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%




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