phoning home to say goodbye
I'll be waiting for  the post breeding dispersal this year when a few birds can usually be found in cereal crops pre harvest. The migrating wave of Willow Warblers were also late, but at least they did appear eventually and moved on just as quickly. I also finally got a Kingfisher and both Martins on the same day. As for breeding species Greenfinches seem to be commoner and possibly are making a comeback from Trinh ...Trinch ...Tricn....that disease they get.
   Gratuitous Greenfinch Pic

Lots of Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs now singing and Stock Doves are finally appearing in numbers, eating the late sown Barley but at least they're around. Finally last night while locking in the dog for the night I was most surprised to flush a Long - eared Owl from a gate in the yard. Just the third patch record - question is, does it count as a Summer or Winter record?

66 species and 76 points. Paul
Final fling for aprilMMAa

   Made my way up twords the Memorial garden first-off , amongst the Gulls were a few Sandwich
   and Common terns (96) close to shore.
   Plenty of Cormorants around but no Diver sightings , all moved on it seems.
   Went back to the harbour and up to the shingle beach and found a nice Common sandpiper ( 97)
   amongst the rocks , tried a bit of sea-watching for a few minutes but apart from the odd Gannet and
   Fulmar , nothing much doing.
   Up to the fields next so for a Mig hunt , rewarded straight away with a nice female Blackcap (98) ,
   one that had eluded me so far so good to get , plenty of Chiffys about just up from Patrick's bridge
   found my first Willow warbler on patch this year (99).
   Took a walk up through the coastal fields next twords the Cull , after a few minutes heard the
   unmistakable sound of a reeling Gropper (100) , only a 2nd patch record for me , on my way
   back twords the harbour found a Whitethroat( 101) and a couple of Male Wheatear and watched
   a hunting Kes for a few minutes to finish off a fine morning.
   So at April's end currently on 101 spp / 127 pts or 62.26 % Tom :-)